BATMAN INCORPORATED #0

STORY: Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham
ART: Frazer Irving

I’ve been pretty on-the-fence with Batman Incorporated since it started back in May. Before the ‘New 52’, the idea of soliciting out the Batman name seemed absolutely ridiculous – even Grant Morrison’s name attached to it couldn’t persuade me to believe that a character as dark, brooding, and shadowy as Batman would ever think about turning himself into a brand. The concept, to me, seemed like an idea that came from a lack of ideas. What else is there to do with Batman now except make him go global? I felt like it conveyed a lack of creativity and inability to make new stories for a character that literally died and came back to life just a year or two prior. Batman Incorporated – as I mentioned earlier, to me – represents the epitome of what DC was trying to change with the ‘New 52’ – overly complex stories, convoluted continuity, and a lack of direction. Sure, Grant Morrison is one of the industry’s biggest and best writers, but even he is prone to slipping up every once in a while.

The clear exception to this trend is Batman Incorporated #0, an issue that lightly and interestingly gives readers the early days of Batman’s quest to expand his brand across the entire planet. With the threat of the vague and seemingly omni-evil Leviathan  constantly looming, Batman is actually getting paranoid. In true Morrison style, the narrative flow for this issue is pretty frantic, jumping back and forth between locales, setting up multiple characters while giving more insight to Bruce Wayne’s thought processes. We get to follow Squire and Knight, El Gaucho, Nightrunner, and others as they all vie for a spot on the most exclusive and prestigious club on the planet. And while I recognize how fun of an issue Morrison has crafted, Batman Incorporated #0 still feels a bit empty.

Morrison’s grand plan for Batman has been nearly six years in the making. Starting with “Batman & Son”, which introduced Damian Wayne into the fold, Morrison then moved on to launching Batman and Robin, which explored the father/son relationship between Batman and his new Robin. Eventually, Morrison moved on to the first (pre-‘New 52’) volume of Batman Incorporated, the third act whose name had a double meaning: ‘Incorporated’ because of the literal business venture’s namesake, and also because the series begins to incorporate all the previous elements of story Morrison had spent years laying out. That’s why the premise of BI is a bit flimsy, and that’s why crafting an effective “Issue Zero” would have been damn near impossible. Had Morrison given up any more information than he did this month, major events would have been spoiled. Obviously, the threat of Leviathan is going to come directly to Batman, and maybe not so much to the Batman Inc members. If you need proof, Morrison is stepping off Batman Incorporated after issue 12, which means he’ll have to wrap up the current arc with Leviathan, or DC will just cancel the title altogether.

It’s becoming more and more clear that Batman’s international army may not be essential to the story, acting more as lieutenants in this ‘behind the scenes’ war against the very essence of evil. In this sense, Batman Incorporated #0 is a letdown and a success. It let me down by offering very little in the way of story advancement – or even really any information about it at all – and with the staccato nature of the narrative. It was a success because Morrison does an amazing job focusing on the characters he’s presenting, giving them developed, clear-cut personalities even if they only get a few panels of page time. So even though they probably aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of Morrison’s plans, the origins of Batman’s soliders around the world is captivating, nuanced, and drawn incredibly well.

GRADE
B-
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SUPERMAN #0

STORY: Scott Lobdell
ART: Kenneth Rocafort

“What started out as mild scientific curiosity has become a matter of life and death!”

Oh my god, Scott Lobdell.

Scott Lobdell, oh my god.

The above quote might possibly be one of the absolute worst lines of dialogue I’ve ever read in a comic book. That’s saying something with the sheer amount of content out there. Then again, Scott Lobdell is not one for subtlety. In fact, he seems stubbornly against the idea that he should write as if a normal person were speaking, instead content to pen words that feel like an old man – obviously out of his comfort zone – trying to be witty, retro, and modern all at the same time, only to come up short in every department…oh, wait.

Honestly, I don’t know what Scott Lobdell should be writing. His penchant for writing inexplicably blunt and wooden doesn’t seem to have a place in modern comic books outside throwback stories meant to resemble books from the 1950s and 60s. He certainly shouldn’t be writing Teen Titans, Superboy, or Superman, the first two of which he helmed for the past year, and the latter of which he’s just been given.

