Comics Reviews: Batman 362, Detective 529, Batman & the Outsiders 1, Firestorm 15

Batman 362 coverBatman 362 – “When Riddled by the Riddler” – Doug Moench/Don Newton/Alfredo Alcala

This one starts with a reporter doing a story on wine production. She’s shown the process called remuage—turning the bottles to sediment collects on the corks instead of at the bottom—which is also known as “riddling” the wine. Coincidentally (or not), one of the workers is Edward Nigma, the Riddler, and seeing the reporter’s interest in the riddling process gives him the inspiration to go back to his criminal ways. In Gotham the next night, Commissioner Gordon has received a package from the Riddler addressed to Batman. Harvey Bullock (who was appointed as Gordon’s assistant by Mayor Hill just to get under Gordon’s skin) insists on being kept in the loop. He’s already accused Gordon of incompetence and has a hearing set up to determine if Gordon’s still fit to do his job, so Gordon humours him. He recounts Riddler’s origin and obsession withRiddler attacks at amusement park puzzles and Bullock wants to open the package. Batman shows up and tells Bullock to get lost, but naturally Bullock eavesdrops outside the door. The package contains a golden goose egg with the initials “MA” on it, plus a cryptic note. Batman figures it stands for Ma (Mother) Goose and Riddler is planning to rob the Mother Goose Amusement Park. Gordon thinks that clue as a little too easy and Batman agrees, but they can’t afford to ignore it. At the amusement park, Riddler ambushes Batman and tries to blow him away with a machine gun. Batman survives, but Riddler escapes and Batman learns the park is closed for the season. At police headquarters, Gordon takes a break and Bullock sneaks in to examine the golden egg but ends up dropping it. Inside there’s another note, which Gordon and Batman quickly analyze to come up with the Paradise Theater Riddler steals game show looton Peach Street. (No mention if Styx ever played there.) Turns out there’s a game show (called Enigma) taping there, so Batman figures Riddler is planning to steal the cash and jewelry the show gives as prizes. Their deductive reasoning was too swift for Bullock, who’s so exhausted from trying to follow their logic, he doesn’t even bother to follow them. At the theater, Riddler busts out of the prize box and steals the loot, but Batman’s waiting for him outside. He recovers the loot and Riddler hijacks a bus with his machine gun. Gordon chases him with Batman riding on the roof. Batman jumps over to the bus and almost gets blasted, but pushes gas pellets through the holes in the bus roof, stunning Riddler enough for Batman to pound him. A week later, Commissioner Gordon’s hearing is about to start when he gives BullockBatman gasses the bus another egg to thank him for “helping” solve the Riddler case. There’s an ominous note wrapped around the egg, plus something extra inside. When the hearing convenes, Bullock suddenly changes his mind and refuses to say anything negative about Gordon, effectively exonerating him. Batman later asks what was in the egg and Gordon says it was a piece of Swiss cheese; Bullock’s paranoid mind attached some significance to it, causing him to chicken out at the last minute.

Noticeable Things:

  • The reporter that does the wine story and covers Gordon’s hearing later is Olivia Ortega, the same reporter who featured in a lot of Gerry Conway’s stories. It’s nice to see a new writer not automatically jettisoning every secondary character (or plotline) from a previous writer’s run.

Detective 529 coverDetective #529 – “The Thief of Night” – Doug Moench/Gene Colan/Dick Giordano

