Comics // Inchoate Review // Batman Rebirth #1 & #2

Here’s some very quick thoughts on issues 1 & 2 of Tom King’s Batman Rebirth book. I’ve not been a regular bat-reader for quite some time, but after the brilliance of The Omega Men I have been quietly excited about this book since it was announced. And I wasn’t disappointed either, the book is interesting, has some nice characterisation and whilst a little generic in places is certainly compelling enough for me to stick around.

Spoilers follow

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// Alfred the great

Tom King writes a wonderfully acerbic Alfred. And there is a lot of warmth in the mockery he dishes out to Bruce, that katana birthday line is absolutely marvelous! Much like the brilliantly lived in feel of the relationship between Bruce and Alfred was literally, literally, the best thing in BvS, I have a feeling that the relationship will be a funny, touching, heart to this series too.

// Gotham-Man & Gotham-Woman, surely?

OK, so we don’t know the background on these characters, let alone their ages, but it struck me as really odd that the dude is called ‘Gotham’, but the woman is called’Gotham Girl‘. Gotham as the name for a suspicious new super hero is cool, but when you pair him with a woman and then default her to Gotham Girl it just comes across as retrograde tackiness. Maybe this’ll be a thing, part of their relationship dynamic or something (at the very least it is an obvious manifestation of the ‘we get the heroes we deserve’ speech from issue 1), but I suspect we’re ultimately looking at traditional and unfortunately gendered comic book naming conventions that ought to be put away now.

// Save that bum, but don’t help that bum

So Batman takes Mr. Gothman to task for failing to stop Solomon Grundy quick enough to prevent injury to a homeless man in the park. As a result Batman stepped in (in a pretty great smoke-covered entrance) to save the bum from trampling. Except then Batman just swings off into the night. Like, he cares enough that a homeless man shouldn’t get crushed to death, but he’ll be damned if he helps that filthy hippy out with some hot soup or a place to stay for the night or a bloody Bat-blanket to keep warm in the park or whatever. This is a common complaint about Batman, but it rarely feels so starkly illustrated as it is here. Thanks for the assist millionaire Batman.

// Batman takes NZT-48

I must admit, as ridiculous as it ended up being the maths-laden-rocket-seat-surf-a-plane action of issue 1 was a real delight. Even though I am sure it makes no physical sense I love the idea that Batman and his team can parse complex maths in seconds in order to create theoretical plans to save a plane and then carry them out perfectly. This is a Batman I can get behind. Batman is awesome. This is one of the smartest people in the DCU using his formidable mind and his perfect body and his iron will to do whatever it takes to save the people of his city. Batman’s willingness to sacrifice himself was perfect. His final words to Alfred were touching and noble. And, and, and, we get to see an action scene in a superhero book that isn’t just people punching one another! Why is this so rare? Especially when the construction of a scene like this can evoke so much tension and excitement through almost every page of the issue.

// Tim Sale Variants

Super picky and personal one this. Although I picked these up for both issues something felt off to me about Sale’s art. The art is a perfectly fine example of Sale’s work, but unfair as this may seem it comes across a as if he was a little bored whilst drawing them. After thinking about it awhile I think it is because whilst the book itself represents this bold new starting point for Batman’s adventures with a nod to the past (much as Rebirth is the same for the entire DCU), Sale’s art feels like it is literally from the past. Either cover could have come from Long Halloween or Dark Victory, neither cover embraces the content of the issue itself. Sure Solomon Grundy is in #2, but not in this sympathetic sewer man way he was depicted in LH. And the issue #1 cover, that depicts Batman’s rogues in something of a pile-on, well that feels like it is purposefully looking back at all these villains of yore rather than looking forward at the new adventures and stories to come. Maybe this is the point, a bit of Tim Sale/Long Halloween nostalgia whilst you bed in the new book, but it just came across as a uncomfortable juxtaposition for me.

