‘We Are Robin’–An Inventive and Unique View of Gotham

Welcome to our weekly recap of Wednesday DC comics issues. Ray is the long-time DC reader and fan, while I’m the lapsed and more cynical reader. This week, we enjoyed all of the offerings that include a Batman connection, particularly We Are Robin and Gotham by Midnight, Batman ’66 and Scooby Doo Team-Up. The last two make great use of Batman history.

However, best to avoid the titles featuring villains and Flash is becoming a serious disappointment.

We Are Robin #4 – writer, Lee Bermejo, penciller, James Harvey, insks, James Harvey with Diana Egea.

Ray: 9.5/10 (Book of the Week)
Corrina: Buy It.

We are Robin #4 splash page
We are Robin #4 splash page, copyright DC Comics

Ray: I’ve been loving this title since the start, but my one complaint is that we were introduced to a big group of original characters right out of the gate without any real setup, making several of the teen heroes besides Duke blank slates. We even lost one, Troy, without knowing much about him.

Fortunately, after last issue’s shocker, this title slows down and gives us a done-in-one focused on the first of our new heroes, Riko Sheridan. This issue takes place in the immediate aftermath of Troy’s death, and deals with the fallout not just among their inner circle, but in the world of social media surrounding them. Guest artist James Harvey gives this issue a distinctly manga-esque vibe, managing to seamlessly blend Riko’s excitable inner fantasy life with the mundane reality around her. We learn a bit more about her personal and family life, as well as what led her to decide to join the Robins. Halfway through the issue, we shift to Riko going on a solo mission on the roofs of Gotham, and it soon becomes clear that she’s very much a rookie.

Much like Kamala Khan and originally Peter Parker, the appeal of Riko and the rest of the Robins is in the growing pains they encounter as they hone their hero skills. The cut-rate goons starting rooftop fires may not seem like major threats, but they pose enough of a challenge for Batgirl to show up and give Riko her first team-up with one of her heroes. It’s a much-needed light breather issue in the aftermath of tragedy, and this title continues to evolve into one of DC’s best. The final two pages giving us profiles on the other Robins is also very welcome. This book is hitting its stride in a big way.

Corrina: What strikes me about this comic is that it easily could be an independent comic about teens in a Gotham-like city refusing to accept the conditions they live in and striving to change them. And it’s not just the concept, it’s the artwork, where panels play with the use of narrative tools like adding in texts and tweets.

This is risk-taking and a huge change from the new 52, where the art was standardized across all titles. For instance, the splash page that begins this issue with images of the deceased Robin, narration from a news report, and peeks into how others are reacting. Or the next two-page spread which contrasts white space in a classroom with Riko’s rich inner life, or the way tweets are used to follow the action in some of the later pages.

Batgirl’s appearances ties this to Gotham, of course, which raises the question of why someone should help teenagers do this when they risk death? But the answer seems to be that they risk death already by even living in Gotham, and so they fight to choose their own fates. Not a traditional comic, I’m not sure where I’m going but, like Ray, I’m hooked.

Grayson #12 – script, Tom King, plot by Tim Seeley and Tom King, pencils and greytones, Mikel Janie, Inks, Mikel Janin, Hugo Petrus, and Juan Castro.

Ray: 9/10

Corrina: Buy It. 

Ray: It’s been over a year since Dick Grayson faked his death and left his Gotham family behind, and this issue is almost entirely about the catharsis that comes with seeing him reunited with all of them, with various levels of success. The opening segment has Dick meeting up with Bruce and Alfred – or at least, what’s left of Bruce. With Bruce currently without his memories, Dick takes on a different guise and presents himself as an old friend so he can see if Bruce is happy.

This is interrupted, however, by a Spyral agent who tells Dick he’s needed back at the spy agency and gives him 24 hours to tie up his old life. His reunion with Jason and Tim is less smooth, as they – particularly Jason – are angry that he broke the bond of trust between Robins. Barbara is no easier, as she’s less surprised than anything but can’t bring herself to trust him. Dick’s attempt to win his way back into her heart calls back to one of the all-time best moments for the couple, which I’m pleased to see is still in continuity. My favorite of the segments is Dick’s reunion with Damian – both of whom have “died” since they last saw each other. The dialogue is alternately funny and emotional, and the reveal of the secret messages Dick has been leaving each of them is a great twist. Each reunion is accompanied by a page of the most iconic lines the two characters have said to each other in their history. This element is a tiny bit distracting at times, but it’s a nice callback to the history.

