Monday, February 08, 2016

"Robin War," reviewed

Gotham City–it's always something with that place.

Last December (and one week in January) it was a war on the streets between two bird-themed factions: The Robins and The Court of Owls. The conflict was called "Robin War," a six-part storyline that ran through two bookend Robin War specials and four issues of ancillary Bat-family titles, plus three inessential tie-ins in three other ancillary Bat-family titles.

Before we plunge into the storyline proper, let's review where Gotham City and many of the storyline's players were in December.

In the wake of perhaps The Joker's most ambitious attack on the city ever (in Batman story arc "Endgame"), Batman was presumed dead...and he kinda was. Bruce Wayne survived his fight with The Joker, but under still-unrevealed circumstances that resulted in Wayne not only having no memory of his time as Batman, but somehow having an entirely different brain. Also, he had a beard. And you can't trust anyone with a beard.

To replace Batman, a private/public partnership between The Powers Corporation and The Gotham City Police Department stuck former police commissioner James Gordon in a silly-looking mechanical battle-suit and deputized him (Mostly in Batman story arc "Superheavy," but Batman III has also been in Detective, Batman/Superman and elsewhere).

Meanwhile, inspired by Batman's sacrifice, a movement of Gotham-based teenagers took up the name of the original Batman's sidekicks, calling themselves Robins, and they began fighting crime on a vigilante basis (in We Are Robin).

And as for the original Robin, Dick Grayson, he was outted by The Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 on worldwide television (in Final Crisis), which resulted in his abandoning the Nightwing name and costume, faking his own death and joining the super-secret spy agency Spyral, from the pages of Grant Morrison's run on Batman, Inc. Everyone except for Batman and, I don't know, maybe Lex Luthor, thought Grayson was dead, but he had just recently returned to Gotham City to give Alfred Pennyworth, Batgirl Barbara Gordon, Red Hood Jason Todd, Red Robin Tim Drake and (Just) Robin Damian Wayne the heads-up that he was actually totally alive and a spy now.

And that's what the board and the players looked like when DC started shipping issues of "Robin War," which we'll look at chapter by chapter.

Robin War #1 ("Robin War" Part 1) by writer Tom King and artists Khary Randolph, Alain Mauricet, Jorge Corona, Andres Guinaldo and Walden Wong; 38-pages/$4.99

Throughout the first, over-sized chapter, writer Tom King uses characters declaring "I am Robin!" upon introduction as a motif, beginning with a young member of the Robin movement on the first page. This self-declared, amateur Robin, Travis, attempts to foil a liquor store robbery. It goes horribly wrong, with the perpetrator and a police officer both dead, and the inexperienced crime-fighter bleeding from a gunshot wound of his own and kneeling next to the bodies, arranged to suggest the image of young Bruce Wayne kneeling next to his dead parents.

King then engages in the laziest, most dated type of comic book exposition, the medium's equivalent of the spinning newspaper headline from old movies: Pages of TV talking heads. That's followed by Gotham City Councilwoman Noctua, eating a fancy dinner consisting of a small game bird (symbolism!) telling those seated around her fancy dinner table about the council's "Robin Laws."

These inherently unconstitutional laws basically outlaw all Robin paraphernalia, including masks, R's, Batman: The Animated Series posters on your walls and even the wearing of Robin's colors (which must be rough, as red, yellow and green aren't exactly unusual colors). Any kids with any of that stuff are subject to arrest (The outlawing of the letter R struck me as similar to the premise of a Sesame Street sketch, but the comics never go there; everyone continues to use the letter R in their speech, and we don't learn a valuable lesson about the R sound in the English language or anything).
This gives King (and the other writers and artists who contribute to the storyline) the opportunity to explore police profiling and even brutality (Mauricet opens a montage of zealous police enforcement with a white cop tazing a little black kid in a Robin hoodie from behind), but the opportunity is never really taken. If there's anything of politics of this storyline, it basically amounts to something along the lines of "Evil Secret Societies Are Bad." As sophisticated as superhero comic making may have gotten since 1939, the messaging can sometimes seem to have gone in the opposite direction).
The first of the "real" Robins, the ones starring in comic books, to be introduced is Batman character Duke Thomas, the head of the ensemble cast in We Are Robin. He is arrested by a (white) police officer for wearing red, an officer who also calls Thomas (who is black) "boy" and slams his head against the car. Thomas escapes custody in pretty spectacular fashion, proving there's a huge spectrum of ability within the Robin movement.

From there, we start to meet the Robins who were given their Rs by Batman himself, in rapid succession. Jason Todd is drinking in a bar when he sees Councilwoman Noctua on the news, and punches out some scrawny loudmouth next to him for talking shit on Batman. Tim Drake radios Todd to tell him that not only is the Robin movement hosting a big meeting at a high school gym, but that Damian Wayne is there and ready to crash the party.

Damian tosses calls them all frauds, tosses Duke around and tells them to all go home before he makes them. When they refuse, he starts beating them all up.

Luckily for Damian, who is outnumbered like 100 to 1 or something–or maybe luckily for the Robins, actually?–Councilwoman Noctua sends in the new Batman to arrest them all.

This is Damian's first encounter with the new Batman, whose suit Guinaldo draws as unusually small and man-sized, and it's a pretty awesome moment.
Guinaldo and Wong
That's what we all thought too, Damian!

All of the Robins scatter save Damian, who stays to fight the new Batman, and he takes that new Batman down (unfortunately for Gordon, this issue shipped the same month that Bluebird Harper Row also took him down in Batman & Robin Eternal, putting him at 0-2 when it comes to apprehending Batman's teen sidekicks).

But wait, there are still more Robins! Red Hood and Red Robin arrive, and they are soon followed by Dick Grayson. They reconvene a meeting with the Robin movement, so all 104 Robins can figure out how to respond to Gotham City declaring war on Robins.

But of course it wasn't really Gotham City, or Councilwoman Noctua, it was The Court of Owls. They have a Talon assassin kill off the Robin who started everything in the first scene, and convene their own meaning. They are apparently happy that Grayson is back in Gotham, and they say something about Nightwing rising again because...they wanted Dick Grayson to be an assassin or something back during "The Court of Owls" and "City of Owls" story arcs in Batman back in 2011-2012.

And that's how the first chapter ends, with meetings! But don't worry, these are just meetings that are about to begin. You won't have to actually sit through the meetings. At least not all of them.

Grayson #15 ("Robin War" Part 2) by writers Tom King and Tim Seeley and artist Mikel Janin; 22/$3.99

Grayson sticks out like a sore thumb among the other Robins now. Since joining Spyral, he's worn a spandex, short-sleeved gray shirt with light blue piping and a pair of cargo pants, with random straps all over. He also wears a big, blue letter "G" badge for, um, reasons. The change in colors does draw a distinction between him and every other character in the opening scene, as all of the Robins wear red, yellow, green and black.

