Wednesday, July 29, 2009

1984: Who Could Ask for More?

Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog poses the question: "Was 1984 the greatest year in movies ever?"

The short answer is "No" (1939, 1967, and even 1982 all have better arguments), but still, in looking at the rather random list that EW provides, I was struck by what an important and formative year 1984 was for me as a film buff. More specifically, I saw a lot of these movies in the theater, and I watched many of them multiple times.

I was 15 in 1984, and several key events coincided that year which contributed to it becoming a cinematic annus mirabilis for me.

1) That summer, I got my driver's license.
For any teenager, this is a significant event, but growing up on a farm in North Dakota, it marked an extraordinary new level of freedom actually to do something on weekends outside of the family bounds. However, I didn't have a lot of attraction to some of the typical teenage hangouts, so the main thing I did with this freedom was drive to Fargo and go to the movies.

However, I do remember one key family outing in June of 1984. The nearby towns of Wahpeton, ND, and Breckenridge, MN, had the closest movie theaters: a single-screen theater in each town. At each, Tuesday night was dollar movie night. On one magical Tuesday night, my dad, my brother, and I went to the early show of Ghostbusters in Breckinridge, then drove quickly to the Wahpeton theater for the late show of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

I also distinctly remember going to see Cannonball Run II with my brother at one of those theaters later that month. And seriously, any year that produced Cannonball Run II has to be in the running for greatest year in film history:

If any movie marked the end of an era, it's Cannonball Run II. And not just because it's the final theatrical film for both Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. As stupid as Cannonball Run II is, it's also clear that everyone involved in it is having a blast, and that fun can be infectious for the audience. I can't imagine what the cast of an equivalent movie today would look like, nor can I think of a movie since that feels like we're watching what must have been a really fun party (perhaps the closest equivalent would be the Ocean's 11 movies).

2) In conjunction with the driver's license, this was the first year that I successfully got into R-rated movies.
When I looked at the EW list, I was especially surprised at how many R-rated movies I had seen in the theater that year: Bachelor Party, Beverly Hills Cop, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Tightrope, and The Terminator (which was a life-changing experience). Plus, missing from EW's list: Hot Dog...The Movie and Police Academy.

In the midst of the comedies and horror films, the odd movie on this list is clearly Tightrope.

Despite the fact that I was too young for R-rated movies, most of the movies on this list were aimed directly at my adolescent sensibilities. However, I was probably too young to see Tightrope. This movie, with Clint Eastwood as a New Orleans detective who is drawn into some kinky activities while investigating sex crimes, freaked me out, though I imagine today that it wouldn't be much worse than any three average episodes of Law & Order: SVU. I remember leaving the theater feeling very unsettled.

Tightrope is the kind of adult thriller--like Body Double of the same year--that just isn't made very much today. The seeds of Bachelor Party and Police Academy can be seen in the resurgence of R-rated comedies over the past few years (though a few years ago, R-rated movies were all but dead at the box office), while horror movies have generally been watered down for PG-13 audiences. The PG-13 rating, in fact, was created in 1984 following concerns that movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins contained too much violence for PG audiences.

3) In 1984, my mother began working as a salesperson for the local cable company in Fargo.
My parents were divorced by this time, and I spent weekends and summers with my mom in Fargo. When she started working for the local cable company, we got free cable, complete with all the premium channels, as a perk. So, I spent the summer of 1985 watching many of these 1984 movies over and over on HBO and Showtime, especially Sixteen Candles, Star Trek III, Johnny Dangerously, and The Flamingo Kid--each of which seemed to be aired on a daily basis. Clearly, I didn't get outdoors much that summer.

