A Batman/The Flash: “The Button” Review – Take the Good with the Bad

TITLE: “The Button”
AUTHORS: Joshua Williamson, Tom King
PENCILLERS: Jason Fabok, Howard Porter
COLLECTS: Batman #2122The Flash #2122
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
TENTATIVE COLLECTION PRICE: $19.99
COLLECTION RELEASE: October 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I want to like what I’m seeing here. And I guess I do, for the most part. I just have to turn a certain part of my brain off. Namely, the part that registers guilt about a company cashing in on imagery and characters from a landmark story without their creator’s blessing.

After months without any leads relating to the mysterious button Batman discovered during the events of DC Universe: Rebirth #1, the Dark Knight gets a surprise visitor: The Reverse-Flash. But what’s his connection to the Button? Where does it come from? How does it connect to the apparent changes made to the timeline? And how does all of this somehow involve the world of Flashpoint?

“The Button” doesn’t give us any answers. But it does wet your appetite for the just-announced Doomsday Clock event in November. It also manages to tug at your heartstrings with some pre-New 52 imagery and characters. So it does what it’s supposed to do. We even catch a little glimpse of Dr. Manhattan at the end…sort of (shown below).

While we’ve known about the DC Universe/Watchmen stuff for about a year now (Has it really been that long?), I still feel dirty when I see the Watchmen imagery. It doesn’t do much good to complain about it, as what’s done is done. But considering what an achievement Watchmen was, and how revered it is to this day, without Alan Moore’s blessing there’s a certain lack of purity here. That’s only going to become more pronounced as we go forward.

Our inciting incident occurs when the button comes into contact with the Psycho-Pirate’s mask, causing the Reverse-Flash to materialize in the Batcave. After a fight, Batman and the Flash attempt to trace the button’s unique radiation to locate it’s source using Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill (Yup, that’s a thing.) After the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot came and went in the mid-’80s, the Psycho-Pirate was the one character who retained his pre-Crisis memories. I assume Reverse-Flash’s reemergence has something to do with that memory retention. There’s no other explanation…is there?

“The Button” definitely gives us the vibe that this New 52 continuity we’ve been in for the past several years is an injustice perpetrated by Dr. Manhattan. Several years have been from the timeline, forcefully robbing our characters of their memories and in some cases their very existence. We check back in with Johnny Thunder, who at one point cries, “We lost the Justice Society! It’s all my fault!” We also see Saturn Girl of the Legion of Superheroes, who’s screaming about a future only she knows about. As Batman and Flash make their way through the timestream, we see glimpses of events from Crisis on Infinite Earths, Identity Crisis, and other stories that have seemingly been out of bounds for the New 52.

Then there’s the big surprise in the final issue: Jay Garrick’s brief return. Jay comes back much the way Wally West did in Rebirth, but is unable to find a tether to reality the way he did. He’s seemingly jerked back into non-existence via some familiar blue energy.

There’s a surreal and almost meta element to seeing characters like Jay and Wally pine to come back. Jay has a line, “They took everything from me, Barry. I don’t know how. I don’t know why.” Odd as it may sound, it feels like he’s talking about DC itself, doesn’t it? I’ve enjoyed the DC Rebirth initiative as much as anybody. But it does entail the company eating some crow. Yes, we’re happy to see so many familiar elements back in our books. But who took them away to begin with? Would they have gone through with the reboot if they knew they’d be backtracking it just four years later?

Oddly enough, the emotional meat of the story isn’t so much the return of Jay, or the drama of what’s been lost. It comes in when our heroes accidentally find themselves in the Flashpoint universe, and they come across that reality’s Batman, Thomas Wayne. Thus, we get a reunion of sorts between father and son, each Batman in their own world.

