27 February 2005

SideKick: Batman #637

Every month or so I'll review a single issue of a comic book title to see how relatable it is for new readership.

To quote Dennis O'Neil from The DC Guide to Writing Comics:

"One of the recurring and embarassingly valid criticisms of modern comic books, particularly the adventure & fantasy titles, is that they're extremely difficult to understand on the most basic level." (pg 24)

Do today's comics still suffer from this criticism? Let's find out shall we?

Last night was my buddy Edgar's birthday so me and the fellas celebrated his last year in twenty-somethingsville by bar-hopping through Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Yadda yadda yadda, as I lay in bed this morning, nursing a hangover of Tony Stark proportions, my girlfriend came to my rescue: a couple of ibuprofens, a bottle of gatorade and a brand new comic book. Color me spoiled.

Batman #637 (DC Comics)
Judd Winick (script) & Doug Mahnke (pencils)

Now Batman and the other icons get a handicap when it comes to The SideKick because nearly everyone has a basic knowledge of the hero's origins, and are familiar with his villians and supporting cast. So after I read the issue the first time, and the pounding in my head subsided, I reread it with the proverbial fine-toothed comb.

Batman #637 is part 3 of the 4-part "Under the Hood" storyline which centers on the reappearance of the Red Hood, a minor criminal in the Batman mythos, but whose background is directly connected to the origin of the Joker. This issue, however, seemingly has very little to do with the the Red Hood as his appearances (with no specific mention of his name) merely bookend the main story of Batman & Nightwing battling Amazo, an android endowed with the powers of the Justice League.

Now we don't know why Batman & Nightwing are in a warehouse facing this electronic behemoth but Winick & Mahnke catapult us into the action so fast we have no time to question it. The action is well-paced and choreographed thanks to Mahnke's subtle details and unpretenious storyboarding. From the opening scene we know Batman & Nightwing will defeat Amazo, so what makes this an entertaining read is finding out how.

With Nightwing handling the narration, Winick's script adds a pinch of depth to this action-adventure as he recounts his previous pairing with the caped crusader (as the original Robin), comparing their demeanor, their game faces, in the throes of battle.

I like what DC is doing here and in the latest issues of The Flash where the former sidekicks are dissecting the characters of their[our] heroes. It's sort of like that realization that comes with adulthood, understanding why grown-ups acted the way they did when we were young. Back then, we may have debated over Superman & Batman being the coolest, but deep down we always wanted to be Robin: the young adventurer with a father figure/partner to carry the burden of responsibility. Nowadays, with the primary audience for comics being adult males, DC is bringing characters like Flash, Speedy and Nightwing to the forefront as our representatives and using them as the unofficial arbiters of their universe.

Bookending the Batman & Nightwing story is the Black Mask, one of the more obscure Bat-villians, brokering with Mr. Freeze, and later the Red Hood, to help him in his criminal enterprises. New readers are not going to know who the Black Mask is but Winick handles that by mentioning his name early in the issue, juxtaposing him with a more recognized Bat-adversary in Mr. Freeze, and writing him some of the best one-liners in the issue.

Based on what occurs, it's hard to predict how the "Under the Hood" arc is going to end next month, and that's a sign of good single issue. The fact that I am curious enough to want to pick up Batman #638, though, that's the sign of great one.

Until next time...

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