The First Annual Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 1

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It’s been a long year, what with the New 52 picking up steam, Marvel kinda-sorta-not-really relaunching, Grant Morrison having his own convention, people complaining about a theoretical Avengers line-up, people getting offended about sexism in one of the most traditionally sexists mediums but this time with occasional flashes of brilliance. Basically, it’s been another year in comics. So what better way to celebrate than counting down some of the best produced in 2012? I can’t think of one because I’m morbidly uncreative. We’ll be running countdowns all week, concluding with the best series and best single issues. For now, we’re focused on characters, namely the breakout comic stars of 2012.

The Riker’s Beardies- Awarded for excellence in character growth and increased visibility and fan support

Runner-Up

batcowpreviewDamian Wayne

For a lot of DC readers, this was the first introduction of the son of Batman, a callused, aggressive, violent, impetuous Robin introduced by Grant Morrison only about a year before the relaunch. Since then, he’s been softened and after teaming back up with Bruce after he returned from time, Peter Tomasi and Grant Morrison focused their efforts on creating a strong father-son dynamic between the characters. It’s worked and Damian is still an wonderfully conflicted, complicated character for it.

Fifth Place

2158238-s2Sinestro

In what is debatably Geoff Johns’ best book, a perfect buddy cop relationship was forged in the wake of Sinestro taking Hal’s ring at the conclusion of War of the Green Lanterns. Everything that made him one of the best villains of the DC universe continues to make him one of the best heroes. He’s a man who’s made many mistakes but has a single-minded vision of what the universe, the Corps and what Hal needs to survive. It’s already been too long since readers have seen him back in action.

Fourth Place

Animal-Man_2_panelAnimal Man – Buddy Baker

No book from the Big Two has successfully gone bigger, weirder and darker this year than Animal Man, which managed to balance family drama, body-horror and looming dread around the twisted tale of one of DC’s most forgotten heroes. Baker came out of the first issue with style and finesse but between battling totems in the Red, killing his own fleshy Rot-clone and descending with Swamp Thing into Rotworld, he’s become a bona fide niche hit.

Third Place

indestructiblehulk1_splashpageThe Hulk – Bruce Banner

As I said in the Marvel NOW! roundup, Banner’s gotten a big movie push in popularity and the House of Ideas is clearly trying to capitalize on that success in Indestructible Hulk. With only two, albeit exceptional, issues out, writer Mark Waid is bringing the same sense of gritty, violent reinvention to Hulk that he brought to Daredevil.

Second Place

2566927-broo_wolverine_the_x_men_15_ideaBroo

Broo is the heart and brains of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. A member of a race of old-school X-enemies, Broo went from being the comic relief to a character with a soul, one trying to escape his bestial heritage, find love and find a place. He eventually becomes the center of the students’ hopes and fears at the conclusion of the heartbreaking Wolverine and the X-Men #18 in an issue that may be showing up on another list…

And the Beardie goes to…

tumblr_mc1qf1PXeI1qzcsd1o1_1280Hawkeye – Clint Barton

Did anyone expect Matt Fraction’s take on Marvel’s best archer to be this great? In 6 issues, Clint has become a hero to the everyman, a guy making a stand, a father figure and a neighbor. He’s the hero we want to and think we could be. Fraction and David Aja’s nail the archer in and out of the costume and he’s made more than a few new fans in 2012.

Next Up – We’ve seen owls, the return of the Joker, burning space birds, atomic bombs, Daemonites, books of magic, poorly named evil organizations and much more but what’s strong enough to take this year’s award for Best Arc?

“Down to the last stone, down to my last breath”: Damian’s future is written in Morrison’s amazing BATMAN INC 5

Batman Inc-Zone-021It’s interesting watching the Batman line lose it’s way. In a veritable mess of non-stop crossovers, DC has made sure that readers are bound to lose track of the characters under the cowls. Why care about the risks if every thing’s just a series of mounting tensions with inevitable climaxes that come far too late?

That’s only one of the many, many reasons why Grant Morrsion’s Batman Incorporated has been the premier Bat-title DC has been releasing, if not the best title DC has produced in 3 years.

Part of that’s because of the relentless focus on tension. Morrison began with the end in mind. The finale of Batman Incorporated will be the end of Morrison’s collaboration with DC, exception of course for the upcoming Multiversity. As such, he’s decided to play with any of the toys he wants to, not caring what anyone else is waiting to use them for. Barbara Gordon’s in a wheel-chair! Jason Todd’s (maybe) wearing a more heroic costume! The Joker will end Gotham!

batman-inc-221Batman Inc. 5 reveals one answer that Morrison’s been holding out on for years, the future Bruce saw was of what happens when Damian takes over the Cowl. It’s a sinister world, with zombified-Joker ghouls burning Gotham to ashes, a cannibal Gorilla Grodd-esque super villain preaching the end of days, and Babs Gordon shooting Damian in the spine.