We’ve seen stories where Bruce somehow gets to talk to his parents again. Whether they’re ghosts, visions, or what not. But Batman #22 gives us two unique moments that manage to really hit home. The first is when Bruce tells Thomas, “You’re a grandfather. I have a son.” For older fans, that’s a really strong, relatable moment. The second comes as the Flashpoint sequence is ending. In their final moments together, Thomas asks Bruce not to be Batman anymore, and to instead find happiness. That’s a really compelling use of the Flashpoint Batman. I wasn’t expecting it here, but it creates a hell of a potential conflict for down the road. Can Bruce continue his crusade now?

Jason Fabok handles the Batman side of things, and handles them quite well. You can’t deny quality when you see it. His work has a definite epic quality to it, and is very much worthy of what we see here. The Flash issues are pencilled by Howard Porter, who I have a lot of respect for. That being said, his style has never really been my cup of tea. As cool as the time stream sequence in The Flash #21 is, Porter’s work gives it a certain awkwardness. For instance, there’s a panel where we can almost see up Batman’s nose. Not necessarily what we’re supposed to be looking at, is it?

“The Button” is a fine bridge between DC Universe Rebirth #1 and Doomsday Clock. For some of us, there’s going to be a lot of Watchmen-related discomfort on the horizon. But it looks like we’ll be getting our share of feel-good moments too. Take the good with the bad, I guess…

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A Batman: I Am Suicide Review – Love and Suicide

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 2: I Am Suicide
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads
COLLECTS: Batman #915
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: April 12, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead!***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Tom King is a great writer. Read his work on The Vision and tell me different. I dare you. But is he a great Batman writer? That’s not an easy question. I Am Gotham was a mixed bag, as is a large portion of I Am Suicide. 

Then we get to issues #14 and #15, and King delivers one of the best Batman/Catwoman stories I’ve ever read. But was that a simple flash in the pan? The culmination of a well-crafted story? Something in between?

Claire Clover, a.k.a. Gotham Girl, remains perpetually terrified thanks to the Psycho-Pirate’s ability to control his victims’ emotions. But he’s been taken to the island of Santa Prisca, inside one of the most savage and inescapable prisons on the planet. To infiltrate its walls, Batman and Amanda Waller assemble a makeshift Suicide Squad. Among its members is Catwoman, who stands accused of murdering 237 people. But murder may become a common theme here, as the Psycho-Pirate is under the protection of a man who spent his unthinkable childhood years in that prison, Bane.

At it’s core, this book is about Batman and Catwoman. Bruce and Selina. One of the most intriguing romances in all of popular culture. A fairy tale romance in many ways. But King puts his own spin on it, and looks at it in a way that’s almost psychoanalytic. Letters the two have sent each other serve as the narrative backdrop for issues #10 and #12. We learn that their relationship is largely about the pain they both feel, how it brings them together, and how when they kiss it briefly goes away. I like that. It’s as if it’s an unspoken truth that’s been there the whole time, and we’re just now seeing it. That’s what so many great writers do with these characters.

I’m less a fan of what King does with Bruce’s famous childhood vow to wage war on crime. In issue #12, Bruce reveals that he almost slit his wrists at age 10, before a moment of clarity showed him his true purpose. He then makes the solemn promise that would take him down the road to becoming Batman. Bruce calls his crusade “the choice of a boy. The choice to die. I am Batman. I am suicide.” We read those words as Batman literally fights off an army of gun-wielding prison guards.

I get what King is going for. I understand the unbearable pain of loss leading to a hero’s self-sacrifice. What I’m less enthralled with is the on-the-nose nature of the wrist cutting. The scene doesn’t need that.

Bruce starts that letter talking about the inherent humor in a grown man dressing up like a bat to “punch crime in the face.” It’s very Joker-ish. We even get what may be a vague reference to Mr. J. with the line: “All of them can laugh. Mother. Father. Him. The whole world.” He brings it around to something more serious, of course. But this dialogue speaks nicely to the yin-yang dynamic between Batman and the Joker, whether King mean it that way or not.

King caps the Batman/Catwoman stuff of in an amazing fashion with the “Rooftops” story in issues #14 and #15. I’ve covered those issues in-depth, but it’s worth repeating: “Rooftops” belongs among the greatest Catwoman stories ever told. Mitch Gerads handles the pencils, inks, and colors, bathing the characters in a gorgeous moonlight. What’s more, some of the expressions he gives Selina are just perfect. Throughout the book, King also has the characters call each other “Bat” and “Cat.” That’s a great little touch.

