Comic Review – Batman #33

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

I was away from Wednesday to yesterday this week, hence the delay in picking up comics and putting out a review. Anyway, I knew I would be reading Batman #33 first and that regardless of how good it was I would be reviewing it as it is the finale of the ‘Zero Year’ storyline that has been running in the main Batman title since June 2013. Batman is written by Scott Snyder, with pencils by Greg Capullo, inks from Danny Miki, colours by FCO Plascencia and letters by Dezi Sienty. It is published by DC comics, but if you’re reading a comic book review (or in fact, a living human being) you probably knew that already.

Zero Year is set six years prior to the current DC universe (post 2011 reboot. I’m going to stop calling it ‘The New 52’ as it is nearly three years old now. I don’t call my three year old underwear ‘new’), and split into three sections. ‘Secret City’ dealt with Bruce Wayne’s initial return to Gotham city after missing for years and assumed dead. This is a young and petulant Bruce, butting heads with Alfred who disapproves of his decision to start fighting crime as a vigilante, and with Jim Gordon whom Bruce doesn’t trust at all. Bruce also clashes with his uncle, and Edward Nygma (pre-Riddler) who have their own machinations. Through this section Bruce battles the ‘Red Hood Gang’ led by ‘Red Hood One’, a group terrorising the city. After nearly being killed, he finds the resolve to become the costumed hero we all know and love. But he still has a ways to go. Nevertheless, at the start of the second section ‘Dark City’ he successfully stops the gang, despite the police trying to arrest him. The reprieve is short however, as the Riddler then emerges and plunges the city into darkness, challenging Batman to find a way to turn it back on. While trying to stop Nygma, all while confronted with Dr. Death and his attacks on various scientists with his bone toxin, Batman and Jim Gordon (now with an uneasy alliance) realise that the Riddler has been laying a trap the whole time, and when the GCPD finally get the power back to the city it is all under the control of the Riddler. He detonates the walls of the city during a flood, engulfing the city as he does so.

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This leads to the final section of Zero Year, ‘Savage City’, finding Bruce waking up to a Gotham quite different than what he is used to. The city is cut off from the outside world, dilapidated, overgrown and the populace is under complete control by the Riddler. He uses security bots and drones to police the city, appearing via video screens from an unknown location to challenge the people to outwit him and save their city. Batman, presumed dead, teams up with a bearded Jim Gordon, Lucius Fox and a black ops team sent in to take down the Riddler, to find Nygma and end his stranglehold over Gotham. All while some jets are on their way to drop missiles on the city to stop the Riddler extending his influence beyond Gotham. Issue #33 was the finale to Savage City and to the whole Zero Year arc, so it typically ends with the Riddler being thwarted and everything returning to (relative) normalcy and the rebuilding of Gotham. The journey there is always the best part though, and we start the issue with Batman having found the Riddler’s secret hideout but faced  with answering riddles before being allowed to move and stop the jets from blowing up the city. I always find these fun as I rack my brain trying to figure them out before reading on. Then trying to figure out how you get it if I don’t manage to. Meanwhile Gordon and Fox race against time to try to drop the communications net Nygma has put over Gotham, to contact the outside world and stop the jets. When they succeed we move one month later to the rebuilding process to wrap up the arc, with Bruce throwing a party for everyone. There is also a nice moment with the now Commissioner Gordon, and it is clear than Bruce has moved on and now trusts the man he worked together with to save the city.

Finally, we have a scene with Alfred, who clearly hoped with all his heart that Bruce would now move on, try and have a normal life, stopping Alfred from worrying about him risking his life. Throughout the arc, flashbacks of Bruce growing up have been woven in between the main story, some to do with his parents’ death and some seemingly unconnected entirely. Everything here is brought back together in an immensely satisfying way, detailing Bruce’s motivation for being Batman, and Alfred’s desire to see a happy and fulfilling life for someone who is basically his adopted son. I don’t really want to spoil this part, but it nearly ruined me and it managed to further elevate an issue I already really enjoyed. If I was capable of displaying human emotion, this would have been a real gut punch. Unfortunately I lack the subroutines.

