Monday, November 17, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 11/12

Batman #36
Story: Scott Snyder/ James Tynion IV
Art: Greg Capullo/ Graham Nolan

At this point, a run of three plus years is a huge run in comics. And Scott Snyder's run on Batman has now continued for over three years, and continues to be a book I love to read every month. And when an issue features The Joker, who is my favorite villain in all of comics, beginning to roll out a mad plan against Batman, my favorite hero in all of comics, it is an issue that is something to look at closely. Snyder's Joker is the Joker of the 21st century, not the criminal mastermind of his early career, but the madman/ anarchist who is completely unpredictable. More than unpredictable, this Joker doesn't do what he does for money. Even more than Grant Morrison's Joker, Snyder's Joker is defined by his relationship to Batman. And while in Snyder's last Joker story, "Death of the Family," Joker went after Batman's nearest and dearest, this time he starts out going after the Justice League. Last issue saw Batman fight most of the League, but the beginning of this issue is Batman versus a Joker Venom controlled Superman. We've seen Batman and Superman fight plenty of times; Dark Knight Returns, "Hush," Superman: The Animated Series, and the oft-forgotten but pretty cool Superman Annual that tied into "Armageddon 2001" to name a few. Snyder's fight is a perfectly good one, with lots of cool gadgets that help Batman prevail, but it's nothing new. It is a showcase for some amazing fight choreography and art from Greg Capullo, though, so that is more than worth the price of admission. It's after the fight that the issue takes off for me. First, seeing Bruce interact with Alfred, an Alfred still weakened from the events of Batman: Eternal and who was abused by Joker severely last time he was in Gotham. Alfred and Bruce's relationship has been the touchstone of mush of what Snyder has done in the book, and to see Alfred flat out tell Bruce to go out there and take out the Joker shows how high the stakes are. The appearance by Julia, Alfred's daughter, continues to deepen her character, a character who has grown on me as Eternal has played out. But it's the scene in the wreckage of Arkham Asylum, destroyed recently, that makes the issue hit its high notes. This will be spoilery, but if you have been to any of the comics news sites in the last week, it's probably been spoiled. The reveal of the Joker's alter ego, the long game Snyder has been playing for over a year, is wonderful. I didn't see it coming, at all, but it makes me want to reread Batman Annual #2 and see exactly what Eric Border was saying and doing. Snyder's Joker is creepy (again aided ably by Capullo, whose Joker with a face might be even creepier than his Joker without one), obsessive, and smart, all things that make a great Joker, and as we see the next stage of his plan begin, as we see that Joker's twisted love has turned to hate, it's clear that Batman has an uphill battle ahead of him. And it makes for a great story when Batman is at a disadvantage, because it highlights many of his best traits, mostly his brain that allows him to work his way out of these problems, something I'm looking forward to seeing. The back-up continues with a group of Arkham inmates dragging Dr. Mahreen Zaheer around Gotham, telling them stories of the Joker, who has clearly manipulated them all. With the revelation of Eric Border's true identity, there's a new layer as to why the inmates chose to stalk Zaheer, and it makes me wonder more and more what Joker's endgame is in having them stalk the friend Border made in Arkham. The artistic hits also keep coming, with Graham Nolan, who penciled so many of the my favorite 90s Batman stories, doing the art on this back up. Two issues in, and "Endgame" might prove to be the highlight of Snyder's stellar run. I'm looking forward to see what paths the Joker is leading Batman down.

Django/Zorro #1
Story: Quentin Tarantino & Matt Wagner
Art: Esteve Polls

There are many things in pop culture I love. Some of them include Westerns, Quentin Tarantino, and the comics of Matt Wagner (more on that later). So Django Unchained was a movie I looked forward to and loved, and the announcement that Tarantino would be working with Matt Wagner on an official sequel in comics got me excited. My familiarity with Zorro isn't as much as it should be with him being an inspiration for Batman, but I've seen the classic Mark of Zorro and some modern TV and movie versions, so I have a basic grounding. The good news is, if you know nothing about Zorro or Django, you won't feel in the least bit lost here. The story starts with an elderly Don Diego (the secret identity of Zorro) travelling by carriage and picking up Django, whose horse had died. This turns out to be Django using Don Diego as bait for a bounty, and the two wind up discussing justice and their lives, and Django feels a kinship with Diego, who reminds him of his mentor from the film, Dr. King Schultz. When they arrive in town, Don Diego proves that even in his twilight years he is still tough by taking out a group of ruffians. And as the issue ends we find out the foe the two heroes will face... The Archduke of Arizona? Ok, well Emperor Norton was in San Francisco, so Arizona can have an archduke. This is a really strong first issue, with good introductions to both of our protagonists, some solid action, and dialogue that could have come right out of a Tarantino movie; Wagner clearly gets the rhythms that fans expect out of Tarantino. The violence is probably not as graphic as you'd get on the big screen, but it's there, and there are no punches pulled. If you enjoyed Django Unchained this come feels firmly placed in the same world, so if you need a Tarantino fix before The Hateful Eight hits big screens, get to your local comic shop and check out Django/Zorro.

