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 Teen Titans: Rebirth #1 Review – Make the Teen Titans Great Again!

Teen Titans: Rebirth #1, 2016, cover, Jonboy MeyersTITLE: Teen Titans: Rebirth #1
AUTHOR: Benjamin Percy
PENCILLER: Jonboy Meyers
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: September 28, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Here’s a sad truth: It’s been almost 10 years since we had a really good Teen Titans book.

Geoff Johns’ last issue as a regular writer for the book was in the summer of 2007. The man has his critics. But he knew how to write the Teen Titans, and the book hasn’t been nearly as good since he left nearly a decade ago.

Benjamin Percy, Jonboy Meyers, and their cohorts are the newest team to take a crack at it. To their credit, their take is the most promising I’ve seen since the Johns run. This issue sees Robin assemble the team in his own unique, forcible manner. Our members are Beast Boy, Starfire, Raven, and the newly christened Kid Flash, Wally West (not that one). From a plot perspective, the issue doesn’t give us much more than that. But there are some hopeful indicators for the books future.

First and foremost, Jonboy Meyers gives the series a much-needed face lift. Teen Titans has desperately needed a fresh look and energy for years now. As much respect as I have for the likes of Brett Booth, Kenneth Rocafort, and Ian Churchill, they didn’t give us that. The energy here is similar to what we’d find in the pages of Gotham Academy, or what Babs Tarr gave us in Batgirl. There’s a sense of fun in these pages. It’s been far too long since we had a fun Teen Titans book.

Teen Titans: Rebirth #1, 2016, Jonboy Meyers, Kid FlashDamian becoming a permanent fixture in this series is long overdue. They put him on the team for a few issues in 2011, and it worked out so well it became part of the inspiration for the Justice League vs. Teen Titans animated film. Part of what’s so great about the Damian character is if you add him to a story, he stirs the pot. He’s an agitator, which makes for for memorable chemistry with other characters.

For awhile now, I’ve been a proponent of removing most of the Marv Wolfman/George Perez characters, i.e. Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy, from this series. At least for awhile. I assume they’re there to tie-in with Teen Titans Go! But this series needs new blood to couple with its new look. Damian is back, and we’ve also got the new Kid Flash (shown left). Both characters offer a lot of fresh intrigue, and I’m longing for more of that. In a perfect world, I’d have swapped out Starfire and Raven for Supergirl and Emiko Queen (the latter Percy is still writing in Green Arrow), and kept Beast Boy. We can also toss Natasha Irons in there as as a techno-whiz. Notice that not only gives us an even male to female ratio, but it further diversifies the team.

Still, Percy and Meyers make the most of the characters they have by playing up the emotional isolationism so many teenagers feel. The first line in the book, from Beast Boy, is: “I’m alone…” Then we go to Starfire, who talks about how working makes her feel like she has “a place in this alien world.” In the next scene, Raven goes to a museum to “commune with my sadness.” Then we get some real-world commentary, as Wally gets mistaken for a thief, and says he can’t “outrun the assumption I’m up to no good.”

Teen Titans: Rebirth #1, 2016, Beast Boy, Jonboy MeyersThese elements were present to a lesser extent at the start of the Scott Lobdell/Brett Booth series, and again in the Will Pfiefer/Kenneth Rocafort series. But in Rebirth it feels like the thread that unites the characters. It makes them more than just teammates. A unifying factor like that is something you find in a lot of great superhero team books, and its a really good omen.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the restoration of hope to the DCU. This new Teen Titans book is barely established yet, but it’s already instilled me with a lot of hope that the series can be a hot commodity. It’s time to make the Teen Titans great again!

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A Nightwing: Rebirth #1 Review – Better in Blue

Nightwing: Rebirth #1, 2016, coverTITLE: Nightwing: Rebirth #1
AUTHOR: Tim Seeley
PENCILLER: Yanick Paquette. Cover by Javier Fernandez.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: July 13, 2016

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This issue should really be called Nightwing Returns. For yours truly, that’s what it is. Not just in terms of Dick Grayson putting the costume on again. It’s as simple as him wearing blue.

I can’t even tell you how hung up I was on that New 52 costume. I’ve discussed this before, but it bears repeating: Nightwing should never wear red on a permanent basis. Red is a Robin color. In switching from Robin to Nightwing, the change from red to blue was more important than many people realize. The shift to the opposite end of the color spectrum was a visual representation of his shift toward independence. To put him in red moves him back toward Batman, intentional or not. Plus, when you realize Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne all wear red and have dark hair, the whole legacy of Robin starts to look like a creepy cult. All in all, everything is better when Dick is in blue.

