Nightwing: Year One review

Sunday, October 29, 2006

While reading Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty's Bat-Family "Year One" stories, I can't help but consider the rumor I've heard that the writers have one more story--a fourth to their "trilogy"--still in the planning. Given that we've had a Dick Grayson-Robin: Year One, a Barbara Gordon-Batgirl: Year One, and a Dick Grayson-Nightwing: Year One, one could speculate that the next in line is a much-deserved Oracle: Year One. But I found in reading Nightwing: Year One that the story is as much about Nightwing's origins, ultimately, as it is about Jason Todd's--making this as much Nightwing: Year One as it could be the precursor to the year one story of Robin II.

In Nightwing: Year One, Dick Grayson returns to Batman's side, presumably from between the pages of New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, only to have Batman fire him for Dick's divided attention between Batman and the Teen Titans. Dick embarks on a trip to find himself, encountering Superman and Deadman, before teaming with Batgirl as the new Nightwing--while Batman meets a young Jason Todd stealing tires off the Batmobile. Batman conspires to have Dick and Jason meet during Batman's "Gauntlet" test--but when Alfred is kidnapped by Killer Croc, the former and new Robins have to work together to save him.

Though Nightwing: Year One is enjoyable overall, little of what's established here is new--nor, at least, is it necessarily attributable to modern continuity. Much of what we see here--Dick Grayson's firing, his first meeting with Jason Todd--never actually happened, or at least, it happened entirely differently (and more amicably) pre-Crisis, and post-Crisis, it didn't "happen" so much as it was related in flashback. So, for instance, while you can wedge this story between the pages of New Teen Titans, it very barely lines up with Batman. There are, of course, nice moments--we get more scenes of the mainly undefined Dick Grayson/Barbara Gordon relationship, as well as a new "first appearance" of Killer Croc--an origin reconned out of mainstream continuity when Jason Todd lost his first, circus-based origin after Crisis on Infinite Earths. And it's a nice touch that, like Ma Kent, Alfred still made Dick's first Nightwing costume, even after he's left the 'Cave.

The appeal of Jason Todd--at least, in theory--would be that he would be Robin, but that he would be tougher and more complicated than the clean, mostly do-right Dick Grayson. Here, the writers demonstrate that appeal well, but not blithely--over the final two chapters, they turn Jason Todd from a smart-mouthed kid to a flawed promising Robin, altering the readers' perceptions by slowly altering Dick Grayson's perceptions. Once Dick begins to see himself in Jason, he can't help but laugh at the sheer audacity of anyone trying to steal the tires from the Batmobile--and it allows him to see what benefits Jason might have as Robin. There's interesting work here, made all the more interesting--or perhaps tragic--in its posthumous nature.

[Contains full covers, a (somewhat questionable) Nigtwing timeline.]

I read Nightwing: Year One as it contained Nightwing #101-106; I'm now to continue with Nightwing issue-wise with Mobbed Up. From there, Flash: Rogue War, and then on to Villains United and some space-faring adventures. Come join!

Trade paperback timeline updated ...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Updates to the trade paperback timeline include adding some "One Year Later" trades, and a bit of reshuffling around the Countdown to Infinite Crisis trades. Enjoy!

Batgirl: Year One review

If nothing else, Batgirl: Year One is a nice tribute to the bygone Chuck Dixon Birds of Prey years. There's a lot of cute "nudge-nudge-wink-wink" moments here, like the newly-christened Batgirl teaming up with Black Canary, or the "revelation" of how Jason Bard became crippled and started his own detective agency. Unfortunately, in our new "One Year Later" universe, it's a lot of sound and fury ultimately influencing nothing, but for hardcore Batgirl fans, I'm sure it's a nice touch. Batgirl: Year One is a solid story with good art, and serves as an admirable sequel to Robin: Year One; at the same time, I found it something of a light read, leaving many of the more serious Batgirl questions unanswered.

Barbara Gordon, tired of not being taken seriously by her adoptive father, dresses as Batgirl for a costume party interupted by the Killer Moth, whom she momentarily defeats. Keeping the costume, Batgirl is confronted by Batman and Robin; Batman tries to dissuade her from her choice. When Jim Gordon is kidnapped by a mob boss trying to frame Killer Moth and his new partner Firefly, Batgirl teams up with Black Canary to stop them. She later works with Robin, and after defeating the Moth and Firefly herself, is finally accepted by Batman.

