Gotham Pilot - In Depth Review

Someone who used to read my old blog, BatWatch, asked me if I would do a review of Gotham. Since my review is a couple days late, I decided to discuss things a bit more in depth than what I've seen from other reviews. Spoilers for the entire review.

Directing

To it's credit, Gotham doesn't feel like any other TV show. With the success of Arrow, it would be easy to copy their style, but Gotham feels like it's own animal which is neither tinged with the superheroic nor molded after the standard police procedural. Whereas the Nolan movies tried to play everything straight, Gotham feels like it's able to add just a hint of the fantastic into the city. Sure, having jail cells in the same room as the police desks makes no practical sense, but in a world lightly tinged by comic books, it works. Likewise, the constantly swinging light in the interrogation room probably couldn't be found in a real life police station, but in Gotham, it fits. It's as if the citizens of Gotham and especially Gotham's cops know their city is screwed up and expect a little insanity from time to time, so when a thug walks into a room with an executioner mask, it somehow doesn't seem out of place.

Gotham captures tension well. Though we know our heroes will triumph in the end, I found myself caught up in a hostage situation at the beginning of the episode and a couple of tense exchanges between Gordon and Mooney and Bullock and Mooney later on in the episode. Though the pilot certainly has its faults, suspense is not lacking.

The cinematography is also well done. The show goes the extra mile in taking some long panning shots and an occasional overhead view which gives dimension to the locales. Many scenes have an overexposed look where the light overpowers the darkness and cuts through the scene for several seconds. It's interesting that the creators of a show based in Gotham, famed for being a city of darkness, decided to let light reign triumphant in so many shots. For whatever reason, it works well and gives the show it's own distinct look.

Writing

Writing is where the show struggles a bit. Too often the writers have a design for the script and take the most obvious path in reaching their goal which makes the story feel heavy handed and clumsy in spots. Examples of this are numerous throughout the entire episode. The first red flag is how every character past the first scene feels the need to immediately introduce who they are and what their personality is in the first minute on screen. “Hello, I'm Harvey Bullock. I'm a jaded cop who doesn't like the young and hopeful James Gordon.” “Hello, I'm Alfred Pennyworth. I'm a good guy who will help Master Bruce through the death of his parents.” It would do better with some subtlety and a slower reveal of who these characters are. There's no need to rush the storytelling. The second troubled spot I noticed was when Gordon went to talk to Bruce. The writers wanted James to say something to comfort the sobbing child, and it almost worked, but the way Gordon leans in to whisper in Bruce's ear feels awkwardly intimate, and the line, “There will be light,” is more than a tad hammy. There are other moments which, though not horrible, somewhat disappoint. Gordon got out of his assignment to kill Penguin in the most obvious way possible. Gordon's talk with Bruce Wayne towards the end of the episode is a tad melodramatic. These mistakes aren't so egregious that they ruin the show, but they do put cracks in what would otherwise be a well sculpted piece.

That's not to say that the writing is altogether bad. The dialogue throughout most of the episode is spot on, and it's no easy task to nail characters this well established. The writing between Gordon and Bullock was especially well written. The central story is well conceived, layered, and complex, but to come back to criticism, the story has many extraneous plot lines (Catwoman, Riddler and Ivy) that are shoehorned into the episode to give the casual Batman fan a sense of familiarity yet serve no greater purpose in the story of the pilot and therefore seem like needless diversions.

Setting

I love the look and feel of Gotham. Since they are naming the show after the city, they really needed to be able to give Gotham character, and Gotham has character in spades. The skyline, water towers and catwalks are quintessentially Gotham. The city looks beautiful from afar but grimy and worn up close. The police officers and criminals of Gotham seem like real people in a bad situation, and you definitely get this feeling that everyone is desperate though perhaps not hopeless. Attention to detail was made in the cityscapes. Wayne logos are visible in the background of some shots. A lot of the nighttime shots of Gotham were noticeably enhanced by CGI, and that's a little disappointing but a minor gripe. Though the tightly packed pilot allowed for few such moments in the first episode, I do hope Gotham will dive into the lives of the Gotham civilians in future episodes, so we can see the fears, struggles and triumphs of the ordinary Gothamite.

Editing

The editing for Gotham was incredibly fast paced, and again, this sets Gotham apart and gives it a unique flair. Camera angles change frequently, and it definitely keeps things from becoming boring, but it is at times just a tad fast. Occasionally, I found myself wishing to have just a few seconds to process what just happened before being rushed to the next scene. If they can pull back the frequency of changing camera angles and the transition speed between scenes just a notch, I think the pacing will be excellent for those who like a fast moving narrative.

Action

When it comes to actual fisticuffs or gunplay, the action is standard and brief. If it deserves any special credit, it is in keeping characters abilities grounded in reality. Nobody performed any superheroic feats such as dropping a half dozen guys in combat or surviving a twenty foot fall without injury, and I hope the action keeps it's realistic tone in future episodes.

Music

I enjoy the soundtrack to Gotham. It always seems to set the perfect mood, and it keeps things consistently on edge with an urban jungle feel, but there were some moments where it became a tad overbearing and overwhelmed some dialogue on screen.

James Gordon

Ben McKenzie's casting as Gordon seems perfect. In Gotham, Gordon has his usually calm demeanor, but he's got a little more of an ego and swagger than what we typically see in comics. However, that's appropriate for a younger version of the character. It's crystal clear that he's a good cop, and that's who Gordon is at his core. McKenzie's projects depth of conviction into the role and plays well off the rest of the cast. It's still early, but for a first impression, I think the show nailed James Gordon.

Harvey Bullock

Bullock's portrayal by Donal Logue caught me off guard. When I picture Harvey Bullock, I always think of the nearly slurred, obnoxious voice of the character from Batman the Animated Series, but Logue's Harvey, though still “slovenly,” is much less extreme than his cartoon counterpart. At first I didn't like his portrayal for this reason, but once I realized the voice was what was bugging me, I started looking beyond that and found his portrayal of Bullock to be quite impressive. Bullock's dialogue is perfectly written for the character, and he seems in line with the Bullock of the comics who was also a crooked cop who was eventually won back to the right side of the law through the leadership of James Gordon. I like seeing that Harvey does have some pride in himself, and we get a twinkling of the good cop he could be throughout the episode. Though I enjoyed Bullock's interactions with Gordon, I did feel their chemistry was lacking it's full potential at times. Hopefully, the actors will gel even more in future episodes.

Alfred Pennyworth

Any Batman fan loves to see some good Bruce and Alfred interactions since Alfred is the closest thing Batman has to a father figure and a confidant, and in this episode, there are some good Alfred moments. However, the actor playing Alfred, Sean Pertwee, really doesn't do much in these scenes. We see Alfred standing with Bruce and giving guidance, but it's all very brief, so it's difficult to get a feeling for the series portrayal of Alfred on more than a surface level. Also, one line from Alfred feels wrong. As Bruce leaves the crime scene and walks to Alfred's car, Pennyworth tells Bruce to stand tall. Would Alfred really be encouraging Bruce to have a stiff upper lip for the press when he just lost his parents? More often in the comics, Alfred presses Bruce to engage in his feelings rather than subdue them. It appears Gotham is going for a gruffer version of Alfred, and that might rub fans the wrong way.

Bruce Wayne

The actor who played Bruce Wayne, David Mazouz, is surprisingly good. He seems natural in his role as both an innocent youth, a suffering child and a young Batman in training. His tortured scream after the death of his parents, by the way, is blood curdling. Though I think he handled his part well, I do not like how he was directed at times. When Bruce talks to James Gordon at the crime scene, he goes from crying uncontrollably to somewhat mollified too quickly. By the end of the episode, almost all Bruce's vulnerability seems gone and we seem to be looking at a mini-Batman. This transition is also too quick, and I hope future episodes will show us that though determined, young Bruce is not the cold Dark Knight we know and love. That sort of transformation needs time to develop.

I do worry about how Bruce Wayne will be implemented into the story in the future. His actor is given too much money to have a bit role, but I don't see a method to keep Bruce in the story on a weekly basis that will not seem forced.

Penguin

I am utterly captivated by Robin Lord Taylor's presentation of Oswald Cobblepot. I've tried to find something to criticize about his performance, and other than the final scene of the episode which deserves it's own separate comments, I can't find anything I didn't like about him. He's manipulative, ruthless and beginning to whet his appetite for power. His fancy dress and demands for respect speak to his nascent desire for sophistication. Some might find his groveling towards Fish Mooney out of character, but Cobblepot has always been one to show cowardice when in a position of weakness. I am greatly looking forward to seeing how Cobblepot's character develops as the show continues, and I hope future villains are treated so respectfully.

Captain Sarah Essen

I actually watched this episode twice in order to write a good review, and I didn't realize either time that the Captain was Sarah Essen who is a fairly prominent character in the comics. Really, there's nothing much to say about her since her speaking time on camera was less than thirty seconds and pretty generic Captain talk. Her race is different in the show than in the comics which will bother some people, but who cares?

