Monday, 27 July 2015

Batman Vol. 5: Zero Year- Dark City (The New 52) Review

Batman Vol 5: Zero Year- Dark City (The New 52)

Psst... Don't tell Oliver Queen that I
stole his gimmick!
Writer: Scott Snyder

Artist: Greg Capullo

Collects: Batman #25-27, 29-33

Background Information:

Ask any DC reader about Snyder and Capullo's run on Batman, and the only words you're likely going to hear will allude to the phrase "nailing it". The industry's own dynamic duo have been, in many ways, bigger heroes than the characters they write/draw; standing strong against DC's attempt to raise the Batman single-issue price to $4.99. When you buy this book, understand that you're buying the industry's best.

But aside from that, in the last volume, Bruce became Batman. During that time, his uncle Phillip, who was running Wayne Industries, fired one Edward Nigma, which will probably have no repercussions whatsoever, right?



Let me save you all some time. The thing you'll find yourself thinking throughout this trade is "Yeah, why not?"

So you still want to read the whole review? Okay.

Gotham has been blacked out. Amidst the chaos, the mother of all storms is coming to Gotham, and Dr. Death is wandering Gotham causing havoc. In the meantime, the Riddler is slowly closing his grip on Gotham and the cops are out to catch Batman and bring him down for his vigilante action at ACE Chemical from last volume.

He was driving a black... tank- no, wait...
This sounds like a fairly tame plot, except that nearly everything you see in the volume knocks you for six. Each thing that happens in Snyders second part to Zero Year creates feeling of repulsion, acceptance and love in that exact order.

Want an example? Have a look at this picture on the right. That's the Batmobile. Notice how it looks absolutely NOTHING like the Nolan, Burton, or Batman: The Animated Series version. In fact, it looks like nothing you've ever seen before. My first instinct was to hate it; the Batmobile to me, should be black, long and sleek. This is blue, yellow and relatively squat. I wanted to hate it; I really did. But dammit, Snyder/Capullo, I couldn't bring myself to do it. Somehow, this and various other changes just gelled with me, and I came to love it. I actually want to see this Batmobile again; I want it to be the Batmobile.

And that's a feeling you get throughout the whole book. You want to see the blimp in action. You want more of sleeveless and capeless Batman on a motorcycle. You want to see more of Batman in the day. Somehow, this team takes everything that shouldn't work with Batman and makes it work. They make it work well.

Another thing that should do nothing but annoy me is the fact that, after avoiding it last volume, we get the dead parents story again. I really thought this was going to be cliché and bland. Somehow, Snyder avoids making this same-old-same-old. I'm not sure how he does it, maybe it's that he doesn't let the flashbacks depicting that moment in Bruce's life be something that keeps us from seeing him as Batman. Maybe it's that Bruce doesn't spend this volume agonising over the loss of his folks. Whatever it is, it actually added to the entertainment in that title- something that I was sure wouldn't happen.

But by far the best part of this book is in the second half, where the Riddle has turned the entire of Gotham into a wild wasteland under his control. This is where the big set pieces are; buildings fall on each other like dominos while US marines leap from rooftop to rooftop trying to avoid falling to their doom;  whole sections of the city flood, and Batman faces off against lions in an underground carpark. It's intense, it's engaging and it's utterly masterful.

I can't go on too much further without talking about the ending. I won't reveal too much and just say that it's really about Alfred's hopes and dreams for Bruce's future. Hopes that are bittersweetly dashed in one moment. It's by far the most poignant scene in the book and shows just how much Alfred has been the emotional centre of Snyder's run.

"I am vengeance. I am the... late afternoon... y'know what,
let's skip that line."
The only complaint I really have about Zero Year- Dark City is that it leaves me concerned for the future of the series. I know Jim Gordon will take over as Batman and a new status quo will be introduced. I'm not sure if, even under Snyder's pen, we will get a Batman status quo that feels as fascinating and beautiful as what we've seen thus far. Yep, my negative is that very little can live up to this one. That's how good this is.

Capullo has been given a time to shine, here. Having so many daytime scenes allows this artist to use *GASP* ACTUAL COLOUR!!! Maybe it was because Snyder wanted to do something new, maybe Capullo was running out of black and grey paint. Either way, these daytime scenes look incredible and, somehow, we don't lose any sense of darkness despite the wide range of colours.

I'm sure someone will call me a DC fanboy for not giving perfect scores to a Marvel book. But you know what? Zero Year- Dark City has well earned it's five out of five empty black and grey paint pots.


+ What shouldn't work, somehow does.
+ Amazing set-pieces.
+ Ending that is bittersweet and beautiful.
+ A dark and gritty story that has actual colour in the art.

