Review: The Movement Vol. 2: Fighting for the Future trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 22, 2016

If Gail Simone's The Movement Vol. 1 did not deliver quite the draining emotional wallop of her later issues of (her original) Secret Six, then Movement Vol. 2: Fighting for the Future shows itself as on its way there had the series continued. Like Secret Six, Movement offers a group of heroes who, if not entirely in the wrong (as the Six often were), have at least largely conflicted motives, and yet Simone managed to wring from them such grace and kindness that it makes their misdeeds that much more gripping. The Movement-centered stories here are great, especially the latter two (as Simone moves from the group's politics to a greater focus on the characters themselves); further there's a Batgirl guest-shot here with surprising bite to it, of a kind it's a little surprising Simone did here and not over in that title itself.

[Review contains spoilers]

Movement Vol. 2 started to click for me at the moment the character Vengeance Moth had to tell Burden that the faux exorcism the others had just performed on him -- leading Burden to believe his "devilish" superpowers had been excised -- was a ruse so he might "Hulk up" again and save them. This is precisely what Simone's been good at, from later Birds of Prey to Secret Six and now -- these characters devastating one another for the greater good. And the stakes remain nicely high throughout the rest of the book, more so than in Movement Vol. 1: Class Warfare; I definitely thought Simone might have Movement's Katharsis behead the vigilante Horizon rather than turn him over to Batgirl, and that's all before the finale where I thought a sniper might take one of the team out.

The best issue is probably Movement's penultimate, which again leaves behind the group's political conflicts -- and indeed, Coral City overall -- for Burden's hometown of Hammond's Dell. Burden's brother kidnaps him and takes him back to their cult to stand trial for the murder of their father (a murder the brother committed); Simone devotes almost eight whole pages to recounting the tortures Burden suffered as a child in the cult, believed to be demonically possessed, all the while the threat of his being branded with a hot iron looms. All the superheroic trappings aside, the issue is tragic and violent -- Simone doling out that violence effectively, not gratuitously -- and when the heroes triumph in the end, we genuinely feel for them. It's this kind of maturity that set Secret Six apart, and here we can begin to see this kind of potential in Movement.

Equally striking is a sequence at the beginning of the issue previous, in which Batgirl -- having been knocked out and taken back to the Movement's lair after some typical superhero posturing against the Movement, and with the Movement lifting Batgirl's cowl to snap a photo of her secret identity -- has a flashback to the events of Killing Joke. The imagery that Simone and artist Freddie Williams uses is straight out of the Alan Moore comic, more specifically (than I recall at least) than Simone ever used in Batgirl proper.

It's a curious occurrence (published parallel to the beginning of the end of Simone's Batgirl run) that Movement should be the place where Simone's gets into the grittier elements of Barbara Gordon's New 52 "recovery" from her injuries; Batgirl has had the struggle, but not Barbara's post-traumatic visceral terror that's displayed here. I'm not sure if perhaps Movement presents a safer space to explore this than Batgirl -- the latter title having perhaps a responsibility to be more forward-looking than the former -- or if the scene better fit Movement's nascent maturity than Batgirl (though that title had some edgier gore, at least, of its own). But whereas the storyline overall is a tad rote -- Batgirl must be extraordinarily a stickler for the rules such to contrast with Movement's "free-thinking" -- the scene marks it as an important one for fans of Simone's Batgirl to read for completeness.

Simone offers Movement's thesis in the final issue, one that's equal parts harrowing fight and also a rather sweet conversation between a police officer and an activist meeting almost as father and daughter. Movement leader Virtue explains she wanted to inspire a new kind of superheroic problem-solving, one "where people cared about each other ... where compassion wasn't seen as weakness." It's an auspicious concept, one no doubt even more necessary in our current political climate.

At the same time, though the sentiment rings true from the Virtue character, there's a disconnect in it coming from Virtue-through-Simone. Again, we see this in Simone's portrayal of Batgirl as uncharacteristically closed-minded. In order for Movement to have something to champion, Simone must portray other heroes within this book as lacking compassion as Virtue states, but at the same time Superman might show plenty of compassion in the latest issue of his own series. Surely the concepts of Movement have societal relevance in the "real world," but they have certain straw man qualities within the DC Universe. The behaviors that Virtue decries are no more pandemic necessarily than Simone as the writer wants or doesn't want them to be, and that inserts a false note into the proceedings.

Such is the difficulty of political comics, however, and no less political comics that converse on their in-universe politics (DC Universe: Rebirth has similar interior/exterior concerns). This does not decrease my enjoyment of Movement Vol. 2: Fighting for the Future at all, and rather I appreciate a comic with some extra-sticky thinking involved. I maintain that it's telling that Movement picks up specifically when it's not focused on the movement itself, but that leads to the enjoyable character work one expects from a semi-independent Gail Simone comic. Surely if you weren't certain about the first volume, it's worth hanging on for the second.

[Includes original covers, Freddie Williams sketchbook]
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