Who is Nightwing? – One Knight Stand

***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/Huntress #14
AUTHOR: Devin Grayson
ARTISTS: Greg Land, Bill Sienkiewicz (Inker), Noelle Gidding (Colorist), John Costanza (Letterer)
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$1.95 per issue
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1998
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing: Vol. 3: False Starts

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Something feels off here.

Nightwing/Huntress was a four-issue miniseries, the sole purpose of which seems to be the creation of a brief romance (if you can even call it that) between the two titles characters. It was published at the same time the main Nightwing series was ongoing. What that likely means is that someone in editorial came to Devin Grayson, Greg Land, and this team and said, “Hey, we want Nightwing and Huntress sleep together. Can you do it in four issues?”

But of course, that’s just speculation on my part.

With Batman away, Gotham city is under Nightwing’s protection (So who’s watching Bludhaven?) when a mobster is framed for a murder. But the crime’s mafia connections also attract the attention of the Huntress. The two wind up working the case together, and passions flare when they discover they have more than an enemy in common.

At this point in her near 10-year run, the Huntress/Helena Bertinelli character had been established as someone too violent and impulsive to be endorsed by Batman. To her immense frustration, she was seemingly banned from Batman’s inner circle. Nevertheless, her own bloody history with the mob fueled her crusade to operate in Gotham with or without the Dark Knight’s approval.

Then you had Nightwing/Dick Grayson, who years earlier had struck out on his own. Yet he still adheres to Batman’s code, and is still very much part of his extended “family.” There’s lots of potential for some “opposites attract” chemistry there, and in fact that’s what this book is supposed to be.

The problem is that it jumps into the…shall we say, “physicality,” before we really have a chance to explore any of that chemistry. It all starts rather abruptly, with feelings that are exposited rather than shown. We don’t go on the ride with Dick or Helena. That’s the missing ingredient here. Instead we spend much of the book analyzing the fallout from the act.

One character I’m grateful has a presence here is Oracle/Barbara Gordon. She wasn’t a vital ingredient. But given the Will they?/Won’t they? dynamic they had in the main Nightwing series at the time, her inclusion and input adds valuable perspective and context to things.

On a site note: Bruce Wayne is a public figure in Gotham City, yes? And Dick Grayson was once his ward, yes? So to an extent that makes him a public figure, yes? So when Dick and Helena consummate their attraction to one another, with masks completely off, shouldn’t she recognize him? And thus, shouldn’t she then be able to deduce that Bruce Wayne is Batman? Or are we just ignoring that notion for convenience?

Greg Land is back with us here, delivering a product that I would say is on par with what we got in the miniseries. One of my favorite panels in the book is pictured above. Though when you consider the accusations lobbied against Land for his use of pornography as photo-reference, it definitely makes you wonder…

The coloring, on the other hand, is definitely an upgrade. Noelle Gidding turns in something suitably dark and moody. The miniseries, and for that matter the main series at times, looked a little too bright for my taste.

One redeeming element here is that the effects of Nightwing/Huntress would subsequently be felt in not just the main series, but the No Man’s Land crossover that would soon follow. So at least this story had a purpose and an impact. But sadly, the book itself under-delivers.

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

Who is Nightwing? – Prelude to Solo Stardom

***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 #14
AUTHOR: Denny O’Neil
ARTISTS: Greg Land, Mike Sellers & Nick Napolitano (Inkers), Cathi Bertrand (Colorist), John Costanza
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
ORIGINAL SELLING PRICE:
$2.25 per issue
ORIGINALLY RELEASED:
1995
CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN:
Nightwing, Vol. 1: Bludhaven

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Dick Grayson officially adopted the mantle of Nightwing in mid-1984 in the pages of Tales of the Teen Titans #44. The move was meant to remove Dick from Batman’s shadow and make him more of his own man. That’s why it’s so surprising in retrospect that the character didn’t get his own solo series until 1996, 12 years later.

Granted, there were one-off issues where Dick would get the spotlight. For a short time in the mid-’90s, he even stood in for Bruce Wayne as Batman. But it wasn’t until 1996 that Nightwing got his own book, and even his own city to protect. After more than 40 years as Robin, and over a decade as Nightwing, Dick was finally spinning off into his own adventures.

DC Comics would test the waters, and ultimately set the stage for a Nightwing ongoing series with a four issue mini published in 1995. Written by legendary Batman scribe Denny O’Neil, the story sees Dick revisit his past while preparing for his future. He also gets a new costume in the process.

Dick starts the story by doing something you probably don’t want to do before you start your own solo series – He quits. Handing his costume over to Batman, saying he’s realized “I’m not you. I was never you. I don’t want to be you.”

And what does Dick want Batman to do with the costume? He has some ideas…

“Put it in a trophy case. Give it to the Salvation Army. Burn it.”

Indeed, Dick Grayson is giving up on superheroics, opting to live a more normal life. A little abrupt? Sure. But I like this idea for Dick. He was and is the most outgoing among Batman’s surrogate family, which makes him the most naturally likable. So as readers, we want to see him happy and fulfilled.

Of course, it can’t last. The poor guy barely makes it to the next morning before he finds an old letter to his parents, threatening them for something they apparently saw in the despotic nation of Kravia. Naturally, he has to investigate.

Our penciller is Greg Land, who’s faced a lot of criticism over the course of his career for his use, and perhaps abuse, of photo reference. He’s been accused of lifting, and even flat-out tracing, images from sources as lewd as hardcore pornography. As far as I know, this Nightwing story pre-dates those allegations. I don’t see anything that stands out as blatantly lifted from somewhere else. Though there are a few images that are a little suspect. Case in point, an image in issue #1 of a briefs-clad Dick Grayson on a bed. I can’t bring myself to complain about that from a sexualization standpoint, given how female characters are often drawn to this day. But it makes you wonder.

There’s also the image above, where Dick, posed like a catalog model, is standing in what has the distinction of being the ugliest shirt I’ve ever seen in a comic book. He unfortunately wears that for much of the second issue.

While he’s unquestionably one of the all-time greats, this is hardly Denny O’Neil’s best work. He has to inject a decent amount of narrative convenience into things to get the story going and to fit it into four issues. The despot in Kravia just happens to remember who Dick is. The assassin he then sends to kill Dick is able to find him very quickly, which provides our hero with a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back to the villain. Makes me wonder why they didn’t keep things a little more simple than a story about whether a dictator was involved in the plot to kill Dick’s parents…

On the upside, this mini is where we see Nightwing’s black and blue costume (shown below) for the first time. His original suit, affectionately called the “disco suit,” worked for a colorful superhero team book in the ’80s. It was later changed to the sleeker, darker-yet-somehow-also-brighter outfit shown above. It was changed again here, presumably because tonally Nightwing was moving into territory closer to Batman. Dark, avenging hero of the night, and all that.

This is the look that practically all subsequent takes on the Nightwing outfit were based on. With Dick’s previous two outfits, especially the first, it feels like there might have been pressure to give the character something with a grandeur befitting his legacy. As it turned out, they were better off keeping it simple. Black with a touch of blue. It’s almost a minimalist’s superhero costume. The black costume also gave Nightwing a certain cool factor he maintains to this day.

