Review: Batman Vol. 1 – I Am Gotham (DC Rebirth) by Tom King & David Finch

batmanThe whole purpose of DC’s ongoing ‘Rebirth’ initiative is to relaunch the publisher’s well-loved core characters in their most iconic forms. In other words, make them accessible to new readers, but throw in some bones for the long-time fans, too. Tom King and David Finch’s first volume of their Batman run achieves this. It’s a fun, action-packed story-arc, which introduces two new superheroes into the lore, and leaves plenty of page space for Finch to showcase his artistic skill. It’s a fun romp; but it’s not much more than that. Which is enough, for some; but for readers such as myself, who dip in and out of mainstream comics, there’s not quite enough here to warrant a return for the second volume.

When a couple of masked metahumans with the powers of Superman arrive in Gotham City, Batman thinks they have the potential to be the kind of heroes he won’t ever be: he is only human, after all. With their super powers and impervious dedication to the protection of the city from its own sordid underbelly, Gotham and Gotham Girl are precisely the kind of guardians who can protect Gotham for decades to come. That is, until their perceptions are twisted by one of Batman’s villains, and suddenly Gotham’s most powerful heroes become a force for evil, and the Dark Knight becomes their target for termination.

Tom King is currently penning one of my favourite comic series, The Sheriff of Babylon, but his Batman run lacks the punch of that creator-owned series. It’s not that his writing here is of an inferior quality; just that, by necessity, and the fact this is a mainstream superhero comic book, it has been stripped of much of its nuance. His pairing with David Finch seems wasted, too; while the artist excels at the big moments, and the action-packed pages are wonderful to behold, the quieter moments lack any sort of pop and emotional gravitas.

I Am Gotham is a solid superhero yarn, which sets the board for King and Finch’s run on the title. I’ve read better superhero comics, and I’ve read worse. It is stuck in that annoying middle ground, where there’s not much to say about it, one way or the other. It’s a book I read, enjoyed, and won’t remember.

ISBN: 9781401267773
Format: Paperback  (252mm x 168mm x 15mm)
Imprint: DC Comics
Publisher: DC Comics
Publish Date: 24-Jan-2017
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Secret Hero Society – Study Hall of Justice by Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen

9781760276539.jpgThe cynic in me wanted to view Derek Fridolfs’ and Dustin Nguyen’s Secret Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice as a perfunctory vehicle to spotlight younger versions of DC comics heroes and villains ahead of the release of the blockbuster film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But I’m a sucker for the DC’s ‘trinity’ – Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman – and I’m a long-time admirer of Dustin Nguyen’s art. So despite my hesitations, I pulled a copy from the shelf and dived in… and I was more than pleasantly surprised. I was delighted. This is a book that’ll have both adults and kids in stitches, scouring pages for inside jokes and references, and enraptured by the core mystery. In other words, it’s a winner.

Young Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and Diana Prince form their own Junior Detective Agency in the halls of Ducard Academy in Gotham City when they realise there’s more to their new boarding school for ‘gifted’ children than meets the eye. They’re an oddball triumvirate, each displaying the divisive characteristics that’ve been portrayed in the comics for decades. Together, they unravel the mystery behind the school’s secret headmaster, overcoming the villainous obstacles in their way including fellow students Lex Luthor, Harley Quinn and the Joker, as well as dastardly school staff including General Zod, Hugo Strange, Vandal Savage, and so forth.

Secret Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice is layered with references that young fans and older will enjoy – but every element is explicated well enough to ensure the layman won’t be left lost and confused. This is fundamentally a story about friendship – how different personalities, regardless of upbringing, can be moulded into an effective team – with a good amount of super-heroics thrown in. It’s told through traditional comic book pages, journal entries, pamphlets, text messages, and report cards, and the variation enhances the tale’s readability. The only flaw I identified was the novel’s pacing. The story takes its time to get going – it’s not plodding, but necessarily measured in order to establish the characters and their world – but in contrast the climax feels rushed, like suddenly the storytellers realised they were running out of pages. It’s not a major issue, and it certainly doesn’t take away from the novel’s successes, but it’s a noticeable stumble.

This is the kind of book I wish had been around when I was a kid. It’s fun and quirky, but doesn’t talk down to readers. I’d love to see further adventures in this universe, and there’s certainly a ton more characters to explore from the DC Universe.

ISBN: 9781760276539
Format: Paperback
Pages: 176
Imprint: Scholastic Australia
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Publish Date: 1-Feb-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 1 by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely

Jupiters LegacyJupiter’s Legacy explores the daunting challenge faced by superheroes in their quest to use their abilities for the betterment of mankind. It’s one thing to combat intergalactic threats – a few optic blasts, a couple earth-shattering wallops with indestructible fists – but what about the other challenges facing humankind; the ones that can’t be solved with violence? Take the Global Financial Crisis as an example. Where does a superhero’s responsibility begin and end?

In 1932, following the devastating loss of his business in the Wall Street crash, Sheldon Sampson and a select group of family and friends venture to an unmapped island west of Cape Verde, guided only by the lingering memory of Sheldon’s vivid dream. What they discover turns the group into a superheroes, henceforth dedicated to staving off the supervillain threats we’re accustomed to. Sheldon is adamant: their obligation is to mankind’s elected leaders. They’ve no right to overstep those boundaries just because of their enhancements. But there’s a growing resentment towards this outlook within their own camp, and as the story rockets forward to the current day, the focus to the generational conflict behind the scenes; the YouTube generation of heroes don’t feel the same obligation towards mankind as their predecessors, content to live out their lives as part-time superheroes, full-time sponsors for whoever’s willing to pay the money. So how will they respond when traitors within the family depose of Sheldon as their leader?

Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 1 is further evidence of Mark Millar’s renaissance; not that the quality of his work ever truly dipped, just that his stories – Kick Ass and Nemesis, specifically – were so bombastic and extravagantly violent, they often overshadowed the core narrative. That’s certainly not the case here, no doubt partly because of his collaborator, superstar artist Frank Quitely, who excels at the smaller moments, and perfectly captures the mannerisms and emotions required to layer the story with gravitas. Of course, when it comes to blockbuster action – and there’s plenty of it – Quitely is profligately dynamic, as always. These scenes are flawlessly storyboarded, and Millar wisely gives his artist the space he needs.

As Marvel and DC Comics continue to circle the superhero drain, Millar and Quitely’s Jupiter’s Legacy is a refreshing take on a well-trodden genre. It’s unfortunate that we’re in for such a long wait until its second volume, but hey, it just provides an excuse for a re-read.

My thanks to Image Comics for providing a digital copy of Jupiter’s Legacy.