How many Batman books is too many Batman books? Depending on who you ask there ain’t no such thing! We try to stay up on what’s going on at DC, but we can’t always dig deep into every issue. The solution? Our weekly round-up of titles coming out of DC Comics. Today, we’re discussing Batgirl Annual 1, Dark Knight III: The Master Race 8 and Kamandi Challenge 3. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Batgirl Annual 1
Spencer: Hope Larson’s “Rebirth” take on Batgirl has stuck fairly close to the characterization and themes established by the previous run, but one notable omission in this regard has been the idea of female friendship that became so prominent in the back-half of Fletcher/Stewart/Tarr’s tenure on the title. Batgirl Annual 1 rectifies this by featuring two separate stories that highlight Barbara Gordon’s friendships with two very different, very special women.
The Annual’s first tale features a team-up between Batgirl and Supergirl to rescue a telepathic hostage of Cadmus’. While the story is largely a prelude to a future crossover between the two series, what shines is the relationship and rapport Larson establishes between the two heroes. There’s been multiple incarnations of the Batgirl/Supergirl friendship, but this is the first I can remember where Batgirl filled an older sister/mentor role. Babs’ teasing is fun, and while it takes a lot of justification to get her to join Supergirl’s mission, I can see why they’d enjoy each other’s company enough to take on more. Inaki Miranda and Eva De La Cruz also shine on art and colors here, creating some dazzling effects (the snowstorm) and fun layouts.
The way this page is designed to have each panel overlap and interact with the one full-page background is clever and engaging.
Vita Ayala, Eleonora Carlini, and Mat Lopes’ second story features Barbara and Alysia’s “Friend-a-versary.” The creative team expertly captures the tone and spirit of this title (I was surprised when I reached the credits to see that it hadn’t been written by Larson), and they too find the spark that makes these two women’s friendship so special and powerful: the immense affection they have for each other. As their lives grow busier and more crowded, they can’t help but miss each other and long for each other, and eventually go out of their way to keep each other in their lives, even if it means fighting a supervillain together.
The problem with this story isn’t necessarily the fault of this creative team at all: it’s the fact that Barbara hasn’t told Alysia her secret identity, a beat that this entire story revolves around. Other than editorial interference (which I remember Gail Simone citing as a reason Alysia never found out in her run), I can’t think of any reason to keep the secret from her. Babs’ frequently and explicitly refers to Alysia as her “best friend,” yet she doesn’t know while Frankie does, and there’s never any justification for this choice. “The woman who doesn’t know the hero’s secret identity” is one of the most frustrating and limiting roles for a character to play (just see the early seasons of any CW DC show), and it doesn’t do the story any favors. As I said, this creative team still manages to sell Babs’ and Alysia’s close bond through lines like “Alysia — sweet, caring Alysia — deserves better than the likes of Riot Black,” but moments like this are undercut by Babs casually (and poorly) lying to Alysia in the same breath. It makes Alysia come across like a second-rate presence in Barbara’s life, which isn’t the takeaway you want from a story meant to reaffirm their close friendship.
Dark Knight III: The Master Race 8
Michael: This book. This goddamned book and this goddamned Batman. A year and change after its debut, I think we’re all pretty much “meh” about The Dark Knight III: The Master Race. The majority of The Dark Knight III: The Master Race 8 focuses on the righteous fury of Wonder Woman and her Amazons against the invading Kandorian army. Before that takes place we have the immediate resolution of Batman’s “death” cliffhanger from last issue…three months ago.
It should go without saying that this never-dying Batman was going to go on never dying, but I’m curious as to how Azzarello achieves this. Carrie believes Bruce is dead, morns for a beat then moves on — the soldier that her mentor trained her to be. Suddenly Superman returns with a very much living, younger Batman — revived by the Lazarus Pit.
I can’t help but read this an inadvertent metaphor for The Dark Knight series. Batman died, possibly earning that “good death” that he had been looking for in The Dark Knight Returns. Then he’s unnaturally resurrected — either by Superman or by his corporate masters — and put back in the cowl. I’m also uncomfortable with the look between young Bruce and Carrie, a potential nod to their forbidden love mentioned in DK2.
Andy Kubert crafts epic pages of 300-esque violence in the Amazon/Kandor battle — the guy is by no means phoning it in. Unfortunately splash page after gratuitous splash page — beautiful they may be — just falls in line with the unnecessary, empty excess that is The Dark Knight III: The Master Race.
Kamandi Challenge 3
Patrick: In Dan Abnett’s letters page in the previous issue, he confessed that he would have actually detonated the atomic bomb he introduced at the end of issue one. Pete Tomasi and Dale Eaglesham softened that considerably by making the bomb casing a Trojan Horse for the invading gorilla army, leaving the mythologically rich Tiger City in tact for other storytellers to use in the future. Abnett justified his solution by writing “a massive moment like that would have shown how cruel and dangerous life in this world can be, the harsh, dog-eat-dog (sometimes literally) craziness of a far-future feral world.” Writer Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Amanda Conner seem to have picked up that cruelty cue, but are able to deliver on both the set-up and the gut-punch before teeing up yet another impossible corner for the next creative team to write their way out of. It’s easily the most effective issue of this series yet.
Kamandi is falling to his doom, having just escaped Taftan, Canus and a pair of Manhunters. Palmiotti and Conner immediately go to work removing Kamandi from this situation altogether, bringing him into an environment where the classes are all reversed. Instead of Kamandi being a weirdly good-natured slave-gladiator, and his companions being the ruling class, they flip the script, giving Kamandi both social status and some friends in the form of three enslaved characters. The series has thrown around the word “slave” kind of a lot — by all accounts, the inhabitants of this world are awful — but none of the previous issues have treated the subject with any degree of seriousness. Palmiotti is very careful is how he selects what kinds of characters are slaves: Yila obviously represents women and Saparta and Kreeg are adorned with tribal, native jewelry. The enslavers, on the other hand, are wearing colonial European garb and hilarious admiral’s hats.
Conner isn’t just using this as a shortcut for our emotional understanding of the situation — though it is wildly effective at that — she is reclaiming the relevance of this series’ metaphors. And that’s exactly what this exercise is “sticky situation” one-upsmanship needed: stakes.
It helps that Conner and Palmiotti follow through on those stakes. The women (and from the looks of that drawing, some young boys) are being used as food, an obvious stand-in for using the weak as sexual objects. Yila comments on the arrangement: “It hurts, but it slowly grows back. Our purpose is to feed the god watchers.” The readers recognize everything that’s horrible with the god watchers as Kamandi does, and we get that sadistic thrill of revenge when the bat army descends on them and our new quartet of heroes escapes!
Or, we would if Palmiotti and Conner were writing a less cruel world. They don’t give someone else the chance to write Kreeg and Saparta, spit roasting them over an open fire at the beginning of the next encounter. I almost don’t care what they’ve set up for the next team in terms of plot, it’s an impressive tone to have to follow.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?