Welcome to week 3 of Comic POW! To find out the genesis of this site, check out the About page link above. What you need to know now is that the following is rife with spoilers.
Eric: Alright, ready to battle?
Dan: My kung fu will destroy yours
Eric: So this week I decided to choose Batgirl #3 which was actually a surprise contender to me. The week before the issue was out I was telling you about how I wasn’t sure about Batgirl. As you know, hype can be a double-edged sword. All the hype about Gail Simone piqued my interest in the book, but it also lead to disappointment when issues #1 and #2 weren’t the greatest thing ever.
Dan: I was surprised at your choice too considering I find Batwoman to be the better of the XX-Bat-Books
Eric: It was a tough choice for me this week, actually. Batman and Robin #3 was also a surprise contender. It had a lot of great metaphorical writing and I encourage people to check it out. My other top choices, Penguin: Pain and Prejudice and Uncanny X-Force, were way too dependent upon the previous issues. And, in the case of Uncanny X-Force, that’s a good six, dense books. Well, quick background on Batgirl in the new 52: The events of The Killing Joke, in which Joker shot and paralyzed Barbara Gordon took place three years ago.
Dan: And now she’s walking around. That’s pretty much about it
Eric: Yup, we don’t know why or how – other than it was apparently a miraculous medical procedure
Dan: Do we even know if it was a medical procedure?
Eric: Well, they mention doctors a lot in this book. I guess it could have just healed Wolverine-style. And we don’t know if she was still Oracle. (Most of the Batman books kept their pre-new 52 continuity) But I’m with your position on this one – not only is it a new writer, but it’s a new universe so that doesn’t really matter. Although if I can backtrack on that a little bit, I think it matters in the sense that we don’t know if she’s been into crimefighting all this time or just getting back into it. But that’s irrelevant to the current story arc
Dan: And certainly irrelevant to me
Eric: Now her villain in this arc is someone who’s killing people who have miraculously survived where everyone else (or ordinary people would have) died. You aren’t particularly sympathetic to his origin story
Dan: Well it’s a little done, is all. My family died! I saw it and lived! Survivor’s guilt! Boo hoo! MURDER!
Eric: And, when it was revealed last issue, I completely agreed with you that it seemed a bit hackish
Dan: It’s a good contrast to Batman, maybe, but it’s still hackish
Eric: However, it seems to really work well with what is emerging as the theme to this first arc: miracles. This man resents the miracle of his survival. Babs, as we’ll see in this issue, seems to be taking hers for granted. Or at least that seems to be everyone’s concern Especially those who know what she’s up to as Batgirl
Dan: It could also be interpreted as her taking full advantage of what she’s recovered. Where Mirror’s survivor’s guilt drives him to irrationally try to kill versions of himself over and over, Batgirl’s survivor’s guilt prevents her from taking comfort in what she’s recovered. She feels guilty if she’s not out there doing what she can to take advantage of this miracle
Eric: Indeed. One last little thing to mention for readers who haven’t been following along with Batgirl – Mirror’s attacks are related to the miraculous recovery – he drowns a man who survived a capsized ship and so on.
Dan: It’s just one of those rules that all these psychopaths have to keep them from being random and chaotic. Like the contrast between the Brisby Killers and Mirror in the first book. Consequently I thought the Brisby Killers made way more interesting villains than Mirror
Eric: I agree with you. But it seems that only the psychos tend to live to fight another day in the Batman U. So, getting into the book itself: Gail starts off with a poetic technique that I really enjoy and that really worked well in Cloak and Dagger, as you mentioned a few weeks ago and that is: narrative repetition. Particularly in this first scene with “How quickly our self-regard shifts, huh?”
Dan: She does it with two different lines in two different thirds of the book. It actually made this book feel less cohesive across its parts to me, but I did appreciate it in the isolation of both parts
Eric: I’ll agree with you that this will read better in trade, because the book does actually pause for some important character growth, but we’ll get back to that in a second. What I love on this great two-page spread on pages 2 and 3 is the nice touch with the graffiti on the front of the train. Especially “For a good time call the Red Hood”
Dan: I thought that was pretty funny too. Brings up a good point too in that the art in this book is not half bad. I definitely dug the kinetic and frantic nature of it. She cleverly figures out that Mirror won’t kill the guy if she’s there because she’s supposed to die by falling, but then Mirror pulls a real dick move and kills the dude who saved that guy.
