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Detective Comics #858 – Review

by Greg Rucka (writer), J.H. Williams III (art), Dave Stewart (colors), Todd Klein (letters), Cully Hamner (back-up art), Dave McCaig (back-up colors), and Jared K. Fletcher (back-up letters)

The Story: We get a glimpse into Kate’s childhood and the grisly trauma that ultimately defines it.

What’s Good: This issue may very well be JH Williams’ finest hour.  He shows himself to be an artist with unbelievable range, able to not only adapt, but also completely change his entire art style to suit a particular mood.  I honestly felt as though three different but equally talented artists worked on this book.

Williams’ illustrations of Kate’s childhood are less photorealistic and less hyper-detailed, more heavily inked and lined, focusing more on emotion.  The simpler feel to the work captures the innocence and relative simplicity of childhood, while also carrying a more smudged, vintage feel.  It’s only fitting that a flashback is drawn in a style that is, in itself, a pulpy flashback.  Meanwhile, Williams’ drawing of Kate’s father’s battles is all fist-pumping, scratchy, detailed line-work, while the present day is depicted in the ultra-modern, Kate-focused style we’ve come to expect from Detective Comics.  Williams’ sense of pacing in his transitions between these three styles is amazing.  You instantly know you’ve fallen back into the past the minute the art removes all the gloss to present a world of snowy and family without any slick super heroics.

I can’t overemphasize just how awe-inspiring Williams’ work here is.  The art truly tells the story and raises Rucka’s script to new heights.  While Rucka does a solid job at depicting both the tenderness and unique circumstances that govern Kate’s family dynamic, Williams’ emotive artwork heightens the sense of childhood pain, innocence, and love.

Most memorable is how Williams essentially depicts Kate’s childhood trauma in a manner that is baptismal.  She goes from an average family outing, to a fully paneled page that is entirely black, before re-emerging into a world loaded with blood, bullet-holes, and corpses.  The transition is stark and brutal, while also giving the sense of a kind of awakening, a wrongful rebirth into an adult world of violence.  It’s a brutal, yet beautiful moment that encapsulates the dramatic flair of Williams’ artwork and the synergy he and Rucka share.

While nowhere near the level of the main feature, Hamner turns in a solid performance on the second feature.  His kinetic action scenes are as fast, and natural as we’ve come to expect.  The story’s ending is also an enjoyable, heart-warming little moment that fully embodies the Question as a character and a hero.

What’s Not So Good: The childhood flashback sequences are the main feature and the present day scenes are the interlude, not vice versa, as might be expected.  I didn’t know this and so was a little surprised when I reached the main feature’s ending.  It’s not a flaw, but a word of warning is needed.

The biggest problem with this book, however, is the second feature.  It’s sadly just not particularly creative.  There’s no final adversary for the Question to face, there’s no twist, and she doesn’t employ any ingenious plan.  She just gets in a fight with a few nameless thugs and saves the day, as we expected, getting from point a to point b.  It’s just your bog standard “street hero” fare without shock or nuance.  Normally, this would be more forgivable, but as it’s essentially following a magnum opus, its faults become glaring.

Conclusion: Worth every damn cent.  If you’re turning this book down, you don’t like comics.

Grade: A-

-Alex Evans


Batman #692 – Review

by Tony Daniel (writer/ artist), Sandu Florea (artist)

The Story: Batman works with Catwoman to bring down villain Black Mask’s False Face Society, while a familiar crime family returns to Gotham City.

What’s Good: I didn’t have the greatest confidence in my enjoying this issue when it was originally solicited.  The return of Tony Daniel to the art chores was not something I was happy about.  There are artists who bring Batman to life, and then there are artists who simply draw him, and Daniel has always fallen in the latter category for me.  However, the artist has submitted a much-improved entry into his Batman run this month, and I’m pleasantly surprised that’s the case.

It seems that the downtime Daniel’s had between this issue and last Spring’s Battle for the Cowl miniseries has allowed him to recharge, as his pencils are much more vibrant this time around.  The full-page image of the Dark Knight on Page 1 alone is a testament to Daniel’s improved handling of the character.  This feels like Batman.  Ian Hannin’s color choices also work well here.  He’s gone for a darker tone than has been used in previous story-arcs, and it suits the tale well.  His decision to go with varying shades of gray for Batman stands out particularly well, as I’ve felt that the more common blue cape and cowl always seemed to be an odd choice for an avenger of the night.

Complimentary to his improved art this issue, Daniels’ scripting abilities have followed suit.  While in no danger of breaking new ground with the character, he does seem to have a good handle making this new Batman still feel like The Batman, while maintaining the Grayson persona under the cowl.

What’s Not So Good: I’ve never been a fan of Black Mask’s new look.  We already have a Red Skull in the Captain America title, so I really don’t need a Black Skull running around in my Batman books.  Despite that the fault for his new design doesn’t lay with Daniel, the artist does give the villain a new Hellraiser-esque costume this issue that really doesn’t help things.  Not only is it ugly, it seems out of place and out of character.  I also must confess that I’m uninterested in the mystery of the character’s true identity.  It’s been dragged out for months and I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of the end for this tale.

Also, Daniel’s inclusion of a character from Jeph Loeb’s and Tim Sale’s amazing Long Halloween and Dark Victory miniseries, along with some possible plot points carried over from those stories, only serves to remind me of better-told Batman mysteries.  While I hope the writer/artist manages to come through on the promise, he certainly is setting himself up for possibly unkind comparisons.

Conclusion: While far from perfect, Tony Daniel has given a surprisingly solid performance after a few months away.  Despite the story not being my exact cup of tea, it’s a marked improvement over the previous story-arc.  That said, the jury’s still out on where Daniel will go with this.

Grade: C +

-Joe Lopez


Batman #691

by Judd Winick (writer), Mark Bagley (art), Rob Hunter (inks), Pete Pantazis (colors), and Jared K. Fletcher (letters)

The Story: After spending long periods of time cutting out pictures of Batman smiling and interviewing teleporters, Two-Face finally invades the Batcave and throws it down with the Dark Knight.

What’s Good: The fact that the atrocious Bat-Two-Face costume was just a mere hallucination.

What’s Not So Good: Everything. Ever since the idea that one of Batman’s A-list rogues would work so hard to teleport to the Batcace was introduced, this story took a turn for the far worse. What the hell Winick?! I thought you were an underrated writer when it came to writing rich, dialogue-driven character studies for capes. Instead we get a lacking attempt (not to mention an uncharacteristic move) from Two-Face, as he tries to psychologically break down Batman. Reading the Dark Knight repeatedly say, “I am Batman” made me lose hope in this title. Winick ultimately falls short in making Grayson mature from this easily forgettable event. Instead he leaves us with a pathetic man who tries so hard to convince himself (and the readers) that he is Batman.

As for the art, the return of Tony Daniels will be warmly welcomed, as Mark Bagley’s work in this concluding issue assures us that his style doesn’t suit the Dark Knight. Everyone looks too cartoony, and the action and violence aren’t exciting nor entertaining. Furthermore the “supposed to be” memorable character revelation moment (the return of the lame D-list villain, Black Mask) falls short and silently. I have no problem spoiling that one for you, since I’m assuming that such a lame character wasn’t worth anticipating. It’s really disappointing that Bagley never captured the cold and the gritty, and the dark world of Batman.

Conclusion: The final chapter of Dick Grayson’s first adventure as Batman is one open-ended disappointment that doesn’t leave you excited for things to come. I hope Tony Daniel is able to redeem himself after the mess he made in Battle for the Cowl, and really jump-start this title. It’s disappointing that DC has allowed Batman to become such a weak series.

