comics, comics criticism, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics: A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read for the Week of 9/21

The Flash #786

Writer: Jeremy Adams Artist: Amancay Nahuelpen Colors: Pete Pantazis & Jeromy Cox. Letters: Justin Birch. Editors: Chris Rosa, Paul Kaminski

By and large, I am enjoying DC’s event series of 2022, Dark Crisis, barring the latest issue which was an exhausting exposition-laden lecture on the fake science of the multiverse. Many of the most exhausting elements of DC crossovers reared their ugly heads. I’ve felt that the series has otherwise been focused on the characters and how they deal with a threat in the absence of the Justice League. It’s a dark but hopeful story. I wrote about it here.

Part of what can be exhausting with these big event stories is the tie-in issues that try to justify their connection to an ongoing event without adding anything to the main story and taking away from the ongoing series. A few event books have managed to  make it work. Infinite Crisis was largely successful, Final Night, back in the 90’s. Civil War’s tie-ins were better than the main book and the currently ongoing A.X.E. Judgment Day is exceptional. 

Unfortunately, this issue of Flash is not particularly successful. It’s a disjointed and relentless tie-in that sprints from moment to moment in an attempt to fill in gaps in story that don’t particularly need telling to make Dark Crisis any better. There’s barely a thread of story on its own here.  In one way it is friendly to new readers who might be following the events of Dark Crisis but on the other hand; what do Flash fans who want to follow Wally West really get out of this? I found this easy to follow because it is only dealing with things we see in that main series. But it doesn’t add anything. Even the cool ideas that could have been the focus of a better issue don’t get any time to have an impact. 

There is some fun stuff throughout this issue with Jai and Irey, particularly Jai learning how to do a Thunderclap from Power Girl. They are very likable. Adams has an excellent and clear voice for the West family and the script shines when it focuses on their family dynamics.

Unfortunately even those brief moments suffer from the shoddy and unappealing art.  It leans heavily on digital effects that clash with the characters and the layouts are flat and lifeless. Flash is a hard character to do well, a character defined by motion in a static medium. There needs to be more exaggerated movements and dynamism within the makeup of the page. This fails to give the character much life at all.

Ultimately this book flops because it tries to serve two masters and delivers nothing of substance for either one.

Rogues Gallery #3

Story: Declan Shalvey & Hannah Rose May. Script: Hannah Rose May. Artist: Justin Mason. Colors: Triona Farrell. Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. Editor: Heather Antos

I like being confused but wanting to learn more. I have no idea what’s going on in this book, who the costumed characters are, or even what the general conceit of this book is. By the time the issue ends I have a pretty good sense of what this is about which is a testament to Hannah Rose May and Declan Shalvey’s storytelling talents. 

Through every action and line of dialogue we learn something about the characters, their background, and motivations. Nothing feels wasted or thrown in just to have people talking, and there is no drawn out monologue or explanation of the rogues’ plot. The cool looking crow bad guy is constantly questioned about what he is doing but never gives an answer but becomes increasingly violent and panicked, making his true intentions clear and threatening. 

There’s a confidence here in the story that is being told; it doesn’t feel the need to backtrack and reexplain things but keeps all the events grounded in a central and focused story. It’s a great example of how you can make a middle chapter of a serialized story focused and engaging without cramming it full of needless dialogue.

Justin Mason’s lineart is great. The heavy, splotchy blacks give the book a moody sense of dread and unpredictability that amps up the tension and uncertainty between the crosscutting scenes of the break-in and romantic evening. Triona Farrell’s colors smartly pepper the issue with red amidst an otherwise cool mix of nighttime blues. It makes the red pop ad subtly hints at the gruesome shock at the issue’s climax, where the red tint then overtakes the entire palette.

BRZRKR #10

Story: Keanu Reeves & Matt Kindt. Script: Matt Kindt. Artist: Ron Garnet. Colors: Bill Crabtree. Letters: Clem Robins. Editors: Ramiro Portnoy, Eric Harburn

I don’t know what to say about this book. Keanu Reeves has created a comic book where he is a Wolverine with lightning powers. And good for him.

