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 Batman 23, Green Arrow 23, Green Lanterns 23, Super Sons 4, and Superman 23. Also, we’ll be discussing The Flash 22 on Friday and The Wild Storm 4 on Monday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Drew: This past week, The Pudding published an article called “Are Pop Lyrics Getting More Repetitive?” and while the methods and presentation are both novel and interesting (seriously, give that link a click), the conclusions drawn by folks across the internet have been glib and superficial. Many have presupposed that repetitiveness is inherently bad, so the historical trend towards repetitiveness confirms the narrative that music is steadily getting worse. There are a number of reasons why this reasoning is dubious –music is more than just lyrics, for example — but the key one for me is that more repetition may represent more intricate musical structures that get steamrolled in the quantifying methods used in that article. That is, a more repetitive song may actually be more intricately constructed than one that never repeats. Such is certainly the case with Batman 23, which finds Tom King and Mitch Gerads repeating themselves in ever new contexts.
Ironically, the issue’s refrain is a decidedly non-repetitive song, Chauncey Olcott’s “My Wild Irish Rose” (alas, The Pudding’s analysis doesn’t go back to 1899, so I don’t have hard numbers on its repetitiveness), but the lyrics appear again and again in an issue built around placing repeated words in new contexts. Those repetitions give the issue a remarkable parallel structure that Gerads picks up in the art, conveying much of the issue in subtle changes to otherwise repeated panels.
As Alec says on the next page, life is change, though there’s an cyclical nature that is baked into his outlook.
Of course, his outlook may actually be more human than he lets on. The issue focuses on the investigation into the murder of Alec’s biological father, and while his speech here insists that death doesn’t matter to Swamp Thing, the end of the issue makes it clear enough that it matters to Alec. That’s room for Alec and Bruce to find common ground, but Alec’s deceit unsettles Bruce, who took comfort in the notion of the circle of life. To learn that Swamp Thing, with all his perspective, is just as susceptible to vengeance, calls that perspective into question. It’s a beautiful, unsettling one-off.
Green Arrow 23
Spencer: In real life rain often comes at the most inopportune times, but in fiction, rain is the carefully calculated choice of the creative team. Rain is often used to denote dread and sadness, and that’s certainly the case in Benjamin Percy and Juan Ferreyra’s Green Arrow 23. This is an intense, harrowing issue, and the relentless rainstorm emphasizes every aspect of that, from sadness (Emiko uses the rain to hide her tears) to the danger Broderick and his Four Horsemen represent.
In the first panel here the rain actually appears more like knives or daggers, falling from the sky to skewer Oliver — which seems indicative, not only of Fyers’ forces surrounding him, but of the way the Four Horsemen’s attack is slowly whittling away the city, and with it, Ollie’s heart.
As impressive as Ferreyra’s art is from beginning to end this week — I could easily triple my word count talking about the intensity of that double-page spread with Ollie and Fyers, the way a green trail of poison follows Cheshire’s sword, weaving through half the page’s panels, or those arrow-shaped insert panels that bounce Broderick’s golf ball across the page — I’m most taken by his and Percy’s symbolism. The rain is a more dramatic example, but even Ferreyra’s colors are rich with meaning.
Here the backgrounds clearly assign both characters a signature color: Fyff yellow, and Broderick red. On the very next page, though, Broderick brings Fyff into one of his factories bathed in Fyff’s signature yellow. To me, this just shows how Broderick is trying to seduce Fyff over to his side by making his version of Queen Industries seem like a place where Fyff belongs. Even the glasses get into the act — when Broderick first hands them to Fyff the lenses are red, but once Fyff is introduced to the factory, the lenses turn yellow, showing that he may just be falling for Broderick’s scheme, or at least considering it.
What’s abundantly clear is that Broderick is lying through his teeth to Fyff. He doesn’t want to use these inventions to make the world a better place; Broderick and the Ninth Circle are painted throughout this issue as a dark and dangerous religion looking to bring chaos to the world. No matter whether Broderick’s god is simply money or something much stranger, helping people is the last thing on his mind; he thinks they deserve chaos and pain. This is a stark contrast to Green Arrow, who admits that the only lens through which the world has ever made sense to him is the grim, chaotic filter of the original fairy tales, yet continues to declare that Seattle’s story won’t end in evil and chaos. That kind of idealism is not only what makes Green Arrow a hero, but what makes him the hero Seattle/the world needs right now.