This one begins with a montage of various people who are active late at night: reporters at Picture News magazine; a late night DJ on he radio (who looks a bit like Pam Grier); the staff at the local ER; and a security guard in a fur warehouse. The guard is surprised by a guy dressed head-to-toe in black who moves like a shadow. He pounds the guard, who accidentally falls on the alarm. Batman (another late night denizen) hears the alarm and confronts the thief, who proves to be better-trained than Batman expected. He can’t corral the slippery thief, who topples a crate toward the unconscious guard. Batman saves him but theBatman fights Night-Thief thief gets away with a fur coat. Batman takes the guard to the hospital, where the ER staff can’t believe Batman let a thief escape. A reporter for Picture News is there and calls in the story. At the Wayne Foundation the next day, Lucius Fox is in a meeting about compensation for a woman (N. Knight) who works at the Gotham Observatory, which the Foundation funds. Ms. Knight was involved in some kind of accident that ended up etiolating her skin, so she’s been bleached white and can no longer stand sunshine. Lucius says they should hold off on covering her medical costs because he thinks she might qualify for even more money, since her injury Jason with Waldohappened at work. At Wayne Manor, Bruce is brooding about failing to stop a common thief and worrying because Jason Todd (his new ward) has been spending so much time with Waldo, the clown from the circus where Jason (and his dead parents) used to work. Jason confides to Waldo that living in a mansion isn’t as much fun as it sounds and that he misses the circus. That night, Bruce is out with Vicki and invites her home for some action; she’s forgiven him for standing her up last issue for Jason. Bruce stops to buy some champagne and hears the late-night DJ broadcast a challenge to Batman from the Night Thief. He ditches Vicki and heads to the fancy part of town. He recalls reading about a rich couple leaving for Europe and (as Bruce Wayne) he knows the wife has a very expensive diamond necklace that she keeps in aNight Thief returns to his mistress safe (wearing a paste replica in public). The Night Thief isn’t there but Batman spots him at another mansion nearby. The Night Thief suckers Batman into almost falling off he roof and the Caped Crusader figures out it was all a trick to divert his attention. He goes back to the first house and interrupts the Night Thief rifling through the safe. But when he tries to grab him, it turns out to be just a shadow cast from another window … and the necklace in the safe is paste. Night Thief returns to his lair, where he hands over the necklace to someone named Nocturna—a woman whom he worships, by the sound of it—and she thanks him. She’s wearing the fur coat he stole earlier and we see that her skin is white as snow. Sounds familiar. When Bruce gets back to Vicki (still sitting in his car outside the wine store), she’s pretty pissed off and doesn’t buy his lame excuses. When Bruce gets home, he gets another shock … Jason has decided to go back to the circus.

Noticeable Things:

  • The Night Thief idea is interesting, although Moench lays on his worship of the night a little thick. Gene Colan’s art fits the subject well, but the whole Night Thief/Nocturna thing will end up dragging on a bit too long for my liking.
  • Lucius Fox mentions a trip he’s taking to Markovia, which ties into the first issue of Batman & the Outsiders, which I’m reviewing next.

Batman and Outsiders 1 coverBatman & the Outsiders #1 – “Wars Ended … Wars Begun” – Mike W. Barr/Jim Aparo

