Thursday, November 17, 2011

New 52 Catch-Up: “Batman & Robin”, “Batgirl” & “Batwing”

Three more of DC’s new Batman-related reboots


These three titles I decided to check out very much on a whim. I’d read the synopsis for Batman & Robin, and thought it sounded pretty interesting – Batman’s concern for this incarnation of Robin (his son) could bring a new and interesting aspect to the dynamic and his own actions that we don’t see in the other Batman titles. Batgirl… well, I knew nothing about the character, but the author of the series has a superb reputation (deserved, as it turns out), and someone at Forbidden Planet said it was a fun title. So onto the pile it went. Batwing was simply the last of the Batman-related New 52 titles that I hadn’t picked up (bar one – see the end of this post), so being the OCD fellow that I am, I decided to try that out as well. Thankfully, I felt that all three of these titles have something to offer, so they will possibly make frequent appearances on this site.


Batman & Robin #1-3

DCNew52-Batman&Robin-1Writer: Peter J Tomasi | Artist: Patrick Gleason & Mick Gray

#1 – Battling evil with his own son, Damian, at his side, Batman now realizes that the hardest part of the job may be trying to work together!

As Batman and Robin try to adjust to their new partnership, a figure emerges from Bruce Wayne’s past: His name is NoBody, and he’s not happy that Batman Incorporated is shining a light on his own shadowy war against evil…

#2 – Batman’s fears about Robin’s tendency to dish out more pain than necessary are growing! And who is the man named NoBody, visiting Gotham City to say hello to his old friend Bruce Wayne and find out where he went wrong in his battle against crime.

#3 – As Robin does all he can to keep his own killer instincts at bay, Batman focuses his energies on Nobody, the deadly enigma from Bruce’s past who has arrived in Gotham and is hellbent on forcing him to accept a new world crimefighting view even as he infiltrates the Waynes’ personal lives.

DCNew52-Batman&Robin-2The first issue of Batman & Robin sets out perfectly the differences in temperament between Batman & Robin. As usual, Robin is more cavalier and undisciplined than Batman, but in this case he seems far more cocky and reckless, even arrogant – and actually a real brat when Batman takes him to the place Bruce Wayne’s parents died so many years ago (it otherwise would have been a very poignant scene).

Damian (I really do wonder if they chose the name as a reference to The Omen movies...), is one messed up kid. Raised to be a killer by Talia (al Ghul?), Batman is trying to restrain his killer tendencies to fight by the code he instilled in the previous Robins. There’s one particularly chilling spread near the middle of issue two, when Damian exhibits real psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies in just one action. And he’s only 10yrs old. There’s a lot more going on in this title than just crime-fighting or a coming-of-age-training story. It’s one hell of a lot darker.

Being Batman’s son only distracts our caped crusader’s attention from the task at hand. It’s an interesting dynamic: Robin thinks he’s good enough to handle anything, and he has the youthful belief in his own immortality; on the other side of the partnership, Batman has difficulty separating parental concern from operational trust and training.

‘Nobody’ is a pretty sinister villain, and genuinely creepy to boot. He doesn’t feature too much in the first two issues – though he does open up the series in bloody style, when he takes out a Russian associate of Batman’s. He’s an insidious threat, hiding in the shadows, following in Batman and Robin’s wake.

In the second issue, there is an altercation between Bruce and a fellow called Morgan, who is aware of Wayne’s identity and activities as Batman and also “Batman Inc”, the globalisation of the brand. I had no clue who he is (it becomes clear in issue 3), so I’m sure some of the background was lost on me, but it suggests Batman’s DCNew52-Batman&Robin-3going to have another flank to watch. The third issue finishes with a confrontation between Nobody, Robin and Batman, with things not turning out quite how we would expect, and a final page that was kinda weird, but also hold huge potential for the future.

The artwork throughout these three issues is pretty interesting. For the main, it is highly atmospheric, utilitising the same dual approach of darkness and shadows for scenes featuring Batman, the Batcave and Nobody; and on the flip side, Bruce Wayne’s scenes are more colourful and lighter. Shadows and dark shades abound (of course), juxtaposed and complemented by reds, oranges and yellows (frequently from explosions and blood, naturally). Each of these issues was very well composed and constructed, and the writing is excellent. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was the way Robin is rendered – for the main, he’s drawn in the same style as the rest of the comic, but at times he appeared slightly more manga-esque, which I thought was a little strange.

I can’t wait for the next issue.

Batgirl #1-3

DCNew52-Batgirl-1Writer: Gail Simone | Artist: Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes

#1 – Barbara Gordon is back as Batgirl – and she’s going to have to face the city’s most horrifying new villains as well as the dark secrets from her past.

#2 – The nightmare-inducing brute known as Mirror is destroying the lives of Gotham City citizens seemingly at random, and an explosive confrontation between Batgirl and Mirror leads Babs to question wearing the cape and cowl at all!

#3 – As Barbara Gordon struggles to find her place in the world, Batgirl and Nightwing collide with the unstoppable force of a train wreck! Will it be sparks flying, or fists for this star-crossed duo? Also, the terrifying Mirror ups the ante in his bizarre war on the citizens of Gotham City!

In the first issue of Batgirl, Barbara Gordon comes across as gleefully eager for action, and maybe even for the combat. It took a little longer to explain the fact that she used to be a paraplegic (I’d discovered this from other people’s reviews). She’s a great character, DCNew52-Batgirl-2very endearing and fun to read, with a cheeky sense of humour that runs across these three issues.

It’s clear that Batgirl hasn’t gotten over the post-traumatic stress of being shot in the spine by the Joker, which affects her ability to keep focused when confronted with gun-brandishing criminals. It’s a nice addition to the story, even if it’s not made clear how or why she’s become “cured” of her paralysis.

