Batman and Robin #9

Batman & Robin #9

Batman & Robin #9; DC Comics

I have not done a review of a comic book in half-of-forever.  I know that there are some “snobby geeks” out there who disdain comic books (or are more selective and merely disdain superhero comic books) arguing that they are not literature.  Well, the thing that I want to insist upon is that no, not all comic books are literature, however, what DC Comics has done in the Bat-titles in “The New 52” has definitely been literature.  Since the #1 issues in Detective Comics and Batman, DC Comics writers (Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, Peter J. Tomasi, and Tony Daniel) have created an epic-story that really deserves all the praise that people have been heaping upon it.  (And, the obnoxious writer of the DC stable, Grant Morrison, has rather stalled out in his titles…)

This review is about Batman and Robin #9.  It’s somewhat of a standalone issue focusing entirely on Robin (the Damian Wayne incarnation).  This issue is, however, entirely connected to the Night of the Owls storyline that has been running through the Bat-titles since their first issues.  This epic Court of Owls/Night of the Owls storyline is huge and has been done expertly.  The writers have, as a whole, really outdone themselves and, I think, given readers a solid example of how and why comics can, indeed, be literature.  Yeah, the whole thing spans (I approximate here) 25 issues or so for the full-impact of the story.  A reader could conceivably narrow it all down to just the Batman and Detective Comics titles, but I think that would weaken the scope of what the writers have done.  In any case, I am not going to get into a lengthy exposition on the Owls epic.  I do encourage readers to consider this stuff, though – it’s really worth it (though it may be a pain in the rear to collect all of the issues.)

Anyway, Batman and Robin #9 is a really awesome issue.  I have actually been surprised at how much I have liked this particular title since The New 52 began.  I loved the first arc (the ramifications will definitely continue throughout future issues) because it explored the relationship between Bruce Wayne and his son – in both a father/son perspective as well as a Batman/Robin perspective.

Issue #9 ties into the Night of the Owls storyarc.  Let us simply say that Robin is dispatched, by Alfred, to protect a target from a villain.  The Court of Owls have sent assassins out to kill nearly 40 Gotham leaders and Alfred sends Robin to protect Major General Benjamin Burrows of the 52nd – who commands nearly 15,000 troops.

I love more or less everything about this issue.  The title of the issue is Robin Hears a Hoo – which is fun because it plays on the Owls storyline and Dr. Seuss.  Dr. Seuss and Batman? Always a win.  And look at this cover because it was done by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and John Kalisz.  It is beautiful.  The perspective is perfect – Robin is a little kid, you know.  The coloring is perfect. The whole composition shows action, depth, no clutter or unnecessary busyness, and an ominous villain.  Perfect.

Inside, the issue contains non-confusing artwork, clean framing, and excellent coloring.  I like how it really feels like we are on a nighttime training exercise in a misty forest. I like how Robin solves the difficulties he runs into.  I also love the scenes where the writer shows us that Robin is not just a stupid punk kid – but is also highly-trained and intelligent. I like how the soldiers react and function.  I also like how this issue gives deeper insight into the total backstory and connection to the Court of Owls.  There is not much to dislike about this issue. It is precisely the kind of issue that comic book fans can collect, enjoy, and happily spend $2.99 on.  And $2.99 is a bargain for the quality this issue delivers.

Batman isn’t in this issue.  And he really does not have to be:  Robin carries this issue all by himself.  And the issue is good.

5 stars

Batman #8

Batman 8Issue #8 of Batman was really good. I debated giving it the full five stars, but I am stingy lately and am only going to give it four.  This issue was written and drawn by the continuing team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.  Capullo’s artwork has not been wow-ing me, but it’s been good. The writing, though, is probably the element that is getting this volume of Batman all of the praise and credit.  Some issues have been great, some have been just good. I think Snyder has some good ideas and is trying to make the main character a little different than the “regular” Batman.  Snyder is trying to “extend” the boundaries of what’s been done with the character – which is no easy thing since Batman has been written by so many writers through the years.

The cover is good for a few reasons, I think.  The main reason is that it actually is relevant to the inside story.  I really don’t like issues that have covers that look pretty but are completely unrelated to the issue’s story.  It’s deceptive and misleading when issues have covers that do that.  But this cover comes directly out of the storyline.  Another reason that it is good is that it maintains that creepy castle-like tone that is running through the “Owl” storyarc that Snyder has been writing.  Just the words “night” and “bat” and “owl” demand the artwork is creepy and eerie.  And this definitely is; however I look at the background and it looks like poorly blended digital artwork or a badly made oil painting.  What are these color marks especially on the left side of the cover? I dislike it.  It looks half-done or lazy. Is it Capullo or the colorist?

The title of this issue is “Attack on Wayne Manor” and that’s basically what this story is about. If you have not read this issue – this review will contain spoilers.  Anyway, the issue begins with Bruce Wayne brooding in his manor at night.  I’ll be honest, I have always known Bruce Wayne to be a brooding individual – it’s part of his charm, let’s say. However I did feel that in this issue Snyder moved a little too close to the line of whining as opposed to brooding.  On the third page, I absolutely hate the frame wherein Alfred lights the model city up and Bruce Wayne looks like a teenager who is getting picked on.  I know that recently he underwent a lot of physical trauma, but somehow that image/reaction of Wayne annoyed me.  Is it Capullo’s art again?  Or does it just make Wayne seem skittish and melodramatic? I hate that frame.