Eric: I thought that was awesomely clever of her. And she is supposed to be a very bright character. I don’t know if she matches Bruce, but she’s definitely supposed to be the brains of the Bat-family.
Dan: It’s why there’s a line later about her crushing on scientists. It actually took me a little while to realize, “Oh … because she’s smart? Is that why?”
Eric: I loved that when she found the guy and asked “Do you trust me?” the Guy replies “Not really?” It really drives home the point that Batgirl is relatively unknown to the city.
Dan: There was a nice bit of humor there until Mirror murdered a whole train full of people. Buzzkill
Eric: Definitely! And then we get the repeat of “how quickly our self-regard shifts” Another big theme of this arc is Batgirl thinking she’s hot stuff and then being lowered a peg. She used to run with the big boys and now she wants to be there right away.It was this moment when I realized that she could actually fail that this book really stood out to me.
Dan: I do appreciate when one of the Big Two lets a cape be less than stellar. It ups the ante
Eric: Yeah, it says a lot when they can make you think, even for a second, that the title character isn’t going to make it
Dan: Our main point so far is that Batgirl isn’t quite where she used to be and her overconfidence is starting to get in the way. This frustration is no doubt important to understanding where her mental state is during this book so it doesn’t seem random
Eric: The next scene has one of the most hated cops in the new 52. The cop who saw Batgirl freeze up in the hospital and who everyone thinks is being a bit of a jerk about it
Dan: She’s, surprise surprise, developed some kind of vendetta against Batgirl for not preventing her partner’s death. She’s also randomly attracted to Gordon. Does anyone really care on that point?
Eric: Yeah, it was a bit of weird dialog although I was wondering why she has 3 computers. I found that excessively odd because I know it’s weird that I have two computers and I’m a major computer geek. I know it’s not really plot relevant, but it just seemed very odd to me
Dan: GCPD officers are serious about computing
Eric: Apparently so! The next scene is about Barbara and her guilt at keeping her Batgirl activities secret from him. I know this was a major source of tension in Batman the Animated Series and I assume the same was true in the comics but I wasn’t into DC comics when she was still Batgirl.
Dan: An interesting point to keep in mind for later on is that Gordon and her therapist are two more in a long line of men who seem to be trying to tell Babs what she can or can’t do
Eric: That is true, although I somewhat discounted that because Gordon’s her dad and it’s his job. And the therapist probably doesn’t want to be sued. Whereas the person she confronts later has no such compulsions. However, I do concede that the mind isn’t often that rational and will just think of it as everyone telling her what to do
Dan: Just because there are reasons why these men might be telling her what she should do, they, Mirror, and the other two at the end, they’re all trying to control her and Babs does not seem like the type who appreciates being told what to do
Eric: That’s very true. And, getting back to the thing about Gordon knowing or not knowing in the past. It REALLY ups the ante now. Because not only his his little girl out there doing this stuff, her behaviour could put her back in a wheelchair.
Dan: I’m of a mind that he knows based on the look on his face in issue #1.
Eric: I guess we’ll see where it goes as to whether you’re right. But, after reading this scene, it made me think back from issue 1 to now she’s being extra reckless if she knows the doctors told her she could relapse. Every bit of action seems to involve her kicking someone or something. Even in this issue, kicking the window open on the subway train.
Dan: If you were wracked with survivor’s guilt and felt like great power comes with great responsibility wouldn’t you be out there regardless of how dangerous it is? It just makes sense to spend three years in a chair. Miraculously regain ability to walk. Never take it for granted
Eric: Well, I certainly understand that part of the motivation. But I read it a little different after Dick’s remarks – which we’ll get to in a few pages. So Babs goes to get her motorcycle from the police impound.Strangely, the few posters that have art on them on the wall of the impound are @ signs.
Dan: I didn’t even notice the background signs. Maybe that will be important later maybe not
Eric: So Dick Grayson as Nightwing makes his appearance in this issue and they have a bit of a chat before she breaks out. Did you buy her knowing that she was being tailed?
