Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Best of Batman & Superman: The Original Switcheroo

***It’s easy to put Batman and Superman against one another, as they’re so different. But those who truly understand them know that the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel are better together! “Best of Batman & Superman” celebrates their best moments as a team!***

TITLE: World’s Finest Comics #77
AUTHOR: Edmond Hamilton
ARTISTS: Curt Swan, Stan Kaye (Inker)
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL COVER PRICE: 10 cents
RELEASED: 1955

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

A few years back I spotlighted a story called “Super/Bat,” in which Batman gains Superman’s powers and the Man of Steel winds up powerless. It’s one of the more obvious stories you can do with these two heroes. But “Super/Bat” was hardly the first time it happened. For that, you’ve got to go back to 1955.

“The Super Bat-Man” is an oddity for this space, as it’s not what I would call a great work. At times it’s hardly even good. But it’s got a winning premise, and there’s some nice creativity on display here. It’s an intriguing “What if…?” story if nothing else.

Once again we’re with Edmond Hamilton and Curt Swan as the evil Professor Pender’s “de-charging ray” robs Superman of his powers. And of course, he’s got a “super-charging ray” that grants someone super powers for a day. Within five pages, Batman is converting the Batmobile into a Supermobile, and turning the Batcave into the Supercave. Silly? Sure. Obvious? Probably. But why the hell not? Also, the guy can’t fly anymore! He’s gonna need a car.

As one might expect from a ’50s comic, this super-powered switcheroo becomes the fodder for campy comedy. Batman may be a martial arts master and the world’s greatest detective, but he apparently doesn’t know his own super strength. Complete with Robin under his arm, his landing in the Batcave shakes not only the cave, but all of Wayne Manor. He also breaks some household stuff. Again, silly and obvious.

There’s also an awkward panel in which Swan seemingly wasn’t sure whether he was drawing a Wayne Manor or a Batcave interior. We wind up with a bizarre backdrop that’s half of each (shown above).

What I appreciate more than anything about this story is the psychological effect it has on both characters. Because of their new situation, they now have to play by different rules, and have completely different mindsets. We see them do things they’d previously never have to do. Case in point: Superman technically has to lie by omission. To stop a pair of goons stealing a fur truck (Just go with it…), he bluffs by simply standing in the middle of the road. The crooks obviously think Superman can “wreck our truck — and maybe ourselves too!” But of course, Superman isn’t wrecking anything in his current state. It’s a clever, if not a little underhanded, way of getting Superman out of a bad situation.

Incidentally, I’m fascinated by how some of these stories treat Lois Lane. She’s portrayed as cunning and clever, which she should be. But Batman, and more notably Superman, either underestimate her or flat out treat her like an idiot. After Superman busts the fur bandits, Lois quite naturally asks him why he’s driving a car. His brilliant response (shown above)? “Just an — er — idea of mine! I’ll explain later! Bye Lois!” Yeah, because that could have worked.

Moving on to Batman, he uses his new powers as an opportunity to build on his image as an agent of terror by going to the next level with his bat iconography! Well…sort of. He uses two big pieces of metal to put out a gigantic fire. But of course, they just happen to be blue and shaped like Batarangs. So if it looks like a bat and flies like a bat…

So how does Superman get his powers back? Comic book science at it’s finest, folks. It turns out Pender’s de-charging ray sprayed fine Kryptonite dust on to Superman’s costume. So a quick costume change, and we’ve got our Man of Steel back. A hastily thrown together solution. But hey, they’ve only got 12 pages. They did what they could with what they had. And for what it’s worth, fine Kryptonite dust isn’t the worst route to take under the circumstances. It’s easy to explain and easy to do away with. Just fine for a short story like this.

I do, however, have to call BS on something Batman says on the final page. Once the day has been saved, he tells Superman he’s not sorry to lose his powers, as “being a Super-Batman is too much for me!” Nope. Not a chance he says that. Even Silver Age boy scout Batman would recognize how much good he could do with Superman’s abilities. He’d understand the need to let them go, but would quietly wish he could stay super.

The story ends on a really bizarre note, even by ’50s standards. Lois “deduces” that the entire power switcheroo was a hoax, and that our heroes simply switched costumes. No matter how you slice it, that just doesn’t make sense. If Superman and Batman switch costumes, that means Bruce Wayne is walking around without his mask on, and his double-life is over. Or is she saying that Clark was switching back and forth between the Superman costume and the Batsuit? If so…why? Why would he do that? What purpose would that serve?

Lois may be cunning and clever, but even she doesn’t get them all right…

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

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Best of Batman & Superman: Comic Book Medical Science

***It’s easy to put Batman and Superman against one another, as they’re so different. But those who truly understand them know that the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel are better together! “Best of Batman & Superman” celebrates their best moments as a team!***

TITLE: World’s Finest #75
AUTHOR: Bill Finger
ARTISTS: Curt Swan, Stan Kaye (Inker)
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL COVER PRICE: 10 cents
RELEASED: 1955

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The more I read these old comics, the more obvious it becomes just how much Batman and Superman comics have changed. Specifically, how they’ve matured, and what segment of the audience they’re reaching for.

