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An All-Star Batman: My Own Worst Enemy Review – Road Trip!

TITLE: All-Star Batman, Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLERS: John Romita Jr, Declan Shalvey
COLLECTS: All-Star Batman #15
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: April 19, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s get the usual Scott Snyder spiel out of the way early. I like Snyder’s Batman stuff. He’s one of the best writers to pen the Dark Knight’s adventures in the last decade. But he does so many little things that are just infuriating. As such, otherwise brilliant stories become tainted so needlessly. Sadly, All-Star Batman, Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy is no  exception.

The dark side of Harvey Dent, a.k.a. Two-Face, is gradually taking over his twisted psyche. Harvey enlists Batman’s help to take him across the country and eliminate his dual identity once and for all. But Two-Face counters by blackmailing everyone in Gotham City. If Batman isn’t stopped, he’ll release every dirty secret he has. What’s more, the person that brings Batman down gets a fortune in untraceable cash. Batman, and his new apprentice Duke Thomas, are about to be hit from all sides.

Snyder’s premise is tremendous. The great thing about doing this kind of chase story with Batman is the near limitless amount of enemies you can bring in. In My Own Worst Enemy we see Killer Moth, Firefly, Black Spider, and Gentlemen Ghost. And that’s just the first issue. Of course, we also go higher up on the food chain with baddies like Killer Croc and the Court of Owls.

Snyder, John Romita Jr., and the team are clearly having fun with these action sequences. The opening scene with Batman, Firefly, and Killer Moth in the diner has some blaring flaws (more on those later). But the two-page spread on the left packs a hell of a punch.  The book as a whole has some of the most intense and energetic work Romita has done in quite some time. Certainly since he’s come to DC. We later get a sequence on top of a train, which leads to a gorgeous fight in a river between Batman and Two-Face. I also loved the fight with KGBeast in issue #3, which is so bloody it’s actually reminiscent Romita’s work in Kick-Ass.

As such, it makes sense that All-Star Batman and Kick-Ass had the same colorist: Dean White. As the blood continues to spill, the panels start to take on rusty colors, similar to what we see in the climax of the original Kick-Ass. What’s more, White’s touch makes some of the outdoor sequences really pop. That’s especially the case in issue #2, with the greens, browns, and blues. Though if I may say, Killer Croc might be a bit too bright. He’s Killer Croc, not Kermit the Frog.

What Snyder really nails in this book is the twisted psychology of Two-Face. The emphasis on secrets hammers home the point that everyone has a certain duality and dark side to their personality. A side which, if you believe Two-Face represents who they truly are. Snyder even takes us into the mechanics of Harvey and Two-Face. The two personalities can keep secrets from one another, influence each other’s behavior, etc. You get the sense these are aspects of the Two-Face character that Snyder has wanted to explore for awhile, but hasn’t had the chance. Details like this help to make My Own Worst Enemy one of the more compelling Two-Face stories in recent memory.

That’s why it’s all the more frustrating when Snyder sprinkles in moments that seem tremendously out of character for Batman. The most notable ones occur during fight sequences in the first two issues. In the aforementioned diner scene, Batman says: “Hey. All of you in this diner. Look at me. Not them. Look at my face. No one is dying today.” He then winks at them (shown right). On the next page, he makes a crack about the life cycle of a moth before stabbing Killer Moth through the hand.

Later, during he train sequence in issue #2, Batman says to Killer Croc: “Hey Waylon. Appaloosa called…they want their fool back.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. Batman is a silly character. Silly, and versatile enough to be both dark and brooding, yet somehow funny in the same issue. That being said, lines like this are just bad. And they’re so out of character for the Dark Knight that they leave a bad taste in your mouth for the rest of the story. As good as Snyder is, and as fun as these action sequences are otherwise, this is a Batman story, not a Lethal Weapon movie.

