This week is truly a “Bat Week.” With the Batman title leading the way in the “Death of the Family” event, it swiftly got backup in the form of Batgirl #15, Batman & Robin #15, and Suicide Squad #15. All incredible books in their own right. Also, as I am wont to point out different milestones and astrological phenomenon, I will point out that in the middle of reading Batgirl #15 the clock struck 12:12:12 pm on 12/12/12. This won’t happen for another century so I want to make note of this history event. So noted, here is the rest of the week:
- Batman #15 is unrelenting in the clarity and starkness of writer Scott Snyder’s vision of a truly twisted, nightmarish Joker. From the beginning of his time writing the character several years ago (which technically was Dick Grayson’s Batman then) he has imagined stories that cut to the quick of each subject he undertakes. His work on the Bruce Wayne Batman began with the “Court of Owls”, a brand new concept, but one that went straight to the quintessence of who and what Bruce Wayne and Batman are. Almost eighty years of character boiled, distilled, and brought to a simmer, leaving us to read one of the purest Batman depictions ever written. This issue in Snyder’s second arc jumps from the Bat to his most iconic nemesis: the Joker. Over the decades the Joker has taken on many guises and iterations, but the intimacy between him and his pointy eared playmate has remained a constant. This issue especially digs into canon and molds a horrifying thought of just HOW intimate that fascination was and what that kind of psychotic obsession can descend into when someone who thrives on a static idea only to watch it change over time. “Death of the Family” is the Joker attempting to kill off the Robins, Batgirl, and associated with Batman, to take things back to how they used to be. To remove any crutches Batman leans on that the Joker perceives to be making him weak and atrophied in his role as Dark Knight. The backup feature of this title, coauthored by Snyder and James Tynion IV, has the Joker springing the Riddler for that exact purpose; to hone Batman’s intellect so he can once again become the ultimate version of himself that the Joker is enthralled by. To quote the Clown Prince of Crime in this issue, “Its time you got back in your king’s service. You’re the master of arms in this city, Eddie [Riddler]. You make Batman smarter. Better. More dangerous.” Without a doubt, all of the horrible things the Joker is doing are spawned from love. The question remains as to the nature of that love. Is it fraternal, erotic, or an all-encompassing ecstasy? Regardless, it is terrifying to behold and the next two issues should be apocalyptic.
- Batgirl #15 picks up at a very chilling moment in the current travails of the “Dominoed Daredoll.” Being sent into the lair of the Joker by her brother, the former who abducted their mother, Batgirl is greeted by the strangest possible situation when confronting the mad clown. Down on one knee, he proposes marriage to her with the severed ring finger (diamond ring still attached) of her mother, with the owner of said ring and finger tied to a chair seated atop a five pound nail bomb. What’s a caped crusaderette to do in such a situation? Once again writer Gail Simone writes a really complex tale that resonates with the character’s inner most psyche. Barbara Gordon started this series sixteen issues ago as a broken woman; broken mentally and freshly rehabilitated after three years of being in a wheelchair, physically broken. Throughout the past sixteen months she has had to struggle to maintain her edge while holding back the horrific memories of the Joker standing over her bleeding, broken body after shooting her in the stomach and the violations he subjected her to immediately afterward. Now not only does she have to come face-to-face with the architect of her nightmares, but endure further ones as he manipulates her with the threat of her mother’s life. Conversely, Simone also teases us with visions of the Joker several years prior (while his face was still attached naturally to the rest of him), describing to his terrified psychiatrist what his plans are for the woman he intends to marry. This conversation alludes to the present events, but remains incomplete, tantalizing the reader with the question of where the twist is going to come into his plans for Batgirl. With the Joker nothing is simple, so whatever it may be, it is guaranteed to be warped. Daniel Sampere takes over art, for this issue at least, and does an equally grand job as former artist Ed Benes depicting the smoothing action as well as the beautiful heroine herself. One of the things that makes Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl so entrancing is the fluidity, grace, and acrobatics that she employs when fighting crime. It takes a special kind of artist to translate these visually and Sampere does the job.
