A Batman, Vol 11: The Fall and the Fallen Deep Dive – Too Much Canvas

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 11: The Fall and the Fallen
AUTHORS:
Tom King, Andy Kubert, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, Mairghread Scott, Steve Orlando, Tim Seeley
ARTISTS:
Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Amancay Nahuelpan, Carlos D’Anda, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith (Inker). Eduardo Risso, Patrick Gleason. Cover by Kubert.
COLORIST:
Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Luis Guerrero, Tomeu Morey, Dave Stewart, John Kalisz
LETTERER:
Clayton Cowles, Steve Wands, Andworld Design, Tom Workman, Tom Napolitano
COLLECTS:
Batman #7074, Batman: Secret Files #2
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE:
$24.99
RELEASED:
December 18, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

As a whole, City of Bane, which essentially starts here, is Tom King’s version of The Dark Knight Rises. Or if you want to go back further, the Knightfall storyline from the ’90s.

It’s also where the wheels come off King’s Batman run. I take no joy in saying that. But the proof is in the pudding, kids. So let’s dip our spoons in…

1. Daddy’s back.
The Fall and the Fallen is when we finally see Bane and Flashpoint Batman, a.k.a. Thomas Wayne from an alternate universe, team up to break our hero once and for all.

Yes friends, Thomas Wayne, one of Bruce Wayne’s parents, is here. You know about Bruce Wayne’s parents, right? They were murdered in front of their young son. It was that heinous act of violence that inspired Bruce’s vow to wage war on criminals for the rest of his life, and ultimately the creation of Batman. We saw these two come face-to-face in The Button, and it was a tremendously emotional experience for Bruce. One can only imagine what would go through his head if his father, even an alt-universe version, masterminded some kind of plot against him…

So tell me something: Why is Bane our big bad in this story? Why bring him into this when Bruce’s father shakes his son’s world to its core simply because he exists? Add the fact that this version of Thomas Wayne is his universe’s Batman, and Bane becomes redundant by comparison.

Batman #72 takes us back through the events of the series and outlines Bane’s plan, which all centers around the Bruce/Selina marriage. In the end, Thomas proposes a partnership.

But picture this, Thomas Wayne somehow survives the destruction of the Flashpoint universe and winds up in the DC Universe proper. He initially wants to seek out his “son,” but this alternate world intrigues him. So he opts to lay low, observe, and learn.

Remember, in The Button, Thomas pleaded with Bruce to stop being Batman and simply live his life. Devastated that Bruce hasn’t heeded his words, he decides he’s the only one that can stop his “son.” So he opts to do what must be done, by any means necessary.

In the end, it comes down to Batman against Batman. Father against son. It can be on the rooftops of Gotham, the Batcave, or anywhere really. All we need is the emotional impact of that showdown.

In the end, Catwoman shoots and kills Thomas in an act of desperation. Bruce then has to decide if he can forgive her or not. This would pay off the revelation from The War of Jokes and Riddles.

Not bad, huh? But no, instead we got another big fight with Bane. Yippee…

2. Father/Son Time
And what of what we actually get from father and son? They journey through the desert to get to a Lazarus Pit, occasionally stopping to fight members of Ra’s al Ghul’s personal guard. They take turns riding a horse, which is dragging a casket behind it. I won’t say who’s in it. But if you consider who we have in this scene and where they’re going it’s not too hard to figure out. There’s a really nice subtle reference to Batman: Knight of Vengeance, which is low key one of the best Batman stories of the last decade.

Old timey music has been a theme during Tom King’s run. In issue #73, he has Flashpoint Batman singing “Home, Home on the Range” to himself. Fun fact: It’s really weird to read that scene while playing Bing Crosby’s version of the song in the background…

Issue #74 is where things finally boil over between our Batmen. Thomas’ motivation, as always, is to get Bruce to surrender his life as Batman and live a normal life. That’s a hell of a premise for an issue. The trouble is, King spends far too much time harping on a story about a bedtime story Thomas told Bruce as a child about a bunch of animals eating each other in a pit. If I’m not mistaken, it’s an actual story written by Alexander Afanasyev, who’s widely considered to be the Russian counterpart to the Brothers Grimm. Father and son talk about the horror of it all, and why Bruce supposedly liked the story. They eventually get to the real meat of their conflict. But by the time they do, you feel frustrated because they’ve spent so much time talking about that damn story. Even during their inevitable battle in the pit, King uses the story as a narrative backdrop.

And all the while, I can’t help but think…Thomas Wayne, Batman’s dad, is standing right there. And this was the best they could do?

3. Dump the Duster
Okay DC, we get it. Batman v Superman was a thing. You guys liked the image of Batman in a duster and goggles, so you decided to use it. Fair enough.

But these issues came out in 2019. The movie came out in 2017. There was no need whatsoever to put the Flashpoint Batman in a duster and goggles just like the ones his “son” happened to wear several issues earlier in The Rules of Engagement.

If it looked cool, that would be one thing. But it doesn’t. Plus, it’s impractical and redundant even by superhero standards, and therefore silly.

What’s done is done. But let’s make this right. If you want to have Batman wearing his costume in the desert, that’s fine. Heck, if you want to have Bruce Wayne wear a duster and goggles, that’s fine. But you can’t have Batman wearing his costume in the desert with a duster and goggles. The two ideas are mutually exclusive. That’s got to be a rule in writing Batman from now on.

4. Batman Gone Batty?
Issues #70 and #71 focus on a needless, and at times silly plot point about people thinking Batman is losing it, and Jim Gordon severing ties with him.

When we open the book, our Caped Crusader is punching his way through Arkham Asylum, facing off with most of the supervillains you’d expect to see. It’s a great opportunity for Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes to draw virtually all of the iconic rogues gallery.

The trouble is, King once again supplies us with bad Batman dialogue. Not the least of which is: “You challenge me with…nightmares? I live the nightmare! Bane! Why can’t you understand! I’m Batman! I am the nightmare.”

Shut up, already.

Given how convinced Batman is that Bane is faking insanity to remain in Arkham, and how intense and violent he is in his pursuit of the truth, Gordon becomes convinced that the Dark Knight has gone off the deep end. In issue #71 he tries to kick him off the roof of police headquarters (shown above).

