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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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The ’90s Revisited: Batman #497

90s_revisited

batman_0497Broken Bat

Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: Jim Aparo
Inker: Dick Giordano
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Asst. Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel
Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: Late July, 1993
Cover Price: $1.25

This is one of the most iconic, “key” comics in my life. The writing is straight-forward, the art is superb, and when I picture Bruce Wayne, this is the version I see. Not necessarily the worn-down, beaten man the issue opens with, but the face, the body structure, the human trying to be more-than-human.

With a lead like that, what did I REALLY think?

This issue is only slightly past the midpoint of the Knightfall story. It’s 3 issues before the big 500th issue, and yet is more of a crucial, impactful issue than that, in terms of its effect on the series for a time. The cover spoils the issue, even though really, we already knew it was coming…such was the nature of the beast, even at that time before the internet as we have it now. The cover–at least for the edition(s) I’m used to–feature a half-cover overlay as a sort of “enhancement” or such; just a black-and-white thing mimicking the upper-left corner copy and first part of the title logo…but then has the partially-eclipsed Bat-logo with the text

“You thought it could never happen…

THE BREAKING OF THE BATMAN”

Flip that up, and you have the actual cover itself, the iconic image of a ridiculously-huge and disproportionate Bane pressing Batman backwards over his knee. While the image is NOT lifted from the interior, it certainly conveys its point, and the issue is thus blatantly, fully marked as “the” issue where Batman gets his back broken…even as this “middle chapter” within a larger 19-issue story.

The issue opens with Bruce Wayne just into the manor, surprised at the presence of Bane. The two actually talk, having a semi-civil-ish exchange, basically discussing recent events very matter-of-factly, before the “final battle” between these two is joined. Batman is virtually non-existent, as Bane essentially tosses Bruce Wayne in a Batman costume around, pummeling him nearly to death, the man’s feeble attempts at fighting back doing nothing to slow the villain. As Alfred escapes and seeks out Tim for help, Bane decides on a different course of action than he’d apparently originally intended.

“I am Bane, and I could kill you…but death would only end your agony and silence your shame! Instead, I will simply… BREAK YOU!”

Slamming the battered body down over his knee, Bane then drops him.

“Broken… and done.”

The visuals in this issue are brutal…and it’s almost painful to look at, and just really take in just HOW MUCH of a beating Bane dishes out…yet how resilient Bruce/Batman is, simply to actually SURVIVE the experience. There are subtleties that even just on this read-through I picked up that I hadn’t before (and this is one of the most repeatedly-read comics in my own life) which says a lot! Even a number of years’ worth of issues later, this is the same Bruce Wayne seen in A Death in the Family and during the New Adventures run of the title and others between. This is simply the iconic–to me–visual rendition of the character and by far my favorite.

Story-wise, on the surface there’s really not much. Bane is here, beats up Batman, in essentially an issue-log fight sequence ending with Bruce broken on the ground. It’s something that in the present I would be inclined to strongly dislike–after all, isn’t this just “padding” and “decompression,” having an ENTIRE ISSUE as a fight sequence?!? Yet rather than being a full 1/6th of a graphic novel or such, this is “merely” 1/19th of the Knightfall story itself; the ending of the first TPB of the original collected version, and appropriately-placed within the huger contemporary edition. This truly is just a small piece of a larger story, and so the fight being such a major thing, it does not FEEL padded-out. There are touches that I really liked, especially on this read-through, such as panel “flashbacks” to “recent events,” that I do recall from times I’ve read them, and jog my memory on stuff throughout the Knightfall arc thus far and stuff leading up to it. I could almost hear the somber music swelling as we see these interspersed with “now” and know we’re heading to The Fall, a defining moment for the character of Batman…the guy who can never be defeated, who is always fully prepared with contingencies for everything…but here, he’s gone, worn down as Bane intended, softened TO the point of defeat.

I know I got this copy that I read this time out of a quarter-bin, it’s an issue I’ve seen “hold its price” in terms of what dealers will ask for it…so it’s certainly worthwhile if you find it IN a bargain-bin! Given the full Knightfall story is available in multiple formats and collections, unless you sincerely want to own/read/experience this as a single issue, I would not say it’s actually worth anything more than $1 or so for print or (grudgingly for immediacy) $1.99 for digital.

However, if you’re grabbing this in-print…you MIGHT want to lift that overlay and check which printing you’re buying. I was rather surprised on this copy to realize I’m holding a 2nd print…perhaps that’s part of why it was “only” 25 cents. The only difference I can see outside of the Roman Numeral “II” is that the color of the bat behind the word “Batman” on the cover is yellow for this printing, but white on the first.

