Scott Snyder continues his awesome run on Batman with the second installment in his reimagining of the Dark Knight’s origin (or third installment, if you count last September’s #0 issue). While this issue didn’t quite blow me away like last month’s, it was still pretty awesome and bolstered by several strong moments, despite some uncharacteristically stilted dialogue.
Before I get into the specific moments that struck me, I want to reiterate my theory that Red Hood One is pre-Joker Joker. Frankly, I think it’s pretty obvious. His DNA doesn’t pull up any records. We never see his face or hear his real name. He’s insane and seems to have no goal outside of causing chaos and gripping Gotham with fear. He has an affection for Bruce’s pre-Batman vigilante. And to top it all off, there’s the fact that in Alan Moore’s origin of the character in The Killing Joke, (and later in The Man Who Laughs) the Joker is a down and out family man who is roped into donning the Red Hood to perform a heist for the mob.
I have no problem with this. I love the Joker and I think it makes sense that his origin is interwoven with Batman’s as their rivalry is the heart of the Dark Knight’s mythos. The only thing that worries me is that we’ll have issue after issue of on-the-nose references to Red Hood One being the Joker only to have Batman knock him into a vat of acid in the final pages of the final issue. That could be annoying, but my theory right now is that he becomes the Joker before he takes over Gotham and floods it as we saw in the teaser to Zero Year last month.
So the best two moments in this issue were Alfred slapping Bruce and the Ouroboros splash page. Like the upside down page from the Court of the Owls arc where Bruce was hallucinating in the Court’s labyrinth to the giant, fold-out poster of Superman plowing through a plummeting satellite in Superman Unchained, Snyder is always pushing his artists to do new and inventive things and I love it. The scene between Bruce and Nygma was awesome and I love how you’re not entirely sure about Nygma’s intentions. Last issue he told Philip he should have Bruce killed… but now gives Bruce inside intel on Philip’s shady dealings with the Red Hood gang. What is Nygma really after, and will Batman’s origin also connect to the Riddler’s?
The back-up was serviceable but didn’t blow me away or anything. The only thing I can really say about it is that I liked that it connected with Bruce and Nygma’s conversation about the Sphinx. All in all, Zero Year is going strong, and I’m excited to see where it will go next. We’re all waiting for the moment when Bruce dons the cowl… and once that happens I think this event will truly take off.
Now that the long-running conflict with Bullseye has been wrapped up, Mark Waid has time to take a step back from epic villain showdowns and delve back into the psyche and personal life of Matt Murdock. This is where I think Waid’s take on Daredevil excels and makes it stand out from other superhero comics. Like Animal Man, Daredevil is about a superhero struggling to balance his vigilantism with his everyday life and how it affects and often hurts his personal relationships.
I really liked this story because I like the idea of the misunderstood bully. I think bullies often get the short end of the stick in pop culture, because well, they’re dicks. But most movies, TV shows and books, especially those geared at children, depict bullies as these soulless incarnations of adolescent malevolence and not you know, a real person. When I was in middle school my two closest friends were pretty big bullies and certainly bullied the shit out of me. I in turn, bullied another kid because I wanted to vent my frustration, and it’s been a point of shame for me ever since. Neither of the aforementioned bully friends were bad people- one came from a broken home reeling from a bad divorce and the other’s father died when he was eight years old. Bullies usually act out for a reason, and not because they’re rotten people (something I think this newfangled hippie “anti-bully” crap often forgets).
And that’s basically what Daredevil #28 was about- a kid from Matt’s past who bullied him because Matt was a smug know-it-all and wouldn’t play with him. His life was subsequently ruined after Matt’s accident as he was ostracized for being the bully who tormented the blind hero kid. Like me, he never really got over the shame of torturing another person for one’s own enjoyment, and has now turned to Matt for legal advice and to put their differences behind them. It’s the sort of real world tale that would feel out of place in most superhero comics, but thanks to Waid’s talent and his penchant for these kinds of stories, it works.
Justice League #22
Cool triptych, bro.
And so we finally come to Trinity War, the event the DCU has been leading up to since Flashpoint and the dawn of the New 52.
When I entered my local comic book shop this week the guy who basically lives there on Wednesdays was reading this issue and I asked him if it was any good. “No. It’s stupid.”
