Saturday, 1 October 2016

Batman Eternal Vol. 1 (The New 52) Review

"Hey buddy! Wanna buy a supporting
Writers: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, John Layman, Ray Fawkes, Tim Seely and Kyle Higgins.

Artists: Y'know what? There's a lot- let's leave it at that.

Collects: Batman Eternal #1-21

Background Information:

Every now and again, DC will release a weekly series. If they have faith in it, that series will last 52 issues. If not, It will end around the 40-45 mark. By the time Batman Eternal was in full swing, DC were publishing no less than three of these series; the aforementioned Batman title, The New 52: Future's End and Earth 2: World's End. These were all billed as big deals for the DC universe, but only one series found people who actually cared about it. Guess which one it was?

...the Batman one. It was the Batman one.


There have been complaints aplenty made about Batman Eternal; it's chaotic, there's a lot of plots going in different directions at any one time and there's more filler than the teeth of a sugar addict following fourteen consecutive Halloweens. These complaints though, are best attributed to all DC weekly series and it seems a bit harsh to slag Batman Eternal for doing what series like 52 were already doing. That said, Batman Eternal's major selling point is that there's a lot of it- even if some of it isn't all that good, which is worrying considering how much they're asking for a trade paperback.
We currently have no idea what's happening here and we read
this scene twice!

So Forever Evil has just finished and Batman is back to his old games again- chasing criminals, recruiting minors to fight dangerous battles and trying his best not to refer to Alfred as "mummy" when a train accident finds Jim Gordon arrested for causing the death of hundreds. It's at this time when Gotham's criminals decide that when the cat's away (I'm not making a reference to Catwoman- she's in this one) the mice will.. well, start a massive gang war and cause death and destruction everywhere... y'know- typical mouse stuff.

This leave various Gotham heroes frantically running around the city to do typical hero stuff; Batgirl and Red Hood search for whoever set Jim Gordon up for a fall, Red Robin and Harper Row track a nanobot virus that's doing all sorts of evil things and Batwing joins up with the Spectre to set up Gotham at Midnight investigate strange going-ons at Arkham. This leaves Batman having to deal with the gang war and I have to say that it's cool to see old Bats with white-knuckles as he frantically rushes from one place to another to just barely avert disaster. You really get the impression here that he hasn't slept in days, which is great because I don't think we ever see the line "I haven't slept in days". It's show-don't-tell at it's finest.

Oh, and Stephanie Brown is in this one. Yep, that character that people demanded be brought back has indeed... come back. Honestly, that's all I can say about her at this point, because Batman Eternal seemed only interested in doing that with her character. She constantly pops up to remind us that she is indeed there and that DC are very sorry; please take them back, they love you and really that fling with the new readers didn't really mean anything! To say that she propels the plot forward in new and interesting ways is like saying Thomas the Tank Engine runs on Coca-Cola and Mentos; It's something we may really want to happen but when it comes down to it, we need to accept the fact that reality isn't going to pander to us in that way.

Weirdly, the most interesting plot seems to be that of Vicki Vale and new detective Jason Bard. There's a lot of solid detective work done by these two and seeing their relationship is absolutely the books sweet spot. There's enough space to argue that these two people matter more to the plot than any of the superhero characters combined. You know how people are all impressed that Batman's on the Justice League even though he has no powers? Vale and Bard, in this sense are Batman Eternal's Batman- no intense combat training (beyond what a cop can do), no high-tech gadgetry and yet they rattle cages like a blind parakeet on a sugar rush.
One day, I'm going to find whoever gave Red Hood's helmet
that stupid mouth and maim them.

With a book that has 13 artists, do I need to say that the art is a mixed bag? Or remind you of an idiom about too many cooks? None of this is to say that the art is bad for a weekly series (except for Ian Betram's, who makes every character look like they gained 20 kilos just for the issue and have blackheads all over their faces), But you're more likely to notice the change in artist than the change in writer. Otherwise, it looks how a Batman book should- dark, gritty, and intense as anything.

Now, as I mentioned, this is a 52-issue weekly series which means that the old weekly-series problems still apply (sing along if you know the words): Many issues feel like they're there to fill in gaps in the publishing schedule, there's no sense of a complete story arc in this volume, and too many things are happening at once. That's not a fault of Batman Eternal so much as it a fault of the weekly format; the book is very much a slave to its publishing schedule, so there isn't that feeling of tightness you get from an monthly ongoing. Batman Eternal does its best to still make those problems somewhat enjoyable, even if it can't negate them completely, but fair warning; I'm not anticipating a fully satisfying plot until the end of the series.

