‘The Weekly Bat-Signals’ with Shawn Warner, Episode 6

Greetings fellow Gothamites, I had to leave our fair city of Gotham for the even darker and deadlier streets of Baltimore, just for a weekend to attend the 14th annual Baltimore Comic-Con. I hope you read and enjoyed the report of my exploits on the convention floor. It was a blast, I met so many great creators and vendors but we are here to speak of all things Batman. This episode is going to focus in large part on the Villains Month releases as they relate to the Bat titles. Last week was rather a mixed bag for the Bat Books with the much anticipated (and gorgeous to look at thanks to Andy Clarke’s tremendous artistic effort) Joker story written by Andy Kubert being so lackluster, the Gail Simone Ventriloquist story was quite good as were the Two Face story by Peter Tomasi and the Poison Ivy book by Derek Fridolfs but none of them stood out as a great story, however this week’s offerings are quite an improvement. So we are going to talk about each of them in turn, the villains being;  The Riddler, Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze and Court of Owls but I want to get things started with a book that actually came out last week, Batman: Black and White.

Batman: Black and White is an anthology collecting short stories by some of the industry’s best and brightest from all eras of Batman’s long and illustrious history. The stories featured in this issue run the gamut of emotions from light hearted fare to heavier more somber subject matter. This is the first issue of a monthly title and boy does it boast one heck of a talented line-up of creators; there is quintessential Batman artist, Neal Adams as well as innovative works by Sean Murphy, Chris Samnee and Chip Kidd to name a few.

The first story is written by Chip Kidd who penned the superb Batman graphic novel, Death by Design with artwork by Canadian artist Michael Cho. Batman is missing in action for most of the story while Robin franticly searches for him. We see that the Dark Knight is being kept rather busy by the Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker. The distraught young Boy Wonder gets some rather big help from Big Blue himself as Superman drops in to lend a hand. The Joker manages to transport Batman to Korea with some type of transporter ray gun that looks straight out of a 1950’s era sci-fi thriller. However all is well by the final panel when with Superman’s help the Dynamic Duo are reunited.

Michael Cho masterfully captures the feel of a bygone era with his artwork, calling to mind the Golden and Silver ages in spirit more than any one artist’s style or look. He brings an innocence to the narrative that enhances the heroics of the characters, who in this case happen to be three friends. It is that friendship that comes shining through in the facial expressions and body language of the characters. Chip Kidd’s dialogue rings with that same innocence, when Superman speaks you can hear the altruism and honesty behind the words. This story is so well constructed and paced and the characterizations so spot on that I would consider it a perfect example of a comic book story.

The next story is not quite as perfect but since it is by Neal Adams it looks amazing. After his many, many years in the comic book industry and all the historic contributions he has made Neal Adams continues to create some of the most iconic and just gorgeous artwork ever. I had the chance to meet him while I was at the Baltimore convention and just to see the amount of really famous images he is responsible for is awesome. However his writing has never really been the attraction and that is what’s going on with this story, entitled Batman Zombie. I don’t know if this is some attempt to jump on the zombie train that is currently chugging through pop culture or what but it just doesn’t work for me. The artwork is stunning because it is his raw pencils, uninked and they look incredible but the narrative is so disjointed and ill-conceived that it goes nowhere. As near as I can figure, it is a dream sequence in which Batman finds himself unable to help people with the mundane workings of their lives so he appears as a zombie at those times, then when the stakes are raised and the people are in substantially more peril he returns to his true form and rescues them. I’m sure that Mr. Adams had something on a more grand scale in mind when he wrote this but it gets painfully lost in translation. However, the story is a welcome inclusion for the remarkable artwork alone.

Next up is a story written by first-time DC writer Maris Wicks with art by the impeccable Joe Quinones. Justice is served features Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy in a light hearted yet gruesome fast food fueled romp. Harley believes Ivy is responsible for her two hyenas becoming sick after eating some veggie burgers. Mayhem ensues resulting in a dissolved doctor and a very bloated Mista J. This is one of my favorite stories in this issue it has such heart and Joe Quinones’ art is beautiful. The black and white rendering does not diminish his dynamic style one bit. Maris Wicks’ darkly comedic script is a perfect fit for Quinones art. Her dialogue in the scenes featuring Harley, Ivy and Batman is smartly hilarious. Although this is Ms. Wicks first work published by DC I have a very strong feeling that it will not be her last.

The prolific and philosophical John Arcudi writes the next story with art by the unbelievably talented Sean Murphy, who I was also lucky enough to meet in Baltimore. Sean is a really great guy, friendly, humble and infinitely approachable. Driven features speed demoness Roxy Rocket and showcases Bruce’s ability as a mechanic as well as a driver. It is a high octane tale told in blood, sweat and horse power on the treacherous streets of Gotham. Arcudi writes some sharp dialogue between Alfred and Bruce, heavy on the quips he captures Alfred’s sarcastic yet concerned demeanor perfectly. Sean Murphy is perfect for Batman, I take this time to ask the comic book Gods to answer my prayer, please let Sean Murphy do a run on any Batman book. Amen. His style is so kinetic that the Bat mobile speeds across the page, the sense of motion and urgency are palpable. Murphy pays meticulous attention to detail, his backgrounds are fully developed mechanical drafts lending them an incomparable realism. This is a great character piece.

