A Superman, Vol. 1: Son of Superman Review – A Family Affair

TITLE: Superman, Vol. 1: Son of Superman
AUTHORS: Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason
PENCILLERS: Gleason, Jorge Jimenez, Doug Mahnke
COLLECTS: Superman: Rebirth #1, Superman #16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: January 4, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This is the first ongoing Superman book in a long time that actually feels happy to be a Superman book.

This topic has been beaten to death, but let’s touch on it quickly: It’s time to stop trying to modernize, freshen up, or worst of all, “darken” Superman. It’s been done time and time again, and it never clicks. They’ve changed his costume. They’ve made him moody and broody. One time they even de-powered him and put him on a damn motorcycle. No more. It’s time to stop being ashamed of Superman. Let the character be who and what he’s always been at his core: A champion of values. Truth, justice, hope. and yes, the American way. Let the guy smile. Embrace the character’s legacy instead of hiding from it. Let him be the hero we need in these trying times.

Son of Superman does all of that, while still carving out a new direction for the Man of Steel. Simply put, it’s the best Superman book in years. Almost a decade, perhaps.

The DC Rebirth incarnation of Superman puts the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths version of the character back in the cape and boots. He’d been brought back for Convergence, and eventually became an ongoing character again in the pages of a new book, Lois and Clark. With him was his timeline’s incarnation of Lois Lane, and their young son Jonathan. As Clark Kent finds a balance between protecting the Earth and raising his son, Jonathan must learn to manage his emerging superpowers. With those powers come responsibility, risk, and a legacy…

Instead of focusing on Superman facing a threat, we spend most of this book learning about Jonathan. We see his response to living with a secret identity, how he reacts to challenges, and how Clark and Lois are raising him. They’ve accepted that he’ll one day inherit the Superman legacy, and are gently preparing him for the role. In theory, Superman works on two levels. Youngsters can identify with Jonathan, while older parent-aged readers connect with Clark and Lois. It’s by no means a sexy approach. But artistically, it’s true to the soul of the Superman character. His adopted parents instilled him with a set of principles. Now he has to pass those principles on to his son. But the dynamic is tweaked, because he’s able to relate to what Jonathan is going through. It’s a premise that lends itself to heart-felt storytelling, not unlike what we saw from Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s work in Batman & Robin.

We kick things off with Superman: Rebirth #1, which establishes our “new” hero, with some nice fan service thrown in. The New 52 Superman was killed off, and as the post-Crisis Superman is the one who famously died and returned, he sets about bringing his counterpart back in a similar fashion. Te issue is highlighted by artists Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, and Will Quintana giving us their take on the iconic Superman/Doomsday battle. It was out of continuity for so long, and it’s brought back in what I’ll call a “wide screen” sequence that plays out over about seven pages. Mendoza’s inks compliment Mahnke’s richly detailed pencils, and Quintana’s color make it every bit the glorious and epic scene it needs to be. The same applies to when they return for issue #5. We’ve got Superman talking to ghosts, we’ve got the Eradicator trying to eradicate things, we’ve got a big Batman robot straight out of a Snyder/Capullo comic…

Actually, I don’t mind the “Hellbat” returning from the Tomasi/Gleason Batman & Robin book. Maybe it’s because Lois Lane is the one using it, as opposed to Batman. It makes for a fun holdover.

But artistically, this book belongs to Patrick Gleason, inker Mick Gray, and colorist John Kalisz. Obviously, as a co-writer Gleason has the advantage of molding the story to fit his strengths. But just from a basic figure rendering perspective, it’s so amazing to see Superman look like Superman again. Even the classic spit curl, which I’ve never been a huge fan of, is a breath of fresh air. These pages are bright, flamboyant, and unabashedly sentimental. Gleason’s slightly exaggerated, animated style is a perfect fit for a story about a pre-teen learning to be a superhero. There’s a lot of fun on these pages.

Gleason also has an amazing knack for classic Superman iconography. The page at left comes to mind, with our hero in the classic pose as an American flag waves in the background. For obvious reasons, he lays it on a little stronger in issue #1. We’ve got a two-page spread that simply shows him opening his shirt to reveal the “S” insignia. That’s followed up immediately with another two-page spread giving us snapshots from Superman’s history. This is who Superman is, and who he’s always been. To see it all reemphasized is borderline beautiful.

The biggest obstacle this book faces is establishing that this is a “new” Superman from another timeline. They obviously devote a good amount of time to it. But it’s still a lot to wrap your head around, and has the potential to be really confusing for someone jumping on. This book is about a family trying to figure out how they fit into a new world. But that runs counterintuitive to how the average reader sees Superman, as he’s so ingrained in the fabric of the DC Universe. By the time we close the book, most of that awkwardness has subsided. But to say the least, this hasn’t been the smoothest Superman relaunch we’ve ever seen.

