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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Nightwing #9 Review – The Adventures of Superman and Robin

Nightwing #9, 2016TITLE: Nightwing #9
AUTHOR: Tim Seeley
PENCILLER: Marcio Takara
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: November 16, 2016

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The dynamic between Superman and Dick Grayson has always been interesting to me. In most continuities they meet each other fairly early, as Dick is just starting out as Robin. As a youngster, he’s still in a position to stand in awe of the grandeur of Superman. But in a way, they’re also peers. They fight a lot of the same enemies, and both have their own unique relationship with Batman. As such, they have an inherent chemistry that people tend to forget about.

Nightwing #9 taps into that chemistry to establish Dick’s relationship with the new Superman (new to him, at least), and set him on a new course: Bludhaven. (Again, new to this Nightwing. Ugh. This is needlessly complicated…)

Keep in mind, the Superman we’re seeing in all this DC Universe Rebirth stuff is the pre-New 52 Superman. He’s married to Lois Lane, has a son named Jon, and has all sorts of memories of things that happened before the New 52 reboot. Nightwing #9 shows us he’s actively on the hunt for enemies that existed in his reality, but haven’t shown up in this one yet. One such enemy is Doctor Destiny, a supervillain who can turn dreams into reality. Using Kryptonian tech, Superman detects his old enemy haunting Dick Grayson, and comes to his aid.

Nightwing #9, 2016, SupermanThis issue puts Dick on a path toward the city of Bludhaven. Longtime fans recognize Bludhaven has the setting for the original Nightwing series in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Once again, DC is appeasing some of its older readers by restoring certain pre-New 52 elements. I don’t know how much bringing Bludhaven back does to entice readers. But in theory its fine. What I’m not a fan of is how it’s done.

I’ve talked before about the downside of having the old Superman back. It’s a thrill for fans who’ve been around for awhile, but it also makes things really convoluted. I love the way Dick has been influenced by both Batman and Superman (the Nightwing name originated in a Superman story), and I give this issue credit for continuing that tradition. But Dick only learns of Bludhaven’s existence when Superman shows it to him in a dream, and tells him about the connection with the pre-New 52 Nightwing. That’s a cheap shortcut. Tell me a story and take him there organically.

While I didn’t appreciate the way it was facilitated, there’s promise in Nightwing heading back to Bludhaven. In the ’90s, Chuck Dixon and his cohorts gave that city it’s own  feel and identity. It would very much behoove this team to do the same thing, whether it’s a similar feel or not.

As much of this issue takes place in a dream, it’s fitting that artist Marcio Takara and colorist Marcello Maiolo’s work has a sort of soft, dream-like vibe to it. Takara’s characters are very expressive, which helps tremendously when Dick gets a little help from some old friends. In one panel he’s downright overjoyed, which is something we don’t see too often from our friends in Gotham. We also get a really nice splash page of Dick and the wide array of DC heroes he’s connected to in some form.

nightwing #9, 2016, Superman, Marcio TakaraThat’s really the theme of Nightwing #9. Dick Grayson may have been raised by a notorious loner, but this little adventure with Superman reminds us he’s hardly a loner himself. He and Batman are so much alike, yet so different. Tim Seeley gets that dynamic, and it’s one of the reasons he’s had such a solid solo run with Nightwing thus far. This wasn’t his best issue. But there’s a lot of intrigue on the horizon.

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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 Superman #6 Review – Like Father, Like Son

Superman #6, 2016, Patrick GleasonTITLE: Superman #6
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
PENCILLER: Patrick Gleason. Cover by Doug Mahnke.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: September 7, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s a page in Superman #6 that I absolutely adore (shown below). It’s a callback to the cover of the original Superman #6 from 1939, with our hero striking the classic hands-on-hips pose. We’ve even got the American flag in the background for good measure. I will neither confirm nor deny swooning upon seeing that page for the first time.

For yours truly, the best Superman writers and artists don’t shy away from the character’s status as a symbol for hope and idealism. They don’t try to modernize him, or God forbid darken him. They embrace who and what he is, which naturally leads to good storytelling. That’s mostly what we’ve gotten from Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and team on Superman these last few months. No more stupid armor, no more bare-knuckle fighting. Just Superman doing what Superman does. We didn’t need to give him a son to create good stories. It just so happens that parenting brings out the best in Big Blue.

