WARNING! SOME REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS (EVEN IF THEY ARE NOT MARKED). PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Batman: Dark Victory #4
Loeb and Sale
It seems to me that the perfect solution to making this series look even more dynamic than it already does is to release a TPB version solely in black and white. Tim Sale's exploration of shadow, contrast, and light vs. dark has evolved into something stunning. The best example of this so far is in DV #4 when Batman is chasing Soluman Grundy through the sewers. While disgusting (especially the color of the water), if you can eliminate the colors, you'd see what I mean. Even though the colors give it a very noirish 1940s feel to the series (which is one of the things they're going for), I feel like moving back a decade into the realm of pulp 1930s movies wouldn't be an entirely bad idea. If nothing more it would allow us to see the virgin forms of Sale's artwork.
As to the story--things are getting bad for all of Year One's prime characters. You can't help but wonder if James Gordan, Harvey Dent, or even the B-man himself are up for some trouble. Future characters possible getting their necks strung (remember--I haven't read past 4 yet so don't ruin my thoughts) are, maybe, Merkel, Jefferson Skeevers. Those were all I could think of off the top of my head. I think that the pace to the series is starting to slow down. There was so much packed into #1... How could we expect anyone to keep up that frantic gait so far--not that the story is lacking mind you, it's just that (gasp) we had only a FEW scenes to worry about instead of the sub-plot a page way the series had been going. There are just so many things going on at once to worry about. How anyone can solve the mystery is beyond me.
My theories? Porter's love is Mario Falcone--I think there's a Harvard connection b/t the two. I'm not even going to venture a guess who Hang Man is--but don't you find it odd that all of the people that have been strung up are bad guys? Makes you wonder if Clancy (from #1) has something from his past that we haven't gotten. I think the key to figuring out who Hang Man is through Clancy--he's the odd man out so far. Maybe there's something from #1 we missed. I don't know what Catwoman's connection to the Roman is. Don't know who stole the Roman's body. Where's Harvey? Who's the inside man in Arkham? Sheesh--we don't know much of anything at all, do we? Not that that's a BAD thing now, is it?
The JYD's grade:
--"Dark Victory" #4--A-
--"Dark Victory" overall--A
Batman: Dark Victory #5
I like "Dark Victory" a lot--I like it better than "The Long Halloween." Maybe it's b/c more is better or it's b/c there is so much going on that (that whole more is better myth) and I am so confused that I am justifying my liking of it. Or maybe I'm just talking about of my ass. I like it. I love Sale's artwork and REALLY think they should do a black & white version of it--the colors are so simple and monochrome anyway, I actually feel it is taking away from his art!
The story's the same old: more people dying, more mob manuevering, no one knows what's going on. Catwoman's disappeared. But we do get one mystery solved. Two-Face turns out to be Janice Porter's lover which begs a question: is Porter Gilda Dent? Nah--can't be! Or can it? I still think the answer to who Hang Man is relies on some information from Clancy O'Hara--he was the only non-corrupt cop to bite it so far.
There's just so much going on and Loeb's strung us along this far--so I'm not going to waste time oohing and ahing over a superb book (even though it is kind of slow paced).
The Straight Dope: Why aren't you reading this series?
The JYD's grade: "Dark Victory" #5--A -
Batman: Dark Victory #7
Another excellent series--I like this sequel better than the first. A handful of mysteries are woven together as more people die, or are almost dead. "Hangman" seems to have the same sense of humor as "Holiday" did--Gordon is almost toast before being rescued by the unlikeliest of men. Or was it all a ruse?
The JYD's grade:
--"Dark Victory" #7--A-
Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood #1
Rucka has set up what appears to be a very interesting series. Too bad it seems like a comic book version of "The Godfather" and "Falcone"! Still, ya gotta love the artwork...
Batman Chronicles #20
"Batman Chronicles" has always been a very satisfying book--it spotlights "cool" characters and usually features stories and art by (then) up and comers, usually there's someone in there I'd heard of before and respect. #20 is just the same--w/ the pencils of Yvel Guichet to boot! I thought his work on "Harley Quinn" was the best part of the book. It seems like every single issue has a story that just absolutely knocks your socks off. Examples from the past 19 issues include the "Batman, Day 4" storyline last issue, Grayson's first meeting b/t Robin and Batgirl, and Rucka's "Road to NML" stories. This issue...however...just wasn't up to standards. #20 served as a pimp, trying to turn a few tricks w/ us. Extreme? Maybe. It seemed like a bunch of contrived meetings with meta-humans designed to boost awareness of various characters and ignore the story in the process. Well, you'll see what I mean.
