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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Comics thoughts for the week of 2/13/13

This week was a bit sparse in terms of my individual pull. No Marvel titles for me this week, but quite a few DC, and a couple of big Image books. As an aside, I did get this week's The Walking Dead but I'm about 10 issues behind my reading on that title. But, I took some time this evening to read the rest of my pull, which includes the finale to the big Batman storyline of the past few months. As always, spoilers are a go!

This week's spotlight issue:

Batman #17
w - Scott Snyder, a - Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion

As this is the book on everyone's mind in the comics world this week, it's fitting that I take the time to delve into a bit. Obviously I'm a huge Batman fan, and any excuse to talk about the character and his world at length is one I'll take. Issue #17 is the conclusion to the big Death of the Family Crossover which, while not acting as Joker's debut in the New 52, provided him with his first major storyline since the line wide relaunch in late 2011.

Scott Snyder's run on the title has been one of critical acclaim, to the point where it's been consistently hailed as one of the top 3 books coming out of DC's line of comics. These accolades will garner little argument from me, as I placed it in my Top 10 comics of 2012. My experience with Scott Snyder began like most readers with his first few issues of Detective Comics, when he stepped in as a basic unknown taking over for Greg Rucka on Detective Comics. I tried out a few issues at first and wasn't really into it, finding the direction a bit darker than I would initially would have liked. Around this time, the only comics I was reading were Geoff Johns suddenly waning run on Green Lantern (of which I'll touch on below) and Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin, possibly the most fun I'd had reading comics in years.

I wasn't wild about those first couple of issues, but I did enjoy the art on the Commissioner Gordon backup enough to remain intrigued to go back and pick up the run when collected. I was especially tempted when the word  came around from many review sites that his run thereby titled The Black Mirror was the finest Batman story since Year One (still my favorite Batman story ever). Despite a few gross-out moments that I thought perhaps gratuitous, I was definitely amongst the converted. So much so, that not only did I add his beginning run on Batman to my quickly growing pull list, but I also went back and collected his slightly older work on American Vampire. Both of which I found to really enjoy pretty much wholeheartedly give or take a few misgivings. His work on Batman has been especially fascinating because it focuses not only on Bruce, but also Gotham itself as a character. His first 11 issues focused on the Court of the Owls, literally a child's myth come to life based around the city of Gotham itself. In that first mega-arc, you had Bruce literally fighting a physical manifestation of the city he has sworn his life to protect in his parents' name. Plus, the metaphor of owls eating bats was an obvious piece hanging in the background that just made the whole arc pretty brilliant in its execution. I had some misgivings with the ending, which I thought was a little too pat; but I did appreciate the introduction of a new version of Owlman, who I've always thought was one of the least used/biggest potential villains in the DC universe.

When it was announced that Snyder's second arc would focus on the Joker, I was a little trepidatious. Over the past ten years, DC has used Joker to the point of utter exhaustion, so much so that they even had an entire crossover dedicated to his special brand of madness in Last Laugh. He's been the major adversary of two really popular Batman videogames and of course in Christopher Nolan's film The Dark Knight. The Joker was even a major presence in Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin run. So, another focus on the character immediately set off my fatigue alarm, but the faceless Joker twist and some deeper explanation of why the Joker allowed the random Dollmaker villain to cut his face off in Detective Comics #1 was enough to keep me interested despite that I'd much rather be reading say, a Mr. Freeze or Two-Face storyarc.

Death of the Family, like most bigger DC stories lately, was turned into a line-wide crossover event. Though despite a dabbling in Peter Tomasi's Batman and Robin, and my continuing interest in John Layman's new run on Detective Comics, I avoided all the other tie-ins and read just the core title. The experience had been up until the final two issues, a little underwhelming. Through the first three chapters of the arc, Joker had returned from his year long exile and basically raised cain on the various members of the Bat clan (Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, etc...) the turning point of the entire arc being the idea that the Joker has figured out who Batman is. Whether he actually does was the question that continued to float in the background, causing a confrontation scene where Bruce has to explain how the Joker could possibly know this, leading to the all powerful "deep-dark secret" that Bruce has never revealed to anyone. A device I generally hate, but Snyder is able to handle the "does he or doesn't he know" fairly well.

