And so, the final New 52 Catch-Up, in which I round off my reading with issues #4-6 of five series fr0m the extended Batman family: Batgirl, Batwoman, Catwoman, Nightwing, and Red Hood & the Outlaws.
All of these have strengths, a couple have weaknesses, and while I wish I could keep reading them all, a couple will probably be dropped from my pull-list (much as it pains me to do so…).
Writer: Gail Simone | Artist: Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes | Colours: Vicente Cifuentes, Adam Hughes & Ulises Arreola Palomera
#4 – Batgirl’s secret past finally catches up to her as she races to a final confrontation with the deadly sociopath Mirror! All the answers start right here in this thrilling issue.
#5 – Still reeling from the shocking return of a major figure with secrets from her past, Batgirl goes on the hunt for the terrifying killer Gretel, whose eerie and violent power over the men of Gotham City leaves no one safe – not even guest star Bruce Wayne!
#6 – During the day, Barbara Gordon has to deal with the emotional fallout of the return of a key figure from her most painful memories, while at night, high above Gotham City’s streets, Batgirl and Batman face the deadly Gretel, a damaged woman with the lethal ability to control men’s minds! It’s Batgirl’s first face-to-face with Batman since her rehabilitation – and he has a few choice words to say about her return to crime fighting.
In the fourth issue, Batgirl finally takes the fight to Mirror, taking the initiative and brings this first story arc to a clever close. It’s quite a cunning plan she devises, having to rely on guile over brawn – he is much stronger and bigger than she is, and at the same time Barbara has not yet fully got back into shape. Quite a satisfying end to this story.
In the new story-arc, there’s a wacky lady-villain, wandering around Gotham causing men to go crazy somehow. Batgirl finds herself in the middle of things on two occasions, when people start acting way out of character. This was a pretty interesting and intriguing start to this arc, so I was very happy that I already had the sixth issue to hand. In the meantime, separate and away from her duties as Batgirl, Barbara’s mother has returned to Gotham, bringing with her more emotional issues, problems and distractions for our recovering super-heroine to deal with.
In this second and final issue in the Gretal story-arc, Simone has penned a satisfying and nuanced conclusion. I can’t help thinking that maybe one more issue would have been good, in order to better establish Gretal as a force to be concerned about and reckoned with? It’s rather tidy, the ending, although I think this villain had a lot more potential story-mileage in her. Nevertheless, this and issue five felt substantial and very satisfying.
The series is very well written, and Simone is one of my favourite comics writers. Batgirl is still struggling with her recently rediscovered freedom of movement, and is still attempting to get back into shape. It adds an interesting aspect to the story – one of super-hero vulnerability not borne of some mystical or otherworldly substance (a la kryptonite), but rather something many people may be able to relate to.
I do have one question, though: what happened to the previous Batgirl, who took over from Barbara after the Joker paralysed her?
Batgirl offers a nice, engaging alternative approach to life as a Bat-themed vigilante. I’m really enjoy this series, and I’d like to catch up with what came before the New 52 re-launch, at some point. The series enjoys great, clean artwork, with lots of detail, but not too much, and lots of very dynamic imagery and strong colouring.
[I’ve already read issue seven, and I’ll include my review of that in another Comics Round-Up this weekend.]
Writer: J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman | Artist: J.H. Williams III (#4-5) & Amy Reeder Hadley (#6) | Colours: J.H. Williams III (#4-5), Richard Friend & Rob Hunter (#6)
#4 – Blood drenches the back alleys of Gotham City in Part four of “Hydrology” – and Batwoman’s life begins to burn.
#5 – “Hydrology,” the first arc of the series, reaches its powerful conclusion! After the horrors Batwoman has faced, she has a final showdown with The Weeping Woman – a specter with the power to dredge up Kate’s deepest pain. Can she finally forgive herself so she can dispel this evil? And how will she respond when Chase and the DEO tighten their grip, forcing Kate to make an impossible decision?
