Friday, June 26, 2009

Review: Gotham City Sirens #1

Gotham City Sirens #1

Writer: Paul Dini
Artist: Guillem March
Released: June 24, 2009

Let's start with that cover. It's the very definition of pin-up art, after all, featuring as it does three of the most salaciously fetishistic female characters in the entirety of the DCU, striking poses that can really only be described as being 'bootylicious'. From the well-defined hamstrings of Poison Ivy, the high-lighted roundness of Harley Quinn's buttocks, and the striking whip of Catwoman as she crouches with legs spread, this cover is pure pulp-level comic book sex. All of this dramatically uplit by huge klieg light and under the title Gotham City Sirens. One can feel the sharp bite of high heel and smooth coolness of latex by just holding the book in one's hand. It's stunning, really, and brazen, and announces the start of this new monthly title with a sly wink, gentle slap, and low growl.

It is always unwise to judge a book by its cover, just as unwise to judge a villainess by her protruding cleavage, so one must turn over this cover and partake of the story inside. There the reader is confronted by three very different characters, all fully-formed with enough backstory each to substantiate them in their own rights. Each one has played both victim and villain at one time or another, and each has had a special connection with Batman and the city of Gotham on some level, none more close or as serious as Catwoman, of course. So besides from bringing sexual allure and bold fetish costumes to the table, each brings with them substance of character that makes this book worthy of more than just ogling. After all, there would need to be substance to substantiate all the jiggle, surely, for things can not exist to purely bring about only playful pleasures of the flesh, right? Well, that's philosophical academic debate for another time, another review, perhaps. For now, it is only important to know that I found this first issue to be quite charming and fun, and not at all embarrassing to read.

While I come across many comics in my journeys that I would be loathe to have to read in public, say at a cafe, due to the over-boiled sexual content of the art or subject matter - namely, a fair amount of Japanese manga - this title would not be one of them. The female leads are strongly forged and presented with genuine affection, and they are presented in a story that shows them off in all their multi-faceted glory. Poison Ivy comes across as the worlds sexiest environmentalist speaking of her philanthropic financial donations to save rainforests from rampant clear-cutting. Catwoman shows herself to be the intellectual general officer ready to pull the girl-group together as she recognizes their individual needs and survival can best be served as a team. Harley Quinn provides the humor and childish fearlessness, as well as a charming little-sister naïveté to the group dynamic. Together they form a ridiculously comic, pop-art Charlie's Angels, minus the Charlie and the Bosley father figures. No, they don't need any male guidance, these sisters are doing it for themselves.

This first issue is really all set-up. We get allusions to the circumstances of each woman's most recent woes, as well as to the greater distress of Gotham City, and we learn that the villain community may be recognizing that there's a new man underneath the famous Bat-cowl. They kick the hell out of some ridiculous upstart wannabe villain and they trade witty banter, all of it leading up to an inevitable cliff-hanger on the 22nd page. It has all the makings of the most ludicrous sit-com. Can three Super Bad-Girls live together without killing each other? Hilarity ensues, credits roll, and "Odd Couple" theme plays in background.

So, issue read, let's revisit that cover, shall we. Is perception of this pin-up changed from plain cheesecake to something less fluffy and sexually sugary? Not really, and that's fine with me. I love this cover, and I enjoyed this comic. It's confidently pulpy, shameless, colorfully bold, and defiantly sexual. Those are all adjectives I would use to describe most of my favorite things in life, and many of my favorite women. Life can't be all Tolstoy and Beethoven.

Review: Madame Xanadu #12

Madame Xanadu #12

Writer: Matt Wagner
Artist: Michael Wm. Kaluta
Released: June 24, 2009

While I may not entirely agree with Strunk and White's advice on keeping my writing from being too overwhelmed by my personal voice, I generally do try to not speak too glibly and afford my readers the opportunity to see open-minded thought in my words, not just snark opinion. However, on this occasion I shall break heartily with that to start this review with a simple, irrefutable statement of affection: I love New York.

For many years I lived in New York City - Astoria, Queens, to be exact - and while it is not my hometown, nor the city in which I have spent a majority of my adult life - that would be San Francisco - it is the city which holds my heart with strongest grip. I consider the years spent in New York to be the ones in which I learned the most about myself, how to survive as a bohemian in the concrete wilderness, how to live with responsible temperance whilst surrounded by seemingly easy access to everything. These were years in which I learned how to be an adult, or at least, a close approximate of whatever an adult is. I have always stated that the years I find myself in California, I am doing all I can to try to find a way back to New York, and the years I'm in New York, I am doing all I can to try and make it stick. Inevitably, with thanks to my artistic lifestyle, I am pulled back and forth between the two American coasts, and so am either away from my true love, or in a love affair I know will prove to be only another brief tryst. Such is life, no?

