Hello and welcome to the Bat Casebook–where I take the comics that are batman-related and review them for you, even though right now you’ve probably read them already. But you’ll read this anyway, for my opinion is Legion and needs to be HEARD. Stop laughing. Anyway–this week we review Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1, Birds of Prey #1, Batgirl #11, and Batman #699.

Y'know, his groupies are usually a bit prettier than this...

BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Penciled by Chris Sprouse
Inked by Karl Story
Colored by Guy Major
Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher
Covers by Andy Kubert & Chris Sprouse

And so it begins–the first story staring Bruce that wasn’t in a nebulous continuity since…a year or two ago? Hot damn, good to see ya back, brotha’. Granted he’s a bit of a bad place at the moment–if we’ve learned anything in this issue, it’s that living in the Pre-historic caveman period must’ve really sucked. Putting aside the modern tools we use to entertain ourselves, it seems like every day you gotta run piss-scared for your life from either your neighboring war tribe or from the huge bat creatures.

In case you couldn’t tell, this issue starts in the caveman period–as all good Batman stories start, don’t’cha know–where Bruce ended up after being zapped by Darkseid. We see it through the perspective of the local tribe that finds him–we can understand them, but not Bruce, who speaks faster and in an entirely different language than what they can comprehend. As you can guess, this is one of them “high concept” comics. Anyway, Bruce is accepted by the tribe and everything seems okay, for what it is, until the warring tribe, the “Blood Mob,” led by whom we’ll later know as Vandal Savage attacks the villagers. Savage captures Bruce, thinking him to be one of the “Shining Ones” and calls him Man-God, and ties him down in the mud-pit so that his wounds will be infected, next to a large bat he killed, so that he can kill Bruce in the morning. This sparks a vision in Bruce’s mind of the concept of Batman, which he uses to his advantage after one of the cavemen, Boy, breaks Bruce from his bondage. Bruce sneak attacks Vandal, using the dead bat as a make-shift costume, some tools in his utility belt, and a grappling hook to take out Vandal. He escapes through the river under a solar eclipse, causing him to disapear–just as Superman, Green Lantern, and Booster Gold breaks through time, just missing him. They talk cryptically that they know he’s going to try to make it back to his own time, and they have to stop him–because if he succeeds, everyone will die. We cut back to Bruce, who’s being pulled out of the river by a Puritan woman, who’s suspeciously close to a dead body–but Bruce can’t do anything about that, because there’s what appears to be a giant squid coming their way.

…Yeah, under almost any other writer, this could have gone down the road of WTF-ery real quick, but Morrison’s nothing if not the master of high concepts like this, and he knocks it out of the park. He does a great job at creating a language for the cavemen that sounds simple and yet understandable for the reader, and the references to Batman’s past are ingenious, the best and most noticeable probably being the young caveman fashioning himself as Bruce’s sidekick, complete with a domino-mask made out of soot (not as METAL as blood, but hey, what are ya gonna do). The action was well-paced and executed, and it does a good job at answering questions as well as leaving us with a hell of a lot more while compelling us to go further.

One thing I was really surprised about was the Superman, Hal, and Booster cameos near the end–I honestly kind-of assumed that the Time Master’s mini that was announced a month or so back wasn’t going to be as abruptly referenced, and wrote it off as a cash-grab that will also have some hints to whatever else event that DC’s going to come out with in the next year or so. I honestly don’t know if I’ll even read it, let alone review it–I just hope that it isn’t like Superman Beyond 3D to this book’s Final Crisis, where we won’t know what’s going on unless we read both.

All of this time, and I haven’t even mentioned Chris Sprouse’s art yet? I have a question for y’all–why isn’t he, like, huge in the biz yet? This is gorgeous art–it skips rope between realistic and cartoony quite expertly, and even without most of his clothes on, he just renders and amazing Bruce–you can just tell it’s him even when he’s all shirtless and manly and…whew, I may need to fan myself off. MOVING ON! In short–this book kicks ass, and I’m glad the next one comes out in two weeks.

