Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, & FCO Plascenia
Just when you start settling into your life as a costumed hero, you get fired. Picking up right where issue 43 left off, Batman is in an industrial furnace about to be burnt into a cinder. He gets out of it by being clever, which is important to show that Jim Gordon is doing his best to take up the mantle of the Bat and while he's not the Batman we're used to, he's got a lot of the same spirit. And once he's out, he does get the living hell stomped out of him by he Devil Pigs, the gang he was trying to stop. Only the timely intervention of the robot suit, which now has some rudimentary AI to aid him and which he dubs Rookie, saves him from an untimely death. And after that debacle, well Geri Powers fires Jim. She does her best to explain nicely, but it boils down to Jim not following orders. I keep waiting for Powers to turn out to be evil (and she actually jokes about that in this issue, and the mention of her nephew Derek in the recent Batman Annual doesn't help put to rest the fact that when I think of the Powers family I think of villains), but I don't think she's evil, I just think she's doing what she thinks is best, and that might not line up with what I expect as a reader. The whole discussion of super colliders and new elements is an interesting analogy for what Snyder is having her do, and I admit I want something made out of an element called Batmanium 206. Meanwhile, we get to see the connection between Duke Thomas and Tam Batman member Daryl Gutierrez, and I admit to feeling dense when I didn't realize that it was Daryl in the previous issue; it adds both to Daryl's place in this story and the resonance of that impressive issue to have a character from it become a central part of the regular cast, and I just think Duke is the best addition to the Batman in a long time. At the press conference where Jim is supposed to resign as Batman, we get a conversation between him and Julia Pennyworth, who is just the person that this Batman needs, someone to encourage him and keep him going, showing that Pennyworths and Batmen are destined to be intertwined. The end of the issue promises a confrontation between Jim and Mr. Bloom finally, and after all the build up, I bet it's going to be quite a fight.
But there's one other plotline in this issue: what's going on with Bruce Wayne. The thrust of the plot has to do with the fact that the artifacts from the Batcave the Joker co-opted during "Endgame" have been dumped in a vacant lot right next to the rec center Bruce works at with Julie Madison. Bruce sees how the children react to the Joker-fied dinosaur and all the memories, and when he can't get it hauled away, he does what Batman does, and he remakes a tragedy into something that you can move forward from. He also actively addresses the things as trophies, and I begin to wonder how far gone his memories are. And there's a part of me that really wants this to be Bruce's happy ending, because dammit but he's happy. He's compassionate and while he no longer has the drive that made him Batman, he's got he same heart, and it's much closer to the surface now. I know Bruce is going to be back in the cowl sooner rather than later, and I know if he was gone for too long I'd miss him, but it's going to be sad to watch him lose this happiness. But that's the kind of pathos that makes a good story, and so I accept it and look forward to seeing where Snyder takes us before it hits.
Ms. Marvel #19
Story: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Adrian Alphona & Ian Herring
As the End Days arc for Ms. Marvel wraps up, we get a most unique issue of the series, one where Kamala Khan, our titular heroine, never dons her costume. This entire issue is dedicated not to superhero fights and the craziness that comes with existing in a world with Inhuman, mutants, and monsters, but what anyone would do when there might be no tomorrow. Kamala spends time with each of the non-super characters who have been an important part of her life throughout the series: her parents and brother, her best friends Bruno and Nakia, and even the local mean girl, Zoe. And each of them shows what a great person and character Kamala is. The scene where Kamala and her mother talk about being Ms. Marvel, and Kamala's realization that her parents have done the best by her and her brother they can is highly mature for a teenager, but it's also perfectly in character for Kamla. That level of introspection is surprisingly equaled by Zoe, who apologizes to Kamala for all the closed-minded things Zoe's said to her; maybe it's the end times that bring out the best in us. And Kamala also has to make her own amends: Nakia, who was clearly one of her best friends when we met her at the beginning of the series had more or less disappeared, and so Kamala has to talk to her and try to make things right. And the scene on the roof where Kamala and Bruno talk? Oh, my heart! It's the most mature discussion of feelings I've ever seen high school students have in a comic, and is frankly more mature than most adults have. It maintains the bond of rust and friendship Kamala and Bruno have, while still really getting to the heart of the complexity of their relationship, and the issue of religion, which has been talked about as the main problem for them being together, is barely a factor in it. I admit to being a bit confused by one statement in the issue though: he people, gathered in the high school gym, waiting for either the end or for the heroes to fix things, decide to have dance, and say that's how we do it in Jersey. I tell you, I was born in New Jersey, I went to high school in Jersey City, not too far from where this comic is set, and I have never been involved in any random New Jersey dancing. Maybe I'm hanging out with the wrong crowd... Ah, well, one way or the other, see you in volume two, Kamala Khan.
Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens- Shattered Empire #3
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Marco Checchetto, Angel Unzueta, & Andres Massa
The time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens is ripe with story potential, and Greg Rucka's Shattered Empire is the first story I've read set primarily in this new timeline. Introducing two new characters, Lt. Shara Bey, a pilot who flew an A-Wing at the Battle of Endor, and her husband, Sgt. Kes Dameron, a commando who helped raid the shield generator on the Forest Moon. After gong off on separate missions last issue, this ones sees them drawn back together, as Dameron's squad finds out about the Empire's Operation: Cinder, a plan to wipe out various worlds, one of which is Naboo, where Bey has flown Princess Leia to meet with the current queen of Naboo. Greg Rucka writes great crime and spy comics and novels, so him writing a comic that focuses on a pair of "normal" Rebels is exactly what I was hoping for an expecting. The first two issues were enjoyable, but this one jumps out at me because of the amazing sequence where, as Imperial satellites devastate the ecology of Naboo, Bey, Leia, and Queen Soruna of Naboo get into the three last surviving Naboo fighters and fly up to destroy the satellites. Not only does artist Marco Checchetto draw the hell out of these scenes, but as the odds get longer, as the Star Destroyer sends wing after wing of TIE Fighters, Bey shows the resolve and spirit of the Rebellion as she is willing to stall for time, and maybe not make it, to give Leia and Soruna the time to destroy the last of the satellites. Fortunately, it doesn't come to that, but it's those moments that stir feelings of some of the best of the EU of old, the Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston X-Wing novels, about valiant pilots. There are also some great cameos from Lando, Han Solo, and a gorgeously drawn Chewbacca (and speaking of that, you also should check out the first issue of Chewbacca, the new mini-series from Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto, which was excellent), and a particular moment tying the prequels to the classic trilogy and now into the time after. With the new trailer for The Force Awakens dropping in just a couple hours, my excitement for the new Star Wars is getting higher every day, and great comics like this are only helping.
Dan Grote looks at another number one from All New, All Different Marvel...
Sam Wilson: Captain America #1
Story: Nick Spencer
Art: Daniel Acuna
Nick Spencer has made his name at Marvel writing scoundrels of varying levels of endearingness, from the heroic-but-still-a-thief Scott Lang to the heist-happy non-heroes of Superior Foes of Spider-Man.
His newest series gives us a Captain America who is broke and less than universally loved, but not deservedly so.
Sam Wilson has been wielding the shield for a while now, since Steve Rogers was aged, which was only last year, but since then there’ve been more than a few time jumps. Apparently, things have only gotten more difficult. He’s broken ties with SHIELD, where the name Steve Rogers has become a dirty word. He’s an Avenger, but it’s a rookie team and half of them are teenagers with homework and curfews. His philosophical differences from his predecessor have led partisan America to brand him a traitor and a fraud (people still love his bird, though). His solo operation – funded partially with donations from his brother’s ministry – consists of combing through video nuisance complaints and requests to help Moby lookalikes impress Taylor Swift until he comes across someone legitimately in need of help.
To be clear, Spencer is taking a partisan stance with this book. He openly mocks the American right-left divide. The issue’s main villains, the Sons of the Serpent, are portrayed as border-wall loving rednecks harassing Mexican migrants because their leader doesn’t want to press one for English. If they were any more of a caricature, they’d be wearing red “Make America great again” caps over their Cobra Commander-style head bags. They’re still a nice change of pace from Hydra, though.
Wilson isn’t alone in his solo title. Working with him are Misty Knight, one of Marvel’s empirically best women, and the book’s Spencer-iest character, Dennis Dunphy, formerly known as D-Man, who dates to the late ’80s, when original-recipe Cap spent a lot of time fighting and allying with ex-pro wrestlers juiced up by the Power Broker. Now, he’s Sam’s pilot, except they can’t afford a plane. Apparently Sam spent the last of his money on body armor for Dunphy and a sonic cannon for Redwing.
The creators appear to be working toward a Sam-Misty hookup, but then Marvel released a picture last week of Sam smooching on Jane Foster’s Thor in an upcoming issue of Avengers, so who knows what’s going on.
Full disclosure: I dropped the last volume of Captain America, by Rick Remender and Stuart Immomen, after issue 2. I love Sam as Cap, but the execution just wasn’t working for me. Spencer and Acuna’s book (quick shout-out to Acuna’s coloring work, btw), however, so far is hitting the right notes, building character rather than hitting me over the head with big villains. Here’s to their continued success on one of my favorite characters.