Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Three recent DC comics of some note

1.) Detective Comics #45: This issue marks the beginning of both a new creative team and a new story arc, the second Detective story since the post-"Endgame"/Convergence change in status quo in the world of Batman, with (former) Commissioner James Gordon donning a robot battle suit and doffing his mustache to replace the amnesiac Bruce Wayne as Batman.

As the clear franchise B-title–it's no coincidence that it gets another new creative team, while A-title Batman has had the same writer, penciller and inker team since fall of 2011–Detective more often than not follows, reacts to or otherwise stays out of the way of whatever Scott Snyder and company are doing in Batman. The drastic change in direction may actually be beneficial to Tec, though; the first story arc focused on Gordon's support staff among the Gotham City Police Department, while this one introduces the new Batman to the Justice League...a move that oughta pique some interest in the title.

In that respect, the new writer demonstrates some real market savvy in his first issue. That writer, by the way, is Peter Tomasi, who has had plenty of Batman-writing experience, most recently on a 50-ish run on Batman and Robin (spanning the end of the pre-New 52 incarnation and the entirety of the post-reboot version of the title).

He's paired with a rtistMarcio Takara, his Batman and Robin partner Patrick Gleason having gone on to both write and draw new title Robin: Son of Batman. I like Takara's artwork quite a bit. The craft is quite solid, the story-telling ideal and the style flat, dynamic and just-detailed enough, never over-busy. The cover isn't by Takara, but by Andrew Robinson. If you so much as glance at it, you'll likely notice something pretty remarkable about the Justice League and, through it, the state and management of the DC Universe at this point (four years after their New 52 reboot and rebranding, and a few months after their refocusing "DCYou" initiative).

See, that is The Justice League, but you probably don't recognize them as being the exact same characters as this bunch.

After a very weird two-page opening in which what appears to be sentient water drowns a group of people and steals their eye balls, and then a page of amnesiac, bearded Bruce Wayne talking about his amnesia with the newly left-handed Alfred, there's a knock at the door, and Alfred answers it to reveal Takara's version of the League:
Going clockwise, we see Shazam, Wonder Woman in here new costume, Aquaman in his new costume, Superman in his new costume (sporting a new haircut and a new status quo in which he's been massively de-powered and now has a public identity), The Flash in what looks like a new costume but could just be a rather poor drawing of his terrible New 52 redesign (I haven't been able to force myself to read any issues of The Flash in a long time, even when I don't have to pay for 'em), and Cyborg in what is his third design since Justice League #1.

Coupled with the fact that they are here to recruit a new Batman, that means every single member of the New 52's founding Justice League has been re-designed and re-tooled, all almost simultaneously. Not present is Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who, fear not, has also been re-designed and given a new, radically different status quo.

It's a state of affairs reminiscent of the 1990s (think Superman's death and replacement and resurrection; Batman's crippling and replacement by Azrael; Wonder Woman's loss of her role and costume to Artemis; Aquaman's hook hand and bearded look, et cetera). Those changes all came after the first–the "death" of Superman–proved popular and, of course, after decades of the characters changing really rather little. Even if you look at Crisis On Infinite Earths as the start of a "new" continuity for the then 50-year-old DC Universe, it was about a decade before the publisher started redesigning their characters and trying out radical changes in direction.

All of this happened after just five years of the current continuity/status quo. (And even if a few of the ideas, like the new Batman or Superman losing his secret identity arose organically with a couple of writers, it's clear that there was a top-down decision to shake everything up heading out of the Convergence break and into "DCYou."

But back to the story, Aflred isn't exactly happy to see the Justice League on his door step...particularly since, as he had already explained to Superman, Bruce's loss of memory isn't your garden variety amnesia, but he actually came back from the dead with a brand-new brain, one completely devoid of all the skills and instincts of his years of training and Batmanning, meaning he can't be Batman, even if he finds out he used to be.

After a few pages of discussion between Alfred and various Leaguers, Bruce Wayne interrupts, learning that he used to lend his help to the League in the past (they don't tell him in what capacity, however). They are there because they desperately need him, and Wonder Woman wants to give him the magic lasso treatment to magically verify what Alfred has already scientifically verified.

