This Week in Comics: Dreams, Dragons, Damage, and Damian Wayne

Reviews and the discussions they inspire are a big part of why readers visit the Batman News comics section. So an article in which all of our reviewers engage in a discussion about that week’s titles? Why, you’d think it’s a no-brainer! And yet it took several years for the idea to cross our minds… We missed the entire purple cape phase! Anyway, here’s the plan: at the end of every week we’ll post a lengthy conversation that illustrates what it’s like when all of your favorite reviewers let their hair down and talk about all the Wednesday Bat-books. And I mean all of them. The ones they reviewed and the ones they didn’t. Even that one that everybody hates! You know the one… Even if Batman News dropped a title from the Comics Section‘s review rotation ages ago, it’ll be lauded or lambasted right here. It’ll be fun. Should be, anyway. Some of the most well-versed Bat-fans praising or debating the merits of your pull-list? That sounds like a great way to cap off a week in comics! 

So here it is: the weekly roundup. Think of it like a peek into the Batman News breakroom or, perhaps more accurately, as a copy/paste of a chain email or an overcrowded podcast that you have to read.


Batman #63

And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house

With a beautiful wife

And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

Josh: We’ve got another chapter of King’s “Nightmares” arc, which is really just stand-alone issues that tie back to various stories and… Yeah… I really don’t know where to start.

Jay: This is the best work from Janín in some time (though I wonder if Jordie is a big help in that).  Other than that, I was just… bored.

Josh: Pretty much.

Elena: I didn’t absolutely categorically hate this, but I feel fatigued by the whole pointless premise of it. We get it: if Batman married Selina in King’s nihilistic “What If” scenario, she’d be dead and everyone would be miserable. Whatever. Also, nothing says “happy realistic well-adjusted relationship” more than surprise showering together. Sigh.

Jay: Yeah, that’s just it: I wasn’t angered or annoyed by this issue like the past… well, several.  It just happened, I read it, and I moved on. Constantine’s narration was overcooked to the point of parody, and the “shocking final twist” has been pretty obvious for about six weeks now.

Elena: What shocking final twist? Oh, yeah, definitely a case of needing air quotes on that.

Josh: Yeah, my problem is that I feel like I’m wasting my time reading Batman right now. These “Nightmare” issues aren’t progressing the story at all, and even the themes presented within these issues are themes or ideas that King has already covered extensively leading up to this. I feel like he’s beating a dead horse, and I just want to yell, “We get it already! Move on!”

Dan: I was glad that the last scene finally explained what’s been going on for three issues but this was another pain to struggle through. Janín’s art is gorgeous, and I especially love Bellaire’s merging colours on the full-page splashes, but King’s script is just bizarre. Constantine spent ages talking about his own dreams but he wasn’t there at all?

Elena: This is what’s most deadly about dream storytelling: writers treat it like a free-for-all, like it doesn’t need to make sense or have any particular rhyme or reason. While I feel like King is mostly trying to avoid that trap, he’s nevertheless falling into it, regardless.  

Josh: With all due respect, half of King’s Batman run has felt like a free-for-all. I suspected that these issues were all a result of Batman being tortured at the hands of Bane and company – and even assumed they were using some form of Scarecrow’s toxin since they keep referring to these stories as the “Nightmare” arc, so the confirmation that this is what’s really going on had no impact on me.

I also wasn’t a fan of Constantine’s “use” here. If Constantine were actually doing some magic to try and help Batman in real life, then I would’ve been on board, but he’s not. That makes me question why King even decided to use Constantine. I would’ve much rather had a number of people play the role that Constantine plays here. Let Dick, Tim, Alfred, Damian, Barbara, Clark, Diana etc fill the narration role that Constantine plays – all of them basically saying the same thing in different ways, and then have Catwoman, herself, tell Bruce the “I told you so” bit at the end. Like, you see two Selinas in that final scene. You could have “narrator Catwoman” stand behind Batman as Batman holds the body of Catwoman. I don’t know… I just felt like Constantine didn’t make sense, nor did he actually add anything to the story.

Elena: I like that idea of Selina being the one to tell him. That could have at least been worth a ooooo.  

Casper: You know, I’m never opposed to dream sequences in fiction. I’ve always had very vivid dreams myself and have been fascinated by dreams for as long as I can remember. I even use my dream journals as inspiration for my own fiction, so I’m by no means against the use of a dream sequence in and of itself. I think dreams, though often hard to interpret, have the potential to help us figure out our personal struggles, especially when you have the ability to trigger lucid dreams, because dreams never lie. In fiction, I think dreams can be powerful story devices for this particular reason: characters can resolve their personal struggles, or at the very least wake up with a new sense of direction that can potentially aid them in resolving their struggles.

