Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Batman, Vol.10: Knightmares Deep-Dive Review – Over His Head

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 10: Knightmares
AUTHOR: Tom King
ARTISTS: Travis Moore, Mitch Gerads, Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Lee Weeks, Amanda Conner, Dan Panosian, John Timms, Yanick Paquette
COLORISTS:
Tamra Bonvillain, Jordie Bellaire, Dave Stewart, Lovern Kindzierski, Paul Mounts, Timms, Nathan Fairbairn
LETTERER:
Clayton Cowles
COLLECTS: Batman #6163, #6669
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: September 11, 2019

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead***

Need to catch up? Boy, have I got you covered. Check out Vol. 1: I Am Gotham, Vol. 2: I Am Suicide, Vol. 3: I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, Vol. 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles, Vol. 5: The Rules of Engagement, Vol. 6: Bride or Burglar?, Vol. 7: The Wedding, Volume 8: Cold Days, and Volume 9: The Tyrant Wing.

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

He did it again, didn’t he? That sly son of a…

You’ll recall back in Batman #24, Bruce Wayne proposed to Selina Kyle. Huge deal. Huge. A historic moment for both characters. One that could shake up Batman’s whole world depending on Selina’s answer. But of course, they left us with a cliffhanger.

But when Batman #25 came out, we didn’t get one. What we got was the beginning of The War of Jokes and Riddles, a tale from Batman’s past that he had to tell Selina about before she answered. Issue #24 came out on June 7, 2017. Batman #32, the issue where we finally get Selina’s response, didn’t come out until October 4. We had to wait until fall to get the answer because…um…because DC said so. (Although it was pretty obvious she was going to say yes.)

Fast-forward to December 5, 2018. Batman #60 is released, and another bombshell is dropped. The Batman of the Flashpoint universe, Thomas Wayne, not only survived the events of The Button, but has teamed up with Bane against his alt-universe son. Thomas Wayne vs. Bruce Wayne. Father vs. Son. Batman vs. Batman! The stage was set!

Then in the very next issue we got…no answers. Instead we got the issues collected in this book (with two exceptions that we’ll get to in a later date). We wouldn’t see Flashpoint Batman again until May 1, 2019.

Why DC and Tom King loved making us wait so long for cliffhanger payoffs is a mystery to me. But I’ll say this much: Knightmares is a better book than The War of Jokes and Riddles.

1. I Dreamed a Dream…
Toward the end of the book, we discover Batman is hooked up to a contraption that’s giving him very vivid nightmares. I say that not to spoil anything, but to provide context. Plus, between the Knightmares title and what happens once the book starts rolling, it’s pretty easy to see something’s up. Each collected issue contains one of our hero’s bad dreams.

This is the final volume before we get into the “City of Bane” story, which is an astounding 16 issues long. With that many pages to fill, it’s no wonder it felt immensely padded. Like they were just trying to fill space between plot points. While I consider Knightmares a good read, I’ll argue King starts to do that here. It’s a trend that ultimately forces him to limp into the home stretch. For the most part, these issues work. The “City of Bane” issues don’t.

We kick things off in issue #61, as Batman investigates the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The catch? We seem to be in the present day, and young Bruce Wayne is very much present and able to interact with his older self. Obviously it’s a “What if?” story. But it’s not what you might expect.

Travis Moore returns for this story. Once you reach the end, you’ll see how that’s fitting. Colorist Tamra Bonvillain really shines, especially early on. Her use of reds and oranges to depict the lights of Gotham City, contrasted with the deep blacks you’d expect from a Batman story are reminiscent of Francesco Francavilla’s more recent work on the character. That’s damn good company to be in.

2. “They call me MISTER PIG!!!”
Issue #61 is a good start. But here’s where business really picks up. Our sole artist is Mitch Gerads, who almost always does phenomenal work with King. With Batman #62, they create something truly unsettling. At times even horrifying. It opens with our hero hanging upside down in the back of a butcher’s shop, and he’s got some company: Professor Pyg.

And there’s blood. Lots and lots and lots of blood.

I think Professor Pyg, or at least this King/Gerads version of Professor Pyg, is what a lot of fans want the Joker to be like. A horror movie villain with a funny gimmick. Of course, the Joker is so much more than that. But Professor Pyg? As far as that horror villain territory is concerned, he’s got a solid cut of the market share.

This is a really beautiful issue in a twisted sort of way. It’s like a Saw movie with terrifying, horror flick lighting. Perhaps more importantly, when we start the story, Batman is scared. Not that fear gas-induced fear either. He’s genuinely afraid, as any of us would be. Thus, we’re pulled that much harder into the issue. There’s also a lot of confusion on Batman’s end. Why is he there? How did he get there? Why is he unable to hear what Pyg is saying? We follow Batman’s train of thought as he pushes through his fear to defeat his opponent.

And every bit as unsettling as the setting, the villain, and the frantic confusion, is the swerve turn on the final page.

3. Guest-starring…
A Batman/Constantine team-up sounds pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, that’s not what we get here. Not exactly, anyway.

In issue #63, Mikel Janin returns to give us the ending we all wanted for Bruce and Selina. They get married, go on a tropical honeymoon, share big romantic kisses on rainy Gotham City rooftops. All seems well. Then Constantine shows up to tell Batman not only is this a dream, but something awful is going to happen. Remember this is a Batman story, where everybody has dead parents, dead spouses, etc. So even if it weren’t a dream, there’s a 50/50 chance he’d be right anyway.

