Weekly Comic 100s: Wolverine #1 is EIGHT DOLLARS, and Also Reviews…

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Eight dollars for Wolverine #1.

EIGHT. DOLLARS.

This is the latest volume, mind you. We’re not talking about something historic or particularly significant. This is simply the latest adventure of everybody’s favorite clawed Canadian.

Why eight dollars? Because it’s just a thing Marvel does with a good percentage of its #1 issues. And readers are, for reasons I will never comprehend, willing to fork that money down.

Well, not ALL of them. I was happy to leave that one on the shelf, bub. If Marvel is going to give me the finger, I’m willing to give it right back to them. I just wish others were willing to say no.

If I’m going to put down eight bucks for a Wolverine comic Hugh Jackman better be leaping off the damn page singing Greatest Showman songs as he’s taking out my garbage.

TITLE: Batman #89
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
ARTISTS: Guillem March, Danny Miki, Carlo Pagulayan, Tomeu Morey (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer). Variant cover by Francesco Mattina.
RELEASED: February 19, 2020

In essence what we’re getting here is a follow-up to Death of the Family. Definitely a hell of a way to start Tynion’s run. But Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and that whole crew did a masterful job of putting that genie back in the bottle. How do you do that again? Or do you?

There’s a panel in this issue where Lucius Fox refers to the Joker, the Riddler, and the Penguin as members of Batman’s “Classic Rogues Gallery.” *thud* Yeesh. Did somebody from marketing slip that in?

Loving the perspective on this variant cover.

TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #103
AUTHORS: Kevin Eastman (Consultant), Tom Waltz (Consultant), Sophie Campbell (Script)
ARTISTS:
Campbell. Ronda Pattison (Colorist). Shawn Lee (Letterer). Variant cover by Eastman.
RELEASED: February 19, 2020

Quite the emotional issue this month. They really try to yank at our heartstrings.

I came away from this issue thinking about Sophie Campbell. She turned in a highly impactful script, and her drawing the issue obviously allows her to accentuate and emphasize certain things.

Campbell also does a tremendous job getting the Turtles to emote, sometimes without any dialogue to support her art. Case in point: The Raphael/Jennika argument. Look at the anger in Raph’s bulging eyes and clenched teeth, or the quiet defiance from Jennika.

Um, are they giving Michelangelo depression? If so, that’s…really cool, actually.

TITLE: The Low Low Woods #3
AUTHOR: Carmen Maria Machado
ARTISTS: Dani, Tamra Bonvillain (Colorist), Steve Wands (Letterer). Cover by Sam Wolfe Connelly.
RELEASED:
February 19, 2020

I’m not in love with this book. The texture of the art is “sketchier” than I tend to like. But the haunted small-town setting keeps me coming back. I’m finding myself wanting to meet more people from the aptly yet ridiculously named Shudder-to-Think, Pennsylvania.

For instance, we meet a thousand-year-old witch in this issue. But she has the body of a young girl. Then we unpack the revelation from issue #1, and things get really weird.

In this case, weird is good.

TITLE: BANG! #1
AUTHOR: Matt Kindt
ARTISTS: Wilfredo Torres, Nayoung Kim (Colorist), Nate Piekos (Letterer)
RELEASED:
February 19, 2020

It’s James Bond meets Doctor Who. I can’t tell you how without spoiling the issue. But you’ll get it.

BANG! is apparently connected to one of Matt Kindt’s previous works, Revolver. I’ve heard of it, but never read it. How it’s connected to BANG! isn’t immediately apparent. But it’s perfectly accessible on its own.

Like The Low Low Woods, I didn’t expect this story to hook me the way it has. As is often the case, issue #2 will be the clincher.

TITLE: Go Go Power Rangers #29
AUTHORS: Ryan Parrott, Sina Grace
ARTISTS: Francesco Mortarino, Raul Angulo (Co-Colorist), Eleonora Bruni (Co-Colorist), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Cover by Eleonora Carlini.
RELEASED: February 12, 2020

There’s an opening battle sequence in this issue where Tommy, who is now the team leader, freezes up. Jason, the former leader, quickly yet briefly steps back into his old role. I like that. By this point, Tommy had been in positions to lead. But he’d never been the leader. There should be some growing pains there.

