This Week in Comics: The identity of the Arkham Knight

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 and the Outsiders #1

Josh: So, we finally have the debut of Batman & the OutsidersAs you know from the review, I was a fan.

Jay: Hmm.  The second half was definitely better than the opening, but I still wasn’t crazy about this.

Casper: I wasn’t crazy about it, either. I don’t really like that Black Lightning distrusts Batman so much. I mean, on the one hand it creates tension and suspense, which might be good for the story, but I’d rather see Bruce as more of a mentor type to the team that’s actually supportive and not just this shadow that’s lurking in the periphery. But I’m looking forward to reading the next chapters and seeing how the Outsiders team will grow as a unit. Hill’s a good writer, so I’m optimistic that he’ll write a cool story. I guess we’ll see when the time comes.

Dan: I agree about the distrust between Black Lightning and Batman; that already got played out in the ‘On the Outside’ arc and it was never a particularly interesting direction.

Josh: I will say that I think it’s very important to remember context. This story technically takes place in the aftermath of No Justice and the rise of the Legion of Doom. It’s also supposed to be within the same time-frame of the Sanctuary Massacre, and the last time we saw Jefferson, Superman had warned him about this venture… So Jefferson has every right to question Batman as well as the team itself.

Dan: The aforementioned story also gave Duke a personality overhaul; in a review one year ago, I described him as ‘grounded, affectionate and self-deprecating’ but now he’s kind of an ass. On one hand, the conflict this generates could allow for some character development, insight, and strengthening of bonds, but on the other hand, the patience of the reader will be tested, especially if they’re new to Duke.

Josh: Again, I think context plays into this a little bit. If we revisit On the Outside, then you can see the progression of Duke moving in this direction. And this issue mentions that he’s having nightmares, not sleeping, and that Karma is still in his head. To me, this doesn’t feel too far off from the Duke we saw in We Are Robin, but I’ll agree he’s very different than how he was written under Scott Snyder and for Batman & the Signal. If I’m being honest though, I’ll take this Duke over the whole “second coming” approach that he had in recent titles.

Brian: Context can help, but I don’t think a #1 should depend so heavily on outside context—especially if part of the context is that this story takes place in the wake of an event that happened a year ago.

Josh: I don’t disagree with you, but I put that at the fault of the publisher more so than the creative team. On the Outside should have been the start of Batman & the Outsiders, instead of using Detective Comics as a “backdoor pilot” of sorts.

Dan: Yes! That would have been much better.

Casper: Yep, that would be better indeed. And, Josh, I think that’s fair to say, but to me in the end it doesn’t matter if the publisher or the creative team is to blame. It won’t change the way I read the issue, so I think this criticism still stands. But anyway, it’s the way it is. It doesn’t mean this entire book is bad because of a few things that I didn’t enjoy.

Dan: I have no idea why the Batcomputer kept prompting Bruce (who looks overly generic and roughly defined in his civilian clothes here) and I feel like a meta epidemic is a lazy, overused device in recent years. However, Katana is a welcome presence, and the series seems to promise a better story for her than we’ve seen in a very long time.

Jay: Katana and Lightning made this worth reading, for sure.

Casper: Katana is totally badass in this.

Josh: I’ll agree with you on Katana. I thought she was the best aspect of this issue, and I’m excited to see where they take her. While she had cool moments in Suicide Squad, they never really delved into her as a character, and that was a missed opportunity. She’s extremely complex, but has a great sense of honor. I said this in my review, but her “I’m challenging you.” line made my day! I literally said, “Thank you” when I read that line because I felt confident we were going to get some good characterization from her over time.

As for the metahuman approach, it is overused, but it’s also consistent to the history of Ra’s and Talia. During the Cassandra Cain Batgirl run, the entire final arc – which is really good – focuses on this idea. Cassandra has always viewed herself as a bit of a monster because of what she’s capable of, but she has humanity. In the final arc, she finds out that she wasn’t alone in how she was raised, but that there were many other experiments Ra’s was attempting – kids and metahumans alike – to create the ultimate assassins. For me, this feels like a natural continuation of what was never fully or completely explored in that title. In that respect, I welcome it.

If there’s anything I’m nervous about, it’s the impact that Year of the Villain will have on this title. The delay already derailed and hindered some aspects of the books, and I’m concerned a crossover event will slow any momentum the title builds between this issue and the next.

