Sunday, April 30, 2017

All Star Batman by Scott Snyder issue #8


The original plan was to review the next two issues in Tom King's Batman run, yet issues #8-9 were co-written with another writer named Steve Orlando which was all about the Night of the Monster Men. This story arc was a crossover which meant that certain installments appear in other titles like Nightwing and Batwoman. And I had no real interest to read this arc completely which was why I decided to do away with it and officially end my Batman comics diet for this April 2017 on a Snyder issue about the Mad Hatter for the third chapter of Ends of the Earth. If there ever were any good Jervis Tetch stories out there, this might be one.

It's rather difficult to fully describe the experience of reading this issue. The narrative itself was written in the stream-of-consciousness style where Batman became prey to a rabbit-hole mind fuck courtesy of the Mad Hatter. The result of which is an odd and brilliant mixture of elements that paid little homage to Lewis Carroll's Alice stories as the inspiration while also still holding itself as its own standalone topsy-turvy. With splendid illustrations by penciler Giuseppi Camuncoli, inker Mark Morales, colorist Dean White and letterer Steve Wands, this third installment for Ends of the Earth truly is a fascinating feast for the eyes.

Mr. Freeze released a pathogen that attacked thousands of people who lost their lives in the process. Ecologist Pamela Isley (also known as Poison Ivy) agreed to give Batman a cure to prevent further casualties. But Batman, being Batman the ever vigilant, still wanted insurance that the pathogen will not grow again and infect more lives, so he goes to a residence where he encountered a formidable threat. Back in the early beginnings of Zero Year, Jervis Tetch had approached Bruce Wayne about a certain project and it would seem as if he had possessed the same strain of virus which Mr. Freeze years later. 

That's why Batman followed this lead all the way back to whom he thinks is the source. There was still a matter of the Blackhawks, though, who are a unit of mercenaries seemed to determined to get in Batman's way. They even disguised themselves as the Bat-family, and Batsy was having none of that and managed to unmask the pretenders. One scene of it was done in a rather comedic way, with Batman using a mechanized flamingo to slam against the fake Nightwing. It was easily one of the most spectacular things I've seen in comics! So anyway, Batman goes down a rabbit-hole and things just get plain weird.


As I've said, the uniquely rendered illustrations and the overall composition of the art for this issue was refreshing and visually appealing. The four artists who have collaborated in this really showed quite the craftmanship. Each panel sequence was dream-like and insane, and readers just don't know what is happening but they are nonetheless mesmerized which was even strengthened by Snyder's subtle and often enigmatic choices  of narrative and dialogue. You are seeing everything but not understanding what it is as well. The issue ends ambiguously too. We don't get immediate resolution just yet, such as Duke Thomas being captured by the Blackhawks, but that makes me look forward even more for the next installment. It may not be a straight-up ghost story ambiance like the Mr. Freeze issue but I found certain parts of this issue...unsettling. And I really like it.


The next chapter for The Cursed Wheel is still a slow read but I think that this might be all a set-up for something I hope would be fulfilling much later on. Duke Thomas is starting to be sympathetic for me too which is probably a positive highlight for me at this point. A very splendid issue, the third installment for Ends of the Earth should make readers crave for more.



RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Friday, April 28, 2017

All Star Batman by Scott Snyder issue #7



First and foremost, the extent of how Poison Ivy was depicted for this issue alone was incredibly positive, partly because of how careful Snyder was in writing her dialogues and mostly due to the beautiful illustrations drawn by artist Tula Lotay who made Poison Ivy at least visually less lewd and sexually charged than most more modern comics have been shamelessly parading her as. The sensual and classy version of Poison Ivy is something I remember watching and enjoying in the animated series which was why any other take on her sexuality that is often too much of her defining trait is something I tend to steer clear away from. 

Aside from being one of the memorable Bat-villains from the Rogues' gallery, Poison Ivy embodied female sexuality like no other fictional woman in comics, I believe, because she's also intimately connected with plant life ergo nature itself so she became unavoidably a conduit for everything feminine in its supposedly most empowering form. Nevertheless, she was still portrayed as a villain most of the time; a grand seductress with vengeful, reactionary tendencies towards anyone, especially men, who would abuse and trample on the environment which often put her in the role of a simple eco-terrorist. She cares so much about nature that she was willing to sacrifice humanity, her own race, either to sustain or improve plant life in earth.

That's her deal and to achieve writing her as a nearly sympathetic character can be a challenge for writers, and one that Synder attempted for this issue and actually succeeded, in my honest and humble opinion. The second installment of Ends of the Earth is a slow read and quite substantially just as expository as the first one with Mr. Freeze though this one also has many dialogues and discussions between Batman and Pamela Isley (Poison Ivy). Action also occurred less here and only one confrontation at the closing pages happened. Overall, the main story dealt mostly on Batman appealing to Isley to help him contain the epidemic that Freeze spread last issue. He sought her aid by personalizing it for her by telloa young girl aspiring to be an ecologist just like Isley but whose contact with the disease and subsequent death with label her only as the carrier and nothing else.



Isley, of course, would take issue on that, sympathizing with said girl but had at first didn't show it just so she can put up a strong front before Batman. What I really enjoyed about their simple yet nuanced interaction is that Batman genuinely believed that there is goodness in Isley that he knew he can connect with and even rely on, as well as the fact that he was willing to humble himself before her and admit to himself and especially to her that he cannot do this all alone and he expresses a desire to work with someone who has great knowledge about how to counter this viral attack, even if that someone is one whom the world considers nothing more but an antagonist, all for the sake of saving lives and avoiding more losses.

For the way their relationship alone was depicted for this second installment, I'm giving this issue high rating. As for the eight-paged backup story, there isn't much to say at all which was disappointing. Artist Francavilla wasn't also given that much material to work with so his usually great illustrations didn't strike as anything notable. I only liked one panel and it's about Duke Thomas and how his insecurities were spelled out by Snyder. I liked that brutal honesty at least.





RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Thursday, April 27, 2017

(DC Rebirth) Batman by Tom King issue #6


Why do I have to care about Claire? She wasn't as fully fleshed out as her brother or have any other compelling qualities aside from her superpowers that lend themselves some potency by shaving years off her life. She wasn't really that impressive to me by herself either because it's been made clear she was just emulating her brother about being a vigilante. Her behavior in the last two issues had also not been pleasant. It made sense, considering the psychological scarring she had been through in the hands of Psycho Pirate, but other than that it was still quite easy to see that she had been nothing more but a supporting character in every sense of the word. She was there to give her brother Hank more gravitas and in the end she became responsible for killing him. I suppose I should be fair and give the girl a break, so I will. I might, at least, with this final installment for I Am Gotham.

I found Claire a wee bit interesting here as she slowly unraveled due to the crushing weight of grief and guilt over her brother's unfortunate passing. Claire essentially began losing what little grasp she had on sanity to begin with and started talking to herself quite loudly while addressing said dearly departed sibling. What was so intriguing about King's approach here is that he also used it as an opportunity to bring about villain cameos. These villains are obscure and old enough to make the nerdiest of fans feel a sense of delight and maybe even some slight smug entitlement that they themselves easily recognized who these villains are and what issues they appeared in. I haven't been reading Batman in comics that long (I only began to seriously digest and dissect his stories since 2014 with my Bat-blog), so these references didn't click with me at all until I've done my research.

I'm not going to discuss said cameos because I'm not an authority about their appearances and I frankly didn't give a shit. I was focused on Claire because for Chrissake why would a casual reader of present comics care about her if Tom King can't make even the veteran readers in general settle down enough to give a damn about her and stop going "Oh my god, that's a cameo from an old issue back in..." or something like that? This issue's central idea is to deal with Claire's grief over the loss that was her very own doing and yet a good percentage of readers would probably rather focus on those obscure villains. It just seemed like a disservice to whoever Claire should be. She never had a fair chance even from that start and now an issue which supposedly focuses on her was also a tribute for other things. Poor Claire. That being said, I enjoyed the idea of her still going about superheroing while losing her mind in the process. Girl at least can multi-task. And then we get a nice emotional wrap-up later on.



Nice share, Bruce, but this shouldn't be about you! This issue wasn't as awful as the one that came before it. But it's not a good one either and only had a few redeemable qualities to keep it from being worse. I want to see more or Claire after this. We have been spoiled in Issue #5 that she and Duke Thomas get married so I guess she stopped using her powers and became a normal person after that because she didn't die too soon or anything. Well, that's it for Claire, I guess. 



RECOMMENDED: 6/10

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

All Star Batman by Scott Snyder issue #6


Snyder's five-chaptered arc My Own Worst Enemy which focused on Two Face/Harvey Dent had been an off-beat, kooky spectacle of an action-adventure story which had amusing hijinks and colorful sequences to match it as illustrated by Kick Ass artist John Romita Jr. It had been a wonderful ride with a rather neatly tied ending that made sense yet also not nearly as satisfactory as one would hope. That being said, I was ready to embark on Snyder's new arc which would have another Bat-villain as a focal point and this time it's Mr. Freeze. Imagine my gleeful surprise to discover that the artist for this issue is no other than Jock whom Snyder had collaborated with in one of my favorite Batman volumes of all time, The Black Mirror. 

The immediate change in the tonal approach for this issue's narrative (an atmospherically bleak and gothic vibe) was unexpected but most welcome on my end because this is the Scott Snyder I'm more accustomed to whenever he's writing a Batman story. Combine that with the staggering breadth of Jock's lingeringly creepy illustrations about ice and zombies and you got the perfect ambiance for a ghost story. There was nothing specifically paranormal going on for Ends of the Earth but it's also recognizably a Frankenstein-eque story. Mr. Freeze brought back to life dozens of cryogenically frozen people to do his bidding as Batman ventured to the Arctic Circle to hopefully put a stop to nefarious plans. At the center of it all was Nora, Mr. Freeze's beloved, whom he still wished to wake up someday. Batman tried his best to convince Freeze not to go through his diabolical machinations for the sake of the only person he had ever truly given a damn about. It's all very touching until one remembers something.

And that's no other than the fact that DC rewrote the backstory regarding this couple. In current comics continuity, Nora was no longer Victor's legal wife; in fact she was just a woman he was pining over and so this meant that the 'love' was unrequited on his end. And it's quite frankly a disrespectfully dumb rewrite of what used to be such a moving story about a desperate husband driven to desperate measures in order to save his wife that he was willing to cryogenically freeze her for a while until there was a cure for her disease. Nora was Victor's last piece of humanity; the only one who can possibly thaw the ice in his heart once she is awaken. To remove the 'married couple' dynamic from their story now reduces Mr. Freeze as nothing more than a deranged stalker willing to do whatever it takes to gain the affection of a woman whom he has no personal history with unlike in the story as featured in Batman: The Animated Series, Heart Of Ice. That remains to be hands-down the best Mr. Freeze origin story.

I don't know why DC rewrote what Victor and Nora had; I mean, at least the show Gotham had the decency to keep their marriage intact in their own version of Mr. Freeze's origin story. What I will tackle about instead was how Snyder managed to 'fix' this rewrite by claiming that in symbolic spirit, Nora is Victor's 'wife'. If you have no idea about the rewrite, this won't even register as an odd choice of phrase because I bet the version that most Batman fans know about Mr. Freeze is the one they have watched take place in Heart of Ice. Anyway, I like how Snyder wrote this issue strictly more in narrative form than in dialogues. The exchanges mostly happen in narration boxes so everything is expository in that sense. And I think it worked brilliantly, especially since Jock was the artist who brought to life some of the most creepy panels ever put in a comic book's pages. His art style has such a seething horrific yet subdued vibe that looking through them can give someone chills. 

That revelation at the end pertaining to how Batman duped Mr. Freeze was so out-of-this-world it was a proud mark of genius. Sure, it's disconcerting that Batsy would attempt something so fatal to his life but that's just part of how Batman usually operates so it shouldn't be that much of a shock. I definitely enjoyed this issue at last. I think it's the finest of what has come out from this title so far. I read that the next issues would be standalones like this one and would feature Poison Ivy, Mad Hatter and Ra's Al Ghul.

