I’ve taken a look at three of the other Batman family titles that have been launched or relaunched under the new “Batman: Reborn” brand, and it’s been promising so far. Now it’s time to discuss another three titles in the line. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but overall, there’s no denying the fact that “Batman: Reborn” has brought a new creative energy to the titles, and I expect it’ll translate into some strong sales for DC. Now, let’s onto my comments about Batman: Streets of Gotham #1, Detective Comics #854 and Gotham City Sirens #1.
Detective Comics #854
by Greg Rucka & J.H. Williams III/Rucka & Cully Hamner
Of all the “Batman: Reborn” titles, this is the one I was probably looking forward to the most, and yes, I mean even more than Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Batman and Robin. After all, this is the one that features the artwork of J.H. Williams. He brings his unique layouts to this project as he’s done with so many before, and it’s just as mesmerizing as his past efforts. I particularly enjoyed how he adopts something of a black-and-white approach for the scenes in which our heroine Kate Kane is in costume. Colorist Dave Stewart slices through the dark linework only with shades of red in those scenes, and it establishes a deliciously tense and eerie mood.
Rucka’s story revolves around the Religion of Crime, an element that first arose in his run on 52 with writers Mark Waid, Morrison and Geoff Johns (which also saw the introduction of the new Batwoman). He’s opted to link the character with the Crime Bible riff, and it’s a logical one. I have to admit I wasn’t wild about the Religion of Crime in the past, but in this issue, I’m not put off as I’ve been before, mainly because the new leader of the cult is oddly exotic and seemingly delicate in appearance (making for a nice contrast with the danger she represents). The strongest bits of writing in the book are the character-driven elements. I like that Rucka’s turned Kane’s father into an ally in her mission. The writer also opts to add a little something to Batwoman’s arsenal of weapons, and that’s her sexuality, though not in an overt way as we’ve seen with such characters as Catwoman or Power Girl.
This comic also features one of DC’s new “Second Features,” the Question. It’s a logical choice, as Batwoman and the new Question shared a strong connection in 52. I’m pleased to find the two features aren’t closely linked here. Rucka takes the Question in a different direction, independent of the main feature. She’s not even based in Gotham. We really don’t get much in the way of plot in this first episode, as Rucka really has to focus more on setting the stage. I’m a fan of Hamner’s artwork, and he doesn’t disappoint here either. I liked the tweaks he’s made to the new Question’s look; the shorter hair has done a lot to improve the design. 8/10
by Paul Dini, Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs/Marc Andreyko, Georges Jeanty & Karl Story
Gotham City Sirens #1
by Paul Dini & Guillem March
I’ve grouped these two titles together because they’re both written by Paul Dini, and consequently, there’s even a hint of crossover plotting. The plot element they share isn’t a vital one, so readers needn’t read both books to follow along. Whether or not that will continue to be the case remains to be seen. Both Dini stories have something else in common as well: unlike the other “Batman: Reborn” titles, they seem more focused on addressing past Batman continuity points than the others. Dini was one of the regular writers on the Batman books before Battle for the Cowl so I guess it’s to be expected. However, since I’m not all that interested in Hush or what Jason Todd was up to in Battle, for example, I was a bit disinterested in those elements. With this new branding, I was looking forward to fresh starts from all of the titles, but that’s not so much the case with Dini’s writing.
His plotting for Streets of Gotham actually lives up to the book’s title; while we see the new Batman and Robin in action, it seems to be more about what’s going on in Gotham as a city than the heroes’ mission. DC has decided to adopt the most recent animated incarnation of the Firefly for its Batman comics, and it’s a smart move. This latest take on the C-list villain is much more interesting, both visually and as an antagonist. The beginnings of the plot offer a fairly traditional Batman story, and it was diverting. Dustin Nguyen’s artwork — something of a cross between the styles of Mike (Hellboy) Mignola and Chris (New Avengers) Bachalo — stands out as unique and unconventional for a traditional super-hero title, and that alone is enough to make me pay attention and appreciate it.
Much more captivating, both in terms of writing and art, was the Manhunter “Second Feature” in this issue. This was the first of DC’s various “Second Features” I’d sampled, and I was pleased with what I found. Though I didn’t follow the now-defunct Manhunter series that spawned this backup feature, I had no problem delving back into Kate Spencer’s life. Transforming the criminal attorney into Gotham’s new interim district attorney was a great move on Andreyko’s part. It’s a natural way to integrate the character into the Batman family (though it does require a difficult-to-accept scene in which she leaves behind her young son on the other side of the country). Georges Jeanty’s artwork is a real pleasure. The realistic tone he establishes here reinforces the down-to-earth, political elements in the story, as well as the emphasis on the heroine’s human side. This is some of the strongest work I’ve seen from Jeanty, and I attribute that in part to the fact that he’s working with Karl Story, one of the industry’s most skilled inkers.
I wish I had such nice things to say about Gotham City Sirens, but alas, that’s not the case. My hope was that the emphasis on the characters’ sexuality one finds on the cover wouldn’t be so prominent when it came to the interior artwork. No such luck. Despite the fact that the story stars three strong women, it really ends up looking like nothing more than a T&A title. I even liked the new villain that’s introduced here (even if he seems to be a one-off character) as well as the cliffhanger. Unfortunately, Dini doesn’t seem to do much new with the characters (especially Ivy and Harley), and along with the strong links to Batman stories I (a) haven’t read and (b) don’t care about, it made for a lackluster reading experience.