This issue is basically a home-invasion issue. The assassins, Talons, invade Wayne Manor – and only Alfred and Bruce are there to do anything about it.  They scurry in opposite directions – although, at the end of the issue, I have to say I don’t know why Bruce bothered to go to the roof. Anyway, they meet up in the Bat Cave in the Armor Room.  Something like a castle panic room.

So, why did Bruce run to the roof in the first place?  And also, how did this many assassins invade Wayne Manor so easily. I guess it’s hard to move completely into the “New DC 52” where this is a new Bruce and a new Wayne Manor.  I am used to Wayne Manor being an impenetrable fortress, really.  Sure, the talons are good at what they do, but come on – it’s that easy to invade BATMAN’s home? Tough pill to swallow as a reader, I suppose.

When Bruce leaves the armor room in big badass armor and says: “Get the hell out of my house!” …. it kind of makes up for the opening of the issue where Bruce was “lost in his own head.”  Also, the plan that Batman and Alfred came up with – dropping the temperature – seems like a good idea and I am excited to see what happens in the next part of the story.  Throughout, this is a fairly intense issue, lots of action and creepiness to turn the pages quickly. I liked the issue a lot, but I cannot ignore the questions/problems that I mentioned above.  I have high hopes for this storyarc, though, and think that Snyder is working hard on these issues.

4 stars

Justice League #7

JL 7

Justice League #7; DC Comics

One of the better titles (but maybe not best) to come out of the “New 52” initiative of DC Comics is Justice League. It’s difficult to believe that the title is already at issue #7.  For this issue, the “regular” artist Jim Lee took a break and we had a guest artist, Gene Ha.  I believe that Jim Lee still was the artist who drew the cover for this issue, however.  Geoff Johns remains the writer.

Overall, I think this series has been average.  It pains me to say this, because I truly want to love this title and give it high marks all around.  However, when I am not being a comic-sentimental-sap, I admit that it’s only average fare.  And this is even more glaring when I compare it to the stellar job that has been done with the Batman and Red Lantern titles.  Frankly, Justice League (with its star characters and mega-cool creators) should be much better than this.  Now, I do not say it is a bad title – it is worth the cover price.

I was not sure what to make of Jim Lee’s art when this title started. After a few issues, I felt that it definitely grew on me and I looked forward to seeing it.  However, compared to Gene Ha’s art, I can see I was settling.  Many readers/reviewers disdained this batch of Ha’s art and griped about not getting more Jim Lee work.  Frankly, Lee is very good, but there was something about the artwork in this issue that really appealed to me and I enjoyed it a lot.  In the middle of the comic, there are three pages that depict a “video” conference between Steve Trevor and the Justice League Watchtower.  All of these frames are excellent – and the layout is phenomenal.  In fact, these three pages are really, really well done and all of the stars that I am giving this issue are because of these pages.

Wonder Woman “answers” the video conference call and we see her via Trevor’s monitor.  In the first frame, Ha captures the beauty, sexiness, and charm of Wonder Woman.  In the next series of frames, Ha draws her with expert mastery.  The body language, facial expressions, and so forth in these frames is really good.  I know it may seem to be a “minor” thing to be able to draw a couple of frames of a superhero – after all, shouldn’t all DC/Marvel/Dark Horse/Image artists be able to do that?  But it’s not the drawing of a superhero that is good here, rather the very natural, human, and alive-ness that Ha brings out in the drawing.  I feel like he must have studied a lot of…. people… and must be rather intuitive and perceptive in order to render the drawings so well.

This same skill is seen earlier in the comic with Batman, although I feel Wonder Woman is a more obvious example.  In the Batman frames, the reader can almost feel the frustration/aggravation Batman is feeling.  Can comic book art really evoke a response in the viewer like traditional fine art? These frames in this issue prove that they can.  The stigma against comic book art fails here.

The writing is okay.  Johns gives us some witty moments and some good dialogue.  He also writes a straight-forward story with each character having their own voice and personality. He manages to give each member of the Justice League seemingly equal “facetime” (although, perhaps a little less with Superman) and they all seem balanced in the storyline.  The little asides characters have with each other is amusing.

However, I feel the storylines are so…. decompressed (it’s the word all the comic reviewers are using these days)… that it verges on boring.  There is nothing wrong with it – and I really understand the goal Johns is working toward and how there is a lot of responsibility to make this title, of all titles, accessible and workable.  However, I feel it needs more life in the writing. Not just quips, but a more powerful story. Again, this is not bad, but it is average.  Of course, I am going to keep pulling this and reading along. And wow, I need to find more Gene Ha in the world.

3 stars

Batman #1 (2011)

Batman 1

Batman #1 (2011)

The first month of the “New DC 52” is over. These are the titles that I subscribed to and read:

  • Action Comics
  • Batman
  • Batman & Robin
  • Blue Beetle
  • Detective Comics
  • Green Lantern
  • Green Lantern Corps
  • Justice League
  • Mr Terrific
  • Nightwing
  • OMAC
  • Red Lanterns
  • Superman
  • Wonder Woman

There were no “wretched” issues, thankfully.  Some issues were not as good as others, some were surprisingly good, and some were excellent.  In particular, I really liked Red Lanterns and OMAC.  Overall, the most exciting issue (that, yes, I feel did live up to the hype) was Justice League.  However, as far as the best issue (especially in terms of storyline) that came out, that I read, – I must say it was Batman #1.  It was written by Scott Snyder and pencilled by Greg Capullo.

