Tag Archives: The Riddler

Astonishing Art: Batman ’66 by Kevin Maguire

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

If you’re a comic book fan and you don’t know the name Kevin Maguire, then shame on you. He’s one of the all-time greats, and draws some of the most expressive and flamboyant characters you’ll ever see. He’s perhaps best known for his work on the original Justice League International series, which ties in nicely with what we’re looking at today.

Maguire’s most famous work from JLI, if not his career overall, is the cover for the first issue. You’ve got all your heroes together looking out at the reader, with Guy Gardner drawing focus at the bottom center. Since the issue’s release in 1987, Maguire has done seemingly countless take-offs of this cover. If you see him at a convention, or simply Google him, you’ll see a bunch of different versions with a bunch of different characters. Not just DC characters, either. You’ll see Marvel characters, and even a print dedicated to the various incarnations of Doctor Who. It’s all amazing.

A few years ago, I had the chance to meet Mr. Maguire and purchase a print from him, which is still hanging in my office now. There were no shortage of choices. But this one caught my eye, and is the subject of today’s “Astonishing Art.”

(In the interest of full disclosure, the print I have actually has a white border with black text. But the image itself is the same.)

I picked this Batman ’66 piece not just because of my soft spot for the show, but because of how well Maguire captured the spirit of some of the characters. Look at Robin, for instance. He’s got that gloved fist tucked into his palm, as we so often saw Burt Ward do on-screen. Frank Gorshin’s Riddler looks delightfully manic as always. And then you’ve got Victor Buono’s King Tut, who’s every bit as animated here as he was on the show.

One thing I’ve always been curious about is why Egghead, the Vincent Price character, is the only character other than Batman making eye contact with the viewer. Why him?

And in the Guy Gardner spot? Who else could it be, but Batman himself? I love that pose too. Paired with Robin’s, it makes it seem like the whole group is about to break into a classic WHAP! BIFF! OOF! slugfest.

Man, I miss Adam West…

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

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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

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A Batman #25 Review – The Sad Clown

TITLE: Batman #25
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: Mikel Janin
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 21, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not going to follow up on the whole marriage proposal thing, huh? Alright, I guess that’s one way to do it…

To be fair, we do kinda/sorta get an answer. “The War of Jokes and Riddles” is framed as a story being told by Bruce Wayne to Selina Kyle about his early days of Batman. You’ve got to figure if she’d said no, they wouldn’t be in bed together like we see them here. So, congratulations?

For the Joker, the unthinkable has happened. The Clown Prince of Crime has found his life suddenly devoid of humor. He can’t bring himself to laugh, or even smile. Conversely, the Riddler now finds all puzzles and quandaries have no thrill or meaning. The common cause? Batman. The Riddler proposes an alliance, but Joker responds with a gunshot that will ignite a war to decide who gets to kill the Dark Knight. A war with all of Gotham City in the crosshairs.

The Joker and the Riddler have similar mischievous, game-ish motifs, and obviously they’re both completely off the mental reservation. So they make natural rivals, in terms of one trying to outdo the other. Until now, that idea hasn’t been explored much in their near 70-year history of coexistence. So to see it played up as a big event like this is really cool. What’s more, the solicits make it look like they’re looping in most of the other major Batman villains. Almost like a Long Halloween type ensemble story. They’re diving head-first into the rogues gallery on this one.

Mikel Janin is back on the pencil, and he’s channeling his inner Brian Bolland. His Joker has a Killing Joke vibe to him. Nothing overt. The way he draws Joker’s face. The black suit he’s wearing, which is reminiscent of the Red Hood sequence in that book. The fact that this is a pretty dark and moody issue adds in that respect as well.

Janin’s take on Edward Nygma is a little bulky for my taste. Look at the lower panels in the image at right. Facially, he looks a little like John Cena, doesn’t he? He’s also more physically dynamic than we’re used to seeing. Early in the issue we see a cop questioning him in Arkham. He eventually leaps up in the air and slashes the guy’s throat. It’s almost a Matrix move.

King also has Riddler just recite riddles to himself. They’ll loosely connect to the situation he’s in, which justifies them to an extent. But it’s a trait I can’t remember seeing before. Not sure how I feel about it…

Still, Janin and Tom King respect the Riddler, just as Scott Snyder did during his run. There’s a really nice sequence where the Riddler escapes prison simply by saying the names of all the guards’ daughters. Answers, information, those are his currency. His power lies in his ability to be cunning and clever. And for a bit of charm, he’s got the classic green bowler hat on during the whole thing.

We get back to back two-page spreads in this issue, each a wide shot of the Joker’s office. The Riddler in one (shown below), Mr. J in another. It conveys a pretty big moment. Our first meeting of the two sides before the fighting begins. They’re also beautiful pages, Janin’s inks and June Chung‘s colors aligning perfectly to show us a gorgeous night in Gotham City. Though I can’t help but wonder how much this artistic choice had to do with the added page count for this “anniversary” issue.

