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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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An All-Star Batman #2 Review – The Jerk Store Called…

All-Star Batman #2, 2016, John Romita Jr.TITLE: All-Star Batman #2
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLERS: John Romita Jr., Declan Shalvey
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: September 14, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I haven’t been as in love with All-Star Batman as some reviewers are. But credit where credit is due: This is good stuff.

 Harvey Dent says he can get rid of his alter-ego Two-Face if Batman can get him to a mysterious house 500 miles away from Gotham. Two-Face counters by putting a price on the Dark Knight’s head. Ergo, Batman’s enemies are coming out of the woodwork to kill and collect. But fittingly, Two-Face’s plan is double-headed. Jim Gordon and the GCPD are literally about to walk into the Batcave!

One of Snyder and Romita’s priorities with this book is to prominently feature Batman’s rogues gallery. Not just the A-listers, either. In this issue alone we get appearances from King Shark, Amygdala, Cheshire, Great White, and KGBeast (referred to as “the Beast”). As a Batman geek, one of the thrilling elements about All-Star is never knowing who will pop out from around the next corner. It could be anyone from Mr. Freeze to Kite-Man.

Snyder also does a lot of justice to Two-Face, diving deeper into the concept of duality than I expected. Not just the traditional Harvey Dent vs. Two-Face stuff, but the notion that everyone has a dark side. Everyone is secretly as twisted as he is, and by holding secrets over people’s heads, he’s going to show you how. We also get a nice scene between Alfred and Duke Thomas that spells out some of the rules for how Two-Face’s brain works. The two sides can keep secrets from one another, but also influence each other. That’s good information to have as we go forward.

All-Star Batman #2, John Romita Jr., the jerk store calledWhat I continue to dislike about Snyder’s writing in this book is the sarcastic dialogue he gives Batman during battle sequences. This book kicks off with an awesome fight against Killer Croc, King Shark, and Amygdala on top of a moving train, with Two-Face looking on for good measure. But it’s promptly spoiled with the line: “Hey Waylon. Appaloosa called…they want their fool back.”

Hey Batman. The jerk store called…

What makes that sequence all the more frustrating is that John Romita Jr., Danny Miki, and Dean White absolutely nail it. It’s got a great energy, accentuated beautifully by the motion work and the gorgeous colors in the background. This is also the best Killer Croc has looked in awhile. For my money that’s a high compliment, as this book came out the same week as one of Jim Lee’s Suicide Squad issues. Romita’s take on the Penguin is also very reminiscent of Danny DeVito’s look in Batman Returns, which isn’t something we see very often.

I also adore the panels of Batman and Two-Face fighting in the water (shown below), if for nothing else because of the water itself. The way it’s colored, the way it moves, the way it drips off the characters. It’s almost cloud-like.

We’re also introduced to the notion that many suspect Bruce Wayne is Batman, but no one can prove it. This would be interesting as a throwaway line. But they’re obviously following up on it, what with Jim Gordon and the GCPD breaking into the Batcave…

All-Star Batman #2, John Romita Jr., Batman, Two-FaceKGBeast gets put over like a million bucks in this issue. He’s put on arguably the same level as a Deathstroke or Deadshot, and even has a decapitated Talon from the Court of Owls as a trophy. He’s treated with a reverence he’s rarely, if ever, gotten.

I’m still sour this “color wheel” idea Snyder is using in the back-up feature, though in all fairness there’s still much we don’t know about it. For now, we’ve got a mostly quiet scene between Batman and Duke as they track down Zsasz. Declan Shalvey’s work remains delightfully clean. His opening page is a striking mosaic of Duke’s family memories, which transitions into a scene between he and his mother. We’re not given any further insight into what exactly Batman has in mind for Duke. But things are unfolding nicely. We have yet to see a sarcastic quip from the Dark Knight in this story, so it almost has the advantage over what Snyder is doing with Romita.

There’s also a delightfully subtle detail to the one of Zsasz’s word balloons. It gets little gray scratches behind the letters to signify the various marks he puts in his own skin.

All-Star Batman is mostly quality work thus far, which is consistent with what Snyder has done with Batman previously. But as I see it, Snyder has a tendency to get in his own way, and take his own stories down a notch. Whether it’s with dialogue that’s out of character, big awful Batman robots, or something else entirely. It’s like he just can’t resist.

