New 52 Bat Trade Post: Batman & Robin, Batwing & Batman

Batman and Robin Volume 1 Born to Kill Batman & Robin Volume 1: Born To Kill (DC)
Written by Peter J. Tomasi, drawn by Patrick Gleason
Collects Batman & Robin #1-8

One of the more confusing aspects of DC’s New 52 initiative is that some books seem to carry over completely from the old continuity while others have gone in radically different directions. This only confuses older continuity geeks like myself who aren’t quite sure how all these Robins can fit in the same world now that Batman’s been around for a lot less time. You’re also dealing with a Teen Titans-less world in the way that most people know them, so where does that leave Batman and his relationship with Nightwing? It’s a slippery slope indeed, but not on the creative side. They’re setting everything up how they want to, it’s the continuity guys and gals who have to do their best to not slide into the infinite game of “what if” and instead just read these new stories as if they’re being told to us for the first time without any existing information. That’s how I tried to go into all three of these book and I had varying degrees of success with that.

I actually had the most trouble with Batman & Robin and not necessarily because I was comparing it to the books I’m familiar with, but because I didn’t really know what was going on for big chunks of the story. I mean that in both a confused-story kind of way and in a “That’s not how I think Batman should act” way. The story confusion came from the book’s main adversary, Nobody. I had no idea who this guy was and wasn’t sure if he had been around in the previous continuity or not. Now, this might seem contrary to my earlier statement that I was trying to put such things out of my mind, but the reason I kept wondering is because it took so long to explain who he was and where he came from. I didn’t want to know if he existed previously because I wanted to compare him to the original, I wanted to know if I was already supposed to know about this guy or not, information that wasn’t presented to me as a reader until pretty far into the tale.

While that confusion was at play, I also keep looking at this guy claiming to be Batman and feeling like he wasn’t jibing with the idea of the character I’ve had in my mind after over 20 years of comic reading. He spends most of the book telling his son — and current Robin — Damian not to follow him out on patrol because it’s too dangerous. He expects Damian to just listen to him and do what he says which anyone could tell you would not happen. For one of the smartest guys in the DCU, this recurring element — which he was doing to protect his son — just felt stupid and feeling smarter than Batman is not a reaction I like having while reading one of his comics in particular.

Artistically speaking I’m a pretty big fan of Patrick Gleason. He’s definitely got his own style and it works well on a book like Batman & Robin. The fact that I thought it also worked well in the Green Lantern Universe shows how diverse he can be. My one complaint in this department would be that some of the more zoomed-out panels seemed to lose definition. I’m not sure if that’s on his end or the coloring/inking department, but it was something I noticed, as if getting further away in some panels made everything lose focus.

batwing volume 1 the lost kingdom Batwing Volume 1: The Lost Kingdom (DC)
Written by Judd Winick, drawn by Ben Oliver with ChrisCross
Collects Batwing #1-6

Meanwhile, I had a great time reading Batwing, though it’s definitely an intense comic. If you’re already familiar with some of Winick’s DC work, it should come as no surprise that this book about, essentially, Africa’s Batman is packed with equal parts superhero craziness and social and political elements. In this case, the star of the book, David Zavimbe, is not an orphan who fights for justice, but a former child soldier trying to make up for some of the atrocities he committed in his younger days. As much as I love the classic Batman origin, I’ve got to say, Batwing’s actually rings a little truer to me than Bruce’s.

The story in this first volume revolves around the murder of several former African superheroes who collectively referred to themselves as The Kingdom. Though he’s fairly new to the superhero game, David does his best to figure out why these people are getting offed, which puts him into direct conflict with a real bruiser named Massacre. What I liked about the pacing of this story is that you continue to learn more and more about what’s going on, but there’s always more questions in the works. As we learn about David’s past, you can’t help but wonder why he decided to start wearing a costume or how long he can really do this with such rage and anger inside of him. Plus, there’s the more obvious mystery of who’s killing The Kingdom and more importantly why? These are the kinds of things that keep you coming back for a serialized story like this. I was satisfied enough with the given answers that I want to come back and give the second volume a shot to see how things pay off.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the art in this book, but found that it really fit with the story being told. I’m really bad at explaining these things, but Oliver has a style that almost makes his figures look like they’re three-dimensional objects superimposed on painted backgrounds. Does that make sense? Sometimes that kind of style — where the two elements look so disparate — takes me right out of the story, but in this case it brought a more grounded realism that really fit the tone of the book.

batman volume 1 court of owls Batman Volume 1: The Court Of Owls (DC)
Written by Scott Snyder, drawn by Greg Capullo
Collects Batman #1-7

Finally we have the one comic that most people tend to agree on as being one of the best monthly comics from DC these days: Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman. After hearing a lot of the hype, already being a fan of Snyder’s non-superhero work and listening to him talk about the character on Kevin Smith’s Fat Man On Batman Podcast, I decided to finally jump in and see what all the fuss was about. And man, I agree with every good thing everyone’s saying about this book. It’s just fantastic.

The basic approach to this story is actually somewhat similar to what Grant Morrison did with Batman: R.I.P. and the Black Glove in that Bats discovers a long-standing group of bad guys who come out of nowhere only to come after the Dark Knight. Putting the comparison aside, though, this one is really a lot of fun and offerse a ton of Batman goodness to sink your teeth into.

