Weekly Comic 100s: Darth Vader, Batman, X-Men/Fantastic Four, and More!

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

TITLE: Darth Vader #1
AUTHOR: Greg Pak
ARTISTS: Raffaele Ienco, Neeraj Menon (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer). Variant cover by Chris Sprouse.
RELEASED: February 5, 2020

After the events of Empire, Darth Vader starts investigating Luke’s birth/origins. He journeys back to Tatooine (again). He then goes to Padme’s old apartment on Coruscant, which remains more or less preserved after 20 years. As if it’s a crime scene or something. Based on the ending, I assume we’ll learn more next issue.

I understand it from a storytelling perspective. But in-universe, it’s always a little too convenient that these landmark places all essentially look the same no matter when we see them. That Lars Homestead will still be standing 30 years later

TITLE: Batman #88
AUTHOR:
James Tynion IV
ARTISTS: Guillem March, Tomeu Morey (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by Tony Daniel.
RELEASED: February 5, 2020

I wasn’t very nice to Guillem March last time. In fact, I’m rarely depict his work positively. But to his credit, he won me over with this issue. At least a little bit. His rendering of Catwoman in a graveyard on a rainy night is damn near beautiful. The scene with Batman, Penguin, Deathstroke, and the others is also very strong.

At more than one point, it seemed to me like this issue was laying the groundwork for the long-awaited Three Jokers book. Remember, we’re building toward a story in the pages of Batman called “Joker War.”

TITLE: X-Men/Fantastic Four #1 (of 4)
AUTHOR: Chip Zdarsky
ARTISTS: Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson (Inker), Dexter Vines (Inking Assistant), Karl Story (Inking Assistant), Laura Martin (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer)
RELEASED: February 5, 2020

I’m terrified of X-Men comics. Specifically, the decades worth of continuity and characters. But to this book’s credit, it’s fairly accessible.

Franklin Richards, the mutant teenage son of Reed Richards and Sue Storm, is summoned by Charles Xavier to live with Earth’s mutants on the island nation of Krakoa. This doesn’t sit well with Reed. Naturally, conflict and teen angst ensue.

I’ve been looking for a bridge back into the Marvel Universe. X-Men/Fantastic Four #1 might be it, as it does a nice job setting up both teams, and giving us a compelling main character in Franklin.

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #3
AUTHOR: Ryan Parrott
ARTISTS: Simone di Meo, Alessio Zonno, Walter Baiamonte (Colorist), Igor Monti (Color Assistant), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Cover by Dan Mora.
RELEASED: February 5, 2020

We get a fight between Rita and Shredder in this issue. It’s a relatively lengthy battle. And you know what? I’m just going to come out and say it: I wanted this to be one of those fights where the guy and girl hook up at the end. You know how it goes. The passion overcomes them, etc. These two have a lot in common, after all.

What that says about me and these characters from my childhood, I’ll let you decide.

Oh my God. What if Shredder, not Zedd, was actually Thrax‘s father?!?!? Mind blown!!!

TITLE: Young Justice #13
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis, David Walker
ARTISTS: Michael Avon Oeming, Mike Grell, John Timms, Gabe Eltaeb (Colorist), Wes Abbott (Letterer)
RELEASED: February 5, 2020

Well hey there, Mike Grell! It’s been too long! What’s more, Grell gets to once again draw a character he created in Warlord. Warlord and Superboy actually have a pretty nice dynamic in this issue. The experienced elder statesman offering calm words of wisdom to an upset Superboy.

For the moment at least, the Young Justice cast has expanded greatly. If these additional characters stick around, it’s a lot to balance. But it’s still damn good to see a couple of them.

TITLE: Lois Lane #8
AUTHOR: Greg Rucka
ARTISTS: Mike Perkins, Gabe Eltaeb (Colorist), Simon Bowland (Letterer)
RELEASED: February 5, 2020

As much as I’m enjoying having Greg Rucka back at DC, I’m wondering if this needed to be a 12-issue maxi-series. This entire issue felt mostly like filler.

For instance, there’s a scene in this issue where Superman shows up after an attempt on Lois’ life. We take four pages to see husband and wife re-united, and then to see the attention the Man of Steel gets from the local police.

Am I missing something? Why are we seeing this?

On the upside, the assassin that comes after Lois has a pretty cool look.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Weekly Comic 100s: Shazam! #10, Batman/Superman #10, and More!

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

The deadline for yesterday’s “Weekly Comic 100s” kinda snuck up on me. So consider this part two. But there’s plenty of first rate talent to be found. Geoff Johns, David Marquez, Peter Tomasi, Dale Eaglesham…

TITLE: Shazam! #10
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
ARTISTS: Dale Eaglesham, Scott Kolins, Michael Atiyeh (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer)
RELEASED:
January 22, 2020

The best page scene in this book? Tawky Tawny making dinner while Billy’s adoptive parents look on in apprehension. Change my mind.

We get a surprise return in this issue. It feels way out of left field. But let’s see how it plays out. Seeing this character mix it up with the Shazam family might be really compelling.

Dale Eaglesham and Scott Kolins are still splitting the art duties. I’m a Scott Kolins fan, but Eagleham’s style was made for a book like this. The more pages we get from him, the better.

TITLE: Batman/Superman #6
AUTHOR:
Joshua Williamson
ARTISTS: David Marquez, Alejandro Sanchez (Colorist), John J. Hill (Letterer)
RELEASED: January 22, 2020

It feels like they’re trying to channel the tension, paranoia, and mistrust that was hanging over DC titles all those years ago during the build-up to Infinite Crisis. This issue actually references The O.M.A.C. Project by name. Trouble is, DC had years worth of stories to lay the foundation for all that hostility. This series has only had six issues. So it feels like Williamson is referencing something that’s barely there at all.