Fish Mooney

I've heard some criticism for Jada Plinckett Smith's portrayal of Mooney, but I don't sympathize with those critiques. I think Smith did a perfect job as a lady mob boss willing and able to go toe to toe with any man. Whereas most femme fatales use either flirtation or intimidation to get what they want, Mooney uses both and can turn from one to another on a dime. I found her completely convincing as a scary lady who feels confident she can get away with anything.

Barbara Kean

Barbara Kean never had much development in comics as far as I've read, so it's hard to say much about how she is living up to the character. Erin Richards version of Barbara Kean seems serviceable verging on subpar. I didn't feel particularly sold on her relationship with Gordon, but there's certainly time for this to develop. I look forward to the continuation of Barbara's probable lesbian past with trepidation not because I care about Barbara's sexual history but because I do not. Having characters sleep around and then worry about their sexual secrets coming to light seems to be what writer's do when they can't figure out anything meaningful to do with a character. It's a cheap and unnecessary attempt to add tension to James and Barbara's romantic relationship, and I hope it's wrapped up quickly.

Crispus Allen

Allen Stewart-Jones as Crisupus is dripping with personality in his brief appearances in this episode, and I look forward to seeing more of him in future episodes, but I haven't read enough of him in the comics to comment as to how well his portrayal here matches the source material.

Renee Montoya

Victoria Cartagena as Montoya was one of the few disappointments I had with the characters of Gotham. Montoya is supposed to have a hard shell to her enemies but a soft heart to her friends. She is supposed to be a good cop who wants to believe the best in people, but in Gotham, Montoya is just kind of...there. I saw nothing in her performance to indicate she had a soft side or any human emotions other than annoyance and anger. I hesitate to throw the actress under the bus, but either she or the director has majorly dropped the ball in giving Montoya no likable qualities.

The apparent romantic history between Montoya and Barbara Kean only serves to make things worse. If there were a moment for Montoya to show some compassion and vulnerability in this episode, it would would have been her interaction with Barbara, but instead, Montoya comes off as simply a jealous and intrusive ex-girlfriend.

Riddler

Riddler, portrayed by Cory Michael Smith, was the second character who felt profoundly mishandled to me. In a thirty second scene, there were no less than four hints that he was the Riddler. Fan service is great, but packing that much into that short a frame is not so much a little nod to the fans as much as it is a painfully awkward shriek for attention. “HEY EVERYBODY WATCHING IN TV LAND! THIS GUY WILL BE THE RIDDLER! THIS GUY HERE MAKING RIDDLES!” We get it! We aren't morons.

Looking beyond this, I still don't like the way Nygma was presented. Riddler is one of my favorite villains, but I like him eccentric and sociopathic not neurotic and geeky. Furthermore, it doesn't seem to fit with the character to go into police forensics. Eddie likes to solve puzzles through contemplation not lab tests. Nygma usually attaches himself to projects that demonstrate his own brilliance and gain him much acclaim in either the social or criminal world in order to stroke his massive ego, but lab geek at the GCPD doesn't fit that criteria. The character has no sympathy for anyone but himself, so he wouldn't have entered the field for the good of mankind. I didn't feel this version of the character at all.

Falcone

Falcone was a pleasant surprise as a Godfather type who makes, “a life of crime sound very noble.” In the comics, he's always struck me as the kind of mobster who doesn't care who he has to crush to make a buck. It's all about good business to him, and at his core, that's probably what drives this version of Flacone as well, but having him trump up his petty ambitions with high minded rhetoric adds a layer of depth to his character. It will be interesting to see how Gotham uses him in the future.

Catwoman

Cameron Bicondova as Catwoman certainly looks the part. She moves around the rooftops so casually that it makes me want to see a Batman live action series. However, I don't see a reason for her to have witnessed the Waynes' murder at this point. Obviously, Selina's interest in Bruce Wayne could develop many different ways in future episodes, but her lurking presence was featured prominently in the pilot, and that narrative thread is left dangling at the end of the episode. It felt awkward to have her frequently in the background without anything ever coming of it, and I wish they had limited her to her initial appearance and followed up with her in future episodes.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy served no purpose in the episode. I suppose we could see Ivy's mimicking her mother's hatred of the cops for killing her father as the starting point of Ivy's villainy, but her connection to the Wayne murder was transparently done just to pack as many villains into the pilot as possible.

Joker

A random comedian appears in the episode which caused many people to fear that this was the first appearance of the Clown Prince of Crime. In Batman lore, it's generally a no-no to give Joker an origin. He's a man with no loyalty, no country and no past. He simply is, so this potential Joker origin made people nervous. Thankfully, this concern is unnecessary.

Several months ago, I came across some random article where the creators of Gotham said they intended to tease lots of potential Jokers throughout the show. Their idea is to keep people guessing as to who will one day become the true Joker. Personally, I think that's an excellent approach though I hope they don't do it too frequently or it might become tired.

Bat Droppings

Thomas Wayne looks like Mitt Romney.

I hate the CGI blood during the Waynes' murder. CGI blood always looks horrible.

I enjoy the Gotham logo. The reflection of flashing lights on it gives it some personality.

How many hours did Penguin spend swimming after Gordon “killed” him? It was enough time for Gordon to go home, talk to his wife, go to Wayne Manor, talk to Bruce Wayne and leave. Is this version of Penguin an ex-Navy Seal?

The Ending

Out of all the mistakes the episode made, the ending in probably the most egregious since, as the last thing people see, it's likely to leave a lasting impression. A good pilot should wrap up the episode in one of three ways. First, it can leave you with a closing scene that gives resolution and a sense of rest and satisfaction. Second, it can leave you with a tease of things to come which will hopefully lure you back for more. Third, it can leave on a complete cliffhanger which requires you to see the next episode to discover how the protagonists will overcome.

Gotham manages to miss all three of these. The show did a decent job at creating some resolution with the scene between Gordon and Bruce at the end of the episode, but this shifted the center of focus from Gordon and Bullock to Gordon and Bruce which is a questionable decision in my mind, but if the episode had ended there, it would have been acceptable. However, the episode then goes on to show Catwoman waiting in the wings of Gotham Estate. This could be a tease for things to come, and might be an okay way to end the episode if we got the impression that Selina were going to go and meet Bruce or steal from the Wayne Estate, but this impression is not given, and instead, we get one last scene where Penguin swims out of the water, kills a man and eats a sandwich.

I can't even type that without laughing.

Why did they think this was a good idea? It's a scene that added absolutely nothing to the episode! We knew Penguin survived. Anybody who knows anything about Batman or TV shows knew Penguin would return to Gotham. We knew from his behavior earlier in the episode that Penguin was willing to kill. Was the only purpose of showing Penguin at the end of the episode to show him eating a sandwich? Are we supposed to take it that Cobblepot is a stress eater and will next appear as a butterball?

I can't fathom why Gotham decided to end on such a weak note, but it was an exceedingly poor choice.

Conclusion: Becoming vs. Being

There is something fundamentally flawed with a TV show based around what characters will become in the future. As cool as it is to see a young Bruce Wayne, a young Penguin and a young James Gordon, the show will not last if it relies on the promise of things to come rather than the reality of what currently is. If the promise of the Bat in the future overshadows the suspense in the present, then the show is a wash. This was my greatest fear before watching Gotham.

Now that I've seen it, I feel confident that Gotham does have the potential to be a great show. James Gordon, Harvey Bullock, the GCPD and the Falcone Crime Family all have enough depth to maintain a show and develop a following, but the show can only succeed if it's creators remember to center on the present rather than the future.

As it stands, Gotham is a good time. It has strong characters and actors and an intriguing premise and setting, but it's writing lacks elegance in resolving conflict and is overindulgent in attempts at fan service.

Rating: 8/10

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Four Reasons We Might Not See Multiplayer in Arkham Origins

4 Reasons Arkham Origins Might Not Contain Multiplayer

Every gamer knows that beating up bad guys by yourself is awesome, but beating up bad guys with a friend is even better. For this reason, everybody who enjoyed the first two Arkham games would love to see a fully integrated multiplayer mode in Arkham Origins, but as nice as that seems in theory, there are some good reasons we might not see multiplayer mayhem in Gotham just yet.

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I'm not an expert at video games by any stretch, but here are some of my thoughts, and you can take them for whatever they are worth. I'll start with the reason I think is least important and move towards the reason I think is most pertinent to a delayed Batman multiplayer experience.

#4 – There Is No Obvious Partner for the Dark Knight

If Arkham Origins were set after Arkham City, then there would be very little justification to keep a second player out of the game. Nightwing and Robin are both well established in the Arkham universe, and Robin was given a brief role in the last game both as a guest appearance and as playable in a campaign specific DLC package. Also, it would be hard to believe that yet a third major crisis, this one prophesied to be worse than anything seen previously, would affect Gotham without Batman calling in some backup. It feels like Arkham City's sequel is preparing fans to play as Robin or possibly Nightwing alongside the Dark Knight Detective.

