In June, 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.
Editor’s Note (AL): Earlier in the day, Kyle and I took a look at Young Animal’s newest title, Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1. You can check out our review of the book right now!
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: Tom King
Artist: Mikel Janin
Colorist: June Chung
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Alex Lu: “I am Gotham,” Tom King’s first arc on Batman alongside artist David Finch, was an uncharacteristically haphazard start for a new series penned by the writer of carefully constructed epics like The Vision and Omega Men. While the basic elements and themes of a great story were there, the pacing of the arc was too compressed. Events unfolded faster than readers could process them. New characters changed too dramatically before readers could build true emotion for them. “I am Gotham” wasn’t a bad story, but it was painfully easy to see the heights it could have reached yet failed to. Luckily though, time heals all wounds as this week, Batman #9 returns with a fantastic start to a new story, “I am Suicide.”
While King remains on scripts for “I am Suicide,” Mikel Janin has rotated into the role of artist for the arc. Janin’s artwork previously graced the Batman: Rebirth oneshot back in June. At the time, we were incredibly impressed with Janin’s carefully structured layouts and his polished artstyle. I, for one, remain astounded by his work in Batman #9. Janin’s style is perhaps most comparable to that of Jeremy Haun of The Beauty fame with its realistic bent and heavy blacks. Characters have a sheen to them and are always intensely lit by colorist June Chung, emphasizing the melodramatic nature of all the best Batman stories. You know this book is going to be insane as soon as you see a nude Bane sitting on top of a throne of skulls.
The thing I loved in Batman: Rebirth and found distinctly lacking in “I am Gotham” was the rhythmic use of visual and textual cyclicality. Where Finch’s work with King felt like The Fast and the Furious with its emphasis on action and big explosive moments, Janin’s work with King feels more like Birdman with its constant callbacks and carefully structured pages. The tension in Batman #9 is not built through instances of great moral peril, but small moments that echo and build until they crescendo in a burst of energy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the opening to this issue. We see a young boy staring up at sky above his prison cell bars. A caption: “I was four again.” The boy, older now, eating a rat: “I was ten again.” The boy, older again, water rising in his cell, “I was fourteen again.” The boy, now a man, almost drowning in his cell: “I was twenty-one again.” We see King’s narration on the next page coupled with Janin’s artwork, visualizing Bane’s life behind bars in Santa Prisca, the most secure prison in the world. For seventeen years, water would flood Bane’s cell every night. He’d be forced to swim endlessly simply to avoid drowning, his fear and anguish depicted intensely by Janin. We slowly pan above and away from him, emphasizing how insignificant he felt at the time. On the next page, we see the first page echoed. The water level starts dropping: “I was twenty-one again.” Bane gets younger as the water level drops until he’s a young boy, crying in his cell: “I was four again.” These three pages make Bane a more empathetic character than he’s ever been before, viscerally narrating his torturous childhood before exploding into the next page, where we see Bane triumphant. He is a huge man sitting on his skull throne, bathed in glowing orange light. He towers over Psycho Pirate, whom he received from Hugo Strange in exchange for a supply of Venom used to fuel Strange’s monstrosities in the “Night of the Monster Men” event comics. In physique, Bane towers over everyone now. Yet he needs Psycho Pirate, for on the inside, Bane is still four. He “screams” through the nights and Psycho Pirate is the only one who can take that pain away. The push and the pull. The complex, contradictory duality of a person’s exterior and their interior. These are the moments we read Batman for. These are the moments we read comics for.
As the issue progresses, we see Bruce attending to Gotham Girl, who seems to have regressed back to a state of mental anguish since we last saw her in “The Night of the Monster Men” crossover. Her state here is a curious choice, considering that she arguably overcame the internal pain that had been afflicting her during that event. It’s not necessarily a bad one though. As anyone who suffers from a mental illness knows, the problems never really go away. It’s just a matter of how we choose to cope with them and when they rear their ugly heads.
We see Batman descend into Arkham Asylum, accepting Amanda Waller’s offer to assemble a Suicide Squad from its inmates in order to break into Santa Prisca and free Psycho Pirate. Batman needs the Pirate to free Gotham Girl from her pain as well. We see a cavalcade of classic B-list Batman villains who remind us of the character’s vast history and showcase the creative team’s reverence for that legacy.
Finally, we close with a bait and switch. King and Janin show us an Arkham doctor arguing with Batman about a particular patient. The doctor is terrified of “that one” because taking them would be “much too dangerous.” Janin shows Batman entering a room with a figure in a mask and straitjacket depicted in profile view, sitting down across from Batman at a table. It’s a direct visual callback to Batman’s first meeting of the Joker in The Killing Joke. King emphasizes the connection with an echo back to writer Alan Moore’s script as Batman addresses the figure with the line: “I’ve been thinking lately. About you and me.” He takes off the mask and we expect to see the clown prince– perhaps the one who lost his face. Instead we see the wry smile of Selina Kyle, Catwoman, and our expectations are blown once again.
Batman #9 is a masterpiece. It’s one of the best single issues I’ve read in a long time. King and Janin are a match made in heaven and I’m dying to see what heights they soar to together. Would you agree, Kyle?
