Comic Recommendations: November 11, 2015

DC has me wanting more Geoff Johns Justice League with all these spinoff short stories concerning the “new gods”; Image has me wishing Robert Kirkman would release a new issue of The Walking Dead every day (seriously the best current comic, better even than Saga, which is saying something); and Marvel delivered a heaping helping of #1s with a side of Star Wars. It was a hell of week for comics, so lets get into it already.

UNSPOILED

1. Batman and Robin Eternal #6 (DC Comics), Unspoiled Edition

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The centerpiece of Batman and Robin Eternal #6 is a flashback to Dick Grayson’s first year as Robin in which the dynamic duo embarks on a strange international sortie in search of the Scarecrow. The overall plot of mind control and mayhem takes a short breather while Dick catches fellow former Robin Jason Todd up on the players involved in the current game, but this is not your usual “clip show” issue. In fact, Batman and Robin Eternal #6 is the strongest to date for the series, and hopefully a sign of what’s to come.

2. Constantine – The Hellblazer #6 (DC Comics), Unspoiled Edition

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After a surprisingly human first story arc, Constantine – The Hellblazer #6 sets a tone for a John Constantine who is (hopefully) here to stay. Tynion and Doyle continue to write to Riley Rossmo’s artistic strengths, presenting a bright, fun Constantine who is tempted by a normal life but whose dark past threatens to swallow him whole. Constantine – The Hellblazer combines the positive tone of Marvel’s Amazing Spider-man with a pinch of darkness, mostly in the form of Constantine’s own self-defeating ways, and delivers what could be considered the most accessible John Constantine ever to grace the pages of a comic.

3. The Walking Dead #148 (Image Comics), Unspoiled Edition

The Walking Dead 148 01

The survivors have stood strong in the face of small-scale betrayals, modest committees who question Rick’s authority, and miniature insurrections, but they have never had to deal with rioting mobs with enough sheer momentum to take down experienced fighters like Rick, Michonne, and Jesus. This is the consequence of Alpha introducing the possibility of an imminent threat into a population no longer accustomed to keeping up their guard. The Whisperers have everyone scared, even Rick Grimes, but perhaps more frightening is the lengths Rick will go to in order to keep the peace. Things are about to get very interesting in The Walking Dead.

4. All New, All-Different Avengers #1 (Marvel Comics), Unspoiled Edition

All-New All Different Avengers 01 01

All-New, All-Different Avengers #1 is comprised of two stories, the first following Captain America (Sam Wilson), Iron Man (Not-So-New, Not-So-Different Tony Stark), and (Ultimate) Spider-man (Miles Morales) as they battle an intergalactic conqueror (and, in Cap’s case, bad publicity), and the second following hormone-driven A-teens Miss Marvel (Kamela Khan) and Nova (Sam Alexander) as they attempt to determine how to act around fellow superheroes of the same age but of the opposite sex. Mark Waid injects fun into a tried and true storytelling formula — the classic “assemble the team” arc — promising that this volume is going to be a blast to read.

SPOILED

1. Batman and Robin Eternal #6 (DC Comics), Spoiled Edition

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Batman and Robin Eternal #6 takes a classic no frills approach to its art and storytelling, something that feels like second nature to a publisher that’s been around as long as DC Comics, and yet the suspense is starting to build in a way similar to Brad Meltzer’s brilliant Identity Crisis mini-series (which is extra scary considering the fact that we just met Tim Drake’s parents last issue). We could talk about what happened within these pages in a little more depth and that would be a fun conversation, but I want to take a step backwards and discuss what the series Batman and Robin Eternal means for the Batman imprint and its future in the New 52. Many of the big event comics of the past few years have existed not just to make money but to facilitate various editorial changes (ex. folding Wildstorm characters into DC canon, resurrecting deceased characters, etc.). When poorly delivered, this editorial incursion can take the reader right out of the reading experience, but even at its worst it affords us a glimpse into the organizational side of our favorite comic companies. Here are a few things about the future of Batman that we can logically conclude from Batman and Robin Eternal.

Scott Snyder Isn’t Going Anywhere

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Months ago, while Scott Snyder was blowing our minds with “Endgame,” the Batman writer made it clear in interviews that he and Greg Capullo’s future with the title was up in the air. The fact that the Bloom arc doesn’t look like it will conclude before Batman #50 certainly cast hope that we wold have more time with Snyder and Capullo, and Batman and Robin Eternal seems even more promising. We essentially have a guarantee that Snyder is going to be with the Batman franchise plotting stories for at least one more year (46 more weeks to be exact). That said, we can probably safely extrapolate that Snyder and Capullo will be paired up on Batman the entire time, and I base that on the fact that “Endgame” and Batman Eternal both concluded at approximately the same time.

