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Batman (2016) #52 [Review]

batman_2016_0052Cold Days Part Two

Script: Tom King
Art: Lee Weeks
Color: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Cover: Lee Weeks, Elizabeth Breitweiser
Assoc. Editor: Brittany Holzherr
Editor: Jamie S. Rich
Batman Created by: Bob Kane with Bill Finger
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: Early October 2018
Cover Price: $3.99

While I own the entire run, I think I’ve basically only READ the first issue, the proposal issue, and #45-present for this series. I’m trying to be more diligent at "keeping up with" the series now, having finally jumped back in without forcing myself to backtrack and try to get through a 2-year queue just to "allow" myself to read current issues.

I was grabbed by the Booster Gold cover of #45 or so and opted to read that "out of order" due to Booster’s presence…and kept going. Then I "had to" read #50 before coming across spoilers, which I SOMEWHAT managed to do. Now it’s been about a month since #50, meaning two more issues as the series is biweekly. I’d "misplaced" #51, but with not wanting to fall IMMEDIATELY behind again, I managed to find it, and quite enjoyed it. I went immediately into this issue–same creative team as #51–and by the end of the issue, just sat with the feeling that I want the next chapter ASAP, in a way that I didn’t even have with #50.

I’m "assuming" this is a 3-issue mini-arc…something about it just "feels" like a 3-parter. Coming into this issue, we find the situation being recapped in the form of the jurors reviewing available evidence as presented to them. Bruce insists on going back over three key pieces of evidence for context. We get flashes of the actual fight between Batman and Freeze as the jurors discuss things–Mr. Freeze (barred as part of probation from donning his costume and having a freeze gun) having his costume and rebuilt a freeze gun; being prepared for Batman and what expectations he’d HAVE for a confrontation with Batman; his confession and why he stuck to it even when out of Batman’s presence. To Bruce Wayne’s fellow jurors, Batman is better than the police–he’s THE best, he’s the one who’s infallible, and if Batman delivered Freeze, then OBVIOUSLY Freeze is guilty. But Bruce has information and context that the other jurors do not and likely will not…but he must now find a way to prove his own belief in Freeze’s actual innocence of the particular crime he’s being tried for.

I’m so-so regarding the art. It’s not bad, and I’d swear I’ve got a positive mental thought behind Weeks’ name in terms of art…but it just seemed somehow "off" to me here (and in #51). Perhaps it’s because of seeing some Jim Aparo art recently, and some other stuff…so on actual reading of this issue, my mind wanted other art, and so compared this to that. I’m not sure the phrasing I’m looking for, but Mr. Freeze in particular seems frail and "wiry" to me here, in a sickly sort of way…not the stronger/more powerful character I tend to picture. There’s also something to the line work that just feels rather "messy" and does so in a way that keeps me from liking it as much in and of itself. It’s surely a design/visual choice and quite intentional and not bad art…but it wouldn’t be my first choice as of reading the issue. That said, it definitely gets the story across, the jumps between Bruce and the other jurors, and the earlier interaction between Batman and Fries. The characters look human, no weird oddities to anatomy or such and the various characters are distinct, and there’s a contrast to the Batman stuff.

Story-wise, that contrast works very well, showing us a brutal, violent-beyond-usual Batman dealing with Mr. Freeze even while we see Bruce trying to work things out "remotely" for firstly how he didn’t catch something as Batman as well having realized he–as Batman–was wrong for going after Freeze, and must now find a way to get the criminal off, as Bruce now believes that the man is innocent of the particular crime he was brought down over…and because he knows that, it’s not (in this case) justice, and means someone else committed the crime and thus is more important to be "brought to justice."

Despite any of my negative/so-so-ness about the art…as an entire package, I greatly enjoyed this issue. I want to read the next issue; and I suspect that it will be "top of the stack" due to my eagerness, in a way that #51 was not, initially, after #50. I love this use of Bruce Wayne–as Bruce Wayne, as a character, and not JUST as Batman. Seeing Bruce Wayne involved in something, interacting with others as Bruce Wayne, and even discussing Batman and seeing/reading ("hearing") certain things and getting meaning that someone who does NOT know Bruce and Batman are one and the same would not. It’s also interesting to consider the ethical things–such as Bruce serving on a jury involving a case with a man that he himself brought in, without anyone else knowing that fact. But then, a masked vigilante running around serving a greater good YET technically breaking a number of laws doing so adds other stuff to the mix. In context of Batman stories, though, I always find myself going back to Untold Legend of the Batman and a flashback of Bruce’s moment of realization that Justice and The Law are not automatically the same thing.

This is a Bruce Wayne back in a familiar place thanks to a new situation; I was reminded a bit of A Lonely Place of Dying, which is certainly another factor that sparked a positive feeling for me.

This isn’t for everyone, obviously…but it begins to move things forward with developments from #50, and yet almost feels like a new series. I’m very thankful this is NOT some new #2, as the numbering continuing on clearly shows that there can be a new focus and a series can feel fresh even without an arbitrary #1 slapped on the cover. The primary drawback to the issue is the price–I’d swear up to #49, this series was $2.99 and now carries the $3.99 price point. I’ve long been down on Marvel for biweekly $3.99 books, having often felt that I was very OK with DC doing the biweekly thing since the issues were 25% cheaper. As I’ve significantly trimmed back on what I’m buying, it’s not the huge thing it could be, but does have me a bit wary.