But, that said, I don’t think the dream sequence worked out in this issue of Batman. For one thing, I agree with some of the points you guys raised, like Constantine’s appearance not making a whole lot of sense. For example, it’s weird that Constantine is narrating this issue, whereas he’s actually just an aspect of Bruce’s mind, and yet he’s treated like an actual character with agency (he even has his own scenes where Bruce doesn’t appear). One explanation that I can come up with, however, is this: Maybe the reason that Constantine appears is because Constantine is a dude who doesn’t want to be a superhero, but often ends up fulfilling that role regardless. In the process he tends to put those he cares about in harm’s way. Not on purpose, but Constantine just has the unfortunate talent to make things turn out badly for the people around him. In that sense you could argue that Constantine thematically mirrors Bruce, because within the context of King’s story we’ve seen Bruce struggling with his superhero identity as well. A part of him just wants to be with Selina and perhaps even stop being Batman and stop putting his loved ones at risk (like Dick getting shot in the head). However, to me it seems that Constantine is more like a plot device that the writer has chosen to use because it somewhat fits thematically, rather than an element that shows up in the story organically. In other words, other than this thematic connection between these two characters, I don’t think that Bruce and Constantine were ever that close, so having Constantine play this role in the story just feels forced and out of place.

Josh: Yeah, I can see some parallels between King’s Batman and Constantine now that you mention them, but without any substance in the narrative to hint at this, it’s hard to view it as anything more than a reaching attempt to make sense of the story. And had King not already botched so many aspects of this book, I’d be all for it… But King has botched quite a bit of Batman, so…

Casper: Another complaint that I have is that we just don’t learn anything new about Bruce, and it also doesn’t seem like Bruce is learning to overcome his struggles so that he can continue to fight Bane with renewed confidence and a clear head in the main story. In short, I’m missing a sense of character development so that this can be a more dynamic character arc. But as it stands the story seems very static to me, and that is why I ended up being bored with it. Perhaps Bruce will figure out his struggles in later episodes, but I think there needs to be some of that here, in this issue, to make this issue work.

Josh: This is what I’ve complained about since the beginning of King’s run. I never feel as though we’re ever getting the actually story. King essentially touches on the “big moments” of each narrative and leaves out a lot of the character work/ actual story in the process. I’ve commented on his run reading like an outline because that’s what it essentially is… An outline. Give me the character moments. Show me the motivations. Let me see lessons being learned or obstacles being overcome. I see the menu, now give me the meat and potatoes… And some wine while we’re at it.

Casper: Lastly, I’m so done with this “deconstruction” stuff. I just want Batman to stop whining and start standing up for himself! Reading Batman feels like being stuck in a negative feedback loop: the character isn’t making any progress and it hurts the overall story.

Josh: Oh my God, yes! DC’s making a bad habit of deconstructing so many of their characters, and most of it doesn’t feel honest for the character. Batman, in particular, is already dark and complex. He has roughly 80 years worth of history defining this. I’m fine if you want to explore another side of him, but I feel like King has gone out of his way for each arc to try and find something else that hasn’t been explored, and now he’s just trying too hard. In fact, he’s trying so hard that he’s beginning to completely disrespect the character, and that causes me to lose respect for King himself.

Brian: Meh. At this point, I’m reading it because it has “Batman” in the masthead.

Josh: Circling back to Janin’s art, I do agree that this is some of his better work recently, but I also feel as though he recycled a lot of the art from previous issues. The rooftop wedding sequences almost feel as though they were already made for Batman #50. I got the sense that these were created as an “alternate ending” as a last ditch effort to show DC, “Look, this is what it could be like” or something. And the panel of Batman punching Constantine looks like a lift of the page where Batman punched Gordon, just altered to be Constantine (and to have him fall properly considering the angle of the punch). Anyone else get this vibe?

Casper: Honestly, that was my first thought on seeing that panel. With all due respect to Janin, at least he got the angle right this time.

Elena: I didn’t really get that vibe. The rooftop, for sure is deliberately calling back to the non-wedding issue, but overall, I think Janin is just working with what King gives him, which is not a whole lot.

Josh: True. Ultimately, we’re just getting stuck with questionable stories to buy time for the artists who are doing the main story arcs. Which, again, only plays into my “this is a waste of time” stance.

Elena: I don’t disagree there. I think everyone might be phoning it in a bit to stall for time. But Janin never gets sloppy with even somewhat lame storytelling and I respect that.

Josh: You’re right… Janin really did deliver here.


Damage #13

Josh: Next up, we have Hulk, I mean, Damage. I read the first few issues of the title, but stopped shortly after the Poison Ivy arc simply because I made other books a priority. I think Damage is fun, but it doesn’t carry much weight with me. That being said, since we’re covering it because of Batman’s involvement, I figured I should catch up. Am I happy that I did? Mmm…

Jay: This series is always “mindless entertainment” in the best way.  Like an old side-scrolling beat ‘em up video game, it’s lean on narrative but high on action.  Batman’s kind of a butthead, but the ending promises that Damage will fight dinosaurs next month.  It appears that there is a perfect comic, and we just need to wait thirty more days.

