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Hot Ink — Batman and Robin #8, The Anchor #5, Hit-Monkey One-Shot

BATMAN & ROBIN (& BATWOMAN, & KNIGHT, & SQUIRE, & BATMAN AGAIN) – Batman and Robin 8

Much of Grant Morrison’s writing for the DC Universe over the past several years has involved callbacks to past events on a level that even the most devout of continuity fans would probably consider obscure references to details they never expected to see again. So it’s only fitting that the cliffhanger from the last issue of “Batman and Robin”, in which Dick Grayson attempted to use a Lazarus Pit to bring Bruce Wayne back to life, is resolved through reference to an obscure detail that I never expected to come up again. And this time it’s one that Morrison conceived of in the first place.

Now to begin with, I can happily report that this tactic has not caused the universe to collapse inward upon itself like some enormous snake devouring its own tail. And beyond that, I can report that I had a pretty good time reading “Batman and Robin 8.” The second issue in Morrison’s latest arc finds a way to keep what was good about the last issue, fix the parts I wasn’t as happy with, and leave me guessing as to what’s about to happen next.

I enjoyed issue 7, as it allowed Morrison to set a Batman adventure in London and then build up an interesting moral dilemma for Dick Grayson, pitting his desire to bring Bruce back against the risk of using questionable means to accomplish the feat. The one point I was not as thrilled about was the sudden appearance of Batwoman at the end and her role as a generic voice of reason. That’s quickly corrected here, as the issue opens with a flashback explaining how she arrived in the U.K. that involves a fight with a masked gang of chimney sweeps. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy every panel of said combat, I also felt validated when Morrison, a Scotsman and therefore knowledgeable in these matters, confirmed my deepest held stereotypes about the English. All right, that may be going too far. No one says “Pip pip, cheerio” or drinks tea, but the man’s only got twenty-two pages a month to work with.To top it all off I found myself growing more fond of the art of Cameron Stewart, who does a great job here. Particularly of note is his handling of an action scene involving multiple, nearly identically dressed Batmen. It would have been all too easy to let such a fight get too confusing, but Stewart manages to show the action in such a way that it’s never difficult to identify which character is which.

Nothing’s really wrapped up here, but there are so many interesting questions left for the following issue to resolve and Morrison’s so good at keeping me guessing about what will happen next that I’m pleased to watch as everything unfolds. This arc is shaping up to be my favorite of Morrison’s run on the title so far. He masterfully plays with the reader’s expectations, counting on the fact that we all know Bruce Wayne will be coming back but that we also can’t help but feel that something’s not quite right about how it’s being done here. Not to mention that in the span of only a page or two he further cements Damian Wayne’s characterization as an unrepentant jerk by having him still behave in exactly the same haughty, impatient manner even when confined to a wheelchair. Morrison gives every indication of knowing exactly what he’s doing and where he wants to go, and I can’t wait to see what happens on the way there.

YOUR TYPICAL GIRL MEETS THOUSAND YEAR-OLD BOY STORY – The Anchor 5

It’s Valentine’s Day this weekend, and so I would be remiss if I didn’t include a discussion of a comic overflowing with heart. And BOOM! Studios’ “The Anchor” has more heart than just about any comic on the shelves. Which is to say that in every issue so far, the hero rips the still-beating heart out of a monster from the depths of hell and eats it raw. I would guess that it probably tastes slightly better than one of Necco’s pastel conversation Sweethearts. And this week the eponymous main character, an immortal holy man with superhuman strength and a mission to fight demons, experiences an opening scene that would make anyone feel warm all over. He has he face melted off by lava. But, of course, it grows back in time for the rest of the issue to play out, which surprisingly enough turns out to be relevant to Valentine’s Day after all.

This is the fifth issue of “The Anchor”, written by Phil Hester with art by Brian Churilla, and I continue to have mixed feelings about the series. Churilla’s artwork is excellent. The character designs are all impressive, particularly the hulking figure of the Anchor himself, always shown to be covered in scars left by centuries of battle, but also worth noting are the twisted, grotesque monsters he fights every issue. The fight scenes are rendered in such a way that the force of ever blow struck by and upon the Anchor resonates with the reader. As a supernatural action series, the Anchor is a visual delight. If you want to see a big guy challenge even bigger monsters in a battle to the death every month, you should go give this one a look.

Outside the fights, though, I’ve yet to be as impressed by the characters themselves. The Anchor is a somber, quiet religious bruiser with a dark past. He recovers a small piece of his own lost memories with each monster he kills, and so far he knows enough to realize that he was not as good a man all those hundreds of years ago as he wishes he could have been. And then there’s Hofi Eriksdotter, the spunky Icelandic history doctoral student who has been following the Anchor around ever since they first met back in issue 1. These two have had “obligatory romantic involvement” written all over them since the beginning of the series, and it has felt so much like a forced afterthought to that it comes off as a little silly.

