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Batman and Robin Eternal #1 [Review]

batmanandrobineternal001Story: James Tynion IV & Scott Snyder
Script: James Tynion IV
Pencils: Tony Daniel
Inks: Sandu Florea
Colors: Tomeu Morey
Letters: Tom Napolitano
Cover: Tony Daniel, Sandu Florea, Tomeu Morey
Asst. Editor: Dave Wielgosz
Editor: Chris Conro
Group Editor: Mark Doyle
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: December 2015
Cover Price: $3.99

Against otherwise better judgment, I decided to check this out. I’m sure it had plenty to do with being a #1–a chance to “check it out” from the start, before things get deep. Also that I got the impression the series is due to focus heavily on the previous Robins–Dick, Jason, and Tim–which is something I’m quite interested in (particularly Dick and Tim). I also have the hope of it being a lengthy but mostly contained story, and while I’m really not thrilled at the prospect of a WEEKLY $4 book, since it’s not like I’m really following anything else from DC and Marvel at the moment, I might be able to tolerate a weekly dose at the higher price.

We open with a flashback, then jump to the ‘present’ with Red Robin, Grayson, and Red Hood pursuing someone; a bit of an action sequence. Scene skips abound as we get a moment with the new Batman interacting with would-be Bat-protégé Harper Row, then more flashbacky stuff, and Grayson encounters a costumed figure that could have used lethal force but doesn’t; we’re introduced to this “Mother” as a concept, and “The Orphan,” and ultimately get a fairly disturbing “reveal” for the ending of the issue.

Aside from the concept, probably the first thing I noticed with the issue was the art. I tend to enjoy Daniel’s work, and even on a hit-or-miss basis, this one’s a hit for me. I really liked the look of the issue on the whole–including Dick and Jason looking rather similar (thanks to metatextual knowledge of Jason’s creation/introduction back in the ’80s). Really no complaints visually.

Story-wise I’m less-keen on stuff. Structurally, I definitely appreciate the issue. I liked that we’re dropped in on action right away (rather than some “talking heads” situation), and I like that we get a bit of an overview of the characters that seem poised to be focal points of this weekly series. It’s silly details that hung me up–stuff like “The Narrows” as a location I don’t ever remember in Gotham prior to the Nolan films or the Arkham games, as well as stuff from Dick’s flashback to his first “super-villain” tying to those films. I can’t quite put my finger on why that bugs me, but it’s there. Hardly a “dealbreaker,” though. I have more concern with Batman–Bruce’s–actions and potential motivation, perhaps just on a metatextual level.

Whatever the specifics…I enjoyed this on the whole. The issue also felt thick (and it is–I count 30 pages of story to the usual 20ish) and so the issue is much more worth its $3.99 cover price.

Seeing the third volume of the paperbacks for the previous Batman weekly–Batman Eternal–also out this week plants the seed in my mind all the more that I might prefer to just wait for collected volumes…particularly given how quickly I lost track of DC‘s weeklies last year. If I’m not going to get around to/keep up with weekly issues and binge-read anyway…might as well wait for my preferred format.

Still…a good first issue, working well as a “pilot” issue and getting me interested, confirming that yes, I am (myself, at least) interested in where this story goes, whatever the format. And as a first issue…this is well worth checking out if you’ve any particular interest in Batman’s sidekicks.

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Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Gambit and the X-Ternals #2

aoa_revisited_logo

gambitandthexternals002Where No eXternal Has Gone Before!

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Tony Daniel
Inkers: Conrad, Milgrom, Christian
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Marie Javins
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Cover: Tony Daniel
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: April 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Picking up immediately on the heels of the previous issue, our point of view is back with Gambit and his group, as they suddenly find themselves farther from home than they ever could have imagined being…and facing what they come to learn is the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard. The encounter is not encouraging, and Gambit has the group retreat. Rictor–who tagged along in their cross-galaxy space-hop–goes with the Imperial Guard. While he meets with a certain brutality interacting with the Guard, Gambit and co. meet a local who brings them up to speed on the situation they’ve found themselves in on this alien world. Rictor soon leads the Guard back to the X-Ternals, and the fight again does not go well, but this time the group is rescued by another group–calling themselves the Starjammers…who explain the danger facing all existence.

