Saturday, 30 May 2015

Convergence: Detective Comics #2 Review

Title: Convergence: Detective Comics #2
Story: Powers and Responsibilities
Characters: Huntress (Helena Wayne), Robin (Dick Grayson)
Creators: Len Wein (writer), Denys Cowan (artist)
Publication Date: May 2015
Available In: Print Digital

Summary: Having blown up the Batmobile, Helena Wayne was expecting to go up in flame with it (as appears to be characteristic of the Earth-2 Waynes lately), but she actually survives, courtesy of the Red Son Superman. Despite the fact that her 'enemy' just saved her life, Helena still does not feel as though she can trust the Red Son Superman and continues to threaten to kill him even if she gives her last breath doing so.

At this point the Red Superman asks if her world's Superman is so different from himself to the point of thinking that a missile--let alone a crossbow bolt--could even put a dent in his skin. Helena doesn't care that he is stronger and more powerful than she is, she will give her last breath trying if it's the only way she can protect her world of Earth-2 from perishing. At this moment, the Russian Batman intervenes and comes to the rescue of both Dick and Helena, who takes them back to his hideout.

The three heroes make camp inside one of the Russian Batman's hideouts and it is at this time that Huntress tells him about her father, and what he meant to both herself and Dick. The Russian Batman says he feels for their loss, and Huntress then asks him to remove his cowl temporarily to get a glimpse of her father's face one last time. He does so saying that he feels uncomfortable doing this since it isn't a face he sees or recognises anymore. Huntress says she recognises his face, which brings a tear to her eye.

The Russian government choppers are nearby and in hot pursuit of both the Russian Batman and the Earth-2 heroes. The Russian Batman offers to bait himself to the troops so that the Earth-2 heroes can have their chance to escape the city. Before he departs, he gives Dick a mysterious box for him to use when the timing was right. The Red Son Superman looks for the two Earth-2 heroes using his X-Ray vision and successfully locates them.

Out of fear, both Dick and Helena attack the Red Son Superman, though he shows no interest in fighting them, and instead quickly ends the fight with them. At this time, Dick takes out the box the Russian Batman gave him, and inside is a small piece of Kryptonite which hurts the Red Son Superman. The Red Son Superman begs for mercy, but Helena tells Dick not to listen to him since he is 'getting what he deserves.'

Eventually Dick closes the box preferring not to kill him. Helena asks why he did that since they were winning, and he reminds Helena that he was raised by her father and that he knows better than to commit murder. Unfortunately, the rest of Moscow's citizens don't feel the same way and ask their Superman to kill them. He too refuses to kill them and continues to propose that they work together to take on Telos, whom he perceives as their real enemy. At this point, Telos tells the Earth-30 characters that they have defied the rules of the contest and an earthquake is felt. Both Dick and Helena are returned to the Earth-2 Metropolis via the same silver cloud as before and are even more confused about what has happened.

With the domes down, both Dick and Helena travelled across the alien planet to get back to their own Gotham City from Earth-2. In the living room of Wayne Manor, both heroes reflect on the experience they just had and Helena in particular acknowledges the fact that she was acting out of character. The Bat signal comes on in their city, and both quickly change into their costumes. By the time Helena meets Dick in the Batcave, she sees that he has chosen to put on one of her father's Batman costumes, which pleases her. Dick tells her he'll never be the Batman her father ever was, but that he can still be the symbol he represented. Together in the Batmobile, both heroes go off to presumably fight in the final battle taking place in Convergence #8.

Review: If not for the weak writing in this comic, this could've honestly been an amazing second issue since it did have some interesting developments going for it. Helena Wayne interacting with an alternate version of her father and Dick Grayson ultimately deciding to put on his mentor's costume were the highest points of the issue that were sorely lacking in proper build-up.

Starting with the development I took the most issue with in this comic, Helena Wayne's out-of-character behaviour really sucked me out of the story very early on, which helped to diminish some of the emotional impact of her more dramatic scenes later on in the story. The interesting thing is that writer Len Wein himself acknowledged through the character's own voice that she was being characterised in ways that were completely out of character for her. The question I was left with was 'why did it happen in the first place?'

