REVIEW: Batman #54 by Tom King, Matt Wagner, Tomeu Morey, & Clayton Cowles

By Zack Quaintance — Batman #54 is a stand-alone tale that uses the character’s longest-standing relationship—Bruce Wayne’s adoption of Dick Grayson, which goes back to Detective Comics #38 in 1940—to tell a heartfelt father-son story. In this comic, grown Dick is visiting Bruce, who is still suffering serious heartache following the events of Batman #50.

**BEWARE if you haven’t yet read it, I’d hate to spoil the emotional trajectory.**

The pattern of the book’s structure intermingles the present day with the past, using snippets of Dick’s first days at Wayne Manor, when he was freshly-orphaned, a sad and furious youth, understandably stunned by the loss of his own parents, guarded and distrustful and stubbornly bent on acting out. We get a scene of young Dick struggling as Bruce tries to comfort him. Then we get a scene of adult Dick cracking wise as he and Bruce fight some of their most ridiculous foes (Crazy Quilt, Condiment King, etc.), with now Bruce being the one who won’t express himself.

The construction is perfect, so emotional. King is a student of comics history, a writer who so obviously appreciates this character’s past. He knows what he has here with arguably the most ubiquitous duo in the world. Up there with Lewis and Clark, Sonny and Cher, peanut butter and jelly...Batman and Robin. King savvily knows his audience will mostly all have some level of emotional attachment to this bond, likely one that connects back to their own childhoods.

That brings us to the other major creative decision that makes this such a heartrending comic. King’s script never once calls for young Robin in costume, because this isn’t about the dynamic duo’s adventures. King instead reels us in with the far more relatable moments in which Bruce was simply an adult caring for a child who needed him. We’ve all been there, with older readers (of which Batman surely has many) having been on both ends.

There’s an early scene here where young Dick has a nightmare about his parents dying and wakes up screaming. Bruce runs to comfort him, to just be there. King—to his credit—gets out of the way and doesn’t overwrite. Wisely, there’s no narration throughout. While comforting Dick after his nightmare, Bruce is actually laconic, as most fathers surely were, saying It’s okay, boy. It’s a dream. You’re safe. It’s not much, but it’s perfect.  

And the issue is littered with similar relatable moments. There’s Bruce asking adult Dick how long he’s planning to stay. I practically heard my own dad trying to ask me about my life, So, uh, what’s new with you? So much always unsaid. And there’s Dick and Bruce bonding while watching football, which might as well have been my living room as a kid. It just all so perfectly captures the emotional fragility of heart-aching men, our deep desire for someone to reach out and our crazy inability to let would-be comforters see us suffer. It’s what makes father-son stuff so inherently fraught, and it’s rendered so gorgeously here via one of the most enduring father-son relationships in all of fiction.

Writer: Tom King
Artist: Matt Wagner
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Price: $3.99
Release Date: September 5, 2018

Much credit should also go to Matt Wagner’s art. Wagner is an incredible cartoonist operating at full strength. As emotional as the story is, the depiction of faces and the framing of certain shots is just as vital (if not more so). Essentially, Wagner’s work brings out the potential of King’s words. I’m a noted big sappy baby, so it doesn’t mean much for me to say this issue made me cry, but oh man did this issue make me cry. I loved it.

Overall: Following the three-part Cold Days arc is a tough act, but the standalone story about the father-son relationship between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson in Batman #54 pulls it off. Matt Wagner’s art is fitting and emotive, and Tom King’s script is tonally perfect, an honest look at the emotional fragility of hurt men and how difficult it is to open up. 10/10

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

The Infinite Crisis of Being a Helena Wayne Fan

With DC’s Doomsday Clock halfway finished—and potentially serving as a re-instatement vessel for the Justice Society of America plus other DCU characters—we turned to Diane Darcy, likely the foremost expert on Helena Wayne, who details the history of her favorite character and why she should return.  

By Diane Darcy — I’ve made no secret that I’m a huge fan of Helena Wayne (see my blog, Tumblr, and Twitter), and today I’d like to share my interest with all of you. Let’s start at the character’s beginnings: Helena Wayne was created by Paul Levitz, Joe Staton, and Bob Layton in 1977, originally conceived as the daughter of the Golden Age versions of Batman and Catwoman—a very intriguing background from which to build a character—and as a member of DC’s original superhero team, the Justice Society. She is, essentially, a character built upon DC’s Golden Age lore.

Helena Wayne’s Relationships

In the Bronze Age, The Huntress and Power Girl together were a second generation World's Finest team.

People are often defined by their relationships and Helena Wayne is no exception. Her most significant are her friendships with the Earth-2 versions of Kara Zor-L (Power Girl) and with Dick Grayson, the original Golden Age Robin who continued with that identity into adulthood.