Jason also has a conversation with Zordon that I’ve wanted to see for over two damn decades. They talk about why Jason was replaced as leader, and whether or not he wants the job back. Some great character work in this one.

TITLE: Ghostbusters: Year One #1
AUTHOR: Erik Burnham
ARTISTS: Dan Schoening, Luis Delgado (Colorist), Neil Uyetake (Letterer)
RELEASED: January 22, 2020

You’ll never hear me complain about Burnham and Shoening doing more Ghostbusters comics. Ever.

While I wouldn’t count this issue among their best work, there is one bit that I love. We’re looking at Winston’s first year on the job, and he only gets a few minutes of training, shooting a single proton stream before he’s shoved on to a job. That’s perfect. Despite the Ghostbusters being established and experienced, Winston still gets the same seat-of-his-pants training they did. It obviously lends itself to this being a comedy at heart.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Weekly Comic 100s: Marvels X, Batman #86, and More!

***”Weekly Comic 100s” keeps it nice and simple. Comic book reviews in 100 words or less. Straight, concise, and to the point.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Earth X was probably the one big Alex Ross project I knew the least about. So I got myself a nice little education heading into this week’s Marvels X. Low and behold it’s a trilogy. Now a tetralogy, with Marvels X.

Looks like I’ve got some catching up to do. But in the meantime…

TITLE: Marvels X #1
AUTHORS:
Alex Ross (Story), Jim Krueger (Story and Script)
ARTISTS:
Well-Bee, Cory Petit (Letterer). Cover by Ross.
RELEASED:
January 8, 2020

Having not read Earth X, and with this being intended as a prequel, I’m forced to judge this issue simply at face value. And at face value, it’s absolutely fine.

Our main character, a teenager named David, is the one person on in this dystopian future who does not have super powers. Orphaned and alone, he sets out for New York City to find his idols: Captain America, Iron Man, and Spider-Man.

Seeing an artist like Well-Bee tackle a Ross/Krueger concept like this feels different, but intriguing. For now, my interest is piqued.

TITLE: Batman #86
AUTHOR: James Tynion IV
ARTISTS: Tony Daniel, Danny Miki (Inker), Tomeu Morey (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)
RELEASED: January 8, 2019

For my money, Tynion has a better handle on Batman and his world than Scott Snyder or Tom King. So I’m anxious to see what he turns in.

As Bruce continues to mourn for Alfred, various assassins gather in Gotham. Meanwhile, the issue presents us with an intriguing idea: Over the years, Bruce has randomly sketched, essentially doodled, bits of Gotham’s skyline and architecture as he would have them look. In the wake of “City of Bane,” he has a chance to make those visions a reality. Also, something’s up with the Joker…

So far, so good.

TITLE: The Clock #1
AUTHOR: Matt Hawkins
ARTISTS: Colleen Doran, Bryan Valenza (Colorist), Troy Peteri (Letterer)
RELEASED: January 8, 2020

This is not the most gracefully executed issue. Naturally, it needs to get a lot of exposition out of the way, and it falls into the clunky dialogue trap that comes with that. Also, early on some of the the speech balloons are hard to follow. They don’t contrast with the backgrounds (specifically the outdoor ones) enough, so you have a hard time following who is saying what.

But under all that, The Clock might just be a good story about a super cancer threatening to wipe our half the Earth’s population. But the jury’s still out.

TITLE: Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren #2 (of 4)
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
ARTISTS: Will Sliney, Guru-eFX (Colors), Travis Lanham (Letterer). Cover by Clayton Crain
RELEASED:
January 8, 2020

If you need to be sold on the idea of a book about Luke’s post-Return of the Jedi adventures, look no further than this issue. He faces the Knights of Ren, with both Lor San Tekka and a young Ben Solo at his side. Call it The Adventures of Luke Skywaker, as a take-off of one of Lucas’ early draft titles for Star Wars.

Ben’s interactions with Snoke have a slightly different flavor now that The Rise of Skywalker has come out. Snoke is also wearing his most flamboyant outfit yet. What’s up with the hat…?

TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #101
AUTHORS: Kevin Eastman (Consultant), Tom Waltz (Consultant), Sophie Campbell (Script)
ARTISTS:
Campbell, Ronda Pattison (Colorist), Shawn Lee (Letterer).
RELEASED:
January 8, 2020

Basically, this book is doing what the 2007 TMNT movie did. Only, you know, better. The Turtles are split up and doing their own thing. And we’ve got kind of an Arkham City spin, as they’ve walled off a portion of New York to throw all the mutants in.

I like this. It’s a big status quo shake-up the series has probably needed for awhile now. Encouragingly, the character that shines the most in this issue is Jennika, our new female Ninja Turtle. Lots of fresh intrigue as this series moves forward.

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2 (of 5)
AUTHOR: Ryan Parrott
ARTISTS: Simone di Meo, Walter Baiamonte (Colorist), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Cover by Dan Mora.
RELEASED: January 8, 2020

In this issue we find out why Tommy has joined the Foot Clan. He’s apparently trying to save another clan member we don’t know. This new person’s identity, and how he connects to Tommy, is now far more interesting than the interactions the Turtles are having with the other Rangers.

They pull a stunt with Shredder at the end that I can take or leave. Seeing him meet Rita is pretty cool, though.

God damn, these Dan Mora covers are amazing.

TITLE: Young Justice #12
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
ARTISTS: John Timms, Gabe Eltaeb (Colorist), Wes Abbott (Letterer)
RELEASED: January 8, 2020

At what point do we just make this the new Teen Titans ongoing? Young Justice feels the way that book should feel. At least that’s how I…feel?

This is a pretty dense issue with a lot of standing around and talking. But Superboy does punches a T-Rex. That always counts for something.

We now appear to be headed toward a big Wonder Comics team-up, i.e. Young Justice along with the Wonder Twins and the kids from Dial H For Hero. Thankfully, it looks like it’s all staying within Young Justice, as opposed to a crossover.

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A Batman: The Wedding Review – Who Invited the Damn Joker?!?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 8: The Wedding
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Tony Daniel, Clay Mann, Mikel Janin
INKERS: John Livesay, Sandu Florea, Danny Miki
COLORISTS:
Tomeu Morey, June Chung
LETTERERS: Clayton Cowles
COLLECTS: Batman #4550, portion of DC Nation #0.
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE:
$16.99
RELEASED:
October 24, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Welp, this was a big one. A pivotal moment in Batman’s world. Or was it? I mean, it certainly could have been…

Either way, this book pissed a lot of people off. And not just with the pay-off (or lack there of) to a year’s worth of build-up. Tom King and the Batman crew had been cranking up the weirdness factor with the last several issues. And not necessarily weird in a good way. It was more weird in a, “Huh?” way. There’s a strong argument to be made that the weirdness reaches its apex here, in a three-issue story called “The Gift”…

1. What’s your refund policy?
Linkara actually did a masterful job of roasting “The Gift” in a recent episode of Atop the Fourth Wall. But I’ll touch on the broad strokes here.

In an ill-conceived attempt to give Batman a wedding gift, Booster Gold and Skeets travel back in time to stop the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The idea was to give Bruce an It’s A Wonderful Life moment, i.e. a chance to see what the world would be like without Batman. And indeed, the world is worse off for him being gone. Much worse. The nation of “Eurasia” is ruled by Ra’s al Ghul. The Penguin has become president of the United States. Selina Kyle is a serial killer who only speaks in meows. Gotham is infected by a “Joker” insanity plague. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson is a homicidal Batman whose costume is covered in firearms and explosives. When Booster finds himself trapped in this horrific reality he’s created, he has no choice but to try and…well, take back his gift.

Perhaps the most prominent theme, of Tom King’s Batman run has been the question of whether or not Bruce can actually be happy. It’s a hell of an idea to explore. I get the sense that’s what “The Gift” is trying to do. Would Bruce be happier if his parents hadn’t been killed? And considering how the world looks without Batman, is everyone better off with him being unhappy, yet serving a greater good?

However, in terms of plot holes, “The Gift” looks like friggin’ swiss cheese.