Superman #0 is painful. So painful, in fact, that I found it hard to actually read the entire issue. Lobdell had a chance with this prequel issue to start things off right with his run on Superman, and he squanders it just as badly as he did with Superboy and the Teen Titans (but, strangely enough, not like Red Hood and The Outlaws, which has been uncharacteristically good under Lobdell’s watch). Superman’s parents are part of the Kryptonian elite, a class that resembles our own humanly aristocracy from the Victorian era through the early 20th century. I get what Lobdell is trying to do, but in trying to write the citizens of Krypton like upper class snobs, he’s made them all read like morons who just learned the finer points of diction and syntax and decided to have a field day. “So pensive you are tonight, Jor,”, “…everyone within a three-arc radius of the CRC are, simply put, no more,” and, “I would like to think that our days spent discussing continuum particle theory and our sweat-soaked nights spent on the magma cliffs of Corga had a…lasting impression,” are just some of the outlandishly terrible lines littering these pages.

One of the biggest draws to Superman #0 was the supposed reintroduction of Oracle, the moniker taken by Barbara Gordon when she was paralyzed by the Joker and confined to a wheelchair. But of course, Lobdell makes readers froth at the mouth for nothing, and gives us some alien behemoth capable of blowing the weird extraterrestrial horn first seen in Superman #1. Sure, it gives a bit more credence to the horn’s significance in the greater DC context, but as a ‘cool twist’ at the end of this terrible, terrible issue, it’s so much more of a letdown than anything else. The only saving grace for this issue – and I’m assuming subsequent issues – is Kenneth Rocafort’s art, which has always been good in Red Hood and The Outlaws, and continues to be quality work here in Superman.

I don’t even want to keep writing about this issue. Such a fail.

GRADE
F

TEEN TITANS #0

STORY: Scott Lobdell
ART: Tyler Kirkham and Batt

Just like with Superboy #10, Scott Lobdell proves with Teen Titans #0 that he’s not completely inept at writing the characters he’s been given. For this “Zero Month” issue, Lobdell gives us the origin of Tim Drake, better known as Red Robin: former protege of Batman. A few months ago, Lobdell shocked the fan base at San Diego ComicCon by announcing that Tim Drake was never an official ‘Robin’ of Batman’s. Instead, Tim’s been Red Robin since he became a caped crusader. In essence, Lobdell majorly altered the character history of arguably the most iconic Robin of them all (at least, on par with Dick Grayson) – this was a big pill for fans of the third Robin to swallow. But putting aside comic book fanaticism, it really doesn’t make that much of a difference – Tim still fills the ‘Robin’ roll at Batman’s side, his costume is basically an all-red Robin get-up, and he eventually moves on to let another youngster take the sidekick roll. The truly interesting thing about Teen Titans #0 is how well Lobdell reinvigorates a character who was more or less a carbon copy of Bruce and Dick when he was originally introduced.

Tim Drake is now a prodigy in both the physical and mental arenas. He excels at all intellectual projects, has the potential to be on the US Olympic gymnastics team, enjoys a completely happy home life, and impresses everyone he meets…and that’s the problem. After observing Tim in person, Bruce rightfully decides that Tim doesn’t shouldn’t be Robin. Dick Grayson and Jason Todd came into the roll of Batman’s sidekick because their lives had been shattered and broken, same as Bruce years and years ago at the hands of Joe Chill. Tim Drake’s life couldn’t be better – he’s got a bright future and his parents love him. There’s literally no reason for him to be Robin. But of course, Tim has a secret obsession with Batman’s secret identity.

This is where Tim goes from being a Golden Child to being a multi-faceted character who has a huge flaw: pride. After falling into Bruce’s trap by following set-up clues, Tim gets scolded by the Batman who tells him to lay off and just enjoy his life. Unsatisfied with that response, Tim uses his exceptional hacking skills to steal the Penguin’s fortune. If this behavior seems alarming and odd, well, it is. Tim’s meeting with the Bat didn’t discourage him so much as it validated his actions – Tim took the next step in his fight against crime without Batman’s consent because Batman even bothered to meet him at all. Lobdell has done good work in making Tim fundamentally different from Dick and Jason before him. His pride in himself becomes his weakness. Now, this wouldn’t be a Batman-related story without at least some tragedy. The hacking stunt causes the Penguin to put out a hit on Tim and his parents.

