A Justice League Review – Lessons Learned

TITLE: Justice League
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME:
 120 min
RELEASED: November 17, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Justice League is a standard superhero popcorn flick. It’s nowhere near as dark, dreary, and generally abysmal as Batman v Superman. But it also doesn’t accomplish anything remotely special. It’s about a team of heroes coming together to fight a villain with a doomsday plan. Been there, done that. Several times, actually. So what we get comes off completely and utterly average.

After all these years, the first Justice League feature film is just average. What an awful, heartbreaking waste…

The plot is basic enough to surmise from the advertising. As the world continues to mourn the death of Superman, we’ve got a new big bad in town. Steppenwolf, a tyrant from the hellscape world of Apokalips, has returned to Earth after thousands of years with his army of Parademons in tow. He aims to conquer the world using the immense power of three “Mother Boxes.” Batman and Wonder Woman prepare to meet this invasion head on by assembling a team of super-powered heroes. The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman are all called to action. But in the end, they won’t be enough. For this new team to triumph, Superman must return…

Trust me, it’s a lot more exciting on paper than it is on screen.

Justice League is the culmination of the years-long comedy of errors that is the “DC Extended Universe.” Man of Steel was an adequate start, flawed as it was with it’s dreary look and overindulgent third act. It was followed by the downright dour Batman v Superman, which robbed its characters of almost any charm, heart, or likability. Suicide Squad wasted arguably pop culture’s most iconic supervillain in the Joker, but managed to be fun in a mindless hot mess sort of way. Wonder Woman was the exception that made the rule. It felt like a single vision, with purpose, heart, and passion put into it.

And so, on one the most rickety foundations in cinematic history, Justice League was built. Like Suicide Squad before it, this movie feels like a melting pot of visions, voices, and priorities clumped together to form a viable commercial product. Our director is once again Zack Snyder. But with their confidence shaken from the backlash to Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to reshape the script. Thus, we have a Joss Whedon superhero movie taking place in Zack Snyder’s grim DC Universe, under the management of a studio desperate to compete with Marvel at the box office. Hot damn! Sign me up!

One of the major missteps in Justice League is it’s choice of villain. DC Comics lore is full of baddies worthy of challenging Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Darkseid is the obvious choice. But you’ve also got big cosmic villains like Brainiac, Mongul, and Despero. Professor Ivo and the Amazo android could have made for an interesting story. Hell, team Lex Luthor up with the Joker! It sure as hell beats Steppenwolf…

Yes, Steppenwolf. A second-rate, paper-thin, poorly rendered Darkseid stand-in with an army of space bugs, a silly name, and a generic doomsday plot. This is who they came up with to face the Justice League in their debut feature film. Strictly from a cynical marketing standpoint, how the hell to you pass up slapping Darkseid, Brainiac, or Lex Luthor on t-shirts and posters, and instead opt for someone called Steppenwolf?

Justice League cost a whopping $300 million to make. That’s astounding, considering our CGI-rendered Steppenwolf looks like he was done in the late ’90s. It’s not just him, either. It’s been well documented that reshoots were done with a mustached Henry Cavill. The movie’s opening sequence wasn’t even over before Mrs. Primary Ignition turned to me and asked, “What’s up with Superman’s mouth?” Certain shots in Batman’s introduction are also extremely fake looking. Makes you wonder what the hell happened to good old fashioned stunt doubles and prosthetic make up…

Superman has a certain aura of reverence in this movie. Had that been earned or established in Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, that would have been fantastic. I’ve always been a proponent of Superman being the center, or at least part of the center, of the DC Universe. He’s certainly its moral backbone. But all this mourning we see over Superman doesn’t match the controversial figure we saw in Batman v Superman. Yes, some people loved him. But he was also the subject of protests and a congressional hearing. Lois Lane, Batman, Wonder Woman, and those who knew Superman have a reason to miss him. But based on what we saw before, there’d be a large contingent of people who’d be glad Superman died.

So now that I’ve sufficiently ripped Justice League apart, what’s there to like? What did they get right? Believe it or not, all was not lost from the get go…

Unlike in Batman v. Superman, almost all of our heroes are likable. Superman knows how to smile. Wonder Woman is compassionate, but still fierce. I’ve never needed a lot of selling on Ben Affleck’s Batman. Joss Whedon’s influence in the movie is obvious when the Dark Knight gets in a quip or two. Ezra Miller plays a socially inept Flash, who provides much of the comic relief. His costume looks absolutely ridiculous. But there’s a certain charm to him. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is surprisingly okay as a dude bro. For a team flick, it works fine. Granted it’s not the approach I would have gone with, and they’ll obviously need to deepen his character for the Aquaman solo movie. Assuming that’s still in the pipeline after all this.

