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 10, The Flash 21, and Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 19. Also, we will be discussing Wonder Woman 21 on Friday and Batman and the Shadow 1 on Monday. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: Ethan Cobblepot is barely seen in Batgirl 10 — other than a brief shot of him spying on Barbara and Dick, he doesn’t actually appear until the final pages of the issue — despite being behind just about everything that happens throughout. This is a smart choice on the behalf of Hope Larson and Chris Wildgoose, as what’s most dangerous about Ethan is his ability to meddle and coordinate tragedy from afar, using only the information and access citizens willingly grant him through his apps.
Regardless, his actions are major breaches of privacy and morality. Ethan uses his apps to data-mine information about his users, using their secrets against them if it suits his needs, uses facial recognition and AR apps (such as what appears to be a puppy-version of Pokemon Go) to survey and spy on the city, overrides self-driving cars and uses them as his own personal hit-men. It’s every luddite’s worst nightmare come to life, but I appreciate that Larson and Wildgoose generally lay the blame on Ethan, not the apps’ users. It’s absolutely essential for app users to consider the ethics behind any app they download, and to use their head when it comes to what permissions they allow (the recent tussle between Uber and Apple being only the latest real-life reminder why), but ultimately, Ethan/developers are the ones to blame for taking advantage of people.
Interestingly enough, despite his brilliance as a hacker and strategist, Ethan ends up making a predictable villain because of his clear, obvious motives.
Ethan is ultimately just a variant of the “nice guy” that thinks women owe him affection — the second he faces any kind of rejection (even something as simple as Babs leaving his party without saying bye) he throws a fit and his true colors show. He can certainly be charming enough (perhaps unreasonably so — the amount of time Barbara spent interested in him romantically despite his being her #1 suspect strains credibility a bit), but his insecurities as both a man and a son (and apparently as the heir to a criminal mastermind) drive him to take desperate, illegal measures to prove his worth. For all his brilliance, those insecurities and that ego which will likely bring about his downfall in the end.
The Flash 21
Patrick: “The Button” has — so far — largely been about subverting the audiences expectations about what this thing even is. From the abstract, it seems like it’d be easy to call the shots here, right? “DC crosses over with Watchmen, ruins both.” I am being glib, of course, but this is sort of the latent fear any reader brings to this thing. But as Batman 21 illustrated, we may not have this story accurately pegged. Not only isn’t it a “crossover” — formal elements are borrowed rather than thematic or narrative — but it’s not even crossing over “with Watchmen” so much as it is “with Flashpoint.” The Flash 21 is also still aggressively, assertively an issue of The Flash, excited to explore new territory while staying firmly rooted in both the empathy and off-the-wall sci-fi wackiness the series is known for.
One of the way the series asserts itself is in the title splash page, which borrows panels from the previous issue’s Reverse Flash fight without borrowing the layout. In Batman 21, all of these drawings were arranged in a fastidious nine-panel grid, but artist Howard Porter takes that checkerboard, breaks it up, and tosses it across the page. It’s almost an acknowledgement that that was cool, but not was this issue is. Porter and writer Joshua Williamson are also much more focused on character with this issue, leaning on the vulnerability that both Bruce and Barry share from losing their parents at a young age. This story is about their parents, and the universe-shattering consequences of these heroes trying to reconcile themselves with their loss. Porter and Williams state this theme early, patiently letting the moment land.
This vulnerability is something we keep coming back too. Bruce is beaten and laying in bed — not a condition we’re used to seeing him in — and Porter gives us a clear overhead shot of the bed. Bruce’s bandaged body is on display, more or less exposing him completely. This is both of these characters at their most vulnerable, and it’s great to see Barry responding with his trademark sensitive grace. This little bit of knowing narration got to me:
“…but whenever I talked forensics… I could see it in their eyes that I might as well have been speaking another language. Except Bruce. We could talk about evidence for hours. Even now, after almost being killed by Thawne, he still wants to talk shop.”
Barry sees the threads that connect them, and identifies forensics as something they both want to talk about. He’s a sweetheart, that’s my point.
I’m curious if other readers are antsy to get to the Watchmen-y stuff, or if y’all are enjoying the more relaxed pacing. It feels like there are so many opportunities to slip in references — either in the Watchtowers “lost and found” or while treadmilling through the multiverse — but Porter and Williamson are remarkably patient and withhold all of those bread crumbs. At this point, I couldn’t possibly anticipate what’s coming next, but I have faith in the storytellers to provide.
