Comics Ate My Brain

June 10, 2009

Kids — they’ll age you!

Filed under: batman, nightwing, robin — Tom Bondurant @ 6:06 pm
[I should really preface this post with a disclaimer: anyone looking for an extremely well-thought-out DC timeline owes Chris Miller’s site a look. The following won’t necessarily match up with Chris’s work, but that’s probably because I’m making more assumptions than he is.]

It’s been a while since I’ve tried to work out a rough Batman timeline. However, Grant Morrison says that Damian Wayne is ten years old, and that’s got me thinking. A ten-year-old Damian tends to explode the notion that DC’s current timeline is perpetually only 12-13 years old (that is, DC’s “Year One” was somewhere around 1996-97). Batman/Bruce didn’t even meet Talia until Dick was off at college — well into Dick’s Robin career, at least a year or two before he became Nightwing. Assuming that Bruce and Talia didn’t make the sign of the double-humped camel until 1987’s Son of the Demon graphic novel — which appeared a few real-time years after Dick gave up the short pants in early 1984 — that means Dick has been Nightwing for at least ten years. Accordingly, that gives Tim Drake a pretty substantial Robin career, and it probably has implications for Jason Todd’s tenure as well.

Memorable milestones make the Batman timeline is relatively easy to figure. Bruce Wayne was 25 during “Batman: Year One,” Dick Grayson became Robin somewhere in Year Three and turned 20 not long after becoming Nightwing, and Tim Drake was 13 when he became Robin. (By the way, has “Batman: Year Three” been lost in a continuity fog? For some reason I think it has, even though it pretty much sets up Tim’s origin in “A Lonely Place Of Dying.”) Furthermore, back in late 1986/early 1987, when “Year One” was originally serialized, Bat-editor Denny O’Neil theorized that the then-current Batman stories were taking place in Year Seven.

I don’t agree with Denny’s thinking there, primarily because it gives Dick Grayson too short a Robin career. If he turned 20 as Nightwing, but he spent a year in college as Robin (say, age 18), then the transition probably happened while he was 19. Even if that changeover occurred in Year Seven (and it probably didn’t), then Dick was only Robin for around four years, and was in his mid-to-late teens when he started.

Besides, Damian’s age lets us work backwards. If he’s ten now, he was conceived some eleven years ago (1998) — probably as chronicled in Son of the Demon.

(Brief digression: Batman #666 has a one-panel flashback to the night Damian was conceived, showing the original/”Year One”-style Bat-suit, as opposed to the “New Look”/yellow-oval model still in use in SotD. No doubt this gives DC some wiggle room to claim that Damian was conceived many years earlier than SotD, and thus that Talia and Bruce “knew” each other before they were properly introduced, if you know what I mean and I think you do. Well, I say phooey on that. It would mean that either Ra’s al Ghul or Talia knew pretty early on that Batman needed to join the family; and as impressive as Batman’s early career might have been, it surely wasn’t that impressive.)

Therefore, with Son of the Demon as our eleven-years-ago milepost, we can start estimating other events. Dick (age 20-21) was Nightwing, and Jason was a teenaged Robin. Dick turned 20 pretty soon after Crisis On Infinite Earths ended, so by the time of SotD he was probably around 21. Thus, Crisis took place twelve years ago. Moreover, if Dick became Nightwing at age 19, that takes us back thirteen years; with Dick’s year at Hudson University being fourteen years ago. In other words, Dick was 18 in 1995, making him 32 today.

However, there is some disagreement over Dick’s age in Year Three. Marv Wolfman, who wrote “Year Three” (and, of course, all those New Teen Titans issues; and who was writing Batman when NTT launched), stated often in dialogue that Dick had been Robin since age eight. This would give Dick a pretty substantial Robin career of at least eleven years (ages 8-19) — but how old would that make Bruce? If Dick was eight in Year Three, that would make 2009 Year Twenty-Seven, and Bruce would be 53 — which, by the way, is Dark Knight “retired for ten years” territory.

We can try to figure Dick’s age by using Tim’s; and we can figure Tim’s in relation to Jason Todd’s career. Jason was killed (in real time) in 1988, about a year after Son of the Demon was published. 13-year-old Tim met Batman and Nightwing some months after that, which probably places the event in the DC-year following SotD. It would make Tim 13 when Damian was 1.

