Star Wars Empire #25: Written by Ron Marz, art by Joe Corroney. Continued from last issue, Han is in the clutches of a criminal who wants to torture him for information about the Rebels and then turn him over to Darth Vader. No, not that one — this is before Empire. Seems that an old friend, who happens to be both cynical about the Rebels and female, sold him out. The whole thing is rather by-the-numbers and a little too neat — why would they let Chewie just sit around the Falcon waiting for something to happen, instead of detaining him too? — but a couple of things caught my eye. First, the femme fatale’s ship is called Emerald Twilight, and second, nothing bad happens to our heroine. It’s a little surprising, given Marz’s reputation. I suppose my own cynical side would say he can’t stuff someone in a space-refrigerator every month. Corroney does a good job with the likenesses, really pulling off an accurate Harrison Ford. Marz has been a decent writer these past few months, and I’m interested in the period covered, but I don’t know whether this is worth $2.99 a pop.
Fantastic Four #519: Written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Karl Kesel. Also continued from last issue, Reed finds a way out of Zius’ (Dr. Zius! Dr. Zius!) … I hesitate to call it “trap” for Sue. Let’s say “dilemma involving Sue.” Anyway, Reed’s solution is, shall we say, unique. It also has the virtue of rehabilitating the FF’s reputation live on TV. Waid handles the whole thing with an almost farcical air, and the last-page cliffhanger had me laughing out loud.
Adventures of Superman #633: Written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Matthew Clark, inked by Andy Lanning. It’s two months since Lois was shot, and she’s being mothered to death by Ma Kent and Ma Lane. Meanwhile, Ruin’s lackeys/proteges are kept in check by a spartan diet of hoboes. Superman questions Xlim and figures out that Ruin’s been able to block his powers — using lead to stop X-ray vision, etc. Supes finds Ruin’s hideout, we think, but is he too late…? I liked Clark fine, but I don’t know if Lanning is a good inker for him — maybe a little too fine of a line. Rucka’s dialogue between Lois and Clark is very natural, so much so that I noticed that I wasn’t noticing anything, if you know what I mean. Like his Wonder Woman, this book is starting to pick up steam.
Firestorm #6: Written by Dan Jolley, pencilled by Chris Batista, inked by Dan Green. It’s the final fate of Ronnie Raymond as Jason uses Firestorm to joyride across town and up to the Moon. There Batman and J’Onn J’Onzz tell him Raymond is gone, and warn him they’ll be watching if he abuses what he’s been given. Jason behaves like you’d expect a teenager to, which in a way made Ronnie lucky he had an adult riding shotgun or he’d have gotten in bigger trouble. I haven’t enjoyed a teen-hero book this much since those early Statics.
Robin #131: “War Games” Act 3 Part 4, written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Thomas Derenick, inked by Robert Campanella. This wasn’t a bad issue, because it had its own plot which just happened to fit the larger “WG” story. It contrasts Tim’s return to duty with Spoiler’s rematch with Black Mask. I would have liked it more if Willingham didn’t lay everything out so clumsily. His Black Mask sounds like that guy from “The X Files” who wanted to give Scully a manicure, and his Tim makes a big deal out of being bright and cheery while using baroque phrases like “truly dire.” The art is up to the task, but it’s nothing special.
Batman: Gotham Knights #58: “War Games” Act 3 Part 5, written by A.J. Lieberman, pencilled by Al Barrionuevo, inked by Francis Portella. Spotlight on Tarantula as the GCPD decides to make her the poster-child for captured vigilantes. Batman gets Spoiler to Leslie’s hospital and Black Mask orders every crook in town to converge on “the north end.” Honestly, I don’t quite know why Batman’s so concerned with Tarantula and her charges. It’s not like she’s done anything to earn his trust. (Huntress got a lot more flack than Tarantula has.) Lieberman didn’t do much to offend me this issue — not like the last few months, at least — and the scenes with Batman and Spoiler are kind of touching. She was Robin, after all.
Batgirl #57: “War Games” Act 3 Part 6, written by Dylan Horrocks, pencilled by Mike Huddleston, inked by Jesse Delperdang. Batgirl saves Onyx from rampaging hoodlums as Black Mask continues his trek across the city. That’s basically it. The last page is the best one. It’s a lot of big panels and clean, soft lines. I don’t know that the Batgirl/Onyx/thug bits deserved their own issue, but at least it’s in Batgirl’s own book — not like having Tim come back in Detective, or anything….
