A Batman, Vol 11: The Fall and the Fallen Deep Dive – Too Much Canvas

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 11: The Fall and the Fallen
AUTHORS:
Tom King, Andy Kubert, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, Mairghread Scott, Steve Orlando, Tim Seeley
ARTISTS:
Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Amancay Nahuelpan, Carlos D’Anda, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith (Inker). Eduardo Risso, Patrick Gleason. Cover by Kubert.
COLORIST:
Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Luis Guerrero, Tomeu Morey, Dave Stewart, John Kalisz
LETTERER:
Clayton Cowles, Steve Wands, Andworld Design, Tom Workman, Tom Napolitano
COLLECTS:
Batman #7074, Batman: Secret Files #2
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE:
$24.99
RELEASED:
December 18, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

As a whole, City of Bane, which essentially starts here, is Tom King’s version of The Dark Knight Rises. Or if you want to go back further, the Knightfall storyline from the ’90s.

It’s also where the wheels come off King’s Batman run. I take no joy in saying that. But the proof is in the pudding, kids. So let’s dip our spoons in…

1. Daddy’s back.
The Fall and the Fallen is when we finally see Bane and Flashpoint Batman, a.k.a. Thomas Wayne from an alternate universe, team up to break our hero once and for all.

Yes friends, Thomas Wayne, one of Bruce Wayne’s parents, is here. You know about Bruce Wayne’s parents, right? They were murdered in front of their young son. It was that heinous act of violence that inspired Bruce’s vow to wage war on criminals for the rest of his life, and ultimately the creation of Batman. We saw these two come face-to-face in The Button, and it was a tremendously emotional experience for Bruce. One can only imagine what would go through his head if his father, even an alt-universe version, masterminded some kind of plot against him…

So tell me something: Why is Bane our big bad in this story? Why bring him into this when Bruce’s father shakes his son’s world to its core simply because he exists? Add the fact that this version of Thomas Wayne is his universe’s Batman, and Bane becomes redundant by comparison.

Batman #72 takes us back through the events of the series and outlines Bane’s plan, which all centers around the Bruce/Selina marriage. In the end, Thomas proposes a partnership.

But picture this, Thomas Wayne somehow survives the destruction of the Flashpoint universe and winds up in the DC Universe proper. He initially wants to seek out his “son,” but this alternate world intrigues him. So he opts to lay low, observe, and learn.

Remember, in The Button, Thomas pleaded with Bruce to stop being Batman and simply live his life. Devastated that Bruce hasn’t heeded his words, he decides he’s the only one that can stop his “son.” So he opts to do what must be done, by any means necessary.

In the end, it comes down to Batman against Batman. Father against son. It can be on the rooftops of Gotham, the Batcave, or anywhere really. All we need is the emotional impact of that showdown.

In the end, Catwoman shoots and kills Thomas in an act of desperation. Bruce then has to decide if he can forgive her or not. This would pay off the revelation from The War of Jokes and Riddles.

Not bad, huh? But no, instead we got another big fight with Bane. Yippee…

2. Father/Son Time
And what of what we actually get from father and son? They journey through the desert to get to a Lazarus Pit, occasionally stopping to fight members of Ra’s al Ghul’s personal guard. They take turns riding a horse, which is dragging a casket behind it. I won’t say who’s in it. But if you consider who we have in this scene and where they’re going it’s not too hard to figure out. There’s a really nice subtle reference to Batman: Knight of Vengeance, which is low key one of the best Batman stories of the last decade.

Old timey music has been a theme during Tom King’s run. In issue #73, he has Flashpoint Batman singing “Home, Home on the Range” to himself. Fun fact: It’s really weird to read that scene while playing Bing Crosby’s version of the song in the background…

Issue #74 is where things finally boil over between our Batmen. Thomas’ motivation, as always, is to get Bruce to surrender his life as Batman and live a normal life. That’s a hell of a premise for an issue. The trouble is, King spends far too much time harping on a story about a bedtime story Thomas told Bruce as a child about a bunch of animals eating each other in a pit. If I’m not mistaken, it’s an actual story written by Alexander Afanasyev, who’s widely considered to be the Russian counterpart to the Brothers Grimm. Father and son talk about the horror of it all, and why Bruce supposedly liked the story. They eventually get to the real meat of their conflict. But by the time they do, you feel frustrated because they’ve spent so much time talking about that damn story. Even during their inevitable battle in the pit, King uses the story as a narrative backdrop.

And all the while, I can’t help but think…Thomas Wayne, Batman’s dad, is standing right there. And this was the best they could do?

3. Dump the Duster
Okay DC, we get it. Batman v Superman was a thing. You guys liked the image of Batman in a duster and goggles, so you decided to use it. Fair enough.

But these issues came out in 2019. The movie came out in 2017. There was no need whatsoever to put the Flashpoint Batman in a duster and goggles just like the ones his “son” happened to wear several issues earlier in The Rules of Engagement.

If it looked cool, that would be one thing. But it doesn’t. Plus, it’s impractical and redundant even by superhero standards, and therefore silly.

What’s done is done. But let’s make this right. If you want to have Batman wearing his costume in the desert, that’s fine. Heck, if you want to have Bruce Wayne wear a duster and goggles, that’s fine. But you can’t have Batman wearing his costume in the desert with a duster and goggles. The two ideas are mutually exclusive. That’s got to be a rule in writing Batman from now on.

4. Batman Gone Batty?
Issues #70 and #71 focus on a needless, and at times silly plot point about people thinking Batman is losing it, and Jim Gordon severing ties with him.

When we open the book, our Caped Crusader is punching his way through Arkham Asylum, facing off with most of the supervillains you’d expect to see. It’s a great opportunity for Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes to draw virtually all of the iconic rogues gallery.

The trouble is, King once again supplies us with bad Batman dialogue. Not the least of which is: “You challenge me with…nightmares? I live the nightmare! Bane! Why can’t you understand! I’m Batman! I am the nightmare.”

Shut up, already.

Given how convinced Batman is that Bane is faking insanity to remain in Arkham, and how intense and violent he is in his pursuit of the truth, Gordon becomes convinced that the Dark Knight has gone off the deep end. In issue #71 he tries to kick him off the roof of police headquarters (shown above).

That skepticism spreads to his extended family of superheroes, who are convinced Bruce is still grieving over his broken engagement to Selina Kyle. The situation is punctuated when he punches Tim Drake in the face.

There’s no worthwhile payoff to any of this. It all comes off like padding. Because it is padding. You can revolve an entire story arc around either of those moments. But instead they just come and go. That’s particularly a shame when it comes to the Gordon story, as there could have been some real substance to that.

5. Where’s Wesker?
This trade also contains Batman: Secret Files #2, which in theory is supposed to spotlight all “the villains who broke the Bat.” Okay, sure.

