A Batman: I Am Suicide Review – Love and Suicide

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 2: I Am Suicide
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads
COLLECTS: Batman #915
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: April 12, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead!***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Tom King is a great writer. Read his work on The Vision and tell me different. I dare you. But is he a great Batman writer? That’s not an easy question. I Am Gotham was a mixed bag, as is a large portion of I Am Suicide. 

Then we get to issues #14 and #15, and King delivers one of the best Batman/Catwoman stories I’ve ever read. But was that a simple flash in the pan? The culmination of a well-crafted story? Something in between?

Claire Clover, a.k.a. Gotham Girl, remains perpetually terrified thanks to the Psycho-Pirate’s ability to control his victims’ emotions. But he’s been taken to the island of Santa Prisca, inside one of the most savage and inescapable prisons on the planet. To infiltrate its walls, Batman and Amanda Waller assemble a makeshift Suicide Squad. Among its members is Catwoman, who stands accused of murdering 237 people. But murder may become a common theme here, as the Psycho-Pirate is under the protection of a man who spent his unthinkable childhood years in that prison, Bane.

At it’s core, this book is about Batman and Catwoman. Bruce and Selina. One of the most intriguing romances in all of popular culture. A fairy tale romance in many ways. But King puts his own spin on it, and looks at it in a way that’s almost psychoanalytic. Letters the two have sent each other serve as the narrative backdrop for issues #10 and #12. We learn that their relationship is largely about the pain they both feel, how it brings them together, and how when they kiss it briefly goes away. I like that. It’s as if it’s an unspoken truth that’s been there the whole time, and we’re just now seeing it. That’s what so many great writers do with these characters.

I’m less a fan of what King does with Bruce’s famous childhood vow to wage war on crime. In issue #12, Bruce reveals that he almost slit his wrists at age 10, before a moment of clarity showed him his true purpose. He then makes the solemn promise that would take him down the road to becoming Batman. Bruce calls his crusade “the choice of a boy. The choice to die. I am Batman. I am suicide.” We read those words as Batman literally fights off an army of gun-wielding prison guards.

I get what King is going for. I understand the unbearable pain of loss leading to a hero’s self-sacrifice. What I’m less enthralled with is the on-the-nose nature of the wrist cutting. The scene doesn’t need that.

Bruce starts that letter talking about the inherent humor in a grown man dressing up like a bat to “punch crime in the face.” It’s very Joker-ish. We even get what may be a vague reference to Mr. J. with the line: “All of them can laugh. Mother. Father. Him. The whole world.” He brings it around to something more serious, of course. But this dialogue speaks nicely to the yin-yang dynamic between Batman and the Joker, whether King mean it that way or not.

King caps the Batman/Catwoman stuff of in an amazing fashion with the “Rooftops” story in issues #14 and #15. I’ve covered those issues in-depth, but it’s worth repeating: “Rooftops” belongs among the greatest Catwoman stories ever told. Mitch Gerads handles the pencils, inks, and colors, bathing the characters in a gorgeous moonlight. What’s more, some of the expressions he gives Selina are just perfect. Throughout the book, King also has the characters call each other “Bat” and “Cat.” That’s a great little touch.

I credit Scott Snyder with doing a lot of justice to the Riddler during his Batman run. He gave the character his balls back. King begins that same process with Bane here, casting him as something of a mad and savage king. A king who, for some odd reason, has to be naked at all times. While things don’t really pick up in this respect until we get to subsequent issues, but this is where we see flashes of early ’90s Knightfall Bane. He’s not just a monster. He’s feared. He’s respected. He’s merciless. He even breaks Batman’s back again and leaves him to drown…

That last one might have been a little more effective if our hero hadn’t simply given himself an extreme chiropractic adjustment and fixed everything. I’ve heard of comic book science, but that right there is comic book medical science. Now if only he’d known that trick in the ’90s.