- Batman & Robin #15, after the two part storyline following Robin’s infiltration and assault upon the cabalistic Saturn Club, finds the Boy Wonder once again relegated to Cave duty, essentially grounded, while the rest of the “Family” are out scouring the city for the Joker and the abducted Alfred Pennyworth. Those who know Damian Wayne also know that he doesn’t do “grounded.” Vowing to be the one to find Alfred, he attempts to trace the Joker from the scene of the crime. Finding his way to the zoo, Robin falls into a trap and comes face to face (to face) with the Joker. Like the above Batgirl issue, this meeting is steeped in former drama. The last time they met, during Grant Morrison’s iteration of this title pre-Reboot, Damian attempted to ace the Joker with a crowbar. Their previous interaction was intense, there’s no doubt about it, but there was very little back and forth. Tied up and with no pressing agenda, Damian is forced to listen to the Joker talk and disseminate his grand plan and ideology surrounding the “Death of the Family” plot. Steeped in ornithological and chiropteran analogy, the Joker very convincingly makes a case for why the Bat shouldn’t associate with a Robin, both in zoology and crime fighting. This stage of the Joker’s plan is concluding with next month’s #16 issue and I am curious how the final image of this month’s installment is going to facilitate its successor. Peter Tomasi is a brilliant writer and executes his part of the larger Joker storyline with razor sharp precision.
- Suicide Squad #15 did some tertiary things with Amanda Waller and the Top, as well as the release of Captain Boomerang from the Squad, and a surprise ending featuring another member, but I don’t really care for that and most non-Suicide Squad fans probably don’t either. The REAL drive of the issue is the “Death of the Family” tie-in, featuring the reunion of Harley Quinn and her pudd’n, Mr. J (The Joker). This event is hardly how Harley would have imagined it, going over the line of moderately abusive behavior on the part of the Joker into full on psychopathic assault. Harley is without a doubt the reason 90% of people read this title and she is extremely lovable. Her one annoying trait is her masochistic penchant to go back to the Joker despite his chronic mistreatment of her. She holds her ground against him in this issue and I personally loved her so much more for it. I would say that facing off against her former lover, this issue is a self-actualization for her that could be the start of a new, far more interesting Quinn. Apropos that point, the Joker also reveals a great deal about why he cut his face off and why Harley is a failure and a fraud in her proposed similitude to his legacy. However, as I also stated, she proves herself to be ironclad in her resolve. This issue worked so well as both a Batman tie-in and as a character issue.
- Green Lantern Corps #15 accomplishes three things within the larger framework of the “Rise of the Third Army” crossover event. With the Guardians of the Universe going over the edge and initiating the replacement of the Green Lantern Corps with a soulless army whose only goal is to wipe out free will and sentient life throughout the cosmos, casualties begin to fall. Setting a moral and ethical trap for Guy Gardner, the Guardians are able to expel him in disgrace from the Corps, where in this issue he languishes in a quest for meaning on Earth sans ring. Meanwhile, John Stewart runs an errand in deep space in an attempt to aid in the reconstitution of Mogo, the planet Green Lantern that he was responsible for killing during the Green Lantern War. Fatality, princess and sole survivor of Xanshi (the last planet John Stewart destroyed before Mogo) as well as sister of the Star Sapphires, comes to his aid because of the intrinsic nature of Mogo’s reconstitution. Mogo’s parts WANT to come back together, but are hindered by outside interference. As a Lantern of Love, Fatality is drawn to unite the intrinsically female aspects of Mogo with the males, the attraction of which fuels his reconstitution. The team-up of Fatality and Stewart is interesting on the level of John Stewart reliving his former geocidal sins and making amends with the help of its last surviving victim, as well as the mystery of how and why Mogo is being restrained. Finally, and in my opinion most poignantly is Salaak. Salaak is renowned as the Guardians’ lap dog Lantern and a cold adherent to the laws of the Corps. He has been a pariah and distrusted by his fellow Green Lanterns for exactly that reason, but as of last issue has come to realize the scheming nature of his masters. They become aware of his interference and as a reward for all his years of service and loyalty, begin the process of “disposing of him.” The mere thought sickens me to my core. He was my least favorite Lantern for all the above reasons, but his loyalty to the Corps over the blue bastards makes his sacrifice that much more moving. I don’t know if you are dead or just imprisoned, Salaak, but if it’s the former rest in peace, sir.
