Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Batman, Vol. 7: The Wedding Deep-Dive Review – Who Invited the Damn Joker?!?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 7: 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?.

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

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Superman: Lois and Clark #1 Review – Super Dad

Superman: Lois and Clark #1TITLE: Superman: Lois and Clark #1
AUTHOR: Dan Jurgens
PENCILLER: Lee Weeks
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: October 14, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It would be unfair to say that Lois and Clark relies entirely on nostalgia to carry itself. But let’s be honest: For those of us who sting long for the pre-New 52 era, that’s a big factor. If you were first exposed to DC Comics in the ’80s, ’90s, or 2000s, this is your Superman. The post Crisis on Infinite Earths, pre-Flashpoint Superman. Not to mention Lois Lane, and their young son Jon.

After the events of Convergence, Clark, Lois, and baby Jonathan find themselves on the New 52 Earth mere hours before the events of Justice League: Origin. In a very different world, the family changes their last name to White and begins a life of relative anonymity. Lois begins publishing books under the name “Author X,” while Clark works as a farmer. Young Jonathan is oblivious of his parents’ old life. But with Clark unable to stay out of the game entirely, his son is starting to pick up on things.

Lois and Clark #1, Lee WeeksIt’s an interesting move, bringing these versions of Clark and Lois back. I read one reviewer say that DC is trying to “have its cake and eat it too” with this title. That’s a fair critique. After all, the “main” version of Superman has had his identity exposed to the world, is de-powered, and has never been in a relationship with Lois Lane. To bring the married versions of these characters back, existing in the same universe alongside their New 52 counterparts, might be considered a cheap move. It’s undeniably a ploy to bring back older readers. But even if it is a cheap ploy, it’s got the potential to be a pretty good one. This issue consists mostly of exposition and character re-introductions. But some compelling seeds are planted for future issues.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read Convergence: Superman (also by Dan Jurgens and Lee Weeks) yet, so the circumstances of Jonathan’s birth aren’t fully known to me. But there is one thing I’m confused about. Justice League: Origin took place “five years ago,” right? And that was in 2011, so we might be able to say that it was six years ago. In this issue, we see that Jon was a baby at that point. But according to the solicitation for this issue, Jon is nine years old. How does that work?

Superman, Lois and Clark #1, Lee WeeksRegardless, seeing pre-New 52 Clark and Lois again is awesome for a longtime fan like me, in the hands of renowned Superman scribe Dan Jurgens no less. There’s one moment in particular that hits you right in the feels. Jurgens and Weeks revisit the final moments of the Justice League’s battle with Darkseid in Origin. Then in the background, we zoom in on a familiar figure. Then we cut to a splash page of the Man of Steel himself watching from afar. For a longtime fan like me, this was a heart-warmer. I remember the initial awkwardness of the New 52. But these pages almost tell us: “Guess what? Superman, your Superman, was there all along.” It’s a hokey notion. But it made for the kind of feel-good moment that I suspect this series aims to provide.

Much of the issue consists of Clark and Lois awkwardly reciting exposition, via both dialogue and narration, the latter being done by Lois Lane. If it had just been Lois, that would have been fine. But there’s an obvious contrived nature to Clark saying lines like: “When we were first imprisoned on Telos, we didn’t know our Earth — our whole universe, was gone forever.”

A portion of the issue is devoted to Clark trying to prevent the space shuttle crash that turned Hank Henshaw into Cyborg Superman. This notion of Clark and Lois trying to alter events in this timeline to prevent certain tragedies that occurred in their timeline is interesting, and is certainly a goal worth revisiting in future issues. Though I suspect their interference it’ll wind up having more negative effects than positive.

Superman: Lois and Clark #1, Lee WeeksLee Weeks does some fantastic work in this issue. His work has a certain elegance to it that is very much befitting of this version of Superman. He’s also tremendous at conveying this Superman’s advanced wisdom and experience strictly via his art, without making the character look old, per se. Look at Clark’s face on the cover. It’s not just the beard and the glasses. It’s the eyes. It’s the line work on his face. I would argue once we get into the issue you can see it in his posture. Weeks has the opportunity to do some fantastic work here.

