Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Superman #689 review

As TV host Morgan Edge stirs up anti-Mon-El hatred, our hero leaves Metropolis for a world tour. He's keen to see the sights before his predicted death from lead poisoning and en route meets not so much a 'who's who' as a 'who the heck?' of DC's international heroes. If they're not unseen-for-years obscurities such as Rising Sun and Freedom Beast they're new creations a la La Sangre and Sunny Jim.

The international rescues are all narrated by Mon, allowing us to get to know the current star of Superman's book better while seeing what's happening outside the US, sadly, a rarity in DC Comics. Writer James Robinson has fun with the idea that two British heroes, a toff and a tough, would team up as Class War (mind, why is the diamond-themed chap named Beaumont? Why not Diamond Geezer, an old British term . . . oh, hang on, he's the posh one. Still, why Beaumont?). He also comes up with a hero I'd love to see again, a German gumshoe with, er, 'a little invulnerability', Will Von Hammer. With just one splash panel and around 100 words, Robinson has me dying to see this guy again, a descendant of Enemy Ace and the very obscure Stormy Foster, the Great Defender. Maybe we could call him Enemy Dick. (Click for a better view.)

When not zapping around the globe we see the Guardian challenge Edge's tirades, Tellus say goodbye, the Prankster make himself useful and John Henry Irons show his Steelworks to a potential new security guard. Four B-plots, three cracking scenarios - Edge's rants are very much par for the course in the DCU, part Jack Ryder, part Vic Sage, all-dull. Hopefully Robinson will give Edge something more interesting to do soon.

The world tour, which takes in such sights as the Kremlin and Gaudi's Barcelona, is perfectly suited to penciller Renato Guedes' eye for architecture, and along with inker Jose Wilson Magalhaes and colourist David Curiel he gives us some terrific interpretations of DC's lesser-know heroes (including upcoming member of Robinson's JLA, Congorilla).

Good as they are, though, they can't make the villain of the last page look scary. Not in that outfit. Not in my lifetime.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Utopia #1 review

I'm old enough to remember the X-Men fighting villains who weren't mutants, when they had time between adventures to play ball, go to the mall, even have romances with ordinary people. Then came the superb Days of Future Past story (Uncanny X-Men #141-141) and its success encouraged writer Chris Claremont to revisit the idea of anti-mutant hysteria. Not once or twice but again and again, until the book became less about superheroes who shared a common origin than than a tale of oppressed souls, constantly battling mutant haters, supervillains and politicians alike. 'Hated and feared by the world they have sworn to protect' went from being a clever legend line that occasionally fed into the stories than the team's reason for being. And I bailed as a regular reader.

I've popped back regularly since giving up my monthly dose of X-Men around the time the X-Men 'died'/went to Australia (yes, there is a difference), and have enjoyed a fair few stories, while wishing the book would stop being quite so angsty. Yes, we get it, if you're Jewish, or gay, or - God forbid - ginger, you're a bit like the X-Men. We're currently going big on the gay metaphor, with Scott Summers and co having moved to San Francisco after the School for Gifted Youngsters was destroyed for the umpteenth time.

This first bookend to a crossover begins with a perfectly legal anti-mutant march on San Francisco being intercepted by a bunch of mutants led by a strangely confrontational Beast. Big brain Hank is surprised when fighting breaks out between the two factions, and winds up tasered and in a cell. It's all a bit embarrassing for the Mayor, who had invited the X-Men to find sanctuary in SF. Soon the rest of the team and sundry younger mutants are firefighting across the city and not doing too badly until Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers arrive . . .

X-Men writer Matt Fraction doesn't have as much fun introducing the Dark Avengers via his patented infobursts as he does with his regular characters (well, I don't think so - they're printed in a tiny font, in dark blue out of black, so who can tell?), but he gives them some good moments. Ares, in particular, has a wonderfully entertaining chance to shine, while Ms Marvel shoots off a line worthy of Emma Frost at her best. It's his regular protagonists who come off badly, with Beast an impetuous buffoon and Colossus happy to beat up young X-Man Rockslide, who's having his own off-moment.

Nevertheless, this was an engrossing book, reading like the culmination of two decades of 'let's have a Mutant registration act'. I'd be thrilled to bits were this story indeed to put the lid on this tired theme for a while, but I can't see it happening. It's been the default for far too long now.

I enjoyed the real sense of place engendered by the script's hopping around the city: one minute we're in Market Street, then it's off to the Embarcadero before climbing Nob Hill and so on. There's a pleasing intensity to the script, as if the story matters. And while I could live without the Grrr-We're-The-Dark-Avengers, Norman Osborn works well in his scenes with fellow Cabal member Emma Frost. And the ending, despite another rubbish moment for the Beast ('Are you speaking in my head?' he wonders cos, you know, the Beast's never encountered a telepath), has a twist I never saw coming.

Last time I saw Marc Silvestri pencil at Marvel was on that final Grant Morrison story I mentioned earlier, Here Comes Tomorrow, and here he comes again. I've never understood why he's quite so lauded, but it's decent comic art, even with the handicap of seven inkers - the finish is nowhere near as inconsistent as I'd expect, so well done all. And Frank D'Armarta applies colour intelligently, while Chris Eliopoulos is undaunted by a wordy script.

A couple of questions: Loki appears for one panel, in male form - has he changed back from the ugly bint of recent Thor vintage, then? And where does Toad keep that tongue?

The cover is classily designed, with smart furniture, but the movie poster style illo could do with being less murky. And how many times do we have to have the X-Men lying defeated on a hill, like the Peanuts gang staring up at the clouds?

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Gotham City Sirens #1 review

Gotham City Sirens? Gotham City Tarts, going by that admittedly nicely rendered cover. I suppose you can't fault the honesty - cheesecake title, cheesecake images - but can we keep the levels down?

Cover artist Guillem March plays it a little looser inside, getting very cartoony at times, which suited the debut of rubbish wannabe villain Bonebreaker. He differentiates our three leads - Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn - well: Selina is steely but tired; Pamela, ethereal and smart; Harleen, mischievous and distracted. March's Riddler is unrecognisable, partly due to Ivy's treatment of him, partly due to him not having had a settled look for years. The action sequences are fun, 'louder' than other Bat-books in their presentation, which provides a unique selling point.

