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, Wonder Comics, 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 our team is here to help with, every Wednesday, with the DC Round-Up!
THIS WEEK: Young Justice and the Wonder Comics imprint have arrived, bringing with a madcap optimism missing as of late in the rest of the superhero line.
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: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Patrick Gleason
Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez
Letterer: DC Lettering
The DC Universe is a sad place lately. The general tone of Big 2 comics is heavily influenced by whichever publisher’s line-wide stories. For current DC, that means a little Doomsday Clock and a lot of Heroes in Crisis. This sadness is manifesting in different ways. Nightwing, for example, got shot, lost his memory, and—if that weren’t enough—changed his name to Ric, presumably tired of having his name spelled correctly. The point is, throughout the DCU, the recent tone has a range that basically goes from melancholic to super grouchy (there are exceptions, including Superman and Justice League, but still).
Enter Brian Michael Bendis’ new teen imprint Wonder Comics, launching this week with the frenetic Young Justice #1. For this flagship title, Bendis does writing duties and Patrick Gleason and Alejandro Sanchez artwork. The result is a comic that reads like a palliative for the publisher’s other metaphors for societal ills like PTSD or the rise of authoritarian government. This comic is colorful, bright, energetic, youthful—pick another adjectives from the happiest page of the thesaurus. At the same time, it’s still very much a DC comic, steeped in DC characters and continuity.
Continuity is actually the most interesting part of this book. Young Justice #1 is timed to coincide with the third season of the Young Justice animated series, and so Bendis and company’s first goal is assembling a team of young characters who’ve been repurposed or shuffled into odd status quos in recent years, including Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark, Impulse Bart Allen, and Superboy Connor Kent, along with some new young derivatives like Teen Lantern and Jinny Hex. The biggest question of the issue is how this story will dance around larger continuity implications of returning characters; Bendis knows this and uses it as an impetus for tension within his plot.
Overall, there’s a lot going on in this book. Sometimes the art reads chaotically and not every joke lands (do readers in 2019 still get a kick from one Big 2 comic referencing the other company? oh they do, and I’m just a grump? carry on), but the overarching spirit is one of optimism, shared by the characters on the page and the creators. This is absolutely refreshing. It’s what powered 2016’s uber successful Rebirth initiative, and if Bendis and Gleason can distill it even further and clean up the narrative, this book only stands to grow.
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Tom King’s Batman often reads like Batman-by-way-of-arthouse cinema. King incorporates quotations from famous literary works. His big moments often involve feats of emotional honesty versus feats with actual punches or kicks. And he plays fearlessly with form, making ample use of framing devices, repetition, and any number of other narrative tricks. I have enjoyed this run quite a bit, to the point where it would likely be the Batman run I’d recommend to friends who don’t have long-time familiarity with comics. Still, I will admit that King’s voice, tone, and sensibilities work better with some ideas/characters (the Bat-Cat romance, Kite Man) than with others (Booster Gold, the Bruce Wayne murder kid). Professor Pyg, the villain of Batman #62, is definitely one of the former.
This issue features a strong script from King, again playing with form by using lyrical second person narration to put the reader inside Batman, whose mind is flighty after the events of Batman #60 saw Flashpoint Batman (an alternate reality Thomas Wayne) show up in the Batcave. This interiority also enables King to really convey the horror of facing down a masked pig-faced villain who deals in sharp objects and violent splatters of blood. I could be wrong, however, I believe this is the first time King has gone to second person narration to tell a story, and I dig it. His literary flourishes pay far higher dividends for me when they rely on vices we haven’t seen him use before.
What really elevates this issue, though, is the artwork from Mitch Gerads, King’s recent collaborator on Mister Miracle and before that the semi-autobiographical Sheriff of Babylon for Vertigo. King-Gerads is one of those rare writer-artist pairings in comics that viscerally clicks, charging every panel they do together with some impossible to comprehend creative alchemy. This issue is no exception. I could read King and Gerads stories that are mostly just sad bearded guys staring sadly out windows (and I have). They’re also exceptional at disorientation, which appears to be the unifying commonality of the seemingly disparate issues making up this Knightmares story arc.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a perfect Batman issue (the Pygmalion story here really took me out of it, so clearly did it reveal the hand of the writer), it is without question in the upper echelon of issues from this run, which is high praise.
