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The Longbox View #1

Red is seen in both Love and War!

The Longbox View #001 | Review, Semi-Recap

DC LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD

Issue Title: Various

Writer: Christos Gage, Crystal Frasier, Mark Russell, Marquis Draper, Tim Seeley, Cavan Scott, Regine Sawyer, Sina Grace, Pornsak Pichetshote, John Ridley

Artist: Xermanico, Juan Gedeon, Nik Virella, Pop Mhan, Rebekah Isaacs, Jose Luis, Rob Guillory, Karl Mostert, Chris Mooneyham, Amancay Nahuelpan

Color Artist: Romulo Fajardo Jr, Ulises Arreola, Chris Sotomayor, Kurt Michael Russell, Jonas Trindade, Mike Spicer, Ivan Plascencia, June Chung

Letterer: Troy Peteri, Marshall Dillon, Wes Abbott, Rob Leigh, Travis Lanham, Carlos M. Mangual, Pat Brosseau, Andworld Design, Ferran Delgado, Steve Wands

Publisher: DC Comucs

Spoiler Level: RED

1. Batman & Catwoman | Perfect Matches

Christos Gage, Xermanico, Romulo Fajardo Jr. & Troy Peteri

Batman and Catwoman are, obviously, one of the most famous of DC’s couples (or potential couples), though they are also among the least consistent. A recent run by Tom King attempted to address that instability, ending with a commitment between Bruce and Selina that I assume was meant to stay the course. But this is comics and, with very few exceptions, stability is eschewed in favor of conflict, so the pair has recently… split again? Taken a break? It’s unclear, but I would I argue that all signs point to a return to a more classic will they/won’t they dynamic.

This is relevant because Perfect Matches clearly takes King’s premise and brings it into the present status quo, serving as a sort of conceptual bridge.

We find the two serving as guest (Selina) and Plus One (Bruce, in his classic Matches Malone disguise) at the villain-populated wedding of Maxie Zeus. Matches being a rather infamous but low-ranking criminal and attending on Catwoman’s infamous arm spurs some mocking from The Riddler, who accuses Selina of “dating the help.” As it turns out, however, they came together because Bruce is looking to plant trackers on the villains so that he can arrest them later.

The plot itself develops as one would expect from there, with Selina covering for Bruce when his trackers are discovered by the cleverest man in the room. There’s a pretty interesting bit of villain perspective explored there as well – when betrayed by one of their own, much of the room just writes it off with, “Well, who wouldn’t though?” which I love and wish more writers would make use of.

But in the end, with Perfect Matches the plot is not the point – the people are. The story ends on a quiet note with Bruce and Selina thinking back to their wedding that wasn’t… and determining that the “wasn’t” was for the better. The best part of this moment is that it questions what being with Bruce would mean for Selina – the side of the Batman/Catwoman dynamic that is often dismissed in favor of worrying about what being with Selina would mean for Bruce.

To me, the latter has always been a much bigger problem, because in the end she’s the one who would be expected to change both because of Bruce’s rigidity and because of his status within the DCU both inworld and out. So to have Bruce and Selina both arrive at the realization that being with Batman is bad for Catwoman as well as the other way around was really gratifying for me. For the purposes of arriving at that conclusion, a plot where Bruce gets to see Selina in her element was the perfect choice, while the use of King’s “Bat” and “Cat” nicknames (along with the wedding reference), firmly identifies Perfect Matches as a sort of coda Tom King’s run.

Xermanico has always been a great artist for me, having enjoyed their work since their time on Wonder Woman. Here, the artwork is charming with an easy to follow flow and clever framing devices. The final page in particular pops out at me as both visual composition and coloring choices seem to reference Bruce and Selina’s rooftop meetings – in particular the framing sequence of Batman #90 by Jorge Jimenez and Tomeu Morey.

Overall a great story with really strong visuals… my only complaint is that people keep forgetting Selina has green eyes these days. Tch!

2. Wonder Woman & Steve Trevor | Bittersweet

Crystal Frasier, Juan Gedeon, Ulises Arreola & Marshall Dillon

Moving on to a couple that has only recently really begun to make a comeback in the comics (although it’s currently kiboshed again), we have Diana and Steve on a date. Unlike Perfect Matches, it doesn’t seem to have a strong indicator of time period but given that Diana seems unfamiliar with the idea of dating, I’m guessing it’s earlier in the timeline… although if that’s the case shouldn’t this be the 40s? I’m kind of confused but moving along.