What, pray tell, does this have to do with my thoughts on issue number 12 of Madame Xanadu? Well, the obvious is, of course, that the current locale of the book is New York City, in 1940, no less, a often very romanticized period in the cities history. What this issue does well, is to capture that spirit of romanticism and also simultaneously the ever present feeling of New York being a modern megalopolis of unending possibility, all with subtlety, humor, and grace. When our heroine wishes to gaze upon the stars to divine from their spiritual beauty, where else would she go but the top of the Empire State Building? When spells and recipes from rare tomes of magic are required, where else could such recherché objects be found but in the New York Public Library? When the villain of the piece wishes to eat, drink, sexually carouse with women, and participate in bloodsport, he rightfully, for better and for worse, presumes that he is in the right city to partake in all of these debauched activities. Be it 1940, 1970, or the present day, New York carries with it the well-worn reputation of being the city where anything is possible, available, and easy to procure.

The art of Michael Kaluta is perfectly suited to this story and this time period, and he captures the spirit of the two women, Madame and the City, with such classic panache I found myself completely immersed in the romanticism of this long-ago world. The inked lines of Kaluta's art appear like the etched scratchings of a gifted printmaker; they impart motion and energy without conveying frenzy or agitation. There is both a graceful fragility to the women of these tales and a solidity of emotional presence. These women may appear outwardly delicate in their robes and beribboned hats, but inside they are full of blood and muscle.

There is also a beautiful paradox that writer Matt Wagner plays with in this issue. Madame Xanadu is immortal and so has lived many lifetimes throughout history, and we are privy to one of these moments in flashback in issue #12. It is 1493 and we come upon our heroine in a rural part of Spain. In this scene, she is called upon to midwife for a woman enduring a breech childbirth. The mother in agony asks if she is cursed to which Madame replies simply that no, what is happening is natural. She proceeds to correct the fetus's orientation and to untangle the umbilical cord and the birthing concludes with both mother and child safe and healthy. No magic, no sorcery, no witchcraft employed, simply the calm focus of a woman with an intellectual grounding in the natural workings of female reproduction. For all the magic she is acquainted with, Madame Xanadu understands the greatest power one can have is that of true knowledge, unfettered by unfounded mysticism. A Catholic priest in attendance, however, later reveals he believes sorcery was involved in this resuscitation of the cursed stillborn, revived by midwifery, his implication being that the practice of a midwife is akin to that of a devilish witch. He reports this along with Madame's absence at confession and mass as evidence of her unholiness. Here we clearly see Wagner use this to demonstrate the misogyny inherent in much of religious teachings, the fear the Church has had throughout much of it's history of "the natural and the feminine". The beauty of a saved life and corrected birth is lost when the devil is seen to be behind every female visage.

This parallel drawn not only shows the humorous irony of the sorceress using natural science whilst the supposed intellectual priest uses mysticism and folklore to upright his misguided opinions, but it also further solidifies Madame Xanadu as a strong and intelligent character. We are afforded another opportunity to see her as more than just a tarot card-reading mentalist with a store-front in the Village. She is a full-blooded woman of great intellect, only playing at being the parlour-trick psychic because that's all most people can wrap their minds around. She understands how to survive in the big modern city as a person blessed and cursed with superpowers. Whether that city is Gotham, Metropolis, or New York the rules for superheroes, as well as bohemians, don't waver: whatever your powers are, it's always best to lead with your head.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Review: Action Comics Annual #12

Action Comics Annual #12

Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Pere Pérez
Released June 17, 2009

What stands out most about this issue is that about 97% of it contains no dialogue. I come to this number by way of estimation more than through real math, but it is true that pages go by with nary a word balloon in sight, with no conversation being shared between the characters on the page. This annual is touted as the origin of Nightwing and Flamebird, two characters that have become very important and central to the current Superman continuity, and as such, the style of this issue is very much that of a legend, a tall tale told by firelight by an anonymous narrator who offers up story with selective omniscience.

