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Is It Wednesday Yet?

23 June 2009 Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!

Our grading scale is simple:

Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.

Batman #687
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 10 June 2009
Writer: Judd Winick
Penciler: Ed Benes
Inker: Rob Hunter
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Colorists: Ian Hannin and JD Smith
Cover: Tony Daniel

Review: drqshadow
Dick Grayson is Batman. After Bruce Wayne's heroic death in the line of duty, a series of Batman imposters and the inevitable decision that he was born for this moment, the original Boy Wonder is now the one true Dark Knight. But, as he's beginning to learn, the responsibilities of the Caped Crusader go far beyond the decision to actually don that famed grey and blue uniform.

The flashback that starts this issue has noble, appropriate intentions reminding us of Dick's constant yearning to learn from, impress and become more like his mentor, then revealing just how close he's come but the timeframe is all wrong. Robin had been around for seven years before the infamous giant penny first decorated the cave, and even if the scene in question was meant to take place later in the duo's career, I can't imagine the phrase "you got served" was yet a part of the public vernacular. I'd shudder to overhear the current Robin using that phrase, let alone the guy who's now wearing the cape and cowl. Are these little things to be picking at? Sure. But I have to imagine the goal of this scene was to add a touch of legitimacy to Dick's new role, and such authenticity lies primarily in these details.

Fortunately, that opening scene is just a small bump in the road for the book's author. Judd Winick spends the rest of the issue more or less in the present, dealing with the countless ramifications of Bruce's death and the impact it has on the DCU as a whole. He takes a long, hard look at Dick's reservations about taking over, at Alfred's forced resolve amidst trying circumstances and at Damian's restless impatience for someone to take charge. While many of these characters have been explored quite thoroughly over the years, Winick is using the special circumstances to unveil new facets of their personalities. As he should. As the situation demands.

I don't have nearly as many good things to say about Ed Benes, the issue's artist. A DC regular, Benes has made the rounds with many of the publisher's best-known titles: he spent some time with Supergirl and Birds of Prey, he followed Jim Lee on Superman and has most recently contributed to Justice League of America. This is my first exposure to his work, however, and I'm not especially impressed. For one, Batman, Robin, Gordon and even Alfred are usually posed in such stiff, uncomfortable positions that I felt compelled to overemphasize my own posture, like I was the only one slouching at a funeral service.

I like a nice balance between detail and restraint in an artist, but Benes brings an overload of the former. The excess of crosshatch shading, paired with the obsessive folds and creases he brings to each visible bit of fabric, makes the pages feel heavy and cumbersome. There's often just too much going on at one time, although some pages are much worse off than others. Benes does enjoy a few rare moments of clarity, where he displays an ability to pull off that elusive balance, but they're regularly outnumbered. He can't decide if he wants to be Jim Lee in the 1980s, Joe Madureira in the 90s or something different for today.

There's a lot of pensive, bottled excitement brewing around the books in the Batman family right now, and rightfully so. Although the promise of Bruce's imminent return is already hanging ominously above this whole house of cards, for the time being it's a new day in Gotham both for the characters and for the creators. As far as Winick and Benes' run on the flagship title goes, this is a mediocre start. Flip through it and enjoy the occasional moments of brilliance, then hope they're a bit more frequent in subsequent chapters.

Red Robin #1
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 10 June 2009
Writer: Chris Yost
Artist: Ramon Bachs
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Colorist: Guy Major
Cover: Francis Manapul

Review: drqshadow
The recent death of Bruce Wayne has affected his extended family in different ways. Dick Grayson has assumed his role as Batman, Alfred mourns by throwing himself into his work, Jason Todd has become even crazier. Naturally, the news has affected his longtime sidekick and adopted son, Tim Drake Wayne, perhaps most dramatically. Thing is, Tim doesn't entirely believe that Bruce is dead, and in a way of dealing with his conflicting emotions, he's set out on a quest to prove it. Having left behind the role of Robin, Drake has embarked on a broad tour of Europe in search of his fallen mentor wearing a new outfit and a different moniker: Red Robin.

He's got a lot of ground to cover, but in his first test drive with Batman's traditional players, Chris Yost shows no hesitation. He dives right into the impending confrontation between Dick (the new Batman), Damian (the new Robin) and Tim (the odd man out), lets the events play through to their logical conclusion, and moves us forward to the present. This month's narration travels quickly, jumping from the Batcave to a hostage situation in Madrid, a rest stop in Spain to a street-side explosion in Prague, but it hardly feels strapped for time. No single scene lingers for longer than it needs to there simply isn't enough room for wasted pages but it also doesn't seem excessively rushed or short on detail. From all indications, this is going to be a breakneck tour of Europe but not at the expense of good storytelling.

Yost tells much of the story via Tim's own internal narration, but show similar restraint there as well. He doesn't muddy up the artwork with a flood of narrative boxes, but instead uses them sparingly and effectively. The brief glimpses we're given into Tim's thought process are enough to establish the character, convey his mindset and reaffirm his reluctance and frustration. No one is more uncertain of what he'll find on this little adventure than Tim himself, but he knows undoubtedly that it's something he has to do before he can move on with his life. He's growing as a character and as an individual right before our eyes, graduating from sidekick to standalone in what's becoming a natural progression for former Boy Wonders.

For the character's new ongoing series, artist Ramon Bachs has brought along a more appropriately mature visual style. Blending the talents of Tony Moore, Tony Daniel and Darick Robertson, Bachs envisions a series of cities that are consistently gritty, seedy and filthy without producing an uncontrollable flow of linework in the process. His work is simple but serious, uncomplicated but not juvenile. In that respect, he reaches a nice balance between the relative innocence of the youth Tim's left behind with his Robin costume and the more serious, no-nonsense landscape he'll be dealing with as one of the big boys. It's perfect for the lead character's current predicament: no longer childish, but not quite ready to be a grown-up.

In a word, this is good stuff. Well, actually that's two words but you get the point. It's unusual for such a well-defined character to get as fresh a start as Tim is enjoying in Red Robin, so it's great to see his creators acknowledging that fact and taking full advantage. All the familiar aspects of this character that you've loved are still intact, but the apparent death of his mentor has changed him fundamentally and Tim is still trying to understand precisely what that means. This issue was just the first step. It's a wild ride that navigates a variety of emotions, before delivering a teaser at the end of the chapter that's left me hungry for more. Buy it.

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Marvel Introduces Timely Comics
Marvel Introduces Timely Comics

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