Batman

Justice League of America #21 (2006)

Justice League 21

Justice League #21 (2006) cover

 Continuing on in my quest to “catch-up” on the now “defunct” DC Universe circa 2006-2009, I pulled this issue to formally start my adventure into Final Crisis.  This comic has a cover date of July 2008 and was written by Dwayne McDuffie with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino.  The writer, McDuffie, died in February of 2011 at the age of 49.  Random factoid:  I read somewhere that he had a masters degree in physics.

At first I did not like it very much at all.  However, after reading the story through and spending more time looking at the cover, I think its basically a good cover in concept, but there are some challenges that knock it down from being a great cover.  In the background we see large city buildings, giving us a setting for this issue.  The two characters are not ones I am familiar with at all, and I daresay that most DC readers at the time were probably not too familiar with them either.  In the foreground is Libra and standing in the center of the image is The Human Flame.  Libra is holding a staff of some sort that is topped by a small hanging scales of justice. The staff serves as a visual aid to draw one’s attention to Red Arrow, who’s limp tattered body is being held up by a smirking Human Flame. If you’ve spent this much time checking out the cover, you will probably now finally see Hawkgirl.  Those are actually her wings that are cluttering up the center of the image and appear to be on fire. Hawkgirl is the problem with the image. The wings are messy and at first glance I thought they were just burning kindling. Her left leg is bent at an impossible angle and honestly, she’s not very easy to recognize in this shot. Its not a bad cover, but the art for Hawkgirl is messy.

Anyway, the issue starts at the Hall of Justice in Washington, DC with Wonder Woman and Batman bantering a bit. Superman shows up and we learn that Batman came to the Hall so that the other two could present a secret “slideways” room.  Only these three and Green Lantern know about this room – which is basically just a table and chairs for the big three to sit and discuss/scheme/banter in.

In these panels is one of the best smirking shots of Batman I’ve seen.  In fact the writing and art for this whole section is really excellent. Not only is it amusing and interesting just as it is, but I think it does a very good job of storytelling. (1.) the new reader is eased into the storyline, so this issue could be a good “jumping on point,” as they say.  (2.) Even if the reader is not new, we are given some clues as to what is happening with Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, and Vixen. All of this is couched in the problematic that these three superheroes want to make sure the League is in good, capable hands without requiring constant supervision from one of these three.

Nearby, in Baltimore, Maryland, we are treated to the thoughts of The Human Flame. He introduces himself while he is in the process of robbing a small branch bank.  He explains how he is able to break in using his firepower and explains his motivation.  As he gets outside of the bank with his stolen goods, the police are waiting and Hawkgirl and Red Lantern are on the scene. The artwork for the ensuing fight is excellent. Frequently, I am slightly irritated by fight-scene artwork because it can be confusing and absurd.  Although this will not be remembered as the greatest fight in comics history, it was a solidly written/drawn fight.  I followed along with interest. And though it seems the heroes have the upper-hand, The Human Flame is able to give them the slip – until Hawkgirl catches up to him in an alley.  And here we are introduced to Libra. He says:  “The scales must be balanced, Hawkgirl.” And to The Human Flame: “I’m the answer to your every dream. Call me Libra.”

At a gathering in Central City, we find Libra introducing The Human Flame to an ever-growing group that includes Lex Luthor and other villains.  Libra tells The Human Flame that he can give him his heart’s desire, which in this case is revenge.  The Human Flame wants revenge on the Martian Manhunter whom The Human Flame blames for his life of disaster and failure.  Eight years ago the Martian Manhunter defeated The Human Flame, humiliating him in the process.  The last three frames of the book show Martian Manhunter on an arid distant planet. There is a “BOOM” and Martian Manhunter has disappeared.

It’s par for the course in reading comics to encounter a group of villains who decide to band together and get revenge on the heroes who have defeated them.  This sort of storyline is neither original, nor unique.  In fact, in Marvel Comics’ Dark Reign/Dark Avengers event, we find The Hood (Parker Robbins) attempted to do something similar with the Marvel villains. However, even though the plot device was familiar, I was still interested in the storyline – I wanted to know what had happened to Martian Manhunter. I also wanted to know what was going to come of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and their secret meeting room.

