Tag Archives: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

A Batman, Vol. 8: Cold Days Review – Bruce Wayne Against Batman?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 8: Cold Days
AUTHOR: Tom King
ARTISTS:
Lee Weeks, Matt Wagner, Tony Daniel, Mark Buckingham, Andrew Pepoy, Danny Miki (Inker)
COLORISTS: Elizabeth Breitweiser, Tomeu Morey
LETTERER:
Clayton Cowles
COLLECTS:
Batman #5157
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE:
$16.99
RELEASED:
December 19, 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

A while back, I did a “Panels of Awesomeness” on a couple of the pages in Cold Days. It’s the scene in Batman #51 when Bruce Wayne snaps and rips a urinal out of the wall (shown below). People may criticize Tom King’s writing on this series, but I believe he has the distinction of being the only writer to have Batman do that.

But you can’t blame the guy, can you? I mean, if your wedding had gone that way

1. One Angry Man
As if things weren’t already crappy for him, Bruce Wayne gets jury duty in the titular three-issue story that kicks off Cold Days. Mr. Freeze stands trial for the murder of three women. On paper, it’s an open-and-shut case. Not only did Freeze confess to the murders, but Batman examined the forensic evidence, discovering a detail the police missed. One juror, however, believes Freeze is innocent: Bruce Wayne. Why? Because as Batman, he beat Freeze to a pulp, unintentionally forcing a confession.

This Batman series may have a tendency to go off the rails. But credit where credit is due: I love this story. In fact, it’s the high point of Tom King’s entire run. It cuts right to the core of who Bruce Wayne is, as he’s forced to do something he’s not accustomed to: Confronting a mistake, and making good on it. “Cold Days” even examines the notion that Batman is infallible, at least in the eyes of the public. But as we see all too clearly, he’s not infallible. He’s just a man. A man in a tremendous amount of pain.

The last time we saw Lee Weeks on this book was in Batman Annual #2, illustrating a story set early in Batman’s career. What he turns in here, alongside Elizabeth Breitweiser and Clayton Cowles, is every bit as good, if not better. One of the qualities that makes Weeks’ work so special is that he feels very much at home on a more “grounded” story like this one, without any super-powered exploits. And yet, he can also thrive working on a character like Superman.

King uses “Cold Days” to touch on a subject we rarely touch on with the Dark Knight: religion. He talks about how his father was Christian, and wanted Bruce to find spirituality as well. As one might imagine, that didn’t happen. What we learn is that Batman more or less became Bruce’s religion. And in the eyes of many, Batman has become the equivalent of a deity. It’s a really cool sequence, and I credit King for having the guts to go there.

We also get a fantastic page in issue #51. While Bruce is serving on the jury, Dick Grayson is filling in as Batman. Early on, we get a page on the roof of police headquarters where he’s talking to Commissioner Gordon. The following dialogue ensues…

Gordon: “You’re not him. You’re that other him.”
Batman: “What’s the problem, Commissioner? How can I help?”
Gordon: “Is he alright?”
Batman: *pauses* “No.”

I love that Gordon isn’t written as an idiot, and how this harkens back to pieces of the Knightfall and No Man’s Land stories from the ’90s. Frankly, I wouldn’t have a problem if he called him out as Nightwing.

2. The Dynamic Duo
In the last 20 years or so, writers have made Bruce and Dick a little too friendly for my taste. Until recently, there were times when Dick was acting more like Robin than Damian, the actual Robin. I always liked the idea that when Dick struck out on his own, he developed his own methods and philosophies that at times put him at odds with Batman. He wouldn’t be the estranged son. That role should be saved that role for Jason Todd. I’d simply have Dick be his own man. But when the chips were down, he’d be there if Bruce truly needed him.

That’s precisely the scenario we have in Batman #54. As Bruce tries to power his way through his grief over Selina, Dick simply hangs out. A constant source of levity. And indeed, there’s a fantastic moment where Batman actually does break, and Dick is there for him. This is all intercut with various moments from Dick’s early days at Wayne Manor. It’s one of King’s better written Batman issues.

Our guest artist for issue #54 is none other than the amazing Matt Wagner. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed him working on Batman. What’s so special about Wagner is that he can capture whatever tone you want, with whatever character you want, while still injecting a sense of fun into his art. It’s never not fun to look at a Matt Wagner book.

3. The Beast Unleashed
As much as I disliked Scott Snyder’s Zero Year story, I loved the way it revitalized the Riddler. King, to his credit, continued that revitalization during his run. But one can also argue he did a little revitalizing himself. With, of all characters, KGBeast.

