Review: Batman Vol 5, Zero Year – Dark City

Year ZeroThe second volume of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Zero Year” underscores the drastic tonal shift away from the seminal Batman origin story by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, “Year One.” It is the perfect example of how malleable the Dark Knight is: soak him in noir or drop him in a dystopian sprawling epic, it doesn’t matter – under the helm of a great creative team, the character will thrive.

BATMAN: ZERO YEAR – DARK CITY presents The Riddler as we’ve never seen him before; a truly formidable foe, who has decimated Gotham City and rendered it his playground. Although Gotham City was similarly destroyed almost two decades ago in “No Man’s Land,” that tale starred a veteran Batman, whereas Snyder and Capullo present us with a Caped Crusader at the very beginning of his career; without all the gadgets, without the know-how, without the allies; whose resilience is being tested for the first time in ways he could never have envisioned.

Long-time readers will enjoying bearing witness to the solidification of relationships between Batman, Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox – indeed, all three play a key role in fighting back against The Riddler’s nefarious schemes – but Alfred Pennyworth gets the best moment in DARK CITY’s final pages, in a moment that we’ve seen before, but has never been executed more potently; his vision for what Bruce Wayne’s life could – and possibly should – have been is incredibly heartfelt, underlining the importance of the character.

There are plenty of ‘cool’ moments in DARK CITY; our first glimpse at the inaugural Batmobile; Batman facing off against a pack of lions (seriously); Batman arriving in the nick of time on a motorcycle; a face-off with The Riddler, surrounded by lasers. By now we’ve run out of superlatives for Greg Capullo’s work – suffice to say, he’s now one of the defining contemporary Batman artists, not just of this generation, but of all time – and his work is a wonderful compliment to Snyder’s script, which flicks from heavy exposition to silent panels with aplomb. DARK CITY is further proof of two comics legends working in perfect harmony to create a storyline that will go down as one of the greatest Batman tales. Long may it continue.

My thanks to DC Entertainment & Net Galley for providing a review copy.

Review: Earth 2, Vol 4 – The Dark Ages by Tom Taylor & Nicola Scott

Earth 2The earth is on fire. Its heroes – the resistance – have been shattered. Dead, or dying; its remnants an unorganized mess. Where is our greatest hero, the Last Son of Krypton, when we need him most; Where is the Man of Steel?

He’s the man responsible for it all. He is at the epicentre of this chaos. Superman is the herald for the greatest of evils, Darkseid.

What hope do we have now?

Volume 4 of the DC Comics series EARTH 2 starts explosively and only ramps up the action and destruction. THE DARK AGE is a perfect jumping on point for new readers unfamiliar with the its continuity; it’s the first arc from the new creative team of Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott (with help from Robson Rocha and Barry Kitson, and a plethora of talented inkers) who take advantage of the carte blanche allowed in the ‘Earth-2’ universe by putting these facsimiles of the heroes who have existed for decades into new scenarios.

It always feels redundant labelling a story ‘entertaining,’ when that should be the ultimate objective of any creative endeavour, but no better word describes EARTH 2. It’s an exciting, adrenaline-fueled ride, punctuated with great character moments – the backstory of the new Batman is wonderfully recounted, and is my favourite portion of this collection. Deftly written, Taylor’s script doesn’t allow for exposition or long-winded, redundant character exchanges – he’s focused on propelling the story forward, ditching the clutter that hampers momentum. And with Nicola Scott as the primary artistic contributor, the book looks fantastic; hers is a realistic style, but executed with dynamic flair. If all our comic books liked Earth 2, we’d never have a reason to complain – besides the irritability of being unable to look away from the beauty on the page.

EARTH 2, Vol 4: THE DARK AGES is the start of a rip-roaring tale. Great set up, fantastic takes on established characters – I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re only able to read one DC Comics series, you’d be hard-pressed to find something better than this.

Review: Green Arrow, Vol. 5 – The Outsiders War by Lemire & Sorrentino

Green ArrowWhen the DC Universe was revamped and relaunched in 2011, Green Arrow suffered. Never a consistent reader of the series, I’ve read many of the seminal works, and saw ‘The New 52’ as a way to jump on for the long haul. Alas, the series didn’t hold my attention, so I quickly removed it from my monthly reading stack. Since then, creative teams have come and gone, but the arrival of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino has returned the character to the spotlight. I’d heard whispers that GREEN ARROW was required reading; one of DC’s best monthly books, in fact. So I took the plunge with Volume 5: THE OUTSIDERS WAR, without any prior knowledge of what’s been going on in the series up to that point.

An inexorable side-effect of long-form storytelling is that it’s very difficult for a new reader to catch up on what they’ve missed. While THE OUTSIDERS WAR is a standalone arc, it’s heavily affected by events from the previous volume. While Jeff Lemire does a laudable job of trying to catch us up, it’s impossible to do so without dialogue and captions feeling stilted, so he limits his backtracking and for the most part leaves readers to discern overarching plot points. It’s never a major problem, but there were times when I struggled to understand the motivations of certain characters; and when the appearance of a new character clearly lacked the intended impact.

Lemire borrows elements from the successful television show Arrow, but mines new territory, too. THE OUTSIDERS WAR reveals the secrets of Oliver Queen’s past – his stranding on a desert island wasn’t the accident he’d been lead to believe; there were sinister forces at work (aren’t they always). We learn that the Queen family has been embroiled in a war that has perpetuated for generations, involving ancient clans, known collectively as the Outsiders. There are character revelations, fantastically rendered fight sequences, and a conclusion that sets up the next story arc; it’s really just good, fun super-hero comics, benefitted by dynamic artwork from Sorrentino, whose use of color in highlighting specific moments on a panel or page is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

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: 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.