This Week in Comics: Not every Bat-fan likes Etrigan the Demon

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.

Detective Comics #998

Dan: Each issue of ‘Mythology’ has been fun in isolation; they feature excellent, detailed action and each encounter tells Bruce something more about himself. However, the formula is getting repetitive and there’s some questionable logic at work:

-If someone is attacking multiple targets, shouldn’t Batman ask the family for help rather than running around, a step behind his mystery assailant?

-Storywise, what was the point of Hugo Strange’s inclusion?

-Isn’t Batman too sensible to risk a 95% chance of cardiac arrest? Who will solve the case if he’s dead? What about his famous contingencies?

It was cool to see the Hellbat suit again, though!

Brian: Dan, after one read, this one didn’t do it for me as well as the others, either. Without rereading, my first culprit would have been the inclusion of Etrigan, whom I loathe, but maybe you’re on to something.

Casper: You loathe Etrigan, Brian? D=

In addition to Dan’s points, I’ve noticed a few things that I think are a bit weird, as well. For example, as we see Batman approaching the Hellbat suit, he explains how he made the suit and what it allows him to do — but this entire explanation is just his inner monologue. He’s not explaining it to another character who needs to know that information. This is all information that Batman already knows, so what’s the point in repeating it to himself in this way? Of course, I understand that this bit of exposition is helpful for new readers, but I find the way in which it’s executed to be rather clunky. I think it would have worked a lot better if they had used an omniscient narrator for the exposition instead of Batman’s own thoughts. Would he really explain that stuff to himself in that way? It’s weird.

Another thing that bugged me was when Batman was about to free Etrigan from that magical trap and he says, “We’ve only got seconds here–I’m going to try and dilute the energy chains by blasting–” He’s immediately cut off by the monster. Why didn’t Batman — a dude who’s all about efficiency and strategy — just immediately take action, diluting the energy and whatnot, without wasting time explaining to Etrigan what he’s going to do? Again, I understand that some things are hard to convey to the reader and exposition is an easy way out. But it’s things like these that just take me out of the story sometimes.

That said, overall I enjoyed this issue and the twist at the end really makes me curious about what’s going to happen next.

Josh: Let’s not rag on Brian too much about loathing Etrigan. I mean… He’s clearly wrong…. Kidding. Seriously though, I can kind of understand someone disliking Etrigan because of the way Etrigan speaks. Some writers just don’t execute it well at all.

I thought the issue, overall, was quite clunky… Especially for Tomasi. To comment on a few things mentioned already, yes, the formula is becoming a little repetitive. I think Strange’s inclusion was to give the sense of, “We know who is behind this and Batman’s about to stop it!” The problem here is that the reason why Batman went after strange wasn’t set up very well in the previous issue. This chapter tries to explain it, but it’s almost as if it was executed as an afterthought because nobody completely connected the dots – not confidently anyway.

Dan is right. I keep asking myself why Batman isn’t sending his peers to look after his mentors. Or, you know, at the very least, give your teachers a heads up that they’re about to be attacked. I mean… These people taught Batman. They’re capable individuals. Give them a fighting chance on their own as well. The one thing that bugs me the most though, is that the antagonist is a monster. I hate when Batman fights monsters in his own book. Save that for Justice League or something.

Elena: Yeah, rhythmically, this is very problematic. Engage, fight, leap to the next “stop” on the way toward the final answer. I think Tomasi tried to escalate it by including three interactions, but rather than feel like escalation, it felt redundant. Batman’s hardly even stopping to talk at this point.

The monsters don’t bother me. But partly because I assume there’s a person behind all this at the end of the trail. If it’s just monsters, then, yeah, it might be a letdown, but my theory is that we’re dealing with physic manifestations of Batman’s inner conflict and in the end, that’s why he’ll be facing off against Arkham Knight. There’s also strong indications that he won’t be doing it alone, so hopefully the family is going to come together on this one.

Jay: I’m not a big fan of Etrigan either. The fight here was cool, though. While I agree that this story is following a pretty set structure and formula, I’m still having a blast going along for the ride. Too long Batman’s world has felt small and constrained, so seeing him travel the world and interact with people who aren’t superheroes is refreshing.

Red Hood: Outlaw #31

Brian: This series hasn’t been downright bad, but for maybe one issue, but it has gone from being something I highly anticipated reading to something I dread reviewing—mostly because it’s started to feel boring. #31 isn’t helping.