That skepticism spreads to his extended family of superheroes, who are convinced Bruce is still grieving over his broken engagement to Selina Kyle. The situation is punctuated when he punches Tim Drake in the face.

There’s no worthwhile payoff to any of this. It all comes off like padding. Because it is padding. You can revolve an entire story arc around either of those moments. But instead they just come and go. That’s particularly a shame when it comes to the Gordon story, as there could have been some real substance to that.

5. Where’s Wesker?
This trade also contains Batman: Secret Files #2, which in theory is supposed to spotlight all “the villains who broke the Bat.” Okay, sure.

For what I think is the first time since Batman #23.1, Andy Kubert gets to write a Batman/Joker story. Things fare much better this time, largely because he goes the comedic route. Also, Amancay Nahuelpan draws a hell of a Clown Prince of Crime.

Colin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing put together a so-so story about the Psycho-Pirate leading a cult. Artist Carlos D’Anda overachieves on this one, which I did not expect.

Mairghread Scott and Giuseppe Camuncoli turn in a Riddler story that holds up pretty well. More amusing to me is the fact that “Sideburns Riddler” is still a thing.

Steve Orlando and Eduardo Risso steal the show with a Hugo Strange tale featuring multiple Batman “specimens.” Given he’s a mad doctor, I’ll let you jump to your own conclusions on what that story is about…

Tim Seeley teams with one of my personal favorites, Patrick Gleason, for a story late in Bane’s pre-Gotham days. I’m used to Gleason working with a much brighter color palette than John Kalisz provides here. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just different.

My big problem with this issue? No story about Arnold Wesker, a.k.a. the Ventriloquist. He’s on the cover, and plays one of the more interesting roles in Bane’s big scheme, as sort of Bane’s counterpart to Alfred. It’s a little disturbing, considering what happens to Alfred in the next volume.

6. Consistence and Versatility
The Secret Files issue notwithstanding, our drawing duties are split between Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes. While The Fall and the Fallen may have its share of story problems, I can’t find much to complain about artistically. Both these men are awesome Batman artists very much in their element.

Mikel Janin was a star coming into this series. But he’s a superstar coming out of it. Speaking for myself, Janin’s art can now sell a book on its own. His line work is always super clean, his figure work consistent, and his character acting on point. I now look forward to specifically seeing his versions of Batman, the Joker, and even less flashy characters like Alfred and the Penguin. The fact that he’s got colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire backing him up in this book does nothing but help, of course. But Janin’s style on its own is versatile enough to handle any story. Whether we’re on the streets of Gotham, the Source Wall at the edge of the universe, or anywhere in between.

Objectively, Janin’s best work in this book is probably issue #74, as that’s where the book hits its emotional crescendo and is really firing on all cylinders. But selfishly, I’m partial to issue #70 because Janin gets to draw some of the more obscure Batman villains. Calendar Man, Doctor Phosphorus, the Cavalier, etc.

It’s difficult to look at Jorge Fornes’ work without thinking of what David Mazzucchelli did with Batman: Year One. The figure rendering is similar, the texture is similar. Bellaire’s coloring doesn’t have the same faded palette that Richmond Lewis’ did. But it’s still reminiscent.

I can’t bring myself to complain about the similarities, because Year One is obviously one of the all-time greats. But that means Fornes is better in environments that are a little more mundane, and can have that noir-ish spin put on them. Street level scenes, Wayne Manor and Batcave scenes, etc. It’s no accident that a hero like Daredevil is also on his resume. But something tells me that, like Janin, he’s got a versatilty to him. One that isn’t necessarily apparent here. I’m anxious to see what he does next.

7. Too Much Canvas
When someone mentions Tom King the first thing that comes to mind, at least for me, is his 12-issue run on Vision. That was such a masterclass in comic book storytelling. It’s frustrating to think that someone who wove such a classic at Marvel could make these kind of mistakes on Batman.

What it all comes down to is too much canvas. Give an artist too much canvas to work on, and suddenly the focus of the art wavers. If any story has ever had too much canvas it’s City of Bane.

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

A Batman, Vol. 9: The Tyrant Wing Deep-Dive – Penguin Steals the Show

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 9: The Tyrant Wing
AUTHORS: Tom King, Ram V, Cheryl Lynn Eaton, Jordie Bellaire, Tom Taylor,
ARTISTS: Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Elena Casagrande, Jill Thompson, Otto Schmidt
COLORISTS: Bellaire, Matt Wilson, Trish Mulvhill,
LETTERERS: Clayton Cowles, Steve Wands, Deron Bennett, Troy Peteri
COLLECTS: Batman #58-60, Batman Secret Files #1, Batman Annual #3
FORMAT:
Softcover
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: March 20, 2019

***WARNING: There’s a minor spoiler ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

The Tyrant Wing is more or less a transitionary book. Bruce and Selina’s wedding has happened. Or rather, not happened. We dealt with a lot of the fall-out from it in Cold Days. In The Tyrant Wing we start setting the stage for Tom King’s big finale. A new opponent for Batman emerges. One that even the world’s greatest detective couldn’t possibly have anticipated.

But along the way King, Mikel Janin, and the Batman team unexpectedly do some justice for a character that doesn’t always get the love he deserves: The Penguin.

1. Penny In Your Thoughts
If you’re a guy who happens to be down on his luck romantically, I offer you this bit of consolation: If the Penguin can find a bride, so can you.

Then again, she’s dead now. So maybe that’s not the hopeful example we wanna go with.

Yes, apparently ol’ Pengers had a wife we never saw or heard about. Her name? Penny Cobblepot. Though almost 30 years younger than him, it’s quickly obvious Penguin loved her dearly. Suddenly, he’s a man with nothing left to lose. So he starts spilling secrets. Secrets about Bane…

To Tom King’s credit, this might be the most multi-dimensional take on the Penguin I’ve ever seen. We see pieces of virtually every version of the character. We get the squawking supervillain with the trick umbrellas. We get the freakish, portly gentleman with the soul of a poet. We get the unspeakably cruel crime boss. We even get a small trace of the fish-slurping monster we saw in Batman Returns. Like many Batman villains, we’re against him but we also manage to find some sympathy for him.