Here, though, we run into another problem: as far as I know, DC refuses to let Tim turn 20; and it surely won’t cop to Tim being 22. This ceiling makes Tim at most 9 years older than Damian and 13 years younger than Dick. It also affects Bruce’s age, since Tim was old enough to remember the Flying Graysons’ routines on the night Dick’s parents were killed. For some reason I want to say Tim was 2 years old when this happened in Year Three. That would make Bruce 25 years older than Tim, and 44 today — which would make this Year 20.

In summary, then, Bruce is 44, Dick 32, and Tim 19. Dick’s Robin career lasted from ages 15-19, Jason Todd’s spanned (all or parts of) Years 7-14, and Tim’s is in its seventh year (his brief “retirement” notwithstanding). The lingering problem with this timeline is that it may give Jason a longer Robin career than he had in real time (around 4 years, 1984-88), so I may have to revisit my assumptions to correct that.

Still, the point remains that Damian’s age necessarily extends everyone else’s timeline, and I hope DC acknowledges that.

November 13, 2007

New comics 11/7/07

Filed under: atom, batman, countdown, fantastic four, groo, howard the duck, robin, supergirl, superman, tranquility — Tom Bondurant @ 3:43 am
We begin this week with Supergirl #23 (written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Drew Johnson, inked by Ray Snyder), which I bought mostly out of past loyalty to these creators. By now these Supergirl relaunches have an air of “This time for sure!” about them, so I’ll also admit to some morbid curiosity. In that respect I wonder if it’s a bit of black humor that the cover has our heroine going up in flames….

Anyway, the issue itself is an enigmatic bit of decompression which starts and ends with a mysterious box delivered to Supergirl’s apartment. After a brief, but funny, chat with Batman about the box, she’s called away by Superman to help him and a squad of Green Lanterns stop an interstellar war. Things don’t quite go as planned, but her reaction — and the role of the box — aren’t quite explained, thereby theoretically encouraging us readers to come back next month.

Should we, though? I’m more intrigued by the storyline than I am by the title character, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. From what I can tell from this issue, Supergirl’s kind of a spaz. She zones out when the GLs brief her. She’s apparently responsible enough to have her own (spacious, nicely furnished) apartment, and that magazine subscription in her hand indicates she’s put down some roots, but how old is she supposed to be — late teens? Early twenties? What’s her “secret identity” like? (Judging by this week’s Superman, she doesn’t have much of one … but that’s this week’s Superman.) She’s got all the powers of Superman, so how does she use them differently? In short, why should I care about her enough to pay $2.99 (plus tax, minus folder discount) every month?

Well, the art is quite good. Johnson and Snyder do meticulous work. I’m not entirely sure about their Supergirl anatomy, but that could just be an optical illusion from the costume. There’s a long, wordless stretch in the second half of the book, and they handle that pretty well too. Like I said, I’m intrigued by the story, and this issue was good enough to make me want to see more. However, if I’m going to make a long-term commitment, I’d like to know more about Supergirl herself.

As for her cousin, Superman #670 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Dan Green) finishes up “The Third Kryptonian.” It’s a good conclusion to what was a somewhat predictable but still enjoyable arc. Busiek hit most of the “moody loner” character beats with Kristin Wells, including the “only out for herself” one. However, the issue is mostly action, which Leonardi and Green do nicely. I also like their Supergirl, who looks about five pounds heavier than Johnson and Snyder’s; and their Power Girl, who looks about ten pounds lighter than, say, Michael Turner’s. Anyway, the basic plot is that the Head Bad Guy has all kinds of weapons specifically designed to kill Kryptonians, so Superman and his allies (including Batman) have to figure out inventive ways to counter them. It’s all fairly straightforward, although it apparently sets up a sequel and at least one other future story. That’s not really a criticism, because I haven’t been this consistently pleased with a Superman writer in a long time.

Countdown #25 (written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, pencilled by Ron Lim, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti & John Stanisci) finally checks in with the cliffhanger that closed out Firestorm, lo those many months ago. That’s the bulk of the issue, and it’s entertaining and somewhat satisfying. However, the other “check-in” scenes — Jimmy and Mary Marvel on Apokolips, and Piper and Trickster escaping from Deadshot (?!?) — are kind of lame. Art is good throughout, and I would expect no less from an old hand like Lim.

