Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New(-ish) Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman #11:  Not surprisingly, I have a lot to say about this issue.  Overall, I'll comment that I'm emotionally, if not, narratively, satisfied with where we find ourselves at the end of this arc.  I'm surprised that I'm not emotionally satisfied for the reason that I thought I would be, but, in the end, it's good enough for me.  Let's start with the reasons why I liked this issue and then get to the reasons why I didn't.

First, the good.  Snyder goes the way I expected here, establish two equally compelling scenarios that explain that Lincoln isn't, or is, Bruce's brother.  We learn that Thomas Wayne, Jr. was born and lived a single night, explaining why Alfred and Bruce would've been aware of him but didn't, in fact, abandon him.  We also learn that, a week after Thomas' death, a John Doe was admitted to the hospital.  It's clear that Lincoln could really have been a simple stranger admitted as John Doe (in the "Lincoln isn't Bruce's brother" version), just as it's clear that the Waynes could've, theoretically, admitted Thomas as that John Doe (in the "Lincoln is Bruce's brother" version).  Lincoln describes a childhood with Martha Wayne visiting him and the Court members encouraging him to see his connection to the Waynes as his key to the city.  However, Bruce makes it clear that Martha visited all her charities and it's pretty obvious that the Court could simply have been telling Lincoln lies about his past in the hope of using him to take over Gotham.  (Lincoln himself mentions this plan when he tells Bruce that he and the Court were ready to launch it when Bruce disappeared on his adolescent sojourn to train to become Batman.)  I have to applaud Snyder for the conversation that Bruce and Dick have laying out this information, because he makes it clear that neither one of them really knows what the answer is.  It's a singular moment, really, watching the world's greatest detective and his equally capable apprentice realize that they are more or less stumped.  Bruce decides that his parents would have told him had his brother survived, leaving us with the sense that it's the correct version of events.  However, we do come to the issue with the bias of seeing it through Bruce's eyes.  We also learn that he's still committed to eventually getting a DnA sample from Lincoln to make sure, a determination that Snyder uses to remind us that even Bruce still can't be 100 percent sure that Lincoln isn't Bruce's brother.

In the end, though, it's Alfred's comment to Bruce at the end of the secondary story that resolves this issue for me.  I had thought, as JT and I discussed on x-man75's blog, that this secondary story could reveal the truth about Thomas' fate, allowing the reader to know whether or not Lincoln was Bruce's brother (and not get frustrated by the ambiguity in future stories as Bruce tries to solve the mystery).  In this scenario, Bruce would be left in the dark, providing the impetus for said stories.  Snyder went the opposite way.  We, the reader, are left with the ambiguity, but, as Alfred makes clear, it doesn't matter.  Bruce Wayne lost his brother that night, regardless of whether Lincoln is or is not biologically connected to him.  Lincoln isn't suddenly going to become sane, emotionally embrace Bruce as he realizes the errors of his way, and become the family that Bruce never had.  One way or another, Thomas Wayne, Jr. died that night, at the hands of the Court of the Owls.

I mentioned above that the emotionally satisfying ending wasn't something that I expected.  After all, the loss of Bruce's family is so central to his identity that the revelation that a family member might have been out there all along seems like the worst possible thing that could happen to him.  I wondered if we might be seeing Bruce on a downward spiral, leaving him in a position like he was at the start of "Batman:  A Lonely Place of Dying," where he was struggling to get over Jason's death.  But, instead, Snyder leaves Bruce realizing that he's always had a family and treats us to the warmest scene between Bruce and Dick that I think I've ever seen.  Bruce tells Dick not to think about Bruce saving him from the fate of being a Talon, but instead think about him saving Bruce from his own dark fate.  It's a lovely moment, and Snyder futhers the characterization even more by using Dick's joke about not being able to pay back the punch that Bruce delivered to him in issue #7 to accentuate the moment.  He reminds us that Bruce is thanking Dick for exactly that trait, his ability to keep everything light while still feel emotions.  Sure, Bruce sounds wistful when he notes that, for one night, we did have a brother on this Earth.  But, Snyder makes it clear that having a son like Dick mattered more.  It is, when you really think about it, the only possible ending to this saga that would leave you feeling like the emotional journey was complete.  Bruce might have an insane brother out there, but, it doesn't matter, because he's built all the family that he needs.