At the end of the issue, it’s back to Spyral, but I’m hopeful that by bringing his old allies into the fold, this title will add a new element to its already strong new arc.

Corrina: My main problem with this book hasn’t been individual issues, it’s the overriding concept that Dick needed to be dead not only to the public but to the rest of the Bat-family, or why Spyral was such an unusual threat that such lengths were necessary. What’s kept me on board has been Janin’s artwork and the individual stories.

This issue goes a long way to alleviating those concerns and we’re finally done with the “I’m lying to everyone who cares about me.” It’s a trope I’ve never enjoyed.  The reunions with various characters, as Ray said, are fun and, in Damian’s case, poignant. It seems like the story is setting up all the Bat-kids against Spyral, and that should prove to be awesome.

Gotham by Midnight #9 – Ray Fawkes, writer, Juan Ferreyra, artist

Ray: 8.5/10

Corrina: Buy It.

Ray: This clever horror title is unfortunately the first of the new Bat-books to get cancelled, ending with #12 in December. It’s essentially a supernatural cop drama with no direct ties to the Bat-family, so it’s not the biggest surprise but still unfortunate.

This issue finds the noose tightening around the necks of the Midnight Shift, as Corrigan and Drake find themselves being interrogated by Internal Affairs. Doctor Tarr has his lab searched as he begins rambling about the mystery flowers he’s collecting. Detective Drake gets the good cop bad cop treatment as the cops attempt to get her to turn on her partner, but this triggers her inner Banshee, filling the station house with haunting shrieks. This is nothing compared to what’s going on in Corrigan’s room. As Casmiro and Palmer interrogate him, they break down the strange history of mysterious deaths that surround him, with various criminals meeting horrible ends before they ever get to trial. But as they push him further and further, the Spectre begins to emerge – and it becomes very clear in gruesome fashion that this version of the Spectre is NOT playing by the rules we are used to.

There’s only three issues left, but that’s more than enough time for a satisfying resolution to this creepy horror story. It reminds me a bit of the work Steve Niles did for DC for a while. There should be room in the DCU for genre comics like this.

Corrina: Yes, allow me a moment of mourning for this comic, which took the supernatural elements of Gotham, put them all in one book, and introduced several new characters who, hopefully, will show in Gotham after this series is over. It’s been consistently excellent though it’s not as easy to follow as the more traditional Bat-books. Much like Gotham Central, this is a series Batman readers will look back on and wish there were more.

But back to this issue, it certainly looks like the Spectre’s role as the Spirit of Vengeance isn’t quite as readers supposed. I’ve mostly been treating this characterization of Corrigan and his supernatural self as an extension of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s Spectre, but the killings this issue take that one step further. Aside: I’m amused that it’s this team that Gotham’s internal affairs wants to take out, given how many other corrupt cops there are in Gotham. I was going to say I hope this proactive internal affairs team shows up after the series is canceled but it appears they might not survive. Oops.

Batgirl #44 – Cameron Stewart-Brenden Fletcher, writers, Bengal, artist,

Ray: 8/10

Corrina: Buy It.

Panel from Batgirl #44
Panel from Batgirl #44, copyright DC Comics

Ray: After a few extremely strong issues to start off the new, I felt like this comic lost a few steps this week. It’s still a very entertaining read, with some great characters and appealing, cartoony art by Bengal.

However, the focus this issue is pretty heavily on the villain, Velvet Tiger. She reminds me of some sort of weird cross between Black Cat and obscure Spider-man villain White Rabbit, and her MO seems to be stealing tigers and using them to target her enemies. After Alysia’s fiancee Jo attempts to free the illegal tigers, she gets captured and held by the villain. Velvet Tiger’s identity is revealed pretty quickly – she’s Jeremy’s ex Lani, who has been blackmailing him with evidence of his plagiarism to get information on students like Qadir that she can frame. Well, that’s one possible love interest for Barbara down, as it seems like Jeremy’s headed for prison. Teaming up with Qadir, whose name is cleared, and Luke Fox, they’re able to track Velvet Tiger and rescue Jo, with an assist from Alysia. Velvet Tiger manages to poison Barbara and nearly beat her – when she’s clocked in the head by Barbara’s bat-cycle, which takes her home safely.

