Tag Archives: Jeph Loeb

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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Best of Batman & Superman: Superman #165

***Batman and Superman are friends. It’s an unlikely friendship, and one that can put them at odds. But ultimately, it’s a friendship based on mutual respect and trust. With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on the horizon, we’re going to hear a lot about these two fighting. “Best of Batman & Superman” will show us the opposite end of the spectrum. These are the moments that showed us why Superman and Batman are better friends than enemies.***

Superman #165, 2000TITLE: Superman #165
AUTHOR: Jeph Loeb
PENCILLER: Joe Madureira. Cover by Ed McGuinness.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL PRICE: $2.25
RELEASED: December 2000

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Don’tcha hate it when your arch rival becomes President of the United States? Man, that sucks…

We all knew tough times were ahead for Superman after the 2000 presidential election. In one of their wildest stunts, which actually stuck for a few years, DC Comics opted to make Lex Luthor the President of the United States. Naturally, this was a huge blow for the Man of Steel. When he’s written well, Superman is essentially a man of the people. So what does a man of the people do when the people make a potentially catastrophic choice?

For Superman, the answer was turning to those he trusted. Not just his wife, but his friends, colleagues and confidants in the Justice League of America. Superman #123 takes place in the aftermath of Lex’s election, and sees Superman visit with each member of the League. As it’s the holiday season, he gives each one a small gift. This issue is drawn by a number of artists, each of whom pencils a particular encounter. But naturally, we’re focusing on the Superman’s time with Batman, which is drawn by Joe Madureira. The scene is only three pages long. But it’s an interesting glimpse into how the Superman/Batman dynamic works.

Superman #165, Batman, Joe MadurieraClark and Bruce had disagreed about how to handle Luthor running for president. Batman had some even more bad blood than usual with Luthor due to his involvement in the events of the recent No Man’s Land storyline. When it looked like things were turning in Luthor’s favor, Bruce wanted to dig up dirt to use against Lex, whose reputation was squeaky clean in the eyes of the public. But Superman questioned the ethical nature of such a move, and insisted they trust American voters to do the right thing.

Obviously, they didn’t.

The tension between the two is obvious when we open the issue. Batman’s cartoony scowl aside, while all the other meetings started with friendly dialogue, this one begins with silence.

Bats then asks: “Wasn’t it you who said we have to put our faith in the America people to do the right thing?”

Swallowing his pride a bit, Clark then gives Bruce a small magnifying glass (Get it? He’s a detective.), with the words: “This…is from Lois.”

Batman replies with a thank you. Then we get the line that truly makes this exchange special: “When the time is right, we’ll take Luthor down.”

Superman #165, BatmanIn the final panel, after Batman has left, Superman repeats quietly to himself: “When the time is right…”

This may seem fairly small and insignificant. But to me it illustrates the compromise that makes the partnership between these two men work. It’s that balance of optimism and cynicism. Batman wasn’t wrong to be wary the country potentially choosing Luthor. But Superman’s ethical argument wasn’t wrong either. Superheroes shouldn’t necessarily have to stoop to playing dirty. Especially when it comes to politics, which quite frankly, is dirty enough already.

Still, Luthor won, and Superman had to eat crow. But in the end, Bats still trusts Superman enough to work with him in defeating this enemy. And Superman trusts him too, despite their differences.

Clark takes Bruce’s words to heart as the issues ends on the next page (pencilled by Ed McGuinness), as we see Superman and Lois Lane beginning a brief vacation in the Bottle City of Kandor. Tough times are indeed near. But after spending so much time with his confidants, Superman chooses to take some quality time with his closest confidant of all.

Both our heroes look pretty jacked up here, which isn’t really my cup of tea. But as a style choice, it’s fine. The only thing I don’t appreciate here is the aforementioned scowl on Batman’s face, which stays with him the whole issue. That’s not to say he has to get sentimental, or even look particularly happy. But Superman’s expression changes in the scene. So why can’t Batman’s?

On it’s own, this scene stands up just fine. But it’s even better when you consider taking Luthor down is exactly what our heroes do a few years later in another Jeph Loeb story, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. One might consider this scene a nice little prelude to that story. Luther may have gotten himself elected. But in the end, justice came calling.

For more “Best of Batman & Superman,” check out our look at Gotham Knights #27.

Images from author’s collection.

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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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A Batman/Superman #1 Review – What Page Are We On?

