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Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight #2 [Review]

Quick Rating: Decent but not wonderful
Story Title: Book Two: Give and Take

The new Azrael’s costume is in demand…

azraeldeathsdarkknight002Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Frazer Irving
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Guillem March
Publisher: DC Comics

After so looking forward to this book…and generally being a fan of Nicieza‘s work, this issue leaves me quite disappointed. Especially for the fact that I had to practically re-read the thing to try to tell what exactly is going on–whatever larger plot, I’m apparently not picking up on it all that much.

The new Azrael’s costume is an old suit of armor, apparently cursed…and very much in demand, whether or not the man in the suit likes it…and the story seems to move around that and how the person wearing the suit is affected.

This issue’s art in and of itself is not bad–it’s nothing spectacular, but at the same time it is far from dissatisfying. No specific complaints on this aspect of the book.

Story-wise, I can’t help but wonder if I’m having trouble following things because of not being steeped in Azrael’s story. I know the original character from the Knightfall stuff, and read a couple other issues here or there–the Gotham Earthquake, stuff during No Man’s Land, as well as the final issue. Other than playing with some small toys placed in the larger Batman sandbox, this feels quite irrelevant to the Battle for the Cowl, and at a mere 3 issues–of which I’ve now read 2–I don’t know how the ending’s going to be at all satisfying…this almost needs to be 4 or more issues.

I dislike blatantly decompressed stories–those stretched several issues beyond what they need to be. This issue seems almost the opposite–I feel like we’re at best just starting to get an idea of what’s going on, and already the next issue is supposed to be the ending of the story.

I don’t particularly recommend this issue in itself. If you can snag it with the first issue and the third issue when that comes out, I imagine it might make for a decent one-sitting read. And perhaps the next/final issue will shed more light on things and make character more distinctive and memorable.

As-is, though, this issue–even with its cliffhanger–doesn’t even excite me enough to have me looking forward to that next issue.

Unless you’re coming to the Battle for the Cowl with a completist mentality, I think it’s safe to say you could avoid this book without really missing out on anything.

Ratings:

Story: 2/5
Art: 3/5
Overall: 2/5

Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight #1 [Review]

Quick Rating: Not bad
Story Title: Simple Sacrifices

A new Azrael is chosen and sent forth as Gotham struggles for lack of a Batman.

azraeldeathsdarkknight001Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Frazer Irving
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Guillem March
Publisher: DC Comics

It’s been awhile, but this is one book I was interested in for the character, regardless of writer or artist. It actually reminded me of my earliest days in following comics, back before I really noticed specific writers or artists and simply read and enjoyed comics for the specific characters.

We open on a new Azrael beheading a criminal (in a scene that I couldn’t help but think to myself “In the end, there can be only one…”). We then move behind the scenes to a faction of the Order of St. Dumas that is apparently not the same as that which set Jean-Paul Valley into things back in Sword of Azrael and beyond. These folks realize they need another Azrael, and so recruit someone who fits their present “requirements” for the role. We see this character into action as the new Azrael, and into a somewhat counter-intuitive cliffhanger.

I’m not terribly impressed with the art…it’s not to say it’s bad or anything, but there’s something to the style that just comes off kinda strange to me, and Nightwing in particular looked rather “off” in proportion/shape as depicted in here. Otherwise, the style definitely sets this book apart giving it its own look/feel, which does contribute a bit to the story as it helps show that this is definitely not an Azrael we’ve already seen.

The story itself also isn’t all that impressive to me, especially as something that’s only gonna run for three issues. I don’t see how there’ll be room to really see enough to get to know the character(s) in this book prior to the conclusion of the third issue, and that takes me outta things a bit. (At the same time, if this were an ongoing book or had several more issues, I think I’d be pretty much satisfied as far as first issues go). Nicieza builds on elements introduced in Morrison‘s run on Batman, which is cool–showing that this fits in existing continuity and isn’t being showhorned in.

Since we’re only one issue in here and have only one issue of Battle for the Cowl out so far, I’m not sure exactly where this series is going to fit–how tightly this will play into the main story. At the same time, there’s plenty of potential as we get introduced to this character who could be just the latest to hang onto the role before passing it along.

If you’re a fan of the Azrael concept and don’t mind reading a character that is NOT Jean-Paul Valley, or you’re just following the entirety of the Battle for the Cowl “event,” this’ll certainly be worth your while.

Ratings:

Story: 3/5
Art: 3/5
Overall: 3/5

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #3 [Review]

Quick Rating: Average
Story Title: Last Man Standing

The final battle (for the cowl) unfolds here, and we have a winner.

batmanbattleforthecowl003Written and Drawn by: Tony S. Daniel
Inks: Sandu Florea
Colors: Ian Hannin & JD Smith
Lettering: Jared K. Fletcher
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Covers: Tony S. Daniel
Publisher: DC Comics

I feel like I’ve missed something…as somehow, this issue picks up from a point that I wasn’t expecting it to.

