Best Shots Reviews: WONDER TWINS #1, THE FLASH #64, THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS #3

Batman Who Laughs #3
Credit: Jock (DC Comics)
Credit: DC Entertainment

Wonder Twins #1
Written by Mark Russell
Art by Stephen Byrne
Lettered by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Post-”Rebirth,” the DC Universe has largely been a much more positive and hopeful place. Brian Michael Bendis’ publishing imprint Wonder Comics has continued that initiative, further mixing up the kinds of stories that DC seems willing to take a chance with. Much like Young Justice and Naomi, Wonder Twins pushes younger characters to the forefront, tries to have some fun with them, and lets the chips fall where they may. Writer Mark Russell’s approach puts teen comedy before superheroics to varying degrees of success - at best feeling like Archie in the DCU, while at worst feeling like a rudderless vessel for jokes. Artist Stephen Byrne really props up the proceedings, though. This is an incredibly well-rendered book that plays to the setting, but it’s not always able to help the jokes land.

Part of the major appeal of shared superhero universe is understanding how individual pieces fit together, and unfortunately, Wonder Twins is missing that from the get-go. We do see familiar characters and locales, but the tone and the stakes of the story are so wildly different from the rest of the DCU that it’s unclear where to file this one. Aside from that, Russell is extremely adept at setting up beats and paying them off later - this is a really tight issue in that regard. But the characters are overwhelmingly one-note, with little in the way of pathos or real conflict, and that keeps the book from being legitimately funny versus just being kind of clever.

Furthermore, if you didn’t feel a tug of nostalgia in your heart for the return of Zan and Jayna, there’s little extra to endear you to the characters here. Russell revamps their origins again and makes it clear that they are strange visitors from a strange land. But aside from bristling at Zan’s sex positivity, no one at their new high school seems all that concerned that they’re going to school with aliens, even those that can change into the shape of animals or water. So while Russell is great at setting up and knocking down specific story beats, he fails at world-building in a meaningful way, and that ultimately undermines everything.

Thankfully, Stephen Byrne makes this issue quite easy on the eyes. The character work is really what can make or break an issue like this one, and Russell is lucky to have a collaborator that can bring out some humanity in these characters. Clean lines, strong expressions and balanced coloring are all hallmarks of Byrne’s art, and they’re on full display here. Byrne never quite gives the story a sense of scale, but Russell’s script has a sitcom-y quality that makes it feel small by design - I don’t think there’s much the artist could do to make it feel any more important.

Wonder Twins is a somewhat odd addition to the Wonder Comics imprint - more content to laugh at itself than involve itself with the DCU at large. Russell is a writer known for his incisive wit, but that’s not really what we get from him here. Instead of social commentary or funny insight, Russell can only offer up cheap gags that lampshade how silly the “Super Friends” TV show is. And as a result, Byrne’s art is kind of wasted here. He’s an artist that you want on a book with a more grounded setting because he’s able to render it in a meaningful way while still be able to delivering the bigger superheroic moments when needed. The script just doesn’t allow Byrne to utilize all of his talents. Some readers will love getting a more modern take on these characters, but others will find this to be nothing more than a half-hearted send-up of old favorites.

Credit: DC Comics

The Flash #64
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona, and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Joshua Williamson gets emotionally brave and bold in The Flash #64, the second installment of “The Price,” the latest Batman/Flash crossover. Hot on the trail of Gotham Girl in the aftermath of her attack on the Flash Museum, the Flash and Batman attempt to keep their eyes on the case and not the massive rift forming between the two super-detectives. But as they continue to work the case, the two men grapple with the Wally West-sized elephant in the room, taking their eyes off the ball right as Gotham Girl makes her move. Though given a handsome, expressive look and feel by regular Flash team Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona, and Tomeu Morey, this might not be the most exciting of issues, but it’s one that a real heart and fraught emotion to “The Price” going into it’s back half.

Though “The Price” doesn’t have the same iconography at its center as “The Button” did, the hook of Batman and The Flash tying up the loose end that is Gotham Girl is still a good one. Unfortunately, we don’t get much forward momentum toward solving that mystery from Williamson this installment. But what this issue lacks narratively, Issue #64 more than makes up emotionally — as Williamson has his two leads deftly work the evidence and chase down leads, the script also engages in some affecting narration from the two heroes about one another, extolling the other’s detective skills, their tenacity as heroes, and their remarkable similarities when it comes to their proteges. Williamson has really made a meal of the dynamic of the Flash Family in the main series, but here he turns that empathetic eye toward Bruce and Barry’s relationship, and it works wonders for the issue. Fans of old-school Brave and Bold and DC Team Up stories will find a lot to love here, but unlike those Williamson really takes the team-up seriously, more as a dramatic piece and less as a superhero yarn.

