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Following the much-ballyhooed death of Bruce Wayne in Final Crisis, in 2009 DC Comics re-launched all of their Batman books, with former-Robin Dick Grayson assuming the mantle of Batman, while young Damian Wayne (Bruce Wayne’s son as seen in Son of the Demon from 1987, and brought into modern-day DCU continuity by writer Grant Morrison) became Robin.

You can follow these links to read my previous reviews of the last several years of Batman continuity: Part 1 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, part 2 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, Batman: The Animated series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, and the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne stories that culminated in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?.

Batman #687-691Batman #687 is a stand-alone issue, written by Judd Winick and illustrated by Ed Benes and Rob Hunter.  It covers pretty much exactly the same ground as the three-part Battle for the Cowl mini-series (and rather more effectively).  We see our characters’ grief over the death of Bruce Wayne (such as the powerful moment in which Alfred tells Superman and Wonder Woman that “my son has died”), and we see Nightwing’s resistance to stepping into the cape and cowl, and ultimately his acceptance of the role of Batman.  Long-time Marvel comics illustrator Mark Bagley (who had terrific, lengthy runs on The Amazing Spider-Man and then on Ultimate Spider-Man, one of the longest uninterrupted runs ever) joins Mr. Winick for Batman #688-691, in which we see Dick Grayson’s early days in the role of Batman.  We see the differences in style between Dick Grayson’s Batman and Bruce Wayne’s, and we see Dick’s attempts to forge a partnership with the difficult, stubborn Damian.  More interestingly, at least to me, is that we see the villains’ reactions to this new Batman — specifically Two-Face, who notices immediately that this new, more-smiley Batman must be a different man than the Batman he had known.  I love Two-Face’s plan for utilizing that knowledge, and I think Mr. Winick gave him a clever scheme for gaining access to the Bat-cave.  Mark Bagley’s art was solid, and I was sorry that he didn’t continue as regular artist on the book.

Detective Comics — Amidst the re-shuffling of the Batman: Reborn story-line (the banner given to all of the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne Batman books), Greg Rucka returned to Detective Comics (Mr. Rucka had written a memorable run on the book several years earlier), replacing Paul Dini.  But rather than telling new Batman stories, Detective Comics now focused on the new Batwoman character who had been introduced in DC’s weekly series, 52.  Lavishly illustrated by J.H. Williams III, this run of Detective Comics quickly became my favorite Bat-book, and one of my favorite super-hero stories ever.  I have written a lot about this run on the site before, so I won’t go into great detail here.  Suffice to say, I think that Mr. Rucka and Mr. Williams meshed to form a powerful creative partnership, and they turned Detective Comics into one of the most unique books on the stands, absolutely gorgeous to look at and fiercely compelling to read.  I was devastated when, a year later, the story ended abruptly and Mr. Rucka left DC, following some sort of creative disagreement.

Streets of Gotham #1-13 — Although displaced from Detective Comics, Paul Dini stayed involved with the Batman books, and in fact during Batman: Reborn began writing two brand-new Batman books.  There was Gotham City Sirens, featuring Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn (of which I read the first two issues but no further — it just didn’t grab me), and Streets of Gotham, which felt like the natural continuation of Mr. Dini’s run on  Detective Comics.  His collaborator for the last year-or-so of his run on Detective, Dustin Nguyen, followed Mr. Dini to Streets of Gotham.  The two didn’t miss a beat, continuing to spin a series of phenomenally entertaining Batman yarns.  Although Mr. Dini focused almost exclusively on telling done-in-one stories on Detective Comics — something that I really loved! — I also enjoyed seeing him loosen up a bit on Streets of Gotham, telling stories over multiple issues and allowing some subplots (such as Mr. Zsasz’s new scheme) to build over the entire first year of the series.

Mr. Dini continued to do spectacular work with the character of Hush, showing that he could write the character better than any previous Bat-book author.  When Streets of Gotham begins, Hush is where we saw him at the end of the Faces of Evil crossover, imprisoned by the Bat-team.  But he quickly breaks lose, and with Bruce Wayne dead, he is able to easily take-over Bruce’s identity.  His new scheme is pure brilliance: the false Wayne holds a series of press conferences, in which he declares his intention to give away a billion dollars a month until Gotham City has been restored to prosperity.  This very public announcement puts the Bat-team in an impossible situation — Bruce Wayne’s name would be ruined if he failed to follow through on that very public promise, but on the other hand if he were to do so, he would quickly deplete the Wayne family fortune, leaving the Bat-team without any resources.  This is a great story that would take a while to resolve.