On the upside, the next story could be really good. We’ve got two villains meeting for (I assume…?) the first time.

TITLE: I Can Sell You A Body #2 (of 4)
AUTHOR: Ryan Ferrier
ARTISTS: George Kambadais, Ferrier (Letterer)
RELEASED: January 22, 2020

They lay the comedy on thicker this month. For instance, we open with a scene in Vatican City. A priest actually says, “Feh. The Jesus card. That old chestnut. Childish.”

Someone also says, “Enough with the ghost dicks!”

This issue got me invested in Henrietta, Denny’s love interest. She’s a sweet lady who, as we learn on the closing page, is willing to stick her neck out for people she cares about. In this case, that trait may not pay off in either the short term or the long term.

TITLE: Detective Comics #1019
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
ARTISTS: Scott Godlewski, David Baron (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer). Cover by Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona, and Baron.
RELEASED: January 22, 2020

This issue and last issue both felt like filler. Which you need sometimes. I just wasn’t hooked by the whole norse mythology thing. On the upside, the dialogue problem from last issue was fixed.

As I mentioned with Batman, they’re making sure Alfred’s death is felt heavily in the Bat-books. It seems like for now Lucius Fox has stepped up and become the “man in the chair.” Fair enough. There’s potential for character work there as Bruce and Lucius come to see each other in new ways.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

A Batman, Vol. 8: Cold Days Review – Bruce Wayne Against Batman?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 8: Cold Days
AUTHOR: Tom King
ARTISTS:
Lee Weeks, Matt Wagner, Tony Daniel, Mark Buckingham, Andrew Pepoy, Danny Miki (Inker)
COLORISTS: Elizabeth Breitweiser, Tomeu Morey
LETTERER:
Clayton Cowles
COLLECTS:
Batman #5157
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE:
$16.99
RELEASED:
December 19, 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

A while back, I did a “Panels of Awesomeness” on a couple of the pages in Cold Days. It’s the scene in Batman #51 when Bruce Wayne snaps and rips a urinal out of the wall (shown below). People may criticize Tom King’s writing on this series, but I believe he has the distinction of being the only writer to have Batman do that.

But you can’t blame the guy, can you? If your wedding had gone that way

1. One Angry Man
As if things weren’t already crappy for him, Bruce Wayne gets jury duty in the titular three-issue story that kicks off Cold Days. Mr. Freeze stands trial for the murder of three women. On paper, it’s an open-and-shut case. Not only did Freeze confess to the murders, but Batman examined the forensic evidence, discovering a detail the police missed. One juror, however, believes Freeze is innocent: Bruce Wayne. Why? Because as Batman, he beat Freeze to a pulp, unintentionally forcing a confession.

This Batman series may have a tendency to go off the rails. But credit where credit is due: I love this story. In fact, it’s the high point of Tom King’s entire run. It cuts right to the core of who Bruce Wayne is, as he’s forced to do something he’s not accustomed to: Confronting a mistake, and making good on it. “Cold Days” even examines the notion that Batman is infallible, at least in the eyes of the public. But as we see all too clearly, he’s not infallible. He’s just a man. A man in a tremendous amount of pain.

The last time we saw Lee Weeks on this book was in Batman Annual #2, illustrating a story set early in Batman’s career. What he turns in here, alongside Elizabeth Breitweiser and Clayton Cowles, is every bit as good, if not better. One of the qualities that makes Weeks’ work so special is that he feels very much at home on a more “grounded” story like this one, without any super-powered exploits. And yet, he can also thrive working on a character like Superman.

King uses “Cold Days” to touch on a subject we rarely touch on with the Dark Knight: religion. He talks about how his father was Christian, and wanted Bruce to find spirituality as well. As one might imagine, that didn’t happen. What we learn is that Batman more or less became Bruce’s religion. And in the eyes of many, Batman has become the equivalent of a deity. It’s a really cool sequence, and I credit King for having the guts to go there.

We also get a fantastic page in issue #51. While Bruce is serving on the jury, Dick Grayson is filling in as Batman. We get a page on the roof of police headquarters where he’s talking to Commissioner Gordon. The following dialogue ensues…

Gordon: “You’re not him. You’re that other him.”
Batman: “What’s the problem, Commissioner? How can I help?”
Gordon: “Is he alright?”
Batman: *pauses* “No.”

I love that Gordon isn’t written as an idiot, and how this harkens back to pieces of the Knightfall and No Man’s Land stories from the ’90s. Frankly, I wouldn’t have a problem if he called him out as Nightwing.

2. The Dynamic Duo
In the last 20 years or so, writers have made Bruce and Dick a little too friendly for my taste. Until recently, there were times when Dick was acting more like Robin than Damian, the actual Robin. I always liked the idea that when Dick struck out on his own, he developed his own methods and philosophies that at times put him at odds with Batman. He wouldn’t be the estranged son. That role should be saved that role for Jason Todd. I’d simply have Dick be his own man. But when the chips were down, he’d be there if Bruce truly needed him.

That’s precisely the scenario we have in Batman #54. As Bruce tries to power his way through his grief over Selina, Dick simply hangs out. A constant source of levity. And indeed, there’s a fantastic moment where Batman actually does break, and Dick is there for him. This is all intercut with various moments from Dick’s early days at Wayne Manor. It’s one of King’s better written Batman issues.