As our story continues, we see that even Batman isn’t immune to Two-Face’s little secrets scheme, as Jim Gordon and the GCPD are about to walk into the Batcave. Snyder somewhat blurs the lines as far as what Gordon does or doesn’t know about Bruce Wayne and Batman. In the middle of issue #5, as the cops are about to break into the cave, Gordon pulls Alfred aside. He tells him to “I don’t know what’s true, you hear me? I never have. … Call him and get him to do whatever he has to do to turn this back. You tell him he has one chance.”

This is somewhat reminiscent of what we got toward the end of “No Man’s Land” almost 20 years ago. Only in that story, we had a little hint of doubt that maybe Gordon did know the truth. In this story, it’s the reverse. We’re literally standing in Wayne Manor as everything is about to be revealed, and we get a hint that maybe Gordon doesn’t know. Frankly, that’s not nearly as effective as what happened in “No Man’s Land.” Here, it’s fairly obvious that Gordon knows. And if he doesn’t, then he’s a complete moron.

Snyder did something similar with the Joker back in “Zero Year.” He and Greg Capullo made it pretty clear that the Red Hood One character was the guy that becomes the Joker. But then he threw in a twist that cast doubt over the whole thing. With both the Joker and Jim Gordon, it’s pretty obvious what Snyder wants to do. But for some reason, he doesn’t fully pull the trigger on it.

This first volume of All-Star Batman also collects “The Cursed Wheel,” which is comprised of back-up stories from the first four issues by Snyder, penciller/inker Declan Shalvey, and colorist Jordie Bellaire. The story is fine for the most part. It centers around Batman training Duke Thomas to be…whatever he’s going to be. There’s an argument to be made that Shalvey’s art is actually superior to Romita’s. It’s crisp, it’s clean, and it’s beautifully complimented by Bellaire.

Snyder sprinkles a little Joker dust on things by showing us Duke’s parents, who’ve been driven insane and in effect “Jokerized” after the events of “Endgame.” In issue #4, Duke poses the theory that the Joker is not pure evil. He simply attacks what he loves, and his serum prompts it’s victims to do the same. The idea isn’t explored much, but it’s a tremendous character insight.

On the flip side, you have the concept of the Cursed Wheel. It’s meant to be a condensed version of all the training Bruce did to become Batman. Each portion/color represents a different part of the human psyche. This could have been really interesting. But they got a little too cute with it. What spoiled it for me was this…

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

So the colors that Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, and other characters wear isn’t a simple color choice? Rather, it has some kind of deep-rooted psychological attachment to this wheel? So what about when Nightwing was wearing red? Or when Batgirl’s costume wasn’t purple? Hell, what about the other colors Robin wears? Furthermore, what traits to these different colors represent, exactly? Simply put, I don’t get it. The idea isn’t fleshed out enough, and the color coding is a little too silly for me. Sometimes a blue shirt is just a blue shirt.

The one word I would use to describe My Own Worst Enemy is “consistent.” Like Snyder’s work on Batman, we’ve got some really big and creative ideas here. It’s just that the bad ideas tend to flop as spectacularly as the good ones soar.

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An All-Star Batman #2 Review – The Jerk Store Called…

All-Star Batman #2, 2016, John Romita Jr.TITLE: All-Star Batman #2
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLERS: John Romita Jr., Declan Shalvey
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: September 14, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I haven’t been as in love with All-Star Batman as some reviewers are. But credit where credit is due: This is good stuff.

 Harvey Dent says he can get rid of his alter-ego Two-Face if Batman can get him to a mysterious house 500 miles away from Gotham. Two-Face counters by putting a price on the Dark Knight’s head. Ergo, Batman’s enemies are coming out of the woodwork to kill and collect. But fittingly, Two-Face’s plan is double-headed. Jim Gordon and the GCPD are literally about to walk into the Batcave!

One of Snyder and Romita’s priorities with this book is to prominently feature Batman’s rogues gallery. Not just the A-listers, either. In this issue alone we get appearances from King Shark, Amygdala, Cheshire, Great White, and KGBeast (referred to as “the Beast”). As a Batman geek, one of the thrilling elements about All-Star is never knowing who will pop out from around the next corner. It could be anyone from Mr. Freeze to Kite-Man.