To Steve’s (very slight) dismay, Diana has brought along her costume disguised as her purse, which comes in handy when the restaurant is attacked by Blue Snowman. Snowman freezes Diana and Steve’s hands while they are both holding onto the lasso, thus forcing them to be absolutely truthful, which results in a lover’s quarrel before the situation ultimately de-escalates itself when the lasso compelled Snowman shares their troubles as well.

Bittersweet is charming, but honestly a little done. I feel as though I’ve read quite a few stories about the insecurity Steve feels being with Diana due to her importance, power, and the fact that he’s the first man she ever met. The latter in particular does beg the question of whether she loves him is just fascinated by his maleness.

The weird part about this is that the original Golden Age Steve really didn’t have these insecurities or issues, and I miss that about him, just as I miss his being turned on, rather than made insecure, by Diana’s power and position. This isn’t an issue I blame on Frasier, however. Steve has been a bit of a problem character ever since Marston passed away in the late 40s, which is why George Perez wrote him out as a love interest and frankly I think he should have stayed Diana’s friend rather than her boyfriend.

That said, the final revelation re: Blue Snowman’s gender fluidity has potential if DC cares to further examine it. I won’t claim it was handled with exceptional depth but it’s an 8 page story so Frasier certainly did as much with it as she could have. Blue Snowman seems to be one of those characters who only show up in 8-12 page anthology stories or in the background of stories about other villains, so it may never be followed up. Still, the option is there for exploring if someone has the drive to do so.

The artwork is solid, if a little cartoonish for my personal tastes. The strongest visual element is certainly Diana herself, whom Gedeon portrays as a true Amazon – tall, muscular, imposing and powerful.

But really, I’m not sure I’ve ever really been able to get “into” a Wonder Woman romance story. Maybe it’s just me.

Amanda Waller & Perry White | Loose Lips

Mark Russell, Nik Virella, Romulo Fajardo Jr & Wes Abbott

When I saw Mark Russell’s name I knew I was in for a treat, and I wasn’t wrong.

Loose Lips stars Amanda Waller and Perry White trying to get one over on one another in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day… and it isn’t until the curtain comes down that the nature of the specific game they’re playing becomes clear. Until then, it’s layer upon layer of back and forth hiding a spark of a little something that could theoretically develop into a connection, romantic or otherwise.

And you know what? Why not. Why not get Waller and White together? They’re among DC’s most established and notable “normals” (inasmuch as Amanda can be seen as normal) and of an appropriate age for one another, after all.

Not to say this is a traditionally romantic story – I can’t begin to imagine what a traditionally romantic story would even look like for either of these characters – but personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing it.

The artwork is expressive and energetic without being cartoonish, and Virella makes excellent use of positioning of both the characters and the little hearts in the background to create a suggestion of connection in a fun and lighthearted way. Ultimately, a really fun story starring perfectly unexpected pair.

Kid Flash & Red Arrow | A Tale of Two Titans

Marquis Draper, Pop Mhan, Chris Sotomayor & Rob Leigh

I’ll be honest, while I did read the Rebirth Teen Titans book on and off for most of its run, I did so mostly just for Damian so, aside from that plot twist with Roundhouse and something something Djinn, I don’t really remember much about the other characters’ storylines. So forgive me if I stumble around a little, but regardless… A Tale of Two Titans is a sweet story, with appropriately bright and cheerful artwork and an almost innocent atmosphere. Basically just what one needs in a teen superhero romance story.

Essentially, we have Wallace “Kid Flash” West and Emiko “Red Arrow” Queen each getting ready to go on their first date. Assisting them in preparations for this monumental outing are their wingwomen of choice, Crush (with Emiko) and Avery Ho (with Wallace).

Crush rifles through Emiko’s archery supplies while Emiko herself obsessively calls their restaurant to confirm her dinner reservation. Seriously, she’s called so often that the restaurant yells at her about it. Emiko has also gotten her hair and makeup prepared, chosen her outfit and… more or less, she’s prepared, though obviously nervous and stressing herself out the way teenagers do in teenage date stories.