As much as this movie fell short of what it could have been, there is a certain warm and fuzzy quality to seeing these characters on the big screen together. Most of them aren’t true to the essence of the iconic characters they’re based on. But at the very least it’s cool on a superficial level to see Batman is standing next to Wonder Woman. Superman is running next to the Flash! Aquaman is in Atlantis! It’s a highly tarnished version of what we should be getting. But at least we’re getting it in some form. That counts for something.

And so, four years into the DC Extended Universe, what have we learned? What has the road to Justice League taught us? More than anything, it’s this: Darkness doesn’t equate to quality. At least not to larger audiences.

Some people point to darker tales like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen as the pinnacle of the superhero genre. But while they pushed the boundaries of how these stories and characters could work and be seen, they weren’t simply dark for the sake of darkness. The Dark Knight Returns isn’t just about an older and grittier Batman getting to punch Superman in the face. It’s about a hero returning to face a world that’s changed in his absence. Watchmen isn’t about Rorschach beating people up. It’s a look at superheroes from a different, more grounded angle. The dark tones fit the stories and the characters, not the other way around.

We also need to remember that at the end of the day these characters are meant for children. That doesn’t mean we can’t love them as adults. We don’t need to dumb them down for kids, but we can’t keep them all for ourselves either. If DC and Warner Bros. should have learned one thing from Disney and Marvel, it wasn’t the cinematic universe element. It’s that these movies can be accessible to viewers of all ages. They can be mature without being meant for mature audiences.

The blame Justice League‘s failures, creative and otherwise, falls primarily on the studio higher-ups. But the finger also needs to be pointed at Zack Snyder. He’s got a devoted fanbase that will filet me for saying so. But if Batman v Superman didn’t convince you, the fact that the first Justice League movie didn’t outperform the third Thor movie should say it all. Snyder must be kept far away from any and all future DC films. I shudder to think what this movie would have looked like without Joss Whedon’s influence. 

Superhero movies can be thrilling, emotional, and surprisingly versatile. But at their core, they aren’t complicated. Give us a hero worth rooting for, a villain worth rooting against, and a reason for them to fight. We don’t need to see a bad guy get his neck snapped, a bomb inside a jar of piss, or a city destroyed to compensate for a lack of emotional connection with the audience. 

Lessons learned. Six years and millions of dollars too late. But lessons learned…

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A Detective Comics #965 Review – Robin Resurrected

TITLE: Detective Comics #965
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
PENCILLER: Eddy Barrows
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: September 27, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Here’s something I don’t think I’ve ever shared: My first trade paperback was Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying. I picked it up during what might have been my first ever trip to a comic shop in the mid-90s. I had no idea what the story was about. Just that it had Batman and Robin on the cover. At this point they still looked pretty similar to Adam West and Burt Ward on the classic TV show. So I found myself pulled in. It remains in my library to this day. It’s easily the most tattered and worn trade I own. But it’s earned its spot up there. A Lonely Place of Dying introduced me to Batman’s current status quo. It’s how I learned about Jason Todd. It was my first Nightwing story. It also introduced me to Tim Drake, a character I would practically grow up alongside.

That’s what makes Detective Comics #965 a special issue for me. I’m sure it’s special for a lot of fans my age. It’s a love letter to A Lonely Place of Dying and much of the early Tim Drake material, bringing it into modern canon. We also see an intriguing component from Geoff Johns’ work with the character in Teen Titans. For those of us who hated what happened to Tim in the New 52 reboot, it’s fanboy nirvana. I imagine this is how die-hard Flash fans felt when Wally West came back in DC Universe Rebirth.

