Sunday, August 22, 2010

Random Trains of Thought 8/23/10

- So, FrankenCastle is ending. We're going back to the standard Punisher. Who, you know, no one can accept put into outlandish situations despite the fact that he is all the freaking time. Rick Remender talked about having two years of stories with FrankenCastle back in the spring of this year. Looks like that won't happen now.

Some days I wake up and absolutely hate my fellow comic fans.

- Comic fans sometimes amuse me in a "my god you're all focusing on THAT" sort of way. Take the cover by Yanick Paquette for Batman, Inc. #1. It's a very well drawn cover - actually, so is the Andy Kubert variant and I hope Kubert's on tap for Batman, Inc. after Yanicks five issues - but the one thing people focus on? Batmans junk.

An artist draws a superhero outside of the norm - the norm being drawn like the heroes have no genitalia - and everyone immediately focuses on that like a bunch of tittering kids.

Here I was thinking the attention and furor over Wonder Womans new costume was ridiculous and people trump the whole thing by focusing on whether that's really Batman's junk or a codpiece.

- I've recently been replaying Resident Evil 4 since I picked up the Wii version for dirt cheap. As you may know, I'd played and reviewed RE5 about a month back - short version is that I was massively disappointed in the sequel - but as I play through RE4 again I'm starting to get almost mad at Capcom. The number of things they tossed from RE4 in developing RE5 is just absolutely ridiculous; Playing RE4 again makes it feel like Capcom wasn't even truly trying with RE5.

I think I mentioned before in the review how RE5 felt like Capcom was bored with the franchise and just wanted to end the current continuity. Now I'm all but sure of it. Maybe they were bored and couldn't even keep their original continuity straight anymore - a friend of mine notes that they had at least one retcon per game after RE3 - maybe they're just sick of the whole original universe they'd created. Maybe RE4 was such a radical shift so as to inject more life and love for making RE games into the mix instead of doing the same old thing. Regardless, I don't think it's too much of a coincidence that RE 1-3 had a pretty tight continuity, everything after held together alright and suddenly RE5 seems in a rush to wrap the most important stuff up.

Either way I hope they are considering a reboot; RE5 was so lackluster I'm not sure I could muster much excitement for a 6 anymore unless they REALLY wowed me.

- I swear, I'm not going to be surprised if Gotham City Sirens and/or Batman: Streets of Gotham is on it's way towards cancellation. Paul Dini seems busy as hell. No one - not even DC - seems to know what is going to happen at a given time with either book, as well. Literally, the plans and solicitations are so screwed on these titles that no one - retailers or readers - seems to know what's going to happen in any given issue until previews are distributed the week of release. See Paul Dini being mentioned in the solicits, but then suddenly a co-feature will be taking up the entire issue or he'll be nowhere to be found.

Honestly, Sirens should just be canceled or handed off to someone else while Dini continues to work on Streets and Zatanna; I can't see the situation getting any better with the workload he's been having lately.

- Man, people are really jumping on the "superhero movies are on their way out", huh?

Which is funny, because the movies that prompt these remarks are... Scott Pilgrim and Kick-Ass, two properties no one knows a bloody thing about unless they've read the comic, which is less likely considering both are indies. Scott Pilgrim isn't even a superhero flick. Kick-Ass has little star power; much as I like Nicholas Cage, he's not near the draw Angelina Jolie was for Wanted, at least not these days.

Oh, yeah, and Iron Man 2 made double the money the first one did - and that's more of a straight-up superhero flick than either of those - and say what you want about Wolverine Origins as far as quality goes, but it made some decent money.

If anythings likely to screech to a halt, it's probably companies throwing money at people to acquire any old indy comic (or something by Mark Millar), hoping to stumble upon box office gold like in the past. DC had a decent amount of success with comic adaption films, but a lot of the ones done from their non superhero imprints had modest budgets and very little marketing. Meanwhile some company out there is figuring that if they spend sixty million on production and a small fortune on marketing, an indy comic like Scott Pilgrim is going to strike gold in the box office. Not to mention putting its opening weekend up against something with the ridiculously star studded cast of The Expendables when the only thing you've got is Michael Cera, who's polarizing to say the least. As cool as the Scott Pilgrim film looks, I think the results speak for themselves; I'm pretty sure I could have guessed way beforehand which film people were going to see.

Everybody loves a little doom and gloom, so I guess that's where bloggers are at right now. Whatever, I guess. If Captain America or the Avengers flops, then yeah, there's cause to be worried about the future of superhero flicks, but at the moment it feels like Chicken Little braying that the sky is falling.

- Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne #4 had Georges Jeanty instead of Cameron Stewart on art. Apparently said art was mediocre. I bring it up mostly because I wish DC would have bit the bullet and moved the books schedule back so Cameron Stewart could have drawn the issue while keeping the rest of the line rolling along. Sure, you'd end up with a situation like Captain America Reborn where the character is back and interacting with the universe again before the mini itself is finished. But honestly? We knew what will happen by the end from the start. It's in the freaking name.

Obviously this wouldn't go over well with DC's usual "fans" - hell, Marvel was the brunt of jokes for a bit for Steve Rogers chilling in other books before Reborn was finished - but they'd get over it. In the end the product would be better off for it; no offense to Georges Jeanty, but he was clearly on a tight deadline. But I guess DC's been scared off doing that since the debacle that was the "Last Son" arc of Superman.

- In a shockingly abrupt change from about a year ago, I'm actually looking into reading comics fronted by female heroes. Honestly, gender isn't a factor in what I read, but to tell the truth quite a few of them in the past have sounded about as exciting as a wet brick. But something good must be going around the DC offices, because I'm seriously considering dropping change on a bunch of the female fronted series because they sound awesome. I'm already nabbing Power Girl in trade, but now I'm looking at Batgirl, Supergirl (which was a monthly 22 page atrocity for the longest time), Batwoman and Birds of Prey.

Unless JMS weaves magic I'm still unlikely to touch Wonder Woman, however; outside of team settings she's always been good for putting me to sleep.

- My X-Box 360 is starting to give me problems. Second one I've had. Warranty's gone. I'm not going to be too shocked when it suddenly doesn't turn on anymore.

I'm reminded of how much I hate Microsoft.

- Watching some people talk about their love of the Spider-Marriage is kind of like watching someone say they really loved the 90's in comics.

- Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person not on Twitter.

- Iron Maiden's got a new album out. The Final Frontier. Naturally, it's completely awesome and should be bought post-haste.

- So everyone knows the story of Jason Todd's death, right? DC held a phone vote and the votes barely came in favor of killing him. Well, what I didn't know that Denny O'Neil later admitted was that a fan had set up their computer to dial in the thumbs down repeatedly, skewing the vote by hundreds of numbers (see the "Death of Robin" section at the bottom of the link). If they hadn't been there, apparently Jason Todd would have lived. DC went through with it anyways, knowing this, so as not to seem like they were copping out.

Also, Pipeline shows the internet circa 1991 and it's reaction to Infinity Gauntlet.

The point? Well, there isn't one, I guess. I just think it's nice to have the occasional reminder that fans online and off were always assholes and that it's not just a recent phenomenon.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Batman: Hush Returns (comics)

Writer: A.J. Lieberman
Artists: Al Barrionuevo, Javier Pina
Collects: Gotham Knights #50-55, 66

It was only a matter of time. The merits of the Hush storyline can be debated - and whether you like it or loathe it I think everyone can agree it has flawed - but the fact of the matter is that Loeb and Lee had a runaway hit in that story. No way was Hush going to fade into the ether. It was more a matter of when he'd be brought back.

Didn't take too long, as it turns out, and unlike the first round the quality isn't really up for debate.

So basically, it's like this; Hush is back and he's pretty pissed. Mostly at the Riddler. So he decides to track Nigma down and smack him around a little bit. Naturally, ol' Eddie doesn't really care much for this plan, she he decides to jump through a few windows and beg the Joker to protect him. Riddler tempts him with something he wants, so Joker takes Nigma in. Hush comes after Nigma anyways. Joker frowns a lot, because that's clearly a thing we should see Joker doing all the time. Prometheus shows up for some goddamn reason and ends up looking like a big joke. Hush finally manages to get his hands on Nigma and punches Joker a few times. Naturally the Jokers reaction to a good shellacking is to strip naked and run to the carnival from The Killing Joke.

You know, as one does.

Hush Returns is all over the place. I'm not entirely sure what the point of anything was, because we don't see one. Hush shows up and pays lip service to killing Batman, but he doesn't really do anything about it aside from recruiting Prometheus - who does a grand total of nothing except bleed out after Green Arrow puts a few arrows through him - and antagonizing Riddler. Batman muses a bit about Hush and how he's scared of him - Batman's not in this much, by the way - ultimately accomplishing little. Hush tries - and fails for about the third time - to get his hands on Nigma and at that point the story just ends after Joker streaks through some farmland to his broken down carnival. Then, inexplicably, the trade jumps forward a full ten issues to show us Hush beating Prometheus down for no reason we have any insight into and the Society shows up and it's all just a goddamn mess.

