By Molly Jane Kremer, Scott Southard, and Jarrod JonesOur Week In Review collects our thoughts on the comics that demand attention. Do you have a deep-rooted desire to know what we think about all your favorite books? Well. This is where you need to be.

1436546_xlGrayson #10

Written by Tom King and Tim Seeley.

Art by Mikel Janin; colors by Jeromy Cox.

JJ: It’s an equation that is wholly perfect and beautiful, and it becomes even more so the longer you look at it: Lex Luthor + Espionage = Bond Villain.

The idea of pitting Luthor against the Batcave has been something that the braintrust over at DC Comics has dabbled with now and again for so long now he may as well become a card-carrying member of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, but never before has Lex Luthor’s evil cunning worked so well in a Bat-book than in Grayson #10. And if there’s something out there that I’m forgetting about, I don’t want to remember it.

How long has it been since Dick Grayson and Lex Luthor last stared each other in the eyes? Forever Evil, that’s how long it’s been. And it’s only fitting that the massive DC crossover should still have rippling aftershocks for the former Nightwing, since it was the bald megalomaniac that sent our handsome boy to a purportedly early grave in the first place. (Hard to believe it’s been sixteen months since Forever Evil #6 hit shelves, hasn’t it?) And as far as mortal enemies sitting down for a pleasant, sea-side chat, Bond doesn’t have shit on Grayson.

Because as far as production value is concerned, Grayson might as well be guided by the aesthetic hand of Sam Mendes. Just look at the quality that goes into this book: beyond the harmonious synergy between Tim Seeley and Tom King’s written words — where Grayson finds its vibrant, healthy, energy — marvel at colorist Jeromy Cox’s stunning hues of deep blue and turquoise as Dick dives towards the sea below (in a stunning three-quarter splash page) and try to remember that you’re only looking into a comic book and not the Mediterranean. Mikel Janin’s renderings give Seeley & King’s words character and depth, where Luthor seethes through his teeth, Grayson’s dimples make the heart swoon, and the weight of the world rests on Helena Bertinelli’s shoulders.

If you crave phosphorescent, summer fun — and c’mon, it’s July; I know you do — this is essential reading. Pardon the hyperbole, but Grayson is better than going to the movies.

10 out of 10

1436559_xlJustice League: Gods & Monsters – Batman #1

DC Comics/$3.99.

Written by J.M. DeMatteis and Bruce Timm.

Art by Matthew Dow Smith; Colors by Jordie Bellaire.

SS: I have glowing memories of Batman: The Animated Series (which seems like a redundant statement, given my millennial age, nerdy disposition, and my position on the staff of a comic book news site). The intro music and semi-static art deco still give me chills and bring back the memories of being given something that took both me and my love for Batman seriously. And now Bruce Timm is back with the full length film, Justice League: Gods and Monsters, along with a series of comic book tie-ins, the first of which focuses on an alternate history for the Dark Knight.

It’s hard to mistake the immediate tone of the book as anything but bleak. The colors are dark and the shadows are heavy. The people have faces filled with sadness, anger, and fear (some of Smith and Bellaire’s panels look almost simple and unfinished while others are so powerfully muted, it seems as if the world will never see joy again). Batman himself (in this universe, played by the normally Man-Batty Kirk Langstrom) seems to feel right at home in the consistency of drear and gloom. Due to an experiment gone south, Langstrom has developed an escalating taste for blood, which he sees as a wonderful opportunity to eliminate some of the more vile elements of Gotham. Played-out as vampires are in pop culture, they’re still one of the most metaphorically rich foundations for a sturdy narrative about the human condition, especially in trying to survive and function in a civilization that’s seemingly opposed to that effort at every angle. Timm and DeMatteis play with the concept well without over-glamorizing or romanticizing the notion of a vampire hero.

In fact, we see quite the opposite. It’s a Sopranos-style exploration of the hero/criminal as a multidimensional being rather than a single-minded entity. We look at Langstrom as he attempts to come to terms with his quickly increasing appetite as he rationalizes killing more and more villains in the name of justice. We see his inner monologues as he realizes that he’s not doing good for the sake of good, but for his own selfish, leaching needs. The story is told in shades of grey where the reader isn’t ever sure if we’re watching a good guy or bad guy, a paladin or a scoundrel. He’s the kind of person you might end up as if suddenly given an unwieldy amount of power (and an unquenchable thirst).

Langstrom fills the role of the Batman that you always kind of want to see. One who is the most efficient crime fighter he can be. A capital punishment-dealing machine that seeks and destroys rather than locks up villain after villain, knowing they will conveniently escape ad infinitum. Langstrom’s Batman executes his duties with 100% efficacy and even though we know what he’s doing is morally wrong, there’s something immensely satisfying in seeing the body of a criminal mob boss fall to the floor in the name of the greater good. It’s something that Batman can never fully manifest, but in this dream state of a universe, it feels good to taste a little blood.