KGBeast, real name Anatoli Knyazev, first appeared in the late ’80s as yet another to stake claim to the DCU’s “world’s deadliest assassin” title. (Think Deathstroke, Deadshot, Lady Shiva, etc.) His most prominent character moment came when he cut off his own arm to allude capture by Batman. But since then, he’s been mostly relegated to what I’ll call the villains ensemble, i.e. somebody to put in a scene where Batman has to fight a bunch of bad guys. Heck, Snyder did it recently in All-Star Batman.

But in Batman #55, the Beast does the unthinkable. As Batman and Nightwing are continuing their father/son bonding of sorts, he uses a sniper rifle to put a bullet in Nightwing’s head. With Dick alive, yet devastatingly wounded, Batman does the only thing he can do: go Beast hunting.

In re-reading this “Beast of Burden” story in trade format, I picked up on something I missed in the single issues: the father/son theme. After carrying out the hit on Nightwing, Knyazev tracks down his father to a remote cabin in “far east” Russia. It may as well be the planet Hoth, as it’s seemingly just miles upon miles of snow, some trees, and that one cabin. We learn that like his son, Vasily Knyazev was once a killer for the KGB, and trained Anatoli to be the same. Seeing the two interact after what has clearly been a long time apart, it’s obvious Vasily was a callous and heartless excuse for a father. And yet, he loves his son in his own unique way…

But Bruce can be cold and callous too. He’s about as dark and withdrawn in these pages as he’s ever been. But he’s not heartless. He showed a great deal of compassion for Dick, and cared for him in the best way he knew how. I suspect that’s why we got the flashback scenes in the Matt Wagner issue. To illustrate the differences between these father/son duos. That makes for a really cool story.

Thankfully, unlike Deathstroke vs. Deadshot in The War of Jokes and Riddles, in this book we actually see the damn fight between Batman and KGBeast blow by blow. It’s easy to follow and project yourself into. It ends with Batman pulling off a maneuver I’m not sure we’ve seen from him before. It’s shockingly merciless, as is the book’s ending.

Tony Daniel and Tomeu Morey set the mood perfectly. I’m reluctant to use The Empire Strikes Back as an example again, but the art evokes the same sort of grim, foreboding mood we see in the opening moments of the film. I could almost hear the John Williams score…

Intercut amongst the fight sequences is a folktale Vasily would read to the future KGBeast when he was a boy. Mark Buckingham and Andrew Pepoy tag in for pages that are fittingly drawn like a storybook for a young child. Though it’s certainly more violent and bloody than any book you’ll pick up off shelves today. Or for that matter, any era. There’s a thematic connection of course, and it’s certainly unique to see these cartoony animals drawn alongside this brutal fight.

The only major negative I can find in “Beasts of Burden,” is that it serves as the inciting incident for the “Ric Grayson” stuff that began in Nightwing #50. I haven’t purchased a Nightwing comic since, as that story just doesn’t interest me. But that’s got nothing to do with Tom King or this series, so I can’t hold it against this book.

4. Bright Spot for the Dark Knight
Cold Days is indeed the high point of Tom King’s Batman run. A bright spot in an often bizarre series of issues. The “Cold Days” story is outstanding on its own. But the issues with Nightwing and KGBeast were much better than I remembered. The art is consistently gorgeous. Lee Weeks stole the show for yours truly. Though I’ve certainly got a soft spot for Matt Wagner.

I take no joy in saying much of Tom King’s Batman run is skippable. I do, however, take joy in telling you Cold Days is a must-read for fans of both Batman and Nightwing. Outstanding character work mixed with great action. In the end, you really can’t ask for much more.

For more of Tom King’s run on Batman, check out I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide, I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, The War of Jokes and Riddles, The Rules of Engagement, Bride or Burglar?, and The Wedding.

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Weekly Comic 100s: Star Wars #1, I Can Sell You A Body #1

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Nothing too in-depth here. Just straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

You know what sucks? When your favorite comic shop closes down.

Here’s to Rockhead’s Comics and Games in Kenosha, WI, for feeding my weekly comic fix for the last two years or so. You guys were awesome. I’m truly sad to see you go…

TITLE: Star Wars #1
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
ARTISTS: Jesus Saiz, Arif Prianto (Co-Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Cover by R.B. Silva and GURU-eFX.
RELEASED:
January 1, 2020

This debut of Marvel’s post-Empire Strikes Back title is pretty much what you’d expect, with the characters reeling from what happened on Bespin.

But interestingly, this issue actually takes places during the events of Empire. A certain amount of time passes between the Star Destroyer escape and the closing scene. But how much time? When we open this book the Rebels don’t trust Lando, and Luke isn’t even sure he wants to be a Jedi any longer.

