Best Shots Comic Reviews: BATMAN & ROBIN ANNUAL, THOR: GOD OF THUNDER, More

Batman and Robin Annual #2
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Batman and Robin Annual #2
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Doug Mahnke, Pat Gleason, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Tom Nguyen, Mark Irwin, Mick Gray, Mahnke, and Tony Aviña
Lettering by Dezi Sienty and Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Peter Tomasi continues to impress with his technical ability as a writer to keep work with a Batman and Robin title, even without its primary Robin. In this case, he uses flashbacks and point of view to give the readers a moderately exciting and heartfelt tale while still managing to incorporate Damian Wayne into the story, despite his death.

Tomasi decides to use the first Robin, Dick Grayson, as a vehicle to tell the story, which adds a great mix of light-hearted humor and action that reminds the reader of a decidedly happier time. He commits to the point of view, letting Dick color the story with his own unique perspective: having the dialogue at school be a mixture of nonsensical “blahs” peppered in with actual subject matter lets the reader know that to trust the story, they have to trust Dick. It also adds a light-hearted humor that’s been absent from the main narrative due to the dark subject material.

Tomasi, like the other Batman writers who have started to take their own spin on classic origin stories, delivers a unique rendition of Robin’s beginning in “Batman and Robin: Week One” (reminiscent of Robin: Year One). The story did well to establish more background in the New 52 Batman family dynamic and really flesh out how Batman and Robin came to be the Dynamic Duo. It’s clear from the story that Tomasi is showing us a Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson that still have a ways to go before they trust each other.

Capturing the teenage voice and personality perfectly, Tomasi does a wonderful job creating realistic dialogue and scenes within the context of the relationship Dick and Bruce are trying to build. The best scene, in this sense, definitely had to be where Dick apologizes to Bruce: every child knows those times they’ve prepared the best apology speech, admitting they were wrong and their parents were right, and that saying this apology speech will show they’re so mature and deserving of what they initially wanted. Of course, it doesn’t work for them and neither did it work for Dick, but as someone who’s just exiting the teenage years, it felt eerily similar to personal situations in the past.

Although the issue as a whole was pretty strong, there seemed to be a few scenes missing. In the beginning, especially, when Bruce was going into the ceiling — it felt like there needed to be one or two pages prior leading up to why he was up there in the first place, as it felt all too convenient for him to find anything. Likewise, it felt too convenient for Dick to just be in the area — Tomasi could have given the reader insight on the current Batman and Nightwing relationship, had Bruce asked Dick to make the trek all the way from Chicago. This would’ve provided a great foil between how they were in the past to how they are now and would’ve given Tomasi an opportunity to comment on that as the writer. It was nice, however, to see a variation of the classic Nightwing costume, though it leaves the reader questioning why exactly the blue turned to red in the future and if that change was really significant.

Tusk, meanwhile, felt too much like a plot device and less like a character; it’s unlikely we’ll ever see him again, and the narration and story does little to make him memorable. This characterizes the issue overall, as well. Although it’s a nice and heartfelt story, and really plucks the heartstrings by making the reader remember Damian’s loss for yet another time, the story fails to break grounds and simply remains to be an ultimately decent comic book.

Doug Mahnke took the helm for visuals with this issue, Patrick Gleason credited as “with” rather than the primary artist. Mahnke stays close to Gleason’s style, with only the occasional mishaps — specifically Damian’s mouth, for some odd reason stood out as strange-looking at times. For an issue with a wide array of inkers, the team did admirably to stay similar to one another and make their work flow seamlessly without too much variation.

Tomasi excels as a writer, both in his technical ability and in creating interesting and engaging content. Unfortunately, because the most interesting dynamic between Bruce and Damian is lost, he has to make do with what he’s got. Overall, he’s making the stories the best they can be — this one being no exception — but it’s still missing the heart provided by that young, arrogant Robin we all have come to sorely miss.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Thor: God of Thunder #18
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Das Pastoras
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Brendan McGuirk
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Jason Aaron must love Thor, because the signature flourish of his time on Thor: God of Thunder has been tripling down on the number of Odinsons in the title. There's “our” Thor, the current-day Avenger; King Thor, who has finally taken over the throne of Odin, in the far-flung future; and there is the Viking-era, pre-Mjolnir, pre-humility, pre- well, let's just call him what he is; pretty much an a-hole Thor. He's boisterous and vain and unworthy and completely amazing.

By the eighteenth issue of the current iteration of the Thor title, it was time for a-hole Thor's close-up. Das Pastoras takes up art chores, lending a notably European illustrative style to the throwback tale of drunken dragons and lady warriors.

Young Thor has a hangover, doesn't know where he is, how he got there, why everyone is so upset with him, and what smells. It's a helluva place to start a wayward young man's story. Oh, and there's a dragon named Skabgagg. He's hungover, too.

Those are the makings of a perfect standalone story.

What stands out most, in the work of both Aaron and Pastors, is its vibrancy. There is real revelry in the color, life and absurdity of the character on the part of the creators, and that revelry seeps over to the reader experience. It's hard not to enjoy someone who is enjoying himself so much. And as the fog clears from the mind of clouded-up Thor, and the world comes into focus, we see why he finds it so easy to take his life less than seriously. He has no consequences, right up until he does.