I credit Scott Snyder with doing a lot of justice to the Riddler during his Batman run. He gave the character his balls back. King begins that same process with Bane here, casting him as something of a mad and savage king. A king who, for some odd reason, has to be naked at all times. While things don’t really pick up in this respect until we get to subsequent issues, but this is where we see flashes of early ’90s Knightfall Bane. He’s not just a monster. He’s feared. He’s respected. He’s merciless. He even breaks Batman’s back again and leaves him to drown…

That last one might have been a little more effective if our hero hadn’t simply given himself an extreme chiropractic adjustment and fixed everything. I’ve heard of comic book science, but that right there is comic book medical science. Now if only he’d known that trick in the ’90s.

Also on Batman’s team is Arnold Wesker, a.k.a. the Ventriloquist. They build up his role significantly, and the payoff involves the character being able to subvert the Psycho-Pirate’s powers by virtue of his multiple personality syndrome. Again, comic book medical science. Though I had less issues with that than seeing Wesker make his bare hand talk as if there were an invisible puppet on it (shown below). Comics are so weird.

The majority of the book is drawn and inked by Mikel Janin, and colored by June Chung. I’ve had issues in the past with Janin’s figures looking too static, but we don’t see much of that here. Static or not, Janin’s work is always interesting. His characters look and feel very real, but they have that little touch of superhero dynamism. Case in point, his Batman looks relatively natural and real. But he also gives him a distinct scowl that really walks that line of exaggeration.

Janin and Chung also create a tremendous mood for the prison. It’s suitably dark and dank. You can almost feel that cold, damp air on your skin. Less subtle is the throne of skulls that we see Bane sitting on. We’ve seen this prison before. But it’s never been quite as haunting as it is here.

Despite the greatness of “Rooftops,” I’m not quite ready to call Tom King a great Batman writer just yet. Some of his choices plucked me right out of the story. But he’s becoming a good Batman writer, and that’s better than a lot of people ever get. Perhaps he just needed some time to get comfortable in Gotham City. Either way, this is an improvement. I’ve been excited to pick Batman up again.

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A Batman: I Am Gotham Review – What Did You Expect?

Batman, Vol. 1: I Am Gotham, coverTITLE: Batman, Vol. 1: I Am Gotham
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: David Finch, Ivan Reis
COLLECTS: Batman #16
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASE DATE:
January 11, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The announcement of Tom King taking over Batman was a big deal. At the time his phenomenal run on The Vision was still in progress, and the critics (myself included) were buzzing about him. In addition, he’d already worked on some of the Gotham City characters via his time on Grayson. So hopes were high for him. But coming off the commercially, and often critically acclaimed run that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo had just completed, expectations may have been even higher.

What King, David Finch, and this new Batman team give us is fine. At times it’s even good. But the waters are muddier than we’ve seen from previous Batman runs. We spend a little too much time hyping a future story and there’s a connection to the Suicide Squad that often feels forced. But if you’re patient, there’s some good character work in here, with both established characters and the ones we’re meeting for the first time.

I Am Gotham introduces us to the super-powered brother-sister duo of Gotham and Gotham Girl. Inspired by Batman, they make their debut saving the Dark Knight from a plane crash. Batman takes them under his wing, but soon learns they have demons that will result in blood being shed in Gotham City. All the while, sinister plans are in motion to spill even more blood…

Batman #2, Gotham, Gotham Girl, David FinchLike many of Batman’s supporting characters, allies and enemies alike, Gotham and Gotham Girl are almost skewed versions of Batman himself. After young Hank Clover and his parents are saved from a mugging in Crime Ally by Batman, he and his sister Claire become obsessed with bettering themselves so that they can help others. We later learn they’re connected to Amanda Waller, and she’s using the Hugo Strange and Psycho-Pirate to keep them under control. That connection works out fine, but it’s ultimately unnecessary. All we need is Psycho-Pirate, Hugo Strange, and Strange’s accomplice, who we learn about in the closing pages. So why have Waller in there at all? It’s obvious, isn’t it…?

