‘The Weekly Bat-Signals’ with Shawn Warner, Episode 14

Greetings and salutations fellow citizens of Gotham, this week we are on the beat with Lt. James Gordon in a Zero Year tie-in over at Detective Comics #25, then we go cross town over to Bridge City in Gotham where we stop in to see what’s going on at the Toymaster’s Gameshop in Batman-Superman #5, next we are treated to some short stories by some of the best the industry has to offer in Batman- Black and White #3 and finally we take a quick peek at the new Earth 2 Batman over in issue #17 of that really fine book. Lots of comic book action Bat-style so without further hesitation let’s fire up the Batmobile and head out on patrol with a young Jim Gordon in Detective Comics #25.

Before he became commissioner Jim Gordon paid his dues on the brutal streets of Gotham. In this issue a young Lt. Gordon finds himself on the trail of the Black Mask Gang, convinced that Roman Sionis is the man behind the mask Gordon goes up against not only the gang but a corrupt town and a police force full of crooked cops. This issue reminded me very much of Gotham Central, John Layman does a fantastic job of capturing the gritty detective noir elements of that series while writing a darn fine crime story of his own.

Although this is written as a Year Zero tie-in the only common denominator is the time in which the narrative is set, during the Riddler black-out while the hurricane is approaching Gotham. This gives us the opportunity to observe Gordon as a man alone, he is not in charge, in fact he is not even very well-liked by his fellow officers this could be due to his proclivity for disobeying his superiors in order to follow his conscience and do what he believes is right. Layman makes exceptionally good use of the caption boxes as a device to let us get to know Gordon from the inside and really see what makes him tick, especially how he works as a cop. This is crime drama at its best; Layman excels at building tension not just suspense but tension between Gordon and his co-workers. The feeling that Gordon is a lamb among wolves permeates the narrative and creates a deeper level of pressure beyond solving the crime.

Artistically Jason Fabok is spot on as usual with his visual storytelling. He really turns up the film noir elements right down to the rain swept streets. He draws this story the way it is written, straight up, in your face with no pretty colorful costumes, just men in suits and shirt sleeves with cigarettes, guns and sweat. I love this issue because of its poignant human elements and gritty old school crime drama sensibilities; Batman makes a quick but powerful appearance that Fabok captures exquisitely in one of the best splash pages of the year. Trust me you are going to want to own this page as much as I do when you see it, if you haven’t already. Layman makes a great case for a monthly book based on the exploits of a young Jim Gordon, very much like proposed TV series “Gotham”. This is a solid story of Gordon becoming his own man, standing his ground against insurmountable odds and doing what’s morally right. He is a product of his environment as much as a force for change within it. This is an example of how good this series can be, if you are not currently getting this book Bat-Fans; make haste to rectify that error. I highly recommend the Layman/ Fabok run of Detective to anyone not just Bat-Fans.

Moving on now to Batman-Superman #5 written by Greg Pak with art this time by Brett Booth who has come onboard to replace the exiting Jae Lee. Where to begin with this disappointing follow up to the four magical issues that preceded it? First and most obvious is the visual change. Brett Booth has employed a kind of wide screen approach to this issue drawing every page horizontally which felt a bit gimmicky because to my eye all of the pages could have worked to equally underwhelming effect in a traditional format. Booth embodies the bygone era of 90’s Image artists and not all of the best aspects of said artists. He particularly apes Jim Lee but unfortunately there is a little of the anti-artist Rob Liefeld in there as well. This is not to say that Booth doesn’t have his moments in this issue, he manages to create several solid pages particularly his take on Mongul but he is no Jae Lee by any stretch of the imagination. Following Lee is an unenviable task for any artist but Booth comes up exceptionally short with his dated character designs and less than stellar use of a layout design gimmick.