Wallace is no better, superspeeding his way through different outfits and fighting crime with Avery Ho (The Flash of China who I guess has a crush on Wallace?) when he should be doing things like showering and combing his hair. But he has superspeed so it’s fine.

They’re a cute pair, though I’m not sure Avery would agree. Mostly I’m a bit thrown off by their dining choice – not that there’s anything wrong with a totally normal fast casual restaurant, but what was with the reservation?

Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy | The Beginning

Tim Seeley, Rebekah Isaacs, Kurt Michael Russell & Travis Lanham

Every anthology has its marquee features, whether it’s a big name creator, a popular character, etc. The Beginning, sporting a well-known and respected writer, one of DC’s most popular characters and arguably her most popular love interest, is certainly one of them, and that’s before we even get into the flashy presentation.

The Beginning is told almost entirely in splash pages, each page representing a single important moment out of Harley and Ivy’s history from their first meeting as psychiatrist and patient into their first, awkward alliances and then into their yet untold future. In the end, we discover that these are memories being discussed many decades into the future, with Ivy sitting at the dying Harley’s bedside. And while it may be easy to assume that the title refers to their look back at their origins as a couple, it’s on the last page that the true meaning of The Beginning becomes evident when Ivy suggests a new beginning for the both of them, reborn without the memories of their current life.

This is a beautiful and touching tribute to the relationship between Harley and Ivy. I have to admit I’ve never been a particular devotee of their romance, but I nonetheless found myself smiling by the end of the issue and a little excited for them to begin their new adventure together without the baggage of the past. I’ve seen some interpret this as a choice to die together, and I don’t disagree with that exactly… but it’s also a choice to keep living together by taking a chance that their connection can survive rebirth and the loss of their memories well enough to draw them back together.

Although “we’ll be plants….” Are we talking Swamp Thing plants or…? Unclear.

In any case, it’s an interesting choice for a Valentine’s special considering DC has been going through a breakup and backpedal phase with them of late. For a while it looked like they were being retconned into remaining “just friends” before James Tynion IV started to namedrop a romantic history for them during the Joker War. Now it seems we’ve returned to acknowledging that this relationship went beyond a platonic bond, though even here they aren’t allowed to share a romantic kiss, just an affectionate one. I’m not sure what’s going on with that.

Regardless, Tim Seeley has written a lovely, touching story brought to life by the stellar team of Rebekah Isaacs and Kurt Michael Russell. While the artwork and colors are solid throughout the entire anthology, this team has produced some of the best work in the book, with highly detailed showcase images and beautifully warm colors.

I will say, though, that I honestly hadn’t realized Ivy was still human enough to age normally.

Hawkman & Hawkwoman | Together Forever

Cavan Scott, Jose Luis, Jonas Trindade, Carlos M. Mangual

It’s great to see Hawkman and Hawkwoman together again. That’s been bothering me for… years. However long they were being kept apart, and I still don’t fully understand why Shayara and Kendra are different people now or what’s going on with the Hawks’ history (I know, I know, read Hawkman! I will do that!) but what I do know is neither ever seems right without the other, and a part of my spirit has been restored with their reunion, wipe tear wipe tear.

But that’s external to the story itself, so let’s talk about it.

Together Forever follows Hawkman and Hawkwoman as they enter a gigantic spaceship on a collision course with Earth. Inside are any number of traps, as well as two aliens. Initially it’s unclear whether the aliens are dead or in stasis. Eventually, a look around tells the story: they were lovers in life, and put themselves into suspended animation before launching their ship in search of one last adventure together. However, as their sensors are offline, they have been in stasis for… rather a long time.

The ultimate solution to the problem of impending collision is cleverly solved as Hawkman gives these two romantic adventurers the best gift anyone could: his own memories of many lives with Hawkwoman.

It’s a beautiful thought and a charming ending to a charming story. That said, I haven’t mentioned the opening appearances of 40s Carter and Sheira Hall fighting their way to and ultimately locating the tombs of Chay-ara and Khufu because that just kind of… cuts off two pages in, leaving me to wonder why it was there in the first place. A relatively minor quibble, but there nonetheless.

As for the art, I’ve long loved Jose Luis’s work. He’s in the Hitch/Reis corner of comic art – a mix of realism and classic superheroes, and here it works beautifully.

