Batman 57 Pushes Through the Looking-Glass

by Drew Baumgartner

Batman 57

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

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In his write-up of Batman 55, our very own Spencer Irwin highlighted the formal differences between the sequences featuring Dick Grayson and those featuring the mysterious “Mr. Zimmerman.” The Dick Grayson layouts are freewheeling and unpredictable, while “The Zimmerman sequences are highly regimented, each and every one depicted as nine-panel grids. This seems to represent how cold and calculated Zimmerman is and how mercenary and transnational his life is, but also how isolated he’s become.” Issue 56 drove that point home further, doubling down on the formal differences between the two stories (even after Dick Grayson stopped appearing). So by the time we read Batman 57 we’re pretty well conditioned to the notion that nine-panel grids = the KGBeast’s story, while anything else = Batman’s. It’s an expectation Tom King and his collaborators upend brilliantly, forcing us to question those conclusions we drew about these formal choices way back at the start of this arc. Continue reading

Gratuitous Violence and Wasted Potential in Heroes in Crisis 1

by Spencer Irwin

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

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What is Heroes in Crisis actually about? The answer drastically changes my reading of this issue. See, as a murder mystery it works quite well — it doesn’t alleviate all my criticisms (which we’ll get into in a bit, believe me), but there’s interesting hooks in the form of which of the two prime suspects is the murderer, why they did it, and how the Trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman will react. As a murder mystery, Heroes in Crisis 1 is an enjoyable, if flawed, comic. But Heroes in Crisis has primarily been advertised and solicited as a more low-key, nuanced look at how superheroes handle trauma, and when judged by that metric, it’s far less successful. Continue reading

Severing Yet Another Tether to Bruce’s Humanity in Batman 55

by Spencer Irwin

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

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When first introduced back in 1940, Dick Grayson — then known as Robin, the Boy Wonder — was meant to provide a reference point for young readers, a way for them to see themselves in the stories they were reading. His youthful charm not only won over readers, but Batman himself, who quickly transformed from his early brooding, murderous, pulp-inspired incarnation into a more genial, bombastic character thanks to Robin’s influence. Even as modern interpretations of Batman return to a darker take on the character, Dick Grayson — now Nightwing — remains a tether to Batman’s humanity, a character who can bring out his lighter side even under the harshest circumstances. In Batman 55, Tom King and Tony Daniel highlight this vital role Nightwing fills, not just through his actions, but through the very structure of the issue. Continue reading

Batman Damned 1: Discussion

by Patrick Ehlers and Drew Baumgartner

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

Patrick: What is the first thing you do when you pick up your copy of Batman Damned #1? You’ve got fifty pages of stunning Lee Bermejo art on oversized, oddly-shapped pages, and a script from the legendary Brian Azzarello. It’s a mature, confident riff on Batman and crime and dark magic, but you eagerly thumb through that intrigue and drama and blah blah blah until you find the panel where you can sorta see Batman’s dick. Can you spot it without someone else increasing the contrast and circling it? It’s a rush — a taboo look at Bruce Wayne’s dong flopping lazily to right. And now, because you have this comic in your hands, you’re one of the people that saw it first hand.

It is a quintessential “made you look” moment. Bermejo and Azzarello have such command over the readers’ eye that they are able to direct us to one specific panel before we’ve even considered buying the book. Once this masterpiece is in your hands, you discover that it’s all about misdirection, slight of hand, and controlling what the reader sees and when they see it. Continue reading

Justice League 7/Adventures of the Super Sons 2: Discussion

by Spencer Irwin and Michael DeLaney

Adventures of the Super Sons 2:Justice League 7

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

Spencer: No two people experience the same piece of media the same way. That’s actually the entire foundation of what we do here at Retcon Punch — we exist to examine the different ways our various writers interpret weekly comic books.  Two books released by DC this week dive into this theme as well — Adventures of the Super Sons 2 explores how the same stories led two members of the Gang down very different life paths, while Justice League 7 finds three very different people reacting to some harsh truths about the universe in very different ways. Both drive home the same point: our natures and preconceived notions often have as much to do with how we interpret media as the actual media itself does, for better or for worse, no matter what the creators’ original intent may be. Continue reading

