Review: Batman and Robin #9

Batman and Robin #9 marks the conclusion of the book’s third arc.  With this, only a single arc remains of the pop action book before “The Return of Bruce Wayne” takes over, and the book will be missed.  “Darkest Knight” has been an action-packed arc featuring excellent moments not only from the usual suspects – Batman and Batwoman – but also a few lesser knows who’ve long deserved more time in the spotlight – Knight and Squire – as well as a confrontation between the crazed, fearless Batman clone raised in a Lazarus Pit and Alfred and a wheelchair-bound Damian.  The pacing is well-handled and the tone is spot-on, making Batman and Robin #9 an undeniably read.

Stewart continues to work quite well with Morrison, providing crisp action segments – of which this issue has a number – and excellent physical presence to his characters.  Morrison and Stewart work well together here, and it’ll be a shame to see Stewart replaced next issue by Andy Clarke and Scott Hanna, but it’s always interesting to see how the tone of the book changes with new creative talent.  Still, Stewart helped revitalize the book after a lagging second arc, and “Blackest Knight” was a clever use of left-over plot threads from Final Crisis and Batman R.I.P. that also managed to set up The Return of Bruce Wayne and validate Tim Drake’s assumptions in Red Robin.  All this was accomplished with minimal handholding, and though none of it was necessary to the story itself, it was a good Easter Egg for those keeping up with DC’s continuity.  Quick, clever and ceaselessly fun, Batman and Robin may exhibit more sheer joy per page than any other Batman story in recent memory.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

Batman and Robin #8

Batman and Robin #7

Review: Batman and Robin #5

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Morrison has generally been quite clear, over the years, about his opinion on the grim ‘n gritty anti-hero that has so pervaded comics in recent years.  It isn’t a trend towards which he’s shown very much respect, largely because, ultimately, there’s no way to maintain it.  Escalation leads to escalation, but in a medium that cannot abide true and lasting change, the escalation rings hollow – supporting characters are created solely to die, but we all know the A/B-listers are safe and always will be.  “Revenge of the Red Hood” displays this premise in short order as, only a single issue after Red Hood burst onto Gotham’s crimefighting scene with catchy ‘cool’ slogans and a sidekick with a tragic past, the escalation begins to go past what even Gotham is comfortable with.

Tan remains a surprisingly good fit for the book.  While his design leaves something to be desired after seeing some of Quitely’s more inspired work in the first three issues, the grim, oppressive atmosphere so natural to Tan’s art fits Morrison’s story perfectly.  There are a few points during which I felt Tan failed, most notably with the (SPOILER) reveal that Red Hood was Jason Todd, since he looked about 10-20 years older than Jason Todd, and with all of Jason Blood’s features (END).  Despite the occasional slip-up, however, Tan’s clear, dark art makes for an excellent contrast from the circus of villains the first arc provided.

Batman and Robin remains a remarkably strong title.  This issue sees Morrison keep his promise to use the title to create a new host of chilling Bat-villains and reinvigorate one of comics most well-known (and increasingly overused) rogues’ galleries with the late-game introduction of Eduardo Flamingo, the King of Killers.  Morrison largely eschews the slow-boil continuity-rich mystery that so pervaded his Batman run in favor of a wonderfully straightforward, undeniably clever action comic.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Batman and Robin #4

Batman and Robin #3

Review: Batman and Robin #3

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And so concludes the first arc of Morrison’s Batman and Robin – and, at least for now, Frank Quitely’s involvement.  Throughout their arc, Morrison and Quitely have introduced the Circus of the Strange with their bizarre ringleader, Professor Pyg, a demented villain turning the citizens of Gotham into ‘Dollotrons’ through disfigurement and potent narcotics.  And if that isn’t horrific enough for you, this issue sees Pyg dance as he imagines a sexy woman would before tearing off his shirt.  Now that’s a creepy Batman villain.

The first arc concludes rather suddenly as Dick and Damian confronts Pyg in his lair.  We get the origins of Pyg, learn more about his plans for Gotham, watch a few extremely well-illustrated action bits, and see how Dick and Damian make up after their split last issue.  It’s a lot to handle in a single issue, and despite Morrison’s best efforts it still feels rushed in places, especially given that the issue ends with an epilogue introducing Scarlett to the Red Hood to set up the next arc.  Even the ‘character’ after which the issue is titled (Mommy Made of Nails) receives only a single panel and, despite inspiring an excellent line from Pyg, is too heavily linked to the issue’s weakest moments – Pyg’s insane rants as he prepares to turn Damian.

