A Batman, Vol 11: The Fall and the Fallen Deep Dive – Too Much Canvas

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 11: The Fall and the Fallen
AUTHORS:
Tom King, Andy Kubert, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, Mairghread Scott, Steve Orlando, Tim Seeley
ARTISTS:
Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Amancay Nahuelpan, Carlos D’Anda, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith (Inker). Eduardo Risso, Patrick Gleason. Cover by Kubert.
COLORIST:
Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Luis Guerrero, Tomeu Morey, Dave Stewart, John Kalisz
LETTERER:
Clayton Cowles, Steve Wands, Andworld Design, Tom Workman, Tom Napolitano
COLLECTS:
Batman #7074, Batman: Secret Files #2
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE:
$24.99
RELEASED:
December 18, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

As a whole, City of Bane, which essentially starts here, is Tom King’s version of The Dark Knight Rises. Or if you want to go back further, the Knightfall storyline from the ’90s.

It’s also where the wheels come off King’s Batman run. I take no joy in saying that. But the proof is in the pudding, kids. So let’s dip our spoons in…

1. Daddy’s back.
The Fall and the Fallen is when we finally see Bane and Flashpoint Batman, a.k.a. Thomas Wayne from an alternate universe, team up to break our hero once and for all.

Yes friends, Thomas Wayne, one of Bruce Wayne’s parents, is here. You know about Bruce Wayne’s parents, right? They were murdered in front of their young son. It was that heinous act of violence that inspired Bruce’s vow to wage war on criminals for the rest of his life, and ultimately the creation of Batman. We saw these two come face-to-face in The Button, and it was a tremendously emotional experience for Bruce. One can only imagine what would go through his head if his father, even an alt-universe version, masterminded some kind of plot against him…

So tell me something: Why is Bane our big bad in this story? Why bring him into this when Bruce’s father shakes his son’s world to its core simply because he exists? Add the fact that this version of Thomas Wayne is his universe’s Batman, and Bane becomes redundant by comparison.

Batman #72 takes us back through the events of the series and outlines Bane’s plan, which all centers around the Bruce/Selina marriage. In the end, Thomas proposes a partnership.

But picture this, Thomas Wayne somehow survives the destruction of the Flashpoint universe and winds up in the DC Universe proper. He initially wants to seek out his “son,” but this alternate world intrigues him. So he opts to lay low, observe, and learn.

Remember, in The Button, Thomas pleaded with Bruce to stop being Batman and simply live his life. Devastated that Bruce hasn’t heeded his words, he decides he’s the only one that can stop his “son.” So he opts to do what must be done, by any means necessary.

In the end, it comes down to Batman against Batman. Father against son. It can be on the rooftops of Gotham, the Batcave, or anywhere really. All we need is the emotional impact of that showdown.

In the end, Catwoman shoots and kills Thomas in an act of desperation. Bruce then has to decide if he can forgive her or not. This would pay off the revelation from The War of Jokes and Riddles.

Not bad, huh? But no, instead we got another big fight with Bane. Yippee…

2. Father/Son Time
And what of what we actually get from father and son? They journey through the desert to get to a Lazarus Pit, occasionally stopping to fight members of Ra’s al Ghul’s personal guard. They take turns riding a horse, which is dragging a casket behind it. I won’t say who’s in it. But if you consider who we have in this scene and where they’re going it’s not too hard to figure out. There’s a really nice subtle reference to Batman: Knight of Vengeance, which is low key one of the best Batman stories of the last decade.

Old timey music has been a theme during Tom King’s run. In issue #73, he has Flashpoint Batman singing “Home, Home on the Range” to himself. Fun fact: It’s really weird to read that scene while playing Bing Crosby’s version of the song in the background…

Issue #74 is where things finally boil over between our Batmen. Thomas’ motivation, as always, is to get Bruce to surrender his life as Batman and live a normal life. That’s a hell of a premise for an issue. The trouble is, King spends far too much time harping on a story about a bedtime story Thomas told Bruce as a child about a bunch of animals eating each other in a pit. If I’m not mistaken, it’s an actual story written by Alexander Afanasyev, who’s widely considered to be the Russian counterpart to the Brothers Grimm. Father and son talk about the horror of it all, and why Bruce supposedly liked the story. They eventually get to the real meat of their conflict. But by the time they do, you feel frustrated because they’ve spent so much time talking about that damn story. Even during their inevitable battle in the pit, King uses the story as a narrative backdrop.

And all the while, I can’t help but think…Thomas Wayne, Batman’s dad, is standing right there. And this was the best they could do?

3. Dump the Duster
Okay DC, we get it. Batman v Superman was a thing. You guys liked the image of Batman in a duster and goggles, so you decided to use it. Fair enough.