Like Rogues Gallery, there’s no recap or catching us up with what has happened leading into this issue, no Claremontian announcing of what the Brsrkr’s powers are, and only a vague hint about why our hero is a charred mess. But so little happens in this issue none of that information even matters.

This is one of those superhero comic issues where people stand around and talk about fake science and mysteries they are trying to cover up without saying what the mystery is. It feels very by the numbers. It’s not a mess or even completely uninteresting but it offers little. Even if you’re following this book and enjoying it I would imagine you’re probably putting this one down and hoping the next one has more to it. There are a lot of words and people have plenty of conversations where they don’t say anything of substance. Unlike Rogues Gallery, there is a lot of excess that tells us nothing about the characters or the plot. The amount of dialogue here comes across as padding for an eventual collected edition. What little is actually discussed could have been covered in half the amount of pages.

There is a cool bit in the middle of the book where we draw closer and closer to the Keanu Reeves character as his skin grows back and he lies in repose, staring blankly out at the middle distance. It A: gives a sense of the time passing and B: helps to build up some tension for the Brskr getting back into the field.

Unfortunately, its purpose is lost on me–He doesn’t really do anything when he is back in the field. For all of the words in this issue, I did not have a clear grasp of what these scientists were trying to accomplish or why this man is zapping things or if it is good or bad that these things are happening. It seems like it is probably bad but the lead character appears to be willingly taking part in it s who knows.

The art is fine; a bit messy but fitting for the rough and tumble tone it is trying to evoke. There’s only so much you can do with a dialogue heavy issue like this and Garney does a serviceable job

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No Context Comics: A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the week of 9/14/22

It’s been a light week for comics that I am actually reading. The only new issues to come out of note were the latest chapters of Marvel’s, frankly, incredible A.X.E. JUDGMENT DAY event. Which I might write about soon–or perhaps I’ll wait until it’s over. If you aren’t reading it because the Eternals don’t interest you (I do not blame you) you’re missing out. Gillen’s Eternals series essentially reinvents the characters and concepts and introduces just about everything you need to know. His new revelations make a clash with the X-Men inevitable and compelling. The Avengers are there for set dressing and the rare chance to dunk on Captain America. It’s a propulsive, dramatic story that asks philosophical questions through the vehicle of big superhero sci-fi action, and isn’t that what we read superhero books for? It’s why I do, anyway.

But we aren’t here to talk about A.X.E. Judgment Day.  

My first draft of this week’s column included a review of Undiscovered Country #20 (which I did not like) before I discovered that it actually came out last month. I’m not sure how I got that release date so wrong. Anyway, Do A Power Bomb was a last-minute addition and saved this week from being a total wash, as I absolutely loved it.

Batgirls #10

Becky Cloonan, Michael Conrad: Writers. Neil Googe: Art.  Rico Renzi: Colors. Becca Carey: Letters. Jessica Chen, Jessica Berbey, Ben Abernathy: Editors

I want to love this book. I love these characters. I like a lighthearted take on superheroes. This doesn’t work for me on any level.  It’s not a disaster, I’m not sure it’s even that bad, all things considered. But it just doesn’t work as a story about Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown as I understand these characters. In this book, they come off as inexperienced and klutzy, not at all how they should operate. It works better for Steph than for Cass, with Steph’s character often being so much about proving herself and learning to be a hero. But Cassandra is too…Normal. Too light and talks way too much. There is a moment where they use an emoji in a word balloon for Cass to capture her nonverbal reaction and communication that is inspired. But it’s undercut by how much she talks in the rest of the book. That’s a common problem with writing Cassandra Cain and it can sometimes go the other direction and she is too nonverbal. 

This book radiates chaotic energy that I believe is intentional but is at odds with the leads. 

That chaotic energy comes through in the art and the writing. The pages are crowded. With characters. With dialogue. The art is light and fun and suits the tone of the series, with a cartoonish and playful style. The colors are dynamic and electric, leaning into the trademark Batgirl purple. It presents Gotham as a neon playground for the book’s young heroes.

The thing that I found strangest was the way the narrator was presented. It’s a winking, sarcastic omniscient narrator that pokes fun at the story itself. Instead of coming off charming, it took me out of the narrative and it was largely unnecessary. It felt less like winking at the fans and more like talking down to the reader. It doesn’t take its own story or characters seriously.