Thankfully, as I said, there's a lot of it, so you will be kept busy reading a series that is actually okay. Batman Eternal gets a three out of five Coca-Cola/Mentos-powered steam engines.

+ Chaotic in the best way.
+ Bard and Vale.
+ A lot of story.
+Stephanie Brown is in it...
-... but she's just "there".
- Not all art is good
- The usual weekly series problems.

Alternate Option: 52

Takes a MUCH broader swing at the DCU, even if the book itself isn't as good.

Fantastic Four Vol. 3: Doomed (Marvel NOW!) Review

It's... prophetic... I'll give it that.
Writer: Matt Fraction

Artists: Mark Bagely, Raffaele Ienco, Mark Famer and Joe Rubinstien.

Collects: Fantastic Four (2012) #9-16

Background Information:

For the last two volumes, the Fantastic Four have been trying to figure out what has been messing with their powers.

Oh yeah, it's been killing them, too.

Trying to find a way to fix their problem has involved them travelling through time and space because comics. The family have been to a lot of strange places and found out completely nothing.

Doesn't that just make you desperate for more?


I don't get it. I just don't get it.

I swear, you'd think Marvel were trying to
tell us something...
You ever read those books that has plenty of what you like and then ended up forgetting about it?

That's Doomed  in a nutshell. At face value, there's nothing to hate- there's even a lot to like- yet, somehow the whole thing is a bore. It's disappointing because as the final volume of Matt Fraction's run, this should have been the best book of the three-volume stint. As it is, it's only the second. It's better by far than Road Trip, but not as good as New Departures, New Arrivals.

So Reed Richards now has to fix his family's powers before everyone dies. On the side, Ben Grimm is worried that his actions resulted in Dr Doom existing, so he and Reed go back in time to witness the beginning of Marvel's greatest villain. There's also an alternate universe that's ruled by Kang the Conqueror, Annihilus and Doom himself, and that takes us to the book's climax. If that sounds overly complicated, it's because it is.

This is one of those volumes that was made after the series was cancelled and, like all comics that suffer the same fate, every remaining issue gets crammed into one volume that makes for a rather cluttered story. The result is that there's really too much here. Or at least it feels that way. Fraction somehow puts that much into a story without ever giving the feeling that something has actually happened.

I'll give it this, where Road Trip felt like nothing more than a transition point, Doomed actually feels like it's about something, but each part of Doomed feels like it's being squeezed out of a pipe (don't make that a poo joke... don't make it a poo joke... DAMMIT, you made it a poo joke). Each moment feels like Fraction was saying to himself "Just one more page, and then I can get back to writing Hawkeye, which I actually like doing" and because of this, I found myself checking how much more of the book I had to read before I could move on to something else.

And at this point, it really is hard for me to believe that Marvel didn't have a plan to destroy the Fantastic Four for no other reason than it couldn't make movies about them. Scream "conspiracy theorist" all you want, but at the end of the day, Matt Fraction is a far better writer than this. Like I said, his Hawkeye is proof enough of this. It really does seem like Marvel was telling him to make this book as boring as he could, and if that was the case, pat yourself on the back, Matty ol' boy because you certainly succeeded- even when you had a million and one exciting things going on, you still pushed out a stinker (you're making a poo joke again, aren't you?!).

Even the black suits didn't help...
The art is the strongest feature of this book. It's really the reverse of the writing. Where the writing had all the hallmarks of a great book and still failed to deliver, the art uses colours that usually would only go together if you wanted to incite madness and somehow still comes off as pretty pleasing. A large part of the credit goes to the pencillers Mark Bagley, Raffaele Ienco, Mark Farmer and Joe Rubinstein, who draw these incredibly exotic, out-there environments. Even so, colourists Paul Mounts and Guru-eFX (who must have drawn a LOT of sympathy out of the maternity ward for that name) need to be praised. Like I said, this book shouldn't look good, but it does, which makes all the more a pity that the writing is so bland!

I make it sound like I hated this book and I really didn't. The heart-felt epilogue issue at the end draws together both this and Fractions FF for a warm-and-fuzzy goodbye and I found myself treating it like a teacher does a naughty kid who give her a thank-you card at the end of the term. I was unimpressed by it's performance, but it left me feeling good at the end. It gets a two out of five poo jokes.

+ The end issue.
+ Art.
- Cluttered story...
- That feels like nothing is happening.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Animal Man Vol. 2: Animal Vs Man

Like the last volume, Animal Man does
indeed wear a shirt in this one- just less so.
Writer: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Travel Foreman, Steve Pugh, Timothy Green II

Collects: Animal Man # 7-11, #0 and Annual #1

Background Information:

For five years, Buddy Baker was convinced that aliens gave him the power to adopt the abilities of any animal close to him. In the last volume, Buddy found out that his powers actually come from extra-dimensional force controlling animal life known as The Red. This force is trying desperately to restore the balance between them, the plant life-force known as The Green and the force controlling death and decay called The Rot.