Story: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Words: Tynion IV
Pencils: Jim Cheung and Stephen Segovia
Inkers: Mark Morales and Segovia
Colorists: Tomeu Morey and Wil Quintana
Letterer: Tom Napolitano
I’ve drawn this comparison in past round-ups, but this iteration of Justice League—powered by writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, and artists Jim Cheung and Jorge Jimenez—feels a bit similar in scope to what Jonathan Hickman did at Marvel. Like Hickman’s Fantastic Four-Avengers-Secret Wars run, this story puts the Earth and its heroes at the center of a series of ongoing events with the potential to alter the fabric of the multiverse. The rest of the universe (being no simple chumps) is increasingly aware of this and starting to wonder, A. why Earth is always wrapped up in this sort of hi-jinx, and B. maybe it’s time to do something about that.
Where the two runs differ is that whereas Hickman was primarily interested in vast multiversal conspiracy around secretive reality-shaping groups, Snyder et al. are making their story more so about the individuals whose tough choices ripple throughout space and time. This latter concern, which we continue to see this week in Justice League #15, is also one that allows the story to explore ideological questions in a poignant way that speaks to our modern times. Although we don’t see him and his ilk here, Lex Luthor and the Legion of Doom have been so well-positioned throughout this run as foils to the League, that they continue to loom large over everything. The question is who is right about how to best handle threats: Lex Luthor who wants to embrace a new, selfish Earth first mentality…or Martian Manhunter, who wants his Justice League to continue fighting just as it has for years, essentially pushing forward while largely maintaining a tested status quo. It’s all a bit familiar to those who follow the news.
In this issue, a trio consisting of Hawkgirl, Jon Stewart’s Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter are stuck on Thanagar and basically attempting a heist. We only see glimpses of the other characters back on Earth briefly as they deal with Star Man. As the events on Thanagar unfold, we subtly learn that a coalition of other worlds has banded together to handle the Earth problem. Nearly every issue of this run has been a fast-paced joy to read, heavy on action and adventure, and this is no different. What I found a bit refreshing, though, was that the reduced cast allowed the book to pepper in clues about what’s happening elsewhere, bringing the story and its central metaphor into a better holistic focus. It’s all VERY impressive work, and I, for one, am loving it.
- Rejoice! For The Green Lantern is good. So good. This third issue has the Old Testament idea of God staring down Hal Jordan on its cover, plus a story brimming with Morrisonian ethos and pathology. About what? About everything from global warming to fascism to manipulating a populist with familiar iconography to theology to capitalism to…maybe more? Definitely more. Oh, and there’s also a twist ending here that might take this space cop comic in a transgressive new direction. Basically, if you’re not reading this, I don’t know what to do for you at this point.
- Deathstroke #39 is the latest killer (heh) issue of DC’s best long-running superhero (supervillain?) title. This is the best book left standing from the initial Rebirth launch. Period. While I wasn’t hot on the last storyline—the Damian Wayne paternity business—this current plot has been one of Christopher Priest’s best yet. Delving into Slade Wilson’s psyche has allowed the writer to loosen the rules of the world his characters inhabit, resulting in an unencumbered comic filled with surprises informed by long-simmering plot points.
- Martian Manhunter #2 felt like a pretty natural extension of what Steve Orlando, Riley Rossmo, and team did in the debut. Orlando’s deep dive into martian society and J’onzz role within it is fascinating. The real highlight, however, is Rossmo’s wonderfully-erratic alien artwork, which gives this comic a singular look within the wider DC superhero line.
- Finally, another New Age of Heroes title concludes this week with The Unexpected #8. I know there were plans to extend this story further, which saddens me a bit because I was enjoying it, but the creative team wraps things in a satisfying way here, tying up a loose end from Metal in what seems like basically a favor to DC continuity diehards.
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