2011 Memorable Moment: Damian Goes Dark

It’s easy to dismiss Bruce Wayne’s son as an annoying brat, but I think that’s a shallow criticism. There’s a struggle within Damian that is fascinating, and his killer instinct has always been dangerously close to the surface. (Remember last year’s memorable moment, when he bashed the Joker’s head in with a crowbar?) Continue reading

Comic Judgment: Hoods, Magicians, and Maidens

My pull list was DC-heavy and full of goodies last week, and a book that I was dreading turned out to be an unexpected pleasure. Let’s get to the highlights, shall we?

Batman and Robin #23: The solicits for this issue made me very nervous, especially since Batman and Robin is one of my favorite DC books at present. In general, Judd Winick’s writing isn’t my cup of tea, and I’ve struggled with Jason Todd’s resurgence as the Red Hood. However, Winick clearly enjoys writing this character, and his enthusiasm is contagious in the first chapter this arc, “The Streets Run Red.”

There’s no denying the power of Jason’s daddy issues with Batman, or the Dark Knight’s perpetual guilt over Jason’s legendary death as Robin II. It must cut pretty deep when your former sidekick openly mocks your no-killing code, and tells you that he wants out of Arkham because he’s not crazy, “simply homicidal.” So when Jason gets his requested transfer to Gotham City Corrections, what could possibly go wrong? Continue reading

2010 Memorable Moment: Hurts So Good

Ow.

Damian  had a lot of big moments in 2010, but when the kid rearranged the Joker’s face with a crowbar in Batman and Robin #14, he took it to a whole new level. He’s overconfident, infuriatingly superior and rude, and he tends to pummel before thinking a situation through. Damian’s got a lot to learn, but in my opinion, he’s great fun to watch.

Not that this particular moment was fun. It’s disturbing to see a 10-year-old beat the living daylights out of someone, especially when Frazer Irving is in the artist’s seat. And without spoiling too much, things didn’t end so well for our 5th-grade hero. But for those of us who had nightmares after reading A Death in the Family, it was also satisfying to see an awful, leering villain on the other side of the crowbar. Damian most definitely got his licks in, and the Joker even had to utter a simple “Ow.” Unforgettable.

WTF? Wednesday: Boys Will Be Boys

Making fun of vintage Batman and Robin scenarios is like shooting fish in a barrel. With an AK-47. It’s just too easy, and I’m convinced that the writers and artists responsible for these gems knew exactly what they were doing. After all, these were young, creative guys hanging out in smoke-filled studios in New York — the working-class equivalent of “Mad Men.” (“You know what’d be hilarious? What if we showed Dick Grayson crying like a jilted lover because Batman has a new squeeze? Oh, and let’s see how many times we can use the word ‘boner’ before people catch on.”) Continue reading

Pull List Assessment Time

Every now and then, it’s a good idea to evaluate the old pull list instead of running on autopilot. Though my queue tends to be DC-heavy, there are several indie titles that I read either in trade or via review copy that are plenty good. Since V. and I are asked what we recommend or books that rock/suck, here’s assessment of what I’m reading and where it falls on the Great-to-Dropped scale. Those listed under “Promising” have not yet been added to the file, but they’re well on their way.

GREAT
Morning Glories: Image is firing on all cylinders with this book about a scary private school that traps and traumatizes its adolescent charges. Comic shops can’t keep it in stock, and that’s no surprise given the roller coaster of a plot, snappy dialogue and pretty art. Morning Glories is further proof that there’s some stellar work being done outside of the big publishing houses and the capes genre.

Morning Glories

Fables: Since I get this in trade form, I’m not current. The last volume, “The Great Fables Crossover,” was only so-so, but this book has been otherwise excellent. It also continues to evolve and expertly mixes fantasy and comedy with flat-out horror. I can’t wait for the next trade, “Witches,” to drop in December.

Batman and Robin: I’ve written before about how much I dig this book, so I won’t bore you with another love letter. Grant Morrison is handing the reigns to Peter Tomasi soon, but I’m a fan of Tomasi’s work and eagerly anticipate his work on Batman and Robin — especially since he did such a good job during his all-too-brief Nightwing run.