Disclaimer: I read the comics but I don’t spend a lot of time checking up on comic news, so if these thoughts have already been either confirmed or denied, let me know.

Cassandra Cain as Batgirl

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There is a theme developing in these “Eternal” titles, and that is expanding the bat family’s numbers in the New 52. Batman Eternal gave us Spoiler (Stephanie Brown) and turned Harper Row into Bluebird, and now Batman and Robin Eternal is porting Cassandra Cain back into continuity. In fact, now that I think about it, we’re really talking about expanding the ranks of the Batgirl family, as both Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain were Batgirls in the previous iteration of DC Comics. I’m calling it now: Batgirl Eternal is next. It’ll be plotted by Scott Snyder, thus renewing his lease on Batman for two years, and we’ll all be super happy.

Who else are we missing from the bat family? I guess there’s Azrael to consider, and I wouldn’t mind Damian Wayne playing a bigger role in Snyder’s bat books. We could maybe see Terry McGinnis under Snyrder’s loving care, or the female Robin from Frank Miller’s bat continuity. Am I leaving anyone out, fellow bat fans?

Doubling Down on Grayson

(NOTE: The original title for this subsection was much more alliterative but sadly it was also much more inappropriate so I scrapped it.)

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When Snyder’s first couple of arcs involving the the Court of Owls were still new and we were getting a secret history of both Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, I felt like the New 52 was going to be kind to Nightwing. You could tell that DC was committing energy at that time to making Dick Grayson important, but it wasn’t long before it felt as if that energy had been diverted elsewhere. I understand Batman and Robin Eternal as a kind of renewal of vows between DC Comics and Grayson, a promise that he is once again going to feel like the quality of character we are familiar with from previous incarnations. Personally, I think Dick needs to put this spy thing behind him. What he becomes next isn’t what concerns me. I just want growth. I want to remember that Dick Grayson is like Bruce Wayne only with the power of hope, that when this circus boy flies through the sky it is not just a thing of duty but also a thing of joy, and I want to remember Dick as the brilliant tactician and leader who inspires respect rather than commanding it. Is that so much to ask for?

More Flashback Comics?

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The New 52 debuted with a Justice League story that took place three years ago, and it was awesome. The following week, Action Comics #1 featured a flashback to a social justice Superman who couldn’t even fly yet, and it was awesome. Am I certain that Batman and Robin Eternal #6 signals a return to flashbacks in the New 52? No, but the issue was awesome. What these “period pieces” provide is depth and history toa  universe that used to be backed by decades of story. Not only that, but most people who love Batman, whether through comic book, TV, or film representations, fell in love with Batman (Bruce Wayne) and Robin (Dick Grayson). The New 52 suffers from a lack of the dynamic between the original dynamic duo, an ailment that could be cured by presenting more of these well-woven tales of real consequences that take place during Dick Grayson’s early years as Robin.

2. Constantine – The Hellblazer #6 (DC Comics), Spoiled Edition

What is not to love about the sleeper success that is Constantine – The Hellblazer? In a universe obsessed with invented locations (Metropolis, Gotham, Coast City, etc.), this series takes place in a believable New York City with a hero who needs to pay absurdly high but believable New York City rent.

Constantine The Hellblazer 06 02

John Constantine’s neighbors are demons that he vouched for to help them overcome the stigma of jail time served (in hell), and his clients’s needs range from exorcising the strip club’s buffet to live trapping a completely natural (as opposed to supernatural) mammalian foe. But all of Constantine’s “ghost busting” adds up to nothing more than an excuse to keep him away from his feelings.

Constantine The Hellblazer 06 04

While the premiere issue probably could have handled Constantine’s romantic hopes more subtly — John is not exactly the type to wear his heart on his sleeve — the initial sharpness has rounded its edges over time and become a new status quo for the character. In fact, with the re-murder of the ghosts of Constantine’s past, the obvious symbolism points to the possibility of the first appearance of an emotionally available John Constantine.

Constantine The Hellblazer 06 07

By the end of the issue, I found myself rooting for this relationship between John and his broad shouldered beau to work out even in spite of Constantine’s demons.