There is one thing Batman #25 leaves unclear, perhaps purposely. In the office scene, the Joker shoots the Riddler at near point-blank range. He seems to hit him right in the gut, and we see a pool of blood. Yet Nygma is able to get to his feet and stumble away. Is he wearing a protective gimmick around his waste? Is the Joker using rubber bullets for some reason? What gives? The war should be over right here!

Tom King had a rocky start on Batman. The series is still a little rocky these days. But when this team is on, they’re really on. There’s nothing in here that damns “The War of Jokes and Riddles” from the get-go. But I’m not chomping at the bit to get to the next issue either. As a single issue, Batman #26 is fine. But for now, the story is still in the “Wait and See” column.

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A Batman #51 Review – A Quiet Conclusion

Batman #51, 2016TITLE: Batman #51
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEAED: April 27, 2016

***Need to catch up? Check out issues #48, #49, and #50.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

While I haven’t been shy in my criticisms of the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo Batman run, I’ve always given them credit for thinking big. So it’s interesting that they took a quieter approach for their final issue. On the plus side, no giant robots!

When a mass blackout hits Gotham City, the Caped Crusader is tasked with not only keeping order, but finding out who it is that’s left his city in darkness. His quest will take him across the city, including Arkham Asylum, and the doorstep of the Court of Owls. But in the end, the circumstances aren’t at all what he expected.

Snyder opened Batman #1 with talk of a column in the Gotham Gazette called “Gotham is…” Readers are asked to complete that sentence, and various different answers come in. Snyder bookends this run by titling this issue “Gotham Is.” We even meet the column’s author. This approach is very fitting, as Snyder has been praised for making Gotham City itself a character in his work. This was true even in his run on Detective Comics. In a sense, Snyder’s best character work on this series has been with the city itself. He’s not the only modern Batman writer to do so, but no one has done it better than he has.

Batman #51, two-page spread, Greg Capullo

Snyder and Capullo have done a lot of justice to the Alfred character. He was fantastic in issue #49 (though Yanick Paquette was the artist on that one) because of the sheer raw emotion he showed. But in this issue we see the return of snarky, jokey Alfred. I think most would agree Batman shouldn’t be a jokey character, per se. But he’s known Alfred his whole life, so it makes sense that he’d be able to show his faithful butler/surrogate father another side of him. In this issue they joke a bit about Bruce’s “justice flavored” nutrient beverage, as well as the origin of Alfred’s new right hand. Throw in that awesome shot of the Batcave by Capullo, and you’ve got a hell of a kick off to your final issue.

Much like Batman’s connected contacts from issue #1 (which I hated), we get another new piece of technology in this issue: A holographic camouflage device for the Batmobile. This allows the car to patrol the streets looking like a civilian vehicle. I buy this a hell of a lot more than the damn contacts, and it makes a hell of a lot of sense for the Batmobile to have something like that. So I’m game.

In issue #1, we saw a big breakout inside Arkham Asylum that was ultimately foiled by Batman. Capullo drew a two-page spread of a group of Gotham rogues facing off against The Dark Knight. In this issue, the power outage causes a similar incident, and we get a similar two-page spread. The new one is superior if for no other reason than he fixed the damn Riddler. In 2011, Capullo drew a ridiculous Riddler with question marks shaved into his head. This new one looks like the Zero Year version, and looks suitably reluctant to fight Batman (see thumbnails below).

Batman #1, 2011, villains
Batman #51, villainsWe also get a quick appearance from The Joker in this issue. That was a nice nod to one of the better issues in the Snyder/Capullo run, as well as a reminder that he will be back sooner or later…

It was very fitting to see an appearance by the Court of Owls in this issue. Given time, and what other writers end up doing with them, I’d wager the Court of Owls will turn out to be a major part of Snyder and Capullo’s legacy on Batman and his world. Between the backstory, the look, and the creep factor, the Court of Owls have the potential to stand the test of time and be part of the DC Universe for years to come.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I thought the look of Flappy Face Joker was stupid, I hated most of Zero Hour, and I can’t stand this team’s weird fixation on giant robots. But Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and everyone who worked on this Batman run were part of something special. Not perfect, but special in its own way. This team carved out its own era on one of the longest-running comic books in the history of the medium. And they sold a lot of books in the process. That’s something they can be proud of and take with them for the rest of their lives. Comic book fans are in debt to them for taking such good care of one of our greatest heroes.

Image 1 from comicvine.com. Image 2 from ifanboy.com. Image 3 from weirdsciencedccomics.com. 

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A Batman: The Court of Owls Review – What a Hoot!