Still, having read the two issues back to back and being eager for the next chapter…having enjoyed this issue and the story in and of itself…and DC still having a bit of ok will (if not entirely "good will") from me, I’ll let the point go for now.

Regardless of Batman #50, one who "knows" Batman in general ought to have little trouble picking up with #51 and this issue for a good story. As part 2 of a multi issue story, I do not recommend this issue without #51…and if you don’t already have this issue, you’d probably enjoy the story better if you wait and got all 3 issues at once, if not waiting for a collected volume.

For a $3.99 issue, I liked this, I’m glad to have the issue, and I’m actively looking forward to the next issue.

batman_2016_0052_blogtrailer

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Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special Edition Magazine

criminal_10th_anniversary_magazine_editionDeadly Hands

Editor: Ray Archer
Content Editor: Ed Brubaker
Art and Design: Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser
Production: Drew Gill
Publishing Liasons: Eric Stephenson, Robert Kirkman
Cover: Sean Phillips
Frontispiece: Phil Jacobs
Published by: Image Comics
Cover Date: April 2016
Cover Price: $5.99

I’ve long been “aware of” Brubaker‘s Criminal series. I’ve read a few issues in the past, and quite enjoyed them…as I have most things he’s written/put out, particularly in this sort of capacity. While I’m blanking on the title offhand, I also remember sampling a spinoff/parallel series more recently, but never stuck with it at length…unfortunately, this sort of thing tends to read better in collected format to me, and when ‘everything’ is a mini-series within an overall continuity, I’d just as soon wait for an entire story…just that by the time it gets collected I’m often chasing other stuff and leave the less-familiar/top-of-the-mind stuff for “later.”

That said, I saw this issue–a 10th-anniversary special–and initially passed on it. A couple days later I saw it at another shop…along with the “Magazine Edition” of it, that REALLY caught my eye. I picked it up off the rack at that point to flip through, and put it back. Then picked it up again, flipped through a bit more, started to put it back, and looked at the price. And considered the format. As well as the fact that this is a 10th-anniversary thing, a special, a one-shot…not some new mini to invest in, not just some “latest issue of ____.” And honestly, the novelty of the thing got me.

While the “regular” edition looked just that–“regular” if a bit thick–the magazine edition is made up to look like some beat-up, well-read, well-worn 40-year-old paper product. And some of the interior pages–of this Fang, the Kung-Fu Werewolf–are as well, really steeping this in the mid/late 1970s.

Essentially, this issue gives us the slice-of-life of a boy–about 12–“on the run” with his dad. His dad had gotten a phone call without explaining, took his son, and they hit the road. We get the story from the boy’s perspective–knowing something’s up, but not fully knowledgeable of the details, just “surviving” the situation. At one stop along the way, the guy buys his son a magazine/comic–Deadly Hands–which he reads and enjoys, and then seeks out further issues. At another town, the boy is turned on to a local shop that might have an issue. While his dad disappears for a couple days, the boy is somewhat befriended by a girl, and the two bond a bit. It’s summer, there’s no school, and they’re free to hang out, do what kids do. Ultimately, the brief moment is spoiled as things come together for the kid’s dad, and we get a less than happy ending, as we truly see that this really is a “slice of life” sort of thing. Interspersed with the main story are pages the kid is reading in the Kung Fu magazine, giving us just enough to be interested in that story as well and nods to the likes of ’70s Marvel (at least, that’s where my mind went, though I’m hardly an expert on this particular genre or history of publication).

The magazine edition is a whopping $5.99. However, because of the thickness, and physical dimensions–of being magazine-sized rather than “just” a standard comic book size–as well as being a one-off novelty/nostalgia thing, I had no problem whatsoever with it. I would be hard-pressed to be willing to pay that for an ongoing series of issues, but as a one-time thing, a brand I recognize from a writer whose work I enjoy, I was willing to pay the price.

Actually reading the issue, I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed this a great deal more than most contemporary comics I’ve read lately. I drew a slight connection here to Watchmen, simply for the fact of the story-within-the-story and such, of reading pages of the story a character in the story was reading–but actually didn’t dig too deeply there. I simply enjoyed this, and the only thing taking me out of the story was looking at the effect of the pages and the jumping back and forth between “actual story” and the “story within the story,” but even that achieved something of its own effect that I liked.

Brubaker‘s name–along with the title itself–are the selling point for me. But while it’s the story that I thoroughly enjoyed, it was the visuals of the package that sold me, and thus Phillips and Breitweiser should not be overlooked. The art itself–particularly of the main story–would not have grabbed me, BUT was quite effective in getting things across, and reminded me somewhat of Steve Dillon’s work. The story–both the main and the Kung Fu Werewolf–is conveyed quite well and gives the required feel to both visually…firmly accentuating the writing and making for an attractive overall package, especially in having now read it cover to cover.

