Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Comics!: The "New 52!" Edition #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batgirl #2:  I'm getting the sense that this title is going to wind up being the sleeper hit of the reboot.  Although Simone makes a passing reference to the mystery of how Barbara regained the use of her legs, it's less present as an issue here than it was in the first issue.  Instead, Simone wisely shifts the focus to Barbara's struggles trying to get into the routine of superhero-ing again.  Simone does a great job with Barbara's inner dialogue; I felt like she was narrating the story directly to me.  I also like what she does with Mirror here.  I don't quite get how making his victims see their "true face" is tied into making his victims die the deaths they were supposed to die, but Simone does a good job selling the latter part of the equation.  (I'm hoping we'll get more on the former part later.)  I'm also not sure if he knows Batgirl's secret identity, because why would both Barbara Gordon and Batgirl be on his list?  One of the challenges of the Batgirl reboot was going to be the fact that the author was going to have to be careful not to give us the sense that Barbara was regressing as a character.  She had grown so much as Oracle, returning to her role as Batgirl is almost a demotion.  But, Simone makes it clear that the talents Barbara had as Oracle are still there and, so long as she keeps doing so, I think we're going to see the merger of the two identities make Barbara an even more influential force in the DCnU.  I'm excited about Dick's entry onto the scene next issue.

Batman #2:  Batman smiling while he guns the Batcycle?  I pretty much decided I liked this issue at that moment, regardless of what else happened.  The good news is that the rest of this issue fucking rocks.

First, let's talk about the characterizations.  I'm glad that Snyder quickly wraps up the question of why Dick's DNA was underneath the dead guy's fingernails, since everyone and his brother knew Dick wasn't trying to kill Bruce.  I also loved Dick and Bruce's interaction in the Batcave, particularly Bruce noting that Dick knows him better than anyone save perhaps Alfred and Dick calling Bruce "partner."  With the reboot and everything, I feel like these moments are important, because we don't necessarily know that the relationships are the same as they were.  I feel like Snyder used these moments to confirm here that Bruce and Dick are on solid ground, or, at least, as solid as it gets for the two of them.  In fact, we seem to be getting more of them working together now than they were before Bruce "died."

Moreover, despite the fact that, as predicted, he has some connection to the bad guys (though possibly in a good-guy way), I like Lincoln March.  I'm seriously hoping he's not dead, because his speech to Bruce about the way Gotham saved him was great.  It's like a more emotionally-grounded Bruce articulating the way his parents' deaths affected him.  (Capullo also really sold the scene, with the image of the lop-sided heart in March's eyes.)  I feel like March could be the closest thing we've had in a while to a pre-Two Face Harvey Dent, someone beyond Commissioner Gordon who's an ally and confidante to Batman.  Of course, it probably means it'll all end in tears, but I'm hoping for the best.

Finally, just as I dug Bruce as corporate raider and sexpot extraordinaire in "Detective Comics" #2, I like him as maybe not the dumb rich kid here.  Capullo draws a magnetic Bruce.  You can see why corporate executives, sexy reporters, and mayoral candidates are drawn to him.  It's definitely Snyder sending a message that we may, in fact, be getting a real Bruce Wayne here.  In fact, March alludes to the fact that people are questioning his millionaire-playboy schtick.  I would welcome dropping it altogether, somewhere I thought the various authors were going after the whole death ordeal taught him to be more in touch with his feelings.  I'd be glad to see Snyder continue that here.

Second, let's talk about the plot.  The Court of Owls?  Awesome.  Snyder hasn't really ever gone full-on conspiracy theory in his previous works, so I can't wait to see where he goes with this one.  How did the assassin not die after he fell from that height?  Was the assassin somehow involved in killing Bruce's parents?  Why did the John Doe warn Bruce Wayne he was going to die?  They're all questions to which I can't wait to get the answers.  (I also now understand why Doe went to all that effort.  Last issue, I questioned how he knew he and Bruce were going to die on specific dates and, if he knew that, why he warned Wayne so cryptically.  But, it makes sense now, since he knew he was dealing with a shadowy organization that he couldn't stop from killing him and that would know if he tried to overtly warn Bruce.)