But it’s worth it in about every possible way. It’s been far too long since a Superman book has been this good. While this is obviously a new direction for the Man of Steel, in many ways it feels like he’s finally gotten back to his roots. That’s the Superman we need right now. That’s the Superman we’ve always needed.

Welcome back, Big Blue. We’ve missed you.

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

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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

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

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An X-Men Gold, Vol. 2 Review – Old Flames Reignited

TITLE: X-Men Gold, Vol. 2: Evil Empires
AUTHOR: Marc Guggenheim
PENCILLER: Ken Lashley, Lan Medina, Luke Ross
COLLECTS: X-Men Gold #712
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: November 15, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

X-Men Gold is a feel-good book in a lot of ways. It’s got a warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feel to it while still having its feet planted in the modern era. That was the case in the first volume, and it continues here in the second.

Evil Empires sees our heroes face a mutant serial killer, Congress, and Russian gangsters backed up by Omega Red. That’s variety for you. All the while, romances old and new start to blossom. Rachel Grey discovers Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler’s feelings for her, as Kitty and Peter slowly move closer to resurrecting their relationship. Plus, what secrets lay in the journey that the alien Kologoth took to Earth? We saw him work with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But where does he go from here?

Kitty and Peter are the emotional core of Evil Empires as a reunion between the two becomes more and more tempting. It’s so obvious where they’re going that the romantic scenes between the two lose some of their edge. But there’s an obvious feel-good quality to it, considering these two have grown up together. That they joined the team so young and are now in leadership roles makes the book feel like the natural continuation of the X-Men legacy.

Kitty herself is the personification of that idea. In the span of a few issues, we see her delegate tasks for her team during a crisis, go one-on-one with a mutant serial killer in the school, and testify before Congress against an act that would deport all mutants. Not half bad. It also doesn’t hurt that Ken Lashley drew a hell of a fight scene in issue #8, with a sword-wielding Pryde facing our serial killer. Great dim lighting in that scene too, which is a credit to tremendous coloring by Frank Martin and Andrew Crossley.

Our killer is a new version of the X-Cutioner. He’s more or less a S.W.A.T. guy with a LOT of extra toys. But he’s got a fairly sympathetic backstory, and we find out he’s got a pretty good reason to dislike mutants. He’s simply taken it too far. The way Guggenheim writes his confrontation with Kitty is a great snapshot of the world the X-Men live in. The stigma that mutants live with isn’t always the result of blind prejudice. That doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t justify violence. But it’s not always as simple as people being afraid of people that are different.

Full disclosure: I know next to nothing about Rachel’s relationship with Kurt prior to X-Men Gold. But there’s a shy sweetness to it that’s, dare I say, cute. They approach the idea of being together with reasonable caution, but there’s obviously a good amount of chemistry there. Rachel and Kurt hardly have the spotlight in this book, but what we get is enough to make you want more. 

So we’ve got iconic and interesting characters who have a cozy, family-like dynamic with one another. We see them on the baseball field when we open the book, and then later playing cards. Again, it’s kind of cute. The problem is once we get past issue #9, we lose a lot of intrigue. Issues #10 and #11 are about Russian gangsters trying to resurrect Omega Red, using Peter’s sister Illyana (a.k.a. Magik) as a power source. Outside of the novelty of seeing Omega Red and Illyana, for the most part there’s not much to sink your teeth into.

I remember skipping out on issue #12 when I saw it at my local comic shop. The exploration of Kologoth’s backstory and this whole alien world felt like a sharp turn, despite a brief set-up for it early on. It’s all meant to pay off in later issues (#16 and #17 specifically). But for the time being I was struggling to care, and as such the book ends on a whimper.

All that being said, the book is very well illustrated. The art actually holds the book up in the second half as its story deteriorates. Ken Lashley is our cover artist, and does the pencils and inks for issues #7-9. Lashley excels in giving his work a sense of motion, which is why his fight sequences work so well. And not just the one with the X-Cutioner. Whiplash (see Iron Man 2) crashes Kitty’s appearance in front of Congress, which causes a brief but intense fight. He also gives us a pretty cool layout with Nightcrawler in issue #7 (shown left).

We shift to Chris Medina’s more detailed style for issues #10 and #11. While I was hardly enamored with the story about Peter’s uncle, Medina did give him a very distinct face. During his scenes you feel like you’re looking at a real person. The quieter, more intimate moments between Kitty and Peter also mean a bit more with Medina at the pencil. His style offers them a little more heart.

