DC Saved By The Belle Reve #1 Review: This Back-to-School Anthology Proves Both Delightful & Disappointing

The intersection of a Suicide Squad-adjacent anthology with a back-to-school theme might only sting because I find myself teaching during the day and just recently welcomed students back. However, as a fan of dark humor, I'll take the joke. On this fifth Wednesday filled with DC Comics' typical array of Annuals and other special issues, this particular over-sized installment proves particularly eye-catching. With a gorgeous covered filled with humorous Suicide Squad hijinks by artist Juni Ba, DC Saved By The Belle Reve promises an abundance of laughs tied into the fall return of students across the country.

The 80-page issues contains 8 stories from unique creative teams, beginning with…

(Photo: DC Comics)

"Sophomore Year"

The first story makes this a must-buy for any fans of Gotham Academy as it tours the series' central cast and provides some interstitial tissue for wherever their stories might pick up again. It features the core creatives of the original series who deftly build upon the past without constructing an insular story. Instead, they offer the unfamiliar a brief mystery possessing enough humor to provide a pleasant distraction, if you weren't seeking out Maps and her remaining crew in Gotham.

"High School Lows"

The Suicide Squad—largely formulated around the cast of recent films—join an elite prep school in a story that applies a National Lampoon's-style sensibility to the franchise's quirks in a schoolyard setting. Embracing the inherent absurdity of the scenario serves the story well, even when it becomes apparent that the illogical nature of the mission is baked into the conflict. Seeing larger-than-life figures like King Shark and Weasel stuffed into an academy setting manages to stay funny for 10 pages – the maximum amount of space this story merits, especially given it has the same scratchy textures of notebook sketches.

"Back to School"

This Super Sons reunion is an "afterschool special" in the truest sense of that term as it uses didactic language embedded in the mouths of familiar characters in order to inform and instruct. The focus of this particular set of lessons is critical in American schools today as they address the issue of gender identity and how it relates to violence. That doesn't empower the story it tells, however, because nothing about these characters or their situations reads as authentic. Perhaps this will provide some benefit if freely distributed for educational purposes, but it doesn't offer much artistic value to readers.

"Earn It Back"

Another story careens into the same pitfalls as "Back to School" in a story about Green Arrow's failings as a guardian to Speedy. The story outlines three primary parenting styles—permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative, in that order—detailing the failings of the first two before finding a happy balance in the final option. Reading dialogue designed to inform may be fun at a museum where that experience is sought, but in a comic book it's often coma-inducing, especially when one is familiar with the underlying material. That the Teen Titans and Batman are reduced to dialogue partners and background figures is a big part of why this story misses the mark.

"Piece Making"

Art Baltazar and Franco deliver a nice change of pace when they send the Tiny Titans on an accidental field trip to Belle Reve Prison. It's a lark to see them filter the often mature figures and concepts of Suicide Squad stories into something suitable for children. The entire sequence is charming and moves so briskly that even cynical readers ought not feel annoyed, and the quirks of Beast Boy and Starfire may even crack that cynicism along the way. There's a startlingly great joke surrounding one inmate named Ralph that makes "Piece Making" a highlight of this whole collection.

"This Is Why"

Black Lightning's time spent as President Lex Luthor's Secretary of Education is a biographical quirk transformed into something much more potent in the wake of the Trump presidency as it poses the question: What is the cost of supporting a criminal president? "This Is Why" presents a series of classroom snapshots showcasing the care of teachers and that Black Lightning was a great teacher, then juxtaposes them with a cabinet meeting in which Black Lightning rededicates himself to supporting President Luthor. It's a dull comic on its surface but the moral position it presents to readers—a level of rationalization that borders upon being psychotic—is genuinely abhorrent.

"How Angels Are Made"

Watters and Ferreyra are currently proving their hand at overturning long-fallow soil as they make Azrael an interesting figure in DC Comics for the first time in the 21st century. "How Angels Are Made" provides some additional background in their approach to Jean-Paul as it showcases the incredible degree of psychological torture he was subjected to when being given The System. It's a cruel bit of story that doesn't shy away from the truly monstrous treatments found in some private institutions, but it also showcases why readers are following Azrael into a new, moody miniseries loaded with potential.

"A Night Off"

The final outing in this anthology features a prom-themed date between Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon, which embraces its far-from-continuity nature to play up absurdities surrounding the entire concept. Batman screaming at them to attend prom in the midst of action and similar hijinks deliver some bona fide laughs, and Dániel's artwork proves flexible enough to play up those comedic shifts for maximum effect.

Like every anthology, DC Saved By The Belle Reve is a mixed-bag, but the average skews towards the disappointing. While highlights from familiar settings like the Tiny Titans and Gotham Academy will delight their fans, and a handful of others provide some genuine laughs, the lows are very low. The tone of adults lecturing on students and schoolyards they've long been away from can be heard resonating through a number of stories, while many seek to instruct in a manner that makes it seem like this comic should have been given away. "This Is Why" provides a truly shocking low point that, as a teacher, feels particularly traitorous comparing work for a criminal president to the genuine good work teachers do in the classroom. It sames that much like in Belle Reve there's more bad than good to be found here.

Published by DC Comics

On August 30, 2022

Written by Various

Art by Various

Colors by Various

Letters by Various

Cover by Juni Ba