I’ve been following the various Batman-related titles more than I can remember at any previous time in their long history. The reason is because the current crop is written and illustrated very well; and the storylines are so compelling and involving. In my book, the Batman: Reborn titles are winners. I’m about to face some hard decisions as I start to fine-tune my monthly comics budget. I’m spending and reading much more than I should be (considering current economic status) and I’ve got to reduce the number of books I’m purchasing. What BAT titles will I chose to quit following? This is going to be a tough decision.
What I like most about BATGIRL is the light-hearted, easy going and amusing style that Miller uses to move the story along. I’m reminded of the early years of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and suspect that this had a positive influence on Miller. While the current ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN COMICS doesn’t quite have the old magic - - - BATGIRL (which is written in a similar style) seems fresh and exciting to me.
Since I haven’t been a regular or even an occasional reader of the former BATGIRL titles I have a lot of catching up to do. However, BATGIRL #1 gives me just enough history to keep from being confused and/or “in the dark” by the recent happenings. The newest person to wear the Batgirl outfit is Stephanie Brown, who previously tried out the vigilante role as Spoiler and made a promise to her mother to give it up. And now she’s hiding that fact from her mother, who believes that a job transfer for mom and a new beginning for her college freshman daughter will help Stephanie begin to act like a “normal girl.” But the former occupant of the Batgirl costume, Cassandra, no longer feels motivated to fight for Batman (after his alleged death) and abandons the costume for “Steph” to pick up.
Enter the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, who in her role as Oracle keeps tabs on all Bat-related activities and serves as guidance/monitor whenever needed. In a great one page establishing scene, writer Miller shows just how strong this wheelchair-bound woman is as well as how much anger is bottled up as she quickly dispatches some subway muggers. Oracle gets a phone call from Batman/Dick Grayson to tip her off to recent events and the issue ends as Steph wakes up one morning to a kitchen discussion with a determined Barbara Gordon.
BATGIRL #2: Part 2 of Batgirl Rising, Point of New Origin
I’m really admiring the fluid art style of Lee Garbett, assisted by Trevor Scott and Sandra Hope in this issue. The action sequences and close-ups of character faces are especially good. Check out the opening sequence.
In this issue Barbara Gordon/Oracle attempts to discourage Steph from continuing as Batgirl but doesn’t convince her, even after a scare tactic made as a desperate last attempt. By the end of the book Oracle has reconciled herself to Steph’s decision and plays a major role as counselor/mentor/assistant and someone who’s protecting Batgirl’s back. I expect to see Oracle as a regular participant in future events and that’s a welcome addition to this book. As events from Issue #1 continue, Batgirl with Oracle’s assistance uncovers a plot to introduce a new and deadly designer drug, “Thrill”, onto the Gotham U. campus. This type of story has been done before but it’s the way it’s handled here that makes it worth following. Miller injects sufficient doses of humor into the mix periodically. And you can guess (as I did) who might be behind the drug ring as revealed on the last page.
BATWOMAN in DETECTIVE COMICS #856 by Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III
Everything in this title has been just about perfect, including the absolutely gorgeous and attention-getting covers by J. H. Williams. If indeed it comes down to just one Bat book per month for me, then this is the number one contender.
The secret race of hybrid were-beasts and octopi-men who worship Batwoman (“true believers”) come to the rescue in this issue. That almost was enough to make me turn against this book, as I dislike any blend of the supernatural with super-hero titles. It never feels right to me and it gets me annoyed quickly. However the strong scripting by Rucka and the engaging new villainess Alice continue to hold my interest so I’m putting up with it for now.
There are six separate instances where the art splashes across two pages and is a sight to be marveled at. Williams is doing some very creative work with panel placement and the actual outline of panels (jagged, sometimes triangular, very much like Gene Colan’s best experiments). The scenes with Batwoman in them are also very colorful (almost psychedelic in choices) while the scenes with Kate Kane (name tribute to Bob, Batman’s creator) are colored in more muted or neutral tones. Williams even changes his art style for these scenes (reminding me of the way a lot of Marvel Epic books were drawn back in the late 70’s). For a lot of these scenes Williams uses a full page panel as background (building scene or cityscape) and then places multi-panels directly overtop of it for a really neat effect. How do you make a formal dinner dance in a ballroom that goes on for several pages interesting? Use the same full panel (in these case a panel that crosses over two pages) background and put sheet music around the borders. In these scenes, Kate dressed like a funeral director in tux and put on a little white-face (the resemblance to Alice is disturbing).
