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Batman: Gotham Knights #42
writer: Scott Beatty
artists: David Ross and John Floyd

In a month in which people are panicked about Monkey Pox coming from prairie dogs, Scott Beatty must be given credit for prescience. There's been a slow build to Alfred's illness, and though it hadn't been showing up in any other Batbooks, at least Beatty knew what he was doing.

Bats. Who would have thought the bats in the cave would be a health hazard after 63 years? And so this quiet but climactic tale of Alfred catching a mutant strain of The Clench comes as a welcome surprise in plotting. (Though I've long held that "The Clench" is a rather embarrassing name for a disease.)

Instead of action, we get characterization, as Beatty spends time with each cast member, dealing with their reactions to the tragedy. Tim feels extremely guilty for having brought the disease into the cave in the first place, long ago. Leslie keeps a brave face on, refusing to take any self-pity or lies from Bruce. And I've clearly missed that she and Alfred are dating, but that's probably just me.

Even Bane gets a nod, in a cameo that makes it clear we're not through with him, and that he really is struggling to figure out just what he is himself. But he is now a part of the "Batfamily," though for now little more than the black sheep.

In the back-up slot, Dean Motter delivers a story of Batman's connection to the Gargoyles of Gotham. Though plot-wise not really anything we haven't seen before, it's a clever take, cementing Bruce's relationship to his city. Ask any New Yorker; city pride is a very real thing, and we don't often get it illustrated in comics other than a hero hissing "…not in my city!"


Beware The Creeper #3
writer: Jason Hall
artist: Cliff Chiang

Now that Hall and Chiang have firmly established their post-WWI Paris setting, they can get around to really moving the story forward. Not that nothing happened in the previous issues; it's just that sometimes the tale took a backseat to "hey! Look where we are!"

But now we don't have to deal with Ernest Hemingway cameos, and can get back to our earnest sisters and the decent police detective battling corruption and the darker impulses in his own heart. Oh, and yes, The Creeper, a multi-colored warrior on behalf of artistic freedom, as far as the public is concerned.

She has a personal agenda against the Arbogast family, old money from Paris that has actively campaigned against the new art movements in the city. No one but the family themselves suspect that The Creeper has a far more specific problem with them.

The Arbogasts do fear her, however, as her antics and modern art pieces have grown more dangerous.

To the reader, The Creeper's identity is fairly obvious. I say fairly because though it has to be either Judith or Madeline Benoir, Hall has done a good job each issue of tossing suspicion up between the two. Certainly the one last honest cop has made up his mind, but is Judith's disapproval really a sign of her own self-hatred?

Of course, Hall and Chiang still do give us a taste of Paris life. We see the sights and the civic struggles, brought to the page by Chiang's spare but vivid art. This incarnation of The Creeper is definitely a product of her time, and the creators have made it easy (but not too easy) to understand.

There's also a nod to the DC Universe at large, in the form of a stage magician with a curiously familiar surname. He may be a real historical figure, but even so, at least his descendants have played a big part in Vertigo "continuity."


Birds of Prey #56
writer: Gail Simone
artists: Ed Benes and Alex Lei

Okay. This one caught your eye because the stunning art team of Benes and Lei draw one thing better than anything else: hot women. There. It's been said. It's true. Can't deny it. For some, it might not even matter if the story had no coherence or wit whatsoever.

But of course, with a new art team came a new writer: Gail Simone. While she may be making a few nods to the eye candy that, by its nature, this book can't really escape, she's grounded those nods in a plot that already raises some questions that should have been asked a long time ago.

Oracle has a place in continuity similar to that once held by The Monitor just before Crisis On Infinite Earths. Because we largely follow here adventures in just Batbooks, it's easy to forget that people outside of Bruce Wayne's trusted circle know of her, and at least when she first appeared, use her information services.

So she must have a quasi-legendary status. And it would be only a matter of time before someone of not too savory motivations tries to take advantage of her tremendous resources.

Simone also brings up a question long debated among fans: just where the Bat-family draws the line between legal and ethical behavior. Black Canary actually brings it up, though any vigilante probably shouldn't throw stones. Distracted by fantastic shrimp, however, she drops it for another time. But probably not for the last time.

In Simone's hands, Barbara and Dinah have the rhythm of long-time girlfriends, as they should be. Though Benes and Lei can't seem to draw shrimp (why is food such a problem for comic book artists?), they do otherwise have more in their arsenal besides hot women. Actually, that's not fair: Oracle and Black Canary are indeed attractive, but within reason, a rare trick in comics.

After losing its way in the wake of Chuck Dixon's departure, the book feels like it might be back on track. No crowbarred guest-appearances by other heroes - just solid characterizations of the women we've come to appreciate.


Daredevil #48 (428)
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Alex Maleev

Overall, this arc "Hardcore" promises to end on a truly spectacular note, as befits scheduling it to come to a head with issue #50. But as chapters go, this one is a little weak, with only a few pages really delivering any meat to the story.

Facing down Typhoid Mary in the streets, Matt doesn't quite know what to do without compromising the ever more shaky fiction that he and Daredevil are not the same man. Luckily his bodyguards are never too far away, and with the combined might of Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Matt Murdock, the insane Mary is overwhelmed.

But boy, Jessica has a tough time. Perhaps future issues of Alias will resolve this question, but it seems like her power levels fluctuate wildly according to the needs of the story. And Cage, well, he's just tough. Bendis has used him really well in this book, far better than he did in the aforementioned Alias. He has a grudging friendship with Murdock that has a particularly real tension to it. Yes, Bendis understands men and some women.

It's all leading to something awful involving The Kingpin, and in case Matt's pillow talk with Milla doesn't clue you in, it's also going to be another round with the plotline Matt has been trapped in since Frank Miller's run. Only the women's faces change, and Bendis has clearly grown tired of waiting for the second issue of Kevin Smith's Daredevil/Bullseye mini-series.

And yet, it does kind of have to be that way, so we can trust that Bendis won't really give us the same old thing with it. He's definitely on his way to reinventing The Kingpin, which has so far been chilling.

For the first time, though, there's a weakness to Maleev's art. The huge battle among street-level heroes and villains has an awkwardness that isn't just due to such things being awkward. Everybody looks restrained, including the supposedly barking loony Typhoid Mary, who in every panel wears the same bored expression.

Maybe that's just New York, but her sane self is a soap opera actress; there's no way that the less expressive side is the nutso supervillain.


Derek McCaw


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