Case in point, the modern Batman/Superman series is written for teens and adults. But in 1955, World’s Finest #75 was clearly written for children.

In the modern era, our heroes are searching for traitors among them in Who Are the Secret Six? Or in more recent issues, getting introspective as they take on a bunch of cybernetic supervillains. The wacky, fun adventures are usually still there. But their sensibility skews older. World’s Finest #75, on the other hand, is at its core a pretty basic story about friendship and insecurity that kids can still relate to more than half a century later…

Written by Batman co-creator Bill Finger, our story sees the Caped Crusader break his leg in a fight with the treacherous “Purple Mask Mob.” With his partner on the sidelines, Robin needs a new cohort to help him catch the bad guys. But soon, Batman finds himself asking whether Robin prefers being partnered with the Man of Steel.

Robin is the oft-unsung hero of these early Superman/Batman stories. (Though he did get a date with Lois Lane that one time.) Going even as far back as the early covers for World’s Finest, Robin is right there with them. Heck, he’s often between them! And while the story is more about Batman than anything else, it all revolves around Robin. As a reader and someone who loves these characters, that’s gratifying to see.

The Purple Mask gang. Batman gets his leg broken not by the Joker, the Penguin, or the Riddler, but the god damn Purple Mask Gang. *face palm* I can’t imagine why they were never adapted into one of the movies.

One thing it will help to know coming into this story: It’s dripping with Silver Age camp. You’ll find no better example than Batman sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a cast on his leg, dressed in full superhero garb. There’s bad hokeyness, and then there’s good hokeyness. For yours truly, Batman’s wheelchair attire falls directly into the latter category. I can just picture him being so pathetically despondent after getting hurt that he refuses to take his costume off.

In the spirit of Silver Age camp, this story straddles an odd line between playing up Batman’s importance to the trio, and making him look like an oblivious buffoon. Come to think of it, Superman and Robin don’t come out looking too shiny either…

Our altered Dynamic Duo (Super Duo?) spent much of the story following the trail of the ever-elusive Purple Mask Mob. Meanwhile, the incapacitated-yet-still-costumed Batman continually asks them to bring back “trophies” from their various outings. Because apparently a T-Rex and a giant penny aren’t enough for the Batcave.

Then toward the end of the issue, as Superman and Robin are bamboozled as to the location of the gang’s hideout, Batman reveals some debris left on the so-called trophies have allowed to deduce the Purple Mask Mob’s location. In Superman’s own words, “How do you like that, Robin? He solves our case for us…at home, in a wheelchair!”

Pretty good, right? Finger and Swan shine a spotlight on what makes Batman different from other superheroes: His wits. But on the other end of the spectrum, while Batman can use tiny bits of hair and clay to locate a gang of crooks, he apparently can’t tell whether his leg is or isn’t broken.

That’s right, kids! Batman’s just fine! See, the “break” happened when Batman got some dust thrown in his face and fell out the window. (It happens.) The dust was apparently poisonous, and Superman and Robin needed to keep him out of action for a few days so his body can safely process the…poison? Wait, what? That’s not just comic book science, that’s comic book medical science!

It does, however, beg the question of why they couldn’t just tell Batman that he, you know, breathed in poison. Not to mention the question of how the world’s greatest detective couldn’t tell that his own leg wasn’t really broken.

So why, amidst all this silliness, do I consider this to be one of Batman and Superman’s finest tales? It all comes down to Batman’s insecurities, and Bill Finger knowing his audience.

Batman worrying about whether he’s being replaced by Superman is a story plucked straight from an elementary school playground. Think back: What happened when your best friend suddenly had a new buddy? You inevitably started to wonder if he/she liked this new person more than you, and if your friendship was being usurped.

Is it still a silly story by modern standards? Of course it is. But remember, these stories were written for kids back then. Like it or not, Bill Finger was smart enough to know this was something his readers could relate to.

It also plays into something I’ve always felt about this trio: Robin’s got the best gig in the world. Remember, Robin was originally created as a point-of-view character for young readers who wanted to fantasize about running around beating up bad guys with Batman. With World’s Finest, Robin got to do that, plus pal around with Superman! What kid wouldn’t want that?

Of course, we know what’s coming at the end. The once again bipedal Batman asks Robin if he’d rather be teaming with Superman, and the Boy Wonder affirms that, “We’ll always be a team!”

It’s such a weird story. Yet it’s so simple, kid friendly, and easy to access. It’s enough to make you wonder if major publishers like DC should get in touch with their roots a little more. In the ’70s, and especially the ’80s and ’90s, mainstream superhero comics matured to try and keep up with an aging audience. At one point, DC used the tag line, “DC Comics aren’t just for kids!”