I’m hoping Luke doesn’t get a lightsaber in this series. The green one doesn’t come along until the next film, after all.

TITLE: I Can Sell You A Body #1 (of 4)
AUTHOR: Ryan Ferrier
ARTISTS: George Kambadais, Ferrier (Letterer)
RELEASED: January 1, 2020

What we have here is a mini about “reverse exorcisms,” i.e. spirits of the dead being found new bodies by our main character, Denny Little.  But things go awry when he gets mixed up with the mob. Y’know, the way you always do when you gain the power to communicate with the dead…

Ferrier and Kambadais don’t waste an inch of space here, putting out a really dense issue. But the story has promise, and the art has a nice charm to it. I can see myself following Denny for four issues.

TITLE: Action Comics #1018
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS: John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson (Inker), Brad Anderson (Colorist), Dave Sharpe (Letterer)
RELEASED: January 1, 2020

I was actually dreading this issue. Simply because of John Romita Jr’s art.

Romita can be hit-or-miss as it is. But Action Comics #1018 has a rushed quality, as if the deadline was breathing down his neck. As such, the end product often looks awkward. Or worse, bush league.

Case in point, the way Superman is posed on the cover. What is that stance, exactly?

As this issue is partially about the Justice League fighting the Legion of Doom in the middle of Metropolis, this was a particularly bad time for a performance like this. Bad form, JRJR.

TITLE: Detective Comics #1018
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
ARTISTS: Scott Godlewski, David Baron (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer). Cover by Rafael Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona, and John Kalisz.
RELEASED: January 1, 2020

This dialogue in this issue is really awkward at times, which is not a problem Tomasi usually (if ever) has. For some reason, Batman is uncharacteristically chatty.

Case in point, he leaves a crime scene and says to the cops, “Got what I needed. Scene is immaculate. Left behind only my boot prints. Merry Christmas.”

Um…thanks?

On the plus side, Tomasi tugs at our heartstrings in his own special way by showing us Bruce spending his first holiday season without Alfred. Very reminiscent of the stuff he did on Batman and Robin all those years ago.

TITLE: Lois Lane #7 (of 12)
AUTHOR: Greg Rucka
ARTISTS: Mike Perkins, Gabe Eltaeb (Colorist), Simon Bowland (Letterer)
RELEASED: January 1, 2019

While I continue to love simply having that Greg Rucka, street-level aesthetic back at DC, I’m losing interest in the mystery of who’s trying to kill Lois Lane and why. Frankly, the subplot about the public believing she’s having an affair with Superman is far more interesting. I’m curious to see how Clark revealing his identity to the world will effect this story, if in fact they cross over.

The back and forth between Lois and Renee Montoya is fun. It’s obvious Rucka is happy to be working on his version of the Question once again.

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Weekly Comic 100s: Dr. Strange, Spider-Ham, Shazam!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

As promised, this week I’ve padded the rather slim pickings from December 26 with some leftovers from December 19.

By the way, folks, I tried to read Incoming!, the big issue that’s supposed to lead us into what Marvel’s doing in 2020. But I couldn’t get through it. It’s all supposed to link back to a mysterious murder, which was intriguing enough. But the massive scope of the story, with all the different plot threads and characters, was just too much to follow.

Thankfully, Marvel is pretty well represented this week…

TITLE: Dr. Strange #1
AUTHOR: Mark Waid
ARTISTS: Kev Walker, Java Tartaglia (Colorist), Cory Petit (Letterer). Cover by Phil Noto.
RELEASED: December 26, 2019

The twist here is that Stephen Strange now has use of his hands again. Now he can resume his work as a surgeon, while continuing on as a master of the mystic arts.

I’m not much of a Doctor Strange fan. But I can’t find much to fault this issue for. The opening page is its best. It’s got a Twilight Zone feel to it, while also reminding me of one of the opening splash pages for an issue of Saga.

I don’t feel a huge pull to come back next issue. But what the hell? I won’t rule it out.

TITLE: Spider-Ham #1 (of 5)
AUTHOR:
Zeb Wells
ARTISTS:
Will Robson, Erick Arciniega (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer). Cover by Wendell Dalit.
RELEASED: December 26, 2019

For yours truly, the biggest surprise coming out of Spider-Ham #1 was that our titular character is on a team with other anthropomorphic animal heroes. Iron Mouse, Squawkeye, Quacksilver, etc. Basically the same Looney Tunes concept, but with the Avengers.

If you like this sort of thing, or enjoyed the character in Into the Spider-Verse, then this Spider-Ham miniseries should be right up your alley. Me? While the issue was fine, I’ll take a pass on this one.