The reveal of just how this happened is really promising, and seems to set Frankie off on a new role that’s very different from the traditional Oracle role people were thinking she would fill. Not a big fan of the villain this issue, but there’s still a ton of promise in this title.

Corrina: This revamp of Batgirl has been driven by the artwork by Babs Tarr (with this assist from Bengal) and a far more light-hearted take on Barbara Gordon which puts her in a university setting. In some ways, I’m reminded of young Dick Grayson’s adventures as a college student in the Bat-Family comics of the 1970s, which had a similar tone. (That comic also featured Babs adventures as a Congresswoman, so the tables have clearly flipped.)

The strength is the quick packing and the large array of supporting characters. However, sometimes the characterization can be shallow, for villains and for our heroes. and I could wish for less plotting and more focus on Babs’ inner life beyond what it takes to hide her secret. The villains haven’t been memorable either, though I enjoyed the fight with Babs’ cyber-self. The stakes should feel personal, as this is a down-to-earth Batgirl but instead sometimes things seem so rushed I’m not sure who she is anymore. As Ray said, this is an entertaining comic but I forget from month to month what’s at stake.

Sinestro #15 – writer, Cullen Bunn, artist, Ethan Van Sciver

Ray: 7.5/10

Corrina: Don’t Buy It.

Ray: I’m surprised by the fact that Ethan Van Sciver is doing interiors on this book without much fanfare. This guy is one of the most iconic GL artists of all time, and it’s odd that his return to the line isn’t generating more hype.

Now that Lobo is under the employ of Sinestro, the ruler of the yellow Lanterns’ plan is becoming clearer as he tightens his grip on the galaxy with his new enforcer. The issue opens with a dying planet under three suns, as the super powered monk Saint Walker ministers to the surviving residents. That’s interrupted when Lobo comes to the world, easily defeating the weakened Walker and cruelly taunting the citizens. He’s rewarded with a Sinestro Corps ring – only to cut off his own finger and reject it. He drags Walker back to Sinestro, where Sinestro makes a pitch to Walker to join up with him and use his power to amplify Sinestro’s. He even proves himself a new guardian of the world when he delivers goods and water to the planet, earning their gratitude. But when Walker states that his powers simply don’t work on yellow rings, Sinestro turns him over to his team of mad scientists, making clear that he’s still a very dark character.

The most hopeful Lantern in the hands of one of the most brutal has a lot of potential, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this run goes.

Corrina: Yep, a rating of 7 means that Ray believes it’s a decent monthly comic, and generally means I hate it because it’s just a blah DC monthly comic. There’s nothing wrong here, and Van Sciver’s art sells so much of this story (love his aliens) but I’m simply uninterested in Sinestro grabbing power. He’s a bad guy with good motivations. I get it. But there’s no kernel in his personality to hold onto for me, no pathos that pulls me in, like with Magneto, another anti-hero who does terrible things for supposedly good reasons.

It doesn’t help that Sinestro seems to have no weaknesses whatsover, so the issues settle into “he has good goals, does something good, then proves what a bastard he really is,” plot. Lobo’s guest-starring role isn’t a plus, as he’s as dull to me as Sinestro. And the torture of Saint Walker is just not something I want to stick around to see.

This is such a cynical comic.

Cover to Harley Quinn/Power Girl #4, copyright DC Comics
Cover to Harley Quinn/Power Girl #4, copyright DC Comics

Harley Quinn/Power Girl #4 – Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, writers, Stephane Roux, Elliot Fernandez, artists

Ray: 6/10

Corrina: Buy It if You like Power Girl or Harley Quinn

Ray: So, remember that time Vartox and Power Girl used their DNA to impregnate a whole planet? This comic does, and it’s the subject of many jokes about the word “pregnoray”. I suppose it’s cool that DC is using more and more references from old-school continuity, but otherwise, this giant space road trip is sort of lacking in the jokes. Vartox is possessed and beating the hell out of Power Girl when Harley rides up on some sort of giant Cat-unicorn (Caticorn) that she’s befriended.