The cover does not appeal to me very much. It’s not a terrible cover, I guess, but I think I wanted something better for the new number one issue of Batman. I wanted something absolutely outstanding.  This cover is not what I wanted to see for this title. And because I was somewhat unimpressed by the cover, I read the issue the last of all the issues I got that week.  I sure did judge it by its cover!

However, the writing is excellent. I cannot understand how Grant Morrison’s Action Comics and Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics stole the praise away from this issue.  That’s not to say that those issues were bad – they weren’t. This issue of Batman was awesome.  The issue begins with scenes from a dark and dismal Gotham City while Batman muses in dialogue boxes.  We learn that every Saturday in the newspaper, there is a small section wherein citizens are asked to complete the sentence: “Gotham is…..”   This is really fun because from the very first page, I was thinking about this in the back of my head; how would I respond to the question?  Gotham is…. dark. Gothic. Scary. Overrun. Crawling. Insipid. Ominous. Relentless. Decrepit. I loved thinking about how I would finish the phrase.

As Batman ponders the phrase, he’s also punching and kicking his way through bad guys at Arkham.  Until he gets to a room with the Joker and the unthinkable happens… they team up! Joker even says “Aw, always so serious!”  I must say that the Capullo drew the hell out of the Joker in these frames. So, at this point, I’m invested in the story – what’s going on?!  After the battle, Batman meets up with Commissioner Gordon and explains (in his evasive manner) what happened that evening.  Then we are in for a treat – a full spread bird’s-eye view of the Batcave.  I spent several minutes absorbing this shot – its really exciting and fun. I admit it, I am envious of Bruce’s cave. Anyway, surprise! Turns out Dick was actually posing as the Joker! I have no idea if I was relieved or thrilled about this. It was really cool, though, and I enjoyed being fooled. Apparently, Dick was posing as the Joker in Arkham.

Upstairs in the Manor, Bruce meets Dick, Damian, and Tim – all wearing black tie formal wear and looking like a real Bat-family.  Bruce has a party going on whereat he gives a long speech in an endeavor to get investors to join him in creating a newer, better Gotham City.  The point of his speech (and perhaps the Batman title) is that the investors should move beyond what Gotham was and is and focus on what Gotham will be. While this may seem somewhat “uninteresting” to readers who simply want action scenes, I think this section has great potential for the title.

Bruce has to duck out of the party, though, because the police have found a gruesome crime scene.  A John Doe has been killed by someone who used professional, antique throwing knives. However, the victim seemed to know he was going to die because he left a message behind:  “Bruce Wayne will die tomorrow.”  Batman scans the DNA beneath the dead guy’s nails and the last page of the issue confirms that the DNA is a match with none other than Dick Grayson – the fellow who had been helping Batman by posing as the Joker!  The last dialogue box of the issue has Batman finishing the newspaper phrase: “Because above everything, Gotham is… a mystery.

I love the balance between Batman and Bruce Wayne. I love the surprises and supporting role of Dick Grayson. I like the technology and detective skills of Batman. I like that this issue has a deep “Gotham” feel to it – like getting back to Batman’s roots in a solid, classic but also fun way.  This is amazing writing and the surprise mystery ending really makes the reader pine for the next issue.  This issue was certainly the strongest writing of the month and I am really looking forward to see how this storyline develops. I think, at the end of the day, I have to agree with Scott Snyder and Batman….. Gotham is a mysterious mystery.

Finally, one of the debates raised about many of the “new 52” issues was whether they were truly “jumping-on” points for new readers. Were these new number 1’s truly accessible or were they just repackagings?  I have to say that this number one is perfect for new readers who are expecting a great story with classic Batman content.

5 stars

Heart of Hush

Detective Comics 846

Detective Comics #846

In Detective Comics #846, writer Paul Dini begins the five-part “Heart of Hush” storyarc.  “Hush” is the name of the villain Thomas Elliot.  Elliot returns to Gotham City after hearing rumors that someone is hunting the Batman. For Hush this is an outrage because he believes it is his destiny to destroy Batman.

The story is mainly told from the perspective of Thomas Elliot.  Elliot, with completely bandaged face has purchased a “hospital” and has staffed it with unwilling nurses.  He tells us:  “Recently I began hearing whispers of The Black Glove, a mysterious entity that seeks Batman’s extinction. Those rumors only hastened my return. For only Hush has the right to execute you for the crimes you inflicted on me when I was first a boy and then a man.”   In flashback we are told the grim, twisted story of Thomas’ youth from his perspective.  He blamed his parents (Roger and Maria Elliot) for his troubles.  When he was ten years old he tampered with the brakes on their limousine and his father died. His mother survived, though both his parents were treated by Dr. Thomas Wayne. Maria Elliot would constantly quote famous thinkers and authors to her son.  Her praise for Bruce Wayne (and the Wayne family in general) made Thomas Elliot bitter, jealous, and angry.

Elliot’s rage issues developed as a youth and he fostered them as he grew older. When Bruce’s parents were killed, Elliot felt that it was an act of cosmic justice. Nevertheless, he eventually figured out Bruce Wayne had become Batman. Elliot then spent much of his life studying his “rival.”  In Detective Comics #847, in the present time, Elliot keeps a close eye on Zatanna and Selina Kyle.

