Tag Archives: DC

The New 52: Batwing, Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman, and Detective Comics

The final four titles in the Batman group of DC’s New 52:

Batwing

Trying to bring some racial diversity to the mix, DC is promoting Batwing from its obscure beginnings earlier in 2011 as part of the Batman Incorporated storyline to its own book. Batwing is billed as Africa’s Batman. That’s like saying Batman is North America’s Batman. Africa is not a country! Actually reading the story, we find that Batwing is David Zavimbi, a police officer in the fictional city of Tinasha within the real Democratic Republic of Congo (the large central African country formerly known as Zaire). Batwing uses a technologically advanced bat-suit provided by Batman that, among other things, has wings that enable him to fly. Batwing’s first nemesis is a villain called Massacre who lives up to his name by decapitating a bunch of policemen. Judd Winick’s script is nothing special, but Ben Oliver’s artwork is noteworthy for its realistic styling and absence of exaggerated superhero poses. I commend DC for giving this title a try, but will be surprised if it lasts.

Batman: The Dark Knight

Batman is arguably DC’s biggest star, so it makes sense to add this third title to the core Batman and Detective Comics. The question is, will it be different enough from its older siblings for anyone to care? Based on the first issue, I can say that it’s definitely different, but I’m not sure too many will care. Writer Paul Jenkins, along with penciller/co-plotter David Finch, pen a gritty, action-packed opener with an emphasis on the bizarre residents in Arkham Asylum. They don’t forget to round out the story with some secret identity hijinks. Inker Richard Friend keeps the shenanigans literally in the dark. The book ends with a Hulked-out Two-Face popping out, signaling that this book will not be taking itself too seriously. If you like your Batman as a dark demon hunter, this is the book for you; otherwise, I’d stick with the other two, immensely superior, Bat-books.

Batman

This version of Batman appears to take place in the present, as opposed to the Batman in Detective Comics who appears to be at least a few years younger and less accepted by Gotham City police. At least this Batman is getting coöperation from Sgt. Bullock as they look into a grisly killing. Overall, veteran Bat-scribe Scott Snyder nails the right combination of action and mystery that classic Batman stories need. Artists Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion offer a richly compelling look that reflects the mood of the story—a bit lighter for Bruce Wayne, a bit darker for Batman. The most interesting part of the story for me, however, was a panel showing Bruce and three of his wards getting ready to attend a black-tie party. The captions for Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne indicated “Access Level: High.” A few panels later, Alfred Pennyworth’s caption indicated “Access Level: Highest.” A subtle indication that Batman’s ultimate trust is hard-won, indeed.

Detective Comics

Detective Comics is arguably the flagship of DC publishing; after all, it’s where their star character got his start and it gave the company its name. So a lot is on the line. Writer/artist Tony S. Daniel (with inks by Ryan Winn) doesn’t exactly hit a home run, but this dark, mysterious Batman is quite readable. It features the most “what the heck is that” cliffhanger, as a truly psychotic Joker comes to town. Don’t expect Detective Comics to break too much new ground, but it should more than satisfy fans’ Batman cravings.

The New 52: Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, and Batman and Robin

The past and present incarnations of Batman’s sidekick, Robin, in DC’s New 52:

Nightwing

The first Robin, Dick Grayson, grew up, became Nightwing, took over as Batman for a year while Bruce Wayne was… “away,” and is now back to being Nightwing. Writer Kyle Higgins and artists Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer present a confident young superhero who returns to visit his circus origins and meets a dangerous new foe. Nightwing appears to be a well-crafted, action-packed superhero comic. It isn’t likely to be revolutionary, and should be a nice, consistent mid-list book.

