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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Comics thoughts for the week of 4/3/13

I didn't think last week's pull could get any smaller, and what do you know? I ended up with only FIVE titles this week. Call my comment on the state of industry's quality, I picked up not one Marvel or Image book this go-round, and I somehow ended up with all DC titles. Crazy...this week marks the first of what was formerly known as the WTF initiative via a gate-fold cover gimmick. The 90's truly are alive again. 

On to this week's titles, as always spoilers are a go!

Featured Comic of the Week

Detective Comics #19
w - John Layman, a - Jason Fabok

Over the past ten years, Batman has been in a pretty interesting place. It's easy to say without much reservation that he's DC's most popular character, and with that popularity has brought a number of great writers and runs, particularly here in the post-millennial era. The chain of writers from Ed Brubaker/Greg Rucka, who gave way to Grant Morrison (with a small smattering of Paul Dini) who gave way to Scott Snyder, now finds itself leaning towards where it may head in the possible future.



Detective Comics was in a bit of a rough way critically when the New 52 started. The book had just come off the incredible Scott Snyder penned "Black Mirror" storyline, of which I've praised on this site before. Before the New 52 hit, Grant Morrison was writing Batman Inc. and Tony Daniel was amongst the many artists that DC felt could be capable writers, and handed him the Batman title. After the relaunch, Daniel and Snyder switched positions, with Snyder taking over the super-hero style action of the core Batman book and Daniel helming the more procedurally driven Detective Comics. Sadly, Daniel wasn't quite JH Williams III in the artist to writer category and while his Detective Comics was a sales success (most likely on the strength of its lead character), it was less well received by the critical consensus. Around Issue 13, they decided a new team was in order...enter John Layman.

John Layman, of Image fame with his series "Chew", was a breath of fresh air for a title that fairly directionless. Remember, this was the book where in first issue, the Joker got his face cut off and Scott Snyder had to make something of that ridiculous plot point. So, Layman goes and does the perfect thing, he focuses on The Penguin, and a few of the lesser used rogues who hadn't been the focus of Bat-villainy in the New 52 as of yet, like Poison Ivy, Clayface, and Zsasz but framed them perfectly to the work that Snyder was doing in "Batman". While Detective told it's own self-contained story about the Penguin's efforts to "go straight" (not really), and the rise of his Lieutenant to taking over his criminal empire, it also gave readers maybe the best of the Death of the Family tie-ins. It did so, not by having the Joker wreak havoc within its pages, but rather telling a smaller story of gangs inspired by the Joker's reign of terror and Batman's tackling of them while still dealing with the greater ramifications that Snyder was penning. Much like Williams' Batwoman, Detective Comics became a title that gave greater depth to Gotham City and that along with Jason Fabok's incredible art-work was enough to keep it on my pull list regularly. With Issue 19, it marked the 900th issue of Detective Comics (a HUGE milestone), and a hefty 7.99 price tag along with about 80 pages to peruse. I'm sad to say, the book is not Layman at his best, and has some downright weak backup work.



The main story focuses on this concept of "The 900", which stands for the 900 Block of Gotham which has become infected with an airborne version of Kirk Langstrom's Man-Bat serum. With a plot device reminiscent of last Summer's awful "The Amazing Spider-Man", Batman is off to find the cause of what created this outbreak in the first place. The art is stellar throughout, but the storytelling is bizarrely clumsy from Layman's usual high standard. There's shoddy writing throughout, like a cameo appearance by Batwoman, and then she vanishes (but not without an editorial box telling you what issue of Batwoman to read to find out why she isn't getting along with Bruce), or quick mentions of failed outreach to Batgirl and Nightwing, just to show, "oh right, Death of the Family did have implications" along with ANOTHER editorial box to let you know that Nightwing is headed to Chicago in his own title. The title just feels like an awful compromise of editorial edicts in lieu of capable storytelling on top of a potentially big continuity hole regarding Langstrom, who is apparently making his first appearance in Batman continuity. If that's the case, who did Talia steal the Man-Bat formula from at the beginning of Grant Morrison's run? I can only assume this is one of those areas where in the New 52, things didn't quite happen the same way they appeared on-page pre-52. I can accept that at face value. What I can't accept is a not up-to-par story, which sadly, the main feature falls into.



The back-ups fare no better. The standard Andy Clark illustrated back-up tale works the best and gives some nice character grounding to Langstrom and his assistant that we didn't receive in the main feature with it's "wham-bam structure". This story also gives some hints as to where these two characters may be headed in the near future, with the idea of a possible family of Man-Bats. The concept may sound ridiculous, but at least there's a sense of inventiveness there. The third back-up focusing on Bane and written by James Tynion (who DC continues to foist upon us, whether we want him or not), has zero connection to the goings-on in the title and is basically an advertisement for Talon, a bit of a desperate move on DC's part if they're stooping to pad their anniversary issue with a giant advertisement.

The other two backups at least return the book to some form of relevance, but they feel a bit fleeting in retrospect. The third story focuses on a character called Mr. Combustable, who works for Oglivy, but still has his loyalties to the now jailed Penguin. Basically this is the beginning of a return to probable status quo for Oswald Cobblepot, which is slightly disappointing but as with all things in comics there's little permanence, especially within the Big Two. The last story relates to a tale of a recovering Gotham Cop who had been infected in the 900 Outbreak and how his partners don't trust Batman, etc etc...while most may not care for the filler feel of this last tale, I took some positives from it, as I'm hopeful the more grounded procedural approach is where the title may be headed towards. I'd love to get another Gotham Central-esque title, perhaps not with such an exclusive focus (not that I'd complain), but the idea of Gotham Beat Cops as regular supporting cast members would return the book to its strengths: fleshing out Gotham, it's where Layman shines brightest frankly and I hope his future on the book veers more in that direction rather than the somewhat fumbling work done here. Then again, DC Editorial may have other ideas.

Layman is still the future of the line hopefully, I can only cross my fingers that this is a speed-bump rather than a full on crash.

I give it a C-



One-sentence (or a little more) reviews

Action Comics #19 - Well, if this was the Superman that Andy Diggle was writing: banal storytelling, characterization that's fairly out of step with the previous run, and a fairly unengaging premise; I'm glad he's off the book. D

Swamp Thing #19 - Interesting start for Soule's run, the Alec Holland voice feels a little out of step from what Snyder was doing, but I'm willing to go another issue on pure storytelling momentum alone. The two-page spread of Alec climbing through the Green was gorgeous. B

Green Lantern #19 - Dreadful, completest in me or not, I'm seriously tempted to not get Issue 20 after this mess. Geoff is just phoning it in here, again, Venditti can't come on board soon enough. F

Earth 2 #11 - It's still slower than I'd like, and way over wordy, but Robinson at least is building a nice world that is completely his and I can appreciate it on those grounds. I don't think this Tower of Fate arc is terribly compelling, but the promise of Mr. Miracle and Barda (?) in the ruins of Gotham City looks fun! B-


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