Issue #848 of Detective Comics starts off with some excitement as Elliot sneaks into Selina Kyle’s home. They battle, but Selina is caught off guard when she rips Elliot’s bandages off and sees Bruce Wayne’s face.  We next see Kyle prepped for surgery in Elliot’s creepy hospital.  After several pages of flashbacks detailing more of Elliot’s past hatred for Bruce’s success, Barbara Gordon contacts Batman and tells him that an ambulance dropped a patient off at Gotham General – Selina Kyle.  Kyle’s heart had been cut out of her body.  The last page of this issue is a full-page frame of Batman standing over Kyle in a hospital room. Kyle is only alive because of a variety of machines keeping her alive.

Detective Comics 850

Detective Comics #850 cover

Finally, in issue #850 all of Elliot’s diabolical plans come to a head. Elliot escapes Batman at the corrupt hospital and attempts to gain access to the Wayne mansion by sneaking past Alfred – who is not fooled.  Batman finds Selina’s heart preserved cryogenically and he contacts Mr. Teriffic to ask for help.  Batman crashes into Wayne Manor, surprising Elliot. The battle continues down into the Batcave whereat Elliot’s jealousy is fueled when he sees the extravagance of technology in the cave.  During the fight, Elliot’s bandages get caught in the Whirlbat’s blades. It crashes into the cave walls over the water and Nightwing and Robin search for the body:  “I think he’s really gone this time. Only thing left was a blood-soaked bandage.”

The issue ends with Selina Kyle, fully recovered two months later, leaving a message for Elliot. She admits she doesn’t know if Elliot survived, but that she has taken revenge on him.  She decided that money is what is most important to Elliot and in the message she relates that she vowed to separate Elliot from all of his money – much like he separated her from her heart.

This five-issue storyarc is really well done, albeit dark and twisted. At first, I did not like it, but then after rereading it, I began to appreciate all the subtle psychological and criminal aspects.  I had not been familiar with Hush/Elliot previous to this storyarc, so I really enjoyed the flashback information.  Elliot is a twisted individual driven by jealous and rage.  However, what makes him a fascinating enemy for Batman is that he is meticulous, patient, and intelligent.  While the Joker is Batman’s ultimate foe, and Ra’s Al Ghul is a real menace to Batman, I have to say that Elliot is one of the most apropos villains. Elliot, like Batman, has no super powers.  He grew up alongside Bruce and therefore knows Bruce differently than, say, the Penguin or Ra’s Al Ghul.  Further, Elliot is patient and intelligent, carefully crafting his revenge.  I think Elliot is extremely disturbed and frightening, however, as an adversary, I think he’s excellent. Although the story moves somewhat slowly and ponderously through these five issues, there are a lot of reasons to like the storyarc.  The exploration of Selina and Bruce’s relationship is one example.

Detective Comics 852

Detective Comics #852 cover

But the story does not end there…. In Detective Comics #852, we learn that Elliot survived. Attempting suicide, Elliot was saved from the river by sailors who believed him to be Bruce Wayne.  Capitalizing on this fortune, Elliot decides he will impersonate Bruce and siphon Bruce’s fortune away from him.  Elliot knows he needs to stay low-key, so he travels to various foreign countries where Wayne Enterprises has holdings.  Since Bruce is currently MIA, there is less of a chance of people noticing Bruce Wayne in two different places at one time.  Elliot swindles Connie Winters at the Peregrinator’s Club, Russell Corey (President of Ularoo Media) in Australia, and attempts a scheme in Vietnam at a rainforest resort owned by Wayne Enterprises.  Although there are minor altercations that Elliot evades, in Vietnam things go wrong.  He ditches his plans and commandeers a jungle jeep.  The jeep is eventually waylaid by jungle poachers in the employ of none other than Selina Kyle, who takes Elliot as her prisoner.

This is a really good issue because it makes the reader rather aggravated with the Elliot character.  After all of the mayhem in the “Heart of Hush” storyarc, the fact that Elliot lives is exasperating.  The fact that he, again, is saved from death because of luck (the sailors finding him) is a real stab.  The best thing about this issue is how Paul Dini manages to make the reader hate Elliot so much.  There is something inherently unjust and unfair in Elliot’s assuming Bruce’s identity and being able to so easily use it to swindle and steal from Bruce.  With nothing more than $60 in his pocket, Elliot goes from drowning in a river to gaining at least three million dollars of Wayne Enterprises funds.  Though we hate the villain, this is very good storytelling. The cover for the issue shows Elliot wearing his mother’s amulet.

Batman 685

Batman #685 cover

In issue #685 of Batman, we are told the rest of the story.  It turns out Catwoman (Selina Kyle) is in Vietnam because of the poaching of animals that is taking place there. She captures Elliot and, after torturing him for a bit, shares her story with him. She is swindling the poachers in Vietnam while pretending to work with them.  Since they believe that Elliot is Bruce Wayne, they think he is more valuable than the exotic, endangered animals they are selling on the black market. Selina intends to use Elliot as a diversion – while “allowing” him to escape and alerting the poachers to his running, she will let loose the animals and make her own escape.  Catwoman says that two personal aides, Quan and Bao, will lead Elliot to the river where a boat is waiting for him.

The plan works well, but when the escapees reach the river, it turns out Quan and Bao are none other than Nightwing and Robin. Elliot is surprised.  I was practically cheering at this turn of events.  I was surprised, but I suppose some readers might not have been.  Nevertheless, Elliot is defeated and taken prisoner.  He is put in a penthouse-jail on top of Wayne Tower. The penthouse is rigged in a variety of ways to keep Elliot inside. The issue ends with Elliot smugly telling himself that one day they will let their guard down and he will be ready.