Grade: F

-Ray Hilario

Blackest Night: Batman #3

By Peter J. Tomasi (writer), Adrian Syaf (artist), Nei Ruffino (colors), John J. Hill (letterer)

The Story: The Blackest Night in Gotham concludes, as the Flying Graysons are reunited, and it’s identity crisis all over again for the Drake family. As Dick and Tim are confronted by their deceased loved ones and forced to relive their tragic pasts, they must figure out how they can defeat these Black Lanterns. With the help of Deadman and DC’s favorite demon, Etrigan, the Wayne family continues to battle old familiar faces. 

What’s Good: Tomasi gives us a fast-paced, action-packed conclusion that delivers some pretty memorable entertainment. From Batman and Robin fighting off the Black Lanterns with their seemingly endless supply of firepower, to the emotional and haunting iconic moments these heroes have dealt with in the past, there’s just as much action to the moments we’ll always remember with these characters. Furthermore, along with all this excitement, Tomasi finds a way to fit in a logical and awesome team up with Etrigan.

As for the art, I would like to see Adrian Syaf become a regular artist for a Bat title. He provides the necessary cinematic action, through his paneling choice– carefully capturing and fitting the right moments in each frame, whether it be emotional or violent– and the detailed brutal blows our heroes deliver to their enemies. Just like Tomasi’s writing, Syaf’s art delivers in the entertainment and subtext departments. The images thrill and make us remember.

What’s Not So Good: Although Tomasi provides us an entertaining story, I can’t help but feel a little cheated with this series’ ending. It comes off as rushed and thoroughly thought through, as Batman’s discovery to effectively combat the Black Lanterns comes out of nowhere and accidentally. Or even, not exactly explained as to how he thought of that… Also I’m still disappointed that there was nothing in this mini series that spent any memorable amount of time on the possibility of the Wayne sons encountering Bruce. It was nice to see some of the Chris Yost Red Robin in one moment, but that was easily pushed aside as this series continued to turn its focus on Black Lanterns in Gotham. I suppose the Bat-fan in me is waiting a little too anxiously to see the real Batman come back.

Conclusion: Blackest Night: Batman concludes as a decent mini series that adequately accompanies the ongoing blockbuster. However, don’t expect much from this story as it’s no different from the basic Blackest Night side story; where a hero encounters a Black Lantern version of a loved one, and their minds and emotions are challenged and seduced into believing in them.

Grade: C-

-Ray Hilario

Red Robin #5 – Review

By Christopher Yost (writer), Ramon Bachs (artist), Guy Major (colors and digital inks), Mike Marts (editor)

The Story: Tim Wayne, formerly Robin, now the Red Robin, has been traveling all over the world, looking for clues for his crazy theory that Bruce Wayne, his adoptive father, is alive. The only one to believe him so far is Batman’s arch-enemy. The last issue ended with Red Robin being stabbed and left for dead. In this issue, things get worse.

What’s Good: Issue after issue, Tim Wayne is being pushed out of the comfortable world of fellow heroes by his irrational disbelief in his adoptive father’s death. This has made him more alone than most characters I can think of, and has forced him into an alliance with someone totally out of his ability to handle: Ra’s al Ghul. Yost makes us feel not only Tim’s loneliness, but also his discomfort around strangers he cannot trust. That is a universal childhood and coming of age experience and shows where Yost is taking us with Tim.

These coming of age and loss of father themes are rising in a number of books out of the wreckage of the Battle for the Cowl, most especially for the “four brothers” Wayne (Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Wayne, Damian Wayne). Tim’s journey here is not just a journey to manhood independent of the father, but independent of the new patriarch and of his society. The new and former Batgirls face similar struggles in new roles in a world without Bruce Wayne and this all points to an impressive cohesiveness of editorial vision between Marts and Siglain.

The art team is a flawless choice for this book. Bachs has become increasingly skilled at making Tim muscular, but still youthful. In the beginning of the series, it was easy to mistake him for a man, especially in his new cowl. Now, in costume and out, he’s quite obviously a teenager trying to pretend he’s not out of his depth.

What’s Not So Good: Yost really loves his temporal jumps in Red Robin and they can become a bit disorienting. A flashback as an occasionally-used tool can be effective. When overused, or experienced through multiple characters, they can make the story less clear or pull the reader away from what makes the story great. A step too far, in my opinion, was the introduction of Vitoria in Brazil in some indistinct past, without enough context to really add her to the story. However, these are small points, and some might argue, stylistic, in a much larger success.

Conclusion: The Red Robin series feels like a monthly dose of a summer block-buster: action-packed and thrill-jammed. Check it out!

Grade: B

-DS Arsenault

Batgirl #3 – Review

By Bryan Q. Miller (writer), Lee Garbett & Trevor Scott with Sandra Hope (art), Guy Major (colors), Michael Siglain (Editor)

The Story: Stephanie Brown, the new Batgirl, has tracked Scarecrow to his lair and is about to go in, helped along by remote control by Barbara Gordon. Scarecrow is big and dangerous. Stephanie is small and no one, not even Barbara, has taken her seriously as Batgirl.

What’s Good: Except for a small glitch on one page, the writing was tight, pulling together everything that was said over the last three issues and giving it cohesive meaning. As the book went on, I realized that there were few throwaway lines, few things that didn’t move the action forward or show us more of who Stephanie is, or illuminate her hero’s journey. This is a pretty astonishing feat. I don’t use the term “hero’s journey” lightly, because Miller took the idea seriously. It was a classic story that loses nothing of its drama for being classic. Even the villain and the weapons he used were wisely chosen to fit with the hero’s journey, because Stephanie has to face fear itself and her incurable need to be where the action is. Her journey is how to reconcile that with the more pedestrian influences in her life and choose what she wants and who she is.

This month’s art was moody, stylized, and in places even surreal to match the hero’s descent as she seeks to prove herself. The large art team showed us a fearless hero in mortal danger against a backdrop of red skies, gothic architecture, and abandoned buildings. The stylistic effects of the cape and the exaggeration of sizes in some panels were useful effects, especially considering the psychotropic effects of Thrill and the fact that Stephanie’s injection didn’t do much to blunt its effects.

What’s Not So Good: For some reason, most or all of the Scarecrow’s dialogue came out wrong. In his first appearance, his mouth is filled with needless exposition, pointless revelation of his methods and cheesy B–movie treatment of cardboard lackeys. He is the perfect villain for this character and this particular arch. He just would have been more effective if he’d not spoken a word – the art certainly would have carried the story. The climax also left me a little cold, too. It was serviceable, but it was a little too pat and predictable, which ultimately made this “believe-in-yourself” story a little less satisfying.

Conclusion: This was a really fun book on the surface, with some deeper levels of meaning lurking just underneath. Well worth picking up if you’re a bat-follower, or even if you’re not.

Grade: C+

-DS Arsenault

WCBR’s Top Picks

Kyle’s Top Picks

Best of the Past Week: Secret Warriors #8 – The “God of Fear, God of War” arc continues to impress the hell out of me thanks to the strong character work that’s been done for both Phobos and his father, Ares.

Most Anticipated: Dark Reign: The List – Secret Warriors #1 – Predictable choice, I know, but more Secret Warriors is always a good thing.

Other Top Picks: Batman and Robin #5, Sweet Tooth #2, Astonishing X-Men #31, The List: Secret Warriors, Deadpool #16, Strange Tales #2, Vengence of the Moon Knight #2, X-Men Vs. Agents of Atlas #1, Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #3, Haunt #1, Incarnate #2, Witchblade #131, and War Heroes #3.