I completely understand from a writing perspective that you need to create tension and conflict in a narrative of this magnitude where two cities are being challenged to fight to the death until one is left standing. It's one of those narratives that follows a similar concept to The Hunger Games where a whole population's survival hinges on their champions succeeding in a death match. Under those extreme circumstances, it does make sense that people will be scared and snap. It's a very basic and very natural reaction to have as a living thing. However, it also does matter who does the snapping in these narratives, and this is one area where Wein could've definitely put more thought into execution.

Even taking into account that Joey Cavalieri (the last writer to write the Huntress' last adventures prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths) interpreted Helena Wayne as a dark, psychologically-driven heroine, even he kept some things constant about the character from the previous Paul Levitz run. While Levitz' original interpretation of Helena was that of a confident young woman who was passionate about justice, was driven by a desire to do good in her community, and actually smiled in the company of others, Cavalieri's interpretation was that of a woman who was easily angered by injustice, was driven by a desire to punish those who harmed others, and was more withdrawn and less engaging with others. Yet, between both interpretations, Helena was consistently characterised as intelligent, meticulous, and composed in most situations.

When there is a problem, Helena Wayne is the type to assess the situation, investigate, and develop a logical solution. As I said before, she was never the type to snap without real provocation and rarely threatened death. She also knows better than to think any Superman could be easily killed with weapons designed to kill a human, and impulsivity is not a word I associate with her character. In fact, if a writer managed to write Helena Wayne as a more impulsive character than Power Girl in the same death match, they did something wrong. In this story, that is exactly what happened: all that we know of the calm and collected pre-Crisis Helena Wayne was completely thrown out the window in order to move the conflict of the story forward, effectively making the Dark Knight Daughter look like the biggest damn idiot Earth-2 had to offer, which did her no favours.

On the subject of idiots, the Earth-2 Dick Grayson wasn't made to look any better, being characterised as this cowardly guy in spandex who switches sides easily in order to stay in the good graces of his enemy. I'm pretty sure that's not the man the Earth-2 Bruce Wayne raised since I recall him being a lot better than this in the pre-Crisis Earth-2 comics, even when he was conflicted about a given situation. When both Dick and Helena fight the Red Son Superman later on in the issue, they're both made to look like amateurs on the page, and even outright villainous with how very willing they were to kill the Red Son Superman with Kryptonite, even when he asked for mercy. Basically, they didn't show him the same compassion he's been showing them, especially after Helena's repeated attacks on him. Despite being the heroes of this story, Dick and Helena honestly come off as the antagonists instead, with the Red Son Superman possessing the more heroic qualities that these two characters are supposed to have.

I really wish I understood Wein's logic when he wrote these characters for Convergence because it really does feel as though he reversed the roles of the heroes and villains in this story. I guess he was trying to convey the message that Dick and Helena were both scared, but the idea was terribly executed on the page, and in ways that made no sense for these versions of the characters. They just came off as thickheaded and even outright cruel, especially Helena. It was a very 'WTF' handling of her character, right up there with Daniel Wilson characterising the modern version of her as a villain who is willing to commit mass genocide of the life on the planet she colonised to replace it with the life she knows in the preview for Earth-2: Society. (Ironically, the same planet the pre-Crisis Helena Wayne is on for this story. Maybe there's something about this planet that turns every version of Helena Wayne evil? It's the only 'logical' in-story explanation that makes sense to me right now aside from bad writing.)

When things did actually slow down and the characters interacted with the Russian version of Bruce Wayne (who is also Batman in this universe), this was a moment that had a lot of potential for emotional impact for both Dick and Helena. The buildup leading up to this moment, however, was never properly established. At best, it was known in issue #1 that Dick was still feeling the loss of his mentor, but Helena's own feelings weren't really explored in depth. She spent more time trying to convince Dick to become Batman than she spent time addressing her own issues. The most she did on this front was claim that she had 'overcome her demons,' but there were never any real hints of the contrary in her behaviour. She was just being an arsehole most of the time.

By the time Helena got to see the face of her 'father' one last time, it's not really understood why this caused her to become tearful, not even from the perspective of someone who knows this character's history as thoroughly as I do. To begin with, the Earth-2 Bruce Wayne originally died in 1979, just three years after Helena became the Huntress to avenge her mother's death. The death of her father hit her really hard then to the point of avoiding her father's Earth-1 counterpart during the annual Justice League and Justice Society meet-up.