In this final chapter, after having cleared Joker's gauntlet in Arkham Asylum and having been shocked into unconsciousness, Bruce awakes at a dinner table where the rest of the Bat family is tied into a death trap with their faces bandaged and one false move will lead to their demise. For the last month, the question of "what is under the serving dish?" had been floating around fandom with varying ideas coming to the fore. The most popular of which being Alfred's head or various body parts, and Snyder, never one to avoid gallow's humor plays up this aspect literally calling Alfred by name as the serving dish is being lifted. Instead of the faithful old butler, we end up looking at what at first seems to be the carved off faces of each of Bruce's extended family.

No surprise that after Bruce escapes it ends up being a fakeout, and all faces remain intact. What's nice about the trick though is that not only does it finally give a plausible (as far as Joker goes) explanation for why he had his own face cut off (Snyder making the best of a terrible situation) but also it goes to show you, regardless of the lengths to which he may plan; in the end, Joker is still an asshole. Bruce pursues the Joker to a cliff and basically goes into full-bore badass mode more or less threatening to finally kill Joker, which he himself barely believes. But then, Bruce drops the best line of the entire issue when he states to Joker: "I finally deduced it...your family, your entire history, who you really are under there" causing the Joker to fall into an utter panic as this would be the one piece of information that breaks their stalemate, the unending fun that the Joker thrives upon in their relationship. Before Bruce can tell him his true name, the Joker shocks him and falls into the water below, losing his sliced off face "mask". This is a great scene, and frankly makes the entire arc just about worth the price of admission. Though maybe even better is Bruce's revelation to Alfred to why he simply can never kill the Joker, "I'm worried that Gotham may replace him something far worse", the city is his real enemy, his villains are simply a reflection of its evil. The end fall-out of the storyline leads to where I figured it would likely go, which was the slow dissolution of the Bat-family due to mistrust over the secrets Bruce kept from them. It'll be interesting to see what the long-term ramifications are as Snyder moves into his next major storyline focusing on the Riddler, most likely.

After his painful Rotworld finale in Swamp Thing, I was getting a little worried about how Snyder might finish Death of the Family off, but my fears were unfounded and he delivered a very, very memorable close. I give this issue an A.

Oh Joker, your game looks to be up, until the next writer takes over it seems....

One sentence-reviews

Before Watchmen: Comedian #5 - This is some pretty no-holds barred storytelling and we're finally moving into a place that lines up Edward to where he is in Watchmen, your mileage may vary. B+

The Manhattan Projects #9 - The team takes their vengeance on the cabal, I mean a dog with a machine gun, how awesome is that? A and my Book of the Week

Threshold #2 - I'm still really struggling to care about the events of this book, I appreciate the world-building but Giffen isn't giving me a reason to feel compelled by any of the players. C-

Demon Knights #17 - A good followup issue to last month's events, the story continues to move at a good pace and there were funny moments aplenty. A- for continuing the quick pace that is a breath of fresh air after Cornell's decompressed run.

Fatale #12 - The second stand-alone story of this particular arc, pretty art as always but a fairly dull tale by Brubaker standards. B-

As sort of an addendum, this week brought about the news that Geoff Johns is leaving Green Lantern after 9 years on the title. I'm not the biggest fan in the world of his writing, but I have enjoyed alot of his work especially on this title. I plan on focusing at some point on some of his more overlooked work and some of his deeper legacy at the big two during a big piece I'm working on regarding a few creators in the near future, but needless to say I'm fairly happy that he's moving on as the title has been struggling now for a few years. Johns utter peak on the book was the Sinestro Corps War and the buildup to Blackest Night. Unfortunately, once we reached Blackest Night, things began to fall apart; while the New 52 breathed some life back into it, once we hit the Rise of the Third Army crossover it all went down the toilet again. I think Johns deserves basically all the credit for making Green Lantern almost as well known as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and he basically recreated the character's mythos. But as I've always felt, once you tell your story, if you've got nothing left in the tank, move on. Johns probably overstayed his welcome by about a year and a half or more, but it's still a pretty remarkable run that only Brian Bendis on Ultimate Spider-man eclipses in recent memory. While Johns will focus on his Justice League and Justice League of America books (and his current Aquaman commitment) it remains to be seen who will take over the GL titles. What I'd give for a Kirby-esque mind-trippingly cosmic Green Lantern tale, I'm pulling for Matt Kindt myself, but it should make for a few interesting weeks of speculation.

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