Who is Nightwing? – The Villains Chapter

***As Nightwing’s public profile grows higher via the Titans TV series and the upcoming Gotham Knights game, “Who is Nightwing?” looks at Dick Grayson’s early solo adventures after stepping out of Batman’s shadow.***

TITLES: Nightwing #918, Nightwing Annual #1
AUTHOR: Chuck Dixon
ARTISTS: Scott McDaniel, Greg Land, Karl Story (Inker), Bob McLeod (Inker), Roberta Tewes (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$1.95 per issue (Annual: $3.95)
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1997-1998
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing, Vol. 2: Rough Justice

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This first volume of Nightwing has historically been collected in chunks of roughly 8-10 issues. Issues #1-8 are usually the first chapter, and this collection of issues #9-18 and the first annual can be seen as a second chapter. To that mindset, I’d call this the “Villains Chapter.” Dixon, McDaniel, and the team have set up Dick Grayson’s new status quo. Now it’s time to create some new villains for him to fight, as well as bring in some familiar faces from Gotham.

In issue #7, we learned the identity of Bludhaven’s new crime lord: Roland Desmond, a.k.a. Blockbuster. For my money, Blockbuster’s effectiveness as a lead villain largely depends on how much perspective you have as a comic book reader. If you’re simply reading these issues at face value, as I was when they first came out, then he’s fine. A big bad crime boss who, unlike a Carmine Falcone or a Rupert Thorne, can actually be a physical threat to our hero. But with the benefit of hindsight more than two decades later? He feels like an attempt to imitate Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. the Kingpin over at Marvel. But I’ll say this much: He’s a good imitation. And Scott McDaniel is great at juxtaposing this giant monster in a suit with the ultra fast and flexible Nightwing.

As the book continues to develop a mini-rogues-gallery for Nightwing, the book brings in a few icons to help hold down the fort. We see Man-Bat, Deathstroke, and the Scarecrow. The latter is particularly effective, as it doubles as an opportunity for readers to dive into Dick’s psyche and get to know him that much better. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but our former Boy Wonder is living with a hell of an inferiority complex. To that end, I love how Chuck Dixon incorporates Bruce Wayne choosing Jean Paul Valley to take his place as Batman during the Knightfall storyline. It’s a nice way to illustrate that despite wanting to be his own man, Dick still cares deeply about what Batman thinks of him.

We spend about an issue’s worth of pages experiencing these Scarecrow-induced hallucinations with Dick. Some of it’s played for surreal humor, which wouldn’t have necessarily been my first choice. But it gets the point across. Less effective is Scott McDaniel, Karl Story, and Roberta Tewes’ visual take on the scenes. I said it last time, and I’ll reiterate here: This team is so much better suited for action scenes than the quiet, existential stuff. Our opening issue, which sees Nightwing evading gunfire in a shopping mall? A delightful read that has a great visual flow to it. Dick Grayson confronting his worst nightmares? Meh.

Another strike against McDaniel, along with other artists of this era, is what I’ll call “shoulder horns Batman” (shown below). For whatever reason, in the ’90s and early ’00s it was acceptable to put pointy horn-looking gimmicks on Batman’s shoulders. I think the idea was to make him look more menacing, and even a little demonic. But I’ve always hated it. Thankfully it gradually went away, and never made its way into any of the on-screen versions of the character.

On the subject of ’90s costumes, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even recognize Deathstroke at first. I’d completely forgotten about his black and blue suit…

Though it might be blasphemous to some, I prefer what Greg Land turns in on Nightwing Annual #1. The final product is cleaner, and makes for an enjoyable read.

These issues are also where we start to pick up the pace on the slow-burn romance between Dick and Barbara Gordon/Oracle. Chuck Dixon was one of, if not the master of writing the chemistry between these two. It’s not particularly subtle. Dick and Barbara are fairly flirtatious whenever he comes to her for help on a case. At one point, Dick practically talks openly about a potential romance with her. It’s more a case of Will they?/Won’t they? To his credit, Dixon is able to strike a really nice balance in these issues. He makes us want to see Dick and Barbara get together. But at the same time, he’s able to write in some chemistry between Dick and his building superintendent without making either character look like a heel. On paper it’s a very precarious love triangle. But Dixon pulls it off beautifully.

What’s more, it wouldn’t be long before Dick had yet another love interest. Sparks were about to fly as Nightwing crossed paths with none other than Helena Bertinelli…the Huntress!

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

 

Weekly Comic 100s: Batman, Superman, and Shazam Return! Plus, Superhero of the Year?

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Ahhhh yes. Action and Detective are back. Now it really does feel like comics have returned.