The best USP is the personalities of our leads, three unique women who, when they come together, fizz. This issue writer Paul Dini has them deciding to live together for protection in the powder keg that is Gotham. Ivy, concerned that Selina has lost her mojo, checks in with Zatanna, whom she suspects of having tinkered with Catwoman's health. It's clever that Dini has Ivy appear to Zee as a gnarled face in a plant rather than the beauty that is her default form. I also liked a gag that'll appeal to anyone with an email account, the debut of the Broker (who comes from the Paul Gambi school of characters who have to exist in the DCU) and a cliffhanger that makes perfect sense for these characters.

Oh, and there are gargoyles. Of course.

Detective Comics #854 review

She's the Batwoman . . . and she's pale. Very pale. I suspect Kate Kane is wearing pancake make-up for her nights on the town, all the better to scare criminals, my dear. With ruby red lips, red wig stark against the black night, and that pale, pale skin, she's a new ghost on the Gotham streets.

But Batwoman is no ephemeral vision; she does, as the Americans say, kick butt. And head. And anything else that gets in the way. And when not Batwoman, she's equally vampish, with her new do, a Twenties-style Louise Brooks bob. Well, she looks vampish; in her current relationship she seems rather meek. Or maybe just too tired to fight back when new girlfriend Mallory accuses her of cheating and dumps her. Let the moaning Minnie go, I say, when you're ready for love there's a rather lovely woman just down the comic. But we'll get to her later.

In her first outing as lead star in Detective Comics, Batwoman is a woman possessed, continuing her efforts to shut down the Religion of Crime which tore her heart out (literally) in a mini some time ago. And I wish her luck, because as visually interesting as their apparent new leader, Alice, is - think a Doug Moench/Bill Sienkiewicz femme fatale, with creepier word balloons courtesy of the great Todd Klein - I found the Crime Bible mini rather senseless and just want the whole thing to go away.

Still, that's not putting me off the comic. Not when Kate Kane is such a potentially interesting character - I like what we've seen and can't wait to find out about her past with the Batman Family, her motivation for crimefighting, where she shops . . . I'm already intrigued by her military dad, who seems to share her secrets, and why there's such sadness in her eyes.

Because while the mirror-lensed Batwoman is a grinning fiend for good, artist JH Williams III makes Kate a smoky-eyed siren with the weight of the world on her shoulders. I want to know her private sadnesses and, if not see her overcome them, learn how she deals with them.

Williams is on stonking form throughout, and when not drawing the comic may as well build a shelf for the awards he'll win. The layouts are imaginative yet not so fiddly they halt the story; the action is kinetic and clear; the quieter moments are full of fascinating detail (I want to move into Kate's flat right now).

Dave Stewart is equally pulling his weight with the colours - between them, the men give us a distinct separation between the books two worlds: Batwoman stalks the grainy streets, her costume sleek, while Kate wanders the daytime world, in fabulously feminine chic, tattoos proudly displayed. Actually, there's a middle ground as we follow Kate and her father into her mini-Batcave. The art is wonderfully well-thought out and a perfect match for Greg Rucka's smart script.

Mind, Rucka had me at 'Bette'.

Rucka stays on for back-up strip The Question. Happily Renee Montoya - Batwoman's favourite ex - is away from the global intelligence force she hooked up with in (Oh God If Only It Were) Final Crisis, and is taking on small, street-sized cases with Tot. I believe Tot was an associate of the original Question, but no one bothers mentioning it. Oh well, Rucka and artist Cully Hamner give us enough set-up to get into the story, a mundane episode of Renee looking for a missing girl. It's nicely paced but strictly 'uh-huh' stuff. Points to Rucka for not hammering us on the head with 'Renee is an alcoholic' when she comes across a roomful of empties, but that was the only moment I sat up and took notice.

Maybe the story will go somewhere amazing but on the evidence here, and nice as it is to see an actual detective in Detective Comics again, I'd prefer a $2.99 book featuring Batwoman alone.

Wonder Woman #33 review

The injured Diana lands on Paradise Island, helps her mother, sisters and madwomen of the Circle fight the sea monsters of Euphemus, bests Ares, punches Zeus for making her sisters mortal and ousting his mother in favour of revived corpse guy Achilles, and quits the Amazon. The story ends with Head Circler Alkyone leering at the baby doll Ares gave her, which we may call Essence du Genocide.

Yes, Genocide, whose villainy has dominated the eight-part Rise of the Olympian, will be back. Like we haven't seen enough of her. As for the Olympian, he appeared for a few panels this issue and showed all the charisma of a wet rag. Lord knows how he got the storyline named after him, it's been Genocide all the way. Even though she doesn't appear this time, she fills the injured Diana's thoughts, causing her to exaggerate how much damage she did to Diana's loved ones (Etta ain't dead, Donna merely had a Genocide-inspired moody, Nemesis likes being in hospital and monkeys always die in gorilla warfare). Mind, the scene did allow Diana to squeeze in an idea as to why Genocide was always wittering on about 'No home', which made sense if read with a generous heart.

Drama queen moments aside, I enjoyed the chat between the weakened Diana and Phillipus, it showed the familiarity pseudo-sisters should have.

A few random thoughts: While I prefer the Invisible Plane, Diana's unique transport, the arrival of the shell, skimming over the sea to Paradise Island, made for an evocative opening.

I loved Aaron Lopresti's monsters, though it's a shame their first appearance wasn't on a turn page, for effect. His work throughout was stunning (apart from his apparent refusal to draw the tiara properly), partnered with inker Matt Ryan and colourist Brad Anderson.

Diana's narration was pretty good, less melodramatic than in writer Gail Simone's earliest issues.

'If I could talk to the megalodons . . .' It turns out that at least one Amazon can chat to the prehistoric sharks that bask around the island (maybe this is Aquazon of the Super Young Team, on vacation). Surely only Diana had unity with beasts?

'Hera's name!' cries Persephone, making her comic book debut after appearing in the recent Wonder Woman cartoon. Er that would be Hera, then - or was it a shortened form of 'In Hera's name!'? Is this the Amazon equivalent of my hated 'the hell?' And why is she calling her poor pal a 'silly woman'?

The design of the Hephaestus Cannon was excellent, harking back to ancient times, yet futuristic.

I found the supposedly compassionate Diana rather too tetchy in her treatment of Alkyone - yes, she was an enemy, but here she was doing her best to defend her mother. Diana should have thanked Alkyone as a first step towards welcoming her back into the tribe.

Surprisingly, there's no hint here that the Amazons have just been reunited after being dosed with amnesia and scattered around the world. That's a shame as them no longer knowing how to work together could have upped the drama.