After a long inspirational speech, Grayson tells the members of the Robin movement that he and his "brothers" (Jason, Tim and Damian) are going to try and teach them the skills they need to survive the war declared against them, and ends his speech with the words "WELCOME TO ROBIN SCHOOL."

Dick! What are you doing? This is not what Batman would want!

From there they break into smaller groups, with each of the "official" Robins training a small party in a different skill, and each finding one among those groups that excels (Not coincidentally, those that excel all happen to be from the cast of We Are Robin). In each of these scenes, there are little FLashbacks of Dick, Jason, Tim and Damian strategizing about why they're doing this.

So Tim teaches blind-folded staff-fighting, Jason teaches tire-boosting, Damian teaches kicking-the-shit-kicked-out-of-you, and Dick tries to meet with as many of them one-on-one as he can. King, Seeley and Janin dramatize his meeting with Duke which, this being a super-comic, happens while they spar. Duke uses Dick's real name, and Dick sound surprised, as if figuring out that the original Robin was Dick Grayson was all that hard after Nightwing was unmasked and named on international television.

Dick takes these stand-outs–Duke, Dre, Dax and Isabella–and pairs them up with himself and the other three, giving them all missions relating to the Robin War. He takes Duke with him, and they strike gargoyle poses atop a high building and wait "in reserve."

But! Things go wrong! The police and/or Batman were waiting for each of the teams, and there's a massive raid at "The Robin School," in which those not on the missions are all arrested.

What the hell is going on? Dick explains to Duke just before he jumps off a building to escape the police, leaving Duke to get arrested: All this while Dick was feeding intel to the new Batman, so that he could get everyone arrested, the idea being to keep all the Robins safely tucked away in jail, along with his "best men," who could keep an eye out for them. He didn't tell Jason, Tim or Damian this plan.

This almost makes a small amount of sense–it's certainly one way of keeping all the self-declared Robins from getting killed by police officers on the streets–but it's also kind of insane, as it would mean Jason, Tim and Damian would all have their secret identities revealed, which would likely mean to getting Bruce Wayne and Alfred in pretty horrible legal trouble (and/or siccing supervillains on them).

The plan is also kind of insane as it means Dick figured Jason, Tim and Damian wouldn't be able to elude a Gotham City Police Department trap, and each of them should be able to do so pretty easily, even if they were saddled with an amateur Robin to protect.

Damian, for example, is captured by Batman James Gordon–who he took out pretty easily solo in the previous chapter.

The whys of Dick's plan will make a little more sense in the next issue, but only because the GCPD behave in incredibly unlikely ways.

This chapter had particularly strong art and, being an issue of Grayson, time was made for a joke about Dick's awesome butt:

Detective Comics #47 ("Robin War" Part 3) by writer Ray Fawkes and artist Steve Pugh; 22/$3.99

The first Tom King-free issue of the crossover kicks off with Batman Jim Gordon, wearing his under-armor Batman suit and narrating old man thoughts about playing cops and robbers as a kid, while he fights with Dick Grayson for a few panels. On the third page, the narrative jumps back "one hour earlier," where things are just plain...goofy.

So it turns out that having his peers get arrested by the GCPD didn't actually compromise anyone's secret identity or anything, because once the GCPD arrested the Robins, they decided not to take off their masks. Tim and Damian have their little domino masks on, Red Hood has his helmet/mask that covers his entire head. This is, for me, the point in the story where I lost my suspension of disbelief, and while I enjoyed moments of the narrative that occurred after this point, I just couldn't get it back. This was just silly.

Based on Pugh's art, it doesn't seem like the police so much as searched the Robins either; I mean, Red Robin's still wearing his utility belt, utility harness and utility armbands, even if he never pulls out any hidden Damian will at one point.

That's not the only weird thing about the Robin arrests, though. Not only did the police not, like, take any of their stuff, or apparently finger-print them, but they tossed them into these weird, elevated cages in pairs, with high-tech cannons pointed at them.

Harvey Bullock and Batman cluck about how fucked-up the situation is, and, yeah, it's pretty crazy that the city had put together this superhero super-max prison for a youth gang (Arkham, Blackgate, Belle Reeve...none of those places have this kind of security).

Damian pulls a stunt to get them to lower the cages, and just as the police begin to search them one by one, a guy in an owl mask comes in and dismisses them all. Behind him? A small army of Talons.

Owls versus Robins! The bird war is on now...! And by now, I mean, next issue, as that was the cliffhanger ending.

As for Grayson and Gordon, they fight for a while, with Grayson getting the best of Gordon (who is still outside his battle-suit; throughout this issue he mostly uses it as a vehicle to get from place to place), before they take a breath and decide to figure out who benefits from all this.

What's really weird about this scene is that Gordon knows exactly who Grayson is, and that Grayson used to be Robin. That should mean Gordon also knows who Batman really is, but as far as I can tell, Batman writer Scott Snyder has been pretty coy with whether or not Gordon knows Bruce Wayne and Batman are one in the same or not, never explicitly saying that Gordon does know.

Of course, that's one weird aspect of the post-Final Crisis DC Universe. Everybody knows that Dick Grayson was Batman's ally Nightwing, but no one has been able to make the leap to even suspect that Grayson's amazingly physically fit, billionaire guardian whose parents were the victims of violent crime and who was the public face of Batman, Incorporated might also be Batman (except, of course, for Lex Luthor).

We Are Robin #7 ("Robin War" Part 4) by writer Lee Bermejo and artist Carmine Di Giandomenico; 22/$3.99

Really great art from Di Giandomenico on this chapter; it's detailed but not weighted down by detail, and, as colored by Mat Lopes, the individual panels often have the look and feel of animation cels. That said, Di Giandomenico seemed to have different reference material than the other artists when it came to drawing Damian, whose costume is a little off throughout. He also draws Damian as more of a teen, which looks fine here, but undercuts the basic appeal of the character, the contrast between his age and size and his imperious attitude (and incredible fighting ability).

Bermejo has Grayson narrate the issue, which will likely grate more when these are read in trade (with narrators coming and going, and the P.O.V. constantly shifting). This means it opens with a a scene of The Flying Graysons, who, at least in this comic, wear blue, white and green, their costumes looking closer to Grayson's Grayson get-up than his Robin costume.

As for the plot, Grayson and Gordon continue their investigation of Noctua, stumbling upon her plans for "The Cage," where the Robins are being kept, and a big-ass owl statue in her apartment.

Speaking of owls, they drag Tim and Jason from their cells, and tell them they must fight to the death, with the winner becoming their new "Gray Son." They do for a while, and Di Giandomenico does a pretty great job drawing their combat.

It may shock you to learn that despite playing along for a few pages, Tim and Jason do not actually fight to the death, but at one point Tim breaks away from the fight, opens all the cages and the Robins and they rain down en masse on their Court of Owls guards. They then all escape to the roof...where some Talons are waiting for them.

