Thursday, August 11, 2016

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (animated film)

Voice Actors: Justin Chambers. C. Thomas Howell, Michael B. Jordan, Kevin McKidd

DC's animation has always been better than Marvels. I don't think that's really disputable and it goes all the way back to the days when Batman: The Animated Series went up with Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man and the others that were tossed an animated show back in the 90's. Their films have, as expected, been mixed, but I'd say there have been more hits than misses. Up to this point, they had all mostly been their own entities. After this point, they endeavored to connect them all a bit more in a loose continuity.

In a way, the Flashpoint Paradox ends up serving the same purpose it did in the comics, if not quite as directly; as a bridge between the old and the new.

The plot is a fairly basic messy alternative timeline tale. Barry Allen wakes up at his desk one day to find that everything has changed. His mother - murdered when he was still a boy - is alive, his wife Iris is married to someone else, Bruce Wayne died in the alleyway instead of his parents and his powers are missing. What's resulted is a dark, bleak alternative timeline where the world stands at the gate of annihilation due to a looming war between the forces of Wonder Woman and the forces of Aquaman, each ruler of their respective kingdoms. Flash has to find a way to figure out what happened and fix it before it's too late.

I like these kind of stories, typically, because you can go places you usually can't. That said, this tale, much like the comic it's based off of, goes a bit too far, in my estimation, and ends up feeling very much the opposite of what the DC universe should. It comes down to a lot of things that build to a whole and not any one thing.

The part that chaffes the most is that, in painting this bleak setting, this film - and the comic, really - went a little too far with the characters in this timeline. Of the groups we see, only a few are true heroes, not including The Flash. That's Cyborg and the people he associates with, including the Shazam kids. Everyone else has gone crazy loco to the point that it's hard to believe even the ripple effects in time surrounding a point of divergence would do this.

Wonder Woman, for instance, has gone full straw feminist, to the point of suggesting she might just kill off men at the climax of her fight with Aquaman. Speaking of Aquaman, he's now completely unreasonable and nuts on the level you might expect from his brother, Ocean Master. He has a doomsday device that sank a good portion of Europe in an attempt to strike at Wonder Woman and not only does he not care, he seems alright with the idea of sinking all of land right up until it's suggested using his doomsday weapon again might kill everything. Not even JLU Aquaman was this unreasonable, and when he first appeared he was kind of a prick.

Wonder Womans entire deal is compassion. I'm not even a huge fan of the character, but you're going to have a hard time convincing me she could go this far over much of anything. I have a hard time believing she'd just behead Mera amidst an assassination attempt and wear her crown like a trophy. I have a harder time believing she'd become the killer of kids, even if those kids could become Shazam with but a word. Seriously, she kills Billy Batson near the end.

There's also the case of the film alluding to - or showing in truncated form - a lot of the subplots and side stories the comic event had in its tie-ins. In some cases, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's all but outright stated that the loss of Bruce drove Martha Wayne insane, to the point she became this worlds Joker, but thankfully they don't try to waste everyones time showing the story of the tie-in in truncated form. Instead, it gives just enough hints to inform Thomas Waynes character and make you wish you could see that story without wasting time giving a version without proper attention. Lois Lanes "Resistance Fighter" plotline is given a few minutes, but manages to tie into the main plot by ultimately giving Flash a clue, so that's fine.

Others, however, are pointlessly done. There's a subplot about the US government trying to find and disable the doomsday weapon that ends up utterly pointless. It shows Deathstroke and what he did in truncated form, seeming to build that whole thing up, but 'Stroke doesn't get anywhere other than informing them where it is. Then Hal Jordan's the second part of this subplot, wrenching in his story from the tie-in miniseries. Only, oops, he can't get the job done. The US brass give up and hide at this point and Aquaman doesn't even bother to retaliate. At the climax, the weapon goes off. So we wasted a good ten to fifteen minutes trying to tie both in to the film in some way, ultimately going nowhere. The Superman arc doesn't fare much better; they rescue him mid film, he flies off, then he returns at the climax, fails to save Cyborg and ceases to be a part of the overall struggle. So, why even bring him into the film?

