Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue #39

I've been so busy with my X-Men comics diet that I wasn't even able to keep tabs of DC announcements in the last three months or so, which was why I completely missed the news concerning the cancellation of Peter J. Tomasi's Batman and Robin. Well, DC is launching with brand-new solo titles of select heroes this June. That roster includes Cyborg, Starfire, Black Canary, etc. But why is this happening, you say? There was a big event in the DC universe just recently called Convergence (and Divergence, apparently? Let's find out on May 2) so that debacle pretty much affected the New 52 continuity A LOT.  Not to worry, it won't be another reboot, of course. There are just some additions and adjustments we all need to get cozy with come June. The most notable of which is the fact that there's going to be a total of twenty-four new titles to be released. 

See, I know there's a reason why I've been avoiding exploring the other corners of DC and decided to focus mainly on Bat-titles instead. DC, after all, is filled with crazy, shifting events and I don't want to approach that roaming storm at its highest velocity just yet. One of these days, I will get around to JLA and Futures End stories but first and foremost, I'm all about Batsy and his fam.

Anyone who has been reading my reviews in BCG would know by now that Batman and Robin is my most favorite title from New 52 (Born to Kill as my topmost fave graphic novel for New 52 as well) because Damian Wayne is my Robin. And he is going to get HIS OWN TITLE! And you know who's writing AND illustrating it? It's no other than Patrick Gleason, current B&R artist! INSERT MORE EXCLAMATION POINTS HERE! That's why I had no reason to be heartbroken over the cancellation of Tomasi's B&R because I'm looking forward to Robin, Son of Batman A LOT! Sure, I'll miss Tomasi's interpretation of the father-and-son dynamic and relationship but a part of being a comic book fan is being able to fiercely hold onto the stories we love while also having the courage to let go when change comes to pass. I'll probably post a tribute entry for the B&R series as soon as it releases its final issue (#40?) just to finalize my own farewells.

Now let's move on to the review. First off, THAT COVER. I literally squealed as soon as I beheld it. It was reminiscent of Action Comics' cover of the very first appearance of Superman back in 1939. Looking at it just makes me giggle a few times in a knowing, douche-y sort of way, inviting the questioning glances of strangers sitting close to me in a bench as I stared at this one's cover for a while. At that point, before I even began reading, I made two inferences: (1) this is going to be a fun issue, and that (2) Superman might be making a guest appearance. I was ultimately right on both accounts.

I'm confident about Pat Gleason's art style by now. I've witnessed him grow so much as an artist since issue #1 and no other issue testifies to his creative progress more severely than this one. Super-powered Boy Wonder might be a filler story but it manages to be incredibly engrossing even when it's more or less filled with goofy moments and hilarious dialogue exchanges. While issue #38 was a rather poignant and reflective issue where Damian Wayne makes peace with his clones by allowing them to live and this singular act has therefore cleansed him of his violent past as an al Ghul, this issue is lighter and funny. Beginning with Robin taking away Penguin, Killer Croc and villains that appeared in that forgettable Terminus arc (Termi-who?), he ties them all in a neat bundle then flies up so he can dangle them in stratosphere (I mean, why the fuck not?) so they can have some serious discussion concerning a shift in the Gotham status quo. At the last minute, his powers failed him and the collective thugs almost fall to their deaths but Batman luckily swoops in with his plane. He grimly looks at his son and orders him to get down. Damian looks away from his dad, and right at us, with a vaguely embarrassed expression in his face. The golden moments don't stop there. Next we see Bruce and Damian in civilian clothes, in a fishing boat, supposedly bonding like a father and son should--only Bruce admits that this was all Alfred's idea. Neither is enjoying the quiet time at the lake, that's for sure. They do have a conversation about the most likely origin of Damian's powers (something about the chaos silver shard Batsy used to resurrect him).

I just love the absolute hilarity of this issue. As much as I'm pleased that he was wise enough to make peace with some of painful aspects of his past in the last issue, I'm also glad to see Damian running around with his powers like a normal ten-year-old this time, where he gets cocky and demonstrates his prowess in the most immature of ways. The most memorable of which has to be when he stared carrying around the Bat-signal (Oh, look it's been repaired. Shall we start a countdown for the next time it gets destroyed AGAIN?) It was such a ridiculous (and endearing) image of him, prancing with said large equipment on his back, shining light on the scum of the streets, warning them not to do anything criminal. Once more, Batman was there, unfazed by his son's increasingly erratic behavior. Can we talk about how awesome Bruce is this issue? He's more trusting and patient lately. He might be worried about the grave consequences of his son's newfound abilities but he's taking it in a stride, generally just grateful that his boy is alive. It's subtle and unspoken but it's definitely apparent that Bruce and Damian are a real family now, and their love and devotion to each other have deepened after all the trials they have faced and conquered individually and as a unit.