The final story is written by Howard Mackie with art by Baltimore Comic-Con alum, the extraordinary Chris Samnee. Head Games is an old school whodunit featuring the Ventriloquist in one of his more disturbing appearances. Mackie delivers the noir sensibility on this one and Samnee adds the visuals complete with eerie gothic architecture and foggy night time streets, a perfect piece of hard-boiled detective work.

As a collection Batman: Black and White represents the many facets that Batman such an endearing and time honored character, he represents the best we can be, without super powers or mutation, without enchanted weaponry or Godhood, Bruce Wayne fueled by grief and the desire to see the evil punished (a serious bank roll helps admittedly) coupled with dedication and commitment becomes the pinnacle of humanity, this book shows that in snatches and segments. The Dark Knight is more than the sum of his parts, he has attained much more by focusing, and by vigilance he has transcended boundaries that keep most of us hand-cuffed to mediocrity.

The talented creators that contributed to this anthology each bring something different to their respective stories and with one exception they have produced an unmitigated success. Visually Sean Murphy, Joe Quinines and Michael Cho shine as do Chip Kidd, Maris Wicks and Howard Mackie for their stories. All things considered this is a Bat book that no true Bat fan should be without. If you didn’t grab it when it came out please rectify that mistake on your next trip to your local comic book shop.

Villains Month brought some better fare this week for fans of the Dark Knight Detective chief among them would be Scott Snyder and Ray Fawkes Riddler #1 aka Batman #23.2 with art by Jeremy Haun. Ray Fawkes does a really fine job of capturing the voice of The Riddler in much the same way that Snyder did in Zero Year perhaps that is a direct benefit of writing with Snyder. Fawkes is a pretty solid writer himself especially when he teams up with Jeff Lemire as he has done on Constantine and Justice League Dark. The clever way this narrative is built around actual riddles is brilliant and serves as a springboard for The Riddler’s violent loss of his treasured control. This is a unique .2 in the sense that it fits quite nicely into the ongoing plot of Zero Year. In my opinion this is the best of the Villains Month Bat tie ins so far. I really enjoyed this book, great writing and Haun’s art is really dynamic.

The Dark Knight #23.2 features Mr. Freeze and it also written by a team of writers, Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotto, one of the best teams bar none in comic books. This is one of the darker books of Villains Month focusing on the desperation and psychosis of Mr. Freeze. The art is solid by Jason Masters but it doesn’t really fit the gritty, somber tone, however I think Dave Craig’s colors are more to blame instead of conveying a chilling coldness it feels almost electric and neon bright. So, tremendous story with solid but ill-fitting artwork, still a definite must-have for Bat completest.

In Detective Comics #23.2 Matt Kindt attempts to do some damage control on Harley Quinn’s origin which was inflicted by her New 52 revamping, unfortunately it seems like too little, too late. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm wrote a definitive Harley Quinn origin in Mad Love which has become the barometer by which all others will forever be measured, which is a little unfair in the climate of the New 52 because only Batman and Green Lantern made it through virtually unscathed. So in that light it is no surprise that through no fault of his own, Matt Kindt could not fix what is broken with the new Harley Quinn. He writes a fine story, entertaining and well-constructed with lots of action however when he delves into Quinn’s psychosis and multiple personality disorder he seems unclear on just how many personalities are in that pretty little head of hers. To his credit Kindt does show us a more intelligent, if exponentially more violent Harley even offering us a front row seat when she “obtains” the various pieces of her new costume. Neil Googe does a stellar job on this book. I love his take on Harley. He gets so much out of every little facial expression, snarled lip and nervous tic that it is staggering. All in all I like this issue because Matt Kindt wrote an entertaining and engrossing story despite the damage done to Harley by the New 52 and Neil Googe created one of the most gorgeous books on the racks this week.

That brings us to the last of the .2 issues as they relate to the Bat books, Batman and Robin #23.2 featuring the Court of Owls written by James Tynion IV with art by Jorge Lucas. This is the darkest of the Villains Month books which makes sense because the Court of Owls is such a dark subject especially the story of the first Talon. Tynion IV takes us all the way back to the birth of Gotham through flashbacks we see the violent acts committed by the Talons throughout history. The final sequence gets very dark as we see some particularly unsavory actions of a homicidal Talon. Jorge Lucas has a style that works extremely well with such primordial material. His rendition of Gotham looks like White Chapel in the time of The Ripper with its dilapidated appearance. This is a top notch issue and anyone interested in the history of Gotham will love it.

Well that’s going to do it for another episode of the Weekly Bat-Signals; I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing it to you. So until next week I will keep my ear to the ground and my eyes to the sky searching and waiting for any news of The Batman.

___________________________

Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter:  @shawnwarner629

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