However, Arkham Origins is set in the past before Dick Grayson ever became Robin or Tim Drake even likely knew of the Batman, so the obvious and expected route is not obligatory this time.

That is not to say that another partner in crime fighting could not be found. Catwoman guest starred with Batman in the latest Arkham game even if the two were not playable at the same time. Perhaps she could star alongside Batman in Origins. Any number of characters could take the role as Batman's assistant, but bringing in a character with a different skill set opens up its own set of problems that we will discuss later.

#3 – The Dark Knight May Have Contracted Call of Duty Disease

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare came out in 2007 and absolutely blew people away. It was amazing, intense, and better than anything shooter fans had ever seen. Having raised itself to a pinnacle of excellence that few ever achieve, the Call of Duty franchise looked at all the innovation and boundary pushing work that brought them to their success and turned their back on it. Rather than coming up with something significantly different for their next game, Call of Duty has been pumping out pretty much the same game every year ever since much to the chagrin of some.

Now, I'm not a Call of Duty hater. Critics say each new installment is basically the same thing with different maps, and I agree. As a fan of the series, I encourage Call of Duty to keep it up. Their philosophy is simple. If it's not broke, why fix it? Sure, they could try changing things significantly for each installment, but they would run the risk of losing their throne as the king of shooters. By keeping the core game exactly the same while pushing the ball forward just a tad in each installment, Call of Duty has continued to rake in the cash.

The same holds true with the Arkham franchise. Pretty much nobody expected Arkham Asylum to be near as good as it turned out, but it was amazing, and Arkham Origins gave us nearly the exact same game only with a longer campaign, more side quests, a larger world and Catwoman. Other than than the addition of Selina Kyle, the series played it pretty safe, and now that they have sewn up several Game of the Year awards with Arkham City, why would they want to take the chance of trying something new and opening themselves up to a host of new problems? Keeping Batman solo is the safe bet.

#2 – It Has Never Been Done Before

I'm willing to be proven wrong on this one, but I've never seen a game similar to Arkham City integrate multiplayer.

Has stealth been done as multiplayer? Yeah, there's Splinter Cell and a few other games. What about massive open world environments working together across different gaming consoles? Have we ever seen that? Sure, games are doing that all the time these days, so where is the hangup?

The combat is the main issue. Again, prove me wrong if you know something I do not, but there are very few action games with the same level of acclaim as Arkham and none of them feature real multiplayer. God of War and Bayonetta art two top of the line combat games, but neither of them lend themselves well to multiplayer integration. Assassin's Creed is a game with a combat system somewhat similar to Arkham's, but try to get involved in multiplayer with Assassin's Creed, and you just end up walking around stabbing others in the back.

I don't think Arkham style multiplayer combat has ever been done, and just trying to think about it theoretically, ignoring all those pesky programming issues, leads to some problems. The entire combat system of Arkham deals with being able to work through opponents in a systematic manner and attacking when the opportunity presents itself. The idea of adding a second player to the mix might sound appealing, but it might actually make the game much more difficult to play. Imagine striking at an enemy trying to build a combo only to have your compatriot down him first. Your rhythm is broken, and you're starting fresh. Another factor is that time slows down in Arkham combat. That might be cool for one player, but having the game slow for non-crucial moments for player #2 would get old pretty quick.

#1 – It's All about Batman

The Arkham games have been massively successful for one reason and one reason only: they make you feel like Batman. The city feels like Gotham, the combat feels like it was ripped from the pages of the comics, and using the cape and grappling gun to traverse the city is amazing. The way Batman uses his tech to solve problems and overcome obstacles makes you feel like you are the Dark Knight Detective.

Putting in a second player could damage that feeling of being Batman in many ways.

It's hard to feel like Batman if you can't string together a nice combo and you keep on missing targets because your friend hits them first.

If we were playing as Robin, city traversal and problem solving would be no problem since he would be similarly equipped as Batman, but what would be the justification for Catwoman, Lady Shiva, Bronze Tiger, or whoever they threw in for player #2 having the exact same abilities, tech and skills as Batman? Unless you give the two playable character the exact same abilities, you are talking about redesigning every obstacle with multiplayer in mind. Even moving across the city is a problem. How cool would it be to swoop quickly from rooftop to rooftop only to have to wait every few seconds as your sidekick catches up.

The technical demands for the processing would certainly put a greater strain on the system. Generally speaking, you could expect either a fidelity drop if you are playing locally or potential lag if playing online, and neither of those are exactly fun.

Conclusion

Arkham Origins might contain multiplayer, but though it is easy to say the game designers should include it, it really is not as simple as it might at first sound. Whatever the final product looks like when this title hits shelves, I can pretty much guarantee you this. The priority will be on making you feel like Batman, and multiplayer will only be included in the package if it adds to that experience.

If you like the Bat Family, check out BatWatch.net. It has the best news stream for Batman on the web.

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Seven Mysteries of Batman, Incorporated

If I were to put my head together with a few other Batman, Incorporated fans, we as a group could probably come up with two dozen different mysteries that need solving in the pages of Batman, Incorporated, but I am just one man, and I only came up with seven on my own. These are the questions that nag me when I think of Batman, Inc., and with only three issues left, the series does not have much time left to answer them.

#7 – Who is The Heretic?

The identity of the cloaked Batman knock off was a mystery in the pages of Batman, Incorporated for quite some time, but it was eventually revealed that The Heretic is a clone of Damian. Artificially aged, genetically manipulated and violently indoctrinated, he is little more than a malignant pawn of Talia.

Or is he?

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It could be that this is the truth of The Heretic's identity, but something still feels off to me. If this character has no real connection to Batman and Talia wants to destroy the Bat, why would he wear a modified Bat suit? Why have we still never seen The Heretic's face? Why can he heal from wounds that should be fatal?

Even if The Heretic is no more than an advanced clone, we still know almost nothing about who he is. Hopefully, we will find out more about this mysterious figure before the series concludes.

#6 – When did Bruce Wayne and Jason Todd make up?

Since Jason's revival, the Red Hood has opposed Batman in one form or another at every corner and in every encounter, but about a year into the reboot, we discovered that Jason and Bruce were working together once more to stop Leviathan. Bruce and Jason setting aside their differences to serve a greater good is a huge stepping stone for both of them, and it is criminal to leave this moment shrouded and unseen. Fans deserve to know how these two took their first steps towards restoring the father/son bond.

#5 – What will happen to Batman, Incorporated?

This is one mystery we can be assured will have an answer for this is the stated purpose the recently annouced Batman, Incorporated Special #1. It's a good thing too because though many of the members of Batman, Incorporated never really got their moment in the spotlight, we grew attached to some. Knight, Batwing and even Bat Cow deserve some narrative resolution.

#4 – What is going on with Talia?

There is no doubt about it: Talia has been acting weird. She has never been a character above murder, but never before has she been portrayed as so brutal, vicious, and bloodthirsty as she has been in Batman, Inc.

There certainly are many possibilities as to why she is actong strangely. She could be possessed. She could be a clone. She could be a possessed clone...

I could come up with a nearly infinite amount of comic book style twists that might be in store for Taila in these last couple issues, but maybe Talia is truly as evil as she currently appears or some non-supernatural event has precipitated this change in Talia's behavior. Still, Batman has made it clear in earlier issues that he feels something is off with her, and if Batman's guts tell him something is wrong, well...I wouldn't want to bet against Bruce.

#3 - What was the point of the Future Damian story? (Batman, Incorporated #5)

For Batman, Incorporated #5, Morrison ignored the present almost completely and instead told a lengthy tale about the doom of future Gotham under the guardianship of the future Batman, Damian. The amount of mysteries in this issue could make up a long discussion in and of itself, but here are a few. What role does Dr. Hurt play in events? Who did future Damian accuse of being responsible for the destruction at the end of the issue? How did Bruce have this knowledge of the future? Was it a dream, an observation gained during his time traveling adventures during The Return of Bruce Wayne, or some sort of vision? If Damian Wayne is dead, who was that in future Gotham playing his part?

Looking at this entire arc, Batman, Inc. #5 is the only issue (other than issues zero which was clearly never part of Morrison's original plans) that feels like it doesn't fit. I guess it could just be that Morrison wanted to play in that future universe one last time before his time with Batman ended, but Grant doesn't seem the type to waste an issue with a meaningless, if entertaining, diversion. The man clearly has a plan, so how does this issue fit into that plan?

#2 - Who kidnapped Jason Todd?

Everything started to fall apart for Batman, Incorporated a few issues ago. About the same time as Damian Wayne was being skewered by The Heretic, Jason found himself kidnapped. Nothing has really happened with this plot point until the most recent issue when Jason stops some members of Batman, Incorporated from rescuing him and instead says that Batman, Inc. needs to be working with his captors. All his captors are female, and almost all are wearing skull masks similar to the one Talia started wearing when she revealed herself as leader of Leviathan. Could there be a connection? It seems quite likely to me. Also, the leader of these contingent of warriors is a woman Jason claims to recognize, so who could these people be and what's their play in all this mess?

