Review – Batman, Vol. 4: Zero Year-Secret City [No Spoilers]

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So I’m getting tired of the Joker, I think.

I thought Death of the Family was a great Joker story–it was deep, and like Court of Owls before it, it shows Scott Snyder’s incredible knowledge and understanding of the character of Batman/Bruce Wayne. It was a welcome arc at the time, as New 52 hadn’t seen the Joker since Detective Comics #1, which was also quite good.

Batman V.4This time around, it gets a bit redundant. In Zero Year-Secret City, we get the story of the first days of Batman in Gotham City, which again, is a welcome story for a skilled writer to tell, but what we get comes off as strained, forced, and ultimately redundant. This is, I think, because we get not just Batman’s origin story, but also that of the Joker’s. And the problem that comes with that is the problem that has faced theBatman mythos since a certain movie came out in 2008:

Is this Batman’s story, or is this the Joker’s story?

I honestly can’t tell which anymore. There is so much focus on the Joker in this collection, in his numerous monologues, and Bruce Wayne and Alfred spend so much time talkingabout the Joker, that the development of the character of Batman really takes a backseat to the Joker’s grandstanding. The force ofThe Dark Knight, and what it did for the popularity of an already very popular character, has reached a break point, in that a talented, knowledgeable writer is now churning out issues that use Batman to develop the Joker. Death of the Family knocked it out of the park–especially in Batman #17–but all the revisiting of those ideas and the underscoring of how this story is structured makes Batman tired for the first time under Snyder’s supervision.

What results is the weakest collection of Batman comics of the New 52. Snyder made his point about the nature of the relationship between Batman and the Joker expertly , thoroughly, and finally in the previous arc, and to go backward at this point seems the wrong play. There’s a richness to the Bat-verse that seems to be left on the table with each of these huge-concept, Joker-centric story arcs, and while we get a look at the Riddler as a sort of up-and-comer, DC only packages four issues in this collection (#21-24), so that becomes a cliffhanger to a story that has only been marginally developed throughout this particular, scant, and story-redundant trade paperback.

The two strengths of this collection can’t go un-discussed: Greg Capullo is in top form again, lending incredible detail to both the characters (the Zero Year Batsuit is off-the-charts cool) and to Gotham City that this might be the best work he’s done since he took on penciling duties for the book. The other nice surprise was the three backup features included at the end of this collection, in which we get short vignettes about how Bruce learned to do the stone cold things that Batman can do: drive, invent, and fight. There are Russian madmen, South American criminals, and one-eyed Viking queens to help him along, and even though they’re relatively short, Tynion and Snyder make the most of the short pages they have for these shorts and really show us some interesting, new moments from Batman’s in-training years.

Batman will probably always be my favorite comic book character, but I hope to see more focus on Batmanhimself in future volumes after Convergence. Since Volume 5 focuses on finishing the Zero Year event, and Volume 7 will tell yet another six-issue Joker story in Endgame, it might be a while before we get some distance between Batman and his archenemy. But with the rich pool of villains who have gone ignored for the past three-and-a-half years, I hope to see DC’s top creative team take on some of those characters before their run ends. Their work is top-notch, but I think it’ll be more remembered for how it treats the Joker rather than the hero who will always defeat him.

–  Vandal

Discussion! ‘The Man in the Yellow Suit’, Part 3

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What follows contains spoilers from season 1 of THE FLASH.

Jaw-dropping.

Brain-melting.

Unbelievable.

Holy (deity or curse word of your choice)

These were some of the online reactions to The Flash, Episode 15: “Out of Time”. Before we get started, let me leave a little spoiler space.

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Ok, here we go!

