Don’t have time for long reviews of comics? Then check out these bite sized chunks of comic book goodness designed to get behind the panels and into your hearts. This is Graphic Bits.
DC Comics launched its second week of the New DC Universe with no less than two new Batmen! There’s the brand new mainstream design in the highly-anticipated BATMAN #41, while over on another planet in the Multiverse we have Dick Grayson taking up the mantle in EARTH 2: SOCIETY. Speaking of Batman, Garth Ennis and John McCrea portray him as you’ve never seen before in ALL-STAR SECTION 8, the Northern supernatural sleuth rides again in CONSTANTINE: THE HELLBLAZER, while the outlaws get split up as separate RED HOOD/ARSENAL and STARFIRE books are launched.
Dick Grayson. Jean-Paul Valley. Hell, even Jason Todd has worn the cape and cowl for a brief period of time. So it should be unsurprising that the latest person to assume the mantle is none other than the 46-year-old former Commissioner Jim Gordon. As established in the Free Comic Book Day Divergence title, the apparent death of Batman in the finale of “Endgame” has left Gotham without a protector. Rationalising that a Batman that works within the system might be more effective than one that works outside of it, the department chooses Gordon above many of the younger and less experienced recruits. Snyder spends much of the issue allowing Gordon to come to terms with this decision, perhaps anticipating fan reaction and the many other more logical choices to fill the Bat-shoes, but not before taking the new “wheels” out for a spin. The new “Batman”, you see, is a mecha suit driven by Gordon, described by its operator as a “robobat-bunny.” So after 40+ issues on the relaunched BATMAN, Snyder is trying something strikingly new.
The Robobat-bunny undoubtedly kicks some ass, but the twin-narrative book builds to a climax that reminds us that it has always been about the person inside the suit that matters. It’s a thematic continuation of the work Snyder started in the Detective Comics #27 (2014) “Year 200” story with Sean Murphy. Like Murphy, Capullo gets to cut loose on several brand new Batman designs (including shots of Batman in and out of the mech), plus a walking energy monster that might initially seem like a stretch too far in the kaiju direction, before an officer reminds us it’s “a walking Monday morning in Gotham.” Yet Capullo and Miki, along with colour artist Plascencia, do some of their finest work in the light and shadow of simple conversations with Gordon and colleagues, the “reworked” barrel-chested Gordon, (complete with marine mohawk) or the silhouettes of a opening and closing shot that might just pay tribute to Woody Allen’s Manhattan.
Bottom Line: It’s always a risky thing when you change a formula that’s been in place for eight decades, and Batman has seen this kind of change before. It’s not the first “death” of Bruce Wayne, and it certainly won’t be the last. Yet somehow Snyder, Capullo and the team have found a balance between radical change for change’s sake and experimenting with something new, leaving the escape hatch open for what we can assume will be a return to something more familiar in the future.
All-Star Section 8 #1
This, dear readers, is exactly what the DC Universe needs right now. Not seen since their very final ending in the pages of Hitman #52 back in 2000, Sidney Speck now works in an art gallery and is the toast of the town. At least until a smack of alcohol passes his lips and he devolves into the unlikely Sixpack, complete with his piss-stained homemade costume. Convinced the end is nigh, his attempts to get his team Section 8 back together result in a reunion with Bueno Excellente and Dogwelder, along with Guts, Powertool and The Grapplah! Convinced that Batman could round out his posse, a montage of pestering allows McCrea to pay tribute to uncanny takes on Neal Adams, Kelley Jones and Jim Aparo from various eras of the Dark Knight’s history. It also does something that DC has been unwilling to do under the New 52 and expanded media, and completely poke fun at the mythos, with Batman variously protesting being labelled racist and the injustices of getting a parking ticket. It’s all supported by the deliciously grotty world McCrea helped create back in Hitman, with Sixpack just as loveable as he is revolting.
Bottom Line: If this is an exemplar of the New DC Universe, then we are in for a hell of a trip. Ennis and McCrea effortlessly pick up fifteen years after the fact and running with the glorious insanity that is SECTION 8. This might be the only book we need.
Constantine: The Hellblazer #1
With the news coming through this week that the network TV series is officially dead, this book now provides fans with their strongest chance to see the supernatural rogue in action. John Constantine became part of the DC mainstream with the New 52, and the post-Convergence New DC Universe restores the Vertigo moniker that served him for 300 issues. Doyle and Tynion waste no time in establishing Constantine as an incorrigible rogue, manipulating a store clerk into giving him free clothes. Chain-smoking, plagued by ghosts, and omnisexual in his flirtations, you can practically hear the Northern accent dripping out of the page. Riley Rossmo is a perfect artist to bring to this relaunch, with his regular work with Kurtis J. Wiebe and on indie projects such as Dia de Los Muertos firmly establishing him as a singular voice. Rossmo’s John Constantine is young in comparison to some of his other depictions, lacking the world weariness he is known for. Yet in the flip of a familiar cigarette, the light and shadowplay on his face suggests all of this and more. Rossmo might also take his art to the next level in a page filled with 10 thin horizontal panels depicting the very Dante-esque layers of the Inferno.
