In June 2016, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
This week: Alex grabs the wheel as the last year of Detective Comics culminates with the finale of “The League of Shadows.” We’ll also look at BUG! The Adventures of Forager, which marks the first new Young Animal title beyond its initial launch slate.
Note: the reviews below contain **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Marcio Takara
Colorist: Marcello Maiolo
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Over the course of the last year, the creative team of Detective Comics has done a pretty remarkable thing: they’ve crafted a creatively fertile and coherent series with a heart. That may sound like a simple baseline that all series should meet, but it’s one that comics all too rarely hit. At the core of this series lies a basic premise that runs throughout many Batman-related titles but is all the more powerful in this team-focused book: all the members of the Bat-family are broken people, but together they can become something better. Something whole. Something more.
As Cassandra Cain, the Orphan, lands a punishing blow on her mother and League of Shadows leader Shiva, she screams “I am not less. I AM MORE!” These two sentences essentially sum up both her character’s journey and the journey of this run of Detective Comics as a whole. For most of her life, Cassandra has seen herself as a shadow of a person. She feels everything a normal person feels– love, pain, remorse, and regret– but she doesn’t know how to react to those feelings. All she’s ever known is violence. Her internal struggle has been between her desire to embrace life, but only having the tools to express herself to others through the deliverance of death.
Cassandra’s conflict was intensified by the sudden revelation of her mother’s identity. Lady Shiva, herself a deadly killer, is also the leader of the League of Shadows, a splinter group of R’as Al Ghul’s League of Assassins whom have dedicated themselves to the total annihilation of Gotham. Everything Cassandra’s past and family history has taught her points her in one direction, but it all lies in polar opposition to what she wants. Ultimately, however, Cassandra learns that our pasts do not define our futures. The lessons we’re taught are only tools. They can be wielded however we choose to use them. As Cassandra says, she has been taught to “see death” but when it matters most, with her new Bat-family behind her, she’ll always “choose life.”
We see Cassandra’s choice echoed by Colonel Jacob Kane, Batwoman’s father. In the first arc of James Tynion IV’s and Eddy Barrow’s run on the series, we saw Colonel Kane choose death. He was willing to murder Red Robin in the hopes of potentially killing off the League of Assassins’ sleeper agents in Gotham before they were awakened. In this issue, after being rescued by his rogue military group’s technology specialist Ulysses, Colonel Kane is forced to make a deadly choice again when he is presented with the possibility of killing every living person– League of Assassin or otherwise– using a swarm of nano-drones. He initially chooses death again, but reneges when he sees that Kate Kane, who had been stabbed by Shiva in front of him in the previous issue, was still alive. In the name of his family, Colonel Kane decides to choose life.
The culmination of these storylines represents the fruition of a multi-part series arc that Detective Comics’ creative team have carefully nurtured. It is a beautiful end to a year-long story has shown us both the best and the worst things that our favorite and most tortured-heroes are capable of. This world is one of complex morality and compromise– no decision these characters make is without consequence. It’s a story that, for all its comic book trappings, reflects our reality. That’s what makes it a sight to behold.
Final Verdict: Buy
Storytellers: Lee Allred & Michael Allred
Colorist: Laura Allred
Letterer: Nate Piekos of Blambot
In their respective first arcs, the four main titles in DC’s Young Animal lineup were ultimately explorations of belonging. Characters like Shade, Mother Panic, Casey Brinke, and Cave Carson find themselves at formative points of their lives where they feel utterly without a sense of home or family, but ultimately find the strength to build families for themselves. These families look drastically different from one another but they all strike the same emotionally resonant tenor. This week, in the whimsical BUG! The Adventures of Forager #1, Lee, Michael, and Laura Allred lay out the groundwork to ring that chord once again.
While Doom Patrol is heavily influenced by and at times reliant on previous runs of that property, most of the Young Animal books that have been released thus far have proven to be relatively light on continuity, making them more accessible to new readers. Even Doom Patrol remains relatively friendly to newer comics fans thanks to lead character Casey, who is experiencing the weirdness of that universe for the first time alongside the reader. It’s odd, then, that BUG! is so continuity heavy and nearly nonsensical to those without knowledge of the character’s past.