Grendel Vs. The Shadow #3
Story & Art: Matt Wagner

Hey, it's Matt Wagner again! The conclusion of the confrontation between Grendel and The Shadow  brings all the elements that Wagner has been building to a head. The character beats of the story deal very much with the series' title characters and the women in their life. Margo Lane, who has been struggling with her relationship with The Shadow and his distance from her, makes the choice to leave him early in the issue, but in the end The Shadow reaches out to her, something that he is not prone to do. It's a good counterpoint to Hunter Rose, who reaches out as well, breaking the vow he made to his lost love, Jocasta, by falling for mobster's daughter Sofia Valenti. In another world, I could completely see Sofia taking up the mantle of Grendel, as she is cold, calculating, and prone to betrayal. Hunter, in the end, views his dalliance with her as nothing more than him giving into nostalgia for the feelings he once had for Jocasta, not admitting he might have loved her, while The Shadow does his best to say those very words to Margo so he does not lose her. It's interesting, when so many female characters exist solely in relation to the male leads of a series, to see a story where we deal with how the male leads are reflected in their female counterparts, not entirely lampshading or inverting the trope, but showing how both Margo and Sofia would, could, and do exist without their men. Wagner, who always draws beautiful, almost balletic, fight sequences, pushes that skill to a new level, in a three way battle between Grendel, The Shadow, and a room full of mobsters. It's brutal and inspired. The series ends with vows. The Shadow wonders if Hunter was indeed a time traveler, but reaffirms his mission, because he still must do his best to make a better world. Hunter reaffirms his status as a man apart, saying he will share his affection only with his ward, Stacy, because she would never betray her. Those of us who know the full story of Hunter Rose know that is far from the truth, and what initially made me sort of chuckle in that same way I did when Obi-Wan Kenobi told Anakin Skywalker, "You'll be the death of me," upon further consideration gave a little chill, because it says that Hunter didn't learn anything from his time in the past, and what might have been the universe giving him a chance to save himself is instead just another adventure to him. With the series over, I'm left to wonder if this is Wagner's final word on Hunter Rose. He has said he has at least a Grendel Prime story in mind, but as with any creator owned project, this might be the last story of the first Grendel. If it is, it's a fitting sendoff, with Hunter having gone toe-to-toe with the character who inspired so many masked adventurers.

She-Hulk #10
Story: Charles Soule
Art: Javier Pulido

The penultimate arc of She-Hulk wraps with a courtroom battle between She-Hulk and Daredevil in the wrongful death suit against Steve Rogers, the original Captain America. There's a lot to love about this issue. The characterization of Steve Rogers as someone who wants  be vindicated legally because the idea of Captain America is important to him is a highlight. The absolute joy of Hellcat for using her stealth suit is a great bit. Javier Pulido's usually stunning art is at its best, with the flashbacks to the 40s having a gorgeous feel to them. But the highlight for me was that the story, which started out as a conflict in the courtroom, ended as that. Sure, we got a supervillain manipulating things from the background (and if you know your Cap villains, it makes perfect sense when the reveal happens). but the true climax of the story are two pages that are nothing but a white background with full figures of each of the lawyers giving their closing statement. Charles Soule, a lawyer himself, writes eloquently for both sides. Even as a reader knowing that Cap is innocent, the statement given by Daredevil against him gave me pause. And the argument from She-Hulk was equally well thought out. With this story complete, we have two issues of the series left to wrap up the mystery of The Blue File, and the end of the issue seems to indicate a brawl with She-Hulks arch-enemy is coming, which is going to be a change from the past few issues that were much more intellectual. But I wouldn't be surprised if Soule found some way to defy expectations on that front too. He's made She-Hulk into my favorite Marvel monthly, after all, and that wasn't something I saw coming.

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