Comic Review – Batman: Damned #1

Batman Damned #1 Cover

The Joker is dead and Batman killed him. That’s the story the local news is running with but Commissioner Gordon doesn’t believe it. Partly because the one witness is a crazed homeless man who is either off his medication or too heavily medicated. But mostly because he believes in Batman.

Batman, for his part, isn’t sure what to believe. It’s all a blur before he woke up in an ambulance as an EMT was trying to pull off his cowl. He was wounded. He was delirious. He was wanted. And just when the night couldn’t possibly get any worse, John Constantine showed up.

There’s more to this murder than meets the eye, and like it or not, The Dark Knight Detective needs help. But can he afford the rather questionable assistance that comes from dealing with The Laughing Magician? And even if he can’t, does he have any other choice?

Batman Damned #1 Page 1

When it was announced that DC Comics would be starting a new imprint – Black Label – exclusively for superhero stories set outside of the main continuity that could deal with more mature themes, I was a little bit skeptical. For every work like Watchmen or The Sandman that has pushed the boundaries of the comic book medium and proven that “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!”, there have been roughly 100 graphic novels published by creators for whom “mature content” means “blood, cursing and naked people.”

Brian Azzarello is one these creators, but that is not why I find most of his work distasteful. Azzarello is also one of those writers who bends established characters to fit the stories be wants to tell rather than writing stories to suit the characters. And while a writer could potentially tell some interesting stories by subverting expectations, Azzarello only seems to do it for shock value. Like a stage-magician, Azzarello uses distraction to keep your attention where he wants it. In this case, sudden curse words, surprise cameos and the shadowy outline of Bat-wang serve to distract you from the stunning secret of Batman: Damned #1 – nothing really happens in this book.

Batman Damned #1 Page 3

Oh. events occur, but there’s nothing that happens which seems to have anything to do with the plot as described on DC Comics’ website. Weird things happen, but there’s no indication what any of it has to do with anything, especially John Constantine’s rambling narration. The whole thing comes off like a rejected script from Azzarello’s run on Hellblazer, which centered on John Constantine wandering the United States as weird things happened and John just observed them happening, when he wasn’t using magic to troll the Muggles.

This ran completely counter to John’s previous portrayals, where what power he had was used sparingly and he was much more inclined to use his wits than a spell to get out of a jam. Come to think of it, I recall that Azzarello’s Batman stories were far more interested in the villains than The Dark Knight, with Batman coming off as something of an empty suit. I mention this because Batman: Damned has a scene where a naked Bruce Wayne literally fights an empty Bat-suit.

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The damnable thing (see what I did there?) is that the artwork of this comic is as fantastic as the story is non-existent. Lee Bermejo is rightly regarded as one of the greatest Batman artists ever and he also did a great two-issue story for Hellblazer when Mike Carey was writing it. Unfortunately, his most famous works are his collaborations with Azzarello.

It is a rare thing for me, as a writer, to recommend a comic but say you should only look at the pictures. Yet that is how I suggest you handle Batman: Damned. Beremejo’s gift for storytelling is such that you can follow along with all the plot relevant portions of the story without reading the dialogue. Even the random bits seem to make a good deal more sense if you ignore the text. I’d also suggest tracking down a graphic novel called Batman: Noel – a Christmas special which Lee Bermejo wrote and painted, which is far better on every level than this Damned book.

5/10

Batman: Damned #1 releases on September 19, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Batman #50 Catwoman #1 Banner

Comic Review – Batman #50 & Catwoman #1

Batman #50 Cover

There is no real way to review Catwoman #1 without also discussing Batman #50 and the long awaited wedding of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. The one informs the other, as the cover of Catwoman #1 helpfully informs the reader that they should read Batman #50 before opening it up.

This proves ironic, given that The New York Times spoiled the story of Batman #50 three days before it ever hit the shops! Despite this, I will endeavor to dance around any major spoilers in both books as best I can.

As a tribute to the relationship of Batman and Catwoman and the history of the two characters, Batman #50 is a smashing success, with much of the issue being devoted to Bruce and Selina’s thoughts about one another as we are treated to a historical montage of sorts, illustrated one page at a time, by some of the greatest Batman artists of all time.

As an actual story, however, Batman #50 doesn’t quite work. It’s anticlimactic, to put it mildly. The pageantry far outweighs the actual event. To put it plainly, this book isn’t worth the hype that has been invested in it.

Batman #50 Page 10

Don’t get me wrong. Batman #50 is a beautiful book and there’s some poster-worthy artwork. Even the main story, as illustrated by Mikel Janin looks fantastic. Yet those who have a low tolerance for Tom King’s style of writing, where consistency of character is sacrificed for the sake of the story he wants to tell (as in his recent story where Booster Gold was turned into a complete idiot for the sake of a dark comedy), will not enjoy themselves here.

Ultimately, Batman #50 is a spectacle and nothing more. If you enjoy collectible covers and fine art, it’s well worth picking up. As an actual book, unfortunately, it leaves a lot to be desired.

4/10.


