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The ’90s Revisited: Batman #525 – Underworld Unleashed!

90s_revisited

batman_0525Frozen Assets

Writer: Doug Moench
Artists: Kelley Jones, John Beatty
Colorist: Greg Wright
Letterer: Todd Klein
Separations: Android Images
Associate Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel
Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Cover Date: December 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

This month, a number of blogs and podcasts have joined together to present #BestEventEver 2018, covering the 1995 event Underworld Unleashed! Beyond my own posts, please check out these other blogs and podcasts for in-depth coverage of the various issues that were part of the event…and join in on further peeks at and discussions of the event on Twitter by joining at hashtags #BestEventEver and #UnderworldReUnleashed!

ITG  |  Resurrections: An Adam Warlock/Thanos Podcast  |  Relatively Geeky Podcast Network  |  The Retroist  |  Chris is on Infinite Earths  |  Cosmic Treadmill  |  The Pop Culture Palace  |  Rolled Spine’s Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Podcast  |  The Idol-Head of Diabolu  |  Justice’s First Dawn  |  Justice Trek: The Podcast


Based generally on the premise of Underworld Unleashed–a bunch of villains revamped and powered-up after deals with Neron–I was expecting something big with Mr. Freeze. Instead, other than what amounts to me to be a shoehorned-in reference via dialogue, in terms of what I expected, this is just a random one-off issue involving Freeze.

We open on Batman crouched on a water reservoir surveying the city, reflecting over no one that he knows of from Arkham–or Hell–being loose. The scene then transitions to Mr. Freeze, meeting with a group of rich, elderly individuals, showing off his newest cryo-tech. Seems he’s working to scam them out of their fortunes…and his present "henchmen" are a duo who finish each other’s sentences in rhymes. There’s a subplot with James Gordon and Sarah (Essen, I believe); I’d forgotten about her character and where these two were at the time! Jim’s not Commissioner at present, and is actually looking at running for mayor. By the next night, Freeze has been rejected by his would-be customers…but he decides he’ll put ’em on ice anyway…why let a pesky detail like consent delay him? We have another subplot involving Harvey Bullock who’s had a date recently. As Freeze begins his freezing-spree, Batman realizes that yep–there’s one from Arkham that he missed! A bit of time in the Batcave with Robin and Alfred gets things rolling, and Batman’s back out into the hellish night to deal with this master of cryonics. Batman makes short work of the henchfolks, discovers he’s too late to save Freeze’s victims, and finally takes on the man himself, breaking through ice barriers and then the helmet of the cryo-suit. Ultimately, Batman leaves Freeze and his henchfolks for the police–Freeze sitting in an open refrigerator to offset his compromised cold-suit, awaiting his return to Hell (Arkham).

I wanted to like this issue. It’s an issue of Batman. It’s from the ’90s–and I quite enjoy ’90s comics! I thought I remembered liking Kelley Jones‘ art, despite its exaggerated style. It’s an Underworld Unleashed tie-in and includes Mr. Freeze in a souped-up, upgraded-looking suit…surely a deal with Neron! It was supposed to be a cool issue! (Pardon the punnage).

Perhaps I’m too used to modern Batman art, perhaps I expected too much from my nostalgia…but on this read through, I really did NOT like the art at all. It seemed wildly inconsistent–one panel, the bat-cowl’s "ears" are curved backward, another they’re sticking straight up, the exaggeration just didn’t work well for me here. A lot of bodily anatomy seemed "off" and too angular or (and I keep using that word) over-exaggerated, much like I’d think of for a political cartoon. Even the coloring–that I don’t often notice in itself–seems a bit "too" contrasty (whether that’s my particular copy of the issue or not, I’m not absolutely certain). I’m not gonna pick apart every detail that bugged me in this issue, but there were plenty throughout. There’s some potential, to me, to this design of Freeze’s suit and the way he’s drawn–kinda like a light from within the suit is obscuring the lower part of his face, giving him more of a floating-skull-in-a-tank appearance…which at first glance speaks to my expectation of new/revised villains in light of deals with Neron, their powers amped-up but at a cost.