Ultimately, Helena found solace in her familial relationship with the Earth-1 Bruce, whom she visited again during Christmas of 1982, which made her feel as though she had her father back in some way. At least it helped her come to terms with the loss of her own father better. When she revisited her father's death again in 1984 during the events of America vs the Justice Society, it was to defend the Justice Society (who were her friends) from her father's last words in a diary he fabricated in a plot to capture the villain Per Degaton.

While I don't think it's out of character for Helena to still be mourning the loss of her father even 4-5 years after his death--and I also felt this scene was one of the best moments in the issue--I do think it's a bit odd to characterise her as though she just recently lost her father when previous continuity already established that she was a bit more at peace with this death by this point in her narrative. If anything, I felt it would've made more sense for Dick to be more emotionally affected by this encounter with the Russian Bruce since, unlike Helena, he still hadn't come to terms with the loss of Bruce, whom he has a very deep-rooted respect for. Even by this point in the character's history--within the established pre-Crisis continuity--Dick was still mourning the loss of Bruce in his own quiet way, and this was most evident in America vs the Justice Society. It was a big part of the reason he took Bruce's side in that story, much to Helena's surprise. Had Wein characterised Dick as coming to terms with the loss of Bruce with his encounter with the Russian version of him, it would've made the ending scene where he decides to put on Bruce's costume that much more significant in my opinion.

Other things that could've been done better in this story aside from better characterisation: definitely better build-up of the more emotional aspects the story, and more logical plot development. Since the people of Moscow were already apprehensive about being invaded by aliens due to the lie their Superman told them earlier, plus Telos' announcement, it would've made more sense--in my opinion--to write the Moscow people as attacking first with the arrival of Dick and Helena to their city. They are definitely considered foreign entities from their point of view, and with them already thinking of an impending alien invasion, the premise provided an excellent opportunity to kick off the battle with the Earth-2 heroes. Rather than writing Dick and Helena completely out of character, it would've made more sense for them to try to reason with the Moscow people, and let them know they weren't their enemies, even if it wouldn't have worked. Seeing a brawl between the people of Moscow and the 'invading' Earth-2 heroes would've created a more logical basis for the Red Son Superman to intervene.

Another story arc that could've been developed better were the emotional arcs of Dick and Helena themselves. Instead of retconning the earlier establishment of Helena dissuading Dick from putting on her father's costume in Adventures Comics #462, why not have her reconsider her position when Dick's mourning becomes more and more apparent? Instead of writing her as pressuring Dick into wearing her father's costume, why not write her as letting Dick know she's aware of his mourning and have them discuss what he really wants? Revisit the earlier conversation they had at Bruce's funeral about him wanting to take over as Batman and Dick's need for closure? I think this coupled with them meeting the Russian Batman would've provided a stronger lead-up to him eventually putting on Bruce's Batman costume at the end of this issue.

I could address the other problems with this issue in terms of consistency like why the Russian Batman found his world's Superman threatening when he never was throughout this story, or what the final fate of Moscow was, or why the Earth-2 heroes were the only ones spared by Telos. I could also address how the Earth-2 Gotham City ended up on Telos, but honestly? I think I've said enough already. Not to mention, the story inconsistencies were the least of my problems considering the other major stuff that happened in this story that I spent thirteen paragraphs addressing. At this time, I have no energy left to nitpick the little stuff. On the art front, that's still the only thing I 100% enjoyed about this comic. I really like Denys Cowan's art style and the colours by Felix Serrano really helped to bring his pencils to life. I honestly feel like drawing now after revisiting this issue.

As for whether or not this issue is worth picking up? Honestly, that's your call. I still think there are far better pre-Crisis Helena Wayne comics I can recommend, but I will say this comic did at least end on the more positive note that we may see these versions of the Earth-2 characters again. Considering where the current Earth-2 is right now, it looks like buying the Convergence tie-ins is our one chance of letting DC know we want the real Earth-2 back and for these characters to be given better editors and writers who are not the ones behind Earth-2: Society and Earth-2: World's End. I am, of course, the first to say the Detective Comics Earth-2 tie-ins have serious problems with characterisation for most of its duration, but if there is a small chance we can get these versions of Dick and Helena back (preferably with their more classic characterisations), I am taking that chance! Twice. In fact I did.

★★★☆☆

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