Robin: Son of Batman #7 ("Robin War" Part 5) by writers Patrick Gleason and Ray Fawkes and artist Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens; 22/$3.99

It was a pleasant surprise to crack open the cover of this issue and see Scott McDaniel's artwork; he pencils this issue, while his frequent collaborator Andy Owens inks. McDaniel has done a lot of work for DC, but is probably still best known for his work as a Batman artist and what I have to imagine is the longest-running Nightwing artist, so it was a treat to see him drawing Dick Grayson again, along with so many of Dick's peers.

The Robins vs. Talons battle occupies the first seven pages, with the cast of We Are Robin joining forces with the three captured official Robins to fight the undead assassins. Damian ends the battle by setting off a pretty huge explosion.

From there, the Robins follow Riko's lead to Gotham Academy, where she had previously discovered (in the tie-in, discussed below) that the Court was "hatching" undead super-Talons. They're joined by Batman Jim Gordon, who helps them shut the operation down.

Meanwhile, Grayson has fought his way through the Court of Owls for a face-to-face with Lincoln March, who reveals that the Court is no longer interested in Grayson, as they've found a new "Gray Son," the one character Dick feels most responsible for:
McDaniel and Owens
I really like the way McDaniel draws Damian, especially in "owl mode." I kind of wish Damian had a special Court of Owls costume though, to go with that mask.

The next official chapter is the final one, but let's here pause to look at the three tie-in issues.

Gotham Academy #13 ("Robin War" tie-in) by writer Brenden Fletcher and artists Adam Archer and Sandra Hope; 20/$2.99

This seems to be the only of the three tie-ins that is necessary, or at least necessary-ish; it's mentioned or alluded to in just about all of the official chapters, albeit sometimes obliquely. Behind regular interior artist Karl Kerschl's excellent cover, featuring Maps turning in her GA badge for a Robin R, is the work of occasional guest-artist Adam Archer, inked by Sandra Hope.

The story, "Robins Vs. Zombies," opens with a Gotham Academy answer to the Robin movement–appropriately, preppily attired in a costume that includes a red, button-down vest and a tie–pursuing a criminal...into a greenhouse, where a zombie has just climbed out of the ground.

During a school assembly in which the kids are told about the Robin Laws and the school's zero-tolerance policy towards Robin-ing (which should help catch-up regular Gotham Academy readers), We Are Robin's Riko Sheridan is introduced to the regular gang: Olive, Maps, Kyle, Pomeline and Colton. Together with Riko, they investigate the recent zombie sightings and, it turns out, the zombie isn't just any undead creature shambling around campus, but is a Talon assassin for the Court of Owls...albeit a befuddled one.

Dr. Kirk Langstrom, one of the school's sometime supervillain faculty members, keeps the Talon in his lab. Riko gets arrested, in order to rejoin the rest of the Robins in the main crossover. Maps is about to rush off to help her, when Damian makes a return appearance to the title, if only briefly, in order to warn Maps to stay out of it for now.

I really dig the interplay between those two characters. I hope Maps asks Damian to Gotham Academy prom or something some time.

Fletcher does a pretty great job on this issue, as it functions pretty perfectly as just another issue of Gotham Academy, where this sort of extremely weird thing happens on a fairly regular basis, but it also ties-in to the "Robin War" storyline and, as I said, it does so more strongly than the other two tie-ins manage.

Red Hood/Arsenal #7 ("Robin War" tie-in) by writer Scott Lobdell and artist Javier Fernandez; 20/$2.99

Lobdell's tie-in, "All's Fair in Love and Robin War!", is strange in that he rather evenly divides the space allotment to the title characters, one of whom is heavily involved in "Robin War" and the other of whom has nothing to do with it. The result? Half of the comic kinda sorta has something to do with the crossover, the other half has nothing to do with it.

Set during the events of Robin War #1, the relevant portion merely involves Tim and Jason meeting up with one another, just before they called in Dick Grayson to help them stop Damian from doing anything stupid when he learned of the Robin movement and the Robin laws.

The two tell one another their origin stories, which is weird; they're explaining them for readers, of course, but Lobdell doesn't have them play out all that organically. The scene ends with the two giving one another a fist-bump.

I've never taken to this title, or the Red Hood and The Outlaws title that preceded it, mainly because of the poor craft usually involved in its creation, but also because of the fact that the characters were rebooted into unrecognizability. I loved Roy Harper, but don't know him post-New 52. I loved Tim Drake even more, but ditto. It's weird to see Roy and Tim both now being played as Jason's best friends in the whole world.

The Robin-less pages of this issue, which are many, basically involve Jason telling Roy to stay out of the Robin Wars and to keep an eye on their new partner, The Joker's Daughter (Hey, how come that face she's wearing hasn't rotted yet? It was getting pretty ripe before the end of "Death of the Family," and that was long before she even found it). So instead they go off to fight The Circus of Crime a circus-themed group of criminals.

Then some lava men capture them.

Teen Titans #15 ("Robin War" tie-in) by writers Scott Lobdell and Will Pfeifer and artists Ian Churchill, Miguel Mendonca, Norm Rapmund and Dexter Vines; 20/$2.99

Much like the issue of Red Hood/Arsenal, this one is divided between scenes featuring the involved character (Teen Titans's Red Robin) and what the rest of the team is up to while that member of the cast is busy participating in a crossover.

It's actually divided a little more neatly, as there are two art teams involved: Churchill and Rapmund handle the Teen Titans scenes, while Mendonca and Vines draw the "Robin War" scenes.

The relevant portions are set, according to the editorial boxes, between the events of Robin: Son of Batman and Robin War #2, but they actually seem to occur during the pages of Robin. Tim and Jason lead the We Are Robin Robins through the streets of Gotham to Gotham Academy. That takes up...let's see... three pages. Yes, just three pages. That is how much of this issue ties-in to "Robin War."

The rest? The current Titans line-up–Beast Boy, Bunker, Raven, Wonder Girl and Power Girl–are hanging out in a mansion that Wonder Girl rented for them in Kane County, outside of Gotham. They eventually venture into the city, where they run across a Gotham villain, Professor Pyg, who is secretly in league with a Titans villain, Brother Blood.

It's much like all of the other New 52 Titans comics I've read–nigh unreadable.

Robin War #2 ("Robin War" Part 6) by writer Tom King and artists Khary Randolph, Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Steve Pugh, Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens; 38/$4.99

Much like the over-sized first issue, this one has a single writer but a whole mess of artists. They are all good artists, but the changes in style make this a far from smooth read, particularly since those styles vary so much, as do the designs. Remember what I said about Di Giandomenico's Damian? Well, here his Damian is separated by just the turn of the page from the more on-model drawings of the character offered by other artists (Actually, Pugh's Damian is even more off-model, as he seems to be using early issues of Batman and Robin for reference, rather than current issues of Robin: Son of Batman, where Damian sports a new, slightly different costume).

