Thursday, 30 April 2015

Convergence: Detective Comics #1 Review

Title: Convergence: Detective Comics #1
Story: Powers and Responsibilities
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne), Robin (Dick Grayson)
Creators: Len Wein (writer), Denys Cowan (artist)
Publication Date: April 2015
Available In: Print | Digital

Summary: It is spring on Earth-30's Moscow, and the day is National Superman Day. Just as the Red Son Superman flies around town, greeting all who see him out on the street, a dome falls upon their city, and he is suddenly powerless.

On Earth-2, 1985, Dick Grayson and Helena Wayne are on their way to Metropolis from Gotham for an emergency Justice Society meeting. She asks why they didn't just take the Batplane as they would've gotten there a lot sooner. Dick responds it was too risky with the skies as red as they were and not knowing what could happen to them at that altitude. Helena is similarly not sure why they were summoned to Metropolis instead of the actual Justice Society headquarters in New York, finding the whole thing unusual. Dick theorises Superman may have probably found a way to eliminate the red skies, but Huntress dismisses the theory on the grounds that people are as disconcerted in Metropolis as they are in Gotham. Just as they arrive at the Metropolis branch of the Justice Society headquarters, a dome falls over the city, trapping everyone inside.

Back in Earth-30's Moscow, people start losing their blind faith in the Red Son Superman, and have been since the dome came down upon their city. The Red Son Superman does a motorcade with a man named Pyotr and notices that the people are no longer convinced Moscow is as strong as before. He tells Pyotr they need to do something to reassure the people of Moscow that nothing has changed, beginning with finding a way to exit the dome.

In Earth-2's Metropolis, Helena Wayne and Dick Grayson have taken refuge in the Metropolis branch of the Wayne foundation. They both discuss the fact that her father was always prepared for the future, having even built emergency Batcaves under every branch he had in the country. Just as they have this discussion, Helena's watch goes off with an emergency alert, summoning them to respond to an emergency. Both Dick and Helena race to the emergency Batcave to suit up.

Dick puts on his Bat-Robin hybrid costume, prompting Helena to berate his poor fashion sense. She then suggests that he put on one of her father's Batman costumes and carry on a legacy she knows her father would've wanted him to carry. Dick refuses the offer, reiterating that he already made his decision a long time ago, and that he won't change it anytime soon. He also tells her that if it really matters all that much to her that she should put on her father's costume herself. She too refuses on the grounds that becoming another Batwoman does not appeal to her. They both exist the Batcave in the Batmobile.

Back in Moscow, Red Son Superman offers an explanation for the dome, making up the cover story that the dome was his idea to protect the people of Moscow from an impending alien invasion. He also says he will take the dome down once he's certain the threat has passed. Pyotr then raises him up on a rope to give the people of Moscow the illusion that their comrade has never lost his powers, hoping to prevent a revolt.

In Metropolis, Huntress and Robin respond to the emergency they were summoned to, and the threat turns out to be nothing more than the Toyman rampaging through the streets of Metropolis. Huntress wonders what the hell he's thinking stealing from the only city he's stuck in since he won't be able to spend any of the stolen goods outside of it. Huntress decides he's not worth her time and quickly takes down the Toyman with the help of Robin. They soon arrest him and take him into police custody.

In Moscow, Red Son Superman walks amongst his people as a commoner, but is soon recognised by the people who want him to provide food, shelter, and electricity for them. Just as they approach him, Telos comes online and announces his existence to his domed citizens, and tells them about the death match he is holding once the domes come down. The people of Moscow then become aware of Superman's lie to them, but Superman doesn't worry all that much since he regains his powers just as the dome comes down.

In Metropolis, Dick comments to Helena that things have been quiet for quite some time and she asks him if he's given any thought to what they've discussed. He reiterates that his decision isn't going to change. Helena says that she has made peace with her demons, and that Dick should make peace with his as well. He tells her not to hold her breath and walks away from her. The Justice Society's emergency alert comes on again, only this time it is to hear 'the talking dome' announce the death match they are to participate in with the Earth-30 Moscow.

Dick and Helena suit-up and go for a ride in the Batmobile. As soon as they exit the Batcave, however, they find themselves not in Metropolis, but on Earth-30's Russia where they meet the Red Son Superman. Helena accurately assesses that they've been transported from one city to the one they are to fight in. The Red Son Superman asks that Huntress and Robin exit their vehicle and that he won't ask twice. Helena also accurately assesses this is the champion she and Robin are supposed to fight. She tells the Red Son Superman that she is not anxious to fight him, but if it's a fight to the death, she will do whatever it takes to protect her world. With that, she launches two missiles from the Batmobile at the Red Son Superman.

Dick is shocked by Helena's eagerness to kill and that she may have compromised any chances of dealing with the problem in a non-violent manner. Helena rationalises that if the fate of their planet is at stake, even her father would have been willing to make an exception. The Red Son Superman tells Helena her actions were uncalled for and that he was hoping they could all work together in dealing with a mutual problem, in this case Telos. Dick apologises for Helena citing that she could be a little impulsive. He agrees with the Red Son Superman to deal with the problem in a more civilised manner, but Helena thinks Dick is crazy to trust him right away.

