Sunday, June 07, 2009

COVER 2 COVER: BATMAN BEGINS AGAIN!
I had a great discussion with someone on Twitter after the release of Batman: Streets of Gotham #1. Due to various elements of the treatment, this individual was expecting something more akin to Gotham Central, than the superheroics of the new title. With that enlightening exchange in mind, I thought I might try to offer up some references ahead of our review cycle which is entering Batman: Reborn territory.

As a blogger, I've recently been spending a lot of time on 1up.com, talking about video games, which is a passion I've spent some time on here on the Infinite Wars [ie; Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Tekken...], as well as discussing comics and sharing info. Through these discussions, I've been reminded that, at least for my own needs as a consumer and in a general sense, I have a pretty good knack for knowing what to expect from comics.

DC have laid out a particularly well segmented line of comics for their Batman: Reborn relaunch. Dick Grayson won't be the sole focus of the new era of Bat-books, with the resurrection and reinvention of several spin-offs all a part of the revamp agenda. The issues being featured in our Cover to Cover speak to some of the recent events and references that touch some of the new titles, but before we get to those links, how about a brief rundown of what's on the schedule from DC comics?

Batman and Robin (Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely)
Arguably the lynchpin around which the relaunch is being built, this is perhaps the most hotly anticipated of the new launches. The book not only reteams acclaimed collaborators, Morrison and Quitely, but also directs the reinvention of Dick Grayson as Batman, and his partnership with Damian Wayne as Robin. These definitions will include characterization as well as a visual flair that comes unique from the pairing. Decisions made here will likely inform other titles to some degree, but for those most invested in the new Batman, this is the place to be.

Morrison's stature grants him the freedom of isolation to a large degree.
Expect some far-out new characters and directions from the opening arc, which will feature a bright and bubbly Gotham City with sinister undertones. Morrison also looks poised to pick up the baton of Jason Todd, following on from his Battle for the Cowl attempts to replace Batman. Best guess? He'll be back as an all-new Red Hood, complete with junior sidekick, in an attempt not to become Batman, but rather, replace him.

Batman (Judd Winick/Mark Bagley)
Traditionalists willing to give Dick Grayson a chance will be at home with the classic title.
Winick has the opportunity to take his own exploration of Grayson as Batman, which he did to great effect with the issue that followed Battle for the Cowl. In many ways, he managed to inform the transition far better than the mini-series itself. He'll continue this with a classic style as Two-Face and Penguin kick-up a fuss amidst Black Mask's apparent return from the dead, and coup against the criminal ranks of Gotham City. Those already familiar with Winick's work on Batman will probably have a good idea of what to expect, even if the conditions are new.

Batman: Streets of Gotham (Paul Dini/Dustin Nguyen)
Traditionalists might find something to read here, but remember, this is not Gotham Central!
I would expect Streets of Gotham to feature Batman from a familiar silhouetted perspective, outside of the head of the character, rather than in it. We've seen Dini go inside the Batcave, but for the most part I think this series will be exactly what it describes in the title -- Streets of Gotham. This will almost certainly include the perspectives of criminals, our heroes, and the cops, with Black Mask's play for dominance a feature, as well as elements of Batman's return, and how Commissioner Gordon and other personalities will deal with it.

Aesthetically and thematically, I feel there could be parallels between the series and Winick's first long run on Batman, which also featured Black Mask's rise to power as the kingpin of crime in Gotham and put particular focus on the working mechanics of the city and it's inhabitants.

Streets of Gotham also contains the co-feature starring Manhunter, who recently moved to Gotham City to become the new District Attorney. It's a dangerous job, but someone's gotta do it, and her first back-up arc will follow more Battle for the Cowl plotlines regarding Two-Face and crimes committed on his behalf by Jane Doe.

Gotham City Sirens (Paul Dini/Guillem March)
In conjunction with Streets of Gotham, I would expect Gotham City Sirens to continue some of the plotlines started by the famed writer from The Animated Series. In fact, like the cartoon, this book features the trio of Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn, essentially filling the void left by the canceled Catwoman solo title -- with a little bit extra!

