Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 5: Zero Year – Dark City (The New 52 – 2015)

batman 5 zero year

Batman Vol. 5 Zero Year-Dark City collects two of the final story arcs for Zero Year; Dark City (issues 25-27) and Savage City (#29-33). This is the conclusion of the three-part story arc major crossover origin event known as Zero Year. Dark City picks up after the events in the first story arc of Zero Year, Secret City, after Batman has stopped the Red Hood Gang and the Riddler shuts off all the power in Gotham City. We see the reintroduction of the classic GCPD blimps from Batman the Animated Series, which is awesome to see, as they comb the city searching for any sign of Batman. But, Batman has a new case on his hands involving a killer who uses a serum that causes uncontrolled bone growth. Batman discovers the villain, known as Dr. Death (who was Batman’s first major supervillain he fought in DC Comics, the Joker was the first villain Batman faced in his own comic book series) and both Death and the Riddler team up to seize control of Gotham during superstorm Rene which threatens to cause even more problems for the powerless and crippled Gotham City. In Dark City, more is explained about Bruce’s opinions of Lt. Gordon and why he doesn’t trust the police lieutenant. We also see more backstory involving Bruce as a child and his parents leading up to the fateful night in Crime Alley. Dr. Pamela Isley also has a cameo appearance in this arc but her research will later impact the look of Gotham in the next story arc. Savage City takes place several days after the events in Dark City. It is now, Zero Year: the new calendar year according to Edward Nygma. Using Isley’s research Riddler has turned Gotham into an overgrown barren wasteland and his demands for Gotham is quite simple: get smart, or die. Every sunset, the Riddler on a giant screen in Gotham and challenges any brave citizen to ask a riddle that he can’t solve. No one has been successful. Bruce can’t retrieve any of his suits or gadgets from the cave so he must improvise and create a torn and tattered costume and tools to help him mount a counterattack against the Riddler. Batman enlists the help of trustworthy allies who are trying to fight against the Riddler, specifically Lucius Fox and Lt. Gordon. The team is also joined by a special covert military assault force as well. But time becomes the enemy as jets threaten to bomb Gotham, doing exactly what the Riddler intended and sending Gotham crashing down all around. Batman and his team must work together to stop the Riddler and survive Zero Year. Scott Snyder’s writing is still great. The characterization of these characters is both refreshing and still honors the source material, which Snyder is very good at doing. The interaction between Bruce and Alfred is very special and very well written. Bruce’s relationship with Gordon changes drastically in these final arcs and it makes sense why Bruce finally throws off his uncertainty about Gordon and accepts him as an ally going forward. The story appeared to take a lot of inspiration from The Dark Knight Rises and the video game The Last of US (both can be seen in the Savage City story arc). The inclusion of Dr. Death as one of Batman’s first villains, just like in the original comics, was amazing. Snyder really got to show off his horror writing here with gorgeous yet very visceral character design for Dr. Death by Greg Capullo. Speaking of Greg Capullo, he hasn’t lost his touch at all. Gotham is very vibrant and well defined as well as people are all distinctively drawn. Capullo always brings his unique style to many of these characters which I enjoy, it definitely sets his work apart from other artists. We see many new vehicles a Bat-blimp, a proto-Batmobile race car, and the Bat-boat. All of them are beautiful to look at and are drawn with great detail. Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia make Capullo’s art look absolutely gorgeous and very vibrant and colorful as well. Batman Vol. 5 is a great ending to the masterpiece of an origin story retelling. To me, this will be my favorite Batman origin story, not because it’s new and I very much enjoy Snyder and Capullo’s run on the character, but because, like Year One when it was written, Zero Year speaks to us in the 21st Century. Zero Year addresses our anxieties our struggles and places Batman’s emergence in the midst of all of those things to show us how truly great a hero he is.

 

4 out of 5 stars

……………………………………….

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 4: Zero Year-Secret City (The New 52 – 2014)

batman secret city

Great new take on Bruce Wayne/Batman’s early, first year adventures upon his return to Gotham City. The story is littered with great cameos from the Batman Rouges Gallery, and sets up for a great follow up in Volume 5 – Dark City. Snyder’s writing is tight and makes for an entertaining, easy read, and Capullo’s art pops off the page. If you’re looking for a different take from the classic Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, this is a great purchase.

 

4 out of 5 stars

………………………………………..

 

 

 

 

 

Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family (The New 52 – 2014)

batman death of family

I’ve read some good Joker stories over the years, most notably ‘The Killing Joke’ one-shot by Alan Moore. This arc compares very favorably to that. After DC (and Marvel) rebooted most of their lines in 2011, Scott Snyder took over Batman. The first two volumes saw Batman battle a mysterious ancient cult for the control of Gotham.