You could argue that it gives the world color, but you know, that's what the comic tie-ins were meant to do. Here, we're supposed to be adapting the main story and if the side stuff can't really be tied into that, there's no point. They could have cut twenty minutes of this movie, come up with ten minutes of original stuff to connect the dots more and get the runtime back up a bit and ultimately end up with a tighter movie.

But those are mostly problems with structure. They're not so glaring that they really kill the film. Plus, they could be fixed. No, the real problem with this film is the same problem the actual comic it's based on had.

This just isn't a very heroic story.

Spoilers Ahead.

As it turns out, the cause of the altered timeline isn't even the Reverse Flash, as we assume along with Barry. Nope, that's the twist. The culprit is actually Barry Allen. See, Barry went back in time to save his mother, but that one act unfortunately had a ripple effect, as Barrys run to change time caused some kind of sonic boom in time that threw everything off or something. Hence why everything went wrong.

Okay, so, not a big deal. Flash made a mistake, right? Heroes can do that. He can fix it. That's what the story is about.

The problem is Barry cannot even save the world he's in before he changes everything. To his credit, it's every bit his intention. He does not want to go back and fix the timestream until he's saved THIS world, because dammit, that's what heroes do. But he can't. Everything goes horribly wrong. The climax of the film is pretty much everyone dying in the big, final fight while Reverse Flash beats the crap out of Barry. Then, the doomsday device goes off and everything dies. The world is actually ending and Flash has to run fast enough to escape that, go back in time and stop all of it.

The climax of the film is constructed so that the world basically ends, the hero cannot save it and he actually has to run away from it and hope that changing the timeline means it never existed. That's your ending. The day is saved by the hero running away from doomsday, because he could not stop doomsday and ultimately accomplished nothing there, in the world his actions created. If there's an animated multiverse and that world split off and ended up one of them when the timeline was changed back, safe to say it's freaking gone.

Yeah. I don't know either, man.

You probably think I might hate this film by now. It would be a safe guess. The comic series itself wasn't one of my favorites for similar reasons. Yet, somehow, I kind of enjoyed this?

I'm not sure how, but I had a decent time watching it. Maybe it's just because it's hard to get me to hate something, I don't know, but there were good qualities, including the animation. The bookends were great too, with Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen interacting. The last scene, with Barry giving Bruce a message from his father, had some weight. The first scene had the Flash in top form, fighting some of his rogues and calling his friends for help in the League, who manage to handle the situation well. Batman shows a subtle moment of caring about Barrys well being. The action scenes were nice. The voice cast worked well, with some old school favorites returning to voice the role they - or in one instance, their father - are best known for; Sam Daly as Superman, Ron Perlman as Deathstroke, Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne, so on.

I don't know. It's not the best story and it's not a particularly heroic story, which I think is something DC really ought to play up more. But I had fun with it? It's hard to explain. It's troubled but still strangely enjoyable. You might still like it. Just be aware going in that it has problems. If it doesn't sound like your cup of tea - and I completely understand that - you won't miss anything if you give it a pass.

One last note. Despite the billing, this isn't really a Justice League film. It's very much a Flash movie in disguise. Maybe more of a team up film between the Flash, an alternate Batman and Cyborg, really. The actual Justice League, as a team, is only in the opening.

My Opinion: Skip It

Heartwarming Batman Moments: Reverse Flash basically tells Flash, at the end of the opening scene, that he can never save everyone or get the job done when it counts. Batman immediately moves to dismiss those words before they can get to Flash, saying the man is a sociopath who knows just how to get under your skin. When Barry still seems affected, Batman cares enough to ask Barry if he's okay. Later, when Barry gives him the letter from his father, he actually tears up a bit and tells Barry he's a hell of a messenger, which is obviously an unspoken "thank you".

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Superman: Earth One vol. 3 (comics)

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Ardian Syaf
Original Graphic Novel

I get the feeling JMS realized he screwed up.

When I reviewed Volume 2 of Superman: Earth One, I mentioned a bunch of story points that, to be blunt, destroyed the work and anything it was trying to do. New supporting character Lisa Lassalle working escort on the side - because of course - was one. Lois Lane going full stalker was another. Even if you could excuse that, Superman incited a full on revolution in a Middle Eastern country, one that was heavily implied to be violent. I know I've taken a sarcastic shot or two at people who have a rigid, immovable idea of Superman in the past, but there are some things you just don't do with him.

