Friday, 20 February 2015

Batman Vol. 4: Zero Year- Secret City (The New 52) Review

Batman Volume 4: Zero Year- Secret City (The New 52)
Mask includes bat-eyebrows.

Writer: Scott Snyder

Artist: Greg Capullo

Collects: Batman #21-24 and Batman Zero Year Directors Cut 1

Background Information:

Since the mid-80s, the definitive Batman origin story was Batman: Year One. It was referenced pretty heavily in Batman Begins, found its way into the DC animated universe, and became Batman’s “official” origin story, even though it was never really part of the DCU.

With that in mind, it’s impressive that a book like this even exists. A book that dares to try and compete with a story so iconic, so readily canonised in the minds of so many fans that to look on it even with indifference is an act of heresy, was likely going to be dismissed at best, burned in effigy at worst. Good thing the book was written by Scott Snyder, a man who, looking at his previous Batman work, can do no wrong.


Writing Batman’s new origin is no simple task. You’ve got to answer to multiple masters, all of whom claim to be showing the “real” Batman- the animated series, the Nolan trilogy, almost anything written by Frank Millar; it’s a difficult job, but Snyder has handled it brilliantly, paying homage to pretty much each version of Batman’s origin.

When he's not Batman, he's not always great at this.
So Gotham’s middle-to-upper class are being manipulated into joining a gang led by a man called the Red Hood. Red Hood’s been having some problems though; a vigilante, a man with a deathwish, it would seem, has been foiling a large part of Red Hood’s plans. No prizes for guessing, but that man is Bruce Wayne. Bruce has been successful thus far, but needs to be something greater.

It doesn’t sound like much of a Batman origin story, I know; there’s no death of parents, being the major difference. But by not letting the readers see Bruce’s mother and father get shot, Snyder does a couple of things that allow for Secret City to be truly great. Firstly, we’re not retreading already familiar ground. Secondly, by not doing so, we can inject our own story of their death. You like the Nolan one? Great! That’s what it was- totally. You like the Burton story? Sure, that’s how it went down! Certain that the death happened after a night time screening of The Mask of Zorro? Of course it did! It’s a level of freedom for the reader that I really wasn’t used to, and I loved it.

That said, there are some scenes that you just don’t leave out. Snyder was wise enough to keep the classic Bruce Wayne line; “Yes father, I shall become the bat,” and keep the gravitas of the moment. That said, he’s injected a new life into the story, grounding it in the tech-fiction that has characterised Snyder’s run so that the whole thing feels fresh. Aside from this Year One excerpt, Snyder also inserts references to The Killing Joke- which I won’t spoil for you. It’s nice references like this that make Secret City near-perfect for new readers- a smorgasbord of samples from the character’s history given a new context, and it works wonderfully.

Sure, there are nitpicks; the fact that this collection is shorter than most is a bummer, as is the fact that this is another Joker story. Death of the Family was great, don’t get me wrong. But that, along with this, along with the current Endgame story arc happening in the floppies, and I’m concerned that we’re going to “Jokered-out” by volume 7 of this series. But they’re small concerns and really don’t hinder your appreciation of the book.

Oh, and side note; Red Hood’s helmet is not a hood, and looks like a giant tablet.

Hey, look, homage!
The art here by Capullo continues to look great, but he does something here that distinguishes Secret City from the other volumes in this series; he uses colour, and a lot of it. The fact that the first scene in the book features Batman in the day should be sufficiently telling of just how different this book is.

Alternatively, maybe Capullo’s just running out of black, grey and brown paint, but the affect is nice, nonetheless.

Secret City is fantastic, there’s no other word for it. It gets a four and a half out of five giant tablets.

**** ½

+ Pays homage to so much.

+ Actual colour in the art

+ Origin somehow avoids retreading.

- Didn’t we just get a Joker story?

Alternate Option: Batman: Zero Year

Something for the gruff old traditionalists.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Thougts of Recentness

Yep, another brain.
Okay, so thoughts of the week isn’t realistic. Here’s a collection of thoughts of recentness, instead.
And let’s face it; there are only two pieces of news here:

The words “The New 52” are ending… and that’s about all.

He won't destroy the DCU, but he WILL get rid of three words in the top corner of
your comics, and THAT'S the victory that matters!
Okay, haters. You win. The New 52 is ending.


No, it really isn’t. We’re just not calling it the New 52 anymore.

I gotta admit, there’s a lot here that I’m excited for. Cyborg, Dr Fate, Batman Beyond and Black Canary are all books that sound great, but for me, the most exciting thing is We Are Robin.
The most fresh and exciting thing on DC's new
The idea of what will hopefully be a teenage team emerging as people inspired by Robin is really interesting, and I just can’t go past that cover art.

