Batman #636, written by Judd Winick, with art by Doug Mahnke and Dustin Nguyen: Part 2 of the Black Mask/Red Hood (what, no Mad Hatter?) storyline advances the plot nicely, while throwing in some not-very-cliched interaction between Batman and Nightwing. It veers sharply away from the gritty urban realism to which the entire Bat-line had aspired, and more into “superhero reality,” acknowledging that Batman exists in a world of (for example) superintelligent gorillas.
Winick is approaching how I would like Batman to be handled — not so grim, or at least knowing how grim he can be; and with someone around who can call him on the grimness. The Nightwing/Batman banter is appropriate, and Batman even gets to smile grimly at the nostalgia of having Dick around again. However, for some reason Winick has turned Mr. Freeze into a psychopath who murders cavalierly, getting away from the more tragic figure the character had become. The art continues to be good, with Mahnke giving Batman some very dynamic, almost Neal Adams-esque poses; but my one complaint about it is that Nightwing’s costume isn’t black enough. The grays almost blend into the blues, which makes the overall effect very bland. Still, these are minor complaints, and I have to say I’m enjoying this creative team.
The aforementioned superintelligent gorilla is, of course, a nod to JLA Classified #3, finishing up the arc by Grant Morrison, Ed McGuinness, and Dexter Vines. I was slightly disappointed in this issue because the first two had been so good; and this one is just a big fight among the JLA, Grodd, and Ultramarines. Morrison’s commentary on “whatever it takes” crimefighting also has the JLA “punish” the U-Marines in a screwy, if not irresponsible, way. It’s all high-concept action, which in Morrison and McGuinness’ hands isn’t all bad, but there are fewer wild ideas flying around in this part. It might work best as a commentary on the Super Friends — certainly, anyone only familiar with the JLA through that show/comic would get a kick out of Aquaman and Wonder Woman looking very familiar but kicking serious tail.
The Batman/Nightwing relationship permeates Part 2 of Nightwing #102‘s “Nightwing, Year One” (written by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon, with art by Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens). First, though, I must admit my shame at having this story spoiled for me by its big continuity violation. The issue, which is pretty decent, has Dick Grayson heading to Metropolis for a chat with Superman about what to do in his post-Robin career. The problem is, in the current DC timeline, Batman and Superman didn’t learn each other’s secrets until well after Dick had become Nightwing. (It was right before Supes’ first date with Wonder Woman, in fact.) Now, it would have been cool if Dick — trained by the World’s Greatest Detective, remember — had deduced that Clark was Superman, and genuinely surprised him; but that’s not what happens here. Anyway, Dick and Supes stop a couple of terrorists from assassinating the President, and Supes tells Dick about the ancient Kryptonian hero Nightwing. (Dick’s super-hero disguise is a red-and-blue hoodie and blue jeans, which seems like an obvious, but bizarre Spider-Man movie shout-out.) Dick then goes back to the circus to work as an acrobat. The Metropolis and circus sequences are fine, but Krypto-Nightwing’s situation fits Dick a bit too closely. (Not to mention raising all kinds of other Superman continuity wrangles, which I am choosing to ignore.) The jury is still out on this story for me, although I would probably have enjoyed it more if I were further away from the source material.
More retroactive continuity is explored in The Flash #218, featuring the origin of Heat Wave as told by writer Geoff Johns and artist Peter Snejbjerg. This villain profile is a bit more tolerable than the earlier ones, because it advances the larger plot, but it was still annoying to find that Heat Wave — one of the original Rogues’ Gallery members — has just as twisted a past as the second Mirror Master or the more recent Murmur. I mean, can’t we just have a villain who decides to use fire for his motif just because, and skip all the weird psychobabble? What would Johns do with Paste-Pot Pete?
A Silver Age super-team is the inspiration for Legion of Super-Heroes #2, by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson, but this issue that team was the original Teen Titans. See, back in the ’60s, the Titans would hear about some super-crime that particularly affected teenagers, and after dealing with it, would explain to the adults that teens were people too, etc. While Waid and Kitson do a great job with it, that’s basically the plot of LSH #2. It’s not a bad issue — the comparison and contrast between Brainiac and Dream Girl is the highlight — but it came dangerously close to having a “meddling kids” ending.
Waid is much better on Fantastic Four (#522), so naturally it’s his next-to-last issue. Johnny Storm has never seemed like the most logical person to lead the team — not even in the alternate future of Fantastic Five, when he was the leader — but here Waid manages to make him both smart and smart-alecky. Another fun read, and I am dreading the possibility of a deadly-serious J. Michael Straczynski run.