For what I think is the first time since Batman #23.1, Andy Kubert gets to write a Batman/Joker story. Things fare much better this time, largely because he goes the comedic route. Also, Amancay Nahuelpan draws a hell of a Clown Prince of Crime.

Colin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing put together a so-so story about the Psycho-Pirate leading a cult. Artist Carlos D’Anda overachieves on this one, which I did not expect.

Mairghread Scott and Giuseppe Camuncoli turn in a Riddler story that holds up pretty well. More amusing to me is the fact that “Sideburns Riddler” is still a thing.

Steve Orlando and Eduardo Risso steal the show with a Hugo Strange tale featuring multiple Batman “specimens.” Given he’s a mad doctor, I’ll let you jump to your own conclusions on what that story is about…

Tim Seeley teams with one of my personal favorites, Patrick Gleason, for a story late in Bane’s pre-Gotham days. I’m used to Gleason working with a much brighter color palette than John Kalisz provides here. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just different.

My big problem with this issue? No story about Arnold Wesker, a.k.a. the Ventriloquist. He’s on the cover, and plays one of the more interesting roles in Bane’s big scheme, as sort of Bane’s counterpart to Alfred. It’s a little disturbing, considering what happens to Alfred in the next volume.

6. Consistence and Versatility
The Secret Files issue notwithstanding, our drawing duties are split between Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes. While The Fall and the Fallen may have its share of story problems, I can’t find much to complain about artistically. Both these men are awesome Batman artists very much in their element.

Mikel Janin was a star coming into this series. But he’s a superstar coming out of it. Speaking for myself, Janin’s art can now sell a book on its own. His line work is always super clean, his figure work consistent, and his character acting on point. I now look forward to specifically seeing his versions of Batman, the Joker, and even less flashy characters like Alfred and the Penguin. The fact that he’s got colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire backing him up in this book does nothing but help, of course. But Janin’s style on its own is versatile enough to handle any story. Whether we’re on the streets of Gotham, the Source Wall at the edge of the universe, or anywhere in between.

Objectively, Janin’s best work in this book is probably issue #74, as that’s where the book hits its emotional crescendo and is really firing on all cylinders. But selfishly, I’m partial to issue #70 because Janin gets to draw some of the more obscure Batman villains. Calendar Man, Doctor Phosphorus, the Cavalier, etc.

It’s difficult to look at Jorge Fornes’ work without thinking of what David Mazzucchelli did with Batman: Year One. The figure rendering is similar, the texture is similar. Bellaire’s coloring doesn’t have the same faded palette that Richmond Lewis’ did. But it’s still reminiscent.

I can’t bring myself to complain about the similarities, because Year One is obviously one of the all-time greats. But that means Fornes is better in environments that are a little more mundane, and can have that noir-ish spin put on them. Street level scenes, Wayne Manor and Batcave scenes, etc. It’s no accident that a hero like Daredevil is also on his resume. But something tells me that, like Janin, he’s got a versatilty to him. One that isn’t necessarily apparent here. I’m anxious to see what he does next.

7. Too Much Canvas
When someone mentions Tom King the first thing that comes to mind, at least for me, is his 12-issue run on Vision. That was such a masterclass in comic book storytelling. It’s frustrating to think that someone who wove such a classic at Marvel could make these kind of mistakes on Batman.

What it all comes down to is too much canvas. Give an artist too much canvas to work on, and suddenly the focus of the art wavers. If any story has ever had too much canvas it’s City of Bane.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Batman, Vol.10: Knightmares Deep Dive – Over His Head

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 10: Knightmares
AUTHOR: Tom King
ARTISTS: Travis Moore, Mitch Gerads, Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Lee Weeks, Amanda Conner, Dan Panosian, John Timms, Yanick Paquette
COLORISTS:
Tamra Bonvillain, Jordie Bellaire, Dave Stewart, Lovern Kindzierski, Paul Mounts, Timms, Nathan Fairbairn
LETTERER:
Clayton Cowles
COLLECTS: Batman #6163, #6669
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: September 11, 2019

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead***

Need to catch up? Boy, have I got you covered. Check out Vol. 1: I Am Gotham, Vol. 2: I Am Suicide, Vol. 3: I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, Vol. 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles, Vol. 5: The Rules of Engagement, Vol. 6: Bride or Burglar?, Vol. 7: The Wedding, Volume 8: Cold Days, and Volume 9: The Tyrant Wing.

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

He did it again, didn’t he? That sly son of a…

You’ll recall back in Batman #24, Bruce Wayne proposed to Selina Kyle. Huge deal. Huge. A historic moment for both characters. One that could shake up Batman’s whole world depending on Selina’s answer. But of course, they left us with a cliffhanger.

But when Batman #25 came out, we didn’t get one. What we got was the beginning of The War of Jokes and Riddles, a tale from Batman’s past that he had to tell Selina about before she answered. Issue #24 came out on June 7, 2017. Batman #32, the issue where we finally get Selina’s response, didn’t come out until October 4. We had to wait until fall to get the answer because…um…because DC said so. (Although it was pretty obvious she was going to say yes.)

Fast-forward to December 5, 2018. Batman #60 is released, and another bombshell is dropped. The Batman of the Flashpoint universe, Thomas Wayne, not only survived the events of The Button, but has teamed up with Bane against his alt-universe son. Thomas Wayne vs. Bruce Wayne. Father vs. Son. Batman vs. Batman! The stage was set!

Then in the very next issue we got…no answers. Instead we got the issues collected in this book (with two exceptions that we’ll get to in a later date). We wouldn’t see Flashpoint Batman again until May 1, 2019.

Why DC and Tom King loved making us wait so long for cliffhanger payoffs is a mystery to me. But I’ll say this much: Knightmares is a better book than The War of Jokes and Riddles.

1. I Dreamed a Dream…
Toward the end of the book, we discover Batman is hooked up to a contraption that’s giving him very vivid nightmares. I say that not to spoil anything, but to provide context. Plus, between the Knightmares title and what happens once the book starts rolling, it’s pretty easy to see something’s up. Each collected issue contains one of our hero’s bad dreams.

This is the final volume before we get into the “City of Bane” story, which is an astounding 16 issues long. With that many pages to fill, it’s no wonder it felt immensely padded. Like they were just trying to fill space between plot points. While I consider Knightmares a good read, I’ll argue King starts to do that here. It’s a trend that ultimately forces him to limp into the home stretch. For the most part, these issues work. The “City of Bane” issues don’t.

We kick things off in issue #61, as Batman investigates the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The catch? We seem to be in the present day, and young Bruce Wayne is very much present and able to interact with his older self. Obviously it’s a “What if?” story. But it’s not what you might expect.

Travis Moore returns for this story. Once you reach the end, you’ll see how that’s fitting. Colorist Tamra Bonvillain really shines, especially early on. Her use of reds and oranges to depict the lights of Gotham City, contrasted with the deep blacks you’d expect from a Batman story are reminiscent of Francesco Francavilla’s more recent work on the character. That’s damn good company to be in.

