An old enemy returns and why the Kents left Hamilton County.
Affiliate link included.
There’s something weird going on in Hamilton County when Batman comes to town. Find out more about it as we take a look at Superman Volume 4: Black Dawn. Straight ahead.
Announcer: Welcome to the Classy Comics podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise, Idaho here is your host, Adam Graham.
D.C. Rebirth began with Clark Kent and family living in Hamilton County. Clark running a farm with Lois getting rehired to the Planet, first impersonating her younger self and then made the actual Lois Lane with the advance of Superman Reborn, where the 2 timelines were merged. She, and now Clark, have jobs in Metropolis and so, eventually, it’s going to require moving there. I think this has always been in the offing. As much as I like the idea of Clark Kent, rural farmer who super commutes as Superman, I think that these things in comics, there tends to be a gravitational pull back towards a certain status quo and one of those big things is Lois Lane and Clark Kent, reporters for The Daily Planet, working and living in Metropolis. So, this was always going to end and I think that the writers of Superman, where most of the Hamilton County stuff occurred, were really aware of that; that this was not going to last forever and so they actually were pretty clever about it. They worked in little hints throughout the Superman issues that showed some of the weirdness going on in Hamilton County but never focused on it too much except for one issue which didn’t seem at the time to really go anywhere but in retrospect, was part of the weirdness going on throughout this.
And so, we come to Black Dawn and in many ways Black Dawn is like a finale of a T.V. series. The book contains issues 20 through 26 with the Black Dawn storyline taking up issues 20 through 25 and you remember Superman is being published every two weeks. Currently, it’ll be just monthly when Brian Michael Bendis takes over. So, this is the culmination of a year’s worth of storytelling and their writer Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason as the artist, really, it’s a great run. I highly recommend it, right from the first volume but at any rate the story begins with Batman coming to town to report some problems with John’s powers and some weirdness going on in Hamilton County and Superman, Batman, Robin and his son John, aka Superboy, are doing the general superhero thing of scoping around in the shadows until Lois Lane comes out and shines the light on them and tells them to be like normal people and go indoors to talk and so there is this great picture. This is one of my favorite pictures from the Patrick Gleason art on Superman where you’ve got Batman and Superman sitting at the kitchen table of farmhouse along with Robin and Superboy and you’ve got the rooster clock in the background and it’s just as beautiful for how out of place and awkward Batman looks in this picture. It’s got one of these great lines, where because Batman doesn’t eat his pie, and Superboy asked “Doesn’t your dad like Apple?” and Robin whispers, “Batman doesn’t eat pie.”, and it’s just a beautiful, weird little thing and I just love that. It’s really emblematic of the sort of fun this series has had. Really, it’s just a tremendous picture and it’s one of my favorites in this run so I love that and essentially Batman reveals that there’s weird readings and that John’s powers are being repressed, for some reason, and he’s here to investigate and everybody goes to bed but Batman wanders out on his own and is captured. So, it’s a serious situation and other people disappear and get captured. Lois finds herself alone in the farmhouse and so we get an issue where Lois is dealing with being alone in this really weird landscape and you get Lois Lane driving the Bat-mobile.
If you recall, last week I was talking about how some of the really great modern Lois Lane stories are being written right now and I think this issue was a great example of that. The art is good throughout the story but there is a little bit of unevenness because Doug Mahnke actually comes on to do some of the art on several issues in this series as well as collaborating with Gleason on them but there is a reason for Mahnke’s inclusion and I’m going to spoil kind of a mid-art reveal, so giving you a warning, spoiler warning on this.
It’s revealed that the villain behind this is Manchester Black, who first appeared back in Action Comics 775 back in 2001. Manchester Black headed a group of anti-heroes known as the Elite. They faced off against Superman in a story called “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?”. The Elite were written as a response to a group of anti-heroes known as The Authority, who really took on extraordinary actions and freed themselves from the mores that traditionally limited what superheroes would and would not do. Their actions caused so much devastation that it led to Superman confronting them all in battle and defeating them. In many ways, the idea of one man up against a wide array of opponents and foes, it calls to mind, to me, when I read it a kind of like high noon Superman version and it’s a really great story. So, they bring Manchester Black here and Manchester Black has been working with aliens in the area and helping to keep them safe in exchange for their cooperation and his plot is to get Superboy and turn him towards his end, towards his sort of rough form of vigilante justice. He uses his psychic and telepathic powers in order to help achieve that end and it’s up to Superman and Lois to find a way to save their son. There’s a solid ending to the story. I won’t spoil that part of it and it really does show the strength of the Super Family. If I had a critique of the story, this sort of long, involved, yearlong, even just in Universe months, long entrenchment really just did not seem Manchester Black style. It seemed like they wanted to bring back Manchester Black for the sake of it rather than him really fitting in the story. That said, there does lead to some pretty, creepy looking art that’s pretty stylistically done. I will say that Manchester Black, such a photo that brings disturbing imagery through what he does as well as his ability to manipulate minds and so you do end up with some art that is a little bit startling for a book known for its more fun visuals, including what looks like, and appears to be at the time, an amputation or near amputation but other than this, I think this was a solid story to close out the Hamilton County run.