Basically, Nightwing and The Network set about dealing with this “new player” on the scene that has played them for fools (while they’d spent their time/efforts dealing with the Penguin/Two-Face feud). Nightwing tracks down Jason (Todd–the gun-toting Batman) and the two battle it out with Jason claiming Tim’s death; meanwhile, Alfred “enables” Damian to fulfill another role. And by issue’s end (barely!) we have a new Batman.

The art on this issue is quite good–I’ve enjoyed Daniels‘ art, especially his Batman work. While his style may not be for everyone, I enjoyed it and think it fits the story quite well, while not being bad on the eyes.

The story on the other hand has been downhill. The story itself felt rushed, like we were hitting upon a checklist of points to get to a prescribed ending. I’ve really never “felt” any attachment to the reincarnated Jason Todd, though for what little I’d followed the character, I expected more. Here, he came across as no more than just another take on the KnightsEnd Jean-Paul Valley/Azrael from way-back-when.

I don’t feel like this issue lived up to expectation. While yes, it does deliver on telling us who the new Batman is, that happens at the very end of the issue and actually feels tacked-on; I would have expected to see an issue given to watching the actual transformation of the character–the transition–from “old identity” to new, as a situation played out. So much potential, but pretty much wasted in the execution. Given the way it played out, I’m not convinced this 3-parter could not have been told across several issues of Batman and/or Detective Comics for a quick transition. As a mini-series, this is little but “transition” and does not feel like an actual, complete story was told.

Unless you’ve already picked up the first couple issues and/or want “the entire story,” this probably isn’t worth picking up; I suspect much better stories to come within the new status quo in the various Bat-related books this summer. At the least, don’t pick this up expecting a complex, moving story, as you’re likely to be quite disappointed.

Ratings:

Story: 2/5
Art: 3.5/5
Overall: 2.5/5

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #2 [Review]

Quick Rating: Decent
Story Title: Army of One

The gun-toting Batman’s identity is revealed as the actual battle for the (right to the) cowl begins in earnest.

batmanbattleforthecowl002Written and Drawn by: Tony S. Daniel
Inks: Sandu Florea
Colors: Ian Hannin
Lettering: Jared K. Fletcher
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Covers: Tony S. Daniel
Publisher: DC Comics

Last issue left off with our heroes facing a gun-toting Batman that had been spreading his own brand of fear in Gotham City. Nightwing and Damian confront this cowl-claimant, and Nightwing reveals who is behind the mask. Meanwhile, Tim Drake in a different Batman costume does things his own way, and comes across an old ally. Two-Face and Penguin are manipulated, and Tim finds what he is seeking, and enters his own battle for the cowl, as the gun-toter firmly acknowledges an agenda.

For me, the best part of this issue is definitely the art. It’s not perfect, and seems less-detailed in places…but overall is some of the better art I can think of when it comes to Batman-related stuff. Whatever depth the story itself has, the art fits the story, and gets across what’s going on–I don’t really ask much more than that of art in a comic.

The story is a bit rougher. On the one hand I really want to like this, as it’s supposed to be this major story in the Bat-verse and all that. But at this point, I’ve already decided who I want to see “win” by story’s end, and am not as interested as I’d thought in how we get to that status quo. Daniel definitely has a good handle on the art–and though his story isn’t all that deep, it is understandable and fairly straight-forward.

Overall, this is feeling almost like it’s just a transition-story…it offers some quick explanation of how the status-quo-to-come will be what it is, but doesn’t actually feel like it’s all that organic in development. (Perhaps I’ve gotten too used to the six-issue-arc model of many comics these days).

Recommended if you’ve already been following the story…nothing in this screams “check me out!” in and of itself, though.

Ratings:

Story: 3/5
Art: 3/5
Overall: 3/5

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good
Story Title: A Hostile Takeover

In Batman’s absence, Gotham City has deteriorated despite Nightwing and Robin calling in backup from outside the usual bunch of costumed do-gooders operating in the city.

batmanbattleforthecowl001Written and Drawn by: Tony S. Daniel
Inks: Sandu Florea
Colors: Ian Hannin
Lettering: Jared K. Fletcher
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Tony S. Daniel
Publisher: DC Comics

At this point in the overall story, Batman is gone/presumed dead by his closest allies. Even Gotham City as a whole has noticed the absence of Batman, as the underworld and gangs have gotten so bad that police officers are quitting rather than face being a cop in Gotham. Nightwing and Robin have called in other costume heroes for backup, though it is apparent that more than just a guy in a costume fighting crime so that there’s less, Batman has become a necessary entity in Gotham; the absence of which has tipped the balance against the non-criminal.