4) Most significantly, I started developing a greater sense of quality and taste.
Frankly, I saw a lot of movies that weren't exactly good in 1984, and in looking over EW's list, I can't say that I had very discerning taste. I mean, I did see Hot Dog...The Movie in the theater, after all. But I also saw Amadeus and The Killing Fields as well, and I made an effort to see all the film's nominated for Best Picture in the first months of 1985 (not always a measure of quality, I know, but clearly a sign that I was making an effort). I also went to Buckaroo Banzai, Spinal Tap, and Repo Man, all of which I would watch again and again in the years to come as they formed a foundation for the types of movies I would like.

Like the Popwatch blog, I may be exaggerating the importance of 1984 through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. After all, a lot of movies on that list have a nostalgic kitsch about them that is dependent on a viewer being a certain age that that specific time, especially the teen comedies of that year. Hard to Hold, for example, has a particular nostalgic relevance for me. It's not a good movie by any stretch, but the following summer I dated a big Rick Springfield fan, and that movie came up a lot, so I tend to think of it fondly.

In thinking back to that year, and to all the movies I saw then, I recognize a real transition that took place, where I started to work on being a more educated film buff while also being a voracious film consumer. Some of the movies from that year, like Stop Making Sense, Blood Simple, and Stranger Than Paradise, would become important for me later as well.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gil Kane Punch of the Week 12: A Punch-stravaganza!

This week's Gil Kane Punch is more like a punch-stravaganza, courtesy of Bully, the Little Stuffed Bull!

Daredevil beats the living crap out of Bullseye live on TV in Daredevil 146, story by Jim Shooter, inking by Jim Mooney. This was an extremely satisfying conclusion to an ongoing story where Bullseye persistently taunted and foiled Daredevil, and in this issue, Bullseye takes over a TV station and challenges Daredevil to a fight live on TV! To make this victory even more satisfying, Daredevil is deprived of his hyper-senses when he wails on his arch-enemy! (And people say Daredevil wasn't good until Frank Miller took over!)

I'm really glad Bully provided me with these images. I had this comic when I was a kid, and I read the heck out of it, so it had a profound impact on my development as a Gil-Kane-punchophile.

Bully is the host of the most consistently fun comics blog on the internet, Bully Says: Comics Oughta Be Fun!, which is also the home of 365 Days of Ben Grimm, a year-long, daily project that makes me feel humble and embarrassed when I fail to produce a punch a week.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Super-Sons in "Crown for a New Batman"

Remember the time that Batman died, and a battle broke out as to who would be his successor--a battle that included both Batman's son and his ward, Dick Grayson?

No, not that one. This one:

Fulfilling my theory that everything in comics today is just a variation on something Bob Haney thought up in the 70s, we have World's Finest 228 (a 100-Page Super Spectacular!), featuring the Super-Sons in

A story written by Bob Haney (of course) and drawn by Dick Dillin and Tex Blaisdell (and reprinted in the Saga of the Super Sons trade).

As the story opens, Superman, Bruce Wayne Jr., and Clark Kent Jr. discover that Bruce Wayne has been murdered, apparently while enjoying a pipe and some journaling.

Bruce is clearly killed by a very ornate knife, which should provide some clue as to the identity of his murderer. In addition, Superman gets all CSI up in this place and finds a well-hidden clue:

Clearly, Batman has lost a few steps in his later years. Otherwise, how else do we explain that some fourth-rate killer that left such obvious clues could get the drop on the world's greatest detective?

Word gets out about Bruce Wayne's death, and Alfred even permanently hangs up the Batman costume. As the family gathers to mourn, the subject of Batman's successor comes up:

Dick Grayson arrives back from college to lay claim to the Batman mantle that Bruce Jr. thinks belongs to him.

Wait a minute--Dick's back from college? Exactly how long has he been in school? Didn't he leave for college before Bruce was married and Bruce Jr. born?

Oh, right. Bob Haney.

Bruce Jr. and Dick bury the hatchet long enough to put Bruce in the ground. Then, during the reading of the will, Bruce Jr. and Dick anticipate some closure on their conflict. However, while the will does distribute Bruce Wayne's estate. Alfred is given $20,000 a year for life, which I can't imagine would go very far in Gotham City, even in 1975 dollars. Dick gets a million, while Bruce Jr. and Mrs. Wayne get the bulk of the estate.

