Even Batman's butler needs a hobby and Alfred Pennyworth's was writing stories about the second Batman and Robin team, tales only he and his employers would ever read. The second Batman was Dick Grayson, the second Robin was Bruce Wayne, Jr., the son of Batman and Kathy (Batwoman) Kane.
"The Boyhood of Bruce Wayne, Jr." was blurbed above the logo of BATMAN #159 [November, 1963]. Though the GRAND COMICS DATABASE [www.comics.org] doesn't identify the writer of the 8.66-page tale, I'm sticking to my gut feeling that all the stories in this series were written by Batman co-creator Bill Finger. It was pencilled by Sheldon Moldoff and inked by Charles Paris.
It's been ages since I've read this story, but, fortunately, MIKE'S AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS [www.dcindexes.com] is available to refresh my memory:
Alfred concocts another imaginary tale about the future of Batman and Robin. In his current story, he details the boyhood of Bruce's son Bruce Jr. The boy takes after his father and is able to help Batman by deducing the secret escape method used by the Green Owl Gang.
Batman has always been one of my favorite characters, though I like him best when he's not written as insane. As a kid reading these stories, seeing Batman as a dad made the character seem more real to me. Among some editors, publishers, and writers, there has long been a prejudice against super-heroes who are married and who have children. I'm not one of them. When you add some normalcy to a super-hero's life, I think it makes it easier for the readers to suspend their disbelief vis-a-vis the super stuff.
Only one more story in this series was ever published. There were six stories in all and only the first has ever been reprinted. In the world inside my head, DC collects them in a 80-page special and hires me to write a new story continuing in the proud tradition of scribes Finger and Pennyworth.
BATMAN #159's cover story was "The Great Clayface-Joker Feud" by Finger, Moldoff, and Paris. Moldoff and Paris drew the cover. Jack Schiff was the editor. The 15.66-page tale has Joker taking offense at a newspaper reporter's assertion that Clayface was the top criminal in the country and a violent feud begins, though, this being 1963, the "violence" is suitable for kids. Batman and Robin apprehend the Joker with the help of Batwoman and Bat-Girl. Then Batman captures Clayface by using the shape-shifting villain's own shtick against him. This tale was reprinted in THE GREATEST JOKER STORIES EVER TOLD.
Watch for more Golden Age/Silver Age Batman covers, including the issue with Alfred's last story, in upcoming TOTs.
INFINITE CRISIS COUNSELING
We start our week of INFINITE CRISIS COUNSELING with seven of the eight DCU books released the week of November 30. In addition to these seven comics, DC also published TEEN TITANS: THE FUTURE IS NOW, the fourth trade paperback collection of the current series. It's not reviewed here because I reviewed it in my "Tony's Tips" column for COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1617 [June, 2006], which will be sent to subscribers and retailers sometime next month.
Although I have been hard on much of writer Greg Rucka's DCU work, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #646 [$2.50] grabbed my attention from its second page and never let go. "Rack and Ruin" seems to be the beginning of the end of Superman's battle with the mysterious Ruin, whose identity is revealed on the last page of the issue. To me, at least; I haven't read every recent issue of every Superman book. Along the way to that last-panel revelation, we get wonderful scenes between Big Blue and an apparently brain-damaged-but-benign Mxyzptlk, what seems to be the resolution of the "who shot Lois Lane" sub-plot, and mortal peril for some of Clark's oldest and dearest friends.
Rucka's version of Mxy delights me, Lois whips off a great exit-line, and the end-of-issue cliffhanger made me go "Whoa!" The art by penciller/inker Karl Kerschl and co-inker Wayne Faucher is as good and as emotional as Rucka's writing. This exciting issue earns the full five out of five Tonys.
BATMAN #647 [$2.50] is filled with characters who absolutely and utterly bore me: Black Mask, Terminator, Red Hood (who is maybe Jason Todd), Captain Nazi, the Hyena, and Count Vertigo. It takes a largely ineffectual Batman an entire issue to decide he's got to stop Red Hood and apparently before he stops the far more dangerous Black Mask. Is that George Bush under the cowl?
