Best of Batman & Superman: Gotham Knights #27

***Batman and Superman are friends. It’s an unlikely friendship, and one that can put them at odds. But ultimately, it’s a friendship based on mutual respect and trust. With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on the horizon, we’re going to hear a lot about these two fighting. “Best of Batman & Superman” will show us the opposite end of the spectrum. These are the moments that showed us why Superman and Batman are better friends than enemies.***

Batman: Gotham Knights #27 (2002)TITLE: Batman: Gotham Knights #27
AUTHOR: Devin Grayson
PENCILLER: Roger Robinson. Cover by Brian Bolland.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL PRICE: $2.50
RELEASED: March 20, 2002

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Gotham Knights was a third-string Batman title that ran for 75 issues between 2000 and 2006. But the stories it presented were often far from third-string. You won’t find a better example than issue #27, which brought Batman and Superman together under less-than-ideal circumstances.

This issue was part of the Bruce Wayne: Fugitive crossover, which saw Bruce become the prime suspect in the murder of his girlfriend, Vesper Fairchild. Vesper, a journalist, had discovered that Bruce Wayne was Batman, and was debating whether to expose his secret when she was murdered in Wayne Manor. The evidence pointed to Bruce as the culprit. Readers were even left to question whether he had actually done the deed. Believing his Bruce Wayne identity had become a liability, Batman opted to leave him behind, and become The Dark Knight full time. This didn’t sit well with his surrogate family, and even culminated in confrontation with Nightwing. But Batman’s mind was unchanged. Bruce Wayne was gone.

Enter Superman.

Batman: Gotham Knights #27, image 2According to Greg Rucka, one of the writers behind the Fugitive storyline at large, the idea behind the crossover was to get Bruce to see just how far into the darkness he had gone. Recent events such as the Earthquake that destroyed much of Gotham (see No Man’s Land), the shooting and retirement of Jim Gordon (see Officer Down), and now the death of Vesper Fairchild, had made him more emotionally reclusive than ever. At this point, there was no room for happiness in Bruce’s world. He’d become almost unreachable.

Part of what makes the Batman/Superman friendship work is the balance in ideals. When they’re portrayed best (in my opinion), here’s an inherent bleakness and cynicism to the Dark Knight Detective that’s balanced by the compassion and optimism of the Man of Steel. You’ll rarely find that on display more prominently than in this issue, as Clark reaches out to Bruce to try and pull him back from the abyss.

We get a nice illustration of that balance pretty early here, as Superman has to physically stop Batman from pummeling a street crook. He also reveals a handful of bullets, indicating he’s been watching Batman’s back for a bit.

Then it gets good. Clark tells Bruce that he knows he didn’t murder Vesper. That’s a fantastic illustration of the trust that exists between the two of them. Yes, Superman is an optimist (or at least he was at that point). But even he couldn’t ignore the evidence, which pointed to Bruce as the killer. But he still knew Bruce well enough to understand he couldn’t have done it. That’s so perfect. In contrast, if this story were done now, I get the impression our heroes would have spent most of the issue hitting each other.

Batman: Gotham Knights #27, image 3Without the question of guilt, Clark asks Bruce why he isn’t trying to clear his name or protect his real identity. After some action, Batman responds: “This is my ‘real identity.'”

Superman accepts that response, but gives him a nice little monologue before he leaves.

“It is your true nature to cover up your grief and hide any shame or fear you might feel behind your mask. And it’s in your true nature to refuse help, and to work through your own doubts. So having offered my assistance and expressed my concern, I can leave now, saying what I always say before I go: I’m here if you need me and I trust you…Bruce.”

BOOM. That. Right there. A little too talky and psychoanalytical for an actual conversation? Maybe. But I don’t care. That’s friendship right there, ladies and gentlemen. Clark didn’t push Bruce to go one way or the other. He simply offered his concern and opinion, then said “I’m here if you need me.” There were no punches thrown, no arguments or scathing remarks. As much as any book has ever done, this issue made the friendship between Clark and Bruce seem real.