2. “They call me MISTER PIG!!!”
Issue #61 is a good start. But here’s where business really picks up. Our sole artist is Mitch Gerads, who almost always does phenomenal work with King. With Batman #62, they create something truly unsettling. At times even horrifying. It opens with our hero hanging upside down in the back of a butcher’s shop, and he’s got some company: Professor Pyg.

And there’s blood. Lots and lots and lots of blood.

I think Professor Pyg, or at least this King/Gerads version of Professor Pyg, is what a lot of fans want the Joker to be like. A horror movie villain with a funny gimmick. Of course, the Joker is so much more than that. But Professor Pyg? As far as that horror villain territory is concerned, he’s got a solid cut of the market share.

This is a really beautiful issue in a twisted sort of way. It’s like a Saw movie with terrifying, horror flick lighting. Perhaps more importantly, when we start the story, Batman is scared. Not that fear gas-induced fear either. He’s genuinely afraid, as any of us would be. Thus, we’re pulled that much harder into the issue. There’s also a lot of confusion on Batman’s end. Why is he there? How did he get there? Why is he unable to hear what Pyg is saying? We follow Batman’s train of thought as he pushes through his fear to defeat his opponent.

And every bit as unsettling as the setting, the villain, and the frantic confusion, is the swerve turn on the final page.

3. Guest-starring…
A Batman/Constantine team-up sounds pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, that’s not what we get here. Not exactly, anyway.

In issue #63, Mikel Janin returns to give us the ending we all wanted for Bruce and Selina. They get married, go on a tropical honeymoon, share big romantic kisses on rainy Gotham City rooftops. All seems well. Then Constantine shows up to tell Batman not only is this a dream, but something awful is going to happen. Remember this is a Batman story, where everybody has dead parents, dead spouses, etc. So even if it weren’t a dream, there’s a 50/50 chance he’d be right anyway.

Why Constantine? I think the logic is “Why not?” Are there characters from Batman’s world that might fit this role better int theory? Sure. But no one so obvious that it ruins anything. I get the sense King just wanted the chance to write Constantine, so he wound up in this issue.

Ditto for the Question in issue #66, in which the framing device is Selina being interrogated about why she left Bruce at the altar. Jorge Fornes is on the pencil here, and he fits a Question story like a glove. Less fitting is Selina smoking a cigarette during the exchange, which I don’t think we’ve seen her do at all in King’s run up to this point. It feels very forced. Like they were looking for that one detail to hit that noir-ish nail on the head, and they just gave her a cigarette because they could.

Issue #66 is also where we start re-treading ground. All this stuff about how Selina sees Bruce? We’ve been reading about it for much of the last 60 issues. There’s no reason to go back there, with the Question no less, unless you’re trying to fill space. It’s a fun issue. But its intentions are clear in hindsight.

Issue #67 consists of one long chase scene, as Batman pursues another masked man across Gotham City. Telling you who the individual in question is would take the punch out of the issue. But it’s worth it for those last two pages. There’s some subtext that you have to read into. But it’s pretty easy to get. Fornes is back for this one, alongside the amazing Lee Weeks. Both those men do a hell of a job capturing that Batman: Year One vibe. Again, mostly stuff we’ve already seen. But there’s still greatness here, in one of the best single issue’s of King’s Batman run.

4. “Make a lane for Lane!”
Amanda Conner does a guest spot for issue #68. As such, it’s not surprisingly we focus mostly on female characters. Superman and Lois Lane are back, as we see what might have been a bachelor and bachelorette party respectively. While Bruce and Clark have a quiet night in, an intoxicated Selina Kyle and Lois most certainly do not. The Fortress of Solitude has never seen that kind of fun…

Yes, King backtracks again here. But if I had to choose one thing for him to go back to, there’s a hell of an argument to be made for the “Super Friends” dynamic. Specifically between Catwoman and Lois Lane. Their dynamic in this issue specifically is sheer joyful and colorful comic book fun. The kind of story that’s practically begging to be adapted into animation. Though if it’s for one of the kids shows they’ll have to cut out the liquor. (Not to mention all the stripping Superman robots.) By God, that almost defeats the whole damn purpose.

The downside? With just three pages left we lose Conner. As her style is so distinct, it’s an abrupt jolt to suddenly switch to fill-in artists. Pun intended: It’s a real buzzkill.

5. “Will You Dance With Me?”
The book closes with, of all things, a dance.

It’s only natural that we close with Bruce and Selina. Especially since almost this entire book takes place in Bruce’s head. While the issue does bounce back and forth between them and a Mikel Janin training scene with Bane and Flashpoint Thomas Wayne, the meat of the issue is in an extended dance sequence. But it’s hardly the Batusi. Yanick Paquette puts out a career issue as the two characters literally slow dance through a dream, through Gotham, through their history.

It’s a positively outstanding, and truly unique usage of the visual nature of the comic book medium. In yet another backtrack, Selina goes through multiple costume changes as she did in issue #44. But in two-page spreads such as the one above, we literally track our characters’ dance steps across the page. The use of sheet music is an absolute stroke of genius, which instantly makes this comic distinct among the thousands upon thousands in Batman’s history.

What’s more, because this is a dream there’s a subtext to it that I really enjoy. The scene is written as Bruce asking Selina why she left him. Her response involves his vow as a child, and how he can never really love her because of his devotion to the Batman, etc. But of course, the question Bruce is really asking is, “Why did she leave me?” Via a dream, he’s venting his own doubts about whether he can ever really love another person. And it ends in pretty much the manner you’d expect such a dream from Batman to end.

But the creme de creme, the moment of moments, comes on the final page of the issue and the final page in Knightmares overall…

Batman friggin’ cries. He doesn’t openly weep. But he cries. It’s not even played up at all. It’s beautifully subtle. Just two little strokes of Paquette’s pencil.

Issues like this are part of what makes Tom King’s Batman run so frustrating. Because he is a good writer. He’s a good Batman writer! He knows what he’s doing. But it feels like he got in over his head. The larger story he was trying to tell got too large and in the end he lost focus. That’s such a damn shame, given how many little gems we find in this run.

Incidentally, the song from issue #69 is one King has used before in his series. Sophie Turner’s “Some of these Days.” It dates back to the ’20s. It’s not required listening. But it’s a great little supplement. I recommend it.