Some of Batman's inner monologues are well-written, but they would be more powerful if we knew for a fact that this is, indeed, Jason Todd he's been not stopping for way too many issues. Or have I missed the story that clearly and unequivocally revealed the Red Hood is the same Jason Todd who got beaten to death by the Joker's crowbar and then blowed up real good?
This issue was the comics equivalent of killing time, reading as if it was written solely to fill out the page count of the next Batman TP. It's not awful, but it's also not good enough to earn more than two Tonys.
Say what you will about John Byrne - and there's probably no stopping some of you anyway - his DOOM PATROL #18 [$2.50] ends this current series on happy and satisfying notes. I still don't know exactly what's going on, but I don't expect a creator to write the last issue of his book for anyone other than the loyal readers who have been following it all along.
I have liked the Doom Patrol from its creation, though most of its post-1960s incarnations haven't done much for me. This Byrne version came closest to capturing the characters I liked, at least as far as I could tell from the few issues I read, and its end has me thinking about whether or not there's a place for this team in today's DCU.
When the Doom Patrol - and Metamorpho - made their debuts, the DC super-heroes were uniformly "normal" and well-adjusted. These new "super-freaks" brought something fresh to the DCU. Today, they barely raise eyebrows. If I were asked to write a new Doom Patrol series, I'd probably set it back in the middle of the Cold War and the start of the Space Race, a time when many people would actively fear them and a precious few would find them far-out cool, Daddy-O! The Chief and his team belong to another age.
Further digression. I feel the same about the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. The whole "United Nations" background no longer works in these divisive times of ours; I'd probably have them bankrolled by a liberal gazillionaire and his mega-corporation. That would allow me to keep most of what I really liked about the characters and the basic concept.
Enough digression. DOOM PATROL #18 earns a very respectable three Tonys...and my hope that Byrne knocks it out of the park with his next project.
Last time, I gave JLA CLASSIFIED an "incomplete" because, and I quote me, the issue read like the poster child for "waiting for the trade." That hasn't changed, though this issue, in which the League heroes battle menaces tailor-made to render their abilities moot, feels a bit more like "padding for the trade." Despite that, Warren Ellis is still a clever, entertaining writer and Butch Guice is still one of my favorite artists. Even so, I can't think of a single reason to recommend the individual issues of this story over the trade paperback collection. So I won't.
Desperate times, desperate measures, and a few surprises are the cornerstones of LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #12 [$2.99], the next-to-last issue of the futuristic super-team's battle with a villain poised to conquer the galaxy. New readers might be a mite fuzzy on a detail or two, but writer Mark Waid does a great job introducing characters and recapping important information. The space-spanning lead story is 24 pages of stirring super-heroics with top-of-the-line art by Barry Kitson and Ken Lashley. Backing up the lead is a short Lightning Lad/Saturn Girl flashback tale exploring one of the worlds which joined the Legion's cause, courtesy of Lashley and writer Stuart Moore.
With thirty pages of comics this good, LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #12 earns four out of five Tonys.
The first couple issues of PLASTIC MAN [$2.99] didn't do much for me, this despite my oft-expressed admiration for the works of Kyle Baker. However, reading this issue, which features unlikely guest-villain Ra's Al Ghul, made me realize I hadn't given myself enough of a chance to get into this unique series. The good news is that I have all those back issues to enjoy; the bad news is that PLASTIC MAN concludes in another issue or two. Sigh.
I may not know exactly what's going with PLASTIC MAN's cast or with this story. I may not know whether or not this series is part of current DCU continuity. I do know Baker that had me laughing out loud on pretty much every page, which earns this issue four out of five Tonys.