Let’s start with Booster Gold. Setting aside that King portrays him as a complete doofus, his plan makes no sense. By the classic Back to the Future, Part II logic, if you travel back in time and change something critical, reality will change around you. The world you return to may be drastically different than the one you left behind. So Booster goes back in time to stop the Wayne murders, thus preventing Bruce from becoming Batman. Once he does that, how does he expect to return to the present day and show Batman what he’s done? Batman doesn’t exist! That was the idea behind this whole cockamamie scheme in the first place!

What’s more, with this story King, like so many other writers, falls victim to Batman worship. Would the world be different without Batman? Or at least the Batman we know? Yes. But does the entire world fall into chaos without Batman? Remember, we’re still in the DC Universe. The Wayne murders had nothing to do with the origins of Superman or Wonder Woman. Hell, we even see Green Lantern in this story! (Albeit in a gratuitously violent manner.) You’re telling me no other heroes could have stopped Ra’s al Ghul from conquering half the planet?

Dick Grayson becoming Batman, much less a Batman who’s more like the Punisher, makes no sense either. How does Dick get the whole bat motif if he’s not taken in by Bruce? Did a rogue bat somehow fly into Haley’s Circus and snap those trapeze wires?

In addition to serving as an extremely bizarre look into an alt-universe Gotham City, “The Gift” essentially serves two purposes. First, like “Everyone Loves Ivy” in the last collection, it helps set the stage for Heroes in Crisis, in which Booster has a major role. Secondly, it gave them a reason to have Tony Daniel draw Catwoman in her Batman Returns costume. But Christ on a cracker, if they wanted to work that in, there had to be a better way than this. Just say it’s a failed prototype costume Selina made. You don’t have to alter the damn timeline…

2. Who Invited the Damn Joker?!?
Well, it was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? You can’t do a big story like this and not have the Joker around in some form.

Mikel Janin is back for the two-issue story, “The Best Man.” But before that, we get a little gem from DC Nation #0 drawn by Clay Mann. The Joker breaks into a random house, and holds a man hostage while he waits for the mail to come, inexplicably expecting an invitation to Batman’s wedding. By and large, I’m not necessarily in love with Clay Mann’s take on the Joker. But there are two shots he absolutely nails. The first is the opening splash page. The second is the panel at left.

Tom King writes a decent Joker. He’s good at working humor into the horror, one of the hallmarks of a great Joker writer. The Clay Mann story, “Your Big Day,” and the first several pages of Batman #48 are really good. But as the proceedings continue, he runs into a familiar problem: Joker, and later Catwoman, talk too much in attempts at banter. This is especially true in issue #49, which consists almost entirely of them talking about “the old days,” and Joker’s worry that a happily married Batman wouldn’t be funny, and might ultimately cease to exist.

The big problem I have with issue #49 isn’t so much about the banter attempts. It’s that the Joker, for lack of a better term, talks straight with Selina. He drops the act. He talks like a normal person, as if to an old friend. That’s the idea, I suppose. But I believe that on the rare occasions the Joker does that, it has to be brief yet impactful. It has to mean something.

Consider it this way: Tom King and Mikel Janin clearly have a fondness for The Killing Joke, the classic story by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. At one point Joker even refers to the church they’re in as the “Moore Cathedral” on “Bolland Ave.” For those of you who’ve read it, think about that final scene where Batman extends that olive branch to the Joker, and the Joker simply and quietly responds. For just a few precious moments, he’s not a monster anymore. Then he goes into a joke, and brings himself back into character.

Now…what if he’d been like that for a huge chunk of the story? Or the entire story? Not in the flashback scenes, mind you. The ones in the present day. Takes a lotta the punch out of the story, doesn’t it?

3. The Moment of Truth
Artistically, Batman #50, the wedding issue, is a beautiful tribute to the dynamic these two characters have shared for nearly eight decades. There are splash pages, pin-ups essentially, by the likes of Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Tim Sale, Jim Lee, among numerous others. You can argue work like that is worth the $16.99 on its own. Meanwhile, we’ve got Janin back for the story proper.

While I think this Batman run has soured a lot of people’s perceptions of Tom King following his stellar run on Vision, he’s on his A-game for this issue. As he damn well should be. There’s an absolutely beautiful one-page scene between Bruce and Alfred. Depending on how invested you are in them and their surrogate father/son dynamic, it may even move you to tears.

