Tag Archives: Batman & Robin

A Superman, Vol. 1: Son of Superman Review – A Family Affair

TITLE: Superman, Vol. 1: Son of Superman
AUTHORS: Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason
PENCILLERS: Gleason, Jorge Jimenez, Doug Mahnke
COLLECTS: Superman: Rebirth #1, Superman #16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: January 4, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This is the first ongoing Superman book in a long time that actually feels happy to be a Superman book.

This topic has been beaten to death, but let’s touch on it quickly: It’s time to stop trying to modernize, freshen up, or worst of all, “darken” Superman. It’s been done time and time again, and it never clicks. They’ve changed his costume. They’ve made him moody and broody. One time they even de-powered him and put him on a damn motorcycle. No more. It’s time to stop being ashamed of Superman. Let the character be who and what he’s always been at his core: A champion of values. Truth, justice, hope. and yes, the American way. Let the guy smile. Embrace the character’s legacy instead of hiding from it. Let him be the hero we need in these trying times.

Son of Superman does all of that, while still carving out a new direction for the Man of Steel. Simply put, it’s the best Superman book in years. Almost a decade, perhaps.

The DC Rebirth incarnation of Superman puts the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths version of the character back in the cape and boots. He’d been brought back for Convergence, and eventually became an ongoing character again in the pages of a new book, Lois and Clark. With him was his timeline’s incarnation of Lois Lane, and their young son Jonathan. As Clark Kent finds a balance between protecting the Earth and raising his son, Jonathan must learn to manage his emerging superpowers. With those powers come responsibility, risk, and a legacy…

Instead of focusing on Superman facing a threat, we spend most of this book learning about Jonathan. We see his response to living with a secret identity, how he reacts to challenges, and how Clark and Lois are raising him. They’ve accepted that he’ll one day inherit the Superman legacy, and are gently preparing him for the role. In theory, Superman works on two levels. Youngsters can identify with Jonathan, while older parent-aged readers connect with Clark and Lois. It’s by no means a sexy approach. But artistically, it’s true to the soul of the Superman character. His adopted parents instilled him with a set of principles. Now he has to pass those principles on to his son. But the dynamic is tweaked, because he’s able to relate to what Jonathan is going through. It’s a premise that lends itself to heart-felt storytelling, not unlike what we saw from Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s work in Batman & Robin.

We kick things off with Superman: Rebirth #1, which establishes our “new” hero, with some nice fan service thrown in. The New 52 Superman was killed off, and as the post-Crisis Superman is the one who famously died and returned, he sets about bringing his counterpart back in a similar fashion. Te issue is highlighted by artists Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, and Will Quintana giving us their take on the iconic Superman/Doomsday battle. It was out of continuity for so long, and it’s brought back in what I’ll call a “wide screen” sequence that plays out over about seven pages. Mendoza’s inks compliment Mahnke’s richly detailed pencils, and Quintana’s color make it every bit the glorious and epic scene it needs to be. The same applies to when they return for issue #5. We’ve got Superman talking to ghosts, we’ve got the Eradicator trying to eradicate things, we’ve got a big Batman robot straight out of a Snyder/Capullo comic…

Actually, I don’t mind the “Hellbat” returning from the Tomasi/Gleason Batman & Robin book. Maybe it’s because Lois Lane is the one using it, as opposed to Batman. It makes for a fun holdover.

But artistically, this book belongs to Patrick Gleason, inker Mick Gray, and colorist John Kalisz. Obviously, as a co-writer Gleason has the advantage of molding the story to fit his strengths. But just from a basic figure rendering perspective, it’s so amazing to see Superman look like Superman again. Even the classic spit curl, which I’ve never been a huge fan of, is a breath of fresh air. These pages are bright, flamboyant, and unabashedly sentimental. Gleason’s slightly exaggerated, animated style is a perfect fit for a story about a pre-teen learning to be a superhero. There’s a lot of fun on these pages.

Gleason also has an amazing knack for classic Superman iconography. The page at left comes to mind, with our hero in the classic pose as an American flag waves in the background. For obvious reasons, he lays it on a little stronger in issue #1. We’ve got a two-page spread that simply shows him opening his shirt to reveal the “S” insignia. That’s followed up immediately with another two-page spread giving us snapshots from Superman’s history. This is who Superman is, and who he’s always been. To see it all reemphasized is borderline beautiful.