Rob G.’s Top Picks

Best of the Past Week: Thor #603- This just book just edges out Green Lantern #46 because of it’s sheer literary mastery (although GL was a ton of fun). Thor is one for the ages and will be remembered as a classic, maybe the best run of this past decade.

Most Anticipated: Astonishing X-Men #31 – The return of the Brood in Ellis’s hands. Let me wipe the drool away. Plus, Jemeriz has taken over art duties so I’m looking forward to more consistent and pleasing visuals than the last arc. Honestly, I can’t see what can be bad here.

Other Top Picks: Amazing Spider-Man #608, Batman and Robin #5, Batman: The Unseen #1, Captain America: Theater of War – Ghosts of my Country, Daredevil #501, Dark Reign: The List – Secret Warriors, Irredeemable #7, Spider-Man 1602 #1, Sweet Tooth #2, Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #3, Vengeance of the Moon Knight #2.

DS’s Top Picks

Best of the Past Week: Wonder Woman #36 – Gail Simone and Aaron Lopresti are succeeding in restoring WW to her deserved status as one of the pillars of the DCU. Simone’s fantastic story-telling is setting the stage for another great story arc.

Most Anticipated: Doctor Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural #1 – it’s been a long time since we’ve had a regular dose of a Sorcerer Supreme and I’ve liked Jericho Drumm since first reading him in Strange Tales. I love Dr. Strange, but I’m hoping a new doctor in the house will bring back the freshness that made the sorcerer supreme so great under Lee and Ditko in the 1960’s.

Other Picks: Ghost Rider: Heavens on Fire #3, Batman and Robin #5, Justice League: Cry for Justice #4, Magog #2, Superman: World of New Krypton #8.

Alex’s Top Picks

Best of the Past Week: Secret Warriors #8 -The more this book focuses on the kids, the more I like it. This month’s issue was entirely centred around them, and so it takes home my pick of the week.

Most Anticipated: Haunt #1 – I was underwhelmed with Kirkman’s last ongoing, Astounding Wolf-Man, I haven’t cared about Todd McFarlane in ten years (maybe), the 10-page preview was disappointing, and the advance reviews have been absolutely blistering. What was once excitement for this series has quickly turned to morbid curiosity. That said, I’m taking a real “I’ll see it for myself” stand on this for now.

Other Picks: Batman & Robin #5, Sweet Tooth #2, Daredevil #501.

Tony’s Picks

Best of the Past Week: Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu Black & White One Shot – Green Lantern was good, don’t get me wrong, but last week’s black and white Shang-Chi comic was unlike anything Marvel’s done in a long time, and I really respected that.

Most Anticipated: Planetary #27 – Wow, the comic three years in the making. I’m sitting here at work right now typing this out and actually still have a copy of Planetary #26 in my desk, noting with bewilderment that it came out November 2006. For better or worse, the comic that reignited my love of this artform ends here and now. I’ve waited three years for this moment so, yes, it is rather anticipated.

Other Top Picks: Batman and Robin #5, Criminal: Sinner #1, Daredevil #501, Doctor Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural #1, Vengeance of the Moon Knight #2

Batman: Widening Gyre #2 – Review

By Kevin Smith (Writer), Walter Flanagan (Art), Art Thibert (Inks), and Art Lyon (Colors)

Some Thoughts Before The Review: I found the first issue of Widening Gyre to be decent enough to give the Kevin Smith series at least one more look. I’ve got my expectations set a bit lower than they were when I went into reviewing Cacophony, so I wouldn’t be totally shocked if I wind up being pleasantly surprised by Smith’s latest.

The Story: Batman gets another assist from the goat-faced vigilante during the rescue of a child. Afterwards, Bruce gets an unexpected visit from a beautiful lady that he has a history with. Unfortunately, he may not be able to make it to their second date…

What’s Good And What’s Not So Good: Two issues in and the best thing that Widening Gyre has going for it is the goat-faced guy. He’s designed well (artistically) and the way he’s used throughout the second issue of the series is effective enough to keep me interested in reading. Unfortunately though, the goat guy (I believe Kevin Smith’s planning on calling him Baphomet) is the only thing about the story that’s hooking me in so far. A trend seems to be developing where bad guys pop into the story in a random way, with no lead in and for no purpose other than to have an action beat/appearance by the goat person. Maybe the appearance by Silver St. Cloud is supposed to be big, but I wouldn’t know since, admittedly, I’m reading Gyre as a casual Batman fan.

Lackluster plot aside, Smith’s writing is quite sharp. His use of dry humor and pop culture references add a lot of personality to his story and the characters part of it. The downside to Smith’s style is that it feels as though Bruce Wayne’s tone swings wildly back and forth. I realize he’s a moody guy, but the shift from funny and casual to serious and remorseful is pretty jarring.

After reading two issues of Gyre, I can safely say that Walter Flanagan’s artwork for Gyre is quite a bit better than it was for Cacophony. The set pieces feel bigger (the opening scene of Widening Gyre #2 is particularly stylish and well executed), the character work is far more consistent, and the action flows in a more natural way. A few panels in Gyre #2 are a bit rough though. Robin’s pose early on is a bit disturbing, Silver St. Cloud’s face has a weird shape at times, and Bruce Wayne’s “surprised” facial expression looks almost creepy. Also, I have to mention that Flanagan’s got a bit of a problem keeping bodies looking consistent. That said, I have to give Flanagan credit for the way he tries to construct scenes as cinematically as possible. That could very easily be the reason why things occasionally look a bit off.

Conclusion: Batman: Widening Gyre #2 is solid enough, but the story definitely needs to pick up a bit before I can fully commit to the entire series.

Grade: C

-Kyle Posluszny

Gotham City Sirens #4 – Review

By Paul Dini (Writer), Guillem March (Art), and Jose Villarrubia (Colors)

Some Thoughts Before The Review: I thought the last issue of Gotham City Sirens was the best one so far. That’s not necessarily a good thing, however, because Paul Dini didn’t write the book and the main characters were limited to about two pages. What’s that say about the strength of the concept?

The Story: Harley Quinn’s not in the best of positions. She’s unknowingly in the clutches of Hush and also a target of the Joker. Lucky for Harley though, she’s got some backup. She’s just not aware of it yet…

What’s Good And What’s Not So Good: I know I say this in some way for every Gotham City Sirens review, but it is one seriously nice-looking series. From the dynamic scene composition (Joker’s splash page and Ivy’s plant communication scene comes to mind) and storytelling to the character work and action, Guillem March continues to impress. And thanks to Jose Villarrubia’s flawless color work, every panel looks vibrant and feels very alive.

Both March and Villarrubia do wonders for what is, in all honesty, a pretty bland script. While Paul Dini definitely gets across the characters and tells a story that’s decent enough, it all feels somewhat uninspired. That said, I do really enjoy the part where Joker and his thugs play in Gotham City Sirens #4. The thugs because of their fairly smart conversation, and Joker because of his body language (credit to Guillem March for that one) and the way he goes to some interesting lengths to bring down Harley Quinn.

It’s tough to really come down too hard on Gotham City Sirens #4 because it’s, at worst, average. The book certainly gets the job done, yet at the same time it leaves something to be desired. My hope is that eventually, Dini creates some sort of compelling hook that makes Sirens a solid part of my pull list as opposed to a book that’s making the cut solely because of the artwork.

Conclusion: Gotham City Sirens #4 delivers a lot more of the same. That’s a good thing as far as the artwork is concerned. That’s a bad thing as far as the script is concerned.

Grade: C+

-Kyle Posluszny

Detective Comics #857 – Review

by Greg Rucka (writer), JH Williams III (art), Dave Stewart (colors), Todd Klein (letters), Cully Hamner (back-up art), Dave McCaig (back-up colors), and Jared K. Fletcher (back-up letters)

The Story: With Alice’s plot against Gotham revealed, Batwoman moves in to stop her once and for all.

