It’s the 2017 DC Comics New Talent Showcase! To cover it, Retcon Punch has assembled our finest old talent to say something about each of these stories.
Red Hood and Duke: Roll Call
Drew: Telling a satisfying short story is a daunting task in any medium, but takes on extra pitfalls when using long-established and much-beloved characters. Suddenly, your characterization doesn’t just have to be efficient and precise, it also has to be accurate. More importantly, your story is now measured against a wealth of others, making the task of finding something new to say all the more difficult. Which is to say, DC’s New Talent Showcase is a fraught endeavor. It’s a huge opportunity for the creators involved, but it’s also a very high-profile tightrope walk. Fortunately, Tony Patrick and Minkyu Jung pull off an elegant opening story that ticks all of the boxes.
Patrick’s dialogue has a beautiful snap — he clearly has an ear for the kind of quippy attitude that characters like Jason Todd, Duke Thomas, and Selina Kyle trade in — and he’s got a tight structure that escalates right up to the end. And Jung is a great fit, capturing both fight choreography and more subtle gestures with an almost Kubertian grace (an effect enhanced by Klaus Janson’s inks). It’s an exciting story, well told.
But the real fun of this story isn’t its technical proficiency, but its subtext. Jason and Duke aren’t rivals or mentor/protege, but collaborators. More importantly, they’re collaborators who have been inspired to greatness by Batman — it’s easy to see how Patrick and Jung might see themselves in the same light. Indeed, that these characters run themselves through simulations of the kind of adventure we might expect in this story looks for all the world like working out and talking through a story — there aren’t any real stakes, even as the situations get more and more intense. Ultimately, this was a trial designed to make these collaborators stronger — I can’t think of a more appropriate message for the folks involved in this issue.
Katana: To The Hilt
Spencer: A strong opening image, moment, or line can sell a story better than almost anything else, and man oh man, Katana: To The Hilt opens on a doozy of a splash page.
This page establishes the stakes of the story so well. Artist Lynne Yoshi immediately shows us that Katana is gravely injured, yet full of steely resolve and determination nonetheless. Writer Aaron Gillespie reveals why, letting us know that Katana has not only lost her signature weapon, but with it her only link to her beloved dead husband. This is a perfect hook for a Katana story — nothing matters to her more than that sword, and getting it back is a motivation that touches her to her very soul, affects the character on the deepest possible emotional plane.
Thankfully, Gillespie and Yoshi back that perfect opening page up with an ending that takes Katana on a satisfying journey; she isn’t just reunited with her sword, but she’s able to prove to the skeptical, grumpy Amanda Waller how important the sword is. Waller still probably doesn’t believe in the Soultaker’s mystical powers, but she fully believes in its ability to make Katana the best soldier possible. It’s a much-needed moment of humanity from Waller, as well as a smart resolution to the question that’s been surrounding the Soultaker since the New 52 began. Does the soul of Katana’s dead husband really reside within the sword? Gillespie and Yoshi propose that the true answer doesn’t really matter: Katana believes it does, and finds comfort in that, and that’s what really counts.
If I wanted to, I could probably quibble with this story’s use of the in media res opening — the flashback to the story’s “beginning” felt a little unnecessary and derailed its momentum a bit — but if it meant starting the story with a page that so perfectly sums up its stakes and its main character’s motivation so well, then the trade-off was absolutely worth it.
Nightwing: What We Talk About When We Talk About Family
Mark: The cyclical nature of comic book stories means that heroes are constantly repeating the same emotional beats over and over — Superman can’t swing a dead cat without being overwhelmed by man’s inhumanity towards man and then subsequently rising above it — so the trick for any creative team is finding a fresh way to present well-worn tropes. The idea that the Bat-Family is stronger together, and stronger than blood, is not new, but Al Letson, Sita Oum, and Cris Peter’s Nightwing: What We Talk About When We Talk About Family makes it interesting thanks to clever presentation.
Throughout the issue, various members of the Bat-Family pop up on the page, and in Nightwing’s mind, to provide encouragement or advice. Each of these Jiminy Cricket moments are accompanied by one of Sita Oum’s character portraits; it’s a flourish that’s used just the right amount to drive home the theme of togetherness without wearing out its welcome.
If I had one nit to pick, it’s that Nightwing seems a strange choice to frame the story around, or, rather, Batman himself seems the more obvious choice. The issue makes a point to mention that everyone needs family, whether it’s the one we’re born into or one that we choose, and while that sentiment applies to Nightwing to an extent, it’s one of those emotional beats that’s firmly in Batman’s repertoire.
Regardless, Nightwing: What We Talk About When We Talk About Family is a successful polishing of an old gem, made unique with its interesting presentation.
Poison Ivy: Silent Screams
Taylor: I don’t think anyone expects Poison Ivy to be a morally just hero at this point, but it’s fair to assume that when she headlines a story her actions will, more of less, fall onto the side of “good.” And while most people know the dangers of making assumptions, I think it’s fair to say that in the case of Poison Ivy, this type of assumption is correct. In Poison Ivy: Silent Screams, however, writer Owl Goingback cleverly uses this assumption to subvert expectations in an entertaining way.
Goingback, along with artist Matt Merhoff accomplish this on the first page of their story. Poison Ivy is pictured walking by a telephone pole plastered with posters asking for help locating missing children as the title of the story “Silent Scream” hints at what the story will be about.
