The Fanboy’s Closet: Nightwing Crew Socks

***”The Fanboy’s Closet,” I pull a geeky item of clothing from the closet, snap a pic, and then see what subjects it takes us into. Why? Why the hell not?!?***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, I post pictures of socks here now. What can I say? I’m a sock enthusiast.

I picked these suckers up at C2E2 last weekend. From the fine folks at SuperHeroStuff.com. Pretty good quality.

Once in awhile, somebody on Twitter will ask if people prefer Nightwing with the blue V-stripe or the red one. Or as I call them, Blue Nightwing and Red Nightwing. It’s not even a question, really. Blue Nightwing is the only Nightwing.

To me, Red Nightwing (i.e. the New 52 version) evoked Robin too much. Red is so closely identified with that character and that costume. A major part of Nightwing’s story is that he gave up being Robin to break away from Batman and become his own man. That independence is extremely important to the fabric of the character, and putting red on him almost takes part of that away.

Red Nightwing first appeared in 2011’s Nightwing #1, drawn by Eddy Barrows. While I really enjoy his work (he’s currently on Detective Comics), that pose on the cover (shown below) will never look natural to me…

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

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A Detective Comics #965 Review – Robin Resurrected

TITLE: Detective Comics #965
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
PENCILLER: Eddy Barrows
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: September 27, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Here’s something I don’t think I’ve ever shared: My first trade paperback was Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying. I picked it up during what might have been my first ever trip to a comic shop in the mid-90s. I had no idea what the story was about. Just that it had Batman and Robin on the cover. At this point they still looked pretty similar to Adam West and Burt Ward on the classic TV show. So I found myself pulled in. It remains in my library to this day. It’s easily the most tattered and worn trade I own. But it’s earned its spot up there. A Lonely Place of Dying introduced me to Batman’s current status quo. It’s how I learned about Jason Todd. It was my first Nightwing story. It also introduced me to Tim Drake, a character I would practically grow up alongside.

That’s what makes Detective Comics #965 a special issue for me. I’m sure it’s special for a lot of fans my age. It’s a love letter to A Lonely Place of Dying and much of the early Tim Drake material, bringing it into modern canon. We also see an intriguing component from Geoff Johns’ work with the character in Teen Titans. For those of us who hated what happened to Tim in the New 52 reboot, it’s fanboy nirvana. I imagine this is how die-hard Flash fans felt when Wally West came back in DC Universe Rebirth.

It’s been quite awhile since Tim was imprisoned by the mysterious Mister Oz. But what drew this ominous hooded figure to Red Robin in the first place? We get the answer to that question as Tim prepares to finally strike back. But in attempting to escape, our hero will come face with the last person he ever expected to see…

During our first seven pages, we alternate between present day and flashbacks to Tim’s early days with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Most of this material is pulled from A Lonely Place of Dying. James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, and our creative team focus on very specific moments from that story. For the most part, they pull the exact dialogue written by Marv Wolfman, and take care to honor but not duplicate the work done by artists like Jim Aparo and George Perez. Clothing and hairstyles have been updated, and the classic Robin costume has been switched out for its New 52 counterpart (shown left). I think we can also assume certain specifics from Lonely haven’t translated into modern canon. But by and large, the spirit of that story is intact. That’s such a beautiful thing to see. For so long,the events of Lonely have, for whatever reason, been glossed over. Even before the New 52, writers would always allude to Tim deducing Batman’s identity on its own. But it would rarely go further than that, presumably because certain aspects (Tim seeing Batman and Robin on TV, for example) didn’t match current continuity. But this material deserves as much attention as any part of Batman’s history. In that respect, this is justice done.

Detective Comics #965, and Tynion’s run on the series as a whole, also resurrects an idea introduced in the mid to late-90s: That Tim Drake has no intention of being Robin forever. He certainly doesn’t want to be Batman. His superhero career has an expiration date, and that has weighed heavily on his actions as of late. One of the things that makes Tim distinct amongst his fellow Robins is his independence. He’s willing to disagree with Batman, even if it creates a conflict between them. That’s a trait that suits Tim well, and Tynion uses it to inject some really nice drama into the big reveal later in the issue.