However, there is an addendum to the will: Bruce has left $5 million to a "former partner" named Simon Link. No one knows who this beneficiary is, though that mystery is overshadowed by the failure of the will to settle the Batman debate.

Simon Link, however, does appear to claim his inheritance, and surprisingly, no one mistakes him for Oliver Queen.

Link claims that Bruce Wayne invested in his seal-hunting operation years ago, and if $5 million represents the profits of that operation, it must have been one profitable seal-hunting operation.

Also, if this is the kind of thing Bruce Wayne invested in, then I would guess that opening the books on Wayne Enterprise investments would reveal a nightmare of unethical, quasi-legal activities: polar bear boots, elephant ivory, whale oil, rhinoceros horn, panda coats.

Before Link can claim his money, however, the lawyer finds yet another stipulation in the will: Link must take Bruce Jr. to the Arctic to "show him the tough, character-building life of the Arctic seal hunter." Man, Batman was one crappy dad.

So, the whole gang goes along to the Arctic to learn the life of the seal hunter and investigate Bruce Wayne's murder.

Once they arrive, Batman Jr. and Robin decide to take to the water: Junior in a kayak, and Robin water-skiing on an ice chunk behind some seals.

I can't imagine Robin's choice of transportation is particularly effective, but then again, you have to question the judgement of a guy who wears that costume in the Arctic.

They soon find an eskimo named Malook, who is the prime suspect for Bruce Wayne's murder. It turns out, Malook did try to kill Wayne because of his investment in the seal hunting operation, which is destroying his native village. The heroes then turn their investigation on Link, who ends up being the real villain. Once he realizes the jig is up, Link tries to escape by disguising himself as a seal. This turns out to be a really bad idea, unless Link was planning on showing everyone his impression of Bo Derek in Orca.

I love how we see Superman flying around in the background, doing nothing to save Link. You'd figure a guy with super-hearing, x-ray vision, and super-speed could have prevented this.

Once Link is dead, Batman reveals himself to be alive all along, and his death was an elaborate ruse to trap Link--a ruse that Superman was also in on.

Batman claims that faking his own death was necessary to trap Link, but I can't imagine that this was Batman and Superman's only option. After all, we're dealing with a half-assed seal hunter here, not some professional super-villain. I think Batman just liked screwing with everyone--making his family go through the trauma and sorrow of a funeral, changing his will in order to draw out Link. Bruce has a huge legal mess to clean up when he gets back, along with a long list of fraud charges. I have to wonder if this plan was really thought through very well.

One note on World's Finest 228: this may be the Bob-Haneyest comic ever made. In addition to the Haney-penned main story, the issue also reprints Aquaman, Metamorpho, and Eclipso stories by the writer as well. That also makes this one of the most awesome comics ever produced.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Someone's Asking for a Gil Kane Punch

In addition to moving home offices, I've been doing a lot of Gil-Kane-punching-related research over the past couple of weeks. Much of this research has involved reading through most of Gil Kane's fantastic (though surprisingly punchless) early 80s run on Action Comics with Marv Wolfman.

While researching these comics, I've been struck by the reactions to Kane's Superman art that ran in the Action Comics letter pages. Although there is a lot of praise for Kane from right-thinking readers (including some readers claiming his Superman is the best ever--suck on that, Curt Swan), there was also a strong and vociferous negative reaction that ran in the letter pages for several issues. I want to spend some time here focusing on these many wrongheaded and misguided comments that are clearly on the wrong side of history and deserving to be on the receiving end of their own Gil Kane punches(names and addresses have been removed to protect the idiotic).