Also on Batman’s team is Arnold Wesker, a.k.a. the Ventriloquist. They build up his role significantly, and the payoff involves the character being able to subvert the Psycho-Pirate’s powers by virtue of his multiple personality syndrome. Again, comic book medical science. Though I had less issues with that than seeing Wesker make his bare hand talk as if there were an invisible puppet on it (shown below). Comics are so weird.

The majority of the book is drawn and inked by Mikel Janin, and colored by June Chung. I’ve had issues in the past with Janin’s figures looking too static, but we don’t see much of that here. Static or not, Janin’s work is always interesting. His characters look and feel very real, but they have that little touch of superhero dynamism. Case in point, his Batman looks relatively natural and real. But he also gives him a distinct scowl that really walks that line of exaggeration.

Janin and Chung also create a tremendous mood for the prison. It’s suitably dark and dank. You can almost feel that cold, damp air on your skin. Less subtle is the throne of skulls that we see Bane sitting on. We’ve seen this prison before. But it’s never been quite as haunting as it is here.

Despite the greatness of “Rooftops,” I’m not quite ready to call Tom King a great Batman writer just yet. Some of his choices plucked me right out of the story. But he’s becoming a good Batman writer, and that’s better than a lot of people ever get. Perhaps he just needed some time to get comfortable in Gotham City. Either way, this is an improvement. I’ve been excited to pick Batman up again.

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A Batman #15 Review – “She Stole the Night.”

batman-15-coverTITLE: Batman #15
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: Mitch Gerads. Cover by Stephanie Hans.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: January 18, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In a lot of ways, we’ve been waiting for this story for over 75 years.

In part two of “Rooftops” we finally find out about the 237 people that Selina Kyle allegedly murdered.  But not before shine and Bruce Wayne each make a bold statement to each other. Then Selina runs. Because she’s Catwoman, and Catwoman runs.

“I love you, Bat.”
“I love you, Cat.”

Have Batman and Catwoman ever said that to each other? The canonical Batman and Catwoman? Without it being a dream sequence or anything? I’ve read a lot of Batman comics over the years, and I can’t remember it happening. It’s an amazing moment (shown below). And it’s not just the panels where they say it. It’s the panels between the panels. The silence. Selina’s face. The little smile on Bruce’s face in the last panel. The blue lighting. It’s beautiful, it really is.

batman #15, 2017, I Love You, Mitch GeradsWe put and exclamation point on the whole thing later in the issue. Batman, who fears he may never see Selina again, tells Holly Robinson: “She knows who I am. What I am. And she loves me anyway.”

I mean, c’mon. COME ON.

These are moments you want to see from characters who’ve loved each other in silence for so long. As readers we know they’ll never really be together. But seeing them get those feelings out in the open is tremendously satisfying. Especially for those of us who’ve been reading about these characters our whole lives.

King and Gerads also have a little fun with Catwoman’s history. Bruce and Selina disagree over what their first encounter consisted of. Bruce’s recollection matches up with 1940’s Batman #1, where “the Cat” dresses up like an old lady for a diamond heist. Selina’s is the Batman: Year One encounter, where Bruce tries to save Holly Robinson from an angry pimp. Gerads even mimics the art style from both books. Given the weight what we see in this issue, it’s very fitting.

This is, I believe, the debut of New 52 Holly Robinson. Whereas before she was an ally and protege of Selina’s, and even became Catwoman herself for a time, this Holly Robinson was responsible for the 237 murders that Selina took on herself. When the orphanage they grew up in was burnt to the ground, Holly took revenge using skills Selina had taught her.

I was always confused by the whole 237 murders thing. But I was never of the mindset that Selina actually did it. There are likely some Holly Robinson fans that won’t be happy with this. But at least she’s back, and this is something they can explore with Selina down the line.

batman-15-originsAs with last issue, I give Mitch Gerads so much credit for the blues he uses to give this issue a sense of “mood lighting.” He’s also tremendous at jumping out of that lighting when we go to the origin flashbacks (shown left). The contrast in styles is a lot of fun.

