Best Shots Reviews: BATMAN & ROBIN #8, HIT MONKEY #1, more

Best Shots: BATMAN & ROBIN #8, More

Your Host: Troy Brownfield

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VALENTINE'S DAY SPECIAL!

Adventure Comics #7

Written by Tony Bedard; Art by Travis Moore with Dan Green, Keith Champagne & Bob Wiacek

Action Comics #886

Written by Greg Rucka & Eric Trautmann; Art by Pere Pérez, Fernando Dagnino & Raul Fernandez

Co-feature written by James Robinson; Co-feature art by CAFU

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

Love was in the air this week as two DC Universe power couples featured prominently in books released. In Adventure Comics #7 (or #510 to the older readers), we get a bonus chapter of "Blackest Night" action as Wonder Girl takes on her Nekron-controlled boyfriend, Superboy. Another couple, Nightwing and Flamebird, end up finally consummating their union after Chris Kent (Lor-Zod) gets a long overdue education on the nature of his legacy, as seen in Action Comics #886.

The "Blackest Night" spin-offs that have dropped in recent weeks have been routinely maligned as being predictable supplements to the oft-terrific main series led by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis. Some of those criticisms have been deserved, depending on the book. But for my money, Adventure Comics #7 thoroughly delivered as a clever send-up of the whole concept of pitting live-yet-vulnerable hero against relentless, zombified Black Lantern with whom the living hero shares an emotional bond.

While it was not surprising to see Conner Kent -- one of a series of heroes most recently taken over by a Black Lantern ring thanks to being deceased at one point, only to be revived later -- butt heads with Wonder Girl since they're so romantically intertwined, how their battle progresses was impressively rendered by writer Tony Bedard with the help of artist Travis Moore. With every adventure (no pun intended) Superboy experiences, the more he proves himself to be a lot more Superman and a lot less Lex Luthor.

Bedard gives the reader an insightful glimpse into Conner's internal struggle as a Black Lantern as he is forced to play witness to his outer self's malevolent actions against the young lady he loves.

In the first couple of pages, Bedard, with the splendid artistic support of Moore, offer the uneducated a concise background on the Boy of Steel, highlighting just the right historic points of his relatively brief existence that have led to this crucial juncture in his "life." It's kinda cute to see how often here, too, Cassie Sandsmark, played heavily in Conner's history.

Also worth noting, something I was not aware of until it was brought up here in "What Did Black Lantern Superboy Do?", is that Conner's in a race against the clock in that if he remains in a Black Lantern state of existence for long enough that his real body that's internalized would decay into nothingness. It's a testament to Conner that in a weakened state he displays the wherewithal to tap access his "mortal" state in one instance to get some help (good boy, Krypto!) and in another to play an ace-in-the-hole, all the while showing loads of willpower. This supplemental chapter to "Blackest Night" is certainly one to put in the win column, and a definite highlight to the crossover series.

As for Action Comics #886, well, while the romance is there, the lead feature is bogged down with a prose entry that dominates the book for all the wrong reasons.

In Part 4 of "Divine Spark," things suffer when there's too much "divine" and not enough "spark." Essentially what happens is that Flamebird provides the information Nightwing's been seeking (or lacking, depending on your point of view) to better understand the dynamic between their spiritual predecessors. While this is invaluable to the characters as well as the readers, there were better more concise methods in which this fable from the "Book of Rao" could be presented.

Personally I think I'd have been less likely to glaze over the 10-page sequence if they'd utilized a more retro comic book style in the illustrations and coloring. A great touch is when flashbacks are produced in a style distinctively different from the present day narrative. I very quickly tuned out the way it was laid out here since simply employing a different art team for the sequence proved insufficient.

But Greg Rucka & Eric Trautmann's story did finish strong as Nightwing and Flamebird turned a major corner in their relationship, taking things to a most intimate level.

Unfortunately the fun, sexy time is cut short by an unwelcome return of Kryptonian sleeper Jax-Ur. The more I saw his character act out in his scenes, though, the more I wondered if he figures into the Book of Rao story as much as Chris and Thara did, in a theoretical sense. Is Jax-Ur more builder, or breaker?

Either way, the fact that both this book and the one covered earlier came on the same week, one universally recognized as a special time to love the one your with, well how could you not in some way be but a little moved?

Batman and Robin #8

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Cameron Stewart

Colors by Tony Avina

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

While the jury may still be out on how this "Blackest Knight" arc will withstand the test of time, you've got to hand it to Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart -- they really do know how to up the ante. Despite some mild fine-tuning issues with some of the story logic, this sophomore chapter is making me really excited to see where this series goes next.

In terms of the writing -- well, it's a testament to Morrison that he takes an "impossible" seeming arc of trying to bring Batman back from the dead and runs with it. Using a bit from last year's Final Crisis as the hinge for his story, you get a sense that the long-term plotting of Morrison's best work is finally back. Whether it's using insanity as a weapon or the actual act of death as a plan to win -- well, there aren't exactly a whole lot of answers here, but the set-up here is immaculate.

Cameron Stewart, meanwhile, excels when it comes to motion and choreography. The sequence of Batman versus Batman simply kills, and he's aided by some smart color coordination by Tony Avina. There's just something unsettling about the resurrected Batman's very mannerisms, with a smile or gritted teeth showing so much menace. I dig Stewart as a penciler, but part of me wishes he would pass the inking duties elsewhere -- his shadows have a lot of thin linework, whereas part of me feels a lusher ink job would have helped give the story more weight.