What’s Good: This remains my pick for the best looking book put out by DC or Marvel for pretty much all of the reasons I’ve listed in past reviews of Detective Comics. Abstract, creative panelling which nonetheless flows effortlessly, an astounding level of detail and atmosphere, well-plotted action, and Dave Stewart’s amazing colors continue to make this comic fantastic as an artbook in itself. Williams also does a rather neat thing this issue, actually drawing red boxes around key details in his large splashes…. and boy, oh boy does he have some tremendous splashes, many of which tell a whole sequence of action within them, with Williams never content to risk a single static image in an action-heavy issue.

Williams also often uses his panelling to position Alice and Kate as foils, or diametrical oppositions, using their bodies as borders to the panels, or at one point, even creating a splash that is a mix of both their faces. Williams, through panelling alone, successfully enhances Rucka’s story.

As far as Rucka’s writing goes, there’s a bit of a reveal about Alice’s identity, though it was lost on a Batwoman novice like myself. The action was also really cool and very fluid, detail-oriented stuff, with a blow-by-blow feel. Kate’s relationship with her father/military superior also continues to be interesting, as they end up having a strange language all their own, a mixture of military jargon and imperatives and tender familiarity.

Meanwhile, this was definitely one of the stronger installments of the back-up feature. A good mix of the action we’ve been getting and the characterization we’ve not been getting, the back-up felt much more substantial this month. Hamner and McCaig also put out their best performance yet. While the Saturday-morning flavor is maintained, things feel sharper and more detailed. Add to that a good amount of blue and a thrilling ending, and it’s a winner this month.

What’s Not So Good: Greg Rucka writes a good script, but frankly, I felt that it wasn’t good enough for what JH Williams was doing on art. At times, the discrepancy made the book almost feel like a Williams showcase. Williams turns in ridiculously innovative and totally unique art, while Rucka hands in a script that, while decent, is nonetheless your standard fare.

The problem is, I suppose, that this is an action-heavy issue. As such, Rucka’s script is more minimalist and pragmatic, with fewer character moments. He’s content to just move the action along while Williams goes wild. This is probably Rucka’s blandest script on this title. There’s more or less none of Kate’s trademark humor or menace, as even Alice sounds more comprehensible than usual.

Conclusion: It’s a great issues with amazing art and the back-up is the best yet, but that still makes it a great issue following amazing issues.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans

Batgirl #2 – Review

By Brian Q. Miller (writer), Lee Garbett & Trevor Scott with Sandra Hope (artists), Guy Major (colorist)

The Story: Young Stephanie Nolan is breaking promises again, putting herself in over her head as she follows the trail of drug dealers in Devil’s Square and at Gotham U. Barbara Gordon has forced herself into Stephanie’s life at home and in costume, but doesn’t have much more luck than Stephanie’s mother at talking some sense into the girl.

What’s Good: Barbara Gordon is a strong adult figure who still kicks butt through her intelligence network into the underworld, her access to big-time resources like the Bat Cave, or by throwing the occasional battarang. Barbara is the perfect hero to tell Stephanie that this isn’t a game and point out that people will be out to kill her just for bragging rights. The art team does a great job at the mood of Gotham, the action scenes and the expressions; everything you need to tell a great Bat family story.

What’s Not So Good: This is less a flaw than perhaps a deliberate choice on the part of the writer, but the story is a bit jumpy. I found myself working to follow the plot threads as we went from one scene to the next.

In terms of character work, Stephanie’s trouble fitting in and her naiveté felt a bit tinny at times, and even hard to believe. For example, why would any teenage freshman be surprised to find a farm-themed party at a University, or that someone would spike the punch? It’s hard to reconcile that contrived innocence with the fact that as Batgirl, before that as Spoiler, and also just as somebody who grew up in Gotham, Stephanie has already seen the seediness that seems to be surprising her now.

Some of the surrounding characters also came off feeling a bit unoriginal too, especially Jordanna, who seems to be just another bully without motivation. Maybe Stephanie really is a socially awkward dork (it’s hard to tell from just two issues), but you can’t treat the nerd Stephanie Nolan in the same way as you would treat the nerd Peter Parker. There is a double standard in life. The reality is that most guys would be falling all over themselves to be with someone who looks like Stephanie, no matter her oddball worldview or her quirky, awkward conversation. So the whole bully set up falls a bit flat.

Conculsion: Despite some growing pains in finding the character, the addition of Barbara Gordon makes for a strong story with powerful resonances.

Grade: B-

-DS Arsenault

Batman and Robin #4 – Review

By Grant Morrison (writer), Philip Tan (artist), Jonathan Glapion (inker)

The Story: A dark knight and a mysterious sidekick turn Lightning Bug into burnt leftovers. The vigilante talks about being scarred. Batman (Dick Grayson) and Robin (Damian Wayne) are too late to stop him. Dick and Damian attend a Wayne Enterprises cocktail party and meet Sexton, a mysterious figure who is masked because his face was scarred by his wife’s killer. Then Dick and Damian decide to go on the hunt in nocturnal Gotham for the vigilante killer.

What’s Good: This is either the start of a new arc after Professor Pyg’s capture, or the continuation of a much larger tableau, where Pyg was just the feeder fish. It’s a good launch. The writing is lively and dynamic. The criminals were written in the lunatic tones that Morrison used for his villains in the first three issues, but they are more serious, closer to us, despite their obvious insanities. It was a lot of fun to watch Red Hood gush over the self-absorbed, psychologically unhinged Scarlet like an artist over a muse.

I also like the pair of dynamic duos Morrison is offering (Batman and Robin vs. Red Hood and Scarlet). Both pairs are driven by their particular obsessions and mental issues, while each has their own internal conflicts. Both pairs choose to fight crime, and they differ in their ethical lines and methods (in essence, how they choose to serve justice). In creating the alternates, Morrison invites us to pick between the moral choices. However, I think Morrison is being honest with us and himself in that Red Hood and Scarlet are not straw men arguments set up just to be knocked down. A whole lot of heroes nowadays use lethal force, and seeing all those villains around the table, talking about how they were going to make addicts out of school children, housewives and judges, I can’t say I was upset when Red Hood came in and gave them a talking to in his own language. Morrison made me think about something outside the book, after I finished reading, and I think that’s the best compliment I can give him in this review.

Art wise, this was also the first issue sans Quitely. Although I love Quitely, Philip Tan’s style worked well with Morrison. The villains were menacing. The layouts were impressive (especially the building to building leap Lightning Bug makes in the first scene). The level of detail was as high as Quitely’s and the realism sharp. And, both Dick and Damian cut the iconic figures they have for Batman and Robin to work. Hats off to Tan. Tan had big shoes to fill, and he didn’t disappoint.

What’s Not So Good: Despite the great writing and art, I didn’t get a sense of urgency or tension in this issue as I had with the first three, partly because the victims of the crimes were just other awful people. But that was part of the calculus Morrison had to do to make his issue work as “The Fight Against Crime Grows Up.”

Conclusion: Very solid storytelling opens up bigger and more dangerous things for the new dynamic duo. Get on board.

Grade: A-

-DS Arsenault

Red Robin #4 – Review

By Chris Yost (writer), Ramon Bachs (artist), Guy Major (colors and digital inks)

The Story: Yost and Bachs continue to shuttle us back and forth between Tim Wayne’s past and present. In the past, he’s not dealing with well-meaning friends, but the new Batman in Gotham. In the present, he’s not just dealing with the league of assassins; he’s dealing with their boss, Ra’s al Ghul, in Iraq, the cradle of civilization. And we get to see what Tim stole in that museum in Germany – and some of the puzzle pieces start to fall into place.