Boy, I wish he could resist…

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An All-Star Batman #1 In-Depth Review – Sh*t Batman Says

All-Star Batman #1, John Romita Jr., 2016TITLE: All-Star Batman #1
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: John Romita Jr.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: August 10, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

What exactly is “out of character” for Batman? He’s one of the most multi-faceted figures in all of popular culture. In comic books alone, we’ve seen him do virtually everything. He’s spit in Superman’s face (long story) and beat people to a bloody pulp. But he’s also worn zebra stripes and fought on the keys of a giant typewriter. Much depends on the angle you’re looking at him from. Are you going for the more mature, moody and broody Batman? Or is this a more colorful Caped Crusader for all ages?

This being said, a few things happen in All-Star Batman #1 that struck me as out of character. Both of them deal not with something Batman does, but something he says. More specifically, how he says it.

All-Star Batman takes our hero out of Gotham City, and on to the open road. Harvey Dent believes he can dispose of his alter-ego Two-Face if he can somehow get to a mysterious house nearly 500 miles away. Two-Face counters Dent’s offer by putting a price on the Dark Knight’s head. What’s more, if Batman reaches his destination, Two-Face threatens to spill every dirty secret he has about the Gotham underworld. This makes our protagonists the target of supervillains, civilians, and shockingly, one of Batman’s most trusted allies.

All-Star Batman #1, John Romita Jr., faceThis book comes from our old friend Scott Snyder, who writes really good Batman stories, despite at times annoying the crap out of yours truly. Most of what we get here falls into the really good category. Heck, our premise involves Batman hauling Two-Face across the country in a semi-truck. As a Batman geek, I’m immediately interested.

But Snyder makes some grating choices in this issue. The most notable is in the above image. Our opening scene sees Firefly and Killer Moth crash through the window of a diner, Batman in tow. They threaten to kill everyone inside if he doesn’t tell them where Harvey is. Batman responds with: “Hey. All of you in this diner. Look at me. Not them. Look at my face. No one is dying today.” He follows up with a wink and a smile.

These two panels feel completely out of character. They seem like something we might get from Superman or Captain America. Particularly the “look at my face” bit. I understand that saving those lives is Batman’s primary motivation that scene. But this isn’t his first rodeo. Why would Bruce Wayne, a public figure, want to intentionally draw attention to his masked face?

All-Star Batman #1, 2016, John Romita Jr., shut up and dieThen you have the wink and smile. I’m not sure if he’s looking at the villains or the diner patrons. Either way, it’s completely out of left field for this version of Batman. It’s one thing to make bold choices. For instance, Snyder later has Batman stab Killer Moth through the arm, and hack off Black Spider’s cybernetic limbs with a chainsaw. Edgy? Yes. But fair enough. However, if you push the boundaries too far the character itself begins to change. For this Dark Knight version of Batman, Snyder pushed the boundaries too far, and too early in the issue. Readers are just getting settled in, and he’s already throwing them awkward curve balls.

The whole “shut up and die” line (shown above) wasn’t great, either. I’m also prepared to get another big awful Batman robot at some point in this book. You know it’s coming.

All of this in a series called All-Star Batman, which obviously prompts memories of the controversial and much-maligned All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder. Why would they choose that title? Because the All-Star name evokes a reaction? Because Snyder will be working with “all-star” talents on this book?

But to repeat: Most of what’s in this issue is good. Snyder’s characterization of Two-Face is spot-on. We establish he’s colorblind in his left eye. Meaning his dual personality sees the world in (you guessed it) black and white. Two-Face knowing people’s secrets, their hidden dark sides, is very strong writing and fits him like a glove. There’s also a point to be made for money bringing out the dark side in everyday people.

All Star-Batman #1, John Romita Jr., chainsawAnd admittedly, I like the image of Batman using a chainsaw. As a one-off, it’s a lot of fun.

Though his art has an undoubtedly epic feel to it, John Romita Jr. has good issues and bad issues. One in awhile, you’ll seen one of his panels and just cringe. Thankfully, this is a good issue. Also, Dean White’s colors allow you to really feel the heat of the Indian summer they mention early on. The intense red that White puts into Two-Face’s scarred half is very striking, specifically that big eye. It’s like he has the all seeing, all knowing eye.

Snyder also gives us a back-up story drawn by Declan Shalvey, whose sleek and clean work I prefer to Romita’s. We get a lovely appearance from the Batman: The Animated Series Batmobile. The story features Duke Thomas, who is also in the main story. But between his appearances in this book and Tom King’s Batman, we still have no idea what the end goal of him being there is. It’s been emphasized that Duke is not going to be Robin. Batman, in his own words, is “trying something new.” My interest is piqued.