Why this is important is that the story being told here is one that must be believed simply on faith. We must believe that these characters hear voices and share visions across dimensions, time, and space, with little in the way of storytelling evidence to show how these plot points are truly earned. In some parts, our narrator even begins many statements with the word 'perhaps', demonstrating that he (or He?) is not quite sure of everything here. And while this could give the story a shaky foundation and the feeling of being unearned, it works here mostly because of the type of story being told. This is a story of religious cultism, of mythological creatures, and of reincarnated destiny, all of which are things that can never truly be supported, only believed or distrusted based on one's predisposition on such things.

The main protagonist of the piece is Thara Ak-Var, a woman orphaned as a child by warfare, raised by adoptive parents, whose religious devoutness stands out in a world where religion is more a decorative formality than a doctrine for life. She suffers nightmares which she comes to believe are actually visions of a greater destiny, all of which leads her to abandon her military duty to take up the solemn and mysterious life within the Religious Guild. Through her we see a world not often touched upon in the Superman mythos, that of the spiritual foundations of the Kryptonian peoples. We see glimpses of ritual and we learn of the tale of the legendary creatures known as the Flamebird and the Nightwing, two beasts that essentially represent the concept of duality. Here, the metaphor is simple, Flamebird representing the fires of passion and emotion, while Nightwing represents the calm focus of thoughtfulness and intellect. They can never be as strong separated as they are when united. The tragedy of the legend being, of course, that they are doomed to be separated, doomed to be betrayed forever and ever.

If Thara represents the Flamebird half of the metaphor, then the Nightwing half is represented by our second protagonist, a boy simply named Christopher, born of science and nurtured in a ghostly dimension of neglect and fear, who somehow manages to survive pure-hearted and with a gentleman's maturity. He is a prisoner of greed and power in a swirling grey world of cynicism and hatred, and again, the metaphor here is strong, but not heavy-handed. Somehow, our two protagonists come to learn of the other's existence and the heavy grinding stone of destiny begins to turn for both of them.

By virtue of the third-person narration and the lack of dialogue for most of the piece, the panels feel static and the issue feels more like a narrated slideshow. Where at first this felt like a negative, by issues end I came to understand it as a natural way of telling a story that is a legend. This is a faery tale, after all, in the finest tradition of the Brothers Grimm or Mother Goose; a comic that could have just as easily opened with the line 'once upon a time', and not been foolish nor satirical. It would have actually been quite fitting.

Action Comics Annual #12 tells quite a beautiful story of tragic love writ large across the cosmos. It is the modern-day cliché of soulmates - the idea of there being someone out there made just for each of us - given a cloak of religiosity, and played out against a sci-fi backdrop of starships, killer robots, and bottle cities. Thara and Christopher find each other through sheer belief that the other exists. In the end, we see the obsessiveness of emotional passion bound in to rescue the strong yet persecuted fortitude of intellect, and in turn they are both saved by the journey and the validation of trusting faith. Who said romance is dead?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Review: Supergirl #42

Supergirl #42

Writer: Sterling Gates
Penciller: Jamal Igle
Inker: Jon Sibal
Released: June 17, 2009

Comics is a static medium in which movement is portrayed through various visual tricks. Motion lines are used to convey everything from swinging fists to emotional agitation, and more and more the use of computer effects such as blurs are being used to create a more dynamic sense of motion and give a greater sense of depth to the flat page. Still, the artist has to decide on what will fill each panel, they must choose an exact moment of time to freeze on, the moment that will provide both the storytelling elements needed to convey the story, as well as provide the maximum amount of dramatic power. Ideally, there should be no wasted panels as each one should be serving these needs or it serves nothing. Small moments, frozen in time, that add together to form a story.

There are no major fight scenes in Supergirl #42, no real fisticuffs at all. There are no explosions, nor crumbling buildings, nor overturned vehicles, and while there are verbal confrontations, none of them reach the level of needing to be expressed by red-encircled word balloons or oversize jagged fonts. The strongest moments here are often silent, intimate, and pregnant with tension, and with nary a motion line.

The close-up of Lois, face in knitted shock as she has just learned that her estranged sister, Lucy, may not only have just been killed by her husband's cousin, but may have been a murderer herself. Lana Lang's distraught expression as she turns back to face Lois while silently leaving Lois's apartment with Kara. The next panel shows Lana's shoulder and arm through a slivered opening as we get the sense that she is slowly and gently closing the door behind her.

There is the pile of mail that has accumulated underneath the front door mail slot of Lucy Lane's home, the near-empty refrigerator, and the thick casting of dust on her bedroom vanity, all of which speaks of a home and a civilian life long abandoned, and that point Lois towards a horrifying and heartbreaking realization.

There is the vase of sunflowers left next to Inspector Henderson as he lay unconscious in hospital that is the sad token of a bond briefly forged between super and human heroes, both sharing a need for truth and justice.