The art in this issue seems somehow "off" on this read-through…I’m sure it’s not all that different from the first issue, but as has plagued many of the #2s, there’s something to not being the opening chapter, nor penultimate or final chapter that leaves me a bit dissatisfied with the issue and more negatively critical of stuff that wouldn’t otherwise bother me. On the whole, the art works, the characters are familiar and mostly distinct…though just paging through the issue there’s a strange sort of blend to the visuals that–at least just for this issue–seems "off" to me.

The story itself is good, though a bit fast-paced and feeling quite a bit the opposite of "decompressed." This issue’s events could easily (by contemporary standards) be stretched to at least 2-3 issues–as we meet the Imperial Guard, see a fight and retreat, meet another new character and get exposition, see Rictor interrogated, another fight, meet another group, get further exposition, and finally a declaration to end the issue. That a lot is packed into the issue is good, and feels like a lot is going on, keeping things moving forward and giving a bit of that sense of hecticness the characters must be feeling, trying to find their bearings in this screwy new setting they’re thrust into.

With the Age of Apocalypse story exploring a number of different facets of the X-Universe, this series gets to do the "cosmic" side of things. It’s not entirely to my liking, nor is it necessarily a disliking. Though I’ve read some of the stuff with "X-Men in Space" I’m not really used to THESE X-characters "in space" so that throws me off a bit.

All in all, the issue’s rather average; neither landing as something crummy and distasteful nor anything of great significance or notice. It simply is what it is. We have plenty of action and story advancement and are moved into the heart of things away from the simple "premise" of this mini as spun out from X-Men: Alpha.

And like many other issues in the Age of Apocalypse stuff, I find this current re-reading to be almost new as it’s been so long since the last time I read through the entire story that I’ve forgotten details even if I’ve retained broad strokes.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Gambit and the X-Ternals #1

aoa_revisited_logo

gambitandthexternals001Some of Us Looking to the Stars

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Tony Daniel
Inker: Kevin Conrad
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Marie Javins
Cover: Tony Daniel
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: March 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

This was twenty years ago, real-time. Gambit was ‘only’ introduced about 4-5 years prior to this issue’s original release, and there have been several “ongoing” Gambit books in the interim, so it’s no longer a ‘special’ thing that Gambit’s headlining a series. Nor is the character the same sort of “mystery” he once was.

But for the time, this was the character leading a ragtag group of rebels, having himself split off from the X-Men due–in large part–to “losing” Rogue to Magneto.

We meet Jubilee running from an Infinite before they’re intercepted by Guido. The two are joined by Sunspot and the momentary battle is over. On returning home they’re met by the most dangerous man they know–Magneto. Who is there with Gambit…and the team’s led to their new mission. After a fight in the Morlock tunnels they’re made aware of the wider universe…and with the unleashed power of Lila Cheney, the team is sent to the other side of the galaxy, after the M’Kraan crystal. Magneto–on Earth–realizes just how fragile all his machinations truly are.

I find myself less impressed in this issue with Daniel‘s art. It’s not bad by any means…but it’s not as good as I’d expect presently on name alone. Then again…this is from two decades ago. There’s a certain style to the linework that registers this firmly in my mind as a ’90s comic without even having to see the cover, indicia, or anything else officially dating it. There’s certainly plenty of comic art out there far less appealing to me, but by and large this issue does not thrill me visually.

Story-wise this is much of what I’d want in a first issue, particularly the sort this actually is. This is coming out of the events of X-Men: Alpha which has set “everything” in motion for this epic Age of Apocalypse ‘event’ and itself introduces us to “new” characters beyond Magneto and Gambit, and their role in things. We’re introduced to the mission itself and the means by which the characters are able to have any chance of cosmic reach in a ruined world…and we’re given the wonder of just what they’ve gotten themselves into: events that we’ll see play out in coming issues.

I’m more enamored with the “idea” of this book than the execution…yet, on the whole I enjoyed this. But then, I’m quite enjoying the entirety of my re-reading of these Age of Apocalypse issues, and this definitely rides that wave a bit. I don’t know that I find this issue singularly important in a stand-alone sense, but it works in the grander scheme of the present X-Universe these are taking place in and given I do not recall details…I’m definitely interested in revisiting this group of characters and their Shi’Ar adventure.

The ‘90s Revisited: December ’94 X-Books

As the events of Legion Quest were reshaping the ENTIRE line of X-books for the start of 1995, even the titles not directly involved in Legion Quest itself reflected the fact that story was going on, with each title ending with the reality-ending crystallization wave washing over things, most of the books being left on a cliffhanger. While I wasn’t originally going to cover these other titles due to not being direct tie-ins/chapters of Legion Quest, I figured I’d touch briefly on them after all. Here are the resultant five “mini-reviews” of the rest of the December 1994-shipping X-Books.