I like the general idea of this book– the three Batgirls working together with Barbara mentoring Steph and Cassandra. That’s a good hook and there are a few moments it works well. The scene toward the end, where they are all in the loft just hanging out gives the characters a sense of shared history and clearly illustrates how the three relate to one another. I also liked Steph cracking a cipher and solving a puzzle, using her dad’s Cluemaster skills for good.

Also–am I missing something with Renee Montoya being so anti-Batman? Was she always like that? It seemed a weird character beat to me but maybe I just don’t know Montoya well enough.

One more thing, since we’re talking about Stephanie Brown. The new costume is bad. She is not hiding her identity at all. 

Maybe if I had been reading since issue 1 I’d have a better sense of this book’s point of view and the heart of its premise, and the tone would click better for me. Or maybe this one just isn’t for me. That’s OK. 

I have no complaints about how Killer Moth is used here, though.

Godzilla vs Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers 5   

Cullen Bunn: Writer. Freddie E. Williams III: Artist. Andrew Dalhouse: Colors. Johanna Nattalie: Letters & Design. Tom Waltz, Charles Beacham, Nicolas Niño: Editors


I expect only one thing from a book called Godzilla vs. Power Rangers, and it’s not high art. I expect Godzilla to fight the Power Rangers.

Well, we certainly get that. So in that sense, this issue delivered.

Williams does some impressive layouts to fit the giant monsters and giant robots in a page. Every page is visually compelling and it’s quite an accomplishment.  He leans into the vertical axis, emphasizing the length of the figures. The judicious use of double-page spreads makes the most vicious moments of the battle have real visceral weight given how most of the pages emphasize the up-and-down. The addition of the left-to-right gives those two-pagers a real sense of the weight of these powers crashing into one another.

Unfortunately, the entire fight seems to take place in a desolate void. Without any objects to provide a sense of scale, you can’t appreciate the size of the Megazords or the monsters, which is half the fun. I wanted to see Dragonzord smash some buildings. It’s a bit disappointing though I am sure just drawing these pages full of monsters and robots was already a tough job. There’s already so much packed into these pages that adding much more may have also made the pages too crowded. But a few establishing shots would have helped—you can cheat background details in a comic in a way you can’t in other mediums. Just having them at least in rubble or even seeing Godzilla towering over the Green Ranger before he gets back in the Dragonzord.

Even though you don’t expect much in the way of a story in a book like this there doesn’t seem to be much here at all. Since this is the last issue I’d expect some kind of story resolution but instead, the fight just stops and the Rangers go home. What did they learn? What did Godzilla’s presence teach them?  

This series is probably a fun diversion but seems to lack the spark that made Williams’ Batman/TMNT or the JLA/Power Rangers crossovers work so well.

DO A POWERBOMB #4

Danniel Warren Johnson: Writer, Artist. Mike Spacier: Colors. Rus Wooton: Letters.

I’m a big fan of Daniel Warren Johnson despite not having read his first major debut, Murder Falcon. He first caught my eye on Twitter when he began sharing his screen-tone-heavy, messy-inked con commissions of Star Wars fighters and dope action scenes. Few in the game are as capable of drawing dynamic action and filling a static page with a sense of motion as DWJ. 

Despite my love for his artwork I was not super into the idea of this book. I read his Beta Ray Bill over at Marvel and while the fights and artwork were, predictably, incredible, I found the story not entirely compelling. And I have no interest in Professional Wrestling whatsoever. My understanding of this book was that it was about pro-wrestling so I passed on it completely. Opening this book and seeing that first page with a fantasy knight preparing for a universal cross-time wrestling match? Now THAT I can get into.

Do A Powerbomb  is like Ultimate MUSCLE meets Rocky with a splash of Dragonforce.  You can all but hear the killer guitar riffs and melodramatic fantasy lyrics. There is an earnestness to the story–an old man finding his fighting spirit again in the daughter of his deceased former partner–that gives the over the top action and intergalactic fantasy-sci-fi a human groundedness. Even the enemies, the medieval knight wrestlers, are given human motivation. It’s all wrapped up in a delightful sense of humor and Johnson’s incredible choreography and mastery of motion. 