At face value, this Nightwing mini isn’t much to write home about. The story is overdone, the villain is generic and forgettable, and by the end the whole thing seems all for naught. But it nevertheless holds an important place in the character’s history as the tale that gave him his new costume, and set him down a path to solo stardom. For that alone, it’s worth a look.

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

A Batman, Vol 11: The Fall and the Fallen Deep Dive – Too Much Canvas

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 11: The Fall and the Fallen
AUTHORS:
Tom King, Andy Kubert, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, Mairghread Scott, Steve Orlando, Tim Seeley
ARTISTS:
Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Amancay Nahuelpan, Carlos D’Anda, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith (Inker). Eduardo Risso, Patrick Gleason. Cover by Kubert.
COLORIST:
Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Luis Guerrero, Tomeu Morey, Dave Stewart, John Kalisz
LETTERER:
Clayton Cowles, Steve Wands, Andworld Design, Tom Workman, Tom Napolitano
COLLECTS:
Batman #7074, Batman: Secret Files #2
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE:
$24.99
RELEASED:
December 18, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

As a whole, City of Bane, which essentially starts here, is Tom King’s version of The Dark Knight Rises. Or if you want to go back further, the Knightfall storyline from the ’90s.

It’s also where the wheels come off King’s Batman run. I take no joy in saying that. But the proof is in the pudding, kids. So let’s dip our spoons in…

1. Daddy’s back.
The Fall and the Fallen is when we finally see Bane and Flashpoint Batman, a.k.a. Thomas Wayne from an alternate universe, team up to break our hero once and for all.

Yes friends, Thomas Wayne, one of Bruce Wayne’s parents, is here. You know about Bruce Wayne’s parents, right? They were murdered in front of their young son. It was that heinous act of violence that inspired Bruce’s vow to wage war on criminals for the rest of his life, and ultimately the creation of Batman. We saw these two come face-to-face in The Button, and it was a tremendously emotional experience for Bruce. One can only imagine what would go through his head if his father, even an alt-universe version, masterminded some kind of plot against him…

So tell me something: Why is Bane our big bad in this story? Why bring him into this when Bruce’s father shakes his son’s world to its core simply because he exists? Add the fact that this version of Thomas Wayne is his universe’s Batman, and Bane becomes redundant by comparison.

Batman #72 takes us back through the events of the series and outlines Bane’s plan, which all centers around the Bruce/Selina marriage. In the end, Thomas proposes a partnership.

But picture this, Thomas Wayne somehow survives the destruction of the Flashpoint universe and winds up in the DC Universe proper. He initially wants to seek out his “son,” but this alternate world intrigues him. So he opts to lay low, observe, and learn.

Remember, in The Button, Thomas pleaded with Bruce to stop being Batman and simply live his life. Devastated that Bruce hasn’t heeded his words, he decides he’s the only one that can stop his “son.” So he opts to do what must be done, by any means necessary.

In the end, it comes down to Batman against Batman. Father against son. It can be on the rooftops of Gotham, the Batcave, or anywhere really. All we need is the emotional impact of that showdown.

In the end, Catwoman shoots and kills Thomas in an act of desperation. Bruce then has to decide if he can forgive her or not. This would pay off the revelation from The War of Jokes and Riddles.

Not bad, huh? But no, instead we got another big fight with Bane. Yippee…

2. Father/Son Time
And what of what we actually get from father and son? They journey through the desert to get to a Lazarus Pit, occasionally stopping to fight members of Ra’s al Ghul’s personal guard. They take turns riding a horse, which is dragging a casket behind it. I won’t say who’s in it. But if you consider who we have in this scene and where they’re going it’s not too hard to figure out. There’s a really nice subtle reference to Batman: Knight of Vengeance, which is low key one of the best Batman stories of the last decade.

Old timey music has been a theme during Tom King’s run. In issue #73, he has Flashpoint Batman singing “Home, Home on the Range” to himself. Fun fact: It’s really weird to read that scene while playing Bing Crosby’s version of the song in the background…

Issue #74 is where things finally boil over between our Batmen. Thomas’ motivation, as always, is to get Bruce to surrender his life as Batman and live a normal life. That’s a hell of a premise for an issue. The trouble is, King spends far too much time harping on a story about a bedtime story Thomas told Bruce as a child about a bunch of animals eating each other in a pit. If I’m not mistaken, it’s an actual story written by Alexander Afanasyev, who’s widely considered to be the Russian counterpart to the Brothers Grimm. Father and son talk about the horror of it all, and why Bruce supposedly liked the story. They eventually get to the real meat of their conflict. But by the time they do, you feel frustrated because they’ve spent so much time talking about that damn story. Even during their inevitable battle in the pit, King uses the story as a narrative backdrop.

And all the while, I can’t help but think…Thomas Wayne, Batman’s dad, is standing right there. And this was the best they could do?

3. Dump the Duster
Okay DC, we get it. Batman v Superman was a thing. You guys liked the image of Batman in a duster and goggles, so you decided to use it. Fair enough.

But these issues came out in 2019. The movie came out in 2017. There was no need whatsoever to put the Flashpoint Batman in a duster and goggles just like the ones his “son” happened to wear several issues earlier in The Rules of Engagement.

If it looked cool, that would be one thing. But it doesn’t. Plus, it’s impractical and redundant even by superhero standards, and therefore silly.

What’s done is done. But let’s make this right. If you want to have Batman wearing his costume in the desert, that’s fine. Heck, if you want to have Bruce Wayne wear a duster and goggles, that’s fine. But you can’t have Batman wearing his costume in the desert with a duster and goggles. The two ideas are mutually exclusive. That’s got to be a rule in writing Batman from now on.

4. Batman Gone Batty?
Issues #70 and #71 focus on a needless, and at times silly plot point about people thinking Batman is losing it, and Jim Gordon severing ties with him.

When we open the book, our Caped Crusader is punching his way through Arkham Asylum, facing off with most of the supervillains you’d expect to see. It’s a great opportunity for Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes to draw virtually all of the iconic rogues gallery.

The trouble is, King once again supplies us with bad Batman dialogue. Not the least of which is: “You challenge me with…nightmares? I live the nightmare! Bane! Why can’t you understand! I’m Batman! I am the nightmare.”

Shut up, already.

Given how convinced Batman is that Bane is faking insanity to remain in Arkham, and how intense and violent he is in his pursuit of the truth, Gordon becomes convinced that the Dark Knight has gone off the deep end. In issue #71 he tries to kick him off the roof of police headquarters (shown above).

That skepticism spreads to his extended family of superheroes, who are convinced Bruce is still grieving over his broken engagement to Selina Kyle. The situation is punctuated when he punches Tim Drake in the face.

There’s no worthwhile payoff to any of this. It all comes off like padding. Because it is padding. You can revolve an entire story arc around either of those moments. But instead they just come and go. That’s particularly a shame when it comes to the Gordon story, as there could have been some real substance to that.

5. Where’s Wesker?
This trade also contains Batman: Secret Files #2, which in theory is supposed to spotlight all “the villains who broke the Bat.” Okay, sure.

For what I think is the first time since Batman #23.1, Andy Kubert gets to write a Batman/Joker story. Things fare much better this time, largely because he goes the comedic route. Also, Amancay Nahuelpan draws a hell of a Clown Prince of Crime.

Colin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing put together a so-so story about the Psycho-Pirate leading a cult. Artist Carlos D’Anda overachieves on this one, which I did not expect.