Elena: I had to read the page with the crowbar four times before I understood what was happening. But then I was probably just distracted by the artist’s atrocities against animal anatomy. I’m sort of looking forward to Jason returning to Gotham maybe? I don’t know. I’m just hoping I will eventually recognize the character again.

Brian: Speaking of crowbars and wrecked anatomy, I was playing Injustice 2 over the weekend, and there’s no special achievement unlocked for finishing off Red Hood with the Joker’s special move (which involves a crowbar). What a missed opportunity.

Jay: Boring is a good way of putting it. While I’m no fan of Jason, this series was a definite surprise during Rebirth. I don’t dread reading it, but it’s definitely fallen down my “to-read” list. And yeah, while seeing Jason go back to Gotham might be interesting, this was a really abrupt ending. Like, he and Wingman are chummy now? O… kay?

Dan: Agreed; this was a dull read. I found the crowbar page confusing too. Woods also failed to fill in the background for much of the issue. The artist’s one redeeming quality in this book was the flowing action in the fight between Wingman and Red Hood. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy this scene because fighting someone to get them to help you just makes zero sense. Lastly, If you can manipulate how people see you, why land on having three heads? And why are they all the same? Shouldn’t they look like the three inmates Solitary is comprised of?

Josh: This is the type of stuff that resulted in Lobdell’s name being synonymous with “bad.” While this issue isn’t terrible, it’s definitely not great… At all. I agree that this story was boring, ended too abruptly, and simply didn’t make sense. Also, Red Hood is chummy with Wingman now, but we have no idea who this guy is. We even see him out of his costume, but nope. No details. I am hopeful that going back to Gotham will give the title some needed momentum, but more than anything, Lobdell just needs to refocus. Somewhere along the way, it’s like he lost track of the story he wanted to tell.

Justice League Dark #8

Elena: Swamp Thing looks like Chewbacca on the cover and like a Balrog in the interiors. Either way, I wish they would stick with something a little more…traditional? Lots more awesome body horror in this comic, but the story is kind of a mess of of magical mumbo jumbo. Interesting reveal at the end, but I wonder if that won’t just further convolute the plot rather than give it some desperately needed shape.

Dan: He does look a lot like the Balrog! Etrigan should tell him, ‘You shall not pass/Your ass is grass,’ etc.
I do like how fearsome Swampy looks when he first transforms, how disturbing the monstrosity is that attacks Hell’s Kitchen, and how distinctive the Justice League Dark’s headquarters are. Also, Martínez Bueno‏ has somehow made the Upside-Down Man even more frightening than he was before. He’s the perfect fit for this book. But as it was a standalone installment, I wondered if issue #7 would have any relevance going forwards. Gratifyingly, Frankenstein is recovering, Zatanna has the jewel her father sent her and Kirk is still descending into madness. The only thing I don’t understand is why the team have isolated Langstrom; he’ll get worse without them.
I felt like Papa Midnite made several good observations this issue. Not least of them was the way superheroes keep making matters worse; Batman triggered the events of ‘Metal,’ the Justice League damaged the Source Wall, and Wonder Woman released the Otherkind! I feel that it’s about time they all redeemed themselves.

Although it’s a bloated story that may topple under its own weight, I’m still really enjoying Justice League Dark. Tynion IV seems more at home with this series; his writing is significantly more succinct and natural here than it is in Justice League and it seems that every magical character in DC history is finding a place in this epic tale.

Clearly, Felix Faust asked for whatever Doctor Strange was having

Jay: This was a step up from last month, which I just could not get into at all. I’m definitely interested in this whole “Lords of Chaos and Order” ordeal, though I do find it strange that Fate is being so antagonistic. My exposure to the character is limited, so there may be precedent, but I’ve always seen Nabu as a somewhat detached but still benevolent force for good. Then again, I’m sure this whole Otherkind story will play into it in some way. And yes, the Upsidedown Man is one of the creepiest characters in years. Like, I find him genuinely terrifying, and I typically don’t have that kind of reaction to a comic book.


The Flash #64

Dan: I think part two of ‘The Price’ was superior to it’s predecessor. This issue takes its time, giving us plenty of character interaction amid a slowly unraveling mystery. The thought captions and the dialogue between Bruce and Barry felt much more true to the characters this week. The weak link in this arc is Claire. Why did the Bat-family abandon her? I understand that she would feel upset by this nonsensical occurrence, but why turn evil? Why focus on the Flash? I guess we might find out there are perfectly good reasons but right now, it feels like convenience.