This volume sees the return of the Joker. After an inexplicable absence of a year the Joker makes a dramatic return to a life of mayhem and chaos. He raids the GCPD to steal his face from an icebox and from there lures Batman into an elaborate trap by systematically and slowly reenacting his famous crimes from the past. Joker’s tactics and Batman’s response puts a severe strain on Batman’s relationship with his extended ‘family’, hence the title.

Snyder’s Batman series is dark, constrained and tense. He likes to put the Dark Knight in the most perilous situations to test his mettle and his morals. Capullo’s art is a good complement to this style. He keeps the panels crowded and cluttered and induces a real sense of claustrophobia and fear. Snyder has written the Joker just right, and in some parts he is incredibly creepy. The extent and scope of his crimes (which provides an unwanted glimpse into his twisted psyche) is downright terrifying. The conclusion is sort of bittersweet and a bit ambiguous. Readers will be left to wonder if the Joker really succeeded in his goals or not.

Years from now we will look back at this arc as one of the more memorable Batman stories. This deserves to be in the pantheon of great comic book arcs.

 

5 out of 5 stars

…………………………………….

 

 

Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls (The New 52 – 2013)

batman city of owls

It can be hard in monthly comics to come up with stories that truly feel original or that challenge a character as iconic as Batman in new ways, yet Snyder and Capullo manage to do just that. The story here which is a continuation from Volume One and examines not only Batman but also Bruce Wayne’s understanding of the city he though was his. Gotham and all its legends come to life in a way that is truly immersive. Despite being the best detective in the world, Batman is confronted with a secret that he never thought possible yet was always present. A truly exceptional piece of story telling for Batman fans and non-Batman fans to enjoy.

3 out of 5 stars

…………………………..

 

 

 

Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls (The New 52 – 2013)

81tS8abE-cL

This story sets up the “Night of the Owls” storyline covering all the Batman books. In this story, Batman finds himself facing a sinister new villain (later named “Talon”) who knows much about his history. I’ve been an avid reader of comics for years and I can honestly say this was the second story I read where I was pretty sure Batman was toast in it (“Knightfall” was the first). Trapped in an obstacle course in some unknown place, Batman is stalked by the Talon and a sinister group of crazies who know all about him. As the story continues we find that Gotham and the Wayne family had a history even Bruce was unaware of. While this is a good story, I have to admit the “Night of the Owls” that I’ve seen so far is actually better simply because there isn’t one Talon after him, now it’s dozens of them. If one almost killed him, how can he defeat them all? Grab this one and enjoy this “reboot” from the new 52 that actually works.

 

5 out of 5 stars

……………….

Comic Book Review – Thor: God of Thunder Volume 4: The Last Days of Midgard (2015)

19539380

This volume collects issues #19-25.

The series takes an interesting turn as Thor faces off against Roxxon Corporate President Darren Aggers. Aggers is clearly polluting the environment and Thor is none too happy about it. Unfortunately, for the God of thunder he cannot swing his hammer at this foe as he is protected by an entourage of lawyers and the politics and bureaucracy of human kind. Thor does have help with rookie agent of S.H.E.I.L.D., Roz Solomon, who tries to help Thor battle Aggers through legal means, though the Odinson is not big on patience in that regard.

In the future, Old King Thor desperately is trying to reignite life on Earth, which is now a barren wasteland. His granddaughters plead with him to give it up, but two of the most enduring traits of the God is his love of Midgard and his stubbornness. To complicate matters, Galactus shows up, very worn down and hungry, and the Earth will be his meal. But, not if the King of Asgard has something to say about it, “Have at thee”.

This collection is bittersweet for a few reasons. First, it signals the end of Aaron’s “God of Thunder” era for this series. Marvel and Aaron made headlines and announcements from different media sources that there would be a Goddess of Thunder, which meant the cancellation of this series as well as the launch of a new one. It does look like it is off to a good start, the Odinson is still around, and is continuing on plot threads from this series. The other bittersweet issue is that Easd Ribic will no longer be the primary artist with Aaron for Thor beyond this volume. He is teaming up with Jonathan Hickman for next year’s Secret Wars event (an excellent combo) but breakout artist Russel Dauterman joins team Thor and is doing a fine job with all things Asgardian. Well, enough of the future of this series and on to the content here…

I love this series and I was never really a Thor fan before picking up volume one. Aaron and Ribic grabbed me with the whole God Butcher arc, through volumes one and two, and forced me into being a mighty fan of thee! Even volume three with Ron Garney on pencils, and Malekith as the antagonist, was quite the awesome journey. I would give the first three volumes a no doubt grade of A++. But this entry here, I would give an A- or even a B+. It is great but does not reach the same plain as it’s predecessors.

