DC 52: Flash #1

The Flash #1

By Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

Okay, simple, one-word review for The Flash? Fun.

That’s my over-riding emotion from this, my first look at any comic of the scarlet speedster in I don’t know how many years: fun. I had a big soft spot for Flash when I was a kid; he wasn’t up there with the big hitters like Superman, Captain Marvel (sorry, I can’t call him Shazam, that’s not his name…) or Batman and I suppose that was part of his appeal. He’s also one of those comics characters who, like Wonder Woman, is a well known and much loved name but one that many writers (including some very talented ones) have struggled with over the years, not exactly sure where to take the character.

Right from the get go this is a fast, vibrant slice of superhero comics fun, right from Barry Allen on a geeky date with Patty at a technical symposium and exhibition which is quickly crashed by a group of masked and armoured mercernaries. As everyone takes cover from the armed intruders Barry makes a swift exit to covertly change into the Flash and in a lovely scene we’re reminding that the Flash isn’t just a super-fast human, he actually vibrates through dimensions, rather than ripping off his shirt in time honoured tradition to reveal his costume he speed-forces his way through, practically vibrating into his iconic red costume and bursting out into the scene with a wonderfully kinetic feel, followed by an utterly joyful, gloriously old-fashioned feeling double page spread where we see Flash tackling the bad guys in frames that are actually giant letters spelling out FLASH in a curving sequence, while the top corner has a short paragraph explaining his backstory in just a few, concise lines (struck by lightning, chemical reaction, the Speed Force). It’s perhaps a little silly, maybe even slightly cheesy and certainly old-fashioned, but oh it made me smile.

After the attack, as Barry returns to his civilian guise and joins Patty to ‘go to work’ as a forensics team for Central City Police, they find one of the intruders is dead – was he killed in a super-speed tussle with the Flash? Barry is understandably worried sick that he may, however accidentally, have killed someone, even one of the bad guys and it seems quite clear the police also want to clear Flash of any implication in the death too. Barry is even more upset when he recognises the body – it is an old, childhood friend of his, Manuel, which triggers a flashback (no pun intended) of the pair of them years before, ironically racing one another. When Barry finds out that Manuel’s DNA has been altered he vows to find out who did it and why, but the last thing he expects is a visit at home from his deceased friend… In a nice sequence, before he can explain what is happening they are pursused by unknown hunters in a scene which mirrors the earlier flashback of them racing one another in their youth, a nice touch.

Richard had a look at this on Friday and also seems to have enjoyed it (see here), although noting that there wasn’t a huge amount going on. I’d go with that too – it does indeed feel a bit slight and a little light, perhaps, but although normally I’d consider that a criticism here I’m really not bothered at all. It cracks along, approriately enough, at a fast pace so you don’t really notice the light plot at the time and frankly it has so much simple joy and pleasure in doing so, not least because of Francis Manapul’s lovely art (some of the most enjoyable Flash art since the great Infantino?). When I was a young boy, around 8, 9, 10 years of age, there wasn’t a handy comics shop, but there was a newsagent near my grandparent’s home that often had big piles of DC comics and I’d cycle up to it and rummage through for whatever I could get with my pocket money and devour them alongside my regular, weekly diet of British comics. And I loved finding them and I loved reading them, curled up somewhere in my grandparents with my stack of four-colour goodness and a big smile on my face. You know what the Flash did? It made me feel that way again. No, no deep, twisted psychological take on a troubled hero or multi-layered, multi-referential, postmodern tale either. Just a great, simple, hugely fun superhero tale that I romped right through. A bit light? Sure. Straightforward? Yes. But just damned enjoyable? Oh yes.

