These might be the most important words in comics: "Hey, have you read that?" The medium's lifeblood has always been the word-of-mouth that passes from one reader to another. The only query that might surpass the above is "So, what'd you think?"
Hence, this recurring feature in Kotaku's slice of comics programming, where comics critics, video game makers and folks from all walks of life talk about new and/or meaningful comic-book releases.
This week, pop culture crtitics Douglas Wolk, Graeme McMillan join me to talk about Death of the Family, the latest Batman crossover event which ends in tomorrow's Batman #17 and the state of the Avengers suite of books.
Here's where we put the discussion into Panel Discussion. Of course, we want to hear from you. Please join us in the comments below.
Evan: I haven't been sure how to feel about the re-introduction of the Joker that's been happening in DC Comics' Death of the Family crossover. The event picks up a year after the Joker had his own face cut off and has him coming back wearing it as a mask over his damaged face. It's a visual that keeps the character looking essentially the same in all the Batman comics but much more menacing.
Graeme: What, you're not a fan of Scott Snyder's "On The Nose Theater"?
Douglas: I have now read the entire thing—except for I think two of the crossover issues that I couldn't track down—and I can tell you that I absolutely hated it. This is superhero comics as Saw movie: everything stripped away from the experience of adventure stories except brutal sadism.
Graeme: I'm not as massively against it as Douglas, but I think it was a staggering waste of time and goodwill, to be honest. I do wonder how much of it was intentional and how much accidental (on Snyder's part, at least).
Evan: I feel like this is Joker by way of the Saw movies and that a lot of the panache from the character is gone. (Ha, we probably typed that at the same time, Douglas!) I do like the idea of the psychological fracturing of the Bat-family but mostly it feels like they've backed away from almost every cliff they told us they were going to jump off of.
Graeme: The Saw comparison is apt, and I agree that the story damaged the character. I think Snyder's issues ultimately damaged all the villains that appeared in it, to be honest.
Douglas: The thing that makes the Joker interesting is that he's a psycho who's playing some kind of absurdist game, and it's never clear what kind of game he's playing. This time, his game is all horror, no absurdity. What's the fun in that?
And I mean that question: where is the fun for the READERS in that? The final episode had two choices: either go for a gross-out, or a cop-out—and it went for the cop-out.
Graeme: Evan: DEFINITELY. I feel as if nothing is actually happening beyond the fracturing of the family. And while the fracturing feels true to the title of the crossover, it also feel like it could've been achieved much faster, and in a far cleaner way.
Douglas: "Death of the Family"—so their ties are fractured? Because a lunatic tried to kill them all and then didn't? The "fracturing of the family" makes *no sense* as anything other than the final beat that's supposed to be hit; it doesn't proceed from the rest of the story.
Evan: The storyline harbors the same problems as a lot of DC's current output: good character moments amidst a lot of churn.
Graeme: Douglas, I think the fracturing comes from whatever Joker said to them and the kernel of truth that came from Bruce's deception. But that's just... dumb, for want of a better way of putting it. I think Snyder is guilty of overambition in his Batman run. Every story has to "matter" and this feels like it's not fulfilling his aims at all.
Douglas: And for those readers just joining us here: the cliffhangers in, I think, six or seven of last month's tie-ins were the Joker presenting the helpless protagonist with a bloody, covered, dripping platter with flies clustering under it, in some cases. AND WHAT IS IN THE PLATTER that Alfred was supposed to "help serve"? Grand Guignol time!...
Douglas: Now, I can read the whole story as a feint—the story where we all think the character who now fairly clearly is going to die in the next Batman Inc. is going to die. But doesn't.
But come on.
Evan: What I've liked about Snyder's run is that Batman has, in emotional terms, felt genuinely at risk. But this storyline has made it so that I don't want the Joker to come back at all now.
Douglas: In fact, the very first issue of the whole crossover starts with a little feint, a shock involving Gordon that turns out, two pages later, to be trivial.
Graeme: Evan, yes—Snyder is SO unsubtle with the Joker that he's boring now.
Douglas: "Night of the Owls" at least had a coherent timeline. This one doesn't: it requires the Joker to be a whole lot of places, and nobody else to be anywhere much at all.
Evan: God, let's not even get into that.
Graeme: Did Night of the Owls have a coherent timeline? I read the collection this week, and it's all over the place.
Evan: and, yeah, the reveal in Night of the Owls is something I want to see revisited.
Douglas: Graeme, I believe that there actually is an hour-by-hour timeline of everything that's happening in NotO.
Graeme: "Death" reads very much like Snyder had an idea and editorial decided "EVERYONE IS DOING THIS." The crossovers make little sense, and add very little to the overall story (In some cases, detracting. Detective, for example). What is the point of the Catwoman issues, or the Suicide Squad issues, for example?
Douglas: Evan, I agree with you on the Joker—I can't even imagine what would have to go into making him as interesting a character as he used to be again!
Evan: and that title, so clearly meant to evoke, the Death in the Family storyline.
Douglas: Yeah, Evan, absolutely. "Oh no! Another Robin is going to die or something!"
