This Week in Comics: Damian witnesses something horrific and Dick is still Ric

It’s another week of Batman comics and, well… there were some bombshells this week.  Black Mask gets a sort of new origin, Dick Grayson still refuses to admit that he isn’t this “Ric” guy, Lobo’s still hanging around in Teen Titans, and Alfred… let’s just say we’re thinking and hoping that there’s something else going on there.

You’ve read our reviews for the week to get one perspective about these books, but what does everybody else think?  Did Michael agree with Josh’s assessment of Batman #77?  Will anybody step up to defend the Notwings?  See what the whole Batman News review team has to say about this week in comics, and join in the conversation with us.

Batman #77

“City of Bane” continues! The last of the independent villains are on the run, leaving Gotham City entirely to Bane and his cronies—including Flashpoint Batman and Gotham Girl! Though this means a semblance of peace on the streets, the iron grip of tyranny is squeezing all life out of Gotham. And with Bane’s machinations keeping other heroes out, the city really needs the Batman to return. Is Bruce Wayne ready to face his toughest foes yet—his father and the man who broke his back?

Jay: So.

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen was absolutely delightful this week.

Josh: Hahahahaha! Batman #77 absolutely wasn’t!

Nick: :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :)

Josh: *Sigh* Really, though. It was like last week’s issue was written by a completely different writer. I know people were upset about Captain Atom, but at least the dialogue sounded authentic to the characters. This issue just sounds like Tom King speaking for every character. I hate it. I hate that King tries to write himself into every character.

Jay: The silver lining here is the way Damian was able to quickly subdue Gotham Girl.

Nick: On the subject of Damian, I do think there are positives to be found in the issue here. I think that Damian is one of those characters that Tom King actually does have an excellent voice for. I loved his monologue towards the Flashpoint Batman. Very direct and to-the-point, and a great takedown of someone who very badly needs a verbal AND physical beating. Shame he lost the fight.

Josh: I enjoyed the opening scene as well. And I agree that Damian is one of the characters that King writes well.

Jay: Agreed.  I actually quite enjoyed the first half of the issue.  How he subdued Gotham Girl was great, and the dialogue with Thomas Wayne wasn’t shabby either.

Matina: I’ll agree that the first half let Damian shine. I loved seeing him go after Thomas, and I appreciate the call back to Damian’s claim he could use magic. That said, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t add that I’m angry about the second half of the book. For a writer who refused to use Robin before because he didn’t want to put kids in danger, King choosing to have Alfred killed in front of Damian was incredibly upsetting. Robin or not, he’s a kid, and seeing someone he cares about killed in front of him is taking all this too far.

Josh: So, Alfred… A large part of me thought, “They didn’t kill him. This is your standard comics trope. He’ll end up being fine. Either it wasn’t him, or Psycho Pirate got to Damian.” Then I thought, “Well… This is Tom King and he has a tendency to piss on everything lately, so maybe he did kill Alfred. If so, <beep> you, King.”

Matina: I’m with you, Josh. I’ve been moving between denial and “Tom really did it. He killed Alfred” since I stepped away from the book. I’m not sure what to make of it but I’m angry all the same.

Jay: It should have made me angrier than it did.  I’m not happy about it at all, of course, but… I’m just so numb to this book at this point that nothing is fazing me.  If it is real, then I’m just waiting for it to be reversed. If it isn’t real, then I’m just waiting for it to go away and never be mentioned again.  Either way it feels like a callous moment of nothing but shock value, meant to bump up lagging sales numbers.

Nick: I really should care more than I do, honestly. Perhaps Heroes in Crisis has desensitized me to excessive character deaths for the sake of shock value. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s Alfred’s absence makes Bat-Books infinitely more boring, so I doubt it’d stick. Maybe it’s because Alfred is in Doomsday Clock? So I don’t really find myself all that upset.

Jay: Ha.  Good point about Doomsday Clock.

Nick: But then all that really means is that the moment felt hollow. Without the shock value, I don’t feel like it has any weight. Apparently shock value is enough though, because it’s selling for bucketloads on the secondary market already.

