This issue is by writer Sholly Fisch, artist Randy Elliott and colorist Silvana Brys. When Robin appeared in the first issue of the series, he was wearing his traditional, original red, yellow and green costume, and it was pretty clearly meant to be Dick Grayson.
The Robin in this issue is wearing the red, black and yellow costume that Robin Tim Drake wore in The New Batman Adventures, but this Robin seems far taller and older than that version of Tim. Additionally, while the Joker design more closely resembles that of The New Batman Adventures one, the Batman costume is that from Batman: The Animated Series.
I suppose each issue of this series is meant to be read individually and not necessarily be connected to what came before, but given how rock-solid DC's designs are for Scooby-Doo and the gang (right down to recycling the same poses constantly), it's sort of striking that there's isn't a comparable sense of design consistency applied to the Batman characters.
These include Grace Choi, Green Arrow Connor Hawke, and Lian Harper (Oddly, Doctor Light Kimiyo Hoshi, who just starred in Generations Shattered and Generations Forged, isn't on the cover nor does she appear in any story within). I guess the results of DC's latest tinkering with continuity, Dark Nights: Death Metal (see below) was to semi-un-reboot Flashpoint/The New 52, so that we're back to some version of pre-Flashpoint continuity, but, honestly, it's all but impossible to make sense of. (Take, for example, "Family Dinner," in which Grace Choi and Anissa "Thunder" Pierce meet Black Lightning Jefferson Pierce for dinner; here, Black Lightning once again has two grown super-powered daughters, whereas in his last series his daughters were his cousins. If this story is mean to be read as canonical, then it knocks 2018's Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands out of canon.)
The word "self-own" isn't quite right, but Jim Lee's cover really does seem to call attention to how few prominent characters of Asian descent DC has and makes much use of (And for what it's worth, of the ten on the cover, only Grunge and Cheshire aren't "legacy" characters, a tried and true if somewhat cheap and easy route to diversity in superhero universe comics), and the characters appearing in the stories within only highlight that the New 52-boot reduced diversity in the DC Universe to a pretty shocking degree (Like, we might have gained an Asian O.M.A.C., but was that worth losing Cass as Batgirl, Connor Hawke, Grace Choi, and so on...?)
All of that said, I was actually pretty excited about this 100-page super-spectacular, and I grew more excited the more I learned about it...like, for example, that it would feature the work of Trung Le Nguyen, the artist responsible for The Magic Fish (one of the best comics I read in 2020), or that Connor Hawke would be appearing for the first time in forever, or that Gene Luen Yang would be introducing a new DC hero based on the legend of The Monkey King.
So, expectations aside, what do we actually have here?
There are eleven short stories ranging in length from just three pages to 12 pages, each starring a DC character of Asian descent and each produced by creators of Asian descent. Additionally, there's a two-page prose introduction by Jeff Yang, who edited Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology, eight pin-ups, and five pages of character bios featuring many of the characters that appeared in stories or pin-ups (and a few who didn't, like the aforementioned Dr. Light).
The characters who appear in the stories are Batgirl Cassandra Cain, Green Lantern Tai Pham, Green Arrow Connor Hawke and New Super-Man Kenan Kong, Robin Damian Wayne, Cheshire and Cheshire Cat Lian Harper (?!), Cassandra Cain again, Grace Choi, Red Arrow Emiko Queen, Katana, The Atom Ryan Choi and new character The Monkey Prince.
It's hard to quibble with any of the character choices, even if a few of them struck me as odd. I feel a little weird about the al Ghul family identifying as Asian, given that Ra's is from some made-up Middle Eastern city state lost to history, and even if Damian's story is only three pages long, he's one character who gets enough attention in the various Bat-books. Grace Choi is also an odd choice, if only because DC so pointedly wrote that era of its comics out of existence; on the other hand, I imagine she's someone's favorite character, and it was probably a welcome return to fans of hers to read a story featuring her that seems to restore that old, ignored continuity.
As I alluded to earlier, Dr. Light is the only character who seemed conspicuously absent to me. What do you guys think, is there a character of Asian descent who you think should have been included that wasn't?
The strongest story in the collection was probably the Gene Luen Yang-written, Bernard Chang-drawn "The Monkey Prince Hates Superheroes," which introduces the brand-new character of The Monkey Prince, the son of The Monkey King of Chinese myth. When we meet him, he's using his shape-changing powers and posing as
Captain Marvel Shazam in order to get close to Dr. Sivana, who has been possessed by an ancient Chinese demon.