The assumption to be had here is that Ivy will help rescue these children and put an end to their silent screams, whatever that may mean. At first, things seem to be happening in just this way, as Ivy tells a grieving father that he will avenge his daughters death by killing the thing that killed her. However, Ivy isn’t undertaking this mission to help some random and unlucky children. No, Ivy isn’t that type of anti-hero. Instead, she’s going to kill the vampire that took these children because it also happens to be killing plants as well.
While Ivy’s motivation isn’t totally unexpected, it belies the assumption that she’s going to save some children and end their silent screams. These screams, in fact, aren’t even those of the children. In typical fashion, Ivy is focused on the screams of the plants that have had their life-force sucked out of them by an ancient vampire creature. Ivy’s priorities have always been well known to anyone with the faintest interest in the Batman universe, but it’s still fun and entertaining to see her so callously dismiss the plight of her fellow humans in favor of her beloved plants. In this way Goingback has taken the assumption that Ivy has a shred of humanity and is going to save some kids and turned it on it’s head.
Oh, and can we all agree that Ivy’s leaf-cloak is fucking great?
Michael: When your protagonist is a cold-blooded killer assassin, you tend to need to give him an emotional foil. For Floyd Lawton, this typically comes in the form of his daughter. The Deadshot story “Mercy” provides Lawton with a different emotional foil: his older brother Eddie.
Writers Proctor and Harrell send the Suicide Squad member on another hit at the behest of Amanda Waller and the US government. While tracking his target Dr. Bryenko, Deadshot stumbles upon his brother Eddie — whom he believed to have killed many years ago.
Floyd goes AWOL (as expected) in order to save the brother that he thought he killed. Unfortunately when you’re a tragic killer type, you tend to find yourself in the position of having to tragically kill someone. Floyd once again must kill Eddie, this time as a form of mercy.
Dr. Bryenko has been testing his “army of one” hive mind tech on subjects like Eddie, turning them into “monsters.” Eddie can’t live with the guilt so he begs his brother to kill him. While Bryenko’s hive mind tech is impressive, what’s more impressive is the fact that he managed to somehow turn a brain-damaged paraplegic into a killing machine — something that’s only implied but not actually shown.
To be clear, artist Lalit Sharma doesn’t actually draw the Lawton fratricide, so it’s possible that Floyd somehow spared his brother.
Whether or not Eddie is dead is as moot of a point as Waller knowing that he was never dead to begin with. Deadshot: Mercy is a story about how old wounds never really heal because they’ll always be a part of us.
Doctor Fate: The Cost of Magic
Patrick: I usually have kind of a tough time getting into stories about the toll magic use takes on a person’s soul. The metaphor makes sense — sometimes success or expertise comes at the cost of one’s relationships or empathy or morality or whatever — but the actual nuts and bolts of what that means often feels trivialized by such stories. David Accampo and Sam Lofti have crafted a story that takes special care to routinely ground itself in relatable, human moments, to make the sacrifice of the man who wears the helmet an understandable price.
The crux of the story is Kent suffering a kind of spiritual breakdown while beating back a demon, and deciding to give up the mantle of Doctor Fate. That first beat is exactly the kind of non-specific suffering that normally turns me off to these stories. Kent writhes on the ground while on-lookers ask “do you think it’s contagious?” That’s an un-articulated malady, but it’s basically a stand-in for whatever reason a warrior or practitioner of any discipline would have for giving up their craft. Kent bricks up the Fate costume and the next image Lofti gives us is of Kent’s unrelenting normalcy.
We’ll get back to dog-demons and throwing purple lightning and all that silly stuff, but for one moment that has nothing to do with anything else, we’re just seeing Kent get ready for a normal day of being a regular dude. This kind of attention to mundane detail keeps Kent from being an abstraction, and forces the readers sympathies for him. Another moment that worked on me like gangbusters, is the minute Fate defeats / cures the demon for the second time, he reaches down to pet the dog it has transformed into.
I don’t mean to oversell this moment, but I love seeing Fate kneel down to pet a dog, only to be interrupted by that damn non-specific magic malady. But there it is — we can see what that suffering is preventing him from doing: petting a dog! The cost of magic, indeed.
Wonder Woman: The Archive
Ryan M: Using flashbacks to create a parallel structure for a story can be tricky. The need to make two stories reflect upon each other while also functioning independently can make for a difficult balancing act. In their entry into the New Talent Showcase, The Archive, Scott Snyder, Artist Ibrahim Moustafa and Colorist Romulo Fajarado Jr. set their story at two points in Diana’s life. By doing so, they tell a story that may contain backstory regarding her signature weapon and a towering hell-beast, but is more about offering insight into Wonder Woman’s character.
There is a determination that Moustafa uses to portray both versions of Diana. Young Diana does not understand why the truth is a thing to fear any more than her older self. However, the way that her native culture deals with items of mysterious power is different from the underground warehouse that Steve shows her.
The lasso of truth is kept in a place of honor while all of the items in the Armory grow dusty on cramped shelves. The reasoning and style of keeping the objects are different, but at both ages Diana feels the loss of their potential. Diana’s purity of heart make it difficult for her to understand why anyone would prefer to hide from the unknown rather than discover more. Diana’s proven right by the end of the story, as she fights a monster with the previously locked up weapons. To underline the idea that opposing Diana may be a bad idea, Moustafa and Fajarado Jr. offer what is perhaps the most striking visual sequence of the story as a demon takes over a man from the inside just as he is dismissing Diana. It’s a weird and surprising moment that takes this from being just an example of Diana’s belief in the truth. It’s a reminder that the unexplained happens, so when there is a chance to know the truth, its worth taking.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?