The new-look Bat books

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So I haven’t posted here in so long that even I barely remember me.  But I’m still reading comics, and I thought I would take a look at some interesting developments in the world of one of DC’s flagship characters, Batman. If anyone still checks this blog, please read and comment. 🙂

Some spoilers included from Final Crisis and Battle for the Cowl.

Let me start by saying that I’ve read comics for seven and a half of the past 10 years, and have read little of the Bat-titles during that time. I do have trade paperbacks of some of the bigger Batman events, but rarely read the actual monthlies.  I got pretty pumped for “Hush,” by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, but as intense of a ride as that was, the ending was a bit of a letdown.  So while I always liked Batman and most of his supporting characters, I mainly just read him in ensemble books like JLA and crossover events like Final Crisis.

However, that changed when DC started advertising the crap out of “Batman: RIP,” the conclusion to Grant Morrison’s run on the main Batman title. I picked up the book for that arc; it was pretty good, but I got the feeling I would have liked it much better if I had rest the rest of Morrison’s run.

Here’s the spoiler part:

Shortly after “RIP” concluded, Batman actually did die.  In Morrison’s surprisingly mediocre Final Crisis, Darkseid kills Batman.  Superman carries off his burnt body, everyone’s sad, yadda yadda.   But then the story ends with Batman apparently in the distant past doing cave paintings or something. Weird.

But with Batman either being dead or at least believed dead, Gotham still had to move on.  So, in “Battle for the Cowl,” which I did not read, Dick Grayson completes his journey: from Robin to Nightwing to finally taking over as Batman.  That’s where I begin, with a quick look at the Bat titles I’ve been reading:

BATMAN

Written by Judd Winick with art by Mark Bagley, Batman is, of course, the flagship of the Bat titles.  Bagley will be leaving the book soon to draw JLA when James Robinson takes over (another book I’m excited about), and it appears that Tony Daniel, who did beautiful art on the book under Morrison (and the above two covers), will take back over.  Winick is a guy I loved early in his career, then got a little tired of, and now am coming to like quite a bit again.

It revolves around Dick Grayson, who is adjusting to his new role as Batman.  Winick is doing a great job of showing how Dick is both perfect for the “promotion,” yet uncomfortable in assuming the role.  Dick is an incredibly accomplished superhero already, but he’s not Bruce.  Recognizing this, Winick is taking care to not try to make him into Bruce.  He does things differently, even has a new command center.  He can’t help but frequently compare himself to Bruce, just as the readers surely are.  He knows part of the job is the facade of Batman, so a good deal of the book is Dick acting in ways he isn’t entirely used to.  Villains, as you can imagine, are trying to use the confusion around gap in succession to their advantage.

It’s all an interesting dynamic that is working out well for the time being. I’m firmly on board.

BATMAN AND ROBIN

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely team up yet again, this time for a new version of comics’ most classic duo: Batman and Robin.  Batman, as I already mentioned, is now Dick Grayson.  The new Robin, however, is less expected: Damian, Bruce Wayne’s psychotic son whose mother is Talia and grandfather is Ra’s Al Ghul.

Damian is a big player in Batman, as well, but here, it’s all about the uneasy dynamic between these unlikely allies.  Damian believes he should have been the one to become Batman — despite the fact that he’s still a kid, he views it as his birthright.  Dick did make him Robin, however, believing Damian to need the guidance (duh) and thinking it was what Bruce would have wanted.

The banter between Dick and Damian is the best part of the book, but the rest of the plot, and the art, is still a little iffy for me.  Morrison is trying to highlight the really dark underbelly of Gotham, and with Quitely’s art, that makes for some unseemly panels.  I don’t mind violence in comic books, but the way Quitely does it just rubs me slightly the wrong way.  Part of it is that he seems big on drawing bad guys whose outside reflects their inner ugliness; then, you toss in Morrison’s penchant for graphic violence, and the book just looks disgusting at times.  I used to defend Quitely on New X-Men several years ago, but after three issues, I’m already getting tired of him here.

However, there is something about Gotham that suits Morrison’s writing, so I’ll be on board at least a while longer to see where he’s going.

RED ROBIN

Christopher Yost and Ramon Bachs bring us the third and final Bat book I’m buying right now.  If Dick Grayson is Batman, and Damian is Robin, where is Tim Drake?  Well, Tim is out of Gotham and into a new alter ego, Red Robin (creative!).  The nifty new suit looks similar to Robin’s from Kingdom Come, so I’m guessing that was the inspiration.