And Rucka handles the introductions between Kate and new police captain Maggie Sawyer so well. It’s a sensitive and controversial subject that is covered very tactfully, and that demonstrates that Rucka may understand why women are attracted to each other without sensationalizing it or over-stating the issue for shock effect.
The second feature in this book - - The Question - - is also written by Rucka. And while its also well-done this crime story/investigation seems too familiar. I guess its tough having to follow the Batwoman feature - - - it just doesn’t compare very well. The art by Cully Hammer is a much different style compared to Williams. It’s more basic and textbook. However it does shine in spots, especially the two center-page scene with a bound Question escaping from the trunk of a car that has been driven into a lake.
DETECTIVE COMICS #857: Elegy Part 4 – Rubato!
Before you even open this book your attention is grabbed by the cover, a split scene that shows Batwoman and Alice’s bodies morphing into a single person (a clue?). And the opening page shows three diagonal panels of Kate, Alice, and ? (flashback, maybe) speaking on the phone that also morphs into one person (another clue). Move onto the next two pages (center-spread again) with Alice on the left half, Kate on the right half at the ballroom - - vivid colors to the left, drabber colors to the right - - two different art styles between left and right pages - - and split down the center with symbolic representations of Batwoman (bright red shadow/outline) and dark/gray trellis/ivy above for Alice. Hey, give the award to Williams right now - - best artist of 2009!
After symbolically punching me in the face with the dynamic work on the first three pages, Williams goes for the knock-out punch on page 4-5 with a multi-dimensional effect in his placement of panels. The two page background panel shows Batwoman reaching for some ammo on a flat table loaded with weapons and accessories. Six smaller panels are placed on top of this, three at the top and three at the bottom. At the top Kate is walking up a pair of steps that make it look as if she’s stepping onto the center panel. At the bottom Kate and Abbott take off on the Bat-bike making it appear as if they will motor right off the page. Magnificent!
As if that wasn’t enough to wow me, there are six more instances of the action flowing across two facing pages. There’s a fight mid-air that rivals a similar but different scene in Ultimate Avengers Comics #1 (that I also loved). The one pager that begins the fight between Batwoman and Alice’s Amazon bodyguard uses a full panel background to show the two fighters preparing for their confrontation and multiple, jagged panels that look like blood red panes of broken glass overlay this and depict the actual fight, which ends with a bloodied and defeated bodyguard flying backwards across the top of the next two pages. Wow. Wow. Wow. (also Woof, Woof, Woof).
Rucko moves the story along and gets the right amount of dialogue inserted to get the job done, but this issue is Williams show all the way. What a show! I’m thinking I’d like to have this in a trade paperback, or hardcover, or dare I suggest it - - an Absolute Edition! Rucka and Williams -- you guys are killing my wallet!
Rucka plants more clues with an assist from Williams. Kate’s dad, Colonel Roger Kane, seems to recognize Alice and calls her “Beth?” (clue) which she responds “There’s no such thing.” He later reminds Batwoman “Batman rule in effect, Kate. Don’t kill her.” (clue) Their fight begins with another two-page spread with their connected bodies at center and the fight revolving around them in seemingly rotating panels. Ok guys, I think I get it now. If there was any doubt check out what Alice says to Kate right before she gets knocked out of the plane.
Pity the poor Question second feature again following behind something as wondrous as I just finished reading. If I came across this story in a different book I might be writing about how well Cully Hamner depicts the action in small multiple panels (more evidence of that this issue). Maybe they should make The Question the first feature in this title once in a while to give it a chance before the readers get to the killer final act.
RED ROBIN #4 : The Grail, conclusion
The first story arc ends here; but the saga of Red Robin is just beginning.
“Ras Al Ghul is my new Alfred. Butler of the Damned.” Tim’s quest to locate Bruce Wayne takes him to Baghdad, where he is almost arrested for stealing a German artifact until the League of Assassins trio that has been following him around bail him out. They accompany him to the desert to search the caves for signs of the Bat.
