Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

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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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Batman #51 Review – A Quiet Conclusion

Batman #51, 2016TITLE: Batman #51
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEAED: April 27, 2016

***Need to catch up? Check out issues #48, #49, and #50.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

While I haven’t been shy in my criticisms of the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo Batman run, I’ve always given them credit for thinking big. So it’s interesting that they took a quieter approach for their final issue. On the plus side, no giant robots!

When a mass blackout hits Gotham City, the Caped Crusader is tasked with not only keeping order, but finding out who it is that’s left his city in darkness. His quest will take him across the city, including Arkham Asylum, and the doorstep of the Court of Owls. But in the end, the circumstances aren’t at all what he expected.

Snyder opened Batman #1 with talk of a column in the Gotham Gazette called “Gotham is…” Readers are asked to complete that sentence, and various different answers come in. Snyder bookends this run by titling this issue “Gotham Is.” We even meet the column’s author. This approach is very fitting, as Snyder has been praised for making Gotham City itself a character in his work. This was true even in his run on Detective Comics. In a sense, Snyder’s best character work on this series has been with the city itself. He’s not the only modern Batman writer to do so, but no one has done it better than he has.

Batman #51, two-page spread, Greg Capullo

Snyder and Capullo have done a lot of justice to the Alfred character. He was fantastic in issue #49 (though Yanick Paquette was the artist on that one) because of the sheer raw emotion he showed. But in this issue we see the return of snarky, jokey Alfred. I think most would agree Batman shouldn’t be a jokey character, per se. But he’s known Alfred his whole life, so it makes sense that he’d be able to show his faithful butler/surrogate father another side of him. In this issue they joke a bit about Bruce’s “justice flavored” nutrient beverage, as well as the origin of Alfred’s new right hand. Throw in that awesome shot of the Batcave by Capullo, and you’ve got a hell of a kick off to your final issue.

Much like Batman’s connected contacts from issue #1 (which I hated), we get another new piece of technology in this issue: A holographic camouflage device for the Batmobile. This allows the car to patrol the streets looking like a civilian vehicle. I buy this a hell of a lot more than the damn contacts, and it makes a hell of a lot of sense for the Batmobile to have something like that. So I’m game.

In issue #1, we saw a big breakout inside Arkham Asylum that was ultimately foiled by Batman. Capullo drew a two-page spread of a group of Gotham rogues facing off against The Dark Knight. In this issue, the power outage causes a similar incident, and we get a similar two-page spread. The new one is superior if for no other reason than he fixed the damn Riddler. In 2011, Capullo drew a ridiculous Riddler with question marks shaved into his head. This new one looks like the Zero Year version, and looks suitably reluctant to fight Batman (see thumbnails below).

Batman #1, 2011, villains
Batman #51, villainsWe also get a quick appearance from The Joker in this issue. That was a nice nod to one of the better issues in the Snyder/Capullo run, as well as a reminder that he will be back sooner or later…

It was very fitting to see an appearance by the Court of Owls in this issue. Given time, and what other writers end up doing with them, I’d wager the Court of Owls will turn out to be a major part of Snyder and Capullo’s legacy on Batman and his world. Between the backstory, the look, and the creep factor, the Court of Owls have the potential to stand the test of time and be part of the DC Universe for years to come.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I thought the look of Flappy Face Joker was stupid, I hated most of Zero Hour, and I can’t stand this team’s weird fixation on giant robots. But Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and everyone who worked on this Batman run were part of something special. Not perfect, but special in its own way. This team carved out its own era on one of the longest-running comic books in the history of the medium. And they sold a lot of books in the process. That’s something they can be proud of and take with them for the rest of their lives. Comic book fans are in debt to them for taking such good care of one of our greatest heroes.

Image 1 from comicvine.com. Image 2 from ifanboy.com. Image 3 from weirdsciencedccomics.com. 

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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 Batman #49 Review – The Resurrection Machine

Batman #49, 2016TITLE: Batman #49
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Yanick Paquette
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: February 10, 2016

***WARNING: Full blown spoilers lay ahead for Batman #49.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We knew this was coming. We knew Bruce Wayne would be Batman again. We even knew how it was coming, because they pretty much told us. And with issue #50 on the horizon, it wasn’t tough to figure out when it was coming. It was just a matter of execution. How would they construct the scene, what chords would they strike, how they’d set the table, etc.

