Action Comics #41 limits the scale but keeps Superman’s heart

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For decades, one of the defining characteristics of Superman has been tying the scope of his powers to the characters’ personal philosophy. Superman would do anything for anyone so he can. Since John Byrne’s relaunch of the character post Infinite Crisis, writers have experimented with how changes to Superman’s power or his views of his abilities impact the character’s perspective and actions. Dividing Superman in the ill-considered Red/Blue era did little to add to the formula. J. Michael Straczynski’s attempt at turning Clark Kent into a self-loathing young-adult, terrified of his capabilities in the Superman: Earth One series dramatically altered the way Superman interacted with other characters and the world, pushing him away from the supporting cast of Lois and Jimmy to a heroin junky neighbor and the love-interest-turned-hooker, to, at best, mixed results. 

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It’d be easy to say that Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder are engaging in similar transgressions in Action Comics #41 but there’s more going on behind the scenes and in the book’s subtext. Following an ill-defined event (we’ll get to it later), Superman has been outed as Clark Kent and forced on the run, both from Metropolis and the Fortress of Solitude. By issue’s end, he’s returning to his familiar haunts and to residents that have a much different view of who Superman is and what his role is. Unlike the aforementioned changes to Superman’s powers, however, Pak and Kuder aren’t using the new status quo or the public’s new reaction to it to change who Clark Kent fundamentally is, just limiting what he can physically do when he’s called to action.

Since Pak and Kuder took over Action Comics, they’ve focused on how Superman’s powers can totally corrupt anyone without Superman’s moral fortitude. In the fantastic Subterrania arc, Clark and Lana’s interactions with a kingdom of powerful monsters and ghost assassins reveal the personal difficulties Superman faces every time he throws a punch. In the Doomed arc, as Clark struggles against his own internalized rage and desire to put other’s needs above his own, he sees the damage he can wreck when he punches down at those below him. So far, Superman has always been in a position of overwhelming power over those he’s come into conflict with. It’s interesting, in that context, for Pak and Kuder to now put him in a situation where Clark is consistently outmatched. In the book’s opening fight scene, a group of roughnecks attack Clark outside a gas station. He’s having to fight back in dire situation in a context that recalls the character’s earliest incarnations.

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Kuder’s deliberately aping Bronze Age Superman throughout Action Comics #41, from returning to a facsimile of the original logo, to showing Clark leaping tall buildings and coming into conflict with corrupt authority figures in the form of a sneering police officer. This is the most populist Superman has been in years and Pak does a good job showing the way Superman’s appeal to his neighbors isn’t universal. There’s still very real fear and discomfort around him but little notes like the way Clark provides a role model for kids and rushes to help those in need show a character who isn’t afraid to put his life on the line, regardless of his diminished powers.

There are some problems still and it’s hard to find where to lay the blame. The issue continuously references books that have not been released yet to explain Clark’s new status quo, with one of the books not set to for release for another month. It gives the distinct impression that we’re walking into a series in the middle of a storyline, not  the new-reader friendly jumping-on point DC seems to want it to be. It’s probably best to see Action Comics #41 not as a bold new status quo for Superman but as a natural continuation of Pak and Kuder’s ongoing fascination with the power and responsibility that’s become their calling card on this run. With Superman’s new abilities established for the time being, the team isn’t limiting the character, just his scope and the results are bound to be interesting.

There’s more fucking than fighting in Midnighter #1 and that’s a very good thing

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Post Convergence, DC stands at an impasse similar to one they stood at in August, 2011. The publisher once again has the option to relaunch old titles and start new ones, correct the state of their recently tangled continuity, present characters in a new, fresh way and tell stories they haven’t been able to in years. This time, however, much of that correcting is mistakes made from their last relaunch.

Few properties suffered under the banner of the New 52 more than the acquired Wildstorm characters. Once champions of the ’90s creator-owned, anything-goes-as-long-as-it sells-aesthetic, characters from Stormwatch, The Authority and WildCats were left under a more controlled, less open publishing initiative where everything needed to work together. While there were successes, few characters and concepts suffered more than Apollo and Midnighter. The pair were forced into Stormwatch, arguably the least successful New 52 book because it was the least essential. In the New 52, a super brutal team watching the events of the world didn’t need to exist; it already existed in Geoff Johns’ inexplicably violent Justice League. As such, the pair were treated as little more than the Batman and Superman pastiches they were originally meant to parody and the role suited neither of them.