I was curious about The Search For Ray Palmer: Red Rain (written by Peter Johnson, pencilled mostly by Eric Battle and Angel Unzueta, inked by Derek Fridolfs, Vicente Cifuentes, and Jonathan Glapson, with a few pages drawn by Kelley Jones) because I enjoyed the “Bat-Vampire” trilogy by Jones and writer Doug Moench. However, this has all of the grue and none of the grim nihilism. It’s not a very attractive book, mostly because it tries to ape Kelley Jones’ style without much success. The colors (by Art Lyons) are muted and muddy, like a red filter has overlaid everything. The plot is moderately diverting, since it involves this Earth’s Dick Grayson (and, in a small role, Barbara Gordon), but even that feels like something of a departure from the original material. The Batman/Dracula: Red Rain book was creepy precisely because it was set in a Bat-milieu that could easily have been the character’s regular title. However, this special’s Dick and Babs are just characters with the same names. What’s more, our Challenger heroes really can’t do anything to affect this Earth’s status quo — they can only introduce us to it and move on. Therefore, nothing of consequence happens. Unless you just like seeing alternate versions of familiar characters put through penny-dreadful situations, you don’t need this issue.

In the regular Bat-books, “The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” begins officially in Robin #168 (written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Freddie E. Williams II). If you’ve seen one of those “Bad Seed” kinds of movies, where no one will believe the good kid who knows the evil kid’s evil, that’s about how Tim must deal with Damien. Also, Batman rescues Talia from what is apparently her bandage-enwrapped father. It’s kinda unremarkable, except for the hints at the mysticism (Nanda Parbat, the Sensei, etc.) behind Ra’s’ return. Williams’ work is fine; Robin is lean and muscular, and Batman is appropriately chunky.

The romance, or whatever it is, of Ryan and Doris “Giganta” Zuel is the best thing about (The All-New) Atom #17 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Trevor Scott). I found myself rooting for the two crazy kids despite the fact that she’s a little unhinged. The weird androgynous villain (at least I think “he” and “she” are the same person) was hard to figure, but that’s a good enough mystery for two issues. Norton and Scott turn in another fine issue. They work about as well with Simone as Nicola Scott did on Birds Of Prey, and considering how much I like Nicola Scott, that’s high praise indeed.

I bought Welcome To Tranquility: Armageddon #1 (written by Christos Gage, drawn by Neil Googe and Horacio Domingues) out of loyalty to the regular title — only one issue left, apparently — and it was just okay. Basically, it focused on Tranquility’s Captain Marvel-analogue, but let him stay “in costume” the whole issue, as opposed to his regular role of deus ex machina. Also, the time-travel involved in showing us the alternate future also made our hero’s role that much more confusing. In short, he flies around while others tell him how bad things have gotten, and then he forgets about everything and the issue is over. It was kind of like the Ray Palmer: Red Rain issue, above, except without the muddy art.

Fantastic Four #551 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar) looks like it kicks off this creative team’s last arc, involving a set of time-travelers bent on stopping Reed from saving the world. It ends on a heck of a cliffhanger, and it ties into Reed’s “room of notes” from Civil War. That’s not a lot in terms of plot, but it’s executed well.

Howard the Duck #2 (written by Ty Templeton, pencilled by Juan Bobillo, inked by Marcelo Sosa) gets closer to its roots, as Howard and Bev must deal with Howard’s sudden celebrity following his smackdown of the hunters last issue. Most of the issue finds Howard on a yelling-match talk show, and that goes about like you’d expect, or maybe a little worse. I might be easily amused, but I did like MODOT (Designed Only for Talking) a lot. This is not a bad miniseries by any means, even if it has a lot to live up to.

Finally, the satire is presented much more deftly in Groo: Hell On Earth #1 (by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones), in which Groo’s bumbling leads to eco-unfriendly consequences. I’m not sure how this can be stretched out into four issues, but if the rest are as clever as this one, I definitely won’t care. The latest Groo tale finds everyone at the top of their particular game, especially Aragones and colorist Tom Luth. Those two complement each other perfectly through Aragones’ exquisite backgrounds and two-page spreads. This story aims for a broad scope and even an epic feel, and succeeds admirably.

October 25, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

Filed under: batman, nightwing, robin, thursday night thinking — Tom Bondurant @ 2:38 pm
Halloween in Rutland, Vermont, means superheroes, murder … and THINKING!

But what could startle this seasoned crimefighter…?

