Monday, June 30, 2014

Batman and Two-Face by Peter J. Tomasi issue #28

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. 

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. This exchange and panels shots are the ones I completely devoured:



After thinking more about it, I decided to cut this review short and not talk about the ending itself because that one I believe is purposefully ambiguous. I refuse to believe that it really happened because there are some great points to raise that would invalidate what seemed to have occurred. Great, I'm sounding very cryptic right now but I don't want to spoil any more of you because this is one comic book you should read for yourself. If anything, 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 BatmanZero 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.

So in a nutshell: 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. This has been a great journey with its equal share of ups and downs, and I'm still definitely hopeful and positive about what's to come for Tomasi's continuing Batman and ____ stories next time.


RECOMMENDED: 9/10

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Batman and Two-Face by Peter J. Tomasi issue #27

Living up to its title, the fourth installment Ablaze for Tomasi's The Big Burn story arc included some of the finest illustrations from Gleason, Gray and Kalisz. Everything was evenly paced for the action sequences in this issue, and I'm becoming a huge fan of Gleason's detailed and gross depiction of Two-Face's scars whenever we get a close-up panel. 

Last issue, we have Batman crushed under the weight of an angel statue in an open grave but because this is Batman, we know he won't stay down for long and that he will time his escape at the right, opportune moment. And that moment is when the Gotham mob families started ammo-ing it up. Two-Face and Erin were busy with their own tension-filled and antagonistic discussion from the last issue, playing the blame-game and all that, but then these motherfuckers showed up, taking advantage of the situation. After all, getting rid of the thorny Irish rose, Two-Face and Batman in one fell swoop is a dream come true for organized crime, but Batman is Batman so he manages to find some way to escape whose mechanics actually didn't make sense to me but before I could start nitpicking, I was surprised to see that Two-Face ended up on the wrong side and was captured by the mob which means a rescue mission for the next installment and that would hopefully give us some conversation between Two-Face and Batman.

Also, Erin got some splash of acid in the lower corner of her left eye and across the cheek before the mob interruption, so that's pretty awesome. Now she and Two-Face both have the scars to match their black hearts.

We get some more flashback sequences here with Gordon and Dent. HERE BE THE SPOILERS. What I can't reconcile with this new take on Harvey Dent so far is the fact that he's depicted to be corrupt as the DA (not to mention he only had that position for a short time AND that he was a criminal defense lawyer for the McKillens). I've always thought that Dent has more goodness to him when he was a lawyer, always looking out to put Gotham scum behind bars AND not defend them which is why his professional relationship with the McKillen twins confound me. 

The attempted murder on Gordon's life as incited by the twins was also weird, and how Dent reacted to it felt a little underwhelming. Even when Dent did finally cut himself off that parasitic relationship, I doubt it was for purely good motives. It felt like an act of self-preservation, and not because he was morally repulsed by the McKillens' actions. Even when he was also sealing the deal with Bruce Wayne who offered to help him campaign for the district attorney's office, it felt to me like it was done for personal advancement as oppose to a genuine desire for public service. I think that's my biggest complaint with Harvey Dent's new characterization for this new origin story. There are two forces of nature struggling in all of us and for a time Harvey Dent fed the light--right until that scarring moment when he decided to squash the light for good and let the darkness devour the rest of him.

On that note, Tomasi's delivery of this complex facet of Dent's psyche fell short. I felt absolutely apathetic towards Gordon, Batman and Dent becoming the trinity by the end of that flashack (which they are and it should have been more awesome) only because Harvey Dent's characterization was lacking, so his relationships with Batman and Gordon felt like they're also missing something. I don't want to bring this up but at least Nolan understood how this trinity functioned in his interpretation for The Dark Knight film. Did Tomasi feel like that by following the same kind of approach, it might make readers compare his work with that of the film? Well, tough, because it's happening anyway only because he completely missed the point of Harvey's moral dichotomy by depicting him as a self-serving lawyer early on. I mean, here is the White Knight in all of this?

So as much as the action in this issue excited me, there are some questionable character directions here that I didn't quite appreciate because it's one thing to change an origin story for the sake of refreshing the dynamics among players; it's another to disregard what has been a greatly unifying factor among these chief characters. By neglecting Harvey Dent's old characterization in favor for a new one that paints him more as a full-on antagonist rather than as an anti-hero struggling with villainy, we don't get to feel the importance and gravity of his role in the trinity. This is one critique I will stand by. Here we ago again, Tomasi. Sometimes when you slip, you slip very far ahead. But because I love you, you bastard, I will continue to hope for the best.


RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Batman and Two-Face by Peter J. Tomasi issue #26

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 paragraph 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 Two-Face story arc is unquestionably one of his finest for me.

By the third installment of Peter J. Tomasi's The Big Burn 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.

He has fairly established the complications Bruce shares with his past childhood relationship with Erin in the earlier pages of this issue, so now it's really about time Two-Face gets some face time...but only at the end of the comic itself. However, it's notable that though this issue is still Erin-centered as far as villains go, I did like the symbolic addition that SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER she happens to have a twin sister whose death she blames Harvey Dent for. Again, this is a great callback to the duality/dichotomy theme, one that has a huge role in who Two-Face is as a character and monster. Speaking of said theme, one of my favorite moments was when Bruce told Erin a folklore that resonates that:



Batman giving speeches may seem unusual in itself but I like that he's more talky in comics than before. There are some moments where I prefer him talking than just kicking ass, so that folklore speech did not annoy me at all. I felt like it's going to mean something later on too. So to recap: Two-Face appears very late to the party for this issue but crashes it with style. I can feel the tension building and it's palpable in the tips of my fingers as I read on. The next issue is going to be an explosive action sequence that must live up to its title and hopefully we get more of Two-Face by that time around.


RECOMMENDED: 8.5/10


Batman and Two-Face by Peter J. Tomasi issue #25

First of all, LOOK AT THAT FUCKING COVER. I have stated several times in my Batman comics reviews that my Batman will always be Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's Batman: The Animated Series version so my BTAS fangirl heart just went nuts over Gleason's rendition of this issue's cover which is reminiscent of that. Minimalist but stylish, Dini and Timm's depiction of Batman is usually in monochrome colors that give off the atmospheric noir quality that Batman has always been notable for as that shadowy lone figure of stealth and enigma lurking in Gotham's murky landscape.

This is the second installment out of five for Tomasi's re-imagining of Two-Face's origin story entitled The Big Burn: Sparks. And lo and behold, it's more than a decent follow-up to the promising premise of First Strike. This has a natural progression of events and 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.

