The New Boy Wonders – Establishing Robin in a world without Batman

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I don’t envy writers who have to try to separate Robin from Batman. From his very first appearances in the 1940s, Robin’s relationship with Batman has always been characterized as one of a father and his sons. Even under the best of circumstances, separating a Robin from the Caped Crusader, leaves a character in the shadow of the more known hero. The most successful reestablishments of Robin without Batman usually dramatically alter the status quo and forcibly separate the two characters. The recent Grayson did a fantastic job turning former-Robin-turned-Nightwing-turned-Batman-turned-Nightwing-turned-spy Dick Grayson into a character on his own, in over his head and having to depend on his own strengths to deal with unique character-specific challenges, much like how the successful Chuck Dixon Nightwing relaunch relocated Dick into a crime-infested Bludhaven.

The post-Endgame status quo gives DC an open palate to put a new spin on Robin by taking the Batman readers have known for decades off the table. With the world believing Batman has died in a final battle with the Joker, the very idea of Robin can be given an entirely different characterization. Robin’s not a son anymore. He’s a standard-bearer and DC’s two new Robin-centric titles give very different interpretations on what carrying a legacy means.

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Patrick Gleason’s Robin: Son of Batman is the most straight forward approach but it’s one that also doesn’t directly address the absence of Batman. After his resurrection, Damian Wayne is taking a new look at his life. He’s continuously confronted by death and he’s no longer able to shove down his guilt and regret over his own bloody past. It’s a natural growth for the character. In the Peter Tomasi run on Batman and Robin, Damian slowly came to terms with his tortured, traumatic past by seeing the future his father was trying to build. With the tragic end of Batman Incorporated, Grant Morrison showed Damian’s final turn away from Ra’s and Talia’s plans for him and embrace of his father’s path and this issue’s focus on Damian’s guilt and rejection of the League of Assassin’s tenants is a clear way to pick up what that story established.

Robin: Son of Batman #1 puts Damian on a Herculean quest. He’s writing the wrongs of his past, trying to clean up the years of spilled blood, trying to do his best to honor both his father as well as his surrogate father, Dick Grayson. Gleason sells the hell out of Damian’s guilt and uncertainty in a wonderful, haunting nightmare sequence where the child continuously is forced to relive his guilt and his own death and when he finally chooses to begin a year of atonement, it feels earned, like Damian is doing more than just choosing to follow in his father’s shadow. He’s creating a new path.

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We are Robin #1 is a more ambitious approach to the relationship between Batman and Robin and more directly addresses a Gotham City without Bruce Wayne as Batman. The issue centers around Duke Thomas, a minor character who has appeared twice in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, whose parents disappeared following one particularly traumatic scene in Batman #37, which echoed Batman’s origin. Since then, Duke has bounced around Gotham orphanages, searching for his family and increasingly depending on himself over all others. Lee Bermejo gives Thomas’s dialogue and running internal monologue an endearing nerdiness and Jorge Corona infuses the issue’s action sequences with a nervy, confident style that brings readers directly into its protagonist’s head. He’s a relatable hero, trying to do his best but still making the wrong choice as often as he makes the right one.

Duke’s characterized throughout We are Robin #1 with elements reminiscent of almost all of the former Robins. His acrobatic combat during a schoolyard bout recall the graceful dangerous dance of Dick Grayson, his over-confident defiance of authority bears more than a little resemblance to Jason Todd and there are peaks of what made Tim Drake such a memorable sidekick. What most establishes Duke’s place in the issue, however, is his connection to Batman. When the mysterious new Robins arrive on the scene at issue’s end, they’re not interested in what Duke is capable of or what he’s been through. They just know he’s “hung with the bat” and that’s all he needs to get in.

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We are Robin establishes less than Robin: Son of Batman does but it does so in a particularly engaging way. Much like how Gotham Academy took its time to establish the mysteries around Olive Silvermane, the issue doesn’t answer much about the nature of the new Robins but their presence speaks volumes. In a story haunted by the Joker’s actions during Endgame, the establishment of a group of teens keeping Batman’s memory alive is a wonderful homage to ideas like online activism and inspiration through sacrifice. It’s a smart, thoughtful way to connect Bruce’s final fateful actions in Batman #40 to the new status quo.

We are Robin and Robin: Son of Batman both highlight what I love best about one of my favorite concepts in comics. Both boldly showcase the way Batman can change the future through inspiration, how he can prevent the next child from losing everything to one terrible day. More importantly though, both establish characters separate from a greater hero, giving writers and readers a whole new perspective on Gotham and its young protectors in a bold, exciting new world.