No one took Bruce’s “death” harder than Tim, his adopted son.  Almost as hard on him was Dick’s decision to make Damian the new Robin.  So Tim takes on a new identity and hits the road to prove what nobody will believe, but he knows deep down to be true: Bruce Wayne is alive.

SIDENOTE: It will be interesting to see just how long Bruce does indeed stay “dead.”  What’s interesting is how similar this is to something Marvel recently did, killing off and now bringing back Captain America. Cap died a good death and was more than adequately replaced by his old sidekick, Bucky.  But now, about two and a half years after Steve Rogers’ death, he’s on his way back with Reborn.  I doubt anyone is naive enough to think Bruce will permanently stay gone, so the question for anyone reading this is: how long before DC brings him back?  More specifically, will his time in the grave be shorter or longer than Rogers’?  I think it might be close to the same, but ultimately, I’ll say shorter: mostly because DC has already teased that Bruce is alive (at the end of Final Crisis) and in this book, has a prominent character out searching for him.  I think we’ll see Bruce come back somewhere in the year and a half range.

Back to Red Robin: Isn’t that the name of a restaurant?  Maybe I’m thinking of something else.  Regardless, I think this is my favorite Bat book right now.  I’ve always liked Tim, and I love what Christopher Yost is doing with him.  Yost, by the way, has the look of a rising star, between this and his work on the X-books (X-Force primarily) for Marvel.  I’m not crazy about Bachs’ art, but it’s decent, and I enjoy it more than Quitely’s.

This book is full of intrigue, after only four issues.  Tim has found himself in an uneasy alliance with Ra’s Al Ghul, wondering if he’s compromising all Bruce’s ideals, even as he seeks to prove his mentor is alive.  He has become alienated from all his friends, partially by his own doing, partially because of their difficulty in accepting his uncompromising stances.  He’s worried he might be going too far, but to the reader, it actually seems like he’s becoming more like Bruce in a lot of ways.  It’s a fascinating read that is becoming one of my favs.

Other bat books: The above trio is all I’m reading in the Bat-verse right now, but here’s a quick mention of other noteworthy titles:

Detective Comics features a new Batwoman, but although she has red hair, it’s not Barbara Gordon.  That’s all I know.

Batgirl: There’s also a new Batgirl in town, who has a solo book.  Not sure what happened to the old one, the mute woman.  She was kinda cool.

Batman: Widening Gyre: I forgot about the first issue, so I haven’t picked this up yet, but I probably am on board for this.  Kevin Smith brings his take to the Dark Knight in this miniseries, and assuming Smith can meet a deadline these days, that’ll probably mean some cool things.

Batman: Streets of Gotham: Written by the talented Paul Dini, this is probably worth a read.  I’m a little unclear on exactly what the angle is in this book, though I think Dini addressed how the Bat gang is publicly handling the fact that Bruce Wayne also disappeared. I don’t see myself adding any more Bat titles right now, but I’m tempted by the fact that Yost is guest writing an upcoming two-parter featuring a team-up of the Huntress and Man-Bat, which sounds entertaining.

Batman Confidential is written by Peter Milligan, who seems to be a fairly polarizing figure.  I know nothing else about this book, other than according to the preview on DC’s site, Batman is currently in Moscow in this title.  Good luck to him, I guess.

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12 Responses to “The new-look Bat books”

  1. gokitalo Says:

    I cannot begin to tell you how well-timed this post was. Seriously, you have no idea.

    I dunno, I’ve been digging Quitely’s (see what I did there?) art on Batman and Robin. He has been putting a lot of lines on his characters’ faces, for sure, but it hasn’t bothered me tremendously. I love how he’s playing around with sound effects and tilting the panels slightly during fight scenes to create a “wobbling” effect.

    Morrison isn’t actually a guy I equate too much with graphic violence (unless you count his Vertigo books), but things did get a little bloody in issue #3. Actually, that issue was the one weak link in an otherwise solid storyline. Maybe it was Pyg’s descent into utter jibberish (I know he’s crazy, but still), or how quickly he was dealt with.

    I do like those new villains, though. Siamese triplet fighters, a bearded man in a tutu, Pyg and his whole modus operandi… funny AND creepy.

