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Titans #23 – Review

By: Eddie Berganza (writer), Scott Clark and Adrian Syaf (pencillers), Dave Beatty and Vicente Cifuentes (inkers)

What’s Good: This is the first time I’ve seen Eddie Berganza in the writer’s chair. He’s been editing Blackest Night, Cry for Justice, Wednesday Comics, and others up to now, but I think he did a fine job as a writer. I don’t know if this is a new direction for him or if he’s just pinch-hitting while they find a replacement for the excellent J.T. Krul who has taken over as writer of Green Arrow. Berganza takes us through the perspectives of three characters (Dick Grayson (now Batman), Wally West (now the third Flash) and Donna Troy) as they reminisce about their early adventures in the 1960 and how Speedy (now maimed and fighting for his life under medical care) touched their lives. Berganza has skillfully made all the narrators unreliable, because although they remember the same events, their individual regrets and bitterness tinge the narrative. It’s very hard to write a character that is fooling themselves or not seeing the big picture and Berganza did a good job. There’s a lot more bitterness and regret in the Titans’ history than I knew about. But, all this would be nothing if Berganza couldn’t tie this to the present and the struggles of now. Berganza does this by showing Dick, Wally and Donna struggling in their new roles (especially Dick) as some of the heavy-hitters in the DCU. Lastly, I really like how Berganza made Speedy/Red Arrow both a sympathetic and unsympathetic by showing his errors and his core humanity as a father, with the added tension that he still doesn’t know his daughter is dead. All in all, Berganza has shown that he is every bit the character writer that Krul is.

Clark, Syaf, Beatty and Cifuentes did some fine work too on the art chores. They separated the past from the present with the shadows and tones of the inking. The scenes set in the past had almost no inking on the characters, even in the dark, which made the scenes effectively moody and even a bit ghostly, which underscored the unreliability of some of the narrators.
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Batman #697 – Review

By: Tony Daniel (writer and artist), Sandu Florea (inker)

The Story: Life After Death, Part 6… The Conclusion: Batman, with a small army of helpers, descends on the chaos of Devil’s Square in Gotham after the Black Mask has released his toxin. Batman breaks through the enemy lines and makes a run on the Black Mask himself. Black Mask is not exactly defenseless…

What’s Good: There’s a lot of action in this book, many obstacles big and small, and none of them are easy. And on the art side, I still think that Tony Daniel draws a great Batman. He’s thin and muscular, and twisting and turning in the air, around gunshots and explosions and bad guys. Daniel draws Dick Grayson as if he’s making it all look easy. Batman defies gravity without looking like he’s breaking the laws of physics. He creeps out of the river or jumps through fire like he lives for this. Daniel draws good dynamics and he keeps a chaos of action from being confusing.
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Batman & Robin #10 – Review

by Grant Morrison (writer), Andy Clarke (pencils), Scott Hanna (inks), Alex Sinclair (colors), and Pat Brosseau (letters)

The Story: Batman and Robin search Wayne Manor for clues left by a lost-in-time Bruce Wayne.

What’s Good: Morrison’s series has been filled with a lot of wacky stuff, what with each arc thus far being somewhat independent.  This issue manages to weave together many of those wild strands, and there’s definitely a satisfying feeling of everything drawing together.  Oberon Sexton, the Domino Killer, El Penitente, and Talia Al Ghul are all series elements that are present in this issue in some form or other, and the result is a great sense of a cohesive whole.  The seemingly disparate book Morrison has been writing suddenly seems like a carefully pieced together puzzle.
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Batman and Robin #8 – Review

By: Grant Morrison (writer), Cameron Stewart (artist), Tony Aviña (colorist)

The Story: Batman vs. Batman, Part Two: Bruce Wayne rises from the Lazarus Pit, but all doesn’t go according to plan. He’s confused and psycho and we get some tantalizing flashbacks that show us why. Problem is, he’s nearly unstoppable and not only drops the roof of the mine on Dick, Batwoman, Knight and Squire, but Batwoman is paralyzed! And then, things go from bad to worse.

What’s Good: This story could have been called “This isn’t the Batman you’re looking for.” It is a fun ride and benefits from Kate Kane’s guest-star role. The action is quick and forceful, with a raft of people trying to stop the newly-resurrected Bruce Wayne. The mystery deepens with great hints, and we get to see our favorite precocious 10-year-old out of critical care and under Alfred’s care as they both try to figure out how Dick has screwed this up.

Stewart’s art is moody and old-school. In fact, Stewart’s work reminds me a lot of Will Eisner’s original stuff on the Spirit: the thick, viscous drops running off resurrected-Batman’s cloak, the dynamic action poses when resurrected-Batman punches Dick and throws Batwoman and Knight off of him. The old school effect is strengthened by the lined shading on Dick’s legs on the first splash page – a style that was used a *loooong* time ago by Shuster in 1938. It’s a really cool feel and very different from most art that’s on offer on the comic stands right now. Aviña’s colors are also great, both the lurid green back-lighting around Batwoman’s flashback and the speckled colors of the cave wall to show texture where other artists might have used inked lines. Basically, Stewart and Aviña pass my art test: Did my appreciation of the art slow down my read? Yes.
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Batgirl #7 – Review

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

The Story: Core Requirements, Part Three of Three: Batgirl and Robin aren’t getting along well enough to rescue Batman, so they split up. Robin has got his own set of wheels, so Oracle loans Batgirl something suitable. Then, it’s Batgirl, Robin and a wounded Batman against a bunch of killers intent on collecting on the Batman’s head!