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“Keep me in your heart…” – A new god of war is crowned in the exceptional Wonder Woman #23

STK615965One of my first pop culture memories is watching the Lynda Carter “Wonder Woman” TV show while my mother did the ironing. I was obsessed with the show, even moreso than the episodes of Adam West’s “Batman” that were constantly on. I loved Wonder Woman, the way she fearlessly balanced her life, battling crime and always getting the answers she was looking for. I would make paper rings, color them gold and draw bright red crayon stars on them, stapling them around my wrists and pretend to deflect bullets and ninja stars my brother would attack me with. Wonder Woman was my hero, a woman who was powerful, fearless and utterly incapable of giving up or being stopped by any man she came across.

I’ve admitted many, many times that Wonder Woman is my favorite super hero and one of my favorite fictional characters. The problem, however, with being a fan of Diana is how poorly she’s been handled by DC. Yes, there are some great stories and she has such a fantastic history in the comic universe but DC has consistently tried to adapt the character to what the company believes are reader expectations. Is she a business woman, a freedom fighter, the Ally McBeal woman, a rage filled killer, or a woman of the people? The power of Wonder Woman is that she could be any of those people but the core of her character is being herself, facing anyone who would dare to challenge her and defending those she cares about.

ww23hairThe variety of ways to approach Wonder Woman are what demands that she not be approached like any other comic book character. A unique, creator controlled approach is needed for the character and Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have been able to carve out a place for the character, a woman of myth and power who’s neither defined by her past or by the fates others have decided for her. Much like Matt Fraction’s “Hawkeye,” Azzarello and Chiang have focused on one aspect of Wonder Woman’s personality, her focus on family, and have nearly recreated the character around the idea. In Wonder Woman #23, the creators put an end to  two years in stories and create a new status quo for the heroine which brings her even closer to the series’ central tenet.

Wonder Woman’s assembled family of fallen gods, civillians and her siblings is a fantastic way to  drive home the idea that family are the ones we care about but bringing Diana’s former mentor, War, into the equation complicates things. In only 23 issues, Azzarello has established War as a unique being, a man worn out by slaughter, seemingly on an endless vacation of human misery, whiskey neats and dealing with his family’s issues. However, he sees Wonder Woman as a daughter, a would-be-killer of unparalleled skill. It’s clear before the blood hits the floor that passing his title to Diana was something he saw as inevitable and wanted. Their methods may differ as well as their levels of compassion for the fallen but both are focused on being able to fight for a cause.

ww23zolaThe issue of family and legacy hangs over Wonder Woman #23. From Hera trying to protect Zola, Hell preparing to take his brother to the afterlife, Apollo standing over the broken body of his half brother to the final beautiful boat ride, the history these characters have and the one’s they’ve created for themselves are the only thing that can save them from what they’ve lost. The issue almost feels like it could be an end to a series but the promise of what could come for Diana, the new god of war, is what continues to make this a series defined by the voices of creators who are willing to take a character in bold but thoughtful new directions.

Stray ObservationsoVbC8G3A couple of surprises this week and a couple of books that stayed great. Let’s do it.

  • This is the first issue of Superman Unchained which felt like Scott Snyder was trying to do anything unique with the character. This week’s #3 may be a nearly note for note redux of “Whatever Happened to Peace, Justice and the American Way” but at least it’s not Action Comics.
  • Ending Batman’s mourning over Damian was certain to make Batman and Nightwing #23 work better than the previous 6 issues of the series. Alfred’s mourning over his surrogate son’s death is a heartbreaking sequence.
  • A great issue of Daredevil isn’t a surprise anymore but a one and done Silver Surfer story in this week’s #30 is one of those great singles guaranteed to be remembered for years.
  • Jeff Lemire continues to go wonderfully horrific in Animal Man #23 and the reconstruction of the Red is a great mix of terror and whimsy.
  • X-Men Legacy continues to be the best series of Marvel Now with a tragic story of David’s sense of division between two worlds, his father’s and his mother’s. His conversation with Blindfold at issue #15’s end is going to lead to some truly bleak stuff. I’m excited.

“No Fear” – Recent departures drive home DC’s editorial problems

ivampheader-700x300One of the pillars of my belief system is that I always assume whatever Rob Liefeld says is wrong. It’s gotten me this far. When Liefeld went on a Twitter rant in August, announcing his departure from the New 52 due to editorial interference, I assumed he was deflecting. Liefeld has been known to be hard to work with since his early days at Marvel and the formation of Image in the ’90s and I assumed this was another moment of the impetuous writer and artist trying to play at biting the hand that fed.

But, what if he was right? What if editorial oversight isn’t just letting DC bully writers with Liefeld’s name recognition but also anyone willing to sign on for a project?