Tim’s parents don’t die. Lobdell avoids his pitfall and instead puts the Drakes into the witness protection program. The twist comes when Tim is left behind in Gotham – as a perceived orphan at this point – to have the chance at good and successful life he wouldn’t get being forced to hide who he is in witness protection. The end result is that even though he’s seen and treated as Bruce Wayne’s orphaned son, Tim’s parents are still alive. Somehow, this is going to tie into future stories, whether it be the upcoming “Death of the Family” crossover (which would make a lot of sense, considering the familial elements at play in this issue), or future arcs.

All in all, Teen Titans #0 is fantastic. Scott Lobdell’s writing usually leaves a lot to be desired for me, as a reader and a critic. This month, though, he really stepped up his game and gave a solid origin story for Tim Drake that may not be what hardcore fans wanted, but manages to change the character enough to make him interesting again.

GRADE
B+

TALON #0

STORY: James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder
ART: Guillem March

It’s got to be his costume. For a while now, I’ve been inexplicably averse to Talon, a series that spins out of Scott Snyder’s “Court of Owls” arc on Batman that quickly turned a large part of the Batman mythos – Gotham City itself – onto it’s head. The Court represented everything Bruce doesn’t know about his hometown, and that’s a frightening venture for the man labeled Gotham’s Son. Honestly, I don’t know why I was so skeptical about Talon. Perhaps it was the fact that another series had been cancelled to make way for one more Batman-related title. Maybe it was the relative freshness of the Court of Owls as a concept that made me question it’s ability to act as a premise for a stand-alone series. But like I mentioned above, I think it’s just his costume. Like the other three “Third Wave” titles beginning this month, it’s difficult to gauge Talon‘s effectiveness as an ongoing title because this “Issue Zero” is technically the series’ first, meaning there’s no ‘issue one’ to base a prequel story upon. It’s a bit wonky, but the system worked for The Phantom Stranger, so why can’t it work here too?

Talon #0 introduces Calvin Rose, the only person to ever escape the Court of Owls (besides Batman, I’m assuming we’re meant to know). Rose is an escape artists, able to free himself from even the most binding of situations, which is an interesting way to make his escape from the Court all the more believable. Though a lot of information is given in the pages of this prequel issue, it’s obvious that this series is going to be well-paced, balancing Rose’s personal journey to use his abilities to protect people with a focus on the Court and it’s many facets throughout. At the end of the issue, it’s evident how well James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder have crafted this story. Snyder is just co-plotting, so his influence is only slightly felt while Tynion’s impressive writing style shines through from the first page.

Predictably, the story of Talon #0, “The Long Run”, takes place five years in the past, when Calvin Rose first escapes the Court and strikes out on his own, always on the run. Tynion does an admirable job conveying Calvin’s growing uncomfortableness over the Court’s violent methods and murderous ways. Of course, there are some points that could have been slowed down/sped up, but in the end, Tynion gets his point across. Calvin’s personal ethics get in the way of the Court’s desires, and he ends of saving the lives of a mother and daughter he was specifically assigned to kill. Talk about walking off the job, huh?

Talon #0 does an adequate job introducing readers the Calvin Rose and the world we’ll be following each month going forward, and while this series is technically tied to Batman (who I’m sure we’ll be seeing at some point soon), it’s already created it’s own mood and tone that differs from the Dark Knight’s – while Batman is about the pain and the fear, Talon seems to be about hope and moving forward. Calvin Rose is already interesting and already has my sympathies. With a traumatic (but not too traumatic) childhood, a similar training regiment to Batman, and a conscience that beats out any Court of Owls brainwashing, Calvin might just be one of the more interesting characters in the ‘New 52’ so far.

GRADE
A

UPCOMING REVIEWS (SEP 26 – OCT 2)

Aquaman #0
(Johns, Reis)
– In Aquaman‘s “Issue Zero”, Arthur goes to Atlantis for the first time! Knowing Geoff Johns, this issue, while set in the past, will most likely connect to the upcoming “Throne of Atlantis” crossover between Aquaman and Justice League.

