Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 6: Graveyard Shift (The New 52 – 2015)

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So here’s the deal with this book and why people are rating it so low. Snyder and Capullo have done the majority of their Batman run in arcs, arcs which take up a trade’s worth of material all by themself. However, inbetween these arcs are usually one-and-dones, smaller stories that only take up one or two issues. Including chronologically didn’t work so well, because it would have made the trade’s too big, and make less sense as a story. So, all the one and done Batman stories are collected here. Some of these issues are very good, some of them less so. The issues it collects are #0, 18, 19, 20, 28, 34, and Batman Annual #2.

#0 is sort of a precursor to Zero Year. It would have been nice if this was included in the first Zero Year trade, but again, that would have made the book too big, so it goes here. It’s a good story on it’s own, just a little out of place.

#18 is a Harper Row issue, detailing how she tracks Batman in the days following his son’s death. If you liked the other Harper story in City of Owls, you’ll probably dig this. I was never huge on Harper, so it didn’t do much for me, but too each’s own.

#19-20 is a short Clayface story. I really enjoyed these two. It has one or two tender moments with Bruce still dealing with Damien’s death, Clayface seems to be going through a cool process, and there’s a great easter egg to a certain DC Animated show from the 90s (and not the one you think). There’s a moment where I think Bruce plays things a little close to the chest with his secret identity, but I can forgive it. It’s important to note too that these are the only 2 issues drawn by Capullo in this volume.

Batman Annual #2 is a fun short story where Batman is trying to break out of Arkham Asylum. It also introduces the character of Eric Border, who will be important down the road (don’t look up why, it’s only 1 volume away).

#28 is definitely the worst of the bunch. It’s a story that ties into the Batman Eternal series. You may or may not be completely lost reading it, and you will never see any pay-off for what happens in this series. Read it if you plan on reading Batman Eternal, but otherwise I’d almost say just skip it.

#34 is one of my favourites. It’s a simple murder mystery story, with Batman trying to hunt down a serial killer. It’s not Capullo, but the art here is amazing. The story, other then one big “WTF, HOW” moment is really well done.

Overall, it’s nowhere near as good as the other volumes, but there’s plenty of material to enjoy. Issues 19, 20, and 34 are definitely the stand outs, with the annual being pretty good as well.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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

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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

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

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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

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Coffee Dates and Book Sales

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Status: good. still good. (still still good? Or, the still goodness continues. IDFK, I feel good, let’s leave it at that). I honestly feel way too wholesome and want to tear it up with some like-minded female company. I can feel that and other unpleasantness scratching away at the box I placed them in (depression I’m looking at you), but I’ll keep them locked firmly away for now. I promised myself a low key January with no alcohol and I aim to deliver this promise I made to myself. Besides, I suspect that these activities are fueling the unpleasantness and I think this January abstinence will/should confirm my suspicions.

And, I’ve purposely left the said ‘unpleasantness’ vague and undefined so that I can explore in more detail within future posts. It’s messy and complicated, and I need some time to unwind all of it before I slowly drip feed it onto the page.

Coffee date with the bad driver this morning. Our second attempt. Was it worth it? I had the Ethiopian Macchiato Espresso (pictured!) which was yummy, so from that aspect it was definitely worth it. The date itself – meh. She was 15 minutes late, of course. Got the distinct feeling that this girl has nothing going on in her life. Directionless. Throw in a few contradictions around what she does for a living and how she was able to step out of the office mid-morning to drive downtown for coffee, and my common sense is tingling. She’s a lost girl, the type I usually attract. Think I’ll let this one quietly drift away into the ether. I’m not up for dating a lost girl.

Books. Sold. Finally. After the failed first attempt I took them to a new store and had them processed this afternoon. Without getting into dollar values, they offered me 5x the price of the first place. Suspected as much. Also noted that the guy at the first place had swapped the duplicate books between the sale pile and the older more valuable pile which I likely wasn’t going to sell. Sneaky. Was getting this snake vibe from the guy at the first place; happy to see my suspicion confirmed. My instincts are typically quite good, I need to trust them more. Decided to keep the older more valuable books for now, but may change my mind later. At least I’ve found a trustworthy buyer who will give me a good price for them. In any case, it’s done, so that’s another task I can tick off the list.

 

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Comic Book Review – Miracleman Book Four: The Golden Age (2016)

miracleman golden age

Marvel is finally reaching the point where they’ve republished all the existing Miracleman work from Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman and are about to continue a saga that’s remained unfinished for decades. This fourth hardcover release collects the first act of Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s planned three-act story, and to date the only one that has been printed in its entirety. The Golden Age doesn’t quite meet the standard of Moore’s run, but with new material on the way perhaps history will look on it more favorably.

