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.
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: With Batman #13, we come to the conclusion of “I am Suicide.” With Batman #13, we finally get to see Batman break Bane’s damn back. With Batman #13, I find myself asking the same question I’ve been asking myself and others for the past six months: is Tom King’s, Mikel Janin’s, and David Finch’s Batman good?
There’s an idea that the media you consume up until your early twenties has a measurably larger impact on your tastes than what you discover afterwards. When I first started reading serialized Batman stories, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo were the flagship creators. Thus, the Dark Knight I am most familiar with is not the totalitarian hypermasculine Frank Miller Batman or the strange god-like figure Grant Morrison makes him out to be. The Batman I know is exceedingly mortal, constantly assailed by his insecurities and failings. He’s brave but fearful. That is clearly not Tom King’s and Mikel Janin’s Batman.
Over the past fourteen issues, Batman’s rebirth has been defined by its lead hero’s recasting as an action movie hero. Like The Fast and the Furious or Taken films, this version of Batman revels in the physicality of its characters. In this issue, Batman is still presented as a tactician with a grand plan that ultimately ends up allowing him to best Bane and take Psycho-Pirate away from Santa Prisca prison, but the assembly or execution of that plan is not particularly memorable. What’s memorable is the action. The sheer brutality displayed throughout this arc. Watching Bane break Batman’s back. Listening to Batman scream “I’m going to break your damn back” again and again. Witnessing Batman punch holes into a prison wall and realign his own spine. Seeing Catwoman deliver a punishing blow with her whip and her foot to Bane. If Snyder’s and Capullo’s Batman is predominantly an internal character, King’s and Janin’s is a visceral antithesis to that version of the Dark Knight.
Objectively, I think that Batman #13 and the “I am Suicide” arc as a whole is a great work of art. Mikel Janin’s layouts and linework throughout the series have been stunning. Where Batman #12 was bursting with epic double-page spread action sequences, Batman #13 hones in on tiny moments. In the opening pages, Janin employs a checkerboard of panels to hone in on multiple perspectives on a single moment. As the issue progresses and brawls break out, Janin keeps the focus tight using moment to moment transitions that put the emphasis on facial expression rather than bombastic blows up until the final climax of the battle. While this dedication to keeping a narrow frame of focus ends up making certain character actions confusing, it is ultimately effective in eliciting a tense emotional effect in the reader.
However, I still feel a little cold about Batman overall. I know I sound like a fogey saying that this isn’t my Batman, but it’s an easy shorthand to describe my misgivings. I’m not much of an action buff when it comes to any medium. I prefer psychological thrillers and more cerebral stories to any kind of bombast. These are areas Batman stories can definitely be told in. These are areas that King is clearly capable of playing in, as evidenced by The Vision, Sheriff of Babylon, and Omega Men. I can’t fault him for deciding to play to a different spectrum in Batman because he’s doing a very good job of it. It’s hitting positive buttons for me. They’re just not exactly the right buttons.
What did you think of all of this, Kyle? How do you feel about the way this run on Batman is shaping up?
Kyle: Surprise, surprise, we were just saying off-line how our opinions are starting to line up a bit regarding these titles and here we are again. I basically echo everything you’re saying, though in a much dumber, blunter way, as is my lot in life.
I really struggle with my feelings about this run on the whole, there’s a good deal to enjoy, particularly in the micro. How can I not root for a comic that features Punch and Jewelee protecting themselves from certain doom with the biggest amount of bubble gum I’ve ever seen? But at the same time, I just don’t quite feel I’ve gotten a grasp on what makes this title tick. Perhaps the grand theme has yet to present itself in an obvious way, but you bring up two very intriguing runs that I have varying opinions about: Morrison and Snyder’s takes on the character. In both of those examples, I think an astute reader had a pretty good sense of what the mission statements were of those two very different Batmen, at least the initial takeaways anyhow (everything that’s happened to Batman counts in canon and happened in a small amount of time & Gotham as a “living” entity that drags everyone down to its level, so to speak). And those two theses presented themselves early enough that you felt confident making your purchasing decisions one way or another (aka: is this the Batman for me?).
As of right now, if someone asked me to sum up the King run so far as an elevator pitch, I’m not sure I’d be able to. King has brought his considerable formalist chops over to the title, and it makes the book enjoyable to read in small doses, but the two arcs are very different and hang together pretty loosely, despite some connective thread. There’s an exciting sense of mystery to each issue, because King’s talent is so considerable, he really could have *anything* up his sleeve…such as Issue #12’s poetic letter to Selina, and those asides taken alone are formidable, but I can’t help but wonder if it makes for jagged reading all in one gulp. I know I keep saying it, but I’m pledging to everyone right now that I will sit down and read these 13 issues again as soon as I have the opportunity. Unlike you Alex, action Batman is TOTALLY my Batman, and I think the action beats here – in this issue especially – make for an enjoyable romp, which I think is aided exponentially by Mikel Janin’s ever-beautiful pencil work. Seriously, Janin is the only reason I haven’t tossed my Justice League Dark issues.
