Batman #33 – Comic Review

Batman #33 marks the end of Zero Year, which has chronicled the Batman’s first year in Gotham City. The last battle in the Ridder’s war of the mind takes place here. If Batman cannot solve twelve riddles, a squadron of jets will destroy the centre of Gotham City. The clock is ticking. Batman #33 offers:

  • Tension filled artwork
  • A great value discussion: Zero year represents a personal struggle against pain
  • A suitable comic for students studying perseverance, resilience, and symbols of strength in comics.
  • A worth story to celebrate 75 years of Batman comics

A series of very close shots build tension in the early pages. The Riddler’s exotic and toxic green colours dominate this comic. Black pages also appear, which are important to Bruce Wayne’s backstory.

Scenes in this comic relies on very close shots at dramatic points to punctuate the story arc. Particularly when the ending approaches. This restricts what the reader can see, and adds to the tension. It is not until the end of the comic that the comic pages allow the artwork to flow widely across the page.

Green dominates the comic book. It’s the Riddler’s influence. Early on in the story, the Riddler plays a game with Batman. The colour of his green suit seems to flood the panels, saturating the air with neon green light, and even warping the colour of his eyes. Scenes where Commissioner Gordon stands outside in the bright afternoon sunlight contrast with their variety of colours.

It’s also worth noting the blackout. Two pages of the story are blacked out. They only have a small amount of dialog. They tie into Bruce Wayne’s backstory, which sets up the comic’s values.

Without his guardians – Commissioner Gordon, Lucius Fox, and Alfred – the Batman would be unable to confront the Riddler.

In a long speech delivered close to the finale, Bruce Wayne comments that zero represents nothingness. All throughout his conflict with Edward Nygma – The Green Suited Riddler – The double meanings of seemingly everyday and ordinary objects, names, and places has become clear many times.

Through Bruce’s complete backstory, the value of zero becomes more clear.

Lucius Fox and Commissioner James Gordon are heroic, and Alfred is a lifesaver to the Batman. There is no way that any of the Riddler’s plans could be foiled without these three men supporting Bruce. They are his guardians, and have a lot to teach him.

The comic values facing pain, rather than becoming numb to the world. Zero year becomes a symbol of the battle for identity and personal strength against pain. Batman becomes a symbol of strength.

A major secret in Batman’s past is revealed. The pain he went through after the murder of his parents reached a point so intense, he voluntarily sought electroshock therapy. His plan was to be rebooted. Like an appliance, the brain runs on electricity. Bruce almost went through with the therapy to reboot himself. To delete himself, and the pain as well.

He decided to remain Bruce Wayne at the last moment, and find the reason to keep fighting and living. Before he could articulate what he wanted, Bruce states he knew he needed something important: he called it the “crazy thing that keeps me from going crazy”. Many years later, the Batman arrived.

This is a story about identity, and symbols. The Riddler’s attempt to deprive Gotham city of light and technology – resetting it back to zero – is defeat. Batman’s fight across zero year symbolises the fight for identity and personal strength against giving up, and defeat, in the face of pain. The Batman became Bruce Wayne’s reason to keep going – a symbol of strength he could use to protect Gotham City.

It’s a fitting anniversary story to celebrate 75 years of Batman comics.

Batman #33 is published by DC Comics ($4.99 USD). Scott Snyder (W.) Greg Capullo (P.) Danny Miki (I.) FCO Plascencia (C.) Dezi Sienty (L.) Cover artwork by Capullo, Miki, and Plascencia.

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Batman Eternal #1 – Comic Review

A new, Batman comic shows The Batman standing in a torrent, lightning crashing behind him. In an unusual move, the ordinarily dark and shady Gotham City receives a new interpretation inside Batman Eternal #1. Trust is important. Professor Pyg flies through the air. And Jim Gordon faces a new challenge.

What Batman Eternal #1 offers:

  • A new look at Gotham City, and a new character for the Gotham City Police Department
  • Detailed art depicting Gotham City skyline, and a terrible train crash
  • A theme of trust: The Batman and Jim Gordon undoubtedly trust each other, and this connection receives some attention.

This review contains some minor spoilers.

The shining skyline of Gotham city is dotted with airships and tiny, glittering lights. A terrible subway train accident marks the comic’s halfway point

The opening pages start off by setting up a visual cliffhanger: Gotham City in danger. The Batman unable to help. The storyline shifts back in time, from the conclusion to the present day, and a great view of the Gotham City skyline appears. Airships, spotlights, and tiny glittering lights on the spires of skyscrapers appear.