It's only 12 pages long, so there are more hints and allusions to the character and his story than anything actually definitive, but apparently the Monkey Prince is the Monkey King's biological son, something he's only recently learned and not super-enthusiastic about. He has his father's various magical powers and his magical staff, and is under the tutelage of Journey To The West's Pigsy, who he calls sifu. He's very powerful, but his powers seem closely tied to his emotions, and if he loses control of his emotions he'll lose control of his powers as well. He also hates superheroes. And is classmates with Billy Batson.
His story ends with "The Adventures of The Monkey Prince continue later this year," which makes me curious if there will be a miniseries or original graphic novel by Yang later this year (Chang's art is fine, but I'd prefer to see Yang paired with Gurihiru for a future Monkey Prince comic, given how strong their collaboration Superman Smashes The Klan was). If not, then I suppose the Yang-written Batman/Superman or the pages of the upcoming Shazam ongoing series would be the most likely places for the Monkey Prince to show up.
I'm not entirely sure about the "M" on his chest-plate, but otherwise I like the character's design just fine, and it seems to be just superhero-y enough to belong in the DCU without looking like the sort of thing a superhero might wear (other than the "M", of course). Which is a good thing, since he, you know, hates superheroes.
The other candidate for best story is probably the opening Batgirl story by writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Marcus To. It covers ground and strikes notes that are familiar from the old Batgirl series that starred Cassandra, but it does so quite well, and works as an evergreen, portrait-style story of the character (Dustin Nguyn writes and draws the other Cass story, a short, three-pager that is basically just a slice-of-life moment).
I was most looking forward to seeing Connor Hawke again, and he technically appears twice: First in a pin-up with Traci 13 by Cliff Chiang, and then in the prosaically entitled "Hawke & Kong" by writer Greg Pak and artist Sumi Kumar. In that story, Connor is using his acrobatic skills to bring kimchee home to his mom and grandmother in full costume for...some reason. He happens to run into Super-Man Kenan Kong, who is city-sitting Metropolis for the other Superman while he's out of town, and they team-up to fight a giant robot dragon. Their personalities naturally clash, but Connor reluctantly invites Kenan to have dinner with his family anyway. There's not much to it, and I had some quibbles, but it was nice seeing Connor again.
The best-looking story in the book is undoubtedly the Le Nguyen-drawn "Dress Code," written by Minh Le. It's just three-pages, in which Green Lantern Tai Pham (from Le and Andie Tong's original graphic novel Green Lantern: Legacy) is battling a Sinestro Corps member who makes fun of his "dress," which calls to mind a conversation he had with his grandmother (who was a Green Lantern before him). It's a nice, cute, punchy little story, and its fun to see Nguyen's style applied to superheroics; along with Victoria Ying's "Kawaii Kalamity!" this story stands out for its drastic departure from what is otherwise the more generic house style of the other stories.
All in all, this was a fun collection, and well worth the $10 to see some favorite characters and meet a new character. I hope DC continues to strive to keep these characters in their books and that this isn't just a one-off affair. That is, filling 100 pages with heroes and creators of Asian descent is relatively easy at this point (and the publisher has enough characters of Asian descent in their massive catalog that they could have easily done a 200-page book). The real challenge will be keeping them in their books in the weeks and months and years to come, and remembering that representation matters, both in the heroes on the pages and the creators telling their stories.
Certainly having Icon as a black Superman analgoue is going to seem different now, on the other side of the Black Panther movie, after we've had a black Captain America and there are casting rumors about a black Superman in the next movie to star that character, than it did back then, when publishers were still struggling to find black characters to include on various super-teams, you know?
In comics, in film and on television, there are more black superheroes then ever before, and the Milestone characters no longer seem as special just for being there and being black.
I am not the person to write about such things, though, in part because, as a cis white guy, I've never had trouble finding superheroes that looked like me, and in part because my own experience with the Milestone characters is so extremely limited (I read the first Icon trade paperback and...that's about it, really; maybe some random issues of various books fished out of dollar bins over the years).
Anyway, this special kicks off a reboot of the various Milestone characters, with a particular focus on Static, Hardware and Icon and Rocket, the characters who will be starring in the three ongoing Milestone titles in the coming months. As a comic book, it seems...fine, but nothing remarkable.
Reginald Hudlin writes "The Big Bang," the 24-page lead story featuring artwork by Denys Cowan, Nikolas Draper-Ivey, Bill Sienkiewicz, Chrisscross and Juan Castro. There seems to be little interest in making sure the various art styles mesh or at least complement one another.
The experimental tear gas that gives folks in Dakota City their powers is now fired during a Black Lives Matter protest. The teenager who becomes Static is there; the scientist who becomes Hardware works for the company that made it; Icon and Rocket are...well, they've already met and begun their partnership, which seems somewhat unfortunate, as their origin is in large part the most fun dynamic between the two.
