Every week sees the release of an incredible number of comics, and nobody can possibly be expected to read them all. Well, not except outright comic book geeks like me — and now I'm reading them all, in order to tell you which ones shine particularly brightly in any given week! So here we go...
"Night of the Monster Men"
The Batman comics are on a roll. For the last few years, they've been headed up by the legendary Scott Snyder, and have gone from strength to strength. Although Snyder's stepped back a little as part of "Rebirth", they remain truly strong; it's no coincidence that the previous Comic of the Week was Detective Comics #940, in which a Robin made what the Dark Knight believes to be his last stand.
Less than a week later, DC has chosen to launch its first post-"Rebirth" crossover in the Batman books. Pushing a crossover so early in the game is a risky move; sometimes crossovers sap a book's momentum, or readers can be irritated at having to pick up books they don't normally follow. Crossovers are hardest on the writers; only the best writers can navigate a crossover without losing direction, as they don't always give writers the chance to continue the arcs they were building on.
This week saw DC release the first two parts of "Night of the Monster Men", and the good news is that this already seems to be a remarkably strong crossover. The arcs are being handled with consistency, the direction is logical, and it feels like the continuity from each book is carefully respected. As a result, though, there is perhaps a slight weakness: regular readers of, say, Nightwing won't really understand the Gotham Girl sub-plot, and of Batman may not have picked up last week's Detective Comics. The character beats only really work if you've been following every Bat-centric book. With DC's current $2.99 cover price, though, it's not so hard to catch up.
Written by Steve Orlando, and with art by Riley Rossmo, Batman #7 is a strong issue by anyone's measure. The very concept of "Night of the Monster Men" — a hurricane strikes Gotham, and Hugo Strange takes advantage of the opportunity to launch deadly monsters against Gotham — is tremendous. I love the idea of Batman going up against nature itself, rather than just against his usual madmen. What's more, the fact that he's taking on the kind of creatures you normally see in the pages of Fantastic Four or Superman just increases the thrill.
The characterization on display is tremendous. From the outset, Orlando stresses that this is a Batman we've never seen before; wracked with grief over Red Robin's death, he's committed himself to the impossible cause of ensuring that nobody dies. Over in Detective Comics, he's assembled a team of vigilantes to work alongside him, and his new zeal for saving lives is already causing tension. Among other things, it means he's trusting his team less, and unwilling to put them in harm's way. It's such a wonderful, human reaction, and perfectly explores the tension that's always been at the heart of the Batman concept: a grim vigilante who famously "works alone" and yet routinely has sidekicks.
Rossmo's art is fascinating, and creates a truly grim sense of the danger Gotham's in. I love how he captures some of the characters, and how he displays the easy agility of Batman and his allies (one stand-out moment is Batman's acrobatic way of getting into his vehicle). That said, I think one element of the hurricane pushes Rossmo to his limit: the torrential rain. There are a few stand-out scenes where Batwoman's hair just doesn't look entirely natural, and I think Rossmo could have done with studying how wet hair reacted in a strong wind a little more.
That minor issue notwithstanding, this is a tremendously strong beginning to a very promising arc.
The second part of "Night of the Monster Men" is in Nightwing #5. Working alongside Tim Seeley, Steve Orlando continues the plot, and it remains as impressive as ever. The character beats are consistent, with Batman so focused on keeping his team safe that he won't let them help him against the Monster Men. These decisions are used to highlight Batman's relationship with Nightwing in particular, giving them both real depth. Plot-wise, I love the idea of the Bat-Beacon; it's one that leaves me cheering, as Batman demonstrates the kind of technology only someone with Bruce Wayne's wealth could afford!
Where Batman #7 ensured you remember Red Robin's death by directly referencing it, Nightwing #5 assumes you're aware of it. As a result, it's the small moments that carry real emotional impact - such as...
When Red Robin's girlfriend is asked: "Usually it's the Bat being that optimistic. Your dog die, or something?"
Smartly, the response is muted - and all the more powerful for that. Other character moments are just as quiet, and just as enjoyable as a result.
Two characters shine surprisingly bright in this issue: Alfred, pushed to his limits as he struggles to work out what's going on back in the Batcave, and Gotham Girl. I freely admit that I wasn't familiar with Gotham Girl until "Rebirth", but the dark and powerful plots centering on her have really won me over. Here, her decisions are fascinating, and you can't help but feel a thrill of dread as she launches herself into the fight.
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Roge Antonio's art is excellent, complimenting Riley Rossmo's well enough for you not to notice any tonal difference between the books. Synchronizing your artists during a crossover like this is a real challenge, so that's as impressive as anything else. That said, I can't help noticing two differences; Rossmo captured the darkness of the mood a little better, but I felt that Antonio managed to truly make me believe everyone was soaking wet. If you'll forgive what may sound like an obsessive note, he seems to do Batwoman's drenched, wind-swept hair a lot better than Rossmo.
I have to be honest that this week, I couldn't choose a single issue: both comics are strong, as part of a crossover that's already shaping up to be incredibly enjoyable. The Monster Men have come to Gotham at its most vulnerable moment, and their arrival will test the Dark Knight in a way I'm sure we're all going to love. Better still, this entire arc is giving every single character a chance to shine, exploring the relationship between Batman and his uneasy allies and proving that the writers really do understand their characters so very well.
Are you enjoying "Night of the Monster Men"? What comics did you pick up this week? Let me know in the comments!