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The newest Midnighter series from writer Steve Orlando and artist ACO has a chance to show what makes Midnighter so much different than the character he was meant to pay homage to. Orlando takes the opportunity by taking Midnighter out of every comfort zone he has. He’s far away, physically and emotionally, from his ex and the manipulative Gardener and he’s trying to enjoy being a not-quite-hero as well as an out and on the prowl gay man.

You see, that’s the biggest risk Orlando takes in this issue and ACO sells that risk through bold, extremely modern choices. After an in media res opening, we see Midnighter’s Grindr profile and him on a date with the curious Jason. While he doesn’t appear in the issue, Apollo hangs over the book and clearly, the protagonist’s thoughts, but Orlando knows the value of keeping the character off the table. In a recent Comics Alliance interview, he spoke of the representative power of presenting Midnighter without his partner saying, “Often gay males are shown in mainstream media, but they’re coupled, they’re safe and chastened. And for a while, that alone was bold because gay men could be shown in mainstream media at all. But now that’s primetime family television.”

While allowing Midnighter to exist on his own, without Apollo and a support system puts the character in a new situation worthy of a debut issue, it’s the emotional move that’s more powerful. Midnighter is on his own, confident and on the hunt. He’s defending what’s his but he’s also looking for what he can have for the first time in a long time. When he and Jason have sex near the issue’s conclusion, there’s a real sense of the mix of desperation and desire that makes up the wild courtship this book is trying to sell.

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Where the emotions are wild and dangerous, ACO portrays the violence in Midnighter #1 as an exercise of practiced control. Both in the new issue and the 8-page preview DC released last month, ACO uses loaded, energetic panels as a way to put us in the protagonist’s head. Midnighter’s computer brain is constantly calculating options and the Andrea Sorrentino-esque layouts give readers the same sort of clear-cut, razor-precise framework we need to get inside Midnighter’s head as he deals with bounty hunters and a threat against his very identity at the issue’s conclusion.

More than anything, the comparison between precise violence and wild, passionate sex provides a mission statement for the book. The most dangerous, unpredictable thing Midnighter is going to face is going to be at the dinner table and in the bedroom, not on the battlefield where he is little-less than a god. As he says over dinner and drinks, Midnighter is always game for some “aggressive anthropology” and I’m ready to see exactly what all that entails, on the streets and in the sheets.

“It’s time to come back” – DC and Marvel end events by looking forward

Justice-League-23-Trinity-War-Finale-Forever-Evil-Earth-3-Crime-Syndicate-DebutWith the New 52 entering it’s second year and the newfound status quo of Marvel Now having enough time to settle in, both DC and Marvel are trying to find ways to up the stakes in their respective universes. The problem with both is trying to find a way to respect the past while looking forward. Marvel has had a much easier time with the balance, namely because the timeline hasn’t been reset but has made a concentrated effort to make their books friendly to new readers but DC’s slightly unexplained past continuity allows them to play fast and loose with the rules of the timeline.

The conclusion of Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and The X-Men #35 is in a difficult place. One of the few Marvel series to survive the Marvel Now relaunch, the series has always thrived on the company’s rich mutant history. Going back to the idea of a school and safe haven for the mutant population. The now concluded Hellfire Saga has paid off storylines from the last year, even going back as far as the first issue and Kade Killgore’s threat to destroy the Jean Grey School.

WOLVXMEN2011035-int-LR-2-0f635There’s a satisfying sense of completion to The Hellfire Saga, with the return of Brood’s intelligence, Quentin Quire’s longstanding struggle between heroism and rebellion and the slow dissatisfaction of many of the teen members of the Hellfire Club. Some of these characterizations date back to 2011’s Schism event and others go as far as Kurt’s death in Messiah Complex. It’s nice to see a book that pays so much attention to a franchise’s past in this day and age but what’s more important is how much attention is paid to the book’s internal continuity. The emotional payoff of Broo’s return is a moment which only has so much impact because of the way the last 17 issues of the book have featured characters struggling with their companions status.