What’s Good: Tim Wayne is still on his own, kicking ass, taking names, looking for his dead, adoptive father. But he’s growing up bit-time. Only months ago, he was Robin, a young sidekick to the arch-nemesis of Ra’s al Ghul. Now, they’re on a first-name basis and Tim knows he’s holding a snake by the tail. The tension in this series is just great. You’ve got all the thrills of watching a hero on the run at the same time as he’s bitten off a whole lot more than he can chew. Yost works the past and present together very well, and in fact, every period is compelling. And the assassins are great. They’re excellent foes for Tim.

The art is getting even better. Don’t get me wrong. I loved Thibert’s inks, but Major’s digital inks give a very different look to Red Robin without changing the feel. In fact, some of the panels have a style a lot like what John Byrne’s art looked like when he was inking his own stuff. All in all, the art team is dead on.

What’s Not So Good: I have nothing really to ding this book on. Yost and Bachs and Major are delivering the goods.

Conclusion: Solid, solid story telling, month after month. I wish every comic was this good. If you’re not reading Red Robin, start now.

Grade: B+

-DS Arsenault

Batman #690 – Review

By Judd Winick (Writer), Mark Bagley (Pencils), Rob Hunter & Jack Purcell (Inks)

The Story: Batman battles Clayface, while his two rogues continue on with their obsessions. Penguin enlists the help of a mysterious figure to further his crimes, and Two-Face turns to teleportation to discover one of Batman’s secrets.

What’s Good: Absolutely nothing.

What’s Not So Good: Starting from the cover, with Batman falling and duking it out with a Clayface that looks like a naked retarded version of Atrocitus, I knew that this issue wasn’t going help Judd Winick’s arc. Clayface was never really a compelling character in the books, since he was usually used as the hired muscle that only challenged Batman’s gadgets. So why would an issue-long fight scene with him and Batman be a good idea? This fight scene was nothing nonsense filler for an already uninteresting story.

Perhaps, we’re starting to see why Tony Daniel will be replacing Judd Winick. There simply hasn’t been anything memorable in this story. The only thing that will be remembered for sure, is the ridiculous splash page at the end. Which perfectly fits the already ridiculous characters (like the roided-out military musclehead) and ridiculous concepts (like Two-Face and teleportation) Winick have developed.

This first adventure for Dick as Batman should be him being and acting nothing like Bruce Wayne; and Winick has done that. However, the execution is poor, since a lot of time is spent on constantly reminding us how vulnerable and flawed Grayson is, during unexciting situations. The writing gets redundant, with the nagging narration on carelessness and arrogance. And the moments Winick has his Batman in, are not as entertaining nor impafctgul as Morrison’s and Quitely’s Batman.

As for the art… MEH. I think Mark Bagley’s cartoony style doesn’t exactly capture the Dark Knight. He does a good job with the action, especially when Batman’s feet are never on the ground, but that’s about it. Bagley’s style has yet to capture the intangibles and the deep and haunting moments, as he dominates all the scenes with the jump-kicks and jump away from explosion escapes.

Conclusion: Thankfully, there are ways to get your comic books for free. I’m sorry, Judd Winick, but your tale of Dick Grayson’s first adventure as Batman has become forgettable. Ever since Gran Morrison’s Batman and Robin was released, there has only been one Bat-book worth reading.

Grade: D-

-Raymond Hilario

FanExpo 2009 Recap

Last weekend, I attended Fan Expo 2009 in Toronto, Canada, a convention featuring science fiction, comics, anime, horror, and games. I paid the most attention to the comics stream (obviously) and attended panels by five publishers and sat in on two sessions by Len Wein (creator of Wolverine, some of the New X-Men, Swamp Thing, etc). Here’s what I pulled out of it, straight to you, hot off the presses.

    Aspen MLT Inc

Frank Mastromauro, Peter Steigerwald, Joe Benitez, Micah Gunnall, Mark Roslan, Alex Konat, Dave Wohl and Marcus To did the A to Z of Aspen comics. It’s hard to believe that Fathom is ten years old and finishing its third arc, and that it’s got a movie deal. Soulfire, Aspen’s other flagship book, is five years old. Aspen has lots of other great titles on the go, including Dellec, Shrugged and especially Executive Assistant Iris. Part of this year’s business strategy will be to do more trades so that fans can easily catch up on their books as new story arcs come out. Executive Assistant Iris also seems to be laying the groundwork for other executive assistant books and stories that would really round out that milieu.

    Marvel Digital panel

Joe Quesada showed off the Spider-Woman and Astonishing X-Men motion comics. This was the first time I’d seen either one, and I was impressed, but not sold of the medium. I asked a question about the business model, and they’re using access to motion comics through iTunes sales as a platform to reach new audiences. Smart idea, I hope it works. My only question here is, since when did Jessica Drew get a British accent? Maybe I missed something in Secret Invasion.

    DC Universe Editorial Presentation

Dan Didio and a big DC contingent talked shop for an hour and answered questions from all comers. One of the most interesting things I found about this was the focus that DC is doing on each of its eight cornerstone franchises. The franchises are obviously Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, the Flash and Wonder Woman, as well as the three team franchises: the JLA, the JSA and the Titans. One question that came up was “Where’s the love for Aquaman?” Didio diplomatically and rightly pointed out that Aquaman was never really that popular (same with Hawkman). Sure, they both have fans, but they don’t have the same draw as the flagship characters. Neither has the same sort of unambiguous, iconic image in the public’s eye that someone like Batman does. And, with a cast of characters as large as DC has, it makes sense to focus on a few flagship brands, make them really good, so that you can do more stuff with the people and characters and situations around them. I think it’s a great decision and I was pleased to hear that Wonder Woman was part of the lovin’ too.

    Cup o’ Joe

Joe Quesada took us on a review of the Marvel universe, but mostly answered questions. One of the most important things for me, personally, was hearing the news about Marvel’s submission policy for people who want to write for Marvel. That was why I went to the con, and I was pleased that I was able to talk to C.B. Cebulski afterwards to get more details. In the session, I asked Joe a question about the Immortal Iron Fist, and how I thought it was a really quality book, but since it didn’t hold the readers in numbers to justify keeping it around, what could they have done differently creatively? There were also plans for Danny Rand after the current Immortal Weapons miniseries. They called it a cooling off period to build up anticipation. I hope it works. IIF was a brilliant series. Someone else asked a question about Dr. Strange, and I was glad to hear that Marvel had plans for him as well.

    BOOM! Studios

BOOM! Studios really gave the impression of being dynamic and on the go. They’re hitting new markets, acquiring licenses left and right, looking at new distribution systems, and putting out quality books. Very impressive… They rightly pointed out the sales successes of Irredeemable and Unknown, and especially the artists that they were able to pull in who wanted a chance to work with Mark Waid. Everyone should be keeping an eye on BOOM!

Gotham City Sirens #3 (Batman Reborn) – Review

By Scott Lobdell (Writer) and Guillem March (Art)

Some Thoughts Before The Review: While the art has been fantastic, everything else about Gotham City Sirens has been, at best, average. Maybe writer Scott Lobdell can turn things around a bit..  I’m fairly certain that artist Guillem March will hold up his end of the book. Also, how stylish is that cover?

The Story: Edward Nigma, the man once known as the Riddler, finds himself trying to crack a murder case with the help of the new Batman. Meanwhile, Catwoman and Ivy begin their search for Harley.