Our guest artist for issue #54 is none other Matt Wagner. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed him working on Batman. What’s so special about Wagner is that he can capture whatever tone you want, with whatever character you want, while still injecting a sense of fun into his art. It’s never not fun to look at a Matt Wagner book.

3. The Beast Unleashed
As much as I disliked Scott Snyder’s Zero Year story, I loved the way it revitalized the Riddler. King, to his credit, continued that revitalization during his run. But one can also argue he did a little revitalizing himself. With, of all characters, KGBeast.

KGBeast, real name Anatoli Knyazev, first appeared in the late ’80s as yet another to stake claim to the DCU’s “world’s deadliest assassin” title. (Think Deathstroke, Deadshot, Lady Shiva, etc.) His most prominent character moment came when he cut off his own arm to allude capture by Batman. But since then, he’s been mostly relegated to what I’ll call the villains ensemble, i.e. somebody to put in a scene where Batman has to fight a bunch of bad guys. Heck, Snyder did it recently in All-Star Batman.

But in Batman #55, the Beast does the unthinkable. As Batman and Nightwing are continuing their father/son bonding of sorts, he uses a sniper rifle to put a bullet in Nightwing’s head. With Dick alive, yet devastatingly wounded, Batman does the only thing he can do: go Beast hunting.

In re-reading this “Beast of Burden” story in trade format, I picked up on something I missed in the single issues: the father/son theme. After carrying out the hit on Nightwing, Knyazev tracks down his father to a remote cabin in “far east” Russia. It may as well be the planet Hoth, as it’s seemingly just miles upon miles of snow, some trees, and that one cabin. We learn that like his son, Vasily Knyazev was once a killer for the KGB, and trained Anatoli to be the same. Seeing the two interact after what has clearly been a long time apart, it’s obvious Vasily was a callous and heartless excuse for a father. And yet, he loves his son in his own unique way…

But Bruce can be cold and callous too. He’s about as dark and withdrawn in these pages as he’s ever been. But he’s not heartless. He showed a great deal of compassion for Dick, and cared for him in the best way he knew how. I suspect that’s why we got the flashback scenes in the Matt Wagner issue. To illustrate the differences between these father/son duos. That makes for a really cool story.

Thankfully, unlike Deathstroke vs. Deadshot in The War of Jokes and Riddles, in this book we actually see the damn fight between Batman and KGBeast blow by blow. It’s easy to follow and project yourself into. It ends with Batman pulling off a maneuver I’m not sure we’ve seen from him before. It’s shockingly merciless, as is the book’s ending.

Tony Daniel and Tomeu Morey set the mood perfectly. I’m reluctant to use The Empire Strikes Back as an example again, but the art evokes the same sort of grim, foreboding mood we see in the opening moments of the film. I could almost hear the John Williams score…

Intercut amongst the fight sequences is a folktale Vasily would read to the future KGBeast when he was a boy. Mark Buckingham and Andrew Pepoy tag in for pages that are fittingly drawn like a storybook for a young child. Though it’s certainly more violent and bloody than any book you’ll pick up off shelves today. Or for that matter, any era. There’s a thematic connection of course, and it’s certainly unique to see these cartoony animals drawn alongside this brutal fight.

The only major negative I can find in “Beasts of Burden,” is that it serves as the inciting incident for the “Ric Grayson” stuff in Nightwing. I haven’t purchased a Nightwing comic since, as that story just doesn’t interest me. But that’s got nothing to do with Tom King or this series, so I can’t hold it against this book.

4. Bright Spot for the Dark Knight
Cold Days is indeed the high point of Tom King’s Batman run. A bright spot in an often bizarre series of issues. The “Cold Days” story is outstanding on its own. But the issues with Nightwing and KGBeast were much better than I remembered. The art is consistently gorgeous. Lee Weeks stole the show for yours truly. Though I’ve certainly got a soft spot for Matt Wagner.

I take no joy in saying much of Tom King’s Batman run is skippable. I do, however, take joy in telling you Cold Days is a must-read for fans of both Batman and Nightwing. Outstanding character work mixed with great action. In the end, you really can’t ask for much more.

For more of Tom King’s run on Batman, check out I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide, I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, The War of Jokes and Riddles, The Rules of Engagement, Bride or Burglar?, and The Wedding.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Weekly Comic 100s: Kylo Ren, Doomsday Clock, Batman Finale

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Yeesh. Talk about a loaded week. Big finales, big debuts, and some Star Wars backstory we’ve been waiting years for. And of course, with big issues, come big upticks in pricing. Mostly at DC. They actually had the gall to charge $4.99 for the Tom King Batman finale. Oye.

But next week is largely a throwaway week. (Unless you’re Marvel. Kudos to them.) So I’ll be able to play a little catch up. So next week’s batch will include Family Tree #2, Shazam #9, Star Wars: Empire Ascendant, Batman/Superman #5.

But for now, we’ve got a lot to get to…

TITLE: Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren #1 (of 4)
AUTHOR:
Charles Soule
ARTISTS: Will Sliney. GuruFX (Colors). Travis Lanham (Letterer). Cover by Clayton Crain.
RELEASED:
December 18, 2019

I was ready to be mad at this issue for giving us stuff we should have gotten in one of the movies. As it turns out, this was benign.

In The Last Jedi, Luke says that after burning down the temple, Ben Solo left with some of his other students. Here, we learn that doesn’t quite mean what it sounds like. We also learn who the Knights of Ren are, which is welcome information.

Not the strongest first issue I’ve ever seen. But the intrigue around what happened to Ben Solo is enough to bring us back for more.

