This is the penultimate issue of the 52-part weekly series, and there is indeed a last-minute swerve...well, last page swerve, really. Most of the issue involves The Cluemaster, who announced himself as the villain behind-all-the villains last issue, explaining to a beaten and bound Batman how he arrived at his plan (pretty inspired idea, really), and how he pulled it off. (Mostly...the plan to frame Gordon still seems needlessly complex to me, and Cluemaster doesn't bring up the "haunted Arkham" plot, which is a little beyond the scope of pretty much every villain, as it involved communicating an arcane summoning ritual to Professor Milo through dreams, in order to have him write a magic spell book? That summoned a dead Batman villain? To bring hell to Earth?).
Cluemaster chains Batman up, cuts off his clothes with a knife (sexy!), discovers his secret identity, and, after pages of laying-out his plan, and a few pages of fisticuffs, and a few pages of checking-in with the various members of the extended Bat-Family, Cluemaster is about to shoot Batman to death when someone sneaks up behind the villain and slits his throat.
The dialogue between the pair seems to indicate that they were in on it together—"Not according to plan..." Cluemaster gurgles, "I've always had a plan of my own," the other Big Bad says—but it's just as clear that this villain is the sort of major one that Cluemaster spent so much time saying he wanted Batman to think was behind it all.
I guess I should reserve my judgement for one more week here, in case things aren't exactly what they seem, but I have to say that this is a very disappointing turn of events. Cluemaster's plan worked so well because of some of the reasons I mentioned in my piece last week and some of the reasons he discusses in the dialogue—written by James Tynion IV—this week. That he was actually in cahoots with the very sort of villain he talked about making Batman believe was lurking behind the scheme all along sort of taints the plan, and, more importantly from a reader's perspective, is a cheat. This particular villain hasn't appeared in the series at all, not even in a passing bit of dialogue (Although there have been at least three clues pointing towards him or his organization in the last few months, and he seemed likely enough a candidate that I actually actively worried that it would turn out to be him, since he seemed likely enough given those clues and his relative stature in the post-New 52 rogues gallery).
His late-in-the-game inclusion here seems to violate a rule of the mystery story, if not serial, shared-setting superhero comics, and I guess htat, at this point at least, this is very much more of the latter and less of the former...and not quite the self-contained storyline I assumed it would be. Having this guy be the big bad is a little like having Sinestro be the killer in Murders in the Rue Morgue (he didn't leave footprints because he was floating over the floor with his power ring the whole time!), or H.G. Well's Invisible Man the killer in Murder On The Orient Express (Poirot never saw him coming, because he's not a character in the story! Also, he's invisible, and therefore he can't be seen coming!).
Also, I reeeeaaalllllly hate that guy's costume. I can't remember if this is the same one he's worn previously, or if Alvaro Martinez, who pencils this penultimate issue, just draws it significantly different. It's pretty bad, though. Not as bad as New 52 Ratcatcher's costume, but still pretty bad:
Or perhaps they'll just skip the denouement all together, and the Bat-books will start in medias res in June, with what happened between the end of Batman Eternal and resumption of publishing post-Convergence being a mystery gradually resolved? If that is the case, I hope those mysteries will prove more satisfying than this one was.
That said, there's a bunch of cool stuff in this issue, including the Batgirl signal, Robin's robe, Batmobile-J and Batman and Batgirl just cold walking around doing normal, everyday stuff while in full-costume. That just looks so weird these days, and it's never not funny to me to see Batman, say, sitting on an airplane in his costume instead of, you know, flying his own Bat-plane.
Ah well, maybe DC will publish an all-Allred Batgirl '66 one-shot or miniseries someday...
Anyway, this is the end of the first story arc of Gotham Academy, in which Olive faces off against Batman, and kinda sorta defeats him, but not in the exact manner depicted on the cover...and Batman ultimately gets what he wants from her anyway, in an after-the-comic back-up drawn by Mingue Helen Chen. A few of the mysteries about Olive and her mom's pasts are revealed, including the fact that Olive apparently has Firestarter powers. More importantly, our curious and charming teens decide to make it official and formally start a mystery-solving club.
Now all writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher have to do is introduce Ace the Bathound, change the title to Ace and The Bathound Gang and Gotham Academy will officially become the modern Scooby-Doo, but in Gotham comic I always dreamed would exist...!
As for that back-up, I kind of love what it promises for the next arc of Gotham Academy, but, um, what grades does this school teach? I mean, Damian's only 10, right? Or 12, at the most? I know he's super-smart and all, but I'm surprised he's old enough to enroll.
It turns out those five covers account for less than half of all of those available; there are 12 variants for this thing! Yeesh.
Now, I have a passing familiarity with and interest in Jem; I used to watch the cartoon, and my sister had some of the dolls. I re-watched some episodes recently with a friend on Netflix, and was kind of surprised by how weird the series was. One thing that hasn't changed? I still prefer The Misfits to the Holograms. I agree with them; their songs are better.
That's not the reason I thought I'd give this book a try, though. The main reason—sorry Kelly!—was that it was being drawn by Sophie Campbell, the artist formerly known as Ross Campbell, one of my favorite artists working today, and one of a handful of the more important artists working in mainstream comics at the moment, given the way Campbell's particular fusion of broader schools of style has a mass appeal.
Also, Campbell's Wet Moon proves how perfect she is at designing sexy, interesting-looking ladies with an alternative-style of fashion and an interest in music and music culture.