As such, from an emotional perspective, Snyder did everything I wanted him to do here.  We're left with a Bruce Wayne reborn and refocused.  In fact, it dawned on me that Snyder gives us the same Bruce that we had after he returned from the dead in the DCU.  I mentioned somewhere in one of these reviews that my fear going into the reboot was that it was going to erase that emotional progress that Bruce made after his death in the DCU.  After his death, we saw Bruce's importance to the people around him -- Alfred, mourning the loss of his son; Dick, taking up the mantle of the Bat; Tim, keeping the faith of his survival.  We also see Bruce realize how important they were to him.  Here, Snyder leaves Bruce in the same place as he was then, realizing the importance of family that he built, not necessarily the one he was born having.  It's the best possible outcome of this story for me. 

As a result of the success of channeling the emotional impact of this story, mentioning Snyder's narrative failures at the end of this arc feels similar to having to address boring administrative measures.  It's almost like Kevin Bacon having to go arrest Jack Nicholson off-camera in "A Few Good Men," because the emotional denouement ("You're damn right I did!") had already happened.  But, I'll make a few points on those failures, because I do feel that it's what keeps this story from being the greatest Batman story ever told.

First, I'm still disappointed by the Court getting pushed to the back burner in this issue and issue #10.  Bruce makes some vague threats here about tracking down the Court and dismantling it, but I'm not sure that we're even going to see that story (unless maybe it's part of "Batman Incorporated" at some point).  As such, it's doubtful that we're going to resolve a number of loose ends:

-- We never learn why the Court, which seemingly so prized secrecy, decided to engage in the "Night of the Owls" in the first place, laying itself bare.  It's not a moot point, since its decision to do so pretty much damns the Court (thereby, you know, justifying its secrecy in the first place).

-- We never learn why the Court turned against Lincoln.  After all, he seemed poised to become Mayor, which, presumably, would've been just as good as him returning as the long-lost Wayne.  Why did they decide instead to assassinate him in issue #2 along with Bruce?  After all, it's that decision that leads Lincoln on the path to staging his own death and becoming Owlman.

-- It's a smaller point, but we never learn how exactly the Court took a kid who couldn't move his body or open his eyes and turned him into Lincoln March.  I mean, sure, they could resurrect Talons from the dead, but they only managed to do that thanks to Mr. Freeze.  They somehow took a broken kid and turned him into a guy who could be a quarterback for the Steelers?

-- As a subset to that comment, I have some serious questions about the Talons.  Snyder seemed to be going one way with them at the start of this saga and abruptly changed paths.  For example, we never really learn why the Court froze the Talons in the first place, if it seemingly didn't have a way of resurrecting them.  Did it just hope for the technology to present itself one day?  In the beginning, I thought the frozen Talons were actually prospective Talons, not former ones, particularly because of the appearance of the Talons' trainer in the first issue.  I think that he was only Dick's ancestor's trainer, but Snyder never really cleared up that point, part of the reason why I was confused by the chronology of the Talons in the first place.)

I will also add an additional lament.  It's not a loose end, exactly.  In fact, in my last review, I gave credit to Snyder for resolving it.  But, I will say, at the end, I have a general sense that, like the possible switch in the Talons' narrative from prospective agents to former ones, we were being led down a path in terms of the Waynes' involvement with the Court that ultimately proved untrue.  Why did the Court go after Bruce's ancestor all those years ago?  Why didn't they want Martha to build her school?  By pushing the Court to the background, we never really get these answers.  We were lead to believe that the Court behaved in a certain methodical way, but we never really saw what its end goal was.

In the end, Snyder did what he meant to do, giving us a tour d'horizon of Batman's world in the DCnU.  It's still a masterful arc despite its failing, and Snyder has plenty of time to address those loose ends in a way that will retroactively shore up the arc even further.  I'd be lying if I didn't say that I'm anxious to see Snyder turn his attention to the types of stories that we were seeing in "Detective Comics" before the reboot, but I can certainly take a moment to appreciate the ambition of this endeavor even if it didn't 100 percent deliver.  I'd rather someone like Snyder swinging for the fences and I can't wait to see where we go from here.