But these issues came out in 2019. The movie came out in 2017. There was no need whatsoever to put the Flashpoint Batman in a duster and goggles just like the ones his “son” happened to wear several issues earlier in The Rules of Engagement.

If it looked cool, that would be one thing. But it doesn’t. Plus, it’s impractical and redundant even by superhero standards, and therefore silly.

What’s done is done. But let’s make this right. If you want to have Batman wearing his costume in the desert, that’s fine. Heck, if you want to have Bruce Wayne wear a duster and goggles, that’s fine. But you can’t have Batman wearing his costume in the desert with a duster and goggles. The two ideas are mutually exclusive. That’s got to be a rule in writing Batman from now on.

4. Batman Gone Batty?
Issues #70 and #71 focus on a needless, and at times silly plot point about people thinking Batman is losing it, and Jim Gordon severing ties with him.

When we open the book, our Caped Crusader is punching his way through Arkham Asylum, facing off with most of the supervillains you’d expect to see. It’s a great opportunity for Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes to draw virtually all of the iconic rogues gallery.

The trouble is, King once again supplies us with bad Batman dialogue. Not the least of which is: “You challenge me with…nightmares? I live the nightmare! Bane! Why can’t you understand! I’m Batman! I am the nightmare.”

Shut up, already.

Given how convinced Batman is that Bane is faking insanity to remain in Arkham, and how intense and violent he is in his pursuit of the truth, Gordon becomes convinced that the Dark Knight has gone off the deep end. In issue #71 he tries to kick him off the roof of police headquarters (shown above).

That skepticism spreads to his extended family of superheroes, who are convinced Bruce is still grieving over his broken engagement to Selina Kyle. The situation is punctuated when he punches Tim Drake in the face.

There’s no worthwhile payoff to any of this. It all comes off like padding. Because it is padding. You can revolve an entire story arc around either of those moments. But instead they just come and go. That’s particularly a shame when it comes to the Gordon story, as there could have been some real substance to that.

5. Where’s Wesker?
This trade also contains Batman: Secret Files #2, which in theory is supposed to spotlight all “the villains who broke the Bat.” Okay, sure.

For what I think is the first time since Batman #23.1, Andy Kubert gets to write a Batman/Joker story. Things fare much better this time, largely because he goes the comedic route. Also, Amancay Nahuelpan draws a hell of a Clown Prince of Crime.

Colin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing put together a so-so story about the Psycho-Pirate leading a cult. Artist Carlos D’Anda overachieves on this one, which I did not expect.

Mairghread Scott and Giuseppe Camuncoli turn in a Riddler story that holds up pretty well. More amusing to me is the fact that “Sideburns Riddler” is still a thing.

Steve Orlando and Eduardo Risso steal the show with a Hugo Strange tale featuring multiple Batman “specimens.” Given he’s a mad doctor, I’ll let you jump to your own conclusions on what that story is about…

Tim Seeley teams with one of my personal favorites, Patrick Gleason, for a story late in Bane’s pre-Gotham days. I’m used to Gleason working with a much brighter color palette than John Kalisz provides here. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just different.

My big problem with this issue? No story about Arnold Wesker, a.k.a. the Ventriloquist. He’s on the cover, and plays one of the more interesting roles in Bane’s big scheme, as sort of Bane’s counterpart to Alfred. It’s a little disturbing, considering what happens to Alfred in the next volume.

6. Consistence and Versatility
The Secret Files issue notwithstanding, our drawing duties are split between Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes. While The Fall and the Fallen may have its share of story problems, I can’t find much to complain about artistically. Both these men are awesome Batman artists very much in their element.

Mikel Janin was a star coming into this series. But he’s a superstar coming out of it. Speaking for myself, Janin’s art can now sell a book on its own. His line work is always super clean, his figure work consistent, and his character acting on point. I now look forward to specifically seeing his versions of Batman, the Joker, and even less flashy characters like Alfred and the Penguin. The fact that he’s got colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire backing him up in this book does nothing but help, of course. But Janin’s style on its own is versatile enough to handle any story. Whether we’re on the streets of Gotham, the Source Wall at the edge of the universe, or anywhere in between.

Objectively, Janin’s best work in this book is probably issue #74, as that’s where the book hits its emotional crescendo and is really firing on all cylinders. But selfishly, I’m partial to issue #70 because Janin gets to draw some of the more obscure Batman villains. Calendar Man, Doctor Phosphorus, the Cavalier, etc.

It’s difficult to look at Jorge Fornes’ work without thinking of what David Mazzucchelli did with Batman: Year One. The figure rendering is similar, the texture is similar. Bellaire’s coloring doesn’t have the same faded palette that Richmond Lewis’ did. But it’s still reminiscent.

