I’m also fascinated by the Bruce/Damian father/son dynamic. Damian was shaken up pretty badly by meeting Darkseid’s failed Bat-Clone, whose brain-damaged ramblings lead Damian to believe that his father not only didn’t love him, but considered his very conception a mistake, the greatest failing of his career as the Batman. And, since his return, Bruce hasn’t really done anything to prove him wrong, leaving the poor kid behind with the butler and the adopted brother while he went galavanting off around the world. I’ve said this before, but it’s hard for me to look at the first “season” of Batman Inc. as anything other than the adventures of Bruce Wayne, Deadbeat Dad. So they’re not getting along very well, and Damian is actually comparing Bruce unfavorably to Dick Grayson! Which, as someone who felt that the “Batman and Robin” era of Morrison’s Batman run was far too short… is pretty awesome.
Anyway. While one set of goats are out to kill Damian, Talia (who, as the Demon’s Head, is another kind of goat entirely) is swiftly establishing Leviathan as the new ruling force of the Gotham underworld…
…and tightening the noose around Batman’s neck. I have no idea if any of these gangsters are supposed to be characters we’ve seen before, but I love (LOVE!) the idea that Gotham City has an invisible gang-lord who’s just a regular, rank-and-file gangster rather than a full-blown super-villain.
Of course, Batman’s also got his own secret squad of seemingly-dead operatives out there, working out of the West Coast Batcave (because of COURSE there’s a West Coast Batcave!) on a plan we’re not entirely privy to just yet. We also finally see the new Wingman, a mysterious figure who Bats approached to take a secret role in his anti-Leviathan master plan way back when all this Batman Incorporated stuff began. I still think it’s Superman, but time will tell. So there’s all that set-up for future issues, and an ending that… Well… I won’t spoil it, but HOW IS THE BOY WONDER GOING TO GET OUT OF THIS ONE, DEAR READERS?!
So that’s one hell of a launch for Batman Inc, season two. Morrison seems on the top of his game here, and Burnham (I can’t stress enough) is really knocking it out of the park. His layouts are inventive throughout, including a very nice Eisneresque page that turns the sides of the buildings into individual panels, drawn and colored as if the images are actually posters pasted to the walls. Oh, here. I might as well just show you the damn thing:
Nice, huh? Really, the only thing marring this issue at all is the gaudy two-page Before Watchmen ad in the center spread. But that’s not a topic I’m going to discuss here…
Prophet #25, by Brandon Graham and Giannis Milonogiannis
If it weren’t for Grant Morrison, this would be the best adventure comic on the stands. As it is, it’s still the weirdest, which is not a term I use lightly, or pejoratively. This book is Weird with a capital W. Weird in the grand tradition of Weird. Weirdness as its own end, explored with a satisfying fullness the likes of which we haven’t really seen since the heyday of HP Lovecraft. It’s a book that presents us with alien creatures that are genuinely, often stomach-churningly, alien. But rather than being objects of abject terror that drive men mad, they’re presented as what they are: natural creations of an ecosystem that is not our own. Seldom have I been so repulsed by fiction that simultaneously and matter-of-factly tells me that I really shouldn’t be freaked out at all. That’s not something I’ve ever experienced while reading a funnybook, I don’t think, but hot damn I like it!
In this issue, for instance, we get the Nephilim, a race of titans who are the sole remaining remnants of a once-great civilization on a planet in deep space. These creatures were once man-sized, we’re told, but gave up their higher functions to serve a greater purpose for their society. A purpose that’s now forgotten, because that society is long-dead. But the Nephilim live on, completely unaware that they no longer serve any useful purpose.
And… actually… That may be the least-weird alien we’ve seen in this book yet. But we do get a little weirdness out of Our Hero himself. The series premise is that, centuries after the collapse of humanity, our greatest hero, John Prophet, has been copied and reborn across the universe with a quest to bring about the return of the long-dead Earth Empire. This issue, we meet a team of Johns, one of whom has a weird fleshy lance-thing that’s alive and spits acid at his foes. And another of them is female, of which absolutely nothing is made in the story, but which really took me aback. Prior to this, the John Prophets we’ve met have seemed to be mostly straight-up clones. I guess the John with the tail from last issue should have been a hint that there’s more going on with the Prophet copies than meets the eye, but still. The lady-John (who, yes, is still called John) really surprised me.
Not as much as this issue’s big ending shocker did, though. I won’t spoil it here, but it suggests that things may not be exactly what we’ve been lead to believe they are. Big shocker in this book, I know, but still… Its power to shock me anyway is what makes it so great.
Dark Horse Presents #13, by Various, but most importantly… BARON AND FUCKING RUDE!!
So the current iteration of Dark Horse Presents (or DHP, as it’s acronymically called) is something I typically find a bit… over-priced. Even for an honest-to-god old-school 80-Page Giant, $7.99 is a lot of money to pay. Granted, I’d pay it, and happily, if all 80s pages were filled with things I liked. But it’s an anthology title and, like most anthologies, it’s kind of hit and miss. While I’ve seen very little in it that I’d call actively bad, most of the stories range in quality from “just okay” to “pretty good,” with an occasional (like, not in every issue by a long shot) flash of brilliance. So it’s normally not something I’m willing to pay eight bucks for.
But this issue, this lucky 13th issue… sucked me in. There’s a Mister X story, a new Evan Dorkin Eltingville Club piece, a Finder short from Carla Speed McNeil, and a rather snazzy-looking pulp hero piece from Franceso Francavilla. All tempting stuff. But what really put this one over the top for me (as you may have been able to guess from the credits above) is the return of Mike Baron and Steve Rude’s Nexus.
HOLY SHIT THERE’S NEW NEXUS!!!!!!!!!!
Arguably the best series of the 80s independent comics explosion (American Flagg! being its only serious competition), Nexus is a sci-fi super hero story about politics and societies, starring a hero driven by mysterious alien forces to assassinate mass murderers. Thought-provoking, joyously anarchic, and stylishly drawn by one of the finest draftsmen of his generation, Nexus is adventure comics of the first rank. It’s one of my all-time favorite comics, and this issue of Dark Horse Presents HAS A NEW STORY!!
(Yes. I am giddy as a schoolgirl. Sue me.)
It’s good, but it’s not their best. With only nine pages to play with, Mike Baron’s script doesn’t offer a lot of complexity. Sure, it’s the first chapter of a much longer piece, but in order to get the action moving, the plot feels a tiny bit rushed. Still, it offers Steve Rude ample opportunity to impress with moody shots like this one…
…and (following two panels later) kinetic action like this:
While I won’t suggest this issue of DHP as your first introduction to Nexus (it’s too much money for too little comic, and not their best besides), if you’re a fan like myself, it might just be worth the price tag. Especially with Dorkin and McNeil on-hand to back it up.
Grade: Overall: C. Nexus: B+