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, entertainment editor Kyle Pinion, and contributor Louie Hlad are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
THIS WEEK: Alex looks at how Justice League #35 makes a team up book work and how Batman #37 both succeeds and fails.
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.
Artist: Pete Woods
Letterer: Willie Schu
When approaching an ensemble title in superhero storytelling, there are two relatively distinct goals that need to be balanced. On the one hand, you need to establish insurmountable odds. You need to create a threat large enough that it requires a group of your heroes to put their already busy lives aside in order to gather and stop it. On the other hand, you need to pay off their gathering with not only big explosions, but character development. Readers don’t read comics just to watch people punch each other. They follow these characters because they love them and want to know more about them. A superhero team up title like Avengers or Justice League offers the opportunity to learn about who these heroes are in relation to their peers– something you don’t often get in solo titles.
The truth of the matter is that for all our love of shiny, exploding plot points, in the end, when we read stories we’re searching for lessons about ourselves. We want to learn how to do better. How to be better. We want to relate to these awe inspiring characters and learn something new about them that we can use for ourselves. So while we might know Superman or Wonder Woman as gods, we need to feel like they’re people too. That’s something Priest and Pete Woods, the new creative team on Justice League, acutely understand. And it’s why their run, only two issues in as of this week, is already off to such a fantastic start.
While there is a “monster of the week” plot in Justice League #35, it serves to buffer the advances in the bigger underlying plot originally established in the previous issue. Basically, after the Justice League was stretched thin dealing with multiple disasters around the world simultaneously, a tragic accident occurred where a terrorist’s hostage ended up stabbed by Wonder Woman’s sword. Since then, we’ve seen the blowback from this incident come back to haunt the League in the form of interrogations and, by the issue’s end, a devastating viral video that promises to hold significant consequences for the group. All this because of a few small human errors on the part of the police and members of the League themselves.
That we live in an era of stories that ask us to re litigate the question of “who watches the watchmen?” should be little surprise. This Justice League story, as its currently shaping up, reminds me quite a bit of the film adaptation of Marvel’s Civil War, revealing that behind all that great power and bombast lies humanity. And people are capable of great things– the League manages to save the world from devastation by mutant cockroach in this comic with barely a hitch. But people, even individuals who transcend humanity physically such as Superman, Cyborg, and Wonder Woman, are not machines and are not gods. They’re just as fallible as anybody else. And that’s a scary thing to see in our inspirations.
At the same time though, what can scare us about our heroes can also be what endears us to them. The creative team in Justice League #35 fills the issue to the brim with small character moments mixed into the grander plot that allow us to commiserate in our shared vulnerability. From Jessica Cruz being caught unawares on the toilet to Cyborg questioning the relationship between black skin and western beauty, we’re reminded that our heroes are closer to us than we sometimes think they are. And while one side of the coin says that that should scare us, the other side says that that should inspire us to become heroes.
Prior to this point, if we’re being frank, Justice League was a Rebirth title in need of a new direction. And Priest, Woods, and Schu have handily arisen to the occasion in just a few short weeks. The visual tenor of this series has changed, becoming more vibrant and youthful thanks to Woods’ bold and clean linework as well as his vivid style of coloring. Priest, as he’s demonstrated through Deathstroke, is more than capable of managing a huge host of powerful lead characters, giving them distinguishable voices and inner conflicts. I’m absolutely delighted by what Justice League has had to offer under this new regime and am looking forward to seeing more.
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Clay Mann
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
As a cantankerous and young comics reader on the internet, I spend my days on Twitter, wishing for more romance stories in my superhero books. And while I’m not quite narcissistic enough to believe that anyone is listening to the crazy things that spring from my brain at 3 AM on a Saturday, Batman #37 certainly makes it seem like someone is listening.
In the stellar Batman #36, we got to spend time with two of the most powerful couples in the current DC canon. We were shown how Superman and Lois Lane click. We learned about Batman and Catwoman’s couple dynamic as well. And more prominently, we learned what Batman’s and Superman’s fears are about the new romantic situation that the Dark Knight finds himself in and how they fear the impending nuptials might alter their often contentious friendship. Tension builds on tension and fear builds on fear until it climaxes in a chance meeting between the four of them. And the end result is Batman #37, a double date Batman story where no one ever throws a punch (a pickpocket gets hit with a baseball bat but hey, who’s really looking?).
So, if Batman #36 is about our heroes and their partners expressing their fear of the dark, Batman #37 is a story about them bravely wandering into the unknown to find out whether a purported criminal might merit welcoming into their family. It’s a quirky comic from the start, as the casually dressed couples are denied entrance to the Gotham County Fair because it’s “Superhero Night.” Ironically for them, only people in costumes are allowed inside. But Bruce and Clark can’t dress as themselves without fear of being recognized by the public, right? Right. The solution? Switch clothes!
