So how would you like your Bat today? Grim and gritty or light hearted and witty? The double edged sword of having multiple titles for popular characters like DC’s Batman and Superman and Marvel’s Spider-Man and Wolverine is that there is an interpretation for everyone. Hardcore fans and unsure parents looking for something kid-friendly can both be satisfied. The danger is that the intent of the character; their core can be compromised. I’m afraid that’s the case with this month’s Batman selection. After having just read Batman Confidential #22, Secret Six #2 and Detective Comics #849 in quick succession I realise that the Dark Knight is not always himself from one title to the next. This is a bad month to make this comparison, as usually different writers can handle the same character/s fine, and here I want to make the point about characters other than Bats, but the difference is certainly noticeable.
Let’s start with Confidential. The premise being that this is a look back at the cowled one’s early days allows me to look at it with some grace. I love Scott McDaniel’s (Nightwing) pencils, and always have, and any return of his to the Bat world is a welcome one. That Ryan Sook cover is great too (with a nice cameo from editor Mike Carlin as the guard), though Joker’s lame Monopoly reference (“Hey! We didn’t pass ‘Go!’”) is indicative of the trouble that lies within. Joker just isn’t himself. He’s more annoying than scary, and with the causing-trouble-from-within-a-cell storyline similar to the Dark Knight film it doesn’t scream originality. TV writer Andrew Kreisberg handles the pacing and plot well enough, but the fact that Joker is more like Superman villain The Prankster, isn’t helping. This is the first part of a new story arc and details the first time Bats bought Joker into Gotham police custody. Great idea right there and hopefully in future issues the maniac we all know and love will truly reveal himself. For now it’s bad banter and unfunny jokes (even a toilet gag!) And how the Joker convinces a stranger to kill herself with his one allowed phone call is almost absurd. However, the fact that he has no fingerprints thanks to his life transforming acid bath makes sense and I’m surprised no-one’s thought of it before, as far as I know. Bats is done well here I must say, with all the seriousness and minimal speech he needs.
Detective Comics, or ‘Tec as it’s also known, is DC’s flagship book effectively, and thankfully it soars high. Another TV writer, Paul Dini tells the penultimate tale of the Batman R.I.P tie-in, Hearts of Hush. This is a great book and has been for a long time. So far, Dini hasn’t put a foot wrong and with his career as a toon and comics writer in the DCU he knows Batman and co. well. Joker is here too, briefly, and more in character, as he cheers when Bats beats Scarecrow in Arkham. Last month’s cliffhanger with Selina Kyle (Catwoman) laid out on an operating table, with her heart out was a real teaser. Here the tale continues as Batman looks for answers and a solution to keep Selina alive, as she barely is for now, with Hush’s machinery. It was a shame to see Catwoman’s series end recently. Her last two issues were great and DC gave her some great arcs. Hopefully she’ll make guest appearances in ‘Tec for a while and then we can have Green Arrow and Black Canary as well as Batman and Catwoman books. Hmm…
Dustin Nguyen is another great Bat artist and has been showing of late that his covers are just as gorgeous, with a touch of Dave McKean influence in this ish. Mr. Terrific and Dr. Mid-Nite from the JSA drop by too and don’t look out of place in this dark tale, which basically involves lots of running and punching as Bats gets angrier. Hush knows what I’ve always thought; Catwoman is Bruce Wayne’s real love, even if he won’t admit it. Hush is an interesting character and it’s fantastic to see that he’s still being used after Jeph Loeb’s and Jim Lee’s intro of the character from a few years ago. With flashbacks to his wildly different upbringing than Bruce’s and the last few pages which reveal Hush’s true, long reaching plan, this will be a book to keep your eyes on, especially to see how it ties into R.I.P’s conclusion. Grab a sneak peek here.
Lastly, Secret Six #2. Well, we get our first glimpse, of sorts, of last issue’s freak in a box, Bane continues to amuse but still stay barley in character, and Batman and Catman have a chat and a brawl on a rooftop (where all of Batman’s dialogue seems to take place). This is a fun book and shows, along with it’s originator, Villains United, two things: 1. That Gail Simone can create an original title that the DCU really needs and 2. Penciller Nicola Scott is sure to have a bright future. The Bat and Cat discussion is basically two guys sticking their chests out, but does seem oddly disjointed in their last page together. However even with their discussion of Batman’s breakfast choices, Simone still shows that Bats is a character with a big enough heart and mind to compliment his fists. He knows what’s going on, and wants everyone to know it.
The other highlight of this month is Action Comics #870, the fantastic Braniac finale. Yes, DC leaked Jonathan Kent’s death to the mainstream media first (as did Marvel with Cap’s death almost two years ago) but if it brings people to the LCS, then it has my support. I always liked Superman’s earthly parents. They fit in well, though Pa hasn’t lasted long on film and TV so it really only affects the comics readers. Who knows, he may come back, but it wouldn’t really work as he’s not a superhero or villain. It’s a great book nonetheless, with golden boy Geoff Johns and the graceful pencils of Gary Frank adding much emotional depth to this story.