Who is Nightwing? – One Knight Stand

***As Nightwing’s public profile grows higher via the Titans TV series and the upcoming Gotham Knights game, “Who is Nightwing?” looks at Dick Grayson’s early solo adventures after stepping out of Batman’s shadow.***

TITLES: Nightwing/Huntress #14
AUTHOR: Devin Grayson
ARTISTS: Greg Land, Bill Sienkiewicz (Inker), Noelle Gidding (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$1.95 per issue
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1998
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing: Vol. 3: False Starts

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Something feels off here.

Nightwing/Huntress was a four-issue miniseries, the sole purpose of which seems to be the creation of a brief romance (if you can even call it that) between the two titles characters. It was published at the same time the main Nightwing series was ongoing. What that likely means is that someone in editorial came to Devin Grayson, Greg Land, and this team and said, “Hey, we want Nightwing and Huntress sleep together. Can you do it in four issues?”

But of course, that’s just speculation on my part.

With Batman away, Gotham city is under Nightwing’s protection (So who’s watching Bludhaven?) when a mobster is framed for a murder. But the crime’s mafia connections also attract the attention of the Huntress. The two wind up working the case together, and passions flare when they discover they have more than an enemy in common.

At this point in her near 10-year run, the Huntress/Helena Bertinelli character had been established as someone too violent and impulsive to be endorsed by Batman. To her immense frustration, she was seemingly banned from Batman’s inner circle. Nevertheless, her own bloody history with the mob fueled her crusade to operate in Gotham with or without the Dark Knight’s approval.

Then you had Nightwing/Dick Grayson, who years earlier had struck out on his own. Yet he still adheres to Batman’s code, and is still very much part of his extended “family.” There’s lots of potential for some “opposites attract” chemistry there, and in fact that’s what this book is supposed to be.

The problem is that it jumps into the…shall we say, “physicality,” before we really have a chance to explore any of that chemistry. It all starts rather abruptly, with feelings that are exposited rather than shown. We don’t go on the ride with Dick or Helena. That’s the missing ingredient here. Instead we spend much of the book analyzing the fallout from the act.

One character I’m grateful has a presence here is Oracle/Barbara Gordon. She wasn’t a vital ingredient. But given the Will they?/Won’t they? dynamic they had in the main Nightwing series at the time, her inclusion and input adds valuable perspective and context to things.

On a site note: Bruce Wayne is a public figure in Gotham City, yes? And Dick Grayson was once his ward, yes? So to an extent that makes him a public figure, yes? So when Dick and Helena consummate their attraction to one another, with masks completely off, shouldn’t she recognize him? And thus, shouldn’t she then be able to deduce that Bruce Wayne is Batman? Or are we just ignoring that notion for convenience?

Greg Land is back with us here, delivering a product that I would say is on par with what we got in the miniseries. One of my favorite panels in the book is pictured above. Though when you consider the accusations lobbied against Land for his use of pornography as photo-reference, it definitely makes you wonder…

The coloring, on the other hand, is definitely an upgrade. Noelle Gidding turns in something suitably dark and moody. The miniseries, and for that matter the main series at times, looked a little too bright for my taste.

One redeeming element here is that the effects of Nightwing/Huntress would subsequently be felt in not just the main series, but the No Man’s Land crossover that would soon follow. So at least this story had a purpose and an impact. But sadly, the book itself under-delivers.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Who is Nightwing? – The Villains Chapter

***As Nightwing’s public profile grows higher via the Titans TV series and the upcoming Gotham Knights game, “Who is Nightwing?” looks at Dick Grayson’s early solo adventures after stepping out of Batman’s shadow.***

TITLES: Nightwing #918, Nightwing Annual #1
AUTHOR: Chuck Dixon
ARTISTS: Scott McDaniel, Greg Land, Karl Story (Inker), Bob McLeod (Inker), Roberta Tewes (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$1.95 per issue (Annual: $3.95)
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1997-1998
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing, Vol. 2: Rough Justice

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This first volume of Nightwing has historically been collected in chunks of roughly 8-10 issues. Issues #1-8 are usually the first chapter, and this collection of issues #9-18 and the first annual can be seen as a second chapter. To that mindset, I’d call this the “Villains Chapter.” Dixon, McDaniel, and the team have set up Dick Grayson’s new status quo. Now it’s time to create some new villains for him to fight, as well as bring in some familiar faces from Gotham.

In issue #7, we learned the identity of Bludhaven’s new crime lord: Roland Desmond, a.k.a. Blockbuster. For my money, Blockbuster’s effectiveness as a lead villain largely depends on how much perspective you have as a comic book reader. If you’re simply reading these issues at face value, as I was when they first came out, then he’s fine. A big bad crime boss who, unlike a Carmine Falcone or a Rupert Thorne, can actually be a physical threat to our hero. But with the benefit of hindsight more than two decades later? He feels like an attempt to imitate Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. the Kingpin over at Marvel. But I’ll say this much: He’s a good imitation. And Scott McDaniel is great at juxtaposing this giant monster in a suit with the ultra fast and flexible Nightwing.

As the book continues to develop a mini-rogues-gallery for Nightwing, the book brings in a few icons to help hold down the fort. We see Man-Bat, Deathstroke, and the Scarecrow. The latter is particularly effective, as it doubles as an opportunity for readers to dive into Dick’s psyche and get to know him that much better. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but our former Boy Wonder is living with a hell of an inferiority complex. To that end, I love how Chuck Dixon incorporates Bruce Wayne choosing Jean Paul Valley to take his place as Batman during the Knightfall storyline. It’s a nice way to illustrate that despite wanting to be his own man, Dick still cares deeply about what Batman thinks of him.