After a somewhat lackluster first issue, Snyder really hits the gas in this issue.  Awesome.
Batman and Robin #2:  Similar to Bruce praising Damian for his restraint, I feel the need to applaud Tomasi for the same thing.  This book is the definition of tense.  The relationship between Bruce and Damian just screams all sorts of unspoken emotions and truths.  I love Alfred gently trying to guide Bruce into parenting Damian.  Alfred was probably able to fill the nurturing parental role with Dick, Jason, and Tim, meaning it didn't exactly matter that Bruce would say things like, "Your actions are commendable." rather than, "I'm proud of you."  But, Tomasi has made it clear that Damian is too special of a case for that to be true, meaning Bruce has to step up his game.  Damian, for his part, is more unhinged than we 've seen him previously.  The scene where he kills the bat is chilling, not just for the immediate reason of him wantonly killing an animal, but also the metaphoric level of him specifically killing a bat.  Gleason's depiction of this scene was amazing.  Damian looks almost confused, somewhat sociopathically so.  The fact that we see it, essentially, through Alfred's perspective helps add to the sense that Damian is falling.  (However, I have to note that I was more than moderately annoyed that Tomasi, of all people, is essentially sweeping under the rug the time Damian spent with Dick.  Damian refers to it in issue #1, so we know it happened.  I'm hoping we get some explanation for the seeming regression in Damian's behavior, even if it's just the cold reality of Bruce's "parenting."  But, at this point, I think we need that explanation to come soon if I'm going to believe this regression is something other than an emotional ret-con.)
  The last part of the issue is equally tense.  Tomasi seems to be opening a whole world here, seemingly implying, to me, that "Morgan" was somehow involved with Bruce becoming Batman and doesn't approve of the direction he's taking.  I'm hoping Tomasi doesn't oversell it, but I'm definitely open to see where it goes.  Overall, I was pretty pleased with this issue.

Batwoman #2:  I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this issue.  After the first issue, I had mentally put it on the "three and out" list, because I wasn't particularly digging it.  But, we cover a lot of great ground in this one.  First, above everything else, I loved being in a hipster bar in Gotham City.  Honestly, in all the Bat-books I've ever read, I don't think I've ever been in a bar I would frequent in Gotham.  We're always either in some high-class establishment with Bruce or some transient dive bar with Batman.  I really liked being there, a fly on the wall for the date between Kate and Sawyer.  It sort of reminds you that regular people live in Gotham, not just homeless people and homicidal maniacs.  Reading the other Bat-books, you forget that.  Williams and Blackman are really filling a niche here, giving us stories of Gotham we don't really see, and makes me hope the other authors will notice.  (We should be seeing Dick living a similar life.)  It can't be all doom and gloom!  I mean, I like Kate.  She's funny and witty (and goofy, as Sawyer noted).  I loved her "scene" on Sawyer's steps.  I'd want to get a beer with her.  I also like Detective Sawyer, who the authors manage to avoid reducing to standard cop stereotypes.  For example, she doesn't immediately give Agent Chase the, "This case is my juridiction!" argument I was expecting, but instead agrees to help, within reason.  It's a subtle but deft act of characterization on the authors' part, showing her as capable and confident, something they also highlight through her amazing work at the crime scene.  Looking at the plot, I applaud the authors for distracting us from the Weeping Woman case.  Particularly in the TPB-focused world we currently inhabit, it's rare to see an author give us multiple cases at once, even though, in all likelihood, I think it's how it would work in real life.  We rarely see Batman following leads on multiple crimes, even though I'm pretty sure Joker and Penguin wouldn't collaborate to make sure their crimes happen sequentially.  All in all, a great comic.

Detective Comics #2:  Holy shit.  Tony Daniel, when I don't sleep tonight, I'm calling you.  I'm not a huge fan of Daniel's writing, but I give full props to him for this issue.  It's creepy and spooky and confusing.  I like how we started the issue with Bruce Wayne being all rugged playboy, scaling a climbing wall with a potential partner and seducing his current girlfriend in his office suite, and ended it with the creepiest villain I think I've ever seen.  Daniel moves past the questions of where this series falls in continuity and gives us a fast-paced story, building up the tension slowly but surely as Batman walks further and further into the trap that Dollmaker has set.  It's still unclear what the Joker's role in this game is or who the Olivia girl is.  Last issue, Joker "mentioned" his location in front of Olivia to set up the trap to kill the police officers (and get himself thrown into Arkham with Dollmaker).  In this issue, we learn that the "relative" who Gordon mentioned picking her up last issue was in fact a member of Dollmaker's group (who's then killed himself).  Why does he want her?  We do in this issue get a better sense that Dollmaker is actually the leader of some demented group of his "children," all of whom share his predilection for extreme plastic surgery.  It appears that his only goal is to add Batman to his list, a clear example of the "Batman is the bright flame to which insane criminals are drawn" argument, though I'm intrigued to see if something more is driving him.  I can't wait for next issue.

Justice League #2:  First, I like bad-ass Superman.  Finally.  I've never been that interested in Superman because he's always been such a Boy Scout.  But, I could dig this Superman.  Together, Johns and Lee convey just how dangerous he is at this juncture.  Johns has Batman frequently urging Hal to caution given that he's already ascertained Clark's superiority and Lee shows us Supes breaking through Hal's chains with minimal effort and sending Barry flying with a finger flick.  (Lee really out-did himself with the chains scene.  The 3-D effect of the chains popping at the reader was just awesome.)  All these moments contribute to reminding us that this Superman isn't as polished as the one we're used to seeing and highlighting that this arc is a prequel to the characters we now know.

