Friday, September 15, 2017
Comic Shop Comics: September 13th
Feelings aside, there is some commonality between Snyder's scripts here and Morrison's during his JLA days, including the focus on DC's flagship icon characters, the palpable sense of unfolding apocalypse and, most appealingly, the sense of synthesis that comes from reorganizing a decades-old shared universe in new and original ways that nevertheless feels right.
The indication very early on in the story, from the two-part prelude, was that the title referred to Nth Metal. As it turns out, Nth is just one of five metals that Batman has been slowly being anointed with since Snyder's first story arc on the New 52 Batman. In this issue, he is touched with the fifth and final metal, which is given a name that is hilariously awesome. It is the sort of thing that Morrison's DCU writing excelled at, presenting something that is Silver Age silly, with the straight face of modern, more realistic, "darker" storytelling, so that it is ridiculous yet cool, a hyper-ventilating kind of craziness that is best achieved in superhero comics. (You've likely already heard talk of what I'm referring to, if you haven't read it yourself. Nevertheless, I'll not spoil it directly, but I will point out that Wonder Woman's bracelets used to be made out of Amazonium, and there's a fantastic Captain Marvel story in which the metals Sivanium, Shazamium and Marvelium are all invented*).
While that particular panel announcing the new metal was probably my favorite for its audaciousness, there's a lot to like in this issue. My next favorite was probably Capullo's close-up of Robin Damian Wayne driving a huge truck, where the steering wheel looks like the size of an old-time sailing ship's wheel compared to his tiny frame. I also really like Aquaman's current look, and the way Snyder and Capullo make him look bad-ass, and one of the World's Greatest Heroes, not by dwelling on and trumpeting his awesomness, but just by having him do kinda awesome stuff in the background, like here standing atop a giant river catfish in the Amazon, and taking out (a) Batman with a casual throw of his trident.
The plot for this issue has the Justice League, leading the superhero community in general, on a desperate hunt for Batman, who has absconded with a terrible weapon just as the world seems to be ending....and sprouting bat-symbols. The League finds Damian and a team of decoy Batmen in the Amazon where they throw down.
Superman and Wonder Woman eventually find and confront Batman in an Egyptian tomb, where he threatens the with an adorable but devastating weapon. Both Batman and Kendra Saunders (and a "legion" of immortals) have strategies for staving off the coming of Barbatos, but they seem very desperate, and perhaps ultimately moot, as the issue ends with Batman turning into a gate for eight evil Elseworlds characters, all of whom look like Batman crossed with a Leaguer or a villain, and one of whom looks like he's either a Batman/Spectre, or perhaps Barbados himself.
It's a lot of fun, obviously, and let me say once again: Snyder and Capullo for Justice League. This is, after all, essentially just a Justice League story, although one that is highly-focused on Batman and also has import for the DC Universe in general. Imagine 20-pages of this a month for years, and DC's comic starring a collection of its greatest heroes once more being its best (and best-selling) title.
I will, nevertheless, complain some. Okay, first of all there are just 22-story pages in this $3.99 comic. I am guessing the extra buck is because they know they can get away with it, but I don't know that metallic ink on the cover justifies that price to me. And a two-page spread devoted simply to the credits? Well, maybe that was okay for the first issue, but on the second, it's kind of annoying, and will get increasingly more annoying with each passing issue (those two pages aren't among the 22 I mentioned, as they credits don't appear over anything, just snippets of imagery from the previous issue in a dark red collage.
Also, and this isn't a complaint so much as something weird, but when Batman tries to explain to Superman and Wonder Woman what's going on and why he's going to do what he's going to do to stop it, it becomes clear that this story is a follow-up of sorts to Morrison's Final Crisis, Batman RIP and The Return of Bruce Wayne stories: It was while he was Omega Sanction-ed out of time and then had to fight his way through reincarnations to bring himself back to life that Batman came to the attention of the bat-demon Barbatos, and his plan is to get re-Omega Sanction-ed on a one-way trip to put a stop to this current apocalypse, which has been custom crafted in his image.
Now, the passages from Golden Age Hawkman Carter Hall's journals discuss the origins of the multiverse (and the familiar hand of Kronos imagery), but also make a point of saying that there are different versions of the story of where the multiverse (and, one assumes, the dark multiverse) come from. Still, it is maybe worth pausing and thinking about the fact that this storyline, a retroactive climax of sorts to Snyder's half-decade or so writing in the New 52 continuity, is premised in part on the events of Final Crisis and its aftermath. Not only should Final Crisis not have happened any more--at least, not so that any of the characters should remember, except maybe this Superman, who is the pre-Flashpoint Superman now, I guess--but it can't have happened in anything even approaching the way it did. Hell, right from the start, it's impetus was the long-dead Flash Barry Allen returning from the dead through time and being received by The Flash Wally West and, well, Barry Allen never died anymore, did he?
I don't know that I can parse the ways in which DC's various continuity altering crises relate to one another anymore--Parallax, Superman, Supergirl I and others going back in time to prevent the climax of Crisis on Infinite Earths at the end of Convergence is the point at which I become hopelessly lost--but I found it interesting that so much of Metal refers back to something so out of continuity now.
This is likely another example of Snyder mostly ignoring the changes wrought by Flashpoint--for the most part, in his Batman writing the only real evidence of the change has registered via guest-appearances by Tim Drake, dressed in a dumb-ass costume, or Batgirl Barbara Gordon, or Red Hood Jason Todd being on the inside of "The Family."
