Saturday, June 19, 2010

Comic Book Issues: Doubles Feature of Awesome!

The other day I read several really good comics. There were those that I expected to be good and were good (The Unwritten, Tiny Titans, Joe the Barbarian) and then there were some that were new that were pretty good (iZombie, Birds of Prey, Zatanna). And then there were 2 that really blew me away. So in a happy change of pace, today’s Comic Book Issues isn’t about a bad comic I had issue with, but two comics that were really really good and stood out to me. As always I’m a month late, and these comics are from May. It’s LONG (about 1000 words for each title) and rambles, but its happy rambling and not ranting!

Let’s dig into Batman and Robin 12 and Red Robin 12!

Spoilers ahead, you have been warned.

Let’s start with Batman and Robin 12. Now, I talked before about how I was enjoying this series up until the ridiculousness of Damian’s spine being replaced. And honestly, that still bothers me and makes me roll my eyes. But as long as I’m willing to ignore the silliness of that plot point and just go with it, things are okay. It turns out that that whole “new spine” thing had a purpose since Talia is now controlling Damian’s body through implants or something in his new spine. Rather, she’s letting Slade control Damian to kill Dick Grayson. And she wants Grayson dead because she doesn’t think he’s worthy of wearing the cowl of Bruce Wayne. And she doesn’t like that he’s “indoctrinating” Damian in the ways of heroic good. So why doesn’t she just send some ninja’s after him? Because she wants Damian to feel guilty for killing Dick. Yeah….she’s up for worst mother of the year already and I haven’t even gotten to the kicker.

I finally feel like Grant Morrison is showing me the Dick Grayson that I love. I was worried that this was going to be an excuse for Damian to look badass and kick Dick around, but no. Once Dick realizes that Damian is being manipulated he takes control of the situation and resolves it rather quickly. I thought it was a little silly at first that Talia got Slade involved, but it ended up creating some awesomeness that I wasn’t expecting. Dick doesn’t just best Damian physically in order to stop this mess, he uses the knowledge that Slade in involved to overload the guy’s heart through their connected nervous systems. The line as he held up the tazer to Damian was great. “Your heart can take this. His can’t.”

Then we got a fantastic bit of storming Talia’s stronghold (“My mother is going to kill you.” “She can try.”). Dick is not only pissed about Talia messing with the nervous system of a 10 year old, but also has unfinished business with Slade. Dick had no fear going to face Talia and her army of assassins, and that made me quite pleased. The best scene with Dick Grayson for me though, was when he confronts the recovering Slade in a hospital bed. Slade tries to pull a gun and Grayson smacks him in the face with his IV stand all while surrounded by men holding automatic weapons. While normally I might find this sort of action a bit unnecessary, Morrison reminds us of some unfinished business between the two. Slade ordered Chemo dropped on the city of Bludhaven, which Dick protected as Nightwing. The loss of an ENTIRE CITY obviously still weighs heavily on Dick’s mind, as it should. That’s not something a hero is ever going to forget. But it’s not unrestrained fury. Dick knows just how far he can take the situation while, you know, standing in a room full of armed assassins. He gets in one good hit and a promise of pain to come. All in all, I found it pretty badass. Dick is certainly more cheerful than Bruce, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to kick your ass when you really deserve it.

But the real strong point of this issue for me is something that I’ve felt was missing since issue one. I’ve felt Morrison’s Dick Grayson was hit or miss, but I have never really liked Damian. And during this issue, shockingly, I found myself LIKING Damian. Not just tolerating, but actually thinking positive things about the character. I’m still in surprised. Damian goes off with his mother to talk about the whole controlling his body thing and Talia, apparently concerned that she wasn’t being a horrible enough mother already, reveals that she is literally growing another Damian, in the form of a clone because Damian is turning out to be a disappointment. Ouch Talia. Damian handles this all rather well for a freaking 10 year old. He tells his mother that this is the life he has chosen, even if his father were to return, that this was what he wanted to do. Talia tells him that he can leave with Grayson, but that if he does he will be an enemy to the House of Ghul. I think it was Damian’s response to this that really cemented the character for me: “I hope I can be a worthy one, mother.” The art fit this really well too, and didn’t set it up as a sarcastic remark. This is a defeated kid who is truly hurt by the actions of his mother and is trying to get through the best he can. This is a painful choice for him but he is sticking to what he believes is right.

I was so worried when I saw the solicits for a “Batman vs. Robin” arc, but this storyline has really shown Damian’s growth as a character. In the beginning he was an arrogant punk who was “tolerating” Dick Grayson as Batman. And now he has grown to respect him, understand him, and share in his vision and ideals. He’s still a little punk, but he’s been taken down a peg or two. Last issue was probably when I started to feel for the character when he asked Dick if Bruce Wayne came back if they (Damian and Dick) would still get to be Batman and Robin. It wasn’t a dig at Grayson or a gloating statement of any kind. He was concerned with the fact that he could lose what he had come to love, not only his job as Robin, but I think his relationship with Dick and Alfred. So I must give credit where credit is due. I didn’t think Grant Morrison could make me care at all about Damian, but I was wrong. I’m still not sure how he did it exactly, but I’m rooting for the little guy. He’s still awfully low on the totem pole of Bat Universe characters in my mind, but he has a place there now.

