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

batman vol 6

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)

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

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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

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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

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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

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

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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

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Comic Book Review – Superman Unchained (2013 – 2014): Deluxe Edition (The New 52)

superman unchained

After enjoying Superman’s crazed 1950’s high speculative fiction (SF) watermark—including every shade of Kryptonite—in terms of “re-boots,” I’m a huge fan of the Superman in action in Dennis O’Neil and Curt Swan’s 1971 “The Sandman Saga,” running across Superman (Vol. 1) issues: #233 – 235, 237 – 238, and 240 – 242, and edited by the magnificent Julius Schwartz.

But even Grant Morrison struggled to give us a clear distillation of New 52-era Superman, ramping up ample thematic tropes from creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s original “Fanfare for the Common Man” ethos, born and bred somewhat in Philip Wylie’s 1930 potboiler, “Gladiator.” But I still felt little kinship to the current take on the Man of Steel—that is until Batman scribe Scott Snyder (fair enough: he redefined the Dark Knight for our era in a way that genuinely works, and it appears Tom King is following up quite nicely) breathed life into a quickly flagging New 52 vision by penning an unconventional, completely cinematic buddy action film pairing Superman with Wraith, an ultra-powerful alien who, at first, gives Big Blue a run for his money as a rival.

Wraith has an actual “world view,” one completely opposed to that of the Man of Steel, as Wraith sees his having been co-opted by the government as better for the world, and Superman as the naïve new flash in the pan sailing through the skies. Wraith wants nothing of fame. He’s been performing black-ops for United States government with abandon for years. Rather than mere mid-air fisticuffs, the reader gets genuine ideologies in conflict, as the two ultra-powerful beings clearly have different things in mind in terms of what it means to protect the earth—even if that means an occasional genuflection in opposition force General Lane’s direction.

Author Scott Snyder hurls many a plot-thread into the air, and Jim Lee illustrates each with gusto, even managing to make the character design on Wraith rise above, say, the mere Mongul homage it could have been. Collected as a nice stand-alone book, the story is filled with funny asides that work, such as Lana Lang’s comment to Lois Lane, regarding Wonder woman: “Did you know they’re dating?” Between that and Wraith acting as an only marginally accepted mentor as the two ultimately have to team, forging Superman’s best outing since Kurt Buseik’s all-too-brief run.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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