What Are You Reading? | At the halfway point, ‘Batman/Catwoman’ gets ‘a provisional thumbs-up’

Plus: The Smash Pages crew talks about ‘The Trial of Magneto,’ ‘Nightwing,’ ‘Superman and the Authority,’ ‘Bermuda,’ ‘Dragon Racer’ and more.

Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately. This time around we talk about several recent releases that range in setting from tropical islands to deep space to, um, scenic Bludhaven.

Let us know what you’ve been reading lately in the comments or on social media.

Tom Bondurant

This week I will try not to let my preconceived notions of characterization get in the way of telling you what I actually read. No promises, though, because I read a couple of Bat-books and a couple of Tom King-written books. Beware of SPOILERS as well.

First up is Batman/Catwoman #6, which King wrote, Clay Mann drew and Tomeu Morey colored. At first I was afraid that King would turn Catwoman into another Lady Macbeth type, along the lines of Kalinda in Omega Men or Alanna in Strange Adventures. While this issue is a little kinder to Catwoman in that respect, the series in general still seems to challenge what I thought was a long-established part of her characterization – namely, that Catwoman doesn’t kill. Maybe that’s gone by the wayside in the past few decades. Besides, the series plays it against the by-now-clichéd, “Why doesn’t someone kill the Joker?” trope. Anyway, much of this issue involves Catwoman’s future as the mother of Helena Wayne, Gotham’s next-gen crimefighter, who is maybe the new Batwoman? I don’t think she’s the new Huntress.

I’m getting a little too stream-of-consciousness, so I will just say this: At its halfway point, Batman/Catwoman seems to have gotten a lot of preliminaries out of the way and is settling into the central question of whether the star-crossed OTP can indeed share their lives. That was one of King’s main concerns in the main Batman title, and apparently it is so fraught with meaning and portent that it ended up being shunted into this Black Label miniseries. Everything looks fantastic, thanks to Mann and Morey, so it’s nice that King is actually letting his characters have some emotional vulnerability as well. Catwoman has a sweet scene with Future Dick Grayson and a surprisingly open moment with the Joker, and Bruce stammers through a significant confession to boot. I was on the fence about this series (as I am with Strange Adventures), but this issue just got me more invested.

That’s because there’s a world in which this series was part of the main Batman book, charting the course for these characters for the foreseeable future. In that world the Bat-office, and DC in general, decided that yes, they should commit to giving Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle the happy ending that, 25 years ago, they awarded to Clark Kent and Lois Lane. A New 52 breakup notwithstanding, the relationship has netted the Kents (among other things) their own TV show. Who knows what kinds of storylines would have come out of Bruce and Selina raising Damian and possibly baby Helena? Can a mega-rich secret vigilante and a (reformed) master jewel thief enjoy both parenthood and saving the world?

Instead, DC decided to plunge Batman and Gotham City generally into apocalyptic storylines like “Joker War,” “Future State” and the upcoming “Fear State.” That means lots of wide-scale angst, small victories, and large defeats – and, of course, Batman isolated and on his own, always being challenged by bigger and bigger monsters. I lived through this already in the ’90s and early ’00s, so maybe I am biased. In any event, it’s time to move on, and give Batman/Catwoman a provisional thumbs-up.

Next on the Tom King train is Supergirl: Woman Of Tomorrow #3, drawn by Bilquis Evely and colored by Matheus Lopes. This is definitely a different Supergirl characterization than usual, perhaps influenced by her young-adulthood walkabout which underpins this miniseries. She’s more jaded (shades of the New 52 version’s early over-it attitude) and curses to her young charge. It may be meant to distinguish her from the more family-friendly Superman, but it comes across as shading into Power Girl territory.

Regardless, this is a well-done standalone issue. Supergirl and friend come across a mysteriously friendly planet – I almost wrote “small town,” because basically that’s what it is – where everyone’s perfectly nice until you ask one too many questions. The whole issue builds to the twist, which is fairly effective but seems to exist solely for its own sake. As it happens, this is also the midpoint of the miniseries, so you’re left wondering what effect this will have on the overall narrative. Again, another provisional thumbs-up, although I am less optimistic about how this one will end.

Speaking of Kara’s cousin, issue #2 of Superman and the Authority starts bringing together the team. It’s two issues into a four-issue miniseries, and I swear I didn’t plan to cover three straight half-done stories. Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Mikel Janin and a handful of guests, and colored by a few more, it’s pretty entertaining. Natasha Irons gets the chapter with the most Morrisonian technobabble, as she goes up against sentient clickbait. Midnighter and Apollo then have to take down a patchwork monster (sadly, no mention of the Frankenstein’s Monster from Seven Soldiers), and the issue ends with a gothic vignette spotlighting the Enchantress. Ironically, Superman himself is older and more cynical, but thanks to Janin still has a twinkle in his eye and a jaunty wave in his spitcurl. I don’t know what this miniseries can do in just two more issues, but I’m ready to find out.

