DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as
Young Animal, Wildstorm, Black Label, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu, entertainment editor Kyle Pinion, and contributor Louie Hlad are here to help you with.
THIS WEEK: Kyle wrestles with his thoughts on the big Batman-Catwoman wedding, and Man of Steel comes to a spectacular close
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
Art: Mikel Janin & Various
Colorist: June Chung
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
It’s now become a little difficult to separate this issue from the brouhaha that surrounds it, as DC and the New York Times – in what was supposed to be your standard preview and a major push for the issue in one of the biggest papers of record in the country, it instead turned into a debate regarding spoilers, whether or not the publisher sold the retailer a false bill of goods, and a question of marketing vs. the actual storytelling content being produced. I don’t really feel like wading into those waters, nor do I have the financial stake to really have an opinion one way or another. The only real observation I have is that Tom King is an odd writer to fit into the usual “event-driven” mode of modern comics. He tells highly internalized stories that often tell of the events happening around the main event itself…take for example, everything in Mister Miracle: there’s a huge war going on, but we actually spend more time with Scott and Barda at home, or in bed, talking about their fears and their hopes for the future. The closest thing he’s had to a major event in his highly psychologically-based Batman run thus far was the War of Jokes and Riddles, a battle that we really only ever saw in fits and starts, while instead we spend an entire issue with Kiteman and his son while Deathstroke and Deadshot go at each other elsewhere.
For some readers, especially for those looking for something a bit different than the norm within corporate comics, that approach really connects, for others it simply doesn’t. For a run that’s been consistently in the Top 10 comics sold each month, I’ve never heard such a variance of opinions, especially on something that’s frankly, as generally agreeable as Batman. It’s either universal adoration, with some detractors (Snyder) or universal condemnation, with some highly vocal supporters (Morrison – the haters are crazy by the way, that run rules). But opinions on King are all over the map. Which also maybe captures my feelings in a nutshell, I find the narrative ambition very thrilling and refreshing, but sometimes I also just want to watch Batman solve a crime and punch the Mad Hatter in the face.
But that’s not the story King is telling.
Here, with Batman #50, the build-up is over and the now the actual festivities can begin? Or will they? Well, if you read the the comics internet at all this weekend, you know the answer to that question and how it in turn affects the first issue of Catwoman, also released this week. Let me actually start with that ending, which I think is probably the strongest part of the issue. While Selina relying on her witness Holly as her “voice of reason” as it were makes some amount of sense, it does make her look terribly naive in the context of her ongoing relationship with Bruce, especially once you realize it’s all part of a long-running plot by Bane (and presumably the rest of the of the Bat-villains that have played a part in this run). That’s a good twist, really…I have misgivings about what it says about Catwoman, but having Bane playing this long-game that’s been simmering in the background since they went to war in Santa Prisca is really quite satisfying. I might not feel the same way if I didn’t have that institutional knowledge from having read the previous 49 issues, but as a part of, again, the story King has been telling this whole time, it’s a satisfying way to keep the gears turning; particularly when one looks at that final page the cast of characters assembled. Is it just symbolic that Skeets, Flashpoint Batman, etc are all gathered together as a representation of King’s essaying on Batman up to this point, or better yet, are they ACTUALLY there?
The trouble really sets in less so during the general sequential portions of the comic and more the prose. I tend to bemoan whenever King tries to get too deep into this rather Alan Moore-inspired cadence and this issue really finds him catering to some of those worst instincts where aims to emulate the occasional symmetrical storytelling that early Moore made his stock and trade, but here it’s just really quite a slog. The vows as written by Selina and Bruce both go on and on about each other’s eyes to the point where I found myself thinking, “okay, one or two pages was enough, guys!”. But despite King perhaps giving in to his worst instincts here, the bigger problem at hand is that their clearly wasn’t enough story to cover the extended page count (and price). While it’s thrilling to look at Frank Miller and Lee Weeks and Mitch Gerads art in isolation, when tied to the narrative it slams the brakes on everything. It’s an issue where the pinup art is being used to pad the page count inside the very story it’s telling. If it was just a few brief instances, it wouldn’t have caught my ire anywhere near as much, but it occupies more than half the issue. And so, as an anniversary special that pulls in a ton of artists to contribute some very nice pieces, it works. As a story in of itself, it’s like a little bit of butter being spread over too much bread.
