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Monday, May 11, 2009

Suspended Animation For May 8th, 2009 - Robin II: The Joker is Wild

Robin II: The Joker’s Wild, #'s 1-4, published by DC Comics, 32 pages, prices vary.

Some of the best characterization ever done in comics has been in DC’s Robin, protégé of Batman. And, of the several youngsters who have occupied that role, it is my opinion that Tim Drake has shown the most character depth. One of the highlights of his development into the Caped Crusader’s erstwhile partner was a 1991 miniseries entitled Robin II: The Joker’s Wild. In said tale, the youth gets a baptism of fire, so to speak, when he matches wits with Batman’s greatest nemesis, “the Clown Prince of Crime”. One significant, yet important, detail kept this from being just another Joker yarn, and that was the fact that Batman was out of town, leaving the Boy Wonder to face an incredibly dangerous foe on his own.

Chuck Dixon is perhaps the most accomplished writer where Robin is concerned, and this is one of the high points of the character’s history, as well as Dixon’s career. The reader sees Tim tackle his own failures and shortcomings, not with self-indulgent whining and “introspection”, in the sometimes-overdone Marvel Comics manner, but by changing and adapting his strategy. In short, they see the character grow into much more than just a “kid sidekick”.

Dixon also infused Drake with a multi-layered personality, establishing his love for computers and role-playing games, and revealing that his friends were not part of the “in” crowd. Those kinds of additions deepen the character, considerably.

Artist Tom Lyle injects the story with all of the drama, action and emotion needed to complete this fun superhero romp. His clear lines and well-defined characters always enhance the story, his version of Robin remains one of my favorites to this day.

Robin II: The Joker’s Wild is recommended for any fan of well-done superhero fare, that is also infused with great character work. Find it at comics shops, and online retailers and auctions.

Review by Mark Allen

Suspended Animation For May 1st, 2009 - Hero: Powers and Abilities

H-E-R-O: Powers And Abilities, Published by DC Comics, 144 pages, $9.95.

There are right ways and wrong ways to make superhero comics appeal to adults. DC Comics did it right in 2003 with H-E-R-O.

The second revival of a Silver Age concept, H-E-R-O told the story of individuals who gained super powers through a mysterious device. However, instead of subscribing to high ideals, fighting the good fight and generally improving conditions and circumstances for themselves and others, dealing with the seeming windfall of great abilities brought disappointment, and even disaster. H-E-R-O: Powers and Abilities collects the first six issues of the short-lived, but superior, series.

Writer Will Pfeifer handled characterization in a masterful fashion, giving readers a full view of humanity that is as real as you can find in the capes-n-tights genre. These are not the cardboard cut-outs of so many superhero tales, but representations with human foibles and shortcomings that are sometimes difficult to look at, but captivating in their honesty. And, while certainly not putting forth a hopeless view of people in general, (as proven by the story of Jerry Feldon) Pfeifer’s characters remind us of how fallible we are, and how quickly our “best” ideas can give birth to consequences we never expected.

Helping to set the tone of the story is the art of Kano. Painting a somber atmosphere with a darker palette than that seen in most stories of super daring-do, Kano’s work is a perfect example of how an artist can give a “lift” to a story that is already well-conceived. What’s more, he is able to pull off nine-panel pages, splash pages, and everything in-between with a storytelling flair that escapes many artists today. After this offering, I will forever consider Pfeifer and Kano one of comics’ dream teams.

H-E-R-O: Powers And Abilities is highly recommended for those who enjoy thoughtful, in-depth characterization, with a side of superhero action. All but the youngest of readers should seek it out.

Review by Mark Allen