Just as King used various formulations of "I am Robin!" throughout the first issue, here he uses formulations of "I am not Robin," beginning with an overweight member of the movement who decided to sit this one out, and stay home and play videogames instead.

Having accepted the mantle of The Gray Son, Damian orders Red Robin, Red Hood and the We Are Robin Robins to all go home, telling them he's fixed the problem for them. They, naturally, refuse, and so Damian fights them. All. He takes Red Hood down in the space of a few panels. He takes Tim, who puts his hands up and doesn't fight back, with a single punch. Two more panels take out four more Robins, until it's only Duke left standing.

Back in Owl-ville, March explains to Grayson that Damian beat him to there and, when told about the new super-Talons–a sort of Court contingency plan, should they ever lose complete control, to raze the city of Gotham–agreed to accept the mantle of The Gray Son in order to save the city.

Just as Damian debates and fights with the Robins, Dick talks and fights with March.

Remarkably, Duke holds his own against Damian for a really long least compared to, like, all of the others. Using a pair of nunchucks, he fights the owled-up Damian while psychoanalyzing him, telling him that he's figured out that he's really Damian Wayne and that his father, Bruce Wayne, was really Batman, and that by sacrificing himself to the Court like this, Robin's just trying to emulate his father and, essentially, to be Batman instead of Robin.

It's actually a pretty great bit, getting to the heart of the Robin character, and tying this in rather nicely to the Batman mega-story. It works, and Damian stops fighting Duke and turns his attention to the marauding Talons, along with the rest of the Robin movement.

March's sales-pitch to Grayson also worked. Explaining that there was some kinda nano-poison something-or-other in the owl mask he gave to Damian, he tells Grayson if he doesn't become the Gray Son, he'll kill Damian. So Dick does what Batman would do, and what Damian tried to do: He agrees, sacrificing himself for everyone else.

There's a series of little epilogues after these dual climaxes, including one where everyone yells at Dick in the Batcave, and he's basically like, "Yeah, whatever, I'm just doing what Batman would do." (He does not look down at the WWBD? bracelet on his wrist at this point, although that woulda been awesome). There's another where Duke and the We Are Robin Robins gather around the grave of Travis, the Robin who kicked off the Robin War during the liquor store robbery gone wrong, and Duke essentially says that he's out, and that they're not ready to be Robins. There's a two-page sequence in which we're introduced to the international Parliament of Owls, and see Dick in an owl mask (this seems like simply a new version of what's been going on in Grayson; Dick infiltrating a sinister, international organization).

And then there's what may be my favorite part of the whole damn crossover:
Duke and Damian...friends?

Overall, I think "Robin War" was a pretty successful crossover. If you look at the numbers, it definitely seems as if DC convinced retailers to up their orders on several of the lower-selling titles involved (like Gotham Academy, for example), although whether or not those extra issues actually sold to readers, and if many or any of them decided they liked what they saw enough to want to add Gotham Academy or Teen Titans or We Are Robin to their pull-lists will remain to be seen.

Creatively, I liked the structure, which designated the essential (the ones with "Part Something-or-Other" on the cover) from the inessential (the "tie-ins,") and how quickly it all played was essentially a weekly story that all went down in a month or so, with the conclusion following the month after.

As a comic? Well, there was some pretty great art in it. I particularly liked that of Randolph, Janin, Di Giandomenico, Mauricet and, to my surprise, McDaniel.

The story, as I mentioned, had a few too many jumps in logic to be taken too seriously, even by the standards of a Batman comic. Jason, Tim and Damian all being captured by the police, the police not processing anyone, the high-tech, Marvel Universe-style required too many leaps of faith in the writers, which were never rewarded. I understand how King and company got there, as they likely wanted to include all of the Robins as quickly as possible, but I think a scene here or there or tweaks to the script could have achieved the same goals, without making readers have to do any cognitive gymnastics, like the fact that Damian could take out Batman James Gordon in one issue, and then get taken down by him in another.

It certainly seemed to set up plotlines for Grayson and We Are Robin, and while neither strike me as particularly promising, I don't regularly read those books anyway. Maybe the best things the story accomplished are two in number.

First, it offered a series of meetings between characters in roles that are temporary. Gordon's time as Batman is almost certainly coming to an end, so we get to see him meet Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne before he takes off his Batman suit for good, for example. We Are Robin seems to have an expiration date on it, with either sales or a change in the Batman line's status quo providing reasons to cancel it, so it was nice to see those kids interact with the other Robins. And, of course, it was interesting to see a big Batman line crossover sans Batman. I believe Lincoln March mentioned Bruce Wayne at one point, but the "real" Batman was otherwise absent, aside from, perhaps, as an abstract, inspirational force only occasionally alluded to.

Second, I thought the series went a long way toward establishing Duke Thomas as a character in the Batman universe. Diversity is an admirable goal in comics, and the Batman corner of the DC Universe has been whiter than most, having a great deal of trouble establishing any credible, cool black characters who have gained traction, despite several attempts, including Orpheus, Onyx, Azrael II and Batwings I and II. The Bat-office hasn't even created any memorable black villains, and so for a long time the most prominent black characters in the line have been Lucius Fox (who started appearing more often in The New 52, thanks in large part to the prominent role he played in Christopher Nolan's trilogy of live-action Batman films, I think) and pre-New 52 police officer Crispus Allen who was briefly The Spectre).

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have done a fine job of gradually integrating Duke into the cast of the Bat-family, with a brief but memorable appearance as a little kid in the "Zero Year" storyline, before appearing as a teenager in Batman (his appearances in the Futures End as a young adult, officially-sanctioned Robin partnered to Batman was cool). He's become the closest thing to a lead in the ensemble We Are Robin, and here we get to see his smarts (he figures out Dick's secret well as Damian's and Bruce Wayne's), his fighting skills and his leadership skills. His one-on-one moments with Dick and Damian were both pretty great, and could prove quite key to the character moving forward.

I'm not sure what Snyder, We Are Robin writer Lee Bermejo or DC's editors have in store for Duke. There are already too many Robins–I'm still a little annoyed that Tim isn't Robin, as much as I've grown to love Damian–and only so many good bat/bird codenames out there (Harper Row took "Bluebird;" "Blackbird" sounds cool, but probably isn't a good choice for the only black sidekick..."Redbird" is maybe a possibility, though it sounds kinda lame). Besides, given that there's never been a Robin who wasn't a black-haired white dude–with the exception of one brief stint by a blonde, white girl that's no longer continuity/canon–having a black Robin would be a greater achievement. But, again, how is Duke supposed to shoulder Damian and Tim out of the way?

I guess we'll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, that character's development is probably the most interesting and important aspect of this event, and, depending on where he goes in the future, could make "Robin War" a relevant story going forward.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

A "strange fear"...?

