Batman and Red Robin #19

Written by Peter Tomasi

Art by Pat Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz

Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

There's a lot to like about Batman and Robin #19 — and no, I don't even mean the introduction of The Dark Knight Returns' Carrie Kelley to The New 52. In a lot of ways, Carrie is actually secondary to this story's main plot, which swerves and careens but ultimately somehow still hits a satisfying bullseye.

Of course, that doesn't mean this book isn't deeply weird. Batman hasn't given up on his son just yet, and Tomasi and Gleason treat us to a team-up with Red Robin and DC's most famous undead avenger, Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. Tim, for the most part, actually plays a minimal role — which makes sense, since this story veers very close to another seminal Tim story from before The New 52 — but Bruce and Frank have a surprising chemistry together. Frankenstein moves from brooding and baroque to charmingly funny in the span of only a few pages, and while Batman is a little on-the-nose with his dialogue (and a little out of character in his actions), you can sense this is a man in searing pain. It's a great start for what could be a superb arc.

Patrick Gleason is another reason this looks so weird, so quirky, so good. He makes the action beats sing, particularly when Bruce literally swoops in and snatches the behemoth Frankenstein out of a demonic battle. His layouts are also some of the best — if not the best — in DC's publishing lineup today, such a page with panels stitched together like Frankenstein's gruesome body. He also sells the emotions of this issue well, like the look of white-hot anger on Batman's face and the sheer shame on Red Robin's as they have a disagreement for the ages.

Now, given what you've seen on the cover, you might think I'm talking about an entirely different comic. You're probably asking — what about Carrie? Well, right now she's the odd duck of the book. It's unclear her relationship to Damian, or how she even cultivated said relationship with a 10-year-old without either of the boy's father figures finding out, and that is a sticking point. It's also maddening that we don't really know what Carrie and Damian were studying — a small point for sure, but one that would help define Carrie beyond "dancing goofy artsy type." At the moment, she's just a stunt, which is both expected but a little disappointing.

But all you need is one good guest star, and Batman and Red Robin has one on hand with Frankenstein on the scene. This is definitely an odd book, and a bit of a tonal shift from the more real-world stories Tomasi and Gleason had been telling for the previous 18 issues, but the execution winds up being refreshing. We've already seen Batman's brand of denial in books ranging from Teen Titans to Fallen Son, and even with a stunt like Carrie putting a wobble on things, with a creative team this good, this is well worth checking out.


Uncanny Avengers #6

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Daniel Acuña

Letters by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

After Havok's controversial statements last issue, Uncanny Avengers needed a way to distance itself from its first arc while still addressing the core theme of evolution, and moreover, change. Rick Remender, who seems to have made evolution and change the twin themes of his tenure at Marvel, has found that magic bullet by reintroducing one of his favorite villains, Apocalypse, and finding some new ways to use Kang and his alter ego Rama-Tut. While there's a decided lack of the Uncanny Avengers themselves, the inclusion of Jason Aaron's young, arrogant Thor and the partnership - which I can't believe hadn't been done before - between two classic nemeses of the X-Men and Avengers more than make up for their absence.

Rick Remender has a knack for maintaining his voice, and the voices of his characters, even when his style oscillates wildly between a strange kind of homage to the comics of the silver age and, as in Uncanny Avengers #6, a decidedly contemporary take on long-lived concepts. Remender's use of Kang is particularly interesting. Remender's Kang is not the time-spanning warrior most recognize — at least not yet. Instead, he's a calculating manipulator, using his time-traveling capabilities to strike at his enemies before they've even met, and playing chess with those who can serve his ends. In other words, it's exactly the kind of stuff that Kang has often given long, overblown speeches about not doing, and yet, it feels like a natural progression for a character whose nobility has long been seen as a weakness by his enemies. On the other hand, it's possible, as hinted at by his appearance as Rama-Tut and his more youthful face, this is a younger Kang who hasn't yet adopted his strict code of honor. Such are the intricacies of time travel.

And that goes right along with that concept of change, of evolution. Sometimes bad has to get worse to bring out the best in heroes. Sometimes, it's about the way a hero has changed. By juxtaposing a young, brash Thor with a Kang who may very well be moving in a new, more vicious direction, it serves to show the way present-day Thor has changed as a god, and as a hero. Remender fills Uncanny Avengers #6 with in-jokes and subtle (and not so subtle) nods to continuity, such as Folkbern Logan's friend telling him, "Folkbern Logan... You are the finest there is at what you choose to do, but what you do be not very kind." Dialogue like that gets just close enough to being silly, but Remender fortunately knows how to dial it back before veering too far off course.

Daniel Acuña is another story all together. His art in this, his first issue as a regular series artist, is pretty far removed from his previous work, relying on ink and color to give it depth, rather than traditional media such as markers to add dimension. And it's good. Really good. To say it's "better" than Acuña's usual style is a matter of taste, but the fact is, it suits Uncanny Avengers perfectly, and looks great doing it. Acuña's characters are at no loss for charm and movement. His Four Horsemen are particularly insane and visually exciting, and his depictions of Asgardians hew closely to his bright, larger than life designs from his work on the Eternals a few years ago. What's most impressive is that Acuña handles every aspect of the art, from pencils to coloring, making Uncanny Avengers #6 one of the most fluid and visually well thought out books on the stands.