I really didn’t expect much from this but picked it up on a whim, wondering how the New 52 would approach Flash; I certainly didn’t expect to come away feeling utterly delighted and pleasantly reminded of my boyhood dalliances with DC comics. How that will translate into ongoing reading I’m really not sure – will that simple pleasure keep me reading or wane after a few issues? I can’t answer that right now, but I do know I’m looking forward to the second issue…

DC 52: I, Vampire and All Star Western

Another couple of reviews of the massive reboot of the DC universe which took place through September with 52 brand new issue 1s being published as the whole of the mainstream DC Comics continuity was rebooted, originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog:

I, Vampire #1

By Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino

Fialkov and Sorrentino’s I, Vampire has a bit of an odd feel to it – like All Star Western #1 (see below) it seems on first inspection to be a strange bedfellow for the rest of DC’s massive New 52 relaunch as both pretty much scream DC Vertigo rather than the mainstream DC Universe which is the bedrock of the New 52 that has so dominated the last four weeks of monthly releases. But on looking closer there are connections into the main DCU, although I’d still say both titles feel they owe more to Vertigo’s influence, but that isn’t a bad thing in my book since I’ve always had a soft spot for Vertigo. Besides the DCU, even a freshly rebooted one still building itself, is a big place and allows for this kind of diversity.

I found the cover a bit generic and weak, to be honest – not actually bad, just not terribly impressive or eye-catching – but Andrea Sorrentino’s art inside is far, far better and much more appropriate to the feel and style of this intriguing series, often murky, and muddy in certain scenes, which suits a tale where the morality is never entirely clear. There may be an obvious Evil Threat but the defence against it isn’t exactly on the moral high ground either. In that respect I, Vampire remind me somewhat of the clouded morality of the excellent Ultraviolet series from Channel 4 several years back (which is high praise as I thought that was a hugely compelling bit of drama).

There’s a stong opening on a dark, rubble-strewn cityscape and it isn’t clear to the reader exactly what is going on. An accident like a gas explosion, a terrorist attack, natural disaster? We’re not sure and the uncertainty is a part of this story, an important part, I think, we shouldn’t have a clear picture right away here but slowly be lead into a dark maze of loyalties and conspiracies. We see bodies all over the wreckage of buildings and cars, while a lone figures stalks across it all. He finds one body still moving and rather than attempting a rescue he swiftly stakes the survivor then beheads him; a vampire killer? Who is he and why are there multiple vampire bodies littering a damaged city street?

Cut to a pair of slender figures by a lake, a man and a dark-eyed, Fey-like woman, Mary. She is asking the man about history – does he remember the Revolutionary War? Yes. Does he still remember what they fought for exactly? This is not that war, the man, Andrew, answers her. She shakes her head:

Why Not? We’ve been oppressed. I’m Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Ben Franklin all in one,” she argues.

You kill people.”

I kill livestock,” she retorts emphatically.

And right there we see some difference between Andrew and Mary – it looks like he may have been the one responsible for bringing her across and while he feel guilts for vampirising her and for the other blood he has spilled across the centuries and seeks to atone in some way for it Mary is clearly the opposite. She revels in her vampire abilities, her eternal life, immense strength and sees killing humans as no more morally troubling than the average meat-eating human does the killing of cattle for food. And yet with the greater numbers humans are masters of the world while the more powerful vampires have to hide in shadows and myth to be safe. Mary wants an end to this, she wants a war against the human world, to take it by force so the vampires will rule. It isn’t just the massed ranks of human though, Andrew points out – how does she and her ‘soldiers’ expect to stand up against someone like Superman? Some Green Lanterns? Wonder Woman? They will be wiped out by the superheroes, Andrew points out, a massacre. There is no need for such risk when they can remain covert and co-exist with humans. But hidden co-existence is not enough for Mary…