Following "The Big Bang" is something called "Milestone Returns: Fandome Preview", also by Hudlin (with two pages of it credited to writer Greg Pak). The art here is even more all over the place, and comes from Ryan Benjamin, Cowan, Scott Hanna, Don Ho, Jim Lee, Jimmy Palmiotti, Khoi Pham and Sienkiewicz. The story has Icon and Rocket essentially spying on various other characters, allowing for introductions to them. Some of the sequences repeat what we saw in the preceding story, although oddly enough, the designs of various characters not synching up with those in the earlier story.
Also of interest is the way in which the costume designs vary from when they were initially introduced in the '90s; Icon, for example, looks dramatically different (and dramatically less '90s), whereas I couldn't really see a difference in Hardware's costume. There's probably an engaging piece someone somewhere could write about that too, how the quintessentially '90s characters no longer reflect the comic book superhero styles of their point of origins, and now look a little more screen adaptation-friendly but, again, I'm not the person to write that piece.
There's no Valerie or Alan M.; instead there's the brainy, bespectacled, short-haired brunette tomboy Pepper (although for all her professed boyish qualities, DeCarlo seemingly can't help but draw even the plainer characters with a degree of va-va-vaoom) and Albert, Josie's more-or-less boyfriend, seen on the cover.
Worse than dirt-poor, he is in astronomical debt to the yakuza, and he's trying to work his way out of it by teaming up with a nice devil that looks like a cute, plump puppy with a chainsaw nose to hunt the less-cute, more-evil devils.
Writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo return to well-trod territory in another crisis story from DC, in which DC Universe continuity itself is the subject of the story (How well-trod? Well, this is a sequel to their own 2017 event series, which was also about DCU continuity).
Following the abrupt ending of Snyder's Justice League run/mega-arc, in which the League rushes off-panel to fight the dark goddess Perpetua in a final battle, Death Metal opens with Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman all trapped on a world scrambled into a new nightmare reality, ruled over by The Batman Who Laughs and his army of alternate reality Batmen and his horde of goblin Robins. (Much of the rest of the League is all but MIA throughout the main series; Flashes Barry Allen and Wally West, Harley Quinn and, surprisingly, Swamp Thing and Jonah Hex co-star, while the members of Snyder's Justice League's League get little more than cameos in the actual series).
This is really more of the same, which, given the positive qualities and the great reception that the original got, probably isn't a bad thing. The curation of this particular volume is somewhat wanting, though, as it includes all seven issues of the main series, but some important parts of the narrative seem to have happened in tie-ins, as there's at least one point where it skips over various missions Wonder Woman and her allies take in one of their first attempts to beat back The Batman Who Laughs and restore the multiverse.
As for those positive qualities, Capullo draws the hell out of the story, his character-packed pages detailed enough that it is rewarding to study the backgrounds and find specific characters (Every current DC character starring in a book from the last few years seems to appear, as do a whole bunch of more obscure characters, many of whom were technically dead, thanks to Batman's possession of a Black Lantern ring; I was particularly delighted to see Red Bee raised for the final fight, and hey, Zauriel and Batgirl Cassandra Cain appear in a "Dark Multiverse" version of Final Crisis visited by Superman).
Snyder's meta-commentary is also fairly clever, including his depiction of the DC multiverse fictional setting as one that "eats" other settings (reflected in DC Comics gobbling up settings and characters from Fawcett, Charlton and so on over its history, establishing them in their own, original multiverse, with its constellation of designated Earths).
I'm not entirely sure how the resolution worked out, in part because it's left a bit undefined within the pages of this book, aside from the fact that now everyone remembers everything, and so the Flashpoint/New 52 changes all seem to be reversed (that is, previously, pre-Flashpoint events were apparently meant to have still happened, just differently than readers might have originally experienced them; now, the opposite seems true, so that some of the events of The New 52 era likely still happened, but they will have happened differently than we read them).
If none of that makes any sense at all, then much of the book might prove somewhat tedious to you.
One would hope that DC now has a continuity that it can stick with, and this is the last time we'll need to read such a crisis story in which the reorganization of continuity is the the subject of a big event series, but, well, I've been hoping that since at least Zero Hour, and that was so many crises ago that I've lost count; hell, I've lost count how many times DC's tried to finesse the changes of Flashpoint, and that was only a decade ago.
For more on Death Metal, I created a thread on Twitter while I was reading it, but it's mostly just me complaining about the Watchmen tie-ins and celebrating the appearances of Jarro and The Red Bee.
I liked it a lot.