It’s been quite awhile since Tim was imprisoned by the mysterious Mister Oz. But what drew this ominous hooded figure to Red Robin in the first place? We get the answer to that question as Tim prepares to finally strike back. But in attempting to escape, our hero will come face with the last person he ever expected to see…

During our first seven pages, we alternate between present day and flashbacks to Tim’s early days with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Most of this material is pulled from A Lonely Place of Dying. James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, and our creative team focus on very specific moments from that story. For the most part, they pull the exact dialogue written by Marv Wolfman, and take care to honor but not duplicate the work done by artists like Jim Aparo and George Perez. Clothing and hairstyles have been updated, and the classic Robin costume has been switched out for its New 52 counterpart (shown left). I think we can also assume certain specifics from Lonely haven’t translated into modern canon. But by and large, the spirit of that story is intact. That’s such a beautiful thing to see. For so long,the events of Lonely have, for whatever reason, been glossed over. Even before the New 52, writers would always allude to Tim deducing Batman’s identity on its own. But it would rarely go further than that, presumably because certain aspects (Tim seeing Batman and Robin on TV, for example) didn’t match current continuity. But this material deserves as much attention as any part of Batman’s history. In that respect, this is justice done.

Detective Comics #965, and Tynion’s run on the series as a whole, also resurrects an idea introduced in the mid to late-90s: That Tim Drake has no intention of being Robin forever. He certainly doesn’t want to be Batman. His superhero career has an expiration date, and that has weighed heavily on his actions as of late. One of the things that makes Tim distinct amongst his fellow Robins is his independence. He’s willing to disagree with Batman, even if it creates a conflict between them. That’s a trait that suits Tim well, and Tynion uses it to inject some really nice drama into the big reveal later in the issue.

Eddy Barrows compliments Tynion’s writing very well. So I’m always happy to see him on Detective. He hits all the right emotional notes for the retro Tim Drake material. He made me feel like I was actually flipping through A Lonely Place of Dying, which is above and beyond what they were going for here. Colorist Ariano Lucas also lends a very nice sepia tone to those flashback scenes.

There are, however, a pair of light stumbles in the issue. On the page at left, Barrows has the unenviable task of recreating the debut of Tim Drake’s Robin costume from Batman #457 (shown left). By and large, he does very well. But that face is a miss. Something about the simple white slits for the eyes combined with the smile, which is slightly too big. Two pages prior, Barrows and the artistic team hit another smile related stumble with Tim. They weren’t aiming for creepy. But creepy is what we got.

I called this issue a love letter to Tim Drake. But James Tynion’s entire run on Detective Comics seems like a tribute to beloved ’90s characters either tossed aside or gutted in recent years. We’re talking Tim Drake, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, and even Anarky. It’s very much in tune with what the DC Rebirth initiative has been about, in that it celebrates the legacy of these characters while continuing to tell new stories. If that’s not Detective Comics #965 in a nutshell, I don’t know what is.

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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 Dark Nights: Metal #1 Review – More of the Same

TITLE: Dark Nights: Metal #1
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: August 16, 2017

***Warning: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I feel like every time I review something Scott Snyder writes I have to go through the same spiel: I generally like his stuff, but he does certain things that make me mad as hell. As such, it’s difficult for me to look at Dark Knights: Metal in an unbiased manner.

In truth, I love the premise of Metal. It involves Batman, and later the entire Justice League, trying to unravel the ancient mystery behind Nth Metal. DC Comics aficionados will recognize that term from Hawkman’s mythology. This leads to the theory that Nth Metal came from a “Dark Multiverse,” existing outside the multiverse we’re familiar with. From this Dark Multiverse, a full scale invasion force is coming. A war with these dark forces is about to begin. And apparently, the one who will open the door to this Dark Multiverse is none other than Batman, who’s been looking into this Dark Multiverse for quite some time. As we’re told at issue’s end, the nightmare has only just begun…

I commend Snyder for weaving classic DC Comics elements into the fabric of Metal. Not just the perennially under-appreciated Hawkman, but the Challengers of the Unknown and the Metal Men as well. We even get little nods to places like Dinosaur Island. The League even travels to Blackhawk Island for briefing. It makes the whole Dark Multiverse concept feel a little more organic. We even get an appearance by a famous Vertigo character as part of our cliffhanger.

Kendra Saunders, leader of the Blackhawks and the reincarnated Hawkgirl (long story), exposits that iconic DC settings like Themyscira, Dinosaur Island, and Nanda Parbat exist in areas “where cosmic energy conducted through the Earth’s metal core cancels itself out, creates a kind of ‘static’ that disrupts space-time.” I’d never heard this explanation before. I assume it’s a Snyder original. I love it. It answers a question I never knew I had…

It’s great to see Greg Capullo back in the DC Universe. He, inker Jonathan Glapion, and colorist FCD Plascencia give us an opening sequence with the League in a battle arena on a new Warworld. Naturally, it’s ruled by Mongul. Capullo puts our heroes in armor that is ironically attuned to their weaknesses. Thus, they’re essentially fighting as regular civilians. I’d say there’s at least a 50/50 chance we see these made into toys eventually.