There’s a neat flashback scene that gives insight into Tim’s last encounter with Dick - - Red Robin vs... Batman - - as Dick tries to persuade him to give up his quest, only to end in Tim earning the right to go his own way.
The issue ends with the introduction of The Widower from The Council of Spiders who surprises the group and complicates matters further, leading up to the next story arc.
It’s a good book. I admire the courage and resolve that Tim has shown, striking out on his own with scant leads to pursue, and hope that he turns out to be right eventually.
STREETS OF GOTHAM # 3 AND #4
“Hush Money” and “Business” by Paul Dini, writer and Dustin Nguyen, artist . . . . .
The Bruce Wayne impersonator (Dr. Tom Elliott aka Hush) continues his charade as the savior of Gotham, throwing money around to various charities and starting up non-profit companies to help reduce unemployment (nice touch that, a playing card company erected on the site that gave birth to the Joker). His plan is to drain the resources of the Wayne foundation in a crafty non-violent way to achieve his vengeance, knowing that Batman and Robin are helpless to stop him without generating adverse publicity and looking like the villains/spoilsports. So Dick and Damien enlist a group of allies and come up with their own novel, non-violent way to keep the faux Bruce Wayne in check.
Meanwhile in Gotham, the Penguin has been reduced to the role of manservant to Black Mask, the current reigning boss of crime. I anticipate seeing Mr. Cobblepot exact some revenge in future issues. A grateful Black Mask is generous to his life saver, the brutal and sadistic Victor, and rewards him with enough money to set up his own enterprise. Victor gets new duds and goes back to referring to himself as Mister Zsasz, who in my opinion bears a remarkable resemblance to Dean Motter’s Mister X of indie comics fame.
Enter Simon Fine aka The Broker, who never gets his hands dirty but makes his living by buying up abandoned Gotham factories and warehouses and selling them at dirty prices to various villains for secret lairs. His last sale is to Mr. Zsasz, who apparently is setting up an arena for bloodsport with young children. Batman and Robin pay The Broker a visit and coax the locations of some of these new tenants from him. Mr. Fine’s ending thoughts are a good summation of the events of this book thus far: “ . . . And that’s the formula for doing business in Gotham. You give, you take . . . you bend, and you bleed.” There are interesting developments in these two issues as Dini starts adding more layers to his storyline.
“Under My Skin” and “Two Steps Forward” by Marc Andreyko, writer with Georges Jeanty, art (#3) and Jeremy Haun, art (#4) . . . . . . . . . .
In the Manhunter second features in DETECTIVE COMICS Kate Spencer manages to get away from convict skinless Jane Doe (who wants to wear the Kate skin next) and apprehends her with a little help at the end. There’s a neat chase through the woods where Kate is using whatever she can find to defend herself, including dead tree branches. There are some funny moment amidst the tension as she refers to movie “Turner And Hooch” and we see her though process as she runs for her life; “Yeah, that’s it, Kate. antagonize her. She has a knife. you have a designer skirt.”
I’m very surprised by the cover to STREETS OF GOTHAM #4, which depicts a grisly act of self-mutilation. That would never get over back in the Comics Code days. Things have changed, haven’t they?
Jane Doe is now back behind bars and Kate is hoping that an interrogation will net her the info on Two-Face that she’s been seeking out since issue #1. We haven’t seen Manhunter until mid-way through issue #4, when she takes a phone call from her son right in the middle of a fight with shooters in front of a florist shop ( ? ). She stops a bad guy with her zzzap stick and her son says into the phone “what was that?” Great response: “Somebody got a charley horse. I’m in my aerobics class!”
The art this issue by Haun is adequate but nothing special. Here’s hoping that Jeanty returns next issue and was just taking a short break. The only other issue I have here is that I don’t recall Two-Face even being mentioned in the last three issues, and now he’s the prime suspect. Of course we see his reaction at the end of the issue, setting things up for a confrontation between the former and current District Attorney of Gotham.
I haven’t caught up with GOTHAM CITY SIRENS yet, but so far I’m feeling that DETECTIVE COMICS is the one to keep hanging on with and I can drop these other titles (although somewhat reluctantly since they’ve all been good). What are your thoughts?