Friday, September 28, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Nightwing #0, Red Hood & The Outlaws #0, and Teen Titans

The first two legs of the Former Robin saga hit shelves this week, but before I get to that, I have some thoughts on the developments in Catwoman #0.

I only read this while I was in the store (why would I buy it?) and after I had read about the blasphemy in reviews.

I suppose that I should have picked up on it when Selina Kyle was so uncharacteristically emotional and crying constantly. But I was just so glad to see the prostitute backstory of Batman: Year One were finally being dropped from canon that I was willing to hope.

But there it was.

They went with the stupid origin from Batman Returns and that offensive beyond reason Catwoman movie. You know, the one where a girl lacking confidence gets thrown out a skyscraper window and cats form a mystic healing circle that brings her back to life as a badass treading the line between good and evil.

I thought this was nearly unanimous that Tim Burton's ideas for origins were stupid and should never be used. So WHY is the person in charge of the Catwoman book one of the few perverted minds of the world who thought that this piece of garbage should be canon?

There's no need to review it from here. That particular issue will only be liked if you enjoyed that particular origin story. The only other purchasers will be collectors and Linkara.

Anyway, on to reviews of the Robins!

Nightwing #0

The first Robin, Dick Grayson, has had his origin told many, many times, but this is the first time in a few decades, and the first of my lifetime. Actually, it was cool to see it live for the first time.

There are some nice connections in the arcs here - tying back to the first arc with Saiko, the second with the Zucco family, and the upcoming arc with Lady Shiva.

It was also nice to see the dynamic between Dick and his parents as well as why he calls himself Robin. This was by far my favorite of the four Robin backstories shown.

Interestingly, Dick is given tremendous computer skills in the beginning, which kind of takes away from Tim Drake, but he gets other skills played up to compensate.

WTF is with your faces?!
I do, however, have two issues with this book. The first is the artwork. There is one panel in particular where I think Dick's mother is supposed to be showing joy on her face (right after she gets her birthday present) and she looks terrified. The facial expressions were really bizarre, and that was the biggest offender.

The other is that Bruce and Dick knew immediately that their partnership was only temporary. It was played up as hugely important. But it leaves one major question: Why stop being Robin then?

Robin was already a way to break from being a Bat-Boy as it were, so it was his own image. Why did Dick feel the need to break from a tie to his parents with the Robin moniker in favor of Nightwing? It was something that really could have been touched on in the issue but wasn't.

Overall, though, this was a really good telling of the Dick Grayson origin and actually made me wish he was still the original Robin. Maybe we can get a miniseries of that partnership, or even an alternate Earth where the two are just starting out?

(Not All-Star Batman and Robin)

Red Hood and the Outlaws #0

Jason Todd has had the dubious honor of being the only Robin ever killed in battle. (Stephanie Brown almost did, but that's not even canon anymore.) He also unfortunately was the most irritating of the Robins in his tenure.

Even in the New Teen Titans, his brief cameos were uncharismatic. Until this book, Under the Hood was the only decent storyline with him, and it's only because I had an interest in seeing him as a protagonist that I even gave this book a shot to begin with.

Anyway, I was actually interested in the changes made to the origins of Jason in this one. The pre-crisis Todd's origin was pretty generic (as was the character), and the post-Crisis origin was a little nonsensical, specifically the part where he steals the wheels off the Batmobile.

This story, while deranged, made sense as to why Jason would have such issues in his life. And Jason's narration really captured the mood perfectly (even if it took me a few minutes to get into the groove of it).

Dr. Leslie Tompkins, as it turns out, was the one who brought Jason to Bruce's care, which I guess signals that she found him less abrasive when Dick was around. That said, this is a little illogical because Tompkins SHOULD realize that any kid in Bruce's care could wind up fighting crime like Dick did, and with his background, Jason would be inevitable.

But ultimately, the main story here was solid and I liked how Jason couldn't accept Bruce as a true father figure, but really wanted to, which added all the more to his rage when he was revived.

My biggest complaint with this book, though, is the backup story. It's not that this whole story being told from Joker's perspective isn't interesting. And it's not that a good story could not be made from it in the next few months.

What annoys me is that it makes the entire second Robin feel like a wasteful plot device, which showed some gaps in protectiveness from Batman. I won't go into it too deeply, but some great execution better be present to make up for this HUGE risk taken.

Overall, it's the best Jason Todd origin and worth checking out.

Teen Titans #0

Finally, we come to Tim Drake.

I haven't read the Teen Titans post-Flashpoint consistently, but given what I've seen, I'd say there's good reason for that: It sucks.

This story is told from Bruce Wayne's perspective, as we get a history of Tim Drake's time. And I will say that I am glad that Scott Lobdell wrote Tim's parents out of the story without killing them.

Being the great detective he's played up to be, Tim should be able to find them at any time and talk to them if need be, so that's good. And it undoes a plot point about Identity Crisis that should be long forgotten.

What irks me is that Tim doesn't really find out Batman's secret identity, as clues were planted WAY in advance by Alfred and Bruce. I have no idea why, and quite honestly it made Tim look less like the detective he was being hyped up as, and gave much of his major traits to Dick.