6. Waking Up
There are a few collections in this Batman series that you flat out don’t need to read. Technically, this is one of them. But like Cold Days, it gets a recommendation from me. It’s not an amazing character study altogether. But like Tom King’s Batman run as a whole, it surprises you with moments that are absolute classics.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Gotham City Sirens: Division Retro Review – Gotham City Stumble

***Retro Reviews are pieces of Primary Ignition‘s past (i.e. the old site) dug from the archives and returned to their rightful place. They’ve been minimally altered. The text has been cleaned up just a little, and I’ve updated the artistic credits to go beyond just the penciller. But this is mostly the content in its original form. At the end, I’ll throw in a bit of hindsight.***

TITLE: Gotham City Sirens: Division

AUTHOR: Peter Calloway
ARTISTS: Andres Guinaldo, Ramon Bachs. Cover by Guillem March.
INKERS: Lorenzo Ruggiero, Bachs,
COLORISTS: JD Smith
LETTERERS: Steve Wands, Dave Sharpe, Carlos M.Mangual, Travis Lanham, Raul Fernandez.
COLLECTS: Gotham City Sirens #2021, #2326
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $14.99
RELEASED: March 7, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Kenosha Kicker. Polka! Polka! Polka!

Reading all 26 issues of Gotham City Sirens is kind of like dating a woman who’s really hot, but who you eventually realize has a lot of personality issues. Eventually you find yourself wondering whether the whole relationship was even worth it at all.

The final volume of this series sees Harley Quinn bound and determined to kill the Joker. She breaks into Arkham Asylum, causing a massive riot. Caught in the mix are Black Mask, Clayface, our Sirens, and even Batman/Bruce Wayne himself (“Anything involving The Joker I take care of personally.”) Amidst the chaos, Harley, Catwoman and Poison Ivy will be placed at odds. Allegiances are tested, and friendships may be broken beyond repair.

I have two major issues with this book, both of which I touched on in my review of the previous volume: The way Joker is drawn and the way Harley is written.

The problem with Guinaldo’s Joker is that it’s trying to mix the look of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight with what Grant Morrison did during his run on Batman. In all fairness, after Morrison’s run DC never came up with a definitive look for the Joker to match the events of those stories. As such, creators working on different books didn’t necessarily know how to portray him. As a result, we usually got something along the lines of the traditional Joker with a bullet-shaped scar in the middle of his forehead (shown above).

The Joker we get in Division looks, quite frankly, like a pasty-faced geezer with some smeared lipstick on his cheeks. Though Guinaldo does supply us with a pretty good manic Joker face every so often, this take on the character isn’t nearly as maniacally menacing as it should be. For yours truly this became a big annoyance as the story went on.

And then there’s Harley. This story takes her to a pretty grim, dark place, especially in the beginning. She’s got a lot of rage directed at the Joker, and as a result we get a lot of inner monologue that seems out of character to me…

“There’s a place. A place in my head. A place on the other side of happy-go-lucky. The one part of me that isn’t looking for the joke. In that dark place–lurks rage…when the laughter breaks down–and humor can’t quiet its hunger–the rage gets out. And then it runs the show.”

I reject this portrayal of Harley not because of principle, but execution. We’ve seen her get angry before. It’s to be expected from a crazy lady who loves a homicidal clown and commits crimes while dressed like a Commedia dell’arte character.

But in Division, Harley becomes a cold, calculated strategist and murderer. We get inside her head and follow her thought process as she systematically breaks into Arkham. This portrayal robs the character of some of her charm. We’re not supposed to be able to follow Harley’s mindset when she does these things. She’s insane. Is she, deep down, a good person who could potentially be saved? Yes. But her infatuation with the Joker has also placed her on a different plane of reality than the rest of us. The reason she can be so goofy, so sick and twisted, with such drastic emotional swerves, is that she’s not playing with the same deck the rest of us are. This book defies that notion by simply making Harley an overly emotional, hopelessly attached girlfriend in a clown suit. She looks sane.

And as we all know, this chick ain’t sane.

The book does have its moments, though. We spend a little time with Aaron Cash, the asylum’s head of security whom we met in the Arkham Asylum video game. We’re with him when he learns about The Joker’s role in the death of his infant son, which is simply haunting. The Arkham Asylum riot is given the right amount of weight by Calloway. He doesn’t play it off like an every day occurrence the way some writers do. There’s a nice aura of panic about it.

Gotham City Sirens started out on such a high note. Unfortunately the memory of how good the series was during that first seven months or so never stopped haunting it. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping for this series to be something of an action/comedy, akin to what we sometimes saw in Batman: The Animated Series and Gotham Girls. No such luck. In the end, Gotham City Sirens was just like every other Batman book on the stands. And what’s the point of putting this oddball trio together if you’re not going to have some fun with it?

At one point in this book, Harley asks Ivy: “Did the three of us make sense as a team? Ever?” (shown above)

The answer is no. But that was where all the fun should have come from.

***In Hindsight***
I wish I could say my opinion had changed on this one. Paul Dini wrote a total of 10 issues, which are collected in the first and second volumes. If you want to check out this series, those are the books you need to read.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Gotham City Sirens: Strange Fruit Retro Review – Hate that Joker!

***Retro Reviews are pieces of Primary Ignition‘s past (i.e. the old site) dug from the archives and returned to their rightful place. They’ve been minimally altered. The text has been cleaned up just a little, and I’ve updated the artistic credits to go beyond just the penciller. But this is mostly the content in its original form. At the end, I’ll throw in a bit of hindsight.***

TITLE: Gotham City Sirens: Strange Fruit
AUTHORS: Tony Bedard, Peter Calloway
ARTISTS: Andres Guinaldo, Jeremy Haun, Guillem March
INKERS: Lorenzo Luggiero, BIT, Walden Wong
COLORISTS: JD Smith, Tomeu Morey
LETTERER: Steve Wands, Travis Lanham, Dave Sharpe
COLLECTS: Gotham City Sirens #1419
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $22.99
RELEASED: August 16, 2011

By Rob Siebert
The same Rob from up top.

It was somewhere during this story that I gave up on Gotham City Sirens ever being the book I wanted it to be. As it started out as a title written by Paul Dini, I was hoping we’d get something more light-hearted, akin to the work Dini did with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy on Batman: The Animated Series. Over the first several issues, we did get that. But it tapered off as different writers started to come on to the book.

Strange Fruit is fairly low on humor, and it’s the first trade in the series without Dini’s name on it, but a high-stakes storyline keeps the title from taking a steep plunge in quality.

The first two issues continue the story that was started in the last book. It’s about Poison Ivy helping an alien or something. In all honesty, my distaste for a random alien appearance in a Bat-book pretty much took me out of the story. It’s not terrible. But I wasn’t a fan.

We then move into a story in which Talia al Ghul and Zatanna are trying to stop a group of bad guys from targeting Catwoman so they can learn Batman’s true identity. What further complicates things is that Catwoman lied to Harley and Ivy, telling them she didn’t know his identity. Trust issues galore can be found in this story, which will lead to Harley making a VERY dramatic decision.