The subway train crash is another pivotal moment in the art. It happens at about the halfway point,  and is core of the story: the moment that this comic hinges on. Just like in the the James Bond film Skyfall, a train crashes underground. Metal crumples, and cement pillars split apart.

Through the eyes of new character Jason Bard, Gotham city is reviewed and re-examined. Bard describes the lights that define Gotham’s character, rather than the shadows

Batman Eternal #1 opens by re-introducing Gotham city. Seen through the eyes of a first-time visitor, the city shapeshifts into something new for the audience. Jason Bard is a Lieutenant from Detroit. He thinks Metropoilis shimmers, like a star. Gotham shines, however. And not just any shininess: it emits blues, greens, and caution yellows.

I should add one more point: a page earlier, Gotham city was in flames, and then immediately we see it fine – just another ordinary night out in Gotham. The previous page, followed by a little note in Bard’s dialogue on caution lights creates a circle, linking this opening issue to the conclusion of the comic in the future.

But what’s important is the sense of Gotham City’s character coming to light through Bard’s interpretation, and an insight into Bard himself: He’s a man who sees light wherever he goes. It’s no wonder the Optimistic Jim Gordon recruited him to join the Gotham City Police Department.

The key antagonist is the vile Professor Pyg: the master of nonsense. He wears a plastic pig mask, flies a biplane inside a museum, and spouts absurd statements. Honestly, not the threatening. Even worse, he tries to run from the combined force of The Batman and Jim Gordon. Not smart.

An ethic that emerges quickly is protecting and safeguarding children. A large theme of this comic is trust: having The Batman and Jim Gordon trust each other depicts trust in a heroic light

Professor Pyg also chose to attack five kids, dosing them with whatever chemicals he uses to make his “Dollotrons”. Batman confronts the professor – he teaches the villain that he should not have drugged the children.

There is a strong moment for character, story, and themes when The Batman stays with Jim Gordon following the subway cars crashing into the station. Batman could have vanished at this point, and left the police and fire rescue teams to clean the mess. Instead, he offers to stay and support the Commissioner.

Gordon “This is the part where I turn away and then you’re gone, right?
The Batman “Not this time. I can stay”

The trust between Wayne and Gordon is a key point in this issue. Despite Gotham’s reputation as dark and shady, trust is shown as valuable and heroic in this Batman comic book.

Not a popular culture reference, but a link back to the Batman series also written by Scott Snyder: in an earlier issue of the “Zero Year” story arc, Bruce Wayne comments that the Gotham museum does not have an aviary wing. A sign outside the museum indicates an “aviation wing” is now open, however.

Batman Eternal #1 is published by DC Comics ($2.99 USD). Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV (W.) Ray Fawkes, John Layman (Consultant Writers.) Jason Fabok (A.) Brad Anderson (C.) Nick J. Napolitano (L.) Cover Artwork by Jason Fabok and Tomeau Morey.

Batman #27 – Comic Review

What Batman #27 Offers

Batman #27 is a part of a large story: an episode of the current Batman story arc called “Zero Year”.

The comic book itself divides its pages between retelling the Batman’s origins, and introducing more perspectives on The Batman from characters such as Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Barbara Gordon, and the Riddler.

These are valuable points of view. Particularly Alfred’s ideas.

Apart from a reflection on heroic symbols and their meaning, the comic entertains and continues a good story about The Batman. It’s a good comic for readers who are Batman fans or enjoy horror and crime, and superhero style stories.

The comic entertains. It has moments that are profound. Panels useful for older students appear. Teachers might draw on some of these for teaching vengeance and justice themes. Mostly, Batman #27 entertains though. This is not a flaw – the comic book entertains with a great story, cryptic riddles, and Batman references.

What Batman #27 offers:

  • A great super hero comic
  • Powerful and Detailed artwork
  • References to Batman comics history – The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel
  • Revenge and justice themes

Cast

The moment that Barbara Gordon – Batgirl – first saw the Dark Knight appears in this issue.

The Riddler threatens rather than jokes. Here he’s a mastermind. One step ahead of the The Batman, The Riddler executes his plans without wasting time. His character behaves like Ozymandias from Watchmen. There’s a sense of frustration – if only The Batman could find him, and stop this man in green and purple skyping insults and riddles.

Jim Gordon reflects on his early career in Gotham. Hounded by more experienced officers and mistreated. Ignored and shunned for being an honest cop in a room full of men up to the neck in bribes. He reflects on the ordeal the senior staff inflicted on him.

Art

Inside is a sequence of panels where Gotham’s streets bathe in sepia light.Later, The Batman sits on a wire in the rain. Behind him there is lightning. He’s a shadow. It’s a thrill to see this reference to The Dark Knight Returns.