The story really does not see that point out, though–we have references to Freeze’s cryonics/cryo technology, and by the end of the issue, confirmation that he NEEDS this suit to survive, and that it IS his suit; it doesn’t pose a threat to Batman as a Neron-provided suit ought to! In and of itself–Batman vs. Mr. Freeze–this isn’t a bad story. I have a hard time divorcing the story completely from the art…but structurally, I like the story. It’s in a comfort zone of expectation for Batman, and it’s basically a done-in-one issue that includes some subplotty stuff to loosely progress an overall Batman-comics-narrative. Batman’s watching over Gotham; he knows he can’t save everyone/stop every last criminal, but he can handle the bigger ones the cops can’t handle; but he doesn’t know initially that Freeze is out. Once he does, he heads out to stop him, though he’s too late to save the latest victims, but he manages to stop Freeze himself. The issue doesn’t feel like we’re doing anything but tuning into the latest episode of a series. Other than a brief reference to Neron in dialogue, there doesn’t feel like there’s any tie to Underworld Unleashed. Take the textual reference out, and take the event logo off the cover, and reading this, I’d have no idea it was supposed to be a tie-in!

While Moench‘s story is good in itself, the art bugs me, and I’m annoyed at my expectations not being met for this being an event tie-in for Underworld Unleashed. Additionally, after Mr. Freeze’s upgrade to seeming like he was practically an ice-elemental or such, biologically-generating/controlling coldness over in the previous month’s Green Lantern #68, which this in no way references, it’s like two different characters and a huge continuity-hole…itself particularly egregious due to being cover-dated only a single month after the Green Lantern issue!

Because it has the event’s logo on the cover, if you’re seeking out "the entire event," this issue’s worth getting for that much; and if you’re a fan of Moench or Kelley (writing or art) not really anything to say not to get this issue (especially if you come across it in a bargain bin!). But otherwise…this feels like an entirely forgettable, skippable issue, not worth specifically seeking out. As it’s basically done-in-one, though, it’s functionally one of the better values you’ll get if you find it for 25-50 cents or such, since that price gets you an "entire" story without it being a middle-numbered chapter of a contemporary 6-issue arc, nor does it send you chasing after another issue to find out what happens off a "To Be Continued…" cliffhanger.

Taken alone, this issue does not do much for me, does not "inspire" me to want to read more of this Batman, nor to seek out more Underworld Unleashed, and so it really feels to me like a failure as an event chapter. Hopefully other issue I cover of this event give me a better feeling!


Again, please check out these other sites for additional, more in-depth coverage of the various other issues–including the main event mini itself–for Underworld Unleashed!

batman_0525_blogtrailer

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Batman #700 [Review]

Full review posted to cxPulp.com.

Story: 3/5
Art: 4.5/5
Overall: 3.5/5

Batman #690 [Review]

Long Shadows Part Three: Tripwires

Writer: Judd Winick
Penciller: Mark Bagley
Inker: Rob Hunter
Colors: Jack Purcell
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Assistant Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Tony Daniel
Publisher: DC Comics

Even though the status quo of Dick being Batman is still pretty new–not even half a year yet–this just feels right. From the character’s depiction on the cover, to the “inner voice” we’re allowed inside the issue, even though he’s not Bruce, this simply feels like Batman.

We see Dick facing Clayface and a new partner; noting places he can improve should he survive the villains’ attack. Alfred proves a considerable ally in a way I don’t recall seeing with Bruce in contemporary continuity…and yet, it works very well to me seeing his role unfold. We also see the Penguin confront Black Mask and find a new lesson taught. Two-Face’s plan seems to bear some fruit as the issue’s clifhanger gives a familiar visual but new situational dynamic for the characters.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of Clayface here, though. This is a classic Batman rogue, of course–teamed with some character I’m not familiar with. Between the various DC Crises, reboots, retcons, and Silver-Age-Returneth, I’ve lost track of what version/which Clayface this is. The way he’s depicted here, I’m put in mind of a number of things: a version of The Thing I’m not thrilled with; something belonging to the cover of the original Fantastic Four #1; and even some generic demon. I’m not really put in mind of the visual we were given in Batman: The Animated Series, nor what I think I recall from the original Hush arc back in 2003.