The work Gerads does with Selina’s face on the “I love you” page is obviously stellar. But he also draws a very distinct and expressive Holly Robinson. When we meet her, she’s got a case of bed-head, and her terror at being in the presence of Batman quickly turns to sympathy toward his plight. At least, that’s what we’re supposed to think it is. Batman is cast in the purple glow of the lights outside, while Holly is bathed in those gorgeous blues.

DC has published a bunch of “Greatest Stories Ever Told” trades dedicated to many of their iconic characters. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Joker, etc. If there’s ever a Catwoman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told book, “Rooftops” belongs in there. One night argue it’s too early to make a prediction like that. But at the very least, it’s the best work Tom King has done in 15 issues of Batman. We’re talking far and away, ahead by a mile, don’t even look back. It’s that superior.

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A Batman #14 Review – They Totally Had Sex!

Batman #14, 2017TITLE: Batman #14
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: Mitch Gerads. Cover by Stephanie Hans.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED:
January 4, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In 2011’s Catwoman #1 and #2, Judd Winick and Guillem March put together a scene where Batman and Catwoman have sex, complete with masks and costumes. We don’t see anything X-rated. But the climactic (no pun intended) page of issue #1 depicts what I think is supposed to be our heroes having achieved penetration. It was generally regarded as distasteful. An assessment I agree with.

In Batman #14, our heroes have sex again (shown below). Once again, I believe we see them achieve penetration. I’m generally not a fan of actually seeing superheroes have sex. Implication is usually fine. But actually showing us the act? No. There’s a trashy, niche porn element to it that I can’t shake. Let alone the fact that these characters also appear on lunch boxes and kids t-shirts.

But if for some reason you must show us Batman and Catwoman doing the nasty, this is how you do it.

batman #14, 2016, sex scene, Mitch GeradsSelina Kyle is about to go to face life in prison without parole for the murder of 237 people. (How/when did this happen, by the way? Is this something Tom King did for this story? I’m lost.) Batman is convinced she’s not guilty. But for whatever reason, Selina isn’t proclaiming her innocence. Now they have one last night together, and they’re spending it where they belong: The Gotham City rooftops.

So why is the sex in this issue different from what we saw in 2011? As much as I enjoy Judd Winick’s work, it was instantly clear that his scene was done for shock value. It was about the sex itself, rather than what the sex meant. Batman #13 is a romantic story that builds to the characters giving into their desires. As Selina puts it, it’s about what they want to do, as opposed to what they have to do.

While I still wouldn’t have actually shown us any of the act, this is actually my favorite Batman issue Tom King has done. I love stories that look at the Batman/Catwoman dynamic, and it’s satisfying to see these characters have a moment like this.

As we’ve frequently seen during King’s run, Batman and Catwoman call each other Bat and Cat. I like that. It adds a layer of familiarity, and almost intimacy to their relationship. It’s so simple that I’m surprised we haven’t seen it more often.

King also brings a bunch of C and D-list Batman villains along for the ride. The Clock King, Film Freak, Condiment King, and Kite Man are just a few of the names our heroes spend this special night with. An especially busy night, it would seem…

batman #14, Mitch Gerads, two-page spreadMitch Gerads handles the pencils, inks, and colors. Almost everything in this issue is bathed in cool blues, which sets the tone beautifully. When we get to the intimacy between Bruce and Selina, Gerads uses those blue tones to highlight some of the scarring on Bruce’s body. That’s an interesting touch.

Early on we get a gorgeous two-page spread of a starry night sky. It’s tremendously fitting, given the importance of this night, and Selina’s talk about it shining like a diamond. Gerads also does some lovely work with Selina’s facial expressions, whether it’s her excitement at being on the rooftops, or her sorrow at having to go away.

Tom King’s Batman run has been a mixed bag. But his intentions have obviously been good, especially when it comes to Batman and Catwoman. Sex notwithstanding, this is the issue where that’s the most plainly seen. As such, it’s his best.