Thor’s battle with Aggers and Roxxon has it’s ups and downs but ultimately reaches an anticlimactic conclusion. As Aggers is a new character, it would have been nice to have some more background information on him and how is able to do what he does. Plus, Thor has been around awhile, quite awhile, it seems he would be a bit brighter for a battle with the CEO of a Midgard corporation and not be so stereotypically fooled. The outcome for Asgardia and Broxton felt like it had been covered before in the event Seige and even during Fraction’s run, but felt really forced as Aaron, whether from orders from higher up or not, sets up a new status quo for both realms.

The bright spot of this tale is the moments of action, which Aaron sets up nicely and Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina make look legendary. Roz Solomon gets further developed which is a plus. She is a rocking new S.H.E.I.L.D agent. And although Aggers is a mystery and a too much of a cliche, he still made a nice villain for this story.

The main highlight for this collection for me is the story of old King Thor, that intersects with the modern tale, trying to revive a dead Earth only to have Galactus show up and be very hungry. Thor’s granddaughters are really cool and are a bunch of B.A.’s! And seeing old King Thor in action is sweet, especially against the devourer of worlds. Again, kudos to Ribic and Svorcina as they illustrate probably the best take on the big fella I have ever seen. The only issue I had here was that Glactus came off as spiteful and mocked Thor quite a bit. The best portrayals of Galactus are where he is cold and indifferent. He has no malice or feelings of revenge when devouring a world, he just does it because it is the will of the comos that relinquishes his hunger in this regard. But this is an undefined future and he looks extremely worn down. He did not even have a herald, so the personality change might have been to the centuries not being too kind to the big fella.

The final issue of the series is a combination of stories. One where a young Thor fights frost giants, another featuring the origin of Malekith, all while the granddaughters of Thor read on about these tales. Entertaining tales as they mostly are setup for the next era of Thor.

More love to Esad Ribic and the art teams here as they turn in incredible work. Ribic gets some help out at the end of this series from illustrators Agustin Alessio, Simon Bisley, and R. M. Guera.

So, for now, this is it for the God of Thunder and an amazing run, but the story does continue and as long as Jason Aaron is writing them and Marvel puts quality artists on them, I will stick with it.

 

5 out of 5 stars

…………………………

Comic Book Review – Thor: God of Thunder Volume 3: The Accursed (2014)

thor volume 3

Yes, I said it, and no, it is not hyperbole folks. Thor has always been my favorite comic book character. Thematically, the Thor mythos is a perfect blend of norse mythology, epic fantasy, and superhero tale that seems almost catered to my tastes. That been said, I’m very well acquainted with the best writers in the history of the character. Lee,Straczynski, Langridge, and most importantly, Simonson. For the past year or so, I’ve now added a new name to the very top of the list right alongside good ol’ Walt, and that name is Jason Aaron. After his incredibly awesome debut run featuring a spine-chilling and fantastic new villain, Gorr the God Butcher, he has returned to tackle a classic villain, and I was a little nervous. With his own original creations, sure, Aaron was great, but could he handle the classic Thor mythos with the same skill and impact? Oh yeah, you better believe he can. This volume has cemented my admiration and respect for Aaron.

This is the third volume of the “Thor: God of Thunder” series, under the Marvel NOW! initiative. It does feel less beefy than Aaron’s first Thor volumes, The God Butcher and Godbomb, as it features two one-off issues to bridge the gaps between the preceding Gorr story and the Roxxon story that is currently on the stands. This in no way diminishes the quality of the volume, however, as every issue, whether part of a multiple-issues story, or just a one off side-story, are all fantastic.

The first issue, #12, features Thor returning to Earth and spending time there, interacting with the various human friends he has made over the years and performing the sorts of acts you’d expect a noble, honorable god like Thor would perform. It’s not an action-packed issue, at all. It is a character study of a god, and it’s a great change of pace. It’s hard to explain, but this issue really humanizes Thor in a way only the very best stories can. It actually reminds me a lot of Superman for All Seasons, and I mean that in the best way. This sort of issue could easily become preachy and/or cheesy to the point of being unbearable, and it definitely strides that line very closely at times, but the fact that it is, for the most part, so poignant and affecting is a testament to Aaron’s fantastic writing.