We spend about an issue’s worth of pages experiencing these Scarecrow-induced hallucinations with Dick. Some of it’s played for surreal humor, which wouldn’t have necessarily been my first choice. But it gets the point across. Less effective is Scott McDaniel, Karl Story, and Roberta Tewes’ visual take on the scenes. I said it last time, and I’ll reiterate here: This team is so much better suited for action scenes than the quiet, existential stuff. Our opening issue, which sees Nightwing evading gunfire in a shopping mall? A delightful read that has a great visual flow to it. Dick Grayson confronting his worst nightmares? Meh.

Another strike against McDaniel, along with other artists of this era, is what I’ll call “shoulder horns Batman” (shown below). For whatever reason, in the ’90s and early ’00s it was acceptable to put pointy horn-looking gimmicks on Batman’s shoulders. I think the idea was to make him look more menacing, and even a little demonic. But I’ve always hated it. Thankfully it gradually went away, and never made its way into any of the on-screen versions of the character.

On the subject of ’90s costumes, I didn’t even recognize Deathstroke at first. I’d completely forgotten about his black and blue suit…

Though it might be blasphemous to some, I prefer what Greg Land turns in on Nightwing Annual #1. The final product is cleaner, and makes for an enjoyable read.

These issues are also where we start to pick up the pace on the slow-burn romance between Dick and Barbara Gordon/Oracle. Chuck Dixon was one of, if not the master of writing the chemistry between these two. It’s not particularly subtle. Dick and Barbara are fairly flirtatious whenever he comes to her for help on a case. At one point, Dick practically talks openly about a potential romance with her. It’s more a case of Will they?/Won’t they? To his credit, Dixon is able to strike a really nice balance in these issues. He makes us want to see Dick and Barbara get together. But at the same time, he’s able to write in some chemistry between Dick and his building superintendent without making either character look like a heel. On paper it’s a very precarious love triangle. But Dixon pulls it off beautifully.

What’s more, it wouldn’t be long before Dick had yet another love interest. Sparks were about to fly as Nightwing crossed paths with none other than Helena Bertinelli…the Huntress!

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

 

A Three Jokers #1 Review – Too Many Smiles?

TITLE: Three Jokers #1
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
ARTISTS:
Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer)
PUBLISHER: DC Black Label
PRICE:
$6.99
RELEASED:
August 25, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Alright, DC. You can have your “Joker War,” and you can have Three Jokers. But after these are both said and done, we put the ol’ Clown Prince back on the shelf for a little while. There is such a thing as too many smiles…

At last, more than four years after it was first teased in Johns and Fabok’s Justice League run, Three Jokers has arrived. Why’d it take so long? No clue. But I’ve gotta say, the end product was almost worth the wait. While he’s obviously used Batman in his larger DC stories, Geoff Johns hasn’t spent a lot of time on a proper Bat-book. But in terms of the overall “feel” of things, i.e. characterization, tone, the sense of sacrifice, and that lingering dread that comes with a great Joker story, Johns and the Three Jokers team absolutely nail it.

Three Jokers presents us with the notion that there are…well, three Jokers. When the Harlequin of Hate seemingly strikes three points in Gotham at the exact same time, Batman, Batgirl, and the Red Hood must figure out where the genuine article is. But certain evidence points them toward something more elusive: That three different men have played the role of the Joker over the years. And unbeknownst to our heroes, a fourth Joker may be on his way…

In a broad sense, I don’t really like the idea of there having been three Jokers. Rather, I like the notion that he evolved over time just as Batman did. But I’ve been around long enough to know these kinds of things often aren’t as they initially seem. So I’ll reserve judgment on the premise and simply judge the content on its own merits.

One thing I give this issue a lot of credit for is quickly and effectively establishing the Joker’s relationship to Batman, and also providing the character with dramatic weight he deserves. It’s all done within the first few pages, using very little dialogue. We see Batman’s scarred and mangled flesh juxtaposed with single images of his enemies corresponding to specific wounds. Characters like Bane, the Riddler, Scarecrow, etc. Then we get one for the Joker. Then the Joker again. Then the Joker again. Then the Joker yet again. Thus the reader, whether a Batman buff or someone picking up a comic for the first time, understands the Joker isn’t simply another villain. He’s the one who’s given Batman more scars, both physically and emotionally, than anyone else.

Also adding dramatic weight is the presence of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon and the Red Hood/Jason Todd. Ask a casual comic book reader to name three Joker stories, and chances are two of them will be (for better or worse) The Killing Joke – Where the Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara, and A Death in the Family – The infamous story where the Joker kills Jason. So having them around is a nice reminder of what the stakes are when dealing with the Joker. You’d think, with both breathing and walking, the opposite would be true. But both carry a heavy existential burden.

Jason Fabok gets to put his own little tweaks on all the iconic costumes for Three Jokers. The only changes of real significance are to Red Hood’s costume (shown above). Most of what we see is an improvement. The Bat emblem on his chest is thankfully gone. He’s now in a leather jacket with a red tunic that has, you guessed it, a hood. The tunic is supposed to look like the Robin costume. It even has an R on the belt buckle. Initially I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. But it’s grown on me. In fact, it’s probably my favorite take on the costume since Under the Hood in the mid 2000s.

I credit Three Jokers #1 with having one of the best, most cinematic chase scenes I’ve read in quite awhile. There’s not even that much to it. Just Batman and Batgirl trying to stop an ambulance, with Batman coming aboard and fighting inside. But Johns and Fabok made a more exciting sequence out of this than some creators can with four times as much.