Eddy Barrows compliments Tynion’s writing very well. So I’m always happy to see him on Detective. He hits all the right emotional notes for the retro Tim Drake material. He made me feel like I was actually flipping through A Lonely Place of Dying, which is above and beyond what they were going for here. Colorist Ariano Lucas also lends a very nice sepia tone to those flashback scenes.

There are, however, a pair of light stumbles in the issue. On the page at left, Barrows has the unenviable task of recreating the debut of Tim Drake’s Robin costume from Batman #457 (shown left). By and large, he does very well. But that face is a miss. Something about the simple white slits for the eyes combined with the smile, which is slightly too big. Two pages prior, Barrows and the artistic team hit another smile related stumble with Tim. They weren’t aiming for creepy. But creepy is what we got.

I called this issue a love letter to Tim Drake. But James Tynion’s entire run on Detective Comics seems like a tribute to beloved ’90s characters either tossed aside or gutted in recent years. We’re talking Tim Drake, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, and even Anarky. It’s very much in tune with what the DC Rebirth initiative has been about, in that it celebrates the legacy of these characters while continuing to tell new stories. If that’s not Detective Comics #965 in a nutshell, I don’t know what is.

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A Batman: Night of the Monster Men Review – Hollow Monsters

Batman #7, 2016, cover, Yanick PaquetteTITLE: “Batman: Night of the Monster Men”
AUTHORS: Steve Orlando, Tom King, Tim Seeley, James Tynion IV
PENCILLERS: Riley Rossmo, Roge Antonio, Andy MacDonald
COLLECTS: Batman #79Nightwing #78Detective Comics #941942
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
CUMULATIVE PRICE: $17.94
GRAPHIC NOVEL RELEASE: March 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This “Night of the Monster Men” crossover boasts an extremely talented group of writers and artists, stars Batman and some of his more popular allies, and is even inspired by one of the very first Batman stories. It also began a week after DC “killed” Tim Drake. So there was a lot of potential here for a creative, emotional, thrill ride.

Yeah, none of that happened. “Night of the Monster Men” feels like your wife dragging you to one of your friend’s weddings. It’s an obligation you’re stuck with, so you try to make the best of it. But in the end you’re just happy to get the hell out of there.

Running through BatmanNightwing, and Detective Comics, this story sees Hugo Strange create giant monsters that attack the city. Much of Batman’s surrogate family gets wrapped up in the chaos. But despite all the innocent lives that hang in the balance, Strange’s entire plot is about Batman himself.

Batman #1, Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters, 1940, Bob Kane and Bill FingerAll this Hugo Strange/Monster Men stuff is inspired by a story from 1940’s Batman #1 entitled “Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters.” It’s a respectable early outing for the Dark Knight by Bill Finger and Bob Kane in which Strange creates a bunch of big ogres to terrorize the city. Matt Wagner took the same cue for his 2006 miniseries Batman and the Monster Men, which was exponentially better.

“Night of the Monster Men” suffers from a variety of problems. But chief among them is a lack of emotional stakes. That’s an odd problem to have, considering what just happened with Tim, and how many of Batman’s surrogate family members are in this fight. In the first issue, Batman repeatedly emphasizes that no one else is dying. This gives the impression that we’re going to get an overprotective Batman, frantically trying to micromanage the efforts of his partners to keep them from dying. This would be futile, of course. But it would have made a great emotional backdrop. We also had the perfect cast for such a story, with Bruce having recently trusted Batwoman to train this new crop of young heroes. And of course, we’ve got his original partner, Dick Grayson. Hugo Strange’s motive also would have been more poignant.

Instead, we mostly get a story about Batman fighting monsters. Monsters created from cadavers, no less. We can’t even go the route of, “Don’t kill the monsters! They’re people!” Later, two of our heroes are turned into monsters, but they don’t mine this for much emotion either.

