‘The Weekly Bat-Signals’ with Shawn Warner, Episode 5

Hello again fellow Gothamites this was a rather Batman heavy week in the world of print comics so we are going to focus on three of them this week; Batman: The Dark Knight written by series regular, Greg Hurwitz with art by the incomparable Alex Maleev, next we take a look at the Batman Incorporated Special written and illustrated by an all-star cast of some of the industry’s best and brightest, then finally the visually stunning Batman/ Superman written by Greg Pak and masterfully illustrated by Jae Lee with help this time from Yildiray Cinar. With next week being the start of Villains Week the current story arcs in the Batman titles are for all intents and purposes on-hold until picking back up next month. Also most of the Bat Books will be shipping twice in September so combine that with the enhanced covers available on these books and what results is DC getting a much larger share of my comic book budget than usual. This comes at a bad time for me with Baltimore Comic-Con fast approaching and me being a humble struggling writer of modest means, in short I’m going to be a broke so and so in September. But enough of my financial woes we are here to chat about The Bat so let’s get started with our first book this week, the always dark and moody Batman: The Dark Knight.

This issue continues the current Clayface arc which has been a highlight in the series thus far. Overall The Dark Knight maintains a more gritty and dark tone than the other Bat titles it has a less polished feel as Greg Hurwitz seems to telling more visceral tales focusing on Batman’s Rogues Gallery more than The Batman himself. In fact Batman is more of a catalyst at times used to set off the featured antagonist. Hurwitz has hit his stride in many ways on this Clayface arc; he keeps the pace brisk and the action dynamic  allowing Batman to move through the narrative with relative ease but still placing the conflict front and center without overplaying the fight scenes. Instead Hurwitz lets the dialogue grab the spotlight more often than not and what we get is a character study of Clayface who is an elusive and mysterious foe about whom little is really known beyond a sketchy origin story.

Clayface has Batman a bit at his wits end. He is able to elude capture for most of the story, running Batman through his paces. One of the highlights of this issue for me is a scene between Batman and Gordon atop the G.C.P.D., in order to verify Gordon’s true identity Batman slaps the grizzled police commissioner across the face, “Sorry Jim. Just checking.” He adds matter-of-factly. Gordon just straightens his glasses and replies understandingly, “I suppose Clayface has everyone on edge right now.” It was a light moment that kept the tone from becoming oppressively heavy and it worked so well.

Throughout the issue the main concern in capturing and imprisoning Clayface is a question of containment. Once that is addressed it becomes a matter of baiting and springing the perfect trap. The pursuit takes Batman far from Gotham City before it is all said and done but as is the case with some of the best Batman tales, it’s not the kill, it’s the thrill of the chase.

The real star of this issue for me is Alex Maleev. Maleev is a consummate professional and one of the finest artists working in comic books today. His dark style and uncompromising attention to detail are a perfect fit for Batman. He captures the grim gothic feel of Gotham spot on. His take on Clayface is that of a terrible monster, grotesque and malformed, truly frightening to behold.

All things considered this is a first rate issue in a series that is constantly improving. Greg Hurwitz is coming into his own as he cycles through Batman’s ample allotment of antagonists and arch-enemies. A steady stream of up and comers and seasoned veteran artists give Batman: The Dark Knight its edgy visual style.  I enjoy this book and recommend it unreservedly to any Bat Fan looking to add a monthly title to their pull list.

Next up is the Batman Inc. Special, which is a collection of stories based on characters from Grant Morrison’s brilliant series. The short works are created by an impressive line-up of established writers and artists. So without further delay let’s jump right into the first story which features Batman Japan, Jiro Osamu and is written and drawn by the amazing Chris Burnham. This is Burnham’s second outing as writer/ artist, back in issue 11 he wrote and illustrated another Batman Japan tale, however the shorter anthology style seems to work a bit better for him. That is not to say that Burnham and Batman Japan are not capable of sustaining their own book, I would love to see a Batman Japan monthly fully created by Burnham. My only complaint pertaining to issue 11 is timing; it came as an interruption to Grant Morrison’s story at a point when it was barreling full speed toward the climax.

The issue begins with Batman seated before the enormous screen of the Bat-Computer, going over the Batman Inc. case files. The scene then turns to Japan and a group of children beating on a vending machine that has just taken their money without dispensing an icy drink in return.  After punching the machine a ghastly surprise is presented, a severed human hand. The story goes on to chronicle the exploits of Jiro and his sidekick, Lolita Canary as they face off against the insidious Inside Out Man. Chris Burnham is one of my favorite artists, in fact I liken his style to my all-time favorite Morrison collaborator, Frank Quitely. They share a hyper-meticulous attentiveness to detail and a realistic approach to anatomy. Burnham’s panel layouts are a bit more kinetic and tinged with pop art effects like exaggerated motion lines and highly stylized sound effects reminiscent of the old Batman TV show, where Quitely’s style of panel layout and visual storytelling are much more cinematic. In his work on Batman Japan, Burnham employs a touch of old school manga sensibility perhaps to play up the Japanese origin of the character. This story sets the bar high for those that follow it in this issue.