Leaning into Williamson’s more personal take on the team-up is the art team of Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona, and Tomeu Morey. Though slightly less action-heavy than the last efforts we saw during “Force Quest,” this issue's art plays up the visual dichotomy between the two heroes and their clashing temperaments when it comes to tackling cases. The trio’s Batman is appropriately brooding, and their Flash is all forward momentum and splashy colored movement, but they settle into a tensely personable look once these heroes start finally breaking down the walls between them. While these aren’t necessarily the most exciting sounding visuals around, the art team’s handling of Barry and Bruce’s fraught conversations and their clear body language in relation to one another is impressive. It may sound like a contradiction, but The Flash #64 looks it’s best when it slows down.

While not the most groundbreaking of issues of “The Price,” the heart behind The Flash #64 gives this team-up plenty of legs heading into its penultimate issues. Joshua Williamson has steadily been building a solid profile with the main series, but these crossovers reveal a fine sense of scope and pathos when it comes to the larger DCU in relation to the Scarlet Speedster. Couple that pathos and character with the artwork of Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona, and Tomeu Morey, and you have a crossover that is working harder to deliver more than just a marquee team-up.

Credit: Jock (DC Comics)

The Batman Who Laughs #3
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock and David Baron
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

If one had to choose one strength of Scott Snyder’s during this eight-year run writing the Dark Knight, it wouldn’t be his knack for world-building or his tinkering in continuity — instead, it would be taking the World’s Greatest Detective, a billionaire with an Olympic physique and a military arsenal, and still finding a way to put him on the ropes. It’s that sense of desperation — even for a man who has a strategy for every situation — that makes The Batman Who Laughs a series that feels tense and engaging, as Bruce Wayne goes head-to-head with an enemy he cannot hope to defeat: himself.

The central theme of Snyder’s script focuses on plans — and given Batman’s controlling nature, the idea of rampant chaos infecting his city and his mind proves to be a kind of torture that even his stoic countenance can’t ignore. Infected with a virulent Joker toxin, a reeling Batman is forced to turn to an unlikely source for guidance, and it’s this return of a long-absent Bat-character that makes this work feel more like a spiritual sequel to Snyder and Jock’s The Black Mirror even more than Dark Nights: Metal. While one might argue that the central premise of Snyder’s opening scenes might be a little specious — sort of leaning into the idea of a psychopath’s criminal ingenuity feeling more like a choice than an illness — one could also make the argument that Snyder is leaning into Batman’s own struggle to maintain his sanity. In that regard, the argument becomes as fascinating as it is provocative — can we ever truly choose to be good, or are we products of our own unique forms of brain chemistry?

But while Snyder dazzles readers with a tense stalemate between Batman and his murderous counterpart The Grim Knight, the reason why so much of this series works is because Batman isn’t a hyperanalytical Bat-God anymore — that catch-all idea of “prep time” to even the odds is completely wiped out, thanks to Bruce’s mind starting to waver thanks to the Joker serum. There’s a ticking clock, and similar to Snyder’s work with Greg Capullo all the way back in “The Court of Owls,” there’s something thrilling about seeing someone as formidable as the Batman get so backed into a corner that his iron grip on reason and logic starts to slip away into something more unpredictable and wild.

This issue also feels like a strong showing from Jock, whose razor-sharp inking feels like a terrific fit for a story as bleak as this one. The story’s format — sort of a horror-tinged action story — showcases Jock’s strengths, particularly the way that Batman’s eyes burn red underneath otherwise smothering shadows. (It’s a nice touch from colorist David Baron, and one that helps differentiate two otherwise similar Batmen on one page.) While occasionally Jock bristles under the rapid-fire pacing of Snyder’s action sequences — which leads the writer to have to overly explain bits like lethal defibrillators or teleporting yet another Bruce Wayne from the Multiverse into Gotham — he seems to really relish the tortured positions that Snyder has put these characters in, from Batman struggling to maintain his sanity or the Batman Who Laughs grinning wildly at a gunfight, to the Joker with an open heart wound wailing into the night.

Halfway through their six-issue miniseries, Snyder and Jock continue to raise the stakes in the engaging and action-packed The Batman Who Laughs #3. Given how many permutations there have been with the classic Batman versus Joker pairing, it speaks volumes about this creative team’s abilities that they’re able to find such a unique angle, one that actually cuts to the core of the Dark Knight’s armor, rendering all his training and weapons and resources and plans obsolete. It’s not often we get to see Batman backed into such a corner, but it’s that danger that makes this adventure feel particularly sweet.

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