Granted, they’re cool looking monsters. “Night of the Monster Men” enlists Riley Rossmo and Andy MacDonald, both of whom excel in the fantasy/horror side of things. We also have they very capable Roge Antonio, who give us a nice blend of horror and naturalism. Instead of going the ogre route, the story mostly opts for a mix of mutant aberrations and giant kaiju type monsters. They’re fun to look at, but they’d be more fun if they were more than mere physical threats to our heroes Batman. There’s little of any depth or substance to them, and what the final issue attempts to pass as such via Strange’s motivation doesn’t connect in a meaningful way. (That monster represented fear? But weren’t we supposed to be afraid of all of them?)

Detective Comics #942, monster two-page spread, 2016So instead of a coherent crossover that ties into and takes advantage of Batman’s fragile emotional state, what we essentially get is a bunch of fluff that they attempt to tie together at the end with some psych mumbo jumbo. It’s all so hollow.

“Night of the Monster Men” also suffers from being a little too long, and a little too crowded. The story struggles to give Spoiler and Orphan something to do in all of this. Like Booster Gold in his Justice League Unlimited episode, they’re mostly relegated to crowd control. There’s a cave sequence (not that cave) involving Spoiler, Orphan, and Harvey Bullock that largely feels like padding. If they’d cut that out, along with the ridiculous scene where our heroes use giant guns and harpoons on top of buildings (conveniently adored with the heroes’ insignias) to stop a monster, they’d probably have been able to trim this down from six issues to four. Five at most.

Nightwing #8 and Detective Comics #942 also make full use of the “Hugo Strange dressed as Batman” trope, as we learn that Strange himself wants to be Batman. A fine motive, though not necessary in this case. “Night of the Monster Men” would have worked fine as Strange’s attempt to spotlight Batman’s inadequacies and force him to hang up the cowl, in the process pouring salt in the wound left by Tim’s departure. Perhaps the urge to use the only piece of classic Batman/Hugo Strange imagery was too intense. Admittedly, at that point I was just happy we were finally getting a scene between two human beings, as opposed to hollow monster battles.

batman-clayface-suit-detective-comicsOn the upside, this story makes fine use of Clayface’s new status as one of Batman’s allies. He plays a practical role at first, spreading himself out to guide people out of the city. He also plays an integral role in the finale. But his highlight here, and one of the highlights in “Monster Men” as a whole, comes in Batman #8. As the Dark Knight is about to face one of the monsters head on, Clayface envelops him, effectively becoming a suit of armor. Does technically this fall under the banner of giant awful Batman robots/armor? Absolutely. But the execution is unique enough that it gets a pass from me.

“Batman and the Monster Men” offers good showings from the artists attached, and a bright spot here or there. But by and large, this was a turn off and a waste. Nightwing and Detective Comics were both on a solid course up to this point, and things were starting to look up for Batman. Hopefully we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming in short order.

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A Detective Comics #939 Review – Tim Drake’s Return to Glory

Detective Comics #939, cover, Eddy BarrowsTITLE: Detective Comics #939
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
PENCILLER: Eddy Barrows
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: August 24, 2016

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Did any character get a more of a raw deal in the New 52 than Tim Drake? Not only was he put in a horrendous new costume, but his 20-year history was compressed and retconned to the point that we were essentially dealing with a new character. Almost four years later, and things aren’t much better for him.

That being said, Tim Drake fans should send James Tynion IV a thank you note. Detective Comics #939 is the best Tim Drake story I’ve read in years. New 52 Red Robin may finally become more than a shell of his pre-reboot self, and really set himself apart from his “brothers” in Batman’s surrogate family. Though in a way it’s a shame, as it’s looking like he’ll soon be either retired or dead…

The quaint team of heroes assembled by Batman and Batwoman have begun to mount a comeback against the military force Jacob Kane has dedicated to eliminating caped heroes in Gotham. But as drones prepare to swarm the city, Kate Kane suspects Batman knows more than he’s letting on about her father’s efforts. Meanwhile, Tim Drake ponders a future without superheroics. But he may not live to see such a future, after he makes a drastic choice that terrifies his teammates.