Everything that’s been building for Bruce Wayne since Batman #41 comes to a head in this issue. For the most part, Scott Snyder and guest artist Yanick Paquette deliver on the pay off. But we take some weird, unexpected detours along the way.

Batman #49, Yanick PaquetteQuick history lesson: In Detective Comics #27 (the New 52 one, not the 1939 one), we saw a short story by Snyder and Sean Murphy in which Batman creates a gizmo that allows him to transmit his consciousness into younger clones of himself. Ergo, Batman can (and does) live forever. In Batman #43, Snyder and Capullo introduced this same device into the “Superheavy” plot. As Alfred explained it, the machine could reinsert Bruce’s old memories into his altered mind. As for how this brain-altering gizmo works…some questions are better left unanswered. We’ll file this one under “Comic Book Science.” And within the boundaries of comic book science, this idea makes sense for Batman. He has a contingency plan for seemingly every scenario, including (and perhaps especially) his own death.

In any event, the gizmo had been established, and we knew this was coming. What we didn’t know was coming were the ways the machine would effect Bruce’s mind. Throughout the issue, Snyder and Paquette show us various alternate Batmen in different settings, and how they die. When we open the issue, we’re in a scene where Bruce is the mayor of Gotham City, is married and has a son with Julie Madison, and among his confidants are the Court of Owls and Joe Chill. The idea, as I understand it, is Bruce’s mind isn’t accepting the memories, and thus they’re distorting in different ways. This is incredibly confusing at first, and in my case it took awhile to sink in.

Batman #49, 2016, two-page spreadIn the end, it kind of works. I get what they’re going for. It’s very similar to the “Batman never dies!” theme Grant Morrison did during his run. That’s all well and good. But here’s the problem: We know Batman never dies. Yes, showing us all these Batmen sends a strong message. But I don’t see it as a message that needed to be sent. Considering all that’s happening with Bruce and Alfred, not to mention Jim Gordon being on the verge of grim death (we don’t see any of that in this issue), I’d have kept things in reality, where the true drama is.

And it’s really good drama. Alfred is in full on surrogate father mode, begging Bruce not to return to a life of violence, darkness, and tragedy. Snyder does a fine job bringing Alfred’s love for Bruce to the surface, even pleading with him to let the burden fall on someone else. This scene is believable for almost any incarnation of the Alfred character. There’s also some nice body language in a splash page (shown below) where Bruce finally says: “I’m Batman. Paquette shows is an Alfred wracked with emotional turmoil to the point that his knees have buckled. Meanwhile Bruce, while compassionate, refuses to back down.

Snyder even brings Julie Madison into the climactic scene, having her be the one to turn Bruce back into Batman (i.e. restore his old memories and erase his recent ones). It adds a new dimension to the character that she’s earned, given her rich history. Incidentally, I’m fond of Greg Capullo’s modernized version of Julie, with the tattoos and what not.

Batman #49, 2016, I'm BatmanYanick Paquette makes a fine stand-in for Capullo, who I assume was pre-occupied to drawing the extra-sized Batman #50. He hits all the right notes. Paquette was the original artist for Batman Incorporated. Thus, I found it somewhat fitting that this issue allowed him to draw an alternate version of Batman with a bright and shining Batcave, filled with techies running around, and a gigantic trophy case. I can picture this being what Batman Incorporated would look like eventually, had it continued to grow and expand.

Batman #49 is a winner. Despite the bizarre course it took, it’s every bit the penultimate chapter that “Superheavy” needed. It gave Bruce Wayne’s return to the Batman role the weight it deserves, and gave us a defining chapter in Alfred’s history along the way. But most importantly, Bruce Wayne chose to be Batman again. It had to be that way. He couldn’t have been forced or tricked into it. Even with a fresh start, he still chooses the path of a hero.

Images 1 and 3 from newsarama.com. Image 2 from comicvine.com.

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A Batman #48 Review – Dangerous Destiny

Batman #48, cover, Greg CapulloTITLE: Batman #48
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: January 20, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the latest issue of Batman.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The intensity is cranking up again in Batman, as we head toward Bruce Wayne’s inevitable return to the cape and cowl. And now that Bruce and The Joker have been reunited (the amnesiac versions, mind you), it’s time to start asking the tough questions.

