Overview: A trashy young adult romance novel with a more problematic female lead than Twilight.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): The book is broken up into 3 parts, so that’s how I’ll be breaking down the synopsis. Normally my summaries would be a lot more in-depth, but this is an over two-hundred-page graphic novel, and it’s not a serialized story, so there’s no reason to cover this all in real-time like with individual monthly comics.
Part 1: Bruce, kicked out of prep school, goes to the public school that Jack, a poor street-punk and Selina, Bruce’s childhood friend, attend. He spends most of his time getting back in touch with Selina and befriending Jack. He attends a party that Jack’s friends’ host where they scam rich patrons with rigged poker games, but Bruce manages to win Jack’s respect with his skill at winning the rigged poker games.
Bruce nearly gets kidnapped after school, when Jack’s friends mistake another kid for him. Selina is seen erasing security footage of the event, Jack goes home to reveal he has a stalker-shrine dedicated to Selina, and Bruce wakes up in a hospital. Bruce investigates the kidnapping and tracks down the drug that was used to knock him out. This introduces Poison Ivy to the story.
Part 2: No one knows what happened to the kid who was kidnapped. Bruce then spots Selina wandering down the hallway out of class and follows her. We get some confrontational non-dialogue and then Bruce breaks into the school at night to uncover some evidence.
Bruce tries to bait-out the kidnappers by hosting a party to show off his wealth. Bruce introduces Poison Ivy to Selina and plays video games with Jack. Then, it’s revealed the kidnappers have taken Selina instead.
Part 3: Bruce tracks Selina down and pretends to get kidnapped himself so he can rescue her. Bruce and Selina then bond over childhood memories and kiss, which Jack sees. Bruce sees Jack stalking Selina and taking photos of her. Bruce suspects Jack, and back at Ivy’s apothecary, she says she sold the drug to Jack but is lying and sold it to Selina. Selina goes to Jack’s house, sees his stalker shrine, and has an emotional moment with him. Selina wishes she could just be with Jack AND Bruce but chooses Jack. Selina finds out her dad’s condition is worse. She needs to find the money to get him to a clinic fast.
Selina goes missing again. Despite fighting many times, Bruce and Jack bond over their shared worry for Selina’s safety. The next day Selina leaves a suicide note. Jack and Bruce both figure out where she’s going and race there. Bruce sees Selina wearing the mask of the kidnapping ringleader and Selina reveals her entire plan to Bruce. That she wanted to steal Bruce’s money either with the poker games, or by kidnapping him, or even herself. She plans on committing suicide and giving her trust money to her dad. Selina reveals she doesn’t care at all about either of the two boys and then jumps. However, Ivy has helped her fake her death, and they are off to Paris.
Analysis: There is so much wrong with this book that I am not going to get the chance to cover everything in this single review. But let’s move from the most simple, to the most complex.
Part 1: Words
First things first, the dialogue is terrible. This isn’t just the blame of the writer, Melissa de la Cruz, but also the letterer, Troy Peteri. So much of this story’s dialogue is done in the most basic means possible, which conflicts unbelievably with the casual lines everyone is saying. People stumble over their words and give half-statements, but the word balloons in the book will often put two phrases, that would have a pause of breath in-between them, and instead makes the characters look like they are rushing every casual line.
This isn’t just the letterer’s job though, as word-balloon placement alone would not explain this terrible dialogue. Melissa doesn’t seem to understand how comas and periods work when expressing casual dialogue. In a more structured, formal script, “Oh, hey.” and “Oh. Hey.” mean the same thing, but the use of commas and periods have different amounts of breathing associated with them. It tells you how long you need to pause in-between each word. This is also true with how balloons work in comics.
If a comic book uses a very long, straight line to connect two balloons, it is inferred by that visual language that a long pause is being made in this scene. Even more abstractly, a short line connecting two balloons, followed by a longer line connecting the third balloon helps show pacing throughout the speech. Even if we can’t infer the exact amount of time going on, we can infer that one piece of dialogue took longer to say because there was more space involved.
This is also true with punctuation. Two words with only a space between then are only enough time to say words. This is why some writers even go as far as to remove spaces all together when they want to comically have someone speaking ridiculously fast, with no room to breathe. If you add a comma, that’s close to getting a quick breath in between words. And if you use a period, then there is a full stop going on between the two words, telling the reader they should also take a full stop for a second as they read this dialogue to themselves.
Now, I would never even bother to explain this in a review for most comics. This is such a little detail that it would never even cross my mind when the writer is failing to properly use such techniques. But the writer also chose to make every written word in this book the absolute worst. Now, I’m not going to call Melissa a hack-writer, she’s a VERY accomplished writer who’s gotten more than a dozen novels published, but having never read a book of hers before, I can only assume she uses the same terrible dialogue in every book she writes.
