Tuesday, December 30, 2014

[Best of Batman] Knightfall by Dixon, Moench & Grant volume 2

Deciding to make yet another Knightfall installment as the graphic novel to mark the end of my second wave of Batman comics diet has more or less solidified my growing suspicion that I have this neurotic tendency not to make things easy for me every now and then when it comes to reading a story. I deserve a goddamn break from difficult-to-swallow-and-digest sort of comics from a Batman title, do I not? How could I ever allow myself to spend the last two weeks of December reading a 600-plus-paged omnibus concerning a Batman who is not Bruce Wayne underneath the cowl at all? I could never figure out the answer for myself until I managed to finish the said damn thing and write this review at almost four o'clock on a Tuesday morning.

Truth be told, I think the Knightfall series is an important historical artifact that deserves a place in the Batman comics legacy but the three massive volumes are no happy strolls in the park especially when that park is located in Gotham and the caped crusader supposedly guarding said city and its streets is just as mentally unstable as the next Arkham Asylum patient. The most disheartening piece of information I could give to you if you ever want to read this is that the first volume features Bane who is a character you will either like or despise, and that Bruce Wayne suffers a serious spinal injury courtesy of aforementioned jackass.

And then he assigns the Batman title to a man named Jean Paul Valley who was a pretty cool guy at first when he was just playing second fiddle as Azrael. However, as soon as he puts on the Bat-cowl, something immediately feels off. Suddenly, you're reading about a Batman who is utterly, selfishly and holyjesusfuck insane and extreme on his methods and overall modus operandi as the new sheriff in godforsaken Gotham City. The only good thing that ever came from Jean Paul becoming the new Batman is the fact that he was able to beat the crap out of Bane but the readers merely traded one devil for another. Tim Drake as Robin is justifiable with his concerns regarding Jean Paul's painfully slow descent to madness but Bruce and Alfred have to go to another country so he could get heal and recuperate so Tim's on his own about that. Sorry, bro. Every Robin needs his own cavalry.

Meanwhile, Jean Paul Valley continues his run as the Batman, putting the dark on the Dark Knight and turning the knight part into a symbol of horror. His costume also becomes a full-metal one that is regularly maintained like a well-polished nightmare. It's worth noting that the more he upgrades it, the crazier he also seems to get. BECAUSE IT'S A METAPHOR OF IRONY SYMBOLIC OF HIS OWN MENTAL AND MORAL DECAY, YO. But there's no keeper for Jean Paul Valley--unless you count the two delusions in his head called Saint Dumas and his abusive father who take turns having arguments concerning ethics and the holy mission Jean Paul must fulfill (did I mention that they both only exist in Jean Paul's head?). But it's not a party yet. Oh, no. Throw some mob strife and rampaging low-class criminals into the mix as the city's asshole mayor and Commissioner Gordon with the rest of GCPD having little disagreements of their own and you got yourself an un-fun orgy that breed the most exquisite hellish scenarios. With, of course, regular doses of Catwoman, the Joker and Clayface just to make it extra special.

The heap of steaming bullshit you just read is covered by this second volume.

And you know what? I still encourage you to read everything. Oh, yes. There are unavoidable troubling moments when you'd feel as if you're being punished for reading through this mess but your attention span and patience will be later rewarded once you do encounter the Catwoman and the Joker stories which for me are the strongest and most entertaining of the omnibus itself. I hated Jean Paul Valley at first instinct myself but found him becoming more complex, conflicted and multi-layered issue after issue that I find my hatred lessening, and my sympathy...still lacking. I pity the bastard but I will never, ever forgive him for his actions. But I understood his pain more than anything which is why I think I'm a little afraid of this version of Batman. As disgusted as I am with Jean Paul Valley roaming around wearing a symbol of the childhood hero I've always looked up to when he doesn't deserve that honor, there are those brief glimpses readers are offered into his humanity, scarce as it may be at this point, and they do make a tiny portion of my soul ache. I will maintain that Jean Paul Valley is one of the most detestable, sickening and pitiful characters you will ever encounter, but he is also one of the most nuanced and fascinating anti-heroes you will never stop reading even if your only goal is to see his downfall unfold. Oh, that time of reckoning will happen, so you will pick up the third volume right after this like I would because you have officially become a part of the wreckage, so you might as well see it all the way to the end.

Knightquest: The Crusade is absurdly compelling. Comprised of seventeen issues ranging from the Batman, Shadow of the Bat, Catwoman and Detective Comics titles, it's guarantee to kill something inside you while you read about the daily struggles and ridiculously violent and condescendingly moral ways of a man who is so starkly different from Bruce Wayne as Batman, and yet he is also arguably a better fit for Gotham's criminal atmosphere. I may not agree with his methods. I may want to punch him in the brain, but he's the devil that I know and cannot un-know after this. I think both Knightfall: Broken Bat, the first volume, and this one are a mixed bag. They both have flaws and redeeming qualities. Tonality-wise, they're vastly different but they both concern two characters that are polarizing and challenging to have any sort of sympathy for. As collected works, they'll make you queasy and rage-quit a few times if your heart is simply not in it, but I advise you to stick around and just have fun with it. There were a few awesome character moments in between that can be funny (Jean Paul's hilarious pent-up sexual anger towards Catwoman; the Joker making a movie about the death of Batman) and downright chilling (that storyline about mothers from distant countries selling their babies to be adopted by Gotham-based parents; Gordon's confrontation with Jean Paul Valley as he demonstrates just how deeply he believes in Batman as symbol of hope for the city he loves; and how utterly betrayed he is to find out that this is not the partner he had worked and built a relationship with anymore).

In a nutshell, I struggled with this volume but when all is said and done, I thought that Knightquest: The Crusade was a remarkably eye-opening experience even if it darkened a space in my head a little. Jean Paul Valley as the central figure of this collection was consistently enthralling even when I outright hated his stupid face. He has allowed me to contemplate about my own belief system and set of values. He has further enhanced my love for Bruce Wayne as Batman. The writers who handled Jean Paul's characterization (Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, and Alan Grant) deserve all the applause in the world--as well as a light slap in each of their cheeks for making me undergo a reading experience so rife with annoyances, grievances and holyjesusfuck moments.

Pick this up at your own risk. You have been sufficiently forewarned.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Robin Rises: ALPHA by Peter J. Tomasi

Picking up right after the events in Batman and Robin issue #37 last Dec. 17, this was an issue I was looking forward to the most especially when its release was around Christmas Eve. Anyone who has been following my Bat-reviews knows for a fact that I'm a Damian Wayne fanatic, particularly the way B&R writer for New 52 Peter J. Tomasi has characterized him and his relationship with his father and partner, Bruce Wayne. When Grant Morrison had him killed in Batman Incorporated, it hasn't been an easy transition for everyone, especially for this Tomasi title because he had to adjust to this development for every release, touching upon the five stages of Batman's grief until DC finally green-lit the return of Damian Wayne to comics.