Madame Xanadu: After the most recent (and brilliant) issue about a deadened supermodel named Neon Blue at the height of late ’60s-fame, I was even more depressed that this comic is coming to an end. I have V. to thank for educating me about Madame X just in the nick of time. At least I’ll always have the back issues.

 

GOOD
G-Man: I initially started getting this Image comic for my children, but like Tiny Titans, it’s a smart, kid-skewing book that’s better than much of the fare for grownups. The most recent arc, “Cape Crisis” centers on young hero G-Man, who gets powers via a magic cape. The problem is that all of his peers (and his kid brother) want a piece of the action, and the results are darn funny. The news that Chris Giarrusso’s book is returning made me very happy, and the kids will have to pry it from my hands.

 

Red Robin: I didn’t like this comic at all when it debuted, but it has found a consistently good groove and done right by one of my favorite characters. Fabian Nicieza writes Tim Drake and the extended Bat-family well, and Marcus To sure can draw.

G-Man = good times

Birds of Prey: The Gail Simone incarnation of BoP was instrumental in getting me back into the comic book habit, and it’s been a fine reunion. While I’m not as mesmerized as I was the first time around, BoP is one of the books I look forward to most each month, along with …

Secret Six: This comic vacillates between “great” and “good,” so I have been spoiled. I love the characters and their bloody misadventures, and there is some real tenderness and heart underneath piles of bodies. My expectations for a Secret Six issue are probably unfairly high, but if it came down to cash flow, there are a whole lot of books I’d drop before this one.

Love and Capes: This book about a superhero married to a non-superpowered bookstore owner is light, bright and utterly adorable. I’m also reading this in trade, and there’s a longer overview here.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: As with Red Robin, I’ve already heaped lots of praise on the latest incarnation of Brian Michael Bendis’ long-running, consistently winning comic. The love-triangle drama between Peter, Mary Jane and Gwen is heating up again, and if enjoying juicy teen drama is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Hawkeye and Mockingbird: When I started reading this title after the “Read This, Too!” challenge, I immediately thought that this is the book Green Arrow & Black Canary should have been. The vibe between the title characters — formerly married, now dating — is sexy and fun, and the book is full of action.

 

 

 

Welcome to Tranquility: Another Gail Simone gem about retired superheroes and supervillains, and a whole lot of secrets and lies. See a recent review here.

Mystery Society: I was late to the party on this five-issue series about a wealthy, urbane husband and wife who uncover government conspiracies and recruit odball characters along the way to join their adventures. The story is a kick, but it’s worth reading for Fiona Staples’ artwork alone.

 

PROMISING

 

 

 

 

 

Haweye and Mockingbird

 

Thunderbolts: I read my first issue a few weeks ago and thoroughly dug it. Luke Cage is leading a group of formerly bad guys trying to go legit, and Jeff Parker spins a good narrative (with ninjas!). Declan Shalvey’s art is impressive, and as a Thunderbolts newbie, I found issue #148 easy to jump into. And no, I’m not reading Shadowland.

Freedom Fighters: I bought this comic based on Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s Power Girl work, and I liked the first two issues quite a bit. It’s always a joy to see Nazis getting beaten up, and chances are good that this will be a dynamic team comic. Stay tuned.

Lady Mechanika: I’ve never been a Steampunk gal, but the artwork in this Aspen Comics title by Joe Benitez blew me away. The story focuses on a rifle-toting character named Mechanika, who is part human, part machine. It’s set in late 1800s London, and based on issue #0, it’s going to be a wild ride. My Newsarama review is here, but suffice to say that it’s worth checking out. If my stomach were sufficiently flat, this would SO be my con costume.

MEH
Wonder Woman: I think I got all the Haterade out of my system in this post, but I’m buying this book purely out of loyalty. I don’t want to give DC another reason to treat Diana like a stepchild, so I can’t bring myself to drop it.

