A Batman: I Am Suicide Review – Love and Suicide

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 2: I Am Suicide
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads
COLLECTS: Batman #915
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: April 12, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Tom King is a great writer. Read his work on The Vision and tell me different. I dare you. But is he a great Batman writer? That’s not an easy question. I Am Gotham was a mixed bag, as is a large portion of I Am Suicide. 

Then we get to issues #14 and #15, and King delivers one of the best Batman/Catwoman stories I’ve ever read. But was that a simple flash in the pan? The culmination of a well-crafted story? Something in between?

Claire Clover, a.k.a. Gotham Girl, remains perpetually terrified thanks to the Psycho-Pirate’s ability to control his victims’ emotions. But he’s been taken to the island of Santa Prisca, inside one of the most savage and inescapable prisons on the planet. To infiltrate its walls, Batman and Amanda Waller assemble a makeshift Suicide Squad. Among its members is Catwoman, who stands accused of murdering 237 people. But murder may become a common theme here, as the Psycho-Pirate is under the protection of a man who spent his unthinkable childhood years in that prison, Bane.

At it’s core, this book is about Batman and Catwoman. Bruce and Selina. One of the most intriguing romances in all of popular culture. A fairy tale romance in many ways. But King puts his own spin on it, and looks at it in a way that’s almost psychoanalytic. Letters the two have sent each other serve as the narrative backdrop for issues #10 and #12. We learn that their relationship is largely about the pain they both feel, how it brings them together, and how when they kiss it briefly goes away. I like that. It’s as if it’s an unspoken truth that’s been there the whole time, and we’re just now seeing it. That’s what so many great writers do with these characters.

I’m less a fan of what King does with Bruce’s famous childhood vow to wage war on crime. In issue #12, Bruce reveals that he almost slit his wrists at age 10, before a moment of clarity showed him his true purpose. He then makes the solemn promise that would take him down the road to becoming Batman. Bruce calls his crusade “the choice of a boy. The choice to die. I am Batman. I am suicide.” We read those words as Batman literally fights off an army of gun-wielding prison guards.

I get what King is going for. I understand the unbearable pain of loss leading to a hero’s self-sacrifice. What I’m less enthralled with is the on-the-nose nature of the wrist cutting. The scene doesn’t need that.

Bruce starts that letter talking about the inherent humor in a grown man dressing up like a bat to “punch crime in the face.” It’s very Joker-ish. We even get what may be a vague reference to Mr. J. with the line: “All of them can laugh. Mother. Father. Him. The whole world.” He brings it around to something more serious, of course. But this dialogue speaks nicely to the yin-yang dynamic between Batman and the Joker, whether King mean it that way or not.

King caps the Batman/Catwoman stuff of in an amazing fashion with the “Rooftops” story in issues #14 and #15. I’ve covered those issues in-depth, but it’s worth repeating: “Rooftops” belongs among the greatest Catwoman stories ever told. Mitch Gerads handles the pencils, inks, and colors, bathing the characters in a gorgeous moonlight. What’s more, some of the expressions he gives Selina are just perfect. Throughout the book, King also has the characters call each other “Bat” and “Cat.” That’s a great little touch.

I credit Scott Snyder with doing a lot of justice to the Riddler during his Batman run. He gave the character his balls back. King begins that same process with Bane here, casting him as something of a mad and savage king. A king who, for some odd reason, has to be naked at all times. While things don’t really pick up in this respect until we get to subsequent issues, but this is where we see flashes of early ’90s Knightfall Bane. He’s not just a monster. He’s feared. He’s respected. He’s merciless. He even breaks Batman’s back again and leaves him to drown…

That last one might have been a little more effective if our hero hadn’t simply given himself an extreme chiropractic adjustment and fixed everything. I’ve heard of comic book science, but that right there is comic book medical science. Now if only he’d known that trick in the ’90s.

Also on Batman’s team is Arnold Wesker, a.k.a. the Ventriloquist. They build up his role significantly, and the payoff involves the character being able to subvert the Psycho-Pirate’s powers by virtue of his multiple personality syndrome. Again, comic book medical science. Though I had less issues with that than seeing Wesker make his bare hand talk as if there were an invisible puppet on it (shown below). Comics are so weird.

The majority of the book is drawn and inked by Mikel Janin, and colored by June Chung. I’ve had issues in the past with Janin’s figures looking too static, but we don’t see much of that here. Static or not, Janin’s work is always interesting. His characters look and feel very real, but they have that little touch of superhero dynamism. Case in point, his Batman looks relatively natural and real. But he also gives him a distinct scowl that really walks that line of exaggeration.