So, with all that said…this is a trilogy of arcs presumably. Perhaps once we’ve got I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide (a title which takes on serious resonance, now that I sit back and look at it), and the upcoming I Am Bane, perhaps it will hang together in a way that I’ll finally say…”alright, I’m on your wavelength, Mr. King”. But I just haven’t gotten there yet, though I feel like I’m getting closer every issue.
Come to think of it, this is probably my favorite issue of the arc, as every player in Batman’s version of the Suicide Squad gets a nice spotlight. From Catwoman’s redeeming herself to some extent – though her most heinous actions that continue to be referenced remain a bit opaque, to Scarface “appearing”, to Batman making good on his promise from his arrival at Santa Prisca, it’s a well balanced issue that I think hits the marks that need to hit to close out this chapter in a satisfying fashion. I could have lived without the Justice League vs. Suicide Squad tie-in, but it’s only two pages, so it’s not a mega distraction but it does highlight that Batman is more tied into the larger DC Universe more than he’s been in some time. On the whole, that’s something I dig. If I’m going to read connected superhero universe stories, I want them to connect, damn it.
The bottom line here is, if you’re enjoying this arc, this is a good closer and marks a step-up from the already good, if somewhat scattered, “I Am Gotham” storyline. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this Catwoman two-parter with Mitch Gerads and “I Am Bane” pull everything together in the coming months. I’ll call this one a buy, as hope springs eternal as clearly the final moments here will prove important for what’s to come.
Final Verdict: Buy
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artist: Jason Fabok
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Alex Lu: DC has been making a ruckus about Justice League vs. Suicide Squad over the course of the last several months. While not a major event, per se, it’s being presented on a epic scale featuring a variety of DC’s best-known characters trading blows. The issue sees the Suicide Squad on another of Amanda Waller’s missions, but this one goes awry when the Justice League shows up to demand the Squad, also known as Task Force X, disband. Meanwhile, in the background, a third team begins to form with its eyes set on Waller herself. Justice League vs Suicide Squad #1 is exactly what you’d expect– a bombastic opening issue to an event that will feature lots of blood and violent escapades.
Frankly, the most intriguing thing about Justice League vs. Suicide Squad as an event is that, to my knowledge, it hasn’t already happened (in recent years, at least). In this issue, we discover that Batman was the only member of the Justice League to have prior knowledge of the Squad While it makes sense that if only one superhero knew about Task Force X, it would be Batman, I have a hard time believing that the rest of the League would never have encountered a group of villains causing mayhem together or that Batman, at least, would not have done something about the situation beforehand. It’s not a dealbreaker for me, but the scene where the Justice League discusses the Suicide Squad for the first time certainly took me out of the book for a moment.
That said, once we get past the setup, the rest of this comic proves to be quite fun. Elegantly dovetailing out of Amanda Waller’s intrusion of the Batcave in Batman #13, Waller has sent her team on a mission to the island of Badhnisia where a villain is planning on using a weapon called the Quake Pulsar to destroy the land. We get violent introductions to each member of the squad, including guest teammate Killer Frost, all lovingly rendered by Jason Fabok and Alex Sinclair. Their work in this issue is very impressive. It certainly falls under the “house style,” but because so many of DC’s books these days deviate from that visual aesthetic, the house look does not feel as generic as it otherwise might. There’s an elegance to the first splash that features the squad, showcasing each member locked in combat in great detail from linework to lighting as Harley Quinn rides Killer Croc and Sinclair colorizes Deadshot with the warm orange glow of his wrist guns.
And then there are the bookend scenes. At the very start of the issue, a mysterious figure breaks into a secret prison and frees a number of extremely dangerous, high risk prisoners. At the end of the issue, we see this dangerous band assembled. Its members include Doctor Polaris, Emerald Empress, Lobo, Johnny Sorrow, and Rustam. They’re led by the suggestive empath Maxwell Lord with the singular goal of killing Amanda Waller. Why they’re so deadset on this mission is not something I can elucidate, as I best know Maxwell Lord for getting his neck snapped before Infinite Crisis and Lobo for being a fish-worshipper in 52. I don’t know the rest of these characters at all. That said, I find their presentation intriguing and am looking forward to see them enter the battle between the Justice League and Suicide Squad.
In my opinion, what you see is what you get with Justice League vs Suicide Squad #1. It’s loud. It’s angry. It wants to kick your teeth in and leave you smiling all the same. It’s not particularly my cup of tea, but I enjoy how professionally it is all put together and look forward to reading more. How did you feel about it, Kyle?
Kyle: Forgive me, I’m a little confused, but why doesn’t Superman know about the Suicide Squad already? Wasn’t there a version on the Earth that he, Lois and Jon all came from that he was already aware of? I’m willing to accept dramatic license here, but that’s just one more wrench caused by the current over-complicated Superman situation (as much as I enjoy those books) that throws me just a tad.
