Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Great Batman: Brave and the Bold Rewatch: Night of the Huntress!

Season One, Episode Sixteen: Night of the Huntress!
Written by Adam Beechen
Directed by Ben Jones

Plot Synopsis

Teaser: Solomon Grundy, the zombie mobster, menaces a scientist, whose brain he has decided to take to heighten his intellect. As Grundy's men prepare to remove the brain, Batman and Black Canary arrive to stop them, which they do with some cunning, some fists, and a handily applied Canary Cry.

Episode: Jaime Reyes, Blue Beetle, and his best friend Paco, are looking at college in Gotham City. While Jaime is excited to be going to school in a city with Batman, Paco is more excited about the lady supervillains of the city, commenting on how he likes and girls, and they agree on one super heroine: Huntress. As they say it, the professor giving them their tour arrives: Helene Bertinelli, who is secretly Huntress.

At Blackgate Prison, a veiled woman arrives with a huge baby carriage to "visit her husband." After getting through security, it's revealed she is Mrs, Manface, who had stubble and a manly face, and the "baby" is her husband, the mobster Babyface, who has a baby's head. They are their to release their imprisoned gang: Skeleton Keys, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Polecat Perkins, and Hammertoes. We also see that Babyface is defensive of Mrs. Manface. But before they can escape. Batman arrives to stop them.

Back at Gotham U, the prison break is on the news, so Huntress and Blue Beetle make excuses and slip off to change into their costumes to head to the prison. Batman is fighting the gang, and while he was fairing well, eventually he simply can't fight the numbers and is about to be shot by Mrs. Manface when Huntress arrives, briefly flirting with Batman. And while this gives Batman the upperhand for a moment, soon enough he is at the mercy of the gang again when Blue Beetle arrives.

Babyface decides to make a break for it with his gang now that there are three heroes, but not before springing a bunch of villains to distract the heroes. They dogpile on Batman, but Huntress and Beetle help get them away from Batman and defeat them. With the villains defeated, Beetle really notices Huntress for the first time, and is instantly smitten, but Huntress isn't interested. She heads off to investigate what Babyface was up to, with Batman following her. She continues to flirt, with Batman having as much interest in her as she has in Beetle.

Arriving at the home of the Calculator, Huntress begins interrogating him to find out what Babyface is up to, but he won't reveal it. Batman begins hacking Calculator's computer while Huntress tries to beat the info out of Calculator, and Batman does his best to avoid Beetle's questions about girls. Batman's advice on girls is similar to hacking, and he and Huntress find out that at the same time that Babyface is going to break into Warehouse X.

Babyface and his gang are already into the warehouse by the time the heroes arrive, having broken in and taken the impounded weapons of other supervillains; Bbayface and his hole gang are now in mech armor and personal flying saucers. Huntress disregards Batman's attempt to come up with a plan, jumping right in, and Batman has to save the smitten Beetle from being taken out while distracted. But Beetle continues to be distracted by Huntress, and even though he saves her, he is too distracted and Babyface blasts him, and does the same to Batman and Huntress as they leap to Beetle's rescue.

Batman awakens imprisoned in a giant hourglass, which Babyface flips over as he and his gang head out. Beetle and Huntress bicker before Batman gets them focus. He uses a combination of one of Huntress's crossbow bolts and an acid pellet from his belt as well as help from Beetle to reach them to break out. Free, Batman deduces where Babyface is headed, "the center of everything evil in Gotham." The ganglords of Gotham are holding a summit in a warehouse in a particularly innocuous neighborhood, and as they begin their meeting, Babyface and his gang arrive, saying they're taking over.

As the mobsters fight Babyface and his goons, Batman, Huntress, and Beetle arrive and begin to protect civilians and try to take out the mob. Babyface grapples Batman in his mech suit, but Batman slips clear and transforms the Batmobile into a robot suit of his own, and the two begin to brawl. Beelte realizes its time to stop acting like he has, and he and Huntress are able to take out the rest of Babyface's gang. With Babyface on the ropes, Mrs. Manface tries to sucker punch Batman with her suit, but he defeats her, and Babyface again jumps to her defense, but Batman destroys his suit this time, leaving (disturbing image ahead) Babyface in nothing but a diaper, crying for his mommy.

With the crisis done, Huntress heads out, complimenting Beetle and telling him to call her in five years. Batman and Beetle walk off into the sunset, with Batman assuring Beetle she didn't mean it.

Who's Who

Huntress (Voiced by Tara Strong)
First Comic Book Appearance: Huntress #1 (April, 1989)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Sixteen- Night of the Huntress!

The last survivor of the Bertinelli crime family, Helena Bertinelli saw her entire family wiped out by a rival mob. She was sent to Italy, where she learned martial arts and mastered the crossbow before returning to Gotham to protect people from the Mafia. A vigilante without a code against killing, Huntress and Batman often butted heads, until time spent with Nightwing, and her defense of Gotham during the No Man's Land saga, convinced Batman there was more to her. Huntress would go in to train, and have a romantic affair, with the Question, and would later join Oracle's Birds of Prey, where she would be a regular member. Huntress is a skilled hand to hand combatant and one of the best shots with a crossbow in the DC Universe.

Blue Beetle  (Voiced by Will Friedle)
First Comic Book Appearance: Infinite Crisis #3 (February, 2006)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode One- Rise of the Blue Beetle

Baby Face (Voiced by Tom Kenny) 

First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Nine- Journey to the Center of the Bat!

Calculator (Voiced by Armin Shimmerman)
First Comic Book Appearance: Detective Comics #463 (September, 1976)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Sixteen- Night of the Huntress!

While the heroes of the DC Universe had Oracle to provide them with information and digital aid, the villains had Calculator, who worked for profit. Noah Kuttler started out his career as a costumed villain, who had a calculator themed costume similar to the one worn in this episode, before switching to a behind the scenes role around the time of the events of the DC Comics event series Identity Crisis. He would go on to become one of the inner circle of Alexander Luthor's Secret Society, and would stay on as one of it's leaders after the Society's defeat in Infinite Crisis, becoming a major nemesis to much of the DC Universe, especially to Oracle and the Birds of Prey. Calculator originally wore a costume that could create hard light constructs to fight heroes and commit crimes. Later, he used his exceptional mental acuity to plan crimes for other criminals and provide intelligence for them, at a steep cost. He suffered from intense Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Black Canary (Voiced by Grey Griffin)
First Comic Book Appearance: Flash Comics #86 (August, 1947)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Sixteen- Night of the Huntress!

The daughter of the original Black Canary, Dinah Laurel Lance took up her mother's superhero identity against her mother's wishes. Still, Dinah became an accomplished hero as one of the tentpole members of the Justice League, in some versions of continuity one of its founders, and would often fight crime alongside her on-again/off-again love interest, Green Arrow. Dinah would reach a whole new level when she joined forces with Oracle, Barbara Gordon, to create the Birds of Prey, a team comprised of mostly female heroes. Dinah and Oracle would become best friends, and would fight crime together across the globe. Black Canary. Black Canary is one of the best hand-to hand combatants in the DC Universe, able to hold her own against Lady Shiva, and her metahuman Canary Cry, a sonic scream, allows her to shatter glass, deafen opponents, and even do physical damage to objects and people.

Solomon Grundy  (Voiced by Diedrich Bader)
First Comic Book Appearance: All-American Comics #61 (October, 1944)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Sixteen- Night of the Huntress!

Solomon Grundy was Cyrus Gold, a miser who lived in Gotham City in the 19th Century, who was killed by a blackmailer in Gotham's Slaughter Swamp and sunk to the bottom, spending years being worked on by the magic and the plants in the swamp before being reborn in the 1930s as the undead Solomon Grundy. While originally a nemesis of the golden age Green Lantern, Alan Scott, Grundy would go on to fight many heroes, often Batman. It was revealed that Grundy has multiple personalities in his head, and each time he dies, a new one, often with a slightly different power level, takes over. Solomon Grundy is not technically alive, and this cannot be killed, and has incredible strength, although that varies depending on which version of his mind controls the body; usually the less smart the Grundy, the stronger he is. He also has a slight connection the The Green, the voice of the plant world, as he is a failed Plant Elemental, like Swamp Thing, although this bit of his origina comes and goes as needed.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

I have to admit, this is the first episode of the series that left me cold. I'm not in love with the fact that most of the female superheroes seem to default to flirting with Batman, something out of character for Huntress as she has been presented in most other instances. On the other hand, the Batmobile turns into a mechanized Bat armor, so that's pretty awesome.