I really enjoyed this issue – while the idea of vampires being tired of hiding in the shadows and deciding to take over is far from new to the genre it is still intriguing and straight off from the first issue it has me wanting to follow on to the next issues. Elements remind me of other vampire series I’ve enjoyed – as I said the moral ambiguity is reminiscent of Ultraviolet (especially a later scene where the vampire killer in the ruined city finds a woman and tries to kill her while she scream wait, you just turn up, tell me I was attacked by a vampire and expect it is okay for me to let you just kill me? As with Ultraviolet’s vampire killers you are made to question if the vamp slayers are also immoral killers too), while the relationship between Mary and Andrew reminds me a little of Nick and Jeanette in Forever Knight, he tired of his vampire state and trying to reclaim his humanity by atoning for centuries of misdeeds while she clearly has no such qualms and actually enjoys being a vampire and has no wish to be ‘cured’. And yet, like Jeanette with Nick, despite these differences she clearly still has strong feelings for Andrew. It is, as I said, very Vertigo, but the mention that her vampire army, if it rises, will have to face the caped heroes, ties it into the DCU continuity, albeit a much darker, supernaturally tinged area of it, and it will be interesting to see where it goes; with centuries of plotting I’d imagine Mary has considered facing superpowered opponents at some point and I’m intrigued to see how she plans to deal with them.

All Star Western #1

By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Moritat

And to another of week four’s New 52 releases and another that seems to have strolled in from the Vertigo side of DC’s world: All Star Western. And as with I, Vampire, there is, though, a link to the main DCU, albeit a historical link since this is set in the 19th century, opening with a beautiful view of late 1800s Gotham City, old Western style steam locomotives (with those distinctive large chimneys and the cow catchers) pulling into a raised station while the harbour in the background is a forest of masts from tall ships. It’s a nice set up, quickly establishing the era in one, large splash page. Disembarking from the train is a grizzled, scarred, familiar face – Jonah Hex, leading his horse off the train, clad in his trademark Confederate uniform. The Old West has come to the expanding big city, it seems, but even in the urban setting there are still bushwhackers to beware of and a gang in a dingy back alley make the mistake of trying to rob the passing cowboy…

You shouldn’t be in Bandit’s Roost alone!” yells one of the gang”

Ah ain’t alone…” Hex mutters, pulls his pistols, “Ah got two friends with me.”

As you might expect the would be muggers are swiftly disabused of their notion of easy, small town rube as prey in the big city as Hex simply guns them down. Open plains or the more uncomfortable (for him), closed in environs of a rapidly expanding big city, Hex is not a man to be messed with.

Across town Doctor Doctor Amadeus Arkham has been summoned to a grisly crime scene by Gotham Police detective Lofton, much against the wishes of Chief Cromwell, who is arguing with Lofton in a blood-splattered room, over the body of a butchered prostitute. On the walls is scrawled in blood ‘Metus’; Arkham translates this as ‘fear’ and it quickly transpire that several other prostitutes have been found, similarly carved up and with a word in a different language painted on the wall in their blood. Someone is sending a message. At this point Hex turns up, also called for by Lofton who wants to use his unique bounty hunting skills. The Chief is firmly opposed to both Arkham and Hex, so Arkham proposes he and Hex investigate privately and turn over any information – and the kudos for any subsequent capture – to the police.

Hex prefers to work alone but grudgingly takes the doctor with him as he trawls dive bars and back streets in search of information on the Gotham Butcher. There are some nice little details even in these short scenes, such as a clearly visible bridge under construction in the background of one street fight, quite obviously Gotham’s equivalent of New York’s iconic Brooklyn Bridge, being built, another nice detail setting the period and showing a bit of care by the artist. In one bar/bardello Hex disentangles himself from Arkham’s attempts to psychoanalyse him (the doctor is almost as curious about Hex’s mental landscape as he is that of the serial killer) when he recognises one prostitute as an old accquantance, who he approaches for information. When a would be client hassles her Hex reacts predictably and wallops him, leading to a good, old-fashioned bar-room brawl, with Arkahm watching from below a table and re-considering his initial analysis of Hex’s pathology in light of the fact he does display certain moral codes, such as protecting his lady friend and his desire to bring in the killer.