Janin and Chung also create a tremendous mood for the prison. It’s suitably dark and dank. You can almost feel that cold, damp air on your skin. Less subtle is the throne of skulls that we see Bane sitting on. We’ve seen this prison before. But it’s never been quite as haunting as it is here.

Despite the greatness of “Rooftops,” I’m not quite ready to call Tom King a great Batman writer just yet. Some of his choices plucked me right out of the story. But he’s becoming a good Batman writer, and that’s better than a lot of people ever get. Perhaps he just needed some time to get comfortable in Gotham City. Either way, this is an improvement. I’ve been excited to pick Batman up again.

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A Batman #15 Review – “She Stole the Night.”

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

“I love you, Bat.”
“I love you, Cat.”

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

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

I mean, c’mon. COME ON.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Batman #14 Review – They Totally Had Sex!

Batman #14, 2017TITLE: Batman #14
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: Mitch Gerads. Cover by Stephanie Hans.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED:
January 4, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In 2011’s Catwoman #1 and #2, Judd Winick and Guillem March put together a scene where Batman and Catwoman have sex, complete with masks and costumes. We don’t see anything X-rated. But the climactic (no pun intended) page of issue #1 depicts what I think is supposed to be our heroes having achieved penetration. It was generally regarded as distasteful. An assessment I agree with.

In Batman #14, our heroes have sex again (shown below). Once again, I believe we see them achieve penetration. I’m generally not a fan of actually seeing superheroes have sex. Implication is usually fine. But actually showing us the act? No. There’s a trashy, niche porn element to it that I can’t shake. Let alone the fact that these characters also appear on lunch boxes and kids t-shirts.

But if for some reason you must show us Batman and Catwoman doing the nasty, this is how you do it.

batman #14, 2016, sex scene, Mitch GeradsSelina Kyle is about to go to face life in prison without parole for the murder of 237 people. (How/when did this happen, by the way? Is this something Tom King did for this story? I’m lost.) Batman is convinced she’s not guilty. But for whatever reason, Selina isn’t proclaiming her innocence. Now they have one last night together, and they’re spending it where they belong: The Gotham City rooftops.

So why is the sex in this issue different from what we saw in 2011? As much as I enjoy Judd Winick’s work, it was instantly clear that his scene was done for shock value. It was about the sex itself, rather than what the sex meant. Batman #13 is a romantic story that builds to the characters giving into their desires. As Selina puts it, it’s about what they want to do, as opposed to what they have to do.

While I still wouldn’t have actually shown us any of the act, this is actually my favorite Batman issue Tom King has done. I love stories that look at the Batman/Catwoman dynamic, and it’s satisfying to see these characters have a moment like this.

As we’ve frequently seen during King’s run, Batman and Catwoman call each other Bat and Cat. I like that. It adds a layer of familiarity, and almost intimacy to their relationship. It’s so simple that I’m surprised we haven’t seen it more often.

King also brings a bunch of C and D-list Batman villains along for the ride. The Clock King, Film Freak, Condiment King, and Kite Man are just a few of the names our heroes spend this special night with. An especially busy night, it would seem…

batman #14, Mitch Gerads, two-page spreadMitch Gerads handles the pencils, inks, and colors. Almost everything in this issue is bathed in cool blues, which sets the tone beautifully. When we get to the intimacy between Bruce and Selina, Gerads uses those blue tones to highlight some of the scarring on Bruce’s body. That’s an interesting touch.

Early on we get a gorgeous two-page spread of a starry night sky. It’s tremendously fitting, given the importance of this night, and Selina’s talk about it shining like a diamond. Gerads also does some lovely work with Selina’s facial expressions, whether it’s her excitement at being on the rooftops, or her sorrow at having to go away.

Tom King’s Batman run has been a mixed bag. But his intentions have obviously been good, especially when it comes to Batman and Catwoman. Sex notwithstanding, this is the issue where that’s the most plainly seen. As such, it’s his best.

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A Batman: I Am Gotham Review – What Did You Expect?

Batman, Vol. 1: I Am Gotham, coverTITLE: Batman, Vol. 1: I Am Gotham
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: David Finch, Ivan Reis
COLLECTS: Batman #16
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASE DATE:
January 11, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The announcement of Tom King taking over Batman was a big deal. At the time his phenomenal run on The Vision was still in progress, and the critics (myself included) were buzzing about him. In addition, he’d already worked on some of the Gotham City characters via his time on Grayson. So hopes were high for him. But coming off the commercially, and often critically acclaimed run that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo had just completed, expectations may have been even higher.

