‘The Weekly Bat-Signals’ with Shawn Warner, Episode 7

Greetings once again fellow Bat-Fans, lots to talk about in this week’s Bat-Signals. We have the Villains Month books as well as the latest print issue of Batman ’66 with art this time by the incomparable Joe Quinones. He knocks this one out of the park friends but the big news is in the television arena. It seems that the CW will not be the only network airing a live action DC comics series, Fox announced last night that they had won a bidding war to air the sought after series simply called Gotham. This seems like the obvious choice to start with so without further ado let’s slide down the Bat poles, fire up the Batmobile and hit the streets of Gotham.

The news came on the very same night that the inaugural episode of Marvel’s much anticipated Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aired. Holy coincidence Batman! Following a heated network bidding war over the ultimate home of the Warner Bros. produced series, Fox ended up victorious. The Gotham series carried so much clout that it circumvented the usual pilot to series progression and went straight into production as a series; this is rarely done unless a huge star with a proven track record in television is attached to a project. However in this case it is because of the eminent bankability of the Batman franchise especially in light of the success of the Christopher Nolan films.

The series will center on a youthful James Gordon during his tenure as a fledgling detective and the rogue’s gallery of villains that gave Gotham its reputation as a dangerous city. Bruno Heller who is known for writing the mediocre series The Mentalist as well as the much better and far more watchable HBO series Rome will be handling the writing duties on Gotham which will most likely make its appearance during the 2014-2015 season. The events taking place in the series will all be prior to Gordon meeting Batman so we will not see the Dark Knight Detective on the small screen.

With Arrow currently going into its second season and preparing to have its first spin-off in the speculated upcoming Flash series, DC could have a major presence on the air next fall albeit on different networks. I am very pleased that Gotham will not be on the CW and therefore not a part of the continuity set forth in Arrow. The announcement of Gotham ushers in a new era of Batman, Chris Nolan and his amazing films served the franchise very well and now hopefully we are on the threshold of another equally innovative chapter of the Batman story. I have very recently even become hopeful that Ben Affleck will do justice to the mantle of the Bat.

Next up is the latest issue of Batman ’66 on the racks this week sporting a gorgeous cover by Michael Allred, the first story is written by Jeff Parker with interior art by Joe Quinones and features The Joker as well as The Red Hood. This story is a departure from the two previous Batman ’66 issues in several ways, first of all the tone is a bit darker, while it does maintain the campy style of the television series from which it draws inspiration, “The Joker Sees Red” leans more toward an actual Batman story. It contains elements of current continuity even featuring an appearance by Dr. Harleen Quinzell. Another change is the more realistic artwork of Joe Quinones. His spot on rendering of Caesar Romero as The Joker is one of the highlights of this story. However he doesn’t just nail the physical likeness, he makes The Joker menacing and more frightening than Romero ever was. The inclusion of The Red Hood Gang was a stroke of brilliance by Jeff Parker and really moved this book from a nostalgic romp to an actual Bat book. Sure it is still miles from continuity but the tonal shift and more complex structure have made this already enjoyable book that much more enjoyable.

The second story features Egghead, a villain who was immortalized by the legendary Vincent Price on the television series. “Scrambled Eggs” is written by Jeff Parker with art by Sandy Jarrell. The narrative largely focuses on the Dynamic Duo escaping a giant egg-shaped trap. Parker again turns down the campiness just a bit and concentrations more on telling a good story. He has really honed each characters voice writing better dialogue every issue. Jarrell’s artwork is more stylized than Quinones’ but it works here. The lines are bold and characterizations dynamic. I loved both stories in this issue and look forward as always to the next issue of Batman ’66. If you haven’t been reading this either in print or digitally, what are you waiting for Bat fans? This is pure fun, pick it up.

Now let’s check out this week’s Villains Months .3 issues in the world of The Bat. First off Batman #23.3 features The Penguin written by veteran scribe Frank Tieri with art by Christian Duce. The story centers on The Penguin’s bruised ego after the Emperor Penguin’s short-lived period of influence. Penguin sees the opportunity to save the floundering Iceberg Casino as a chance to repair his damaged reputation. Tieri writes The Penguin as a persuasively psychotic villain without obliterating his humanity entirely hence allowing room for sympathy for a man who has been reviled and tormented all his life.

Tieri manages to avoid falling into the void of sub-standard fare that most of the Villains Month books have been resigned to. He writes a solid story that neither seems to be part of Forever Evil or particularly relevant to the on-going Batman title. Visually it lacks any vibrant style at all. It’s competently drawn but a dynamic artist could have elevated this decent story to a really good one off.

Next up is Dark Knight #23.3 featuring Clayface by John Layman with art by Cliff Richards. Layman does a nice job of making the imbecilic Clayface appealing. The story is somewhat flat but seeing Clayface fly off the handle every time someone insults his intelligence is worth the cover price. Layman makes the most of a minimal plot with sharp dialogue and lively pace.

Cliff Richards’ art is solid however unfortunately for him the awesome Greg Capullo recently did his rendition of Clayface and that has set the bar extremely high in my mind. Capullo takes the time to meticulously detail the monstrosity that is Clayface with drips and cracks and broken teeth he makes Clayface look every bit the gruesome twisted monster. Richards on the other hand just doesn’t hit the mark however everything else he draws in this issue is superb. His panels are fully rendered and detailed, his characters are communicative and the action is kinetic, Richards is just not a good fit for Clayface.

That brings us to Detective #23.3 which stars Scarecrow written by Peter Tomasi with artwork by Szymon Kudranski. Unlike other Villains Month books Detective #23.3 isn’t just a rehashing of a villain’s origin instead it progresses a plot that features Dr.Crane’s attempt to form an army in response to Bane’s mounting forces. Peter Tomasi goes heavy on the cameos in this issue but it allows him to write dialogue for a variety of characters as they interact with Dr. Crane. Tomasi also does an excellent job exploring the impact of the bad guys winning and what that means for Gotham.

Szymon Kudranski is an acquired taste and you either love him or hate him. I like him most of the time. However here there seems to be some kind of static between the characters and the backgrounds, a jarring and drastic difference that just doesn’t work for me. Overall this issue does a good job of teasing the upcoming war between Batman’s villains.

Finally this week we look at Batman and Robin #23.3 featuring Ra’s al ghul and the League of Assassins written by James Tynion IV with art by Jeremy Haun. James Tynion seems to get the character and that’s evident by the amount of superior dialogue in this issue. It’s just the manner in which that dialogue is presented that seems a bit convoluted. Ra’s asks someone else to tell him his own story. This is little more than a contrived plot devise to get Ra’s history written.

Jeremy Haun is an excellent artist. If this issue isn’t a beautiful comic book the blame is not Haun’s, John Rausch’s colors are too bright and lack subtlety giving the book a cartoony look that doesn’t work with the narrative. However all things considered this is one of the better Villains Month books.

A quick note from the world of action figures, there is a line of figures based on the 60’s Batman television series and the sculpts on these figures are amazing. The likenesses are spot on and the line features the Dynamic Duo, Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman, as well as a surfboard toting Batman. Each figure is modeled after the actor that brought them to small screen immortality. These are definitely worth picking up despite the hefty $25 a piece price point. Any Bat fan would welcome these blasts from the past.

Well fellow Gothamites that brings us to the end of another installment of Weekly Bat-Signals, as always I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you, if so meet me here next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

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Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter:  @shawnwarner629

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