Batman Incorporated #0

(Morrison, Burnham)

– Honestly, I’m not sure how this issue will pan out. Grant Morrison tends to have a pretty set path when it comes to his intricate narratives, so this prequel issue might throw a wrench into the gears. Then again, since Batman Incorporated #0 is all about Batman recruiting his soldiers around the world, it could have no effect at all. Them’s the breaks.

The Flash #0
(Manapul, Buccellato)
– See Barry Allen get his powers! I’ll assume he also gets into his first bout after receiving said powers. This issue would be pretty boring, otherwise. Fortunately, that won’t happen with Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato at the helm, both of whom have guided The Flash over the past year and done a dynamite job doing so.

Justice League Dark #0

(Lemire, Janin)

– I’m skeptical about Justice League Dark, a team-based title that’s only focusing on one character. I had the same skepticism about Green Lantern Corps #0, and that issue was a total bust. Hopefully, Jeff Lemire can keep the magic going with JLD #0 (pun definitely intended) as he looks into the life of young John Constantine.

Superman #0
(Lobdell, Rocafort)
– Well, one of my least favorite creative writers is moving in on Superman. Scott Lobdell has decided that tainting Teen Titans and Superboy wasn’t enough, and now he wants to muck up the Man of Steel. Rumors have been flying about a Scott Snyder-helmed Man of Steel title coming out soon, which I hope is the case because with Grant Morrison leaving Action Comics, and Lobdell taking over Superman with this “Issue Zero”, Superman’s adventures are about to be lacking.

Talon #0

(Tynion IV, Snyder, March)

– I really, really have to stop second guessing Talon. I keep telling myself I won’t enjoy it, that it’s too narrow a premise to justify it’s ongoing status. Then I remember that Scott Snyder is co-plotting this series with one of his favorite students, James Tynion IV. Snyder has done phenomenal work on Batman over the past year, and now the super-popular Court of Owls has a series all to itself.

Teen Titans #0
(Lobdell, Kirkham)
– With Superboy, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash’s histories (somewhat) already explained, it’s time to focus on Red Robin, Skitter, and Bunker! I’ll give credit to Lobdell for actually focusing on more than one (or two, in the case of The Ravagers) character in a prequel for a TEAM-BASED series. I’m not expecting much, as I never much do with Lobdell, but I’m still excited to see how Tim Drake came to be Red Robin without ever being an official ‘Robin.’

4-Sentence Reviews

* Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #3 of 6
* Captain Marvel #4
* I, Vampire #0
* National Comics: Rose & Thorn

BLUE BEETLE #0

STORY: Tony Bedard and Keith Giffen
ART: Ig Guara and JP Mayer

NOOOO!!!! TED KORD!!!!!! At least, I think that’s how I should be reacting to Blue Beetle #0, which delves into the history of the plucky scarab, Khaji-Da with literally no reference to the original Blue Beetle. Of course, the scarab’s time on Earth after separating from it’s first host is somewhat glossed over, left to the readers’ imagination as to where Khaji-Da travelled in the years before meeting Jaime Reyes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Tony Bedard is joined by Keith Giffen for Blue Beetle #0, a (mostly) straightforward origins issue for the Reach scarab currently connected to Jaime’s spine. We already know that Khaji-Da is a sentient scarab symbiote that latches onto a host to carry out the will of the Reach, a clandestine alien race that has millions of scarab soldiers at it’s control across the universe. We also already know that Ol’ Da can’t control Jaime like the other scarabs can control their hosts’ minds, but we don’t know why. Beyond this basic information, not a whole lot has been unveiled concerning the scarab, until now.

“Sky Witness” provides a full character history for Khaji-Da, from the days before his creation, to his first unsuccessful mission, and through his time on Earth up until meeting Jaime. While the textbook-style narrative isn’t exactly invigorating or engaging in any particular way, it serves to develop Khaji-Da beyond being the loony voice inside Jaime’s head telling him to kill people and destroy the planet. And it does a good job! One of the most important aspects of the scarab – that Bedard makes sure is clear and understandable – is that they are actual sentient beings. It’s easy to slip into thinking of these little blue bugs are simply just pieces of a larger technological goal, but they each have a voice, they each have a personality. I was hoping to meet another scarab this month, maybe one that’s got an extreme personality to show the diversity of the scarabs.

