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Batman Incorporated #8 [Review]

batmaninc(vol2)008The Boy Wonder Returns

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Chris Burnham
Art (pgs 6-9): Jason Masters
Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
Associate Editor: Rickey Purdin
Group Editor: Mike Marts
Covers: Chris Burnham with Nathan Fairbairn
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

DC suckered me.

I’d read and heard rumors throughout the Death of the Family stuff going on that we might get a “big death” in the bat-family, and it seemed like most guesses were going toward either Alfred or Damian. Of course, that proved to be yet another Major Joker Story where the scary madman doesn’t actually kill any major characters.

Then I caught wind of this issue–and as the bulk of the comic fans On The Internet learned a couple days ago…this issue gives us that “big death.” Thanks to DC, the “news” was out days before the issue, SPOILING its otherwise surprise for many comic readers–myself included. I’m almost ashamed to say that the spoiler/confirmation of the “big death” prompted me to get this issue.

I recall picking up the reprint of Son of the Demon a few years back, when Morrison‘s run started–and I’m pretty sure I picked up the first couple issues, at least, of his run, not long after Infinite Crisis. With this slightly-muddled memory of being there at the beginning, I wanted to be here at the end. And…my very first Batman comics were less than a year after the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd.

So, Batman Inc. #8…that’s what this review should focus on, right?

This is my first issue of the title. Batman Inc. was not part of the first wave of New 52 titles, and so I gave it a pass when it did premiere. I don’t think I even got around to reading any issues of the original iteration preNew 52. So other than the loose concept–that Batman has agents all over the place in a more formalized structure–I come to this cold.

This issue opens with Robin (Damian…I’m still not totally used to Robin NOT being Tim Drake) flying into an ongoing battle, and connecting with Nightwing. Meanwhile, Batman is fighting against Talia al Ghul (Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, mother of Damian). Red Robin’s part of the mix, fighting elsewhere. Nightwing and Robin have a moment–the original Robin and current Robin, on their own time as Batman & Robin. Enter an armored warrior from Talia’s end, and the two realize they’re in trouble. Nightwing falls, leaving Robin to stand against this Goliath-figure.

As Robin leaps to the attack, agents outside the fight interfere, and the boy is wounded numerous times, while calling out to his parents to stop this fight.

And for the third time…Batman finds himself with a dead Robin…perhaps the most personal of all, as Damian was his own flesh-and-blood son.

Story-wise…this is a painful issue. Most of the fighting fits, and seems like just another large-scale incident with superheroes involved in some city-wide invasion or such. But the scene of Damian’s battle is just…brutal. Despite all I know of the character–and the character certainly being “old before his time,” this is still a child…and it’s (to say the least) not at all a comfortable scene. I have no idea what Batman and Talia are fighting about this time, the details of their present issues…maybe I’ll find out via Wikipedia or listening to the inevitable podcasts covering this issue, etc.

Visually, I have no problem with the art–even the multiple artists didn’t throw me at all. Reading the issue, I just kinda sped through, taking in what’s going on, and honestly would not even have NOTICED there were multiple artists had I not specifically read the credits to list above for this review.

It was probably a mistake for me to give in and allow much weight be given to this issue. “The death scene” is only a couple pages, and easily recapped. Unlike 1988’s A Death in the Family, I’m reading only a single issue, so it’s not like this is the culmination of several issues’ reading, building to a climactic moment. This is me having a specific moment spoiled by mass media and deciding to read the issue for myself rather than simply read ABOUT it.

As a standalone issue, I’m not all that thrilled with this. I didn’t really pick up on much context of the “why” to the fighting or other context (I’m sure this’ll make more sense read in a collected volume, in-context). But sadly…I got what I paid for. I witnessed the brutal death of another Robin…a visual I’m uncomfortable with, yet get to live with today, and moving forward.

Harbinger #9 [Review]

harbinger009Writer: Joshua Dysart
Art: Pere Perez
Color Art: Ian Hannin
Covers: Mico Suayan and Khari Evans
Lettering: Rob Steen
Associate Editor: Jody LeHeup
Executive Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Entertainment
Cover Price: $3.99

Nine (ten if you count the recent #0) issues in, and this title’s getting rather complex, juggling a number of characters. While it does so, this seems a fairly Faith-centric issue, focusing more on her than the other characters…which to me, really is the way to go; allowing character development and for the reader to get to know the character better, while keeping the entire, overall story progressing.