The ending of this issue, i.e. the outcome of the wedding, had a lot of people crying foul. I’m not going to get into spoilers, but it’s been over a year since the issue was published. So I feel comfortable enough saying fans thought DC didn’t deliver on what they’d promised.

But let’s be honest: These are mainstream superhero comics, where marriages either get retconned out of existence, or are mystically evaporated via deals with Mephisto. At best, there was only a 50/50 chance they were going through with the wedding anyway. Plus, it’s not like they had the Joker, or God forbid Kite-Man, come in and break up the ceremony. They tied it into what had already been established in the 49 issues prior, and the big theme of Bruce and happiness. Was the final outcome predictable? Absolutely. Even a little bit of an eye-roller. But it works. Especially with the benefit of hindsight.

When discussing a potential marriage between Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer, DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio once famously said in 2013…

“Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. … They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand with our characters.”

DC would ultimately scale back on that philosophy. For instance, they re-established the marriage between Superman and Lois Lane. But I think fans who were in the know about DiDio’s remarks saw this ending as a step backward.

I think that’s an understandable sentiment, but perhaps a bit premature. As of this writing, Tom King has one issue of Batman left, which happens to be an extra-sized 48-pager. Then he’s got a 12-issue Batman/Catwoman maxi-series coming in 2020. So he’s clearly not done with them yet. I’m not saying I expect anything in particular to happen. I’m just keeping an open mind as we move ahead.

4. I Now Pronounce You…
Batman: The Wedding is a red letter moment in the history of two iconic characters. For that alone, it’s worth a read. And for all the blunders King has made during his Batman run, he got the wedding itself right. Mikel Janin’s art continues to amaze, standing tall on its own even with additions from iconic Batman artists. And hey, if train wrecks are your thing, you’ll definitely want to check out “The Gift.”

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, and Bride or Burglar?.

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Alex Ross Spotlight: Why is the Joker So Skinny?

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

A friend of mine recently introduced me to Quora, which is a fun little way to kill time.

I recently came across the simple question of, “Why is the Joker so skinny?” No doubt, it was inspired by how Joaquin Phoenix’s body looked in Joker.

But it certainly didn’t start there. More often than not, the Joker we see in the comics is drawn as a skinny dude. In that sense, if not many others, Joker followed its source material.

I’ve previously mentioned what I refer to as the Alex Ross Theory of the Joker. I base it on a quote I plucked from Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross. On the very same page as that quote comes this bit of insight into Ross’ take on the character, which he tries to keep somewhat consistent with the original Bob Kane/Jerry Robinson version (shown below).

“…he didn’t start off in the comics as this stick-thin anorexic guy – I wanted to give him the appearance of being long and lean, but also physically powerful, not underweight. He was originally based on Conrad Veidt in the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs, and that’s what I’m seeing to capture – the true face of Joker.”

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Panels of Awesomeness: Joker in the Court

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: The following contains a spoiler for Batman: The Long Halloween. If you haven’t read it, run (do not walk) and do so right this minute.***

THE ISSUE: Batman: Dark Victory #7

CREATORS: Jeph Loeb (Author), Tim Sale (Artist), Gregory Wright (Colors) Heroic Age (Colors), Richard Starkings (Letters)

RELEASED: June 2000

THE SCENE: In an underground “courtroom” setting, Batman’s enemies try to ascertain the identity of the “Hangman” killer. The Calendar Man takes the stand as Two-Face prosecutes.

WHY IT’S AWESOME: After recommending The Long Halloween to a friend, I recently took the time to re-read the pivotal entry into the Batman mythos, along with its sequel, Dark Victory. While Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s work might be my favorite take on Batman and his world, I came away realizing Dark Victory wasn’t quite as good as I remembered. While it’s nowhere near bad, and it’s still great to be in that Loeb/Sale world again, it’s a sequel that doesn’t live up to the original.

Odd as it may seem, this page is my favorite in the entire book. Specifically because of that last panel, in which the Joker lets out a tiny “Ha.”

In the scene, Julian Day, a.k.a. the Calendar Man is about to reveal the true identity of the Holiday killer from The Long Halloween, whom the world believes to be Alberto Falcone. But Day knows the truth. And without spoiling too much from the book, Harvey Dent has a very personal investment in the truth not getting out. So he pulls a gun on the Calendar Man before he can get out a name. Then the Joker laughs.