Two notable creators left DC this afternoon: Andy Diggle, who was solicited for an upcoming run on Action Comics, and Joshua Hale Fialkov, of I, Vampire and solicited for a run on Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns in June. Admittedly, I was more shocked by Fialkov’s announcement, as he had received critical accolades for I, Vampire and had garnered excitement for both series in the Green Lantern family after having been announced for the job only a month ago.

shadowlandWhile not speaking to media outlets, Fialkov released an abbreviated version of his reasons for leaving the company on his blog. He writes:

“There were editorial decisions about the direction of the book that conflicted with the story I was hired to tell, and I felt that it was better to let DC tell their story the way they want. I’m grateful for the opportunity and I’ll miss working with the entire Green Lantern team…This was not an easy decision to make emotionally or financially, but, I’m sure it was the right decision for both me, and for the Green Lantern books.”

So, what could those plans possibly be? I wrote about DC’s push for increased serialization as well as easily marketable crossover and event stories as they pertained to Death of the Family but Fialkov seems to be pointing to a much more endemic problem in the company, one that Liefeld and Diggle both alluded to. Writers don’t seem to have any control of the properties they’ve been contracted or hired for.

1063192-guy_1Bob Harras has held one of the most public tenures as Editor-In-Chief at DC and he’s certainly not a name that brings a smile to the faces of a lot of comics fans. Presiding over Marvel during the company’s near bankruptcy as well as the rightfully maligned Clone Saga and Heroes Reborn, Harras has run something of a lodge club at DC since he rose to the editorial position in 2010. While he was clearly comfortable with co-publisher and former co-worker at Wildstorm Jim Lee, Harras seemed to want to get the band back together and brought over plenty of old names from Marvel’s dark days to fill out the New 52, including Liefeld, Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza.

Now, I’m not saying there was anything wrong about Harras early decisions involving the New 52, particularly who would be writing it. Harras assuredly wanted people he knew who would be able to roll out the new initiative rapidly, with the New 52 launching less than a year after he took the position. My problem is those people weren’t going to challenge Harras and it certainly could have had an influence on a sense of editorial control from on high.

1299339418Harras is most at home when he’s tapping into the same forces that mired Marvel in a creative and commercial flop. In a monthly interview on Comic Book Resources, Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase discussed Liefeld’s allegations about editorial control over creators. Harras skirted the question once, saying:

“We’re not going into any specifics, because we can’t address any specifics because of those involved. The thing is, we want everyone who works for DC to be as happy as possible, to feel the creative process is as enjoyable as possible. If there are communication problems with talent, we will always work on it to improve our messaging, but on the whole, I think sometimes there are going to be disagreements. Sometimes there are going to be agreements — it’s all part of the editorial process. But as in anything, it’s something all of us can improve on in terms of communication.”

Harras seems to stress a team spirit in his first quote but he doesn’t really say anything. Of course there are going to be agreements and disagreements in the editorial progress but the way he says it seems to stress that there’s a right answer and a wrong answer to those disagreements. The goal of editorial isn’t to keep the creative process “as enjoyable as possible” but to work together with creative, making a project that suits both the publishers as well as the goals of creative. The role of an editor isn’t to be a mediator or judge but rather to be a co-creator in a work. Harras doesn’t seem to see it that way and he points to editorial successes in the New 52, namely a consistent shipping schedule and the success of massive crossovers, to try to strengthen the relationship between creators and editorial, saying.

“…Everyone should be trying to improve all aspects of communication. Everyone should be looking at the process and ways to improve. But in general, I think we’ve got a very talented bunch of creators working with us, putting out the New 52. We have exciting books every month, and that’s what I want to concentrate on. You always have to look at how you can do things better, but I’d also like to focus on what we do well, which is creating stories like “Death Of The Family,” and even “Rotworld,” that’s exciting fans…”

I think both Rotworld and Death of the Family were underwhelming tie-ins, one designed to boost the sales of a pair of critically successful niche titles and the other to continue to boost the sales of one of the company’s best selling titles, with Scott Snyder being involved in both crossovers. It’s more consolidation with the company putting Jeff Lemire, of Swamp Thing, of additional titles that seem to flag behind, including Justice League Dark and the new Constantine. Both are solid writers and both are company men, willing to be involved with massive tie-in projects such as Snyder and Lee’s forthcoming title Superman Unchained, released at a time obviously intended to capitalize on the release of the “Man of Steel” film.

92482472948294I don’t want to frown on Snyder, Lemire or any of the other talented writers and artists who have turned in great work under Harras, Chase and the New 52. Some of them, including Snyder, have defended editorial against Liefeld and others that have berated the changes in DC but there’s a feel of that control. I don’t think Harras is a puppet master and I don’t think he’s willing to dip into the work of his bestselling projects but I do think Harras has encouraged the long form storytelling that he was involved in at Marvel’s worst.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that approach from a commercial stand point and, as an editor, that’s one of Harras’ biggest concerns. I understand that and don’t blame him for that. My problem is that this approach doesn’t allow for creativity. Writers and artists with a unique perspective like Fialkov aren’t welcome at the table when their ideas don’t fit into a very narrow view for the company and it’s a narrow view that desperately needs widened if DC wants to succeed.