All of these small moments are perfectly chosen for their emotional power, but they also subtly convey characterization, as well. In the panel where Lana is closing the door to Lois's apartment, I was struck by how many deadbolt locks are on her door, three, practically on top of each other. I couldn't help but wonder if this speaks of the subtle paranoia felt by a high-profile big-city reporter whose superhero husband happens to be away off-planet at the moment. Supergirl's choice of get-well bouquet, too, seemed interesting as sunflowers feel child-like and innocent, the type of flower that is outgrown as one's taste matures to roses or orchids.

This issue is strong because writer Sterling Gates and artist Jamal Igle not only understand the power of these moments, but because the power of these moments show the complete understanding these creators have of who these characters are, so their emotions and their responses feel genuine. Lois's reaction to this most unbelievable revelation from Supergirl is, in fact, to not immediately believe it. She is a journalist, after all, and her instincts are to investigate and to corroborate. She is undoubtedly angry and terrified, but she keeps these feelings as controlled as possible, trying with all her might to remain the objective reporter.

Supergirl is a book dominated by strong women (not to mention the letter "L"). The dynamic between Kara, Lana, Lois, and Lucy is central to what makes this issue powerful and Mr. Gates's strong grasp of this dynamic is what makes an issue that could have easily been a trite and generic epilogue recap, instead so real, honest, and relevant. There is no exploitation nor manipulation present here, only the little moments of these character's lives presented simply, elegantly, and with quiet eloquence.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review: Batman #687

Batman #687

Writer: Judd Winick
Penciller: Ed Benes
Inker: Rob Hunter
Released: June 10, 2009

Battle For The Cowl was a miserable failure. Where it failed most glaringly is in its attempt to portray the immensity of the shadow of Batman and the insane near-impossibility of the task of taking up his mantle, it crossed the line so dramatically and without pity into ludicrous parody. In its wake, Gotham City has become an utter war zone engulfed by gang warfare at every level from the big crime families down to the lowliest street crews. Every cape and mask has descended upon the city in a seemingly futile attempt to quell an avalanche of lawlessness that will not be stopped until it has consumed everything in it's maniacally riotous path. The military and National Guard have been called in. Misguided vigilantes have taken to mass hangings of criminals off traffic lights. Arkham Asylum is ablaze and all the inmates are loosed on the poor innocent citizens of Gotham. It is completely ridiculous, pushing the boundaries of logic beyond what should even be acceptable for a superhero comic. It has set up a scenario in which anyone now stepping up to take over the cowl would have to be absolutely superhuman, for simply slipping on the pointy ears certainly could not be enough to stop the bleeding and heal the wounds. The creators and architects of this event painted themselves into a corner with a kerosene brush, and now it is all blowing up in their face.

Batman #687 serves as the epilogue to BFTC and though it is penned by a different writer, Judd Winick, it continues along the same derisible path laid out by Tony Daniels in the mini-series. It is a clichéd mess that ricochets between moments of heavy-handed saccharine melodrama and laughably idiotic action set-pieces that only prove that Winick has no grip on the particulars of the story or understanding of the core concepts.

In an early sequence, four men armed with armor-piercing ammo and military grade body armor are able to trek FOURTEEN BLOCKS on FOOT from a botched bank heist, shooting everything in sight, setting off massive explosions and destruction along their path, holding off the Gotham Police, who seem so completely incompetent and ill-equipped to handle the situation. Apparently the GCPD has no SWAT teams or riot police, and apparently the National Guard and military units that have been supposedly patrolling the city are no where in sight, either. These four men on foot are such an overwhelming force, capable even of bringing down police helicopters, that the only thing capable of stopping a net! Yes, Nightwing swoops down in Batmobile and flings a net over the four assailants and completely incapacitates them. All their firepower, their kevlar-piercing rounds, their body-armor, all of it rendered facile by the drop of a weighted fishing net. One questions how this small militia managed to fail in their attempt to rob the bank in the first place. To describe this as farcical would be both an understatement and an insult to the word farcical.

Later, the Scarecrow manages to lay land mines and chemical weapons, as well as a surveillance system, all around a major Gotham bridge, holding the entire city hostage, threatening to unleash a city-engulfing cloud of fear toxin. Apparently, the feeble and mincing Jonathan Crane does this all single-handedly and in the blink of an eye, because he has caught all law-enforcement and military agencies completely off-guard, not to mention the collective costumed crime-fighters patrolling the city. I guess they all forgot to monitor the major bridges and tunnels leading into Gotham. Oops! It's another ridiculous contrivance that not only is altogether non-sensical but wholly insulting to the intelligence of even the most imbecilic reader. One would have to be lobotomized and drooling into their lap to find any drama or tension in this situation.