This book is also beautifully colored. The palette Brad Anderson is working with feels like it can explode into a bright, beautiful blaze at any moment. But instead we get colors that are very full and that pop, but also feel like they’ve been dipped in darkness. The way Fabok and Anderson capture Gotham City feels definitive. Like this is what it’s supposed to look like.

Jason Todd is really the star of this first issue. That’s mostly because of the climax and a deliciously emotional, character-defining moment between a killer and his victim…

Three Jokers #1 straddles an interesting line. I totally disagree with its premise, yet I can’t deny this is a great comic book. Normally I can’t stand it when even oversized comics are priced above $5. But I can say with full confidence that this one is worth the price of admission.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Weekly Comic 100s: “Joker War,” Billionaire Island, Fantastic Four, and More!

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

TITLE: Red Hood: Outlaw #48
AUTHOR: Scott Lobdell
ARTISTS: Brett Booth, Danny Miki (Inker), Arif Prianto (Colorist), Troy Peteri (Letterer). Cover by Dan Mora & Tamra Bonvillain.
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

These “Joker War” tie-ins are giving me New 52 flashbacks. When “A Death in the Family” was running in Batman, it seemed like they couldn’t crank out enough tie-in issues.

But as far as Joker-themed tie-in issues go, this is a pretty decent one. It’s suitably focused on Jason, pits another Bat-family character against him, and incorporates a location that’s been a mainstay in the book.

On the downside, they kill off a character for no good reason. One that I thought had a decent fan following too…?

TITLE: Detective Comics #1026
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
ARTISTS: Kenneth Rocafort, Daniel Brown (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer)
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

There’s a panel on the opening page of this issue that’s markedly similar to an Alex Ross painting of Batman standing between stone gargoyles. Anyone else notice that? Or am I just an Alex Ross buff?

Actual exclamation in this issue: “Murderize him!”

I’m not the biggest Kenneth Rocafort fan. But in this atmosphere, Batman vs. Killer Croc in the Gotham sewers, he’s at home. His work here is enjoyable.

Tomasi, who has run hot and cold on Detective, is on his game too. This is the best issue this series has seen in many weeks.

TITLE: Batgirl #48
AUTHOR: Cecil Castellucci
ARTISTS: Robbi Rodriguez, Jordie Bellaire (Colorist), Andworld Design (Letters). Cover by Giuseppe Camuncoli.
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

I’ve been away for awhile (mostly because I don’t like Batgirl’s current costume)…since when does Commissioner Gordon call his daughter “Babs?” That feels weird to me.

After reading this issue, I feel bad sleeping on Cecil Castellucci. She writes a damn good Barbara Gordon. Robbi Rodriguez and Jordie Bellaire are a great team too. There’s a really nice fluidity to the work here. And as this issue happens to be the first of a new story, I just might stick around.

For all the good it’ll do. This series ends with issue #50.

TITLE: Billionaire Island #5
AUTHOR: Mark Russel
ARTISTS: Steve Pugh, Chris Chuckry (Colorist), Rob Steen (Letterer)
RELEASED: August 26, 2020

The art by Steve Pugh and Chris Chuckry has highlighted Billionaire Island for me. Almost every expression is exaggerated to the point of caricature. But in a dark comedy you can do that.

I’m not sure who that’s supposed to be on the cover. I mean, it’s the President of the United States, obviously. But I thought Billionaire Island had cast a Kid Rock stand-in as POTUS. This guy looks more like Carrot Top with blond locks. *shudders*

I wouldn’t say this book has maintained the same level of interest from me, but it’s still worth a look.

TITLE: Fantastic Four: Antithesis #1
AUTHOR: Mark Waid
ARTISTS: Neal Adams, Mark Farmer (Inker), Laura Martin (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer)
RELEASED: August 26, 2020

This book gave me not-so-nice flashbacks to Adams’ recent Batman work. That’s a shame, as Adams is legitimately an innovator who’s earned his place in American comic book history. His art looks great here (though Thing’s face looks a little awkward), and Laura Martin’s colors pop beautifully. I just wouldn’t hire Adams as a writer.

Thankfully, you won’t find many writers (if any) better than Mark Waid. So Adams is in good hands for what is apparently his first-ever full-length FF story.

TITLE: Suicide Squad #8
AUTHOR: Tom Taylor
ARTISTS: Daniel Sampere, Adriano Lucas (Colorist), Wes Abbott (Letterer)
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

Deadshot has a puppy named Dogshot? That is absolute perfection, and needs to be in both the new video game and the new movie.

Given both the announcements we just got at DC Fandome, it’s surprising this book is on the recent list of casualties over at DC. It’s a shame for so many reasons, not the least of which is the effort the creative team have put into the creation of new characters. Case in point, this issue, in which we dive into some backstories. Hopefully we can bring them back at some point.

TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #108
AUTHORS: Sophie Campbell (Story), Ronda Pattison (Script), Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz (Story Consultants)
ARTISTS: Nelson Daniel, Pattison (Colorist), Shawn Lee (Letterer)
RELEASED: August 26, 2020

This issue brings up something I never, ever thought we’d have in a TMNT story. With Mutant Town now existing essentially it’s own city within a city, our heroes are now pondering if they should form their own government and police force. Are the Turtles getting into politics? By God, some things are too evil for even the boys in green to take on…

For whatever reason, since issue #101 the Turtles have been wearing clothes more. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that.