Mairghread Scott and Giuseppe Camuncoli turn in a Riddler story that holds up pretty well. More amusing to me is the fact that “Sideburns Riddler” is still a thing.

Steve Orlando and Eduardo Risso steal the show with a Hugo Strange tale featuring multiple Batman “specimens.” Given he’s a mad doctor, I’ll let you jump to your own conclusions on what that story is about…

Tim Seeley teams with one of my personal favorites, Patrick Gleason, for a story late in Bane’s pre-Gotham days. I’m used to Gleason working with a much brighter color palette than John Kalisz provides here. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just different.

My big problem with this issue? No story about Arnold Wesker, a.k.a. the Ventriloquist. He’s on the cover, and plays one of the more interesting roles in Bane’s big scheme, as sort of Bane’s counterpart to Alfred. It’s a little disturbing, considering what happens to Alfred in the next volume.

6. Consistence and Versatility
The Secret Files issue notwithstanding, our drawing duties are split between Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes. While The Fall and the Fallen may have its share of story problems, I can’t find much to complain about artistically. Both these men are awesome Batman artists very much in their element.

Mikel Janin was a star coming into this series. But he’s a superstar coming out of it. Speaking for myself, Janin’s art can now sell a book on its own. His line work is always super clean, his figure work consistent, and his character acting on point. I now look forward to specifically seeing his versions of Batman, the Joker, and even less flashy characters like Alfred and the Penguin. The fact that he’s got colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire backing him up in this book does nothing but help, of course. But Janin’s style on its own is versatile enough to handle any story. Whether we’re on the streets of Gotham, the Source Wall at the edge of the universe, or anywhere in between.

Objectively, Janin’s best work in this book is probably issue #74, as that’s where the book hits its emotional crescendo and is really firing on all cylinders. But selfishly, I’m partial to issue #70 because Janin gets to draw some of the more obscure Batman villains. Calendar Man, Doctor Phosphorus, the Cavalier, etc.

It’s difficult to look at Jorge Fornes’ work without thinking of what David Mazzucchelli did with Batman: Year One. The figure rendering is similar, the texture is similar. Bellaire’s coloring doesn’t have the same faded palette that Richmond Lewis’ did. But it’s still reminiscent.

I can’t bring myself to complain about the similarities, because Year One is obviously one of the all-time greats. But that means Fornes is better in environments that are a little more mundane, and can have that noir-ish spin put on them. Street level scenes, Wayne Manor and Batcave scenes, etc. It’s no accident that a hero like Daredevil is also on his resume. But something tells me that, like Janin, he’s got a versatilty to him. One that isn’t necessarily apparent here. I’m anxious to see what he does next.

7. Too Much Canvas
When someone mentions Tom King the first thing that comes to mind, at least for me, is his 12-issue run on Vision. That was such a masterclass in comic book storytelling. It’s frustrating to think that someone who wove such a classic at Marvel could make these kind of mistakes on Batman.

What it all comes down to is too much canvas. Give an artist too much canvas to work on, and suddenly the focus of the art wavers. If any story has ever had too much canvas it’s City of Bane.

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

A Batman, Vol.10: Knightmares Deep Dive – Over His Head

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 10: Knightmares
AUTHOR: Tom King
ARTISTS: Travis Moore, Mitch Gerads, Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Lee Weeks, Amanda Conner, Dan Panosian, John Timms, Yanick Paquette
COLORISTS:
Tamra Bonvillain, Jordie Bellaire, Dave Stewart, Lovern Kindzierski, Paul Mounts, Timms, Nathan Fairbairn
LETTERER:
Clayton Cowles
COLLECTS: Batman #6163, #6669
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: September 11, 2019

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead***

Need to catch up? Boy, have I got you covered. Check out Vol. 1: I Am Gotham, Vol. 2: I Am Suicide, Vol. 3: I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, Vol. 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles, Vol. 5: The Rules of Engagement, Vol. 6: Bride or Burglar?, Vol. 7: The Wedding, Volume 8: Cold Days, and Volume 9: The Tyrant Wing.

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

He did it again, didn’t he? That sly son of a…

You’ll recall back in Batman #24, Bruce Wayne proposed to Selina Kyle. Huge deal. Huge. A historic moment for both characters. One that could shake up Batman’s whole world depending on Selina’s answer. But of course, they left us with a cliffhanger.

But when Batman #25 came out, we didn’t get one. What we got was the beginning of The War of Jokes and Riddles, a tale from Batman’s past that he had to tell Selina about before she answered. Issue #24 came out on June 7, 2017. Batman #32, the issue where we finally get Selina’s response, didn’t come out until October 4. We had to wait until fall to get the answer because…um…because DC said so. (Although it was pretty obvious she was going to say yes.)

Fast-forward to December 5, 2018. Batman #60 is released, and another bombshell is dropped. The Batman of the Flashpoint universe, Thomas Wayne, not only survived the events of The Button, but has teamed up with Bane against his alt-universe son. Thomas Wayne vs. Bruce Wayne. Father vs. Son. Batman vs. Batman! The stage was set!

Then in the very next issue we got…no answers. Instead we got the issues collected in this book (with two exceptions that we’ll get to in a later date). We wouldn’t see Flashpoint Batman again until May 1, 2019.

Why DC and Tom King loved making us wait so long for cliffhanger payoffs is a mystery to me. But I’ll say this much: Knightmares is a better book than The War of Jokes and Riddles.

1. I Dreamed a Dream…
Toward the end of the book, we discover Batman is hooked up to a contraption that’s giving him very vivid nightmares. I say that not to spoil anything, but to provide context. Plus, between the Knightmares title and what happens once the book starts rolling, it’s pretty easy to see something’s up. Each collected issue contains one of our hero’s bad dreams.

This is the final volume before we get into the “City of Bane” story, which is an astounding 16 issues long. With that many pages to fill, it’s no wonder it felt immensely padded. Like they were just trying to fill space between plot points. While I consider Knightmares a good read, I’ll argue King starts to do that here. It’s a trend that ultimately forces him to limp into the home stretch. For the most part, these issues work. The “City of Bane” issues don’t.

We kick things off in issue #61, as Batman investigates the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The catch? We seem to be in the present day, and young Bruce Wayne is very much present and able to interact with his older self. Obviously it’s a “What if?” story. But it’s not what you might expect.

Travis Moore returns for this story. Once you reach the end, you’ll see how that’s fitting. Colorist Tamra Bonvillain really shines, especially early on. Her use of reds and oranges to depict the lights of Gotham City, contrasted with the deep blacks you’d expect from a Batman story are reminiscent of Francesco Francavilla’s more recent work on the character. That’s damn good company to be in.

2. “They call me MISTER PIG!!!”
Issue #61 is a good start. But here’s where business really picks up. Our sole artist is Mitch Gerads, who almost always does phenomenal work with King. With Batman #62, they create something truly unsettling. At times even horrifying. It opens with our hero hanging upside down in the back of a butcher’s shop, and he’s got some company: Professor Pyg.

And there’s blood. Lots and lots and lots of blood.

I think Professor Pyg, or at least this King/Gerads version of Professor Pyg, is what a lot of fans want the Joker to be like. A horror movie villain with a funny gimmick. Of course, the Joker is so much more than that. But Professor Pyg? As far as that horror villain territory is concerned, he’s got a solid cut of the market share.

