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 All-Star Batman 9, Green Arrow 21, Green Lanterns 21, Superman 21 and Wild Storm 3. Also, we’ll be discussing Batman 21 on Friday and Super Sons 3 on Wednesday, so come back for that! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
All-Star Batman 9
Michael: Scott Snyder’s All-Star Batman is a little more experimental than his Batman run. This is exemplified in the “Ends of the Earth” storyline, with its sporadic yet connective chapters. All-Star Batman 9 concludes the “Ends of the Earth” arc and reveals Ra’s al Ghul as its architect.
Ra’s reveals that Batman’s struggles with Freeze, Ivy and Mad Hatter were mere fabrications – which in a way deflated the impact of the past three issues. Ra’s plan is for the world’s energy systems to implode and have humanity’s paranoia simultaneously tear itself apart. This seems rushed, convoluted and unearned.
Snyder’s scripts are characteristically wordy, but this is one of the first where that wordiness buries the story’s true meaning among historic and mythic factoids. “Ends of the Earth” has dipped in quality as it has progressed, which is a shame because Snyder and Jock’s first chapter in All-Star Batman 6 was inventive and thrilling.
Jock has some fun action beats in the beginning with a heated bat-cycle chase, but for the most part the dynamic artist is left to drawing two men in a room talking. Snyder throws some fun twists in there and makes good use of Alfred and Catwoman but again, it gets lost in the fray. It’s a very muddied story, and I’m not sure if an additional chapter would help or not.
And I’ll be honest, I never know what’s going on in “The Cursed Wheel.” I hope Duke does.
Green Arrow 21
Spencer: Green Arrow 21 is an intriguing start to “The Rise of Star City.” I’m curious to see what Broderick and the rest of the Ninth Circle have to gain by essentially killing Seattle and reviving it in their image, but the methods through with they attack the city are as clever as they are unnerving — mass paranoia, chaos, and destruction caused by something as small as a few bugs or scratches. More than ever, it highlights how tenuous the balance holding modern society together actually is.
The true star of this issue, though, is Juan Ferreyra. He and writer Benjamin Percy split most of the issue into two consecutive stories — Green Arrow on the top third of the page, Broderick’s “Four Horsemen” on the bottom two-thirds — and the ways Ferreyra uses color to differentiate the two are astounding.
While Oliver’s tale is depicted in normal, if somewhat dulled, colors, the bottom segment is much more abstract. There’s really only three colors here; “normal” people and events in yellow, Cheshire’s poison and the moments she infects others in red, and Cheshire herself standing out in bright green. That last one is interesting since the whole point of Cheshire’s ruse is that she can infect so many because she’s so inconspicuous, but the coloring does make her immediately stand out to the audience as someone important, dangerous, and out-of-place. We know she shouldn’t be there before we really know why, and it creates a great sense of dread.
Let’s enlarge one of the panels from those pages, because I love what Ferreyra does with it.
Again, it’s the duality of Cheshire. The reflection we see of her and the woman in the mirror looks completely innocent, but Cheshire’s actual arm in the foreground is far more sinister, her sharp red nails emphasized and her arm itself draped in shadow. It’s tremendous stuff, and Ferreyra is putting in work of this quality throughout the entire issue (I also love how his layouts emphasize the similarities between Robert Queen’s underground sanctuary and Broderick’s underground chapel, which feels appropriate given the reveal of Robert’s place in the Ninth Circle). I can’t wait to see where this arc goes.
Green Lanterns 21
Patrick: Throughout this story arc, writer Sam Humphries has made the bold choice to dramatize Dr. Neal Emerson’s psychosis as a kind of private Ted Talk with an audience of one supervillain and one dying brother. Those peeks inside Emerson’s mind border on being a blunt instrument, when a more subtle narrative scapple would do the trick. After all, Humphries is focused on both the emotional fragility and psychological complexities of two of the more sensitive Green Lanterns out there, and he has yet to employ the same dramatic devices for them.
Mind you, this style of storytelling is more immediately satisfying in a graphical sense. We’ve all read too many comic books, so we know not to trust a flat-lining heart rate monitor, but it’s hard to deny the emotional reality of Emerson losing his brother when his psycho-stage shows him alone, bathed in sad blue spotlight.