Casper: Yeah, I feel you, Josh. I also hope that Year of the Villain won’t hinder this title right at the start, but I’m afraid it might. Also, I’m not sure about Soy’s art. I think it’s the overall aesthetic that doesn’t really appeal to me, even though he’s a really good artist and storyteller. It’s probably just a matter of taste. What do you guys think?

Dan: Black Lightning looks very cool in the fight scenes, striking dynamic poses amid bright lights and dark shadows.

Jay: Generally I’m a fan of Soy’s style, but I thought that Katana’s… assets during the sparring session with Jefferson were a bit much.

Josh: Yeah, I wasn’t sure of Soy’s art when I first started paying attention to his work in Red Hood, but I grew to love it. There’s definitely an anime influence, so I can understand why some people might not respond to it, but I also think others will for that very reason.

Brian: I love Soy and Gandini after spending so much time with them in Red Hood, and I love Bryan Hill’s work on Marvel’s Killmonger and the way he presents online, but I didn’t like the prelude in ‘Tec, and I didn’t very much like this, either. The book was very slow, I thought, and it feels too reminiscent of Team Batman from Tynion’s ‘Tec run.

Jay: I think this is kind of a reverse Young Justice situation: Bendis has stated that we haven’t yet seen the full lineup for that book, though I’m happy with it as-is.  Outsiders, though, could do with some more characters, especially ones who aren’t tied as closely to Batman.


Catwoman #11

Jay: You know, this was a lot of fun.  High-speed motorcycle chase? Sign me up.

Josh: Yeah, I thought the chase was a lot of fun. Corny at times, but fun.

Casper: I agree. I enjoyed it a lot too. There was so much going on visually, from the high-speed chase, to all the things moving in the background, to Blanco’s really good sequential artwork. I guess it helps that Jones is an artist herself, so she’s able to script these kinds of scenes really well. Maybe not a whole lot happened storywise, but it sure is a feast for the eyes!

Dan: This was a nice change from all the focus on dull peripheral characters we’ve experienced of late. It was easy to pick up and understand because there was so little to it; it’s just one long chase scene. Blanco handles it magnificently; the action really flows from one frame to the next. Not sure why he makes Selina’s mouth so large and square, though. For a while, its felt as if the Creels are getting token scenes just to remind us they’re still here, but that might be about to change. A better way to give this series some momentum would be to tie it into the main Batman title, as with stories like ‘No Man’s Land’ or ‘Knightfall.’ I’d recommend waiting until King’s bizarre tenure has ended, though.

Josh: I completely agree concerning the Creel’s. For me, this book is in desperate need of direction and focus, so I really hope it regains that soon. I don’t think Jones is a terrible writer, but I do think the book would’ve faired better with a more developed writer. There are nuances to writing that I think people don’t consider or take for granted, and that has been evident in this book since the beginning.

I’m hoping for the best, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Brian: Sorry, Selina—too many comics.


Detective Comics #1003

Jay: Batman and Robin 2.0?  Don’t mind if I do.

Josh: Well… we finally know who Arkham Knight is. I’ve seen mixed reactions from people. I’m personally ok with the choice, but I think that select crowds would’ve been upset no matter who was behind the mask.

Overall, I loved the issue though!

Jay: I spoke with Tomasi at Fan Expo Dallas this past weekend and he’s fully aware of that.  To him, it’s not so much who’s under the helmet but why they’re on this crusade. Frankly, I think that’s consistent with how he’s paced the story, and I agree with the approach: it’s much more interesting figuring out why the Knight is kind of cuckoo bonkers than it would have been finding out it was really, like, Hush or somebody.

And back to my B&R 2.0 comment: this book is just a blast. Bruce and Damian are perfect.

Casper: Yes! This was so much fun! It’s the return of the Dynamic Duo! I’m so glad that Damian’s playing a large role in this arc; hopefully this will continue throughout Tomasi’s Detective run. It’s really nice seeing father and son getting along and caring about each other.

Dan: Yeah, I really dig the dynamic between the dynamic duo as well. Their banter feels natural and true to their characters.

Josh: Agreed! I loved the interactions with Bruce and Damian. It took me back to Tomasi’s Batman & Robin, but it also felt like there had been solid development, especially for Damian. And I love that he’s such a little badass! I’m all in!

Brian: So good to see them together again. I thought the dialogue between them in #1001-1002 felt a little off, but it’s settled in here. So many great Damian shots from Walker, too.

Casper: Arkham Knight’s a cool villain, too, and Walker’s art is better than ever. This is, without a doubt, my favorite Bat-book right now. What about you guys?