With no memories of his time as Batman, and only secondhand knowledge of his former life, an amnesiac Bruce Wayne must decide whether to bear the burden of a hero, or keep his current life. Of all people, he runs into The Joker on a park bench. Like Bruce, Joker seems to have no memory of who he was. But perhaps there’s no one more appropriate to be with Bruce as he contemplates his fate. Meanwhile, Mr. Bloom is on the rampage in Gotham City and the current Batman, Jim Gordon, is at his mercy. The fate of the entire city hangs in the balance as Bruce makes his choice.

When we started this “Superheavy” story, and we found out what had happened to Bruce, part of our path became clear. The iconic hero has a chance to start over and live something of a normal life, but he chooses the way of the hero all over again. It’s a classic tale. It’s just a question of how Snyder and Capullo would choose to tell it. I can’t say I’ve loved their entire run, but what we get in this issue is pretty damn satisfying.

Batman #48, 2016, Greg CapulloIn this park bench sequence, it’s left ambiguous just how much The Joker remembers about his former self. At a few different points it seems like the Harlequin of Hell is revealing himself to Bruce, but it’s simply a misunderstanding. As a reader this is frustrating, especially when a gun is brought into the scene. But there’s also a dark humor in it that I can appreciate. It’s very Joker-ish in that sense.

Snyder gives us a role reversal, as Bruce ponders what the point of this new life was if he’s simply going to go back. He nearly says aloud that this is almost like a big joke. Then The Joker, of all characters, floats the idea that perhaps existing in the here and now is enough, and that change is okay.

This is almost an upside down version of The Killing Joke. I particularly enjoyed Bruce briefly considering The Joker’s usual mindset, that life is essentially a worthless joke, before making his decision. On the flip side, The Joker considers the idea that meaning can be found in everyday existence. To Snyder’s credit, he gives us a scene that can only happen in this story. The ambiguous nature of just how much The Joker knows also leaves us wondering if, when The Joker returns, he’ll know Bruce’s identity. Snyder and Capullo are starting to reassemble what they took apart in Death of the Family and Endgame. Bruce also has a hell of a line to close the issue.

But oddly enough, this isn’t the highlight of the issue. Mr. Bloom, a villain that I had considered a lame duck before, steals the show by growing giant-sized and monologuing.

Batman #48, 2016, Mr. Bloom, Jim GordonAs he speaks to Gotham at large and tries to lure them to his cause, what’s truly scary is how much modern truth is injected into his insane rant. Bloom is making a bunch of metaphors about Gotham being a big garden when he says…

“In a garden, the gardeners pretend to take care of you. Look how pretty they make your lives. The police shoot you unarmed. Then shoot you again. And again. Your politicians. They take your money, and let you wither. Business poisons you. They say you can do well here, but you’re poor as hell. Aren’t you?”

Moments later, he urges Gotham to rise up against a corrupt system. There’s a chilling reality in those sentences. Obviously it’s coming from an insane character with a garden fetish. But that doesn’t make it any less impactful.

While I’ve had my issues with some of Scott Snyder’s writing choices on Batman, I’ve had very few complaints with Greg Capullo’s art. That trend continues here. In the Bruce/Joker scenes, The Joker looks perhaps as normal as we’ve ever seen him. But that madman is clearly lingering under the surface. Thus, the question of whether that madman is in control becomes even more pressing. Also, look closely at the cover. There’s a lone tear sliding down Batman’s mask. That’s a truly awesome touch.

This issue was a big win, no doubt about it But these next two issues of Batman, which will wrap up this story, have the potential to be among the best Snyder and Capullo have done. The stakes are high. There’s little doubt Batman can rise to the occasion. Let’s just hope this story can do the same.

Images from comicbookmovie.com. 

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A Batman & Robin: Eternal #1 Review – The Burden of (Low) Expectations

Batman & Robin Eternal #1TITLE: Batman & Robin Eternal #1
AUTHORS: James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Tony Daniel
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: October 7, 2015

***Readers might want to check out Grayson #12, as it sets this issue up quite nicely.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going on record right now: If this book gets as tedious and stupid as Batman Eternal did, I’m out. For some ridiculous reason, I paid $156 for every issue of that series. And like every weekly series DC has put out that isn’t 52, it was a big waste of time and money. So if Batman & Robin Eternal goes off the rails, I won’t be sticking around to watch the awful blaze.

