Comics: Batman & Robin #1 (2009)

B_and_R1For fans of All Star Superman and The Authority, you’re in for a treat with Batman & Robin #1 (Batman Reborn arc) with the infamous creative team of writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely.

Coming off the heels of the supposed death of Bruce Wayne in Final Crisis #7 and the ensuing ‘Battle for the Cowl’ story arc (yawn), the Batman Reborn arc kicks off with Dick Grayson (the original Robin and more recently Nightwing) assuming the Bat mantle and Bruce’s estranged son Damien as the new Robin in a new DC series.

A little background first on the ‘bat’ universe within DC:  At the end of Final Crisis we are supposed to believe that Bruce Wayne mortally perished, yet in the last page it hinted very heavily that Bruce did in fact ‘not’ die, but taking a self imposed sabbatical for a while.  What this was supposed to accomplish for us comic fanatics I’m just not sure, because if DC was trying to shock us or make us care about Batman, they failed, at least in my opinion.  As a matter of fact Final Crisis in itself was a disappointment, especially since it was so drawn out and late with several issues.

So we are supposed to ‘believe’ Bruce is indeed dead, and thus a vacuum of power has been been created within Gotham City with many of the B-list hero’s in and around Gotham are going to pick up the pieces and continue on with Batman’s brand of justice.  So we have Robin, Huntress, Batgirl, Jason Todd, The Outsiders, Nightwing, Batwoman, etc., etc., etc. all vying for the lead spot in the totally predictable and utterly boring “Battle for the Cowl” arc. 

I’m sorry if I seem a little sour on this, but really, did anyone truly believe that Dick Grayson would not come out on top after all this and become the new ‘temporary’ Batman?  And I say temporary only because if you think Bruce is truly dead, then you may as well give up reading comics now.  Also, if you are one to believe that the next Batman movie will be out in 2010 or 2011, do you think DC would have one of their main characters in limbo when all the merchandising hoopla begins?  Nah, at best (or worst depending on how you look at it), Bruce will be back within 2 years….the same way most of DC’s ‘dead hero’ roster always returns back in time.  As far as the other titles go, I’m not so excited….so Red Robin is set in Europe, and Outsiders is just plain lame since it became ‘Batman and the Outsiders just over a year back witha  direction change that took the fun out of the book.  And sadly, while the new Batwoman may be something to look at as far as eye candy goes, nothing over there has made me care all that much.  Clearly Gotham is still too saturated with Bat-esque goodies and baddies running around in spandex…sigh.

Anyway, I’m off point.  Back to the comic at hand.  Morrison and Quitely’s take on Batman & Robin is very fun witha  mixture of dry humor and sarcasm.  Batman overall needed a nice change up within any of their titles, and this one looks very promising.  You can’t really go wrong with Morrison’s writing, and Quitely’s unique art style is both detailed and fresh on the characters within. 

While Dick Grayson is the lead in this title, it’s clear that a lot of focus and development is in store for Damien, and his character while coming off as a little spoiled prat at times is a good counter contrast to Dick’s. 

Introduced in this issue is a few minor tweaks to the traditional costumes (I particularly like Batman’s new belt), a new batmobile, and a new ‘lair’ (underneath a Gotham skyscraper that coincidentally is shaped like a bat if you look hard enough).  Also look for a new rogue in ‘Pyg’, a sadistic new villain whose minions are probably the most ‘eerie’ I’ve ever seen within the pages any Batman title.  It’s refreshing for a new criminal face other than another rehash of the Joker, Clayface, Penguin or whomever.

Morrison and Quitely have the first three issues here and are setting up the foundation for a hopefully solid run for future writers and artists on this title lik ethey did for X-Men #114 some eight years back.  Anyway, this title is fun and exciting and really does qualify as a ‘shake up’ within the established universe without throwing everything out the window before it, but again, in all seriousness, do we really expect Bruce to be gone for more than 2 years?

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Brief Comic Updates.