Something’s been nagging at me about Gotham City Sirens for awhile, and it traces back to the events of this book. The way Andres Guinaldo draws the Joker (see below) irritates me terribly. We only see him through sporadic flashbacks, but I’m consistently bothered with the way Guinaldo puts those Dark Knight-ish red etches at the corners of his mouth. He’s not the first artist to do it, but the way he does it is really distracting. They’re much too big. It looks like he’s smeared lipstick on his cheeks. I understand part of it is just Guinaldo’s style. But The Joker’s Dark Knight look doesn’t lend itself to that style.

The story with Zatanna and Talia isn’t the strongest I’ve ever seen, but it’s good. Both have been romantically linked to Bruce Wayne in the past, and those connections make for interesting storytelling. Selina and Zatanna also have a history, which adds to the fire.

While there are a few Harley Quinn moments that harken back to the tone the series started with, the book sets more of a traditional tone, which essentially makes it just like all the other Bat-books, which means it loses a huge part of its selling point. At least for me. I’m certainly not heartbroken this series won’t be part of the New 52 reboot.

***In Hindsight***
My mind about Andres Guinaldo’s Joker has not changed. Thankfully, that trend has died down in the years since.

At the time, I gave this book a 6/10. Upon re-reading, that feels about right. I liked that they played with Selina’s knowledge of Bruce’s identity. Though ironically this was post-Final Crisis, and the Batman we see in this book is Dick Grayson.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Batman: Life After Death Retro Review – Meanwhile, Almost a Decade Ago…

***Retro Reviews are pieces of Primary Ignition‘s past (i.e. the old site) dug from the archives and returned to their rightful place. They’ve been minimally altered. The text has been cleaned up just a little, and I’ve updated the artistic credits to go beyond just the penciller. But this is mostly the content in its original form. At the end, I’ll throw in a bit of hindsight.***

TITLE: Batman: Life After Death

AUTHOR: Tony Daniel
ARTISTS: Daniel, Guillem March
INKERS: Sandu Florea, Norm Rapmund
COLORISTS: Ian Hannin, Tomeu Morey
LETTERER: Jared K. Fletcher
COLLECTS: Batman #692699
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASE DATE: October 12, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Thinks Bruce Wayne just might come back.

In a lot of ways, this book is a sequel to Batman: Battle For The Cowl. It doesn’t come after it chronologically. But Life After Death was written entirely by Tony Daniel, the same man who wrote Battle. It also ties up some of the plot threads Daniel started there.

Life After Death finds the mysterious new Black Mask (i.e. not Roman Sionis) and his gang of False Faces in a war against the returning Falcone Crime Family. With the help of Catwoman and Huntress, Dick Grayson, the new Batman, must fight to keep Gotham City standing amidst the chaos. Meanwhile, Kitrina, youngest of the Falcone children, proves a force to be reckoned with. And because that’s clearly not enough, the Riddler, who struck with amnesia shortly after the events of Batman: Hush, is starting to remember things that will come back to haunt him.

What I really enjoyed about Life After Death is that in writing it, Daniel didn’t do what Judd Winick did in Long Shadows. There weren’t a lot of talky scenes where Dick says much trouble he’s having adjusting to his new role as Batman. Daniel doesn’t tell us about Grayson’s troubles, he shows them to us. I give him a lot of credit for that.

Being a continuity buff, I love the fact that Daniel brought Mario Falcone into the story. He’s is a character left over from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s work on Batman. For me, those books are right up there with the best Batman stories ever published. So to see those them acknowledged here was. Also included in this story is The Reaper, the villain from Mike Barr’s Batman: Year Two. Between the allusions to those three stories, plus Hush (another Jeph Loeb story), it’s clear Daniel has done his homework.

We find out who our new Black Mask is in this book. If you’re reading closely, his identity should be clear by the time the mask comes off. Daniel does a nice job characterizing this new version of the character, and his identity has already made for some interesting reading in the monthly Batman titles.

Daniel gives the artist reigns to Guillem March for the last fourth of the book. For my money, Daniel’s art is superior, but Guillem March is great too. His art fits nicely with the Batman books, and he draws great facial expressions.

From a writing standpoint, the book is a significant improvement over Battle For The Cowl. He’ll likely always be a great artist, but if he continues this trend, he’s also going to be a force to be reckoned with as a writer.

***In Hindsight***
True story: I had totally forgotten about the Kitrina Falcone character. She made for a pleasant, “Oh! That’s right!” moment.

This book came out before the Tony Daniel/Sandu Florea team overstayed its welcome. For my money, that happened when they started working on Detective Comics the following year. Floreau’s colors had a dourness to them that took a lot of the fun out of those books.

In this one, however, things mostly look okay. I can appreciate the darker, almost more gothic look to Dick Grayson’s Batman. Though it was a stark contrast to how Mark Bagley, Ed Benes, inker Rob Hunter, and oddly enough the same colorist in Ian Hannin, and had him look just a few issues prior. More colorful. Happier. Which at the end of the day is really how Dick’s Batman should look, to highlight the differences between he and Bruce.

I’m not as kind to Guillem March’s work in hindsight. His work on the New 52 Catwoman book just changed the way I look at his art. These days, he’s hit or miss with me. Ironically, as this is being published he’s working on Batman once again.

I miss Riddler’s private detective days. There was a lot of fun to be had there.

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

A Batman, Vol. 9: The Tyrant Wing Deep-Dive – Penguin Steals the Show

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 9: The Tyrant Wing
AUTHORS: Tom King, Ram V, Cheryl Lynn Eaton, Jordie Bellaire, Tom Taylor,
ARTISTS: Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Elena Casagrande, Jill Thompson, Otto Schmidt
COLORISTS: Bellaire, Matt Wilson, Trish Mulvhill,
LETTERERS: Clayton Cowles, Steve Wands, Deron Bennett, Troy Peteri
COLLECTS: Batman #58-60, Batman Secret Files #1, Batman Annual #3
FORMAT:
Softcover
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: March 20, 2019

***WARNING: There’s a minor spoiler ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

The Tyrant Wing is more or less a transitionary book. Bruce and Selina’s wedding has happened. Or rather, not happened. We dealt with a lot of the fall-out from it in Cold Days. In The Tyrant Wing we start setting the stage for Tom King’s big finale. A new opponent for Batman emerges. One that even the world’s greatest detective couldn’t possibly have anticipated.

But along the way King, Mikel Janin, and the Batman team unexpectedly do some justice for a character that doesn’t always get the love he deserves: The Penguin.

1. Penny In Your Thoughts
If you’re a guy who happens to be down on his luck romantically, I offer you this bit of consolation: If the Penguin can find a bride, so can you.

Then again, she’s dead now. So maybe that’s not the hopeful example we wanna go with.