Superman continues to battle the Eradicator in a bunker on the moon, as Lois and Jon look on. The Eradicator, who holds the life force of so many deceased Kryptonians within him, is determined to kill the half-human Jon and “purify” the House of El. But as the Man of Steel tirelessly fights to save his family, Earth may come to a shocking realization: One way or another, Superman is back.

Superman #6, callback, Patrick GleasonThe Superman books are in a complex spot right now. We’ve got the pre-New 52 Superman, Lois Lane, and their son Jon as our lead characters in Superman. Then we’ve got a Clark Kent doppleganger in Action Comics, and the New 52 Lois over in Superwoman. But as complex as things have become, most of the books have surged upward in terms of quality. Look no further than this book as an example. This is the best Superman has been in at least five years.

One of the keys to that is this book’s heart. It’s not afraid to be a little sappy as it shows us the love shared by the Kent family. It’s also not afraid of embracing some of the corny, but feel-good and classic elements of the Superman legend. Not just the pose and the American flag, but the glasses, the superpowered dog, the adoration of Metropolis. The issue also bucks the isolated, lonely, brooding Superman trope we’re often subjected to. In one glorious, yet understated panel, Superman looks up at the reader and says: “I’ve never felt alone.”

Can I get an amen?

We’ve heard a lot of talk lately about DC restoring hope and positivity to its books and movies. The DC Universe’s first stop for both those things should be Superman. For some, that’s a turn off, which is fair enough. But if you’re looking for the brooding, isolated superhero, they’ve got a guy for that. Actually, they’ve got a few guys for that. So lets stop trying to make this character something he’s not. These attempts to darken Superman always end up fizzling out anyway.

Superman #6, 2016I understand the notion of comics not being for kids anymore. But I’d be curious to see what would happen if I gave these Superman issues to a young reader. If they kept coming back, would it be for Superman? Would it be for Jon? Perhaps both? Either way, Jon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As indicated by the end of this issue, he’ll have an even bigger role going forward. And for the time being at least, that’s a good thing.

We bordered on the edge of Over-Baturation in this story with the climactic battle taking place in Batman’s moon bunker (Yeah, he has one. Don’t you?), and the inclusion of the Hellbat, a carry over from Tomasi and Gleason’s run on Batman & Robin. But I’m giving this book a pass, as we see very little of Batman himself. It’s even established that Superman followed the Dark Knight without him knowing, which was a nice touch. Also, Lois using the Hellcat to protect Jon managed to be pretty cool.

This is an exciting time to be a Superman fan. Given the relaunch, Superman has more readers now than in quite awhile, and DC is making the most of those new eyes. Quite honestly, there’s no one I’d rather see on this title right now than Tomasi, Gleason, and their crew. I’m hopeful they’re only beginning to take flight.

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A Titans #2 Review – The Path to Redemption

Titans #2, 2016, Brett BoothTITLE: Titans #2
AUTHOR: Dan Abnett
PENCILLER: Brett Booth
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: August 24, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

By God, I knew it! The dastardly villain responsible for making Wally West “disappear” from the timeline is none other than…Abra Kadabra? The guy with the top hat and the magic wand? I’ll say this much, I didn’t see that coming…

But indeed, in following up on the events of DC Universe Rebirth #1, Abra Kadabra is the first villain the Titans come up against. He hits them with a classic supervillain plot: Mirror opponents. In this case, the Titans fighting younger versions of themselves. Nightwing against Robin, Wally West against Kid Flash, etc. Though I may jest, this is actually quite fitting. We’re still re-establishing the idea that these characters were a team. So in effect, Dan Abnett is giving us a fight, and adding depth to the team at the same time.

Our penciller for the series thus far is Brett Booth. Objectively, there’s very little wrong with what we get here. Booth injects a nice energy into things. During action sequences his characters have a great sense of motion, Wally and Kid Flash in particular.