#6 – Artist Amy Reeder and inker Richard Friend join the Batwoman team with this new arc, as the epic "To Drown the World" begins!Six lives, inextricably linked in the past and present, each on a collision course with the others: Batwoman, fighting for duty and vengeance against a threat of arcane power. Detective Maggie Sawyer, investigating a case that could end her career. DEO Agent Cameron Chase, commanding a vigilante she despises. Colonel Jacob Kane, clutching at a life that's slipping away. Maro, a new villain corrupting Gotham City. And Kate Kane, wrestling with decisions that will test her loyalties.
In the fourth issue, Batwoman is still investigating the missing and dead children. Batwoman gets a little closer to finding out who the ghost is, and how and why she died. In the meantime, Flamebird, Batwoman’s new sidekick, goes out on a solo mission and bites off more than she can chew. The mysterious government agents investigating the extended Bat-family are getting closer to Batman and his associates, and at the end of this issue we finally, properly meet the department head. He wasn’t at all what I was expecting, and bears a resemblance to a former Batman villain (Black Skull), which surprised me a little. I have no idea if they are one-and-the-same, or if this is just pure happenstance.
The Weeping Woman case is brought to something of a close in the fifth issue, but our heroine was unable to find and return the missing children to their families. She does, however, get a further clue, and when that clue is mentioned again by the head of the Department of Extranormal Operations, she has to make a decision: join the DEO, or stick with Batman? I must say, Batwoman is altogether too calm and collected with who and what Director Bones is...
Issue six brings a new artist and a slightly new tone to the series. The story isn’t quite as full as previous issues – there’s a lot of bouncing around and exposition, in order to situate the reader in the story. We get a couple bits of recap from the Weeping Woman case, but with a wider lens – instead of looking at just Batwoman’s experiences, for example, we see some hints of why it’s all happened in the first place and the forces moving behind the scenes. It’s some interesting stuff, and it’ll be really interesting to see where the story goes from here.
J.H. Williams’s artwork for the first two of these issues is, as expected, absolutely amazing. I liked that there are two distinct aesthetic styles for when our protagonist is Kate Kane and when she’s Batwoman. I admit that I prefer the Batwoman artwork, which is very gothic and atmospheric and uses some great, original framing and panelling; but the Kane artwork is equally excellent, and has a slight vintage feel to it. Reeder’s art manages to maintain strong similarities to Williams’s (who is now only handling writing responsibilities), while also infusing some of her own aesthetic into the series. In some aspects, it’s not quite as good – Reeder’s better at the larger, more detailed work, for example, where Williams was good at it all. That being said, Agent Chase is much better realised by Reeder, and there are some stronger images in Reeder’s issue. I guess part of my preference comes from familiarity, so I doubt I’ll have any complaints after I read issue seven. Reeder has a number of different artistic tricks, etc., but does rely on a more-standard framing/panelling approach and format. Her covers are incredible, though, and I look forward to seeing more of them.
Overall, this remains a very strong series.
Writer: Judd Winick | Artist: Guillermo March
#4 – Catwoman says goodbye to an old friend, says hello to an older one, and resolves more firmly than ever to strike out on her own. Only one of those things almost gets her killed.
#5 – Catwoman is flying solo and finding plenty of turbulence! She has her paws full when a simple smash and grab turns into a hit and pummelled, as she faces an adversary who is more than a match for Selina. She calls herself Reach, and she doesn’t pull any punches. Can our favorite Feline Fatale land on her feet?
#6 – Catwoman is busted! She’s under arrest and in the custody of the Gotham City P.D. But it doesn’t look like she’s going to get her phone call, because the police aren’t looking for justice – they’re looking for what Catwoman stole from them. And she’s about to get an earful about her most complicated relationship: Batman.
The three of these issues are closely linked, so I’ll talk about the story as one whole. Following the death of her best friend and fence, Lola, Catwoman strikes out on her own, unwilling to have anyone else close to her jobs who might get hurt. This leads to some corners being cut in the job research, which has a rather surprising effect on what should have been a simple snatch-n-grab. What she thought was a bag of drug money turns out to be a hell of a lot of dirty cop money, and soon Selina has the whole GCPD coming down on her head. Some great action, a motorbike chase, and things aren’t looking good for Catwoman.
The sixth issue starts with Catwoman in a bind – figuratively and literally, and one that could see her seriously hurt or even dead. She receives some unexpected help, however (this could develop into an interesting partnership or side-story in the future). After escaping custody, rather than getting away scot-free, Selina is forced into a confrontation with Batman – a confrontation that is emotional and a little heart-wrenching. Selina is a seriously broken individual, and it’s difficult to not feel for her. She’s extremely self-destructive, careless, and addicted to risk. With Lola gone, her rock, she’s spiralling ever-further out of control. She’s probably at-the-very-least-slightly insane.
Catwoman is rendered in fantastic, eye-catching artwork, and March’s style is one of my favourites – it’s dynamic, clean, vivid when necessary, but also dark and gritty. Tomeu Morey’s colouring is amazing, too.
I actually love this series, and it’s definitely a keeper. Winick is fast becoming one of my favourite comics writers (see my upcoming reviews of his Red Hood graphic novels), so I’ll certainly read this as long as he’s handling writing duties. (And, because I like the character, probably beyond that, too.) Winick manages to make Catwoman sassy, tough, brilliant, and extremely vulnerable. Often all in the same scene. Very highly recommended.
Writer: Kyle Higgins | Artist: Trevor McCarthy (#4), Eddy Barrows (#5-6) & Geraldo Borges (#6) | Colours: Trevor McCarthy (#4), Paulo Siqueira (#5), Eber Ferreira (#5-6) & Ruy Jose (#6)
#4 – As Haly’s continues to travel the east coast, Dick’s search for answers take him – and the circus – to Miami. But when a case from Gotham City brings Barbara Gordon to Florida, Nightwing and Batgirl must work together to bring a thief to justice. Be here as Nightwing and Batgirl tackle South Beach – and discover the true nature of the circus! The answers start this issue.
#5 – With winter closing in, Haly’s Circus hits New Orleans. But as Dick Grayson gets closer in his search for answers about the mystery of the circus, it’s not just the temperature that heats up. And just how does a voodoo ritual gone bad factor in? Find out as Nightwing takes the Big Easy.
#6 – After the huge reveal of last issue, Dick Grayson takes Haly’s Circus back to Gotham City in preparation for a large memorial show. But as Dick gets closer to the truth about his past, just how much is he really deciding for himself? And what does the Book of Names really mean? It all builds to a head here... just in time for a twist that will leave your jaw on the floor!
Issue #4 picks up the story as Batgirl comes rocking into town, asking for a little help from Nightwing, which offers a welcome diversion from the internal politics and squabbles within the circus troupe. Dick learns a little more about what the former circus’s owner and mentor, Haly, was trying to tell him before he was murdered: “Answers at the heart of the circus,” is his only clue. Why was the Haly targeted for death by one of the best assassins available? Batgirl’s appearance felt just a tiny bit like a clunky device to create some personal conflict in Dick’s life – she’s near-as-makes-no-difference identical to Raya, Dick’s childhood friend and current squeeze, in many ways.
Nightwing gets caught up in a bizarre ritual in the fifth issue, when one of his clowns, Jimmy, is kidnapped by a weird demon-like creature in New Orleans. This issue is a bit of a diversion from the main story, but it gives us some more idea of what life with, in and around Haly’s Circus is like. Everyone’s a little broken, carrying plenty of baggage and running away from something. We also finally learn the secret of who Saiko is, and part of his connection to Haly’s Circus – and it’s quite a bombshell!
In the last of these three issues, we finally get a showdown between Saiko and Nightwing, at the anniversary show commemorating the death of Grayson’s parents. I don’t want to spoil any more, so that’s all I’ll talk about the plot. It’s not a bad finish by any means, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things develop in the future.