This is a really beautiful issue in a twisted sort of way. It’s like a Saw movie with terrifying, horror flick lighting. Perhaps more importantly, when we start the story, Batman is scared. Not that fear gas-induced fear either. He’s genuinely afraid, as any of us would be. Thus, we’re pulled that much harder into the issue. There’s also a lot of confusion on Batman’s end. Why is he there? How did he get there? Why is he unable to hear what Pyg is saying? We follow Batman’s train of thought as he pushes through his fear to defeat his opponent.

And every bit as unsettling as the setting, the villain, and the frantic confusion, is the swerve turn on the final page.

3. Guest-starring…
A Batman/Constantine team-up sounds pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, that’s not what we get here. Not exactly, anyway.

In issue #63, Mikel Janin returns to give us the ending we all wanted for Bruce and Selina. They get married, go on a tropical honeymoon, share big romantic kisses on rainy Gotham City rooftops. All seems well. Then Constantine shows up to tell Batman not only is this a dream, but something awful is going to happen. Remember this is a Batman story, where everybody has dead parents, dead spouses, etc. So even if it weren’t a dream, there’s a 50/50 chance he’d be right anyway.

Why Constantine? I think the logic is “Why not?” Are there characters from Batman’s world that might fit this role better int theory? Sure. But no one so obvious that it ruins anything. I get the sense King just wanted the chance to write Constantine, so he wound up in this issue.

Ditto for the Question in issue #66, in which the framing device is Selina being interrogated about why she left Bruce at the altar. Jorge Fornes is on the pencil here, and he fits a Question story like a glove. Less fitting is Selina smoking a cigarette during the exchange, which I don’t think we’ve seen her do at all in King’s run up to this point. It feels very forced. Like they were looking for that one detail to hit that noir-ish nail on the head, and they just gave her a cigarette because they could.

Issue #66 is also where we start re-treading ground. All this stuff about how Selina sees Bruce? We’ve been reading about it for much of the last 60 issues. There’s no reason to go back there, with the Question no less, unless you’re trying to fill space. It’s a fun issue. But its intentions are clear in hindsight.

Issue #67 consists of one long chase scene, as Batman pursues another masked man across Gotham City. Telling you who the individual in question is would take the punch out of the issue. But it’s worth it for those last two pages. There’s some subtext that you have to read into. But it’s pretty easy to get. Fornes is back for this one, alongside the amazing Lee Weeks. Both those men do a hell of a job capturing that Batman: Year One vibe. Again, mostly stuff we’ve already seen. But there’s still greatness here, in one of the best single issue’s of King’s Batman run.

4. “Make a lane for Lane!”
Amanda Conner does a guest spot for issue #68. As such, it’s not surprisingly we focus mostly on female characters. Superman and Lois Lane are back, as we see what might have been a bachelor and bachelorette party respectively. While Bruce and Clark have a quiet night in, an intoxicated Selina Kyle and Lois most certainly do not. The Fortress of Solitude has never seen that kind of fun…

Yes, King backtracks again here. But if I had to choose one thing for him to go back to, there’s a hell of an argument to be made for the “Super Friends” dynamic. Specifically between Catwoman and Lois Lane. Their dynamic in this issue specifically is sheer joyful and colorful comic book fun. The kind of story that’s practically begging to be adapted into animation. Though if it’s for one of the kids shows they’ll have to cut out the liquor. (Not to mention all the stripping Superman robots.) By God, that almost defeats the whole damn purpose.

The downside? With just three pages left we lose Conner. As her style is so distinct, it’s an abrupt jolt to suddenly switch to fill-in artists. Pun intended: It’s a real buzzkill.

5. “Will You Dance With Me?”
The book closes with, of all things, a dance.

It’s only natural that we close with Bruce and Selina. Especially since almost this entire book takes place in Bruce’s head. While the issue does bounce back and forth between them and a Mikel Janin training scene with Bane and Flashpoint Thomas Wayne, the meat of the issue is in an extended dance sequence. But it’s hardly the Batusi. Yanick Paquette puts out a career issue as the two characters literally slow dance through a dream, through Gotham, through their history.

It’s a positively outstanding, and truly unique usage of the visual nature of the comic book medium. In yet another backtrack, Selina goes through multiple costume changes as she did in issue #44. But in two-page spreads such as the one above, we literally track our characters’ dance steps across the page. The use of sheet music is an absolute stroke of genius, which instantly makes this comic distinct among the thousands upon thousands in Batman’s history.

What’s more, because this is a dream there’s a subtext to it that I really enjoy. The scene is written as Bruce asking Selina why she left him. Her response involves his vow as a child, and how he can never really love her because of his devotion to the Batman, etc. But of course, the question Bruce is really asking is, “Why did she leave me?” Via a dream, he’s venting his own doubts about whether he can ever really love another person. And it ends in pretty much the manner you’d expect such a dream from Batman to end.

But the creme de creme, the moment of moments, comes on the final page of the issue and the final page in Knightmares overall…

Batman friggin’ cries. He doesn’t openly weep. But he cries. It’s not even played up at all. It’s beautifully subtle. Just two little strokes of Paquette’s pencil.

Issues like this are part of what makes Tom King’s Batman run so frustrating. Because he is a good writer. He’s a good Batman writer! He knows what he’s doing. But it feels like he got in over his head. The larger story he was trying to tell got too large and in the end he lost focus. That’s such a damn shame, given how many little gems we find in this run.

Incidentally, the song from issue #69 is one King has used before in his series. Sophie Turner’s “Some of these Days.” It dates back to the ’20s. It’s not required listening. But it’s a great little supplement. I recommend it.

6. Waking Up
There are a few collections in this Batman series that you flat out don’t need to read. Technically, this is one of them. But like Cold Days, it gets a recommendation from me. It’s not an amazing character study altogether. But like Tom King’s Batman run as a whole, it surprises you with moments that are absolute classics.

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

A Gotham City Sirens: Division Retro Review – Gotham City Stumble

***Retro Reviews are pieces of Primary Ignition‘s past (i.e. the old site) dug from the archives and returned to their rightful place. They’ve been minimally altered. The text has been cleaned up just a little, and I’ve updated the artistic credits to go beyond just the penciller. But this is mostly the content in its original form. At the end, I’ll throw in a bit of hindsight.***

TITLE: Gotham City Sirens: Division

AUTHOR: Peter Calloway
ARTISTS: Andres Guinaldo, Ramon Bachs. Cover by Guillem March.
INKERS: Lorenzo Ruggiero, Bachs,
COLORISTS: JD Smith
LETTERERS: Steve Wands, Dave Sharpe, Carlos M.Mangual, Travis Lanham, Raul Fernandez.
COLLECTS: Gotham City Sirens #2021, #2326
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $14.99
RELEASED: March 7, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Kenosha Kicker. Polka! Polka! Polka!

Reading all 26 issues of Gotham City Sirens is kind of like dating a woman who’s really hot, but who you eventually realize has a lot of personality issues. Eventually you find yourself wondering whether the whole relationship was even worth it at all.

