Saturday, June 23, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Nightwing #10 and Red Hood & The Outlaws #10

The first two Robins have their entries into my reviews this week. Let's take a look at them.

Nightwing #10

I was incredibly impressed by the work done for Nightwing in this issue, especially by the characterization of Dick wanting to improve Gotham his way, not Bruce's.

His plan to rebuild the historic district is something that is patently of Dick's mind, and the fact that he's desiring to avoid working with Bruce's money on it is something interesting. A lot of people brought up that it is weird for him to be in talks with Tony Zucco's daughter, but the way DC's continuity has been recently, I wouldn't be shocked if her part in Dick's history is completely gone. As such, this could be a chance for her to start their history over, and so I'll withhold judgment.

I'm into the idea of a cop trying to undermine the Bat-family by using old Nightwing weapons as ways to frame him. It keeps with the divided police department theme that has run throughout the early, six-year history of Batman. (That still gets to me.)

Also, how often has Lucius Fox appeared so far in the Bat-verse? He's not been a very frequent character, and I liked the long bit of dialogue that he was given here.

My only concern with this new story is that it has the same secret society feel as the Court of Owls, which they just literally came out of. The team will have to be careful as to not make this gang of teens a knock-off of the Court.

Overall, this is an excellent investment of time and money, and I hope that this arc can continue to build off the strong start.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #10

I have been a fan of Starfire since watching her in the Teen Titans TV series, and have since read Wolfman-Perez era stories that have made me really enjoy the character.

While I enjoy the Starfire of this book, she appeared to be lacking in much of what made her awesome initially. This issue provides a better glimpse of it as Starfire does something epic: She leads a fleet of intergalactic military ships as a ruthless war commander.

There is a nice amount of humor in this book, don't get me wrong, and I enjoyed that as well. Jason and Roy both were on point with the running commentary on the situation, and Roy has slowly become my second-favorite Starfire love interest (behind Dick Grayson, of course).

The best part of the commentary is that Jason's most recent date comes along for the ride and is rightfully freaked out. I would have no problem with her becoming a recurring character after this arc ends.

There is a side story with Essence to finish the book. Honestly, it was a nice piece, and it's good to see what's happening with the Untitled storyline, but it did cut off what had been an amazing plot to that point. I would have rather this sidestory been a standalone issue than taking up parts of multiple books.

Still, it's worth the price of admission and there's a big selling point for next issue when next month's title is teased. Not going to give it away because the mark-out moment is the best thing of the issue, but those who know Starfire's history will understand why I'm excited.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Batman #10, Batman & Robin #10 and Batgirl #10

A year of Bat vs. Owl action is drawing to a close in these summer issues of Batman, and I honestly hope that the follow-up will be just as amazing as what I've seen. After the 11-month trek ends, Scott Snyder is going to end the first year of the New 52 era by doing a one-shot story, and then it's the big #0 issue month this September.

For more information, Snyder did an interview here about what he's planning for the one-shot, the #0 and the newest long-running arc, which will start in October.

Anyway, it's really late, but here are my thoughts on the three regular comics I review:

Batman #10

I have a lot of problems with the DC Universe right now, many of which will be in a future blog. How has Batman had four Robins in a SIX-YEAR timeline? How could the Wolfman-Perez Titans exist (as established by Red Hood a few months ago) when Cyborg is founding the Justice League and Beast Boy appears to be operating in an entirely different continuity? Do Cass Cain and Stephanie Brown even exist?

Scott Snyder is providing one of the few truths I can decipher in the Post-Flashpoint world: This. book. is. AMAZING.

Much of this book is expository, as Bruce sorts out all that has happened over the storyline and uses his brilliance as a detective to figure out who was responsible for the attack on him and where to find them.

(Sidenote: Why is it that Batman is doing more detective work in this one issue than in the entire Detective series? Take note of this, Tony Daniel.)

Anyway, the big reveal as to who the villain is has most likely gotten everyone talking about what this does to the Bruce Wayne character. Some are excited (like me), and some undoubtedly feel like this has to be a fake-out or else the character is devalued.

I'll admit, I can see why having this character exist would make the Batman origin far more convoluted, but to be honest, it's really not that bad. The explanation as to why this character was in this clinic is pretty odd, but given the many, many flaws in continuity that LEGITIMATELY make the timeline of the universe nearly logistically impossible, this is pretty harmless and within reason for a comic book.

