Friday, October 16, 2009

Three Little Birdies: You Gotta Have Faith

It's not easy being a Robin.

Robin - as a character - has had to deal with more loss, and carry more guilt, than any other major character in the DCU right now. This is examined through a number of new books this week, and if the theme was intentional then I have to give kudos to the DC Editorial team.

There have been 5 Robins overall - Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and the current Boy Wonder, Damian Wayne. I'm going to leave out Jason Todd because I don't like the character (never have) and he's not really on the radar this week. I'm also omitting Damian Wayne because he's too new to the job, and Damian is a completely different kind of Robin altogether. That's an essay for another time. I'll be focusing on Dick, Tim, and Stephanie here.
  • Dick Grayson: Just when I thought I was out...
Dick Grayson has ceased to be Nightwing, accepted the Cowl, and become the new Batman in the wake of Bruce Wayne's death during Final Crisis. He's making the job his own, has taken Damian on as his Robin, and is coming to terms with his place in the universe. So why not pick off the one scab that won't ever heal?

Over in "Blackest Night: Batman" #3 Dick is face-to-zombied-faces with the Flying Graysons after they've been resurrected as Black Lanterns. He's aware that these monsters aren't his parents, but once he hears his father's voice say "Heads up, Richard! Time to FLY!" he throws his arms up and joins the Graysons on the trapeze inside the circus tent they've constructed. Dick remains lucid and knows that he has to do everything he can to stop them, but once Black Lantern Zucco arrives, Dick flies into a rage. He begins to beat the former circus owner to a pulp, making his heart ripe for the plucking. With the help of Etrigan and Deadman, Dick comes to his senses and evades the Black Lanterns. He'll fight the Graysons again, and he'll win, but he won't like it.

Meanwhile, back at the Batcave (in "Batman" #691), Dick is sparring with another monster - Harvey Dent. See, Harvey has figured out that This is Not His Batman, and has breached the Batcave so he can throw a major league hissyfit over it. (Seriously...Harvey is grieving. It's a little unsettling to watch.) Dick and Alfred join forces to convince Harvey that this "new" Batman - the one that smiles, allows himself to be photographed, and has obviously allowed most of the security measures on the cave to expire - is, in fact, the "same" Batman, but Harvey's point was heard loud and clear...if Dick is going to be different then he needs to make a clean break.

Dick is letting Bruce go, and opts to mothball the Batcave. Everything goes into storage (including the Robin tunic worn by Jason Todd; "That is Bruce's cross to bear, not mine." Dick says.) or to the new HQ underneath the Wayne Industries building. While taking down the case that hold's Bruce's costume, Dick discovers a flash drive hidden in the base. On the drive is the case file on the murder of the Flying Graysons - something Bruce was reinvestigating at the time of his death. Even from the grave, Bruce knows just what buttons to push.

If there's one thing that Dick Grayson has in spades, it's Faith. Faith that no matter how bad today was, tomorrow will be better. In "Booster Gold" #25, Dick and Damian bust Booster breaking into the Batcave to put back a few items that he "borrowed." Dick and Booster have a long conversation about Booster's role in the DCU, and about what Booster calls "solidified time." There are little things that you can tweak in history, but there are things that just are the way they are and cannot (or should not) be changed. The death of Dick's parents is solidified time, and Dick knows that. Dick needs a little Faith Restoration, and asks a favor of Booster. Dick goes back in time, to a Christmas long past, and stands outside the house of his parents while his younger self is opening presents. This is all Dick needed to see to buoy his spirits, and strengthen his resolve.

Dick has more than one family name to carry on, and he will do so proudly.
  • Tim Drake: Running with the Devil...
Tim, in contrast to Dick, won't let anything go. Tim has lost so much in such a short period of time, he's kind of becoming the Sipowitz of the Bat-Family. First his mom, then Stephanie, and then his dad, and Connor, and Bart, and Bruce...Tim is suffering from serious Survivor's Guilt, and is admittedly "all screwed up right now."

Tim has changed his costume as well, donning the heavy leathers of the Red Robin uniform. Tim wants to physically feel the weight of his burdens, and as Connor points out in "Adventure Comics" #3, punish himself for not being able to save anyone he's cared for. In Tim's titular book, he's on a quest to prove that Bruce is alive. Tim doesn't know where (or when) but he knows Bruce is out there, and he's in league with Ra's al Ghul to help him find out.

In "Blackest Night" Tim's demons are manifested as Black Lanterns. Jack Drake and Captain Boomerang replay the night they killed each other, and Tim BEGS Dick to let him save his father this time. Tim walks right into the scenario, gets his "father" out of the way of the boomerang that killed him, and then proceeds to - like Dick with Zucco - beat the tar out of the Black Lantern Boomerang. Pure Rage. He's pulled out by Dick, and admits that he was wrong about his parents, but reiterates his belief that Bruce is alive.