I’ve never really made much of a secret about it, but Scott Snyder is my favourite comic book writer and one of my favourite writers full stop. This is more of what I have loved for the previous 32 issues. The story is fantastic, and the dialogue so spot on. I read a comment online once that ‘Scott Snyder doesn’t know how to end things’. I’ve never understood this at all, everything I have read from him has been strong. Just talking about this run on Batman, the Court of Owls ended brilliantly, Death of the Family was excellent and this was too. I like that they often aren’t the huge brawls and explosive endings you would often expect from a superhero comic, they are more introspective and character driven. Greg Capullo nails this just like he has done since these two started as the Batman creative team back at the beginning of the relaunch. His art is gorgeous and expressive, but while the action looks as impressive as always my stand up panel in the issue is Bruce holding Alfred by the shoulders and trying to explain his reasoning to him in the closing pages. The rest of the art team complement Capullo’s work perfectly, with Danny Miki’s inks strengthening everything and FCO Plascencia’s colours bringing the art to life. Plascencia’s colours have really stood out in Savage City, making both the overgrown Gotham and the colourful Riddler schemes look stunning.

The easiest way to sum up Zero Year is in the ‘One Month Later’ section of the book, words from Bruce himself as “Nothingness. A void. No meaning or value. Just an end. A death. That’s zero, isn’t it?”. It was a terrible year in Gotham that all involved would like to forget, yet it is a year that defines Batman, his place in his city and his determination for the future. I have really enjoyed this latest arc of Batman and can’t wait for the next one. If I had one complaint about Zero Year, it is that the story has been going on for so long. And by that, I don’t mean the story is too long, it is more that it has taken I think 14 months for the whole thing to come out (due to ‘Villains month’ last September and the flash forward Batman Eternal spoiler issue in February). Over that amount of time, it is difficult to remember everything that has happened as it all pertains to the story. I’m going to give the entire arc a re-read over the next couple of weeks, as I’m pretty sure it will benefit from being read as a whole story. However, by devoting 12 whole issues (a couple, including this one, were oversized) to an arc exploring and fleshing out Batman’s origins while still continuing a compelling arc has worked very well.

I loved this finale to Zero Year, and if you like Batman you will too. Pick it up from your local comic book shop, and the back issues shouldn’t be too difficult to track down. Alternatively, it will all be available digitally or you can buy the collections as and when they come out, starting with Secret City out in hardcover now, and Dark City out in October.

 

Score: 9.5 Riddles out of 10

Comic Review – Robin Rises: Omega

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Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

Definite spoilers if you haven’t read the Requiem story started back in Batman Incorporated #8

This week I picked up the Robin Rises: Omega one-shot from DC Comics, written by Peter J. Tomasi with pencils from Andy Kubert, inks from  Jonathan Glapion, colours from Brad Anderson and letters from Nick J. Napolitano. This one-shot kicks off the Robin Rises storyline that has been brewing in Batman and Robin (also written by Tomasi) for over a year now.

 

Final spoiler warning

 

Right, so as you probably know the most recent Robin, Damian Wayne, was killed in the pages of Batman Incorporated early last year. He fought and was stabbed by ‘The Heretic’, a solider of Talia al Ghul (his mother) who would turn out to be some form of overgrown baby/clone of himself. It was very much Grant Morrison killing the character that he had put so much effort into developing, which I guess is his right to do. Following on from that, Batman and Robin became Batman and…, with guest characters filling in for the Dark Knight’s lack of a partner as he basically went through the stages of loss after the death of his son. This being a superhero world, and ‘the revolving-door-of-death’ making a permanent grave a laughable concept, obviously Damian would return somehow. It was only a matter of time. Refreshingly, DC haven’t bothered to shy away from this fact (though the promotion behind the death itself left a lot to be desired. I had it spoiled for me in an advert in the pages of a Green Lantern issue, after going to great lengths to avoid it in the news) and the Batman and… title has been Bruce Wayne, mad with grief and incredibly stubborn, trying to find a way to bring his son back from the dead. Which always ends well.

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That is where Robin Rises: Omega picks up from. The assumption being that by the end of this story arc, either Damian will be alive again or some other new Robin will have taken his place. The issue starts with a very brief and effective recap of everything you really need to know about to how we got where we are, which happens to be Batman (and Titus, one of my favourite DC characters!), Frankenstein and Ra’s al Ghul, on the same side for now and accompanied by his League of Assassins, facing off against a small army of parademons and soldiers from Apokolips led by Glorious Godfrey. After a good old fashioned brawl, Godfrey and his men take off through a boom-tube (extra-dimensional teleportation) with Damian’s sarcophagus. Batman decides he must follow them to Apokolips, to recover Damian’s body and to use their technology to bring him back to life. The story will then continue in Batman and Robin #33 next week.