Titans #2, group shot, Brett BoothBut justified or not, I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to Brett Booth and anything Teen Titans-related. The Teen Titans haven’t been good for years. That isn’t his fault. He didn’t write any of the material he’s worked on. But Booth was the penciller when things really started to go south: The New 52 reboot. He spent over a dozen issues on the interiors, and even more on cover duty. I’m sure everybody tried their best. But during that time the book was, by most accounts, bad . Booth drew some god awful costumes, too. From that horrible Red Robin look, to the seemingly TRON-inspired suits they wore in the “Culling” crossover. It’s been a dark time for DC’s younger heroes. So to see Booth attached to Titans didn’t fill me with confidence, despite the solid work he’s since done on books like The Flash and Nightwing.

Perhaps, like Wally West, he hopes to find redemption in these pages…

There’s an undeniable sentimental quality in seeing these characters together, especially after having them apart for so long. Abnett tugs at our heartstrings a little bit with Wally and Linda Park, and the question of whether she’ll remember him. We also have what appears to be a revelation from Roy Harper, which definitely catches Donna Troy off guard.

Titans #2, variant cover, Mike ChoiThere’s been confusion on my part regarding Bumblebee. The solicits have her entering the series at issue #3, but she was on the regular cover for issue #1, and the Mike Choi variants (lovely, by the way) for issues #1 and #2. I’d rather not tell you how long I spent looking at the Choi cover for this issue trying to figure out who that top left person was. Hopefully next issue will alleviate any future confusion.

I’m interested to see just how close the Titans get to uncovering the real mystery behind the DC Universe’s wonky timeline. But either way, this is a solid series for the time being. The band is back together, and it’s nice to hear them playing some familiar tunes.

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A Suicide Squad #1 Review – Life on the A-List

Suicide Squad #1, 2016, cover, Jim LeeTITLE: Suicide Squad #1
AUTHOR: Rob Williams
PENCILLERS: Jim Lee, Jason Fabok. Cover by Lee.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: August 17, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Even with the movie, the idea of Jim Lee working on a Suicide Squad book seems bizarre. This is the man who broke records with X-Men, set a new standard for Batman, and ushered Justice League into a new era. He’s the master of the modern American superhero epic. He’s synonymous with A-list characters and stories. So to see him work on mostly B and C-list characters is an interesting change. Still, it’s great to see new art from Jim Lee.

Even when he’s drawing Killer Croc nearly drowning in his own vomit.

A rogue Russian state is in possession of a cosmic weapon. Amanda Waller calls in Task Force X, a.k.a. the Suicide Squad to either steal or destroy it. But to avoid detection, the team must drop in from space. But it turns out the squad wasn’t made for space travel…

Our team line-up is the same as the movie’s, minus a few: Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, and the Enchantress. Plus Rick Flag and Katana working directly for Waller. Also, Belle Reeve Prison now has a “Select Your Players” feature, in which inmate containers/cells can be retrieved via crane. There are many, which invites theories about who else Waller could select for the Squad. (Black Manta? Deathstroke?)

Suicide Squad #1, 2016, Jim Lee, group shotThe issue doesn’t let Lee be as dynamic as he often is. We do get a cool group shot of the team (shown left), with Harley wearing a cutesy “Rebirth” t-shirt. But the big action sequence of the issue is the team sitting in their spacecraft as it crashes into the sea. I expected something higher octane, akin to what we saw in Justice League.

The trade off, however, is that we get a nice character moment for Rick Flag, a character conspicuous by his absence in the New 52verse until Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1. Flag was cast as the incorruptible hero with a heightened sense of responsibility for his fellow soldiers. Thus, after Croc gets sick in the spacecraft, Flag undoes his restraints and tries to save Croc from drowning in vomit. This sequence, even more than what we saw in Rebirth, distinctively sets Flag apart from his teammates. He’s loyal to a fault.

 Lee also didn’t have as many pages as he usual. DC’s trick for keeping Lee on deadline this time around is reducing his page count, and giving him bulked back-up stories. This issue is about 60% Lee, and 60% Jason Fabok, as we get a story under the banner of “Personnel File: Deadshot.” I can only assume this will be an ongoing theme for the foreseeable back-ups. Predictably, Deadshot’s revamped origin has echoes of the movie. Batman is involved, and we heavily emphasize Floyd Lawton’s daughter Zoe.

