Today’s Super Comics — Detective Comics #934-940 (2016)

Hey, look—the original numbering is back. Welcome back, triple-digit numbers.

The numbering is old, but the direction is new. Detective Comics becomes a team book beginning with issue #934, with Batman and Batwoman as co-leads. They gather the next generation of Gotham-based crimefighters, seeking to train them to face an oncoming threat.

The recruits are all familiar faces (though I’m more familiar with their pre–New 52 versions): Tim Drake, here as Red Robin instead of just Robin (not sure what the distinction is, other than the very first Robin of olde-timey continuity grew up into Red Robin, but in-story, the “Red” seems a random addition); Cassandra Cain, Orphan (she was the second Batgirl in previous continuity); Stephanie Brown, Spoiler (the third Batgirl in previous continuity); and, quite randomly, a reformed Clayface (it feels like that old Sesame Street game—one of these things just doesn’t belong here; but I like the idea of Batman wanting to help an old foe turn his life around).

It’s a good team, and they face a compelling antagonist. The U.S. military (or at least one rogue contingent within) has decided to duplicate Batman’s techniques, methods, and equipment to create an army of Batmen. If one Batman can accomplish so much good in Gotham, how much good could many Batmen accomplish in military situations across the globe?

I don’t usually care for casting the military as villains, but this turns out to be an exception. There aren’t any mustache-twirling villains here. They have legitimate concerns about national security, and trying to learn from Batman is certainly not a bad idea, but they go way too far, to the point of endangering the innocents they want to protect. To make things more interesting, the colonel in charge of this operation is Batwoman’s father and Batman’s uncle, adding personal dimensions to the conflict.

The team nature of the book humanizes Batman a bit, giving him more opportunities than usual to display genuine emotion—especially after what happens in #940. I’ll be back for the second volume.

This might be the strongest DC Rebirth trade I’ve read yet, and they’ve all been good (so far, though I probably just jinxed it…sorry about that).

Writer: James Tynion IV

Artists: Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Batman: Detective Comics vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Nightwing #8 (2016)

Bruce Wayne plays the damsel in distress in Nightwing #8, in which we learn some backstory about Dick Grayson’s family as Nightwing confronts his own personal Severus Snape.

It makes perfect sense to mine the Grayson family history for story possibilities. After all, they were nomadic circus performers. There’s bound to be some interesting backstory there. In hindsight, I’m surprised more writers haven’t exploited it.

Raptor, a vigilante who knew Mary Grayson before she was Mary Grayson, captures Bruce and puts him in a death trap for “ruining” Dick with his life of wealth and privilege, and Dick learns new details about his late mother while trying to save his second father. And, without getting into specifics, I appreciate that writer Tim Seeley opts to present Raptor more as a Snape figure than a Darth Vader figure, because the latter would have been far more clichéd and far less compelling at this point.

But as written, Raptor has strong, interesting motivation that makes him a welcome antagonist for Nightwing. He’s the sort of father figure Dick could have had if Batman hadn’t stepped in, and his present intrusion into their lives underscores how Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson have been saving each other’s souls as well as their lives since their partnership began all those years ago.

Another winner for DC Rebirth. It’s been one heck of a second wind for the company.

Writer: Tim Seeley

Artist: Javier Fernandez

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Nightwing vol. 1: Better Than Batman (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Solo #1 (2004)

Anthology series are a tough sell. It’s much easier to get invested in ongoing sagas than short stories (and comic book short stories are super-short). I’m plenty guilty of overlooking them, even knowing full well the gems that may be hidden within.

But I actually did pick up one anthology book when it was new—the first issue of DC Comics’ Solo. The series was designed to spotlight the talents of renowned comics artists, and each issue “starred” a single such artist. Tim Sale headlined issue #1, joined by writers Darwyn Cooke, Diana Schutz, Jeph Loeb, and Brian Azzarello (and Sale did some of the writing himself).

The issue’s stories span genres, from superhero to noir to ordinary slice-of-life, but they’re all love stories in their own way. Catwoman takes Batman on a “date” by having him chase her across Gotham, though she’s actually chasing him. Supergirl recalls her first love. Martha Kent narrates a story about Clark trying to be a good person on his prom night. A hitman remembers a dead lover and his current loneliness. And so on.

Throughout the book, Sale demonstrates the range of his talents, bringing kinetic energy to Catwoman and Batman’s “dance” across the city, innocence and sadness to Supergirl, quiet grandeur to a young Clark Kent, pervasive bleakness to a hitman, and more.

“Solo” may be a misnomer, given all the talent helping out. Name aside, though, it’s a solid anthology that allows you to appreciate not only the storytelling possibilities of the artist, but of the comic book medium in general.

