I’ve been sitting here for an hour trying to think up an opening line here, but everything I’ve come up with has been a bit of a stretch.
Groan if you must, but it’s been a long hour, and I’m not taking that one back. You’ll just have to deal with. And deal with it quickly, because it’s Thursday night, and that means it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Procrastinatorial Comics Reviews!
Here’s what I got this week…
…and here’s what I thought about ’em!
Batman: The Brave and the Bold #13: I’m just going to come right out and say it: This is one of the greatest Batman team-up stories that I have ever read, and for those of you just joining us, I’ve read quite a few.
For starters, Sholly Fisch has jam-packed this thing with characters. The story revolves around other heroes picking up the slack when Batman gets injured, and by the time it’s all said and done, it’s included six super-villains, six guest stars (including a three-page opener starring Angel & the Ape, a duo that I will never, ever get tired of reading comics about), and cameo appearances from another twelve characters! But even with all that, it doesn’t fall into the easy trap of getting bogged down or cluttered; the storytelling’s just so well done that each character’s two or three pages in the spotlight works as a chapter unto itself. It’s a textbook example of how fun ensemble storytelling should be done.
As for Robert Pope, as much as the animated series tie-in books have always gone for a “house style” that matches what’s on TV, he really deserves a hand here. Not just for pulling off the nifty, Dick Sprang-ish character designs from the show, but for combining them all into distinctive ersatz Batman costumes that use the characters’ existing bits of flair to be distinct and carry across the humor as well. And considering he’s doing this for a grand total of sixteen characters by the time the book’s over, that’s saying something.
It’s absolutely excellent stuff, and it’s exactly what I was looking for from this book when it started last year.
Batman: Streets of Gotham #8: This one, on the other hand, is pretty close to being the platonic ideal of a lousy Batman story.
Actually, that’s not true; Dustin Nguyen’s art is moody, expressive, and absolutely fantastic as always. Other than that, though, it’s a mess, and it’s largely thanks to one thing that happens right on page five: Batman offers a tacit approval of a murderer that’s killing criminals. I think it’s fair to say that Batman as a character is open to different interpretations, and that this is, in fact, what makes him great, but there are certain things that are pretty immutable, and Batman–any Batman–being okay with murder is one of them. This is Bad Characterization.
And just to give you an idea of exactly how bad it is, this month’s Manhunter co-feature opens with Batman telling her that killing a criminal will not be tolerated. In other words, Mike Benson’s characterization of Batman is so far off the mark that it is contradicted by another writer in the same issue.
And that’s just the start of the problems: Batman uses pointless gadgetry to accomplish something that he could’ve done with a modicum of detective skill, there’s a dated, out of place reference to Pamela Anderson, and there’s no dramatic tension whatsoever. Since we already have Batman’s endorsement of the killer, the reader is given no reason to want him to solve this case, and everything that happens after (Batman chatting up a hooker for two pages and then chatting up another hooker for another two pages) is just going through the motions. It’s an issue that feels like someone’s waving around cardboard cut-outs of characters that don’t really seem to have anything to do with anything else that happens, and the fact that it’s a two-issue fill-in before Paul Dini comes back to finish an apparently complex story about Mr. Zsasz only magnifies that effect.
Andreyko and Haun’s Manhunter backup, though, is fantastic.
Joe the Barbarian #1: Here is everything you need to know about this comic in three handy bullet points:
1. It is written by Grant Morrison with very, very nice art by Sean Murphy.
2. The first issue costs one dollar.
3. It has a page that includes Batman, Optimus Prime, Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, Lobo, Santa Claus, Captain Picard and a dinosaur. This is not a joke.
If the purpose of a review is to help you decide whether or not to buy something, I think my work here is done.
Starman #81: I’m not going to lie, folks: I went into this one ready to hate it.
I’m always a little leery of creators returning to the comics that they defined–and that defined them–after long absences. It’s always a tricky proposition that sees them inevitably compared to versions of themselves that have the added benefit of nostalgia, and more often than not, whatever set of circumstances allowed them to catch lightning in a bottle the first time around just isn’t there. Yes, it works out occasionally–John Ostrander’s return to Suicide Squad and Grant Morrison’s all-too brief second shot at JLA come to mind–but for every one that does, there are plenty that just don’t, and whether it’s fair or not, they tend to taint what was good just by existing.
Throw in the fact that, with Cry For Justice, James Robinson is responsible for the book that has my early vote for being the worst comic of the decade, and expectations were at an all-time low for his return to the book that’s defined his career. But maybe it’s because my expectations were so low that I actually found this one to be a pleasant surprise. There are a couple of weird stumbles here and there (the metatextual reference to the “Talking With David” stories was about as much of a groaner as you could get without him actually saying “THIS… is our BLACKEST NIGHT!”) but overall, it reads like what it says it is on the cover: Another issue of Starman, albeit one of the weird crossover tie-ins that the book occasionally found itself roped into when Jack Knight wasn’t either off romping around space for three years or talking about Bakelite for 20 pages at a time.
Like those issues, Robinson uses the elements of the crossover as the framework to do detailed character work (in this case on Hope O’Dare and the Shade), which comes off a little weird in this case because these characters don’t have a book in which to build from after the advancement here, nor have they had one for almost ten years now. But it’s far more solid than I was expecting it to be, and while the prose might be purple as all hell, it’s Starman and hat sort of goes with the territory. In other words, this issue may not recapture what made Starman one of the best super-hero comics of the ’90s, but it doesn’t break anything either, and that’s sort of an achievement in itself.
I have to wonder, though, and I mean this as genuine curiosity and not a veiled criticism: What’s Peter Snejbjerg doing that he couldn’t come back and draw this one? I guess if you wanted to get sassy about it, you could say that he’s doing whatever it is that kept Will Pfeifer and David and Alvarro Lopez from coming back for the “resurrected’ Catwoman issue, Jerry Ordway from coming back for Power of Shazam, and Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan from doing the upcoming Question tie-in, but with Robinson writing it and a cover by Tony Harris, it seems weird that they wouldn’t get the artist who drew such a huge chunk of the book, especially when he was doing work for DC as recently as five months ago.
Wolverine: Weapon X #9:
I fucking love Jason Aaron. That is all.
And that’s the week. As always, if you’d like to ask me about anything I read this week–like Incredible Hulk’s awesomely bug-nuts crazy “Fall of the Hulks” tie-in–feel free to do so in the comments section below.