Two-Face doesn't have that many scenes in this issue yet. His only appearance is at the beginning of the issue where he poured acid on half of the Bat signal. I don't see any point to that because the conversation he had with Batman afterwards on the adjacent building's rooftop was just the same melody these two have been playing. There was nothing new to add to that so I was quite disappointed that Two-Face has little role in this issue and that the one who stole this spotlight (though rightfully so) is the thorny Irish rose herself who may be finding herself in scenarios that make her appear like a damsel in distress but by god, can she strike punches on her assailants like a boss! The prison scene was my utmost favorite because aside from Erin being a badass, we also get a surprise appearance by Matches Malone. Er, who? Is everyone drawing a blank here? Well, okay. Matches is actually just Bruce Wayne under a very convincing guise. He usually adopts this persona when he wants to infiltrate the criminal underworld by doing some spying and the making connections sort of thing first. It has been a while since I saw him playing up the detective role in comics lately and so I am pleased to have encountered Bruce as Matches Malone again, and that he aided Erin's escape with such grand finesse and charm.

I really enjoyed this issue, as you can see. Even if Two-Face had no role to play here directly, the limelight on vicious Erin was incredibly well-handled, making her both formidable and vulnerable. Bruce actually helping her towards the end speaks something about the complicated relationship he had with her as childhood friends, and I'm definitely curious to see how that will play out in light of things, especially when we finally get Two-Face in (and heck, I'm pretty sure Commissioner Gordon will have his own part to play as well, considering he also had a personal past with Dent).


RECOMMENDED: 9/10


Batman and Two-Face by Peter J. Tomasi issue #24

Being a Tomasi fan for me is like being in a rather peculiar masochistic arrangement with a very unpredictable lover. You'd like to believe he wouldn't hurt you; and even if he does, the ache may or may not have pleasurable tremors to accompany it. My relationship with his Batman and Robin issues has been fairly irregular. His stories are equal parts of good and bad; most are mind-blowing and emotionally high-point pieces (the Born to Kill volume one; issue #18 REQUIEM, the first, fourth and last issues of his five stages of grief arc), while some are absolute trash(Terminus the incompetent cardboard box villain that wasted three issues of my precious reading time; two-issued zombie fillers) or missed opportunities (second and third issues of his five stages of grief arc, and WAR OF THE ROBINS, the could-have-been a stellar storyline if it wasn't pushed as a mere secondary arc to that Terminus cacophony of bullshit). SRSLY, FUCK TERMINUS.

When Villains Month rolled around, 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. Issue #23.1 entitled A Tale of Two Faces was remarkably written and paced, with enough gore and lechery that balanced the entire piece beautifully. Now Tomasi is back to grace us with a five-issued Two-Face storyline 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?

The answer is nothing resounding for now, most especially when his focal point is to, well, re-create Two-Face's origin story. We were totally blindsighted about this because in Scott Snyder's ZERO YEAR, which I was also presently reading, we get a possible changed origin story for the Joker as well (which wasn't a big deal; the Joker is the kind of villain who is meant for multiple origin stories because that's just part of his pathology, being the embodiment of chaos and all). So Tomasi is now, shall we say, both gifted and burdened with the task to make a new origin story for Two-Face in this new continuity, which could only mean we are also erasing some traces of Jeph Loeb's The Long Halloween, a much deserved fan-favorite story that focused on Harvey Den'ts transformation as Two-Face. The inhumanity, right? But no work in comics continuity is untouchable, not if you're DC. I mean, what's the point of New 52 if we can't all embrace the changes it entails? 

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 kinda 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. 

SPOILER ALERT: Instead of the gangster Sal Maroni who scarred Harvey Dent with acid on court, it's Erin McKinell who does this for personal reasons--right after she also stabbed his wife Gilda with what looked like a letter opener(?) It was as sick and twisted and intimate as it gets. So when this Erin returns to Gotham, Two-Face is the first in line for her blood. Meanwhile, Batman has to keep the situation contained. We get really amazing action sequences for anyone who enjoys standard bust-and-chase in comics setting. Gleason, Gray and Kalisz (colorist) produced very top-notch illustrations, especially the beginning scene with Two-Face in a dank apartment which was depicted with an unsettling grotesque dichotomy where one side of his apartment was clean while the other was a mess. It's visually striking to look at. And can I also say that I very much enjoyed the fact that the first thing Two-Face does in the morning is to play Russian roulette, relying only on a flip of a coin to decide whether he pulls the trigger or not? 

The quality of the first issue, like most of Tomasi's premises, is teeming with potential. I actually read all five issues in one sitting before I began reviewing so I may be more chatty in my next reviews while I compose my thoughts for every installment. And I can honestly say that Tomasi has hit the nail for his Two-Face arc, with a few misdirection here and there. 

Nonetheless, we're in for a thrilling ride!


RECOMMENDED: 8.5/10

Friday, June 27, 2014

Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue #23

"I'll never forgive myself for letting you leave the cave that night" ~Alfred Pennyworth on Damian Wayne

I officially have a complicated relationship with Peter J. Tomasi. He was, after all, the writer responsible for my most favorite New 52 Batman and Robin first volume collection, Born To Kill which was comprised of eight issues exploring the relationship between father and son, Bruce and Damian Wayne. It is unarguably for me the BEST thing I've ever read from DC's new continuity (perhaps matched only by Snyder's current run of Zero Year issues in his own Batman title). But ever since that smashing success, the quality of the next B&R issues became questionable. The three-arc forgettable storyline concerning the most mediocre bullshit villain in comics ever, Terminus (srsly, fuck that guy) and an out-of-place two-issued zombies storyline were enough to make me almost give up on Tomasi's B&R.

But I didn't. I held on and was rewarded with the three-issued crossover tie-in pertaining to the Death of the Family, otherwise more popularly known as the Joker's return in New 52. Things seem to look up again but then Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated killed Damian Wayne and every Bat-title has never been the same and they all released a REQUIEM issue in honor of the life and times of this fallen and short-lived Robin. Tomasi's own requiem issue is THE BEST OF THEM ALL, relying only on illustrations (the entire issue was wordless which heightened the emotional reading experience of the piece). Following shortly after that is the five-issued series dealing with Bruce Wayne's stages of grief, while other members of the bat-family make their appearances to supposedly help Batman deal with the loss of his son and partner in crime-fighting.