Dick gets out of the car to negotiate with the Red Son Superman, but Helena decides not to follow suit. Instead, she gets behind the wheel of the Batmobile and takes off. The Red Son Superman flies after her, but Dick tells him not to hurt her. Helena tells herself she needs some distance in order to come up with a plan to take down the big guy. The Red Son Superman catches up with her and lifts the Batmobile off the road. Deciding not to take any chances, Helena detonates a bomb in the Batmobile, presumably blowing herself up, along with the Red Son Superman.

Review: I originally had Justice Society of America scheduled for today, but I had TOO MUCH to say about this week's issue of Detective Comics, I had to review this one first just to pour all my thoughts out of my head. This literally couldn't wait. And trust me....this is a very long discussion.

This was an issue I desperately wanted to like, in part because it featured the more established pre-Crisis Helena Wayne, in part because it had the better developed version of the Earth-2 Dick Grayson, and in part because I've been consistently letdown by DC's ill treatment of the Earth-2 franchise in general with the New 52. While this first issue of Detective Comics for Convergence had a decent start, it ended on a very sour level of 'WTF?!?!?!' right up there with Superman crashing a spaceship full of unborn Kryptonian babies in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel film. It's especially right up there with Lois Lane outing Superman as Clark Kent in this Saturday's upcoming FCBD issue of Divergence. The 'WTF!' moment that happens at the very end of this issue is so staunchly out of character for the pre-Crisis Helena Wayne, it legitimately surprised me it even saw the page. But before we get to THAT elephant in the room, let's first talk about what I did like about this issue.

Right off the bat, I liked that Helena Wayne was reunited with the Earth-2 Dick Grayson for this story. Aside from Helena's team-ups with Power Girl pre-Crisis, her team-ups with Dick Grayson were among some of my favourites. While writers in the past have teased these versions of Dick and Helena as being romantically interested in one another (despite being raised by the same man--Bruce Wayne), writer Len Wein avoids crossing that bridge for this story. Instead of presenting Dick and Helena as lovers like Kara and Andrew Vinson for this week's Action Comics, they're written more like siblings, which is actually right for these two characters.

I also liked the fact that we see Dick and Helena driving the Batmobile in this story, which is something that never actually happened pre-Crisis. At best, it was implied that the post-Crisis version of the Earth-2 Helena Wayne drove the Batmobile during some of her missions as the Huntress (in JSA Annual #1), but we've never actually seen her do so on panel. So Dick and Helena inside the Batmobile was really cool to see.

Another thing I enjoyed about this issue was Denys Cowan's art. It definitely has a very grungy look that could easily pass this for a 1990s comic, but it doesn't make it feel dated. I really enjoyed the use of colour throughout this issue, blending warm and cool colours in such a way that conveys a feeling of grim and bleakness, but doesn't come off as dark and hopeless. I especially loved the way Cowan drew Dick and Helena out of costume, and I felt he had a great handle on both characters.

Cowan's Helena Wayne is presented with attitude, which is right for the pre-Crisis version of the character (and pretty much every version of her). I especially dug her wearing bell-bottoms, even though they were very much out of style by 1985, and didn't make a comeback until the late 1990s. His Dick Grayson looked a bit too young for a man in his early 50s (he looked like he was about 30 here), but I nonetheless liked seeing him drawn as a mature adult male. It was definitely a nice departure from the boyish look the mainstream version is often given, and helped convey a sense of time. Regrettably, this is where all of the positives end for me.

One of the first things that really stood out to me about this first issue was how very off the mark the characterisations were for these versions of Dick and Helena. It was in fact weird coming from Len Wein because he edited many pre-Crisis Earth-2 comics during the Bronze Age, and like Huntress co-creator Paul Levitz, he should know better. For anyone familiar with the pre-Crisis versions of Dick and Helena, these two characters actually conversed like adults during their original publication. Even when they fought and argued with one another (which did happen in America vs the Justice Society), they still did so like mature adults.

In this issue, they're both kind of whiny and bicker like two children. It felt really strange for a man in his early 50s and a woman who is pushing 30 by this point in her life. It especially didn't help that much of their dialogue throughout this issue was really uninspired. Additionally, this pre-Crisis Helena Wayne is one hell of colossal jerk throughout this story, she honestly reads more like her New 52 counterpart than the Classic character I know. It was really odd.

Another major thing that stood out to me about this first issue is that it does some major retconning of significant events that happened during this era of comics, beginning with the complete reversal of Dick and Helena's positions on having a new Batman. In Adventure Comics #462 (on sale this week, by the way!), at Bruce Wayne's funeral, it was actually Dick Grayson (not Helena) who thought about taking on the mantle of her late father. It was also Helena (not Dick) who talked him out of doing so, uttering one of her most famous lines in comic book history:

There was only one man who could be Batman, Dick, and [he] is dead. We can carry on his work--you as Robin, me as the Huntress--but the Batman is dead. Only legends live forever...not the men who make them.