Constantine The Hellblazer 06 08

By the way, did you get the vibe that the demons lurking just inside Constantine’s apartment were real, existing demons that pose an immediate threat to the two, or did you interpret them as symbolic demons that John must deal with in order to keep from screwing everything up with this guy?

In 2011, the first issue of Catwoman featured a romance scene between the titular anti-hero cat burglar and her sometimes “ally” Batman which had so much promise for a theme that was never fully developed. Later, Geoff Johns was slightly more successful delivering a short-lived tryst between Superman and Wonder Woman both in and out of the pages of Justice League. What both of these stories flirted with but never fully committed to was a superhero story where romance (and all of the self-realization that comes with putting yourself out there) was the ultimate goal, a bold new direction that we might just start heading toward with Constantine – The Hellblazer.

3. The Walking Dead #148 (Image Comics), Spoiled Edition

The Walking Dead 148 06

Right after Rick defeated Negan in single combat, The Walking Dead took on a utopia / dystopia feel. The survivors had created the perfect civilization with one dirty secret — its success depended upon the imprisonment of one man, Negan himself. When summarized this way, it feels like Rick and company are actually the antagonists in this New World Order, but Negan is the kind of villain who makes the Governor look like a boy in short pants. After all, the Governor’s reign of terror ended with the deaths of Lori and Judith whereas Negan’s reign began with the far more brutal murder of Glen. Now, Rick wants to loose this monster for the sake of the community? We’ll go into the details about this turn of events later, but for now lets dive into an in-depth discussion of the problems posed in The Walking Dead #148.

THE LORI AND JUDITH ANALOGY

The Walking Dead 148 02

In my review of The Walking Dead #147, I pointed out that this issue (#148) is the 100-issue anniversary of the deaths of Lori and Judith Grimes during the war with the Governor. I further indicated the threat this parallel might imply for either Andrea and Carl or Lydia and Carl’s hypothetical unborn child. Luckily, I was wrong. Andrea, Carl, and Lydia resolved their emotionally charged dispute with peace, love, and understanding. However, the theme of losing your family that was introduced in the previous issue is still a live grenade of sorts. The survivors want a sacrificial lamb, so heading into issue #150 I wouldn’t assume any of these characters are secure. The only safety net we have is that we don’t have much distance from the latest Great Tragedy (the deaths of Ezekiel, et. al.) so it might be another 50 issues, give or take, before Robert Kirkman makes us truly ache with sorrow once agan.

ALPHA AND HUMAN NATURE

The Walking Dead 148 03

In culling the population of Alexandria and its sister cities, Alpha was essentially placing a bet. She wagered that Rick’s strategy for survival — walling survivors off into well-policed communities — not only is weaker than hers — living among the zombies with just a few simple rules and a clear pecking order — but that it fundamentally misunderstands human nature. The events of The Walking Dead #148 suggest that Alpha might just be right. By killing a few select individuals from different communities, she has created the conditions for an all-out riot and brought Rick to his knees. All this, and Alpha hasn’t had a single casualty in her ranks for her treachery.

For the most part, I think that Alpha is right in her analysis of civilization and human nature. In the years since 911, I’ve witnessed a wholesale abandonment of  personal freedom for strong, overreaching security programs, and that is just one example. I don’t think this is the end of the discussion between Alpha and Rick’s methods, though. First of all, Alpha’s belief system is descriptive whereas Rick’s is prescriptive. Hers speaks to the cold calculus of dispassionate philosophy whereas his speaks to the undying hope of a beating human heart. Second, Alpha is currently experiencing a crisis of her own due to her daughter Lydia’s decision to join Carl and the survivors, which forces the question — can Alpha’s Whisperers fare better without Alpha than Rick’s survivors would without Rick? I would have to say no. The burden of proof is still on Alpha, and it is far from the only burden she is carrying.

RICK’S COMPROMISE

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Some police these days are giving the rest a bad name, and this is unfortunate. One of the most endearing qualities Rick Grimes brings to The Walking Dead is that he has never abandoned his duty. Though law went away while Rick was in a coma, Rick became a monument to order in a world consumed by chaos, but disorder is winning and things haven’t felt this bad since after the Governor’s war left Rick wifeless, daughter-less, deathly ill, and delirious. The current issue was about as foreboding as a George R.R. Martin novel where a Stark is separated from his / her direwolf. Rick is without his wife (Andrea) and his child (Carl) again and there is danger everywhere.

