A Justice League Review – Lessons Learned

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Doomsday Clock #1 Review – I Have a Bad Feeling About This…

TITLE: Doomsday Clock #1
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: Gary Frank
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEAED: November 22, 2017

***WARNING: Full on spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Doomsday Clock #1 is a pretty good first chapter. Assuming you have an off switch for your conscience.

By now I really thought I’d be calloused to the idea of DC doing a sequel to Watchmen without the approval or involvement of author Alan Moore or artist Dave Gibbons. Not that they need it. They own the rights to the story and characters, and have been milking them ever since. Naturally, Moore has been sore about it for decades. Years ago the company even published several character-centric Before Watchmen prequel stories. So Doomsday Clock is hardly unprecedented. Throw in all the bits and pieces of Watchmen lore DC has sprinkled around since the Rebirth story began, and you’d think I’d be ready for this…

But Doomsday Clock #1 feels dirty just like Before Watchmen felt dirty. Realities of the publishing industry notwithstanding, this reeks of DC taking toys out of someone else’s sandbox. If you can ignore that side of things, I imagine Doomsday Clock simply becomes the latest Geoff Johns epic. But for many of us in the know, there’s a discomfort level to all this that isn’t going away.

Set several years after the events of Watchmen, we see that Adrian Veidt’s hoax to bring about world peace was only a short term success. Global tensions are at an all time high, as is the threat of nuclear war. Amidst all of this, Rorschach, or rather someone assuming the Rorschach identity, breaks two former supervillains out of prison to aid he and Veldt in setting the world right again. To do that, Doctor Manhattan must be found. But as we’ve seen, the former Jonathan Osterman has been busy making waves in the DC Universe. Worlds are about to collide.

When you come back somewhere after a long time away, you’re naturally curious to see what changed in your absence. Despite what you might call it’s lack of authenticity, parts of Doomsday Clock are intriguing from a world-building perspective. How exactly do things change after a giant alien squid is supposedly dropped on New York City? Not that much, apparently. The world we’re met with is very similar to the one we left. Distress over the airwaves, violence in the streets. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Even our narrator is the same, more or less…

Indeed, there’s a new Rorschach in town. We don’t know much about who he is, other than he works with Veldt, and has brown skin (shown above). I initially rolled my eyes at the idea of Rorschach being a “legacy character.” It’s a tried and true tool in the world of superhero comics. Have a dead hero? Just make a new one with the same M.O. But Rorschach had such a unique and distinct voice that it’s almost cringeworthy to use that trick with him.

But did they even have a choice? Rorschach is such a gigantic and integral part of Watchmen. We saw so much of that world through his eyes. You almost can’t revisit it without him. Plus, Watchmen had legacy characters. Like Doomsday Clock itself, I can see why you’d want to create another Rorschach, but something about it feels really wrong. And no, it’s got nothing to do with his race. Having him be black is fine. It doesn’t add or subtract anything, outside of making for a clever reveal.

Watchmen was never big on humor, per se. You can find things to chuckle about, but very little (if anything) is played for straight up laughs. That’s not the case with Doomsday Clock. There are a handful of funny lines and one full-on gag, most of which revolve around the ultra-serious Rorschach reacting to things. While the humor works, this isn’t a world we’re used to laughing at. Watchmen was big on darkness and despair. We see a rape, the murder of a pregnant woman, dogs being murdered with a meat cleaver, etc. So while it’s funny to see a character called the Mime pull imaginary weapons out of a prison locker (shown below), the tone shift takes some getting used to.

Technologically, the comic book industry has come a long way since Watchmen. The story had a pulpy aesthetic to it that was ultimately part of its charm. Doomsday Clock doesn’t try to replicate that. But I give artist Gary Frank and colorist Brad Anderson a lot of credit for making this look and feel like a story set in the same universe. The colors have a lot more depth and richness. But there’s nevertheless something familiar about those city streets we open up on, or the dark and dank feel of the prison. Letterer Rob Leigh even nailed Rorschach’s handwriting for the caption boxes. (Even though this isn’t the same Rorschach anymore. So does that even make sense?) Comparatively, Doomsday Clock is almost like switching your television from standard to high definition, with the one drawback being the loss of the pulp look.

Tacked on at the end of all this is none other than Superman. We flash back via dream sequence to Ma and Pa Kent driving a young Clark to senior prom. We’re reminded just how lonesome and isolated Clark’s secret can make him as he watches the other kids dance. We then see the tragic accident that killed his adoptive parents.

Oddly enough, this strikes me as a scene about Doctor Manhattan. Doomsday Clock is meant to be about a conflict between hope and cynicism. With the DC Universe representing hope, and Watchmen cynicism. Superman is, of course, an ever present symbol of hope and optimism. A man raised by loving parents who instilled him with a set of values and ideals. In contrast, Jonathan Osterman lost his mother at a young age, and was forced by his father to pursue a career in nuclear physics. Later, Doctor Manhattan’s powers left him increasingly isolated. He eventually regarded human life itself as insignificant. These are to men on polar opposite ends of a spectrum. Yet under different circumstances, Clark Kent could have become Doctor Manhattan. With a better upbringing, Jon Osterman could have been a symbol of hope…

With all this talk of hope and cynicism, Doomsday Clock has the potential to be very poignant, given the era we’re living in. But good or bad, it’s destined to have an asterisk next to it because of the circumstances with Watchmen and its creators. Much can be said about what rights creators should or shouldn’t have, as well as Moore’s less than sunny disposition. But what I keep coming back to is this: If I’d put my time, my energy, and my heart into making this world and these characters, and a big company was in a position to make a lot of money off them, I’d want to be listened to. I’d like to think certain things outweigh the importance of money. Like respect. Dignity. Integrity.