Yep, I imagine that’d do it.

Trick or treat, Diamondrock!

[From the classic “Night of the Reaper!” in Batman #237, December 1971. Written by Denny O’Neil (from an idea by Berni Wrightson with an assist by Harlan Ellison), pencilled by Neal Adams, inked by Dick Giordano, lettered by John Costanza; and touched-up for its reprinting in Batman Illustrated By Neal Adams Volume 3.]

October 14, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

Filed under: robin, sunday soliloquy, superman — Tom Bondurant @ 9:18 pm
Nosferatu, new for the ’90s:

This was actually a summer issue, not Halloween-themed nor timed to coincide with Bram Stoker’s Dracula (which Mike Mignola helped design, if memory serves). Still, that’s a pretty spooky vampire. Even Superman flying it into daylight can’t kill it.

[From “Night Moves,” Superman: The Man Of Steel #14, August 1992. Written by Louise Simonson, pencilled by Jon Bogdanove, inked by Dennis Janke, colored by Glenn Whitmore, lettered by Bill Oakley.]

August 24, 2007

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: friday night fights, meme, nightwing, robin — Tom Bondurant @ 10:58 pm
Batman’s been captured and drugged to immobility by Hugo Strange. Lucky for him, it’s not a long VW-van drive from Hudson University!

Bahlactus is our Dean Of Students!

[From “I Am The Batman!,” Detective Comics #472, September 1977. Written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Marshall Rogers, inked by Terry Austin.]

August 13, 2007

Goodbye, Ringo

Filed under: fantastic four, flash, meta, robin, superman — Tom Bondurant @ 11:27 pm
I didn’t know Mike Wieringo personally, but I felt like I did. My buddy Sam had met him years ago in the course of doing some prototype Tellos figures. Today, when Sam called me, I knew why even before I answered the phone.

So I didn’t know Mike Wieringo, but like Mike Parobeck, another comics artist who left this world too soon, I felt like I knew him through his work. Readers of this blog need look no further than last week’s Sunday Soliloquy, and its quiet study of Reed Richards, for a great example of Wieringo’s craftsmanship.



It’s all there: the attention to detail, the way the characters move, and the expressiveness of both Reed and Valeria. Wieringo has what some might call a “cartoony” style, but it’s hardly unrealistic. His objects have weight and his characters have life. There isn’t much action on those two pages, but that just goes to show how good ‘Ringo was at making them come alive.

Mike Wieringo worked on some of the Big Two’s most treasured properties, including the Flash, Robin the Boy Wonder, Superman, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. He “got” the appeal of superheroes, I think, and translated that appeal perfectly onto the page. The best superhero artists make us forget about the genre’s constant struggle between “realism” and fantasy, and simply transport us into the worlds their pencils create. Mike Wieringo was a master at that. He never seemed to give less than his best, and in turn his best seemed effortless.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones. He brought a lot of joy to a lot of us.

June 25, 2006

New comics 6/14/06 and 6/21/06

We begin by picking up a spare from June 7. Fittingly enough, I got Nextwave #5 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) a week late, on my mom’s birthday, June 14. I say “fittingly” because it featured teddy bears, which were the subject of a running joke between Mom and me. When I lived at home during law school, I watched TV with my parents, including “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Inevitably, Mom would see something or someone on the episode she didn’t know anything about, and would ask me what was going to happen. Since these were first-run episodes, most times I didn’t know what was going to happen, so all my answers ended up being about the planet of fuzzy teddy bears, and all the picnics and tea parties the crew would have. This satisfied my mother, who I might have mentioned has a master’s in English and is really quite sharp. Anyway, when an episode put our heroes in a tight spot, Mom would look at me rather accusingly and wonder aloud when the teddy bears were coming. (This often happened around season-finale time.)

So last week I sent her some killer-teddy-bear scans from Nextwave #5. Happy birthday, Mom!

Captain Atom: Armageddon #9 (written by Will Pfeifer, pencilled by Giuseppi Camuncoli) wrapped up the miniseries that turned out to be a big tour through the WildStorm universe, just in time to blow it all up and start over. Whoopee. Now that it’s over, maybe DC can use Cap’s rather twisted history with the U.S. military to some good effect. It’s a rich backstory which makes the character a little more than just a generic superhero, but you’d never know it from how he’s been treated pretty much since his series ended.

