Batman #687 (DC Comics)
by Judd Winick, Ed Benes & Rob Hunter
Despite the branding on the cover, this really isn’t a “Batman Reborn” title; the credits and title page within correctly bill this as an epilogue to Battle for the Cowl, bridging the two directions for the Bat-titles. Writer Judd Winick spends a lot of time answering questions that really didn’t need answering — such as why the world doesn’t seem to think the Batman died at all, why the new Batman has a new base of operations in Gotham and what other super-heroes in the DC Universe think about what’s happened with the Batman’s world and family. Fortunately, Winick does include some elements that work quite well, and those are the ones focusing on characterization, on emotion. Alfred is really the star of this script. He guides Dick Grayson through a difficult transition, and it’s clear that this is how Alfred is dealing with his grief.
Unfortunately, Ed Benes’s exaggerated style, with the hulking heroic figures lurching about almost every page, doesn’t suit the grounded, emotional elements from which the story draws its strengths. His style just doesn’t feel right for these characters, for this story. It worked at times for the epic, colorful tone of Justice League of America when the most recent incarnation of that title first debuted. 6/10
Dead Run #1 (Boom! Studios)
by Andrew Cosby, Michael Alan Nelson & Francesco Biagini
Mad Max. Escape from New York. Waterworld — the list of dystopian, post-apocalyptic movies goes on and on, and to be honest, I’ve never been terribly enamored of them. Even in comics, my favorite entertainment medium, the genre has rarely appealed to me, so Dead Run had a couple of strikes against it going in, as far as this reader is concerned. Cosby’s plot — about a courier being forced into a suicide run on behalf of a criminal kingpin — is full of action and attitude. It’s designed to be cool, and it succeeds to a certain extent. However, it also comes off as terribly derivative. The main character, the premise, the spunky yet sexy sidekick… it all feels far too familiar. Still, the reason this formula turns up so often is that it works, at least on a superficial level of entertainment.
Francesco Biagini’s art is the real star of the book. The overall visuals are, again, familiar and generic. We get the dichotomy of the harsh devastation outside the walled city and the clean, antiseptic halls of where the privileged reside. We see amped-up, armored vehicles, complete with the greasy, dirty garage where the hero’s ride gets overhauled. Even the mad mutant bikers from hell in the opening sequence seem like recycled genre fodder. Mind you, Biagini’s two-page spreads, displaying the rubble and destruction outside the supposedly safe confines of Los Angeles, are stunning. He really pours a lot of detail into them, and various snippets from those spreads seem to tell little stories all their own. 6/10
Red Robin #1 (DC Comics)
by Christopher Yost & Ramon Bachs
With last week’s Batman and Robin #1 and this new “Batman Reborn” title getting underway this week, it’s safe to say that creatively, the overhaul of the Batman family of titles is proving to be a creative success for DC Comics. Whether or not it’s a sales success remains to be seen, but I’m betting DC will take more spots in the Diamond top ten for June than it has in several years. This title focuses on what former Robin Tim Drake (or Tim Wayne, as he seems to want to be called now) is up to in the wake of his mentor’s death. Christopher Yost has a weird but logical take on Tim. He’s essentially graduated from being a sidekick, so he’s backpacking around Europe, thereby maintaining an emphasis on his youth while pointing out he’s not a kid anymore either. Of course, there’s a darker side to the plot, but it’s one that makes sense. While everyone else in the super-hero community has accepted Bruce Wayne’s death, Tim refuses to do so. It’s a stubborn, emotional decision, and it’s an apparently self-destructive one. But it’s also somewhat logical. He’s the only person in the DC Universe who seems to acknowledge how the world of super-heroes works. Of course the Batman’s not dead. The readers know he’s coming back, so Tim’s mission to find him actually works in a weird way.
Bachs delivers some solid super-hero storytelling here. The visuals rarely dazzle, but they’re not confusing either. The action sequences are choreographed quite nicely, and the artist manages to capture Tim as he walks a fine line between adolescence and adulthood. Furthermore, he employs an inky approach that’s in keeping with the darker mood that dominates the story. Still, the greatest strength of this title is how it’s shaken up the status quo for the title character. 7/10
Sherlock Holmes #2 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by Leah Moore, John Reppion & Aaron Campbell
Not surprisingly, the second episode of this series is as captivating as the first, if not moreso. While the first issue set up the mysteries at the heart of the plot, this one explores the politics that threaten the resolution of those mysteries. Holmes, locked in a cell on suspicion of murder, takes a back seat to other characters as a result, and his lesser role in this issue doesn’t hinder the storytelling at all. In fact, I think I enjoyed it all the more. Watson really gets to shine here; so does Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’s housekeeper, to a lesser extent. I love that the supporting players — though clearly hindered by Holmes’s absence — aren’t portrayed as idiots or blank sounding boards for the title character. There’s an even greater sense of history at play in this issue as well, as a key scene takes place at the dinner table of Queen Victoria.
Aaron Campbell’s art continues to remind me of the gritty, detailed, moody work of Lee (Joker) Bermejo. He captures the period clothing pretty well (or it’s close enough to convince), not to mention the decor and architecture. He bathes the story in darkness as well, enhancing the tension in the drama. I also appreciate how none of the characters are behemoths of strength or deals or physical perfection. These aren’t super-hero figures dressed up for a Holmes drama. Instead, there’s a nice variety of figures and faces to be found. The John Cassaday cover sums this issue up nicely, and I’m pleased that this title seems to be spared Dynamite’s usual variant-cover marketing approach. 8/10