Back in "Adventure Comics," Tim has the first real conversation he's had with Connor since Connor returned from the 31st Century during Final Crisis. These two are best friends, and each are struggling with their new identities. As they discuss what's going on - Tim's search for Bruce; Connor's need to find some good in Lex Luthor - they both start to relax and realize that they don't have to go it alone. In the end, Connor says the three words that Tim most needs to hear: "I believe you." Francis Manapul's art beautifully shows the sorrow on Tim's face turn to hope and resolve, his Faith restored.
  • Stephanie Brown: I've been dead before...
Stephanie had the shortest, and most controversial, run as a Robin. After operating for years as Spoiler, Stephanie forced Bruce to take her on when Tim went on a sabbatical after Jack Drake found out he was Robin. Despite her training, Stephanie still felt she had something to prove and went off the reservation a few times, and Bruce cut her loose. When Stephanie attempts to take on the Gotham Underworld on her own using one of Batman's famous "contingency plans," things go horribly awry, and she is tortured by the Black Mask, and dies of her injuries.

It is later discovered that her death was manufactured by longtime Batman confidant Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who takes Stephanie out of the country with her and away from Bruce and that life. I found this to be a HUGE disservice to both characters, mostly because this was completely out of character for Leslie.

Stephanie is back in Gotham now, and has taken over the role of Batgirl, abandoned suddenly and without any real explanation by Cassandra Cain (another big problem for me). Stephanie needs this. While she still has a great relationship with her mother, Stephanie found a real family in Tim and Bruce and is not going away without a fight. In the middle of a battle with Scarecrow, Barbara discovers Stephanie's new hobby and is not pleased. Barbara is dealing with her own issues, and still has some unresolved anger over being put in a wheelchair by the Joker - something else we've learned in the "Booster Gold" series that is solidified time; Booster tried to prevent the incident several times and was unable to. Babs sees that she is needed as a mentor and teacher not only to Stephanie, but also to recently paralyzed Teen Titan Wendy Harris, who she's counseling at Leslie Thompkins' clinic.

Barbara breaks into the Batcave (this also seems to be a recurring theme) and gets Stephanie through her initial melee with Dr. Crane, and sees the potential Stephanie has. At the end of "Batgirl" #3, Barbara and Stephanie go through the Pledge in the Batcave. Barbara here is finally - and officially - passing the torch of Batgirl to someone else, complete with a modified version of the original Batgirl costume, which Barbara says is "something [Stephanie has] earned the right to wear."

Barbara and Stephanie vow to have Faith in one another; something that Stephanie needed to get, and Barbara needed to give.
  • In Conclusion: Shut the frak up.
I think we may be looking at the genesis of one of the most cohesive Bat-Families in years. Now, if they would only get together now and then to recite the Serenity Prayer...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bullet Point Reviews

Going to try something new, and just do some quick reviews of the books on my pull list this week.