However, Batman & Robin Eternal may be better equipped for success. It’s only 26 issues, which means the creators hopefully won’t have to use as much fluff and filler as they did for its predecessor. Plus, a series with a cast of former Robins is an intriguing idea. The Robin legacy as a whole has been left so ambiguous in the New-52verse that spending some quality time with it would likely do it some good. This series will hopefully supply us with the sense of history we’ve sorely missed.

As an added bonus: This issue introduces Cassandra Cain into the New 52 continuity.

Cassandra Cain, Tony Daniel, Batman & Robin Eternal #1Playing off the events of Grayson #12, the rest of Dick’s surrogate family now knows he’s alive. This issue sees our favorite sexy super-spy help Red Hood and Red Robin catch a bad guy before returning to a familiar location on Spyral business. Then Dick is attacked by a group of well-dressed children with guns, as well as his Spyral partner, followed by a mysterious and lethal martial artist he doesn’t know. His assailant gives him a flash drive that leads him into a mystery in Batman’s past. Via recorded hologram, Bruce calls it his “greatest sin” and his “deepest regret.” The issue ends with a disturbing image which hints at what our mysterious villain, Mother, may be capable of.

Perhaps I’m reading into something that isn’t there, but this issue seems to hint that Dick, Jason, Tim, and others working with Batman was somehow preordained. As if somehow it was all part of a master plan connected to Mother. If that is what they’re going for, then I might as well tag out now. The notion that there was some sort of grand “Robin plan” in place, and that Dick and the others aren’t simply companions Bruce met during his journey, takes so much of the fun away from the Robin concept. The same goes for Batgirl. Bluebird, or whoever else Batman has taken under his proverbial wing. Can we please not make Robin into yet another stupid prophecy character?

Batman & Robin Eternal #1, Tony DanielApparently this series will also present us with the next chapter in Harper Row’s story. In this issue we see she’s capable of manipulating Jim Gordon’s Batman suit. A rivalry between those two could be interesting. But it’s more likely we’ll see why she’s “the key to everything they cannot know. And that is why you must die.” Uh oh, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Batman’s partners have a pretty bad mortality rate, even though they do all come back to life.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Tony Daniel and colorist Sandu Florea’s art since the New 52 began, but what we see here is mostly satisfactory. I imagine the scene between Dick, Jason, and Tim taking place in the glow of a big red light wasn’t an accident. The motorcycle chase scene with Dick, leading into the fight with Cassandra was very nicely done. We also have an assassin character called The Orphan who has a cool reveal.

Sadly, Daniel is already passing the artistic baton. For upcoming issues, the reigns will be passed between Paul Pelletier, Scot Eaton, Fernando Pasarin, among others. I suppose the best we can hope for are smooth transitions between the various pencillers.

I don’t have high hopes for Batman & Robin Eternal. But in truth, I’d almost be willing to endure another crappy weekly series if they worked in new costumes for the Red Hood and Red Robin. Take the Bat-Symbol off Jason’s chest, and just start from scratch on Tim’s costume. That thing’s been an eye sore since day one.

Image 1 from ign.com. Image 2 from flickeringmyth.com.

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A Batman #43 Review – The Pixar/Jim Gordon Connection

Batman #43 (2015)TITLE: Batman #43
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
STUDIO: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 12, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead for Batman #43, as well as the Batman: Endgame storyline.***

Amnesia, huh? Could’ve been worse, I suppose. After all, he was dead.

Wayne Industries developed much of the tech in Jim Gordon’s Batsuit. So when Gordon decides he wants to get some extra suit time in without being monitored, he comes to Bruce Wayne (I mean, why else would he seek out Bruce?). But Bruce, who is mysteriously alive despite the events of Endgame, refuses. This leaves Gordon to take on a new villain, Mr. Bloom. But Gordon is woefully unprepared to face Bloom. And he’s not the only one…

The major development to come out of this issue is that we finally learn how and why Bruce is alive, and why he isn’t Batman any longer. We’re told that following his death in Batman #40, Dionesium (a magic chemical Snyder created during Endgame) seeped into his fractured skull, healing him, but leaving him without the memory of his parents’ death, his training, or his time as Batman. Thus, Bruce no longer has a “shadow” over his life. And he no longer wishes to. He instead chooses to work with his old flame Julie Madison, helping underprivileged youth in the city.

batman43_5Oddly enough, we learn this via Alfred explaining it to a visiting Clark Kent. Clark is a fine choice for this scene, but it does leave one wondering what Barbara Gordon, or perhaps Damian, might have been like in that scene.