I’m not sure if Julian Day knew the truth or not. Hell, even Batman never knew. But to me, that one little word bubble with those two little letters reveal one hell of an untouched detail: The Joker knows. I don’t know how he knows, but I suspect it may have something to do with his appearance in Harvey and Gilda Dent’s new home in The Long Halloween. It would certainly explain the way he behaves toward Two-Face in Dark Victory.

I also love the way this panel is colored. The ultimate evil standing off in the shadows. Laughing. Because he knows your dark and dirty little secret. Most likely because part of that awful, unthinkable evil that resides in him, now resides in you too.

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Epic Covers: “Vote For Me, Or I’ll Kill You!”

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This was a lot funnier when it was first published back in 2005. Nowadays, “Vote For Me or I’ll Kill You” sounds like an actual political slogan…

Batman: Dark Detective was a miniseries that reunited author Steve Englehart with artists Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin. They’re synonymous with some classic Batman stories from the ’70s, including “The Laughing Fish” and “Sign of the Joker.” They’re collected in a trade called Strange Apparitions, which has a special place on my bookshelf.

Though oddly enough, I can’t seem to locate Dark Detective among my back issues. Not that it was a landmark series, but it was definitely fun to see this team tell a Batman story in a modern context. If nothing else, I want to make sure this cover is in my collection. It’s a great addition to the legacy these men have.

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Astonishing Art: Pop Culture Evolutions by Jeff Victor

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

As I’ve said before, I’m not normally into cutesy stuff. But Jeff Victor’s “Evolutions” series grabbed me.

Actually, cutesy is the wrong word. Cartoony would be a more accurate description. But the first work of Victor’s I saw was his “Pop Culture Evolutions” tribute to Leonardo of the TMNT. That one definitely has a cuteness to it, right?

It’s always fun to look back at the different variations of characters. Different looks, different incarnations over time, etc. Usually the longer they’ve been around, the more interesting it is. The Ninja Turtles are a great example, obviously. But you’ve also got characters like the Joker and Wonder Woman, movie monsters like the Xenomorphs, etc. Sometimes it’s even more fun with actors, and the wide array of personalities they’ve had to inhabit during their careers. Musicians have to evolve too. Few have evolved like Michael Jackson, of course…

Either way, Victor’s art is a lot of fun. He also does a lot beyond the Pop Culture Evolutions series. I’d definitely recommend checking out his official site, as well as his Instagram and Facebook pages.

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Epic Covers: Doomsday Clock #5

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

ARTISTS: Gary Frank, Brad Anderson

THE ISSUE: As Watchmen characters continue to make an impact in the DC Universe, the Joker enters the picture.

WHY IT’S EPIC: So I have this thing that I call the “Alex Ross Theory of the Joker.” I pulled it from a passage in Mythology: The Art of Alex Ross. It’s his take on the Joker’s appearance, and what that famous chemical bath actually did to him physically. It goes like this…

“In my mind it wouldn’t have given him green hair and red lips – the chemical bath would only have turned his skin white. He adds the rest himself to complete the picture. There’s a panel at the end of Batman #1 in which the Joker is stabbed and we see that his chest is white. I never forgot that – The realization that his whole body was white. Eerie.”

You don’t see this idea represented much in the canonical DC Universe. That’s because DC relies so heavily on The Killing Joke, in which the Joker emerges from the chemicals with the green hair and red lips. But the Ross idea makes sense, all things considered. It lines up nicely with the theatricality that’s built in to the Joker character.

That’s why it’s so cool to see Gary Frank and Brad Anderson go that route with this variant for Doomsday Clock #5. Frank doesn’t get to draw Joker very often. But when he does, it’s a treat. Look at the wild insanity we see in those eyes. We see him inside the issue as well. But this right here is the coup de grace.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

Micro-Reviews: Doomsday Clock, The Man of Steel, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I’m Rob, and these are the comics I spent my hard-earned money on last week…

Doomsday Clock #5
This sucker is dense. It’s all drawn that Dave Gibbons nine-panel grid, and Geoff Johns wasn’t afraid to really pack in the dialogue. But in spite of that, it doesn’t feel like much happens here. There’s some cool progression in the Johnny Thunder story, some really nice world-building. But other than that, this issue felt “meh” compared to its predecessors.

