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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Comics To Rot Your Brain: The New DC 52 Reboot / Week 3 Review

Greetings gang! Well, another fun-filled week has blown by, giving me the chance to zip through  my picks for week 3 of the DC Comic New 52.  For those of you who have no idea of what I'm talking about, you can check out last week's article for the New DC 52 / PU Review / Week 2 for more info.

Just to refresh your memories - I'm not grabbing up every book (what do you think, I'm made of money or something?). Instead, I'm grabbing up books that fall into the following criteria:

1) Old favorites that I used to collect in my teen years.
2) Books  I didn't collect, but was familiar with through other forms of media (TV, movies, animation...)
3) Brand new concepts that are new to the DCU and sounded interesting.

For week #3 of the New 52, it was slim pickin's for me as there were only three books that really caught my eye: Batman & Robin, Batwoman, and Green Lantern. (Please note, there may be spoilers ahead so read at your own risk!).

Click Below To Read The Entire Scoop!

Batman and Robin #1

Batman and Robin #1 / Cover Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray

Title: Batman and Robin #1
Story: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #1 - Basically, I'm a bat-nerd at heart and have been waiting for Bruce Wayne's son to resurface since Son of the Demon was published back in 1987.

The dynamic duo is back (well, sort of). Ok, the NEW incarnation of the dynamic duo is back - this time with the fourth Robin to cozy up to Bats (fifth if you count the female version of Robin in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, but let's not confuse things).

First, let's run down the list of Robins within the Bat-continuity. First we had Dick Grayson - the original Boy Wonder, ward of Bruce Wayne after the tragic deaths of his acrobatic parents the Flying Graysons. Little Dickie fights at Batman's side until the early eighties until he finally grew up (no small feat in the world of comics where most stay the same age for eternity) and became the vigilante known as Nightwing.  Hell, good ol' Dick even took up the mantle of the Batman for a time just as the prior continuity was ending (Bruce Wayne had been sent through time by Darkseid, yadda, yadda, go buy the books man!).

The second Robin, the infamous Jason Todd, who was a thieving little bastard that Batman caught trying to steal the hubcaps off the Batmobile. After teaming up with Nightwing (somehow proving he was Robin-worthy), he became Dick's successor. Bat fans hated this kid and it showed in a historical event in which Bat-fans everywhere voted on his imminent demise at the hands of the Joker (and a handy-dandy crowbar) in the series Batman: A Death In The Family. Of course you can't keep a bad-Robin down as Jason Todd has popped up once more with his own book within the brand new 52 as the Red Hood and the Outsiders.

The third Robin was the better received Timothy Drake. Following Batman and Robin since the Dick Grayson days, Tim put two and two together and figured out the Batman for who he was and ultimately joined the Bat / Wayne family as Bruce ultimately adopts Tim as his son. Not only did this version of Robin have his own book for a good while, but as since grown up as well, fighting crime under the guise of Red Robin.

Batman and Robin #1 / Artwork by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray

That finally brings us to Robin #4. I've actually been waiting for the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul (hottest chick in the Bat-verse) to be introduced into regular continuity since he first appeared in Batman: Son of the Demon by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham back in 1987. Yes, Batman actually let one past the goalie and got the daughter of  his arch nemesis' Ra's al Ghul pregnant, giving them a son (that Talia, eventually hides from him - what can I say, life is complicated).

Well the wait is over and in walks Damien Wayne, son of Bruce and Talia. Not only has this kid been trained by the League of Assassins to be not only one of the most deadly martial artists from his birth, but he's also schooled in the fine art of douche-baggery.  This kid has a heart about two sizes too small with a penchant for killing which does not exactly fall within Batman's high moral code, but turns out is a great dynamic between the new Batman and Robin.

Batman and Robin #1 / Artwork by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray

The writing by Peter J. Tomasi is outstanding, finally allowing the Bruce Wayne character to move beyond the tragic murder of his parents, now memorializing how it gave birth to that of the Batman (all at the chagrin of his incredibly cynical son). I have to go along with Damian on this one - it's about bloody time! Not that this catalyst is trivial - every hero needs a reason for why he or she became who they are. It's just that Bats has been spinning his emotional wheels since 1939 and it's nice to see him grow up a bit.

Damian is a very interesting character, regardless of his harshness (a Robin this dark has not been seen since the likes of Jason Todd). Unlike Jason though, Damian isn't just some bratty, self-important jerk from the wrong side of the tracks. He is, for better or worse, Batman's son and a product of his environment. Let's face it - his father is a bit of a broody dude who dresses up like a bat, his grandfather a seemingly immortal megalomaniac, and his former playmates were grandpa's minions hellbent on destroying the modern world. Ok Damian - I'll give you a pass for now and see how this plays out (just be careful though - we had the Joker whoop a Robin into submission before and we can do it with you too!).