NOT PICTURED: Dick running towards them, yelling to get off the car, he just got a wax job on it.

BIRDS OF PREY #1
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Ed Benes
Colors by Nei Ruffino
Lettering by Swands
Covers by Ed Benes, Nei Ruffino & Cliff Chiang

The start of another era–the return of DC’s favorite team of girl ass-kickers, the Birds. I’ll admit that I haven’t gotten all of the first run–yet–but from what I’ve read, it’s always been an entertaining and engaging book, and this looks like no exception.

We start with Black Canary and Lady Blackhawk pulling off a mission together saving the daughter of the Icelandic President from terrorists. After taking them out, they’re contacted by Oracle, saying she needs their help at Gotham, and she contacts Huntress with the same message. Later, we see Hawk punch a cheerleader in the face. It’s not as random as you think–it’s a gang who dresses up as cheerleaders. Gotham be a weird place, yo. Anyway, after Hawk and Dove take out the gang, they get in their civvies and go to a bar, where they’re met by Zinda, out of her Lady Blackhawk gear, who tries to recruit them to the Birds. Meanwhile, Oracle, Black Canary, and Huntress meet up on a Gotham rooftop, and after the three get a bit emotional about being back together, Oracle lays out what’s going on–she was sent a file with the names of all the superheroes in the community, as well as their known associates, friends and family, as well as a threat that the sender will kill someone off that list for every hour they don’t cooperate. They’re interrupted by a signal blazing through the sky, and after they follow it to it’s location, they find The Penguin trying to bargain with a mysterious woman calling herself the White Canary.

Overall, it was a really solid beginning to the series–the idea of “ZOMG someone has the info on all the heroes!” is a bit done, but it’s done in a way that works, and it definitely fits with how the issue describe the team at the beginning, as who the heroes call when they’re in trouble. The whole bit where Huntress nearly starts crying as they’re coming back together didn’t really work for me–I get why it’s there, but felt almost too much. I am really interested in the mysterious identity of the White Canary, though–the two people they mention is Lady Shiva, which sounds cool, and Cassandra Cain, who I really hope is who it is, because her disappearance has been down-right criminal, and I hope Simone can do some interesting things with her.

While the story was kind-of by the books, the art was very surprising. Benes was quite…restrained here, with barely a handful of ass shots. However, I don’t know if it was the coloring or the inking or both, but the art also felt…murkier than usual. I don’t know if this is Benes’ usual team or not, but I definitely notice a difference when compared to, say, his arc at the beginning of Justice League of America some years back. It does annoy me, though, that Benes put Huntress back in her ab-window costume though–which looks ridiculous, even around the grown man in all white and red booties, which is really saying something. I kind-of wish they had a different artist on this title–but I guess it could be far worse–could be Greg Land.

Overall I dug the issue–solid writing on Simone’s part, and totally draws us in. Can’t wait for the next issue.

Steph thinks to herself: "I bet Bruce doesn't have to deal with groupies this ugly before!"

BATGIRL #10
Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Penciled by Lee Garbett
Inked by Pere Perez, Jonathon Glapton, Travis Lanham and Rodney Ramos
Colored by Guy Major
Cover by Stanly “Artgerm” Lau

The start of…okay, no, this isn’t the start of another era. Seriously, at first I wasn’t really all that interested, per se, in this, because again, this is all stuff from Oracle: The Cure and Teen Titans, the former I haven’t read and the latter a book I tend to try to avoid nowadays. However, Miller’s done this in a way that at least explains most of what happened in the past (I had to Google Kid Eternity, but otherwise–) while doing so in an interesting way.