Actually, Smee, I think crocodiles are one of the least strange things to fear, seeing as how they're the world's largest extant terrestrial predators and have the most powerful bite force of any animal in the world and all. (Oh yeah, that's totally Smee, at least as drawn by Fernando Cano in Stone Arch Books' adaptation of Peter Pan.)

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: February 3

Batgirl #48 (DC Comics) At this point, I don't even care what that DC "#rebirth" business is all about. As long as DC keeps publishing a Babs Tarr-drawn Batgirl monthly for $3 an issue, I'm good.

This issue features the return of Black Canary to the title after months of having her own, rather confusing adventures in the pages of her own book. I love the way Tarr draws Black Canary–in-costume, in street clothes, in action, her expressions–but then, I love the way Tarr draws everything.

Also, for the second issue in a row, Batgirl features Frankie acting in an Oracle role while Batgirl and a gal pal go on a mission. I'm reeeeaaaaallllly getting my hopes up for a new Birds of Prey series by this writing team, featuring Frankie, Batgirl, Black Canary, Spoiler, Bluebird and maybe even Black Bat, eventually. And as much as I wish Babs Tarr could draw it as well as Batgirl, I'd also be fine if she just provided the covers.

Ooh, in this issue Babs has even leased an old firehouse to serve as HQ for her new tech start-up! That could totally be a front for a new Birds of Prey base of operations!

That, or Babs, Dinah, Frankie and Stephanie are going to be the new female Ghostbusters...?

Batman & Robin Eternal #18 (DC) This issue explains the bombshell that David "The Orphan" Cain dropped on Harper Row last issue, in great detail. Cassandra Cain is the person who murdered Harper's mom. And why? Because Mother ordered the Rows killed to traumatize young Harper so that she could become the next Robin, replacing Dick Grayson. Remember, Batman had put in an order for a perfect child soldier to replace Robin, but it was only part of his attempt to get close enough to Mother to shut her organization down.

I'm not sure if I like this turn of events, as it essentially means that Batman knew about the half-orphaned Harper and Cullen for about three or four years before Harper expressed any interest in becoming a vigilante, and apparently his guilt over his role in the death of her mother kept him away rather than drew him to her, which doesn't sound quite right.

The larger problem is I don't understand how the timing of this works out, as Dick and Jason Todd, who was Batman's second Robin instead of Harper, are both adults, and significantly older than Harper and Tim. Shouldn't Harper be older, then? Like, Jason's age? Or did Mother's method of child soldier-creating take several years to complete? And, if that is the case, Harper would still be training, wouldn't she? Because all of this only happened a few years ago?

The goddam 5-6-year-timeline doesn't make a lick of sense when applied to the Batman stories, and yet this particular story arc kind of hinges on Batman's sidekicks (And remember, Batman went through four Robins between the end of "Zero Year" and Batman #1 and Detective #1, which were set well over a year ago. I'm pretty sure Damian Wayne is the longest-serving Robin at this point, and Dick and Jason were somehow artificially aged off-panel.

Series plotters James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder probably shoulda worked out a timeline to go with their outline for this story, before charging ahead with it. This issue's script is by Ed Brisson, while Scott Eaton pencil and Wayne Faucher inks. It recovers some of the same territory as last issue, and once again Eaton and Faucher do a pretty decent job with the art. At least until the last few pages, where it suddenly gets pretty terrible for no reason.

What's even going on with Dick's face here?

Paper Girls #5 (Image Comics) I still enjoy reading this as it's published in its comics form, but I think maybe I'd rather write about it after reading it in its final, collected form. After all, I don't have anything to say about this issue that I didn't have to say about the last three: A bunch of weird shit happens, there are pterosaurs and Cliff Chiang draws the fuck out of it.

Providence #7 (Avatar Press) Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows' trippy tour of H.P. Lovecraft's body of work continues with this issue focusing on "Pickman's Model," in which our poor hero Robert Black somehow manages his research into the religion at the core of Moore's version of Lovecraft's "universe" (without ever taking any goddam notes!), which seems like quite a feat given the fucked-up shit he went through last issue (when he's found wandering the streets of Boston during a riot, the friendly policeman who takes him to the Pickman analogue notes that he seems shell-shocked).

I'm probably going to need this series to end and be collected, then re-read all of Lovecraft, and then re-read Providence in trade format before I can talk intelligently about what exactly Moore's doing and how well he's doing it. But, taken in this issue at least, I think he has the two principal characters make a great deal of sense out of some of the underlying themes of Lovecraft's horror, and in tying it to the times in which it was written.

There is a really rather bravura six-page sequence in this issue that I found simply astounding. Pitman allows Black to interview one of the "Saprivores" of his paintings by taking him into the basement and having him face a wall, forbidding him to turn around. And then Pitman leads a monster in, sits down next to it, and it answers Black's questions in a particular cadence that is even more striking than the "monster font" that letterer Kurt Hathaway gives "King George," as the monster is called.

Each of these pages is broken into four horizontal panels, and the POV never shifts; if this were a film, it would have been a continuous shot from a camera on a tripod, set right in front of Black, so that the reader can see the monster that Black can't–Black is operating under the belief that this is all some sort of "mesmerism"–but because it's not a film, both Black's face and the monster he can only imagine are visible to the reader and equally in focus the entire time.

It's basic, but amazing comics-making, and King George's philosophy a rather powerful one.

Moore and Burrows get a bit meta at the end, using a twist from the story–that Pickman's paintings of monsters are made from photographs of real models, rather than fantastical creatures conjured from his own imagination–in a way that honors the fact that this, being a comic book instead of prose, is all art.

Providence is one hell of a dense comic but this issue certainly a particularly strong example of just how good a comic it is, whether you get each and every reference or not (and I'm certain I don't; I haven't read any Lovecraft in years).

Swamp Thing #2 (DC) I often have a difficult time reviewing comics that Kelley Jones has drawn, as my impulse is always to simply scan panel after panel or scene after scene and say, "Look! Look how awesome this is!" Here that awesomeness mainly pertains to Swamp Thing's particularly strange comings and goings, as Jones shows him transforming from a weird sprout with an eyeball or tiny face and then swelling up into the green ape shape in a matter of seconds, in the space between panels.
(His best exist may be the one where he accidentally drops something, and then his arm re-sprouts to pick up and leave with it again).
This miniseries' charms are, of course, peculiar, but I am it's exact target audience. It opens with a prose-heavy splash page in which Len Wein writes in second-person point-of-view musing about the nature of time that is so over-the-top I can't tell if he's even serious or not, while Jones' art shows the two, torn apart pieces of Swamp Thing's bisected torso, looking like two halves of humanoid smashed and rotting Halloween pumpkin.

Wein switches back and fort from his own narration to Swamp Thing's own first-person narration, which oddly contains all of the ellipses of Swamp Thing's speech pattern. Does Swampy think and slow as he speaks? Or is Wein just putting the sorts of dialogue he would have put in thought bubbles a few decades ago into narration boxes, as that's the norm these days?