As a note, the Who's Who origins above for both Huntress, Black Canary, and Solomon Grundy are the post-Crisis/Pre-Flashpoint origins of the characters, not the current ones. I decided to use these origins as they match the versions of the characters in their Brave and the Bold adaptation more closely than the current ones (not to mention, we don't know how much Rebirth might be rewriting those post-Flashpoint origins soon).

Most of Babyface's gang are original characters, created for the show, like Babyface himself. However, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are established Batman villains, appearing occasionally over the years, often as henchmen for the Mad Hatter.

Another villain cameo is Weather Wizard, who is name checked in the Calculator scene. He'll get a normal Who's Who entry when he appears in full later in the series.

The villains that Babyface releases at Blackgate to distract Batman contain many villains from this series, as well as the classic Batman TV series, and includes Fun Haus, Sportsmaster, Black Manta, Clock King, Shark, Kiteman, Top, Felix Faust, Minstrel, Bookworm, Mad Hatter (the '66 version), Cavalier, Scarecrow, King Tut, False Face, and Dr, Polaris, And also, among the mobsters at the summit, you see another Batman series villain, Louie the Lilac.

The Huntress in this episode is the post-Crisis version of the character, but the original, pre-Crisis Huntress was, in fact, Helena Wayne, daughter of a retired Batman and Catwoman of Earth 2. That is the version of the character who appeared first post-Flashpoint, with the Bertinelli version appearing not as Huntress but as a member of the spy organization, Spyral. Helena Bertinelli will again take up the Huntress mantle in the upcoming Batgirl and the Bids of Prey series.

The Calculator in this episode bears a similarity to the comic book version in his occupation, but little else. He has a different name, Myron vs. Noah, and the comic book version is slender and handsome, versus the stereotypical obese nerd in his mother's basement from the episode.

Voice actress Tara Strong, who makes her Brave and the Bold debut this episode as Huntress (and who will return as other characters later on), has a long history of DC Comics animation voice acting, dating back to The New Batman Adventures, where she took up voicing Batgirl, a role she reprised in Beware the Batman. and has voiced Raven in all of the Teen Titans/Teen Titans Go! series. She also took up the role of Harley Quinn in the Arkham video game series starting with Arkham City. With a tremendous body of work that continues to today, she is still working as Harley in the DC Super Hero Girls series.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 6/22

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 10 #28
Story: Christos Gage
Art: Rebekah Isaacs & Dan Jackson

This issue of the current Buffy the Vampire Slayer season feels a lot like an episode of the TV show right before a season finale, which makes sense as this season wraps with issue #30. Buffy and her friends have been driven apart by, well, growing up (or growing down in the case of the de-aged Giles), and this is the issue where they get the band back together. People often give the character of Buffy a hard time, for being the title character but not the brains of the group, but its Buffy who has the plan this issue, and as she makes preparations, she and Spike discuss their relationship. Christos Gage does a great job, a job equal to that of Joss Whedon, of balancing the personal with the supernatural in this issue, and while we don't know what Buffy's plan is, the issue does a great job of building up the anticipation of what it is. The way Buffy and Spike interact, Buffy talking about how her instinct is to run from relationships while Spike realizing he needs to take Buffy off the pedestal he has placed her on, are mature reactions, and show signs of growth not just from the beginning of these character's live, but of this season. Meanwhile, Willow realizes that working with the army isn't going to fly anymore, and Andrew meets with his kinda-boyfriend and has a realization about himself. As I've said in other times I've talked about Buffy here, I detest Andrew as a character, but I think Christos Gage has finally had him grow up and realize exactly what he is and what he's done, to a point I don't cringe every time he enters the scene, which is a major achievement. And finally, there are Dawn and Xander, who, having been left in a hell dimension a few issues back to seal the gate from that dimension to Earth, make their trip back home. I don't know how much Rebekah Isaacs adds to the story in these issues, but the different dimensions Dawn and Xander, as well as their demon sidekicks, pass through usually only hey one panel each, but they're so well realized that if Isaacs didn't suggest at least some of them, she embraced them fully. There's even a reference to the classic explanation of parallel worlds involving shrimp, or the lack thereof. This balance, between the mundanity of Buffy and Willow (and Giles in the previous issue) dealing with their relationship woes while Dawn and Xander travel through dimensions, is a great example of what makes a Buffy story work. If you lean to heavily on the metaphor and the weird it gets overblown, and if you do nothing but everyday character stuff, you lose what makes it special. There are only two issues left in this season of Buffy, and this issue makes me really excited to see what Gage and Isaacs have planned for us.

Detective Comics #935
Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, & Adriano Lucas

Detective Comics knows how to kick off an issue. We open to see a desperate Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan, and a de-powerd Clayface facing down an army of Jokers. That's an opening that sure grabs your attention. We quickly learn things aren't as they seem, and we get introduced to the Belfry, the team's new headquarters, and the Mud Room, the Danger Room if it were powered by Clayface's powers. It's interesting to see that Batwoman, who is running the training session, is hard on Orphan, Spoiler, and Clayface, but leaves Red Robin alone, respecting him. It's Red Robin who is the focus of the early part of the issue, as we see him first interact with Batwoman, then Batman, and finally Spoiler; it seems that Red Robin and Spoiler are destined to be together on whichever timeline they're in, which is sweet. What's a little different is the way Tim Drake interacts with Batman. In pre-Flashpoint continuity, Tim was Robin for years before becoming Red Robin, and was an integral part of the Batman family, but in the new continuity it's not only established he was always Red Robin, but it's been said numerous times that he has kept his emotional distance from Batman and the others. Tim has frankly been one of the biggest victims of the New 52 compressed timeline and the need to come up with reasons why he's in Teen Titans and not a Bat book. This issue we see Batman reaching out to him, telling him he's welcome to come in and be a part of the family, which is a nice gesture, and we see exactly what's going on with Tim, and that he might just have a life outside Gotham and the shadow of the Bat planned, which adds a different sort of tension. Through Tim we get to see some of Spoiler and Orphan, and we also get to see what happened to Azrael and we get the return of the classic Leslie Thompkins, who is treating Azrael and who is still judging Bruce for bringing teenagers into his war; thanks for that James! Batwoman gets in another scene with her father, Jake Kane, and we get a better feeling for why the Kane family, Batman's maternal relatives, haven't been a part of his life, as Jake warns Kate away from him. "Zero Year" and Grant Morrison's Return of Bruce Wayne mini-series both established issues between the Wayne and the Kane families, but here we see it on a much more grounded and personal level, with Jake's issues not just with Bruce, but an undercurrent of resentment towards Bruce's long dead father, Thomas. While the issue has a lot of character building, it ends with an action scene (after a clever bit of Alfred's trademark snarking at Bruce), as we start to get a better idea of who is behind the vigilante hunting, the new threat called Colony. The final page is one of those classic Batman being a badass pages, which shows that Tynion also knows how to get a reader desperate to come back for more.

James Bond #7
Story: Warren Ellis
Art: Jason Masters & Guy Major

James Bond is a character right in that Warren Ellis wheelhouse. He's a hard drinking, hard smoking man with a penchant for women and brooding. The Bond Ellis writes is closer to the one in the current films and in Ian Fleming's original stories, and not the campy one of the bigger, bolder Bond movies. And while Bond is grounded, the first arc of Ellis's Bond read like one of Ellis's sci-fi stories, where he reads about something in a tech journal and extrapolates the science into a crazy sci-fi comic. And while this second arc might go the same way, this arc feels more in line with a dark spy thriller, as Bind has to rescue an undercover agent from the Turkish Consulate in America, only to have things go off the rails. The first issue sets the tone, giving us a mysterious villain who combines the typical Bond mastermind with a more physical threat, continues to build on the internal conflict in British intelligence established in the first arc, re-introduces Bond's CIA counterpart, Felix Leiter, who now has cybernetic parts because why not, and introduces the agent Bond has to retrieve, who has the absolute Bondiest Bond name I've seen in comics yet, Cadence Birdwhistle. The fight when the Turkish agents catch up to Bond and Birdwhistle is well choreographed by Jason Masters and is as brutal as anything you'd see Daniel Craig do; frankly, Bond leaves these guys in so many pieces it feels like James Bond by way of the Midnighter. But even after taking out an entire Turkish hit squad, things don't go well for Bond, as he now has to survive 24+ hours with a non-combatant and no weapon. It's a great set-up for a tense thriller, as Bond has the Turks and the mysterious villain who is laundering money through Turkey after him to silence Birdwhistle. Also, along the way, Ellis gets off a pot shot at America and guns that is sadly accurate, as Ellis is never one to shy away from making a political point; I'm frankly very curious to see if Ellis spends some time in arc three taking on the recent EU referendum, something that both fits with Bond's place in the world and Ellis's topical sense of politics and humor. James Bond is a great spy comic, one that will satisfy the appetite of long time Bond fans as well as newcomers to fiction's greatest secret agent.

