Tea & Comics: Have We Got A Giant Bat For You!

“Tea & Comics” is a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special every Thursday (or maybe Friday), in which my girlfriend Dani and I talk about the week’s new comics over a cup of tea.

This is part one of this week’s conversation, in which we discuss Gotham Academy #9, Batman #43, and Catwoman #43. Part two will be posted tomorrow, and will be all about Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1 and Starve #3.

All apologies for the delay – a novice at this whole blogging business, I still have some wrinkles to iron out in terms of time management and scheduling. Sorry!

D: So I guess we should say, welcome to the first official . . . not episode? Instalment? Of Tea & Comics.

A: Though neither of us are actually drinking tea.

D: I know! But after drinking beer last night, I think coffee’s just going to cut it a little better this morning than tea would.

A: Yeah, for sure.

D: So, we’re going to talk about the Batman books first.

A: Yes, this week we have Batman #43, Gotham Academy #9, and Catwoman #43.

D: The first one I want to talk about is Gotham Academy.

A: So, Gotham Academy is written by Brenden Fletcher and Becky Cloonan, with art by Karl Kerschl.

D: Yes! I know Karl Kerschl from his webcomic, The Abominable Charles Christopher.

A: Yes, we both love The Abominable Charles Christopher, and this creative team is the reason I was so excited for this book when it was first announced last year.

D: I remember how excited you were!

A: Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl were creators whose work I was already following, though at the time, they weren’t really doing mainstream superhero stuff – I knew Karl’s work from his webcomic, as you said, and I knew Becky mostly from her Conan The Barbarian work on Brian Wood’s run. (Actually, we’ll be talking a bit about Brian Wood a little later, too, when we talk about Starve.) But it was just really exciting to see these wonderful creators move into the world of superhero comics, even though I wouldn’t really describe Gotham Academy, even though it is set in the world of Batman.

D: No, it’s a lot more Harry Potter.

A: Yeah, kind of like if Mystery Incorporated from Scooby-Doo went to Hogwarts. In Gotham. Though there’s no animal mascot, but I guess one of the kids can turn into a giant bat, so …

D: Acceptable. If you’re tired of your run-of-the-mill animal sidekicks, well, have we got a giant bat for you!

A: What’s great about Gotham Academy, and I’ve been reading it faithfully for nine issues – but this is your first issue, right?

D: It is indeed! But you have shown me the art before.

A: I do tend to be very enthusiastic about comic art, and Karl Kershl’s is worth showing people. You probably can’t have a conversation with me very long before I start showing you comic art.

D: Assuming you didn’t start the conversation that way.

A: It’s true, it’s true . . . But yeah – what’s great about Gotham Academy is that it’s very episodic. There’s certainly some things that are being built up as it goes, but even a first time reader, regardless what issue they start with, will never feel lost reading this comic. The characters are, I don’t know, I don’t really want to say stereotypical? Maybe archetypal? But they’re broad enough and clearly drawn and clearly written in such a way that you get a fix on them immediately.

D: They’re familiar. This is definitely an all-ages comic, and it’s set in a school, which is a very familiar kind of story, so by using those archetypes, it lets the, sort of play with them, switch them around a little, turn those roles on their head. Even though this was my first issue, I already felt familiar with these characters, but every now and then, they’d surprise me. And I already love Maps. She’s very, very endearing, and now I just want to go back and read all the other issues.

A: I love that Maps named their secret plan “Operation Part Flow,” because “part flow” is “wolf trap” backward.

Operation: Tarp Flow (art by Karl Kerschl, from Gotham Academy #9)

Operation: Part Flow (art by Karl Kerschl, from Gotham Academy #9)

D: And she wrote a trademark on her diagram. She’s very much living in the twenty-first century.

A: The larger story points are really working in this issue, too, and it links really neatly with the greater Batman universe, without being dependent on any other Batman comics. I mean, in previous issues, Bruce Wayne has appearances – in and out of costume – and Damian Wayne even attended the school for a single issue, but some other Batman characters are worked in really organically to the story, without it seeming like a forced cameo. In this issue alone, we have Professor Langstrom, who is of course Man-Bat, and Professor Hugo Strange, another classic Batman villain, who is the school’s guidance counsellor, I guess? It’s a cool interpretation of both characters which makes a lot of sense.

D: And even just the reference to Olive attending the school on a Wayne Foundation scholarship.

A: Which it seems like Bruce might’ve been using as a means of keeping an eye on some unique, maybe even dangerous, youngsters? I like how Olive and her mother are further developed in this issue – that is probably one of the few points which does really benefit from having read the previous issues, though.