Let’s start with the prediction accuracy tracker:

  • Wells is not really his name – as a time traveler, he chose H. Wells as a reference to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine  –  Status: Inconclusive 
  • Wells is really Eobard Thawne  – Status: Check
  • Barry and Thawne fight “through time” which ends with Thawne stranded in the past – Status:  Inconclusive but likely
  • Thawne needs Barry’s power to get back to his time – Status: Check
  • Wells caused the anomaly on purpose – Status: Inconclusive
  • Thawne’s “dead” wife (named Tess Morgan) is really Dr. Tina McGee of Mercury Labs– Status: Inconclusive
  • Barry will somehow become the very anomaly that causes the STAR Labs particle accelerator to melt down.  – Status: Inconclusive

Now, let’s talk about Episode 15, “Out of Time.”  The last 10 minutes of this had more “payoff” than any show I can remember.  Season finales – heck SERIES finales – have had less startling revelations (I’m looking at you, Sopranos!)   Starting at the 50 minute mark we got:

  • The final reveal that Wells is really Eobard Thawne, The Reverse Flash from the 25th century;
  • The “death” of Cisco (more on that later);
  • Iris finally admitting that she loved Barry;
  • Iris finding out Barry is the Flash; and
  • Barry travelling back in time.

Think about that for a minute. That all took place within 10 minutes of real time!  The image below accurately reflects what was going on at my house as I watched

Yellow Suit 3.1

Hat tip to Batman Memes for the pic!

So where does this leave us? Let’s start with the obvious. A lot of main characters are in bad shape – Singh, Joe, and Cisco are seriously injured or dead and a tidal wave is about to hit Central City

So, what happens next?

…..and then Barry travels back in time with most of the knowledge of what’s coming.  However, Barry does not know that Wells is Reverse Flash.  He cut Caitlyn off before she could tell him.  This is important.

The obvious story here is that Barry will change events such that Singh and Joe do not meet those fates and Mardon is captured before the tidal wave can be set off.

Cisco is another matter. His discovery about Wells/Thawne has been building for weeks – much earlier than where Barry is in time.  This time travel will not fully derail him.  Something may throw him off the scent for a while but like Thawne says, Cisco is clever.  He may get delayed (which saves his life in the short-term) but ultimately he will not be denied.  His current death will likely be undone by Barry but he’s still Thawne’s trail.  Eventually, he’ll figure it out again. I hope Barry is around when he does.

Now, why is it important that Barry doesn’t know about Wells true identity?  Let’s say the conversation between Caitlyn and Barry had gone like this:

Caitlyn:  “Barry, I need to tell you something important”

Barry:  “Not now, Mardon is causing a tidal wave that will flood the whole city!”

Caitlyn: “Barry, I just got back to STAR Labs. Cisco is dead and before he died, he convinced me that Wells is the bad guy. He’s in league with the Reverse Flash.  Now, go create a wind wall to sap the wave’s power”

Barry creates the wind wall and goes back in time.

Imagine what he would do with the information Catilyn gave him.  If he had found out about Wells before he travelled back in time.

Barry would have investigated and gone after him.  Especially if Cisco convinced Barry that Wells was really the Reverse Flash.  But Barry doesn’t know – and now Cisco / Catilyn are days away from discovering it.  I suspect the writers will enjoy throwing Thawne / Reverse Flash references at us whenever we see Wells for the next few episodes.  Barry, Cisco, Caitlyn and Joe will be blissfully unaware while we scream and shout at our TV sets.  Beautiful.

We have several weeks until the season finale.  I could see them throwing Cisco off the trail for the next few weeks only to have him re-discover the truth in time for the final couple of episodes.  Perhaps Thawne attacking Cisco is the fuse that ignites the “fight through time” battle that Barry and Thawne will have?  I could buy that.

Where does this leave Barry and Iris?

Barry went back in time but unlike the situation with Wells true identity, he knows that Iris loves him.  That will probably be true a few days back as well but Iris has apparently felt this way for a while.  Will she admit it to herself?  Will she allow herself to admit it to Barry?  That is definitely up in the air.  As the show is on the CW I’m going to go with “Soon” and “Eventually”.

Due to Barry’s time travel, Iris will also never have learned that Barry is the Flash.  Eventually, we get to see that reveal again.  If it’s like the comic books it’ll be slightly more….cozy.

So where are we headed?

Time for some more predictions!