What King, David Finch, and this new Batman team give us is fine. At times it’s even good. But the waters are muddier than we’ve seen from previous Batman runs. We spend a little too much time hyping a future story and there’s a connection to the Suicide Squad that often feels forced. But if you’re patient, there’s some good character work in here, with both established characters and the ones we’re meeting for the first time.

I Am Gotham introduces us to the super-powered brother-sister duo of Gotham and Gotham Girl. Inspired by Batman, they make their debut saving the Dark Knight from a plane crash. Batman takes them under his wing, but soon learns they have demons that will result in blood being shed in Gotham City. All the while, sinister plans are in motion to spill even more blood…

Batman #2, Gotham, Gotham Girl, David FinchLike many of Batman’s supporting characters, allies and enemies alike, Gotham and Gotham Girl are almost skewed versions of Batman himself. After young Hank Clover and his parents are saved from a mugging in Crime Ally by Batman, he and his sister Claire become obsessed with bettering themselves so that they can help others. We later learn they’re connected to Amanda Waller, and she’s using the Hugo Strange and Psycho-Pirate to keep them under control. That connection works out fine, but it’s ultimately unnecessary. All we need is Psycho-Pirate, Hugo Strange, and Strange’s accomplice, who we learn about in the closing pages. So why have Waller in there at all? It’s obvious, isn’t it…?

Suicide Squad is a big priority at DC right now, and rightfully so. Case in point, the upcoming Justice League vs. Suicide Squad crossover. These issues started coming out in August, the same month the movie was released. So Waller was obviously dropped in here for that reason. It’s fine, but disappointing when you look at it from that angle. What’s more, DC is still pushing Suicide Squad via Batman, with the Dark Knight forming his own version of the team. The story is even called “I Am Suicide.” We get it, guys. We get it.

The story also starts hyping “Night of the Monster Men” far too early for my taste. That arc doesn’t start until issue #7. This book starts hyping it in issue #2. I’m all for long form storytelling. But not at the expense of your current story. It feels more like padding than anything else.

One of the themes I Am Gotham touches on is the nature of Gotham City, almost personifying it as a character in the story. What it is, what it does to people, etc. Snyder and Capullo also did that, with more success than King and Finch have here. But in all fairness, they had 50 issues. This team has six. So it pales in comparison. King also doesn’t say much of substance about the city. At least he hasn’t thus far in his Batman run. In the pages of I Am Gotham, the theme essentially goes no where.

Batman #1, 2016, David Finch, upside downI’ve been a critic of David Finch’s for awhile now, and I make no apologies for that. I think all his renderings of women look the same, and absolutely everything he does has that dark and gritty feel to it, even when dark and gritty isn’t what the story calls for. As such, he’s been put on a number of books in which his work often feels terribly mismatched. Wonder Woman and Justice League of America come to mind.

But that’s not to say Finch doesn’t have his place, and it’s on stories like this. The Gotham City he brings us, along with inkers Sandra Hope, Matt Banning, Scott Hanna, and colorist Jordie Bellaire is fittingly dark, illuminated by the glow of city lights and flames. Characters like Batman, Jim Gordon, and even Alfred, have a fittingly grizzled texture to them. He even pulls off a nice visual gag, as we get to see Alfred don the Batsuit.

I was justifiably concerned about how Finch would draw Gotham Girl. She’s basically a skinny blonde in a tennis skirt, after all. Thankfully, during the second half of the story when the masks comes off, Finch is much better at drawing Claire. Once we can see her eyes, Finch gives her a very nice vulnerability and we start to care about her.

Things get more expressive in issue #6 when Ivan Reis tags in on pencils. The issue largely focuses on Claire, and how she’s coping with the events of issue #5. It’s about how you’d expect, especially considering what she’s gone through with Psycho-Pirate. But facially, Reis conveys her emotional highs and lows very nicely. There’s a particularly great image of her toward the end of the issue, as she’s tucked into Batman’s chest. Guest colorist Marcelo Maiolo offers some nice consistency with Bellaire’s work, while still making the issue his own. As such, things are a little brighter. But we still see shades of Bellaire’s color palette. Most notably in the sky, and some of the city lights.