Princeless- Raven: The Pirate Princess #9
Story: Jeremy Whitley
Art (Present Day): Rosy Higgins, Ted Brandt, & William Blankenship
Art (Raven's Tale): Sarah Suhng, Nicki Andrews, & William Blankenship

After last issue's confrontation between Raven Xingtao, the pirate princess, and her two usurping brothers left her old friend, and something more, Ximena badly wounded, Raven and her crew make for a nearby island where they might find someone who can help Ximena, leaving Raven to stay by the side of the woman she loves and just talk to her, to keep her on this side of life. The beginning and ending of the issue take place in the present, and while much of the page space is dedicated to the story Raven tells, we get more characterization in the frame around the main story than most comics give in a normal issue. Not only do we see Raven being tender, which has peaked out of her normally brash exterior before when it comes to Ximena, we see bits with many other members of the crew, especially Amirah, who has become a favorite character of mine, as she helps stabilize Ximena as best she can and get Raven to be with her. Also, we see the deepening of the romantic triangle brewing, as Sunshine, who has clearly had deepening crush on Raven since they met in issue one, growing resentful of Ximena's place in Raven's heart. The main story though, the one that Raven tells Ximena as she lies unconscious, is the story of how Hei Xing, Raven's ancestor and the first pirate queen, met Rong Tao, the love of her life. Jeremy Whitley conjures a world that's a little more wild, a little more full of fantasy then Raven's is; while the book is rooted in the same fairy tale world as it's progenitor, Princeless, the magic and magical creatures have been considerably less in the spin-off then the parent title, and so the demons would feel a bit out of place in a story set in the present. But in this almost fairy tale story that Raven is telling, it all fits. We see Raven takes after Hei Xing, who was full of spirit and fire, willing to fight more demons than she should be able to in order to save the life of a boy she has never met. And Rong Tao, who was a pacifist, has connections to Ximena, who is also never willing to fight. The story is a parable of balance, as Rong could not have survived being attacked by demons if Hei had not been willing to right, and Hei could never have saved her beloved horse if Rong had not had the patience to slowly dig away at the trap the demons had set. The inversion of the traditional trope, of having the female character as the fighter and the male character as the one who does not fight wasn't lost on me, and continues to show how Princeless and its related titles work to subvert expectations. All taken, it's the truest love story we've seen from this world yet, a beautiful tale of two people finding each other, whose differences make them stronger. Princeless itself has begun to explore love and relationships as well, and it feels like these titles, written with teens in mind, are going through that phase where you start questioning even more how you fit in the world and what love is. I'm curious to see what answers Raven gets as she has two very different romantic interests now, and how this story will play into what comes next.

And Dan Grote reviews the new Deadpool team-up mini-series, where Deadpool fights his soon to be fellow movie-star, Gambit, written by Matt Signal favorites, Ben Acker and Ben Blacker...

Deadpool V Gambit #1
Story: Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Art: Danilo Beyruth & Cris Peter

Deadpool has nearly always been a comedic character. But for the past four years, he’s also been a foot in the door for comedians and comedy writers at Marvel, since Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn began their run post A vs. X. That paved the way for Annual stories, miniseries and backup strips from the likes of Paul Scheer (The League), Scott Aukerman (Comedy Bang Bang) and Jason Mantzoukas (Also The League), as well as Bens Acker and Blacker (The Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast), whose greatest contribution to Deadpool lore to date may be clearing up that whole multiple-narration-boxes mess from the Daniel Way run and introducing Madcap into the mix.

The Bens return with this miniseries pairing the Regeneratin’ Degenerate and the Ragin’ Cajun and revealing their hidden mutual history as con men. Apparently, this is very recent history, as a flashback to their last job takes place during the crafting of the musical “Hamilton,” which opened just last year. Now, I don’t keep up with the X-books like I used to, so I have no idea what Gambit’s been up to since he ended up a horseman of Apocalypse 10 years ago. But Deadpool’s memories, like his sexuality, allegedly, are fluid, so I’m not really planning to look too deeply into the continuity of it all.

Anywho, this miniseries reads like it was written by a pair of comedy writers riffing off each other, in so much as that’s exactly what the title characters do. In their last job, Deadpool and Gambit dressed as Spider-Man and Daredevil, respectively, and engaged in a very vocal and public superhero fight across the city, in the process stealing from criminals for a man named Chalmers. Bits abound, as Deadpool/Spider-Man tries to exorcise Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” from his head, the two try to explain why they’re fighting (Mind control? Political disagreement? They’re both on the same case, and each thinks the other is the bad guy?), Gambit/Daredevil argues the conceit of musicals with Lin-Manuel Miranda and the two learn that being beangan is when you’re vegan but also you don’t eat beans (“Wait, why not?” “I think because you don’t like beans.”).

And where were the real Spider-Man and Daredevil for all this? Apparently Peter Parker and Matt Murdock sometimes go antiquing together. They’re friends.

Artist Danilo Beyruth gets in on the fun, too. Before the fight, Deadpool/Spider-Man is drawn wearing a dress shirt and suit over his Spidey costume. The disguised Miranda has the head of Alexander Hamilton from the $10 bill superimposed on him, so he resembles a character in a JibJab video. A market full of hipster vegans is an ocean of beards and curled-up mustaches, seemingly also on the women (Sidenote: Has anyone thought to resurrect Turner D. Century lately?). And Gambit gets to blow up everything from diamonds to frying pans to a manhole cover, until Deadpool yells “Stop exploding things at me!”

Yes, we are living in an age of peak Deadpool. Besides his solo ongoing, there’s the Spider-Man/Deadpool teamup book, and a new Deadpool & the Mercs for Money ongoing is starting. But if you don’t mind stretching your DP budget just a little bit further, Deadpool V Gambit is pretty funny and worth a read.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Great Batman: Brave and the Bold Rewatch: Trials of the Demon!

Season One, Episode Fifteen: Trials of the Demon!
Written by Todd Casey
Directed by Michael Chang

Plot Synopsis

The Scarecrow is concocting fear gas inside a Halloween haunted house when Batman and the original Flash, Jay Garrick, arrive to stop him. He strikes Batman and Flash with a pumpkin, reveals he has modified the entire crop of pumpkins to emit fear gas when heated, but Flash creates a vortex to disperse the gas. Batman fights Scarecrow, while Flash, dodging Scream Queen, Scarecrow's super powered assistant, gathers all the pumpkins to dispose of them, leaving a safer, but annoyed by the lack of jack o'lanterns, Gotham

Episode: The episode opens in Victorian London, where a gentleman offers a carriage ride to a woman. Nearby, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson discuss the possible perpetrator of a crime as a scream rings out. They rush to find the woman we saw enter the carriage, seemingly drained of life, ancient but alive, but entranced. Holmes mentions that this is only the most recent in a string of such crimes, and the locals start saying they think it's, "that creepy Jason Blood," which Holmes disregards, but the mob heads to take Blood.

In Blood's home, he sees the mob coming and begins to enact an arcane ritual. As the mob breaks through the door, he begins his transformation to Etrigan the Demon but is interrupted, leaving him in a half demonic form, leaving him vulnerable to cold iron, the weakness of demons. Holmes and Watson barge in, and while the mob makes off with Blood, Holmes deduces Blood was trying to solve the same case he was, and completes the ritual Blood began.

In the present, Batman knocks out Crazy Quilt just as the portal created by the ritual summons him back in time. Holmes immediately deduces Batman is a hero, , and many other details about him, and is slightly put off that Batman so easily identifies him. Batman rushes outside to save Blood, who is about to be burned at the stake, and Batman quickly pulls him from the stake and escapes, meeting Holmes and Watson. Batman asks Holmes what ha can tell him about the crimes, and Holmes rattles off a series of deductions, ending with the idea that the perpetrator's taunting note leads to Mignola Chapel. Batman contradicts him, pointing out that the "granite demon" in the note is an anagram for "demon Etrigan" and other aspects of the note Holmes did not get, including that there will be ten victims. Before Holmes can counter, a scream is heard Blood transforms to Etrigan, and he and Batman rush off to find the source, assuming it is victim nine.