WOLVERINE #90

wolverine090The Dying Game

Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Adam Kubert
Inks: Mark Farmer & Dan Green
Lettering: Pat Brosseau
Coloring: Marie Javins
Cover: Adam Kubert, Greg Hildebrandt, Tim Hildebrandt
Editor: Bob Harras

This is one of the more "iconic" issues of this series for me–and certainly harnesses the "feel" of this "era" of the comic for me. The cover is the first thing that stands out, with a hybrid Kubert/Hildebrandt Bros. image–the distinctive Hildebrandts image that would be great on its own, with Kubert‘s art overlaid to the side, and the series logo is almost an afterthought or a formality.

The issue’s story is fairly simplistic, with Wolverine returning to the X-Mansion to keep an eye on the imprisoned Sabretooth while everyone else is away. Wolverine starts out refusing to fight, but pieces things together about the time Sabretooth pulls an escape, and the two brawl. Ultimately they wind up with Wolverine on top, having popped two claws, one to either side of Sabretooth’s head. The villain taunts Wolverine, threatening everyone he loves and cares about, and right as Wolverine pops the third claw–into Sabretooth’s brain–the crystallization wave hits and this never happened, as this universe ends.

While not on the same level as X-Men #s 25 or 41 or Wolverine #75, this is an issue that’s long stood out to me. The ending plays very well with the pre-Age of Apocalypse cliffhanger thing, leaving us hanging a bit on the supposed fate of Sabretooth, what it means for Wolverine to have at long last apparently killed his old foe, etc. (However, the popularity of the characters renders this cliffhanger moot, where some of the "lesser" characters/titles have faded over the years and hold far less memory).

X-FACTOR #111

xfactor111Explosive Performance

Plot: John Francis Moore
Script: Todd Dezago
Pencils: Jan Duursema
Inks: Al Milgrom
Colors: Glynis Oliver
Letters: Starkings/Comicraft
Cover: Tom Grummett, Al Milgrom
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Group Editor: Bob Harras

This issue is one of the more memorable cliffhanger-issues for the month’s X-books, with Guido (Strong Guy) falling to a heart attack, and Reality ends before we learn if he’s actually dead or not.

I remember THAT I’d read a handful of issues of the title from #92-onward thanks to my introduction via the Fatal Attractions crossover the year before. However, other than apparently having read the END, I don’t recall THIS issue’s story prior to reading it this time around.

On the whole, this was a solid enough jumping-in issue…helped perhaps by having read #109 (the Legion Quest Prelude). As I read this issue, I kept mixing up Lila Cheney with Dazzler…two characters I’m familiar enough with name-wise but not so much story-wise. And though I didn’t totally follow–there’s a definite sense I missed plenty with skipping #110–I didn’t feel "lost" or have any particular problem with reading this issue.

That’s probably primarily helped by the fact I read this solely for its "tie-in" to Legion Quest and specifically TO get to the cliffhanger, to have the sense of where the title left off immediately preceding the shift into the Age of Apocalypse itself.

GENERATION X #4

generationx004Between the Cracks

Story: Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo
Inks: Mark Buckingham
Colors by: Steve Buccellato
Lettering: Richard Starkings/Comicraft
Cover: Chris Bachalo
Editing: Tom DeFalco, Bob Harras

I’ve yet to *really* ever read any issues of this title–I couldn’t say for sure if I’ve ever actually read an issue, including this one. I remember getting this when it came out, though, so I probably did read it…just without knowing much about the characters. I’d only partially followed the Phalanx Covenant stuff that led to Generation X, and didn’t yet know (m)any of the new characters. This issue’s very stylistic, which I’m not all that enamored with. The story itself isn’t bad, though I don’t much care for the page borders or the little character wandering said borders and holding up page-number signs. It’s an interesting thing to do, and I can appreciate it setting this title apart, as well as the "meta" nature of it. Perhaps it was even "fun" at the time. It just doesn’t do much for me.

Reading this issue for its "lead-in" to Age of Apocalypse was quite disappointing, as it also "bucked the trend" of the other X-books in doing its own thing and then a tacked-on bit to account for the ending of the universe. Not bad in and of itself–a good way to get around being totally formulaic, but my appreciation does not equal enjoyment–and this was the least-enjoyable of the non-Legion Quest X-issues heading into the big event.