This is more a kick off to the main story, but what is here is really well written. I like Tomasi’s work, and he has a great grasp on these characters. The bulk of the storytelling in the issue comes from the 7 page recap though, which I think is done clearly enough to make this a very easy jumping on point for anyone not reading the title and thinking about giving it a go (though for people that are up to date, the price bump up to $4.99/£3.50 for an extra sized comic* that includes 7 pages of stuff they already know may be a bit of a slap in the face). Written as inner monologue from Bruce, he reflects on the circumstances that led to Damian’s birth and the upbringing that created him, their time together until his death and admits that he did things he wasn’t proud of to try and get him back. The bulk of the rest of the issue is all Batman being a badass, people threatening each other and fighting. I particularly enjoyed how desperate he seems, and now more than ever appears totally prepared to die fighting rather than give up. Kubert does a really nice job illustrating key moments from the last several years of Batman history, and some excellent big superhero action on a tundra landscape, brought to life by the rest of the art team with the flashy colours looking great on the white background. Also this happens and it looks awesome:

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Since the start of the New 52 back in late 2011, Batman and Robin was a title that I have picked up in trade paperbacks rather than monthly. That isn’t to say it isn’t worth picking up, it absolutely is, and I have really enjoyed the volumes I have read. I was just trying to limit my comics budget and was already getting my Batman fix from the main Batman title (though I was also reading Detective Comics from the relaunch, and dropped it after only a couple of issues because it was totally forgettable and a waste of money). I started back up with it during the ‘Requiem’ storyline, and issue #18 (the first issue after Damian’s death in Batman Incorporated #9) was my favourite comic of 2013. Track that issue down because it really is one of the most powerful things I think I have ever read. But money got tight again so I dropped it to wait for collections.

That being said, I think I am going to jump back on it from this point. The series is definitely worth it, so I’ll make room in my budget. I’m interested in seeing how it all plays out, and if you are a DC fan not reading the main series I recommend jumping on this one-shot and carrying on with the story afterwards. If you are new to DC (and anything I have said made any sense), this should be a good story anyway but in the wider context may not mean a great deal to you. Regardless, as always you can pick it up at your local comic book shop or through the medium of the internet and apps.

Score: 8 Boom Tubes out of 10

 

* I’m also not sure why the paper stock was different than what DC usually puts out.

Dan’s Nerdgasms: Superman Red Son

Each Monday Dan recommends a classic unmissable graphic novel. 

Today I’m recommending a DC trade paperback called Superman Red Son. Masterfully written by Mark Millar and illustrated by Dave Johnson and Killian Plunket. Instead of landing in Kansas as as a child, what could have happened if Superman’s rocket landed on a collective farm in the Soviet Union? What would happen if the Man of Steel was raised as a communist?

In this book you’ll see all the familiar characters you know and love with a completely different twist. There’s a whole bunch of other DC characters that make an appearance, like Batman and Green Lantern — who you’ll both see in a whole new light. Don’t worry folks Batman is still bad ass in the story.

As always what would any Superman tale be without the devious Lex Luther opposing him every step of the way. In this story he is the head of S.T.A.R Labs and has been given the mission to destroy Superman at any costs.

This book came out originally in 2003 as a three part mini series . It’s collected together now in one book. If you’re a huge Superman fan or just after a really different take on the Man Of Steel, then this is the the book for you.

Happy reading boys and girls

Dan

Comic Review – Death Sentence Volume 1

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Sometimes he reads graphic novels. This is a review of one of them. Minor spoilers possible.

This month I got the chance to read and review volume one of Death Sentence from Titan Comics, which came out this week. The script was written by Montynero (who did the issue covers as well), with art and colours by Mike Dowling and letters from Jimmy Betancourt.

Death Sentence largely takes place in London, and the story is framed around a new sexually transmitted disease called ‘G-Plus’, a virus that endows those infected with extraordinary powers but will result in their death within six months. These powers are unpredictable, idiosyncratic depending on the personality of the individual infected, and seemingly limitless until the untimely demise of the new super-being. Shady agencies are involved rounding up the most powerful and potentially dangerous, and bring them to a facility looking to test the limits of those infected, learn about the disease and possibly cure it. There is clearly more to the development of the virus, and hopefully the story gets the chance to develop further past this first arc.

