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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!

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The ’90s Revisited: Superman/Doomsday Hunter/Prey

supermandoomsdayhunterpreytpbStory & Layouts: Dan Jurgens
Finished Art: Brett Breeding
Lettering: Bill Oakley
Color Guides: Greg Wright
Color Separations by: Android Images
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $14.95

It’s been a bit over 20 years since this story first debuted, back in the spring of 1994. I remember the excitement I had for its premiere, and the orangey front cover of the first issue is rather “iconic” to me–extremely distinctive and always grabs my attention.

While this took Superman–and Doomsday–from actual continuity at the time, it’s a primarily stand-alone series that gave fans a rematch between Superman and Doomsday, as well as an origin to the monster. Its events drew directly from continuity and impacted ongoing continuity in such a way that it could just as easily have been part of the ongoing “regular” comics story-wise, though its epic nature was well-suited to a separate series.

While I read an old collected edition this time through, the series was originally published as three prestige-format volumes priced at $4.95 apiece (and this was in 1994!). The format, of course, put each at the size of a small graphic novel, and the collected work is as thick as any contemporary 6-issue volume.

While the rest of the Superman creative teams were also involved in the whole Death/Return of Superman saga, this volume being a Jurgens/Breeding work and feeling so very familiar in this read-through suggests to me that this is where I primarily came to associate Jurgens with Doomsday, and this has pretty much the best-looking renditions of the character (in my mind) to this day. (I certainly prefer this version by far to anything in the contemporary New 52 with the character).

Though the story works as a whole–Superman hunts Doomsday and the two fight once more–the story is fairly nuanced, and nicely balanced across the three parts. 

The first volume is a hunt–as Superman recognizes the impact of lingering fear from having died at the beast’s previous attack and the need to face his fear. While he seeks a way to find Doomsday, we see the creature’s arrival and impact on Apokalips…taking down Darkseid, the Cyborg’s return, and Superman catching up. As a first chapter it’d be rather short to have the two actually meet, and we see Doomsday sent off before Superman can confront him.

The second volume sees Superman (and Waverider) dealing with things on Apocalypse–taking down the Cyborg, as well as Superman learning the origin of the creature. The origin takes up a goodly part of the chapter, and provides a (fictionally) plausible background for the creature from inception to its emergence in the Death of Superman story.

The third and final volume sees Superman actually face the creature in battle, with an entire planet at stake, with a new costume for the occasion. (Said costume is rather cool in itself to me for the nostalgia factor, but reeks of ’90s belts and pouches. I look at it as a chance for the costume to be done but not have to be kept in-continuity.) The creature is defeated, and status quo restored, making this not exactly timeless, but free of absolutely fitting between specific issues of the ongoing Superman titles of the time.

Another nostalgic factor to me for this volume is the fact that it contains an “introduction” (something long lost in the contemporary age of collected volumes) by Jurgens, discussing the story’s genesis and including some early design sketches of Doomsday.

I believe this series was reprinted in the Superman/Doomsday Omnibus that came out awhile back (and which is presently out of print last I’d checked) but have seen the singles for this in bargain bins. I would certainly enjoy a nice “deluxe hardcover” treatment for this, or even combine it with the later The Doomsday Wars which was done in the same length and format detailing a later confrontation with Doomsday, Superman, and (I believe) the Morrison-era JLA.

All in all, definitely one of the “greats” from my childhood, a favorite volume, and it certainly holds up to this day. Re-reading this was far more enjoyable than any of the Superman: Doomed chapters the last several months, and felt like a far better spending of time.

Though best read in context/knowledge of the general Death/Return of Superman stuff, this can be read by itself pretty well. In and of itself it’s a complete story, that does not REQUIRE previous reading, nor does it drive one into future reading.

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