I don’t want to get too deep into the details because I really don’t want to spoil anything (even though I’m probably the last person on earth to read this book), but one of the aspects I liked about this comic is that it’s really Batman’s story. Sure he interacts with Robin, Nightwing and Jim Gordon, but this is about him trying to figure out Gotham’s connection to the Court of Owls and how his own family ties into all that. Like I said above, I like continuity and Snyder’s doing a heckuva job building an all new one that more fully connects Batman and Bruce Wayne to Gotham City in ways that are both inventive and fun (from a reader’s perspective, I’m sure Bats doesn’t think all this is fun).

Speaking of fun, the visuals in this book are a delight to look at. I don’t have much experience with Greg Capullo’s Spawn work, but he certainly has the chops to nail Gotham in all its weirdness. The skyline looks interesting, but so do new additions like Talon and the Court of Owls masks. I liked staring at these pages as much as I did reading them. His style’s kind of cartoony in places, but I think that does a lot to break some of the tension and darkness of a story that’s not exactly smilesville.

At the end of the day I’m left feeling lukewarm, pretty interested and overly psyched about these books in that order. Batman & Robin didn’t do a lot for me and is already set up for a Sequential Swap. Meanwhile, I like the Batwing book mostly because of the creator and think it would have worked equally well as a creator owned Image book or something along those lines. Lastly, Snyder’s Batman does an amazing job of taking an existing character that I know and love and doing something that really adds to the mythos while also setting all of that in a new universe I’m growing to understand. I not only can’t wait to get the second volume, but also want to get his other Batman stuff like The Black Mirror and Gates Of Gotham which he co-wrote or plotted or somesuch. This guy is legit, you guys. Super legit.

Picking Up The 52: Huntress, Batwing, Hawk & Dove & Deathstroke #1s

I recently came into a stack of DC’s New 52 #1 issues. I didn’t think I’d be reading any of these books until word of the best ones popped and the trades came out, but here we are. I figured it would be fun to read them in the order they came to me in and just dove in. Here’s my thoughts.

Huntress #1 (of 6)
Written by Paul Levitz, drawn by Marcus To

This was an interesting book to start off with. On my first read through it was enjoyable enough. You’ve got Huntress in pretty much the same outfit she had in the previous universe and basically the same MO, traveling abroad and stumbling upon a human trafficking ring. She uses her vigilante crime fighting skills to crush skulls and put a stop to the problems, though she doesn’t quite get to the big boss man yet. But, then, on the second flip through I realized that there wasn’t really much in the way of new-ness in this comic. Pretty much every scene in this book has shown up in movies or other comics and winds up not being all that interesting upon further inspection. I do, however, think that Marcus To has some pretty solid chops. He draws ladies as well as action pretty well. He even does some good face work when he’s given the chance to do so. I hate starting these things off negatively, but it does seem like this would be an okay entryway for someone who’s used to action/vigilante movies but not into comics. You could probably give this comic to the Dirty Harry/Death Wish fan in your life and they’d probably get into it and maybe come back for more.

Batwing #1
Written by Judd Winick, drawn by Ben Oliver

Batwing was actually one of my favorite books from this stack. It introduces us to the African Batman, more specifically, the man who Batman visited and tasked with instilling fear in the hearts of men. I should note that this is the only one of the New 52 books I read that Batman actually appears in, so I’m not sure what the deal is moving over from the Grant Morrison stuff pre-New 52, but I’ve heard it’s actually pretty similar. I’m not all the way caught up on that stuff either, but I know the point of Batman, Inc. was to set different Batmen up around the world where they’re needed. And, boy, does this area need a Bat. I’m no expert, but Winick seems to have a good handle on the stakes in this part of the world and places our new armored hero in them to worrying degrees. There’s even one point where he notes that Batmen won’t scare such hardened people. It’s a really interesting point that I hadn’t thought of, which is something I dig when reading comics. Also, Ben Oliver has a big bold style that looks like it’s almost painted (maybe it is?) that I liked though he could have done more with the backgrounds, which is becoming my biggest pet peeve in comics lately. The issue ended with a cliffhanger that made me want to move on to the next issue. I will definitely have my eyes peeled for the Batwing trade when it comes out.

Hawk & Dove #1
Written by Sterling Gates, drawn by Rob Liefeld

Another comic book pet peeve I’ve got is when a book opens with tons of text, especially if it’s a news broadcast which is how Hawk & Dove kicks off. I know it means I’m lazy, but that’s how I roll. Other than that, this is an alright book. The concept of Hawk and Dove is one that I just don’t dig. One person likes to fight and the other doesn’t, but they’re both superheroes? It just doens’t grab me because it feels very limited. This book also seems very connected to the old DCU considering this is the same pairing that came back to life in Brightest Day and that Dove is with Deadman which I’m guessing is also a carryover. Heck, the last page reveal shows that a guy who looks like Kestrel is going to be a bad guy. Only a very specific audience–the people who would have bought a Hawk & Dove book anyway–would really care about this last page reveal. But, maybe it gets better or maybe those H&D fans dig this book.

Deathstrike #1
Written by Kyle Higgins, drawn by Joe Bennett

Thankfully, Deathstroke is a concept I can definitely get behind and have been taken with since I first encountered him way back when. He’s a one-eyed assassin who uses all of his brain to figure out how to kill you before you can even throw a punch. That, I like. This issue finds him working with a team of younger support people to steal something from an in-flight airplane and kill a guy. The job goes a little wonky and he winds up throwing down with some monsters and getting the chance to swing that gigantic sword of his. At the end, he shows exactly what he’s about and winds up breaking ties with the people he had been working for. Like Batwing, there’s enough here to get me to come back for the trade. I also dig Bennett’s art. I know I’ve read his comics before, but this looks different than I remember. He’s got a little Jim Calafiore going on. He’s a bit stylized which really fits this cross-genre book that stars a man in armor. I dig it.