At one point, The Batman is on the run from the police. The colours are toxic, and painful to look at. It’s not until Jim Gordon arrives to pull the Batman from Gotham river’s black water that the colours lose their toxic shades. They change to sombre tones of purple and orange. The water changes grey. What’s reinforced by this chameleon-like shift from harsh to warm colour is that The Batman can trust Jim Gordon.

Themes, Ethics, Values

Then Alfred reflects on his own experience with the Batman. He raises a great discussion about the power of symbols, and about the value of justice, hope, and inspiration over scars, darkness, and revenge.

He tell Bruce Wayne that in his experience, symbols of punishment and rage don’t last. The Batman needs to more than just punishment. Instead, Alfred cautions Bruce that everyone can see what he is doing. Some of those watching want to help. He needs to recognise this, and to understand that a symbol – a heroic symbol – inspires the best in people and lasts. It does not fall apart at the seams. It does not wither away and decay.

Batman #27 is published by DC Comics ($3.99 USD). Scott Snyder (W.) Greg Capullo (P.) Danny Miki (I.) FCO Plascencia (C.) Steve Wands (L.) Cover artwork by Capullo and Plascencia

I began this review stating the comic entertains the reader, and has only a few moments where themes of revenge and justice are discussed. After re-reading the comic book, a deeper meaning might be nested inside a story that entertains on the surface.

Reading a single issue, however, does not give enough detail in this case. Reading all of the “Zero year” issues, either as single comic books or collected into a graphic novel, will give a big-picture perspective. More meaning might emerge.

For example, there is the yellow moon references laced through Batman #27.

There are spoilers below, so read the list below with caution:

  • The comic opens in Tokyo, 1946. A woman in front of a yellow moon sings a song about “Pale, pale moonlight”
  • On the next page, Batman is caught in a spotlight the same colour and shape as the yellow moon on the previous page.
  • Towards the end of the comic, Batman picks up a yellow, military helmet with “Tokyo Moon” printed on it.

If there is a pattern to these cryptic clues, I can’t see it yet. If anyone has a theory or idea, please leave a comment.

Comics Review – The Wake #2

The Wake: Part Two

Under the ocean off the south slope of Alaska, a seafloor oil drilling rig houses an ancient secret in a containment tank. For now, a predator is restrained, and a team of experts study it, and speculate on this creatures origins. While they discuss where the creature came from, and how it fits into folklore and mythology, The comic book jumps along a timeline – the distant past, the distant future, and back to the present.
Eventually, we see each team member retire to rest for the night. As they sit up late, attending to their studies, vivid hallucinations begin. Dr. Lee Archer listens to the call of the creature, which is similar to whale song. She makes a breakthrough, analysing and scrutinising the sound, and then confronts an unexpected visitor.

Art

The artwork is typically moody and shadowed evoking a solid, horror atmosphere. It’s what a reader would expect from a horror comic. Vertigo comics aim to defy conventions, however, and what makes the art original is the blend of light and dark.

During hallucination scenes, a fecund garden springs to life complete with flowers and summer sunlight. While the folklorist from Brown University recounts the mythology of mermaids and sirens, statues, artworks, and epic images appear around him, bringing his words to life in a gold light.

In the distant past, there’s a scene of intense battle steeped in blood and salt water. It’s definitely for mature readers. The scene has a stunning depiction of a giant shark captured in a great sequence of panels.

Characters

Dr Lee Archer has a tormented past. She dose not reveal anything to the other characters. The more insightful cast members guess, based on her silence and harsh body language, that she is thinking darkly. We see her thoughts played out and there is a sense of dread in the artwork. The comic panels slide under the water as she does. There’s only a glimpse of what she’s seen under the surface.

Leonard “Meeks” Meeker is a poacher who captures endangered sea life, and designs elaborate traps for deep sea creatures. He’s unapologetic for his poaching, and offers to kill the creature if necessary.

Themes, Ethics, Values.

The damage caused by high intensity sound, and the threat of species extinction brought on by poaching are referenced. The comic raises awareness of these problems. Dr. Lee criticises her boss for his role in a project which used high frequency sound as a defense, and resulted in the death of several marine mammals.

This project, the S-net, is similar to a Navy project that caused the beaching of whales near the Bahamas in 2000. The National Resources Defense Council outlines that the sound intensity – over 140 decibels – was too powerful for the marine mammals in the area. The result of the test was the whale beaching. The whales had significant tissue damage to their eyes and ears.