Wolverine and the X-Men #35 is all about creating an ending and, in some ways, a new start. The appearance of Kurt at two points in the book is a tease for Aaron’s upcoming Amazing X-Men but the issue itself is mostly focusing on tying up a variety of story threads. The only noticeable loose end is the revolt of the White Queen and Kade Kilgore’s entrapment in the Siege Perilous. It’s an interesting move to create an issue which feels like a finale, particularly with the rest of Marvel’s line seemingly setting up more with each consecutive issue.

Justice-League-23-spoiler-preview-how-The-Outsider-came-to-Prime-Earth-from-Earth-3Geoff Johns has struggled to set up some consistency within the DC universe in some of the company’s biggest books, namely Green Lantern, Justice League and Justice League of America. The New 52 hasn’t given a lot of time to longstanding character interactions and storylines, which is a double edged sword. In one way, there’s room to overlook or acknowledge past stories without addressing them and, in others, it forces readers to struggle to deal with the variety of continuity complications intrinsic to the revamp.

Justice League #23 is clearly an issue long in the making and very aware of the universe’s age. From the opening pages, Johns sets up the League’s backstory, including their battle with Darkseid in the series’ first 6 issues as well as their battle with Starro in The Brave and The Bold #28 in 1960. It’s a canny piece of establishing the team’s shared universe and goes a long way in showing the tragedy the teams befalls after interacting with Pandora’s Box.

Justice-League-23-Trinity-War-Finale-Forever-Evil-Earth-3-Crime-Syndicate-AtomicaJohns does a great job in letting the teams’ short histories speak for themselves, with the mutual suspicion between Superman and Batman paying off, Kal’s tenuous relationship with Wonder Woman, the relative short tenure of Simon as a Green Lantern, Constantine’s dangerous work on both sides of ARGUS and the Atom’s mysterious allegiances. It’s smart work for a series which hasn’t gotten enough credit for the way it tries to link a large series of characters.

Johns’ attention to character details leaves all of the Leagues broken and battered by issues end and makes the reveal of the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 into a truly dangerous, powerful moment. There’s real promise sense of dread, like the heroes have truly failed to stop evil at issue’s end and using the potential of characters and a fresh, still relatively uncharted universe elicits a sense of danger and fear of the unknown that would have been difficult in the Pre-New-52 timeline. It’s an impressive feat and the only thing holding the book back is a somewhat unfinished plot made necessary by the continued need for cliffhangers.

tumblr_mpp2yjJtT21qjzyxso1_1280Justice League #23 and Wolverine and the X-Men #35 both build endings out of potent beginnings, drawing characters’ histories, regardless of how long or brief, into focus to cause the most potent dangers and the most powerful denouements. It’s a sight mostly unseen in mainstream super-hero comics and the power heroes can have, whether or not they stop evil or are destroyed by it.

“This is what I wanted to show you” – Astro City #1 brings us back to the most important city in comics

astro3I never thought I would get to read new Astro City.

Let’s go back to 2009. I hadn’t kept up with any comics outside of mainstream books in a long time, mostly sticking with Batman and the major DC and Marvel events. I was also at one of the lowest points of my life. I was incredibly depressed, drinking to the point of oblivion most days of the week  and helpless to try to find happiness.

I never wanted to make this blog about me or about my life because my experiences aren’t unique and the narrative is less important than who we are and what we take away from the things we experience. It just so happens that Astro City helped to let me take an important, critical look at the things I cared about.

astrocitypanoramaI discovered Astro City in trade at the university library and I devoured the first volume before going onto the rest of the series and collecting as many issues and trades as I could get a hold of before I had the whole series. I went back and explored writer Kurt Busiek’s other works and it got me back into independent, artistic, challenging comic books.

I celebrated the news that Astro City was coming back and holding the first new issue in years in my hands, I felt a wave of excitement, nostalgia and care that comics rarely give me. And of course, opening tbe book brought all of those feelings back. Busiek is simultaneously as challenging, welcoming and whip smart as usual and penciller Brent Anderson leaps back into the sharp, retro design style he nailed in the series first outing.

AstroCity01_zpsd605d2f7Putting new characters such as the paranoid, insane watchdog, The Broken Man, alongside the optimistic powerhouse, American Chibi front and center highlights the inventive spirit the new volume and the return of well loved members of the Honor Guard  and independent characters such as the Confessor makes this world feel as fully realized as ever.

