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 Batgirl #21 Review – “She’s a Fan of Murder”

Batgirl #21 (2013), cover by Alex GarnerTITLE: Batgirl #21
AUTHOR: Gail Simone
PENCILLER: Fernando Pasarin. Cover by Alex Garner.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: June 12, 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So…were the Batman baddies always slasher flick characters, and I just didn’t notice? You’d think after all these years reading comics, I’d have picked up on it. Granted, most of them have always been crazy. But while most of them weren’t necessarily opposed to killing, it wasn’t their trademark the way it was for, say, the Joker.

With Death of the Family, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo gave the Joker a very Leatherface-type look. Of course, that came courtesy of the Dollmaker from Detective Comics, who had an obsession with wearing other people’s skin. If you’ve been following Gregg Hurwitz’s work on Batman: The Dark Knight, you know he’s taken the Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter to some really twisted, scary places. Some of it works really well, and some of it falls flat. Obviously Batman’s nature as a “dark” character lends him to stories like this. But honestly, I’ve had my fill of that kind of thing for now. Or at least the high volume of it we’ve had lately. That’s probably why I’m so sour on Batgirl #21.

Batgirl #21, Fernando PasarinThis issue sees Barbara take on the New 52 version of the Ventriloquist. The character was originally created as a middle-aged man who carried a gangster puppet named Scarface, who was the “brains” of the operation. The puppet we see here, Ferdie, was obviously inspired by the Jigsaw character from the Saw movies. And the Ventriloquist, now an 18-year-old reality TV reject named Shauna Blazer, is very much a play off of horror flicks we’ve seen in the last 10 years. She dresses in white, has long dark hair and pasty skin. Think The Ring, The Grudge, that kind of stuff. She can throw her voice and mimic others effectively enough that it confuses her enemies, and she apparently has telekinetic powers, which means she can control Ferdie from a distance.

The climactic fight takes place in a dark, dirty, run down home, which stinks of rotten meat. There are two corpses sitting at a table, which Blazer proceeds to control using her telekinesis. There’s a decent amount of blood here, as Barbara gets stabbed by a drill protruding from the puppet’s hand. The corpses also wind up dismantled, which in turn causes our hero to vomit…icky.

These aren’t bad ideas, per se. But the tone it’s done it is has been so overdone lately it’s a turn off. You know what I miss right about now? The Greg Rucka/Ed Brubaker style Batman stories, i.e. content which wasn’t afraid to be bloody when the story called for it, but in the end focused more on on the crime drama elements. Heck, what about what Gail Simone used to do with Birds of Prey? The whole thrilling adventure elements mixed with the camaraderie and banter between characters? Can’t we do a book like that? If we’re going to have all these Bat books, can’t we diversify them a little bit? Does everything have to be a horror story?

Batgirl #21, Fernando Pasarin, interiorIn terms of what Simone is doing with Barbara’s character here, I’m in better spirits. After what happened with her brother a couple of issues ago, it makes sense for her to undergo a bit of a crisis of conscience. Not even in terms of giving up her crime fighting career, but of being worthy to wear the Bat symbol. I think that’s a cool idea.

In contrast, Simone will occasionally give Babs a downright brutal line that taints the whole issue. During Death of the Family, it was “You make be believe there is a Satan, Joker.” In this issue, when Batgirl sees a collection of newspaper clippings on Shauna’s wall which deal with homicides, we get: “She…she’s a fan of murder.” Sorry Gail, but…*gag*.

In all fairness, when judged on its own merits, Batgirl #21 really isn’t that bad. Yes, that one line was a face-palmer. But it’s only when you start looking at it next to the other Bat books that the real problems arise. Ferndando Pasarin’s pencils look great, and there’s still no one else I’d rather have writing this book than Gail Simone. But I’m still holding out hope that this book will one day be as fun as her work on Birds of Prey was. But I suppose the longer we wait, the less likely it is…

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