Dixon, with co-writer Scott Beatty, writes a nice Batgirl here, somewhat in line with his portrayal of Oracle. There's an "oracle" theme, somewhat heavy-handed, throughout the book, and we get as many glimpses of the hero that Batgirl will become as we do questions about Barbara's choices--she thinks it's unlikely that there will ever be a "Congresswoman Gordon," though apparently that's back in continuity now. And though she shares a kiss with Dick Grayson in the story, the muddled path of that love affair becomes no more clear, either. Where Dixon succeeds is in showing the path of Barbara Gordon from the beginning to the end of the story, and how the role of Batgirl goes from being a lark to a mission--the use of Barbara's shoes, which start out as high heels and end up as climbing boots is a particularly effective silent indicator. Of course, there's also a requisite appearance by the image of the Joker, where Barbara indicates she's "not afraid" of what might come next--the foreshadowing, again, is remarkably heavy-handed, but ultimately that's what "year one" stories are all about.

Though the story has Batgirl's name on the masthead, there's much about Batman in this book that I felt went unsatisfactorily unexplored. As is usually the case these days, Batman initially tries to convince Barbara to give up her Batgirl role; the parallels to Batman's conversations with the Spoiler are perhaps intentional, though the reason that Batman accepts Batgirl when he later denied Spoiler are never entirely clear. And, perhaps for space reasons, Batman's revelation of his identity to Batgirl (and his reasons for doing so), are also mostly glossed-past. As is the fact that Barbara Gordon is Jim Gordon's niece, a fact that couldn't have been lost on Batman, but his feelings about betraying Gordon's trust are never truly explored. That Jim Gordon is aware of his adoptive daughter's nocturnal activities is preserved here, and works well with the progress of the story overall.

[Contains complete covers.]

I'm on to read Nightwing: Year One now, and then ... ? I'm on the road to Villains United, but I'm not sure if I should read Nightwing: Mobbed Up before that story or after, and whether I should read The Flash: Rogue War before or after. I'll report back and let you know.

Batman: War Crimes review

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

There's no question that the story in Batman: War Crimes will appear controversial to most, in the main part due to the major change it brings to a Bat-verse stalwart. What separates those who enjoyed War Crimes from those who didn't likely bears a lot on how one enjoys their comic books as a whole. When a long-established character acts radically different from a way they always have, is that drama, or bad writing? Can a comics character convincingly break and go "over the edge," or are comics characters so much a product of their own archetypes that no one in comics can ever truly change? The Bat-verse tries these lines in War Crimes.

In the wake of the War Games crossover, Black Mask consolidates his hold over the Gotham underworld, while talk-show host Arturo Rodriguez reveals Stephanie Brown's role as Spoiler and Robin, aided by the mysterious Aaron Black. Batman tries to consult Dr. Leslie Thompkins for clues, but finds her missing. He confronts Aaron Black, and ends up interrupting a fight between Black Mask and the Joker, who wants to kill Black Mask for ruining his chances to kill another Robin. Aaron Black is revealed as the Cluemaster, while it turns out Rodriguez worked with Black Mask to raise his ratings. Batman captures both the Joker and Black Mask (though Black Mask later escapes), and ultimately confronts Spoiler's real killer, Leslie Thompkins, who let Spoiler die in order to try to caution other vigilantes from joining Batman's quest.

One obvious problem here is the gross similarity between Leslie Thompkins' motives and those of Jean Loring in Identity Crisis. Both killed in order to try to make the heroes think twice about their lives; when Loring did it, it was novel, but when Thompkins does it, it's just repetitive. And additionally, we know that Loring has a history of mental illness, whereas Thompkins has been a devout pacifict for most of her recent portrayal. We get the sense that Leslie Thompkins reached the end of her rope, and allowed Spoiler to die out of desperation, but it's an argument that doesn't make a lot of sense; even Jean Loring claimed she only meant to wound Sue Dibny, not kill her. And that's where War Crimes begins to have problems.