There’s a nicely touching moment with Bruce and Alfred though, and Janin, when he gets a chance to show off his considerable chops, continues to be King’s best artistic partner on this run. And when you just look at the issue at a macro level, rather than studying the details of the story, but how Janin and King structure the panels, there’s a good deal to admire. While the symmetry of the dialogue doesn’t quite pan out, it does pay off nicely from page to page, especially when you hit the middle point where Bruce and Selina meet, only to fray in mirrored visuals that do play to some of my weak spots as a reader. Even some of the blasted pin-ups play along, kind of. I dunno, ask me tomorrow and I’ll probably say that King is playing the Watchmen stuff too closely, but ask me today and I rather admire the effort.
Blast it, even when I’m mixed on King I still enjoy the craft. I probably just hate wedding vows.
Man of Steel #6
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Jay Fabok
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Josh Reed
On the other hand, let’s talk about a book that’s firing on all cylinders currently. It’s honestly been a while since I had read any Bendis prior to his DC arrival, a few issues of his X-Men run here and there. It seems as though the new playground has really energized his work in a way that I haven’t seen since maybe his earliest days on the Avengers. I’ve talked about it at length before, but this re-energized Bendis has literally fired a bolt of electricity through Superman with these past six issues. While I had enjoyed the Tomasi-Gleason/Jurgens-Zircher, etc runs overall, those two titles were often bottom of the pile reads for me. Dependable but never essential, except when their bigger moments were in the offing.
While it’s still early days, the newest DC import’s take on the first superhero has, over the past month and a half, been one of my most anticipated comics. Why? Two reasons just off the top: Bendis has always excelled at dialogue, that’s just been one of his great gifts as a comics storyteller, stretching beyond Daredevil and into things like Torso and Jinx. He has a powerful sense of gab and developing individual character voices, and if there’s one figure in cape comics that could use that sort of humanizing touch, it’s Superman. On top of that, Bendis also has made it his goal to better flesh out the supporting cast, particularly the employees of the Daily Planet. That this latter effort plays right into his wheelhouse is no surprise at all. And I guess this is a third point, but the structure of each issue has been intriguing to watch play out; with each chapter opening with a circular object and Fabok popping in with his flashbacks, providing further clues as to what happened to Jon and Lois that’s left Superman at his current state.
And now we’re at the point that Fabok is drawing the full issue, and all stands revealed. I have to admit, I both laughed a little and breathed a sigh of relief regarding the final resolution to this mini’s long-standing mystery. On the one hand, there’s a sense of “Lois and Jon are returning to their home planet” in how they both exited from Clark’s immediate future, and it gave Bendis a short-handed sense of conflict for Clark. But, on the other hand, I appreciate that their parting was not met with any kind of marital struggle between our favorite husband and wife, or some kind of tragedy. Instead, Lois, with her own sense of agency, decided joining Jon out in space with Jor-El would be the right thing to do and provide her with an adventure all of her own. If you have to split them up for the duration of however long Bendis plans for, that’s not a terribly disagreeable way to do it. And when you have these really nice emotional cues between Clark and Jon especially, with Jon expressing his sadness over not being accepted by the Teen Titans and his own potential as a growing threat, and Clark providing paternal comfort in a deeply heartwrenching scene.
I’m still uncertain about Rogol Zaar and his motivations, and he still comes across as a generally generic threat until shown otherwise. That’s probably the biggest miss of the series in that six issues later, we don’t know that much more about this big bad villain than we really did going in, short of a few details. But in truth, that’s not the point of this issue and I can basically forgive it some aura of ambiguity since it had a much more important plotline to address and did so with aplomb. I’m also delighted to learn that what Jon and Lois experience on their odyssey with Jor-El will be an ongoing thread, so they’re not just simply wiped from the table. Now let’s find out what’s going on with this rash of arson.
- As for the rest of the DC pull this week, I took in Catwoman #1, which is a pretty good follow-on for Batman #50. I like Selina’s new status quo, and there’s a compelling hook that puts her in a rough situation with the police far away from home. Joelle Jones’ artwork is, no surprise, a delight…but getting to finally sample of her storytelling chops as a solo act was a draw in of its own. I might finally have another Batman-family comic that I’m excited to read on a regular basis again.
- The other book I tried to pay special attention to was Dan Jurgens’ debut on Green Lanterns with issue #50. Prior to this issue, this title has been one of the dogs of major DC heroes…at one point, I had dreaded reading it so much I had amassed about 8 issues in my backlog. It wasn’t worth getting caught up on. And to be honest, I’m not wholly convinced by what Jurgens offers here just yet, but I’m keeping my eyes on it. There’s a big supervillain looking baddie, some anonymous alien race that’s at odds with the Lanterns, and John Stewart’s ring is acting up for some reason, so at the very least the book is expanding its scope. There’s a pretty good chance, given that Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps is coming to an end next month, that Green Lanterns will take its place as the defacto catch-all book for all Green Lanterns that aren’t Hal Jordan…more to come on that front.