Volume 3 feels almost like an apology tour at times. The book goes out of its way to deal with the Lois Lane situation up top, addressing how screwed up her actions were - with Clark himself calling her out - while also attempting to give her some legitimate reasons for her paranoia without throwing her under the bus. I'm not sure it entirely works, but it does a fair job of letting us move on, especially considering Lois feels more like herself for the entire volume. Lisa's time as a hooker on the side is mentioned offhand at only one point and implied to be over, with any future reference relegated to vague mentions of things she regrets doing. Supermans actions in the foreign country are also central to the conflict of the book. I'm not sure that salvages what he did - that ending felt kind of sinister and acknowledged or not it's something that should not be done with the character - but addressing it goes a long way to making it easier to move forward from it, especially when Superman himself admits a couple times that while trying to do what he felt was right, he just wasn't thinking. At the very, very least, it can come off more like an impulsive action by a young adult prone to making mistakes on the way to figuring this out.

I don't think everything landed there, but at least we can try to move on.

Moving on seems like a decent idea anyway, because this book is far easier to enjoy than the last. Make no mistake, this story hits some pretty familiar beats. Zod is the main villain and the Luthors - yes, more than one - come into play. Obviously, we've seen this kind of thing before. I think the same basic Zod story has been told a solid six times now. But it works out fairly well, especially as Zods plan plays heavily into the worlds growing fear of Superman, which rightfully results in a "what the hell" from Superman himself. The odds are pretty believably stacked against Superman - and, as is acknowledged, it's kind of his own fault - but it does so without throwing humanity under the bus or undermining Supermans faith in it.

The big speech to the UN might not work for everyone - I'm sure some won't like that Superman appeals to the worlds sense of self interest rather than its more positive traits to convince them never to pull this kind of crap again - but it works in the context of the series and allows Superman to make some pretty salient points about what happens if he ever loses.

Regarding the Luthors, it's not the most amazingly different spin I've ever seen, but sometimes even the simple tweaks make for the best ones. Here, the usual, male Lex Luthor has a different set of values than we're used to seeing; while cautious regarding Superman, see's himself as purely a scientist and not a man interested in killing another being, even an alien. His wife is the one who is a bit more down with the idea, even if she has nothing against him for ninety percent of the volume. If nothing else, it plays into the climax well, with what I think might be the first time one of Supermans primary villains actually does something for selfless reasons. It didn't rock my world, but I liked it.

Ardian Syaf takes over for Shane Davis as the penciller. I'm not sure why the switch was made - maybe Shane Davis just got busy - but the book is in capable hands. I might even like Syafs work a little bit better than Davis. He's very, very good with character expressions and his sense of comic storytelling is pretty spot on. I also feel like he has a bit more varied a take on some characters and their fashion choices; Lisa Lassalle isn't always wearing form fitting clothing this time, for one. For an extra bonus, I didn't spy any panels or poses with Clark/Superman that felt... off, or sinister, as occasionally happened previously. I liked the art on previous volumes, but if Syaf's going to be the regular going forward, I'm cool with it.

All told, volume three is a marked improvement over the second, even if it doesn't necessarily redeem it, and is worth giving the series a second chance.

My Opinion: Read It

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Uncanny X-Men: Revolution (comics)

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Chris Bachalo, Frazier Irving
Collects: Uncanny X-Men (vol. 3) #1-5

I swear, I can't escape. Whenever I think I'm out, Marvel will throw Chris Bachalo and Frazier Irving at me and suddenly I'm reading about Cyclops again. It never ends.

Revolution picks up after Avengers vs X-Men* and deals pretty heavily with the fallout from said event. Cyclops has since escaped and - after a stop to his tailor for an upgrade to the coolest costume he's ever had - he's attempting to get the crew back together**. Problem is, their time as the Phoenix Five has effectively broken their powers in a way they don't understand. Regardless, Cyclops proves that's not enough to keep a good douchebag down, so he opens a new school, recruits some new mutants and doubles down on his previous rhetoric. He's not just threatening people anymore; Cyclops is straight up calling for revolution. Meanwhile, Magneto's gone triple agent; he's playing both sides of the field so well even we can't really tell whose side he's actually on.