The final volume of this series sees Harley Quinn bound and determined to kill the Joker. She breaks into Arkham Asylum, causing a massive riot. Caught in the mix are Black Mask, Clayface, our Sirens, and even Batman/Bruce Wayne himself (“Anything involving The Joker I take care of personally.”) Amidst the chaos, Harley, Catwoman and Poison Ivy will be placed at odds. Allegiances are tested, and friendships may be broken beyond repair.

I have two major issues with this book, both of which I touched on in my review of the previous volume: The way Joker is drawn and the way Harley is written.

The problem with Guinaldo’s Joker is that it’s trying to mix the look of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight with what Grant Morrison did during his run on Batman. In all fairness, after Morrison’s run DC never came up with a definitive look for the Joker to match the events of those stories. As such, creators working on different books didn’t necessarily know how to portray him. As a result, we usually got something along the lines of the traditional Joker with a bullet-shaped scar in the middle of his forehead (shown above).

The Joker we get in Division looks, quite frankly, like a pasty-faced geezer with some smeared lipstick on his cheeks. Though Guinaldo does supply us with a pretty good manic Joker face every so often, this take on the character isn’t nearly as maniacally menacing as it should be. For yours truly this became a big annoyance as the story went on.

And then there’s Harley. This story takes her to a pretty grim, dark place, especially in the beginning. She’s got a lot of rage directed at the Joker, and as a result we get a lot of inner monologue that seems out of character to me…

“There’s a place. A place in my head. A place on the other side of happy-go-lucky. The one part of me that isn’t looking for the joke. In that dark place–lurks rage…when the laughter breaks down–and humor can’t quiet its hunger–the rage gets out. And then it runs the show.”

I reject this portrayal of Harley not because of principle, but execution. We’ve seen her get angry before. It’s to be expected from a crazy lady who loves a homicidal clown and commits crimes while dressed like a Commedia dell’arte character.

But in Division, Harley becomes a cold, calculated strategist and murderer. We get inside her head and follow her thought process as she systematically breaks into Arkham. This portrayal robs the character of some of her charm. We’re not supposed to be able to follow Harley’s mindset when she does these things. She’s insane. Is she, deep down, a good person who could potentially be saved? Yes. But her infatuation with the Joker has also placed her on a different plane of reality than the rest of us. The reason she can be so goofy, so sick and twisted, with such drastic emotional swerves, is that she’s not playing with the same deck the rest of us are. This book defies that notion by simply making Harley an overly emotional, hopelessly attached girlfriend in a clown suit. She looks sane.

And as we all know, this chick ain’t sane.

The book does have its moments, though. We spend a little time with Aaron Cash, the asylum’s head of security whom we met in the Arkham Asylum video game. We’re with him when he learns about The Joker’s role in the death of his infant son, which is simply haunting. The Arkham Asylum riot is given the right amount of weight by Calloway. He doesn’t play it off like an every day occurrence the way some writers do. There’s a nice aura of panic about it.

Gotham City Sirens started out on such a high note. Unfortunately the memory of how good the series was during that first seven months or so never stopped haunting it. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping for this series to be something of an action/comedy, akin to what we sometimes saw in Batman: The Animated Series and Gotham Girls. No such luck. In the end, Gotham City Sirens was just like every other Batman book on the stands. And what’s the point of putting this oddball trio together if you’re not going to have some fun with it?

At one point in this book, Harley asks Ivy: “Did the three of us make sense as a team? Ever?” (shown above)

The answer is no. But that was where all the fun should have come from.

***In Hindsight***
I wish I could say my opinion had changed on this one. Paul Dini wrote a total of 10 issues, which are collected in the first and second volumes. If you want to check out this series, those are the books you need to read.

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

A Gotham City Sirens: Strange Fruit Retro Review – Hate that Joker!

***Retro Reviews are pieces of Primary Ignition‘s past (i.e. the old site) dug from the archives and returned to their rightful place. They’ve been minimally altered. The text has been cleaned up just a little, and I’ve updated the artistic credits to go beyond just the penciller. But this is mostly the content in its original form. At the end, I’ll throw in a bit of hindsight.***

TITLE: Gotham City Sirens: Strange Fruit
AUTHORS: Tony Bedard, Peter Calloway
ARTISTS: Andres Guinaldo, Jeremy Haun, Guillem March
INKERS: Lorenzo Luggiero, BIT, Walden Wong
COLORISTS: JD Smith, Tomeu Morey
LETTERER: Steve Wands, Travis Lanham, Dave Sharpe
COLLECTS: Gotham City Sirens #1419
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $22.99
RELEASED: August 16, 2011

By Rob Siebert
The same Rob from up top.

It was somewhere during this story that I gave up on Gotham City Sirens ever being the book I wanted it to be. As it started out as a title written by Paul Dini, I was hoping we’d get something more light-hearted, akin to the work Dini did with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy on Batman: The Animated Series. Over the first several issues, we did get that. But it tapered off as different writers started to come on to the book.

Strange Fruit is fairly low on humor, and it’s the first trade in the series without Dini’s name on it, but a high-stakes storyline keeps the title from taking a steep plunge in quality.

The first two issues continue the story that was started in the last book. It’s about Poison Ivy helping an alien or something. In all honesty, my distaste for a random alien appearance in a Bat-book pretty much took me out of the story. It’s not terrible. But I wasn’t a fan.

We then move into a story in which Talia al Ghul and Zatanna are trying to stop a group of bad guys from targeting Catwoman so they can learn Batman’s true identity. What further complicates things is that Catwoman lied to Harley and Ivy, telling them she didn’t know his identity. Trust issues galore can be found in this story, which will lead to Harley making a VERY dramatic decision.

Something’s been nagging at me about Gotham City Sirens for awhile, and it traces back to the events of this book. The way Andres Guinaldo draws the Joker (see below) irritates me terribly. We only see him through sporadic flashbacks, but I’m consistently bothered with the way Guinaldo puts those Dark Knight-ish red etches at the corners of his mouth. He’s not the first artist to do it, but the way he does it is really distracting. They’re much too big. It looks like he’s smeared lipstick on his cheeks. I understand part of it is just Guinaldo’s style. But The Joker’s Dark Knight look doesn’t lend itself to that style.

The story with Zatanna and Talia isn’t the strongest I’ve ever seen, but it’s good. Both have been romantically linked to Bruce Wayne in the past, and those connections make for interesting storytelling. Selina and Zatanna also have a history, which adds to the fire.

While there are a few Harley Quinn moments that harken back to the tone the series started with, the book sets more of a traditional tone, which essentially makes it just like all the other Bat-books, which means it loses a huge part of its selling point. At least for me. I’m certainly not heartbroken this series won’t be part of the New 52 reboot.

***In Hindsight***
My mind about Andres Guinaldo’s Joker has not changed. Thankfully, that trend has died down in the years since.

At the time, I gave this book a 6/10. Upon re-reading, that feels about right. I liked that they played with Selina’s knowledge of Bruce’s identity. Though ironically this was post-Final Crisis, and the Batman we see in this book is Dick Grayson.

