Wednesday, May 24, 2017

DC's Rebirth Batman is more 'My Batman' of the Bronze Age

DC Comics' Rebirth is growing on me. Or at least the Batman side of the reboot is.

Since I'm a Batman fan, the key for DC capturing my interest is the way the Dark Knight, his supporting characters and world are handled. The first several issues of NIGHTWING are not inspiring and while the first trade paperback is by no means bad, it commits the cardinal sin of storytelling -- being average and even worse, forgettable. The covers for BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY are eye-catching. The interior art? Not so much.

The Batman in BATMAN: VOL. 1: I AM GOTHAM reminds me of very much of the Caped Crusader I adore. More caring and complex, than ultra-violent, bloodthirsty and emotionally distant, as he was written in the New 52 or Frank Miller's BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.

Is this Batman grim and determined? Check. Willing to help others? Check. Kicks plenty of butt? Check. Plays nice with others? Check. Focused? Check. Complex? Check.

Beyond all that, Batman's Rebirth costume is beginning to win me over. Most of it is reminiscent of the New 52 era  -- but without the armored joints, thank goodness. The yellow outline of the Batsymbol is enough of an homage to the Bronze Age and slightly beyond into the mid-1990s that it makes me happy. 

This BATMAN issue panel, from about 1972, makes it clear
that the late "Matches" Malone is a diguise used not just by
Bruce Wayne/Batman -- but also Dick Grayson/Robin.
Writer Tom King is a good fit for this take on Batman as he nicely melds a lot of the Dark Knight's past together. You might remember his name as the writer of the New 52 series GRAYSON when Dick Grayson was a secret agent after his Nightwing identity was jeopardized. King and the writing team had a great handle on Grayson's past as they threw him into a new 007-style future.

How can DC -- at least when it comes to Batman's world -- make this feel new yet fresh? 

King does this by including many nods to familar parts of the Caped Crusader's history, most notably from the last several decades -- from including Calendar Man, Bruce Wayne dressing as "Matches" Malone (now a FBI agent instead of being a mob enforcer), Professor Hugo Strange and Psycho Pirate (isn't he an Earth-2 villain?). Lucius Fox returns to roots of being the financial and business mastermind behind Wayne Enterprises and not the master inventor he was during the New 52 years.

But there are some recent parts of DC's more recent past -- Amanda Waller, General Sam Lane and Duke Thomas, a young black man who is living at Wayne Manor. 

I'm not familiar with Duke, but from what I can surmise, he first appeared late in the New 52 era. Duke apparently was a Robin in the I AM ROBIN series (something I never read). Here he's Felicity Smoak (computer/Oracle support) to Wayne's Batman. It's not clear why Duke is still around or what his backstory is, but he provides a bit of a foil for Wayne/Batman. 

Artist David Finch helps King reinforce this unqiue combination of new, old and homage. 

Batman drives the Batmoble from the 1989 film starring Michael Keaton before he trashes it and then is behind the wheel of the version from the mid-1990s. Commissioner Jim Gordon -- still a relatively young man and a redhead as he was in BATMAN: YEAR ONE -- has returned to smoking a pipe. 

Finch's art is strong in I AM GOTHAM, but he's replaced by Mikel Janin in the second volume, I AM SUICIDE. As with so many artists in this modern era of comics, artists generally seem to be only hired for one storyline, which ends up being four to six issues long. 

Janin and Mitch Gerads do a fine job, but their art is too heavily inked and lacks the personality that Fitch's pencils do. Their style simply leaves me wanting for some reason. If this were a race, the artists in the second volume would come in a distant second.

The same could be said for the storylines in each trade paperback. 

The focus on new Superman-like protagonists Gotham and Gotham Girl is much more interesting in I AM GOTHAM than the focus of No. 2, in which Batman and a company of ragtag, Suicide Squad wannabes break into Bane's Santa Prisca fortress. (Why is Batman so obsessed with breaking Bane's "damn back" if their prior history is vague at best and KNIGHTFALL isn't part of this continuity?) 

The Dark Knight and his team need to break out Psycho Pirate (who controls emotions) so he can help Gotham Girl deal with her emotions and come to terms with having to take her brother's life when Gotham went off the rails. The young woman's struggle with handling her grief gives King and Fitch the opportunity to reveal a Batman who isn't entirely afraid to talk about his emotions and share how he has dealt with witnessing his parents' murders.  

My biggest complaint is there's no clear reason for why or how the siblings got their Superman-like powers (flight, a hint of super-strength and "ultra vision"). The only reference we get -- and it's a blink-and-you'll-miss it one -- is when their parents tell "Matches" Malone that their father wired them a large amount of money and the two apparently bought their powers from an unknown source. 

What is shocking is King's take on Catwoman. 

In the first volume, we hear Selina Kyle is being held in Arkham Asylum on 237 murders. EEK! "My Catwoman" is no killer -- and Batman believes the same.

Batman later uncovers that Kyle took the fall for Holly Robinson's actions (she was first introduced in YEAR ONE when writer Frank Miller had Kyle start out as a prostitute and had her rooming with Robinson, now her only friend). 

What's weird -- and just plain awkward -- is that Batman calls Catwoman "Cat" and she calls him "Bat" -- and what's shocking is King and Finch make it abundantly clear that the two have sex. On a rooftop. 

The seduction/sex scene takes place over the course of no less than eight pages. King tries to be clever by incorporating Kyle's memory of how they first met (Catwoman's 1940 origin) vs. how Batman/Wayne remembers it (YEAR ONE), but that page comes off as somewhat forced and cheeky. So much for the sexual tension and the will-they-or-won't-they schtick that writers mastered over the last 75-plus years!

Grades
I AM GOTHAM: B; I AM SUICIDE: Story: C+, Art: B-

And now to find the Rebirth trades of DETECTIVE COMICS ...!

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