Why Constantine? I think the logic is “Why not?” Are there characters from Batman’s world that might fit this role better int theory? Sure. But no one so obvious that it ruins anything. I get the sense King just wanted the chance to write Constantine, so he wound up in this issue.

Ditto for the Question in issue #66, in which the framing device is Selina being interrogated about why she left Bruce at the altar. Jorge Fornes is on the pencil here, and he fits a Question story like a glove. Less fitting is Selina smoking a cigarette during the exchange, which I don’t think we’ve seen her do at all in King’s run up to this point. It feels very forced. Like they were looking for that one detail to hit that noir-ish nail on the head, and they just gave her a cigarette because they could.

Issue #66 is also where we start re-treading ground. All this stuff about how Selina sees Bruce? We’ve been reading about it for much of the last 60 issues. There’s no reason to go back there, with the Question no less, unless you’re trying to fill space. It’s a fun issue. But its intentions are clear in hindsight.

Issue #67 consists of one long chase scene, as Batman pursues another masked man across Gotham City. Telling you who the individual in question is would take the punch out of the issue. But it’s worth it for those last two pages. There’s some subtext that you have to read into. But it’s pretty easy to get. Fornes is back for this one, alongside the amazing Lee Weeks. Both those men do a hell of a job capturing that Batman: Year One vibe. Again, mostly stuff we’ve already seen. But there’s still greatness here, in one of the best single issue’s of King’s Batman run.

4. “Make a lane for Lane!”
Amanda Conner does a guest spot for issue #68. As such, it’s not surprisingly we focus mostly on female characters. Superman and Lois Lane are back, as we see what might have been a bachelor and bachelorette party respectively. While Bruce and Clark have a quiet night in, an intoxicated Selina Kyle and Lois most certainly do not. The Fortress of Solitude has never seen that kind of fun…

Yes, King backtracks again here. But if I had to choose one thing for him to go back to, there’s a hell of an argument to be made for the “Super Friends” dynamic. Specifically between Catwoman and Lois Lane. Their dynamic in this issue specifically is sheer joyful and colorful comic book fun. The kind of story that’s practically begging to be adapted into animation. Though if it’s for one of the kids shows they’ll have to cut out the liquor. (Not to mention all the stripping Superman robots.) By God, that almost defeats the whole damn purpose.

The downside? With just three pages left we lose Conner. As her style is so distinct, it’s an abrupt jolt to suddenly switch to fill-in artists. Pun intended: It’s a real buzzkill.

5. “Will You Dance With Me?”
The book closes with, of all things, a dance.

It’s only natural that we close with Bruce and Selina. Especially since almost this entire book takes place in Bruce’s head. While the issue does bounce back and forth between them and a Mikel Janin training scene with Bane and Flashpoint Thomas Wayne, the meat of the issue is in an extended dance sequence. But it’s hardly the Batusi. Yanick Paquette puts out a career issue as the two characters literally slow dance through a dream, through Gotham, through their history.

It’s a positively outstanding, and truly unique usage of the visual nature of the comic book medium. In yet another backtrack, Selina goes through multiple costume changes as she did in issue #44. But in two-page spreads such as the one above, we literally track our characters’ dance steps across the page. The use of sheet music is an absolute stroke of genius, which instantly makes this comic distinct among the thousands upon thousands in Batman’s history.

What’s more, because this is a dream there’s a subtext to it that I really enjoy. The scene is written as Bruce asking Selina why she left him. Her response involves his vow as a child, and how he can never really love her because of his devotion to the Batman, etc. But of course, the question Bruce is really asking is, “Why did she leave me?” Via a dream, he’s venting his own doubts about whether he can ever really love another person. And it ends in pretty much the manner you’d expect such a dream from Batman to end.

But the creme de creme, the moment of moments, comes on the final page of the issue and the final page in Knightmares overall…

Batman friggin’ cries. He doesn’t openly weep. But he cries. It’s not even played up at all. It’s beautifully subtle. Just two little strokes of Paquette’s pencil.

Issues like this are part of what makes Tom King’s Batman run so frustrating. Because he is a good writer. He’s a good Batman writer! He knows what he’s doing. But it feels like he got in over his head. The larger story he was trying to tell got too large and in the end he lost focus. That’s such a damn shame, given how many little gems we find in this run.

Incidentally, the song from issue #69 is one King has used before in his series. Sophie Turner’s “Some of these Days.” It dates back to the ’20s. It’s not required listening. But it’s a great little supplement. I recommend it.

6. Waking Up
There are a few collections in this Batman series that you flat out don’t need to read. Technically, this is one of them. But like Cold Days, it gets a recommendation from me. It’s not an amazing character study altogether. But like Tom King’s Batman run as a whole, it surprises you with moments that are absolute classics.

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

Posted in Uncategorized

A Gotham City Sirens: Division Retro Review – Gotham City Stumble

***Retro Reviews are pieces of Primary Ignition‘s past (i.e. the old site) dug from the archives and returned to their rightful place. They’ve been minimally altered. The text has been cleaned up just a little, and I’ve updated the artistic credits to go beyond just the penciller. But this is mostly the content in its original form. At the end, I’ll throw in a bit of hindsight.***

TITLE: Gotham City Sirens: Division

AUTHOR: Peter Calloway
ARTISTS: Andres Guinaldo, Ramon Bachs. Cover by Guillem March.
INKERS: Lorenzo Ruggiero, Bachs,
COLORISTS: JD Smith
LETTERERS: Steve Wands, Dave Sharpe, Carlos M.Mangual, Travis Lanham, Raul Fernandez.
COLLECTS: Gotham City Sirens #2021, #2326
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $14.99
RELEASED: March 7, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Kenosha Kicker. Polka! Polka! Polka!

