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

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

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

Review! Superman, Vol. 3: ‘Fury at World’s End’ [No Spoilers]

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Superman V.3If you’d like a perspective on where Superman, Vol. 3: Fury at World’s End succeeds and fails then you should read my review of the crossover collection Superman: H’el on Earth. Then, you should read something else, and join me in the purgatory of waiting for Geoff Johns’ run on Superman to make it to trade paperback. In short: I strongly suggest skipping this trade, as it does not constitute much of a story at all.

Aside from the inclusion of a single different issue–the great-looking, ultimately confusing Superman #0 that tells the story of Jor El’s discovery of Krypton’s doom–this volume publishes the same content as the crossover collection, but as with Supergirl, Vol. 3: Sanctuary, the story as collected in the character-specific book makes no sense at all–it needs the other dozen issues to communicate, and you’re not going to find them here.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
1/10 – Skip it.  The size, content, and story details of Superman’s crossover issues of the “H’el on Earth” event just doesn’t translate in this trade paperback, and neither will the money you’ll spend on it. This volume is for serious New 52 collectors only.

– Vandal

Review! Supergirl, Vol. 3: ‘Sanctuary’ [No Spoilers]

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Note: Last week, I reviewed the crossover volume “H’el on Earth”, which includes four of the same issues collected in this trade paperback.  To avoid a recap of that material, this review will just cover my thoughts on the other four issues.

Supergirl V.3Appropriately enough, Supergirl, Vol. 3: Sanctuary picks up immediately where Vol. 2, Girl in the World left off, puts Kara’s exploration of her new secret base on hiatus to follow Superman and Superboy into battle against the Kryptonian supervillain H’el, and then essentially returns to mildly conclude the Sanctuary arc.  As such, this volume is rather fragmented in its presentation of Supergirl’s story and depends to a large extent on your ability to acquire the remaining 11 issues of Superman and Superboy (I suggest the H’el on Earth collection in terms of cost-effectiveness).

With the “Sanctuary” plot, Michael Alan Green does a few things right, but ultimately it only cements Kara’s place on Earth.  She crosses paths with Power Girl, deals with the aftermath of the “H’el on Earth,” and that’s about it.  We learn a modest amount about the Sanctuary fortress, but there isn’t a large amount of content beyond that.  Aside from a cool-looking cover by Emanuela Lupaccino, Mahmud Asrar’s artwork stands pat as just-okay and keeps the overall quality of the book towards the middle of the pack.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
3/10 – This is a volume for collectors of the Super-books only, as it doesn’t really contain all of the content necessary to understand all of what’s happening in all of Supergirl’s story arcs.  If this book has quickly resolved the consequence of Kara’s involvement with Superman in the fight against H’el, then this is a volume safely skipped for most readers.

– Vandal