Review Date: Friday, 2 Jan 2009

Happy New Year 2009!  As part of our Bongo Congo New Year's festivities, Good King Leonardo has proclaimed that we begin the New Year in old-school style, going back to our DC roots with two current comic book takes on the Batman universe:


DC All-Star: Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #10
Publisher:  DC
Frank Miller: Writer
Jim Lee: Penciler
Scott Williams: Inker
Alex Sinclair: Colorist


            The Good DC Reader knows that in 2005, DC started publishing under the All-Star imprint a new run of Batman & Robin, as well as a 12-issue run of Superman.  Although the award-winning Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely-helmed run of Superman ended at a dozen issues, there's no scheduled conclusion of the Batman/Robin arc, which has actually become DC's current highest selling comic line.  So let's take a look at the current issue #10 and see how the series is faring.
            The acclaimed writer Frank Miller is scripting the series, with veteran Jim Lee penciling.  Issue #10's plot centers on Gotham Police Captain (not yet Commissioner) Gordon narrating a tale that weaves between the Dynamic Duo, Gordon, a badly injured Catwoman and a very young teenaged Barbara Gordon, who is just trying-out her new Batgirl persona with dangerous, borderline-reckless results.  The story interweaves two sub-plots: the interaction between the costumed heroes and various streetcrime situations, and Gordon dealing with his reckless Batgirl daughter and alcoholic wife who just had a bad drunk-driving car accident.
            I abandoned this comic series last year after reading issue #1, feeling at the time that Frank Miller's narrative and mood in that first issue just didn't feel fresh for a supposedly new interpretive take at Batman & Robin.  But issue #10 shows that Miller has come a long way and clearly established a unique voice in this title at this point.
            Three elements to this comic frankly elevate it to the potential of being a classic Batman comic line run.  The first is Miller's narrative style.  His voice of Captain Jim Gordon as the story narrator provides some of the most poetic, film noir "Gotham At Night" narrative published in a Batman title in years.  Secondly, Lee's penciling is nothing short of classic.  A multi-page sequence of Batman and Robin on fast-action night patrol of Gotham is a wonder to behold.  Lee portrays a young Robin as a kid just bundled in energy, conveying a puppy-like energy and innocent glee that just explodes off of the page.
            Third and finally, the sub-plot of Gordon's private life is a unique addition to the Batman family interpretive lore.  Gordon's life is a catastrophic mess, here, including a DUI-injured alcoholic wife, out-of-control Batgirl of a daughter and the intriguing allusion to a mistress on the side, someone that even daughter Barbara alludes to as the most stable part of Gordon's life.  Things are so bad here that Gordon actually ponders unloading his personal problems on Batman, just to have one friend to lean on.  Miller's take on this sub-plot is disturbing yet fascinating, drawing the reader in like a horrible trainwreck which one just can't turn away from, as the cars of Gordon's life all inevitably spill off of the track.
            I'll stick by my disappointment with last year's issue #1 of this series, but I'm thrilled to see how much life and quality Miller and Lee have brought to their game by the current issue #10.  It's enough not only to make me plan on reading issue #11, but also to check-out the past issues to see how issues prior to #10 have fared.  So definitely check-out the current issue and enjoy this classic addition to the Batman & Robin universe.


Nightwing #150
Publisher:  DC Comics
Peter J. Tomasi:  Story
Don Kramer: Penciller
Jay Leisten & Rodney Ramos: Inkers


              While Frank Miller's Robin in the review above is just a pre-teenager, he's all grown-up and known as Nightwing in the long-running Nightwing series, now up to issue #150.  The comic is written by Peter J. Tomasi, with art by Don Kramer, Jay Leisten and Rodney Ramos.
            Although I'm a huge Batman fan, to be honest, this is the first time that I've read an issue of this series centering on the grown-up Robin.  This issue is the concluding episode of a multiple-issue story arc entitled "The Great Leap."  The plot is a traditional Batman-family story, centering upon Nightwing trying to prevent traditional Batman-family nemesis Two-Face from bringing-down a major catastrophe upon the city.  It's interesting that the city here is New York, and not Gotham.  Nightwing is also assisted in this conflict by the former Batgirl, now Oracle, Barbara Gordon.
            Unlike the Frank Miller's take on the Batman Family reviewed above, there's nothing classic or groundbreaking going-on here, just a good, standard comic story with good art, to boot.  Without giving away any particulars regarding Two Face's attempt of destroying the city, I liked the way that Nightwing had to rely heavily rely on the circus acrobatic skills that he learned way back before his parents were killed, in order to save the day.  The artistic team gives us some beautiful, panoramic aerial scenes of what's happening at this key juncture in the story.
            There is one huge, glaring flaw at a key moment in this story, where in our real world, the New York Police SWAT guys would have easily stopped Harvey Dent, a.k.a. Two-Face dead in his tracks, as such not requiring Nightwing to swing into action and save the day.  But hey, its just a comic book, not the real New York City in our post-9/11 security-heightened real world.  So my advice is to just kick back on a cozy January night and just enjoy reading this Batman-world story.

