Saturday, November 29, 2014

Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi volume 5

When Villains Month rolled around, Peter J. Tomasi had the wonderful opportunity to write a decent Two Face story. Harvey Dent is one of the A-listers in Batman's rogues gallery--and Tomasi has certainly delivered. It was remarkably written and paced, with enough gore and lechery that balanced the entire piece beautifully. This five-issued Two Face storyline is called The Big Burn, and I was admittedly nervous as all hell. Tomasi created one decent villain so far, and that was NoBody at the beginning of the first eight issues of Batman and Robin. Can he handle writing something for a well-established A-lister Bat-villain? I think I finally have a better understanding of how Tomasi writes Batman stories. He always builds up a good premise and then the next issues will either be decent follow-ups or shaky ones. But he always sticks the landing when it comes to the endings of his arcs (except perhaps with trash like Terminus and zombies).

For his writing for the new origin story for one of the Bat-villain A-listers Two Face, The Big Burn certainly ended as a phenomenal albeit an essentially incomplete story.

With the first installment of this Two Face story entitled First Strike, there is more potential here that one who is a stickler for the old continuity (srsly, better calm those balls) should not overlook or undermine. The introduction of the villainess Erin McKinell is astute in scope. I kindda like that we get an Irish mob presence in Gotham City and that it's a woman who is taking those reigns. One thing that's lacking in New 52 Batman is the mob families in Gotham City which is also an integral part of that mythos. Gotham is an infested nest of all kinds of vermin which is the reason Batman is badly needed by the average citizen. We don't only have the rogues gallery threatening the status quo, but also your organized crime. Here we finally get that mob presence, and, impressively enough, an actually competent series of actions from GCPD led by Commissioner Gordon. Honestly, this issue is such a promising premise as long as you're not hang-up on the origin story being changed.

By the second issue named Sparks, the story starts having a natural progression of events, as well as very compelling character exposition all throughout, particularly on Tomasi's villainness Erin McKinell who is starting to become a very fleshed-out character of her own right, not only because she was the one responsible for scarring Harvey Dent and thus unleashing Two-Face to the world; but also because she's also a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne (which would be too on-the-nose in theory but was something I actually think would enable Batman to have a more personal investment on this case like never before as well, seeing as he both had relationships with Dent, and now McKinell in a distant past). I quite liked that McKinell sought Bruce's help and yet antagonized him for his outright refusal like the bitch she truly is. There's a strong set of teeth on this woman and she is neither likable or sympathetic so far, but I'm quite curious and intrigued by her importance to the plot nevertheless.

No one likes to change something that's been established quite amazingly, and Jeph Loeb's writing on The Long Halloween pertaining to Harvey Dent's transformation into Two Face was greatly done. But DC launched New 52 for a reason and one of those reasons is to re-imagine many of their stories, and therefore improve their characters along the way based on the dynamic trends for today's comic book reader--and this may include the origin stories, more or less, since it probably helps the new blood to get to know these heroes and villains better by not having to dig up old issues (which is a tedious task), and instead focus on what is current on the comics line-up these days, and hopefully--if we are lucky--it would offer something smart and refreshing as well. Does that sound like I'm defending DC for their New 52 launching? Not necessarily, but as a fan of their comics especially Batman, I just find myself more inclined to give them a chance and see things in their perspective. So far, I've gotten extraordinary and beautiful stories out of my Batman for this new continuity, though I am still wary when some writers do not meet expectations. Hell, my relationship with Tomasi's work for Batman and Robin has been schizophrenic at best, but his five-issued Tw Face story arc is unquestionably one of his finest for me.

By the third installment of Peter J. Tomasi's entitled Ignition, a complete revamp of Two Face's origin story, I can honestly say that it is starting to shape itself into one of the best arcs Tomasi has to offer yet in his B&R run. We don't have a new Robin ready so it's a useful and excellent way of making most of his time writing a story that is villain-centered--though which villain is in focus is quite debatable at this point. Though the titular one, Two Face is hardly ever in an intimate focus here; it's Erin McKillen who really manages to steal the spotlight. Not that I have a problem with that because Tomasi is writing her quite entertainingly and with unexpected depth, but this is supposed to be Two-Face's origin story and yet Tomasi seems to pay more attention to his villainess and the effect of scarring Harvey Dent has on her instead of the other way around. But that complaint, a very miniscule nitpick, was the one I had in the first two issues of this arc, but Tomasi finally brings forth Two-Face into the fold by this point in the game.

The grand finale Inferno is so good in pacing, execution and artistic style that you simply lose yourself in the pages therein. Readers are provided with the right balance of action and dramatic elements, even if we are still haunted by Tomasi's failure to characterize Harvey Dent as a White Knight in the flashback sequences from the last issue which I discussed in detail here. I also talked about how I believed Tomasi did not want any comparisons with his work here and with that of Nolan's film The Dark Knight when it comes to how he interpreted the trinity relationship of Batman, Gordon and Dent. However, that line "You were the best of us" was unmistakably a callback to said movie. But as I've expressed in my review of the last issue, this was not the case, is it? Harvey Dent was not that of a stand-up guy to begin with, it may seem, seeing as he was a criminal defense lawyer for the Irish mob family McKillens, and that his run for the distruct attorney's office felt like a self-serving move because he had no other options left. So that line did not have the kind of impact Tomasi expect it might have because his Harvey Dent was a callous and pragmatic man of law as opposed to the idyllic and optimistic one we have seen in the Nolan film.

But this is not where my criticisms end, though I'm not sure if my next one should even be considered a critique, since it's the most wonderful highlight of this five-issued arc, to be honest, and that is no other than Tomasi's original creation of the villainess Erin McKillen who is the dark horse that certainly won a place as a formidable foe (that I have a feeling could appear in other issue of the B&R run soon enough). I really enjoyed her. I enjoyed her relationship with Bruce Wayne. I enjoyed her sadomasochistic tango with Harvey Dent/Two Face. And I enjoyed her personal backstory. She was the one who truly shone in this story--which defeats the purpose of the title. As great as the Irish rose was, The Big Burn shouldn't be more about her, but Two-Face. That growing unevenness between their character's appearances was the most confusing development for me because on one hand I like reading about Erin; but on the other I really wish we're focusing on Two Face because this is his damn comic book in the first place.

And when we do zero-in on him, it's by this last installment which are rife with great character interaction moments between him and Batman as well. The top-notch illustrations of Gleason, Gray and Kalisz should pique your interest since I personally think that they can rival those of Capullo, Miki and FCO from Synder's Batman: Zero Year. I'm constantly pleased by how much Gleason is surprising me as an artist. His artwork has come far since Born To Kill, first volume of B&R. He has finally learned to be more expressive in his details of character's faces and the action panels. So his artwork for this issue may earn the biggest share of my rating for it overall.

Peter J. Tomasi's The Big Burn was definitely one of his strongest arcs (which is saying something because we were served by his weakest before), and that fucking ending will thankfully be resolved soon enough. I'm also looking forward for whatever larger role Erin McKillen will take to what I assume will be the Gotham's mob rise to relevance in the New 52 Batman storylines.


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