In last week’s interview at CBR, Harras mentions that he wants the New 52 to be open to more than just Batman and Superman titles, saying:

“I think what you’re going to see moving forward, like we’ve done already with the New 52, is that there’s always going to be a mix. We’re not going to give up on the idea of trying new things, new types of genres that led to things like “Animal Man” and “Swamp Thing.” We’re going to continue that: a nice, healthy mix of the bigger heroes, and some new heroes as well.”

It’s a nice thing to say but it implies a necessary risk and it doesn’t seem to be one that Harras is all that interested in taking. Creating comics that allow for consistent growth as well as fan interest and sales requires a partnership between writers, artists and editors, with each being willing to make the sacrifices to create the best products possible. That requires fearlessly allowing creators to tell their story without interference, oversight or the editorial demands.

“In hindsight, there were signs…” – Death of the Family shows the flaws of DC’s serialized push

A4hdaJyCcAAPAd1Let’s talk about the Joker but, more importantly, let’s talk about the arch-nemesis archetype. The Joker is the purest dark reflection of Batman. He’s emotional where Batman is rational. He’s chaotic while Batman is axiomatic. He’s highly sexualized where Batman is highly fetishized. The Joker is what Batman is determined to never be. Batman sees the Joker as an enemy by default because he represents something that feels intrinsically wrong to him. It’s how I feel about homophobes, “Family Guy” fans and people who eat at Panda Express.

Batman is almost singularly unique in having an arch-nemesis that plays diametrically opposite him. For all their competition, Lex Luther hates Superman because he desperately wants to be Superman. For years, Magneto battled Charles Xavier because he viewed Xavier’s dream as too optimistic, too perfect. The Green Goblin battled Spider-Man because they’re virtually the same character, intelligent, driven men who have the power to use the world as their playground.

BM_Cv17+122802It’s hard to write powerful Joker stories because of this. Joker intrinsically always feels less like a character and more like a force; he’s chaos, he’s death, he’s grief because he’s not really a character, he’s a reflection. Joker’s biggest moments are remembered for what he did, not who he was. We remember Batman cradling Jason Todd’s corpse. I remember Barbara’s body crumbling to the floor. We remember Batman holding a bullet wound as he stands over his enemy’s broken body. I can quote verbatim the “interject a little anarchy” speech. The Joker works for moments, he’s a taste that lingers on the back of your tongue way after you’ve swallowed the last rancid bite.

It’s the intrinsic problem of writing long form stories around the character. Joker exists to cause the chaos, to be the hurricane. Scott Snyder wrote Death of the Family clearly trying to get into the Joker’s mindset. In interviews, he extensively compared Joker’s plan to the fear of his children being killed, what I naturally assume to be a pretty tough thing for parents. By placing that sort of thematic weight on the character, Snyder forced us to look at the Bat-Family as children and turn his villain into the bogeyman.

47qSpeaking strictly in terms of plot, Death of the Family suffered the same disease that all of DC’s franchises have as the New 52 enters its second year. With the books finally starting to blend together, editorial is demanding bigger stories, justifications for the links between books. With that in mind, the Bat-writers needed a way to bring Joker’s promise to kill the family into a very personal place for Damian, Dick, Barbara, Jason and Tim. What we received were crossover titles, each varying wildly in tone and quality. Where Batman and Robin #15-16 were a living nightmare of insects, patricide and taunts, Nightwing #15-16 was  Friday the 13th: Part III, complete with the return to the villain’s most famous stomping ground.

Those crossovers had a purpose that was clearly at odds with the one Snyder was setting up in Batman proper. Each of the writers needed to make the Joker’s threat unique to the individual character. The Joker taunts Damian with his failures as a sidekick and as a hero. The Joker forces Dick to come to terms with the way he uses people to separate himself from the man he is behind the mask. The Joker makes Barbara acknowledge her relationship to the Gordon family, no matter how twisted the roots of the tree are. While some of these stories undoubtedly worked, the theme of Death of the Family was, according to Snyder, meant to be the family Bruce has constructed.

batgirl15p2-31100But that’s also sort of the problem. Death of the Family was thematically all over the place. Is Batman meant to be the King of Gotham? Does Joker feel like Batman’s lover or son? Why is such an importance placed on Batman’s relationship with James Gordon? What was the need to recreate the pair’s earliest encounters? The theme I picked up on the most clearly through Death of the Family was meant to be the relationship between Joker and Batman but it’s never made concrete. Snyder went with the Frank Miller’s description of the Joker as a homophobic nightmare but there was no teeth. Joker consistently played up the connection Alan Moore originally made about the two characters in The Killing Joke, the idea that at some level, Batman and the Joker are going to be doing this forever but after all, they’re both still human. It’s much harder to see Joker split up Batman’s family when the first four issues of the event seem to write the villain as the sidekicks’ new stepmom.

