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Last month, our heroes found themselves observers in Superman’s past. Clark got to see his father again—got to save him—and the unexpected journey seemed a serendipitous blessing for the Man of Steel. But things were not quite as serene as they seemed, and by the end, Poison Ivy revealed herself (to us, at least) as the one pulling the strings and stringing along DC’s big three.

A different kind of beautiful

Those of you who have been reading Trinity will encounter a stark change the moment you pick up this week’s #3: Francis Manapul, the book’s writer and nearly-everything-else, is taking a break from art duties this month. When I first read the solicit a few months ago, it struck me as a bit odd that we would get an art change in the middle of the first arc, particularly since Trinity doesn’t have to contend with the strains of twice-monthly shipping. I expected I would have difficulty enjoying Clay Mann’s contribution—not at all because of any deficiency in him, but because his entire aesthetic is far less abstract than Manapul’s, and much of this book’s early success has come from Manapul’s particular style.

Now that I’ve actually read Trinity #3, I at last understand, and my expectations have been shattered. After a second issue that was distinctly Smallville, Manapul turns our attention toward Gotham and the birth of the Batman. And there could be no better artists bringing this script to the page than the brothers Mann and colorist Brad Anderson. Whereas Superman’s world is clear and bright, Batman’s is cloudy, rainy, bleak, and dark. At the heart of Clark’s mission is simple goodness, but Bruce’s crusade is inconceivable good born in and of elaborate tragedy.

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I suspect that Manapul, knowing where he was going with this, decided that this was not a story best suited to his talents as a visual artist, and so editorial found the perfect stand-in. And as much as I love celebrating the gorgeous artwork—the wealth of emotion Mann brings out in posture and framing, the dreary, claustrophobic glory of Gotham up close—as much as I admire what’s being done on the page, Trinity #3, for me, marks Manapul’s true arrival as a writer. It’s not just the willingness to trust his literary vision to the best artist for the job; it’s that his writing does not suffer for it. After seeing a similar transition wreak havoc on Justice League, I was very concerned about what we would get this month; but, if anything, this is the best writing on Trinity yet, and there is no disconnect between Manapul and the rest of the team. Everyone and everything works together beautifully.

Batman is more complex

If we let our analysis run a bit deeper, beyond obvious things like dialogue and plot, there’s a subtle magic to how Manapul has scripted this, particularly when compared with the previous issue. Superman grew up inhabiting a life that made sense. In spite of his extraordinary abilities, he had a simple, ordinary family whose heartland values gave shape to the man their son would become. Trinity #2’s plot and artwork reflected this Smallville simplicity perfectly. Events in the “dream world” occurred in a straight line,  and it was easy to see and understand everything that was was happening.

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In Trinity #3, the chaos of Batman’s world is everywhere. The scenes shift between young Bruce and the Trinity several times, and young Bruce’s scenes jump from death, to therapy, and to some drug or fear-induced waking nightmare in a fairly short space. It is often unclear whether or not something is really happening, or if it happened in the past. Batman’s life experience has been much more complex than Superman’s, and the narrative choices and artwork establish that complexity subliminally, even as we get the more obvious details presented to us in the plot itself.

A few issues in, Manapul has shown that he not only has a deep understanding of these characters, but also the chops to channel that understanding into compelling stories, and the patience to build a stronger overarching narrative by first putting each individual on a firm foundation. The real difficulty still lies ahead, when he has to bring it all in and deliver on the “Better Together” premise upon which this arc (and series) is based, but the skill he’s showing along the way is encouraging.

Nobody’s perfect

So what’s wrong with this book? What might give you pause, or take you out of the story? There isn’t much, but there were a few things that stuck out, even on my first read:

  • I’ve made it clear before that I love the work done by letterer Steve Wands, but there were a few sound effects this time around that seemed out of place in the midst of the other artwork. I’m looking at you, KRRRAAAKA-BOOOMKRASH, and AAAAAAAGH!
  • There’s a two-page spread that is simultaneously a beautiful concept and a confusing bit of storytelling. The reading order is not obvious until you’ve already gone through the whole spread.
  • While Diana’s dialogue has improved greatly since Trinity #1, I would like to see Manapul and/or editorial pay a bit more attention to detail here. She has some excellent lines, but sometimes the choice of words seems slightly off. For example: “it’s easy to think the experience we’ve had the last couple of days shed light on the people we have lost” has inconsistent use of the contraction for “we have,” and “couple of days” would probably work better as “few days.”

A remarkable book

Obvious little problems aside, Trinity #3 manages to soar, even with Manapul giving up the pencils. The addition of the Manns and Anderson proves the perfect move for this close-up on Bruce, and I’m excited to see what they bring to Diana’s chapter next month. I always expected I would enjoy this book, but it has been so much better than I anticipated each time, and I can’t wait for the next one.

Recommended if…

  • You’re hooked into Manapul’s setup and you want to see where this is going.
  • You love Batman and never tire of fresh explorations of the trauma that birthed him.
  • You’re a Clay Mann fan (if you aren’t before you read this, I suspect that will change).

Overall

As the story shifts to Batman and his baggage, Trinity #3 manages to add another gorgeous layer on top of last month’s touching trip to Smallville. Clay Mann, Seth Mann, and Brad Anderson prove the perfect artistic stand-ins for the subject matter, and Manapul flourishes as writer. Trinity is still the best character-focused book in the entire line, and if you aren’t reading it, you’re missing something truly special.

SCORE: 9/10