The second cycle of The Cursed Wheel story also fared better than I would have counted on. Yet another artist (Francesco Francavilla) managed to make it work. He had very interesting choices for panel layout and the visual impression that was created is one that for me fits the overall 'enigmatic' charm that is the Riddler. Much like the main story, this was relied on exposition which I had no problem with because it actually took the time getting readers into the story's fundamentals unlike the first cycle. Duke Thomas is once again the focal point of the story alongside the bad guy Riddler and this I hope becomes consistent because I'm slowly warming up to the idea of Duke becoming a part of the Bat-family and I'd like to see how he holds himself up to that pedigree. So in a nutshell, issue #6 had been a very impressive installment.





RECOMMENDED: 9/10

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

(DC Rebirth) Batman by Tom King issue #5


This issue was an absolute dud, and just knowing I still have to review it is a little disheartening which was why I delayed it for a few days. Yesterday was my birthday but the celebration came in with three installments starting on the 22nd. This was why I didn't submit any Bat-reviews, but now I'm back and I at least can finish the first volume of Tom King's run and do more of Snyder's All Star Batman and realistically be able to reach issue #8 before this month ends. 

The fifth chapter for I Am Gotham was a dud, like I said, which was disappointing since King has delivered capably enough so far and he was also quite fairly consistent with his narrative. This issue, however, completely detracts from that consistency which made it utterly baffling, more notably at the last pages. The cover promised readers a violent showdown between Batman and Gotham, but it had been a gimmick because the Justice League apparently swooped in and was a part of the mission. I'm all for a long-winded superpowered battle with a person taking a team of competent fighters which is what happened here with Gotham vs. JL and yet at the same time it came off as an afterthought. We got this technicality that Gotham can increase his powers based on his opponent's own ability but doing so earns years off his lifetime. That I can get behind with too. 

But what I find rather hard for me suspend my belief upon was how easily Gotham managed to defeat every leaguer---including Superman and Wonder Woman. Perhaps I would have been more open to the idea if there was any build-up to Gotham's formidable prowess as a threat even to the big players. This wasn't the case. He was just simply too powerful for even Sups and Diana to handle, regardless of the brainwashing thing and blind rage or whatnot. I mean, do we really have to diminish the league just to show Gotham is strong? But Batman holds his own against Gotham, at least for a while before Claire as Gotham Girl saves the day.

I say 'saves the day' very loosely at this point because she was still a hot mess. Leave it to the psychologically impaired superheroine to handle her own brother, I suppose, whatever. But she didn't handle it that well since she ended up killing him which sucked because Hank had a real fleshed-out motivation to begin with than his sister and yet we're stuck with that sibling now. I'm still not impressed about Claire. She had more screen time and autonomy here, I can acknowledge that, but again it felt too rushed and too perfect of a timing just to kill off Hank. There's nothing more I can say for this issue.

I just didn't like it overall; except only for that small scene at the beginning with Alfred dressing up as Batman.



NOT RECOMMENDED: 5/10

Friday, April 21, 2017

All Star Batman by Scott Snyder issue #5


The fifth installment of this series is also the conclusion to the My Own Worst Enemy arc concerning Two Face/Harvey Dent. And I liked it a lot, the way everything was tied up neatly, including the vital loose threads. For what it's worth, it's been an audaciously fun ride! Everything was fast-paced and the few parts that were humorous were campy and never bashful about being so. I liked the presence of KG Beast and the tug of war happening between Batsy and Two Face as well as Two Face and Harvey Dent themselves. But even with all the topsy-turvy shenanigans going on, Snyder still managed to deliver a character-centric story that has some impact, and it's in the moments he can craft that when All Star Batman truly shines.

This final piece to the Two Face arc was not perfect but it had brilliant markings. It held enough gravitas, sure, but if you start nitpicking at each layer you will come to realize that it was a flawed conclusion even though Snyder and co did a fine enough job with the landing. This series overall was offbeat and experimental which was why I opted to forgive some oversight and weak plot devices here and there, especially since this issue had a share of those. My enjoyment didn't lessen at all once I start inspecting these flaws because for the last four issues I was vigorously entertained and amused which means something. Snyder wrote a Batman story that actually made me giggle here and there, and in comparison with his grim and poignant run when he was still the writer for the flagship Bat series, this for me was a refreshing angle to experience concerning his writing for the character. 

John Romita Jr.'a art style is not for everyone, but for an action-packed and gimmicky adventure story with lots of fight sequences and landscape shots, his style worked pretty well to complement the punches that Snyder never hesitated to pull for every issue. The breadth of the illustrations for All Star Batman is remarkable; very dynamic and colorful and so easy to get lost in, most notably those lush flashback sequences about Bruce and Harvey's childhood. That unforgettable action scene on the train as well as the steamboat escapade for this issue were definitely easy stand-outs and Romita Jr.'s rendition of the scenes contributed to that memorable factor. I wouldn't say he's a favorite artist but I enjoyed the body of work he produced for this series alone.


That being said, I wanted to point out the increasingly unbelievable feats of physical strengths that Batman displayed for My Own Worst Enemy. The attacks he had to endure and soldier on have been massive and should have taken a toll on him, but Batman was still walking and kicking ass and I don't think that I can buy into that crap because Bruce Wayne is no Sups or Diana. He's a normal guy who has just undergone extensive training but even he should have limits. He has ruptured and fractured so many parts of his body so I don't understand how he can still stand up! At no point was this inhuman invincibility was addressed though, so let's chalk it up to simple oversight or casual negligence. It's not that important unless you dwell on it anyway. 