The focus of Astro City has always been on the city’s civilian residents and the way they’re drawn into the super-heroics of the city. Ben Pullman is our guy this time, a seemingly satisfied but ultimately bored programmer who volunteers to be a representative of a whole new world. It’s something of a throwback to the very first issue of the series, where the heroes have to deal with forces beyond their power but that’s not by any means a problem. History is one of the most important parts of a series that succeeds by swimming in the passage of time.

10Busiek is quick to remind us what this series is about, the history of the medium and the way our lives can change and be reflected in the culture we consume. A wonderfully inventive, bleak and cutting final two pages remind readers that much like the heroes, our world can seem irresistibly small when we’re confronted with change. The wonderful thing is that we’re allowed to independently pick up the book, volunteer and choose to be satisfied.

Stray Observations

3083946-gl21Lots of really good books this week. Let’s check out some of the more interesting ones.

  • Jonathan Hickman had two great books this week, East of West #3 and Avengers #13. Both show off his mastery of character specific dialogue. Mao’s honorable but fruitless bluster in the face of Death’s coming attack is a great moment fitting a character we just met and Hyperion’s revelations in Avengers feels like the kind of character moment a lesser author would have handled with less subtlety. Hickman makes both feel masterful.
  • James Robinson’s Earth 2 has weirdly been something of a minor hit for DC and it always surprised me. Earth 2 has felt like a bit of a disservice to the company’s Golden Age characters but the way he played with the Green Lantern mythos is this week’s #13 is really promising.
  • Kierron Gillen’s new issue of Iron Man really showed how to do a retcon well. The revelation about Tony Stark’s past is organic to the character, doesn’t undo his past actions and offers a wealth of storytelling opportunities.
  • Age of Ultron #9 finally had the characters realize what every reader thought of 8 issues ago. I’m curious to see how and if Brian Michael Bendis is going to make all this build up pay off.
  • Bendis is, however, nailing All New X-Men. The way he’s turned Jean Grey into a wild card was such an initially unexpected but perfectly realized characterization and I love seeing how the character deals with recent events like Decimation.
  • Robert Venditti really did a great job on Green Lantern #21, his first issue since Geoff Johns’ departure. I’m not crazy about how young and soft Billy Tan is making Hal Jordan look but I’m super ready to see what these guys can do.

“No Fear” – Recent departures drive home DC’s editorial problems

ivampheader-700x300One of the pillars of my belief system is that I always assume whatever Rob Liefeld says is wrong. It’s gotten me this far. When Liefeld went on a Twitter rant in August, announcing his departure from the New 52 due to editorial interference, I assumed he was deflecting. Liefeld has been known to be hard to work with since his early days at Marvel and the formation of Image in the ’90s and I assumed this was another moment of the impetuous writer and artist trying to play at biting the hand that fed.

But, what if he was right? What if editorial oversight isn’t just letting DC bully writers with Liefeld’s name recognition but also anyone willing to sign on for a project?

Two notable creators left DC this afternoon: Andy Diggle, who was solicited for an upcoming run on Action Comics, and Joshua Hale Fialkov, of I, Vampire and solicited for a run on Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns in June. Admittedly, I was more shocked by Fialkov’s announcement, as he had received critical accolades for I, Vampire and had garnered excitement for both series in the Green Lantern family after having been announced for the job only a month ago.

shadowlandWhile not speaking to media outlets, Fialkov released an abbreviated version of his reasons for leaving the company on his blog. He writes:

“There were editorial decisions about the direction of the book that conflicted with the story I was hired to tell, and I felt that it was better to let DC tell their story the way they want. I’m grateful for the opportunity and I’ll miss working with the entire Green Lantern team…This was not an easy decision to make emotionally or financially, but, I’m sure it was the right decision for both me, and for the Green Lantern books.”

So, what could those plans possibly be? I wrote about DC’s push for increased serialization as well as easily marketable crossover and event stories as they pertained to Death of the Family but Fialkov seems to be pointing to a much more endemic problem in the company, one that Liefeld and Diggle both alluded to. Writers don’t seem to have any control of the properties they’ve been contracted or hired for.

