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.

Keeping it Ill with Artist John ‘Roc’ Upchurch

If you follow this blog, chances are that you read a ton of comics and can name your favorite writers and artists. E. and I talk about ours all the time, and many of our preferred illustrators are well known and probably working for the big two. But there are so many undiscovered artists out there who are just as good, if not better than your mainstream people. One in particular goes by the name Roc, and he is the shit.

John “Roc’ Upchurch hails from “a little gutter” in Philadelphia called Hunting Park. Named after his father, who inspired him to become an artist, Roc began his career as a video game concept artist in Georgia. He graduated to freelance work in almost every industry, and he’s now an illustrator of whatever you can imagine. His tools of the trade are pencil, paper and Photoshop. He can do concept art, comics, storyboards and pretty much any commission assignment you throw his way. When our friends saw the fabulous Vanessa G. and E. Peterman avatars Roc created for Girls Gone Geek, they pretty much lost their minds. We certainly did. Continue reading

Birds of Prey #1: Fishnets, Fisticuffs and Fabulousness

Variant cover art by Cliff Chiang

The best friendships are the ones where, even after long stretches of little communication, everyone picks up right where they left off. There are no awkward pauses or, worse, internal monologues about how it’s just not the same.

For fans of Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey run, reading issue #1 of the revived series is like that great reunion with an old friend. Simone stepped away from the book three years ago, and it was canceled in 2009. However, she and original collaborator Ed Benes have wasted no time in returning the Birds to classic, crime-busting form — and we missed them terribly. (Spoilers await.)

The four-part “Endgame” story opens in Iceland, where Black Canary has arrived to rescue a diplomat’s 5-year-old daughter from a terrorist/kidnapper. The beauty of this sequence is that it firmly re-establishes Dinah Lance as one of the world’s most skilled combatants, obliterating the sad-sack wife nonsense other writers saddled her with. Let’s just say there’s a lot of blood on the snow in Reykjavik, and it’s not Dinah’s. Or the 5-year-old’s.

"Where my girls at?"

Shortly, Oracle begins reassembling the team to deal with an anonymous mofo who has a frightening amount of information about the Birds and all their friends/associates. Zinda is dispatched to recruit Hawk and Dove, one of whom has some serious anger management issues. (I wouldn’t have held it against Hawk if he’d tossed that silly, bank-robbing cheerleader off the roof, but that’s just me.) The addition of these newbies to a well-established group is potentially rich with drama, and I’m looking forward to seeing how everyone adjusts, or doesn’t.

This is the REAL DC Trinity

Simone’s affection for these characters comes through on every page, especially in the funny, familiar banter that flies between Canary, Zinda, Huntress and Oracle. The Birds also look fabulous, thanks to Benes’ gourmet cheesecake illustrations and colorist Nei Ruffino’s glowing, moody palette, which really suits poured-on leather under moonlight. Those panels of Huntress cracking skulls while talking to Oracle via cell phone could launch 1,000 gym memberships alone.

As if that weren’t enough, the Big Villain Reveal on the final page is a total surprise, and still a bit of a mystery. I figured it would be Lady Shiva, or even a tween Sin, but the ending suggests that our heroines are in for even bigger trouble. It is totally on — and I couldn’t be happier.

G3 Review: Chew Volume 1 – Taster’s Choice

Cover art by Rob Guillory

Chew Volume 1: Taster’s Choice
Story: John Layman
Art: Rob Guillory
Image Comics

With all the recent shenanigans at DC, I was mad and stuff. So I’m all, “I’m gonna read more indie books!” Chew was on my list of alternative books, and one of the guys in the GP (my Geek Posse) happened to pick up the first trade up at lunch — just as I was heading to lunch. SCORE!

Tony Chu is a cibopath, someone who receives psychic impressions from what they eat. He can see the apple being sprayed with pesticides or the cow hanging in the slaughterhouse. The only thing that doesn’t give him a vision is the beet (Click here for the significance of beets in other fiction). After an abrupt departure from the Philly PD following a botched chicken investigation and cannibalistic moment, Tony now works for the FDA. An alleged bird-flu pandemic has caused a ban on chicken, so the FDA pretty much runs shit in America. Since I’m an organic foodie with a penchant for conspiracy theories, that plot detail equals awesome. Continue reading

G3 Review: First Wave #1

Cover art by J.G. Jones

First Wave #1
Script: Brian Azzarello
Art: Rags Morales
Colors: Nei Ruffino
DC Comics
March 3, 2010

As a fledgling fangirl, I mostly read what others loaned me. In time, I learned what I liked and didn’t. Much of what I enjoy is of the Spandex persuasion and has a strong female presence. Thus, First Wave is not a typical read for me.  Had it not been for Rags Morales’ involvement, I wouldn’t have picked up the book at all. I’m such a fan of Rags’ art that I figured the comic would be worth it even if the story turned out to be a bore. I also approached First Wave knowing nothing about Doc Savage, his entourage, or The Spirit. So here’s my “Tabula Rasa” take on issue #1.