Comics // Review // Batgirl #45

Concise //

This issue lets the plot take a mostly back seat in favour of some intense emotional beats;  Barbara’s best friend Alyssia is about to get married so Babs has to balance being the best ‘best woman’ ever and dealing with a romantic figure from her own past. It is a solid read with some great continuity and lovely moments, but it also continues the recent trend of a somewhat aimless Batgirl. As ever, though, the art is top notch and this issue benefits from some even more gorgeous colouring than usual.

Batgirl #45 Cover

Spoilerful //

Since the end of the opening arc for this new Batgirl run things have felt ever so slightly off. Batgirl #35 started the story of Babs settling into her new surroundings, introducing some new supporting players, and facing off against a mysterious villain operating through hired guns. It was artfully put together – the story was tightly paced and capitalised on a traditional villain-of-the-week structure to keep the action flowing whilst building up that central mystery. Since the conclusion of that story in Batgirl #40 there hasn’t really been much of a driving narrative behind Babs’ adventures; instead the approach has switched to a far more nebulous storytelling structure that is primarily concerned with the soap operatic elements of Barbara’s life. This isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, in fact it is refreshing to see a superhero book spend some more time on the human drama behind the masks, but it has been accompanied by a lack of over-arching story in recent months that has left the momentum of the book stalling a little.

Alyssia’s renewed prominence in the book has been very welcome, and if there has been an arc for the last few issues it is most probably the run up to Alyssia’s nuptials. The wedding scenes offer a number of really lovely moments, and are an important event for comics in general. Alyssia and Jo’s love, and its celebration at their wedding, is treated as any other characters would be, just as it should be. It is great to see the creators genuinely embracing and supporting these characters and providing a welcome representation of non-hetronormative love in such a mature and positive way. The wedding is also easily the strongest part of this issue with some great scenes between most of the character groupings – Alyssia and Babs have a chance to re-affirm their best friends status with some excellent Bab’s as super-maid-of-honour moments, Dinah makes an appearance, and there is some strong work establishing the playful, budding romance between Babs and Luke. It is also worth calling out the page where Alyssia and Jo make their vows as it is absolutely beautiful in art, dialogue, and sentiment.

I often lament the fact that superheroes rarely get to just enjoy the good times (super villains have an annoying habit of gate-crashing weddings, anniversaries, and graduations) so I was really pleased to see that the ’emergency’ this issue was one born of human drama rather than superhuman tomfoolery. Former love Dick Grayson recently returned to Babs’ life after spending his ‘death’ running super secret spy missions for the last few years (there must be something going around – see also Kurt in Black Canary!). Unfortunately the nature of his non-emergency and it’s place in this issue is quite underwhelming – Dick really lives up to his name here. Why he felt the need to drag Babs’ away from both her best friends’ wedding and a date with her new boyfriend for basically no reason at all is beyond me. I appreciate that he is dealing with some tough ‘feels’ right now and is looking to reconnect emotionally with Babara, but his poor timing here just comes across as jealous churlishness rather than charming and soulful.

The flashback to an earlier time is actually a great little moment (I’m especially fond of having the contemporary dialogue come from our heroes’ younger selves) serve as it does to establish the emotional history for Babs, but it felt totally out of place. This issue is all about looking forward, Alyssia and Jo are embarking on a life together, Barbara and Luke are developing their relationship and the presence of Dick, with his melancholic flashback, is designed to demonstrate how Babs’ is letting go of the sad anchors of the past and embracing that forward momentum towards a better life. But this is an inorganic and quite on-the-nose way to bring up those feelings; Dick appears out of nowhere and almost bullies Babs into joining him on a nothing adventure. He comes across as the superhero equivalent of a massive jerk ex who can always charm you to drop what you’re doing and head over to his place in the middle of the night, you know they’ll only hurt you, but you can’t stop yourself. This is presumably the intention of his characterisation in this issue, but I don’t want to read about a Babs who would fall for that trick – she went through a dark spell a few issues back and this behaviour would sit well there, but with everything in her life back on track and especially on a day so important to her best friend it doesn’t ring true to me that she would drop everything and everyone for this guy. Alyssia even calls out Babs’ poor behaviour, “I mean I know she has a habit of leaving abruptly, but I didn’t think she’d do it today“, and I found myself really disliking Barbara’s decision to put a flirtatious romp above her friend (and boyfriend’s) happiness and I don’t think that was the intention. It really felt like the entire Dick Grayson side-show was an excuse to get Babs in the Batgirl costume for a page or two whilst mercilessly hammering home that Babs wants to move on from the past.