Which leads us to the finale in Batman #17. The chips are down, dinner is served and it’s time for the denouement but what is it meant to be honestly. Reading through issue #17, I was consistently reminded of the rightfully much maligned “Ocean’s Twelve,” a movie that commits one of the most memorable examples of trying desperately to keep the audience sense of disbelief but more importantly, a movie that depends on lies. The issue and the story-line as a whole climaxes with two characters bluffing. Are we supposed to believe either one of them? What power does the Joker have if each of his lines goes back against itself endlessly? He doesn’t seem enigmatic, joking or even interesting; it all just seems like bullshit.

Batman_17_PanelIn a post-mortem interview, Snyder stresses that the conclusion of Death of the Family leaves Bruce’s support network in tatters. Trusts have been betrayed. The characters have been tortured. Batman has won a seemingly hollow victory against an unstoppable force. It’s just really hard to see it that way. As Batman pursues the Joker in the final issue, he shares a moment with Nightwing that says so much about both characters but it doesn’t feel like anything has changed. Dick will never really leave Bruce. Barbara will never give up the cowl. Damian will never give up on his father (and as readers may have seen in the exceptional Batman and Robin #17, he may be satisfied with what he’s been through).

What I’ve seen is another in an endless series of stop-gaps, another problem that will need to be solved before the next omni-event begins. This is DC at it’s worst and it’s a problem they’ve been pushing since the beginning of the New 52, which is plot always and endlessly above character. In a world where it could have been compressed into a shorter, smaller more well focused story, Death of the Family could have worked instead of extending itself across titles and themes in a way that felt inauthentic to every character it touched.

The Vulcan Quiche Awards: The Grand Finale

BatmanRobin-Zone-017-e1344659731947This is it, the best single issue of the year. Who’s got it? I guess you should probably read on and validate my crippling lack of self worth.

The Sarek Scramble: Awarded to the single finest issue of the year.

Honorable Mentions2292173-g8image1
There were so many truly incredible offerings this year that it was difficult to whittle them down. Grifter #8 made a case for Nathan Edmondson’s gritty, hyper-violent 90s style with plenty of heart as Cole faces off with his possessed brother and shows himself as the most dangerous man in the DCU. Batgirl #11 and Batman and Robin #12 both showed off what exactly makes the Bat-Family into a force to be reckoned with and showed the honor, compassion and skill of two of its most interesting members. Green Lantern Annual #1 crystalized the power of the unconventional pairing of Sinestro and Hal as they take on Black Hand with the highest of stakes. The Goon #39 nearly cracked the top 5 with a hysterical, biting take on crossovers, retcons, rebrandings and pretty much every comic book cardinal sin The Big Two have committed since the ’90s.

Fifth PlaceSAUCER6_1Saucer Country #6

What happens when fiction begins to determine how reality is viewed? What is the risk of building knowledge from constructed myth? Saucer Country’s expository issue on the nature of the UFO mythology and how popular culture such as “The X-Files” and competing tales of experiences with aliens has created a fiction that is believed and reported on so much that it has become the truth. Writer Paul Cornell masterfully weaves what could have been an expository bore into a conversation that doesn’t just make readers reconsider all they know about the series but everything we know about fiction.

Fourth Placebatman 10.1 - CopyBatman #10

The chant of the owls at the end of Scott Snyder’s epic is, appropriately, “who?” Who is behind the attack from the Court of Owls? Who is Lincoln March? Who knew Gotham better than Batman? In Snyder’s epic battle of wits between Bruce Wayne and his (maybe?) lost brother Lincoln, the answer is worth more than the fight. Snyder wove a tale of secrets, battles and vengeance into his impossibly brilliant Court of Owls that climaxes not with a fist fight but with a verbal jousting match between two forces battling for the soul of a tortured city.

Third PlaceManhattan-Projects-4-bannerManhattan Projects #3

The theme of Jonathan Hickman’s excellent Manhattan Projects has always been power and it’s in the exceptional third issue that power is seized by the cabal of narcissistic scientists. It’s a tense issue. As FDR dies, Truman is sworn in, only to face a decision he doesn’t have a say in. The nuke will drop, the war will end, the Manhattan Projects will seize power and become the main force in the future of Earth. As Truman becomes more and more frantic, the future is increasingly sealed in an issue that shows the power a single group of individuals can wield in the face of their last enemy.

Second Placetumblr_mbptso0lpg1qky2i3o1_1280Wolverine and the X-Men #18

Heroes fall. It’s a classic myth cycle. Innocents die in the face of overwhelming darkness. Weakness is punished. The best of us fall to inspire others. In the exemplary issue of Jason Aaron’s series, Broo is helpless to his feelings as Idie offers him a chance to escape the creature he struggles against being. While Wolverine makes his final struggle against a Phoenix-empowered Cyclops, the students of the Jean Grey Academy dance and surrender to impulses, leading Broo to an inevitable conflict with Kade Kilgore of the Hellfire Club. It’s a heartbreaking issue, one that makes readers reconsider the struggles of the alien who so desperately wants to be one of the rejects and the failures he faces. This is excellency in comic book storytelling and the power of the denouement gives the characters the honor and importance they deserve.