First up is this missive, from Action 545 (July 1983), by a Mexican reader who claims that there is no future in Gil Kane:

Clearly, the writer, with his claims of "sacrilege," was a member of the little-known Curt Swan cult that emerged in southern Mexico in the late 70s. However, this cult was quickly wiped out by Zapatistas soon after this letter was published, so he probably never got to see if his precious Curt Swan ever returned to the title.

Others took a safer, though no less wrongheaded, route by claiming that perhaps Kane wasn't suited for Superman, as we see in this letter from Keith Pollard's one fan:

A similar complaint was that Kane's art really required an inker, which is patently ridiculous. Through most of his career, Kane's art was plagued by inkers whose style overwhelmed the pencils. Most of the suggestions on inkers would simply recreate this travesty:

Other writers suggest such inkers as Frank McLaughlin and Dave Hunt, neither of whom were suitable for Kane's pencils.

This debate raged on in the letter pages for many more months, if you can believe it, with the rhetoric becoming increasingly more vitriolic, which may come as a shock to comics fans who are used to the balanced, reasoned discourse that is now commonplace among such fans in these more enlightened times. In fact, these two letters in particular should earn their writers special Gil Kane punches of their own.

This guy is especially douchey, suggesting that one of the greatest artists in comics history--one of the architects of the Silver Age who apprenticed with the likes of Jack Kirby and Bernard Baily--needs "art lessons":

I would remind everyone that the Superman Special to which he refers contains this panel and this one.

However, this following letter makes me want to track down the writer at the address he provided (though it is 26 years old) and re-enact a Gil Kane punch on him, using a plate glass window in lieu of a traditional comic panel:

Really, how far on the wrong side of comics history can you get when you claim that comparing an artist to Kirby, Ditko, and Janson is not a compliment?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gil Kane Punch of the Week 11

This week's Gil Kane Punch comes courtesy of Mike Sterling, of Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin, one of the most consistently funny and insightful comic blogs around. I always like it when Mike links to me because I get a kajillion hits, and then I break out the Santana DVX in celebration of finally arriving as a comics blogger. Soon after, though, traffic gets back down to normal and the celebration ends (Perhaps if I posted daily like Mike does, this would be a different story).

Mike came up with a real gem from one of the Gil-Kane-punchingest comics of all time: DC Comics Presents Annual 3 (1984), written by Roy Thomas and Joey Cavalieri. A Shazam-powered Dr. Sivana delivers two devastating rights to the Earth-2 Superman.

I don't have any statistical data to back this up, but I get the sense that there are a lot more Gil Kane punches in the artist's collaborations with Roy Thomas than in his work with other writers. It makes me wonder if Roy intentionally delivered more punch-friendly plots and scripts to Gil in order to capitalize on this signature image.

Anyway, thanks to Mike Sterling for this awesome punch!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Help a Buddy Out!

One of my BFFs recently entered a contest to create a TV spot for His spot, which features him and two of his kids, has made it to the semi-finals, so I thought I'd unleash the power of this blog to help him out.

First, here's the spot he created, which I think is cute as hell:

So, if you thought the spot was cute, too, you can help my buddy out by voting for the video at GoToMeeting's site.

Here are the step-by-step instructions for voting (you do have to register in order to vote):

(1) First, go to this page:

(2) Fill in all the fields, and check the "I agree" box. Then click Submit.

(3) Check your email for the activation message - it will probably go to your spam folder, so be sure to check there too.

(4) Click the link in the email - it will take you to the GoToMeeting login page.

(4) Click on the video called "Dad Gets Schooled." Watch the video, then say "ahhh, cute."

(5) On the same page as the video, under "Rating," click the star furthest to the right. Five stars, baby!

Also, my buddy informs me that if he wins, he will use some of the prize money to take his family on a trip to visit me, which means your vote will help reunite some friends who haven't seen each other in a while. And you will earn my eternal gratitude. Which means I'll owe you a solid.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dr. K Reviews Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-1938

When I was a kid, I used to devour the Sunday funnies, but I always skipped over Prince Valiant, mainly because it was just too "prosey" in the odd way it combined text and image, and it defied my rather rigid juvenile sensibilities about what defined a comic strip. While I acknowledged that nothing on the comics page looked quite like it, or had the same sophisticated level of art, but it just took too much longer to read than the other strips, and I had things to do.