Additionally, I found myself taken out of the story entirely at the inclusion of the movie version of the “batarang”–the Bat-shuriken, if you will. I have no real complaint with that in and of itself–it makes sense, really–but the exactness of it caused me pause as I contemplated its inclusion as such. Specific, personal nitpicks aside…Bagley provides a good Batman visual throughout the issue. Two-Face is recognizeable, but as usual looks slightly different depending on which artist’s work we have on-hand…but really, such is the nature of the character.

On the story side of things, this is a solid issue. I’m not totally impressed in it being any great work of writing…but I’m firmly satisfied at the depiction of the characters. I’m really liking the interaction between Dick and Alfred…as we’re seeing a different interaction than what we had with Bruce and Alfred.

I really don’t care for Black Mask as a “Kingpin” figure, so the scene with the Penguin facing Black Mask’s show of power is just another point in the ongoing Batman story. The last page of the issue was a bit of a surprise–I’d forgotten about the Battle for the Cowl teaser image…and it seems that elements from that teaser are yet to really play out beyond the Battle for the Cowl minis/specials.

All in all, a solid issue…nothing terribly remarkable in and of itself, but certainly worth getting if you’re a Batman fan, a Winick fan, or just following this new season in the Bat-books.

Story: 7/10
Art: 7/10
Whole: 7/10

Batman #687 [Review]

A Battle Within: an epilogue to Battle for the Cowl

Writer: Judd Winick
Penciller: Ed Benes
Inker: Rob Hunter
Colors: Ian Hannin & JD Smith
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Assistant Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Tony Daniel, Sandu Florea (variant by JG Jones)
Publisher: DC Comics

Though this issue boasts the Batman: Reborn banner at the top of its cover, it actually ought to be labelled with the Battle for the Cowl logo, the word “epilogue” clearly spelled out beneath. Though this issue takes place after the events of the Battle for the Cowl mini, it’s not all that firmly set into the territory of this new Batman: Reborn “era.”

We open on a flashback of Bruce and Dick, then move into Dick and Damian, juxtaposing the two relationships. We also see Alfred reacting to changes, as well as Dick and Tim having words over Damian’s new role as Robin (reminds me just a bit of things during the early issues of KnightQuest: The Crusade back in 1993). We also get to see Dick in action, having accepted the need for a Batman while still struggling to embrace the cowl. Damian shows his brashness, and Dick–as Batman–reveals himself to the city as he shows up to face the Scarecrow.

The story is fairly straightforward. It’s not all that moving exactly–I definitely wish that Final Crisis had not had the epilogue it did–better to have been left guessing at the truly definitively final fat of Bruce to make this stuff more moving and impactful. It is nice, however, to see some of these moments happening given how entirely RUSHED the ending of Battle for the Cowl felt.

The art’s quite high-end…it’s good to get Benes’ art again on something I’m reading; I’ve enjoyed his work pretty much since I first started recognizing it in particular.

As an epilogue story, this will probably be more enjoyable/fitting for longer-time readers (particularly those who followed the Battle for the Cowl stuff in any form). The next issue I believe will kick off the action within the new status quo, and so will probably be a better jumping-on point for new readers.

Not a bad issue, but nothing to get terribly excited over.

Story: 7.5/10
Art: 8.5/10
Whole: 8/10

Batman #686 [Review]

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? part 1 of 2: The Beginning of the End

Writer: Neil Gaiman
Penciller: Andy Kubert
Inker: Scott Williams
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Assistant Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Covers: Andy Kubert and Alex Ross
Publisher: DC Comics

This issue opens with faceless dialogue, a conversation between two individuals. We then witness Selina Kyle arriving at a location in Crime Alley, where she shows that she can take care of herself, handling her own affairs. In a scene that made me think very much of something from The Sandman: Worlds’ End or House of Mystery, she meets an old character who directs her to her destination–a funeral, apparently. We’re quickly introduced to other attendees, with a couple of mildy interesting moments of a running gag. Those assembled at the apparent funeral are treated to a couple of stories that would seem to have led everyone to being where they are for this issue. Back to the faceless dialogue we’re left with probable set-up and hints of what’s to come in the second and final chapter of this story.

The art in this issue initially threw me a bit–it has several styles that come across pretty clearly, and yet after checking the issue’s credits, I was assured there was a single penciller. Some “sketchbook pages” at the back of the issue clued me in that the style variance was intentional–reminsicent of various visual styles of the Batman through the years. With that in mind, I actually enjoy the variance. Despite the variance, the quality of the work is quite solid, and I really have no complaint.