Though Miracleman is often held up as the most infamous example of an unfinished comic book epic, the truth is that Moore’s run told a complete, cohesive and satisfying story. It’s only Gaiman and Buckingham’s story that remains unfinished. Their work is sometimes looked at as an unnecessary continuation of a conflict that should have ended with Miracleman ascending to godhood and reflecting on the utopia he created in Miracleman #16. The Golden Age explores what happens next, not so much with Miracleman himself, but various inhabitants of this post-war utopia. I’ve seen Gaiman and Buckingham’s work compared to Before Watchmen in terms of being an unnecessary addendum to a revered Alan Moore work. That’s not an entirely fair comparison, but in some ways it’s apt.

At the very least, Marvel’s decision to relaunch the series with Gaiman and Buckingham’s first issue was unfortunate. The fact that this book is labeled “Vol. 1” might make it seem like a proper jumping-on point for those that don’t wish to start from the beginning, but The Golden Age is very much a direct continuation of Moore’s saga. If you’re not familiar with the background behind the Miracleman family and how characters like Mr. Cream, Dr. Gargunza and the Qys fit into that tapestry, this book will be more confusing than entertaining. This is one case where it’s best to start from the beginning or don’t bother at all.

Each of the issues collected in this volume offers a standalone tale that focuses on one character or a handful of characters confronting and adapting to the utopia Miracleman and his allies created in the aftermath of their final battle with Kid Miracleman. One issue follows a small group as they spend days ascending Olympus to pray at Miracleman’s feet. Another centers around one of several dozen androids imprinted with the memories of Andy Warhol as he strikes up a friendship with the similarly resurrected Dr. Gargunza. Another focuses on an entire city of spies playing out an elaborate but pointless game of espionage and counter-surveillance. Miracleman himself is little more than a background figure for much the book. As a god, his struggles are of little concern to readers compared to those of his humble subjects.

Gaiman explores plenty of interesting ideas and conundrums in these issues. The Golden Age is largely concerned with how humans adjust from living in an age of science to an age of miracles, and also the question of whether utopia can truly be achieved when its inhabitants have no free will. It’s lofty and intellectual, but the focus on very flawed, ordinary protagonists helps keep the book grounded.

In some ways, Gaiman’s prose compares favorably to Moore’s work on the previous 16 issues. Moore’s Miracleman run is fascinating as a sort of time capsule of a master writer perfecting his craft. The early issues are a little loose and rough around the edges, whereas the later issues reflect a writer who had cemented his voice and was increasingly losing interest in traditional superhero fare. Gaiman, by comparison, already had several years of Sandman under his belt by the time he took the reins of the series. There’s a confidence to his writing here, as well as a greater willingness to step back and allow Buckingham’s art to tell the story rather than showering the page with text. With the way these issues jump from one protagonist to the next and often shift in terms of tone and presentation, reading Gaiman’s Miracleman isn’t so different from reading his Sandman.

Buckingham’s art is crucial in that sense. While there’s a certain playful quality to Buckingham’s art in Fables, Miracleman is a true showcase for his ability to juggle multiple styles and play with the medium. Each chapter in this hardcover has its own distinctive look. One extended segment is rendered in the style of a children’s storybook and is packed to the brim with fantastical imagery. The issue focused on Gargunza and Warhol is a fitting tribute to the Pop Art sensibilities of the latter. Buckingham is constantly pushing himself and experimenting over the course of these issues. Frankly, if he weren’t returning alongside Gaiman for the remainder of the series, there would be little point in continuing forward.

The one real weakness of The Golden Age is that it doesn’t add enough to the larger Miracleman saga. Taken on its own, this book reads essentially as an extended coda to a story that didn’t really need one in the first place. Gaiman and Buckingham’s exploration of life in utopia is fascinating, but thematically it’s the sort of thing that could just as easily be explored in one or two issues rather than six. There’s a vaguely unfocused, repetitive quality to this collection that isn’t found in Moore’s comparatively more dense issues. For all the lofty ideas and engrossing character work in these pages, does The Golden Age really improve or expand upon Moore’s story in any significant way? Not really.