7.5 out of 10

1436596_xlWe Are Robin #2

DC Comics/$3.99.

Written by Lee Bermejo.

Art by Jorge Corona; Breakdowns by Rob Haynes; Colors by Trish Mulvihill (Epilogue art by Khary Randolph, colors by Emilio Lopez)

SS: I’ve always been intrigued by the unknown folks on the battlefields. The faceless Stormtroopers, the National Guardsmen chasing John Rambo, the corner boys of The Wire. Each of these people has a life of friends, family, dreams, and disappointments. We watch them surreptitiously as they work through the toughest situations they’ve ever known, wondering if they’re thinking about the people they love, about how they can’t wait until they can get home, crack a beer, and binge watch some action movies.

We Are Robin illuminates the stories of these people. We follow a group of teens anointed to don the “R” for the sake of Gotham. They’re just as nonplussed and uncertain as any other teenagers are, except their incertitude transcends to a an entirely new level with stakes that involve much more than themselves.

The second issue fleshes out Duke Thomas’ story even further, as we see him coping with additive cases of peril in the search for his parents, and ultimately the search for himself. Duke’s young life is presented as a sort of parallel to a young Bruce Wayne’s: orphaned in Gotham, confused, physically gifted, and with an overthinking drive to do the right thing even if some folks get hurt along the way. These traits combine as a constantly misunderstood blessing for a city and community that needs all the help it can get. A couple of guys, abandoned by life, just trying their best to help out.

It’s hard to parse what I love about this book so much, other than the fact that form follows function. Bermejo writes a quick, smart, punchy book about quick, smart, punchy kids. It has an edge that borders on petulance (I’m particularly partial to the snark-oozing dialogue “People you help don’t give a…” being followed by an onomatopoeic “FAKK”), but it’s rounded out with a very centered sense of moral gravity. With simple storytelling techniques — like a much needed explanation for Batman’s very human inability to be everywhere at once and the necessity of a team of Robins (“… that’s what the sidekick thing is all about…”) — coupled with realistic dialogue, the whole cast comes off as the group of kids you hung out with in high school. Anger with a purpose, perspicacity with a modicum of direction. It’s a middle finger to someone who deserves it.

A quick note on the art: It’s expressive without being audacious or distracting. Corona and Mulvihill work together to create some articulately dynamic scenes that have a real sense of motion to them. It looks like the punches thrown are landing with the force of a skinny teenager’s punches (which is what’s happening). It’s also hard to deny how cool all of the kids look, especially when noting how easily they could have come off looking like cheesy grown-up ideas of what “punks” and “ravers” look like. There’s a consistency here that isn’t seen all that often, especially in superhero comics.

We Are Robin #2 presents itself as an organism, literally and holistically. It shows us the small moving parts that make up the entirety of a story we often overlook. We’re given a peek into the deeper workings of it, as it grows and actualizes. Duke is a dynamic and continuously fleshed out character, but more than that, he’s someone we can identify with. Once we get a glimpse at the lesser human elements of superheroics, that’s when we realize that we are all Robin.

9 out of 10

1436525_xlCyborg #1

DC Comics/$2.99

Written by David F. Walker.

Art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado; colors by Adriano Lucas.

JJ: It raises more than an eyebrow that Victor Stone would finally get his own series at the tail-end of DC Comics’ DCYou initiative, when meager words like “diversity” and “inclusion” are getting thrown around the publisher’s Burbank offices like they were some kind of trumpeting declaration of progress. With this being the year 2015, Cyborg’s first solo book also raises some hard questions, like “why now?” or more pointedly, “why bother?”

Why, after 35 years of marginalization, would DC bother to give this black superhero his own book, if he didn’t merit the gesture when the publisher tossed him into the Justice League at the onset of the New 52? Or for that matter, the 30 years that preceded it? As far as recent history is concerned, perhaps it was DC CCO Geoff Johns — who took the thankless task of fitting Cyborg into the so-white-it’s-translucent team after years of writing him in the equally pasty Teen Titans — that kept Victor from developing a voice in his own ongoing for the near-five years he’s had a position of prominence. Or maybe the publisher’s reticence comes from something far more ingrained.