Like a lot of fans, I’ve given King my share of grief over some of the choices he’s made on this series. I’ll continue to do so, in fact. But he knocked ol’ Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot right out of the park.

This is most evident in issue #60. A blindfolded Penguin is locked up in the Batcave talking to Alfred. This is instantly compelling, as we don’t often see Alfred interacting with the villains, much less one he might have something in common with. They bond over, of all things, poetry. At one point, Penguin even calls his anonymous keeper, “my friend.” Alfred then feeds him raw fish by hand. It’s one of those scenes that, considering both characters have been around for decades, it’s shocking it hasn’t been done.

As the Penguin endures heartbreak, Batman punches his way across Gotham searching for the truth about what Bane is plotting. Naturally, this causes a hell of a lot of friction with Gordon and the GCPD. None of this really grabbed me, as we’ve seen this kind of story many times before. Things get a little more engaging in issue #60 when Jorge Fornes tags in for the Batman sequences.

Unfortunately, I do need to make note of one the clunkier lines in this entire run. When Batman barges into Arkham to confront Bane, he’s met by a SWAT team. As he’s dismantling them, while generally being a raging prick about the whole thing, he says among other things…

“Right now, each of you has a choice to make. Do I pull that trigger and get a Bat-boot shoved through my face? Or do I let the man go about his business?”

Yup. Bat-boot. Our legendary hero, everybody.

2. The Butler Does It All
We shift gears here. Venturing away from the main plot, we move to author Tom Taylor and artist Otto Schmidt and one of the best Alfred Pennyworth stories of the modern era. If not all time.

Given the stunt DC recently pulled with Alfred, they put out an issue dedicated to him. Various members of the Batman family shared memories of him. But frankly, something like Batman Annual #3 is a much better tribute issue. It touches on the various things Alfred does to make the whole Batman operation work. But more importantly, it dives  into why he does it and what he gets from it.

Think of it this way: Gotham needs Batman. Batman needs Alfred. So at the end of the day, what does that make Alfred?

3. Batman in Quarantine (Kind of…)
The trade closes out with a Secret Files issue that’s very much a mixed bag. We open up with a three-page Tom King/Mikel Janin story. Or rather, part of a story. As Batman is feeling the wear and tear on his body, Superman just happens to offer him access to a new kind of Kryptonite. Platinum Kryptonite, of which a single touch will grant him the same powers as Superman. The story ends with Bruce asking Alfred, “Am I enough?”

I call BS on this for two reasons.

Firstly, to just end the story on that note, even if it’s only meant to serve as an introduction, is a crime. Batman is literally offered all the same powers as Superman. And you don’t give his answer? What kinda lazy garbage is that? Over a decade ago, DC put out a story called Super/Bat that more or less had this same premise, and Batman does get Superman’s powers. It was amazing. If you want to give your own take on that story, but all means go for it. But to leave it open-ended like that? Screw you.

Secondly, while it’s not a direct line of dialogue, it’s indicated that Superman tells Batman if he touches this new Kryptonite, “Then you can fight as I fight. As you should fight. With true strength.”

No. Wrong. I understand the implication they’re making about where true strength comes from. But Superman’s “true strength” does not come from his powers. It comes from his character. From his ideals. The way he views the world. I don’t have an issue with him offering Batman super powers. But for him to suggest that’s where “true strength” comes from is out of character. Bad form.

After a story about a cop feeling long-term effects from Scarecrow gas, we get one about Waynetech drones winding up in the wrong hands and what Bruce does about it. I actually got more of an Iron Man vibe from that one. The book closes with a team-up between Batman and Detective Chimp, which is fun.

But the only other story in the issue that really sticks out is a tale written by colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire. On Man-Bat’s trail, Batman secludes himself in a cabin amidst Gotham’s snow-covered mountains. As it turns out, this notorious loner doesn’t do so well when he’s forced to be on his own.

The operative line of the story is, “Truth is, I’m not such a fan of myself.”

The central idea here is really compelling. What does Bruce Wayne’s self image look like? What does a man who goes out every night dressed like a bat to beat up criminals think of himself? You could do a whole story on that.

While this was written some time ago, it’s timely to discuss it now. As I type this we’re in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. People around the world are quarantined in their homes. Naturally, that’s not always an easy thing to do. Even if you’re Batman.

4. A Bridge Worth Crossing
Is The Tyrant Wing an essential read? No. But is it a good read? Yes. I enjoyed this book more than many of the earlier books in this series. Mostly because of the Penguin. I’ll go ahead and say it: Too many people sleep on him as a character. He’s more than just a portly dude with an umbrella. He’s a scoundrel. He’s a gentleman. He’s an iconic villain.

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

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

A Black Canary: Ignite Review – Listen to the Music

TITLE: Black Canary: Ignite
AUTHOR: Meg Cabot
ARTISTS:
Cara McGee, Caitlin Quirk (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Zoom
PRICE: $9.99
RELEASED: October 29, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Comics are visual medium. That should be news to approximately no one at all.

That’s why it’s usually difficult to follow a comic book where music is a story component. Sure, you can print lyrics on a page. But if you can’t take in the melody, feel the beat, and hear the emotion in the singer’s voice, it tends to take the punch out of a story.

Thus, I cannot overstate the importance of this video…

In Black Canary: Ignite, Dinah Lance is a brash middle schooler and the lead singer in a band with her two best friends. When we open the book, Dinah and her band are playing the song heard in the video above. With this audio acting as a supplement, it’s exponentially easier to be drawn into Ignite, and the story that’s beginning to unfold. Does it work without the video to accompany it? Sure. But I’d argue the book should have had an advertisement for the video in it. It makes that big a difference in terms of the overall experience.

Middle school is hard enough without learning to control a superpower. But that’s the position our young heroine finds herself in, as she inherits the supersonic “Canary Cry” from her mother. While Dinah comes to grips with what this means for her future, a mysterious villain stalks the Lance family…

Our author is Meg Cabot, who famously wrote The Princess Diaries series, which was later adapted into the films starring Anne Hathaway. It was interesting to read this book after Dear Justice League. That book was geared toward the same age group, but essentially anyone could enjoy it. Ignite, however, is clearly running on girl power. That’s not to say boys shouldn’t pick it up. But it’s aimed at a specific portion of the market, and also skews a bit younger than the other DC Zoom/DC Kids books I’ve read. I’d actually be more inclined to hand it to a kid about to go into middle school than someone already there.