It’s been said that this issue is a prelude to the Final Crisis event, and I can see that now. And it is a very good prelude, because I definitely wanted to read Final Crisis to find out what happens next.  Both the writing and the artwork were top-notch.

5 stars

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JLA: Classified #1

Right now, in August 2011, DC Comics is about to restart their comics….again… but this time, there are going to be all new 52 issues that start at number 1. Anyone who is a fan of DC Comics is probably used to so many crises and reboots, that they think their name is Heraclitus because everything is definitely in flux. And that is the one constant.  DC Comics were my first comics – back when I was a wee small child, I read DC. For several years, I was aware of comics only peripherally.  Well, since 2006, I am really back into reading comics and I am grateful to be reading along. One of my amusements has been to start trekking through the mess of DC universe crises / reboots. I read Zero Hour and OMAC and Infinite Crisis and am currently reading issue #27 of 52.  One series that I have amassed a respectable number of is the 2005 series JLA: Classified.  This series was intended to contain random stories, would-be one-shots, and other stuff that didn’t fit in with the Justice League main title. JLA: Classified was to have a revolving creator group. Recently, I read issue #1.

JLA Classified 1

JLA: Classified #1

The first issue of this series is written by Grant Morrison.  A few days ago I had read and written some thoughts on Morrison’s work on Batman #663.  I read the issue twice through before I felt that I had sorted out who was doing what why and when.  The story starts out in media res, and honestly, I had no idea who the characters were. Obviously, this could be entirely due to my hiatus from comics, but I do think the artist (Ed McGuinness) is a bit to blame here.  Frankly, there are not a whole lot of readers that are familiar with characters like the UltraMarine Corps.  I figured this much out:  Gorilla Grodd is doing something bad, the members of the JLA are AWOL, and there’s some sort of powerful universe-in-a-cube.

Squire was monitoring the good guys (whomever they may be) from somewhere else. Batman receives a call on the “hot line” from Squire who seems to hastily explain the situation. Batman dips into his special equipment  to get a flying saucer (no kidding) and zooms to save Squire. Squire and Batman then use Boom Tube Technology to zip through spacetime to a secret JLA lab near the once-planet Pluto.

Batman informs Squire that the members of the JLA are “lost” in the universe-in-a-cube, which we are told is called “The Infant Universe of Qwewq.”  Squire is tasked with trying to communicate with the JLA in the universe-in-a-cube while Batman works on making sure no one notices that the JLA members are missing.

Parts of this issue are really interesting. Parts are very poorly done. I can’t tell what’s happening. I don’t know who is who. I don’t understand what’s going on. At other times Batman is drawn very well and Squire is a fun character. I am starting to think that this is really what Grant Morrison stuff is like. Its not really good, but one tends to suspect it might be good just because one is so unused to his style, tone, and elements he uses to tell the story.

Here’s one problem:  its 1:25am and Batman is plopped in the Batcave. (Wouldn’t he be well aware that Grodd is destroying stuff in Africa?)  Alfred brings Batman a tray with the “hot line” phone on it. Batman seems way more concerned with how the speaker got the number and what it means for them to have the number than dealing with the actual reason for the call. In other words, Squire is having an emergency and Grodd is destroying a city and the JLA are AWOL and Batman is concerned that Squire dredged up his secret “hot line” number.

Batman #667

Batman #667 cover

Starting in Batman #667 (2007) , Morrison wrote an arc that involved the International Club of Heroes. This refers to the “Batmen of All Nations” characters that first appeared in Detective Comics #215 in 1955.  Knight and Squire (as seen in the JLA: Classified issue) have been associated with and have a history with this Club of Heroes. Finally, in 2011, Morrison created and became writer for the series Batman Incorporated. Batman Incorporated is considered, by Grant Morrison, to be a second re-installment of the team known as the Batmen of All Nations.  In theory the team was formed by Bruce Wayne and brought together by Batman to stop all crime in the nations from which members were chosen.

