Monday, October 5, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 9/30

Batman Annual #4
Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Roge Antonion & Daniel McCaig

Bruce Wayne has been a passenger in the book he's driven for most of seventy-five years since Jim Gordon took up the mantle of the Bat and Bruce got amnesia, but this annual returns Bruce to the spotlight. On the day Wayne Manor is being returned to the Wayne family, Bruce, his current lady love Julie Madison, Alfred, and CEO Geri Powers arrive a the manor to sign the papers that will officially make the house Bruce's again. But because this is Gotham, what should be a simple signature is anything but, as three of Batman's rogues crash the party to make a point. Hunted through the manor by Riddler, Mr. Freeze, and Clayface, Bruce has to save himself and the others without his Batman skills. I really like Bruce Wayne, this likable, earnest, good guy who doesn't remember anything about his old life, but is trying to make a go of his new one. And as this little Riddler headed trio hunts for Bruce, he and Alfred do their best to make it through and save the others. It's interesting to see Bruce questioning everything about the house and his life, and moments where he sees something similar to an armory or the tunnels under the manor that Alfred covers up quickly. It's wonderful to see how Alfred wants Bruce to make a go of this new life he's been given. In the end, though, it comes to down everyone in the house in an office, and Riddler giving a speech about the madness of Bruce Wayne, both what is in him and what he's caused. And the speech has it's points, even though they're only accurate from Riddler's skewed point of view, in the same way the closing argument from the excellent Batman: The Animated Series episode, "The Trial" is. The final moment of the confrontation, Bruce does seem to channel some of his Batman muscle memory, and it makes me wonder exactly how much might still be under this calm new fa├žade. The art from Roge Antonion, a newcomer to me, has hints of Rafael Albuquerque, with the same realistic bodies, but dynamic style and hints of horror in his Clayface. Annuals are often throwaway stories, but DC has been doing a good job of making them matter, and as a character piece to flesh out the new Bruce Wayne, this issue is top notch.

Grayson Annual #2
Story: Tom King & Tim Seeley
Art: Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, & Jeremy Cox

The other standout annual from DC this week was the second from Grayson, featuring the first meeting between superspy Dick Grayson and the recently outed and depowered Superman. Starting with a flashback to an early adventure of Batman, Robin, and Superman, the bulk of the story takes place right after he last issue of Grayson, with Dick saying goodbye to Gotham in the best way he knows how, jumping off a building to acrobat his way down, only to be grabbed by Superman, who thinks he's suicidal. What follows is what Grayson has proven time and again it does best: a fast paced adventure story, as the murder cult called The Fist of Cain come after Dick and Superman, along with Blockbuster, the Batman villain as their newest recruit, one who makes the flashback from the beginning of the story all the more key to the events unfolding. One of the things that really impressed me about this issue was how it did an excellent job of getting the readers up to speed on each character's status quo without making it feel forced; it was an infodump, sure, but when these are two old friends who haven't seen each other, it works. The dynamic between Superman and Dick Grayson has always been an interesting one, with Dick often acting towards Superman as if he were the fun uncle, but here, especially due to the vast weakening of Superman's powers, they are more on equal footing. The chase sequence, with them being pursued by the Fist of Cain and Blockbuster, is phenomenal, as he heroes try to get the cultists, who would revel in collateral damage, away from populated Gotham. They banter, they fight, it's charming, dashing, and fun, which is exactly when Grayson is at its best. But the Fist of Cain isn't a laughable threat, especially since they've weaponized Blockbuster's blood to make it a Venom knock off of sorts (and isn't that a freaky idea?), and so they have to ask from help from the one man who neither really wants to: Lex Luthor. Luthor's demeanor is the smug arrogance on has come to expect, and he's written perfectly, and with his help, the good guys win. Thematically, there's lot of talk of change, and the Kyptonian myth of Nightwing and Flamebird gets a new telling, one that makes Dick even more aligned with the mythical Kryptonian figure. All in all, if you've been curious to check out Dick Grayson's new spy adventures, or if you want to know more about Superman's status quo, this is an excellent place to start.

Sandman: Overture #6
Story: Neil Gaiman
Art: JH Williams III & Dave Stewart

"It begins..." Those are the last words of the main story in Sandman: Overture #6, and are words that are perfectly appropriate for a tale about the Endless, beings who never truly die but just begin again, and a story about the power of stories. Dream, on the ship with the beings gathered by his cat form and the ghost of the girl named Hope, must prepare to fix the problem he created by sparing the vortex that has become the mad star. It's cleverly done, tying in with one of the best Sandman single issues of all time, "A Dream of a Thousand Cats," making the appearance of the cat Dream throughout the series make all the more sense. I don't want to give too much away, because there are twists and turns throughout the issue that pay off events hat have happened earlier in the series, as well as some that make perfect sense in retrospect and make me want to go back and reread the series from the beginning, but the main story ends exactly where I expected it would. Gaiman has always been a writer who plays a long game, and little things are rarely little things. The Saeculum, the device that was a point of contention between Dream and his father, becomes an important aspect of the plot in this story, something I should have seen coming. Most members of the Endless appear in this issue, giving us Williams's visions of Delirium, Death, Desire, and Despair, all of which impressed, which shouldn't be shocking if you've ever seen his art. The pages with Delirium are particularly stunning, as his style morphs, becoming no less clean, but is now surreal. I usually have no problem telling how Williams two page spreads are meant to be read, but this one threw me for a second, simply because of how irregular and odd the borders are, which is perfectly befitting the subject of those pages. There are also two very clear hints at events that would come in the future of Sandman, evens that are important, and these nods to the future could have come off as twee or winking, but instead are natural fits to the way Gaiman tells stories. It's been two years since the first issue of Sandman: Overure was released, and a lo can change in two years. The quality and beauty of the words and pictures in this comic, though, have not, presenting a story that is a feast for the eyes and mind. If you've been waiting for the collection, I cannot recommend this highly enough, whether you're a fan of Sandman from old times, or have never tried it before.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #12
Story: Sholly Fisch
Art: Dario Bizuela & Franco Riesco

I've enjoyed the various issues of Scooby-Doo Team-Up that have paired Scooby and the gang with DC Universe characters, but this particular team-up, with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, along with appearances by a couple other of Gotham's lady defenders or villains, has to be a favorite. Mystery Inc. arrives in Gotham, assuming they have been called for help by an anonymous source who can only be Batman. Only it's not Batman, it's Harley and Ivy, who are having ghost problems. Having stolen the cursed Opal of Osiris, their luck has gone sour, and they need the best ghost hunters in the biz to find out what's happening. The issue plays it completely straight with the Scooby-Doo tropes: there's a fake ghost, an unmasking, a chase. But who is behind the ghost mask each time is great fun. Sholly Fisch has done a great job merging the DC Animated Universe with Scooby-Doo's, and I was excited to see the designs for Harley and Ivy, as well as the two other gust stars who don't appear on the cover, were the classic Batman: The Animated Series designs. I have nothing against the New Batman Adventures designs, or any other, but those designs are so iconic and so perfect for animation, that they work seamlessly with this comic. I know this is technically a two week old comic for those keeping track, but my store sold out in a couple hours and I had to wait for this week's reorder. It has sold out through Diamond now, but a second printing is on the way. I have to say, the only thing that would be better would be Scooby and the rest meeting real DCU ghosts. Oh, the next issue features The Phantom Stranger, The Spectre, and Deadman? Sign me up!

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