There are obvious parallels to the infamous murders of Jack the Ripper here – the victims all prostitutes, all butchered and mutilated rather than simply murdered. But the psychoanalytic angle of Arkham and the rough justice approach of Hex bring a new angle to it. One of the more famous myths surrounding the Ripper murders was that it was all covered up by a Masonic conspiracy involving senior Masons who were all leading figures in society, and here we have a mystery suspect identified only by a silver skull ring, which we soon discover (at a society party where Hex’s Confederate uniform causes great offence) that a large number of Gotham’s movers and shakers wear just such a ring and belong to secret society. Is the killer one of them? If so is he operating with their sanction? Or a rogue killer that they are covering for? Hex quickly realises they in over their head at this gathering and he and the doctor withdraw to reconsider their approach in light of this revelation. Meanwhile a very personal message is sent by the murderer to try and discourage Hex and get him to leave, but the killer clearly doesn’t know Hex, who grits his teeth and declares if the killer wants to make it personal then he’s fine with that. You know he isn’t going to stop…

A really enjoyable entry into the Jack the Ripper re-imagined sub genre, nicely crossing the Victorian detective yarn with the Old West and a hint of possible supernatural or conspiracy (or both) lurking behind these murders, while the mention of the Wayne family and the introduction of a certain Mayor Cobblepot link this historical fiction to the main DCU, although again with a lengthy detour through Vertigo country. Compelling stuff and like I, Vampire it certainly did the job of making me want to read more, in fact I am actively looking forward to the next issue.

DC 52: Wonder Woman

Another of my FP blog reviews of the major DC Comics relaunch of 52 series re-starting at issue 1:

Wonder Woman #1

Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang

DC Comics

The new skyscraper skyline of Shanghai is our opening scene as a rich businessman on a penthouse balcony plies three attractive women with drink and impresses them with his pedigree, telling them he is the son of a king. Actually he tells them he is the sun of a king, which is the first hint that the new Wonder Woman is going to delve back into Classical mythology. There’s a feeling something bad is going to happen, and I’m not just talking about a sleazy rich man hitting on women, there’s something else going on here, he’s not interested in them for sex and so it proves when he callously works an enchantment to to use the women as a form of oracle, not caring what this will do to these mortal women he’s co-opted.

On the other side of the world, in rural Virginia a female figure, naked save for a cloak of peacock feathers, approaches a dilapidated farm and enters the barn. The horses react violently to her presence – they are right to be afraid of her. She crosses to the wall and removes a scythe from its holder before turning to one stall and, in a frankly disgusting, vile scene, decpaitates the horse; the remaining headless body shudders and from the ruined neck a new figure emerges… Meanwhile inside the farmhouse a young woman, Zola, is arguing with a strangely garbed man; he is trying to tell her she is in danger and must flee but, understandably she is rather more concerned with a strange man being in her home uninvited. When a pair of centaur assassins strike, shooting him with an arrow she realises he was telling her the truth, a little too late. In desperation he throws her a key which magically transports her to another place.

Zola finds herself in a woman’s apartment in London (cue the sight of Big Ben to visually confirm the location). She is a little thrown from the sudden transportation across several thousand miles. Cautiously, nervously she approaches the only occupant of the room, a sleeping woman, who wakes instantly and demands to know who she is and why she is there. Zola explains, at least as much as she can given the odd circumstances. I’m Diana, the woman tells her, getting out of bed and crossing to her wardrobe, stripping off bedclothes as she goes, opening the doors to reveal Amazonian battle gear. “You’re… Wonder Woman?” gasps Zola. Our Amazon fixes her with a stare: “Diana,” she answers emphatically, leaving me wondering if in this new continuity she has either stopped using or been told to stop using the Wonder Woman name…

Diana plans to use the key to return to the Virginia farm, but Zola grabs her arm and is transported with her – she’d decided she’s safer alongside our heroine. On their return they are set upon right away by the pair of centaur assassins; despite telling Zola to stay near her they become separated, with Zola running, pursued by one hunter while Diana fights the other. Of course our heroine overcomes them, just in time, and protects Zola. They find the critically injured man from earlier still in her home, he calls Diana over and she realises he is Hermes, messenger of the gods and that there is a lot more to this than she yet knows… And no more than that, don’t want to spoil the ending, but suffice to say there’s a revelation that is quite in keeping with the eternal soap opera antics of the Olympians.