What’s Good: For the first time in the short history of Gotham City Sirens, the writing is actually something worth talking about. Scott Lobdell’s tight one-and-done Ed Nigma story/character study is one hell of a fun, satisfying read. From the back and forth narration (and dialogue) from Nigma and Batman, to the intriguing villain with a clever name, nearly everything about Lobdell’s script just simply works extremely well.

From the excellent character work to the detailed settings, Guillem March’s art is, as expected, incredible (though some of the action is a tiny bit hard to follow). His Edward Nigma looks as shady and charismatic as the script makes him out to be, his Batman is appropriately threatening, and his cheesecake stuff is… well… they’re as expected, but always executed in a way that feels anatomically realistic (even if it is gratuitous). In short, Gotham City Sirens continues to be one great looking series. Also, for fans of cool-looking stuff, there’s another Guillem Gotham gargoyle to check out that looks even more badass than the ones featured G.C.S. #1.

What’s Not So Good: Gotham City Sirens #3 is a pretty great comic all around and easily the best issue of the series so far. There’s two major problems though. The first problem is that the titular Sirens are shown on exactly one page. What’s that say about the group of characters the series is based around? The other problem is that the main writer for the series, Paul Dini, has nothing to do with the latest issue of Gotham City Sirens. What’s that say about the writer that’s supposed to be handling the series? My opinion? I think that Lobdell should be given the reigns and Ed Nigma (The Riddler is dead) should be added to the cast permanently.

Conclusion: Even if the whole Gotham City Sirens thing isn’t up your alley, you really should take the time to check out Gotham City Sirens #3. It’s basically a great looking one-shot about a cool character.

Grade: B+

-Kyle Posluszny

Batman: Widening Gyre #1

By Kevin Smith (writer), Walt Flanagan (penciller), Art Thibert (inker), Art Lyon (colorist)

The Story: Some years ago, Batman and Robin (Dick Grayson) captured Baron Blitzkrieg and Atomic Skull. Flash to the present, where Dick Grayson, now Nightwing, has brought Batman to help him out in a bout, since one of the criminals he has been tracking has now gotten the Baron Blitzkrieg armor. There is more on Dick’s mind than nostalgia, when he shows Batman a body in the morgue that could only have been killed by Poison Ivy, who is still in Arkham Asylum. The Dark Knight goes off to find Arkham completely overgrown, as he penetrates it to puzzle out this mystery.

What’s Good: The cover by Bill Sienkiewicz was great, as it really drove me to buy this book.

What’s Not So Good: I had a bit of a hard time with this review, because I love Kevin Smith’s movies so much. His movies are original, manic, unexpected, irreverent and hypnotic. Unfortunately, this book was none of those things.

Right out of the gate, the art put me off. Some artists are so realistic that you can feel the texture and mood of what they draw. Other artists abandon realism for style, and weave compelling images that fascinate. The art in The Widening Gyre achieves neither realism nor style. It tells the story competently, but there is little to leave the reader breathless and swept up in the pictures. The figures, expressions, textures, and even light and shadows, have a plastic feel. The art made me much less receptive to Smith’s story.

As for the story itself, it never took off. I had major problems from the get-go with Smith’s long set-up scenes. We open on some adventure in the past when Dick Grayson was twelve years old. In the present, Nightwing gets Batman’s detective curiosity going, but then disappears. Batman didn’t need Nightwing to show him a body. Anyone could have done that and Batman would have been off to Arkham. Therefore, what was the use of that set-up?

The set-up is tied factually and mechanically to the story in the present, but thematically, there’s no apparent linkage for all the nostalgia. My hope is that Smith added the set-up scene with Nightwing not to fill the third of the book, but for a thematic purpose that will reward the patient reader later in this mini-series.

Nor did the set-up sequence crank up the tension for the reader. Quite the opposite. Both Bruce and Dick spent the flashback and the present fight ridiculing and belittling the villains. There was little sense of anything being at stake, or that this was more than a routine workout for the once and future dynamic duo. The old rule for comics is that the stature of the hero is proportional to the danger and menace of the villain. These foes are not people who raise the stature of Batman and Nightwing.

And the tension did not really pick up once Batman got in Arkham. Every villain he found was tied up, except for Killer Croc and a surprise villain. Ivy herself wasn’t really threatening, unless she has some death by coitus thing going on. The battles at the end don’t manage to pull the tension into positive digits.

Long story short, Smith and Flanagan never made me care about Batman. Not only that, I found it hard to get invested in a Bruce Wayne Batman story when I know he is “dead.” I’m actually quite happy and intrigued by his replacement.

Conclusion: A sub-standard bat-offering. Take your bat-money elsewhere. I will be back for Smith’s next movie. I won’t be back for Widening Gyre #2.

Rating: C-

DS Arsenault

Detective Comics #856 – Review

by Greg Rucka (writer), J.H. Williams III (art), Cully Hamner (back-up art), Dave Stewart (colors), Laura Martin (back-up colors), Todd Klein (letters), and Jared K. Fletcher (back-up letters)

The Story: Batwoman narrowly escapes the clutches of the Religion of Crime, thanks to some unlikely allies. Meanwhile,  the Question gets away, only to return to deliver a beat-down.

What’s Good: The best thing about this issue is that it gives us a chance to get to know Kate Kane without the cowl.  A flamboyant yet oddly lonely character,  Rucka places her in a formal gathering at which she feels mightily uncomfortable.  It makes her all the more likable while also tastefully approaching her sexuality.  Stuck with a sense of otherness and the never-ending duties of being Batwoman. It’s clear that she feels that she doesn’t belong, but rather than try her best to  mingle, she goes the opposite direction, purposefully making herself stand out.  It’s nuances like this that make for a great, lively character.

We also get a look at Kate’s other familial relationships.  From the stepmother who doesn’t understand her to the tragically ignored cousin, it’s all fairly bittersweet stuff.  It’s hard not to read Kate’s cousin Bette, desperate for Kate’s friendship, and not feel bad for her.

On art, JH Williams continues to put out some of the best work in mainstream comics today.  The fantastic, dynamic, and endlessly creative panel layouts continue, with Williams doing some cool work with the gutters between the panels.  The really impressive thing about Williams’ work this month, however, is his versatility.  With monsters and hallucinogens abounding in the first Batwoman scene, JH Williams takes on angular, pulpy, horror-styled panels and a more blurred/painted feel.  Juxtaposed to this is the Kate Kane formal party scene, where the paneling suddenly becomes less abstract and the painted feel disappears for a more clean, defined, and “graphic” style.  Both sides are clearly and distinctly Williams, but he’s really showing two completely different modes here.

What’s Not So Good: I’m just not really digging the newly introduced characters of Abbott and his fellow “hybrids.”  Somehow, having a gang of Were-animals in a Bat comic just feels a bit too weird.  I feel like Batwoman just melded with an IDW horror comic.  It’s funny, since in human form, Abbott really is a great character and an effective foil to Kate.  But the whole idea of werewolf characters just seems silly and out of place.  The fact that Abbott in wolf form is written terribly doesn’t help.  Does he really have to say “rrrrr” and “grrrr” after every third word?

Rucka’s story also made me feel a bit out of the loop this month with all of Abbott’s references to past storyarcs regarding the Religion of Crime.  Surely I’m not alone.

The back-up story is also suffering a bit due to how good the main feature is.  Cully Hamner puts out his best work yet on the series, but it still feels like a drop after Williams’ work.  Meanwhile, the story is beginning to feel just a little overly straightforward.  It’s just another 8 pages of the Question fighting, proving herself to be a badass, and getting another location.  Again.  Entirely composed of action scenes. It’s also a lightning quick, barely there read.

