Before we even dive into the contents of this issue, I think we can all agree that the cover from Nicola Scott and Annette Kwok is absolutely aces. Batman and Red Hood facing off in the foreground while their classic counterparts rush forward in the background? Gorgeous work.
If only the contents inside matched the quality of that cover. Once again, Urban Legends is a mixed bag of stories that vary in quality, despite strong creative teams and beloved characters. That’s all I have for the preamble, because what else is there to say?
Far and away the strongest story of the issue, and the series itself, the conclusion of “Cheer” is finally here. It is pretty okay, and considering the quality of the rest of the issue, I’ll take that as a win.
This chapter is effectively one long action scene, leading to a quiet denouement to wrap everything up. Zdarsky touches on some interesting aspects of Bruce and Jason’s relationship, particularly how they still love and respect each other even if their approaches to stopping criminals are in conflict. It’s not saying anything new, per se, but Zdarsky is skilled enough to write familiar dialogue without it sounding like he’s just regurgitating established ideas. There’s some real nuance in how he shows Bruce treading a bit too far out of anger, and Jason reeling his own feelings back to help his mentor come back to the light. One scene in particular could have gone horribly wrong, even though it doesn’t have the outcome that you’d fear from the setup, but the conflict is resolved through calm, measured conversation rather than fists and a shouting match.
In issues past, I’ve said all I can about the art from Barrows, Ferreira, Eaton, Albert, and To. That same quality is still present here, with the extended action scene maintaining consistently high energy without her becoming confusing or exhausting. To’s work is as lush and beautiful as always, though instead of penciling flashbacks he illustrates the Cheerdrop fantasy sequences. He utilizes a soft, spare color palette to give the visions and appropriately dream-like quality, and really, it’s just stunning stuff.
When it’s all said and done, I think I would have enjoyed this story more had it been it’s own series. As it’s been part of a larger anthology, with other stories that I’ve not exactly warmed to, that’s unfortunately dampened my appreciation for “Cheer.” Sure, I wish I could look at it more objectively, as its own story, and while I still enjoyed it, I’m not able to separate it from the larger Urban Legends title. Here’s to hoping that this team comes back together again in the future, so we can really see what they can do on a Batman book. For now, “Cheer” is a good story that is unfortunately dragged down by those surrounding it.
Blood for Blood
What’s been driving me crazy about this book– and I’ve said this so much guys it’s insane– is that it feels like a testing ground for future series.
Actually, not even a testing ground, because so many of these stories end with “continued in Such and Such #1!” The series are already guaranteed, we’re just getting a preview. It makes Urban Legends feel less like a collection of different stories about the Batfamily and more like a sampler.
But I’m pretty sure I’m repeating myself. Again. So let’s just get into this.
Like Grifter’s “The Long Con,” this is clearly meant to tee up an upcoming WildC.A.T.S. title, with Zealot (don’t call her that… for some reason?) on the hunt for Maxwell Lord. Matthew Rosenberg has some fun with the idea, as Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, and Pete Pantazis kick off the story with the shocking image of Wonder Woman wielding dual katanas as she fights security to get to her prey.
Only it’s not Diana, of course, but Zealot in disguise. It’s all okay enough, but I forgot almost everything that happened after I read it. That’s not to be dismissive, but to say that there isn’t any substance here. If you aren’t familiar with Zealot, you aren’t going to know or care about why she’s doing what she’s doing, and a vague and ominous closing line won’t change matters either.
Sum of Our Parts
Character change is not always synonymous with character growth, and there’s hardly a better example of this than Tim Drake.
For ten years now, Tim has been on the fringes of the DC Universe, appearing as part of an ensemble if he’s present at all. It’s quite the shift from a character who had almost twenty years of uninterrupted solo adventures under his belt, as he’s been relegated to “one of the Robins” instead of his own man.
I’ve made lament of this before (probably last month), but it’s hard being a fan of the character these days. Any time he’s part of an adventure, it’s as a bit player at most, and it feels like he goes through the exact same arc with every new appearance. In fact, every few months, it seems like DC makes an attempt to reboot Tim, thinking he’s the “insecure” Robin who isn’t sure of his place, while changing some details and variables. When he was introduced as a Robin who is “a little cocky” in– if memory serves– Batman & Robin Eternal, I knew we could potentially be in trouble, because… that’s not Tim.
Confident and self-assured? Absolutely, but never cocky and arrogant. And he earned his confidence over time, going from a kid who wasn’t sure if he was right for the role, but knowing that Batman needed someone to be Robin, to eventually being arguably the best Robin.
Nowadays, it’s only the former trait that gets focus, whether in the early days of the New-52 where he never felt worthy to call himself Robin, to his brief resurgence before he “died” when he wasn’t sure if his efforts would be enough to save Gotham, or in Young Justice when he felt he needed a new identity for… no actual reason at all.