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

A Batman: Life After Death Retro Review – Meanwhile, Almost a Decade Ago…

***Retro Reviews are pieces of Primary Ignition‘s past (i.e. the old site) dug from the archives and returned to their rightful place. They’ve been minimally altered. The text has been cleaned up just a little, and I’ve updated the artistic credits to go beyond just the penciller. But this is mostly the content in its original form. At the end, I’ll throw in a bit of hindsight.***

TITLE: Batman: Life After Death

AUTHOR: Tony Daniel
ARTISTS: Daniel, Guillem March
INKERS: Sandu Florea, Norm Rapmund
COLORISTS: Ian Hannin, Tomeu Morey
LETTERER: Jared K. Fletcher
COLLECTS: Batman #692699
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASE DATE: October 12, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Thinks Bruce Wayne just might come back.

In a lot of ways, this book is a sequel to Batman: Battle For The Cowl. It doesn’t come after it chronologically. But Life After Death was written entirely by Tony Daniel, the same man who wrote Battle. It also ties up some of the plot threads Daniel started there.

Life After Death finds the mysterious new Black Mask (i.e. not Roman Sionis) and his gang of False Faces in a war against the returning Falcone Crime Family. With the help of Catwoman and Huntress, Dick Grayson, the new Batman, must fight to keep Gotham City standing amidst the chaos. Meanwhile, Kitrina, youngest of the Falcone children, proves a force to be reckoned with. And because that’s clearly not enough, the Riddler, who struck with amnesia shortly after the events of Batman: Hush, is starting to remember things that will come back to haunt him.

What I really enjoyed about Life After Death is that in writing it, Daniel didn’t do what Judd Winick did in Long Shadows. There weren’t a lot of talky scenes where Dick says much trouble he’s having adjusting to his new role as Batman. Daniel doesn’t tell us about Grayson’s troubles, he shows them to us. I give him a lot of credit for that.

Being a continuity buff, I love the fact that Daniel brought Mario Falcone into the story. He’s is a character left over from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s work on Batman. For me, those books are right up there with the best Batman stories ever published. So to see those them acknowledged here was. Also included in this story is The Reaper, the villain from Mike Barr’s Batman: Year Two. Between the allusions to those three stories, plus Hush (another Jeph Loeb story), it’s clear Daniel has done his homework.

We find out who our new Black Mask is in this book. If you’re reading closely, his identity should be clear by the time the mask comes off. Daniel does a nice job characterizing this new version of the character, and his identity has already made for some interesting reading in the monthly Batman titles.

Daniel gives the artist reigns to Guillem March for the last fourth of the book. For my money, Daniel’s art is superior, but Guillem March is great too. His art fits nicely with the Batman books, and he draws great facial expressions.

From a writing standpoint, the book is a significant improvement over Battle For The Cowl. He’ll likely always be a great artist, but if he continues this trend, he’s also going to be a force to be reckoned with as a writer.

***In Hindsight***
True story: I had totally forgotten about the Kitrina Falcone character. She made for a pleasant, “Oh! That’s right!” moment.

This book came out before the Tony Daniel/Sandu Florea team overstayed its welcome. For my money, that happened when they started working on Detective Comics the following year. Floreau’s colors had a dourness to them that took a lot of the fun out of those books.

In this one, however, things mostly look okay. I can appreciate the darker, almost more gothic look to Dick Grayson’s Batman. Though it was a stark contrast to how Mark Bagley, Ed Benes, inker Rob Hunter, and oddly enough the same colorist in Ian Hannin, and had him look just a few issues prior. More colorful. Happier. Which at the end of the day is really how Dick’s Batman should look, to highlight the differences between he and Bruce.

I’m not as kind to Guillem March’s work in hindsight. His work on the New 52 Catwoman book just changed the way I look at his art. These days, he’s hit or miss with me. Ironically, as this is being published he’s working on Batman once again.

I miss Riddler’s private detective days. There was a lot of fun to be had there.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

A Batman, Vol. 9: The Tyrant Wing Deep-Dive – Penguin Steals the Show

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 9: The Tyrant Wing
AUTHORS: Tom King, Ram V, Cheryl Lynn Eaton, Jordie Bellaire, Tom Taylor,
ARTISTS: Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Elena Casagrande, Jill Thompson, Otto Schmidt
COLORISTS: Bellaire, Matt Wilson, Trish Mulvhill,
LETTERERS: Clayton Cowles, Steve Wands, Deron Bennett, Troy Peteri
COLLECTS: Batman #58-60, Batman Secret Files #1, Batman Annual #3
FORMAT:
Softcover
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: March 20, 2019

***WARNING: There’s a minor spoiler ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

The Tyrant Wing is more or less a transitionary book. Bruce and Selina’s wedding has happened. Or rather, not happened. We dealt with a lot of the fall-out from it in Cold Days. In The Tyrant Wing we start setting the stage for Tom King’s big finale. A new opponent for Batman emerges. One that even the world’s greatest detective couldn’t possibly have anticipated.

But along the way King, Mikel Janin, and the Batman team unexpectedly do some justice for a character that doesn’t always get the love he deserves: The Penguin.

1. Penny In Your Thoughts
If you’re a guy who happens to be down on his luck romantically, I offer you this bit of consolation: If the Penguin can find a bride, so can you.

Then again, she’s dead now. So maybe that’s not the hopeful example we wanna go with.

Yes, apparently ol’ Pengers had a wife we never saw or heard about. Her name? Penny Cobblepot. Though almost 30 years younger than him, it’s quickly obvious Penguin loved her dearly. Suddenly, he’s a man with nothing left to lose. So he starts spilling secrets. Secrets about Bane…

To Tom King’s credit, this might be the most multi-dimensional take on the Penguin I’ve ever seen. We see pieces of virtually every version of the character. We get the squawking supervillain with the trick umbrellas. We get the freakish, portly gentleman with the soul of a poet. We get the unspeakably cruel crime boss. We even get a small trace of the fish-slurping monster we saw in Batman Returns. Like many Batman villains, we’re against him but we also manage to find some sympathy for him.

Like a lot of fans, I’ve given King my share of grief over some of the choices he’s made on this series. I’ll continue to do so, in fact. But he knocked ol’ Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot right out of the park.

This is most evident in issue #60. A blindfolded Penguin is locked up in the Batcave talking to Alfred. This is instantly compelling, as we don’t often see Alfred interacting with the villains, much less one he might have something in common with. They bond over, of all things, poetry. At one point, Penguin even calls his anonymous keeper, “my friend.” Alfred then feeds him raw fish by hand. It’s one of those scenes that, considering both characters have been around for decades, it’s shocking it hasn’t been done.

As the Penguin endures heartbreak, Batman punches his way across Gotham searching for the truth about what Bane is plotting. Naturally, this causes a hell of a lot of friction with Gordon and the GCPD. None of this really grabbed me, as we’ve seen this kind of story many times before. Things get a little more engaging in issue #60 when Jorge Fornes tags in for the Batman sequences.

Unfortunately, I do need to make note of one the clunkier lines in this entire run. When Batman barges into Arkham to confront Bane, he’s met by a SWAT team. As he’s dismantling them, while generally being a raging prick about the whole thing, he says among other things…

“Right now, each of you has a choice to make. Do I pull that trigger and get a Bat-boot shoved through my face? Or do I let the man go about his business?”

Yup. Bat-boot. Our legendary hero, everybody.

2. The Butler Does It All
We shift gears here. Venturing away from the main plot, we move to author Tom Taylor and artist Otto Schmidt and one of the best Alfred Pennyworth stories of the modern era. If not all time.