I'm going to just say upfront that this series is not one you can really read on its own. This new volume of Uncanny X-Men shares a somewhat symbiotic relationship with All New X-Men, weaving in and out of that book while trying to do its own thing on the side. On the one hand, it makes for a richer overall experience; Bendis writes both books, so there's a tight connection between the two. On the other, it hobbles Uncannys ability to stand alone; this comic genuinely feels more like a full on spin-off of All New X-Men than its own entity at times.

There's no getting around it. To get the full experience of the Bendis run, you're going to have to read both books.

Is it worthwhile reading? Sure. Look, I can't stand Cyclops. I've made it clear by now. But I have to admit that while, given the choice, I'd rather not read about him, he's still an interesting character. Here, he's not even remotely humbled by what happened in AvX. Oh no, he's doubling down. As a result, he's not only alienating the rest of the mutant community, he's actively putting a target on everyones back by becoming exactly what everyone feared mutants could and would become.

He's so detached from the reality of what he's doing and what he's already done that he actually names his new school the New Xavier Institute. He has more or less rejected the teachings of his mentor - who he killed, Phoenix Force influence or not - while turning around and using the mans name for teaching schools of thought that man would actively oppose. He's ended up perverting Xaviers Dream in a way. This is interesting stuff to read about, even if the end result is that you don't particularly like the character.

If nothing else, we've at least abandoned the pretense that Cyclops is in the right, seemingly for real this time, which is a large part of what made the direction of the line unpalatable for years. Before, no one opposed him and he was treated like some unassailable leader. After Schism, people backed away from his increasingly extreme methods, but he still held enough clout to get the vast majority of mutants to rally behind him against the Avengers. Now, pretty much everyone recognizes the man not only lost his way somewhere up the line but is actively leading mutants into darker days.

I do wonder, however, if Bendis will end up acknowledging some of the problems with this direction and why Cyclops and his tactics have always come off so poorly. Mutants have special, super destructive powers that could easily wipe humans out and have a history of counting people who think that's a bitchin' idea among their number. See half of Magnetos schemes over the years, which at least had the X-Men around to stop them and act as a counterpoint. Hell, if you want to see an example of something like that actually coming to pass, Marvel already did that story; it was called Age of Apocalypse. Granted, the humans of the Marvel universe have taken it to extremes just as scary. The other side of the coin is Days of Future Past. But heroes are supposed to be better.

Point is, Cyclops and company are now punching down and I kind of hope that might be brought up, but I also realize that may be something the X-Men franchise never addresses for various reasons***.

Anyway, regarding the new school, we meet a couple new mutants due to the premise. So far, they all seem appealing enough, but it's early. We don't have a ton of time to really get to know them, especially since a good chunk of the book is about what trouble Cyclops and his team are getting into. So far, Uncanny doesn't quite reach the balance Wolverine and the X-Men has. That said, there's time.

Joining Bendis for this book is Chris Bachalo and Frazier Irving. I don't think I need to reiterate my love for both of these guys; I admit I'd rather they were on a book with a concept I could embrace, but given the fact that I'm going to be reading this comic anyway, it's nice to have such top shelf talent. I will express some reservations, however. Bachalo and Irving have wildly different art styles and they clash hard. So far, I'm not having too much trouble with it - and I completely understand that Bachalo needs an artist to switch off with, as the same thing happened with WatXM - but it's a jarring shift.

All told, it's a pretty good read. If you're already reading All New X-Men, you might as well get this as well. Just don't expect it to read well on its own.

My Opinion: Read It

 Cyclops Douchebaggery Alert: Hoo boy. Dude's gone full Che Guevera. He's calling for a revolution now. I'm sure that will work out great. On top of that, he decides the "New Xavier School" is a great name for his new headquarters. Look, I get some crazy circumstances were involved and the Phoenix didn't help, but he still killed Xavier. Maybe name it something else? At the bare minimum, it's tasteless. Oh well. At least he isn't creeping on Jean Grey in this volume.

* Yes, I did read that. The fact that I didn't bother reviewing it should tell you all you need to know. I might get around to it some day, but for now I'll just say that it's about as good as most of Marvels other events. Which is to say, not very.

** Minus Colossus. He kind of hates his sister now and she's on this team. He'll wander off to do his own thing in X-Force for a while. 