D: It’s really just a great comic – I’d definitely give the first issue of this to someone who hadn’t read many comics before, because it’s just such an easy and fun place to start. If I were to pair it with a tea, I’d say Forever Nuts? Which is a staple of DAVIDsTEA, for the same reason – even if you don’t drink much tea, or think you don’t like tea, almost everyone loves Forever Nuts.

A: True. It’s just apple, almond, cinnamon and beetroot. No actual tea leaves at all – kind of like how this is a mainstream superhero comic with no actual superheroes.

D: There. I think we just justified calling this Tea & Comics.

A: Now, what should we talk about next, Batman or Catwoman? I think Batman, because that will give us a chance to talk about what’s happening right now in the greater Batman continuity, which informs a little bit what’s going on in Catwoman.

D: Okay, but I have to admit, I skimmed some of this one. It’s really, really wordy.

A: This one is three issues into the new arc, and there’s a lot of story that’s being paid off with this exposition, so this info-dump is necessary, but admittedly, it will probably read better in the trade. Wordiness I wouldn’t say is real typical of Scott Snyder’s run on Batman, though he is a very, um, writerly writer? If that makes sense. He’s a really good storyteller, and he does have a tendency to create comics stories more like how one might create a novel, so it’s less episodic. So, to provide a bit of background: this, as I mentioned, is three issues into this story arc, which is spinning right out of the end of the previous arc, Endgame, at the end of which (spoiler alert) Batman and the Joker seemingly straight up killed each other. Now Jim Gordon is a new police-sanctioned Batman –

D: He looks really weird without his mustache, and I didn’t think he was that young?

A: He’s not. Damn you, Greg Capullo. I should clarify, I actually really like Greg Capullo’s art.

D: You do.

A: He draws a really damn good Gotham City, and his action scenes are always just fantastically choreographed. There’s so much that’s great there, but then, there’s his faces. The problem is, all the faces he draws look the same.

Who is this man, and why is he smiling? (Art by Greg Capullo, from Batman #43)

Who is this man, and why is he smiling? (Art by Greg Capullo, from Batman #43)

D: The faces are a little wooden; they’re not very animated or expressive.

A: And it’s funny, because Greg Capullo used to draw a great Commissioner Gordon, because he let him really have a lot of character, which Gordon lends himself well too: there was the mustache, the glasses, he was skinny. But you take those defining characteristics away, and he’s another superhero-type, and it’s very weird to see him that way, and I do think it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t visually register as the same character, even though Scott Snyder is writing the character superbly.

D: So, Batman’s presumed dead, but Bruce Wayne isn’t – he’s now working at a children’s community centre, helping homeless kids, with his highschool girlfriend?

And they lived happily ever after? (Art by Greg Capullo, from Batman #43)

And they lived happily ever after? (Art by Greg Capullo, from Batman #43)

A: Yeah, Julie Madison, who’s actually a very old character, from the Golden Age.

D: I felt like it was strange how she was introduced here.

A: Yes and no – Scott Snyder likes to play a long game sometimes, and he actually established Bruce and Julie’s relationship back in his Zero Year arc, so she doesn’t literally come out of nowhere, but yeah, the timing of her showing up in Gotham is a little coincidental.

D: In any other story, though, if the billionaire superhero loses his memories and an old girlfriend almost immediately shows up to rekindle their old flame, everyone would be suspicious, but no one is here.

A: And maybe they’ll explore that angle, but I almost hope not. See, I think what they’re going for here – and I think the use of Julie Madison is very specific, rather than any of Bruce’s other old girlfriends – is to give us a version of Bruce Wayne as if he never were Batman. Because that’s usually what Bruce’s relationship with Julie is recalled as – the one that could-have-been, if only he weren’t Batman. Batman is like the other woman.

D: I always thought that Bruce Wayne, if his parents were never killed, would be a little like Freddie in Big Hero 6.

A: Now I just want to read all of Bruce’s dialogue in T.J. Miller’s voice. That would be fantastic.

D: But what this actually reminds me of more is that Wolverine movie, the one where he’s a lumberjack who lives on a mountain with his girlfriend.

A: Ooh, boy. That’s never something I like to remember.

D: He gets out of the superhero game, settles down with a girlfriend, starts wearing plaid, grows a beard . . . He becomes the everyman.

A: That’s kinda true. Oh, dear god. But despite unfortunate reminders of X-Men Origins:  Wolverine, I think this is pretty interesting here, just because it’s a clever way to realize that what-if question, if Bruce were never Batman.