Elena: Damage may be my new low bar measure for comics. I hadn’t been following this series before, and I’m not sure even the promise of battling with rainbow colored fantasy dinos will entice me back. Jay, “butthead” is the right word. I kept waiting for Beavis to show up.

Josh: (Stoner laughter) “Shut up, Beavis.”

(More stoner laughter) “No, you shut up, Butthead.” (Again with the stoner laughter.)

I wasn’t a fan of this issue. Did I hate it? No, but these last few issues didn’t necessarily pack the punch that early issues did. Early on, we got great action that was set-up nicely, but this just came off as whacky and out of place.

Brian: I read the first few issues of this way back when, but I didn’t like the early inclusion of “big” characters to spice it up. Haven’t read since.

Josh: I think the creative teams opted to go with the approach of, “Wouldn’t it be cool if Damage (Hulk) fought ______?” So instead of good narratives, we just got a lot of action-heavy encounters instead of a good story.


Justice League #16

Elena: Just a big “no” from me. I acknowledge that I can be a rather lazy comic book reader, but by page three I was ready to go grout the bathroom tiles. Justice League has always been kryptonite for me, and a wall of exposition for three solid pages isn’t going to improve my opinion of it.  

Josh: Wait… Tynion decided he was going to tell us everything that’s happening rather than just let it happen? Shocking. (No, it isn’t.)

Jay: This isn’t the clunkiest of Tynion’s exposition dumps, but it was still heavy on text and light on energy.  Snyder can get wordy too, but he’s good at making you buy all the crazy zaniness of this story.

Josh: The story itself, as well as the reveal, are good, but the execution wasn’t that great. I get that there was a lot of information to dump, but it still could have been executed better than it was. Had they written it so that Martian Manhunter reached the Martian Keep within the first issue, they could have let the arc play out so that we actually see and experience these reveals while the conflict on Thanagar played out around him.

This approach also would’ve prevented the previous issues from feeling like they were trying to fill pages to get to a certain point so that the arc could be a certain number of issues.

Jay: I did like the interplay between Cheung and Segovia.  I was afraid their styles wouldn’t mesh well, since they’re both pretty distinct.  It worked out, though. I particularly love Cheung’s Martian Manhunter.

Casper: I’ll admit I wasn’t able to fully enjoy this issue because of the exposition. I kept zoning out as I was reading this, so I had to reread some parts to really grasp what was going on. So I agree with you guys about the exposition. What I kind of disliked here, too, was Shayera’s sudden switch from seemingly being a villainous type to more of a victim. It felt so abrupt and even a little bit forced to me. Or maybe that’s because I ended up skipping some parts of the book, just because this book didn’t manage to hold my attention. Furthermore, the fight scenes felt mandatory to me rather than exciting and entertaining, as did some of the dialogue. For the record, I don’t completely hate this, but this issue just didn’t really do it for me. It’s a shame, because I want to be a big fan of Justice League, but it’s issues like these that make that hard sometimes. I hope the next one will be better, because this entire arc is kind of lost on me.

Dan: You’re right, Casper; the fighting was only there to break up the exposition. Kilowog began the issue as a short-sighted antagonist, then suddenly joined John in his opposition of Shayera. At the end of issue #15, I was excited to get some answers but they mostly turned out to be quite boring. None of the revelations prompted me to melodramatically throw my head back and cry ‘It’s too much! Too much!’ unlike some Martians I could mention. I feel like more storylines have been set up, but not in an entertaining way. Also, can you have an absorbascon with jam and cream?

Brian: Dan, after reading “absorbascon” so many times in this issue, I’m convinced it’s destined for the opposite end of the body. Anyway, I’ve said it all in my review, but the big problem here is that this entire arc has been (largely) poor craft upheld by a good underlying story. But much of the craft is poorer this time around (Segovia’s first few pages of layouts are very bland, Tynion’s linguistic dots are often connected to air instead of to other dots). Also, another thing on Segovia. Remember his work on ‘Tec a few months ago? It was a much nicer aesthetic there, when the coloring wasn’t so glossy and rendered.


Teen Titans #26

Elena: I flipped through. I enjoyed the decapitation scene. But please don’t make me actually read this.

Dan: You did the right thing. Even the presence of Alfred and a robot Batman couldn’t save this issue. I guess it’s fun seeing the team interacting but the story moved forward by an inch and I’m tired of seeing Damian rebel against the family again and again.

Jay: Passomundo.

Casper: Wait. Decapitation scene? Now I’m actually kind of curious.

