Best Shots Advance Reviews: BATMAN & ROBIN #16, SUPERBOY #1



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Batman and Robin #16

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Cameron Stewart, Chris Burnham, Frazier Irving and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Want to know the real Hole in Things? That there's really three different Grant Morrisons.

There's Grant Morrison, Master of Spectacle -- he's the one who wrote JLA, the book that launched him into superstardom. There's Grant Morrison, High-Concept Spin Artist -- that's the one who transformed Animal Man from a Z-lister to a pioneer in metafiction, the one who turned the New X-Men into a metaphor for the cultural zeitgeist.

And then there's Grant Morrison, Mystery Writer.

That's been Morrison's most recent phase, the one that that's gotten the most heated responses from the comics fanbase, as seen in Final Crisis, Batman R.I.P., and almost assuredly with his final issue of Batman and Robin. With all these allusions to obscure Batman lore laced with New Gods mythology, it's difficult to see how Morrison can keep all these plates spinning and still make the landing. And while I don't know if this book will necessarily give everyone the satisfaction of a linear ending -- after all, we still have Return of Bruce Wayne #6 due out next week -- there's plenty of punch to the original Dark Knight's inevitable return.

Where I think this book really succeeds is where it always has: Morrison's voice. Structurally, this issue could be seen as the "how he did it" scene from all detective stories, but the craziness Morrison puts in his characters keeps this book from being anything close to commonplace. Professor Pyg really steals the show in the brief few pages he's in ("I'm not wearing protection, my darlings!" is probably the funniest line in the book), and Damian's all-business-yet-slightly-childish reaction to his father's suggestions is oh so Bruce-like. And while Doctor Hurt's origins are a bit more closely explained than Bruce's return, we'll just say that the conclusion to his arc is probably some of the best parts of the book.

Now, here's where I think the fanbase will be truly split: the art. Frazer Irving has spent the last four months absolutely dominating this book, proving once and for all that, yeah, the spooky painter guy who did Klarion the Witch Boy can absolutely own the Dark Knight. So it may come as a bit of a shock to see Cameron Stewart take the reins for much of this oversized book, with Irving pitching in about 10 pages of this 32-page giant. You can see, as far as Bruce Wayne goes, that Stewart is channeling a little bit of Frank Miller, with his square jaw and chiseled brow. That said, the mood that Irving had been stirring up suddenly dissipates with Stewart's more traditional, less shadowy linework -- the colors don't feel as deliberate or theatrical, so the world doesn't feel as alien. When Irving does return, however, he puts his foot on the gas -- there's a number of great little moments to this book, particularly the otherworldly howl he gives the Joker when he has the last laugh.

But here's the question that I think a lot of people will be asking about this book: Are we missing a chapter here? Considering Batman and Robin have been on a speedy timetable for the past several issues, there is a part of me that's curious if the final issue of Return of Bruce Wayne could have filled in some of the holes -- particularly, how did Bruce make his final return to Gotham without blowing a hole in time? There might be some disappointment on that score, but Morrison makes up for it with a verrrrry interesting finale that will make some sweeping changes to the Batman mythos that are more than a little similar to his changes on New X-Men. With 99 Fiends, nuclear bombs and the return of the Bat himself, Morrison the Mystery Writer might be hanging up his hat, but it looks like Morrison the Spin Artist is coming in to take his place. And that's perhaps the most satisfying rebirth of all.


Superboy #1

Written by Jeff Lemire

Art by Pier Gallo and Jamie Grant

Lettering by John J. Hill

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

If nothing else, the very idea of Superboy #1 is a smart move on DC's part.

You take writers from Vertigo -- the writers with the real creative buzz, that are already in-house -- and you capitalize on their success with some of your bankable superhero properties. It's worked in the past with people like Grant Morrison (Animal Man) and Garth Ennis (Preacher) -- even DC's competition has taken note of the creative potential of Vertigo, with Jason Aaron (Scalped) and Mike Carey (Lucifer) now writing some big books from the X-Men lineup.

So it makes smart business sense to see people like Jeff Lemire handed a break like this. Along with incoming Detective Comics writer and Vertigo star Scott Snyder, it's decisions like these that will inject some real energy to the DC lineup. And while Lemire's Superboy is a portrait of focusing on the small stuff, it's clear that there's a lot of potential in this sleepy little town of Smallville.