Perhaps that’s just blind hope.

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

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A Detective Comics #965 Review – Robin Resurrected

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Bane has never been the most sophisticated of characters. Created in the early ’90s, he was essentially the Bat-books’ answer to what Doomsday was in the Superman books. A big brute who could physically overpower the hero. A ‘roided up dude in a luchador mask, he certainly looks the part. But unlike Doomsday, who was basically a mindless killing machine, Bane was intended to have more depth. He had a tragic backstory and a cunning mind to match his physical dominance.

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

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

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

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

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

Alright, dude. We get it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does everything have to be a giant Batman circle jerk?

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

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

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A Teen Titans: Damian Knows Best Review – A Return to Glory?

TITLE: Teen Titans, Vol. 1: Damian Knows Best
AUTHOR: Benjamin Percy
PENCILLERS: Jonboy Meyers, Diogenes Nieves, Khoi Pham
COLLECTS: Teen Titans #15Teen Titans Rebirth #1
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
June 14, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Teen Titans have had a pretty awesome run on television over the last decade and a half. The comics, on the other hand? They’ve been a mixed bag. But this new Teen Titans series under the DC Rebirth banner offered yet another fresh start for one of the most iconic and prolific superhero teams in all of comics. A chance to make the Teen Titans great again!

I wouldn’t call Damian Knows Best a great book. But these still manage to be the best Teen Titans comics we’ve gotten in several years. Since 2011 at the very least.

In the wake of his 13th birthday, Damian Wayne, a.k.a. Robin, summons his own team of young heroes to combat a threat from his past. Damian’s grandfather, Ra’s al Ghul, has sent his own team of young assassins after the Boy Wonder. Their mission? Either bring Damian back into the League of Assassins or kill him. But as his new teammates are about to find out, Damian isn’t one to make things easy.

Damian should have been on the Teen Titans a long time ago. That last really good Teen Titans story I alluded to above? It sees Damian barge in and briefly anoint himself team leader. Why it took so long to get him back on the team is beyond me. Sticking a character as abrasive as Damian in a team environment is a natural source for tension and conflict. Making it a team of adolescents ups the ante even more. It’s an update this book has desperately needed since…well, 2011.

Perennial team members Starfire, Beast Boy, and Raven are back. I’ve lamented previously about how the series can’t move away from them, presumably because DC wants to match the cartoon show. Plus, they’re synonymous with the iconic Wolfman/Perez era. Swapping one or two of them out for newer characters might open the door for even more new possibilities. That’s what a relaunch is supposed to be about, after all. We at least get a little of that with the inclusion of Kid Flash.

However, Ben Percy does a commendable job turning up the teen angst with most of our heroes. The common theme among them is the feeling they don’t belong anywhere. Like so many young people, they feel isolated.. That commonality that makes them feel like they belong together, instead of being lumped together for no real reason (other than editorial mandate). The opening sequence with Beast Boy is one of the character’s best in quite some time. As he behaves in his typical animated and boisterous fashion, the narration captions highlight his inner turmoil, most notably over the “death” of Tim Drake. Throw in how wonderfully drawn and colored the whole thing is, and you’ve got a knock-out intro.

That’s one of the things DC has failed to do with Teen Titans for so many years: Really amp up the teen element effectively, making this book considerably different from Justice League and the other team books out there. Need an example? Look what Mark Waid is doing in Champions. All those characters feel like teenagers trying to find their way in the world and blaze a new trail that’s different from the previous generation’s. Teen Titans doesn’t have that rebellious streak to it. But having these characters feel young and a little less sure of themselves is damn sure a step in the right direction.

Most of the Demon’s Fist characters are forgettable. They’re led by Damian’s cousin Mara. Despite being fairly forgettable herself, she has a strong origin story. She trained alongside Damian growing up, competing with him but never quite besting him. Damian was intended to lead the Demon’s Fist, but Mara took over in his absence. If you subscribe to the idea that all of Batman’s villains represent a distorted mirror image of him, then Mara would be the equivalent for Robin.

Jonboy Meyers was supposed to be the regular artist for Teen Titans. He made it through issue #1 before leaving due to “creative differences.” That’s a damn shame. Meyers breathed so much new life into this series, giving us an Anime-inspired expressiveness, and thus a sense of fun the book has sorely lacked for a long time. Make no mistake about it, the guy knows his way around a superhero action sequence. I’ll specifically cite the Kid Flash pages from the Rebirth issue as evidence.

Diogenes Nieves has the unenviable job of tagging in for Meyers in issue #2. To his credit, the transition goes about as smooth as you could ask. He gives us a couple of gorgeous pages of a rainy rooftop scene between Damian and Talia al Ghul. Still, the little quirks in Meyers’ art are still sorely missed. The same, sadly, can be said for when Khoi Pham takes over on issues #3-5. Objectively, he’s a fine artist. When it’s time for our team to rise up in issue #5, Pham nails it. It’s just that Meyers has that certain flair. Starting with it and then taking it away doesn’t do the book any favors.

Thankfully, one constant in the book is colorist Jim Charalampidis, who brings a valuable consistency to the series despite the changing artists. These pages look a touch darker than I might have expected. But it’s still the beautiful blaze of color you’d hope to see from a superhero team book like this.

It’s been quite awhile since I picked up Teen Titans on a consistent basis. This new series changed that. Did Damian Knows Best make Teen Titans great again? No. But it made the series good again. That’s more than you can say for any other book to bear it’s name in the last several years. Now, here’s hoping things stay good for quite some time. These characters, and this series deserve at least that much.

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