Meanwhile, Tomasi introduces us to the new Batman, who is in the middle of trying to deal with fighter jets piloted by mind-controlled thralls (courtesy of The Mad Hatter), and he gets a helping hand from the visiting Leaguers. After the brief team-up, they discuss their need for Batman's detective skills, and since Gordon is both currently Batman and not all that bad a detective, they welcome him aboard.

The book ends with a very weird splash page, the sort showing a big, crazy moment not unlike those that Geoff Johns might end an issue with.

All in all, Tomasi gets quite a bit done in a single issue–he gets a whole 22-pages, as this is one of DC's new $3.99/22-page books–introducing the old Batman, the new Batman and the Justice League. It was kind of fun to see this League functioning as a team too, as their home title is currently caught up in a massive storyline ("The Darkseid War") and both Justice League books–Justice League and JLA–are both unfolding at some point in the recent past before all the changes evident here.

It's a nice, fresh start for the book, really, and nothing says more about Takara's skills than the fact that the hodge-podge visuals of this Justice League–which weren't all designed by the same guy, like they were in Justice League #1–all seem to fit together and look like they belong not only on the same world, but in the same comic book.

2.) Grayson #12: DC isn't abandoning their current direction for former Robin Dick Grayson, as a sexy super-spy working for Spyral, and perhaps there's no real reason to do so (Grayson has proven much more interesting than anything in the New 52 Nightwing, and in a rebooted universe without the Teen Titans or generations of heroes in general, there's the character lacks much juice to be anything more than a junior, cape-less Batman more prone to smiling).

That said, they are here resolving an aspect of the new direction. Grayson went into super-spying after his public identity was revealed to the world during the events of Forever Evil (and miraculously, unbelievably, no one managed to figure out that if Dick Grayson was Nightwing, then Bruce Wayne must be Batman...except for Lex Luthor). He and Batman took off their shirts, beat the living hell out of one another for, like, 18 pages, and then decided that Grayson would fake his death and join Spyral to spy on the spies for Batman.

The thing was that only Batman knew Grayson hadn't died. So everyone–Alfred, Batgirl, Red Robin Tim Drake, back-from-the-dead Damian Wayne–thought Dick was dead. The fact that Batman Bruce Wayne then "died" himself, only to come back with no memory of anything prior to his resurrection, set up some interesting possibilities for Grayson. The title character was now literally left out in the cold, his only lifeline dead.

Curious then that writers Tom King and Tim Seeley decide instead to have Dick simply return to Gotham and announce that he's not dead after all. Perhaps it was out of their control though; Grayson being back on the board in an official capacity certainly makes Batman and Robin Forever something that's, you know, possible.

To their credit, as truncated, even hurried as this issue is, they craft a fairly solid story out of it. Alfred preps Dick Grayson for a meeting with Bruce Wayne, by rather hilariously giving him a ridiculous disguise. I particularly like this panel, where he seemingly just slaps a goatee on him.
In the first instance of a repeating motif, when Dick confronts Bruce (he wants to see his amnesia/new brain for himself), artist Mikel Janin draws a background-less splash image of the character, with "samples" of dialogue that Bruce Wayne has previously spoken to Dick (from comics throughout the characters' history, not simply stopping at the beginning of the New 52-boot), appearing in tail-less, gray-on-black dialogue balloons.

This will repeat with Red Robin and Red Hood, Batgirl and Robin.
Dick tries to get out, but Spyral refuses to let him go, and essentially black mail him: If he leaves Spyral, they tell the world Bruce Wayne is–or at least was–Batman. In a typically smart fashion, one pretty clearly telegraphed in the opening pages in which Alfred talks about the differences between lying and performing (a nice echo to the pep talk Grant Morrison had Alfred give Dick at the start of his second tenure as Batman, in which he encouraged the former circus acrobat to think of Batman as a role he was playing in a performance), Dick's visits to his old allies serve a double purpose.

He announces that he's actually alive, gives them gifts and tells them how he feels about them...while also putting together a heist of sorts that all comes together in the last two pages, as he has rallied his old allies to help him turn the tables on Spyral.