Mister Miracle & Big Barda | Anniversary

Regine Sawyer, Rob Guillory, Mike Spicer & Pat Brosseau

Anniversary finds Scott “Mr. Miracle” Free and Big Barda on vacation celebrating their anniversary when they are attacked by Barda’s former comrades, the Female Furies – the battle being, apparently, the Furies’ version of an anniversary gift. Between the highly stylized art, bright colors and bizarre moments like Mr. Miracle fighting with the top half of his costume on over his knee shorts or Mad Harriet going full Ryuk scarfing down apples, this is by far the most comedic story in the book. Even so, it has a sweet core as is appropriate to this couple.

I’m not an enthusiastic Scott/Barda fan, and aside from the basics like Darkseid and Orion, I don’t really follow the New Gods at all, though so I can’t vouch for whether the Furies showing up to rain pain and hellfire down on Scott and Barda as a gift makes sense within the New Gods mythos. What does make sense is that Mad Harriet hates organic food. She’s from a hell planet after all.

The only issue with this story is that the art may not be for everyone as it’s quite cartoonish and exaggerated. For me, that worked because of the tone of the story but it’s really going to be up to each individual reader.

Nightwing & Starfire | Ex-Position

Sina Grace, Karl Mostet, Ivan Plascencia & Andworld Design

I won’t lie – out of every story in this book, I was looking forward to Ex-Position the most. What can I say, I grew up on the New Teen Titans in the Baxter book era and as a result Dick and Kory are a long-term love of mine. They’ve been separated for 20 or so years, but their power and draw have remained to the point where Kory is still Dick’s most popular love interest, despite DC’s rather stubborn insistence on stapling him to Barbara Gordon.

And, okay. The thing is, it’s not unheard of for a character to move on. If that had been what happened with Dick, he simply moved on with his life, that would be disappointing but fine. I’m an entire adult human being and I don’t have time to fret over fictional romances just because they don’t work out. But in the case of Nightwing and Starfire what was actually done was far more problematic: DC simply started insisting that they were never actually in love to begin with, just a fling based on sexual chemistry. At best, there’s often the suggestion that while Kory truly loved Dick, he was never as attached to her as the other way around.

All of that is important to understand why comic fans were so distraught at the release of several preview pages from Ex-Position the week before Love is a Battlefield was released. It seemed, once again, to set up the two of them to be portrayed as the emotionally unavailable Dick Grayson who only ever really loved Barbara and the clingy, lovesick Kory who was silly enough to think her feelings were mutual when they weren’t.

If nothing else, Ex-Position makes a good argument for withholding judgment until you’ve seen the full story.

Ahem. Apologies for all of that, but back to the nitty gritty.

Nightwing and Starfire find themselves investigating a dangerous alien and, after some awkward bantering, they begin spilling all of their innermost thoughts about one another – Starfire says she wants him to take her to a lot of hamburger places, and he says he wants to take her to all the hamburger places. An outpouring of affection follows where Nightwing admits to wishing they were together and says he hasn’t been able to figure out how to fit her into his life, but that he needs to embrace her light instead of hiding from it.

Eventually it becomes obvious that causing the confessions are part of the aliens’ powerset but the good news is, by the end, they’ve reached a peaceful place… and Dick says he isn’t taking back what he said.

Now, I’ll be honest: I think that sounds more meta than anything else. It’s well known that the big issue with Nightwing and Starfire’s romance within DC has always been her connection to the Titans vs. his being property of the Batman office and for some reason the Batman office has never thought to just take Kory in as well. So when Dick says he never managed to make her fit into his life, all I hear is “editorial doesn’t think it would work because you’re in a different office than I am.”

Which is fair enough I suppose. Regardless, I genuinely appreciate the redemptive bone thrown at their relationship and the acknowledgment that yes they were in love, and yes they’d love to still be together but, for whatever reason, they can’t make it click into place any longer.

Karl Mostet’s artwork is… divisive? It’s interesting because while he worked on Unkillables I only ever saw praise for his work, but now I see so many complaints. He certainly has a distinct style, and I can understand disliking it, but it does what it’s meant to do, so I’m mostly fine with it. Although I do wish Kory looked less like a ginger white woman with a tan and contacts.

Overall, one of my favorite stories in the book but, of course, I’m biased.