Thor, Skabgagg the friendly-drunk dragon, and the lady-warriors the two have imposed on piece together the events of the night before. They've made a mess of things. Loathe though he is to admit it, Thor has made a mess of things. And he's not quite a-hole enough to neglect that responsibility, so he has to clean up after himself.

Pastoras' work is remarkably impressive. His character acting is on point, from the stoic, fed-up shieldmaidens to the out-of-his-depth thunder god. His dog-like dragons have the imposing mass to instil fear and a sense of consequence, but maintain an emotive range that distinctly separates great dragons from other, less nuanced monsters. The deep, pastel color work is phenomenal and truly gives a Dark Age feel to the story.

The joy of the three Thors springs from our knowledge that the only thing that truly separates them is temperament. Thor's core character arc hinges on a struggle with humility, so while the hero we know and love has settled down some, that same struggle continues to bubble under the surface. His demons are corralled, but not conquered.

Old-Thor and now-Thor, while they act with more measurement and control, still have the voice of that can't-tell-me-nothing godling rattling about in their heads, shaming them. Avenger peers may know Thor to be noble and self-controlled, but inside he remembers that the too brash to lift Mjolnir child is still bubbling underneath. The many-Thors narrative device is a genius way to explore Thor's growth and character, and reveals itself here. Young Thor can pretend that not having a care in the world is all fun, all the time, but eventually the buzz wears off, the party is over, and there's no avoiding the fallout and the hangover.

Thor meets a drinking buddy. Thor makes a mess. And Thor learns about accountability. While Odin never shows his one-eyed face in this issue, its a story of fathers and sons and expectations. It manages to be genuinely poignant and laugh-out-loud funny. Thor himself may not be worthy in this story, but it is certainly a tale worthy of Thor.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Miracleman #2
Written by Mick Anglo (1954-1955) and Alan Moore (1982)
Art by Mick Anglo (1954), Don Lawrence (1955), Garry Leach (1982),Steven Dillon (1982), Alan Davis (1982), Paul Neary (1982), and Steve Oliff (2014)
Letters by Joe Caramagna Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Miracleman #2 provides a mix of material - some that drives the main plot line forward, some that provides a glimpse into future storylines, and still others that give readers a second look into the past of Miracleman through original stories from the 1950s and more insights into the history of comics publication in the U.K. Whether or not superhero fans should read it is not the question; instead, it becomes more of an issue as to whether you are willing to wait or not.

First though, let's talk art. Artistically, this comic demonstrates its ability to stand up decades after its initial publication through its blending of realism and the superhero flavor of the surreal. One issue of debate from Issue #1 was the censoring of Liz Moran – in one digital edition, she was bare-bottomed while in the print and other digital editions, Leach's art was left uncensored. In this issue (at least the digital copy I downloaded from Comixology), the original line art was left alone. Yet, nothing about this scene indicates an attempt to shock or excite readers. Instead, Leach's line work in the opening pages show a quiet, intimate moment as Liz Moran dwells on the recent events and the impact they are having on her marriage – for better or worse. Female nudity in comics should at least be questioned, given the objectification women have faced and continue to deal with in this visual medium; context is important. Here we see Leach does not go in for cheap, titillating shots; he opts instead to depict someone who could exist in real life (albeit, one who does still adhere to cultural ideals of thinness and feminine beauty). Yet, this all-too-real moment is interrupted by the unreal "Sshrrkkk!" of Miracleman transforming back into everyday Mike Moran, which Leach uses to remind readers that this story is anything but real. He's about to show us something super.

Finally, readers familiar with the original series will continue to notice just how much the artwork benefits from contemporary computer coloring techniques. With the inclusion of Kid Miracleman and the battle that ensues, the dynamism of Leach and later artists' (such as Davis, Dillon, and Neary) work is further enhanced. Moreover, the menacing nature of Johnny Bates becomes nearly tangible in both stories from Leach and Davis, which further reinforces the value of this re-mastered edition.

It's worth pointing out this issue is $4.99 – a significant concern for some readers out there. For those of you who haven't been anxiously waiting to have the chance to read these long-locked away stories or who have no real idea about the significance of this series, then trade waiting is probably the best way to save a few dollars and much frustration. For fans who've been waiting, however, don't let this be a concern. Considering acquiring a complete set of the trade paperbacks from Eclipse could easily run between $50 to $100+ per volume, $4.99 seems a paltry price to have the opportunity to read one of the most significant superhero titles of the late 20th century. Further, the price is only slightly higher than most standard comics on shelves today – of which this contains the typical 22 pages of "new" material – while still delivering nearly the same amount of supplemental material. I found the inclusion of the original origin stories of both Marvelman and Kid Marvelman especially interesting points of comparison when looking at who these characters would become in the hands of Alan Moore. However, if none of this justifies the individual purchase price, then I'd simply recommend trade waiting.