I find it funny that on this week’s Action Comics cover (shown below) and several recent Superman covers, they’ve felt the need to tell us about Entertainment Weekly naming Superman the “Superhero of the Year.”

In case you’ve been trapped in a Fortress of Solitude since birth, Superman was the original comic book superhero and is an American icon whose legend has inspired millions. How many more issues could “Superhero of the Year” possibly be selling?

I love DC, and I love these characters. But it reeks of desperation. “Look at us! Entertainment Weekly knows who we are!”

TITLE: Batman: The Adventures Continue #5
AUTHOR:
Alan Burnett, Paul Dini
ARTISTS:
Ty Templeton, Monica Cubina (Colorist), Joshua Reed (Letterer). Cover by Joe Quinones.
RELEASED:
June 4, 2020

There’s a 9/11 reference in this issue. That’s really surreal considering The New Batman Adventures was on the air in the late ’90s.

We get something here that ties back to the first issue, which is kinda cool.

Is Deathstroke British in the DCAU? Some of his lines in this book sound like they should be coming from Alfred. Or perhaps a friend/relative of Alfred’s.

The last panel leaves some doubt as to whose side Jason Todd will be on when the chips are down. That’s definitely a tweak to what they did in Under the Hood.

TITLE: Action Comics #1022
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS: John Romita Jr., Danny Miki (Inker), Brad Anderson (Colorist), Dave Sharpe (Letterer). Cover inks by Klaus Janson.
RELEASED: June 2, 2020

This is the best issue of Action Comics in awhile, and not just because it’s the first one in awhile. We’re finally diving into who Conner Kent is and how he returned, so there’s a lot of intrigue here.

When it comes to how he’s drawn the past several issues, I’ve been pretty hard on John Romita Jr. Specifically, his figure rendering is positively jarring at times. But he’s on his best behavior here. I’m not sure if that has to do with all the additional lead-in time involved with the pandemic. But I ain’t complainin’.

TITLE: Batman/Superman #9
AUTHOR: Joshua Williamson
ARTISTS: Clayton Henry, Alejandro Sanchez (Colorist), John J. Hill (Letterer).
RELEASED: June 2, 2020

Good issue. Very accessible. We reference a lot of recent event comics, but with editor’s notes so readers can follow along. Williamson also provides some good exposition for Atomic Skull, who obviously meets a tragic end. Our villain doesn’t get the same treatment, but hopefully that comes next issue.

Clayton Henry’s art is clean, but avoids that over-the-top spotless look you sometimes see for artists going for that look. My only critique would be, oddly enough, the shape of Superman’s head on the cover. Something looks off…

TITLE: Shazam #12
AUTHOR: Jeff Loveness
ARTISTS: Brandon Peterson Mike Atiyeh (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer)
RELEASED:
June 2, 2020

I wouldn’t call Shazam! #12 a page-turner. But it is a fun team-up issue. Jeff Loveness, who’s worked on Rick and Morty, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and has also worked on Spider-Man and Groot over at Marvel, injects a lot of charm into the Big Red Cheese. Especially when it’s time for Billy Batson’s scenes with Freddy Freeman.

To the best of my recollection, this is my first exposure to Brandon Peterson. It’s a very solid outing for him. His work is nice and clean. Of course, Michael Atiyeh helps him out a lot with great coloring.

TITLE: Detective Comics #1022
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
ARTISTS: Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy (Inker), Brad Anderson (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer)
RELEASED:
June 2, 2020

The early part of this issue is structured quite like the second part of a Batman ’66 story. You know, where they escape whatever death trap they were put in last time, and then sometimes fight off a bunch of henchmen? In this case, they’re literally named Vice and Versa.

We also build for Joker War in this book, and if I’m reading this right, it’s suggested that the events of that story were actually the second part of Joker’s plan from Death of the Family. Tomasi was also involves in that story via the Batman & Robin ongoing. Interesting…

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

A Batman, Vol. 3: I Am Bane Review – Jokerize Your Fries?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 3: I Am Bane
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: David Finch, Mitch Gerads, Clay Mann
COLLECTS: Batman #1620#2324
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
Aug 30, 2017

***Need to catch up? Check out the first two volumes: I Am Gotham and I Am Suicide.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Created in the early ’90s, Bane was essentially the Bat books’ answer to what Doomsday was in the Superman books. A big brute who could physically overpower the hero. A ‘roided up dude in a luchador mask, he certainly looks the part. But unlike Doomsday, who was basically a mindless killing machine, Bane was intended to have more depth. He had a tragic backstory and a cunning mind to match his physical dominance.

Oddly enough, I Am Bane explores the character’s more layered side, while at the same time making him look like a big dumb ape at certain points. It’s actually a fascinating balancing act.