Catwoman #1 CoverThere is a cruel irony that Catwoman #1 should be so closely tied to Batman #50. Much like how Selina Kyle is so much more interesting as a solo act than when she when she is joined at the hip to Bruce Wayne, so too is this book at its best when it is separated from its ties to Batman #50.

Thankfully, those ties are dealt with early on and we are soon thrown into a high-action adventure, where Selina Kyle is suddenly a wanted woman. It seems that some woman in a cat-suit is killing cops and the police are targeting the most obvious suspect, having also somehow learned Selina’s secret identity!

This is apparently the work of a mysterious new enemy named Riana Creel, whose motivations and reasons for holding a grudge against Catwoman are unclear. Raina is a striking character whose presence immediately grips you and it will be interesting to see her developed in the coming issues.

Catwoman #1 Page 20

Joelle Jones spins a wonderful first issue, which, apart from the first few pages, stands strongly on its own terms, much like Catwoman herself. The artwork – also by Jones – is utterly amazing, with Laura Allred’s colors and Josh Reed’s letters providing the perfect finishes. The story flows naturally and smoothly from panel to panel and its hard to imagine any artist who was better born to draw Catwoman in action than Joelle Jones after reading this issue.

The only imperfection in this diamond is its unfortunate need to be placed in the setting of the fool’s gold ring that is Batman #50. Get past the first few pages, however, and you have one heck of a book that should be on everyone’s subscription list.

9/10

Batman #50 and Catwoman #1 releases on July 4, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Detective Comics #983

Detective Comics #983 Cover

Back in The Dark Age of Comics (roughly 1986 to 2000, by most historians’ reckoning), there was a rather odd divide in the DC Comics Universe. If you read only the comics starring Batman, he was portrayed as a lone Dark Knight and was considered an urban legend by most of the people of Gotham City. Read any other DC Comics’ book, however, and Batman was operating openly as part of The Justice League.

This gave way to an argument, which rages to this day, about what vision of Batman is the “proper” one – the lone vigilante who strikes terror into the hearts of criminals or the patriarch of a like-minded “Batman Family” made up of other masked heroes.

This argument lies at the heart of both subplots in Detective Comics #983 – the first issue by new series’ writer Bryan Hill. Half of the issue’s action concerns itself with Batman seeking out Jefferson Pierce (a.k.a. Black Lightning), whom Bruce wants to recruit as the first member of an elite team he is building who can operate “outside” of The Justice League. The other story concerns a new villain, who is targeting Batman’s sidekicks, due to his belief that Batman has become less powerful as he has come to trust more people with aiding him in his mission.

The story with Black Lightning is fairly standard superheroics. One oddity is that the script identifies Black Lighting as operating out of Metropolis, when his most recent reboot for DC Comics Rebirth depicted him as the defender of Cleveland, Ohio. Despite this glitch, Hill has a solid take on the character and writes Jefferson Pierce true to form.

The subplot involving the new villain is more interesting, if only for the metatextual parallels he suggests. The arguments delivered by this unnamed baddie mirror those of Bat-fans who argue that Batman should be a loner and an urban myth and that the DC Rebirth initiative made a mistake by bringing back characters such as the Cassandra Cain Batgirl, The Spoiler, the Helena Bertinelli version of The Huntress and Batwoman or by introducing new characters such as Gotham Girl and The Signal. Indeed, The Signal – a metahuman with light-based precognitive powers whom Batman recruited specifically to protect Gotham City during the day – is the first target of the new villain, along with a young Bat-Fan who became YouTube-famous for talking about how he thinks Batman is inspiring rather than scary.

Gate-keeping fanboy metaphors aside, it’s a brilliant conceit and one that is remarked upon ironically in the artwork, as Batman listens to the villain’s rantings while chasing another criminal down a busy street in full view of dozens of witnesses, all of whom snap pictures with their phones.  This is but one example of the fine detailing that Miguel Mendonca works into the art. His pencils find a perfect partnership with Dianna Egea’s inks and the colors of Adriano Lucas.

It will be interesting to see how this story develops in the coming issues. For now, it is enough to say that if you’re a fan of Batman looking for a good entry point into the comics or a fan of Black Lightning from the new TV series, this is a book you’ll definitely want on your subscription list.

8/10

Detective Comics #983 releases on June 27, 2018!


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Dark Nights: Metal #6

Dark Nights: Metal 6 Cover

It spoils little to reveal that Dark Nights: Metal concludes with the heroes of The DC Comics Multiverse victorious and the literal rising darkness that threatened to destroy all of reality vanquished. As with all good stories, the important part is the journey, not the destination. Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and FCO Plascencia have taken us on one heck of a journey.

On the surface, the idea behind Dark Nights: Metal was insane – crafting the comic book equivalent of a progressive rock album, mixing the aesthetics of Frank Frazetta and King Crimson to create a story that seemed more appropriate to Metal Hurlant (or Heavy Metal Magazine, as it became known in the USA) than DC Comics. Somehow, the creative team made it work and continues to push this idea into the final chapter, as Wonder Woman does battle with the assembled legions of fallen Justice Leagues from alternate realities born of nightmares, given form by a mad god!