It’s also worth nothing that no mention is made of The Joker during the exposition of how Bruce came back. So it’s likely that he was effected by the Dionesium as well, and as such will forget Bruce was Batman. They also present a way to reintroduce the old memories back into Bruce’s mind. So within the span of one issue, Snyder and Capullo have explained how Bruce survived, how The Joker likely survived, set up an interesting journey for Bruce to go on, and given us a way to bring the old Batman back. All this while introducing Mr. Bloom. Not too bad, gentlemen. Not bad at all.

Batman $43, Greg Capullo, sharksAs if that weren’t enough, we also get a pretty cool action sequence in this book, in which Gordon gets in a firefight with a group of gangsters, and in the process a shark tank is shattered. In true cop fashion, Gordon goes for cover, and winds up ducking behind one of the “beached” skarks, who happens to have sunk his teeth into one of the gangsters. It’s an extremely bizarre visual to see Batman firing a projectile weapon at criminals from behind a shark. But it works. And much credit goes to inker Danny Miki and colorist FCO Placencia for the tremendous contrast between shadow and bright color. As shown above, we’re able to really feel the impact of some of those batarangs. Particularly one that hits the guy in the damn eyeball…

The verdict is still out on our villain, Mr. Bloom. He’s got sort of a hybrid Poison Ivy/Scarecrow thing going on. I do like the idea of doling out seeds that grant the recipient powers. Considering we now have a big mecha Batman, he’ll likely prove to be a good physical match for Batman. I also love the cover, here. It’s almost a twisted callback to the poppy scene in The Wizard of Oz.

This issue also has some really solid dialogue, and a few good one-liners…

  • Gordon: “With great stickiness comes great responsibility.”
  • Clark: But you told him, Alfred. You told him about his life.
    Alfred: “I did. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever had to do.”
  • Thug (as several guns are pointed at Batman): “Tell me, ‘Batman,’ have you ever seen Robocop?”

As a whole, this issue reminded me of a post I came by not too long ago. It was titled: “Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling.” Gordon’s entire quest to be Batman seems to fall under rule #1…pixars-22-rules-of-storytelling-as-image-macros-2The shark thing is just a coincidence, I swear.

This whole set up with Gordon being Batman and the police trying to have their own Dark Knight is obviously an idea that’s destined to fall apart in the long run. But the cool thing about these past few issues is that Snyder, Capullo, and the creative team don’t hide from that. They know it’s a bad idea. But that doesn’t stop readers from rooting for Gordon, because he’s trying his hardest to make it work, and to be the best Batman he can be.

Perhaps this rule about admiring a character for trying rather than for their successes describes why we all love Jim Gordon in the first place. He’s always been woefully unequipped to clean up Gotham. But he never stops trying. Despite having a big ass robot suit at his disposal, in the big picture, Gordon is an underdog. This juxtaposition is a sign of really compelling writing.

Images 1 and 2 from newsarama.com. Image 3 from fastcocreate.com.

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A Detective Comics #43 Review – A Contrast in Batmen

Detective Comics #43TITLE: Detective Comics #43
AUTHOR: Brian Buccellato
PENCILLER: Fernando Blanco. Cover by Francis Manapul.
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 5, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Between Jim Gordon becoming the new Batman, the upped emphasis on Harvey Bullock and the GCPD, and the reemergence of fan-favorite character Renee Montoya, Detective Comics is starting to bear a mild resemblance to Gotham Central. You won’t hear any complaints about that from me. At. All.

We open the issue to discover the unthinkable has happened: The power core from the new robotic Batsuit has been stolen. As the GCPD rush to find it, the vicious La Morte gang continues to threaten Gotham. Plus, Renee Montoya, fresh from internal affairs, has her sights set on Harvey Bullock’s partner Nancy Yip. Given the two have become “partners” in more ways than one, this makes things personal for Bullock.