The DENIAL issue was a great opening but the next two that came after, ANGER and BARGAINING with Red Hood and Batgirl respectively lacked the emotional components that Tomasi can usually deliver in B&R. Then Villains Months rolled around and he bequeathed a very stunning Two-Face issue, A Tale of Two Faces and all is forgiven again (his Catwoman issue that tackles DESPAIR was also unexpectedly sweet in its own way). Now we arrive at the last stage of grief which features Nightwing, the very first Robin Dick Grayson. Now the title is once again a misnomer because Nightwing didn't have that much to do with this issue. I think it was yet another missed opportunity that we didn't get to talk about that fact that Dick loved Damian the most of all the other bat-siblings, and they bonded like brothers when Dick became Batman in The Black Mirror arc in the old continuity of Detective Comics. It was also notable that Dick took a huge blow upon Damian's death. He was practically having a mental breakdown as he was sitting just yards away from Damian's corpse.

But then again, I also stated that Dick would have worked better in the ANGER stage, and that Jason Todd should have been in the final stage instead. I still maintain that switch-up to this day because it would both grant Dick and Jason some closure with Damian's death and Bruce's mistake respectively. However, the true shining moment of this issue is Alfred Pennyworth, the loyal and often neglected butler in the background. The focus was on Bruce/Batman's struggle to come to terms with his son's death that he and even the readers have completely forgotten about Alfred. BECAUSE HE IS QUIETLY SUFFERING THROUGH IT ALL. In this issue, Bruce kept doing some sort of a matrix simulation test where he would try to rescue Damian from death that was imminent and he failed every single time. Nightwing even joins him and they were only able to save Damian by crossing lines, something that they both stood for as heroes. But the acceptance part did not come from this realization. It came from Bruce witnessing what he turned a blind eye to all along; and that was Alfred's role in all of this.

Just look at this heartbreaking page. Now I don't care who you are but if you didn't get misty eyed with this one, then you're dead inside. I surprisingly started bawling my eyes out, honestly.




When Alfred donned that simulation test for himself, we got a glimpse of a caring servant who had treated Damian as his own child as well, and had to watch Bruce, the boy he had raised to adulthood, completely fall apart upon the death of his son. It's easy to forget that it's always Alfred who has to put the pieces back together every time Bruce reaches his breaking point. It's so, so easy to overlook the fact that he also had his own inner demons of guilt to battle with YET HE CHOSE TO PUT THEM ASIDE TO HELP BRUCE FIGHT HIS OWN. That is UNCONDITIONAL LOVE RIGHT THERE! Bruce may have lost his parents tragically, and then his son murdered by orders of the boy's own mother--but what Bruce will always have in spite of these immense losses is Alfred Pennyworth who had shouldered every unpleasant thing for him when he was an orphaned boy and right to this very day.

I think it's really cleansing that Tomasi chose to help Bruce finally accept Damian's death by showing him how much Alfred equally blames himself for it as well. If Bruce cannot go on for himself, he may as well do it for the one man in the entire world who will always carry on for his sake. It was so goddamn poetic. I cried and cried for several minutes even as I put down this issue. Even issue #18 Requiem didn't reduce me into such a hot, gooey mess of nerdy tears the way this had!

It may not have been a perfect story or a perfect five-part mini-series about the stages of grief overall, but Tomasi still managed to end with a very optimistic and uplifting message because he shone the spotlight on Alfred, Bruce's longest and most devoted companion ever, his second father who will always remain his strongest ally. It was just as cathartic for me. I can now say goodbye to Damian Wayne for good. As for my relationship with this writer, I will never stop looking forward to what he's going to be writing next here in Batman and Robin especially since the next issues are about Two-Face. I sure hope he can deliver something refreshing and complex again as he had with A Tale of Two Faces.


RECOMMENDED: 9/10

Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue #23.4

Another Villains Month issue here. I didn't know how to review this issue because the story was particularly average, considering I confess that I'm not exactly a big Killer Croc fan to begin with (I do remember that he and Jason Todd marked their first appearance in the same issue though back in 1983; and I was lucky enough to acquire said vintage issue last year; and even then I didn't think he was that much special of a villain). 

What I would commend most about this issue was the staggering and dynamic illustrations. The art was extraordinary because the panels were able to convey the suspense and action-oriented atmosphere that manage to make up for the story which I said wasn't that stellar. For that alone, this issue is worth the read even if you're like me and you don't like Killer Croc as well.

I had no emotional investment in the story of Waylon Jones but I did appreciate writer Tim Seeley trying to humanize and deepen his characterization; to portray him as more than just some mythical alligator man in the sewers under Gotham City who is out for blood. I think what Seely tried to write here is the fact that Killer Croc can be considered as the representation of the underprivileged or marginalized classes of Gotham who finally found a hero they could emulate and believe in. Seeley wrote Killer Croc in a way that's supposed to define the other unnoticed groups of people in Gotham who have learned to be crueler than the world they live in because that world has showed them nothing but unkindness. For that effort and idea alone, I could say this Seeley did an acceptable job. But the story just doesn't hold up in light of the other villain-centered issue for the line up.

But then again, Killer Croc is not exactly an A-lister in the rogues gallery so let's give him a pass for this. The artwork is immensely detailed and exciting to look at anyway so for that, my rating will be higher overall.

RECOMMENDED: 7/10


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Batman by Scott Snyder issue #30, ZERO YEAR

When I pulled out this issue from its protective plastic, I went giddy over the fact that the Batman title was embossed, and that there's the "75 years" logo in the corner which just reminded me that the utter magnificence of this childhood hero and favorite superhero of mine of all time has quality to back up its longevity. So, understandably enough, my fangirl heart was ever pleased to peruse through this issue, and there are many great things I enjoyed about this comic--and a few nitpicks that I'll just get out of the way real quick because I can wholeheartedly say that the good has outweighed the bad in this continuing saga of Zero Year, and this time we enter the first installment of the Savage City arc, which is also the last arc of ZY.

I take my Batman very seriously especially with New 52, a continuity that is still rather shaky in some of its crucial landings for the most part (I'm honestly getting tested with some other titles, like JLA, Teen Titans and Action Comics, which are mixed bags of awesomeness and weird shit), but I'm quite happy, nay, even proud to say that Scott Synder's Batman run is one of the DC titles of the new continuity that is trying to be consistent and excellent in every creative decision made. Now I know there are two to three more issues to go but I can already say that Zero Year is my most favorite saga from Snyder's run.

Issue #30, Savage City part I opens up with a dream sequence from Bruce Wayne. He wakes up from that and finds himself in an almost fairy tale-esque setting: Gotham City is presently infested with shrubbery and forestry (thanks to Pamela Isley's plant formula which the Riddler stole) while its despondent citizenry haplessly shuffle through their lives, waiting for a hero who has only woken up, and one who is still unsure how to undo the terrible 'curse' that intellectual narcissist Edward Nygma has cast. Looking through the illustrations, my mind just started having nostalgic recollections of Sleeping Beauty and it certainly fits the atmospheric tone and mood of the entire issue.

