Morrison writes a really entertaining Batman. He's super-capable without letting it go to his head. His inner monologue this issue, about how he spends all his time thinking of impossible scenarios and how to get out of them, captures the very heart of the character -- not just hitting the "Batman is a jerk" days of the '90s, but the Bat-Shark-Repellent camp era, the wacky '50s, and even back to 1939. In the seminal two-issue "Batman Vs. Werewolves and Vampires" storyline, adapted most recently by Matt Wagner in Batman and the Mad Monk, Batman's got the tools ready to make silver bullets. Silver bullets! "Always has a plan," indeed.
Anyway, Batman #674 tells the chilling story of the three alternate Batmen, and it too is an homage to "The Secret Star," a story from almost 600 issues prior (1953's issue #77). Everybody's trying to figure out what makes Batman tick, and Morrison evidently sees turning over all the old, forgotten stories as one of the best ways to do this. It's a well-executed high concept, and heck, it makes sense to me. Of course, I've got my trusty Batman Encyclopedia handy....
What else--? Daniel and Florea turn in a pretty good job. There are so many Batmen flying around that it can get a little confusing (look to the utility belts, for example), and their work is solid but not exceptional. They remind me of a cross between Dick Giordano and Andy Kubert. Also, for all the praise I've laid on Morrison's Batman, I have to point out that his Commissioner Gordon, and in fact the other Gotham cops, don't sound quite right. The cops sound very "Morrisonian," if that makes sense; and Morrison hasn't given Morrison the gruff edge we've grown accustomed to.
Next up is Rasl #1, by Jeff Smith. It's the story of a youngish (indeterminate-20s, probably) thief who can travel to alternate universes and who leaves the word "RASL" spray-painted as his calling card. This introductory issue has two tracks, the first with our anti-hero in disarray, wandering through a desert, and the second with him fleeing from his antagonists who've finally figured out how to track him. It's a lot of style and attitude, and it may read better collected, but it's designed to plant enough hooks to keep periodical readers coming back. Worked for me.
All-Star Batman & Robin #9 (written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams) is a strange, almost disjointed issue that spends its first half taunting Green Lantern like he's Elmer Fudd, and its second getting the Dynamic Duo to collapse in the pathos of their collective grief. It's certainly the most idiosyncratic take on Batman and Robin I've seen in a while, it makes them a formidable pair, and I'd like it a little better if it weren't done at the expense of just about everyone else in the book. That said, I thought the book did a credible job of switching moods, and the new one is certainly different enough to hold my interest.
The "Terror Titans" storyline begins in earnest in Teen Titans #56 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti and Julio Ferreira), and so far I'm getting a "Judas Contract" vibe off of it. This issue finds Kid Devil generally screwing up, and thus leaving himself open to being co-opted. I kinda figured out the plot shortly after KD's party got underway, but I thought the ending left some options open for him, character-wise, so overall I liked the issue. It fostered the right sense of dread that these kinds of storylines need. The art was, quite frankly, better than I have seen from Barrows, but some of that probably came from Palmiotti's inks and Rod Reis's colors.
It's not that I don't like the Legion arc in Action Comics (#862 written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal), but it does feel like it's gone on about an issue too long. This issue particularly seems concerned with spotlighting more Legionnaires, which is nice, but I'd also liked to have seen more movement towards re-yellowing Earth's Sun and restoring Superman's powers.
There's a neat visual gag in the middle of JLA Classified #53 (written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Mark Farmer), but it requires advanced geek knowledge (or does that go without saying?). See, this story apparently takes place in the days when Black Canary, and not Wonder Woman, was the League's pre-eminent female member. Furthermore, back then BC wore a blonde wig over her black hair. Therefore, when foe du jour Titus decides he's had enough of thoroughly pwning the League, and offers instead to make them part of his "pantheon," he dresses Black Canary in a very WW-inspired costume, and gets rid of her wig, so that she looks a lot like Wonder Woman. That's the most clever thing about the issue, which otherwise finds the League utterly bumfuzzled about how to stop this guy. As with the Action arc, next issue's the big finish, so I'm hoping it will elevate the story as a whole.
Speaking of endings, Crime Bible #5 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Manuel Garcia, inked by Garcia and Jimmy Palmiotti) finds the Question fighting the leader of the Cain sect for what he claims is leadership of said sect. Thus, the issue is an extended fight scene, which comes off fairly well -- Garcia and Palmiotti are fine storytellers, and the action isn't hard to follow. The problem is the ending, which leaves (you'll forgive me) a big question hanging. Ironically, part of the Question's dialogue during the fight references the end of Renee's previous series, Gotham Central, which went out on an ambiguous note so that it could lead into her transformation into the Question. Now Crime Bible seems to be doing the same thing. We kinda know how it should end, but it'd be nice if our suspicions were confirmed.
Lots of death and exploding in Countdown #9 (written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher). Derenick and Faucher portray this pretty well, albeit in a sort of DC-house-standard way. For an issue that concerns a bunch of superheroes trying to reunite with colleagues and get the heck off Apokolips, it's about as good as you'd think. A couple of old friends return, the cliffhangers are good, and who knew the Pied Piper had it in him?
Finally, Captain America #35 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Jackson Guice, inked by Guice and Mike Perkins) wasn't quite as good as last issue. The new Cap fights rioters, and especially those causing them to riot, in Washington, D.C. Given the character's symbolic nature, I was expecting the riot to contain an inspirational moment -- a "Look! Up in the sky!" moment, if you will -- but I guess that would have been something of a cheat, and not quite within Brubaker's downbeat tone. Perkins' inks do a lot to connect this issue visually to regular penciller Steve Epting's work, but Guice's storytelling is just as good. There's also a fair amount of plot, and Brubaker uses a good bit of the book's large cast. It's a middle-act issue which has me excited for the conclusion.