With his secret identity now restored, Dick stops and smells the proverbial roses with his Spyral cohorts and surrogate family members before moving on to the next phase of his life. The Parliament of Owls (a larger version of the Court of Owls) continues to target Dick. The time has now come for Dick to infiltrate the group using the identity they tried to corrupt and make their own: Nightwing!

Nightwing: Rebirth #1, Yanick PaquetteThis issue tells us Dick’s identity is now a secret again.  To the best of my knowledge, this happened off page somewhere. As I recall, Helena Bertinelli told Dick that Spyral could use its tech to make the world forget what they saw in Forever Evil. This kind of trick isn’t new. You’ve got to get the genie back in the bottle somehow, of course. I just wish we’d actually seen it happen. We don’t even know for sure it was Spiral that restored Dick’s secret. Let’s hope he didn’t make a deal with Mephisto…

The whole stopping by to talk thing is a very Dick Grayson thing to do. We’ve seen it a bunch over the years. His talks with Tiger King and Midnighter feel like a transition out of the Grayson era. Though I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him team with the latter again soon. He briefly speaks with Helena through a door, leaving us longing for a sense of closure between the two. Though Yanick Paquette treats us to a splash page of her in the Huntress costume, practically guaranteeing they’ll meet again down the line. Paquette is also on cover duty for Helena’s adventures in Batgirl & The Birds of Prey, which is a nice connection between the books. Oddly enough, the variant cover by Babs Tarr gives us another Nightwing/Batgirl connection. That can’t be accidental, can it?

So…does Lincoln March die in this book? He takes an arrow through the eyeball, so that’s definitely the implication. If this is the end for him, that’s a disappointment. His big quarrel was with his alleged brother Bruce Wayne. There was unfinished business there. Even factoring in his Grayson role, to see him snuffed out in a Nightwing book feels like a whimper. I’m hoping the Owls restore him, keep him in stasis, or something to that effect.

Nightwing: Rebirth #1, Dick and Damian, yanick PaquetteI’ve been high on Yanick Paquette in the wake of Batman #49. But some of his renderings of Dick and Damian are weirdly off in this issue. For instance, the image at right. What, pray tell, is wrong with Damian’s face? Is it contorted because his eyes hurt? Is he rolling his eyes at the thought of Spyral being on the side of the angels? At certain points he also looks like he’s hunching.

On the plus side, he ends on a splash page of Dick in the Nightwing suit, and it instantly satiated my craving for blue Nightwing. Well done, sir.

Just to clarify, I’m not downing Kyle Higgins, or anyone who worked on the red Nightwing book. Eddy Barrows did some nice work with Dick, and I was pleased when Higgins moved the setting to Chicago. Grayson also turned out better than many of us imagined. But this issue feels like a homecoming. Just as so much we loved about the old DCU has come back in this Rebirth initiative, so has the Nightwing we know and love.

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A Grayson #15 Revew – “Being a Robin”

Grayson #12TITLE: Grayson #15
AUTHOR: Tom King, Tim Seeley
PENCILLER: Mikel Janin
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 9, 2015

***Need to catch up? Check out our look at Robin War #1.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

What does an event crossover like Robin War need to get right in order to be successful? What’s a central idea that they have to really nail? What’s the entire damn story built around?

The answer is: The concept of Robin. And after Grayson #15, I’m not sure if they got that right or not.

The “Robin Laws” are in effect, and anyone who might be construed as a member of the Robin movement is outlawed in Gotham. Now Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne have taken all the members of this street crew underground for training. But which of these so-called Robins really have what it takes? And what happens when the GCPD turns up the heat?

Grayson #15, 2015, Mikel Janin, page 2Let’s talk about Robin, and a recurring device Tim Seeley and Tom King use in this issue, and this concept of “being a Robin.”

Early in the issue, we see Dick ultimately take responsibility for the Robin street gang, as he was the first Robin. I like that idea, and I wish they’d expanded on it a bit more. The thing about Robin, is that both in-story and behind the scenes, he wasn’t designed to be a “legacy character.” He wasn’t created with the idea of the mantle being passed from youngster to youngster. Robin is Dick’s creation, and it had become so well known and so identifiable with Batman, it was inherited by Jason, Tim, and Damian.