What’s Good: As always, Miller delivers a fun, fun Gotham story. Batgirl owns the book with her hapless, enthusiastic quirkiness, but she does her best to share the stage with “Never-Plays-Well-With-Others” Robin. I love when Batgirl referred to Robin as “Little Lord Fauntleroy”. I also loved when Batman congratulated her on something and, in typical self-deprecating Batgirl-way, she says it was “…in a shocking twist, totally on purpose.” And of course, you can’t have a classic Batgirl book without a waffle scene. And, to cap off the fun side, I don’t know if it was Miller or Garbett who designed Batgirl’s new ride, or if the fact that she rides inside a giant wheeled sausage is coincidental or Freudian, but it is original! There are also great moments in this book for Babs fans and those who really wanted her and Dick to get together.

On the art side, Garbett and Scott continue to refine their style. You may recall I pointed out in my review of issue #5 that now that Scott was the only inker, the lines had become lighter. I’m seeing progress over several issues towards figures that are lighter and slimmer. Robin actually looks like he’s ten years old. Batgirl has become thinner, taller and more stylized. It’s not a bad effect. On the contrary, I find myself slowing to appreciate things more because Garbett and Scott are doing some really interesting things with the proportions of the figures. I have to also take my hat off to Guy Major. The issue is worth checking out, if only for the brilliant color effects used to make Phosphorus come alive on the page.
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Red Robin #9 – Review

By: Chris Yost (writer), Marcus To (artist, despite what it says on the cover…), Ray McCarthy (inker), Guy Major (colorist)

The Story: Red Robin comes home, and tries to keep a low profile, but crime awaits and an old friend visits. But then, Batman’s arch-nemesis, the one Red Robin shafted last issue, reveals his plan for revenge. We all know what pay-backs are, right?

What’s Good: Yost, To, McCarthy and Major put a lot of feeling into this book. Despite the fact that Gotham is pretty much the crappiest place you can go in the DCU, Tim’s happiness is palpable, in the writing, in the half-smile he carries around and in the awe-inspiring landscapes he pauses over. Tim *loves* Gotham. This is his home, and Yost and To made us feel it. They also made us feel the teenage romance blossoming between Tim and Tam (don’t go there…). There are more than sparks, but neither has acted on it other than under near-death experiences, so the tension is high. And then, Yost hit the emotions again, when Tim is reunited with an old friend. There’s some funny dialogue, some awkward pauses and then real, real, real emotional connection. It is the mark of a good writer (and artist) to make me feel something when I read a story. Yost and To did that. And that’s without the surprise guest star at the end!

On the art, To, with McCarthy and Major, built a “noir-lite” mood in Gotham, with dark skies and falling rain splattering off of tough bodies. To and Major go for some interesting effects, speaking of the rain. With the lights in the background, they make the rain almost glow on the bodies of the hero and villain, giving this book a feel closer to the brightness of Batgirl rather than the somberness of Batman and Robin or Detective Comics. To’s art also lacks the grittiness of the Batman series – the characters and places are clean and mostly new. This also contributes to the sort of optimistic feel of the book. Tim Wayne is hopeful. He is neither hardened nor jaded, like Dick, Damian and Kate.
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Batman and Robin #7 – Review

By: Grant Morrison (writer), Cameron Stewart (artist), Alex Sinclair (colorist)

The Story: Blackest Knight, Part One: Pearly and the Pit: Last issue left Damian with five bullets in his body and no feeling anywhere. It also left us with the Red Hood’s rant that Dick was failing Bruce in not finding some Lazarus Pit to bring Bruce back to life. Now, Batman is in England, teamed up with Squire, beating up bad guys and on the hunt for a last, hidden, Lazarus Pit. There are explosive obstacles in the way and some surprise moments.

What’s Good: Morrison tackles one of the big plot holes in the whole death of Bruce Wayne event, which is: if there are a zillion ways to bring back heroes and villains from the dead, why aren’t they using one of them to bring Bruce back? The storylines of the death of Bruce Wayne and the Battle for the Cowl, to be realistic, had to ignore one of the central rules of comics, which is that no one stays dead except Bucky, Jason Todd and Uncle Ben (I’ll let you do the math). So now, Morrison is going to tackle this metaphysical and metafictional problem head-on (at the same time that Blackest Night is doing the same), so this will be a fun ride. On style, Morrison’s spare writing forces the reader to fill in parts of the story. He treats us like we’re intelligent and I like that. It also leaves a lot of room for the art to tell the story.

Cameron Stewart has some big boots to fill in this issue. Philip Tan and Frank Quitely both did superb jobs on Batman and Robin, and although the styles are different (most obviously, Stewart’s Batman appears shorter and heavier), he is up to the task. The early chase scenes are dynamic and clear as Batman surges through London traffic to meet up with Squire. Stylistically, Stewart is much less gritty than previous artists, maybe because they’re in a different city. The night action is bright and the walls and buildings and even the subway are all well-lit and clean. The coal mine was the big exception and it changed the mood for the better, getting Batman back to settings that suit him more.
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