‘The Weekly Bat-Signals’ with Shawn Warner, Episode 20

Welcome Gothamites to the first Bat Signal of 2014! Yes it is a brand new year here in the city that bleeds but nothing has changed at The Bat Signal, we still bring you all the Bat-related news items, reviews and other tidbits no self-respecting Bat-Fan should be without. I hope everyone read the year end wrap up edition and that you are ready to kick off twelve more months of Gothtopia, this year promises to deliver lots of twists and turns on the road out of Zero Year. Scott Snyder and company promise more of the brilliant stories that propelled them to the top of many writers’ “Best Of 2013” lists last month and then we have the first weekly Batman comic book starting up as well. That’s just two of the many gems we Bat-Fans have to look forward to in the coming year. However in this installment of The Bat Signal we are going to take a look at Batman: The Dark Knight #26, then it’s over to the campy antics of the Dynamic Duo in Batman ’66 #6 and we wrap things up with an appearance of the Dark Knight Detective in Talon #14.

Batman: The Dark Knight is a book at the end of its run. The title has been plagued with inconsistent writing and since the departure of David Finch the artwork has been somewhat sporadic as well. Gregg Hurwitz never seemed to really get a handle on Batman as a character, more specifically as a crime-fighter. Hurwitz regularly wrote the master detective into pedestrian traps set by mental and intellectual inferiors. This Batman that Hurwitz has concocted is a slave to his more base motivations such as rage or revenge and for lack of planning ends up the victim of some half-baked ploy time and time again. In issue #26 Hurwitz would have us believe Batman is just not that good, forget that he has bested the likes of Ras al Ghul and repeatedly foiled the criminally insane genius of The Joker and let’s just while we’re at it forget that he designed and built the Batmobile, Batwing, Batcave and all of its myriad computer systems, once we have forgotten all of that then perhaps we could believe that the Batman in this issue is the real Batman.

Even with all of the misconceptions of Batman’s prowess set forth by Hurwitz this issue is not without its merits. It is a somber and poignant tale of an abused illegal immigrant worker and her small child as they attempt to escape injustice and exploitation by coming to Gotham City. This is the first of a two-part story aptly titled “Voiceless” dealing with such somber topics as child labor, elderly abuse and a slave labor ring run by the Penguin but done in the “silent” fashion which means no or almost no dialogue with the exception of sound effects and maybe an utterance or expression of pain. This type of story can be extremely effective as was the case in Peter Tomasi’s Batman and Robin #18 which I picked as my single issue of the year last year however I’m not as impressed by the result here. It is poignant, no doubt about that, but the weakness of Batman just makes the story crumble for me. He is a non-issue, not a threat or even an annoyance to the villains. They take him down with ease and enslave him like he was little more than an illegal immigrant worker himself. This is just not how you utilize the greatest detective of all time, not to mention one heck of a brawler.

Alberto Ponticelli does however save the day even if Hurwitz’s Batman cannot. Ponticelli’s moody and darkly emotive style is a spot on fit for this narrative, his use of heavy shading and expressive facial features work very well with his visceral approach to storytelling. Ponticelli’s artwork really saves this issue in my opinion. I plan on sticking around until the final issue; I only hope the series goes out with a bang and not a whimper.

Next up is Batman ’66 #6, the first of two stories; this one is by Tom Peyer with art by the very precise Ty Templeton. In this tale of tomes or battle of books, the Dynamic Duo face the insidious Bookworm as he endeavors to hi-jack Bruce Wayne’s book of over-sized charity checks. This series has been so much fun and this issue is more of the same. Each tale is a romp back to a time when life was simpler and villains resorted to more comedic calamities instead of the more modern crowbar to the head treatment awaiting them these days. Peyer handles the humorous material like a champ, never missing a beat, his comedic timing is flawless as is his clever dialogue especially the dynamic between Bruce and Dick.

Ty Templeton does a stunning job with the artwork on this story. His lines are bold, clean and precise, his character designs are authentic and his anatomy is rendered realistically immediately calling to mind the television personalities he has based them on. His storytelling is rapid fire fast keeping pace with Peyer’s kinetic narrative. This is a truly entertaining read front to back full of laughs and light hearted moments that transport you to a less complicated day.

The backup story is written by Jeff Parker with art by Ted Naifeh. Parker never disappoints and he doesn’t start here. This is a short tale of Batman and Robin versus Olga, Queen of Cossacks. The Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder find themselves on the snowy outskirts of Gotham City where they confront the exiled belle of Bessarova. Parker has a blast with the accents and Bessarovian language. Olga is heartbroken after losing her Egghead and is now in the market for a new love interest, enter Batman. However the Dark Knight is only interested in arresting the Queen. A sword fight ensues, some bears are trained and (spoiler alert) the good guys win. Another campy conflict resolved.

Naifeh’s artwork is dynamic and stylized, a bit cartoonier than Templeton but no less effective. I like his frantic page design with lots of innovative use of panels. His style was a perfect complement to Parker’s narrative. All in all this issue was one of the best yet in this series and that is mighty high praise because I love this series.

Finally this week we have Talon #14 written by James Tynion IV with art by Emanuel Simeoni. Tynion IV wraps up Calvin Rose’s epic in this issue and does so with panache. This series has been one of those strange ones that I really wanted to love but something just kept it from reaching that critical point, it always balanced on the fulcrum needing only the slightest nudge to go over the top and be great. Well this issue was the nudge! Tynion IV and Simeoni knocked this one out of the park. The narrative really begins in issue #13 and spills over into #14 so we begin this issue smack dab in the midst of heated battle. The series comes down to the battle between a surrogate father figure and his allegorical son, this is Calvin’s story though Talon does boast one of the most extraordinary supporting casts in comics today, they could not steal this defining moment from such a charismatic hero.

Tynion IV writes dialogue that bristles with personality and that has been one of the series strongest points since the first issue. The dynamic existing between Calvin and Casey provides some of the most memorable dialogue of this issue. This issue, like most of the series is a testament to Tynion’s craftsmanship as a writer, his pacing and rhythm are poetic lending a lyrical sensibility to Talon, particularly to these last two very poignant issues, having Batman appear in this issue only drove the point home that this is an important chapter in Gotham’s history.

Simeoni turns in his finest work to date with issue #14. His penchant for capturing a moment at just the right angle to heighten its dramatic impact is impeccable as is his ability to make the mundane eerie and chilling. His Batman is imposing and heroic the way the Dark Knight should look. I see great potential in these pages, Simeoni belongs in a class with the best and the brightest, and his work here proves that more than anything I could write.

Talon’s main story has come to an inspired conclusion but the door has been left open on Calvin and Casey. It is a tale of love, loss and redemptive suffering, one that was told in a single brilliant arc. Like any great epic drama, Talon has a beginning, middle and end, it invites us to know these characters that will change our perspective on what is heroic and while doing so we are impressed and entertained. I recommend this series to all Bat-Fans and fans of sweeping epic drama as well. Do yourself a favor if you missed Talon in single issues, grab the trades and enjoy a singular comic book experience.

Well that’s going to do it for this first installment of the Weekly Bat Signals for 2014. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed bringing it to you. If so, please be sure to join us here next week, same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel.

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Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter:  @shawnwarner629

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