But when you look at how Robin is talked about in this issue, it doesn’t come off that way. As Dick and the various Robins are training with Duke Thomas and the various Gotham kids, each of them recite a little verbal essay about being Robin. Each of them is to the effect of: “Batman once told me being a Robin is about ______.” What I object to about that is the verbage “being a Robin” as opposed to “being Robin.” That one letter changes a lot. It’s almost as Batman is a knight of some kind, and Dick and the others were all squires, serving as apprentices until they graduated to knighthood. Even DC has said, seemingly in jest, that Robin is an “internship program.”

Point blank, that’s a really stupid idea.

Grayson #15, Mikel Janin, Robin WarTo be fair, Seeley and King didn’t create it. It’s been around since the New 52 began. Even in Red Hood and the Outlaws #0, which shows us Jason Todd’s New 52 origin story, Alfred refers to the Robin identity as “an opening in [Batman’s] operation.” Why they decided to suck all the humanity out of Robin is anybody’s guess…

Mind you, I really enjoy We Are Robin, and appreciate the notion of a group of kids inspired by Robin. But what good is that if you suck so much of the depth out of the root concept?

In any event, despite a certain lack of depth, the scenes between Dick and Duke Thomas are interesting. Their backgrounds are very different, but they’re both natural leaders. It evokes thoughts of Duke one day graduating to become one of Batman’s partners. But I’d hate to see him simply become another one of the pack.

Seeing Mikel Janin draw the We Are Robin cast is a big thrill. The art on that book is really nice, as is Greg Capullo’s rendering of Duke in Batman. But the photo realism of Janin’s style is a welcome break. The layout of page 2 with the multiple face shots (shown above) adds a certain aura of this being about real kids from a real place. I also appreciate the fact that he draws The Red Hood’s mask as an actual helmet, with no vague facial features present. Other artists should take note. He even manages to make that awful Red Robin costume look halfway decent. We even get a nice take off of the classic Batman #9 cover by Dick Sprang. Awesome stuff.

Grayson #15, Mikel janinYou’d think an event comic based around the legacy of Robin would want to grant the character a little more depth. There’s still some potential in Robin War, but the more they dwell on this “Gray Son” stuff with the Court of Owls, the less hope I have. I was trying to forget all that stuff ever happened…

Images 1 and 2 from adventuresinpoortaste.com. Image 3 from blacknerdproblems.com.

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A Robin War #1 Review – Teenage Wasteland

Robin War #1TITLE: Robin War #1
AUTHORS: Tom King (story), Khary Randolph, Alain Mauricet, Jorge Corona, Andres Guinaldo, Walden Wong.
PENCILLERS: Emilio Lopez, Chris Sotomayor, Gabe Elitaeb, Sandra Molina. Cover by Mikel Janin.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: November 2, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Robin War is a crossover that kicks off with a teenager, a cop, and a couple of guns.

*tugs at collar* G’aahhhh….

Per the 75th anniversary of the Robin character, we have Robin War, a crossover event that pits the various characters that have worn the mantle of Robin against The Court of Owls. After a showdown between one of the many youngsters acting under the banner of Robin (See We Are Robin) accidentally kills a policeman, Gotham City strikes back at the movement. Anyone even wearing Robin-like attire is subject to arrest, via the “Robin Laws” enacted by a city councilwoman with ties to the Court of Owls. The ensuing conflict will draw the attention of not only Batman (Jim Gordon), but the four young men who worked aside the original Batman as Robin. Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and the current Robin Damian Wayne are headed back to Gotham.

Robin War #1, title pageConceptually, in terms of celebrating the anniversary of Robin, I appreciate this crossover more than Batman & Robin Eternal. Though I’m not sure what it’s long term effects may be, the event itself is concise. It also touches books like Robin: Son of Batman, Teen Titans, Red Hood & Arsenal, and even Gotham Academy. It’s a nice illustration of how widespread Robin’s influence on the DC Universe has been. It also keeps the event contained within the span of about a month, which is nice.

Police brutality and the ethics of law enforcement are topical right now, for obvious reasons. It’s tough to read this book and not think of kids like Trayvon Martin. Especially when we get to the scene where Duke Thomas is arrested for simply wearing red shoes. I doubt they’re going for political commentary with this issue, but they’re certainly playing off that controversy here. Whether that’s tacky or not is subjective, I suppose. Either way, it gives Robin War an impactful opening.