#1- Did Batman, Incorporated even matter?

If none of my questions are answered, I would still say that Batman, Incorporated has been a fun ride, but Batman, Inc. always seemed better as a concept than it proved in actual execution. The series began with Batman recruiting an army which is a logical and interesting starting point, but once Leviathan really raised its head and Batman, Inc. started to fight back, all the members of Batman, Incorporated began to feel like nothing more than cannon fodder for Batman. In the current volume of the series, the story's focus has been on Bruce and Damian with the rest of the ex-Robin's playing important roles as supporting cast members. Outside of Knight, no member of Batman, Incorporated has felt particularly relevant. Now that we are nearly at the end of the series, Bruce is handling things on his own as per usual, and the ex-Robins are lending backup in their own individual ways. If Batman, Incorporated can't even bother to give its team members a significant role in the series finale, the the idea of Batman, Incorporated being something bold and new is completely shattered. This is either a series about an international group of Batmen or it is a story about Batman defeating Talia with a bunch of side characters filling up the background in big fight scenes.

Conclusion

The series has three more issues to make all known that can be known, but considering Morrison's past works, there will probably be quite a few questions left unanswered. Love it or hate it, it seems part of Morrison's style is story telling which leaves you trying to figure out exactly what just happened. Hopefully, Morrison will answer most questions and at least leave us enough hints to form the basis for future debate and speculation on the unsolved mysteries.

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Should We Be Concerned about Tynion's Run on Red Hood and the Outlaws?

James Tynion IV (current writer of Batman, Detective Comics, Red Hood and the Outlaws and Talon) has only had a single issue writing Red Hood and the Outlaws at this point, and to make any judgment based on merely one issue would be rash and premature.

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That being said, I'm going to be rash and premature.

I have been a huge fan of Tynion's work on Talon and the backup features of Batman and Detective Comics, but I'd be lying if I denied that there were some red flags in his first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws. I'm not going to get too much in the nitty gritty, but real quick, I'm going to hit a few points on what worries me.

1. Where's the Fun and the Funny?

Like many others, I enjoyed Lobdell's (former writer of Uncanny X-Men and current writer of Teen Titans, Superman, Superboy and Action Comics) run on RHATO, but let's be honest with ourselves, the series is not deep. The series formula is simple. Take three super types willing to use lethal force, throw them up against various baddies, make them crack wise in the face of certain death, add some self-destructive tendencies and a quasi familial relationship between team members, and boom, you've got Red Hood and the Outlaws. It's 80% fun action adventure with just a little bit of serious added in to give it flavor.

There was not a lot of fun or funny to be had in RHATO #19. Roy had one or two humorous lines and Jason's crack about his butler, “Kicking your a** all the way back to Gotham City,” was hilarious. Then, there was one obligatory and frivolous action scene, but beyond that, this issue seemed to take itself way too seriously. I wanted to have a good time, but I ended up feeling stressed and confused. That's not what I wanted.

2. The Art Grieves Me.

I do not believe Red Hood and the Outlaws has ever had a tiptop A-list artist, but it has always been good quality. RHATO #19, on the other hand, was...not pretty. In terms of characters bodies, things just did not look quite right, and regarding faces, people came off looking kind of like demented wooden dolls in many panels. It is certainly not the worst art I've ever seen in a comic, but it's not doing the book any favors.

3. Put the Pedal to the Melatonin.

Again, RHATO is simple. It delivers some good time action with just a touch of something deeper. In the first arc of this series, dozens of people were killed in the name of justice, the globe was spanned, mysterious forces were unleashed, pasts were discovered, and monsters were killed. In this issue, we have eleven pages of Where's Waldo.

To be fair, the first eleven pages could have been intense. The problem is, we, the readers, had no idea what was at stake until the final few pages. Kori and Roy must find Jason but why? We had no idea. There is no threat looming large over our heads. Now that Batman and Red Hood has been released, someone could read RHATO #19 with a little more tension knowing Jason's fragile state of mind, but that was deprived us due to the bizarre timetable at work. Essence is trying to stop the Outlaws, but again, this adds very little because we do not know her motivation. We see Roy go through a vision, but this was more or less a retread of RHATO #18, and all the demons Roy confronts here are from an unknown past. By leaving us in the dark on key factors, RHATO #19 made the first half of the issue rather sleepy.

4. The Mystic is Expanded but Not Explained.

Tynion has spoken in interviews about how it is a strength of the series that there are so many story types possible from the characters such as the mystical adventures open through Jason's training in the All Caste. The problem with revisiting the All Caste is that it never really made any sense. Lobdell did establish the concept, but he pretty much dazzled us with bright flashes and cool fight scenes which made us breeze right by all the unanswered questions like, “What the crap does any of this mystic stuff actually mean?” If you are going to draw out a story that focuses on the mystic, then you are going to have to give some better guidelines on the rules of this mystical world, and right now, we're missing that.

In Defense of Tynion...

(Spoilers for This Paragraph if You Have Not Read RHATO 19) You might have noticed that I skipped what many consider the biggest red flag in the book, the mind wipe of Jason Todd. That is because I think that is actually one of the strongest elements of RHATO 19. Look, I do not want Jason to lose his memories on a long term basis, but through reading Tynion's past works and hearing interviews with him, I think I can firmly say this much; Tynion is a guy who gets and appreciates characters. The Jason Todd we know and love is not going away. He might fade a little, struggle with memories for months to come, or come out of this story a little altered, but his essence, long term, will remain the same. I think, and I suspect Tynion's thought process is similar, that Jason needs to learn that his past, even the bad parts, are what makes him who he is, and he is a better, stronger person for those griefs he has endured. I think this is a pretty clever way to explore that life lesson for Jason.

Also, so what if Tynion is doing something a little different with the series? Just because he seems to be trying to strike a more serious tone in this issue does not mean he is abandoning what makes RHATO a fun series. Tynion is taking things in a new direction, and sometimes, it takes a little while to establish a new direction and new tone. There is a very real chance that Tynion might be, for example, building a more coherent world for the mystic nature of the All Caste, but it will probably take more than one issue to get readers up to speed. Just because things were not perfect in Tynion's debut issue is not a reason to write off the series.

Conclusion

RHATO #19 was rough around the edges, but even with rough edges, I still enjoyed it. However, there are some real concerns with the series, and we can only hope that things improve as the series continues.

For the site with the best Batman and Bat Family news, check out BatWatch.net.

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Whatever Happened to the Human Cockroach?

Scott Lobdell is a divisive writer. Some comic readers declare he is a great writer while others consider him to be a hack. I'm somewhere in the middle. I really enjoyed his work on RHATO, but I've found his run on Teen Titans to be disappointing to put it kindly.

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Regardless of your opinion of Lobdell's accomplishments, there is one quirk about Lobdell's writing process that is not disputed. Mr. Lobdell is not a planner. By his own admission, Lobdell likes to make things up as he goes along, and he does not have long term plans for his characters, teams and series. Fans of Lobdell claim that this approach keeps things fresh and chaotic, and while critics will agree that Lobdell's comics are unpredictable, his stories often fail to come together in any sort of meaningful way. (We're looking at you, The Culling)

One area which appears to highlight the problems of poor planning is Skitter. Skitter was introduced at the beginning of the DCNU as a new member for the Teen Titans. In interviews around the launch of the New 52, Lobdell said he wanted a character who did not look like a regular kid. He wanted someone who stood out from the crowd. As an insectoid girl with two extra arms, claws, glowing eyes, and eighteen inch long hair standing straight up, it's fair to say that Lobdell accomplished his mission, but to what purpose? Her use through the DCNU makes it seem as if Lobdell wrote her into existence one night, fell asleep, woke up the next day, and said, “Who is this chick and what the heck am I supposed to do with her?”

A Smattering of Skitter History

If you are up to date on Skitter or uninterested in her past, then just skip this section, but for those interested, we're going to talk real quick about how Skitter has been used in Teen Titans thus far.

Early in the DCNU, Red Robin heard reports of the monster Skitter, figured out that she is actually an innocent teenage girl, then tracked her down to a California sewer. When Tim found Skitter, she attacked him, and Red Robin would have been killed if not for the arrival of Wonder Girl who gives the bug a good swat and knocks her out. Red Robin took Skitter with him, and she cocooned herself and transformed back into her teenager form as Celine. Later, the Teen Titans went to fight Superboy, but Celine stayed behind unwilling to fight. After the fight is over and the Teen Titans were trying to escape, Celine showed up once more transformed into Skitter. Skitter webbed up some cops and almost killed one before Bunker intervened on their behalf.

Before we go on, let's refresh our memory on what we know about Celine. How did she get her powers? We don't know. Can she transform at will? Who knows? Does she have any control as Skitter or is she pure animal? It's difficult to say. Whatever happened to her sister? We have no idea. What is she like as a person? We do not know. She has no development whatsoever.