Red Hood and the Outlaws

The second Robin, Jason Todd, was famously killed by reader request in 1988’s Batman: A Death in the Family, then brought back to life (when did a comic book character ever stay dead?) in 2005’s Under the Hood, eventually becoming the Red Hood, an antihero with a willingness to use lethal force and weapons. Now he is heading a new team composed of Roy Harper, AKA Arsenal, AKA Speedy, the former Green Arrow sidekick who was also a heroin addict, and Starfire, former long-time member of the Teen Titans, who happens to be an alien princess. The story written by Scott Lobdell is a confusing mess of references to previous characters and events—a mysterious woman named Essence warns Jason of something called The Untitled that is battling something else called The All Caste and stealing organs from living bodies… and there were no incisions—cue spooky music! Meanwhile, artist Kenneth Rocafort provides page after page of Starfire in beautiful near-naked pin-up poses as she has meaningless sex with Roy. Starfire is portrayed as a sexpot with a severe case of attention-deficit disorder who sees humans as little more than sights and smells—kind of like a dog. This pure male fantasy may sell subscriptions, but Starfire is not the female role model she was on the Teen Titans TV series, that’s for sure. I feel like I came into the middle of a continued story, and I’m not at all interested in this combination of sleaze and unrepentant violence.

Teen Titans

The third Robin, Tim Drake, can be seen as Red Robin in the new Teen Titans book, which I previously reviewed.

Batman and Robin

The fourth and current Robin, Damian Wayne, is the 10-year-old son of Bruce Wayne and Talia, daughter of Batman’s arch foe Ra’s al Ghul (or, perhaps the clone of Bruce Wayne, depending on who you ask). Damian is impetuous, deadly, and disrespectful, but also amusingly sarcastic and committed to winning his father’s admiration. Writer Peter Tomasi emphasizes family relations as only the dysfunctional Wayne clan can be. Artists Pat Gleason and Mick Gray have a uniquely bold style that gorgeously suits the abundance of action set pieces. This should be a fun series.

The New 52: Batgirl, Batwoman, Catwoman, and Birds of Prey

Let’s take a look at the distaff side of the Batman group of DC’s New 52:

Batgirl

Batgirl has been a member of the Batman family for half a century, perhaps best known from the third season of the 1960’s Batman TV show. She is Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, Barbara. In Alan Moore’s classic 1988 story, The Killing Joke, the Joker shot her, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. In the intervening years the wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon became the computer hacker known as Oracle, and was a member of the Birds of Prey team. In the New-52 revamp, Barbara miraculously regains her mobility in a single panel of Issue #1 and, seemingly without rehab, dons the old costume without missing a beat (perhaps we’ll see the full story in a future flashback). Well, almost. Writer Gail Simone does something interesting with the backstory: Batgirl now has a lingering phobia towards guns, especially ones pointed at her. This could give the series some depth not normally seen in superhero comics. Adrian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes provide adequate art, making this a solid mid-list title.

Batwoman

This is a beautifully drawn story from co-writer and artist J. H. Williams III that picks up where the critically acclaimed Batwoman: Elegy left off. Co-written by Haden Blackman, Batwoman looks to combine action with some supernatural goings-on, with some serious character dynamics thrown in. Openly gay, Kate Kane, AKA Batwoman, will also serve as a relevant real world character. I expect Batwoman will be one of the top books in the New 52.

Catwoman

Writer Judd Winick and artist Guillem March present Selina Kyle, AKA Catwoman, as a super-sexy, super-intelligent cat burglar who gets mixed up with the wrong crowd. When her apartment and everything she owns gets blown up in the first few pages, she infiltrates a Russian mob party to get the skinny on where their loot is so she can replenish her reserves, but things go astray and she barely escapes with her life. The basic premise looks like it could be interesting, à la the disguise-happy Sydney Bristow on Alias. The problem is, though, that the entire first issue is filled with page after page of pin-up poses of Catwoman in various stages of undress, starting with her half-naked escape from the skull-masked goons who trash her home and continuing with her provocative seductress disguise. Showing her best friend as a plain-looking frump intensifies Selina’s hyper-sexuality. But then things get really wonky—the first issue ends with Batman dropping in on Catwoman for no discernible reason other than to give Winick and March an excuse to have her jump his bones—generating a lot of controversy among fans. Maybe people just don’t like the thought of Batman having sexual relations. Maybe it’s the way it was presented without context. Maybe it’s the way it plays on the fetish aspect of the two costumed characters. While not a complete failure, Catwoman will have to work hard to justify continued titillation (or not, if enough 16-year-old boys keep on buying it).

Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey is a covert all-female team operating in Gotham City—a female A-Team with superpowers—featuring Black Canary, Poison Ivy, Rose Tattoo, Katana, and a new character called Starling. The first issue, written by Duane Swierczynski with art by Jesus Saiz, focuses on Black Canary, whose power is super-screaming, and Starling, powers unknown, but definitely a bad-ass. There’s a cameo by Barbara Gordon, AKA Batgirl, who used to be a member of the team as Oracle, the wheelchair-bound computer hacker, as she declines to continue with the team. The first issue features a lot of action and an explosive cliffhanger, so this could turn out to be a decent book, but I think it will probably turn out to read better in the collected trade edition.

The New 52: Blackhawks and Voodoo

Finishing up “The Edge” group of DC’s New 52:

Blackhawks

Here’s another high-tech super-secret paramilitary mercenary group, where every member has a cute nickname like “Canada” or “Irish” just so we can tell them apart, I suppose. Whether writer Mike Costa can differentiate Blackhawks from S.H.I.E.L.D. or G.I. Joe (for which he has previously written at IDW) remains to be seen. The first issue establishes Blackhawks as the custodians of every weapon known to mankind, and then some. The story arc looks like it will involve them fighting enemies who use nano-biotechnology to infiltrate their ranks. Artists Graham Nolan and Ken Lashley present a style well suited to this type of story—clean, modern, and dynamic. There is nothing that demands the reader’s continued attention, but they drop some intriguing hints that may pay off in the long run.

Voodoo

Voodoo was created by Jim Lee and is part of the Wildstorm imprint that DC is trying to integrate into its mainstream line. With a title like Voodoo, you would expect something supernatural, but it looks like it will be more science fictiony, which could cause marketing problems. Voodoo is a shape-shifting alien who takes the form of a stripper to “…learn about people. Men, especially. They have their defenses down [at a strip club].” A quick look at the first issue might give the sense that this is an unnecessarily sexist story, but writer Ron Marz gives us a shocking ending that, at least temporarily, assuages that kind of assumption. Nevertheless, there’s not much else to the first issue, other than a brief scene of a badass woman detective or federal agent named Fallon who is tailing Voodoo. The art by Sami Basri is very good—though tending towards the cartoonish. If Voodoo stays away from the cheesecake and delivers a compelling story, it could have potential and be worth revisiting when the trade edition comes out.

The New 52: Suicide Squad and All Star Western

Continuing “The Edge” group of DC’s New 52:

Suicide Squad

The high concept for this book is something like The Dirty Dozen with psychotic supervillains instead of psychotic soldiers. In other words, join the Suicide Squad for impossible, covert missions, or rot in prison. This version of the Suicide Squad features Deadshot (super-assassin) and a tarted-up version of Harley Quinn (Joker’s long-suffering “girlfriend”), with C-listers like El Diablo (fire powers), King Shark (a man with a shark head and big teeth), Savant (unknown powers; he’s a red shirt), Voltaic (electrical powers), and Black Spider (unknown powers; he’s only in a couple of panels).

Writer Adam Glass and artists Federico Dallocchio, Ransom Getty, and Scott Hanna bring us twenty pages of torture porn interspersed with a few short flashbacks of the protagonists’ backgrounds. It turns out that Amanda Waller, the government agent who is the brains behind the team, is conducting this enhanced interrogation drill to weed out the members who are not 100% committed to its success. So, not a sympathetic soul in sight. Nevertheless, despite the unrelenting depravity, Suicide Squad is more interesting than some of the generic superhero titles like Green Arrow. Not interesting enough to keep reading, but at least DC is trying.

All Star Western

Jonah Hex, the surly and disfigured post-Civil War bounty hunter, is the featured character of All Star Western. Hex has been around since the early 1970s and has a strong, established cult following, perhaps because of his unwavering personal code of honor to defend the innocent and punish the guilty. Previous stories have taken place almost exclusively in the Old West, but this set of adventures sees Hex summoned to rough and tumble Gotham City to help solve the mystery of a sadistic serial killer. His investigation leads to interactions with businessman Alan Wayne and Mayor Cobblepot (ancestors of Batman and the Penguin, of course), along with Amadeus Arkham, founder of infamous Arkham Asylum.

Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray pen a violent, yet engaging mystery with echoes of the Jack the Ripper case. Moritat’s clean, compelling artwork is alone worth buying the book. Forget about the lamentable movie with Josh Brolin—pick up All Star Western for a great looking, well written police procedural starring a ferocious, yet charismatic tough guy.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold – “Mitefall!”

Batman: The Brave and the Bold
“Mitefall!”
Written by Paul Dini; directed by Ben Jones

(Click here to read my previous comments on Batman: The Brave and the Bold.)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold finished its three-season run with one of the oddest half hours of animation ever produced. Depending on your preferences, it’s either embarrassingly self-indulgent or creatively brilliant.

The pre-credits teaser has Batman (Diedrich Bader) traveling not just back in time, but into an alternate reality to help Abe Lincoln (Peter Renaday) defeat Robo-John Wilkes Booth (Dee Bradley Baker). Not like this sort of thing didn’t happen regularly during the series. Batman has inexplicably teamed up with the likes of Space Ghost, Kamandi, Jonah Hex, and other heroes past and future many times. Doesn’t Batman have enough crime to fight in present-day Gotham City (and it’s never explained how he travels through time)?

But then things get weird—Bat-Mite (Paul Reubens) appears. In a series typified by an unending succession of little known DC characters, Bat-Mite has to be one of the craziest and campiest. A magical imp from the fifth dimension, Bat-Mite is capable of almost unlimited mischief in his quest to emulate and “help” his idol Batman. When Bat-Mite decides that Batman: The Brave and the Bold is not dark enough, he sets out to get the show canceled. Some of his antics include replacing the bat-suit and bat-gadgets with the awful ones only seen with toy action figures, such as the Neon Talking Super Street Bat-Luge, and replacing John Di Maggio’s blustering baritone Aquaman with Ted McGinley who Bat-Mite believes is the episodic “kiss of death.”

Then Ambush Bug (Henry Winkler) joins the fun (and yes, Ambush Bug is a real DC character dressed in a green, skin-tight suit with two yellow antennae), helping the show “jump the shark” (get the joke?). Ambush Bug runs a short preview of the in-production Beware the Batman CGI series slated for 2013, proving that in a grittier version of Batman there would be no room for Bat-Mite’s juvenile tricks. Bat-Mite slowly fades away as Batman and his many co-stars stand on stage waving good-bye.

After 65 episodes, Batman: The Brave and the Bold is mercifully over. It’s rare for cartoons to have finales, but Batman: The Brave and the Bold has never been a conventional series. With its emphasis on simple action and humor, featuring some of the more obscure heroes in the DC inventory, it was not afraid to dismantle the invisible fourth wall in its final minutes. Love it or hate it, this is a series that will not be duplicated.

The New 52: Deathstroke and Grifter

Two more books in “The Edge” group of DC’s New 52:

Deathstroke

Marv Wolfman and George Pérez created Slade Wilson, AKA Deathstroke, as the primary adversary of the Teen Titans back in the early 1980s. Although featured in a number of comics since then, Deathstroke has become somewhat overshadowed by Marvel’s mercenary Deadpool. This new series apparently aims to bring back Deathstroke’s status as the premier metahuman mercenary in the comic book world.

To a large extent, I think that writer Kyle Higgens and artists Joe Bennett and Art Thibert were successful in the first issue by establishing Deathstroke as a wholly unredemptive villain who is nevertheless an engaging protagonist. However, can they meet the challenge of keeping up interest in a sadistic monster like Deathstroke over the long haul?

Deathstroke’s brutality is shown in the first couple of pages, with a double-page splash panel that is literally splashed with bloody decapitations. The rest of the story involves Deathstroke being forced to team up with a trio of mercenary wannabes who variously call themselves the Alpha Dawgs and the Harm Armory. It’s pretty clear they will end up as red shirts; the only question is how. Filled with crosses and double-crosses, the first issue sets up some intriguing mysteries. This could be a book to watch, but I’d wait for the collected trade edition.

