‘The Weekly Bat-Signals’ with Shawn Warner, Episode 18

Season’s Greetings fellow Gothamites. There is nothing quite like Christmas in Gotham; the snow covered city takes on a picturesque charm worthy of any Hallmark holiday special, even the usually imposing gothic architecture and grounds of Arkham are somehow transformed into a whimsical winter wonderland when dusted with a frosty coating of shimmering snow. Yes Gotham is truly alive this time of year; the streets are bustling with shoppers, the restaurants and cafes are abuzz with celebratory diners decked out in their holiday best and the theaters and symphony halls are packed with patrons of the arts, all taking place beneath the ever watchful, vigilant eye of our very own Caped Crusader. As always we are here to discuss the Dark Knight, chat about The Bat and in general gab about Gotham. This week we have two big print comic book releases that we are going to focus the episode on in its entirety, those titles being the next chapter in the brilliant Batman- Zero Year storyline Batman #26, written by the incomparable Scott Snyder with artwork the mad genius that is Greg Capullo and the fourth issue of Batman- Black and White featuring stories by Nathan Edmonson with Kenneth Rocafort, Michael and Lee Allred, Dustin Nguyen, David Macho with Ruben Pellejero and Sean Galloway. So without a moment’s more delay let us catch up with the younger Master Wayne in Batman #26, Zero Year.

The latest chapter in Snyder and Capullo’s epic story of Bruce Wayne’s early days as Batman focuses a lot of attention on the precarious but developing relationship between Bruce and then Lieutenant Gordon. In fact, while there is a fair amount of action in this issue like the opening sequence featuring an intense showdown between Bruce, Lucius and Karl aka Doctor Death, the majority of it is spent on character development. The looming menace of The Riddler is touched on briefly as is a strangely out of context flashback in which a very unkempt Bruce is imprisoned in a metal globe of some kind by a man in a turban and painted face. This page is so random it almost feels like it belongs to another story entirely. Bruce is handed a taped up cell phone and told that his “father” is on the line. The strange man in the turban then refers to Bruce’s father as “The Soft Death” and tells Bruce to speak with him one last time. Now we know this cannot be Thomas Wayne because Bruce is an adult is this odd spherical prison so logic dictates that his father has long ago been murdered in Crime Alley along with his mother. This is a rather cryptic and confusing page but intriguing nonetheless. I’m very interested in where this is all going and I trust Scott Snyder to get us there in grand fashion.

Greg Capullo is in his gory glory with the events of this issue, Doctor Death is a character that allows Capullo’s amazing ability to draw the most heinous and horrible monsters to shine. Here he meticulously constructs a creature with a malformed mouth full of twisted teeth, misshapen, enlarged bulbous head with bulging bug eyes and elongated arms leading to skeletal hands made up of contorted claw-like fingers, meet Doctor Death. Capullo’s capacity for creepy creatures aside, this issue is yet another stunningly illustrated and cleverly colored masterpiece. The entire creative team on this book is without equal anywhere in the industry making Batman proper consistently the best book on the racks today.

That brings us to our next book, Batman- Black and White #4, overall a pretty disappointing installment of this anthology series and with a $4.99 price point this one hurts. The first story is written by former Grifter scribe, Nathan Edmonson with art by one of my absolute favorite artists, Kenneth Rocafort. This story doesn’t work for me on any level; the plot (for lack of a better word) which is based on some supernatural element is preposterous, the dialogue is trite and the artwork is muddy and feels rushed and unfinished. I wanted this one to be so amazing but it fails on all fronts. Rocafort is so much better than this and I wanted to see his Batman in all his regal glory but that was simply not to be, not this time around anyway.

The next story is by another of my favorite artists and again it is an utter disappointing mess. Michael Allred is without a doubt one the most innovative and dynamic creators in all of comics, his covers for Batman ’66 are gorgeous works of art but here his Batman is sorely in need of color and his page design is a scattered jumble of flat images. The story is written by his brother, Lee Allred and is a convoluted affair loosely based on the Penguin attending the Mad Hatters tea party and featuring what seems like an unrelated second story of brain-washed henchmen and an explosive device. This is really bad.

Dustin Nguyen turns in one of the two coherent stories in this issue with solid art and pleasing page design. His “day in the life” narrative is well paced for a short story and entertaining. Nguyen’s art is kinetic and full of energy without being muddled and confusing like the majority of art in this issue. Next we have David Macho’s story with art by Spanish born Ruben Pellejero. This is the most poignant of the stories featured in this issue. The art is looser than I like to see but it works for a short story. It didn’t knock me out but it wasn’t awful.

The final story is by Sean Galloway and looks like an animated television show. The art is extremely clean and cartoony with a polished feel. The story is very cartoony as well. This one isn’t terrible either but the tonal quality of the art kind of appears washed out with now real black areas or outlines. It just doesn’t pop in black and white but I think it would have looked fine in color.

Overall, I have been really disappointed with this entire series. The first issue was so strong but since then there have only been a handful of stories worth reading with solid art. Like most of us, my comic book budget is stretched as far as it will go and to ask $4.99 for a book I think the quality should be top notch, this issue felt rushed and half-hearted. We as loyal fans deserve better for our hard earned money as well as our devotion and fidelity to Batman, the creators and DC as a whole. So instead of rushing to fill the shelves with product I suggest taking the time to ensure we the readers that our money and time is appreciated and that both are well spent.

Well that’s going to do it for this pre-Christmas edition of The Weekly Bat Signal, be sure to join us here for our year end wrap edition featuring a re-cap of all 2013’s top Bat-related stories from the worlds of comics, film and beyond. I hope you have enjoyed reading this installment as much as I enjoyed putting it together. Thanks for making this feature possible and for your continued readership, see you here next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

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Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter:  @shawnwarner629

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