A Batman #24 Review – Happiness is…?

TITLE: Batman #24
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: David Finch, Clay Mann
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: June 7, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well I’ll be damned. A canonical marriage proposal from Batman to Catwoman. Can’t say I saw that coming. Until I saw all the spoilers the day before, of course. Oh well…

In the aftermath of “I Am Bane,” as well as seeing an alternate version of his father in “The Button,” Batman talks with Gotham Girl about her next move. As such, they dive into the question of why Bruce Wayne has chosen this life as Batman and whether or not it brings him any sort of happiness. This prompts our hero to seek out Catwoman that night and propose. We’re left without an answer from Selina as we close the issue.

The artistic duties for this issue are split between our regular penciller David Finch and guest penciller Clay Mann. The former handles the nighttime chase sequence with Batman and Catwoman and the eventual proposal, while Mann does the talk between Batman and Gotham Girl that lays the emotional groundwork. I’m not sure what necessitated this, but it works out for the better. With due respect, sentimentality isn’t David Finch’s strong suit. He’s more about drawing muscly, curvy people doing things in the dark. Until we get to the proposal itself, that’s really what his work in this issue consists of. I’m not downing him, as the daytime/nighttime contrast works out well.

The Gotham Girl we get in the issue is more playful. Though perhaps she simply seems that way, as she’s been in a perpetual state of terror since issue #6. The sketchier style we see in that scene suits its quieter, more intimate nature. Upon second viewing, I do wish Mann had been able to make her face more expressive. She looks downright wooden in certain panels. Thankfully, what she’s saying is intriguing enough to pull focus away from that.

The issue in its entirety is colored beautifully by Jordie Bellaire, setting the timeframes perfectly. The darkness of Batman’s costume, contrasted with the early morning sunlight is a sight to behold.

When I reviewed the “Rooftops” story from Batman #14 and #15, I said that in many ways this was a story we’d been waiting over 75 years for. These characters had been dancing around romance for decades. Now they were finally admitting they loved each other. They were allowing themselves something they’d always forbidden. And yes, they had sex on a rooftop. But as we’ve seen in many a Batman story, they wound up going their separate ways in the end.

Issue #24 is in essence a continuation of “Rooftops.” Bruce admits that he tries to be happy, but isn’t. And so he finally does something for himself, asking Selina to marry him.

Has Tom King ever talked about Batman: Hush? That was the famous Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee run from the early 2000s where Bruce revealed his identity to Selina, and for a time they were together. What we get in Batman #24 is the outcome you wanted from Hush. But of course, Bruce denied himself happiness at the end. I wonder if King, or someone on the Batman editorial team, took inspiration from Hush for this story, what with it being the classic that it is.

My favorite line in comes when Bruce tells Gotham Girl: “But what you don’t know, Claire, is that I try. I do this to be happy. I try, and I fail.” I’m sure that seems corny to some. But it makes sense to me. We’re all looking for happiness. Even if we try and deny it to ourselves, we typically still look for it subconsciously. Bruce was broken by the senseless act of violence that took his parents away. Batman is his way of sorting the world out and making himself feel better. But by closing himself off to others, like Selina, he sabotages his attempts at happiness. This is his attempt at finally rectifying that.

To his credit, King laid the groundwork for this in the pages of I Am Suicide. Issues #10 and #12 in particular, in which we read their letters to each other. I’m not a fan of some of the things Bruce says about suicide. But I credit King for his attempts to deconstruct this relationship, and really stripping it down to its core.

There is one major missed opportunity here. Just two issues prior, Bruce saw an alternate version of his father, the Flashpoint Batman. He’s told: “Don’t be Batman. Find happiness. Please.” That’s a profound moment, which should cut Bruce to his very core. But in this issue, which ultimately becomes about Bruce trying to find happiness, it’s never mentioned or alluded to. That’s a glaring omission, which I’m hoping is rectified next time.

King also gets cute with Bruce’s engagement ring for Selina. He says he got the ring after their first encounter, as he knew he’d give it to her someday. That’s a stock romance trope. Why not just have Bruce buy her a damn ring? Or give her one that his mother owned? It’s harmless, but still a little disappointing.

There’s also the line: “I’m not Batman because I like being Batman. I’m Batman because I’m Batman.” That’s a meme waiting to happen…

Tom King’s Batman run has been hit or miss for me, especially some of those early issues. But when he’s working on Batman and Catwoman, he’s in his element and tells emotional stories. That bodes well for what’s to come.

On the other hand, what if Selina says no…?