Reading all 26 issues of Gotham City Sirens is kind of like dating a woman who’s really hot, but who you eventually realize has a lot of personality issues. Eventually you find yourself wondering whether the whole relationship was even worth it at all.

The final volume of this series sees Harley Quinn bound and determined to kill the Joker. She breaks into Arkham Asylum, causing a massive riot. Caught in the mix are Black Mask, Clayface, our Sirens, and even Batman/Bruce Wayne himself (“Anything involving The Joker I take care of personally.”) Amidst the chaos, Harley, Catwoman and Poison Ivy will be placed at odds. Allegiances are tested, and friendships may be broken beyond repair.

I have two major issues with this book, both of which I touched on in my review of the previous volume: The way Joker is drawn and the way Harley is written.

The problem with Guinaldo’s Joker is that it’s trying to mix the look of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight with what Grant Morrison did during his run on Batman. In all fairness, after Morrison’s run DC never came up with a definitive look for the Joker to match the events of those stories. As such, creators working on different books didn’t necessarily know how to portray him. As a result, we usually got something along the lines of the traditional Joker with a bullet-shaped scar in the middle of his forehead (shown above).

The Joker we get in Division looks, quite frankly, like a pasty-faced geezer with some smeared lipstick on his cheeks. Though Guinaldo does supply us with a pretty good manic Joker face every so often, this take on the character isn’t nearly as maniacally menacing as it should be. For yours truly this became a big annoyance as the story went on.

And then there’s Harley. This story takes her to a pretty grim, dark place, especially in the beginning. She’s got a lot of rage directed at the Joker, and as a result we get a lot of inner monologue that seems out of character to me…

“There’s a place. A place in my head. A place on the other side of happy-go-lucky. The one part of me that isn’t looking for the joke. In that dark place–lurks rage…when the laughter breaks down–and humor can’t quiet its hunger–the rage gets out. And then it runs the show.”

I reject this portrayal of Harley not because of principle, but execution. We’ve seen her get angry before. It’s to be expected from a crazy lady who loves a homicidal clown and commits crimes while dressed like a Commedia dell’arte character.

But in Division, Harley becomes a cold, calculated strategist and murderer. We get inside her head and follow her thought process as she systematically breaks into Arkham. This portrayal robs the character of some of her charm. We’re not supposed to be able to follow Harley’s mindset when she does these things. She’s insane. Is she, deep down, a good person who could potentially be saved? Yes. But her infatuation with the Joker has also placed her on a different plane of reality than the rest of us. The reason she can be so goofy, so sick and twisted, with such drastic emotional swerves, is that she’s not playing with the same deck the rest of us are. This book defies that notion by simply making Harley an overly emotional, hopelessly attached girlfriend in a clown suit. She looks sane.

And as we all know, this chick ain’t sane.

The book does have its moments, though. We spend a little time with Aaron Cash, the asylum’s head of security whom we met in the Arkham Asylum video game. We’re with him when he learns about The Joker’s role in the death of his infant son, which is simply haunting. The Arkham Asylum riot is given the right amount of weight by Calloway. He doesn’t play it off like an every day occurrence the way some writers do. There’s a nice aura of panic about it.

Gotham City Sirens started out on such a high note. Unfortunately the memory of how good the series was during that first seven months or so never stopped haunting it. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping for this series to be something of an action/comedy, akin to what we sometimes saw in Batman: The Animated Series and Gotham Girls. No such luck. In the end, Gotham City Sirens was just like every other Batman book on the stands. And what’s the point of putting this oddball trio together if you’re not going to have some fun with it?

At one point in this book, Harley asks Ivy: “Did the three of us make sense as a team? Ever?” (shown above)

The answer is no. But that was where all the fun should have come from.

***In Hindsight***
I wish I could say my opinion had changed on this one. Paul Dini wrote a total of 10 issues, which are collected in the first and second volumes. If you want to check out this series, those are the books you need to read.

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

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Gotham City Sirens: Strange Fruit Retro Review – Hate that Joker!

***Retro Reviews are pieces of Primary Ignition‘s past (i.e. the old site) dug from the archives and returned to their rightful place. They’ve been minimally altered. The text has been cleaned up just a little, and I’ve updated the artistic credits to go beyond just the penciller. But this is mostly the content in its original form. At the end, I’ll throw in a bit of hindsight.***

TITLE: Gotham City Sirens: Strange Fruit
AUTHORS: Tony Bedard, Peter Calloway
ARTISTS: Andres Guinaldo, Jeremy Haun, Guillem March
INKERS: Lorenzo Luggiero, BIT, Walden Wong
COLORISTS: JD Smith, Tomeu Morey
LETTERER: Steve Wands, Travis Lanham, Dave Sharpe
COLLECTS: Gotham City Sirens #1419
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $22.99
RELEASED: August 16, 2011

By Rob Siebert
The same Rob from up top.

It was somewhere during this story that I gave up on Gotham City Sirens ever being the book I wanted it to be. As it started out as a title written by Paul Dini, I was hoping we’d get something more light-hearted, akin to the work Dini did with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy on Batman: The Animated Series. Over the first several issues, we did get that. But it tapered off as different writers started to come on to the book.