What I admire about Johnson’s work is his complete lack of fear in getting messy with his layouts and lines. Heavy blacks fade out into jagged brush strokes, sound effects spill over the panels, stray brush strokes break fall off the figures, and insert panels bust in with electric borders. His motion blurs are not just clean, fluid lines but weighted, idiosyncratic waves of black.  Black splatters pepper the backgrounds. It feels handmade and adds to the underdog charm of (who I presume to be) the protagonists. There’s a clear manga influence in how he approaches his fights.

Rus Wooton’s letters are a great complement to Johnson’s inky art. The word balloons are imperfect and the actual words look hand scrawled. Once in a while you’ll get a book by a distinctive artist with letters that look obviously made in a vector art program and the dissonance pulls you out of the book completely. Here the whole package works together. The same goes for Mike Spicer’s colors. He doesn’t over render the colors with flashy effects or over-the-top shading.

We get enough here through dialogue, action, and body language to understand our characters, their background, and the stakes of winning–or losing– the tournament. And it’s done without laborious exposition or mystery box teasing which is an worn out storytelling trick particularly among creator owned books.

I’m looking forward to diving into the first 3 issues.

comics, comics criticism, dc comics, writing

Dark Crisis and the Looming Death of Everything


In the beginning, there was darkness. 

And then there was light. 

And everything came from the light.

So began Crisis on Infinite Earths. A single speck in the dark became many worlds expanding forever into infinity.

So begins Dark Crisis. A single tongue of flame flickers. Dick Grayson swore an oath to carry on in his parents’ memory and the legacy Batman created. From that single flickering candle came everything.

Robin was not the beginning. But he was a beginning. The beginning of the ever-expanding legacy of those original founding heroes. Robin was the spark. And the legacy grew and continues to grow into, perhaps, infinity.

Continue reading “Dark Crisis and the Looming Death of Everything”
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The Lowest, Most Despicable, and Most Harmful Form of Trash: Batman’s Secret Identity in the Silver Age

The secret identity has been an indelible part of the superhero mythos since Superman first landed in 1938. Little more than children themselves, and writing for a primarily young audience, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster saw the inclusion of mild-mannered Clark Kent as part of the power fantasy of the Superman character. To the world at large, you might seem meek or mild, or bullied, but inside is an unlimited potential–a Superman waiting to break free. For most of the history of the superhero, the secret identity was an essential component of the concept with any masked hero having a hidden life outside of the capes and spandex. 

But as the comics have kept up with modern times and been adapted to the screen where the beautiful faces of the actors are a selling point, the masks and secret identities became less essential and creators began to see the story potential in either removing the component from their characters or putting less focus on it. Often the secret identity becomes a punch line. Indeed, many heroes have grown past the need for a secret identity and make more sense without it. Why should Steve Rogers hide he is Captain America? Or why would Tony Stark, with his massive ego, pretend not to be Iron Man? Even Superman, in the comics, recently revealed his identity to the public at large, no longer able to reconcile the truth and justice he stands for with living a lie.

Only a few superheroes still maintain a secret identity as an important element, and it is primarily because of their public perception as outsiders and vigilantes. Spider-Man went to the ends of the Earth–both on-page and on-screen–to recover his secret after it went public. Daredevil’s brand of justice puts his practice as a lawyer in jeopardy. And Batman, while no doubt a hero, works outside the law and is at odds with the police of his city. Unlike Superman, who often works alongside the authorities even as he criticizes them, Batman is fundamentally opposed to the authority of the state and his mission would be jeopardized if he could be held legally accountable for his actions.

Continue reading “The Lowest, Most Despicable, and Most Harmful Form of Trash: Batman’s Secret Identity in the Silver Age”
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Batman: Cold Days The God in the Cape

What must it be like to be Batman? To take on inhuman problems and battle the very idea of violence, to take on the darkness of an entire city, an entire world? A lonely thing, no doubt. Is it any wonder he has built an extended foster family for himself to share the load? But even an extended family of children and acolytes never truly fills the void. The hole at the center of Batman, the lonely boy who lost his family in a single moment of evil, is never filled. There is always another crime, another dark corner. 