And the Scramble goes to…tumblr_mdbjg6Ke9M1qky2i3o1_1280Hawkeye #3

Things have gotten dark. DC has embraced arc based storytelling in an effort to sell more tie-in titles in an uncharacteristically dark style. Marvel hopes to recapture the sales they found during Avengers vs. X-Men with massive, universe spanning events. Comics weren’t fun in 2012. They were bleak affairs, filled alternatively with bad men doing bad things and heroes battling other heroes. What happened to the medium we loved, heroes being heroic, fighting for justice and goodness in a world that rejected such things? Matt Fraction’s exceptional Hawkeye dared to be that experimental. In the fantastic one-and-done, Clint Barton engages in a massive car chase throughout New York City, showing off all the goofy arrows that made his Silver Age representation a character to watch. What’s best is this is an issue that’s fun, one with humor and action, tension and characters we care about and want to succeed. In an industry that’d rather see its characters dragged through the mud in an attempt to find something unique about them, it’s revolutionary to see a hero show what it means to care about others and prove it.

The Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 4

WolverineXmen17It’s all wrapping up and it’s time to award the single best series of 2012. There was some fierce competition and some of the best titles of the year are left out in the cold but this is the second biggest award of the year. Let’s get to it.

The Next Generations – Awarded to the finest series of pictorials of the year.

Honorable MentionsBatman-Robin-Zone-001

There are really too many to count but a couple of series nearly cracked the top five. Uncanny X-ForceAnimal Man and FF all were in the running but for one reason or another, were left behind. Peter Tomasi’s Batman and Robin recovered from a brief Night of the Owls crossover misstep and focused on Damian’s need to prove himself to Dick, Jason and Tim led to one of the best moments of 2012 as the Robins join together in their own beautiful way. Jason Aaron’s exceptional Wolverine and the X-Men was just beat out for fifth place, mostly on the strength of three issues that defined the X-franchise, both pre- and post- Avengers vs. X-Men.

Fifth Placescan0007Saucer Country

In an election year which inevitably focused on broken promises, preconceptions and verbal badger baiting on both sides of the aisle, Saucer Country focused on an idealistic candidate with a past but the series’ focus on politics all serves the overarching narrative. While Arcadia lets her alien abduction become the focus of her presidential campaign, Professor Kidd focuses on the mythology, a complex series of contradicting narratives that form the body of not only UFO lore, but also of how we understand all stories. In the fantastic issue #6, Kidd’s speech on the way missing time impacts memory is fragmented, broken into increasingly smaller panels, showing the way readers are forced to fill in the blanks themselves through memory, knowledge, intuition and drawing on common myth. It’s an excellent series that showed it’s hand brilliantly in the first issue and continues to be one of Vertigo’s best.

Fourth Placeinc-bannerBatman Incorporated: Volume 2

Grant Morrison’s epic, gripping, poetic magnum opus has been a propulsive, incredibly readable take on Batman’s struggle for the souls of Gotham, his son and himself. It’s a book with a sense of pace that few, even Scott Snyder’s vaunted run on Batman, can’t match and each issue is another incredibly powerful look at a man who cannot and will not be stopped. This is the Batman book of 2012 and when it ends in 2013, I’m sure it will have a chance to hold that title again.

Third Place2719154-hawkeye4_03Hawkeye

Matt Fraction has become one of Marvel’s premier talents and his take on the Avengers’ archer shows why. Taking Clint back to his roots and showing him as the guy next door has highlighted his heroics and in storylines such as “The Tape,” his incredible, “Die Hard”-esque leaps into action are highlighted even more. It’s a series with charm, laughs and plenty of action, weirdly making it unique in a medium that’s increasingly been played for something entirely different.

Second Placescreen-shot-2012-07-09-at-9-52-48-pmManhattan Projects

Jonathan Hickman’s ever-growing cast of scientific geniuses, opportunists, schemers, computers, aliens, talking dogs and inter-dimensional doppelgängers have built a twisted look at the scientific world at the onset of the Cold War. Manhattan Projects is downright scary at times, showing men without ethics manipulate, kill and conquer as they pursue nothing but their own goals. It’s an inadvertent character study, mostly of the sinister, uncontrollable Oppenheimer and the moralistic but tortured Feynman and the ways their ideologies, beliefs and methods differ as a new world is created, corrupted and discarded.