That said, there are a few hiccups here. There are definitely people who are going to feel annoyed or lost that Morrison is tapping back to Final Crisis -- to his credit, Morrison doesn't really draw out much of the mystery here, but doesn't really give Dick Grayson a compelling reason to think that this returned Batman might not be who they all thought he was.

Just over a year ago, Grant Morrison did what we all thought would have been impossible -- he killed the Batman. But impossible seems to come easy to the mastermind behind Batman and Robin, as he and Cameron Stewart do set up quite the effective set-up issue. What will happen when we see the rematch of Batman versus Batman is still undecided -- but if Morrison can pay off on all these nice plots he's been setting up here, this is looking to be one spectacular arc.

Hit Monkey #1

Written by Daniel Way

Art by Dalibor Talajic

Published by Marvel

Review by Troy Brownfield

Originally published by Marvel as a digital comic, the first issue of “Hit-Monkey” puzzles me a bit. It’s an attempt to be different, but it’s a studied attempt to be different. Mannered where it should be gonzo, and slavishly imitative of its likely source inspiration without doing much that’s different, “Hit-Monkey” comes off as safe wackiness.

The story itself, with the human assassin rescued by monkeys and accidentally passing on his knowledge to one angry member of the troop, might feel a little more original if it weren’t so steeped in so many pre-existing comic and/or Hong Kong film predecessors. Way’s narration was so serious and so cut in this vein that I even began to recognize (or believe that I recognized) individual panels echoing things like the opening shots of “The Bride with White Hair”.

Talajic does a fine job overall. Yes, I felt like there were a number of homages creeping into the panels, but that wouldn’t have bothered as much if it felt like there were a little bit more humor about the affair. Even the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, which frequently played elements pretty straight, was aware of the inherent ridiculousness of part of the premise. “Hit-Monkey” is overly serious, and that’s a drag on something that, from the cover, looks like it could be a lot more fun. If subsequent issues play more “Burn Notice” than “24”, they might be on to something.

Batgirl #7

Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Pencils by Lee Garbett

Inks by Trevor Scott
Colors by Guy Major
Letters by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Review by Amanda McDonald

"How can you gallivant about town with your hair out like that? It's not only a tactical error, but you're leaving yourself wide open to having your identity revealed." ~ smart mouthed ten-year-old, Damian Wayne as Robin

Damian Wayne and Stephanie Brown do not get along. At all. However their personalities and prides must take a back seat in this issue as the two work together to save Dick Grayson's Batman from the crosshairs of Roulette and her cronies. Of course the two are not alone in this mission, as in previous issues, Barbara Gordon's Oracle is at the helm of the Bat-computer directing Stephanie and working her tech magic to control as much of the situation as possible from behind the scenes.

This issue was heavy on action for the first two-thirds or so of the book, and I found myself actually wondering if it was going to be all ass-kicking, or if it would eventually get back to the dynamics of the Bat family that I have previously relished in the series. It does, but not before Steph knocks out some moves that even the stoic Batman compliments her for. We get to see Damian and Steph soften up a bit around each other, as they sit and watch Dick and Babs converse-- also seeming to soften up and come to the conclusion they need to work together, or at least respect each other's work-- with Dick joking, "so. . . what. . . you get Alfred on alternating weekends?"

I would have been just fine with the issue ending there, but it does not. Steph is perched atop a rooftop, ruminating on the fact her classmate Francisco has checked on her, and she can give him a pass on not checking in on her sooner. I get that we need to see the human side of a superhero character, and that's why Miller has included this side of Stephanie's life, as well as her relationship with her mother, and status as a student. I find the mom story and the student story interesting -- I just can't find myself sympathizing with her on the matter of whether a boy likes her or not. I think it's just a disconnect -- as a woman in my 30s, I don't care to read about teenage romance and the subsequent turmoil it entails, and I fear this relationship with her classmate heading that direction.

I realize I may sound like a cranky spinster saying this, and it really is not my intention. I genuinely enjoy this book, and the only fault I can find in it is this tiny sub-story that grates my nerves. Miller's storytelling is strong and I'm loving the relationships he is depicting among all these members of the post-Bruce Wayne Bat family. Garbett's art and paneling flows seamlessly and just seems to "fit" the book.

I'm curious to know what the Newsarama readers think of this book -- in talking with other comic fans when the series began I got a lot of love it or hate it reactions. I know there was controversy when we all found out Stephanie would be taking over Cassandra Cain's role, but now that the buzz from that has died down and we've either embraced her position (or as some have -- resigned themselves to it) -- we're seven issues in and at the end of this arc. Having no idea what the next steps will be, and not wanting any spoilers (okay, okay -- pun intended), I do look forward to the next arc and hope to see this book shine doing what it has done best thus far and continuing to create a new world in which the members of the Bat family work together to preserve the protection Gotham deserves.

PELLET REVIEW:

Realm of Kings: Imperial Guard #4 (Marvel; by Troy): Abnett and Lanning continue their cosmic winning streak as the Imperial Guard, the Starjammers, and Quasar face off against corrupted copies of the X-Men issuing from The Fault. It’s an action-packed issue, featuring some sharp twists, some good character moments, and high-impact art by Kevin Walker. I look forward to reading the whole thing in collection, as that format always adds to the flow and scope.

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