19 June 2012

Geek Does Comics: June 2012

Batman [#1-10]
Written by Scott Snyder

The New 52 launch made by DC last August/September was of interest to me for three titles: Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern. Batman I love dearly, but after whatever it is that Grant Morrison has done with the series over the last several years [apparently was transported back in time by Darkseid, and then Wayne traveled through several eras before coming back to 'life', while Grayson filled in as Batman during Wayne's absence, and then Wayne founded Batman Incorporated or something; and there was all this stuff with Thomas Wayne and Black Mask and secret organizations and revelations of family member shit, it was all very confusing], I was a bit turned off. And I've always wanted to get into reading Superman comics, specifically so I can start to understand the character a little better and maybe give a damn about him outside of the nifty action scenes and the attractiveness of Lois Lane. As for Green Lantern, outside of a really abysmal Hollywood production last summer, I really dig the character and the universe he inhabits. So to have the leisure of forgoing titles that have 700 issues to their names and starting at the beginning - it was quite appealing.

Under review today is the first ten issues of the New 52's Batman series, under the reign of Scott Snyder (American Vampire). To be precise and to the point, Snyder has an amazing handle on the Batman character - the pain that drives him, his unmatched detective skills and thorough research, his resolution to never give up to his dying breath, etc. The mannerisms and dialogue of Batman is very, very well executed, as are his interactions with the Bat family [such as Alfred and Dick Grayson]. In the first volume of the series, encompassing issues 1-6, Snyder beats down Batman so hard, he becomes a frazzled, hollow impression of the master of fear he once was. He becomes a fearful man, unable to concentrate, the victim of the Court of Owls, and they are winning over his mind. Batman's very sanity is walking out the door, and with some wonderful art accompanying the narrative, Snyder realizes a true fall for Batman....only to rise up, greater than ever.

That's actually what I've loved most about this Batman run - the psychological aspects of Batman. Well, that and the art. One of the things that drew me into comics back in 2000 was the amazing artwork that was found in the Marvel title Ultimate Spider-Man. It was so real and beautiful, I couldn't help but be lured in. Artist Greg Capullo is at work bringing Snyder's script to life, and realizes the gritty realism of Batman's world. Personally, I've always wondered why no one has tried to translate the armor-esque outfit Batman wears in the Nolan movie trilogy to comics, instead keeping with the simple cloth-looking costume that is the Dark Knight's signature style. But still, that menace is there. Costume aside, the real talent behind Batman's figure is the eyes. Those two white slits. Just watch the evolution of Batman's eyes from the first issue to this current one; it's a wild ride of ups and downs, perfectly reflecting the narrative frenzy.

So this is where Batman is. He's confident in his city, Gotham is all his, he knows the insides and outs, every corner, every street lamp and sewer - he has Gotham in the palm of his hand. And now something is emerging that threatens that belief, that there is something unknown lurking in Gotham's infrastructure with the means to topple it. Enter the long elusive Court of Owls, an organization cloaked in darkness and secrets since Gotham's inception, having a strong hand in how the city operated day after day. Now it's Batman who they set their sights on, and it takes every ounce of mental and physical endurance for the Dark Knight to conquer his foe.

This run has a heavy emphasis on the history and building structures of Gotham, which is neat and all, but overused. The first three issues was Batman cementing his post as the big detective in Gotham, Bruce Wayne under attack, and then another three issues on Batman's deteriorating psychological state, then the Night of Owls, and now Batman striking back and reclaiming the city. For being the premiere storyline of the New 52 Batman lineup, things needed to get moving a bit faster. That said, issues 4-7 were truly magnificent. Batman at the mercy of the Court, physically beaten and mentally beside himself - that was spectacularly strong stuff. But since the actual Night of Owls, as the Court initiates attacks on forty plus important figureheads of Gotham - I'm at a point where I want the story to move on from the Court and have Batman tackle something else.

And this brings us to issue 10, which concludes on a revelation. If you haven't read it, (obviously) stop reading now. So Bruce Wayne has a brother, it would appear. Hopefully there's not some obnoxious cop-out at the beginning of issue 11. I can possibly get behind that; it would be an interesting dynamic to have Bruce Wayne stuck with a sibling. But with only one or two issues of the Court of Owls arc left before it concludes, will this plotpoint be resolved within this arc, or be a lingering element?

From issues 1-7, I was yours, Scott Snyder. Now I just want the Owls to wrap up their attacks, and Batman to move on with his enemy. Still interesting storytelling issue after issue, and absolutely gorgeous artwork, just the Owls have overstayed their welcome. Grade for Batman Issues #1-10: A-

Batman Annual #1
Written by Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV

Set during the chaotic events of the Night of Owls, Mr. Freeze successfully breaks out of Arkham and initiates a plan to save his beloved Nora. But of course, Batman shows up and foils Freeze's plans (oh, spoiler?).