The story has a lot of your standard teen tropes. Conflict with parents, conflict with friends, conflict with a teacher. Nothing that jumps out as especially unique or memorable. But it’s all well and good.

One slight complaint? Our story takes place in Gotham City. Dinah’s father, a police detective, is drawn almost exactly like Commissioner Gordon. Same white hair. Same mustache. Same brown trench coat. Slap a pair of glasses on him, and you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two. I can see kids familiar with Batman’s world reading this and asking, “Wait, is she Commissioner Gordon’s daughter? I thought that was Batgirl.”

Almost every time I opened this book, Cara McGee’s art thrust “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts into my mind. That might be the oddest critique I’ve ever given to comic art. But it’s true. Not a bad connection to make for a book about a rebellious young girl. Though I imagine it has a lot to do with Ronda Rousey using it in the UFC and WWE.

As a DC Comics buff, I can appreciate the way parts of Black Canary’s history were folded into Ignite. For awhile, it was canon that her mother had been the original Black Canary, and she was taking up the mantle. That’s the case here, as is her being mentored by Ted Grant, a.k.a. Wildcat. Her mother also runs a flower shop called “Sherwood Florist.” Dinah ran a business with the same name in the comics many years ago. There’s also no shortage of Batgirl references. They could very well have had a spin on Birds of Prey in mind.

Black Canary: Ignite is…fine. They had the foresight to record the song, which I love. But the writing? Just fine. The art? Just fine. The girl power vibe? That’s fine too. It doesn’t stand out the way they probably wanted it to with Cabot attached. But I tend to measure the quality of books like this based on whether I’d hand them to my daughter at the appropriate age. And I’d have no problem handing her Ignite.

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

A Batman: Bride or Burglar? 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.

 

A Batman: The War of Jokes and Riddles Review – Or So We’re Told…

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Mikel Janin, Clay Mann
COLLECTS: Batman #2532
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASED: December 13, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The War of Jokes and Riddles is not what I expected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But you come into it anticipating a big, bloody, multi-layered brawl between comic book supervillains. What we get is more character-driven. I almost always prefer something like that to a story that’s simply about people punching each other. But the vibe we got going into this was that it was akin to a big summer blockbuster. There’s a lot more to The War of Jokes and Riddles. While you’ll get some really great stuff, it’s not a hotbed of fighting and explosions.

In the early days of Batman’s career, the unthinkable happens. After losing to Batman so many times, the Joker no longer finds the world funny. Recognizing a similar problem in himself, the Riddler proposes an alliance to kill the Dark Knight once and for all. When the Joker gives him a violent rejection, all out war breaks out. Both the Joker and the Riddler recruit different villains to their side, with Gotham City as their battle field. The winner earns the right to kill Batman. How can our hero stop a war that’s being fought over him? And what happens to the city caught in the crossfire?

I like Joker and Riddler as rivals. They both have mischievous and playful sort of motifs. So it makes sense they’d want to outdo each other. Factor in each one having their own faction of villains, and the scope of this story becomes huge. They could very well have done a bunch of tie-in issues where the different characters fight each other. Scarecrow vs. Mad Hatter, Solomon Grundy vs. Killer Croc, Two-Face vs, Scarface, etc. Given how people gobble up Batman stuff, you’d think that would have been an easy cash-in.

Instead, we stay in the pages of Batman. That approach has it’s advantages, of course. But as a result, what feels like a very expansive story winds up being confined. Much is left to exposition. We gloss over the whole recruitment process, and why certain characters choose Joker or Riddler’s side. We don’t see most of the big battles. We’re told what territory each side has. While there’s something to be said for not getting bogged down in too many details, it seems like half the fun of a story like this is watching all the characters butt heads. That’s a giant missed opportunity.

We do, however, see Deathstroke vs. Deadshot. Sort of. In theory, it’s a hell of a fight. But even that fails to deliver, as it’s jammed so tightly into the second half of issue #28. What’s more, the fight stretches logic pretty thin even by comic book standards. The two initially try to snipe each other, but on their first and only shots, their bullets collide. They then proceed to fight for five days, killing 62 people in the process. I get the artistic advantage of leaving it to the reader’s imagination. But they could have dedicated an entire story to Deathstroke vs. Deadshot. This fight could be an event comic on its own. So to be told about it instead of seeing it is frustrating.

On the plus side, almost everybody looks great. Mikel Janin gives us an almost twisted blend of realism and caricature. His Joker, for instance, has a pointed nose and in this story sports an exaggerated frown. But the art is so detailed and the colors so gorgeously rendered that it evokes real life. It’s often fascinating to look at, especially because his Joker seems heavily influenced by Brian Bolland’s work on The Killing Joke. The one character hurt by this approach is the Riddler, who inexplicably looks like John Cena.

Author Tom King frames The War of Jokes and Riddles around Bruce Wayne’s present-day marriage proposal to Selina Kyle. He tells her this story, as he apparently did something horrible during the war that could effect her decision to marry him. The reveal is a good one and makes sense.

But there’s also a larger issue that the story touches on, but doesn’t bring any resolution to. There’s an argument to be made that the real villain in all of this is Batman himself. These two groups of insane people are waging war over HIM. While they’re fighting to decide who gets to kill him, dozens of innocent people are being killed simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In telling Selina this story, he’s trying to get absolution for something horrible he supposedly did. But it seems like he should want forgiveness for his part in all this. Although to be fair, the King does touch on something like that in the final scene…

Bruce also makes every effort to bring the violence to a halt, including the bizarrely entertaining dinner sequence that makes up the entirety of issue #29. Bruce Wayne invites virtually his entire rogues gallery into his home for a big, fancy, multi-course meal. The idea is for Bruce to servers a mediator and bring things to a resolution. The visual spectacle of seeing all these comic book supervillains together in a normal environment is almost worth the cover price on its own. It reminds me of one of the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale Batman books. But then we dive deeper with both Joker and Riddler. How they’d kill Batman, and what they think of each other. You’ve also got the internalization of Bruce as he sits between them and listens to it all, silently and subtlety trying to maneuver Gotham out of harm’s way. At face value, the whole thing is almost absurd. But once you dive into it, it becomes one of the most delightful Batman character studies of the last decade.