TITLE: Doomsday Clock #12
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
ARTIST: Gary Frank, Brad Anderson (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer).
RELEASED: December 18, 2019

From the beginning, we’ve known this book has been building toward Superman vs. Doctor Manhattan. A symbol of hope against a symbol of cynicism. The implication being that Superman would ultimately get through to Doc, and bring about a change of heart.

We do get a scene like that in this issue. But it’s so brief, and frankly a little contrived, that it was hardly worth the two years of build-up.

That’s right, folks. Doomsday Clock #1 came out in November 2017. It’s taken us more than two years to get here. Really takes the edge off, doesn’t it?

TITLE: Batman #85
AUTHOR: Tom King
ARTISTS: Mikel Janin, Hugo Petrus, Jordie Bellaire (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by Tony Daniel.
RELEASED: December 19, 2019

Here we have yet another big finale that ends not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Tom King is a good writer. I believe that. But for whatever reason, this “City of Bane” story went on way too long, and he ended up overstaying his welcome on Batman. The truly sad part? There’s a good story in here if you rifle through it, and maybe rearrange some pieces.

On the upside? Mikel Janin’s work on Batman has been consistently great. As far as I’m concerned, he’s welcome back in Gotham any time.

TITLE: American Jesus #1
AUTHOR: Mark Millar
ARTISTS: Peter Gross, Jeanne McGee (Colorist), Cory Petit (Letterer). Cover by McGee and Frank Quitely.
RELEASED:
December 18, 2019

A 14-year-old Hispanic girl becomes the modern-day Virgin Mary in a story written by the guy who did books like Kick-Ass and Nemesis? Sure. Sounds harmless enough…

Maybe it’s me, but the art in this book seems a little weird. Like the proportions are just a touch off. It’s minor, just just prominent enough to be noticeable.

There’s a lot of intrigue here, given the sensitive topic and Millar’s penchant for the outlandish. While there’s nothing blasphemous in this issue (at least as far as I can see), I figure it’s just a matter of time.

TITLE: Spider-Man #3 (of 5)
AUTHORS: J.J. Abrams, Henry Abrams
ARTISTS: Sara Pichelli, Elisabetta D’Amico (Inking Assistant), Dave Stewart (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer). Cover by Olivier Coipel.
RELEASED: December 18, 2019

Tony Stark pops up in this book, and now our story has an Avengers angle to it. That’s disappointing. This is a story about the legacy of Spider-Man, and the strained relationship between a father and son. So why not keep the lens focused on Spidey’s world, and not open things up to the larger Marvel Universe until later? We need to be focusing on Ben right now. Not some wacky take on Tony Stark as an old man.

On the upside, we get further into who Cadaverous is. Good stuff, with Pichelli’s art on point.

TITLE: Suicide Squad #1
AUTHOR: Tom Taylor
ARTISTS:
Bruno Redondo, Adriano Lucas (Colorist), Wes Abbott (Letterer). Cover by Ivan Reis.
RELEASED:
December 18, 2019

While it lacks the impact and sizzle of a Jim-Lee-drawn debut, this issue has some intrigue to it. We’ve got three mainstays in Deadshot, Harley, and King Shark. But we’ve also got a big group of new characters. They kind of look like what Marv Wolfman and George Perez would produce if asked to produce a modern team of superheroes.

Mind you, some of them are dead when we close the issue. But if even one of them sticks for a decent amount of time, that’s an accomplishment.

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #46
AUTHOR: Ryan Parrott
ARTISTS: Daniele Di Nicuolo, Walter Baiamonte (Colorist), Katia Ranalli (Color Assistant), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Cover by Jamal Campbell.
RELEASED: December 18, 2019

A few little things I noticed that aren’t out of character per se, but perhaps show how these characters are different in this time period…

– Tommy’s more relaxed demeanor now that they’re seemingly no longer Earth’s last line of defense.

– Kimberly stepping up into more of a leadership role with the three new Rangers.

– Trini’s more sarcastic personality. It’s not how I would write the character, as she’s normally more reserved. But we can chalk it up to her gaining confidence through her experiences as a Power Ranger.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Weekly Comic 100s: Spider-Man #2, Batman #81

*”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Nothing too in-depth here. Just straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

TITLE: Spider-Man #2
AUTHORS:
J.J. Abrams, Henry Abrams
ARTISTS:
Sara Pichelli, Elisabetta D’Amico (Inking Assistant), Dave Stewart (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer). Cover by Olivier Coipel and Dave Stewart. 
RELEASED:
October 16, 2019

Whether you like this J.J. Abrams stuff or not, I can say his name value got me to buy a Spider-Man comic again.

Ben Parker got into this dad’s old costume pretty quickly. But I buy his motivation: He does it to impress a girl. I mean, c’mon! He’s a ninth grade boy. That’s usually about as complex as their motivations get.

Sara Pichelli continues to turn in not just awesome art, but art that’s distinctly different from her work on Miles Morales. Needless to say, she’s become one of the definitive Spider-Man artists of this era.

TITLE: Batman #81
AUTHOR:
Tom King
ARTISTS:
John Romita Jr (Penciller), Klaus Janson (Inker), Tomeu Morey (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer) Mitch Gerads (Co-Penciller, Co-Inker, Co-Colorist)
RELEASED:
October 16, 2019

I’m not the world’s biggest Tony Daniel fan. But the switch from his art to John Romita Jr’s has been jarring.  The look and texture of the story has changed halfway through. That’s rarely a good thing.