TITLE: Wonder Woman #761
AUTHOR: Mariko Tamaki
ARTISTS: Carlo Barberi, Matt Santorelli (Inker), Alejandro Sanchez (Colorist), Pat Brosseau (Letterer). Cover by David Marquez & Sanchez.
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

Barberi does a fine job on this issue. To the point that I wouldn’t mind him being the regular artist. But because he drew the last two issues, I quickly found myself missing Mikel Janin.

As for Tamaki, she gives Maxwell Lord a great “history is controlled by the victors” speech. Diana refers to him as the villain, and she talks about the Justice League controlling “the flow of justice in this world.” In the context of the story it’s very convincing, and a great character moment for Max.

Then I got to the last page, and my heart broke.

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #53
AUTHOR: Ryan Parrott
ARTISTS: Moises Hidalgo, Walter Baiamonte & Katia Ranalli (Colorists), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Cover by Jamal Campbell
RELEASED: August 26, 2020

I’m diggin’ the designs of these new Dark Ranger suits. Their identities seem like a missed opportunity to introduce new characters. But then again, this series is ending soon. That seems to be a theme this week…

This is the first issue where Moises Hidalgo impressed me. He gets a nice, long battle sequence between our good and evil Ranger teams. So he’s able to really spread his wings, and it shows.

Grace (Remember her?) makes a truly stupid suggestion in this issue. So stupid, in fact, that I’m sure it’ll come to pass.

TITLE: Action Comics #1024
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS: John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson (Inker), Brad Anderson (Colorist), Dave Sharpe (Letterer)
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

There are a lot of Super-people in this book. We’re up to five. If the “Superman family” gets too big, it pretty much makes the Justice League obsolete, doesn’t it? Plus, they spend part of the issue flying over Metropolis, scanning it with X-Ray vision. Creepy much? We’ve also got all the usual problems with John Romita Jr’s sloppy art.

Why am I still buying this book?

TITLE: Batman/Superman #11
AUTHOR: Joshua Williamson
ARTISTS: Clayton Henry, Alejandro Sanchez (Colorist), John J. Hill (Letterer). Cover by David Marquez.
RELEASED: August 25, 2020

This story about the Ultra-Humanite and Atomic Skull is essentially three issues of filler. But it’s good filler, I’ll give it that. Clayton Henry and Alejandro Sanchez turn in work that crackles with that great comic book superhero energy.

There’s a subplot in here about Superman not asking for Batman’s advice before he revealed his true identity to the world. It’s a little too far in the background for my taste, though. I’d have liked to see them explore that with some of the page space they used for textbook hero/villain dialogue with the Ultra-Humanite.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Shadow of the Batgirl Deep Dive – Opportunities and Errors

TITLE: Shadow of the Batgirl
AUTHOR: Sarah Kuhn
ARTISTS:
Nicole Goux, Cris Peter (Colorist), Janice Chiang w/Saida Temofonte (Letterers)
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Graphic Novels For Young Adults
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: January 29, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There’s always been something special about the Cassandra Cain character. A certain X-factor that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s her unique origin story. Or the fact that she initially couldn’t communicate the same way everyone else did. Maybe it’s the diversity element. In the late ’90s, she was a young Asian girl among Batman’s other apprentices, who were primarily white males with dark hair. Perhaps it’s all that and more.

In any event, Cass may not be the most popular Batgirl there’s ever been. But she has a special connection with her fans. Thus, I was pleased to see her get the YA graphic novel treatment.

I enjoyed Shadow of the Batgirl. It’s a fresh and modern look at Cassandra Cain, and I’d argue the young-adult lens is perfect fit for her. But the book has some blaring flaws that I can’t seem to get past.

Cass’ origin is essentially unchanged. She’s the daughter of world-famous assassin David Cain, who trained her since birth to become a living weapon. Her regimen was so all-encompassing that she never learned to speak. Her language was combat. But when she runs away from that life to start anew in Gotham City, she must discover for herself who Cassandra Cain really is. But she won’t do it alone. She’ll have help from a few new friends. One of whom, a librarian named Barbara Gordon, knows quite a bit about the legendary Batgirl…

The Barbara Gordon stuff goes exactly where you think it’s going to go. Actually, Shadow of the Batgirl as a whole goes where you think it’s going to go. Which isn’t a bad thing. It hits all the right notes for a story about a young hero trying to find herself.

What’s more, Nicole Goux’s art is a tremendous fit for Cass. I don’t know if I’d call it “edgy,” as the promo copy on the back of the book does. But there’s an obvious Eastern influence to her work which fits the character like a glove. Personally, I found Goux’s art to be better suited to the dramatic and the dynamic. Her action sequences have a hard-hitting feel to them. Naturally, that’s an awesome quality to have if you’re working on Cass. Generally speaking, if Cass was fighting or moody, Goux was at home. Colorist Cris Peter also deserves a lot of credit for complimenting Goux’s work so well. His palette is a few shades darker than standard, and a little bit deeper. When Cass is in the dark, the result is delightfully moody.

While Cass’ supporting cast could easily have consisted of just Barbara, perhaps making for a more intimate feel between mentor and student, Sarah Kuhn fleshes out our supporting cast. Case in point, noodle shop owner and resident wise old sage Jackie Fujikawa Yoneyama. She’s got a nice Mr. Miyagi feel to her, offering wisdom, guidance, and even discipline to our young heroine. Like a surrogate parent, or the book’s answer to Alfred. Generally speaking, I enjoyed Jackie’s scenes a lot.