Dan: Yeah. Don’t see why I shouldn’t considering that Gail likes to lay every thought bare. I’m sure we’d know if she were lying
Eric: It’s mostly inconsequential, but I wasn’t sure if she needed to look tough to Dick. They used to all work together and I’m sure that in addition to the romantic tension there was also some competition to impress Daddy (Batman, in this case)
Dan: If it was a lie, it would serve the same flirtatious purpose as it and the rest of their dialogue in this part of the book already does. It’s inconsequential
Eric: As they rode across town, it was great that her ribs had been bruised or broken in the previous issue because it really brings home the emotional tension she’s feeling with Dick’s arms wrapped around her. She’s happy because of their past (which is about to be revealed) but it’s also painful.
Dan: Poor Nightwing… that is not the cool place to be on the bike
Eric: Haha, it’s OK – he can kick anyone’s butt if they make fun of him.
Dan: Doesn’t matter. Even if he kicked my ass I still can’t help but laugh at him
Eric: Meanie! So, here’s something you didn’t know because you don’t read Nightwing. (Although, you might know it from reading my reviews on ComicVine) When he mentions that Haly’s Circus is back in town, it puts this interaction in an interesting place because depending on whether this takes place before or after issue #2, he’s about to get some (or already did) mile high love from another redhead. And, maybe that’s part of his character new 52, but I never saw him as the playboy type – that’s more of Bruce’s thing.
Dan: Is he a playboy for that? He doesn’t do anything with Babs. I’m sure she lost respect for him too for riding on back of that motorcycle
Eric: That’s true, maybe things are a bit one-sided here.
Dan: You know Batman more than I do. Did he break up with her when she was crippled? Because then Dick is kind of, well … a dick
Eric: Haha! No, basically what happened is that he proposed and she said ‘no’ because she didn’t see him as wanting to root himself in Gotham yet. When she was finally ready for him, he was with Starfire and we all know how SHE is 😉 Anyway, Dick mentions the line I was talking about before “Do you want to be back in the wheelchair?” Which was what made me start thinking about the survivor’s guilt and how she has been extra reckless considering what the doctors have told her. Although I do respect your take on it – that she’s so happy to be able to walk that she MUST use it to combat evil
Dan: Beyond that, I mean, when my roommate was sick she refused to pull back on her hyper busy schedule until she just couldn’t handle it anymore. I’m pretty sure she got back to it before she was ready too. Driven people don’t like to be held back when they feel ready
Eric: That’s a great point. So to prove her point to him they play a game of tag which brings up the second repeated line about them flirting by chasing each other over the rooftops of Gotham and segues into a flashback.
Dan: Highlighting, once again, Barbara’s inability to tolerate being babied or doted on. She was reckless even before the accident and her personality seems to be a slightly tempered version of that. At the end of their game she even starts to lash out against Dick as an outlet for everyone, villains and loved ones alike, trying to tell her that she’s not ready
Eric: Yeah, it’s a great super hero version of lashing out at the ones we love. Also around these pages I really appreciated the fact that Gail was writing Batgirl. While I’m a guy, so I’m an imperfect judge of this, it really felt like a huge contrast to other females I’ve read. Babs sounds like a girl, not a guy with breasts and I think it really adds to the book
Dan: A breath of fresh air when it comes to the Big Two. It’s one of my pet peeves when I see women written as men
Eric: And she finally, brutally convinces Dick to leave her alone. And so as the book ends, she’s alone – have alienated everyone who cares about her – directly as with Dick or indirectly by disobeying her father. To me it almost reads as her trying so hard to show she can roll with the boys that she’s pushed away those that can be there when she needs backup
Dan: It’s kind of insulting for Dick to be so patronizing, if you think about it. They were contemporaries. Having Batman or Gordon baby her is one thing, but I’m sure she takes it harder because it’s Dick
Eric: I definitely get where she’s coming from – especially as he’s just the last of a string of people telling her what to do. But no one’s telling her she can’t do it. They’re just telling her she needs to work her way up.
Dan: Sounds a lot like saying she’s not ready to handle it
Eric: In a way, while I understand the drive you were talking about – she comes off as childish – like someone who wants to be able to just go out and surf without taking lessons
Dan: The thing is: she does know what she’s doing
Eric: Yeah, she knows what she’s doing. That’s obvious, but you can’t know yourself to stronger muscles. You have to work at that. I think that’s what the Batguys see. Not that she’s incapable mentally, but that muscles take time to grow and tune
Dan: They’re not the villains and she recognizes that she’s pushing away people who love her, but I still stand by the fact that it’s patronizing and insulting and they’re pushing too hard against someone who, according to flashbacks, doesn’t handle that kind of treatment well
Eric: That’s true. So that’s Batgirl. Let’s move on to your selection
Dan: Ultimate Spider-Man!