Suicide Squad #1, 2016, Jason FabokJason Fabok has cited Jim Lee as an influence, so I imagine it’s quite a thrill to for him to have his work next to Lee’s. Comparatively, Fabok’s pages come out more polished and clean, while Lee’s work is a bit sketchier than usual. Fabok’s colorist Brad Anderson works with a darker palette, which fits with the more emotional tone, not to mention much of the story taking place in Gotham City. If Lee’s job is to deliver an action-packed “A” story, while Fabok handles the quieter and perhaps more emotional “B” stories, we may have a winning combo on our hands. In that sense, the contrast in styles works very well.

Question: Why is Katana working with the Suicide Squad all of a sudden? Yes, that’s how it was in the movie. But how did it happen in this universe? Maybe that’s a question for a future back-up.

Also, i guess we’re discarding the whole meta-bomb in China thing from Rebirth? Too bad, I liked that story.

If the object of Suicide Squad #1 is to lure in movie viewers and entice them to read future issues, then I’d call it a mild success. I was left wanting more action on Jim Lee’s end. Whether that leaves newcomers anxious for the next issue, or disappointed overall, remains to be seen. But there’s potential here, and they’ve got me coming back at the very least.

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A 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 Superman #2 Review – Superman Smiles

Superman #2, 2016, Patrick GleasonTITLE: Superman #2
AUTHORS: Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason
PENCILLER: Gleason
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: July 6, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m aware this series doesn’t mark the first time Superman has smiled in the last five years. But it sure feels like it. Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s effort to inject optimism back into the character makes for a refreshing departure from recent attempts to darken him. Truth, justice, hope. Dare I say, love? These are the things we need from Superman in 2016.

The Superman of the pre-New 52 Earth has finally put the cape on again in this new universe. At the same time, his young son Jon is discovering super powers of his own. When we open this issue, the Man of Steel has taken his son to observe him on a routine rescue. But when things go awry, Jon is pulled into the action. Will this new “Superboy” see his run tragically cut short?

In working on Superman, Peter Tomasi has two tremendous advantages over many of his peers. First, he’s inherently good at writing heart-felt stories that highlight the humanity of these iconic, often god-like heroes. As evidence, I direct you to yet another of father and son story by he and Gleason, Batman & Robin: Born to Kill.

Superman #2, Patrick Gleason, family shot, 2016Second, and more importantly, he understands Superman. (I assume Gleason does too. I speak of Tomasi because we’ve obviously seen more of his writing. Gleason has mainly been an artist.) Case in point, our hero saying the following to his son: “It’s not about our powers, or strength, or heat vision. It’s about character. It means doing the right thing when no one else will, even when you’re scared…even when you think no one is looking.”

Yes. A thousand times, yes.

What so many people either don’t understand or don’t appreciate about Superman is the importance of what he stands for. He’s not a boy scout. He’s not a sell out. He’s not an outdated product of a bygone era. It’s not as simple as that. He’s a man with a set of principles, and he acts on those principles in the hopes of making the world a better place. Tomasi understands all of this, and knows it’s critical that Clark and Lois raise Jon with these same principles. As Clark himself says in this issue, Jon may be need to wear the iconic S symbol sooner than later.

It’s very fitting that we’ve re-emphazied these elements in a story that has brought back a previous version of Clark. In a very real sense, this feels like Superman is back.

From an artistic stance, the colors are on point. In particular, John Kalisz’s reds and oranges really pop. Superman’s cape looks fantastic, which makes me miss his red boots even more. There’s also a sequence where Jon is trying to hone his heat vision, and the scene becomes engulfed in an intense red that really brings you into the moment.

Superman #2, 2016, Patrick GleasonIn interviews, I seem to recall Tomasi and Gleason talking about being fathers themselves. In Gleason’s case, that would explain why much of the body language in Superman, as well as Batman & Robin, seems very natural. Not always real, per se. But natural within the context of this world. The panel to the right is my favorite in the issue. That face says a lot. We’ve got patience, compassion, reassurance, protectiveness, and of course, love. Where has this Superman been?

