Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 7/23

Batman #33
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo

"Zero Year" wraps up with a metaphorical bang, as Batman stops the Riddler from causing a literal one. There's been a lot written about this issue because of the ending, and the mission statement of sorts that Snyder establishes for the New 52 Batman. And I'll get to that. But I want to talk about the center of the issue, the final confrontation with the Riddler. Riddler stories are hard to write, various Bat writers have said, and I see why; they're very cerebral. It's really a battle of wits, and so it's hard to make visually interesting. But Batman having to walk a booby trapped path that only shuts down when riddles are answered is a great visual representation of the dynamic between these two characters. The final riddle, and Batman's answer versus the one that Riddler expected, is a clever moment, and one I don't want to spoil. It does prove that Batman is Riddler's intellectual equal, and the final part of Riddler's plan, and Batman overcoming how Riddler expected to defeat him, is very much Batman; he is someone who will do whatever it takes to fulfill his crusade. There are also great moments for each of Batman's principal supporting cast from this story, Alfred, Jim Gordon, and Lucius Fox. I was trying to decide if working the origins of so many aspects of Batman mythology (the Bat Signal, the giant penny from the Batcave, Arkham Asylum as the home for Gotham's villains) was too pat and twee, but I think it worked. None of those bits seemed out of place, and would have worked as origins to those pieces even if they weren't sly hints of things to come.

Now for that ending, where Bruce declares that he is going to be the lightning rod that draws the madness and violence in Gotham, and that this is what makes him happy. I like it. I like it a lot. This is a Batman who isn't a madman, who isn't split in two. This is one man, Bruce Wayne, who wears the costume of Batman do do the right thing, the thing that allows him to live a life as a relatively stable adult after the greatest tragedy a child can face. The pre-New 52 Batman was a man who was Batman, wearing a mask of Bruce Wayne. I think this new version is more balanced. Batman isn't a mask anymore than Bruce Wayne is. There's a difference in voice and posture, but they both have the same intentions. I think it's why Bruce is less of a goof in the New 52, and more of a crusader for Gotham, and why the Batman Inc. stuff works even better with this characterization; it would be expected for this Bruce Wayne to back Batman, to help make Gotham a better place. I don't think this characterization invalidates any of the old stories, it's a new layer, and it might give us a Batman who, while dark, has some of the light left in him.

Batman Beyond Universe #12
Story: Kyle Higgins and Christos Gage
Art: Dexter Soy and Thony Silas

The Batman Beyond titles (the original mini-series and ongoing series, Unlimited, and now Universe) have told all sorts of huge stories, stories like a giant serpent coming to eat Earth, a convention of Jokerz, and Brainiac invading. But this current arc, "Justice Lords Beyond," feels like the biggest, and has the biggest payoff. Partially, this is because it's the first crossover between the two halves of the book, Batman Beyond and Justice League Beyond; that gives the story a little extra heft, as it took up four full issues of the series. It's not like superhero on alternate universe dark superhero violence is anything new. But this story has a couple of emotional beats that make it work, and that really make this conclusion payoff. There are great action pieces as well, with first Superman and Wonder Woman battling Lord Superman, Batman returning from the Justice Lords timeline to turn the tide, and the coup de grace on Lord Superman delivered in a most unexpected way. But what really hits is how well Higgins and Gage know these characters. Seeing young Zod, the boy who thought he was the child of Phantom Zone criminals, but is instead the son of Lord Superman and our Wonder Woman, learn the truths of his origins, and how it affects him is brutal. And the strange interactions between Flash Beyond and Lord Flash Beyond, both thinking that the other is crazy, is a weird trip through the looking glass, especially when it's pointed out how similar they really are. But it's Terry McGinnis, Batman Beyond, who has the truly heart wrenching moment, as his alternate world doppelganger, who calls himself just T, and who never had the influence of Bruce Wayne to lead him away from a criminal life, leads Terry to the one person Terry didn't expect to meet: the alternate version of his father, whose death led him down the trail to become Batman. This moment of catharsis is beautifully played, not overdone and tearjerking, but sad and melancholy, yet filled with a certain amount of promise for Terry. It's a great end of an era for these future tales of the DCU, with next issue promising a fresh start as the book becomes Batman Beyond only for now. So that is going to be a great jumping on point, but if you love any of the DC Animated Universe series, you might want to track down the four issues of this story.

Good Night Darth Vader
Story & Art: Jeffrey Brown

This isn't a full review, as it's hard to really review a picture book, but I had to mention it because it's so much fun. I did a recommended reading on the Star Wars books of Jeffrey Brown not too long ago, and this is the newest book in the series. It's a Goodnight, Moon riff with characters from across a Galaxy Far, Far Away, as Darth Vader attempts to get his kids to sleep ("You don't know the power of sleep.") It's a charming combination of classic trilogy and prequel trilogy characters, with scenes at Dexter's Diner on Coruscant, the Emperor snuggling a stuffed animal, and Jango Fett having his own problems getting young Boba to bed. If you're a Star Wars fan of any age, or have a little one who is, this is a great book for before bed.

Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night #2
Story: Conor McCreery & Anthony Del Col
Art: Andy Belanger

The seven seas are full of pirates and action as the third Kill Shakespeare mini-series gets its sea legs firmly beneath it. Our remaining heroes are on the ship of the pirate Cesario and his first mate Viola (characters and names from Twelfth Night) as the ship is pursued by the dread ship Lavinia, part of the fleet of Titus Andronicus (of the eponymous play). The issue spends more time with Cesario and Viola than it does with the previous series' characters, establishing their relationship further. Last issue introduced us to them, but this issue really establishes the pain that Viola feels as she must stop Cesario from following his plan to join with the Prodigals, Juliet's forces, and she makes a fateful decision to save the crew from the cannibals aboard the Lavinia. I'm curious to see if we get some answers about the curious history between the two, as in the play Cesario and Viola are one and the same. The comic doesn't stick directly to the text of the plays, I feel like there's more going on here. While I was hoping to deal more with the growing rift between Hamlet and Juliet, there's plenty in this issue to like, as it is an issue full of pirate action, with the beginnings of ship-to-ship combat as well as some on-deck fighting. A particular scene, as Cesario's ship slowly attempts to slip past Lavinia through fog, is beautifully paced; Andy Belanger puts together a scene where you can feel the tension radiating from each character, the high of thinking that they have escaped, and the crushing feeling as the tides turn against them. The ending is a big cliffhanger, once again putting out heroes near the grasp of their foes. Ceasrio and Viola are great additions to the cast of Shakespeare's greats, and with members of the cast of Titus Andronicus making their first actual appearance next issue, the world of Kill Shakespeare continues to expand.

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