The Rot is gaining power, and has been hunting Buddy and his daughter Maxine- the Avatar of The Red. In the previous volume, Buddy fought one of the Hunters Three- soldiers of The Rot. He and Maxine survived, but only just.


It's a weird thing to say that a book about going to another dimension made up of flesh and bone while a demon inhabits the heroes body feels like a natural next step, yet that is exactly what Animal Vs Man is. Where most second volumes from DC have felt forced and self-compromising, Jeff Lemire's second collection of Animal Man issues builds on an already-solid first volume.
See? Not just a shirt; a whole costume!

So, the monsters of The Rot have not stopped chasing Buddy and his family and now the Hunter that
we thought Buddy had defeated last volume has taken Buddy's body for his own. Instead of using it to eat all the ice cream he can possibly handle, the Hunter uses Buddy's body to attack the Baker family. In the meantime, Buddy finds himself in The Red's own version of the afterlife, complete with goat/man guide. Buddy, naturally, wants his body back and The Red is the only thing that can give it back to him.

To be totally honest, this is a less scary volume than the previous. Whereas Volume 1 nailed the inherent creepiness involved in telling what is essentially a zombie story (and, might I add, it did it better than the first volume of The Walking Dead ever did), this one just can't build the tension right. The elements of fantasy and horror are still there- and they're still strong; they're just unbalanced. You either see lots of the fantasy with nil horror, or the exact same horror you did in the last volume with very little fantasy. It leads to a volume that falls just short of its predecessor and it's a shame.

But it only falls just short as this volumes true purpose shines through very clearly. See, this isn't really a story about Animal Man fighting The Rot. It's a story about how The Red operates and how Buddy upsets their way of doing things. Here, Buddy openly goes against everything The Red sees as proper- he makes demands, defies orders and refuses to go down as the disappointment.

I'm seriously worried that DC thinks aiming for a female
audience means "less shirts on buff dudes",
And it's here that Lemire does something that only few can do; he tells a deeply political story without showing his political bias. After reading this volume, I couldn't honestly tell whether Lemire was left or right-leaning. That's something that few writers can achieve (I'm looking at you, Mark Waid, Jason Aaron, Brian Michael-Bendis and Chuck Dixon) and it's a talent that deserves to be celebrated.

The art here is just as great as what we saw in The Hunt. Bright colours undercut the dirty, gritty lines and makes the darker twists generally unexpected. Where artist Travel Foreman shines, however, is in his depictions of Buddy's new connection to animal life. Animal Man's body now changes to resemble any animal he adapts the power of. Now we see him with an ape-like head, bulging arms and literal crows feet. It's weird and wonderful and I'm desperate to see more.

Animal Vs. Man is less scary than the first volume, but SO much better at mythos-building. It gets a four out of five literal crows feet.


Monday, 7 December 2015

Spider-Man 2099 Vol. 1: Out of Time (Marvel NOW!) Review

Starring the time period that definitely
ISN'T on the cover.
Writer: Peter David

Artists: Rick Leonardi and William Sliney

Collects: Spider Man 2099 #1-5 and Amazing Spider-Man #1 (2099 excerpt).

Background Information:

The Spider-Man of 2099 is a creation of the 90s- one of the few to remain unhated since the era passed. The story goes that in 2099, Miguel O'Hara got his genes spliced with that of a spider, and became that era's Spidey.

With us so far?

Good, because in Dan Slott's Superior Spider-Man, Miguel was transported back to our time because some truly whacky things were happening with the space-time continuum. During that time, he became stranded there and found himself having to protect his great-grandfather, Tiberius Stone.


Not knowing where a series is going is often a good thing. Not knowing if the series really wants to go anywhere? Not so much.

That's the feeling I get when reading Out of Time; a book that shows plenty of potential for the series- but doesn't convince you that writer Peter David even cares about capitalising on it.

Is it just me, or would all the Spider-characters make awesome
So Miguel is now working at Alchemax- a relatively young company now that will become an evil
monopoly by 2099- and hasn't he just achieved every millenial's dream?! He's entered the company on an executive level and done so just by showing up. After a futuristic cop tries to kill Miguel; forcing him to take him on as Spider-Man, Alechemax boss Liz Allen figures out that her out-of-the-blue worker and the Spidey with a skull on his chest are one and the same. She comes with a proposition: work for Alchemax as Spidey, or get outed as the same.

