What Are You Reading? | ‘Wonder Woman,’ ‘Batman: The Detective’ and more

See what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately.

Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately.

Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.

Tom Bondurant

The current Wonder Woman arc takes place in Valhalla and features an unflattering version of Thor. I doubt it infringes upon any other huge corporation’s intellectual property, but this Thor does have a braided beard and seems to have embraced a post-heroic phase of life. He doesn’t seem overly Dude-ish, though, so I think DC is safe from Disney lawyers.

Anyway, WW #771 – written by Michael W. Conrad and Becky Cloonan, drawn by Travis Moore, and colored by Tamra Bonvillain – finds Diana still struggling to recover her memories while investigating the various ways in which Valhalla is broken. The Valkyries are missing, Ygdrassil the World-Tree is dying, and the dead themselves aren’t being returned to life. Her companion here is Ratatosk, basically a magic squirrel who (as it happens) also has a Marvel counterpart. I keep expecting Ratatosk to turn demonic, as Unbeatable Squirrel Girl‘s Ratatoskr did, but so far so good. This issue features a fight with some elves gone bad, and a big confrontation with Nidhogg, who is apparently the Midgard Serpent. However, between those scenes is a huge plot reveal connecting Diana’s quest to one of her old foes; and yes, the answer may surprise you!

I thought this was a very good issue with a nice balance of action and exposition, and even a puzzle to be solved. A foggy-headed Diana has been to other fantasy realms before (the Gail Simone/Aaron Lopresti Conan crossover comes to mind), but Conrad and Cloonan make Viking Diana believable while keeping her consistent with the Wonder Woman we know. Moore’s art is vivid and detailed, and Bonvillain’s colors convey the story’s shifting moods quite well. The revelatory encounter has a nice candlelit palette, while the Midgard Serpent’s lair is all dark purples. Just about the only question I have is how this fits into Diana’s overall status, since Death Metal basically left her wandering between life and death. Even if this story is just marking time until she gets back to DC-Earth, it’s still very entertaining.

This week I also decided to check out the first issue of Batman: The Detective, a six-issue miniseries written by Tom Taylor and drawn by Andy Kubert (with colors by Brad Anderson). As the cover indicates, it finds Batman going to Great Britain after bat-masked terrorists hijack a plane and kill everyone aboard. (Their motive is a good enough twist that I will not spoil it.) This facilitates a team-up with the Knight and Squire, England’s Dynamic Duo, so I was happy to see them. Oh, and there’s a bit of the supernatural as well, with Batman wielding a pair of mystical artifacts at just the right time.

Therefore, while generally I liked the setup and the players, a couple of stylistic choices still bother me. It doesn’t seem to be part of the main continuity, which isn’t a dealbreaker. However, Kubert’s Bruce/Batman is a lot beefier than usual, with very close-cropped hair, and pretty much just a mustache away from the opening pages of Dark Knight Returns. Kubert has also redesigned the Batsuit to be much more like Zack Snyder’s “Knightmare” costume. I haven’t seen an in-story justification for either of those, so I suppose it’s just Taylor and Kubert’s way of distinguishing this miniseries from the eight zillion other Batman comics out there (and maybe capitalizing on all that Zack Snyder synergy). Jaded old Batman is fine; jaded old Batman who figures he’s got nothing to lose can get kind of tiresome. I will probably pick up issue #2, but I hope The Detective doesn’t overdose on its own sense of cool.

JK Parkin

We’re several decades removed from the original Sandman series, if we don’t count the various appearances and follow-ups that have come since then, and it still holds a special place in the pantheon of comics published by DC and through their Vertigo imprint. We’ve seen other delve into this universe of characters, esp. with the launch of the more recent Sandman Universe, but I’m not sure if any of those books have captured that original magic in the same way that this crossover between Sandman and Locke & Key, the fantasy/horror series created by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, has.

If you ever were going to reboot the series — and actually give full use of all the toys, from Morpheus to Daniel to the rest of the Endless and everyone else that includes — to someone, I’m not sure, right now, you could find a better team than Hill and Rodriguez. They treat the characters and themes of the original series with respect, effortlessly combining them with their own mythology, in the first issue of The Sandman Universe/Locke & Key: Hell and Gone and building onto the mythology of both. It tells a story that starts to make you wonder if maybe Locke & Key was part of the Sandman Universe all along.

King in Black wrapped up a couple weeks ago with its fifth issue, while the latest issue of Thor, issue #14, ends the “Prey” storyline that saw the return of Donald Blake, Thor’s former alter ego who is actually a separate being created by Odin and has been living in some sort of side dimension thing all these years, where he has gone crazy and started amassing power, or something. And maybe it’s their proximity and that they’re both written by Donny Cates, but both endings felt kind of the same to me (and neither very satisfying).

In both stories, the hero (Venom and Thor) have to face a cosmically powered being who spends most of the storyline showing how hopelessly powerful and awesome they are, taking over the entire planet and destroying entire galaxies (like Knull did) or fighting their way through all of Asgard (as Donald Blake did). All hope is lost, until we reach the finale, of course, where the hero goes out and becomes even more awesome (Venom obtains the power of Captain Universe, Thor’s hammer and Silver Surfer’s surfboard, while Thor wraps himself in the Destroyer armor). And then … it’s over. In both cases, it doesn’t even take much thought; Eddie Brock has all this power and beats down Knull for several pages — Knull doesn’t even really get a shot in in the final issue — before roasting him in the sun. And Donald Blake pretty much has zero offense against the Destroyer and the assembled league of Asgard, making you wonder why he was such a big threat to begin with. I don’t know; in both cases, the ending just didn’t feel earned.

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