It's some damn good plotting, pulled off exceptionally well.

The details are a little uncomfortable in some instances. I still don't like the way that Jason Todd is treated as Tim and Dick's "brother" after him having spent most of his post-resurrection time before the reboot actively trying to kill them, and I'm not entirely clear on what sort of relationship he actually had with Barbara Gordon (who seems so de-aged that she seems like she's maybe closer to Tim Drake than Dick Grayson in age now) is anymore.

I thought these two panels were ridiculously sweet, though:

In fact, I'm pretty sure I actually said "Aw" when I read them. I like the juxtaposition of the sweet ninja gymastic moves applied to something so human and tender as a hug.

3.) We Are Robin #4: I've been of two minds about this title for the first few issues. The idea of Gotham youth adopting Batman's teenage sidekick as a concept around which to build a movement is certainly interesting, even if it seems a little overly-evocative of a few other Batman stories and DC comics.

It doesn't seem like a terribly sustainable idea, given that there are already seemingly as many Robins as there are Green Lanterns, and the series is premised on the characters filling a void left by Batman's "death." There's also the revelation of a familiar character behind the movement, manipulating it that, if not a red (robin) herring, is fairly problematic.

That said, the interior art of those first few issues was pretty great, I liked the focus on recurring Batman character (and popular post-Damian Robin candidate, and Futures End's Robin) Duke Thomas and the mystery of who was behind it all was generally compelling.

What I didn't like, however, beyond the previously mentioned conceptual concerns, was writer Lee Bermejo's covers, which aren't my cup of tea, and very poorly telegraphed what the comic book actually looked like (Jorge Corona and company's style couldn't be further from Bermejo's; I probably wouldn't have even picked an issue of this book up if it wasn't literally put into my hands) and his usage of social media handles and conversation as constant narration. Maybe I am just very old, but I find that shit so goddam irritating.

This issue is a sort of (rather early, really) breather issue, a pause after the big event that ended the previous issue, and lead to the death of one of the Robins. It also seems positioned as a sort of jumping-on point, prominently featuring not only Batgirl, but also a two-page "Who Are The Robins?" breakdown of the half-dozen main characters in the ensemble cast...including the one who is no longer with us. (They're not bonus pages though; this is a $3.99 book, but there are only 20 story pages).

Unlike the previous issues, this one focuses on a single one of the Robins, Riko Sheridan, as she tries to cope with the aftermath of having lost an ally in the movement, tries to fight some crime on her own and meets and teams-up with her hero Batgirl.

The best part is, by far, the art. James Harvey pencils, inks and colors it, with Diana Egea sharing the inking credit and Alex Jafe the coloring credit.

I don't really have enough words to describe how good the art is, but it is fantastic. It's so good, I hardly cared what the book was about or who the character were, I just wanted to read it. Harvey's page lay-outs are gutter-less, giving every page a somewhat crowded, mosaic like feeling. It's flat, but urgent; feeling like a bedroom full of posters or a urban wall covered in show fliers.

His character designs and the way he rendered people sometimes made me think of the work of Brandon Graham, and sometimes made me think of Taiyo Masumoto (of Tekkon Kinkreet fame, which is high praise indeed).

I can't help but wonder if every issue of this book like this, inside and outside, if it wouldn't be doing better in the market...or at least with critics.

Check out Riko's tights:

Or her costume, which is infinitely cooler than the one she usually wears:

Or this panel, which also reminded me of Tekkon Kinkreet, of her and Batgirl casually sitting very high above the city streets:

Riko's battle here is a pretty simple one, amounting to basically enforcing a local ban on public burning by some juvenile delinquents, but then, it's the sort of entry-level crime one would expect a brand-new, hobbyist crime-fighter/vigilante to deal with, isn't it?

After reading this, not only did I want Harvey to take over this book–not the Ben-Day dot coloring!–but I also wanted Riko to join Batgirl as her Robin. I know Gotham already has a Batgirl, a Bluebird and a Spoiler, and Cassandra Cain and Carrie Kelly are both out there too (I think; they didn't kill off the latter, did they?), but surely there's room for one more crime-fighting girl on the streets, right...?

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