Conclusion: Still a fantastic book, this time focusing more on charaterization,  making me  love Kate Kane even more.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans

Batman and Robin #3 – Review

By Grant Morrison (writer), Frank Quitely (artist), Alex Sinclair (colorist)

The Story: Dick Grayson, the new Batman, is still trying to cement his positionas the Dark Knight, as Gotham doesn’t buy him. Meanwhile, Robin has taken off on his own. As the dynamic duo go their separate ways, Professor Pyg and his band of sadistic circus psychopaths, continue their savagery and brutality across Gotham.

What’s Good: Everything. From the brilliant opening splash page to the brilliant closing splash page. The art and story are vivid as events spill over, panel after panel, page after page. It’s a great ride. Since I really want to talk about the story, I won’t take any time at all to talk about Quitely’s art (with Sinclair’s brilliant colors), other than to say it is absolutely stunning. I found myself stuck on most pages, trying to figure what those two had done to create such dramatic, evocative images.

On the story side, Dick is obviously the core of this coming-of-age drama. The struggle of the son assuming the mantle of the father is as old as the hills, but Morrison makes it feel new here. He disguises it. The old tropes are hidden by the capes and nighttime chases and the surging, chaotic action, but at its core, this is still the story of a boy replacing his father and becoming a father himself. He doesn’t complete the journey here. No one would. Morrison trusts us to be patient with him. But Dick travels along his arc, and comes closer to discovering who he really has to be to feel right in the long cape and behind the dour mask.

There are obviously a lot of of parallels between Bucky Barnes and Dick Grayson, but as much as I loved Bucky as Captain America, there is something more emotional in Batman and Robin. I think it has to do with precisely Damian and Dick’s new role as guardian. Dick would be a great dad for any child. He’s mature and ready for it, but to take on his own father’s role, while taking on the upbringing of his father’s true-blood son…. There’s something very poignant and conflict-ridden in that triangle that makes Batman and Robin more visceral than Bucky’s socialization in Captain America. And Damian and Dick are on parallel arcs themselves. Damian has everything to prove to Dick, and vice-versa. Both travel along their respective roads and even cross for a while.

What’s Not So Good: There is little to complain about with this book. The villains are so horrific, psychotic, sociopathic, creepy, they are at the edge of suspension of disbelief. Their sheer disfunctionality had me wondering at times how such behavior could hold together a criminal group. Morrison takes some risks here, and for me, there’s a bit of creaking in the story around the sociopathy. An inch further and Morrison’s villains would have come off as caricatures, but he uses his artistic licence for the sake of drama.

Conclusion: What a stellar book! Absolutely brilliant. $2.99 is cheap for what Morrison and Quitely deliver. Buy this book now.

Grade: A

-DS Arsenault

Batgirl #1 – Review

By Bryan Q. Miller (writer), Lee Garbett (penciller), Trevor Scott (inker), Guy Major (colorist)

The Story: In the bad parts of Gotham (are there any others?) some extreme street racing take place. A mysterious Batgirl steps in and we are introduced to Stephanie Brown, formerly the superhero Spoiler. She’s got a lot on her mind. She promised to get out of the superheroing business and start the college life. She promised her mother. She promised Tim Drake. Why is such a simple promise so hard to keep? Spoiler is gone. Batgirl is here. And Barbara Gordon is weaved into the mix for good measure.

What’s Good: This is not a bad book. I think it’s a challenging thing to pull off a teen’s point of view without sounding condescending (Rick Jones) or super-genius (Kitty Pryde). Miller has made Stephanie likable, genuine, and real. She’s struggling with a choice and we get to watch her try to stay on the straight and narrow. It’s an entertaining show. I also have to take my hat off to Miller for his easy use of parallels and symbolism. Stephanie is going through one of those “Who am I and what should I do” periods we all have/ had, except Miller shows her in this period right in the middle of first year philosophy while the professor is discussing free will. Also, every other student has a laptop, and Miller shows her isolation and the lunacy of her trying to be normal, by having her come to class with just a pen and paper. Very effective. The art team complements the writing competently. They deliver action, mood, setting, and some pretty good faces that express what the writer needs them to express.

What’s Not So Good: There’s nothing overtly negative about this book. It is a competently-told tale of a C-list character who’s main draw is that she is part of the Bat-family. However, the story of an angst-ridden first-year university student is not going to light the DCU on fire. The story and the art are good enough. If there’s any that fails is that there is nothing remarkable about this book. The new Batgirl saves the lives of a few people I didn’t care about. She considers breaking promises that I consider a little foolish. She agonizes over identity and self, but there’s nothing really at stake. She’ll either be a superhero or she won’t. Either one is fine with me.

Conclusion: This is an enjoyable book, but entirely average. I think something remarkable will have to spring from this title, something that makes it relevant to the DCU or unique enough to be its own draw, or Batgirl will have an easily forgettable short run.

Grade: C

-DS Arsenault

Blackest Night: Batman #1 – Review

By Peter Tomasi (writer), Ardian Syaf (pencils), John Dell, Vicente Cifuentes (inks), and Neil Ruffino (colorist)

The Story: The black rings make their way to Gotham, disturbing and raising the dead. Relatives and D-list enemies of the Bat-Family rise, while Deadman comes to Gotham to find some answers. The Blackest Night continues as the trio gets set to take on the Black Lanterns of Gotham.

What’s Good: The dynamic between Dick Grayson and Damian are further explored in this issue, as Tomasi provides us some much needed character moments for the new Batman and Robin. Subjects such as death and family are brought up, serving as some deep dialogue that surely further develops this new duo, while it appropriately parallels the ongoing event. Seeing Grayson during these moments should make his inevitable confrontation with the dead family member in his life the more unforgettable.

What’s Not So Good: Three things. First, this #1 issue falls flat as an introduction to the story. I know that this is Blackest Night, and the dead are rising, but I was hoping to see more than what we’ve been reading. I suppose I expected more than the typical “black ring visits and awakens the dead.” Second, too much Deadman. This is a Batman book. I want to see Batman-related characters, not a bunch of pages dedicated to some B-list hero playing catch up and scenes of unimportant rogues rising. I wanted 22 pages dedicated to the heartbreaking and haunting appearances of the dead family members and the villains that make Batman!

Conclusion: As expected, there’s no indication of Bruce Wayne’s resurrection being deeply explored in this issue. Therefore, this book is nothing more than an entertaining read that doesn’t really offer anything important. Is it a must pickup? Sure? I guess it doesn’t hurt to read another story about the Dick Grayson Batman.

Grade: C-

-Ray Hilario

Detective Comics #855 – Review

by Greg Rucka (writer), J.H. Williams III (art), Cully Hamner (co-feature art), Dave Stewart (colors), and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Batwoman gets a hold of Alice and looks for answers, while Renee gets in a fight and moves up the bad guy food-chain.

What’s Good: I actually thought the art this month was better than last month, even though that should be impossible. In a scene where Batwoman gets poisoned really unleashes Williams, allowing him to go apeshit with his already boundlessly creative panel layouts. The hallucinations are contrasted beautifully with the real world surroundings and the technicolors are enjoyable. It’s just all-around another fantastic effort by Williams, with a tremendous amount of work going into the smallest frame. The characters really stand out, the use of lighting is superb, and ultimately, this at times looks more like an art-book than a monthly floppy. I truly enjoy when Williams gets especially creative with his layouts, almost drawing “optional frames.” Your eye is led across a series of bigger images to get the story across, but you can look at the surrounding “optional” smaller images if you’d like to catch extra details. Really, really cool.