The biggest obstacle this book faces is establishing that this is a “new” Superman from another timeline. They obviously devote a good amount of time to it. But it’s still a lot to wrap your head around, and has the potential to be really confusing for someone jumping on. This book is about a family trying to figure out how they fit into a new world. But that runs counterintuitive to how the average reader sees Superman, as he’s so ingrained in the fabric of the DC Universe. By the time we close the book, most of that awkwardness has subsided. But to say the least, this hasn’t been the smoothest Superman relaunch we’ve ever seen.

But it’s worth it in about every possible way. It’s been far too long since a Superman book has been this good. While this is obviously a new direction for the Man of Steel, in many ways it feels like he’s finally gotten back to his roots. That’s the Superman we need right now. That’s the Superman we’ve always needed.

Welcome back, Big Blue. We’ve missed you.

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A Batman & Robin: Death of the Family Review – Heart and Horror

Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the FamilyTITLE: Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the Family
AUTHORS: Peter Tomasi, Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Greg Capullo
COLLECTS: Batman & Robin #1517, Batman & Robin Annual #1, Batman #17
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: November 17, 2013

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 is our last stop before this series reaches a major turning point. One might even call it the end of an era. This book contains the last issues Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason get to work with the Damian Wayne before…*ehem*

The reason that’s so significant is because since the New 52 began, Batman & Robin has been primarily a book about Damian, his relationship with his father, his life as a hero, and his inner conflicts with his murderous instincts. That direction has made for some of the best Batman content in recent memory. But after this book, drastic change takes hold.

But this era ends with a hell of a bang. As the book’s title obviously indicates, Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the Family ties in with the big crossover involving the Joker, and his attempts to take out Batman’s extended family. As such, Robin and the Harlequin of Hell come face-to-flappy-face. And as Batman fans know, bad things happen to Robins when the Joker is in town.

Batman #17, 2014, Greg Capullo, table sceneNaturally, much of the praise and criticism I directed at Death of the Family as a whole will apply here. That criticism isn’t necessarily directed at Tomasi or Gleason, as they were working with source material from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s work on Batman. But it’s worth noting, especially because Batman #17 is collected here. I’ll sum up what applies to Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 in two quick bullets…

– While the Joker’s voice remains consistent across all the tie-ins I’ve read, and definitely fits with his character, the whole “repairman who cuts his face off” thing goes a little too far in the horror direction for my taste. And the Joker’s explanation for surgically removing his face, which we get in Batman #17, doesn’t do much for me.

– DC gave us too much of a good thing by having Joker appear in too many Death of the Family tie-ins. In addition to appearing in Batman and Batman & Robin, the character either appeared in, or influenced events that occurred in Detective Comics, Batgirl, Nightwing, Catwoman, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Teen Titans, and Suicide Squad. It’s unclear to me how much time elapses during the entire Death of the Family story arc, but it all seems to occur fairly quickly. Even in a world of super powers and colorful heroes, it seems a bit unlikely the Joker could accomplish so much in such a short span of time.

– Having noted those criticisms, Batman #17 is, for the most part, a very satisfying issue. I loved the scene between Bruce Wayne and the Joker at Arkham. Also, Greg Capullo’s art is damn close to perfect.

Robin, Joker, Patrick GleasonIn Batman & Robin, Joker lures Damian to the Gotham City Zoo by leaving traces of hyena urine at Wayne Manor. My question here is, how did the Joker know it would be Robin who found that particular clue? We find out in Batman #17 that he doesn’t actually know who Bruce, Damian, or any of Batman’s crew really are. So did he know Damian would be at Wayne Manor? Couldn’t it just as easily have been someone else who picked up that trail? Is this a plot hole, or am I missing something? Either way, my suspension of disbelief was shaken.