I wasn't disappointed. I won't get into it much here, as I intend to write about the book elsewhere tomorrow, but I thought Thompson did a pretty good job of finding a hook for the weird secret identity angle and setting things up—even if there's one awkward scene, and we didn't yet meet The Misfits. Campbell did not disappoint; I sometimes miss the hypersexualized artwork of Water Baby and The Abandoned, and the pre-pubescent Caleb who used to watch the cartoon would have loved to see Jem and The Holograms drawn in that Campbell style, but this is probably best, given the book's potentially wide appeal. Campbell certainly crosses the first and greatest challenge the comic presents, making the characters look like themselves without looking like the epitome of 1980s cartoon rock fashion. No easy feat, but Campbell sure makes it look easy.
I liked the logo—which unlike the one seen on the image above is, like, shiny—and the general design of the book a lot, too.
All that said, I probably won't be picking up issue #2, but will instead shift to reading it in trade, as I do most of the IDW books I'm interested in. I just can't justify buying 20-page, $3.99 comics in this format. I know I make a few exceptions—Lumberjanes, Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe—but that's only because I don't like Boom's trades and because Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe is the single greatest comic book the world has ever produced.
Jem and The Holograms? Pretty great. But not Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe great.
Although IDW does hold the license for Jem and Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe, huh? And they are all owned by Hasbro. So, theoretically, a Scioli/Campbell/Barber/Thompson Jem and The Holograms Vs. Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe book is a possibility, right? Right?
Morrison heads-off any such criticism, however, by including it in the comic itself. This is a little complicated to explain, and probably would take much longer to explain that it would be to simply read the book itself. So long, complicated story short: This book is set on Earth-33, the former "Earth-Prime," i.e. our world, the real world, in which there are no superhumans, other than those that exist in comic books (Until Ultraa showed up pre-Crisis, of course).
So Morrison, ably assisted by pencil artist Doug Mahnke and Mahnke's posse of inkers, conceives of this comic as not only a story, but also a prop of sorts, so that Ultra can really exist in our world, because the comic exists in our world. Got all that? No? Just read the comic. It'll make sense, and it's well worth while.
If nothing else, Morrison is clever, and if Multiversity is indeed his ultimate statement on the DC Universe, on comic books in general, this is the climax. Sure, it's the penultimate issue—and there are dozens of worlds that could easily be explored in future one-shots, should Morrison want to go back and do more of these at any time—as this re-states many of the themes of his work in as powerful and as eloquent a manner as possible.
Also, this issue contains a new version of Little Boy Blue, and I don't think cuts get much deeper than that. Sure, Ultra, The Multi-Alien is in here too, but even Ultra has appeared recently, in a couple of different works by Jeff Lemire (including a short story in one of those Vertigo anthologies that was pretty much a straight version of the character, to Lemire's work on Justice League United).
That's when I saw the title and the expected names—Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill—and gave it a flip-through. Seeing dinosaurs in it, I had scene enough to know I should buy this, take it home and read it immediately.
The river of the title—well, the literal river; I imagine it can be taken meatphorically as well—is the Amazon, and the now quite aged Nemo takes the Nautilus up the river, pursuing her immortal foe Ayesha. Naturally, she and her crew run into various obstacles from various forms of fiction until they reach their destination and have a huge, brutal battle against foes pulled from a rather weird variety of different types of fiction and yet, remarkably, everything seems to fit together.
While Moore and O'Neill have drifted rather far from their original concept of the League as a sort of Justice League of Victorian adventure fiction heroes (this story is set in 1975), they've only gone deeper and wider in answering that original question, so that rather than just "What if the stars of all those influential Victorian-era adventure fiction shared the same setting?" the question has become "What if all fiction shared the same setting?"
And while I still often feel like I'm missing a ton of the references, I also still feel rewarded when I get one (Maple White Land! I know that one!). This being so much closer to my lifetime, and calling on so many films in addition to fiction and music, I actually got quite a few of these. As per usual, the charm comes from the fact that Moore and O'Neill craft a satisfyingly dramatic adventure that doesn't depend one one knowing the characters all that well, or being familiar with every single allusion or reference, but if you do get them, they simply provide an extra layer.
Every ten pages or so, there's a splash panel that fills an entire page and half of the next page, and these images are all pretty astounding. I don't even want to describe any of them, so as not to risk ruining them.
So, in this issue—drawn by three different penciler/inker teams—Brother Eye awakes and starts taking over the world of 2020, and Tim Drake puts on dead Terry McGinnis' Batman costume and time belt in order to go back to the year 2015 to take out Brother Eye. Re-powering the time belt for a second jump back into the past seems remarkably easy, as all it took was a pair of jumper cables and a Firestorm, which again makes me wonder why this series was so damn long in the first place.
Almost as much as I wonder about what exactly happened in this issue. Tim Drake goes back in time and convinces the Brother Eye of 2015 to self-destruct, because, if it doesn't, then refugees from the dying Earth-2 will detect Brother Eye and come to Earth-0 and, shortly afterwards, the armies of Apocalypse will follow them.
Soooooo, Tim convinces Brother Eye not to lead those spaceships full of refugees to the safety of Earth-1, but instead leave them to their fate in a universe being overrun by Apocalypse? Is that right? That doesn't seem right. I suppose the next issue, and issues of World's End, will probably explain all that.
On a sidenote, this means there are now two Tim Drakes, one of whom is Red Robin and one of whom is Batman Beyond, right? And there are three Batman Beyonds, the one from the Batman Beyond comics, the one who died in this series, and now Tim? Good thing DC rebooted their continuity in 2011; otherwise, their universe might be somewhat confusing for new readers!