Dan: The Arkham Knight reveal is a sensible one, even if I’m not totally sold on her manic speeches to the other knights and the inmates (that asylum really needs better security). ‘Not the usual place of origin for the signal or the use of your symbol’ is a clunky and redundant line, and ‘Kill the bat’s bird!’ is a silly cheer, but the rest of the writing is great.I think Tomasi and Walker work together well on the opening page, delivering narrow panels of just enough action and information to get readers up to speed and propel the story onwards. Some later pages are a bit cramped but I’m really warming to Walker’s aesthetic; the cover and the faces in this issue are especially good.

Jay: And that “Robin-signal” page?  Gorgeous.

Josh: Yeah, I’m warming to Walker’s aesthetic as well. I never thought his work was bad, but it wasn’t my favorite either. Now that I’m looking at it with a critical eye, I’m definitely growing to appreciate it and enjoy it much more.

As for the logistics of Arkham Knight… I’ll wait to hold judgement. There’s plenty to like and plenty to question. For now, I’m happy with the direction, and like Casper, I’d say that this is easily my favorite Bat book at the moment!

Brian: As I’ve said elsewhere, I love the Knight reveal, because it ultimately reveals almost nothing! We know she’s a she, and we know she’s an Arkham, but those two tidbits are just two more clues in the larger puzzle.

My only complaint with the gender reveal is that Batman used a clue that no reader could have. It’s not a bad clue, per se, but with the rest of the evidence available to us, and Tomasi paying so much of it off this issue, I felt a bit cheated that we weren’t able to follow Batman’s trail on that.

But how about that evidence? I’ve been cataloguing it over at Comics Now, and it was very exciting seeing the evidence from #1000-1002 make sense. Astrid is the daughter of a white-collar dad—a psychiatric professional, no less—so the breeding, education, and psychological knowledge evidenced in earlier issues logically flows to the reveal.

Her age—and by extension, her inexperience—lines up with the way she has let her minions strike first, only attacking when a foe is down (Batman) or has let his guard down (Robin).

Astrid’s distaste for Batman’s methods lines up, too. I’m almost certain I’ve read books where Jeremiah expresses his displeasure at Batman coming into his facility, and I could see that displeasure following him home. Then imagine Astrid encountering Batman at work (she indicates in #1000 that she has), and it falls into place. Bats outmatches almost all of his rogues, so to young Astrid, without the larger context, those rogues look like victims as Batman beats the snot out of them. It follows that the only rogue she feels no pity for is Bane (see #1000), because he would never look like a victim in a battle with Batman.

If you couldn’t tell already, I absolutely adore this book, and I haven’t even talked about the artwork. I proclaimed yesterday that Brad Walker is my favorite artist on ‘Tec—and maybe any Batman book—since I started reading ongoing comics in 2013. His storytelling is fluid and economical, and his exaggerated figures and dramatic poses just push all the right buttons for me. Hennessy and Fairbairn finish his work near-perfectly, and Rob Leigh nails it with the obvious stuff and the grand comic book moments, like the insane SKOOOM when Bruce and Damian drive through the bars under Arkham.

Can not wait for the next one, and I’ve already preordered Tomasi’s first hardcover, which collects the first arc, the #1000 story, and this arc. LONG LIVE THE BAT (AND THE BIRD)!


Justice League Odyssey #9

Jay: I’m just about ready to tap out with this one.

Casper: Honestly, Jay, I already have. I’m slightly curious about Abnett’s writing here, because I usually enjoy his comics, but so far nothing about this book is really making me want to read it.

Josh: Yeah… I’m right there with you guys. I didn’t bother picking the issue up. I’ve gone two days without electricity, and I found myself rushing to read all of this week’s releases. When it came to this title, the idea of reading it felt like a chore. I might pick it back up before the next issue, but for now, I’m dropping the title.

Dan: Despite having way too many pages devoted to Cyborg fighting Brainiac’s defenses, telling his body what to do and narrating his every thought, this issue had me paying more attention than I have with Odyssey in a long time. Sampere’s artwork is clear, and Abnett’s arch, authoritative captions boxes illuminate events whilst adding gravitas. Jessica finally finds her purpose as the skeptical voice of reason, which makes sense for her established character., and Sampere transmits the emotion in her face well. I just hope her disagreement with the rest of the team doesn’t lead to yet another pointless battle heroes.

Josh: Hey… One of us read it! Haha!

Casper: Oh snap!

Brian: I’m genuinely surprised at myself that I’ve barely experimented with this book. I seriously enjoyed No Justice, so I would have expected more enthusiasm for a book that follows one of its more prominent consequences. But the enthusiasm just isn’t there, so I’m not reading it.