We get to know Mirror a lot more in the second and third issue, as well as the lengths he will go to in order to complete his twisted mission. His tricks and diversions lead Batgirl to the wrong conclusions, and their confrontations don’t always go her way, so her re-entry into the world of vigilante justice is a very rocky one.

The third issue wasn’t quite as focused as the previous two – the first focused on Batgirl’s struggle against Mirror, while the second half was about her history with DCNew52-Batgirl-3Nightwing. Their conflict was a little contrived, to be honest, as Batgirl reacts rather irrationally and Nightwing was totally incapable of explaining what he meant, but it more-or-less still worked.

Overall, this title was a very pleasant surprise – it is very well written, and every level of the artwork (drawing, colours, shading) was eye-catching, if not stunning. It’s a very dynamic series, perhaps mirroring Batgirl’s newly-rediscovered freedom of movement and how much she revels in it. Nicely done. It’s a little more light-hearted than some of the other Batman titles, but only relatively speaking – there’s lots of action, and Simone doesn’t shy away from tragedy (the antagonist of the piece is, after all, killing his way through a list of survivors).

Batwing #1-3

DCNew52-Batwing-1Writer: Judd Winick | Artist: Ben Oliver

#1 – Africa, a land of beauty – and of great horror. A land of creation and conflict. It is in desperate need of a defender, and from the ranks of Batman Incorporated comes a soldier to carry on the legacy on The Dark Knight in the most tumultuous region on Earth. Meet Batwing, the Batman of Africa!

#2 – He is called Massacre, and he brings death. What does the soldier in service of Batman Incorporated do when he’s met his match? When he’s been brought so low and been wounded so badly? What does he do when lost Super Heroes begin turning up as victims? Batwing fights back!

#3 – Massacre’s crusade of blood continues, and the only one standing in his way is Batwing, who finds himself fighting alongside a legendary hero of Africa: the mighty Thunder Fall! As more heroes are targeted by this madman, the mystery of why begins to unfold, as does the story of Batwing’s dark past.

DCNew52-Batwing-2A good title, Batwing takes the bat-action to a whole new setting, bringing with it a whole new set of issues and dangers. We don’t get much backstory – for one, it’s not at all clear why or how Batwing (David Zavimbe) was created, selected or anything like that. We know he’s funded by Batman, but that’s about it, really. We get a little bit more in each issue, as the timeline jumps around just a little bit, giving us enough to understand why Batwing signed up for the gig, and the ways in which Batman is helping him.

The title puts the spotlight on some of the truths of Africa’s atmosphere and environment. This is what’s perhaps the most important aspect of this title – rather than fictitious, crime-ridden Gotham, it’s based in real crime-ridden Africa. It’s nonetheless interesting that Batwing has to contend with many of the same issues: corrupt law enforcement, vicious gangs, murderers, poverty, and more. In addition to these more-familiar crimes, Batwing also touches on the tragic use of child soldiers in Africa (David was one, long ago). I’m not sure how other villains are going to shape up, as Massacre is, according to Winick, Batwing’s “arch-nemesis” (his Joker, perhaps?).

Our villain is Massacre, who well and truly lives up to his name in the first issue alone! We don’t know much about him or his background, but he’s killing former and retired super heroes. And he has a penchant for beheading people, too… Specifically, it appears like he might be working his way through the members of “The Kingdom”, a team of super heroes who helped the country free itself, before disappearing from the public eye. We don’t learn too much about them, but the end of issue three promises more to come, and will certainly whet the reader’s appetite for more.

DCNew52-Batwing-3Overall, this is a very nicely put-together title. The art is great, appearing more like a painting than ‘comic art’, if you get my meaning. Especially when Batwing is fighting Massacre in the opening pages of issue one, but also in many other instances. The dialogue is pretty solid, too, although there are moments of florid prose – for example, Massacre is described at one point as an “ocean of uncontrolled rage” (just wait until the final three pages of issue one and there’s no way anyone who wasn’t consumed by rage could do what Massacre does…). We can actually see that, so it wasn’t really necessary to tell us that.

The other Batman titles have the benefit of familiarity. Batwing is wholly new to me, and the setting allows for far more scope and exploration of a real-world crisis region. This is not only interesting from a fan-of-comics point of view, but it is also an important long-neglected region to draw attention to. Hopefully, as the series progresses, Winick will continue to balance the need to entertain with the need to inform (albeit by no means in a preachy manner). These three issues seem to be more geared towards all-out brawling between Batwing and Massacre, however, so I’m not sure how much Winick is going to delve into the wider issues facing the more violent and troubled regions of Africa.

Nevertheless, this is certainly a worthy addition to the franchise. It offers something new and fresh to not only for Batman’s world, but for DC Comics as a whole.

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All three of these titles show how varied the Batman franchise can be, while retaining the core sensibilities that have made Batman one of the most enduring and beloved super hero characters of any medium. All three are keepers. The Batman franchise has done extremely well out of the New 52 re-launch, with every title enjoying considerable strengths and, if any, only minor weaknesses. Very impressive and, as can be seen by the fact that I’m basically reading them all (with only a couple of titles that I’m on the fence about), they highly addictive. This is a great time for fans of the franchise.

For those counting, their is one title I have not reviewed yet – Batwoman. This will be remedied next week, when I will read and review not only the first three issues of the New 52 relaunch, but also the collected graphic novel, Elegy, which apparently helps set the scene nicely.

*     *     *

I’m going to be out of town this weekend, so the review of the most recent round of comic releases will have to wait until next Tuesday, when I get back from Washington, D.C. There were a lot of great titles out this week, so expect a long post, which I hope will make up for the delay. There are also reviews coming of a few other New 52 titles that I’ve come to late, so keep your eyes peeled for more DC super hero reviews in the very near future.

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