I loved this issue. It provides the catharsis necessity after the issue of Detective Comics wherein Elliot scams his way back to wealth.  The surprise of Nightwing and Robin was fun.  Also, the ever-cool and calculating skills of Catwoman add a nice touch to the issue.  It was also interesting to be outside of Gotham City and in such an under-used location such as Vietnam.  I did not love the interior art by Dustin Nguyen, though his covers for the “Heart of Hush” storyarc were striking.  The cover for this issue was done by Alex Ross, who’s skills as a cover artist are awesome.  I do not really like Nguyen’s interior art because it always seems very angular and sharp to me. I do think he has excellent skill at perspective and making the art work with the story, yet the pencils just are not the easiest on my eye.

I thought that the end of “Heart of Hush” was the end of Elliot for awhile – at least of appearances from him.  To see him alive so soon was interesting. I was pleased with how the story was continued a couple issues later when we get this “epilogue of sorts,” and how it transferred from Detective Comics to Batman smoothly. I was intrigued to see how well done the issues were without their lead character, Batman. Needless to say, Paul Dini’s depiction of Elliot is impressive and gripping.

4 stars

Batman #675

Batman 675

Batman #675 cover

 Batman #655 started writer Grant Morrison’s “run” on the title Batman.  Issues from #655 until this issue (#675) have run the gamut from unique, bizarre, bad, and awesome.  Material has been pulled from older Batman stories, new characters have entered the panels, and Batman has had all sorts of trouble to deal with.  I liked Morrison’s “Batman & Son” storyarc. I wanted to adore the “Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” storyarc, but instead I just sort of muddled through it.  Issues #672 – 674 were…. odd and not altogether pleasant.  However, this issue here seems to have taken most of the threads that Morrison was developing and it sort of brings together some of the mess. On the other hand, if you’re a critic, you could say that Morrison is dragging out these threads beyond their expiration date. I think to make a judgment you have to read beyond this issue and see where Morrison is going with this stuff.

This issue brings us the return of a thread we first met in issue #656, Jezebel Jet.  She’s Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend and she is having supper with Bruce.  She begins to express her frustration at Bruce’s disappearances and evasive personality. Suddenly, she flips out and starts hollering at him. To his credit, Bruce just sits there and patiently takes her emotive outburst. Jet wonders what Bruce is hiding and even accuses him of “being into S&M.”  The panel that shows Bruce’s face when she says this is priceless – well done!  It made me laugh out loud.  Bruce cancels the tempura course of the meal.

I like the art throughout the issue. Its good dark, angular stuff. It does not impede the story and none of it is confusing or jumbled. However, something was bugging me as I read along. I thought it was the “art,” but I could not assert that because I actually liked the art. Then it dawned on me: its the inking.  I really dislike the inking in this issue. It was done by Saleem Crawford.  I haven’t really noticed his work before, but I really didn’t like the way he inked Bruce in this issue. There are other panels, too, that bugged me. It took away from the quality of Ryan Benjamin’s frames. I have to say that I rarely have much to say about inking – good or bad, so it was surprising to find that I disliked it this much.

Anyway, the background “narration” is given to us via Nightwing and Robin – who are conversing about Batman’s mental state and recent events while they chase down baddies.  Its a fun aspect of Batman comics to witness serious conversations taking place during acrobatic aerial chases. I am glad Morrison and Benjamin give us this element. I never really know what to make of Nightwing and Robin, but I am developing a better familiarity of these characters as I read along.

Elsewhere, Talia is complaining about Bruce and Jezebel Jet’s relationship. Her tone is mocking but also contains hints of genuine sincere emotion. She has a few lines that amused me; for example “Why is he always so obvious? All these ridiculous women he woos and discards, along with their Bond Girl names.”  Witty line, Morrison.  Anyway, one might be led to believe that it is Talia’s men who interrupt Bruce and Jezebel’s supper – but its someone else, not following Talia’s orders. Damian, conversing with Talia, once again comes across as a wise adept young man when he says: “Someone is out to get my father.”   Of course, Bruce fights the men who attempted to kidnap Jezebel. Finally, after beating the lead-criminal in the kitchen of the restaurant, he turns on Jezebel.  Bruce snarls at her, displaying all the frustration and anger that he had previously succeeded in hiding and controlling.  Seeing all of this, Jezebel “sees the light.”  The last page of the issue is obviously one of those “this will change Batman comics” pages.  Jezebel makes the connection:  Bruce Wayne is Batman.

Finally, this, I feel, is the Grant Morrison greatness that a lot of readers are praising.  In this issue, Morrison’s writing is witty, emotive, and storybuilding. He’s carrying several threads from previous arcs, giving us an enjoyable issue, and delving into the characters’ relationships.

The cover is one of those very good covers that at once shouldn’t surprise anyone and yet has that timeless, classic Batman-feel to it. Dark, raining, scowling image. With the smallest drop of blood on Batman’s knee. It’s a pin-up cover – one that if you see it in the store makes you want to buy the comic to find out what’s inside.

5 stars

Justice League #1

Justice League 1

Justice League #1

There is probably not another item that has been more talked about in the world of geek this week than this issue of Justice League.  And rightly so.  If you do not know the significance of this issue and the changes to the DC Universe…. I suspect you’ve been off-planet. Since there are dozens and dozens and dozens of reviews to sort through online regarding this issue, I imagine readers will get tired of reading.  After all, its a thin comic book, but yet the commentary and opinions regarding it could fill huge tomes. I feel almost too obvious by writing a review of this issue, but I would be remiss if I did not.  I avoided all the reviews/talk/spoilers for this issue prior to my own reading of it.