1063192-guy_1Bob Harras has held one of the most public tenures as Editor-In-Chief at DC and he’s certainly not a name that brings a smile to the faces of a lot of comics fans. Presiding over Marvel during the company’s near bankruptcy as well as the rightfully maligned Clone Saga and Heroes Reborn, Harras has run something of a lodge club at DC since he rose to the editorial position in 2010. While he was clearly comfortable with co-publisher and former co-worker at Wildstorm Jim Lee, Harras seemed to want to get the band back together and brought over plenty of old names from Marvel’s dark days to fill out the New 52, including Liefeld, Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza.

Now, I’m not saying there was anything wrong about Harras early decisions involving the New 52, particularly who would be writing it. Harras assuredly wanted people he knew who would be able to roll out the new initiative rapidly, with the New 52 launching less than a year after he took the position. My problem is those people weren’t going to challenge Harras and it certainly could have had an influence on a sense of editorial control from on high.

1299339418Harras is most at home when he’s tapping into the same forces that mired Marvel in a creative and commercial flop. In a monthly interview on Comic Book Resources, Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase discussed Liefeld’s allegations about editorial control over creators. Harras skirted the question once, saying:

“We’re not going into any specifics, because we can’t address any specifics because of those involved. The thing is, we want everyone who works for DC to be as happy as possible, to feel the creative process is as enjoyable as possible. If there are communication problems with talent, we will always work on it to improve our messaging, but on the whole, I think sometimes there are going to be disagreements. Sometimes there are going to be agreements — it’s all part of the editorial process. But as in anything, it’s something all of us can improve on in terms of communication.”

Harras seems to stress a team spirit in his first quote but he doesn’t really say anything. Of course there are going to be agreements and disagreements in the editorial progress but the way he says it seems to stress that there’s a right answer and a wrong answer to those disagreements. The goal of editorial isn’t to keep the creative process “as enjoyable as possible” but to work together with creative, making a project that suits both the publishers as well as the goals of creative. The role of an editor isn’t to be a mediator or judge but rather to be a co-creator in a work. Harras doesn’t seem to see it that way and he points to editorial successes in the New 52, namely a consistent shipping schedule and the success of massive crossovers, to try to strengthen the relationship between creators and editorial, saying.

“…Everyone should be trying to improve all aspects of communication. Everyone should be looking at the process and ways to improve. But in general, I think we’ve got a very talented bunch of creators working with us, putting out the New 52. We have exciting books every month, and that’s what I want to concentrate on. You always have to look at how you can do things better, but I’d also like to focus on what we do well, which is creating stories like “Death Of The Family,” and even “Rotworld,” that’s exciting fans…”

I think both Rotworld and Death of the Family were underwhelming tie-ins, one designed to boost the sales of a pair of critically successful niche titles and the other to continue to boost the sales of one of the company’s best selling titles, with Scott Snyder being involved in both crossovers. It’s more consolidation with the company putting Jeff Lemire, of Swamp Thing, of additional titles that seem to flag behind, including Justice League Dark and the new Constantine. Both are solid writers and both are company men, willing to be involved with massive tie-in projects such as Snyder and Lee’s forthcoming title Superman Unchained, released at a time obviously intended to capitalize on the release of the “Man of Steel” film.

92482472948294I don’t want to frown on Snyder, Lemire or any of the other talented writers and artists who have turned in great work under Harras, Chase and the New 52. Some of them, including Snyder, have defended editorial against Liefeld and others that have berated the changes in DC but there’s a feel of that control. I don’t think Harras is a puppet master and I don’t think he’s willing to dip into the work of his bestselling projects but I do think Harras has encouraged the long form storytelling that he was involved in at Marvel’s worst.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that approach from a commercial stand point and, as an editor, that’s one of Harras’ biggest concerns. I understand that and don’t blame him for that. My problem is that this approach doesn’t allow for creativity. Writers and artists with a unique perspective like Fialkov aren’t welcome at the table when their ideas don’t fit into a very narrow view for the company and it’s a narrow view that desperately needs widened if DC wants to succeed.

In last week’s interview at CBR, Harras mentions that he wants the New 52 to be open to more than just Batman and Superman titles, saying:

“I think what you’re going to see moving forward, like we’ve done already with the New 52, is that there’s always going to be a mix. We’re not going to give up on the idea of trying new things, new types of genres that led to things like “Animal Man” and “Swamp Thing.” We’re going to continue that: a nice, healthy mix of the bigger heroes, and some new heroes as well.”