Strange Fruit is fairly low on humor, and it’s the first trade in the series without Dini’s name on it, but a high-stakes storyline keeps the title from taking a steep plunge in quality.

The first two issues continue the story that was started in the last book. It’s about Poison Ivy helping an alien or something. In all honesty, my distaste for a random alien appearance in a Bat-book pretty much took me out of the story. It’s not terrible. But I wasn’t a fan.

We then move into a story in which Talia al Ghul and Zatanna are trying to stop a group of bad guys from targeting Catwoman so they can learn Batman’s true identity. What further complicates things is that Catwoman lied to Harley and Ivy, telling them she didn’t know his identity. Trust issues galore can be found in this story, which will lead to Harley making a VERY dramatic decision.

Something’s been nagging at me about Gotham City Sirens for awhile, and it traces back to the events of this book. The way Andres Guinaldo draws the Joker (see below) irritates me terribly. We only see him through sporadic flashbacks, but I’m consistently bothered with the way Guinaldo puts those Dark Knight-ish red etches at the corners of his mouth. He’s not the first artist to do it, but the way he does it is really distracting. They’re much too big. It looks like he’s smeared lipstick on his cheeks. I understand part of it is just Guinaldo’s style. But The Joker’s Dark Knight look doesn’t lend itself to that style.

The story with Zatanna and Talia isn’t the strongest I’ve ever seen, but it’s good. Both have been romantically linked to Bruce Wayne in the past, and those connections make for interesting storytelling. Selina and Zatanna also have a history, which adds to the fire.

While there are a few Harley Quinn moments that harken back to the tone the series started with, the book sets more of a traditional tone, which essentially makes it just like all the other Bat-books, which means it loses a huge part of its selling point. At least for me. I’m certainly not heartbroken this series won’t be part of the New 52 reboot.

***In Hindsight***
My mind about Andres Guinaldo’s Joker has not changed. Thankfully, that trend has died down in the years since.

At the time, I gave this book a 6/10. Upon re-reading, that feels about right. I liked that they played with Selina’s knowledge of Bruce’s identity. Though ironically this was post-Final Crisis, and the Batman we see in this book is Dick Grayson.

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

Posted in Weekly Comic 100s

Weekly Comic 100s: Batman #90, Marvel #1, 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

A few leftovers from last week mixed in here. That’s what happens when you get struck by the flu. Not the Corona virus, I assure you. Just the flu…

TITLE: Batman #90
AUTHOR:
James Tynion IV
ARTISTS:
Jorge Jimenez, Tomeu Morey (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)
RELEASED:
March 4, 2020

This issue has stirred up a decent amount of buzz because of a plot point involving the Joker. While I’m very much into what Tynion is doing, Batman #90 has been drastically over-hyped.

Via a flashback from Catwoman, we’re led to believe that the Designer, a mysterious villain we’ve just now learned about, inspired the Joker to evolve from clown-themed criminal to murdering psychopath. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s too early to herald it as this amazing development in the Batman mythos. Ask me after a few more issues have come out. Then we’ll talk.

TITLE: Marvel #1 (of 6)
AUTHORS: Alex Ross, Steve Darnall, Frank Espinosa, Sajan Saini, Kurt Busiek, 
ARTISTS:
Ross, Josh Johnson (Letterer), Espinosa, Clayton Cowles (Letterer), Steve Rude, Steven Legge (Colorist)
RELEASED:
March 4, 2020

Here we have the first installment in what was Alex Ross’ original vision for Marvels: An anthology of stories done by creators picked by Ross. Many of whom are working in the Marvel Universe for the first time.

Frank Espinosa turns in a lovely Spider-Man story. Given his style, he’s perfect for a project like this. But I was partial to Marvels author Kurt Busiek’s old school Avengers tale, drawn by the one and only Steve Rude. “Hulk-vengers.” Is that only now a thing? Either way, I love it.

TITLE: King of Nowhere #1 (of 5)
AUTHOR: W. Maxwell Prince
ARTISTS: Tyler Jenkins, Hilary Jenkins (Colorist), Andworld Design (Letters)
RELEASED: March 4, 2020

Every once in awhile, you find yourself holding what’s essentially a giant smorgasbord of bizarre, freakish, and random. Have I seen freakier than this? Yes. But not lately…

Our main character Denis wakes up near the small town of Nowhere, essentially a living acid trip filled with the creatures you see on the cover. Adventures ensue, and then we get a little hook at the end to bring us back. It’s not a particularly strong hook. But frankly, she simple question of “What the actual #$%Q is going on?” might just be the only hook King of Nowhere needs.

TITLE: Ghostbusters: Year One #2
AUTHOR: Erik Burnham
ARTISTS: Dan Schoening, Luis Delgado (Colorist), Neil Uyetake (Letterer)
RELEASED: March 4, 2020

This issue sees the Ghostbusters follow up on their very first spectral encounter: Eleanor Twitty, the librarian ghost. Thus, I’m forced to ask the heart-wrenching question of whether Ghostbusters: The Video Game is still canon in the IDWverse.

We also get a cute, and surprisingly heartwarming college flashback where Venkman introduces Ray and Egon. And of course, Schoening draws Egon with the late ’70s/early ’80s Harold Ramis afro. Because how could you not?

TITLE: Batman/Superman #7
AUTHOR:
Joshua Williamson
ARTISTS:
Nick Derington, Dave McCaig (Colorist), John J. Hill (Letterer)
RELEASED:
February 26, 2020

“The Bottled City of the Dead.” That’s fun. I like it. Even if the cliffhanger we get does border on unintentionally funny.