This is the foremost reason the storytelling itself spoke to me resonantly. I love a murky setting which most fairy tales have, especially when there's the general good and evil forces thrown into the mix. Nygma as the Riddler is a pompous, self-serving man who claims to have the higher ground by challenging the city to 'get smart or die', taunting them to one-up him through a sick game of riddles. So far, no one has defeated him in this mental battle and this is definitely the side of the Riddler than I can get into because Edward Nygma had always believed he is intellectually gifted and it distraught him to be surrounded by lesser minds. This riddle game of his is also his way to show off and make people around him inferior which definitely strokes that bombastic ego of his. The expanse of the artwork and illustrations by Capullo, Miki and FCO are (and I cannot stress this any more than I already have since the beginning of Zero Year) is sheer perfection; the attention to detail and coloring are staggering. Each page is just so full of lush; even the grittier action sequences look pretty.

Now for my nitpicks: it's rather simple, really. WHAT THE HELL HAS ALFRED BEEN DOING WHILE BRUCE WAYNE/BATMAN IS BELIEVED TO BE DEAD? I refuse to believe that all he did was sit on the bat-cave, just waiting. Alfred is such a vital character in Batman's rich history, and I wish Snyder gave him a more important role in this issue in light of Bruce's absence. I could totally picture him taking the reigns, picking up on where Batman left off because he is equipped with military weapons at his disposal in the bat-cave anyway so why the hell not won't he keep the spirit of Batman alive? Heck, Jim Gordon is running around, trying to figure out a way to get the citizens free out of Gotham. So why is Alfred just sitting around there? He's no feeble old man. He's always had more teeth than most butlers in the fictional universe of comics. That's a missed opportunity there, Mr. Snyder. If Alfred took the cowl for himself temporarily, this may lead to him understanding why Batman is relevant to Gotham. He may be more inclined to finally accept Bruce's choice to become a vigilante. But nope. That's not what happened. It's a minuscule detail but one that could have been produced a really amazing character exposition.

That's really my only nitpick for this issue. Other than that, the first installment of Savage City has an even brisk pace that sets up the pieces before they are maneuvered across the board for hopefully a great match of wits and endurance between Batman and the Riddler for the upcoming issues.


RECOMMENDED: 9/10

Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue #23.3

Holy shit, Villains Month should happen more often in DC's New 52 because I'm all up for it now since reading Tomasi's Two-Face issue A Tale of Two Faces (which I terribly loved), and Tynion IV's Exquisite Dread about the Court of Owls (which actually made me like the Owls storyline again). This time, Tynion gives me yet another scrumptious villain-centered story: The Demon Tower starring no other than Ra's Al Ghul who, in my personal opinion, is the most formidable and engaging villain from Batman's rogue gallery OF ALL TIME. Sure, I'll always be all for the Joker being Batman's perfect contrast and twisted "soulmate", but of all of Batman's villains, I can never imagine Batverse being the way it is without Ra's Al Ghul to add some spice and devastation.

Reading this issue unearthed long-buried nostalgic feelings about Dennis O'Neil's Birth of the Demon which remains my most favorite Ra's Al Ghul story EVER. Heck, look at that splash of green (from the Lazarus Pit, I assume) in the cover! It's even reminiscent of Birth. The reason why I thoroughly enjoyed this issue SO FUCKING MUCH because it operates on the well-established and badass characterization of Ra's Al Ghul which is that he had adapted to the rapid changes of the earth, and nothing will ever get in the way of his vision of a perfect world. After the events in Forever Dead (which I know I keep referencing to in my Villains Month issue reviews, but never expound on, and this time I STILL WON'T BECAUSE SPOILERS, HELLO), a new evil event appears in the horizon, the creatively named Secret Society of Super Villains. Ra's, who has seen societies, empires and civilizations rise and fall for years, was understandably NOT IMPRESSED.

Said secret society tries to invite him, bribe him and/or threaten him by sending a envoy to have the most awesome swashbuckling sword-fight sequence/dialogue. It doesn't get any more epic than that!

Just like in Tynion's Exquisite Dread, we get several flashbacks pertaining to Ra's throughout the centuries, and how this is contrasted with the present times. We also got some great moments with Batman, Talia and Damian in it too for extra good measure. And then when all is said and done, Ra's is still NOT IMPRESSED with this new league of villains. Because if there is one thing that's constant in Batverse, it is the fact that Ra's Al Ghul will always, always, adapt to new environmental factors, and he will not bow down to any master, or join any other cause than his own. This is one Bat-villain who will not compromise for anything. Jorge Lucas' artwork is distinct and dynamic in only a story likes this deserves to have. I love the explosion of colors and bizarrely-angled panel shots during some scenes.

So yeah, I have fangirled my heart out with this story, so I should end this review before I start overselling the issue. But you know what? It's really worth the purchase. Pick up this one alongside Two-Face and you will be happy that you took the time to bother reading them. Villains Month still has one issue left in this line-up (which is about Killer Croc) and I'll be reading that alongside the Nightwing one (the last stage of Batman's grief). Here we go!

RECOMMENDED: 10/10

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue #23.2

"They watch you at your hearth, they watch you in your bed, speak not a whispered word of them or they'll send The Talon for your head." ~The Court of Owls

James Tynion IV as a writer has a way of sneaking up on me every time I come across his one-shot stories in Snyder's Batman run and Tomasi's Batman and Robin line-up. He's currently writing the Talon series for New 52, and I've read six stories of his in total, and I've been enticed by his narrative style and approach so far, particularly because of the scope of horror in his tone. This issue #23.2 for Villains Month is exactly what I would expect from someone of his literary inclinations.

I don't think I want to talk about this issue too much because I don't want to spoil the story, considering the strength of Tynion's writing for the Court of Owls in this one operates within its air of mystery and suspense throughout the pages. What I will say is that the structure for the story was divided into four parts, allowing readers a glimpse of this centuries-old organization in different timelines, and how they have thrived. In present time, Gotham is being torn apart by a series of riots (which follows the aftermath of Forever Evil series). 

The primary focus of the story is a father (and member of the modern court) who takes his daughter to the heart of the Owls' rich tapestry of historical importance over the ages, and make us all understand the necessity to strike back with a vengeance to keep control of their city, now more than ever. Tynion doesn't give up the game until the end of the issue, and it was worth the tension. Even as someone who doesn't really go crazy over the Owls as an addition to the Batman rogues gallery, this issue kept me on the edge of my seat! I believe this issue will appeal to readers who enjoy a good horror story every now and then in a superhero comic book, especially so when it's done excellently. Tynion surely delivers, and the combined artistic talents of Jorge Lucas and David McCaig provided us a wide range of versatility in illustrations. This was such a visually stunning issue, truth be told. Anyone who adored Scott Snyder's Owls saga will eat this up as well. The ending was a wicked twist and left me wishing I start keeping up with the Talons series one of these days..