After being temporarily depowered and falling from a dangerous height, Faith comes to and discovers her friends/teammates have been captured by Project Rising Spirit (we as readers witness the kids’ capture). Interspersed, we get flashbacks to how Faith got into comics, a tragedy in her early life, as well as some added details that flesh out her off-panel time several issues ago…and the issue ends on a key moment for Faith and Peter as Project Rising Spirit prepares to move out with their mission accomplished.

Visually, this is yet another strong issue. I honestly don’t recall as of this typing whether Perez has been on every issue thus far, but the look of this issue solidly fits with earlier issues, and seems entirely consistent with my memory of earlier and most-recent issues. The visual style has a certain simplicity to it–it’s not overly or distractingly-detailed…but it has a certain authenticity that makes the characters all seem that much more real: they’re not virtual clones of one another…the faces and bodies are distinct and varied, as the characters actually are.

Story-wise it’s painfully obvious (particularly with recent house ads and other “meta” information (online news/interviews/etc that are not part of the story itself) that this issue is continuing to put pieces in place for the upcoming Harbinger Wars crossover/arc/event with Bloodshot. While I don’t much care for the feeling of “let’s get THIS over with so we can get to What We’ve Been Promised,” it still resonates with me a bit, as it’s that much more obvious how these titles are beginning to fit together as part of the shared universe.

While we don’t have much in the way of development for the other characters–we mainly just see what fate’s befallen them–we get quite a bit with Faith…and it makes her a much more interesting character. It’d be easy to “assume” stuff with her, but having the actual details keeps her grounded and relatable…on the surface, one might see her as some cliché, yet it seems to me that much of what she is even so far in this book comes from her making conscious choices, not mindlessly following the clichés.

Though there are plenty of positives for the other Valiant titles…more and more I find myself with Harbinger at the top of the list for the nice art and the complex, realistic (as much as they can be: that’s a given) story and characters. If you’re only going to follow one Valiant title, I’d be inclined to make it Harbinger.

X-O Manowar #10 [Review]

xomanowar010Prelude to Planet Death Part Two of Two

Writer: Robert Venditti
Art: Trevor Hairsine
Colorist: Brian Reber
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Cover Artistis: Trevor Hairsine and Cary Nord
Assistant Editor: Josh Johns
Executive Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Entertainment
Cover Price: $3.99

We open this issue on a flashback, to young Aric and Gafti training in a field, ending with a show of brotherhood and declaration that someday they’ll be known the fiercest Visigoths to ever swing a sword. We then shift back to the present, where Aric faces Vine commander Trill holding forth the tortured, barely-alive body of his old friend. After some strong words back and forth, Aric engages Trill in battle, while the Vine invasion begins. One battle ended, Aric gives up the X-O armor that it might heal Gafti as it did him–only the pain leaves Gafti in another state of mind entirely…one that could cost an entire planet its life.

Even before anything visual sets in, I noticed the paper quality of this issue is significantly better than some of the earlier issues of the series–while at least a couple of the issues seemed positively (forgive the term) floppy…this feels like a very sturdy paper stock…which is a lot more befitting of a $3.99 single-issue!

Visually, this is quite a solid issue–even with all the action, I was able to follow along without really having to disengage from the story to exert any concerted effort on interpreting the art. The “changing of the guard” where the armor bonds with Gafti–and the resultant look of the armor is striking yet subtle. No real problem for me with the issue’s art.

The story itself is fairly simplistic on the surface–an Earthman fighting a commander of the Vine, then Earthman vs. Earthman with alien armor, then Earthman vs. more aliens.

But–if you’ve been reading the series, Aric and Gafti have a deeper history than the two-page flashback in this issue, and that history is felt as the characters interact here; ditto the history between Trill and Aric. This issue truly grows from what we’ve read throughout this entire series so far–it’s all led here, and this into the next major arc.

While I would like to see X-O a bit more “grounded” and relatable; with a “standard” supporting cast and all that…it’s an instinctual desire, I think; and AS I think on it, I also recognize that this is a very personal sort of story–of Aric and just a handful of people around him. We’re seeing and aware of more than just Aric’s point of view, yet for the most part, this series on the whole has stuck rather firmly to Aric and those immediate “contacts” in his life as well as the “ghosts” of his memories.

I’ve toyed with dropping the Valiant books from my monthly pulls solely due to pricing and a kneejerk backlash against the $3.99 price point from all publishers…but then I remind myself that even with the Valiant “cluster” of multiple books in one week with other weeks devoid of all Valiant…I’m actually reading the early part of a shared universe contained in only 5 books per month, with any doubling up being a one-shot special issue, rather than 3-6 titles that then ship a second issue the same month.

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