Finally, if Nightwing #83 is any indication, writer Tom Taylor, artist Bruno Redondo and colorist Adriano Lucas seem to have it all figured out for Dick Grayson. After escaping Blockbuster and the Blüdhaven SWAT team, Dick decides on a plan for his inheritance from Alfred, and gets kudos from some familiar friends along the way. The action is well-choreographed, and the character bits (which are basically an extended epilogue) move along nicely too. It’s a bit of an odd note to end on for a six-part storyline, but it does set up a new status quo that leaves Dick and company in some comfortable places.

I have said before that Dick is Happy Batman, and this is perfectly in line with that. Going back to New Teen Titans (over forty years ago!), creative teams have tried to separate Dick from his broody guardian in various ways, not all of them successful. I followed the Peter Tomasi/Rags Morales Nightwing of the late ’00s, and while it planted Dick firmly in the middle of the superhero community, it also felt very fan service-y in a way that this does not. Yes, there are a lot of cameos and a couple of meaningful conversations, but here they flow naturally from Dick’s actions and characterization. Even if Taylor and Redondo left after this issue, there would be plenty to explore and a good foundation upon which to build. This Nightwing status quo definitely deserves to stick around for a while.

Carla Hoffman

This week, I read the much-awaited The Trial of Magneto #1 and … we know Magneto is innocent, right? Like, there has to be a deeper meaning going on than just an “innocent” woman’s death and finding out who the killer is? It just seems too mundane a problem for the citizens of Krakoa. They make a point in the issue to call out the fact that there are SO MANY MUTANTS investigating this homicide, with so many extraordinary powers and psychic connections and extra senses, that all signs pointing to the most obvious suspect just seems so pedestrian. And not even the evilest mutant in charge! Like they have Mister Sinister and Apocalypse on their High Council! And everyone is supposed to be so disappointed in MAGNETO?

There are three parts to the first issue: your true-crime details of what they think occurred at the scene of the murder, the emotional fallout between everyone affected by her death and the very short teaser that all might not be as it seems. This is, of course, called The Trial Of Magneto, not The Death of the Scarlet Witch, so Wanda’s demise is inconsequential to the greater conflict of her former “father.” They still give her relatives, both close and distant, time to mourn and lash out in rage (as the Lensherr family is wont to do) and this series should hopefully lead to a big turning point for Magneto as a character going forward. But right now this whole thing is real suspicious and better not be as open and shut as it wants us to think.

On top of this, I also read Way of X #5, the seeming end of the series as it mutates (ha ha) into something more. This has been an awesome comic for the philosopher in the X-Gene set and a pretty quick and painless read for those more interested in character interaction than higher concepts like the morality of social species that has seemingly conquered death. Not every question is answered neatly and the struggles of Nightcrawler to “create a religion” (a phrase he most certainly regrets throughout the book) aren’t ever as cut and dry as a mini-series would suggest, but the questions and revelations it leaves behind have a lot of good backstory and evidence to be used in future books. Future books like X-Men: the Onslaught Revelation coming out this September. All in all, you will be satisfied if you’ve been following the series and suitably intrigued by the secrets uncovered to maybe go back and read the whole thing once it’s out in trade.

JK Parkin

I’ve been a fan of Joey Weiser’s for a while, going back to A Ride Home and Mermin, which I’ve talked about here before. And now, with my son, I’m able to enjoy Weiser’s work on a different level and through new eyes. My son and I read his most recent graphic novel, Dragon Racer, over the course of a couple nights last week, and it’s every bit as fun as Ghost Hog was. In fact, the name might not imply it, but this is a sequel of sorts to Ghost Hog, as it is set in the same world and Ghost Hog is a character throughout — although it is clearly Dragon Racer’s story. Weiser has created a world inhabited by not only people but also anthropomorphic animals, forest spirits and, as the name implies, the ghosts of dead pigs, and it all fits really well together. For an intro to Dragon Racer’s world, I’d suggest checking out this stand-alone short story Weiser posted on his website before the book came out.

The other comics I read to my son this week were Bermuda #1-2 by John Layman and Nick Bradshaw. I don’t know if this has been billed as a kid’s comic, but there wasn’t anything that was too over-the-top in terms of inappropriateness. What it does have, though, is high-stakes adventure, beautiful artwork and a fun setting — plus a map! Layman and Bradshaw introduce this mysterious island with a crazy assortment of characters and monsters on it, and I love it when comics through in something like a map to add to the fun. I’m looking forward to seeing where this one goes.

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