Dark Nights: Metal #6 Page 3

When the first issue came out, it was said that Dark Nights: Metal would redefine The DC Comics Multiverse forever. It was assumed that this referred to Scott Snyder’s attempts to codify their Periodic Table, expanding upon the properties of fictional substances such as Nth Metal and Promethium. It was also presumed that this would have something to do with the discovery of The Dark Multiverse – a hereto unknown level of The DC Comics Multiverse where the heroes lost and their worlds fell to chaos and entropy.

Dark Nights: Metal #6 goes far beyond this, however. The finale of this issue sets the stage for the next level of DC Comics Rebirth and indicates that some big changes are on the way. Anyone who is interested in the Rebirth revival in general would do well to pick up this issue, as it appears to lay the groundwork for some of what is to come in the solo books of all the current Justice League members with one notable exception. (Presumably they’re keeping Superman’s future a secret until Action Comics #1000 comes out?)

Unsurprisingly, reference is made to Scott Snyder’s upcoming No Justice series which will reportedly redefine the Justice League in much the same way Snyder’s run on Batman revitalized that series. A reference is also made to the upcoming Sandman Universe Special, which will introduce four new books – The Dreaming, Lucifer, The Books of Magic and House of Whispers – that will reveal the new status quo of Neil Gaimans’ Endless and their place in the new cosmology. There’s also an interesting bit of news regarding Jack Kirby’s New Gods that is sure to lead to big things in the future.

Thankfully, Dark Nights: Metal #6 is a solid work of action and adventure, even ignoring the significance of everything it has established. Those who missed the earlier issues can give thanks that the series has proved popular enough to merit reprints of the earlier issues, so you should be able to pick up the entire series with no problems if you don’t want to wait for the eventual TP collection.

10/10

Dark Knights: Metal #6 releases March 28, 2018.


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

 

Comic Review – Detective Comics #976

Detective Comics 976 Cover

Tim Drake (a.k.a. Red Robin) had a plan.

Years earlier, he had taken up the mantle of Batman’s sidekick, realizing that Batman functioned best when he had a partner. Tim also realized that Bruce Wayne – much as he might deny it – was mortal and would not be able to be Batman forever. Tim devised a plan – to take all of the many vigilantes operating in Gotham City, and unite them officially as one group, training together and working to watch one another’s backs. This would establish a chain of heroes who could continue Batman’s legacy, generation after generation.

Dubbing this group The Gotham Knights, Tim pitched the idea to Batman, who approved it. He then placed the assembled team – consisting of Red Robin, Stephanie Brown (a.k.a. The Spoiler), Cassandra Cain (a.k.a. The Orphan) and a reformed Basil Karlo (a.k.a. Clayface) – under the control of Kate Kane (a.k.a. Batwoman).

Now, Clayface is dead by Batwoman’s hand and she has left The Gotham Knights to join with The Colony – a militaristic vigilante group established by her father, who aim to protect Gotham City with lethal force. Stephanie Brown has hung up her cowl and broken off her relationship with Tim. And Cassandra – who was never all that stable to begin with – is in an even worse state following the death of Clayface, who was her closest friend.

Tim thinks he knows how he can fix The Gotham Knights but Batman is refusing to give him that chance, retreating into himself as he always does when he loses someone close to him. And as Tim Drake is approached about a new partnership by a most unlikely ally, The Colony moves to recruit more of Batman’s disillusioned trainees.

Detective Comics seems to be the least appreciated of DC Comics’ many Batman comics at present. It lacks the flash of Tom King’s Batman, which has redefined the Batman and Catwoman relationship and has now inspired a wedding between the two. It lacks the weight of Scott Snyder’s and Greg Capullo’s Dark Nights: Metal, which has built upon seven years of Batman comics by one of the longest partnerships in American comics. This is unfortunate, because James Tynion IV has done the impossible with little fanfare, restoring many beloved Gotham City vigilantes who were long neglected during The New 52 era to new prominence and introducing them to a new generation of readers.

Sadly, Detective Comics #976 – the first chapter of the Batman Eternal arc – is not the best issue of this series to start with. While all of the new arc openings on this series to date have been good entry points for new readers, the mythology James Tynion IV has established has finally become too involved to be easily summarized and absorbed. While a new reader could pick up this issue, it would lack the punch that is felt by those who are, much like Cassandra, still coping with the loss of Clayface. There’s also a distinct lack of explanation regarding who certain characters are and why they are significant to the story.

A larger problem is the artwork by guest artist Javier Fernandez, which is incredibly inconsistent. Fernandez’ style is largely sketchy and thinly outlined, save for the occasional panel that is drowned in black ink with shading that almost seems to be randomly applied. This leaves the book with an odd look that is further distinguished by the muted colors chosen by John Kalisz. Those who have been reading Detective Comics since the start of DC Rebirth won’t have much trouble muddling through the artwork for the sake of the story, but new readers would do better to start with Vol. 1: Rise Of The Batmen and work their way up to this issue.

5/10

Detective Comics #976 releases March 14, 2018.


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.