Comic Judgment: Bat-a-Palooza!

My pull list was full of Bat-related comics this week, but there were also some sparkling shenanigans from the Welcome to Tranquility crew, plus an adorable Tiny Titans-Little Archies meetup. In no particular order:

Knight and Squire #1
Writer: Paul Cornell
Art: Jimmy Broxton
Covers: Yanick Paquette and Billy Tucci
Knight and Squire are British analogs of Batman and Robin, but they’re hardly carbon copies in this oh-so entertaining first issue. This book hums with humor and bubbly, candy-colored art, and despite the Yankee-confounding language in the opening pages, it’s thoroughly accessible. It’s the very British-ness of Knight and Squire that makes it such an entertaining and thought-provoking read. All the action takes place in a London pub that’s crawling with good guys, bad guys and sketchy blokes in between, and it’s a perfect introductory setting. Sure, there are some dustups, but I liked the talky aspect — the discussion of English class structure and the Americans’ more aggressive, can-do approach to heroism and villainy. The characters, including the Joker’s less ambitious counterpart, the Jester, and Double Entendre are a hoot. And since I’m such a huge Beatles fan, the references to the Fab Four and Paul McCartney’s subsequent band, Wings, were, well, fab. Verdict: Brilliant!

Tiny Titans/Little Archie #1
Writers: Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani
Art and cover: Art Baltazar
Tiny Titans obliterated the “just for kids” label almost right out of the gate, and it continues to be a joy to read. As someone who spent many a childhood afternoon with the little Archies, I think including the Riverdale gang was a stroke of utter genius. This issue is undiluted fun, revolving around a Robin-Archie mixup. Art Baltazar has this amazing ability to capture the essence of characters with deceptively simple pencil work — Betty’s wide-eyed goodness, Reggie’s smirky troublemaker thing and Jughead’s future stoner vibe. The jokes about Archie’s classic tic-tac-toe hairdo, as well as the relationship between Mrs. Grundy and Solomon Grundy, were delightful. Let’s put it this way: I read this before my children did. Verdict: Aw yeah!

Bruce Wayne, the Road Home/Red Robin One-Shot
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Art: Ramon Bachs and John Lucas
Cover: Shane Davis
File this under “Filler.” It’s not a bad issue, but it doesn’t do much to move the Bruce Wayne Returns saga forward. The story restates what readers of this title already know: Tim/Red Robin has become an even better detective and combatant since adopting his new persona, and his challenge is to balance the light with the dark. (Sounds like a “Clone Wars” episode.) Bruce seems a tad  insecure about the power shift, because as much as Tim wanted his mentor back, does he really need him? And what’s with the Robocop suit? The fact that Red Robin is sexually terrified of the bald assassin Prudence did make me giggle, though. This isn’t the first time a tough lady has more or less invited him to a handcuff/headboard party (See: Ravager). Must be the cape. Verdict: 90-percent pointless.

Bruce Wayne, the Road Home/Batman and Robin One-Shot
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Art: Cliff Richards
Cover: Shane Davis
This one-shot fares a little better, perhaps because it delves a little more into Bruce’s thoughts about returning to the Bat-fold. His inner critic is on full display here: On the one hand, he admires Dick’s ability to ingratiate and intimidate as Batman 2.0, and he’s clearly impressed by the way he’s handled the toughest job of all: reigning Damian in. On the other hand, he seems to think Dick is a little too easygoing in the role, and it came across — perhaps intentionally — as ever-so-slight hating. But considering that the dude just willed himself back through time, let’s cut him some slack. He’s been under some stress. Overall, I like the way Nicieza lays out Bruce’s inner monologue, and the art is fine. Vicki Vale, one of my favorite comics journalists/muckrakers, is a significant supporting character. Verdict: Not bad.

Welcome to Tranquility #4
Writer: Gail Simone
Art: Horacio Domingues
Cover: Neil Googe and Rench
It is officially on and popping in Tranquility. There are villains and there are villains, but is there anything worse than having a kid who grows up to be a sadistic murderer? I’m going to go with no. But that’s what former Mayor Alex Fury and Pink Bunny are up against in this issue as their son, Derek, rumored to be dead, returns home and starts tearing stuff up. This guy isn’t just evil, but gleeful about blazing a trail of mayhem. If you’re a parent, you can’t help but imagine the shock and shame Fury and Bunny are dealing with. Meanwhile, Sheriff Lindo has to protect her town while trying to save her sister Seresa, whom Derek has gravely wounded. The best part of issue #4 is seeing Minxy Minerva prove that she’s still a hero to be reckoned with. I wish I had liked the artwork a little more, as I tend to prefer a lighter touch. But man, I can’t wait to see how this plays out. Verdict: All kinds of good.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Ryan Sook, Pere Perez and Nick Gray
Covers: Andy Kubert and Ryan Sook
The world’s greatest detective as a P.I. in a noir setting? Perfect. This crime, bullets and dames-themed chapter of Bruce’s time-traveling journey is another gripping issue from the merry mind of Grant Morrison. The words “epic event” are overused, but taken together, the five issues in this series have earned the title. We’ve seen different sides of Bruce Wayne in each era, and yet, he’s still essentially the Batman we all know — even with a wicked case of amnesia. This time, a hospitalized Bruce is recruited by a sultry actress who claims to be a friend of the recently murdered Martha Wayne. The accusations against Thomas Wayne as having led a sordid double life figure prominently in this issue. And the more I learn about the Black Glove, the more I feel the need to take a shower. It’s trippy to see Bruce questioning his own grandmother about his mother’s demise, though he’s unaware of the connection. And that ending? Whoa. Verdict: Holy must read, Batman!

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