American Virgin #4 (written by Steven T. Seagle, drawn by Becky Cloonan) concluded the book’s first arc, but it really didn’t leave much of an impression on me, and I’m leaning towards dropping the book.

The same goes for Green Lantern Corps #1 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason). I like Guy Gardner and I have always liked the Corps, but this book just isn’t doing a lot for me. I may give it a couple more issues.

It wasn’t earth-shatteringly good, but I didn’t dislike JLA Classified #22 (written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Mark Farmer), which began a new arc featuring JL Detroit. Much of it recapped Steel’s origin, and a few other pages recapped the origin of the Royal Flush Gang. The rest, natcherly, was the fight between the two groups, and it wasn’t David Mamet, but it wasn’t bad either. Also, it reached a stopping point at the end of the issue, which was nice. Derenick’s pencils were better than in his last JLA arc, although again nothing groundbreaking.

Firestorm #26 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne) was also a fairly intriguing issue centered around a super-hero fight, as Firestorm and Firehawk take on a new villain who’s torturing Martin Stein. It all has to do with the nature of Firestorm, apparently, and the strange bond Jason and Lorraine have forged since “One Year Later.” Fun stuff.

You know by now that 52 #6 (written by Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Ruy Jose) introduced the Great Ten and Rip Hunter’s “Lost” Blackboard, and you’ve probably already formed your opinions on both, so I’ll just say it was fascinating to see how the book could pay so much attention to its four mainstays’ plots while still herding them all towards some inexorable common destiny. Also, it managed to put the Green Lanterns, who are so far the highest-profile heroes who could appear in the book (with the Big Three, Aquaman, and the Flash off the table), on the same level as those supposed C-list mainstays. The GLs don’t feel like guest-stars, but neither do they take over the book. Entirely appropriate for a book that purports to be a window on the world.

Superman #653 (written by Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns, drawn by Pete Woods) was the big throw-down between Superman and Luthor (in the hijacked Kryptonian battle-mech), and it didn’t disappoint. Of course, given the nature of this storyline, the cliffhanger ending the issue wasn’t very suspenseful, just funny. Jimmy Olsen gets a good scene, Supes and Luthor both have some good “But I am also left-handed!” moments, and from the previews I read on Newsarama earlier this week, the conclusion should be just as good.

Of course, Jimmy — or, I should say, his Cojo-influenced All-Star interpretation — is the focus of this week’s All-Star Superman #4 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely), which combines the goofy sitcommery of bumbling through being Superman’s Pal with a couple of shots at “big event” comics past and present. As Mark Fossen points out, Jimmy gets to be All-Star Vicki Vale, and later on turns into Doomsday. This never fails to be an entertaining series.

I think I’m done with Robin after #151 (written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Freddie E. Williams II), not because it’s poorly executed, or because the latest developments have repulsed me, but it just hasn’t drawn me in.

At the other end of the spectrum is The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, drawn by Ken Lashley), which did a lot to turn me off. First is its apparent baton-passing to Bart Allen, which I think is unnecessary. Second, it both devotes a lot of space to bringing everyone up to speed on Flash history, but then plops Bart into an entirely new situation, kind of like dropping Captain Atom into the WildStorm dimension. The exposition slows the book, and the new stuff seems barely sketched in. Bart now has a repellent “duuude!” roommate and works at the Keystone auto factory, because he’s aged completely out of his teenage years. Never mind that, as originally conceived, he was a developing brain in an outsize body. Combined with the maturity Geoff Johns thrust upon him (this makes twice), he’s just your average 20-year-old now, which makes him a lot less interesting. I’m waiting to see who ends up with the Infantino suit, but if it’s still Bart in this form, I’ll wait until the next creative team.

Lashley also pencils 52 #7 (written by Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny, inked by Draxhall), featuring Ralph Dibny played by Josh Holloway and sporting some ill-advised facial hair. His pencils look a lot better here than they do in the Flash book, which may have something to do with Keith Giffen’s layouts. Anyway, Booster gets his from Manthrax and Ralph, and Montoya meets DC’s most famous lesbian. The Booster/Ralph stuff is pretty good, and the Montoya/Kate Kane scenes aren’t bad, except for one panel which seems like it could be either wishful thinking or a flashback, but is presented as reality. It’s all better than the History of the DCU backup, though, which does nothing to make Zero Hour comprehensible, and in its few pages even makes it less so. I think its facts are wrong too, although that could just be more retconning.