Why Prometheus? Why frowny Joker? What purpose does any of the events serve? Who the hell knows. I'm not even sure the writer did.

I'm serious about that, because things simply happen with no conclusion or purpose. Take Prometheus, for example; Hush talks about needing a partner and recruits him, but Prometheus doesn't do anything aside from shoot a couple people late in the trade. Robin visits some guy who claims to have the best quality... whatever, but we never find out what he sells, why Robin was there or what bearing it has on anything. We also learn that Jokers wife was murdered - an obvious attempt to definitively place the Killing Joke version of Jokers origin in continuity - but when Joker has the name of the cop responsible he does absolutely nothing with it before his beatdown and decision to go au naturale.

The characterization is just way, way off. Joker is probably the biggest example. Dude looks like someone just killed his puppy for the entire thing. He frowns for almost the entire duration of the trade - come on, laugh clown laugh - and seems completely, inexplicably sane. It's like someone threw Joker facepaint on a random guy. Then there's Green Arrow, who's mostly there to yell at Batman for not telling him Hush was going to Star City, despite the fact that Batman himself didn't even know the reason why. Then the writer tries to sell us on the tidbit that Batman's afraid of Hush; of course, he does a piss poor job of it, because Hush does little in this trade that would make a seasoned crime fighter shake in his boots. Even Penguin feels off the the short time he appears.

So the story and writing's a mess; how's the art? Workmanlike. It reminds me a lot of the general art style that was in use during these years. It's okay work, but nothing I'd actually enjoy; and certainly not solid enough to make up for the stories screw-ups. So what we end up with in the end is a story that bounces through plots like a pinball and resolves none of them coupled with okay art that certainly doesn't wow. Not exactly a winning combination.

I cannot in good conscience recommend this trade. It just isn't good. I don't exactly know anyone who would call the original Hush storyline top shelf comics, but it's practically Shakespeare compared to this. Avoid; there are far, far better Batman stories to spend your money on.

My Opinion: Burn It

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The OMAC Project (comics)

Writers: Greg Rucka, Geoff Johns, Judd Winick
Artists: Jesus Saiz, Rags Morales, Ed Benes, Phil Jimenez
Collects: Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1, The OMAC Project #1-6, Wonder Woman #219

The fourth trade of the Infinite Crisis buildup mini's is the one I saved for last. It's arguably the most relevant trade of the four. The effects of the OMAC Project as a whole actually had the most impact on Infinite Crisis on the whole; as such, if you were going to pick one of the mini's to pick up in expectation of it being followed up on in IC, this would be the one to get.

After the events of Identity Crisis, Batman has become more paranoid than ever. In that story it was revealed that the Justice League had been mindwiping villains, but had also done so to Batman when he furiously tried to stop them from doing it to Doctor Light. Since Identity Crisis, Batman has figured it all out. Feeling utterly betrayed by those he called friends, he constructed a satellite to spy on all meta-humans, feeling unable to trust them. But now that satellite is under someone elses control, bringing about a very real chance that all meta-humans could die. Batman's mistakes have come home to roost; but this time, it could come with a heavy cost for more than just him.

I've always been divided on the subject matter of this trade. This is arguably where the "Batjerk" portrayal of Batman had it's last hurrah - as it was intended to, really - but I think it borders on going too far. Batman really screws up this time on a level far beyond when Ra's Al Ghul took his plans to take down the Justice League if they went rogue; with the spy satellite comes files on every meta-human and it's not really all that hard to see the potential for the plan to just go horribly wrong. Had the death toll been any higher, would the superhero community ever have been able to forgive him? Should they anyway?

It's easy to see where they were going with this, painting a portrait of the fact that Batman had gone too far and needed to rehabilitate, but throughout this story I can't help but think they were cutting it close with Batman's overall culpability.

Those reservations aside, the story is quite well written. This really doesn't come as any surprise - I don't think I've read a Greg Rucka penned comic that was outright bad - but still, this could have gone very wrong. It was treading a fine line with Batman; it could have easily done the kind of damage to Batman that Civil War did to the character of Iron Man. Thankfully, Rucka is a better writer than that. Also worth noting is the writing in the Countdown to Infinite Crisis comic at the start; I think it's a testament to Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka and Judd Winick that the first time I read it I went in not caring about Ted Kord and walked out appreciating him.

If I had a real reservation, it was that midway through the mini proper it becomes evident that important events to the mini happened in another book; thankfully, that comic is included here and placed where it should be, but I've never been a fan of important plot points to one story being in something elsewhere regardless.