I can’t bring myself to complain about the similarities, because Year One is obviously one of the all-time greats. But that means Fornes is better in environments that are a little more mundane, and can have that noir-ish spin put on them. Street level scenes, Wayne Manor and Batcave scenes, etc. It’s no accident that a hero like Daredevil is also on his resume. But something tells me that, like Janin, he’s got a versatilty to him. One that isn’t necessarily apparent here. I’m anxious to see what he does next.

7. Too Much Canvas
When someone mentions Tom King the first thing that comes to mind, at least for me, is his 12-issue run on Vision. That was such a masterclass in comic book storytelling. It’s frustrating to think that someone who wove such a classic at Marvel could make these kind of mistakes on Batman.

What it all comes down to is too much canvas. Give an artist too much canvas to work on, and suddenly the focus of the art wavers. If any story has ever had too much canvas it’s City of Bane.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

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.

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A Superman #6 Review – Like Father, Like Son

Superman #6, 2016, Patrick GleasonTITLE: Superman #6
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
PENCILLER: Patrick Gleason. Cover by Doug Mahnke.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: September 7, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s a page in Superman #6 that I absolutely adore (shown below). It’s a callback to the cover of the original Superman #6 from 1939, with our hero striking the classic hands-on-hips pose. We’ve even got the American flag in the background for good measure. I will neither confirm nor deny swooning upon seeing that page for the first time.

For yours truly, the best Superman writers and artists don’t shy away from the character’s status as a symbol for hope and idealism. They don’t try to modernize him, or God forbid darken him. They embrace who and what he is, which naturally leads to good storytelling. That’s mostly what we’ve gotten from Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and team on Superman these last few months. No more stupid armor, no more bare-knuckle fighting. Just Superman doing what Superman does. We didn’t need to give him a son to create good stories. It just so happens that parenting brings out the best in Big Blue.

Superman continues to battle the Eradicator in a bunker on the moon, as Lois and Jon look on. The Eradicator, who holds the life force of so many deceased Kryptonians within him, is determined to kill the half-human Jon and “purify” the House of El. But as the Man of Steel tirelessly fights to save his family, Earth may come to a shocking realization: One way or another, Superman is back.

Superman #6, callback, Patrick GleasonThe Superman books are in a complex spot right now. We’ve got the pre-New 52 Superman, Lois Lane, and their son Jon as our lead characters in Superman. Then we’ve got a Clark Kent doppleganger in Action Comics, and the New 52 Lois over in Superwoman. But as complex as things have become, most of the books have surged upward in terms of quality. Look no further than this book as an example. This is the best Superman has been in at least five years.

One of the keys to that is this book’s heart. It’s not afraid to be a little sappy as it shows us the love shared by the Kent family. It’s also not afraid of embracing some of the corny, but feel-good and classic elements of the Superman legend. Not just the pose and the American flag, but the glasses, the superpowered dog, the adoration of Metropolis. The issue also bucks the isolated, lonely, brooding Superman trope we’re often subjected to. In one glorious, yet understated panel, Superman looks up at the reader and says: “I’ve never felt alone.”

Can I get an amen?

We’ve heard a lot of talk lately about DC restoring hope and positivity to its books and movies. The DC Universe’s first stop for both those things should be Superman. For some, that’s a turn off, which is fair enough. But if you’re looking for the brooding, isolated superhero, they’ve got a guy for that. Actually, they’ve got a few guys for that. So lets stop trying to make this character something he’s not. These attempts to darken Superman always end up fizzling out anyway.

Superman #6, 2016I understand the notion of comics not being for kids anymore. But I’d be curious to see what would happen if I gave these Superman issues to a young reader. If they kept coming back, would it be for Superman? Would it be for Jon? Perhaps both? Either way, Jon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As indicated by the end of this issue, he’ll have an even bigger role going forward. And for the time being at least, that’s a good thing.

We bordered on the edge of Over-Baturation in this story with the climactic battle taking place in Batman’s moon bunker (Yeah, he has one. Don’t you?), and the inclusion of the Hellbat, a carry over from Tomasi and Gleason’s run on Batman & Robin. But I’m giving this book a pass, as we see very little of Batman himself. It’s even established that Superman followed the Dark Knight without him knowing, which was a nice touch. Also, Lois using the Hellcat to protect Jon managed to be pretty cool.

This is an exciting time to be a Superman fan. Given the relaunch, Superman has more readers now than in quite awhile, and DC is making the most of those new eyes. Quite honestly, there’s no one I’d rather see on this title right now than Tomasi, Gleason, and their crew. I’m hopeful they’re only beginning to take flight.

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A Superman #2 Review – Superman Smiles

Superman #2, 2016, Patrick GleasonTITLE: Superman #2
AUTHORS: Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason
PENCILLER: Gleason
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: July 6, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m aware this series doesn’t mark the first time Superman has smiled in the last five years. But it sure feels like it. Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s effort to inject optimism back into the character makes for a refreshing departure from recent attempts to darken him. Truth, justice, hope. Dare I say, love? These are the things we need from Superman in 2016.