Amazing Spider-Man #608:
  • I'm kind of enjoying this book, and loved the hilarious cold open with the liveblogging villain Screwball. I'm grateful to writer Marc Guggenheim for not using any "world-wide webslinger" jokes so I could use that one here.
  • The narrative worked smoothly as it flashed back to Ben Reilly and Damon Ryder's beginnings, and Ryder/Raptor's battles with Peter in the present.
  • I also like that this storyline ties into the Clone Saga, as that storyline is being revised in a current miniseries. Saves me the hassle of having to track down a trade or do online recon, since I'm a Marvel Noob.
  • Elwood Says: Catch this one in your web.
Angel #26:
  • Anyone who's ever been to, or worked at, a comic book/sci-fi convention will love this issue. It's funny because it's true.
  • Anyone who's ever wondered if Nicolas Cage wants to play every comic book/sci-fi personality there is will laugh and cry. Nice cameo from Jorge Garcia, too.
  • Issue misfires at the end. I don't think that Angel is who Spike wants to be, at least not literally.
  • Elwood Says: Empty calories, but a smile-time read.
Batman and Robin #5:
  • Philip Tan's art is woefully misapplied here. I know that, to avoid delays, Frank Quitely is only doing so many issues at a time, but Quitely's art matches the goofy storyline much better than the more serious art of Tan.
  • Flamingo?!?
  • We get confirmation that the Red Hood is who we think he his, and he's gone red under the hood as well. Also, Scarlett is one messed up little girl. Wow.
  • Elwood Says: Still worth buying, but unless a steady team takes over the book I can see the novelty wearing off fast.
Batman Annual #27:
  • Kicking off a storyline that is set to continue in next week's Detective Comics Annual #11, This is acting as a backdoor pilot for the new "Azrael" series that begins in two weeks. I don't see why this was necessary, since Azrael got a 3-issue mini during Battle for the Cowl.
  • The "Lil Gotham" splash page was awesome!
  • The back-up story (also continued next week) was sloppy, especially Kelley Jones' art. That's sad.
  • Elwood Says: Blergh. You can skip this one.
Batman Confidential #34:
  • I'm digging this Russian story, and the return of the KGBeast, but sales aren't great for this title. I wonder if DC is just holding on to it as a way to keep Bruce Wayne on the reader's radar.
  • Andy Clarke's art is fun to look at. He does facial expressions almost as well as Keith Giffen or Amanda Connor.
  • I know that the letterers want us to know that the language being spoken isn't English when they use the "" format, but I keep looking for the "" later. Stupid internets.
  • Elwood Says: Decent reading overall. Worth a look.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer #29:
  • This title has been consistently awesome since it relaunched, and this issue is no exception. The fact that not only Joss Whedon, but other writers from the show like the current arc's Jane Espenson, are involved with the book makes it a natural extension of the TV series.
  • The romance brewing between Xander and Dawn I'm unsure about. I know that by now Dawn's passed the age of majority, but I can't help but wonder if his feelings for her are anything but residual Buffy-crush. Also, Xander's on the rebound after his last girlfriend was killed in the line. I'm concerned.
  • The "redirecting" of the Magics has built new strengths in the team, but it takes a horrible toll on Oz near the end.
  • Elwood Says: If you're not reading this book, then we can't be friends.
Final Crisis Aftermath: Run! #6:
  • Thank God. It's finally over.
  • Elwood Says: See the last bullet.
Ghostbusters: Displaced Aggression #2:
  • After being rescued from the Old West by the new GB Rachel Unglighter, she and Peter Venkman are transported to Camelot in search of Ray Stantz. They find themselves immediately on the pointy end of King Arthur's sword. Hi-jinx ensue.
  • It might come as a shock to anyone who hasn't read comics, watched TV, or ever been to the movies before but the new chick might not be on the up-and-up. I know!
  • "Half-Sister." "But ALL hot!" I could hear Bill Murray right there. Good work.
  • Elwood Says: IDW is doing great things with their various licenses, but this might read better when the trade comes out. Up to you.
Justice League: Cry For Justice #4:
  • This miniseries has been all lead-up and no pay-off. While I'm liking Mauro Cascioli's art, the story just drags. I wish that this had been condensed into a couple of prestige format books, as it would have forced James Robinson to tighten up the narrative. I'm bored now.
  • Similarly, for a team that Cries For Justice ("What do we want? JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW!") enough to tell Superman where to stick his Kryptonite, they are not being at all expedient in their cause. Which is ironic when there's a Flash on the team.
  • Blah blah torture yadda yadda by any means...this book is about two years late to be considered social commentary.
  • Elwood Says: Whatever.
Models, Inc. #2:
  • This has been a surprisingly entertaining miniseries so far. Issue #1 had Tim Gunn donning the Iron Man suit, and set up a decent murder mystery. It's been interesting to see the number of non-comic readers asking about and/or buying the first issue just because of Tim Gunn. Marvel does find clever ways to market books to new buyers, that's for sure.
  • Special appearance by Johnny Storm in this issue. Where go models, so naturally goes the Human Torch, right?
  • Between this book and Marvel Divas, Patsy Walker is getting lots of face time these days.
  • Elwood Says: Light fun, and a book you might be able to get your girlfriend to read (if she's not already into comics).
Star Trek Romulans: Schism #2:
  • I really like the way IDW is handling the Trek comics franchise, but I wish they wouldn't throw so much work at John Byrne. I don't care for his art at all anymore. This story has been decent, and ties back to Byrne's last Trek mini ("Crew").
  • Byrne does capture the look and feel of Star Trek: TOS in this book, and I give props to colorist Lovern Kindzierski for that.
  • Cool reveal - the first Romulan Bird of Prey!
  • Elwood Says: For the die-hard Trekkies (Trekkers, if you prefer) this is right in your wheelhouse.
Superman: World of New Krypton #8:
  • Am I the only one reading this book that likes to call it "WONK?"
  • I have to admit, I'm unclear on the Thanagarian's motivation here. I didn't read any of the Rann-Thanagarian war miniseries, so I'm not sure what's driving them to attack the Kryptonians, aside from a long history of conflict. A quick flip through the last few issues confirms that I didn't miss a thread somewhere, and the fight is quickly dispatched, so I guess I'll roll with it.
  • A new enemy emerges on a final page reveal, so more of the same next month. I don't know why this miniseries went from being almost all about the internal struggles on New Krypton to being about external threats and how Kal-El deals with it, but it has.
  • Elwood Says: It was solid up until now, but there are 4 issues to go. I have faith in Greg Rucka, so I'll stick it out.
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #3:
  • This has to be one of my favorite books right now. Bendis' writing, paired with David LaFuente's art, makes this book pop. I didn't read USM before, but with the post-Ultimatum relaunch I got on board and I don't regret the decision at all.
  • Very emotional interaction between Aunt May and Johnny Storm, as they talk about where Johnny's been since the wave hit, and how Johnny needs to reach out to his sister. Equally emotional argument between Peter and MJ later, and I have to say...I don't miss high school at all.
  • The fight with Mysterio devolved into a Die Hard 3 rip-off, but this gets acknowledged in the dialogue, so that made it all better.
  • Elwood Says: Anyone with severe arachnophobia should avoid the splash page in the middle of the book, but otherwise you should all be reading UCSM. Seriously.

The Heated Debate

From Ctrl+Alt+Del comes this little bit of funnybook humor:

(Click the pic for Marvel Team-Up sized goodness)