    Oh right, there are OTHER Bat-books besides Batman and Robin :b Honestly, the only other one I’m getting is regularly is Detective Comics, although I did check out the new Batgirl. Detective has some incredibly gorgeous art (J.H. Williams, natch), although the story hasn’t completely pulled me in yet. Batgirl was kind of fun, but fans of Cassandra Cain probably aren’t gonna be pleased. Yup, I’ve seen the collective anger of the Internetz already and it ain’t pretty. Me, I’m not too upset; I didn’t have an especially strong attachment to Cass as a character. Plus, the new Batgirl’s awesome.

    So yeah, that’s all I’m getting… which doesn’t necessarily mean the other titles are off my radar. I’ve been hearing mostly good things about Winick’s Batman, so Imma trade-waitin’ that. Red Robin? Maybe.

  2. davidry214 Says:

    Goki! Thanks for the instant validation of a reply. 🙂

    I think a lot of my judgment of Batman and Robin came from the third issue, which I didn’t care for. I’m not really not high on the new villains, though. Obviously, typical Morrison operating procedure is to frequently create new villains, even where a sizable rogues gallery exists. And that’s OK, and has often been great in the past, but I really found Pyg and crew to be mostly just disgusting under Quitely’s art.

    Apparently, Winick is going to be gone off Batman in just another month or two, and Tony Daniel will actually be writing and drawing. I think he did that for “Battle of the Cowl,” which, like I said, I did not read. But I’ll give him a shot.

    I have heard that the art in Detective is awesome. But I’ll be happy for any Batgirl spoilers you have to help me determine whether to try it out.

    I read a review of Red Robin that was less than favorable, so maybe I’m the only one enamored with it.

  3. gokitalo Says:

    Don’t worry, I’ve seen other good reviews for Red Robin. But I’ve seen some not-as positive reviews too. I saw the big reveal of issue #4, though. Man, what a twist. As for Winick, he’ll be back after Tony Daniel finishes his story.

    Mmk, Batgirl spoiler time: the new Batgirl is none other than…

    Stephanie Brown! Formerly the Spoiler, purple-hooded crime fighter and on-again/off-again love interest of Tim Drake’s. Turns out Cassandra became disillusioned with being Batgirl after Batman/Bruce Wayne’s “death,” so one right after she and Spoiler take out some thugs one night, Cass takes off her costume and gives it to Steph. Kind of an awkward scene, as the crooks could’ve waken up at any moment and see Cass without her costume, but oh well.

    Other than that weird scene, though, it was good. Stephanie, despite her experience, isn’t as adept at fighting as Cassandra was, and it’s kind of cool seeing a more fallible Batgirl in action. Not to mention it’s fun watching her trying to balance her personal life with her superhero life; in a couple of ways, Steph reminds me of a young Peter Parker.

    So yeah, it’s not bad. Not blow-your-socks-off amazing, but it’s a fun start to what’ll hopefully be a good series.

  4. davidry214 Says:

    Thanks Goki. I went ahead and grabbed Batgirl #2, even though I was concerned about reading an unprecedented FOUR Bat books. But I liked it. Stephanie is a likable character; your young Peter Parker comparison is pretty fitting. The tension between her and Barbaba Gordon is particularly good, though it seems destined that Steph will become Oracle’s new “bird of prey.”

    I also tried the first issue of Kevin Smith’s Batman: Widening Gyre. It was fairly mediocre, definitely not enough for me to continue. Naturally, Smith used the first issue of his mini to give us a nude Poison Ivy, with leaves and hair conveniently covering up her “naughty” parts. Honestly, that part of Smith’s writing has become a tired act. Every series he done eventually has a nude superheroine wandering around, from Black Cat in the shower to Black Canary naked in Green Arrow with Mister Terrific’s T-spheres covering her nipples as she struts around the JSA brownstone nude. Smith has written some great comics, but it’s as if he’s using the medium as an excuse to beat off to his own scripts.
    Still love his movies, though …

    Quitely wasn’t on issue 4 of Batman and Robin, replaced by the talented Philip Tan, which of course made me enjoy it a little more. It was a good, not great, issue, with a potentially awesome ending.

  5. davidry214 Says:

    Just to clarify that last comment: I actually have no problem with “sex” in comic books, but I do prefer it has some logical relation to story. And with Smith, when he seems incapable of writing without random, unnecessary near-nudity, it just gets old. At some point, just go watch porn already, like the rest of us.

    Anyway, do you have any guesses on how long Bruce will stay “dead,” Goki?

  6. gokitalo Says:

    Honestly? At least a year. Batman and Robin is just doing so well right now, both in terms of sales and reception. Even the Internet likes it! Plus Grant’s onboard for at least issues and hopefully more.