In writer Tom King’s sometimes controversial run on Batman, he posited that the only thing that comes close to filling that empty, dark hole, is the kindred spirit he finds in Selina Kyle, Catwoman. The two have had nearly a century of back and forth tension, as enemies and lovers and everywhere in between. If there is a partner that can help Batman repair that hole at his center, Tom King argues, it is Catwoman. Like Batman, she lives between the shadow and the light, a stray who grew up on the streets of Gotham. Like Batman, Gotham is more than just a home, it is an extension of her identity and she will do anything to protect it and its people.

King brings Batman to the realization that the hole at the center is most filled with Catwoman at his side. Her cunning, her passion for her city, her wit and intelligence, these things make him better. Batman might study criminals, but Selina has been among them and knows what drives people to that life. Daring, for one of the first times, to embrace the happiness he feels beside her, they are engaged. But on the wedding day, coerced by the complex machinations of Bane, she leaves Batman jilted at the altar. For the first time, Batman allowed himself to dream of a full life, a real future of growing old with a loved one, of compromising on the fight and embracing the idea that more is possible for him and for Gotham. 

When Catwoman leaves him, he crashes back into the depths, hopeless and empty once again.

This is the context where Cold Days begins. Having tracked down Mr. Freeze for the death of three women, he brutally beats the villain and coerces a confession from him. The story begins with Freeze on trial and Bruce Wayne on the jury. Eleven of them believe Freeze to be guilty, cut and dry. With his history of crimes and violence, the evidence of this specific case is largely irrelevant to them. But there is a single hold out—Bruce Wayne himself. He has bribed his way onto the jury after realizing that Batman might have been wrong. Driven by fear and anger and sorrow, he let his emotions take over in a violent outburst that left Freeze traumatized and fearing for his life. When Bruce realizes it, he cannot let the doubt he feels about the case go unaddressed.

What must it be like to be Batman?

A perfect, impossibly competent, and flawless human being. Not super-powered, but a superhero still. Can you imagine what it could mean to never fail?

What is it about Batman that has made him so appealing to not just comic book fans but to mainstream movie audiences? He is a violent vigilante, a broken and lonely soul who takes justice into his own hands. 

Is it an aspiration? That with the commitment someone can become strong-willed enough, capable enough, to fight against injustice and criminality without being corrupted? Is it the escapist power fantasy of taking your fists to every injustice that has befallen you?

Perhaps it is the dream that a single person can attain the pinnacle of perfection. Batman, in the popular imagination, is not just a man, no mere mortal. He might not have super powers but he is Perfect. There is no mystery he can’t solve. No crime he can’t stop. No situation that he cannot plan or account for.

Over time Batman has become more than just a man. This idea of the perfect, unbeatable Batman has been affectionately referred to by comic fans and creators alike the Batgod. With prep time and a contingency for every possibility, Batman can solve everything. 

Tom King’s Cold Days is a counter to that limited and limiting conception of Batman as perfect and infallible. For King, Batman’s strength is not in his perfection but his flawed humanity. He fails, he loses, but he never gives up. 

Grant Morrison’s seminal run on Batman is the apotheosis of the Batgod, the purest example of Batman as myth, an archetypal good set against the archetypal evil in a metafictional conflict of living symbols. That Batman is prepared for everything, is unkillable, is incorruptible, and needs no support system, no love, nothing but the mission.

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, arguably the defining take on Batman in pop culture for the 21st century, straddles the line between man and myth. Bruce Wayne might be human, but the symbol of Batman becomes a myth, his justice selfless and mission morally forthright. He might lose an individual battle but the war is an inevitable victory. As Bruce explains in Batman Begins, “As a man, I’m flesh and blood. I can be ignored. I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.”

Zack Snyder’s Batman is the extreme end of the Batman as power fantasy, a one-man judge, jury, and executioner who is self-righteous enough to consider himself humanity’s protector against the incursion of alien forces. A brutal, vindictive executioner without remorse. It is a level of masculine power fantasy at a level beyond parody.

But Tom King’s Batman is painfully mortal, sunk to the depths of defeat and despair not purely physically but emotionally and mentally. Like Knightfall, it is a calculated effort by Bane to break the Bat at his very foundation. As Batman’s world gets swept out from under his feet, King deconstructs the Batgod concept reminding readers what truly makes Batman endure: his humanity.

