A Batman: Life After Death Retro Review – Meanwhile, Almost a Decade Ago…

***Retro Reviews are pieces of Primary Ignition‘s past (i.e. the old site) dug from the archives and returned to their rightful place. They’ve been minimally altered. The text has been cleaned up just a little, and I’ve updated the artistic credits to go beyond just the penciller. But this is mostly the content in its original form. At the end, I’ll throw in a bit of hindsight.***

TITLE: Batman: Life After Death

AUTHOR: Tony Daniel
ARTISTS: Daniel, Guillem March
INKERS: Sandu Florea, Norm Rapmund
COLORISTS: Ian Hannin, Tomeu Morey
LETTERER: Jared K. Fletcher
COLLECTS: Batman #692699
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASE DATE: October 12, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Thinks Bruce Wayne just might come back.

In a lot of ways, this book is a sequel to Batman: Battle For The Cowl. It doesn’t come after it chronologically. But Life After Death was written entirely by Tony Daniel, the same man who wrote Battle. It also ties up some of the plot threads Daniel started there.

Life After Death finds the mysterious new Black Mask (i.e. not Roman Sionis) and his gang of False Faces in a war against the returning Falcone Crime Family. With the help of Catwoman and Huntress, Dick Grayson, the new Batman, must fight to keep Gotham City standing amidst the chaos. Meanwhile, Kitrina, youngest of the Falcone children, proves a force to be reckoned with. And because that’s clearly not enough, the Riddler, who struck with amnesia shortly after the events of Batman: Hush, is starting to remember things that will come back to haunt him.

What I really enjoyed about Life After Death is that in writing it, Daniel didn’t do what Judd Winick did in Long Shadows. There weren’t a lot of talky scenes where Dick says much trouble he’s having adjusting to his new role as Batman. Daniel doesn’t tell us about Grayson’s troubles, he shows them to us. I give him a lot of credit for that.

Being a continuity buff, I love the fact that Daniel brought Mario Falcone into the story. He’s is a character left over from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s work on Batman. For me, those books are right up there with the best Batman stories ever published. So to see those them acknowledged here was. Also included in this story is The Reaper, the villain from Mike Barr’s Batman: Year Two. Between the allusions to those three stories, plus Hush (another Jeph Loeb story), it’s clear Daniel has done his homework.

We find out who our new Black Mask is in this book. If you’re reading closely, his identity should be clear by the time the mask comes off. Daniel does a nice job characterizing this new version of the character, and his identity has already made for some interesting reading in the monthly Batman titles.

Daniel gives the artist reigns to Guillem March for the last fourth of the book. For my money, Daniel’s art is superior, but Guillem March is great too. His art fits nicely with the Batman books, and he draws great facial expressions.

From a writing standpoint, the book is a significant improvement over Battle For The Cowl. He’ll likely always be a great artist, but if he continues this trend, he’s also going to be a force to be reckoned with as a writer.

***In Hindsight***
True story: I had totally forgotten about the Kitrina Falcone character. She made for a pleasant, “Oh! That’s right!” moment.

This book came out before the Tony Daniel/Sandu Florea team overstayed its welcome. For my money, that happened when they started working on Detective Comics the following year. Floreau’s colors had a dourness to them that took a lot of the fun out of those books.

In this one, however, things mostly look okay. I can appreciate the darker, almost more gothic look to Dick Grayson’s Batman. Though it was a stark contrast to how Mark Bagley, Ed Benes, inker Rob Hunter, and oddly enough the same colorist in Ian Hannin, and had him look just a few issues prior. More colorful. Happier. Which at the end of the day is really how Dick’s Batman should look, to highlight the differences between he and Bruce.

I’m not as kind to Guillem March’s work in hindsight. His work on the New 52 Catwoman book just changed the way I look at his art. These days, he’s hit or miss with me. Ironically, as this is being published he’s working on Batman once again.

I miss Riddler’s private detective days. There was a lot of fun to be had there.

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Panels of Awesomeness: Joker in the Court

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: The following contains a spoiler for Batman: The Long Halloween. If you haven’t read it, run (do not walk) and do so right this minute.***

THE ISSUE: Batman: Dark Victory #7

CREATORS: Jeph Loeb (Author), Tim Sale (Artist), Gregory Wright (Colors) Heroic Age (Colors), Richard Starkings (Letters)

RELEASED: June 2000

THE SCENE: In an underground “courtroom” setting, Batman’s enemies try to ascertain the identity of the “Hangman” killer. The Calendar Man takes the stand as Two-Face prosecutes.

WHY IT’S AWESOME: After recommending The Long Halloween to a friend, I recently took the time to re-read the pivotal entry into the Batman mythos, along with its sequel, Dark Victory. While Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s work might be my favorite take on Batman and his world, I came away realizing Dark Victory wasn’t quite as good as I remembered. While it’s nowhere near bad, and it’s still great to be in that Loeb/Sale world again, it’s a sequel that doesn’t live up to the original.

Odd as it may seem, this page is my favorite in the entire book. Specifically because of that last panel, in which the Joker lets out a tiny “Ha.”

In the scene, Julian Day, a.k.a. the Calendar Man is about to reveal the true identity of the Holiday killer from The Long Halloween, whom the world believes to be Alberto Falcone. But Day knows the truth. And without spoiling too much from the book, Harvey Dent has a very personal investment in the truth not getting out. So he pulls a gun on the Calendar Man before he can get out a name. Then the Joker laughs.