Dr. Archer also critical of Meeks for his role in pushing species closer to extinction. The World Wildlife Federation has advocated for the protection of endangered marine species – particularly turtles and whales. As a scientists who works with whales, it makes sense for her character to be critical of his illegal poaching.

 A Bit more on The Wake #2

Another science fiction scene appears at the end of the issue – the Apollo 11 landing module on the Lunar surface. The Earth’s moon, which influence the ocean’s tides, is in trouble. Another layer of mystery is introduced, leaving a cliffhanger ending. A strong horror comic book, with select science fiction themes.

The Wake #2 is published by Vertigo Comics. Writer: Scott Snyder. Artists: Sean Murphy Colourist. Matt Hollingsworth. Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher.

Comics Review – Superman Unchained #1

Superman Unchained #1: The Leap

What are Superman’s greatest principals? His strong morality and sense of optimism? Or his ability to punch a falling space station the size of an apartment block away from a crowded city?

Superman Unchained has all of these facets.  like a primer on Superman with a good story, and compelling artwork. Superman’s voice sounds right. There’s action, and it’s realistic, not forced. What I mean is Superman is a character who is indestructible, and has impossible strength; is fast, and has powerful sensory abilities. But he has limits.

Eight heavy satellites falling to the Earth is a problem – one of them is a giant space station. Superman is fast, but only fast enough to reach seven out of the eight. Superman still has to brace, and concentrate as he catches the giant space station. When the oxygen in the station runs out, he can’t speak, and probably has trouble hearing since there’s no air to carry the sound.

The bottom line: His abilities have limits.

That’s what I enjoyed most about this comic book. Superman may be an everlasting cultural icon, but he has limits.

What makes Superman even more human – drawing Clark Kent to the front of his personality – is a story Superman tells about what he calls “The Colder Leap”

Back home in Smallville, he would jump down a silo with his friends into a haystack. The jump was 30ft, possibly more.

30ft is like jumping from the second story of an apartment building to the ground. This little robot does it. Before he could fly, before he was Superman, Clark was already leaping from tall buildings. The Colder Leap story was a strong human element to add to Superman’s character.

The Art

The largest aspect of the art in this comic book is the fold out page. I would love to pour over the detail rendered on it, but the page is unwieldy. I did enjoy that the page captures the size and impact of Superman’s character. The poses Superman takes throughout the comic are suitably epic. This fold out page was made inconvenient, however, by sticky and stretchy tape, which crumpled the pages around it.

The graphic novel edition will most likely solve this problem.

Further, some panel arrangements felt flooded by text. Thankfully the writing is good, but the visuals were ultimately cluttered by it. Colours and inking don’t let the comic down and are consistently bright and suitably brooding.

I thought the best scenes are Superman flying through space. A good slow zoom sequence flows from panel to panel: space filled with stars is followed by space with a thin red blur across it, like a comet, before the final zoom, which reveals the red blur to be Superman’s cape.

A sinister looking new villain is unveiled, and their design is electric and powerful. Lois Lane has aggressive body language with dismissive, condescending, and rude facial expressions. I think that is her character, however I thought it was a one-dimensional and simplified introduction to Lois in the new comic book.

A bit more on Superman Unchained #1

Science fiction concepts are fun to read: robots with tungsten carbide arms designed to crush space rocks. Lex Luthor, however, is interested in making a “new solar chemical fuel”. Luthor either loses some credibility with this vague comment, or he was speaking down to Superman, but it’s not clear. Superman Unchained offers a compelling mystery to solve, and strong character voices.

Superman Unchained #1 is published by DC comics. Writer: Scott Snyder. Penciler: Jim Lee. Inker: Scott Williams. Colouring: Alex Sinclair. Lettering: Sal Cipriano.

 

 

 

 

Comics Review – Batman #19

First Thoughts on Batman #19

The comic has shock cover art, which you can see below. Bruce Wayne vowed never to use guns after his parents murder. It’s a good hook.

For a comic that has good references to chemistry, and good science fiction, I was surprised to read the phrase “Mystical Clay” in this issue.

It’s not a spoiler to mention the Batman villain Clayface makes a monstrous appearance. Who is Clayface? A man named Basil Karlo was a failed actor – the “Mystical Clay” gave him super-human powers. He can  shape shift into people and objects. The catch: he’s not human, and now is a golem-like lump of clay with giant, jagged teeth.

Mourning for Batman’s son continues. There are several references to death in the story and art. Funerals and Smoke for example.

The comic is another great segment to the new Batman story by Scott Snyder.