Here it is, the first issue of Batman & the Outsiders. I know a lot of people don’t like this series, but I always thought it was pretty good. Aparo’s (and later Alan Davis’s) art is good and I like the way Barr writes the characters and their relationships to each other. Some of the villains are pretty cliched, and Geo-Force is boring as hell, but I generally like this comic. The first three issues actually take place after the preview in Brave & Bold 200 and show how the team first gets together. As I mentioned above in my Detective review, Lucius Fox is headed to Markovia on business for Wayne Enterprises and Bruce gives him a bon voyage party. Batman throws himself into his work over the next couple of days, so he’s shocked to learn (from Alfred) that there’s been a revolution in Markovia and Lucius has been taken hostage. Batman wants to call theBatman quits the JLA American and Markovian embassies, but Alfred’s already done that with no results. There’s a black-out on any information out of Markovia, so Batman decides it’s time to call in the big guns. He calls an emergency meeting of the Justice League, but they’ve already been contacted by the president, who told them to stay out of the Markovian crisis for fear of making things worse. Batman refuses to accept that and resigns his membership in the JLA, saying he never wanted people to imitate his example, just to fear him. In Markovia, the King (Viktor Markov) is on his deathbed and begs his heir Gregor to rule wisely and defeat whoever is trying to take over the country. Gregor and his Gregor and Brion disagreebrother Brion have never gotten along, but Viktor’s dying wish is that they cooperate for the good of the nation … and find their sister Tara. As soon as Viktor dies, Gregor and Brion start arguing; Brion (and a scientist named Helga Jace) want to put more money into some secret project that may help fight the revolutionaries, but Gregor prefers to spend the kingdom’s funds on conventional weapons. Brion reminds him Dr. Jace’s experiments gave their sister Tara special powers and they may do the same for him, so Gregor reluctantly agrees to keep the project going. On the outskirts of the capital, a familiar figure (I think it’s Metamorpho, looking like his old Rex Mason self) runs across some refugees fleeing the revolution and he trades his car for information on where to find Helga Jace. Across town, Jefferson Pierce (aka Black Lightning) approaches a guard and asks to meet the manJefferson pounds guards and Katana kills them in charge. Jefferson claims to be Lucius Fox’s brother and is willing to trade some gold ingots for Lucius’s’s release. Of course, Jefferson is working with Batman (since Bruce could hardly pass himself off as Lucius’s brother) and it looks like their ruse is going to work. The general in charge of the revolutionaries is ready to take Jefferson to his “brother” in exchange for the gold, but someone stabs him to death right through the tent. The soldiers assume Jefferson was in on the assassination and he’s forced to change into Black Lightning and kick some ass. Outside, a woman in a red-and-yellow costume is wasting guards with a samurai sword. She hears a voice in her head telling her to get away, so she takes off. Black lightning gets Black Lightning capturedconked out before he can escape and Batman (who’s been monitoring from nearby) is pissed off that their scheme was ruined by some bloodthirsty amateur. Before Batman can figure out what to do, he notices an unconscious girl in the bombed-out building where he’s hiding. She has some kind of aura around her and when he tries to help her, she freaks and blasts him with energy. She’s so weak she almost passes out and Batman carries her to safety. She’s so out of it she doesn’t know who she is; in fact, her amnesia is so bad, she doesn’t even know what “food” is! At Dr. Jace’s lab, Prince Brion (now wearing a costume) undergoes his final treatment and gains super-powers … specifically, the power to control gravity and shoot molten lava from hisMetamorpho blasted hands. Soldiers bust into the lab and Brion fights them but ends up getting shot. Metamorpho comes in (he was hoping Dr. Jace could turn him human again) and tackles the soldiers, but he gets shot too and for some reason, the shot causes his body to break apart into sections. The soldiers take Dr. Jace and Metamorpho (stuffing his parts in a gunny sack) to “the Baron” after burying Prince Brion in a shallow grave. But Brion pulls a Carrie, as we see his hand rising up out of the grave. Batman and the girl he found (who he calls Halo because of her aura) track Black Lightning to a bunker in the country. Batman capturedBatman has agreed to use his detective skills to figure out who Halo is and where she comes from if she helps him rescue his friends. They try to sneak up on the bunker (and we see Halo can change the colour of her aura), but Halo attracts the guards’ attention and Batman gets knocked out. He wakes up in a prison cell with Lucius, Black Lightning, and the still-disassembled Metamorpho. A gaudily-dressed dude comes in and introduces himself as Baron Bedlam, their captor and he leader of the revolutionaries. We’ll see what Bedlam has in store for his captives next issue.

Noticeable Things:

  • This issue is pretty good overall, just like I remember. First issues are saddled with the task of introducing everyone and bringing them together. Sometimes it seems like things are moving a bit too fast, like with Batman suddenly quitting the JLA, or how everyone who will end up forming the Outsiders is shoehorned into this first issue. It might’ve worked better if the Markovian thing (and Fox’s kidnapping) were background events for a few issues of Batman (and JLA) before starting this series. And spreading the introductions of the new heroes out a bit might’ve worked better than just tossing them all into the mix straight off. But overall, it’s still pretty good as far as I’m concerned.
  • Markovia is shown to be a small country right beside Luxembourg, between northern France and southern Belgium.
  • Black Lightning is reluctant to participate in Batman’s plans because he hasn’t been doing the superhero thing lately. It sounds like he might’ve killed someone accidentally and sworn off being a superhero; we’ll learn more about that as the series goes on.
  • Brion’s sister Tara is Terra, who’s been hanging out with the Teen Titans. We’ll get more on their relationship later when the Titans and Outsiders have a crossover.