Overall I found this a reasonable read but for some reason not a brilliant one and I’m not sure why – I’ve had a deep love of Classical myth for decades and while I appreciate the return to the mythological roots I still wasn’t quite sucked into the events here; perhaps I will be if I pick up the next issue. And the fact Diana prefers Diana to Wonder Woman is possibly telling of how she sees herself in this new continuity. But it still felt that there was something lacking somewhere – Wonder Woman, as many have said, is difficult to write for as the character deserves, and although this is solid enough it felt like it was lacking a certain je ne sais quoi, but perhaps that will come as the series unfolds? Cliff Chiang’s artwork is nice, working well and clearly without showboating and it is nice to see a superheroine depicted as physically attractive, athletic – sexy even, in the almost nude bedroom scene – but not ridiculously over-developed (thank you). My main quibble, though, was with the awful scene in the barn and the equine decapitation – that’s a personal thing, mind you, some will just see it as part of the story, a nasty thing by the bad guys, but I can’t abide even fictional violence against animals and I’m really not sure we needed to see that event depicted as graphically as it was shown. Other than that, as I said not bad but I’m not quite convinced yet, although I would certainly be willing to give it more time with another issue or two.

DC 52: Batman #1

Another review I penned from the huge DC relaunch of 52 of the main DC Comics titles for the Forbidden Planet Blog:
Batman #1

Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion

DC Comics

Gotham is...”

Opening with an impressive triple panel of Gotham we get three fractured glimpses of this troubled city, from filthy, rat-infested Crime Alley to a towering, modern (and yet still with gloomy, brooding, Gothic overtones) business block and finally an ornate, vast mansion (presumably Wayne Manor). One city, but a town broken up, fractured, haves and have nots thrown together often quite closely and a city that should be a powerhouse and yet feels broken, damaged; welcome to Gotham City. Over-running this a voice over from the Batman – the Gotham Gazette for many decades has asked Gothamites to complete the phrase “Gotham is…” in three words or less. The more optimistic responses of yesteryear are drowned today by negative, despairing replies – “Gotham is damned”, “Gotham is cursed”, “Gotham is Bedlam”. Others respond with the names of the multitude of bizarre villains who plague this troubled city: “Gotham is Killer Croc”, “Gotham is Two-Face”.

Some others respond slightly more hopefully – “Gotham is Batman”. “Answers I’m partial to myself” the Dark Knight comments, dryly. It’s a nice moment, having its cake and eating it, explaining the complex nature of Gotham, those who menace it and those who defend it to the new reader, but at the same time it is also subtly pointing out that the two – supervillain and superhero – seem to go together, leaving you wondering if perhaps the poor city might be better off without both sides of that coin… This voice over takes place against an enormous brawl – there’s been a mass break out at Arkham Asylum and the Batman is faced by a whole ensemble of his most famous enemies (a neat way for Snyder to introduce them rapidly), save for a certain chalk-faced Clown Prince of Crime. Batman is holding his own to begin with, but the numbers are slowly taking their toll when finally his most famous nemesis makes his appearance – The Joker. Except the Joker appears to be fighting on the side of the Dark Knight against the other Arkham inmates – what is going on?

Cut to the roof of the police headquarters after the battle and Batman is filling in Commissioner Gordon on events. It wasn’t a break-out after all, he tells him, the cells were opened deliberately by a guard who was on the take, realised Batman was on to him and released the inmates in a desperate attempt to fend him off from himself. Which guard, Gordon asks. Dan Matthews, Batman replies. Gordon can’t believe it – he’s known the man since he was a young police cadet, an outstanding and honest man, he can’t understand who even someone as good as he was can succumb to that rot of corruption that so riddles the city. Expensive divorce pending a fling with a woman (with a criminal record), mounting health bills, he was desperate, he took dirty money… Gordon sighs in despair.

