Welcome back Bat-philes!
My day job has kept me busy since last time we talked, which means I’ve missed most of the War of Jokes and Riddles to date, and some other crazy Bat-happenings. But don’t worry, your intrepid Bat-recapper/reviewer is here to catch you up on what you might have missed! Is that enough Bat-hyphens for you in one Bat-paragraph? I Bat-hope so! (Okay, I’ll stop, I promise.)
There has been some crazy Batman news and stories lately. You may have already seen my review of Scott Snyder’s Dark Nights: Metal, which is almost too Batman centered. It’ll be interesting to see the crazy superhero Batman story of Metal juxtaposed with the slightly more grounded stories Tom King has been writing, or the more bombastic stories of James Tynion. Plus we get to see what Bruce Wayne would be like with the League’s powers, so there’s that. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but the evil Batman I most want to see is the Batman who Laughs. Clearly he seems to be a Batman/Joker mash-up, but there’s something frightening about his design that makes me think there’s more to it than that.
And on that note, on to our recaps and reviews!
Last column, I praised Tom King’s interpretation of Batman. It’s the most human Batman has probably ever been. I definitely think that theme is being reinforced with the War of Jokes and Riddles. We’re seeing Batman being pushed to his breaking point, and in that, he’s pushing others to theirs. Nothing illustrates that better than the Kite Man spotlight issue with art by Clay Mann (Batman #27). Poor Chuck Brown was used as a pawn by Batman, and it had lethal consequences for the soon-to-be supervillain. King has in other series used the fantastic to emphasize a character’s humanity, even if they aren’t human (ie: The Vision). Here, every character is frighteningly human.
That continues in the next issue, as King and Mikel Janin tell the story of the battle of the snipers. Starting as an attempt on the life of Batman himself, Deadshot and Deathstroke square off in a battle to determine who’s better. In Bruce’s anguished narration, he declares that it took him five days to stop the fighting between the two assassins, and in that time the death toll was literally in the dozens (62 by the exact count). When he finally catches up to them, he ends up snapping and nearly beating Deadshot to death.
And then in Batman #29, King writes one of the best Batman stories I’ve ever read, without a cape in sight. Instead, the entire issue is a dinner party at Wayne Manor. Naturally, this is a Batman comic, and that means it’s not an ordinary dinner party. Bruce Wayne’s guests are the Riddler and the Joker. When unfolds is a game of cat and mouse, as the two villains detail their grudge with each other, the Batman, and their endgame as a whole. On the table is a billion dollars from Bruce Wayne, and it goes to whomever he determines deserves to win the war. In actuality though, on the final page of the issue, the only page Bruce is in costume, he reveals his true endgame- he has determined which side HE MUST JOIN. It’s a chilling pronouncement.
King absolutely kills this story. It’s three riveting tension fraught issues, and all of them are just stellar. Mann and Janin on pencils ratchet up that tension. In the Kite Man focus issue, Mann uses differently shaped panels and unusual perspectives to create a feeling that something’s off. In Janin’s two issues, he just goes all out, showing the effects of a horrifying conflict on the micro and macro. It’s not shown any better than the single tense panel during the fish course in #29, when guns are suddenly drawn, and Bruce has to diffuse without losing control.
In all, an excellent story about a very human hero losing his humanity to save his city.
Overall: 9 out of 10
Detective Comics #961-962:
I have to say that James Tynion has done a genius thing in Detective Comics, and continues to do it every issue. This is the Bat-family team book that long-time readers have pined for. It also feels very much like a Batman book. It’s not until you reach the end of an issue though that you realize that Batman was barely in it. Every character is getting actual screen time, which is impressive considering the size of the cast, and each is getting solid development.
Frankly, this is the sort of companion series the core Batman title has always needed. Batman is at the forefront of many of these stories Tynion has told, but they’re not his stories. They’ve been Batwoman’s, Orphan’s, Spoiler’s and now Azrael’s. The only other title that’s put this much focus on the Bat-family in the last twenty years was Gotham Knights, but even then it was a Batman book with guest stars, and not the supporting family’s story.
In these two issues, the wrap-up to the Azrael-centered Intelligence arc, Jean-Paul Valley shines through, and Tynion redeems him from a lot of the mocking he gets from his very 90’s history. Hell, he even includes the infamous Az-Bats armor in a very cool way that WORKS. Jean-Paul and Luke Fox work together to stop Ascalon, the rogue AI created by the Order of Saint Dumas. While that duo fights it through technological means, Batman draws in Zatanna to fight it on a magical front. Between the two, they defeat the android, but not before it makes a stunning declaration in front of the entire group.