*** Chief among them being that acknowledging this might break the "mutant as a stand in for race" metaphor for good. Say what you want about how completely played out it is, but it's meant a great deal to a lot of readers over the years and Marvel has plenty of reasons not to want to toss it out the window. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Superman: Krypton Returns (comics)

Writers: Scott Lobdell, Tom DeFalco, Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Justin Jordan, Michael Alan Nelson
Artists: Kenneth Rocafort, Mahmud Asrar, Ed Benes, Dan Jurgans, Rob Lean, Ray McCarthy, R.B. Silva, Paulo Siquera
Collects: Superboy #0, 25, Supergirl #0, 25, Superman #0, 23.3, 25, Action Comics Annual #2

Ladies and Gentlemen, Superman: Krypton Returns, brought to you by a crew of hundreds.

This is a bizzare crossover than sort of ran through the Superman family for a month and ate up a bunch of specials. Pretty much the entirety of their Zero Month inventory was dedicated to setting up this story, as well as a villains month issue. You get a chance to put out clean origins for your characters and you use it to set up a crossover? I don't know, I'm not a businessman; clearly it made sense to someone.

It's a weird read, too. The high concept isn't a bad one. Basically, H'el - a recent addition to the rogues gallery - has used some time travel shenanigans to his advantage, managing to save Krypton from its destruction. Couple problems with that. For one, his actions have basically screwed with the timeline to the point it's causing devastating cosmic storms. For two, after learning his origins, he cracks and just takes over Krypton outright, ushering in a rule that is devastating to the planet.

None of the story from there plays out like you might expect. The three heroes basically split up into different points in Kryptons past, with the job of ensuring the planet dies for the good of the universe. Again, intriguing chance for drama here. But it also feels kind of flat. There's not a lot about the story that's all that exciting and their given tasks are, for the most part, completed without a lot of trouble. Supergirl has to stop a clone war that damages Krypton - why is never explained, despite Kara herself bringing up that doing so seems at a cross purpose to their ultimate goal - and just kind of warps in where the clones are hanging out and wrecks them. Superboy has to ensure past Kara is saved. He warps in where she is and saves her from some dude that's trying to kill her. Superman himself has to stop H'el from saving Krypton. He warps in where he needs to be with a brief stop to meet his younger parents.

Why? How do the three tasks correlate? It's not explained that well. They're given by an "Oracle" - who I don't think we've ever seen before - who speaks first through Kon and later through Faora*. It feels more like they needed something for everyone to do, including a chance for a heroic sacrifice, rather than an organic plan.

Speaking of which, it's shown within the story that portals to the present will show up once a task is complete, allowing the character to get back. This doesn't happen when it comes time for the heroic sacrifice. Before you ask, I don't know why either. It just doesn't. Like I said, there's not a lot here that's well explained.

That said, Krypton Returns is written fairly well from a character standpoint. A problem I had with Lobdells earlier volume was that every character he touched seemed to act like a dick. Here, everyone fares better. Superman feels like himself - right down to refusing to accept that Krypton is destined to die and trying a hail mary pass at the last moment, even if, again, this is not well explained - and Supergirl feels like she has it together more than she did during H'el on Earth. I want to be smarmy and suggest this might be because there were a ton of other writers involved, but even Lobdells chapters seem to have a better handle on things.

Plotwise, it's a vague mess, but at least everyone is acting more like themselves than the last time I checked in.

Unfortunately, I may have to play bad cop a bit on the art front. There are some storytelling issues to be found here and sadly, they are mostly confined to Kenneth Rocaforts chapters. I like his art a lot - and enjoy the fact that he doesn't just do static layouts - but there are instances of confusing storytelling. Some of his layouts leave you a bit confused as to where to look next. Not all of this is his fault - some of the blame is on a lot of oddly placed word balloons and interchangable dialogue - but it has to be said. Most of the other art flows fine, but you run into the usual problem of stylistic clash; no one else attempts the kind of interesting layouts Rocafort does and no one even attempts to ape his style, so it's painfully obvious when he is and isn't on art duties even without looking at the credits.

All told, Krypton Returns isn't bad. It isn't good. It just is.

