GRAYSON #18

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[ SPY ON A SALE
With Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, Roge Antonio, and Geraldo Borges, all snooping around, there's all manner of devious plots afoot. They're certainly up to something in our soupy spy mess to bring you DC Comics' March, 2016 tale of spy vs spy vs spy vs spy.

TO QUOTE Lando Calrissian: “Why you slimy, double-crossing, no-good swindler – you've got a lot of guts coming here after what you pulled”.

THE REVIEW: 
Let's start with errata. That's what the cool kids do, right? In reviewing the last issue, I commented on how Tao was acting like he was at the Syndicate meeting with Helena. Which he was -- derp -- because the eight shadows revealed at that meeting were not just the five left standing for this issue's showdown, but also Frankenstein (presumably still in Checkmate's custody), Tao (presumably still locked up in the Syndicate's “undisclosed” safehouse in São Paulo), and Grifter. We've yet to get a rundown to confirm who represents what organization or if they're even explicitly representing anyone. Nor have we gotten any explanation as to what happened to the silhouettes that looked like Spy Smasher, Mademoiselle Marie, Sarge Steel, and the rather short slender woman with a decidedly non-Gwisin-like posture. But Tao was definitely there. My bad.

I also expressed woe about losing Tim Seeley and Tom King to Lanzing and Kelly for these final few issues (plus another Annual!) and how it felt like they were fast-forwarding their story to reach its conclusion sooner rather than later. And I still think they were (and that Lanzing and Kelly still are). But with the news of Rebirth explaining that they left because King will be writing Batman and Seeley Nightwing, I can totally excuse their absence. I still wish schedules would allow for stories to play out as creators originally envisioned, but that's a rant for another day.

What Lanzing and Kelly have given us is best described in their own opening page dateline: “St. Hadrian's Finishing School Warzone”.  It's wrapped in spycraft reveal after reveal, but in the end, this issue is really just a superhero battle royal issue without the superheroes. We've got five members of the Syndicate arriving on school grounds, confronted by Dick and Tiger as Matron Bertinelli and some Hadrian's guards rush to intercept. We've got Agent Zero stepping out of the shadows to incite the Skull Girls as Doctor Netz's true intentions and true concerns are revealed. And then when he and Tiger need to move on from the fight, Dick calls in his not-so-secret secret ally. But we knew all that. There are two reveals that are a surprise to the reader, unless I totally missed something a half dozen issues ago, neither of which are really explained in this issue.

So what's left is a whole lot of posturing and trash talking as fists are flung, bish-bash-boosh! Everybody is in the right and everybody is in the wrong -- and that's fun -- but it still felt a little flat. The hooks are in. They're not going to lose me. I want to know how so-and-so is still alive and whether our big finish cliffhanger appearance is who we've all been assuming would show her face eventually (And thus not the same person many have been assuming Katarina is). But this issue is just those two reveals. It doesn't give them any meat, and the in between is all filler.

There were some awesome dialog moments, like Tiger complaining about puns while fighting on one page, then dropping jokes on the next, Dick & Lucas's pseudo-flirting, or Elizabeth and Katarina's brief moment of unity before stumbling. However, much of the “turning point” dialog that really mattered to the story fell short for me. For example, both Zero's engagement of the Skull Girls and Dick's efforts to undo that came across as incomplete and unconvincing. Perhaps there's some sort of double-reveal coming in a future issue, but at the pace we're moving forward that seems fairly unlikely.

The art is fun. Antonio and Borges have a somewhat different style than Janín, but far less so than Di Giandomenico was. Some characters feel a bit off from the faces we've come to know and love in this series, but there's no mistaking who's who and it doesn't pull you out of the moment at all. It's just there. The art works. The fight scenes are nothing amazing; they communicate what's going down and what's going down is just a fight. The characters are solid and consistent in both close and far shots. Nothing to complain about.

I know all comics seem to have type-os these days, and I'm beginning to feel like a bit of a pretentious douche for always calling them out, but when coupled with the uninspired art and kind of lazy feeling dialog, things like Zero's stray comma and Tiger's “supposed” just help reinforce the feeling that perhaps this series is just being wrapped up with as little effort as possible while editorial is all focused on the post-Rebirth world.

Thank the deity of your choice for the Midnighter and butt jokes.

THE MUSIC: 
I've probably used this before, but it's been a while and it feels appropriate again. There are probably other songs that work well for when a story hits that moment when all the different parties converge on the same school for young girls that happens to be training them for spycraft and combat (as opposed to manners and propriety) and start blowing things up and kicking people's face in. But The Misfits' All Hell Breaks Loose just works so well, it's going to rule the day again and again and again.




THE COMPARISON: 
You're all familiar with Antonio Prohías' Spy vs Spy comic strip that's run in MAD Magazine since 1961, right? It works on multiple levels for this issue. Yes, there's the surface level big fat fist fight between the Syndicate, Dick and Tiger, Helena, the Skull Girls, and the … newest arrival on the field. But when we get Katarina and Elizabeth alone I got a very strong MAD vibe. And I have a funny feeling that the next couple of issues are going to peel back more layers of deception in the web as our assorted spies reveal their tricks to one another.

THE CONCLUSION: 
I guess it's still not someday yet?

This was a good issue. Not a great issue, but a good issue. Plenty of action, but all the spycraft angle stuff was only interesting thanks to the groundwork of King and Seeley, not anything new that Lanzing and Kelly brought to the table. I hope that's just a transitional issue and they've got good stuff in store for us over the final two issues (and the aforementioned magical-flashback-filled Annual).

They did give us one really solid piece of information that might have seemed like a throwaway; the Bertinelli crime family is apparently still around. If I recall correctly, The Huntress indicated that Helena was (believed) dead and implied that the Bertinelli crime family was no more. Or at least not actively being a crime family. I'm curious about what this means for the post-Rebirth story in Benson and Benson's Batgirl and the Birds of Prey

As to the final stretch of Grayson, let's hope we get some resolution on at least some of our dangling loose ends;
  • Who the hell is Amelia Spellman? 
  • Where did our missing shadowy Syndicate members go? 
  • Will that mysterious mind-control satellite in the sky finally come in to play? 
  • Who or what is Black Knight? (Did I miss something there?) 
  • Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? And why is she wearing bug goggles? 
  • Is Gwisin really just a straight up ghost? Will we be getting any sort of origin story? Is she someone we've met before? 
  • Why? Just… you know, her. Not her, but the other her. I need a better explanation than “I served the Spyral of war.” 
  • Please tell me the events of Robin War play in to this. Unless there's a serious reversal soon, the state of Spyral implies that all recent events happen after the events of Batman and Robin Eternal, which explicitly indicated that all but it's afterward happened prior to Robin War. So the Battle of St. Hadrian's (as well as Tiger and Dick's World Tour) should be post-Robin War. That has to matter at some level. Right? 

*** Just reading and writing and rambling in the back of the Joker's old Ho-Home-On-Wheels... Keath.

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