Robin War #1, RobinsFor obvious reasons, Dick Grayson will play a big role here. The cliffhanger implies teases pretty interesting about his future. When we first see him here, he’s wearing a black and white suit that’s so James Bond it’s almost funny. At one point, the Court refers to him as the “Gray Son of Gotham,” so I guess we’re going back to that crap again. There’s also a splash page in which Dick, after getting a summon from his Gotham comrades, jumps out a window. Between the splash and the previous page, his full line is: “At the end of the day, from the beginning of the day…first and always foremost…I am Robin!”

I don’t like this bit. Firstly, the line is terribly redundant. They could have cut a lot of fat there and just had him say, “First and foremost, I am Robin!” Secondly, I’m not sure I appreciate that sentiment. Yes, Dick Grayson was Robin before he was anything else. But he’s been a lot of other things too. What so many modern writers seem to be forgetting about is the independence Dick gained when he broke away from Batman to become Nightwing. He’s loyal to his Gotham family, but he’s also his own man. I get what they’re going for with this line, but it turned me off.

On the flip side, I like how Damian is played up in this issue. He is Robin, after all. He also has some really good reactions to both the Robin movement with Duke Thomas and Jim Gordon acting as Batman. Solicitations indicate he’s staying in Gotham after Robin War, which is a good thing from where I sit.

Robin War #1, Robin introWe have a revolving door of artists on this thing, which is always frustrating. There’s an especially awkward transition when we go from Damian’s confrontation with Bat Cop, to Red Hood and Red Robin appearing on the scene. The styles and the colors just clash. It’s not necessarily the artists’ fault. It’s just a bad transition.

Robin War #1 has its flaws. In my experience, things tend to get a little messy when you have so many people collaborating on a single issue. But generally, I’m interested to see where it’s going. Batman’s apprentices against The Court of Owls doesn’t sound like the worst thing in the world.

Image 1 from io9.com. Remaining images from author’s collection.

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A Grayson #12 Review – A Hero’s Homecoming

Grayson #12 (2015)TITLE: Grayson #12
AUTHORS: Tim Seeley, Tom King
PENCILLER: Mikel Janin
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: September 23, 2015

***Unfamiliar with Grayson? Check out our review of the very first issue!***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Full disclosure: I’ve been absent for the past few issues of Grayson. That’s not to say the series has necessarily taken a downturn. But lately, the arrival of certain other books (Secret Wars, We Are Robin, Black Canary), pushed it down the priority list.

This issue, however, merited a look. After deceiving the world into thinking Dick Grayson/Nightwing died during the events of Forever Evil, Dick returns to Gotham City to come clean to his surrogate family. This includes the amnesiac Bruce Wayne, who as Batman, was the one who sent Dick to infiltrate Spyral in the first place. And speaking of Spyral, they’re not going to let Agent 37 leave without a fight.

Grayson #12, Mikel Janin, Bruce WayneSeeley, King, and Janin use a unique device in this issue. Each time Dick reunites with someone, we get a splash page with a black background and various pieces of actual dialogue from the 75-year history of Batman’s world. Naturally, they correspond with Dick’s relation to that character. This not only gives the reader a very real sense of what the dynamic was between Dick and the character in question, but it’s a fitting substitute for the repeated and redundant “You’re alive!” moments we might have seen under a different creative team. It’s also extremely cool that actual dialogue is used. These quotes can actually be traced back to specific issues. You certainly can’t say effort wasn’t made in terms of research.

The device works best with Bruce, who due to events in Batman, has no memories of his time in the costume. The original Dynamic Duo look like a distant memory here, which is fairly sad. But the Grayson team makes good use of its time in the Snyder/Capullo sandbox, particularly when Dick has to protect his former partner, using the very skills Bruce taught him years ago!

The reunion between Dick and Damian is the only one that bucks the “You’re alive!” moment pattern. Apparently, Dick had no idea Damian had been resurrected. From an in-story perspective, that’s really weird. Dick knew Bruce was trying to bring Damian back. He even made a brief appearance in the Robin Rises story. How could he not have known? Is Dick feigning surprise for some reason?

