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From the Archives: Batman – Streets of Gotham #1

batman_streets_of_gotham_0001Ignition!

Writer: Paul Dini
Penciller: Dustin Nguyen
Inker: Derek Fridolfs
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Steve Wands
Assoc. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Dustin Nguyen
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

This may be only the first issue of a new series…but it feels like something I’ve been reading for ages–and I mean that in a good way!
We open with Gotham’s police responding to an alarm to find Harley Quinn in civilian guise on the scene. Batman steps in, and we see Dick’s interaction with her (as well as an amusing bit from the new Robin, displaying his personality quite well). As the issue moves on, we’re introduced to Firefly and his latest scheme, as well as the interaction Batman has at present with Gordon and his police.

In some ways, this is a typical Batman comic. Then again, typical as it might be, there’s a whole lotta "new" under the top layer, as we have a new Batman, a new Robin, and with them whole new dynamics with existing characters (particularly Jim Gordon and the Gotham City police).

The writing is great stuff–Dini certainly knows his characters. I’ve enjoyed his issues of Detective Comics that I’ve read; and brought the expectation of that sort of enjoyment to this book. Thankfully, he delivers. Though not a focal point for the issue as a whole, the scene with Harley made the issue for me–I heard the character’s voice from the animated series in every word she spoke here, and it was a blast to read. She’s one of very few characters created for a tv show that I think works perfectly integrated into a comics universe afterward.

Nguyen on art is also a blast from the past–and still quite enjoyable. Some of the linework and shadows seem just a bit strange and over the top–but on the whole, a specific gritty, darker-but-not-too-dark tone is established that works really well for the book. The visuals are a bit stylized, and won’t appeal to everyone, though.

This series seems set to focus more on Gotham City and the things going on in the city and her people moreso than on Batman and Robin. That the two are the primary protectors of the city necessitate their appearance, but it seems we’ll get more of the GCPD in here, with Batman and Robin serving more of a well-noticed supporting role. While it’s no Gotham Central, this issue ges off to a good start, and has me interested in seeing more of the character interactions–almost more than finding out what happens after the cliffhanger.

Manhunter

Story Title: Strange Bedfellows
Writer: Marc Andreyko
Penciller: Georges Jeanty
Inker: Karl Story
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Colors: Nick Filardi
Assistant Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts

Manhunter/Kate Spencer moves to Gotham to take a new job. While we see her interacting with her new surroundings, we get flashbacks showing us what brought her to this point, giving context to the new status quo for the character.
Overall, I’m unfamiliar with the character, but for whatI’ve seen of her, this segment does not seem out of place. I’m not sure if the story here sums up what happened in the end of the ongoing singular-titled series or not, or if this story is simply the bridge from that series to the new status quo we’ll get as the co-feature in this title. Either way, the story’s simple, to-the-point, and not bad.

The art’s good, too. It’s not spectacular, but it is solid stuff and gets the story across with no trouble.

Whether the character was moved to Gotham because of the move to a co-feature in a title such as this I don’t know–but it works for me. All the more because we’ll get to see even MORE of Gotham through this character and her corner of things. The primary drawback is that with just under half a standard issue’s page-count, there’s less room to really get into the story–just as it gets moving, the segement concludes.
It’ll definitely be interesting to see the writer play with pacing given the page-count and whether or not–or how–it affects the story.

Like Blue Beetle in Booster Gold, this is another co-feature that actually feels worthwhile to me–I’ll probably never be thrilled paying $3.99 for a comic, but for the main story and the co-feature…this is a combo I can definitely handle for now.

Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight #3 [Review]

Quick Rating: Below Average
Story Title: Book Three: Why Ask Why?

The stage is set for things to come as the new Azrael battles Nightwing.

azraeldeathsdarkknight003Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Frazer Irving
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Guillem March
Publisher: DC Comics

This issue, we get the battle between Nightwing and this new Azrael. We also get some further look into the “politics” and “origins” of the sect of the Order behind this new Azrael. Following the battle, we have a bunch of jammed-together scenes that don’t feel all that organic, but put stuff into place for the coming-soon ongoing Azrael series.