I probably read Checkmate #3 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Bob Wiacek) too quickly. Either that or it’s hard to summarize all the politics and maneuvering in a few sentences. It’s still a good read, and I should get more out of it the second time around.

Superman/Batman #27 (written by Mark Verheiden, drawn by Kevin Maguire) was decent enough until the end, which tries to shoehorn it into modern DC continuity. It’s really about the Earth-2 Power Girl and Huntress trying to save their “dads” from old foes, and on that level it’s enjoyable enough. In fact, Maguire gives Huntress more cleavage exposure than Power Girl, which may be a first. However, the big dramatic reveal turns on a bit of Earth-2 continuity I had forgotten, and which isn’t quite set up as well as it could have been. It doesn’t amount to anything very substantial, I guess, but it’s competently done.

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #6 (by Joe Kubert) concluded the miniseries rather quietly, if such a thing is possible after an issue full of urban Nazi-fighting. I’ll have to read this all in one sitting, although it may play better as a series of episodes than as one story. If it has tested the waters for a Rock ongoing, I’d be on board for that.

Star Wars: Rebellion #3 (written by Rob Williams, drawn by Michael Lacombe) continues the dual double-agent plotlines carried over from the old Empire series. At least I think it does; the plots are kind of confusing after a while, and anybody who doesn’t look like Mark Hamill or Katee Sackhoff is hard to pick out of a crowd. The art on this series is a little uglier than it was on SW:E, and that doesn’t do the book any favors. I’m getting this because it offers classic Skywalker action, so that should buy it a few more issues at least.

Much of Captain America #19 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) continued the waterfront fight from last issue, doing so in fine fashion. The rest was spy-type intrigue, with Sharon Carter showing up in London to take over operations. Art was a little confusing this issue, with Sharon looking like Spitfire and Cap looking like Master Man, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out in context. Overall it was a good second act, and this London storyline has a lot of potential.

Finally, I got the Giant-Size Hulk special, although it was for the two Peter David-written stories and not for the “Planet Hulk” tie-in. Accordingly, I was happy — David’s excellent Hulk: The End extra-long special (art by Dale Keown) was reprinted here, and he also contributed a light and fluffy Champions vs. Hulk tale (pencilled by Juan Santacruz, inked by Raul Fernandez). The latter was clearly to prime Marvelites for a new Champions series, but I don’t particularly care about that — I was just glad to see a staple of ’70s Marvel revisited and given the respect it probably deserves. The middle story (written by Greg Pak, drawn by Aaron Lopresti and Danny Miki) was a good complement to The End, although I suspect it meant more to those who’ve been following the Hulk more recently; and it probably didn’t advance “Planet Hulk” much. Still, this is over 70 pages of story for $4.99 US, and thus a bargain.

May 20, 2006

New comics 5/17/06

Filed under: 52, aquaman, batman, captain america, fantastic four, robin, sgt rock, star wars, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 4:55 pm
After compiling data from dozens of 50 DC Characters entries I’ve received over the past few days, it’s nice to sit down with a stack of new funnybooks.

Robin #150 (written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Freddie Williams III) was decent, but I’m ambivalent about picking it up again on a regular basis. This is not because I’m shocked and appalled at the treatment of another Bat-character within its pages, but maybe instead because I haven’t really followed the character central to the storyline. These three issues have been a good showcase for Tim’s one-year-better abilities, and this issue in particular hints at a further complication for his civilian life, but I still don’t have a sense of Tim as a person. The art bears some responsibility for this, as Tim varies from somewhere around college-age to early high school. (He’s still high-school-age, apparently.) Also, I don’t like that the new costume doesn’t have a red vest.

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #5 (by Joe Kubert) was a good, cathartic issue. Not only does it feature lots of Nazis getting killed, Easy Company kills them protecting a very sympathetic family. There’s also a good, cathartic fistfight at the end. I can’t say much more without spoiling the surprises. The issue also features a very innovative first-page recap which actually makes sense in the context of the story.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #42 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Butch Guice) pulls back the curtain on a fair amount of the One Year Later backstory, so it has kept me interested for at least another month. I was starting to forget the details of this storyline, since the first couple of issues had blended together in my memories, but this issue grounds it more in the surface-dwelling DC universe. Also, last night I was looking through the DC Encyclopedia (that survey again!) and was reminded that King Shark was an early-90s Superboy villain, so that helped too.