The story has a lot to live up to. It’s titled Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?–a title meant to place it in similar territory as Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?. Additionally, the writer is Neil Gaiman! Given that, I went into this issue half expecting to be let down…and was plesantly surprised when I really enjoyed the issue.

There’s a lot of metatextual stuff at work, and stuff that I can’t help but admit I’m wondering at due to my enjoyment of The Sandman nearly a decade ago. We have a nice almost double-framing device of the story, and stories within the story; everything reminding me of something else. Somehow, though, I greatly enjoyed it in this case where I loathed it in Morrison’s stuff, particularly Batman: RIP.

This probably won’t be a classic on the level of Moore’s Superman story…but I think this will be a stand-out story, worthy of its namesake. I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed a Batman issue as much as this, and whether or not you’ve been following this title, Final Crisis, or other DC stuff, based on this chapter alone the story is well worth nabbing just for a great Batman story by Gaiman.

Highly recommended!

Story: 9/10
Art: 9/10
Whole: 9/10

Batman #685 [Review]

Catspaw

Writer: Paul Dini
Penciller: Dustin Nguyen
Inker: Derek Fridolfs
Colors: Guy Major
Letters: John J. Hill
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Alex Ross
Publisher: DC Comics

Having thrown a wrench into Hush’s plans, Catwoman gains some small measure of revenge on the man who so horribly wronged her recently. However, in her own machinations she has need of the man who would impersonate Bruce Wayne. After explaining to Hush what role he’ll play, we see the plan set in motion, but with a nice twist at the end that is very fitting.

Dini’s story continues here, in the conclusion of another two-parter begun in Detective and concluded in Batman. This filler has much more significance, though, while also nicely playing with the Faces of Evil theme, and in a post-Batman Batman world. Nothing bad to say about the writing.

I’m not a huge fan of Nguyen’s style on the art, but it works here, and has a good consistency to it. It doesn’t blow me away, but it fits with the story and isn’t bad.

All in all, a solid issue that seems to set the stage for Hush’s status quo of present.

Worthwhile, but probably not essential.

Story: 8/10
Art: 7/10
Whole: 7.5/10

Batman #684 [Review]

Batman: Last Rites – Last Days of Gotham part 2 of 2

Writer: Denny O’Neil
Art: Guillem March
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Assistant Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Covers: Guillem March & Tony Daniel
Publisher: DC Comics

Nightwing finds himself in need of rescuing, followed by guilt at having been rescued. A conversation with Alfred gets him back into fighting shape, and he heads out to do what he’s gotta do. Meanwhile, the other players in the story are busy–looking over the city, beating heads in (doing so in another’s name), and dealing with the “order” side of things. The expected fight happens, and a number of characters ponder what life’s handed them.

This is a bit of a vague summary. Some stuff in the story feels a bit vague to me–specifically the new characters with ties going back to the Gotham quake. Names did not stand out to me at all, and without going back and re-reading just to look for a name, I don’t recall ’em.

However, I did like this chapter much moreso than the first–not sure what made this so different, unless it just played better having already gotten the foundational stuff outta the way with the Detective Comics chapter of this.

The story plays nicely with continuity–drawing from stuff going back over a decade, while being planted in the midst of current/contemporary continuity, which is a definite strength in my eyes. I’d almost be interested in seeing a longer story by O’Neil, though I don’t think the current continuity’s climate would work well for that.

The art is not bad, though not my ideal choice for a Batman-related story. There’s something about this art that reminds me of the art in Superman right now–though I prefer this to the Superman art.

All in all, a solid issue for a fill-in arc (which if this is not a fill-in, it sure feels like one). If you picked up Detective 851 with the firstd chapter, this is worth nabbing to get the 2nd half of the story. I’m not sure how/where this’ll be collected (if it is) down the line; definitely beats trying to track down a 6-parter. I do wish DC would adopt some system of recounting what’s come before. I also wish they’d quit GLUING these Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe ads in–I wanna rip ’em out, but because of the glue cannot without ripping out actual story pages.

Story: 8/10
Art: 7/10
Whole: 7.5/10

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