The stuff between the Joker and Damian is, for the most part, very satisfying. But again, it’s pretty high on the horror/gross-out element. Our young hero gets a nasty dose of one of the Joker’s toxins and dropped inside a sanctuary filled with countless dead birds, including of course, robins. A short time later the Clown Prince tops it off by dropping a massive assortment of ”only the best beetles, grubs, earthworms, fruits, berries, caterpillars and grasshoppers” on the Boy Wonder. In a word…ew. Still, unlike the whole sawing your own face off thing, I get the perverse joke here. Dead Robin, dead birds, bird food, etc. I get the horror angle here.

In retrospect, this exchange made it pretty obvious that the Joker didn’t know the Bat-Family’s true identities. He doesn’t talk about the fact that he’s standing there with Batman’s friggin’ son. It’s all about Robin’s connection to Batman, as opposed to Damian’s connection to Bruce. But from that standpoint, Joker still manages to hit Damian with some intense “insights” of his own unique variety. At the risk of overusing my bulletpoints, my two favorites were…

– “Oh, I bet one night among the gargoyles he said, ‘One day, you, too, can be the best Batman ever.” Well guess what — no, you can’t — there’s only one Batman and he doesn’t need you — any of you…” (This would have been an interesting one to hear back when Battle for the Cowl was being published.)

Batman & Robin #17, Death of the Family, Patrick Gleason– “…Robin’s greatest fear is being responsible for Batman’s death, and Batman’s greatest fear is being responsible for Robin’s death!” (Particularly poignant, coming from the man who killed Jason Todd.)

The face-off progresses in a fight to the death between Robin and a “Jokerized” Batman imposter, who Damian believes to be the genuine article. This wonderfully ties not only into the death of Batman/death of Robin angle, but a theme Tomasi and Gleason have maintained since the beginning of the series: Damian’s inner conflict. As wants more than anything to make his father proud, but he also wants to go his own way, and sometimes struggles with the desire to give into his more deadly instincts. It all culminates in a really passionate, emotional character moment for Damian. As such, he came out of Death of the Family looking better than most, if not all of his Bat-Family peers.

Of course, Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 isn’t all bugs and clowns. We also get more of Tomasi and Gleason’s take on the Bruce/Damian relationship in issue #17, which takes us into the dreams of Bruce, Damian, and Alfred as well. It’s a fairly effective issue. Oddly enough, the dream sequence I found the most touching was Alfred’s, which ended on a rather comedic note. It gives us an absolutely perfect (albeit violent) snapshot of Alfred’s nurturing, protective nature. He’s a surrogate father not only to Bruce and Damian, but to the entire extended Bat-family, and I loved what Tomasi and Gleason did to illustrate that. The issue also ends on a touching father/son moment between Batman and Robin.

Batman & Robin Annual #1, DamianThis book also collects Batman & Robin Annual #1, in which Ardian Syaf takes the pencil. Damian sends his father on something of a Wayne family scavenger hunt across the globe, so that he can have the streets of Gotham to himself for a few nights. He dresses in a miniaturized version of the Batman #666 costume, a cutesy move that’s a bit uncharacteristic, but not unwelcome. I came away from this issue once again marveling at the unique father/son dynamic between Bruce and Damian.

In the end, it’s that added heart that’s made Batman & Robin stand out so much from the other Bat-books. Tomasi and Gleason capture the human element better than any other team at DC right now. And while Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham handled Damian’s fate quite well in the pages of Batman Incorporated (as Damian’s co-creator, Morrison had every right to that story), I can’t help but wonder how Tomasi and Gleason would have handled it. It’s rare for me to get choked up while reading a comic book. But I’ll betcha bucks to Batarangs they could have done it.

RATING: 8.5/10

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A Batman Incorporated: Demon Star Review – Wanted Dead: The Boy Wonder

Batman Incorporated, Vol. 1: Demon StarTITLE: Batman Incorporated, Vol. 1: Demon Star
AUTHOR: Grant Morrison
PENCILLERS: Chris Burnham, Frazer Irving
COLLECTS: Batman Incorporated #0-6
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: April 8, 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Batman Incorporated is like The Walking Dead, in the sense that it’s much better to read as a trade than in single issues. Unlike a lot of mainstream superhero comics, Batman Incorporated doesn’t take any time to recap things on a month-to-month basis. These days, most of Marvel’s books dedicate at least a paragraph on their title/credits page to reminding readers what’s going on. That’s not to say Batman Incorporated is obligated to do so, but it makes it tougher to simply pick an issue up from the shop and read it. But when you read issues #1-6 one after the other, it’s pretty damn good.