My two favorite pages in the issue are back-to-back. The first is when we see Red Tornado attack the League on Blackhawk Island. Capullo’s take on the character’s cyclone powers are interesting, as they engulf the entire scene. Then on the very next page, we get a shot of Batman riding a dinosaur off the island (shown below). Hokey? Yes. But Capullo plays it somewhat comedically. Plus, there’s a giant dinosaur in the Batcave. So in a ludicrous way, it fits.

Alright, now I get to poo-poo the Snyder party like I always do. Let’s talk about robots, shall we?

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have a thing about big (sometimes giant) Batman robots. I’ve talked at length about this before. They just can’t help themselves. So it really should have come as no surprise that in the Warworld arena, the Justice League is fighting a bunch of giant robots attuned to their specific abilities. And of course, what’s better than the League bunch of giant robots? The League taking control of the robots and forming one GIGANTIC robot! Justice League Megazord, power up! OMIGOD U GUYZ!!!!!!!

On it’s own, this is fine. A little stupid for my tastes (And that’s coming from a Power Rangers geek!), but fine. But when you take in to account how much these guys have used big awful Batman robots before, it’s actually laughable. Honestly, did we have to go with the giant robots again? I understand the story is called Metal, and it behooved them to go with a mechanical threat. But this scene with Mongul and the Megazord doesn’t connect to the Dark Multiverse stuff anyway. So why not give Capullo and the team something new and fun to draw instead of going back to the giant robot well?

My second big complaint with the Metal story overall has to do with Batman and the “chosen one” narrative. In all fairness, this is a problem that goes beyond Snyder and Capullo. I’ve called it “over-Baturation.” On Blackhawk Island, Kendra warns of a beast as old as the universe itself, Barbatos, arriving from the Dark Multiverse through a human doorway. Based on clues she’s discovered, she theorizes Batman is that doorway. She then tries to spring a trap on him, and thus the Dark Knight escapes on said dinosaur.

Metal is meant to be Batman-centric. Yet another milking of DC’s biggest cash cow. As a DC reader, I’m used to that by now. I just wish they didn’t have to portray Batman and the Wayne family as a cosmic centerpiece to so many things. From an in-story perspective, it makes him more prominent than he should be. Even as a founding member of the Justice League, the world’s greatest detective, and all that stuff, what is Batman at the end of the day? A street-level crime fighter. So the idea of a demonic entity from another universe depending on him to open a cross dimensional gateway doesn’t fit for me. Why can’t Bruce just be investigating the Dark Multiverse, and let the bad guys in by accident? Why does it have to be a prophecy?

Hell, why is it that the Dark Multiverse creatures we’ve glimpsed all seem to be twisted and evil amalgamations of Batman and various Justice League characters? (For instance, the spin-off Batman: The Murder Machine is about an evil Batman/Cyborg blend. Batman: The Red Death is Batman/The Flash, etc.) For that matter, why can’t we use this Metal aesthetic on other characters and not drag Batman into it? Yes, he has the iconography of a demon, and is thus more suited to it. But are you telling me no one has any kind of take on a “metalized” Wonder Woman? How about Cyborg or Aquaman? You can make your event Batman-centric without having to put Bat-ears on everything!

Does everything have to be a giant Batman circle jerk?

*whew* Okay. I’m done. No, seriously. I am.

In the end, I’m sure DC will make decent bank on Metal, and I’m sure there’ll be a lot of cool creativity on display. The heavy metal inspired tonality is something fairly different for a superhero event comic. Greg Capullo’s art may be worth the price of admission on its own. But as far as I’m concerned, for better or worse, Metal represents more of the same from Snyder and Capullo. A lot of awesome ideas, mixed in with a lot of infuriating ideas. And giant robots. Lots of giant robots.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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A Suicide Squad: Going Sane Review – The Harley Quinn Show

