ComicsAlliance's Chris Murphy reviews the biggest -- and best -- books coming out this week.

HOLY TRINITY, BATMAN -- Batman and Robin #3 / Detective Comics #856 / Batman the Widening Gyre #1

So you like Batman, do you? A wise choice. And this week you're going to be rewarded for that decision by the strange and mysterious forces that result in comics appearing at your local comic book stores (I think it's elves. The bake-you-cookies-and-fix-your-shoes kind, not the wield-a-bow-and-arrow and get-an-extra-point-of-dexterity kind). In a move that is both entirely welcome and a little head-scratching all at the same time, this week sees the release of Batman and Robin #3, featuring Dick Grayson as Batman, written by Grant Morrison with art by Frank Quitely; Detective Comics #856, featuring Kate Kane as Batwoman, written by Greg Rucka with art by J.H. Williams III; and Batman: The Widening Gyre #1 with Bruce Wayne as Batman, written by Kevin Smith with art by Walter Flanagan.

So now's a good time to put down that controller and back away from the Paul Dini-written "Batman: Arkham Asylum" game, which you probably picked up when it was released on Tuesday, and disappear into some comics.I enjoyed all three issues, and I'm not just saying this because I'm overly fond of Batman, although that certainly helped. If I had to pick a favorite I'd have to chose "Batman and Robin," but it only barely edges out "Detective" and the premiere issue of Smith's miniseries.

It certainly has the standout moment of any of them when the arc's current villain, Professor Pyg, has Robin tied to a chair and undertakes a roughly three page long monologue that gives you a peek into the inner workings of his mind. And let's just say that his stream of consciousness pretty quickly becomes a raging, out-of-control river complete with pointy rocks and cold, squirming things underneath the water brushing up against your leg that you don't want to know about. The Joker doesn't appear in the issue, but hypothetically if he were in the room standing next to Robin, hearing the speech and watching this all happen, I would expect his reaction would be to turn to the Boy Wonder and say "Oh wow, that guy is crazy."

As for "Detective" 856, most of the issue is a deep breath meant to calm the pace and action from the first two issues of Rucka and Williams' introduction-to-Batwoman arc. The art's still beautiful and the writing's still great, but it's not quite the pulse-pounding adrenaline rush the last two issues have been. That's certainly no complaint, as any good Bat-family character is driven as much by who they are when the mask is off, and here we get to see more of Kate Kane's normal life as well as getting a better sense of who her father is.

There's actually a much greater sense of "this is not going to end well at all" that comes from interacting with her stepmother or flirting with her ex-girlfriend's former co-worker than there is when she's disarming a Lewis Carroll-themed crime boss holding a gun to her head, so it's not hard to imagine why Kate resorts to the vigilante crimefighter lifestyle.

In the case of "Widening Gyre" #1 the book feels fresher than the others, simply because it's the introductory issue of the story. There's a clear sense of excitement at getting to work with the characters on display in Kevin Smith's writing. He begins with some homages to the 1960s TV series in a flashback sequence, then brings in cameos from Batman's many rogue galleries as the issue builds.

Some familiar conventions of Smith's work are on hand, with witty banter between Batman and Robin that stays true to the Dark Knight's grim, silent exterior by having most of his half of the exchange occur as inner monologue. And then there are, of course, the thinly veiled sexual double entendres that quickly give way to blatant sexual single entendres. These mostly revolve around Poison Ivy, whose full page introduction is probably one of the most orgasmic poses a standard DC Universe title is ever going to get away with. Except for the dialogue for Etrigan, Smith finds a way to fit his style into the characters and the setting, and ends with a cliffhanger that introduces his own character into the mix. This six issue mini-series will be worth keeping an eye on.

So there's the highlights of the Batman releases for this week. If you're a Batman fan, it's enough to make you feel like you've died and gone to heaven. Or at least feel like you convinced everyone you're dead, and are now smugly waiting in the wings somewhere until DC decides there's a creatively and financially opportune moment to re-emerge.


Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Dale Eaglesham start their run on Fantastic Four this week with an arc entitled "Solve Everything." That's the problem Reed Richards is obsessing over as the story opens, which is understandable given that over the past few years Reed's reaction to several things going quite badly in the Marvel universe has ranged from "stand, observe and frown" to "make things worse." He's a man out for redemption, and there's a lot of him to be seen in this issue. Once you read it, you will see just how much of an understatement that last sentence was. And no, I'm not even referring to the fact that Eaglesham's made the decision to draw Richards, iconically portrayed as a thin, professorial man of science, as a muscle-bound summer blockbuster hero who has grown a layer of action stubble to match.

Aside from that one curious decision, I thoroughly enjoyed the issue. It's certainly not uncommon to have a superhero troubled by the fact that even with their incredible abilities they're unable to help everyone who needs help, and so are constantly burdened with a feeling that despite everything they accomplish they're never doing enough. But Hickman's writing of Reed Richards explores this concept far better than previous attempts at that storyline. Hickman's able to tap deep into the man's doubts and fears and put them on display. And I'm not talking the big fears, the kind where you get preoccupied with the possibility that some day you'll face massive tragedies and great loss. I'm talking about the little worries we push below the surface every day in order to keep going: Am I doing enough? Am I really making a difference? Am I alone in doing this? Who is asking the same questions I am?

Hickman and Eaglesham begin a promising new arc by showing Richards' concern over matters like this, and the lengths he'll go to in order to answer them. And they've got a great character to do it with, because where most guys who come up with ideas like Richards' are inevitably heading toward ego-crushing hubris when the little flaw they overlook unravels their brilliant scheme, in Mr. Fantastic's case there's always the chance, no matter how audacious the plan, that it's going to end up working exactly the way he thinks it will. This one looks like it's going to walking a very thin line between those two possibilities and I can't wait for more.

. . . AND SO IS AMADEUS CHO The Incredible Hercules 133

In issue 132 "The Incredible Hercules" split its narrative, with ever
y other issue alternating between one story focusing on the book's eponymous hero and another following Amadeus Cho, his former brainy sidekick who carries around the title "seventh-smartest human in the world." Cho's origin story is finally going to get fully-fleshed out in this story arc, or so the series promises.

The writing team of Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente start off with a recap of how Cho came to be by himself in the middle of Utah searching for the sister he'd falsely assumed had been killed when his parents died. There's in-your-face use of Joseph Campbell's monomyth structure as a framing device to help bring new readers up to speed, which means that after the dose of Carl Sagan I got last week, comics have in quick succession called back to both the formative 1980s PBS documentary series of my youth. What it means to you, however, is that if you haven't been reading "Incredible Hercules" then this issue is a pretty good spot to jump in.

The series continues to be smart and fun. You'll find yourself learning all sorts of new things every issue. For example, you'll learn what a "Boltzmann Brain" is, and then shortly afterwards you'll learn that when a flying brain has a nervous system trailing down from the back of it then it officially crosses then line from "funny" to "creepy." You'll learn that when you leave a government investigative agency they seem to make you turn in everything but the shortest pair of shorts you own on the way out. And you'll learn that there are times when even math is powerless to help you. And to top it all off, you'll be treated to a great last page. It really deserves to be pointed out that every single comic I read this week had the obligatory twist cliffhanger ending, and that none of them were as funny or as intriguing as the final page of "The Incredible Hercules" 133.

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