My Opinion: Skip It

* Yes. That Faora. From Man of Steel. Her appearance here doesn't amount to much, as she's there to drop some exposition and exit stage right after about five pages. It's clear she's here because the movie was out around that time. It's pointless.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Superman: Fury at Worlds End (comics)

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Kenneth Rocafort
Collects: Superman #0, 13-17

This volume is entirely pointless and its existence annoys the crap out of me. Fury At Worlds End is one of those volumes that collects a particular books issues of a crossover and nothing else. In this case, the Superman issues of H'el on Earth.

It's one of the most annoying practices comic companies pull and DC was especially guilty of it around the period this trade came out; see JL: The Grid and JLA: Worlds Most Dangerous, which had chapters of Trinity War. Sure, technically, you can fill in the blanks enough through basic logic to read this on its own, but most of the reasoning behind several plot points is stripped. Why is Supergirl so wrapped up in this guys bull? How did H'el get his hands on Superboy? How did H'el and Supergirl get control of the Fortress of Solitude? I don't know. You don't know. All of that happened in the Superboy and Supergirl issues of the crossover.

If you're interested in the story, basically someone names H'el shows up claiming to be a lost kryptonian and he's ready to wipe Earth off the map to bring Krypton back. He's convinced Supergirl to join him, I assume because she's got some serious PTSD over Kryptons destruction, so bringing it back appeals to her. Superman has to stop them. That's the long and the short of it. Most of the details are lost in the absence of the other two comics.

The writing is another throwback. The same problem previous volumes had. Reads like it belongs in another era, so on and so forth. This is clearly going to be an issue with Lobdells Superman going forward, so if that bugs you, it's probably safe to write off the New 52 Superman book for now, because Lobdells around for a while. I guess it doesn't bother me all that much - not like the characterization does, at any rate - but it can be tiresome.

Speaking of characterization, everyone in this book is an asshole. Superman is short with Superboy and barely seems to tolerate him at times. Kara's easily led by the nose and quick to distrust her cousin. Clark is a prick to Lois because she's moving in with her boyfriend and I guess she needs to run that by him first or something. No one is particularly likable. I really hope it's just a hiccup, because if this is the way everyone is going to be written going forward I'm not sure I'll continue with the book for long.

But hey, there are good things to be said! The artist is Kenneth Rocafort, an artist I'm rather fond of. I like his linework and style and the color is perfect. I assume he works with the same colorists every time? I checked and he's paired with Sunny Gho and Blond. I haven't checked before, so I'm not sure if they're the same colorists he always works with, but if so, he should definitely stick with them. The only problem here? I wish Rocafort were on a book I cared more about; so far, Superman has not been kind to me and I'm not super interested in Red Hood and the Outlaws.

The art is the only thing really worth praising, though. If you're going to read this, you should be reading the big, all encompassing volume titled, wait for it, "H'el on Earth"! It has every issue this one does, save #0. This is not a problem, because issue #0 has nothing to do with anything else in the Superman comic up through H'el on Earth. You don't have any other exclusive material like the Justice League books, so seriously, don't even bother with this.

For my part, I may read the trade collection that has the entire story at some point, but I'm beginning to lose patience with the New 52 Superman book. This is the third volume that has landed with a thud. Between the constant creative changeovers and the dated feel of the writing, this has been the weirdest comic launch I've seen and also the least interesting. I may give Lobdell another volume - Justice League pissed me off worse and my opinion on it took a major turn, so I feel like I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't give him another chance - but if that doesn't grab me I'm out until Gene Luen Yang takes over.

But seriously DC. Slapping the issues of a crossover together in a standalone volume? That's incredibly sleazy. Cut that shit out. Just title the next standalone story "volume three" if you have to.

My Opinion: Skip It

Monday, August 3, 2015

Batman and Robin: Dark Knight vs White Knight (comics)

Writers: Paul Cornell, Peter J. Tomasi, Judd Winick
Artists: Scott McDaniel, Patrick Gleason, Greg Tocchini
Collects: Batman and Robin #17-25

This, my friends, is what we call a holding pattern.

Grant Morrison had just finished up on this title - its part to play in his ongoing Batman Epic over - and despite the insistence it should be by armchair analysts who feel they know it all, it wasn't cancelled. In fact, they had a pretty exciting team lined up to take over. Peter J Tomasi and Patrick Gleason.