Alternate Option: Batman- Earth One Vol. 1&2

An origin story and a Riddler story. Not as good as this one, but still a great yarn.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

X-Men: Battle for the Atom Review

X-Men: Battle of the Atom
Hey, look what we can do with photoshop!

Writers: Brian Micheal Bendis, Brian Wood and Jason Aaron.

Artists: Frank Cho, Stuart Immonen, David Lopez, Chris Bachalo, Guiseppe Camuncoli and Esad Ribic.

Collects: All-New X-Men #16-17, Uncanny X-Men #12-13, Wolverine and the X-Men #36-37, X-Men #5-6, X-Men: Battle of the Atom 1-2/

Background Information:

Okay, the short version of X-History is this; after House of M, the mutant population was shaved down to 200. This put a lot of strain on the X-Men, and the team soon divided into two; the Uncanny X-Men, led by Cyclops, and Wolverine's X-Men running the Jean Grey School for mutants. A while later, when the Pheonix Force came to Earth, Cyclops was infected with it, and, drunken with power, he killed Charles Xavier. Now Cyclops and the Uncanny X-Men are on the run, and Cyclops is regarded as a kind of "new Magneto".

To help Cyclops recognise the error of his ways, Beast brought the original five X-Men; younger versions of Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Beast and Jean Grey, to the present to show the current Cyclops what an evil twerp he is.

So far, it hasn't worked.


Rule of thumb: time travellers are twits.

They're always messing with the space-time continuum, enforcing dodgy agendas and generally X-Men: Battle of the Atom; the second time-travelling story for the X-Men is about as many years. It's pointless diversion that makes very little sense.
Quick, guys! Do that thing you had just decided to do! PHEW,
dodged a bullet, there.
being not very nice about anything. Such is the case of

And it's awesome.

So, the All-New X-Men run into the Uncanny X-Men while trying to take down a new mutant (who does not matter to the story in the least- thank goodness). In the process, young Cyclops gets temporarily killed (temporarily is the key word, because comics), which temporarily removes old Cyclops for existence. When all is fixed and the X-people decide that they youngsters need to be sent back to their own time after all in come a bunch of Mutants from the future, claiming to be the new X-Men. They have an important message for the X-people of today; wait for it... the young X-Men need to go back to their own time!

Lucky someone told them that... they were CLEARLY having trouble figuring it out for themselves.

Okay, Brian Michael Bendis writes more than half of this book and if you're reading his work, you're NEVER doing it for the plot. You're reading it for dialogue and characterisation and Bendis excels at that. The whole book is filled with some of the best dialogue you're likely to see in a Marvel comic. A standout here is Iceman (actually, all three of them). Bendis ramps up the silly in Bobby Drake's character to the point where nearly everything that comes out of his mouth is dripping with humour. Bendis also continues to build on the characters in both Uncanny and All-New in ways that feel organic. Emma Frost's jealousy of Jean Grey finally comes to a head, the romantic triangle between Jean, young Cyclops and young Beast continues to develop and the lack of trust between Wolverine and old Cyclops just keeps simmering.

Thankfully, Jason Aaron and Brian Wood do enough to keep the plot going, And there is a lot that happens here. Moments of note include the mental fight between Jean Grey, Xorn, Emma Frost and the Stepford sisters; it's wonderfully drawn and oozes of tension. Maria Hill's regular declarations of how much she hates Hank McCoy is also fun. Oh, yeah; and Dazzler becomes the president in the future- wow. These moments all come together in a story that feels fun, epic and mostly self-contained.

And therein lies the problem. If Bendis and Co designed this story to be a way to keep interest in the X-Titles, Battle of the Atom isn't going to do that. The book couldn't feel more like a jumping-off-point for the X-franchise if it tried. True, there's a possible future for All-New, but not one that sounds patricularly compelling.

Hmmm... is this a bad thing?
Speaking of All-New, this is very much a book about that particular series. As such, all of the virtues and vices of All-New are present. We get to see innocent idealism shown as a strength, but we also have to have our brains melted by the logical fallacies induced by time travel. We get the young X-Men, but we also get reminded that Marvel doesn't care much for the X-Men anymore. We get great character drama, but we also get dialogue that goes on, and on, and on.

There is, however, no dowside to the art. There's a lot of artists here; something that comes naturally with multiple-title crossovers, and that normally leads to a comparison to what happens with too many cooks. Here, though, it works. No artist is doing less than whole issues and their styles somehow flow with the storytelling. It's great to look at and at no point does a change in artist feel like a change in quality.

Battle of the Atom may not be perfect, but it's damn fun. It gets a three and a half out of five time-travelling twits.

*** 1/2

+ Focus on All-New X-Men.
+ Character Drama.
+ Great art.
- All the negatives you saw in All-New.
- More of a jumping-off point, even though it isn't meant to be.

Alternate Option: X-Men: Schism

Another X-Character drama.