Monday, December 7, 2009

Batman Reborn

We are now fifty issues and, if what I’ve read proves true, about half way through Batman: Reborn, which should conclude this coming summer with the return of Bruce Wayne from the dead, or the past, or whatever. Unlike past Batman events DC didn’t launch a crossover; instead they cancelled all but the two flagship titles and started anew. I think its time to take a look at what is turning out to be the biggest Gotham event since No Man’s Land. There will be spoilers.

(For those who wonder what fifty issues I am counting, at the time I post this there have been six issues of Batman and Robin, seven issues of Batman, and an annual, six issues of Red Robin, Streets of Gotham, Gotham City Sirens, six issues and an annual of Detective Comics, four issues of Batgirl, and two issues of Azrael. That’s forty five. I am also including, because I have read them and they take part in context with this event, the three issues of Blackest Night: Batman and two of Arkham Reborn. That’s an even fifty.)

Things kicked off in June with a strong opening. Morrison and Quitely and Batman and Robin. Dick and Damien, Mister Toad’s wild ride, a flying batmobile, and the return to Wayne Tower. All very cool. Too bad it was down hill from there. There’s a thin line between genius and just plain silly and Morrison doesn’t always seem to know where it is. The six issues’ core is the character of Scarlet, first a victim of Pyg (not important), she becomes Jason Todd’s Red Hood’s circus orphan sidekick. Sort of. Jason’s killing spree brings down the wrath of a Latino mob and a contract from a fearsome killer that everyone fears, but no one has heard of, the Flamingo, and things end with Jason under arrest and Damien with several bullets in his back. Everything that has been set up over the last six months is on hiatus, apparently, except for the new Batman, but we’ve got several other titles doing exactly that. But whatever the next six months brings, Batman and Robin has done a great job of establishing the relationships between the principles, with Dick accepting his responsibility as Damien’s mentor and Gordon’s acceptance of the new Batman.

Batman came out a week after Batman and Robin, but in its first issue (number 687, actually), it showed us the aftermath of Batman’s apparent death and Dick decision to pick up the cape and cowl. Since then its been uneven. We had a whole issue of Dick fighting Clayface and some forgettable thug with a gun. A whole issue? The primary thing established by this title is the general framework of Gotham’s underworld and the Black Mask’s control of it. Yes, he took control in the Battle for the Cowl, but now we seeing how he is actually exercising that control. Gotham villains can be such lemmings, always running after the biggest and baddest. This time this Black Mask seems intent on keeping control. Things seem to be looking up this title, with Tony Daniel now writing and the return of the Falcones.

Red Robin centers on Tim Drake’s search for Bruce Wayne. Alone among the Bat family, he refuses to believe Wayne is dead. Tim is a good choice for this role, as he has recently lost his biological father, it is easy to see him refusing to accept the death of his adoptive father. But, in spite of having gotten swept up in the League of Assassins, Tim’s story has been unexceptional. Never terrible, but never that great either. Too often we cut back to scenes of people telling him to give up his quest. It gets repetitive. This title establishes that Wayne is, of course, alive; though the proof offered so far has been a little vague. Tim found the bat sigil Wayne left on a cave wall. Why would that be accepted as proof? Has Tim read the epilogue of Final Crisis?

Street of Gotham, like Batman, gives us a deeper look into the workings of Black Mask’s underworld. He likes to reward followers in some rather lethal ways. Dini was developing an interesting story centering on Zsasz, when it was set aside for an only okay one about the Huntress and Man-Bat. Why? Apart from that, and Firefly’s apparent rise to scientific genius, this has been a solid title. It also establishes an alibi for Wayne’s absence - with Hush impersonating him no one in Gotham knows he’s dead. This title also includes a short story series starring Manhunter. Andreyko deserves points for perseverance - he just won’ let this character go - but this story is only starting to get interesting now that Dylan has joined Spencer in Gotham. I am confused about one point, however: how is it that she is fighting Two Face, when the Black Mask has driven Two Face out of Gotham?