Robin Rises was the story arc that followed Batman's journey to the planet Apokolips right after making a decision to resurrect his son once that opportunity became ripe and possible for the taking. Though the Justice League themselves were on the fence about the ordeal, Batman carried on with this mission though he also made sure that he was doing it for the right reasons; better reasons than those he had when he was still in denial and grieving his son. The one-man crusade was not a solitary undertaking, however, because Alfred chose to also commission the rest of the Bat-family (Batgirl, Red Hood and Red Robin) to follow Batman to Apokolips and assist him in any way that they can. Sporting some badass Robin-themed suits, the trio were accompanied by Damian's pet dog Titus and a reluctant Cyborg.

While at Apokolips, Batman faced Kalibak and a horde of alien creepy-zoids who prevented him from taking back his son's cadaver. The rest of the resurrect-Damian missionaries, on the other hand, found themselves caught up in tons of gory confrontations, unable to get to Batman until the opportune moment presented itself. That said moment occurred when Batman came face-to-face in a dreaded collision with Darkseid who wishes to avenge himself from the last encounter with the Justice League. After a bloody strife, Batman was able to acquire both his son's corpse and the chaos shard which has the ability to revitalize the human body. He escaped together with the rest of the gang just in the nick of time and collapsed in the batcave, about to be killed with the hellbat suit he had been wearing for a while now. But Bruce couldn't care anything less as he forces the chaos shard into Damian's lifeless body. A few seconds passed and Damian awakens. He and Bruce share an overdue reunion embrace with Alfred, Batgirl, Red Hood and Red Robin in the background with faces a mixture of shock, awe and relief. But right after their hug, Bruce suddenly loses consciousness in Damian's arms. AND HERE WE ARE.

Replacing regular artist Patrick Gleason, Andy Kubert illustrates this oneshot issue Alpha. The first few pages have shown us the same sequence of events from the last B&R installment #37 and it wasn't that bad of a recap. It heightened my anticipation for what happens to Bruce afterwards which was unfortunately an anticlimactic ruse. He was surprisingly okay after all. Tomasi was merely going for a dramatic cliffhanger from the last issue but had no plans to make it bad again for the father and son. A part of me was relieved because I don't think I'd be able to endure a switch, with Bruce about to die himself this time around just when he got his son back. But another part of me feels slightly cheated because Bruce's sudden recovery from the hellbat-suit's malfunction felt a little too convenient for the plot. Nonetheless, we get some cool action once Kalibak was able to transport to the batcave. It was also at this moment that Damian's superhuman powers were unleashed. He beats the crap out of Kalibak while the rest of the gang provided minimal support. I would point out that Alfred was particularly amazing in his scenes, playing the role of the loyal butler with a badass streak as he courageously soldiers on to help the others defeat Kalibak especially when Batman was in no shape to be fighting. Damian's newfound powers was a peculiar thing; I'm not sure if they're going to be a permanent part of his character now, but it would be interesting for me to see next year how these powers will affect and contribute with his missions as Robin.

The overall art for this issue wasn't as diverse as I would like but the action panels were great enough to hang onto page after page. I also have these following panels that I loved to death because they had some kind of emotional resonance to me. I think my biggest nitpick for the visuals of this issue is that the background details can be distracting because they look so odd in some pages as if they were rushed at the last minute or were never given any notice to while Kubert illustrated the ones that are supposed to be the spotlight. Still, I thought these were forgivable slights. In a nutshell, Robin Rises: ALPHA was an acceptable follow-up to the previous installment even if there were a few moments in this issue that I feel should have been polished better. In comparison with the earlier issues, I felt like this wasn't as strong as I would have liked it to be.



Tuesday, December 23, 2014

[Best of Batman] Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 by Grant Morrison

Grant Morrison's epic saga Batman Incorporated was seven years in the making, going back as far as Batman and Son where he introduced Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul's love child Damian, and continuing on with his run for Batman and Robin where Damian becomes the new Robin to Dick Grayson's Batman, as well as touching upon other Morrison Bat-stories like Batman 666 and Batman R.I.P. Its scope was that far-reaching; an accumulation of years of careful planning that aimed to unify and tie up every plot thread that Morrison created separately in each of the Bat-stories aforementioned. What the readers were imparted with in the end was a comic book series that is rich, diverse and resonant in all the right places possible.

Divided into a 2010 run and a New 52 sequel, there were a total of twenty-two issues for this series which I individually reviewed as dutifully as I could manage this year. Most of them have been spectacular; decisive, creative and well-nuanced tales about extraordinary people caught up in high-stakes events; while a few (that were mostly present in this volume) could have been improved upon. Nonetheless, I can guarantee that Batman Incorporated remains as an enduring, respectable work that deserves a place in the Batman legacy.

The premise for Batman Incorporated was simple enough: in the aftermath of Bruce Wayne's return from the dead, he finances a franchise that would recruit aspiring and noble vigilantes across the globe and turn them into heroes that bore the brand of Batman. Consequently, a criminal organization known as the Leviathan has taken root for years, and has freely infested many countries in the world. An inevitable clash between these distinct forces will definitely occur at the most opportune time, and Morrison and co. built an impressive setting for Batman Incorporated that served as the perfect landscape for the espionage caped adventures of the Bat-Inc crusaders. Meanwhile, the set pieces established about the Leviathan as an encompassing criminal entity might as well be Morrison's own brand of conspiracy saga which he almost turned into an art form.

The 2010-2011 run composed of nine issues focused more on the Batman's search for these promising recruits as well as the side missions in between that take him and his new team closer to the Leviathan by cornering and unravelling their criminal activities scattered among continents. By the time New 52 rolled around, Morrison has produced thirteen issues that took us right at the heart of the beast, and this creature is known as the Demon Star and operates for a singular purpose. It was at this time that Batman Incorporated was turned into a beguiling and elegant family soap opera, cinematic in scale, where Bruce Wayne's main nemesis was the woman he loved long ago who bore him his son Damian (now the current Robin to his Batman).

The same woman is no other than Ra's al Ghul's daughter, the cunning and driven Talia who spent almost a decade creating and distributing an image and reputation for Leviathan. This was all prove to her father and her beloved detective and child that she is not to be underestimated. Heiress to an empire of blood and ashes, Talia will stop at nothing to convince Bruce that her son is meant to rule by her side. In a chilling confrontation, Talia asked Bruce to choose between his beloved city Gotham or Damian and whichever he chooses, the other one shall die.

This volume entitled Gotham's Most Wanted was the second and last part of the series. Comprised of issues #7-13 plus a special, this is where Morrison ends it all. To be honest, it wasn't the punchline I was looking for especially when I felt that this series as a whole deserved more. The conclusion was a bit underwhelming and incomprehensibly unsatisfying for me. All the wonderful build-up, symbolic, biblical and mythological references that were weaved into the narrative, plots and characters for Batman Incorporated led up to a resolution that barely justified or lived up to the journey itself. The destination just lacked something I still could not figure out even as I write this review. I also complained about the fact that this series never should have been labeled as a New 52 story because the general inconsistencies in details and timelines eventually became too hard to ignore as you go on, especially if you read this alongside other New 52 Bat-titles, so I advise that you don't, and treat this as its own breed of animal.