RECOMMENDED: 8/10

*Lusciously dark and foreboding..

Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi #23.1

“Heads, I save Gotham. Tails, I make it bleed.” ~Two-Face

Villains Month happened a few months back and Tomasi had the opportunity to write something for that using one of the top players in Batman's rogues gallery. And, well, hot damn! This was fucking amazing, hands-down! I've been very critical of Tomasi's way of writing villains, at least for his own original creations. Sometimes he hits the right notes with a villain like NoBody, and other times we get a pitiful waste of comics space like Terminus (seriously, fuck that guy. WHY OH WHY do I still bring him up in my reviews?). But his Two-Face? Abso-fucking-lutely magnificent! Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray don't illustrate this issue though; instead we get Guillem March who is now my new favorite artist just based on this story alone.

Also, I haven't gotten a chance to read great Two-Face-centered stories in a long time. Over the years I have been so sick of the absurdity surrounding his character that I'd much rather watch him in Paul Dini's Batman: The Animated Series than read him in comics. So finally, we get something that demonstrates that this grade-A Bat-villain is a remarkably frightening force to be reckoned with! It's a masterstroke, that's what it is!

Right from the get-go, the fireworks are on display with the captivating exchange between Two-Face and yet another under-appreciated villain, Scarecrow. The dialogue is slick and the stakes are presented with a nice simmer before the explosion in the later pages. I haven't been caught-up with Forever Evil series but it is to my understanding that this Two-Face side-story written with Tomasi is indirectly referenced or of consequence of that arc. Regardless whether or not you read all New 52 titles (I confess I do not follow all of them because that takes too much work and takes away my spending of quality time with the Batman titles), you can just zoom in and focus on Two-Face in this Tomasi story without bothering yourself with other DC storylines for the new continuity.

But I have read Forever Evil #1 months ago, though, which allowed me to get right into this story easily so maybe it would help you if you pick that one up first. But I digress again. Is it just the BTAS fangirl in me or did Tomasi purposefully write the distinct sound of Two-Face monologues that reminded me of the said cartoon's version? I can seriously hear voice actor Richard Moll in the passages and it gives me the chills!

I'm not much of a gore fan in comics but March's illustrations of bloodshed and massacre were terrific! There are stories in this medium that could use blood and chaos and this issue is one of them. I like the spliced scenes between the past and present where we see Harvey Dent walking the halls and entering elevators, just having a normal day at the court office; then cut right back to Two-Face passing by a pile of dead bodies as he prepares to "go to court" and play judge and executioner. Tomasi was not bashful when he used Two-Face's obsessive coin-tossing to determine luck and just run with it which fortunately worked to his advantage. I love how Two-Face is playing the odds by acting on whatever the coin decides for him to do. It's his reason and rhyme.

In the beginning pages, the choice was Heads which is why he was attacking criminals and city scum (while Batman is understandably a no-show because ehem, yeah, you need Forever Evil for the context). But by the end of the story, he flipped the coin again and we got Tails now. This was such an ominous way to end this arc for now because now the tables have turned again and Two-Face is playing against our side this time. I think I'm giving away too much of the plot now. So fuck it, just pick this up because you won't be sorry. It was helluva a ride and worth every buck and penny!


RECOMMENDED: 10/10


Monday, June 23, 2014

Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue #22

I didn't expect that I would like this because I haven't been exactly that impressed whenever a Catwoman title crosses over a Batman one. Her crossover issues in the Owls saga and the Return of Joker event were serviceable but nothing memorable. So Tomasi continues on with Batman's stages of grief after losing his son and partner, and now he enters the DESPAIR stage whose story was surprisingly a subtle take unlike with the previous ones regarding rage and bargaining with Red Hood and Batgirl respectively which I complained endlessly about in my reviews. You can read them HERE and HERE.

Issue #22 with Catwoman was well-paced in narrative and action, and we finally get a Batman who isn't a hapless jerk (which I also found infuriating in said previous two issues). His chemistry with Catwoman is all kinds of endearing without it being needlessly flirtatious like most interactions I've been reading about lately. They work together very well at that, infiltrating a Chinese embassy for a quick dispatch-and-rescue routine. My favorite parts had to be the dual take-downs of the bad guys in two to three pages or so, all because they were illustrated pretty well and definitely adds a dimension to the dynamics between the Bat and the Cat and how formidable they could be as partners if they ever decide to have more side-missions together.

I've been trying to understand how this issue dealt with despair. At first glance, we don't really see it in the surface which was exactly the point of the writing. Earlier in the story before Batman teams up with Catwoman, we get a conversation, like an actual conversation between two adults, with Bruce Wayne and Carrie Kelly who I still cannot warm up to yet. But hey, at least she's not antagonizing him for no reason. She's more willing to see things in his perspective while still maintaining some distance from him because it does feel like she can't see herself trusting him. I don't understand why she's so quick to believe that he's a negligent father based only with her limited interactions with Damian in the past. I just can't make sense of her characterization for now, and I don't think I even care to understand. She hasn't been the most likable side-character.

Another indication of despair also comes from that moment when we see Bruce just sitting in front of the monitors in the bat-cave and he does look like he has simmered down from all the asshole-ry and angry tantrums from the previous issue sp we finally get something that resembles Scott Snyder's version of his moods in issues #19-20 with the Clayface story arc. This then allows readers to see him in a softer light later on with Catwoman, especially in the last scene where he carries a little girl in his arms and flies her across the city in the night. That was a wonderful full-paged illustration. Batman actually had a small smile in his face which could also be Tomasi's way of signaling that yes, he's slowly learning to let go of his anger, and without that standing in his way and making him do stupid things like in issue #21, Batman looks sadder even when he is smiling and helping a child find her way home.

The last few pages showed Two-Face which could be just an advertising maneuver for Batman and Two-Face issue #23.1 (which I'll be reviewing right after this before we get to Nightwing). Overall, a great piece of storytelling and it definitely revitalize my hope that the next issues will be better again.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Thursday, June 19, 2014

[New 52] Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue 21

My biggest fear is fully realized with this installment of Tomasi's stories pertaining to Batman undergoing the five stages of grief after losing his partner and son, Damian. I expressed my complaints very extensively for the last issue with Red Hood which didn't live up to its promise, only because I believe that it should have been Nightwing (Dick Grayson) who handled Batman's stage of RAGE instead. I even wrote up how it should have gone down and why my own version was more effective, at least in the perspective of a fan who enjoys and loves deconstructing the relationships among the bat-family members. Yes, I went there. I didn't want to be one of those fans who feel like they can do better than the writer, and I will never claim that, but I made an exception with this review of Batman and Red Hood issue #20.