It took him twelve issues, but I am really satisfied with this title now. Unfortunately, I finally became happy with it during the “Return of Bruce Wayne,” so I may not get to be happy very longer. I still don’t understand what the rush to bring Bruce back is when this title is doing amazing without him. But, that’s an issue for another column.

Moving on to Red Robin 12. First of all, I must apologize for EVER doubting Chris Yost. I was initially worried about this darker version of Tim Drake. I thought we were going in a whole new direction to completely change his character. I thought that Chris Yost didn’t understand Tim’s relationship with Dick Grayson. I thought a lot of things. But honestly, I haven’t thought most of them for a while.

This issue tied up all the loose ends from the last year. It showed an amazing amount of forethought and planning. Chris Yost wasn’t telling a year’s worth of stories. He was telling one story that took a year to tell. And the payoff was worth it.

I was worried when Tim teamed up with the League of Assassins. I was upset when he started settling for gray areas. But as he went through his journey I saw that he was upset for doing it too. The Robin series ended on a rather downer note. Tim felt responsible for the deaths of some innocents that he inadvertently put in harm’s way. It wasn’t really his fault, but he still blamed himself. Then during Battle for the Cowl, Jason Todd nearly killed him and left him for dead. Did I mention that Tim Drake is the one who let Jason out of prison to have a second chance? Yeah, none of the writers have brought it up either, but that has to sting.

So Tim really was in a darker place. And I guess he convinced himself that it was okay to compromise. It really seemed out of character, but that was the point. It was. And he knew it. And along the way he realized that he didn’t have to compromise. It was a big deal, not just some instant realization. It was something he had to work through, and looking back, the journey has been an excellent one. Yost didn’t forget who Tim Drake was. But he had to help Tim Drake remember who he wanted to be.

The other thing that I didn’t figure out until this issue was that Tim Drake cannot be Tim Drake without his connections. Tim had distanced himself from pretty much everyone important in his life. It was honestly weird to read about him completely on his own. Tim doesn’t have powers and he isn’t the world’s greatest or strongest fighter. And he knows all of this. He has always relied on his friends, in a very similar way that Dick Grayson does. And in that way, both of them are superior to Bruce Wayne. They are both natural leaders who can coordinate groups in effective ways and are not afraid to ask for help. So it made so much sense for Tim’s entire supporting cast and then some to show up to help him defeat Ra’s. I wasn’t expecting to see Superboy, Wondergirl, and Kid Flash but it was perfect that they were there. It was even more perfect that people like Manhunter and Man Bat were involved, as it shows that Tim can reach out beyond his circle when the threat demands it. After cutting himself off and running away from his friends, hiding behind a mask that wasn’t his to distance himself from them he came back to a place where he realized that he could not do it alone. And he didn’t have to.

This issue made everything make sense. I’m not sure that EVERYTHING was planned from the start. For example, I’ll believe that there was a decision that Tim saw something in the manor that made him believe Bruce was alive. It’s harder for me to believe that a year ago they knew it would be that specific painting. But I will believe that Tim taking over Wayne Enterprises was planned so that Lucious Fox could send his daughter looking for Tim. Things tied together too well for Yost to have been making it up as he went along.

The one thing that ALWAYS bothered me was why Dick made Damian his new Robin. The reasoning behind it never really rang true to me, even with the excuse that Dick couldn’t see Tim as a sidekick and saw him more as his equal. I still didn’t like that he never even talked to him about it. But this issue made up for it, at least a little bit. When Tim fell out of the window toward certain death I already knew what would happen. I remembered Batman flying off after kicking ninja butt at the beginning and I knew that with the innocents out of harm’s way Dick wouldn’t just stand by while Tim was in danger, especially with Ra’s al Ghul. So when he was falling I knew Dick would catch him. But later in the Batcave Dick asks Tim how he knew that Dick would be there to save him. And Tim’s answer was the same as mine really. “You’re my brother Dick. You’ll always be there for me.” It sort of completed the circle from the last issue where Tim asked Dick to trust him with hardly anything in the way of an explanation. And Dick did. There is a brotherly bond between Tim and Dick that goes a lot deeper than a single argument. Tim was mad at Dick, and heck I’m still mad at Dick for that decision. And maybe it wasn’t the right one, maybe he made a mistake. Or maybe not. But Tim has put that bit behind him and remembered that no matter what his friends and family are going to be there for him. And that’s a pretty good place to be in.

I am so excited for the future of Red Robin. At the end he mentioned having the costume altered, so it’s his now. He’s not hiding anymore, not distancing himself from others. He has reclaimed his own identity. If you have ANY interest in the Bat titles currently, I suggest finding the back issues or trades of this series, because it has been unexpectedly great.

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