“Combat” continues with Digital Firsts 16, 17, and 18. Things are starting to coalesce for our various and myriad teams:. Wonder Woman breaks out of detention, Zatanna and Constantine defy the Joker’s Daughter, Batwoman, Huntress, and Lex blow a sock hop full of Nazi Zombies (literally), and Supergirl and Stargirl have left Russia and come face-to-face with Mera, who’s out helping the Navy with a little submarine problem.

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This book has no lack of whales, which is always a plus!

We also briefly see Harley and Ivy making their getaway and brief cameos from Big Barda and Amanda Waller.

Random note: I love that there’s a lot of music throughout this series as a leitmotif: the sea shanties, Zatanna’s burlesque show, Harley’s carols. The inclusion is so natural I hadn’t really even thought of it until just now. Not sure if it’s consciously done on Marguerite Bennett’s part, but it works.

We Need to Talk about the Art

Illustrating the first segment (The Russians and Mera) is Sandy Jarrell with colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick. Jarrell does a generally nice job with the characters, but a lot of the linework feels shaky. I use a 13 year-old Wacom tablet that’s going to seed and it jitters like crazy, so I’m probably more keenly aware of wiggling lines than most people might be, but I felt that even though I liked Jarrell’s art, it felt drafty and unpolished.

On the second segment Ming Doyle (art) and Doug Garbark (colors) return. There are some nice exteriors at the beginning, but what follows is some very (very) awkward action as Batwoman and Huntress battle a zombie horde. Angles are strange, the flow is stilted, and the rendering of Huntress’ crossbow (let alone the way she wields it) is just not good. I seriously don’t remember Doyle’s work ever being this indifferent to things like basic anatomy or posture.

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Focus on the pretty: nice big ‘splosions

The last sequence is drawn by Maria-Laura Sanapo with inks by Marc Deering and colors again by . Sanapo’s work here was my favorite of the issue with nicely drawn feminine faces, clean lines, and the funniest John Constantine possibly ever (in terms of his looks). Maybe it’s the fact that he wears a tie and no knickers. Not that he’d have a problem with that.

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I kind of hope he stays a rabbit throughout the series

One of my biggest complaints about this series in general is that is lacks a consistent art team. I have a hard time maintaining continuity without obvious visual cues and I think it’s an important part of the storytelling experience: to be able to immediately recognize and immerse yourself within the world of the story. DC Bombshells not only continues to have a large rotating artists, but it’s all over the map in both tone and quality. I think it’s hurting the book in ways the editors may be underestimating. From a marketing standpoint it feels like a poor choice not to dedicate consistent resources to something that has already proven popular and could have even greater merchandizing, etc. It’s the inconsistency of books like this that actually cause me to question the industry’s commitment to luring more female readers. They clearly don’t solely believe that it’s the male readers who are primarily drawn in by Ant Lucia’s original designs or else they’d sex this up more (or risk losing that demographic as well).

Point is, this book needs balance, badly. There’s nothing wrong with the story even if it is a bit traditional. It has lots of superhero action and great characters. Now it needs consistent great art. As the disparate stories are starting to dovetail, this is going to be more important than ever: we can have multiple chapters in a book all drawn and inked by different artists, but in the end it’s going to look like soup instead of cake.

So Where Does it All Land?

This continues to be a fun book to read in its digital format. It might work also in trade, but the floppies still feel weirdly redundant and oddly cobbled. I keep feeling like this is really a bunch of cross-overs that they’re trying to cram into one book. In a way that’s interesting because it harkens the comics of the Golden Age which were often compilations of a variety of stories and formats that were only occasionally related. I think if it had been done this way more deliberately, it could have worked amazing. Right now, however, it still struggles as an idea half-formed capitalizing on the strength of the original concept art–and that makes it feel a little bit wasted for the moment.

I still think Bennett’s got some interesting things going on and hopefully as the characters start coming together against their mutual enemy, we’ll maybe see more consistency with everything else about this title, because it’s too cool not to be cool.

Recommended If…

  • You enjoy your favorite characters in out-of-continuity adventures!
  • John Constantine is one of your favorite characters.
  • You think Mera is one of the most underrated characters in the DCU.

Overall

It’s nice to see that characters like Mera and Big Barda aren’t just one-and-done in this world. There are a lot of undercurrents at play in the story, which is chock-full of possibility, but everything feels a little bogged down in the art department at the moment. While I applaud DC’s use of predominantly female artists to work on this series, it really needs a regular team to help pull all of its various pieces together in a way that makes more aesthetic sense. Reading this almost feels like trying to watch a TV show where they change up the actors every week. This book is the poster child for a recent social media argument about the disproportionate attention on writers of comic books. The art matters on so many levels even if many of them are subliminal to most readers.

SCORE 7/10