Batman #6, Ivan Reis, Gotham GirlOn its own, I Am Gotham is an okay read. But it’s clearly a first chapter. Based on subsequent issues of Batman, it’s tough to tell where the story is going. Considering the role she played in this book, one might think Gotham Girl would be center stage going forward. That’s not necessarily the case. She’s in “Night of the Monster Men.” But the story isn’t about her, per se. She serves as Batman’s motivation for the current “I Am Suicide” story, but that’s the only role she plays. Solicitations for upcoming issues have a lot of talk about Bane and Catwoman. Granted, the current issues with Mikel Janin are better than what we got here. But I get the sense that King is going for a natural progression, where the events of one story naturally flow into the next. Instead, this all feels somewhat disjointed. That’s disappointing. Thus far, King’s Batman run has been interesting. But coming off the hype and momentum that Snyder and Capullo’s run had, and especially when you consider what a masterpiece King’s run on The Vision was, this feels like a step down.

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A Review of The Vision #12 – Having Your Cake and Eating it Too

Vision #12 cover, 2016, Mike Del MundoTITLE: The Vision #12
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: Gabriel Hernandez Walta. Cover by Mike Del Mundo.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: October 26, 2016

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Hey, Tom King? Gabriel Hernandez Walta? Jordie Bellaire? Everybody involved with The Vision? Meet me in the second ‘graph, please…

Well done. Seriously. This series is a masterpiece. A perfect masterpiece? Maybe. That depends on a lot of things, not the least of which is the reader’s personal taste. But you’d have to do a lot to convince me this isn’t a master class in comic book storytelling, and a high point in the Vision’s near 50 year history.

(And yes, I stole a Jon Stewart bit. He’s not on TV right now. I miss him. Sue me.)

This final issue of The Vision sees our titular character finally face the reality of what his wife Virginia has done, and what his dream of having a family has become. We also get a look at how these events shape Vision, and what remains of that family, going forward.

vision-12-silentWhat has fueled this whole story has been Vision’s motivation to be human. As he flat out said to Scarlet Witch last issue, “I want to be like everyone else.” Therein is the underlying tragedy of this whole thing. He wants it so badly, but he can never truly have it.

That’s why there’s such a a morbid irony what Vision does when he finds out his wife has, for all intents and purposes, poisoned herself. He tells Virginia to use her powers to phase the substance out of her, and that he’ll use his status as an Avenger to correct the murder confession she gave to the authorities. He wants to reap the benefits of his family’s super powers, and his status as an Avenger to save this illusion of normalcy he’s created for himself.

He’s trying to have his cake and eat it too. That’s what he’s been trying to do this whole time. And of course, life doesn’t allow for that. But Virginia sacrifices herself to save Vision out of love for their family. And as we see in the flashbacks, she modified his memories to protect him. As tragic as it all is, it illustrates that Vision was able to create a loving family for himself, only to have it taken away from him.

I imagine this is part of the reason why this series has resonated so well with readers. These characters aren’t looking for something so firmly planted in the realm of fantasy, or even overtly selfish. They’re looking for love and acceptance, as well all are.

We see/hear Virginia’s confession to the police over the course of three pages, which Jordie Bellaire colors in a blaze of yellows, oranges, and reds (shown below). It’s a cool effect, though I’m happy we only see it for a limited time. It’s tough on the eyes after awhile. Bellaire may be the unsung hero of this book. The muted palette she’s used for this series has worked wonders.

vision-12-neon-gabriel-hernandez-waltaI had seen Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s work prior to The Vision. He did some fine work on Magneto, and I have a miniseries he did for IDW called The Suicide Forest. But The Vision made him a star. At least in my book. His rendering of the family is very human and familiar, but at the same time distinctly and hauntingly different. In this final issue, he’s at his strongest during Vision and Virginia’s final scene together. Some of it’s in the very subtle nuances of a facial expression. At other points its more blatant, i.e. the panel where we see tears on Vision’s face. It’s a scene that grabs you and doesn’t let go, even after you’ve closed the issue.

The lone element in this series that left me unsatisfied was the role Scarlet Witch played. In issue #7, we see that she incited all of this. Not just by giving Vision her brainwave patterns, but her relationship to Vision as a whole. I had hoped to see a bigger emotional pay off between Wanda and Vision. She has a scene with Viv in this issue, where we see there’s something of a motherly bond between the two. That’s another ball of wax entirely.

I have mixed feelings about Viv’s survival, and her continued appearances in books like Champions. Especially with Tom King not at Marvel anymore. What he, Walta, and this team created is so unique, with a vibe and tone unlike anything else at Marvel right now. I almost wish we could let this remain a crystalized masterpiece for awhile before thrusting Viv into the Marvel Universe at large.