The question is whether the remainder of Gaiman and Buckingham’s work will ultimately redeem that flaw in The Golden Age. The intent was never to simply dwell on life in utopia, but to showcase Miracleman’s perfect world before the cracks formed in The Silver Age and the whole thing came tumbling down in The Dark Age. Those plans were dashed by the collapse of Eclipse Comics, but they’re finally about to bear fruit now. Hopefully this well-crafted but somewhat long-winded approach will pay off in the remaining two volumes of the Miracleman saga.

On a final note, this hardcover is definitely the way to go for readers who don’t already own the single issues. The physical quality is nothing to write home about, but it’s certainly a better value than the overpriced single issues. The book also includes a hefty amount of bonus material that reprints various sketches, covers and script excerpts.

The fourth book in the Miracleman saga doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors despite being more technically accomplished in many ways. Gaiman’s writing is strong, and it’s tough to imagine anyone else following a comic book titan like Alan Moore. Mark Buckingham is even more impressive as he constantly alters his style and channels big events and heady ideas with ease. But ultimately, this book spends too much time dwelling on utopia and not enough on really pushing the saga forward.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 2 (2017)

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I’ve been reading comics for over thirty years and I like them as much now as I did when I was kid. But as my knowledge of art, drama, history, geography, cinema and psychology has grown, my expectations for mainstream entertainment and superhero comics have soared.

Some of my favorite books have been about the unilateral grasp for power by the world’s most powerful and the capes that arise in opposition. A quick list: Squadron Supreme (86), Watchmen, Kingdom Come, Civil War (06 – I understand I am loose in putting it on this list), and the dazzling Rising Stars (especially the first two volumes). The Jupiter series (Circle and Legacy) honors and possible surpasses all of those (a few of you might think Garth Ennis’s “The Boys” should go on this list, but that is mostly a dark and violent satire of the genre).

The work that Mr. Millar and Mr. Quitely have performed in this book is astonishing. Frank Quitely’s art is truly spectacular and dynamic – from facial expressions to movements to backgrounds to splash pages. His skills have only improved with the years.

Mark Millar’s plotting and dialogue are superb in this volume, and he builds the anticipation for the conflict deftly. The so-called heroes are the villains and vice-versa: the world seems upside down, which is a scathingly blatant critique of the current social, economic and political climates of the Western world (particularly the USA), though if you blink you’ll miss them. The arrogance, stupidity and knee-jerk actions of the leadership is both eerie and funny at the same time. The motivations of the rebels (villains/heroes that have been in hiding) are both personal and globally altruistic – and they are consistent and logical. This is truly a wonderful feat of writing. There were many moments where I paused as I caught myself smiling and shaking my head at both the content and the style.

The action in issues 5 and 6 in this volume could have been spread out a little more, but I’m only whinging about it because I liked this story so much. The other irritant is that it took Millar and Quitely 2 1/2 years to offer this up after the glorious first volume. If the last page is to be believed, then we won’t see “Jupiter’s Requiem” until 2019. Brutal.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 1 (2015)

jupiters legacy 1

This book doesn’t break any new ground or offer the angst filled edgy drama which can come to be expected of comic books since the 90s. Instead the topics covered here are familiar but Jupiter’s Legacy is to the point, fulfilling and provoking in it’s simplicity. The uncomplicated but characterful artwork is appealing and quickly weaves a tale like dominoes falling before the reader’s eyes. Frank Quitely’s artwork and subdued colors set a tone which stands apart while remaining effortless and lasting.

Millar doesn’t waste time with his pacing. Each scene has a point which quickly established its purpose. If you are sick of the soap operas often found in Western comics and entire issues of “powering up” in Eastern comics, you will find this story very refreshing. The characters get right to business and often find original ways to assert their goals which confound the conventional comic book moaning and groaning on morality. When the villains kill someone, they do it quickly, efficiently and ruthlessly, and it’s displayed in almost sickening detail. The book leaves no chance of a moment growing stale or character becoming tedious, leaving the reader hungry for more time with each of the actors on these pages.

My one criticism is that this work comes across with some possibly unintentional conservative propaganda. Chloe and Brandon are Millennials who drink, party, have unwed sex and their actions are the fall of their family line. If only everyone had listened to their father Sheldon’s warnings about staying the path and keeping traditional American values then none of this tragedy would have unfolded. Only when Chloe embraces a conventional relationship does her life start to come together. Was this Millar’s intention? I can’t say but while this theme is the one major failing of these books it does not detract from what is otherwise a very rich and interesting story.

Overall I would recommend this book to anyone who is familiar with comic book themes but fairly new to reading them. Even those who have read many graphic novels will appreciate this reflection of the comic world.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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