Graeme: Would this storyline have been better if we could've voted for Damien, Tim, Jason or Dick to die again?
Douglas: [biting my tongue]
Graeme: I liked Capullo's artwork well enough, although he got progressively sloppier through the arc. I loved Gleason's Joker in the Batman & Robin issues.
Douglas: True enough. That Batman & Robin annual last week was pretty charming—don't know if any of you read it, but it was everything I wish other Bat-books were right now.
Graeme: Yeah, in general, I think Tomasi has been doing some great work on B&R since launch. I really like his Bruce/Damian dynamic. Tomasi is one of DC's most underrated writers for me. Enough Geoff Johnsian twists but without Johns' current blockbuster movie obsession.
Douglas: One interesting thing about the crossover: the non-Batman issues really don't add anything to it. Batman itself is really the only narrative spine of the thing.
Graeme: Yeah, that's what I meant by the randomness of the crossovers. They felt very tacked-on and unnecessary.
Evan: Well, look: it seems like the mandate here is to make Bruce something of a loner again. But the twist is that he doesn't want to be one!
Graeme: New Bat-Angst: This time he WANTS a family.
Evan: and I'm not sure if the tension of whatever new status quo follows will be worth the ruination of the Joker.
Douglas: It'll also probably be a new status quo that can be reversed in literally three pages whenever they feel like it.
Graeme: It's false jeopardy, surely? Of course everyone will come back.
Douglas: "Also, when I was mad at you before? That must have been the lingering effects of the Joker's gas. All better now!"
Graeme: I look forward to the next crossover, BATMAN: WEEKEND GETAWAY TEAMBUILDING EXERCISE.
"This Issue: Trust Falls"
Douglas: What was the last genuinely shocking, irreversible continuity change to happen in superhero comics? Matt Murdock being outed, maybe?
Graeme: Irreversible? Hmm.
Evan: Bucky coming back?
Douglas: Mm, that's good!
Graeme: Bucky coming back being, of course, a reversal in itself.
Evan: Speaking of tension, I feel like the Avengers line is full of genuine tautness now.
Graeme: Really? I am jealous, I jumped off Avengers after #3.
Evan: I've caught up on Hickman's books and like them both but New Avengers is beating plain ol' Avengers handily,
Douglas: I need to catch up on those. I just read all of Avengers vs. X-Men in a long weekend, and a lot of it seemed like an exercise in stuffing a genie back in the bottle. But: Walter Simonson still draws like an angel of doom!
Graeme: Evan, what's working for you in both books? I wonder if it's the same thing that doesn't work for me.
Evan: The personality mix in the mainline book is interesting, starting with Tony's slickness as contrasted with Steve's military straightfowardness. And the idea of that bigger team being an architected thing pulls me in, too. But, a lot of that gets lost in the new villains and threats that Hickman introduces. Avengers feels messier than New Avengers.
Douglas: The Avengers book I'm waving the flag for right now is Young Avengers. Does it seem like Hickman has a grand scheme for Adjectiveless and New Avengers, the same way that he did for Fantastic Four/FF?
Graeme: Evan, I found the first arc of Avengers to be incredibly messy, especially the third issue, which bordered on inept for me at times.
Yes, definitely a grand scheme, Douglas. And I agree on YA.
Evan: New Avengers is a bunch of potentates who shouldn't be together, who know it and are still the best chance to Save the World. I've talked about how I love the Black Panther, because of the duality of the character. Hickman homes in on both sides of T'Challa: a leader who loves his people and is strikingly ruthless in protection of them.
Graeme: Evan: I find the Black Panther portrayal to be the one true positive of NA for me - The character as moral center and uncompromised as well as uncompromising. And moreso, that he is RECOGNIZED as such by other characters, and their reactions to that.
Douglas: Can I rant a little about what, specifically, I enjoy about YA (and oh boy I just realized that was its acronym)?
What I love about YA is that Gillen & McKelvie & Matt Wilson have clearly sat down in advance and figured out how everything about it should work—how everything about its look and feel are going to underscore it thematically, and how it's not going to read like other superhero comics. The design scheme, the color scheme, the plan to make every action sequence work differently.
And not a lot even happens in the first issue! (Aside from "Skrull invasion gets foiled," or whatever, but the excitement is how they _treat_ the obligatory fight scene, rather than that it happens.) But it's such a pleasure to see a superhero comic that obviously has a big old manifesto behind its presentation.
Graeme: Did you see Gillen talk about YA in an interview at Comic Book Resources, where he said the title was his and McKelvie's response to Fraction and Aja's Hawkeye? I didn't initially read it as that, but it totally makes sense in many ways.
Evan: In New Avengers, the lack of trust that all the characters have for each other is the best thing to come out of AvX. T'Challa hiding Namor in the country he helped decimate? That's good stuff!
Douglas: That's true, I think—although as much as the individual characters have differing agendas, I'm not sure why there is an "Avengers." Or two of them, or three or however many there are.