Grifter

The improbably named Cole Cash is a former special operations soldier turned con artist extraordinaire. On his way to rendezvous with his partner Gretchen in San Juan after a big score, Cash is accosted in the airplane by what seem to be inhuman creatures in human form that are bent on his capture. Cash eventually wakes up with 17 minutes unaccounted for, the telepathic demons still after him, and his brother, from his former military unit, assigned to make him “go away” for what his superiors perceive as an act of terrorism.

One of the characters from the Wildstorm imprint imported into the DC Universe, Grifter has the potential to bridge the supernatural, military, and espionage genres. Cash is not a traditional superhero—just a guy trying to understand a world that is suddenly out to get him. Depending on how writer Nathan Edmondson handles it, this could be a fun romp—a supernatural version of The Fugitive starring a Sawyer-esque con man. Cafu and Jason Gorder provide a serviceable, but unremarkable style of artwork. The first issue is not enough to really tell how this series is going to evolve, so I would wait for the collected edition before getting too involved with it.

The New 52: Men of War and OMAC

I now start in on the books in “The Edge” group of DC’s New 52. (I should note that I mistakenly put Stormwatch in “The Dark” group; it should be in “The Edge” group.)

Men of War

Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert created Sgt. Frank Rock in 1959. Kubert was especially tied to the character and Our Army at War, drawing it for many years. Rock and his Easy Company were inhabitants of World War II. Attempts to update them to modern times inevitably failed. With the New 52 we are getting Frank’s grandson, Joseph Rock, and a new team in modern-day warfare.

The first issue by writer Ivan Brandon and artist Tom Derenick focuses on how Corporal Rock gets recruited for an elite covert operations team and how he earns a battle promotion to sergeant. It is a gritty and realistic tribute to real soldiers, told in a straightforward manner with clean and detailed artwork. This is the kind of story that would be accessible to anyone. My only criticism is that Superman (well, presumably Superman—the character is in silhouette the whole time) flies in to perform some heroics to help out Rock’s team. I would have preferred this kind of reality-based book to be free of a superhero connection, but I suspect DC isn’t confident enough that this title will sell to a general audience and are including a superhero angle to entice the fanboys to give it a try.

Men of War will also include back-up stories that will feature a rotating series of characters and creators. The first issue presents the first part of a story about a Navy SEAL team on a covert operation. Writer Jonathan Vankin and artist Phil Winslade have produced a tense and exciting scenario that nicely complements the main entry.

Men of War is a well-crafted book that I hope finds an audience.

OMAC

Jack Kirby created OMAC, the One-Man Army Corps, in 1974. Like much of his DC work at the time, it was bombastic and unconventional, and lasted only eight issues. Over the years, though, Kirby’s OMAC has earned a nostalgic following. OMAC has been revived over the years in a number of guises, but nothing compares to Kirby’s version.

DC apparently felt a need for a larger-than-life, brutish transformation-type character in the New 52, and OMAC is it. “Krackling” Keith Giffen and “Daring” Dan DiDio (DC’s Co-Publisher) have written an over-the-top narrative jumble, full of terse exclamations and people smashing things. Giffen’s pencils, as inked by “Sensational” Scott Koblish, faithfully channels Kirby’s bold, angular lines, exaggerated perspectives, and square heads.

If your tastes run to big, rampaging blue guys with a limited vocabulary, OMAC is for you. It’s a throwback to the enthusiastic, freewheeling comics of the Silver and Bronze Ages. Whether this will catch on with readers is a question. It depends on whether readers want a coherent story or one with crazy, manic energy. It worked for the Hulk; it could easily work for the new OMAC.