The first half of the issue explores the origin of the scarab, followed by his very first test mission, wherein he finds a suitable host in the Stygian Expanse. Upon attempting to fuse with his new host – a small, blue/black skinned girl with four eyes – the scarab is rebuffed by a sudden explosion of psionic energy. Turns out that energy is coming from the child, who has tapped into her latent abilities to control antimatter. After being damaged, Khaji-Da recognizes his slim chances of survival, and escapes the girl who controls dark energy. Turns out she goes on to become Lady Styx, a villain on the same level as Darkseid before the ‘New 52’ relaunch. The scarab’s first mission is important because it gives a possible explanation for Khaji-Da’s inability to fully control Jaime – due to dark matter interference? – as well as sets up Lady Styx to be featured throughout the DCnU in the future.

The latter half of the book focuses on Sky Witness, a Mayan chieftain who descends into the wreckage of Khaji-Da’s crash landing onto Earth’s surface. The scarab was shot down by an unnamed Green Lantern, providing a second possible reason for the malfunction concerning total mind control. It’s odd to feel sympathy for a robot bug whose sole purpose is to take total control of a host being and cause unspeakable destruction to worlds around the universe. But there it is: Khaji-Da is a good, good character.

Sky Witness uses the scarab to defend his home from the violent Nahua Tribe. The Nahua go on to start the Aztec Empire, according to Bedard, and Sky – in his scarab armor, of course – becomes known as the vengeful god Quetzalcoatl. Sky Witness’s story comes to an end when even the scarab’s advanced systems can’t prolong his life any further. This is how Khaji-Da gets trapped in the ruins of a Mayan temple, only to be found years later by archaeologists unfettered by ancient signs of death and destruction.

I’m not exactly sure where Blue Beetle #0 should fit in chronologically amongst other issues. Even though a majority of the story is dedicated to the years before Jaime bonds with the scarab, the final few pages recap Jaime’s journey so far, and we eventually get to the current day with Jaime stuck in Reachworld space after being abruptly transported there by O.M.A.C. in the pages of Justice League International Annual #1. So, one could place it before issue one purely for it’s historical content, or it could go right after Blue Beetle #12. It’s a conundrum for chronological perfectionists like myself. That one nitpick-y criticism aside, Blue Beetle #0 does a fantastic job giving readers a fleshed out, meaningful history of the scarab Khaji-Da, as well as placing the building blocks for future stories. And really, what more could you ask for from this series?

GRADE
B+

4-SENTENCE REVIEWS (SEP 19-25) [update]

Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #3 of 4
(Straczynski, Kubert, Kubert)

Eh – that’s about the best and worst description I can give Before Watchmen: Nite Owl at this point in it’s run. J. Michael Straczynski hasn’t penned a bad story, by any means, but it also doesn’t have the same emotional or narrative weight as Minutemen, Silk Spectre, or Doctor Manhattan, relying mostly on it’s fan-service tendencies that feature Rorschach quite a bit. Dan Dreiberg may be a bit less hard-nosed than the other members of the Watchmen, but nearly every issue of Nite Owl presents Dan as more pathetic than effective – even when he’s got his costume on, Dan comes across as skittish and nervous, which isn’t who he is. Overall, Nite Owl isn’t the weakest series in the Before Watchmen gamut, but it’s down there with Comedian and Ozymandias.

GRADE: C


Green Lantern: New Guardians #0

(Bedard, Kuder, Bressan, Adams)

As much as I love the Green Lantern character franchise as a whole, Tony Bedard’s Green Lantern: New Guardians has been testing my patience, and GL:NG #0 is no exception. First off, this issue breaks a very basic “Issue Zero” rule and doesn’t take place before the first issue, which would be acceptable if there was a reason (like the introduction of Simon Baz in Green Lantern #0). But the only real event in this issue is that Carol Ferris becomes the new Star Sapphire representative for Kyle Rayner’s fading New Guardians, and that’s not a good enough reason to bypass a Kyle Rayner origin, seeing as this series is all about him! Even beyond this hugely wasted potential, the story isn’t even all that good, and really only serves to set up “Rise of the Third Army” just a little bit more – poor form, Tony Bedard.