After pulling the Psycho-Pirate from Bane’s clutches in Santa Prisca, Batman is now preparing for a full on assault from his old enemy. No one close to Bruce Wayne is safe. Adamant about taking Bane on alone, Batman places Alfred, Claire Clover (a.k.a. Gotham Girl), and the Psycho-Pirate in perhaps the unlikeliest of places to protect them: Arkham Asylum. Now Bane must make his way through a living hell to confront the Dark Knight. Once again, these two arch rivals will square off. In the end, one will be left broken.

I’ll credit author Tom King with giving Bane’s invasion of Gotham the weight it deserves. The first two issues have a grim tension in the air. In issue #16, Bruce insists that most of his surrogate family members flee the city, fearing for their lives. He hides Psycho-Pirate and the others inside Arkham, in a chamber designed by Mister Miracle. But Batman’s obsessive preparation isn’t enough, as Bane still manages to strike at those close to him, including Catwoman. The tone is terrific, the threat feels real, and we seem to have the makings of a hallmark Bane story…until the big man opens his mouth in issue #18.

King, David Finch, and their team are clearly going for classic early ’90s Bane. We get a big, bloody, brutal fight intercut with flashbacks as Bane taunts our hero. Think Batman #497, when the character broke Batman’s back. But King goes way too far over the top with Bane’s dialogue. In issue #18, as he rambles off comparisons between himself and Batman’s other enemies, he almost seems to be reciting a poem…

“I am not a joke! I am not a riddle! I am not a bird or a cat or a penguin! I’m not a scarecrow or a plant or a puppet! I am not your broken friend! I am not your regretful teacher! I am not a child’s fairy tale! I am not a circus act here to amuse and frighten you!”

Alright, dude. We get it…

Things get worse in issue #19, when he storms Arkham and starts running into various villains. He spouts off little one-liners. Thing that would be fine on their own, but clumped together in one issue almost make Bane a parody of himself.

Two-Face: “…what’re you offering?”
Bane: “Pain. I offer pain.”

Scarecrow: “What nightmares are you having?”
Bane: “I don’t have nightmares, I GIVE nightmares!”

Mr. Freeze: “Impossible…”
Bane: “Not impossible. Bane.”

The fight winds up ending on yet another stupid, overblown catchphrase. Not from Bane, but from Batman. The sad thing is that the action itself is pretty good, for the most part. If King had trimmed a lot of this excess verbiage and allowed the art to speak more for itself, this would have been much more effective. I understand wanting to show the animalistic side of Bane. But they overdid it.

I will say, however, that the contrasting flashbacks between Bruce’s childhood and Bane’s are very well done. There’s a school of thought that many of Batman’s villains double as examples of how Bruce could have turned out after his parents were killed, had circumstances been different. This is about as on-the-nose as you can get in that respect. But it works.

What doesn’t work as well for me is the Batman-themed fast food restaurant we see in issue #16. Dick, Jason, Damian, and Duke drag Bruce there for a family meeting of sorts. It’s decked out various paraphernalia from the various Batman heroes and villains. The scene opens with Bruce talking to a kid behind the counter, who’s wearing a cheap Batman mask. He asks Bruce if he wants to “Jokerize your fries?” I get what they were going for. There’s a fun meta aspect to having these characters see their own licensing and merchandising. “Jokerize your fries” is actually a pretty good line. But from an in-story perspective, using the most feared man in Gotham City’s likeness to sell fast food stretches the gag too far for me. I understand that’s part of the joke. But to me that would be the equivalent of selling Bin Laden burgers in the real world.

David Finch handles most of the art in I Am Bane. I’ve been pretty critical of his work. But I’ve also said that if you have to have him, you want him on dark or gritty stories like this. I Am Bane is one of his better recent outings. In issue #16, he has the extremely unenviable task of drawing Bruce, Dick, and Jason, all unmasked in the fast food scene. They’re all handsome, dark haired, clean shaven dudes. Finch has to make them all distinct and recognizable. The job he does isn’t amazing. But it’s serviceable. Thankfully, they’re not all wearing the same clothes, as they were in that creepy splash page in The Court of Owls.

Like many artists, Finch draws most of his superhero characters like competition bodybuilders. Thankfully, that’s right in Bane’s wheelhouse. The character looks every bit as gigantic and chiseled as he should without going overboard, which we saw from Finch’s work on the New 52 Dark Knight series. This version of Bane also has a great ferocity you don’t always see. That obviously works well during the big fight. One complaint: I’ve never liked it when artists put giant green tubes on Bane, as we see Finch do here. It brings back bad memories of Batman & Robin.