And the Nextie goes to…xlargeSaga

Brian K. Vaughan did it again, creating an instant classic of sci-fi wonder, love, death and life in the first 8 issues of Saga. Vaughan has never produced a bad series and Saga is impressive even by his incredible standards, with instantly relatable characters, complex and morally compromised villains, a believable quest and the sort of adult interpersonal relationships rarely seen in comics these days. Protagonists Marko and Alana have such a believable connection, making their occasional spats all the more painful and their love all the more powerful. The story, told in retrospect by the couple’s newly born daughter, Hazel, has a wonderfully knowing combination of child-like innocence and a bright worldliness, perfectly suiting the space opera style of this majestic, must-read series.

Next Up: The lights are scanning and the drums are rolling as the best single issue of 2012 is crowned.

 

“Seven words spoken in the dark” – Becky Cloonan gives a strikingly different take on the dark knight

Marvel has had a long tradition of analyzing their classic characters from the perspective of civilians. It generally provides interesting insights into the characters as well as the universe as a whole. Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ exceptional Marvels series defines the trend, examining the Golden, Silver and Bronze ages of comics through the perspective of a Daily Bugle reporter.

Scott Snyder has demonstrated a love for all periods of Batman lore and Batman 12 shows his willingness to examine the dark knight from a very different angle. After 11 issues of battling owls, assassins,  Gotham itself and a man claiming to be his brother, Batman gets a break in an issue that takes readers back to the first issue of Snyder’s series.

More than anything, Batman 12 is going to be remembered for Becky Cloonan’s stellar artwork on the issue. Being the first woman to ever illustrate Batman is certainly a long anticipated event and she does an incredible job. Her trademark clean lines, expressive faces and attention to body language and character interactions are all on display and it may be one of the most visually unique books of the Batman books.

Snyder’s script doesn’t disappoint either. Bringing back high school electrician Harper Row, who saved Batman from the Maze of the Owls back in issue 7, we get to understand the world of a girl who sees Batman as a sign of hope in a dying city. After being invited to the gala event that started off the first issue, Harper leaves disillusioned, thinking that Bruce Wayne doesn’t understand how to save the Gotham that she knows. The rest of her nights are spent fighting gay bashers who attack her brother and researching her hero, the Batman.

I don’t know that this is an issue we would have gotten had the Court of the Owls arc been stretched for another issue but its certainly an interesting take on how Batman is viewed and its a reintroduction to a character that Snyder seems to have plans for. Overall, picking this one up is about picking up a piece of history and its one of the most visually compelling super hero books you’re going to buy this year.

Batman vs. Radioactive Man – Tony Daniel closes his shameful run on Detective Comics

Perhaps the strangest part of the New 52 is seeing the sharp contrast between the best books of the relaunch and the worst. In a sea of titles that have helped to redefine what superhero comics can do, the titles that continue to stay stagnant.

Tony Daniel’s run on Detective Comics may be DC’s biggest failure of the relaunch. Handing the reigns of their trademark title to a creator who was mostly well known as an artist in the grotesque Image style seemed like a colossal misstep, even after Daniel had worked with Grant Morrison on Batman R.I.P. and Battle for the Cowl, seemed like a strange choice. Making matters worse, Daniel didn’t even attempt to make a book that was anything more than adequate at best.

Its hard to even describe the style that has characterized Daniel’s work on the title. Its episodic, fragmented, violent nonsense, seemingly drawing more from Image heroes such as Spawn and Midnighter and the atrocious All-Star Batman then the great stories both Scott Snyder and Grant Morrison have been turning in. There’s nothing wrong with telling a very different kind of Batman story; its just that over the course of 12 issues, Daniel hasn’t been able to tell a good one.

Its clear that Daniel has been trying to do just that. His first arc mixed an obscenely violent story about the Joker having his face cut off with the Penguin setting up a new nightclub in a way that did justice to none of Gotham. The plots were ludicrous, unsatisfying and messy. I had to go back and reread all of his issues just to tell you as much as I have, and I’ve already forgotten most of what he’s written.

Daniel’s last Bat-book will be the Detective Comics Annual coming out later this month but Wednesday’s Detective Comics 12 is his last real book on the title. There, he concludes his messy science story, bringing back Mr. Toxic and reintroducing Professor Radium, while having both of them being clones for some totally nonsensical reason. Its a mess of an issue, where we’re supposed to have grown to care about a tragic villain we’ve never really met, keep up with a bunch of science jargon that just barely makes sense and a brutally disappointing ending leads to an issue that could kindly be described as a waste of paper.

The backup story isn’t bad, written by future Talon scribe James Tynion IV, but it is unnecessary. I know a lot of people have been wondering about what had happened to the Joker’s face and undoubtedly DC wanted to tease out the upcoming Death in the Family arc but it feels like we should be seeing this in, y’know, Snyder’s Batman book.