"Whippersnappers of Mass Destruction" (Grayson and Guichet): if ever there was a story which served to pimp another series, it was this one. I know nothing about the Relative Heroes, and I'm sure this story was intended to up their exposure, but having met them, I still have no desire to read their series. From whiny to melodramatic, they read like the "Simpsons" with superpowers. Overly hip, if you will. The whole Catwoman angle was contrived and convenient. Grade: C+
"Photo Finish" (Beatty and Zachary): the pimping continues--this time to show off Robin's new stomping grounds. Why not bring in Jade as a school photographer and then have them traipsing off to stop a prep school prank...and then if that wasn't enough, let's bring the dean's dog back from the dead. Ugh. Grade: B-
"The Rage of Angels" (Edgington and Mshindo): the whole purpose of this story was to show off Nightwing and Supergirl (which these weird screwed up wings--when did those happen?). As everything is going to pot in the background, NW is musing over life and we're supposed to be shocked when a bunch of refugees start drowning. Yeah, like that never happens in comics these days every 2 seconds. Grade: C
To conclude: I was not pleased with this issue. Maybe I'm just biased b/c I hate team-ups and don't respond well to superpowered characters. Whatever. It just seems they ignored all the excellent stories of the past for some cheap thrills, pimping some new characters and changes, and have some things blow up good.
Batman 80 Page Giant #3
B is for blah. This story is simply...there. Interesting, yes. A must read? Nah.
The JYD's Grade: B-
Gotham City Secret Files and Origins
Cover (John Van Fleet): Cool as heck!! Very creepy--did you see the "Batman Returns" Max Schreck cat on the bottom?
"Night Games" (Peterson & Puckett, Ryan): Peterson and Puckett, who work so well together in "Batgirl," end up putting out a short story clearly designed to sell Batgirl to the reader who have picked up GCSF&O to get a taste of "Batman." Unfortunately, it's not all that interesting--we get to see Batgirl meet Catwoman for the first time, do a tour of the new Gotham (though nothing but just superficial names), and a few fights. Pretty boring stuff.
"The Changing Face of Gotham": interesting pictures, but reads like an architectural text. The shots of the new Batcave are certainly cool--but why no explanation on how Wayne built it? Where's the dinosaur? The giant penny? Interesting...but worth the money? No.
"Catwoman Movie Trailer" (Carleton and Harris): I never read Bronwyn Carlton's "Catwoman" monthly, so I can't comment on it, but the trailor didn't really get me all that interested in reading it. Wayne said it best in the last panel--"Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid."
"Robin & Oracle" (Dixon and Guice): A cute story by Dixon with excellent art by Jackson Guice (his Barbara Gordon is great!). While fun to read, it was too short and if it was trying to sell "Birds of Prey" to me, it failed.
"Interview with Leslie Thompkins" (Grayson): Sappy sappy sappy dialgoue painting Leslie in an extremely one-diminsional light. If I hadn't read "Spiritual Currency," I would think Grayson knew nothing of the character. Gag.
"Skull-Duggery" (Vaughan and Martin): One of my first exposures to Brian K. Vaughan--the opening over-cliched "I am the Joker"/"I am the Riddler"/"I am Mr. Freeze" lines made me want to barf, but his VERY risque storytelling (Copper + Niton=Cu Nt) and great sense of humor (the "Supermap" line for instance) as well as Marcos Martin's terrific artwork changed my initial impressions. The only character I thought wasn't written very well was the Freeze one, but that's chickenscratch. Boy does the Skeleton look cool as hell! Everything's supposed to suggest that Lucius Fox is behind this all, but that's too obvious--just a hunch. But I also thought Hugo Strange was connected to the narrator in "Gotham Knights"--and you see how well that played off? Maybe Strange is involved in here too? Eh??!!
Also, the typical "character profiles," "maps," "sketches," etc. are included for the new reader. I kind of wish I had read some of the new villain profiles before they appeared in "Detective" and "Robin," especially given Dieter Hollerzollren's blink-and-you-miss-it appearance in recent issues of "Robin" (after reading the story, I was like "who the hell was that?). Reading the profile on "The Banner" is a hoot though--WHEN WILL HE STRIKE AGAIN??!! The bottom line--if you're a loyal reader, there isn't anything big in here (aside from the first appearance of the Skeleton)--it's designed to sell the Batman universe to new readers.
The JYD's Grade: "Gotham City SF&O" #1: B-
O'Neil (w), Robinson (p), Pascoe (i)
Where is "Azrael" going--could someone please fill me in? Is this a secret I'm missing out on? Is it possible he's actually moving BACKWARDS in terms of development? I really have no idea what's going on in this series--all I know is that JP is...not your average superhero. In fact, I would say he is not a superhero at all. He seems more on the lines of a spokesperson for all those anti-violence groups out there. Let's face it, we have all of two pages of fight scenes (pgs. 18-19) in the issue that's supposed to move JP out of NML and into the new millenium. And in these two pages...JP...doesn't fight at all... The people over at Marvel must be scratching their heads over this one. What the heck is going on here?