Well, turns out Flashpoint was just around the corner, so there's some time to kill; might as well get an arc out of the two with the old status quo, rotate some other teams in and start their actual run in earnest with the relaunch.

That's not to say Dark Knight vs White Knight is without merit. Of the three arcs collected, two are decent to good, with only one dropping to mediocre. Paul Cornell's story has an old flame of Bruce Waynes come back to haunt his sons, seemingly for Bruces negligence. Tomasi's arc concerns a new villain, the titular "White Knight"; the name is lame, but he has an interesting hook in that he aims to kill off the family lines of everyone in Arkham to stop the spread of their "evil".

Only Judd Winicks arc really falls below par. It concerns Jason Todd - a character Winick knows well - and while that's enough to get your interest it never really goes anywhere. It seems to exist mainly to undo the position Todd had been put in at the end of the second arc of Morrisons run on the title. Why? I don't know. The relaunch was right around the corner. I mean, we don't even find out the motives of the group that's after him; they're just there, seemingly for no other reason than to give the three sons of Batman someone to fight. It's competantly written and has a few fun scenes, but once you get to the end and nothing feels truly resolved, the whole thing feels like stalling.

For some reason I can't fathom, the last issue of Batman and Robin - issue #26 - is absent. Why? I haven't a damn clue. the trade was already nine issues. There's no good reason not to slip the last issue of the volume in, especially considering there is nowhere else it would fit and as such it went uncollected. No, it's fine, it's not like it was the issue I wanted to read the most out of the ten.

The art is, for the most part, pretty damn good. I'm not always the biggest fan of Scott McDaniels art, but there's no question it works for Batman. Patrick Gleason is just excellent and rightly goes on to be a steady hand in the Bat books from here on out. But it's the last arc that stumbles. The first issue of the three is a half and half job between Guillem March and Andre Bressan. That's not so bad; Bressan does a good enough job aping Marchs style. No, where things go sour is when we switch to Tocchini for the last two issues.

Now, I like Tocchini's artwork - his style reminds me a bit of Frazier Irving, though part of it comes down to the coloring - but stylistically it's the most jarring shift you could ever ask for mid-arc. Why? Hell if I know.

But hey. Two out of three ain't bad, right? Aside from the missing issue, which probably annoys me a hell of a lot more than it would you, this is a fairly solid volume. Not something you just gotta have, but for something coming out sandwiched between two long, acclaimed runs, you could do a lot worse.

My Opinion: Try It

Monday, July 27, 2015

Lazarus Book One (comics)

Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark
Collects: Lazarus #1-4, four page preview story

Even the best fumble sometimes. I'm generally into most of the work Greg Rucka has made over the years. Lazarus might be the first that didn't lose me so much as it never had me and I'm not even sure how much of that is the books fault and how much of it is my own opinions.

Lazarus doesn't feel too much different from the typical Rucka deal. Some behind the scenes backstabbing is going on, there's some espionage, such like that, in a super vague dystopia. Maybe that's the problem. It feels "safe". It feels like a "typical book" for Rucka. Maybe that's not a problem for most people, but occasionally I find if a creator does a bit too much in one style or genre I start wishing they'd branch out some.

But all that could just be me. Hey, personal opinions and all that. I'm not so convinced the other issues are entirely on my end, though. There's something about Lazarus that just doesn't grab me. I couldn't connect to any of the characters, I didn't much care what happened to any of them and when things went bad I didn't much care to see where things would go from there. It feels so by the numbers I couldn't truly invest in it. It got to a point where, in the midst of the second issue, I actually hopped on Twitter to ask someone I knew was a Rucka fan if it got more interesting*. Something just isn't working.

As a side note, naming the unkillable bodyguard "Forever" is so on the nose I audibly groaned.

The bright spot is the art. Michael Lark is pretty amazing. But you know that. Even so, something feels off here. Like this is not the sort of project his artwork fits with. It's just a personal feeling. I'm not sure I can explain it.

Boy, not much I can explain in this review, huh?

Anyway, so far I'd say to give Lazarus a pass. Something isn't clicking. I may give it one more volume, but so far this is the least I've liked a Greg Rucka comic. That's an odd feeling. I hope it's just a hiccup.

My Opinion: Skip It

* The answer was no, by the way. He made it to the eighth issue before giving up. The rest of the first volume didn't exactly prove him wrong.