Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 12/11

Batman #26
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo

"Zero Year" continues in this issue, with Batman dealing with Doctor Death and the GCPD. The deeper into this new version of Batman's origin we get, the more I like it. While it does borrow bis from earlier stories, it's not a greatest hits version, trying to strip mine elements from all the different Batman origins. Scott Snyder  is creating a new story that still stays true to Batman's history, and that adds some new elements. The big change this issue is the revelation of exactly what Bruce's problem with Jim Gordon is. After the fakeout with Lucius Fox from the end of the previous issue, and knowing Gordon and Batman's relationship is what it is in the present, I'm sure Snyder has something up his sleeve, especially especially since John Layman's Detective Comics "Zero Year" crossover focused on Gordon's incorruptibility. It's interesting to add this wrinkle into Batman's past, giving him a reason to distrust Gordon instead of Gordon distrusting Batman as in Year One. Meanwhile, the Doctor Death storyline is a great little Batman versus a mad scientist story, and using Doctor Death, the first "name" villain in Batman's history, is a nice nod; I also have to say the new visual for him is creepy, and something not seen in Batman comics in the past. The flashbacks to Bruce's journey to become Batman and the sensory deprivation ritual takes touches of Grant Morrison's run and adds them in; frankly, Morrison's work is usually so quickly retconned out of continuity or ignored, it's nice to see an element hearkening to it. I hope we get some resolution with Death in the next issue, so we can move back to the Riddler, but Snyder is playing with a large canvas, and that scope is part of what makes "Zero Year" an interesting Batman story.

Batman: Li'l Gotham #9
Story & Art: Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs

Batman: Li'l Gotham is proving itself to be more than just a way to read stories that feel like they could have taken place in the pre-Flashpoint DCU; it feels like a spiritual successor of Batman: The Animated Series. This struck me this issue not only because it featured a cameo by Simon Trent, the Grey Ghost, a character from one of the best episodes of B:TAS, "Beware the Grey Ghost," but also because it took that element and worked it seamlessly into the world that creators Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs have created. That sort of synthesis is what made B:TAS great; it took the best elements of Batman and mixed them together to create something uniquely its own. The first story in this issue has Batman and Robin chasing Clayface into Gotham Comic Con. There's a lot of con and fandom humor, but none that is mean spirited towards the fans. Damian's plan to draw Clayface out at the end of the issue is a hilarious moment, and perfectly suited to Damian's personality. Nguyen gives Batman a speech at the end to Damian when Robin is upset about changes made to his favorite comic character that perfectly reflects the best attitude one can have about continuity, one I share. The second story, a Labor Day story for The Carpenter, contractor to the supervillain set, is a cameofest, with appearances by most of Batman's rogues, plus some others from around the DCU. Paul Dini created The Carpenter during his run on Detective Comics and Batman: Streets of Gotham, and being a Dini creation, she fits perfectly into a world that is heavily influenced by his animated series work. This title is starting to wind down, with only three issues left, and I am going to miss this breath of fresh air every month.

Lazarus #5
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark

The second arc of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's dystopian future series, Lazarus, kicks off with the fallout from the first arc still being felt. Forever Carlyle is still regretting the death of an innocent man, something a Lazarus, a family enforcer, probably shouldn't, and her evil brother (More evil? More overtly evil?) is on the run. When Forever arrives at a border with another family's property where he might have fled, she is confronted by a group of serfs serving the other family as guards. They immediately begin to be verbally abusive, and Rucka makes a quick and very matter of fact comment about rape culture and rape threats; he doesn't dwell on it, but makes his point and moves on. As the scene ends, Forever is shot from behind by one of the men, and instead of massacring them herself, she uses her words, wits, and the fear of her powerful family to get the others to execute the man themselves. This level of intellect is part of what makes Forever such and interesting character. There are new characters introduced, and we get the first look at what it's like to be a person in this world who has no connection to the ruling elite, and its not a pretty picture. The other scene in the issue that left a strong impact was seeing a very young Forever sparring with a teacher, and the callousness with which her "father," the head of the Carlyle family, treats her. The world of Lazarus is being built brilliantly, and each issue gets us closer to a turning point for Forever. There are plenty of dystopian stories out there, but Lazarus is top of the heap, with a grounding in reality and characters who are well rounded.

Richard Stark's Parker: Slayground
Story: Donald Westlake as Richard Stark; adapted by Darwyn Cooke
Art: Darwyn Cooke

I think I said about as much as I could about the excellence of Parker and these adaptations as I could in my recommended reading on Parker but a new volume is something to be looked forward to, and Slayground lives up to, and exceeds, it's predecessors. In an interview, I believe Cooke said that Slayground was one of his favorite of the Parker novels, if not his favorite, and from nearly the first page, I could see why. Not only does this put Parker in the place where he works best, behind the eightball with only limited resources, but it is a visually impressive story. Parker is trapped inside a closed amusement park with men hunting him, and so the set pieces that the story is set against work perfectly with a medium with a strong visual component. The mostly silent sequences where Parker slowly sets up traps for the mobsters and crooked cops that are going to come after him are some of the best Cooke has ever done, and it makes the payoff as Parker springs these traps all the more satisfying. It's a tour de force from both Westlake and Cooke, and it's probably my favorite graphic novel of the year. Also, this book contains the short story, "The Seventh," originally available only in the beautiful oversized hardcover collection Parker: The Martini Edition. You should still check out The Martini Edition for its gallery of extras, but its nice that if you don't have $75 to drop, you can get to read this gem too.

Sherlock Holmes: Moriarty Lives #1
Story: David Liss
Art:Daniel Indro

Dynamite Entertainment's newest Sherlock Holmes related series is one focusing on Holmes's archenemy, Professor James Moriarty. For a character who appeared in only one story, and who was mentioned in only one other, by his creator, Professor Moriarty has taken on a life of his own. He's appeared in countless movies, short stories, novels, and comics. I've read more than a few stories of Moriarty surviving his battle with Holmes on the Reichenbach Falls, but I was curious to see what writer David Liss would do with it. Liss impressed me with his Marvel work on Mystery Men and Black Panther, with a great noir sensibility, and while this isn't a noir, it is a well rounded portrait of Moriarty. Moriarty is brilliant, conceited, and the perfect match for Holmes. Told through his internal monologue, we see exactly to what degree of contempt and respect Moriarty holds his great nemesis; Holmes hangs over the action, despite not appearing. The story picks up directly as Moriarty pulls himself from the river after being swept away from Holmes, and he immediately sets out to return to power. He demonstrates his own skills of deduction, and his cruel calculating nature. But Moriarty seems to have a soft spot for a pretty face, and when he falls afoul of locals in protecting a pretty barmaid, Moriarty makes a pledge to protect her prized possession when she is felled by the local Baron, an alchemist. While the world of Sherlock Holmes is one of pure rationality, it is often mixed with the supernatural in pastiches, and so Moriarty versus an alchemist is not jarring. With the issue's end, Moriarty is on the run, and has a very different prize with him than he expected. The people pursuing the Professor should know that the prey with nothing left to lose is the most dangerous, and I have a feeling Moriarty will be far more than they can handle.

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