By: Scott Snyder & James Tynion, IV (writers), Becky Cloonan & Andy Clarke (artists), Sandu Florea (inks on a few pages), FCO Plascencia (colors), Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt (letters), Katie Kubert (assistant editor) & Mike Marts (editor)

The Story: Batman has a new helper.

A few things: 1). Neat new character. – I kinda like this new character, Harper Row.  She’s clever, handy and hits that cute-but-not-sexy sweet spot (as appropriate for a teenager).  I like how she uses nothing but her wits and skills to figure out some things about Batman’s operations.  Heck, she basically hacks and improves his network.  That’s really cool.  In fact, her attitude and skill sets remind me a little bit of Tim Drake who famously figured out Batman’s identity and then went on to become Robin.  Could a character arc like Tim’s be in store for Harper?  Who knows…..but it would be a fun possibility.

I also really appreciate the design decision not to make Harper some sexed up tart.  Goodness knows….I have no problem with sexed up ladies in comics, but I find it much more acceptable when the character is a grown-ass woman.  Perhaps sexy teens was appropriate when the average reader was a 12 year old boy who lusted after 17 year old girls, but now that comics are read by men in their 30s, it’s just creepy to see all the huge-chested, hot-pants-wearing young girls.  It’s a lot easier to focus on Harper’s considerable skills when she isn’t swinging D-cup breasts in our faces.

2). Snyder’s writing has just the right amount of depth. – I always feel like Snyder is writing for me.  He drops lots of little hints in his comics that aren’t super-obvious, but aren’t too hard to dig out either.  Perhaps there are readers less observant than me who miss all of this stuff.  And perhaps there are readers who pay closer attention who think the Snyder makes it too obvious.  But…’s perfect for me.   I talked above about the comparison between Harper and Tim Drake.  That’s partially because Snyder makes it a point to mention Tim early in the issue.  I’m sure that’s no accident: he wants us to compare the two characters and appreciate the similarities.  It’s like he’s planting a subliminal suggestion in your brain.

But, what’s really cool about the way Snyder does it is this: Just because you realize the subliminal message is there, it doesn’t ruin things.  In fact, Snyder has a way of making the reader feel SMART when they figure out little stuff like this.  Kinda the way you feel clever when you figure out the magician’s secrets.

3). Nice art, but disjointed and messy. – I like Becky Cloonan (a LOT) and I like Andy Clarke (kinda), but I don’t like them together.  The art change in this issue is jarring: You turn the page and go from Cloonan’s flowy characters with a minimum of noodling and get smacked in the face by Clark and his hyper-active cross-hatching fine pens.  It also hurts because Clarke isn’t as gifted of a story-teller as Cloonan, so you go from a smooth and easy tale to lot of, “Huh?  Wha?”  Like…..what was that parachute thing that Batman shot at Harper?  I think it was intended to be something that knocked her out of the way of the onrushing boat, but the way to demonstrate that is to show the parachute thing actually HITTING Harper….not show .5 seconds later after the impact has already happened and boat, Harper and parachute-thing are just hanging in space.  It’s just bad storytelling….especially after we just got a 3-panel sequence to explain how the parachute-gadget works.  How about show similar attention to the characters?  And why show Tiger Shark’s weird tongue?  That’s a wasted panel…  What’s the point of that?  Plus, all the jumbled panels from Clarke.  I don’t like to see crazy, jumbled panels when the basic storytelling isn’t working.  It falls into the category of crawling before you start running.  It just didn’t work.  Clarke does draw a mean tiger though…..

Conclusion: A very solid first half that has great art and introduces a cool new character.  Unfortunately, the execution on the last few pages kinda drops the ball.

Grade: B-

– Dean Stell