- Before Watchmen: Rorschach #3 delivers yet another stark portrayal of New York in the 70’s as well as Alan Moore’s anti-hero, Rorschach, aka Walter Kovacs. After brutally retiring on of underworld kingpin, Rawhead’s, pimps, Rorschach forces the man himself to go out and collect his earnings from his “night workers” thereby drawing him into the open. During the day, returning as he always does to the Gunga-Diner, Walter awkwardly asks the understatedly lovely waitress, Nancy, on a dinner date, which she agrees to despite teasing by her coworkers. Rorschach’s moonlighting hinders his punctuality with said date and the consequences, hinted at in the first issue, look to be dire. Brian Azzarello writes this title in the grittiest way possible and it is rendered exquisitely by Lee Bermejo, an artist Azzarello has a long standing association with. The final piece of interest comes when Rorschach (as Rorschach) hails a cab and a very interesting “Taxi Driver” picks him up and makes characteristic small talk. It may not be Travis Bickle, but it’s Travis Bickle. Bermejo makes you see it in the dead-on De Niro visage and Azzarello captures his essence in his thoughts and speech. Considering the parallels between Walter Kovacs and Bickle, the insertion (informal though it may be) is very thought provoking.
- Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #3 brings us to the cusp of the character’s quantum reality conundrum. Predicated off the concept of Schrodinger’s Cat, which states that a cat within a box is both alive and dead until the box is opened, Dr. Manhattan is made to experience the numerous possibilities of his existence, most of which exist outside of the certainty that he had been locked in the Intrinsic Field Chamber in 1959, turning him into Dr. Manhattan. J. Michael Straczynski has taken this concept and written it with great thought and insight. His resolution to the problem of infinite realities spun out of infinite decisions which billions of humans have made since the dawn of our species in this issue feels really false in my opinion. Dr. Manhattan attempts and we are led to believe succeeds in manipulating all the events so that in every reality he IS trapped in the Chamber, ensuring he always becomes Dr. Manhattan. The concept that he could do the infinite, even with his abilities seems preposterous and Straczynski doesn’t do a good enough job rationalizing it in my opinion. However, Staczynski does tell a very intimate tale about his parents’ escape from Europe of WWII that once again draws off the Schrodinger’s Cat theory in a brilliant way, literally putting Jon Osterman (the human Dr. Manhattan) in the box, both alive and dead. I love the art by Adam Hughes, and the story is well written, though not as effectively justified in its logic.
- Demon Knights #15 brings to a close the tenure of series creator, Paul Cornell, in epic style. On the magical isle of Avalon the unquenchable horde of the Questing Queen and Lucifer’s legions of hellspawn descend to assert dominion over the sacred realm. Avalon fights back with the summoning of the Knights of the Round Table alongside their once and future king, Arthur, as well as the revived Merlin. The battle was choreographed and scripted carefully by Merlin and all comes out as the mage had foreseen. That said, Merlin himself goes through a transformation that portends the future of the DC as we have read in Stormwatch. I personally hate Stormwatch, so the connection between a series I have loved with one I have hated so passionately is slightly disconcerting. Still, Cornell did a good job on this issue and I would suggest people read it. Following this issue, it would appear that a splintering of the group is at hand, but not forever. Madame Xanadu foretells that they will reunite, and as we know from solicitations, the series will return next month with a brand new writer, Robert Vendetti. Vandal Savage and Al Jabir go back to Alba Sarum to claim very different rewards, Xanadu and Jason Blood go away together to distance themselves from Merlin’s meddling, Shining Knight reenters Arthur’s service and asks Exoristos to be her companion, and the the horsewoman chides them all for defying fate. The Cornell run of this series has been amazing and if anything, this issue may stand as a bookend for a glorious era of storytelling within the title.
- Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E #15 has Frank retrieving the last piece of the soul grinder and witnessing the death of a technologically advanced, mechanized society of female automotons that created paradise and sacrificed their lives and hopes to stop the Rot. Glavanized by this Frank fights his creator, Victor Frankenstein, and assembles the device. With the help of Victor’s machine, Frank is not only able to defeat his creator, but also reincarnate his friends into bodies that are impervious to attacks from the Rot. Among them is the one closest to his heart at present: Dr. Nina Mazursky. She also is reborn into a patchwork body, though one that still resembles her former Creature from the Black Lagoon one, and it s revealed that even afterward she is pregnant with Frank’s child. I won’t lie. I like the character of Frankenstein as well as Nina and the thought of their having a child warms the cockles of my heart.
- Grifter #15 was a lot like the series has been for a while: aimless wandering. Cole Cash, aka Grifer, is transported by the vengeful AI of Stormwatch’s orbital base, Eye of the Storm, into the headquarters of the Suicide Squad, headed by his former Team 7 colleague, Amanda Waller. Going through that last sentence and making a tally, there are four major topics within that I do NOT care a fig about. There is only the slightest hint of interest in flashbacks to a cult Waller infiltrated six years prior that were preaching about the imminent threat of Daemonite invasion. Through this Waller met William Warick, a man tied integrally to Cash right up until his abduction and alterations into his present power set. This points the series in the right direction of getting back to dealing with Daemonites, but too far away from the mark in my opinion.