The reveal was a big surprise and set up for an excellent finale. I'd have preferred the Owls remain faceless so as to make them a force to be feared in the future, but that hasn't been completely killed and, once again, the reveal gave a good shock to the reader without grossly destroying the timeline, so I'm satisfied.

The Owl story has been absolutely great in that it is well-written, has great action and story structure, adds to the backstory of both Bruce and Dick and doesn't do anything that makes it obviously retcon-able.

Oh, and I almost forgot Part 2 of the side story that caused this book to be an extra dollar. That was well-drawn and surprisingly has held its own with the main story. It serves as an excellent supplement and I look forward to its conclusion (unlike Two-Face's in Detective).

Batman and Robin #10

A new arc finally begins in this book as well, and to this point, it's a really fun read.

While Batman has been a serious ride, this book shows the three Robins that Bruce doesn't have trying to kill him being painted for a family portrait.

(Another sidenote: If these kids were adopted/appeared so closely together in time, does Gotham look at Bruce as the Angelina Jolie of the town? How has no one figured out he's Batman? With this weird record of adopting nearly full-grown children on a nearly yearly basis, and new heroes emerging with a similar frequency, Gotham must be run by those idiot adults in South Park.)

Returning to the review, Damian calls out all the Robins after the Night of the Owls (even Jason) and tells them he plans to best them at something.

His first bout with Tim is fairly interesting and shows that the latest Robin is a true tactician. While this storyline isn't really making much of an impact in terms of the universe, this was by far the most fun read of the three books I read this past week.

This story provides fans with the clash of Robins most probably would beg to see, and it's apparently leading into something bigger. For the time being, the villain's part of the story isn't making much sense, but it's clearly setting up and it's serviceable, so I'll give it a pass.

It's not the strongest book in terms of storyline, but it doesn't require you to keep track of months of storyline and is a fun read. Definitely worth the $2.99.

Batgirl #10

I've defended this book quite a bit, and once again I'll be fair that the story that is being set up looks like it could be something awesome.

But holy crap, was this an annoying book!

First, Batgirl just leaves a kid for dead after his leg gets caught in a freaking bear trap. Why she wouldn't wait next door after being asked to leave is beyond me.

Sure enough, the kid ends up losing the leg because she didn't stay vigilant.

I will say, I'm not sure if the interviewer was actually Lois Lane, but if it was, that was just brilliant.

The backstory for the new villainess isn't bad, but the whole "woman goes psycho after traumatic incident" thing has been done now for three straight arcs. It's becoming cookie-cutter for Gail Simone.

Overall, I was just frustrated with the clear step backward Barbara's overall hero work has gone with this issue. I'm basically just waiting now for the storyline with her brother to start back up again.

I will have my reviews of Red Hood and Nightwing tomorrow night for sure. Be ready!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why I ... Think the Oklahoma City Thunder's win makes an impact in more ways than one

It's been a long time since I've done a "Why I..." column. A few months, actually.

For those who don't remember, this column was an opinion piece on sports that I put on my Sports Blog. I've since merged the blog with this one, but the old columns still exist, and my most recent Why I (from February) is here.

Today, I would like to talk about the Oklahoma City Thunder, who just won the Western Conference over the San Antonio Spurs in six games.

I'm not going to lie: I had the Spurs striking the iron and winning in five games. I fully expected the unit of experience, who has mixed so well with the young guns on their team, to continue its run of dominance over the NBA and storm the playoffs.

And they did. For two and a half rounds.

But the Thunder created momentum out of the Oklahoma City crowd and rode it all the way through Game 5, where the team stole a game in San Antonio.

Still, I had the Spurs stealing back Game 6 and the series. And as I left for karate class at halftime, it seemed like they were well on their way.

But the Thunder, as a unit, pulled it off. Seeing the highlights, I saw a unit overtaking the Spurs. It wasn't that the Spurs played badly - they played pretty well, actually. It was that Kevin Durant took over the helm and his whole group of teammates played better.

Durant's performances in Games 4 and 6 signify a maturation - a realization that he is the superstar on this team. While he keeps it about the team, which he should and I'm glad he does, he finally sees that in key moments, it has to be his leadership that saves the team.