Teen Titans #17: Written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Mike McKone, inked by Marlo Alquiza. Yes, it’s another “the future has gone into the toilet and our once-pure heroes are now fascists” story, but I’ve gotta say it’s one of the better ones. Future-Tim grows up to be Batman, and much is made of how the Adult Titans (not calling themselves “Justice League?”) give him the same deference their former mentors gave Bruce Wayne. Actually, they defer to him more, because they trust him more than the Leaguers trust Batman. Future-Tim is also more … punitive than Batman, crossing in the first few pages a couple of his mentor’s lines-in-the-sand. The art is suitably moody, even with McKone’s tendency to put a sheen on everything; and Johns’ script doesn’t let the plot lag. It’s all setup for the next issue or two (or however long this will take), but it’s good setup, not hindered by continuity or emotional manipulation like the last JSA.
Identity Crisis #5: Written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Michael Bair. The series is full of momentum (like a runaway freight train, perhaps), and this issue boasts a few big sequences. There is another Justice League/villain fight, some bonding between Captain Boomerang and his son (although why use the sharp boomerangs?), a scene between Ray Palmer and Jean Loring that falls flat thanks to redundant narration, and a genuinely suspenseful climax that finds a hero racing to save a loved one. I didn’t like this issue as much as I did #4, but on balance IC hasn’t been disappointing.
Beware of SPOILERS from here on out.
Now, about Tim: I don’t know who’s in charge of these kinds of things at the DC offices, but this week gave us three looks at the youngster. Let’s see if they add up to a cohesive whole.
Obviously, Robin finds Tim back in the saddle and feeling good about himself. He gets to share a scene with his dad, who’s calmed down after shoving a gun into Bruce Wayne’s face this past spring. I haven’t read Robin regularly in a long time (since #50, maybe), but it always seemed to me that Jack Drake was an important part of Tim’s independence from Batman. Tim couldn’t move into Wayne Manor like his predecessors, so his superhero career was theoretically something he could keep at arm’s length. This also meant that Tim was stuck being Robin, for all practical purposes, as long as Jack didn’t know about Tim’s double life. Obviously Tim couldn’t hide being Batman from his dad.
I’ve argued before about the nature of the Robin identity. It started as a focus for Dick Grayson’s vengeance and grief. It served a similar function for Jason Todd (both versions). However, Tim saw it as a way to keep Batman sane. I don’t know if he was alluding to Tim’s origin, but Bill Willingham in Robin #131 had Tim acknowledge that Stephanie Brown also helped “lighten up” Batman. I’ve also mentioned that while Tim initially saw Robin solely in relation to Batman, almost from the beginning of his career he’s been the most independent. Jack is a big part of that.
I can’t remember who said it, but the argument has been made (and reinforced by Teen Titans #17) that Tim doesn’t want to be Batman. (I’m not forgetting about the vision of Tim as Batman in the early Grant Morrison JLA story — but I will point out that it was Bruce’s vision, not Tim’s.) Tim wants to be an adventurer until he’s ready for a normal life, and then he wants normality. If Jack doesn’t survive Identity Crisis, one of Tim’s major ties to that normality will be gone, and Tim will have to make a choice between the Batcave and the real world. With Tim moving to Bludhaven by January, the waters are a little muddier — is he moving in with Dick Grayson, is his dad getting away from Gotham, or something else? — but that still suggests he’s no closer to Wayne Manor than he was before.
The alternate future of “Titans Tomorrow” plays into these various theories. Tim asks “What would make me want to be Batman?” Obviously the death of Bruce Wayne might, but Tim would probably then expect Dick Grayson to take over before he would. Again, Jack Drake’s death would remove another “normal” element of his life.
Furthermore, it may seem self-evident, but if Tim becomes Batman, he wouldn’t have a Robin to keep him mellow — and if he saw Batman killed, he might not want to make another impressionable kid his sidekick, in order to spare them such an horrific possibility. We’ll find out in the next couple of months, but it could very well be that a career as Batman would be the worst thing that ever happened to Tim.