Given the stunt DC recently pulled with Alfred, they put out an issue dedicated to him. Various members of the Batman family shared memories of him. But frankly, something like Batman Annual #3 is a much better tribute issue. It touches on the various things Alfred does to make the whole Batman operation work. But more importantly, it dives  into why he does it and what he gets from it.

Think of it this way: Gotham needs Batman. Batman needs Alfred. So at the end of the day, what does that make Alfred?

3. Batman in Quarantine (Kind of…)
The trade closes out with a Secret Files issue that’s very much a mixed bag. We open up with a three-page Tom King/Mikel Janin story. Or rather, part of a story. As Batman is feeling the wear and tear on his body, Superman just happens to offer him access to a new kind of Kryptonite. Platinum Kryptonite, of which a single touch will grant him the same powers as Superman. The story ends with Bruce asking Alfred, “Am I enough?”

I call BS on this for two reasons.

Firstly, to just end the story on that note, even if it’s only meant to serve as an introduction, is a crime. Batman is literally offered all the same powers as Superman. And you don’t give his answer? What kinda lazy garbage is that? Over a decade ago, DC put out a story called Super/Bat that more or less had this same premise, and Batman does get Superman’s powers. It was amazing. If you want to give your own take on that story, but all means go for it. But to leave it open-ended like that? Screw you.

Secondly, while it’s not a direct line of dialogue, it’s indicated that Superman tells Batman if he touches this new Kryptonite, “Then you can fight as I fight. As you should fight. With true strength.”

No. Wrong. I understand the implication they’re making about where true strength comes from. But Superman’s “true strength” does not come from his powers. It comes from his character. From his ideals. The way he views the world. I don’t have an issue with him offering Batman super powers. But for him to suggest that’s where “true strength” comes from is out of character. Bad form.

After a story about a cop feeling long-term effects from Scarecrow gas, we get one about Waynetech drones winding up in the wrong hands and what Bruce does about it. I actually got more of an Iron Man vibe from that one. The book closes with a team-up between Batman and Detective Chimp, which is fun.

But the only other story in the issue that really sticks out is a tale written by colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire. On Man-Bat’s trail, Batman secludes himself in a cabin amidst Gotham’s snow-covered mountains. As it turns out, this notorious loner doesn’t do so well when he’s forced to be on his own.

The operative line of the story is, “Truth is, I’m not such a fan of myself.”

The central idea here is really compelling. What does Bruce Wayne’s self image look like? What does a man who goes out every night dressed like a bat to beat up criminals think of himself? You could do a whole story on that.

While this was written some time ago, it’s timely to discuss it now. As I type this we’re in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. People around the world are quarantined in their homes. Naturally, that’s not always an easy thing to do. Even if you’re Batman.

4. A Bridge Worth Crossing
Is The Tyrant Wing an essential read? No. But is it a good read? Yes. I enjoyed this book more than many of the earlier books in this series. Mostly because of the Penguin. I’ll go ahead and say it: Too many people sleep on him as a character. He’s more than just a portly dude with an umbrella. He’s a scoundrel. He’s a gentleman. He’s an iconic villain.

For more of Tom King’s run on Batman, check out I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide, I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, The War of Jokes and Riddles, The Rules of Engagement, Bride or Burglar?, The Wedding, and Cold Days.

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

A Batman: The Rules of Engagement Review – Woundmates

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 5: The Rules of Engagement
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Joelle Jones, Clay Mann, Lee Weeks, Michael Lark
COLLECTS: Batman #3337, Batman Annual #2
FORMAT:
Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
April 25, 2018

***WARNING: One or two minor spoilers ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Didja catch that? See what they did there? “Rules of Engagement.” Only it’s like, engagement. You know, to be married and stuff. Yeah, you get it. See, it’s that kind of clever wordplay that’s kept the Batman mythos alive for 80 years…

So before DC went and made a lot of people mad with the Batman/Catwoman wedding storyline, this was the early portion of the build-up. Basically, this is the part where most of Bruce Wayne’s closest allies react to his decision to marry Selina Kyle. Damian, Dick, and his various surrogate sons. Superman. Even Talia al Ghul. Hijinks and violence ensue.

Oooo! I’ve got one! Ready? Together, Bruce and Selina are about to learn that the only “rules of engagement,” are that there are no rules.

Oh c’mon! If they can get away with Rules of Engagement

1. A Walk Through the Desert
The first part of the book sees Batman and Catwoman enter the Middle Eastern nation of Khadym, which the U.N. and the Justice League have designated off-limits. It also happens to house Talia al Ghul and the League of Assassins. But Talia has something Bruce and Selina need to move forward with their marriage. Thus, the two sides are on a collision course. As you might expect, there are swords involved. Like, a lot of swords.

Presumably because of Batman v Superman, Batman dons a duster and goggles, despite also being in full costume. It was stupid in the movie. It’s no less stupid here. The look would eventually return for another desert story, and it was no less stupid there either. I’ll be incredibly happy when this damn trend fades away.

As she would later do on the Catwoman series, Joelle Jones turns in some marvelous work, alongside colorist Jordie Bellaire. While her style, complete with the dark jagged lines, doesn’t exactly mesh well with the quiet scenes in Wayne Manor, it’s a tremendous fit for all the desert stuff. Jones often shines when the dramatic and the grotesque come together. So when things get bloody, slicey, and stabby, she’s right at home.

Things culminate in a fight between Talia and Selina. It manages to be a pretty good fight. Not because of the physicality, but because of a stretch of dialogue where Selina proves she knows Bruce in a way Talia never has. She has a kind of insight into his mind and heart of which Talia may be incapable. From a writing standpoint, it’s one of the highlights of Tom King’s entire Batman run.

King also revisits the “Can Batman be happy?” idea he touched on during I Am Gotham. He uses Damian and Dick Grayson for some very poignant and effective stuff that cuts to the heart of the Batman character. I’ll leave it at that for now, as we’ll need to revisit it down the road anyway.

2. Double Date
The book shifts from bloody to comedic for a double date story that tips its hat to the sillier Superman/Batman stuff from the Golden Age. In “Super Friends,” Bruce and Selina take in a night at a carnival with Clark Kent and Lois Lane. King, Clay Mann, co-inker Seth Mann, and Bellaire go all out with the premise. The characters wear each other’s superhero costumes. Lois and Selina get wasted. Superman and Batman play baseball. By and large, it’s genuinely fun. Clay Mann’s rendering of Clark Kent in the Batsuit, glasses and all, is hilarious.

It does, however, raise one of the issues I often have with King’s writing: He can go a little off the deep end with the banter. It’s not so much an issue in “Super Friends,” as it’s a blatant comedy. But when you have, for instance, a high-stakes tale about Batman and Catwoman confronting Talia and the League of Assassins, going too heavy on the banter can cut into the drama.

Case in point, when we open issue #34, Batman and Catwoman are surrounded by assassins, hell bent on cutting them to pieces. This is a portion of the dialogue we get just before the fighting gets underway…

B: “Cat, I may be wearing a leather bat costume. But do I look dumb enough to make fun of you?
C: “I don’t know, Bat. Do I look dumb enough to not know what ‘a lot’ is?”
B: “No. You look lovely.”
C: “Sure, you say that now. Wait’ll I’ve got their blood all over me.”