Even as I grew older and more sophisticated, and I would read praise of Hal Foster's Prince Valiant as a pinnacle of the comics art form, I still stuck to my childhood prejudice against the strip.

I don't know if there is much value in reviewing Prince Valiant more than 70 years after it began, but Fantagraphic's new edition of the oft-reprinted series is a revelation. Not only does the story hold up as a sophisticated Arthurian adventure tale, but the color reproductions of the strips themselves are immaculate. Plus, the book is huge, and like Fantagraphics' Popeye and Krazy Kat reprints, it challenges the height of most of my bookshelves.

Two things in particular strike me as interesting and notable about Prince Valiant. First is the development of Prince Valiant as a resourceful hero. Reading these two years' worth of strips in one sitting, I especially enjoyed seeing how the young prince and squire learns skills in his early adventures that will later serve him as a knight, especially his unconventional fighting style and his ability to manufacture weapons from various materials.

Another element that struck me while reading through this collection is the pacing. There are absolutely no breaks between adventures; instead, one flows into the other in such a way that makes the series read like a single, constant, and unending story. (Though I'm not familiar with the history of serial comic strips, I don't recall others that lack clear breaks between stories.) Very early in the series, Val visits an old witch, Horrit, who gives him a prophecy about his future. She predicts that he will have a life of high adventure and world travel in the court of King Arthur, but he will never find happiness or contentment. This prophecy clearly drives the rest of the series, as Val frequently refers back to it whenever the possibility of a peaceful life emerges. It also informs the ongoing nature of Val's adventures, giving the reader specific story points to anticipate while also giving Foster an overarching plot that could go (and has gone) on indefinitely. It's fascinating to read this series from its beginning and to see how the seeds were planted for more than 70 years of adventures. However, this also means that the first volume ends just as a new adventure begins, with Val rushing to Camelot to warn Arthur of the coming Saxon invasion.

In addition to the fact that this is a beautiful book, it also features some useful biographical, textual, and historical information, including an essay on the creator's life by Foster scholar Brian Kane, a reprint of a 1969 interview with Foster, and a comparison of various Valiant reprints by Kim Thompson.

I don't know how many readers there are out there who, like me, have avoided Hal Foster's Prince Valiant for whatever reason, so all I'm saying here may be obvious to anyone who has read one of the many reprints of this series over the years. However, like Fantagraphics' reprints of other classic comic strips, I'm happy to have this beautifulnew edition in my comics library.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Gil Kane Punch of the Week 10

Over the past week, the Drs. K have been moving their home office, which has meant little time for anything but packing, unpacking, and cleaning. Plus, most of the Gil Kane comics are still packed away in what will become the new Spec Headquarters. While the old Spec Headquarters devolved over the years into stacks and stacks of unsorted comics, the new one has room to grow, which should allow the 100-Page Super Spectacular to become a much more efficient comic blogging machine. But until that gets set up, some friends have chipped in some Gil Kane punches to help with the lag.

First up is pal Dave Lartigue of Dave Ex Machina, who has provided what is the earliest example of a Gil Kane punch I have yet to see, from "Mystery of the Counterfeit Space-Cabby!" in Mystery in Space 26 (June-July 1955), written by Otto Binder and inked by Bernard Sachs:

I would consider this a kind of proto-Gil Kane punch: the basic elements are there, and we can see how this would eventually evolve into the panel-breaking violence of later years.