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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 #15 Review – “She Stole the Night.”

batman-15-coverTITLE: Batman #15
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: Mitch Gerads. Cover by Stephanie Hans.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: January 18, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In a lot of ways, we’ve been waiting for this story for over 75 years.

In part two of “Rooftops” we finally find out about the 237 people that Selina Kyle allegedly murdered.  But not before shine and Bruce Wayne each make a bold statement to each other. Then Selina runs. Because she’s Catwoman, and Catwoman runs.

“I love you, Bat.”
“I love you, Cat.”

Have Batman and Catwoman ever said that to each other? The canonical Batman and Catwoman? Without it being a dream sequence or anything? I’ve read a lot of Batman comics over the years, and I can’t remember it happening. It’s an amazing moment (shown below). And it’s not just the panels where they say it. It’s the panels between the panels. The silence. Selina’s face. The little smile on Bruce’s face in the last panel. The blue lighting. It’s beautiful, it really is.

batman #15, 2017, I Love You, Mitch GeradsWe put and exclamation point on the whole thing later in the issue. Batman, who fears he may never see Selina again, tells Holly Robinson: “She knows who I am. What I am. And she loves me anyway.”

I mean, c’mon. COME ON.

These are moments you want to see from characters who’ve loved each other in silence for so long. As readers we know they’ll never really be together. But seeing them get those feelings out in the open is tremendously satisfying. Especially for those of us who’ve been reading about these characters our whole lives.

King and Gerads also have a little fun with Catwoman’s history. Bruce and Selina disagree over what their first encounter consisted of. Bruce’s recollection matches up with 1940’s Batman #1, where “the Cat” dresses up like an old lady for a diamond heist. Selina’s is the Batman: Year One encounter, where Bruce tries to save Holly Robinson from an angry pimp. Gerads even mimics the art style from both books. Given the weight what we see in this issue, it’s very fitting.

This is, I believe, the debut of New 52 Holly Robinson. Whereas before she was an ally and protege of Selina’s, and even became Catwoman herself for a time, this Holly Robinson was responsible for the 237 murders that Selina took on herself. When the orphanage they grew up in was burnt to the ground, Holly took revenge using skills Selina had taught her.

I was always confused by the whole 237 murders thing. But I was never of the mindset that Selina actually did it. There are likely some Holly Robinson fans that won’t be happy with this. But at least she’s back, and this is something they can explore with Selina down the line.

batman-15-originsAs with last issue, I give Mitch Gerads so much credit for the blues he uses to give this issue a sense of “mood lighting.” He’s also tremendous at jumping out of that lighting when we go to the origin flashbacks (shown left). The contrast in styles is a lot of fun.

The work Gerads does with Selina’s face on the “I love you” page is obviously stellar. But he also draws a very distinct and expressive Holly Robinson. When we meet her, she’s got a case of bed-head, and her terror at being in the presence of Batman quickly turns to sympathy toward his plight. At least, that’s what we’re supposed to think it is. Batman is cast in the purple glow of the lights outside, while Holly is bathed in those gorgeous blues.

DC has published a bunch of “Greatest Stories Ever Told” trades dedicated to many of their iconic characters. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Joker, etc. If there’s ever a Catwoman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told book, “Rooftops” belongs in there. One night argue it’s too early to make a prediction like that. But at the very least, it’s the best work Tom King has done in 15 issues of Batman. We’re talking far and away, ahead by a mile, don’t even look back. It’s that superior.

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A Batman #28 Review – Back to the Future

Batman #28, coverTITLE: Batman #28
AUTHORS: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV

PENCILLER: Dustin Nguyen

PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99

RELEASED: February 12, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: SPOILERS LAY AHEAD FOR BATMAN #28***

After living in the past for quite some time, Batman comes back to the present in issue #28 to give us an appetizer for the upcoming weekly series, Batman Eternal. While I’ve given the guy a decent amount of criticism for his run with the Dark Knight, I’ll freely admit that issue #28 is very effective. It gets the reader psyched and asking questions about Eternal. And indeed, there is no shortage of questions…

Set “soon,” Batman #28 sees Harper Row finagle her way into The Egyptian, “the only nightclub left in New Gotham.” Yes, New Gotham, a city which is apparently in some kind of crisis. Citizens live under an 8 p.m. curfew, the police wear S.W.A.T. gear and aren’t at all shy about brutality. People have apparently been dying, possibly due to some sort of infection. Once inside, Harper allows the Dark Knight to make a hell of an entrance before donning her uniform and becoming the gun-toting character we’ve seen sketches of in recent months, Bluebird. Yes, Harper Row seems to have officially joined the Bat-family. But Batman calls her off when they come face-to-face with Gotham’s newest crime lord….Selina Kyle. Apparently something has happened to Selina, as “that Catwoman is gone,” because “[Batman] left her to die.” But apparently, there is enough good will left between the two that Selina allows this new Dynamic Duo into a top secret safe, which imprisons “the only one in this city who knows how to stop what’s coming next.”

