Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately. Today’s reviews include the finale of Batman/Catwoman, the debut of Sins of the Black Flamingo and more.
Let us know what you’ve been reading lately in the comments or on social media.
A few quick things about Avengers #57, written by Jason Aaron, drawn by Javier Garron, and colored by David Curiel. First, the title page lists ten Avengers on its roll call, but maybe half of them (and that’s being generous) actually appear in the issue. That may change as this new storyline, “History’s Greatest Heroes,” rolls on. Most of the issue is another spotlight on a slightly-different version of a familiar Marvel character, which by this time has become something of an Aaron Avengers trademark. (See also “Heroes Reborn” and Avengers Forever.) Introduced this issue is Sergeant Szardos, the Soldier Supreme – think Dum Dum Dugan with the powers of Doctor Strange. It’s a decent hook for a character, and the issue is entertaining. Szardos uses a demon-fueled rifle, takes down a hellspawned U-boat, and finds himself (not surprisingly) facing Mephisto’s minions. Regardless, maybe some more of Earth’s Mightiest Present-Day Heroes could show up in issue #58?
Now for the deep thoughts. The final issue of Batman/Catwoman came out this week, so I – not remembering how much I had to catch up on – read the last few issues plus the one-shot. (The latter featured art from the late John Paul Leon, and served also as a tribute to him.) Written by Tom King, drawn by Clay Mann and colored by Tomeu Morey, issue #12 helped reframe the miniseries as something more metatextual than I had expected. That, in turn, made me want to re-read the whole thing from that different perspective.
As you probably know, Batman/Catwoman was born out of Tom King’s lengthy Batman run, which featured their engagement as a subplot. It was my understanding from the ever-churning comics rumor mill that the DC higher-ups didn’t want the marriage to happen, so it was shunted off into this Black Label miniseries. And to be fair, it would involve a good bit of status quo alteration and in-story logistics. Basically, as far as the public was concerned, Bruce Wayne would marry Selina “Catwoman” Kyle, retired jewel thief and occasional antihero. She’d move into Wayne Manor, but what if Catwoman were suspected of some high-profile robbery? Indeed, what if Catwoman then started teaming up regularly with Batman? The Bat-books have all but abandoned the traditional Dynamic Duo – would Catwoman be cancelled in favor of her higher profile in Batman and Detective? This isn’t Lois Lane fending off rumors that she’s cheating on her husband with Superman, it’s a lot more complicated.
So I understand DC’s objecting to this union taking place, both for in-story and real-world reasons, and I think King – as much as he might have wanted these two crazy kids to make it work – tried to thread the needle between Selina staying true to herself and committing herself to the marriage. I’m not going to try to summarize the series’ plot, because it takes place in at least three different time periods and jumps from one to another rather rapidly. Instead, the impression that I got was that of Selina forever bristling at the idea of having to sublimate herself to anyone, from the nuns at the orphanage to her fellow Bat-villains to her husband and daughter. Honestly, I think the person she gets along with the best, at least towards the end of the miniseries, is Alfred. Otherwise, there’s a lot of business about her killing the Joker – something which goes against decades of Catwoman characterization, but which King seems to address very obliquely in #12 – and never being able to stay on the good side of the law, even as a senior citizen.
By the way, before I forget, the art in this series has been stellar. Mann is good at the heightened realism that any Bat-story needs, and Morey’s colors help distinguish between those separate time periods. Regardless of how you feel about King’s writing, he always gets to work with very talented artists.
And speaking of how I feel about King’s writing, I was afraid that this series would turn Selina into some sort of Lady Macbeth, like Kalinda in Omega Men or Alanna in Strange Adventures. (We’ll see where Ice lands in Human Target.) That didn’t happen here, perhaps because Catwoman has grown so significantly from her bad-girl beginnings. At this point she deserves better than to become just another Bat-supporting character, even if she’s more important to him than Alfred, Gordon or the Robins combined. Marrying her would be … well, like a big corporate merger that sought to expand productivity by taking advantage of synergies and shared goals. Ironic that DC Comics, which took in so many other publishers’ characters, hasn’t been able to manage that. Until then, we have Batman/Catwoman to pore over, and wonder what it would take.
Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this: you know how Gambit seems like a no-brainer for a solo series or even just a really good mini? He’s cool, he’s a thief, he’s a mutant, he’s got all these cool characteristics that would really jazz up a heist story or a mystery. Watching a smooth criminal isn’t enough; they have to have a gimmick, and Gambit’s got enough for a deck of cards. Sadly, I can’t say any Gambit series has ever stuck in my mind as memorable, most of them veering off toward adventure territory or focusing on the Assassins’ and Thieves’ Guilds, or Rogue. They were never about the score, the hunt for treasure, the wit and charm. You know, Gambit things.
Wonderfully, Andrew Wheeler knows exactly what to do.
In Sins of the Black Flamingo #1, we’re introduced to Sebastian Harlow, a flamboyant thief extraordinaire known in secretive circles as ‘The Black Flamingo’ who steals arcane and mystic artifacts for those in need of such things. Already, one page in and I’m hooked: Mr. Flamingo is smooth at silk at what he does with a camp running narrative that never goes overboard into comedy but keeps the character grounded in the cesspool that is Miami, Florida. A truly inspired setting, I’m surprised more comics of this nature aren’t set there more often; waxing poetic on the Sunshine State, the Black Flamingo calls it “the capital of damnation” and from this first issue there’s a lot more meaning in that phrase than you realize at first. After all, how damned can you be when there’s a captured angel in the basement of a millionaire begging for death? If you like Hellblazer but feel it’s gone too mainstream, if you like Gambit but need more larceny, if you’ve ever seen Zorro the Gay Blade and lamented the lack of fabulous gay vigilantes in media, then Sins of the Black Flamingo is for you.
A friend of mine once said that Phil Noto’s art is just pictures of the same female face and … you gotta admit, it’s a really good looking face! And the complaint works with him in this new series, The Variants, with him and Gail Simone. Jessice Jones is still surviving out in the Marvel Universe and haunted by her time with the Purple Man, causing her to run into various Variants of herself as she figures out who she is and what is real. I don’t have to tell you Gail Simone is great at this; she’s a master of making you close personal friends of characters in her stories and Jessica Jones (certainly not one of my favorite heroines) comes across as relatable and tough. A simple trip to the makeup counter and I can totally understand the existential dread of choosing a lipstick shade. The basic premise is simple and I can’t say we learn anything truly important in the first issue, it’s just more of a table setting as the real meal comes in further installments. If you find yourself lost these days and really like Phil Noto Face, then Variants #1 is waiting for you.
Last but not least, can we get more She-Hulk in this new She-Hulk series? It’s weird to say when she’s on every page but rarely are we learning anything about her; most of the plot and action revolves around Jack of Hearts or her clients or setting in a new supporting cast. I really feel like I need to spend time with Jennifer Walters rather than the ‘mess’ her life has become. It was a point really illustrated to me in comparison to the Variants this week as I watched Jessica Jones try on lipstick colors looking for meaning to her self image. Weird, right? But it felt real, the inner monologue was true to the character’s motivations and the action fit with the scene. The best we have from this week’s She-Hulk #4 is a panel where Jen explains the obvious choice between her human side to She-Hulk to Jack of Hearts: “If you had two options and one of them was taller, stronger and nearly invulnerable — which would you choose?” It’s a good moment and I really like the idea of reaching back to those Sensational days where She-Hulk really owned being this nigh-seven foot tall green glamazon and would make no other choice. There’s a story there that’s quickly interrupted for a surprise reveal at the end of the book. No offense to Jack of Hearts, but I feel like I know him better than our title character and that’s not a great sign. This is only the fourth issue, so maybe we’ll see some more Shulkie down the line, but She-Hulk #4 still leaves me wanting more.