Apparently, Morrison has been playing with this same concept since, at least, 2005 in this first issue of JLA: Classified. Morrison seems to really want to use the characters of the Club of Heroes.  Morrison is not an American, so maybe some of this is just a deep hearted desire to have International Batman.  I know Morrison wrote the Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul:  the story arc which develops Damian, Batman’s son. However, it seems like Morrison (from what I have seen so far) is but a one-trick pony.

There is a funny in the issue, though. After arriving at Pluto, Squire asks Batman:  “Are you really Batman?”  He responds:  “No, I’m Goldfish Man. Can’t you tell?”   I guess its amusing to see the normally stoic and somber Bats showing a little sarcasm.  Even if it is in space.

2 stars

Batman #663

Batman #663

Batman #663

This is the April 2007 release for DC Comics’ major title, Batman. It was written by Grant Morrison, penciled and inked by John Van Fleet, and the cover was done by Andy Kubert. I suspect from the period 2005 – 2010, this issue is one of the most read, discussed, and puzzled over issues in comics.  If you are not familiar with this issue, you probably should rectify that.

Allow me to give a brief introduction to what this is all about:  Grant Morrison is a Scottish writer who began writing the Batman title with issue #655.  It has been said that his writing is known to portray nonlinear narratives and counter-cultural concepts. The first few issues of Morrison’s run on Batman begin a far-reaching storyline involving Batman’s son, Damian Wayne.

655. BUILDING A BETTER BATMOBILE (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG
656. MAN-BATS OF LONDON (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG
657. WONDER BOYS (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG
658. ABSENT FATHERS (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG

After a short interruption for the very good arc “Grotesk,” Morrison’s run continued with this issue #663.  The most significant items of this issue are (1.) the issue is a prose short story, not quite utilizing the typical comic book criteria; (2.) the dark, violent, and heavy tone/style of the work. After the “Batman & Son” issues and then this issue here, readers sat up and took notices of Morrison, helping him to become one of the biggest names in comics. He’s won several Eisner and Harvey Awards.

The title of the issue is “The Clown at Midnight.”  The story consists of ten “chapters” written in prose which are written among a smattering of art frames on each page. Hands down, without a doubt, I insist that the artist did a spectacular job. I believe it must have been exceedingly difficult to create the art for this story in this format. The artwork, if you take the time to look at each frame, is actually excellent. The format is, actually, interesting and somewhat exciting. However, there is a distinction between comic books and short stories – that Morrison tries to blur that distinction is interesting, but ultimately a fail. There are specific reasons people buy comic books and specific reasons readers by novels. While one could make the argument that traditional formats can become stale and hum-drum, there really is a necessity to remain within the accepted demands of the medium. Overall, I am not opposed to this relatively unique format (although it does bear some resemblance to the work of another English writer, Alan Moore), but I think it should remain a rarely used format and not make it into mainstream comics.

That being said, the problem I have with the issue is actually Morrison’s writing. If one wants to write prose, then one has to be judged in that category as well. And this puts Morrison’s efforts in the same category as science-fiction / fantasy / literature writers like Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Alfred Bester, Frank Herbert, et al.  And compared to these writers, Morrison’s prose in this issue doesn’t measure up. The prose is metaphoric, adjectival, and descriptive. It does present the dark, mystical, psychological facets of Batman, Joker, and Harley Quinn, but it does so with a lack of true grace and panache. This sort of prose, a play-by-play narrative is difficult to write. Its not the past-tense with which the majority of prose is written. So I give Morrison credit for maintaining that style throughout the issue. The story is not my cup of tea, but I can judge stuff even if its not my style. The psychological horror tone used in this issue depicts the really dark and scary side of the characters; but writing qua writing, its not that good.

In other words, Morrison is (at the point of this issue) an interesting novelty, but there’s nothing that compels me to any adulation of Morrison as a creative writer. I much preferred the previous “Batman & Son” issues.

2 stars

Batman: Grotesk #659 – 662

Sandwiched between Grant Morrison storyarcs, the Batman storyarc “Grotesk” is a relatively self-contained, quality story written by John Ostrander with art by Tom Mandrake.  “Grotesk” ran from #659 – 662, which were the first issues of 2007.  I suspect there was either a printing/publishing error at the time or Morrison’s arc wasn’t ready, so DC threw in this 4-issue story to bridge the gap.