Etrigan reaches the carriage of the man responsible, and the sorcerer conjures a giant serpent to fight Etrigan. Batman arrives, vaulting the serpent, and reaches the carriage just to see the man siphon the life force of his most recent victim into a horn. The man turns to Batman and reveals himself to be Gentleman Jim Craddock, the highwayman who in Batman's present is the supernatural Gentleman Ghost, but in this London is very much alive. Caught off guard, Batman doesn't have the time to stop Craddock from blasting him, turning his cape into a flying Bat monster, and making his escape.

In mid air, Batman uses his grapnel to stop his ascent and pull himself and his monster cape down into a nearby alley. Etrigan is able to use his demon flame to finally destroy the snake and the Bat cloak, and uses his own magic to recreate Batman's now tattered costume into something more period suited, a darker, Victorian Batman uniform. Etrigan transforms back to Blood as Holmes and Watson arrive. Batman tells Watson to alert the police to Craddock and tell everyone to travel in pairs before he and Blood run off to research what Craddock's plan might be, and Holmes wanders off alone to solve the case before Batman can.

In an abandoned windmill, Craddock speaks into a mirror, talking of his progress, and a pair of demonic eyes appears, telling Craddock to be careful, as he is not immortal yet. In Blood's residence, Blood and Batman determine that the horn is connected to the demon Asteroth, an old enemy of Etrigan and Merlin. They determine that if Craddock gives Asteroth ten souls, Asteroth can escape Hell and he will grant Craddock immortality. Watson arrives to tell Batman that Holmes has found Craddock's windmill lair and is on his way to apprehend him.

At the windmill, Holmes and Craddock duel, and just as Craddock gains the upper hand and is about to drain Holmes of his soul, Batman and Etrigan arrives. Craddock uses an arcane ring to call up a demon to hold them off. Batman is able to pull the ring from the monsters nose to send it back to the underworld, but too late to save Holmes, who is now catatonic and drained, as Craddock heads to the underworld with Holmes as the tenth soul. with Batman and Etrigan in hot pursuit.

In the underworld, Batman combats Craddock while Etrigan battles Asteroth. Craddock is infuriated when Batman tells him that he knows Craddock as a ghost. Batman tries to warn Craddock he is going to be betrayed, but Craddock ignores him, and as both of the heroes are knocked aside, Asteroth asks for the souls, which Craddock will only hand over after Asteroth has done his part. Asteroth grants Craddocks wish, saying his soul will never part from the mortal realm, but before Craddock can hand over the souls, Etrigan jumps from a lake of fire and knocks him from Asteroth.

Craddock  uses the iron head of his cane to drive Etrigan back, but the Demon quickly disarms him and grabs the horn of souls. Asteroth grabs Etrigan, and the two demons begin to fight, with Asteroth gaining the upper hand. Batman enters the fray and distracts Asteroth enough for Etrigan to get a second wind and knock down the massive demon. Batman throws Craddock's iron headed cane to Etrigan, who uses it to defeat Asteroth.

Back in London, we return to Blood's home, where he is preparing the ritual to send Batman home, along with Dr. Watson and the restored Holmes. Holmes asks Batman how he really deduced his identity when they met, and Batman replies everyone knows Sherlock Holmes, "You're the world's greatest detective." Holmes is satisfied, and when Blood asks what will become of Craddock, Holmes is confident that the jury will see to him. Finally, we pan to a graveyard, and the Craddock's grave, where the Gentleman Ghost rises from his grave, and swears revenge on Batman.

Who's Who

Sherlock Holmes (Voiced by Ian Buchanan)
First Comic Book Appearance: A Study in Scarlet (1887)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Fifteen- Trials of the Demon!

Batman might be the greatest detective in the modern DC Universe, but the greatest detective in the history of fiction is Sherlock Holmes. A master of deductive reasoning, Holmes appeared in fifty six short stories and four novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a British physician and novelist. Along with his loyal companion and friend Doctor Watson, Holmes solved numerous crimes and cases. A difficult man at the best of times, Holmes is the most popular literary character in all of fiction, with more appearances in pastiche literature and movies than any other, and a legion of fans as devoted to him today as they were when he was created in the late 19th century.

Etrigan the Demon (Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker)
First Comic Book Appearance:  The Demon #1 (August, 1972)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Five- Day of the Dark Knight!

Gentleman Ghost (Voiced by Jonny Rees)
First Comic Book Appearance: Flash Comics #88 (October, 1947)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Two- Terror on Dinosaur Island!

Asteroth (Voiced by Tony Todd)
First Comic Book Appearance: Demon Vol.2 #1 (January, 1987)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Fifteen- Trials of the Demon!

Asteroth is a demon lord who has crossed paths with Etrigan a few times, but is a minor threat who has appeared very few times in comics.

Flash [Jay Garrick] (Voiced by Andy Miller)
First Comic Book Appearance: Flash Comics #1 (January, 1940)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Fifteen- Trials of the Demon!

The original Flash, Jay Garrick was a  young scientist experimenting with heavy water when he inhaled the vapors that granted him super powers (it would later be established that this was just the trigger that allowed him to channel the Speed Force). Jay went on to fight crime in Keystone City, as well as alongside the Justice Society of America. Jay retired in the 1950s, but would come out of retirement on occasion after that, often working with his successor, Barry Allen. Jay returned to full time superheroing in his golden years, working with Wally West, Barry's successor, and the extended family of speedsters, and then to train the next generation of heroes with the Justice Society. If Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, was a stern father figure, and Wildcat was the tough but fair father and trainer, Jay was the heart and soul of the older generation to the new, giving them sage advice and a kind shoulder. Jay has the standard super speed powers, and although he has slowed down compared to his youth, he is still one of the fastest men alive.

Scarecrow  (Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker)
First Comic Book Appearance: World's Finest Comics #3 (Fall, 1941)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Fifteen- Trials of the Demon!

Jonathan Crane was a frail, bookish child who was bullied by his fellow kids. He grew fascinated with fear and how it effected people and creatures, often frightening birds in the fields near his house. Crane grew older, studied, and became a professor of psychology at Gotham University. But as Crane's experiments in fear grew more extreme, he was fired for experimenting on students. Crane adopted the identity of the Scarecrow to exact revenge on either the bullies who tormented him as a child or the board of regents who fired him, depending on the version of his origin you read. Crane would become one of Batman's most popular recurring foes, who's use of fear is often compared to Batman's similar methods on criminals. Scarecrow is not a major physical threat, although he does know some martial arts, but it is his high intelligence, psychological insight, and the Fear Gas that he makes that causes his victims to have visions of their worst fears or certain pre-determined nightmares that makes him a deadly foe,

Crazy Quilt
First Comic Book Appearance: Boy Commandos #15 (June, 1946)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Fifteen- Trials of the Demon!

A crime lord and painter, Crazy Quilt was known for art related crimes. As his eyesight began to fail, he made numerous attempts to restore his sight, and when it finally nearly happened, he was inadvertently blinded by Robin. This gave him a hatred for the Boy Wonder exceeding his hatred for Batman. A minor villain, Crazy Quilt has only a handful of appearances, and is at best a C-List Batman villain. Crazy Quilt is a tech-based villain, who uses a helmet that has various abilities, all based on light; he can hypnotize victims with flashing lights, fire laser blasts, and eventually function as artificial eyes, feeding visual data directly to his brain after his eyes were damaged beyond repair.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

The costume that Etrigan conjures for Batman in Victorian London is inspired by the costume worn by Batman in the legendary proto-Elseworld story, Gotham by Gaslight, which sets Batman's origins in a Victorian era Gotham city. The artist on that story, Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, is name-checked in this episode with the Mignola Chapel.

This is not the first time Batman and Sherlock Holmes have met. Batman met an aged, and considerably less surly,  Holmes in Detective Comics #572, one of my favorite comics of all time. Read about it, and the rest of Mike W. Barr's run on Detective Comics, here.

Scream Queen, Scarecrow's sidekick in this episode, is an original creation who never appears again. I just thought she had a cool design and liked her banshee like sonic scream. Wish someone would pick that character up and use her again.