At some point--maybe by the end of Metal, maybe in Doomsday Clock--DC is going to have to clean everything up, pick a continuity and, hopefully, stick with it for a quarter century or so, but I guess we'll see. This storyline, like whatever Johns introduced in DC Universe: Rebirth and will hopefully conclude in Doomsday Clock, has introduced some complications to the post-Flashpoint/New 52 narrative, including the apparent existence of a forgotten Golden Age, and other pre-Superman heroes.
As with the first half of this two-part storyline, I kind of hated this issue, in spite of--or perhaps because of--its liberal usage of characters I like created long ago by writers and artists I like. Something about using relatively minor characters like Anarky, who didn't really "belong" to Grant and Breyfogle but, with few exceptions, were only ever used by them, feels distasteful to me, and it feels worse to be doing so on the otherside of a major reboot like Flashpoint/The New 52, wherein a reader would assume that the character is new and original to this story, the creation of Tynion and his collaborators (here again the script is co-written by Christopher Sebela and drawn by Carmen Carnero). Why would you not? The original Anarky story isn't available in collection yet--although I remain hopeful that DC will eventually publish more volumes of Legends of The Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle, and I suppose a Batman: Arkham--Anarky collection is possible, given that they're going to publish a Joker's Daughter collection--and with pre-New 52 continuity meant to have been wiped out, there's no reason for a newer, younger reader to suspect that obscure characters appearing for the first time (well, second time; in the New 52, Lonnie Manchin is apparently the second Anarky, for some dumb reason) are new.
I don't know; the whole thing just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
The plotting on this storyline is rather confusing, in large part because Tynion and Sebela have split the focus between the Anarky plot and a dramatic moment in Tynion's ongoing Clayface redemption plotline. Anarky has been working off-panel with Spoiler since the end of "The Victim Syndicate," building an underground "utopia" beneath the ruins of the Gotham neighborhood ravaged by the events of "Night of The Monster Men." Even Leslie Thompkins and Harper Row are hanging out down there!
Batman arrives to put the kibosh on Anarky's participation, because he has learned Lonnie has received funding for his endeavor from The First Victim, a mysterious character from "The Victim Syndicate" storyline...and that character is still up to...something (that's who says the words "The Moneyspider Protocol" out loud). Spoiler and Batman fight Anarky in an extremely confusing action scene that is ridiculously hard to parse, and just generally poorly written, with paragraphs of dialogue coming between blows that are exchanged (in that respect, it's a little like ancient comics where there would be, say, a picture of Captain America in mid-air, executing a move that would take a split-second, while spouting some three very full dialogue bubbles).
Equal attention is paid to Clayface, though, and there's a relatively long scene in which he visits Mudface, another member of the Syndicate, in Arkham Asylum, where the First Victim is also being held. I think the story might have been better had it played out as two done-in-one arcs, one devoted to the Clayface storyline and the other to the Anarky one. Oh well, no one asks me for my advice.
Carnero's rendering is fine, but doesn't quite match up with the script when it comes to the action scenes, and the layout on at least one spread--Detective features a lot of instances of the tiers of panels going straight across both, facing pages horizontally, rather than across and down one page, and then across and down the next page--looks slightly broken. Comics are so collaborative though, it's hard to tell whose "fault" glitches in the storytelling are, as it's usually not the the script writer or the artist, per se, but something getting lost between them.
I haven't been particularly enamored of the style of current Lumberjanes artist Ayme Sotuyo, but the demands of this particular script--by Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh--reveal some previously unseen weaknesses. When, for, example, the 'Janes walk into an area where time has stopped, and Mal walks into a squirrel frozen in mid-scamper (and falls backwards, rather than forwards, as one would expect to do when walking into an object), it takes a while to figure out what the hell happened, and it is mostly accomplished via the addition of a movement line and the word "zoom" written behind the squirrel when it becomes un-frozen. Were Leyh's character designs not themselves so abstract, it might be easier for her to depict time stopping, but, at the very least, more than a single panel of "stopped" time would be needed to demonstrate it, since, after all, every panel in a comic book depicts the stoppage of time to a degree. The same page has the 'Janes regarding a quartet of their fellow campers frozen in time, and to depict that, "sound effects" are used even more bluntly--the word "FROZEN" literally appears over the frozen characters' heads.
Later, another adverse effect of time going crazy registers, and it is that a supporting character is suddenly transformed into a very young child, I think,but because Sotuyo's character designs are all so similar, and everyone looks to be about the same age, I'm not entirely sure what happened; a character is just suddenly very short.
Overall, the arc was well-written, if maybe overly long; to me, at least, it seemed like DC asked Fontana to stretch her pitch out to fill a certain number of issues, rather than her story naturally being a five-issue long one. Somewhat unfortunately, the artists changed enough that it never felt like she had a real partner on the arc, either.
Ah well. The next issue launches the next fill-in arc, this one a follow-up to last year's pre-"Rebirth" "Darkseid War" storyline from Justice League. Remind me to cancel my pull before then...
*So if Doc Magnus placed responsometers into sufficiently large samples of metals like Amazonium, Shazamium, Marvelium, Nth Metal and this new metal from Metal, he could created a team of Super-Metal Men, right?