Janin is also on fire in this issue. He has to draw three characters in the same position for several pages. But despite having to draw several consecutive panels of, for instance, the Joker sitting in a chair eating dinner (shown below), there’s almost no panel duplication. There’s a natural flow to it. You believe their body language. It’s beautiful.

Stuck in the middle of all this is D-list villain Kite Man. He becomes the unlikely focus for two interlude issues drawn by Clay Mann. As he plays a role in the finale, it’s called for. It also doubles as an origin story. King tries to set him up as a relatable, down on his luck father who has fallen in with a horrible crowd and pays the ultimate price. I like how King incorporates him toward the end. But I’m not sure we needed two full issues dedicated to Kite Man. Issue #27 gives us all we need, so issue #30 feels mostly like filler. King also attempts to create the catchphrase: “Kite Man. Hell yeah.” Doesn’t work.

The War of Jokes and Riddles wound up being a mixed bag. We didn’t get a war as much as we got moments from a war. The beginning, the end, and the important moments in between. That doesn’t fill all of our dramatic needs in terms of this being a big, violent, bloody fight between crazy people. At one point we see a  bunch of pictures of people who’ve died. But we don’t see where or how they died. There’s a frustrating gap there which leaves you wanting more than the book delivers.

On the flip side, this is some of the best work Mikel Janin has ever done. The War of Jokes and Riddles should absolutely be turned into one of those oversized hardcovers DC puts out. It deserves to be admired for years to come. Tom King also gives us his best character work yet. He illustrates a tremendous understanding of how Batman, the Joker, and the Riddler think. So when he puts them together it feels very genuine. It’s the same kind of magic that made The Vision work so well.

King does have the magic in him, doesn’t he? It’s just a question of how often we see it.

For more of Tom King’s Batman, check out Vol. 1: I Am Bane, Vol. 2: I Am Suicide, Vol. 3: I Am Bane, and Batman/The Flash: The Button

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An All-Star Batman: My Own Worst Enemy Review – Road Trip!

TITLE: All-Star Batman, Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLERS: John Romita Jr, Declan Shalvey
COLLECTS: All-Star Batman #15
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: April 19, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s get the usual Scott Snyder spiel out of the way early. I like Snyder’s Batman stuff. He’s one of the best writers to pen the Dark Knight’s adventures in the last decade. But he does so many little things that are just infuriating. As such, otherwise brilliant stories become tainted so needlessly. Sadly, All-Star Batman, Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy is no  exception.

The dark side of Harvey Dent, a.k.a. Two-Face, is gradually taking over his twisted psyche. Harvey enlists Batman’s help to take him across the country and eliminate his dual identity once and for all. But Two-Face counters by blackmailing everyone in Gotham City. If Batman isn’t stopped, he’ll release every dirty secret he has. What’s more, the person that brings Batman down gets a fortune in untraceable cash. Batman, and his new apprentice Duke Thomas, are about to be hit from all sides.

Snyder’s premise is tremendous. The great thing about doing this kind of chase story with Batman is the near limitless amount of enemies you can bring in. In My Own Worst Enemy we see Killer Moth, Firefly, Black Spider, and Gentlemen Ghost. And that’s just the first issue. Of course, we also go higher up on the food chain with baddies like Killer Croc and the Court of Owls.

Snyder, John Romita Jr., and the team are clearly having fun with these action sequences. The opening scene with Batman, Firefly, and Killer Moth in the diner has some blaring flaws (more on those later). But the two-page spread on the left packs a hell of a punch.  The book as a whole has some of the most intense and energetic work Romita has done in quite some time. Certainly since he’s come to DC. We later get a sequence on top of a train, which leads to a gorgeous fight in a river between Batman and Two-Face. I also loved the fight with KGBeast in issue #3, which is so bloody it’s actually reminiscent Romita’s work in Kick-Ass.

As such, it makes sense that All-Star Batman and Kick-Ass had the same colorist: Dean White. As the blood continues to spill, the panels start to take on rusty colors, similar to what we see in the climax of the original Kick-Ass. What’s more, White’s touch makes some of the outdoor sequences really pop. That’s especially the case in issue #2, with the greens, browns, and blues. Though if I may say, Killer Croc might be a bit too bright. He’s Killer Croc, not Kermit the Frog.

What Snyder really nails in this book is the twisted psychology of Two-Face. The emphasis on secrets hammers home the point that everyone has a certain duality and dark side to their personality. A side which, if you believe Two-Face represents who they truly are. Snyder even takes us into the mechanics of Harvey and Two-Face. The two personalities can keep secrets from one another, influence each other’s behavior, etc. You get the sense these are aspects of the Two-Face character that Snyder has wanted to explore for awhile, but hasn’t had the chance. Details like this help to make My Own Worst Enemy one of the more compelling Two-Face stories in recent memory.

That’s why it’s all the more frustrating when Snyder sprinkles in moments that seem tremendously out of character for Batman. The most notable ones occur during fight sequences in the first two issues. In the aforementioned diner scene, Batman says: “Hey. All of you in this diner. Look at me. Not them. Look at my face. No one is dying today.” He then winks at them (shown right). On the next page, he makes a crack about the life cycle of a moth before stabbing Killer Moth through the hand.

Later, during he train sequence in issue #2, Batman says to Killer Croc: “Hey Waylon. Appaloosa called…they want their fool back.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. Batman is a silly character. Silly, and versatile enough to be both dark and brooding, yet somehow funny in the same issue. That being said, lines like this are just bad. And they’re so out of character for the Dark Knight that they leave a bad taste in your mouth for the rest of the story. As good as Snyder is, and as fun as these action sequences are otherwise, this is a Batman story, not a Lethal Weapon movie.

As our story continues, we see that even Batman isn’t immune to Two-Face’s little secrets scheme, as Jim Gordon and the GCPD are about to walk into the Batcave. Snyder somewhat blurs the lines as far as what Gordon does or doesn’t know about Bruce Wayne and Batman. In the middle of issue #5, as the cops are about to break into the cave, Gordon pulls Alfred aside. He tells him to “I don’t know what’s true, you hear me? I never have. … Call him and get him to do whatever he has to do to turn this back. You tell him he has one chance.”