Batman: Gotham Knights #27, Batman, Superman, Roger RobinsonOur artistic team does a nice job of making Superman look out of place in Gotham, as he should. Penciller Roger Robinson, inker John Floyd, and colorist Gloria Vasquez make sure his bright red colors stand out among the blacks, deep blues and darker violets. Robinson gives our heroes a dynamic look for this relatively quiet issue. But given how iconic they both are, it works.

It’s also worth noting that this issue’s “B story” sees Alfred debate whether or not to read Bruce’s private journal. Considering what we’re getting from our heroes in this issue, it’s obviously dwarfed by comparison. But the art looks damn fine.

Even in a medium famous for its BAMs, SMACKs, and KAPOWs, a fight isn’t always the answer. Sometimes you just need to put the characters together, and they almost write themselves. But I guess that’s not a good recipe for an action blockbuster to start your cinematic universe.

Images 1 and 3 courtesy of Roger Robinson’s Facebook. Image 2 from author’s collection.

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A Star Wars: Shattered Empire #1 Review – The Burden of Expectations

Star Wars: Shattered Empire #1TITLE: Star Wars: Shattered Empire #1
AUTHOR: Greg Rucka
PENCILLER: Marco Checchetto. Cover by Phil Noto.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: September 9, 2015

***WARNING: Spoilers head for Star Wars: Shattered Empire #1.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor Fanboy Wonder

If any single issue ever suffered from “the burden of expectations,” it’s this one. Shattered Empire #1 is Marvel’s first foray into the post-Return of the Jedi era. What’s more, the cover literally depicts the final shot in Jedi. Whether this was the intention or not, that cover says to us: “Those questions you’ve all had about what happened after Return of the Jedi? The answers start here.”

Talk about expectations…

Shattered Empire #1 is a satisfying read if you keep those expectations in check. The idea behind this issue, and everything under the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens banner, is to wet our appetite and give us clues. They were never going to give us any big answers here. Han and Chewbacca, however, get a decent amount of page time. We also get a little bit of Lando, and a glance or two at C-3PO and R2-D2.

Sergeant DameronBut the real stars of the book are Shara Bey and Kes Dameron. If you’ve been following the hype for The Force Awakens the name “Dameron” should sound familiar. I’m sad to say I didn’t pick it up until my second read-through: Poe Dameron is the name of Oscar Issac’s character in the movie. Fittingly, he’s a pilot for The Resistance, much like his parents are pilots for the Rebel Alliance. And apparently, he’s conceived in the pages of this issue. That’s right, folks. Poe Dameron was conceived mere hours after the Battle of Endor.

While we don’t know much about Shara and Pes (Is that pronounced like Pez?) personally, we do become invested in their relationship. This is partially because Shara is put over well, as we see her flying her A-Wing in the Battle of Endor. She even helps Luke Skywalker on his flight back to the Endor moon from the Death Star. But for my money, there’s also a certain foreboding sense about this romance. One can only tempt fate so many times, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if as early as issue #2, one of our romantic rebels dies.

Star Wars: Scattered Empire #1, LandoIn terms of the rebels we already know from the original trilogy, we spend the most amount of time with Han Solo. But we see him through Shara’s eyes, so he’s much more a general than the daring rogue of old. What’s disappointing about this is we don’t even get a hint about where Leia is, what she’s doing, or where she and Han stand at this point. One would assume they’d both be all business regardless, and not designing wedding invitations or anything. But I was hoping for just a hint. Again, expectations must be managed for this issue.

On the plus side, we do get a really cool moment between Han, Chewie, and Lando (shown left). The ol’ smoothie never changes. Marco Checchetto and colorist Andres Mossa are at their strongest when they’re putting the Wars in Star Wars. When they’re depicting the Endor battle, as well as the subsequent battle, there’s a sense of real energy and danger on the page. Whether it’s those all-too-familiar blaster bolts whizzing past, the placement of ships on the page, or the abundance of explosions, it truly feels like the characters are in real jeopardy.

In terms of books leading up to The Force Awakens, Shattered Empire should likely be a high priority among Star Wars fans. More than anything, it’s looking like this will be more about Poe Dameron’s heritage, and some of the broad strokes of how the Empire fell and the New Republic rose. But with the movie looming closer, who knows what hints they might drop? That, and a look into the post-Return of the Jedi era should be more than enough to keep fans flipping pages.