The story concludes Swamp Things battle with the zombie Lazlo Womrwood, after our hero first learns that there's more to the monster's origin than he was originally lead to believe, as well as how to stop him, by an incredibly unlikely guest-star: The Shade. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this may be the first appearance of The Shade in the post-Flashpoint New 52 continuity; the 2011, 12-issue The Shade miniseries that James Robinson wrote seemed to have been set in the previous continuity, with only a few cosmetic nods to the then-new New 52 continuity.

As he's only present to provide some supernatural know-how, I imagine his presence here had more to do with Jones wanting to draw him than anything else.

Also of interest is the introduction of a new character with ties to the world of Batman, Sheriff Darcy Fox (niece of one Lucius Fox), a reappearance of the Phantom Stranger to wax cryptic and a very unexpected last-panel character who, last time I saw him, was a raven rather than a human but, again, I'm not up on the post-Vertigo Swamp Thing so maybe that character has already been de-Ravened and returned to the DCU.

"The traditional methods"...?

It was my understanding from every zombie movie I've ever seen and every zombie comic I've ever read that the way to kill a zombie was to destroy or severely damage its brain, usually by shooting or somehow smashing its head. Not so, according to The Shade in this week's Swamp Thing #2 by Len Wein and Kelley Jones. Filling a zombie's mouth with salt and then sewing it tightly shut sounds infinitely harder, even if we're talking about the slow, shambling zombies of Romero's movies or The Walking Dead, rather than the "fast" zombies of more modern movies.

I mean, I've never held a firearm, nor am I an expert in hand-to-hand combat or anything, but I'm pretty confident I could pull a trigger or swing a baseball bat or shovel in the general direction of a walking corpse's head. But sewing...? I mean, I can barely thread a needle, and I always forget how to tie off the other end once you're done stitching. Think how hard surviving the zombie apocalypse would be if The Shade is right!

Also, think how boring all those movies, TV shows and videogames premised on the killing of zombies would be...

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Well fancy meeting her here.

Checking this book in the other day, I thought I recognized the lady on the cover...or, at least, the style of the artist who drew here. Flipping through the pages, I became even more convinced that I knew who drew the lady on the cover, and all the people (and plants and animals) that appear in the illustrations throughout the book.

The "Illustrations By" credit on the title page confirmed it: This artist wasn't just someone who drew an awful lot like Colleen Coover, it was Colleen Coover.

So should you find yourself wanting to see more Coover art, and your needs haven't been entirely met by all of her comics output (Bandette being maybe the best place to start) or all of that available on her website, you can always check out The Anxious Gardener's Book of Answers by Teri Dunn Chace for tons of black and white Coover drawings of various gardeners in the act of gardening.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Kingslayer: Rebirth

Porter and/or Syaf...?
So is this what DC's little twitter teaser campaign and the rumors were all about? The triumphant return of Kingslayer, making only his second appearance after 1978's Super Friends #11...?

For appear Kingslayer did, in last week's Superman #48, by writer Gene Luen Yang and pencil artists Howard Porter and Ardian Syaf. Unfortunately, he only appears on the first four pages of the book, the first of which is above.

I'll be honest, when I first laid eyes on the page, I thougth he was meant to be Mirror Master, but according to the dialogue, the costume is actually red and green, not orange and green.

But wait, you might think. Didn't Kingslayer wear a more royal, less Christmas-y purple and green in the pages of Super Friends...?
Yes, on the cover.

But inside, he apparently wore red and green.
(I say "apparently" because he wears all white in the copy of Super Friends #11 that I read, but that was only because it was collected in Showcase Presents: Super Friends Vol.1)

In Superman, Kingslayer is at the Lampert Auditorium of Central City University–don't worry Flash, I'm sure someone else will fight supervillains in your city for you if you're busy–preparing to assassinate the Donald Trump of Earth-0. I'm assuming by his dialogue that the bald man shaking with anger at the third podium is supposed to be Earth-0 Trump, anyway. Which would make this a Republican debate. So who are these other two? Is Ben Carson much younger and fitter and Lasik-ed in the DCU? Is Hilary a Republican, or did Carly Fiorina dye her hair blonde? And where are the other, what, 11 candidates?

Anyway, Kingslayer seems to have a bead on Mr. Donald Trump Mr. Wilbur Wolfingham, when out of the shadows appears Colonel Steve Trevor, who has the audacity to make fun of Kingslayer's costume while he himself is wearing...what, exactly? It looks a little like The WInter Soldier Costume run through some kind of '90s filter.

Kingslayer says something that I don't understand–can heat-seaking super-arrows not "see" red and green or something? I'm not a scientist, Yang!–and the exploding arrow makes a bee-line for Trevor, until the timely arrival of Superman!
Oh yeah, have you not read any Superman comics since last spring? That's what Superman looks like now.

This panel, a portion of a splash page, gives us the best look at New 52 Kingslayer's costume. The chest is all covered with what look bellboy or elevator buttons.

I preferred his original look, which had a crown broken in half:
Now that's a costume! It says exactly what it means!

Anyway, after Kingslayer VLORPs out his, um, light axe and takes a swing at Superman, the Man of Steel punches him in the breadbasket and Trevor captures him in a lasso of torture, based on Wonder Woman's lasso of truth ("You have your ways," Steve says in his defense of torture, "We have ours."

While they alpha-male at each other, Kingslayer throws himself through the skylight (Gee, maybe the Secret Service should have had a guy up there or something...?) and crashes to the ground of the auditorium, hard enough to crack the floor with his head. Don't worry though, he's not dead: he still says "Oof!" when Trevor punches out the tied-up dude who just through himself off a roof.

People start to panic and make for the doors, but Superman wisely stops them. Turns out they were rigged with explosives (maybe there is no Secret Service in the DCU?), and Kingslayer's nefarious plot was to not kill any of the would-be "kings" on the debate stage, but the "kingmakers" in the audience.

I don't know; I doubt there were that many big-time donors, media personalities or other presidential nomination gatekeepers in that very audience....unless by "kingmakers" he meant "voters," but then he'd really have his work cut out for him.

And that's it for Kingslayer: Smart enough to kill Steve Trevor (were it not for Superman's flying tackle) and murder a debate audience, but not nearly as cool as the guy from Super Friends.

We first encounter that Kingslayer when he's taking a meeting with a guy who calls himself "Overlord."
Overlord seems to be tempting fate, by inviting a guy named "Kingslayer" in to meet him, while he's sitting on a throne, wearing a crown and an ermine cape If you look closely, you'll see that the head of his crown is actually half a globe, and his chest sigil is a globe with a crown encircling it.

If I didn't know better, I'd think this guy wants to rule the world or something.