Regardless of when readers jump on board, fans of the superhero genre need to be following this rerelease. I mentioned this in my review of the first issue, and it bears repeating: Today's superhero comic writers "owe a creative debt of gratitude to Alan Moore" with his "raw and powerful literary deconstruction of the superhero." In Miracleman #2, we see Johnny Bates become the superhero deconstructed and rebuilt as a new kind of supervillain – one whom Pixar's Mrs. Incredible readily identifies over twenty years later when she asks her children (and the viewing audience): “Remember the bad guys on the shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings? Well, these guys aren’t like those guys. They won’t exercise restraint because you are children. They will kill you if they get the chance." This is a lesson both Miracleman and readers alike discovered about Kid Miracleman decades before.

Some readers may find this familiar territory, again, because they're looking back on a work with a backlog of twenty years' worth superhero comics that drew heavily upon the literary tropes that were only just developing here. In spite of this, however, this series – and issue – prove relevant even for contemporary readers given its interest in exploring the mechanics of what it must be like being married to a superhero. Given both DC and Marvel Comics' well-known dislike of married superheroes – which lead to aging their characters – this series provides a look into a subject that not being fully explored in the Big Two. Yet, the questions of applying superheroes to the real world is something fans continue to discuss making yet another reason for why fans should enjoy what Miracleman #2 brings to the table. Don't miss out on this modern-day classic.

Credit: DC Comics

Damian: Son of Batman #4
Written by Andy Kubert
Art by Andy Kubert and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Nick Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 1 out of 10

The idea of continuing the story of Damian Wayne outside of main continuity was initially an exciting idea with a lot of promise. However, Andy Kubert’s rendition of Damian: Son of Batman leaves the reader with a hollow disappointment as the ultimate story falls flat and remains train wreck of epic proportions.

The writing — especially the dialogue — is the main weakness of the piece. Damian doesn’t sound at all like a young man who’s gone through Spartan training. Having Damian yell “Dammit! That hurt!” and “I wasn’t going to get it if these turds won” leaves the reader wondering if this is the original or a childish replacement with unbelievable and ridiculous dialogue. That dialogue is peppered throughout the narrative pretty evenly — the reader never gets a chance to take the story and script seriously.

In most cases, it’s distracting from the main story because it’s so uncharacteristic of what the reader would expect from Damian, especially in the context of the internal monologue. Kubert can get away with using that monologue during the fights, because the text is formatted as logbooks done by Damian after the events transpire. However, they seem out of place because Damian’s commenting on them from the future and the dialogue doesn’t exactly fit at times.

Overall, not enough happens in the issue, either. Almost three-quarters of the book was devoted to the fight between Damian and the villains, while the last quarter was left ambiguous with the potential for further stories. The fight was too drawn out and monotonous, as Kubert uses the fight to catalyze change in Damian; however, he tells us instead of shows us through the internal monologue every step of the way, making the fight boring and dull.

Kubert fails to answer many questions, which leaves the reader confused, frustrated, and wanting less. Kubert made a point to tell us that Damian had potential brain injury, and doesn’t further expand on that at the conclusion of the narrative — this leaves the reader wondering if Damian’s an unreliable narrator or if Alfred really is a talking cat. Kubert and the art team leave it open to interpretation as they make panels with a strange green light in front of Alfred, which could be interpreted as something mystical. It seems that Kubert did this to add another layer to plot, to make it more interesting, but ultimately serves only to frustrate the reader and distance them from the narrative.

Questions about Commissioner Gordon as a priest, what Bruce will do after Damian saves him—will their relationship be repaired, and how the Joker revealed as alive will affect Damian in the future are all left unanswered. The inclusion of the Joker at the end of the narrative serves no purpose, as his presence isn’t explored further; in that respect, it feels like Kubert included him only as a gimmick, allowing the gravity of Joker’s fleeting presence attempt to add gravity to the story. It doesn’t. And as Damian plays out the next few pages showing him as Batman, the reader is left wondering exactly why the focus is on that and not a final confrontation between the two enemies.

The artwork, which would normally be the strength of the issue, fails to wow the reader. Kuberts drawings became overbearing and dramatic in the issue, with Kubert drawing from odd angles that detract readers from the reading experience. His composition was bland and static, using mostly rectangular boxes without any variation. The page-spreads were uninspiring and distracting—especially the one where Bruce opens his eye to watch Damian show restraint: the back and forth between the fighting and Bruce’s face is too different that it just distracts the reader from continuing the story.

The fights aren’t smooth at all, leaving the eye to jump from panel to panel without much coherence, and since the issue is mostly during the fight, this is seriously debilitating to the issue overall. The use of blood, especially, stood out as jarring — it was cartoonish, unrealistic, and didn’t add anything at all to the narrative, which feels like an overarching concern with the overall issue.

The entire series is best characterized by the final visual: a close up on Damian’s face saying “Damn right” in response to a criminal exclaiming “It’s Batman!”, with an oddly drawn smile on his face, and blood spattering up into the panel without reason. It’s uncharacteristic of the Damian we’ve come to know in continuity, unrealistic in its visuals and dialogue, and adds nothing but a dull end to a dull story.

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