Well, it’s apparently Second-Tier Batman Book Week. If you weren’t looking for any of the major ongoing books, but still wanted to drop some cash, this one’s for you. That’s not to say there isn’t any quality in the week (Batman Beyond is a fun book and any week with Neal Adams can’t be a total bust), but it’s a whole lot of books for not much that really…well…matters.
Batman Beyond #2
As far as ongoing titles are concerned, this is the winner of the week. Last month, the Batman Beyond concept returned from relative obscurity (it was popular in its day, but unfortunately faded into the background quite some time ago) with the debut of a new regular book. Adam Beechen’s first story arc kicked off with a very new reader-friendly story: Terry McGinnis, the Batman of Neo-Gotham, is enjoying some much-deserved downtime with his girlfriend, mother, and brother. Unwittingly, his trip to the mall puts him on a collision course with a disgruntled lab technician who has stolen (and somehow absorbed) the wand of the Matter Master, giving him the power to rearrange reality at an atomic level…but not giving him the ability to control that power very well. As Terry and his loved ones meander through a shopping center, this new Matter Master conducts a running fight with the Justice League of the future (complete with updated analogues to several of the JLA’s key members).
The issue ended with a standoff… not between the rookie supervillain and the League, but between the League and Batman. With his family trapped inside the mall (after Matter Master sealed the entrances behind him), Terry can’t risk having anyone close to him getting caught in the crossfire, ending the issue with a defiant Dark Knight staring down the entire League.
One of the strongest points in this new series is that Beechen strikes a pretty good balance between assuming the reader is already familiar with the concept of the book and trying to make it accessible to new readers. The plot clipped along at a nice pace, managing to avoid that tired old trope of having plot exposition masquerade as dialogue, but still quickly explaining the basic dynamic between the main players.
This month picks up where the previous issue left off, with Terry torn between his desire to rescue his family (and his personal desire to join the Justice League) and his need to follow the orders of his mentor, Bruce Wayne (who, in his role as grizzled old veteran, vehemently opposes Terry’s reliance on a team). You can’t go wrong here, folks.
Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne Deluxe Edition
Far and away the stand-out Batman release this week is this, the hardcover collection of Grant Morrison’s 2010 mini-series event. It certainly demands notice this week, with no other marquee titles to draw attention away, but it’s easily argued that Return of Bruce Wayne would have been the best release on most other weeks as well.
Comic book fans are somewhat inured (to put it mildly) to the promises that creators make whenever they take control of a title. Seemingly, the bigger the creator, the bigger the promises. We’ve all heard about the grandiose plans that “A-List Creator #1” makes when he comes on-board, plans that typically involve extended and labyrinthine storylines that build and build without resolution, continually explained away that it’ll make sense when you see where it’s all going. “Trust me,” they say. Frequently, those plans are derailed by the vagaries of the business side of the comic book industry, whether that means a book being cancelled before its time or a creator leaving for greener pastures before all of the plot threads are woven together. The end result, for whatever reason, is that a good-sized chunk of storyline is left dangling, nothing more than a trivia question that fans ask each other at the counter on a Wednesday, wondering “Hey, whatever happened with…”
Now, let it be said that Grant Morrison came to the Batman franchise with a pretty well-regarded pedigree…and even so, fans were justifiably skeptical at his pronouncements and plans for the character, as his run on New X-Men had been…atypical for the title, to say the least. Those doubts were strengthened particularly after Batman’s much-publicized death in the somewhat-lacking Final Crisis and the unsatisfying Batman R.I.P. (a storyline in which Batman was advertised to die…only to find out that his death would be settled in a separate mini-series, the aforementioned Final Crisis). This was what it all built towards: a clever one-liner, action movie-style death in a non-Batman mini-series? C’mon…
There was an almost audible sigh of “let’s just get this over with” when Return of Bruce Wayne #1 was released, a sigh of the inevitable and the unsatisfied. However, the majority of those complaints were rather swiftly withdrawn as it became clear that Morrison did, in fact, have a grand plan after all. Over the course of six issues (although it can be argued that his run on Batman and Robin is a necessary companion piece), Morrison proved that everything he’d done since he took over Batman had been going somewhere, that every detail, no matter how obscure or seemingly insignificant, had held relevance. When you combined six straight issues of “ooooh, NOW I get it…” moments with a veritable rogues’ gallery of quality artists…well, the end result wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, but it was pretty damned good. It’s easily worth your $30 this week.
Shipping this week from the Lame Duck Dept. are Azrael and Batman Confidential, both a month away from cancellation (mercifully, judging by sales figures), and Gotham City Sirens, which has more than a month to go, but is no less cancelled. On the mini-series front, the aforementioned Batman Odyssey is on shelves, as well as the quite-late final issue of Time Masters, which has seemed less and less like a Batman-related book with each passing month.
Next week, in contrast to this one, looks fantastic. We’ve got Batgirl, Batman and Robin, Birds of Prey, Knight and Squire, The Outsiders, and Red Robin. And, just in case you read something other than Batman, there’s another issue of The Flash and…it’s about damned time…the first trade paperback of John Ostrander’s legendary run on Suicide Squad.