Finally, we get The Culling where the Teen Titans, including Skitter, are locked up in a concentration camp with a bunch of other teen metahumans. At some point, Skitter got separated from the team where she heard a voice similar to hers say, “Don't be afraid sister. We have better places to go.” That was the last we've heard of Skitter...until recently.

A Skitter Shocker

Last month's Teen Titans' “WTF Certified” cover revealed Beast Boy to be a traitor working with Trigon and Raven, but it was originally supposed to be Skitter as the traitor until an editorial mandate forbade it.

I have to say that I find this all incredibly bizarre. Skitter is introduced, we learn nothing about her, she is written off the series without any real explanation, and then she is almost returned as a villain? What's the thought process that leads to this series of events?

Though I can't figure a justification for Lobdell's use of the character, I can certainly think of reasons that DC editorial might have stopped the vilification of Skitter. DC has been practically obsesses with making itself appear diverse, but it still receives significant criticism for failing in terms of diversity. I suspect a conversation like this occurred.

DC: “We love minorities. Just look at Teen Titans. We added a black girl to the team.”

Critic: “You mean Skitter, the girl cockroach with no character development that was presented as little better than a semi-trained dog and barely quantifiable as human that you wrote off the series after nine issues and then brought back as a villain? That black girl?”

DC: “Well...how about that Batwing?” He's pretty awesome, right?”

Come on DC! I hate it when people pull out the hater card rather than giving an individual or a corporation the benefit of a doubt, but you are just giving critics ammunition at this point.

Conclusion

What will become of Skitter? Well, it appears that Lobdell did have a plan for her to be reintegrated into the series, but now that this has been squashed, her fate is more in doubt than ever.

More?

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Is Red Robin a Villain or Just a Boob?

Why Does Gail Simone Have Such a Loyal Following?

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Batman in Walmart

This whole thing started on my twenty-eighth birthday. My lovely girlfriend Mary Jane loves getting me gifts, and so a couple of months ago, I found myself unwrapping several boxes full of various trinkets that made her think of me. One of these was a juice bottle with a nozzle in the shape of Batman's head. Ridiculous? Yes. A tad demeaning and juvenile? Perhaps. Did I drink it? Absolutely!

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As I sat there trying to gain suction on the poorly designed bottle so that I could suck out the sickeningly sweet, artificially flavored with 100% unnatural ingredients fruit concoction, I found myself thinking about just how completely Batman has saturated our culture. There I was, a grown man, greedily sucking down a somewhat disgusting fruit drink from a container made for five year olds, yet I found myself delighted just because the bottle happened to be shaped like Batman. What's wrong with me?

What exactly is wrong with me? Well, that's a question for another time, but I found myself wondering just how much Batman has seeped into pop culture and consumer products. I've seen Batman on toothpaste, coffee mugs, soap, T-shirts, pants, jackets, coffee tables, tote bags, watches, and magazines. Batman has been used to sell just about everything, and I decided it was my mission to measure just how deeply Batman has become ingrained in our culture and commerce. To measure this, I went to the mecca of American pop culture and commerce, Walmart.

I vowed that I would walk through every aisle of Walmart and chronicle each toy, movie, ball and shoe that bears the Bat symbol. Would I find a Bat item on every aisle? That seemed unlikely. Would I find Bat swag in every section? That seemed plausible, but just how far does the shadow of the Bat reach?

The Quest Begins

Entering Walmart, I immediately stumbled upon gold as I found double DKR's in Redbox, The Dark Knight Rises and the Animated adaption of The Dark Knight Returns.

I had already mentally charted my course from there. The plan was to travel the outer rim of the store and then work my way inwards marking down all Bat items along the way. I would go through the pharmacy section first where I expected little in the way of Bat items. Perhaps I might find some Bat vitamins, but it seemed unlikely, but beyond, there was the bath and body section where I would no doubt find soaps, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and many more hygienic items geared towards kids that tricky mothers could use to lure their young ones into cleaning themselves. I would then enter what I expected to be a desert for Bruce Wayne memorabilia for I had little hope of finding Bat merch in the pet section or the garden section. However, I had high hopes to find treasures in the car department and sporting goods. I had great faith that I would find much to sustain my love for the Bat.

I was completely wrong.

I did find some items, but I was shocked to find myself halfway through Walmart before I began to find any more Batman merchandise. I did find a superhero haunting the hallways of Walmart showing his presence on every aisle, but it was not my beloved Dark Knight, and I must admit, a mild fire of animosity began to burn in my chest, but I'll address the usurper later.

The Swag

It's time to talk about what kind of Bat knick-knacks you can find at Walmart these days.

My first real discovery of Bat merchandise came, to no real surprise, in the toy section. Lego Batman has made a big impression on the youngsters, and you can find a Lego Batboat, Lego Bat Helicopter, Lego Joker Helicopter, Lego Tumbler, and a Lego Bat Plane. You might figure there would be a bunch of Batman action figures, but you would figure wrong. There were two different lines of Batman action figures. One was simply called Batman, and in addition to Bruce Wayne, it also featured Joker and Mr. Freeze. There was also a line based on The Dark Knight Rises, but the only character available other than Batman was a single version of Bane. There was also a Batmobile and a life sized (for kids) utility belt which was actually kind of neat. There was a Dark Knight Rises holo puzzle. Finally in the toy section, there were two toddler toys versions of the Batmobile. One was a simple transformer and the other was a pull it back and let it go model.

In the entertainment section, there was also some Bat goodies. Oddly enough, Lego Batman, 1 and 2, were the only Bat video games in stock. There were lots of Batman movies including the Nolan trilogy, the four earlier big budget Batman films, a combo pack of some of the new straight to DVD animated Batman movies, and the first season of Batman: The Animated Series. Oddly enough, the old WB Birds of Prey was also on the shelves which struck me as really odd. Who wants to buy that? Perhaps this is an attempt to cash in on the popularity of WB's Arrow?

The clothing section held a few items. There were several different versions of Batman underwear and Batman T-shirts for boys. There was also one version each of men's underwear, socks, and T-Shirts in a Batman style. There were some boys' Batman swimming trunks as well. Oddly enough, the girls had five different Bat symbol T-Shirts to choose from whereas guys only had one which I for one find to be lame. For accessories, there was a pair of Batman sunglasses and a Batman watch up for grab.

Finally, there was a little Bat love in the party section. If you know a kiddo who wants a Batman themed birthday party, rest assured that you can buy him some Bat stickers, Bat paper masks, Bat banners, Bat invitations and Bat gift bags.

The Menace of Manhattan

I was really very disappointed in this. Batman was not everywhere in Walmart though I looked for him desperately. He had fairly small sections in four different areas of the store, but that is hardly the expectation I had when I started this journey. Instead, a certain wall crawling arachnid seems to have stolen the spotlight from the Dark Knight. Spider-Man is the character whose face was plastered on anything and everything that a kid might possibly buy. How dare this filthy, whiny pretentious fool try to move the Batgod from his rightful place as king of comicdom!

I know that the Batgod works in mysterious ways but all according to his will. All righteousness and justice will flow down from the Batgod like the blood of his enemies that drips off his fists, and I can only pray that Batgod will, in his all seeing wisdom, bestow his wrath upon Spier-Man. May the day of his judgment come quickly. Amen!

Conclusion

I was really surprised to see Spider-Man had a larger saturation in Walmart than Batman, but I guess it makes sense. After all, you, I and a few other people might want to buy Bat themed merchandise, but we all know this stuff is really aimed at kids. All the praise Christopher Nolan won by making The Dark Knight trilogy so much darker and more mature might actually be working against the merchandising sales. The more dark and violent version of Batman is no doubt being seen by a lot of kids, but it is probably not going to have as much appeal to either parents or kids as a story marketed towards children such as Ultimate Spider-Man.

With all this in mind, I can see why DC is pushing Beware the Batman. No doubt, they are hoping this new Batman animated series will be like the series of the nineties so Batman can once again be on top of the pop culture war and become the hero of children's hearts.

For more news, reviews, and commentary for the entire Bat Family, check out BatWatch.net.

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Batman Beyond Grows Beyond the Cartoon

Batman Beyond Grows Beyond the Cartoon

Online, I talk to people about comics constantly, and I ran into this one guy who was a big fan of Batman Beyond. He said, “Man, I really miss that show. They should have kept it going,” to which I replied, “You know they are continuing Batman Beyond in comics, right?” It's hard to decipher tone in written communication, but my impression of his words were of a man preparing to die of dehydration suddenly realizing I had a bottle of water because he said, “What?!!? What are you talking about? Where is this! Seriously?”

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It's true. Batman Beyond is still alive and well, and I'd go as far to say that it has grown beyond the original conception of the show and is now better than ever.