Front-and-centre will certainly be Dini's work from Heart of Hush, which created a fierce personal rivalry between Catwoman and Hush. The villain kidnapped Catwoman to remove her heart in an effort to strike at Batman's own swooning love-muscle, but it all turned out fine, even though Hush, aka; Thomas Elliot, has undergone plastic surgery to look identical to the missing Bruce Wayne! It was that act that granted a rematch between Catwoman and Hush, which resulted in the latter's incarceration -- but for how long?

Red Robin (Christopher Yost/Ramon Bachs)
Skirting the periphery is the story of Tim Drake, who was unceremoniously ousted as Robin by the adoption of Damian Wayne. Dick Grayson's perspective is one of concern and foresight, seeing Damian as a potential menace if he isn't taken in, particularly without the stern influence of the boy's father around. Drake, still quite young himself, sees it as an inconsiderate insult to him, further placing strain on his relationship amidst his belief that Bruce Wayne is still alive.

The action will see Drake adopt the unassociated identity of Red Robin as he embarks on a globe trotting adventure to find evidence of Bruce Wayne's survival. Exactly what it is he's searching for remains unclear, but given that we the readers know Batman was shunted through time or space by his battle with Darkseid, it seems reasonable to think Drake might just find the clues he's looking for -- perhaps in the scrawlings in an ancient cave (RE: Batman's Final Crisis end). On top of that, we know Ra's Al Ghul will emerge during his adventure, but will the survivalist be an enemy, or a powerful ally in the search for Batman?

Detective Comics (Greg Rucka/JH Williams III)
Potentially the most distanced of the titles, Detective takes on a new star in Batwoman.
The much hyped gay character suffered an aborted start in the pages of 52 where her debut garnered attention from various mainstream outlets. After a string of obscure appearances, Greg Rucka now has the opportunity to take his beloved creation into the spotlight, emerging in a Gotham where she will no doubt bump into the new Batman, whilst embarking on her own battles. In a lot of ways, this is the one book impossible to forecast, given the unknown quantities of it's characters, and the exciting visuals previewed in JH Williams' artwork.

A co-feature starring Renee Montoya as The Question rounds out Rucka's work, a fairly logical back-up considering the romantic association of the characters, and the fact that they've recently shared their own mini-series. One wonders if they might meet at some point.

Blackest Night (Geoff Johns/Ivan Reis)
Blackest Night: Batman (Peter Tomasi/Adrian Saef)
Though not strictly a Bat-book -- DC's next major summer event might yet provide some answers left over from the last one! It looks as if Bruce Wayne will have some part to play as Black Hand unleashes a the undead ranks of the Black Lantern Corps upon an unsuspecting DC Universe. Writer Geoff Johns has made it clear that the epic will expand far beyond it's origins as a Green Lantern story, opening up to the entire DC Universe with all of their skeletons leaping out of the closet -- and grave! A Bat spin-off looks to continue the invention of Dick Grayson as the Batman, forcing him to come face-to-face with his deceased parents, as well as Deadman.

Batman #637 (April 2005)
"Overnight Deliveries" Winick/Mahnke

In the wake of a gang war, Black Mask seizes control of the criminal underbelly of Gotham City. With various villainous elements shifting within the DC Universe, Black Mask's own strategies intersect with various others.

Amongst his schemes, the import of various super paraphernalia and weaponry. Much of which leaves his possession via the intervention of the Batman, or the vigilante rogue, Jason Todd - The Red Hood.

One such import is Amazo; an android designed originally by Professor Ivo to combat the Justice League using their own powers and unique abilities.
Though stripped down, the machine poses a substantial threat, and Batman and Nightwing are there to intervene.

Batman #648 (February 2006)
"All They do is Watch us Kill" Winick/Mahnke

When the survivors of the Crisis on Infinite Earths trapped themselves in their own non-space, they could not have imagined the vast influence they would still have.

As Superboy of Earth-Prime pounded furiously at the walls of his protective prison; unbridled rage shifted reality to a place where Jason Todd should never have died.

Thus, the prodigal son, retaining the injuries sustained at the hands of the Joker, desperately freed himself from his grave, and staggered back into the world.
With the intervention of Ra's and Talia Al Ghul, Jason Todd was eventually able to recover his memories, and rediscover a Gotham that had moved on without him, and a Batman who had not avenged him.