I was hoping that even with that misstep, this issue will come out strong anyway and for the first three to four scenes or so, it did give me some of the best Batgirl scenes and monologue ever. And then it all went downhill from there all because of Batman being irrationally angry when this installment is already THE BARGAINING stage. I suppose this issue can be considered as a matter of collateral damage for what the previous issue failed to deliver; and that is to convey Batman's rage properly and with depth. So here in #21, we still see an angry Batman, doing the most idiotic things and throwing awful tantrum fits. It was hard to read, especially the way Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) reacted which is the fact that SHE WAS THE ONE WHO WAS MAKING BARGAINS instead of the other way around. I mean, what the hell? And I'm not even going to consider Batman "bargaining" with the crooks during a robbery earlier as a valid plot point because that was just downright dumb, even for a father who was grieving. I mean, for fuck's sake, I do not like to see Batman being incompetent because he's the type of crime fighter who may be carrying misery on his shoulders but he doesn't get that easily crushed by its weight. But this is exactly what's happening in this issue and it's completely out of character.

I don't even want to bitch about this anymore because it only makes me sadder but Tomasi had once again missed an opportunity to tell us a humane Batman story WHEN IT WAS ALREADY ESTABLISHED SINCE HE STARTED B&R THAT HE IS MORE THAN CAPABLE OF DOING SO. Wow, so many caps-lock usage in this review. So let me digress and point out the best parts of this issue now.

I enjoyed reading the very first scenes with Batgirl trying to make amends with Batman after the events in Death of the Family, and Batman acting like a complete dismissive jerk for understandable reasons at least. I can also excuse Batgirl removing the bat logo in her uniform as a symbolic gesture to express her feelings of being betrayed by Batman during the Joker's return. But it begs the question: why not change the costume altogether? Anyway, another amazing part was when she started talking to her father, Jim Gordon, while hiding across a window ledge. Her monologue was so heartbreaking, especially when she's airing out her grievances without her father even hearing her because she can't let him know everything just yet--but she does need to unload some terrible realizations about what she has become and the things she had done.

Speaking of her actions, or lack of one, why wasn't it brought up that SHE WAS NOT PRESENT WHEN DAMIAN WAS KILLED? I believe that if Tomasi tackled this issue then we would have gotten something with more heart and less whiny dialogue exchange between her and Bruce. The bargaining part could be used in that kind of conversation then, though I'm not sure how it would have played out, but as long as it's Bruce who is doing the bargaining AND NOT BARBARA, then we get what was promised for this story arc of B&R. I don't know anymore. I might come back here again to edit this review which will include again my own version of how it should have gone down.

For now, I'm giving this the lowest rating of the bunch.


RECOMMENDED: 6/10

*But only for the first parts, feel free to skip the latter parts

[New 52] Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue 20

"You may like wallowing in your tragedies, Bruce, but I'm done looking back!" ~Jason Todd, Red Hood

Well, okay. This could have been better. And here's how. The second installment to Bruce Wayne/Batman's five stages of grief had given us only a few worthy punches which somehow diluted an otherwise dramatic manifestation of Batman's anger. I just felt like it was missing some amount of brutality that this issue needed most, especially with a title like RAGE. It would seem that for each stage, a member of the bat-family has to handle Batman and it seemed a rather appropriate choice to have Jason Todd (Red Hood) for this issue. However, it didn't work out in the best way as one would hope. And here's why.

It's easy to read between the lines when it comes to Bruce and Jason's relationship, and that there's pent-up aggression on Jason's side that would surface every once in a while but it's also something he keeps under control. I don't really see Jason lashing out at Bruce anymore over the issue of him allowing the Joker to kill Jason in the past (decades ago in the old continuity, Death in the Family). After the Joker's return in this continuity, everyone in the bat-family has pulled away from Batman in their own way, but Jason at least acknowledges that Batman has grown (thanks to Damian, perhaps) and tried to protect his surrogate children from the clown madman. Batman accepts this, stating that family always needs to look out for each other. This conversation was perfectly fine but eventually felt out of context when they started to beat each other later in the last pages. Let's talk about what happened.

Basically, Batman invited Red Hood to track down those assassins who tried to kill Damian (after his mother Talia al Ghul placed an expensive bounty on her own son's head). I had no problem with that. I understand Batman choosing Red Hood to do that because if anyone understands the need to settle some score, it's Jason. Batman is a lot more brutal than he needs to be with these assassins which, once again, is still in line with the 'rage' theme of the issue. However, I suppose my problem lies on their choice of Robin to deliver that thematic punch. I think Nightwing (Dick Grayson) would have worked better in the story. In the Denial stage, Red Robin (Tim Drake) was horrified to witness the lengths Batman would dare go to in order to resurrect his son. As much as it felt like he was shoehorned it, I think Tim's reaction was acceptable (although I iterate that Tomasi could have nuanced the interaction between this least noticeable Robin and Batman).

With Jason for this issue, the effect was less than satisfying. Trying to match and even one-up Bruce in his anger made Jason seemed like he hasn't moved on from the tragedy of his past at all. It was quite a pitiful turn of events then when they started punching each other to let out some steam. It just felt like a disservice to Jason's growth as a character and self-made hero. It would have been more heartfelt and poignant if he was the Robin Tomasi chose for the Acceptance stage. Just think about it. In the anger stage of grief, this emotion is supposed to be swift but brief as well, and no other Robin can diffuse that better than the first son Dick Grayson. I don't want to be one of those comic book readers who try to dictate the direction of what the story should have taken but for this issue, I'll make an exception because I need to write it down here.

This is how I would have preferred this story to go: Batman still goes to Red Hood to ask him for assistance in tracking down and punishing the assassins. Red Hood refuses, however, so Batman goes alone. Red Hood informs Nightwing about it and Nightwing follows Batman and tries to stop him from going full-on blinded rage. He could do so by talking about Bruce's parents. Nightwing has every right to talk about that because he too watched his parents die in front of him back when he was working in the circus as an acrobat. Nightwing would plead to Bruce by reminding him how it was Bruce himself who appeased him and taught him how to channel his rage by rising above his anger and conquering it. He held young Dick together back then and it's now his turn to do the same. How amazing would that have been? And once Bruce simmers down, it will effectively and smoothly transition to the Bargaining stage which will feature Batgirl in the next issue.