Batman Before

I never saw much of Batman Beyond until recently. I grew up poor, (well, poor by United States standards which would be considered rich throughout much of the world not to mention compared to all the people who lived in previous generations who could never dream of having the luxury that “poor” Americans suffer through) and my family never had cable. I did see a few episodes of Batman Beyond when I was babysitting some kid, (to make another side note, I was a horrible babysitter. I napped while the kid played in the back yard. It's a miracle he wasn't kidnapped) and while “watching” the kid, I saw a few episodes and I thought they were okay, but I was not a huge fan. This was not the Batman I knew. The Batman I knew was now old, and the universe just felt like it glorified in the cyberpunk without really having a soul.

When I started gearing up for BatWatch about a half year ago, I realized there was a Batman Beyond series being released digitally, and I reluctantly resigned myself to shell out the money for what I thought was going to be a mediocre comic, but I was wrong. I was very, very wrong.

Beyond Excited

I immediately found that the current series is great, and this made me eager to give the cartoon another try. Watching from the beginning, I found that there was more to the series than just the cyberpunk aesthetic, and it most definitely did have a soul. I've now watched about half the episodes, (which are on Netflix by the way) and they are fun, but I actually think the current series is better for several reasons.

The story and art is just a tad more mature. It definitely sticks close to its DCAU roots; there is no sex nor, unless I've missed it, any cursing in the comic. The art is very much reminiscent of the cartoon style, but there is more detail than what can be provided in telivision animation.

More importantly, the characters are more fully realized. Terry and Bruce always had good chemistry in the cartoon, and their oddball relationship was what drove Batman Beyond emotionally, but the supporting cast was much more limited. Terry's family was usually an afterthought. Dana played the stereotypical role of love interest/victim. Barbara Gordon occasionally had a little interaction with Terry, but for the most part, she was just another character giving orders.

Now, the supporting cast is much more involved and widespread. Dana just realized Terry was Batman. Dick Grayson is now a sort of antihero going by the codename Hush. Tim Drake is also back in play lending support to Batman when needed but still deeply scarred from his time as Joker. There is even a new character known as Vigilante who is the hired gun who killed Terry's father but is now trying to redeem himself by becoming a hero.

In short, there is a lot happening on the character front.

The stories too have broken away from the cartoon's mold. The cartoon was very much villain of the month, but the latest arc of Batman Beyond just concluded which included a twenty part story (the equivalent of ten issues) on one single villain, The Joker King. Giving a longer development time for villains and arcs really helps to make readers invested in the stories.

The Universe Expands

Batman Beyond is currently being packaged monthly alongside Superman Beyond and Justice League Beyond in a print series called Batman Beyond Unlimited. Superman Beyond includes the adventures of Superman from The Animated Series during the same period as Terry McGinnis is wearing the Bat suit. Superman is now, obviously, much older. He is also a bit weaker, and when last I heard of him, he was working as a fireman. Justice League Beyond is pretty much just as it sounds, and it includes characters that some might remember from episodes of the Justice League cartoon which visited the future. I've read a little of these, and they are both entertaining, but if you have no interest, you can just ignore those series and buy the Batman Beyond series digitally.

Recently, there have been several major announcements for Batman Beyond.. The series is supposed to leap ahead about a year to the time when Terry is in college, and we also know that Terry, for some reason, will not be on talking terms with Dana. Around the same time, Batgirl Beyond will be making an appearance, and other than knowing that she has some connection to Babs, we know nothing of her. Joker is also said to be showing his ugly face to menace Terry which does not bode well for poor Tim Drake. Finally, Kyle Higgins, (former writer of Gates of Gotham and Arkham City and current writer of Nightwing) who most seem to liked very much on Nightwing, will soon be taking the reigns of Batman Beyond.

Conclusion

I've said an awful lot just to make a simple point: if you enjoyed the Batman Beyond cartoon, you owe it to yourself to check out Batman Beyond. With issue twenty-one, a new arc was started, and I suspect that the previous mega arc, 10,000 Clowns, will probably be collected in trade sometime soon.

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What Is the Future of Batman and...Robin?

With rotating titles like Batman and Nightwing, Batman and Batgirl, Batman and Red Hood, and Batman and Catwoman, I'm not sure if any series has ever managed to suffer from multiple personality disorder as completely as Batman and...

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Batman and..., of course, refers to the series formerly known as Batman and Robin, but ever since Damian was beaten, shot full of bullets and arrows, broken Bane style, riddled with projectiles once more, slammed head first into a wall, and run through with a sword, (because killing a Robin with just a crowbar and bomb was so twenty years ago) the old title doesn't really seem to fit the book anymore.

Right now, the series seems to be in limbo. With a new titles every month, it's anybodies guess what the future holds. However, that's exactly what I'm going to examine today, and though I can't authoritatively offer any conclusions, I can certainly give you a fair rundown of the options.

As I see it, there are only three big picture possibilities for the series. The series can be canceled, it can continue to act as a team-up book, or it can continue as originally conceived with a new Robin. Let's check this out one option at a time.

Canceled!

DC has made many calls over the past couple years that I, and many others, find questionable and downright stupid, but despite these reservations for the editorial staff at DC, I do not think there is any real chance that Batman and... is going to be canceled.

Peter J. Tomasi (former editor of Hitman and current writer for Batman and... and Green Lantern Corps) and Partick Gleason (former artist for Robin and cover artist for Arkham City: End Game and current penciler for Batman and Robin) have proven their skills on this book. In addition to delivering many of the most critically acclaimed stories of in the DCNU, they've been successful financially firmly planted in the top third of DC's sales month to month. Very few creative teams are still together since the inception of the New 52; Tomasi and Gleason are one of the very few left, and they apparently enjoy working together and unquestionably deliver a high quality product.

DC might occasionally make some immensely stupid decisions, but I do not believe that they are anywhere near stupid enough to shoot one of their champion horses in the face. Batman and... might switch titles and directions, but as long as Tomasi and Gleason are willing to work together, I think there will be a place for them on a Bat Family title.

The Brave and the Bold

The long term fate of Batman and... might be a mystery, but the immediate future is clear. Batman and... is just a modern incarnation of The Brave and the Bold, and it seems to me that this might be a good fit for the DCNU.

The original The Brave and the Bold lasted for 133 issues as a team up book between Batman and a hero of the month. (the series was also a variety show sort of book for other heroes of the super and non super variety for 67 issues before Bats took the lead) More recently, the animated The Brave and the Bold was a more tongue in cheek version of the series which proved that the basic concept still has legs, and it's really no surprise. People love seeing the emotional, physical and psychological force that is Batman contrasted to the backdrop of other heroes. It's a simple formula. Batman + X = Awesomeness

I believe Peter J. Tomasi's style would be perfect suited to do a modern reinvention of a Batman team up book. In addition to being just a solid comic book writer, Tomasi is an excellent character writer. Think about Tomasi's run on Batman and Robin. What scenes come to mind as those that really stand above the rest? I'll tell you the ones that come to my mind. Damian breaking the bat, (little b) Damian killing Nobody, Bruce worrying about how to be a father to Damian, Damian taking his Dad on a world tour to explore his past while donning a mini Bat suit to guard Gotham, Damian sacrificing himself for his father in Death of the Family, Damian brooding with his headphones, Alfred crying over a painting of the Family, and Bruce losing his mind in rage and loss all stand out to me as phenomenal scenes, and all of these moments are based on the emotional bonds between characters. They are not sweeping and grand actions scnes; they are based off the subtle and not so subtle elements that make the characters who they are. That is exactly the kind of touch that would work perfectly to paint short masterpieces as Batman interacts with some of DC Universe's most colorful characters.

One of the aspects which make this so attractive an option to me is that The Brave and the Bold was almost always a one shot comic, (granted, it was from a one shot age) and personally, I'd like to see comics get a little closer to that approach. Since John Layman (current writer of Image's Chew and Detective Comics) took over Detective Comics, he has been writing each issue as a standalone case, yet he has also built an overarching story which builds from issue to issue. No doubt, this is a more difficult form of constructing a story, and it has not always worked perfectly as Layman has occasionally spent too much time on the one shot aspect of the story and neglected the overarching plot or vice-versa, but at the end of each issue, I've had a complete story which is satisfying in and of itself, and this has made me realize that I am really sick of having to wait eight months to see the end of an arc. Most issues these days try to keep us in a never ending state of suspense, and quite frankly, that is psychologically draining. It's refreshing to read a story that is one and done, yet I can still pick up the next issue and see how events have built from the last.

That appears to be exactly what Tomasi has in mind with the next several issues anyway, and though I did not care for the darkness present in Batman in the most recent issue and I thought Red Robin was forced into the issue unnecessarily, Tomasi did show the ability to tell a one shot story which is complete and satisfying as a standalone while continuing to work through the over arcing story of Bruce grieving for his son, and in addition to the lackluster guest appearance of Red Robin, Tomasi actually included a much more interesting guest appearance of Frankenstein, a character we would never regularly see interact with Batman. In just a few panels, I saw who Frankenstein was as a character, and seeing Frank interact with Bruce was easily the most entertaining part of the last issue.