The art of Batman #19

Bright colours in a gothic Batman comic are at odds, and look terrible if badly handled. They work well when FCO Plascencia and Greg Capullo capture daylight scenes, and the brighter days from Bruce Wayne’s memories, however.

There’s a new villain named The Reaper who attacks Batman and Robin in a flashback. He sports a sleek, metal, Terminator skull mask on black cloth with a pair of scythe gadgets that conceal a pair of guns.

The design seems deliberately overdrawn, like a comic character from an earlier decade. The effect is that this sequence feels as though it took place back in time.

The Reaper has a van filled with poisoned flowers. Batman and Robin foil his plan to deliver the flowers to the funeral of a rival crime family. As they walk away from the upturned van, they pass through a veil of white smoke. A close up on Damian Wayne presents a panel filled with that smoke.

This use of white smoke gives a sense that Damian is fading away. It’s a good method to tell the story of the lost son with art.

Earlier in the comic, smoke is used again – and again the smoke represents a sense of loss. This is a *spoiler* though. You can highlight the sentences below if you want to read it but be warned:

  • Commissioner Gordon tries to stop Bruce Wayne from robbing a Gotham Bank. Bruce fires a gun, which is a problem as I mentioned at the start of the review, but even worse for Gordon who sees a man and a hero he admires turning to crime. He has lost his confidence in Gotham city’s greatest philanthropist 

A bit more on Batman #19

This issue is a great story about deception, which is works for a super hero detective, and for the mystery genre.

Batman’s mourning continues to dominate – of course Bruce will continue to carry the loss. It’s a part of the Batman myth now. Bruce Wayne refuses to attend a funeral for a colleague formerly employed at Wayne Enterprises, Brian Wade, for obvious reasons. This makes a total of two references to funerals in the comic.

The writing and art continue to make this a great example of super-hero comics.

Batman #19 is published by DC comics

Comics Review – Batman #18

Gotham City has two prisons. The big flashy and well known lock up for comic criminals is Arkham Asylum, which has featured prominently in several Batman television shows, movies, and videogames. The second prison, rarely mentioned beyond the comic book’s sphere of influence, is Black Gate Penitentiary.

Harper Row, a high-school aged electrical engineer first appearing in Batman #7 (March 2012, 1 year ago), calls Black Gate “Dad’s”. It’s where her father is serving a jail sentence.

Batman #18, written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV – alongside their extensive pencil, inking, lettering, and colouring team of Andy Kubert, Sandra Hope, Alex Maleev, Brad Anderson, Nick J. Napolitano, and Carlos M.Mangual – continues the Dark Knight’s story.

Batman #18

Between story arcs, contemporary Batman comics seem to have a rest stop. An issue that takes place from a different perspective than The Batman‘s.

It’s not unusual, and it is in fact welcome, to have a story told about The Batman – usually from a character following the Dark Knight‘s movements. These kinds of stories help to build up the symbolic, legendary aspect of The Batman. Seen from the eyes of anyone else, The Batman could be a force of nature, and not a man in a costume.

Unfortunately, Batman #18 does not serve this purpose. Batman talks too much: the voice behind the character does not sound right, and it feels like reading the angry antics of some other man in a cape. Not The Batman, who acts, speaks, and moves with silent precision.

Of course, this is a deliberate choice. Considering the events that have spun out of Batman Incorporated #8 (March 2013) – another title starring Batman, which DC comics publishes – Bruce Wayne has a reason to fall apart, and it would be a spoiler to write about what happened in detail. Suffice it to say, Harper Row’s observations are correct – he is emotional, and careless.

Then there is Harper Row herself – who comes close to being a Mary Sue, which is an idealised character, implausibly talented with an “unusual or dramatic” backstory, and “endearing” flaws according to Television Tropes and Idioms.com.

First Harper was an electrical engineer, and is now creating gadgets, swinging from rooftops, and practicing martial arts. There seems to be nothing she can’t do, including preaching to the Batman about the value of resolve in times of crisis. For these traits, the character feels bothersome and forced

What works in her favour, however, is Harper’s approach to violence: she does not attack suspects and pursue criminals, hoping The Batman will notice her.

She resorts to violence only when things she values are under threat. Further, she stands up to bullies – in this case, her father, who makes homophobic remarks about his son (her brother) Cullen Row.

Her character design looks excellent – purple and aqua blue punk hair highlights her non-conformity.

There is a variety of different art styles in the comic. Shadowy parts of the comic look suitably gloomy, and the clean, bright, and colourful style works well for the scenes in Wayne tower, during the light of day. A good step for the expanding Batman story.

Batman #18 Variant Cover by Andy Kubert. Published by DC comics.