Yes, apparently ol’ Pengers had a wife we never saw or heard about. Her name? Penny Cobblepot. Though almost 30 years younger than him, it’s quickly obvious Penguin loved her dearly. Suddenly, he’s a man with nothing left to lose. So he starts spilling secrets. Secrets about Bane…

To Tom King’s credit, this might be the most multi-dimensional take on the Penguin I’ve ever seen. We see pieces of virtually every version of the character. We get the squawking supervillain with the trick umbrellas. We get the freakish, portly gentleman with the soul of a poet. We get the unspeakably cruel crime boss. We even get a small trace of the fish-slurping monster we saw in Batman Returns. Like many Batman villains, we’re against him but we also manage to find some sympathy for him.

Like a lot of fans, I’ve given King my share of grief over some of the choices he’s made on this series. I’ll continue to do so, in fact. But he knocked ol’ Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot right out of the park.

This is most evident in issue #60. A blindfolded Penguin is locked up in the Batcave talking to Alfred. This is instantly compelling, as we don’t often see Alfred interacting with the villains, much less one he might have something in common with. They bond over, of all things, poetry. At one point, Penguin even calls his anonymous keeper, “my friend.” Alfred then feeds him raw fish by hand. It’s one of those scenes that, considering both characters have been around for decades, it’s shocking it hasn’t been done.

As the Penguin endures heartbreak, Batman punches his way across Gotham searching for the truth about what Bane is plotting. Naturally, this causes a hell of a lot of friction with Gordon and the GCPD. None of this really grabbed me, as we’ve seen this kind of story many times before. Things get a little more engaging in issue #60 when Jorge Fornes tags in for the Batman sequences.

Unfortunately, I do need to make note of one the clunkier lines in this entire run. When Batman barges into Arkham to confront Bane, he’s met by a SWAT team. As he’s dismantling them, while generally being a raging prick about the whole thing, he says among other things…

“Right now, each of you has a choice to make. Do I pull that trigger and get a Bat-boot shoved through my face? Or do I let the man go about his business?”

Yup. Bat-boot. Our legendary hero, everybody.

2. The Butler Does It All
We shift gears here. Venturing away from the main plot, we move to author Tom Taylor and artist Otto Schmidt and one of the best Alfred Pennyworth stories of the modern era. If not all time.

Given the stunt DC recently pulled with Alfred, they put out an issue dedicated to him. Various members of the Batman family shared memories of him. But frankly, something like Batman Annual #3 is a much better tribute issue. It touches on the various things Alfred does to make the whole Batman operation work. But more importantly, it dives  into why he does it and what he gets from it.

Think of it this way: Gotham needs Batman. Batman needs Alfred. So at the end of the day, what does that make Alfred?

3. Batman in Quarantine (Kind of…)
The trade closes out with a Secret Files issue that’s very much a mixed bag. We open up with a three-page Tom King/Mikel Janin story. Or rather, part of a story. As Batman is feeling the wear and tear on his body, Superman just happens to offer him access to a new kind of Kryptonite. Platinum Kryptonite, of which a single touch will grant him the same powers as Superman. The story ends with Bruce asking Alfred, “Am I enough?”

I call BS on this for two reasons.

Firstly, to just end the story on that note, even if it’s only meant to serve as an introduction, is a crime. Batman is literally offered all the same powers as Superman. And you don’t give his answer? What kinda lazy garbage is that? Over a decade ago, DC put out a story called Super/Bat that more or less had this same premise, and Batman does get Superman’s powers. It was amazing. If you want to give your own take on that story, but all means go for it. But to leave it open-ended like that? Screw you.

Secondly, while it’s not a direct line of dialogue, it’s indicated that Superman tells Batman if he touches this new Kryptonite, “Then you can fight as I fight. As you should fight. With true strength.”

No. Wrong. I understand the implication they’re making about where true strength comes from. But Superman’s “true strength” does not come from his powers. It comes from his character. From his ideals. The way he views the world. I don’t have an issue with him offering Batman super powers. But for him to suggest that’s where “true strength” comes from is out of character. Bad form.

After a story about a cop feeling long-term effects from Scarecrow gas, we get one about Waynetech drones winding up in the wrong hands and what Bruce does about it. I actually got more of an Iron Man vibe from that one. The book closes with a team-up between Batman and Detective Chimp, which is fun.

But the only other story in the issue that really sticks out is a tale written by colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire. On Man-Bat’s trail, Batman secludes himself in a cabin amidst Gotham’s snow-covered mountains. As it turns out, this notorious loner doesn’t do so well when he’s forced to be on his own.

The operative line of the story is, “Truth is, I’m not such a fan of myself.”

The central idea here is really compelling. What does Bruce Wayne’s self image look like? What does a man who goes out every night dressed like a bat to beat up criminals think of himself? You could do a whole story on that.

While this was written some time ago, it’s timely to discuss it now. As I type this we’re in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. People around the world are quarantined in their homes. Naturally, that’s not always an easy thing to do. Even if you’re Batman.

4. A Bridge Worth Crossing
Is The Tyrant Wing an essential read? No. But is it a good read? Yes. I enjoyed this book more than many of the earlier books in this series. Mostly because of the Penguin. I’ll go ahead and say it: Too many people sleep on him as a character. He’s more than just a portly dude with an umbrella. He’s a scoundrel. He’s a gentleman. He’s an iconic villain.

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, Bride or Burglar?, The Wedding, and Cold Days.

Email Rob at at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Batman, Vol. 8: Cold Days Review – Bruce Wayne Against Batman?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 8: Cold Days
AUTHOR: Tom King
ARTISTS:
Lee Weeks, Matt Wagner, Tony Daniel, Mark Buckingham, Andrew Pepoy, Danny Miki (Inker)
COLORISTS: Elizabeth Breitweiser, Tomeu Morey
LETTERER:
Clayton Cowles
COLLECTS:
Batman #5157
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE:
$16.99
RELEASED:
December 19, 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

A while back, I did a “Panels of Awesomeness” on a couple of the pages in Cold Days. It’s the scene in Batman #51 when Bruce Wayne snaps and rips a urinal out of the wall (shown below). People may criticize Tom King’s writing on this series, but I believe he has the distinction of being the only writer to have Batman do that.

But you can’t blame the guy, can you? If your wedding had gone that way

1. One Angry Man
As if things weren’t already crappy for him, Bruce Wayne gets jury duty in the titular three-issue story that kicks off Cold Days. Mr. Freeze stands trial for the murder of three women. On paper, it’s an open-and-shut case. Not only did Freeze confess to the murders, but Batman examined the forensic evidence, discovering a detail the police missed. One juror, however, believes Freeze is innocent: Bruce Wayne. Why? Because as Batman, he beat Freeze to a pulp, unintentionally forcing a confession.

This Batman series may have a tendency to go off the rails. But credit where credit is due: I love this story. In fact, it’s the high point of Tom King’s entire run. It cuts right to the core of who Bruce Wayne is, as he’s forced to do something he’s not accustomed to: Confronting a mistake, and making good on it. “Cold Days” even examines the notion that Batman is infallible, at least in the eyes of the public. But as we see all too clearly, he’s not infallible. He’s just a man. A man in a tremendous amount of pain.