Batman: The Court of Owls coverTITLE: Batman, Vol. 1: The Court of Owls
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Greg Capullo
COLLECTS: Batman #1-7
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: May 9, 2012

By Rob Siebert

Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This book represents the start of a lot of new things. It’s the start of a new chapter in the Batman ongoing series. It’s the start of Scott Snyder’s run with Bruce Wayne, as opposed to Dick Grayson, who he worked with in books like The Black Mirror. It’s the start of Batman’s battle with the elusive Court of Owls. These are all good things. But as good as they are, and as much acclaim as Snyder and Capullo’s run has gotten from fans, it’s not spotless as far as I’m concerned. There are a few little things that put a damper on this story for me. Yes, I’m going to be that annoying, nitpicky fan here. But I nitpick because I love these characters and this world. That’s my excuse.

In one of our first outings with Batman and company in the “New 52″ universe, Bruce Wayne is looking to breathe some new life into Gotham’s more troubled territories with an aggressive rebuilding initiative. This attracts the attention of not only mayoral candidate Lincoln March, but the Court of Owls. Thought to be merely the stuff of Gotham folklore, the centuries-old Court makes their presence known with a grisly murder. To make matters much, MUCH worse, the DNA of none other than Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Nightwing, is found at the crime scene. Now Batman must unravel the mystery of the Court of Owls. Little does he know how the Court will push him to both his physical and psychological limits.

Batman #5 (2012), The Court of Owls, maze, eyeOne of the things that really impressed me about this book was the way Snyder and Capullo sold the Court of Owls to us by having them put Batman through the ringer. For most of the second half of this book, Batman is trapped in a big maze the Court has set up. He desperately fights to stay in the shadows, as much of the maze is coated in white light. He’s been drugged, so he keeps hallucinating that he’s transforming into an owl, among other mental atrocities. They also have one of his “lenses,” i.e. the little white slits that always make up his eyes, knocked out. So he’s got one slit, and one eye that’s really wide and bloodshot. That’s a great little touch. And of course, they beat the heck out of him. But it’s tough to remember a time when Batman was pushed to the brink on every level like that. The only other instance that immediately comes to mind is the Knightfall storyline during the early ’90s.

The Court of Owls are a nice addition to Batman’s iconic gallery of foes. The Talons, assassins that work for the Court, are designed quite nicely and prove to be tough opponents for even Batman to match up with. The fact that owls have that predatory connection to bats is also really cool.

Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Batman #4 (2012), Greg CapulloAlright, let’s get picky. I would argue that Capullo’s Dick Grayson looks much too young. Compare how he looks here to how Eddy Barrows is drawing him in the monthly Nightwing series right now. Under Barrows, Dick looks like he’s in his early to mid twenties. Under Capullo, he could still be in his late teens. I’m not sure how old the New 52 Nightwing is supposed to be, but I’m leaning toward Barrows’ side on this one. Nightwing has always been portrayed as the Robin who matured and grew into his own. I’m not sure Capullo captured that here, and he may have realized that as the issues progressed. Nightwing looks a tad older during the tail end of the book, and in recent issues of Batman.

The computerized contact lenses we see Bruce use in this book are incredibly corny. I understand Batman’s got more than his fair share of gadgets. But c’mon, really? He even uses them to read lips during the first issue. Because he’s smart enough to invent friggin’ computer contact lenses, but reading lips is just too far outside the realm of possibility.

c573This is a really small detail in the grand scheme of things, but when we open the book we see Batman facing off against the inmates of Arkham Asylum as they have him cornered. It’s a wonderful way to kick off this new chapter of Batman, but his renderings of the Joker, Two-Face, and particularly the Riddler rubbed me the wrong way. Mr. J. looks too scraggly and smeary for my taste, a bit too much like the Batman: Knight of Vengeance version of the character. Two-Face has a similar issue. In the very beginning of this book, there’s a two-page splash shot of Batman’s enemies staring him down (shown left). At in the front we see Two-Face, and the deformed skin on his right side literally appears to be falling off his head. I’ve never seen Two-Face look so…flappy.

But poor Riddler got the worst of it. That’s him on the far right side of the image. Not only does he have little question marks either shaved or tattooed into his head, but Capullo felt the need to give him a green mohawk shaped like a question mark (which you can clearly see on the cover). Hey Greg, here’s a riddle for ya: Why????

Relentless nitpicking aside, The Court of Owls is actually my favorite Batman story Scott Snyder has done so far. It introduces a cool new group of villains, and gives his a compelling glimpse into the mind of Bruce Wayne. I’m hopeful Snyder and Capullo can do better, but this is a fine start.

RATING: 7.5/10

Image 1 from comicsbulletin.com. Image 2 from 4thletter.net. Image 3 from author’s collection.

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