Regardless, Batman and Robin #3 is an exciting read from start to finish.  Quitely’s unique style makes the brief action sequences thrilling and dynamic, while also contributing a fairly monstrous look to the Dollotrons and their creator.  His visual sensibilities will be sorely missed next issue, but he’s only half the team – despite the book’s first missteps this issue, Morrison continues to make the book a fun, action-packed exploration of Dick and Damian’s dynamic.  If it’s DC’s objective to make us miss Bruce Wayne, they’re failing miserably – this is some of the most fun Batman’s been in awhile.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

SeventhSoldier’s Top Five for June

There were a lot of honorable mentions this month – June 2009 was one of the best months for comics in a good long while.  From Gail Simone’s always fun Secret Six to the sleeper hit of the month for me, Rucka’s Action Comics Annual #12 – and, spoiler alert, tomorrow’s review of Kathryn Immonen rock-solid first issue on Marvel’s Runaways – June made this a pretty damn hard call to make.  I’ve given out a few pretty bad grades this month, but for the most part, the average was high – there were more A-‘s than B’s for the first time in my reviewing history on the site!

To my surprise, as someone who doesn’t particularly care for Batman as a character or as a mythos terribly much, three of the best books I read this month were newly-launched Bat-books/arcs.  Also a first?  Two different Marvel books were edging in on the top 5.  Any other month, Runaways #11 or Captain Britain and MI:13 #14 would’ve had a strong shot at prime placement.

Edit: Since I hadn’t put the review up yet, I forgot, but a Marvel title actually did make the Top 5.  Sorry, Paul Dini.

#5 Incognito #4

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There hasn’t been a bad issue yet of the Brubaker/Phillips collaboration Incognito.  I don’t yet know if it’ll be able to match Sleeper or Criminal – two absolutely stellar works in a similar vein… and yes, they have one or two other things in common with this book – but this issue kept the story moving along faster than I could believe and with a great deal of style and a sense of pulp adventure.  Incognito is a blast to read, without a doubt.

#4 Batman and Robin #1

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Splashy, gorgeous art?  Check.  Interesting new villain?  Check.  Rousing adventure?  Check.  Batman and Robin #1 has all that along with great panelling and the coolest sound effects you can imagine.  Morrison and Quitely make quite a team, as they’ve illustrated numerous times in the past, and this looks to be no exception.

#3 The Unwritten #2

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Carey and Gross continue on with a second issue every bit as good as their first in one of the strongest Vertigo launches I’ve seen in awhile.  There are so many small touches that go into making this book great that I can hardly list them, but this is definitely a title to be on the lookout for.  If you aren’t picking it up monthly, be sure to be on the lookout for the trades.

#2: Detective Comics #854

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Together, J.H. Williams III and Greg Rucka delivered a stellar opening issue to Batwoman’s stint on Detective Comics… and that’s before you add the talented Cully Hamner into the mix with his and Rucka’s The Question backup.  The book was fast-paced and exciting while still introducing a supporting cast, a new villain, and a personality in the formerly personalitiless Kate Kane.  It did a whole lot in a tiny space, and left me eagerly awaiting more.

#1: Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #3

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God, what a strange, strange book.  Wonderful, though.  As a surreal adventure books, Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye is a satisfying book with a sharp edge of humor and a knack for innovation.  As a meta-commentary on super-hero comics, it was cutting, clever and fun.  As the finale of a threeissue mini that wrapped up the middle-child of Morrison’s planned three-volume Seaguy trilogy, it was pretty nearly perfect.

– Cal Cleary

May

Read/RANT

Group Review: Batman & Robin #1

The Read/RANT team assembled together for this one!  Out of curiosity of Morrison and Quitely’s new project, we opted to forego our traditional system of reviews in favor of something a little more dynamic for Batman: Reborn, part 1.

SEVENTHSOLDIER: Once again, expectations are the enemy for me.  Morrison provided a perfectly good issue, setting up the new status quo, introducing some new villains, giving us a preview of what we can expect, and more, but coming off of a stellar multi-year epic on Batman, this felt slight for me.  Not bad, just less than what I’d hoped for.  That said, I don’t think that I was alone in half-seriously expecting the book to reinvent the wheel, at least when it came to Batman comics.

Instead, Morrison gave us what, in all fairness, he promised to give us – a rousing, fun adventure story about a new Batman and new Robin bonding. 

DCLebeau: I guess I had the opposite experience.  I realized going in that there was no way this issue could meet people’s sky-high expectations.  I was fully prepared to be disappointed.  I was expecting a disjointed assault on the senses, and instead I got a very solid Batman and Robin story with a few Morrision touches.  I was pleasantly surprised!