52 #2 (written by GJ, GM, MW, GR, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) was much better than #1. Who’s kidnapping mad scientists? What’s the cryptic message on Sue Dibny’s tombstone? Why do Renee Montoya and her fling sleep in their bras? This book feels like the window-on-the-world 52 promises. It takes the details and tone of a shared superhero universe (where a newspaper subhead can read “Mystery of the Wandering Witness”) and presents them as the realities of everyday life — without trying to conform them to our world’s reality. Hope it’s this good in, say, October.

On to Superman/Batman #25 (written by Jeph Loeb, pencilled by Ed McGuinness, inked by Dexter Vines) …. You know, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do universe-spanning storylines with multiple versions/analogues of the main characters. There’s even a right and wrong way to have omnipotent beings dictate the whole thing. This issue just doesn’t feel right. It basically boils the “With A Vengeance!” storyline down to a satire poking fun not only at Marvel, but probably also at the book itself. (How else to explain Batzarro’s narrative captions?) That’s not a bad idea in and of itself, but as I probably said several months ago, the satire just lands with a thud. I can’t hate this book, because it was obviously made with love. However, I can say that it is often painfully obvious, and often finds no new ways of approaching very old topics.

Speaking of which, here’s All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #4 (written by Frank Miller, drawn by Jim Lee and Scott Williams), which I almost didn’t buy because I thought #4 must have been published already. What happens this issue? “Dick Grayson visits the Batcave.” That’s pretty much it, except for brief appearances by Superman and Vicki Vale. Still, Miller does manage to frame explicitly Batman’s rough treatment of his future sidekick in a way which might alter fans’ hostility to the series. Unfortunately, a shot of the still-pneumatic Vicki on the operating table might pick at another scab….

In Fantastic Four: First Family #3 (written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Chris Weston, inked by Gary Erskine), the proto-FF fights the monster from the cover of FF #1 (1961). While the cover’s not specifically re-enacted in the issue, it still shows the team creeping closer to the events of the series, and it’s pretty well done otherwise. Maybe next issue will be the rematch.

Captain America #18 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) was a great start to “Twenty-First Century Blitz,” the story which takes Cap to London for a reunion with the Winter Soldier. It’s more superheroic, perhaps, than even the Iron Man and Falcon issues from a few months ago, but it still has the understated spy-novel sensibility you’d expect from Brubaker and Epting. Plus, more Nazis!

I guess I went into Marvel Legacy: The 1970s Handbook expecting more spotlights on the major figures of ’70s Marvel — Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, Howard the Duck, Killraven, etc. Those must have been covered in the regular OHOTMU, because apart from a couple of entries for the Avengers and X-Men, the entries here approach the bottom of the barrel. That doesn’t mean they’re not fun, though. I had been ambivalent about getting the ’60s volume (and the surely-forthcoming ’80s volume), but now I’m interested in seeing what was in it.

Finally, I opened Star Wars: Rebellion #2 (written by Rob Williams, art by Brandon Badeaux) and started reading about … Starbuck? Yep, Deena’s a short-haired blonde with a fondness for tight tanktops and booze, so it’s hard not to draw the comparison. The main plot still revolves around Luke and his old buddy (now Imperial lieutenant) Tank, and the ending is spoiled somewhat by the cover. The art is a bit stiff as well, with Leia in particular not looking quite right. I may give this one ’til the end of its story arc before deciding whether to continue.

Now back to the spreadsheet….

October 22, 2004

New comics 10/20/04

Filed under: batman, crisis, fantastic four, firestorm, robin, star wars, superman, teen titans, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 12:28 am
There were a couple of accidental themes this week — vampires (because I got Essential Tomb Of Dracula Vol. 3 and Jimmy Olsen Adventures Vol. 2, featuring the “Transilvane” stories) and the future of Tim Drake. To be ornery, I’m saving Tim for last and starting with Star Wars.

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.

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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.

August 25, 2004

Pre-review thoughts on "War Games"

Filed under: batman, robin — Tom Bondurant @ 7:00 pm
Oh, how I want to like “War Games.” Today’s comics (the new Catwoman and Batman) each featured stunning revelations — one about who called the “mob summit,” and the other about the Batman’s long-debated public image — and while I want to believe they will give the Batman books a creative spark, I just don’t know.

