Scouring out the weekly singles scene … in comics!

Some say Grant Morrison’s BATMAN AND ROBIN is the best Bat-book currently on the stands. Others point to Greg Rucka’s DETECTIVE COMICS. For my money (and it is the cheapest of the three), I’ll put my $2.50 on the one spun off from the pitch-perfect Cartoon Network animated series. Although the tone echoes the campiness of the Silver Age, this Batman displays gravitas – usually as the straight man amongst less emotionally capable superheroes, especially the egocentric blowhard Aquaman, immediately the most interesting take ever on the much-maligned character. BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #13 begins as Batman teams up with the Silver Age-tastic Angel and the Ape and, after a falling tree breaks his leg (really?), Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Aquaman and Captain Marvel each disguise themselves as Batman to patrol the streets of the neglected Gotham City. It’s silly to be sure, but it’s action-packed and refreshingly free of the tired über-darkness that’s infected the mainstream DC universe over the last decade. Also refreshing is its done-in-one structure: a complete story in 22 pages with no need to buy 17 other books at the same time to keep up with its cosmic ramifications. It’s a shame that this title is ghettoized by the DC Kids label, since this is the stuff that mainstream comics used to be back in the day, and should be appreciated by 40-year-old fanboys as much as (if not more than) the targeted 8-year-old future fanboy.

After an unfortunate detour into mediocre photo-referencing from a fill-in artist in the previous issue, the better-every-issue Deal Eaglesham is back in FANTASTIC FOUR #575, giving readers massive images like Mole Man descending on the outstretched tongue of a giant underworld creature, the corpse of a dead future Galactus, the gates of the underground abandoned city of the High Evolutionary, and the massive biceps of the newly butched-up Reed Richards. Six issues into their revitalizing run, Eaglesham and visionary writer Jonathan Hickman have shaken the conceptual cobwebs off the “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine,” and breathed new life into characters who’ve been adventuring for almost 50 years. If there’s one problem, it’s the feeling that three issues of story have been condensed into its 22 pages — ironic, considering the usual glacially-paced deconstruction of modern mainstream storytelling. Hickman’s got so many big ideas going that it feels a shame for Marvel not to give them more space for exploration.

And the award for the most smartass kids comic in history goes to Chris Giarrusso’s G-MAN: CAPE CRISIS #5, which has just finished its run. G-Man is a kid superhero who’s constantly arguing with his older brother, Great Man, usually concerning the abuse of G-Man’s magical flying cape, which Great Man had been cutting up and selling as flying armbands for top dollar in a roadside lemonade stand-esque neighborhood storefront. This concluding chapter contains hysterical parents, deer whistles, a flying broomship with attached sofa chair and milk crate, and countless dangers as the brothers travel to Sky Mountain (a mountain floating in the sky, naturally) to get their powers back. Chris G. displays masterful comic timing in dialogue, as well as character beats, and his art echoes the deceptive simplicity of the linework of Scott McCloud (who, unfortunately, hasn’t produced anything this entertaining in decades). More adventures are promised, and I’m hoping we won’t have to wait too long for the next one.

SAVAGE DRAGON is THE YOUNG & THE RESTLESS of the comics world, and that’s not an insult. Creator Erik Larsen has been a virtual one-man creative band for almost 20 years and is the only original Image creator who’s maintained absolute focus on the world that he’s built. Part of that focus is to keep the narrative moving and let readers decide if they want to jump on, regardless of whether they know exactly who the hell everyone is or what the hell is happening. With SAVAGE DRAGON #157, we’re halfway into the six-part “Dragon War” storyline, involving multiple Dragons (none of whom are exactly the character we know and love), bad guys turned “dragon-y” with infusions from Dragon’s blood, Dragon’s super-powered son and stepdaughter, and the public-domain superhero Daredevil, among others. It sounds confusing, and it is, but it’s also a ton of fun. As Larsen has honed his style over the years, he’s created something that defies easy categorization: elements of old-school, Kirby-esque storytelling combined with occasionally over-the-top, graphic violence and, yes, soap opera-style juggling of multiple characters and storylines. It works because his voice and brush are confident and unapologetic, and his work is never boring. —Brian Winkeler

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