This week saw little love for Marvel, interestingly enough, though plenty for DC, as all three books I picked up were New 52 titles. Moreover, all three were the 20th issue of their run, an achievement which many New 52 books have sadly been denied. But I’ll save the politics for later. Here’s what I picked up this week.
Batgirl (2011) #20
A Splinter Where My Heart Should Be
Gail Simone & Daniel Sampere
No ill will towards Ray Fawkes, but I really wasn’t feeling his fill-in arc on James Jr. and decided not to buy his second issue. When Simone returned to Batgirl on the previous issue I ended up continuing my hiatus out of ambivalence to the arc she was finishing and the sense I got from online discussions that the most important thing in it was political, not narrative. This issue marked Simone’s “true” return to the book for me, kicking off an all-new arc and, more importantly, a break from the influence of other writers’ stories (looking at you, DotF and Requiem).
And what a comeback. Simone comes out the gate firing on all pistons, leaving no room for misinterpretation about the new Ventriloquist: she is an unequivocal psychopath. The sinister tone of this book (and, it would seem, the arc) is immediate and forceful, and is coupled with the grief (that seems to be Barbara’s calling card) of the fallout from her confrontation with her brother in the previous issue to marvelous effect. Some may roll their eyes at the way Barbara is once more seemingly a tear-stained victim of circumstance, but by issue’s end she seems to have bounced back pretty well.
As well as anyone could, given what she has just experienced. I’ll leave it to you to find out what this pale, mousy girl and her foul-mouthed puppet are really like, but suffice to say this is not one for the children. And if you have automatonophobia, stay very, very far away. As Babs astutely notes, “this…is pure nightmare fuel.” For the rest of us, Simone is back and writing the most gripping Batgirl story of her run; I’m terrified and thrilled to see where this ride ends up.
Red Hood and the Outlaws (2011) #20
James Tynion IV & Julius Gopez
I was not a fan at all of the conclusion to the previous issue, Tynion’s debut after what I considered a fantastic overall run from Scott Lobdell. I saw the twist at the end of #19 as a cop-out way of undoing all of Jason’s development in the past 18 issues, and noted that the decision had immediately put this book on probation for me. Happily this issue restored a bit of my faith, and introduced elements which suggest there is more than meets the eye when it comes to both the explanation for Jason’s decision to have his memory wiped and the true permanence of that decision.
The issue consists primarily of the insidious memory thief justifying Jason’s decision to Roy and Kori by way of showing Jason’s darkest moments to them. Most of this is stuff that we already know, but it’s new to them, and seeing it in montage accomplishes two things: it drives home how terrible Jason’s life has been, and it makes recommending Tynion’s first issue as a jumping-on point for new readers a lot easier to do.
For long-time readers, the highlight may well be the wink at Kori and Dick’s past and the events that led them to break up, and for Kori to (until this point) pretend to have difficulty remembering people and events in her past. That’s an irritation that has rubbed many people the wrong way since the beginning so it’s nice to have Tynion at least acknowledge it, though it remains to be seen whether he will pursue it further soon, after Jason’s current dangers are dealt with, or at all. Meanwhile, some previously-introduced narrative threads have resurfaced, and this book has the potential to get very interesting very quickly. For now, at least, this book is back on solid ground for me.
Supergirl (2011) #20
Michael Allan Nelson & Mahmud Asrar
Supergirl has had pretty mixed reviews over the past year and a half. Though it has maintained a fairly steady following, many people have dismissed Kara as too whiny or arrogant to truly be likeable, and her behavior in the latest major event had many questioning if it might be better for her to just die. When solicits for this issue came out suggesting that Supergirl might die and be replaced by Power Girl, there were some folks who actually thought that would be alright. Happily, that’s not at all what happened, and with a new writer at the helm and an amusing solicit to goad me, I decided to buy my first issue of this series — and, by extension, my first Super____ book of the New 52.
The first word I’d use to describe this issue, oddly enough, is “hilarious.” I don’t know what tone the previous author was instilling, or where Nelson will be taking this down the line, but this book was, above all else, entertaining. The entire issue revolves around three characters — Kara, Kara, and Sanctuary, Supergirl’s AI steward of her version of the Fortress of Solitude. Sanctuary isn’t taking kindly to the existence of two Karas, and determines that the “not-Kara” must be terminated so as to prevent a world-ending paradox. What ensues is a mix of action, tension, and hilarity, as Sanctuary insists that, really, it would be much easier if not-Kara (whoever she is) would just stay still and die peacefully. Anyone who’s ever been within a mile of Portal will appreciate the sinister charm.
Sanctuary hits hard, both physically (a variety of cool killing attempts) and emotionally, the latter of which was particularly intriguing to me as a new reader because it afforded valuable insight into some of the less savory parts of Kara’s past. I love that Nelson openly embraces the way many readers feel negatively about Kara and uses that as a driving force within the story, having Kara’s own home basically tell her she doesn’t deserve to exist. Supergirl has to fight hard to make it through these trials, but the way she achieves victory (and I’d argue she does achieve victory) excited me most because it signaled an actual moment of character development and hinted that this is a book worth keeping up with now that Nelson’s at the helm. I don’t really do a “pick of the week” but if I did, this would be it. I dare you not to enjoy it.