Here is the SPOILER warning, so proceed with caution.

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So, Item One: Stephanie Brown lit the match by appropriating a Bat-plan which relied upon the intervention of Matches Malone. Not only did she not tell Batman (because she’d been fired by that point), she had no reason to, because she didn’t know Matches is one of Batman’s undercover aliases.

The first phrase into my head was naturally “Tower of Babel.” That JLA story brought up a number of issues which will undoubtedly be explored by “War Games” — among them, Batman’s paranoia, obsession, and need to be in control. However, “ToB” had Talia al Ghul break into the Batcave and steal the “JLA protocols.” How did Stephanie, who was Robin for around 6 weeks, a) find and b) steal these plans? Did she know Tim so well that she could guess code words unique to him? (That’s my theory of the moment.)

Doesn’t Batman recognize his own plan in action? I’ll have to go back through the books to see.

I fully expect Batman to be hit with the kinds of accusations and recriminations from the Bat-family that he received from the Justice League. If someone doesn’t at least mention the JLA protocols, however, I’ll be very disappointed, because it will signal to me that the Bat-creators continue to hang their dramatic hats on Batman being an unapproachable paranoid obsessive. Both “Tower of Babel” and the “Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive” storylines were based on the notion that Batman Keeps Things From Those Closest To Him. (“Murderer” hinted that Bruce/Batman might actually have killed Vesper Fairchild because she had crossed some final line for which he was not prepared.) “M/F” was supposed to signal a new openness and make Batman realize how much he needed his colleagues, if only to keep him from becoming completely engulfed in darkness.

Now, if Batman puts it all together and realizes this is Plan #9 in action, tells his associates about it, and at least one of them says something like “Holy crap! Plan #9 without Matches would be disastrous!” then I will know that somebody in the Bat-office has been paying attention. I am not holding my breath for this to happen. (Still, what about the Mystery Villain talking to Hush in last week’s Gotham Knights?)

Item #2 is the incredible — but not implausible, unfortunately — leap of logic which accompanies the end of “War Games” Act 1. Batman, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Tim Drake have successfully defused the standoff at Tim’s high school. This has apparently resulted in the largest “Batman sighting” on record, and given the Gotham TV press a shot of Batman in the daylight — thus proving that he is not an urban legend. (This is something which should have been settled oh, about 10 years ago, when Tim Drake saw Batman and Robin on the local TV news and was inspired to learn all about them, but as my grandmother used to say, nobody asked me.)

Because Batman emerges from the school carrying a dying girl, and helps load her onto a stretcher, the reporters state pretty unequivocally that his intervention caused her death. Never mind that nobody “official” — police, firefighters, etc. — seem to want to question Batman, Batgirl, or Nightwing, and pretty much let them leave without any trouble. The second act of “War Games” will now get to focus on Batman being Hated And Feared By Those He Swears To Protect.

The “Batman as outlaw” bit has been done before, of course. It was actually the status quo for the first 2 1/2 years of Batman’s career, until he and Robin were made special deputies in “The People Vs. Batman” (1941). In his seminal Detective run in the mid-’70s, Steve Englehart had the Gotham City Council re-outlaw Batman and Robin, but they were under the influence of Rupert Thorne. Thorne did it again in the Bat-books of the early ’80s; and the Batman: Outlaws miniseries from a few years back had our heroes hunted by federal authorities. And, of course, it was a big part of both Dark Knight miniseries.

I don’t expect it to last very long here. For one thing, Batman is pretty well known to a lot of police and firefighters, and they’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, when does Batman have any meaningful interactions with the ordinary citizens of Gotham? The Batman who inhabits these books now doesn’t care what people think of him, only that he saves those who need it. A “ban on Batman” will have little effect on his crimefighting. Finally, those who were rescued — including Tim Drake, who was there when Darla got shot and can testify that Batman wasn’t the proximate cause — might have a more positive view of Batman and his associates.

Again, this was explored in slightly different terms in the “Murderer/Fugitive” issues — only that time it was Bruce Wayne’s public image under attack, not Batman’s.

Ultimately, these plot twists do a lot to enliven what was looking like a pretty punishing event. It takes some guts to make Stephanie Robin at the beginning of the summer and have her cause a gang war at the end. (It would have taken more guts to make it Tim, Nightwing, or Batgirl….) I just hope the creators find new ways to explore their ramifications.

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