That said, what isn’t there gets me concerned. It looks like we’re not getting a return of Nightwing, which was what I wanted out of DC more than anything. And is Kyle Higgins really not on any of the post-convergence titles? That’s sad, it really is- I’ve been loving Higgins’ characterisation in each of his titles that I’ve read and it’s a shame to see him leave DC.

Marvel can include Spider-Man in movies now

Spider-Man's now-permanent position in Marvel continuity.
Honestly, I know everyone’s excited about this, but personally, I’m not. I know that Spidey becomes the emotional centre of Civil War, which should equal a (somewhat) more faithful adaptation, but I never saw Spider-Man’s comics as being subservient to The Avengers. I don’t want a Spider-Man movie that’s nothing more than a two-hour ad for Infinity Gauntlet- I just don’t. I’d honestly rather have another Amazing Spider-Man 2 than see a movie purely designed to get Spidey into the Avengers (that should give you an idea of how unexcited I am about this). He’s not a bit-player, and to see him play second fiddle to Iron Man would just be insulting.

Yep, I’m anticipating hate comments, but I really don’t see how sharing Spider-Man with Marvel is going to result in a better Spider-Man franchise (Sony still has creative control, after all).

Superior Spider-Man Volume 4: Necessary Evil (Marvel NOW!) review

The Superior Spider-Man Vol. 4: Necessary Evil

Spider-Man takes hide-and-seek pretty
Writer: Dan Slott

Artists: Ryan Stegman and Guiseppe Camuncoli

Collects: The Superior Spider-Man #17-21

Background Information:

Doctor Octopus is now Spider-Man (until he isn’t). Get over it.

Gee, that was quick.


The first three volumes of Superior were highly entertaining and well-paced. They took time to really showcase how a super-villain fights crime; killing criminals, unleashing drones to watch the city and even hiring minions complete with tanks to battle gangs. With that in mind, it’s sad that Necessary Evil sees a severe drop in momentum. The worst Superior Spider-Man volume is still better than the best Deadpool volume, but it’s still disappointing.
Yeah, shut up!

Over in the year 2099, Miguel O’Hara, the Spider-Man of the future is noticing strange things afoot- Time is going crazy and it’s all because of something happening in 2013 and because it will somehow result in his ancestors dying, he needs to go back in time to save them. Meanwhile in the present, Otto’s workplace, horizon labs, is in a lot of trouble and will likely go under. It’s up to Otto to try and save his inventions from the company, and save the company if he has the time.

The first thing you’re going to notice about this book is the language Dan Slott uses for Spider-Man 2099. His dialogue is full of slang that, back in the 90s, writers were sure we’d be using in the 21st century. Word and phrases like “shock” and “son of a glitch” pepper the 2099 Spidey’s quips and threats. It’s true to the character, a 90s creation first written by Peter David, but that doesn’t mean that these kind of quips have aged well.

That said, Miguel is a pretty well-written character. He’s the only one with the gall to call Otto Octavius “low tech”. To a certain point, his “edgy” anger falls flat when you consider that we have two angry versions of Spider-Man (the same happened when Superior Spider-Man Team-Up crossed over with Scarlet Spider), but thankfully, 2099’s Spidey acts as an effective “voice of reason” to Otto’s self-interest.

I’m making it sound like this is a terrible book, but it isn’t. Like I said, it’s still better than the best Deadpool. Slott does a great job of really taking apart Otto’s self-perception as Peter Parker’s “superior”, as he fails to save the day, and the possibilities to come out of this volume are worth the price of the book- Otto’s new start-up company, Miguel stuck in the present, it’s all stuff that I really want to see play out.

The weakest part of this book, though is the second story arc, featuring Otto’s old flame, the Stunner. It’s largely uninteresting, and for new readers, it may as well not exist. There is a great moment where Otto is accused of plagiarising himself, but I don’t know if it justifies the existence of the arc.

Spider-Man remembers everything in the dated-art medium.
Art here continues to be solid. I miss Ramos’ art, but it’s hard for me to hate Stegman’s pencils; it’s what I cut my Marvel teeth on, and it’s great to see his style still in play- the guy just gets spider-characters.

Necessary Evil is the official low point of Superior Spider-Man, but that’s a long shot from saying that it’s a poor book. There’s some great art here and the story progresses nicely, it’s just not amazing on the way. It gets a two-and-a-half out of five best Deadpool volumes.

** ½

+ Miguel well-characterised.

+ Art still good.

- Second arc not good.

- Some “shockingly” bad dialogue.

Alternate Option: Superior Spider-Man: No Escape

A great volume to if you find yourself needing a reminder on why you read this series.