DC Saved by the Belle Reve #1 review

To review this anthology, my fellow reviewers and I are teaming up! Usually, anthologies turn out to be a mixed bag in terms of quality, but what about this one? Seeing as this is going to be a long article, let’s go right ahead and take a look!

Gotham Academy: “Sophomore Year”

Matina: Sophomore Year dives back into the world of Gotham Academy, joining Maps and some of her other friends a couple weeks before school starts for them again.

Karl Kerschl’s art is cute and fitting of the story, easily dropping you back into the academy and characters readers familiar with the series will know and love. Speaking of that, the story leans pretty heavily on knowing Gotham Academy and Maps, so if you’ve wanted more of that this is a good story to look to. However, if you’re unfamiliar with the series it might not make this the most approachable of entries, since many of the characters are reacting directly to previous events. That makes it a bit of a mixed bag to have as the opening to the anthology: exciting if you’re familiar, and a bit confusing if you’re not.

It follows Maps as she bemoans the loss of old friends, and runs into previous ones all the while digging up a new mystery. It also focuses on more thematic elements like how our relationships change over time, and the differences between one school year and another. The tale also lays the groundwork for more by leaving some threads unresolved and even ending on a (not) the end note. Overall, it’s a nice return to a familiar world, and a fun little set up for future adventures.

Score: 7/10

Task Force X: “High School Lows”

Jeremy: This short story is incredibly entertaining as it quickly jumps from one account to the next all the while showcasing the members of Task Force X in very strange circumstances as…teachers? In a prestigious high school no less! The setting presents the characters with many high jinks and the characters are more than happy to point out the ridiculousness of this situation. I do find this story to be pretty funny with a tone that doesn’t take itself very seriously yet the characters are still able to have a pretty insightful view of education. My one nitpick would be that the writer, Tim Seeley, presents a couple concepts that aren’t exactly how they should be. I grew up going to international schools and it would be almost impossible for one of the most prestigious high schools having kids between the ages of 12-17 only contain 30 different countries?! That is waaaay too low. Harley Quinn also throws out words like occultism and Juju when she’s describing Katana, which could work because Harley Quinn isn’t supposed to be an expert in occultism so that’s fair, but then it’s immediately followed up by the bad guy being the son of a demon and using chaos magic? Just feels a bit weird to me but like I said, these are small nitpicks that don’t dampen my overall enjoyment at all!

I love the art style of Scott Kolins for this story as the thick lines mesh together and create beautiful outlines for the characters and the world they inhabit. The layout of each page is super intuitive and some pages have me staring in awe for so long that I have to reread a bit to get back into the groove (not a bad thing at all). The art isn’t always well defined but in the messy reconstruction of previous events I feel like sometimes that actually works great with the story. The colors by John Kalisz are also stunning as the variety and richness of each panel shows us a world where each character and action gets to have a unique feel. Even the background of the panels often work with the final panel of the page.

Score: 8.5/10

Super Sons: “Back to School”

Aaron: Tomasi turns back time and character development in his latest Super Sons short story. Younger and more intolerable versions of the boys return to school to help out a brand new friend named Sydney. Unfortunately, Bullies constantly harass Sydney for being non-binary. Being major superheroes in their other lives, Jon and Damian each attempt to help Sydney in their own way.

The dichotomy between the boys is illustrated through the artwork and writing. Where Jon can find something kind to say, Damian will typically answer rudely in contrast. In addition, the visuals will often repeat to emphasize that contrast. Sadly, there are not a lot of redeemable qualities in Damian’s characterization. I don’t like how disagreeable he is with everyone apart from Sydney and Jonathan. Meanwhile, Tomasi foreshadows Jonathan’s future struggle with sexuality, while focusing more on his good nature to relate with Sydney.

I neither agree with either of the boy’s advice, nor the way the situation was ultimately resolved. No one even remotely suggests telling an adult about the incident, and I firmly believe the story botches its message on bullying. Although the story boils down to a half-baked “After School Special,” it still contains encouraging insight for those with similar issues.

Score: 5/10.

Green Arrow and Speedy: “Earn it Back”

Cam: Earn It Back is a fantastic look at an angle of superheroism that I don’t think gets looked at enough: what is it like to raise a sidekick? Writer Dave Wielgosz (who some of you might remember wrote the stellar Man-Bat run last year) brings us a compelling, heartwarming tale about the relationship between mentor and ward, focusing on Oliver Queen and Roy Harper. There’s a real sense of relationship between the two, and it’s fun to see Ollie struggle as a dad. The dialogue is well written, the pacing is great, overall fantastic.

The art is nothing to scoff at, either. Mike Norton and Alan Passalaqua absolutely nail a modern translation of the golden age looks for these characters. And not just Roy and Ollie, the rest of the League and Titans look incredible as well. The colors all leap off the page, and perfectly complement the linework and panel layout. Probably my favorite creative team in this special. This just feels like good old fashioned comics.

Score: 8/10

Tiny Titans: “Piece Making”

Jay: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, and I’ll say it a thousand times more: put the names Art Baltazar and Franco on a comic and you’ve sold me a copy. The duo have put their stamp on countless characters across multiple comic publishers, more often than not delivering all-ages tales that are silly, sharp, and yes, cute.

Of all their works, they’re probably best known for Tiny Titans, and rightly so. Hilarious without delving into outright parody, the adorable take on the Teen Titans (and the rest of the DC Universe too) is heartwarming fun, with some sharp writing that never dips into cynicism. So, yes, when I found out that Baltazar and Franco would be contributing a Tiny Titans story to this anthology, I added it to my pull list right away.