Obviously this new Superman series is meant to be a starting point for new readers. But I maintain that the replacement of the New 52 Superman with the post-Crisis Superman from another universe makes things confusing for new readers. Especially once you get to the end of the issue, where a villain from the post-Crisis era seems to resurface. Mind you, this isn’t Tomasi or Gleason’s fault. And for the record, I’m in favor of this new direction for the Superman books. But this shake-up has come at a price. Picture yourself as a newbie picking up this series. You’d have all kinds of questions about where this Superman came from, what that other universe was like, and where it went. The upside is that might entice one to buy trade paperbacks. But someone on the fence might simply drop the book.

Either way, once you get past the confusion, this is good stuff. Tomasi and Gleason did about 40 issues on Batman & Robin. Obviously Gleason can’t be expected to do that many consecutive issues on a bi-weekly series. But if this team sticks with Superman for the foreseeable future, the smart bet is they’ll deliver quality comics. More often than not, that’s what they do.

Images from readcomics.net.

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A Batman #1 Review – Batman Begins Again

Batman #1, 2016, David FinchTITLE: Batman #1
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: David Finch
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: June 15, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s not kid ourselves. Tom King, David Finch, and this crew have their work cut out for them with Batman. In so many ways, this DC’s flagship book. It’s certainly one of their biggest cash cows. Top that off with the fact that we’re coming out of the Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo era, and there’s a lot to live up to.

But, you know, no pressure…

The new Batman era kicks off with a hijacked missile and a commercial airplane flying over Gotham City. When the two meet, countless lives are at stake and our hero is put to work. As always, Batman is ready to lay his life down for “his” city. But when two new heroes emerge, the game may change dramatically. Gotham may not be Batman’s city anymore.

Batman #1, 2016, David Finch, upside downI can’t say I was overjoyed to hear David Finch was returning to a Bat-book. He’s definitely got his critics and nitpickers. Having been one of them, I would know. But Finch is at home in the dark, grim, and shadowy corners of comic books. This is the case because so much of what we get from him is dark, grim, and shadowy. Even if the story or the characters don’t call for that at all (Justice League of AmericaWonder Woman, etc), that’s what we get from him. That’s why it puzzles me when Finch gets assigned to the more colorful heroes, and not something like Hellblazer or Swamp Thing. But if you must put him with one of the big guns, Batman is the best choice for obvious reasons.

Our art team also compliments Finch better than previous ones did. Inker Matt Banning and colorist Jordan Bellaire aren’t as quick to plunge things into sheer blackness. There’s a much better balance between dark and light. The city lights pop in contrast to the often dark and dreary sky. But the color palette for Batman himself is also dim enough that you believe it. As for Finch’s pencils, he may win or lose me depending on how he draws this new heroine. I’ve previously said Finch only knows how to draw one woman. All his women have the same face. The same skinny waist. The same big boobs. If he can find a way to draw her (and any other lady that pops up in this series) so she looks like someone other than Superhero Barbie, I’ll be impressed.

Batman #1, 2016, David Finch, I'll Save ItThis looks like it’s going to be about super-powered heroes trying to take Batman’s spot as guardian of Gotham. Midway through the issue, he even dismisses potential involvement from Superman or Hal Jordan. He caps it off with the line: “This is my city. I’ll save it.” This is an interesting route for Tom King to take, seemingly casting Batman as the underdog when so many readers already believe Batman can kick Superman’s ass. But a super-powered duo operating in Gotham could play into the idea of the city as its own unique character. How does Gotham react to its new saviors? And how does this transform the city’s criminal element?

There’s also a line (or at least part of a line) late in the book that’s really nice, albeit subtle. As Batman seemingly staring death in the eye, he tells Alfred: “I prepared messages for the boys in case I…” The boys. I like that. Like a father referring to his sons.

The buzz around this story has a lot to with what Gotham City deserves. What kind of hero does it deserve, is Batman the hero it deserves, etc. At this point, I’m just hoping King and Finch can give The Dark Knight the kind of series he deserves. I’m not sure we’ve got that yet. But King has earned his shot. So let’s let him take it.

Image 1 from adventuresinpoortaste.com. Image 2 from author’s collection. 

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