I have always hated telling people that there’s no reason to read a certain title. People are going to like what they’re going to like and there are people who’ve surely found something worthwhile in Daniel’s run but for me, this has been an awful run and a blemish on DC’s solid relaunch. I can only hope that the next writer can do something with the dark knight but for now, lets all just try to forget that Daniel’s run has never happened.

 

 

“Its only just begun” – The Joker to return to Gotham City

Gotham City has had it pretty easy since the launch of the New 52. A span of newly created bad guys shook things up but all in all, it has barely had to deal with the villains that have made Gotham one of the most dangerous places in the DC Multiverse.

That’s been a bit of a problem, really. The relaunch of all of DC’s titles was a huge step in courting new writers but people looking to see the machinations of Two Face, Mr. Freeze, The Riddler, Mr. Zsaz and The Joker have been vastly missing out.

According to a newly posted teaser on the DC comics blog, that’s not going to be the case much longer, as The Joker makes his first major appearance in the new continuity since Detective Comics 1.

The good news of all of this is that Tony Daniel, the writer who had the first issue with the Joker in the new continuity, won’t be heading the Clown Prince of Crime’s return and is blessedly leaving the Batman brand. He’s been involved with Batman for a long time and really has never been able to handle the character that well, usually reducing the dark knight to little more than a bruiser and padding out stories with cheap shocks.

Instead, Joker is getting his first plot arc in the pages of Batman, written by Scott Snyder with art by Greg Capullo. I couldn’t be happier with this, as I’ve been consistently happy with Snyder’s work and he’s the perfect person to mix the terror and mystery that a good Joker story deserves.

The new arc, titled “Death in the Family,” a clear homage to the classic arc which left second Robin and current Red Hood Jason Todd dead, Snyder teased that the appearance of the Joker would lead to big shakeups as the villain attempted to do as much damage to the Bat-Family as possible. That being said, he’s sure to encounter some problems in attempting to do so. DC has announced that both Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” as well as the original “A Death in the Family” arc both remain in continuity, meaning Barbara Gordon and Jason Todd will both have plenty of motivation for hunting the villain down. Jason already had a shot at Joker right after “Wargames” but I wouldn’t expect time has eased his thirst for venegance and the recent Batgirl arc has shown that she is still looking for closure after she was shot in “The Killing Joke.”

I fully expect Snyder has big plans for the character and the Joker’s small appearance in “The Black Mirror” proves that he knows how to write the character. I like many others, will be eagerly awaiting what Snyder has planned for the Bat-Family as Joker returns to the city.

Are we overrating “Night of the Owls?”

HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE RECENTLY RELEASED “BATMAN #10.” SERIOUSLY, WE’RE DISCUSSING THE CONCLUSION OF “NIGHT OF THE OWLS”

I don’t want to really shit on Scott Snyder’s “Batman.” On the whole, its been a rightfully celebrated run on a landmark title. Snyder’s first arc, “The Court of the Owls,” is reaching its conclusion in the pages of his title and for many, this is the first exposure to a Batman monthly.

And that’s where I think the problem is. I can say with confidence that “Batman” is without a doubt one of the most consistent, impressive and well constructed books of the New 52. Its managed an impressively long and in depth storyline and has managed to be both a great entry point for new fans, as well as a great series for longtime readers.

I really think that this is part of why this run has been so critically beloved. The release of today’s issue #10 has received unanimous praise, with IGN giving it a rare 9.5 score. Much of their praise is heaped on the book’s big twist, which is the moment that really prompted me to write all of this.

To get it out of the way, Snyder reintroduces Earth 3’s Owlamn, a classic DC character who has long claimed to be Thomas Wayne Jr. Now, Bruce finds the court destroyed and a man, who once claimed to be mayoral candidate Lincoln March, in the metallic owl costume and claiming to be the long lost brother of Bruce Wayne.

In one way, I really love what Snyder did here (and I’m hardly mentioning what a great job penciller Greg Capullo did in visually setting up the revelation). Reintroducing long lost characters is one of the things that I love about comics because it rewards fans so much and allows for great revelations. Hell, its one of the few high points of “Blackest Night.” That being said, for new readers, the targets of the New 52 relaunch, this is just hopelessly hackneyed twist.

Now, I think that the twist does work both ways, its surprising but well designed and based in the plot rather than coming from nowhere and the conversation that Thomas and Bruce has is great, perfectly meshing with the art. My problem is it seems people are conditioned to be alright with the twist simply because the earlier issues of the series set the bar so high.

Like I said, I liked Batman #10 and I’ve liked the series as a whole. I’m just curious to see what y’all think. Are we giving this series far too much credit based on earlier content or is the twist even more well done than I assumed (it bears mentioning that Snyder has hinted that Thomas may not be telling the truth and that more twists are in store)? Sound off in the comments about issue 10, the mass suicide of the court or the Bat-family titles after Night of the Owls.