The Superman of the pre-New 52 Earth has finally put the cape on again in this new universe. At the same time, his young son Jon is discovering super powers of his own. When we open this issue, the Man of Steel has taken his son to observe him on a routine rescue. But when things go awry, Jon is pulled into the action. Will this new “Superboy” see his run tragically cut short?

In working on Superman, Peter Tomasi has two tremendous advantages over many of his peers. First, he’s inherently good at writing heart-felt stories that highlight the humanity of these iconic, often god-like heroes. As evidence, I direct you to yet another of father and son story by he and Gleason, Batman & Robin: Born to Kill.

Superman #2, Patrick Gleason, family shot, 2016Second, and more importantly, he understands Superman. (I assume Gleason does too. I speak of Tomasi because we’ve obviously seen more of his writing. Gleason has mainly been an artist.) Case in point, our hero saying the following to his son: “It’s not about our powers, or strength, or heat vision. It’s about character. It means doing the right thing when no one else will, even when you’re scared…even when you think no one is looking.”

Yes. A thousand times, yes.

What so many people either don’t understand or don’t appreciate about Superman is the importance of what he stands for. He’s not a boy scout. He’s not a sell out. He’s not an outdated product of a bygone era. It’s not as simple as that. He’s a man with a set of principles, and he acts on those principles in the hopes of making the world a better place. Tomasi understands all of this, and knows it’s critical that Clark and Lois raise Jon with these same principles. As Clark himself says in this issue, Jon may be need to wear the iconic S symbol sooner than later.

It’s very fitting that we’ve re-emphazied these elements in a story that has brought back a previous version of Clark. In a very real sense, this feels like Superman is back.

From an artistic stance, the colors are on point. In particular, John Kalisz’s reds and oranges really pop. Superman’s cape looks fantastic, which makes me miss his red boots even more. There’s also a sequence where Jon is trying to hone his heat vision, and the scene becomes engulfed in an intense red that really brings you into the moment.

Superman #2, 2016, Patrick GleasonIn interviews, I seem to recall Tomasi and Gleason talking about being fathers themselves. In Gleason’s case, that would explain why much of the body language in Superman, as well as Batman & Robin, seems very natural. Not always real, per se. But natural within the context of this world. The panel to the right is my favorite in the issue. That face says a lot. We’ve got patience, compassion, reassurance, protectiveness, and of course, love. Where has this Superman been?

Obviously this new Superman series is meant to be a starting point for new readers. But I maintain that the replacement of the New 52 Superman with the post-Crisis Superman from another universe makes things confusing for new readers. Especially once you get to the end of the issue, where a villain from the post-Crisis era seems to resurface. Mind you, this isn’t Tomasi or Gleason’s fault. And for the record, I’m in favor of this new direction for the Superman books. But this shake-up has come at a price. Picture yourself as a newbie picking up this series. You’d have all kinds of questions about where this Superman came from, what that other universe was like, and where it went. The upside is that might entice one to buy trade paperbacks. But someone on the fence might simply drop the book.

Either way, once you get past the confusion, this is good stuff. Tomasi and Gleason did about 40 issues on Batman & Robin. Obviously Gleason can’t be expected to do that many consecutive issues on a bi-weekly series. But if this team sticks with Superman for the foreseeable future, the smart bet is they’ll deliver quality comics. More often than not, that’s what they do.

Images from readcomics.net.

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A Detective Comics #27 Review – An All-Star Let Down

Detective Comics #27 (2014)TITLE: Detective Comics #27
AUTHORS: Brad Meltzer, Gregg Hurwitz, Peter Tomasi, Francesco Francavilla, Mike Barr, John Layman, Scott Snyder.
PENCILLER: Francavilla, Bryan Hitch, Patrick Gleason, Neal Adams, Jock, Ian Bertram, Kelley Jones, Guillem March, Graham Nolan, Jason Fabok, Mike Allred, Sean Murphy. Cover by Greg Capullo.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $7.99
RELEASED:
January 8, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Oye. We’re barely into 2014 and DC has already put out another overpriced Batman issue. Well that’s just great…

At least this one is somewhat justified. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Dark Knight’s first appearance in the original Detective Comics #27 in 1939. As such, the 27th issue of the New 52′s Detective Comics gathers numerous creators of note to pay tribute to the character with a 96-page collection of short stories celebrating Batman and his legacy. Among those along for the ride are iconic artist Neal Adams, current Batman scribe Scott Snyder, Identity Crisis author Brad Meltzer, as well as the book’s current creative team, John Layman and Jason Fabok. The issue also features pinups by Patrick Gleason, Jock, Kelley Jones, Graham Nolan, and Mike Allred.

