The State of the Batmen (and Women) – Winter 2010/2011

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This article has been planned since shortly after MLD ran the State of the X-Men piece back in November. The delay in the post has been directly tied to the delay in DC Comics publishing their second new high profile Batman title, David Finch’s Batman: The Dark Knight, which was originally due to ship November 24. Well Batman: The Dark Knight #1 is supposedly shipping this week (though I’ll believe it when I see it), so this seems like as good a time as any to assess the state of the Batmen Family.

In the event that you’re not aware, the Bat-titles recently went through a major shift in their status quo this Fall. For the last year and a half or so, Bruce Wayne has been believed dead. In his absence, Dick Grayson took on the role of Batman and Damian, the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, has taken on the role of Robin. Former Robin, Tim Drake, has moved on to a new identity as Red Robin and the former Spoiler, Stephanie Brown, has become the new Batgirl. This status quo has shifted slightly in recent months with the return of Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne has returned to the role of Batman and publicly revealed that Wayne Enterprises finances Batman’s operations. In addition, Wayne has launched a new effort to take Batman’s operations international with their new endeavor: Batman Incorporated. With Bruce Wayne turning his focus to this international project, Dick Grayson has remained Gotham City’s primary Batman.

I won’t be discussing Batman: Streets of Gotham, Azrael, or Batman Confidential simply because those titles are reportedly ending in March. Of this bunch, Streets of Gotham is the only title that I bought regularly and will miss. Paul Dini should be given a Batman title for life even if it doesn’t publish on quite a monthly basis. He owns the character.

Batman Incorporated
This title acts as the primary Bruce Wayne as Batman book and likely will for the foreseeable future; especially if Finch cannot deliver his title on a monthly basis. I understand what people who complain that Grant Morrison isn’t writing their version of Batman are getting at, but personally, I think he has produced possibly the strongest run with the Batman family of characters we’ve seen in at least a decade. While I initially found Morrison’s work to be frustrating to read on a monthly basis, reviewing it in collected editions revealed how carefully planned out his work was from the first issue. It really feels like his entire run with Batman from his stories with the Black Glove through Batman RIP, Final Crisis, The Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman and Robin has been a single story that has recently concluded. This fact makes the recent Batman: The Return one shot and Batman Incorporated the perfect jumping on point for new readers.

Batman Incorporated follows Bruce Wayne’s quest to expand Batman’s operations to an international level by recruiting new Batmen all around the world. The first two issues saw Batman and Catwoman recruit a Japanese Batman and included all sorts of cultural strangeness incuding a fight between Catwoman and a giant Octopus in the middle of an apartment building. Morrison has already hinted at the inevitability of Bruce Wayne becoming a target of Batman’s enemies for his involvement in Batman Incorporated and that Wayne already has a plan in place to combat this attack. A plan I can’t wait to see unfold.

Tony Daniel’s Batman title highlights Dick Grayson’s adventures in Gotham and consistently looks amazing. However, his stories haven’t really worked for me so fa,. He was the first in the recent trend of artists hired by DC to both write and draw their Bat-books. Batman is not a bad title. It’s not. But when you compare it to the work Daniel has done recently that was written by Morrison, it’s just isn’t in the same league. I’ve read some criticism of the quality of Daniel’s art during Batman RIP and I don’t understand that at all. Plus, I think he’s gotten better in the last year. This guy is a superstar artist and I can’t help but feel that were he teamed with a writer with similar talent he’d be producing some really special and memorable work.

Detective Comics
One issue in and I suspect Scott Snyder and Jock are going to deliver the best traditional Batman book of the bunch. The first issue looked fantastic and I suspect it will appeal to people who have long felt that Grant Morrison wasn’t writing their Batman. This book focuses on Dick Grayson as Batman in detective stories.

Batman and Robin
Batman and Robin is still kind of a wildcard. The new ongoing creative team of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason that was supposed to launch in November has been pushed back until February. These guys did some great work on Green Lantern Corps, but Tomasi’s work on Nightwing and Brightest Day has not thrilled me. Hopefully, the extra time will result in work worthy of a book that has been the primary Batman title for the last year and a half under Grant Morrison and a rotating team of artists.

In the meantime, Paul Cornell and Scott McDaniel have stepped in to tell a three-part story about a new villain called The Absence. Paul Cornell has been killing with Knight and Squire and Action Comics and Scott McDaniel is one of my favorite artists (usually he’s at his strongest when teamed with Chuck Dixon… Come on DC work out your differences with him). Their story has introduced The Absence, an ex-girlfriend of Bruce Wayne (actually Hush pretending to be Bruce Wayne) who has a gaping hole through her skull and is looking for revenge. Mostly, this story has felt with like filler and I can’t really recommend it unless Cornell and McDaniel come up with an amazing conclusion. This title is important as it will remain Damian Wayne/Robin’s main title. It needs to stay strong if that character is going to survive beyond the work Morrison did with him and become a DC staple. To me, Damian is one of the two best new characters DC has introduced during the last several years (the other being Larfleeze).