The most striking of moments happened after Batman and Robin apprehended a group of criminals and Damian, in frustration, reveals exactly how he feels about his new abilities which is basically the fact that he's NUMB and this must be so terrifying for him. He might be invincible but it would seem like having such powers is not necessarily a good thing if it meant that he was feeling less human. I really thought this moment was brilliant, especially the way Bruce handled it:

The last four to five pages were awesome because Damian gets to see the Justice League headquarters for the first time. Although he acts dismissive about it, it's apparent that he was excited to be inside it. Superman and Shazam were the only ones present and Sups immediately expresses enthusiasm over meeting his best friend's son for the first time but Damian brushes him off. Shazam cheerfully engages him in small talk about the home base and other kid stuff, and I thought it was interesting to pair them off because they do share a closer age range (Shazam's persona is after all a thirteen-year-old boy) and I think a friendship is more likely to flourish between them if the writers decide to give it time. It already started in a good place. Shazam seemed more than eager to be talk to and hang out with someone who isn't always a serious, intimidating adult like the rest of his Leaguers. His ready and casual remarks about Damian's powers were reassuring; he didn't judge or condescend Damian in any way. Every small interaction they have so far shows how genuine and interested Shazam is about Damian and I could tell that he can wear Damian down and Damian will eventually learn to get used to his presence. I'm really excited to see what the next (and most probably last) issue of B&R will handle these two. This issue ends with Batman allowing Robin to join them in a JLA mission and Damian was shocked by the confidence and trust his father expresses in that moment. I was impressed. Just look at this last page:

With plenty of funny and insightful character moments, Super-powered Boy Wonder felt like a filler issue with a great weight of substance. I noticed that this was already dated for April 2015 which only meant we're getting the next one around May, right around another Free Comic Book day, and before the June launch of the 24 new titles. I may be on the Marvel side of things this year but make no mistake: my heart still belongs to Batman and DC!


Friday, February 6, 2015

Detective Comics by Manapul & Buccelatto issue #39

I just finished reviewing the first season of Chris Claremont's X-Men Forever series this week, and it's honestly a very polarizing experience for me with the good and bad almost at equal odds with each other. Luckily for me, I have New 52 Batman monthly installments that I can curl up to whenever I need to take a break from the soap opera that is Claremont X-Men. No other title is perfect for such a daring rejuvenation like the current storyline of co-writers/artists Manapul and Buccelatto for Detective Comics. I have been a fan of this tandem from the start. Their first story Icarus, which started out strong, was astounding but the ending was quite flat and problematic. Still, I was eager to give them a second chance and Anarky is proving to be the most worthwhile venture I was happy to be a part of.

This third installment entitled Reconstruct is definitely the climax of the four-part story where key elements about two seemingly separate cases from Batman and Bullock's end have established an undeniable connection with each other.  This story arc truly feels like a proper detective tale where vital clues slowly unfold and make sense together. The pacing for the three issues released had been leisurely yet always on the money, giving readers enough material to mull over and stay excited about. And there is plenty of that, trust me. 

Here's what we know: Anarky killed a man named Jeb Lester in issue #1 and police detectives Bullock and Yip started investigating that case. Meanwhile, Batman apprehended Mad Hatter and stumbled upon a graveyard of bones which happened to belong to children. Anarky entrapped Bullock, Yip and some employees inside the Wayne Tower where he would have successfully bombed it to oblivion if it wasn't for Batman finding a way to chemically alter the composition of the explosion. In the last issue, we were introduced to a teenager named Lonnie Machin, the person behind Anarky as created by Alan Grant and Norman Breyfogle back in 1989. However, this identity was subverted when Detective Yip accidentally shoots Machin where he is now presently in critical condition at the hospital. This means he is not Anarky for this story and someone else is.

Reconstruct, as implied by the title itself, allows the readers to fully examine the threads unravelling in the case alongside Batman and Bullock in the light of the recent events, as well as to determine how random situations such as that concerning Mad Hatter (mumbling about his Alice being alive) and the dirty politician Sam Young (who seems to be connected with the late Jeb Lester who has ties with child trafficking) may be connected. What follows in the next twenty pages is a concise and chilling portrait of how these pieces somehow fit after all and our heroes are able to stand close enough just in time to see the image forming. The issue opens with Batman confronting Bullock inside the car and a series of flashbacks on both their ends occurred. We see Bruce and Alfred in the batcave, still wondering about the identities of the dead children whose bones and remains they found in the first issue. They had no means to identify them after Anarky tampered with the public database. Outside, Gothamites confidently started rampaging while they hide behind the masks of their own decoration and self-fulfilment. Back in the precinct, GCPD wants to blame Batman for Detective Yip's mistake when she gunned down an innocent bystander (Machin) and Bullock was forced to follow the trail of his case alone about Jeb Lester's child trafficking ring which at this time is slowly turning cold.

This is where Batman finds him and the two are forced to work together. It's worth noting that this story coincides with Batman Eternal where Commissioner Gordon is stripped of his title and imprisoned which was why both Bats and Bullock have no choice but to trust each other, at least where their cases are concerned.

Once they arrived at a vital location called the Blue House, they encountered a violent group of young men wearing their Anarky masks. Batman was left to fend for himself while Bullock crawls his way to a corner as he slowly bleeds out with a  knife wound in the shoulder. Batman eventually ends the fight and proceeds to help Bullock with his injury, but the detective was far too consumed with the shattering discovery he just stumbled upon in that dark corner of the house. Just right outside, Batman sees Anarky arriving in a car with Mad Hatter whom he just abducted a couple of pages ago. It looks like he has some hatchet to bury with Hatter, and the issue abruptly--if not rightfully--cuts there, leaving me absolutely breathless.

