Weekly Comic Review for 11/29/07*

*I don’t know about everyone else, but in my neck of the woods, we didn’t get our new books until Thursday.

Batman #671 (Grant Morrison-writer, Tony Daniel-artist)

I’m the first one to admit that I have not been a huge fan of Morrison’s run on Batman.  I like Morrison quite a bit, although not as much as some, perhaps–his run on JLA was mind-blowing.  I was more than a bit excited when I heard that he would be taking over the writing chores on Batman, but his stories really haven’t clicked with me.  All that stuff with Damian and the Batmen of All Nations just didn’t jive with what my image of Batman is–which is strange, since one of my defining Batman moments came in Morrison’s JLA, when Batman takes out an army of White Martians with a book of matches.  Sure, some of the things in Morrison’s Batman run are cool.  I dig the ninja Man-Bats that the League of Assassins have used a few times.  And, the current “Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” storyline is pretty damned good, too.

Issue # 671 of Batman gives us part four of “The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul.”  This whole “event” has had its ups and downs.  Up: the return of one of Batman’s best (and most interesting) opponents, Ra’s al Ghul.  Down: the seemingly repetitive storytelling in the ancillary Bat-titles (I honestly felt as though Robin and Nightwing told the exact same story using different words).  This latter point is at least beneficial to those who only read Batman or Detective Comics, since they’ll get the main points of the narrative; however, it does seem to punish folks who read books like Robin or Nightwing.

Anyways…as so often has happened over the years, Bruce and Ra’s are forced to team-up–this time, Bruce promises to lead Ra’s to the Fountain of Life in Nanda Parbat in exchange for Ra’s sparing the lives of Damian and Robin.  Damn, Bruce is a tricky bastard, ain’t he?  Of course, once they arrive at Nanda Parbat, they realize that the Sensei (y’know, that stereotypical ancient Asian dude who happens to be in much better shape than you or I will ever be in) and his top assassins are already on the scene.  This leads to a pretty kick-ass fight between Bats and the Sensei, where Sensei makes the fatal flaw of taunting Bruce.  Never.  Taunt.  Bruce.  Ol’ Bats lets himself get tuned-up so that the Sensei tires himself out, at which point Bruce does what he does best.

While Bruce was battlin’ the Sensei, Ra’s seemingly falls in battle.  Lucky for us Ra’s’ spirit appears to migrate into the young, fit body of one of the Nanda Parbat monks (who walks off whistling!).  With his irradiated, corpsirific body behind him, I’m sure Ra’s is going to be a huge pain in Bruce’s ass in this storyline’s final three issues, if not beyond.

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Batman and the Outsiders #2 (Chuck Dixon-writer, Carlos Rodriguez-artist)

The great “Outsiders Experiment of 2007” continues with the second issue of this revamped, rebooted, and revisited series.  I’ll start with the mechanics of the book and get into the narrative later.  First off, Chuck Dixon writes the hell out of these characters.  I’ve been a fan of Dixon for years.  This is a man who knows his way around Gotham City, whether he’s writing Batman, Robin, Detective Comics, Nightwing, Batgirl, and basically any other Bat-related book you can think of.  That being said, he knows how to write ol’ Bats.  On top of that, he knows that not everyone talks like Batman (a key piece of knowledge in a book that features a wide variety of characters).  Martian Manhunter and Katana fell somewhere near Bats on the taciturn-o-meter, while Catwoman and Metamorpho rest cozily at the other end of the spectrum.  Dixon gets inside each character’s head perfectly (as opposed to Brian Bendis who seems to make everyone sound like Spider-Man).  Case in point: Batgirl’s arrival in the last few pages of Batman and the Outsiders #2.  Cassie’s never been much of a conversationalist, mainly because her psycho father taught her to fight rather than talk.  When she shows up, it’s ass-kicking first, questions….well, like I said, Cassie ain’t much for the jibba-jabba.  Dixon doesn’t give Batgirl some long-winded, cliff-hangery soliloquy.  We’re given three very well-chosen and to-the-point words: “I was invited.”  Done.  Of course, a good deal of credit must also go to Carlos Rodriguez.  I mean, let’s be honest, it’s hard enough to depict emotion on folks wearing masks, but Rodriguez has to do it on folks wearing masks AND folks like Metamorpho and Martian Manhunter.  That can not be easy!

So, Metamorpho, Catwoman and Katana discover an O.M.A.C. in the secret sub-basement of some Belgian corporation’s headquarters.  Our heroes obviously, although not easily, escape.  While these three–with an able-bodied assist from Grace–tussle with the O.M.A.C. (a new breed of O.M.A.C., at that), J’onn downloads all of the data in the building’s computer system.  This is classic Bruce: assembling a team for “dirty jobs” and then using them to erase the biggest mistake he’s ever made–Brother Eye.  That’s how single-minded our boy Bruce is.  He’s not going to stop until he takes down Brother Eye and the O.M.A.C.s; they’re his mess and he’s going to clean them up.  Unfortunately, by the end of the issue, Catwoman has had enough of superheroing and heads home (saying that she’s repaid the favor Bruce did her–which, I assume, was the whole adoption thing), and J’onn suddenly has a crisis of conscience and decides he’s going back to the League and fill them in on what Bruce has been up to.  I’m sad to see them both go (although I hope to see Manhunter back in the JLA at some point), but I’m also happy to see Batgirl back on the side of the angels.  I know, I know, she wasn’t really evil…she was just under the influence of Deathstroke’s mind-whammy juice, but it still hurt, okay?  Out of all of the kids who’ve wandered into the Batcave over the years, Cassie’s the closest to Bruce out of the bunch.  And, given his single-minded purpose for restructuring the Outsiders, Bruce is going to want someone who, when we says “jump”, they pantomime “how high?”

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Countdown to Final Crisis 22 (Paul Dini & Tony Bedard-writers, Carlos Magno-artist)

Well, for starters, I thought we were past this, DC?  Didn’t we discuss the whole “gratuitous crotch-shots of Mary Marvel” thing waaaay back in Countdown 50 or so?  I was willing to forgive you and you were willing to never do it again.  Remember?  Apparently not, because here we have poor, little Mary Marvel floating through the vacuum of space, crotch exposed for all the world to see.  You really should be ashamed of yourself, DC.

That out of the way, this issue of Countdown to Final Crisis more or less keeps us in the neighborhood of Apokolips.  Mary’s starting to wise-up and realize that maybe following Eclipso around isn’t such a good idea.  (Way to go, kiddo, I knew you had it in ya!)  I guess the straw that broke this camel’s back was Eclipso’s idea that poor, little, sweet Mary was going to become Darkseid’s concubine, gain his trust, and then assassinate the rock-faced bastard.  My girl Mary might not be in the best place right now, but she’s not going to be anyone’s whore. 

Elsewhere, Jimmy’s still stuck in the slave-pits of Apokolips.  The good news is he’s still alive and will probably stay that way.  The bad news is he’s going to stay that way because Darkseid seems to be well aware of his current uncontrollable superpower situation.  Luckily, Jimmy isn’t alone in the slave-pits.  Mister Miracle pops up, ostensibly to find out what’s going on with all of the dead New Gods (including, sad to say, his wife Big Barda).  Jimmy gives Miracle the run-down of what’s been happening for the last thirty issues or so.  Miracle’s Mother Box starts going ape-shit, which leads Miracle to drop Jimmy into a fire-pit.  It seems that Mother Box agrees with my theory that the souls of the dead New Gods aren’t returning to the Source Wall because they’re somehow going into Jimmy Olsen.  How and why?  I have no idea, but if you remember back to Lightray’s death, Jimmy’s had a few dreams about the ol’ Source Wall.  Just sayin’.

Back on Earth, Trickster and Pied Piper are stowing away on the train in the Rocky Mountains.  Little do they know that Deadshot is still hot on their trail.  He’s more than a bit pissed that these two losers have managed to escape him so many times.  Deadshot’s pay-masters at Checkmate want him to return to base, but he gives them a pretty good reason to let him stay in the field and take out the two wayward Rogues: they know about Salvation and will likely blab all about it the first chance they get.  Trickster and Piper do a fair job of trying to get rid of Deadshot, unfortunately, the assassin extraordinaire pops Trickster in the heart.  I hope Trickster survives…I’d hate to go the next twenty issues or so of this series without anymore sophomoric gay jokes.