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 19
Michael: Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps 19 is one of the few “team books” that actually manages to give substantial focus to several members of its cast. Robert Venditti splits the spotlight evenly among Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner and even our new favorite Sinestro Corps member Space Ape. Each character gets their due in this issue as we see where their personal priorities are at the moment.
The Lanterns are dealing with two separate time travelers: Rip Hunter and Sarko. Sarko warns Space Ape — whose real name is Prince Lorix — and Gorin-Sunn of a future where The Sinestro Corps abandon their yellow light and join with the Green Lantern Corps. It’s likely that Sarko is playing them to his own ends, but we can’t be sure because good guy time traveler Rip Hunter isn’t as open with the Corps with his motivations.
Rip brings up a favorite Green Lantern Corps argument of mine: whether the Corps is a police force or an army. John is kind of touchy on the assertion that they’re an army; which is odd because, he was actually in the military. I also enjoyed watching Kyler strike out at asking his ex-girlfriend Soranik Natu out on a date.
My only complaint with this storyline is how cagey Hal is being. He clearly knows something about Space Sector 563 and possibly Sarko’s prism beasts, but Venditti is making us wait at least another issue before he spills the beans.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?
Weren’t you the ones who complained about the Wayne murder being in Trinity 3 and explored there? How come you love how it is in king’s run so much? Past times it was used as a contrast to current Batman who has become bigger than the tragedy that created him, but King’s is still stuck there. I wish the issue focused more on Flash and Batman and how they solve solutions differently, rather than their different reactions to trauma which has been explored plenty already.
I can’t speak for either Patrick (who wrote the piece on The Flash 21, above) or Mark (who wrote the Trinity 3 piece back in November), but I can clarify that we don’t dictate the opinions of our contributors. Far from it; if this site has any value, it’s because the opinions expressed in all of our pieces are those of the writers themselves. Patrick may very well like something that Mark doesn’t (and indeed, discussions where two writers disagree about an issue are some of our most interesting), but I’m not sure there’s much value in comparing the reactions of two different writers to two different series from completely different creative teams — it’s apples and oranges.
Yeah, Mark and I disagree all the time. But also, I think both of us could be swayed in either direction with the quality of the story. Like, I don’t know that novelty of themes or plot lines really figures in to how I evaluate a comic. I thought this did a nice job of marrying Barry’s perspective on his loss to Bruce’s, which is obviously important because Thomas Wayne is the character that Flashpoint puts back into play.
Also, goddamn do I love Batman: Knight of Vengeance. It’s arguably the only the genuinely great Flashpoint mini, and any opportunity to explore that version of Batman is going to excite the ever-loving shit out of me.
Honestly, the obsession with the death of the Waynes is one of the worst parts of Batman’s current place in the zeitgeist. The fact that we see them shot and killed endlessly, forever recycled again and again instead of original ideas. We can’t seem to tell Batman stories without showing his parents getting killed. One of the best things Marvel did with their movies is introduce Peter Parker as someone who is already a hero, so that we are spared another Uncle Ben death. Because yeah, we really need to work out how to write big Batman stories that don’t go back to the same fucking night in the same fucking alley.
There has to be more to Batman than two gunshots and a string of pearls falling to the ground. If we can’t get something more novel, the character’s doomed. Novelty is intrinsically linked with being interesting, because if we tell the same story again and again, we aren’t creating anything of value.
Yeah, I guess I felt like it was less about Barry’s detective skills and more about how he empathizes with people. It’s a tricky line, because both of these guys clearly work through their shit by working. I do think it’s telling how much narration we got in this issue (especially compared to Batman) – it makes him so much more of an open book.
From what I’ve seen, the real issue with the Flash is that, honestly, it wasn’t Tom King. King’s Batman is one of the most obvious signs of Rebirth’s consistent horribleness, and the Watchmen stuff (especially Batman and the Flash investigate a mystery the readers already know the answer to) is a bad idea. But if you are going to do this, there is no one better than King. King is a genius, one of the best examples of formalist writers and the Modern Master of the Nine Panel Grid. Perfect for doing something with Watchmen. Unlikely to be good (I don’t think the editorial is willing to let King write good comics), but at least attempts to be inventive.
Here, we just have a boring lack of imagination. A lack of any real wish to be inventive. To be boring and without real ideas in the one time it is essential to truly be the best.
So… sinestro>saranik>sarko? Son or soranik and Kyle right? Even his costume is similar to sinestros original costume.
