BATMAN: Graveyard Shift (by various writers and artists) dis unusual these days in that it offers a series of one-shots rather than a big arc: Clayface tries to discredit Bruce Wayne, we met the first inmate ever committed to Arkham, Catwoman becomes queen of the Gotham underworld and Bruce mourns the death of his son Damien (don’t worry, he got better. They always get better). Individually these were fun, but they still carry enough continuity to be distracting; in one story Gordon has been jailed for something but we get zero explanation (on the one hand, Supporting Character Framed is common enough I don’t need one; on the other it isdistracting). And as others have said, the New 52 Batman having so many sidekicks in a six year career is ridiculous (it also reduces Dick to just one in a series of rotating Robins).
RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS: The Big Picture shows the writers are upgrading the power levels: Jason now wields mystic light-sabers and Roy is apparently a super-tech genius. Here again there’s no arc, just a series of stories as Arsenal defeats a criminal army with a screwdriver (more brutal than I like my heroes, though), Arsenal battles Lobo, Red Hood and Starfire take on Frankenstein (the highpoint of the book for me) and the Outlaws’ vacation turns into trouble (“They must be here undercover.”). Fun, but not the A-list — it doesn’t help that R’as al Ghul in the cover image looks like Wolverine.
John Le Carré’s THE TAILOR OF PANAMA is a black comedy inspired by Our Man in Havana (there’s also the in-joke of having the operation labelled “Buchan” for the earlier spy thriller writer) wherein the author’s typical characters have all been replaced by Star Trek‘s Harry Mudd (though admittedly that kind of conman character is hardly new to Le Carré’s works). Pendel is an ex-con who’s reinvented himself as an expat from the upper crust of British tailors; when a spy demands intel on Pendel’s politician-clients as the price for keeping his past secret, the tailor simply makes up whatever bullshit sounds exciting enough. Unfortunately when MI5 and a British press baron learn that Panama’s on the brink of civil war (heroic radicals pitted against a Japanese-backed cabal plotting to exploit the Panama Canal), they can’t sit idly by — and the story becomes more Black than Comedy. With Le Carré’s scathing satire of gullible spymasters, conniving press barons and the supposed “special relationship” between the UK and US, this could easily be a takeoff on the 2003 Iraq War, except it’s seven years too early. Unusual for Le Carré’s work in that Pendel’s marriage is relatively happy; one weakness in the book is that the tailor’s American wife speaks so strangely, I kept thinking she was a non-native English speaker. Overall though, excellent.
SECTION G: United Planets by Mack Reynolds (all rights to cover reside with current holder) collects three short stories set in a future where space flight has enabled every race, culture and political movement to settle it’s own planet if it so wishes. In a rather Star Trek set up, the United Planets never intervenes in member worlds’ affairs officially, but with an alien invasion looming, Section G specializes in covertly overthrowing governments that won’t get with the program (whether or not Reynolds meant it that way, it’s very reminiscent of the US attitude to governments that weren’t anti-communist enough). Reynolds was well known back in his day for looking at socioeconomic themes rather than just tech; while he does that here, he doesn’t do it as well as I remembered — way too many points made through As You Know exposition, for instance. And while I don’t hold it against the book it’s funny now that writing in the 1960s he assumed Spain’s then-current dictatorship (fascist General Franco) would continue into the future long enough to reach the stars. A touch disappointing.