Review: Batman and Robin Annual

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A great and somewhat surprising Annual that should be in every collection.

Spoiler Warning.

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Review – Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection

Gail Simone’s Batgirl fails to make a case for Barbara Gordon’s return in “The Darkest Reflection”, a story with some promising ideas and solid art but not much heart. For a more in depth review, read on…

Babs is only Batgirl in the darkest timeline. If Jeff Winger had gone for the pizza, Steph, Cass and Babs would be sharing the lead in a title called “Batgirls”. I’m not sure how that timeline plays out, but I’m working on it, don’t worry.

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Review: Blackest Night: Batman #1

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Spin-off minis to Major Crossover Events are interesting things.  They are often posited as being important to the main story in some way, though the best crossovers know better than to make them vital or trivial and offend fans.  On the one hand, you can have the debacle that was the Final Crisis spin-offs – decent minis that had absolutely nothing to do with the main title or, even worse, which actively contradicted the main title.  On the other hand, you have Secret Invasion, which didn’t even make sense without the vastly more important spin-off titles (most notably Incredible Hercules and Captain Britain and MI:13, which featured the most vital blows against the Skrull threat).  Which type is this?  Spoilers ahead.

Blackest Night: Batman #1 seems to be leaning towards the Secret Invasion way of doing things.  As we saw in Blackest Night #1, Black Hand has Bruce Wayne’s skull, though no one really knows why.  And as Blackest Night #2 revealed, there’s actually a whole lot no one knows.  The Black Lantern Rings have caught everyone off-guard, and while everyone knows by now what they do, no one knows how or why.

This issue changes that.  Tomasi keeps the story moving ahead at a quick pace as he smartly focuses on Boston Brand, better known as Deadman, who we saw tormented briefly in Blackest Night #2.  Here we see why – though Brand’s soul free-floats through the ether, allowing him to possess anyone with whom he comes in contact, his body has been snatched up by a Black Lantern Ring.  When Brand enters the body to try and force it back into the ground, he knows everything it knows… and that means he knows that Black Hand has the skull, that a Guardian has betrayed the others, even that there’s a power battery.  And when he finds Dick Grayson and Damian, they know it to.  Batman & Robin now know more about what’s happening than any other hero in the DC Universe.  Let’s just hope they remember that they know Oracle, and Oracle knows everyone.

Despite all that masterplotting, however, the issue is all set-up.  Tomasi and Syaf fails to deliver the shocks where he needs to as we see some of the dead Batman family begin to rise, and they seem to introduce far more threats than a three-issue mini demands.  Syaf and his art team do well matching the bleak tone of Tomasi’s story, but is a bleak tone and some set-up enough to fill a full third of a mini satisfactorily?

Only time will tell.  As a single issue, however, this one manages to stay just ahead of mediocre thanks to decent art and reasonably well-handled drama.  There’s a lot in it that has the potential to change the game for the Blackest Night mini, but little that suggests that Blackest Night: Batman will be compelling on its own.

Grade: B-

– Cal Cleary

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Catch-Up Mini-Reviews

Captain Britain and MI:13 #15

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Thus ends one of Marvel’s strongest ongoing books.  Cornell and Kirk wind down their title with the massive “Vampire State” arc that should’ve been cheesy as hell but ended up being gripping, exciting and just downright fun.  The issue is packed with excellently written and drawn action set-pieces that build off of everything that’s come before to give the issue the emotional closure it needed without sacrificing the excitement.  Top quality work.

Grade: B+

Runaways #12

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Immonen still hasn’t brought the energy of her absolutely fantastic Patsy Walker: Hellcat mini to the title, but her second issue shows a small amount of improvement over the first.  Pichelli’s art renders everyone and everything in the title improbably pretty, if overly cartoonish, but she handles the issue’s dramatic moments quite well.  Nothing spectacular yet, but more than good enough to keep giving it a shot.

Grade: B-

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #3

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Ink continues to be the surprise of the Final Crisis Aftermath titles for me as it uses the conventions of the gritty crime drama to tell the story of a supervillain seeking redemption.  Wallace and Fiorentino make the tale a little more complicated than it needs to be by having Richards’ tattoos come to life, but the metaphor is apt: escaping a life of crime is already hard without having those closest to you trying to drag you back into it.  

Grade: B

– Cal Cleary

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Captain Britain and MI:13 #14

Runaways #11

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #2

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #1

Review: Captain Britain and MI:13 #14

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Ah, good old Captain Britain and MI:13.  No matter what else is going wrong in the Marvel Universe, you’ll always be here to make it better, won’t you?  Well, unfortunately not – the book only has a short while left to live.  So, the question becomes: can Paul Cornell and co. give us a satisfying send-off to one of Marvel’s strongest titles?

This arc, titled “Vampire State” suggests that they can.  Dracula has been breeding an army of vampires on the moon and allying himself with all manner of supernatural menace before he begins to make his final move – conquering Britain in the name of his vampire army.  Despite the seemingly inherent camp in the premise, Cornell plays it straight and it pays off.  Rather than coming off as a post-ironic dig at a more innocent age, the issue suggests why the semi-realistic grim ‘n grit so often feels terribly false – this isn’t our world.  It’s one infinitely more scary, and infinitely more wonderful, and we see a little bit of both aspects in this issue.

After a quick turnaround from the seemingly doomed ending of last issue, we learn that our heroes at MI:13 have managed to pull one over on Dracula and buy themselves some time to fight back.  They use that time well, and Cornell brings us an action-packed issue with crisp, excellent art from Syaf and Kirk and and a parting ‘gift’ from Doctor Doom that sets up the issue to come and reminds us all why the good Doctor can be such an effective villain.

Captain Britain and MI:13 is far from flawless, but even at its worst, its an exciting book with solid characterization and fun, clever arcs – and this issue is far from the book’s worst.

Grade: B+

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