But of course, that’s not how mainstream superhero comics work.  In the end, everyone at The Vision has done something few creators at DC and Marvel get to do. They opened a new door for storytelling that other creators can now walk through and explore. In the process, they added a new dimension to a long-standing, yet often under appreciated piece of the Marvel lore.

So I’ll say it again: Well done, folks. You made great comics.

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A Batman: Night of the Monster Men Review – Hollow Monsters

Batman #7, 2016, cover, Yanick PaquetteTITLE: “Batman: Night of the Monster Men”
AUTHORS: Steve Orlando, Tom King, Tim Seeley, James Tynion IV
PENCILLERS: Riley Rossmo, Roge Antonio, Andy MacDonald
COLLECTS: Batman #79Nightwing #78Detective Comics #941942
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
CUMULATIVE PRICE: $17.94
GRAPHIC NOVEL RELEASE: March 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This “Night of the Monster Men” crossover boasts an extremely talented group of writers and artists, stars Batman and some of his more popular allies, and is even inspired by one of the very first Batman stories. It also began a week after DC “killed” Tim Drake. So there was a lot of potential here for a creative, emotional, thrill ride.

Yeah, none of that happened. “Night of the Monster Men” feels like your wife dragging you to one of your friend’s weddings. It’s an obligation you’re stuck with, so you try to make the best of it. But in the end you’re just happy to get the hell out of there.

Running through BatmanNightwing, and Detective Comics, this story sees Hugo Strange create giant monsters that attack the city. Much of Batman’s surrogate family gets wrapped up in the chaos. But despite all the innocent lives that hang in the balance, Strange’s entire plot is about Batman himself.

Batman #1, Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters, 1940, Bob Kane and Bill FingerAll this Hugo Strange/Monster Men stuff is inspired by a story from 1940’s Batman #1 entitled “Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters.” It’s a respectable early outing for the Dark Knight by Bill Finger and Bob Kane in which Strange creates a bunch of big ogres to terrorize the city. Matt Wagner took the same cue for his 2006 miniseries Batman and the Monster Men, which was exponentially better.

“Night of the Monster Men” suffers from a variety of problems. But chief among them is a lack of emotional stakes. That’s an odd problem to have, considering what just happened with Tim, and how many of Batman’s surrogate family members are in this fight. In the first issue, Batman repeatedly emphasizes that no one else is dying. This gives the impression that we’re going to get an overprotective Batman, frantically trying to micromanage the efforts of his partners to keep them from dying. This would be futile, of course. But it would have made a great emotional backdrop. We also had the perfect cast for such a story, with Bruce having recently trusted Batwoman to train this new crop of young heroes. And of course, we’ve got his original partner, Dick Grayson. Hugo Strange’s motive also would have been more poignant.

Instead, we mostly get a story about Batman fighting monsters. Monsters created from cadavers, no less. We can’t even go the route of, “Don’t kill the monsters! They’re people!” Later, two of our heroes are turned into monsters, but they don’t mine this for much emotion either.

Granted, they’re cool looking monsters. “Night of the Monster Men” enlists Riley Rossmo and Andy MacDonald, both of whom excel in the fantasy/horror side of things. We also have they very capable Roge Antonio, who give us a nice blend of horror and naturalism. Instead of going the ogre route, the story mostly opts for a mix of mutant aberrations and giant kaiju type monsters. They’re fun to look at, but they’d be more fun if they were more than mere physical threats to our heroes Batman. There’s little of any depth or substance to them, and what the final issue attempts to pass as such via Strange’s motivation doesn’t connect in a meaningful way. (That monster represented fear? But weren’t we supposed to be afraid of all of them?)

Detective Comics #942, monster two-page spread, 2016So instead of a coherent crossover that ties into and takes advantage of Batman’s fragile emotional state, what we essentially get is a bunch of fluff that they attempt to tie together at the end with some psych mumbo jumbo. It’s all so hollow.

“Night of the Monster Men” also suffers from being a little too long, and a little too crowded. The story struggles to give Spoiler and Orphan something to do in all of this. Like Booster Gold in his Justice League Unlimited episode, they’re mostly relegated to crowd control. There’s a cave sequence (not that cave) involving Spoiler, Orphan, and Harvey Bullock that largely feels like padding. If they’d cut that out, along with the ridiculous scene where our heroes use giant guns and harpoons on top of buildings (conveniently adored with the heroes’ insignias) to stop a monster, they’d probably have been able to trim this down from six issues to four. Five at most.

