Superman Fails to Find a Better Way in Man of Steel 6

by Drew Baumgartner

Man of Steel 6

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Superman always finds a better way.

Superman purist, Traditional

I’m paraphrasing pretty heavily here, triangulating a sentiment from the dozens of arguments I read (and participated in) in the wake of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, but the idea that Superman can always come up with a solution that doesn’t involve murder is a ubiquitous one in Superman fandom. And I agree with that idea as it applies to that film — Superman certainly could have at least attempted something else (or the movie could have done a better job convincing us that he had exhausted his options) — but something about “always finding a better way” doesn’t quite feel like Superman to me. His moral compass true, and he’ll never fail to aim for a solution that satisfies his sense of what’s right and wrong, but the thought that he always comes up with a solution would rob those morals of any real consequence. While some Superman stories might resemble Sherlock Holmes in that “seeing how he solves it is the fun” kind of way, one of the most interesting things about Superman having such a strong morality is that it might be tested or bear some emotional cost. That’s a point Brian Michael Bendis and Jason Fabok leverage twice in Man of Steel 6, as Superman fails to “find a better way” in both his superheroing and family lives. Continue reading

Batman 50: Discussion

by Drew Baumgartner and Michael DeLaney

Batman 50

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Drew: Bruce Wayne understands that his responsibilities as Batman demands sacrifice. He devotes his time, body, and earthly resources to his mission to fight crime, and generally takes that mission very seriously. All of which can look like he’s sacrificed his own happiness in order to be Batman. Or, more precisely, that his happiness is a necessary sacrifice for his existence. Batman’s drive, the argument goes, comes from his grief, anger, and sadness, so anything that blunts or dilutes those feelings weaken his mission. It’s a position DC Editorial staked out back in 2013, when Dan DiDio explained why Batwoman’s marriage could never happen, but it’s not necessarily a philosophy writer Tom King ascribes to. Indeed, King has argued that Batman’s happiness is a valuable source of drama, stating “There’s no conflict in having Batman be sad. There’s conflict in having Batman be happy.” That may mean King sees Batman’s happiness as only a temporary condition, but it’s obviously not out of the question. The point is, it’s a hotly debated topic, and one that King cleverly allows to play out in the pages of Batman 50. Continue reading

The Man of Steel 5 Lets Superman Define the Symbol

by Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Early in this issue, Superman catches a glimpse of a symbol on Rogol Zaar’s chest, and while he gets a good look at it, he can’t quite make out what it’s supposed to mean. The symbol is one that writer Brian Michael Bendis and his collaborators have been playing with from the very first pages of Man of Steel — a perfect circle with something interrupting that perfection. Bendis’ various collaborators have cast a number of different circles and spheres to play the role of this symbol: sometimes it’s a collapsing Krypton, or a quiet Earth, or the reflection of Rogol in Superman’s eye. My favorite circle actually appears in this issue, as Rogol’s eye peering into the opening of the bottled city of Kandor. Bendis has been teasing meaning in this shape for so long that when Superman finally decides he is interested in divining that meaning, the character and the reader are united in purpose. Continue reading

Batman 49 is the Anti-“The Killing Joke”

by Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

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Tom King and Mikel Janin’s Batman 49 gives Catwoman and Joker an opportunity to discuss the role humor plays in both their lives and the greater Batman franchise. Joker’s goal in all of this is to get a laugh out of Selina, and by the end of the issue, she obliges him with a joke of her own and a chuckle. Sounds like Killing Joke, right? Here’s the thing – King gets us there by trading in connection, nostalgia and shared history, where Alan Moore and Brian Bolland got there by trading in misery. The result is an inversion on the classic story, and an update on the storytelling values in Batman and in comics in general. Continue reading

Justice League 2: Discussion

By Michael DeLaney and Ryan Mogge

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Michael: Justice League 2 is all over the place, and for once that is intended as a compliment. With Dark Knights: Metal and Justice League: No Justice, Scott Snyder has gotten plenty of practice writing a team dynamic in the face of epic-level threats. And while both of those stories had their highs and lows, Justice League has been a pretty solid, fun ride thus far. Continue reading

