THIS WEEK: Served with a twist! First up, the Dark Multiverse’s version of Infinite Crisis includes a pissed off (and not dead) Blue Beetle who’s already one step ahead of the game. And then, Batman in Boston!
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.
Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Infinite Crisis #1
Writer: James Tynion IV
Pencils: Aaron Lopresti
Inks: Matt Ryan
Colors: Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Letters: Rob Leigh
These Dark Multiverse one-shots have been delightful. Categorized somewhere between fanfic and celebration, each issue has introduced a pivotal plot twist on one of the most iconic moments of the DC universe’s history to see how differently it could have turned out. It’s a blatant play for nostalgia, and it’s totally working. In this particular dark corner of the multiverse, we are invited to witness an Earth where Ted Kord wasn’t murdered as he attempted to stop the Infinite Crisis before it began. Could the Blue Beetle have saved the world from Alexander Luthor and the OMACs? Would he?
Since we’re looking back at 2005’s Infinite Crisis (and the legendary one-dollar DC Countdown special that announced it), this is a good moment to appreciate what an exciting time that was for a DC Comics fan. The death of Ted Kord was a wake-up call to fans who were caught dozing. We didn’t even know that there was a Crisis looming or that Superboy Prime was still alive somewhere and punching holes through Donna Troy’s origin story. Before we could catch our breath the Spectre was rampaging against magic, there were two Lex Luthors running around, and the Trinity were negotiating a painful breakup. There was a lot going on.
Capturing the feel of the comics line from fifteen years ago can’t be an easy feat, but the creative team here managed to nail the attitudes and visual elements in a way that made me smile repeatedly. I’d forgotten how paranoid and twitchy Batman was back then, and how tense things were across the hero community. There were so many threats to deal with at once and multiple shady organizations with conflicting agendas that were all about to clash. The result was a shared universe that felt layered and complex, and a story that was unpredictable and hugely impactful. They don’t make event books like Infinite Crisis anymore, that’s for sure. Except for this one!
One of the centerpieces of this story is the Blue & Gold buddy cop dynamic, one of the best friendships in comics. Now that Ted has survived his encounter with Max, he and Michael are still squabbling over the legacy they left during their time in the Justice League. Booster feels anger at how their team’s accomplishments often get overlooked, Beetle wonders if they went far enough to prevent disaster. Unable to see eye to eye, the two agree upon the general goal but not the best methods to get there. Infinite Crisis was about large scale wars and interdimensional threats, but most of its emotional resonance was tied to the connections between characters and the strain that was being placed upon those relationships. All of that storytelling goodness is alive and well here.
This book also got me thinking about the differences between the style of storytelling in the DCU, then and now. The original Crisis in 1985 pioneered a line-wide selective rewriting of history, but 2005’s Infinite Crisis introduced a new wrinkle to it, and it’s a concept that is used heavily today. Not only is reality a thing that can be edited over and over again into a new form, now there are characters that can exist outside of this new reality. There’s the chance that the deletions from DC’s continuity live on from the cutting room floor. You thought comic book characters couldn’t die? Infinite Crisis suggested that they can’t even be editorially removed. This year’s Dark Multiverse titles have further reinforced this immortality — we can now sort through rejected versions of every story to follow the paths not taken. It’s the DCU gone quantum: If a world is possible, it exists somewhere. And they’re a hell of a lot of fun to explore.
Batman: Creature of the Night #4
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist, Colors, & Cover: John Paul Leon
Letters: Todd Klein
Just the right twist can breathe new life into a familiar story. Consider the changes to Batman’s origin story in this Elseworlds tale. (Do we still have Elseworlds? Or is it all Hypertime and Worlogogs now?) The setting is similar to the Earth Prime-like world in Kurt Busiek’s earlier work, Superman: Secret Identity, where the main character grows up reading the fictional exploits of the DC superheroes in comic books. It’s basically a story set in our own reality, with most of the action taking place in Boston as we know it.
In Creature of the Night, a young Bruce Wainwright is drawn to Batman comics, mostly because of the similarity in their names. But that’s far from the only eerie coincidence between the two. In this world (our own, remember) Bruce’s parents are killed in a botched burglary attempt and he is placed under the care of a great-uncle named Alfred. He continues to read Batman comics to help him through the tragedy and the pain of growing up alone. Bruce is as surprised as anyone when a bloodthirsty bat creature appears to stalk the Boston nights to protect Bruce and his interests.
That’s it, that’s the twist. Batman is a completely fictional comic book character, but somehow this young man is able to manifest a demonic poltergeist that appears to be modeled upon his obsession with the Caped Crusader. This Batman phantasm fights for justice, though its concept of fairness is twisted in just the way a traumatized child’s might be. It uses no batarangs or grappling guns, and doesn’t sit in front of a bat computer. The creature just flies through shadow, a flurry of hellish retribution against those who threaten Bruce’s happiness. This is less a superhero story of upholding law, and more an occult tale of a troubled boy’s emotional release.
But really, if we’re not going to use the Batman mythos to explore childhood trauma, what are we even doing with it? Am I right?
The art from John Paul Leon is meticulously detailed, which produces the important and potent effect of groundedness. Backgrounds are filled with objects or debris to the exact extent they would be in our real world. While Bruce pores over a genuine-looking police file, with mug shots paperclipped over a standard case form that has been filled out scratchily by pen, piles of boxes are stacked haphazardly on the floor behind his desk. We can see the makeshift handle cutouts in the side of each cardboard box underneath the lopsided lids and almost read the case number written on the side in Sharpie. In an earlier scene the sun glints off the green metal I-93 highway exit sign, above the tiny criss-crosses of the chain link safety fence that lines the road in the distance. It’s clear that this is a work of intentional art, not just the product of some month’s page count quota.
This same intentionality is found in the way the color pallette shapes the reader’s emotional experience. The creature stalks a night full of dark blues and greys, fading before the warmer tones of daylight and clear-mindedness invade the page. Alfred’s hospital room is saturated with sterile, bright colors. The payoff of building such a grounded, realistic environment is the unmooring that occurs late in the book as Bruce descends into delusion. Very quickly, the carefully curated world begins to swirl and morph into a garish flat comic book tableau. The delirium can be palpably felt for a few pages before the art eventually rights itself along with Bruce’s mental wellbeing. I’ve read a lot of comics, but I’m not sure I’ve ever felt Batman heal so viscerally.
Batman: Creature of the Night is an otherworldly fantasy, cunningly set in a world that is all too real.
- I’m pretty sure they just revealed the seventh champion in Shazam! #8 and, uh, did not see that coming. This is turning into such a nice, heartwarming book about the power of family and connection.
- Is it just me, or did this week’s John Constantine: Hellblazer #1 have a completely different vibe than the introductory book (The Sandman Universe Presents: Hellblazer #1) that preceded it?
- James Tynion IV is starting to wind down his run on Justice League Dark, but the action is still ratcheting up. Though we didn’t see the result yet, I feel like Zatanna’s backwards spell to TUP EHT KCALB DNOMAID KCAB EREHW TI SGNOLEB is going to have some unintended consequences. Gotta be careful with the wording of these things, Zee. That’s just magic 101.
- Someone tell me what’s going on in The Terrifics #22. Between the backwards talking and the body swapping and the time jumping and the Bizarro grammar, me am not NOT sure me not know what am going off there.
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