Monday, February 15, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 2/10

Batman #49
Story: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Art: Yanick Paquette & Nathan Fairbairn

Damn, I promised myself I wouldn't cry...  So, the one true Batman is back, and my heart is as broken as I expected it to be by the choices Bruce Wayne had to make, and even moreso by the choices the people who love him had to make. Snyder uses the mind download device from his short in Detective Comics #27 as the way that Bruce can reclaim his past, which makes a fun Elseworlds-type story into a very cool bit of foreshadowing. And as the attempts to download the old memories into the new Bruce's mind fail, we see visions of possible Batmen in Bruce's mind die with each failed download. These different realities all show different, unusual Batmen, some with hints of classic other versions of Batman, some completely new, and it's a credit to both Snyder and Tynion for the ideas, and artist Yanick Paquette for their execution; the centerpiece visions of Batman as Gotham's white knight is gorgeous, but a post-apocalyptic desert Batman with a similarly garbed Robin is the one that grabbed my attention the most. But as cool as the science fiction of the issue is, and all the alternate Batmen are, the thing that grounds the issue and that makes it one of the best Batman stories of Snyder's run on Batman is the interaction between Bruce and Alfred. This Bruce, the one without the trauma, is possibly an even grater hero than his old self, because he willingly makes the sacrifice of everything that makes him happy to save Gotham. And this isn't a "For the Man Who Has Everything" situation, where he's rejecting a fantasy. No, he's rejecting a better life and a better self. And Alfred, loyal Alfred, is pleading with him to not do it. Everything Alfred says, whether before he is forced to use the machine that might return Bruce's memories or might just kill him or after, are the words of someone who loves this man he is talking to like his son. And between those words and the absolute, heart-rending pain that Paquette draws on his face, you can't help but feeling your heart break too. And when Julie Madison enters the Batcave and... I don't want to spoil exactly what she has to do, but her backstory with Bruce has been really well seeded throughout the series, and her choice is just as heroic as Bruce's. The original Golden Age Julie Madison was never that memorable compared to other Batman love interests, and while Matt Wagner did some great stuff with her in Batman & The Mad Monk and Batman and the Monster Men, it's these stories that have earned her a place in my heart alongside Selina Kyle and Talia as one of the great loves of Batman and a great character in her own right. The final panel of the issue shows a Bruce Wayne, shorn of the beard he has worn in his recent life by the heat and lightning of the machine that has given birth to Batman once more, wearing a look that is pure Batman, and with two lines, "Save it for the car. Let's go to work," you know he's back, and that the evil Mr. Bloom's day in Gotham are numbered.

Harrow County #9
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Carla Speed McNeil & Jenn Manley Lee

After taking a couple months off, Dark Horse Comics' southern Gothic, Harrow County, returns with an issue focusing on one the series' principal supporting characters: the Skinless Boy, one of the "haints" that serves Emmy, the series protagonist. The issue takes place over one night, and starts out with a mysterious new character jumping from a train and entering Harrow County, catching a sparrow from the air and fashioning it into a flute, and with the music of the flute he summons the Skinless Boy. This new character is clearly a witch (wizard? sorcerer? monster?) in his own right, as he spends the night leading the Skinless Boy through a journey of discovery. What makes this story chilling is the way this new character gets into the head of the Skinless Boy, the way he taunts him about what his life was like before he became what he is, and how he leads him along this path, through the woods, to the brier patch where Emmy found his empty skin, which he carries with him, and to the house where there are answers to the question of who he was and what his name was. And when he enters the house, what he finds shows readers a new secret of Harrow County, a secret about how Hester, the witch who is both Emmy's mother and possibly Emmy herself, created all the creatures that she populated her little corner of the world with. And even as the man offers the Skinless Boy a chance to maybe reclaim something, a name and a life, we see that what appears to be a monster may be much less one. The Skinless Boy remains loyal to Emmy, but this new man, who addresses himself as, "The Boogeyman's Boogeyman," is out there, and it's clear he knows more about Emmy and Harrow County than maybe she does. This issue is a great jumping on point for this series, because even if it doesn't feature the series lead in a leading role, it gives the reader a sense of the atmosphere that Harrow County provides, and that atmosphere, of dark dread, is part of what makes this comic outstanding. Guest artist Carla Speed McNeil does a great job blending her own style with that or series regular artist Tyler Crook to make the issue feel like a seamless part of the same world that readers are familiar with. If the weather outside isn't chilly enough for you, pick up this new issue of Harrow County to get a good chill up your spine.