Kyle Pinion: Honestly, calling it a masterpiece is probably greasing the wheel too much, but I reserve that kind of talk for your Black Holes, From Hells, Love Bunglers and such. BUT, it was a very good issue and a nice a bounce-back from the somewhat distracted “I Am Gotham” arc. You see, the problem with that previous arc, and I sort of recognize it now that we have the benefit of hindsight, is that King had to do double duty to simultaneously set-up both his ongoing arc (which is, obviously, of primary interest to him, or it reads as such on the page) and to put the Hugo Strange/Monster Men stuff into play as well. “Night of the Monster Men” was a fun, breezy little Batman event that had a nice twist on that Golden Age concept, but it required set-up and that time that was needed sucked away from giving us a better look at both Gotham and Gotham Girl. It wasn’t an unsatisfactory read, it just wasn’t able to reach the heights that we’d come to expect from King, and the expectations that had built up in my head (my fault really, when you take on the marquee Batman book, one should expect some level of compromise).
On the other hand, this first issue of “I Am Suicide” feels like the King Batman I was expecting. One of his hallmarks as a storyteller is his adherence to Alan Moore-like formalism, and as you so eloquently describe Alex, that pops up right away in the pseudo-origin for Bane we get as a child in Santa Prisca. And it also comes into play in how he frames the story into the typical “gathering of the band/Dirty Dozen” type thing. The way he and Janin chart a course through Arkham with Batman, “Gordon”, and Jeremiah Arkham, collecting recruits as they go, and twisting and turning through the steps until they arrive at a central interrogation room that holds what Arkham plays-up as one of his most dangerous inmates. Clearly the issue wants you to think it’s going to be The Joker, and thankfully that is not the case.
One that subject, what I really enjoyed, more-so than this probably being the best Suicide Squad issue since Rebirth, was the sheer variety of villains than King and Janin pull from and that haven’t really shown up in the current continuity much, if at all. I can’t recall the last time we saw the Arnold Weskler Ventriloquist or Bronze Tiger, and I’m going to guess that Punch and Jewelee definitely have not appeared whatsoever prior to Flashpoint, so it’s nice to get King to shine a nice spotlight on these massively underserved characters. They all bring a different skill-set to the upcoming mission, and frankly have a bit more variety to them than the actual Suicide Squad roster we see currently (that’s very heavy on the brawn, but less so on sheer espionage type skills). And Catwoman? I’m excited to see her being handled by one of DC’s best writers after her very well-received Genevieve Valentine run came to an end. It’s so easy for Batman’s other villains to get way over-shadowed by the Joker and Two-Face, so I’m excited for this opportunity to spend some quality time elsewhere.
Ya know what else I liked? Mikel Janin’s art. You basically tell the tale above, Alex, but he and King (and Tim Seeley) struck some beautiful magic together on Grayson, and that was the work that made me so terribly excited about this duo inheriting Batman. And much like their very good Rebirth partnership, it all snaps back into place here for an even better issue.
Before I forget…SATURN GIRL!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! I’ve been waiting for that Legion of Superheroes tease to pay-off, and with what appears to be Ms. Ardeen stuck in Arkham, suddenly all my weird theorizations about Gotham and Gotham Girl somehow dovetailing with Mon-El and Laurel Gand come crashing back to me. None of that is going to happen obviously, but I love the possibility that King may end up handling that dangling Legion thread in some way. There aren’t enough Batman-Legion crossovers in the world, and I think it’s high-time this injustice was corrected.
Final Verdict: Buy
I was slammed as slammed could be this week ahead of some serious travel, so I didn’t get a chance to read everything like I wanted to though I thought Trinity #2 was an improvement on the previous issue, which I found to be pretty flat and unaffecting, and the final resolution could lead this title to go enjoyable places – though I’m a sucker for the end-item in question and its storytelling possibilities.
More importantly, I was enthralled by Superman #9, and I may have liked it even more than this week’s Batman. We get Superman, Superboy and Captain William Storm fighting the denizens of Dinosaur Island and it turns out, this isn’t just a wink and a nod to the The New Frontier, it straight-up is the same island, which may have been obvious to everybody else, but I didn’t realize that Jon had created a Transmatter Symphonic Array until this issue. Additionally, given that The New Frontier is one of the earths accounted for in The Multiversity, it’s becoming clear that Tomasi and Gleason are plotting out a story that plays with some of those ideas left behind by Grant Morrison. Granted, one look at the January solicits would outright tell you that, but all the signs are right here. I can’t wait to find out who the big bad turning the gears here is, and Superman continues to be not only one of the best titles of Rebirth, but also one of the most consistent lines across the board by the publisher.
Since you’re avoiding spoilers about Trinity #2, Kyle, I will too. I was a bigger fan of the first issue than you were, but I’m glad to hear you like this follow up because it really is an improvement on everything Francis Manapul began to build in Trinity #1. It’s quite beautiful to get to see the adult Superman interacting with his father. The sense of “wonder” Superman feels returning to his childhood Smallville really hammers the fact that all three of the Trinity members have lost those childhood familial places. Manapul’s art is as gorgeous as ever and the cliffhanger has me excited as you are for the arc to come!
And as we look to the future, we also look to the past. Nightwing #7 is out this week. It begins a new arc, picking up from where the story left off before the “Night of the Monster Men” event began. The story thus far has focused on Nightwing’s developing relationship with Raptor, a mysterious anti-hero who is attempting to replace the sense of justice instilled in Dick Grayson by Bruce Wayne with Raptor’s own, more brutal and final idea of the term. In this issue, we start to unravel the secret of who Raptor really is and, as one might expect, it’s a figure from Dick’s past. However, I guarantee you won’t be able to guess exactly which person it is. Nightwing‘s creative team has done a fantastic job of building up Dick’s character over the past few months, aggressively separating him from Bruce Wayne and teaming him with a foil in Raptor. Both these decisions have forced Dick to grow and change at an unprecedented rate and it’s been a lot of fun to be taken on the ride.
Buy: Batman #9, Nightwing #7, Superman #9, Trinity #2