Not only do these silly plot ploys insult the reader, but they insult the concept of Batman, as well. Batman becomes a foolish caricature in the face of these overly manufactured gambits; the idea of one man being able to stop the impossible becomes laughable and anything but heroic. Everything suffers in this treatment. Gotham City has become so hellish it is a very logical and pertinent question of the reader to ask why anyone would ever choose to live in such a place. Gotham has always been meant to be New York City on steroids, a bigger-than-life melting pot megalopolis of hopes and dreams. It has now been so thoroughly besmirched it is unrecognizable as a believable home. The Gotham City police and Commissioner Gordon, too, come across as incompetent buffoons incapable of tying their own shoes let alone of being big city cops who can restore confidence and pride in the citizenry. This portrayal of James Gordon is most sad of all, as it is a far-cry from his stereotype-breaking depiction in Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, where we find Gordon to be the heroic, resilient, and sharp-minded police captain working like a spy within the system to bring corruption to its knees. Here, in Batman #687, he is a blustery old fool waiting for Batman to come in and save the day. This is shameful.

On top of all this, the narration and dialogue are syrupy and trite, without an ounce of originality, but a heaping dollop of insincerity. "Do you prepare yourself for the sun to rise or for water to flow from the tap?" "No, he'd leave us in a box, with jet black hair, and the only lines on his face would be ones brought by injury." Are they kidding with this? Everyone sounds like they are reading lines from a play, the writer of which never bothered to read his dialogue out loud. Toss in manipulative close-ups of Alfred and Dick crying, and twee cameos by Superman and Wonder Woman, and the whole thing collapses under the weight of grinding exploitation.

The art of Ed Benes deserves some blame here, as well, as his storytelling is awkward and panel composition befuddling. His rough, scratchy, steroidal depictions of the characters leave them indiscernible from each other excepting for their costumes and hair styles. To be fair, this is a problem with many artists who seem incapable of understanding that the body types of their characters should stem directly from the essence of who that character is. Are not Batman and Nightwing and Robin trained in acrobatics, gymnastics, and all types of martial arts? Should they not be drawn much leaner to reflect this character attribute? Only Superman really benefits from being drawn as a Herculean He-man considering his superpowers as well as his origin and history on and off the comics page. Instead, over and over again, they are all given the same weight-lifter physique, a showcase for the artist's personal fetish more than a correct representation of the individual characters. Benes is guilty of this in much of his work and most definitely in this issue.

This book, coming as it does one week after Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's new Batman and Robin, feels completely irrelevant. Where Morrison's book is awash with energy and brightness, reveling in a new future while still honoring the past, Winick's and Benes' Batman comes across as cynical and childish, mired in tired old gimmicks, completely out of step with the times and the readership. Batman #687 is a junior-high student's idea of what a cool comic book 1992. This is the type of comic indie-comics supporters point at when they want to laugh at the spandex set. Unfortunately, they would be right on target with this one.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"Crime Is Doomed." - Review: Batman And Robin #1

Batman and Robin #1

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely
Released: June 3, 2009

For two years writer Grant Morrison helmed a run on Batman, one of its main goals seemingly being to show that no one man was more uniquely qualified, destined, determined, indefatigable, or mentally unswerving for the job of Gotham City's crime-fighting caped crusader than the one and only millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. Born of tragedy, with a single-mindedness that bordered on psychotic and resiliency that bordered on super-human, Wayne prepared for every contingency, readied for every eventuality, and proved that nothing was insurmountable for a man who knew no limits. Morrison pushed his Batman beyond the suspension of disbelief in what one human man could do, but in doing so, did not invalidate our hero, but proved beyond any shadow of doubt just how awesome Bruce Wayne had truly been all these years. His run climaxed in the only place it could, with the ultimate showdown of Man versus Evil God, leaving both parties vanquished, but only Batman triumphant. When Batman had already proved he could do anything, the only thing left was to prove he would do anything, to save a city, a planet, a multiverse. Death was always the final act in Bruce Wayne's drama as Batman. 