Suicide Squad is a big priority at DC right now, and rightfully so. Case in point, the upcoming Justice League vs. Suicide Squad crossover. These issues started coming out in August, the same month the movie was released. So Waller was obviously dropped in here for that reason. It’s fine, but disappointing when you look at it from that angle. What’s more, DC is still pushing Suicide Squad via Batman, with the Dark Knight forming his own version of the team. The story is even called “I Am Suicide.” We get it, guys. We get it.

The story also starts hyping “Night of the Monster Men” far too early for my taste. That arc doesn’t start until issue #7. This book starts hyping it in issue #2. I’m all for long form storytelling. But not at the expense of your current story. It feels more like padding than anything else.

One of the themes I Am Gotham touches on is the nature of Gotham City, almost personifying it as a character in the story. What it is, what it does to people, etc. Snyder and Capullo also did that, with more success than King and Finch have here. But in all fairness, they had 50 issues. This team has six. So it pales in comparison. King also doesn’t say much of substance about the city. At least he hasn’t thus far in his Batman run. In the pages of I Am Gotham, the theme essentially goes no where.

Batman #1, 2016, David Finch, upside downI’ve been a critic of David Finch’s for awhile now, and I make no apologies for that. I think all his renderings of women look the same, and absolutely everything he does has that dark and gritty feel to it, even when dark and gritty isn’t what the story calls for. As such, he’s been put on a number of books in which his work often feels terribly mismatched. Wonder Woman and Justice League of America come to mind.

But that’s not to say Finch doesn’t have his place, and it’s on stories like this. The Gotham City he brings us, along with inkers Sandra Hope, Matt Banning, Scott Hanna, and colorist Jordie Bellaire is fittingly dark, illuminated by the glow of city lights and flames. Characters like Batman, Jim Gordon, and even Alfred, have a fittingly grizzled texture to them. He even pulls off a nice visual gag, as we get to see Alfred don the Batsuit.

I was justifiably concerned about how Finch would draw Gotham Girl. She’s basically a skinny blonde in a tennis skirt, after all. Thankfully, during the second half of the story when the masks comes off, Finch is much better at drawing Claire. Once we can see her eyes, Finch gives her a very nice vulnerability and we start to care about her.

Things get more expressive in issue #6 when Ivan Reis tags in on pencils. The issue largely focuses on Claire, and how she’s coping with the events of issue #5. It’s about how you’d expect, especially considering what she’s gone through with Psycho-Pirate. But facially, Reis conveys her emotional highs and lows very nicely. There’s a particularly great image of her toward the end of the issue, as she’s tucked into Batman’s chest. Guest colorist Marcelo Maiolo offers some nice consistency with Bellaire’s work, while still making the issue his own. As such, things are a little brighter. But we still see shades of Bellaire’s color palette. Most notably in the sky, and some of the city lights.

Batman #6, Ivan Reis, Gotham GirlOn its own, I Am Gotham is an okay read. But it’s clearly a first chapter. Based on subsequent issues of Batman, it’s tough to tell where the story is going. Considering the role she played in this book, one might think Gotham Girl would be center stage going forward. That’s not necessarily the case. She’s in “Night of the Monster Men.” But the story isn’t about her, per se. She serves as Batman’s motivation for the current “I Am Suicide” story, but that’s the only role she plays. Solicitations for upcoming issues have a lot of talk about Bane and Catwoman. Granted, the current issues with Mikel Janin are better than what we got here. But I get the sense that King is going for a natural progression, where the events of one story naturally flow into the next. Instead, this all feels somewhat disjointed. That’s disappointing. Thus far, King’s Batman run has been interesting. But coming off the hype and momentum that Snyder and Capullo’s run had, and especially when you consider what a masterpiece King’s run on The Vision was, this feels like a step down.

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