He’s an emotionless God-created weapon of mass destruction who is over a thousand years old and looks it, while she’s a twenty-something who seems to be the only one capable of empathizing with his pain for reasons that are never particularly clear. To say that this is a May-December romance is only not an understatement if that May and that December occur in years separated by a couple centuries. But in issue five the hints of an awkwardly forced romance step to the forefront.

A demonic creature that’s been following the Anchor and Hofi around, prophesying doom at ever opportunity, appears to Hofi in a dream, attacks her, and reminds her that he wants her to kiss the Anchor. This is a follow-up visit to the end of issue four, when he bled on her lips and turned them a shade of black generally reserved for things in nature that you do not want to eat if you plan on waking up alive tomorrow. She’s told this will bring the Anchor’s memory back.

Rather than worrying that this might be a trap of some sort, Hofi comes around to viewing this as a wonderful idea. Maybe she’s being manipulated into this, but there’s no strong indication of that. It all makes about as much sense as the rest of the implied romantic subplot going on in the series so far. And while I won’t say exactly how it all ends, I’ll simply express the hope that if any of you out there have plans for Valentine’s Day, may they go much, much better than what happens here.

Issue 5 left me with a more conflicted opinion than ever about “The Anchor”. The art continues to impress, and the glimpses of the past life of the hero and the schemes of the demons out to destroy him have me curious to learn more about his place in the world. But other elements of the plot aren’t working for me. The romantic
subplot feels like the creators expected that we all saw “Beauty and the Beast”, and so therefore we should take for granted that the small, happy bookish girl is going to end up with the gruff, strong, hairy big guy and as a result they don’t need to spend much time in the book itself giving us a reason to buy that these two have a thing for one another. And the military special ops program that’s now providing support for the Anchor seems too much like every other top secret military program in charge of super-powered or super-natural heroes, and as a result makes the series more generic rather than letting it establish its own unique identity. For now, the book’s stuck being fun only during the fight scenes, even though those scenes are quite a lot of fun by themselves.

MONKEY BUSINESS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS – Hit-Monkey One Shot

This week Marvel publishes its one shot “Hit-Monkey” origin story. Originally a digital comic exclusive, this book, written by Daniel Way with art by Dalibor Talijic and colors by Matt Hollingsworth, continues the trend of monkeys and apes being the latest hot subject material in comics. For a long time every other book included zombies. Then for a short period of time every other comic seemed to include Barack Obama, and series like “Army of Darkness: Ash Saves Obama” and “President Evil” even served to pass the torch from zombie comics to Obama comics.

But there’s been no similar transition to monkey comics, like, say, a hypothetical book where Barack Obama has to deal with a U.S. Congress that’s been turned into chimpanzees and spends all its time flinging poo at one another on the floor of the Senate. Possibly because such a comic would see productive, fast-moving and civil compared to a current average day in Congress. But no matter — the era of primate comics is fast upon us. And “Hit-Monkey” daringly steps forward into that age, and is perhaps most surprising for not embracing its seemingly slapstick premise as much as one might expect.

The cover for “Hit Monkey” depicts the title character leaping out toward the reader, wearing a small tailored suit and brandishing a pistol in each hand. You would think the idea of a sharply dressed monkey who is the world’s greatest assassin would be played more for laughs, but surprisingly that’s not the direction that Way decides to take the character. The one-shot presents a time-honored comic book origin story, complete with an idyllic past, the tragic loss of family and friends, and the appearance of a mysterious mentor.

When a skilled assassin is left for dead following a failed mission, he’s discovered by a group of monkeys and nursed back to health. But one of the monkeys doesn’t trust him, watching him carefully as the man trains his combat skills. When the assassin’s enemies come to finish him off, that one monkey is forced to use all the combat abilities he learned through observation to survive. It’s an interesting story, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t be against further appearances by the character.

But after I finished reading it I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that the only comedic element in the work is the inherent premise itself. The story is played as entirely serious. The assassin is a cold-hearted killer. The monkeys are either peaceful or angry. The deaths, when they happen, are tragic. And I just find it difficult to imagine that this is what most readers wanted when they were told “We’re going to give you a story about a monkey who wears a suit and tie and fires two guns at the same time”. I guess I was expecting more of a Deadpool-esque approach. I’d say instead that it reads more like a Wolverine book, but even Wolverine cracks a joke every once in a while.

In the end, I can’t come down on the positive side of “Hit-Monkey”. There’s a part of me that can’t help but be excited at the idea of a gun-wielding monkey who is a hired killer. And yet while what I found here isn’t necessarily bad, none of what happened in this book appealed to that portion of my brain that made me interested in reading the comic in the first place.

The Last Word

“The Unwritten” #10 was also released this week. I’ve gone on at length about how much I’ve liked this series and how it’s become even better in recent issues, and issue 10 didn’t disappoint. If you haven’t started reading this one yet, it’s still early enough in its run that catching up is no great difficulty and I highly recommend it.

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