Russell Westbrook in Game 4, according to the radio commentary I was listening to, was frustrated that his shots weren't falling. And unlike past games where Durant would keep splitting the shot-load and hope Westbrook got hot, he seized control. He took the shots he needed to take and wound up scoring 16 consecutive points to grab hold of the game.

This series symbolizes Durant's final evolution into the unquestioned "Best in the World" status as a player. Moreover, it symbolizes the Thunder's growth into the West's highest class of team.

Since the Jordan Era ended, 13 seasons have been completed. The Western Conference's champions have gone as follows: Spurs, Lakers, Lakers, Lakers, Spurs, Lakers, Spurs, Mavericks, Spurs, Lakers, Lakers, Lakers, Mavericks.

Only three squads have won: Lakers seven times, Spurs four, Mavericks two. In terms of NBA titles, those three combined to win the whole thing 10 of those 13 times (Detroit, Miami and Boston each stole one).

I bring this up because the Thunder beat all three of these teams in succession this postseason. They swept the Mavs, took out the Lake Show in five games, and finished the Spurs in six.

This may well signify the old guard's reign has finally ended. While they may compete for the titles still, it will be with different units. Squads led by Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitski will need more elite support if they are to compete with Durant and his legion of lottery picks.

Seattle doesn't look like they got the worse end of the Oden/Durant lottery now, do they?

Oh wait, yes they do. Because they don't even have a team.

That's the piece of significance lost to all besides Scott Van Pelt, it would seem. While Oklahoma City has been wonderful to the Thunder, and that crowd was amazing in all three conference finals games, it cannot be denied that the city of Seattle has to be stinging at seeing this squad be successful without them.

It's a shame that the citizens lost a team that they had supported so fiercely because the city refused to make any real improvements to KeyArena. It's a shame that the NBA lost such a legacy franchise.

It was sad for me to see the team move, as Shawn Kemp's No. 40 road jersey was the first jersey of an active NBA player I owned. (My Larry Bird jersey preceded it, but he'd been retired for years.) I can only imagine that the city sees the Thunder's performance in the same light that Cleveland fans must have seen the Ravens' Super Bowl title.

Actually, it may be worse if the Thunder win. By the time Baltimore won the title, Cleveland had its Browns back and the Ravens had no claim to the pre-1996 history. Seattle still has no team, OKC lays shared claim to the SuperSonics' history and 1979 championship, and the Thunder are winning with Durant (drafted by Seattle), Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook (drafted with picks gained through a season played in Seattle).

So not only does the Thunder's win represent a changing of the guard in the West, it represents what could have - heck, what probably would have - been for the city of Seattle. Seattle gets no claim to a Finals run built within its city limits while OKC shares all three of Seattle's Finals runs (1978, 1979, 1996).

That has to sting.

Knowing all this, I'd say that if OKC ever tries a "SuperSonic throwback jersey night," all of Seattle should be allowed to draw a mustache on a photo of Thunder owner Clay Bennett, tack a caption on the bottom saying "Real Sonics still live here. NBA CHAMPS FOR REAL!" and hang a gargantuan version of this image from either city hall or the Space Needle.

OK, that may be a little extreme.

But I did want to point out that OKC's win means so many different things depending on where in the country a person resides.

One of my colleagues here in Vegas tweeted yesterday that it's hard to believe Las Vegas was competing for the Sonics with Oklahoma City. I am sure former Mayor Oscar Goodman hasn't forgotten that while watching this run.

In Miami and Boston, the legacy of the Thunder won't mean much right now because of the focus on the Eastern Finals.

It only seems fitting that for OKC to win the title, they will have to face either the squad who has been uncrowned NBA champs for two years in a row, or the only Eastern team to sustain high-level success since the Jordan Era and the Gold Standard for championship-level success in professional basketball.

As I said, OKC has won rounds this year in 4, 5, then 6 games. Also, over four years in OKC, they have missed the playoffs, lost in the first round, lost in the conference semis, then lost in the conference finals.

If natural progression of events is any indicator, the Thunder will either win in seven games or lose outright. But then again, this is a team of 22- and 23-year-olds, so adhering to a natural schedule hasn't really been their thing.