Dan Matthews on the take at Arkham… There’s nobody the scum of Gotham can’t get to, is there?” asks dejected Gordon

I wouldn’t say that,” answers the Batman, getting almost a smile from Gordon.

And again it is a nice touch from Snyder, just a few panels, but it establishes for the new reader just how endemic the corruption is in Gotham, what an uphill task both these men undertake and also nicely reminds us that Gordon is, in his own unassuming way, a real superhero himself. He doesn’t have a cape, or hi-tech lair, but he fights the good fight and doesn’t give in to the easy path of looking the other way, he chooses to take on those who poison their society head on. And the Batman knows it and with this short compliment he’s letting the other man know how much he trusts in him.

Back to the Batcave, which reboot or not is still instantly familiar to older readers – the giant coin, the enormous Joker card, the T-Rex, multiple Batmobiles and other items. Batman is trying out a new optical interface, special contact lenses which let him receive a feed from the Batcave on the go – he intends to try them in his Bruce Wayne role at a society fundraiser in his own home. As he changes into evening dress he is joined by the Joker, who it turns out was actually Dick Grayson using a special digital mask. You left me in Arkham an extra day, he complains. You looked tired, I thought you could use the rest, Batman replies. Only you would think a night sleeping in Arkham was a day off, Dick responds with a wan smile…

The two head up to the Manor above where the meet Damian Wayne (yes, he is in the new continuity) and Tim Drake. The contacts feed Bruce the names and details of everyone of his guests at his fundraiser where he announces massive Wayne Corp investment in Gotham’s future to reclaim the city and asking other rich Gothamites to join him, alogn the way being introduced by Vicki Vale to another wealthy Gothamite with a record of philanthropy and a desire to run for mayor, Lincoln March – is he as decent as he seems or is that a front? Such is Gotham that the reader is never sure if they should take such a character at face value and I’m sure that was quite intentional – I imagine Lincoln will show up again in later issues with more of a role to play. The special contact lenses also function as a quick way to introduce characters like Grayson, Damian, Vicki Vale and so on to new readers, although to be honest I thought, although a different way of doing the necessary introductions, it became awfully repetitive as a device after the first few uses.

Of course no social event ever ends with Bruce enjoying himself among friends and true to form we see him observing Gordon being called away urgently and soon enough he has made his excuses, left the party and in cape and colw once more is following. There’s a nice scene where he materialises from the gloom right behind eternally downbeat but honest Gotham detective Harvey – when Batman does the appearing silently behind him Harvey doesn’t start, doesn’t even blink, he knows only one man can creep up on him like that and merely asks him what took him so long. It’s a nice little character scene handled in just a couple of frames. The crime scene reveals not only a gruesom and rather convoluted murder but an almost invisible message which only Batman notices at first. It declares that Bruce Wayne will die tomorrow. No chance, says Harvey, no-one could get through Wayne’s security – not unless they had an inside man, someone who would have to be very close to Wayne…

And I’ll leave it there rather than blow the ending, but it’s a good one and does make me want to read the next issue. The only problem I really had with this was that, as with Detective Comics #1, this doesn’t feel like a reboot. But as I said when reviewing Detective Comics Grant Morrison was asked about this at the recent Edinburgh Book Festival and replied that yes, in most reboots over the years it was true that Batman really doesn’t change much, but he was so well put together to begin with that you simply can’t change too much of him or his world without ruining the character, so yes, although it doesn’t feel that different from previous Batman I see his reasoning and to be honest I think he’s right on that score. But the story is solid – not remarkable or brilliant, mind you – but good, introduces a number of comrades and opponents quickly and showcases the relationship between Batman and Gordon rather nicely, as well as leaving you thinking you need to know what happens next.