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A Batman: I Am Gotham Review – What Did You Expect?

Batman, Vol. 1: I Am Gotham, coverTITLE: Batman, Vol. 1: I Am Gotham
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: David Finch, Ivan Reis
COLLECTS: Batman #16
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASE DATE:
January 11, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The announcement of Tom King taking over Batman was a big deal. At the time his phenomenal run on The Vision was still in progress, and the critics (myself included) were buzzing about him. In addition, he’d already worked on some of the Gotham City characters via his time on Grayson. So hopes were high for him. But coming off the commercially, and often critically acclaimed run that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo had just completed, expectations may have been even higher.

What King, David Finch, and this new Batman team give us is fine. At times it’s even good. But the waters are muddier than we’ve seen from previous Batman runs. We spend a little too much time hyping a future story and there’s a connection to the Suicide Squad that often feels forced. But if you’re patient, there’s some good character work in here, with both established characters and the ones we’re meeting for the first time.

I Am Gotham introduces us to the super-powered brother-sister duo of Gotham and Gotham Girl. Inspired by Batman, they make their debut saving the Dark Knight from a plane crash. Batman takes them under his wing, but soon learns they have demons that will result in blood being shed in Gotham City. All the while, sinister plans are in motion to spill even more blood…

Batman #2, Gotham, Gotham Girl, David FinchLike many of Batman’s supporting characters, allies and enemies alike, Gotham and Gotham Girl are almost skewed versions of Batman himself. After young Hank Clover and his parents are saved from a mugging in Crime Ally by Batman, he and his sister Claire become obsessed with bettering themselves so that they can help others. We later learn they’re connected to Amanda Waller, and she’s using the Hugo Strange and Psycho-Pirate to keep them under control. That connection works out fine, but it’s ultimately unnecessary. All we need is Psycho-Pirate, Hugo Strange, and Strange’s accomplice, who we learn about in the closing pages. So why have Waller in there at all? It’s obvious, isn’t it…?

Suicide Squad is a big priority at DC right now, and rightfully so. Case in point, the upcoming Justice League vs. Suicide Squad crossover. These issues started coming out in August, the same month the movie was released. So Waller was obviously dropped in here for that reason. It’s fine, but disappointing when you look at it from that angle. What’s more, DC is still pushing Suicide Squad via Batman, with the Dark Knight forming his own version of the team. The story is even called “I Am Suicide.” We get it, guys. We get it.

The story also starts hyping “Night of the Monster Men” far too early for my taste. That arc doesn’t start until issue #7. This book starts hyping it in issue #2. I’m all for long form storytelling. But not at the expense of your current story. It feels more like padding than anything else.

One of the themes I Am Gotham touches on is the nature of Gotham City, almost personifying it as a character in the story. What it is, what it does to people, etc. Snyder and Capullo also did that, with more success than King and Finch have here. But in all fairness, they had 50 issues. This team has six. So it pales in comparison. King also doesn’t say much of substance about the city. At least he hasn’t thus far in his Batman run. In the pages of I Am Gotham, the theme essentially goes no where.

Batman #1, 2016, David Finch, upside downI’ve been a critic of David Finch’s for awhile now, and I make no apologies for that. I think all his renderings of women look the same, and absolutely everything he does has that dark and gritty feel to it, even when dark and gritty isn’t what the story calls for. As such, he’s been put on a number of books in which his work often feels terribly mismatched. Wonder Woman and Justice League of America come to mind.

But that’s not to say Finch doesn’t have his place, and it’s on stories like this. The Gotham City he brings us, along with inkers Sandra Hope, Matt Banning, Scott Hanna, and colorist Jordie Bellaire is fittingly dark, illuminated by the glow of city lights and flames. Characters like Batman, Jim Gordon, and even Alfred, have a fittingly grizzled texture to them. He even pulls off a nice visual gag, as we get to see Alfred don the Batsuit.