Josh: It feels hollow because it doesn’t feel earned. There have been many writers who have made me concerned for Alfred, but this just happens. There’s no care on King’s part. By that, I mean that King didn’t craft or build up a successful narrative for Alfred leading up to his death.

Jay: My Thing is that this whole arc (and, to an extent, this entire run) has felt so disconnected from everything else that it feels inconsequential.

Josh: Yep.

Jay: There’s barely a reference to the events in other titles that it feels like it’s on another world.  If this is what sticks?  That’s just cheap.

Nick: What I actively dislike is Bruce’s defeatist attitude in this issue. He knows he can’t beat Bane – who has overtaken Gotham several times before, mind you – but doesn’t mind because it’ll be “a good death”? I suppose the idea is that Bruce, mentally, is completely broken here, and perhaps if I go back and try to binge-read his run, I might buy that… but as it stands, trying to take it an issue at a time, I haven’t seen it.

Josh: I feel like Bruce has been sliding down this defeatist attitude since “I Am Suicide.” Clearly, I’m not a fan. I do think it is worth acknowledging the difference between Bruce’s outlook on this, and the outlook of, “There’s no chance we’re going to win this, but we have to fight.”

Jay: Which, in a way, is the entire mission statement of Batman.  “I am going to commit my life to ridding the world of crime, so the tragedy that befell me would not happen to anybody else.”  It’s a completely unrealistic goal, but it’s why Bruce is Batman.

Nick: …also please tell me if I’ve missed it but have we found out how Thomas Wayne is even here yet? Like… alive?

Jay: Superboy Prime punching reality If they’ve explained that I’ve forgotten.

Matina: It hasn’t been explained yet as far as I know.

Josh: Nope. They haven’t. King has made a bad habit of not explaining things and just running with a narrative anyway. It’s why I’ve accused him of being a lazy writer and not working his stories. Even here with “City of Bane,” the ideas that Gotham would get this bad because all of the heroes couldn’t get past Gotham Girl… no. Damian himself proved how invalid that reasoning is in this issue. It’s insane. I’m not a fan.. just in case that wasn’t clear.

Jay: Same.  Same…

Michael: Uh…I didn’t mind it too much. I like how the last two issues have started with the striking opening splash pages. In general I don’t mind the “snapshot” style of storytelling that King uses. It’s sometimes hard to talk about King’s issues in a vacuum, whether or not this really works will depend on how he follows it up. But, for what it’s worth, as a solo reading experience I thought this was pretty good. Everything with Damian was great and loved to see him take down Gotham Girl and give a good fight against Thomas. Less good were Bruce’s scenes with Selina. Something about him casually dining in France with Selina doesn’t work, even if I don’t mind the dialogue. Would’ve preferred more of a sense of visual urgency in those scenes. And well…the Alfred scene didn’t really phase me as much as King’s other twists. So in that sense it failed, but I can’t imagine this sticking or being real. King did just introduce a lazarus pit a few issues ago. We’ll see.

Nancy: I also thought Damian’s part was great. Like Michael, I loved the way he handled Gotham Girl and Thomas. The rest of it, I didn’t like so much. I disliked Bruce’s defeatist attitude, and I thought the bit with Selina took too many panels for what it accomplished. I agree that the casual outdoor dining seemed off, too leisurely, in the circumstances. I’m also still annoyed that we don’t yet know why was there to find Bruce in the snow or how she got his not-exactly-tiny, unconscious (and thus dead weight) body from there to Paris. And if he has been unconscious all this time, that would seem to be the type of condition that needs some kind of treatment from an actual medical person. The Alfred bit…I’m so tired of things happening just for shock value. Batman without Alfred is incomplete. I thought Matina had a good point about this being done in front of Damian, who, for all his bravado, is still a child. The pace also seems very slow to me.

Would you recommend buying this for $3.99?

Yes: Michael

No: Nick, Matina, Jay, Nancy, Josh

Check out Josh’s review here.

Nightwing #63

While the Nightwings recover from their last battle against the fiendish Burnback, Ric reflects on the small portion of his past that he remembers—life in the circus as the youngest member of the Flying Graysons—in hopes of finding any clues as to what kind of man his parents hoped he’d become. Perhaps a certain Talon has the answers he seeks?

Jay: Another thankless month for another thankless book.