Detective Comics #939, Tim and Steph, Eddy BarrowsSince Tynion came aboard Detective Comics, Tim has been debating whether to leave Gotham to attend Ivy University full time. This is consistent with the Tim Drake we often saw in the late ’90s and early ’00s. At that point, Tim was unsure of his future as a superhero, often insecure when comparing himself to Dick Grayson and the like. This college storyline seems to play off that idea. As much of a Tim Drake fan as I am, seeing him walk away might not be the worst thing at this point. Batman has a lot of legacy characters that tend to simply drift in the status quo, serving no real purpose. Letting Tim hang up his cape might freshen up his character, and his relationships with the active heroes. And as a bonus, things would be a little less crowded in Gotham.

But of course, Detective Comics is really about Batwoman these days, giving her the spotlight she deserves. What stands out prominently about Tynion’s take on her is the relationship she has with Batman. They’ve been established as cousins, and early in the issue we see a young Kate try to comfort Bruce Wayne at his parents’ funeral. Because they have that deep-rooted connection, she’s able to talk to him in a way few people can. Her words have weight with him, as illustrated when she calls him out for keeping something from her, and he’s forced to admit fault. How often does that happen to Batman? She may be his cousin, but Kate often acts like his big sister.

I’ve been mostly pleased with Eddy Barrows’ work on this series thus far. In recent issues he and the other artists have emphasized certain panels, usually those that transition to another scene, by adjusting to a more painterly style. The above image of Stephanie is an example. Often it will occur when something dramatic or important is said. Other times it just enhances a nice character shot. It takes some getting used to. But it’s a fun way to liven up dialogue scenes, and can leave lasting impressions.

Clayface, Detective Comics #939, 2016Barrows is also very good at showing us the dichotomy of Basil Karlo, a.k.a. Clayface. Case in point, the page at right. On one hand, we’ve got a great shot of this bulky, gooey monster. But in the next panel, that same monster almost looks like a sad puppy. Here’s hoping this book devotes some more time to Basil in the near future. We could potentially see some really good stuff here.

Barrows does love that legs spread and knees bent pose, doesn’t he? We saw Batman in this pose in issue #934, and now Tim. On the cover, no less. I opted for the Rafael Albuquerque variant.

Like Tim Drake, Detective Comics is better than it’s been in quite some time. In terms of consistency, we’re talking pre-New 52. This book isn’t simply housing for Batman’s legacy characters. It’s in contention for the best Bat-book on the stands. My only question now is whether it’ll be down a Robin going forward…

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A Detective Comics #934 Review – Rebirth and Redemption

Detective Comics #934, 2016, Eddy BarrowsTITLE: Detective Comics #934
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
PENCILLER: Eddy Barrows
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: June 8, 2016

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I dig this issue for no other reason than it rights a wrong that’s been present since 2011. It fixes the Red Robin costume. That thing had been far too ugly for far too long. It was a damn embarassment.

But there’s plenty more to like here. A mysterious force is targeting Gotham’s heroes, some of whom are not prepared for this new threat. Batman comes to Kate Kane, a.k.a. Batwoman, to help train the next generation of heroes. Red Robin, The Spoiler, Orphan, and (of all people) Clayface are chosen to train under The Dark Knight and his new partner. A partner who knows more about Batman than he suspected, and is hungry for more knowledge. Such as what Batman isn’t saying about this new threat to costumed heroes.

This “reborn” Detective Comics has a feel-good vibe to it by virtue of its cast, which consists largely of characters who were screwed over creatively during the New 52. Tim Drake lost so much of his depth and backstory in the reboot, and given that silly costume. I’ve got high hopes that James Tynion IV, an accomplished Batman writer himself, can do some justice for him. And of course, Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain were wiped from continuity and didn’t return until later. With their respective backstories altered, of course. Fans may remember the shakeup in 2013 over DC not allowing Kate Kane to marry. The road to this title has been frustrating. But there’s a nice opportunity for redemption here.

