Monday, September 14, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 9/9

Atomic Robo and the Ring of Fire #1
Story: Brian Clevinger
Art: Scott Wegener & Anthony Clark

Atomic Robo is back, and now coming out from IDW! And after all the recent stressful events in his life, he's taking some time off in the '60s to tour with Johnny Cash! Oh, wait, no it's a completely different ring of fire. We're back in the present this story, and following Bernie, Lang, and Vik, the Action Scientists who survived Robo's "final" clash with Dr. Dinosaur, months after that battle, and things are not looking good. Majestic, the secret government agency, has claimed all of Tesladyne's property, arrested all the employees they know are alive, and Robo is presumed dead. Of course, if you read Knights of the Golden Circle, you know where Robo wound up, and this issue, with some spiffy science that I didn't completely understand (it involved a fifth dimensional cardinal direction called zorth), the team, along with new member Foley, head out to retrieve a package that the reader knows is Robo. The four scientists are distinct in personality: Vik sort of den father to the team, Bernard frustrated with the situation and having to pull himself out of a bottle, Lang staunchly dedicated, and Foley as the newbie. The mix of personalities gives a nice conflict. Breaking into Tesla's old Colorado Springs facility is a fun caper sequence, with decoy drones, soldiers, and a warehouse that makes the one from Raiders of the Lost Ark look like a filing cabinet. And once it's done, the team is rewarded. All of that would be enough for most comics, but in Japan, Majestic is encountering a whole other set of problems, a "biomega" threat that can't be any good for anyone, but will involve giant mech suits, which is always a major plus. Atomic Robo is a comic full of big crazy ideas, as well a lot of fun moments, and well written characters. With distribution through IDW, a higher profile can only help get Robo out to more people, and that's great news. There's only so many times and ways I can say it, but I'll say it again: GO READ ATOMIC ROBO!!!

Batman #44
Story: Scott Snyder & Brian Azzarello
Art: Jock & Lee Loughridge

While I love Scott Snyder's long story arcs on Batman, I've found that some of his best stories have been the shorter one or two issue stories he has done. This issue (with a writing assist from 100 Bullets creator Brian Azzarello) is another of those impressive single issues, one that, while set long before the events of the main story, establishes some of the background of the new villain, Mr. Bloom, and also tells a tale of Gotham City and the crime that we don't often see Batman deal with. It's an issue that pulls in a lot of the issues we're dealing with in society, issues like the origins of urban crime, of police shootings, and gentrification, but the comic never forgets it is a story about Batman, and never preaches. The story begins with Batman finding the body of Peter Duggio, an African American youth who has not only been shot repeatedly, but seems to have been dropped out of a plane and onto the marshes outside the city. Batman follows a trail that leads him to The Corner, a part of Gotham's crime ridden Narrows, where Duggio's father owned a shop, and on to the Penguin, the local gang called the Four Fives, to a police officer, to Bruce Wayne, and finally to a mysterious alley where (unbeknownst to Batman) Mr. Bloom had set up shop. We see exactly how far the circumstances of his life led to Peter's death, and how no one was there to help him when he needed it. The narrator of the story if omnipotent, not the usual first person of many of Snyder's Batman stories, and may well be Gotham itself, talking about Peter, about Bruce as a young man, and about all the people who were involved to get Peter to the place he ended up. And at the issue's end, we see that Batman might have learned something, something about how he must be as much a part of the city as he is above it, and how he must listen to it. I have written before that I feel like Batman needs to be a character who does his best to protect the innocent as much (if not more than) punish the guilty, and a Batman who will listen to the people of the city is a step in that direction. On top of an excellent story, this issue is drawn by Jock, who worked with Snyder back on his impressive Batman debut, "The Black Mirror" in Detective Comics. Jock's rough, dark style really works with this tale of Gotham's gritty side, but also has faces that express the pain and frustration of people on The Corner, and Batman's own anger at the death of Peter Duggio. He also draws an impressive monster, but you'll have to read the comic to find out why that talent in required for this story. If you've read my reviews of this title, or anyone's, and have been curious to see what this book is really like, I can think of few better issues than this one to try out.

Harley Quinn Road Trip Special
Story: Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti
Art: Bret Blevins, Moritat, Flaviano Armentaro, Pasquale Qualaro, Jed Dougherty, Mike Manley, & Paul Mounts

These Harley Quinn jam specials are some of the most fun comics DC puts out, and I'm glad to see Conner and Palmiotti continuing to do them. After an annual, the Holidays, Comic Con, and Valentine's Day, this special focuses on Harley on a road trip with her gal pal, Poison Ivy and Catwoman. I like that Harley Quinn as a series remains unbeholden to so much of the continuity of the New DC, as Harley has interacted little with Catwoman since the relaunch, but that doesn't matter for this story. The plot revolves around Harley finding out that her beloved uncle Louie has passed away, and it's up to her to not only pick up her inheritance (a classic RV) in Los Angeles, but drive it and Louie's ashes back to New York so he can be buried with his wife, Aunt Alice. With a couple of phone calls, Harley recruits Ivy, who is mid-battle with Batman, and Catwoman, who was considering going out to L.A. anyway to steal a necklace someone stole before her anyway, and they're off to California. The comic is a wild road trip story, with the Sirens (yes, I know they're never addressed as Gotham City Sirens anywhere, but it's a good shorthand), going to parties in L.A. and Vegas, having some of the RV, a brief run-in with Bizarro and Jimmy Olsen on their own road trip in the Bizarro mini-series, and running afoul of Darwolf, the thief Catwoman liberated the necklace from. There's really no threat there, because let's be fair, very few people could stand up to these three. The story is as bawdy as readers have come to expect from these Harley stories, with more double entendres per panel than pretty much any comic you can imagine. An if that's all that this comic had, it would be perfect bubblegum comics: not filling, but a ton of fun. But we get Harley dealing with the loss of her uncle, and some smart character work with Harley and her ever growing extended family of wacky characters. Poison Ivy, who in many other comics is portrayed as cold and calculating, has her best nature brought out by Harley, and while I'm enjoying Catwoman the crime boss in her won book, it's fun to get a classic version of the character here. And I'd have to go back and double check if it's in all of them, but this is at least the third of the big Harley issues with a crazy hallucination/dream sequence, this time from Moritat, one of my favorite artists in comics now. And it was great to see Bret Blevins back. Blevins draws about half this issue, and has a long history with Batman, having drawn a sizable run on Shadow of the Bat back in the day. If you're looking for a great comic to wind down the summer with as autumn grows nearer, you should check out the Harley Quinn Road Trip Special.

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