The dialogue given to Hippolyte was too cutesy at times - it'd be okay for Gail's old title Birds of Prey, but it's not suited to a supposedly dignified 3,000-year-old monarch facing the fight of her life. There were some good moments for Hippolyte, such as her 'wilful child' line, and her strong leadership was good, but overall she disappointed me. I get that she's longtime loyal to Zeus, but when the gods must be crazy, get off them knees.

I enjoyed the appearance by Athena, she seemed suitably distant, and letterer Travis Lanham gave good font.

As for Diana and her 'Amazon no more' business, it feels like we've been there many times. Even Alkyone said 'again' when Diana made her announcement. Still, if it means no more gods and monsters for a while, lovely.

My biggest problem with this issue was the dispatching of Ares. He was revealed as the threat behind Genocide only recently in scenes I figured were meant to up the ante. I expected Diana to be daunted, but to battle him at least to a stalemate. So what happens? Wonder Woman confronts him, bashes him on the head with her axe and he loses his spirit. One panel. She may as well have been batting away an over-eager puppy.

This is the god of war, who was, I imagine, enjoying a power boost due to the conflict around him. This was one of the family who created Diana and her people. But he was nothing to her. If Diana is suddenly powerful enough to take down gods without a second thought, why did she have so many problems with the god-powered Genocide? Last issue, when she made a comment about how she should have killed Ares when she had the chance, I smiled at the exaggeration of her powers. But no, she could have done it. Wotta girl. So much for her terrible injuries.

So that's eight months of Wonder Woman comics I've followed to see the Rise of the Olympian. I must have blinked and missed it. Yes, I saw Zeus put him on the stage. I saw Achilles and his men rampaging mildly around the world. There was even a fun little fight with Diana. But does anyone really feel that a force to be reckoned within the DCU has been created here? Girly-haired Achilles was barely a presence in this arc. I'm more interested in seeing his conjoined elephant again.

Overall, while I've heaped praise on many issues in this storyline, I'm feeling a little flat tonight. Eight issues and it all comes down to beating a bunch of monsters and bashing Ares' brains out. I'd say there was too much going on in this storyline and not focus on key elements. Maybe my big problem just comes down to the naming of the arc. Had it been something like, as I said previously, The Ogre and the Olympian, I'd have had fewer expectations that Achilles would stand proud as a real threat to Diana's world. As it was, the Olympian got top billing but Genocide dominated. It's as if Gail fell in love with her new creation, whose status as the Future Corpse of Wonder Woman has me never wanting to see her again. Stupid time travel palava! That revelation had me scratching my head. If she's a murdering animated corpse why did Diana has any qualms about tearing her apart?

In a 160pp story there's room to get the pacing right, but instead Genocide got the attention, Achilles the crumbs and Diana was too often on the backfoot. It's likely we'll be seeing a fair amount of Achilles in future, so perhaps he'll become a compelling character. Me, I'd prefer a few issues of Diana facing solo villains with uncomplicated agendas. Plenty of soap, plenty of action and really tight focus. No more sprawling epics for a while.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Wonder Woman #600 campaign

She's beaten everyone from the Cheetah to Darkseid but there's one foe Wonder Woman is finding truly implacable - Dan DiDio.

DC's Executive Editor has so far resisted all calls to give the Amazon a 600th issue, reflecting her position in comics history - even though recent years have seen such books as Superman, Fantastic Four, Thor and, soon, Captain America, dump the new volumes for big numbers.

On Newsarama.com Mr DiDio recently said of his determination not to see Wonder Woman renumbered: 'I just don’t see the need to do it – it’s not going to change the stories we tell, it’s not going to change who the character is, it’s not going to change a single thing about her. She still stands with the sense of history and legacy that she has always had, and we do nothing but treat her with the utmost respect due to one of the primary characters of the DC Universe. Anyone who thinks otherwise, and needs a #600 issue to prove it is mistaken.'

Well, fans aren't going to take that. Members of the DC Message Boards, at the suggestion of rabid Wonder Woman fan Carol Strickland, plan to besiege Mr DiDio with postcards demanding (in a polite, Amazonian manner) that the June 2010 issue isn't #45, as it would be under the current series numbering, but #600 - a figure that combines all issues of the three volumes of Wonder Woman that have appeared since 1942. And that after that the book remains in the 600s.

DC has been pushing the idea of Wonder Woman being on an equal standing with Superman and Batman, even calling them 'the Trinity', but still leaves her at the back of the comic book bus in many important ways. Superman and Batman both have titles in the upper #600s, as well as ones in the upper 800s. Now’s the time to let Wonder Woman’s single title break through DC’s glass ceiling and hit the #600s. Hey, if Mr DiDio says it won't make any difference, how about letting it not make a difference in a direction that will please fans who do care? After all, the sales boost from the new #1 of a few years back is over - a #600 would be something on which to hang a new wave of promotion.

If you'd like to see Princess Diana soar ever upwards, send a postcard (people pay more attention to snail than e-mail) to Dan DiDio, Senior VP/Executive Editor, DC Comics, 1700 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Mighty Avengers #26 review

Hank Pym continues his war on Reed Richards to regain a doohickey he needs to re-tether his interdimensional doorways to Earth. Hercules and Vision impersonate the Red Hulk and Red Ghost to distract the Thing and Human Torch. Stature tells all to her old friend the Invisible Woman. And the Mighty Avengers triumph.

Well, it's their comic, innit? While Hank Pym is a tad creepy this issue, Reed Richards is the bigger arsehole, utterly consumed by arrogance. I was delighted to see Hank outthink him. I only hope Hank is de-creeped soon as by now he's even infected the previously innocent Jocasta with his slightly warped worldview. I loved it when the robot actually tunes into her Jan Pym brain patterns to give annoying Cassie Lang a kick up the backside, but what she does next . . . brrrr.

The rest of the characterisations are a delight, from a 'ballad' composed by Hercules to Amadeus Cho's reaction to Valeria Richards. The Loki/Scarlet Witch business is off the table this time, as is the Quicksilver and USAgent side story, but that's fine, there's always next month and I plan to be back.

I wasn't keen on the art jam this time, as four people - Stephen Segovia and Noah Salonga, with Paco Diaz and Harvey Tolibao - handle things. There are one or two great pages, plenty of decent ones and a few less lovely ones. The scratchy style wouldn't be my choice, I think Slott's script demands the classic, clean look of a Paul Pelletier or Ron Frenz, but until then I'll take consistency and Koi Pham returns next month, so that's something. Anyway, good on all #26's illustrators for telling the story well enough and getting the book into my hands. Meeting deadlines, that's heroism enough for me.

