Yet another terrific week for DC Comics … which still feels distinctly odd to say. For the last five years or so, while DC’s lineup of iconic superheroes was in the throes of the company’s “New 52” continuity remake, I mostly dreaded seeing the titles on offer every week at Boston’s one-and-only Comicopia. From the New 52, I’d quickly come to expect cold and alienating characters, grim story lines, and messy, lunging plots more concerned with setting up the next tent-pole mega-event than entertaining readers in the here-and-now; I’d fallen into the grim plight of relying on Marvel Comics for my weekly comic book joys, meager as they were.
But DC’s latest tweaking of their New 52 formula seems to have worked wonders pretty much across the board of the company’s marquee titles (I say “pretty much” because I’m holding off on trying more of those titles – things like Green Arrow or Green Lantern until their current story-arcs end). I look forward to the latest issues now, and they never disappoint – in fact, they often rise above my expectations, and lately they’ve been doing that in the same way: in every issue, in the midst of whatever’s going on, the writers pause to give readers a wonderful tight-focus take-a-breath moment of pure character … pretty much exactly the element that was missing from so much of the New 52. All four of the issues I bought this week had such moments, starting off with the issue that could be characterized as one protracted such moment:
Justice League – In this stand-alone issue written and drawn by the deplorable Bryan Hitch, our heroes of the Justice League – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash, Aquaman, and two Green Lanterns – have flown up into low orbit to confront a gigantic alien machine that’s suddenly appeared. It hits them with an energy-blast so powerful it buries them a mile underground, and while they’re pulling themselves together (the issue is called “Regroup”), they talk out many of the issues that have been dividing them and sapping their self-confidence lately. In recent years I’ve lost pretty many all the faith I once had in Bryan Hitch as a storyteller, but in this issue he’s in excellent form: all of the League members are squarely in character, including Batman, whose interaction with the League is very tricky to get right even for writers who give a crap about what they’re doing. There’s very little in the way of action – the whole issue takes place in a hole in the ground – but I loved it. And the comic book-style action was delivered in double dose in the next issue I got:
Superman – This issue, written by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason and drawn by Tony Daniel and Clay Mann, concludes the “Multiplicity” storyline in which the Supermen and Superwomen (and, um, Super-Rabbit) from dozens of alternate dimensions are being hunted by a gigantic mysterious alien who then imprisons them and siphons their superpowers. “Our” Superman deliberately lets himself be captured by this alien so that he can learn about it and spring a trap that will free both himself and his fellow super-prisoners. But before the trap can spring, there’s a moment when Superman takes it upon himself to revive the flagging morale of his comrades: “You’re Supermen and Superwomen. We’re all created equal, because we want to help, and nothing will ever destroy that as long as there’s one person left taking a breath with an ‘S’ on their chest.” A nice simple sentiment, and once again, not the kind of thing readers were likely to encounter in the New 52. And there was an unexpected moment just like that in our next issue:
Aquaman – This issue, written by Dan Abnett and drawn by Brad Walker and titled “Peace in Our Time,” comes as a kind of calmer epilogue to the world-shaking events of the multi-part story that preceded it; Aquaman and his fellow Atlanteans are helping the little Massachusetts town of Amnesty Bay pick up the pieces. Back when he was just the odd half-human boy Arthur Curry, Aquaman grew up in Amnesty Bay, and in the course of this issue Abnett gives us a nice feeling of a home-town hero working amongst old friends. But one of those old friends, an Amnesty Bay cop named Erika, has fresh memories of the battles that only just lately concluded, and the moment Abnett provides between her and Aquaman is touching and a little sad. “I saw you, Arthur,” she tells him, “in this crisis, and when that monster tore through here … I saw you put your life on the line. I saw you fight like … like savage stuff trying to stop that thing. I saw what you really are. Not the boy I grew up with. Not the boy I’d crushed on so hard. You kinda scare me.” To which Aquaman, amazed, responds, “I scare you?” “I didn’t mean,” she goes on “… you’re superhuman. I never really took that seriously before. I saw what I saw. It was serious. You were serious.” He tries to reassure her: “Erika … I’m still Arthur Curry.” And she says: “No, you’re not. You never were. I was fooling myself.” It’s a fairly stark moment, and yet there’s none of the bitter angst that would surely once have filled the scene. And when it comes to bitter angst, surely its home in comics is our final title this week:
Batman – This issue, the first chapter of a new “I am Bane” story-arc, is written by Tom King and drawn by David Finch, and it serves mostly as a high-tension prologue to the story of the New 52 Batman’s next bit confrontation with his hulking foe Bane. Batman has learned that Bane is coming to Gotham, and he warns his young proteges (the current incarnation of DC’s Caped Crusader spends a great deal of time hanging out with muscular young men, bless his black little heart) to get out of town and let him deal with the monster himself. But the best moment of the issue comes later, when he delivers the same warning to someone else: he swings down onto the rooftop of the Gotham PD headquarters in answer to the Bat-Signal … only to find not Commissioner Gordon but Catwoman, who’s now wanted for multiple counts of murder. “You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be anywhere near here,” he tells her. “I know,” she answers. “And yet. Here I am.” And when Gotham’s finest burst onto the roof with guns drawn, she says, “I have to go,” and adds, “When you need me …” Batman tersely replies, “I don’t need you,” to which she responds “And yet” and leaps into the night, leaving Batman to repeat to himself, “And yet.” It’s a quick moment, a breather before the action commences (as it does in only two pages, with the best cliff-hanger ending I’ve seen in a DC comic in years), but it’s refreshing just the same.
Refreshing’s the word – these issues of DC’s flagship titles have been completely refreshing after years of often murky storytelling. I’ll report back next week.
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