Snyder also does a lot of justice to Two-Face, diving deeper into the concept of duality than I expected. Not just the traditional Harvey Dent vs. Two-Face stuff, but the notion that everyone has a dark side. Everyone is secretly as twisted as he is, and by holding secrets over people’s heads, he’s going to show you how. We also get a nice scene between Alfred and Duke Thomas that spells out some of the rules for how Two-Face’s brain works. The two sides can keep secrets from one another, but also influence each other. That’s good information to have as we go forward.

All-Star Batman #2, John Romita Jr., the jerk store calledWhat I continue to dislike about Snyder’s writing in this book is the sarcastic dialogue he gives Batman during battle sequences. This book kicks off with an awesome fight against Killer Croc, King Shark, and Amygdala on top of a moving train, with Two-Face looking on for good measure. But it’s promptly spoiled with the line: “Hey Waylon. Appaloosa called…they want their fool back.”

Hey Batman. The jerk store called…

What makes that sequence all the more frustrating is that John Romita Jr., Danny Miki, and Dean White absolutely nail it. It’s got a great energy, accentuated beautifully by the motion work and the gorgeous colors in the background. This is also the best Killer Croc has looked in awhile. For my money that’s a high compliment, as this book came out the same week as one of Jim Lee’s Suicide Squad issues. Romita’s take on the Penguin is also very reminiscent of Danny DeVito’s look in Batman Returns, which isn’t something we see very often.

I also adore the panels of Batman and Two-Face fighting in the water (shown below), if for nothing else because of the water itself. The way it’s colored, the way it moves, the way it drips off the characters. It’s almost cloud-like.

We’re also introduced to the notion that many suspect Bruce Wayne is Batman, but no one can prove it. This would be interesting as a throwaway line. But they’re obviously following up on it, what with Jim Gordon and the GCPD breaking into the Batcave…

All-Star Batman #2, John Romita Jr., Batman, Two-FaceKGBeast gets put over like a million bucks in this issue. He’s put on arguably the same level as a Deathstroke or Deadshot, and even has a decapitated Talon from the Court of Owls as a trophy. He’s treated with a reverence he’s rarely, if ever, gotten.

I’m still sour this “color wheel” idea Snyder is using in the back-up feature, though in all fairness there’s still much we don’t know about it. For now, we’ve got a mostly quiet scene between Batman and Duke as they track down Zsasz. Declan Shalvey’s work remains delightfully clean. His opening page is a striking mosaic of Duke’s family memories, which transitions into a scene between he and his mother. We’re not given any further insight into what exactly Batman has in mind for Duke. But things are unfolding nicely. We have yet to see a sarcastic quip from the Dark Knight in this story, so it almost has the advantage over what Snyder is doing with Romita.

There’s also a delightfully subtle detail to the one of Zsasz’s word balloons. It gets little gray scratches behind the letters to signify the various marks he puts in his own skin.

All-Star Batman is mostly quality work thus far, which is consistent with what Snyder has done with Batman previously. But as I see it, Snyder has a tendency to get in his own way, and take his own stories down a notch. Whether it’s with dialogue that’s out of character, big awful Batman robots, or something else entirely. It’s like he just can’t resist.

Boy, I wish he could resist…

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, it really doesn’t.

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

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

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

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A Batman #50 Review – The Dark Knight Returns

Batman #50, 2016, cover, Greg CapulloTITLE: Batman #50
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLERS: Greg Capullo, Yanick Paquette.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEAED: March 23, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Batman #50.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

What’s the deal with these guys and big Batman robots?

I credit Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and everyone who’s worked on this Batman run since 2011 with thinking big and not being afraid to take chances. They’ve created something that’s helped define the character for the 21st century. But good lord, these guys have some kind of hard on for Batman and big robots.

In issue #11, when Batman is fighting the Court of Owls as they invade the Batcave, he’s in a big robot. In issue #36, when Batman fights Superman, who’s fallen victim to Joker’s mind control, he’s in a big robot. When Jim Gordon takes over as Batman, half the time he’s in a big robot.