When Tom King tries to pull the “Batman had a plan all along” card, my initial was, “I don’t buy it.” Also, King makes the Flashpoint Batman’s fighting prowess so exceptional it almost becomes cartoonish. Especially with how it’s executed.  Maybe these opinions will change once the story ends, or I have more time to absorb it. But for now, they’re losin’ me…

TITLE: Star Wars: Allegiance #2
AUTHOR: Ethan Sacks
ARTISTS: Luke Ross, Lee Loughridge (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by Marco Checchetto
RELEASED: October 16, 2019

I’m finding myself wanting more Kylo Ren in this book. Especially after reading that Snoke one-shot they put out a few weeks ago, where the two characters go to Dagobah. Still, I understand why they might not be able to do that, as we’re obviously building to the movie. We do, however, get to spend some quality time with Rey, which is nice.

We learn in this issue that Admiral Ackbar has a son, but only met him once because “his focus was elsewhere.” Apparently the only good dad in the galaxy was Bail Organa…

TITLE: Something is Killing the Children #2
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
ARTISTS: Werther Dell-Edera, Miquel Muerto (Colorist), Andworld Design (Inks)
RELEASED: October 16, 2019

I’m digging this book so far. Attention-grabbing title aside, Tynion, Dell-Edera, and the rest of this team have started a great horror-mystery. It’s got kind of a Stephen King/YA novel/Twilight Zone feel to it.

As the mystery of this supernatural child-devouring menace unfolds, the book manages to entice the hell out of you with how gorgeously grotesque some of these things are. The intrigue there, along with our likable female anti-hero, makes it easy to come back for more.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

A Batman: The Rules of Engagement Review – Woundmates

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 5: The Rules of Engagement
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Joelle Jones, Clay Mann, Lee Weeks, Michael Lark
COLLECTS: Batman #3337, Batman Annual #2
FORMAT:
Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
April 25, 2018

***WARNING: One or two minor spoilers ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Didja catch that? See what they did there? “Rules of Engagement.” Only it’s like, engagement. You know, to be married and stuff. Yeah, you get it. See, it’s that kind of clever wordplay that’s kept the Batman mythos alive for 80 years…

So before DC went and made a lot of people mad with the Batman/Catwoman wedding storyline, this was the early portion of the build-up. Basically, this is the part where most of Bruce Wayne’s closest allies react to his decision to marry Selina Kyle. Damian, Dick, and his various surrogate sons. Superman. Even Talia al Ghul. Hijinks and violence ensue.

Oooo! I’ve got one! Ready? Together, Bruce and Selina are about to learn that the only “rules of engagement,” are that there are no rules.

Oh c’mon! If they can get away with Rules of Engagement

1. A Walk Through the Desert
The first part of the book sees Batman and Catwoman enter the Middle Eastern nation of Khadym, which the U.N. and the Justice League have designated off-limits. It also happens to house Talia al Ghul and the League of Assassins. But Talia has something Bruce and Selina need to move forward with their marriage. Thus, the two sides are on a collision course. As you might expect, there are swords involved. Like, a lot of swords.

Presumably because of Batman v Superman, Batman dons a duster and goggles, despite also being in full costume. It was stupid in the movie. It’s no less stupid here. The look would eventually return for another desert story, and it was no less stupid there either. I’ll be incredibly happy when this damn trend fades away.

As she would later do on the Catwoman series, Joelle Jones turns in some marvelous work, alongside colorist Jordie Bellaire. While her style, complete with the dark jagged lines, doesn’t exactly mesh well with the quiet scenes in Wayne Manor, it’s a tremendous fit for all the desert stuff. Jones often shines when the dramatic and the grotesque come together. So when things get bloody, slicey, and stabby, she’s right at home.

Things culminate in a fight between Talia and Selina. It manages to be a pretty good fight. Not because of the physicality, but because of a stretch of dialogue where Selina proves she knows Bruce in a way Talia never has. She has a kind of insight into his mind and heart of which Talia may be incapable. From a writing standpoint, it’s one of the highlights of Tom King’s entire Batman run.

King also revisits the “Can Batman be happy?” idea he touched on during I Am Gotham. He uses Damian and Dick Grayson for some very poignant and effective stuff that cuts to the heart of the Batman character. I’ll leave it at that for now, as we’ll need to revisit it down the road anyway.

2. Double Date
The book shifts from bloody to comedic for a double date story that tips its hat to the sillier Superman/Batman stuff from the Golden Age. In “Super Friends,” Bruce and Selina take in a night at a carnival with Clark Kent and Lois Lane. King, Clay Mann, co-inker Seth Mann, and Bellaire go all out with the premise. The characters wear each other’s superhero costumes. Lois and Selina get wasted. Superman and Batman play baseball. By and large, it’s genuinely fun. Clay Mann’s rendering of Clark Kent in the Batsuit, glasses and all, is hilarious.

It does, however, raise one of the issues I often have with King’s writing: He can go a little off the deep end with the banter. It’s not so much an issue in “Super Friends,” as it’s a blatant comedy. But when you have, for instance, a high-stakes tale about Batman and Catwoman confronting Talia and the League of Assassins, going too heavy on the banter can cut into the drama.

Case in point, when we open issue #34, Batman and Catwoman are surrounded by assassins, hell bent on cutting them to pieces. This is a portion of the dialogue we get just before the fighting gets underway…

B: “Cat, I may be wearing a leather bat costume. But do I look dumb enough to make fun of you?
C: “I don’t know, Bat. Do I look dumb enough to not know what ‘a lot’ is?”
B: “No. You look lovely.”
C: “Sure, you say that now. Wait’ll I’ve got their blood all over me.”

One of King’s greatest strengths in writing Batman is how he conveys the connection between Batman and Catwoman. But even by couple-bickering standards, stuff like this is overindulgent. Sadly, this book is hardly the end of it.