You can find more on this story, and about Space Cabby in general, from Dave's great new weekly feature, "Space Cabby Sunday!" Thanks, Dave!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dr. K Reviews: Heathentown

I'll be posting a bunch of reviews in the coming days as I work my way through some of the stuff I picked up at HeroesCon. One of the first comics I read from the show is Corinna Sara Bechko and Gabriel Hardman's horror graphic novel from Image's Shadowline imprint, Heathentown.

I picked this book up on the first day, after having a nice chat with Gabriel Hardman about his fantastic work on Marvel's Agents of Atlas. I read it that night in the hotel room and found it difficult to put down.

I'm a sucker for horror stories where a good-natured stranger comes to a small town and manages to inadvertantly uncover that town's secrets. Here, Anna Romano, a grad student doing field research in Chad, accompanies the body of her friend, Kit Durrel, back to a small town in Florida after Kit is horribly murdered in the African village where they are both studying.

When Anna arrives in town, strange things start to happen, as they are wont to do in this kind of story. But the secret this town hides is particularly creepy and unsettling, especially as rendered by Hardman in a black and white style akin to 70s Warren horror comics (Hardman's style here is a fusion of Bernie Wrightson and Tony DeZuniga, though I would say that the latter's style tends to dominate).

Bechko handles this exposition quickly and efficiently, as Anna reveals her experiences to her public defender after she is arrested for digging up Kit's grave. Once that's dispatched, the story moves forward with a relentless pace up to the very end. Anna has to remain in motion almost constantly in order to escape her persuers, so information about the town and its secret are revealed to her in quick bursts, and to us in large, often silent panels. It's been a long time since I've read a horror comic that was this effective at building a genuine sense of unstoppable terror--I'd have to go back to Alan Moore's "Sleep of Reason" story in Swamp Thing for something with a similar visceral impact. This is a pure, classic horror comic, and I'm glad I picked it up. I hope Bechko and Hardman continue to produce more graphic novels in this vein.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dr. K Reviews: Batman: Reborn

Everyone who knows me knows that I love Batman. Even my students have begun to spread the word to each other that, if I ever ask them who would win in a fight between Batman and someone else, the answer is always "Batman."

And while I liked "Batman RIP" a heck of a lot, and I enjoyed what Grant Morrison did with Batman in Final Crisis, I really had no interest in reading Battle for the Cowl. I figured, as long as I could get confirmation that Dick Grayson was the new Batman, I would be fine skipping the series.

So, last month, I jumped into the new Batman comics that shook out of Battle for the Cowl, trying to figure out which ones I would be following for the duration of the "Batman: Reborn" storyline until the inevitable return of Bruce Wayne. (I did, however, skip Gotham City Sirens, as that series didn't interest me just based on its basic concept.)

Here, then, are my reviews of five of the post-Battle Batman comics that came out in June. I did discover, however, that my initial instinct was right: I didn't need to read Battle for the Cowl, as most of these comics got me up to speed easily.

I really don't care for Judd Winick as a writer of superhero comics, though I think he does his best work when writing non-powered heroes like Green Arrow (though his Green Arrow/Black Canary series was abysmal) and Batman. In fact, aside from the crap about Superboy punching a continuity wall and bringing back Jason Todd, Winick's previous run on Batman was inoffensive and readable.

It makes sense, then, that Winick's return to the character would involve a confrontation with the Scarecrow, the first villain Winick used in the previous run. Though the Scarecrow story barely starts in this issue, most of it is taken up with Dick Grayson's struggle in making the transition from Nightwing to Batman. There are some nice moments where Nightwing and Alfred come to the decision that Batman can't die, though it would seem that this is ground that should have been covered in the transitional miniseries. I like the interaction between Nightwing and Alfred here: Alfred admits that he can talk to Dick in a way that's different from the way he talked to Bruce, and that should pay out with some interesting character moments in the issues to come. Winick also seems to establish a clear purpose for this book in the grand scheme of the Bat-universe when Dick tells Alfred, "There'll be times when I'll need to go it alone." Therefore, I expect that this series will feature mainly Robin-less adventures, as opposed to the two other monthly Batman books.