Green Lanterns 23
Patrick: Throughout his run on Green Lanterns, writer Sam Humphries’ hidden (or sometimes not-so-hidden) thesis statement has been that anxiety and mental illness are not conquerable adversaries, but life-long conditions. Jess’ panic attacks have to be understood, rather than beaten into submission. Issue 23 pushes that thesis to — and past — the breaking point as Rookie Lantern Cruz goes through the rigors of bootcamp. Both of my siblings went through Basic Training, and the experience sounds legitimately awful. Like, I can sorta rationalize the goal of wanting to break soldiers down to rebuild them as a cohesive unit, willing to serve their country’s interests over their own biological and psychological needs, but that ignores everything we know about how different people learn, adapt to stress, and succeed. Jess cannot adapt to the stress, and even a steady pep talk from Kilowog can’t steady her clenched fist. I love the way Humphries and artist Eduaro Pansica play ‘Wog’s inspirational speech as saccharine, with almost Sailor Moon levels of candy-coated sweetness.
Sweet or no: that’s not actually helpful. So she loses her cool and slugs Guy Gardner right in the face.
Jess uses the term “Superior Officer” in her narration when it happens. Humphries is drawing the parallels between this and military service with a pretty thick marker, but that’s a statement so valuable I actually applaud the obviousness of the metaphor. If this were the military, Jess would be reprimanded, punished internally, and then advised to seek counseling. But that’s the real fucking kicker: seeking help for mental illness in the armed forced is viewed as a form of weakness, and is effectively a career-killer. It’s possible that Humphries will bail out on this story — the first page of issue 24 could be Guy saying “I didn’t know you had it in you — nice right hook, Cruz” — but I hope this story has the courage to actually look at what’s fundamentally inappropriate about the way Guy treats her all issue.
I trust Humphries to be aiming for the greater truth with his Jess/Guy story, but the Simon/Kyle story does have the explicitly stated “this ends when you punch me” goal. So, y’know: we’ll see.
Super Sons 4
Mark: Super Sons continues to be a playful and exciting book, but four issues in, even a writer as talented as Peter J. Tomasi is butting up against the irrefutable fact that Jon Kent is a thinly drawn character consistently dwarfed by the presence of his co-star, Damian Wayne. Super Sons 1 used its opening pages to concisely portray the starkly different upbringings of both super kids, and that excellent primer did a lot of heavy lifting when it came to explaining Damian and Jon’s inter-personal dynamic. But the further away we get from that origin story, the more Jon’s comparatively superficial personality acts as a bit of a drag.
Damian was always going to dominate the book by sheer force of personality alone — he has a richer history to draw from, bolstered by his deep bench of starring turns in great comics (many of which were authored by Tomasi) — but the Superman/Batman dynamic works so well because their temperaments are diametric opposites. Jon’s comparatively superficial personality makes for a less interesting contrast between him and Damian; to some extent they’d both just bratty kids, it’s just a matter of degrees.
Jon’s not totally milquetoast, though, thanks to Tomasi’s sharp writing, and Jorge Jimenez’s expressive art. Plus supporting characters like Sara and Kid Amazo go a long way to rounding out the issue. For my money, a little bit of Damian goes a long way (he works best as a supporting player by far), but those with a higher tolerance for his specific brand of bullheadedness will find a lot to love.
Michael: The revelation that early 2000s Superman villain Manchester Black was the mastermind behind “Black Dawn” confused me initially. However, putting the events of Superman 23 — and DC Rebirth — in context makes everything that much clearer.
Along with Joe Kelly, Superman 23 artist Doug Mahnke is a creator of Manchester Black, designed to be an analogue for the bloodthirsty brutes of the day at Image and Wildstorm. Black was a hero who didn’t mind taking lives, thus questioning the relevance of the big blue boyscout. Along with this storied past, Pete Tomasi and Patrick Gleason position Manchester Black as a symbol of the “gritty” New 52 in its death throes.
At first “Black Dawn” seemed to be a nod to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with the creepy farmer neighbors behind the abductions of our heroes. The more likely explanation is that Manchester Black is using his combined telepathy and telekinesis to control them. In the wake of the soft reboot of “Superman Reborn” it seems that Black has molded the Kents’ quaint Hamilton County into a reeducation zone for Jon Kent.
Black wants Jon to become the killer Superman that Clark never could be.
Though he doesn’t know exactly what is going on, Superman is tired of playing Black’s games. Mahnke draws Supes cutting loose and letting the super-strength and the heat vision fly. At a particularly gnarly point of the book he even draws Superman cauterizing Lois’ severed leg back on — perhaps tapping into that Manchester Black ultra-violence.
Superman 23 won me over on the Manchester Black of it all.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?