3. Woundmates
I read an article not long ago that introduced me to the term “woundmate.”  Long story short, it’s someone with whom you share a similar kind of trauma, or unsolved emotional problems and as such they feel like a soulmate. But in the end, they aren’t.

Re-reading “Some of These Days” from Batman Annual #2 reminded me of that article. Because in the end, that’s what Bruce and Selina are. Woundmates. That’s beautifully, and literally, illustrated by Lee Weeks as he channels his inner David Mazzucchelli. The story is obviously meant to be an extension of Batman: Year One, but it doesn’t work at all without Weeks.

Michael Lark is tagged in for the last few pages, as we time-jump to a potential future where Bruce and Selina have grown old together. Again, poignant. And downright touching when you get right down to it. I love Gotham Central as much as anybody, so I’ll never complain about seeing Lark back on a Bat-book.

4. A Deeper Connection
King uses the annual to retcon Batman and Catwoman’s history so they have a deeper connection. Most notable is that they discover one another’s identities very early on. I can’t say I love that, but I don’t hate it either.

What I’m not necessarily a fan of is Catwoman’s motivation in the story. She breaks into Wayne Manor multiple times, and later reveals she’s been doing it to essentially sharpen Batman’s edges so he doesn’t get killed. (See above image.)

Frankly, I just don’t buy it. Maybe I’m too hung up on the classic Batman/Catwoman presentation where they’re simply flirtatious. I can accept Selina being able to penetrate the walls Bruce has put up and catch him off guard. I can accept the idea that she cares about him. But something just isn’t right about the notion that she takes time out of her life to sharpen Batman’s skills. Remember how early in her career this is supposed to be. Early on, Catwoman is a hardened thief out for herself. She may have a heart of gold underneath it all, but that only extends so far…

5. The Verdict
The Rules of Engagement isn’t a must-read, even if you’re simply following the wedding storyline. It has the same flaws as most of Tom King’s Batman run. There is, however, some amazing art to be seen. I can’t help but be partial to Lee Weeks, but it’s also a strong outing for Joelle Jones. And if, like me, you’re a fan of the way King writes Bruce and Selina’s chemistry, you’ll enjoy it.

For more of Tom King’s run on Batman, check out I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide, I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, and The War of Jokes and Riddles.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Panels of Awesomeness: Batman by Mark Bagley

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

THE ISSUE: Batman #688

CREATORS: Judd Winick (Author), Mark Bagley (Penciller), Rob Hunter (Inker), Ian Hannin (Colorist), Jared K. Fletcher (Letterer)

RELEASED: July 8, 2009. Collected in Batman: Long Shadows.

THE SCENE: Shortly after taking up the mantle of Batman, Dick Grayson trains with Damian Wayne, who has just become the new Robin.

WHY THEY’RE AWESOME: This scene has been hanging around in my subconscious for the near-decade since it was published.

On the surface, it’s not particularly remarkable. Just Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne training together. Sort of a Karate Kid scenario with Dick in the Mr. Miyagi role. But as Eric Bischoff might say, “context is king.” This issue came out shortly after Final Crisis, in which Bruce Wayne “died” at the hands of Darkseid. Thus, Dick Grayson has once again taken on the role of Batman, and Damian has become Robin.

Putting these two together was a perfect recipe for personality conflicts. Dick’s generally friendly and warm personality clashed with Damian’s defiant, abrasive, and often bratty disposition. Especially early on in their partnership.

But in Batman #688, Judd Winick took the time to balance the scales a little bit, and show us is indeed a qualified mentor for Damian. Not necessarily because of his fighting prowess, but the patience and wisdom years of experience have brought him. It’s a quality that can’t be taught, and one that makes for a damn good teacher.

I was working on a piece of fiction recently, with a scene that had a similar teacher/student premise. For whatever reason, I kept coming back to the line Dick has at the end of this scene: “Don’t anticipate.” I like that. Simple. Concise.

I know Judd Winick isn’t everybody’s favorite Batman writer. But more often than not, I really dug his stuff. Throw in the art by Mark Bagley, who’d just come off his legendary run on Ultimate Spider-Man, and these pages definitely have their fair share of awesomeness.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Epic Covers: “Vote For Me, Or I’ll Kill You!”

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This was a lot funnier when it was first published back in 2005. Nowadays, “Vote For Me or I’ll Kill You” sounds like an actual political slogan…

Batman: Dark Detective was a miniseries that reunited author Steve Englehart with artists Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin. They’re synonymous with some classic Batman stories from the ’70s, including “The Laughing Fish” and “Sign of the Joker.” They’re collected in a trade called Strange Apparitions, which has a special place on my bookshelf.

Though oddly enough, I can’t seem to locate Dark Detective among my back issues. Not that it was a landmark series, but it was definitely fun to see this team tell a Batman story in a modern context. If nothing else, I want to make sure this cover is in my collection. It’s a great addition to the legacy these men have.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

A Dark Nights: Metal #2 Review – Aw, Look at the Baby…

TITLE: Dark Nights: Metal #2
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: September 13, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Dark Nights: Metal #2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor. There are no awful giant robots to speak of, and the Batman worship has been toned down to a degree. There’s even an opportunity for Batman to beat up the whole Justice League again, and Snyder and Capullo pass…sort of. This issue gives us the best from all parties involved. Now if only I were confident things weren’t going to degenerate going forward…

The League is on the hunt for Batman after learning he’s a living doorway into our world for a demon named Barbatos from the Dark Multiverse. The Caped Crusader is determined to prevent Barbatos’ arrival on his own. But it’s a mission that’s doomed to fail, as his determination is about to backfire on him. One way or another, the Batmen of the Dark Multiverse are on their way.