Eric: So, I haven’t read any Ultimate Spider-Man. What do I need to know about 1 k Morales before I read this issue?
Dan: He has spider powers and he lacks confidence. While he’s good-hearted, his father’s distaste toward mutants has scared him away from using his powers.
Eric: Alright. I’ll go read that issue and we’ll be back for some more POW!
Eric: OK, I’m back. Interesting issue. I’d heard there was something special about when Miles’ story took place and they weren’t kidding
Dan: Yeah, I chose this issue because I wanted to examine how you do a Spider-Man origin story in a post-Spider-Man world. How do you motivate someone to do good like Peter without mirroring the Uncle Ben situation?
Eric: Interestingly, both your issue and mine involve guilt. Then again, it is a powerful motivating force
Dan: It’s about as stock as superhero motivations go. Batman, Spider-Man, etc. The book starts out during the last arc of the old Ultimate Spider-Man. Spider-Man was shot and dealing with a Sinister Six type situation as his rogues gallery gathered outside his home in Queens. Upon hearing that Peter got shot, Miles feels like he has to investigate and heads over to Queens to see what’s going on.
Eric: And we see part of how Pete saves the day
Dan: And how he dies. Peter’s death fulfilled his guilt toward never saving Uncle Ben. He managed to save Aunt May and then he dies in the arms of MJ and Aunt May while Gwen Stacy stands out near the periphery. This issue made me want to look at USM back issues to see if Miles really was in the crowd. I haven’t investigated yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised
Eric: To me this was both tragic and heartwarming
Dan: I feel like the main point of this sequence was to show Miles that Spider-Man was just a boy like him.
Eric: Yeah, that’s the point of having it in this issue, for sure. But I think it really was the perfecet way to Spidey to die
Dan: Yeah, sure. I really liked it back in USM #160, even if it was kind of silly that an exploding car ended up killing him.
Eric: Especially since in the USM universe he’s still a kid so it’s still very fresh in his head
Dan: I think Bendis is on record saying (not that this matters) that Peter was Spider-Man for something like a year before he died. Where’s your Marvel Time now (10 years = 1 year)? Point being, yes, it’s still very fresh
Eric: Like it wouldn’t mean anything now for Batman to confront Joe Chill or whoever current continuity says killed his parents. He’s gone so far in the hole he’s like the protagonist from Memento.
Dan: Right. So Peter is dead and Miles feels guilty about not taking responsibility earlier. He had spider powers for somewhere around a month or two before Peter died and his fear of upsetting his father prevented him from hitting the streets.
Eric: And he discusses that with Ganke. I do like how Ganke turns it around – that he is Spider-Man on deck: Now we still have a Spider-Man. So it’s not so much “Why didn’t I do anything” as “I’m not supposed to have done anything”
Dan: It’s a nice gesture from his best friend. Ganke could easily have said “I told you so,” since he wanted Miles to be Spider-Man before, but Miles wasn’t ready. It emphasizes that Peter’s death leaves a gap that Miles needs to fill. The responsibility to protect NYC now falls on Miles. For closure purposes they go to his funeral and Miles gets to have another interaction with Gwen Stacy about Peter’s motivations
Eric: And at the funeral Gwen tells him about the “Great Responsibility” It’s a very non-cheesy way to ensure that this Spider-Man lives by that code as well
Dan: It definitely answers my question too. How do you motivate a new Spider-Man without mimicking Uncle Ben? Have his Uncle Ben be the same Uncle Ben. I was quite pleased with that. Miles doesn’t have to experience the same tragedy to understand the gift he was given. It might even create new plots and motivations for a kid who is doing this for less personal reasons
Eric: It definitely opens the door to some new possibilities
Dan: I do want to take a second to point out how fabulous Sara Pichelli’s art is. Bendis and Pichelli work well together allowing Miles to convey his feelings through expression and dialogue
Eric: I feel like her art is very zoomed in. Like most other artists tend to do full body shots while she does busts and closer
Dan: She’s able to do the big picture funeral scenes, but she understands that the window into the soul is in the face. We don’t need to see full body shots when we’re not in an action scene
Eric: I absolutely LOVE the next scene! Miles is sketching what will eventually become his costume (according to the front cover) and his friend comes in with a Spider-man Halloween costume. Which is awesome! Because, of course, in a world with super heroes you’re going to be even more likely have super hero costumes than our world!