Barry will study the pictures from the mirror and “change” how he fights Thawne 

We know now that Barry and Thawne will fight. They will travel back to the night Nora was killed and Thawne was stranded in the past. The question is, will it happen the same way again?

We’ve seen Barry look at the pictures from the night Nora Allen died.  During that conversation with Joe he says the pictures tell him what not to do. Barry works under the assumption that if he does something different, he’ll save his mother.  While that’s possible, it’s likely that saving his mother could lead to his father dying instead or to Thawne keeping his powers  or to…any number of things.  This screams “Law of unintended consequences” to me. In short, Barry will save Nora.  Hilarity will ensue.

Reverse Flash – Murderer  

We’ve already seen this: Yellow Suit 3.2

How long before we see this?
Yellow Suit 3.3

Who is that underneath that Batgirl mask? That’s Iris Allen.  The way she dies at the hands of the Reverse Flash looks familiar, doesn’t it?  I do not think this is imminent but down the road?  Definitely. Why else show Thawne kill Cisco that way?

We will find out that everything Wells/Thawne has done – built STAR Labs, built the particle accelerator and created the anomaly which caused the explosion – is for one reason and one reason only:  To create the Flash.

We now know that Thawne is from centuries ahead in time (the 25th century if the lore is a guide). While living in the 25th century, before he ever time travelled, it’s possible that he’d know someone named Harrison Wells created STAR Labs back in 2001.  At some point, Thawne’s 25th century technology allows him to mimic The Flash’s powers. Fast forward to now.

Barry and Thawne fight and Barry figures out how to remove Thawne’s powers.  Barry travels back to the future leaving Thawne marooned in 2001.  Thawne assumes the identity of Harrison Wells.  With no immediate way to create time travel he does the only thing he can do:  Begin the steps needed to bring the Flash into existence so he can mimic Flash’s powers and time travel again.

Think about it. This is Eobard Thawne, one of the great villains in DC comic history.  He’s not the altruistic type.  There is no logical reason for a marooned-in-the-past supervillain like Thawne to create STAR Labs EXCEPT to allow him to get what he wants. In this case that is a return trip to the 25th century.  In Thawne’s own words, the Flash’s power is the only thing that can help him do it. Bank on it.  Everything Thawne has done while using the name Harrison Wells was to create The Flash.

Like the man said, it’s a means to an end.

–  Vrin

A side note:  I’ve watched the Thawne reveal a dozen times now. I still get chills when I see it.  They did an absolutely MASTERFUL job setting it up.  Masterful.

Review! Justice League: Trinity War [No Spoilers]

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So here it is: the first major, Earth-Prime-wide crossover event of the New 52, and it did not disappoint. Trinity War is a huge story, and while it’s not quite a war, the conflict between the heroes–that’s pretty much all there is here–is very compelling storytelling, with Johns in control as usual and the characters moving toward something bigger still.Trinity War was everything I was hoping it would be, and stands tall as Johns’ best work as a writer since he became CCO of DC Comics. I could not have been more pleased.

Trinity WarFirst off, I’d like to address the characterization that the writers use in building this narrative, as there are some striking moments of interaction and dialogue that elevate this crossover in the way that big stories should. Most excellent in this vein are the dialogues that take place between Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman as they confront the danger that Pandora’s return brings to a world now under the protection of the Justice League. It’s a culmination of the experiences we’ve shared with them as readers, both in the stories (the adventures against Darkseid, Graves, and Atlantis) as well as the implicit battles that have taken place in the in-between times. They seem seasoned, mature, and serious about their responsibilities. The other figures that populate the story (and there are a LOT of them) all operate off of the leadership that DC’s trinity brings to the conflict, and the way in which Johns centers their decision-making on what the Justice League should and should not do really allows the War to reach full boil. The sense of teamwork, then of separation, and then the final meet-up when all of the hidden figures step out from behind their respective curtains could not have been more pronounced, measured, and in the end, effective. This conclusion–even though it’s not really a conclusion at all–I found extremely satisfying. In terms of storytelling, Trinity War is a masterful achievement.