But I want to talk about the two dangling threads which were introduced in the first two issues then abandoned later on and finally resolved here in the last installment. I'm referring of course to the reason why Alfred shot the bat-plane in the first issue and why Gordon and the rest of the GCPD are in the Wayne Manor right now and  are apparently going to investigate a possible 'man-cave' underground. Both are consequential of each other as it turns out. Let me just show you this page of Alfred being uncharacteristically flippant and weird. Seriously, I don't recognize this Alfred. He's too easily rattled:


Gordon fared better, canon characterization-wise, because he got to me witty in those few pages he appeared in. His dialogue with Alfred subtly hinted that he knows Batman is Bruce Wayne but he's still tiptoeing around it for the sake of discretion and I like it because it shows Gordon is a competent and smart enough detective to figure out the real deal, but also upholds that he should keep Batman's identity a secret. So now we know why Alfred shot down that plane and then when the GCPD arrived underground, they didn't find the batcave at all but just some ordinary 'man-cave'. Gordon had a little laugh with that deception yet was relieved that Batman's secret gets to live another day. So those loose threads were tied up in a sort of anticlimactic yet acceptable way.

And now we come to the main event which was Two Face's treachery regarding the cure:


And Batman flipping the chessboard on him all along:


Good stuff. Two Face thinks he had the upper hand but Batman has it all along. I liked the angle that they were childhood friends but it didn't really contribute anything that meaningful in the story except maybe the fact that Bruce becomes privy about Harvey's daddy issues and how his abusive father would use a coin toss to determine whether or not to beat up Harvey. But the twist about that cure was a good one, I can give Snyder that. I like the fact that Batman modified it so that Two Face and Harvey are locked in a permanent battle of dominance. He's essentially stuck at being dissociative. It's a little cruel but also poetic.

The next villain arc is going to be about Mr. Freeze. That should be promising.

And yes, I know my review of this issue may have come off as lazy and rushed but I've been in a weird place in my life right now that not even reading and reviewing Batman cheers me up. I promise that my next reviews would be on-point again and less scattered. I'm slowly getting the feeling that I've been subpar in my analyses and insights ever since I came back from my trip. It must be mental fatigue, I don't know. Anyway, things will look up soon for tomorrow with my review of King's issue #5.


RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Thursday, April 20, 2017

(DC Rebirth) Batman by Tom King issue #4


The scope of David Finch's art for this issue in particular is outstanding, and that is not at all an understatement. Certain illustrations stood out, most notably pages that depicted gore and violence. I'm never that squeamish when it comes to seeing blood and guts in any medium I consume such as in television shows and comic books, but Finch's illustrations definitely made me stop and stare for a while just to appreciate the quality and breadth that he had contributed solely for this fourth issue. I don't think Tom King's story would be nearly as effective in form if Finch wasn't the artist who drew its scenes to life.

The fourth installment for I Am Gotham was provocative, especially since it made such a complete turn for the worst since last issue. The body count is unapologetically high and committed by the one person I never wanted to become bloodthirsty and possessed. The detestably fruitful alliance between Dr. Hugo Strange and Psycho Pirate yielded some terrible consequences. These two assholes managed to capture and inflict serious psychological damage on aspiring superheroes Gotham and Gotham Girl (Hank and Claire) who did not stand a chance so now the former has went on a psychotic rampage while the latter was reduced into a sniveling weak mess and had to be put under Alfred's care. It was a rather shocking escalation. I know things will go bad---but I did not expect that it would become even worse so soon. This was an overall spectacular issue, given the tight suspenseful drama at its core and Finch's impressive body of work for each page. King was also winning me over as a writer at this point.

However, there are a few things that didn't make sense to me, such as the participation of Amanda Waller in all this clusterfuck and apparently an appearance by the Suicide Club might just take place somewhere down the pipeline. But I digress.

What I want to tackle is Hank's regressed state which happened so quickly and so violently that I had to flip back and forth between pages just to make sure I'm witnessing such gruesome events unfold for real, and that they were all because of his doing. From a promising earnest idealist, Hank had now become a deranged killer who are doing things that go against everything he wanted to stand for as Gotham and according to what he wanted to emulate from Batman. It was mortifying and I hope to all the gods this can be fixed soon because I actually like him and his sister. Claire also needs to get back in shape and stop crying because I've grown tired of females being portrayed as broken damsels after a villain had took possession of their minds or some shit like that. 

I was pretty disappointed that she just broke down into an emotional mess. Not that going on a rampage like her brother did would be an improvement in her characterization but at least then she would be doing something instead of clinging onto Duke's arms for consolation. But then again, it needs to be pointed out that Gotham Girl seems to exist because Claire herself was said to be mirroring whatever her big brother wants to do, so she doesn't have a lot of things going for her in the first place already, so is it really such a surprise she would be so easy to manipulate and discard? I sure hope King can fairly resolve Claire's part in the equation. I know Hank well enough but I don't really know that much about Claire.

On more pressing matters, Batman tried his best to get through Hank but he was beyond reasoning with at this point.

Now that is some heavy Break-The-Cutie stuff

I can't wait to see how this drama would resolve and devolve yet again in the next issue.


RECOMMENDED: 8/10


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

All Star Batman by Scott Snyder issue #4


Snyder's All Star Batman continues to be a worthwhile adventure, and the definition of which is that it's bat-shit insane! Still forty pages per issue, Snyder's series is packing a lot of heat and gimmicks balanced out by his sincere storytelling with emotional weight. All Star Batman is shaping out to be a thrilling bombastic ride that can get campy when it wants to be and, much like KG Beast, won't give a fuck if shit starts falling apart as long as it's for the sake of chaos and fun. I'll tell you who was not falling apart though and that's no other than Batman who had suffered so many physical attacks and injuries that I have no goddamn clue how he still manages to kick ass. Well, he's Batman. I suppose that explanation alone should suffice, amirite?

To recap, Two Face poured acid into Batsy's face mask. So his vision is impaired pretty badly. But hey, he's Batman.

I won't be doing a blow-by-blow description of the action sequences that happened for this issue because I shall maintain from here on out that one should experience All Star Batman's craziness firsthand because no amount of explanation can truly capture the spectacle that Snyder and Romita Jr. had produced for every issue. Granted, this issue wasn't as uneven as the first two which is an improvement because now there's an actual clear plot we can follow, and characters' actions and motivations do make sense in the long run---except for those distractingly colorful Talons. Fuck those guys. Also, check out them PECTORAL SPEAKERS!