King's Road #1
Story: Peter Hogan
Art: Phil Winslade and Staz Johnson & Douglas Sirios

It's a testament to how much I enjoyed the King's Road serial in Dark Horse Presents that ran from April through June of 2013 that I remembered it clearly when this mini-series was solicited and was excited to see where the story went. And for those of you not reading Dark Horse Presents, this first issue reprints the three part prequel, so you're getting twice as much story for the price of one comic! King's Road is the story of Don, a man who left his home world, a fantasy type one, and through magic traveled to Earth, where he set up a normal life. But now, his brother the king is dead, and his sister the general has been transformed into a dog, and so he's now king. So Don and his wife Sophie, along with his kids, Ashley and Tyler, have to go back to his homeworld and stop the evil sorceress Malicia. Only the kids have no idea that their dad is from a fantasy world; they think he's just a boring regular dad. This first issue spends time with each member of the family, as well as Aunt Amerine, who is now a talking dog, so it feels like an ensemble book. There are monsters, sorcerers, a creepy amusement park, guardians disguised as friends, and a traitor in their midst. The charm of this issue is that it takes so many fantasy tropes and plays them straight. There's no deconstruction of the genre, just high fantasy mixed with a touch if family drama. There's something abut a well trod tale told well, and Peter Hogan knows his fantasy well enough to keep it interesting, and knows how to build likable characters. The opening chapter is by the inestimable Phil Winslade, one of those artists who has the chops to do great superhero comics, great horror, and great fantasy, all with a distinct style all his own. Staz Johnson comes in with the new material, and he's able to capture the same sense of motion and excitement as Winslade, but not lose his own work in Winslade's style; Johnson is one of those artists who did a lot of Batman adjacent work in the 90s-00s, and I have fond remembrances of his work their, and he's only gotten better. King's Road is a great comic if you're looking for a light, exciting action and fantasy comic that has touches of the best of heroic fantasy.

The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars #4
Story: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Pitarra & Michael Garland

After a considerable delay, the new Manhattan Projects arc/mini-series, The Sun Beyond the Stars wraps up, and it's quite an ending. When last we left Yuri Gagarin and Laika, they were on a space ship with a group of criminals, surrounded by a fleet of Sionnu Science Union ships ready to board them, and with Justice Ryleth, the insane judge whose been chasing them, waiting to board the ship as well. And things don't get better, Like, not one bit. Jonathan Hickman's creator owned books from Image don't really have much of a sentimental streak, and this is an issue that ends like a Shakespearean tragedy: there are bodies everywhere. Hickman gets to run rampant with the action, with a big fight between most of the crew and Ryleth, while Primor, the escaped Sionnu slave that has led an entire race of vile super scientists down upon their heads, prepares for his endgame. And boy it's quite an endgame. Nick Pitarra gets to really go to town this issue, drawing fighting aliens and robots, as well as giant tentacle monsters. Chekhov's (ray)gun goes off, with the spores that were the cause of much of this hunt going off at the end of the series, and leaving us with a pretty barren playing field. And with just our Manhattan Projects alums left, Laika and Yuri floating in space, you think you might get a final sweet reunion between a spaceman and his dog right? Hah, you don't know The Manhattan Projects do you? While many issues of The Manhattan Projects are full of mad science and lots of talking, it's nice to get this climax that's full of action and humor. Well humor as long as your sense of humor is warped enough, and I recommend a particularly warped one if you're going in to this comic. Now with this arc over, and Hickman's contract with Marvel complete (mostly anyway, C'mon, let's get the end of SHIELD please!), I'm hoping we'll get a new arc set back on Earth of Manhattan Projects soon, but as send offs go, this is a very good one for our astronauts.

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