I’m not sure if Julian Day knew the truth or not. Hell, even Batman never knew. But to me, that one little word bubble with those two little letters reveal one hell of an untouched detail: The Joker knows. I don’t know how he knows, but I suspect it may have something to do with his appearance in Harvey and Gilda Dent’s new home in The Long Halloween. It would certainly explain the way he behaves toward Two-Face in Dark Victory.

I also love the way this panel is colored. The ultimate evil standing off in the shadows. Laughing. Because he knows your dark and dirty little secret. Most likely because part of that awful, unthinkable evil that resides in him, now resides in you too.

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Toy Chest Theater: Two-Face by Gabriel Arndt

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Alright, so it’s a little late for a Halloween pic. But it’s never too late to tip your had to The Long Halloween, as Gabriel Arndt has done with this piece.

What’s interesting about this shot is that Two-Face doesn’t get the starring role. The friggin’ pumpkin does. But it works. I don’t think that came with the actual Long Halloween action figures. But it looks like something Tim Sale would draw. And the blood spatter is a nice touch. The contrast of the black-and-white background goes a long way in creating that noir vibe that most of those Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale Batman stories had.

Some people crow about The Long Halloween, and Jeph Loeb’s writing of Batman in general, being overrated. I really couldn’t disagree more. Especially if you’re someone just being introduced to Batman comics, or even comics in general. Two of the first trades I gave my wife to read were The Long Halloween and Hush. Obviously, you’re entitled to your opinion. But for me, Loeb is an all-time great.

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A Captain America: White #1 – The Band is Back Together

Captain America: White #1TITLE: Captain America: White #1
AUTHOR: Jeph Loeb
PENCILLER: Tim Sale
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: September 17, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Finally, after so many years of waiting, the band is back together.

Actually, Captain America: White #1 is more akin to discovering old recordings than an actual reunion. The last page is dated 2008. But who cares? Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have a new comic book out. In the funny book industry, these two are as formidable as Cap and Bucky.

Seven years after the release of Captain America: White #0, the next installment in Loeb and Sale’s “color series” continues. After being awakened from his decades-long coma by The Avengers, Steve Rogers is horrified to learn how his young partner Bucky died. Now, Captain America, a relic of an era long gone, is left with nothing but the memories of the young man he knew so well, and trusted as his comrade.

Captain America: White #1, Cap and BuckyPart of the formula for a “color book” is that our main character is longing for someone they’ve lost, and is flashing back to their early days as a hero to remember them. In Spider-Man: Blue that person was Gwen Stacy, in Daredevil: Yellow it was Karen Page, and in Hulk: Gray it was Betty Ross. This story breaks that pattern with Bucky being in that spot. That’s all well and good, as it eliminates a certain repetition and keeps these stories from sounding similiar. Given Cap’s disposition as, in Sale’s words, “a fightin’ man” and “romantic neutral” (The latter is debatable, I suppose.), the partner dynamic makes more sense. Sales also presents a lot of cool big size/medium size visuals with Cap and Bucky, my favorite of which is the motorcycle shot above.

Sale is in mostly great form here. He starts things off with an awesome two-page spread of Cap literally leaping out of his coma as the original Avengers (clad in their ’60s era gear) look on stunned. Later, there’s another spread which mostly consists of a black and white news reel detailing Cap’s exploits. You can actually hear the ’40s style announcer’s voice in your head on those pages. Sale’s quirky style also lends itself very well to expressiveness, specifically during the scenes between Cap and Nick Fury, or Cap and Bucky.

Captain America: White #1, Nick Fury, Dum Dum DugganFrom a color standpoint, Sale and colorist Dave Stewart do beautiful work. These “color books” have always had a nice moody art to them that fits the deep and personal tone set by Loeb. Whether it’s the grim and shadowy reunion between Rogers and Fury, the lantern-lit moment in the tent when Bucky learns Cap’s identity, or the fiery skies of a battlefield, Stewart draws from a tremendous pallet, albeit one that’s a bit washed out at times.

I don’t get on Sale about his figure construction very often, but there are isolated moments in this issue where dynamism leads to awkward anatomy. Case in point, Cap’s pose on the cover. I assume that’s supposed to be his bicep covering his left cheek. But even if you stretch your standards, that’s a little too Rob Liefeld-esque for me. Ditto for the splash page where Cap extends his hand to Bucky. His chest is too puffy for my tastes. I hate even the thought of comparing Sale to Liefeld, but that’s where my mind went.

Captain America: White #1, Bucky!This issue is somewhat reminiscent of Loeb and Sale’s work on Batman: Dark Victory for obvious reasons. But there’s a significant difference in how both Captain America and Steve Rogers are perceived not only by Bucky, but by Fury, Dum Dum Dugan, and the American troops. Fury seems to regard Cap as more of a publicity stunt than a soldier, referring to him as a show off, a circus performer, and even “flagface.” It’s an interesting reminder that Cap wasn’t always a universally accepted personification of patriotism. It’s a cynicism that’s surprising, but insightful.

There’s also a scene where we get a sense that the younger Bucky may have a better aptitude with the opposite sex than Steve Rogers. Not only does he say it outright, but we later see the premise in action, as Steve interacts with ladies at a bar. Again, insightful.

Considering everything that’s happened to the Captain America status quo in recent years, i.e. Sam Wilson taking over the role and Rogers becoming older, it’s nice to see a throwback to Cap’s roots. It’s even nicer to see it done by such a masterful team. Considering Loeb’s role as head of television for Marvel, it seems unlikely we’ll see more comic book writing from him in the near future. That only serves to make Captain America: White more special, and more worthy of savoring.

Image 1 from Insidepulse.com. Images 2 and 3 from forbiddenplanet.co.uk.

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