I was justifiably concerned about how Finch would draw Gotham Girl. She’s basically a skinny blonde in a tennis skirt, after all. Thankfully, during the second half of the story when the masks comes off, Finch is much better at drawing Claire. Once we can see her eyes, Finch gives her a very nice vulnerability and we start to care about her.

Things get more expressive in issue #6 when Ivan Reis tags in on pencils. The issue largely focuses on Claire, and how she’s coping with the events of issue #5. It’s about how you’d expect, especially considering what she’s gone through with Psycho-Pirate. But facially, Reis conveys her emotional highs and lows very nicely. There’s a particularly great image of her toward the end of the issue, as she’s tucked into Batman’s chest. Guest colorist Marcelo Maiolo offers some nice consistency with Bellaire’s work, while still making the issue his own. As such, things are a little brighter. But we still see shades of Bellaire’s color palette. Most notably in the sky, and some of the city lights.

Batman #6, Ivan Reis, Gotham GirlOn its own, I Am Gotham is an okay read. But it’s clearly a first chapter. Based on subsequent issues of Batman, it’s tough to tell where the story is going. Considering the role she played in this book, one might think Gotham Girl would be center stage going forward. That’s not necessarily the case. She’s in “Night of the Monster Men.” But the story isn’t about her, per se. She serves as Batman’s motivation for the current “I Am Suicide” story, but that’s the only role she plays. Solicitations for upcoming issues have a lot of talk about Bane and Catwoman. Granted, the current issues with Mikel Janin are better than what we got here. But I get the sense that King is going for a natural progression, where the events of one story naturally flow into the next. Instead, this all feels somewhat disjointed. That’s disappointing. Thus far, King’s Batman run has been interesting. But coming off the hype and momentum that Snyder and Capullo’s run had, and especially when you consider what a masterpiece King’s run on The Vision was, this feels like a step down.

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A Detective Comics #941 Review – The Dead Robin Trope

Detective Comics #941, 2016, coverTITLE: Detective Comics #941
AUTHOR: Steve Orlando, James Tynion IV
PENCILLER: Andy MacDonald. Cover by Yanick Paquette.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: September 28, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Thus far, “Night of the Monster Men” has left me uninspired. Certainly not what I was hoping for after what happened with Tim Drake last issue.

The plot of this Batman/Detective Comics/Nightwing crossover is pretty straightforward. Professor Hugo Strange is unleashes a bunch of giant monsters on Gotham City. All the while, a hurricane threatens to hit the city during the attack. Batman, Batwoman, Nightwing, Gotham Girl, and various other members of the surrogate “Bat-Family” are truly in a battle against he elements. But in the wake of Tim’s “death,” the Dark Knight is having trouble allowing others to take the risks necessary to save lives.

Before we get into this issue, or “Night of the Monster Men” as a whole, let’s talk a little bit about what happened to Tim. Rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated. During the events of Detective Comics #940, he attempted to sacrifice himself in the battle against Jacob Kane and the Colony. But the mysterious Mr. Oz, who we’ve previously seen interact with Superman, captured him. Now everyone, including Batman, believes Tim to be dead. By and large, the whole thing was well done. The art was engaging. The writing was impactful. It was a nice way to put the character on the shelf for refreshment, while also paying tribute to him.

Batman #1, portrait shot, Greg CapulloBut part of me really wishes they hadn’t done it.

I understand there are only so many routes to take with these  superhero characters. At some point, everybody’s going to have a brush with death. But now, all four characters that have been the official canonical Robin have either been killed off, or thought to be dead by almost everyone in their universe. Even Stephanie Brown, who was only Robin for about a month, has “died” and come back. What’s more, most of it has happened in just the last five years.

Let’s look at the timeline…

* 1988: Jason Todd is killed by the Joker in “A Death in the Family.”
* 2004: After a short stint as Robin, Stephanie Brown, a.k.a. the Spoiler, fakes her death.
2013: Damian Wayne is killed in battle by Heretic.
* 2014: With Batman’s help, Dick Grayson fakes his death and joins Spiral.
* 2016: Tim Drake is captured, presumed killed after a fight with the Colony.

