Comic Review – All-Star Batman #1 (DC Comics)

Our pal Kit reviews comics for us! This is one of those reviews.

Warning: Minor Spoilers

“I just wanted to say… I’m so sorry I had to do it.” – *******

Another new DC Rebirth Comic this week! It’s another Batman run DC are kicking off with All-Star Batman #1, written by Scott Snyder, with art by John Romita Jr., Danny Miki and Dean White for the main story, and Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire on the backup story, with Steve Wands lettering both parts. I wasn’t sure what to expect with All-Star Batman as opposed to more traditional Batman comics. The only version of this to come out before was All Star Batman and Robin in 2005-2008, and all I know about that is Dick Grayson gets abandoned in the Bat Cave and has to eat rats to stay alive. What I got here was a comic where Scott Snyder, who lead the outstanding New 52 Batman run, really strutting his stuff.

All star batman cover

Cover art by Romita Jr., Miki & White

Snyder has been let loose to do what he does best: character interaction. The plot of issue #1 focuses on the relationship between Batman and Two Face, interestingly quite a line is drawn between Two Face and Harvey Dent in this case. The two are off to ‘burn out’ Two Face once and for all. Two Face of course isn’t too keen of the idea and has put a huge bounty on the both of them. It isn’t all talking though, we get a wonderfully over-the-top fight scene as mercenaries try to bring the Bat down. Batman manages to switch things up and the whole thing takes on a cheesy horror movie-esque feel to it while Bats takes on his attackers.

There’s more to the relationships than only Batman and Two Face though, we get an additional story attached to the main one, from Duke Thomas’s perspective where he and Batman try to save victims of Zsasz. There’s again a focus on their relationship, emphasising that this is not Duke as Robin, it is not Batman and Robin (Damian still holds that title) but something ‘new’. It feels like the pair of them are finding their feet a little with this relationship. While I always like the idea of Batman having a side-kick or similar I’m not sure DC know quite where this one is going. I hope they do and it’s only the character’s uncertainty but I can’t quite tell what it’s meant to be yet.

All star interiors

Art by Romita Jr., Miki, White & Wands

As for the art, overall it was solid. Romita Jr. and Miki team up to create stunning moments, particularly in the fight scenes and a certain silhouette of Batman with a chainsaw looks awesome, though if I’m honest while the over the top imagery suits the big panel images it sometimes looked off in some of the smaller interactions. White’s colours for the main story are somewhat subdued and more of a desaturated palette, which works well to show the passing of the time of day throughout the start of the road trip, and makes the field scenes look particularly impressive. In the back up story, Shalvey’s art is a nice contrast to the brighter outdoor aesthetic in the main arc, with a more ominous feel that is simultaneously highly detailed, particularly with the contrast of the geometric shapes forming ‘The Cursed Wheel’ and the crime scene. Bellaire’s vibrant colours help to further distinguish the back up not only from the main story but from different scenes in the same short tale, with dim Batcave clashing nicely with the bright colours on the Batcomputer.

Speaking of smaller interactions, can Romita Jr. draw hands? There were less examples of actual hands than I was expecting as so many of them are covered by chunky gloves or armour. While gloved or armoured they do look good, though naturally a lot of the detail in the fingers and joints is simplified somewhat. There is one trucker with very stubby fingers, but they are used well in gesture when they are in panel, covered or not. Romita can, though didn’t get to show off properly in this issue, which is why they’ll get a 7.5/10 for hand drawing skills!

Final Verdict

I like how different this feels to the main Batman run. I am a huge fan of Snyder’s past work on Batman so I have high hopes for this. It looses a point for some of the art and the uncertainty over Batman and Duke, but those are issues I’m sure many will disagree on. If you like them this would be a 9.5, though in my opinion it drops to:

Score: 8.5 Stilling Cuts out of 10

Comic Review – Batman #40

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he reviews of one of them, with potential minor spoilers.