We also get the added benefit of feeling that Emerson has less control of his emotional issues than Jessica or Simon. Our Green Lanterns divine their power over their ability to acknowledge, control and channel their emotions – which is demonstrated in this issue rather cleanly by a rising “Will-Power” percentage that climbs as Jess and Simon steel their resolve to save the day. It’s a great sequence, and it allows their will-power to be made manifest into something real and physical, pushing the Watchtower back into orbit. Compare that struggle to Emerson’s, which takes place entirely in his mindscape. That’s where he fails and succumbs to the Dr. Polaris persona – because he flatly refuses to deal with this stuff in the context of the real world.
That goes a long way to articulate the idea that you can’t treat mental illness in a vacuum, in isolation, or even in theory. The only way to help someone, or help yourself, is to do the work in the real world, no matter how dangerous it is. When tested, Simon and Jess turn outward, and they succeed, while Dr. Emerson turns inward to Doctor Polaris and fails.
Spencer: How far would you go to protect your child? It’s a natural, and largely beneficial, instinct for parents to try to protect their children, but it can quickly go too far — it’s far too easy to essentially smother a child in an attempt to protect them. That may be exactly the case for poor Jon Kent in Superman 21, even if his actual parents aren’t the truly over-protective ones.
True, Jon and his father have a bit of an argument over some of Jon’s more recent disobedient moments, but he’s still Superman — he obviously wants Jon to do the right thing and clearly knows what the right thing is, but he’s also smart enough to understand that this is something Jon has accept, a decision he has to make on his own.
On the other hand, Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason reveal that the Kents’ neighbors — Jon’s friend Kathy and her grandfather — are in possession of strange abilities, and are using them to “keep Jon safe.” Their methods, though, leave a lot to desire. It’s implied that Mr. Cobbs’ milk is what’s been repressing Jon’s powers, meaning that their overprotectiveness is literally smothering Jon, and their more proactive methods of protecting him involve telekinetically choking his friends and unleashing giant squids into town as a distraction. At the very least, the Cobbs’ affection for Jon doesn’t leave room to acknowledge the safety and agency of others, and at the worst, their protectiveness is wrapped up in their own “plans” for Jon, meaning they care more about what they can get out of Jon than Jon himself (which, sadly, is the case for many parents).
The fact that this is all explored against a sweet rural backdrop filled with creepy neighbors and surprisingly aggressive townspeople continues to explore the duality and hidden dangers behind traditionally wholesome values, and continues a strong run of issues from Tomasi and Gleason. Any Superman issue featuring Damian is a winner, but this arc continues to wow for so many more reasons too.
Wild Storm 3
Drew: I’ve been thinking a lot about ambiguity in stories recently, and how our tolerance for it relies on our faith that we will understand what we need to eventually. In some cases, the genre itself might give us that faith (a murder mystery, for example, necessarily requires ambiguity on the whodunnit front, but with the understanding that all will be revealed), but most of the time, that faith has to come from the confidence the story itself gives us. That is, if we think the ambiguity is the result of sloppiness, we lose that fatih, where if we think it comes about from deliberate choices the storytellers are making, we’re willing to trust them. The latter is decidedly the case in Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt’s Wildstorm 3, which places most of the explanations (and exposition) between the lines.
This issue covers a rapid series of events, as both the I.O. Razors 3 team and the Wild C.A.T.s attempt to retrieve Angie Spica. We get to see the Wild C.A.T.s in action, but much of our understanding of exactly who they are comes from the folks at I.O. mission control, scrambling to identify these combatants. It’s a clever way to introduce us to both what these characters are capable of and what their motivations might be, all while hinting at a much larger fight between them and I.O.
Meanwhile, a mysterious woman wanders through digital devices, using them to transport her across the globe instantaneously.
That’s a bonkers power, but Davis-Hunt is able to convey it without a single word of explanation. I love every detail of this sequence, from the utterly morbid crimes hinted at in “Crime Doctor,” to the fact that she ends up with a real can of Whak! Supersoda after using its commercial as a shortcut. But my favorite detail comes from colorist Steve Buccellato, who renders the comic we see in the first two panels in a classic halftone pattern. When the woman then steps through the door, from the comic book into “Crime Doctor,” we see that halftone coloring behind her, cementing the notion that this is the same door we saw her headed to a panel before, even though the worlds couldn’t be more different.
It’s that kind of attention to detail that gives me confidence that this creative team knows exactly what they’re doing, even if I can’t piece it together yet. And again, this issue is full of those kinds of details. From Cole putting his mask on to the little story of the magic bullet Kenesha fired at the Razors 3 soldier, we get a ton of miniature antecedent/consequent arcs, which assures me that those larger questions will absolutely be resolved. We may not understand everything yet, but that’s because this creative team is so precise in what they want us to understand.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?