That was, hands-down, my most favorite moment of this issue! Second only to that heartfelt dialogue piece between Batman and Duke which I will tackle later on. I mean, pectoral speakers, guys! That's All Star Batman in a nutshell. If you ever want to sell this wacky series to friends, just flip through the pages which illustrate the most ridiculous gadgets Batman had ever packed here in the series alone and we're all good to go! Nothing will ever beat that long-ass batarang from issues ago though. That shit can reap damage like a motherfucker! Ah, there are so many fun memories I can associate with All Star Batman already. But this mind-boggling yet entertaining series is not all just giant monsters beating the shit out of Batman and Penguin burning random people using his umbrella that apparently can shoot out fire in such fine precision, oh no. This series also has a central character conflict which is all about Harvey Dent and Two Face's ongoing rivalry as to which part of him has more claim over the other. 

My Own Worst Enemy is an episodic arc that builds up this tension between the two fragile sides of Dent; his earnest do-gooder persona and the twisted malicious alter ego who wants to destroy whatever goodness is left in Dent. Batman serves as the mediator, expressing a hopeful desire to save his friend from completely losing himself to the darkness. This was why he was willing to endure through brutal lengths just to ensure he can save Harvey Dent from Two Face---even if that means tying him at the back of one of his personal jetliners while he has some insightful dialogue exchange with his current protégé Duke.


I thought that this is one of the most brilliant writing achievements Snyder had put in paper. It worked both ways too in showing Batman's insight and investment on the conflict as well as Duke's own sympathetic angle in regards to the shit going down with his parents (who were still suffering the effects of Joker's toxin back in Endgame). Here we understand that Bruce is someone who believes in people and the goodness that they are and the greatness they can still become. He asserts that everyone has a potential to be redeemed even probably the worst of mankind. Nothing is ever black and white and even the most depraved and morally unethical may even do the right thing if they try hard enough to change their ways. Bruce appreciates the irony of holding onto such a notion, but it's by trusting in the humanity of people that gets him up every night to fight crime after all. This was in relation to Harvey's complicated relationship with his abusive father and to a lesser extent, Duke's staunch belief that his parents can escape the poison that is still hijacking their biology. Bruce expresses the same kind of optimism over Harvey's identity crisis. He wants to believe his friend is not beyond saving because life is all about second chances and unexpected miracles after all.

This fourth issue also concluded the side-story at the end of every issue entitled The Cursed Wheel which wrapped up in a flat note, if you ask me, but at least I no longer find myself that detached to Duke anymore. I think the side-story did a fine enough job establishing him as competent and driven by himself, and that his heart is in the right place even if he tends to make haste and commit small errors along the way. He can learn and grow especially since Batman chose him for a reason, and I have a lot of faith in Bruce's judgment so I'll give Duke more chances to prove himself. I hope to see more of the artist Declan Shalvey's work though.

I think more people should read All Star Batman as long as they consider it a standalone series since it's more effective that way!



RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

(DC Rebirth) Batman by Tom King issue #3


The first pages of this issue was an unexpected serving of deja vu---in the most gruesome yet also moving way possible. For a split second, I thought King was giving me yet another rendition of the Wayne murders but the essential details about the scene are altered which led me to conclude quickly that this wasn't about Bruce Wayne's childhood trauma at all but another child's tragedy. A young boy was walking with his parents on a dark alleyway in Gotham. A mugger tried to rob them. He beat the father and was now getting handsy with the mother's jewelry. The scene was playing out exactly in a horrible nostalgic way until that crucial last moment when everything would have ended in blood and grief. At the last second, Batman appeared and saved everyone. 

It was a victory that was satisfying on an emotional level because of how much it means for Bruce Wayne as Batman to save even just one life in the hands of a petty crime. Most people forget that Batman was always about stopping street-level crimes. His night patrols were always composed of impeding organized crime or even the smallest crime committed in some alleyway in Gotham. Tom King showed us that in this flashback and reminded us that behind the Dark Knight will always be that traumatized boy who lost his parents one bad night where it changed the course of the rest of his entire life afterwards, and in becoming Batman he was channeling this loss into something demonstratively righteous and inspiring. He may not have been able to save his parents, but he can symbolically avenge their deaths by ensuring no one will ever lose their loved ones the same way he did particularly in cases where a tragedy can just  happen in the most mundane way possible such as during a late-night mugging.

Speaking of inspiring life-changing events, let's talk about these specific panels for a moment:



I'm sorry, but I was in goddamn tears right after reading this. How could I not be, seeing as how much Batman is my own childhood hero whose brand of justice and truth resonates with me to this day? Watching him prevent the same crime that claimed his parents' life was cathartic, and being able to talk to the boy who could have been him was a rather powerful moment. Later on, the readers will discover that this flashback sequence was about Hank Clover (and to a lesser extent, his sister Claire) who will become the superpowered fans named Gotham and Gotham Girl. This was their origin story which Bruce found out by himself while he was in FBI disguise to interview their parents who were more than eager to share their children's aspirations to become defenders of the city since they have been motivated and inspired by no other than Batman.

It was all the more reason why I was so moved about those panels above because I feel as if this was Batman not only speaking to Hank Clover as a young boy but also speaking to his child-self. These were the words he wished someone had said to him when his life changed after witnessing his parents' brutal murders in front of him, and he had no idea how to start picking up the pieces just yet. This was Bruce Wayne now as an adult and a vigilante wishing to reassure a kid just like him from before that hope blooms even in the most wretched of places, and that he doesn't have to stay powerless forever because one day he may even get the chance to fight back and rise from the adversity of his own fears and insecurities. That's the message a hero like Batman imparts and one that people should never forget or tarnish. This is why we read his story. At the heart of it all, this is about one man's victory over his own demons every time he becomes Batman and defeats his enemies. He is an inspiration.

Just ask Hank and Claire Clover. They decided to become Gotham and Gotham Girl because of him.