Inker Danny Miki (later joined by Trevor Scott) and colorist Jordie Bellaire compliment Finch very well. He’s got a team here that accentuates his strengths. Bellaire in particular is an absolute rock star.

After the main story, Mitch Gerads takes the pencil for issue #23, a standalone story featuring Swamp Thing. Despite being brutally titled “The Brave and the Mold,” it’s a fun issue. Gerads’ contributions to this series have been tremendous, going back to issues #15 and #16. He and King give us some fun visuals contrasting the difference in stature between Batman and Swamp Thing. A two-page spread with Bruce and the monster in Wayne Manor, shots of them in the Batcave and Batmobile, etc. The issue is broken into chapters separated via panels with text designed like silent movie intertitles, which is a cool tone device.

I’ve already talked at length about Batman #24, which contains a pretty big moment between Batman and Catwoman. A few months after its release, what has stuck with me is the exchange between Batman and Gotham Girl about happiness. We learn that Batman is Bruce Wayne’s attempt at finding happiness. As a longtime Batman fan, that notion fascinates me. We’re so used to Batman being dour, moody, and broody. So the idea that he’s doing all this to be happy is a little off-putting. But it makes a certain sense when you boil it down. In the end, that’s what we’re all trying to do, right? Find happiness. In that sense, Bruce is no different than anyone else.

By and large, the Bane portion of this book is a step down from I Am Suicide. But King, Finch, and the team really stick the landing with issue #23 and especially #24. There’s a lot of strictly okay stuff you’ve got to swim through. But when this book hits a homer, it really hits a homer. As far as issue #24 is concerned, that ball is still sailing.

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

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A Batgirl Rising Review – The Blonde Bat-Bombshell

Batgirl RisingTITLE: Batgirl Rising
AUTHOR: Bryan Q. Miller
ARTIST: Lee Garbett. Cover by Phil Noto.
COLLECTS: Batgirl #1-7
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASE DATE: July 14, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

No matter what characters are under the mask, it seems like there’s always a demand for certain heroes or certain groups. They become franchises unto themselves. Aquaman, Robin, the Justice League, the Justice Society, the Teen Titans. They’ve all had various facelifts and changes over the years, but they always have a certain degree of fan support.

Batgirl is no different.

After Battle For The Cowl, in addition to a new Batman and Robin, we got a new Dark Knight damsel. This time it’s Stephanie Brown, the college freshman formerly known as The Spoiler. Batgirl Rising collects her first few adventures, and  breaks her in as Batgirl.

923527-batgirl__1_007_superWhen Cassandra Cain (the character who took on the Batgirl identity several years after the first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, was incapacitated by Alan Moore in The Killing Joke) gives up her cape and cowl in the wake of Bruce Wayne’s apparent death, Stephanie adopts the identity, much to the chagrin of Barbara Gordon. Barbara reluctantly takes Stephanie under her wing as she battles The Scarecrow, Roxie Rocket, and whatever else Gotham City throws her way.

But will our new Batman want a new Batgirl flying across the rooftops?

Though I’ve been underwhelmed by Bryan Q. Miller’s work on Titans and Teen Titans, it looks like he was given a lot more room to be creative with this title. He takes the ball and runs with it. One of the cool things about this book is that it not only begins a new chapter in Stephanie Brown’s life, but Barbara Gordon’s as well. There are a few scenes where Barbara is trying to mentor a girl who, like her, had her legs taken away from her. They’re touching, and give Barbara that much more depth as a character.

What’s nice is that Miller hasn’t changed Stephanie’s character simply because she’s become Batgirl. This girl is a perpetual screw-up. She knows it, Barbara knows it, and the audience knows it. So why not have a little fun with it?

Batgirl Rising, Stephanie Brown, Damian WayneA writer once told me that when they’re working as a trio, Robin and Batgirl are actually more fun to write than Batman himself. The Caped Crusader always has to be the brooding straight man, while Robin and Batgirl can crack jokes and have a bit more fun. If Batgirl Rising isn’t evidence of that, I don’t know what book is. Miller writes some competitive banter between Damian and Stephanie that’s an absolute joy to read. When a perpetual screw-up teenage girl meets a 10-year-old assassin/superhero with authority issues, hilarity shall ensue.

Batgirl Rising isn’t an instant classic, but it’s a fun book to read. Certain things in this book don’t work as well as others (Stephanie’s attempt at a romance with a fellow college student isn’t a great beat), but nothing falls completely flat. Considering what Bryan Q. Miller books I had been exposed to prior to Batgirl Rising, this book offered him (and Stephanie Brown, for that matter) a measure of redemption in my eyes. Hopefully the best is yet to come.

RATING: 7.5/10

Image 1 from comicsblog.fr. Image 2 from ifanboy.com.

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