So of course, in the penultimate issue of their run, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo couldn’t resist putting Batman in a big robot as he does battle with Mr. Bloom. But not just any robot. A giant robot. A big Bat-Megazord. Yuck.

Batman #50, Greg Capullo, page 2But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. For the first time since his brutal war with The Joker, Bruce Wayne is Batman again. The deadly Mr. Bloom has Jim Gordon and the GCPD on the ropes, having given his deadly “seeds” to countless Gothamites. Now the true Dark Knight must return to once again vanquish the villain and save his city. But is it already too late?

This issue has a really good hook. When you open it, your eye is immediately drawn to the various Batsuits (shown left). Without any text, that shot says a lot. It gives us a great sense of history as we move forward into a new era. And of course, they just had to get a big Batman robot in there… *grumbles*

Mr. Bloom turned out to be a better villain than he initially seemed. On the surface he seems to be an odd hybrid of Poison Ivy and Scarecrow, with a touch of Joker mixed in. But at heart he’s an anarchist, fed up with the system and determined to go to unspeakable measures to restore the “natural” order of things. Bloom’s identity is left ambiguous here, which is an idea I can only wish Snyder had applied to The Joker. (Sorry folks, I’ve still got Zero Year issues.) I’m not sure how well Bloom would hold up to repeated appearances, if that’s indeed in the cards for him. But for now, he’s a villain worthy of Batman’s grand return.

Duke Thomas has gotten a nice spotlight in this story. Near the end of the issue Snyder begins to close the arc he started with Duke in Zero Year. Between what we’ve seen in both Batman and We Are Robin, he’s become a really interesting character. I can only assume we’ll see him again in Batman #51, which is our creative team‘s last go-around with The Dark Knight.

Batman costume, Batman #50, Greg CapulloStill, while Bruce’s return is drawing the readers in,andDuke beignets come into his own as a hero, the true hero of Batman #50 is Jim Gordon. And that’s how it should be. Despite being woefully ill-prepared for the role of Batman, Gordon never stopped pushing back against the odds. And in the end, it is he, not Bruce Wayne, who risks it all and finally defeats Bloom.

Near the end of the issue, we learn Gordon is even more noble than we thought in his efforts as Batman. It wasn’t just about answering the call for Gotham. For Gordon, it was also about letting his friend finally rest while someone else took the load on. That sentiment speaks volumes about Gordon and his relationship with Batman. It’s even hinted he knows Bruce’s secret, which is fine. It remains unspoken between them, as many things are.

For his return, Batman sports a new costume (shown above). I’m a fan. The shades of blue in the cape and cowl, and the yellow outline around the Bat symbol are a nice tribute to what’s come before. I also like the little sneer Batman has on that first splash page.

As we see Mr. Bloom’s downfall, Gordon has a monologue about who and what Batman is. The gist of it is that while Batman can’t necessarily fix Gotham’s deepest-rooted problems, he inspires its citizens by believing in them. Snyder writes a great line with:”He’s the superhero who sees us as the heroes we can be.” I won’t say it’s the best Batman sentiment I’ve ever heard, but it’s still pretty damn good.

Batman #50, 2016After our main story, Yanick Paquette tags back in for an epilogue, where we essentially return to the status quo. It’s a welcome return, considering the work he did last issue. In addition to a nice little reunion between Batman and Jim Gordon, and perhaps a bit of foreshadowing with Duke, we get a moment of heartache with Julie Madison and a brief glimpse of the Bruce Wayne that could have been. The Bruce Wayne who died so Batman could return. It’s as fitting an ending as we could have gotten for “Superheavy.”

While I can’t say I’m a fan of everything I saw in this issue. But Batman #50 is a $5.99 issue that was worth the cover price. Big robots or not, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been hugely impactful on the Batman mythos, and in a sense it’s sad to see them go. Thankfully, we’ve got one issue left…

Image 1 from gamespot.co,. Image 2 from geeklyrant.com. Image 3 from bleedingcool.com.

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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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