I was really happy about this issue because it humanized Hank and Claire and gave them convincing character motivations. I readily accept that they are simply noble and decent people who just want to give back to their city and help anyone who needs a hero at the end of the day. That fateful meeting between Hank and Batman that night was a hallmark for the former who found a role model to emulate and an altruistic purpose to share with his sister. It's so beautiful and I dread how they're going to be broken down once Hugo Strange and his Monster Men get to them. I know it's going to happen and I can only hope they survive the ordeal because at this point it has become rather easy and natural to root for these kids. Earnest idealists who want to do good being thrown into a gritty situation never fails to break my heart. The next issues are bound to get crazy and sad.



RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Friday, April 7, 2017

SHORT HIATUS ANNOUNCEMENT

I'm going on an overseas trip from April 8-15 so I'll be unable to post new Batman reviews starting today so I can focus on getting ready mentally while also arranging a few tasks at home before I leave. But I shall be back with a vengeance around the 16th with new posts for King's Batman and Snyder's All Star Batman. Until then, I bid you all adieu!~


Thursday, April 6, 2017

All Star Batman by Scott Snyder issue #3


Things seemed to have settled down for All Star's Batman third issue where the dust has cleared for a bit and the action has to take a backseat to make way for some overdue exposition and narrative focus. For that alone, I think this issue feels more grounded and understandable as it also allowed Snyder's writing for the characters and the plot itself to shine. I definitely feel as if I'm back in familiar territory regarding his style of approach when it comes to crafting a beguiling Batman story. I thought it was pretty entertaining, of course, all those crazy shenanigans of Batsy fighting of hired muscle and other kooky mercenaries so he can travel upstate and save Harvey Dent buried somewhere within the malicious persona of Two-Face.

But the core strength in Snyder's writing are the small nuances of characterization that personally make his stories worthy of prolonged emotional investment in. If All Star Batman becomes a resonant piece that is not just all about spectacle and explosion, then I'm most certainly going to keep looking forward for the next installments. This issue had some great humorous moments in it still in spite of it having a more serious tone. Romita Jr.'s art continues to grow on me, and since his earlier illustrations portrayed fast-paced ass-kicking, it's commendable to see how his style can adapt when it comes to more subdued scenes.

Standout scenes here that I liked are anything with hired assassin KGBeast whose identity I didn't even reveal in my last review for the series. All you need to know is that he's an absolute doll and even though Batsy and Two-Face were able to get away from him for now thanks to Duke, I'm certain KG my man will make his surprise appearance later on. Another scene I enjoyed was that over-the-top Penguin scene since it reminded me so much of Gotham's own version played by Robin Lord Taylor. I can totally picture that version opening a personalized umbrella that breathes fire and turns annoying extras into a burnt crisp, which is exactly what Snyder's Penguin did here during that amusing scene. I don't know why I don't have a screenshot of that moment here. Damn.

There is also that unexpected yet sensible appearance of the Talons who are sporting new colors that can only be described as flashy. Does the color change have anything to do with who they are? I feel that maybe they are a bunch of freelancers and don't serve the Court of Owls but Two-Face. Anyway, I'm mentioning the standout scenes first before I tackle the main attraction later. The last standout scene was the welcome appearance of Harold Allnut. This character is someone I recognize easily from Hush whom I recall had sold out Batman to Tommy Elliot with the promise of getting a voice since he's mute. Originally, he used to work for Penguin's crew before Batman decided to give him a new purpose leaning more on the righteous path. He's certainly talking here in this issue and I think his role is essential, considering he's a mechanic genius which can explain how Bruce is able to maintain the inner workings of the Batcave. Harold's participation can be a believable reason for that.

So let's get to the main story for this issue. In that wonderfully drawn flashback sequence, we find out that Bruce and Harvey know each other in childhood when they were both sent to a facility that I think deals with troubled children. Bruce had just lost his parents, and apparently Harvey has an abusive father who liked to beat him up by the whim of a coin toss. They reconnected as adults later on when Harvey became a District Attorney and Bruce became Batman. It took them a while to realize who they are to each other, but at that point it didn't seem to matter. Or does it? Two-Face remembers Bruce from childhood which is telling since Harvey and Two-Face don't know the same things as each other. They are completely disassociated from each other's memories, so the fact that Two-Face can remember this piece of Harvey's childhood can possibly mean HE was the one Bruce met as a child.

It's getting really fascinating and nerve-wracking at this point, especially that cliffhanger at the end where Two-Face administers the 'cure' that Batman will supposedly use to restore Harvey. Two-Face proclaimed that perhaps that 'cure' will instead make him permanent and not Harvey Dent---before he pours it all over Batman's eyes. So I don't know what the fuck that would entail but I'm excited to know soon! I also like the idea of Bruce and Harvey going way back. I feel as if it's a key to something.

The Cursed Wheel backup story, fortunately, has received some more grounded storytelling as well. This is shaping out to be Duke-centric piece which I don't mind at all because I want to be given a reason to like this character and so far being able to see him attempt to be a detective and follow the trail was great. It's making him more real while hopefully fleshing out his personality. That flashback scene about his mom waking him up in the middle of the night to tell him about a murder was rather awkwardly handled though, but other than that, the story is finally picking up steam, and Declan Shalvey's art is becoming rather engrossing to look at. This was a satisfying installment overall so I will give it a much higher rating than the first two.



RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

(DC Rebirth) Batman by Tom King issue #2


From what I can tell so far into the second issue for this flagship series, a lot of the classic mythos from the long run of Batman is being constantly rehashed here and rendered as something new, most possibly for the benefit of the fresh readership. This re-telling does not bother me, and I'd like to think that what Tom King is merely doing is paying tribute to the Bat-canon by allowing new readers to experience a version of one of its classic stories. This narrative choice makes sense too for DC's Rebirth theme in general since I believe the whole point of the re-branding is to revisit the roots of DC comics, and that includes some form of nostalgic appeal when it comes to framing the stories of their popular characters.