One element of Metal that has yet to falter is the art. Penciller Greg Capullo, inker Jonathan Glapion, and colorist FCO Plascencia give us the DC Universe in all its grandeur, albeit a shade or two darker. The issue opens with a sequence that quickly jumps between Gorilla City, the House of Mystery, Metropolis, and the Amazon rainforest. Later on, we go to a location that Superfriends fans will recognize as the Hall of Doom, which is a cool little moment. Then you have the two-page spread revealing of all the Dark Multiverse Batmen. I stand by what I said last time about how they don’t all need to be twisted versions of Batman. But there are a lot of fascinating design elements.

“The Batman Who Laughs” (center) is the most provocative, as he comes with what appear to be cannibalistic zombie Robins on leashes. But the Aquaman equivalent (far left), “the Drowned,” has an intriguing design that seems to be pirate-inspired. The Wonder Woman equivalent is clearly inspired by Ares. Of course, having Doomsday stand in for Superman is a nice touch.

My complaints about the art are few and far between. But one of them deals with a shot of Damian Wayne. Early in the book we get a chase sequence through the Amazon, as Justice League members chase various Bat-family members who have been digitally camouflaged to look like the Dark Knight. Robin, meanwhile, is driving what essentially amounts to a big Bat-tank. There’s a panel where we zoom in on Damian behind the wheel, and the poor kid looks like he needs a booster seat (shown below). He’s supposed to be 13 years old, not six. What gives?

I’ve made no secret of how much I hate what Snyder and Capullo did with Batman and the Justice League in their Endgame storyline. While under the effects of the Joker’s mind control, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Aquaman all attack Batman. Naturally, Snyder gives Batman a giant robot to fight back with, as he trumps all of them one by one. Each time, we got a detailed explanation of the pseudoscience involved. It all culminates with Batman spitting in Superman’s eye. There was no harm intended, but the whole thing wound up being absolutely disgraceful. One of the worst instances of Batman worship I’ve ever seen.

So naturally, the rainforest chase scene between the League at the Bat-family was nerve-wracking for me. Especially when the various members of Batman’s team start springing various traps. But in the end, with Superman’s help, the League gets a win. Batman himself winds up not being there at all. But let’s take our wins where we can get them. We avoided some indirect Batman worship.

Snyder and Capullo handle Superman pretty well this time around, which is a nice surprise. He’s compassionate and concerned about Bruce’s wellbeing, even referring to him as a brother. But at the same time, he’s the assertive leader that he should be. One way or another, he refuses to let Bruce face this threat alone.

I’m a little less sure about baby Darkseid, however. This transformation happened back in Geoff Johns’ Darkseid War. It’s not so much the way the little guy is used, but how he looks (shown below). I understand the goggles, which Batman addresses in the scene. But did we have to put him in a miniaturized version of his normal blue armor? There’s a ha-ha quality there that puts a damper on the drama.

On the subject of Darkseid, Snyder surprised me by weaving The Return of Bruce Wayne into this story. The idea is that Barbatos first saw Bruce when he was sent back in time via Darkseid’s Omega Beams, which set up the events of Return. I’ll say this much, it at least offers a little explanation as to why this giant cosmic entity is specifically targeting Bruce.

According to Snyder, Metal has been in the works since his run on Batman began in 2011. Metal #2 takes us back through the events of said run, and reminds us of the various otherworldly metals our hero has been in contact with. Electrum, Dionesium, etc. While I adore the long-term storytelling, the issue takes it a little too far by introducing a new metal called Batmanium. Ugh. Really? Batmanium?

I’ll say this much for Metal: It’s unabashed in its cornball moments, while at the same time creating a threat with some real gravity to it. We know it takes a lot to scare Batman, much less the entire DCU. While the heavy metal aesthetic isn’t really my thing, and the Batman worship continues to rub me the wrong way, Metal is worth your attention. Snyder seems to be writing a love letter to DC Comics lore, as Capullo and the artistic team continue to deliver quality work. Now it’s just a question of how much this thing is going to piss me off. Somehow, I doubt Snyder is as concerned about that as I am…

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A Batman, Vol. 3: I Am Bane Review – Jokerize Your Fries?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 3: I Am Bane
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: David Finch, Mitch Gerads, Clay Mann
COLLECTS: Batman #1620#2324
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
Aug 30, 2017

***Need to catch up? Check out the first two volumes: I Am Gotham and I Am Suicide.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Created in the early ’90s, Bane was essentially the Bat books’ answer to what Doomsday was in the Superman books. A big brute who could physically overpower the hero. A ‘roided up dude in a luchador mask, he certainly looks the part. But unlike Doomsday, who was basically a mindless killing machine, Bane was intended to have more depth. He had a tragic backstory and a cunning mind to match his physical dominance.

Oddly enough, I Am Bane explores the character’s more layered side, while at the same time making him look like a big dumb ape at certain points. It’s actually a fascinating balancing act.

After pulling the Psycho-Pirate from Bane’s clutches in Santa Prisca, Batman is now preparing for a full on assault from his old enemy. No one close to Bruce Wayne is safe. Adamant about taking Bane on alone, Batman places Alfred, Claire Clover (a.k.a. Gotham Girl), and the Psycho-Pirate in perhaps the unlikeliest of places to protect them: Arkham Asylum. Now Bane must make his way through a living hell to confront the Dark Knight. Once again, these two arch rivals will square off. In the end, one will be left broken.