More or less picking up where the previous volume left off (It’s the New 52 now, so Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain, and certain other characters aren’t there anymore.), Talia al Ghul has been revealed as the leader of the terrorist group Leviathan. She has placed a bounty on the head of her son, Damian, a.k.a. Robin. Batman benches Damian just as Leviathan strikes Gotham City. But even the Dark Knight doesn’t know how deeply Talia’s insurgents have penetrated the city, and Damian isn’t about to stand by and watch Gotham be torn apart. Though in the end, it will cost him dearly…

Batman Incorporated #1, Chris BurnhamReaders should take their hats off to Chris Burnham for this one. His characters look very vibrant, expressive, and well defined. The various Robin alums actually look like different people, as opposed to a bunch of dark haired clones of varying ages. Plus, he makes the Brett Booth Red Robin costume look kinda cool. Even Brett Booth couldn’t do that. One might argue that his Damian looks a bit too young. He’s supposed to be 10, right? This one looks like he might be seven or eight. Even so, it’s one of the better Damian renderings I’ve seen. He actually looks and acts like a child.

One of the reasons the Batman Incorporated concept works so well is because it makes a certain amount of sense. Looking at it from an in-story perspective, Batman has so many partners, associates and stringers that to not expand like this is almost a waste. Some fans argued that the concept takes too much away from the character’s dark and shadowy mystique to be worthwhile. I understand that notion, and I’m certainly glad we’ve ditched the  pre-reboot “bat-light” suit. But from a character standpoint, it fits with the whole “war on crime” theme, doesn’t it? Putting aside suspension of disbelief, if you’re a man whose crusade against crime has been reasonably successful for several years, why wouldn’t you attempt to do that kind of good on a grander scale? If you buy into the idea of Batman, it makes sense.

Batman Incorporated, Chris Burnham, Batman & RobinUnlike the first volume of Incorporated, the events we see here take place primarily in Gotham City. Pre-New 52, the series sent Batman to places like Japan, Argentina and France, as he recruited new heroes for the group. This portion of the story feels more focused, and more of an emotional core to it, what with the father-mother-son dynamic. I say this portion of the story, because I can only assume this is more or less where Grant Morrison was taking things before the reboot happened. He and Burnham have had to adjust accordingly, but the basic plot is intact. So it doesn’t seem to be a matter of Morrison downplaying the international elements of Batman Incorporated, but rather this being the next chapter in the story. Either way, the events of Demon Star are better than the “recruitment drive” we saw in the first book.

In truth, the international characters in this book are surprisingly pushed to the side in favor of the “usual suspects,” i.e. Nightwing, Red Robin, even Jason Todd. Granted, there’s a milestone moment in the lives of Knight & Squire. But in the context of this book, characters like Batwing and El Gaucho are interchangeable with any other DC hero who has ties to Batman. I find that odd considering Batman Incorporated is supposed to be a global network of heroes.

Batman Incorporated #0, Frazer IrvingThe Demon Star calls upon just enough of Batman’s rich history to add something extra for longtime fans, while not alienating new readers. Characters like El Gaucho and Hood were hidden gems before Morrison dug them up for Batman Incorporated. But he and Burnham also revisit Talia’s entire backstory, and to their credit, they don’t muck it up and “modernize” it like so many creators did with the #0 issues last September. They add their own unique and intriguing elements, but they also incorporate the classic Denny O’Neil/Bob Brown material from her first appearance in 1972′s Batman #411, and allude to some of the classic Neal Adams stuff. There’s even an allusion to Villains United. It’s nice to see this kind of thing, considering these days DC is going out of their way not to mention it.

All in all The Demon Star builds very well. In that sense, it’s one of the better Bat-books we’ve seen since the New 52. It’s also a very effective set up for what we know lays ahead for Damian, and is a fitting next chapter in the romance-turned-rivalry between Batman and Talia. For Batman fans, it’s a can’t-miss.