Brian: No interest. I covered Percy’s run at the beginning of Rebirth, and it was better than New 52, but it started to slide, and I have no interest in continuing to read a book that DC insists on publishing but won’t put in capable hands.

Josh: I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to say that the book isn’t in capable hands. I think Glass had the rug pulled out from under him. What we’re getting now feels far removed from what we saw in the Teen Titans Special that launched this run, and it’s way different than what Glass had teased at SDCC. There seems to be quite a few cooks in the kitchen following people’s complaints about the darker tones of how this book started, and now we’re left with this…

Brian: That’s fair, and thanks for the correction. There are way too many hands in the process at DC.


Teen Titans Go #32

Jay: “Snowbunny’s Fool” was pretty sharp and managed to take its one joke to some pretty clever places.  “Friendly the Snowman” was… not as sharp, but there were some decent laughs. Agnes Garbowska’s pencils on the latter story were particularly excellent.

Elena: “Pizza is garbage food!” This is my winner for best moment in a comic this week. That said, I agree with Jay that  “Snowbunny’s Fool” was the better story. I loved Starfire’s ga-ga excitement over making bunnies and it was even funnier when they got overrun by them.

Dan: Yeah, I couldn’t help but smile when the Snowman turned out to be mean, then promptly melted! Jarrell’s cover looks like it was drawn by a child but Owen and Garbowska both do a solid job of capturing the characters’ on-screen proportions and their larger-than-life behaviour.

Brian: I would read this if I had more time, because I like good, dumb fun, but alas, no more time.

Josh: I’m with Brian on this one. Every now and then an issue of Teen Titans Go! will catch my attention, but usually I just pass on this title. I might circle back to this based on Jay and Elena’s comments on “Snowbunny’s Fool” though.


DC Primal Age Giant #1


Jay: Look, I’m sure you know by now that I grade comics based solely on how awesome they’d look airbrushed on the side of my drummer’s van.  Considering this has a story where Mr. Freeze uses an ice sword to slay a dragon, and another where the Batcave has a staircase made from the spine of some horrific felled beast oh and also Batman rides an armored wolf, it gets a pass from me.

Elena: The Mr. Freeze story was my favorite because ice and dragons will always be a win for me. The fact that everyone wears fuzzy panties in this was either a plus or just too weird for words; I can’t quite decide yet, but I’m leaning toward giving it the thumbs up. I do think the first story was my least favorite. I liked the individual pieces better than putting all the characters together, generally.

Jay: The Freeze story was really strong, even besides the dragons and ice swords.  Jerry Ordway’s Wonder Woman story was the best, I felt. I liked that it highlighted her compassion, and made Solomon Grundy pretty sympathetic.

Elena: I really loved that reversal!  I kinda wanted to see Wonder Woman go exact some righteous revenge after that, but admire the story’s restraint in stopping so that we could just imagine it.  

Jay: Agreed that the first story was probably the weakest.  It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t go far enough with the concept.  Frankly, none of the stories went as far as they could have with the “Justice League but they’re all He-Man” conceit.

Elena: He-man Joker was a bit much, but maybe mostly because the art was so distracting: the shape of his nose changed in almost every single panel.

Brian: Need. More. Time. Want to read this, just can’t get to it yet.

Josh: I totally missed this release… I’m going to have to circle back to it.


A Very DC Valentine’s Day

Brian: I didn’t even know this was out, and now that I do, I just don’t care. It’s full of old, not-good stories, and therefore, it is not worth buying.

Elena: I love horror comics. I love cheesy romance comics. This ought to be a match made in heaven, but it’s just not that interesting. Even if the recycled stuff is “new to you!”, most of it is pretty lame. Stories like the one with Dead Man are so ham-fisted the whole book smells like pork. I think Superman and Grundy was my favorite bit, but that’s not saying much.

Also, there’s some truly horrific things in here. Most notably: Dick Grayson with neither Babs nor Kori, and Babs with Ricky from so many years ago no one even remembers who dumb Ricky was.

Josh: I… I was one of those people that thought Ricky could’ve been an interesting character…

Elena: No. No he couldn’t.  

Josh: We’ll, umm… We’ll chalk it up to me being young and stupid. Haha!

Also, there’s an Anne Nocenti Catwoman story in this if you’re still not convinced this isn’t worth your time. The only positive might be the Harley Quinn issue that’s included. Maybe another short or two, but that’s it.


Elena: The Harley/Batman story is good, but I’d just recommend you find a back issue copy of that and skip the rest of this. It’s the Palmiotti/Conner Valentine’s Day Special from 2015, and I originally reviewed it with a score of 9/10, right here.

Lastly, Swamp Thing and Abby 4Evah. <3

Dan: I’d heard Kelley Jones had done a story in this so I was considering reading this but now I’ve read all your comments, I think I’ll give it a miss! Nocenti? No thank you!

Josh: NOcenti!