However, I think the real drawback for the later part of the series was when Damian Wayne finally dies in issue #8 which was truly the high critical point of everything this series stood for. Morrison has written Damian Wayne's character specifically and arguably only to die once Bat-Inc gets closer to its grand finish. It was the catalyst that will guarantee Talia and Batman's confrontation by the last issue. Unfortunately, it was after this show-stopping demise that also killed the momentum and excitement of the things that happened in its wake. The next issues (#9-#13) just didn't keep the ball rolling. I felt that they slowly became less engrossing as the series neared the thankful end. The story didn't deteriorate completely, of course. The said issues are still serviceable but quite average when you compare it to the grand scheme of Batman Incorporated, that's all.

I can look back at this series as a work that's relentlessly creative, oddly endearing and shockingly well-layered, however. It's a comic book series you should pick up if you ever dare call yourself a long-time and avid Batman fan. Grant Morrison has created something special here and perhaps in time and with age, I could re-read this series again and appreciate it better somewhere down the road. I suggest that you pick up Batman and Son, Batman 666, Batman R.I.P and Batman and Robin which were all penned by Morrison before you dig into this. Perhaps starting from where it all began would give you a more nuanced perspective of how this saga has evolved since. Though not always readily accessible to newbies, Batman Incorporated as an epic adventure and drama is enjoyable if you're patient enough to see it through. It has distinguished itself as yet another Grant Morrison work that earns a spot as a contemporary classic in the comic book medium.


Monday, December 22, 2014

[New 52] Batman Incorporated Special #1 by Various Writers

This has been a rather surprising installment for me. After expressing my disappointment over how Grant Morrison wrapped up Batman Incorporated, I really did not expect that a special issue was still in order though the six standalone stories included in this package was not penned by Morrison himself but rather a roster of writers and artists who have worked alongside him during the conception and process of Bat-Inc itself. This special issue #1 features the global vigilante sensations whom we have gotten to know since the 2010 run such as Jiro (Mr. Unknown) and Canary, Knight and Squire, Dark Ranger, Nightrunner, El Gaucho, Man-Bats and Red Raven.


The thing you need to understand about the distinction between the Bat-Inc. 2010-2011 run and the 2012-2013 run is simply this: the former run was all about the globetrotting adventures of the franchise members scattered among countries and continents as they follow the exploits of certain criminal individuals that all lead back to the entity known as Leviathan, an organization that threatens to destroy the world one piece at a time just so it could build an evil regime in its stead. The latter run uncovers who is behind the Leviathan and it's no other than a woman who proclaims herself as the Demon Star, Ra's al Ghul's formidable heiress Talia who has had enough of men governing her life. She offers her son Damian and her beloved detective Batman a place in the new kingdom she plans to build but when they refused her, she decided to become the living epitome of their worst nightmares because, hey, hell hath no fury especially when the woman in question in the demon's daughter herself.

But let's not worry ourselves with that part of the story. In this special issue, we focus more on the other Bat-Inc supporting characters and their missions and cases in their respective countries. The timelines here are varied; there are stories here that deal with the aftermath of the confrontation in Gotham with Talia and the Heretic, while others are self-contained tales that are pre-Talia/Heretic. What this issue manages to accomplish is to hopefully reignite our interest in these other heroes we barely even know except in passing and in the context of the more Batman-centered main arc. Personally, I'm optimistic about the fact that this special is numbered. That could mean we may be getting a #2 but I suppose that depends on how well this would sell. After all, this feels like it's a creation of its own brand, given that Morrison's name is no longer associated with it other than the credit that he created these characters. I think it's remarkable because I wanted to know these characters and what else they have to offer even if Batman Incorporated has been officially disbanded. Who's to say they can't operate in the shadows? Or as a self-employed unit of do-gooders, like the reverse counterpart of the Suicide Squad?

After reading these 46 pages, I definitely want another one. If this was just a pre-taste of what's to come, then what are we waiting for DC? Approve a spin-off, for crying out loud! I recommend this issue alone because of its readable quality. This could be the issue that could get potential new fans into exploring the rest of Batman Incorporated that issue #0 failed to do so. This special as rightfully titled has a lot of potential. I hope it gets another installment and the creative team that worked on it will stay in the project. This could evolve into something really superb if we give it another shot, guys!


Detective Comics by Manapul & Buccelatto issue #37

This was a really terrific installment for me! The yuletide season is here and the amazing tandem of Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul (a fellow Filipino) has come back to give us the Anarky storyline just in time for the holidays. As a premise issue, this was utterly delightful, most notably because I have missed Manapul-Buccellato art so badly that being able to peruse through them was enough to get me warm and fuzzy. This is a comic book you will never get tired looking at. Visually, there are a lot of layers and spectacular panel layout choices that further enhance the noir quality of the story being told at hand.

If you didn't know this already, Manapul and Bucellato write and illustrate for their Detective Comics instalments and their five-issued Icarus was one of my favorite Bat-stories EVER (even if the conclusion was a tad disappointing). One of the reasons it held such a memorable appeal was because the breadth of the artwork was consistently atmospheric, able to capture certain scenes and moods with minimalistic touches. Whatever color palette the artists would decide on, the finished pages produced are always guaranteed to convey whatever the story demands. With Manapul and Buccelatto, their issues can tell a story using visuals alone, and could even thrive from scarce written descriptions. This is something you don't always get in comic books these days, let alone in the superhero genre, though I believe Batman: Detective Comics is the perfect place for such a style to make a lasting impression on. And I can assure you that it does.

Anarky starts in the middle of an ongoing investigation concerning the titular villain in question and we get snippets of the procedural cop drama between Harvey Bullock and the new character Nancy Yip whom Manapul and Buccelatto introduce in their previous issues. It's a good thing that readers are immediately thrust into the action already and could just figure out their way from there which wouldn't be that difficult, considering the case is still picking up the pieces and constructing a nuanced profile for the Anarky character itself. As for Batman, we see him confronting Mad Hatter as the said villain is deliriously searching for "Alice". This was a reference to The Dark Knight run (volume 3, I believe, which I have yet to read myself). Later on, we get a heartwarming exchange between Alfred and Bruce in which his butler and old friend asserts that Bruce doesn't always have to live through his mask as Batman, that he still has a choice to have a life outside it as Bruce Wayne. Together with the pet dog Titus, they light up Wayne Manor with Christmas lights as they stand there, watching everything twinkle.