Luke Ross gets tagged in for issue #12. I’ll say this much: He draws a hell of a reptilian alien in Kologoth. Really nice texture on the skin and teeth, plus the ominous red eyes.  So little about the issue is memorable. But Ross’ rendering of the monster itself stands out. Frank Martin goes solo on the colors here, and gets to play with a pretty expansive palette. Especially early on, when we get a look at Kologoth’s home world.

X-Men Gold, Vol. 2 underperforms in its second volume, despite delivering some solid character work and good action early on. But as a reader, it still has my attention. There’s still a lot of value in this back to basics approach, and a great stories than can still be told.

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

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A Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 4 Review – When Zordon Steals the Show

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 4
AUTHORS: Kyle Higgins, Ryan Ferrier
PENCILLERS: Hendry Prasetya, Bachan, Daniel Bayliss. Cover by Goni Montes.
COLLECTS: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #13-16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: BOOM! Studios
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: 
October 25, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The first act in the larger story of Lord Drakkon comes to an end in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 4. Tommy’s evil doppleganger looks great here, and we also get an awesome character spotlight. Overall, this MMPR series still has a big up side. But once we get into issue #16, particularly the last few pages, things start to get rocky.

When we open the book, Tommy and Billy are still trapped in an alternate universe where the Green Ranger remained with Rita Repulsa after the events of “Green With Evil.” This turn of events led to the destruction of the Power Rangers, and Tommy’s rise as the evil Lord Drakkon. Now the Tommy and Billy that we know must join up with a resistance force (led  by familiar faces) to bring Drakkon down. Meanwhile, Jason and the others face Rita and her minions with reduced powers, and without Zordon. And where is Zordon anyway?

We get the answer to that last question in issue #15, and it’s the creative highlight of the book. Zordon has been absent for several issues at this point, so it’s obviously good to check in with him. But this issue goes above and beyond, following him into a rift between the dimensions. We see him meet his counterpart from Drakkon’s world, and how Zordon has continued to play a role in the conflict despite current predicament. More importantly, after witnessing how events have unfolded in this alternate reality, we see him speak from a place of uncertainty. We aren’t always shown that perspective from a wise old sage character like this. It’s an intriguing change up, which in the end cuts to the very heart of who Zordon is.

Daniel Bayliss hits a home run with the pencils, inks, and colors. His renderings of a full-bodied Zordon interacting with the time warp around him, and later his other self, are compelling, gorgeous, and hit the mark emotionally. He also gets to play around with some of the the war sequences we’ve seen in previous issues. We get some familiar images of Rita’s forces in Washington, Drakkon holding the Red Ranger helmet, and a few glorious shots of the Thunderzords. Bayliss can’t come back to the Rangers soon enough.

We closed the previous volume with the reveal of Trini, Bulk, and Aisha (who we know as the future Yellow Ranger) as members of the resistance. Having Aisha show up is a nice bit of fan service. But that’s all it amounts to. I won’t complain about that, considering how much griping I’ve already done about Tommy and Billy seeing things from their future.

For whatever reason, this series is bound and determined to cast the fun-loving Zack as a brooder. We get more of that here. But it’s an alternate version of Zack, who has lost nearly everything and become the leader of the resistance. Given how dark the world around him has grown, I’m alright with this version of Zack being more dour. It even makes for a cool little moment with the canonical Zack toward the end.

This volume also sees Finster create Goldar clones of all builds and sizes to fight against the Rangers. I love this idea. It makes sense. Goldar has failed Rita time and again, so she has Finster “improve” on him. This might have worked as an idea for the show, time and costumes permitting. We even get to see Goldar without his armor on the very first page. I didn’t even know he could take the armor off.

Kyle Higgins deserves a lot of the credit for the more sinister Finster we’ve gotten from the BOOM! books. The crowning example is what we got from Trey Moore and Frazer Irving in the 2017 annual. But the Finster we get in this book has a nice underlying creepiness to him. By comparison, the Finster we got on the show was almost a kind old man at times.

One of the subplots we get in this book involves the Trini of Drakkon’s world coming to grips with seeing Billy, as the Billy of her world died saving her life. If Higgins and Hendry Prasetya are playing at an eventual Billy/Trini romance, they’re doing it in a very subtle manner. The potential romance between Billy and Trini thing is something some of us have been talking about since we were kids. They almost have to address it at some point. Even if it’s just an issue about how they don’t have those kind of feelings for each other. Matters aren’t helped when you consider Prasetya’s strengths are the super-powered action scenes, and not the quiet interpersonal stuff. So one can argue that material isn’t fully maximized.