Pak is not without blame for this dissatisfying delivery either beginning with some of the most inane sophomoric and embarrassing dialogue ever to cross the lips of Big Blue. What exactly is “trolling” and why on Earth would either of these heroes participate in such behavior? I understand that the DCU is under fire to add some humor to its rather dour New 52 but this is clearly not the way. The entire paradigm between Clark and Bruce is adolescent and doesn’t present an accurate portrayal of either character. They come across as infantile bickering brats not two heroes who have been in the trenches for over five years together at this point. Even Hiro Okumura, formerly Toyman in the previous pairing of The Dark Knight and The Man of Steel now dubbed Toymaster fails to inject the slightest note of human drama with his plot to have the world’s most celebrated gamers join in on a real life fighting game where the fate of Batman and Superman hangs in the balance. The introduction of Nightwing towards the end of the book was the only highlight in my opinion because it paired Bruce and Dick if only in a convoluted narrative.

This issue is a far cry from what Jae Lee, Ben Oliver and Greg Pak created in the inaugural arc of this series. I only hope that when this current arc is over and the tears are wiped away we can start over with a decent plot and more genuine characterizations. Our two most iconic super heroes deserve better than this and Greg Pak has proven to us time and again that he can deliver the goods. So come on Greg we expect better from you!

That brings us to Batman- Black and White #3, this issue contains five drastically different takes on Batman however this issue was not nearly as good as the first two in this series. Rather than trash the ones I really just didn’t like and that didn’t work for me as Batman stories I’m going to focus on the issue’s few shining moments.

The issue gets off to a fine start with “Rule Number One”, a tale of the street written and lavishly illustrated by the amazingly talented Lee Bermejo. Bermejo is no stranger to Batman, his work includes the fabulous “Joker”, Batman/ Deathblow and the poignant Christmas tale, “Batman: Noel”. In this story an unnamed narrator takes us through a particularly dangerous training exercise involving a drug dealing gang of thugs. Bermejo’s art is the star of this story, his meticulous attention to detail and uncanny ability to render textures enhance the narrative and add dimension to his cleverly cropped panels. Visually this is the highlight of this issue.

“Hall of Mirrors” written and illustrated by graffiti-style artist Damion Scott is incomprehensible and not really worth the time it takes to try to decipher what exactly it is he is trying to draw, Scott’s style is a particularly bad choice for a black and white format and his disjointed narrative makes his overly stylized art that much more confusing. Skip this one.

“An Innocent Man” written by Marv Wolfman with art by Riccardo Burchelli is a solid piece of crime drama. This piece suffers from the short story format, feeling a bit compressed in the middle. If it had a few more pages to create suspense and build tension it would have been a better story, however it works as a detective piece and Burchelli’s art is bold and stylized yet remains coherent enough to be enjoyable.

Rian Hughes writes and illustrates “Namtab: Babel Comes to Gotham” which is more of a piece of post-modernism than a flowing narrative. Hughes sites contemporary art, comic book theory and regularly breaks the fourth wall to sometimes comedic result. This piece is more a foundation from which Hughes builds a loose retro-sci-fi comedy. It’s not for everyone nor would I consider it must reading for any Bat-Fan but it is amusing at times and worth the few minutes it takes to read it and the highly styled art calls to mind the old days of advertising circa “Mad Men”.

“Role Models” is the second gem in this collection, written by the in comparable Paul Dini with art by Stephane Roux it rekindles that spark of ingenuity created by the 90’s animated series. The story is told from the perspective of Jennifer, a kidnap victim who is ultimately aided by Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. Dini’s masterful use of dialogue and genuine characterizations are enriched by his spectacular pacing and dynamic storytelling. Artistically Roux fits Dini’s story perfectly conjuring up a style similar to that of the animated work Dini is so deservedly lauded for creating. Overall this is the strongest offering of this issue.

This issue is not quite up to par but the few stand-outs make it a welcome addition to any Bat-Fan’s collection. However the inflated price tag may understandably give some readers pause so if funds are tight this may be one you want to hold off on.

Finally just a quick footnote here, the new Batman of Earth 2 make his appearance in issue #17, this Batman is truly a Dark Knight lurking in the shadows for most of the narrative. It’s Tom Taylor’s first issue as he takes over for fan-favorite James Robinson. This is a great series and Taylor keeps the bar set high with the first issue of his run. I expect lots of action from this new Caped Crusader, I’m sure next issue will kick it off.

Well that’s going to do it for this week’s installment of The Weekly Bat-Signals; I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together. Join us right here again next week, same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel.

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Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter:  @shawnwarner629

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