This is somewhat reminiscent of what we got toward the end of “No Man’s Land” almost 20 years ago. Only in that story, we had a little hint of doubt that maybe Gordon did know the truth. In this story, it’s the reverse. We’re literally standing in Wayne Manor as everything is about to be revealed, and we get a hint that maybe Gordon doesn’t know. Frankly, that’s not nearly as effective as what happened in “No Man’s Land.” Here, it’s fairly obvious that Gordon knows. And if he doesn’t, then he’s a complete moron.

Snyder did something similar with the Joker back in “Zero Year.” He and Greg Capullo made it pretty clear that the Red Hood One character was the guy that becomes the Joker. But then he threw in a twist that cast doubt over the whole thing. With both the Joker and Jim Gordon, it’s pretty obvious what Snyder wants to do. But for some reason, he doesn’t fully pull the trigger on it.

This first volume of All-Star Batman also collects “The Cursed Wheel,” which is comprised of back-up stories from the first four issues by Snyder, penciller/inker Declan Shalvey, and colorist Jordie Bellaire. The story is fine for the most part. It centers around Batman training Duke Thomas to be…whatever he’s going to be. There’s an argument to be made that Shalvey’s art is actually superior to Romita’s. It’s crisp, it’s clean, and it’s beautifully complimented by Bellaire.

Snyder sprinkles a little Joker dust on things by showing us Duke’s parents, who’ve been driven insane and in effect “Jokerized” after the events of “Endgame.” In issue #4, Duke poses the theory that the Joker is not pure evil. He simply attacks what he loves, and his serum prompts it’s victims to do the same. The idea isn’t explored much, but it’s a tremendous character insight.

On the flip side, you have the concept of the Cursed Wheel. It’s meant to be a condensed version of all the training Bruce did to become Batman. Each portion/color represents a different part of the human psyche. This could have been really interesting. But they got a little too cute with it. What spoiled it for me was this…

“Look at the colors. You see hints of them in the colors of your allies. Dick leans blue. Damian, green. Barbara, purple. It’s a secret history that unites them, connects them and differentiates them.”

So the colors that Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, and other characters wear isn’t a simple color choice? Rather, it has some kind of deep-rooted psychological attachment to this wheel? So what about when Nightwing was wearing red? Or when Batgirl’s costume wasn’t purple? Hell, what about the other colors Robin wears? Furthermore, what traits to these different colors represent, exactly? Simply put, I don’t get it. The idea isn’t fleshed out enough, and the color coding is a little too silly for me. Sometimes a blue shirt is just a blue shirt.

The one word I would use to describe My Own Worst Enemy is “consistent.” Like Snyder’s work on Batman, we’ve got some really big and creative ideas here. It’s just that the bad ideas tend to flop as spectacularly as the good ones soar.

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A Batman #50 Review – The Dark Knight Returns

Batman #50, 2016, cover, Greg CapulloTITLE: Batman #50
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLERS: Greg Capullo, Yanick Paquette.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEAED: March 23, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Batman #50.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

What’s the deal with these guys and big Batman robots?

I credit Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and everyone who’s worked on this Batman run since 2011 with thinking big and not being afraid to take chances. They’ve created something that’s helped define the character for the 21st century. But good lord, these guys have some kind of hard on for Batman and big robots.

In issue #11, when Batman is fighting the Court of Owls as they invade the Batcave, he’s in a big robot. In issue #36, when Batman fights Superman, who’s fallen victim to Joker’s mind control, he’s in a big robot. When Jim Gordon takes over as Batman, half the time he’s in a big robot.

So of course, in the penultimate issue of their run, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo couldn’t resist putting Batman in a big robot as he does battle with Mr. Bloom. But not just any robot. A giant robot. A big Bat-Megazord. Yuck.

Batman #50, Greg Capullo, page 2But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. For the first time since his brutal war with The Joker, Bruce Wayne is Batman again. The deadly Mr. Bloom has Jim Gordon and the GCPD on the ropes, having given his deadly “seeds” to countless Gothamites. Now the true Dark Knight must return to once again vanquish the villain and save his city. But is it already too late?

This issue has a really good hook. When you open it, your eye is immediately drawn to the various Batsuits (shown left). Without any text, that shot says a lot. It gives us a great sense of history as we move forward into a new era. And of course, they just had to get a big Batman robot in there… *grumbles*

Mr. Bloom turned out to be a better villain than he initially seemed. On the surface he seems to be an odd hybrid of Poison Ivy and Scarecrow, with a touch of Joker mixed in. But at heart he’s an anarchist, fed up with the system and determined to go to unspeakable measures to restore the “natural” order of things. Bloom’s identity is left ambiguous here, which is an idea I can only wish Snyder had applied to The Joker. (Sorry folks, I’ve still got Zero Year issues.) I’m not sure how well Bloom would hold up to repeated appearances, if that’s indeed in the cards for him. But for now, he’s a villain worthy of Batman’s grand return.

Duke Thomas has gotten a nice spotlight in this story. Near the end of the issue Snyder begins to close the arc he started with Duke in Zero Year. Between what we’ve seen in both Batman and We Are Robin, he’s become a really interesting character. I can only assume we’ll see him again in Batman #51, which is our creative team‘s last go-around with The Dark Knight.

Batman costume, Batman #50, Greg CapulloStill, while Bruce’s return is drawing the readers in,andDuke beignets come into his own as a hero, the true hero of Batman #50 is Jim Gordon. And that’s how it should be. Despite being woefully ill-prepared for the role of Batman, Gordon never stopped pushing back against the odds. And in the end, it is he, not Bruce Wayne, who risks it all and finally defeats Bloom.

Near the end of the issue, we learn Gordon is even more noble than we thought in his efforts as Batman. It wasn’t just about answering the call for Gotham. For Gordon, it was also about letting his friend finally rest while someone else took the load on. That sentiment speaks volumes about Gordon and his relationship with Batman. It’s even hinted he knows Bruce’s secret, which is fine. It remains unspoken between them, as many things are.

For his return, Batman sports a new costume (shown above). I’m a fan. The shades of blue in the cape and cowl, and the yellow outline around the Bat symbol are a nice tribute to what’s come before. I also like the little sneer Batman has on that first splash page.

