By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Patrick Gleason (art), Mick Gray (inks), John Kalisz (colors)
The Story: It’s Ra’s al Ghul’s first time on Paradise Island, and he’s not about to waste it on tourist traps.
The Review: On the whole, Tomasi has done a good job making sure this team-up thing hasn’t been just a promotional gimmick. The first arc gave each member of the Bat-family a different role in talking Bruce down from his crazed grief, and the second arc was basically a Two-Face storyline that had little to do with teaming Bruce up with anybody. With this third arc now looking to Bruce’s Justice League buddies for partners, Tomasi veers dangerously close to using them as pure eye candy.
That’s the way Aquaman sort of turned out last issue since Tomasi didn’t really allow the two to interact or connect in any special way, and Wonder Woman doesn’t fare much better. She happens to be a little more present in this issue than Aquaman was, maybe, but she’s no less simply a muscle-woman for Bruce, her role limited to handling the physical threats beyond his mortal frame. I know I joked about the two of them reviving their pre-relaunch romance, but at the very least, I hoped for a deeper connection than a three-panel sunrise chat about pretty much nothing.
If Tomasi couldn’t generate much chemistry between Bruce and Diana just by virtue of their personalities, he could have made their mutual adventure a better topic of conversation. But despite her surprise at discovering a special, memory-wiping, previously unknown Lazarus Pit on Paradise Island, Diana spends no time appreciating its implications. Nor is she all that interested in Neekta, the monster Zeus imprisoned within the Pit allegedly out of fear for the creature, who is your basic mindless behemoth, only blobbier.
This weakness in the issue’s core conflict yet again demonstrates that for all of Tomasi’s talents, he’s just never been much good at coming up with new plots for his characters to play in. But even his usual character-writing strengths are blunted by a seemingly endless stream of exposition. As much as Aleka bristles during her confrontation with Bruce, she spends the bulk of her time asking questions, purely for recap purposes, than being actually menacing. In fact, given her usual intolerance for men, even those of divine blood, she’s surprisingly meek here, relenting after just one rage-rant from Bruce.
Aleka is only slightly less impactful than Ra’s, who also spends more time chatting than acting. It’s a terrible waste. Here, you have an immortal genius with his army of ninjas and bat-men, blatantly violating the no-men-allowed policy of an island full of immortal warrior women, facing off against Batman and Wonder Woman, and he spends a whole page of the encounter talking about how he found the island via a traumatized priest. Besides the simple fact that it’s unbelievably silly that he can get away with telling such a long, involved story (that admittedly incorporates Brian Azzarello’s new Amazonian mythology quite well) in the middle of a firefight, it’s just not relevant to the instant action.
Between this issue and #29, Tomasi has established a definite pattern for this arc. Basically, Ra’s leads Bruce on merry chase to a different locale, where Bruce finds the appropriate ally to help him out, and then they all have a minor skirmish before Ra’s books it, leaving Bruce to swear through increasingly gritted teeth that he’s going to take down that immortal sumbitch. This would be fine if, like Tomasi’s 5 Stages of Grief arc, we got some lasting developments from each issue, but these two have been sadly infertile.
Gleason’s not shy about applying a liberal amount of exaggeration in his art, and while most of the time he uses it to great, dramatic effect, there are times when his figures drift into the slightly grotesque. Aleka may be one of those times. I have no problem with her having a lady-wrestler frame, but her musculature goes a bit over the top here, veering close to the Rob Liefeld excesses of the nineties. This could be Gleason’s way of contrasting Aleka’s showboaty strength with Diana’s inhumanly perfect blend of athleticism and beauty, but it’s a disturbingly arresting sight nonetheless.
Conclusion: Formulaic in plot and surprisingly weak in character, this is Tomasi at his least inspired.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – I’m rather proud of myself for noticing some artistic laziness on the last page. The third panel is obviously copied-and-pasted from the first, since Gleason didn’t even bother to remove Neekta’s shadow despite the fact that the monster has already disintegrated. You can also see the outlines of three birds in the first panel filled in on the third.