Zero Hour Revisited – Batman #511

90srevisited_zerohour

batman_0511The Night Before Zero

Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: Mike Manley
Inker: Josef Rubinstein
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letterer: Ken Bruzenak
Assistant Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel
Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

I definitely remember this issue’s Batgirl. I remember the fact OF her showing up, I remember her appearance in the main Zero Hour book, and I especially remember the impact she had toward the end of that book. But it’s quite likely, having re-read this issue, that this is the first time in nearly 22 years THAT I’ve read it…because I sure did not remember the DETAILS.

We’re only JUST past the Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend stuff…like, I think that wrapped with the previous issue, and then we’re dumped straight into Zero Hour. We open with the same scene that we got in Zero Hour #4–of the Joker “discovering” he’s being chased by Batgirl and wondering if it’s a joke. Even though Batman and Robin quickly arrive on the scene, the Joker escapes, leaving the heroes to try to figure out exactly what’s going on. Also on the trail of the Joker, the GCPD arrive, and their presence elicits a surprising reaction from Batgirl–fear. Then they open fire, surprising Batman and Robin (as ANOTHER Robin watches from somewhere out of their sight). Eluding the police, Batman demands answers, and things begin to come together. That horrible night years earlier saw Jim Gordon shot instead of Barbara, though he died. When the new PC–Harvey Dent–took office, he issued a shoot-to-kill-on-sight order against the masked vigilantes. Of course, though this is “normal” for Batgirl, it’s NOT the way Batman and Robin remember events unfolding. Meanwhile, the Joker decides to dispatch PC Harvey Dent, and digs up Gordon’s grave for extra theatrics, but Batman intervenes. Time continues to go wibbly-wobbly, and elements shift–reality returns to normal, though the “other” Batgirl remains…and Batman must seek answers outside of Gotham City.

As may become frequent in these posts, I’ll touch on the art first…because that’s quicker and simpler. Namely…this IS “my” Batman. This is the visual style I recall from when I was a kid…because this is an issue that was published and originally read when I was a kid. The familiarity raises more than a little nostalgia, which contributes hugely to the momentary enjoyment of rereading this quasi-isolated issue. It just fits, and IS the art I remember. It also conveys events of the story itself quite well, performing to my expectation, with the added bonus of just looking really darned good. I would not have been able to cite a name and tell you that it was Mike Manley’s art I loved, but loving the art in this issue and seeing his name…well, there you go.

Story-wise, this is jam-packed, and kinda jumps around a bit. I’m certainly bringing extra baggage to the reading experience, and using some of that to plug any holes in plot or depth or explanation–I know time is wibbly-wobbly here. I know that anomalies are popping up all over the DC universe, and that this is just the start of it. I know that there was confusion at the start of all this, and that things get put right “in the end.” But there are multiple Bat-books, each partaking in Zero Hour, so there are that many more incidents for Batman to encounter in this single month, as the main event unfolds. While I’ve been “conditioned” to a harsher modern Batman, this one can still make mistakes–such as getting distracted enough by the presence of a healthy, non-crippled Barbara Gordon that the Joker can get away. Similarly, this Batman is willing to leave the Joker for later, while other events take precedence…where nowadays, half the country could fall into the sea and Bruce would leave that for “others,” while HE continues tracking down the Joker.

batman_0511_comparison

This is also firmly rooted in continuity, and whether it was the writers coordinating, or (far more likely) Editors doing the editorial thing and coordinating stories between numerous writers), we see stuff in this issue that’s touched on elsewhere, giving us slightly different perspectives (we have Jurgens/Ordway on art for the opening scene where it touches in Zero Hour #4…and then Manley and Rubinstein giving us the exact same scene in this issue). It’s a bit repetitive in the sense of having several pages of the exact same action playing out in two issues read back-to-back…but it’s also quite welcome, because you do not HAVE TO have read Zero Hour #4 already to enjoy this issue, and you get what you need of this for the core Zero Hour story in that issue. This issue simply expands on the situation, playing out the larger situation and filling gaps.

The significance of Batgirl here would probably be lost for modern readers…this was 1994, just a few years (but enough for it to be firmly rooted in continuity) after Barbara was shot, paralyzed, and Batgirl was no more. Of course, with the coming of the New 52, a quarter-century of continuity was wiped out (and a couple “legacy”/successor Batgirls) in order to put Barbara back in action.

Opening on action, seeing characters’ reactions, resolving some of that and setting up other bits makes this at once an issue that can stand on its own (as much as any one issue of an ongoing series can/will) but plays extremely well in the shared sandbox of continuity and the universe-spanning Event series.

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