With Power Girl, Helena provided a contrast to Kara’s outspokenness, impulsivity, and more assertive personality, but she also loved and respected Kara for those same qualities. Kara connecting with Helena in a meaningful way created character development opportunities for both women, effectively allowing them to cement their place as the second generation World’s Finest team.

With Dick Grayson, Helena provided a different contrast. Whereas Dick maintained unwavering loyalty to her father—never challenging Bruce’s authority—Helena didn’t hold her father on the same pedestal. When she felt her father stepped out of line, she refused to accept it. She either challenged his authority or worked to diffuse the situation another way. We saw this most notably in All-Star Comics #69 and especially in America vs. the Justice Society. When it came to Batman’s legacy, Dick considered it his responsibility to continue his mentor’s work as Batman, whereas Helena felt she could more meaningfully carry on that legacy on her own terms as Huntress.

Part of what makes classic Helena Wayne such a compelling character is her status as a superhero and a working lawyer.

Helena Wayne and the Crisis on Infinite Earths

Apart from Helena’s time as a caped crusader, I found her civilian life just as interesting. When she wasn’t fighting the good fight as Huntress—or stopping major crises with the Justice Society—she had a day job as an attorney, which also created interesting conflicts. She had a stronger preference for her work as the Huntress and often found it difficult to balance that with her day job. Her double life also created relationship problems with her boyfriend Harry Sims, who was Gotham’s District Attorney.

This was all established in Helena Wayne’s first eight years of publication, and writers used it to tell incredibly fun stories that went in interesting directions. You can imagine then how devastating it was when she was one of the characters sacrificed in DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot in 1986, later to be retooled in 1989 as Helena Bertinelli, the character we know as The Huntress today.

Helena Bertinelli

While not a bad character, there's no denying that apart from physical appearance, nothing of the original Helena Wayne Huntress survived via Helena Bertinelli. She was completely retooled. In fact, by the time DC reinstated the Wayne origin two decades later (during Flashpoint) we still ended up with a completely different character. Post-Flashpoint, Helena Wayne had a new origin and the same post-Crisis Helena Bertinelli personality. Also, her relationships with both Power Girl and Dick Grayson were profoundly changed.

Between two cosmic reboots, Helena Wayne moved further away from the compelling character Levitz, Staton, and Layton created in 1977, and her situation was made all the more complicated by being retooled into Helena Bertinelli post-Crisis.

Part of the promise of Rebirth and Doomsday Clock, however, has seemed to involve restoring all of DC's characters to their iconic statuses. What, then, would DC need to do with Helena Wayne to restore her to her original compelling stature while also saving her future? I have a few recommendations…

Four Ways to Fix Helena Wayne

Classic Helena Wayne as The Huntress contemplates crime and its causes in South Gotham City.

1. Make Helena Wayne and Bertinelli Separate Characters

Step one is to stop treating Helena Wayne and Bertinelli as the same character with two different origins. They are—at their cores—profoundly different. They are two very different women with different backgrounds and significantly different motivations.

Helena Wayne became Huntress to honor her family legacy. Helena Bertinelli, meanwhile, became Huntress as a way to reject hers. Essentially, Helena Wayne embraces where she comes from and Helena Bertinelli does not. Helena Wayne is a legacy heroine whose core values and motivations are shaped by her upbringing as the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Helena Bertinelli is a tragic heroine with a conflicted identity, molded by Italian-American heritage, her Catholic identity, and her roots within a crime family.

Quite literally the only thing Helena Wayne and Helena Bertinelli’s origins have in common is they both became Huntress after seeing their parents killed. The reasons and circumstances that led to the deaths, however, are still profoundly different, inevitably sending them on very different paths with different potential for stories. Simply put, Helena Bertinelli—while still a compelling character—does not satisfy the needs of Helena Wayne fans anymore than Wayne does Helena Bertinelli fans. The answer is to let these two women co-exist separately.

2. Reinstate Helena Wayne’s Pre-Crisis History

Maintaining Helena Wayne's legacy and motivations for fighting crime is vital to ensuring she remains a compelling character.

In post-Flashpoint continuity, a version of Helena Wayne was created in which she served as Robin. While it was cool to see what Helena as Robin looked like fighting alongside her parents, this is better as an Elseworlds or What If story. Making her Robin changes too much of her character.

In pre-Crisis continuity, Bruce and Selina marry only after reflecting on their lifestyle choices and concluding they were not happy with where their futures were going. They also reflected on who they were as people, realizing that Batman and Catwoman were outlets for pain, not true identities. When they became parents, they retired their costumes to give their daughter a normal upbringing. Making Helena Robin changes Bruce and Selina from responsible to irresponsible parents who brought their daughter into their dangerous lifestyles—a regressive change.

Making Helena Robin also drastically changes her motivation. Pre-Crisis, Helena became Huntress both in response to her parents' deaths and in response to their legacies. She felt that with the upbringing she had, she had a stronger chance of making a difference in Gotham as the Huntress than as a lawyer in a courtroom. Why wait for a crime to happen when she could actively prevent it? The decision to become a costumed hero was entirely her own. It was very powerful. As Robin, the decision was made for her by her parents when she was a young age.

Finally, it’s simply more interesting having Helena Wayne as a Harvard graduate and a successful lawyer. She just has so much more agency than if you make her yet another sidekick whose choices were made for her while she was a child. Seeing Helena try to balance her life as a lawyer and as the Huntress created a conflicting and compelling dichotomy that affected her most intimate relationships.

3. Reinstate Her Original Identity, Personality, and Relationships

Speaking of her identity and relationships, the change I want most is to see them reinstated. I love when Helena Wayne’s Huntress showcases her detective skills, combat training, and, of course, her signature pistol crossbow, but her civilian identity is just as important. It’s the Helena Wayne side of that Huntress that most strongly attracts me to her character vs. Helena Bertinelli when she occupies the same costume.

What makes the Helena Wayne identity so special? It goes back to what I said at the start. She is the daughter of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman, and she originated the Huntress identity as a way to continue their legacy. In being the original Huntress, she even provided the base template for Helena Bertinelli. (I always think of Helena Wayne as the Jay Garrick to Helena Bertinelli's Barry Allen.)

I also like the fact that she is a lawyer because it positions her as a working woman who earns her own money as opposed to living on her family's fortune. She even differs in this way from her father, who seemed to spend more time fighting crime as Batman than working a real job. (Golden Age Bruce started working a real job after he retired his Batman lifestyle.)

On the personality front, pre-Crisis Helena Wayne was never a dark and brooding heroine. Even when she experienced low points in her life, she still maintained a high level of self-confidence, which always spoke to me. She remained happy and optimistic in the face of grave troubles, which is another way she differs significantly from Helena Bertinelli.

While not as important as her relationship with Power Girl, Helena's friendship with Golden Age Dick Grayson is also worth revisiting.

What was also vital to her personality was her relationships, which brings me to another vital point—Helena Wayne needs Power Girl in her life and vice versa. They enrich each other's lives by being the legacies of the Golden Age Batman and Superman, and their friendship also makes their tragic circumstances a little less sad. If Power Girl in particular is going to return to her status quo of being the Earth-2 survivor of the Crisis reboot (a development we’ve seen hints of), having Helena is vital.

Another relationship that would definitely enrich Helena's life on the main Earth would be rebuilding her friendship with Dick Grayson. Even though Nightwing is a different character from the guy she knew as her big brother on the original Earth-2, the Prime Earth Dick still embodies the charm and appeal of the Golden Age Robin (perhaps with a better fashion sense). Of course, DC could also just retcon the current Earth-2 Grayson back into the pre-Crisis original and settle for having two Dicks on the main Earth instead of one. I mean, why not? We already have two Wally Wests. Just let the Earth-2 guy grow a beard and call him Richard. But I digress…

One more classic Huntress panel for the road...

4. Return Her to the Justice Society

Last but not least, reinstate Helena’s membership into the Justice Society. The Justice Society was her superhero family from the beginning, and putting her back on the team would allow her to reclaim her place within DC's Golden Age lore. She was always a character built on that history. Now we have a main Earth that erases the Trinity from the Golden Age, but putting an Earth-2 Helena Wayne Huntress alongside Power Girl, along with Lyta Trevor as Fury, would help make up for that.

I am, however, a realist, and I know it is unlikely that any of the things I want to see happen for Helena Wayne post-Rebirth will actually happen. If there is, however, a creator or editor at DC who’s thinking of Helena Wayne fans (like me), we’d absolutely love to see the classic character return. Her existence would benefit other characters in the DCU, and, most importantly, she is still so ripe with the potential for good stories.

Click here for a reading list of comics starring Bronze Age Helena Wayne.