WONDER WOMAN #223 [$2.50] holds no surprises. The World Court hands down terms it can't enforce. Wonder Woman promises to abide by those terms, which lasts as long as it takes for her to get out of her briefs, don her almost as brief costume, and get herself to Themyscira to fight an army of OMACs...and we all remember how much I love them OMACs, don't we? "Epic" battle scenes notwithstanding, this is a title that's run out of steam. Even if DC hadn't already announced its cancellation - to be replace by a "new and improved" Wonder Woman title - its numbered days would be obvious.
Not that anyone at DC ever listens to me, but I can't help but notice that Wonder Woman is more fun or more interesting outside of their comic books. The Lynda Carter series has a sweet charm that endured throughout the worst scripts. The Wonder Woman of JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED is a stronger and more complete character than her current comics counterpart. Maybe what the character needs is to be written by someone like Dwayne McDuffie, a writer whose stories for cartoons and comics have routinely included fully-realized and heroic women. For that matter, almost any of the JLU writers would represent new hope for WONDER WOMAN. Sadly, what we have now is a Wonder Woman who neither excites or inspires.
WONDER WOMAN #223 gets but one Tony.
That's all the time we have for today's session, but the ICC couch will be waiting for you tomorrow.
COMICS IN THE COMICS
Last September, Blondie and Dagwood's 75th anniversary was all the rage on the comics pages. The event was mentioned frequently in other strips, as were other comic-strip characters. There were also many guest appearances.
I also had a hearty laugh on reading Ray Billingsley's CURTIS strip from September 4:
Speaking of MARY WORTH:
Okay, the above doesn't even remotely fit our "Comics in the Comics" theme, but I've been intrigued by the story of the psycho-woman who sued Wilbur because she made the choice to follow advice he gave in his column. If this is, indeed, the conclusion of this story, I'm going to be gravely disappointed.
I figured the psycho-woman would stalk Wilbur and either try to kill him or fixate on him as a replacement for the husband she kicked to the curb. I hoped the story would end with Mary Worth, revealed as a member of the NRA, taking out the PW with a single well-placed shot.
Mary Worth: action-heroine for the AARP set!
GET MORE TONY
Every Monday or thereabouts, I post a brand-new and exclusive TONY'S OTHER ONLINE TIPS on the Comics Buyer's Guide forums. This week, I review the latest issue of my favorite comics magazine, Roy Thomas' ALTER EGO.
Most every Monday, there are new TONY POLLS questions posted online for your balloting entertaining. Here's how you voted on a trio of questions from January...
Our first question is a "do-over" because I think I should have phased the original question in broader terms. Do you enjoy TONY'S ONLINE TIPS when I write about manga?
Manga picked up three percentage points from the first time I asked this question, but it's still not of interest to a good many TOT readers. I don't understand why those readers are reluctant to embrace new kinds of comics, but I'd be interested in hearing why and sharing your comments with your fellow readers. As always, you can e-mail me at:
This is also a "do-over" question. If someone wishes you the best of the season, does it really matter to you what phrase - be it "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" or any other variation thereof - he uses to express those good wishes?
This go-round, the "yes" votes dropped considerably from the earlier 29.07%, but I remain utterly baffled by the 11.81% of you who voted that way. Me, I think it's a good day when anyone takes the time to be friendly. Their good will is my good will and, I would hope, visa versa.
One new question for this week. How satisfied are you with your current job?
I love my job!.....19.17%
I like my job!.....30.83%
I'm okay with my job!.....35%
I dislike my job!.....10.83%
I hate my job!.....4.17%
I was happy to see more of the voters were more or less happy with their jobs. I love my job, but I wouldn't mind if it paid a mite better. Alas, the TIP THE TIPSTER link at the bottom of each column is rarely used.
Our new TONY POLLS questions conclude our three-week voting on the Academy Awards nominations. We're asking you who you *want* to win and who you think *will* win in the categories of Best Picture, Actor/Actress in a Leading Role, and Actor/Actress in a Supporting Role. After the winners are telecast on Sunday, March 6, I'll do a special TOT covering all your Oscar votes.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: