When the final analysis of DC’s New 52 initiative is written, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman will be deservedly recognized as one of the line’s lasting highlights. With another (sort of?) reboot on the horizon, it’s worth pausing to appreciate what Snyder and Capullo have accomplished over the last four-and-a-half years. Over this period Batman has acted as the company’s de facto flagship title. While Geoff Johns’ Justice League was probably intended to serve that role, it hasn’t sold as consistently, or generated anywhere near the enthusiasm among fans, as has Snyder and Capullo’s run on Batman.
For many readers, Snyder and Capullo’s run has been marred by a willingness to indulge in regrettable levels of violence and gore, particularly whenever the Joker has appeared. This is serious flaw, even if many fans might argue the point. But aside from that, the run has added a significant amount to Batman’s mythology. The Court Of Owls has already become accepted as a natural part of Gotham City lore, for instance, and the enigmatic Mr. Bloom makes a unique addition to an already stuffed rogues’ gallery. And Snyder’s stories are more tonally varied than their most gruesome elements might suggest: This is the same run that features multiple Batman mecha-suits tearing apart Gotham like Transformers, for instance, while also introducing the heretofore undiscovered element Batmanium.
Even more important, though, is the fact that Capullo knows how to draw Batman looking really cool. This may seem like a small thing, even a given, but it’s central. Think back to your favorite Batman stories—don’t they hinge on Batman not just doing interesting things and having bizarre adventures, but also looking good while doing it? A Batman comic without that kind of visual appeal is just a bad Batman comic. Capullo’s ability to draw such an archetypally Batman-esque Batman should not go unappreciated. Even when Snyder’s longer stories have meandered, Capullo has always done his part.
Batman #50 (DC) is the end of the series’ latest storyline, the 10-part “Superheavy.” Now that the story is over, the meaning of the title becomes clear: The responsibility of being Batman is not just heavy, it’s a crushing weight. The amnesiac Bruce Wayne who sits on the sidelines for much of the storyline is blissfully unaware of his past life as Gotham’s protector, and when he finally takes up the mantle again it’s a bittersweet moment—that cowl weighs a ton. Batman making the choice to come back from retirement at great personal cost is a wrenching decision, made all the more tragic by its inevitability. It’s a familiar story beat for Spider-Man, but it felt genuinely novel when transposed onto the Caped Crusader.
As for the other Batman, Jim Gordon acquits himself well in his swan song. Gordon as a police-sponsored mecha-Batman was too weird an idea to stick around for long, and it’s to the story’s credit that it recognizes this. There have been many replacement Batmen before, but usually only Batman’s chosen successors. Gordon as Batman was, again, the kind of high-concept that seems like it should have been done before, even if it hadn’t. Snyder and Capullo made Gordon’s Batman into a compelling and singular figure, even if—especially if—everyone involved knew it was a temporary measure. That the real Batman returns is no spoiler, but that he does so while still leaving room for Gordon to save the day as Batman himself one last time is a pretty neat trick. [Tim O’Neil]
Rendered in splashes of complementary purple and aquamarine, Zack Soto’s Power Button #0 (Study Group) is the beginning of—in its publisher’s own words—an “all-ages sci-fi epic.” This first installment is brief and almost poetic in its detachment from plot, but it serves as an effective primer on things to come, and Soto establishes the history of the forthcoming series with equal parts drama and action. The story is simple enough, and it will feel familiar to readers of E.E. Smith’s Lensman series; Adatra is a galactic knight who forfeits personhood for the means to defend her homeworld.
In the first installment, Soto explores the ironic consequences of saving your world at the expense of inhabiting it, of ending a romantic relationship for the means to save it (readers familiar with the origins of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Silver Surfer will see echoes of that character here). Soto doesn’t have the space to drag those moments out for maximum explication, but he effectively carries those simple ideas in just a few panels. He quickly sells you on the difficulty of Adatra’s decisions, and he manages to avoid absolving his character of hubris and youthful naivety. Adatra knows not what she does, which lends a sly sense of tragedy to the proceedings.
The most arresting aspect of Power Button #0, however, is the aforementioned color palette. Soto has a knack for imagery that occupies the gap between invocational and iconic, and his aesthetic is best described as uncanny. Each panel feels strangely familiar, but he manages to avoid outright homage or running moves from other cartoonists’ playbooks. His lines are slipshod and uneven, and he emphasizes simplicity over detail, privileging immediacy, mood, and content over realist draftsmanship. It is, by its very nature, an interesting space to inhabit, and Soto makes it his own. Power Button occupying this iconographic space makes it worth reading, but his effective pairing of aquamarine and purple is what makes Power Button worth looking at.
Soto’s use of color, and its importance in shaping the experiential quality of his comic, speaks to the under-discussed role that color plays in the effectiveness of a comic. The role is vital, and it’s best illustrated by looking at any number Marvel’s recoloring jobs. Here, it textures the work, cementing striking compositions, and creating something visually memorable. Those patches of purples, or the lines where the two colors are overlaid, adhere to one another and stick with you once the book is done. Different colors would have different effects (and affects), and it would’ve drastically altered how the book is read—not just axiologically, but even in regards to readability. Poor coloring can actually make the reading more laborious. As it is, though, the palette is soft on the eyes and Power Button is imminently enjoyable. It leaves too much in the air to be narratively satisfying—it is the prelude to a serial, after all—but Soto more than compensates with an eye for color (and coloring) and an affinity for iconographic comfort food. [Shea Hennum]
While they might be bemoaned the most, untimely endings of ongoing comics series are not the sole purview of Marvel and DC. Webcomics and indie series fall to the wayside every day, some far more gracefully than others. Tune (First Second) is one of the best examples in the industry of how to pace a comic so that an unexpected end doesn’t completely ruin the reading experience, not to mention an excellent display of how seamlessly an artist shift can happen.