I was less fond of Erik, our love interest. There’s nothing wrong with him, per se. He just doesn’t do much to stand out. I’ll give Kuhn credit for making him sensitive and even a bit vulnerable, in contrast to Cass’ remarkable physical prowess. But other than that, he’s really only there to be pined over.

While very much enjoyable, for my money Shadow of the Batgirl has one major problem, one minor problem, and also misses a big opportunity

The minor problem involves Cass’ Batgirl costume. Not the thrown-together one we see her wear for a good portion of the book (shown at left). Rather, it’s the one she ends up with at the end. The one that’s supposed to be her officially-endorsed costume. Granted there’s a makeshift quality to that one as well, as Cass makes it herself. But the book lacks that all important awe-inspiring moment where she takes the legacy and the grandeur of Batgirl on her shoulders. Come to think of it, Cass’ original Batgirl costume wasn’t much to write home about either.

The major issue, at least in my mind, is almost funny. But it annoyed me and left me scratching my head for the first half of the book. When she first comes to Gotham, Cass creates a home for herself at the library. It’s there that Barbara is teaching a young writers class. The subject of which, at least while Cass happens to be watching, is Batgirl. We hear Babs say things like, “There’s nothing boring about Batgirl – she’s a hero!” and call her “Gotham City’s beloved daughter.”

In Shadow, Barbara is in her wheelchair but has yet to become the information broker to superheroes known as Oracle. The book doesn’t tell us what put her in the chair, but it seems like she’s still grieving. Thus, I could understand her using this writing class to work through some of her feelings about not being Batgirl anymore. The problem is the book never refers to it as such. So when we find out Babs’ secret, it feels very strange. Even egotistical. Certainly not behavior befitting either a hero or mentor.

Sadly, the book’s worst offense is that it doesn’t capitalize on what really made Cassandra Cain special in the first place. She wasn’t just unique amongst the Batman family. She was different than any other superhero you’d ever seen because she lacked conventional communication skills. Cass could barely speak, so she’d have to find other ways to express herself.

So many teens and young adults struggle to accept qualities that make them different, stand out, and in certain cases a little bit freakish. They see them as liabilities rather than potential strengths. While a dramatic example, Cassandra Cain certainly falls into that freakish category. I don’t think the book should have centered around her communication issues. But instead of giving her a standard YA love interest, why not use those pages to show her facing those challenges? It’s certainly not something you’d see in any other book. (At right is a small example from Cass’ original Batgirl run in 2000.)

Instead, Shadow opts for a more conventional route. Which is a shame, as Goux and colorist Cris Peteri certainly have the artistic chops to handle the increased emphasis on visuals rather than dialogue.

I definitely recommend Shadow of the Batgirl, especially for those who aren’t familiar with Cassandra Cain. It’s good book. In fact, I believe if it could have been a great book, had the raw materials been used a little bit differently…

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Weekly Comic 100s: Kylo Ren, Gwen Stacy, Superman, and More!

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

TITLE: Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren #3 (of 4)
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
ARTISTS: Will Sliney, Guru-eFX (Colors), Travis Lanham (Letterer). Cover by Clayton Crain.
RELEASED:
February 12, 2020

Once again, the most interesting part of this Kylo Ren origin story proves not to be Ben Solo’s fall to the dark side. Rather, it’s Luke attempt to revive the Jedi Order.

What we see doesn’t even have that much meat to it. It’s just Luke working with his students as children, and then a bunch of short scenes to give us a glimpse of what their lives were like as they grew up. But as we’ve been waiting to see this part of the story for so long, any morsel of information feels mountainous.

TITLE: Gwen Stacy #1 (of 5)
AUTHOR: Christos Gage
ARTISTS: Todd Nauck, Rachelle Rosenberg (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer). Cover by Adam Hughes.
RELEASED: February 12, 2020

The part of “spunky teen girl detective” will now be played by Gwen Stacy.

In a post-script message to fans, editor Nick Lowe tells readers the idea for this mini-series is to add to some of the classic Spidey stories with Gwen, and fill in some details along the way. But it works quite nicely on its own merits. Todd Nauck’s art has a modern feel, but with a retro twinge. It feels like a natural successor to those Spider-Man stories from the ’60s and ’70s.

Though frankly, that Adam Hughes cover alone is worth the price.

TITLE: Superman: Heroes #1
AUTHORS: Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Greg Rucka
ARTISTS: Kevin Maguire, Mike Perkins, Steve Lieber, Mike Norton, Scott Godlewski. Cover by Bryan Hitch.
COLORISTS:
Paul Mounts, Gabe Eltaeb, Andy Troy, Nathan Fairbairn. Alex Sinclair (Cover).
LETTERERS:
Troy Peteri, Clayton Cowles, Simon Bowland
RELEASED:
February 12, 2020

This issue is supposed to be about all the superheroes and supporting characters reacting to the big Superman/Clark Kent revelation. But there’s an absolutely beautiful scene between Superman and someone we’ve never seen before: Clark Kent’s high school chemistry teacher.

Clark thanks him for helping to show him the value of hard work, and assures him that despite his powers, he never cheated. Despite being tempted to, of course. It casts this strict, Mr. Feeny type character as a hero in his own right. That’s exactly how (most) teachers should be seen.

TITLE: Superman #20
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Oclair Albert, Alex Sinclair (Colorist), Jeremiah Skipper (Colorist), Dave Sharpe (Letterer)
RELEASED: February 12, 2020

I think I’ve made it pretty clear by now that my favorite thing about Bendis’ influence on the Superman books has been the emphasis on journalism. In this issue we spend a good amount of time in the newsroom of The Daily Star (The Daily Planet‘s competitor) as they process the whole Superman/Clark Kent reveal. We happen to get a very intriguing return as well.