The Walking Dead 148 05

Rick’s decision to solicit Negan’s help seems insane, but stepping back there is a classical ideal from over 2500 years ago that predicts this exact tactic. Plato believed that, in search of greater freedom, a sovereignty would go from tyranny (ruled by one) to oligarchy (ruled by few) and eventually to democracy (ruled by the many / all), but when threatened by a strong enemy this democracy will embrace its own strong leader and revert back to tyranny.

As a Kirkman loyalist, however, I don’t think the results of Rick’s decision to seek Negan’s assistance will be quite so black and white. Negan is much more complicated than we tend to give him credit for, and if that’s not enough, Rick’s decision not to kill him has likely lead to some sort of transformation. Furthermore, Rick himself is more of a compassionate tyrant than a democratically elected president, and that inverts the darkness that we assume is on the horizon. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Negan’s solution was to call for an election. Maybe even a constitution. This dude is just insane enough to restart the experiment of democracy.

4. All-New, All-Different Avengers #1 (Marvel Comics), Spoiled

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As I mentioned earlier, All-New, All-Different Avengers #1 is just a straight-forward story that with a perfect delivery. I want to discuss each of the two story arcs that take place in this issue.

ALL YOUNG, ALL-AWKWARD

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Before we get into the main story of this issue, I want to say that I have a lot of love for the tone of the backup story featuring young Miss Marvel and Nova. Some of the best comic stories of all time came out of the 1963 X-Men title, and much of the appeal for Stan Lee’s early X-Men writing came from the fact that he laid bare the thoughts of Scott Summers and Jean Grey for any reader (or nearby telepath) to read. The interplay between Kamela and Sam had that same feeling. Lee used this technique to humanize his mutant superheroes, and there is no reason Waid can’t use the same technique to get us on board with unfamiliar heroes like Kamela Khan and Sam Alexander. In fact, I think he should be applauded for it.

NO AVENGERS

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It is hard to tell if Marvel intended to roll out their All-New, All-Different line of comics before Secret Wars concluded or if it happened as a result of delayed publication or bad planning, but the confusion behind the whole debacle makes getting into these comics a little weird. Are we to assume that nothing has changed since pre-Secret Wars continuity? Amazing Spider-man and Uncanny X-Men seem to suggest this, but All-New, All-Different Avengers features Miles Morales, the “Ultimate” Spider-man of Earth-1610 interacting with Earth-616 characters.

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However everything plays out, All-New, All-Different Avengers takes place, as Tony Stark implies, during a period where there are no current Avengers teams. This is actually pretty nice because the post-Civil War continuity was infested with Avengers teams.

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The narrative gives us an Avengers roster of Captain America (Sam Wilson), his pet falcon Redwing (who Tony Stark rightly suggests should be replaced by an eagle), Iron Man (Tony Stark), and one of the many Spider-persons (Miles Morales), the backup story (which we will talk about shortly) adds Miss Marvel (Kamela Khan) and Nova (Sam Alexander) as likely future members, and the Alex Ross cover completes the ranks with Thor (who is the female Thor? — I stopped reading that comic pretty early on…), and The Vision. It has been a while since I read a comic that didn’t feature its entire advertised team in the first issue, and to tell the truth it was refreshing. Devoting the whole first arc to the assembly of the team fees very ’90s, but there is one artistic principle that should be kept in mind while judging the merits of All-New, All-Different Avengers — it doesn’t matter how it is done so long as it is done well.

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* * *

I was hoping to give you an update on my read-thru of Image’s Revival, but I haven’t gotten caught up yet and I think maybe that review is the sort that I should save for a rainy day. (In other words, it is likely to be long.)

In the mean time, I have a question for all you comic book readers. Are any of you reading The Amory Wars, published by Evil Ink Comics? This series, from what I have read, is written by Claudio Sanchez of the band Coheed and Cambria, and it attempts to reinforce the story told by the band’s music. A friend of mine asked if any of the comics are any good, and since I didn’t have an answer for him I thought I would throw the question out to all of you. Have you read The Amory Wars? What did you think?

Now for the obligatory questions — what did you think about this batch of comics and what awesome comics have I clearly missed the boat on? I’ve gone back and caught up on I Hate Fairyland and Constantine – The Hellblazer because of great suggestions, and I’m working through Revival with Invincible Iron Man and Extraordinary X-Men on deck. I have no problem adding a couple of more titles to that list if you have any in mind.

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