The issue deliberately ends with a suspenseful sequence inside Wayne Tower where Harvey Bullock, Nancy Yip, Lucius Fox and a handful of frightened employees are trapped next to a detonated bomb about to explode. Batman tries to stop it but the last page leaves us with the understanding that the bomb did explode as the red symbol of "A" marks the entirety of the infrastructure. What is left to find out is if they survived that, if Batman found a way to get them all out. I'm convinced that it's possible that not everyone was lucky to get away. There may be a few deaths in the next issue. But we shall see. I'm very pleased to have Manapul and Buccelatto for this series again and I hope that they will continue to produce such invigorating and beautifully illustrated issues.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

[New 52] Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison issue #13

As a tale that has span seven years for the writing process and publication overall, Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated is a must-read for any self-respecting Batman fan and it's most likely due to posterity's sake rather than anything else. The first nine issues dates back from 2010 and the series was continued alongside the revamped continuity of New 52 with thirteen issues afterwards. Here we are then, at the end of the road, with the finale that supposedly wraps up every thread that was uraveled from the very start of this run, and I felt sincerely unaffected in a way that makes me a little bit sad.

I started this journey with optimistic expectations that were met a lot of times in the beginning, but then my emotional investment slowly dwindled as I went on. The truth is I like Batman Incorporated a lot but I was unable to truly fall in love with it midway through finishing the series, most notably because I just reached the end and I felt like I had nothing to show for it--which, as you can understand, sucks balls. All the build-up, the references to classic Bat-tales, the mythology and symbolism were its strengths and my favorite aspects of the series, but they never had any long-lasting decent pay-off once this issue concluded everything. I wouldn't say I wasted my time reading Bat-Inc because that would unfair to say; this series has been phenomenal--but only at first. I looked back at the last four issues (#9-#12) before this, and found my reviews to be disheartening because they speak more resonantly about my critical standpoint and slight frustrations with the way this series played out its final notes.

After much contemplation, I had no choice but to accept that I was not happy about how this finale and those four issues mentioned that led to it, even when I wanted so badly to proclaim to you right now that, "Oh my god, yes! Batman Incorporated is everything I ever wanted from a Batman comic book, if not so much more!" It wasn't. It had the potential to be, and then it just didn't deliver. I'm a bit angry about it too because I believe Grant Morrison is one of the most incredibly bold and talented comic book writers of all time who always tries to remake storytelling elements in comics itself whenever he is handed with that opportunity. Morrison always aims to diversify his stories by adding that unique spin on things that would make you almost feel as if you the reader are being taken on an exciting adventure filled with wonder, suspense and unexpected emotionality because you deserve nothing less. That's how Grant Morrison has always made me feel whenever I read his work, especially with Batman.

Batman Incorporated should have been the pinnacle for all his contributions to the Bat-mythos and legacy, but now it feels as if DC did rush him to get it over with because his work for this series is getting in the way with New 52 material. The inconsistencies in details and general contradictions between Bat-Inc and some New 52 content are hard to ignore at this point, and I just get the feeling that Morrison knows it too and he feels disrespected which was why this final product was not at its best form. After all that effort, dedication and seven years of craft-perfecting and myth-polishing for a series I knew he was prepared to consider as one of his top work, Morrison somehow lost that drive, I believe, perhaps because of office-politics and conflicts happening behind the scenes. BUT I'M MERELY SPECULATING. Don't take these things I said to heart because I'm just a humble geek with a lot of time in my hands, and my mind readily goes to worst-case scenarios.

This only goes to show how much I am a Grant Morrison fan because I keep making justifications like this even to myself, and that I want to remain supportive of his works, especially with Batman Incorporated even if this finale issue left me out cold. It's far from a bad issue--but it was just average and Morrison has never produced anything average for me, personally (well, there was that crappy Hellblazer two-parter he wrote that I reviewed way back but I won't even consider that as part of his usual amazing roster so I digress). I still have that special annual issue after this which I checked and has fifty pages of material. I'm going to try and be excited about that. Afterwards, I'm posting my final and official review for the second volume that collects issues #7-#13 plus that said special but I might take a day or two before accomplishing that since I want to mull over the accumulation of Bat-Inc as a series first so that final review will be written with the respect and dignity this work deserves.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

[New 52] Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison issue #12

The last three issues I reviewed have been coasting on a solid 7 out of 10 rating, and I'm quite hesitant to do the same with this one since this did contain the long overdue ass-kicking battle between Batman and the Heretic. The majority of the pages fortunately focused on that conflict but there's a subplot concerning Spyral and Jason Todd that went over my head because we never really spent enough time with this plot thread to fully understand whatever foreboding ramifications are coming. What I could comprehend is that Batman Incorporated is an illegal private army that should never have been authorized and everyone in the global intelligence communities wants it dissolved but not before Bat-Inc's vigilantes help out in extracting Leviathan out of Gotham City once and for all. Why, of course! 

This issue is gratingly misleading; everything about it is still a set-up that should have taken place instead in issue #11 as oppose to that unfortunate filler concerning Jiro and Japan. This is the issue that follows the finale and yet it's lacking the punch I was looking for, narrative-wise, in spite of the gruesome amount of back-and-forth punching and kicking between Batsy and the Heretic. In fact, with the exception of those incredibly drawn and vivid fight scenes between the two, most of the other elements for this installment are forgettable and fall apart when you try to scrutinize it with a more logical perspective.

It's getting very tiresome for me to mention the fact that the world and setting Morrison created in Batman Incorporated are not AT ALL a part of the New 52 jurisdiction and nothing screams that fact more than this issue at hand because by the last pages we see Talia al Ghul blowing up Wayne Tower. Meanwhile, in Scott Snyder's Requiem issue tribute to Damian entitled Resolve, we see Wayne Tower very much still existing, cascading beautifully and darkly on the Gotham horizon as Bruce stands there revived from his grief as he finds the will and strength to go on after his son's demise. It's one of the most poignant illustrations I've ever seen because of that specific backdrop so upon reading this issue and witnessing the symbolic 'fall' of the 'House of Wayne' via tower-bombing, I can't help but feel that this is DC and Morrison's special way of telling the readers that they FUCKING HATE EACH OTHER right now because neither of them can get their timelines straight; they both seem to insist on their versions of reality so New 52 Bat-stories and Bat-Inc completely cancel each other out due to these inconsistencies in details. It's become very blatant that I can only just shake my head grimly at this point and just let these assholes do what they must do among themselves. Good grief! So after much deliberation, I am giving this issue yet another 7-pointer.

I guess with four issues rated 7 out of 10, my general review and evaluation for the second volume of Batman Incorporated will be significantly lower than I intended. I can live with that. Even before I approach the end of this run, I have made up my mind that the first six issues collected in Demon Star were far more superior in scope than this latter part which is ironic since the second volume should have a more resonant appeal. But I digress.

