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 11, Batman / The Shadow 2 and Wonder Woman 23. Also, we will be discussing Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 21 on Monday, so check back for that! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: Ethan Cobblepot — Batgirl 11‘s titular “Son of Penguin” — has been gaining control over Burnside through data-mining, using its citizens’ personal information to subtly manipulate their actions and solidify his own grip on the borough. It only makes sense that Ethan’s scheme would eventually lead to full-blown mind control — the problem is that the creative team of Hope Larson and Chris Wildgoose never give a convincing explanation as to how he reached that point.
Now don’t get me wrong — too much psuedo-science or hard sci-fi makes my eyes glaze over. If a character simply says that they’re, say, a meta-human with mind control powers or that they have mind control technology, I can instantly buy it. But Larson emphasizes several times that Ethan is specifically using the data he’s stolen from people to control them.
If this was limited to the flashmob here, or even Ethan blackmailing people, it would make perfect sense. But on the very next page Ethan is straight-up puppet-master mind controlling people, and the explanation given — that data-mining allows him to do this — just doesn’t go far enough to explain the amount of control Ethan’s suddenly gained. It’s thematically sound, but fails the story on a narrative level.
This is probably a minor quibble to be sure, but it’s minor quibbles that trip Batgirl 11 up. Another comes when Babs finally defeats Ethan — the twist that he’s totally unprepared for a fist fight is great, but there’s something really jarring tonally about Babs lecturing Ethan about how he “could’ve been an okay guy” while he lies on the ground being electrocuted (in an attack that we later learn left him with burns over 90% of his body). Thankfully Babs immediately extinguishes the fire and saves him, but still, the severity of his situation clashes with Barbara’s reaction (both the speech and her relative poise while she says it). There’s actually quite a bit I like about this issue that I wish I had room to talk about, but just enough wrong with it to take me out of the story multiple times, which is never a good thing.
Batman / The Shadow 2
Drew: We don’t have a lot of writing guidelines at Retcon Punch — for better or for worse, we’re interested in exploring our subjective reactions to comics — but one hard and fast rule we insist on is a strict moratorium on the phrase “I don’t buy it.” We’re hoping to engage with the stories we’re reading, and while that doesn’t always happen, why it didn’t happen is far more interesting than the fact that it didn’t. I bring this up not because I’m incredulous about the events of Batman/The Shadow 2, but because Batman’s own incredulousness is such a central theme of this issue.
Indeed, the disconnect between the ease with which we grasp what’s going on and Batman’s failure to do so is kind of the tension that drives this issue. We understand that Batman is participating in a crossover with the Shadow, so we’re willing to accept some mystical elements along with the pulpy noir world Batman already lives in. So when the Shadow insists that he was always Henri Ducard, Batman can’t believe it, but we immediately understand that it’s possible (though still a surprising twist). Moreover, we understand that the Shadow is a good guy and that he (and potentially his enemy, the Stag) can cloud the minds of men, such that they can’t trust their eyes, so we’re one step ahead of Batman when he denies these truths.
In that way, this issue stands as somewhat of a modern political parable, as the intentionally misled refuse the truth, even when it is laid bare. Batman only finally accepts the Shadow’s story when he pulls the same trick with Leslie Thompkins. In one fell swoop, the Shadow proves that he’s out to protect the innocent AND that he can trick Batman with his disguises, but Batman still refuses to let him help.
Steve Orlando, Scott Snyder, and Riley Rossmo lean into the “board” imagery here, evoking a chessboard moments before we see a similar board in Joker’s lair. Intriguingly, the black and white board is filled not with chess pieces, but with black and red checkers chips, recalling the look of this very scene. It seems these two are the adversaries that matter, even if the board they’re playing on doesn’t quite fit either of them.
Wonder Woman 23
Patrick: Here’s the truth about Wonder Woman’s history: nobody owns it. For as much as we’d like to place the pantheon of greek gods alongside grand DC mythos in some way that vaguely resembles canon, there’s just no way to square the three-quarters of a century’s worth of stories that have been attempting to do just that. That’s the meta-premise of Greg Rucka and Liam Sharp’s story “Lies”. In Wonder Woman 23, which concludes the antecedent story, “The Truth” offers less truth about the past and more truth about the future. Isn’t that more satisfying anyway?
The issue starts with Diana and Dr. Cale trapped inside the inter-dimension pivot point between Earth and Themyscira — which is, of course, the gnarled tree that’s been haunting the pages of Wonder Woman for the last 22 issues. They’re not alone in there: the space between worlds is also the prison of both Ares and Dr. Cale’s daughter Izzy. For as much as the character and origin of Wonder Woman has been in flux, so too has Ares’. Rucka and Sharp lay this concept bare in panel one, page one.
Sharp’s design includes a helmet with those curved ram horns, that glowing red axe, and a combination of skulls and bondage imagery to make a Warhammer designer blush. This is a twist on a common Ares’ design — even in his final moments with the character, Sharp is putting his stamp on Ares.
By the end of the story, Diana realizes that she can never return to the Themyscira and Izzy cannot return to Earth. The only paths for either of them are forward — not backward. It doesn’t mean that Diana cannot long for the past she understood, but that giant wooden door is permanently closed. The beautiful thing is that this need not change who Wonder Woman fundamentally is or how she operates. In a classic Wondy checkmate moment, she is able to conquer Deimos and Phobos by loving them. These are characters driven by rage and panic and all kinds of negative emotions, so rather than engage them on the physical battlefield, Wonder Woman defeats them with pure, perfect emotion. I love Sharp’s take on the loneliness Deimos and Phobos must feel, separated even while bound together.
It’s sorta weird to see Rucka and Sharp so gracefully close the book on Wonder Woman’s past, knowing they won’t be the creators to take the character forward into the future. But then again, that’s the point, right? They can’t control what comes next any more than they could control what came before. Still doesn’t change who Diana is.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?