TITLE: Suicide Squad, Vol. 2: Going Sane
AUTHOR: Rob Williams
PENCILLER:
Jim Lee, Riley Rossmo, Sean Galloway, Stephen Byrne, Carlos D’Anda, Giuseppe Gamuncoli
COLLECTS: Suicide Squad #58Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Day Special #1
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
June 7, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Suicide Squad, Vol. 2 should really be called The Harley Quinn Show. The story doesn’t revolve around her, but she’s clearly the star. We even learn that one of the characters is a Harley fangirl. DC obviously knows what side its bread gets buttered on…

Our main story picks up from where The Black Vault left off, with General Zod and the vault being held in Belle Reeve Penitentiary. But the vault, a gateway into the Phantom Zone, is effecting everyone in the prison. It’s pushing them to the brink of insanity, enticing them to kill. But it’s having the opposite effect on Harley Quinn. Her sanity is restored. Thus she may be the only one capable of saving the world from Zod.

Oddly enough, several years ago there was a Batman story called “Going Sane” that shares a similar concept with this book. The Joker thinks Batman is dead, so his sanity recedes and he tries to live a normal life. It’s not a great story. But the whole sanity reversal thing has a little more depth to it than what we get here, which is essentially the flick of a light switch.

I actually don’t have a problem with how they handle the whole sanity/insanity turn. But whenever Suicide Squad gets too Harley heavy, I have the same reaction to when a Justice League story lays it on too thick with Batman. “Over-Baturation,” if you will. That’s how Going Sane left me feeling. A team story where a specific character has an arc is one thing. Laying it on too thick is another.

What puts it over the top is that the one-shot Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Special is collected in this volume. I imagine they put it here, as opposed to Vol. 1, because the story goes with the whole going sane theme. It sees Harley trying to use her skills as a psychotherapist to redeem other supervillains, Most notably Man-Bat. It’s mostly fine on its own. But when paired with our main story, it’s too much Harley. To some, I’m sure that notion is blasphemous. I don’t care. Too much of anything is a drawback.

Going Sane is more or less a superpowered prison riot popcorn flick. I can get behind that. In a lot of ways, that’s what Suicide Squad should be. Aiding in the proceedings is that it’s all pencilled by Jim Lee. Thus, it’s got an added sense of epicness and gravitas. Lee, inkers Richard Friend and Sandra Hope, and colorist Jeremiah Skipper obviously make everybody look good. Harley in particular (see above). Skipper gets to have some fun with the lighting at various points. Most of this takes place in Belle Reeve. But they shake the scenery up with red and yellow sunlight generators, the purple glow that surrounds the Black Vault, the power going out, etc.

I can’t recall seeing Lee draw Man-Bat prior to the April Fool’s one-shot. But he makes him every bit as detail-rich and monstrous as you’d expect. We also see Batman, Joker, and the Justice League in that issue, bringing back plenty of memories from Hush and Justice League: Origin. Lee’s frequent collaborator Alex Sinclair colors that story, which ups the nostalgia factor in that regard.

One thing I still don’t understand: Why did Zod have to be so damn huge? They explained it by saying it had to do with how he came out of the Black Vaullt. At one point they have him clamped down on this giant contraption like he’s Doomsday or Bane. Later, he nearly crushes Captain Boomerang by simply falling on him. Was this an artistic choice so he’d look more imposing? I suppose it fits with the tone of the book. But you know what’s really imposing? A guy who can bend steel with his fists and melt flesh with heat vision. Take that into account, and it doesn’t really matter how tall you are, does it?

Also, Killer Croc and June Moon (Enchantress) apparently have sex in this book (shown above). So, there’s that. Their romance is actually a nice little addition to the book. In issue #5, Croc has what I would guess is his most romantic line ever: “I…want to eat everyone. I don’t want to eat you.” But much like with Hulk and Viv Vision, I can’t help getting caught up in the physical “mechanics” of it all. How does it even work? Do I even want to know? Probably not.

As was the case in Vol. 1, we get a bunch of character-centric back-up stories. This time we focus on a new character called Hack, as well as Killer Croc, and Enchantress. We also get a look at Killer Frost in preparation for Justice League vs. Suicide Squad.

The best of the bunch is the Killer Croc story, pencilled by Carlos D’Anda (shown below). We see Waylon Jones as a vulnerable young boy with a tragic skin condition. Rob Williams plays the sympathy card with Croc, as we often see with other Batman villains. But it’s as effective as always, especially with the big expressive eyes D’Anda gives Waylon.

