Review: Batman Vol. 4 – Zero Year: Secret City by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Zero YearFrank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s BATMAN: YEAR ONE was a seminal work in the Caped Crusader’s history, which still resonates today, and remains one of my favourite Batman stories. But YEAR ONE is almost 30 years old now, and comics continuity is fluid, punctuated with spasmodic rehashes of identical concepts for each supposed ‘new generation’ of fans. ZERO YEAR marks Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s shot at ‘redefining’ the Batman origin story – and this collection, subtitled SECRET CITY, is the first part of their magnum opus, which immediately stands apart from the multitude of origin stories that have littered the Dark Knight’s existence. Miller and Mazzucchelli’s YEAR ONE was dark, grimy and gritty –Snyder and Capullo’s is not as overwhelmingly bleak, and strives to be more epic in scope.

BATMAN: ZERO YEAR – SECRET CITY introduces us to a decimated Gotham City; overgrown, its subway system under water. Even Batman is feeling the effects; our first introduction to him is iconic, posed on his motorcycle in a battered costume; sleeves torn, cape replaced by a backpack stocked with survival gear. The story then immediately shifts backwards again, to five months earlier, where a vigilante Bruce Wayne – yet to adopt the cape and cowl, instead utilizing fundamental disguises – has confronted the Red Hood, the madman who has been terrorizing the city through random acts of violence. We learn that Bruce has only recently returned to Gotham, but hasn’t yet revealed himself: he’s still legally dead, and wants to keep it that way: he doesn’t believe Bruce Wayne has a role to play in Gotham’s resurgence; the city can’t be saved through the ideologies of a billionaire.

SECRET CITY spotlights Bruce’s skirmishes with the RED HOOD, and his gradual implementation of the Batman identity.  Writer Scott Snyder excels at capturing Bruce’s young, petulant voice – he’s not the confident veteran we read week in and out; he’s inexperienced and unprepared, but cocky. He’s a man on a mission, without the means or the mentality to accomplish his objective, and here we see him fail multiple times; one of those failures is particularly brutal, as the Red Hood and his crew tear into Bruce and vandalize his home. Snyder’s pitch perfect script is wonderfully rendered by Scott Capullo, who must now rank as one of Batman’s finest artists. He doesn’t just perfectly capture those iconic action set pieces – the quieter moments are rendered with equal expertise. Artist Rafael Albuquerque is also on hand for the shorter anecdotes at the end of this volume, which demonstrate a teenage and twenty-something Bruce Wayne learning essential lessons that’ll stick with him through his crime-fighting career.

BATMAN: ZERO YEAR – SECRET CITY is a fine start to start to Batman’s new origin, and ends, as you’d expect with a cliff-hanger, which potentially revitalizes one of the villain’s from Batman’s rogues gallery. It’s the perfect jumping-on point for newcomers, while long-time readers will find this origin tale explores a very different side of the Batman mythos. At this stage in my comics-reading life, I’ve read several origin tales, some of which live long in comics’ continuity, while others quickly fade. There is no chance of the latter in this case.

Review: Forever Evil by Geoff Johns & David Finch

Forever EvikFOREVER EVIL is the equivalent of a Michael Bay blockbuster, and I say that without a trace of contempt. There’s nothing subtle about it. There’s no real emotional hook. It’s crude storytelling – but it’s rollicking. If you’re after non-stop action, double-crosses and lots of explosions, look no further; FOREVER EVIL is a heck of a ride.

The Justice League is dead.

Of course, they’re not, and veteran readers don’t expect that to last, but that’s the status quo introduced by Geoff Johns and David Finch, and things immediately get worse from there. The Crime Syndicate from Earth-3 have arrived on Earth – evil analogues of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman – and are intent on ruling it through violence. With the Justice League out of the picture, there is no one to stand in the way of them – except for Lex Luthor, who bands together a motley crew of villains and becomes Earth’s only resisting force. The Injustice League is the planet’s only hope.

FOREVER EVIL is very much a Lex Luthor story. In his mind, the arrival of The Crime Syndicate validates his incessant claims that humans can’t reply solely on aliens and super-powered beings to save them. Luthor doesn’t see himself as a villain; he’s a proponent for humanity, whose advocacy boarders on the insane. Teamed with his imperfect clone of Superman, Bizarro, as well as Captain Cold, Black Adam, Black Manta, Sinestro and more, Luthor combats his superior foes with gusto, which leads to some iconic moments, many of which fall into spoiler territory; suffice to say, the battle between Sinestro and Power Ring will live long in the memory; so too Ultraman’s fight with Black Adam.