The art remains stylistic–not horrible, but not particularly thrilling. It definitely sets this book off from the other Bat-books, and sets a certain tone that I can’t quite put to words.

Story-wise, I’m not impressed. If this were in itself the third issue of an already-ongoing series, I might feel differently about it. As-is, I feel slightly hoodwinked, jumping on for a 3-issue mini that I thought would tie closely to Battle for the Cowl. What I got is something that is loosely tied to that story and an ending that doesn’t affect that story and simply tells me to follow more of this story in a new Azrael book.

This does definitely establish that there is a new Azrael and he’s not being abandoned after this brief story; if you’re interested in the concept, this isn’t a bad series…just look at this as a “pilot” and the rest of the series will pick up soon.

If you’ve not already picked up the first couple issues, this is not worth getting, and at this point, you may as well wait for a collected volume.

Ratings:

Story: 2/5
Art: 2/5
Overall: 2/5

Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight #2 [Review]

Quick Rating: Decent but not wonderful
Story Title: Book Two: Give and Take

The new Azrael’s costume is in demand…

azraeldeathsdarkknight002Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Frazer Irving
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Guillem March
Publisher: DC Comics

After so looking forward to this book…and generally being a fan of Nicieza‘s work, this issue leaves me quite disappointed. Especially for the fact that I had to practically re-read the thing to try to tell what exactly is going on–whatever larger plot, I’m apparently not picking up on it all that much.

The new Azrael’s costume is an old suit of armor, apparently cursed…and very much in demand, whether or not the man in the suit likes it…and the story seems to move around that and how the person wearing the suit is affected.

This issue’s art in and of itself is not bad–it’s nothing spectacular, but at the same time it is far from dissatisfying. No specific complaints on this aspect of the book.

Story-wise, I can’t help but wonder if I’m having trouble following things because of not being steeped in Azrael’s story. I know the original character from the Knightfall stuff, and read a couple other issues here or there–the Gotham Earthquake, stuff during No Man’s Land, as well as the final issue. Other than playing with some small toys placed in the larger Batman sandbox, this feels quite irrelevant to the Battle for the Cowl, and at a mere 3 issues–of which I’ve now read 2–I don’t know how the ending’s going to be at all satisfying…this almost needs to be 4 or more issues.

I dislike blatantly decompressed stories–those stretched several issues beyond what they need to be. This issue seems almost the opposite–I feel like we’re at best just starting to get an idea of what’s going on, and already the next issue is supposed to be the ending of the story.

I don’t particularly recommend this issue in itself. If you can snag it with the first issue and the third issue when that comes out, I imagine it might make for a decent one-sitting read. And perhaps the next/final issue will shed more light on things and make character more distinctive and memorable.

As-is, though, this issue–even with its cliffhanger–doesn’t even excite me enough to have me looking forward to that next issue.

Unless you’re coming to the Battle for the Cowl with a completist mentality, I think it’s safe to say you could avoid this book without really missing out on anything.

Ratings:

Story: 2/5
Art: 3/5
Overall: 2/5

Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight #1 [Review]

Quick Rating: Not bad
Story Title: Simple Sacrifices

A new Azrael is chosen and sent forth as Gotham struggles for lack of a Batman.

azraeldeathsdarkknight001Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Frazer Irving
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Guillem March
Publisher: DC Comics

It’s been awhile, but this is one book I was interested in for the character, regardless of writer or artist. It actually reminded me of my earliest days in following comics, back before I really noticed specific writers or artists and simply read and enjoyed comics for the specific characters.

We open on a new Azrael beheading a criminal (in a scene that I couldn’t help but think to myself “In the end, there can be only one…”). We then move behind the scenes to a faction of the Order of St. Dumas that is apparently not the same as that which set Jean-Paul Valley into things back in Sword of Azrael and beyond. These folks realize they need another Azrael, and so recruit someone who fits their present “requirements” for the role. We see this character into action as the new Azrael, and into a somewhat counter-intuitive cliffhanger.