On the plus side, expect to see this issue in a future installment of Epic Covers.

The Man of Steel #1
Brian Michael Bendis’ first full issue with Superman didn’t blow me away. But it’s got my attention. I’m more interested in how Bendis’ characterization of Superman than the actual story he’s telling. So far, so good.

Saga #52
There’s a bit of narration in this issue that really hit home for me. In Saga, Hazel is a young child. But  she’s telling the story in past tense as an adult. As young Hazel is being promised something by her mother, the narration reads: “It’s difficult for children to accept that their parents aren’t gods, just regular people. And regular people will always disappoint you.”

Though it comes from a world of fantasy, that statement has more truth than anything I’ve read in quite awhile. Bravo, Brian K. Vaughan.

Batman: Prelude to the Wedding #1 – Robin vs. Ra’s al Ghul
I don’t have a hell of a lot of interest in these Prelude to the Wedding issues. But the premise of issue #2, Nightwing vs. Hush, sold me on the entire thing. Batman: Hush was the story that got me into picking up comics on a weekly basis. So I’ve got a soft spot for Tommy Elliot.

As for the issue itself, the interactions between Damian and Selina Kyle are strong. I’m very curious to see how that relationship develops over time.

Pestilence: A Story of Satan #1
I mean, c’mon. With a subtitle like A Story of Satan, how can you not take a look? I’m not normally drawn to stories set in medieval times. But the premise, and the fact that it’s published by AfterShock was enough to sell me on the first issue. As it turns out, they also sold me on the second one.

Justice League: No Justice #4
I wasn’t big on how this story ended. This whole issue felt a bit rushed. But it got us where we needed to go. The League is back in action, with Martian Manhunter back on the roster. I’m stoked for Justice League #1.

Babyteeth #5
I’m still working on catching up with Babyteeth. This issue didn’t move the world for me. But I’ll be back for issue #6.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

A Batman: The War of Jokes and Riddles Review – Or So We’re Told…

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Mikel Janin, Clay Mann
COLLECTS: Batman #2532
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASED: December 13, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The War of Jokes and Riddles is not what I expected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But you come into it anticipating a big, bloody, multi-layered brawl between comic book supervillains. What we get is more character-driven. I almost always prefer something like that to a story that’s simply about people punching each other. But the vibe we got going into this was that it was akin to a big summer blockbuster. There’s a lot more to The War of Jokes and Riddles. While you’ll get some really great stuff, it’s not a hotbed of fighting and explosions.

In the early days of Batman’s career, the unthinkable happens. After losing to Batman so many times, the Joker no longer finds the world funny. Recognizing a similar problem in himself, the Riddler proposes an alliance to kill the Dark Knight once and for all. When the Joker gives him a violent rejection, all out war breaks out. Both the Joker and the Riddler recruit different villains to their side, with Gotham City as their battle field. The winner earns the right to kill Batman. How can our hero stop a war that’s being fought over him? And what happens to the city caught in the crossfire?

I like Joker and Riddler as rivals. They both have mischievous and playful sort of motifs. So it makes sense they’d want to outdo each other. Factor in each one having their own faction of villains, and the scope of this story becomes huge. They could very well have done a bunch of tie-in issues where the different characters fight each other. Scarecrow vs. Mad Hatter, Solomon Grundy vs. Killer Croc, Two-Face vs, Scarface, etc. Given how people gobble up Batman stuff, you’d think that would have been an easy cash-in.

Instead, we stay in the pages of Batman. That approach has it’s advantages, of course. But as a result, what feels like a very expansive story winds up being confined. Much is left to exposition. We gloss over the whole recruitment process, and why certain characters choose Joker or Riddler’s side. We don’t see most of the big battles. We’re told what territory each side has. While there’s something to be said for not getting bogged down in too many details, it seems like half the fun of a story like this is watching all the characters butt heads. That’s a giant missed opportunity.