He’s had that same self-doubt in the three installments of this “Sum of Our Parts” arc, but now he’s questioning his sexuality on top of it. This would be easier to understand if Tim actually had a consistent presence in the comics, any comics, but going from the end of Young Justice where so much of the series was focused on his relationship with Stephanie, and now they split up off-panel and he goes back to questioning himself yet again. It would be the same if he cheated on her, or left her for another girl too, because there’s nothing there in his character to indicate he would do that or has even been thinking about it. I’d say it’s completely out of character– and a decade ago, it would have been–but it’s hard to do that when the character in question hasn’t been present enough in recent memory to actually have a consistent arc and growth.
Everything Tim has gone through over the last ten years feels like some sort of attempt to differentiate himself from the other members of the Batfamily, to make him stand out and be unique, when he’s already a strong, fully-developed character. As I said above, it feels like every few months is an excuse to try and reboot the character, and it makes his thirty-year history feel like it’s all for naught. Like all he is to DC is “another Robin,” and nothing more.
And it’s that word “consistency” that really hits it home, as there really isn’t any. We don’t get enough of Tim anymore to see who he actually is, and like with the Drake moniker and the Gotham Knights and now the dissolution of a long-standing relationship, his “progression” as a character doesn’t feel the least bit organic. Again, it’s like he’s reintroduced, forgotten, and then reintroduced again, this time with a little tweak or two. He’s in a constant state of regression, as nobody seems to know what to do with him.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that “Sum of Our Parts” feels like yet another attempt to fix a character who isn’t broken, but has instead been neglected for far too long. There are some attempts to contextualize his new direction in the dialogue, but it’s clumsy and awkwardly written. Tim does acknowledge that he believes that Batman needs a Robin, which is good, but then goes on to say that as heroes, they need to be alone. It doesn’t ring true what’s there in the text, and then there’s some silliness like Bernard telling Tim that he’s been training, so he doesn’t need to fight on his own. It’s contrived and corny, but not even in a way that makes it fun.
It’s a good looking chapter, though, as with the previous few installments, with some compelling layouts, wonderful coloring, and some of Pat Brosseau’s distinctive and supportive lettering.
Sorry for the long-winded diatribe here, I’m just tired. Behind Nightwing and Superman, Tim is one of my favorite characters ever, and I want to be excited about anything he appears in. Like fans of Wally West, though, it feels like there’s been a dry spell for way too long, and given that this story ends with a “continued in issue #10,” we still aren’t getting consistent Drake content to get a good feel for what’s going on with his character. He’s written better in other characters’ titles than he is in his own adventures, which is not how it was for so long. Yeah, we still have those old issues to enjoy, I just don’t want to be stuck in the past with a character that can’t seem to get a clear future.
Hey, remember how I’ve said I’m tired of these stories being nothing more than backdoor pilots to other books, oftentimes ones that I have no interest in reading?
If you don’t, go back up to “Blood for Blood” and you’ll have a good idea of my thoughts on “Solo.” While the former might have been slightly more entertaining thanks to its silliness, this short has more of a structure to it.
It isn’t remarkably compelling structure, mind you, but it’s structure just the same.
We start off with a pretty funny scene where Green Arrow is teaching Black Canary how to properly use a bow and arrow. Or so he thinks, anyway, as she proves more than adept enough to hold her own. There’s some cute banter along with the primal joy in seeing the two use a picture of Batman as their target, but their “date” is cut short when Canary is summoned by Oracle.
It’s here that I started losing interest, to be honest, as Dinah is being sent undercover to infiltrate some arms dealing operation called T.R.U.S.T. They’ve gotten their hands on some of Batman’s tech, see, and Barbara wants to make sure it doesn’t wind up with anyone. At all.
Makes sense, yeah, but I never felt like there was any sense of urgency or any real stakes. Even when Canary fights the organizations muscle– who 100% looks like Kite Man– I wasn’t really invested. Trevor Hairsine and Rain Beredo put in some good work throughout, with a clearly choreographed fight scene– complete with a cool Canary Cry sound effect from the great Steve Wanda– along with some pretty sweet shots of Dinah in a red convertible, so it isn’t a lack of visual flair that keeps this story from taking off. T.R.U.S.T. just feels like any other secret organization, and late in the proceedings appearances by not one but two surprise characters just left me shrugging my shoulders.
All this is a prelude to a Shadow War, as one of the mystery characters says, and its to be continued in a series I honestly didn’t plan on picking up. Given the quality of this short here, that probably isn’t going to change.
- You’re a completist.
- You want to see Jason Todd go through some real growth.
- You’ll take all the WildC.A.T.S. content you can get.
Overall: The first arc is over, and if you can’t tell, I’m burnt out on this title. It started off with such promise, yet never realized its potential. Even the high points never rise above merely good, despite the great creative teams behind them. Hopefully future issues are retooled to make this a more palatable anthology series, with more one-and-done stories that aren’t there solely to set up a future title.