The artwork is likewise terrific, but as multiple artists work to tell the graphic side of the story, the most stunning work goes to Ivan Reis in the work that he contributes to the story’s most dramatic moments (including one particularly serious conversation of the like I mention above). The final issue, however–the story’s best moment, as it should be–contains four splash pages that just arrested my page-turning tendencies and forced me to take stock of the artistic value of a high-concept, high-quality story like Trinity War. The detail, as it has been since he inherited Justice League from Jim Lee after issue #12, has never been sharper, and the manner in which he narrates the final showdown of the arc is the best and most breathtaking artwork that DC Comics has published since September of 2011. These pages worked together seamlessly to bringTrinity War to its close, and expectations and excitement could not be higher for where the Justice League is headed from here.

The whole story succeeds on so many levels that the weaknesses, absolutely present, seem an exercise in taking the story too seriously. I’ll not remember any of them when I think back on reading this collection, nor will I notice them when I consult this volume in preparation for reading the next big thing from DC Comics, Forever Evil , when it reaches trade paperback. Johns, Lemire, Reis, Finch, et al. have done such a terrific job with the first huge-concept story of the New 52 that I continue to make reading their and their co-workers’ publications with great enthusiasm.  Backlog Priority – 9.5/10

– Vandal

Review! Earth 2, Vol. 1: ‘The Gathering’ [No Spoilers]

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Zany antics abound in our first glimpse (sort of) of the New 52 Multiverse, and James Robinson and Nicola Scott give us a weird, quasi world government, a lot of saint language to celebrate the fallen Trinity (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, of course), and a new use for a B-list villain that can only provide just the right degree of adversity to bring together, hopefully, the fledgling team of new “Wonders” to protect the world.

Earth 2 Vol. 1It sounds like a scaled-back mega-plot, and to some extent, that’s exactly what it is. The plot revolves first around the Earth-2 version of Darkseid’s Parademon invasion, the tragic aftermath that martyrs a more-experienced trio of Wonders than the Earth-Prime version we encounter in Justice League, Vol. 1: Origins , and a struggle that unifies a trio of apostate and new metahumans, including a college-age Jay Garrick (the Flash), a Hawkgirl on the run from the World Army, and a brand-new, totally different Green Lantern. Robinson hurries to fill in a lot of the gaps in the 5-year jump forward in time that comes as part of this catch-up volume, and as such, the size of the conflict that the story centers on never feels quite as big as they want it to be. Ultimately, we can be sure that there is much more to come, a larger conflict and a more robust roster of Justice League members (or whatever they’re going to be called) in the issues to come, but as that’s the expectation that we take away from the story, the end of this first arc falls somewhat flat.

The artwork, however, is stunning. Nicola Scott sketches up a beautiful, detailed world with expressive, easy-to-follow action sequences and impressive settings, especially on splash pages or other large panels. She also gives the story some of the most expressive facial models that I’ve seen in a while, especially in issue #1, as the entire issue revolves around the final moments of Darkseid’s invasion. The drama of that issue lends most of its power to the art of Nicola Scott, as does much of the overarching narrative.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
7.5/10 – Even as the storytelling stumbles towards the end of the collection, the artwork gets better and better, and as such, is worth checking out.

– Vandal

Discussion! ‘The Man in the Yellow Suit’

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What follows contains spoilers for the first half of Season 1 of THE FLASH.

The mid-season finale of the Flash introduced his arch-nemesis, the Man In the Yellow Suit, aka the Reverse Flash.  Many questions sprung up about who he was under the mask, which version of the Reverse Flash was he?  What use is the tachyon device to Harrison Wells?  I welcome you to read my stab at answering these questions and some other predictions below!

Let’s start with this:  Harrison Wells is not a real name.  Well, it’s a real name but it’s not HIS real name.  He chose it purposely.  H. Wells who happens to be a time traveler?  Like HG Wells who wrote The Time Machine?  At some point he will reveal this delicious play on names and half the audience will say “WHY DIDN’T I SEE THAT???”  But not you – you heard it here first!

