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The ’90s Revisited: Batman #416

90s_revisited

batman_0416White Gold and Truth

Writer: Jim Starlin
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Mike DeCarlo
Letterer: Agustin Mas
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: February, 1988
Cover Price: 75 Cents

[ I wrote this up weeks ago, but never got around to editing and posting my text until now. Fellow blogger Chris Sheehan of Chris is on Infinite Earths covered this issue as well, a couple weeks after I wrote my text; you can find his (far more detailed) coverage here from early November of this year. ]

I’m sure I’ve read this issue in the past…though that was probably in the earlier days of my reading comics–like 1992 or so. I’m pretty certain I recall this issue being part of a 3-pack available at a department store (Hills?) as it’s a "back issue" even from that time, yet a random one I read early on. But it’s a much different thing reading it again now, all these years later.

To be perhaps over-simple in summarizing the issue: Robin (Jason Todd) is shown to be reckless, but rescued by Nightwing. Nightwing and Batman later have words, and then Nightwing helps Robin, with Batman’s hidden approval.

I would have already read A Lonely Place of Dying, and new that this Nightwing guy was "the original Robin" and that "the Robin who died" was Jason Todd, and as a back issue, here was an issue that had the two teaming up. Getting the Dick/Bruce confrontation here–and learning that they haven’t talked in 18 months–surprised me on this reading. Firstly, for having a specific timeframe given, and secondly that I didn’t remember it. Knowing what I do nowadays, but still having a blind spot from this period, I would guess that this is "the" issue that detailed the split and/or retconned things to Dick having been shot and ordered off the job, hence striking out on his own with the Teen Titans and becoming Nightwing instead of Robin. (Much the way #408 retconned Jason’s background to having been found stealing tires off the Batmobile). I would guess this is the Batman title’s explanation of things, whether or not it exactly fits with whatever was going on in the Teen Titans book at the time, and with the ripples/ramifications still being situated post-Crisis.

While the cover is kinda generic and not all that appealing to me, it’s definitely memorable…at least to me, given it was (as I remember) one of my earlier "back issues" long before bargain bins became such a thing for me as they have been the past decade or so. The interior art is "classic" to me, and more than once I had to remind myself I was NOT reading A Death in the Family. Part of me is partially amazed to realize this is the same creative team that DID do that story, even though it’s almost a year’s worth of issues off from this one…back in an age where it did not seem like creative teams shifted every several issues. Whining about that aside…I love the art here, as it clearly conveys the story, does everything I’d expect it to…and stirs up the nostalgia as well.

Story-wise, I felt like even here there was a bit of setup for Death in the Family, though it’s likely a bit of "reaching" on my part. Or in another way of looking at it…having the same creative team allowed for more internal consistency for the title both in characterization as well as visualization. Most often, I think of Starlin as doing Thanos/Warlock stuff, with the Infinity Gauntlet and all over at Marvel…but I think it’s safe to say that he’s also one of my favorite Batman writers!

This issue works quite well for me as a one-off, though I’m obviously a bit biased in nostalgia and remembering this…it’s a one-off for this READING but I’m hardly any sort of new reader or such, which makes this in its own way "just another issue" that I happened to read that I can partially contextualize without other issues. Yet we have a beginning, middle, and end…and though this certainly is not the final issue of the series, we do NOT have a cliffhanger or "To Be Continued…" We just get this as an episode that introduces us to the current Robin, the former Robin, contextualizes both, confronts Batman, and we get a bit of development with all the relationships, seeing that they all have different "history" with each other without (as a reader) absolutely having to KNOW the history.

All in all, this is good, solid issue…and one I would definitely recommend if you find it in a bargain bin! It’s certainly worth a quarter, and if the condition is good, I’d even say go up to $1 on it for the reading experience. The potential we see here gets really developed years later in the Dick/Tim dynamic…and we see the start of that here, had Jason lived.

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The ’80s Revisited: Shazam: The New Beginning #s 1-4

shazamthenewbeginning001Writers: Roy and Dann Thomas
Artist: Tom Mandrake
Inker: Jan Duursema
Letterers: Agustin Mas
Colorists: Carl Gafford, Joe Orlando
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Dates: April/May/June/JUly 1987
Cover Price: $0.75

Until this month, I’d really only known DC‘s Captain Marvel (Shazam) as a guest-star…an important figure, but I’d only really ever stuff where he was a guest-star, not THE star, of a book. While memory may fail me, I’m pretty sure my first real introduction to the character was Action Comics Annual #4 (a 1992 Eclipso: The Darkness Within crossover).