I love the relationship between space ape and gorinn sun. They are definitely showing the issues of predjudice
So, I’ve been catching up on some movies (the problem with doing a live action Beauty of the Beast is that they set themselves up to the most obvious criticism. Throughout the movie, I kept saying that this scene or that would be better if it was animated. Though to be fair, a director skilled in Gothic Romance may have pulled it off. A shame, as I really loved the live action Cinderella)
And, because it has finally hit my shores, I got to finally watch the LEGO Batman Movie!
And damn, was it good. It is hard to think of a way to do a more comprehensive exploration of Batman’s history, especially in 2 hours. The only thing really missing was Catwoman. A great exploration of the Batman/Catwoman dynamic would be the perfect cheery on the top of a powerful exploration of Batman and intimacy. But also very hard to fit in with everything else, especially differentiating it to the Joker plotline at the start.
Ultimately, any discussion of this movie has to be based on just how meta it is. From the very first frame, before even the studio credits, the movie is parodying the Dark Knight in a truly sensational gag (which then pays off at the very end with another gag that shows the arc of the movie and develops theme through the jokes and their placement). It is constantly commentating on the history of Batman and, most importantly, how we treat Batman.
The effects of Nolanization, and more importantly the way we have worshipped a very particular version of Batman, is key. The way we enjoy the ‘badass’ stuff in the Dark Knight, but ignore the parts that contextualises that. Ignoring the lessons those stories were telling, the underlying morals, until we twisted Batman until we got the monster in Batman v Superman. A Batman completing lacking in maturity, to the point where his very existence is a joke. And they do it so well, whether it is his song, the choice to have him live on Wayne Island or, most importantly, his complete inability to properly separate Batman from Bruce Wayne.
From there, it challenges this depiction the only way you can. It removes all the ‘fun’ toys, having the supervillain community lock itself up, while adding the one thing we have insisted we don’t want from Batman, the canon. It makes some changes to the canon, altering Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon’s origins fantastically (Dick Grayson’s new backstory is perfect fodder for jokes, while Commissioner Barbara Gordon fantastically deepens themes by the ways she challenges Batman through her approach of STATISTICS! and COMPASSION! instead of vigilantism). The fact that the stories are different doesn’t mean that this isn’t adding canon. What is actually happening is taking one of the most important themes of Batman, and putting it where it belongs. It doesn’t matter what backstory Robin and Batgirl have. It has never mattered if Robin was a circus acrobat who lost his parents to crime, a street kid who stole the tires of the Batmobile, a kid with a detective’s brain and an urge to help, a supervillain’s child who will never give up or the son of Batman and a global terrorist. It has never mattered if Batgirl is a young genius looking for her way to help, a mute assassin trying to find redemption or a supervillain’s child who will never give up. The important thing is that they are there, and what that means.
And from there, it is fireworks. We see just how insufficient the Batman we have built is when we truly look at him, as he unravels trying to deal with a world without Joker while trying to build the facade. We see the importance of a family to Batman, of a connection. While also seeing just how toxic that shitty Batman is (I wonder is that’s part of the point of Dick grabbing the Nightwing costume. Is it a critique of Nightwing and the way that the title is used to just turn Dick into Batman with all the same issues around edginess, or was it a metaphor for Batman’s arrested development. Young kid in the adult outfit). And it ends up with a truly fantastic judgement of Batman with the Phantom Zone stuff. We’ve seen Batman’s relationship with other heroes, both Barbara Gordon’s police and the Justice League, and then we finally get the Phantom Zone which spells out that the Batman we’ve created is pretty toxic. He’s the bad guy.
And from there, it truly builds the meaningful Batman that has been missing. A Batman that is truly connected to others. I love how it takes in ideas from recent comics. Barbara’s statement of a Gotham Family, instead of a BatFamily, is rooted in the ideas of Batwoman (before Rebirth ruined it), We Are Robin (before Rebirth got rid of it) and even Snyder’s Batman. One touch I love is placing Alfred front and centre as BatButler, fighting crime and being an active part of saving the day. Too often Alfred takes a passive role, and therefore never gets the chance to truly show that he actively provides value, instead of being a way to justify Batman getting patched up. That particular solution wouldn’t be right for the comics, but to find similar ways to use Alfred as an active participant in plots would be fantastic.
Honestly, it is such a fantastic movie, with so much depth, that I want to just keep going deeper. I want to do a close reading, watch it scene by scene and break down the many clever elements of the meta-commentary. It is a truly fantastic Batman movie.
Even if it is impossible to watch without also acknowledging that the exact joke that they are laughing at is the Batman of Rebirth