This issue–the first of only three (as opposed to the seems-like-standard 6-7)–seems to mostly be setup. We’re introduced to the major players–primarily Nightwing and Robin, as well as the other characters playing a role in this unfolding drama; for the most part, there’s at least token appearance of basically any “Bat Family” character you’d expect–or at least the characters are mentioned. I’d expected set-up, and the appearance of a lot of characters. However, I’d expected a bit more of an immediate confrontation to be kicked off, and was met instead with more development.

This story–written by longtime Bat-artist Tony Daniel–seems to play quite well in the playground established by Morrison during his run on the main Batman book, while also interacting with characters from outside–AND actually making sense on the first read-through. While characterization doesn’t seem to fully acknowledge long-term continuity (I’m a bit torn, for example, as to whether or not I think it’d serve the story well to reference 1994’s Prodigal arc in which Dick had temporarily taken over as Batman).

In addition to the writing, Daniel also does the art for the book. Said art comes across quite well, and the product provided by the entire art time (including inks and colors) is a visual that while not the best I’ve ever seen, is still solid, good work. Characters all come across clearly and distinctly, except for one panel that took me a moment to realize was Damian.

On the whole, this is a good start to Battle for the Cowl. It looks like most of the title’s actual battle for said cowl is going to be in the 2nd and/or 3rd issues. Despite being largely setup, this issue still has a lot packed into it that will hopefully pay off in the next couple issues.

Though this is a $3.99 book, there are 30 pages of story, which is just enough to keep me from crying foul. Whether you followed Morrison‘s Batman or Final Crisis (or not), you shouldn’t have much trouble picking up with this issue and enjoying the ride–all you need to know is that Bruce is gone and he has left a void.

Overall recommended, unless you’re specifically avoiding all “event” books or simply have zero interest in the Batman family of characters and how they deal with losing Batman.

Ratings:

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

The Walking Dead #55 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good

Rick faces his past while Glenn faces the future.

walkingdead055Creator, Writer: Robert Kirkman
Penciler, Inker, Cover: Charlie Adlard
Gray Tones, Cover Colors: Cliff Rathburn
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Editor: Aubrey Sitterson
Publisher: Image Comics

We open on a flashback scene–Carl races toward the street with Rick in pursuit–yanking his son away from the street as a car zips by. As Rick talks to Lori, she transforms into a zombie and rips him apart…while he stays put and takes it, feeling he deserves it…and then he wakes. The nightmare prompts Rick to take Watch rather than wake his son, and we get to see a bit more of his coping mechanism in dealing with recent losses.

This is yet another very character-driven issue; a slice-of-life to which we actually have 54 issues’ worth of context. The writing is just where it needs to be–consistent, believable (given the zombie apocalypse that makes up the environment our characters find themselves in), and no real problems. Kirkman doesn’t let things get stale, though–the issue’s end suggests that these characters’ status is far from “quo.”

As the writing remains consistent and believable, so too does the art. No problems here; the art team keeps a nice, consistent style that fits well with the writing.

While it’s probably not “ideal” to jump into a series 55 issues in, this issue kicks off the next six-issue arc, and as such is about as good a point as any to jump into the deep pond if you’re up for some swimmin’. The final page will have an impact on long-time readers, and might just hook a newer reader into staying around to see what happens.

Ratings:

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 3.5/5

The Walking Dead #54 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good

Rick & Co. interact with newcomers/survivors who claim to know what caused the outbreak of the walking dead.

walkingdead054Creator, Writer: Robert Kirkman
Penciler, Inker, Cover: Charlie Adlard
Gray Tones, Cover Colors: Cliff Rathburn
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics

After last issue’s cliffhanger suggesting revelation this issue, we begin the issue with the follow-up: one of the new-comers indeed has knowledge as to what caused the plague of the walking dead. But he needs to get to Washington to deliver said classified knowledge. The two groups of survivors clash over this as well as what to do with the immediate future, driving to the issue’s conclusion…which promises more change.

The story here is as always top-notch. After the last couple arcs really driving home the idea that no one is safe and strangers bring disaster, this issue plays with those expectations a bit, making me feel that it is that much more realistic–it’s certainly a great read as part of the ongoing story! Even though we don’t get to know a whole lot about the newcomers, there’s just enough there that I’m interested, and want to find out more about them and how they’ll play into the ongoing narrative. There’s a consistency–in character portrayal, as well as character growth based on recent/prior events that adds to the strength of the issue.

The art–also as always, top notch–keeps a dark mood on these characters with lots of shadow really conveying how dark a point many of the characters have reached. I have no complaint visually–this simply is The Walking Dead, recognizable in style if not specific characters.

This is the tail-end of the 6-issue TPB cycle, so not really the greatest point to jump on…though if you don’t want to start at the very beginning, this arc is certainly a good point to jump on-board. I see no reason for long-term/continuing readers to pass on this issue.

Ratings:

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 3.5/5

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