Nick Dergington’s art is the star here, supported wonderfully by Dave McCaig’s colors. To call it “simplistic” looking sounds like a dig. It isn’t. It’s easily digestible. And again, it’s fun.

Williamson’s writing of the rapport between our titular characters is the strongest its been yet in this issue. I’ll admit it’s a bit awkward, though appropriate, that they call each other by their hero names. It feels like they should call each other by their first names. But of course, they’re in the field…

TITLE: TMNT: Jennika #1
AUTHORS: Braham Revel, Ronda Pattison
ARTISTS:
Revel, Jodi Nishijima, Pattison (Colorist), Shawn Lee (Letterer).
RELEASED: February 26, 2020

I like how Revel draws Jennika with a slimmer, dare I say more feminine figure. In theory it sets her apart from the other Turtles that much more. Revel’s style is also mildly reminiscent of the 2012 animated series. It makes for an interesting style shift from the main series.

There’s a decent amount of meat to this story. The best of which involves the awkward romantic tension between Jennika and Casey Jones. It’s an impossible conflict that I’m dying to see how they resolve. Or at least if they can resolve it without making Casey look like a heel.

TITLE: Suicide Squad #3
AUTHOR:
Tom Taylor
ARTISTS:
Bruno Redondo, Adriano Lucas (Colorist), Wes Abbott (Letterer)
RELEASED:
February 26, 2020

What has surprised me more than anything about Tom Taylor’s Suicide Squad run thus far is how much he’s actually delivered on the whole suicide mission premise. By only having two heavy hitters (Deadshot and Harley), and having the cast consist mostly of original characters, he can raise the stakes seamlessly by making the missions more costly.

As far as those new characters are concerned, I remain partial to Fin. Especially after seeing him exact some deliciously gruesome revenge this issue.

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

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Weekly Comic 100s

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.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Batman, Vol. 7: The Wedding Deep-Dive Review – Who Invited the Damn Joker?!?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 7: The Wedding
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Tony Daniel, Clay Mann, Mikel Janin
INKERS: John Livesay, Sandu Florea, Danny Miki
COLORISTS:
Tomeu Morey, June Chung
LETTERERS: Clayton Cowles
COLLECTS: Batman #4550, portion of DC Nation #0.
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE:
$16.99
RELEASED:
October 24, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Welp, this was a big one. A pivotal moment in Batman’s world. Or was it? I mean, it certainly could have been…

Either way, this book pissed a lot of people off. And not just with the pay-off (or lack there of) to a year’s worth of build-up. Tom King and the Batman crew had been cranking up the weirdness factor with the last several issues. And not necessarily weird in a good way. It was more weird in a, “Huh?” way. There’s a strong argument to be made that the weirdness reaches its apex here, in a three-issue story called “The Gift”…

1. What’s your refund policy?
Linkara actually did a masterful job of roasting “The Gift” in a recent episode of Atop the Fourth Wall. But I’ll touch on the broad strokes here.

In an ill-conceived attempt to give Batman a wedding gift, Booster Gold and Skeets travel back in time to stop the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The idea was to give Bruce an It’s A Wonderful Life moment, i.e. a chance to see what the world would be like without Batman. And indeed, the world is worse off for him being gone. Much worse. The nation of “Eurasia” is ruled by Ra’s al Ghul. The Penguin has become president of the United States. Selina Kyle is a serial killer who only speaks in meows. Gotham is infected by a “Joker” insanity plague. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson is a homicidal Batman whose costume is covered in firearms and explosives. When Booster finds himself trapped in this horrific reality he’s created, he has no choice but to try and…well, take back his gift.

Perhaps the most prominent theme, of Tom King’s Batman run has been the question of whether or not Bruce can actually be happy. It’s a hell of an idea to explore. I get the sense that’s what “The Gift” is trying to do. Would Bruce be happier if his parents hadn’t been killed? And considering how the world looks without Batman, is everyone better off with him being unhappy, yet serving a greater good?

However, in terms of plot holes, “The Gift” looks like friggin’ swiss cheese.

Let’s start with Booster Gold. Setting aside that King portrays him as a complete doofus, his plan makes no sense. By the classic Back to the Future, Part II logic, if you travel back in time and change something critical, reality will change around you. The world you return to may be drastically different than the one you left behind. So Booster goes back in time to stop the Wayne murders, thus preventing Bruce from becoming Batman. Once he does that, how does he expect to return to the present day and show Batman what he’s done? Batman doesn’t exist! That was the idea behind this whole cockamamie scheme in the first place!

What’s more, with this story King, like so many other writers, falls victim to Batman worship. Would the world be different without Batman? Or at least the Batman we know? Yes. But does the entire world fall into chaos without Batman? Remember, we’re still in the DC Universe. The Wayne murders had nothing to do with the origins of Superman or Wonder Woman. Hell, we even see Green Lantern in this story! (Albeit in a gratuitously violent manner.) You’re telling me no other heroes could have stopped Ra’s al Ghul from conquering half the planet?

Dick Grayson becoming Batman, much less a Batman who’s more like the Punisher, makes no sense either. How does Dick get the whole bat motif if he’s not taken in by Bruce? Did a rogue bat somehow fly into Haley’s Circus and snap those trapeze wires?