Detective Comics #27 (2014), Francesco FrancavillaI can’t say I was blown away by anything I saw here, but Francesco Francavilla’s four page contribution to the book, “Rain,” is pretty cool. Ironically, from a plot perspective there’s really not much to it. Batman saves a mother and child from a car wreck during a rainstorm. But at the very end, Francavilla ties it into not only Batman: Year One, but also his own work on Detective Comics. As a longtime fan, and someone who’s still getting over the fact that Year One is being replaced in current Batman canon by Zero Year, I appreciated the respective nods. But it’s Francavilla’s art that really makes “Rain” the standout story in the book. His color palette in particular is perfect for Batman, and the tone of his world.

On the flip side, if you get a chance, Google the variant cover Frank Miller did for this issue. It’s…*ehem*…interesting.

I was sadly disappointed in Brad Meltzer and Bryan Hitch’s retelling of “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” the story Bob Kane and Bill Finger introduced Batman with in the original Detective Comics #27. Via text boxes, Meltzer lets us read the first entry in the “Journal of the Bat-Man,” as we move through the story. That’s an awesome idea, but the execution gets old after awhile. Most of the entry is just Bruce listing the various reasons why he’s becoming Batman. “I do it because people are afraid. I do it because the world needs heroes. I do it because the police can’t be in every alley.” It goes on like that for most of the story. In his previous work at DC, Meltzer has told some really emotional, touching stories, and I understand this is his attempt at doing that again. But the “I do it because…” method gets irritating after awhile.

Detective Comics #27, 2014, Neal AdamsOddly enough, this issue teams Neal Adams, the man who helped redefine Batman after the camp era in the ’60s, with Gregg Hurwitz, the man who’s been overdoing the horror element in Batman: The Dark Knight. But surprisingly, their story, “Old School,” a story which cracks the fourth wall and deals with Batman evolving over the course of his career, goes fairly well. It’s not fantastic by any means, but it’s more satisfying than Adams’ more recent work on the character (see Batman: Odyssey, and a weird zombie story from Batman: Black and White #1). He even gets to draw Bob Kane at the end, which is nice.

We also get a story from Peter Tomasi and Ian Bertram, which seems to take place in the Batman #666 timeline. It sees Damian Wayne/Batman, Dick Grayson/Nightwing, Tim Drake as the pre-New 52 Red Robin, a very elderly Alfred, and Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon celebrating Bruce’s 75th birthday with him. Unbeknownst to them, he ends up going out in costume again, which results in what I deem to be a pretty awkward tribute to The Dark Knight Returns (shown above). Mike Barr and Guillem March bring Phantom Stranger into the mix to give Bruce a look at what the world would be like if his parents hadn’t been murdered, and he hadn’t become Batman. It’s a little too short to be as effective as it wants to be, and Phantom Stranger’s last few lines are a little corny. But it’s a decent attempt. Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy close out the issue with a story set in the future, which deals with Bruce Wayne clones. Meh.

Detective Comics #27, 2014, birthdayWe also get a story from Peter Tomasi and Ian Bertram, which seems to take place in the Batman #666 timeline. It sees Damian Wayne/Batman, Dick Grayson/Nightwing, Tim Drake as the pre-New 52 Red Robin, a very elderly Alfred, and Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon celebrating Bruce’s 75th birthday with him. Unbeknownst to them, he ends up going out in costume again, which results in what I deem to be a pretty awkward tribute to The Dark Knight Returns (shown above). Mike Barr and Guillem March bring Phantom Stranger into the mix to give Bruce a look at what the world would be like if his parents hadn’t been murdered, and he hadn’t become Batman. It’s a little too short to be as effective as it wants to be, and Phantom Stranger’s last few lines are a little corny. But it’s a decent attempt. Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy close out the issue with a story set in the future, which deals with Bruce Wayne clones. Meh.

The issue isn’t all warm fuzzies, mind you. Layman and Fabok also get 27 pages to kick off the “Gothtopia” crossover, which will apparently branch into Catwoman, Batgirl, Batwing, and Birds of Prey. The story brings us a very different Gotham City where crime and unemployment are at all-time lows, the economy as booming, and the city shines in the light of day. Clad in a black and white costume, Batman and his cohorts are honored as heroes. Bruce Wayne has also allowed romance to enter his life via Selina Kyle, who patrols the streets at his side as Catbird.

Detective Comics #27, 2014, Gothtopia*groans* Catbird? Really? That’s the name we’re going with? We couldn’t come up with anything better for an amalgamation of Catwoman and Robin? Do we even need to give the character a new name? The red shirt is a pretty clear connection to Robin. I think we all get that. So couldn’t we just call her Catwoman? Or anything else besides Catbird? That name puts me in the mood to watch reruns of CatDog

In any event, as you might imagine, things in Gotham City aren’t quite as they seem. And being the detective that he is, Batman is already starting to unravel things by the end of the issue. At this point, I can’t say I’m dying to read the next issue, or add the corresponding tie-ins to my pull list. Based on what I’ve seen thus far, this story seems like a “this is all too good to be real” story, which has been done plenty of times before. Heck, it was done in this same issue. Granted, it’s still early, and we can still explore quite a bit of this new world that’s unfolded before us. But thus far I’m not impressed.