While I’ve never been a great admirer of David Finch’s artwork – entirely artistic bias rather than a slight on his ability – he is a fine artist for this project, and John plays to his strengths, allowing Finch to dynamically display the countless skirmishes. Character expressions rarely vary beyond furrowed brows, but hey, it’s the end of the world, they’re entitled to be stressed. Inker Richard Friend, colorist Sonia Oback and letterer Rob Leigh all collaborate nicely to make FOREVER EVIL altogether very pleasing on the eye.

Johns leaves several threads hanging, plots that’ll undoubtedly be picked up on moving forward – but FOREVER EVIL wraps up with closure rarely evidenced in an ‘event’ series. Again, no spoilers, but the looming status quo will be very interesting indeed following Luthor’s decisions here. That’s the thing about comics – they are fluid. There is never time to enjoy what was; we’ve already moved on. FOREVER EVIL is a fun romp, which won’t resonate eternally, but is a thrilling ride while it lasts.

My thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for providing a review copy.

Review: Batgirl / Robin – Year One

ImageBATGIRL/ROBIN: YEAR ONE is a comic book tour de force, and a wonderful example of how poignant and fun super-hero stories can be.

Unburdened by decades of continuity, which has become increasingly convoluted with each passing year and occasional reboot, writers Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon take Batgirl and Robin back to their roots, retelling their first adventures as Batman’s sidekicks, and dealing with all the emotional and physical consequences of their occupation. Beatty and Dixon explore the mentality needed to overcome impossible odds and face dastardly villains; not always with relentless solemnity, sometimes with a smile and the occasional glimpse of overconfidence. The writers treat Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon as the adolescents they are; inexorably determined to succeed, but flawed because of their youth and lack of experience. They aren’t perfect heroes; they’re kids, wearing coloured costumes, just trying to do the best they can for the mission, and to impress Gotham City’s caped crusader.

Marcos Martin and Javier Pulido handle the art, aided by the colour work of Lee Loughridge and Javier Rodriguez, and combined their style is reminiscent of the Batman animated series from the nineties. If anything, their artwork belies some of the darker themes that resonate throughout the narrative, but it is never anything less than highly effective, and always stylish.

Super-hero comics aren’t for everyone, but if you’re looking for a taster, you won’t find a collection worthy of higher praise than BATGIRL/ROBIN: YEAR ONE.

ISBN: 9781401240332
Format: Paperback (258mm x 171mm x 15mm)
Pages: 494
Imprint: DC Comics
Publisher: DC Comics
Publish Date: 2-Jul-2013
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Batman Noir – Eduardo Risso: The Deluxe Edition

Batman NoirBATMAN NOIR: EDUARDO RISSO: THE DELUXE EDITION is a fantastic collection of stories featuring the Argentinian’s phenomenal artwork with his long-time collaborator, writer Brian Azzarello. The stories have been stripped of their original colour and are presented in stunning, stylistic black and white. These are dark tales starring the Caped Crusader and several of his nemeses, including the Joker, Killer Croc and the Penguin – as well as few new creations. Azzarello and Risso present Gotham City at its darkest; and it’s never looked better.

There are four stories in this collection. The flagship storyline is BROKEN CITY, in which Batman investigates the murder of Elizabeth Lupo, a wannabe gangster looking to make his mark in a city brimming with freaks in make-up and dressed in spandex. Azzarello’s dialogue is pitch-perfect noir; Batman’s thoughts are reminiscent of a private eye’s voiceover in a film, and the plot is as intricate as any stellar prose crime story. It stands as one of my favourite Batman stories of all time – and I’ve been reading Batman comics for over fifteen years.

The other significant tale is FLASHPOINT: BATMAN – KNIGHT OF VENGEANCE, which takes place in an alternate reality where it wasn’t Bruce Wayne’s parents who died on that fateful night in crime alley all those years ago; rather, it was Bruce. As a consequence, and thereby demonstrating the analogousness of the universe, Thomas Wayne takes on the mantle of The Batman, and we witness how that one alteration to the universe creates a horrible chain of events that are evocative of Bruce’s world.  It’s a twisted tale, and the villain’s reveal left me with my mouth agape – truly.

The other two stories are much shorter, and therefore not quite as resonant, but still serviceable anecdotes of The Dark Knight’s war on crime; bite-size chunks of raw entertainment.

BATMAN NOIR: EDUARDO RISSO: THE DELUXE EDITION is the perfect collection for a reader of crime novels looking to delve into the world of comic books. No prior knowledge is essential; just jump in and be awed by Risso’s stylistic artwork and Azzarrello’s top-notch narration.  This collection is evidence of two frequent collaborators operating at the top of their game.