This United Planets story is finally starting to get interesting. As a representative of Earth, Superman is about to take on something of a political role. Things are about to get complicated. Very complicated…

TITLE: Alienated #1 (of 6)
AUTHOR: Simon Spurrier
ARTISTS: Chris Wildgoose, Andre May (Colorist), Jim Campbell (Letterer). Variant cover by Bengal.
RELEASED: February 12, 2020

Slow. Down.

I like this idea a lot. Three outcast high schoolers whose minds become telepathically connected by an alien thing in the woods. Great! Lot of fun to be had there.

But Alienated #1 is so fast-paced that it’s hard to really sink your teeth into anything. I get the sense these characters have been developed and thought out. But perhaps Spurrier figured he only had six issues to work with, and wanted to cram a lot of stuff in early. Why else would he come out of the gate so fast?

TITLE: Marvels X #1
AUTHORS: Alex Ross, Jim Krueger
ARTISTS:
Well-Bee. Cory Petit (Letterer). Cover by Ross.
RELEASED:
February 12, 2020

I think David, our young protagonist, is the only character I’ve ever seen pray to a superhero. Outside of Homer Simpson, that is. (“Please save me, Superman!”) But that was obviously for comedic effect. David seems serious as a heart attack as he prays to Captain America in this issue. Weird, huh?

This series takes place in an interesting time frame. As David makes his way through New York City, it’s clear the age of heroes is over. But we obviously haven’t made it to the dystopian future of Earth X yet. We’re in that in-between period. That’s…intriguing.

TITLE: Batman: Pennyworth R.I.P.
AUTHORS: James Tynion IV, Peter Tomasi
ARTISTS: Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Chris Burnham, Marco Takara, Diogenes Neves, David Lafuente, Sumit Kumar. Cover by Lee Weeks.
COLORISTS: Adriano Lucas, Rex Lokus, Nathan Fairbairn
LETTERERS:
Travis Lanham, Tom Napolitano
RELEASED: February 12, 2020

Not much to see here. Yes, it’s cool to see the whole Batman “family” come together out of costume. But by and large, this one’s pretty missable. Unless you want to see Barbara Gordon act like a complete asshole. Then you’ll love it.

The issue even contorts the timeline in a weird way. At one point it’s said that the tenth anniversary of the Wayne murders came not long after Damian died in the pages of Batman Incorporated. Wait…what? Yes, I know Damian was created using comic book science. But that timeline still doesn’t add up.

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Epic Covers: Gotham Knights by Brian Bolland

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

When you hear the name Brian Bolland, especially in the context of Batman’s world, you think of The Killing Joke. That’s understandable. Nearly 30 years later, DC still goes to great lengths to make sure none of us forget it.

But Bolland has revisited the Dark Knight at various points since, usually via cover work. Such was the case in late 1999/2000, when DC called on him to do the covers for their new Batman series, Gotham Knights. Between April of 2000 and January of 2004, almost every issue of Gotham Knights was adorned with a Brian Bolland cover. Thus, Bolland got to cover a lot of ground he likely wouldn’t have otherwise been able to. We saw him draw characters like Nightwing, Huntress, Spoiler, and even Cassandra Cain as Batgirl. While Gotham Knights was essentially a third string series, during that timeframe is boasted some of the best covers in all of comics.

While great many of them would most certainly fit into the “epic” category, I’ve picked my five favorites for this space today.

Issue #18 – Aquaman and the Giant Penny.

Brian Bolland is widely known as the man who drew Barbara Gordon getting shot and paralyzed by the Joker. So when one thinks of his art, the word “funny” doesn’t often come to mind. And yet, here we are.

Gotham Knights #18 is about Batman summoning Aquaman for help retrieving some Batcave artifacts that went underwater after the big earthquake in Cataclysm. Bolland uses this premise to to get a little cutesy with iconic Batcave set piece. Aquaman is a character that gets played for laughs a lot. But what I appreciate about this piece is that it’s not necessarily making fun of Arthur, or using the whole “he talks to fish” bit. Arthur is in on the joke. Bolland doesn’t draw him in a cartoony way, but the combination of the shrug and the expression on his face almost evokes a Looney Tunes vibe. It’s difficult not to smile when you see this thing.

Issue #25 – Batman in Handcuffs.

Most people associated those bladed gauntlets with Batman, and that iconography is what makes this image work.

Gotham Knights #25 tied in with the Bruce Wayne, Murderer? storyline going on at the time, which saw Bruce go to prison. Bolland captured the spirit of that story perfectly by placing Batman in handcuffs. And don’t discount the iconic symbolism of those either. For better or worse, handcuffs are a symbol of American justice. With this relatively tight image, Bolland tells us that Batman is now entrapped within the system he’s supposed to be serving.

Issue #32 – The Grandfather Clock

I wouldn’t call this a famous image. But it’s gotten a decent amount of additional exposure over the years. It’s easy to see why.

While issue #25 took place as the Murderer? storyline was beginning, Gotham Knights #32 was part of the wrap up. It showed us 24 hours in the life of Bruce Wayne/Batman. So it’s fitting that Bolland’s cover show is the grandfather clock, the entrance to the Batcave. The unofficial threshold between billionaire playboy and caped crusader. And you have the great juxtaposition of both identities standing back to back. An awesome cover for an awesome issue.

Issue #43 – Batgirl Debuts

Another piece that got a good amount of play after the fact. Bolland delivers an epic tip-of-the-hat to the classic Carmine Infantino cover for Detective Comics #359 from 1967, Batgirl/Barbara Gordon’s “million dollar debut!” The classic never dies, kids.