I HAVE TO WAIT AN ENTIRE MONTH FOR THE NEXT ISSUE, goddammit! In the meantime, I'm posting pages from the issue again because Manapul and Buccelatto's illustrations need more exposure:


Monday, February 2, 2015

Detective Comics by Manapul & Buccelatto issue #38

It shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm totally biased about this current run for Detective Comics because one of the writer-artist collaborating for the Anarky arc is a fellow Filipino, Francis Manapul. However, my positive bias is justifiable because he and co-creator Brian Bucelatto are doing a fine job carrying this often underappreciated Bat-title of New 52. Last Christmas, we were able to enjoy the first installment of Anarky, the namesake villain who was originally created by Alan Grant and Norman Breyfogle who debuted in this very title back in 1989 with issue #608. This villain is a child prodigy-turned-anarchist who challenged Batman as a crime crusader as he terrorized Gotham City, in the unshakable belief that he is the spokesperson for radical change. His extremist ways mirror Alan Moore's V of V for Vendetta indeed so if this is the very first Anarky story you happen to pick up then you are not mistaken to compare him to V. However, this Bat-villain has a richer history that you must definitely check out if you have the time. In the meantime, let's do a short recap of #37.

The previous issue gave us that memorable scene of Bruce and Alfred decorating Wayne Manor with Christmas lights while they have a heartfelt talk concerning the aftermath of every damnable thing Batman faced and was able to overcome lately. Somewhere in Gotham City, Mad Hatter is running amok, seemingly more nonsensical than the usual, claiming to be searching for his Alice whom he vehemently stresses is not ye dead. After Mad Hatter was apprehended by Batman, the Dark Knight comes to the aid of the GCPD when detectives Harvey Bullock and Nancy Yip found themselves trapped with the rest of Wayne employees in the Tower which Anarky implanted with explosives. They've been pursuing Anarky's steps for weeks now and the cliffhanger in Wayne Tower is where this issue picks up from.

With some quick thinking we can only expect from Batman, casualties were prevented but this is just the tip of the iceberg; Anarky has more radical plans in place which apparently included erasing bank accounts so every citizen in Gotham can start from scratch. As a holiday present, he also left boxes at their doorstep where white masks are enclosed. He invites them through a televised message to paint their masks with whatever version of themselves they wish to set free and live as from now on. To some men, this meant donning on the same masks so they can rob banks because, hey, lawlessness is just a default setting for these assholes. But this robbery shtick happens at the ending pages. Let's talk about what happens in the middle which is just as crucial.

First off, if you checked out the Wiki link to Anarky, then you will discover that his alter-ego is named Lonnie Machin and this teenage boy appears here, having a cozy conversation with Matches Malone (Bruce Wayne's go-to con-artist disguise whenever he blends in the criminal underworld). He was a reformed hacker who's been rather chummy with Matches after Matches gives him a second chance to change his life. They talk about Anarky's gift of a new identity which Machin seriously reconsidered. It's worth noting that if you know your Batman mythos, this conversation is a suspicious one because you know Machin is Anarky all along so you may roll your eyes at him being all contemplative about stuff. Meanwhile, we had an insightful sequence of panels concerning a TV interview with Sam Young who is a dirty politician through and through. I can't help but roll my eyes at him as I read about the pretty things he says about governance and its social contract with the people. Talk about opiate for the masses. I don't buy his bullshit for a second and I hope everyone can see through the smoke-screen.

So these two scenes are important, particularly the one with Sam Young, in the long run because I believe this won't be the last time we will read him spewing out his bullshit against Anarky's platform which is equally just as disconcerting. Can we talk about the impractical result of Anarky erasing bank records? He said he wants individuals to fully realized their potential without being held back by debts or whatever financial losses and burdens they carry with them. But how about people who have been saving up for retirement? What if some of them want to go back to school because that is how they want to fully realize their potentials? I'm personally concerned about the latter because that's what I've been doing and if I happen to live in Gotham and some uppity dick masquerading as a savior suddenly wipes away all the money I worked hard for so I can pay my way through school--I'll go berserk and hunt him down. Anyway, let's talk about Lonnie Machin who is Anarky all along---right?

NO HE IS NOT. In the last page of the issue, we see him becoming collateral damage when Detective Yip accidentally shoots her gun in the wrong direction and ends up missing the perpetrator altogether. Machin gets shot point-blank in the chest and Batman was unable to stop it. This was shocking as fuck because now we are led to believe that this New 52 Anarky is a different man. If that is the case, then I am excited once again with Manapul and Bucelatto's plans to rewrite this Anarky for their story in a way that respects the integrity of the character with a few canonical deviations. In general, I'm reserving my judgments and keeping my optimism alive for this story arc. Detective Comics is getting better with every new writer handling the title. Y'all should be prioritizing this now. To end this review, let's look at Manapul-Bucelatto's beautiful artwork again, shall we?