First Wave

First Wave: At this point, only Rags Morales’ awesome illustrations are keeping this in my LCS file. This pulpy, character-heavy comic involving The Spirit, young Batman, Doc Savage and an alternative Black Canary got off to a nice start, but the long stretches between issues killed some of its momentum for me. There are only two issues to go, so I’m not sure it can deliver on its early promise or do justice to all the players.

DROPPED
Brightest Day: Pretty, but too draggy, convoluted and crowded. I might read it in deeply discounted trade form.

Power Girl: Judd Winick’s first few issues were better than I expected, but they just weren’t good enough to justify my $2.99. Part of the problem is that the previous creative team was so good that any successors would have a challenge on their hands. I don’t care enough about PG to read her adventures if the comic is just middling, so I cut it loose with no regrets.

 

Justice Society of America: I stuck with this book after Bill Willingham finished his “Fatherland” arc, but James Robinson’s follow-up just didn’t do it for me. I almost kept buying it just for Jesus Merino’s illustrations, even though story quality fell off in a major. The book is getting a new creative team, so I might give it another shot. Maybe.

 

Five Reasons You Should Be Reading Batman and Robin

Hands down, Batman and Robin #14 is one of the best comics I’ve read this year. This book hasn’t been without its flaws (the Red Hood storyline comes to mind), but on the whole, Grant Morrison is writing one of the most consistently interesting comics on the DC shelf at present. I’m in a proselytizing mood, so if you’re not already reading Batman and Robin, here are five reasons you should be.

Li'l Wayne is a handful.

1. Damian Wayne: He’s arrogant, polarizing and often unlikable, but he’s never dull. Over the run of this comic, Morrison has shown us hints of Damian’s vulnerability through confrontations with his mother, Talia al-Ghul, and his growing attachment to the Robin role. In less capable hands, Damian would be simply a violent brat. Morrison has shaped him into a complex, unpredictable and even sympathetic would-be hero.

Cameron Stewart's Batman and Robin #7 cover

2. The artists: Batman and Robin has benefitted from the work of some top-notch artists, including Frank Quitely, Andy Clarke and Cameron Stewart. A great deal of issue #14’s impact is attributable to Frazer Irving’s dreamy, fluid illustrations, which are fitting for Morrison’s almost hallucinogenic storyline. The level of detail, including a two-panel sequence of Dick Grayson’s Batman demonstrating his acrobatic fighting style, is crazy. It isn’t just a generic combat scene, but a thoughtfully crafted one that demonstrates Irving’s understanding of a specific character.

3. Morrison: What I appreciate about Morrison, even when I don’t quite get it, is that he’s making an effort to do something beyond the usual. I like an old-fashioned, straightforward story as much as the next fangirl, but it seems to me that Morrison writes comic books for people who read things other than comics. He brings an indie spirit to mainstream characters — a certain fearlessness and a much-needed element of surprise. And since comics are a legitimate form of literature, what’s wrong with having to work for it every now and then? I’m not saying that Morrison’s writing always clicks for me, but I like the fact that he’s essentially telling the reader, “You’re smart enough to figure this out, so I’m not going to insult your intelligence.”

Professor Pyg makes it rain!

4. The Oh, Snap! Factor: As in, “Did Damian just smash the Joker’s face with a crowbar?” and “Is Professor Pyg dropping it like it’s hot?” and “What in Gotham’s name just climbed out of the Lazarus Pit?” If you’re not reading Batman and Robin, you’re missing some of the most jaw-dropping moments in comics right now.

5. The Freak Show: One criticism of this book has bugged me, namely, the opinion that Batman and Robin is too grim. This is certainly a dark book, but isn’t Gotham the ultimate scary city? In order to justify the existence of a hero like Batman, you need some serious villainy, and there is plenty of it here. As I pointed out in my Newsarama review of issue #14, Pyg is one of the most twisted characters I’ve ever seen in a comic, anywhere. Upon seeing the good professor in an … unusual situation, one character says, “This whole thing stinks of some low rent torture porno.” When you’re dealing with Black Hand, the Joker and Pyg in one place, well, yeah. But it also heightens the drama without seeming gratuitous (See: Batman, the G-ddamn).

A book with a strong point of view is sure to elicit strong opinions, and Batman and Robin is bound to grate some readers. But it sure won’t bore them.