In addition to serving as an extremely bizarre look into an alt-universe Gotham City, “The Gift” essentially serves two purposes. First, like “Everyone Loves Ivy” in the last collection, it helps set the stage for Heroes in Crisis, in which Booster has a major role. Secondly, it gave them a reason to have Tony Daniel draw Catwoman in her Batman Returns costume. But Christ on a cracker, if they wanted to work that in, there had to be a better way than this. Just say it’s a failed prototype costume Selina made. You don’t have to alter the damn timeline…

2. Who Invited the Damn Joker?!?
Well, it was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? You can’t do a big story like this and not have the Joker around in some form.

Mikel Janin is back for the two-issue story, “The Best Man.” But before that, we get a little gem from DC Nation #0 drawn by Clay Mann. The Joker breaks into a random house, and holds a man hostage while he waits for the mail to come, inexplicably expecting an invitation to Batman’s wedding. By and large, I’m not necessarily in love with Clay Mann’s take on the Joker. But there are two shots he absolutely nails. The first is the opening splash page. The second is the panel at left.

Tom King writes a decent Joker. He’s good at working humor into the horror, one of the hallmarks of a great Joker writer. The Clay Mann story, “Your Big Day,” and the first several pages of Batman #48 are really good. But as the proceedings continue, he runs into a familiar problem: Joker, and later Catwoman, talk too much in attempts at banter. This is especially true in issue #49, which consists almost entirely of them talking about “the old days,” and Joker’s worry that a happily married Batman wouldn’t be funny, and might ultimately cease to exist.

The big problem I have with issue #49 isn’t so much about the banter attempts. It’s that the Joker, for lack of a better term, talks straight with Selina. He drops the act. He talks like a normal person, as if to an old friend. That’s the idea, I suppose. But I believe that on the rare occasions the Joker does that, it has to be brief yet impactful. It has to mean something.

Consider it this way: Tom King and Mikel Janin clearly have a fondness for The Killing Joke, the classic story by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. At one point Joker even refers to the church they’re in as the “Moore Cathedral” on “Bolland Ave.” For those of you who’ve read it, think about that final scene where Batman extends that olive branch to the Joker, and the Joker simply and quietly responds. For just a few precious moments, he’s not a monster anymore. Then he goes into a joke, and brings himself back into character.

Now…what if he’d been like that for a huge chunk of the story? Or the entire story? Not in the flashback scenes, mind you. The ones in the present day. Takes a lotta the punch out of the story, doesn’t it?

3. The Moment of Truth
Artistically, Batman #50, the wedding issue, is a beautiful tribute to the dynamic these two characters have shared for nearly eight decades. There are splash pages, pin-ups essentially, by the likes of Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Tim Sale, Jim Lee, among numerous others. You can argue work like that is worth the $16.99 on its own. Meanwhile, we’ve got Janin back for the story proper.

While I think this Batman run has soured a lot of people’s perceptions of Tom King following his stellar run on Vision, he’s on his A-game for this issue. As he damn well should be. There’s an absolutely beautiful one-page scene between Bruce and Alfred. Depending on how invested you are in them and their surrogate father/son dynamic, it may even move you to tears.

The ending of this issue, i.e. the outcome of the wedding, had a lot of people crying foul. I’m not going to get into spoilers, but it’s been over a year since the issue was published. So I feel comfortable enough saying fans thought DC didn’t deliver on what they’d promised.

But let’s be honest: These are mainstream superhero comics, where marriages either get retconned out of existence, or are mystically evaporated via deals with Mephisto. At best, there was only a 50/50 chance they were going through with the wedding anyway. Plus, it’s not like they had the Joker, or God forbid Kite-Man, come in and break up the ceremony. They tied it into what had already been established in the 49 issues prior, and the big theme of Bruce and happiness. Was the final outcome predictable? Absolutely. Even a little bit of an eye-roller. But it works. Especially with the benefit of hindsight.

When discussing a potential marriage between Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer, DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio once famously said in 2013…

“Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. … They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand with our characters.”

DC would ultimately scale back on that philosophy. For instance, they re-established the marriage between Superman and Lois Lane. But I think fans who were in the know about DiDio’s remarks saw this ending as a step backward.

I think that’s an understandable sentiment, but perhaps a bit premature. As of this writing, Tom King has one issue of Batman left, which happens to be an extra-sized 48-pager. Then he’s got a 12-issue Batman/Catwoman maxi-series coming in 2020. So he’s clearly not done with them yet. I’m not saying I expect anything in particular to happen. I’m just keeping an open mind as we move ahead.

4. I Now Pronounce You…
Batman: The Wedding is a red letter moment in the history of two iconic characters. For that alone, it’s worth a read. And for all the blunders King has made during his Batman run, he got the wedding itself right. Mikel Janin’s art continues to amaze, standing tall on its own even with additions from iconic Batman artists. And hey, if train wrecks are your thing, you’ll definitely want to check out “The Gift.”

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, and Bride or Burglar?.

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

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Batman: Bride or Burglar? Deep-Dive Review – What Might Have Been…

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 6: Bride or Burglar?
AUTHOR:
Tom King
PENCILLERS: Travis Moore, Joelle Jones, Mikel Janin
COLLECTS: Batman #3844
FORMAT:
Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: July 25, 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This is the part of Tom King’s Batman run where things start to get weird. Like, really, really weird.

Bride or Burglar? is book-ended by two strong single issues. But in between, King starts needlessly messing around with space-time. He also plants some seeds for Heroes in Crisis that, like much of that ill-conceived event comic, are needlessly awkward and forced. There’s one bit that’s downright blasphemous. From a quality standpoint, this is the lowest the series has dipped up to this point.

