Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

An All-Star Batman #2 Review – The Jerk Store Called…

All-Star Batman #2, 2016, John Romita Jr.TITLE: All-Star Batman #2
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLERS: John Romita Jr., Declan Shalvey
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: September 14, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I haven’t been as in love with All-Star Batman as some reviewers are. But credit where credit is due: This is good stuff.

 Harvey Dent says he can get rid of his alter-ego Two-Face if Batman can get him to a mysterious house 500 miles away from Gotham. Two-Face counters by putting a price on the Dark Knight’s head. Ergo, Batman’s enemies are coming out of the woodwork to kill and collect. But fittingly, Two-Face’s plan is double-headed. Jim Gordon and the GCPD are literally about to walk into the Batcave!

One of Snyder and Romita’s priorities with this book is to prominently feature Batman’s rogues gallery. Not just the A-listers, either. In this issue alone we get appearances from King Shark, Amygdala, Cheshire, Great White, and KGBeast (referred to as “the Beast”). As a Batman geek, one of the thrilling elements about All-Star is never knowing who will pop out from around the next corner. It could be anyone from Mr. Freeze to Kite-Man.

Snyder also does a lot of justice to Two-Face, diving deeper into the concept of duality than I expected. Not just the traditional Harvey Dent vs. Two-Face stuff, but the notion that everyone has a dark side. Everyone is secretly as twisted as he is, and by holding secrets over people’s heads, he’s going to show you how. We also get a nice scene between Alfred and Duke Thomas that spells out some of the rules for how Two-Face’s brain works. The two sides can keep secrets from one another, but also influence each other. That’s good information to have as we go forward.

All-Star Batman #2, John Romita Jr., the jerk store calledWhat I continue to dislike about Snyder’s writing in this book is the sarcastic dialogue he gives Batman during battle sequences. This book kicks off with an awesome fight against Killer Croc, King Shark, and Amygdala on top of a moving train, with Two-Face looking on for good measure. But it’s promptly spoiled with the line: “Hey Waylon. Appaloosa called…they want their fool back.”

Hey Batman. The jerk store called…

What makes that sequence all the more frustrating is that John Romita Jr., Danny Miki, and Dean White absolutely nail it. It’s got a great energy, accentuated beautifully by the motion work and the gorgeous colors in the background. This is also the best Killer Croc has looked in awhile. For my money that’s a high compliment, as this book came out the same week as one of Jim Lee’s Suicide Squad issues. Romita’s take on the Penguin is also very reminiscent of Danny DeVito’s look in Batman Returns, which isn’t something we see very often.

I also adore the panels of Batman and Two-Face fighting in the water (shown below), if for nothing else because of the water itself. The way it’s colored, the way it moves, the way it drips off the characters. It’s almost cloud-like.

We’re also introduced to the notion that many suspect Bruce Wayne is Batman, but no one can prove it. This would be interesting as a throwaway line. But they’re obviously following up on it, what with Jim Gordon and the GCPD breaking into the Batcave…

All-Star Batman #2, John Romita Jr., Batman, Two-FaceKGBeast gets put over like a million bucks in this issue. He’s put on arguably the same level as a Deathstroke or Deadshot, and even has a decapitated Talon from the Court of Owls as a trophy. He’s treated with a reverence he’s rarely, if ever, gotten.

I’m still sour this “color wheel” idea Snyder is using in the back-up feature, though in all fairness there’s still much we don’t know about it. For now, we’ve got a mostly quiet scene between Batman and Duke as they track down Zsasz. Declan Shalvey’s work remains delightfully clean. His opening page is a striking mosaic of Duke’s family memories, which transitions into a scene between he and his mother. We’re not given any further insight into what exactly Batman has in mind for Duke. But things are unfolding nicely. We have yet to see a sarcastic quip from the Dark Knight in this story, so it almost has the advantage over what Snyder is doing with Romita.

There’s also a delightfully subtle detail to the one of Zsasz’s word balloons. It gets little gray scratches behind the letters to signify the various marks he puts in his own skin.

All-Star Batman is mostly quality work thus far, which is consistent with what Snyder has done with Batman previously. But as I see it, Snyder has a tendency to get in his own way, and take his own stories down a notch. Whether it’s with dialogue that’s out of character, big awful Batman robots, or something else entirely. It’s like he just can’t resist.

Boy, I wish he could resist…

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

An All-Star Batman #1 In-Depth Review – Sh*t Batman Says

All-Star Batman #1, John Romita Jr., 2016TITLE: All-Star Batman #1
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: John Romita Jr.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: August 10, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

What exactly is “out of character” for Batman? He’s one of the most multi-faceted figures in all of popular culture. In comic books alone, we’ve seen him do virtually everything. He’s spit in Superman’s face (long story) and beat people to a bloody pulp. But he’s also worn zebra stripes and fought on the keys of a giant typewriter. Much depends on the angle you’re looking at him from. Are you going for the more mature, moody and broody Batman? Or is this a more colorful Caped Crusader for all ages?

This being said, a few things happen in All-Star Batman #1 that struck me as out of character. Both of them deal not with something Batman does, but something he says. More specifically, how he says it.