The concept of Robin is pretty hard to swallow. It’s always been fun, but if you look at it in a real world context, there’s a definite creep factor to it. This Dead Robin trope ups that creep factor considerably. What we have here is a man continually enlisting aids from these boys, who eventually age out of their role, and all have the same black hair style. And eventually, they all die violently.

Detective Comics #941, 2016, Nightwing, Gotham GirlAm I getting carried away? Maybe. But at the very least, the storytelling in these Bat-books is getting repetitive. I’ll at least credit Tynion and the Detective Comics crew for doing it better than it’s been done in awhile.

“Night of the Monster Men” feels like it’s going to be an examination of the trust Batman puts in his partners, which he’s reconsidering after what happened to Tim. At one point in this issue, Batwoman tells him he’s in a situation he can’t control. Our hero’s response is: “I refuse to accept that scenario.”

What’s happening in Batman’s head is, thus far, the most interesting element in all of this. The trouble is there isn’t much more to latch on to in terms of meat. At least not yet. The monsters look cool enough, but we see they’re somehow created from cadavers. So while they’re obviously very threatening, we’re not invested in them much more than we would be mindless foot soldiers or zombies. Thankfully, that changes at the end of this issue.

This is my first exposure to Andy MacDonald’s work. But he and colorist John Rauch give everything a nice texture, and make solid use of splash pages and larger panels to show off these Godzilla-ish monsters. Our creators also don’t hesitate to use “They’re not alive? Let’s rip ’em to shreds!” logic when it comes to Gotham Girl fighting them.

“Night of the Monster Men” seems like a summer blockbuster that arrived late. Thus far, like many a summer blockbuster, it’s heavy on the action, but low on substance. As we’re halfway through, that doesn’t bode well. We’ve got some really good talent on these books, so I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. But I don’t have high hopes.

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A Detective Comics #939 Review – Tim Drake’s Return to Glory

Detective Comics #939, cover, Eddy BarrowsTITLE: Detective Comics #939
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
PENCILLER: Eddy Barrows
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: August 24, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Did any character get a more of a raw deal in the New 52 than Tim Drake? Not only was he put in a horrendous new costume, but his 20-year history was compressed and retconned to the point that we were essentially dealing with a new character. Almost four years later, and things aren’t much better for him.

That being said, Tim Drake fans should send James Tynion IV a thank you note. Detective Comics #939 is the best Tim Drake story I’ve read in years. New 52 Red Robin may finally become more than a shell of his pre-reboot self, and really set himself apart from his “brothers” in Batman’s surrogate family. Though in a way it’s a shame, as it’s looking like he’ll soon be either retired or dead…

The quaint team of heroes assembled by Batman and Batwoman have begun to mount a comeback against the military force Jacob Kane has dedicated to eliminating caped heroes in Gotham. But as drones prepare to swarm the city, Kate Kane suspects Batman knows more than he’s letting on about her father’s efforts. Meanwhile, Tim Drake ponders a future without superheroics. But he may not live to see such a future, after he makes a drastic choice that terrifies his teammates.

Detective Comics #939, Tim and Steph, Eddy BarrowsSince Tynion came aboard Detective Comics, Tim has been debating whether to leave Gotham to attend Ivy University full time. This is consistent with the Tim Drake we often saw in the late ’90s and early ’00s. At that point, Tim was unsure of his future as a superhero, often insecure when comparing himself to Dick Grayson and the like. This college storyline seems to play off that idea. As much of a Tim Drake fan as I am, seeing him walk away might not be the worst thing at this point. Batman has a lot of legacy characters that tend to simply drift in the status quo, serving no real purpose. Letting Tim hang up his cape might freshen up his character, and his relationships with the active heroes. And as a bonus, things would be a little less crowded in Gotham.