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

Earth 2 #3:  This issue serves almost exclusively as the Green Lanter's origin story.  Robinson sticks close to the origin story of the DCU's version of Alan Scott, revealing that he was saved by a green flame representing the Earth's energy in order to save Earth 2 from a coming evil.  (Honestly?  I like it a lot better than some alien police force having magic power rings that get recharged by glowing battery lanterns.)

To be honest, though, this issue felt a little formulaic to me.  Where issue #1 and #2 seemed to vibrate with energy, Robinson doesn't manage to summon the same level of emotion in this issue.   I had expected to begin this issue with Alan Scott reeling from his disfigurement and the death of his lover.  However, we skip from a disfigured Alan learning about Sam's death straight to Alan agreeing to become the Green Lantern, with little insight into Alan's thoughts along the way.  To me, it's a serious missed opportunity.  Robinson had done a great job last issue showing Alan as a dynamic guy, the type of leader with an over-sized personality who draws people to him.  He hinted at the arrogance that likely comes with being a blond, handsome, strapping billionaire, but tempered it by making it clear that Alan was aware of it (and even self-deprecating about it).  He showed Alan as a towering figure who controlled his own destiny, but also as a guy who felt the need to share it with someone, showing us the love that he felt for Sam.  In just that one issue, Robinson gave us a believable character, flawed, but also fun, powerful, but also grounded, exactly the type of guy who would make for a dynamic leader of the Justice Society on Earth 2.

Here, though, we (ironically) lose some of that color.  The Alan here is too much of a Boy Scout.  Sure, Robinson pays some level of hommage to Sam, showing us Alan's decision to use the engagement ring that he intended to give to Sam as his power ring and his pledge to fight in his honor.  But, most of the issue is dedicated to Alan's focus on fighting evil.  I feel like we could've done without the Flash/Hawkgirl interlude, freeing up some time to focus on Alan trying to process his last few hour before we got into the details of his new powers.  If we had had those intermediary scenes, I think this issue would've been great.  Instead, it reads as a pretty standard origin story, with little emotional impact.  It's not terrible, but it's not as great as it could've been.

That said, Robinson does a good job throwing us right into Alan's first challenge, with the appearance of this world's Solomon Grundy as the grey foil to Alan Scott's green flame.  Grundy's representation of decay makes a lot more sense as an enemy of Alan -- the embodiment of nature -- than Sinestro just happening to embrace yellow as a color.  I'm excited to see where Robinson goes with it, particularly since Grundy will so prove to be a real challenge to Alan so early in his career.  So, though I'm disappointed that Robinson didn't give me the emotion in this issue that I wanted, I'm still excited to see where he goes in the coming issues.  I'm hoping that Robinson takes the time to explore Alan's thoughts as he tries to process these events, so that Sam doesn't become a distant memory by issue #4.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Dungeon and Dragons:  Forgotten Realms #2:  Although this issue is a moderate improvement over the first issue, I'm still not entirely sure what's happening and I still don't really like the characters all that much.  (Not exactly a ringing endorsement, I know.)

Last issue, we were introduced to Randral and Torn, two hooligans who, if I remember correctly, decided to kidnap Lady Talandra Roaringhorn after hearing another group of hooligans discussing its plans to do so.  Talandra was somehow involved with this group, participating in her own kidnapping, for reasons that I don't quite remember (if they were ever made clear in the first place).  However, something went wrong when a different group kidnapped her instead, for reasons that I again don't quite remember.  The head of Talandra's guard detail is killed by this other group, who show that it's playing for keeps, and he places a curse on Randral and Torn that will activate if they don't rescue her.  Greenwood also implied that Talandra's father's chief advisor, Malric, who I believe is his brother, is somehow involved with the kidnapping, but it was pretty unclear.