This is hands down one of my five favorite episodes of Brave and the Bold. It's smart, it's creepy, it's exciting, and Batman meets Sherlock Holmes. And they don't sugar coat Holmes. He's a total know-it-all jerk much of the time, which is well within Holmes's character.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 6/15

Batman #1
Story: Tom King
Art: David Finch, Matt Banning, & Jordie Bellaire

The first issue of the new, Rebirth-era Batman begins with a literal bang and continues to show a Batman dedicated to Gotham and the safety of its people, a Batman at his most heroic. After a plane is hit by a surface-to-air missile, Batman must find a way to stop it from hitting the center of the city, even at the cost of his own life. It's an exciting start to the new run, and highlights the strengths of both of the writer and artist. Tom King has a great talent for mixing character and action, and we see Batman interact with Jim Gordon, Alfred, and Duke Thomas as he speeds across Gotham. We get a mix of Batman the superhero and Batman the scientist, as he uses his intellect to figure out the best way to maneuver a crashing plane. And we get some clues about what is coming in this first arc, with the first cameo appearances of Gotham City's newest defenders, the super powered Gotham and his sidekick, Gotham Girl, and while they seem noble enough, one has to wonder; the shadowy figure standing over the murdered body of the Kobra cultist who fired the missile at the plane does not seem to be Gotham, but we know it's not Batman or one of his allies, and how much better an entrance can a flying, super strong hero make than one where he stops a plane from crashing. We have no reason to suspect Gotham, other than he's not one of Batman's circle, but I have my eye on him. David Finch has a history with Batman, from his writer/artist stint on Batman: The Dark Knight to his work on Forever Evil. This issue is as big and bold in the art as it is in the story. He draws a string, muscular Batman who still looks like he'd be able to move with the grace needed to swing around Gotham. You can sense the motion and the straining as he uses a combination of tech and brute force to keep the plane from hitting Kane Plaza. It's simply stunning. And the new Batmobile design he uses is clearly based on the classic Batman: The Animated Series model. After four plus years of one writer on Batman, it's always going to be a transition, but this issue, maintaining much of the previous central cast while springboarding into something new, is a great choice, and it's a great start for the new volume of Batman.

Justice League #51
Story: Dan Abnett
Art: Paul Pelletier, Sandra Hope, & Adriano Lucas

I think I've made this observation before, but in case I haven't, there is nothing wrong with a simple, fun superhero story; in fact, at times that's one of the best things you can read. I picked up all eight issue's of Dan Abnett's recent Titans Hunt mini-series, and also this week's Titans: Rebirth one-shot, and they're all enjoyable superhero books, but this week's Justice League, also written by Abnett and tying into those stories, is one of those perfect one off issues. Set in the past, shortly after the forming of the Justice League, the issue tells the story of Dick Grasyon, Robin's, first meeting with the League. Most of the members make snarky comments about Batman and his sidekick as they meet him, and Dick just quietly lets it all pass. As various weird objects begin appearing all over the world, cybernetic hounds attack Metropolis and the League springs into action. It's Robin who we follow for much of the issue, seeing him intimidated by the League, and then seeing him slowly win each Leaguer over with his brains and skill. Especially interesting is the interaction between Robin and Cyborg, as Cyborg is the youngest member of the League, and understands where Robin is coming from. I'm also hoping we see some more flashbacks with these two characters together; while Cyborg gained a lot in the New 52 continuity by becoming a founding member of the Justice League, I feel he lost the connections he had to his old friends, and that has weakened the character. To see him working with Dick Grayson, one of his old friends, again, it was a great scene. As the different threats come together, as the League deduces the problem, it turns into a classic battle of brains and brawn against unstoppable odds, a story right out of classic Justice League comics.There are hints that tie it into the current events in Titans, but the issue stands firmly on its own, something I always like to support. And the artist on the issue, Paul Pelletier, is one of my favorite artists; he draws strong, distinct character moments as well as exciting action scenes, and has worked for years on most of the big properties for both DC and Marvel. If you're looking for a palette cleanser from all the big events comics right now, and want something pretty self contained and fun, Justice League #51 is a great choice.

Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat #7
Story: Kate Leth
Art: Brittney L. Williams & Megan Wilson

The new issue of Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat feels like the calm before the storm, the issue that ties up all the treads from the beginning of the series before something momentous happens. For this of you who are more familiar with the Jessica Jones TV series than the comics that feature these characters, Jessica's BFF in the comics is not Patricia "Patsy" ("Trish") Walker, but is Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel. I have to assume because of the movie in development, Marvel didn't want to introduce Carol on the Netflix series, so Trish took her place. This issue features the first full meeting between Patsy and Jessica in comics continuity, as Jessica tries to help Patsy deal with her ex-best friend, Hedy Wolfe and the rights to the old "Patsy and Hedy" comics. We get to spend some time with the entire supporting cast Patsy has built over the series so far: her old friend Tom, her roommate Ian, and of course her lawyer and friend Jen Walters, the super heroine known as She-Hulk. We even get an appearance from Jen's paralegal, Angie Huang, and her pet monkey, Hei Hei, introduced in Charles Soule's wonderful She-Hulk series. It's a charming issue with very little action, and a ton of character, where we get to see who Patsy is and why her friends are so loyal, and why she's so loyal to them. I'm hoping that the appearance by Jessica (as well has her husband, Luke Cage, and their baby, Danielle), will become a regular thing in the series, as it's nice to see the Jones-Cages not fighting for their lives but living as a family. And in the end, things work out for Patsy, and not a single punch is thrown. It's a matter of Jen being smart and Patsy being determined. You reach the end of this issue, and you smile. And I'm glad about that, because Civil War II is not going to be a happy event for Patsy, and it's good to get in a nice win before the darkness descends.

Dan Grote reviews Mavel's political satire, as the God of Mischief decides to run for office...

Vote Loki #1
Story: Christopher Hastings
Art: Langdon Foss and Chris Chuckry

The idea of Loki running for president in the current election cycle feels like low-hanging fruit for Marvel, but in the right hands, said fruit can still be delicious.

Loki’s current iteration as a gender-fluid, morally ambiguous, oddly sexy, de-aged hipster viking (thank you thank you thank you for that turn of phrase, G. Willow Wilson!) has opened up new storytelling possibilities for the character just as much as his portrayal on-screen by Tom Hiddleston.

And writer Christopher Hastings (Gwenpool) and artist Langdon Foss play with all of that as we watch the trickster god thwart an assassination attempt by Hydra on the two leading presidential candidates, then call out said candidates for being liars while at the same time saying, “America, if I were your president, I’d have the guts to lie right to your face. And you’d love it.”

This on-air soundbite turns Loki into a media darling, complete with “Saturday Night Live” sketches, memes and interviews with J. Jonah Jameson.

Watching all this with a cocked eyebrow is Nisa Contreras, a journalist who as a child lost her home in a battle between the Avengers and Loki, then watched as New York’s then-governor funneled money donated by Tony Stark for rebuilding into his own re-election fund.

Nisa investigates Loki, who agrees to let her follow his exploratory campaign in a bid to win her over. But she can’t tell what power play Loki is making until after she files her story, which her Loki-enthralled editor rewrites into a positive piece that gives big L the juice he needs to formally announce his campaign. This brings Nisa some unwanted attention at issue’s end from a special guest star with skin in the Loki game.

There’s some great little moments in this issue that play with the Loki mythos. At one point, he takes a female form – still with horned helmet – because he thinks it might help him poll better with women. When Jameson questions Loki about his citizenship, he explains that his current incarnation – Asgardians die and are reborn in cycles – was born in the tiny town of Accident, Maryland. Oh, and his polling employees may all be doomsday cultists.

Vote Loki probably won’t make you feel any better about the actual presidential election, but it will at least scratch any itches you have for political satire this summer.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Hope in Crime Alley: The Importance of Leslie Thompkins

Superhero comics have a language of violence in them that is implicit, if not explicit. Heroes fight villains. There's punching, kicking, shooting, bataranging, webbing, and blasting. It's been part of the lexicon since the formation of the genre. And I've been thinking a lot about violence this past week. Gun violence in particular, but also the fictional worlds I love, the violence in them, and their relationship to the real world. And of course there are no easy answers to any of the questions I've read or I've posed to myself, and I would feel strange writing some paean to better fiction worlds in the face of reality. But when I was thinking about a world that could be a better one, and how that interacts with reality and fiction, I thought about a character from the Batman mythos. Leslie Thompkins isn't exactly an obscure character, but she isn't a top billed one either; she's never been in a movie, and the incarnation of the character on television right now is about as far removed from the actual character in the comics as possible. But I wanted to write about Leslie today, about her history, and about why she's such an important character not just for Batman, but for superhero comics in general.