There’s a sentimental aspect to this one, of course. Bolland wasn’t very nice to Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke. So for him to render here like this, in her crowning moment, is pretty cool. It’s almost a sense of justice for the character. Though ironically, the issue was more about Jason Todd than Barbara herself.

Issue #45 – Man-Bat’s Close Up

Oddly enough, I remember not liking this one when it came out. It’s so damn gruesome and detailed. Look at the nose. The ears. The fangs.

But of course, that’s the point, isn’t it? There aren’t a lot of epic Man-Bat covers. But this one definitely fits the bill.

This one also has a great Universal monster movie vibe to it. Between the lighting from below, the positioning of the head and neck and the wide-eyed expression, it brings to mind the promotional art for the original Wolfman or Mummy movies.

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A Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 Review – The Never-Ending Joke

Batgirl & The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1, 2016, Yanick PaquetteTITLE: Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1
AUTHORS: Julie Benson, Shawna Benson
PENCILLER: Claire Roe. Cover by Yanick Paquette.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: July 20, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been looking for a reason to write about The Killing Joke, what with the animated movie coming out. I didn’t expect to find it here. But I’ll take it!

Someone is sending information to mafia families using the name Oracle, Barbara Gordon’s handle during her days in a wheelchair. This obviously strikes a personal chord, and Batgirl asks Black Canary to help her investigate. Babs is looking to get the Birds of Prey back together. But Dinah isn’t interested (“I’ve moved on. So have you.”). Still, she tags along for her friend’s sake. They cross paths with Huntress, who inexplicably knows some big secrets. But the identity of this mysterious new Oracle? That’s still a secret.

In reviewing how Babs became Oracle, we flash back to The Killing Joke. We see Claire Roe’s take on some of the famous shots from that story: Joker in the Hawaiian shirt, Barbara getting shot with the coffee mug in her hands, her laying looking up at him. Interestingly, Roe puts Barbara in a tank top and pants, as opposed to the skirt and blouse she was wearing in that story.

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #1, Killing Joke flashbackI read an article recently on DC’s refusal to put The Killing Joke behind them. Though heralded as a landmark story, it’s unquestionably brutal and cruel. It also spawned an era of creators seemingly trying to mimic The Killing Joke by having female characters face awful acts of violence (see Women in Refrigerators). Yet the story lives on. Why? For the same reason DC won’t give up on Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns. Name value.

Those three stories were arguably the three tentpole works of the “grim and gritty” movement in the ’80s. If you’ve been into comics at all over the last 30 years, chances are you’ve at least heard of them. In one way or another, they’re masterpieces that changed the industry. So by connecting those stories to their new books, DC creates a bridge to readers that have either left them behind, or simply aren’t reading comics anymore.

That’s one of the reasons why the first several issues of the New 52 Batgirl series weren’t just about Barbara being a superhero again. They were about her recovering, and coming to grips with being able to walk again. Just like in this issue, in 2011’s Batgirl #1 we relived the Joker shooting scene, and went over Barbara’s trauma. Eventually Babs even winds up confronting a nameless henchmen from that story.

I’m not disputing The Killing Joke is a great story, albeit one that inspired a bunch of bad creative choices. I just hope a day comes where we don’t have to go back to it every time Barbara has a new series. There are other stories out there, after all…

Huntress church sceneSo what’s with Dinah not wanting to put the Birds of Prey back together? The New 52 Birds of Prey series wasn’t exactly their highest of highs. But Babs and Dinah are still good friends. Why the cold shoulder?

Huntress makes her first appearance in a church confessional. I’m not as familiar with this version of Helena, but it looks like she’s as much a believer as her pre-New 52 counterpart was. The visual messaging in the church scene makes sense, particularly the shot of her walking out. By that point, you know her mission is to kill mafia hitmen. To say the least, she’s become a lapsed Catholic. You’ll notice this version of the Huntress costume doesn’t include a cross necklace.

The panels in the confessional are lit very interestingly (some shown above). Colorist Allen Passalaqua does great things withthe faint light coming in from the church and the resulting shadows on Helena’s face. The panel where her elbow is on the ledge is the best in the book, giving us an image more natural than what we see in most superhero books.

In contrast, Batgirl has what I’ll call some “mouth issues.” Not Barbara. Just Batgirl. I can’t decide if Claire Roe draws it in a way that’s somehow conspicuous, or if she just came out a little toothy. In certain panels, she almost looks like a buck-toothed Pipi Longstocking in a cowl. It’s one thing if that’s the look she’s going for. I don’t think it is.

Batgirl and the Birds, just a nameIt’s hard to believe, but Birds of Prey turns 20 this year. The group has had a variety of incarnations. But the most successful, at least creatively, have always had two ingredients: Barbara Gordon and Dinah Lance. At its core, Birds of Prey is a buddy superhero series about two women who bonded through their work and found friendship. If you’re missing one of them, you don’t have Birds of Prey. Thankfully, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey has its core intact. Now they simply need to built on top of that. With two female writers and a female penciller, I’m hopeful they build a series unlike any other on the stands.

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A Batgirl #48 Review – Video Games, a T-Rex, and…Mind Wipes???

Batgirl #48, 2016, coverTITLE: Batgirl #48
AUTHORS: Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart
PENCILLER: Babs Tarr
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: February 3, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“It’s a Birds of Prey reunion!” That’s basically what the cover is saying to comic book fans. In retrospect, it’s a wonder DC fouled up the New 52 incarnation of that book. The Birds of Prey concept has a lot going for it. But at its core it was about the friendship between Babs and Dinah (and sometimes Huntress). Considering how well Batgirl has been going, and how Black Canary factors into it, Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr might just be the heirs to Birds of Prey. Come to think of it, is DC even doing anything with Huntress right now?