The series focuses on three main characters who have recently found out that they are infected. The first is Verity, a struggling artist who is stuck at design job, and she is definitely the most likeable of the three. Weasel, the ex-frontman of a popular band working on his solo material whilst delving into a cornucopia of drugs and women, is based on pretty much every punk archetype you can think of and, while somewhat of an arsehole, is somehow tragic and a bit sympathetic. The last character is Monty. Monty is Russell Brand. This isn’t intelligent insight from me, he was clearly written to be a pastiche of Brand. You’ll see it in seconds and then you will only be able to read his dialogue in his voice. I had to try very hard not to let this bother me too much, because I really don’t like Russell Brand. I think he is a bit of an unfunny dick. I seem to be relatively unique in thinking this though, so I wouldn’t worry. And while I found Monty to be insufferable with really eye-rolling lines like “she played a faltering melody on my love trumpet”, he manages to become less of a dick when he starts to redefine nihilism by indulging in a myriad of temptations, even more so than before, culminating in wholesale murder (and the grisly end of a few well known public figures too). I won’t go into the details, as I don’t want to spoil too much of it. Suffice to say everything gets very big and entertainingly ludicrous in scope.

That’s where the story goes, and I actually found the core concept really interesting. When given potentially totally untethered power and a short, definite remaining lifespan, what do you do with your life? I think if presented as a thought experiment, most would say they would devote their remaining life to helping people or spending time with those closest to them. I think in reality, many would probably fall somewhere in between the actions of Weasel and Monty. Total or severe moral degradation and the pursuit of the basest desires. There are some interesting thoughts on the propagation of our genes being a true form of immortality, and there is a decent focus on art and creativity (two of the main characters are from that background) and the legacy and impact of art which I found to be a real strength. There is also a lot of sex in the book, a lot of sexual language, a few bits of rather graphic gore and a healthy amount of swearing, so if that isn’t your bag or you are easily offended then I would avoid this. But I think you’ll probably be fine.

I’ll be honest, I felt that the dialogue in the first issue was a bit clunky. But I think I may be reacting to the Monty scenes as an unfair representation of the rest of the issue*. It may also be the series finding its feet though, because it isn’t a problem I had in the later chapters of the volume at all. While the set up of the story and how the powers manifest could have seemed been a bit contrived, I found it to be a really original way of introducing powers into this world. I thought that the sometimes the need to be audacious with the amount of sex and sexual language bordered on getting in the way of the story, but it never quite got there and ultimately suited the plot, and I found this series to be very interesting. As I said before, it gets ludicrously big by the end. I found it to be almost a combination of the over-the-top finale of the Hellsing manga and Akira. They even even recognise the latter with a fleeting reference in the last chapter which was nice. The art by Dowling is really strong, in particular the visuals of Verity tapping into her powers as an extension of her creativity somehow managing to be equal parts horrifying and beautiful at the same time.

The collection itself is a nicely bound hardcover with one of Montynero’s covers on the front. Something I particularly enjoyed about the collection was the inclusion of a commentary at the end from Montynero and Mike Dowling for every chapter, giving a nice insight into how the book came about in more detail than I remember seeing in a graphic novel before.

Overall I did really enjoy Death Sentence, even though I sound negative in this review quite a few times. It revels in being over the top and silly, and that is absolutely intended and how it should be read. It is simply a lot of fun, so I recommend everyone pick it up. Check it out in your local comic book shop or a reputable online retailer if you live in some backwater without a comic book shop.

Score:  8 G+ Tests out of 10

 

*That is probably more a failing on my part. I don’t like Superbad because I find Jonah Hill’s character too annoying, or The Inbetweeners because the blonde kid pisses me off too much. I know these characters are supposed to be annoying dicks. That is how they are written and that is what is supposed to be funny about them, but I just can’t get past being too annoyed by them.

Comic Review – Spread #1

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

In stark contrast to last week, this week I bought way too many comics (admittedly some were those I put back last week). I still haven’t got to all of them, but all those I have read so far have been excellent. Tough choice for a review, but I decided to go with Spread #1 as I enjoyed it the most*. Spread was written by Justin Jordan, with art by Kyle Strahm, colours by Felipe Sobreiro and letters from Crank!, published by Image Comics.