Though there is less depth here, I would still commend the cliffhanger that this issue ended with where Talia finally confronts Batman in his cave so I can only expect an awesome fight scene between these two ex-lovers/grieving parents. A small character moment concerning Dick holding back the Squire from trying to kill the Heretic was quite sad to see, and surprising because I did not expect Dick to show any compassion for the jerkwad who murdered his adoptive brother. Overall, the visual appeal of this issue is its strongest suit. I thought Burnham truly went all-out with his panels and layout choices for the earlier confrontation between Batsy and the Heretic who has an eerie Damian-baby face underneath his iron mask. I also like that panel of Talia striking him down after he was defeated by Batman because she's one vicious cunt who apologizes for nothing. Fucking Talia al Ghul, man.

Bitch needs to die and the bitch will.


[New 52] Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison issue #11

Of all the Bat-Inc's recruits, Jiro of Japan or Mr. Unknown has always been my favorite and that's mostly because he was the only one I connected with (he was much like Dick Grayson from what I can discern from his characterization), and who I actually saw as a character to care about and root for in his own adventures. The second would be the tandem of Man-of-Bats and Little Raven. Now as much as love Jiro, I did find this detour issue to be jarring, considering we are already at the climactic part of the confrontation between Batman and Talia, so I don't understand why we bothered with a filler such as this during the most opportune time. It's slightly inconsiderate. I think something must be happening in the process of accomplishing this series, particularly on meeting deadlines, etc. I can't be sure, but that has to be the only explanation for this.

Written by Chris Burnham himself while artist Jorge Lucas illustrated, issue #11 is a bizarre mixture of Japanese manga elements mashed with Silver Age comics adventure prototype and it's guaranteed to be polarizing. I'm not even going to defend it in case you hated it because I objectively understand that resentment. I would say that if this issue appeared in the earlier part of Batman Incorporated (the first wave where globetrotting was the main focus), this would easily be a comfortable, colorful and quirky addition to that roster because if you look at it as its own standalone installment, there is something ridiculously endearing about the set-up, particularly if you're a fan of anime/manga in general. I knew I was entertained as I read this.

This was basically an oddly satirical tribute reminiscent to the Super Sentai flavor of action-adventure live-action shows back in Japan. The color-coordinated suits of the masked characters (who are villains in this issue) and the over-the-top hilariously-costumed villainess whose diabolical plans are as equally absurd as her fashion sense--this issue is a goofball feast of otaku nonsense that would have been well-received and appreciated if it wasn't tragically misplaced in Bat-Inc. Somehow these villains are connected to the Leviathan themselves but no one fucking cares because you just can't take them seriously at all, not when something grand and terrible is about to take place in Gotham where Batman and Talia with the Heretic will have the ultimate showdown that decides the fate of that city, if not the whole world. So Japan is really the least of your worries in a strictly practical and priority standpoint.

There is also this weird subplot concerning Jiro and his small-sized partner/love interest Canary where he literally has to shrink himself in an Internet 3D reality just so he could date her and make out with her, I suppose. I found this situation cute because I can recall two or three animes on the top of my head) with almost the same premise but if you never subscribed to this kind of oddball storylines in the first place then Jiro and Canary's relationship may come off creepy. But this is not our regular programming at this point so as much as I loved this issue as itself because it was fun, self-aware and bold in its visual style and content, I have to remain objective in rating this issue. This was a misplaced story which perfectly explains if fans who are eager to see Batman and Talia duke it out will get slightly angry for buying this release because they will feel cheated on.

What a waste. I really love Jiro and his masked crusading in Japan but this is not the right time to explore that, not when things in Gotham should be the main attraction of the series.


Friday, December 19, 2014

[New 52] Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison issue #10

The cover spread for this issue is a motherfucking spoiler. It's a gatefold cover with an extended flap so if you have yet to read this issue then resist looking at the flap. Otherwise, what a brilliant illustration by no other than Chris Burnham himself.

Before I go ahead with the review of this issue's content, let me first address the fact that Burnham has fill-in artists for this story. I'm referring to pages 12-13 which were credited to other people. I think this is because of the deadline problems the co. is facing which is just sad because Bat-Inc really deserves more and it feels as if DC is not giving them more leeway and pressuring them to get their stuff published before even making sure that everything is polished.

I never wanted to say this before but I noticed that the quality of Burham's illustrations have declined slightly since issue #7 started and I don't think it's his fault at all. It's really about the deadline demands that often make artists rush their final outputs for printing so Burnham's artwork for Bat-Inc hasn't been at its top form lately which I hope they managed to overcome by the next last issues after this one. I've recommended this series to three other friends and the first thing I always compliment this one for is its artist so that's why I felt the need to express concern about the visual accessibility and quality of Burham's art for Bat-Inc. That's all. But I digress.

This installment was only slightly better than issue #9 because the scenes are actually in a slower pace. However, the passage of time in general for Bat-Inc has been growing more problematic and this is the biggest flaw of issue #10 for me. I recall the discussion I've opened up in my general review for the first volume Demon Star. There I addressed the fact that Batman Incorporated is considered a part of the New 52 continuity WHEN IT IS OBVIOUSLY NOT. It's really the minor things that give away the reality that Morrison wrote events in Bat-Inc that belong to the old continuity in the first place which is why Jason Todd's character arc here contradicts his current characterization for Red Hood and the Outlaws. Also, we now get in this issue scenes with Kirk Langstorm (a.k.a Man-Bat) and his wife Francine who just appeared in Detective Comics #19 and yet their roles here in Morrison's #10 don't even coincide with what was established about them by John Layman for New 52. My prominent criticism for issue #10 is that I have no clear indication concerning the chronological flow of the events presented in the pages. I'm not sure which happened in consequence of another, or which was more current other than that last reveal with Talia on the roof and Batsy about to attack her.

The timelines are being blurred, all because of the stupid decision to label Morrison's Batman Incorporated as part of the New 52 roster. Damian Wayne's death also carries over to New 52 which all the Bat-writers tried their best to compensate for, especially Tomasi himself who writes for Batman and Robin but I can't help but feel that it shouldn't have been the case. If we accept the premise that Bat-Inc is not a part of New 52 but rather a pre-New 52 storyline then we can believe that Damian's death happened FIVE YEARS AGO since New 52 rule states that all DC storylines after its revamp have only existed since five years ago---fuck me, Loki, I'm getting all tangled up with my own reasoning already. I'll try to make sense of the fragments with my own logical assumptions and you do so yourself too, dear reader. I'm sorry but we're all on our own in the wolf's den.

I suppose the only way to properly enjoy the story is if you consider Batman Incorporated as a STANDALONE EVENT UNINFUENCED BY THE HAPPENINGS IN NEW 52 BAT-STORIES. I mean, we don't even get mentions of key events like the Owls one-night uprising, the Joker's Return, or Emperor Penguin's rise to power. So it's safe to say Bat-Inc is in another plane of reality otherwise known as THE OLD CONTINUTY. Because, god-fucking-dammit, DC, it's the only way for me to process these things. I will forever assert that Batman Incorporated should have been THE LAST GREATEST BAT-STORY TO BE TOLD FOR THE OLD CONTINUITY. This was a seven-years-in-the-making project that deserved such a highly esteemed title, and you know it!