Created by Jack Kirby in 1972, Forager is a humanoid insect that hails from a species that lives below New Genesis, a planet whose surface is inhabited by gods such as Orion and Metron. Forager considered himself to be a normal member of his underground bug colony until one day he discovered that he might actually be of the new gods. He ends up allying himself with the cosmic figures to save his colony, and eventually the universe itself, from destruction. Then, in the 1988 limited series Cosmic Odyssey, he sacrifices himself to save Batman from Darkseid, the monstrous new god of Apokolips. Now, in BUG! we discover that Forager did not die way back when– he was simply sleeping in a cocoon.
Frankly, the background information needed to properly contextualize this first issue is bafflingly obscure. The first page of this issue is dedicated to summarizing all this backstory but is presented in a fragmented way that conveys everything you absolutely must know, but it doesn’t explain why we need to know any of this at all. Unlike the various members of the Doom Patrol or even many of the other New Gods, Forager is not a particularly beloved or high profile character. Thus, I can’t imagine throngs of people complaining if the Allreds had decided to re-write the character completely. They might have been better off doing so because it makes this comic a tougher pill to swallow for the uninitiated.
Once– and if– you can get past this initial hurdle, though, BUG! is quite a lovely book. As expected from the Allreds, the book is stunning to look at. The haunted house this story primarily takes place in has an Escheresque vibe thanks to its recursive spiraling stairs and domino mazes. Forager’s bright red costuming emphasizes how out of place he is in this strange mindspace dominated by dull earth tones and pastel pinks.
The story of this first issue is also fascinating as it grapples with Forager’s core nature as a passive protagonist. For most of his life up until this point, Forager has served as a minion, doing things because he was commanded to by his bug hive or the Highfather of the New Gods. Forager, tired of being subjected to the will of others, questions and confronts the complex nature of free will in a series of strange conversations with things such as a sentient teddy bear and the classic Sandman, Hector Hall. Through these talks, the core thesis of this book is revealed– it is again a series about belonging. Forager is a character caught between two worlds with equally domineering leaders. He’s never really had the opportunity to define himself for himself until now, but he doesn’t know what to do with the chance he’s been given.
Is BUG! The Adventures of Forager #1 the strongest entry in Young Animal’s lineup? No. It’s a little confusing and certainly unfriendly towards new readers. However, for Kirby fans, Allred lovers, or people who enjoy comics that are somewhat on the esoteric side (that’s me!), this book certainly offers a lot to chew on.
Final Verdict: Browse
- Shade the Changing Girl #8 officially kicks off a new arc for this Young Animal series. Following a Carrie-esque humiliation at the hands of her classmates and the betrayal of one of her friends, Shade has decided to leave her host body’s suburban life behind and see what else life has to offer. She lands in Gotham, where writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Marley Zarcone a collage of moments that paint an idyllic picture of life in a new city. It’s not the most cohesive story, but it is emotionally evocative and marks a solid start for what seems to be a much more expansive second arc for our favorite avian alien.
- All-Star Batman #10 also marks the start of a new arc for the series. I was a big fan of this series’ previous arc, which was incredibly experimental in structure and tone. This arc seems to be a little less exploratory than that one, but in a neat little twist, it looks like this arc will focus on Alfred Pennyworth rather than the Dark Knight himself. In this issue, we get an in-depth look on how Alfred views his relationship to Bruce and a surprising look into his character’s past. The book is a little heavy on the monologuing, but overall, it’s a solid start to what should hopefully be an interesting arc. And if nothing else, with Snyder reunited with artist Rafael Albuquerque (American Vampire), this storyline will definitely be a beautiful one.
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Alex is the Managing Editor of the Comics Beat. He is also a freelance comics editor with previous credits at Papercutz. He is your go-to fella for creator interviews, conversations about comic book structure, and general DC Comics nerding. Currently geeking out over movies, too.