Basically existing for Scott Snyder to give his take on Batman's nemesis Mr. Freeze, the Annual isn't by any means bad, it's just not very exciting. So the paramount element of interest in this issue is how Freeze is handled, and frankly, it's quite cool. There was no pun intended.

Freeze is like a young Michael Myers. He killed/experimented on animals as a young child. He commits a crime of the highest degree...as a child. And he has quite the obsession over someone he can't have, blaming the world for the mistakes and horrible shit that's come his way. Freeze is a freakazoid who has a penchant for the cold, who has lived his life with his heart ice cold with no real emotions or ability to connect on a human level. And as the pages wind down, Batman reveals a Snyder-twist to the Freeze tale that makes the Sub Zero villain all the more messed up in the head. Seeing as how Mr. Freeze has never been a favorite of mine - although seven year old me quite enjoyed the Arnie's take of him in Batman & Robin - I don't mind in the least that Freeze has shed the tragical history his character used to have and instead became a straight up, well, sociopath.

The penciling by Jason Fabok is gorgeous. Worth the purchase alone to look over this wonderful work. But overall the story was just very "meh". I'd rather something more 'event'ish, like maybe the Owls decide to unleash Snyder's version of the Joker on Batman. Perhaps the Joker has some vital piece of intel. Nah, that's rubbish. But still a decent issue, just not very deserving of being the first annual, in my opinion. Grade for Batman Annual #1: B -

Smallville, Season 11 [#2]
Written by Bryan Q. Miller

After ten years and countless frustrating episodes and a good batch of truly spectacular episodes and presenting to audiences one of the finest realized Lex Luthors in memory, Smallville concluded its series run May 2011. Tom Welling (Cheaper by the Dozen) embraced his destiny as earth's savior, soaring over the skies of Metropolis to save them from Darkseid's Apokolips that was on a collision coarse to earth. In the closing shot, standing ontop of the Daily Planet, the John Williams score plays in all its Superman-y glory, and Clark Kent rips open his shirt, revealing the giant red and yellow S on his chest, and flies to save the day. Superman has officially arrived, and although that was the end for the series, it's not the end of the story.

Bryan Q. Miller, who penned a few episodes of Smallville, returns to the franchise to continue that story in Season Eleven. Only two issues in, and it has surprisingly been extremely faithful to the source material, in tone and style. As far as the artistic renderings of the actors to comic, that adaptation was less successful, and I'll get to that in a minute, but it's a real pleasure to see Clark Kent back in action.

What Smallville did successfully is made a Superman worth following, worth believing in. He wasn't just the Boy Scout who did no wrong. Clark Kent's journey was thrilling, wrought with emotional heartbreak and difficult moral choices. And let's not forget mentioning the mythic friendship between Clark and Lex, and the slow deterioration of that friendship as lies started stacking ontop of more lies, until by the end, Clark can't save him, and Lex takes his rightful place as his enemy. [Well, sorta. There's this whole mind wipe thing that happened in the series finale that makes Lex...complicated. More on that in a second or two]

So now that we have Superman, the red, white and blue defender of all things good in the galaxy, how well does Smallville present him? Pretty damn good. This is the Superman we all internationally recognize, and he's also the same Clark Kent that we watched grow up in ten seasons of the television show. Miller found just the right balance with Superman, made all the more wonderful by the extremely faithful-to-the-series and heartwarming exchanges between Clark and Lois. He does his best to make the wife happy, he's agitated he can't reveal Lex's murder of Tess or unravel the billionaire's schemes, and he does everything in his power to fight the good fight. And we got some cool space stuff this issue.

As for Lex, who is, for me, one of the most fascinating characters I've ever experienced - thanks in large part to Michael Rosenbaum's complex and tormented performance - his arc is interesting, but not altogether compelling. After murdering Tess in the series finale, Lex has been receiving visitations of her, Tess standing around or following her brother, taunting him with his obsession with Superman and everything that he doesn't remember. In regards to the series "Finale", I wasn't a huge fan of how they erased nearly all of Lex's memories pertaining to his time in Smallville, because that's seven years of character building that just went out the window. Now we have a guy who instinctively doesn't trust Superman, is haunted by the apparition of his deceased sister, and initiates schemes/plans under the guise that it will help the earth.

In summary, Clark and Superman are wonderfully realized (although visually disappointing), Lex Luthor continues to dominant the page, Lois is still all kinds of fun, and the dialogue and vibe of the comic feels very much in tone with the series. The content of the new season is less interesting, which is rather problematic for a series that's two issues in and boasts a four-dollar price tag. I'm not really sure where the story is going, but where ever it leads, I'll follow. I've watched Clark become Superman, not about to stop now. Grade for Smallville Season Eleven Issue 2: B+

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