On the flip side, Prasetya’s fight sequences with a morphed Lord Drakkon are epic in the inevitable good Tommy vs. evil Tommy fight. This is obviously the first time we’ve gotten to see that costume in action. It’s very evocative of classic Power Rangers. The costume is obviously visually similar to the White Ranger suit. Darken is even holding Saba for much of the battle. You can easily hear Jason David Frank’s cheesy “evil” voice when reading some of Drakkon’s dialogue. (“Hello again, Tommy.”)  There’s also a teamwork theme in effect here, which is something that’s remained present for the entire series.

The Yellow Ranger also gets a Battlizer of sorts in issue #16. It comes out of nowhere, but looks cool enough. I also appreciate that it’s Trini who gets it. She was always the most underdeveloped character on the show, and remains that way in the comics. So this is a cool moment for her.

At this point we’ve built this Lord Drakkon story up for four books. Everything has built to this confrontation between the two Tommys, and the Power Rangers finally striking back against Rita’s forces. The ending makes sense. But when I read issue #16 during it’s initial release, I was disappointed. We’d built to those big showdowns for so long, only for them to pass fairly quickly. This felt like it should have been a big, epic finale. The Megazord makes a big comeback against the Goldar clones, and Tommy and Drakkon make some kind of startling discovery about each other that leads into the next phase of the story. Instead the resolution, particularly the bit with the teens back at school, feels very rushed and slapped together. All the right ingredients are there. But we aren’t given enough time with them.

However, I will say that what happens to Drakkon at the very end has the potential to be very interesting…

Our Bulk and Skull back-up stories are no more, now replaced by “The Ongoing Misadventures of Squatt & Baboo.” Like their predecessors, these stories were fairly benign additions to each single issue that are now collected long form. Ryan Ferrier and Bachan set a similar goofy tone. But while the Bulk and Skull stories got old after just a few issues, I somehow find Squatt and Baboo’s adventures a little more palatable. Perhaps it’s because they got a fraction of the screen time Bulk and Skull did, so there’s a refreshing quality to them getting the spotlight here. The collective story is about them visiting an alternate dimension and running into Goldar. It’s mildly amusing, and Bachan has a cool take on our “heroes.”

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 4 has a few more problems than the previous volumes do. But all the elements that make the series great are still there. Namely, Higgins’ willingness to write an objectively silly concept in a more serious and dramatic voice, Hendry Prasetya’s awesome work on the words and costumes, and the added depth injected into the characters. For Power Rangers fans young and old, this series remains a must-read.

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

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A Review of The Walking Dead, Vol. 28 – Time’s Up

TITLE: The Walking Dead, Vol. 28: A Certain Doom
AUTHOR: Robert Kirkman
PENCILLER: Charlie Adlard
COLLECTS: The Walking Dead #173#178
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: 
September 27, 2017

***WARNING: MAJOR spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

When you get right down to it, we’re really just waiting for all of these characters to die.

Consider the horrible things that happen to people in The Walking Dead. It’s not at all uncommon to see human beings ripped apart, disemboweled, and eaten alive. And that’s just by the zombies. Now look at everything the characters do to each other. They go to war with one another, cut each other up, bash each other’s brains in, and all manner of grotesque things. That’s the world they live in. Nobody in The Walking Dead dies of old age. Everyone in these stories is on a ticking clock.

In this volume, a major character’s time runs out. And it’s handled unconventionally, at least by Walking Dead standards.

When we open the book, the people of Alexandria are about to face the biggest zombie hoard of their lives. As the survivors rush into action, Rick and Negan struggle to survive amidst the undead. All the while, a group within the extended network of communities is preparing to rebel against Rick’s leadership. A group with a familiar name…

Let’s jump right in: This is the book where Andrea dies. Issue #165 ends with the discovery that she was bitten while helping fend off the giant hoard. Rick discovers what happened at the end of issue #166, and issue #167 is devoted entirely to her death.

We almost crack the fourth wall in #165. On the very first page, Negan is fighting off zombies, and says: “It’s funny how they keep trying to bite you, isn’t it? I mean, who’s getting bit these days–after knowing the rules this long?” And on the very last page? Andrea with a bite mark on her neck. I can’t decide whether Negan or Kirkman is the bigger jerk…

Kirkman seemed unexpectedly emotional about Andrea’s death, even including a personal message in lieu of a letters section in issue #167. He literally apologizes for killing Andrea, apparently anticipating how hard it would be for his more loyal readers. The message struck me as strange, and almost self celebratory to do that immediately after the story in question. The issue spoke for itself. The idea is that even after once again losing a woman he loves, Rick must continue on and draw strength from those around him.