But of course, Detective Comics is really about Batwoman these days, giving her the spotlight she deserves. What stands out prominently about Tynion’s take on her is the relationship she has with Batman. They’ve been established as cousins, and early in the issue we see a young Kate try to comfort Bruce Wayne at his parents’ funeral. Because they have that deep-rooted connection, she’s able to talk to him in a way few people can. Her words have weight with him, as illustrated when she calls him out for keeping something from her, and he’s forced to admit fault. How often does that happen to Batman? She may be his cousin, but Kate often acts like his big sister.

I’ve been mostly pleased with Eddy Barrows’ work on this series thus far. In recent issues he and the other artists have emphasized certain panels, usually those that transition to another scene, by adjusting to a more painterly style. The above image of Stephanie is an example. Often it will occur when something dramatic or important is said. Other times it just enhances a nice character shot. It takes some getting used to. But it’s a fun way to liven up dialogue scenes, and can leave lasting impressions.

Clayface, Detective Comics #939, 2016Barrows is also very good at showing us the dichotomy of Basil Karlo, a.k.a. Clayface. Case in point, the page at right. On one hand, we’ve got a great shot of this bulky, gooey monster. But in the next panel, that same monster almost looks like a sad puppy. Here’s hoping this book devotes some more time to Basil in the near future. We could potentially see some really good stuff here.

Barrows does love that legs spread and knees bent pose, doesn’t he? We saw Batman in this pose in issue #934, and now Tim. On the cover, no less. I opted for the Rafael Albuquerque variant.

Like Tim Drake, Detective Comics is better than it’s been in quite some time. In terms of consistency, we’re talking pre-New 52. This book isn’t simply housing for Batman’s legacy characters. It’s in contention for the best Bat-book on the stands. My only question now is whether it’ll be down a Robin going forward…

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An All-Star Batman #1 In-Depth Review – Sh*t Batman Says

All-Star Batman #1, John Romita Jr., 2016TITLE: All-Star Batman #1
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: John Romita Jr.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: August 10, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

What exactly is “out of character” for Batman? He’s one of the most multi-faceted figures in all of popular culture. In comic books alone, we’ve seen him do virtually everything. He’s spit in Superman’s face (long story) and beat people to a bloody pulp. But he’s also worn zebra stripes and fought on the keys of a giant typewriter. Much depends on the angle you’re looking at him from. Are you going for the more mature, moody and broody Batman? Or is this a more colorful Caped Crusader for all ages?

This being said, a few things happen in All-Star Batman #1 that struck me as out of character. Both of them deal not with something Batman does, but something he says. More specifically, how he says it.

All-Star Batman takes our hero out of Gotham City, and on to the open road. Harvey Dent believes he can dispose of his alter-ego Two-Face if he can somehow get to a mysterious house nearly 500 miles away. Two-Face counters Dent’s offer by putting a price on the Dark Knight’s head. What’s more, if Batman reaches his destination, Two-Face threatens to spill every dirty secret he has about the Gotham underworld. This makes our protagonists the target of supervillains, civilians, and shockingly, one of Batman’s most trusted allies.

All-Star Batman #1, John Romita Jr., faceThis book comes from our old friend Scott Snyder, who writes really good Batman stories, despite at times annoying the crap out of yours truly. Most of what we get here falls into the really good category. Heck, our premise involves Batman hauling Two-Face across the country in a semi-truck. As a Batman geek, I’m immediately interested.

But Snyder makes some grating choices in this issue. The most notable is in the above image. Our opening scene sees Firefly and Killer Moth crash through the window of a diner, Batman in tow. They threaten to kill everyone inside if he doesn’t tell them where Harvey is. Batman responds with: “Hey. All of you in this diner. Look at me. Not them. Look at my face. No one is dying today.” He follows up with a wink and a smile.

These two panels feel completely out of character. They seem like something we might get from Superman or Captain America. Particularly the “look at my face” bit. I understand that saving those lives is Batman’s primary motivation that scene. But this isn’t his first rodeo. Why would Bruce Wayne, a public figure, want to intentionally draw attention to his masked face?