I was so excited to read this issue that I had to force myself not to read it right away. I waited a few hours before I trusted myself to peel open the cover.  I wanted to make certain that I was going to be in the right state of mind to read this comic – no interruptions, not being rushed, not hungry or tired or having to use the bathroom. I wanted no distractions or outside influences.

First, the cover. This was done by Jim Lee, Alex Sinclair, and Scott Williams.  For the “New 52” (which I am pretty sick of reading or typing), DC “adjusted” many of their characters. Some people have been using the words “rebooted” or “redesigned,” however I think these words are not accurate to explain DC’s intentions in messing with their traditional characterizations.  The characters are not entirely different – there don’t seem to be (on the face of it) wild and shocking fundamental changes. Therefore, I say “adjusted” because the characters are younger and their uniforms and costumes are updated.  On the cover, we can see seven members of the Justice League, including the big three of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. I think the youthfulness of the characters is most present in Superman and Wonder Woman. The teaser images for this cover show a blue background, so when I found out the background was actually the gold color I was somewhat taken aback. I don’t like the background. I understand why gold was the choice – based on a palette and the surrounding colors, however I really don’t like the gold background.

The Justice League of America (2006 volume) first issue cover was done by Ed Benes and (again) Alex Sinclair. Neither first issue cover is something that I love. 2011’s is full of action while the 2006 cover is static. Either way, these are not covers to drool over. When DC released images of the second printing cover, I have to say I prefer the second printing and wish it had been the first printing release.

Jim Lee is the interior artist – one of the comic industry’s big names. He’s drawing for Geoff Johns on this, DC’s self-proclaimed flagship title.  The two of these creators together is something of a superhero team-up for comic readers, so I think the expectations for this title are high.  Since its a “new universe,” I threw out all that I knew about Jim Lee and Geoff Johns and Green Lantern and Batman and Superman and all the rest. I just opened the cover and prepared myself to enjoy a great comic.  That being said, I swept the slate clean and “pretended” that I had never seen Lee’s art before. On several reviews I read the adjective “cinematic” used to describe his artwork in this issue and after some reflection, I think that is a very accurate description.  Of course, what the heck does cinematic mean in terms of comics?  Well, I will go further than those other reviews:  it means action shots with camera-angles from all around.  The characters are jumping off of the page and the scenes are widescreen, high fidelity, panoramics. I think these elements are very clear with the three panels on the first page. It’s a close up, a pseudo-bird’s eye view, and a pseudo-worm’s eye view close up. The entire page oozes action and movement and in your face artwork.

Because the issue is spewing action all over the place, some of the dialogue seems a bit stilted. Not bad, not incorrect, just a bit stilted. I love the banter betwixt Batman and Green Lantern  – there are some insta-classic frames on these pages.  However, a lot of these pages seem like they’re coming directly at the reader, no pausing for breath, no setup. Truly, there are pages here that translate perfectly to the movie screen. The dialogue is good on its own, but its context seems slightly jarring.  Still, it is entirely enjoyable. Johns does not seem to fill the frames with words, being (in this issue) a wee bit minimalist and letting the art do the work.

The pages involving Vic have a slightly smushed feeling to them. I feel that they are rather sandwiched between action-packed pages that do not connect well with the interlude that is Vic on the phone.  But, back to Green Lantern and Batman and Metropolis now. Guess who we meet on the last page? And Superman makes a (to be expected) action-packed entrance.  I feel in the past, Superman became a bit tame and lost and dopey. Here is an “adjustment” to character; previously, I feel Superman would have gracefully landed on the ground and shook hands in a dignified manner with Batman and Green Lantern. Oh, not so in this issue! And its like a fresh breath of air – exciting and new, precisely what DC intended. However, my problem with Superman is that he looks very young. I know the intention was to youth-en the major characters, but Superman looks like he’s a kid. He’s not as block-headed looking as some artists have drawn him. I spent some good minutes looking at Batman and Superman and comparing the two:  Batman has the very satisfying square jaw and brooding look while this youthful Superman has a very playful and almost truculent look to him. At first I did not really like Superman’s look, but it grew on me.

Most of my critiques and observations are almost picayune. Overall, this issue is a perfect starting point for new readers.  It also succeeds because it does not alienate the dedicated hardcore fans.  Anxious die-hards can breathe a sigh of relief because the beloved characters are treated with love and respect. Part of me wonders what it would be like if this was the first issue of Justice League ever. You know, as if this was everyone’s introduction….. what would readers think of it?

In fact, the entire issue got better on the second read. By the fourth read, I was thinking that I might need to get another copy because I will be wearing this one out. The worst part of this issue was that it did not come with issue #2 straightaway.  I need issue #2. Hurry!

5 stars

Justice League of America #21 (2006)

Justice League 21

Justice League #21 (2006) cover

 Continuing on in my quest to “catch-up” on the now “defunct” DC Universe circa 2006-2009, I pulled this issue to formally start my adventure into Final Crisis.  This comic has a cover date of July 2008 and was written by Dwayne McDuffie with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino.  The writer, McDuffie, died in February of 2011 at the age of 49.  Random factoid:  I read somewhere that he had a masters degree in physics.