But all of this, the goodness of the wedding and the badness of Dick Grayson, doesn’t really speak to the current underlying weakness in the book. Without a strong central plot for this arc there have been a number of brief adventures and a sidelining of elements of the relaunch that had previously been a part of what made it so great. Characters like Nimah and to a lesser extent Qadir have dropped from view, whilst potential love interests like Jeremy and Liam were cast off the moment Luke arrived. It may be that this was always the intention, and that those characters were introduced only as red herrings for the villain reveal at the end of the first arc, but it is still disappointing as it undermines the living breathing Burnside world that set Babs’ stories apart from the rest of the Bat-family. Even Burnside itself, like those other characters, has become a background in the most traditional sense too; the strong sense of place, of Burnside being a different part of Gotham with it’s own denizen’s, heroes, and villains isn’t quite there now. Babs’ school work isn’t part of the story anymore, her relationships with Dinah and Frankie aren’t driving the plot either (Dinah’s absence makes sense given that she has her own book again, but why isn’t Frankie in this more), and she isn’t working towards anything in paricular. Instead we have seen a relatively low-key set of disconnected multi-part stories. Exploring how her father’s regrettable new role as giant-robot-police-Batman and her best friends wedding affect Babara are interesting topics, but without a strong narrative structure that ties them into Babs day to day life they haven’t been as compelling as perhaps they could have been.

Even visually the book has set aside some of it’s great hallmarks – those wonderful page layouts from early in the book where Babs’ remembers and pieces together clues and panels that integrated modern technology into Babs’ world (text messages, emails, playlists, etc.) have been featured far less frequently. None of this is fatal, and the book is still a good read each month, but it definitely feels like the strong artistic and narrative vision which propelled the first arc has been on a lower setting recently. If this issue came at the end of a breathless arc then it would be a very refreshing chance to catch a breathe and join the characters revealing in the emotional climax of Alyssia and Jo’s wedding. Coming as it does after a number of relatively slow, relatively low stakes, and essentially disconnected stories, the impact of the slow down is lost a little to the point of almost stalling.

This is very much still a fun comic to read and my misgivings with the general pace and feel of the recent storytelling shouldn’t be taken as an argument not to read it. Babs Tarr’s art remains absolutely delightful on every page and Stewart & Fletcher are still writing some engaging, witty dialogue (that bow tie conversation is really quite charming), but it’d be disingenuous not to call out the shift in pace that the book has undergone recently. Even if some of that early magic has dissipated, everything still exists in this book to make it truly great once again; this creative team is incredibly strong and the world they have crafted has the potential for more amazing comic books. I have great hope and no doubt that they will recapture what made this book so good.

Batgirl #45 Panel 1

Batgirl #45 // Writers – / Artist – Babs Tarr / Colourist – Serge Lapointe // DC

Notes //

– Serge Lapointe is on amazing form this issue, with beautiful colouring in every panel. The various hues of pink give the issue a distinct feeling of the romantic backdrop, but Lapointe isn’t afraid to throw in bold colour changes to add drama and impact (the opening page Babs’ to the rescue panels, for instance, do a great job reminding of Batgirl in action – a choice that immediately raises the stakes of every small crisis).

– It’s a great touch having Dinah and her band Black Canary playing the wedding and singing some 80’s power ballads! It’s cool to see a Babs Tarr version of Lord Byron, Ditto, and Paloma too.

– What with the questionable cameo of Red Robin in Gotham Academy #11 as well as Grayson here I’m beginning to wonder if there is an editorial mandate to shoe horn unnecessary appearances into books as part of a miss-judged cross-promotional campaign. (I appreciate that this is a staple of superhero books but it rarely feels as forced as it has in recent DC books)

Comics // Weekly Pull List // 28/10/15

Some of my favourite books are out this week, plus an interesting new comic from trusted hands.