Also, can we please keep Tony Daniel away from this title? He did a variant cover for this issue, and it was everything we don’t want it to look like.

Lois and Clark is an interesting little experiment for DC. They brought their multiverse back in Convergence, and this is the first time since then that they’re making major use of it. A successful run for this book could pave the way for the return of other characters. Hell, in this very issue we saw that Parallax/Hal Jordan is out there in the multiverse somewhere…

Image 1 from dangermart.blogspot.com. Image 2 from comicsverse.com. Image 3 from adventuresinpoortaste.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Batman & Robin: Eternal #1 Review – The Burden of (Low) Expectations

Batman & Robin Eternal #1TITLE: Batman & Robin Eternal #1
AUTHORS: James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Tony Daniel
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: October 7, 2015

***Readers might want to check out Grayson #12, as it sets this issue up quite nicely.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going on record right now: If this book gets as tedious and stupid as Batman Eternal did, I’m out. For some ridiculous reason, I paid $156 for every issue of that series. And like every weekly series DC has put out that isn’t 52, it was a big waste of time and money. So if Batman & Robin Eternal goes off the rails, I won’t be sticking around to watch the awful blaze.

However, Batman & Robin Eternal may be better equipped for success. It’s only 26 issues, which means the creators hopefully won’t have to use as much fluff and filler as they did for its predecessor. Plus, a series with a cast of former Robins is an intriguing idea. The Robin legacy as a whole has been left so ambiguous in the New-52verse that spending some quality time with it would likely do it some good. This series will hopefully supply us with the sense of history we’ve sorely missed.

As an added bonus: This issue introduces Cassandra Cain into the New 52 continuity.

Cassandra Cain, Tony Daniel, Batman & Robin Eternal #1Playing off the events of Grayson #12, the rest of Dick’s surrogate family now knows he’s alive. This issue sees our favorite sexy super-spy help Red Hood and Red Robin catch a bad guy before returning to a familiar location on Spyral business. Then Dick is attacked by a group of well-dressed children with guns, as well as his Spyral partner, followed by a mysterious and lethal martial artist he doesn’t know. His assailant gives him a flash drive that leads him into a mystery in Batman’s past. Via recorded hologram, Bruce calls it his “greatest sin” and his “deepest regret.” The issue ends with a disturbing image which hints at what our mysterious villain, Mother, may be capable of.

Perhaps I’m reading into something that isn’t there, but this issue seems to hint that Dick, Jason, Tim, and others working with Batman was somehow preordained. As if somehow it was all part of a master plan connected to Mother. If that is what they’re going for, then I might as well tag out now. The notion that there was some sort of grand “Robin plan” in place, and that Dick and the others aren’t simply companions Bruce met during his journey, takes so much of the fun away from the Robin concept. The same goes for Batgirl. Bluebird, or whoever else Batman has taken under his proverbial wing. Can we please not make Robin into yet another stupid prophecy character?

Batman & Robin Eternal #1, Tony DanielApparently this series will also present us with the next chapter in Harper Row’s story. In this issue we see she’s capable of manipulating Jim Gordon’s Batman suit. A rivalry between those two could be interesting. But it’s more likely we’ll see why she’s “the key to everything they cannot know. And that is why you must die.” Uh oh, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Batman’s partners have a pretty bad mortality rate, even though they do all come back to life.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Tony Daniel and colorist Sandu Florea’s art since the New 52 began, but what we see here is mostly satisfactory. I imagine the scene between Dick, Jason, and Tim taking place in the glow of a big red light wasn’t an accident. The motorcycle chase scene with Dick, leading into the fight with Cassandra was very nicely done. We also have an assassin character called The Orphan who has a cool reveal.