Detective Comics #934, Eddy Barrows, ClayfaceOn the subject of redemption, the addition of Clayface to this team is surprising. He obviously doesn’t qualify as a costumed hero. But it plays to the idea that on some level, Batman really is trying to rehabilitate the villains he fights. The smart bet is this goes bad at some point. But in the meantime, the dynamic Basil Karlo will have with his more virtuous teammates is intriguing.

This issue is also particularly noteworthy for the return of Jean-Paul Valley, the original Azrael, and the man who replaced Bruce Wayne as Batman in the early ’90s Nightfall storyline. How he connects to the Michael Lane version of Azrael (if at all) remains to be seen, and I can only assume Knightfall is no longer canon. But longtime fans may get a kick out of seeing him again, and hopefully not for the last time. As we open the issue, Batman seems to be trying to recruit him. I’d love to see him return as either a part-time ally, or even an enemy.

It’s not often you see Batman playing the good cop. But that’s exactly what we get here, with Batwoman in the bad cop role. She comes off as a hardened drill sergeant, while Batman plays the supportive mentor. It’s a side to him that don’t see quite as regularly. At least not since Batman & Robin ended. What’s more, Batwoman gets put over really well. Especially when she surprises Bruce with the knowledge of his secret.

Eddy Barrows has earned this run on Detective Comics. He’s had memorable runs on both Nightwing and Superman and recently spent some time on Martian Manhunter. He’s good with acting, and emotion, which shows here. From the fear in Azrael’s eyes as Batman closes in, to the intensity and anger from Kate when a mysterious figure appears in her apartment. He’s able to inject sympathy into the otherwordly Clayface as well as any artist I’ve ever seen (shown above). He connects you to the characters well in that sense.  Barrows’ rendering of Batman’s cowl evokes memories of Michael Keaton’s costume from the Tim Burton movies. Inker Eber Ferreira and colorist Adriano Lucas also deserve credit for making the presentation so clean, and beautifully shadowy.

Detective Comics #934, Eddy Barrows, BatmanIt’s Barrows’ body proportioning I’m not certain about. There’s a panel in which The Spoiler is looking down on a crime in progress, and it looks like her legs are separated from her torso. There’s an otherwise beautiful shot of Batwoman swinging through the city in which our heroine looks just a bit too lanky. Barrows also has a weird thing about leg positioning, as we see in a shot of Batman swooping into a building (shown right). It’s a similar bizarre position to the one we saw on his Nightwing #1 cover.

Part of what made DC Universe: Rebirth #1 such a feel-good issue was the combination of story intrigue, and justice finally being done to characters that had gotten a raw deal in recent years (Wally West, Ted Kord, etc.) Detective Comics #934 is similar in that respect. The two issues also weren’t afraid to show us some emotion and humanity. Between Kate’s often volatile nature, the villainous tendencies of Clayface, and the presence of the younger heroes, I suspect there’ll be no shortage of those things going forward. That’s a good thing.

Image 1 from insidepulse.com. Image 2 from comicbookmovie.com.

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A Batman: The Court of Owls Review – What a Hoot!

Batman: The Court of Owls coverTITLE: Batman, Vol. 1: The Court of Owls
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
COLLECTS: Batman #1-7
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: May 9, 2012

By Rob Siebert

Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This book represents the start of a lot of new things. It’s the start of a new chapter in the Batman ongoing series. It’s the start of Scott Snyder’s run with Bruce Wayne, as opposed to Dick Grayson, who he worked with in books like The Black Mirror. It’s the start of Batman’s battle with the elusive Court of Owls. These are all good things. But as good as they are, and as much acclaim as Snyder and Capullo’s run has gotten from fans, it’s not spotless as far as I’m concerned. There are a few little things that put a damper on this story for me. Yes, I’m going to be that annoying, nitpicky fan here. But I nitpick because I love these characters and this world. That’s my excuse.