Dan: This is about as Bendis a moment as they get. Contrast the humor in the Halloween anecdote with the way that Dan Slott handles Spider-Man humor. It feels more natural to me despite Bendis being an equally wordy writer.
Eric: I call BS on that costume fitting on both Ganke and Miles, though
Dan: It was probably as poor a fit on Ganke as it was on Miles
Eric: But I definitely agree that Bendis lets you find the humor while Slott is the kind of guy who tells a joke and then asks, “that was pretty funny, right?”
Dan: “Hey guys, that was a joke there, guys!” I dunno, I’ll bring it up again near the end of the book. I’m sure you can already guess when. Anyway … the Kangaroo confrontation is one that was covered in Ultimate Fallout. We don’t get to see it, but I think it’s a free digital download if you ever want to catch up on it. Also this marks the second week that we get a reference to ASM#50 with the “Spider-Man No More” headline.
Eric: Actually, I think it’s stronger for me not having seen it. I think it leaves you wondering just how badly this went for Miles especially considering the photo they use. Continuing on the theme of double references – this week also had the release of Marvel Point One and the Scarlett Spider story features a bunch of bank robbers who have chosen Marvel Super Hero masks for their heist. I know there was a Captain America and a Daredevil and I’m pretty sure there was a Spider-Man there as well. The next scene is the usual little humorous scene that’s in almost every super hero depiction – how do you keep your secret ID secret?
Dan: It’s especially tough for a kid living in the dormitories of a prep school.
Eric: At least, unlike the Toby Maguire movie, it’s not a masturbation joke
Dan: Thank god for that
Eric: Now, was the joke you were going to mention the joke about his Spider-Senses?
Dan: No, it’s the part where he asks why he’s suddenly talking to himself. It’s definitely a Spider-Man hallmark, but this issue is the debut of Miles’ inner monologue
Eric: That was really funny
Dan: Maybe it’s just bias against Slott, but I liked that little joke more than the ones in ASM
Eric: because it almost makes it a spider-power: Climb walls and talk to yourself. Do you think he’ll be cheeky with the bad guys as well?: On the one hand – it’d be neat to see Miles’ jokes. On the other hand, maybe too much of a copy?
Dan: I’d have to reread USM #0 (the one that was in Ultimate Fallout), but I think he did have some snarkiness in there. I don’t think he read exactly like Peter, but it was a concern of mine. While the Miles of the past three issues wouldn’t be as mouthy as Peter was, would I be bored of a Spider-Man without the snark? I honestly can’t say. I think we need to see how his character starts to change now that he’s using his powers
Eric: Yeah, on the one hand you don’t want him to just be a darker pigmented Parker. On the other hand, he’s freakin’ Spider-Man
Dan: There’s a certain expectation there, precisely.
Eric: Now, I did love the spider-sense joke.lt worked on a few levels for me.
Dan: Ultimate Peter also took about an arc to understand his spider-sense
Eric: First of all, I always love spider-sense jokes/situations. One of the famous ones was when he caught a cold and that affected his spider-senses. I think it might have even happened during Onslaught when he really needed to be on his A-Game. Second, I loved Miles’ panicked response – thinking it’s cancer. And third, it made the kick from Spider-Woman HILARIOUS!
Dan: Definitely good points.
Eric: So, just to finish it up – who is Spider-Woman in the Ultimate Universe?
Dan: Ah, a fine question that I was just about to answer. Beyond being Miles’ next Yoda (after Gwen Stacy), Ultimate Spider-Woman is more than just a Rule 63 version of Peter. Ultimate Jessica Drew IS Peter Parker … in a way. She’s a clone of his who has all of his memories up to her creation. It’s the second best case scenario: Miles will probably be trained by Peter herself
Eric: So, a female clone – in the same way X-23 is a female clone of Wolverine. Although X-23 doesn’t have Wolverine’s memories – she’s a clone in a more realistic sense
Dan: If X-23 remembers everything about Wolverine’s life. Jessica Drew remembers being in love with MJ, Uncle Ben’s death, and all kinds of things that happened to Peter before either the Ultimate Venom or Ultimate Carnage saga.