The last time we saw Lee Weeks on this book was in Batman Annual #2, illustrating a story set early in Batman’s career. What he turns in here, alongside Elizabeth Breitweiser and Clayton Cowles, is every bit as good, if not better. One of the qualities that makes Weeks’ work so special is that he feels very much at home on a more “grounded” story like this one, without any super-powered exploits. And yet, he can also thrive working on a character like Superman.

King uses “Cold Days” to touch on a subject we rarely touch on with the Dark Knight: religion. He talks about how his father was Christian, and wanted Bruce to find spirituality as well. As one might imagine, that didn’t happen. What we learn is that Batman more or less became Bruce’s religion. And in the eyes of many, Batman has become the equivalent of a deity. It’s a really cool sequence, and I credit King for having the guts to go there.

We also get a fantastic page in issue #51. While Bruce is serving on the jury, Dick Grayson is filling in as Batman. We get a page on the roof of police headquarters where he’s talking to Commissioner Gordon. The following dialogue ensues…

Gordon: “You’re not him. You’re that other him.”
Batman: “What’s the problem, Commissioner? How can I help?”
Gordon: “Is he alright?”
Batman: *pauses* “No.”

I love that Gordon isn’t written as an idiot, and how this harkens back to pieces of the Knightfall and No Man’s Land stories from the ’90s. Frankly, I wouldn’t have a problem if he called him out as Nightwing.

2. The Dynamic Duo
In the last 20 years or so, writers have made Bruce and Dick a little too friendly for my taste. Until recently, there were times when Dick was acting more like Robin than Damian, the actual Robin. I always liked the idea that when Dick struck out on his own, he developed his own methods and philosophies that at times put him at odds with Batman. He wouldn’t be the estranged son. That role should be saved that role for Jason Todd. I’d simply have Dick be his own man. But when the chips were down, he’d be there if Bruce truly needed him.

That’s precisely the scenario we have in Batman #54. As Bruce tries to power his way through his grief over Selina, Dick simply hangs out. A constant source of levity. And indeed, there’s a fantastic moment where Batman actually does break, and Dick is there for him. This is all intercut with various moments from Dick’s early days at Wayne Manor. It’s one of King’s better written Batman issues.

Our guest artist for issue #54 is none other Matt Wagner. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed him working on Batman. What’s so special about Wagner is that he can capture whatever tone you want, with whatever character you want, while still injecting a sense of fun into his art. It’s never not fun to look at a Matt Wagner book.

3. The Beast Unleashed
As much as I disliked Scott Snyder’s Zero Year story, I loved the way it revitalized the Riddler. King, to his credit, continued that revitalization during his run. But one can also argue he did a little revitalizing himself. With, of all characters, KGBeast.

KGBeast, real name Anatoli Knyazev, first appeared in the late ’80s as yet another to stake claim to the DCU’s “world’s deadliest assassin” title. (Think Deathstroke, Deadshot, Lady Shiva, etc.) His most prominent character moment came when he cut off his own arm to allude capture by Batman. But since then, he’s been mostly relegated to what I’ll call the villains ensemble, i.e. somebody to put in a scene where Batman has to fight a bunch of bad guys. Heck, Snyder did it recently in All-Star Batman.

But in Batman #55, the Beast does the unthinkable. As Batman and Nightwing are continuing their father/son bonding of sorts, he uses a sniper rifle to put a bullet in Nightwing’s head. With Dick alive, yet devastatingly wounded, Batman does the only thing he can do: go Beast hunting.

In re-reading this “Beast of Burden” story in trade format, I picked up on something I missed in the single issues: the father/son theme. After carrying out the hit on Nightwing, Knyazev tracks down his father to a remote cabin in “far east” Russia. It may as well be the planet Hoth, as it’s seemingly just miles upon miles of snow, some trees, and that one cabin. We learn that like his son, Vasily Knyazev was once a killer for the KGB, and trained Anatoli to be the same. Seeing the two interact after what has clearly been a long time apart, it’s obvious Vasily was a callous and heartless excuse for a father. And yet, he loves his son in his own unique way…

But Bruce can be cold and callous too. He’s about as dark and withdrawn in these pages as he’s ever been. But he’s not heartless. He showed a great deal of compassion for Dick, and cared for him in the best way he knew how. I suspect that’s why we got the flashback scenes in the Matt Wagner issue. To illustrate the differences between these father/son duos. That makes for a really cool story.

Thankfully, unlike Deathstroke vs. Deadshot in The War of Jokes and Riddles, in this book we actually see the damn fight between Batman and KGBeast blow by blow. It’s easy to follow and project yourself into. It ends with Batman pulling off a maneuver I’m not sure we’ve seen from him before. It’s shockingly merciless, as is the book’s ending.

Tony Daniel and Tomeu Morey set the mood perfectly. I’m reluctant to use The Empire Strikes Back as an example again, but the art evokes the same sort of grim, foreboding mood we see in the opening moments of the film. I could almost hear the John Williams score…

Intercut amongst the fight sequences is a folktale Vasily would read to the future KGBeast when he was a boy. Mark Buckingham and Andrew Pepoy tag in for pages that are fittingly drawn like a storybook for a young child. Though it’s certainly more violent and bloody than any book you’ll pick up off shelves today. Or for that matter, any era. There’s a thematic connection of course, and it’s certainly unique to see these cartoony animals drawn alongside this brutal fight.

The only major negative I can find in “Beasts of Burden,” is that it serves as the inciting incident for the “Ric Grayson” stuff in Nightwing. I haven’t purchased a Nightwing comic since, as that story just doesn’t interest me. But that’s got nothing to do with Tom King or this series, so I can’t hold it against this book.

4. Bright Spot for the Dark Knight
Cold Days is indeed the high point of Tom King’s Batman run. A bright spot in an often bizarre series of issues. The “Cold Days” story is outstanding on its own. But the issues with Nightwing and KGBeast were much better than I remembered. The art is consistently gorgeous. Lee Weeks stole the show for yours truly. Though I’ve certainly got a soft spot for Matt Wagner.

I take no joy in saying much of Tom King’s Batman run is skippable. I do, however, take joy in telling you Cold Days is a must-read for fans of both Batman and Nightwing. Outstanding character work mixed with great action. In the end, you really can’t ask for much more.

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, Bride or Burglar?, and The Wedding.

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more of Tom King’s run on Batman, check out I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide, I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, The War of Jokes and Riddles, The Rules of Engagement, and Bride or Burglar?.

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

A Batman: Bride or Burglar? Review – What Might Have Been…

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 6: Bride or Burglar?
AUTHOR:
Tom King
PENCILLERS: Travis Moore, Joelle Jones, Mikel Janin
COLLECTS: Batman #3844
FORMAT:
Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: July 25, 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This is the part of Tom King’s Batman run where things start to get weird. Like, really, really weird.