[New 52] Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison issue #9

In the wake of Damian Wayne's demise, Bat-titles have released their Requiem issues to honor his fall and memory and this is Grant Morrison's contribution which I expected to have a more solid standing than the others because he was the writer who decided to kill Damian Wayne in the first place, and though issue #9 does live up to its original intention (which was to show the aftermath of Damian's death on a personal level for other characters), the rest of this comic book was just confusing, eager to jump back and forth for updates on multiple events without a single care to an average reader's attention span. Just like with the seventh issue, this installment was all over the goddamn place!

I think the only reason to read this issue if you're not really following the Bat-Inc story is to understand how and why Damian Wayne died, and to get an up-close scene of his funeral as only attended by Bruce, Alfred, Tim and Dick. That beginning shot of them carrying Damian's coffin was a punch to the gut. Other than that, I suggest you skip the pages that include the major events of Morrison's epic drama because you really should be reading this series in the first place! If you're not, then you're missing out on an otherwise diverse and complex plot whose finer details do have a tendency to be delivered rather poorly which this issue clearly shows. I love, love, LOVE Batman Incorporated but this is the second time in its New 52 run that I'm scratching my head at the end of an issue and reading back again for the second or third time just to make sure I was understanding things correctly.

As much as possible I try to contextualize my experience with that of a newbie's who may not have the patience to sift through every little thing this story offers and if that is the case then Requiem issue #9 will be most challenging, and for the worst reasons.

I would have preferred that this comic book didn't employ a non-linear style of narrative. It would have worked for other parts of Bat-Inc before (issue #1 did that and it was explosively awesome in scope), but at this point of the game, this should have been a quieter and more grounded issue. With all this escalating commotion in the pages, Damian's death was sadly diluted in a way because a reader's attention is divided where they had to follow the trail of bread crumbs left by the Leviathan, Talia's inane and insufferable breaking-the-fourth-wall dialogue, and supporting characters' subplot conflicts. And really, if a reader is a Damian fan, all he or she could care about at this moment is his death so I don't recommended jumping ahead to this issue after issue #8 at all. If readers wish to savor the pain and grieve Damian for a while, then I suggest they pick up Peter J. Tomasi and Scott Snyder's own respective Requiem issues. Those are self-contained ones that would really stir your heartstrings if they're not already broken.

This would have been a great issue if it wasn't so bombarded with multiple events coalescing in a rather graceless manner within the pages. I would have liked to see more of the fight scene between Heretic and Bruce and Dick but we just skimmed over this supposedly grave confrontation which undermines its importance. We are now at a pivotal point in Batman Incorporated so Morrison really needs to quit shifting the focus away from the main drama or at least resolve the smaller ones by dividing them first from the major one. I've seen him handle the weight of both these elements equally in his Revenge of the Red Hood before, (one of my favorite Morrison story arcs ever), so I know he can do Bat-Inc with the same honor. Overall, this Requiem issue was not the best in his roster which is disappointing because this was a follow-up to Damian's death and yet that particular plot thread didn't get in enough pages in its own titular tribute. That's just negligent, isn't it, if not a blatant oversight.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

[New 52] Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison issue #8

DAMIAN: "Are you with me, Nightwing? The odds are completely against us."

DICK: "When did we ever let something like that get in the way, Robin, the Boy Wonder, Damian?"

DAMIAN: "So far, I think you were my favorite partner. We were the best, Richard, no matter what everyone thinks."

For a short time a while back, I was never entirely sure where my love for Damian Wayne even came from. I believe it was during the time I was reading and reviewing Peter J. Tomasi's Batman and Robin run for New 52 when I first realized that I was falling in love with him in a steady rate issue after issue. But even before that happened I was already excited about the idea that Bruce Wayne has a son, illegitimate-born as he may be and mothered by the vicious Talia al Ghul, because I want Bruce to have a family of his own blood. I was invested in seeing the character development of Bruce Wayne struggling through unplanned parenthood, and Tomasi gave me just that.

But if I will be truly honest with myself, I think what got me so interested in Damian Wayne BEFORE I EVEN MET HIM was the fact that HE DIED SO SOON, and with that prior knowledge I wanted TO LOVE HIM once I did get around to reading about him in a chronological and consistent way in comics. Soon, I was genuinely enjoying him; my feelings did start to take a life of their own especially when I had to go through the motions of Bruce's grief and the remembrance of every other character who cared about Damian. The Requiem and other Damian-tribute issues truly made me feel as if I myself lost a dear friend and brother, so before I could even help myself, I get misty-eyed every time I read something about Damian Wayne.

Now after reading both of Grant Morrison and Peter J. Tomasi's respective runs for Batman and Robin, I can say wholeheartedly that I was a fan of both for different reasons. I was getting my sweet dose of father-son moments between Bruce and Damian for Tomasi's run, and for a time it seemed enough for me, and after I read and reviewed issue #37 of Robin Rises last night, my world was once again made whole because Damian Wayne was successfully and poignantly resurrected and reunited with his father. However, I was also able to read and review the twelve issues of Grant Morrison's run where Dick Grayson took the responsibilities of the presumed-dead Bruce and became the new Batman with Damian as his Robin, and they were such a fantastic pair. Like most partnerships, it had been a rocky start but they slowly and surely developed into a commanding force as the certified new Dynamic Duo. They were brothers-at-arms. They trusted each other and worked so in-sync together. That is why I chose to quote that lovely exchange between them at the beginning of this review because it definitely summarized the heartfelt relationship these two shared as they fought crime and evil side-by-side. Tomasi followed up on this in his second Batman and Robin Annual issue because Dick's relationship with Damian has a depth you never expected to have but very much thankful for happening anyway in the long run. Luckily enough for me, I still have ten issues of Morrison's Batman and Robin to get back to next year so I will experience some more Dick-Damian in action by then. JUST LOOK AT HOW ADORBS THEY ARE! :D

And this is why it broke my heart when Dick witnessed Damian get fucking harpooned in the chest and he was too late to do anything to stop it. I'm getting ahead of myself but I read the next issue as soon as I finished this, and seeing his reaction was so goddamn hurtful because he was so shocked that he couldn't even process Damian's death for the rest of the pages that followed. Before that, they had one last epic battle together as they fought of Leviathan goons before coming face-to-face with Heretic, Damian's twin and new successor of the al Ghul empire. Dick was sadly tossed away as Damian was left to fend off and fight Heretic himself, all the while pleading for his mother to stop the war. The next pages after that were gruelling, especially when I know what was about to happen, and it was all a matter of anticipating the blow. But even as it landed, I was still shaken to my core. Thank god I read Tomasi's #37 last night to cushion the blow of what I just witnessed at least. AND FUCKING TALIA EVEN SHED A TEAR BUT THEN SAYS THAT IT WAS 'A MOMENT OF WEAKNESS'. Fuck you, Talia! Your son just died! I AM SO INCONSOLABLY ANGRY AT YOU. EVEYRTHING ABOUT THIS ISSUE IS COSMICALLY UNFAIR. And I'm about to share the pain with you by displaying the scans below so forgive me in advance. Feel free to look at Damian's resurrection panels after this.