Spread takes place in a post apocalyptic world that is overrun with ‘the spread’, mysterious and grotesquely twisted organisms that will kill anything they see, infecting the living and reanimating the dead, converting them into foul mutated puppets. Think ‘The Thing’ but on a much bigger scale. People scavenge and fight over resources while trying to avoid the spread, but we open on a group that got too close for comfort. It seems that raiders are responsible initially, and now the spread is creeping closer. The protagonist, ‘No’, is connected in some way to these unlucky people, and has to despatch one of them after the spread has taken them, and later the raiders that killed them too. Visually he looks quite a bit like Wolverine, but has two hatchets instead of claws. Which is very much as cool as it sounds. No eventually finds what the group were trying to find: a baby (who will later be called ‘Hope’ apparently) who he must now protect in this hideous world.

While the elements of the plot may be familiar, the writing is very strong and everything combines to a refreshingly interesting take on the horror post apocalyptic genre. The story, in a way similar to Saga, is narrated by the baby from some point in the future (which does somewhat indicate that the child will survive at least a decent stretch of time) but there is no big information dump, no hand-holding to explain at length what is going on. We know what we need to at this stage, and it works very well. The art is disgusting in the best possible way. Gory and revelling in it, and it looks fantastic because of it. The colours are almost where this book shines the most though, the vivid blood red of the spread (and all the actual blood) juxtaposed strikingly over the snow filled surroundings to really bring the horror of the art to life.

So pretty clear this is another new series I really enjoyed, and I think you should pick it up too. If you are a fan of grim horror (and I suspect you are), then you should be into Spread. Check it out at your local comic book shop or digital comics app thingymabob.

Score: 9 Runners out of 10

 

* Also check out ‘The Life After’ by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo from Oni Press for another really interesting new series. 

Comic Review – Southern Bastards #3

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

Last week before payday, so a bit of a struggle to make room for comics. I even put a couple back on the rack I actually wanted to pick up! Maybe I’m growing as a person, and learning to prioritise like an adult. Maybe I was hungry and remembered I need to eat at some point over the next few days. Whatever, I was pretty sure I was going to review Southern Bastards #3 anyway. Southern Bastards is published by Image Comics, and written by Jason Aaron, with art from Jason Latour and letters by Jared K. Fletcher.

After over 40 years, our protagonist Earl Tubb returns to his home in Craw County, Alabama, to pack up what is left of his uncle’s house. He finds the place under the control of ‘Coach Boss’, the high school football coach who uses his players to instil fear in the county between games. While Earl is there, the coach’s boys assault and end up killing a friend. Constantly trying to convince himself to leave, Earl eventually realises he can’t just let it be (as we knew he wouldn’t). Events conspire for his dad’s old weapon of choice to almost fall on his lap, and as the previews stated, ‘Earl Tubb is an angry old man with a very big stick’. In this latest issue, Earl heads to the local diner to confront some of those responsible for the murder of his friend. And by confront, I mean beat the shit out of them with his stick. He then orders some ribs and waits for some of the other county residents to stand up with him against Coach Boss and his cronies. If I make it to old age I hope I am as much of a badass as Earl.

Earl

The world Jason Aaron has been crafting in this series is excellent. I’ve never been to ‘The South’ of the US, but the feel, the characters and the dialogue really evoke what I little know about that part of the country (though I certainly don’t mean that every town in the south is like this!). Latour’s art is brilliant, bringing this world to life and imbuing it with a dirty feel and colour palette. Everything in Craw County is ugly, especially the people. Considering the things they’ve done that suits just fine.

Southern Bastards is great, and issue #3 is another solid instalment in this first arc ‘Here Was a Man’. The story is simple but really interesting, and is totally different from anything else I’m reading at the moment. The first two issues have been reprinted (I think), so pick this up and track them down (or wait for the first arc to be collected in trade paperback in a few months) at your local comic book shop, or grab all 3 digitally. Now!

Score: 8.5 Ribs out of 10

Dan’s Nerdgasm: Daredevil

Daredevil has to be one of my best loved Marvel characters. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear is a classic story on the origin of the old horn head himself. Frank Miller (Sin City, 300) brings us a gritty origin story that follows Matt Murdock’s life of love, pain disappointment and strength. A must read for Daredevil and Miller fans alike.

Dan