Red Robin
Red Robin’s strength is primarily Fabian Nicieza’s characterization of Tim Drake. His plots haven’t blown me away so far, but I really enjoy reading his version of Tim Drake every month. Tim’s characterization during his first year as Red Robin didn’t always ring true for me, but that problem ended with Nicieza’s first issue. Tim definitely feels like a more grown up version of the Chuck Dixon’s Tim. Red Robin is a fun title with great potential. Hopefully Nicieza will continue to deliver. I’m most looking forward to seeing Nicieza’s upcoming Red Robin/Teen Titans crossover and continued interaction between Tim and Damian. That relationship is priceless. It seems Nicieza is focusing on Red Robin’s involvement with Batman Incorporated’s efforts to recruit new Batmen around the world. The only downside is that it seems Tim Drake is maturing faster than his partners in Young Justice and the Teen Titans and I anticipate that leading to problems down the line.

Batgirl is a fun comic. Stephanie Brown is a character that was mistreated by almost every creator who wrote her whose name was not Chuck Dixon until this title’s launch. This book has gone a long way to undo that damage. Unfortunately, the last Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, has been largely displaced as a result, but there’s always room for that to be fixed in the future. Batgirl’s status quo features Stephanie Brown working under Barbara Gordon’s tutelage to become a better hero. The book also features the Calculator’s daughter, Wendy Harris, as a supporting character. Harris is currently being positioned as sort of an Oracle Junior called Proxy, though I suspect there’s just as much potential for Proxy to ultimately follow in her father’s footsteps. Imagine a second generation Calculator trained by both the original and Oracle. This could be a fantastic villain for the latest Batgirl. Bryan Q. Miller has really done some strong work with Batgirl and I think the addition of Dustin Nguyen is just going to strengthen the title. My only complaint is that given the role Oracle plays in this title, I think there should be stronger ties between it and Birds of Prey.

Birds of Prey
Gail Simone has picked up right where she left off when she left Birds of Prey a few years ago. I hope we eventually see a Misfit appearance in the book, because I really enjoyed her silliness. Black Canary is stronger as a member of the Birds of Prey than she ever seems when hanging out with Green Arrow. It’s sad that her short-lived marriage to Green Arrow basically derailed the original run of Birds of Prey since that was a much better title than the resultant Green Arrow/Black Canary book. I particularly enjoy her dark adventures in the underground world of martial arts and hope these subplots continue in the future.

Gotham City Sirens
This is a title that I’ve read every issue of and yet it’s kind of enigma to me. It was launched as being written by Paul Dini and starring Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy. It feels like the book has featured a number of guest writers during its short existence and I’m not even sure whether or not Dini is still involved with it at all or if its marked for cancellation (a visit to the DC Website suggests the new writer is a guy named Peter Calloway). Having said all of that, I’ve generally found this book to be a pretty fun title despite its occasionally cheesecake art.

While this title hasn’t officially launched yet, DC did publish a Batwoman preview which saw Batman investigating Batwoman to assess her skills and discover her secret identity. This is yet another Bat-title featuring writing by an individual typically known as an artist, J.H. Williams III. Williams was the artist on Batwoman’s most popular run so far when teamed with Greg Rucka on Detective Comics. Were Williams not drawing Batwoman, I suspect the book would be DOA. Williams at least has teamed up with a co-writer, W. Haden Blackman. I don’t know if the book will turn out to be well written, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say it is sure to look beautiful. Williams may be the best and most innovative artist working in mainstream comics today. In addition, Amy Reeder who will be drawing the second Batwoman arc seems to be pretty talented as well.

Until I sat down to write this I don’t think I appreciated quite how good of a time it is to be a reader of the Bat-titles. Yes, Batman could be better, but it looks great and yes, I’m going to miss Streets of Gotham. If Batman Incorporated isn’t quite what you’re looking for in a Batman comic, DC is publishing a number of strong alternatives each with a slightly different feel. If Peter Tomasi’s Batman and Robin proves to be a failure, at least Damian is also appearing over in Teen Titans and plotting to take over leadership of that team. Is it too many Batman related books? Probably, but if people are going to buy them, I can’t fault DC for producing them.

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  • Dave Radio Dave said,

    Nice article… I agree on pretty much all these points. I actually really got into that last issue of Inc. and plan to keep on reading it. I was very disappointed in Streets of Gotham this month though… I picked it up at the shop and was pleased at how hefty it felt. I figured that since it feels like months since they’ve put a book out maybe it would be a jam packed. Such a let down to have the 2nd feature of ragman be the main event and the SoG story to take up a mere 10 pages or less in the book. Oh well. It is a shame they are ending it…

  • KevinMLD said,

    I haven’t had a chance to read that issue yet. I like Ragman as much as any other obscure DC character, but that sounds like a terrible decision on DC’s part.

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