That being said, I would like to fully disclose that Dr. Hugo Strange is a Bat-villain I have loathed for a long time since reading Batman: Prey. He just rubbed me off the wrong way. And this was back in 2014 when I read it. So as soon as I got to the last few pages of this second issue where it was revealed that we'd be tackling Hugo Strange and the 'Monster Men', I was understandably torn. I seriously let out an audible grunt of dismay and annoyance to find that I'm going to have to deal with Strange again. Still, I actually have learned to appreciate the character more as years went by, mostly because of his recent adaptation in Fox TV's Gotham show during the second season. Actor B.D Wong nailed the character very well, or at least presented him in a way in which is villainy was convincing as well as his relevance to the canon altogether. The same thing goes for his exposure in the Arkham Asylum games which I didn't mind. I suppose my negative bias still holds in comics, however, but I will reserve any more critical judgments until I see how King plans to utilize him here for his story arc, I Am Gotham

Now I want to talk more about the other characters here, but first I want to get a cameo appearance out of the way. Solomon Grundy was featured in the beginning action sequence for this second issue. New superpowered heroes Gotham and Gotham Girl join in the mix to aid Batman in bringing down Grundy. It went as well as expected with a few hiccups here and there. I think I recognize Grundy from his appearance in The Long Halloween, if I'm not mistaken. Anyway, I liked the angle in which these superpowered newbies actually do look up to Batman and recognize the important work he had done for Gotham City. They weren't there to get into some trite macho contest with him or challenge his authority as a seasoned crime fighter or anything like that. So I like Gotham and Gotham Girl so far because they have shown humility by asking for Batman's tutelage as well as passion in what they want to do so they can help the city, even if they tend to get a little enthusiastic about it.



If all goes well, these two can even become dependable allies for Batsy, mainly to aid him in catastrophic events in which superpowers can make a difference in avoiding such disasters. Batman, of course, can acknowledge his fallibility; that he is not an invincible man physically---just someone who is resourceful and determined to fight. This was he told Alfred as to why he was willing to give Gotham and Gotham Girl a chance, and why he even introduced them to Commissioner Gordon. 

I would be remiss if I don't point out how witty and dry Alfred and James Gordon have been for this issue. It's refreshing to read Alfred being snarky as it reminds me of his Gotham counterpart. Gordon makes the best expressions too, especially after meeting the two superheroes aforementioned. What really takes the cake, though, was the fact that Batman pulled the Disappearing Act and even got the best of the two who were baffled that even they can't find him when they have superpowers at their disposal. That earned a chuckle from me. I think I'm going to have fun reading more Tom King if he keeps this up for the series.

I look forward for the third issue since Dr. Hugo Strange made his appearance at the last page, and I'm curious to see what direction King plans to take for the Monster Men storyline as well as how the presence of the two new caped heroes can serve the rest of the arc. I will hold off on giving higher ratings since I want to save them for issues that will truly stand out and shine. So far, it's all been a steady build-up to what I hope will be something spectacular!



RECOMMENDED: 7/10

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

All Star Batman by Scott Snyder issue #2


I liked this issue. Sure, it still had the same format concerning a non-linear approach to the narrative such as time skips, which I maintain was problematic during its debut. Luckily enough, for this second issue, Snyder was able to utilize the style better to suit the storytelling, giving him a good advantage to make most of the plot threads presented. His Batman even cracks me up because he made the silliest joke ever imaginable and I don't even want to repeat it because it's so rare for Bats to have a sense of humor. Still, I would also argue that if Batman ever had a sense of humor, he would be a total cornball. And Snyder just proved me right.

The real selling point of this issue was the fact that we finally get more nuanced moments between Batman and Two-Face. Sure, most of the time they bickered their way through the issue like a couple of dum-dums, but the interaction was very believable and even a little sad. There's an unspoken camaraderie between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent that we are too quick sometimes to gloss over to make room for punching and stabbing and whatnot, and yet the friendship itself was effectively rendered in that one page of art for this issue which featured an ambiguous flashback. I must admit it was beautiful to look at, and I need to see what happens in that flashback because I can smell some genuine bromance brewing. My radar is hardly wrong. 

The narrative flows better in My Worst Enemy Part 2 even if there were panels of dialogue here between Alfred and Duke that sort of slowed down the well-oiled machine of the issue's pacing. They didn't necessarily ruined the fun, though, because they at least gave good commentary concerning the relationship between Batman and Two-Face. I suppose my gripe for that scene is mostly just me becoming a little embittered about Duke Thomas in general. I'm trying my very best to like the kid, but no one is making it easy for me at the moment, so I'll just continue to ignore him until he proves worthy of my attention.

John Romita Jr. is an artist I knew best from the Kick Ass comics, and his art works best for action sequences very well especially for this second issue which featured exciting confrontations on the roof of a speeding train where Batman had to face an array of cameo villain characters who all want to set Two-Face free. The dialogue and most of the fight scenes were balls-out hilarious! How can it not be when you have Killer Croc, King Shark and Amygdala in one scene? These muscular beasts all have an axe to grind with Batsy and they were not afraid to make him their punching bag. My favorite moment had to be this panel which never fails to make me snicker because there is just something campy about it that I rarely get to see in modern Batman.


As I've said, what I like about this issue is the pacing which kept me engaged the entire time. We have Bats and Two-Face never getting along as a bunch of bad guys try to interrupt their quality time and make Bats suffer---but in the most entertaining Western way possible. Most importantly, there's a real story developing and progressing as we move further along the line. The time skips make more sense now too and a very good way to build up the suspense because it has a future scene stamped with Two Days From Now and it featured Gordon and the rest of GCPD staking out the Wayne Mansion for reasons I think will soon come to light as we find out what happens in Batman's mission to take Two-Face upstate. I have no problem whatsover with this foreshadowing because I always find the small moments of conflict between Batman and law enforcement to be a given in comics, and it certainly makes things more tense and realistic whenever the GCPD don't always have Batman's back, even Gordon who should be allowed to voice against his caped crusader ally every now and then. Speaking of tension and conflict...