Issues # 13-17 features the return of Malekith the Accursed. This is the meat n’ potatoes of the volume and once again, Aaron hit it out of the park. I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but needless to say, this is a great adventure story. It is filled with very compelling characters, as Thor is joined in his quest this time in the form of the “League of Realms”. This group, appointed by the “Congress of Worlds,” is comprised of appointed warriors to represent each main race in the nine realms. It’s an odd set-up, and could come across as a cheesy Thor-centric Avengers rip-off, but it really is an interesting idea. The amount of humor and intensity pulled out of such a motley crew working together to tackle a truly terrorizing villain is superb. Each character, whether it’s the fancy dual-pitol wielding light elf Ivory Honeyshort, or the more taciturn dwarf Screwbeard, son of No-ears, son of Headwound (he likes to make things “go ‘splode” lol), all have great, unique personalities that bounce off each other and Thor quite nicely. Lots of belly-laugh inducing humor in this one, as well as great tension. Aaron’s characterization of Malekith is easily as fantastic a villain as Gorr was, but very distinctly unique. Malekith’s psychotic sadism and sociopathic, seemingly-senseless plans are made even more unnerving by his lighthearted and eloquently refined manner. Of course, his handling of Thor is stupendous, second to none in my humble opinion. Again, I can’t say it enough, Aaron did an amazing job. The story here is tense, full of gravitas as well as a more down-to-earth grittiness than his past work. Bravo!

Issue #18 ends the volume with a fantastic one-off story revolving around young viking Thor, back in the past and partying with a drunken dragon, and then kicking its ass. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it? I’m partially kidding. It’s a great, fun romp, but it’s also pretty moving as well, heartbreaking even. I’ll just leave it at that. I find the idea of young Thor to be brilliant, as he is a way to show major character development without erasing decades of comic history. I love that.

The art in this volume is definitely the aspect with the least amount of coherency. This volume features three different artists working the pen. Issue #12 is done by Nic Klein, and it’s definitely the weakest of the bunch. That isn’t to say Klein is BAD per se, but it is definitely shaky in parts. Some places, where Thor seems to have a deformed baby face with a five o’clock shadow, distract from the otherwise stupendous story-telling.

The art in issues #13-17 is done by Ron Garney. For the most part, he did a fantastic job. Upon opening the book, I was really sad to see Esad Ribic’s gorgeous painterly art style from the previous Thor volumes was missing, especially when I saw his gorgeous covers in this collection. However, Garney actually comes fairly close to capturing Ribic’s fantasy style and quality, at least relatively speaking. The art in these issues has a fairy-tale like beauty combined with a detailed and powerful sense of fantasy, with some nice comic book superhero boldness from time to time. It’s vibrantly colorful too, which can be a strange contrast to the darkness of the story, but I like it. While it’s not all perfect (the last half of issue 17 in particular is incredibly sloppy to the point of looking unfinished compared to the rest) but overall, Garney did great with the art in this book. I am impressed.

Issue #18’s art was done by Das Pastoras. I was a bit worried about his inclusion in this book, as I always found his past work to be incredibly off-putting. Here though, he did a great job. The best way I can describe it is to have you imagine Maurice Sendak’s art style with a graphic novel detail, and then ratchet the intensity to a level befitting a story where viking Thor fights a freaking DRAGON. Awesome.

I also appreciate the decreased pricing for this volume. While the five issue Malekith story is definitely less substantial than the eleven issues that Gorr received, this volume actually contains more issues than either of those volumes did. Volume 1 had five issues, Volume 2 had six, and this collection has seven issues in total. It’s nice to see us fans getting more content for our money. Hopefully Volume 4 will have eight issues.

All-in-all, this is another homerun from Jason Aaron. The various artists that joined him on this run – Klein, Pastoras, and most especially Garney- all did a great job rising to the task of proving art for Aaron’s brillaint writing. I’m just so floored by the aptitude of the writing here. The story moves along at an excellent pace, is brimming with a brilliant sense of cinematography, and is full of compelling, well-developed characters. Perhaps the most exciting thing to me about this collection of issues is that Aaron plugged in some truly Simonson-level foreshadowing that indicates that his vision for Thor’s future will only get more epic and grand in scale from here on out. I can’t wait! Esad Ribic has also returned to the series as full-time artist, so the future of Thor is looking brighter than ever. If you ever read this Jason, know that I truly feel your name deserves songs to be sung in its honor in Valhalla. So whether you’re a major Thor fan, a big comic book fan in general, or even a newcomer to the character and want a good jumping off point, this (as well as God Butcher and Godbomb) is as good as any volume you’ll find written in the last several decades. As a massive fan of the Thor character, this gets my highest recommendation.

3 out of 5 stars

……