But let’s start by focusing on the positives, shall we? And to do that, we have to jump to the last story in this collection…

1. History Lesson
The highlight of the trade is easily Batman #44, which features the titular “Bride or Burglar” story. It sees Selina hunting for a wedding dress as only Catwoman can. But interspersed among the story are actual scenes from Batman and Catwoman’s history that King and Janin make their own, with most of the original dialogue intact. We go as far back to the original Batman #1 in 1940, through the ’50s, on into the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, all the way to the present.

While they do take certain creative liberties, they keep Catwoman’s various different costumes intact. As such, we not only get a sense of how her relationship with Batman has evolved, but how her Catwoman persona has evolved over its lifespan. For history buffs like yours truly, it’s an absolute treat. Story-wise, there’s also a wonderful little moment between Selina and Alfred on the final page.

Tom King’s Batman run has gotten a lot of flack, much of which is justified. But I’ll never knock the way he makes Bruce and Selina’s chemistry radiate off the page. Their familiarity, their intimacy with one another on a strictly verbal scale, is enough to make you believe they love each other, and perhaps should be married.

2. Who is Bruce Wayne?
Jumping back to the start of Bride or Burglar, Batman #38 introduces us to one of the most unlikely villains in all of Batman lore. I won’t spoil the specifics of who it is, but the character’s M.O. is that he models himself after Bruce Wayne. He essentially wants to become Bruce Wayne, which naturally puts Batman in a rather awkward spot. It’s been said that many of Batman’s enemies are, at their core, different versions of what Bruce could have become after his parents were killed. This premise takes that idea so literally that it’s actually pretty clever. We also spend some time doing C.S.I. type stuff with Batman and Commissioner Gordon, which is always fun.

Our guest artist for the issue is Travis Moore, joined by colorist Giulia Brusco. I can’t say I fell in love with their work here. But it was serviceable. No harm no foul.

3. The Eternal Vow
Here’s where we start to run into trouble.

In issue #39 we meet the Gentle Man, a warrior from another realm who spends night and day single-handedly fending off an army of monsters called the Hordes of Gehenna. Apparently, some time in the past Batman and Wonder Woman met and fought alongside the Gentle Man. They offered to take up his fight for a day and allow him to rest. But what he neglects to tell them is that minutes on Earth equate to years in this other realm. Thus, Bruce must not only fight alongside Diana for what winds up being about 30 years in relative time, but he must remain faithful to Selina. That’s not necessarily easy when you’re in the trenches with an Amazonian Princess.

While Joelle Jones is very much in her element with the battle scenes, this whole “Eternal Vow” story winds up being stupid and pointless filler on the path to the wedding in Batman #50. Bruce and Selina didn’t need a fairy tale story like this to emphasize the love they have for each other. A huge part of their appeal is that they’re not the fairy tale lovers destined to be together. They’re two orphans who met when their bizarre and violent paths happened to cross, and they fell into a unique kind of love. That’s all you need with them.

Furthermore, I don’t buy that Bruce comes out of that realm the same person. Yes, he’s Batman. But that’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card for crap like this. Both he and Diana would be shells of their former selves. Nearly unrecognizable to anyone who knew them before.

As if that weren’t enough, Tom King has trouble writing Wonder Woman. Her dialogue is acceptable, but very weird. At this point, she’s been an active hero for years, right? But King writes her as if she’s just stepped out of Themyscira. It’s needlessly off-putting. And sadly, Diana isn’t the only Justice Leaguer to get a bad shake here…

4. Crazy Love
In “Everyone Loves Ivy,” Poison Ivy is able to gain control over the minds of everyone on the planet, except for Batman and Catwoman, who are able to fight it off using comic book science. Thus, it’s literally them against the world.

I like parts of this idea. It puts Ivy over huge, as she becomes a Justice-League-level threat, and is ultimately victorious. How she went about gaining the mind control is believable. The way they beat her is a little hokey, but acceptable given the parties involved.

Mikel Janin is back for these issues, and he really knocks it out of the park with all the greenery and foliage this story requires. Rarely has a Poison Ivy lair looked so good. I also give King and Janin credit for showing us what would actually happen if Superman full-on punched Batman in the face. It ain’t pretty, folks.

Sadly, I was yanked out of the story rather abruptly during the first issue. Ivy attempts to use the Flash against Batman. Barry Allen runs at him, or more specifically at Alfred, using his super-speed. Batman knocks him out with a single punch, effectively an inexplicably knocking him out of super-speed. What’s worse, this happens three more times in the following issue. Not just to Barry, but to Wally West and Kid Flash. Apparently Catwoman is also inexplicably capable of defeating the Flash with a single blow…

Bull. Shit.

I normally shy away from profanity. But this one deserved it. Shame on both Tom King and the Batman editorial team. You don’t get to turn the Flash and his supporting cast into a gag because you aren’t creative enough to find a better way to neutralize them. This is especially offensive in hindsight, given what King does to Wally in Heroes in Crisis.

In the end, Heroes in Crisis was the master this story served. It planted the seed (no pun intended) for Ivy’s role there. As such, her motivation involves a specific trauma from The War of Jokes and Riddles that we never saw, and thus can’t connect with as easily. So when the story tries to pivot and make her a victim, it fails because despite that trauma, she still took over the damn world. To an extent, she just made victims out of billions of innocent people. So you’ll pardon me if I’m rather unsympathetic.