GRADE: D


Nightwing #0
(DeFalco, Higgins, Barrows, Ferreira)

Another fantastic Bat Family “Issue Zero”, Nightwing #0 delves (obviously) into Dick Grayson’s past, giving readers a thorough new backstory for the original Robin, The Boy Wonder. While the death of his parent’s remains the same, Dick’s involvement with the Batman comes about in a new and different way courtesy of Tom DeFalco (scripting only) and Kyle Higgins – instead of immediately being taken in by Bruce Wayne, Dick strikes out on his own to hunt down his parent’s killer, often running into Batman who continually looks the other way. Eventually, Bruce adopts Dick as his son and begins to raise him while keeping his superhero identity a secret, only to have Dick discover it’s Bruce under the cowl after reading Batman’s body language. At first, it’s only a monitor duty gig, but in the face of death, Dick springs into action with a self-tailored Robin costume (which we get to see for the first time this issue) that brings about the first era of Batman’s sidekick – it’s a hugely satisfying issue that should be read by any Batman or Robin fan.

GRADE: A

Red Hood and The Outlaws #0
(Lobdell, Ferry, Guara, Booth)

Of all the series Scott Lobdell is currently at helm, Red Hood and The Outlaws has been the only one I’ve enjoyed on a regular basis – for some reason, the man seems to pour all of his relatable, grounded work into this title. I’m not complaining and in fact, Red Hood and The Outlaws #0 is one of the most satisfying issues of the run, offering the origin of Jason Todd: the second Robin and eventual Red Hood, thorn in Batman’s side and anti-hero extraordinaire! It’s hard not to root for Jason, a boy whose life went from bad, to worse, to a bit better, then ends in horrifying tragedy only to be resurrected and have the whole cycle start all over again. The final four pages illustrated by Brett Booth are the most revealing of the issue, pointing to the Joker as the mastermind behind Jason’s misfortunes as a master plot to create and destroy one of Batman’s Robins – it’s sick, twisted, and utterly shocking.

GRADE: B


Wonder Woman #0
(Azzarello, Chiang)

Wonder Woman has already been praised up and down for it’s dramatic and groundbreaking re-envisioning of the Diana, Princess of the Amazons, and Wonder Woman #0 takes things to the next level with Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang offering up an updated tale from Wonder Woman’s adventures in the 1940s! Diana is approached by Aires (War) who wants to turn her into the greatest warrior the planet has ever seen, meeting under the full moon each month to train in the ways of battle. In the end, when forced to kill to complete her task, Diana refuses and goes from being War’s star pupil to being his greatest failure, only now she’s a fully-trained, battle-ready warrior. Wonder Woman #0 is not only one of the best issues of the series to date, it’s one of the best issues from the ‘New 52’ so far – Azzarello and Chiang hit a brilliant chord with this innovative decision, it pays off in spades, and it shows how creators can tell interesting, meaningful stories without all the intricacies and complexities that are standard protocol in today’s comic book industry (just look at the chaos that is Teen Titans and Superboy).

GRADE: A+

Spider-Men #5 of 5
(Bendis, Pichelli)

While the rest of the critical world lauds Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli for Spider-Men, I tend to still see it as a self-fulfilling project that didn’t meet it’s potential because it attempted to reach into too many wells at the same time, in a span of only five issues. I want to stress that for what it is, Spider-Men is great – Bendis’ writing is spot-on, and Pichelli’s artwork is perfectly suited for Ultimate Comics – but there’s just so many instances where the story falls short and misses emotional marks. There’s a lot of story that can be mined from Peter Parker travelling to a universe where his teenaged counterpart has already died, but Ultimate Nick Fury puts the kibosh on any inter-dimensional travel and no one stands up to him or questions his authority at all – um…what? Again, I stress that the missed opportunities for this 616/Ultimate crossover are so numbered, it’s really hard to accept the fleeting nature of this series as meaningful or important at all (or course, Peter looks up Miles Morales in his world on the final page to which his reaction is, “Oh my god!”)

GRADE: C