Have a guess which one Miguel choses.

To be fair; this is a good status-quo. Liz is clearly in control here, and Miguel has no choice but to follow suite. It leads him, for example, to follow Tiberius into what is either the Middle East or South America for the express purpose of selling Spider-Slayers. It also allows him to see the other super-types that Alchemax has under their employ. Here's a clue: they're bad people.

David has also written a great supporting cast here. He's been wise to keep the supporting cast relatively small. We're introduced to Tempest, a landlord who's been diagnosed with leukaemia and therefore doesn't let others get close to her. We're also re-introduced to Lyla- Miguel's wrist-mounted Siri-like hologram. It's her interjections and take-everything-literally mistakes that bring some of the more sunny moments to this book.

This could all work into a situation like what we have in DC's Grayson, where the title character is now working within the evil group to bring it down, but we don't get that here. David created the original Spidey 2099 character in the 90s, and presumably knows Miguel's relationship with Alchemax isn't great. It feels like a lost opportunity.

Spider-Slayers take tag seriously.
And I don't think David is likely to take advantage of this. The series is set to be re-numbered after volume 2 (which is based more around the Spider-Verse crossover) and bring Miguel back into the future. I don't think one volume is enough to really capitalise on the really intriguing status-quo that David has set-up. I know it's unfair to judge one volume on what comes next, but when you get invested in a series, you want a guarantee that your investment is going to result in a fully-realised story and it doesn't look like it will be.

The art is fine, but unmemorable. There's nothing particularly ugly here, but I couldn't tell this artwork from the myriad of other art styles out there. It thankfully doesn't get in the way of David's writing, though and even allows it to be as witty or engaging as you can. Here, you're reading a story more than looking at pictures.

It's a rare moment when I have a five-star love for a book but know that there are legitimate flaws. As much as I love Out of Time, I still have to give it a three out of five wrist-mounted Siris.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Nightwing Vol. 2: Rough Justice (Pre-52) Review

Are the 90s... when everything- and I
mean everything bulged.
Nightwing Volume 2: Rough Justice

Writers: Chuck Dixon and Devin Grayson

Artists: Scott McDaniel, Karl Story, Greg Land and Bob McLoed.

Collects: Nightwing 9-18, Nightwing Annual #1

Background Information:

When bodies washed up in Gotham's harbour, Nightwing moved down to Bludhaven to find out how those bodies got there. He found out that the whole thing was connected to a man known as the Blockbuster. He also developed a shaky alliance with corrupt detective Dudley Soames.

So, he lives in Bludhaven now. It's a thing.


Nighwing's second volume, Rough Justice, is the comic equivalent of eating pizza for every meal; you can only take so much of it before it gets bad for you. Rough Justice stops just before that happens, but damn if it doesn't cut it fine.

So now that Nightwing knows who's responsible for all the problems in Bludhaven. Of course, now that Blockbuster knows that Nightwing's there, the battle between them is heating up. In the midst of all this, who should show up but Batman to remind us that Nightwing is a
Batman character and since Batman is a Batman character who happens to also be Batman, this book has to have an appearance by Batman.

Okay, so there's an actual context given to Batman's appearance and his insistence that he be Batman. Turns out Bruce is there to check on Nightwing and that makes Dick think that he doesn't trust him to do anything right. A large amount of the this volume ends up being given to Dick simultaneously saying "I hope you approve" and "Go the hell away!" It's a good look into the character and helps the whole series feel that little bit more "coming-of-age-y".

Writer Chuck Dixon should be congratulated also for the way he continually makes sure that Nightwing is different in every way to Batman. There's hints early on in the volume that Nightwing will be geting a sidekick that gets totally dashed the very next panel, he gets himself a car that is nothing like a Batmobile and his lair is his apartment. It's these differences that really help to set Dick apart from the rest of the Bat-Family.

The book ends with Dick chasing down the Man-Bat before Deathstroke can capture him for a filmmaker. I had expected the appearance of Deathstroke to be a big deal; a high-stakes fight between a hero and best-known adversary.

Contrary to the look on his face, he's actually a pretty jovial
It wasn't. And it wasn't for a number of reasons- not the least of which being Deathstroke's ridiculous 90s costume. Firstly, the story around Man-Bat gave me no reason to care for what happens to anyone- the stakes aren't high in the least and Deathstroke's talents seem wasted on what is really more appropriate for an issue of Batman '66. Then there's the ending; it's WAY too abrupt and fails to cash in on what should have been the emotional core of the story. It's a disappointing pair of filler issues, but that's not the worst part of this volume.