I like the investigative, mystery element that is at the heart of this series; it complements the action and crime-fighting aspect of any Bat-Family title, even if it does sometimes feel like it’s side-lined by something else for an issue or two. It’s an intriguing mystery that Dick’s confronted with, too.
The artwork’s good, even if it is quite different from issue-t0-issue (just look at all the people involved!). Despite how much I’ve enjoyed this series so far, I nevertheless think it’s slowing down a little, now. I don’t know how things will develop in the future, so I may keep reading it, but I’ll probably wait for the collected editions.
RED HOOD & THE OUTLAWS:
Writer: Scott Lobdell (#4-6) & Joshua Williamson (#6) | Artist: Kenneth Rocafort | Colours: Blond & Kenneth Rocafort
#4 – The man who has pursued Starfire all the way to the wilds of Colorado has only one thing on his mind: her slow and painful death. His name is Crux – and he’s done some dark and dangerous work on his DNA to reach his goal of ridding the Earth of every alien on the planet! And Kori’s about to learn that Red Hood and Roy Harper have their hands full with the ancient evil known as The Untitled!
#5 – With Jason going one-on-one with the ancient evil known as the Untitled and Koriand’r barely able to crawl to his side, it’s up to Roy to stand alone against the monstrous threat known as Crux!
#6 – How did Jason Todd and Princess Koriand’r of Tamaran meet – and what has bonded them together in a way that neither could have imagined? At long last the story can be told!
Jason (Red Hood) and Roy (Arsenal) start issue four off by get into a bar fight and arrested. Ever-resourceful, Jason uses this as an opportunity to find out more about The Untitled threat the non-team’s been tracking. Little did he know, he’s a lot closer to that threat than he originally thought. In the meantime, Starfire has to deal with something from her own past, and that something is not happy and has the tools to take her down a peg or two.
Jason confronts an old evil, The Untitled, but his victory is short-lived as a local, clueless mob see his actions as something else entirely: straight homicide. Starfire and Roy continue to fight against the xenophobic mutant (someone who probably could have used a little more by the way of proper introduction – it’s difficult to go into it in any more detail without offering a rather big spoiler, but seriously: it could have been explained much better without having to rely on the synopsis). Jason’s predicament, however, forces them to flee right-quick.
The sixth issue takes a step back from the story’s timeline, and we go back to a month before the events of issue one. We learn of Jason and Starfire’s first meeting, and how they came to team up. There are some hints at even-further-back-story, and it seems that Starfire and Dick Grayson (the first Robin and current Nightwing) had a thing at some point in the past. I have no idea when. The issue finishes with their plan to go rescue Arsenal, which occurs at the very beginning of issue one.
Red Hood & the Outlaws is an above-average comic visually. The artwork is very nice: it has a slight untidiness to the lines that is interesting and not unwelcome, giving it a little more character and stripping it of any sense of sanitisation. It’s not over-polished or stylised, but it is vibrant and colourful (odd, given how dark Jason is, and the two Red Hood graphic novels). Overall, another strong comic, but not one of the strongest of the New 52 Batman titles.
So, another of the New 52 bites the dust: Nightwing. With resources tightening, it just wasn’t holding my attention enough to keep me buying and reading every week. It’s a pity, as I do like the character and writing, but there are just much better comics available that I enjoy more. Red Hood could be on the chopping block as well, depending on the strength of the next issue. For the main, I really like all of these titles, but my favourites are definitely Batwoman, Batgirl and Catwoman. Each of these three gets at least one more issue, if not more. The Batman titles are just so good, it’s hard to not keep coming back for more.
That being said, and as I’ve mentioned before, I'm not sure how long I’ll be able to keep reading these on a monthly basis. It’s just too damned expensive. With established series’ trade paperback and hardcover editions now available, and very competitively priced on Amazon, B&N and at the Strand, I am having a much harder time justifying the single issue prices.
I just love a lot of these series... It’s a pickle, for sure.
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