As we see Mr. Bloom’s downfall, Gordon has a monologue about who and what Batman is. The gist of it is that while Batman can’t necessarily fix Gotham’s deepest-rooted problems, he inspires its citizens by believing in them. Snyder writes a great line with:”He’s the superhero who sees us as the heroes we can be.” I won’t say it’s the best Batman sentiment I’ve ever heard, but it’s still pretty damn good.

Batman #50, 2016After our main story, Yanick Paquette tags back in for an epilogue, where we essentially return to the status quo. It’s a welcome return, considering the work he did last issue. In addition to a nice little reunion between Batman and Jim Gordon, and perhaps a bit of foreshadowing with Duke, we get a moment of heartache with Julie Madison and a brief glimpse of the Bruce Wayne that could have been. The Bruce Wayne who died so Batman could return. It’s as fitting an ending as we could have gotten for “Superheavy.”

While I can’t say I’m a fan of everything I saw in this issue. But Batman #50 is a $5.99 issue that was worth the cover price. Big robots or not, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been hugely impactful on the Batman mythos, and in a sense it’s sad to see them go. Thankfully, we’ve got one issue left…

Image 1 from gamespot.co,. Image 2 from geeklyrant.com. Image 3 from bleedingcool.com.

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A Batman #48 Review – Dangerous Destiny

Batman #48, cover, Greg CapulloTITLE: Batman #48
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: January 20, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the latest issue of Batman.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The intensity is cranking up again in Batman, as we head toward Bruce Wayne’s inevitable return to the cape and cowl. And now that Bruce and The Joker have been reunited (the amnesiac versions, mind you), it’s time to start asking the tough questions.

With no memories of his time as Batman, and only secondhand knowledge of his former life, an amnesiac Bruce Wayne must decide whether to bear the burden of a hero, or keep his current life. Of all people, he runs into The Joker on a park bench. Like Bruce, Joker seems to have no memory of who he was. But perhaps there’s no one more appropriate to be with Bruce as he contemplates his fate. Meanwhile, Mr. Bloom is on the rampage in Gotham City and the current Batman, Jim Gordon, is at his mercy. The fate of the entire city hangs in the balance as Bruce makes his choice.

When we started this “Superheavy” story, and we found out what had happened to Bruce, part of our path became clear. The iconic hero has a chance to start over and live something of a normal life, but he chooses the way of the hero all over again. It’s a classic tale. It’s just a question of how Snyder and Capullo would choose to tell it. I can’t say I’ve loved their entire run, but what we get in this issue is pretty damn satisfying.

Batman #48, 2016, Greg CapulloIn this park bench sequence, it’s left ambiguous just how much The Joker remembers about his former self. At a few different points it seems like the Harlequin of Hell is revealing himself to Bruce, but it’s simply a misunderstanding. As a reader this is frustrating, especially when a gun is brought into the scene. But there’s also a dark humor in it that I can appreciate. It’s very Joker-ish in that sense.

Snyder gives us a role reversal, as Bruce ponders what the point of this new life was if he’s simply going to go back. He nearly says aloud that this is almost like a big joke. Then The Joker, of all characters, floats the idea that perhaps existing in the here and now is enough, and that change is okay.

This is almost an upside down version of The Killing Joke. I particularly enjoyed Bruce briefly considering The Joker’s usual mindset, that life is essentially a worthless joke, before making his decision. On the flip side, The Joker considers the idea that meaning can be found in everyday existence. To Snyder’s credit, he gives us a scene that can only happen in this story. The ambiguous nature of just how much The Joker knows also leaves us wondering if, when The Joker returns, he’ll know Bruce’s identity. Snyder and Capullo are starting to reassemble what they took apart in Death of the Family and Endgame. Bruce also has a hell of a line to close the issue.

But oddly enough, this isn’t the highlight of the issue. Mr. Bloom, a villain that I had considered a lame duck before, steals the show by growing giant-sized and monologuing.

Batman #48, 2016, Mr. Bloom, Jim GordonAs he speaks to Gotham at large and tries to lure them to his cause, what’s truly scary is how much modern truth is injected into his insane rant. Bloom is making a bunch of metaphors about Gotham being a big garden when he says…

“In a garden, the gardeners pretend to take care of you. Look how pretty they make your lives. The police shoot you unarmed. Then shoot you again. And again. Your politicians. They take your money, and let you wither. Business poisons you. They say you can do well here, but you’re poor as hell. Aren’t you?”

Moments later, he urges Gotham to rise up against a corrupt system. There’s a chilling reality in those sentences. Obviously it’s coming from an insane character with a garden fetish. But that doesn’t make it any less impactful.

While I’ve had my issues with some of Scott Snyder’s writing choices on Batman, I’ve had very few complaints with Greg Capullo’s art. That trend continues here. In the Bruce/Joker scenes, The Joker looks perhaps as normal as we’ve ever seen him. But that madman is clearly lingering under the surface. Thus, the question of whether that madman is in control becomes even more pressing. Also, look closely at the cover. There’s a lone tear sliding down Batman’s mask. That’s a truly awesome touch.

This issue was a big win, no doubt about it But these next two issues of Batman, which will wrap up this story, have the potential to be among the best Snyder and Capullo have done. The stakes are high. There’s little doubt Batman can rise to the occasion. Let’s just hope this story can do the same.

Images from comicbookmovie.com. 

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A We Are Robin #7 Review – Middle Child Syndrome

We Are Robin #7 coverTITLE: We Are Robin #7
AUTHOR: Lee Bermejo
PENCILLER: Carmine Di Giandomencio. Cover by Jorge Corona.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 16, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I really wish they’d stop lumping Jason Todd and Tim Drake together. It’s happening in Batman & Robin Eternal, and now it’s happening in Robin War.

I think I get the how and the why of it. Dick Grayson is the original Robin, and Damian Wayne is the current Robin. So Jason and Tim are left in an awkward “middle child” position. There’s not necessarily enough time to focus on them individually while still keeping the plot going, so writers put them together. To an extent that makes sense. They have such conflicting personalities that they work as a bickering duo. But they both have such rich histories that it’s a shame to see them lumped together merely by default. Hell, in this issue they’re lumped together to try and kill each other!