Weekly Pull List 28.10.15

Art Ops #1 – I know very little about the nature of this book, but the presence of Mike and Laura Allred on art and colouring duties made this worth a blind purchase. The contents look as great as you would expect and the idea of crazy art based hijinks make this a book I’m looking forward to reading.

Batgirl #45 – Babs Tarrs’ art remains a constant source of enjoyment on this book even if this second arc has lacked the narrative strength and clarity of the previous one. This issue promises some big emotional moments though so hopefully will regain a little momentum.

Prez #5Prez really is one of the best political stories out there right now, comic book otherwise, as the pretty outlandish concept of random teen gets elected president by fluke has been turned into an engine for some biting satire. With the brilliant Ben Caldwell returning to pencilling duties this should be another great issue.

The Spire #4 – Drawing on traditional concepts from fantasy, political, and mystery stories The Spire has really grown into a tremendously compelling book. And that’s not to mention the wonderful art from Jeff Stokely!

They’re Not Like Us #9 – I’ve written a lot about this book on here, and with good reason, everything in it from the writing to the art to the colouring to the very concept is just excellent. This really is one of the best books available.

Comics // Review // Gotham Academy #11

Concise //

Gotham Academy delivers another great issue packed with fun moments and intriguing mysteries. This story takes on some of the bigger continuity elements of the book so far even whilst bringing out some of the biggest guns a school based comic book has to offer – a field trip to Gotham city! This is an action packed issue that has excitement, comedy, and  one or two answers up its sleeve, even if it does go on to pose plenty more questions!

Gotham Academy #11 Cover

Spoilerful //

The mystery of Olive’s past has been a powerful story engine for this book ever since it began and even as some secrets are slowly being teased out it feels like there is a whole lot more to the Silverlock family tree still left unrevealed. That is a good thing for the book as it continues to give the central team a reason to stick together and go on puzzle-solving adventures, even as the dangers keep piling up. After the excitement of an almost done-in-one Clayface vs acting story last issue this one picks up on more of the long running threads. The team are heading in to central Gotham under the cover of a tennis tournament featuring Kyle.

Kyle’s place in this book has always been an odd one. Sure he is an important part of Olive’s romantic past and he is Maps’ big brother, but writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher have been content to keep him outside the core ensemble and relatively undefined (although yes, we know he likes tennis). It is possible that this has simply been a function of the creative teams’ wise focus on the more interesting Olive/Maps relationship over the traditional Olive/Kyle one, but this issue is the biggest evidence yet that there might be more to Kyle’s frequent absences from Detective Club. Last issue he was more keen on playing tennis than helping out with the school play/Clayface incident; this time that is turned into a benefit for the club serving as instead as a distraction for their real mission in Gotham. But by the time the issue finishes it becomes clear that Kyle wasn’t at the tennis at all, and in fact that he may be more closely intertwined in the mystery Silverlock family than previously suspected. Is the two-part key a clue to the whereabouts of a kidnapped Kyle? Or is he actually responsible for the appearances of this ‘ghost’?

The presence of Red Robin is a mixed blessing in this issue; on the one hand he doesn’t actively do much personally (I’m sure an alternative way of dematerialising Calamity could have been found), whilst on the other Cloonan and Fletcher make sure to give Maps some great superhero fan girl moments (on that topic how amazing is the cover to this issue!). Red Robin also takes the opportunity to give a little backstory on Calamity in a lovely flashback drawn by Mingle Helen Chen (I’m not the biggest fan of fill in artist, but when it is used to serve a function it can be very effective). Again, this could have been worked in without the presence of Red Robin: the only reason I mention this is that there are a good few pages devoted to Red Robin whilst Pomeline and Colton’s side quest to the law office gets short shrift (the assumption being that we’ll find out what they found at the law office via exposition next issue). The art in the rest of the book is up to the usual wonderful standard of Karl Kerschl, with some terrific moments, especially those featuring the otherworldly antics of Calamity.