Leslie Thompkins, again, is a known pacifict, but yet, at the end of War Games, she has killed. The writers, of course, would say that people change, and here, Thompkins changed as well; the argument against this would be that Thompkins' actions go "against her character." Well, can't her character change? It's a question that rises more and more lately, especially as DC tries to take bigger risks with its characters--can't Hal Jordan go mad and destroy the Corps? Can't Wonder Woman kill? It goes against character, and yet characters in other mediums can change--but in comics, as with Hal Jordan, ultimately the change isn't for the better. And most would probably say that this change in Leslie Thompkins isn't for the better, either. Where War Crimes fails, perhaps, is in that Thompkins' desperation isn't tangibly shown--she couldn't have been more tired during the gang war than during No Man's Land, and after War Games, Thompkins wasn't even seen until War Crimes, so it's all very sudden.

Some on the Internet reacted to the writers' decision quite vehemently; personally, it seemed so incongruent (and I otherwise enjoyed War Crimes) that at most, I think I shrugged--I can't associate this Leslie Thompkins with the Leslie Thompkins of Devin Grayson's excellent Batman Chronicles #18--and ultimately, I wonder if a Batman writer would ever return to this plot anyway--there hardly seems a way to redeem Thompkins for use in the Bat-verse (and to turn her into a costumed villain ... *shudder*). And the story's proximity to Infinite Crisis didn't help, either--with the "One Year Later" push to start storylines fresh, it's all the more likely that War Crimes will just be swept under the rug.

What redeems War Crimes, however, is that it's just a darn good Batman mystery. We've got a handful of crazy villains (including a back-to-loony Joker), a good moral dilemma for Batman, quite a few hidden identities, and clues--lots of clues--that lead Batman to the real culprit. When most Batman stories these days favor the superhero side overall, War Crimes is a whodunit--and a convincing one, in that all the clues do lead to the killer, even if the killer's motive is something of a stretch. I even applaud the Bat-writers' planning; the clues to Thompkins' crime are apparent at the end of War Games, making War Crimes fit nicely alongside.

[Contains complete covers, What Came Before pages.]

So Batman: War Crimes is a good story, if not perhaps so good for the Batman mythos overall. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this trade contains both four monthly comic stories, as well as a smattering of Secret Files stories--a nice and welcome addition. And now I'm off to read Batgirl: Year One, on the way to reading Nightwing: Year One and Nightwing: Mobbed Up. From there, it's on to Villains United--come join, won't you?

Review: Batman: Hush Returns trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Batman: Hush Returns -- collecting seven issues of Batman: Gotham Knights -- is a very interesting take on the Batman mythos that's great to read, but falls flat in the fact that the ending is a cliffhanger and there's likely not a second volume to follow. It's a shame, really.

And additionally, while I'm not one to decry a trade of monthly issues in any form -- Hush Returns near-unabashedly touts itself as a volume meant entirely to capitalize on the fame of Hush and Infinite Crisis (as, perhaps, was the Lieberman run on Gotham Knights itself), with presenting a complete story only a secondary concern. None of this is the writer's fault, but it's an interesting study of DC's trade plans overall.

Hush Returns begins with the Riddler in Arkham, his life threatened by the returned Hush. The Riddler arranges for the Joker to break him out and protect him -- trading the Joker for the name of the corrupt police officer who killed the Joker's wife -- but not before Hush is able to beat the Riddler severely. After the Joker attacks Hush, Hush hires Prometheus in Star City, bringing Batman briefly in contact with Green Arrow. Hush tries to attack the Riddler again, this time beating up the Joker; Riddler goes to Poison Ivy for help. From here, the trade jumps abruptly to a story where Talia al Ghul forces Hush to save Prometheus from Poison Ivy's toxins so that Talia can get Prometheus's Cosmic Key.

A. J. Lieberman writes what he admits is a different kind of Batman book, one where Batman isn't necessarily the main character and, for the most part, I think he pulls this off well. There's plenty of intrigue between Hush, the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, and Prometheus, and there's also enough mystery to go around, not the least of which is who Hush is right now.

Though different than a traditional Batman title, I was impressed with the internal continuity that Hush Returns shares with some of the other Batman trades. I'm coming to Hush Returns rather late, after War Drums, War Games, and Under the Hood, but to read Hush Returns before all of these is to be able to follow a very logical progression at least for the Joker, and for Batman's relationship with Green Arrow. Frankly, it's obvious that there was at least some collaboration on Lieberman and Judd Winick's part, or that Winick familiarized himself with what Lieberman set up in Gotham Knights, and it's a welcome and impressive attention to detail.