The new DC 52: Detective Comics and Batgirl

I penned this for the FP blog recently as part of the ongoing DC 52 coverage, where we’ve been lucky enough to have several folks kindly pitching in to help review the massive reboot DC Comics is doing of its main line of superhero comics and characters, effectively re-starting the DC universe (DCU as it is called in comic speak) which makes it open and more accessible to readers who are either not familiar with them already (and the decades of continuity and back history – some characters like Batman date right back to the 1930s, after all) or who used to read them but stopped a while back and aren’t up on recent events, meaning new readers can come in at thr ground floor as the characters are largely restarted.

Detective Comics #1

Tony S Daniel and Ryan Winn

It’s pretty rare these days for me to pick up a weekly or monthly comic – I’ve collected them for years, still have boxes of them, still have a lot of love for them, but these days more often than not I tend to pick up the collected editions further down the line, but with all the DC 52 titles coming out and with all the various guest posts that have joined the regular blog contributors (thanks, guys!) to cover this enormous re-launch, I was too curious not to pick up some, so I thought I’d delve into an area that has always been one of my favourites in the DCU – the world of Gotham city.

Detective Comics #1 starts well for me right from the disturbing cover image of the Joker and broken dolls, a suitably appropriate and creepy bit of art, backed up inside by the first page which is slashed into a sort of triptych giving us a jagged, splintered view of this world, while the Batman’s voice over laments the sheer number of deaths the Joker has been responsible for, and how even if the courts can’t deal with him properly, he can and he will (shades of Miller’s Dark Knight and his grim determination to end the Joker’s murderous spree once and for all). He also seems to hold himself partly responsible for those deaths because he has failed to stop the Joker in time, something reinforced later when he tells Alfred, after the Joker has given him the slip, that any further murders he commits since escaping him means blood on his own hands too.

It’s an extreme form of survivor’s guilt, the child who lived when his parents were brutally slain, sworn to try and defend the innocent, to prevent more deaths, feeling endless guilt because he lived and trying to assuage that irrational guilt by saving others, by feeling the guilt of the criminals he tries to stop if he fails to prevent them from harming others. And that’s spot-on for the Batman, it is a major part of his psyche after all, an important part of what drives him to do what he does.

The brutal, casual, almost randomly sparked violence of the Joker is highlighted early on when a strange visitor to his room, clad in some sort of sinister flesh mask, rubs him the wrong way, despite being an invited guest, and the Joker snaps and turns on him, not merely killing him with a knife but stabbing and slashing him multiple times in a frenzy. But he isn’t just an insane psychopath – as Batman trails then battles him (leading to a great throwaway scene where both are on a train, a little girl looks past the Joker and says that man is scary, mummy, her mother tells her not to stare, the kid says, no, not the clown man, the monster bat man. He is scarier to her than the Joker) the Joker tells him that he is too fixed on dealing with him and can’t see the bigger picture, but it’s alright because that picture is being drawn up for him…

I enjoyed this – a well paced piece of work with good, moody art highlighting the brutal nature of Gotham and the grim determination of the Batman. As he pursues the Joker in a train he sees the Joker release some of his gas and clears the innocent travellers out safely but takes a whiff himself in the process. Even with his head reeling though he won’t quit his pursuit of the Joker:

I hold my breath, but the toxin penetrates my pores. Dizzy in seconds. But I can take it. I’m Batman.

This Batman is still officially a vigilante, with the cops after him as well as the criminals, on the orders of an electioneering Mayor, much to the disgust of Jim Gordon, who is on his side, at least covertly, and who already has the bat-signal lamp on the police HQ roof, so it will be interesting to see how the obvious tensions that sets up work out. My only quibble here is that frankly it doesn’t feel like a relaunch – this is great stuff, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed it and want more – but it is also very familiar stuff to anyone who’s read Batman over the years, not as different or as fresh as say the version of young Superman in Action Comics. But then I recalled a question Grant Morrison was asked at the Edinburgh Book Festival – one reader asked him why in the various reboots and changes to the DCU over the years the Batman was usually the least altered. Grant thought about it and answered that Batman is one of those characters who was so well put together originally that there really isn’t much to reboot without messing up a well running engine and I suspect that’s the case here. In any case it certainly didn’t affect my enjoyment of this first issue.