Batman and Robin #1 / Artwork by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray

The artwork by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray captures all the action and foreboding of a Batman tale with it's dark shadows and hints of color to pick up just the right details in each panel. The colors by John Kalisz are never muddy (something that can easily happen in a noir title with more inexperienced colorists)  and allow the images to pop off the page. All in all, I'm satisfied with the overall design of the characters, including the new Robin costume that's a nice mixture of the old school with the new - it feels like Batman and Robin.

Good stuff for our first outing with Bruce and son. Although I do find it a little strange to have the younger teammate of this duo being more moody than the elder statesman himself, I think it is what will make the book so compelling and quiet frankly more believable. Let's face it - aren't most father-son dynamics about the 'seen it all' offspring vs. the guidance of the disapproving father? I'm excited for this book as my first in the new world of Batman and can't wait for next month to see where this new dynamic duo goes next.

Batwoman #1

Batwoman #1 / Cover Art by J.H. Williams III

Title: Batwoman #1
Story: J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman
Art:  J.H. Williams III
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #2 - Again, Bat-nerd at heart, but I also knew of Batwoman from my small dealings with her in the golden age of comics and her animated counterparts with Warner Bros. Animation

Ok...let's just get this out of the way - this Batwoman was not what I was expecting for a couple reasons. Don't get me wrong - I knew of her time in the golden age of Batman when her alter ego was known as Kathy Kane (a character that was part of the 'ensemble Bat-family' of Batwoman, Batgirl, Bat-Mite, and even the Bat-Hound). I also knew her from the animated versions Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman and her stint on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I even had a small familiarity with her in her newest incarnation as this version, Kate Kane, but it still didn't give me the whole picture on who this character really was and how she fit into the DC Universe. 

I knew she was gay (and didn't care). I didn't know she was Jewish (again, I didn't care). What I didn't know what the crazy backstory this new character had established for herself in the prior continuity and how it carried over into the New 52. Evidentally, she's one of two twins (the other being accidentally shot and supposedly killed, along with her mother during a misguided hostage attempt by a would-be thug). She grows up, joins the United States Military Academy, and excels at the top of her class until she is forced to admit her sexuality to a commanding officer who dismisses her for it (in a word LAME!!!).

Batwoman Springs Into Action

From there she moves back to Gotham City, enrolls in college, becomes a bit of a party girl, and hooks up with officer Renee Montoya after being picked up for speeding. Of course there's trouble in paradise (naturally). Kate is pissed because Renee won't let her family know about their relationship and Renee is pissed because she thinks Kate has lost her direction in life because she drops out of college.

In an attempt to make amends, Kate is attacked by a thug on her way to apologize to Renee and Kate kicks the snot out of him just as Batman shows up to help. Inspired by the events, Kate starts fighting crime using stolen military armor. Her father, Colonial Jake Kane not only confronts her about her nightly activities, but also offers to send her on a two year, world-wide training mission to get her ready for business. Once she returns to Gotham, her dad has a new Batsuit ready for her and she starts her life as a hero.

Ya... I know! That's a lot to take in, yet not a bad backstory for a character who's fairly outside the Bat-circle. Hell, even Batgirl's dad partnered up with Batman on a regular basis making her the closest acquaintance (ok, besides Tim Drake aka Robin #3) to infiltrate Bruce Wayne's inner sanctum.

Batwoman #1 / Pages 6 and 7 / Pencils by J.H. Williams III 

The new Batwoman #1 picks up after even more adventures with Kate Kane (which I'm not going into here - hey, your lucky you got the Cliff Notes for the origin story!). At this stage in the game Kate is still on the prowl, going up against the newest creep in Gotham City, the Weeping Woman (oooh...scarey!!!). She's also hooked up with her new partner, Bette Kane, who's origins reach as far back as Batwoman's did in the golden age of comics and are just about as muddled. In this universe, Bette Kane is the cousin of Kate Kane (isn't that convenient) and has gone from being the hero known as Flamebird to Kate's new partner. Oddly, her Flamebird costume has been burned by Batwoman (now sporting a stupid looking jumpsuit that looks more Ghostbuster, than sidekick) and her new 'name' when heroing is now Plebe (that's military talk for cadet).

Batwoman #1 / Pages 20 and 21 / Pencils by J.H. Williams III 

The story by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman is a lot to take in for newbies, but not so out their that you'll be completely lost. We have the heroine, the sidekick, the bad guy, the mysterious past, and the curious future - nuff said. What stands out most about this book is the amazing artwork that's also drawn by J.H. Williams III that I felt was fairly reminiscent of some of the incredible panel work of Neal Adams on Deadman. 