Birds of Prey #8, 1999, Greg Land, Nightwing, OracleWith the splash page/quotes device, this issue harkens back to the pre-New 52 continuity in a way that still maintains a certain fluidity. But surprisingly, Seeley and King harken back to something very specific in the reunion between Dick and Barbara: The trapeze scene from 1999’s Birds of Prey #8. Written by the great Chuck Dixon and drawn by Greg Land, the issue saw Dick take Barbara on a date of sorts to Haly’s Circus. In an empty tent, Dick and the partially paralyzed Barbara go swinging on a trapeze, in a sequence that culminates with a kiss. To my knowledge, this is the first time this event has been mentioned in the New 52 continuity, and it’s really cool to see them show this moment such reverence.

On the flip side of the memories coin, this issue has plenty of flashback images featuring “Red Nightwing,” a.k.a. Nightwing in the red and black suit. If we’re using quotes and plot points from the pre-New 52 continuity, can we at least acknowledge that Nightwing wore a black and blue suit at one point? Yes, I understand it’s probably an editorial mandate. But still, you’re killin’ me…

The conclusion to this issue does the Dick Grayson character a lot of justice. While Bruce Wayne is a natural loner, Dick is a people person, and is more than comfortable as part of a team. In Grayson #12 we see that is a strength, not a weakness. Not only did Seeley and King nail the character, they showed us that with Bruce on the sidelines, Dick Grayson may in fact be the glue that holds the Bat-Family together.

Image 1 from craveonline.com. Image 2 from comicbookresources.com.

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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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A Batgirl Rising Review – The Blonde Bat-Bombshell

Batgirl RisingTITLE: Batgirl Rising
AUTHOR: Bryan Q. Miller
ARTIST: Lee Garbett. Cover by Phil Noto.
COLLECTS: Batgirl #1-7
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASE DATE: July 14, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

No matter what characters are under the mask, it seems like there’s always a demand for certain heroes or certain groups. They become franchises unto themselves. Aquaman, Robin, the Justice League, the Justice Society, the Teen Titans. They’ve all had various facelifts and changes over the years, but they always have a certain degree of fan support.

Batgirl is no different.

After Battle For The Cowl, in addition to a new Batman and Robin, we got a new Dark Knight damsel. This time it’s Stephanie Brown, the college freshman formerly known as The Spoiler. Batgirl Rising collects her first few adventures, and  breaks her in as Batgirl.

923527-batgirl__1_007_superWhen Cassandra Cain (the character who took on the Batgirl identity several years after the first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, was incapacitated by Alan Moore in The Killing Joke) gives up her cape and cowl in the wake of Bruce Wayne’s apparent death, Stephanie adopts the identity, much to the chagrin of Barbara Gordon. Barbara reluctantly takes Stephanie under her wing as she battles The Scarecrow, Roxie Rocket, and whatever else Gotham City throws her way.

But will our new Batman want a new Batgirl flying across the rooftops?

Though I’ve been underwhelmed by Bryan Q. Miller’s work on Titans and Teen Titans, it looks like he was given a lot more room to be creative with this title. He takes the ball and runs with it. One of the cool things about this book is that it not only begins a new chapter in Stephanie Brown’s life, but Barbara Gordon’s as well. There are a few scenes where Barbara is trying to mentor a girl who, like her, had her legs taken away from her. They’re touching, and give Barbara that much more depth as a character.

What’s nice is that Miller hasn’t changed Stephanie’s character simply because she’s become Batgirl. This girl is a perpetual screw-up. She knows it, Barbara knows it, and the audience knows it. So why not have a little fun with it?

Batgirl Rising, Stephanie Brown, Damian WayneA writer once told me that when they’re working as a trio, Robin and Batgirl are actually more fun to write than Batman himself. The Caped Crusader always has to be the brooding straight man, while Robin and Batgirl can crack jokes and have a bit more fun. If Batgirl Rising isn’t evidence of that, I don’t know what book is. Miller writes some competitive banter between Damian and Stephanie that’s an absolute joy to read. When a perpetual screw-up teenage girl meets a 10-year-old assassin/superhero with authority issues, hilarity shall ensue.

Batgirl Rising isn’t an instant classic, but it’s a fun book to read. Certain things in this book don’t work as well as others (Stephanie’s attempt at a romance with a fellow college student isn’t a great beat), but nothing falls completely flat. Considering what Bryan Q. Miller books I had been exposed to prior to Batgirl Rising, this book offered him (and Stephanie Brown, for that matter) a measure of redemption in my eyes. Hopefully the best is yet to come.

RATING: 7.5/10

Image 1 from comicsblog.fr. Image 2 from ifanboy.com.

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