Of course, foolish me, I never picked up another issue, and DC cancelled it after #12. (Clearly it’s all my fault…or DC’s for setting the price tag at $4.95. Probably the latter.)

Writers: Darwyn Cooke, Diana Schutz, Jeph Loeb, and Brian Azzarello

Artist: Tim Sale

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Solo: The Deluxe Edition (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Catwoman #1 (2002)

Here’s a time it actually made sense to start over with a new issue #1. When writer Ed Brubaker and artist Darwyn Cooke (both incredible talents) took over Catwoman, they injected a mature tone into the book and set Selina Kyle on a fresh course.

She’s been presumed dead for the past six months, so now it’s time to figure out what to do with her life. She laments how self-serving she had become, but she’s not quite sure what that makes her at present. As she observes Batman in action against the Riddler, she realizes how she doesn’t belong in his world of good against evil; her territory is “between right and wrong.”

Catwoman and Batman have a nice moment together on a rooftop, and the dialogue further sharpens their differences:

Batman: No matter what, I believe that deep down, you’re really a good person. Don’t you think so?

Catwoman: Sometimes…yeah, sometimes I do…but I think it’s just a lot more complicated than that.

(As a side note, it’s always nice when a Catwoman/Batman rooftop scene in a Catwoman #1 manages not to devolve into gratuitous sex to “shock” us or show off how “adult” it is. I try to stay positive here, but that poor decision in the New 52 series deserves the jab. So…sorry/not sorry. But as I said, Brubaker and Cooke bring a mature tone to this book.)

Catwoman, when handled properly, is a complex character. Her many shades of grey give her the potential to surpass Batman as a compelling protagonist. And this particular #1 kicks off the finest set of Catwoman comics I’ve ever read.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Inker: Mike Allred

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Catwoman vol. 1: Trail of the Catwoman (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Brave and the Bold #197 (1983)

I almost forgot—there was at least one version of Batman who got his happily ever after…and with Catwoman, no less.

Until the mid-1980s, the DC Universe had two Earths. The modern superheroes of the Justice League lived on Earth-One while the Golden Age superheroes from the 1940s lived on Earth-Two. Characters who were around in both eras, like Batman, had a separate version on each Earth. And The Brave and the Bold #197 shows us what became of the Golden Age Batman on Earth-Two.

The story is framed as an older Bruce Wayne looking back on a turning point in his life, when he had been the Batman for fifteen years and was beginning to lament how empty the Bruce Wayne side of his life had become. What life does he have to look forward to after Batman, other than a very lonely one?

The Scarecrow strikes, and his fear toxins heighten Batman’s anxieties to the point that he hallucinates all his allies vanishing, leaving only a reformed enemy to turn to—Catwoman. As they partner to apprehend the Scarecrow, they learn more about each other…and Catwoman helps Batman learn something about himself.

Namely, he acknowledges the fear that’s consumed him since his parents’ murder. It’s driven him to build a life where he’d never have to form a real emotional connection with anyone again and thereby never truly have to experience another devastating loss. He overcomes this fear by letting Catwoman—or more specifically Selina Kyle—into his life, and they spend the next twenty years happily married.

Actual emotional growth and an actual, fitting ending for the character. At least the original Batman got to experience those. This story’s inclusion in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told collection is no mistake.

Writer: Alan Brennert

Penciler: Joe Staton

Inker: George Freeman

Cover: Jim Aparo

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; included in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batman: Son of the Demon (1987)

One of the challenges with Batman is he’s so skilled and experienced that it can be difficult to put him in a situation where he learns something new.

But the Son of the Demon graphic novel places him in roles entirely new to him—marriage and impending fatherhood. And, it so happens, this is the one situation that can compel the stubbornly dedicated Batman to rethink his life’s priorities.

Batman and old enemy Ra’s al Ghul join forces against a common threat, during which Batman stops denying his attraction to Ra’s’ daughter, Talia. This isn’t a quick mission; Batman spends many weeks away from Gotham helping to train and lead Ra’s’ people against this terrorist plot—long enough to conceive a child.

Given Batman’s origins, it makes perfect sense that this would change him. He doesn’t want his child to ever suffer through losing his parents like he did.

Of course, being a comic book starring one of the most popular characters of all time, there can be only so much change by the end. But this book does a better than most of presenting at least the illusion of character growth. Within the context of just this graphic novel, Batman journeys far from home, has new experiences, and returns home sadder and wiser.

The pace is maybe a little too fast due to page-count constraints, but it’s a great arc that fits the character well.

Writer: Mike W. Barr

Artist: Jerry Bingham

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: Comixology; Batman: Son of the Demon graphic novel

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Flashpoint #1-5 (2011)

flashpoint_vol_2_1The Flash broke the DC Universe. He messed with the timeline, resulting in the New 52, which I am not a fan of, barring a handful of notable exceptions. It’s unfortunate. But the storyline in which he ruined everything was pretty great.