Batman 659

Batman #659 cover

I don’t think that “Grotesk” will ever be given as much acclaim as it should be simply because it falls in the middle of Morrison’s run.  The four books previous to “Grotesk” were “Batman & Son,” which is the first storyarc with Grant Morrison as the regular writer on the Batman series.  It deals with the revelation that Bruce Wayne had a son with Talia, the daughter of Ras-al-Ghul.  Hello Damian Wayne. However Morrison’s famous run gets interrupted in January of 2007, and we get “Grotesk.”

There’s a lot that I want to say about all of this, and hopefully I can say it in a coherent manner.  I am on the fence, as they say, regarding Morrison.  I guess, I didn’t really know much about him or his work – but I only heard the noise that all the folks on his bandwagon were making.  His name was uttered with hushed awe and reverence.  One must praise Morrison.  And after surfing online, watching some videos, and reading some interviews, frankly, Morrison seems like a really arrogant dude who needs to avail himself of a few more meat ‘n potatoes meals. So, my first impression of him is that he is insufferably arrogant.  However, then I read the “Batman & Son” storyarc.  I admit, it was good.  Its factual:  its a good arc. Is it the best arc that I have ever read? No. But can I see this stuff developing into a widespread rolling good time with the Batman? Yep. So, maybe all this racket I’ve been hearing about Morrison is justified.

But before I have to deal with Morrison, I get these 4 issues of “Grotesk.”  First of all, I disliked the covers quite a bit. I kind of did not want to read the arc because the covers looked yucko.  All four covers in this arc were done by Greg Lauren, who, for whatever reason, hasn’t done a whole lot in the industry.  I’m not sure what to think of this. Has he not done much because he’s really not good? And if he’s not good, how did he ever land four covers of DC’s big bad Batman title?

However, I took a good hard look at the first issue there. Three colors: white, black, red. Batman kinda looks to me like a statue here…. cracking, poisoned, diseased… and he’s looking up.  And actually after a good 15 minute staring contest, I decided that this is quite a good cover. I usually love color, but the “simple” cover here is very nice in its three colors. By “simple,” I mean that it’s not busy and wild. Horror, noir, unique. Yeah, I had to admit it’s a good cover.  The next two covers are the weaker covers, I think.  But the last cover? Just like the first in that it is very noir and very unique.  They are a bit surreal and perfectly noir for the Dark Knight.

Batman 660

Batman #660 cover

The story is quite deep for a quick 4-issue substitute arc.  Grotesk is the name that has been given to the killer who is attacking people in Gotham City.   The City is under a heavy winter storm when Grotesk strikes – bodies with skin on their faces removed – are lit on fire. (Cp. the third cover) Batman and the police struggle to find the connection between those being killed.  Batman follows leads to Amina Franklin.  Her brother died recently, but Batman suspects she is not telling the whole truth about her brother’s death.

Thugs keep pestering Amina, insisting that she owes them because her brother owes them.  Batman saves her, but discovers some of the trouble can be traced back to a project that Amina’s brother, Wayne, was working on.  Wayne was a surgeon who was developing the I-GORE.  The I-GORE was a cybernetic-robotic interface that could be used to perform surgeries remotely.  Unfortunately, Wayne Franklin ran into a number of problems – including the failure of the I-GORE to work as hoped for.  Wayne Franklin ended up bartering and borrowing money from a number of individuals as well as having his technology copied by a rival medical group. Russian and Japanese mobsters all make attempts to get the technology, get payment, or exact punishment on Amina.

Batman soon establishes that the killer running around Gotham being referred to as Grotesk, is actually Wayne Franklin.  Franklin faked his death and has now fashioned a mask for his mutilated face from the facial flesh of his fallen victims.  Grotesk is seeking vengeance against those who hurt him and those who ruined his project.  He is even willing to sacrifice his sister, Amina.

Grotesk ends up shooting Amina with a fatal dosage as he makes his escape from Gotham. Batman gives chase, and they end up fighting on a boat in the river.  Grotesk is maddened and accuses Batman of being just like all his other enemies.  Batman subdues Grotesk and they notice a large ship bearing down on them.  Batman escapes – making an attempt to save Grotesk.  However, Batman only grabs an artificial arm and Grotesk is crushed and submerged by the oncoming ship’s hull.