And sadly, that’s pretty much my verdict on Detective Comics #27 overall. In all honesty, Batman fans would be better off checking out recent issues of Batman: Black and White if they’re looking for some good short Batman stories. They’re not all winners, but chances are you’ll find at least one  that’s more fulfilling than most of what we see here.

Image 1 from author’s collection. Image 2 from inter-comics.com. Image 3 from 13thdimension.com. Image 4 from uncanny.ch. 

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A Batman & Robin: Death of the Family Review – Heart and Horror

Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the FamilyTITLE: Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the Family
AUTHORS: Peter Tomasi, Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Greg Capullo
COLLECTS: Batman & Robin #1517, Batman & Robin Annual #1, Batman #17
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: November 17, 2013

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 is our last stop before this series reaches a major turning point. One might even call it the end of an era. This book contains the last issues Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason get to work with the Damian Wayne before…*ehem*

The reason that’s so significant is because since the New 52 began, Batman & Robin has been primarily a book about Damian, his relationship with his father, his life as a hero, and his inner conflicts with his murderous instincts. That direction has made for some of the best Batman content in recent memory. But after this book, drastic change takes hold.

But this era ends with a hell of a bang. As the book’s title obviously indicates, Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the Family ties in with the big crossover involving the Joker, and his attempts to take out Batman’s extended family. As such, Robin and the Harlequin of Hell come face-to-flappy-face. And as Batman fans know, bad things happen to Robins when the Joker is in town.

Batman #17, 2014, Greg Capullo, table sceneNaturally, much of the praise and criticism I directed at Death of the Family as a whole will apply here. That criticism isn’t necessarily directed at Tomasi or Gleason, as they were working with source material from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s work on Batman. But it’s worth noting, especially because Batman #17 is collected here. I’ll sum up what applies to Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 in two quick bullets…

– While the Joker’s voice remains consistent across all the tie-ins I’ve read, and definitely fits with his character, the whole “repairman who cuts his face off” thing goes a little too far in the horror direction for my taste. And the Joker’s explanation for surgically removing his face, which we get in Batman #17, doesn’t do much for me.

– DC gave us too much of a good thing by having Joker appear in too many Death of the Family tie-ins. In addition to appearing in Batman and Batman & Robin, the character either appeared in, or influenced events that occurred in Detective Comics, Batgirl, Nightwing, Catwoman, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Teen Titans, and Suicide Squad. It’s unclear to me how much time elapses during the entire Death of the Family story arc, but it all seems to occur fairly quickly. Even in a world of super powers and colorful heroes, it seems a bit unlikely the Joker could accomplish so much in such a short span of time.

– Having noted those criticisms, Batman #17 is, for the most part, a very satisfying issue. I loved the scene between Bruce Wayne and the Joker at Arkham. Also, Greg Capullo’s art is damn close to perfect.

Robin, Joker, Patrick GleasonIn Batman & Robin, Joker lures Damian to the Gotham City Zoo by leaving traces of hyena urine at Wayne Manor. My question here is, how did the Joker know it would be Robin who found that particular clue? We find out in Batman #17 that he doesn’t actually know who Bruce, Damian, or any of Batman’s crew really are. So did he know Damian would be at Wayne Manor? Couldn’t it just as easily have been someone else who picked up that trail? Is this a plot hole, or am I missing something? Either way, my suspension of disbelief was shaken.

The stuff between the Joker and Damian is, for the most part, very satisfying. But again, it’s pretty high on the horror/gross-out element. Our young hero gets a nasty dose of one of the Joker’s toxins and dropped inside a sanctuary filled with countless dead birds, including of course, robins. A short time later the Clown Prince tops it off by dropping a massive assortment of ”only the best beetles, grubs, earthworms, fruits, berries, caterpillars and grasshoppers” on the Boy Wonder. In a word…ew. Still, unlike the whole sawing your own face off thing, I get the perverse joke here. Dead Robin, dead birds, bird food, etc. I get the horror angle here.

In retrospect, this exchange made it pretty obvious that the Joker didn’t know the Bat-Family’s true identities. He doesn’t talk about the fact that he’s standing there with Batman’s friggin’ son. It’s all about Robin’s connection to Batman, as opposed to Damian’s connection to Bruce. But from that standpoint, Joker still manages to hit Damian with some intense “insights” of his own unique variety. At the risk of overusing my bulletpoints, my two favorites were…

– “Oh, I bet one night among the gargoyles he said, ‘One day, you, too, can be the best Batman ever.” Well guess what — no, you can’t — there’s only one Batman and he doesn’t need you — any of you…” (This would have been an interesting one to hear back when Battle for the Cowl was being published.)