Written by Derek Kirk Kim, who went on to be a character designer for shows like Adventure Time and Axe Cop, Tune is the story of Andy Go, an art school dropout pressured by his parents to find a job. Fortunately for Andy, he lands one relatively quickly. Unfortunately, it’s at a zoo run by Praxians, creatures from another universe. Even more unfortunately, he lands this job after learning that his long-time crush Yumi returns his affections. Kim manages to avoid most of the failings of similar “tortured artist with manic pixie dream girl crush” books, mostly by making it clear from the get-go that while Andy may be the protagonist, he’s not a trustworthy narrator, nor is he entirely sympathetic. He whines a lot, he uses phrases like “friend zone” without irony, and he’s a little more obsessed with Power Girl than he should be, but it’s clear that his faults and failings are rooted firmly in youth and a lack of confidence. Kim does a great job making it clear that Andy’s not a hero, and that he’s not even always a good guy, but the growth he displays throughout the comic is worthwhile and meaningful. Kim pulls off a character and a story that a lot of weaker writers couldn’t, while still making a truly funny comic.
What’s really remarkable is that while Kim illustrated the first 11 chapters, collected in Book 1: Vanishing Point, he entrusts the art for the rest of the comic to Les McClaine with nary a blip or struggle in sight. Their styles are certainly not identical, but McClaine sticks close to Kim’s original designs and it would be possible to pick up Book 2: Still Life without realizing the hand-off happened at all. Both books feature a unique page layout, with no consistent number or size of panels throughout; everything but the covers are in black and white, with the dark night sky pierced by stars under the panels. It leads to an almost syncopated read, conversations happening in off beats and unevenly, just like they do in real life—and perhaps more importantly, this makes it easier for eyes accustomed to comics to see a bigger picture, to focus on the content instead of just skimming everything.
Tune was originally published as a webcomic as well as being printed by First Second. Kim discloses on the site that if sales of the first two books didn’t do well, the publisher wasn’t going to order a third and the webcomic would end. While it’s disappointing to see a promising story cut short, Kim did an excellent job pacing the pages and the end stands up under its own power, something most monthly comics and many webcomics can’t manage. [Caitlin Rosberg]
The latest installment of Love And Rockets features an eclectic mix of stories from Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, including a Silver Age superhero pastiche, a pulpy Aladdin adventure, and the continuation of Gilbert’s surreal, highly erotic Fritz epic exploring pornography and kink culture. They each reveal a different facet of the brothers’ artistic sensibilities, but the highlight of Love And Rockets: New Stories #8 (Fantagraphics) comes at the end with Jaime’s “I Guess I Forgot To Stand Pigeon-Toed,” a comic about revisiting the past and discovering how much the world and the people around you have changed.
As usual, accessibility isn’t a major concern for the Hernandez brothers, and while newcomers will still be able to appreciate the cartooning skill on display in these pages, many of these stories won’t resonate as strongly without a deeper understanding of the history of these characters. Even with extensive background knowledge, Gilbert’s “Talent” gets a bit tedious as it delves into the convoluted connections between Fritz, her various imitators, and the men that fall under their sexual spell. Jaime’s final story of the issue similarly deals with a significant number of character dynamics as Maggie attends a punk reunion populated by figures from her past, but it’s not nearly as labyrinthine in structure, making it easier to emotionally connect with Maggie’s experience.
The aging of Jaime’s characters in real time has made his ongoing Maggie-centric narrative one of the most fascinating and engaging in all of comics, and “I Guess I Forgot To Stand Pigeon-Toed” highlights how much his cast has changed over the course of 35 years. It’s a reunion for Maggie, but also for the readers, who haven’t seen many of these people in years and don’t know who’s married, who has kids, and who has stayed the relative same (although everybody is showing the effects of age in their faces and bodies). Readers that have read Love And Rockets from the start will recognize a lot of names, and even if they don’t remember the specifics of these characters’ pasts, that just makes the reunion experience all the more real. The memories fade over time, but once these characters get back together and start recalling the past, those older stories reemerge from the mental fog.
The absence of Maggie’s best friend/former lover, Hopey, is strongly felt throughout the evening, and as Maggie interacts with her old friends, it becomes increasingly clear that she and Hopey are still considered a package deal in Hoppers. Jaime depicts Maggie’s emotional journey over the course of the reunion in rich detail, and his mastery of facial expressions and body language heightens each new feeling Maggie experiences as she struggles to enjoy herself without Hopey. The final pages deliver a heartwarming payoff for all of Maggie’s frustration, and Jaime distills 35 years of friendship in a few silent panels showcasing the power of Maggie and Hopey’s bond, a bond that has only been strengthened by the test of time. [Oliver Sava]