No one talks like a human being in this book. EVERY piece of narration is coupled with intentional contradictions. It wants to sound casual and abstract. “But Bruce without guilt is like peanut butter without jelly.” “Or Gotham without crime is more like it…” These two lines go back to back in this comic. Nothing is committed or taken seriously by the narrator and this book is filled to the brim with narration like this. The dialogue is the same, and it’s very clear that Melissa has never written for a comic book before because she doesn’t know how to utilize the medium. Eighty-five percent of this comic is told through either narration or dialogue, which means the few times the artist gets a chance to tell information through visual tools, it’s buried.
Part 2: Art
There’s a scene in the comic where Bruce, investigating the security cameras for clues, finds a long strand of hair. Then, much later in the comic, we see him steal a strand of Selina’s hair, and is studying it under a microscope. The initial scene involving Bruce finding a strand of hair is told primarily through visual information in the scene, which means when I first read the scene, I had completely glossed over that detail, and for the entire comic, it looked like Bruce was suspecting Selina for no reason whatsoever.
This is also a shame because Thomas Pitilli and Miguel Muerto do an amazing job of illustrating the art. Every character looks very unique and they do a fantastic job of making everyone’s ethnicity clear and understandable. This isn’t a comic where the Asian people just look like other white people; which is pretty important for a comic that uses race as a plot point in the story.
There’s a scene midway in the comic, where Bruce finds Poison Ivy’s apothecary shop and uses a lie about attending something called “Chinese School”, and Ivy, who is Korean in this story, bonds with him about attending “Korean School”. I, as a pasty Irish-Italian who never spent more than two hours in a city, have no idea what those are, but the personal significance of such schools is very clear. Bruce and Ivy only properly bond in this scene and Bruce can coax information out of her because they can bond over a shared racial history with each other. This detail would be less impactful if they just looked like other white people like some artists do when portraying Asians in comics.
I also want to state for the record that NONE of my criticism of this comic has anything to do with the race-swapping of these characters. Bruce being Chinese is neither a positive or negative attribute of him nor his story. Neither is Ivy being Korean, Selina being Latinx, or Barbara Gordon being black. These are superfluous details and only matter when they are explicitly mentioned concerning the story relating to the historical connection of the race, like with Bruce and Ivy.
Speaking of Ivy, I feel compelled to bring this up for all the Ivy stans who may be reading this, but the comic does not shy away from bringing up Ivy’s bisexual nature. She openly flirts with both Bruce and Selina in the comics (and Selina returns the flirtation for those curious). Ivy herself doesn’t have a lot of character or complexity. She’s a minor character all things considered, which makes this small detail added to her, and her impact in the story’s finale, all the more impressive.
However, it’s time I get back to discussing the criticisms I have with this story because there is still a lot to go over.
Part 3: Plot
Getting back onto the narration, I need to stress just how much of this comic fills up needless dead space in the comic with self-contradicting, hyper-casual dialogue, being written by a nearly fifty-year-old woman trying to sound like a sixteen-year-old girl. Oh yeah, all of this narration is being told from Selina’s perspective by the way, and it’s very disorienting. The story is framed visually from Bruce’s perspective, and every plot point and detail on the page is told from Bruce’s point of view. Except the narration is told from Selina’s perspective, and it goes deeply into covering Bruce’s history and mental state.
This makes Selina look like an obsessive stalker who is single-mindedly focusing on Bruce and Bruce’s life, even though in the actual events taking place on the page, Selina’s entire motivation has more to do with helping her bedridden father, than anything to do with Bruce. Selina is also given a lot to try and make her out to be a sympathetic party in all this. Her father is suffering from a serious case of Alzheimer’s and it is explained to the reader very clearly that she can’t access a large amount of money her dead mother left her because her extended father has it inside of a trust that she doesn’t get access to until she’s twenty-one.
But then the story goes and has her torturing her classmates and manipulating Jack and Bruce like a sociopath. She and her gang of kidnappers try to kidnap Bruce to ransom him for the money that she can use to pay for her father’s condition, but when they accidentally kidnap Harvey Dent instead, her goons decide to torture him by slicing up his face. Selina, of course, stops them, but as Harvey, he says “not soon enough”. By all accounts, Selina was in the room the entire time and only stepped in AFTER they began to cut at him. And she shows ZERO remorse for these actions by the end of the story. Harvey Dent doesn’t even get brought up except as a footnote in her villainous monologue.
And when Bruce brings up the very obvious detail that she could have just asked her childhood best friend for help, help with her bedridden father who she is doing all of this for, she proclaims “all I needed from you was to stop rescuing me so I could do it myself”. Selina’s motivations in this story are entirely flawed and despicable. And if that was what the story was trying to go for, it utterly fails, because it tries to make Selina the heroic victor at the end of it all.