With regard to “Who is the Reverse Flash”? Let’s look at what we know from the mid-season finale:

  • The Reverse Flash wants a Tachyon device for reasons unknown
  • The Reverse Flash and Barry “Have been at this [fight] for a long time” (Reverse Flash quote)
  • Wells is abducted and beaten up by the Reverse Flash
  • Wells has the Reverse Flash suit, the stolen tachyon device and displays the voice trick Barry uses

So it seems clear to me:  Wells cannot be the Reverse Flash (because Wells was beaten up by him).  He also has to be the Reverse Flash (because he has the suit, the device stolen by Reverse Flash and can do the voice trick).  Oy!

To sort out this conundrum I’ll work on the assumption that Wells IS the Reverse Flash.  It’s possible that he’s not and if he’s shown not to be, I’ll do another post about it.

The first question I have is “In Flash lore, there are two Reverse Flashes.  Eobard Thawne and Hunter Zolomon.  One hated everything about the Flash (Thawne).  The other wanted Flash to be a hero worthy of fighting him (Zolomon).  Which Reverse Flash is Wells? Thawne or Zolomon?”

Let’s start with some observations: What attitude do we see from Wells with regard to Barry?

Yellow Suit 1We see Wells protect Barry by killing Stagg, we see him encouraging, coaxing, demanding Barry be faster (several times),  and we see him manipulate Barry into being a hero (negative reinforcement followed by “believing in him”, getting Detective West to support Barry as the Flash etc…).  All of these actions can be summed up as “Making Barry into a better hero”.  That, plus the red eyes while in the Reverse Flash suit, describes Hunter Zolomon.

In the comics, Eobard Thawne gains his powers by using 25th century science to recreate the Flash’s powers but only when he wears the Reverse Flash suit.  Eventually Thawne gains the powers on his own by tapping into the Speed Force created Barry creates when he runs.  The faster he runs, the more Speed Force is generated. Sound familiar?  I believe the tachyon device is Wells’ way of capturing that speed force.  This is something akin to what Eobard Thawne would do and is another reason why Wells wants more speed from Barry.  More speed = more speed force = more power for Wells.  As we know Wells is a time traveler and he’s from the future, I think he wants to use this power to get back to his own time.   Wait…what? Here’s why:

In the lore, Barry and Thawne have fought “through time”.  By that I mean if the fight took 5 minutes – 2 minutes took place in 1988, 50 seconds took place in 1975, one minute in prehistoric era etc…the fight was an 5 minutes long to them but it was spread through different time periods.  If I’m right, in the show story, part of that fight took place was when Nora was killed.  At the end of the “through the time stream” fight Barry will strand Thawne “in the time stream.”

Yellow Suit 2

CONCLUSION:
I suspect they have merged Zolomon’s attitude (Make Barry a worthy hero) and Thawne’s story (stranded in the past by Barry) to create one Reverse Flash in the body we know as Harrison Wells. I think the show will eventually have that “through the time stream” fight and at the end of their fight, Barry will strand Thawne/Zolomon/Wells in the recent past where he recognizes that he can only get home by creating “The Flash”. He will assume the identity of “Harrison Wells” and use his knowledge of the future / technology to build STAR labs and the particle accelerator.

I also think this is why Wells keeps checking on “the future” – to see if his presence in the past has altered anything (and also why he became so upset in the episode where the future newspaper showed The Flash never existed – if Flash never exists, Reverse Flash cannot exist and Thawne/Zolomon/Wells can’t go home).

Lastly, I suspect that at the end of that fight, Barry will somehow become the very anomaly that causes the STAR Labs particle accelerator to melt down.  In essence, he will create the very accident that gives him powers in the first place.  Chew on that one a while, internet!

While I’m not quite sure how that will work yet, I am sure that “the anomaly” wasn’t an accident.

New episodes return on January 20th.  What do you think will happen?

– Vrin

Review! Batman/Superman, Vol. 1: ‘Cross World’ [No Spoilers]

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I should really only give a five-issue trade three stars on principle–and, in this case, it’s only really four issues, as the fifth is a measly backup issue that offers very little by way of necessary information–but the work of Pak and Lee in terms of crafting a stylish, self-reflective story is far better than the publishing practices of DC. Batman/Superman, Vol. 1: Cross World is a great-looking piece of comic storytelling that sheds some light on a forgotten chapter of the New 52: the first meeting of Batman and Superman.