All-Star Batman takes our hero out of Gotham City, and on to the open road. Harvey Dent believes he can dispose of his alter-ego Two-Face if he can somehow get to a mysterious house nearly 500 miles away. Two-Face counters Dent’s offer by putting a price on the Dark Knight’s head. What’s more, if Batman reaches his destination, Two-Face threatens to spill every dirty secret he has about the Gotham underworld. This makes our protagonists the target of supervillains, civilians, and shockingly, one of Batman’s most trusted allies.

All-Star Batman #1, John Romita Jr., faceThis book comes from our old friend Scott Snyder, who writes really good Batman stories, despite at times annoying the crap out of yours truly. Most of what we get here falls into the really good category. Heck, our premise involves Batman hauling Two-Face across the country in a semi-truck. As a Batman geek, I’m immediately interested.

But Snyder makes some grating choices in this issue. The most notable is in the above image. Our opening scene sees Firefly and Killer Moth crash through the window of a diner, Batman in tow. They threaten to kill everyone inside if he doesn’t tell them where Harvey is. Batman responds with: “Hey. All of you in this diner. Look at me. Not them. Look at my face. No one is dying today.” He follows up with a wink and a smile.

These two panels feel completely out of character. They seem like something we might get from Superman or Captain America. Particularly the “look at my face” bit. I understand that saving those lives is Batman’s primary motivation that scene. But this isn’t his first rodeo. Why would Bruce Wayne, a public figure, want to intentionally draw attention to his masked face?

All-Star Batman #1, 2016, John Romita Jr., shut up and dieThen you have the wink and smile. I’m not sure if he’s looking at the villains or the diner patrons. Either way, it’s completely out of left field for this version of Batman. It’s one thing to make bold choices. For instance, Snyder later has Batman stab Killer Moth through the arm, and hack off Black Spider’s cybernetic limbs with a chainsaw. Edgy? Yes. But fair enough. However, if you push the boundaries too far the character itself begins to change. For this Dark Knight version of Batman, Snyder pushed the boundaries too far, and too early in the issue. Readers are just getting settled in, and he’s already throwing them awkward curve balls.

The whole “shut up and die” line (shown above) wasn’t great, either. I’m also prepared to get another big awful Batman robot at some point in this book. You know it’s coming.

All of this in a series called All-Star Batman, which obviously prompts memories of the controversial and much-maligned All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder. Why would they choose that title? Because the All-Star name evokes a reaction? Because Snyder will be working with “all-star” talents on this book?

But to repeat: Most of what’s in this issue is good. Snyder’s characterization of Two-Face is spot-on. We establish he’s colorblind in his left eye. Meaning his dual personality sees the world in (you guessed it) black and white. Two-Face knowing people’s secrets, their hidden dark sides, is very strong writing and fits him like a glove. There’s also a point to be made for money bringing out the dark side in everyday people.

All Star-Batman #1, John Romita Jr., chainsawAnd admittedly, I like the image of Batman using a chainsaw. As a one-off, it’s a lot of fun.

Though his art has an undoubtedly epic feel to it, John Romita Jr. has good issues and bad issues. One in awhile, you’ll seen one of his panels and just cringe. Thankfully, this is a good issue. Also, Dean White’s colors allow you to really feel the heat of the Indian summer they mention early on. The intense red that White puts into Two-Face’s scarred half is very striking, specifically that big eye. It’s like he has the all seeing, all knowing eye.

Snyder also gives us a back-up story drawn by Declan Shalvey, whose sleek and clean work I prefer to Romita’s. We get a lovely appearance from the Batman: The Animated Series Batmobile. The story features Duke Thomas, who is also in the main story. But between his appearances in this book and Tom King’s Batman, we still have no idea what the end goal of him being there is. It’s been emphasized that Duke is not going to be Robin. Batman, in his own words, is “trying something new.” My interest is piqued.

All-Star Batman #1, 2016, DeclanHowever, this story also introduces us to something that, if it’s what I think it is, infuriates me. The Cursed Wheel is supposed to be a condensed version of all Batman’s training, sharpened and applied to tenets taught by Alfred. Each color on the wheel apparently represents different psychological traits. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this concept, until you get to this dialogue…

“Look at the colors. You see hints of them in the colors of your allies. Dick leans blue. Damian, green. Barbara, purple. It’s a secret history that unites them, connects them, differentiates them.”

No, it really doesn’t.

We don’t need to overthink the colors that Dick, Damian, Barbara, and everybody that’s trained with Batman wears. If Duke needs to have a model for his training, so be it. But let’s not overdo it. This concept has just been introduced, so it deserves a chance to grow. But at this point it’s an eye-roller.

Just before we’re introduced to the wheel of contrivance, Duke is telling Batman that he’s fine on his own, and that today “Robin doesn’t need a Batman.” The Dark Knight replies with “Good. Batman doesn’t need a Robin either.” That line feels very wrong coming from Bruce, considering just how many Robins he’s trained. What’s he getting at?

There’s definitely some nitpicking to be done with All-Star Batman. I’ve credited Scott Snyder with not being afraid to have big ideas. Some of them pay off, some of them don’t. But it’s the little things that chip away at this issue, and cumulatively bring it down a notch. Still, Snyder has earned the right to say what he wants to say with Batman. It’s obviously too early to call this story a success or failure. But because Snyder is attached to it, All-Star Batman will at the very least be noteworthy.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

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

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

By Rob Siebert

Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 7.5/10

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

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