Detective Comics #43While this issue isn’t necessarily about him specifically, the most memorable element in Detective Comics #43 is the way Jim Gordon, in costume, is drawn in the opening scene. When Bullock and the others find him, he’s been ambushed by La Morte and is almost completely spent. We see him hunched over, almost as if he’s ready to vomit from sheer fatigue. Then he slides into a sitting position, and Fernando Blanco gives him an expression with traces of both relief and desperation. What makes this so interesting is that it’s such a stark contrast to how we’re used to seeing Batman. His posture is different, his expressions are different, he talks to people differently. This is a nice illustration of he contrast between Bruce Wayne’s Batman and Gordon’s Batman, without making it so obvious.

On the subject of differences, Gordon is still sporting his silly mohawk. The style choice obviously isn’t Buccallato or Blanco’s fault. I suspect that was a Greg Capullo design choice. What does fall on this team’s shoulders is in this issue, Gordon’s head appears to have a 5 o’clock shadow, in addition to the mohawk. Perhaps that’s a nitpick, but it drew my attention away from the story. If they’re trying to convey that some time has passed since Gordon first became Batman, that’s something we as readers already know. Yes, the mohawk look is dumb. But it’s the look we got, so let’s just stick with the damn thing.

Detective Comics #43, Bullock, GordonUnder pressure from Montoya (Damn, it’s good to have her back.), Bullock presents Gordon with a fairly drastic solution to the Yip problem. Like, drastic even by Bullock’s standards. It’s in character, though. For all his eccentricities Bullock has always put his police work first, even when it means crossing certain lines (Longtime fans might want to take a look back at the Officer Down story arc to see what I mean.)

In Batman, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo seem to be telling a story about how being Batman changes Jim Gordon and those closest to him. There’s also the question of whether Bruce Wayne can live without being Batman. In contrast, Detective Comics seems to be about how a police-sanctioned Batman changes the GCPD. For Bullock and Yip, change isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Images 1 and 2 from usgamer.net.

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A Batman #41 Review – Bat Cop

Batman #41TITLE: Batman #41
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 10, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Batman #41.***

Batman and giant robots don’t mix.

That’s always been a philosophy of mine. Stuffing Batman into a big mechanical monstrosity robs him of a lot of his appeal. Bruce Wayne trained for years to master his detective skills, combat techniques, and general crime-fighting capabilities. But for my money, giant robot suits ruin all that by making Batman into a weird Hulk/Iron Man hybrid who doesn’t use most of the skills that inherently make him Batman. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have used a giant Bat-robot twice during their run on this series. So when we found out we’d have a brand new robot-suit Batman beginning with issue #41, I cringed. Snyder and Capullo have big ideas. Sadly, not all of them are good (See Zero Year.).

Then we found out who this new Batman would be, and things got interesting.

Batman #41, title pageBatman is (apparently) dead. But his presence is sorely missed, and the city needs its symbol of hope. So the Gotham City Police Department, with the assistance of Powers International, sets out to create their own Batman who works within the boundaries of the law. Their top choice? Jim Gordon. But to say the least, Gordon is a very different crimefighter than his predecessor.

What makes this issue work is that our main character, Gordon, seems just as baffled by all of this as we are. He never expected to take up the role of Batman, and we never expected to see it. Throughout the issue we see his reluctance, his fear, the mistakes he makes his first night out, and finally how he uses the the detective skills he’s possessed all along to solve his first case. This new costume doesn’t exactly scream “detective,” but that unexpected twist is part of the fun. What’s more, there’s a second Batsuit under this big robot suit, which is pretty slick. They also cover the logistics, ranging from Gordon’s age, to his smoking, to where his base is, etc.

The interesting thing about the robot suit is that Snyder and Capullo poke fun at it themselves, seemingly chiming in with our criticisms before we do. Gordon himself says: “I look at that thing, but I just don’t see Batman,” and then says it looks like a “robobat-bunny.” It’s actually pretty funny. I’m encouraged that Snyder and Capullo aren’t taking themselves so seriously here. This is so obviously not Batman, and we all know it’s temporary anyway. So it’s nice to see they’re having fun with this while it lasts. They even play around with the colors mid-issue.

Jim Gordon, mohawkMy only complaint deals with, of all things, Gordon’s hair. We saw in Divergence that our Bat Cop has a mohawk under his mask (shown left). We see that here as well. This goess too far into silly territory for my tastes. If Gordon has to cut his hair for whatever reason, why not just give him a buzzcut? It’s simply a needless distraction.