All-Star Batman #1, 2016, John Romita Jr., shut up and dieThen you have the wink and smile. I’m not sure if he’s looking at the villains or the diner patrons. Either way, it’s completely out of left field for this version of Batman. It’s one thing to make bold choices. For instance, Snyder later has Batman stab Killer Moth through the arm, and hack off Black Spider’s cybernetic limbs with a chainsaw. Edgy? Yes. But fair enough. However, if you push the boundaries too far the character itself begins to change. For this Dark Knight version of Batman, Snyder pushed the boundaries too far, and too early in the issue. Readers are just getting settled in, and he’s already throwing them awkward curve balls.

The whole “shut up and die” line (shown above) wasn’t great, either. I’m also prepared to get another big awful Batman robot at some point in this book. You know it’s coming.

All of this in a series called All-Star Batman, which obviously prompts memories of the controversial and much-maligned All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder. Why would they choose that title? Because the All-Star name evokes a reaction? Because Snyder will be working with “all-star” talents on this book?

But to repeat: Most of what’s in this issue is good. Snyder’s characterization of Two-Face is spot-on. We establish he’s colorblind in his left eye. Meaning his dual personality sees the world in (you guessed it) black and white. Two-Face knowing people’s secrets, their hidden dark sides, is very strong writing and fits him like a glove. There’s also a point to be made for money bringing out the dark side in everyday people.

All Star-Batman #1, John Romita Jr., chainsawAnd admittedly, I like the image of Batman using a chainsaw. As a one-off, it’s a lot of fun.

Though his art has an undoubtedly epic feel to it, John Romita Jr. has good issues and bad issues. One in awhile, you’ll seen one of his panels and just cringe. Thankfully, this is a good issue. Also, Dean White’s colors allow you to really feel the heat of the Indian summer they mention early on. The intense red that White puts into Two-Face’s scarred half is very striking, specifically that big eye. It’s like he has the all seeing, all knowing eye.

Snyder also gives us a back-up story drawn by Declan Shalvey, whose sleek and clean work I prefer to Romita’s. We get a lovely appearance from the Batman: The Animated Series Batmobile. The story features Duke Thomas, who is also in the main story. But between his appearances in this book and Tom King’s Batman, we still have no idea what the end goal of him being there is. It’s been emphasized that Duke is not going to be Robin. Batman, in his own words, is “trying something new.” My interest is piqued.

All-Star Batman #1, 2016, DeclanHowever, this story also introduces us to something that, if it’s what I think it is, infuriates me. The Cursed Wheel is supposed to be a condensed version of all Batman’s training, sharpened and applied to tenets taught by Alfred. Each color on the wheel apparently represents different psychological traits. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this concept, until you get to this dialogue…

“Look at the colors. You see hints of them in the colors of your allies. Dick leans blue. Damian, green. Barbara, purple. It’s a secret history that unites them, connects them, differentiates them.”

No, it really doesn’t.

We don’t need to overthink the colors that Dick, Damian, Barbara, and everybody that’s trained with Batman wears. If Duke needs to have a model for his training, so be it. But let’s not overdo it. This concept has just been introduced, so it deserves a chance to grow. But at this point it’s an eye-roller.

Just before we’re introduced to the wheel of contrivance, Duke is telling Batman that he’s fine on his own, and that today “Robin doesn’t need a Batman.” The Dark Knight replies with “Good. Batman doesn’t need a Robin either.” That line feels very wrong coming from Bruce, considering just how many Robins he’s trained. What’s he getting at?

There’s definitely some nitpicking to be done with All-Star Batman. I’ve credited Scott Snyder with not being afraid to have big ideas. Some of them pay off, some of them don’t. But it’s the little things that chip away at this issue, and cumulatively bring it down a notch. Still, Snyder has earned the right to say what he wants to say with Batman. It’s obviously too early to call this story a success or failure. But because Snyder is attached to it, All-Star Batman will at the very least be noteworthy.

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