Look at the decades it took to have DC snap out of their collective apathy: as his fellow Teen Titans outgrew the realm of mainstream indifference (Robin moving out from Batman’s shadow as Nightwing, Kid Flash stepping into the yellow boots of The Flash, and both netting their own high-profile books as a result), Vic remained in the margins alongside his fellow tokenized teammates, Raven, Starfire, and Donna Troy. As Nightwing went on to become the Dark Knight and Wally secured his place as DC’s premiere Scarlet Speedster, Donna became DC’s defacto martyr, Raven faded into obscurity, and Starfire… well… all while Cyborg accepted his fate as a Titan forever. Never mind the fact that Teen Titans was a best-selling book because it was a team effort; certain characters just had more privilege than others, which is a sorry damn thing when you realize we’re talking about fictional characters inhibited only by their publisher’s imaginations.

It’s taken long, slow, strides to get here, but now it’s happened. DC Comics has yet again granted one of its few African American superheroes their own ongoing series, one that can sit next to top-tier books like Batman or Action Comics with an incredible creative team that also happens to feature people of color. And it looks like DC is serious about keeping the book around, and it’s as well they should; when you’re lucky enough that a writer like David F. Walker will work for you, make damn sure you’re in for the long haul. For those who missed out on Walker’s Shaft mini-series, illustrated by the sublime Bilquis Evely, know that it was easily one of the most grounded, compelling, and downright honest comic books on stands in a good, long, time. And now he’s writing for a DC superhero. This book might literally fly off the shelves for all the potential energy stored within it.

To praise Ivan Reis and Joe Prado for a beautiful issue might belabor the obvious, but it’s worth repeating: these men are some of the strongest creators this industry has, and they do Victor an honor with his sleek new look, one that displays far more skin than anything Jim Lee’s tin-can design ever did. But this is but an introductory issue, one that cleanly sets all its pieces in opposition to each other rather than diving too deeply into the strengths and pathos I hope Walker has in store for the beleaguered Titan. It’s common knowledge that Victor Stone is a hero. But it’s well past time we came to know him has a human being. As far as the stellar debut of Cyborg goes, I would say, “it’s about damned time”, but we all know that statement is already three decades too old.

8.5 out of 10

1436759_xlSpider-Woman #9

Marvel Comics/$3.99

Written by Dennis Hopeless.

Art and colors by Javier Rodriguez; inks by Alvaro Lopez.

MJ: This week, only three Marvel comics came out that weren’t tied in to Secret Wars. For fans of tightly-knit, fictional-universe-beholden continuity this is probably a joyous occasion: but for those who hang more importance on individual, stand-alone storytelling, this could be considered a skimpy week. Thank goodness then, that one of those new releases is Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez’s exciting and irreverently funny Spider-Woman – and it’s the start of a new storyline, no less.

Somehow the Spider-lady market has become competitive of late (in quantity and quality), and alongside both Silk and Spider-Gwen, writer Dennis Hopeless has ensured that this Jessica Drew-led ongoing is one of Marvel’s most consistently smart and funny comics. Now a street-level, slightly-inept PI who punches at problems when she should be investigating them, Spider-Woman is a different (and more enjoyable) reading experience than most of your average superhero fare, with a lead whose flaws are just as compelling as her powers (and certainly more so than her asscrack).

The last storyline took a very interesting approach to the families of henchmen and D-list villains, keeping the reader guessing (and giggling) without letting the mystery overwhelm the humor or character development, and dropping in unexpected twists without relying on their shock value. Spider-Woman #9 continues in this vein, moving along at a quick clip, subtly reintroducing its three main characters while continuing to move forward with them. Hopeless has written an excellent jumping-on point that remains compelling for continuing readers. (If only more superhero writers would learn this skill.)

Artist and colorist Javier Rodriguez’s visual storytelling is incredibly strong, particularly in three of the book’s pages — each laid out like paper-clipped casefiles — which are seamless in their simplicity and flow. (They’re also gorgeous.) Rodriguez choreographs the issue’s fight scenes with dynamic fluidity: one double-page splash has Jessica ghosting across both pages and ferociously kicking/zapping/punching multiple asses as she does. Alvaro Lopez’s expressive inks – alongside Rodriguez’s pencils and colors – make for a book with a recognizable and cohesive style.

Though the next issue of Spider-Woman sees the series diving head-first into tie-in territory, the comic (and its creative team, thankfully) will return with a new #1 after Secret Wars. (But expect to see Jess, well…expecting.) Hopeless, Rodriguez, and Lopez have excelled at upending reader expectations with humor and exceptional characterization and storytelling – and will no doubt continue to do so with a preggers lead – but for now, Spider-Woman #9 is a short yet blissful reprieve from the rest of Marvel’s otherwise inescapable crossover.

8.5 out of 10

Agree? Disagree? What books do YOU want to see us cover this week? Let us know in the comments below.

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