Also, the readers will get a cameo appearance of Red Hood as a teaser for this issue, and then once we come back to him to the final stage, it's when Bruce is finally beginning to face the inescapable loss of his son, and so Jason himself would be the one to take him to Ethiopia where he was killed by the Joker. That would have been a better set-up for some very poignant heart-to-heart talk with this Robin who had accepted his fate long ago which puts him in a great position to help Bruce come to terms with his own. This could be done through Jason telling Bruce that he's forgiven him for everything, and so would Damian, wherever he may be. That absolution would heal Bruce and help him get back on his feet at last. It will also repair the relationship between Bruce and Jason and we may even get more crossover moments with him in the future.

But we didn't get that. That was my own version of events and what I felt would have been something more inspired. I digress, though. This issue was serviceable for its action sequences but the narrative aspect really needed work because there are a few moments that Jason felt out of character.

I'm not even going to talk about the way Carrie Kelly was characterized for this issue. I did not like her attitude. She seems too entitled to know things especially since she knows absolutely nothing about what is going on in the Wayne household so her getting angry at Bruce and judging him left and right was just...infuriating. I don't like this Carrie Kelly so far. I hope that changes.

RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

[New 52] Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue 19

"I am watching a man racked with pain look for light in a world gone dark." ~Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE 

I've been alternating reading and reviewing Scott Snyder's Batman series and Peter J. Tomasi's Batman and Robin since I started my strict Batman comics-only diet on late April and it's been a fantastic adventure so far. There have been bumps along the way for Tomasi's B&R, however (that very forgettable fucking Terminus storyline that wasted three issues of everyone's valuable time, for example) but right after the game-changing events in Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated (if you don't know by now what it is then why are you reading this? Last year, DAMIAN WAYNE DIED), Tomasi has a very hard decision to make: how to fill the missing "Robin" part from his Batman and Robin issues from here on.

With issue #18 Requiem, a most moving issue dealing with Batman's grief over losing not only his partner in crime-fighting but also his son, we see him imagine Damian by his side as he goes around Gotham for his usual crime patrol. Across those precious pages, we see Bruce Wayne wrestle with the grim reality that he had lost his family all over again; and that he just stood by and watched like before. Isn't that just goddamn gloomy and unfair? Even as I wiped my tears and put down that issue, I knew the next B&R issues will never be the same since it must delve further into this world of pain which I'm not sure I was even ready for but it was a way for Tomasi to prove that he had more emotionally resonant stories to tell even if Damian won't be the channel to unleash them.

In the following issues (#19 to #23), Tomasi will allow readers to embark on Bruce/Batman's FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF, making the death of Damian Wayne a platform to examine our caped crusader's deepest issues with loss and guilt. As I have never gotten tired stating over and over again, I want Tomasi's Batman and Robin to stand out in this way and I'm so happy that Tomasi (as well as artists Gleason and Gray) continues to deliver (fuck that Terminus slip-up. The next issues have more than made up for it).

First off, this issue is now entitled BATMAN AND RED ROBIN which really hurts me but it was an inevitable title change--and also a misnomer. Anyone who has read Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns knows about Carrie Kelly being the Robin there, so her appearance in this issue was quite odd especially since New 52 seems to have re-written her as Damian's 'acting coach' (she was the C.K in Damian's notebook from issue #18 who recommended him a series of movies to watch). The tension and suspicion between her and Bruce is immediately apparent. She has no idea that Damian has passed away but she is certainly determined to get the truth out of Bruce who was so callously evasive that I understand the way Carrie seems to antagonize him in every interaction. Red Robin (Tim Drake) does appear in this issue but only as a shoehorn character at the end. Once again, Tim continues to be the neglected member of the bat-family. I wish they could utilize his character and interactions with Batman better next time.

In any case, what I love most about this issue is that it starts the stages that we have to go through alongside Bruce/Batman: DENIAL. And holy shit, there is plenty of that bitter pill to go around! A cameo appearance of Frankenstein (a DC character that is what the label borrows from, that's all you need to know) was greatly handled. He was not painted as the villain here; in fact, he tries to appease Batman who is actually the one who is in the antagonistic side of things. But is it really a crime for a father to try and resurrect his son? It was just so pitiful to watch him fight for something that might undo everything he stands for as a hero. This Batman has been driven to such pain that he was willing to cross the line where some super-villains have done themselves; all because he was desperate to have a chance to see his beloved son grow up. It was selfish but heartbreaking nevertheless. Batman can't cope well. He just couldn't move forward knowing that resurrection is possible in the world he lives in. Both he and Superman died way back and they were brought back to life. So why not a ten-year-old boy who has plenty to live for?

I quoted Frankenstein at the beginning of this review because that line was something I think summarizes the story of Bruce Wayne's life. He had lived in the dark for so long that his pursuit for light can often blind him. This was a terribly difficult issue to read because I know it's only the beginning of Batman spiraling down further. Red Robin luckily put a stop to his plan to try and revive some cadavers but the damage has already been worsening from the day Batman decided that he can't let Damian go. He just won't. I can't either for the first three months or so, and that's why this is a very personal journey for me as much as it is to Batman. And it's so hard to watch unfold..

Pulling back from this emotional wreckage, I'd like to point out that Gleason and Gray as illustrator and inker produced some of the best and detailed panels for their line-up yet. These panels had a daring sense of dynamic and terror to their colors that certainly enhanced the moral struggle Batman is currently going through. Tomasi's depiction of an angry and wounded Batman was also scary because you know that this a man who stops at nothing; only this time he's doing something wrong and it's going to take a lot to make him turn away from the darkness that he's treading so close to.


RECOMMENDED: 8/10

* The storyline about the five stages of grief for this issue and the next four is rife with so many creative potentials.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

[New 52] Batman by Scott Snyder issue #29, ZERO YEAR

Oh my, this is a polarizing issue. It's a bag of almost even pros and cons. It's as if for every great thing I could praise it for, I could easily follow it up with a criticism of either a related or unrelated nature. Still, this very last installment of Zero Year's Dark City is a proof that I can enjoy a Batman story, be endlessly entertained and/or driven to near-tears because of poignancy, and still be able to zero-in on its flaws.

Here is the bottom line though: this issue is amazing even if it stuck its landing rather shakily at the very end. There are great storytelling moments and symbolic imagery here that one can only expect from a great team-up that included a writer of Synder's caliber whose vision is brought forth by the complementary styles of artists Capullo, Miki and FCO. Overall, the art composition is once again unparalleled and I think I should make a general declaration that each Zero Year issue had been a visual adventure of the highest level of quality and excitement (even the weakest of the bunch, issue #26, even had its thrills). The minimalist covers also need a much-deserved shout-out because it's the first time that I encountered superhero comics (but I'm basing this on my 30% quota of comics read in general) that don't overdo the message on their covers to get attention. They've been very atmospheric and non-deceptive (which some comic book covers apt to do to sell copies), which only reels in readers because they promise a sense of not only danger but mystery.