Firestorm 15 coverFirestorm #15 – “Breakout” – Gerry Conway/Pat Broderick/Rodin Rodriguez

Last issue, Multiplex and his hired gun (the Enforcer) lured Firestorm into Multiplex’s lab and captured him. Multiplex knows Firestorm is an amalgam of Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein because he got hold of the tapes Stein made about Firestorm’s origin. (Stein erased the tapes, but his colleague Harry Carew restored them.) Multiplex is really Danton Black, Martin Stein’s old scientific rival, so his hatred for Firestorm runs deep. Firestorm is being held in a neutrino chamber and has disruptor pods on his head to dampen his powers, but he manages to exert enough will power to dissolve the disruptors, which lets him transmute the neutrino generator with his molecular powers. Firestorm attacks Enforcer, changing his fibre-plastic armour into the actual steel armour of a medieval knight, which is so heavy Enforcer hasFirestorm fights Enforcer trouble moving. Multiplex absorbs some power from a console and creates a couple of duplicates of himself. Stein reminds Ronnie that as long as one duploid is free, they can’t know if they’ve caught the original Multiplex or not. Before Firestorm can figure out what to do, Enforcer recovers and slams him to the floor. Enforcer is ready to cut Firestorm in half with a battle axe, but Firestorm melts it and decks Enforcer. He goes after Multiplex but gets ambushed. While Firestorm chases the duploids, Multiplex slips out an escape hatch and collects his prisoner, Lorraine Reilly. I thought it looked like him who was tormenting her last issue. Multiplex takes Lorraine (who’s totally out of it thanks to sensory deprivation) with him in his escape craft and thinks Firestorm fights many Multiplexeshow pleased his employers will be. Firestorm runs into a whole crowd of duploids and is almost overwhelmed before phasing through the floor to escape. He ends up in the main control room and blasts the generator. Once the facility has no power, all of Multiplex’s duploids disappear. Firestorm takes off, worried about whether Multiplex or Enforcer will reveal his secret identity. Stein says maybe it’s time they went public with their identity, since keeping it a secret is such a pain in the ass. They go back to Stein’s place and split apart, but are startled to find Stein’s ex Clarissa waiting there. Ronnie assumes they’re going to get back together, but Stein starts giving Clarissa shit, saying she ruined his life. She starts crying and it looks like Stein’s about to backhand her in the mouth when Ronnie comes in and gives him shit. Stein is so shocked at himself he just leaves and Clarissa starts cryingMartin almost gets rough again and throws herself into Ronnie’s arms. She’s really playing it up and Ronnie’s falling for it. I’m not sure if she’s getting ready to put the moves on him, or if she’s just manipulating him in a more general way (although Ronnie apparently sees her as a mother-figure). In Washington, Senator Reilly (Lorraine’s father) votes in favour of a bill to give a virtual monopoly on nuclear power to the Hewitt Corporation. Reilly had always been opposed to the bill, so a reporter named Roxanne Sharpe wants to know why he suddenly switched sides. Reilly won’t talk to her and takes off with Mica, the woman we saw delivering threats from her boss last issue. Mica takes Reilly to a house out in Virginia, where they’re forced to undergo decontamination procedures. Apparently Mica’s employer (Hewitt) has no immune system at all, so everything has to be disinfected and the house is Reilly meets Hewitthermetically sealed. Reilly tells Hewitt he voted the way he was told, so Hewitt now basically controls the nuclear power industry in America. Reilly wants to see Lorraine and Hewitt gives him a look; Lorraine is held inside a tube and hooked up to a bunch of machines. Hewitt says she’ll be fine as long as Reilly does what he’s told. Elsewhere in the house, Multiplex and an operative named Maxwell talk about their failure to contain Firestorm. Maxwell suggests Firestorm’s identity is a precious commodity, so they should keep it to themselves for the moment. Maxwell also says it might be possible to duplicate the accident that created Firestorm in the first place, so maybe they don’t even need him. They get a call from Clarissa (Agent 9), who’s just dropped Ronnie off at home. She sends some videoEnforcer recognizes Ed Raymond and Maxwell recognizes Ronnie’s dad, saying that fourteen years ago the people Maxwell worked for signed Ed Raymond’s death warrant. Inside the Raymond house, Ronnie is ready to tell his dad the truth about his secret identity, but Ed’s back to being a prick again and won’t let Ronnie say anything. Ed grounds Ronnie, who falls asleep on the couch and has a nightmare about Multiplex attacking him. He wakes up and almost takes his girlfriend Doreen’s head off. She says she came to see him since they haven’t had much time together lately and they end up making out on the floor.

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