It’s a nice thing to say but it implies a necessary risk and it doesn’t seem to be one that Harras is all that interested in taking. Creating comics that allow for consistent growth as well as fan interest and sales requires a partnership between writers, artists and editors, with each being willing to make the sacrifices to create the best products possible. That requires fearlessly allowing creators to tell their story without interference, oversight or the editorial demands.

“In hindsight, there were signs…” – Death of the Family shows the flaws of DC’s serialized push

A4hdaJyCcAAPAd1Let’s talk about the Joker but, more importantly, let’s talk about the arch-nemesis archetype. The Joker is the purest dark reflection of Batman. He’s emotional where Batman is rational. He’s chaotic while Batman is axiomatic. He’s highly sexualized where Batman is highly fetishized. The Joker is what Batman is determined to never be. Batman sees the Joker as an enemy by default because he represents something that feels intrinsically wrong to him. It’s how I feel about homophobes, “Family Guy” fans and people who eat at Panda Express.

Batman is almost singularly unique in having an arch-nemesis that plays diametrically opposite him. For all their competition, Lex Luther hates Superman because he desperately wants to be Superman. For years, Magneto battled Charles Xavier because he viewed Xavier’s dream as too optimistic, too perfect. The Green Goblin battled Spider-Man because they’re virtually the same character, intelligent, driven men who have the power to use the world as their playground.

BM_Cv17+122802It’s hard to write powerful Joker stories because of this. Joker intrinsically always feels less like a character and more like a force; he’s chaos, he’s death, he’s grief because he’s not really a character, he’s a reflection. Joker’s biggest moments are remembered for what he did, not who he was. We remember Batman cradling Jason Todd’s corpse. I remember Barbara’s body crumbling to the floor. We remember Batman holding a bullet wound as he stands over his enemy’s broken body. I can quote verbatim the “interject a little anarchy” speech. The Joker works for moments, he’s a taste that lingers on the back of your tongue way after you’ve swallowed the last rancid bite.

It’s the intrinsic problem of writing long form stories around the character. Joker exists to cause the chaos, to be the hurricane. Scott Snyder wrote Death of the Family clearly trying to get into the Joker’s mindset. In interviews, he extensively compared Joker’s plan to the fear of his children being killed, what I naturally assume to be a pretty tough thing for parents. By placing that sort of thematic weight on the character, Snyder forced us to look at the Bat-Family as children and turn his villain into the bogeyman.

47qSpeaking strictly in terms of plot, Death of the Family suffered the same disease that all of DC’s franchises have as the New 52 enters its second year. With the books finally starting to blend together, editorial is demanding bigger stories, justifications for the links between books. With that in mind, the Bat-writers needed a way to bring Joker’s promise to kill the family into a very personal place for Damian, Dick, Barbara, Jason and Tim. What we received were crossover titles, each varying wildly in tone and quality. Where Batman and Robin #15-16 were a living nightmare of insects, patricide and taunts, Nightwing #15-16 was  Friday the 13th: Part III, complete with the return to the villain’s most famous stomping ground.

Those crossovers had a purpose that was clearly at odds with the one Snyder was setting up in Batman proper. Each of the writers needed to make the Joker’s threat unique to the individual character. The Joker taunts Damian with his failures as a sidekick and as a hero. The Joker forces Dick to come to terms with the way he uses people to separate himself from the man he is behind the mask. The Joker makes Barbara acknowledge her relationship to the Gordon family, no matter how twisted the roots of the tree are. While some of these stories undoubtedly worked, the theme of Death of the Family was, according to Snyder, meant to be the family Bruce has constructed.

batgirl15p2-31100But that’s also sort of the problem. Death of the Family was thematically all over the place. Is Batman meant to be the King of Gotham? Does Joker feel like Batman’s lover or son? Why is such an importance placed on Batman’s relationship with James Gordon? What was the need to recreate the pair’s earliest encounters? The theme I picked up on the most clearly through Death of the Family was meant to be the relationship between Joker and Batman but it’s never made concrete. Snyder went with the Frank Miller’s description of the Joker as a homophobic nightmare but there was no teeth. Joker consistently played up the connection Alan Moore originally made about the two characters in The Killing Joke, the idea that at some level, Batman and the Joker are going to be doing this forever but after all, they’re both still human. It’s much harder to see Joker split up Batman’s family when the first four issues of the event seem to write the villain as the sidekicks’ new stepmom.