Contains some spoilers from earlier issues of the ‘Endgame’ arc

DC’s Convergence event is fairly huge, and being in a bit of a ropey financial situation right now, I decided to effectively bow out of DC Comics for the month… mostly. I’ve picked up the odd Convergence tie-in if a writer or artist is involved that I’m fond of, but with the main titles largely on pause until the move to Burbank is finished, I decided it was best to just save a bit of money and reduce my stack each Wednesday. However, this week saw the release of both Batman and Justice League #40, and as the former was then end of the current arc I’ve picked that to review this week (not the first time I’ve reviewed the conclusion of a Batman arc). As for the previous 39 issues, Batman #40 was written by Scott Snyder and pencilled by Greg Capullo, with inks by Danny Miki, colours from FCO Plascencia, letters by Steve Wands.

This issue was the finale of Endgame, the story arc that saw the Joker return to utterly destroy Batman and the world around him. Starting with corrupting the Justice League with Joker Venom, to mutilating those closest to Bruce, he also threaded a narrative that led to the potential conclusion that he was in fact immortal, that Batman could never stop him and that Gotham would fall. By this last issue, barely any citizens remain untouched by the latest Joker Venom, a strain that Batman couldn’t cure, that has turned them into crazed zombies fighting themselves and anyone uninfected. Having already enlisted the help of his rogues gallery who, despite their own criminal intentions and dubious sanity, don’t want to see Gotham torn apart any more than he does, Batman and the Bat family attempt to fight their way through the throng of victims with their contorted smiles and creepy laughter to try to get to the Joker, to find a cure and to find out once and for all if he really is ‘The Pale Man’, an immortal spectre as old as Gotham itself. The truth about both men, and how they face down the possibility of death, leads to the inevitable show down between Bruce and his possibly eternal foe, as the city quakes and tears itself apart above them.

I’ve said innumerable times how much I enjoy Scott Snyder’s writing, and he has continued to be very strong on Batman since the start of the New 52. Endgame has been a bombastic, hugely entertaining thrill ride from start to finish. As with the previous arcs, Snyder has continued to peel back why Bruce is so important, and we continue to be interested in him. This issue could have easily been overwrought or weighed down by the culmination of the story and the moving elements, like the inclusion of the villains on Batman’s side, but they were kept to the background without being sidelined, to allow for the final confrontation to breathe and to focus in on Batman and the Joker’s relationship as they brought each other to the brink of annihilation.

And this annihilation was, as always, beautifully realised by Capullo. The first half of the issue was strong as always, but the fight in the cavern is brutal, gory and truly visceral in a way that feels like if this was the last time Batman and the Joker ever faced each other (obviously it won’t be, because superhero comics) then this would be a fitting end. Miki’s inks bring a savage oppression to the fight, and a darkness to the rest of the issue that adds weight to the tone. Plascencia’s colours bring this all to life, with the stark and unnaturally bright shades of the sunset melee at the start, to the flame-lit show down. All together, the art team continues to shine even so far into the creative team’s run.

Though some elements of the fallout of Endgame have already been spoiled online (you’ve all seen the mechanised Batsuit), they lack the context and lead up that explains how we get there, or where we will go after. Regardless of what is coming next, this was another great end to what has been a really strong arc. Once again, Snyder and Capullo played with our expectations and threw in potential retcons that enraged or discomforted anyone with a particularly jerky knee. But comfort zones are for lesser storytellers, and things are at their best when they’re not as they seem. When this team does finally leave the book (and apparently they were originally planning to at the end of this arc), I don’t at all envy who has to pick up the reigns after them.

Pick up Batman #40 (if for some reason you haven’t already) on your digital comics platform of your choice or at your local comic shop. Even better, go and head down to Free Comic Book Day this Saturday 2nd May at your LCS and buy it when you get your free comics!

Score: 9 Lipstick Wearing T-Rexs out of 10

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.

20140726_170341[1]

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