I’m not terribly impressed with the art…it’s not to say it’s bad or anything, but there’s something to the style that just comes off kinda strange to me, and Nightwing in particular looked rather “off” in proportion/shape as depicted in here. Otherwise, the style definitely sets this book apart giving it its own look/feel, which does contribute a bit to the story as it helps show that this is definitely not an Azrael we’ve already seen.

The story itself also isn’t all that impressive to me, especially as something that’s only gonna run for three issues. I don’t see how there’ll be room to really see enough to get to know the character(s) in this book prior to the conclusion of the third issue, and that takes me outta things a bit. (At the same time, if this were an ongoing book or had several more issues, I think I’d be pretty much satisfied as far as first issues go). Nicieza builds on elements introduced in Morrison‘s run on Batman, which is cool–showing that this fits in existing continuity and isn’t being showhorned in.

Since we’re only one issue in here and have only one issue of Battle for the Cowl out so far, I’m not sure exactly where this series is going to fit–how tightly this will play into the main story. At the same time, there’s plenty of potential as we get introduced to this character who could be just the latest to hang onto the role before passing it along.

If you’re a fan of the Azrael concept and don’t mind reading a character that is NOT Jean-Paul Valley, or you’re just following the entirety of the Battle for the Cowl “event,” this’ll certainly be worth your while.

Ratings:

Story: 3/5
Art: 3/5
Overall: 3/5

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #3 [Review]

Quick Rating: Average
Story Title: Last Man Standing

The final battle (for the cowl) unfolds here, and we have a winner.

batmanbattleforthecowl003Written and Drawn by: Tony S. Daniel
Inks: Sandu Florea
Colors: Ian Hannin & JD Smith
Lettering: Jared K. Fletcher
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Covers: Tony S. Daniel
Publisher: DC Comics

I feel like I’ve missed something…as somehow, this issue picks up from a point that I wasn’t expecting it to.

Basically, Nightwing and The Network set about dealing with this “new player” on the scene that has played them for fools (while they’d spent their time/efforts dealing with the Penguin/Two-Face feud). Nightwing tracks down Jason (Todd–the gun-toting Batman) and the two battle it out with Jason claiming Tim’s death; meanwhile, Alfred “enables” Damian to fulfill another role. And by issue’s end (barely!) we have a new Batman.

The art on this issue is quite good–I’ve enjoyed Daniels‘ art, especially his Batman work. While his style may not be for everyone, I enjoyed it and think it fits the story quite well, while not being bad on the eyes.

The story on the other hand has been downhill. The story itself felt rushed, like we were hitting upon a checklist of points to get to a prescribed ending. I’ve really never “felt” any attachment to the reincarnated Jason Todd, though for what little I’d followed the character, I expected more. Here, he came across as no more than just another take on the KnightsEnd Jean-Paul Valley/Azrael from way-back-when.

I don’t feel like this issue lived up to expectation. While yes, it does deliver on telling us who the new Batman is, that happens at the very end of the issue and actually feels tacked-on; I would have expected to see an issue given to watching the actual transformation of the character–the transition–from “old identity” to new, as a situation played out. So much potential, but pretty much wasted in the execution. Given the way it played out, I’m not convinced this 3-parter could not have been told across several issues of Batman and/or Detective Comics for a quick transition. As a mini-series, this is little but “transition” and does not feel like an actual, complete story was told.

Unless you’ve already picked up the first couple issues and/or want “the entire story,” this probably isn’t worth picking up; I suspect much better stories to come within the new status quo in the various Bat-related books this summer. At the least, don’t pick this up expecting a complex, moving story, as you’re likely to be quite disappointed.

Ratings:

Story: 2/5
Art: 3.5/5
Overall: 2.5/5

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #2 [Review]

Quick Rating: Decent
Story Title: Army of One

The gun-toting Batman’s identity is revealed as the actual battle for the (right to the) cowl begins in earnest.

batmanbattleforthecowl002Written and Drawn by: Tony S. Daniel
Inks: Sandu Florea
Colors: Ian Hannin
Lettering: Jared K. Fletcher
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Covers: Tony S. Daniel
Publisher: DC Comics

Last issue left off with our heroes facing a gun-toting Batman that had been spreading his own brand of fear in Gotham City. Nightwing and Damian confront this cowl-claimant, and Nightwing reveals who is behind the mask. Meanwhile, Tim Drake in a different Batman costume does things his own way, and comes across an old ally. Two-Face and Penguin are manipulated, and Tim finds what he is seeking, and enters his own battle for the cowl, as the gun-toter firmly acknowledges an agenda.