Uncanny Avengers has been about juxtaposing two traditionally disparate corners of the Marvel universe, and finding new interactions for the characters that populate them. There is a lot of overlapping history between the Avengers and X-Men that has long gone ignored because those two franchises don't "go together," but like the ever-evolving present day Marvel universe, there's apparently still time for the past to grow as well. Finding those connections and building on them makes for a perfect canvas for a team that, on it's face, seems a little desperate. On the contrary, Rick Remender is carving out a whole new niche for his Uncanny Avengers, one where worlds collide, and things we've long taken for granted are challenged.


Batman #19

Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV

Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, FCO Plascencia, Alex Maleev and Brad Anderson

Lettering by Comicraft and Dezi Sienty

Published by DC Comics

Review by Forrest C. Helvie

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

This month’s issue starts with a previously revealed gatefold-cover depicting Bruce Wayne menacingly pointing a pistol at James Gordon — something that quickly raised a number of questions from fans as to what would lead to such circumstances. Was Bruce at odds with the police in some way connected to Damien’s death? Had he gone over the edge following the back-to-back events of “Death in the Family” and then the death of Robin? While I won’t spoil the issue, I will say that readers’ questions will be answered by the end of the first issue of what looks to be a two-part story arc. And kudos to Snyder for the Beatles allusion in the title of his story, "Nowhere Man," since the song is one well-suited to the nature of his villain.

“Nowhere Man” works fairly well as a standalone issue with the sort of twist one would expect from an old-school Batman story, while still paying homage to recent events in the Bat Family. Batman #19 accomplishes a number of tasks: It tips the hat to the “Death of the Family” storyline in recognizing the toll it took on Batman, as well as the after effects of Robin’s recent demise. And while Batman #18 addressed the more immediate and visceral reaction to the loss of his son, this issue allows readers to see Bruce coping with the tragedy in a more thoughtful approach. Given the extremes to which Batman has been driven in the previous two issues, this humanization of Batman is a much-needed touch on Snyder’s part. Yet, Snyder is still able to deliver a plot that could be digested without much background knowledge of the events from Batman, Inc. #8. On an unrelated note, it’s also fun to see Snyder and Capullo’s take on some of the rogues from Batman’s gallery of villains not previous introduced…even if it is only for a brief cameo or two.

Per Capullo’s typical work, the line work is clean and crisp and the attention to detail is obvious; however, one point that stood out in particular for this issue was his creative use of panel composition—one of Capullo’s more unheralded strengths as an artist. At one point, Commissioner Gordon holds a gun on Bruce Wayne, and borders for panel make up a pistol grip with part of Gordon showing through the trigger. It’s a subtle detail, but an interesting one all the same as it sort of mimics a camera’s ability to zoom in on a small part of an object in order to heighten tensions in a given scene. This is one example, but there are others throughout the issue that should encourage readers to take their time and linger over the art instead of quickly digesting it.

With regards to the second story, I’m not sure whether James Tynion IV intended to participate in theme previously known as "WTF" or not, but his story will likely manage to elicit this response from readers—and in a good way! This is perhaps one of the first — if not the first — appearance of Superman in the Batman series, so it was a little surprising to encounter the Man of Steel in this story as he teamed up with Batman to investigate a seemingly abandoned building where police officers have entered but not returned. Tynion aptly captures the apprehension and cynical outlook Batman has for Superman, and taking into account Superman’s position as the “Golden Boy” of the DC universe and Batman as its “Dark Knight,” any representation of mutual affection would have felt somewhat contrived and ill-fitting. And yet, he does not allow himself to fall into simply mimicking Frank Miller’s antagonistic relationship between these two iconic heroes as we see Superman sincerely attempting to reach out to his friend during quiet moments in the story. We also get a better idea as what some of Superman’s potential weaknesses are—something not often addressed outside of the standard kryptonite approach. Overall, it’s an interesting story that leave readers looking forward to the next issue, and arguably, it goes further in depicting Superman in a more human light than even Batman. Given the rotating seat for Superman writers on Action Comics, perhaps DC might even give Tynion a try out on the lead writing duties given recent openings…

I also have to point out how Alex Maleev’s work on the art really fits this particular storyline. His rough-hewn line work plays to the mysterious and dangerous tone of the story Tynion tells. His heavy ink work certainly helps convey the shadowy atmosphere of not only everyday Gotham as well as the foreboding building that Batman and Superman enter with its equally sinister inhabitants.

While Batman #19 does continue to address the grief Bruce feels from Damien’s death, it still delivers a storyline with an interesting twist that will entertain both continuing and newer readers. In addition to providing readers with a much shorter and easier to digest story, it also seems to pique readers’ anticipations over the much-hyped “Zero Year” arc that will begin this summer given Gordon’s comments to Wayne early on in the issue. In many regards, this issue works because it manages to both address the concerns of the past while still providing readers with something of an opportunity to catch their breaths by taking a break from major cross-title story arcs.

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