Final Crisis #2 (August 2008)
"Ticket to Bl├╝dhaven" Morrison/Jones

The New Gods have been murdered and Orion has brought about the prophecized end by ripping the heart from Darkseid's chest -- or so it seems. In truth, forces conspire to resurrect the evil New Gods as men, allowing them to permeate through the subconsciousness of human vessels prepared to deliver their nefarious schemes.

The first to be corrupted is the so-called incorruptable, as Granny Goodness manipulates the Alpha Lanterns to target the heroes of Earth in a preemptive strike. Eliminating the influence of powerful heroes like the Green Lanterns and Batman, she clears a path for the minions of Darkseid, and those who would spread the Anti-Life Equation amongst humanity.

Those still free have no idea of the scheme being hatched beneath their noses, as Darkseid's minions prepare this world as a station from which the Fifth World can be born and Darkseid and the New Gods can walk as men as gods through the end of everything. A new dawn breaks as red skies signify the turning point of the universe. Time and space is coming undone and the big crunch will be the moment when evil will win. These are the stakes of the ambush that is the final crisis.

Detective Comics #850 (January 2009)
"The Demon in the Mirror" Dini/Nguyen

Thomas Elliot was once the childhood friend of Bruce Wayne, but as they grew apart into adulthood, a parent's constant references to the budding young billionaire fostered a deep resentment in Elliot. Tethered to an ailing mother who survived the severed brakes that killed his father; Elliot's dark urges only grew deeper as she held him to ransom with an inheretence and her ill condition, never passing an opportunity to belitte or berate.

After smothering his mother in a fit of rage, Elliot finally attained the level of freedom he had envied Bruce Wayne for. With his family fortune, Elliot travelled the world, studying various disciplines, before finally fulfilling his dream of practising medicine. A revered surgeon, it was an easy manipulation to return to Bruce Wayne's life when he orchestrated a mortal fall for the Batman, who had unwittingly been subjected to months of hypnotic suggestion.

Dedicated to his vendetta, Thomas Elliot faked his death to remain in Gotham, forever transformed as the villainous underworld figure, Hush. Enduring through battles with other prominent rogues, such as Joker and Poison Ivy, Hush remains a lurking threat present in the shadows of Gotham City and the darkness of Batman's subconscious. At least, he was, until returning to strike at his nemesis once more, this time with the intent to seize Batman's fortune. Once again relying upon a grand orchestration to strike at the Dark Knight from all sides, Hush removes Selina Kyle's heart, forcing Batman to recruit Mr. Terrific and Dr. Mid-Nite in a race to save her life, while Elliot himself enters the sanctum of Wayne Manor under the guise of Bruce Wayne himself. His gambit brings him to the threshold of victory, but the Batman is not so easily manipulated...

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #3 (July 2009)
"Last Man Standing" Tony Daniel

The Death of the New Gods was far from an end to their epic existence. Darkseid and his siniter forces were reborn on Earth, creating a crisis that threatened to end humanity under the oppressive weight of the New God of evil and his proliferation of the Anti-Life Equation. With hero and villain under the control of his mathetmatic malfeasance and the direction of his harbinger, Libra; Darkseid appeared to have the day won, but ultimately it was a powerless human who brought an end to his reign. Batman, wielding the weapon that killed Darkseid's son, Orion, breaks his one rule, saving the Earth from it's darkest day and would-be final crisis. The cost of his success, however, is his apparent death as he falls before Darkseid's Omega Sanction, leaving a smoking husk to be retrieved and mourned by his fellows.

In Batman's city of Gotham, those who had become his family struggle with not only the loss of a loved one, but of the symbollic heroism that prevented the city of madmen from breaking. As the Dark Knight's absence from this plane of reality becomes increasingly evident, his enemies once again run rampant in the streets, spreading a plague of chaos threatening to destroy them.

Recognising the necessity for a Batman, two of the Dark Knight's former wards attempt to fill the void. In Jason Todd, there rises a lethal avenger of the night, whose methods are as deadly and unruly as those he confronts. In opposition is Tim Drake, the most recent Robin whose undying faith in Batman survives him to spur the young hero to fight to maintain the integrity of his memory. Despite his willingness, Tim Drake is not ready to be a Batman, and although Dick Grayson may have the strongest reservations of Batman's children, this very fact may be what makes him the most worthy of the role. Forced to realise this, Nightwing descends on Gotham to find his fallen brother, Jason Todd -- "Batman."

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