As far as Rucka’s tale goes, this is a “character” issue. Rucka does a great job of establishing Alice as a major character, creating a villain that is very unsettling and, well, utterly insane in a way that we’ve perhaps not seen before. His writing of Alice’s dialogue is nothing less than masterful, will all of her lines bordering on nonsensical gibberish while nonetheless being strangely intelligible. At times, it felt as though she were speaking her own language, “fluent crazy” as Kate aptly puts it. We also get a really, really brutal series of sequences that cement Alice as an evil person underneath all of that twisted, surreal whimsy.

Building on last month, Kate’s dialogue with Alice continues to develop her biting wit, making her all the more likable. Her hallucinations were also arguably the most fascinating bits of the issue, hinting at horrid suffering with a military edge as well as a love that is all but over. Really tantalizing stuff.

Meanwhile, the Question back-up is certainly solid enough to foster no complaints about the $4 price tag.  It’s pure fun, no more and no less, with Hamner once again showing his skills at depicting action scenes.  Renee’s fight banter is humorously badass, as is her bravado in general. It must also be said that the art, particularly as it synchs with Renee’s blue outfit, is really slick in the last scene.  This is a back-up story that is a perfect partner to the Batwoman feature.

What’s Not So Good: As a character issue, there isn’t a whole lot that goes on plot-wise this month.  Other than the tables being turned from where they were last month, there aren’t really any developments or discoveries. Kate hallucinates and Alice proves herself worthy of being a central villain, but we’re no closer to finding any answers regarding anything. This also made the book fly by surprisingly quickly; I was surprised when I hit the end.

Also, perhaps it’s unfair of me, but I kind of expected more out of this comic than a typical “our hero is unconscious and surrounded” ending, I get one not only in the main, but in the back-up as well.

Conclusion: Awesome art, a cool villain, and some foreboding hallucinations lead to another fantastic issue.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans

Rob G’s Top Ten Number #1’s

The following list is my picks for the best first issues, based on comics that have been released during by tenure as a hobbyist, i.e the past twenty years. They are from series that were or are ongoing series, not minis. The only factor in choosing these books was simple: Greatness.

1. Y The Last Man

Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra

Unmatched storytelling and utterly masterful writing. So many plot threads perfectly bundled up in perhaps the best example of non-linear storytelling.

2. Four Eyes

Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara

An incredibly unique story, told perfectly with outstanding art. Whips you up and takes you to a place that is both familiar and fantastic.

3. Preacher

Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Like Y The Last Man, an expertly crafted story, with brilliant pacing and perfect dialogue. Plus, insanely novel concepts and characters.

4. The Walking Dead

Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore

A regular paged issue that seems like a novella. Haunting, engaging, fun and most importantly, Rick is a character you want to travel with.

5. Batman and Robin

Grant Morrison and Frank Quietley

Morrison and Quietly. Usually that says it all, but this was something unexpected with its new take on the dynamic duo, creating a new mythos rather than perfecting an old one– like they do in All Star Superman.

6. Planetary

Warren Ellis and John Cassady

Mind-bending and genre-jarring. Ellis scoops you up while Cassaday blows you away. For Sci-Fi, there is Firefly for TV and Planetary for Comics.

7. All Star Superman

Grant Morrison and Frank Quietley

Everything Superman should be  in both character  and appearance. Also, perhaps the best colored comic in the past 15 years.

8. The Ultimates

Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch

The Avengers you want and a team of characters that make sense. Story hits you as the art wows.

9. Ultimate Spider-Man

Brian Bendis and Mark Bagely

The best Spider-Man ever. Period. Perhaps the most endearing comic character ever created. Instant love.

10. The Unwritten/Invincible

Mike Carey and Peter Gross/Robert Kirkman and Corey Walker

Both these issues set up addicting stories and characters. Like the other comics in this list, greatness was evident from the get-go.

Be sure to weigh-in in the comment section!

Gotham City Sirens #2 (Batman Reborn) – Review

By Paul Dini (Writer), Guillem March (Artist), and Jose Villarubia (Colors)

Some Thoughts Before The Review: The first issue of G.C.S. wasn’t anything special. Guillem March’s artwork looked great, but Paul Dini’s story and dialogue left quite a bit to be desired. Things need to develop more if I’m going to be adding another ongoing to my pull-list.

The Story: Through a flashback, it’s explained how Selina can resist revealing the identity of Batman, even though she’s under Ivy’s power. Selina’s answer satisfies Ivy and Quinn enough anyway, and off goes Harley to do some shopping. She then encounters “Bruce Wayne.”

What’s Good: Once again, Guillem March and Jose Villarubia take center stage in Gotham City Sirens. Clearly, they are up to the challenge. Their fantastic work absolutely carries Gotham City Sirens #2 in nearly every way.

Guillem March brings the cheesecake, sure, but it’s very well-done cheesecake that takes into consideration things like anatomy and realism. March’s eye for detail is also noteworthy, as every flower near Ivy is given a certain amount of care and every bystander during Harley’s trip to the store really feels like a unique entity, not a faceless one. The action in Gotham City Sirens #2 is satisfying as well, especially since it flows in a way that really adds to the frantic pace of the Bruce Wayne kidnapping. As for the opening flashback? Visually, it’s executed damn near perfectly. It’s trippy, creepy, and just the right kind of weird thanks to March’s surreal imagery.

Jose Villarubia’s color work makes March’s impressive artwork look even better. Villarubia truly shines during the moody, dark scenes taking place inside of Selina’s head. That said, special mention must also be made of the more colorful scenes as well. Vibrant, sunny, and full of life, Villarubia really takes March’s work to another level.

What’s Not So Good: The writing in Gotham City Sirens #2 is passable, but weak. It certainly isn’t bad, but I have yet to truly get hooked on the story Paul Dini is trying to tell. He’s giving Sirens a solid foundation, but nothing about the foundation ever really rises above average and generic. Simply put, March and Villarubia deserve something better to work with.

Conclusion: Pick Gotham City Sirens #2 up for the artwork. The story is nothing special.

Grade: C+

-Kyle Posluszny

Batman #688 – Review

By Judd Winick (Writer), Mark Bagley (Pencils), Rob Hunter (Inks)

The Story: The days of the new Batman continue. After rightfully assuming the mantle of the Bat, Dick Grayson continues to cement himself as the new Dark Knight; leaving crime scenes clean for the GCPD, winning the press over, mentoring Damian…  Meanwhile, two of Gotham’s biggest criminals– the Penguin and Two-Face, continue to make the necessary moves to further their hold on the city while keeping Batman in check.

What’s Good: The haunting opening pages provide a scene that promises us a crazy story. Batman gets beaten to a pulp, while the unrevealed villain lectures him and reminds him that the Dark Knight is dead. By the third page, we see Grayson defeated at home, before the mantle.

What’s Not So Good: The first chapter to the Long Shadows arc is not off to a good start, simply because the characters and the moments don’t seem to be interesting or unique. In this book, we see repeat scenes of a lame version of a neurotic Dick Grayson (just like in the last issue of Batman and Robin), a nostalgic Gordon, whose rambling lines invoke no sentiment, and bad guys that aren’t in the book long enough. It is becoming unfortunate that this title doesn’t offer you the kind of entertainment and quality character work found in Batman and Robin or Detective Comics.

In addition, although Mark Bagley’s art works well in the action scenes (especially in aerial attacks), he fails to capture everything human about the characters. Everyone seems young– with smooth skin, big innocent-looking eyes…, and each scene seems static and absent of emotion or tension. I’m going to be trying really hard not to look forward to the end of his four-issue stint.

Conclusion: Batman #688 doesn’t really contain anything important. But since we’re only one issue in for a new arc, I suppose Winick and Bagley’s run is still somewhat worth sticking around for another issue. It’s just too bad that this main Bat book doesn’t have fans wishing for the next chapter to come out already.

Grade: C

-Raymond Hilario


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