Perhaps Batman has over time bought into his own myth—believed in his perfection. Indeed, Bruce Wayne admits as much. Toward the end of Cold Days, Bruce asks a fellow juror if she believes in God. In doing so he challenges the rest of the jury’s summary acceptance of Batman’s infallible judgment that citizens of Gotham take for granted.

It is logical the people of Gotham would accept Batman as perfect. Wouldn’t that be easier than to consider that he might just be a broken human being, like you and me,  dressed up like a bat? If Batman can be wrong, then the entire enterprise cannot be trusted. 

But Bruce is painfully aware of the truth, of the hole deep inside that keeps him moving forward. Gotham City needs Batman to be perfect and infallible because then there is no need to question his actions. In doing so, they have deified a mere mortal and placed him above themselves. Bruce Wayne needs Batman to be perfect to fill the hole inside. 

Biblically speaking, perfection is an attribute. A teleological end toward which humanity can only strive toward with God’s example. That is, perfection is the thing for which humans were created to achieve. 

It is ultimately unobtainable, however. God is the model of perfection, the completion of human potential for which we should ever strive. 

In Batman, the people of Gotham have created a perfect man.

What putting Batman on a pedestal and deifying him does is ultimately leave him burdened with expectations he cannot fulfill. As Bruce tries to express his reasonable doubt, it requires convincing the rest of the jury to put aside the question of super-competency and their assumption, taken for granted, that Batman is inherently just “better.”

It is a horrifying notion that Batman himself has had to grapple with as the heartbreak sinks him deeper into the darkness, stranded and alone again in the night. Bruce came to see Batman as the super-competent, infallible god who could save not just Gotham and the world but himself from the depths. As he saw the future he imagined crumble before him, there was nothing that the Batgod could do. 

Trying in vain to control his reality, he coerces Mr. Freeze into confessing to a crime by beating him brutally, unhinged, and without a clear case.

Bruce knows there is no perfect Batgod. No super-competence or iron-clad deduction. Just an angry man and a beating. 

He challenges the rest of the jury to try and see what placing a man in the place of God gets you, inevitably. The disappointment of being failed by the idol. 

In his heartfelt speech, Bruce speaks not only to his fellow jurors but to readers an earnest plea to see Batman not as something other, but as a human being like the rest of us. It does not take away from his accomplishments or the escapism. Rather, it is the heart of what makes him so enduring. The failures, the pain, the breakings, they don’t bounce off of him but he is able to overcome them and carry on.

 The incomparable Lee Weeks provides the art for this three issue story, and his subtle work is critical to the success of this story and the emotional punch. The way the imagery of Batman’s brutality smashes across the page in the quiet jury room scenes, the palpable rage emphasized by subtle lines of motion and spreads of blood, it is clear these are flashes of memories that haunt Bruce, that intrude on his day-to-day life. 

Weeks’ work contrasts the reserved and stoic Bruce Wayne with a Batman who screams in rage, his emotions unchecked. It’s a reversal for Batman, who is so often portrayed as unflappable and cold. 

By having Bruce admit his reliance on Batman as his higher power, King defies readers to challenge their presumptions of what they expect out of a Batman story and how they relate to the character. Bruce allowed himself to live in the fantasy that he was beyond human restraints, buying into the mythology he sold to the people of Gotham. In being willing to admit his own hubris and vulnerability, by challenging his fellow jurors to examine their assumptions of Batman’s perfection, he elevates their humanity in the process. 

Batman endures not because he is better than you or me but because he is like us. Cold Days celebrates that fundamental humanity at the heart of the character and in doing so it reminds us of what we are capable of as normal people. If Batman is not set apart from us, then he can inspire us to push our own limits and believe in what we could accomplish.

What must it be like to be Batman?

We already know. Because to be Batman is to be human, to fail and fall and break and continue on. 

Cold Days is a 3 issue story originally printed in Batman vol. 3 51-53. It is collected in a trade paperback of the same name. Written by Tom King with art by Lee Weeks, colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser, and letters by Clayton Cowles.