Diane Darcy is a huge fan of Bronze Age DC, Earth-2, the Justice Society, Power Girl, and especially Helena Wayne as the Huntress. When Diane isn’t obsessing about comics, she enjoys music, writing, animals, and researching exoplanets, multiverse theories, and time dilation. You can find her at @HelenaWayneBlog

Top Batman #50 Wedding Variants (and Why We Love Them)

By Zack Quaintance — Batman and Catwoman are getting married (probably) in Batman #50, which drops on July 4. Unlike most weddings on holidays, the inconvenience here is actually minimal (no RSVP required...just go and buy the book) and the ceremony will likely get bombed or gassed or whatever by the Joker. You know how it goes—ol’ Batman is fated to forever make obsessive sacrifices to illustrate how his crusade against crime precludes him from being truly happy. Aren’t comics a nice escape?

That all, however, is a problem for our leather-clad couple to address later. These days before the nuptials are reserved for basking in romance, for hope that this time will be different, that keeping Bats tormented and alone has become a tired trope DC is willing to trade for expanded narrative options, you know, like having a happy married couple getting bombed or gassed or whatever by the Joker. At least for a couple years and a few dozen issues, maybe.

Anyway, in honor of said romance, comic book artists throughout the industry have created more than 40 variant covers...and counting. This is, to be certain, an overwhelming number of choices, even for savvy and adept collectors. So, we’re here today to help by laying out some of our favorites plus a few quick words about why we like each of them.

SPECIAL NOTE: I am a sappy fool about all things weddings-related. Apologies in advance if any of this tips into mush! Also, much thanks to Twitter user @batcatposts, who did a stellar job collecting the variants as they were announced.

Let’s say I do!

Top 5 Best Batman #50 Covers

Standard Cover by Mikel Janin
As noted, I’m a bit of a sentimentalist with weddings, and so this classic You may now kiss the bride shot, surrounded by flowers, is a must for me. I also like it as a companion piece to the cover of Batman #44, a Joelle Jones piece that gave us a wonderful look at Catwoman’s perfect wedding dress.

2 - Mikel Janin Standard Cover.jpg

Comic Sketch Art Variant by Dave Johnson
Dave Johnson is one of my favorite Batman cover artists of all time, dating back to his early 2000 covers for Greg Rucka’s run on Detective Comics, and this cover is classic Dave Johnson, complete with minimal design, strong monochromatic colors, and an image that speaks to the heart of the featured character, Catwoman. Bruce is entirely absent here, save for the Bat iconography on the dress, and that’s just fine. When it comes to weddings, the bride is the headliner, after all.

3 - Dave Johnson.jpg

Dynamic Forces Variant by Jae Lee
This one is a strong contender for our overall favorite. It easily makes the best use of the history between the couple with that colorful bit in the background, while at the same time dedicating the foreground to Selina’s dress and the romantic tension that has long driven this relationship—is she friend or foe? Does she love Batman? More importantly, does she love Batman enough to overcome the urge to rob Batman? It’s a cover with more questions than answers, which is my favorite type of art.

5 - Jae Lee - Dynamic Forces.jpg

Salefish Comics Variant by Joshua Middleton
Joshua Middleton has really emerged as one of the best cover artists in comics as of late, creating some true classics for DC’s artist-driven variants on both Aquaman and Batgirl. This cover, like Dave Johnson’s, is Selina only, and while the austere image is a goregeous one, it’s the expression on her face we like most, seeming to say, I can’t believe I’m getting married either, but isn’t this all a thrill? It’s perfect.

4- Joshua Middleton - Salefish Comics.jpg

ZMX Comics Variant by Jorge Jimenez
This one made our list for two reasons: 1. Nobody is drawing superheroes at Jorge Jimenez’s level right now. Nobody. And 2. While maybe a bit randier than wedding-related imagery ought to be, this is an image that again speaks to the nature of the Bat-Cat romantic dynamic. Also, it has Selina in charge (as it should be). Mercy!

1 - Jorge Jimenez - ZMX Comics.jpg

Others Receiving Votes

Best of the Bride Only Covers
Again, this is a wedding, and so the vast majority of attention should be on the bride. As such, there are far more covers featuring Selina than Bruce. Here are some of our favorite bride-only variants. From left to right, Eric Basaldua, Warrren Louw, Natali Sanders, and Ale Garza.

Who Needs Physics?
Cover by Guillem March for Kings Comics. Alls I’m saying is there’s no way this doesn’t end with injury...

Guillem March - Kings Comics.jpg

Why Are You Mad?
I'm not, but I wish this connecting Joe Madureira cover was a little more wedding-y. It's still very good, as is all of the rare comic artwork Joe Mad does at this stage of his career. Available via 4colorbeast.

16 - Joe Madureira - 4colorbeast.jpg

Can I See the Ring?
This last variant, which is by Mike Mayhew and available through Comicpop Collectibles, is a look at the realistic star of any wedding between a billionaire and a jewel thief—the ring.

14 - Mike Mayhew - Comicpop Collectibles.jpg

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.