I’ve really been behind my comic book reading as of late, (anywhere from 2-4 weeks per book title), but as a brief highlight I can give you my take in the following highlights:

  • Darkest Night cross overs happening with the Green Lantern family of books over at DC is much better than Final Crisis and Countdown combined.  Awesome artwork and a really grand and episodic format that weaves amongst all the books makes this the best thing DC has put out in a while.
  • What the hell is happening with Teen Titans?  Ever since Superboy died mid Identity crisis this book just can’t seem to find it’s footing or traction.  I’m giving up.  Too many roster changes and silly arcs to keep me going.
  • Same with Batman and the Outsiders….it just seems stalled….giving up for now.
  • Secret Six…A ‘B’ book which can easily be considered one of the better B books DC is putting out.  A lot of good stories, twisted and bizarre and good character development…of course courtesy of Gail Simone.
  • X-Force and Messiah War crossover – So far very good.  Artwork on X-Force shines, and nice solid story.  Too bad X-Men Legacy and Uncanny are suffering right now.
  • All Avengers books and Dark Reign ties in are really good.  I’m liking this better than Civil War.  Norman’s Dark Avengers is a fun read. 
  • Dare Devil always seems fresh, even though Kingpin is back yet again.
  • G.I. Joe from IDW…’meh’.  The origin one-shots and Cobra mini series is better than the core title.  The idea of Destro with little bots infiltrating the PITT for the first three episodes seems too campy and drawn out.  Where’s Cobra Commander already?

The return of Captain America

Captain America, aka Steve Rogers

Captain America, aka Steve Rogers

Here is a story I copied from CNN:

NEW YORK (CNN) — Perhaps he should be called Captain Phoenix?

Rising from the dead after being killed off over two years ago, Captain America is being resurrected by Marvel Comics.

Though the circumstances of his return are being closely shielded, the star-spangled superhero returns July 1 in a five-comic-book series, “Captain America Reborn.”

A big-budget movie in development by Marvel is also expected in 2011.

After close to 60 years in print, Marvel Comics killed off Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, in 2007, one of its most famous and beloved superheroes, amid a controversial story line.

He fought and triumphed over Hitler, Tojo, international Communism and a host of super-villains, but a sniper’s bullet cut Captain America down in 2007, a move that shocked many of his fans.

“The reaction was amazing,” says Marvel Executive Editor Tom Breevort. “It certainly was like the world went crazy for three days. Everybody had a point of view about it, including fans who hadn’t read the comic for 30 years.”

In the comic series, Rogers was to stand trial for defying a superhero registration law passed after a hero’s tragic mistake causes a 9/11-like event. Marvel said the comic story line was intentionally written as an allegory to current real-life issues like the Patriot Act, the war on terror and September 11.

Rogers eventually surrenders to police. He is later mortally wounded as he climbs the courthouse steps. It was a violent and strange end for an American hero and icon.

The primary shooter, Crossbones — working under the orders of Captain America’s longtime nemesis, the Red Skull — was caught. The identity of a second shooter is revealed in issue 600, which goes on sale Monday.

Many felt Captain America’s death in 2007 was symbolic of the time. And his return now?

“The tenor of the world now is when we’re at a point where we want to believe in heroes. Someone who can lead the way,” said Breevort. “It just feels like the right time.”

Captain America first appeared in 1941, just as the United States entered World War II. He was a symbol of American strength and resolve in fighting the Axis powers.

As originally conceived by creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Rogers was born before the Great Depression in a very different America. He disappeared after the war and only reappeared recently in the Marvel timeline.

Keeping superheroes dead and buried does not come easy. Even Superman, who was killed off by DC Comics in 1993, came back to life a year later.

And what of Captain America’s sidekick, Bucky Barnes? After taking up the shield and mission of Captain America for the past year, it’ll be time to relinquish the mantle. Is there room for two sentinels of liberty? Stay tuned.

Kablam’s take:  Well it seems to be a bit more ‘in-vogue’ these days to kill off main comic book characters in what I can only imagine is some strange publisher reason to either A) shake things up, B) create a sales spike or collectors edition, C) introduce a sweeping story arc, or D) perhaps something else altogether.  But I think we all know that iconic comic characters always return.   However it does seem that DC uses this tactic a little more freely than Marvel does (Superman, Batman, Jason Todd, Hal Jordan, Wally West, Green Arrow, etc., etc., etc.).