That said, Zero Year had its share of downs. The first three issues (Secret City) challenged Snyder and co. to set up important pieces before they go in motion for the next installments, often favoring emotionally-nuanced characterizations than action-oriented sequences to tell the story, which eventually paid off when Dark City's issues #24 and #25 rolled around because these two are definitely the best of the series for me because all that build-up I witnessed on the first three arcs was realized in their well-balanced and tantalizing pages. However, there had been pacing issues on #26 and #27 (the former suffered anti-climactic brevity, while the latter suffered having too much story to tell with little room to expound on them). And then we took a break from the series to get a sneak preview of Batman: Eternal for issue #28 which was quite an effective decision for readers to truly look forward to this double-sized issue #29.

I think I should start pointing out the flaws for this issue before we get to the good stuff because I quite frankly don't like to bitch about things I didn't like in a Batman story because it's often the imperfections of a literary work that enhances its own strengths as well. My first nitpick has to be the threads scattered in each issue that somehow loop together in this story at last (the Tokyo Moon song in #27, the military crater now-confirmed flashback in #25) but whose punch might not have its desired impact if this series is read monthly (which it was, I was lucky enough to read them all together by now) because you might have to pick up the last issue to remember what the reference pertains to. I have some stuff to say about this later that are leaning more on the positive side, though, so let's skip that and go to my second nitpick: the villain monologue-ing of Doctor Death. It's just ridiculous! Snyder seems to have a knack for having villains make speeches in places where Batman can't possibly hear anything they say! They're also needlessly verbose and their length sometimes rob what could have been a punch to the gut if written and delivered shorter. I still get the point of Doctor Death's story (and I did talk about how completely one-dimensional he is in his first appearance in #26) but it's hard to care about him anymore when you know he'll probably die after Batman wraps up the fight.

My third nitpick has to be the shock-value scenes like the Bat-blimp, for example. In the right context, flashy and daring gadgets from Batman can be acceptable and even overlooked (like, say, in Batman '66 because that's the era where campy is part of the appeal). In a serious, gritty story like Zero Year, it just feels like it's trying too hard to pay homage to a certain time in Batman's mythos that are dissonant with the tone of New 52 Batman. So I didn't quite like that, especially when you only see it for at least four pages. Lastly, is how much we don't get that much Riddler. I don't consider him a top favorite from the rogues' gallery but I wish he gets the spotlight soon, considering this is his elaborate scheme Batman has to clean up.

So those are my criticisms for this issue. Now let's get to the good stuff because what's the point of reading Batman comics if I don't get to fangirl about why he is the greatest superhero of all time for this geekily in love Bat-fan? First, the Frank Miller homage for The Dark Knight Returns. You know what I'm talking about: the intimidating shadow of Batman posed to kick ass as he jumps in the air against the lightning that etched the ominous sky. Here Capullo shamelessly gave us a full-paged illustration. Secondly, the gorgeously colored and highly-detailed scenes on the fight scene between Bats and Dr. D, and the depiction of Gotham City in ruins and its residents struggling to stay alive. Thirdly, and probably my most favorite of them all, are the flashback scenes concerning Bruce and his parents. The very first page shows a man with a gun which turned out to be just a recruitment poster of the GCPD task force. Synder made that conversation between young Bruce and his folks so endearing and sweet, even though their impending deaths are coming on crime alley later on. And then we cut to the last pages of the issue where Capullo spliced scenes from Batman howling in anger and despair as he sees Gotham fall into chaos while he can't do anything; and young Bruce watching his childhood crumble apart as his parents are murdered in front of him and no one is there to help. It was breathtakingly poignant; the desperate vigilante and the scarred boy coming into focus all at one in that sequence. One seam was unraveled, a trigger was pulled, and everything has never been the same since.

Now I talked about Doctor Death's villain monologue earlier and how exasperating it was to read it but the message was certainly resonant nevertheless. Doctor Death talks about the song "Tokyo Moon" that soldiers in World War II would listen to and whose title some of them would carve into their helmets to remind them that someone out there is watching and keeping them safe. But Doctor Death negates this, seeing as he lost his own son, the solider from the military crater flashback from a previous issue, from a tragic encounter in the desert so he reasons out that the moon we see in the sky is not a reassurance of hope but just a blank, hollow circle. No one comes to save you. When you die, you'll be all alone.



While I was reading this, I know I was going to tear up if I allow it. The message may be sort of heavy-handed but if you're a long-time and fiercely loyal Batman fan like I am, you will see the connection instantly. Doctor Death's soliloquy might have been the inspiration behind Batman using a bat-signal as his calling card. It's not just to remind criminals that the Dark Knight will punish them; it's also a symbol of optimism that gives Gothamites faith that someone is going to save them. They will not die alone because someone will fight for them. Bruce knew firsthand the harrowing experience of having no one in the world to help him during the bleakest time of his life, and so he made vow in honor and memory of his parents' deaths that no little boy or girl or ordinary citizen will taste that bitter pain for themselves, not on Batman's watch.

I'm sorry, I'm going to cry now for a bit before I resume typing.

[short pause]

And we're back. So those two things are the best features for this issue. For those alone, I would have rated this issue a perfect score but I won't because it did have those problems I talked about that a less emotional Batman fan will be uncomfortable with, or couldn't just let pass. But like I said, the bottom line is that this last installment of Dark City was at least emotionally satisfying for me even with a couple of misses here and there that are mostly technical or have grating implications (like that big-ass Bat-blimp. I mean, Bruce Wayne has made a donation of blimps for the city so how the hell won't the GCPD make the connection sooner or later that the prodigal Bruce might also the caped crusader since his return and Batman's appearance are already so perfectly timed together? Wouldn't that make them incompetent imbeciles if right after Zero Year wraps up, they won't follow the lead on that Bat-limp?) But I digress. It has been a great ride that didn't disappoint fans (and only annoys every now and then but only when you really nitpick), all thanks to Synder, Capullo, Miki and FCO. We are now entering a new arc for Zero Year called Savage City and I am clearly, deliriously excited for what's to come after the climactic events I just read!

RECOMMENDED: 8/10

*Only one in the roster of brilliant issues of this saga that continues to impress and set the high bar for writing Batman stories that should not only be thrilling but also humane.