At first I did not like it very much at all.  However, after reading the story through and spending more time looking at the cover, I think its basically a good cover in concept, but there are some challenges that knock it down from being a great cover.  In the background we see large city buildings, giving us a setting for this issue.  The two characters are not ones I am familiar with at all, and I daresay that most DC readers at the time were probably not too familiar with them either.  In the foreground is Libra and standing in the center of the image is The Human Flame.  Libra is holding a staff of some sort that is topped by a small hanging scales of justice. The staff serves as a visual aid to draw one’s attention to Red Arrow, who’s limp tattered body is being held up by a smirking Human Flame. If you’ve spent this much time checking out the cover, you will probably now finally see Hawkgirl.  Those are actually her wings that are cluttering up the center of the image and appear to be on fire. Hawkgirl is the problem with the image. The wings are messy and at first glance I thought they were just burning kindling. Her left leg is bent at an impossible angle and honestly, she’s not very easy to recognize in this shot. Its not a bad cover, but the art for Hawkgirl is messy.

Anyway, the issue starts at the Hall of Justice in Washington, DC with Wonder Woman and Batman bantering a bit. Superman shows up and we learn that Batman came to the Hall so that the other two could present a secret “slideways” room.  Only these three and Green Lantern know about this room – which is basically just a table and chairs for the big three to sit and discuss/scheme/banter in.

In these panels is one of the best smirking shots of Batman I’ve seen.  In fact the writing and art for this whole section is really excellent. Not only is it amusing and interesting just as it is, but I think it does a very good job of storytelling. (1.) the new reader is eased into the storyline, so this issue could be a good “jumping on point,” as they say.  (2.) Even if the reader is not new, we are given some clues as to what is happening with Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, and Vixen. All of this is couched in the problematic that these three superheroes want to make sure the League is in good, capable hands without requiring constant supervision from one of these three.

Nearby, in Baltimore, Maryland, we are treated to the thoughts of The Human Flame. He introduces himself while he is in the process of robbing a small branch bank.  He explains how he is able to break in using his firepower and explains his motivation.  As he gets outside of the bank with his stolen goods, the police are waiting and Hawkgirl and Red Lantern are on the scene. The artwork for the ensuing fight is excellent. Frequently, I am slightly irritated by fight-scene artwork because it can be confusing and absurd.  Although this will not be remembered as the greatest fight in comics history, it was a solidly written/drawn fight.  I followed along with interest. And though it seems the heroes have the upper-hand, The Human Flame is able to give them the slip – until Hawkgirl catches up to him in an alley.  And here we are introduced to Libra. He says:  “The scales must be balanced, Hawkgirl.” And to The Human Flame: “I’m the answer to your every dream. Call me Libra.”

At a gathering in Central City, we find Libra introducing The Human Flame to an ever-growing group that includes Lex Luthor and other villains.  Libra tells The Human Flame that he can give him his heart’s desire, which in this case is revenge.  The Human Flame wants revenge on the Martian Manhunter whom The Human Flame blames for his life of disaster and failure.  Eight years ago the Martian Manhunter defeated The Human Flame, humiliating him in the process.  The last three frames of the book show Martian Manhunter on an arid distant planet. There is a “BOOM” and Martian Manhunter has disappeared.

It’s par for the course in reading comics to encounter a group of villains who decide to band together and get revenge on the heroes who have defeated them.  This sort of storyline is neither original, nor unique.  In fact, in Marvel Comics’ Dark Reign/Dark Avengers event, we find The Hood (Parker Robbins) attempted to do something similar with the Marvel villains. However, even though the plot device was familiar, I was still interested in the storyline – I wanted to know what had happened to Martian Manhunter. I also wanted to know what was going to come of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and their secret meeting room.

It’s been said that this issue is a prelude to the Final Crisis event, and I can see that now. And it is a very good prelude, because I definitely wanted to read Final Crisis to find out what happens next.  Both the writing and the artwork were top-notch.

5 stars

JLA: Classified #1

Right now, in August 2011, DC Comics is about to restart their comics….again… but this time, there are going to be all new 52 issues that start at number 1. Anyone who is a fan of DC Comics is probably used to so many crises and reboots, that they think their name is Heraclitus because everything is definitely in flux. And that is the one constant.  DC Comics were my first comics – back when I was a wee small child, I read DC. For several years, I was aware of comics only peripherally.  Well, since 2006, I am really back into reading comics and I am grateful to be reading along. One of my amusements has been to start trekking through the mess of DC universe crises / reboots. I read Zero Hour and OMAC and Infinite Crisis and am currently reading issue #27 of 52.  One series that I have amassed a respectable number of is the 2005 series JLA: Classified.  This series was intended to contain random stories, would-be one-shots, and other stuff that didn’t fit in with the Justice League main title. JLA: Classified was to have a revolving creator group. Recently, I read issue #1.

JLA Classified 1

JLA: Classified #1

The first issue of this series is written by Grant Morrison.  A few days ago I had read and written some thoughts on Morrison’s work on Batman #663.  I read the issue twice through before I felt that I had sorted out who was doing what why and when.  The story starts out in media res, and honestly, I had no idea who the characters were. Obviously, this could be entirely due to my hiatus from comics, but I do think the artist (Ed McGuinness) is a bit to blame here.  Frankly, there are not a whole lot of readers that are familiar with characters like the UltraMarine Corps.  I figured this much out:  Gorilla Grodd is doing something bad, the members of the JLA are AWOL, and there’s some sort of powerful universe-in-a-cube.

Squire was monitoring the good guys (whomever they may be) from somewhere else. Batman receives a call on the “hot line” from Squire who seems to hastily explain the situation. Batman dips into his special equipment  to get a flying saucer (no kidding) and zooms to save Squire. Squire and Batman then use Boom Tube Technology to zip through spacetime to a secret JLA lab near the once-planet Pluto.