Marco Djurdojevik provides the cover, and it's a beaut. Could someone commission him to do an Annual?

The Brave and the Bold #24 review

I never came across Static when he had his own title, having tried a few other Milestone books and found them not for me (too self-consciously urban, with colouring that didn't appeal). I've never seen his cartoon, I don't believe it made it to the UK. I have seen him in Teen Titans, in which he seemed a nice kid with standard electric powers and a strange attachment to his overcoat.

Well, the coat's here, as expected, but this issue's team-up with Black Lightning lets me know there's more to Static than static. He manipulates electro-magnetism, as well as firing standard comic book bolts (well, standard for today; I'm old enough to recall electic blasts as yellow, not blue). And as scripted by Matt Wayne, he's a lot wittier than I've seen.

Black Lightning isn't witty, but then he rarely is - he's the strong, silent type, though his meeting with Static brightens him up a little. By issue's end they're on the way to being fast friends.

I didn't quite get why Static bad guy Holocaust wanted to barbecue Black Lightning - something to do with Jeff Pierce's time as Lex Luthor's education chief, and Holocaust's riverboat casino. Are floating gambling den's educational? I dunno. Apparently Holocaust knows he's been fed duff information blaming Pierce for shutting him down, but he's going to kill him anyway, because otherwise some unnamed third party will kill Holocaust . . . feel free to explain it to me, anyone.

Whatever the reason for the fight, the battle itself is fun, with Static keen to show Black Lightning - whom he considers suspect for his dealings with Luthor - how it's done. That they predictably come together to take down 'Holly' isn't a problem, this is a team-up book. I enjoyed the heck out of it and would happily try a Static strip now. I particularly enjoyed his banter with apparent best pal Frieda, whose knowledge of his Static identity made for some cute moments.

The art by Howard Porter and colourist Tom Chu jollies the story along nicely, giving us plenty of character and some commendably big moments. Its openness reminds me of Scott Kolins on Flash. My tiny quibble is that the lightning look too quiet - more flash please, gents.

So that's a nice straightforward superhero team-up. Inessential, but character, action and heart made me glad to read it.

Supergirl #42 review

As a fella who gets bored with 'iconic' covers - heroes posing, nothing to do with any specific issue - I have to commend Joshua Middleton for trying something different this month. We have Supergirl travelling from Earth to New Krypton, a moment reflected inside, zooming over our heads. Even without being able to see her face, Supergirl is recognisable, and the glowing baby planet, red sun rising, looks gorgeous. And Middleton might have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for that pesky logo. If ever there was a time to shrink it down, or move it to the right hand side, this is it. I've included the logoless cover here for comparison.

Inside, Sterling Gates writes, Jamal Igle pencils and Supergirl wins. This book gets better by the month and as of this issue, especially the final pages, it's safe to say that these guys own this character. There;s so much to like: Major Sam Lane's links to Sgt Rock, not entirely unpredictable in a shared universe but used to deepen the character of someone who badly needed shading; a nod to one of the weirdest Superman storylines ever in Lois's notion that the Parasite might have been impersonating sister Lucy; the reporter's reliance on her professional talents to help her maintain some control until she lets herself feel her pain in Lucy's apartment; one of the most natural-sounding exposition scenes I've seen in the Science Police sequence.

Kara's resolve during her confrontation with Lois is well-conveyed - yes, she feels bad that Lucy is apparently dead, but she's not throwing herself on the mercy of the court . . . Lucy, the murderous Superwoman, brought it on herself.

The relationship between Lana and Kara continues to develop, giving Supergirl the anchor she needs on Earth. The final scene, with Kara stating her position as she flies to New Krypton, is perfect. She's through being emotionally bullied by her mother, while accepting that she's as much a daughter of Krypton as she's become one of Earth. She's the Supergirl of two worlds and ready to do what she can for both. The girl has grown so much since the current creative team came on board and I hope they stay a long while.

Jamal Igle's facial work is a joy, with easily readable emotions everywhere. And look at the body language in these panels - Kara determined, then sad, Lana thoughtful and poised. His action sequences aren't so shabby either, especially as finished by Jon Sibal. Mind, while they generally give great exteriors and interiors, they don't half give Lois one uncomfortable-looking couch. I like the red, though. That's the work of regular colourist Nei Ruffino, who should send her colour guides to every DC colourist as a lesson in how to make comic book hair - in this case, Lois's - black without looking grey. Who needs blue?

While Supergirl's book is tied to the rest of the Superman line via the New Krypton conceit, it's not inextricably so. If you've not tried an issue, take a look.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Batman: Streets of Gotham #1 review

Here in Scotland there's a pastime known as Munro bagging. Munros are mountains that are over 3000ft, of which there are hundreds, and the idea is to climb - or bag - every one. I suspect there's a similar activity in Gotham City, Gargoyle Bagging. Why else does almost every third cover feature someone posing on a creepy waterspout? Not only does this issue have the new Batman in said stance, back-up star Manhunter begins her tenure the same way. I'll get to that later.

First though, we have displaced Detective Comics creative team Paul Dini, Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs kicking off this new book with a day in the life tale. Said story shows us the now-straight Harley Quinn (see, Countdown did happen) being hassled as she tries to about her business, first by the police, then by the new Caped Crusader. There's Katy, a young runaway involved with some very bad people. Firebug, striving to get off the villainous D-list with a clever plot that speaks to his madness rather than any great purpose. Damian Wayne, playing chess with penthouse prisoner Tommy Elliot aka Hush aka Lame. And Commissioner Gordon, as quietly determined as any member of the Batman Family to bring order to his city streets.

While I'm no great fan of multiple narratives, Dini knows how to make the technique work - giving us each character's point of view one by one, rather than slinging several colorfully clashing caption boxes on to a single page. Credit to letterer Steve Wands for keeping it all easy on the eye (and a spiffy bit of work on story title 'Ignition').

An accumulation of little details made this book for me: Damian's lack of equivocation when the call to action came; his not arguing the toss over Dick's right to the Batman name when in public; Gordon quietly studying the replacement heroes. These scenes remind us that there's more to Gotham than Batman chasing baddies, it's a vibrant place full of ordinary folk going about their business. Too often it seems that the place exists only at night, with police HQ, Arkham and Wayne Manor the only locations. Not so here, as we explore the streets of the title.