Yes, in part four of Robin War, Red Hood and Red Robin are pitted against each other by the Court of Owls in a fight to the death, in an attempt to decide who the new “Gray Son” is. But Jason and Tim have a few tricks up their sleeves. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson and Batman (Jim Gordon) search for the truth about Councilwoman Noctua, creator of the “Robin Laws.”

We Are Robin #7, Red Robin, Red HoodThe fight between Tim and Jason isn’t anything special, and it more or less goes the way you think it will. You’d think the Court would have had the foresight that two young, athletic guys who aren’t restrained in any way would end up doing what they did. Also, Carmine Di Giandomencio does what I talked about in the Grayson #15 review, and puts facial features on Red Hood’s helmet. That never ceases to be obnoxious.

Sadly, while some of Di Giandomencio’s layouts are interesting, his art doesn’t do it for me here. It’s not that he’s bad at what he does. It’ s more that what he does looks awkward compared to the art we’ve seen in previous installments, particularly Mikel Janin’s work in Grayson. Characters’ faces look awkward at times, as does their body language. This is particularly true when we get to the scene in the prison. There are a few panels where Damian looks more twisted and insane than observant and determined.

The scene with Grayson and Gordon is okay. But there were a couple of things that struck me. On page 3, there are a pair of panels that show Gordon catching a dangling Grayson after he slips climbing up a building. Firstly, I find it odd that Dick would make such a rookie mistake. Secondly, is Gordon strong enough to hold Dick’s entire body weight? My guess would be no.

We Are Robin #7, Dick Grayson, Jim GordonOddly enough, the idea of Gordon, and the entire world knowing Dick Grayson was Robin/Nightwing is taking some getting used to. Until recently, Dick was pretty isolated in the pages of Grayson. But now that he’s moving beyond Spyral, we’re starting to see more ramifications from what happened in Forever Evil. I still don’t quite understand how the world knowing about Dick’s superheroing doesn’t lead back to Bruce Wayne being Batman. If you remember Batman #1, there’s a big portrait of Bruce, Dick, Tim, Damian, and Alfred in Wayne Manor. If you see that painting knowing Dick’s identity, it’s not that hard to put the pieces together, isn’t it? Especially when the general public knows that Bruce has funded Batman’s activities.

In any event, this issue gives us a brief conversation between Dick and Jim about the ethical nature of letting a youngster work with Batman, and how Gordon justified letting it happen. He even has a couple of lines about child soldiers overseas, and boys organizing to fight the Nazis in Poland. My guess is Lee Bermejo put this stuff in to suggest a kind of real-life basis for the Robin concept. It’s an interesting idea, but it doesn’t cast either Dick or Gordon in a different light, or offer any sort of insight. It’s just sort of there in the middle of the issue.

We Are Robin #7, image 3Also, late in the book somebody in the Robin street crew calls Red Robin “the one with the goofy wings.” It’s always cool when the characters say what you’re thinking as a reader. For that matter, something you’ve been thinking since the damn New 52 started…

Sadly, We Are Robin #7 is largely a step down from its predecessors. The various Robins escaping from their cages felt somewhat anticlimactic, though the cliffhanger does succeed in wetting your appetite for the next installment. I can’t say I’ve been overly thrilled with the body of Robin War thus far. There’s been too much emphasis on this “Gray Son” stuff, which I’ve always felt was rather stupid. Gazing at the solicitations for upcoming issues, my hopes aren’t that high. I’m trying to be optimistic that something cool will happen near the finale, as Tom King is writing Robin War #2, and he’s a pretty damn good writer.

Image 1 from gamespot.com. Images 2 and 3 from adventuresinpoortaste.com.

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A Detective Comics #44 Review – Robo-Bat vs. Mecha Joker

Detective Comics #44TITLE: Detective Comics #44
AUTHOR: Brian Buccellato
PENCILLER: Fernando Blanco
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: September 2, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, so…”Robot Suit Batman vs. Giant Robot Suit Joker” happened here. The issue has a lot going on beyond that. But that’s the element people will remember about this issue, and perhaps this story as a whole.

Using the power core from Batman’s suit, Joker’s Daughter has somehow created a giant Joker-bot to terrorize the city. Naturally, Gordon and the GCPD are there to stop her. In our villainess’ own words: “Nothing says Gotham more than Joker and Batman!” But there’s also a battle being fought within the GCPD over Harvey Bullock’s partner Nancy Yip, and her connection to Stefano Falcone. Are Bullock’s romantic fillings for Yip clouding his judgment? And how has he enlisted Gordon’s help?

Detective Comics #44I suppose a robot fight like this was inevitable, given the transformation of the Batman costume. It’s not giant vs. giant, like one might hope. But the imagery is still cool. Seeing this giant Joker robot swat Batman like a fly is kind of cool to see. And Gordon does deliver a pretty cool line to Joker’s Daughter: “You’re not The Joker. You’re not his legacy. You’re just a crazed kid who bought herself a ticket to Arkham.”

As if not to be outdone, Bullock has a great line late in the issue. He definitely speaks for me when he tells Gordon: “Lose the mohawk. You look like a hipster.”

But the real meat of this issue comes from the Bullock/Yip stuff, and what they do about her. Last issue, Bullock asked Gordon to “Help me kill my partner.” That’s a heavy thing to ask from Batman, of all people. But Gordon does play his part, though not literally. Once gain, this book shows us the differences between Gordon’s Batman and Bruce Wayne’s Batman. Their moral compasses are pointed in the same direction, but their means of getting there can be very different.

Detective Comics $44, Fernando BlancoWhat happens with Yip speaks to an inner pain that most writers give to Bullock. They weren’t soulmates, but Bullock doesn’t usually get romantic interests. So it’s sad to see things go the way they do. Bullock certainly isn’t the most charming guy we’ve ever met. But like all heroes, we want him to succeed and achieve happiness. Yip could have been part of that for him. But alas, she isn’t.

Detective Comics has been a solid supplement to what Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been doing in Batman, and this story gave us a bonus with the New 52 introduction of Renee Montoya. Things may only get better next time, as Peter Tomasi and Marcio Takara bring the Justice League into the mix…

Image 1 from adventuresinpoortaste.com. Image 2 from darkknightnews.com.

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