I'm still not feeling well, but not really ill either, so I guess that's something; I'm still reading Batman comics, thanks to the next batch that just arrived in my mail today, and obviously also still writing blog entries way past a healthy bed time. Though I have to say, all this "free trade" ideology and there are still 16% customs to pay for a few frelling used Batman comics?! I'd like to see some tangible results from all that "free trade" too -- and hey, I'm not even a developing country looking to export agricultural products... okay, they still wouldn't win me over for their neoliberalism, if I hadn't had to pay customs on Batman comics, but it would be a start...
So, I just read Batman #408-410 and #416, recommended to me in this thread in the Gotham Gazette community for familiarizing myself with some background of the Batman and Nightwing relationship. I should have gotten at least #411 too, because the Jason Todd arc isn't finished by #410, but I didn't know that. I guess I'll find that issue somewhere eventually. Anyway, since chronologically those happen before Batman: Prodigal I decided to postpone my review of that one once again, and start with reviewing these instead.
So Batman #408 is written by Max Allan Collins, art by Chris Warner and Mike DeCarlo (as inker), #409 is written by the same, art by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano, #410 again written by Collins, art by Dave Cockrum and Mike DeCarlo, and #416 written by Jim Starlin, art by Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo. My first thought was: nostalgia! produced before computer coloring, and you see the low resolution color dots! on bad paper! and the printing quality sucks too! Erm. Okay. I don't have much else to say about the art. Usually for me to enjoy a comic I need to both like the art and the story, but since I can see whether I'll like the art very fast, whereas judging the story requires reading the whole thing, I'll buy comics just for cool artwork. And I admit that sometimes for great art I don't care about the story at all, whereas a good story with artwork I don't like has a very hard time to win me over. Maybe it's a bit like readers who can't overlook unskilled writing, no matter how good the idea is. The analogy isn't perfect, but I think it works on some level. I wouldn't have bought these comics based on the artwork. It's not so bad that it threw me out of the story, but it is somehow... uninspired. It's hard to pin down, but it has no real personality, nothing that makes comic artwork great, and the reason is not that it's quickly done mainstream superhero artwork. Well maybe that is a reason, but from the latter doesn't necessarily follow the former. Steve Ditko's Spiderman from the 1960s is a good counter example. Or maybe I'm just too picky. Though I liked #416 better than the rest, but that might have just been because I liked the story better, and thus saw the art in a more favorable light.
The only other thing I have to say about the art is that someone, whether inker or penciler, can't draw old women that look like women, especially in #409. Either that or the old lady villain Ma Gunn is a guy in drag, and I somehow missed that plot twist. Really, it's not so bad in the distance shots, but in close-ups? Older people may have less prominent gender characteristics, still that doesn't mean that an old woman looks like a (not-so-old) man.
So to move on to the story, after all I got these because someone (and yeah, I do blame this fully on cereta *grin*) interested me into the Nightwing/Batman dynamic. The Batman stories I read before never bothered much (if at all) with the sidekick, and once upon a time I used to read Batman stories only because I adored the artists on some level, that is I used to read superhero comics despite them being superhero comics. Obviously that's a thing of the past... I have no idea what happened in #407, but #408 starts with a splash page of a showdown between Batman and the Joker, and on page two Robin (i.e. Dick Grayson as Robin) gets shot and dangles off the roof for some time, but tells Batman to deal with the Joker first, and that he can hold on a while longer. Batman catches the Joker, but Robin looses his grip and falls down, fortunately landing on a ledge, not on the street level. There also is a news crew filming the whole thing from a helicopter, leading later to a media frenzy, because they report Robin as killed, something that Batman doesn't contradict, and the media cover it also as "child" abuse, though Dick is technically an adult already by then. Though maybe the media don't know that.
Bruce/Batman is freaked out and cuts him loose with the words "In what I do, there is no place for a child." and understandably Dick bristles at being called "a child" ("I'll say I've been wounded -- plenty of times. But never this deep --), but then Bruce/Batman encourages him to pursue his own destiny, even though it's clear that Dick intends to stay in the vigilante business ("Fine. If you want Robin to stay dead, that's okay with me. But you've trained me too well -- made me what I am. You can't keep me from pursuing my own destiny.") I rather liked this exchange, btw the reason I wrote "Bruce/Batman" is because during this scene Dick is in bed, but Bruce is still in costume, and has just taken off the cowl, obviously because he's just back from delivering the Joker to Arkham. I try not to think too hard about how Alfred managed to take care of two gun shot wounds, one to the shoulder, but one apparently in the chest area (at least judging based on the bandages and on some blood in panels earlier), without the help of a hospital. Whatever.