Batman & Robin #17, Death of the Family, Patrick Gleason– “…Robin’s greatest fear is being responsible for Batman’s death, and Batman’s greatest fear is being responsible for Robin’s death!” (Particularly poignant, coming from the man who killed Jason Todd.)

The face-off progresses in a fight to the death between Robin and a “Jokerized” Batman imposter, who Damian believes to be the genuine article. This wonderfully ties not only into the death of Batman/death of Robin angle, but a theme Tomasi and Gleason have maintained since the beginning of the series: Damian’s inner conflict. As wants more than anything to make his father proud, but he also wants to go his own way, and sometimes struggles with the desire to give into his more deadly instincts. It all culminates in a really passionate, emotional character moment for Damian. As such, he came out of Death of the Family looking better than most, if not all of his Bat-Family peers.

Of course, Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 isn’t all bugs and clowns. We also get more of Tomasi and Gleason’s take on the Bruce/Damian relationship in issue #17, which takes us into the dreams of Bruce, Damian, and Alfred as well. It’s a fairly effective issue. Oddly enough, the dream sequence I found the most touching was Alfred’s, which ended on a rather comedic note. It gives us an absolutely perfect (albeit violent) snapshot of Alfred’s nurturing, protective nature. He’s a surrogate father not only to Bruce and Damian, but to the entire extended Bat-family, and I loved what Tomasi and Gleason did to illustrate that. The issue also ends on a touching father/son moment between Batman and Robin.

Batman & Robin Annual #1, DamianThis book also collects Batman & Robin Annual #1, in which Ardian Syaf takes the pencil. Damian sends his father on something of a Wayne family scavenger hunt across the globe, so that he can have the streets of Gotham to himself for a few nights. He dresses in a miniaturized version of the Batman #666 costume, a cutesy move that’s a bit uncharacteristic, but not unwelcome. I came away from this issue once again marveling at the unique father/son dynamic between Bruce and Damian.

In the end, it’s that added heart that’s made Batman & Robin stand out so much from the other Bat-books. Tomasi and Gleason capture the human element better than any other team at DC right now. And while Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham handled Damian’s fate quite well in the pages of Batman Incorporated (as Damian’s co-creator, Morrison had every right to that story), I can’t help but wonder how Tomasi and Gleason would have handled it. It’s rare for me to get choked up while reading a comic book. But I’ll betcha bucks to Batarangs they could have done it.

RATING: 8.5/10

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A Batman & Robin, Vol. 1: Born to Kill Review – The Cycle of Violence

Batman & Robin, Vol. 1: Born to KillTITLE: Batman & Robin, Vol. 1: Born To Kill
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
PENCILLER: Patrick Gleason
COLLECTS: Batman & Robin #1-8
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASE DATE: July 4, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Born To Kill is one of the best Batman stories to come out of the New 52 thus far. Not only does it offer some really good character-driven drama, but it’s exactly what it needs to be: A book that dissects the relationship between Bruce and Damian Wayne. It tells us how this father and son from different worlds can not only co-exist as family, but work together as the new Dynamic Duo.

Quick history lesson: Damian Wayne is the child of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, grown in an artificial womb after a passionate encounter between the two (hey totally had sex). From a very young age, she and the League of Assassins train Damian as a warrior and a killer. Years later, Talia reveals a relentlessly spoiled pre-teen Damian to Batman. Though he had a rocky start, and his precocious nature garnered him great resentment from much of the superhero community, Damian became Robin after the events of Final Crisis. He teamed with Dick Grayson, who had taken over the role of Batman, for some time before Bruce returned and assumed the role again. Bruce initially refused to team with his defiant son. But now he’s attempting to do right by Damian, raising him to not only be a good crimefighter, but a good man.

Batman & Robin, Vol. 1, Patrick GleasonUnfortunately, a figure from Bruce Wayne’s past has re-emerged to not only destroy Batman, but tempt Damian into giving in to his murderous instincts.

I think one of the keys to writing Damian is capturing his arrogant sense of entitlement, and Tomasi does that right off the bat by putting Damian next to Bruce as he’s paying tribute to his parents. He calls them “just dusty names on  the walls to me” and says “grief and disease are a disease of the weak.” Bruce shows Damian a parent’s patience, but isn’t afraid to tell him to show some respect. All this is happening as Bruce is turning over a new leaf in terms of his parents, deciding to honor their lives instead of constantly remembering their deaths. I like this scene because it sets up how the Bruce/Damian team is going to work. When Damian teamed with Dick, Dick was the optimist and Damian was the constant cynic/would-be realist. Here we see that Bruce is going to try to take on that same role for his son’s sake.