Honestly, I never was super into Tim as Robin. Dick Grayson was always the definitive Robin for me, but Tim at least had the strategy portion of the job down pat. Here, it seems like Tim is just a lesser version of Dick, and that is NOT a good selling point for the character.

Also, as to Tim turning down the traditional Robin suit in order to honor Jason: I like it, but then why keep any semblance of the Robin moniker at all? Why not call yourself Red Hawk or something?

It felt like there was a lot of good stuff here, but it was being dragged down by not being considered all the way through.

It's the best Teen Titans issue I've seen in a year, but it's the worst of the Robin stories.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Batman #0 and Batman & Robin #0

Zero month has been a really good idea. There, I said it.

I was a huge fan of this idea, especially for the Batman universe, which has been in the midst of trying to make sense of this whole "Batman has been around for six years" thing.

Detective Comics #0 gave us the first glimpse of it when they showed Bruce in training 10 years before the current setting.

It did leave a question as to how 10 years ago could be his LAST part of training, but that can be reasonably explained away. The last part of training could have been the toughest, and therefore taken 3-4 years; or, he could have finished in a year but then spent a few years honing everything into one complete package.

The #0 issue for Batwing was genuinely unexciting, and served more as a "Oh, did you know there was a Batman of Africa? Here he is!" kind of issue.

Anyway, on to the histories of the two core characters in the Bat-family:

Batman #0

This book had two stories in it, and as good as Scott Snyder has been, James Tynion IV produced a side story that feels like something that should be one of the opening scenes of the next film incarnation of Batman.

In the main story, readers are taken back to six years before the main story, just before Bruce became Batman. Instead, he is combating crime through a variety of disguises.

This story shows him taking on the Red Hood Gang, which in this continuity is revealed to be a little different than most know. It's made very clear that the eventual Joker is under the main mask, but he actually appears to be the main guy here instead of the fall guy.

I really don't mind this shift because Joker acknowledged in The Killing Joke that he doesn't remember the details of his descent into madness perfectly.

Anyway, I enjoyed seeing Bruce infiltrate the gang and his escape via motorcycle into... a base right next to where his parents died.

Bruce already acknowledges that the Bruce Wayne identity is his mask here, which is good, but I kind of wish there would be more of a struggle between his identities in the New 52. So far, the only showing of it has been in the Batman: The Dark Knight book during its first few awful issues.

Moving on, though, I really enjoyed Bruce's encounter with Lieutenant Jim Gordon. Seeing the initial distrust with each other will draw a contrast to Batman's good relationship with him in the present. I haven't seen much of Bruce and Jim communicating, so an issue on their relationship might be pretty interesting.

My biggest issue with this issue is that it ends with a "To be continued in 2013" tag. 2013?! I have to wait that long to know what happened on this mission?

Then again, it makes sense. This shows an early Joker right before he returns next month, so I could see something in that first encounter connecting to this upcoming arc and being brought up.

The backup is a pretty cut-and-dry story, but it is brilliant. It is about the first time the Bat-signal is used, and how the first three Robins respond to seeing it and what they were doing at the time.

My main complaint (and seemingly everyone else's) is that Jason is beating his accomplice in a robbery for killing a bystander, and he isn't questioned for possibly being involved. But what really bugs me about it isn't the lack of questioning; it's that the accomplice KNOWS what happened and yet we don't see any indicator he says anything.

That is some ninja-martial arts to break a man's specific memories of what literally just happened. (Or just a severe oversight)

The highlight here, though, is how badass Tim Drake is. He's always had the least interesting backstory of the Robins, and geez, has he been poorly used in the New 52. But he's given a great degree of competence here.

Overall, the issue is a must-see and appears to have connections to the next arc, so definitely check it out.

Batman and Robin #0

This story is perfect for people (like me) who weren't regularly reading comics during the "Batman and Son" arc. For hardcores, it more or less just provides a lead-in for what you saw.

The weirdest thing about this is that Damian is not born the old-fashioned way, instead being born in a pseudo womb. I understand the logic in that Talia doesn't want to lose training time, but this was just bizarre.

Even more bizarre, though, is Talia's birthday gifts of beating up her son. He must win to meet his dad. I will say, though, I actually liked the montage of duels, though.

I'd go into how Bruce must have stopped by R'as al Ghul to train initially in order for Damian's 10-year existence to make any sense, but it works (sort of) so I won't knock it too hard.

Damian is made to be very competent here, and that's a good sign. The issue I hold is how a 10-year-old isn't being seriously damaged by all of this training. With the other Robins, the reboot has made them at least go through puberty, so Damian feels comparatively non-threatening here.

That said, Damian being obsessed with knowing who his dad is and coming across an old Batman cowl and running around in it is adorable. This book is really a test as to whether a person can suspend disbelief about children becoming monstrous threats before puberty or not.

The book ultimately led to a familiar set of panels that were seen in "Batman & Son," so a nice bit of fan service there.

Overall, it's a great jumping on point and if you like Damian's Robin, this is a good Damian-Talia story. I really think Damian divides Batman fans into those who like Robin, and it also divides by whether you want Batman completely grounded in realism or not.

Personally, I don't mind having to reach a little in my mind for this, and if 10-year-olds don't get physically crippled by training with assassins, then OK.

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