Alvaro Martinez and Raul Fernandez’s work on the art for this arc has been stunning. Martinez is a star in the making, with a solid line, and great, clear action. Even when it got chaotic within the story, the art never succumbed to that chaos. Color artist Brad Anderson deserves a shout-out too, for really bringing to life some of the effects of the tech, illusion and magic seen throughout the story.
Once again, Tynion is proving his grasp on the universe of Gotham, and his superior skill at writing it.
Overall: 8.5 out of 10
Peter Tomasi and Jorge Jimenez’s take on the World’s Finest continues with two incredibly fun issues. Damian Wayne and Jon Kent are just fun characters to bounce off each other, and frankly if a future DC reboot takes either of them away from us I’m going to be leading the letter writing campaign.
With Benjamin Percy’s Teen Titans featuring Damian as the team leader, I think this story was inevitable. In #6, Damian and Jon go out into the Metropolis evening to flex some muscles. This is interrupted by the Titans who find themselves facing three strange new villains without Jon, including a time manipulator (that will be important later). They come to Jon to regroup, and face them again with Superboy, and this time win. However, after the Titans leave the boys to head back to California, the two young heroes are snatched through a mysterious portal!
Like I said, this story was just fun. Tomasi knows these two inside and out, and it shows. The jokes come fast and furious, the best being the Time Commander aging Robin to about 80 years old (finally his age matches his demeanor!). The interactions between the kids feel very natural, which is hard for too many adult writers. Using a fairly standard superhero team-up to launch into a bigger storyline was a very smart move as well.
Jimenez just gets better and better with every story. I’ve said in the past, too many artists just draw kids as tiny adults, but Jimenez has a great grasp on drawing children. He goes even further here, making each of the Titans look and feel their individual ages. Just looking at the group shot on title/credits page, you can tell that Aqualad and Starfire are probably the oldest of the group, Raven is in the middle, Jon’s the youngest, and so on. Beyond that, his page compositions are just perfect, and his action is fun and dynamic.
Color artist Alejandro Sanchez deserves credit here too. The story is set at night, and Sanchez colors it as such. It’s not just the daytime with a dark sky. The pages are bathed in reflections, shadows, and glares. It looks so great!
This book continues to be a highlight every month!
Overall: 8 out of 10
After the events of the first arc, Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion team with artists Renato Arlem and Adriano Lucas to flash forward to the dystopian future that was glimpsed in Batwoman Rebirth.
In Batwoman Rebirth, it appeared that Kate Kane was the bad guy, that she was now on the opposite side of the coin. This issue reveals it’s a bit more complex, as the Batman she opposes (alongside one-eyed Jason Todd!) is a fascist dictator ruling Gotham with an iron fist! She meets with an ally against the Bat, which goes south when Batman’s shock troops attacks and kills her ally- her long-time love Renee Montoya.
The issue is a quick read, but Bennett and Tynion pack a lot of story into 22 pages. The best world building is often “show, don’t tell” which is exactly what they do. Though narration talks about bat-drones and shock troops, you can see it in what’s happening around Kate. It’s effectively done.
Arlem creates this dark future world beautifully. It’s dirty, it’s grimy, and it’s oppressive. Kate looks great here, older but still a powerful presence.Lucas’s colors convey that oppressive feeling as well, with Kate’s hair and cape standing out like a beacon. It’s a great touch.
Overall: 7.5 out of 10
One of my favorite character pairings in comics is Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson. Naturally, I was really excited to hear about this team-up arc by Hope Larson, Chris Wildgoose and Jose Marzan. Larson gives us the story of a lost early adventure of Batgirl and Robin coming back to haunt Nightwing and Batgirl in the present day.
In the present, Babs and Dick are confronted by two costumed girls who mid-fight commit suicide. They track down who these girls were- discovering they were two of the Mad Hatter’s henchmen. Hatter, however, is in the ICU after receiving a severe beating from a new villain, a woman calling herself the Red Queen. In flashback, we see how Dick and Babs met in the current timeline, and show them working together on an early case, while Babs makes friends with a young substitute teacher. Clearly both stories are going to come crashing together.
Larson paces the story really well, and makes it clear that Dick and Babs have a lot of history. The way she writes them just clicks. The mystery is also intriguing. Wildgoose and Marzan’s art is light and well composed. The action is fun.
A downside is some of how Nightwing’s affections are written. Babs not addressing Dick’s subtle advances gives him a bit of a creepy vibe, which could be quickly resolved with a bit of dialogue to cement how they’re being received one way or another.
Overall though, a fun next chapter for the two young heroes!
Overall: 7 out of 10
What have you thought about the Bat-family recently? Any gripes or kudos?