Comic Judgment: The Hit Parade

Maybe I was feeling a tad sensitive last week, but there were several comic book moments that left me all verklempt. It was also one of those rare weeks when my pull list produced nothing but hits, with two (Batman and Robin and Secret Six) in a dead heat for first place. There will be spoilers.

Batman and Robin #12: Damian Wayne has haters for days, but the more Grant Morrison delves into his character and unfortunate lineage, the more he grows on me. As the book opens, Damian’s mother, Talia al-Ghul, has literally turned him into a puppet whose movements are being remotely controlled by Deathstroke to kill Dick Grayson. But Talia has (again) underestimated Dick’s Batman-certified skills, as well as her son’s ability to resist manipulation. Once Dick and Alfred shut down the puppet show, Damian decides to confront his mother, who offers an ultimatum: Come back home, or consider yourself my enemy. No one will ever accuse the littlest Wayne of being cuddly, but when Damian asks her, “Can’t you just love me for who I am? Not what you want me to be?” we’re reminded that he is, after all, just a 10-year-old boy. As expected, Talia’s response is not the stuff of greeting cards — and it is thoroughly on. A moving story, plus the no-they-didn’t ending revealing creepy Oberon Sexton’s identity, adds up to one awesome issue. Dick wins the Best Line Award for his response to Damian’s concern that Talia will have him killed: “She can try.”

Secret Six #21: Am I the only one who hears Young Joc’s “It’s Going Down” while reading Secret Six? Because every time I think Gail Simone’s scripts can’t get any more gangster, she finds a bigger machine gun. This book almost never fails to deliver a satisfying blend of poignancy, spit-out-your-Coke-Zero humor and medieval conflict. Tom’s (Catman) early memories, dominated by his repugnant father, are gut-wrenching, thanks to J. Caliafore’s all-too-vivid illustrations. Back in the present day, the anti-hero is on a mission to punish the crew that kidnapped (and possibly killed) his infant son, and his former teammates are following the trail of corpses. The Sixers have seen just about everything, so you know it’s bad when they’re taken aback. After observing the sliced-and-diced remains of one of Catman’s victims, the usually unflappable Deadshot says, “All right. I don’t know what normal people think. This is &^%$ed up, right?” Yeah, but it’s a tea party compared to what Tom has in store for the sadist, metahuman thug, Loki. It involves back trouble, and very big cats.

Red Robin #12: I’d say any comic that shows Ra’s al-Ghul stammering in disbelief is worth $2.99, but in this issue, Tim Drake cracks Mr. al-Ghul’s face — at least metaphorically — with flair. With a little help from his super friends, my favorite Robin thwarts an elaborate plot to kill Bruce Wayne’s associates and bilk Wayne Enterprises. Ra’s throws Tim’s battered body through a skyscraper window, but Dick Grayson (in Batman mode) grabs him right on time. Call me a sap, but I really dug the moment when Dick asks Tim how he knew he’d be there to save him. “You’re my brother, Dick. You’ll always be there for me.” Sniffle! The Best Line Award goes to Damian Wayne, who goes off on his grandpa via walkie-talkie for sending rank amateurs to take him down: “Really, Grandfather? Ninja? I’m insulted.” Writer Chris Yost is moving on after this issue, but he’s ended his Red Robin run on a high note.

Brightest Day #1: Now this is more like it. Following the #0 issue that left about as much of an impression as zero suggests, Brightest Day #1 (or at least part of it) finally feels like an epic adventure with some surprises up its sleeve. I certainly appreciated the moment when Aquaman and Mera put a hurting on some child kidnappers at sea, and a pedophile’s death-by-undead-shark was a particularly awesome touch. However, the subplots are breaking down neatly into care/don’t care categories: Filed under “care” are the Aqua posse (including) scary Black Manta, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman and Hawkgirl. In my “don’t care” category are Firestorm (sorry, Shag), Boston Brand and Hal Jordan/Carol Ferris/Sinestro. I’m just a tiny bit burned out on these three lanterns in general. Nothing personal, guys.

What did you like last week?