All-Star Batman #1, 2016, DeclanHowever, this story also introduces us to something that, if it’s what I think it is, infuriates me. The Cursed Wheel is supposed to be a condensed version of all Batman’s training, sharpened and applied to tenets taught by Alfred. Each color on the wheel apparently represents different psychological traits. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this concept, until you get to this dialogue…

“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, differentiates them.”

No, it really doesn’t.

We don’t need to overthink the colors that Dick, Damian, Barbara, and everybody that’s trained with Batman wears. If Duke needs to have a model for his training, so be it. But let’s not overdo it. This concept has just been introduced, so it deserves a chance to grow. But at this point it’s an eye-roller.

Just before we’re introduced to the wheel of contrivance, Duke is telling Batman that he’s fine on his own, and that today “Robin doesn’t need a Batman.” The Dark Knight replies with “Good. Batman doesn’t need a Robin either.” That line feels very wrong coming from Bruce, considering just how many Robins he’s trained. What’s he getting at?

There’s definitely some nitpicking to be done with All-Star Batman. I’ve credited Scott Snyder with not being afraid to have big ideas. Some of them pay off, some of them don’t. But it’s the little things that chip away at this issue, and cumulatively bring it down a notch. Still, Snyder has earned the right to say what he wants to say with Batman. It’s obviously too early to call this story a success or failure. But because Snyder is attached to it, All-Star Batman will at the very least be noteworthy.

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A Review of The Punisher #1 – Bloody, Stabby, and Shooty

The Punisher #1, coverTITLE: The Punisher #1
AUTHOR: Becky Cloonan
PENCILLER: Steve Dillon. Cover by Declan Shalvey.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: May 4, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I did a double-take when I saw the name Cloonan on this cover. I’ve become so used to seeing her name on Gotham Academy, that seeing her on something like Punisher caught me off guard. Granted, she’s no stranger to the “dark” stuff. It’s simply a testament to how versatile she is as a writer.

Indeed, Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher, is back in a new ongoing series. And he’s doing…well, Punisher stuff. A new group is is preparing to ship a lethal drug called EMC, which “turns $#%@-ass shrimps into soldiers with one toke.” Aiding them is a former mercenary codenamed Olaf, who happens to have old military ties to Frank Castle. But it’s not exactly a happy reunion when Olaf comes face to face with The Punisher, who performs his own bloody, stabby, shooty version of a drug bust. But in doing so, he finds himself on the radar of a sadistic psychopath who may mangle him strictly for the fun of it.

The Punisher #1, 2016, Steve Dillon, preparingThe most interesting aspect of this issue is how The Punisher is portrayed, as many reviewers have called it, “a force of nature.” He has no dialogue, and we’re entirely disconnected from what he’s thinking. Like a cataclysmic storm, he comes and goes leaving a trail of victims in his wake. To an extent, this keeps Frank’s feet in both of his habitats. He’s both a ground-level street hero, and a hero in the larger, super-powered Marvel Universe.

The great Steve Dillon is reunited with Frank Castle here. At this point, Dillon is so identified with The Punisher that when you type his name into Google, the first suggested search is “steve dillon punisher.” This foray is about as hard-edged, no-frills, and grim as one would expect. Dillon also doesn’t hold back on the gory stuff, very much earning that parents advisory we see on the cover. And Frank isn’t the only one getting his hands dirty. My favorite panel amongst the bloody and gruesome sees Olaf shoot a particularly disrespectful drug smuggler to through the head, in the process leaving a blood splatter on a nearby window.

But the high point of the book is a page without any blood or dialogue (shown above). The camera simply makes its way into Frank’s workshop, passing a variety of deadly firearms on the wall. The only words on the page are a series of metallic “tak” sounds. We come up behind our anti-hero as he prepares his tools for the slaughter to come. Truly chilling.

The Punisher #1, Steve Dillon, FaceAlso chilling is the unadulterated crazy that Dillon draws into the eyes of our apparent villain for the coming arc, Face. Why is he called Face? You’ll find out…

Cloonan also writes a hell of a line that we read about mid-way through the issue. When Olaf realizes they’re dealing with The Punisher, and one of the bad guys calls for him to be killed, he replies with: “You can’t kill Frank Castle. He’s already dead.”

The Punisher #1 is a fine start to a new series, and a well timed one. Given Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of the character on Daredevil, and a Punisher Netflix series on the way, a lot of new eyes of been on Frank Castle recently. Rarely has there been a better time for a quality Punisher book.

Images from author’s collection.

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