Red Hood Outlaw #34

Josh: Oi…

Dan: This felt like a filler issue to me.

Josh: Yeah, that’s one way of putting it…

Dan: There are a lot of players on the field, and though it’s interesting to see traditional criminals and mystical characters getting thrown into the mix, it doesn’t look like they’re up to very much. The scene in which Jason threatens the European gangsters would have been much cooler if he’d arrested or killed them, and if he weren’t wearing such a ridiculous costume.

Josh: I’ve been saying this for months now, but DC needs to decide whether Jason is going to be a hero or an antihero. This whole straddling the line, claiming to be one thing while never really doing anything egregious enough to earn that title or lack of respect from fellow heroes makes the book itself feel hollow.

What I really hated about this issue was the return of the All-Caste. During Rebirth, we praised Red Hood & the Outlaws for moving away from all of this nonsense. Now, for whatever reason, Lobdell is choosing to bring back multiple elements from his New 52 run which was heavily ridiculed… I don’t get it. It’s like punishment. Who in their right mind thought, “Hey, practically everybody hated this the first time… Let’s do it again!”

I don’t know… This book has been declining in quality for a while now, but this may be the breaking point for me. I’m not sure if I’ll be picking this up next month…

Brian: I’ll let my review stand as my comment.

Jay: Another case of “Jay knows he read this but doesn’t remember much about it.”  I think Bunker found Cobblepot? Maybe? Eh. It wasn’t bad, but it was forgettable.

Casper: Still not a Red Hood fan, ya’ll.


The Batman Who Laughs #5

Casper: All righty, here we are, issue #5. There are things in this issue that I really like, such as the confrontation between BMWL and the Court of Owls, that was really exciting. And then there are things that I really didn’t like, such as Batman ripping off that dead Bruce Wayne’s head, which I couldn’t take seriously because it’s so over-the-top and silly in an otherwise serious horror story. In my opinion, it didn’t match the overall tone of this particular issue (although if you compare this to Alfred casually performing open heart surgery in the cave, Batman ripping off a head might actually be pretty mundane). But I already wrote an entire review on this issue, so what are your thoughts, guys?

Dan: Yeah, ripping the head off was a step too far, though I guess that’s the Joker in him taking over. Up until that point, I was impressed with Bruce’s chosen method; scaring the guards into leaving him alone is very Batman. He’ll always walk that line between sanity and madness, light and darkness, and it’s a lonely walk because he’s subversive, illegitimate and frightening.

Josh: I didn’t care for the threats. Batman is known for using fear, yeah, but he tends to use it to his advantage before conflicts start. Here, he was on the ropes, they had him surrounded and pinned down, so he starts threatening them? Nope. Sorry… If I’ve got you on the ropes and I’m convinced you’re a murderer, the moment you start making threats concerning my family or my home, you’re dead. I didn’t buy any of it.

Casper: Yep. I totally agree with you, Josh. I wrote about that in my review, too. I don’t see any reason why the guards didn’t just shoot him right then and there.

Josh: I also didn’t like the Court of Owls bit. It started off nicely, but the moment the Talons showed up with severed arms and the Batman Who Laughs said he modified all of the mazes and traps… It’s too much. So many aspects of this book are moving past the point of believability – even within the confines of this world and universe – that I can’t take it seriously any more.

Jay: The Court bit kind of confused me, and there were also spots where I wasn’t sure which Bruce we were following in certain scenes.  This story is effectively creepy and weird, which works in isolation.

Casper: Well, honestly, I really liked the Court of Owls bit. Mostly because of the horror qualities of the artwork (which has been excellent, by the way). But I also liked the interaction between BMWL and the Court. Check out my review for more elaboration on this point.

Dan: Usually, I love Snyder’s book-ending technique but I didn’t feel like it landed as well this week; I don’t think associating yourself with a city is enough to sap your morale when it’s revealed that it had a different purpose in the 17th century. As ever, Jock is the perfect fit for this series, delivering ghoulish, cannibalistic Robins and vacant, dismembered Talons.

Josh: I’ll agree with you here. Jock’s art is perfect for this book!

Brian: This book has begun to feel like a chore for me. I just think it’s not my thing. Loved the Grim Knight one-shot, but the rest of this? No thanks.

Casper: Well, it’s a horror story first and a superhero story second. If you’re not into horror, I can see how it wouldn’t be your thing. But I dig this book and I still recommend it!