As for this issue; it’s fine. My biggest takeaway is just how pretty it is. I’ve been a booster of Jason Fabok’s for a bit now, stretching back to his work on Detective Comics with John Layman. Once he hopped on-board Justice League with Geoff Johns is where things really started to take off. And here, once again, his pristine style is most welcome. Fabok approaches these characters in a picture perfect way that they look like they crawled out of the toy box of my dreams. In a sense, his work feels like the next evolution of that Jim Lee to Ivan Reis mold. It’s excellence in pure action comics storytelling and design, adding wonderfully expressive faces on top of that, particularly that of the Suicide Squad who are a bit more wide-ranging in terms of character type vs. the very stoic, never crack a smile, Justice League. Harley and Boomer are where he shines brightest in this regard I think.
But as for the story, it’s DC’s two big-screen properties colliding on the page and taking advantage of that fact with your standard heroes fighting the more morally grey anti-heroes, while the real bad guys are plotting behind the scenes. A solid enough premise, if fairly tried and true. Williamson does his job in terms of everyone sounding in character even if the Earthquake plot that brings the Squad to Badhnisia is a bit underbaked. Still, come issue 2, there’s going to need to be some serious handicapping going on for me to buy that the Suicide Squad can even remotely match up to the Justice League, especially with Superman and Wonder Woman in the mix. I appreciated Williamson adding in Simon’s commentary on that very matter.
But what I’m more intrigued by is that villain lineup that Maxwell Lord has pulled together. I can’t recall, but I don’t think Johnny Sorrow has appeared in a non Earth 2 title since the reboot, and Emerald Empress only popped up during the most recent Legion of Superheroes title deep in the 31st Century. Both of those characters are firmly established as JSA and Legion baddies, two properties that are looking at emerging comebacks thanks to the Rebirth one-shot, and a few cameos and hints here and there in Batman and The Flash. The likelihood that this event has bigger repercussions for the wider Rebirthed DCU than just throwing two movie teams together looms large (though as an aside, I love that this cinematic focused team-up is going to give birth to a CW-esque Justice League of America as part of its fallout. Clever synergy that.)
As a Wednesday read, it’s fine. Big, dumb, Michael Bay-esque superheroics that’s real easy on the eyes. You could do worse, and honestly, I probably enjoyed this more than the current Suicide Squad book. I wouldn’t put at the top of my pile personally, but if you just gotta be in the know about what’s to come, or you just really miss Maxwell Lord (he is pretty great after all, just not on Supergirl), it’s probably worth picking up. Give it a browse anyway.
Final Verdict: Browse
- For my money, Trinity is still one of the most heartwarming books of the Rebirth era. It’s full of platitudes and sappy emotions that are more than a little hamfisted, but it remains a touching read all the same. In this week’s Trinity #4, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman continue their journey through a collective subconscious. In previous issues, we saw the dark knight and the man of steel grapple with their pasts, so it is only fitting that Diana receive her own journey here. She returns to Themyscira alongside her friends, only to find herself considered an imposter by her sisters because there already is a younger Diana on the island. While I wouldn’t call any of the plot or Diana’s character exploration in this issue particularly revelatory, it’s a fun journey rendered excellently by Francis Manapul, Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, and Hi-Fi.
- Cave Carson has Cybernetic Eye is a weird book. Where the first issue was very focused on Cave’s sense of ennui following his wife’s death, the scope of the title has quickly expanded to encompass conspiracy theories, underground societies, and giant worms. Cave Carson #3, out this week, is primarily in furthering plot rather than deepening character. The book is fun and all the action is wonderfully rendered by Michael Avon Oeming, though I do wish we could get a little more of the quiet “sad dad” moments this series opened with. It certainly has the best backup comics of anything in the Young Animal lineup, at least!
- The best thing I read this week was the Tom Scioli Green Arrow one-pager in Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye. While I think the Super Powers back-ups have been one of the best aspects of the book, this week really took the cake with a fun and inventive spin on Green Arrow’s origin. Tying him into Starro, and making his entire persona based on a weed-induced hallucination is the kind of ballsy move that I’m impressed he’s able to get away with on a big IP like this. The rest of the issue was good too, but these small slivers of Scioli madness really elevate the physical book itself as a must-read item. I’d want more than the 2-4 pages we get each outing if we could get it, but because of its small size, its impact is increased.
- I enjoyed the poignant close to the Frankenstein team-up in Superman #13, not the least of which is my continued enjoyment of Doug Mahnke drawing Frankenstein again – as mentioned two weeks ago, but also the way Tomasi and Gleason compare and contrast the splintered relationship between Frankenstein and his former bride vs. that of Clark and Lois. It’s a two-parter that takes a bit of a breather before this full-fledged Multiversity sequel begins, but it does important character building for our leads, particularly in how it frames this version of Clark as a loving and compassionate one.
- Much like Suicide Squad, I still find myself struggling with Justice League, mainly because I think the conflicts they’re squaring off against really aren’t connecting in the personal way that I feel like Bryan Hitch continues to aim for. This “Outbreak” storyline was at least aided by the appearance of some familiar villains, but it felt like glorified cameos more than anything else, and in service of a threat that was hard to work up much of an interest in. On the positive side, Neil Edwards art is a fitting stand-in for Hitch’s own pencilling, so the book certainly looks great!
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