The New 52: I, Vampire and Justice League Dark

The final two books in “The Dark” group of DC’s New 52:

I, Vampire

Aiming to cash in on the vampire craze, DC is resurrecting an obscure property from House of Mystery from thirty years ago and reimagining it as part of the mainstream DC Universe. I, Vampire is the story of Andrew Bennett’s quest to save humanity from the violent uprising of his fellow vampires, even if it means exterminating his own kind. It is also the story of the unrequited love between Bennett and Mary, Queen of Blood. Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov has created something vicious and brutal that fills a seldom seen niche in the DC Universe. It will accept occasional visits from the spandex-clad crowd, but should be a fairly self-contained horror thriller. Artist Andrea Sorrentino provides sexy, moody scenes that remind me a bit of Gene Colan’s work. With all the controversy surrounding some of the New-52 Batman titles, I haven’t heard any complaints about Sorrentino’s cover showing the nearly naked Mary, a testament to his ability to turn out something akin to fine art. I suspect this book will read better in the collected trade edition, but I am pleasantly surprised by how well it hooked me with its first issue.

Justice League Dark

Justice League Dark bridges the gap between the occult and superhero sides of the DC Universe. It brings together a mixture of DCU and Vertigo supernatural characters and throws them into a deadly battle with the evil Enchantress when the regular Justice League is defeated by her powerful magic. Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, Shade the Changing Man, John Constatine, and Deadman will defend the world from the province of spells, hocus pocus, and demons.

Writer Peter Milligan gives us a story that is dark but not grim. The action gets going right away, and although neither the character origins nor the extent of their powers are shown, it’s easy to keep up with what’s going on, with the sense that the details will be undoubtedly filled in later. Mikel Janin provides beautiful artwork that is unusually light for a supernatural title like this, and his character designs are flawless. A special mention should go to colorist Ulises Arreloa’s subtle enhancements. As with I, Vampire, I suspect this will read better as a collection, allowing the character development to move forward at a natural pace.

The New 52: Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. and Resurrection Man

From the “The Dark” group of DC’s New 52:

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

Frankenstein’s monster is a staple in literature, and has been used by DC many times in the past. DC is counting on Frank to help kick off a new series that reminds me a lot of Hellboy. This summer, writer Jeff Lemire had a very interesting Flashpoint mini-series called Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown that saw Frank and his Creature Commandos fighting Nazis in World War II, being put in suspended animation, and then thawed out and participating in the alternate reality Atlantean/Amazon war. This new book looks to be even more audaciously fun.

S.H.A.D.E. stands for Super Human Advanced Defense Executive and its headquarters is the “Ant Farm,” a mobile, 3-inch indestructible globe that is flying 2,000 miles above Manhattan. Access to the Ant Farm is by a hybrid of teleportation and shrink technology designed by Ray Palmer (AKA The Atom). We’re only on Page 4, and I’m totally into this! But it gets better! Frank is under the direction of Father Time, a shape-shifter who currently has the body of a small girl, looking a lot like Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass (sans purple hair).

Father Time and Frank go to help quell an army of monsters that is attacking a small town in Washington, but just before Frank joins the fight Father Time introduces him to his new team: Dr. Nina Mazursky, an amphibian/human hybrid, Warren Griffith, a werewolf, Vincent Velcoro, a vampiric crossbreed, and Khalis, a mummy of unknown origin (not to be confused with Kahless, the first Klingon emperor). And, oh yes, Frank’s four-armed wife is already battling the monsters, and has gone missing in action.

The artwork by Alberto Ponticelli is just right for this book. The science-fictional hardware looks suitably futuristic, and the character designs and fight sequences look suitably organic. The whole package is a delightful blend of action, excitement, horror, and humor that I’m looking forward to reading more of.

Resurrection Man

In the late 1990s, the writing duo of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning created Mitch Shelley, AKA Resurrection Man, a character who kept coming back to life, but with a new superpower each time. Kind of like Croyd Crenson, AKA The Sleeper, created by Roger Zelazny for George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series. Now, Abnett and Lanning are resurrecting Resurrection Man as part of DC’s “Dark” group of the New 52.

The first issue drops the reader into the middle of a fast-paced chase that culminates in an exciting plane crash. Competing agents of heaven and hell are trying desperately to capture Shelley by any means possible. Fernando Dagnino’s art renders the chaotic story in a clear, unpretentious way. While not a true origin story, new readers will have no trouble following what’s going on; it’s an introduction that hints at thrilling supernatural exploits to come.