I had to try real hard not to roll my eyes. You see, there’s this thing with forty year-olds who read comic books: they’re mad fuckin’ cynical, yo. I guess I would be too. If I had been reading comics for thirty years and seen the big corporate behemoths do the same shit in different flavors over and over while I still threw my cash at them I might start to develop some bitter resentment. But at the same time… get over it, bro. These are comic books, and rarely do they attain the stature of literature. Trinity War is essentially the comic book version of a big summer blockbuster, so you’re not expecting Shakespeare, just a good, action-packed, well-told story.
So far, Trinity War is delivering on that front. At the very least it doesn’t bleed with cynicism like Marvel’s events. Honestly, with the announcement of this December’s new “Inhuman” event, I’m getting kind of sick and tired of Marvel. They have WAAAAAYYYY too many series, which are mostly hard to understand or appreciate if you aren’t that forty year-old cynic, their art is often bland and generic as are their character designs and they seem greedy and evil. All their events suck. Age of Ultron sucked, I hear Avengers vs. X-Men sucked and I’m pretty sure Infinity and Inhuman will suck too. You can’t even call these things “events” when they happen every few months. The publisher might as well create a new “The Marvel Event Series” title that we can just add to our pull lists since there’s more or less a new event issue on shelves every month.
By comparison, DC has taken the slow build approach to Trinity War. Sure, they had lots of mini-events across certain brands like Batman and Green Lantern, but since the New 52 debuted there have been no crazy world-changing events until now. And what was most satisfying about this issue was seeing storylines from so many different series tie together relatively seamlessly. The formation of the JLA and Amanda Waller’s determination to use them to bring down the Justice League, Superman and Wonder Woman’s budding romance, the Trinity of Sin and even the Shazam backups all intersect in this issue.
I don’t have much criticism other than that the “big death” was just some guy who had literally only become a superhero in the first few pages of this issue (how he died was what was shocking). I will say my excitement is still there but that I have trepidation because this story is really weird and there’s so many different elements I wonder if it will all come together elegantly. There’s also the matter of comic publishers not giving a shit about spoilers- Geoff Johns spoiled the death prior to the issue’s release and there’s the fact that the whole Villain Month and Forever Evil thing pretty much gives away that this story will end with the Leagues being vanquished in one way or another and the villains of the DCU inheriting the earth. What will be cool is seeing how that happens and if Madame Xanadu’s apocalyptic vision comes to pass (side note, who’s the “he” Batman references in that scene?). I’m also really intrigued by who’s behind the Secret Society, or as the Question puts it, “who is the evil behind the evil” which is an extremely corny line but one that’s too corny not to love.
I feel like this is how event comics should be done. It should be easy to jump into but also reward longtime readers. Age of Ultron centered around really obscure characters like Ultron and Morgana la Fey and more importantly, was just a really shitty story that was really shittily told. I mean, it’s barely a story, it’s kind of just a bunch of stuff that happens to sell more comics. At least Trinity War, so far at least, is an actual story.
Rachel Rising #18
I just… I just love this comic so much. Probably because I’m a twisted bastard with a heart of darkness but I love everything about this story and I’m really impressed by how pre-planned it feels and how strong it’s going eighteen issues in. Honestly, I didn’t expect this series to make it that far, but here we are.
This was the first time in a long time that it felt like an appropriate amount of story had been fit into a Rachel Rising issue’s 32 or so pages. My only complaint with the series so far is that it reads better in compilation than month to month because often the plot only moves forward a teensy bit in each issue. But this month a lot of crap happened and the overarching narrative is starting to make sense. I didn’t quite realize before this issue that Lilith is literally the biblical Lilith, i.e. Adam’s first wife. Now I’m no Christian scholar, but I do love the religion’s weird apocryphal stuff and as I recall the story behind Lilith is that she was Adam’s first wife but since she wasn’t subservient she was kicked out of Eden and replaced with good ol’ Stepford Wife Eve. She’s often depicting as a succubus or demon and generally resents humanity because you know… Eve stole her man.
And that’s basically the story here, that Lilith wants to get revenge against Eve by killing all her children, i.e. all of humanity, starting with Manson, which is why she enlisted the help of the demon Malus. Speaking of Malus, he’s still possessing this poor priest and pushing Zoe to be the serial killer she was always meant to be. What his game is I don’t know, but as I recall from the scene between him and Lilith way back when he pretty much wants to kill all hoomans as well.