Nightwing #8 and Detective Comics #942 also make full use of the “Hugo Strange dressed as Batman” trope, as we learn that Strange himself wants to be Batman. A fine motive, though not necessary in this case. “Night of the Monster Men” would have worked fine as Strange’s attempt to spotlight Batman’s inadequacies and force him to hang up the cowl, in the process pouring salt in the wound left by Tim’s departure. Perhaps the urge to use the only piece of classic Batman/Hugo Strange imagery was too intense. Admittedly, at that point I was just happy we were finally getting a scene between two human beings, as opposed to hollow monster battles.

batman-clayface-suit-detective-comicsOn the upside, this story makes fine use of Clayface’s new status as one of Batman’s allies. He plays a practical role at first, spreading himself out to guide people out of the city. He also plays an integral role in the finale. But his highlight here, and one of the highlights in “Monster Men” as a whole, comes in Batman #8. As the Dark Knight is about to face one of the monsters head on, Clayface envelops him, effectively becoming a suit of armor. Does technically this fall under the banner of giant awful Batman robots/armor? Absolutely. But the execution is unique enough that it gets a pass from me.

“Batman and the Monster Men” offers good showings from the artists attached, and a bright spot here or there. But by and large, this was a turn off and a waste. Nightwing and Detective Comics were both on a solid course up to this point, and things were starting to look up for Batman. Hopefully we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming in short order.

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A Review of The Vision #11 – The Burden of Being Different

vision #11, 2016TITLE: The Vision #11
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: Gabriel Hernandez Walta. Cover by Mike del Mundo.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: September 21, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As amazing as this series has been, and as much of a landmark as its been for the Vision, ending it next month is the right move. This story feels like it has a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Better they not try to forcibly extend it, especially now that Tom King is exclusive to DC.

With his son dead, Vision is over the edge. He’s set to kill his son’s murderer, and his own
“brother,” Victor Mancha. But Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, and a litany of other Marvel heroes are standing in his way. Now it’s one against many, as Vision fights for revenge. But he’s not the only one in the family out for blood…

The Vision has an appreciation for the character’s history that does tremendous things for this story’s depth. Case in point, the caption boxes in this issue take us back to Vision’s origin, plucking actual dialogue written by Roy Thomas in 1968. We’re reminded of how he came to be, and that ironically his original purpose was to kill the Avengers. We read Utrom’s first words to him, and later his first words to his wife Viv, reminding us he’s come full circle. King is working with Vision’s history, and using it to support his story. Writers don’t always take that route, and I credit King for doing his homework.

The Vision #11, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, cooperation

The series has been building to this fight with the heroes since issue #1, and it doesn’t disappoint. It gives our heroes a painful reminder: If the Vision goes bad, they’re in big trouble. He disposes of some of Marvel’s big guns with unsettling ease. It’s not epic or event-comic worthy, but Walta and colorist Jordie Bellaire give us something satisfying that still fits with the tone they’ve set. Also, seeing Bellaire color all these flamboyantly dressed heroes is a thrill, considering we’re used to seeing a more subdued  palette from this book.

There’s also a certain gritty texture to Walta’s art that accentuates the grim undercurrent in this series. It’s especially powerful in quiet scenes, like the one we see here with Virginia and Viv. There’s a heart-wrenching scene where the Vision family dog exits the series that’s almost too good. Human-on-animal violence is risky territory, even if the subjects in question are robots.

Another moment the series has built to is Vision’s reunion with Scarlet Witch. This felt like it should have been a fight. Vision tries to burn the world to the ground, and the only one standing in his way is the woman that inspired him to create a family in the first place. Instead, Wanda just says some stuff about understanding him, and how he won’t be able to come back from this. That’s all well and good. But that’s it? I’m hopeful this was just an appetizer, and a more physical confrontation will come next issue.

Though to his credit, Vision’s last words to Wanda in this scene are poignant, and even insightful: “I’m so sorry, Wanda. I do not think that you understand That you ever understood. I want to be like everyone else.”

Vision #11, 2016, Scarlet WitchOf all things, this reminds me of the talk show scene in Edward Scissorhands. Edward makes a comment about wanting to meet a corrective surgeon, and a pair of ladies in the audience can’t understand why he wouldn’t want to be “special” anymore. The whole “burden of being different” thing obviously works for this book.

King, Walta, and everyone on The Vision have done something great with this book. They’ve brought out the best in a B-list character, elevating him in the process. Just because it’s right to end it next month, doesn’t mean I”m glad to see it go…

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