RATING: 9/10

Image 1 from dccomics.com. Image 2 from comicpow.com. Image 3 from theweeklycrisis.com.

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A Batman & Robin, Vol. 1: Born to Kill Review – The Cycle of Violence

Batman & Robin, Vol. 1: Born to KillTITLE: Batman & Robin, Vol. 1: Born To Kill
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
PENCILLER: Patrick Gleason
COLLECTS: Batman & Robin #1-8
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASE DATE: July 4, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Born To Kill is one of the best Batman stories to come out of the New 52 thus far. Not only does it offer some really good character-driven drama, but it’s exactly what it needs to be: A book that dissects the relationship between Bruce and Damian Wayne. It tells us how this father and son from different worlds can not only co-exist as family, but work together as the new Dynamic Duo.

Quick history lesson: Damian Wayne is the child of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, grown in an artificial womb after a passionate encounter between the two (hey totally had sex). From a very young age, she and the League of Assassins train Damian as a warrior and a killer. Years later, Talia reveals a relentlessly spoiled pre-teen Damian to Batman. Though he had a rocky start, and his precocious nature garnered him great resentment from much of the superhero community, Damian became Robin after the events of Final Crisis. He teamed with Dick Grayson, who had taken over the role of Batman, for some time before Bruce returned and assumed the role again. Bruce initially refused to team with his defiant son. But now he’s attempting to do right by Damian, raising him to not only be a good crimefighter, but a good man.

Batman & Robin, Vol. 1, Patrick GleasonUnfortunately, a figure from Bruce Wayne’s past has re-emerged to not only destroy Batman, but tempt Damian into giving in to his murderous instincts.

I think one of the keys to writing Damian is capturing his arrogant sense of entitlement, and Tomasi does that right off the bat by putting Damian next to Bruce as he’s paying tribute to his parents. He calls them “just dusty names on  the walls to me” and says “grief and disease are a disease of the weak.” Bruce shows Damian a parent’s patience, but isn’t afraid to tell him to show some respect. All this is happening as Bruce is turning over a new leaf in terms of his parents, deciding to honor their lives instead of constantly remembering their deaths. I like this scene because it sets up how the Bruce/Damian team is going to work. When Damian teamed with Dick, Dick was the optimist and Damian was the constant cynic/would-be realist. Here we see that Bruce is going to try to take on that same role for his son’s sake.

But Bruce being Bruce, that doesn’t work out. He wants what’s best for his son, but he lacks Dick’s people skills and ends up driving him directly into the arms of the villainous Nobody. With Nobody we get a take on the classic angel on one shoulder, devil on the other routine. It works well, as Damian’s bloody upbringing and instincts are things we needed to see hashed out between father and son before we could believe they could act as a team. It plays out as one might expect, with an interesting swerve at the climax.

Batman, killing philosophy, Patrick GleasonOver the years, we’ve seen Batman explain his “no kill” rule in various ways, in various mediums. Most of them are variations on “if I kill the bad guys, I’ll be just like them.” We’ve heard a lot of “it separates us from them,” and writers also seem to like “if I go down that road I’ll never come back.” But in Born To Kill, Peter Tomasi does it in a way that’s very frank, practical, and cliche-free. In what terms out to be Bruce and Damian’s first real father/son moment, Bruce talks about the principles he’s sworn to live by. Then he gives us this line…

I love that. It’s a great way to explain Batman’s philosophy without relying on stuff we’ve heard a million times. It’s my favorite moment in the entire book, even though Damian appears to be looking at his father’s crotch in the shot, and Bruce appears to be heavily pregnant. (I kid Patrick Gleason. He does some really good work here.)

While it’s certainly true that Born To Kill relies a lot on a continuity which at this point was in a major state of flux, which might have confused readers, the character work it presents makes that worthwhile. Odd as it may sound, I had always wondered what kind of father Bruce Wayne would be. Now we essentially have an entire series to answer that question. This book is hopefully just the start of a series that will expand upon the great character of Damian, and continue to build on the unique dynamic he shares with everyone’s favorite Dark Knight Detective.

RATING: 8/10

Image 1 from comicvine.com. Image 2 from comicsprofessor.com.

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