The art is the shining star of this issue. I always enjoy a JG Jones cover. The smooth lines and the sort of chalky, muted tones are nice touches that complement Jones’ take on the characters. It reminds me of Chris Van Allsburg, whose work I enjoyed so much as a kid. Rags’ interior art is amazing. During a quite amusing conversation between The Spirit and crooked cop Dolan, there’s this up-close panel of Dolan’s smirky face that I just stared at: The smoke coming off the just-used match, the shadow cast from the brim of his hat and pipe, and the distinct look of the character. It said so much more than the dialogue could — and that’s just one panel!

If you think of the art for a character-driven book in terms of movie casting, Rags is the best casting director in the studio. He manages to define all of the characters so that you got a feel for who they might turn out to be in this story. He has a real gift for drawing eyes, giving them depth and an almost photo-realistic intensity. I generally liked Ruffino’s colors, but at times, some of Rags’ detail work seemed lost to the coloring. But since the palette and contrasts were aesthetically pleasing as a package, perhaps that’s a fair trade-off.

Since I am not familiar with the characters in First Wave, I had to read the issue a couple times to absorb what was going on. It’s mostly a lot of seed planting, but no real forward motion. We see Dr. Littlejohn somewhere in the South American jungle fleeing from a killer robot. Doc Savage comes home from solitude to his father’s gravesite, only to find some serious shenanigans surrounding his “death.” A Russian guy, who I guess is the big baddie, reads a news report about Doc’s goings-on and has some opinions about the scene taking place in the jungle. The Spirit provides kooky commentary while following a lead on some criminal activity, only to find a fight and a few things unexpected.

I’m curious to see where the story goes, and I’m excited about some of the characters. We get a brief glimpse at Rima the Jungle Girl in this first issue. Based on a preview from Rag’s character notebook that I saw a while back, I love Rima’s look, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Azzarello does with her. She doesn’t have a great deal of established continuity, but in the hands of an able writer, that can be a great thing. There is a Black Canary yet to be revealed, which I have high hopes for. The Spirit was wildly entertaining, as he’s a special kind of crazy. I’ve always had an affinity for eccentric characters. Plus, I’m really digging Doc Savage, who’s all smart and bronzy. Yum.

Verdict: The first issue doesn’t offer a great deal of exposition, and I imagine it’ll take another issue or two before we get any. You might get more out of it if you are familiar with Doc and Spirit. The story was certainly not a bore. Azzarello managed to pique my interest, but Rags Morales is what made First Wave worth my $3.99.

Best of the ’09 Pull List: Batwoman in ‘Detective Comics’

She's a ride-or-die chick.

As far as my comic-shop file is concerned, 2009 was a good year overall — and it really didn’t have that much to do with lantern rings and cape-baiting zombies. DC’s “Blackest Night” and many of the tie-ins have been perfectly enjoyable, but the books that stuck with me this year were more about individual characters than cataclysmic events. From the brilliant-while-it-lasted pairing of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely on “Batman and Robin,” to the nifty surprises of “Wednesday Comics” and “Superman: Secret Origin,” to the thank-God-it’s-still-good re-launch of Brian Michael Bendis’ “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man,” my pull list generally gave me a lot to look forward to on Wednesdays.

But no title rocked my world in 2009 quite like “Detective Comics” as conceived by writer Greg Rucka and artist J.H. Williams III. I expected Rucka’s writing to shine, but Williams’ visual storytelling has been extraordinary. In each of the seven issues (#854-860) this team has produced so far, Williams has executed pages that are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a mainstream comic book. Brought to life by Dave Stewart’s expert coloring, Batwoman is frankly terrifying the first time she appears in issue #854, all pale skin, flame-red wig and shiny black bodysuit. Even her crimson lipstick is intimidating. (Dear M.A.C.: Consider making Batwoman the face of your next Viva Glam campaign.) If you’re up to no good, you do not want to meet this woman in an alley, period. That’s how it should be when someone wears the bat symbol.

Fortunately, the artwork serves a mighty good origin story. [Spoilers ahead] What motivates a privileged person, one who isn’t named Bruce Wayne, to put on a costume and stalk criminals at night? After the brutal loss of her mother and identical twin sister, Kate Kane follows in her military father’s footsteps rises through the U.S. Army ranks. But when she’s outed as a lesbian and refuses to lie about being gay, Kate is forced out of the service and becomes a woman adrift — at least, until a chance encounter with Batman inspires her to start taking a bite out of crime herself. Their wordless first meeting is one of my favorite visuals in this series, and though Kate is clearly in awe of Gotham’s dark knight, she didn’t need his help to whip her would-be attacker’s ass.

In Rucka’s hands, Kate has emerged as a truly interesting, complicated figure. I particularly like her kindred-spirit relationship with her dad, who uses his high-level military connections to support her crime-fighting. There’s tension between Kate and her wealthy stepmother, and it’s clear that she’s not entirely over Renee Montoya, aka The Question. A recent discovery about her twin sister, Beth, is a doozie. And of course, there’s that lingering issue of having been stabbed through the heart by a Religion of Crime crackhead.

Word is that Rucka and Williams will reunite in 2010 to continue Batwoman’s adventures in her own title. I’m going to file that under “Please, Please Be True.” After all, Gotham City needs all the help it can get, and I’m pretty well hooked now.