- Superboy #15 continues the “H’el On Earth” crossover in the Super-books, with Superman taking the dying Superboy to the Fortress of Solitude and running tests to not only try and heal him, but also figure out just what in the heck he is. As Supergirl and H’el have stated, he is a clone, but not JUST a Kryptonian clone. Though we knew that from the start, Superman finds out something we didn’t. Superboy’s DNA contains three strands instead of two, with one human strand and one Kryptonian, but also a third unidentified strand. His current ills stem from a breaking down of his genetics, forcing his body to tear apart at the seams. Trying to find a way to save the poor boy, Superman attempts to use his own family shield which creates his Superman armor only to realize when the shield responds to him with an unaltered House of El crest, that Superboy is his clone. Partially. Thus do Superboy and his ersatz progeny, Superboy, aka Kon-El, first meet. The meeting is short as the aforementioned ne’er-do-well, H’el, makes yet another appearance and kicks the crap out of them . . . AGAIN! Tom DeFalco writes a solid addition to the crossover event that has me stoked yet again to figure out Kon-El’s parentage. We know that Superman is his K-daddy, and its heavily insinuated from past iterations and common sense that Luthor is his human donor, but the introduction of a third genetic progenitor raises the stakes and the desire for resolution.
- The Ravagers #15 resumes the fight between Caitlin Fairchild’s Ravagers and Harvest’s over the young metahuman, Lisa, who poses prophetic pre-cognitive abilities. This fight over her stands on a temporal nexus of possible futures that could wax apocalyptic or otherwise. Sharing her nightmarish visions with Caitlin, she shows what would happen to her Ravagers if she is unable to save them and they fall once more under Harvest’s sway. The governments of the world fall and death and destruction cover the planet. That said, Caitlin cannot fail. One thing with prophesy is that foreknowledge can sometimes hasten the inevitable rather than avert it. As Caitlin makes a concerted effort to stop the horrific vision from being realized, something telling happens with one of her charges. This series is on the path to a VERY dark place, much like the New Teen Titans series of the 1980’s. I for one am thrilled to see where this ride takes the Ravagers and us, their voyueristic readers.
- Ame-Comi Girls: Duela Dent tells the story of the daughter of a criminal named Gamblin’ Jack “The Joker” Dent, who follows in her father’s footsteps after he is gunned down by the Gotham City police. It explains how she got her jocular M.O., her scars, and how and why she got involved with an “alien” life form like Brainiac, who herself makes a debut in this issue. Also making a debut is the female Flash, Jesse Chambers. With the advent of Brianiac, the story becomes all too familiar. Brainiac is going to strip Earth of knowledge and destroy it, meaning Batgirl, Robin, and their all female compatriots are gonna have to step up to the plate to stop it from happening. The solicitation for next month’s issue informs that Power Girl will be its subject. Since she has not been introduced or alluded to, I have no idea what to make of it, but am nevertheless intrigued.
- Saucer Country #10is a giant conundrum. So much happens in this issue that draws off the minutest of previous events. For instance, the marginalized UFO abductee, Mrs. Bates, returns to the narrative with a very interesting effect on the televised debate between Gov. Arcadia Alvarado and Sen. Kersey. Arcadia’s ex-husband, Michael, believes himself to be a sleeper agent, a la The Manchurian Candidate, who has already killed several people associated with his former wife’s campaign. Also, in light of the strange events that have been creeping up in the lives of the Governor and those close to her, Prof. Kidd, her UFO academic advisor tells her about the strange naked couple that he sees in seeming hallucinations. This series is so hard to peg. It rationalizes so many aspects of UFO mythology making it all seem ground within rational, mundane explanation, but then throws curve balls with new information that lies far outside of the norm. Writer Paul Cornell hits a homerun with the series in my book.
And so ends an incredible batch of reads. Next week sadly is the last real week of comics in December with a meager batch of issues coming out the day after Christmas. Hope to see you then . . .
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
Batman #15: Drawn by Greg Capullo, Colored by FCO Plascencia, Inked by Jonathan Glapion
Batgirl #15: Drawn by Daniel Sampere, Colored by Ulises Arreola John Kalisz, Inked by Vicente Cifuentes
Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #3: Art by Adam Hughes, Colored by Laura Martin
The Ravagers #7: Art by Eduardo Pasarin, Daniel HDR & Geraldo Borges, Colored by Tony Avina