Past and Present Trauma Collapse into One in Batman 54

by Patrick Ehlers

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

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More than any other medium, comics have a rigidly prescriptive relationship with scenic transitions. Settings change on a page turn. Not every turn of the page will give the reader a new scene, but every new scene requires a new page. There are exceptions, of course. Creators can cut away to a quick one- or two-panel scene to provide context to a page. It’s also pretty common to run two scenes simultaneously on alternating panels on a page, like in Watchmen. But even in these cases, the scene or scenes at play are allowed to end at a page turn. With Batman 54, writer Tom King and artist Matt Wagner toss that conventional wisdom out the window, transitioning into and out of extended flashbacks part-way through the page. The result is a conflation of past with present, and of suffering with healing. Continue reading

Batman 53: Discussion

by Spencer Irwin and Patrick Ehlers

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

Spencer: The “Cold Days” storyline in Batman 51-53 has almost been sort of a mystery story, but the mystery isn’t “did Mr. Freeze commit murder,” it’s “why is Batman defending him?” Retcon Punch’s own Drew and I had a small debate about it in the comments of our discussion of issue 52; I believed that Batman, in his grief over Selina leaving him at the altar, had falsely incriminated Freeze, and was now looking to find justice for him, while Drew countered that Bruce buying his way onto a jury and pitching his own defense of Freeze isn’t justice at all. It turns out that, in a way, we were both right; Bruce is indeed driven by his grief over Selina and the mistakes it’s led him to make, but he isn’t seeking justice, he’s seeking absolution. Continue reading

Bruce Wayne Confronts His Assumptions (and Our Own) in Batman 52

by Drew Baumgartner

Batman 52

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

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We’ve written a lot over the years about how the disparate tones of various incarnations of Batman have created a kind of range that the character operates in. Maybe he’s light and campy, maybe he’s dark and serious. Maybe he’s a high-tech wizard, maybe he’s a low-tech sleuth. Maybe he’s a bitter loner, maybe he’s cultivating an ever-growing family of friends and allies. That range applies just as much to the look of Batman, as different character designs emphasize different aspects of his character. Is his costume scary, or silly? Is humanity obscured by his costume, or made more obvious by it? In practice, the platonic image of Batman we keep in our minds might be just as diffuse as his mood — a kind of pastiche of the designs from, say, our favorite comics runs, Batman: The Animated Series, and maybe even a few movies. High in the mix for most modern comics fans, though, must be David Mazzucchelli’s distinctively line-smart Batman: Year One, which distilled Batman down to as few brush strokes and dabs of color as possible, creating a kind of shorthand iconography for the character that perfectly suited the early-days nature of that story. It’s a style that Lee Weeks and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser evoke in Batman 52, though rather than celebrating that iconography, they’re interrogating it. Continue reading

Doomsday Clock 6 Circles Marionette’s Past as it Circles the Drain

By Patrick Ehlers

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

If I asked you to picture the single imagine that evokes Watchmen, what would you picture? Likely, you’re imagining the Comedian’s smiley face button, but I could also see an argument for Doctor Manhattan’s circular forehead logo. Both symbols are circles. I know that’s not exactly mind-blowing, but this is the level of visual rhetoric writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank are playing with in Doomsday Clock 6.

The series continues to slump along in much the same way it did last time we talked about it. This time, Marionette and Mime are the focus of the story, which really doesn’t do Johns or Frank any favors. Stripped of all but the most tangential references to the Watchmen universe, the creators are left with the tone and tools of the piece to tell a story that spans two tonally discrete universes. If that sounds like an inadequate set of tools to complete an impossible task, that’s because it is. 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