Our visual guides, penciller Ngyen, inker Fridolfs and colourist John Kalisz, are note perfect for Dini's script. The city looks moody, but never dull; the characters alive and unpredictable. Damian appears a tiny bit older than I think he should, but I expect artists across the Bat-books are settling on his look. Line Editor Mike Marts and his individual editors are doing such a terrific job overseeing the new line of Bat-books, setting up tone, character and storylnes, that I can excuse the odd slip.

And besides, Damian gets the best line in the issue, a comment so perfect for him that it illustrates how well defined his personality already is. And the chess scene shows there's a lot more going on than mere snitty kid.

The story ends with a scene we've seen all too many times over the last few years, but it's what the story's been building towards. Let's see where it goes next month.

But there's more. Here's Kate Spencer, Manhunter, settling into her new Gotham home. I wouldn't be surprised if writer Marc Andreyko began with a gargoyle moment as a gag, to immediately make the point that his girl's gone Gotham. He takes to the ten-page format with apparent ease, alternating flashbacks to show how Kate Spencer relocated from LA to be acting DA with today's hunt for the previous incumbent's killer.

Andreyko deserves credit for having Kate leave son Ram behind in the comparatively safer LA, while stressing that she Will remain a big part of his life. It may be less dramatic for the strip to lose a potential story builder such as Ram, but it's true to Kate's character that she keeps him away from Gotham's psychos.

There was a lovely scene involving Commissioner Gordon that showed Kate dropping her hard face for a moment, and a smart bit of Barbara Gordon interaction. I can't see either being regulars in the strip - Kate has her own interesting cast, at least a few of whom I hope to see here - but their participation in the opener made perfect sense.

George Jeanty did a pretty decent job with the pencils. His proportions were off on occasion, with Kate's head looking too large for her body, but again, I like this book so much I'll call it teething problems. Karl Story did a nice job on the inks and it'll be interesting to watch these two pull together as a team. A glitch which bothers me more was the printing of Kate's narrative captions - red out of black should have worked, but the font used was too blobby, rendering it occasionally unreadable.

I wasn't keen on Nick Filardi's colour choices - do flashbacks always have to be in tepid hues? And what's with all the grey skintones? Hopefully he'll look at the finished product and tweak the brightness levels just a little.

My little moans aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the return of Manhunter. I wasn't sure what purpose she'd serve in a Gotham filled to the gills with vigilantes, but I'm just glad to see her. If nothing else, that hideous cobbled-together red costume adds a nice dash of colour.

So that's a brilliant full-length story and a terrific back-up. I think I have a new favourite bat-book.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Shameless plug for Comic Buyers Guide #1656

I've recently started contributing to this sage organ so if you've any spare pennies, buy the thing! This issue has me moaning about or praising Flash Rebirth #1, New Mutants #1, Destroyer #1, Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape#1 and R.E.B.E.L.S. #4. Thank you, and good afternoon.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Booster Gold #21 review

Batman's dead so Rip Hunter tasks Booster with busting into the Batcave and retrieving the photographs that prove he's a time fixer. Quite why it would be so bad were any of Batman's strictly street-level enemies to find them isn't explained, but it sets up a confrontation between Booster and new Batman Dick Grayson. They have a little fight, Booster reveals all about his efforts to save Barbara Gordon from the Joker and someone else enters the fray - Black Beetle, future villain and present dullard. Honestly, this isn't an interesting guy; he blasts at heroes and disappears into the timestream, only to return in future and do it again. Booster needs to have a big can of Raid ready for his next appearance.

There's a cliffhanger, though we're talking molehill rather than Dover here - it's the same sort of thing we've seen issue after issue. Dan Jurgens is at least as good a writer as he is an artist - and he's a pretty decent artist - but he really needs to be steered away from the Quantum Leaping that was this book's initial hook. (And no, I didn't say the same thing last month - time travel means I haven't written that load of blather yet.)

So, not the most exciting of Booster stories. Thank goodness, then, for new back-up boy Blue Beetle. In an apparent bid to bring Beetle fans up to speed, Booster's strip is exposition heavy as regards his current MO and the courtesy is returned here - Beetle's set-up is given in an efficient three panels, with the rest of the story showing Jaime Reyes in action. We're reintroduced to best mates Paco and Brenda, a giant robot is thumped and a mystery is born. Matt Sturges' script contains all the ingredients that made the Blue Beetle solo title so delightful - fun relationships, smart but not smart-arse dialogue, action aplenty, an alien suit of surprises and the acknowledgement that it's not just the good guys who leave a legacy. One detail that tickled me was Jaime and chums dressing up to visit a convict - they're such respectful young people. Oh, and new Beetle artists Mike Norton and Norm Rapmund (he inks Booster's strip too, you know) produce excellent giant robots

I was a bit sniffy about the idea of a second feature in Booster Gold but on the strength of this performance, Blue Beetle will keep me buying a book I'm losing interest in. Job's a good 'un, as we say in the UK.

JSA vs Kobra #1

Evil cult Kobra embarks on a suicide bombing campaign, apparently aimed at taking down the Justice Society of America, and rival faiths. Mr Terrific, personally targeted by Kobra for his Checkmate connections, narrates part of this issue. Sharing the chore is someone from Kobra - presumably the current leader - and it's through their words that we see there's more going on here than meets the eye. I'm being non-gender specific 'cos that big lady on Gene Ha's groovy cover may be the current boss - I dunno, I generally avoid Kobra stories, they bore me.

This one, though, I bought because I've enjoyed writer Eric S Trautmann's Checkmate work, and penciller Don Kramer has served the JSA well in the past. And I'm so glad I did . . . this is the best-written JSA for years. In just a few pages we see that despite its size, this is a team that truly meshes, both on the field and off. The couple of pages with the heroes in the meeting room is a model of how the Society should work - old and new heroes, each bringing something to the table. And wonders never cease, look at this! Yes, it's Power Girl, leader of the JSA, leading. When does that happen? Trautmann writes Kara well throughout, showing her as resolute, but not obnoxious. Her position relative to Mr Terrific on implanted memories (and yes, I said 'memories' not . . . never mind) makes perfect sense given her past. Or rather, pasts.

This story seemingly takes place after Final Crisis - Checkmate operative Sasha Bordeaux is here in her post-FC comatose state - but Hawkman is here too, and he was injured far more badly than Omac poster girl Sasha. Well, he was killed, actually, but Dan Didio reckons readers imagined that. Let's just assume Katar got better and enjoy the story.