The way that Marvel handled Cap’s death in my opinion was done very well, and Marvel has done a a very good job of keeping the Captain America title running for two years without Steve Rogers, and bringing up Bucky (aka Winter Soldier) as a credible replacement.  Marvel took it’s time and crafted a very well paced yarn spotlighting many of Cap’s supporting characters to help fill the void, and many of these characters got some nice attention.

But did Marvel bring back Steve Rogers too soon?  In my opinion, yes.  Although it has been two years in publishing terms, it has only been a few months in comic continuity with Steve really only missing the Skrull invasion.  With Bucky finally getting the traction and recognition of being the ‘new’ Cap and participating in Avengers story-lines, its my opinion again that they could have waited on Steve’s return a while longer.

I’d personally like to see Dark Reign playout with Norman Osborn and the continued development of new baddie The Hood and the return of Nick Fury to take shape in the Marvel universe and allow for some of these other B-string heroes get due attention as well.  We just saw U.S.Agent come back to the forefront, a new development in the Thunderboldts and Norman’s Avengers.  In the aftermath of Civil War, M-Day, and the Skrull invasion we’ve also seen the apparent demise of Carol Danvers and Dr. Strange in recent weeks.

Can we just slow down a tad?

Captain America is by far one of the most iconic and recognizable characters in Marvel and I think it would mean so much more to bring Steve back in a very epic way, when the time is right and readers really aren’t expecting it.  To bring him back after such a short time, and especially around the 4th of July just seems a bit cliche and underwhelming at this point to me, and thus diminishes the grandeur of Captain America.

Rare Action Comics #1 up for bid.

Action Comics #1

Action Comics #1

NEW YORK – A rare copy of the Action comic book that launched Superman as the first superhero is coming up for auction.

Comic book expert Stephen Fishler says bidding for the comic book begins at $1 and is sure to go up, up and away.

It originally cost 10 cents in 1938. He says copies of Action Comics No. 1 in “fine” condition are worth about $126,000, but this one could sell for several times that. About 100 copies of the No. 1 edition are known to exist.

The owner, who was not identified, bought the sale magazine for 35 cents in 1950 and held onto it for 58 years. It will be on auction for two weeks beginning Friday.

Fishler and Vincent Zurzolo, co-owners of Metropolis Collectibles, will offer it on their Web site, http://www.comicconnect.com.

Comics: Batman Cacophony #1

Cacophony 1

Cacophony 1

I generally have a very favorable response to anything writer/director Kevin Smith touches.  I enjoy his movies immensely, although at times I find the abrasive language a bit much and sometimes overdone.  But when it comes to his comic book writing, who can deny that he helped re-elevate many DC and Marvel characters who seemed at one time very cool, but were losing their ‘it’ factor.

He helped me discover Daredevil when he took over the relaunch of that title years ago, and I still collect and read that avidly (of course M. Bendis has a lot to do with that today).  He brought Green Arrow back to the forefront of DC (although I’m not sue how that title is doing today).  And even the often delayed and criticized Spiderman & Blackcat series helped bring Felicia Hardy into her own again.

With that said I was excited to learn that Smith would be involved in a three issue series starring Batman, although I was a bit surprised Smith chose this character to tackle.  There’s been a lot of focus on Batman as of late with the Final Crisis/R.I.P storyline, All Star Batman project, Batman & The Outsiders (personal yawn), The Dark Knight movie this past summer, in addition to all the other Bat titles that DC is churning out.  I often think Batman is becoming DC’s own Wolverine….over exposed and involved in way too many titles to keep his continuity in check.

A Batman story needs to be impressive and handled well in my opinion to hold my attention, and to grab my $3.99 anymore, and I believe that Smith can usually turn out gold.  With what I personally think is becoming a fiasco over at DC with the very drawn out and sometimes confusing and continuity challenged chaos which is Final Crisis, I despretly want to like this book.

I just finished issue 1 (of three), and I’m happy to say I approve and look forward to the next two installments.  However, while it was indeed good, it was not ‘great’.

As always, Smith’s intricate dialogue and creativity are what help make this book such an enjoyable read.  Smith, like Bendis can tell a fun story with snippets of humor and dark and scary content and seem to blend the overall theme and direction fairly well.  That said, the initial setup with and backstory with the Joker and Deadshot was intriguing and a very fresh idea for once in the often rehashing of anything dealing with Arkham Asylum.  The interaction between these two is classic, both funny and disturbing at times.  However, the one gripe I have is the stated $20,000 a disgruntled guard agrees upon to sell all of Arkham’s secrets.  It should have been much higher, and the explanation as to why the guard was let go to begin with was a bit weak.