TITLE: Shazam #9
AUTHOR:
Geoff Johns
ARTISTS: Marco Santucci, Scot Kolins, Dale Eaglesham, Michael Atiyeh (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer). Variant cover by Kaare Andrews.
RELEASED: December 18, 2019

Most of this book takes place in the “Wozenderlands,” an amalgamation of the worlds of The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. We’re told there was a “crisis,” and the worlds had to be merged. So essentially, it was Crisis on Infinite Earths, but with these fairy tale settings and characters.

That is so friggin’ random, that I absolutely love it. Who in the hell could have called this? All the while, we continue to advance the story of Billy Batson and his family. Truly, Shazam! has become one of the best books DC has right now.

TITLE: Batman/Superman #5
AUTHOR: Joshua Williamson
ARTISTS: David Marquez, Alejandro Sanchez (Colorist), John J. Hill (Letterer)
RELEASED: December 18, 2019

This whole “Secret Six” thing ended up not being the mystery I wanted it to be. And at times Williamson’s dialogue is a little awkward. But at the end of the day, this first story arc was fine. I did love the nice little “trust moment” he gave our titular characters in this issue.

I also feel like I haven’t heaped enough praise on David Marquez and Alejandro Sanchez. They’ve put together an absolutely beautiful book. Marquez can make virtually anything look good. Whether he’s working in the DC, Marvel, any other universe.

TITLE: Star Wars: Empire Ascendant
AUTHORS: Charles Soule, Greg Pak, Ethan Sacks, Simon Spurrier
ARTISTS: Luke Ross, Roland Boschi, Paolo Villanelli, Caspar Wijngaard. Cover by Ricardo Federici.
COLORISTS: Guru-eFX, Rachelle Rosenberg, Arif Prianto, Lee Loughridge
LETTERERS: Clayton Cowles, Travis Lanham
RELEASED: December 18, 2019

Empire Ascendant serves as a bridge into the four new Star Wars books Marvel’s releasing in the near future. Apparently they all take place after The Empire Strikes Back, as opposed to the previous ones, which were set beforehand.

We get four short stories set just before Empire. Not a lot from the main characters, Luke, Leia, etc. But if you give it a chance, this stuff actually has some meat to it. My personal favorite is the set-up for the Bounty Hunters series. I think The Mandalorian has wet the fandom’s collective appetite for more stuff like that.

TITLE: Family Tree #2
AUTHOR: Jeff Lemire
ARTISTS: Phil Hester, Eric Gapstur (Inker), Ryan Cody (Colorist), Steve Wands (Letterer)
RELEASED: December 18, 2019

Family Tree needs to be careful it doesn’t accidentally become a comedy.

It’s meant to be a horror/adventure comic about people being forcibly changed into trees. But there’s a flashback in this issue where Judd, the book’s resident grizzled old man character, is caring for a fully transformed…uh…tree person? When the tree tries to talk back to Judd, I couldn’t help it. My funny bone was tickled a bit. I still buy Family Tree as the horror story it’s trying to be. But sometimes there’s a thin like between horror and hilarity.

TITLE: The Low, Low Woods #1
AUTHOR: Carmen Maria Machado
ARTISTS:
Dani, Tamra Bonvillain (Colorist), Steve Wands (Letterer). Cover by J.A.W. Cooper.
RELEASED:
December 18, 2019

This feels like a Stephen King story. (Heh…)

The Low, Low Woods takes place in 1997, which hits a nostalgic soft spot for me. There’s a lot of exposition in this issue. We learn about a small town forever changed by a raging fire, and two teenage girls who discover some gory surprises.

If you like this sort of thing, I’d definitely recommend it. For me personally, this issue is a little low on intrigue. But the characters and the setting are interesting enough to at least get me to consider coming back for issue #2.

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Astonishing Art: Star Wars by Eric Tan

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I’m a sucker for a good Star Wars poster. So when I came across this set from Disney artist/designer Eric Tan, I fell head-over-heels very quickly. For a time, the posters based on the original trilogy were actually sold at the Disney store for hundreds of dollars. While that places them firmly outside of my price range, from a quality perspective I understand it. These things are friggin’ gorgeous…

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Toy Photography: C-3PO in the Snow

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This is what happens when you have writer’s block on your day off. You wind up trying your hand at toy photography. Whaddaya think? Not bad for a first-timer, right?

To an extent, I’m trying to mimic the shot from The Empire Strikes Back where Luke is lost in the snowstorm and the camera pulls back. As the landscape expands, we see just how alone he truly is. This shot doesn’t have the same effect, obviously. But there’s a certain cuteness to it that I enjoy.