Hack, a young woman who can transform herself into digital data, found herself inspired by Harley Quinn as she grew up impoverished in Africa. Like Harley with the Joker, Hack’s choice of role model was to her own detriment. The backup, illustrated by Stephen Byrne, is fine. Hack is intriguing, and as this book illustrates, her powers open up some interesting doors. But if you’ve read ahead, you know Suicide Squad doesn’t necessarily use her to her fullest potential.

The series loses a little bit of its momentum here. But Harley Quinn fans and comic art buffs will find something in Suicide Squad, Vol. 2: Going Sane. It’s not a creative highlight, but it’s at least worth a glance.

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A Batman #25 Review – The Sad Clown

TITLE: Batman #25
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: Mikel Janin
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 21, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not going to follow up on the whole marriage proposal thing, huh? Alright, I guess that’s one way to do it…

To be fair, we do kinda/sorta get an answer. “The War of Jokes and Riddles” is framed as a story being told by Bruce Wayne to Selina Kyle about his early days of Batman. You’ve got to figure if she’d said no, they wouldn’t be in bed together like we see them here. So, congratulations?

For the Joker, the unthinkable has happened. The Clown Prince of Crime has found his life suddenly devoid of humor. He can’t bring himself to laugh, or even smile. Conversely, the Riddler now finds all puzzles and quandaries have no thrill or meaning. The common cause? Batman. The Riddler proposes an alliance, but Joker responds with a gunshot that will ignite a war to decide who gets to kill the Dark Knight. A war with all of Gotham City in the crosshairs.

The Joker and the Riddler have similar mischievous, game-ish motifs, and obviously they’re both completely off the mental reservation. So they make natural rivals, in terms of one trying to outdo the other. Until now, that idea hasn’t been explored much in their near 70-year history of coexistence. So to see it played up as a big event like this is really cool. What’s more, the solicits make it look like they’re looping in most of the other major Batman villains. Almost like a Long Halloween type ensemble story. They’re diving head-first into the rogues gallery on this one.

Mikel Janin is back on the pencil, and he’s channeling his inner Brian Bolland. His Joker has a Killing Joke vibe to him. Nothing overt. The way he draws Joker’s face. The black suit he’s wearing, which is reminiscent of the Red Hood sequence in that book. The fact that this is a pretty dark and moody issue adds in that respect as well.

Janin’s take on Edward Nygma is a little bulky for my taste. Look at the lower panels in the image at right. Facially, he looks a little like John Cena, doesn’t he? He’s also more physically dynamic than we’re used to seeing. Early in the issue we see a cop questioning him in Arkham. He eventually leaps up in the air and slashes the guy’s throat. It’s almost a Matrix move.

King also has Riddler just recite riddles to himself. They’ll loosely connect to the situation he’s in, which justifies them to an extent. But it’s a trait I can’t remember seeing before. Not sure how I feel about it…

Still, Janin and Tom King respect the Riddler, just as Scott Snyder did during his run. There’s a really nice sequence where the Riddler escapes prison simply by saying the names of all the guards’ daughters. Answers, information, those are his currency. His power lies in his ability to be cunning and clever. And for a bit of charm, he’s got the classic green bowler hat on during the whole thing.

We get back to back two-page spreads in this issue, each a wide shot of the Joker’s office. The Riddler in one (shown below), Mr. J in another. It conveys a pretty big moment. Our first meeting of the two sides before the fighting begins. They’re also beautiful pages, Janin’s inks and June Chung‘s colors aligning perfectly to show us a gorgeous night in Gotham City. Though I can’t help but wonder how much this artistic choice had to do with the added page count for this “anniversary” issue.

There is one thing Batman #25 leaves unclear, perhaps purposely. In the office scene, the Joker shoots the Riddler at near point-blank range. He seems to hit him right in the gut, and we see a pool of blood. Yet Nygma is able to get to his feet and stumble away. Is he wearing a protective gimmick around his waste? Is the Joker using rubber bullets for some reason? What gives? The war should be over right here!

Tom King had a rocky start on Batman. The series is still a little rocky these days. But when this team is on, they’re really on. There’s nothing in here that damns “The War of Jokes and Riddles” from the get-go. But I’m not chomping at the bit to get to the next issue either. As a single issue, Batman #26 is fine. But for now, the story is still in the “Wait and See” column.

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A Batman #24 Review – Happiness is…?