Bruce Castle: I knew the expectations were going to get me, too. Luckily, I came to terms with that last night. All of those agonizing months, with only the lackluster-at-best Battle for the Cowl to satisfy my Batman tooth, really built this comic up to deliver. But, thankfully, I was able to open up the first page, knowing that I was in for nothing but fun, and that’s what I got.

SEVENTHSOLDIER: The part that shined, for me, was the art.  Quitely is a rather divisive artist, but I think he was on his A-game here.  I doubt he’s the first artist to incorporate sound effects into the art itself, but the effect here is nonetheless stellar here, noticeable without being distracting.  Further, Morrison seems to have crafted Pyg and his Dolls specifically to Quitely’s admittedly chunky style, and the effect, for me, was rather mesmerizingly creepy.

DCLebeau: I couldn’t agree more.  Quitley’s art has never looked better.  Usually Morrison is the star of any book he’s on.  Even the characters sometimes take a backseat to Morrison’s rock star persona.  But on this book, Quitley stole the spotlight.  Although, as you say, clearly Morrison was helping to turn the spotlight on his collaborator.

Bruce Castle: I’ll also play the part of the Morrison historian here. Did you all remember to reread Batman #666 last night? Well, if you had, you’d know the grizzly fate of the monstrous Professor Pyg. You’d also know a good deal more about his Dollotrons. Both of those characters first appeared in that numericly satanic Batman issue. Also, since the Batcave was compromised during “Batman RIP,” everybody has set up shop in Wayne Tower. This also ties into Batman #666, since Damian’s headquarters were still in Wayne Tower in that future. Could this be a permanent move? No. I’m sure everything will be back to normal, once that pesky Morrison is off of the title.

SeventhSoldier: True enough, true enough, though the nice part of setting #666 so far in the future was that it’s hard to mess up.  Not even killing Damian can stop it, because… well, comics.

DCLebeau: Wow, BC, you are truly amazing.  I barely had time to squeeze in reading B&R #1.  Now, you’ve gone and done it.  I’m going to have to go through my back issues.  Thanks a lot!  🙂

As a side note, the book is remarkably new reader friendly.  Considering all of the Batlore that has been heaped on us lately, this could have been a nightmare.  But it’s not.  You can come into this book having never read a Batman story before.  RIP, Battle for the Cowl, Final Crisis… you can skip them all.  Everything you need to know is right here.

Granted, if you’ve been reading Morisson’s run on Batman, you’re going to get more out of this issue.  But it can be read either way.  And that’s high praise!

Bruce Castle: Did you just tell people  to skip RIP and Final Crisis? People, don’t listen to this man! He’s crazy!

DCLebeau: If you haven’t read them by now, you’re probably not a Morrison fan.  and if you’re not a Morrsion fan, you’re not going to like them.  Anyway, my point was that none of that stuff is required reading to enjoy Batman and Robin #1.  The book is surprisingly accessible.  I imagine a lot of people who hated Final Crisis and RIP will still enjoy Batman and Robin.

SeventhSoldier: I’ve seen a number of people say that they felt it was over too soon and that that’s a good sign.  I understand the logic of it – that it makes you desperately wish there was more there is certainly a sign that you enjoyed the read – but in a medium this expensive, this is a persistent problem I have with the Big Action comics.  Still, the amount of joy packed into this issue means that I’m kind of morally obliged to keep reading.

DCLebeau: Don’t even get me started on the economics of comic books these days!  I could launch into a rant that would completely derail this article, but I won’t.  I will say that compared to other comics, I think B&R provided a pretty good bang for the buck.  Quitely’s art alone was worth the price of admission.  The fact that the story was good too was almost gravy.

Bruce Castle: At least Batman and Robin doesn’t cost four dollars. Oh, and it has words too. Sorry, I just read the wordless, four-dollar Ultimate Spider-Man #133.

SeventhSoldier:  Man, that sounds downright painful.  I just feel bad for you, honestly.

With Morrison and Quitely working together again, I can’t help but feel like I’m reading a companion piece to ALL-STAR SUPERMAN in some ways.  It has the same sense of fun, the same potential for tragedy or emotional climax, etc… that a lot of mainstream books don’t necessarily have for me.  It’s hard to blend the darkness with the light, as many popular comics writers demonstrate, but I think that A-SS did it quite well, and this first issue suggests that B&R might as well.

Obviously, with Morrison, you can’t avoid comparisons and interconnections with the rest of his work.  I’m curious – does anything stand out to any of you?