I’ll credit author Tom King with giving Bane’s invasion of Gotham the weight it deserves. The first two issues have a grim tension in the air. In issue #16, Bruce insists that most of his surrogate family members flee the city, fearing for their lives. He hides Psycho-Pirate and the others inside Arkham, in a chamber designed by Mister Miracle. But Batman’s obsessive preparation isn’t enough, as Bane still manages to strike at those close to him, including Catwoman. The tone is terrific, the threat feels real, and we seem to have the makings of a hallmark Bane story…until the big man opens his mouth in issue #18.

King, David Finch, and their team are clearly going for classic early ’90s Bane. We get a big, bloody, brutal fight intercut with flashbacks as Bane taunts our hero. Think Batman #497, when the character broke Batman’s back. But King goes way too far over the top with Bane’s dialogue. In issue #18, as he rambles off comparisons between himself and Batman’s other enemies, he almost seems to be reciting a poem…

“I am not a joke! I am not a riddle! I am not a bird or a cat or a penguin! I’m not a scarecrow or a plant or a puppet! I am not your broken friend! I am not your regretful teacher! I am not a child’s fairy tale! I am not a circus act here to amuse and frighten you!”

Alright, dude. We get it…

Things get worse in issue #19, when he storms Arkham and starts running into various villains. He spouts off little one-liners. Thing that would be fine on their own, but clumped together in one issue almost make Bane a parody of himself.

Two-Face: “…what’re you offering?”
Bane: “Pain. I offer pain.”

Scarecrow: “What nightmares are you having?”
Bane: “I don’t have nightmares, I GIVE nightmares!”

Mr. Freeze: “Impossible…”
Bane: “Not impossible. Bane.”

The fight winds up ending on yet another stupid, overblown catchphrase. Not from Bane, but from Batman. The sad thing is that the action itself is pretty good, for the most part. If King had trimmed a lot of this excess verbiage and allowed the art to speak more for itself, this would have been much more effective. I understand wanting to show the animalistic side of Bane. But they overdid it.

I will say, however, that the contrasting flashbacks between Bruce’s childhood and Bane’s are very well done. There’s a school of thought that many of Batman’s villains double as examples of how Bruce could have turned out after his parents were killed, had circumstances been different. This is about as on-the-nose as you can get in that respect. But it works.

What doesn’t work as well for me is the Batman-themed fast food restaurant we see in issue #16. Dick, Jason, Damian, and Duke drag Bruce there for a family meeting of sorts. It’s decked out various paraphernalia from the various Batman heroes and villains. The scene opens with Bruce talking to a kid behind the counter, who’s wearing a cheap Batman mask. He asks Bruce if he wants to “Jokerize your fries?” I get what they were going for. There’s a fun meta aspect to having these characters see their own licensing and merchandising. “Jokerize your fries” is actually a pretty good line. But from an in-story perspective, using the most feared man in Gotham City’s likeness to sell fast food stretches the gag too far for me. I understand that’s part of the joke. But to me that would be the equivalent of selling Bin Laden burgers in the real world.

David Finch handles most of the art in I Am Bane. I’ve been pretty critical of his work. But I’ve also said that if you have to have him, you want him on dark or gritty stories like this. I Am Bane is one of his better recent outings. In issue #16, he has the extremely unenviable task of drawing Bruce, Dick, and Jason, all unmasked in the fast food scene. They’re all handsome, dark haired, clean shaven dudes. Finch has to make them all distinct and recognizable. The job he does isn’t amazing. But it’s serviceable. Thankfully, they’re not all wearing the same clothes, as they were in that creepy splash page in The Court of Owls.

Like many artists, Finch draws most of his superhero characters like competition bodybuilders. Thankfully, that’s right in Bane’s wheelhouse. The character looks every bit as gigantic and chiseled as he should without going overboard, which we saw from Finch’s work on the New 52 Dark Knight series. This version of Bane also has a great ferocity you don’t always see. That obviously works well during the big fight. One complaint: I’ve never liked it when artists put giant green tubes on Bane, as we see Finch do here. It brings back bad memories of Batman & Robin.

Inker Danny Miki (later joined by Trevor Scott) and colorist Jordie Bellaire compliment Finch very well. He’s got a team here that accentuates his strengths. Bellaire in particular is an absolute rock star.

After the main story, Mitch Gerads takes the pencil for issue #23, a standalone story featuring Swamp Thing. Despite being brutally titled “The Brave and the Mold,” it’s a fun issue. Gerads’ contributions to this series have been tremendous, going back to issues #15 and #16. He and King give us some fun visuals contrasting the difference in stature between Batman and Swamp Thing. A two-page spread with Bruce and the monster in Wayne Manor, shots of them in the Batcave and Batmobile, etc. The issue is broken into chapters separated via panels with text designed like silent movie intertitles, which is a cool tone device.

I’ve already talked at length about Batman #24, which contains a pretty big moment between Batman and Catwoman. A few months after its release, what has stuck with me is the exchange between Batman and Gotham Girl about happiness. We learn that Batman is Bruce Wayne’s attempt at finding happiness. As a longtime Batman fan, that notion fascinates me. We’re so used to Batman being dour, moody, and broody. So the idea that he’s doing all this to be happy is a little off-putting. But it makes a certain sense when you boil it down. In the end, that’s what we’re all trying to do, right? Find happiness. In that sense, Bruce is no different than anyone else.

By and large, the Bane portion of this book is a step down from I Am Suicide. But King, Finch, and the team really stick the landing with issue #23 and especially #24. There’s a lot of strictly okay stuff you’ve got to swim through. But when this book hits a homer, it really hits a homer. As far as issue #24 is concerned, that ball is still sailing.

Email Rob at at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

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