Monday, March 2, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 2/25

Batman #39
Story: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art: Greg Capullo and Dustin Nguyen

As "Endgame" nears it's, well, endgame, it feels like the stakes for Batman and Gotham have never been higher. With the Joker plague spreading, and little time until it starts killing those it has driven mad, Batman must make alliances that he would not dream of on any but his darkest day. Scott Snyder has done an excellent job of making the Joker the most terrifying he has been in years. The scene where Batman confronts the Court of Owls continues to develop the Court as a threat, and one that has no compunction about letting the city burn to rebuild it in their own image once more. It's also interesting to see that they view themselves as beneath the city, that Gotham will always be there. Also, credit to Greg Capullo for his design of the Talon, Uriah; it's a sort of Scarecrow/Talon hybrid, with the scythe as a weapon, and it might be my favorite design for any Talon we've seen. The Joker's invasion of the Batcave would have been creepy with no one else there; The Joker seems to be invading homes in this arc, between Gordon's a couple issues ago and now the Batcave in this one. It's a violation, and shows that boundaries don't exist for the Joker. His bloody confrontation with Alfred made my heart catch. I knew Snyder had talked about doing something similar in his last Joker story, "Death of the Family," but seeing Alfred brought low was stunning (in the literal sense; I was stunned). Snyder has spent so much time with Bruce and Alfred's relationship in his run that seeing Joker brutally attack Alfred again, and to cut off his hand, was a painful reminder that Joker just wants blood this time. It was nice to see Batman gather his allies again at the end of the issue. There's been very little of the Batman family as a family in the New 52, aside from in Batman:Eternal, but it feels like a natural place to gather them. I also like the idea that Batman is willing to gather his other arch-foes, and that they're willing to work with him. In places like Forever Evil and Arkham Manor it's been clear that the other Arkham inmates fear the Joker, and I am completely behind the idea that they would sooner work with batman than let Joker tear down the city. I'm also happy that Snyder has kept the question of whether Joker is really immortal and his exact origins nebulous; as I wrote last week, I think that's important for the character. And that part of Joker's nature was really drawn into stark focus in the final part of the back-up story, as we get one final version of Joker's origin, but from a more unexpected source. Joker's confrontation with Mahreen Zaheer is another telling moment, showing something about how he views himself, and the sadistic twists his mind takes. I'm going to want to reread all this when it's over as it is, but knowing where the back-ups are going, it adds a layer that makes them more important to the whole narrative about the Joker's identity. And I have to give major applause to Dustin Nguyen, who is best known now for Li'l Gotham, but wow does he draw a creepy regular Joker! One chapter to go, and the culmination of one of the best Joker stories I've ever read is going to be the book I'm looking forward to most this month, hands down.

Black Hood #1
Story: Duane Swierczynski
Art: Michael Gaydos

In all the hoopla about this being the first Archie comic drop an f-bomb, a lot of the press surrounding Black Hood #1 has been about that seeming stunt and less about the quality of the comic. And I don't think it was a stunt, I think it was organic to what was a very solid debut of the new Dark Circle line. Greg Hettinger is a Philadelphia cop who gets in the middle of a fight outside an elementary school, and is shot in the face. He gets off a shot and kills one of the perpetrators, who happens to be the vigilante known as the Black Hood. Now called a hero, Hettinger has speech therapy ahead of him to repair his ability to speak, but nothing will heal the damage to his face, or to his psyche from killing a man. Addicted to pain pills, Hettinger is on a spiral downward, stealing drugs to feed his habit until he runs out of his house wearing the Black Hood. This first issue is a lot of set-up, with the only major action being the shooting at the beginning of the issue, but it does a great job of setting up character. After one issue, readers know Hettinger, understand his struggle, and sympathize some. We don't get to really spend much time with other characters, except for speech therapist Jessie Dupree. I'm not sure if she's destined to be a confidant or love interest, but she is hopeful and brings a ray of sunlight to the dark world of this comic. Duane Swierczynski is a crime writer, and that grit works well with this story. Michael Gaydos is an artist who really fits the book as well. This isn't a book you would have expected out of the old Archie, but with it's more experimental bent now, I can absolutely see them publishing what is an honest to God superhero noir. And on a personal note, as someone who now lives right on the doorstep of Philadelphia, it's cool to see a comic set in that grand city. It is a different city than New York, has a different feel to it, and especially after reading the writer's comments at the back of the issue about his feelings about Philly, I think it will help with the atmosphere of this comic. I'm a fan of the Red Circle heroes, and I was a little worried about a mature look at them, but this was a good start, and if the rest of these series are as good as Black Hood, and it continues on this path, I'm on board.