DCLebeau: One minor quibble that I had was that Pyg seemed familiar.  (And not just because we’d seen the character in a previous issue of Batman.)  The fact that he controlled his minions with disfiguring masks reminded me of Darkseid’s M.O. in Final Crisis.  The pig-face reminded me of the particular look Morrison inflicted on Wonder Woman in that series.  Like I said, it was a minor complaint.  I just couldn’t help thinking that as creepy as Pyg was, he didn’t feel especially fresh.

Bruce Castle: Well, one thing that did bother me was that Morrison is the king of first issues. I mean, think of his first Batman issue. Commissioner Gordon falling to his death, infected with Joker’s gas. The Joker, standing triumphantly over a dead Batman with a bloody crowbar in his stand, screaming “I finally killed Batman!” Oh, and just the small reveal that Batman has a kid!

So, compared to that, this issue was extremely tame. But we must remember, this isn’t really a true beginning. This should have been Batman #687. So, thinking that way, it doesn’t really bug me. And hey, Morrison did have to single-handedly introduce the new Dynamic Duo. Tony Daniel didn’t do anything. In addition to that, Morrison established Professor Pyg, and introduced the Toad, which, by the way, is brilliant. If Batman is already fighting one literary icon, why can’t he fight another?

DCLebeau: I was impressed by just how much I liked the new Batman and Robin.  I was pretty ambivalent at the idea of Dick as Batman.  I saw it after Nightfall.  It was okay then.  I expected it to be okay now.  But Morrison does more with it.  His Dick Grayson as Batman is a completely different animal that Bruce.  And Morrison achieves this by having dick behave differently, not just having Dick tell us how different he is from Bruce in internal monologue.

The real surprise for me was how much I liked Damian as Robin.  How awesome was he?  After the unreadable Resurrection of Ra’s al Guhl storyline, I didn’t really have any burning desire to read about the son of Batman again.  But I just loved the grim little Robin snapping at “Pennyworth”.

Bruce Castle: Yes. Anyone who thinks Morrison can just do crazy spectacle should read this issue. Characterization up to your ears. Damian being a good mechanic was also seen in Batman #666. Remember that sweet Batmobile?

Oh, and just what the heck is up with those dominoes?

SeventhSoldier: I have no idea what’s up with the dominoes, honestly.  It’s a strange, strange touch.  Obviously, it’s going to come back up – there’s too many mentions for it not to – but I couldn’t really say in what capacity.  I like that Dick’s first foe as Batman is an evil circus, though.  Domino tiles and bones, with, according to the previews, just a smidge of blood.

Well, my interest is piqued, though I don’t necessarily know what to think of it yet.

Bruce Castle:Yeah, Dick fighting a circus is pretty sweet. Speaking of the preview of the blood on the domino, we couldn’t possibly get through this without talking about the previews for the next year. Let’s see, we have:

Damian quitting Robin.

Already?

A new Red Hood, with a shadowed character behind him.

Perhaps his version of Harley?

Dick fighting Batwoman, with Batman coming out of lava?

And of course, Dr. freaking Hurt, holding the keys to Wayne Manor.

What do we think?

SeventhSoldier: Hurt with the keys to Wayne Manor really got me – that was just a solid image, and I couldn’t for the life of me say why.  Bruce is gone for now, etcetera, but that was just a great way to build off of RIP without directly following it.  Even if you never read a page of RIP, Wayne Manor just isn’t something a bad guy should have the keys to.

And was that Batman coming out of the lava… or out of a Lazarus Pit?  ‘Cuz I thought it was a Pit.  I don’t think that’s Bruce – I think there’s something else going on – but I definitely think it was a Lazarus Pit.

As for Damian quitting as Robin, well, I suspect he’ll do that more than once.  He’s an insecure kid, and I don’t know if he’ll work out in the long run or be able to stay redeemed… but I think it definitely fits with Alfred and Dick to try and reform him… especially if he’s the last real piece of Bruce they have left.  There’s a lot going on with that obnoxious little kid, and I’m looking forward to it.

Red Hood was the image that didn’t do it for me, ‘cuz I had absolutely no idea who it was.  I thought it was a ‘fire’ version of Mr. Freeze, honestly – which just goes to show you how long I’ve been reading Batman comics.

So, yeah – the issue is a solid bit of action storytelling, that much we can all agree on, though how much we necessarily were looking for a solid bit of action storytelling is up for debate.  Nonetheless, I think we’re all excited for what’s to come, at least here.

How about you, faithful readers – what did you think about the issue?  We all enjoyed it, the other two more so than my self, but we want to hear what you have to say!

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