Which leads us to the finale in Batman #17. The chips are down, dinner is served and it’s time for the denouement but what is it meant to be honestly. Reading through issue #17, I was consistently reminded of the rightfully much maligned “Ocean’s Twelve,” a movie that commits one of the most memorable examples of trying desperately to keep the audience sense of disbelief but more importantly, a movie that depends on lies. The issue and the story-line as a whole climaxes with two characters bluffing. Are we supposed to believe either one of them? What power does the Joker have if each of his lines goes back against itself endlessly? He doesn’t seem enigmatic, joking or even interesting; it all just seems like bullshit.

Batman_17_PanelIn a post-mortem interview, Snyder stresses that the conclusion of Death of the Family leaves Bruce’s support network in tatters. Trusts have been betrayed. The characters have been tortured. Batman has won a seemingly hollow victory against an unstoppable force. It’s just really hard to see it that way. As Batman pursues the Joker in the final issue, he shares a moment with Nightwing that says so much about both characters but it doesn’t feel like anything has changed. Dick will never really leave Bruce. Barbara will never give up the cowl. Damian will never give up on his father (and as readers may have seen in the exceptional Batman and Robin #17, he may be satisfied with what he’s been through).

What I’ve seen is another in an endless series of stop-gaps, another problem that will need to be solved before the next omni-event begins. This is DC at it’s worst and it’s a problem they’ve been pushing since the beginning of the New 52, which is plot always and endlessly above character. In a world where it could have been compressed into a shorter, smaller more well focused story, Death of the Family could have worked instead of extending itself across titles and themes in a way that felt inauthentic to every character it touched.

Are we overrating “Night of the Owls?”

HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE RECENTLY RELEASED “BATMAN #10.” SERIOUSLY, WE’RE DISCUSSING THE CONCLUSION OF “NIGHT OF THE OWLS”

I don’t want to really shit on Scott Snyder’s “Batman.” On the whole, its been a rightfully celebrated run on a landmark title. Snyder’s first arc, “The Court of the Owls,” is reaching its conclusion in the pages of his title and for many, this is the first exposure to a Batman monthly.

And that’s where I think the problem is. I can say with confidence that “Batman” is without a doubt one of the most consistent, impressive and well constructed books of the New 52. Its managed an impressively long and in depth storyline and has managed to be both a great entry point for new fans, as well as a great series for longtime readers.

I really think that this is part of why this run has been so critically beloved. The release of today’s issue #10 has received unanimous praise, with IGN giving it a rare 9.5 score. Much of their praise is heaped on the book’s big twist, which is the moment that really prompted me to write all of this.

To get it out of the way, Snyder reintroduces Earth 3’s Owlamn, a classic DC character who has long claimed to be Thomas Wayne Jr. Now, Bruce finds the court destroyed and a man, who once claimed to be mayoral candidate Lincoln March, in the metallic owl costume and claiming to be the long lost brother of Bruce Wayne.

In one way, I really love what Snyder did here (and I’m hardly mentioning what a great job penciller Greg Capullo did in visually setting up the revelation). Reintroducing long lost characters is one of the things that I love about comics because it rewards fans so much and allows for great revelations. Hell, its one of the few high points of “Blackest Night.” That being said, for new readers, the targets of the New 52 relaunch, this is just hopelessly hackneyed twist.

Now, I think that the twist does work both ways, its surprising but well designed and based in the plot rather than coming from nowhere and the conversation that Thomas and Bruce has is great, perfectly meshing with the art. My problem is it seems people are conditioned to be alright with the twist simply because the earlier issues of the series set the bar so high.

Like I said, I liked Batman #10 and I’ve liked the series as a whole. I’m just curious to see what y’all think. Are we giving this series far too much credit based on earlier content or is the twist even more well done than I assumed (it bears mentioning that Snyder has hinted that Thomas may not be telling the truth and that more twists are in store)? Sound off in the comments about issue 10, the mass suicide of the court or the Bat-family titles after Night of the Owls.