Report Card | 'King's Watch,' the Riddler and more

King's Watch #1

Written by Jeff ParkerDrawn by Marc LamingColored by Jordan BoydLettered by Simon BowlandPublished by Dynamite Entertainment

If the '80s Defenders of the Earth cartoon (and the Marvel comic it inspired) taught us anything, it's that it takes more than just slapping Flash Gordon, The Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician together to make a good story. Jeff Parker and Marc Laming know this and play to each character's strength while also creating important stakes and teasing the series' big threat(s). The Phantom is the swashbuckling jungle adventurer he should be and gets to fight a giant reptile. Meanwhile Flash Gordon is funny, charming, and generally awesome as he and Dr. Zarkov build and pilot a ship to investigate a strange, potentially world-threatening phenomenon in space. Speaking of investigations, Dale Arden is the character Lois Lane fans wish their hero was right now. And finally, Mandrake mostly gets to be mysterious, which is also perfect. I can't explain how this all happens so satisfyingly in just 22 pages, but it does. I want more right this second not because the issue lacks anything, but simply because I'm greedy. --Michael May

Batman #23.2

Story by Scott Snyder and Ray FawkesWritten by Ray FawkesDrawn by Jeremy HaunColored by John RauschLettered by Taylor EspositoPublished by DC Comics

Despite being one of Batman's more well-known foes, The Riddler has long been seen as a fairly non-threatening villain. He's not physically imposing, and his clue-leaving compulsion inevitably gets him thrown back in Arkham. However, for his Villains' Month spotlight, writers Scott Snyder and Ray Fawkes just might have given him a makeover that'll stick. They've made him the kind of super-strategist that's fast becoming a movie trope. Think Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) in Skyfall or the Joker (Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight -- the guy who knows just where to plant the bomb to cause the most damage, and who doesn't mind getting captured because that's part of the plan too. It's a great angle because the Riddler is ideally suited to being that type of guy. He's already got the right kind of background, and besides, a Riddler story already demands a little extra research. The scary thing about Batman #23.2 is that pretty soon, you realize there's no Batman coming to capture the Riddler this time.

Snyder and Fawkes establish the Riddler's credibility on the first page, flashing back to his initial Arkham incarceration to show a) he's playing Solitaire with cards made out of his bedsheets and b) this is apparently worrisome enough that he loses bedsheet privileges. The rest of the issue describes his assault on Wayne Enterprises' headquarters, apparently for no reason but to attract Batman's attention (and, as a corollary, because he can).

Haun and Rausch combine for a book that looks washed-out, with the sick green of the Riddler's suit popping out of the soft lines and dingy color palette. Burnt orange skies (and, later, explosions) contrast with gray interiors as the Riddler works his way up the Wayne Enterprises tower. Haun is economical with his storytelling, leaving a lot of panel-to-panel progression up to the reader, but not skimping on action where it's needed. His scruffy-looking Riddler has the flyaway hair and unruly sideburns of a social outcast who still feels a certain hipster vibe, and the design is a nice contrast with the regular Wayne Enterprises employees the villain encounters.

Of course, the Riddler -- in embryonic form -- is one of the main villains of "Zero Year," the twelve-issue flashback currently running in the regular Batman book, and this issue purports to be "continued" in issue #25 of that title. My one complaint about this issue is that I doubt it loops back around quite that cleanly into the main Bat-book, because dangerous as he might have been, I suspect this version has grown significantly from "Zero Year" into his present state of hypercompetence. Indeed, I'd love to see what Snyder and company do with present-day versions of the Riddler and Batman, because apparently they've decided to make him just as hypercompetent as the Darknight Detective. However, that's unlikely to happen anytime soon, given the divergent natures of both "Zero Year" and Forever Evil. Accordingly, it's a good thing this issue stands largely alone, even if it does only tease what would have been an epic battle of wits. --Tom Bondurant

Brain Boy #1

Written by Fred Van Lente Pencilled by R. B. Silva Inked by Rob Lean Colored by Ego Lettered by Nate Piekos of BlambotPublished by Dark Horse Comics

Every once and awhile, I am attracted to a series partially by who is editing it. Such is the case with the modern updating of the 1960s property Brain Boy, which is edited by Jim Gibbons. Gibbons knows how to match the right talent with the right characters.

Gibbons has paired veteran writer Van Lente with artist Silva to bring Brain Boy into the 2013 espionage landscape--and it works. Van Lente's wit gives a pop to the dialogue that engages the reader instantly and Silva's layout and character designs are sheer eye candy. A story with a hero reading minds had me hooked from the opening pages. --Tim O'Shea

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