Still, this issue was a pleasant surprise overall. One thing you can never fault Snyder and Capullo for is the magnitude of their ideas. And for now, they’ve sold me on the idea of Jim Gordon as Batman. Our friend the commissioner is about to step into a whole new world. And it’ll be most interesting to see how he handles what awaits him.

Image 1 from newsarama.com. Image 2 from dangermart.blogspot.com.

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A Batman, Vol. 2: City of Owls Review – Owl City

Batman, Vol. 2: The City of OwlsTITLE: Batman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls
AUTHORS: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV.
PENCILLERS: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Rafael Albuquerque, Jason Fabok.
COLLECTS: Batman #8-12, Batman Annual #1
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: May 20, 2013

Need to catch up? Check out Batman, Vol. 1: The Court of Owls.

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

I never really took to the Court of Owls. They’re a bunch of hammy ninjas and evil rich people who share an obsession with a nocturnal bird. Maybe it’s because I just don’t buy the fact that there’s this evil cabal secretly running Gotham City for whatever reason. What do they hope to gain? Money? They’re already rich. Power? They could do that without resorting to murdering people and training ninja-zombies. I can almost imagine it: The Court of Owls Political Action Committee (COPAC).

My feelings on the Court of Owls aside, The City of Owls is a decent read. Following a harrowing encounter with the Court in their secret lair, Bruce Wayne suddenly finds himself under attack by a legion of Talons in his own home. What’s more, the Court has sent Talons to target important individuals across the city. Alfred quickly scrambles the Bat-family to try and save as many as they can, but who will win the “Night of the Owls?” More importantly, who’s really behind it all?

Batman #8, Greg CapulloEasily the best thing about this issue is the build-up and suspense. I have a renewed appreciation for Snyder’s skill in building momentum. It’s almost like climbing the stairs in a multistory building: You march up to the top, get to the landing, and you’re relieved, and then you’re faced with another set of stairs. In this case, Snyder and Capullo demonstrate their ability to make a comic which is visually compelling and interesting to read.

My favorite parts of the book, however, had little to do with the main plot. I most enjoyed the stories with Jarvis Pennyworth and Harper Row. In the Jarvis Pennyworth story, we see how Jarvis met his end while trying to be a good man trapped in a bad situation. The Jarvis story in particular has art by Rafael Albuquerque that fits the mood and story. The coloring and texture have a vibrant darkness to them, sort of like impressionist noir.

The Harper Row story gives us the kind of Batman tale I’ve always really liked: a look at the superhero situation from the P.O.V. of a normal bystander. Harper herself manages to be her own character without becoming a stand-in for Stephanie Brown. The smorgasbord of artists assigned to her issue managed to mesh well, and actually produced a nice effect.

Batman #11, Greg Capullo, Bruce Wayne, Dick GraysonI can’t say Snyder’s Batman is particularly memorable here. I will say, however, that we get a lot of good, classic Batman moments that were enjoyable to read. For instance, when Batman finally gets rid of that outrageous mech suit, and he’s suiting up, he smiles slightly when he puts on the cowl. He’s enjoying getting ready to kick some Talon butt with his own hands. The final scene with Bruce and Dick was a great one, with Greg Capullo’s art capturing the mood perfectly. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing Snyder write a run on Grayson or Nightwing, as he seems to have a good grasp on Dick’s personality. We saw this plainly enough back in The Black Mirror.

The thing is, I know that Snyder can do better than what he gives us here. Maybe he could try doing something with the classic villains, like The Riddler or Scarecrow or The Penguin. The Mr. Freeze-centric story in the annual gave us a fine example Snyder’s new approach being applied to older villains and ideas, and it turned out beautifully. I’d like to see more of that from him and his other collaborators, especially Jason Fabok, who draws such beautiful renditions of the classic villains.

The City of Owls wasn’t the best Batman story I’ve ever read, but it’s not bad either. It’s one of those things that just above average. It had the potential to be great, and it succeeds as a page turner, but it’s not going to make it onto my top ten list. At the very least, I admire Snyder and Capullo for trying to shake things up a little, and I hope to find more substantial stuff in the future

RATING: 7.5/10

Image 1 from dccomics.com. Image 2 from popmatters.com.

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