The second tale is of Knight and Squire by Joe Keatinge and Emanuel Simeoni. This is a poignant narrative of Squire’s grief over losing her friend, partner and mentor, Knight and her ultimate transition into the new Knight. This is a well-crafted and enjoyable story however the characterization is quite a bit different from Grant Morrison’s handling of the characters. That being said, the foundation of this piece and where Keatinge shines is in dealing with the emotional state of Squire as she comes to terms with the loss of Cyril Sheldrake. It is really a character study and when read in that light it works quite well. Its strength as a character piece does preclude it from containing a few very exciting action scenes. Over all it’s another solid contribution to this anthology.

The next story features Raven Red and Man-of-Bats. It’s a very touching tale by Nathan Fairbairn with art by John Paul Leon. Fairbairn roots this narrative a little more in reality focusing on the recounted life story of a Native American steel worker who has had a rather storied past working on some of the most famous buildings of all-time. This story is very well crafted. The dialogue is the star of the piece but the artwork is solid as well John Paul Leon does a nice job rendering and staging the fight scenes. Again this is another top notch addition to this collection. In the next story Ranger teams-up with El Gaucho and Nightrunner in an action packed super-natural thriller by Mike Raicht and John Stanisci. This one is pretty much an all-out slug-fest from start to finish. The artwork is dynamic and conveys the sense of urgency the narrative calls for.

The final entry is a silent story by Dan Didio with art by the brilliant Ethan Van Sciver featuring one of the most beloved members of Batman Incorporated, Bat Cow. This is a surprisingly heavy tale which is made even more emotional by the silent approach employed here by the creators. Van Sciver is always a welcome addition to any Bat book. His recent work on Batman: The Dark Knight has been some of his best to date. This is a particularly fun way to close out a book that puts the exclamation point at the end of a tremendous series created by the most prolific genius to ever work in comic books, Grant Morrison. Morrison himself closes out the issue with a heartfelt goodbye to the character that for seven years was the center of his creative universe and a fond thank you to all the incredibly talented co-creators who worked with him over the years bringing us some of the very best Batman stories ever created. It’s more of an open letter in which Morrison espouses his love of Batman, reading it made me reflect on all the ground-breaking arcs that this virtuoso has brought us over a seven year span. We were exceedingly blessed the day Grant Morrison met Bruce Wayne and the seeds of these narratives began to germinate. Although this book does nothing to further Morrison’s story, I urge every Bat Fan reading this to pick it up if you haven’t already done so for two reasons; first and most important is for the aforementioned letter by Grant Morrison and second this may be the last chance we get to see some of these great characters.

Finally this week let’s discuss the current issue of Batman/ Superman shall we? This is the third issue of this series and so far I have been thoroughly enjoying it. Greg Pak and Jae Lee have found their own ethereal corner of the New 52 universe in which to stage their fascinating and entertaining story. Although these events happen in continuity they have an almost Vertigo feel to them partly due to the time traveling and off world locales, throw in duplicates of Batman and Superman and you up the preternatural vibe tenfold. This is a truly enjoyable read and a visually gorgeous comic book.

This issue focuses on the relationship between Bruce and Clark when they were children. Their first meeting is recounted in a flashback sequence stunningly rendered by Yildiray Cinar. Alfred and a very young Bruce Wayne are traveling through Smallville when they experience a flat tire. Clark invites Bruce out of the car to play some baseball. The game quickly turns to wrestling and the two become fast friends. This is the highlight of the book for me. Cinar’s more traditional art is so different from Lee’s stark highly stylized work but it effectively enhances the different eras illustrated in the narrative. In the main storyline a complex confrontation is brewing and who is lurking in the shadows but Darkseid, Lois Lane and Wonder Woman round out this all-star cast. Issue three maintains the upward trend in quality of each successive issue in this series. I can only expect that it will continue to get better and better. Greg Pak’s script brings these iconic characters to life in a very human way. His dialogue is authentic and real in contrast to the very otherworldly circumstances they find themselves in which is a unique juxtaposition. This is a series that is unlike any other in the New 52. It has a cosmic component that adds an air of science fiction to the existing super hero tropes. Jae Lee’s art can be divisive but I think he is one of the most innovative artists working today. I have been a fan since his days on Namor in the late eighties (yes I am old). Greg Pak is a phenomenal writer who has most notably created some historic Hulk stories including Planet Hulk and World War Hulk. This book is a winner all the way around, it’s a can’t miss for Bat Fans and Superman fans alike. My advice would be to grab these three issues and add it to your pull list.

Well that will do it for another installment of the Weekly Bat Signals. In closing I have just a few quick items to mention. First of all the word around the net is that Ben Affleck has signed a ten film deal to play Batman/ Bruce Wayne in four Justice League films, the Man of Steel sequel and several Batman solo films. I don’t know if this has in fact taken place but if it has I think we should all offer a prayer to our savior, in the words of fellow Bat Fan Kevin Smith, “Our Batman who art in Gotham, cowled be thy name.” I hope he does the material justice and proves all of the doubts unfounded and as I am one of the doubters I will be the first to happily feast on my words. Lastly this week I regretfully report that I will not be writing a Weekly Bat Signals feature next week as I will be covering the Baltimore Comic-Con. So I will see all of you fellow Gothamites right back here in two weeks, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

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Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter:  @shawnwarner629

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