Beyond Superman, Johns uses Hal to great effect here, giving us the layman's view of the issue's events.  He's not a scientist like Barry, a detective like Bruce, or a Superman like Clark.  Johns plays up his arrogance here as a way to convey his nervousness, particularly as he begins to lose control of the situation, with Barry and Bruce getting all science-y.  I enjoyed Hal's banter with Barry, trying to convince him that they can solve the problem on their own (and Barry trying to convince Hal to stop being an asshole so the adults can talk).  Similarly, I liked the use of Victor's father as the nervous skeptic, the one who realizes how much the world has changed with the onset of super-human activity.

For all these reasons, it's a pretty great issue.  I'm excited that Johns is starting with Darkseid, because I think it's fitting that we're going to get something really epic here at the beginning.  I can't wait to see how we meet Wonder Woman...

Nighwing #2:  OK, I can't say I'm totally thrilled with this issue.  The opening fight with Saiko is fun, but Higgins seems to throw a lot at us in a pretty uncoordinated way here.  I've got lots of questions.  Why, for example, did Mr. Haly not think Dick would come?  Last I knew (and, I mean, we're talking "A Lonely Place of Dying" here), Dick was a part owner of the circus.  Did that change?  Even if it didn't, did he and Mr. Haly have a falling-out?  I mean, we never really get an explanation why Mr. Haly thought Dick wouldn't come see him and had to use Raya to get him there.  Talking about Saiko for a minute, it seemed overly convenient that we discover that Mr. Haly knows Dick is Nightwing...just in time for him to tell Saiko.  Really?  I assumed Saiko got to Mr. Haly because he followed Dick, but then, at the end, Haly implies it's because he was involved in some sort of conspiracy.  (Looking earlier in the issue, it also seems that he knew Saiko was coming for him that night.)  Is Dick an innocent bystander and Haly the guilty party?  What gives?  And, why, again, does Saiko think Dick is the fiercest killer in Gotham?  Even if it were true, why would it merit killing him?  A lot of questions, and not in the intriguing "I can't wait to see the answers" way, but in the annoying "I wonder whether Higgins really has a grasp on this story" way.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #2:  I know people were upset with the first issue of this title for the sexed-up nature of Starfire.  I actually can't say I was too outraged, because I more or less bought what Lobdell was selling, the idea that "human" values don't really apply all that much to Starfire.  As I noted in that review, I felt like he had to be careful not going too far down the straight, adolescent-boy, wish-fulfillment road.  I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed the sexed-up version of Jason that Judd Winick gave us in "Batman and Robin," so it's not like I'm really against such portrayals, though I certainly acknowledge it's different when a woman is portrayed, given the decades of baggage that comes with it.  Lobdell also threw some fuel on the fire with this issue, giving us the vampy flight attendant.  EVERY woman in this series can't be this sexual or it's really going to undermine his argument that it's driven at least in part by Starfire's lack of "human" values.  We'll see how it develops.  None of the characters (except possibly Roy) seem particularly victimized by it, and I'm hoping that Lobdell finds a way to keep it fun and not mysognistic.

If Lobdell's portrayal of Starfire is questionable, his portrayal of Jason is the opposite.  I feel like, for the first time, we're getting an emotional reckoning for Jason.  When he returned in "Batman," the focus in that arc -- and almost all his subsequent arcs -- was Jason raging against Bruce and the world.  Lobdell, as hinted last issue, really does seem to be putting us on a firm redemption arc.  Jason refers to the lessons that Ducra teaches him about rage as a past he forgot he had, implying that maybe he's more ready to take her lessons to heart now that he's subsequently learned that rage hasn't really gotten him so far.  I've read that Lobdell promises us some insight into Jason's relationship with Bruce in issue #6, so I'm still holding out hope that they've hugged out their problems (or will do so in that issue).  At the very least, I'm totally on board for the journey Lobdell promises us here.  It's about time someone definitively defines Jason, since he's been handled (and mis-handled) by so many different authors since his return. 

Superboy #2:  Similar to "Detective Comics," I'm having problems ascertaining whether or nor this title and "Teen Titans" are happening in the "present," as we now know it, or the past.  Based on the cover of "Teen Titans" #1, showing a different-looking Superboy with tattoo, I'm guessing (hoping?) these events happen in the past, showing how the Titans came together and how Conner eventually made his way to humanity.  If it's not, I'm disappointed, because we seem to have a long way to go to get to the Conner we all knew and loved.  Conner is essentially a robot here, with none of the charm and flash of the previous Superboy.  It makes for difficiult reading if we're going to get this Conner for the long haul.  I'd rather us just see how he finds his humanity in a nice five-issue arc and then get to the Conner/Tim sexual-tension part.

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