It’s an exhilarating issue. From Bruce, Dick and Jason surrounding a breaking down Damain, the new Batman’s dedication to the cause, the nuke or Leviathan’s second wave, it’s an action packed issue in a series that’s become one of the best for it.

Batman-and-Robin-0-Damian-first-Robin-CostumeDamian will remain Morrison’s finest contribution to the Bat-mythos for years to come and this is clearly him building to a new status queue for the character. The question that has loomed over the series since issue 3 has been whether Damian was ever suited to being Robin. He’s violent, self-centered and wants little more than to prove himself.

Damian’s a character that has consciously been designed to recall Jason Todd. Morrison (like me, although that sounds often pretentious of me) has long recognized that Jason has gotten a bad rap as Robin. He was a strong, interesting character, one that clearly wanted to do what was best for Gotham and for the Family. Jason’s death was one of the legitimately tragic moments of the Batman mythology, read separately from the phone line incident, and the character’s parallels to Damian are clear. Both are less focused on saving the city than proving themselves to the Knight in black armor.

tumblr_mcjdvoOplu1qhxx6do2_1280With seven issues left, and some preview images avaliable of issues to come, it’s pretty clear Batman Incorporated will be defined by Damian’s decisions. Can he control his own impulses and prove himself to Bruce? Will Talia push her beloved too far? Will Gotham be proven to be the Hell it was promised to be? Will Barbara end up back in a wheel chair? That one is probably less important.

“You’re already wearing the ‘R'” – Peter Tomasi brings Batman & Robin back in a big way

Batman & Robin was probably my most anticipated book of the New 52. After Grant Morrison and Judd Winnick’s great redefinition of the partnership, putting Dick Grayson in the cowl and Damian Wayne as Robin, I wasn’t sure that I wanted Bruce to be partners with his son. Morrison’s use of Dick as a second Batman in Batman Incorporated and in the Leviathan Strikes one-shot seemed to hint that this could have been an option.

Instead, Peter Tomasi, mostly known for his work on the Green Lantern Corps books, gave us a very traditional team up between Bruce Wayne and his son. The first six issues were good, maybe even great, with Damian continuing to fight back against his upbringing in the League of Assassins as well as the killer who trained Bruce. It was a taut, involving mystery that didn’t feel like a retread in any real way.

That all changed after the lackluster Night of the Owls crossover. In issue 10, we’re greeted by a new villain, the terrorist Terminus, as well as a promise from Damian that he intends to prove to Dick, Jason and Tim that he is the best and most worthy Robin. That was where the real trouble set in. For most of Morrison and Winnick’s runs on Batman & Robin, Damian was forced to struggle with who he was, deciding whether his role was one of protector or a narcissistic killer like his grandfather. There was a psychological weight to his decisions and having him go through a meaningless challenge of the Robins made the earlier character work feel moot and unimportant. What’s worse, he directly challenges Dick to prove himself as Nightwing, undoing all of the mutual respect the two had developed in the earlier run of the series.

This week’s twelfth issue seemingly puts an end both to Terminus as well as Damian’s need to challenge the other Robins. As Batman shows that his greatest contribution to Gotham isn’t the damage he’s done so much as the people he’s saved, Nightwing, Red Robin, Red Hood and Damian all work together, fending off gangsters and saving civillians. Watching these distinct characters, all in very different places of their superhero careers, bounce off of one another is a lot of fun and the ending, in which Dick both salutes and makes Damian see who he really is, feels earned and appropriate for both characters.Batman & Robin 12 reminded me of what I liked about this series so much in the early issues. Sure, there are still problems with the characterization of Damian and I wish this second arc would have been drawn out a little longer but Tomasi has managed to balance action, great story and dialogue to make one of the most compelling, fun reads of the year.

“De-tec-tive…”: Batman Incorporated #2 gives a proper New 52 introduction to the Al Ghul family

Talia’s motivations for battling the dark knight’s worldwide project have been mysterious since she appeared at the end of “Leviathan Strikes,” and by the end of the second issue, her plans aren’t crystal clear. That, however, isn’t my question about this issue.

My question is why.

After the first issue’s cliffhanger of leaving Damian bleeding out from Goatboy’s sniper round, Morrison leads readers to the hideout of Ras al Ghul where he is accosted by the leader of Leviathan, Talia. Its abundantly clear that this isn’t a friendly visit. The opening, which wonderfully shows the seduction of Talia’s mother as well as the birth sets up her intents for her father.

Naturally, Morrison feels the totally unnecessary need to fuck up continuity, changing Talia’s lineage again but I’d have more of a problem with it if the whole thing wasn’t so damn entertaining. Rushing through Talia’s training, her time in college, Raj’s battle with his father and the “birth” of Damian, Morrison and Burnham do a great job catching up readers on one of their favorite characters and why she may have started the mission that she’s on.

