Best Shots Reviews: BATMAN & ROBIN #38, AMAZING SPiDER-MAN #13, JUSTICE LEAGUE #38

Justice League #38 Preview
Justice League #38 Preview
Credit: DC Comics / IGN
Batman & Robin #38 preview
Batman & Robin #38 preview
Credit: DC Comics / AV Club

Batman and Robin #38
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Patrick 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 something altogether weird - and yet totally sublime - about Batman and Robin #38, an interlude which gives Damian Wayne some room to reflect upon his resurrection and his newfound powers. While this issue might not answer any questions about Robin's new status quo - or convince readers skeptical of this new direction - there's something potent about the execution of this strange, superb book.

In many ways, the best comparison I can give this issue is of Devin Grayson's Batman: Gotham Knights - character-driven vignettes that bring plenty of spectacle while still bringing us inside our characters' heads. And from me, that's a very high compliment. From the very first page, you get the sense that Peter Tomasi is really writing about what fatherhood to an energetic kid is like, as Damian hovers over a sleeping Bruce and literally pries his eyelids open. "You up, Father?" Bruce manages to grumble "cave," then showing his kid the door. Another great sequence features Damian sulking in the Batmobile, with Bruce sternly telling him, "After what you pulled tonight, you can forget going on patrol for the rest of the week." It's a funny moment that many a parent can relate to, but it also shows us that the Bruce-Damian dynamic is better than ever. It reminds us that while Damian may believe the general ethos of the Bat-family, he's even more of a handful than ever before.

But ultimately, what drives this book is the action. That's not the same as punching, mind you, although Patrick Gleason does that very well. Instead, what I mean is motion, as Tomasi is able to let Damian cut loose, cementing this Bat-book as the most "out there" of the line (in case New God resurrections and battles with Darkseid didn't give it away before). There's lots of wonderful beats here as Damian literally flits around the globe, but perhaps my favorite is Damian carving his mother's name into her gravestone, standing amid a ghostly field of fireflies as he tells her - and perhaps himself - that "I'm still here..."

Tomasi brings Damian to some very weird places this issue, and it wouldn't be nearly as memorable without the artwork of Gleason. He's got a fluidity to his characters that makes certain moments more visceral, like Damian crushing machine guns around a thug's hands, or a nightmare zombie vomiting gore into Damian's face. While the actual itinerary Tomasi puts Damian on feels a little superfluous, Gleason sells all of it, whether it's Damian single-handedly destroying his mother's old laboratories, or breaking every scale his father has by visiting a surprising guest star. What's most important about this book is that Gleason gives it all a strange beauty - in particular, the aforementioned gravestone scene may be one of the most gorgeous sequences I've ever seen in a comic.

Of course, there are some who might not appreciate the way that Batman and Robin plays hard and fast with the more street-level style of the Bat-books, and those who disapprove of a superpowered Robin probably won't like it being shoved in their faces. Yes, this comic does shift a little bit abruptly, but ultimately, it all looks so beautiful you won't care. This comic is an interlude, through and through, but it's one that's thoughtful and endearing, despite its occasional rough edges. Or in other words, it's similar to Damian himself.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #13
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

“Spider-Verse” drags on in Amazing Spider-Man #13, and the novelty is really starting to wear off. Sure, we’ve got all these different Spider-people, but they aren’t doing much of anything here. Dan Slott attempts to inject some pathos into the story with Uncle Spider-Ben but he completely misses the mark and takes what is a mostly dull issue completely into eye roll territory. Giuseppe Camuncoli does deliver a few of the more interesting moments in the issue, but “Spider-Verse” is buckling under the weight of its own inanity.

I really liked “Spider-Verse” at the start, but a lack of clear motivation from the villains and the (understandable) lack of clear distinction in the voices of our different heroes have worn through some goodwill. We’ve spent the majority of the event watching our Spider-people hop around between different universes, picking up new allies and losing some along the way. But it’s remained unclear why they are really being hunted. I understand that Morlun, Karn and company want to kill them, but I’m still not sure why the reader should care. Our heroes have made little strides in actually defeating their foes, and their constant infighting about how to handle the situation is kind of annoying. We’re talking about about over a dozen characters with similar personalities. It can get a little stale.

