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WARNING! SOME REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS (EVEN IF THEY ARE NOT MARKED). PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!
BATMAN #575
Hama (w), McDaniel (p), Story (i)
Reviewed by JYD

GIGGLING WHILE READING A COMIC BOOK IS NEVER GOOD, ESPECIALLY WHEN ITS DURING A SCENE OF "EXTREME" DRAMA. BUT I'LL GET BACK TO THAT.

Essentially, Batman #575 has two parts to it, one very clumsy, and one that works very well. Notice how I did not say "one part that sucks"--clumsy is a much more appropriate word. By this I am referring to the dialogue and heavyhandedness of the middle chunk of the story. Hama's tendency to hammer the point home with layered explanations, especially during the action sequences didn't annoy me so much as make me laugh. I chuckled. Other parts that made me laugh: Banner and Batman exposing with each other while battling it out and Special Agent Leary's over-the-top melodramatic reactions to everything. All of this clusiness is complemented by Scott's pencils (absolutly amazing--personally I think they would work even better w/out color--the juxtaposition is done that nicely) and (believe it or not) by Larry Hama's pacing. The man can tell an action story--he just over does it. And that's what kills it!

***SPECIAL MESSAGE FOR LARRY: The dialogue was 80% OK. It was just that 20% that ruined it. Lines like "leave him alone you turkey" or "he's swinging the oil drums towards the Truman building" were garish examples of some of the worst of the worst. Having your reader laugh is not what you should be aiming for Lethal One. Sorry. Having the pictures explained isn't what I'm looking for in a comic. But dude--can you find a way to contain yourself? You're a smart guy and I loved the action (your story smarts meld well with Scott's VERY dynamic pencils)--but it all too over-the-top--you may not want to hear this, but it was something out of an event movie like "Armageddon" and "Godzilla." Your readership is primarily in their twenties and college educated. We can handle some intellegence. END NOTE TO LARRY***

Unfortunately, Hama still was not able to get a grasp on the Batman character. Rather than being the strong silent type, he is very verbose, though, thankfully, not as prolific as in his fight/verbal abuse with Mr. Freeze back in "Powerplay." Hama has turned Batman into a bat-god, able to shrug off bullets to the head, (practically) fly, perform death defying acrobatics, and resist all laws of physics and gravity. Bat-god interacts with the FBI on a one-to-one basis, allowing agents to do various tests on the Batmobile and always knowing where to be on time--he's psychic really. Not everything is doom and gloom though. The last part of the story is (and I never thought I'd find myself saying this) well-written. Hama's dialogue has been tamed down and he actually allows the story to tell itself w/out inserting himself into the word baloons. And, get this--there's subtlity! Amazing! The reader is allowed to think for themseves on two occasions--when Batman and Leary are falling she voices some concerns (though in real life I would imagine she would be screaming her guts out) which Hama allows the reader to interpret AND we get to see that the Banner's so-called "followers" are actually...dummies!

So basically, if you remove the rediculous costume from the Banner, cut out HALF of what everyone is saying, tame Batman's interaction with the FBI, and have an EDITOR do some firm weeding, we've got a story here! UNFORTUNATELY, none of these actions were CARRIED OUT and the result is a diluted story inducing the WRONG reactions from its readers. So here's the question: given time, can Larry Hama become a decent Batman writer? He's got the imagination, he can make up cool villains, he knows his stuff in terms of military and action. HOWEVER, he doesn't know Batman. Any superhero could have been inserted into that story--and that's where the main problem is. I don't think Lethal Larry could have turned out story we all would have loved. His progress was too slow, his ability to change the problems with his NML stories not evident. He's gone, and regretably, his ideas go with him. If only there was a way for him to have a co-writer--there's a POSSIBILITY things might have worked out. But I doubt that would have worked either.

Final thought: #575 proved that Larry ain't all that bad, but he ain't all that good either--at least the HORRIBLE puns were gone (and that's a baby step).

The JYD's grade: "Batman" #575 - C+


"Batman" #576
Hama (w), McDaniel (p), Story (i)

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN--WE HAVE A WINNER.

Maybe I primed myself beforehand by watching an extrememly cheesy movie on the WB ("Deadly Family Secrets" starring Loni Anderson), but holy sh!t--this issue was one of the single worst comics stories I've ever re-read. EVER. It was so bad that I don't think I could comprehensably review the thing without bursting into tears from laughing so damn hard. But I'll try.

From my perspective, I felt like I was thrust into a bad Japanese movie--you know what I'm talking about. The action is going 100 miles an hour and the actors are rattling off at the tongue even faster. The dialogue is superfluous and superficial. It completely takes over a page, disarming the flow of the story and forcing you to trip over words that just don't belong. Awkward, clumsy--where is the editorial direction here? What the hell is going on? It's almost as if anyone overseeing Hama's psychodellic trip back to the campy serials and TV shows of the 60s is out on a coffee break. I cannot understate how horrible the choice of words was. The adjectives were out of line--I really hope my own writing isn't this flowery or I'm in REAL trouble.