We also finally got to see our intrepid Detective Corpell again, who I love because I love quirky detective characters and I like his soul patch. I just like that one person in this story has a greater understanding of what’s going on and gets that Manson is basically the battle ground for an apocalyptic war. I guess he kinda reminds me of Mulder or Dale Cooper- law enforcement characters who are really good at their jobs but also have a deep-rooted belief in the paranormal. It’s a nice character archetype, especially for stories like these.
The really big shocker came in the final pages, which caught me completely off-guard and has me wishing the next issue was coming out tomorrow. Earl returns to Aunt Johnny’s house to find Johnny, her life partner Carol, Rachel and Jet all poisoned to death and slumped around the dining room table. WTF, man!! A suicide note clutched in Carol’s hand reveals she is the poisoner, having decided life isn’t worth living if the dead walk the earth and the end times are comin’. This was really nice because FORESHADOWING, a classic narrative technique I find writers of all shapes and sizes seem to have forgotten in recent years. Last issue it was established that Carol was a devout Christian, in an exchange between her and Jet. That makes this crazy twist feel very natural and not forced.
And god, poor Earl. The guy can’t catch a break. Twice now he’s held the love of his life’s corpse in his hands. I mean, she’ll definitely come back to “life” but still… how much trauma can that poor bastard take?
Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1
Finally, since her first appearance in the final issue of Flashpoint, DC fans are given insight into who exactly Pandora is… and basically she’s Pandora. You know. The Greek myth.
This is a weird book, but I flat out love how DC has embraced the weirder, more magical side of their mythology with the New 52. I mean, the story of Trinity War is just batshit insane.
So basically, in 8000 B.C.E., a few scant millennia before the dawn of civilization, some random ass woman goes into the woods looking for sage to cure her ailing infant. She finds a gold box in the shape of a three-eyed skull and opens it, unleashing the Seven Sins (also featured in the Shazam backups), which are literally monsters, onto the world. So she unwittingly creates sin and is punished by the magic council or whatever is to wander the earth for eternity along with the Phantom Stranger and the Question. She then sets out to try and undo the damage the Sins, who refer to her as their mother, have wrought.
After Black Adam destroys the Council, the old Wizard (the one who turned Billy Batson into Shazam) seeks out Pandora and explains that the Council was wrong and that she was just some poor bastard who wanted to see what was in the shiny box. Fearing the chaos that is coming, the Wizard implores her to figure out how to control the Box. Pandora interprets this to mean she needs to seek out Superman, who’s not human and presumably 100% good, to open it and then trap the Sins back inside.
Look, I’m not saying Trinity War is some kind of flawlessly written masterpiece or anything, but for a superhero event it’s been pretty solid so far. I just love how freaking weird it is. The designs on the Seven Sins are so bizarre and genuinely disturbing. Pandora as this holy warrior with magic guns makes no sense, but whatever, it’s cool. Her plan to have Superman open the box doesn’t really make sense either (and immediately backfires in Justice League #22) but it’s nice to have the Man of Steel be so central to this conflict. And all in all, it’s just impressive that Ray Fawkes writes an issue than spans thousands of years and yet the story makes sense and flows really nicely.
I have some complaints. Why is the Box just like, lying there? It’s just lying there in a forest in Macedonia. Who put it there? I’m guessing we’ll find out more as the series go on, but it all felt random, and that removes a bit of the “importance” DC has given Pandora. This is supposed to be this big moment in DC history but it just felt… meh. She sees the box. Opens it. Sins come out. It lacked weight.
Similarly the Council’s decision to damn her and then their sudden reversal 10,000 years later is kinda bizarre. As the Wizard says in 2013, it wasn’t her fault that the box unleashed horrors… but why did it take them 10,000 years to come to that conclusion? Or was he just desperate because Black Adam had just killed them all and they needed to relay the importance of the Box to Pandora before they disappeared from the world? I dunno. Again, it will all probably make sense as the series goes on.
Another thing the issue neglects to touch on was Pandora’s apparent creation of the New 52. In her first appearance in the final issue of Flashpoint and later in Justice League #6 it’s implied she had a hand in creating the New 52, that and Flash running so fast he just rebooted the world, but the first issue of her solo series focuses entirely on the Seven Sins angle and not the rebooting angle. Is that being retconned? It’s just confusing- did opening Pandora’s Box unleash the Seven Sins or create the New 52, or both?
Again, I give Fawkes the benefit of the doubt because there was so much ground to cover in this one issue. I am a little worried that since the first few issues of the series will be direct tie-ins to Trinity War, these pressing questions I have won’t be addressed for months. But we’ll see…