This issue sheds some light on the subject, but not all that much:

Randral and Torn manage to find Talandra just as the Watch and Lord Roaringhorn's own personal guard force converge on their location.  (I can't remember how Randral and Torn found her or how the Watch and Roaringhorn's force knew where to go.  Given the fact that kidnappers generally don't advertise their location, everyone seemed to get wind of the location conveniently quickly.)  Randral and Torn take Talandra, who's now realized that something has gone wrong, and escape via the rooftops.  Just as they're getting ready to take Talandra home, she spies Maurit, the head of one of the kidnapping groups, though I can't remember if it was the one that she essentially hired herself or if it's the one that she didn't expect to arrive.  For reasons that aren't explained, she takes off after Maurit, with Randral and Torn at her heels, and the trio follow him into the sewers.  Meanwhile, someone named Glasgerd schemes with a wizard of some sort to whom he owes a group of "sinister wizards" and, elsewhere, Roaringhorn's wife convinces him to allow her to lay a trap for Malric to see if he's on their side or not.  The Watch follows our group into the sewers, but they're waylaid by a team of mercenaries that we previously saw Malric dispatch earlier.  We learn that Malric sent the mercenaries under the orders Glasgerd, who also seemingly sent Maurit into the sewers to lead Talandra to a certain place.  All these actions have something to do with his larger scheme of causing the fall of the House of Roaringhorn, but we're not given any motives yet.  The trio come to a dead end and, realizing that Maurit has escaped, they (conveniently) find a secret door that leads them to a magical gate that leads them to a landing where they're attacked by a guy with swords.  (Follow that?  Yeah, it happened pretty quickly.  I'm assuming that it's what Glasgerd wanted to happen and why he had Maurit lead them to that gate.)

As you can see, we're still lacking a lot of information.  My two main complaints last issue was that Greenwood didn't really give us a likeable character here and that he juggled way too many characters.  Both still hold true.  Randral and Torn aren't loveable scoundrels, but dimwitted hooligans, and Talandra is a spoiled brat.  I can see where Greenwood might eventually develop them into something more, but it seems far in the distant future.  The main problem continues to be the excessive number of characters and the unclear status of motives.  We still don't know why Talandra tried to fake her own kidnapping.  I'm pretty sure that we also don't know why the other group of kidnappers appeared, though I'm left to assume that Glasgerd sent them.  (I think we're supposed to believe that Glasgerd engineered everything just to get Talandra through that gate, though it's pretty hard to believe.  Also, if he just wanted her through the gate to be killed, why not just kill her in the first place?)  We don't know why Malric is working with Glasgerd, or why Glasgerd is on the hook to provide "sinister wizards" to his cohort.  We also don't know why Glasgerd chose House Roaringhorn to topple.  On top of all these questions, Greenwood also has a separate subplot on the back burner, since Roaringhorn's son has apparently gone missing, something for which his wife blames Malric.  Again, I can see where Greenwood will eventually get there in explaining what's happening, but it also seems a long way in the distance.

So, basically, after this issue, I'm left with the hope that, at some point, I'll like the characters and the story will make sense.  You'd think that would be the real problem.  It's not, though.  The real problem is that this book just isn't fun.  The beauty of Rogers' "Dungeons and Dragons" book was that it was full of LOL humor and great characterization.  Sure, the plots occasionally got a little hard to follow, but you'd eventually figure out where Rogers was going with.  But, while you waited to get the answers, you were having a good time.  Greenwood really fails to inject that sort of spark into this series.  At this point, I'm keeping it on my pull list just in case Rogers' book suddenly re-appears with little notice.  We'll see how long that merits $3.99 a month.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I'm Back!

Howdy, folks!  It's been a while!  I've spent the last month packing up everything I owned and moving it from one country to another.  It all went more or less smoothly.  The couch is no longer upside down in the foyer and I have Internet access.  I have almost all the comics I missed during that period, except for a box that my parents should be bringing up next weekend.  As such the reviews should start resuming shortly.  I can't wait to see what happened with "Night of the Owls!"

