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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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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.

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does everything have to be a giant Batman circle jerk?

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

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

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A Batman #25 Review – The Sad Clown

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A DKIII: The Master Race #9 Review – The Dark Knight Reboots

TITLE: Dark Knight III: The Master Race #9
AUTHORS: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLERS: Andy Kubert, Miller
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: June 7, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well, there it is. May as well have called this one The Dark Knight Reboots. For all intents and purposes, that’s what it was. There’s no official word on a DKIV story going forward. But given what we saw here, it seems pretty damn likely. Between this and the incorporation of Watchmen into the canonical DC Universe, they just can’t help but play the hits. For better or worse…

This issue sees Batman, Superman, Batgirl (Carrie Kelley), Lara the Supergirl, and the other heroes have their final confrontation with Quar and the Kryptonian invaders. Afterward, the Dark Knight Universe has a new status quo. Especially now that Bruce Wayne has been revitalized via the Lazarus Pit. So where do our heroes go from here?

Let’s start with the positives. This issue, and the DKIII main story overall, were really well illustrated. Andy Kubert has been able to meld his style with just enough vintage Frank Miller to make this a unique presentation. Even Miller himself, when working on the mini-comics we got in each issue, was able to settle into a groove. His art has been widely derided in recent years. But while he started off shoddily, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve enjoyed his art this much.

Ray Palmer/The Atom has a really nice moment in this issue where he gets to thwart some of the bad guys. It was clever the way they incorporated Ray into all of this. So to see him “get his win back” in the end was cool.

I also liked what they did with Green Lantern. A little corny? Yes. But he had a great little sub-plot about defeat and redemption. And when you consider one of Green Lantern’s original creators, Martin Nodell, took inspiration from Aladdin and the magic lamp, it makes a kind of sense.

Maybe the reason I’m so into this new take on Green Lantern is because when you close DKIII, it’s one of the few things left that’s really and truly different about this universe. Yes, certain supporting characters are absent. And we’ve got Lara and Carrie in the picture, along with Clark and Diana’s young son. But think about it. We don’t even have that old, gritty, Clint Eastwood-style Batman anymore, now that Bruce has gone through the Lazarus Pit. The Justice League is essentially back together now. What’s left to do in this universe now?

Various points in this story felt like we were gearing up for a passing of the torch. Carrie Kelley becomes Gotham’s protector, while Lara takes over for her Superman. In the end, they pay that off with Carrie becoming Batwoman and teaming with Bruce. Then in our mini-comic, we see Lara is now under the tutelage of her father. This feels like they were didn’t want to remove Batman and Superman, for fear of how it would effect sales going forward. I can understand that. But the ending of this story feels so safe and sub-par anyway, that they may have made that sacrifice regardless.

So why not just go for it? Why not kill the Bruce Wayne character? The Joker had an iconic death scene in The Dark Knight Returns. You can take a crack at doing the same thing with Bruce here. Given how old he is, it’s getting more and more contrived to have him keep coming back in the Batsuit. So have him die in Superman’s arms in issue #6 or #7, prompting Carrie to officially take over for him as Batwoman. There’s an argument to be made for that being the ending DKR should have had.

Then, if you must bring Bruce back via the Lazarus Pit, have it be in DKIV. We can see him challenge Carrie for Gotham City, the effects of the pit having driven him insane.

Many a reader, myself included, has criticized Frank Miller for the bizarre and even offensive choices he made in The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All-Star Batman and Robin. But I’ll always credit Miller with being willing to take risks with his art. In the end, DKIII feels like they went too far in the other direction. The Dark Knight Returns has become a timeless piece of art. DKIII seems mostly like something thrown together by editors so that DC can continue to cash in on the team of Frank Miller and Batman. It’s a missed opportunity. With Brian Azzarello, Andy Kubert, and all these other supremely talented creators on board, they could have made something that allowed DC to sell more books, Instead we got something that feels largely hollow.

***For more DKIII: The Master Race, check out our reviews of issues #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, and #8.***

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A DKIII: The Master Race #8 Review – Kryptonians vs. Amazons

TITLE: Dark Knight III: The Master Race #8
AUTHORS: Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller
PENCILLERS: Andy Kubert, Miller
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: March 29, 2017

Need to catch up? Check out issues #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, and #7

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Originally, this was supposed to be the end of the line. DKIII was supposed to run for eight issues before a ninth was announced last September. As much respect as I have for all the talent involved here, they should have gone the other way and capped it at seven. DKIII has an okay story, but it’s officially worn out its welcome.

Quar’s Kryptonian forces are at war with Wonder Woman and the Amazons, with Lara the Supergirl caught in the middle. So now the question becomes: What action will be taken by the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman? Meanwhile, the Lazarus Pit has restored Batman. But Quar is preparing to make his final move…

The entire story has been building toward this fight between the Kryptonians and the Amazons. But somehow, like last issue, this still fills like filler and transitional material. Andy Kubert, inker Klaus Janson, and colorist Alex Sinclair get to have flex their muscles by following Wonder Woman through a mildly gory battle sequence. But there’s not much drama in what we’re seeing. It’s just Wondie ripping through the bad guys because of some loophole about magic that isn’t really explained. All with a baby strapped to her back, who is somehow smiling through it all. Quar isn’t there, nor is Lara’s love interest. So these are essentially a bunch of Kryptonian foot soldiers.

This penultimate chapter, and this big battle, might have been the ideal place for Lara to make her choice. Does she side with her mother and the Amazons, or Quar and the Kryptonians? We get no such moment in this issue. Not even a cliffhanger to bring us into the next issue. That might have given this issue the emotional kick it desperately needs.

That’s not to say some of this isn’t fun. While there’s an extremely awkward splash page of Wonder Woman leaping (shown left), our artists do great work with the Amazons. Early on, they answer the Kryptonians’ challenge with a spear in a really cool way. Once we get into the physicality, Sinclair puts a red sky over the proceedings, striking a subtle yet pronounced emotional note. Azzarello also gives Diana a couple of good narration lines about the Amazons being an isolationist society: “Perfection stagnates. Perfection frustrates. Isolation gives to yearning.”

On the subject of Sinclair, this is his first time coloring the main story. You can absolutely notice the difference, everything pops a little more.

So where is Batman during all of this? He’s around. Like all the other characters, he’s being moved into position for the climax. Once he’s suited up, we do get a nice little moment with the Jerry Robinson Batmobile (shown below), its lone fin and big Bat head out in all it’s glory. As a life-long Batman buff, it made me smile.

But it also illuminates a major problem with DKIII. Out of the three chapters in Frank Miller’s so-called “Dark Knight trilogy,” this one may have the least to do with Batman himself. Or even the character’s lore and mythology. This feels less like a Batman story, and more like a Justice League story that Batman plays a big part in. The Dark Knight Strikes Again had a much larger scope than the original. DKIII might have been a good time to tighten the focus again.

There are elements in this story that make me wonder if that wasn’t supposed to be the case at one point. We see Carrie Kelley take up the mantle of Batgirl, the scene she had with Commissioner Yindel on the rooftop in issue #7, and a lot of little moments with she and Bruce. It almost feels like this started as a story where Bruce passes the torch to her, but plans were changed when Miller decided he wanted to do a fourth story. I have nothing concrete to base that on. Just a feeling.

Our mini-comic this month is Dark Knight Universe Presents: Detective Comics. We learn that Bruno, the woman from DKR with the flattop and the swastika pasties, is still alive. We get an incident with her and Commissioner Yindel at a prison, which I assume is supposed to be Arkham Asylum. There’s not much to write home about from a story perspective. But like last month, Frank Miller turns in some surprisingly clean line work. At times he reverts back to more of what he’s given us as of late. We’ll call it “disproportioned.” But by and large, Miller carries his end here.

But man oh man, I wish things would end here. Compared to The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All Star Batman and RobinDKIII is pretty harmless. But from an artistic perspective, it hasn’t been enough to justify dragging the DKR stuff out of the mothballs.

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