This was a very important line in that story because it established right then and there that a new generation Batman was not necessary for carrying on the legacy of Bruce Wayne--a point that editors and creators alike missed with the New 52 version of Earth-2. It was also an important line because in many ways, it confirmed that a new Batman was never needed for legacy characters like Dick Grayson and Helena Wayne to be successful heirs. They were, in fact, very popular with readers in the late 1970s and early 1980s as they were: Huntress and Robin.

Within the context of this continuity, it makes absolutely no sense for Helena to pressure Dick into putting on her father's costume. It's not only a regressive development, but it spectacularly misses the point of her original statement that Batman is meant to be a legend, not a torch that gets passed. If this was Helena asking Dick to put on her father's costume because his amalgam Bat-Robin costume looks bloody awful, that's one thing. But pressuring Dick into putting on her father's costume because that's what her father would've wanted, and because 'the world needs a Batman' feels really off given the previous establishment.

On the subject of costumes, another major retcon is that Dick was no longer wearing his Bat-Robin hybrid costume by the time Crisis on Infinite Earths took place, and this story is set within that timeframe. He didn't even wear it during the times he fought alongside Helena with both the Justice Society and on solo missions. He was actually--by this time--wearing an adult version of the Robin costume he wore as an 8-year-old, which I have to be honest, looks even worse on a grown man in his 50s than the Bat-Robin costume. Helena kind of broke the fourth wall by acknowledging something fans have uttered for years when she criticised how stupid the Bat-Robin costume looks. But if I'm honest, it's really not the worse thing he's worn, and it won't be if the Batman costume his New 52 counterpart is wearing for Earth-2: Society in June is actually a thing.

All of that said and done, however, the problems I noted above are minor annoyances compared to the major thing that really sucked me out of the story and ruined the remainder of the issue for me, and that was the ending. Before I discuss in detail everything that's wrong with Helena's actions in this chapter's finale, let's first get a few things straight:

Yes, this version of Helena Wayne is supposed to be the pre-Crisis original. It also means that her father is the original Golden Age Batman who started off killing criminals very early on, before ceasing the behaviour once he took in Dick Grayson as his ward. On that front, Helena is right that her father is the type to make exceptions if it's a life and death situation. It is also known that this version of Helena Wayne was pretty morally grey when it came to criminal deaths.

On the one hand, the pre-Crisis Helena Wayne wouldn't actively kill a criminal if she didn't have to, preferring to throw his arse in jail. She would even try to save a criminal's life if she could. On the other hand, she was also not beyond killing in an extreme enough situation where an innocent life was genuinely threatened. This was actually the theme of the story 'By the Dusk's Dying Light' in Wonder Woman #294, where she legitimately threatened to kill a henchman of Edgar Stenville (The Crime Lord) if Alfred died from whatever he was poisoned with. In another Helena Wayne story written by Joey Cavalieri, she even let a man die in an explosion when she had to make the decision to save herself, or die along with him. In this case, she chose the former, rationalising on the way out 'I'm not sure I would have wanted to save him, even if I could.'

The point I'm trying to make is Helena Wayne being written as willing to kill isn't the problem. It's already been established with the pre-Crisis version alone that she will contemplate crossing the line as a last ditch resort. What I did take issue with was how this same idea was conveyed in this story in ways that both made her look stupid and wholly contradicted the character's previous developments.

To start with, this version of Helena has known three different versions of Superman throughout her lifetime: her's best friend's cousin, the Earth-2 Superman, the Earth-1 Superman from the Justice League, and Ultraman, the evil Superman of Earth-3. She knows by now that Superman can't be killed with two missiles because his body is too strong to be damaged by them. She would therefore never think of trying to blow him up with man-made weapons designed to kill humans.

Second, if she sees that a potential foe is willing to talk things out and workout a plan, she would actually go along with that. Her first impulse is never 'kill them before they kill you.' Not even her father--the Golden Age Batman--did that, and having Helena follow that line of thought is just not in character for this version. As I stated earlier, she only considers killing as a last ditch resort in an extreme life and death situation. In other words, she would never strike first.

Third, what exactly was Wein trying to accomplish by having Helena drive off in the Batmobile while Dick was attempting to negotiate with the Red Son Superman, coming off as potentially threatening to the Red Son Superman and the people of Moscow? The circumstances leading her to do so happened without reason. Writing her as too paranoid to trust an alternate Communist Superman is not Helena Wayne at all. She just came off as a madwoman who did things without real incentive, and fell in line with the sexist stereotype that 'women are irrational.' This last scene especially took the whole cake in character assassination when she seemingly (and inexplicably) blew herself up at the end when Red Son Superman caught up to her. Because that's something the pre-Crisis Helena Wayne would've done. (Not).

On the whole, this first issue of Detective Comics for Convergence came with a lot of promise, but was not very well thought out in the execution. It has its moments where the characters shine, but those are far and few in between. For the most part, Wein really misses the mark on the front of characterisation, moreso with Helena than with Dick. It's a great issue to check out if you like Denys Cowan's art, but as an introduction to the pre-Crisis Helena Wayne? I can recommend far better stories.

Since I already got sidetracked with this review, I think I'll pick up tomorrow with Action Comics by Justin Gray and Claude St-Aubin.

★★★☆☆

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