‘The Weekly Bat-Signals’ with Shawn Warner, Episode 11

Greetings fellow citizens of Gotham, it’s a chilly and overcast October afternoon here in the city our brave and bold Dark Knight Detective calls home where we will be bringing this week’s installment of The Weekly Bat Signal to you. Last week we had lots of news from the New York Comic-Con, I hope you read and enjoyed our report, this week however it’s all about the comic books. We will be looking at Batman / Superman #4, Batman and Two-Face #24, which is of course Batman and Robin #24 in actuality and last but not least the wonderfully campy Batman ’66 #4, all three released this week. Let’s begin this week with Batman Superman #4 shall we?

Greg Pak and Jae Lee bring the first arc of this series to a satisfying and entertaining conclusion. Pak really nails the characterizations of both sets of these iconic heroes, the younger less experienced pair as well as the older more seasoned duo. The dialogue stands out as a highlight especially here in this issue. Pak has dialed into the hearts of these characters to present them in a light that is genuine and true to each one right down to the individual decision making processes and actions taken by each character. The narrative dovetails nicely into Pak’s Darkseid issue from Villains Month lending some importance to the information he presented in that book. Although this book does have a bit of a darker tone Pak manages to fit some humorous moments into the interactions between Clark and Bruce, their burgeoning relationship showing just the very earliest signs of a friendship existing only as potential at this point.

This has been my favorite issue of the series thus far especially as far as the writing is concerned. This was easily the most fun issue to read as Pak seems to have fine-tuned his grasp of the characters allowing the dialogue to really take the spotlight. The only complaint I have of this issue is one that has become increasingly bothersome over the span of four issues and that is Jae Lee’s reluctance to draw backgrounds. At first I didn’t mind as much because I really do love his take on these iconic characters and I would consider myself a fan of his style but for some reason the lack of any backgrounds at all has given this book a stark almost sterile feel, not the dreamy esoteric look his work usually takes on. Ben Oliver, whose work normally does not adhere to this stark aesthetic, seems to have altered his dynamic to better mesh with Lee’s work on the preceding pages, which is understandable to maintain cohesion.

Overall I was quite pleased with the first arc, having only this comparatively minor criticism of Lee’s otherwise stellar visuals. Greg Pak’s characterizations improved issue after issue; he seemed to grow into their individual voices eventually mastering them. Story wise, the plot was intriguing, complex and well-constructed and the pace was just right for the amount of information, backstory and details presented over a four issue arc. I would recommend this series to any Bat fan as well as fans of Big Blue and anyone who enjoys their super hero comics with a pinch of sci-fi elements.

Next up this week is Batman and Two-Face #24 written by Peter J. Tomasi with art by Patrick Gleason. In this issue Tomasi gives us his addendum to the Two-Face origin story which takes the drama of Dent’s horrific transition from a crowded courtroom and straps him to a table much like James Bond in Goldfinger except it’s a bottle of acid not a laser beam that is the weapon of choice. I personally preferred the former courtroom setting for Dent’s disfigurement over what appears to be his darkened bedroom but they both end with the same result. Although I must admit Tomasi’s re-imagining of Two-Face’s origin is a more brutal re-telling which features Dent’s wife lying dead with a knife in her chest just a few feet away from him while he is being tortured.

The highlight of this issue is the opening scene in which Gleason does an amazingly detailed job of capturing the psychosis that plagues Harvey Dent from the very second he opens his eyes. A fly buzzes annoyingly around Dent’s face landing on each side in turn in one particularly meticulously rendered panel we see a spreading stain of bloody-puss just behind Dent’s disfigured half. This kind of attention to detail separates the exceptional from the pedestrian and Gleason employs that kind of detail throughout this issue. However the tonal shift in the narrative is somewhat jarring when the focus moves from Dent to Erin McKillen, the head of one of Gotham’s most notorious crime families who has been living in self-imposed exile in Ireland evading arrest. This issue reads a bit like an episode of Law and Order with Batman getting very little of the story devoted to him in favor of the more crime noir elements of the McKillen saga. However Erin McKillen lacks the charisma and the recognition to carry this narrative. I just didn’t care about her and Two-Face is completely inconsequential to the plot serving only to give McKillen the street cred of having disfigured Dent thus creating Two-Face, only in the New 52 my friends would this pass as an origin story worthy of one of the most infamous members of Batman’s rogues gallery. I mean it’s a decent set up for this story arc but it leaves a lot to be desired as the canonical origin of Two-Face.

Tomasi is a solid writer and I have loved some of his Batman stories over the years but for me it is Gleason who shines in this issue. The story is good but McKillen as a character just isn’t strong enough to carry the issue however the final page gives me hope that the next chapter of this story will be much better. So if you already get this series on the monthly basis I would continue to do so but this is not a must read for anyone but die-hard Bat Fans.

That is going to bring us to the final entry this week which is Batman ’66 written by Jeff Parker with art by Jonathan Case and Sandy Jarrell. This series has been such a surprise even to a die-hard Bat Fan like me. I will admit that when I first heard of this series I was a little reluctant to commit but in retrospect I am so happy I did. It has been a blast and to top it all off with gorgeous Mike Allred covers is just the cherry on top. The really great thing about this book is that the television show is merely the launching point, the campy fun only escalates from there because you can go so much bigger and more over the top in comics than on TV. And that’s exactly what the wildly imaginative Jeff Parker does here with giant flying top hats and a Batmobile equipped with a front mounted Bat-beam.

The main story in this issue features Batman, Robin along with their trusted companion and butler Alfred Pennyworth serving as their guide of London while they are on the trail of The Mad Hatter. Parker masterfully peppers the pages with the kind of detailed minutiae that transports the reader through time and distance. One of the funniest moments show the Dynamic Duo arrive at Heathrow Airport with a band of shaggy mop-tops that look suspiciously like The Beatles but the crowd is in a tizzy over the cowled crime fighter and his masked apprentice not the rock and rollers from Liverpool, these little flights of fancy show exactly why Parker is ideal to handle the writing duties on this book.

Jonathan Case does a remarkable job of capturing the tone of the television show from a visual perspective. His use of saturated color and dated coloring techniques lend a sixties sensibility to his work but allow it to feel new and innovative at the same time. The second feature finds the Dynamic Duo facing the Clock King, also written by Parker but this time the art is by Sandy Jarrell. The difference in artistic styles may be somewhat jarring to some only because the use of color is so drastically dissimilar. Jarrell uses bolder lines giving the work a less whimsical feel over all however I wasn’t put off by the change. I enjoyed the work of both artists for different aesthetic reasons.

This book is pure fun from cover to cover. Any true Bat Fan needs to be reading this if only to learn a part of the Dark Knight’s history that is sometimes down played and even belittled by some hipster types who believe if it isn’t dark and gritty it’s not truly Batman. I disagree, I believe there is a time and a place and certainly plenty of room for a fun Batman and that is what Jeff Parker and company have delivered once again, a Batman who makes us feel like children again for at least as long as it takes us to read a comic book we can tap into that innocent wonder that initially brought a generation to follow the Bat Signal.

Well that’s going to do it for another week. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you. Please check in with us next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-Channel.

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Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter:  @shawnwarner629

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