            So there you have it for this first week of the New Year, two Batman-family comics featuring both Robin/Nightwing and Batgirl/Barbara Gordon/Oracle at two very different stages of their lives and careers.  A fun comparison of creative team interpretations of this Batman Family duo.  Happy comic reading until next week, from Here In Bongo Congo!


Iron Man/Incredible Hulk/Nick Fury #1
Writer: Frank Tieri, Paul Tobin, Joe Caramagna
Artist:Hugo Petras, Salva Espin
Penciller: Ronan Cliquet
Colorist: Chris Sotomayor, Guru eFX
Letterer: Rus Wooton, Nate Piekos



Marvel has a one-shot comic out this week entitled Iron Man/The Incredible Hulk/Nick Fury #1.  Its clearly a marketing promo for the Marvel Universe version being created in the recent Iron Man movie and continuing in the upcoming Avengers movie.  Tony Stark is drawn in this comic to look exactly like Robert Downey, Jr., while Nick Fury is a drawn copy of the upcoming Avengers movie star Samuel L. Jackson.

The key review consideration here is whether the three mini-stories presented in this issue stand-alone as enjoyable comic book tales or alternately serve as weak promos for their movie tie-ins.  From my read of the comic, Marvel succeeds on two-and-a-half out of three counts.
The Iron Man story is entitled "Fast Friends," and is the story that is only partly successful.  The first 7 pages are a dragged-out, fairly boring extended series of scenes over-emphasizing that Tony Stark is the shallow, self-centered jet-setter that anyone who's ever read an Iron Man comic is aware of, and doesn't need to see more than one or two pages of in any story, ever again.

Fortunately, the remaining five pages of the story balance-out the poor start, offering us a nice interaction between Stark and agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as they play an intellectual cat-and-mouse game over whether Iron Man will work for the agency and whether or not Stark will keep his Iron Man identity anonymous.

The remaining two stories are much more fresh and enjoyable to read.  "Incredible Hulk: The Fury Files" gives us a 12-page plot of Nick Fury conducting a surveillance operation on Bruce Banner, knowing that he's of interest to General Ross but trying to figure-out exactly why.  How Fury learns of Banner's Hulk alter ego and the resulting meeting of the two makes for a high quality, enjoyable story. 

The final story, a 10-page tale entitled ""Nick Fury: Spies Like Us," gives us a Cold War-era spy thriller with Nick Fury on an undercover mission in Eastern Europe.  It's a non-superhero, traditional spy-versus-spy tale with excellent intrigue and action elements which bring-out Fury's personal spy-guy abilities on a stand-alone basis, without him needing to rely on his team or any heroes.

While the Iron Man story didn't offer anything new here, the two Hulk/Nick Fury stories were top notch, and made me want to see the upcoming Samuel L. Jackson movie treatment as well as read more Fury/Jackson comics.  I understand that Jackson actually gave Marvel permission this past year to update recent Nick Fury storylines by redrawing Fury in his image.  If this issue is any indication, the update comes-off very well, both graphically and story-wise.  So an enthusiastic thumbs-up to this particular new version Nick Fury and the Fury overhaul in general.

Ongoing Contest Reminder!

Just a quick Bongo Congo reminder that there's one week remaining in our ongoing contest to submit your favorite single issue of a comic published in the decade of the 1980's.  So e-mail your entry to me at Gordon_A@msn.com, and win that $10.00 That's Entertainment gift certificate in our last contest of calendar year 2008!

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