Smith’s prior creation, Onomatopoeia, also shows up to run interference with Deadshot.  Onomatopoeia, doesn’t talk, but instead, mimics the sounds of his surroundings and my first thought upon seeing his costume was a possible homage to Bullseye (Marvel).

The Joker is also portrayed a bit more disturbing than I remember him in the past, with some homosexual and necrophilia tendencies.  With Smith at the helm of writing, this doesn’t really surprise me too much, and adds an additional ‘creep’ factor to the clowned prince of crime.

There is a scene about half way through the book between Onomatopoeia and The Joker which seems to be the initial setup for act two and a hint towards Onomatopoeia’s motivations.

So by now you’re wondering, “Where is Batman in all this?”.  In an abrupt cut, Smith takes us to witness villain Zsasz commit a heinous crime, and once again Smith throws in a very disturbing moment in which Zsasz turns his back to the panel and commits self mutilation on what can only be suggested as his genatalia before Batman crashes in to take him down.   All in all, I’m not exactly sure what the point was in all this other than Smith wanting to inject a twisted moment into the book and shoehorn Batman in at this point.  It’s not that it doesn’t work and detracts from the overall story, but its placement and abrupt cut over to seemed a bit off.

That also goes for another character, Maximillian Zues, who is introduced to the story in another abrupt cut scene.  My first thought was “What?  Of all the characters to choose from, why Zues?  Well, I’ll just have to trust Smith to flesh this out in the next issue as only he can.  I just hope I won’t be scratching my head at the end of issue 2 as I am now. 

The pencils provided by Walter Flanagan also leave me a bit unsure how I feel in the end.  In some panels I think Flanagan did a fine job, especially with Jokers expressions and mannerisms.  Yet in others, the artwork felt simplistic and rushed and ‘under-developed’ like with Zsasz and Maximillian.

Overall, even with a few jarring interuptions in the flow of the book and inconsistent art, this is still a buy and already more cerebral than what happening over in Batman & The Oustiders…once a fine book that seems to have lost its way (already much like the newly revamped Titans)

Comics: Rogue’s Revenge #2

Heat Wave Unleashed

Heat Wave Unleashed

Admittedly I’m a bit behind on my reading as of late.  I’m behind on both DC and Marvel books as things such as work tend to get in the way.

On a related note, I really don’t know what to say about DC right now.  With all the hype of Final Crisis, the main arc hasn’t been able to hold my interest and so far hasn’t delivered like I was hoping for or what it was hyped up to be.  It doesn’t help matters either that the book is shipping late, and there is quite a bit of time between issues 3 and 4 right now for readers to follow closely enough.

Since I personally consider Final Crisis a ‘bust’ so far, I’m really banking on the upcoming Green Lantern maxi ‘Darkest Night’.  Perhaps that will be DC’s redemption.

With that being said, the best tie-in book so far has to be Rogue’s Revenge.  I commented on issue one a few weeks back and was so impressed with the tone and story direction that I was really looking forward to issue two.

And it totally lived up to my expectations.

Once again, this book delivered more insight and action into the [The Flashes] Rogue’s mythos and lore in one issue than many regular books do over the course of many arcs. 

Libra draws the battle line as he and the Secret Society he now leads mount an ultimatum to lure the Rogue’s into his fold.  Libra musters up a ‘replacement squad’ of Rogue’s who imitate our wary villains in both powers and looks to take out Captain Cold’s estranged father and taunt them into action.  What the replacements don’t figure into their initial plans is that Captain Cold and his allies have been pushed too far and really don’t care so much as to the fate of Cold’s father.  The original Rogue’s (with the help of Mirror Master) track down the ‘new’ Rogue’s and unleash a very brutal and lethal ass whooping unlike what the reader usually sees in monthly books.  Devoid of compassion, empathy, and emotion the original Rogue’s maim, destroy, and kill their would-be replacements before the ‘new’ Rogue’s even know whats going on.  Of course Libra seemed to know this would happen and this fits into his plans nicely.