If you’re firmly into super-heroes or such, you may not care for this…but if you’re a casual-ish comics reader and/or interested in comics beyond superheroes and zombies, this was a great read. As said, a big part of the ‘fun’ for me was buying the magazine edition, but for the story itself alone, I’d recommend the issue, giving it a certain positive grade myself. While I don’t have the regular edition for comparison, this was ad-free, except the back cover’s faux-ad, part of the effect of the vintage-magazine appearance. I dare say this is at once representative of the high quality of Brubaker and co.’s work on Criminal, though this may well outshine regular issues for being longer and self-contained (whatever nods to prior Criminal stuff–if any–were over my “ignorant” head in this reading).

Velvet #1 [Review]

velvet001Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Steve Epting
Colors: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Published by: Image
Cover Price: $3.50

I’m not sure what caught my eye about this–perhaps the Brubaker/Epting combo, maybe some ad, maybe just something when I was on the Comixology site recently…but this was in my Comixology pull-list that gets emailed Tuesday nights, and since I often check my stack against that, I was able to snag a copy. I don’t usually buy Image #1s as I tend to wait for the collected volumes, but given this was only $3.50 (beats the $3.99 Marvel standard), I got and read it.

We’re introduced to a group of black op spies. When one is killed, it kicks off a bit of a chain reaction as we follow a character that in most other stories would be minor, and learn that she–Velvet–is actually a Pretty Big Deal. She looks into the death herself, and quickly finds herself caught up in a bigger mess than expected, that kickstarts the foremost conflict of this first arc, if not the series in general.

Visually, this is quite good. I had a good ‘taste’ of Epting‘s work during the Captain America run a few years back, and this has a similar look. In and of itself it works well with the story, and as a new property like this, it DEFINES the characters and story. No complaints here.

Story-wise, I enjoyed this issue. It does what I feel a first issue should, introducing the world, the protagonist(s), the conflict(s), gives us some “in” on the characters, and leaves the reader interested in the story and where things will go from here. As with the art, no complaints from me.

As an issue, this is one where it’s the creative team rather than the title or concept that “sold” me. I wouldn’t particularly care for arbitrarily trying some new series about a “female spy” or any “spy story” for that matter, in and of itself. But on strength of their Captain America run, I’m interested in “anything” by Brubaker and Epting (particularly having been reminded OF their Captain America run).

Knowing most such series read better in collected volume, I can’t help but liken this single issue to the pilot of a tv show; yet as a pilot, I’m interested, and will probably check out the next issue. Given Image using the $9.99 first-arc TPB trick, for the price of the singles, I can probably expect to be able to buy the first two issues, opt for the collected volume, and still not exceed the individual issues’ cost…which is also a ‘selling point’ for me.

Definitely a recommended read if you’re looking for a quality spy thriller/adventure by Brubaker and Epting, particularly with an absolute lack of “superheroes.”

What If..? Fallen Son #1 [Review]

What If? Fallen Son: What If… Iron Man Had Died?

Writers: Marc Sumerak
Artist: Trevor Goring
Colorist: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Production: Joe Sabino
Assistant Editor: Jordan D. White
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Cover: Ed McGuinness
Publisher: Marvel Comics

This issue derives its story from the intent of answering the question “What if Iron Man had died [instead of Captain America]?” Opening with a recap of events we already know–the heroes’ Civil War, Captain America’s surrender, the bullets on the courthouse stairs–we see the outcome of the trial and where events could have gone had Cap not been assassinated. It is then that Tony Stark falls to events also tied back to the heroes’ war, and we see the world deal with Stark’s death, with snippets we get to check in on tied to the stages of grief. Without Stark to keep things moving as he’d tried, we see that certain more recent events are likely to have played out much differently.

While an interesting concept, I found this issue to be rather weak. I don’t know if that is the writing, or simply the amount of space to play with. We lose several pages to moving events forward without Cap’s death to get to Tony’s…and THEN cram in elements to tie to each of the grief stages, which makes things feel rather forced. Additionally, it seems that one ought to be up to date on subsequent Marvel events to fully appreciate certain moments here to fully appreciate the depth of this story’s events.

The art’s not bad, though not wonderful; it does the job and fits the story.

In addition to the main story, we’re treated to a brief story segment detailing the answer to the question “What if the Runaways became the Young Avengers?” (Written by C.B. Cebulski, Penciled by Patrick Spaziante, Inks by Victor Olazaba, Colors by John Rauch, Letters by Jeff Powell, Production by Joe Sabino, Assistant Editor Michael Horwitz, Associate Editor Chris Allo and Editor Justin Gabrie)

This is a four-page story segment; I don’t have the context nor the interest in it, and would have preferred the few extra pages to have been available to the main story. The art here is not bad, but the story seems a complete waste without having the earlier chapter and not having (nor intending to get) the later chapters. If this story is really worth telling, it should have gotten its own issue and not simply be broken across however many of the What If? issues we have this year.

For me, this issue was a real disappointment, only really redeemed by the fact that against general trend, it is a mere $2.99 cover price, so at least I didn’t waste my money on the new “in” price of $3.99.

Story: 5/10
Art: 6/10
Whole: 5.5/10

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