However, compared to some of the other series, this one just didn't grab me that much. Part of that had to do with Ed Benes's art, though this appears to be his only issue of the series, as Mark Bagley is coming on for the next two issues. It also feels like this is the book that's going to concern itself the most with continuity issues and the new Batman's larger relationship to the DC Universe. While that's probably necessary for some readers, I prefer what some of the other series are doing with the new status quo.

Man, this comic is a freaking work of art. I love that DC snuck a superhero story that's a bit unconventional into its flagship title, instead of spinning it off into another new series, like Streets of Gotham. J. H. Williams III's art is phenomenal, shifting gears between experimental page layouts for the action scenes with Batwoman and more conventional storytelling for the character moments with Kate Kane. Greg Rucka is also playing around with the idea that Batwoman is still an unknown quantity, so the last panel leaves us wondering what kind of hero she will be.

I would also buy a monthly comic featuring the Question by Greg Rucka and Cully Hamner, so I have no problem with the larger pricetag for the Question co-feature. In its first chapter, this series makes me more interested in the new Question than any of the stories featuring her over the past couple of years. It feels like, in these two stories, that Rucka is getting to use these characters in the way he wants to after shaking off some of the 52 and Final Crisis baggage (though we do see that the Crime Bible is still going to be a factor at least in the Batwoman series).

This book is the shit, and it makes the whole Battle for the Cowl event worthwhile. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am totally and unapologetically in the tank for Grant Morrison, but this is pretty much my ideal for a superhero comic. The interaction between a dark Robin and a more lighthearted Batman seems especially fruitful. Also, in just a few panels, the new villain, Mr. Pyg, is shown to be a disturbing and unsettling threat, much in the way Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers used The Joker in "The Laughing Fish." Finally, Frank Quitely's art, which was already amazing in All-Star Superman, seems to have progressed even further here. This is one of the few comics that I can't wait for every month.

I have a hard time understanding what the purpose of this new series is. It uses the same team that was previously on Detective--Paul Dini, Dustin Nguyen, and Derek Fridolfs--and it feels entirely consistent with their work on that series. I had hoped that this series could serve as a kind of "Batman Family" title, featuring some of the other Gotham heroes who are trying to fill in for the original Batman; however, from this issue, it seems to be just another Batman and Robin title. It just doesn't seem necessary.

Plus, I just didn't care for the story. As disturbing as Mr. Pyg might be in Batman and Robin, I was more put off by the mass casualties that Firebug causes in this issue. There have been so many mass killings and disasters in Gotham City over the past two years, it would be nice if the Batman books had a moritorium on such things.

I was a bit disappointed with the Manhunter co-feature by Marc Andreyko and Georges Jeanty. I was a big fan of the Manhunter series, and I was disappointed that it was cancelled, but Andreyko did a great job wrapping it up. However, the idea of Kate Spencer as Gotham City's D.A. is intriguing enough for me to stay interested, though that may not be enough incentive to keep buying this series every month.

On the surface, Red Robin has the clearest purpose of all the new Bat-universe series. Tim Wayne, formerly Tim Drake, travels through Europe trying to find evidence that Bruce Wayne is still alive after Tim has lost the Robin job to Damien Wayne. However, this issue mainly involves Red Robin complaining about getting distracted by crimefighting while he's on this quest. I'm not sure exactly what evidence Tim is finding in Europe, as Bruce Wayne is lost in prehistorical times, though his investigation may have something to do with Ra's al Ghul, who appears at the end of this issue. I'll probably give this series one story arc before making my final decision, but if it turns out that Red Robin's quest is interminably delayed by other plots, I may get quickly frustrated with it.

So, I'm hooked in to Detective Comics and Batman and Robin for the duration. The others, I'll give one story arc before I make my final decision, but Batman and Red Robin are definitely on a shorter leash than Streets of Gotham.