Thursday, July 12, 2012

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batgirl #10: I know some people hate Barbara's narration of these issues. Me? I love it. I mean, I totally LOLed when she punched Katharsis and commented, "Well. That was satisfying." But, beyond the jokes, Simone uses Barbara's inner monologue for a more serious purpose. First, it gives us insights into Barbara that we wouldn't necessarily get with an omniscient (or absent) narrator, such as when Simone highlights Barbara's compassion as she tends to Ricky, the would-be car thief who finds himself caught in a mysterious bear-trap as he attempts to flee her. But, more abstractly, Simone uses the narration not only to give some additional depth to Barbara as she returns to crime fighting, but also to ruminate on the nature of crime fighting in general. I thought Simone raised a really interesting point by having Barbara wonder how ethical it was for someone like her to take on the aforementioned car thieves, givent the obvious difference in equipment and skills. In fact, this debate serves as a coda of sorts to scenes in "Batman and Robin" #10, where Tomasi and Gleason depict the results of the brutal methods that Batman often employs to take down criminals. He may not kill, but Tomasi makes it clear that Bruce hasn't thought about the questions that Simone raises here in a long time. Beyond using Barbara's narration to question the Bruce-centric view of crime-fighting, Simone uses Charise's "charity" to expand the criticism of Bruce's way of doing business, raising the valid point that Wayne is imposing his view from above whereas other reformers work within the community to effect change. It's a rare moment of criticism of Bruce's methods -- as a crime fighter and as a wealthy philanthropist -- and I don't think that we would've had as nuanced of a discussion if we weren't privy to Barbara's inner monologue. Of course, Simone reminds us that it's Gotham, after all, since Carnes is apparently a homicidal maniac who, at best, "only" keeps a naked tortured guy chained in a cage, and, at worst, murdered her entire family. Oh, Gotham. Good times. Maybe Bruce isn't so wrong. I'm intrigued to see where Simone goes with this "Knightfall" concept, since she seems to be positing Carnes (who is probably Knightfall) as a twisted Bruce, both as a "crime fighter" and wealthy philanthropist. It could fall flat, but it could also be really, really interesting. We shall see.

Batman and Robin #10: If you've been reading my reviews of "Batman and Robin," you'll know that I was less than impressed with Tomasi's opening arc. Although it had some redeeming moments, I felt like Tomasi made Bruce and Damian's efforts to build a relationship with one another more about the relationship itself than any real desire to connect with the other person. Bruce seemed more focused on upholding his obligation to Damian than helping Damian, and Damian focused more on proving his worth to Bruce than understanding Bruce. I had decided to cancel the series, but I stayed for its participation in the "Night of the Owls" cross-over event. But, then, I saw the advertised "War of the Robins" and decided that I just had to see where Tomasi went with it. One of the reason that I have been so disappointed with Tomasi is that he had previously given us some of the best portrayals of Dick and Damian as a team in the DCU, a relationship he's largely ignored in this title, the only one to really feature Damian. Based on his previous adroitness with the former dynamic duo, I figured Tomasi, more than anyone, could really bring it to a war between the Robins, so I decided to give it a shot. I'm glad I did. Tomasi directly addresses a lot of my angst with the Bat-books lately, namely the difficult relationships between the Robins. Dick and Tim both feel that Jason and Damian have tarnished the legacy of Robin, and Tomasi places that conflict at the center of this arc. He takes Damian's obsession with proving his worth to Bruce to its logical conclusion, having him decide to defeat each former Robin and take something personal from him to show that he's the best. Tomasi wisely starts with Tim, since we all know a "War of the Robins" is really going to be a war between Damian and Tim. Damian surprises me with his perceptiveness here, deciding to take on Tim where he feels he's the strongest, namely his moral code. Damian uses Tim's recent experience in the Colony to show that he also has the ability to commit murder. Although Tim, of course, has a fairly easy rebuttal (noting that, although he considered it, he didn't actually kill Fist Point for murdering Artemis), it's clear that Damian has shaken him by so easily comparing their methods. Moreover, Tomasi deepens the plot here by making it clear that Dick and Tim don't know about Damian murdering Ducard. Damian's attempt to get Tim to see his side of the murder debate is clearly driven by this incident. I'm guessing that he's trying to do it becuase he assumes that Tim will one day discover the truth, a moment that will ultimately prove him right about Damian. If Damian can get Tim to at least understand why someone would murder someone else, he might have a chance of getting accepted by him, something that we all know Damian desparately wants (and is really at the center of this "war"). As such, I thought the use of this line of attack, if you will, by Damian against Tim and the failure of Bruce to tell the others the truth about Ducard were real masterstrokes by Tomasi, framing the differences between them and their issues -- past, present, and future -- perfectly. It'll ultimately, to my mind, be the way that Tomasi handles Damian's decision to go after Dick, the only one who has really truly accepted him, that will ultimately determine how I feel about this arc. But, Tomasi makes a good start here, showing the sort of psychological depth of these complicated characters that made me so enjoy his original run. It also makes me less annoyed about the characters' portrayals in the initial arc, since Tomasi makes it clear that maybe I'm just hoping for too much when it comes to Bruce and Damian. Maybe they are only capable, at least now, of going through the motions of a relationship. All in all, it was an excellent issue, though I'm reserving ultimate judgment until I see the Dick scenario.