But Bruce being Bruce, that doesn’t work out. He wants what’s best for his son, but he lacks Dick’s people skills and ends up driving him directly into the arms of the villainous Nobody. With Nobody we get a take on the classic angel on one shoulder, devil on the other routine. It works well, as Damian’s bloody upbringing and instincts are things we needed to see hashed out between father and son before we could believe they could act as a team. It plays out as one might expect, with an interesting swerve at the climax.

Batman, killing philosophy, Patrick GleasonOver the years, we’ve seen Batman explain his “no kill” rule in various ways, in various mediums. Most of them are variations on “if I kill the bad guys, I’ll be just like them.” We’ve heard a lot of “it separates us from them,” and writers also seem to like “if I go down that road I’ll never come back.” But in Born To Kill, Peter Tomasi does it in a way that’s very frank, practical, and cliche-free. In what terms out to be Bruce and Damian’s first real father/son moment, Bruce talks about the principles he’s sworn to live by. Then he gives us this line…

I love that. It’s a great way to explain Batman’s philosophy without relying on stuff we’ve heard a million times. It’s my favorite moment in the entire book, even though Damian appears to be looking at his father’s crotch in the shot, and Bruce appears to be heavily pregnant. (I kid Patrick Gleason. He does some really good work here.)

While it’s certainly true that Born To Kill relies a lot on a continuity which at this point was in a major state of flux, which might have confused readers, the character work it presents makes that worthwhile. Odd as it may sound, I had always wondered what kind of father Bruce Wayne would be. Now we essentially have an entire series to answer that question. This book is hopefully just the start of a series that will expand upon the great character of Damian, and continue to build on the unique dynamic he shares with everyone’s favorite Dark Knight Detective.

RATING: 8/10

Image 1 from comicvine.com. Image 2 from comicsprofessor.com.

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A Brightest Day, Vol. 3 Review – Prelude to a New Dawn

Brightest Day, Vol. 3TITLE: Brightest Day, Vol. 3
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns, Peter Tomasi
PENCILLERS: Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado
COLLECTS: Brightest Day #17-24
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $29.99
RELEASED: September 7, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So here we have it: The third and final Brightest Day collection, which ties everything together, and lets us know who Earth’s ultimate champion is. I’m going to stay spoiler free here, but I talked at length about the big reveals at the end when Brightest Day #24 was originally published. So that’ll be your fix for spoilers on this one.

When we open the book, all the characters are in the middle of their respective storylines. Boston Brand (Deadman) reunites with his only living relative, Hawkman and Hawkgirl do battle alongside Star Sapphire in space, Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch race to save Ronnie’s father and Professor Stein, Martian Manhunter continues to be tormented by a most unexpectd foe, and Aquaman and the new Aqualad prepare for what may be the battle of their lives. All the while, the entity that resides within the mysterious White Lantern is becoming more aggressive in preparation for a moment that may decide the fate of the world.

Deadman, Brightest Day #22Until we get to our big reveal at the end, this book is pretty good. In all fairness, while I wasn’t a big fan of the ending, it did make sense given what had been established in Blackest Night and other stories. I found myself wanting to see more from the Deadman story arc, but it’s likely best that things turned out the way they did. If they overdid it, the arc could have been tainted. The Hawkman/Hawgirl story never really did it for me, but it ends on an interesting enough note.

Aquaman and his cast of characters get a nice spotlight in this particular book, as the “Aquawar” story within a story played out. Particularly strong were the moments between Aquaman and Black Manta, two rivals whose contempt for one another rivals that of Batman and The Joker (yep, I said it). Aquaman and the new Aqualad, Jackson Hyde, also have a few interesting moments together, which leads me to believe the two will have an interesting partnership.

This book has what some would consider to be an all-star team of artists. Ivan Reis’ work with Johns has been well publicized, and he delivers yet again here. Ardian Syaf continues to have strong showings (despite his talent being wasted on that damn Grounded story). Those two turn in the strongest performances here in my opinion, though the art is great all around.

Brightest Day #24 (2011), Hawk & Dove, DeadmanI’m interested to see if this entire story remains in continuity with the New 52. Apparently, the romance between Dove and Deadman will still be in continuity. And as our mystery savior at the end is getting his own book as well, one can conclude his arc is canon. Firestorm may be as well. To an extent, one can only speculate.

In any event, Brightest Day certainly created a decent amount of momentum for its stars, which may be evidenced by most of the stars getting their own ongoing books this month. Deadman will also be featured in the first story arc of DC Universe Presents. From my perspective, this final volume saw the quality dip a bit, but not much. Brightest Day is a worthwhile venture.

RATING: 7.5/10

Image 1 from x-mensupreme.blogspot.com. Image 2 from panelxpanelcomics.wordpress.com.

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