The sound of the cat-monster purring is able to knock Vartox out of his possession and bring him back to sanity, and there’s a lot of riffing about Power Girl and Vartox’s past before the main villain Oreth shows up with an army of attack-nuns and tries to lay siege to the planet. Power Girl knocks him into orbit, but not before he can summon an even larger, more dangerous villain known as the Harvester of Sorrow. It’s not terrible, but it’s largely lacking the humor that usually makes the signature series work.

Corrina: Here’s the thing, if the idea of the “pregnoray” doesn’t make you smile, then the humor of the rest of this comic is lost. I smiled, meaning I enjoyed it, especially as the tables are turned and it’s Vartox who loses all his clothes in the fight instead of one of the women. (For those who don’t know, Vartox doesn’t wear much usually anyway and is based on Sean Connery’s Zardoz.)

But what makes the issue for me is the speech Harley gives the possessed Vartox about toxic relationships, which has more depth and real-world advice in it than it has any right to contain.

“Is he going to kiss yer face or spray acid in your face? Is he gonna hug ya or use you as a human shield durin’ a standoff with the cops? Love makes ya crazy, Mistah V, but sometimes ya get so mixed up an’ crazy in love, y’can’t tell that yer sweetie is nasty an’ yer relationship is toxic.”

Words of wisdom.

The Flash #44 – Robert Venditti and Van Jensen, writers, Brett Booth, penciller, Norm Rapmund, inker.

Ray: 5/10

Corrina: Don’t Buy It.

Ray: There’s a lot of parallels between this comic and the Flash television series, as you might expect. The main difference is, well, this comic isn’t very good.

Both Eobard Thawne as the main villain and Henry Allen’s false murder conviction factor heavily into this issue, but everything that surrounds them just isn’t very interesting. Thawne has surrounded himself with an array of super villains that each harness the power of the speed force in a different way and have been training with their powers out of time for centuries. Meanwhile, Barry has gotten engineering prodigy Wally a job interning with a mechanic where he can put his skills to work. While Eobard holds Henry hostage as he forces him to follow his orders, the villains proceed to systematically break Barry down and manipulate his powers to create a massive disaster, with the intention of destroying the city and disgracing the Flash. As things go downhill, Wally is hit with a blast of speed force energy, likely giving him the powers we all knew were coming, and the issue ends with a massive explosion.

The characterization of Wally has improved a bit, but besides that there isn’t much to recommend here. The villains are bland and the plot has been seen before.

Corrina: Complete agreement that this comic isn’t very good. Eobard, so interesting on the Flash show, is reduced to mustache-twirling exposition here, and his team of villains powered by the speed force fail to elicit any interest from me. Even worse, Barry is cardboard too, all angry and in pain. True, a Flash should be impulsive, that’s kinda their thing, but Barry has always been the thinker among the speedsters and his characterization is basically reduced to the Hulk’s “get you, smash,” in this issue.

Wally’s fine here, though he still fits oddly into this newly reconstructed Flash universe, given it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Barry, who’s not even that friendly with Iris, to be his mentor.

Justice League 3001 #4 – Keith Giffen and J. M. DEmatteis, writers, Scott Kolins,

Ray: 4/10

Corrina: Don’t Buy It.

Ray: A slight improvement, as most of the obnoxious Justice League that dominates the book is gone for the issue, as the creative team focuses on a flashback tale involving the new Flash. It starts with Flash going out drinking with Wonder Woman and sharing a story that happened right after she got her powers. Ariel Masters – secretly the evil Lois Lane – sends her on a mission to an abandoned planet, where she meets Mirror Master and a horde of voracious piranha-bears.

It’s about as weird as it sounds, and Terri makes a decently likable future Flash. However, Mirror Master toes the line between simpering coward and unlikable jerk, and overall the plot sort of seems like filler. It helps that there’s a bit more room for Terri’s character to breathe, but this title as a whole doesn’t really leave much of an impression.