Bottom Line: This terrific creative team brings a fresh new spin to CONSTANTINE: THE HELLBLAZER. While it is not quite the old school Vertigo title, it is also an evolution from the New 52 version, creating something almost entirely different and immediately arresting.
Earth 2: Society #1
DC Comics, Daniel H. Wilson (writer), Jorge Jimenez, John Rauch (artists)
Of all the pieces of fallout from Convergence, the existence of a New Earth 2 as the “evolved” version of the original is perhaps the most significant. While that event came to a satisfying conclusion, giving the former Earth 2 and Earth 2: Worlds End titles their own happy endings, EARTH 2: SOCIETY is a rare beast in that it deals with the consequences of that arc. While the rest of the New DC Universe rolls out in its DC YOU! marketing friendly approach, Daniel H. Wilson has the unenviable task of being on “clean-up duty.” We learn that the arc ships that saved some of Earth 2 didn’t all make it to the ground in one piece, Dick Graysn’s Batman is having trouble with a figure named Johnny Sorrow and Alan Scott/Green Lantern is not quite himself anymore. Jorge Jimenez, already well versed in alternative Earths with Smallville: Season 11, gets to play with a whole new Earth, and create something from scratch. For the second time this week, a new Batman costume is debuted and the Gotham By Gaslight-inspired coat is an awesome piece of badassery, Of particular note is a flashback sequence recapping the previous issues, and the vision of the Gen-Ships heading to a new Earth is up there with George Pérez’s best.
Bottom Line: Just as James Robinson, Tom Taylor and Marguerite Bennett excited by crafting something distinctly new in the sandbox, so too does Daniel H. Wilson. Elevating the notion of legacy superheroes to a global scale, this feels like a wild west frontier where anything could happen – and just might.
Red Hood/Arsenal #1
DC Comics, Scott Lobdell (writer), Denis Medri, Tanya Horie (artists)
Devoid of the sex appeal of Starfire (see below), or their estranged father-figures in the DCU, RED HOOD/ARSENAL reveals exactly what the problem is with these characters: neither of them is terribly interesting. Most of this issue consists of the two crimson outlaws squabbling while they protect a senator, a plot ripped straight out of a Michael Bay movie like Bad Boys. Ultimately, despite a non-stop flurry of action that creates the illusion of movement, the stakes are low and so far the outcomes are of no consequences. Unlike the other books being released this week, there is no sense of “fun”: instead there is a cynical attempt at being “cool”. (And we know Arsenal is cool because he’s wearing a baseball cap). Denis Medri’s designs, on the other hand, are quite fun: a stylish version of a cartoon that emphasises expressive characters over detailed backgrounds. Tanya Horie’s colours play to those strengths, bringing a bright and vivid palette to the kinetic energy of the action.
Bottom Line: As a one-shot, this could have been a killer action piece. Yet as the introduction to an ongoing, it offers new readers few reasons to invest time in these one-dimensional action-hero pastiches of an era in comics some of us are still trying to forget.
DC Comics, Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti (writer), Emanuela Lapacchino, Ray McCarthy, Hi-Fi (artists)
After successful runs on Power Girl and Harley Quinn, Conner and Palmiotti have this “bombshell out of water” formula down to a fine art. So while the duo tackle the latest saga of the alien warrior princess without breaking a sweat, there’s a certain sense that we have been here before with other characters. All the hallmarks are there: Kori’s fumbling attempts to ingratiate herself with the locals constabulary, an occasionally emotional BFF, a failure to understand basic currency and customs, and overbearing romantic encounters due to a lack of a social filter. Of course, this doesn’t make the book any less pleasant to read, but there’s only so many “oops, she’s almost nude again” scenes one can read before it starts to feel like a cosmic treadmill. Lapacchino’s art has a very different vibe to the work that Chad Hardin is currently doing on Harley Quinn, and we’d be remiss to not put a call out for Conner herself to take a run at the character based on the sublime cover, but the Starfire of Key West is an energetic explosion that is vividly brought to life by the Hi-Di colours. Kori’s thought bubbles that misinterpret common slang are priceless
Bottom Line: There is nothing necessarily wrong with STARFIRE in and of itself, but for readers already well versed in Conner and Palmiotti’s Power Girl and Harley Quinn (or even Terra for that matter) there will undoubtedly be a sense of the familiar about it. Here’s hoping it will grow into its own entity in the coming months.
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