I've not come across inker Michael Babinski previously, but he works well with Kramer, supplying some tremendous textures - Citizen Steel has never looked more metallic, or Obsidian creepier. And colourist Art Lyon is on his A-game, showing a painter's knowledge of hues and lighting. There are no throwaway tones here; if you don't believe me, consider the floors and marble table (complete with reflections)in the JSA meeting room. Gorgeous.

I hope this creative team - and that includes you too, letterer Pat Brosseau - remains for the six issues this series runs. That way, it's JSA vs Kobra and the reader wins.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Flash: Rebirth #3 review

Could everyone please dip into their pockets, we're having a whip round. I'm booking Ethan Van Sciver a place at the Jack Kirby College of Dynamic Foreshortening. Cos that cover image is just wrong. Yes, it's the latest Flash/Superman race, this time to see who can look most constipated, most quickly. I think Barry has it by a nose.

Inside the issue, Abra Kadabra gets blasted by someone evil from the future. The JSA and JLA try to disinfect Barry of that annoying Dark Flash life-sucking business. Bart shows up all weepy over Max Mercury. Supes and Bazza race, as you know. And Barry takes drastic action in a bid to save his loved ones, meets some old friends and is ambushed by a Surprise (If You Were Asleep In The Abra Kadabra Scene) Villain.

The biggest threat Barry faces here is techno-babble on a scale that would frighten the most ardent Trekker. Just look at this nonsense! (Click for a lovely big version, so much easier on the eyes) That's Jay Garrick, expert in hard water, keeping a shiny hat on at 2000 mph and talking shite. My highlight this issue was wife Iris calling Barry out on his recent policy of never resting. Other than that, it was another tiresome dragging out of Barry Allen's return, replete with references back to Flash tales of 25 years ago. I wasn't in favour of Barry's resurrection, feeling that he died a fine, heroic death and the DC Universe has moved on spiffingly without him. But if we're getting him back, let's just accept it and give him some new challenges. A hyper-convoluted story bringing in all the other speedsters, various villains, JLA and JSA-ers and dredging up the Speed Force, I don't need.

And I really didn't need Barry Allen implying to Superman that any of their races he did well in was due to Barry folding for charity. Bunk! I've read those comics. It may be the tiniest bit of history rewriting - certainly not on a par with Johns's addition of a murdered mother and imprisoned father - but it still irks.

Van Sciver's art remains as busy as ever. You can't fault the fella in terms of energy - Speed Force crackles, things explode . . . it's neato or migraine inducing depending on my mood. One thing that definitely annoyed me was the Green Lanterning of Mystery Villain's chest emblem and cuff design, so that they float as if generated by his power, rather than sit like the bits of material they are.

I like Van Sciver best in the quiet moments: Barry's flashback dinner with Iris, Liberty Belle and Hourman at JSA HQ - really, I wish he'd not try so hard. Except when we have three panels of present day Barry and Iris chatting in the rain via three identical-bar-the-colour-effects panels; those, he could put a bit more effort in. I'm not suggesting something radical and strenuous such as different angles, or relative distances, but at least tilt the heads, move the mouths - something. Look at this panel - simple, but imaginative, a new way of showing super speed. More imagination, less clutter is the way to go. And well done to Brian Miller for his consistently nifty colouring.

I realise this is coming across as a big moan, but I'm buying this book because Johns did such great work on Flash when it was Wally's book, and I've liked lots of Van Sciver's stuff. And I'll buy the rest of this series to see how things go for my old chums Barry and Iris. If they're all cheered up by the end, I'll forgive everything. For now though, despite the hype, this book remains - to use one of the speedy references so beloved of Johns - distinctly run of the mill.

Red Robin #1 review

When the red, red Robin comes bob-bob-bobbin' along . . .

Oh dear, I just can't see this book without that lovely old song ringing through my head. And that new logo, as chirpy as a cute ickle wed wobbin deserves!

Ooh, goodness me though, that's a very grim fellow underneath it, on Francis Manapul's striking cover. That's the all-new, all-miserable Tim Drake . . . sorry, Wayne. Having been adopted awhile back, he's using Bruce's surname more often now his new dad has died. He has that new superhero name too, Red Robin.

Why, we wonder, would Tim take the name and costume used in recent times by the vile Jason Todd? Writer Chris Yost gives us a reason - now he's Grim Tim, he doesn't want to blacken the oh-so-shiny Batman brand. So he won't be Robin, he'll be, er Red Robin. Yeah, that'll fool 'em!

So here's Red Robin polluting the great capitals of Yoorp on his dinky not-a-batbike, foiling local crimes as he pursues his great plan to, hmm, I'm not actually sure what that is yet. We do know that he's convinced Bruce is alive, which would be pretty reasonable in a superhero universe but for the fact that Batman was seen to be vaporised by Darkseid's Omega Farce.

It turns out Tim didn't leave Gotham in an amicable manner, but in a snit due to Dick's accepting of Damian al-Ghul/Head Wayne, Snot of the Demon, as Tim's replacement. Dick, bless him, hadn't asked Tim if he wished to be replaced. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Dick Grayson, true heir to the emotional sensitivity of Bruce Wayne.

And Tim, heir to the Darknight Detective, too dim to realise that if you're not shooting people, you don't need a bandoleer.

The story doesn't make a great deal of sense to me, but I don't hold that against Yost - the current Batman Family Shuffle is editorially driven. It wasn't his idea to have Tim darken, that's been coming for some time. No, the lemonade Yost makes here is likely as good as anyone could produce. I'm just not sure I want to buy it.

I liked Tim as he was, the smart, optimistic teen who recognised that an effective Batman needs a bright Robin. Not necessarily a Holy Punster, Batman, but someone to mellow the melancholy. But here he's embraced the gloom and I'm not sure I can be bothered with him.

If I am back next month, Ramon Bachs will be a big factor. His storytelling is good, he captures emotion well, knows how to whip up mood and draws a mean Red Robin (well, if he's going to be mean, he may as well look the part). And Bachs can even make Europe look convincing (Google tells me he's from Barcelona). Who knows, if Tim gets to London it may even be portrayed without thatched cottages.

Finally, a little note on ad placement: DC, if you're going to break a Batman Family story between pages 1 and 2 in order to place a spread, don't do that with a blooming great Batman Family house ad - it's bloody confusing.