Flash (Barry Allen) interferes with time for a noble, human reason—he wants to save his mother, who was murdered many years ago by a time-traveling Reverse Flash (kind of like in the TV series). So Barry has a strong justification for his actions, but he nevertheless creates an alternate timeline in need of serious repair. The most compelling reason: A feud between these non-heroic versions of Wonder Woman and Aquaman is putting the whole world on the brink of war.

Flashpoint’s standout alternate version of a character is Batman, who isn’t Bruce Wayne here—he’s Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne. In this world, Bruce and his mother Martha were murdered by a mugger, and Thomas was the sole survivor. So when Barry comes along speaking of a better world in which Bruce survives, Thomas has powerful motivation to help him out, crazy as he sounds. What parent wouldn’t want to trade places with their child in that situation?

Yesterday, I mentioned how Zero Hour lacked a central protagonist. DC seemed to have learned its lesson seventeen years later. Flash anchors the series and guides us through. He’s the only one from “our” world and therefore the only one who can ultimately set things right (not that he nails the target perfectly, but that’s irrelevant to judging this series on its own merits).

As someone who grew up with the Wally West Flash, this is one of the better Barry Allen stories I’ve read.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Andy Kubert

Inker: Sandra Hope

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Flashpoint (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batman #17 (2013)

batman_vol_2_17Batman’s “Death of the Family” story arc is one of the most disturbing Joker stories I’ve read. It’s also one of the richest psychologically.

Writer Scott Snyder drills into the heads of Batman and the Joker, amazingly giving a fresh spin to an antagonistic relationship that’s been going on for over seventy years. On the surface, it’s creepy as hell and far too nightmarish for children to read, but lots of careful thought clearly went into the narrative. The payoff in issue #17 is brilliant. Once you get past the grotesqueries, you find an intelligent comic hiding within.

It really shows just how versatile these characters are. They fit a seemingly endless variety of stories.

But keep the kiddies away from this one!

Writer: Scott Snyder

Penciler: Greg Capullo

Inker: Jonathan Glapion

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman vol. 3: Death of the Family (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Detective Comics #826 (2007)

detective_comics_826This is a nice Christmas comic…kind of like how Die Hard is a nice Christmas movie. So maybe it’s not “nice” exactly, but the holiday season provides a backdrop to gripping tension and action.

During a moment of desperation, Robin (Tim Drake) makes the mistake of getting into a stranger’s car. Turns out, the Joker is at the wheel. (And that’s why you don’t get into strangers’ cars!)

Joker ties up the Boy Wonder in the passenger’s seat and makes him watch helplessly as he runs over random pedestrians. And whenever he gets bored killing innocents, the Joker will probably kill Robin, too. It’s a death trap with psychological torture thrown in.

This is one of those done-in-one short stories writer Paul Dini excels at, particularly when it comes to Batman’s world. The Joker is at his most terrifying, and Robin needs to be at his most resourceful…which will require him to maintain his calm in the face of horrific murders.

It probably won’t get you into the Christmas spirit, but it is a great comic.

Writer: Paul Dini

Penciler: Don Kramer

Inker: Wayne Faucher

Cover: Simone Bianchi

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman: Detective (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Superman Annual #11 (1985)

superman_annual_vol_1_11Since we’ve entered the holiday shopping season, how about a classic comic that’s basically about giving a gift? And Superman Annual #11, “For the Man Who Has Everything,” is a gift, one given to us by the team behind Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

It’s Superman’s birthday, so Wonder Woman, Batman, and the then-new Robin (Jason Todd) visit him at the Fortress of Solitude, all bearing thoughtful presents. But what do you get the man who has everything? The villainous alien Mongul has the perfect gift for him—a life of contentment, which happens to be all imaginary.

A symbiotic plant called the Black Mercy traps Superman in his own head, where he’s living a perfectly normal life on a Krypton that never exploded. He has a wife and two children, and the weight of the world isn’t constantly on his shoulders. It all feels so real and satisfying.

But outside that fantasy, Mongul begins his quest for world domination by taking on Wonder Woman and the Caped Crusaders. To save his friends, and the world, Superman must abandon the peaceful life he always wanted, rejecting a loving family in favor of his Fortress of Solitude.

When you have a character as powerful as Superman, especially this old-school version, you’ve got to be creative to hurt him and even more creative to make him work for his victory. And trapping him in happiness, and requiring his own strength of will to erode the façade, is perfect.

The comic is so good that Justice League Unlimited adapted it into an animated episode. The comic does some things better, and the cartoon does other things better, but really, just check out both.

Writer: Alan Moore

Artist: Dave Gibbons

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up