Dan Slott surprised many readers by introducing Uncle Spider-Ben last issue, and clearly he was going straight for the heartstrings with that character’s inclusion. But it falls so completely flat. Slott references the the Bible's book of Daniel with his “feet of clay” monologue, and while it does put the “with great power, comes great responsibility” maxim into the larger context of the Marvel Universe, it’s really only applicable to Doctor Octopus’s "Superior" Spider-Man. That’s not to say that Peter Parker is without character flaws, but his pale in comparison to Otto’s. Even Uncle Ben considering his own inaction a great character flaw is kind of a stretch and requires the reader to treat his character (whom we’ve only just met) with much less compassion than they’ve inevitably stored up for him.

Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art work really shines when we get away from the amazing Spider-bunker and into the larger world. Spider-Gwen and Silk getting into trouble as well as Kaine’s face-off against the Inquisitors are definite highlights that show Camuncoli’s penchant for action. But the smaller talking head moments are a waste. When relied on to give the book the expressiveness that it needs to sell corny dialogue, Camuncoli falters. It’s not even entirely his fault, as most of the characters are wearing masks.

“Spider-Verse” will be over soon, but even it’s conclusion looks to be overshadowed by Marvel’s recent S” announcements. These are all imaginary stories, but at least when the universe isn’t coming to a close they feel like they have some weight. The hype machine needed for Marvel’s next big event might have cut the legs out from under Slott and company, and that’s a shame. Up until now, the book had been carrying along at a nice pace. Unfortunately, it gets too caught up in it’s own machinations in this penultimate chapter, and muddies the potential for a strong conclusion.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League #38
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

For those of you who might not remember a time when Geoff Johns wasn't DC's most popular writer, there was a small, almost curious artifact over at DC's Marvelous competition - a short run of Avengers, featuring a then-unknown Geoff Johns and Olivier Coipel. Needless to say, that anonymity would not last, as Johns and Coipel wound up writing a tight, taut virus-based thriller arc by the name of "Red Zone."

So with that in mind, consider Justice League #38 a cover from Johns' greatest hits.

Like "Red Zone" before it, "The Amazo Virus" cranks up the tension and danger for a collection of high-profile superheroes, and does so with renewed focus and artistic vigor. Indeed, "The Amazo Virus" may even be more tense, given the nigh-invulnerable nature of DC's pantheon as well as the grittier linework of Jason Fabok. Either way, even with these dire circumstances, this is definitely the most fun Justice League has been since the launch of the New 52.

Following last issue's cliffhanger - namely, the infection of Batman - Johns immediately ups the stakes of this arc, as we pass through an eerily vacant White House to discover that not only is the government underground in the wake of the outbreak, but that the Amazo Virus is now airborne. With a potentially global catastrophe and a dying Dark Knight on their hands, suddenly Superman and Wonder Woman's battle royale with the super-adapting Patient Zero has much higher stakes. But Johns doesn't stop there, adding a very snappy twist to the infected Batman, giving him Black Bolt-esque powers of sonic projection. Making Batman literally blind as a bat could be goofy in the wrong hands, but Johns and Fabok absolutely sell it.

With an introduction this good, you might feel a little deflated with the talkier second half of this issue - but this is actually some nice character work from Johns. Not only does he choreograph a great sequence with Captain Cold, as the one-time Rogue protects Lex Luthor from an assassination attempt, but once Luthor starts talking, it's hard not to get pulled in. Unlike misunderstood anti-heroes like Magneto, Lex is a bad guy, and his twisted motivations yield some rich revelations. Without giving too much away, it always comes back to Superman, and it's great to see how much of a handle Johns has for both characters.

Fabok, meanwhile, continues to prove that he's ready for DC's A-list roster, nailing the balance between superheroic and super-creepy. Part of it has to do with the level of detail he gives his panels, as he paces the visual storytelling perfectly - watching black fluid pour out of Batman's blind eyes is a skin-crawling image, one that he then one-ups with a double-page spread of a sonic blast. Meanwhile, Fabok is even able to juggle seven-panel pages with no loss of clarity, and even accomodates some of Johns' more verbose sequences. And without revealing spoilers, Fabok makes the cliffhanger seem absolutely frightening. How will the Justice League come out of this one on top?

In many ways, "The Amazo Virus" is a return to form for Johns, acting as some of his best straightforward superhero work since, well, his run on Avengers. This arc is similar to "The Red Zone" not just for its epidemic-inspired premise, but for its tight focus on our heroes, giving Johns and Fabok the opportunity to really show it what it's like to have the world's greatest superheroes together in one adventure. It's a shot in the arm for a series that's quickly regaining its momentum.

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