In Batwoman #1, we view a lot of two page spreads that ooze into very dream-like, art nouveau inspired sequences. I appreciate artists who break out of the typical 3 panel high, left to right conventions that are fairly prevalent in the world of comics. Much like that of Adams, J.H. Williams III leads the viewer where he wants them to go through a tapestry of interconnecting, organically inspired panel presentation that not only helps in telling the story, but guides the eye in exciting ways that really make you hungry for more.

Batwoman is a really interesting way of revisiting familiar surroundings with new and diverse characters contained within a mythology that I'm very well versed in. This keeps a world I'm comfortable in feel brand new again and peaks my curiosity for what the character of Batwoman might bring to me as a reader in the upcoming months. Only time will tell.

Green Lantern #1

Green Lantern #1 / Cover by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Rod Reis

Title: Green Lantern #1
Story: Geoff Johns
Art:  Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy
Why'd I Pick It?: Reason #2 - Who doesn't know Green Lantern, let alone the greatest Green Lantern of all time - Hal Jordan? Although I wasn't a regular fan of Hal, I figured it was time to check him out to see what I was missing.

Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of sector 2814 (Earth for you non-nerds out there). Supposedly the greatest of them all - the one that saw it, did it, and kicked it's ass! What I know of Hal Jordan is what most know about this Silver Age hero. A test pilot for Ferris Aircraft, he was picked by the extraterrestrial power ring once belonging to the dying alien, Abin Sur (the greatest lantern of them all) to take on the good fight against all the evil that opposes the galaxy. Using the force of will, Hal could create anything he could think of with his ring - gigantic fists to knock out the bad guys to big bubble shields to protect his friends - if Hal could think it, he could make it.

Hal's gone through a lot in his years here on earth from being Earth's mightiest hero to it's most tragic enemy. That, however, was a long time ago - let's talk about the present. After everything Hal Jordan has been through, he's now just a normal everyday slub. Keeping in tune with the prior continuity, the Guardians of the Universe have revoked his privileges, he's unemployed, still pissing off his main squeeze Carol Ferris, and now has to put up with a newly reinstated Sinestro if he wants to become a Green Lantern once more.

I have to admit, Hal Jordan was not my favorite of the Green Lanterns. Don't get me wrong, that's not to say I don't like the character - it's just that the only time I ever had contact with him was when he showed up in any number of DC titles over the years. I was honestly more of a Guy Gardner fan - you know, one of the other Green Lanterns of Earth (the mean one that looked like Moe Howard's red-headed step brother). That dude was just flat out funny and probably one of my favorite characters of the DC Universe.

Guy Gardner - My Favorite Green Lantern

Still, I wanted to give Hal Jordan his due, especially since my old pal Geoff Johns (the man can do no wrong!) is writing. I figure if anyone can sell me on this goofball, it's Mr. Johns. He honestly does make Hal a lovable doofus. Let's face it - Hal has seen better days and quiet honestly, has forgotten that he's not the 'hero' he once was. This is evident as he jumps off a balcony in his apartment to save a woman being man-handled across from his, only to find out it's just a movie being made (Nice work Hal!). At least his heart is in the right place - something that a lot of superheroes lack, heart. It's apparent that Geoff Johns has full intention of depicting Hal Jordan as a guy, that even though he's down on his luck, still has it in him to do what he feels is right no matter what the cost. Got to give a guy props for that.

Green Lantern #1 / Doug Mahnke and Christian Almay

The artwork by Doug Mahnke and Christian Almay is nothing to sneeze at either - especially when you get into the scenes depicting Sinestro's return as the unlikely new hero. For those of you who aren't familiar with Sinestro, he was Abin Sur's protege until the dying alien's ring picked Hal as his successor. As with most would-be heroes, Sinestro did go the way of the villain in the eyes of the rest of the galaxy, only to recently return after a power ring chose him yet again - possibly for a chance at redemption.

All in all, this is another book I'm very happy with. Geoff Johns did a great job in keeping the continuity for the older fans while softening the entrance for those of us who were familiar with Hal Jordan and Sinestro, but only within viewing the full spectrum of the DCU. I have to admit, I love characters with redemption in their souls so I'll be tuning in for the next few months to see what twisted roads Sinestro takes and the impact it has on Hal Jordan's character.

Well, that's it for me for another week gang - I'll be dropping into Duncan Comics again this week to pick up my next stash of books that I plan on reviewing for next week. Until then stay tuned to Pittsburgh Underground for more Comics To Rot Your Brain and other nerdy fun from the gang here at good ol' PU!

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