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Daredevil #102 (Ed Brubaker-writer, Michael Lark-artist)

Okay, I guess the one question I want answered is this: Why does every two-bit hood, gangster, and psycho super-villain want to run Hell’s Kitchen?  Don’t get me wrong.  I was born and raised in the Big Apple and it’s a part of me.  All of it: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  But seriously, what’s the big deal with Hell’s Kitchen?  It was the Kingpin’s territory for years and, now that he’s gone, Mister Fear wants it…the Hood wants it…the Owl was messing around with it for a while.  Does New York’s criminal underworld want to corner the market on Daily Show tickets?  I mean, we have an all-out super-brawl in the middle of the Kitchen between Mister Fear’s Enforcers and the Hood’s Wrecker and Razor Fist.  What the hell?

Issue #102 shows us what a bad-ass Mister Fear really is.  Honestly, here’s a guy most people wouldn’t give the time of day–personally, I didn’t know anything about him short of reading his bio in Marvel’s Handbook series.  But, Brubaker has made him into a genuine threat.  Mister Fear is doing things with his fear toxins that even DC’s Scarecrow hasn’t thought of.  He’s using it to produce paranoia and violence.  On top of that, he’s utilizing his fear chemicals to make him unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat.  How?  Simple: under the influence of his fear toxins, even the most competent fighter is subconsciously “afraid” to land a successful blow. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Mister Fear has a seriously hard-on for completely destroying Murdock.  His manipulation of Matt’s life is complete.  He plays on Matt’s fear and guilt, first by juicing Milla Murdock with paranoia-inducing fear toxin and then seeing that she’s arrested for murder.  His wife’s predicament has Matt so overwhelmed by guilt that he starts getting sloppy.  Even now that Milla’s been released and placed under house arrest, Fear is continues to pull the strings–honestly, anyone else think that Milla’s new “nurse” Elsa is in Mister Fear’s pocket?  Foggy and Matt should know better than to trust a German nurse.

Brubaker continues to be the go-to guy for seemingly insignificant stories that build on each other until you’re smack in the middle of a story of epic proportions.

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Gotham Underground #2 (Frank Tieri-writer, J. Calafiore-artist)

The restructuring of Gotham’s gangs continues.  Tobias Whale wants to return Gotham’s underworld to it former glory.  Gotham, Whale says, was built by the gangs.  The Irish gangs, the Italian gangs, the Jewish gangs, the Asians, the African Americans.  The history of Gotham City is the history of its gangs.  That is, according to Whale, until the “masks” showed up.  The “masks” ruined Gotham’s underworld.  But, the “masks” weren’t enough…eventually the colorful lunatics started to filter into Gotham…and this led to the arrival of the ultimate “mask”: The Batman.

While Whale is trying to unite the “Gangs of Gotham”, Bruce (in his guise of Matches Malone) has been shipped off to Blackgate Prison.  He’s already figured out that the Suicide Squad’s been dividing their catches–sending the regular crooks to Blackgate, while the “costumes” are shipped off someplace else.  Fortunately for Bruce, someone’s being stitched up in the prison infirmary and Bruce figures it’s a member of the Squad.  Bruce plans to slip out of the exercise yard and break into the infirmary to get some answers, unfortunately what he doesn’t know is that someone (clues seemingly point to Penguin at the moment, but it might not be so cut-and-dry) has paid the guards at Blackgate to let Mr. Zsasz out of lock-up and take out Matches Malone.  Of course, one could ask why is a serial killer like Zsasz chilling in Blackgate…shouldn’t he be locked up with the other maniacs in Arkham?

You may be asking yourself: What’s the rest of the Bat Team up to while Bruce is in the klink?  Well, Dick’s taking a page out of his mentor’s book and goes undercover as “Freddie Dinardo.”  Good try, Dick, but you’re underworld alter ego might not be long for this world.  As “Freddie” enters Penguin’s office at the Iceberg Lounge, he passes The Riddler, who seems to immediately recognize him.  With both Bruce and Dick undercover, Robin’s left to handle things in Gotham on his own (“things” including a gathering lesser Rogues like Scarface, Killer Moth, Lockdown, Scarecrow, and Firefly, who want to capitalize on bigger guns like Joker and Two-Face being out of the game).  Left to his own devices, Robin decides to play a hunch, which requires him to head to Metropolis and chat with Oracle.  Luckily, Dick’s already asked Babs to send some back-up to Gotham in the form of Huntress and the Question.  As Robin heads for Metropolis, he gets the odd feeling that he’s being watched–which, he is, by Spoiler…or, at the very least, aSpoiler.  Could it be Stephanie Brown back from the dead?  Could it be someone else?  The act that Spoiler’s so interested in Robin’s comings and goings is clearly supposed to make us “think” that it’s Steph. 