Graeme: Evan, what do you feel about the uber-arc about the chain of Infinite Earths destroyed? I feel it's both cosmic enough to work as a big enough threat to bring these characters together, but also TOO cosmic to *not* bleed into other books. Like, if an Earth explodes in the sky and it's visible to Wakandans, wouldn't SOMEONE ELSE have seen it?
Evan: Yeah, the Big Idea is too big to not be in other series. But, hey, it justifies the gathering. And New Avengers mostly feels like a grand set-up for really perverse character dynamics. I'm okay with that right now.
Graeme: Evan, exactly—but even so, I agree that NA is better than Avengers, which is just... I don't know. A disaster, for me.
Douglas: (That's kind of the same problem I have with Fraction's Fantastic Four setup: "while we're gone, you guys have to be the Fantastic Four!")
Graeme: Douglas, Fraction's FF set-up just doesn't work when you think about it: "We need replacements because we're time traveling, but we HAVE to be gone for four seconds, and the replacements can't be other heroes or hero teams because, uh, never mind."
Douglas: Graeme: I am cracking up over here.
Evan: New Avengers, FF/FanFour and Death of the Family all expose the same problem…
Graeme: The problem that the writers have their set-ups and logic be damned?
Evan: … which is that you have to allow for these things to live independently.
Graeme: I'm not sure if you have to allow for things to live independently. I'd love it if that were true, but I think there are ways to work around the inter-connectedness that just aren't being taken.
Douglas: They do have to live independently, but it's much healthier to get writers together and let them figure out how they can further each other's agendas—I think AvX did that to some extent—than to say "okay, here's the story: now you tie into it, and here's your closing scene. Bye!"
Graeme: It's silly, but I long for the old Marvel days of the '70s and '80s, when the characters would say things like "I'd love to call the Avengers in on this, but they're off-planet" and you'd just go, "Oh, okay."
Evan: I actually agree with, Douglas. And I hate that the onus is on the reader now to either shore up or abandon the logic of the events in these universes.
Douglas: Maybe better co-ordination is what will come out of the DC and Marvel writers' summits this past weekend! Cross fingers.
Evan: So, Young Avengers. Let's love-in.
Graeme: A book we all actually like!
Evan: I love that you can come in cold.
Graeme: I love that it's so unapologetic, if that makes sense.
Graeme: It's FUN, pointing back to Douglas' point about Batman. There is an enjoyment throughout the issue.
Douglas: Not only can you come in cold, but if you DO have some backstory, it makes it fun, and if you don't, it doesn't say "you're missing the backstory!" (Loki reads very differently in the light of the ending of Journey Into Mystery.)
Graeme: Even if you don't know the backstory, you can catch up and it seems additive, not "YOU MISSED OUT TOO BAD GO BUY THE OTHER BOOK." Also, Jamie McKelvie's art is PERFECT for late teen characters, as is Matt Wilson's colors.
Evan: It feels romantic, too, as in the romance of adventure.
Graeme: Evan: Yes, esp. with the double page opening spread. This book looks glorious, and unlike anything else at Marvel, which is fitting.
Douglas: And romantic as in smoochypants!
Douglas: And the cover design for the first few issues is fantastic (I love that the color scheme turns into disco lights on the Bryan Lee O'Malley cover)
Evan: That sense of romance—both types—makes the ending so great, with the coming of a corrupted kind of love as the threat.
Graeme: It's such a great counterpoint to the cynicism of Marvel's other teen book, Avengers Arena, too, which I appreciate. No teens killing each other over here.
Douglas: There's a lot of thought and effort put into it, but to make it look smooth and fast and effortless rather than baroque and stuffed with little lines.
Graeme: Comparing it with Batman again, Douglas? The hate seeps into the love-in.
Douglas: (whistles) Did I mention anything by name? (I like lots of things that are stuffed with little lines!)
Graeme: You're right, though: It's a smart book in a way that works FOR the reader, instead of showing off TO the reader, if that makes sense. It's inclusive. "Come in and join our gang!" FOUNDING OF A FAMILY. That should be their tagline if they want to piss off Batman fans.
Evan: hahahahaha, Graeme
Graeme: So, Young Avengers is the Anti-Batman, then, Douglas? Hopefully, not in terms of sales. I mean, is it wrong that I read YA and was just "PLEASE BE A MASSIVE HIT"? I was willing this book to be a smash, as if Marvel needs my psychic goodwill.
Evan: Yeah, me too, Graeme. I often feel like the stuff I love is in danger of cancellation simply because I love it.
Douglas: (I love his "Tony Stark sees the world in Greg Land-vision" idea, too)
Graeme: Douglas, yes!
Douglas: Kieron Gillen has mentioned that he treated X-Men as his big mainstream book and Journey Into Mystery as his odd little cult item, and I think sales were in line with that—although I'm betting J.I.M. has a long and healthy life in book collections
Graeme: Yeah, I wonder where YA falls on that spectrum? Right in the middle?
Douglas: —and he's now treating YA as the J.I.M. equivalent. BUT yes I really hope it catches on in a big way.
Graeme: I do worry it's so idiosyncratic that it'll confuse people. People reading this: You should go buy Young Avengers, please.
Evan: It's only one issue so far! Let's be optimistic.