SGT Rock | Able

Pornsak Pichetshote, Chris Mooneyham, Mike Spicer & Ferran Delgado

The last work I read from Pichetshote was Infidel, an absolutely brilliant haunted apartment building story that got its nails all dug into conflicts over ethnicity and background, exploring the destructiveness of xenophobia and prejudice in unrelenting detail. At that point I figured he would be a writer to watch… yet, as it turned out there wasn’t much watching to do, because he hasn’t really released much writing since then, at least not in comics.

Now, however, he returns with a Sgt. Rock story that is a love story but not a romance, and drips tragedy from every page.

Sgt Rock is on a mission with Able Company, an infamously effective platoon under the command of Sgt. Grey. Grey is present as well – a legend capable of changing the tide of battles with his men at his back. Currently, they’re escorting a German spy, Anja, to safety outside France. The problem is, they’re short on time, so Grey decides to take a risky route across a nearby bridge over the objections of one of his men, Fleischer. Rock observes Grey over the course of the night, realizing that Grey continuously looks over where Fleischer and Anja are resting and comes to the realization that Grey has fallen in love with Anja… which certainly confuses the situation, as the only way across the bridge is through a tank, and the only way through the tank is to get close enough to it to take down the shooter visible through the open hatch. Grey insists that the tank is his to dispose of – a sacrificial move at best. It’s rough, but between his affection for Anja and the men Grey has lost getting this far, the battle has become extremely personal to him.

It’s apparently also very personal to someone else. Namely Fleischer who, at the last moment, takes control over the situation and chooses to sacrifice himself in Grey’s place.

It’s Grey’s heartwrenching response to Fleischer’s actions that makes it evident to Rock that it wasn’t Anja that Grey had loved… or that he was willing to die to protect.

Able is a subtle, tragic story exploring the ugliness of war, and what one has to give up in order to fight in one. It is visually beautiful as well with Mooneyham’s artwork reminding me a tiny bit of Andy Kubert mixed with that classic Joe Kubert look. It’s also the most unique looking of the book, due in large part to the desaturated colors that enhance the melancholic atmosphere.

Also the lack of spandex or whatever it is that superpeople wear.

John Stewart & Fatality | The Heart Wants

John Ridley, Amancay Nahuelpan, June Chung, Steve Wands

I’ve been really loving John Ridley’s contributions to the DC Universe, and for a very good reason namely I have good taste. Kekeke! That said, having never been a big Green Lantern fan, I’m not really familiar with this story’s mythos and history. As near as I can tell, John Stewart accidentally destroyed a race of aliens with the sole survivor being Yrra, the woman he loves. This obviously caused some conflict between them and that’s where we come in – with Yrra being reprogramed by the Zamarons to become a Star Sapphire again. That’s what John is here to stop, as he values her free will regardless of whether it means that she’ll seek revenge on him for his role in the near extinction of her people.

Ridley’s writing is top notch, as is to be expected – in 8 pages, he manages to conjure a world of regret and conflicted emotions within John so clearly that even I can sense it despite having very little history with the romance spotlighted. And in the end, we’re left with a beautifully ambiguous ending that begs for a follow up.

Nahuelpan’s artwork is striking and powerful, and June Chung manages to make the cacophony of colors sing together when it could so easily have clashed or looked generally gaudy.

My only question is… when did Zamarons start looking that way? It does make sense considering they’re aliens, but the last time I saw them they looked like… well Amazons if I’m being honest, they basically looked like Bronze Age warriors.

It’s been a while since I read Green Lantern, ok.

SO… that was long. I could have talked more, but I won’t, so let’s leave it at this: It’s a lovely anthology. Imperfect, sure, but in my opinion there isn’t a single story that’s bad, rather your preferences will determine what you enjoy the most. There are also any number of interesting insights and plot hooks raised that I hope to see followed up, although I’m not getting too worked up about it since anthologies tend to be semi-canon at best most of the time.

Next on The Longbox View…We kick off the series within a column Some of Its Parts with a look at the first issue of Aftershock’s new series about technology, magic and influencers. From Zac Thompson, Andy MacDonald, Triona Farrell and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou it’s I Breathed a Body.

Until then, stay safe and keep reading.

ARIEL BEE IS… An Old Person. A Comics reading veteran. Mostly involved with DC and indies but happy to go on the occasional Marvelous Mission into the unknown. An analytical overthinker. Also found as a reviewer on Comics-Watch and Twitter @thearielbee.

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