If this comic works, it works in large part thanks to the vivid aesthetic explosion on every page. Clay Mann’s art, paired with Jordie Bellaire’s colors, carries a seductive glow thanks to its liberal use of soft, warm lighting and macro lens effects that put the emphasis of each panel on Mann’s idealized faces and bodies. These renderings of our four leads are undeniably cheesecake. Early on, we get a changing room scene where we get to peek at our male leads’ many abs and even get a hint of Lois’ undergarments to confirm the artistic team’s intentions. It works for the story being told and never feels blatantly exploitative, so I’d call the use of cheesecake here successful overall. However Lois’ dress in particular, as pretty as the pattern is, sits so skin-tight that it feels like a bridge too far. It feels particularly out of character that the dress belongs to Lois, who isn’t typically portrayed with the overtly seductive streak that Selina has often demonstrated. Even though Selina ultimately wears the dress for most of the issue, the knowledge of its ownership and the particularly stark way that it is rendered ends up making it a problematic distraction that persists on basically every page.
Moreover, Tom King’s dialogue style didn’t charm me this week as much as it normally does. The style heavily reliant on repetition and rhythm– when I talk about it, I often compare his words to the structure of pop songs and musicals– so it relies on hooking the reader both mentally and emotionally using simple bits of dialogue that refrain and recontextualize themselves over time. This type of dialogue works best when the overall amount of dialogue is relatively sparse and the number of hooks we need to remember is low. Neither of these things are true in Batman #37. I found myself juggling multiple callbacks and turns of phrase throughout this issue while dealing with a great deal of dense content surrounding the nature of Batman’s, Superman’s, Catwoman’s, and Lois’ relationships. As loathe as I am to say it, as someone who really does love style as much as substance, this issue might have benefited with a bit less of the former to allow us more mental space to dwell upon the latter.
In the end though, all this doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy myself when reading Batman #37. I did. Seeing Clark’s and Lois’ relationship contrasted with Selina’s and Bruce’s is incredibly enjoyable to watch and the creative team found some great set pieces through which to demonstrate that difference (my favorite is the tunnel of love sequence). King’s banter, even when flawed, is huge fun for me to read. And most of all, I found it incredibly refreshing to have a superhero book take time out of its regular schedule of beat-em-up stories to contextualize its heroes on a relatable, human level. That might not be what you want out of your superhero comic, but I promise– kisses now will make future fights all the sweeter.
Verdict: Browse, leaning towards a buy
- After a month off, Dark Nights: Metal returns with a bombastic fourth issue that puts Daniel, the new Dream, at center stage. While I think this series has somehow grown less and less accessible to non-entrenched DC readers over time, I think it’s also an incredibly rewarding experience for people like me who have been nerding out to DC books for years now. I applaud the fact that this event comic, despite having a massive scale, has not bled out into some lumbering line-wide crossover, which makes it easy to ignore if it’s not for you and easy to follow if it is. See? That’s how you really cater to your readers.
- Anyways, Metal #4 features a bunch of really cool villains and characters from DC’s vault. I especially love seeing the seven deadly sin guardians of the Rock of Eternity get some long overdue action. And Starro’s return is absolutely hilariously scripted…Losers! This DC round-up is run by Super-Starro now! These dumb schmucks Batman and Superman can’t tell left from right, let alone light from dark. There’s some sappy stuff about Batman being scared to face his fears but being motivated by his sons. I found that kinda moving for a second, but then I realized that sons are stupid. Who wants to go through that gross travesty of birth when you could just grow more of yourself like me!?
- And really, don’t get me started on Aquaman #31. Oh yeah, Riccardo Federici draws a sexy sea king, but that loser has been subjugating those little dudes down in the ocean that look like me, so he’s on my shitlist. King Shark seems like a way cooler dude. I mean, the guy’s half shark. Evolution is wild. I bet he’s way stronger than you tiny brained giblets.
- Alright, hang on, I know I just called you guys dull eyed empty vessels, but before I warp your brains I need you to explain Supersons #11 to me. What do you mean future timeline Tim Drake has come back to kill Jon before he kills everyone else? Timelines can’t be both possible and certain, right? If that peon’s timeline is only one possible one, there’s already a timeline where Jon doesn’t bork the world to bits. And if it’s certain that that wild man Tim’s timeline is the real one, then nothing he can do will change that, right?
- Hey, what do I care? More timelines? More brains! More futures? More me! Get ready, suckers. The future doesn’t belong to you chumps. It belongs to me! HAHAHA! Peace, braindeads!
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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.