X-FORCE #43

xforce043Teapot in a Tempest

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Tony Daniel
Inker: Kevin Conrad
Coloring: Mike Thomas
Cover: Tony Daniel, Kevin Conrad
Editor: Bob Harras

I definitely don’t remember this issue’s story as something I’d read before. I’m familiar with a number of the characters–perhaps from stuff I’ve read in the last 20 years, where I can’t say for sure I’d’ve been familiar with them at the time. I liked the art for this issue, and it’s interesting to see that it’s Tony Daniel, whose work I enjoyed on Batman a few years back. In addition to appreciating the art, I enjoyed this snippet of story–it was cool seeing a number of different characters/situations without them all having to be together in one space; with these multiple ongoing subplots weaving about. The Reignfire reveal seems like it was rather huge at the time, though not recalling anything of the character tells me that’s not something that’s particularly carried to this day.

That the issue involved communication with Cable and was affected by his absence due to things going on in Legion Quest was a definite treat, showing how the various characters tie together and that this issue is not something "on the fringe" of the X-universe of the time but was still closely affected.

EXCALIBUR #86

excalibur086Back to Life

Writer: Warren Ellis
Pencil Artist: Ken Lashley
Ink Artist: Tom Wegrzyn
Letterer: J. Babcock
Colorist: J. Rosas
Cover: Ken Lashley, Tom Wegrzyn
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Group Editor: Bob Harras

While I certainly did not pick up on the significance of things at the time, rereading this issue brought back snippets of memory–particularly Kitty’s threat to put Wisdom’s cigarette out, and the issue’s end with the jet crashing.

I do not recall consciously noting before now that this was a Warren Ellis-written issue, though somewhere along the way I became aware of his having been the writer in this general time, and being the one behind the Pete Wisdom character. That this seems to be Wisdom’s first appearance is rather cool.

This issue was a welcome glimpse back to the then-status-quo, and a reminder that Kitty and Nightcrawler had a period of time where they were NOT part of the X-Men themselves. I’d also forgotten about other characters, as well as how much I "miss" Moira’s presence in the X-books. Of course, given contemporary things, that’s practically a generational factor.

The cliffhanger of the characters facing a crash-landing that they weren’t certain of surviving was compelling even back in the day, and has me curious about how the point was resolved when everything returned after the Age of Apocalypse…I’m partially torn on digging that issue out to find out versus allowing myself the wondering until after covering the event itself.

Batman/Superman #3.1: Doomsday #1 [Review]

foreverevildoomsday001Tales of Doom

Written by: Greg Pak
Pencils by: Brett Booth
Inks by: Norm Rapmund
Colors by: Carlos M. Mangual
Cover by: Tony Daniel, Sandu Florea and Tomeu Morey
Assistant Editor: Anthony Marques
Editor: Mike Cotton
Group Editor: Eddie Berganza
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

This issue is REALLY the entire reason I “bought into” Villains Month at all to begin with, prior to deciding to “also” check out the Cyborg Superman issue and everything snowballing from there. Doomsday is probably THE key character for me, even more than the Cyborg, when it comes to my history with Superman. Whether the actual Doomsday arc, the issue of Reign of the Supermen where the Cyborg throws his body into space, the Hunter/Prey mini-series, the Doomsday Wars mini-series, his appearance during Our Worlds At War or his “Jokerization” during Last Laugh…the creature is one that I’ve “always” taken note of. 

All that said, my initial take on this issue is extreme disappointment. Labeled Doomsday #1 for the issue, I expected actual details–of the creature, of its past, clarification of its involvement with Superman already –and perhaps something of what might yet be coming. While we do get a look at the past, with the creature inserted much more closely to Superman himself in the family history…it seems to almost “cheapen” the character, making it just another part of stuff carrying over from Krypton to plague Superman on Earth, rather than something that arrives out of nowhere or “legend” and all that.

Rather than any real background on the character or firm details of the creature’s origins, we’re given a glimpse of a past encounter with the creature involving Zod, and from Lara’s perspective.  We get some development of Zod’s history with Supergirl (Kara)…which works in context of showing the danger the creature can present, of its place in Kryptonians’ consciousness…but really does not seem to “matter” for an issue that’s supposed to “focus” on the creature. This story seems like it would be far more appropriate as an issue of Supergirl, showing her remembering what she’s learned of the creature. Though the creature’s prominence on the cover is apt, this issue doesn’t really feel like it lives up to its “title,” and certainly fails to live up to my own expectations.