The issue ends with one heck of a moment; the two clues (one dropped when the ghost of Calamity disappears in the records room, and the other left in Kyle’s locker) fit together to form a key to Arkham Asylum! What exactly it opens at the asylum is still a mystery, but the idea that the Detective Club will be infiltrating the place, probably by the tunnels in/under the school, is an exciting one. Alongside the mysteries of the Silverlock’s there has also been a persistent question of history of the Academy itself – there is clearly a close connection between the school and the Asylum that runs deeper than just a shared architectural aesthetic. Questions and moments like these are what makes this book such fun to read, they are surprising not just to the audience but to the characters too, and the fact that Maps and the others have such an enthusiasm and excitement about it all is infectious.

I’ve been impressed by Gotham Academy throughout its run so far, the characters remain as refreshing and interesting as ever (particularly Maps, of course), and Cloonan and Fletcher keep delivering smart new adventures for them to go on. The scale of the book continues to grow, encompassing more and more of the traditional Gotham we already know, and whilst the central plot could lead anywhere there is a palpable forward momentum to Olive’s quest. This is still a great comic and this issue is as strong as ever.

Gotham Academy #11 Panel

Gotham Academy #11 // Writers – Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher / Art – Karl Kerschl with Msassyk and Mingle Helen Chen / Colours – Serge Lapointe & Msassyk // DC

Notes //

– Do we really trust Hugo Strange as Olive’s creepy psychiatrist?

– You can always rely on Metropolis to offer up a convenient rival sports team; in this case the Gotham Academy tennis team are going up against the uninspiringly named Metropolis Academy!

– Katherine makes a quick appearance, one that sees Maps’ shed a little more light on the possession/artificial-construct questions regarding Clayface and Katherine last issue. There are still some unexplained things (e.g. why did Katherine go along with her father’s plan/appear evil only to turn out to be a regular girl later on), but I appreciate the writers taking a moment to clarify that she is a real girl with some Clayface-esque powers.

– I’m more intrigued by the seemingly frequent superhero cameos in Gotham Academy on a business level than on a story one (especially as they seem less essential as we go on); is a character like Red Robin turning up here to help sell Gotham Academy issues or to help promote their We Are Robin? Or is it actually to help build a stronger and more narratively coherent Gotham? If it’s that last one then maybe appearing for longer than a scene at a time would be beneficial.

Comics // Weekly Pull List // 21/10/15

It’s a pretty quiet week, but the few books that are out come from some of the best titles of the moment.

Weekly Pull List 21.10.15

Black Canary #5 – Last issue of Black Canary delivered an interesting if unusual diversion as much of the book focused on a new villain from the band’s past. With the absence of series regular artist Annie Wu that gave the issue the feel of a solid side story, but given Wu’s most recent issue (#3) had been the point at which the book really gained momentum I was looking forward to getting back into the core story with the full creative team. Alas Wu is absent once again this month, and as good as fill in artist Pia Guerra is this book really feels like it belongs to Wu so any art change has a big impact.

Gotham Academy #11 – It’s always a joy when a new Gotham Academy hits the shelves; this is such a straight-up fun book that revels in the twin worlds of Famous Five-esque Harry Potterian supernatural boarding school hijinks and superhero mythologies. The writing is great and artist Karl Kerschl is still on hand to deliver some wonderful visuals.

Weirdworld #5 // Secret Wars – This book has been amongst my favourites from the clutch of great Secret Wars tie-ins, having benefited from strong writing, incredible art, and (given that this is a ‘Warzone’) a pretty clear distinction from the events of the SW core book. Many of the otherwise great SW minis have struggled with the final issue though, especially where ongoing’s are in their future (as is the case here), but I’m cautiously optimistic that this one will stick the landing and deliver something satisfying.

Wolf #4 – I picked this book up on a whim, mostly because the cover to this issue is a striking and intriguing piece, but also because the book sounds interesting. The idea of a paranormal detective in a contemporary city is one that appeals to me in plenty of ways, but that I’ve rarely actually enjoyed in practice (often due to an over reliance on old standards like vampires, poor integration of contemporary culture/technology, or dubious world-building). Here’s hoping this book overcomes those difficulties and delivers a unique and compelling take on a common premise.