Matina: The back and forth of Ric’s “I’m totally not Nightwing, and don’t want to be” talk and his actions- basically being Nightwing only in greasepaint- is something that’s really starting to eat at me. Did anyone else read this while thinking “But you’re just Nightwing. You are literally being Nightwing.” Because that’s what I spent this issue doing.

Josh: Haha! I’ve thought that for months now.

Matina: I appreciate that Jurgens is letting Ric’s old personality come out, in his refusal to stand down and do nothing, but the duality of the book is driving me up a wall. It’s distracting me from the rest of the story, which has the potential to be interesting if we could just spend more time in it.

Michael: I totally agree, Matina. It has never felt like the book has bought into its own premise. On the other hand, sometimes if I squint the book can sometimes feel like a fun Nightwing adventure. I occasionally enjoy the action scenes, particularly the one that opens the book, but once the book slows down I remember why it doesn’t work at all. There may be a problem when I get excited to see a villain take down one of our protagonists.

Nancy: Count me in on the “this doesn’t work” chorus. I can’t tell you how tired I am of interminable recaps. When these issues are combined in a trade, that’s going to be a really fun reading experience–not! Running around being Nightwing in the ways that really count while not admitting he’s being a superhero is hypocritical, and it should be generating internal conflict. Exploring that conflict would add some depth and interest to what has been a simplistic, shallow portrayal since issue 50. I loved Nightwing. He’s one of my all-time favorites, but the book is just annoying. Anything good in it is smothered by too-long recaps, slow pacing, and lack of character development.

Matina: Hypocritical is the perfect word for it. It’d be great to see him actually struggling with the fact that he’s basically stepped into the role of a hero again and why he did that, and is it really what he wants? To give some credibility to the constant reminders that he doesn’t want Nightwing back.

Jay: Absolutely.  The first time it happened it was interesting, because there was a bit of dramatic weight in Dick deciding if he wanted to do what he knew, deep down, was right.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was something.  Now it’s just a clear symptom of the top brass either not knowing what to do with this character, or forcing him into a holding pattern until his “triumphant return” is allowed to go through.

Which is hopefully soon, because I don’t know how much longer I can hold out on this.

Josh: Nightwing is also suffering from the fact that each issue follows the same formula.

  • Recap what happened to Ric.
  • Reintroduce the Notwings
  • Show the Notwings questioning whether Ric can be trusted.
  • Feature one of the Notwings
  • Throw said Notwing into an altercation.
  • Have Ric give the needed assist.
  • The Notwings trust Ric again.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

This week’s issue also posed the idea that the new Nightwings haven’t actually faced a real, dangerous threat until now… except this is the third time that Zak has almost died.

Jay: Poor Zak.  We hardly knew ye… several times.

Josh: I actually thought Talon was going to kill him – which I would’ve preferred at this point because it would’ve been different at the very least. It’s just bad. DC needs to move on.

Jay: There’s no way all of the Notwings survive the year.  The only one who might is Malcolm, because he’s in the background of that “Year of the Villain” promo image.  So… yay?

Would you recommend buying this for $3.99?

Yes:  Nobody

No: Matina, Michael, Nancy, Jay, Josh

Check out Nancy’s review here.

Year of the Villain: Black Mask #1

Black Mask was one of Gotham City’s most ruthless crime lords. He had money, power and respect. But after months in the Teen Titans’ secret prison, Roman Sionis is finally free. Given a new purpose and new abilities thanks to Lex Luthor’s offer, he’s found a new racket. Corporate crime not only pays better, but it’s far less dangerous. At least until Batwoman discovers what he’s up to and plans to put an end to Black Mask’s latest power grab. Is Black Mask the same crime boss he’s always been, or has time and a new approach made him something far more unstoppable than he’s ever been?

Jay: This might be the first thing I’ve ever read from Taylor that I didn’t totally dig.  It was fine, I guess, just didn’t connect with me.

Josh: Yeah, it was weird.