5. The Verdict
Bruce proposed to Selina in Batman #24. I’m assuming by that point the knew the wedding was going to be in issue #50. So they had 25 issues to fill before the big pay-off. Some of the storytelling was very organic, i.e. the one with Talia al Ghul from Rules of Engagement. “Bride or Burglar” worked very well. The stuff with Superman and Lois Lane was fun.

But then you’ve got stuff like “Eternal Vow” and “Everyone Loves Ivy,” which are somewhat apropos, but still bizarre choices to fill that gap. It seems like we could have spent at least some of those issues figuring out how Selina adjusts to being in Batman’s inner circle. What sort of changes does it require of her? Are Batman and Catwoman essentially the new Dynamic Duo of Gotham City? What about Thomas and Martha Wayne? What was their wedding like? And how does Bruce think they’d react to his choice for a bride?

This obviously isn’t going to be the status quo forever. So why not mine this wedding stuff for as much character exploration as possible? They could still have told fun and compelling stories along the way. But instead we’re left with a feeling of missed opportunities, and the nagging question of what might have been.

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, and The Rules of Engagement.

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

 

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Weekly Comic 100s: Undiscovered Country, Legion of Superheroes

*”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: Undiscovered Country #1
AUTHORS: Scott Snyder, Charles Soule
ARTISTS: Daniele Orlandini, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Matt Wilson. Lettering by crank!
RELEASED: November 6, 2019

This is one of those stories that’s just close enough to being possible that it’s…unsettling.

The United States of America walled itself off from the rest of the world 30 years ago, with no foreigners coming in or out. Now, as war and disease ravage the rest of the world, an American representative mysteriously invites diplomats behind the wall. What they see is…unexpected.

While it’s got a lot of the standard exposition you need in a first outing, I highly recommend this one . It’s worth the price alone for that first two-page shot of the border wall…

TITLE: Legion of Superheroes #1
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS: Ryan Sook, Wade Von Grawbadger (Co-Inker), Jordie Bellaire (Colorist), Dave Sharpe (Letterer)
RELEASED: November 6, 2019

I’ve never been able to get into the Legion of Superheroes. Long story short: Too many characters to keep track of, and not enough reasons for me to care about any of them.

This first Legion issue is gorgeous, and there are a few cool ideas in it (most notably what’s happened to the Earth). We even have Superboy as our fish-out-of-water main character. But for me, it ultimately suffers the same fate as every other take on this world. They really needed a strong hook with this first issue. I didn’t see one.

TITLE: Young Justice #10
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS: John Timms, Nick Derington, Gabe Eltaeb and Dave Stewart (Colorists), Wes Abbott (Letterer)
RELEASED: November 6, 2019

While Naomi is advertised on the cover, she appears on exactly one page and says nothing. Just sayin’…

Still, Bendis fares much better with this group of teen heroes. Ten issues in, Young Justice is still a lot of fun. This month, Tim Drake gets a new hero name (“Drake”) and costume that the verdict is still out on for me. But at least now he’s got his own identity, independent of his history as Robin.

In addition, our main story is juxtaposed with an origin story for Jinny Hex, which adds a grounded, almost gritty texture to her.

TITLE: Batman #82
AUTHOR: Tom King
ARTISTS: Mikel Janin, Jordie Bellaire (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by David Finch and Alex Sinclair.

This cover has a weird gimmick to it. A thin plastic with the logo and the explosions, with the shot of Bane on the inside page. But said page is just another cover. So…what was even the point?

Thankfully, Mikel Janin is back as Batman and Catwoman take on Bane. It’s got all the quips we’ve come to expect from Tom King at this point. Frankly, it’s gotten too over the top for me.

While ambitious, “City of Bane” is starting to feel padded and drawn out. Keep in mind, we’ve got three issues to go.

TITLE: Lois Lane #5
AUTHOR:Greg Rucka
ARTISTS: Mike Perkins, Gabe Eltaeb (Colorist), Simon Bowland (Letterer)
RELEASED: November 6, 2019

The opening pages of this issue are awesome, as Lois talks to another passenger on a plane. Rucka plays devil’s advocate about “fake news.” Later, he actually dives into what terms like “off the record,” “on background,” and “deep background” mean. As a former journalist, I love that stuff.

While Lois Lane is a great read, I admit I’m having trouble keeping track of what the central mystery actually is. The murder of a journalist sparks Lois and Renee Montoya’s investigation into a high-level government conspiracy. Still, they’ve got me coming back for more, and that’s what matters.

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

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Batman: The Rules of Engagement Deep-Dive 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.

Posted in Astonishing Art, Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Astonishing Art: Batman: The Animated Series by Rick Celis

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

If you’re a ’90s kid like I am, chances are you’ve got a soft spot for Batman: The Animated Series. For my generation, and even for a number of younger fans, it’s the definitive take on Batman and his world.

As such, artist Rick Celis and his many tributes to the series have hit me right in the nostalgic feels. Not only has Celis nailed down the look of the characters and the show, but he often uses it to pay tribute to more current works.

To illustrate, I’ve included some of my favorites below. You’ll see his send-ups to the Jim Lee variant for Batman #50, and the main cover for Batman #42. He’s also prone to giving nostalgic goodies like this tip of the hat to Runaway Bride (in the spirit of the recent Batman/Catwoman wedding, of course).

More of Celis’ work can be found on DeviantArt, Twitter, Instagram, and Patreon.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.