Anyway, if you want to be king of the world, wouldn't you be skittish inviting a guy named Kingslayer to your court? Perhaps he feels safe knowing his underling, named Underling, is there (do note the U on his jacket). Ramona Fradon's art fantastic, but the costume designs aren't exactly subtle, are they?

Kingslayer's all about getting paid, though. When Overlord starts explaining his motivations, Kingslayer leans against a column, puts a hand on his hip and says, "Tell it to your shrink! My terms are clear, my fee high!"

Kingslayer's plan is incredibly complicated: He targets six different monarchs who are all visiting the United Nations, each with a different and rather elaborate death trap or other over-the-top attempt on their life. Each of these six monarchs are characters familiar to the DCU, like King Solovar of Gorilla City, King Vulko of Atlantis, Prince Mark, etc, and each gets a different Super Friend as a bodyguard.

Naturally, they thwart all of these attempts...and realize just in time that Kingslayer wasn't after just those six heads of state, but the entire U.N.! The leaked info about the targets and the attempts on their lives were all just a super-elaborate feint. When the Super Friends find his booby traps at the U.N.–electrified chairs, poison gas-spouting microphones and even heat rays disguised as lamps–Kingslayer makes one final, poorly-thought out attempt to assassinate everyone. With rifle in hand, he leads a handful of rifle toting followers against Superman, Wonder Woman and the gang, and, well, that ends about as well as one might expect trying to take down Superman and Wonder Woman with firearms might go.

And poor Kingslayer, he gets laid low not by one of the big guns, but by the lowly Wonder Twins, in the shape of an eagle and the form of a geyser!
Although, come to think of it, as embarrassing as it may be for a super-villain to get taken down by the Wonder Twins, it's probably still preferable than being taken down by Steve Trevor.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

I was depressed, so I went to Barnes and Noble and read some comics. They didn't help.

I had been stuck inside my house with some rather debilitating sadness for a few days, so when I finally got too sick of sleeping and pacing around here, I decided I would go sit in the book store and read. Better-lighting, people around, not being the house–those sorts of things can sometimes be good for what ails you. I packed a bag of my books to take with me, so that if nothing on the shelves there grabbed my interest, I'd still have stuff to read.

The first book I pulled from my bag was Poorly Drawn Lines: Good Ideas and Amazing Stories by Reza Farazmand. I picked this up at the library the other day, and have been carrying it around for a bit. Are you familiar with Poorly Drawn Lines or Reza Farazmand? If so, then all you really need to know that this is a collection of his webcomics, plus some new material. And some short, comedic prose stories. If you are not already familiar with the cartoonist or his cartoons I will tell you about them briefly.

First, they are funny. Second, the title is wrong; the lines are all very well drawn. Farazmand's artwork is very simple–his ghost, for example, is even more abstracted than James Kochakla's Squiggle–but that simplicity only adds to the brutal deadpan of most of the jokes. It's hard for a character to emote when their eyes are just two tiny dots, you know?

Most of the punchlines involve someone or something flicking someone else or something else off, or someone or something swearing at someone else or something else. Usually it is animals that are doing the flicking off and the swearing, which is funny, because that's not typically the sorts of things that animals do.

There aren't any running gags, really, but a few characters make repeat appearances, like the guy with the beard (Farazmand draws great beards, even when on babies or ladybugs), a large green bear first introduced as Ernesto, the space bear, and his friend Kevin, a pigeon.

I laughed at a lot of jokes.

The prose was sort of unwelcome, as I don't like switching gears between comics and prose, but it should be noted that the prose is all very, very short–like, two pages per story–and they have a similar point-of-view as the cartoons. Still, I don't like prose in my comics, man. Like, coffee is good. And tea is good. But if you put a tea bag in a cup of coffee...? Why would you do that...?

Anyway, I would recommend you read this book. Or at least check out the website, if you are too lazy to seek out an actual bok.

After that I read The Envelope Manufacturer by Chris Oliveros, which is what I suppose you could call a feel-bad book. Oliveros' name likely sounds familiar to you, even if you can't place his work at the mention of his name. He was the founder of Drawn & Quarterly, which publishes about half of the really, really good comics in North America (Fantagraphics publishing the other half), and was its publisher until 2015, when he stepped down to consulting publisher status, presumably to spend more time with The Envelope Manufacturer.

The press release calls it "An account of obsolete machinery and outmoded business planning," chronicling the hardships and suffering experienced by "a small company as it struggles to adapt to a changing economic landscape." And it's from a guy in comics publishing! Surely I'm not the only one who saw the potential parallels there.

Well, it's not a terribly comical comic book, despite some black humor around the edges (like the guy who seemingly regularly takes to the ledge outside his office window as if to jump, to the point it's not exactly a pressing emergency to see him out there.

An incredibly depressing read, it's about the title character and he and his company's downward spiral, as his two employees and his own wife stick by him out of intertia and the fact that they've already invested so much of their time in him and the company, but eventually reality sets in as it must–but not before a few flights of fancy, including a pretty bravura scene where the protagonist seems to jump out the window himself, and carries on a long conversation with his employees while he slowly, slowly, slowly plummets to his death.

Oliveros draws the hell out of all the weird, old-timey machines apparently used in envelope manufacturing, and other, minor period details, with the panels often focused on objects, machines or parts of the city instead of the characters, who almost never appear in anything other than a long-shot.

It's a lot of fun to look at, but it's a sad story, one probably best not to read when one is already sad.

I had a couple more books in my man-purse–second hand collections of Marvel miniseries Blaze of Glory: The last Ride of the Western Heroes by John Ostrander and Leonardo Manco and Vengeance by Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta–but I opted to pull something off the shelves to read, instead.

I selected Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol.2: Shadows and Secrets. I liked the goofily-entitled Star Wars: Darth Vader VOl.1: Vader, okay, but I'm not a huge fan of artist Salvador Larocca, so I decided I would follow the Jason Aaron-written Star Wars in trade, and maybe just follow this one in trades-borrowed-from-the-library, or pulled from the shelves of my local Barnes and Noble, read there, and then placed back on the shelf, unpurchased.

I liked this one a little better. Larocca's art remains excellent when drawing helmets, droids and aliens, but I find his human likenesses a little off-putting. Luckily, there are relatively few human in the Darth Vader book, just Doctor Aphra and the occasional Imperial officer or unfortunate human victim.

While the first volume leaned a little heavily on aspects I didn't care for (The Emperor's creation of "rivals" for Vader, none of whom are very compelling), this one goes deep in Vader's schemeing, as he tries to carve out his own secret fiefdom and agents to pursue his own agenda, one that is at odds with his superiors in the Empire, up to and including The Emperor himself.

