Monday, September 9, 2013

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 9/4

Batman: Black and White #1
Story: Various
Art: Various

The original Batman: Black and White mini-series from 1996 is one of the best mini-series I have ever read, featuring some of the greatest creators in comics telling short Batman stories, including a chilling Two-Face story by Bruce Timm and my first exposure to the works of a lesser known comics writer named Neil Gaiman.  And while the Black and White was used as the back ups feature in Batman: Gotham Knights for sometime, the return of it as a stand alone mini-series was something I looked forward to with both excitement and trepidation. This could be brilliant, or it could just remind me of how good the original was by how bad the new one is. And $4.99 as a price point? Ouch. Fortunately, I am pleased to say it was worth every penny. Five stories, each with a different flavor, a different take on the Dark Knight.

"Don't Know Where, Don't Know When" by Chip Kidd and Michael Cho- Chip Kidd has a fondness for Batman and classic architecture. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who knows about him, or who has read his graphic novel Batman: Death by Design. This story is as much a Robin story as a Batman story, where Robin, with the aid of Superman, hunts down a missing Batman. It's set in a nebulous yesterday, probably the 50s, but having the same timeless feel as Batman: The Animated Series. It's clever, and paints Robin as Batman's partner, not his golly-gee sidekick, a boy clever enought to find a solution even Superman couldn't. Michael Cho's art is in the Darwyn Cooke/Dave Bullock school, and well fits the tone of Kidd's story.

"Batman Zombie" by Neal Adams- After the long and convoluted Batman: Odyssey, I was worried to see Neal Adams back on a Batman story as writer and artist. While I still feel the story was over-scripted, Adams is making a social point, something he is known for, and doing it well, if a bit hamfistedly. A Batman who is only alive when facing costumed criminals, and completely unable (zombie-like) to face down real social issues, is a fair metaphor. The art felt a bit rushed, but in the end Bruce Wayne wakes up from his nightmare and sets out to do in the light what he can't do in the dark (and appears shirtless, an Adams trademark). The least of the stories in this issue, but still interesting.

"Justice is Served" by Maris Wicks and Joe Quinones- A very fun, very funny story that fits perfectly in the Batman: The Animated Series vibe that introduced our leads as a team: Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. When Ivy is accused of creating a plant additive that turns anyone who eats it into a morbidlt obese slob, Harley chases her down to get a cure for her babies, the hyenas, who have become victims. Ivy isn't behind it, and so the Demented Duo head out to find the perpetrator. It's a fun story, the DC Comics debut of writer Maris Wicks, who I now have to hunt down more work from. The art by Joe Quinones is gorgeous, and whets my appetite for the Black Canary/Zatanna graphic novel he is working on with Paul Dini.

"Driven" by John Arcudi and Sean Murphy- This story finds Alfred asking Batman what gave the Batmobile a dent in the front fender while Batman pulls out the engine to overhaul it. It's a story about how dedicated Batman is to being Batman, and how obsessed he can be, but told in a tongue in cheek manner that leads to a very amusing twist ending. Featuring another alum of Batman: The Animated Series, the rarely seen villain Roxy Rocket, it's a fun story, and Arcudi's story is handled ably by Sean Murphy's wild, kinetic style.

"Head Games" by Howard Mackie and Chris Samnee- This is very much a traditional Batman story, with Batman on the hunt for someone murdering mobsters while being reminded by Alfred of his duties as Bruce Wayne. This is a fun mystery that isn't hard to figure out the who, but the why is executed excellently. Howard Mackie, best known for his Marvel work, handles the relationship between Batman and Alfred wonderfully, and Chris Samnee, who makes his Batman debut here, does his usual excellent job.

If you aren't a fan of Batman's current direction, or if you just want a series that is light on continuity and heavy on quality, you can't do better than this one.

Forever Evil #1
Story: Geoff Johns
Art: David Finch

From continuity light to continuity heavy. Forever Evil is the beginning of DC Comics' first major crossover event since the inception of the New 52, and as a warning, there be SPOILERS AHEAD. Crossovers in comics for the past... probably five years, maybe longer, have been a dreary thing, full of darkness. And Forever Evil isn't changing that. Like Final Crisis, Age of Ultron, and Marvel's Dark Reign banner, this is a story of what happens when evil wins. The Crime Syndicate has come to the Earth of the DC heroes, and they claimed to have killed them. They have gathered the Crime Syndicate, and are now preparing to take over the world. So we've all seen this before. But it is a well crafted version of a story we've all read before, which is a point in its favor, and three particular aspects save this book and actually have me very interested. Firstly, is a moment among the Crime Syndicate where the Penguin comments that The Joker could be anywhere here wearing any face. I like this for a couple reasons: firstly, it's nice to see someone mention that Joker is still out there, but also this idea that Joker can now be anyone he wants adds a layer of extra horror to him (one I don't want to see play out for a long term; I want Joker with a face again sometime soon). Second is the unmasking of Nightwing. OK, yes, we've seen this happen before, within Brian Michael Bendis's Daredevil run, but I want to see how Dick handles it. Sue me for my Bat bias. The final thing, the thing that really has me interested, is the use of Lex Luthor. Luthor has been all over the place in personality and use in the New 52. I always liked how Johns handled Luthor during his run on Action Comics, and I like his Luthor here. This is a clever, cold, calculating Luthor, just how I like him. And the idea of Lex having to be the hero of the story, the one who will stand up against the Crime Syndicate, which is where I think/hope this is going, is a direction I'm curious to see Lex taken down. Well, that and the college age son of a Kord being mentioned. Am I the only one hoping this means that we'll be getting a Ted Kord Blue Beetle back out of this? I can't be.

The Star Wars #1
Story: J.W. Rinzler, from a screenplay by George Lucas
Art: Mike Mayhew

From light continuity, to heavy continuity, to new continuity. The Star Wars is an adaptation of George Lucas's first draft of what is now a multi-movie, multi-medium empire. And it's different. There's the charm of reading it and seeing who each character is an analogue for from the Original Trilogy, but that could only hold up for one or two issues. The question coming in to this issue was, is there enough plot, and different plot, to hold my interest. And I think there is. Luke Skywalker is a grizzled Jedi general, and Annikin Starkiller is the son of another great Jedi. This first issue is a lot of set-up, giving us a view of this new world that is sideways to the one that we're used to, and so it does suffer a bit from the disease of so many number ones, but we do get a view of who our protagonists and villains are, and hopefully with issue two we'll get more action. Mike Mayhew's art is beautiful, and his designs are reminiscent of Star Wars without being completely derivative. If you're a Star Wars fan, this is a can't miss, and if you're not, well, it's still a fun sci-fi comic that is worth chacking out.

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