Superhero deaths are never permanent and within the plastic borders of comic books resurrection is only a creative plot point away. Any savvy fan would have to know that this death would prove to be a temporary experiment. After all, not only can Bruce Wayne be the only true Batman as evidenced within the paneled pages, but in the greater consciousness of the general public there has only ever been one Batman. Any character stepping in to take up the mantle would never be a true replacement, only a substitute, the back-up quarterback filling in while the stud with the rocket arm heals from injury. So who could possibly step into this thankless position to don the cowl and utility belt of a man already so definitively established as irreplaceable? Why, only a character with nearly as much pedigree in the Batman mythos would do: the original Robin, the original boy sidekick, the circus acrobat boy wonder, Richard Grayson. 

Batman and Robin is the new book taking up the adventures of Dick Grayson as the new Caped Crusader with Damien Wayne as the new Robin, and it is shaping up to not simply be the same old Batman formulae with new characters plugged in, but a truly brand new book that takes its cue from the lead characters and grabs hold of the opportunity to present a new vision of what a Batman comic can be.

The utter joy of this book is the sheer exuberance with which Morrison and artist Frank Quitely approach the material. Batman and Robin is brash and colorful but not out of control, focused with a determination to strike out of tired molds. Gotham City feels full and robust, crowded with neon billboards, teeming with traffic-clogged streets; but whereas previous creators made it feel claustrophobic, here the city feels bustling and energetic, pulsating with urban passion. Gotham City is alive, reaching towards the light of the heavens with its glass and steel tendrils. This is not a cliched Gotham City of shadows and decay, besieged under a blanket of gangland violence and moral atrophy, but a city that is a beautiful dreamer surviving against all odds. 

The new Batmobile is sleeker and more organic in shape, and when it takes flight with wings fully spread, it appears like a bulbous black and red orchid gracefully careening through the plate glass jungle of the city landscape. That the Batmobile now flies is a brilliant metaphor for the whole book itself. It will not be contented to stay grounded, and it will not be fettered by old mores. 

Morrison is not content, himself, to rely on the old standard villains, either, and we get our first glimpse of the Toad and Pyg, gruesome men with ambiguous agendas, part of the larger crime syndicate known as The Circus of Strange. These villains are grotesque amalgams, bits of faery-tale cuteness warped into sideshow fright.

Here we see the boldness of Morrison to not fall back on the tried and true, especially for the launch of a new team and new book, when such a tactic could have been excused. All of this hearkens back to a bygone age of experimentation when these superheroes and their worlds were still being forged on the desks and drawing boards of underpaid freelancers in suits and ties, and it creates a sense of free-wheeling retro fun but with a very modern sensibility. 

It is not all bold new strokes, however, and Morrison makes room for the parts of the mythology that can never die. Commissioner Gordon still takes up nightly watch on the GCPD rooftop to shine the Bat-signal up against the murky blue-black clouds of the twilight sky. Faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth still serves up fatherly support to the boys in tights in capes, who've been orphaned by cruelty or by duty. It is not all gaudy action, either, as subtle emotional dramas are being played out between the three men left to carry on Bruce Wayne's mission. Alfred may still be playing his father-figure role to full reception by Dick Grayson, but Damien, Bruce's biological son, appears unyielding, referring to Alfred by last name, treating him more akin to hired-help than family member. 

The dynamic between this new Dynamic Duo also roils with potential for drama the foundation of which is shown here. As Bruce's biological son, Damien feels very much entitled to the throne of Batman. He demonstrates a steely determination to carry on the mission of his father and to protect the ideals his father stood for. He outwardly believes himself ready for the mantle now, more so than the adopted son Dick Grayson, and yet, he acquiesces to Dick, putting on the Robin costume and dutifully fulfilling the role of boy sidekick. Damien may profess to not respect Dick, but he seems to also be very aware that this is the man who served and trained with his father for many years and shared moments with him that Damien never did and now, never will. When told in slightly scolding tone by Dick to "get in the car", Damien does so with slight harrumph, but he does so.  

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's greatest accomplishment here is in presenting a new crime-fighting duo of Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder with such conviction and guile that in one issue, it already makes it possible for a reader to conceive of this as a long-term coupling and not just a short-term marriage of convenience. The key is that Bruce Wayne is not really absent at all. Those left behind are all men shaped by Bruce Wayne, all men born of him in one way or another. They are on a mission started by one man sent reeling into a painful and lonely spiral by the murder of his parents, and who bond at intersecting points of their own personal losses. For all the newness of this book, Morrison grounds it with a deep understanding of the underlying structure that has formed the soul of the Batman mythos since the origin story was penned by Bill Finger for Detective Comics #33 in 1939: the power of pain felt by fatherless men to transform them into something greater.