Batman #661

Batman #661

Okay, there are a lot of great things about this story.  First of all, it is so noir, it should win a prize.  It takes places in the winter, in Gotham City, mainly at night.  It involves a surgeon who has lost his sanity and who has stitched other people’s flesh into a mask to wear.  There are Russian and Yakuza mobsters in the story – shooting people up and threatening everyone.  Both Amina and Wayne are dead at the end of the story.

Second of all, the story is self-contained.  I did not need to read 100 issues before and after to really understand the inner workings of this arc.  It was contained within 4 issues – however, it had all the depth, tension, and action that one would expect out of a really good Batman story.

Third, the covers represent the story inside. Sometimes (more and more frequently) covers on comics are just eye candy to get readers to buy an issue and the cover art has little or nothing to do with the interior story.  Not so with this arc – these covers practically tell you the story themselves! And the more I look at them, the more I like them, particularly the first and last.

Fourth, I absolutely love the interior art.  Every artist (and writer, for that matter) has their idea on how Batman should be drawn.  Well, the interior artist, Tom Mandrake, nails it; as I read through issue #659 I was thinking to myself:  “Yeah, this is how Batman should be drawn.”  The Batman in these four issues is… correct.  In fact, the story and the art is classic Batman.  These are precisely the stories and depictions that I think of when I think of classic Batman stuff.  And its good:  it’s a good story and it’s good art.

Batman 662

Batman #662

It seems a lot of online folk rated these issues somewhat low: 6 / 10 or 2 / 5.  I don’t understand that.  I really don’t.  I have a hard time wondering what they are looking for and expecting from Batman if this arc wasn’t it.  I guess Grant Morrison is the answer.  People want whatever he’s selling.  And hey – maybe what he’s selling is good, right?  I will find out soon enough.  However, to act like this arc is somehow subpar or not quality is ridiculous!  I do think it’s unfortunate that it interrupted Morrison’s larger arc, but these issues started 2007 – what a way to start a Bat-year!  I only got to read them this week, but they were very much worth the cover price.

This is good stuff. Ostrander and Mandrake were an excellent team and did a fine job with “Grotesk.”

5 stars

Detecive Comics #678

Detective Comics 678

Detective Comics #678 cover

Detective Comics #678 from September 1994 is probably one of the more noir books of the rather noir Batman books by DC Comics. In fact, if I was making a list of most-noir things, this one would be on there. Its also one of my favorite Batman books. The trouble is that it was slapped in the middle of the Zero Hour DC event which really…. was a big zero, anyway. Zero Hour is a perplexing array of science-fiction events that the superheroes of the DC universe are rapidly spun through.  And it was basically all rearranged for Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, and Final Crisis. (DC is always in crisis………)  What do you need to know about Zero Hour in order to enjoy this Detective Comic?

  • Time is out of joynt. People and places from the past, present, future are colliding. Its messy.
  • Batman is one of the first to notice the chrono-craziness when he runs into Batgirl.

The story starts off with Bruce downstairs in the cave. He hears voices upstairs and crawls up there to find his parents coming in the door with the police. They are upset. Their son has been shot in an alley.

Now, Bruce is well aware of the chrono-crap happening, so he’s obviously not too confused that this is reality. Nevertheless, he chases off to beat the snot out of Joe Chill. Turns out, in this reality, Joe was rotting in some dingy apartment getting stoned for days. He didn’t kill… well.. Bruce (in this case). And this causes Batman to wonder if in his own reality he really avenged his parents death. What if Joe Chill hadn’t killed his parents in that reality?

Bruce Wayne

Bruce Wayne frame

Batman races to the mansion….. hoping to spend a moment or two with these parents of his, but when he returns, the mansion is back to its typical state in the reality that Batman is used to. He is emotionally crushed.

I have to give this issue 5 stars because the story and art are excellent – even outside of reading along in the Zero Hour event.  The issue, while connected to that event, can also be read on its own without the reader being left-behind.

5 stars

Batman

Batman frame