    I did like Phillip’s Tan art in the latest issue; some of the panels weren’t quite as clear and polished as others, but for the most part, it was very good (especially the panel where the Red Hood and Scarlett make their debut in the issue). And I loved the ending myself. Although I’m not sure yet if I want Red Hood to be who Batman thinks it is…

    As for Kevin Smith, I’m sad to hear Widening Gyre #1 didn’t make the grade. Obviously Smith can make write great comics, e.g. Green Arrow, but Batman: Cacophony was ultimately disappointing and Widening Gire sounds like more of the same. I just saw a scan of that Poison Ivy scene and… yeaaah. I actually thought the Black Canary scene in Green Arrow was more tastefully done; it seemed less fan-servicy (note how she WASN’T trying to seduce the other heroes in the room).

  7. davidry214 Says:

    SPOILERS (I think we’re the only ones here anyway)

    When did Jason Todd come back anyway? They referenced him being alive in Red Robin, with Tim blaming himself for breaking Jason out of prison, only to have him kill people. I was unaware that had happened, though there’s still a lot I don’t know about from when I wasn’t reading.

    BUT, if it’s already happened, I kinda like the idea of him being a villain. Could be a very interesting challenge.

    As for Tan, he seems to have near-elite talent but lacks polish at times, so yeah, there are a couple weak panels in most issues he does.

    And as for Smith, I think we agree for the most part, but I didn’t like the Black Canary scene. No, she wasn’t some seductress, but it still seemed pointless and out of character. No need for her to be nude, and while Dinah has always been a strong woman, she’s not shameless.

  8. gokitalo Says:

    Jason Todd came back in 2004 or so during Judd Winick’s first run on Batman. He ran around as the Red Hood for a while, going back and forth between villainy, heroism and anti-heroism. So either Dick recognizes Jason’s voice… or he assumes the Red Hood is Jason because that’s who Jason’s been dressing up as these past few years.

    Someone put up some scans for The Widening Gire #2 and it looks like Kevin’s taking a step in the right direction (especially in the scene between Batman and Alfred):
    http://asylums.insanejournal.com/scans_daily/1036389.html

  9. davidry214 Says:

    Oh yeah, that does sound familiar now. That would have been shortly before I stopped. I don’t really approve of that decision, but again, if it’s done anyway, I do think there is some interesting stuff that can come out of it, particularly as a foil for the new Bat establishment.

    Checked out the scans, and they wee pretty good. #1 started off good too, with some great Batman/Robin and Batman/Nightwing scenes, showing Bruce and Dick’s relationship over the years. Then it took a turn, and the second half was first weird with Ivy, then weirder with Etrigan.

  10. davidry214 Says:

    Regarding Bruce’s return:
    DC editor Dan Didio does a weekly column, “DC Nation,” at the end of DCU books. This week’s had some interesting tidbits about upcoming plans that could point to Bruce’s return coming soon.”

    From the column:
    “And I wish that I could talk to you about our Blackest Night skip month in January, where our best-selling Blackest Night miniseries takes a month off for a special event that has more than just characters rising from the dead.”

    [And later]
    “I even wanted to talk why we skipped Batman and Robin in December, and how issue 7 was so important to events in the DC Universe that it had to come out after Blackest Night 6.”

    So, something huge in about to happen in the Bat-books, big enough that DC has to shuffle its currently biggest event, Blackest Night. Didio’s could be hinting toward something we’re not expecting at all, but it’s worth noting that Batman and Robin is written by Grant Morrison, the same writer who “killed” the Bruce Wayne Batman in Final Crisis. The Morrison connection would explain why DC would bring Bruce back in that book instead of the main Batman title. Plus, further pointing to Bruce coming back sooner rather than later, Tim Drake Wayne is getting closer to evidence that Bruce is alive in Red Robin.

    Put it all together, and I think there’s a very good chance that we might be seeing Bruce’s return a little earlier than expected — come January, in fact — and that DC wants his return to play a role in Blackest Night. Batman and Robin, therefore, mgiht be being delayed until January so as to have that impact come at the right time in Blackest Night.

    All just speculation, of course, but there’s my official guess on Bruce Wayne’s return.

  11. gokitalo Says:

    Although I’m still wondering about that skull Black Hand snatched from Bats’ grave…

  12. davidry214 Says:

    A prop left over from Hamlet?

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