[New 52] Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison issue #7

I plan to finish all of my Batman Incorporated readings this weekend so by Christmas week I can solely focus on Knightfall volume 2 which I am not looking forward to as much, but I'm more than equipped to handle a hefty omnibus edition by now. It's a required reading material as a Bat-classic after all and I always finish what I started. It feels weird reading Batman Incorporated a year after its run officially ended though, especially since  he crucial event that's about to unfold in the next issue after this has just been resolved by Tomasi in his Robin Rises arc yesterday on the 17th of December when issue #37 is released.

Still, I'm invested enough on Bat-Inc to keep reading. I still have six issues to go plus a special. This issue wasn't a good start though, however. Everything felt rushed and abrupt in transition which made the reading experience slightly dizzying. I don't understand some elements to it too, but that's mainly because this issue also touches upon a Morrison comic book from the past I haven't read yet. I had to research online about that whale thing first and then get back to the pages. As an issue standalone, this added little to progress the story forwards, let alone propel it into a clear state of direction where readers are in a comfortable position to ride the waves through. The first fifteen pages or so were just schizophrenic, jumping from one character or scene to another without even allowing the readers to take in everything first.

I suppose the pacing is supposed to indicate that the clusterfuck of chaos has escalated but it just doesn't work for me like that. And if you are following my reviews, I've announced time and time again (and once more) that I'm anal retentive about story pacing. It bugs me when a comic book is this fast-paced but offers little story to compensate for it or to really deliver the suspense that most fast-paced stories is supposed to do. But that was in the first fifteen pages which was definitely the most problematic aspect of this issue. However, once we get to the later ones, the pacing does pick with a better control now, revealing some important twists concerning Talia al Ghul, the Heretic and Batman. There's another reference to Batman and Robin issue #12 concerning the Talia's clone baby who was supposed to replace Damian after Damian has rejected his mother's plans for him to rule a global empire. This clone baby is fully grown now and has become the imposing figure called the Heretic. As for Batman, he's now trapped inside a cube-shaped container that Talia actually expects him to escape from but she calculated even the millisecond it will take for him to free himself, therefore giving her enough time to execute her other devious plans. It's all very nefarious; Talia is definitely giving her own father a run for his bad-guy money.

On the plus side, the best part of this issue has to be Alfred and Damian and their conversations throughout several panels which enlightened the current situations that readers have to pay attention to, as well as resonate in a significant manner because the interaction shows us the kind of mutual understanding these two share. There is trust between them that certainly makes it feel that Alfred is Damian's family in a way Talia has never been to Damian all his life, even to a greater extent than Bruce as well, because Alfred has always been more available and willing to listen and trust Damian as oppose to trying to control or protect him which both his parents have been doing without even considering how Damian feels about everything. I also like that this issue was focused more on the supporting cast of Bat-Inch and that Batman doesn't even get a single dialogue here which was great because this series is supposed to be non-Batman-centric given the premise. Those are the things I enjoyed about this issue but it was nonetheless one of the weakest installments of the series.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue #37


Peter J. Tomasi's Robin Rises arc has been building up to this moment and for a time I refused to believe it was going to take place. I didn't want to believe it because I was doubtful and paranoid that a happy event will ever be possible for Batman and his family. But it happened. IT HAS REALLY FUCKING HAPPENED and yet I still cannot believe my eyes. There was even a soundtrack playing in my earphones (Adele's Make You Feel My Love of all things) as soon as I reached the climactic page where Damian Wayne--MY Robin, the Boy Wonder whose death felt like a rush of a thousand heartbreaks--opened his eyes, and reached out to his father for an overdue reunion embrace.

Weirdly enough, I was decisively numb all over as I flipped through the pages. I was already just going through the motions at this point, unable to see anything clearly except for the colors of the panels which are all soaked in vibrant red; every action sequence dripping with restless energy. I could feel Batman grasping for dear life as he tries to defeat Darkseid, all the while his entire attention was on preventing his son's cadaver from falling to the abyss in the middle of battle. I felt his exhaustion and anxiety as he clasped at that chaos shard and absorbed the shock of Darkseid's power; the relief he felt upon jumping with the rest of the heroes into the boom box for teleportation just in time before he collapsed to the floor of the batcave with his hellbat-suit only minutes before explosion. Pushed to his limits, Batman carefully disarms himself from his armor with all the strength he had left and forces the chaos shard into his son's chest.

I could hear my own breathing at that point, and it was faint and shallow, almost as if I was deliberately trying to calm my nerves before I even start freaking out. I was in a daze as if I was floating weightlessly in a dream I've had several times but still unsure of how it ends. And then I reached the page where the panel below was featured (Bruce's shattered memories of his parents dying on one side and Damian on the other as he screams in agony "DON'T MAKE ME CHOOSE!") and I had to stop reading so I can cover my face with my hands. I still did not cry. I cannot process what was happening. It took me two minutes before I could take my hands off my face and proceed, as bravely as I could, to read what happens next. I think I shared Alfred and Barbara's shock, awe and desperation the entire time. There is nothing more for me to say. I got my Christmas wish. Bruce and Damian Wayne are finally reunited.


On Christmas Eve, I'm going to be reading Robin Rises: ALPHA next. Right now, I'm filled with euphoria that I can almost choke on it. Thank you, Mr. Tomasi and co. THANK YOU!~

Batman by Scott Snyder issue #37

There are only two New 52 Bat-titles whose latest releases I've been following closely with dread and anticipation, and Snyder's Endgame story arc concerning the climactic return of the Clown Prince of crime is one of them. The other one is, of course, Tomasi's Robin Rises arc concerning the return of MY Robin, Damian Wayne. I actually just read  the two side-by-side, and IT'S THE BIGGEST MISTAKE I MADE THIS WEEK because now I'm reeling from all kinds of feelings due to both installments. Now I know what it feels like to wait for a comic book issue monthly and literally fear what is inside the pages, mostly because I have no choice but to wait for another month before I find out what happens next. AND IT COULDN'T COME AT A WORST TIME AT THAT!

I've now reached a point in my comic book consumption of Batman content just this year alone where it's seriously becoming bad for my mental health AND I LOVE IT! Scott Snyder is anyone's go-to writer for New 52 material and his major arcs had been incredibly satisfying and resonant in the best places imaginable. Of all that I have sampled, Zero Year is still my favorite while I found both Court of Owls and Death of the Family to be generally grand and favorable in scope. It's safe to say that if you're a fan of the Joker then you must subscribe to Snyder's stuff because I believe he's the only writer who delivers a consistently haunting and gruesome Joker story for the new continuity. 