Batman/Superman #1 (2013)TITLE: Batman/Superman #1
AUTHOR: Greg Pak
PENCILLER: Jae Lee
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 26, 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In a company that likes to toss around the term “all star,” Jae Lee is a true all star. His dark, gothic style is usually fantastic, and it’s seemingly tailor-made for a character like Batman. But is Lee the right guy to put on a Batman/Superman book? I had my doubts, and I still do. But there is some good stuff here…even thought some of it’s rather confusing.

This issue shows us the first one-on-one meeting of Superman and Batman, first in civilian form, then in costume. To Greg Pak’s credit, his character work is awesome. His opening scene is particularly strong. Clark Kent travels to Gotham City to investigate the murder of some employees at Wayne Enterprises. He stumbles across a boy seemingly being beat up by some bullies, as Bruce Wayne (in a familiar disguise from Batman: Year One) looks on. He gets in Bruce’s face for not interfering on the boy’s behalf. But it seems the would-be victim was simply luring his opponents into a trap. From the get-go, this issue captures the source of Superman and Batman’s constant conflict, and the reason these two characters work so well together despite their differences. It’s Clark’s hopeful idealism paired with Bruce’s cynical reality. Then we go into a beautifully formatted two-page spread, which shows us what the two characters have in common: The quality of people who raised them. It’s a fantastic start.

Batman/Superman #1, robotsBut from there, things get weird. Batman uses some weird robots to try and wrangle Catwoman, who’s being controlled by a new villain called the Trickster (through she hasn’t been referred to by that name in-story yet). Then Superman flies in and the whole thing goes to hell. From there…I’m not sure what happens. Suddenly they seem to know eachother (Batman calls him “Clark”), and Batman is wearing a slightly different outfit. And then we get an appearance by someone we definitely weren’t expecting.

At this point, it seems a lot of this is supposed to be a mystery. But the whens and the wheres of this issue are confusing. In Justice League: Origin, which was written by two of the company’s co-publishers, mind you, we know that most of the League is meeting one another for the first time. And yet, this issue indicates that Superman and Batman met during Clark’s early years as a hero, when he was still wearing jeans and a t-shirt. And YET…later on in the issue Batman calls him by his civilian name and asks: “What’s with the jeans?” What page are we on? Are we in some kind of weird time warp thing? We need to clear this up pretty fast. As in, tell me what this is by next issue, or I might be gone…

Batman/Superman #1, Jae LeeAs I mentioned, I’m not completely sold on Jae Lee’s suitability for a book which prominently features Superman. His Clark Kent looks good, I’ll give him that. I also appreciate that his Superman doesn’t look like an Abercrombie and Fitch model, or a competition bodybuilder (I’m looking at you Kenneth Rocafort). But for instance, there are a few panels (shown above), where he draws a young Clark Kent in Smallville. I think this is supposed to be your typical contrast of sunny Smallville and shadowy Gotham. But Lee’s shadowy style, combined with June Chung’s color choices, give it a much too dreary look. He’s got the right idea, but it doesn’t really fit the way he does things. It can be argued the same is true when we get to red cape time. But it’s tough to say so definitively, as midway through red cape time, Ben Oliver takes over. Yeah, there’s a little tidbit they left out of the marketing campaign…

For longtime comic book readers, it’s tough to even talk about this issue without thinking about the old Superman/Batman series, specifically the stuff Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness did with the first several issues (the story which would eventually be collected in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. The first issue of their run was published almost 10 years ago. That issue also had a writer with a great understanding of both characters’ voices, and an artist whose style might have gone a little too far in one direction for a lot of peoples’ tastes. While Lee likes drawing skinny pale people, McGuinness likes drawing big muscular balloon people. But Superman/Batman #1 is 10 times what Batman/Superman #1 is. It had great pacing and flow, played up the dynamic between our main characters in a way that was both insightful and fun, and it put them against Lex Luthor, a bad guy we all love to hate.

Batman/Superman #1, fightBut while that issue was built upon more than 15 years of story continuity, the New 52 initiative is less than two years old. In Batman/Superman #1 all the iconic Superman and Batman stuff is there, but certain specifics in terms of backstory are still being established. Heck, after we close this first issue we’re not even sure where we are on the  New 52 timeline. All that stuff is still being established in other books. Superman/Batman #1 kept things simple, which definitely helps when it comes to first issues.

Hopefully Pak and Lee (and whoever else is pencilling…) will fill in some blanks next issue. Until then, Batman/Superman #1 is in the “undecided” category for me. That’s a shame, as for a longtime DC Comics fan like me, this series should be a no-brainer.

Image 1 from hypergeeky.com. Image 2 from comicbookmovie.com. Image 3 from bleedingcool.com.

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