Here's the big question: how stupid does Hama think we are? Why is he giving us a commentator's play-by-play of the action? Is he that insecure with McDaniel's abilities? I honestly do not beleive I've seen anything like this before--the level of over-the-topness the word baloons buy into, the melodramatic language--if I wasn't laughing so hard, I would have been puking!!! This is inexcusable! I was in a good mood before, but the longer I sit here and type this out, the more ticked off I am getting. What is this crap? This dribble? How did it make it past the editors? What the FU*K is going on??? If Hama hadn't been cut loose at this point I don't know what I would have been doing--I think I would have seriously considered mailing this back to the Batman offices at DC.

This is just a bad dream...

There is nothing wrong with the plot (naturally)--where it all goes wrong is the excessive techno-babble of Batman, the out-of-character interaction b/t the "crime-fighter" and the onlookers, and the hackneyed attempts Hama uses to get our sympathy for the situation. Prince Ali (a character borrowed, no doubt, from the pages of "Robin") is a joke, the troubles Batgod goes through only serves to make us laugh (the bullets to the head, Batman running through the "cone" of bullets from a machine gun) and that scene in the sewers with Ali, Batgod, and the petting zoo was just sickeningly trite and WAY out of place. Nothing is left to the imagination EXCEPT for a possible connection between the terrorist called Cypher and Wayne Industries--but even that is a big "so what"? Commisioner Gordan is reduced to a peacekeeper, the other GCPD are basically as effective as sheep, and the technological references quickly get on one's nerves.

Please don't get me wrong--I am not looking for trouble. I thought #575 was a decent read, spoiled by the heavy dialogue in its first half. I had some expectations for #576. Sheeeeee-it. Silly me--this is garbage plain and simple. I don't care who's reading this--this story is one of the worst things to come out of the Bat offices in years. I swear... This issue is worse than "Powerplay." REALLY.

The straight dope: avoid this issue like the plague unless you want a lecture in how NOT to write for comics.

The JYD's grade: "Batman" #576--D -

I only gave it a "D -" b/c I fear THE ORCA storyline is going to set the standard for misery.


Batman #577

Hama, McDaniel, Story

Usually Hama's work is cool concepts bogged down by silly dialogue. Unfortuately, the dialogue is OK, it's just the storyline that's garbanzo.

Grade: C


Batman #577

Hama, McDaniel, Story

I never thought I'd read a good Larry Hama issue of "Batman," but this one's it. Sure it's plagued by an unhealthy use of overdescriptive language, but the clincher is that (a) it's subtle and (b) there's no dialogue. In fact, it's safe to say that Batman really isn't needed for this story to work (his blink and you miss him cameo is pointless except for some comedic relief). For all the hyping of the cold-blooded killer, he's really just a dopey bastard. He doesn't kill (just in his imagination) and his "future vision" prevents him from carrying through with his artwork. For the record: this issue is NOT an issue of "Batman" at all. It's more about what fear of the bat can do to the common criminal. It's unique, the artwork is fabulous (esp. the dual inkers), and it's purposeful vagueness leaves much to the imagination. To bad THE ORCA is next, eh?

Grade: A-


Batman #580

Hama, McDaniel, Story
This is the second best issue Larry Hama has put out during his reign in "Batman" and I can't help but wonder what influcence Scott McDaniel had (as Scott is listed as co-writer in the credits). There are the usual complaints present, but then the issue takes a strange 180...and becomes something else entirely! Let's take a look at what my thoughts were for this issue.

The one-dimensional Romantic/Dickensian waifs, homeless, and villianous characters I mentioned in my last review are still here. Smythe the wicked bitch of the west has not changed (I'm of the feeling that one must empathize with a story's bad guy/gal--like Cigerette Smoking Man in "The X-Files"--you can't just have ONE trait that subsumes a character). The "huddled masses" on the streets remain a remnant from "Oliver Twist" or "David Copperfield"--they're a loyal, good natured, joking bunch--not an ounce of 20th century reality to them (you expect them to break out into an elaborate "Mary Poppins" chimney sweeper-ish song-and-dance number at any moment).

What has changed in this issue is the amount of subtlety. Obviously Dr. Balin is ORCA, but Hama isn't coming out and saying it (which is good! Not since Bullock's mysteroius comments at the end of #576 do we get a bit of a mystery)--Balin has some cheesy dialogue which ruins the "surprise" sequence on pgs. 14-15, but I've come to expect that from the Lethal One--Gah! Am I growing numb to Hamian dialogue to the point of going soft in my reviews? I sure hope I'm not losing my edge...

Thankfully, I'm still able to recognize the parts that I do not like. We, as readers, are dropped on pg. 1 into the middle of a battle scene in the Gotham Aquarium. Batman and THE ORCA, continue their philosophical discussion on the decadence and corruption of the so-called meritocracy of Gotham from pgs. 17-22 of Pt. 1. This obligatory "Marvel"ous exposition is not surprisingly intermixed with punches, body slams, and DDTs off the top rope runs through pages 1 through 6--the only time everyone shuts up is after ORCA has to jump into the water again (yes!). Nothing too out of the ordinary. While the conversation is interesting (and certainly socially educating) it's simply a rehash of every other Marxist/structural dialectic argument from Anthropology and Sociology. I'm not surprised that THE ORCA is a raving Po-Mo, but it could have been fun to see Batman fighting ORCA both physically, but also theoritically, by taking a Neo-Evolutionary stance. Heh. The character and word choice of THE ORCA is lifted straight out of the politicians of "Reds" or extreme liberal movies like "The American President." She's radical and dispises violence, yet she has to fight her way to victory. Go figure.