Okay. Fair enough. But lets never forget: DC Comics was ultimately created for kids. The so-called “dark age” of comics is over, folks. We don’t have to make everything for the little ones, but let’s try a little harder to remember where we came from…

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

 


Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Best of Batman & Superman: The Cruise of a Lifetime

***It’s easy to put Batman and Superman against one another, as they’re so different. But those who truly understand them know that the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel are better together! “Best of Batman & Superman” celebrates their best moments as a team!***

TITLE: Superman #76
AUTHOR: Edmond Hamilton
ARTISTS: Curt Swan, John Fischetti (Inker). Cover by Win Mortimer.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL COVER PRICE: 10 cents
RELEASED: 1952

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Published in 1952, Superman #76 is generally considered to be the first “proper” meeting of Batman and Superman. Granted, they’d been appearing on comic book covers together since the 40s. They’d also appeared together with the Justice Society in the pages of All-Star Comics. Batman and Robin had also made guest appearances on The Adventures of Superman radio show. But often, when historians are asked, “When did Batman and Superman meet in the comics?”, they point to this issue.

Put on your writer/editor hat for a moment: You want to have Superman and Batman, the two biggest and most popular superheroes in the world, meet for the “first time.” Where and how does it happen? In Metropolis? Gotham City? During a battle against Lex Luthor? The Joker? How did they discover one another’s identities? Did Superman use his x-ray vision? Did Batman brilliantly deduce that Clark Kent is Superman? There are a litany of possibilities. So what did they go with…?

Superman and Batman met on a cruise ship.

That’s right, folks. They met and even discovered one another’s identities aboard a goddamn cruise ship. What’s more, in it’s own little way, it worked. It was kind of a genius move, actually.

Written by Edmond Hamilton and drawn by Curt Swan, “The Mightiest Team in the World” kicks off with Batman and Robin doing something unthinkable by today’s standards: Taking a vacation. As Dick Grayson prepares to visit relatives upstate, Bruce Wayne is about to take “a real vacation, on a coastal cruise! I’ll just relax and forget crime for a change!”

Clearly pre-Silver Age heroes knew how to balance business and pleasure, as Clark Kent is about to vacation on the same cruise. And wouldn’t you know it, he winds up sharing a room with Bruce Wayne!

Then, via the magical serendipity of fiction, a jewel thief blows up a nearby tanker truck and uses the diversion to make off with a shipment of diamonds. Naturally, our heroes are keen to jump into action. Feigning fatigue, Bruce kills the lights, prompting both men to do their superhero quick-change.

But low and behold, the light from the flames shines through the window, revealing Bruce Wayne to be Batman and Clark Kent as Superman!

I used to balk at what, in hindsight, is a pretty historic moment. But I’ve found the more years go by, the more I soften on it. As a 30-something adult, I’ve actually come to appreciate it quite a bit.

One of the cardinal sins of a Superman/Batman story, for my money, is making one hero look superior to the other. These two men should stand on equal footing. If you can’t manage that, then you shouldn’t be writing the two characters together.

With this issue, the revelation is pure happenstance. We don’t have Superman peeking under Batman’s cowl with his x-ray vision. Batman doesn’t concoct some conniving scheme to discover Clark’s secret. It’s simply fate that they discover one another’s identities by accident in a moment of heroism. In that sense, it’s kind of perfect…

What’s more, they don’t spend a lot of time digesting it or brooding over it. They recognize they still have work to do, and they get to it.

Obviously our villain is meant to be the jewel thief, who has stowed away on the cruise ship. But I’d argue another character is perhaps inadvertently placed in an opposing role: Lois Lane. After seeing Superman and Batman on board the ship, Lois comes aboard looking for the story. Our heroes now have to keep her at bay while searching for the jewel thief.

After giving Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne a sea-sickness alibi, our heroes try pawning Batman off on Lois. The idea is that if Superman pretends to be jealous, “she’d be too occupied for amateur detective work!” But Lois is on to them. She pretends to actually be enamored with the Caped Crusader, which in turn actually does make the Man of Steel jealous.

Considering some of the stories we’d later get in books like Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, it’s not necessarily surprising to see them lean into a jealousy angle between Superman and Lois. But on the other hand, it’s nice to see Lois portrayed as a force to be reckoned with among the heroes. Batman may be the world’s greatest detective, but contrary to what Superman says here, Lois is hardly an amateur detective herself.

C’mon Superman. It’s not amateur detective work. It’s called investigative journalism.

One of the classic Superman/Batman tricks is having the two disguise as one another. Superman dresses as Batman, Batman dresses as Superman, etc. Tom King and Clay Mann put a nice spin on this trope in Batman not long ago. We see an early version of it here, as after our heroes inevitably catch the bad guy, Bruce Wayne masquerades as Clark Kent while standing next to Superman to throw Lois off the scent of Clark’s true identity.

She gets the last laugh, though. Lois does indeed get a date with a hero by the end of the issue: Robin. (“Isn’t he the cutest little chap?”) How’d they get in touch, as Dick is supposed to be upstate, and we’re long before the age of cell phones? Why, that’s not important…

“The Mightiest Team in the World” is filled to the brim with pre-Silver-Age charm. What’s more, it does right by its characters. Superman and Batman come out of it looking like the world’s finest heroes. Lois Lane stands out as a clever go-getter, and not simply a brainless damsel. Even Robin gets a date by the end. Truly a red letter issue for all parties.

A cruise ship. Who’da thunk it?

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

Posted in Wrestling

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.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

Posted in Uncategorized

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

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

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.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition/

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

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.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition/