Tag Archives: Floyd Lawton

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

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

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A Suicide Squad #1 Review – Life on the A-List

Suicide Squad #1, 2016, cover, Jim LeeTITLE: Suicide Squad #1
AUTHOR: Rob Williams
PENCILLERS: Jim Lee, Jason Fabok. Cover by Lee.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: August 17, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Even with the movie, the idea of Jim Lee working on a Suicide Squad book seems bizarre. This is the man who broke records with X-Men, set a new standard for Batman, and ushered Justice League into a new era. He’s the master of the modern American superhero epic. He’s synonymous with A-list characters and stories. So to see him work on mostly B and C-list characters is an interesting change. Still, it’s great to see new art from Jim Lee.

Even when he’s drawing Killer Croc nearly drowning in his own vomit.

A rogue Russian state is in possession of a cosmic weapon. Amanda Waller calls in Task Force X, a.k.a. the Suicide Squad to either steal or destroy it. But to avoid detection, the team must drop in from space. But it turns out the squad wasn’t made for space travel…

Our team line-up is the same as the movie’s, minus a few: Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, and the Enchantress. Plus Rick Flag and Katana working directly for Waller. Also, Belle Reeve Prison now has a “Select Your Players” feature, in which inmate containers/cells can be retrieved via crane. There are many, which invites theories about who else Waller could select for the Squad. (Black Manta? Deathstroke?)

Suicide Squad #1, 2016, Jim Lee, group shotThe issue doesn’t let Lee be as dynamic as he often is. We do get a cool group shot of the team (shown left), with Harley wearing a cutesy “Rebirth” t-shirt. But the big action sequence of the issue is the team sitting in their spacecraft as it crashes into the sea. I expected something higher octane, akin to what we saw in Justice League.

The trade off, however, is that we get a nice character moment for Rick Flag, a character conspicuous by his absence in the New 52verse until Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1. Flag was cast as the incorruptible hero with a heightened sense of responsibility for his fellow soldiers. Thus, after Croc gets sick in the spacecraft, Flag undoes his restraints and tries to save Croc from drowning in vomit. This sequence, even more than what we saw in Rebirth, distinctively sets Flag apart from his teammates. He’s loyal to a fault.

 Lee also didn’t have as many pages as he usual. DC’s trick for keeping Lee on deadline this time around is reducing his page count, and giving him bulked back-up stories. This issue is about 60% Lee, and 60% Jason Fabok, as we get a story under the banner of “Personnel File: Deadshot.” I can only assume this will be an ongoing theme for the foreseeable back-ups. Predictably, Deadshot’s revamped origin has echoes of the movie. Batman is involved, and we heavily emphasize Floyd Lawton’s daughter Zoe.

Suicide Squad #1, 2016, Jason FabokJason Fabok has cited Jim Lee as an influence, so I imagine it’s quite a thrill to for him to have his work next to Lee’s. Comparatively, Fabok’s pages come out more polished and clean, while Lee’s work is a bit sketchier than usual. Fabok’s colorist Brad Anderson works with a darker palette, which fits with the more emotional tone, not to mention much of the story taking place in Gotham City. If Lee’s job is to deliver an action-packed “A” story, while Fabok handles the quieter and perhaps more emotional “B” stories, we may have a winning combo on our hands. In that sense, the contrast in styles works very well.

Question: Why is Katana working with the Suicide Squad all of a sudden? Yes, that’s how it was in the movie. But how did it happen in this universe? Maybe that’s a question for a future back-up.

Also, i guess we’re discarding the whole meta-bomb in China thing from Rebirth? Too bad, I liked that story.

If the object of Suicide Squad #1 is to lure in movie viewers and entice them to read future issues, then I’d call it a mild success. I was left wanting more action on Jim Lee’s end. Whether that leaves newcomers anxious for the next issue, or disappointed overall, remains to be seen. But there’s potential here, and they’ve got me coming back at the very least.

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