If you can put aside the cliched dialogue (Smyth=Cruella de Ville, terrorizing children, forcing factory workers into 19 hour shifts, and buying off inspectors w/ typical Vaudevillian gusto), or forced sappiness of the shelter scene (I was expecting kum by yah to be sung any moment), and make it through the entire story, you would actually SEE Batman doing a little detective work, reading lips, showing up in his Sargent Scar outfit from "Year One" and *GET THIS* witness a fight scene that has ZERO distracting banter!! Plus, page 8 and pgs 17-22 have a running boxed in overlogue that is, I swear (!), both well-written and, dare I say, gripping! Not only well-placed drama (not melodrama, but drama) but a fine set up for a great climax in #581 awaits the reader of #580 (and that aqua-Bat suit? Looks pretty nifty).

I was impressed, as always, by Scott McDaniel's work--even though Hama's dialogue ruined pgs. 1-7 for me, Larry played up Scott's talents--Batman versus the orca (the mammal) was pretty tense and, as always, Batman versus THE ORCA (the 900 pound sea-bitch) is well drawn. Scott--if your writing skills helped out the Hamameister this much, then I hope you consider gunning up the old Word for Windows again.

So, what else can I say? Well, this issue was fairly tumultuous (ups and downs galore)--but it was above the previous issues in terms of quality. And to think that Larry's scored 2 decent stories (1 of them, #578, being excellent) out of the past 3 issues IMO. If only #578 had started out Hama's run or if "Powerplay" hadn't been so awful. Hama could have actually done something with his "Batman." But too late! Now all of my complients could go to hell in a handbasket if #581 turns out to be utter shit. If that's the case, then bring on Brubaker!!

Grade: B-

Man...I must be in a good mood or something, to rave over a "B-" rated comic book! I need to stop drinking this much Coke before I review these issues.


Batman #582-585 (SPOILERS)

Brubaker, McDaniel, Story

As some of you know, Deadenders quickly grew into one of my favorite series--hearing of its demise made me lose a bit of confidence in the comics industry. I don't usually latch onto a new series that quickly. Thankfully, Ed isn't going anywhere soon. I must confess that I read Batman #582-585 pretty fast--I wasn't prepared for it to be such a fast read. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It seems the focus on Ed's brief 5 issue run, before he shows back up later on, is on a vendetta Batman carries out against the Penguin, and the little people caught in the cross-fire. There's something new about Scott McDaniel's artwork--I just can't put my finger on it. The characters appear the same (the same expressive faces, dynamism, Batman's a ton of muscles, etc.), but something's changed. Maybe it's the angles he's choosing and the dark/light contrasts--but it looks damn good. I really wish I could figure out what's been tweaked cause I'm at a loss.

Anyway, here's a quick rundown of the issues and what I thought of them:

#582--Part 1 of "Fearless" gives us a man who died years ago. Now, after his release from prison he engineers a fantastic last ride--one that will guarentee his end and ignite a war that will consume Batman. Batman finds himself letting his emotions get the best of him--as a result, he is duped into a series of uncharacteristic moves, including allowing a mysterious outsider to "map" his every move... Given the restraint that comes with CCA books, I kind of wish Ed was allowed to let loose--the word choice seemed restricted.

#583--Part 2 of "Fearless" reveals the strange new villain and allows Batman to uncover his once friend's dangerous final move. Stories revealing new "friends" into Batman's past are usually pretty lame, but this one works. Seeing Batman behave as a man, and his confusion as to best handle the situation is priceless. Ed suggests Zeiss is an agent of Luthor, but Ra's isn't out of the question (Zeiss does call Batman "Detective").

#584--"The Dark Knight Project" is my favorite of all these issues. Scott McDaniel is given a lot to work with--between two amateur filmmakers duped by the Penguin into making the biggest mistakes of their lives and Batman's frantic attempt to save them, there's a lot on the plate. I love how Scott draws things getting thrown out of a glass windows. Batman discussing his motives with the filmmakers out of Arkham while pulling a sharpened spoon out of his ribs was a classic moment.

#585--"Measure for Measure" continues the trend of "Gotham Nights"-ish flair (i.e. Batman and Gothamites' relationship). Batman finds himself growing further and further entangled in the minutae of Penguin's criminal empire, to the point where the big fish are getting away. A conversation w/ Jim Gordon helps to set things straight. Scott's "new" art style is dazzling me--I guess it's dark vs. light contrasts or something, because I've never seen his figures look that sharp! The dive-by attempt scene was executed brilliantly.

The JYD's grade:

#582--B+
#583--B+
#584--A-
#585--B+

A very satisfactory beginning--the roots being laid here should lead to an explosive outcome down the road.