One of King’s greatest strengths in writing Batman is how he conveys the connection between Batman and Catwoman. But even by couple-bickering standards, stuff like this is overindulgent. Sadly, this book is hardly the end of it.

3. Woundmates
I read an article not long ago that introduced me to the term “woundmate.”  Long story short, it’s someone with whom you share a similar kind of trauma, or unsolved emotional problems and as such they feel like a soulmate. But in the end, they aren’t.

Re-reading “Some of These Days” from Batman Annual #2 reminded me of that article. Because in the end, that’s what Bruce and Selina are. Woundmates. That’s beautifully, and literally, illustrated by Lee Weeks as he channels his inner David Mazzucchelli. The story is obviously meant to be an extension of Batman: Year One, but it doesn’t work at all without Weeks.

Michael Lark is tagged in for the last few pages, as we time-jump to a potential future where Bruce and Selina have grown old together. Again, poignant. And downright touching when you get right down to it. I love Gotham Central as much as anybody, so I’ll never complain about seeing Lark back on a Bat-book.

4. A Deeper Connection
King uses the annual to retcon Batman and Catwoman’s history so they have a deeper connection. Most notable is that they discover one another’s identities very early on. I can’t say I love that, but I don’t hate it either.

What I’m not necessarily a fan of is Catwoman’s motivation in the story. She breaks into Wayne Manor multiple times, and later reveals she’s been doing it to essentially sharpen Batman’s edges so he doesn’t get killed. (See above image.)

Frankly, I just don’t buy it. Maybe I’m too hung up on the classic Batman/Catwoman presentation where they’re simply flirtatious. I can accept Selina being able to penetrate the walls Bruce has put up and catch him off guard. I can accept the idea that she cares about him. But something just isn’t right about the notion that she takes time out of her life to sharpen Batman’s skills. Remember how early in her career this is supposed to be. Early on, Catwoman is a hardened thief out for herself. She may have a heart of gold underneath it all, but that only extends so far…

5. The Verdict
The Rules of Engagement isn’t a must-read, even if you’re simply following the wedding storyline. It has the same flaws as most of Tom King’s Batman run. There is, however, some amazing art to be seen. I can’t help but be partial to Lee Weeks, but it’s also a strong outing for Joelle Jones. And if, like me, you’re a fan of the way King writes Bruce and Selina’s chemistry, you’ll enjoy it.

For more of Tom King’s run on Batman, check out I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide, I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, and The War of Jokes and Riddles.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

A Teen Titans: Damian Knows Best Review – A Return to Glory?

TITLE: Teen Titans, Vol. 1: Damian Knows Best
AUTHOR: Benjamin Percy
PENCILLERS: Jonboy Meyers, Diogenes Nieves, Khoi Pham
COLLECTS: Teen Titans #15Teen Titans Rebirth #1
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
June 14, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Teen Titans have had a pretty awesome run on television over the last decade and a half. The comics, on the other hand? They’ve been a mixed bag. But this new Teen Titans series under the DC Rebirth banner offered yet another fresh start for one of the most iconic and prolific superhero teams in all of comics. A chance to make the Teen Titans great again!

I wouldn’t call Damian Knows Best a great book. But these still manage to be the best Teen Titans comics we’ve gotten in several years. Since 2011 at the very least.

In the wake of his 13th birthday, Damian Wayne, a.k.a. Robin, summons his own team of young heroes to combat a threat from his past. Damian’s grandfather, Ra’s al Ghul, has sent his own team of young assassins after the Boy Wonder. Their mission? Either bring Damian back into the League of Assassins or kill him. But as his new teammates are about to find out, Damian isn’t one to make things easy.

Damian should have been on the Teen Titans a long time ago. That last really good Teen Titans story I alluded to above? It sees Damian barge in and briefly anoint himself team leader. Why it took so long to get him back on the team is beyond me. Sticking a character as abrasive as Damian in a team environment is a natural source for tension and conflict. Making it a team of adolescents ups the ante even more. It’s an update this book has desperately needed since…well, 2011.

Perennial team members Starfire, Beast Boy, and Raven are back. I’ve lamented previously about how the series can’t move away from them, presumably because DC wants to match the cartoon show. Plus, they’re synonymous with the iconic Wolfman/Perez era. Swapping one or two of them out for newer characters might open the door for even more new possibilities. That’s what a relaunch is supposed to be about, after all. We at least get a little of that with the inclusion of Kid Flash.

However, Ben Percy does a commendable job turning up the teen angst with most of our heroes. The common theme among them is the feeling they don’t belong anywhere. Like so many young people, they feel isolated.. That commonality that makes them feel like they belong together, instead of being lumped together for no real reason (other than editorial mandate). The opening sequence with Beast Boy is one of the character’s best in quite some time. As he behaves in his typical animated and boisterous fashion, the narration captions highlight his inner turmoil, most notably over the “death” of Tim Drake. Throw in how wonderfully drawn and colored the whole thing is, and you’ve got a knock-out intro.

That’s one of the things DC has failed to do with Teen Titans for so many years: Really amp up the teen element effectively, making this book considerably different from Justice League and the other team books out there. Need an example? Look what Mark Waid is doing in Champions. All those characters feel like teenagers trying to find their way in the world and blaze a new trail that’s different from the previous generation’s. Teen Titans doesn’t have that rebellious streak to it. But having these characters feel young and a little less sure of themselves is damn sure a step in the right direction.

Most of the Demon’s Fist characters are forgettable. They’re led by Damian’s cousin Mara. Despite being fairly forgettable herself, she has a strong origin story. She trained alongside Damian growing up, competing with him but never quite besting him. Damian was intended to lead the Demon’s Fist, but Mara took over in his absence. If you subscribe to the idea that all of Batman’s villains represent a distorted mirror image of him, then Mara would be the equivalent for Robin.

Jonboy Meyers was supposed to be the regular artist for Teen Titans. He made it through issue #1 before leaving due to “creative differences.” That’s a damn shame. Meyers breathed so much new life into this series, giving us an Anime-inspired expressiveness, and thus a sense of fun the book has sorely lacked for a long time. Make no mistake about it, the guy knows his way around a superhero action sequence. I’ll specifically cite the Kid Flash pages from the Rebirth issue as evidence.

Diogenes Nieves has the unenviable job of tagging in for Meyers in issue #2. To his credit, the transition goes about as smooth as you could ask. He gives us a couple of gorgeous pages of a rainy rooftop scene between Damian and Talia al Ghul. Still, the little quirks in Meyers’ art are still sorely missed. The same, sadly, can be said for when Khoi Pham takes over on issues #3-5. Objectively, he’s a fine artist. When it’s time for our team to rise up in issue #5, Pham nails it. It’s just that Meyers has that certain flair. Starting with it and then taking it away doesn’t do the book any favors.

Thankfully, one constant in the book is colorist Jim Charalampidis, who brings a valuable consistency to the series despite the changing artists. These pages look a touch darker than I might have expected. But it’s still the beautiful blaze of color you’d hope to see from a superhero team book like this.

It’s been quite awhile since I picked up Teen Titans on a consistent basis. This new series changed that. Did Damian Knows Best make Teen Titans great again? No. But it made the series good again. That’s more than you can say for any other book to bear it’s name in the last several years. Now, here’s hoping things stay good for quite some time. These characters, and this series deserve at least that much.

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