Despite that, had this simply been a random issue of Supergirl and I saw the creature so prominently placed on the cover, I’d’ve likely found this a rather enjoyable “one-shot” of sorts. And with the Zod/Kara stuff, it’s seeming likely that the entirety of Villains Month MIGHT actually drive me to checking out the Supergirl title.

The story itself is solid; I do like the art in and of itself. I don’t mind the reconfiguration of the bone protrusions from Doomsday, except the cheek-horns that just look totally ridiculous to me and seem a pointless addition to the face. While I’ll read about “any” Doomsday, this is somehow probably my least-favorite of all the looks the character’s been given.

All in all…I suspect if you’re a fan of the Supergirl series, you’ll enjoy this. Ditto if you’re a fan of Pak or Booth, or just want the cover to look at. With the apparent “consolidation” of titles for this month, I don’t know where Doomsday is likely to next show up (if at all), but this issue feels like it’s pointing me to the Supergirl title. If you’re expecting to find out where Doomsday came from in-continuity of New 52 or the New 52 “past” of the creature and Superman, you’ll have to look elsewhere or stretch a between-the-lines interpretation.

As a $3.99 one-shot with the fancy 3-D cover…if you can find this at cover price (or opt for the “standard” edition or digital edition), and don’t hold high expectations (or my comments have dispelled those expectations), it’s not bad and I have to “grudgingly” admit I’d recommend it as an expectation-less standalone.

Batman and Robin #3 [Review]

Quick Rating: Solid
Story Title: Batman Reborn Part Three: Mommy Made of Nails

Batman and Robin vs. Professor Pyg as the new dynamic duo solidifies as a team.

batmanandrobin003Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Patrick Brosseau
Assistant Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Covers: Frank Quitely and Tony Daniel
Publisher: DC Comics

This issue picks up with Batman interrogating a lackey in typical Batman fashion–though it turns out he was "allowed" access to the suspect by Commissioner Gordon himself. The two clash over methods, but ultimately part ways still allies (which is a nice change from what could otherwise be a cliched story element). Batman’s trying to find the captured Robin, who we find about to be tortured by "Professor Pyg." Battle ensues as Batman and Robin vow to be an actual team after recent solo play, and though their opponents (doll people) are fairly creepy–especially as rendered by Quitely–they seem to fit quite well into a rogues gallery that includes the likes of Clayface, Two-Face, Mr. Zsasz, and others. After dealing with the villain at hand, the heroes locate someone they’ve been seeking–a man familiar to readers of Morrison‘s past Batman issues who was instrumental in Batman: RIP. We have a full-page panel that is silent here, though if one’s read RIP, the dialogue is known from the opening page of that arc.

All in all, another solid issue. While I can appreciate adding to a fairly limited rogues gallery, I’m not particularly interested in the new villains–at least not yet. I enjoyed the fact that I’ve not been left half a year before seeing any costumed crazies taken down by the new Batman and Robin; I’ve also enjoyed the way we can really see what an abrasive kid Damian is ("Whose neck do I break first?" upon coming back to consciousness) which seems to further the need for guidance–that Dick can provide. It’s also refreshing to read a story from this writer that I can actually follow–that at least is entertaining on face value even if I’m picking up nothing in the way of background references. (If there are a lot of subtle things to be teased out of the story by multiple readings and lengthy analysis…cool. But I enjoyed this read just fine without ’em).

The art feels rather lumpy…it gives the characters a strange sort of appearance. Nothing quite disfiguring, but far from the smooth lines I’m used to seeing the characters with in other titles. Still, for the style, it’s consistent and gets everything across I’d expect it to, so no huge issue for me there…though there are a few other artists whose work would probably make this feel absolutely top-notch.

As is…a good issue, and worth picking up if you’ve been giving the title a try. I’m not sure if this is truly the final issue of the arc, but it feels like it is, so the next issue will likely make another good jumping-on point; if you can find the first couple issues to give you all three, it’s definitely a very worthwhile read.

Ratings:

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

Batman #700 [Review]

Full review posted to cxPulp.com.

Story: 3/5
Art: 4.5/5
Overall: 3.5/5

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