Leslie Thompkins made her first appearance in Detective Comics #457 from 1975, in a story entitled, "There is No Hope in Crime Alley!" Written by Denny O'Neil, one of the greatest of all Batman writers, and with art by Dick Giordano, this story establishes a bit of continuity that has been played on many times since, that Batman visits the alley where his parents were killed on the anniversary of their death. It also added another wrinkle. After his parents' death, a social worker came to the crime scene and talked to Bruce, and held him, and did her best to comfort him. This little bit of light in that darkest of days for Bruce came from Leslie Thompkins, who appears in that story as a little old lady. one who comes to the alley herself every year to remember the tragedy she witnessed, the one she spent her life working to help make sure never happened again.

Right from the start, Leslie takes the violence she witnessed and went in the complete opposite direction as Bruce did. She does her best to help people to prevent tragedies. And when batman finds her being mugged in Crime Alley, and begins to savagely beat the mugger, Leslie tells him to stop, and condemns his rage. It's a ten page story, beautiful and perfect. It appeared in the excellently curated collection, The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, that came out in 1988, which is where I first encountered it. At the time, Leslie was a footnote in Batman history, but the story impacted me enough that Leslie being at the Wayne's murder became part of my personal head canon, and my affection for the character was not alone, as I soon discovered.

Leslie only appeared twice more in the course of the next twelve years, once in another O'Neil penned story about Batman returning to Crime Alley on the anniversary of his parents' death, "The Curse of Crime Alley," which also introduced C-List Bat-villain Maxie Zeus, and once in "The Player on the Other Side," Batman Special #1, Mike W. Barr's introduction of The Wrath, one of the earliest anti-Bats. And while O'Neil introduced Leslie, and established the baseline of her personality, it's Barr who would take the character in new directions.

I've written a feature about Mike W, Barr and Alan Davis's run on Detective Comics, one of the most underrated runs on any Bat-title, and the final issue of that run is the one that introduced the post-Crisis version of Leslie Thompkins (there's weirdness in the continuity of this issue, but I won't focus on that right here). This issue, Detective Comics #574, "My Beginning... And My Probable End..." (which is a quote from "There is No Hope in Crime Alley") features Batman bringing a severely wounded Jason Todd to Leslie Thompkins clinic to save his life.

The changes to the character are notable. Leslie is no longer a social worker, but is instead a medical doctor who runs a clinic in Crime Alley. She is also noticeably younger, not an octogenarian, but probably in her fifties or sixties. This is the story that introduces the idea that Leslie was Bruce's foster-mother for a time, taking an active part in raising the boy. It also establishes that Leslie is well aware of Bruce's identity as Batman, and that she disapproves. She does not consider Batman a heroic knight, but a tool that continues to forward the problems of violence in society; while sometimes Batman is necessary, she feels like Bruce would be better without being Batman. And more than that, she feels responsible for Bruce being Batman, that it was partly her failing that put him on the path. But for all the negativity and confrontation, Leslie cares for Bruce deeply, and is concerned that his crusade will lead to his death, and still wants to protect him.

Barr would use Leslie in his next arc on Detective Comics, "Batman: Year Two," which builds off the relationship established in the previous issue, but the next truly notable Leslie Story would be another Barr story, "Faith," from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #21-23. "Faith" is set prior to "Year Two" but after the events of Frank Miller's "Year One." The story deals with Batman's first encounter with the idea that people may want to follow in his footsteps, in this case a young former addict who he saved starts up the Batmen, a group clearly inspired by the Guardian Angels civilian patrol organization, down to the red berets, but are considerably more violent. Meanwhile, Leslie is furious at Batman and what he;s doing to the city, and it's after Batman is shot by the man who he once inspired for being a disappointment, that Batman comes to Leslie and reveals his identity. Barr does interesting things with the idea of faith, Leslie's faith in non-violence and peace and the Batmen and their faith in Batman.

While Leslie would continue to pop up occasionally in the Batman titles for the next few years, usually when Batman or one of his allies needed medical attention beyond what Alfred could provide, and was further incorporated into Batman's origin in Batman #0, the post-Zero Hour origin of Batman, the thing that I feel helped cement her in the minds of Batman fans as an essential part of Batman's origin and life is her appearance on Batman: The Animated Series. Voiced by venerable actress Diana Muldaur (best known in geek circles as the argumentative Dr. Pulaski from the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and remembered fondly by me as the hardass Rosalind Shays on L.A. Law, who met with an unusual downfall), B:TAS captured everything that Barr and O'Neil had established and distilled it. Leslie was tough but loving, always willing to tell Bruce what she thinks and to try to convince him that Batman, and the violence he represents, is something that he can leave behind. While only in a handful of episodes, Leslie was woven into the tapestry of Batman's origins so seamlessly that she would be a part of it moving forward. There was one notable change to Leslie's backstory made in B:TAS, which established her as a co-worker and longtime friend of Thomas Wayne, Bruce's father. While I can see some problems with this, as it stops her from just being a good Samaritan as Joe Chill is just a random criminal, it explains how she was able to be such a big part of Bruce's life, and does not interfere with her as a strong and loving influence; this change would eventually be adopted by the comics as well.

Leslie became a more steady fixture in the Batman comics starting with the 1999 massive event, "No Man's Land." Leslie decided to stay behind when Gotham was shut off from the rest of the world, and kept her clinic running as a neutral space among the city's warring crimelords, where anyone could come to receive medical treatment or to find a safe haven. Alfred spent much time there with her, and she was befriended by both Azrael and a young woman who Barbara Gordon used as a runner through the wastes of Gotham, Cassandra Cain, Leslie had her own spotlight issue, Batman Chronicles #18, "Spiritual Currency," showing how, even in the darkest hours of Gotham, Leslie kept her hope alive and her pledge of non-violence, even when faced with more violence around her than ever before. It's a great issue, and one of the best spotlights on Leslie.

After "No Man's Land," Leslie would continue to appear regularly in the Batman titles. She befriended Selina Kyle in the early issues of Ed Brubaker's excellent Catwoman series, helping Selina and her protege, Holly Robinson, get their lives in Gotham's East End together. She remained a recurring character in the Denny O'Neil written Azrael series until that character's death. It was even established by Devin Grayson in an early issue of Gotham Knights that she and Alfred had flirted with having a romantic relationship for years, but their duties had kept them apart.

This next paragraph is going to be tricky for me to write, partially because it violates the blog rule about only writing about comics I like, and partially because it takes a good character and drags her through the mud. "War Games," was a Batman event that was released in 2004-2005 and featured a massive gang war in Gotham started by Spoiler, one of Gotham's younger vigilantes, who took an exercise Batman has run in the Bat Computer about how to get control of Gotham's mobs and tried to implement it without thinking of the consequences. It's a messy story for many many reasons, and in the end features the death of Spoiler at the Thompkins clinic after being tortured by Black Mask. After Spoiler's death, Batman discovers that Leslie, who had left Gotham for Africa, let the girl die, not treating her, to give Bruce an object lesson and hope to stop his endless crusade and save further children from dying in it. It's an ugly, out of character twist, and completely violates everything Leslie had stood for for thirty years. I'll be honest: I mentioned head canon earlier, that trove of stories you keep that "count" for you, and while I try to stick close to canon, this was a story I hated from day one and never counted.

Fortunately, Chuck Dixon took over as writer on Robin again in 2008 after a six year or so absence from the book and character he defined, and immediately set about making things right. He revealed that Spoiler, Stephanie Brown, was in fact alive, having asked Leslie to help fake her death so she could escape Gotham and the life she had lived. In one fell swoop, Dixon had returned Leslie to the good, noble woman she had always been. Leslie would return to Gotham and appear briefly in those Dixon issues of Robin, and would get a spotlight in the Gotham Gazette mini-series that took place around the "Battle for the Cowl." Her final pre-Flashpoint appearances would be in Batgirl, when Stephanie was the title heroine.

Since Flashpoint, Leslie's backstory has actually returned to closer to what it originally was, as she seems to now be a social worker for Gotham's child protection services working with children and adolescents. She has only made brief appearances, once in a flashback as Jason Todd's case worker after his parents died but before Bruce took him in, and a few times in We Are Robin, where she is working with Duke Thomas after his parents disappeared in the wake of Joker's assault on Gotham. Her one appearance with Batman in this context was in Batman #52, a flashback to her working with a young Bruce, but it could be taken either way that she's his case worker or a family friend. There is one odd appearance in an issue of Grayson, where Leslie is seen working in a refugee camp in Africa as a doctor, which doesn't seem to fit this persona, but we'll see if that gets folded in. In a recent Twitter interaction I had with him, new Detective Comics writer James Tynion IV said Leslie will be appearing in Detective Comics #935, coming out this Wednesday.