BvS V.1The story is fairly simple: during their first fight, Batman and Superman are teleported to Earth-2 where they participate in a battle that takes place prior to the events of Earth-2 #1 . They learn about the friendship, teamwork, and personal lives that in no way resembles the Earth-1 relationship; more accurately, it shows the presence of something that they both consider absent. It works as a sort of prequel to the events of both Justice League and Earth-2 , as well as an interesting, comic-familiar story that deals with themes such as choice, friendship, and time.

But where this volume really stands out is in the artwork of Jae Lee. The sharpness of the pencils are unlike anything that you’ll find anywhere else in comics. There need be no comparison, as none seems necessary–the style and symmetry of the artwork is breathtaking, engrossing, and tells the emotional story of the two most popular figures in modern mythology as well as the short, punctuated narrative style of Greg Pak does. It is impressive work, and a welcome, alternative voice to the widespread offerings centered on Batman and Superman.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
8/10 – 
Batman/Superman, Vol. 1: Cross World may not tell the most impressive story, but the manner in which it is told makes it a standout volume and a great place to launch a series that focuses on Clark and Bruce’s friendship. The manner in which it informs many other New 52 titles likewise makes this a book that the majority of comics readers will enjoy thoroughly.

– Vandal

Review! Batman, Incorporated, Vol. 2: “Gotham’s Most Wanted” [No Spoilers]

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This is the conclusion of a longsuffering, up-and-down trip with the Dark Knight, one that is long overdue to end. Grant Morrison has had his moments with this mega arc over the years, and strictly speaking, as a follow-up to the superb-in-every-way Batman: Son of the Demon story, it really does succeed. There’s a lot of chaff–a lot of chaff in the mix here–but as I was reading this last volume of the Batman, Inc. story, I found myself charmed at its ability to revisit almost all of the characters and stops on the way. It many ways, it reads a lot like Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern: Rise of the Third Army : a huge, final showdown between the titular hero and a longsuffering villain that reboots that hero’s corner of the New 52 retroactively. I suppose it’s not a coincidence that these two titles are the ones who enjoyed softer reboots when DC reset back in 2011.

Batman Inc. V.2Morrison gets credit here for elevating the most interesting part of this conflict to its highest point during the run: the clash between Talia and Batman over their son, their hearts, and the world itself gets all of the attention it needs, and it’s great attention. There’s violence, passion, heartbreak, and that genuinely sorrowful sense of lovers who cannot reconcile their differences for each other in this story. The attraction between Talia and Batman has always been one of the most robust, dynamic areas of the character, and since Mike Barr put it on the map of the DCU with Son of the Demon , it hasn’t been done better than in this conclusion. Talia is every part the dark mother of myth, part the Hetzerin inciter, and part jilted lover; as the final confrontation approaches Morrison balances all three and does what great storytellers do: brings a familiar story structure to light in a new way, this telling even more impressive as it’s with the Most Popular Character in the World. Morrison may be a writer that polarizes readers, but his management of this story, its huge number of elements, and the conclusion couldn’t have been more successful.

Burnham’s art is barely passable (the teeth still look like they’re rotting and falling out of people’s heads) but the only real contention I had with this collection was the overlong, two-issue wrap-up of Batman, Incorporated that featured very little substantive content and showcased a sort of string of vignettes of the international Batman community fighting crimes in various strange ways. It sort of emerged at the end of the book as a remainder to the experiment’s equation, and I found myself wondering what it added to the conclusion other than a series of short epilogues to characters that were, at best, supporting functionaries.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
8/10 – Morrison wraps up his work with Batman in grand fashion with a violent, heartbreaking finale that will finally release Batman to the New 52 fully and with more than enough fire to start things like they have been running under the superb direction of Snyder, Capullo, Tomasi, and Gleason.

– Vandal