Batman is, in my view, the center of the DC Universe, yet there are many characters with whom we never see him interact. I hate the reboot, but as long as it is around, Tomasi should use it to his advantage. We have virtually no backstory on a smörgåsbord of characters who, due to the reboot, have probably never met Bruce. That's an opportunity I would think would make many a writer's mouth water.

The New Robin

The most obvious and most likely outcome of Batman and... is that it will continue to have a rotating cast until the new Robin is chosen at which point she or he will take the slot left open by Damian and the series will once again fit its original moniker, Batman and Robin. The question of who will take on the role is still very much up to debate, and if you want a good discussion of options, This should give you some food for thought, but I don't have time to run down the list of options, so I'm just going to look at the most obvious choice, Carrie Kelly.

Carrie Kelly is most definitely not the new Robin yet, and nobody has officially confirmed that she is slated for that role, but you have to think that DC brought her into continuity for a reason, and you would think that reason must be more than just a red herring for future looking fans. There could certainly be another scheme in the works for her, but the timing and location of her debut is more than a tad suspicious, and from the buzz I've heard through interviews, it appears as if she will continue to appear in Batman and... for some time to come, so it seems likely that Carrie Kelly will soon be the Girl Wonder.

As for my personal feelings on the matter, I'm less than thrilled. I think it would be more meaningful if Bats were without a Robin for a couple years, but I understand Robin is a crucial part of the mythos, and DC is concerned about making the universe as friendly as possible to new readers. However, the replacement of the last Robin is less of a concern to me than the nature of Carrie Kelly.

They say first impressions are the most important, and for Carrie's first foray into the mainstream universe, she threw a pizza in the face of some guys who were flirting with her. The more I've thought about this, the more it has bugged me. I mean, let's just reverse this and say it were a guy eating the pizza and two girls pulled up along side him, and said, “Hey Baby, love your hair! Want to share your pizza with me?” and in response, the guy threw the pizza in one of the girl's faces. Does anybody have a problem with that? I do! That would make that guy a complete douche, and though I understand that guys are held to a higher standard of conduct in the way they treat women due to chivalry, it still makes Carrie a severely spoiled brat, doesn't it? Reacting with a minor manifestation of violence to a slightly offensive comment is never a sign of maturity no matter the context.

Beyond that, I guess Carrie was fairly neutral to me, but again, first impressions are powerful, and I can't help but wonder why Carrie was brought out of retirement. Carrie was fine in DKR, but she was just fine. I never thought, “I really want to see this girl in a monthly series,” yet that appears to be the direction things are heading.

Conclusion

I do not think it is a coincidence that the last issue of Batman and... held several prominent costarring roles while possibly introducing the new Robin. I'm guessing that DC is floating the idea of Carrie Kelly as Robin to see how fans respond before they green light her as the certain replacement for everybody's favorite Bat Brat. The emphasis on costars to carry the book in the meantime makes me think they might be flirting with the idea of a team up book as well. If you have any strong feelings on the matter one way or another, this is the time to let DC know about it because they will soon be pushing ahead with their plans whatever they may be, and I suspect they are interested in hearing your opinions on this matter

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Catwoman's Drug Problem

High Times

Full disclosure this particular article is different. If you want a strident take down of Ann Nocenti's (former writer for Daredevil and current writer for Catwoman and Katana) Catwoman, you can check out My Regular Catwoman Reviews, and if you want something that points out some positives of Ann Nocenti's take on the first feline of comics, then you can read my article, “A Defense of Nocenti's Catwoman,” but this particular article is less about comics and more philosophical and investigative as I meander around the topic of how drugs might be affecting the current series of Catwoman.

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My thinking on this subject started about a month ago. Every day I scour the internet looking for articles relating to various Bat titles so I can update BatWatch with the latest breaking news. While searching for Catwoman articles one day, I came across an interview with Ann Nocenti on women in the comic book market, and in the introduction of this article, the writer was listing Nocenti's truly impressive accomplishments, but in the midst of this came a mention that Nocenti once worked as an editor and writer for something called, “High Times.”

I read over that, and then went back and thought, “Now, what was that again?”

One quick Google search later, and I found that High Times was exactly what I had imagined, an online magazine dedicated to pot and other “psychedelic” drugs.

Suddenly in my mind, everything clicked into place. Of course Nocenti is on drugs. Have you ever read one of her comics? She practically has to be! Though all her her work seems a bit off, and I suspect it would all read better if you were stoned, Catwoman #14 was especially trippy with most scenes failing to make sense on any level. I even said in my review of that issue, “I literally think that Nocenti might be on drugs.”

My interest was piqued, and I was determined to learn more. What exactly had Nocenti advocated, and how might her drug use affect her writing? I needed to learn more.

What's Drugs Got To Do with It?

When it comes to drugs, I'm about as innocent as they come. I've never taken anything illegal. For that matter, I've never taken a drink of alcohol or smoked a cigarette; I simply never saw the benefit. I'm moderately satisfied with my brain, liver and lungs, and what few complaints I have on my body's imperfections would likely only worsen if I consumed various controlled substances, so why bother?

That being said, I don't care if someone wants to take drugs. I'm a Libertarian which means I want as little government interference in my life as possible. My view, to use a semi-famous phrase, is if it does not break my leg or pick my pocket, what business is it of mine? In other words, you should be allowed to do whatever the crap you want to do with your life as long is does not take away anybody else's rights to life, liberty and property. If you want to smoke pot, go ahead. If you want to smoke crack, go ahead. If you want to blow your brains out with a shotgun, more power to you. I'm not saying I would support those actions; in fact, I would try very hard to talk you out of them, but I'm not for making a law criminalizing any of that behavior. The Libertarian view is all about personal freedom and personal responsibility, and being truly free means you have the ability to do some stupid things.

However, there is also that whole responsibility end of things, and there we find the part that most people don't like. I'm fine with all drugs being legal and people having the freedom to do whatever they choose to do with their bodies, but the flipside of that freedom is that people have to be willing to take responsibility for the consequences of their own actions. If you become addicted to crack for instance, there is a good chance you will end up without any money and in very poor health. The Libertarian view on how government should deal with a drug addict is very simple. When the poor addict has ran out of money and luck, and he has to decide between feeding his addiction and feeding his body, the government looks at him and says, “Sucks to be you,” and goes back about its business. You can't truly have freedom unless you are willing to take the responsibility that goes along with it, and that means dealing with the consequences of your actions.

Currently, the United States gives neither freedom nor responsibility in this area. The government will tell you exactly what you can and cannot put in your body, and when you get down on your luck for whatever reason, the government will give you food, housing, and health care. I don't like either end of this. Personally, I think everybody should be able to get stoned if they so choose, but I'm not going to be for legalizing a single recreational drug until the government stops paying people simply because they exist.

Ah, and one last thing before I stop with the politics. Lest you think I and all other Libertarians are all heartless douche bags, let me point out that I only said the government should not step in to help those in need. Individuals, on the other hand, should definitely step in to help those that need it. Again, it's about individual responsibility. Sure, it's easier to shrug off your individual responsibility to help those in need by saying, “Hey government, feed these people for me,” but not only is that a rather lazy way to do things, it is also extremely inefficient. What makes more sense? Is it better for you to use your own money and your own discretion to find those people in your community that really need a hand up rather than and a handout and personally help those in need, or is it better to send your money to Washington where a bunch of elitist lawyers make a confusing set of parameters on who should and should not have aid before they send your money back to the community through several layers of bureaucracy and force the individuals needing help to jump through several levels of paperwork Hell before finally handing the money to the individuals in need without really having any idea whether or not those receiving the funds are working families struggling to make ends meat or dirt bags who live of the government dole keeping all the while keeping in mind that the government takes out an extremely large chunk of this potential charitable donation to fund their needlessly bloated system which amounts to nothing more than an inefficient middleman to a simple act of charity? Which makes more sense?

Investigating the Pothead

I assume that nobody really objects to me making the logical leap that Ann Nocenti uses marijuana. After all, this magazine essentially boils down to a largely political news outlet, and those working for this type of media organization tend to be of one mind on their central agenda. Would you believe that the guy who edits the NRA magazine doesn't own a firearm, or that someone writing for PETA would bet on a dog fight? I mean, it's theoretically possible, but what are the odds? If you are actively promoting an agenda for a living, there is a pretty good chance you are a participator in the movement, right?

Though I did not immediately go into full investigation mode, I soon found myself wanting to look into Ann Nocenti history with High Times a little more in depth, but sadly, not much was uncovered. Nocenti did write for High Times under the name Annie Nocenti, but I could only find two articles from her. If there were any others that she wrote, they have since been deleted. In the two articles, one was advocating some perfectly legal plant which nonetheless gave a nice high, and the other was even less memorable. I even dug into Nocenti's past works in other fields and on other topics hoping I would find something scandalous because my original expectations had been thwarted, but again, I was pretty much let down. The most interesting tidbit I could find was that Nocenti gave instructions to people protesting the War in Iraq, but who cares about that?

With that avenue thwarted, I turned my attention to High Times. Perhaps they advocated for something more detrimental than pot?