A few final thoughts on this big Spoiler reveal.  I liked Stephanie Brown.  I thought she was a great character.  I thought Spoiler was a great character.  I will even go so far as to voice the possibly unpopular opinion that I thought it was an AWESOME IDEA to make Steph Robin.  I wished we had gotten to see more of her as Robin.  Why so many comic book fans hated the idea of a cute, spunky blonde running around in a Robin costume is beyond me.  Think of the storytelling possibilities if Steph was allowed to live: she’d have to shoulder the burden of knowing that Gotham’s gang war was all her fault, plus she’d have to deal with the physical and emotional scars of being tortured by Black Mask.  On top of my love of Steph, her unfortunate death also made Leslie Thompkins (one of Bruce’s oldest friends and allies) a villain.

There are pros and cons of having Steph come back.  Pro: Stephanie would no longer be dead.  Pro: Leslie would no longer be a villain and she and Alfred could get back to their creepy old people flirtations.  Con: It would mean that Leslie was able to outsmart Bruce.  No one outsmarts Bruce.  It’s a rule.  It’s a law.  It’s science.

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Ultimate Spider-Man #116 (Brian Michael Bendis-writer, Stuart Immomen-artist)

Norman Osborn escape from your super-secret, high-tech prison?  Need to get him back with a minimal loss of  life and property?  Use Peter Parker as bait.  That’s exactly what Carol Danvers, Acting Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., decided to do.  Granted, when it comes to insane super-powered geniuses (like, y’know, Osborn) the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  Normie goes all Gobliny and launches himself and Pete out a window.  As the two opponents plummet to the ground, only the quick intervention of Kitty Pryde saves a webless Pete from becoming street-pizza.  Osborn disappears, Pete spazzes out and bails in a futile attempt to draw Osborn away from any populated areas.

Osborn’s obsession with Pete goes way beyond him just beyond a lunatic (although, to be fair, he is less than sane).  He wants to reveal to the world that he’s the one who created Spider-Man.  Forget that he’s a monster and he made his son a monster and that he’s killed a bunch of people and tried to kill the President.  He’s the dude who made Spider-Man.  Like Osborn tells Pete, something like that can forgive a lot of sins, like the Nazi scientists who sold their services to the U.S. in return for freedom after World War II.  It was an interesting direction for Bendis to go, and I’m curious to see where it leads, unfortunately we first have to deal with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s back-up plan: a press conference where Harry tells the world that his “daddy” is a liar, a murderer, and a psycho.

All of this would have been more than enough for a single issue of any comic book, but Ultimate Spider-Manisn’t just “any” comic book.  Bendis gives us a really cute bit of interaction between Peter and Kitty, who really haven’t had that much interaction since Pete broke Kitty’s heart by getting back together with MJ.  We all knew it would happen.  Peter and MJ belong together.  It’s just the way things are meant to be.  And, if there’s anyone in the world who I’d forgive for breaking Kitty Pryde’s heart, it’s Pete.  Peter tries to apologize, while also profusely thanking Kitty for saving his bacon.  Kitty, being awesome, doesn’t want his thanks (or so she says).  This leads to a funny bit where Kitty offers to let Pete sleep over at her place so Osborn won’t be able to nab him in his sleep.  Pete declines saying that MJ probably wouldn’t understand…leading Kitty to ask if MJ is really that crazy.  The scene ends with Kitty confessing that she might want to date Kenny, a.k.a. Kong, and asking Pete if he’s a good guy.  Pete says Kong has potential to be, once he stops blindly following others around and learns to be his own man.  These are the sweet little character moments that Bendis (along with a handful of other writers) excels at.  There’s nothing I like more than those times when a super-hero metaphorically lets their mask slip and behaves like a normal person.

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Quote of the Week:

“Great! The one of us with superpowers just got kakked!”–Catwoman to Katana when Metamorpho gets “kakked” by the O.M.A.C. in Batman and the Outsiders #2.

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