Bride or Burglar? is book-ended by two strong single issues. But in between, King starts needlessly messing around with space-time. He also plants some seeds for Heroes in Crisis that, like much of that ill-conceived event comic, are needlessly awkward and forced. There’s one bit that’s downright blasphemous. From a quality standpoint, this is the lowest the series has dipped up to this point.

But let’s start by focusing on the positives, shall we? And to do that, we have to jump to the last story in this collection…

1. History Lesson
The highlight of the trade is easily Batman #44, which features the titular “Bride or Burglar” story. It sees Selina hunting for a wedding dress as only Catwoman can. But interspersed among the story are actual scenes from Batman and Catwoman’s history that King and Janin make their own, with most of the original dialogue intact. We go as far back to the original Batman #1 in 1940, through the ’50s, on into the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, all the way to the present.

While they do take certain creative liberties, they keep Catwoman’s various different costumes intact. As such, we not only get a sense of how her relationship with Batman has evolved, but how her Catwoman persona has evolved over its lifespan. For history buffs like yours truly, it’s an absolute treat. Story-wise, there’s also a wonderful little moment between Selina and Alfred on the final page.

Tom King’s Batman run has gotten a lot of flack, much of which is justified. But I’ll never knock the way he makes Bruce and Selina’s chemistry radiate off the page. Their familiarity, their intimacy with one another on a strictly verbal scale, is enough to make you believe they love each other, and perhaps should be married.

2. Who is Bruce Wayne?
Jumping back to the start of Bride or Burglar, Batman #38 introduces us to one of the most unlikely villains in all of Batman lore. I won’t spoil the specifics of who it is, but the character’s M.O. is that he models himself after Bruce Wayne. He essentially wants to become Bruce Wayne, which naturally puts Batman in a rather awkward spot. It’s been said that many of Batman’s enemies are, at their core, different versions of what Bruce could have become after his parents were killed. This premise takes that idea so literally that it’s actually pretty clever. We also spend some time doing C.S.I. type stuff with Batman and Commissioner Gordon, which is always fun.

Our guest artist for the issue is Travis Moore, joined by colorist Giulia Brusco. I can’t say I fell in love with their work here. But it was serviceable. No harm no foul.

3. The Eternal Vow
Here’s where we start to run into trouble.

In issue #39 we meet the Gentle Man, a warrior from another realm who spends night and day single-handedly fending off an army of monsters called the Hordes of Gehenna. Apparently, some time in the past Batman and Wonder Woman met and fought alongside the Gentle Man. They offered to take up his fight for a day and allow him to rest. But what he neglects to tell them is that minutes on Earth equate to years in this other realm. Thus, Bruce must not only fight alongside Diana for what winds up being about 30 years in relative time, but he must remain faithful to Selina. That’s not necessarily easy when you’re in the trenches with an Amazonian Princess.

While Joelle Jones is very much in her element with the battle scenes, this whole “Eternal Vow” story winds up being stupid and pointless filler on the path to the wedding in Batman #50. Bruce and Selina didn’t need a fairy tale story like this to emphasize the love they have for each other. A huge part of their appeal is that they’re not the fairy tale lovers destined to be together. They’re two orphans who met when their bizarre and violent paths happened to cross, and they fell into a unique kind of love. That’s all you need with them.

Furthermore, I don’t buy that Bruce comes out of that realm the same person. Yes, he’s Batman. But that’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card for crap like this. Both he and Diana would be shells of their former selves. Nearly unrecognizable to anyone who knew them before.

As if that weren’t enough, Tom King has trouble writing Wonder Woman. Her dialogue is acceptable, but very weird. At this point, she’s been an active hero for years, right? But King writes her as if she’s just stepped out of Themyscira. It’s needlessly off-putting. And sadly, Diana isn’t the only Justice Leaguer to get a bad shake here…

4. Crazy Love
In “Everyone Loves Ivy,” Poison Ivy is able to gain control over the minds of everyone on the planet, except for Batman and Catwoman, who are able to fight it off using comic book science. Thus, it’s literally them against the world.

I like parts of this idea. It puts Ivy over huge, as she becomes a Justice-League-level threat, and is ultimately victorious. How she went about gaining the mind control is believable. The way they beat her is a little hokey, but acceptable given the parties involved.

Mikel Janin is back for these issues, and he really knocks it out of the park with all the greenery and foliage this story requires. Rarely has a Poison Ivy lair looked so good. I also give King and Janin credit for showing us what would actually happen if Superman full-on punched Batman in the face. It ain’t pretty, folks.

Sadly, I was yanked out of the story rather abruptly during the first issue. Ivy attempts to use the Flash against Batman. Barry Allen runs at him, or more specifically at Alfred, using his super-speed. Batman knocks him out with a single punch, effectively an inexplicably knocking him out of super-speed. What’s worse, this happens three more times in the following issue. Not just to Barry, but to Wally West and Kid Flash. Apparently Catwoman is also inexplicably capable of defeating the Flash with a single blow…

Bull. Shit.

I normally shy away from profanity. But this one deserved it. Shame on both Tom King and the Batman editorial team. You don’t get to turn the Flash and his supporting cast into a gag because you aren’t creative enough to find a better way to neutralize them. This is especially offensive in hindsight, given what King does to Wally in Heroes in Crisis.

In the end, Heroes in Crisis was the master this story served. It planted the seed (no pun intended) for Ivy’s role there. As such, her motivation involves a specific trauma from The War of Jokes and Riddles that we never saw, and thus can’t connect with as easily. So when the story tries to pivot and make her a victim, it fails because despite that trauma, she still took over the damn world. To an extent, she just made victims out of billions of innocent people. So you’ll pardon me if I’m rather unsympathetic.

5. The Verdict
Bruce proposed to Selina in Batman #24. I’m assuming by that point the knew the wedding was going to be in issue #50. So they had 25 issues to fill before the big pay-off. Some of the storytelling was very organic, i.e. the one with Talia al Ghul from Rules of Engagement. “Bride or Burglar” worked very well. The stuff with Superman and Lois Lane was fun.

But then you’ve got stuff like “Eternal Vow” and “Everyone Loves Ivy,” which are somewhat apropos, but still bizarre choices to fill that gap. It seems like we could have spent at least some of those issues figuring out how Selina adjusts to being in Batman’s inner circle. What sort of changes does it require of her? Are Batman and Catwoman essentially the new Dynamic Duo of Gotham City? What about Thomas and Martha Wayne? What was their wedding like? And how does Bruce think they’d react to his choice for a bride?

This obviously isn’t going to be the status quo forever. So why not mine this wedding stuff for as much character exploration as possible? They could still have told fun and compelling stories along the way. But instead we’re left with a feeling of missed opportunities, and the nagging question of what might have been.

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, and The Rules of Engagement.

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

 

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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