Batman informs Squire that the members of the JLA are “lost” in the universe-in-a-cube, which we are told is called “The Infant Universe of Qwewq.”  Squire is tasked with trying to communicate with the JLA in the universe-in-a-cube while Batman works on making sure no one notices that the JLA members are missing.

Parts of this issue are really interesting. Parts are very poorly done. I can’t tell what’s happening. I don’t know who is who. I don’t understand what’s going on. At other times Batman is drawn very well and Squire is a fun character. I am starting to think that this is really what Grant Morrison stuff is like. Its not really good, but one tends to suspect it might be good just because one is so unused to his style, tone, and elements he uses to tell the story.

Here’s one problem:  its 1:25am and Batman is plopped in the Batcave. (Wouldn’t he be well aware that Grodd is destroying stuff in Africa?)  Alfred brings Batman a tray with the “hot line” phone on it. Batman seems way more concerned with how the speaker got the number and what it means for them to have the number than dealing with the actual reason for the call. In other words, Squire is having an emergency and Grodd is destroying a city and the JLA are AWOL and Batman is concerned that Squire dredged up his secret “hot line” number.

Batman #667

Batman #667 cover

Starting in Batman #667 (2007) , Morrison wrote an arc that involved the International Club of Heroes. This refers to the “Batmen of All Nations” characters that first appeared in Detective Comics #215 in 1955.  Knight and Squire (as seen in the JLA: Classified issue) have been associated with and have a history with this Club of Heroes. Finally, in 2011, Morrison created and became writer for the series Batman Incorporated. Batman Incorporated is considered, by Grant Morrison, to be a second re-installment of the team known as the Batmen of All Nations.  In theory the team was formed by Bruce Wayne and brought together by Batman to stop all crime in the nations from which members were chosen.

Apparently, Morrison has been playing with this same concept since, at least, 2005 in this first issue of JLA: Classified. Morrison seems to really want to use the characters of the Club of Heroes.  Morrison is not an American, so maybe some of this is just a deep hearted desire to have International Batman.  I know Morrison wrote the Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul:  the story arc which develops Damian, Batman’s son. However, it seems like Morrison (from what I have seen so far) is but a one-trick pony.

There is a funny in the issue, though. After arriving at Pluto, Squire asks Batman:  “Are you really Batman?”  He responds:  “No, I’m Goldfish Man. Can’t you tell?”   I guess its amusing to see the normally stoic and somber Bats showing a little sarcasm.  Even if it is in space.

2 stars

Batman #663

Batman #663

Batman #663

This is the April 2007 release for DC Comics’ major title, Batman. It was written by Grant Morrison, penciled and inked by John Van Fleet, and the cover was done by Andy Kubert. I suspect from the period 2005 – 2010, this issue is one of the most read, discussed, and puzzled over issues in comics.  If you are not familiar with this issue, you probably should rectify that.

Allow me to give a brief introduction to what this is all about:  Grant Morrison is a Scottish writer who began writing the Batman title with issue #655.  It has been said that his writing is known to portray nonlinear narratives and counter-cultural concepts. The first few issues of Morrison’s run on Batman begin a far-reaching storyline involving Batman’s son, Damian Wayne.


After a short interruption for the very good arc “Grotesk,” Morrison’s run continued with this issue #663.  The most significant items of this issue are (1.) the issue is a prose short story, not quite utilizing the typical comic book criteria; (2.) the dark, violent, and heavy tone/style of the work. After the “Batman & Son” issues and then this issue here, readers sat up and took notices of Morrison, helping him to become one of the biggest names in comics. He’s won several Eisner and Harvey Awards.

The title of the issue is “The Clown at Midnight.”  The story consists of ten “chapters” written in prose which are written among a smattering of art frames on each page. Hands down, without a doubt, I insist that the artist did a spectacular job. I believe it must have been exceedingly difficult to create the art for this story in this format. The artwork, if you take the time to look at each frame, is actually excellent. The format is, actually, interesting and somewhat exciting. However, there is a distinction between comic books and short stories – that Morrison tries to blur that distinction is interesting, but ultimately a fail. There are specific reasons people buy comic books and specific reasons readers by novels. While one could make the argument that traditional formats can become stale and hum-drum, there really is a necessity to remain within the accepted demands of the medium. Overall, I am not opposed to this relatively unique format (although it does bear some resemblance to the work of another English writer, Alan Moore), but I think it should remain a rarely used format and not make it into mainstream comics.

That being said, the problem I have with the issue is actually Morrison’s writing. If one wants to write prose, then one has to be judged in that category as well. And this puts Morrison’s efforts in the same category as science-fiction / fantasy / literature writers like Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Alfred Bester, Frank Herbert, et al.  And compared to these writers, Morrison’s prose in this issue doesn’t measure up. The prose is metaphoric, adjectival, and descriptive. It does present the dark, mystical, psychological facets of Batman, Joker, and Harley Quinn, but it does so with a lack of true grace and panache. This sort of prose, a play-by-play narrative is difficult to write. Its not the past-tense with which the majority of prose is written. So I give Morrison credit for maintaining that style throughout the issue. The story is not my cup of tea, but I can judge stuff even if its not my style. The psychological horror tone used in this issue depicts the really dark and scary side of the characters; but writing qua writing, its not that good.

In other words, Morrison is (at the point of this issue) an interesting novelty, but there’s nothing that compels me to any adulation of Morrison as a creative writer. I much preferred the previous “Batman & Son” issues.

2 stars