TITLE: Batman #24
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: David Finch, Clay Mann
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: June 7, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well I’ll be damned. A canonical marriage proposal from Batman to Catwoman. Can’t say I saw that coming. Until I saw all the spoilers the day before, of course. Oh well…

In the aftermath of “I Am Bane,” as well as seeing an alternate version of his father in “The Button,” Batman talks with Gotham Girl about her next move. As such, they dive into the question of why Bruce Wayne has chosen this life as Batman and whether or not it brings him any sort of happiness. This prompts our hero to seek out Catwoman that night and propose. We’re left without an answer from Selina as we close the issue.

The artistic duties for this issue are split between our regular penciller David Finch and guest penciller Clay Mann. The former handles the nighttime chase sequence with Batman and Catwoman and the eventual proposal, while Mann does the talk between Batman and Gotham Girl that lays the emotional groundwork. I’m not sure what necessitated this, but it works out for the better. With due respect, sentimentality isn’t David Finch’s strong suit. He’s more about drawing muscly, curvy people doing things in the dark. Until we get to the proposal itself, that’s really what his work in this issue consists of. I’m not downing him, as the daytime/nighttime contrast works out well.

The Gotham Girl we get in the issue is more playful. Though perhaps she simply seems that way, as she’s been in a perpetual state of terror since issue #6. The sketchier style we see in that scene suits its quieter, more intimate nature. Upon second viewing, I do wish Mann had been able to make her face more expressive. She looks downright wooden in certain panels. Thankfully, what she’s saying is intriguing enough to pull focus away from that.

The issue in its entirety is colored beautifully by Jordie Bellaire, setting the timeframes perfectly. The darkness of Batman’s costume, contrasted with the early morning sunlight is a sight to behold.

When I reviewed the “Rooftops” story from Batman #14 and #15, I said that in many ways this was a story we’d been waiting over 75 years for. These characters had been dancing around romance for decades. Now they were finally admitting they loved each other. They were allowing themselves something they’d always forbidden. And yes, they had sex on a rooftop. But as we’ve seen in many a Batman story, they wound up going their separate ways in the end.

Issue #24 is in essence a continuation of “Rooftops.” Bruce admits that he tries to be happy, but isn’t. And so he finally does something for himself, asking Selina to marry him.

Has Tom King ever talked about Batman: Hush? That was the famous Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee run from the early 2000s where Bruce revealed his identity to Selina, and for a time they were together. What we get in Batman #24 is the outcome you wanted from Hush. But of course, Bruce denied himself happiness at the end. I wonder if King, or someone on the Batman editorial team, took inspiration from Hush for this story, what with it being the classic that it is.

My favorite line in comes when Bruce tells Gotham Girl: “But what you don’t know, Claire, is that I try. I do this to be happy. I try, and I fail.” I’m sure that seems corny to some. But it makes sense to me. We’re all looking for happiness. Even if we try and deny it to ourselves, we typically still look for it subconsciously. Bruce was broken by the senseless act of violence that took his parents away. Batman is his way of sorting the world out and making himself feel better. But by closing himself off to others, like Selina, he sabotages his attempts at happiness. This is his attempt at finally rectifying that.

To his credit, King laid the groundwork for this in the pages of I Am Suicide. Issues #10 and #12 in particular, in which we read their letters to each other. I’m not a fan of some of the things Bruce says about suicide. But I credit King for his attempts to deconstruct this relationship, and really stripping it down to its core.

There is one major missed opportunity here. Just two issues prior, Bruce saw an alternate version of his father, the Flashpoint Batman. He’s told: “Don’t be Batman. Find happiness. Please.” That’s a profound moment, which should cut Bruce to his very core. But in this issue, which ultimately becomes about Bruce trying to find happiness, it’s never mentioned or alluded to. That’s a glaring omission, which I’m hoping is rectified next time.

King also gets cute with Bruce’s engagement ring for Selina. He says he got the ring after their first encounter, as he knew he’d give it to her someday. That’s a stock romance trope. Why not just have Bruce buy her a damn ring? Or give her one that his mother owned? It’s harmless, but still a little disappointing.

There’s also the line: “I’m not Batman because I like being Batman. I’m Batman because I’m Batman.” That’s a meme waiting to happen…

Tom King’s Batman run has been hit or miss for me, especially some of those early issues. But when he’s working on Batman and Catwoman, he’s in his element and tells emotional stories. That bodes well for what’s to come.

On the other hand, what if Selina says no…?

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