In addition to using pre-existing characters, Mr. Dini also continued — as he had in Detective Comics — to add new characters and faces to the Batman mythos.  My favorite new addition was The Broker (seen in Streets of Gotham #4, and several subsequent issues) as the businessman middle-man who makes his living helping various villains to find their perfect secret hide-out, hire their minions, etc.  It’s a clever idea, and Mr. Dini created a really interesting character.

The only problem with this run on Streets of Gotham is that, as with his run on Detective, Mr. Dini was apparently unable to keep up with the schedule, necessitating constant full-ins.  I did at least appreciate, though, that Dustin Nguyen was able to illustrate all of the issues, even those written by guest-writers, giving the series a less choppy feel than Mr. Dini’s run on Detective had.

Batman #692-699 — I was a little disappointed to see Judd Winick & Mark Bagley bumped off of Batman by the return of Tony Daniel as writer and artist.  I really respect Mr. Daniel’s ambition — these issues of Batman feature a very ambitious, complicated story-line, with over-lapping characters and villains, each with their different goals and schemes.  But as I have commented before, I am just not a huge fan of Mr. Daniel’s work, and while I wanted to like these issues of Batman, I found them to be too busy (from both a writing standpoint and an artistic standpoint) and nearly impossible to follow.  I found myself often struggling to understand what was going on, and while a writer like Grant Morrison could keep me engaged even when I was perplexed by the goings-on in the story, I don’t think Tony Daniel had that skill.

In these issues, Mr. Daniel picks up on the concept he had introduced in his Battle for the Cowl series of a Gotham City in chaos, nearly over-run by the crime war between rival crime-lords.  It’s a little confusing to me how the status-quo in Tony Daniel’s issues of Batman is so different from that in the other Bat-books, but that probably wouldn’t bother me as much if I were more interested in the story being told.  Instead, I kept getting hung up on those sorts of issues.  As just one example: in the intro to the story, we learn that the Black Mask controls a section of Gotham that has been completely surrounded by the National Guard (the info is presented as if we already knew that from a previous story, but if we did I totally missed that), and yet we see Black Mask (and the character who we eventually learn is his alter-ego) come and go from that area at ease.  I found those sorts of inconsistencies quite annoying.

I was pleased to see a member of the Falcone crime family (from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One) return to the story, and I was interested to see Mr. Daniel pick up on the notion from Grant Morrison’s Batman: R.I.P. of a bizarre collection of weird Batman villains (Dr. Death, Linda Fright, Professor Strange, and the Black Mask) assembled to destroy Batman.  Unfortunately I just didn’t find these characters to be anywhere near as interesting or threatening as they were when written by Mr. Morrison.  I also don’t think Mr. Daniels was that successful in telling the story of the Holocaust-victim-turned villain, the Reaper.  It not only felt overly familiar (Bryan Singer’s first X-Men film played up this aspect of Magneto’s origin, far more successfully) but also, frankly, a little distasteful.  That’s not to say the Holocaust should be considered forbidden as a subject, just that when dealing with such an overwhelming, tragic historical event, I think a little more delicacy and skill is called for.  While I’m complaining about aspects of Mr. Daniel’s run, I should also mention that I was bummed to see, in Batman #698-699, that he seemed to return the Riddler to a life of crime.  One of my favorite aspects of Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics was his use of the reformed Riddler as a private-detective rival to Batman, and I was bummed to see Mr. Daniel ‘s story put an end to that, to me, far more interesting version of the character.  Oh well.

As good or bad as any of these various Batman books were, though, they all seemed to be second-fiddle to the newly-launched Batman and Robin.  Written by Grant Morrison (returning to the Bat-books after a brief hiatus, following all of the crossovers and re-shuffling following his Batman: R.I.P. story), that book focused on Dick Grayson as Batman and Damian Wayne as Robin and it felt, for a while, as the core Batman book.

I will be back soon with my thoughts on Mr. Morrison’s Batman and Robin!

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