Batman #21; The Flash #21 (The Button parts 1&2)
Almost a year since Rebirth #1, Batman and Flash finally return to their investigation of the mysterious smiley face button that appeared in the Bat-Cave shortly after Wally West reappeared.
In Batman #21, after the button reacts to Psycho Pirate’s mask, Batman invites Flash to the Cave to discuss things. It only takes Flash a minute to get to that cave, but unfortunately, Eobard Thawn – the Reverse Flash – who also remembers the events of Flashpoint and wants revenge, beats Barry to the Cave, and then proceeds to beat Batman silly. The majority of the issue happens in the span of a sixty seconds, with a timer in the corner slowly counting down to the end of the issue.
Besides the actual button, many of this issue’s callbacks to Watchmen come through in King and Fobok’s formal playfulness rather than story references. The Button imagery pops up all throughout the issue, with the art team making use of silhouettes on yellow backgrounds, with Thawn’s lightning providing a red streak. Thawn’s yellow mask also plays a key role in one of the issue’s more inspired button references. The issue is also inspired by Watchmen in its use of the 9-panel grid, which King and Fobok use to incredible effect. If DC continues to insist on squeezing Watchmen into their main universe, than we can only hope that they continue to get talent like King and Fobok who can reference the material while creating stories that are completely their own.
Flash #21 isn’t as formally impressive, but it’s also saddled with the lion’s share of the exposition so far, recapping Flashpoint and Rebirth #1 while also pushing the story ahead. Discovering Batman beaten and Thawn dead in the Cave, Flash resorts to using the cosmic treadmill to try to trace over Thawn’s final steps and find out who, or what, killed him.
For all its recapping, The Button still asks for a lot of prerequisite knowledge of the DCU from its readers, much of which gets in the way of any story that The Button is trying to tell. And even though both issues have been more than competently done, they’re stuck in an uphill battle of continuity and fan-wonkery.
I say uphill because it’s a mystery story that the audience already knows the answer to. DC seems to assume there’s a level of satisfaction to be had by just introducing Watchmen to the DCU, but that’s a severe misreading of both how mysteries work and what I’d guess a majority of DC’s biggest fans want.
Wonder Woman #21
Quickly recovering from being shot at the end of last issue, Diana takes care of Maru and her mercs before leaving with Steve to the island in the Black Sea to confront Veronica. Once there, a fight between Diana and Cheetah opens a gateway to…somewhere…that pulls in Diana, Veronica, and Veronica’s daughter, Isadore.
The issue hits a high point early with Diana’s no-nonsense show of strength against Maru’s mercs, and from there rushes through its middle to the sudden change of location in the final pages. The time on the island is just enough for all previously unacquainted characters to introduce themselves before pulling Diana, Veronica, and Izzy somewhere else. Steven and Cheetah get what is probably the comic’s best panel right after this moment, but the overall ending feels a bit wonky as Veronica and Diana agree to a strangely easy truce considering all that’s happened between them.
Black Panther #13
Ta-Nehisi begins his second arc of Black Panther, and sets it up as a radical departure from the first, kicking things off with Wakandan gods, many-armed snake people, and magical shamans.
Following the war and reformation, the Wakandan people’s faith in there Gods begins to wane, as they were not there to protect them as the legends have told they would. But farmers on the border, suffering from crop-drowning rainfall, also report attacks from snake-men coming from a magic door in the jungle.
This issue feels like the start of Coates going full comic book with his Black Panther run, and switching from developing the politics of Wakanda to building out its culture. Wilfredo Torres’ designs for the Wakandan gods are amazing, looking alien, but with a clear African influence in both design and description. There also seems to be more of a focus on fighting rather than debating, as in the last arc, and pages of Black Panther going hand to hand to hand to hand to hand to hand to hand with a small army of snake-men is the sort of silly comic book stuff that shows a whole new type of story that Ta-Nehisi wants to tell with this character.
Kill or be Killed #8
We hop back into Dylan’s perspective as he navigates through the city, and life, as a wanted man, having to actively hide from a beefed-up NYPD while still satisfying the demon who demands he kill for him. And we see how this added pressure begins to throw Dylan off of his very newly gained level, starting a domino chain to his possible unraveling.
The writing is as phenomenal as ever, with Dylan’s very conversational style of narration easing you through the story with an uncanny comfort considering the type of story this is. For all his faults, Dylan remains a likable protagonist, and someone who is engaging even while complaining about his post-murder ennui.
But the part of this comic that stood out the most to me is how faithfully Phillips managed to recreate a specific Manhattan street corner – the intersection of Prince st. and Broadway – which happens to be the exact corner of my current job. I swear, this comic is fucking stalking me.
Bitch Planet #10
Bitch Planet is still in a full tilt riot, and one of the guards hopes to persuade President Doane to do something about it, or else. Kam and her sister try to cut off Doane and the guard before they can reach Makoto Maki at the Control Center, and the Guard would no longer need Doane alive. And, back on Earth, it’s Protectorate day, and the High Father John Johnson is about to address the nation, but the Children of Eleanor Doane have other plans.
This is how you end an arc, with a two-fold climax that flips all the power structures we’re used to in this story on their heads. The prisoners now run Bitch Planet, led by a Black female President, and on Earth, a mighty challenge to the Fathers has been issued. The revolution has truly begun, and will not be stopped. If you weren’t already convinced that Eleanor Doane is one of the baddest Bitches in comics, than prepare for this issue to change that.
As the saying goes: Bitches Get Shit Done – especially when that Shit is revolution. S’true in the real world, too #WomensMarch.
Sex Criminals #18
The issue in which the men in the book recognize their relationship failures, and awkwardly try to make things better with their other halves, only to almost screw it up even worse. Jon tries to fill an emotional hole in his life with kinky sex stuff, and Suzie begins to suspect the worst; and Robert tries to apologize to Rachelle about their falling out. Meanwhile, the recently unemployed Ana Kincaid needs to make some fast money, so she decides to sign some old memorabilia as Jasmine St. Cocaine at a porn convention.
This issue feels like it’s coasting a bit, missing the larger single narrative pull that some of the previous issues have had, and dividing its time over three different relationships, and the trouble the people in each have communicating with each-other. It’s one of those issues where the drama outweighs the comedy, although Zdarsky manages to fill out the issue with lots of visual humor, especially at the porn-con. And the issue provides the first actual appearance of Sexual Gary!
What’s irritating about this issue, intentionally so because of the nature of the story, but still; is that by the end Jon and Suzie don’t seem like they’ve made much progress in their relationship. As a reader, I like them together so much – but like in a real relationship, things don’t always just work themselves out. Communicating is hard, and recognizing problems is always easier as someone looking in, making it frustrating when the people in that relationship keep making mistakes. Maybe Fraction’s biggest accomplishment with this series so far has been making even the downtime so fraught with dramatic potential energy. It’s definitely a testament to how lovable Jon and Suzie are, at least.