Criminal: Special Edition
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips

There are lots of writer/artist teams in comics who have worked together for years. I think the biggest one in comics right now is Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, who started out together with the Elseworlds Batman: Gotham Noir, and went on to do Sleeper, Crminal, Incognito, Fatale, and now The Fade Out. But this issue is a return to one of those other series, with this oversized one shot returning to the story of Teeg Lawless, one of the important characters from Criminal. And while I am waiting desperately to see what happens next in The Fade Out, it's nice to see old friends again. Not that I'd actually want Teeg Lawless as a friend; dude is not someone you want to hang around with. Set in the 70s, the story finds Teeg halfway through a 30 day stretch in jail for failure to appear in traffic court. Of course Teeg has done way worse than that, and he's going to have to do worse, as an open contract for his head is out there in the prison population. And since he's pissed off his boss, crime lord Sebastian Hyde by getting locked up when he was supposed to be on a job, he has no protection on the inside. It's a brutal comic, but that's nothing new for the world of Criminal. Teeg has to take out more than his share of guys who want him dead. And he's not a sympathetic character. Teeg is a bad guy who does bad things. But you still find yourself rooting for him to make it out. I'm always impressed with how Phillips can adapt to any era with his art, be it the 40s in The Fade Out, modern times in much of Criminal, and the 70s here. The issue has a great feel, like a 70s prison movie. And speaking of style, the main story is spliced together with pages from a comic that Teeg is reading, one of those 70s fantasy/horror mags, like the Warren books and Heavy Metal. The story of Zangar the Savage brutally tracking down those who wronged him and left him for dead. It's even more bloody and brutal than Teeg's own story, and actually felt a lot like a low fantasy version of Richard Stark's first Parker novel, The Hunter. Phillips does a great job of drawing the fantasy world as well as the real one. This stand alone story is a great introduction to the world of Criminal, and the works of Brubaker and Phillips in general. If you've ever thought about trying out some real crime comics, or any of the works of these great creators, this is the issue to try.

Gotham Academy #5
Story: Brenden Fletcher & Becky Cloonan
Art: Karl Kerschl

Last issue wrapped up a bunch of the mysteries in Gotham Academy, and while this issue doesn't answer as many questions, it does further a ton of character and answer one very big question. After stumbling across Killer Croc hiding in the walls of the school, Olive Silverlock, our intrepid heroine, decides she must find him again after he ran off, and the only place to do that is the forbidden and crumbling North Hall. And the best distraction, to assure all the teachers and other students won't see them, as well as making sure they can obtain the items they need from the headmasters office, is the big school dance! So Olive, her best friend Maps,  Pomeline the ghost hunter, and Colton the artful dodger of Gotham Academy, get together and plan their Ocean's 11 style heist of Colton's tools from the office. It's also amusing to note how disappointed Pomeline is that it's not a ghost and JUST an escaped Arkham inmate in the walls. Only in Gotham is escaped crocodile like mental patient something that is qualified with the word just. After pulling off the heist, and once again demonstrating that Maps is the coolest character in the book, and as they make their way over to North Hall, we finally get an answer to exactly what is going on  with the mysterious Tristan.I really try hard not to spoil anything in reviews, sometimes I think to the detriment of the review, but I do want to talk a bit about the big reveal. After everything that was done with the Man-Bat virus is Detective Comics, it's nice to see someone picking up that thread. The story of how he met Olive is another clue in the unfolding mystery of her summer, but with the appearance of another bat themed character at issue's end, I think we're going to get that soon. And I would be remiss in not calling out this month's cameo: We've had Aunt Harriet, Bookworm, and Grey Ghost in previous issues. This month, when Colton needed someone to distract Kyle, Maps's brother and Olive's still maybe/kinda ex, he got his buddy Warren to do it. Later, said buddy is addressed by his last name, McGinnis. Yes, Warren McGinnis, father of Batman Beyond Terry McGinnis, is a student at Gotham Academy. This books is just so much fun, full of so many great characters, and such a love letter to Batman's history, it's hard to believe everyone isn't reading it.

Joe Frankenstein #1
Story: Chuck Dixon & Graham Nolan
Art: Graham Nolan

Now, there are comics that are deep and profound. And there are comics that are grim and gritty. And then there are comics that are just plain fun. The new book from Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan, a team best known for their long run on Detective Comics, is one of those latter books. Joe Frankenstein feels like a book inspired by a classic monster movie. When pizza boy Joe Pratt is nearly killed by hot vampire babes, he is rescued by... the Frankenstein Monster, who tells Joe he is the descendant of  his creator. Joe is a lovable loser in the Peter Parker mold, who loses his job because of the monster attack, whose girlfriend is peeved because he has no money, and lives with a well meaning foster family with a lot of other kids around. He's a comic book hero of the old order, down to the dead parents, and I have a feeling their death was more than just a plane crash. There's a whole mystery of who the vampires are, a mysterious big bad, a sultry mistress of evil, and her dapper aide-de-camp, Saxton, and what they want from Joe. But what we get is an action packed comic of vampires and monsters. Frankenstein's Creation (as he prefers to be called) is more in line with the Shelley novel and the current DCU version, an erudite and long lived creature, in this case one who seems to have accumulated great wealth in it's existence. It looks like Joe and the Creation have a lot of foes to face and I think the world is weirder than he imagined. The team of Dixon and Nolan produced some of my favorite Batman comics ever, so to see them back together, and working on a comic that has a classic feel to it.

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