For me, the best part of this issue is definitely the art. It’s not perfect, and seems less-detailed in places…but overall is some of the better art I can think of when it comes to Batman-related stuff. Whatever depth the story itself has, the art fits the story, and gets across what’s going on–I don’t really ask much more than that of art in a comic.

The story is a bit rougher. On the one hand I really want to like this, as it’s supposed to be this major story in the Bat-verse and all that. But at this point, I’ve already decided who I want to see “win” by story’s end, and am not as interested as I’d thought in how we get to that status quo. Daniel definitely has a good handle on the art–and though his story isn’t all that deep, it is understandable and fairly straight-forward.

Overall, this is feeling almost like it’s just a transition-story…it offers some quick explanation of how the status-quo-to-come will be what it is, but doesn’t actually feel like it’s all that organic in development. (Perhaps I’ve gotten too used to the six-issue-arc model of many comics these days).

Recommended if you’ve already been following the story…nothing in this screams “check me out!” in and of itself, though.

Ratings:

Story: 3/5
Art: 3/5
Overall: 3/5

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good
Story Title: A Hostile Takeover

In Batman’s absence, Gotham City has deteriorated despite Nightwing and Robin calling in backup from outside the usual bunch of costumed do-gooders operating in the city.

batmanbattleforthecowl001Written and Drawn by: Tony S. Daniel
Inks: Sandu Florea
Colors: Ian Hannin
Lettering: Jared K. Fletcher
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Tony S. Daniel
Publisher: DC Comics

At this point in the overall story, Batman is gone/presumed dead by his closest allies. Even Gotham City as a whole has noticed the absence of Batman, as the underworld and gangs have gotten so bad that police officers are quitting rather than face being a cop in Gotham. Nightwing and Robin have called in other costume heroes for backup, though it is apparent that more than just a guy in a costume fighting crime so that there’s less, Batman has become a necessary entity in Gotham; the absence of which has tipped the balance against the non-criminal.

This issue–the first of only three (as opposed to the seems-like-standard 6-7)–seems to mostly be setup. We’re introduced to the major players–primarily Nightwing and Robin, as well as the other characters playing a role in this unfolding drama; for the most part, there’s at least token appearance of basically any “Bat Family” character you’d expect–or at least the characters are mentioned. I’d expected set-up, and the appearance of a lot of characters. However, I’d expected a bit more of an immediate confrontation to be kicked off, and was met instead with more development.

This story–written by longtime Bat-artist Tony Daniel–seems to play quite well in the playground established by Morrison during his run on the main Batman book, while also interacting with characters from outside–AND actually making sense on the first read-through. While characterization doesn’t seem to fully acknowledge long-term continuity (I’m a bit torn, for example, as to whether or not I think it’d serve the story well to reference 1994’s Prodigal arc in which Dick had temporarily taken over as Batman).

In addition to the writing, Daniel also does the art for the book. Said art comes across quite well, and the product provided by the entire art time (including inks and colors) is a visual that while not the best I’ve ever seen, is still solid, good work. Characters all come across clearly and distinctly, except for one panel that took me a moment to realize was Damian.

On the whole, this is a good start to Battle for the Cowl. It looks like most of the title’s actual battle for said cowl is going to be in the 2nd and/or 3rd issues. Despite being largely setup, this issue still has a lot packed into it that will hopefully pay off in the next couple issues.

Though this is a $3.99 book, there are 30 pages of story, which is just enough to keep me from crying foul. Whether you followed Morrison‘s Batman or Final Crisis (or not), you shouldn’t have much trouble picking up with this issue and enjoying the ride–all you need to know is that Bruce is gone and he has left a void.

Overall recommended, unless you’re specifically avoiding all “event” books or simply have zero interest in the Batman family of characters and how they deal with losing Batman.

Ratings:

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

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