We do, however, see Deathstroke vs. Deadshot. Sort of. In theory, it’s a hell of a fight. But even that fails to deliver, as it’s jammed so tightly into the second half of issue #28. What’s more, the fight stretches logic pretty thin even by comic book standards. The two initially try to snipe each other, but on their first and only shots, their bullets collide. They then proceed to fight for five days, killing 62 people in the process. I get the artistic advantage of leaving it to the reader’s imagination. But they could have dedicated an entire story to Deathstroke vs. Deadshot. This fight could be an event comic on its own. So to be told about it instead of seeing it is frustrating.

On the plus side, almost everybody looks great. Mikel Janin gives us an almost twisted blend of realism and caricature. His Joker, for instance, has a pointed nose and in this story sports an exaggerated frown. But the art is so detailed and the colors so gorgeously rendered that it evokes real life. It’s often fascinating to look at, especially because his Joker seems heavily influenced by Brian Bolland’s work on The Killing Joke. The one character hurt by this approach is the Riddler, who inexplicably looks like John Cena.

Author Tom King frames The War of Jokes and Riddles around Bruce Wayne’s present-day marriage proposal to Selina Kyle. He tells her this story, as he apparently did something horrible during the war that could effect her decision to marry him. The reveal is a good one and makes sense.

But there’s also a larger issue that the story touches on, but doesn’t bring any resolution to. There’s an argument to be made that the real villain in all of this is Batman himself. These two groups of insane people are waging war over HIM. While they’re fighting to decide who gets to kill him, dozens of innocent people are being killed simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In telling Selina this story, he’s trying to get absolution for something horrible he supposedly did. But it seems like he should want forgiveness for his part in all this. Although to be fair, the King does touch on something like that in the final scene…

Bruce also makes every effort to bring the violence to a halt, including the bizarrely entertaining dinner sequence that makes up the entirety of issue #29. Bruce Wayne invites virtually his entire rogues gallery into his home for a big, fancy, multi-course meal. The idea is for Bruce to servers a mediator and bring things to a resolution. The visual spectacle of seeing all these comic book supervillains together in a normal environment is almost worth the cover price on its own. It reminds me of one of the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale Batman books. But then we dive deeper with both Joker and Riddler. How they’d kill Batman, and what they think of each other. You’ve also got the internalization of Bruce as he sits between them and listens to it all, silently and subtlety trying to maneuver Gotham out of harm’s way. At face value, the whole thing is almost absurd. But once you dive into it, it becomes one of the most delightful Batman character studies of the last decade.

Janin is also on fire in this issue. He has to draw three characters in the same position for several pages. But despite having to draw several consecutive panels of, for instance, the Joker sitting in a chair eating dinner (shown below), there’s almost no panel duplication. There’s a natural flow to it. You believe their body language. It’s beautiful.

Stuck in the middle of all this is D-list villain Kite Man. He becomes the unlikely focus for two interlude issues drawn by Clay Mann. As he plays a role in the finale, it’s called for. It also doubles as an origin story. King tries to set him up as a relatable, down on his luck father who has fallen in with a horrible crowd and pays the ultimate price. I like how King incorporates him toward the end. But I’m not sure we needed two full issues dedicated to Kite Man. Issue #27 gives us all we need, so issue #30 feels mostly like filler. King also attempts to create the catchphrase: “Kite Man. Hell yeah.” Doesn’t work.

The War of Jokes and Riddles wound up being a mixed bag. We didn’t get a war as much as we got moments from a war. The beginning, the end, and the important moments in between. That doesn’t fill all of our dramatic needs in terms of this being a big, violent, bloody fight between crazy people. At one point we see a  bunch of pictures of people who’ve died. But we don’t see where or how they died. There’s a frustrating gap there which leaves you wanting more than the book delivers.

On the flip side, this is some of the best work Mikel Janin has ever done. The War of Jokes and Riddles should absolutely be turned into one of those oversized hardcovers DC puts out. It deserves to be admired for years to come. Tom King also gives us his best character work yet. He illustrates a tremendous understanding of how Batman, the Joker, and the Riddler think. So when he puts them together it feels very genuine. It’s the same kind of magic that made The Vision work so well.

King does have the magic in him, doesn’t he? It’s just a question of how often we see it.

For more of Tom King’s Batman, check out Vol. 1: I Am Bane, Vol. 2: I Am Suicide, Vol. 3: I Am Bane, and Batman/The Flash: The Button

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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