Sadly, Daniel is already passing the artistic baton. For upcoming issues, the reigns will be passed between Paul Pelletier, Scot Eaton, Fernando Pasarin, among others. I suppose the best we can hope for are smooth transitions between the various pencillers.

I don’t have high hopes for Batman & Robin Eternal. But in truth, I’d almost be willing to endure another crappy weekly series if they worked in new costumes for the Red Hood and Red Robin. Take the Bat-Symbol off Jason’s chest, and just start from scratch on Tim’s costume. That thing’s been an eye sore since day one.

Image 1 from ign.com. Image 2 from flickeringmyth.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Convergence #1 Review – Mortal Kombat!!!

Convergence #1 coverTITLE: Convergence #1
AUTHORS: Jeff King, Scott Lobdell
PENCILLER: Carlo Pagulayan. Cover by Tony Daniel.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: April 8, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Convergence #1,***

So Convergence is basically Mortal Kombat with more characters. Like, a lot more characters.

As we learned in Convergence #0, Telos, who is apparently an apprentice of Brainiac, is pitting the heroes from his master’s various domed cities from across the DC multiverse against each other. The losers will see their realities perish, while the winners continue on. In the end, one city and it’s heroes will remain. A line in the issue literally describes it as: “A perverse tournament.” And as the chaos is starting to unfold, the issue actually ends with the words, “It has begun.”

Yup. Sounds like Mortal Kombat to me. Only the scope is larger, and there are more capes.

We open with the Injustice: Gods Among Us universe apparently suffering from the effects of Telos’ actions, in a scene that has a curious ending. Um, is this game supposed to have a sequel? Just wondering…

Convergence #1, page 2We then go to the Earth-2 cast, as they land on the same planet we saw New 52 Superman on last issue. Their world has apparently been destroyed, and they’re bickering. DC has apparently been building to Convergence with these characters for quite some time with the Earth-2: World’s End weekly series. I can only assume this scene is somewhat meaningful to readers who’ve been following that book. As someone who hasn’t, this scene falls a little flat. Still, the characters are themselves are intriguing. At the very least, readers with no Earth-2 knowledge get introduced to alternate versions of Superman, Batman, etc.

We get some decent action, followed by a big monologue from Telos, where he announces his plan to the various domes. Carlo Pagulayan does a nice job with the art here, and I like the hexagonal imagery that’s used to represent the domes. But what he’s saying comes off a little hokey. At one point he even drops names of specific stories…

“Some of you came to me at a time of infinite crisis. Others were brought here in the final moments of their zero hour. Whether it was a flashpoint for a time that never was – or of kingdoms that will never come…”

It’s truly amazing just how big a crisis this is for these infinite earths. We might see the death of Superman, or even a tombstone that says Batman: R.I.P. Also, Blackest Night. *barf*

Convergence #1, TelosOne thing I will commend Convergence for is the way it’s playing up Superman as the centerpiece to the DCU. The final page shows us a bunch of Supermen (Kingdom Come Superman, Red Son Superman, etc.) flying toward the reader. However, curiously absent from the issue at large is New 52 Superman. While I wasn’t a fan of how Convergence connected with Superman: Doomed, putting Superman at the center of issue #0 was a smart idea, because everybody knows who he is. Not following up with DC’s canonical Superman in this issue is an odd creative choice. Couldn’t we have cut a little bit so we could at least see a quick shot of him? Is the New 52verse even affected by what Telos is doing at this point? I’m confused…

The impression I have based on this issue is that Convergence proper is meant to be little more than the book that ties the various spin-offs together, and little more. This is mostly exposition, with very little substance. Carlos Pagulayan’s art is nice to look at. But in terms of characters we’re supposed to follow and root for, we’ve now jumped from New 52 Superman, to the Injustice characters, to the Earth-2 characters. It’s fine to have a story that spans multiple realities. But who’s guiding us through those realities? Tell me that, and you’ll have more of my attention.

Images from newsarama.com.

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