The story ends with Selina’s fake-suicide leaving all her trust money to her father so he can get the proper treatment and Selina is now in Paris. Oh, and by the way, the woman who just committed financial fraud and fled the country, as a result, is now posting selfies on her Instagram, as if no one is going to realize what she just did and isn’t going to send Interpol after her.
This entire story would be a million times better, if we had the story be framed from Selina’s perspective, like a female-led Death Note, where we see this young girl being driven flaws and moral failings, refusing to ask for help and it resulting in her actual death, that would be an incredibly tragic story, but make a lot more sense than this love-triangle story going on.
Oh yeah, this comic is also trying to pretend it’s a trashy love-triangle between Bruce, Selina, and Jack, where Selina is caught in the middle between the emo, Richie-Rich childhood best friend, and the attentive, bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. This is the one plot point done from Selina’s perspective, except this love triangle boils down to nothing because Selina spends the third part of the story manipulating the two against one another, declaring she feels nothing for either of them and then running off with Ivy.
So once again, this plot point would have made a lot more sense, if we got to see Selina go through the emotional beats of deciding that she no longer loved either of them (even though she’s having an internal monologue in the story about how she wants both of them and doesn’t want to choose between them in the first place, and judging by how close Jack and Bruce behave towards one another throughout this entire story, I find it hard to believe these two would be opposed to a bisexual threesome with each other).
And yeah, kind of hard to sell a reader on a love triangle, when the two male leads have better chemistry with one another than either of them have with the female lead. There’s also the fact that you made one of the lead males a STALKER who takes photos of her without her consent and frames a mural to her in her bedroom. Like the story intentionally frames this scene as a way to make Jack look dangerous as some kind of red herring for Bruce’s investigation. Except that we see Selina deleting security footage. Oh, and there’s also the detail that the kidnapping leader wears a cat-themed mask over their face.
Part 4: Consequences
This is something I have a huge problem with badly written Elseworld comics. They try to splash little details like this to call back to the source material, except it completely spoils the story for anyone with half a brain. There’s also the point that Ivy reveals right away that she lied to Bruce when she said that it was Jack that bought the drugs, not Selina. Every time the story tries to throw us for a red herring, it immediately reveals the truth to us one panel later.
Oh no, Bruce was just assaulted and someone’s getting kidnapped, who could be behind it—Oh, Selina’s deleting video footage and looking very menacing. Oh no, Jack was the one who bought the drug—Oh, it was Ivy covering for Selina. Oh no, Harvey Dent just said one of the kidnappers looked like Jack—Oh, the leader of the kidnappers is wearing a cat-mask.
Since Bruce immediately starts to suspect Selina anyway of being behind it, there was no reason to show Selina being the bad guy. We already learn from Principle Gordon that the security footage was deleted, so we didn’t even need to see anyone do that. And if the story had bothered to give us another red herring beyond JUST Jack, we may have suspected him. Perhaps if we got a character named “Thomas Blake” who was equally suspicious, it would throw comic book readers for a loop, because they might think the cat-faced kidnapper was Catman, not Catwoman, thus making the reveal more meaningful when we see Selina wearing the cat mask as she’s about to commit suicide.
Also, why is she wearing the stupid cat-mask as she’s about to commit suicide? I know she’s doing this so Bruce and Jack can act as witnesses to her death, but why does she have to wear the mask? Bruce has no idea what the actual mask looks like. He has no frame of reference for any of it.
Heck, the scene where Ivy frames Jack for the drugs? That could have been Jack. We see that Jack’s parents are both drug addicts, his mother drinking beer and what I think is cough-syrup, and his father popping prescription pills that make him lose consciousness. We could have a touching moment where Bruce confronts Jack, only to learn he had bought the drugs for his parents because they force their son to buy the drugs from the pharmacy. Would have added some sympathy to his character since the actual moment made to invoke sympathy, the scene where we learn Jack’s parents are both addicts, is immediately undercut by us learning Jack has a stalker-shrine to Selina in his room.
Speaking of that shrine, Selina apparently knows all about it, as she just out of the blue, midway through the story, tells him to show her his room, which she has never done, and then sees the mural, and is absolutely in love with it. She even starts making out with Jack on top of the mural while musing to herself about how she wants to be with both Jack and Bruce. This story is always contradicting itself. It lacks any confidence in its material and can’t commit to anything. Every line of dialogue is either contradicted immediately or a few pages later.
I could go on and on with everything else wrong with this comic, but I have spent probably too much time already explaining why I feel it was bad. If you still want to buy the comic, then go right ahead and see just why it is bad.
Final Thoughts: Don’t bother with this comic. Even if things weren’t financially tough on everyone everywhere, this story would never be worth it.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a review copy of this title. You can purchase your own copy by heading over to Amazon.