I've confessed before that the big crossover event of Death of the Family last year has exhausted the fuck out of me, mostly because I could hardly remember a time in a post-Nolan world that Joker wasn't so fucked-up and written so darkly, and I found myself unable to enjoy or like the Joker being portrayed as such.

However, Endgame is exactly what I am looking for to cleanse my oversaturated Joker palette, and it's only poetic that the task should be accomplished by Snyder. In its three current installments so far, the story already has a better balance in its elements and perspective concerning the Clown Prince of crime than what was previously achieved in Death of the Family. After seventy-five years, the schizophrenic, chaotic and forever-elusive Joker finally receives the representation it deserves: Snyder deconstructs what his timeless persona means for Gotham City, its inhabitants and Batman himself. Truly, we could all now consider the Joker as a cosmic monster, Lovecraftian in rendition, who will terrorize and cause discord until the end of time. He is not a person of flesh and blood but an un-killable idea befitting that of Batman on the opposite spectrum. I think this is how Snyder seems to write him in Endgame, and I'm excited for this new direction I'm being taken to. I must say that the journey is scaring me a bit which also feels good.

James Tynion IV's short fiction for every Endgame issue has been crucial in further emphasizing the almost mythical aspect of the Joker as viewed by mentally unstable patients of the Arkham Asylum. Their stories offer us varying multiple origins of the Joker which is rightly so. The Joker is not supposed to have a linear and concise backstory. He's pure chaos in the form of man and now it looks as if he is not even human, given the way Snyder has built him up in this issue. I'm getting the chills in a way I haven't in a while. I'm not sure it's advisable for us to keep staring into the abyss because if there is an evil entity that lurks inside it and can gaze back into our souls, it's most definitely a clown with a perpetual grin and a ready mad laugh!


Batman: The Dark Knight vol. 2 by Gregg Hurwitz & David Finch

I finished the first volume of The Dark Knight series earlier this month, which was misleadingly entitled Knight Terrors penned by David Jenkins. I felt good about the fact that I decided to review it as a volume and not as individual issues because the first nine collected in Knight Terrors weren't exactly top-shelf quality.

The most memorable moments of that book were also its most horrendously absurd particularly the creation of the White Rabbit lady who I disliked with fervor, something that even rivals my unending hate towards the Joker's Daughter. Pleasantly enough, this sophomore collection has a different writer (Gregg Hurwitz) though it's still illustrated by the same artist from the previous volume, the fabulous David Finch whose artwork is simply extraordinary. I think he remains as my favorite part of The Dark Knight title. Colorist Sonia Oback also helped in making every illustration shine for this volume which then in turn helped me enjoy what Hurwitz offered in the story department which was, in many ways, an improvement of Jenkins' run. Weirdly enough, there is no kind of connection between their works for this title so you can pick this up even without reading Knight Terrors.

I think that Gregg Hurwitz' Cycle of Violence was a polarizing collection, most notably because I sincerely believe that even though it has many potentials to become a fully-realized character-driven emotional story, the delivery and ultimate conclusion were a tad disappointing. In summary, this is a five-issued story arc concerning Jonathan Crane a.k.a the Scarecrow and his twisted plans involving the abduction and torment of young children in order to concoct and perfect his new brand of fear toxin. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is dating a Ukrainian pianist named Natalya who has expressed her disapproval over the fact that he is such an emotionally unavailable dud. But in spite of the obvious signs that this is a man who will never let her in, Natalya still wants their relationship to mean more than just keeping up appearances and the occasional shag. I didn't mind this angle of Bruce's story for this volume because I'm honestly still hangover from the unfulfilled and unresolved character arc about Silver St. Cloud from Len Wein's Strange Apparitions comics. I can't help but think about her while I was reading Natalya though this Ukrainian girlfriend is not as interesting of a character as Silver was. But Bruce's love life is not a subplot you will ever concern yourself with. The only reason I cared a bit was because I merely tried to draw parallels between this and that of Silver St. Cloud, but I was grasping at the straws about this one.

Still, this relationship drama does serve a real purpose to the plot, even if it's only to make some hollow connections regarding Bruce's inability to form healthy relationships with women he's romantically involved, and the extent of the childhood trauma he suffered. The zero issue included in this volume explored the ways he tried to cope from his parents' random deaths at the hands of the mugger Joe Chill whom he confronts at the end of that issue. It's a classic tale we all know as Bat-fans, but the zero issue's take lacked any kind of new insight to this aspect of Bruce's tormented psyche. There will be many times when reading this volume that you'd wonder why you even bother but, unlike Knight Terrors, you get the sense that Hurwitz is trying to make you at least care about his characters from the way he writes them, often lavishly examining the childhood traumas incurred by Bruce and Jonathan which turned them into creatures drawn to the darkness as Batman and the Scarecrow respectively. There is a bit of indulgence and excess in how grim and tragic the story was told that it takes me aback half the time while reading.

I think Hurwitz is trying to put more emotional weight in his issues for The Dark Knight which is something I can applaud him for because previous writer Jenkins didn't even bother. However, the transition from Jenkins' loud yet empty showmanship of action-packed and needlessly out-of-character interactions to this serious and gritty yet ultimately unsatisfying psychoanalysis concerning two deeply conflicted men can be the most jarring experience you will ever had as a Bat-fan or casual comic book reader. Overall, I liked and disliked both volumes for varied reasons. The only thing they have in common is the concept (and flimsy deconstruction) of FEAR. Jenkins' angle was something more entertaining than Hurwitz' whose self-aware and verbose contemplations of how fear damages people can get tediously sentimental. I like my Batman stories emotionally resonant and character-driven but what Hurwitz offered is a bit much for me, I'm afraid. Let me give you some panels that I did like:

The finale issue #15 has the big confrontation which was resolved in the most depressingly hilarious manner that I almost wanted to laugh and cry all at once. That was the only reason why this volume is receiving the same rating as Jenkins'. That wrap-up did not work for me in any level. It was just so absurd and weird! Still, Scarecrow's send-off was handled pretty much as what you could expect. Villains will never get happy endings and it really is just a cycle of violence for them. I never really bought Hurwitz' interpretation of the Scarecrow a hundred percent because I felt like he was, er, "wussified'. Hurwitz presented a Scarecrow who is just a scared young boy underneath his sewed-up lips (ugh, what is up with Bat-villains mutilating themselves lately? Everyone's an aspiring Victor Zsasz). I did like the fact that one of the children he kidnaps has developed Stockholm Syndrome for him and tries to justify his actions even after she was recovered by the police; it was pitiful. Small father-son moments between Bruce and Damian were also great. David Finch's art is the real main attraction for The Dark Knight series, nevertheless. I can still recommend this volume but you better prepare yourself for its very dark content that has a tendency to become emo-ish in some aspects.