To be clear, it's a little jarring seeing another writer take on Superboy, after years of Geoff Johns single-handedly shepherding the character through Teen Titans and Adventure Comics. And so Lemire has a bit of a tightrope to walk in this book: He can't go full-on into character pieces, as DC has tapped that well too recently to go back, and Lemire's personal style isn't about creating some sort of crazy high-stakes high concept. Lemire is all about the environment, about human-sized stories in human-sized places -- and so he turns to Smallville. There's a hint of a Twin Peaks sort of weirdness when a man carves a little stick figure that looks like the Parasite, but having the sorts of weird supporting characters gives a nice bit of irony to this all-too-normal, all-too-superpowered teen.

The other strength that Lemire has is structure. Not nearly enough superhero comics have themes and metaphors or personal arcs, just external conflict for the good guys to wallop -- and while there's an art to action, character is where it's at. But Lemire has had to stand on his own two feet for a long time, not having the added advantage that the S-shield and years of continuity can bring to the table, so the fact that gives Conner a personal problem that he'll have to wrestle with, or the fact that he weaves in a smart theme for this done-in-one story, that's a good sign of things to come.

Now, the art is what's particularly interesting to me, only because it is a little sleepy... which fits in perfectly with the tone of the book. There are some hints of Mike Allred or Kevin Maguire or even Frank Quitely in Pier Gallo's lines, and I have to say, his inking is really strong. But that said, there will be plenty of people who feel that Gallo isn't quite energetic enough for their tastes, or that the composition isn't quite as stylish as it could be. Some of that is artistic voice, and that isn't going to change -- some of that is that DC is trying out a newcomer on one of their marquee books. I will say that Gallo does do something pretty interesting early on with one of his pages -- I don't know if the flower-shaped panel composition necessarily works, but I give the man points for experimentation, and it's that early moment that shows Smallville might still have some tricks up her sleeve.

Superboy may be a small-town hero in a small-town world, and it's understandable if you are disappointed by the less-than-sweeping moments that take place in this book. It takes a very specific kind of taste to take a first issue that reminds you to slow down and focus on the small things -- but it's a gutsy move, both on DC and Lemire's parts. If the end of the first issue is any sign, there's a lot of stuff going on in Superboy's world, and maybe we'll get to see Smallville as its own character, rather than just a set piece for Superman's folksy childhood. And that's a smart move.

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Action Comics #894

Written by Paul Cornell

Art by Pete Woods and Brad Anderson

Lettered by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by Russ Burlingame

I’ll be up front here and admit that I hate the idea of taking Superman out of Action Comics and replacing him with Lex Luthor. Luthor, along with The Joker, Deathstroke and Black Adam, could form a team of supervillains who don’t show up on film when they commit a crime, because they’re so overexposed. And while Wolverine, Batman and Green Lantern can get away with that, I’ve always felt that villains, who are by their nature merely a supporting character or a foil, really can’t. That said, I put aside that bias to read this issue because, let’s face it, everybody kind of wanted to know what Death from The Endless was doing hanging around an in-continuity DC Universe story.

While the initial “I’m Death”—“I don’t believe you” dialogue was a necessary evil, with nothing particularly clever or terrible about it, I’ll concede that Cornell really nailed what I feel is the tone and spirit of Death’s character with the much-reproduced page of her “proving herself” to Lex. I also can’t say how much I enjoyed seeing an in-continuity acknowledgement of Lex Luthor II with the splash page of Lex’s life review here. While it may not have been the most popular story, it was certainly not nearly as bad as a lot of the stories that have been retained since the second and third Crises and been referenced with a straight face. An example? The self-evidently terrific line “Sometimes you get killed by other dead people. Mostly you don’t.”

Ultimately, though, the issue is a pretty predictable talkie. It’s a bit like something that might happen in a particularly pensive issue of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Justice League -- more dialogue balloons than there are figures drawn in the issue. And the dialogue is -- mostly -- pretty good. The whole thing begs the question why Death, who tells Lex over and over again how “busy” she is -- can take the time to do a Jacob Marley routine with someone whose destiny (assuming there is an afterlife and anything resembling a soul or karma) is pretty well sealed, but that’s neither here nor there. Ultimately the final-page “twist” is pretty predictable, and the whole thing kind of feels like a placeholder -- albeit a pretty above-average one.

The Jimmy Olsen co-feature, though, is pretty dreadful. It feels like some of the worst Jimmy Olsen stories from the Silver Age, failing to bring in the sense of wonder that made some of his best tales fun and instead only falling back on strange space creatures and goofy facial reactions. Having not read the first part of the story, there may be some missing context -- but I really don’t feel like whatever that is could make the story itself worth reading.

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