I had lots of problems with this issue and I apologize for not voicing them sooner. Just be glad I managed to get around to them. First of all, is that not the most trite and contrived "bumping into" scene in Batman comics history when JP and Brian meet? I mean heck...what is going on here? This isn't the Waltons! And then there's the deal with the whole cathedral and Batman's obligatory cameo appearance--forced! The dialogue also was something that seemed even clumsier than usual. Does everyone need to speak in blocks of language containing the minimum amount of words possible? I felt like I was in the midst of a grunt session. And then to top it off we have three mooks who "conviniently" run into JP twice, Leslie Thompkins boring appearance, and a HUGE step back in the relationship b/t JP and Batman.
What's going on here? Does Denny remember anything he accomplished over the past year and a half? I mean I knew "Azrael" had problems in terms of development, but it's almost inane to believe JP would be treated in such of a churlish manner by his "mentor." And when did JP suddenly have control over the mantle of the bat for a year (in the "background summary" for first-time readers)? The only good thing I can think of for this issue was that it was a profoundly realized stepping on point for first time readers. It was at least 10 times for effective when compared to the amazingly dense serial "Starman" or how complicated "Black Panther" became over its 16 issues. The only large problem is that "Azrael" didn't hold a spark of ingenuity. If it wasn't for the artwork and semi-imaginative layouts Robinson has going (but I still feel he has degressed over the past 30 odd issues), I doubt I would pick this issue up again (from the perspective of a first-time reader).
I'm not asking for action and violence. I don't think JP should necessarily "change" the situation he's in (the "agent" of the bat). What I do STRONGLY feel is that he's been stuck in neutral for well over two years--ever sense he separated from Lilhy after he defeated Bane he's been a zombie. And then there was a good 30 issue stretch before that of comatose development. I have no idea what to do with "Azreal"! I have no suggestions to jump start its sluggishness! When I compare it to another title that started right around the same time, "Starman," I can see a massive canyon of differences between the two, even though each are unlikely heroes who rebelled initially against a parental figure pushing the role onto them and have chosen to deal with this decision. "Starman" has a huge cast with a dozen subplots, yet comparred to where where Jack Knight was 62 issues ago, JP is still somewhere around issue #8 or 9.
Some have had problems w/ the whirlwind of guest appearances and cameos--I never had until I had a chance to step back from it all. JP will NEVER develop as a character if he is constantly overshadowed by the "guest star of the month," the Batgirls and Huntresses. And if this is the case, that JP just DOESN'T DO MUCH OF ANYTHING anymore besides wander the streets musing over his past, wonder how to face his old friends, and struggle between his urge to commit violence and his role model (Leslie) who tries to refore him, I'm going to have to make a decision over how much I want to keep reading this book. Think about it--while the NML issues were excellent initially, it remained the same tune all 12 issues--and now, post-NML, what do we have? JP is dealing with the exact same problems, including ones he was still wrestling with in the 30 or so issues PRE-NML. Re-read the story with Gilda the witch (the "monstermaker" one)--substitute Leslie for the witch and we have practially the same story, but instead JP is actually defeating evil rather than wrestling with himself. Do we want this neverending struggle with inner angst and demons? Are you OK with spending, now, $2.50 for a monthly book starring an non-hero who debates his every action--and has been doing so for 62 issues? Is this ever going to change?
Now, I have yet to read issues #63 and 64 (w/ the Huntress and his old costume) so I can't tell you whether anything has changed. Also, Mr.Scowl himself, Sergio Cariello, is coming to draw the series as of #69. Great--just what the series needs, an artist who turns everyone into one big frown (see "The Arrow and the Bat" for further elaboration on this one). To tell you truth, I have NO idea where the hell this series is going, but, based on its past, I have a feeling we aren't going to see a change in any sort in JP until issue #100 (if it gets that far). Warren Ellis was right--superhero comics just don't do anything anymore. I'm sure I'm going to hear from GordonHM soon. That's good. Maybe he can explain this all to me. But I don't want to hear the same ideas anyone's had for JP over the past 62 issues--b/c nothing's changed aside from new faces saying the same things, a new costume, and more guest stars stunting any kind of growth in JP that probably wounldn't have happened anyways. This is getting almost as bad as "Catwoman" was before I dropped that.
