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Hey Kids! Comics!

Batman: Gotham Knights #36
writer: Scott Beatty
artists: Roger Robinson and John Floyd

It should come as no surprise that the Batman continuity is not suffering a shake-up. Clearly, you can mess with Bruce Wayne's characterization, but his parents remain unassailable. Unless you put Thomas in a bat-suit.

Across this arc, Beatty has wisely balanced these potential siblings with the birth of a new villain, and yet, it's hard not to have sympathy for her. Her story, and how it crosses that of Bane and Batman, plays out pretty predictably. Also in the background are Dick and Barbara stuck in traffic; Beatty gives us a believable slice of their relationship. (But what the heck was going on with that reporter and the payoffs? It seemed like nothing more than a red herring.)

Interestingly, Beatty closes the tale with the implication that Bruce names his villains himself. That's a weird throwaway bit that might be worth picking up down the road.


Birds of Prey #50
writer: Gilbert Hernandez
artist: Casey Jones

The story opens on Barbara and Dinah taking on luchadores art thieves, a scene that will come back to haunt Oracle before it's all over. But the real beginning lies in a mysterious glowing woman taking out a scientific lab. You've seen this character before, perhaps, but never like this. It's nice to see that supporting casts don't disappear just because their title character does.

Hernandez does a good job of keeping the Birds in character, and if the show has brought any readers to it, this makes a good starter. Though one villain comes from DC's past, you really don't need to know it. Though this book hasn't yet settled on a creative team, it's good to have this run of fill-ins keeping the potential alive.

If the previous arc got you hooked, artist Casey Jones (didn't he used to 'kick for the Turtles?) has a style much like the Conner and Palmiotti team, so everybody will still look familiar. Heck, the cover even says it still is the Conner and Palmiotti team. At least the cover is still by regular Phil Noto.


Fables #8
writer: Bill Willingham
artists: Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

Accident or not, the art in this book looks a lot like old Marvel bullpenner Herb Trimpe, which reminds me that somebody really ought to give the guy some work if he wants it. Possibly the resemblance comes from a thicker inking job by Leialoha, which only adds to the storybook quality.

Of course, this ain't no storybook. Snow White has accidentally stumbled across an insurrection among the non-human Fables. For her trouble, they're stalking her through the wild regions of the upstate farm. Her less than noble sister Rose Red has apparently switched sides. The only creature helping Snow White is Reynard the Fox, who may just be doing it to get some of the action he thinks the Big Bad Wolf has had.

So please, don't show this to children. But definitely be reading it yourself. Though many of the references are obscure (among the rebel army appears to be "Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home…"), Willingham has put together another solid and cool issue, and nicely gives a grotesque but realistic answer to the question: "Who killed Cock Robin?"

In case you missed it, by the way, DC just released the trade paperback collecting the first five issues -- Fables: Legends in Exile -- and it's well worth picking up.


JSA #43
writers: David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns
artists: Leonard Kirk and Keith Champagne

Before the present age of comics (whatever it is), heroes could be given origins that involved rich legacies and implications of powers old as time, without anybody wondering, "hey, what about that?" Thank heavens guys like Goyer and Johns have come along to answer that question.

It's not enough that they refuse to accept the pat answer that Teth-Adam, Shazam's first champion, went bad in two panels. It's not enough that Nabu (the source of Dr. Fate's power) fights alongside Adam and Khufu (Carter Hall's first identity). It's not even enough that these heroes all ally against Vandal Savage in ancient Egypt. Noooo…Goyer and Johns are apparently the first writers to realize that hey, that wacky Orb of Ra not only had to have been around then, too, but that means that Metamorpho isn't the first Element Man.

And far from the curse that Rex Mason considers it, Akh-ton welcomes the power. Never mind how he understands how to change into chemical compounds in a time when they were unknown. Or maybe I'm confusing that limitation with Firestorm.

The whole creative team has given these long-standing characters a previously unknown depth. Pay close attention to Captain Marvel realizing that there is more to Black Adam's story than he knew; Kirk and Champagne elegantly capture a moment of the teenager's adult mask dropping off. It's subtle work, and you don't get that very often.


New X-Men #135
writer: Grant Morrison
artists: Frank Quitely and Tim Townsend

Frank Quitely returns at last! Actually, his subs have been doing a great job, and I was not really looking forward to him taking up the pencil again on this book. But inker Townsend has a mollifying effect on him. Nobody looks quite as bloated as they usually do, and that's a good thing.

As for the story, it's shaping up, but Morrison still has us dealing with a lot of characters that haven't been developed. The concepts behind them are interesting, but if not for a guide on the "What has gone before…" page, they would all be a blur. If Morrison has a weakness, it's that his concepts often take precedence over pacing.

Still, he's doing a great job showing us the social ramifications of mutants in our midst. Taking an obscure piece of art from the early days of the X-Men, he and Quitely have created an image of mutant bigotry. As a result, the "Omega Gang" have a look that may be a bit dorky, but has resonance with real-world youth gangs.

For good measure, there's a drug problem, making this a strangely realistic look at high school years. But why does the drug come in a container with an X-Men logo on it? No wonder nobody trusts them.


For page 2 of this week's comics reviews, click here...

Derek McCaw


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