But I digress…

Fragments of Barbara’s memory have gone missing. The question is, why? And what does it have to do with her brain apparently being tampered with? Thankfully, Black Canary is there for a little extra back-up. But not before Batgirl and Batwing take on Co-Op, a villainous duo with a flair for gaming.

Batgirl #48, Babs Tarr, Batwing picnicConsidering how much history there is in the Barbara Gordon/Dick Grayson romance, the success of Barbara’s romance with Luke Fox has been a pleasant surprise. And then they had to taint it in this issue by reminding us that he’s Batwing. Luke Fox works just fine as Barbara’s super-smart boyfriend who’s now helping her in a new business venture. He doesn’t need to be a superhero. In fact, that was part of what made Batgirl #45 so cool, when Babs chose Luke over the muscular, dashing and daring Dick Grayson. That’s not to say Luke should be helpless, and I know the Batgirl team weren’t the ones who made him Batwing. But c’mon. Can’t that whole concept just be left as a relic of the reboot?

These Co-Op villains are pretty fun. They’re written pretty tongue-in-cheek, but that’s part of their charm. And their presence gives Tarr and and the artistic team a chance to go all out with a blaze of colorful, cartoony madness. Our villains are dressed like TRON characters, one of them is riding T-Rex, our heroes are placed inside a pro wrestling arena and are fighting a big luchador. It’s one of the nuttiest sequences we’ve seen from a DC book in quite awhile. I’d be more than okay with seeing these guys again.

Batgirl #48, 2016, Babs and DinahTarr really gets a chance to show off her versatility in this issue. We go absolutely crazy near the beginning of the issue. Then in the middle we have some cartoony anger and snark when Babs and Dinah come across a few Black Canary fans (shown right). Then at the end, we get a dramatic scene where the other characters are terribly concerned for Batgirl’s wellbeing. While it couldn’t have been done without Fletcher and Stewart’s writing, make no mistake about it, Babs Tarr’s art is the element that truly ushered in this new era for Batgirl. Look no further than this issue for the evidence.

Our main villain is someone Babs has seen in a nightmare, and who has in-depth access to her mind. Going forward, this has the potential to be something very scary, and very personal. It’s something very much befitting the upcoming 50th issue, and they’re even tying it back to their first story, collected in The Batgirl of Burnside. Batwing notwithstanding, Team Batgirl has yet to let us down. And I don’t see that trend changing in the near future.

Images from batman-news.com. 

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A Batgirl #45 Review – Dick Grayson: Wedding Crasher

Batgirl #45TITLE: Batgirl #45
AUTHORS: Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart
PENCILLER: Babs Tarr
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: October 28, 2015

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead for Batgirl #45.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m a big fan of Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson as a couple. I was as stoked as anybody when DC let Gail Simone work with them again during Convergence. That being said, the Batgirl team does real justice to Barbara by not putting her back with Dick in this issue.

There’s no supervillain in Batgirl #45, and no real crisis for Babs to overcome. Instead, we find ourselves at the wedding of her friend Alysia. Our herioine is entrusted with keeping the ring safe for the bride. But when Dick shows up before the festivities and playfully swipes the ring, things get complicated.

***For the events leading up to this issue, check out Grayson #1, Batgirl Annual #3 and Grayson #12.***

Batgirl #45, Dick Grayson, Babs TarrIt would have been very easy to put Barbara with Dick. That option is always going to be there, and it’s always going to work. But that’s not what happens here. In this issue, Dick is actually positioned as the antagonist. It’s one of the few times in this era of “Dick Grayson, sexy super-spy” that we’re put in a position to not like him. He’s not malicious or cruel at all, but he’s clearly in the wrong. It’s surreal, but it’s done in the interest of playing up Barbara’s confidence and independence. As readers, we already knew she had those qualities. But this issue accents them wonderfully.

Simply put, Barbara stands up for herself when Dick tries to insert himself into her life romantically. She takes him to task for interrupting this special day, and that he must face the consequences of faking his own death, and what that did to the people he cares about. What makes this such a strong moment is that she’s right, and we admire her for being brave enough to put Dick in his place. It’s something he needed to hear, from the character perhaps best qualified to tell him.

Barbara’s behavior in the early part of this issue is also very true to her character. She essentially becomes the Miss Fix-It of the wedding party, and literally pulls out a “Wedding Day Survival Kit.” Not only does this work with Barbara’s personality, but having been to a whopping three weddings this month, I can tell you firsthand that every bride wants a character like that around.

Batgirl #45, Babs Tarr, wedding survival kitFrom an artistic standpoint, Tarr gets to be more flowery and formal in this issue than any she’s done so far. Her work, paired with colorist Serge LaPointe’s lavenders and pinks definitely give this issue a visual uniqueness. Tarr’s rendering of Dick Grayson is also impossibly hunky, and a great representation of the temptation Barbara feels to cave in and be with Dick.

The issue ends with a mysterious teaser, likely about the next villain Batgirl will take on. Solicitations indicate Babs’ mind may be failing her, and The Spoiler will be involved. If how they interacted in Batgirl Annual #3 is any indication, things will continue to be fun going forward. And considering how fun this series has been since Fletcher, Stewart, and Tarr took over, what more can we ask?

Image 1 from newsarama.com. Image 2 from popoptiq.com.

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