Josh: There are some nice moments early on, but Williamson seems hellbent on making Bruce look incompetent. I listed examples in my review so I’ll spare everyone from regurgitating that info. Then there’s Claire… DC clearly decided they wanted to stray from the planned direction because everything that was previously established is being ignored now. The last time we saw her, Bruce was sending her to get training so she wouldn’t need to use her powers to help people. Now, somehow, that’s abandoning her? AND they’re trying to say that Batman just made up the whole, “your powers will kill you” argument because he didn’t want her to be a hero? Stupid.

Elena: I really want to love the interactions between Flash and Batman (and some part of me does), but agree that Batman comes off looking worse the the chatter. And yeah, Claire is just a staggering non-starter for me. I don’t care about her. I don’t see her as a legitimate threat. She irritates me in every panel. And, as Josh said, she’s just conveniently becoming whatever Williamson needs in order to make a story. Why did it have to be her, then? It’s hard to empathize with what Flash and Batman are going through with respect to their “sidekicks” when you feel like Gotham Girl really doesn’t qualify on some level.

Josh: Yeah, if I’m being completely honest, Batman and Flash’s actual interactions are just ok to good. The internal assessments of themselves and each other are written incredibly well though.

Jay: This was an improvement on Batman from last week, and for about two thirds I kind of loved it. Some of the narration was a little trite and on the nose, but I liked Bruce and Barry’s chemistry. Even if it kind of goes off the rails, I’m much more invested than I thought I would have been.

The Batman Who Laughs #3

Brian: This is engrossing reading, but I don’t love it. JL Scott Snyder is fresh and different, but this seems like well-trodden territory, and I’m not feeling it.

Elena: For me, everything about the concept seems like it should work. I love the Batman Joker. I love that Gordon is a principal player in this story. And in this issue, I love that James is involved in all of this. But as a whole, I find it laborious reading. It feels like all-hook and no story.

Casper: I disagree there. I’m actually really into this. The stakes are high and that cliffhanger at the end was really cool and got me excited to see where this story is going. You know, I had expected there to be a lot more focus on BMWL (the character), but I guess it’s more about the effect that this character has on the Bruce Waynes that he encounters as he travels the multiverse. Of course this was also a big part of Dark Nights: Metal, but I think it’s a lot more effective in this series because now “our” Bruce is infected, so the stakes feel a lot higher here. Back in Metal I was just thinking, “Oh well, but these are just these alternative versions of Bruce,” so it all felt rather distant to me. Having this happen to “our” Bruce hits home, though.

I also really appreciate the weirdness of it all, especially all these alternative Bruce Waynes showing up and dying. If I try to picture this from Batman’s perspective, this stuff must be truly maddening and terrifying, even if he wasn’t infected and slowly changing into another BMWL. Just imagine seeing people that don’t just look like you but actually are you showing up left and right and getting killed… Try to keep it together when that happens. Yikes!

Dan: I’m with you, Casper; this book is the most fun series I’ve read in 2019 so far. I also agree that seeing other Bruces dying is freaky. On top of that, I’m worried that other worlds in the Multiverse are falling apart without their Bruce! That said, issue #3 wasn’t perfect. Too many pages were spent on reintroducing James Jr, and I couldn’t help wondering how Batman managed to attach the Grim Knight to a train- if he’s as intelligent as ‘our’ Bruce, he should have pre-empted that.

With the final reveal, I’m curious to see how Jock will demonstrate the difference between ‘our’ Batman and the Batman Who Laughs in issue #4. Also, I can’t imagine how Batman is going to return to normal. Is Snyder writing himself into a corner or should I have more faith in his game-plan? Anyway, despite these worries, I relished reading this. Though rather similar to Snyder’s version of the Joker, The Batman Who Laughs is a joy to be around (unless he’s got it in for you) and Batman’s opening soliloquy about making plans was genuinely insightful and touching.

Casper: Yeah! Awesome, Dan!

As for James Jr’s introduction, the length didn’t actually bother me. It seemed okay to me. Of course it could’ve been more concise and it would probably have been a more streamlined reading experience if it was. But, on the other hand, I think that it’s good to have the introduction the way it is for new readers that never had the chance to meet James Jr before.

The grapple hook thing was weird, though. I critiqued that part in my review as well, but I wasn’t focused on the same aspect as you, Dan. I just wrote about how the sequence of events looked really off to me. Batman shoots his grapple hook past Grim Knight’s head at an object above Grim Knight, and somehow the rope ends up winding itself around Grim Knight’s ankle? I honestly just can’t figure out what’s going on here. It’s like a couple panels are missing from the sequence.