For seasoned fans of the Bat-family, there is exceedingly little new material to dig into. That sort of is a good thing, particularly because the rest of the issue does so much to color her character and motivations both as the Demon Head’s daughter and as a super criminal on her own. That being said, Talia does take some manner of control over the League of Assassins, puts Ras under house arrest and reveals that Damian didn’t die last issue.

This was really my only gripe with the whole issue. Yeah, we all knew that Damian wasn’t dead and that Morrisson was pulling a cheap one at the end of Batman Incorporated 1 but he does it with no sense for drama. In an issue that’s all about Talia’s development from an innocent girl to a killer and mastermind, it’d be nice to show how her personal parallel character survived. If Morrison wasn’t interested in doing this same thing, why would he have Damian survive the bullet and then write it off in just a single enigmatic sentence. Its always been clear that Morrison adores Damian Wayne but its hard to see why when he treats the character like this.

I really enjoyed Batman Incorporated 2 a lot, mostly for what it did for Talia, who has long been one of the most underdeveloped of Batman’s rogues gallery and its interesting enough to make the lack of plot advancement still worth it. Hearing just a little of her plans for Leviathan as well as the way she feels about her father are sure to make the next few issues of one of the best books on the market almost impossible to wait for.

When Batman can be everywhere, read the book that’s finally going somewhere

It’d be the understatement of the last five years to say that Grant Morrison’s 6 year run on Batman has been controversial. By some, (me and many, many others) its been one of the worst runs in recent memories. For others, Morrison revolutionized the character and the place Batman plays in the DC universe. Regardless, his recent work has become more accessible than ever, with The Battle for the Cowl, The Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman RIP all available on the cheap or in trades.

All of this was a concentrated effort on DC’s part to rerelease the run for the return of Morrison’s most celebrated series, Batman Incorporated. Regardless of individual feelings on Morrison (he’s pretentious, contrarian and overly focused on trying to be the next Alan Moore), Batman Inc. is an accomplishment, an artistic, smart and imaginative take on Batman’s place in a world outside of Gotham City.

The series focuses on Bruce Wayne’s return to the timeline after being banished by Darkseid in Final Crisis. After witnessing a future of crime and death, he realized that more needed to be done to stop the rise of worldwide crime. Revealing Bruce Wayne to be the financial backer of Batman, although not Batman himself, and began recruiting heroes around the world to join his company, a collective dedicated to protecting the world from the cataclysm to come. It was an ambitious idea, integrating the imaginative silver age style that Morrison was obsessed with as well as the worldly perspective that often seems to elude American writers.

The series began its second, as Morrison calls it, season on Wednesday but before we get into it, its worth reanalyzing the first run. Batman’s attempt to establish a worldwide network of agents is constantly being stopped by a nefarious terrorist organization known as Leviathan, led by the senile ex-Nazi Otto Netz and eventually, Talia al Ghul.

Tons of flashbacks, twisting plans, an ouroboros and a threat against all of the Bat-family, the brand new Batman Incorporated #1 opens with frames reminiscent of the classic animated series episode “Over the Edge.” Bruce Wayne stands at a grave and declares to Alfred that Batman Inc is dead. We then jump a month into the past where Batman and Damian hunt down an assassin named, sigh, Goatman who is attempting to cash in on the bounty Talia placed on her son’s head at the end of the first series.

There’s certainly problems here. Morrison clumsily works in references to the ongoing Batman and Robin series and tries to tie it into Damian’s attack on Netz at the end of Leviathan Strikes. Morrison’s never been able to play well with other authors and his attempt to make goofy stylings and art mesh up with the bloody, violent and cannibalistic stylings of his villains doesn’t exactly match up. It doesn’t work particularly well but if you’ve made it through the original run, you know what you’re in for. Along with that, it takes about half the issue before any other members of the network show up and when they do, they just talk dubiously about what they’ll be able to do now that Leviathan thinks they’re dead. Because of all of this, most of the time, it feels like you’re reading just a strangely pencilled issue of Batman and Robin. For me, that’s not a bad thing but Morrison doesn’t have the same grasp on Damian that some of the other writers, namely Peter Tomasi has had in the last year.

The big talking point has naturally been the ending of the issue. Yes, it was there solely for shock value, probably put there a little bit to distract from how successful Scott Snyder’s Night of the Owls has been and was definitely there for Morrison to show that he is indeed back in the game. I think he’ll be able to show his hand a little more and give the series some of the subtelty that the original Batman Inc showed occasionally. As of now, Batman Incorporated may be for die hard Batman fans and Morrison’s acolytes only. Its a book that’s hard to love but its one that may be worth reading, almost solely to see how Morrison hopes to conclude his time in Gotham City.