Detective Comics Batwoman run has been the indisputable star of the Reborn relaunch. Obviously Williams art plays a big role in this, but Rucka deserves a lot of credit for establishing Batwoman as something more than a sensational press release. He even writes a Crime Bible related story that is something less than completely awful. (I can’t wait for the day when that storyline is swept under the carpet.) The title has now moved on to Batwoman’s origin story and, so far, its just keeps getting better and better. This title also contains a short story series, staring the Question. I’ve always enjoyed this format, but this series isn’t doing much for me either. Its not just that I prefer Montoya as a cop, either. It just hasn’t been that good.

If Detective Comics has been the highlight of the relaunch, certainly the nadir has been Gotham City Sirens. For this they cancelled Birds of Prey? Unlike the other titles, this one establishes - or contributes - nothing to the new Gotham. March’s art is a problem, and a big one. I know it seems like a lot of comics artists work with a very limited number of faces and figures, and rely on costuming to distinguish one character from another, but its no joke here. Every woman’s face is the same and all of their heads are too small. The idea of a Poison Ivy, Harley and Catwoman team-up seems a bit strange too. The first two do have a history, but the only things Selina shares with them are a Gotham base of operations and a criminal past. Oh, and she’s a woman. Interestingly, issue three featured a story starring the Riddler and not the Sirens, perhaps a tacit admission of the limits of this team up. Having said all that, and meaning every word, I have to concede that I liked the return of Gaggy. I’m not a fan of the character - like everyone, I had forgotten him too - but it was an entertaining story.

If DC can’t have more than one female team up comics at a time, it seems it can’t show respect to both Cassandra and Stephanie at the same time either. One night, after a battle, Cassie just up and quits and turns her mantle over to Stephanie. Why? Its never really explained. And why would Stephanie turn her back on her own costumed identity to become the new Batgirl? That’s not really explained either, but at least readers can understand her doing it. Getting respect from fellow Gotham crime fighters has always been important to her, and Batgirl is a much more esteemed role than Spoiler. And now that Steph stars in Batgirl she is also the star of her own title. After being dumped on by the rest of the Bat family, she finally gets the nod of approval from Barbara Gordon, who takes on the role of her mentor and finally establishes some much needed respect for a character who has been put through far too much.

Azrael was a surprise hit in the Battle of the Cowl, so its no surprise that a series followed. The new series was launched by a high profile two parter in Batman Annual and Detective Comics Annual and has seen two issue so far, both stand alone stories with our hero wrestling with some sort of moral dilemma. Its been good, but not on a must-read level. Its too soon to say what, if anything, is established in terms of the bigger picture, beyond the return of the character. Interestingly, the first issue flashes forward six months to the death of the main character! I’m looking forward to seeing what that’s all about.

The two other series I’ve included are Blackest Night: Batman and Arkham Reborn. I haven’t been following Blackest Night at all and haven’t read any Green Lantern since the relaunch of the Green Lantern Corps, but this was a fun issue and boasted Dick, Tim, and Damien fighting together, with Boston Brand and Jason Blood thrown in for good measure. Arkham Reborn establishes the return of one of the most famous institution in Gotham. There’s an issue to go, but so far Jeremiah Arkham has rebuilt the place with the intention of turning it into a treatment center, not a prison. Predictably, everything goes wrong. But having casually blown up the place during the Battle of the Cowl, Arkham is back.

So, we are six months in and things are mostly good. Writers have been writing Batman as Dick Greyson and finally putting to rest the dark, manically controlling Batman DC has been working to tone down since Identity Crisis. There are only three (yet to be answered) questions: where is Cassandra Cain? Where is the Joker? And who is the new Black Mask? I don’t know if any of them will be answered, but I like most of what I am reading and I look forward to its second half.


Black Bat Inc. said...

I like your take on it. Look forward to reading more

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