D: And for him to be happy, and settled, and fulfilled by something other than, you know, fighting crime and being Batman.

A: Actually, one of the moments which really didn’t work for me in this issue was the Superman part, where Alfred pulls kryptonite on Clark to keep him from trying to talk Bruce back into being Batman. Admittedly, I haven’t been reading current Superman comics, so maybe that’s entirely in keeping with his present characterization, but the Clark that I know and love from stories like Superman For All Seasons, or All-Star Superman, is a really compassionate person who I feel would just be really happy that Bruce was happy, and at peace enough to not be Batman.

D: All this, and we still haven’t got to the bad guy.

A: And the bad guy is really damn cool.

D: It’s intense.

A: It might be a little early to call it, but Mr. Bloom seems like he could become a new iconic Batman villain.

D: Full disclosure, I’ve studied sustainable agriculture, so I might be making some leaps that some people wouldn’t, but I think Mr. Bloom plays off some great modern fears about genetically modified organisms, with seeds literally being used as weapons.

A: And I know I knocked Greg Capullo a little earlier, but his character design for Mr. Bloom is . . .

Bloom (art by Greg Capullo, from Batman #43)

Bloom. (Art by Greg Capullo, from Batman #43)

D: It’s fantastic.

A: But now, Catwoman. This arc, like the one previous, is written by Genevieve Valentine, but while the first arc was drawn by Garry Brown, this arc is drawn by David Messina. As with Batman, issue #43 is the third issue of the current arc, and it actually is roughly concurrent to Batman.

D: Because we do meet a certain bearded, plaid-wearing former billionaire in this issue as well.

A: Which is just one of a small parade of awkward cameos. This is not limited just to this issue – it’s been happening throughout this whole arc thus far, and it’s, well, awkward.

D: I actually had to pause while reading to ask you who certain characters were.

A: It isn’t helped by David Messina’s art. He’s by no means bad, but he’s not as skilled as Garry Brown was at clearly delineating his cast of characters. Which is a little problematic in a book that has two characters dressing as Catwoman. It was pretty clear, when Garry Brown was on the book, whether it was Selina or Eiko under the mask – the costumes were different, the characters had different heights, different builds. But in this issue I had some trouble telling them apart, which really dulled the impact of what should’ve been a tremendously dramatic moment, because I was busy wondering, “wait, was that Eiko, or Selina?”

D: Sometimes David Messina’s art reminds me a little of Archer, you know, with the hard outlines? I’ve never seen such a jawline on Selina Kyle before.

“This is how we get ants, Selina!” (Art by David Messina, from Catwoman #43)

A: Ha, true. Catwoman by way of Archer would be hilarious. Honestly, I’m probably being a little unfair, and I think David Messina is at a disadvantage, because Genevieve Valentine’s first arc was just overall incredible, and it was defined so much by Garry Brown’s art. It was the Bat-book I most looked forward to for awhile – it just carried all the makings of an iconic run, a little reminiscent of Gotham Central – very noir-ish, and it seemed, like Gotham Central, like it was going to be a run for the ages.

D: But then it wasn’t.

A: But the first arc was! And maybe it’ll just be a trade paperback for the ages. But unfortunately, a lot of the plot threads started in that first arc weren’t resolved by it’s end, and while some are now starting to see resolution here, others seem to be getting dropped a little awkwardly. What bothers me most about this arc, and this issue, is that Selina Kyle is always inexplicably concerned with finding Batman, which has nothing to do with the intrigue surrounding her operating as the head of the Calabrese crime family, her gang war against the Black Mask, or the machinations of the Penguin, who is pretty much playing everybody against each other. I don’t know why Batman is so important to Selina under these circumstances.

D: It’s actually detrimental to her other relationships and responsibilities, which we see pretty brutally in this issue. It’s very Godfather at times. Speaking as someone who has never seen The Godfather.

A: It is! And I love that Genevieve Valentine has given the book such a distinct voice and tone, and it was much needed: prior to this, Catwoman was an uninteresting, over-sexualized cat burglar, kind of a one-note bad girl or trashy fatale. Genevieve Valentine really elevated the character to something special, and while maybe it will still go down as an iconic take on the character, next to Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke’s run from years back, this second arc is a little bit of a misstep so far.

D: I’m excited to see Killer Croc next issue, though, but I think I just want him to be exactly like Leatherhead in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.

A: Maybe Killer Croc will strike up an adorable friendship with Eiko, like Leatherhead and Mikey?