Cold is able to confront his father, and in a great flashback scene and strong dialogue between the two, new readers who may not even know the history of Captain Cold are quickly brought up to speed on his background and motivations.  In a sudden twist of self-morals, Cold can’t end his fathers life, but turns to Heat Wave who does so both willfully and unsympathetically.  All this action is a way for the Rogue’s to mentor the ‘new’ Trickster (Alex Walker) in their ways, a sort of ‘trail-by-fire’ to see if he has the mettle to hang with the boys.  It’s a hard lesson for Trickster to swallow at first…but he does, and thus we are witness to the ‘hardening’ of the new Trickster.

Meanwhile Zoom continues his forceful tutelage on the futuristic young villain of Inertia (who Zoom helped escape from captivity at The Flash Museum) and forces him into the deceased Bart Allen’s Kid Flash costume for his own designs.  It appears that Zoom is working for Libra and that Inertia will play a big part in issue 3.

The Rogue’s want Inertia dead for his role in having them ‘accidently’ kill Bart Allen.  Inertia is now with Zoom.  Zoom is in league with Libra.  Libra has plans for the Rogue’s.  The Rogue’s who wanted to be left alone feel that they have been pushed back into action, and aren’t gonna hide any longer.  They are coming for Libra.  Wow!  Oh, and lets not forget Pied Piper…it seems Libra has plans for him as well.  How is this going to pan all out in one more issue?  I don’t know.  This is so good, I would like to see it pan out over the course of 4 issues instead of 3.  This is the best thing Final Crisis has going for it right now, and Geoff Johns really elevates the Rogue’s here into a force you can get really excited about and be fearful about at the same time.  Who needs hero’s when you have some bad ass villains going after each other?

Comics: Teen Titans #61

Finish them already!

Finish them already!

I collected the George Perez run of the Teen Titans back in the 80’s and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It introduced me to a lot of DC characters for the first time outside the big three and was probably my first understanding and exposure to the DC Universe (which was then clarified for myself even more so with Crisis On Infinite Earths). 

While I admit I didn’t jump on the newest incarnation from it’s outset, I ended up picking up one of the early Judd Winick collection trades which ended up being pretty decent.  So after reading at least two of the collections, I went ahead and started picking this up on a monthly basis.  At first, it was pretty exciting, with a roster including Superboy (Conner Kent), Cyborg, Wondergirl, Robin (Tim Drake), Beast Boy, Ravager, and eventually Kid Devil.

The stories and action were good, and the plotlines and interpersonal relationships between some of the characters (Superboy/Wondergirl, Ravager/Kid Devil, Beast Boy/Raven) was pretty dynamic, but I have to say the recent direction under head writer Geoff Johns in recent months along with the roster change just doesn’t feel epic enough to carry the ‘Titan’ moniker. 

Conner Kent (Superboy) is gone, as are some of the original Titans and Ravager as well, with recent additions of the new Blue Beetle, M’gann, and upcoming Static and possibly Kid Eternity.  It just feels that all the major arcs and flowing storylines under Winick’s direction have been substituted with disjointed filler material as of late, and nothing seems to gel right now.

Issue 61, with Kid Devil and Blue Beetle working together to take down a common threat just seemed forced to make the reader try and understand their ‘opposites’ dynamic, but still just seemed forced and unnatural.  The joking between Kid and Blue just fall flat and read very predictable and juvenile.

By the end of the issue we see Kid Devil unveil his new uniform and name, Red Devil and then there’s the official inclusion of Blue Beetle to the team.  The only characters that lend any weight to this book right now are Robin and Wondergirl and this clearly wasn’t their issue. 

I’m also very sad to say that it looks like both Wendy and Marvin (with Marvin’s recent death) have been written out of the book.  They lent a special ‘cloak & dagger’ aspect to the book as treated the fanboys to a nostalgic yet updated fresh take on these two, and their time was cut short before they were properly utilized.

Suffice to say, I think until the book settles back down with an established roster and spanning storylines and plot threads I may be shelving this book for a bit.  Too bad, because if you would have asked me what one of my favorite team books was a year ago, Teen Titan would have been near the top of my list….now I just don’t care to spend my $2.99 on a book that just seems to be trudging to nowhere.