Corrina: This issue is definitely filler but, on the other hand, it’s more fun than the rest of the series, contains more humor, and provided me with a protagonist that I don’t hate. It’s not enough to recommend the issue but it’s enough to make me mourn the fun this serios could have had if the tone had been altered.

And this line is priceless: “Hera’s girdle! I don’t mean that! Hmmmph. As if a tiny scrap of a girl like you would be a suitable lover for a Themysciran Princess.” Yes, it’s a Wonder Woman parody, but I smiled.

Deathstroke #10 – written by Tony S. Daniel and James Bonny, art, Tyler Kirkham

Ray: 1/10

Corrina: Don’t Buy It. 

Ray: The Lapetus storyline finally wraps up with lots of explosions and stabbing, as it turns out that Deathstroke has Lapetus’ sister’s soul in his sword. Yep, that makes all sorts of sense. So after an extended battle, Slade stabs Lapetus and kills him – only to then get backstabbed by Hephaestus and be forced to face justice at the hands of Lapetus’ fellow titans. They want justice for their murdered comrade, and they demand a blood sacrifice from Slade, forcing him to choose one of his two children to die (he already killed the third in the beginning of the original Deathstroke series, I think). Instead, Slade decides to rip out his own eyeball and show it to the viewer in a particularly…vivid scene. Because that’s an equivalent trade and makes all sorts of sense, in addition to being completely disgusting.

This series has gone from being merely disappointing to all sorts of off-putting. Nothing to recommend here at all. It’s merely a depressing wallow in 90’s-era gore and pointless action, feeling more like a throwback to when comics were terrible than anything.

Corrina: This series has moved from okay to weird to utterly terrible. One, I still miss older Deathstroke who had some sophistication and his own weird set of morals. Even his dialogue has gotten unintelligent. “She’s as ugly as you are,” is just a depressing statement, not a quip, in the middle of a fight.

I’ve no idea why Slade pulls out his eye or why that’s acceptable, beyond that it lines him up with the television version, and Superman and Wonder Woman are only in this to smash things. And yet, Gotham by Midnight and Omega Men are canceled and, so far, this is not

That’s just not fair.

Out of Continuity Issues, Reviews by Ray:

Batman ’66 #27 – written by Jeff Parker, art by Scott Kowalchuk

7.5/10

One of the longest-running and most entertaining digital-first books, this title is unfortunately ending come December as well, and while it’s not for everyone, I’m going to be sorry to see it go.

I’ve always enjoyed the unique way they bring modern-day villains like Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn into the series, and this issue does the same for Bane by calling back to his roots inspired by Mexican wrestling. Here he’s a sinister Luchadore in league with the Riddler, coming to Gotham as part of Riddler’s scheme involving a mysterious crystal skull.

After taking over the Gotham wrestling scene, he nearly cripples Batman in the ring (Batman is only saved by a conveniently placed Batarang) and then returns with Riddler to his homeland, using the power of the skull to take over the city. For fans of Bane, you’re going to notice a lot of clever references going back to his original appearance up until The Dark Knight Rises. The plot is a little overcomplicated, but it’s a strong read and I’m always happy to see this title put their own twists on modern villains.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #12 – writer, Sholly Fisch, artist Dario Brizuela

7/10

This has always been a fun series, although I really only keep up with it when it’s teaming the Mystery Machine crew up with DC heroes. This issue puts the heroes aside and brings in some of DC’s most popular villains – the Gotham City Sirens.

The Scooby Gang is less than comfortable with working for villains, but when they hear that Harley and Poison Ivy are being haunted by ghosts, they’re interested enough to get on board. It seems their apartment has been haunted ever since they stole an opal last week, and it seems to want it back. This version of Harley and Ivy are pretty accurate, although obviously a bit lighter on the violence and dialogue (and Harley is still considering going back to the Joker, so we can assume they’re not in a relationship). The issue’s got not one but two unmaskings, and in general is a fun ready for any fan of the Sirens. I actually enjoyed this Harley Quinn story better than the week’s other one.

Ray is a writer/editor for Grayhaven Comics, as well as the author of two novels currently in editing. He’s a comic fan for over 20 years, particularly of DC and Superman, Batman, and the Teen Titans in particular. Now that Cassandra Cain is coming back, he will not rest until DC greenlights a Young Justice: Season Three comic.

Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.