Nick: It felt like a story that might have been better suited for Hush, honestly. But then, that story was done to perfection in Dini/Nguyen’s Detective Comics / Streets of Gotham run. I’ve always liked the concept of Black Mask being one of the few members of the old guard who’s managed to keep a stake in Gotham by using an imposing image, so having him as a face-changer seems odd to me. I also didn’t entirely get what they were going for with the face thing… or any real impact from Black Masks’ decisions here. The Kate/Renee stuff was wholesome though! I also really liked the interaction with Luthor. I didn’t dislike the issue, but I don’t think it’s my speed.

Josh: Mmm… After the reveal of his ability to change his appearance, I just kept thinking, “You already have Clayface! Why are you doing this?”

Michael: First off, not a huge fan of Cully Hammer’s art but the coloring looked nice which is no surprise coming from Dave Stewart. This felt rather rudimentary, some interesting dialogue about the nature of masks in the opening that ultimately didn’t really come to an interesting conclusion. I agree with Nick that the Kate and Renee scenes were good and probably my favorite part. Give Taylor a Batwoman book, he seems to have a handle on her. Not a bad issue, just not memorable.

Jay: See, I typically like Hamner’s work, but I wasn’t a fan here either.  Seemed rushed.

Josh: It was definitely sloppy.

Matina: As someone who doesn’t know a lot about Black Mask I was kind of hoping this would be enough to make me interested in the character. Unfortunately it was just okay. I found the face changing thing interesting, but not a lot happened to make me want to seek out more titles with him in it.

Josh: Black Mask can be a great character, but he needs to be handled properly. He’s been featured the best in various Catwoman books, and perhaps Under the Red Hood. Maybe War Games. This interpretation was pretty average, if that.

Jay: See, I like him more when he’s kind of a sniveling wiener, so it’s not so much his characterization that bothered me.  There just wasn’t anything here worth investing in, period.

Michael: I totally agree that Black Mask is at his best in his Catwoman appearances. I think this slightly new origin can be interesting, but it’ll depend on how a new writer follows this up. As of now though, it does feel completely average.

Would you recommend buying this for $4.99?

Yes:   Nobody

No: Nick, Michael, Matina, Jay, Josh

Check out Michael’s review here.

Teen Titans #33

In the wake of the Terminus Agenda and Crush’s first encounter with Lobo, the Teen Titans begin again at Mercy Hall with a new mission and a new lease on life. But just when they catch their first break in ages in their hunt for the Other, Robin confirms that the person who let his prisoners escape”¦was one of his teammates. As Robin’s hunt for the mole begins, Lobo accepts a gift from Lex Luthor”¦and an unholy alliance is born!

Jay: Much to my surprise, this… wasn’t bad.  The conversation between Damian and Emiko was particularly effective.

Michael: Totally agree on the Damian and Emiko scene. I’ve been dropping in and out of this book, but despite a darker edge than I’d maybe like, the drama here is interesting and the stakes high. I like Damian, but love him when we see his softer side. I hope we get back to that soon. I’m not all that impressed by any of the Luthor “offer” scenes so far though. The larger lettering on Mammoth’s dialogue was a very nice detail I should add.

Matina: I loved the art and lettering this issue. I mentioned in my review that one of my favorite panels was Damian in the elevator. Not only is the art dark and forboding, but the scream done by Rob Leigh in the background really adds to the overall feeling of unease and discomfort.

The more I think about it, the more the scene between Damian and Emiko was my favorite bit. They have an actual conversation about some of the problems the team is facing, and I think they’re dynamic is pretty strong.

Jay: Agreed.  It was a nice moment where the story slowed down for some good character work.

Matina: I’m not a fan of how this title (and a few others) tends to gloss over major conversations that should be had and instead relies on surprise endings to move the story forward. It’s difficult for me to get behind any big decision a team makes when I haven’t seen the process for making that decision. I’m a little weary of the continual Big Surprise splash pages at the end of a book. I’m afraid a lot of stories lately are too focused on surprising us instead of telling strong and compelling narratives, and honestly I’d rather have the latter.

Jay: Really, though, I’m here for the Main Man.  And who among us isn’t?

Would you recommend buying this for $3.99?

Yes: Michael, Jay

No: Matina

Check out Matina’s review here.

What did you think about this week’s Batman comics?  Are you reading any other Batman books, like an old run or a cool graphic novel?  Sound off in the comments below.