Batman apparently throws himself into crime fighting, and Dick just vanishes from the story (we learn more about that in #416). Gordon is pleased that there's no teenage sidekick anymore, however Batman notices how much he's come to rely on Robin watching his back during a fight with some street thugs in #409. Batman meets Jason Todd, as he is stealing the tires of the Batmobile, then delivers Jason to Ma Gunn, who is supposedly running a school on Crime Alley, which is really a front for criminal training and activities. (And I have to say that Batman/Bruce acts really kind of gullible in both his personas during this.) So Jason helps to stop her, Batman gets himself a new sidekick...
But at least the readers aren't the only ones finding this development odd; that he gets himself a new, much younger sidekick, when he said he couldn't endanger Dick any further, who's 19 then. Alfred confronts Batman with this ("[...] you swore you would not endanger another child"), and Batman defends himself (though it sounds a lot like rationalizing) by saying that Jason isn't really a child: "Alfred, this 'child' is already a streetwise adventurer -- who left to his own devices would undoubtly go down the same criminal road that took his father to an early death. I intend to channel the skills Jason brought with him, combined with what I've taught him, to send him down the right path..." and uses a similar defense when Gordon calls him on it ("This child is older than both of us -- not to mention tougher.").
He tries the same explanation on Nightwing in #416, however Dick doesn't buy it. Before I move on to that conversation, I'd like to mention that the Two-Face story line of #410 seemed promising, with some nice character development woven into it (both Jason's feelings of "insecurity" as second Robin, and Jason's father's involvement with Two-Face), however I haven't read the conclusion, so I can't really say much about that.
So back to #416 and the big confrontation between Nightwing and Batman -- just one quick note, the Nightwing costume in that version really looks hilarious, and quite like Elvis. But I liked this issue a lot. It's all about the characters, the brief appearances of bad guys are only there as a starting point to show the Bruce-Dick-Jason relationships. And okay, I really like the bizarre Batman supervillains when they're done well, so I wouldn't want them to be absent constantly, but for a stand alone like this it works.
I can really recommend this one for any Batman/Nightwing fans. I mean, I read Prodigal before, so I knew that they didn't part without conflict, but I didn't really expected it to be like this. And I think they used the double identity and the masks and costumes really well during this climax. Dick wants to talk, comes to the Batcave in his Nightwing costume complete with the eye mask, is addressed by Alfred as "Master Dick", walks towards Batman (who is in full costume with his cowl on), greets him with "Hi, Bruce." who replies with "Hello, Nightwing. What do you want?", not even turning to face Nightwing at first. Then Nightwing takes off his mask, says "I want to talk." still to Batman's back. And this conversation follows still with Batman in full costume, looking at monitors instead of Dick:
"I haven't heard from you in eighteen months. Why this sudden urge to resume communications?"
"Because you and I left a lot of things unsaid. And I think you owe me an explanation or two, Bruce."
"What makes you think I owe you anything?" (then Batman finally turns to face Dick, and stands up.)
"The years...the years we spent together as Batman and Robin." He looks really stricken as he's saying that. "We were the dynamic duo... don't you remember?"
Then follows a whole sequence of Dick talking about their past together, about their split from his viewpoint, and his new start as Nightwing, and Batman has still not even taken of his cowl, until finally he retells how he learned from a newspaper of the new Robin and confronts Bruce: "The man who couldn't handle the responsibility of having a 19-year old partner suddenly decides it's all right to take on a sidekick. I think I have the right to know why." "That's not an easy question to answer." "Well why don't you take off that damn mask and give it a try!" And only then Bruce reluctantly (it takes three panels) takes it off, and tries explanations.
He says that it was time for Nightwing to step out on his own, that he was trying to save Jason's life (Dick's reply to that: "Bull!"), that he recruited Jason "[...] because the Batman needs a Robin. Fighting crime in Gotham City is not a one-man job." (interesting how he talks in the third person about himself here), to which Dick replies "I said I wanted the truth, Bruce.", and finally he breaks down, smashes some glass, turns his back to Dick looking defeated and says "I admit it. I was lonely. I missed you." getting more and more quiet, judging from the size of the lettering. Then Dick: "Bruce, I'm..." (looking somewhat shocked), and finally "I would appreciate it if you left now, Nightwing. Please, Get out." "Goodbye, Bruce."
I really liked how through the whole exchange Dick/Nightwing calls Batman/Bruce "Bruce", even though Batman/Bruce tries to hang onto his own mask, and is very reluctant to take it off, whereas Batman/Bruce calls Dick/Nightwing "Nightwing" throughout (no "Dick" and no "son" either, unlike the conversation in #408), even though he took off his mask very early. That really worked for me, and looking at the conversation again, I think that the body language works quite well in this sequence too.
Another thing I liked about #416 is how Nightwing and Robin part on good terms, bond at least a bit over the whole Robin gig, and Nightwing offers to be there for Jason if he wants to talk. I really liked that.
And on that note I finish my rambling review/recap mixture...