The issue starts out mostly with Oracle trying to prepare everyone for the possibility of a Calculator attack–informing Batgirl while she’s taking out some bad dudes trying to hurt some prostitutes (best lines: “How can we repay you?” “Uh…stay in school? Helps keep me out of trouble!”) and locks Wendy up in Oracle’s new headquarters. We see Calculator hatch his plan–using a satallite dish and remnants of the Anti-Life Equation virus from Final Crisis to turn everyone who’s looking at a computer screen or their cell phone into a programmed servant with one purpose–find Oracle and take her down. This is unfortunate for her, because it happens in the middle of class, where pretty much everyone was texting anyway. Steph seems to be the only teen in college not texting at the moment (a woman after my own heart), and after noticing the techno-zombie horde, she gets in her Batgirl gear and starts teaming up with Babs in fighting them off. Unfortunately, the zombies seperate the two, and seem to puke on Barbra liquid carbonite, freezing her, and the issue ends with Steph seeing a zombified Catwoman, Huntress, and Man-Bat coming at her, and commenting that she’s probably good and screwed.

So it wasn’t a bad issue–the art, as per usual was solid (though it surprised me just how many freaking inkers were on this), and, as mentioned before, the story takes a conflict I had very little stake in, then made me interested, all with an interesting hook. I also like how the stakes are consistantly raised with each arc. First we saw Steph and Babs trying to learn how to work together, then how she works with the Bat-Family, all while making herself a better superhero–now we’re seeing what happens when that support system it taken away. It looks like by the end of this arc, we’re definitely going to have a hero in Batgirl who’s strong, capable, and saves the day. I really can’t wait to see how it’s done.

Sadly, Batman wasn't there in time to warn Riddler about the dangers of gum disease and tooth decay...

BATMAN #699
Written by Tony S. Daniel
Art by Guillem March
Colors by Tomeu Morey
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher

Well…it was an issue. I’m certain of that. What I read was definitely words and pictures combined in a sequential order to tell a story–I couldn’t even begin to tell you what the story was, but still, that was definitely the purpose. Here’s what I have:

We see Batman talk to Firefly (which I also had to Google search to make sure, because it’s never explicitly said) about…some kind of criminal organization that included Riddler and some guy named Blackspell. Meanwhile, Riddler, recovering from the Joker Venom in system in the hospital, is…taken, I think. Batman gets an invitation and finds Riddler and Blackspell in a werehouse. Blackspell’s beating the crap out of Riddler, and Batman starts fighting the both of them, telling them he knows that Riddler disguised himself as Blackspell and faked his own murder attempt last issue. As Batman’s questioning Riddler about who he’s working with, since he doesn’t fit the MO for the copy-cat killer, from last issue Blackspell turns into a tree monster and starts fighting Batman. Batman takes out Blackspell, and loses Riddler in the process. Later, in Arkham, a doctor’s telling Gordon that while Blackspell isn’t a mentally well man, he doesn’t fit the MO for the copy-cat killer either. Batman goes to Riddler’s old office, and finds it tossed, all the money and most of the belongings gone, the only thing left is a photo of Batman on the floor, seemingly dead with a chalk outline around him.

…This was just a hot mess of an issue. The first problem is that this story, as done here, could not be done in two issues. It seems very obvious that the offices were scrambling to find two issues worth of story to fit in so that they can have this big #700 issue, and had Daniel just put something down. This does raise a question though…if there were two issues needed to fill…why not just put the two David Hine issues about Arkham in instead? Those were apparently done before it was sent over to Detective, and it would fit, since Black Mask’s identity was revealed in the Batman title. The second problem, I’m sad to say, is Daniel’s writing. He just jammed so much into these two issues that it’s almost impossible to decipher what happened or what it means, with no resolution or answers that make any form of sense.

So…to find some good in this…the art was solid. It didn’t have as many visual references as last issue, but it was engaging and did it’s best to try to tell this story. Overall…I’m just glad that next issue’s the big #700, and I can’t wait to read it.

And that’s it for this week! Next week I’m going to cover Batman: Streets of Gotham #12 and Azrael #8. See you then!