Superboy #10: Did I initially think that Lobdell overplayed the sexual tension between Cassie and "Kon" here? Yes, yes, I did. But, then, as I kept reading, I realized that I was wrong. Lobdell, I think, accurately captured how two super-powered teenagers who suddenly find themselves seeing each other in a different light would act. In fact, it felt like we were watching a documentary of two kids on some sort of school retreat. Their mutual attraction makes them suspicious of one another, fearing that the other would see them for who they truly are rather than as the image of themselves that they want to project. As the story progresses, they begin to let down their guard, letting them see each other for who they are. They have a moment, but their insecurities come to the fore, and they're driven apart by distrust. But, this distrust only lasts as long as it takes for a mutual challenge to present itself. We'll see how the story ends in "Teen Titans" #10, but, as I had hoped when this series initially began by severely rebooting Conner, Lobdell seems to have hit the fast-forward button in making him more human. Oddly, it's through Lobdell's attempt to portray "Kon" as fumbling through a world of human emotions that shows that he has them. On at least two occasions -- when he suggests that he and Cassie leave the Titans to their fate on the island and later when he asks Cassie why she wears her costume even though she describes wearing it as "Hell" -- it's Kon's inability to understand Cassie's emotions, or, as Cassie notes, read social cues that causes conflict. But, we see Kon suddenly find the inspiration he previously lacked to overcome this problem. After all, by using his tactile telekinesis to "see" Cassie in the pool, we're reminded that he might be a pretty regular straight teenage boy after all. Maybe, just maybe, we're going to get back our guy.

X-Factor #237: While the rest of the X-books are awash in cross-over mania, David goes in the exact opposite direction by giving us a character-driven story focused on trying to get Rahne to move past four years of tragic storylines. David uses Madrox's Episcopalian-priest clone as the vehicle for forcing Rahne to confront her perceived sins, from eating her father (yuck) to abandoning her son. David manages to inject some humor in the issue by sending Lorna and Terry to the Ben and Jerry's factory. I loved the fact that he just let them go get some ice cream. In most comics, they would've been attacked by, like, ice-cream demons or something, but, nope, David just lets them get some ice cream while Rahne gets some needed absolution. In the end, David uses this one-off issues to set up a future story, as Rahne commits to finding her son. One of the things that's starting to get really interesting about David's 12-member roster is that you really never know who you're going to get from issue to issue. The last two issues featured an action-oriented story about Madrox and Shatterstar trying to save the X-Ceptionals, and this one gives us a character-driven one about Lorna, Rahne, and Terry. Since we've got a variety of sub-plots simmering -- such as the hints that we've seen of the Isolationist and his mysterious ally's scheme and Shatterstar stumbling upon Mojo's involvement in the recent attacks -- you just never know whether the issue is going to be a pitched drama moving forward those plots or a quiet reflection on who the characters are as people. It's the reason why this book seems to be the anti-thesis of everything else Marvel seems to be serving us lately.