Just as a brief aside, There is a  Leslie Thompkins in Fox's Gotham, played ably by Morena Baccarin, however the character is Leslie in name only. In the series she is a former Arkham doctor turned medical examiner who has little to no relationship with Bruce Wayne and is one of the romantic partners of Jim Gordon. She has no problem with violence. So basically she's about as close to her comics counterpart as anyone is on Gotham.

But earlier I said I wanted to not just talk about who Leslie Thompkins is, but why she's important to Batman and comics. To start with, Leslie is a smart, driven, female character who takes no guff from anyone, even if it's Batman, which puts her in a league with character like Wonder Woman and Amanda Waller, which is worth noting. But more importantly, Leslie represents to me the path not taken. In a world where flashy people in flashy costumes fight and destroy everything around them, she is the calm blue ocean, the voice that says there has to be another way. She reminds Batman every time they talk that he could stop, that he could use the Wayne fortune not to fight the results of crime as Batman, but confront its roots in poverty and pain. And while she judges and will never go easy on Bruce or any of his allies, she also always has a kind word and an embrace. In a world where violence is on every corner, whether it's on the pages of a comic book or a newspaper, a person who holds out hope that people really can be better, that peace and non-violence is an option is a rare thing. And because of the laws of comic book plot, Batman can never take up the path Leslie offers, her mere existence assures that the option remains open, and hope for a better, more peaceful world is always available. And that hope is important to have in the dark days of Gotham, and anywhere else.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Great Batman: Brave and the Bold Rewatch: Mystery in Space!

Season One, Episode 14: Mystery in Space!
Written by Jim Krieg
Directed by Brandon Vietti

Plot synopsis

Teaser: Equinox has kidnapped Gorilla Grodd and the Question and strapped them to an elaborate scale trap, telling Batman he can only save one of them, which the Dark Knight of course proves untrue.

Episode: Batman is standing on a shoreline awaiting a zeta beam to transport him to the planet Rann when he hears a strange sound he discovers to be Aquaman emitting the cry of a wounded beluga whale. But this isn’t the happy-go-punchy, bravado-filled Aquaman we’ve grown accustomed to. Big A is despondent, questioning the meaning of everything. At first, Bats stresses he can’t help because he has a solo mission to attend to (“It’s important I stress the word ‘solo,’” his inner monologue says), but the zeta beam ends up transporting both heroes into the middle of a firefight on an alien planet.

In the skies over Rann, they are met by Adam Strange and his wife, Alanna, who take them to their base in the capital where Alanna’s father, Saradath, welcomes them. The introductions are interrupted by a message from General Kreegaar, leader of the lizardlike Gordanians, who shows them a giant spiderlike mech approaching the city.

“All is lost. Woe is us. Perhaps it’s not too late to surrender,” Aquaman suggests, still mysteriously and uncharacteristically crestfallen.

Batman, Aquaman and Adam Strange lead an attack on the mech. Aquaman takes out Gordanian warriors with little effort, and little enthusiasm. Were this any other episode, he’d be laughing heartily and working on some kind of title for a future tale. Kreegaar turns the fight around, however, trapping the heroes in a thermal device meant to boil them alive from the inside. The heroes escape by using Strange’s jetpack to cut a hole in the floor.

Once back at the base, Strange deduces the Gordanians are after the Eye of Zarid, essentially a giant magnifying glass that can be used to fry an entire city. The Eye is located underwater. Batman, Aquaman and the Stranges get their scuba on and find the Gordanians attempting to free the Eye from beneath the waves. Batman suggests Aquaman do what he does best and summon the local sea creatures to their aid. But when they arrive and Strange talks about using them to draw fire, Aquaman shoos them away instead. That’s when he reveals what’s been bugging him all episode: Big A apparently failed to stop whalers from poaching beluga recently, and it’s left him feeling less than heroic.

As Batman tries to snap the King of Atlantis out of his funk, the Gordanians attack. In the midst of the fight, a zeta beam transports Adam to Earth, 25 trillion miles away. Alanna is captured, and the Gordanians free the Eye of Zarid, moving it toward the city. Adam teleports back to Rann just in time for Batman and Aquaman to relay the dire news. Adam sits down, feeling like a failure and declaring the war lost.

That’s when we get the king’s speech.

“What has gotten into you, man?” Aquaman asks Strange. “Alanna is alive! Rann is alive! You’re alive! And where there is life, there’s always hope!” (What could be move Silver Age than exclaiming every sentence?)

Strange: “But we’re outgunned.”

Aquaman: “So what? We don’t even use guns!” (Great line)

Strange: “But the Eye is invulnerable.”

Aquaman: “All the better to prove we are true heroes!”

Strange: “Alanna is their captive.”

Aquaman: “For now! This isn’t the end. It’s an opportunity! Most men wait their entire lives in vain for a moment like this! A chance to matter! A call to adventure! Adam, answer that call!”

I mean, I don’t know about you, but I want to go punch some lizard men in the face after watching that scene. But more importantly, Adam does, and that sets into motion a daring, utterly ridiculous plan.

The heroes steal Earth’s moon via zeta beam and drop it into orbit around Rann, creating an eclipse that depowers the Eye of Zarid and renders the Gordanians impotent. Strange rescues Alanna, Kreegaar screams as the Eye crashes to the ground and Aquaman rides triumphant aboard a pair of Rannian sea creatures, because that’s what you do when you’re a badass sea king.

“A fitting end to The Strange Encounter of the Reptile Men,” Aquaman declares, having truly become his old self again.

As for what happened while Earth temporarily had no moon, that’s never shown. Hopefully it wasn’t too catastrophic.

Number of times Aquaman says “Outrageous!”: Zero.

Who’s Who

Aquaman (voiced by John DiMaggio)
First comic book appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 3- Evil Under the Sea!

Adam Strange
First comic book appearance: Showcase #17 (November 1958)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 14- Mystery in Space!

An archaeologist from Earth who is transported by zeta beam to the planet Rann in the Alpha Centauri system, Strange becomes the protector of that planet and marries one of its women, Alanna, daughter of chief scientist Saradath.

The Question (voiced by Nicholas Guest)
First comic book appearance: Blue Beetle #1 (June 1967)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 14- Mystery in Space!

Created by Steve Ditko and acquired by DC in its absorption of Charlton Comics in the 1980s, journalist turned detective Vic Sage’s face is covered by a substance called pseudoderm, making it look as though he has no facial features. The Question is obsessed with conspiracies, and at times his philosophy has run the gamut from Ayn Rand-style libertarianism to Eastern zen. In later years, Sage would be replaced as the Question by Gotham police Detective Renee Montoya. The Question also served an inspiration for Watchmen’s Rorschach.

Equinox (voiced by Oded Fehr)
First comic book appearance: Justice League of America #111 (June 1974)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 14- Mystery in Space!

Equinox is based on a DC Comics villain named Libra, who appeared in a 1970s Justice League story by Len Wein. Grant Morrison brought the character back as a big bad in 2008’s Final Crisis storyline, making him obsessed both with balance and godhood.

Gorilla Grodd (Voice by John DiMaggio)
First Comic Book Appearance: The Flash #106 (May, 1959)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Two- Terror on Dinosaur Island!

First Comic Book Appeearance: New Teen Titans #1 (November, 1980)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 14- Mystery in Space!

The Gordanians are a lizard man species of intergalactic conquerors and slavers. They are often allies of the Citadel, another group of alien conquerors, and in the comics they have little connection to Rann, but are instead mostly seen as nemeses of the planet Tamaran, home of Starfire; they are the race that kidnapped and enslaved her before she escaped to earth to join the Titans.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

The title of the episode refers to one of DC Comics' classic sci-fi comics of the 50s and 60s, the one in which Adam Strange had a recurring feature for many years. 

The actor who voiced Equinox, another recurring character loosely based on a comic book character but technically original to the show, is voiced by Oded Fehr, an actor best known for The Mummy films, but who does a fair amount of voice work. He voiced Doctor Fate in Justice League Unlimited prior to his work on this series, and would go on to voice Ra's al Ghul in Young Justice.