I saw him again pictured in Death of Superman stuff–the funeral stuff at least. I believe I would have seen him in Zero Hour, and I was aware of the Power of Shazam series though I’ve yet to actually read any issues except the Blackest Night issue from a few years ago. Maybe his most significant–and to me, emotional–appearance was in Kingdom Come.

Of course, he again wound up on my radar with the Superman/Shazam: First Thunder story shortly before Infinite Crisis, and then during the magical side of that story. I was aware of (but again have yet to read) the Trials of Shazam series. I was aware of the “corruption” of Mary Marvel with the Final Crisis stuff, and recall seeing Captain Marvel in the I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League, as well as an issue or two of Giffen/DeMatteis‘ original Justice League. And of course, I was aware of the property from various things I’ve read about the history of comics, and seeing solicitations for the various collected volumes (such as the Showcase volume).

And most recently, probably getting my hands on the collected edition of Jeff Smith‘s Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil and a few issues of the Johnny DC Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam series.

shazamthenewbeginning002I saw the Monster Society of Evil and Billy Batson stuff as stand-alone/out-of-continuity things, so haven’t considered those.

Which brings me to my recent acquisition/reading of the New 52 Shazam vol. 1, which in turn led me to an immediate reading of the serendipitously having-just-bought this entire 4-issue mini in a quarter-bin…which I understand backtracks a bit from the Legends crossover and tells the origin of Billy Batson and Captain Marvel in context of the then-new DC Universe post-Crisis on Infinite Earths.

All of the above to get to actually talking about the issues this post purports to be about.

Much as I wanted to LIKE this, much as I was interested–at least conceptually–in reading this, and appreciate HAVING read it, now having the “experience” of the series as part of my Shazam/Captain Marvel knowledge-base…the series was ROUGH to get through.

First and foremost, this is a series from some 25 years ago–more than 1/3 of the character’s entire existence ago. It’s very much a product of the ’80s, and quite verbose…there were times I was taken out of the story simply being overwhelmed by the density of text in any given 2-page section I’d turn to.

shazamthenewbeginning003I’m honestly quite convinced that this same story told in present-day with all the main elements would easily be done as at least 12 issues (a 3-issue mini per issue). (Given that density, I’m honestly not going to attempt to recap the story itself in this post!).

Yet, rough as it was to get through–having read primarily “new” comics for a number of years now and rarely actually delving into anything older than 1993 for more than a single issue at a time–I’m quite glad to have read this. Sure, it’s a lot packed into few pages…but while that drives against what I’m “used to,” and so gave a bit of negative by way of my having to “force” myself to stick to the series rather than read something else and then come back to it…ultimately, I am glad I did so. 

There were plenty of plot holes and “leaps” of logic, stuff that wouldn’t fly today…but there was a lot more to ’em than I imagine there’d’ve been to similar concepts a decade or two earlier, or even at the beginning of the property in the 1940s.

But we got the “essential” stuff: Billy, the Wizard, Sivana, Black Adam…even reference to Hoppy. And with the density of narration and dialogue, while not as smooth as a modern depiction, we get quite a bit of detail and motivation. Not so much “shown” as “told,” but the end result is largely the same…especially combined with my pre-existing knowledge of the character.

shazamthenewbeginning004Visually, I can’t say I was all that impressed. The art wasn’t bad, by any means…but it really didn’t stand out all that much to me (especially not compared to Gary Frank‘s art on the New 52 volume, and my memory of the cover to Action Comics Annual #4). Sure, those may be unfair comparisons, but they are what they are. It also certainly did NOT help that the copy of the issues I read are very much “reading copy” condition…with much of the art a bit faded and blurred due to the ink/newsprint paper quality from the time.

Barring specific interest in this take on the character–time period or creative team–I don’t know that I’d particularly recommend seeking these out. However, if you find ’em in a bargain-bin in readable condition, they’re worthwhile, and if you can get the set for $4 or less, the time you’ll likely spend reading one issue would “value” the issue far beyond a modern $3.99 issue.

Having now read this, I’m definitely interested in reading/re-reading other Shazam stuff…though beyond the recent Superman vs. Shazam tpb, I don’t think I’m gonna go “older” than this series…I’ll stick to the Power of Shazam run I bought a year or two back, and whatever collected volumes I can get my hands on. I’ll also be seeking out more on Black Adam, having come to like that character quite a bit under Johns‘ writing, in 52 and in JSA.

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