Now we also get for Issue 26, a one issue story and this one is “Brains versus Brawn”, and it’s a guest story written by a Micheal Moreci and Scott Godlewski and the setup is that Superman is teaming up with Superboy and trying to teach him how to use his powers but Superboy, in battle is kind of doing his own thing rather than following that Superman’s directions. At the same time, Superman has flashbacks to the time when Paul Kent it was challenging him and expecting him to do things a certain way. Superboy ends up having a failure and Superman recalls what happened with Paul Kent where Paul own the fact that he had caused the problem by insisting that Clark do everything his way and so Superman concludes that Superboy too has got to be given a chance to really learn and develop his own style rather than be forced to do everything Superman’s way and I think that there is a good moral lesson in that and particularly about the relationship of father and son, where a parent should be equipping a child to be themselves rather than a copy of the parent. However, I do question if the issue does take the lesson a little too far because with Superboy, we’re dealing with a 10-year-old with superpowers and it 10 years old, all you pretty much got is instinct without the years of experience and training. So, there does have to be a balance where you are listening and where there is also room for growth. So, it may have been a bit unbalanced in its approach but it’s still a valid moral and I enjoyed it. Overall, as I think has been the case with every volume in the series, I enjoyed Black Dawn and I will gladly give this particular volume a rating of classy and I am eager to see what’s ahead for Clark Kent and family as they move to the city and we’ll be picking that up in future volumes.
Alright, well, that’s it for now. If you do have a comment, email to me email@example.com. Be sure and rate the show on iTunes and Follow us on Twitter at classycomicsguy and if you’re liking the podcast please rate on iTunes and from Cascade, Idaho, this is your host Adam Graham signing off.
Zatara comes back into Bruce’s life while the cult that birthed Azrael has an idea for sentient religious robots. What could go wrong?
Affiliate link included.
Batman has a magical meeting with an old flame and he and his team have to face off against a fanatical robot and Spoiler tries to save the city from vigilante superheroes by being a vigilante superhero. We’ll talk about it all in a review of Batman: Detective Comics: Deus Ex Machina, straight ahead.
Welcome to the Classy Comics Podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise, Idaho here is your host, Adam Graham.
This is the fourth volume of the Detective Comics series in D.C. Rebirth and it collects issues 957 to 962. While Tom King’s Batman has been solely a Batman-focused book, Detective Comics has tried to be a team book. Batman forms a team because he senses something really dangerous is coming to Gotham City and he needs to be ready. And he chooses for his team a variety of characters and most of these had either had their own series or been quite popular with fans. The original team was Batwoman, Red Robin, Tim Drake, Spoiler, Stephanie Brown, the heroine Orphan Cassandra Cain, and the oddest choice for the team, the super villain Clayface who’s reformed now. In the first volume it looked like Tim Drake was killed, but it was revealed at the end of the issue that he’s actually being held somewhere, and then in the second volume Spoiler departed. In the third volume both of them were replaced on the team by Azrael and Batwing.
Batwing is Lucas Fox, the son of Lucius Fox, a long-time employee of Bruce Wayne. He’s a wealthy inventor and scientist in his own right with his own company and a kind of Tony Stark-esk ego, but not necessarily the charm.
Azrael is Jean Paul Valley and that character has a very interesting backstory. He was introduced in the 1990’s; he was a college student unaware that he was the latest in a line of assassin enforcers for the cult The Order of St. Dumas. However, he runs into Batman and he ends up giving up the path of the assassin and becoming a protege of Batman – which became important during the Nightfall event where Batman’s back was broken by Bain. And it was stated in the comics that Bruce would never walk again, and Jean Paul Valley actually took over as Batman. However, he became increasingly unstable and out of control, to the point that Valley and Bruce have to fight, with Bruce ultimately finding a way to triumph.