At first, it appeared that this was also a dry well. Looking at the home page, you see pot, pot, and more pot. If you peel back a layer or two, you still find pot. We all know what pot does. It temporarily makes you lazy and a bit stupid, but beyond that, it's got no significant negative consequences, so it's pretty hard to get worked up about it. However, the homepage of high times says that it covers “marijuana and other psychedelic drugs.” As someone mostly ignorant about the drug culture, I wondered, just what is a psychedelic drug? The short version? A psychedelic drug is a drug that gives you a hallucination or altered perceptions including little gems you may have heard of like PCP, psilocin (the active ingredient in shrooms) and LCD.

Jackpot!

The Dirt

Does High Times actually support any of these drugs?

Well, let's be clear. They do not out and out advocate any of these substances because that would be, if not a crime outright, bordering close to a crime, right? I'm not sure what the exact law is on advocating crime, but it certainly is not a position you want on record, so High Times does not officially endorse any drugs, but it certainly talks about some drugs in a positive light. High Times clearly says it covers information on psychedelic drugs in general, but does it portray these big three drugs in a positive or negative light, and just what are the consequences of using these drugs?

1. PCP

Out of the three, this is by far the worst in my admittedly limited knowledge. I know PCP can make you do some crazy things.

HT Stance: In line with that, PCP seems to be the one psychedelic drug that High Times does not treat positively. I actually even saw one person interviewed on the site about his drug habits who spoke negatively about PCP which is pretty crazy considering everything else shown on the site. However, High Times' less than glowing opinion of PCP was not so strong as to keep PCP users from knowing how to pass a drug test for the substance, so it's hard to say that they are really against it.

Negative Effects: PCP often causes people to go into violent rages where they can inflict damage on themselves or others. Chronic users often develop memory problems, speech difficulties, anxiety problems, paranoia, and recurrent hallucinations. Overdosing causes death.

2. Psilocin

I'm not sure I've ever heard of psilocin, but I think everybody has heard of shrooms, right? Well, psilocin is the thing that makes shrooms so shroomy.

HT Stance: To quote High Times, “It' wouldn't be a psychedelic issue (of High Times) without shrooms.” Oh yeah, they love shrooms.

Negative Effects: Immediate negative effects sometimes occur and include weakness, loss of body control, nausea and vomiting. Overdose can cause panic attacks and psychosis. Long term effects sometimes occur which involve flashbacks and persistent hallucinations. In addition, shroom users sometimes take the wrong shrooms and poison themselves.

3. LSD

I knew a guy who took LSD when he was in college. He was drinking, and his friend thought it would be funny to spike his drink with some acid. (LSD) It caused a schizophrenic break with him which, I later found out, is not as uncommon as you might think. He is now in his late forties, and he is living at an assisted living home. He's a real nice guy, and his drugs help him stay mostly in the real world. He'll go along talking about day to day happenings, and then out of the blue, he'll mention how Elvis and Satan walked into his kitchen the other day.

HT Stance: They freakin' love LSD. The whole site is full of interviews with proponents of LSD, praises for every artist who got high and drew something or wrote a song, and mourning obituaries for famous LSD users that passed into early graves.

Negative Effects: Even on a surface level, LSD is not really a fun drug. The drug seizes control of people's emotions and leads them on a trip which may be a heck of a lot of fun or might be a living nightmare. The length of the trip varies and perceptions change too, so if you are having a bad trip, it might last for what seems like forever. As if this were not bad enough, flashbacks occur which throw people back into the emotional state of past trips. The more LSD is used, the more common are flashback occurrences. LSD is believed to be responsible for triggering mood disorders and schizophrenia in people with biological predispositions towards those mental disorders.

Back to Nocenti and Catwoman

Coming full circle back to Ann Nocenti, I'm left with two main thoughts.

First, Ann Nocenti sucks. I already disrespected her as a writer; I thought she was mediocre at best, but now I dislike her as a person. Again, it's a free country and it should be even more free as far as I'm concerned, but that does not mean I think it is not a lousy action to promote a lifestyle which has proven to be destructive to many people.

Second, my question lingers. Does this affect Catwoman? I cannot prove that Ann Nocenti has ever taken a single illegal substance, but surely she has and surely she does. She was not a young woman experimenting (not that it is to play around with this stuff at any age) when she was working for High Times, and unless she has had some sort of revelation that never made the news, there is no reason to think her lifestyle has changed in the years since, and what of Selina? Are her stories getting shafted because Nocenti is stoned while writing? Again, I can't prove anything, but I suspect drugs probably do play a role in Nocenti's writing. Try reading Catwoman #14 and telling me that was written by somebody sober. I just don't buy it.

Conclusion

Nocenti has almost certainly taken illegal drugs, and based on her writing now, I would say she still is. I think she should have every right to take what she wants and advocate what she wants without government interference, but I have to say, I think her work on High Times is pretty lousy, and I think its a shame she is writing Catwoman both because of her work with High Times and because of her work with Selina Kyle.

For more news, reviews and commentary on the whole Bat Family, check out BatWatch.net

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Is Strix the New Cassandra Cain?

A month or two ago, I saw someone mention the idea that Strix, a recent addition to Birds of Prey, is essentially the new Cassandra Cain, and I thought, “Yeah, okay, so they are both female, Asian martial arts experts, but that hardly makes them the same character,” and I basically dismissed the idea, but after mulling it over for the next several weeks, I slowly began to put the pieces together, and you know what? Strix is the new Cassandra Cain.

To see this article with images, Click Here.

Let's observe the similarities, shall we? I'll start with the most obvious and benign and work towards the more suspicious and peculiar.

1. Female

I assume I do not need to elaborate on this point.

2. Asian

Cassandra Cain is the daughter of David Cain, a Caucasian, and Sandra Woosan (Lady Shiva) an Asian woman who grew up in Detroit. Mary's (Strix's) family consisted of United States immigrants from Japan who lived in Oregon.

3. Martial Arts Master

Cassandra was taught martial arts from her birth by her father, David Cain. Mary learned gymnastics at Haly's Circus where she was recruited to be an assassin for the Court of Owls and taught martial arts by undisclosed masters.

4. Tragic Past

Cassandra's life was a tragedy from the moment she was born. Lady Shiva had no interest in raising her daughter, and David Cain viewed Cass as his ultimate experiment and weapon. Strix, on the other hand, lived a mostly peaceful life until her family was killed by a Japanese firebomb during WWII. The firebomb disfigured Mary badly.

5. Flying Nocturnal Animal as Totem

Cassandra's, of course, was the second character to be called Batgirl. Mary, on the other hand, has taken the codename Strix which is a specific kind of owl without ear tufts.

6. Worked as an Assassin

After honing her for eight years, David Cain finally deployed Cass in the field where she, unaware of what she was truly doing, killed a target and completed an assassination. Though she immediately sensed the wrongness of her actions, Cass never lost her sense of guilt over the murder. It is not clear how many Mary killed in the name of the Court of Owls, but given what we have seen from other talons, it can be fair to assume she murdered dozens during her tenure as the Court's assassin.

7. Tied with Shadowy World Dominating Organizations

Cass was on the straight and narrow for a long time after running away from David Cain, but after being mind controlled by Deathstroke, she did run the League of Assassins for over a year, an organization often tied to Ra's Al Ghul's schemes to save the world's ecosystem by destroying ninety percent of all life on the planet. Mary worked for the Court of Owls, a quasi shadow government whose goals include being evil, plotting and scheming.

8. Became Heroine because of Barbara Gordon

Cassandra Cain was recruited by Barbara as an street level informant during No Man's Land. Over time, Babs, Batman, and other members of the family saw her potential and heart and offered her the position of Batgirl. Strix, on the other hand, tried to kill Batgirl (Barbara) during the Night of the Owls before arbitrarily deciding to spare Babs' life because all villainous assassins are just misunderstood. By talking through their feelings, (well, Mary writing down her feelings) Batgirl's feminism saved the day.

9. Essentially Mute

Cassandra Cain was never taught how to speak. Instead, David Cain taught her only fighting stances, and when she needed to talk to David, she communicated through motion. As such, Cassandra developed a nearly supernatural ability to read people through body language, but she never had much ability to carry on a conversation until a psychic rearranged her brain. Mary is mute though it is not clear why. She seems to have been able to talk at a younger age, so perhaps it was psychological trauma or physical damage from the firebomb.

10. Only Communicates with Barbara Gordon

Cassandra used her very small repertoire of words to pass information on to Oracle in her early days, and she rarely breathed a word to anyone else. Now, Mary pulls the same shtick staring menacingly at her teammates and only occasionally “says” something to Barbara by drawing words in the dirt.

Conclusion

What are we to make of this? Gail Simone (former writer of Birds of Prey and current writer of Batgirl) invented the character. Was she intentionally trying to reinvent Cassandra Cain for the DCNU, or is this merely a long list of coincidences? Regardless, Strix has thus far been a poor substitute for Cass unless you enjoy watching a mute character start pointless fights with allies on a regular basis.

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