Eric: That must be very odd. Have they dealt with those things? Having memories of being the opposite sex?
Dan: They both found it to be a little too uncomfortable to dwell on for too long. Jessica has since really moved on to being her own person, of course. She’s a SHIELD Agent now and all that, but she’s definitely part Peter
Eric: Hehe, it was the basis of some webcomic manga I was reading a while back.
Eric: Oh well, ready to battle?
Dan: Let’s do it
Eric: OK, so what makes Ultimate Spider-Man worthy of being a POW! winner?
Dan: You’re right in asking because this issue of USM is not gonna blow anyone’s mind. I wanted to submit it because I wanted to show an origin story done well. It’s neither contrived nor is it overwrought. This is a story about a kid who was scared, but learned that with great power comes great responsibility. It’s well drawn and it’s well written.
Eric: I agree with you on both points. It’s appropriate for the content of the book, but I feel that Bendis was really muted in this book compared to his usual writing.
Dan: I don’t know if it’s because he trusts Pichelli or if it’s a question of trying to do Spider-Man’s legacy justice, but in either case, it’s much appreciated. Miles and Ganke have a great rapport, Ultimate Gwen Stacy retains her badass streak, and any book with Ultimate Spider-Woman in it is instantly pretty cool in my eyes. There’s humor and drama and it’s just good stuff.
Eric: It’s definitely a tough competition because while Gail Simone has stepped up her game in Batgirl #3 it was also not an issue that will blow you out of the water. Both books are dealing with guilt and how that motivates us to do what we do. In Batgirl it’s affecting both the villain and the hero.
Dan: My main issue with Batgirl was that it felt very segmented across its three acts. Talking about it with you helped me realize that it was more cohesive than I thought, but that wasn’t my first reaction
Eric: Cool, for once I helped you see something 🙂 I think it’s interesting that USM has no villains. In effect it’s completely an internal conflict with Miles.
Dan: It’s a nice touch to see a hero choose heroism without tragedy.
Eric: Both issues have a nice mixture of humor and drama. Although Batgirl’s a lot lower on the humor – it’s appropriate to the issue.
Dan: Artwise Batgirl is more impressive. Its setpieces and action give it a leg up on the relatively calm USM.
Eric: Speaking of calm. Another reason I feel Batgirl is better is that the story in USM is relatively straight-forward. Not that it’s a bad story by any means, but everything follows as you expect it would. Batgirl has the nice switchup that Pixar loves to do. You make the viewer think the protagonists have won and then snatch it away at the last second. That scene on the subway was really strong for me.
Dan: USM is definitely more straightforward, but I found Gail Simone’s density to stumble over itself in a way that made me initially find it unnecessarily segmented and obtuse. Honestly, I don’t feel very strongly about either being much better than the other. I like USM a lot, but I appreciate what Batgirl is doing
Eric: In a way, I almost feel like that density, while usually to be avoided as a rule, helps convey the muddled thoughts in Barbara’s head as she gets back into this
Dan: I don’t know if I agree with you there. Batgirl’s thoughts are pretty straightforwardly dumped on the reader. The inner monologue is very wordy
Eric: Fair enough. If the story’s a tie, does Batgirl win on art?
Dan: Batgirl’s is more dynamic, but Pichelli is one of my favorite artists. I like the close-ups on the faces of USM’s characters and the ability to read what’s being felt in their faces versus reading it in a million captions and thoughts, but it’s a wash for me there too. Lots of people don’t love how decompressed and slow USM is and, despite how much I love that cathedral scene (in spite of the ink issues my copy has), I can’t honestly say that anything exciting happened with USM’s art. I’m sorry for being so non-committal here. I didn’t like Batgirl more, but I think it’s probably the better book.
Eric: I’ll shamelessly TAKE IT!
Dan: Or, rather, the more satisfying
Eric: Next week I shall have a stronger win!
Dan: Not if my kung fu has anything to say about it!
Eric: What’s that feeling in my head? OW! You kicked me!