I really appreciated that scene among the Penguin, Black Mask and Great White as they all hired a common assassin to take out Batman. I won't reveal the identity of said mercenary, but I sure hope he would become a consistent player who will keep stalking Batman and Two-Face for the rest of the issues. Said dude's cool attitude is also quite growing on me so I want to see him again.

This series in entirety is 30+ pages long for every issue and this is where that backup story The Cursed Wheel comes along. Nothing about it has yet to impress me, really, aside from the artwork done by Declan Shalvey. Other than that, the characterization for Batman here seemed almost like he was the Batman I knew and loathed a little during the first few issues of Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi. He was aloof, dismissive and even outright uncaring about anyone but the crime he must solve. He's not exactly showing his best foot forward here, especially if he truly wants to establish a good partnership with Duke Thomas whose motives to fight crime and join Batman were at least given some context here. I also enjoyed reading this panel below:


That right there summarizes my small complaint about Duke Thomas as a character and I'm glad Snyder was self-aware enough to address what I believe are most readers' grievances about him. I can't help but smirk a little when even Batman himself admits that perhaps he also thinks Duke is not cut out for this line of work but keeps him around for reasons he would not discuss as of yet. I don't know, it may be a tad petty of me to take cheap pleasure that Duke was knocked down a peg here, but it's not like I have any reason to like him or root for him at the moment. I just don't know what to feel about the character. Soon enough, Snyder might just turn The Cursed Wheel into a legitimately compelling Duke-centric story next to its mystery case, and I hope he can convince me to perceive his original character in a better light once it's all over. Fingers crossed but I don't have the highest hopes.

Overall, this second issue was a vast improvement from its debut because it's just tons of fun without necessarily sacrificing good storytelling. I'm more than eager to see what's in store for Batman and Two-Face as they continue with their road trip.


RECOMMENDED: 8/10

Monday, April 3, 2017

(DC Rebirth) Batman by Tom King issue #1


It's the very first issue of Tom King's run for Batman, and I didn't know what to expect but it certainly isn't an airplane about to crash Gotham, and the fact that only Batman has to stop it since the Leaguers who can prevent such a crash by using their superpowers (Sups and Lantern) are currently fighting their own monsters. As far as an action-oriented piece of story goes, this first issue had been spectacular. David Finch's illustrations were gripping to look at even if his overall style so far hasn't been at his best, at least as far as comparing it to his earlier work in his own line for The Dark Knight series during the New 52 lineup. 

Since this issue was action-based, there is not much content to talk about regarding the plot itself as of yet except of course the revelation at the end which definitely proves rather promising to see unfold by the next issues. What I would like to discuss first is the underlying commentary regarding Batman as the self-appointed hero and defender of Gotham City. Unlike the aforementioned Leaguers, Batman, of course, does not possess superpowers. His speed, agility and strength came foremost from a rigorous training regimen that Bruce Wayne had explored all his life. He had to travel through continents to learn and hone several fighting techniques before even coming back to his city so he can start his one-man crusade. He has immense wealth and above-average intelligence to match his physical prowess and this was why he was regarded not just as a formidable fighter but also as a great detective. But it's mostly about his wealth as a Wayne heir that enabled him to sustain a crime-fighting nocturnal career. How else can he build his own Bat-cave and other gadgets if he didn't have serious cash to burn?

There are many obvious reasons why Batman is a lot of people's favorite go-to hero and they mostly have something to do with state-of-the-art weaponry, gritty person as the Dark Knight who stalks the criminal underworld, his incomparably unique Rogues' gallery; villains who are just as off-beat and compelling as he is, and---the primary reason we often hear nerds would say---the fact that he was not blessed with superpowers but had rather acquired his skills through sheer will and discipline alone. We can also add his personal tragedy into the mix; an orphaned boy who had to watch his parents get gunned down by a mugger one fateful night and how that traumatic experience and his survivor's guilt changed and tempered him into a badass steel.

So why do I tackle something that's already general knowledge about Batman? It's because this first issue by Tom King seems to have the makings of exploring why Batman is the hero Gotham needs/deserves. It's a theme that had been written countless times in the long 75 years run for the character in comics. It's something of a staple now too that in the hands of a capable writer who may have great insight to share, the story of examining why a flawed, human and determined crime fighter like Batman appeals to us (by the simple reason that he lacks superpowers and yet gets shit done anyway and does it so with style) can be a worthwhile read once more for both old and new fans who are reading this title. Sure, it's been done to death, but who says it can't happen again and be magical just the same? Say, you've read this issue yourself, and then you got to those crucial pages where the airplane is guaranteed to crash and burn straight into the heart of Gotham. Now, tell me honestly as you read it---

---did you ever doubt that Batman would be unable to pull off something awesome and save everyone at the last minute?

Superhero comics are a wish fulfillment designed to tell stories of heroism and vibrant hope where one man or woman's fierce dedication and strength of will can make a difference in a city often bereft of redemption in the first place. Since they operate that way, a hero saving the day is no strange feat and may even be formulaic and predictable. And so when Batman was able to swing the direction of the malfunctioning airplane by riding it like a badass (the mechanics of which you need to read for yourself so pick up the issue), readers like me are willing to suspend belief and just say, "Yes, of course he can do that shit. He's Batman!" 

It's the same sentiment that Jim Gordon has. He had rather comedic lines for this issue, the most notable of which is when he contacted Batman to ask where he is in the middle of all this commotion, and Batman confidently answers, "I'm on the plane." And Gordon's ready if not snarky response was, "Of course you're on the plane." He knows that Batman is already about to prevent the latest disaster as it strikes Gotham City. Of course he is! With an almost cynical scoff yet grateful relief, readers do the same thing too every time Batman rises up to the challenge and we don't have to pretend anymore that it's anything we can expect otherwise.

The last two pages has Batman about to crash the airplane on sea to hopefully avoid more casualties, but suddenly two flying caped crusaders came swooping in to lift it from under Batsy. His reaction was to call out Sups' name because who else can do that? He was mistaken, however, and instead came face-to-face with these amusingly clad champs who apparently are the new heroes for the city. They even named themselves appropriately in case to make the representation as clear and concise as possible.


This should be fun.

RECOMMENDED: 7/10