After Bruce Wayne took over as Batman, he would kind of kick around and appear here and there through the D.C. Universe, seeming to die in the late 1990s story ‘No Man’s Land’, but it all becomes kind of unclear. The D.C. Universe rebooted with the New Fifty-Two and he made an appearance in Batman and Robin Eternal, and then was introduced into Detective Comics. In this current timeline he’s alive and he’s been freed from the order St. Dumas, and prior to joining up with the Bat Team he was out helping up people in a shelter. And I liked in the last volume, it revealed even though he’s left this cult he still holds on to faith – which I think is kind of cool because a lot of comics would be tempted to turn him into an atheist or make some kind of straw man argument. And they didn’t go there – I give James Tynion credit for that. Deus Ex Machina in its A-plot is really an Azrael story. The Order of St. Dumas is trying to reassert itself over his armor and take control of his armor and him, and at the same time they’re also sending in robot versions of Azrael, trying to replace him with a robot who – unlike a human – will not be programmed to doubt and to alter or back away from the mission.
This story was kind of hard to get into. I don’t think the order of a St. Dumas was anywhere near the threat level of what was faced in the three prior volumes. It tries to get into Jean Paul Valley’s character but I don’t think it does a particularly good job in that. There are some good character moments early on but I think for us to really feel the weight of this possession story we really need to know him better, and given that he didn’t come into this whole team until rather late, this is a bit too soon for that sort of thing to really have the impact on the readers. The story seemed to be trying to say something about faith and philosophy but mostly it came off as somewhat cliched and not really saying anything at all. The robots do look nice and there are some fairly good fight scenes that work in. What does really save the storyline is the B-plot with Zatara. She and Bruce were kind of sweet on each other back when they were teenagers and there’s some reminiscing about the past which is nice and gives some insight into Bruce’s character, but he also has a need where he is wanting access to this relic that can reveal truth and information that he needs to deal with the threat that he sees coming, as well as some of his own doubts about the decisions that he has made recently and the consequences they’ve had particularly as it relates to the apparent loss of Tim Drake.
These are really fun to read and the art on those is just superbly drawn. Zatara looks great, she’s really cool in the story even if her magic is still the silly Silver Age thing of just saying stuff backwards and making it happen, and she does end up interacting with the A-plot in actually providing the resolution. And her entrance there – it is just a beautiful panel – and a really solid ending to a somewhat shaky story.
Of the other issue here – this was a five issue out of the six. The other issue in here is a solo story for Spoiler. She left after Tim Drake’s apparent death because she encountered a gang of victims – The Victim Syndicate – who were upset and blamed vigilantes for everything. And I think if you look at the psychology of it, she and Tim Drake were close and I think that there was this idea that finding someone to blame – in this case Batman – works and identifying with the Victim Syndicate and trying to take some meaning out of that, that really does seem to be her motivator which I think is a very realistic thing.
In ‘The Wrath of Spoiler’ she is playing a different role, she is no longer a superhero, she says. She is determined to stop the damage they do, which means that when Detective Bullock is ordered to fire up the bat signal she sabotages it and goes to the scene herself, figuring that if Batman shows up it will end up in carnage and terror, but she can stop the madman and not do the typical superhero thing – not take credit for it and defeat the villain without anyone even knowing that she’s there.
This issue leaves me with some mixed feelings: on one hand I think Stephanie is able to pursue her goals and defeat the villain without being known or showing up, and she does it as well as Batman might have – though in a slightly different way. I don’t think anybody would have died if Batman and handled it, but she did a good enough job and also managed to stay out of sight.
On the other hand, the story is a lot of monologuing. We get to hear a lot from her about how she’s not a superhero, how she’s not a vigilante, how she’s nothing like Batman. As she sneaks around in costume and has unauthorized fights with criminals, she is a vigilante in denial about it and it is just such semantics that it is a very annoying monologue.
It ends on a cliffhanger that explains why this book is set up a bit backwards. This was actually chronologically the first issue in this book. It’s covered at the end because it leads into an event that starts with Issue 963 and the next book; so, if you’re reading the trades you will go right from this story in Issue 957 to the story in 963, whereas if you were subscribed to Detective Comics or picking it up in your comic shop you read 957 and then had to wait like three months to find out what happens with her and the cliffhanger villain that appears at the end of this.
Overall Deus Ex Machina has solid art throughout and occasionally – particularly when Zatara is drawn really rises to the level of beautiful epic art. But the stories are a little bit more hit and miss, a very mixed quality, so I will have to give this book a rating of Not Classy. I’m not giving up on Detective Comics yet, even though this is the second straight trade where I’ve not been particularly happy, but from what I’ve read there’s some very strong storylines ahead and hopefully we’ll see some shake ups in the team that will actually lead to a better book. So I will check out volume five, but this particular volume just not really all that impressive to me.
Alright, that’s all for now. If you have a comment send it to me firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter at @ClassyComicsGuy, and check out my website classycomicsguy.com. From Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.