Oddly enough, I originally just plopped Threepio into the snow and took the shot. But of course, the best action figure photos are the ones that allow you to forget you’re looking at little plastic toys. So I made some little footprints next to him so he didn’t simply look like a toy someone left outside. Now he’s impacting his environment. It actually turned out to be my favorite part of the image.

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Toy Chest Theater: Luke Skywalker and Marty McFly by Jax Navarro

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This is the second time Jax Navarro has been in this space. In truth, he could be in this spot plenty more. There’s no shortage of quality shots over at Plastic Action.

But this one? This one deserves to be framed on a damn wall. I’m not even kidding.

I just love it. It’s so perfect. It’s a fantastic tribute to not only Back to the Future, but the now infamous Luke/Leia kiss from The Empire Strikes Back. We’ve even got hilarious contrast of Last Jedi Luke in Doc Brown’s costume!

Now if only Luke had a flying DeLorean on that damn island…

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A Darth Vader #25 Review – “Not like this. Please not like this.”

Star Wars: Darth Vader #25, 2016, coverTITLE: Star Wars: Darth Vader #25
AUTHOR: Kieron Gillen
PENCILLERS: Salvador Larroca, Max Fiumara. Cover by Juan Gimenez.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: October 12, 2016

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I maintain that this Darth Vader series doesn’t have to end simply because Kieron GIllen’s story is ending. It’s not like there’s a shortage of creators out there looking for a crack at the dark lord. Nor is there a shortage of fans that will read stories about him. Nevertheless, for now this is the end for Vader’s ongoing adventures. Thankfully, he goes out on a hell of a dramatic note.

As this series has progressed, we’ve learned it’s essentially a bridge story between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Vader goes from being in the doghouse after the destruction of the Death Star, to being in a more powerful position and obsessed with finding his son. But it’s also about Aphra, a crafty archaeologist Vader forms an uneasy alliance with. She knows Vader will kill her when she’s of no further use. In issue #4, she flat out asks him to give her a quick lightsaber through the neck when the time comes. She also asks him not to eject her into space. That scene has hung over the entire series. Like Aphra, we all knew it was coming.

I didn’t think we’d actually come back to the space ejection thing. But low and behold…

Darth Vader #25, 2016, airlock, Doctor AphraLarroca’s face work with Aphra isn’t the best here, and this isn’t the most natural looking thing in the world. But that top panel on the page at right makes the whole scene. Her body language is perfect. Then on the next page you have the simple line: “Not like this. Please, not like this.” It’s a fantastic pay off to what we saw in issue #4.

And then she lives, which was actually a disappointment. While I really dig Aphra, that’s a waste of an awesome death scene. But we’ve got a Gillen-penned Doctor Aphra book coming in December that needs its title character. That could be a great book, if for no other reason than Triple-Zero and BT-1 will be in it. Plus, after what he gave us in this series Gillen deserves to stay at the table as long as he’s hungry.

Someone I could use a break from is Salvador Larroca. He’s extremely talented, he draws an incredible Darth Vader, and he’s a very natural fit for the Star Wars universe. But it’s so obvious he draws off of stills from the movie that it pulls me out of the story. Case in point, he was obviously looking at Revenge of the Sith footage when drawing Palpatine for this issue. Perhaps the key is to put him on characters that don’t appear in the movies, a la Aphra or Sana Solo.

On the plus side, Larroca’s final two pages are very good. First, we see Vader and Luke Skywalker reaching out to each other in a dream-like scene (shown below). It’s somewhat reminiscent of the climax of the Empire duel, where Vader beckons his son to come with him. Then we cut back to reality, with a long shot of the bridge on the Super Star Destroyer. Again, much like Empire.

Darth Vader #25, 2016, Salvador Larroca, Luke SkywalkerWe get a bonus back-up story here, pencilled by Max Fiumara. It turns out the Tusken Raiders had a rather unique reaction to Vader’s slaughtering of one of their villages back in issue #1. The story is silent, which is a nice change. There are a pair of pages where Fiumara switches to a more storybookish style, which is a cool textural change.

One thing I found confusing: Someone who’s apparently meant to be an elder of sorts appears after the attack. The “storybook” part of the back-up recounts a village slaughter by a man with a lightsaber. Is this supposed to be Darth Vader’s attack, or Anakin Skywalker’s from Episode II? I’d like to think it’s the latter.

At one point, Darth Vader stood head and shoulders above every other Star Wars book Marvel was putting out. Over time it lost it’s must-read status, but remained supremely executed and mostly well drawn. I’m sad to see it end. Hopefully some of its momentum will carry over into Aphra’s series.

But seriously, what a waste of a death scene…

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