Batman #687 review

After last week's sterling first issue of Batman & Robin, do we really need to backtrack for a Battle for the Cowl epilogue? Maybe not, but this book is a lot better than I expected it to be.

So far as I can make it, it's not actually a BftC coda until the final few pages as for most of the book Dick resists taking on the mantle of the bat, He's fighting crime, yes, but sticking to the Batmobile and the shadows, trying to convince Gotham that the Batman is still around.

Alfred, meanwhile, is acting not as the traditional sounding board, but as the parent; he's seen one son die but has no doubts that his other boy should carry on the family business as a new Batman. This isn't because he fears Dick-as-Nightwing couldn't do the job, it's that he recognises that Dick has made his mind up; the acrobat has gripped the trapeze, he just needs that final permission to let go, and fly.

Dick and Alfred are excellently characterised here. While the former emotes a little too self-consciously in a dawn scene with the latter ('Do you prepare yourself for the sun to rise, or the water to flow from a tap . . .'), that's a one-off misstep in Judd Winick's efficient script. From a flashback scene of the young Robin to Dick's public appearance in the Batman costume, we understand the journey he's making.

And I truly appreciate seeing Alfred put the the role of manservant to one side and tell Wonder Woman and Superman how he feels about the loss of Bruce. I loved the emotional intelligence demonstrated when he explains to Dick why he was so often sarcastic with Bruce. And Alfred's opinions on superhero funerals are spot on for the character and his world - his treatment of Clark and Diana shows the respect he has for them, but their primary-coloured promenades are not for the man he considered a son.

Damian also has some good moments here (I'm alarmed at how quickly I'm taking to the brat), while a world-weary Commissioner Gordon makes a wonderful remark about the people of Gotham.

One thing I didn't like was the rolling out again of that old post-Crisis chestnut about Batman being an urban myth, someone the residents of the DCU aren't sure is even a man. Perhaps in 1939, for a couple of months, but not in 2009, in a world of surveillance images, phonecams and so-called citizen journalists. There's no reason the existence of Batman would be considered any less likely than that of more daytime heroes such as Flash or Stargirl. Heck, he was even a member of a UN-chartered JLA - that's no myth, that's a civil servant. The Bat office really needs to drop this piece of unnecessary nonsense.

Oh, and 64,000 demerits for having one of this issue's special guest villain come out with Marvel cliche 'The hell --?' Just . . . don't.

On the art side, Ed Benes and Rob Hunter tell the story well. The emotional acting is spot-on, especially as regards Alfred (truth be told, Mr Pennyworth rather stole the show here), and the action sequences pop. I particularly like their Batmobile, a sexy little number with an especially good frontage - does that make them good grille artists? And there's a moment that is obvious in retrospect, but I can't recall it being done previously, with Dick looking at the case containing Batman's costume. I don't doubt it was in Winick's script but the artists execute the image well. One nice touch that could be all theirs is the hint of International Bore of Mystery Rā's al Ghūl on his grandson Damian. Just look at that sinister brow! Ian Hannin and Jo Smith's colours work well, it seems they relished the moments they could stray from the Batcave palette for a nice splash of red or green, and Jared K Fletcher gives us a spiffy Scarecrow font.

Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea go for the iconic cover image, a Grrr-ing Batman on a gargoyle thingie, but the bats add a touch or originality (no, bear with me) as they take a laurel wreath formation in front of a subtle moon, as if anointing Dick their representative. Too Pseuds Corner a reading of the image? Ha, well, I'm sticking with it.

So while Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's Batman and Robin works well as a standalone, as an ancient Batman Family fan I appreciated more detail on Dick and Alfred dealing with their loss, other superheroes paying their respects and the minutae of Dick's journey. It'll be interesting to see how Winick and co, under the auspices of editors Mike Marts and Janelle Siegel, move the book on from here.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Exiles #3 review

That'a a bit of a dull cover from the talented Dave Bullock, showing the Exiles traversing dimensions - it looks like a final issue deal rather than a third issue image. And I know cartooning is all about exaggeration, but Polaris looks less like a person here than a stick of green licorice.

The first arc in the latest Exiles revival comes to a close with the new members - Blink, Polaris, Beast, the (Scarlet) Witch, the (son of Storm and Black) Panther and Forge - ending an alternate Magneto's reign in an alternate Genosha.

It's a low key close to a not-terribly exciting debut storyline. Writer Jeff Parker's done a good job of introducing his cast, but hasn't given them anything very interesting to do. Blink notices that their mission to right wrongs hasn't
necessarily met with total success, and I've no doubt Parker will return to this scenario down the line, but for now, it all felt a bit flat. The last iteration of Exiles - Chris Claremont's New Exiles - flopped so surely it makes sense to begin again with a real grabber of an adventure. Instead we've had a pretty standard 'what if' scenario, some amusing chat, little displays of power and an anti-climax. Parker can do a lot better than this.

Artist Salva Espin draws people pleasantly, but the art's very quiet for a superhero title. The bodies lack, as the old Charles Atlas ads might put it, dynamic tension and the more exciting moments, such as Panther attacking Havok, look awkward. The best panel sees Jean Grey let Magneto know what she thinks of him, and I'd like more moments of such intensity.

The last few pages of the book - nicely drawn by Casey Jones and Karl Kesel - see the team arriving at their next assignment on a world apparently ruled by three very strange bedfellows. I'll pop back next month to see if pace and tone pick up some, but this book needs to up its game to earn a regular place on my reading pile.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Captain Britain and MI13 Annual #1 review

I've often bemoaned the fact that the X-Men never have any fun these days. They never have time for a trip to the Westchester mall, for example, or a game of baseball. But my nostalgia for those issues in which mutants took to the backfields of Xaviers School for Gifted Youngsters ignores one salient fact - I had no idea about the rules of baseball and what I did understand bored me rigid. I wonder if Captain Britain writer Paul Cornell was similarly nonplussed, as he seems to take revenge this issue, as MI:13 face their most difficult task - getting through an afternoon of cricket.

Lord, that game is boring and don't believe anyone who says that all Englishmen love it. Cornell does use it well in 'British Magic', though, as the run of play motivates Brian's memories of the missing Meggan, and illuminates his emotional state. We see just how much she meant to him and how it's breaking his heart to be without her. I've been with Meggan since her first appearance in Marvel UK's Captain Britain strips in the mid-Eighties (seriously, I was filling the lettercols with inane ramblings even then) but she's never seemed as alive as she does here. Cornell cuts through her metamorph nature and shows us the ordinary young woman who became extraordinary.

