One of the universal truths that we have acknowledged time and time again here on the ISB is this:
You can never have too many ninjas.
Yes, as the presence of my sloppy lasso-tool panel-cropping will attest, I’m keeping the Internet’s Most Anticlimactic Comics Reviews going for yet another week! Let’s get to it with a few of the comics I read from this week’s stack!
Batman and Robin #10: Yeah yeah, I know that every time this book comes out, I rave about it to the point where I’m considering campaigning for reform that would allow me to legally get married to it, but seriously, the fact that something this good is coming out this often is one of the best things going on in comics right now.
I’ve said it before about the Morrison run–specifically Black Glove–but these feel like the Batman stories I’ve been waiting my entire life to read. The stuff that he’s doing here–secret passages, hidden clues, a Batman legacy that stretches back into the history of the Waynes–is almost perfectly designed to appeal to the kid in me that gets thoroughly caught up in these big, sweeping plots that fit the larger-than-life scale of the Batman. Don’t get me wrong, I assure you that I like the idea of Batman as a street-level vigilante as much as anyone else, but the elements Morrison’s been doing with this book draw on this sense of wonder and intrigue that–particularly in the case of the Wayne ancestors and the secret secret passages below Wayne Manor–feel like the best parts of the Silver Age, but done with consummate skill.
And it is skillfully done; not just in the big concept stuff that’s set up here for the Return of Bruce Wayne, but in pure character work, which is just perfect. Damian’s sad “If my father returns… we can’t be Batman and Robin anymore, can we?” is a great turning point for the arc that’s been going since he was introduced, and his argument with Talia is fantastic. Her dialogue is so incredibly dismissive, both in referring to Dick and Alfred as “the circus oaf and his butler,” especially in the way it comes through when she says “crimefighter” like it’s the nastiest word in the language. And then there’s the fact that she actually identifies Batman as a crimefighter, not as a “detective” or even “vigilante.” It’s an archaic term that’s fallen out of fashion, but Morrison doesn’t shy away from the things that make comics comics, and that’s the true joy of his super-hero work.
As to the art, I’m not sure I’ve read anything Andy Clarke’s done before, but he knocks it right out of the park in this issue. The moodiness, the angles he picks for establishing shots, everything just looks so nice, and his Alfred is fantastic. There’s a great shot of him quirking his eyebrow that has just the right air of slightly smarmy theatricality to it, and then the lurid interest on his face when he talks about Thomas Wayne’s devil-worshipping makes for a wonderful touch of comedy to the whole thing. He does an excellent job, and following up behind Cameron Stewart, that’s not an easy thing to pull off.
Again, this is no surprise to anyone who’s been reading this blog, but these comics really are that good, and I just can’t get enough of ’em.
PunisherMax #5: And speaking of things that I’ve gone on and on about, this issue closes out Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon’s first arc on PunisherMax, and brother, does it ever. I won’t belabor the point too much, as I went through most of what I’m still loving about this comic last month–the brutality of Dillon’s fight scenes, the envelope-pushing of Aaron’s scripts–but the fact that they’re able to bring it to such a viscerally satisfying conclusion that leads into the next arc is an achievement all on its own.
Earlier this week, I wrote an article where I talked about the difficulties creators have had in establishing recurring villains for the Punisher, but the enmity with the Kingpin actually goes back to the early days of the first ongoing series under writer Mike Baron. It makes perfect sense–the ultimate embodiment of Organized Crime against the ultimate embodiment of Vengeance Against Crime–but it never quite seemed to fit, for the simple reason that the Kingpin doesn’t “belong” to the Punisher like he belongs to Daredevil, or even Spider-Man. Purely by virtue of who he fights, the Marvel Universe Kingpin is a super-villain, and as such he just outclasses the Punisher, which is actually where those Baron stories go, and what makes them so key in understanding how Frank Castle works in the Marvel Universe.
Cut to 25 years later, though, and it’s a different story: The Punisher–especially the MAX version that Garth Ennis spent so much time cultivating–is completely unstoppable, and the creation of the MAX Kingpin has complimented him perfectly: Just as ruthless, just as brutal, and–as Aaron beautifully sets up in this issue–just as lost in his own goals as Frank is. The shot of Frank laying on the floor, beaten nearly to death, realizing that he’s lost sight of the reason that he’s doing all this because the vengeance itself has become his purpose–let alone the fact that he just killed a man who was essentially doing the same thing, engaging in brutality and bloodshed to provide for his family–it’s just a note-perfect look at the character and what makes him work.
Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki #1: Okay folks, Confession Time: Despite my love of all things Capcom, I actually had no idea who Ibuki was before I sat down to read this issue. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to Street Fighter, my love isn’t exactly equal to my skill, so I actually haven’t played that many SF games since the era of the Dreamcast and all-night Marvel vs. Capcom sessions with my pals.
So why grab the comic about a character I don’t have an attachment to? Well, I haven’t exactly made a secret of my affection for Udon’s Street Fighter comics–especially the four-issue Sakura series, which, if you haven’t read it, contains pro wrestling, a hot-dog eating contest refereed by a Chaigman Kaga-esque E. Honda and Dan Hibiki–and it’s on the strength of those that I ordered this one back when it was solicited, and it is a hoot. It may not have the zaniness of Sakura, but I’m a total sucker for any fun, super-heroic action in a high school setting, and Jim Zubkavich and Omar Dogan deliver that by the truckload. It’s engaging, it’s zippy, it’s–as you might expect–heavy on the fights, and it blends the world of ninja training and text messaging better than any other comic I’ve read. It’s a hoot, and it’s well worth picking up.
SWORD #5: And finally, with this issue, the ISB mourns the passing of another great series canceled before its time.
It’s no secret that the “Cosmic Marvel” outer-space stuff that Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been doing for the past few years have been some of Marvel’s best and most underrated comics, and SWORD was not only the perfect bridge between those and the rest of the Earth-bound Marvel universe, it was also a brilliantly engaging book in its own right. For a universe that’s been using aliens as a plot point since about three months into its existence, it was a brilliant concept, and for evidence of that, you need look no further than the fact that this was a book that contained both Death’s Head and ADAM-X THE X-TREME.
And aside from just playing with the toys–which this issue in particular did very, very well–Kieron Gillen’s scripts were able to capture the sense of the Earth in the Marvel Universe: constantly under attack, but still the planet that fought off Galactus three or four times and is the home of the Sorcerer Supreme of the entire dimension. And it was beautifully complimented by Steven Sanders’ art, with its dynamic, distinctive takes on familiar characters and great designs for new ones, too.
It was good stuff–and if you haven’t read it, you really should, as it’s a great example of what talented people can do with the obscure, ADAM-X THE X-TREMEy bits of the Marvel Universe–and I’m sad to see it go. But Gillen and Sanders are more than talented enough to land on their feet and come out with something just as good on their next shot, and I’ll be there to read it.
And that’s the week! As always, if you’d like to discuss anything from this week’s comics, like the great, well-structured finale of Dark X-Men, feel free to leave a comment below!