In one of our first outings with Batman and company in the “New 52″ universe, Bruce Wayne is looking to breathe some new life into Gotham’s more troubled territories with an aggressive rebuilding initiative. This attracts the attention of not only mayoral candidate Lincoln March, but the Court of Owls. Thought to be merely the stuff of Gotham folklore, the centuries-old Court makes their presence known with a grisly murder. To make matters much, MUCH worse, the DNA of none other than Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Nightwing, is found at the crime scene. Now Batman must unravel the mystery of the Court of Owls. Little does he know how the Court will push him to both his physical and psychological limits.

Batman #5 (2012), The Court of Owls, maze, eyeOne of the things that really impressed me about this book was the way Snyder and Capullo sold the Court of Owls to us by having them put Batman through the ringer. For most of the second half of this book, Batman is trapped in a big maze the Court has set up. He desperately fights to stay in the shadows, as much of the maze is coated in white light. He’s been drugged, so he keeps hallucinating that he’s transforming into an owl, among other mental atrocities. They also have one of his “lenses,” i.e. the little white slits that always make up his eyes, knocked out. So he’s got one slit, and one eye that’s really wide and bloodshot. That’s a great little touch. And of course, they beat the heck out of him. But it’s tough to remember a time when Batman was pushed to the brink on every level like that. The only other instance that immediately comes to mind is the Knightfall storyline during the early ’90s.

The Court of Owls are a nice addition to Batman’s iconic gallery of foes. The Talons, assassins that work for the Court, are designed quite nicely and prove to be tough opponents for even Batman to match up with. The fact that owls have that predatory connection to bats is also really cool.

Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Batman #4 (2012), Greg CapulloAlright, let’s get picky. I would argue that Capullo’s Dick Grayson looks much too young. Compare how he looks here to how Eddy Barrows is drawing him in the monthly Nightwing series right now. Under Barrows, Dick looks like he’s in his early to mid twenties. Under Capullo, he could still be in his late teens. I’m not sure how old the New 52 Nightwing is supposed to be, but I’m leaning toward Barrows’ side on this one. Nightwing has always been portrayed as the Robin who matured and grew into his own. I’m not sure Capullo captured that here, and he may have realized that as the issues progressed. Nightwing looks a tad older during the tail end of the book, and in recent issues of Batman.

The computerized contact lenses we see Bruce use in this book are incredibly corny. I understand Batman’s got more than his fair share of gadgets. But c’mon, really? He even uses them to read lips during the first issue. Because he’s smart enough to invent friggin’ computer contact lenses, but reading lips is just too far outside the realm of possibility.

c573This is a really small detail in the grand scheme of things, but when we open the book we see Batman facing off against the inmates of Arkham Asylum as they have him cornered. It’s a wonderful way to kick off this new chapter of Batman, but his renderings of the Joker, Two-Face, and particularly the Riddler rubbed me the wrong way. Mr. J. looks too scraggly and smeary for my taste, a bit too much like the Batman: Knight of Vengeance version of the character. Two-Face has a similar issue. In the very beginning of this book, there’s a two-page splash shot of Batman’s enemies staring him down (shown left). At in the front we see Two-Face, and the deformed skin on his right side literally appears to be falling off his head. I’ve never seen Two-Face look so…flappy.

But poor Riddler got the worst of it. That’s him on the far right side of the image. Not only does he have little question marks either shaved or tattooed into his head, but Capullo felt the need to give him a green mohawk shaped like a question mark (which you can clearly see on the cover). Hey Greg, here’s a riddle for ya: Why????

Relentless nitpicking aside, The Court of Owls is actually my favorite Batman story Scott Snyder has done so far. It introduces a cool new group of villains, and gives his a compelling glimpse into the mind of Bruce Wayne. I’m hopeful Snyder and Capullo can do better, but this is a fine start.

RATING: 7.5/10

Image 1 from comicsbulletin.com. Image 2 from 4thletter.net. Image 3 from author’s collection.

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