Images from author’s collection.

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A Nightwing & Flamebird, Vol. 2 Review – Rao Lives Again!

Nightwing & Flamebird, Vol. 2TITLE: Superman: Nightwing & Flamebird, Vol. 2
AUTHORS: James Robinson, Greg Rucka, Eric Trautmann.
PENCILLERS: Pere Perez, Bernard Chang, Pier Gallo. Cover by Alex Garner.
COLLECTS: Action Comics #883-889, Superman #696, Adventure Comics #8-10
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASE DATE: October 6, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Of all places to wage war against a Kryptonian god, Iran is probably in my bottom five. I imagine that’s how Nightwing & Flamebird feel in this book.

In the second of two volumes collecting their adventures, the duo of Nightwing (Chris Kent, Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s adopted son, and General Zod’s biological son) & Flamebird (Kryptonian Thara Ak Var) are still fugitives. They must quietly consult with Dr. Light and S.T.A.R. Labs when Nightwing suddenly begins to age rapidly. They meet a renowned geneticist, who turns out to be Jax-Ur, a Kryptonian sleeper General Zod has planted on Earth. Jax Ur creates a bastardized version of Rao, the Kryptonian god, and unleashes it in Iran. Nightwing & Flamebird are forced into the center of a battle that also attracts Wonder Woman, and members of the Justice Society. All the while, Lois Lane covers the fight and reports the truth, much to the chagrin of her own government.

Adventure Comics #9, Pier GalloAfter that story, we switch gears completely. In a short story, we meet Car-Vex, another Kryptonian sleeper tasked by General Zod with penetrating General Lane’s organization. We feel her inner turmoil as she’s forced to betray members of her own species in attempt to win a larger battle. Written by Eric Trautmann and drawn by Pier Gallo, it’s actually the strongest material in the book.

The Nightwing & Flamebird section of DC’s New Krypton storyline may have been the weakest one. Thara Ak Var fell a little flat with me as Flamebird. That’s not entirely Greg Rucka’s fault. We knew who Chris Kent was from the Geoff Johns/Richard Donner run on Action Comics. We were already invested in him because of his relationship to Superman, Lois Lane, and General Zod. Thara didn’t have that advantage. She had some great moments with Supergirl, but I still don’t feel like I know her as a character. We know she’s a passionate person, who loves Chris and believes the spirit of the Flamebird is with her. With all that was happening in the single issues, as well as the over-arcing New Krypton storyline, Rucka didn’t necessarily have time to distinguish her from DC’s other young female heroes. The stories still work, but I wasn’t as invested in them as I was in say, Mon El’s in Superman.

Action Comics #887, RaoMidway through the story, Rucka has to get a lot of exposition out, in the form of the Nightwing & Flamebird myth from Kryptonian mythology. He devotes about half an issue to it. It’s not thrilling reading. But it’s not terrible either, and it’s necessary to set up the fight against Jax-Ur and Rao. Unfortunately, the finale felt stale to me. It’s essentially a bunch of heroes against a hundred-foot-tall invincible giant. It’s not that exciting. Plus, the end comes as a result of something established in the exposition, and not necessarily a result of Chris and Thara’s efforts. It’s a logical ending, and it fits. But in terms of storytelling, it’s strictly okay.

Also, a hundred-foot god showing up in the middle of Iran certainly warrants the presence of multiple heroes. But I can’t help but feel Wonder Woman and the JSA were thrown in strictly to add star power to a stale story.

There’s a bit of foreshadowing for Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton in this book, but it’s not  integral to the overall story. Like James Robinson in Mon El, Vol. 2: Man of Valor, it seems like Rucka had to fit a story very large in scope into a limited number of issues. While necessary, it’s ultimately a little sad. We’ve all seen Rucka do better than this, and I wish he could’ve gotten that chance.

RATING: 5.5/10

Image 1 from comicboxcommentary.blogspot.com. Image 2 from babblingaboutdccomics3.wordpress.com.

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