And friends, I was not disappointed. While I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say it’s worth the price of admission on its own—that $10 price tag is pretty steep—it is worth at least a few bucks. It’s pretty simple, like most stories of its type: the Titans accidentally find themselves inside the walls of Belle Reve, where they encounter a few familiar faces and ne’er-do-wells. How they ended up there, I won’t spoil here, because part of the fun of a Tiny Titans short is going along with all of the gags and wordplay. I will say that the jokes are as funny as ever, and seeing characters like Peacemaker, King Shark, and Polka-Dot Man rendered in Baltazar’s style is nothing short of delightful.

The story embraces the concept of the Suicide Squad while remaining suitable for readers of any age, and the punchline to the story is as groan-inducing as it is charming. I’ll always welcome more Tiny Titans, and I’m glad I can put this on my shelf next to Baltazar and Franco’s most recent DC collaboration, Arkhamaniacs.

Score: 9/10

Black Lightning: “This is Why”

Aaron: Borrowing themes and imagery from real life examples, Brandon Thomas tells a compelling short story on the power of educators that give a damn. Thomas puts Black Lightning in an unenviable position of becoming the Secretary of Education in President Luthor’s cabinet. Jefferson spends the rest of the book essentially explaining how the higher calling of education is more important than who he works for.

Black Lightning’s predicament and anticipation of backlash mirrors the controversy around Kanye West working with Donald Trump. Where a lot of his fans and peers thought Kanye was a sell out, West ended up accomplishing a lot of goals bigger than him by working with Trump instead. In Jefferson’s case, he considers the responsibility to his students his primary obligation. For some teachers, “going above and beyond” just means doing your absolute best, but because Jefferson is a literal superhero, his students enjoy an unimaginable amount of privilege. Some of which are outright abuses of power rivaling The Magic School Bus.

I think this is the kind of “back-to-school” story worth telling. The artwork sources a lot of educational iconography from social media, and even includes unintentional homages to Our Friend, Martin (1999). Not every teacher has the power or resources that Jefferson has, but if you have the power to make a difference for others, why shouldn’t you?

Score: 9/10.

Azrael: “How Angels Are Made”

William: As far as I know, this one-shot is meant to focus on young characters in the DC universe. Many of the stories are also very light hearted, so I’m not sure why this story was included. True, it does feature Jean-Paul as a child but it’s a flashback and the entire story is quite grim. My point is, this story stands out like a sore thumb and is completely against type. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, though. To the contrary, it’s just as enjoyable as Dan Watters’ previous work with Azrael. Like those other stories, there is a focus on expanding Jean-Paul’s world and he is still written well. This character’s childhood has never been explored in any notable way so I was very happy to get this glimpse that both gives us an idea of who he was as a child and how he was turned into what he is as an adult.

Juan Ferreyra’s art is great as well! It is suitably moody and atmospheric as befits the story. I particularly like how he draws the present day landscapes. These scenes are set at night in the snowy mountains. In the distance we see them blur and fade into darkness giving the scene great depth. Then in the foreground we see both deep shadows and diffused reflective light off the snow. This isn’t an easy environment to pull off and Ferreyra renders it flawlessly. A similar level of craft is present through the rest of the story as he also captures a sort of “medieval” feel (with help from the subdued earthy color palette). Given the nature of the Order of Saint Dumas, this helps greatly to sell the story.

Overall, another great entry in Dan Watters’ growing Azrael saga! My only complaint is that it’s tucked away in this massive one-shot.

Score: 8/10

Nightwing and Batgirl: “A Night Off”

Casper: The anthology wraps up with “A Night Off,” a story in which Dick and Babs—who are still in high school—go to prom together. Andrew Aydin writes a cute story, and die-hard fans of the Dick/Barbara romance will likely enjoy seeing them together, but other than that I don’t think that this story has much going for it. The best parts are easily the moments where Dick asks Barbara to be his prom date, Alfred driving them to prom, and them actually arriving at prom and dancing together. The stuff that happens in between, however, where they have to fight off a villain in the middle of the street, is very random. As a result, the story just rambles on and it’s not entirely clear to me what it’s trying to say, other than throwing a random superhero fight at us that’s book-ended by some cutesy Dick/Barbara moments.

The art, by Nelson Daniel (pencils and inks) and Dee Cunniffe (colors), even though it’s not my cup of tea, works for this story. The aesthetic matches the YA tone that the story is going for, although the action scene is pretty messy in its execution. I’m also not a fan of the colors, which are too flat for my liking, although I do appreciate how well the different hues and tones fit together on the page. Lastly, there’s a very weird moment where Dick and Babs are in the back of Alfred’s limousine, and Alfred presses a button, and Dick and Babs’ superhero suits jump out of hidden compartments inside the car and sort of just wrap around them. It looks silly and it doesn’t work.

It’s not the greatest story to close out this anthology, but I’ve seen worse.

Score: 5/10

Recommended if…

  • An anthology with a school theme sounds fun!
  • You’ve been looking for a DC book that’s suitable for younger readers (aside from Azrael).
  • The featured characters in this book excite you.

Overall: All things considered, this is a pretty strong anthology. You get fun gags, great characters, solid art and good stories, despite two of the stories not scoring as high. If you’re looking for a fun book to read with your kids (again, you might want to read the Azrael story yourself first), or if you’re just looking for some entertaining, light reading, we recommend this anthology!

Total score: 7.5/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.