Meggan's amazing nature is showcased more directly in this issue's other story, 'The Harrowing of Hell'. Cast into the nether regions (oo-er missus) awhile back, it seems Meggan hasn't been whimpering at the mercy of demons. We see her innocence, intelligence, courage and empathic abilities shape her into quite the force for good. She finds a tiny spot of hope, cherishes and nourishes it, and sets out to find a way home. What Meggan finds isn't what she expected, but I expect it'll make for a darn good tale if Cornell gets to it before the regular MI13 book's early demise.

This sequence is full of wonderful moments, as Cornell somehow makes Hell seem a rather charming holiday spot. Marvel's inconsistent portrayals of the dark dimensions make this permissible, though - who knows the true nature of hell?

As well as Meggan's present struggles, we're reminded of her past, growing up as a 'freak' among Britain's oft-abused Roma community, cast into a labour camp in Mad Jim Jaspers' alternate reality and fighting to define happiness with her knight in gaudy armour, Brian Braddock.

Oh, and Meggan finally gets a superhero name, and it's so perfect for Mrs Captain Britain that I won't spoil it unless asked.

God bless Paul Cornell for taking the opportunity to use the bigger format to do something different. Rather than give us a throwaway tale, he conjures up two beautiful character studies that show two people with strength and sweetness in equal measure. Two complete people who complement each other. It's a massive shame that we won't see them back together for an extended period anytime soon, but let's hope they're at least reunited before series' end.

British veteran Mike Collins pencils the Meggan story with flair, giving us a sense of Alan Davis without sacrificing his own attractive style and doing a bang-up job of presenting the heroine's latest look. Credit also to inker John Livesay and colourist Jay David Ramos for adding depth and tone.

Adrian Alphona and colour artist Christina Strain bring a wonderful pastoral feel to Brian's cricketing memoirs. If you can channel the English summer - all three days of it - on to the comics page, they've done it.

Finally, cover artist Greg Land gives us some Marg Helgenberger-ish model in a Meggan costume stepping on a sea monster. It's a striking image, but not Meggan.

Batman and Robin #1 review

The new Batman and Robin have their first night on the town and, suitably enough, meet a new villain. Mr Toad is a self-proclaimed slippery customer but, alas, not exactly formidable and our heroes make quick work of him. They're aided in this by the latest version of the Batmobile, one harking back to the Flying Batcave of the Silver Age. Before issue's end we learn that British 'minger' (and how wonderful to see that in a US comic) Mr Toad is just a toady, the real villain of the piece being a pig-faced chap named, er, Pyg. And despite the name, he's scary.

This is a terribly refreshing comic book. It acknowledges the shenanigans of Battle for the Cowl in that there's a new Dynamic Duo, and Tim has left the building, but doesn't dwell on it. Move on, there's plenty to see. The building is Wayne Manor, and Dick, Alfred and Damian leave too in a 'shutting up shop' scene reminiscent of Batman #217, though there's no 'We're closing up the Manor and Batcave' chat - Writer Grant Morrison knows frequent partner Frank Quitely can pull his weight and convey the information, allowing Alfred and Dick to talk about other stuff.

Wayne Foundation here has, I think, a new look. Certainly I don't recall it as being subtly bat-eared previously, so will credit Quitely for a clever design. Morrison keeps Damian annoying but shows there's been some progress in changing his bad attitude. Annoying Robins get killed, so it makes sense to tone him down a tad. Happily, there remains enough arrogance and sense of entitlement (he's the biological son of Bruce Wayne - well, presumably, we never did hear the results of the DNA tests taken during Morrison's Batman run) to differentiate him from humbler Robins. Damian is also different in that where Dick was the acrobat, Jason the street kid and Tim the IT 'tec, he's a master mechanic, souping up Bruce's blueprints to create the new Batmobile. Which likely explains why it has a great fat red breasted bat on it.

One of the things I like in a Batman story is a clue I can pick up on. That's been uncommon in Bat-books since the early-Seventies (I think Mike W Barr was the last writer who made an effort in this area, in the Eighties). But it actually happened here, as I recognised Mr Toad's speech patterns as Polari, the secret gay language used in Britain in decades past, when being homosexual was illegal. Dr Wertham would rise from his grave with glee were the new Batman to be conversant in that but, luckily, Polari shares many words with circus slang and we all know how Dick likes to dangle. So it's 'European circus slang' Dick picks up on, all righty? Let's not presume Mr Toad is a little light in the loafers - he's just British!

Kudos to Morrison for an engaging, straight down the line story, one that impresses with confidence rather than complexity. Equally, Quitely brings his A-game, infusing Gotham with an unusual grace and making the cast members happily distinctive - at last, Damian doesn't look like a mini-Dick/Tim/Jason. He looks, fittingly, akin to a baby Bruce. I like that Quitely is adding more lines to the faces than he usually does, greying up the characters some. And colourist Alex Sinclair completes the job, shading the phyzogs without overwhelming them. Quitely and Sinclair work well together throughout, making everything and everyone look a treat. Well, with one exception - I'm not keen on the new Batmobile, it's more like Blue Beetle's Bug than any Bat-car should be, but I imagine that's Morrison's idea. And it's not going to be around forever, likely just as long as Dick and Damian patrol Gotham in Bruce's stead. (And yes, I noticed that 'Dick' was never used, it was either 'Master Richard' or 'Grayson'. Like I care!)

One splash I especially liked showed the lads trying out their new 'paracapes'. Their attitudes as they glide down to the city show their differences - Robin diving in head first, Batman in a more considered plunge, which is how it should be with the dynamic duo. I see that the traditional roles are reversed, but not totally; yes, this Robin is grimmer than the usual laughing Robin Hood, but Dick's been a serious fellow for decades and is understandably even darker of late.

And I applaud the panel that shows just how nimble Alfred Pennyworth is - could you come down a ladder carrying a tray of food? A word about the cover - fabulous! When was the last time we had a bright Batman book, but our heroes look terrific, standing in front of the shiny new Batmobile and below the Seventies throwback logo. I'm taking it as a statement of intent that Batman and Robin won't be a miserable pair for long - more than anything, I want Dick's cockiness to re-emerge so that he's once more the daredevil he was created to be. The tweaked costumes show that they're not trying to fool the likes of Gordon into believing they're the Batman and Robin who have protected Gotham in recent years, so let's see them carve out their own niche for awhile.

Whether I like the new Batmobile or not, it's going to be a fun ride.