The JYD's grade: "Azrael" #62--B -
O'Neil (w), Robinson (p), Pascoe (i)
Roger Robinson has quietly become the premiere and definative "Azrael" artist--his run has stretched over 34 or so issues (more than Kitson) now. #65 brings back memories of classic "Azrael" issues. A mystery is undertaken, more macho dialogue is exchanged, and a storyline is concluded...or is it?
O'Neil (w), Robinson (p), Pascoe (i)
Well, I'd heard rumblings the past few months that the hole "Azrael" had been slowly sinking into was reversing itself, beginning with #66. Many had been optimistic following the end of NML that the stupor "Azrael" had been in since half-way through NML (and, aside from the first half of NML, the previous 20 issues or so) was gone with the storyline b/t #62-65. I begged to differ. #66 APPEARS to be that turning point though--even if it was clumsy in parts (Brian's conversation w/ JP explaining Lilhy's actions in the last year seemed out of place--if JP cared at all about Lilhy pre-NML he would have asked about her much earlier IMO). Still, for those calling for a bloody violent Azrael, you have one, granted it's from the Asian Order of St. Dumas--this storyline has the potential to show the growth (albeit very SLOW growth) JP has undertaken over the last 46 issues or so.
I was pleased with this issue--even though it wasn't spectacular, I felt it laid some solid groundwork for some very interesting developments. Unfortunately, it was bogged down w/ useless cameo appearances by Batgirl, and deux es machina ending w/ Batman--but the storyline unrolled at just the right pace and the artwork by Roger Robinson was brilliant as usual. I'm anticipating his transition onto "Gotham Knights" as I feel he draws a mean Batman and Batgirl, etc. (just the right amount of shadows, very little underwear shots--they both look really creepy). Overall, I'm hoping this issue wasn't a fluke, but I'm still holding out my full opinion of the book until after the artist changes happen (Sergio "everybody scowls" C. and Tony Harris doing covers). Still, this possible "beginning of the end" storyline has a lot going for it--don't fail me now!
The JYD's Grade: "Azrael" #66--B
O'Neil (w), Robinson (p), Pascoe (i)
Am I someone who is hard to please? Possibly. Am I someone who has very high standards (bordering on psychosis)? I think so. How does this relate to the latest issue of "Azrael"? Well, let's see. I get my comics a couple months after they first came out so my reading #67 now instead of back when it was originally released gives me time to gather the word on the street about an issue before I read it. I'd heard a lot from dekard (a poster on the DC Message Boards) about how pleased he was with the direction "Azrael" is going and I'd read the usually inane comments of the meatheads in the "Azrael" boards--the majority (I felt) had been positive about this new plotline. I, however, am just not satisfied.
I do enjoy reading "Azrael"--don't get me wrong--but now I almost feel that I'm reading the series simply for (a) the collector's spirit (gotta have 'em all) and (b) the mentality that I've gone this far... So I feel an obligation to continue reading "Azrael," even though I feel not much has happened. I believe Jean Paul as a person has developed (those changes are very apparent--simply compare #1 to #23 to #48 to #67)...but that really doesn't mean much to me when nothing else happens TO JP. He's had his share of adventures, but no mention is ever made of, say, the repurcussions of his battles with the Monstermaker, or Bane. And, until recently, the Order had been abandoned (the best set of storylines I felt).
Now that the Order is back, JP is continuing to evolve, and action is taking place (ignoring the rediculous plane crash at the end of #67 which should have torn the plane apart and resulted in JP's grisly death) as well as the hints of intrigue. Everything should be moving in a great direction, right? So why do I feel so numb after issues of "Azrael." Why don't I care? I almost feel like I'm in a stupor (not a bad one when you're pleading for an issue to end, like "Batman" #576)--afterwards nothing carries over with me from the storyline. That's the way I felt after having read #66 (I rated that as a "B"). Things happened...but they weren't very exciting. So what's the problem with me? Am I growing too old for comic books? No, I don't think so. But I think either I'm setting my standards too high (and they ain't going down any time soon) or I'm expecting more from my comic books. I think it's the latter case--when I compare "Azrael" to "Starman" (both series that came out practically a month apart from each other, both concerning a hero's growth etc.) I can see a difference.
This brings me to an interesting dillemma--do I continue to purchase "Azrael," even though I don't feel like it's thrilling me? Do I wait until after #75 when O'Neil has said (in an interview I read today) that, once again, "Azrael," is getting a change of direction? I don't know... Should I stick it out to the end? WILL this series ever end?
Another question I don't have the answer to. I think, though, that something's going to have happen pretty soon. Don't get me wrong, the issue was good...but in a "blah who cares?" kind of way.
The JYD's Grade: "Azrael" #67--B-