In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 6/8

Birthright #16
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Andrei Bressan & Adriano Lucas

The fourth arc of Birthright begins an arc that looks like it's going to provide answers to many of the series long burning questions. Birthright is usually a strong mix of action and character, but this issue mostly takes a step back from the action and gives us a very strong dose of character. We don't get much more of the most awkward dinner ever between the sorcerer Mastema and the mother of our protagonists, Wendy, and Mikey's ex/friend.babymama, Rya, before two of the remaining other mages, Kylen and Enoch show up to discuss what to do about finding Mikey and the betrayal of their fellow, Samael. But after only a few pages of this, we're back with Mikey, his brother Brennan, his dad Aaron, and Samael, revealed to be the boy's grandfather, Aaron's father. If we got the impression from the end of the previous issue that Aaron has some issues with his dad, And now we can see how, as hard as it would be for anyone to be accused of the murder of their son, and to have their son disappear, how much this plays right into the issues Aaron has as the son of a father who abandoned him. And how furious he is that his father, who knew about the magical land of Terrenos, never came to him and his family in their hour of need, when Mikey was gone. And Samael may have good reasons, but his evasion and his simply saying that he has good reasons without explaining anything? That doesn't make him sound like the most trustworthy of guys. We also get more explanation of Brennan's burgeoning mystical abilities, and his use of them sets off what looks to be the series next major fight scene. A series with so many mysteries needs to start paying them off eventually, and as Williamson has proven in his other creator owned series, he knows when the time is ripe for some answers. Ad as good as the story is, and it's very good, the art on this issue is Andrei Bressan's best. Not only do we have great character moments in the faces of both Samael and Aaron, but Bressan gets to draw Samael's lair, a treasure trove of mystical artifacts. This is always something an artist can have fun with, but this particular treasure trove is littered with props from many classic fantasy movies. In a once over I saw all sorts of stop motion creatures from Harryhausen movies, the skull of the pirate from Goonies, Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, the crocodile from Hook, and the Wicker Man from, well, The Wicker Man. I'm a big fan of Easter Eggs, and the two page spread that introduces Samael's treasure room is just packed with them. Birthright is an exciting, character-driven modern fantasy story, and one for fans of the stories that explore the thin line between fantasy and reality. The first three arcs are out in trade, so it would be easy for you to catch up and start grabbing the single issues as things really start speeding forward.

Detective Comics #934
Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, & Adriano Lucas

"DC:Rebirth" keeps moving forward, and you'll be seeing a lot of it this week. We're starting it with the new issue of Detective Comics, which returns to its original numbering. Detective has been the most inconsistent of the Batman titles since the Flashpoint changeover, a book that has ranged from some excellent arcs to some of the worst Batman comics I've read. The new dawn of the series takes aspects from various places, including Batman & Robin Eternal and the late Batwoman series, and starts creating a new Batman team title. There's a lot of mystery built into this first issue, as someone is impersonating Batman and using scientifically advanced drones to chase down other Gotham vigilantes. With this going on, Batman recruits Batwoman, who has a military background, to serve as team leader and drill sergeant for a team of young vigilantes, specifically Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan (Cassandra Cain's new identity, and one reforming villain, Clayface, who Batwoman worked with at the end of her own series. I probably have every appearance of Batwoman, and while she has shared page time with Batman before, this issue felt like the most substantive meeting between the two. In the past, Batman has mostly given her his usual routine when a vigilante is in Gotham he hasn't trained, the, "This is my city," shtick. But here, he's reaching out to her for help, and it's the more stable Batman on the end of Scott Snyder's run we're seeing here, someone who is willing to work with people and not be the paranoid figure he has often been portrayed as in the past fifteen years or so. To really show that, he unmasks in front of Kate Kane, and we get to see her react on the best possible way, "I've been waiting for you to admit it for the last year and a half." And the utterly shocked look on Bruce's face is priceless; it's rare to see Batman surprised, and it's a nice change, We get little bits of each of the characters on the team, probably the least with Red Robin, which I'm a bit sad about as I've been waiting for Tim Drake to have a regular spot in a Bat book since the post-Flashpoint universe began, but he's got time. I like the feeling we get for Orphan, who is still haunted by the events of Batman & Robin Eternal, Spoiler, who plays up her name a lot more than it was played up in her pre-Flashpoint years as someone who spoils the plans of villains, and the scene where Batman and Batwoman find Clayface actually does a good job of making Clayface a more sympathetic figure, much more akin to his Batman: The Animated Series portrayal then the mustache twirling Basil Karlo of the comics. And we see Kate Kane still dealing with the fallout of her disagreements with her father and I assume her final break-up with Maggie Sawyer, who appeared back in Metropolis in the week's Action Comics. I hope we get to see a lot of the dangling threads from Batwoman's series played out here as the series progresses. This was an excellent debut issue, a great way to introduce new readers to these characters, and a really enjoyable issue for old time Bat fans looking to see the next generation of the Batman family back together.

Flash: Rebirth #1
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Carmine Di Giandomenico & Ivan Plascencia

Flash: Rebirth actually combines aspects from both of the above reviews: It's part of "DC: Rebirth" and is written by Joshua Williamson. So much of this issue is new series writer Joshua Williamson giving readers his view if Barry Allen. Barry is having a hard time of things here: he's been assigned to a murder case that oddly resembles his mother's, and he's having visions. If you read DC Universe: Rebirth, you know those visions are connected to Wally West trying to make his way back into the world, and we get to see the sequence from that one shot from Barry's point of view, and it still warms my heart. Barry is such a warm, friendly guy, and seeing him with his protege and surrogate son just brings out the best in him. And I am such a huge fan of  this Wally West, I'm just glad to see him back. The sadness that he is experiencing, knowing that most of the people he knows and loves, and the confusion that his Aunt Iris and Uncle Barry are "just friends" in this reality, is palpable. And if I wasn't pleased enough that I see Barry interacting with Wally, I get to see Barry interact with my favorite character of all time as well, Batman. I like that Williamson doesn't have Barry and Bruce interact as detectives, since that's not what Barry really is, but as scientists, which is how Barry thinks of himself. This issue is the first to really build on the reveals of the DCU: Rebirth one-shot, and begins Batman and Flash's investigation into what changed the universe and what's happened to them, analyzing the Comedian's button that Batman found in the cave. We don't get any answers, but a lot is set up for the future of the series. The wrap up of the case Barry was investigating has some very different hints, hints of Professor Zoom being back in the picture. I'm personally left to wonder if the Zoom who is imprisoned in Iron Heights, the New 52 Zoom, is still there and the yellow blur we see is the pre-52 Zoom, somehow having survived his apparent death in Flashpoint, and is now an agent of Dr. Manhattan, or simply is back to his old tricks of screwing with Barry. The art from Carmine Di Giandomenico is absolutely gorgeous, and really captures the feel of speed, and the colors by Plascencia add to it, making for a visually striking comic. With this issue, we have an excellent starting issue that gives readers a good idea of who Barry Allen is and what his world is like, who his supporting cast is, and a taste of what's to come.

Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Matthew Clark, Sean Parsons, and Jeremy Caldwell & Liam Sharp and Laura Martin

This first issue of Wonder Woman in the Rebirth era is about truth and contradictions. Greg Rucka start his new run on this series by examining the contradictions between Wonder Woman's pre-Flashpoint origin and her post-Flashpoint one, between how the world looks at her and how the world looks at other heroes. As with most of the Rebirth one-shots, this issue feels like a statement on where the character is and how the creators perceive them, so it is also lighter on the action, but is filled with a thoughtful examination of Wonder Woman as a character. Greg Rucka's previous run on the character leading up to Infinite Crisis is my favorite Wonder Woman run, so I'm thrilled to see him back, and I love how he embraces all the history of the character, how he doesn't ignore the New 52 incarnation of the character, but uses the contradictions and the current status quo to spotlight Diana's strength as a champion of truth. I love the change from the New 52 costume to the more armored version of Diana's traditional garb, and Liam Sharp's Diana is both beautiful and fierce, a force to be reckoned with, and if the big fight scene at the end of the issue between Diana and constructs in the design of Greek mythological creatures is any indication, we're in for a visual feast as Sharp gets more creatures to draw. Rucka builds a mystery at the heart of his new take on the series, questions of Olympus and what Diana has been a part of, and the hinted at brother from the end of Geoff Johns's Justice League. Rucka more than any other writer is facing down the changes made in the New 52 head on in this stellar one-shot.