So in this volume there's a pretty neat heist in which Aphra and her robo-pas, the evill versions of C-3PO and R2-D2, form an alliance with a handful of bounty hunters, including the evil version of Chewbacca, and Empire Strikes Back cameos IG-90 (the droid bounty hunter that looked like an evil black crayon) and Bossk (the lizard guy) make off with a shit-ton of money. There are several interactions with crime bosses, including a caped Greedo. Oh and Vader and an Imperial partner, the Empire's version of Sherlock Holmes, are tasked with trying to figure out who pulled the heist, which was of course done at Vader's behest. Finally the search for Luke Skywalker takes an unexpected twist, when Aphra follows one hell of an unlikely lead: The mortician on Naboo who prepared Queen Amidala's body.

It's all evil, all the time here, but writer Kieron Gillen keeps all of the characters engaging, if not sympathetic. And I do so love 000, the Evil C-3PO:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The DC Universe...?

Maybe it's just because I've watched the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World trailer hundreds of times since it first appeared online, but when I see this
I can't help but think of this

Now, I don't follow superhero TV and movie news all that closely, but from what I can tell, it appears that Warner Brothers is launching a new movie called Legends of Tomorrow, in which Michael Cera's Scott Pilgrim has to defeat the eight-or-nine evil exes (depending on how you want to count Firestorm) of Earth-0's Ramona Flowers in order to date her? And on Earth-0 Todd Ingram is The Atom...? Have I got that right...?

Man, this movie sounds awesome!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: January 27

Batman & Robin Eternal #17 (DC Comics) This issue is partially set in St. Hadrian's School For Girls, the secret headquarters of the super-spy agency Spyral, which Dick Grayson has been working for ever since Grayson launched. At one point in this issue, Harper Row is sneaking around the school, and says to herself, "If only Spoiler could see me now!"

Spoiler is, of course, Stephanie Brown, who is also Harper's roommate.

So here's a problem. St. Hadrian's Finishing School For Girls, secret headquarters of the super-spy agency Spyral, first appeared during writer Grant Morrison's run on Batman, Incorporated. Specifically, in Batman, Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes #1. In that comic, Batman had one of his agents go undercover and infiltrate St. Hadrian's, and that agent was, of course, Batgirl Stephanie Brown.

Now, that issue was published before the New 52 reboot, which wiped Stephanie Brown's entire existence out-of-continuity (at least until she was reintroduced with a new origin in Batman Eternal), and yet the storyline itself continued on through the other end of the reboot. So here we have yet another example of the goddam stupid motherfucking New 52 reboot fucking with DC comics, past and present. And that's "present" as in just published today.

The reboot wouldn't have been so bad–well, I mean, it would have been bad, but in a lesser, or different way–if it was an actual reboot, but the writers and editors of Grayson and now Batman & Robin Eternal were apparently enamored enough with St. Hadrian's and Spyral that they didn't want to not use them, and so they kept them, even though the comics that introduced them are incompatible with the ones using them.

Old pros Scot Eaton and Wayne Faucher pencil and ink this issue, respectively, and the figure-work is all strong, even if the action is messy and hard-to-follow. The plot, scripted this time by Ed Brisson from the James Tynion and Scott Snyder story, plods on.

Black Canary #7 (DC) I'm kind of torn on this title, and this issue is a pretty perfect illustration why. It's the climax of the storyline that's run through the entire book so far, resolving most of the plot threads (but not the identity of the blonde ninja in white). It involves a character that I as a reader am supposed to know and/or care about, although I've never met him before his appearance in the cliffhanger ending of last issue, so apparently he appeared in one of Black Canary's earlier comics, the New 52 versions of Birds of Prey and/or Team 7.

The nature of Ditto and the creatures that were pursuing her is finally revealed, and Black Canary (the character) and Black Canary (the band), have to save the world by playing rock music to destroy a bizarre alien monster.

That's where I'm torn. On the one hand, Black Canary-fighting-aliens seems a little...wrong. Like Batman or Green Arrow, the character seems appropriate for alien-fighting in a Justice League comic, but not so much in her own comic, as the milieu doesn't seem right for this sort of sci-fi.

To writer Brenden Fletcher's credit, he does center the alien's nature around sound and music, making it more appropriate for this Black Canary comic, but I don't know, it still feels slightly off to me. Canary, whether she has her cry or not, seems to me to be an inherently street-level, "realistic" hero when not in the Justice League, so having her fight aliens in her book seems a little too Silver Age (and the fact that it's all done completely deadpan only accentuates that discordant vibe).

Maybe it's just me.

On the other hand, page 14 is amazing, easily the coolest thing I saw in a comic book this week, and, in general, artist Annie Wu and colorist Lee Loughridge pulled off some pretty amazing sequences here, given some incredibly challenging subject matter. At the risk of spoiling things too much, suffice it to say the band and their allies are battling a kaiju invader capable of absorbing any and all sound.

Like Gotham Academy, which Black Canary writer Fletcher co-writes, I almost never find myself liking an issue of Black Canary as much as I want to like it, nor is it ever, even at its very best, as good as it looks.

I don't know. Maybe I just want Annie Wu drawing Chuck Dixon scripts of Black Canary fighting crime, or for Fletcher to commit to some sort of fun mystery-solving, crime-fighting rock band concept, rather than this often awkward mash-up of straight-faced silly sci-fi and references to shitty comics DC couldn't pay me to read. As is, I think Black Canary mostly just coasts on its great artwork, and I think about dropping it the entire time I read every issue, save for when something as cool as page 14 occasionally occurs.

Saga #33 (Image Comics) We begin to find out what happened during the last time-jump in this issue, which pretty much exclusively features characters we haven't seen much of in a very long time. Writer Brian K. Vaughan re-introduces Upsher and Doff, the two telepathic fish-people reporters who are partners professionally and romantically, and has them finally able to resume investigating the story of our heroes, which means a reappearance from Ginny, the cute bat-girl and a very unexpected appearance by a character who somehow got really, really fat during the course of the last year or so.

I thought this dialogue was really rather cute...
...especially given the cover credits of this particular issue.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #14 (DC) Writer Sholly Fish Fisch once again crafts a pretty much perfect crossover, one that includes just about every conceivable character and reference imaginable. Scooby-Doo and the gang help Aquaman and Mera take on Black Manta and Ocean Master. Vulko, Aqualad, Aqua Girl, Arthur Jr., Topo and Tusky all appear, while Fisch's dialogue and artist Dario Brizuela's artwork references New 52 Aqua-family addition Salty, Aquaman's appearances on Batman: The Brave and The Bold, as well as his pre-Super Friends cartoon and even the "Death of a Prince" storyline.

There was only one thing I didn't like about this–two, if you count the fact that Daphne and Velma wore one-piece bathing suits–and that was the fact that Scooby wore a snorkel rather than a scuba tank throughout. That's not how snorkels work. Scooby should have drowned, right...?

Wait, I just thought of a third thing I didn't like. I didn't like the title "Wet 'n' Wild," not when "Scuba-Doo" is much more appropriate...although surely that must have been used as the title for one of the roughly one million Scooby cartoon episodes and comics that have been produced in my life time...