That awards goes to the Annual issue. It's written by Devin Greyson and is about Dick faking a wedding to catch a killer. It's boring as hell, ugly to look at, and completely pointless in the grand scheme of things. I shudder to think of what future volumes are under Devin Greyson's pen, because the current evidence suggests that things will be truly atrocious.

Rough Justice is a book for Nightwing fans... and just about nobody else. It gets a three out of five Batmen being Batmen because Nightwing is a Batman character.


+ Effective as "coming-of-age" story.
+ Continues to differentiate Nightwing from Batman.
- Deathstroke/Man-Bat story falls flat.
- That Annual...

Alternate Option: Nightwing: Bludhaven

The better of the two Pre-52 Nightwing books.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Hawkeye Vol. 3: L.A. Woman (Marvel NOW!) Review

Hawkeye Volume 3: L.A. Woman

Writer: Matt Fraction

Artists: Annie Wu and Javier Pulido

Collects: Hawkeye #14, #16, #18, #20 and Annual #1

Background Information:

For the past two volumes, Clint Barton (AKA Hawkeye), has been defending his aparment complex from a gang of Russians dressed in tracksuits. At the end of the last volume, however, Clint decided he was going to "bail" as young Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, puts it. Kate didn't like that, so she up and left to L.A, taking the pizza dog Lucky with her.


You hear a lot of calls for female-led books in the comic industry. You hear a lot of calls for more light-hearted fun in comics. If there was ever a solid argument for both, though, it's L.A. Woman.

Hawk-not-guy on computers!
So upon entering L.A., Kate is promplty robbed and left broke. Only having her skills as an archer/superhero at hand, she sets herself up as a hero for hire. All the while, Madam Masque lurks in every mission she takes. I think what I love about this particular format of storytelling is that it tells a complete story like the previous volume, without sacrificing the done-in-one episodic format that made me love the first Hawkeye volume. Each mission feels like it's own thing, but somehow it links back to Madam Masque. It allows for a light-hearted comic where the stakes feel high. That's a difficult thing to accomplish, and massive kudos goes to Matt Fraction for pulling it off.

Kate's character has always been well-written by Fraction, but gving her a chance to shine in what could easily classify as her own solo book is golden. Kate's got a very different voice to Clint. She feels younger and more energetic. Fraction even gives Kate her own slang; with liberal use of the word "futzing" and he catchprase "Momma like" being the standouts.

It's actually amazing how "un-Clint" this book feels withot feeling like a seperate series altogether. The basic elements of the Hawkeye comic up til now are retained; a gang of bellboys suitably replaces the tracksuit draculas, a scruffy-looking man with a dark past fills the void left by the redhead in previous volumes better than she initially filled it, and the ground-level, almost trivial threats are basically retained. Unlike other series that have made major changes (here's looking at you, Batgirl), this change feels natural. It's masterful.

This is the first time I've had to talk about art using two paragraphs, but here goes. Most issues here
are drawn by Annie Wu and while I miss the rough pencils of David Aja, Wu  makes a decent, albeit not equal substitute. She captures Kate's body language brilliantly. With the costume that Kate wears for most of the book, it would also be tempting for writers to draw the character so that the holes in her costume were emphasised. Thankfully, that's not a temptation that Wu succombs to. The holes at her waist, rather than being the focus, seem to just be there to break up the solid purple that otherwise dominates her costume. That's appreciated, and it's something that I want to see more of in the next volume.

Hawk-not-guy in a comic... somewhere...
Javier Pulido's art is another matter. Puido draws the art in the Annual and for a large chunk of the book, it feels like the guy wasn't all that interested in actually drawing anything. Black silouettes take up places where characters shold be in many panels and while this would be clever and nice-looking in small doses, Pulido spams pages with it. Eventually you just want to shake the book and yell "FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! ACTUALLY DRAW SOMETHING, WILL YA?". He partially makes up for it, though, by putting Kate's facial expression in text boxes. That was a nice touch and something I was sad to see absent in other issues.

L.A. Woman is a near-perfect book. It gets a four and a half out of five silloute costume holes.

**** 1/2

Friday, 18 September 2015

The Caped Crusader Update: Ha, Ho, Ha Ha..

As some of you know, I've been working on a Batman fangame called The Caped Crusader, a Zelda-meets-Arkham game based primarily on the Court of Owls story arc.

Yes, there is still a stuff going on with the game. Never, of course, as much as I'd like (damn day job), but there is stuff happening. I'm adding a picture of an area, today. ACE Chemical, where Batman encounters... the Joker?

I wasn't particularly fond of this area until I added the graffiti. I think it adds something and makes the game feel more "Batman".

Anywho, enjoy. And check out the game's official blog for more.