Then again, Kirkman wasn’t wrong about the reaction. This story and this world can bring out a lot of emotion in its audience, and evidently its creator as well. Plus, it’s not like the message hampers the content itself. I just wouldn’t make a habit out of it.

Andrea is one of the few characters in The Walking Dead to die peacefully. Other longstanding characters like Glenn and Lori had their lives violently ripped away. But with Andrea, both the readers and the characters know it’s coming, and they’re left to agonize over it. My favorite page in the entire volume is a 16-panel montage of Andrea being visited by various characters, each saying goodbye in their own fashion. It’s a very honest way to look at a death. It’s simple, but extremely effective.

As one might expect, Rick can’t bring himself to put Andrea down so that she doesn’t become a zombie. Ergo, we get a scuffle between Rick and a zombified Andrea. An awkward physical transition and some repetitive dialogue notwithstanding, it’s a pretty good scene, centered around Rick’s inner turmoil over whether he can bear the battle any longer. Very empathetic, given everything we’ve seen.

This book also takes us a few more steps toward Negan’s redemption, as he and Rick are forced to fight side by side against the hoard. Negan even saves his life at one point, and subsequently opens up about what happened to his wife, Lucille.

The Negan redemption arc has been the most interesting thing about the series for awhile now. What makes it work so well is that Negan is an admitted psychopath. So while it seems like he’s come along way since we first met him, it’s not far fetched that this could all end up being a giant ruse. And with Andrea now gone, Rick is about to be extremely vulnerable. Seems like a hell of a good time to spring a trap. I’m not betting on a swerve turn, however. Negan trying to be a good guy is a lot more interesting than Negan reverting to his old ways.

Artistically, the book is strongest in issue #167, as that’s where the strongest subject matter is. Penciller Charlie Adlard, inker Stefano Gaudiano, and grayscale artist Cliff Rathburn turn in some absolutely beautiful imagery. There’s almost too much to mention. Virtually everything during Rick and Andrea’s final scene is awesome. The character acting is emotional and on point, particularly from Rick. There’s an absolutely gorgeous two-page spread of Rick at Andrea’s bedside during her dying moments. The tragic tenderness of that moment, coupled with how visually shaken Rick is, make Andrea’s transformation into a zombie that much more horrific. The scuffle itself isn’t perfect, but the turn itself is.

The talk between Negan and Rick in issue #164 is also artistically notable, as it’s the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen Negan be in front of another person. It’s one of the few moments in the entire series where we can tell he’s being honest. We don’t just get that from his dialogue. It’s also in his eyes, how he’s positioned in certain panels, the lighting/shading in the scene. It’s human connection, and it’s a pivotal scene in the relationship between these two characters. Now it’s just a question of how real it was on Negan’s end…

While they don’t have Negan with them any longer, the Saviors reassert themselves in this volume. It’s not remotely on the same scale as before. But it’s mildly compelling, and an alright source of tension. It takes something of a bizarre turn in issue #166, when Rick accidentally kills their new leader Sherry. During a physical confrontation, she gets pushed into a table at an awkward angle and her neck snaps. The Walking Dead isn’t exactly known for its unconvincing death sequences. But I didn’t buy this one. The physicality of it was strange. Oddly enough, it’s similar to the awkward transition we see in issue #167. Both involve an attacker being on top of Rick, and then being pushed backward. Perhaps we’ve finally found something in this series Charlie Adlard doesn’t draw perfectly.

Obviously, The Walking Dead is in no danger of…well, death. The series seems as healthy as it’s ever been. But from a creative standpoint, I often wonder about story patterns we see in the book, and whether a paradigm shift is in order.

I refer specifically to the use of big bad villains leading big bad groups to terrorize Rick and our heroes. We’ve had the Governor, we’ve had Negan, and to a lesser extent we’ve had the Whisperers. But Negan, the Saviors, and the All Out War storyline have been such a tough act to follow. It’s virtually exhausted the villain formula. Even when the Whisperers put a bunch of heads on pikes, it seemed to pale in comparison to the violent bullying we saw from the Saviors. And if we’re not fighting bad guys, we’re fighting zombies, which are essentially an environmental hazard at this point.

The book’s saving grace is that we still care about the characters, specifically the ones that have been with us a long time. Rick, Carl, Michonne, Negan, and Eugene all come to mind. But have we reached the point where we can’t break any new ground with them? In the long run, how healthy is a series where readers are just waiting for the clock to run out on the characters they love? What can be done to give The Walking Dead a creative jolt?

I don’t have the answer. I just hope Robert Kirkman does

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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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