Batman #28, Spoiler reveal, Dustin NguyenEnter the Spoiler.

Yes friends, Stephanie Brown has returned. Poor Spoiler. She’s only been back for one page, and she already in deep trouble.

When I read the line about Spoiler being the key to stopping what’s next, the first thing that popped into my head was the big War Games crossover from 2004-2005 (My God, has it been that long?). In an attempt to regain Batman’s trust after being fired as the latest Robin, Stephanie, as Spoiler, tries to enact one of Batman’s contingency plans to unite all the city’s crime factions under a single crime lord. The whole thing goes to hell, resulting in a gang war in Gotham City. A great many lives are lost, and it’s a huge disaster. It wouldn’t shock me if something similar has happened here. Stephanie found herself in the middle of something, made the wrong move, and madness erupted.  That’s pure fan speculation, mind you. But it would certainly be consistent with the Stephanie we knew before.

One side note: I like the new costume. The colors make it somewhat reminiscent of her Batgirl suit. *sigh* It still hurts, damn it…

In terms of Catwoman being Gotham’s new kingpin of crime, my biggest impression thus far is that the Egyptian is pretty damn cool. When we first walk in, we see two gigantic golden cat statues (the Egyptians worshipped cats, after all), and when Selina makes her entrance we see a smaller black one. The safe in which Steph is imprisoned is also covered in hieroglyphics, and the backgrounds give it a really nice ancient Egyptian throne room feel. To an extent, it seems like a lair we’d have seen Julie Newmar prancing around in on the ’60s Batman show. In terms of how this will effect Batman and Catwoman’s relationship, well…at least they’re used to things being complicated.

Batman #28, Bluebird, Batman, Dustin NguyenBluebird is different, to be sure. She’s a bit of a mixed bag as far as I’m concerned. If you’ll indulge me as I argue with myself…

I’ve never been in love with members of Batman’s crew using firearms. That’s one of the reasons I have issues with Red Hood and the Outlaws. Jason Todd wields twin guns while wearing a Bat symbol on his chest. It just seems off to me. I even had trouble with the use of rubber bullets in The Dark Knight Returns. Given what happened to Bruce’s parents, it doesn’t make sense to me that he would endorse someone who uses them. I bring this up because in Batman #28, a thug calls Batman out on Bluebird’s use of guns.

Thug: “And here I thought Batman hated guns.”
Batman: “I do. She doesn’t.”

Sorry folks, I don’t buy that logic. From where I sit, if you work with Batman and carry on his legacy, you play by his rules. And “no guns” is like…rule #2. It’s right behind “No nipples on the Batsuit.”

However…

Bluebird’s use of shock pellets means she’s not as big an offender as Jason. The incorporation of electricity into her heroics is also undeniably fitting with her backstory, and her work on the Gotham power grid. It also makes her stand out among the rest of Batman’s allies. Plus, her costume is pretty damn cool, as was that trick with the zip line and the clip on her boot. The blue portions of her suit seem to be a callback to Nightwing’s old v-stripe, which I don’t think is a good sign in terms of Dick Grayson’s fate in Forever Evil. But that’s a different issue entirely. All in all, while I’ve got my issues with her, Bluebird gets a pass from me for now.

Batman #28, Dustin Nguyen, BatcaveWe’ve also got a mystery character in the Batcave, essentially playing the Alfred/Oracle role. The most obvious candidate for this role would be Carrie Kelley, given what we’ve seen in Batman & Robin recently. But the hair doesn’t seem to match up. Could it be Cullen, Harper’s brother? That seems a bit more likely, but the figure on this character looks very feminine. Ah, the joy of speculation.

Frankly, I’m a little sad to go back to Zero Year after this issue. This is the most satisfying installment of the series since #23.2 in September. Zero Year is selling, and nobody can deny it that. But personally, I’m ready for Snyder, Capullo, and the Batman crew to come back to present day. Especially if we get more issues like this.

Image 1 from bleedingcool.com. Image 2 from darkknightnews.com. Image 3 from newsarama.com.

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