Batgirl #1

Written by Gail Simone, pencils by Adrian Syaf, inks by Vicente Cifuentes, Adam Hughes cover

Barbara Gordon, my boyhood Batgirl, back in her cape and fighting crime after years in a wheelchair? Yeah, I had to pick up this part of the rebooted Gotham corner of the DCU too. I remember Barbara before her Oracle/Birds of Prey days, I remember when Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s hideously creepy Joker shot her, quite deliberately aiming the bullet to her spine to leave her crippled but not dead in The Killing Joke. And I am delighted to see her literally back on her feet again, although wondering how she managed it.

Her miracle recovery isn’t explained in this first issue, so I presume we’ll find out as this new universe slowly reveals itself, but her vicious crippling by the Joker is a part of this new DCU history. In fact it plays an important role, the awful memory constantly tugging at Barbara’s mind as she forces herself to move past it, to refuse to stay living with her father despite acknowledging how much the thought of staying there with him where she feels loved and safe (especially as she still suffers traumatic nightmares of that Joker incident), is so tempting, but she knows she has so reclaim her life and so moves out into a shared apartment (luckily her new room-mate works nights!).

The issues starts nicely with a good red herring, as we see a caped figure approaching an old man in his garden. We see this suited figure only from behind and at first the inference is that it is Batgirl or another caped hero, until we find out that this is a new figure, Mirror, and he has an agenda, perhaps some form of brutal, extreme justice? At least that’s what it seemed to me – his first victim seems an innocent old man pruning his roses, but Mirror confronts him demanding to know how it is he is the only one to survive a ship sinking in mysterious circumstances.

Barbara herself is very well handled, as you’d expect from Gail Simone who knows her so well, deftly balancing her reclaiming her personal life as Barbara and her crime-fighting return as Batgirl. She’s as determined in her own way as Batman – she may be using her legs again, but we know Barbara is strong and determined, even being crippled never stopped her fighting the good fight after all. But she is more human than Bruce Wayne in some ways – determined, yes, but she has doubts and she is fighting them as surely as she fights the criminals she is stalking:

I’m not Barbara Gordon. I have to keep remembering that. Tonight I’m not Barbara. Tonight I’m not the police commissioner’s daughter. Tonight I’m the only one who pored over the details of the confidential police reports when her dad wasn’t looking. I’m the one who recognised the vintage costumes you wear.

Tonight?

Tonight I’m Batgirl.”

She has anticipated a group of burglers/serial murderers The Brisby Killers and tracked them to the location of their next planned crime. As a couple are held by the criminals they are taunted, being shown a scrapbook of their previous crimes and what they did to those unfortunate families they encountered before. It’s very nasty stuff, slightly leavened by some gallows humour as the husband protests they don’t even live in Brisby. We’re not geographically constrained, the lead criminal explains, that’s just a media label. And then the window shatters as Batgirl smashes through taking out one of the gang instantly. Yes, that is almost a cliché of a scene, but it fits nicely here and there is something satisfying about our heroine smashing into the scene just in time to protect the innocent.

But all is not well here – we have hints Barbara is still adjusting to being back on her feet, she acknowledges luck as well as her training aided her in this fight, and she’s still not entirely sure she’s really back to her top game, but there is a nice aside where she comments that she has some serious upper body strength, a hint to the arm and shoulder muscles she developed pushing her own wheelchair about previously. But that crippling is still there in her memories and dreams, as I said, and she’s right to be worried about the effect it may have on her, because at some point that hideous memory is going to have a very direct consequence for Batgirl…

Good, strong opening, with Barbara an engrossing combination of the determined, strong hero and the flawed, doubting human being trying to overcome the past and her own fears. And the backstory of how she recovered the use of her legs and how she will deal with the trauma of memories of the Joker’s attack is going to be an intriguing one, I think. More, please.