The Man of Steel 3 Highlights Superman’s Great Compassion and Guilt

by Michael DeLaney 

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

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Any seasoned comic book reader — or really anyone who knows their pop culture — should know that you can never be sure that a character is dead unless you find their body. And even when they do find a body there’s the chance that it’s a clone, robot, time traveler, impostor, etc. While we haven’t found any bodies per se, in Man of Steel 3 it seems that Brian Michael Bendis has just killed…The Bottle City of Kandor. Continue reading

A Reveal as a Punchline in Batman 48

by Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

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Last time Tom King and Mikel Janin put out a Joker story — in “The War of Jokes and Riddles” — the Clown Prince of Crime wasn’t exactly himself. Batman 48, then, gives King and Janin a chance to show their take on a more platonic form of the Joker. He’s probably more manic and scrambled than usual, but just as devious, cunning, and ruthless as ever. Most importantly, though, this Joker is wickedly funny. Batman 48 is jam-packed with black humor and perfectly constructed (albeit remarkably morbid) jokes. In fact, the entire issue can be viewed as one long set-up to a perfect punchline. Continue reading

Justice and Symbolism in Justice League 1

By Drew Baumgartner

Justice League 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

There was no word for justice on my planet. The closest was the symbol on this table. It meant going beyond what was supposed to be possible, the natural laws. Imposing on the universe a higher standard. An ideal.

Martian Manhunter, Justice League 1

Our conceptions of justice hinge on fairness and impartiality — the notion that we are all held to the same standards of behavior (and face the same punishment for flaunting those standards). We understand how that can break down in practice (humans aren’t great at partiality), but we can imagine justice as a kind of platonic ideal we can strive towards. And that may be the best way to think about it, but closer inspection reminds us that, if it’s a platonic ideal, it’s one that varies from society to society and changes over time. We might reflect on the “justice” of the past (or of other cultures) and find it to be decidedly unjust, but that’s not how justice works — it’s not an objective monolith, but a deeply subjective, dynamic concept. That is, justice is a moral construct that only makes sense in light of the values of the society that construct it. Martian Manhunter’s approximation of justice reflects that idea, adding no moral spin to the “ideal” he mentions — in J’onn’s estimation, any ideologically motivated action “beyond what was supposed to be possible” is justice. In short, J’onn’s brief for the Justice League works just as well for the Legion of Doom. Continue reading

Man of Steel 2: Discussion

by Michael DeLaney and Drew Baumgartner

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Michael: Batman is a subject that frequents many pages of my sketchbooks and I assume everyone else’s.  Unlike the versatile Batman, I find that Superman is a harder character to draw, especially in his facial features. The face of Superman has to simultaneously convey strength, joy and a decent amount of charm. Thus far, I am enjoying Brian Michael Bendis’ depiction of Superman, and in Man of Steel 2, he is joined by 3 artists who tap into that Clark Kent Charm. Continue reading

Doomsday Clock 5 Meanders

By Drew Baumgartner

Doomsday Clock 5

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

The essence of drama, and especially melodrama, is compression. Show only what’s important. So start the scene as late as possible and once the dramatic point is made, end it.

Dennis O’Neil, The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics

Pound for pound, this might be some of the best writing advice I know. But in this age of sequels, prequels, spin-offs and tie-ins, it seems like it’s all but been forgotten. That is, the artistic discipline of narrative efficiency is no match for the commercial demands of more familiar content. I don’t mean to dismiss all sequels etc. out of hand (The Godfather: Part II is a goddamned masterpiece, and is both a sequel and a prequel), but I do think they need to work a bit harder to justify their existence — if the details of this prequel story truly are essential, why weren’t they included in the original. And that scrutiny goes double when augmenting a beloved masterpiece. It’s absolutely possible for a sequel to justify itself, even under those circumstances (again, The Godfather: Part II), but it’s no easy feat. Unfortunately, the longer Doomsday Clock wears on, the less it seems up to that task, not only failing to justify its existence, but pretty much every storytelling choice it makes. Continue reading