I read a bit online about fan reactions to Lieberman's Gotham Knights, and one of the great debates seems to be Lieberman's portrayal of the Joker. Obviously, Lieberman writes a far saner Joker than we're used to, whether in Jeph Loeb's Hush, No Man's Land, or Batman: Broken City. At the same time, maybe one of the benefits of Hush Returns being a trade is that it becomes a representation of an encapsulated moment in time, rather than a monthly title where the reader has to fear that this is the "new portrayal" of the Joker.

For me, it didn't bother me that much -- while I frankly far prefer a Joker who is origin-less*, it wasn't as though Lieberman simply revamped the Joker, but rather co-oped parts (if not all) of The Killing Joke (and some parts, like the Joker's connection to the circus where he imprisioned Jim Gordon, are worth keeping in the canon anyway). And the Joker as head crime boss of Gotham City? That didn't last long anyway (enter Black Mask) and besides, part of me still got a vicarious Super-Friends chill seeing the Joker and the Penguin interacting (back from when I was a kid, and thought the Penguin was the Joker's sidekick like Robin was Batman's).

The Hush Returns book itself doesn't look like other Batman trades; there's a definitively stylized look to the book from art department member Jennifer Redding, which sets it apart from other Batman books. The reader gets the sense that this is for one of two reasons: either this book was meant to be a front-end seller deserving of an unusual design (which, given that volume two isn't on the horizon, is unlikely), or that the book was intended to be so low on the radar that the art department was allowed to experiment with it.

Hush Returns contains a six-part Hush tale and a one-part Villains United tale; neither one is complete, but both are there. Here, too, we get the sense that this a book low on the radar; it has all the buzzwords that make it trade-worthy, but it's not important enough for, say, a complete story. Which is, on one hand, a sad state of affairs, but on the other hand, a sign that DC's realized that there's real profit to be made from trades of monthly issues, even if each one's not a barn-burner (the upcoming New Teen Titans: Terra Incognita is another example). I see this as a good thing that will likely become better and more refined as we go.

And what are the chances we'll get the last, missing page from this trade in the upcoming JSA Classified trade paperback?

[Contains thumbnail covers, two "What Has Come Before" pages.]

All right, I'm now on to Batman: War Crimes as this Bat-verse train rolls along. Then some Nightwing, perhaps, and Vilains United, and then a Flash extravaganza. You know where to be.

* A phenomenon, perhaps, that I wouldn't attribute to any other character except the Joker. Which is interesting -- is the Joker so archetypcial that he even transcends the need for an origin?

Infinite Crisis hardcover released

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

DC pushed forward the delayed Infinite Crisis hardcover to today's release; the new cover is here at right, but if anyone picked this up today, we want details! Please leave a comment and let us know what's new, what's added, and what's changed. Collected minds want to know!

New Collected Editions reviews coming this weekend. Take care!

EDIT: Wizard's got the lowdown on some of the new scenes in the book, including "a two-page spread of 80 heroes paying homage in a church that fits neatly into issue #5 of the series, a battle sequence between Batman, Robin, Nightwing and Deathstroke from issue 7 and a scene showing the final fate of Nightwing and more of the epic battle in Metropolis from the same issue, said editor Anton Kawasaki," and the two-page spread of the DC heroes drawn by George Perez. I, for one, can't wait.

If you got it today, do please comment and let us know what you think.

EDIT AGAIN: Any Eventuality writer (and Collected Editions commenter) Nobody has posted "Intentional Crisis: Original vs. Final," an excellent run-through of the new pages in the Infinite Crisis collected edition, noting the cathedral scene, the Deathstroke fight, the seemingly awkward Nightwing scene, and the final Perez spread. And I'm glad to hear that red mist page is gone, though I'm also glad they include a comparison at the end. Thanks for all the details!

Also, over on the DC Comics Message Board, posters also mention some dialogue changes (including the conversation between Batman and the Earth-2 Superman, which I think makes that much more effective). At the same time, it seems only Power Girl and Donna Troy remember the multi-verse? Boo! Isn't that how the DCU got in convoluted trouble the last time?

Thanks all -- a new review tomorrow!