But anyway, you have a good point as well! Maybe, since these Bruces are different from one another, they also think differently when it comes to planning and strategy? Just speculating, of course — as long as the creative team doesn’t give us the answer in the actual comic, I suppose we’ll never know.

Josh: I loved the first two issues of this title, but this issue really let me down. Like Elena, reading this chapter almost felt like a chore to me. I felt like Scott had reigned himself in quite a bit, but this issue seems like he just said, “%$@# it!” and decided to run with his crazy ideas that should have been edited down. There were too many moments where I thought, “That was out of character” or “that didn’t make sense.” In particular, James’ inclusion in this story. They want to make him evil so Batman will know what the Batman Who Laughs is going to do. I get what Snyder is going for, but why would you want to bring forth a person that the Joker has commented on being equally as sadistic as him on more than one occasion? Batman is a strategist. He wouldn’t purposely create another variable that would make his job harder. Also, why are they stopping this drug for James if it’s working? Snyder gave no explanation as to why Gordon is stopping the drug. Snyder just wants to play with his toys again.

Then we have the issue of the Bruce Waynes. At first, it was fine. One popped up dead. Clearly from another world. Seems like a message that BWL is going after Bruce Wayne. Got it. But now we’ve got multiple Bruces popping up, and then the various Batmans are calling each other Bruce in the presence of others. Like… We just revealed who Batman is. Thanks.

Snyder is making characters god-like again in the damage they’re able to endure. I can’t stress how much I HATE this. The Joker surviving a stab to the heart is pretty ridiculous. Joker getting up from open-heart surgery, with his chest cavity still wide open, attacking Alfred and trashing the bat cave… No. Just… no. This is clearly Snyder going, “What would be this completely crazy, horrific image? Like, what would give people nightmares? Let’s do that!” and then moving forward without thinking about how it fits into the story. I’m sorry, but it’s a selfish and juvenile approach to writing characters with a history as rich as these.

And, finally, Batman choosing to become the Batman Who Laughs is a complete, post-Taco Bell, dump on what Batman really is and stands for. The whole point of Batman is to overcome evil without falling to evil’s level. Will he dance with that line? Sure. But, for me, this crosses it. He gave up way too easily. Had I seen him actually exhaust all options, then fine… But he didn’t. And I’m sure Snyder has some unexplainable way to bring him back from being evil, but it’s probably just going to piss me off even more.

Like I said, the first two issues were excellent and set up a story that was about toying with the psychology of Batman, and this chapter was nothing more than shock value. It’s a dumpster fire for me.

Elena: I agree about Snyder’s tendency to go for the “shock”, which often ends up less shocking and merely exasperating. The fact that these characters don’t die (and when they do, who cares, we’ve got a multiverse full of more of them), just makes this a big no for me. I don’t care about Bruce Wayne at this point–not any of them–because they’re just puppets in service of Snyder’s whims. The hand of the writer is all over this, unfortunately. There are great and interesting ideas, but without any restraint, it’s a free-for-all and feels like it.

To be fair, some people love that quality of Snyder’s work–the more unhinged, the better. It’s just not my cup of tea.

Casper: I don’t think that Batman is acting out of character — within the context of this story, of course — is a problem, but rather the point. He’s not himself right now. An incredibly powerful psycho-active compound has altered his brain chemistry (and seemingly the rest of his body as well), so it makes sense to me that he’s not his old strategic self. We see how powerful the toxin really is on the final page of this issue. He’s basically lost his mind, so expect him to really mess things up for a while until he somehow — perhaps with a little help from his friends — manages to get himself together again. I don’t see this as purely shock value, but a plot point that just turned the entire story upside-down and now I can’t wait to see the follow-up. In other words, this didn’t shock me — it made me very curious.

But anyway, if this isn’t the story you want to read, I get that. Honestly, if this ran in Detective Comics, or even the Batman ongoing, I probably would object to it because I’d rather have those titles be more street-levelish. But within the pages of The Batman Who Laughs I’m really digging the craziness. I just wish that that open heart surgery wasn’t a thing, that was just silly.

Jay: It’s hard for me to say stuff about this book for a couple of reasons. I’ll say that the “it doesn’t have a Batman either” exchange was great, and I’m liking what Snyder is doing with James, Jr. The Black Mirror is still up there with my favorite of Snyder’s Batman stories, so I’m glad he and Jock have returned to that well.

What comics did you read this week? And how do you feel about Etrigan? Let us know in the comments below!