This mini is as much about Checkmate - DC's most established spy organization - as it is Batman. Easy to see why, as this mini is as much about breaking down Checkmate to be built back up again for the Checkmate series. Rucka definitely has a knack for those kind of stories and balances it well with the plight of the superheroes. However, as much as this mini is a primer for the Checkmate organization, it doesn't do as much to show how the organization works. We are told the gist of it through the course of the story, but for most of it the organization is little more than a dictatorship run by the Black King, who had maneuvered his way into total control. We could have done with actually seeing a bit of how it usually operates - through flashbacks or whatever - but thankfully it's a small blip on an otherwise well written story.

The art is good, solid work as well. While Countdown to Infinite Crisis is something of a hodgepodge - each of the five parts of that one comic was done by a different art team - most of the rest of the volume is done by him. Rags Morales does the art of the included Wonder Woman issue though and it's pretty good work. Otherwise, I'm not sure what else to say about it. It's good work, but I guess I wasn't wowed by it?

On a final note, this is also another pretty thick trade. Much like Day of Vengeance, this trade also includes a good amount of other stuff in it, some of it necessary. The kickoff to the buildup - Countdown to Infinite Crisis, which in itself is eighty pages or so - is included, along with the climax issue of the Sacrifice crossover of Superman and Wonder Woman, which is a necessary inclusion. In all, it makes for another thickish trade that goes right up to IC, with an allusion here or there to things going on in the other minis. Good value for the money, I think.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

On the whole, it's an enjoyable read and worth the money. In general, the Infinite Crisis mini's have been worth the change. Pretty good when you consider a lot of events have tie-ins or buildup of very questionable quality. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Rann-Thanagar War (comics)

Writer: Dave Gibbons
Artist: Ivan Reis
Collects: Rann-Thanagar War #1-6

This is, as you may have guessed, the third of four Infinite Crisis lead-in mini's. The theme for this one is similarly grand. Cosmic war involving many of the DCU's alien races and cosmic concepts from the Tamaranians right on down to the Dominators. Add in the still rebuilding Green Lantern Corps, stir well and serve.

At the start of the story, we find out that a prior conflict has found Rann sent directly into Thanagars orbit through the machinations of an enemy. This destabilized Thanagars orbit, sending it closer to the sun until the atmosphere ignited, killing most everything on the planet. The Rannians evacuated as many as they could; but a Thanagarian cult amidst the survivors drives forward unrest until the rescued Thanagarians revolt against their rescuers, inciting all out war.

The war starts up quickly and there's a good bit going on. I'm not as versed in the cosmic DC as I am other parts of it, but if this series didn't bring in all of the established races in the DC Universe it made a damn good go of it. Most everything from LEGION to the Omega Men to the Tamaraneans show up to throw punches and laser bolts at one another, so the scale's big on par with the other mini's at the very least. There are betrayals, alliances and long forgotten heroes in the mix. On top of that there's a cult and it's zombie summoning god figure taking it to Rann, so needless to say this story isn't spoiled for lack of things going on. Dave Gibbons makes it all work relatively well too; and despite the fact that this mini builds off a previous story, he knows enough to get you caught up to speed on past events within a few pages. He may be best known for his work as the artist of Watchmen, but he can write a pretty decent space story too.

Now normally I haven't been as interested in the cosmic sector. To tell the truth, this is probably my first real exposure to it in DC. This mini makes a pretty good first impression, like the others, and is something of a crash course in cosmic DCU. I'd argue that this is one of the greatest successes of the Infinite Crisis buildup, as many different facets of the DC Universe not always explored have been given time to shine in quality mini's. That's good strategy, really.

The art is ably handled by Ivan Reis, who would go on to achieve more renown by penciling the Blackest Night event. This is where you could say he really cut his teeth with grand stories and scope. The very nature of the story means that he has a multitude of things to draw, all wildly different from each other, so when I say that he pulls it off with aplomb, it's no mean feat. There's some panels and pages just rife with detail, giving the sense of scope something like this needs. In some ways, his work reminds me of Alan Davis; if there's an artist you could ever want to echo, he's definitely one of them.

If there's one issue I have with the mini, it's that it feels like a bit too much is left for Infinite Crisis to sort through. The zombie summoning god situation is dealt with by the end, so I suppose you could argue there's some measure of closure. But for the most part, we end the story with the war heating up and a gigantic tear in reality opening, at which point the mini pretty much ends. Pretty good cliffhanger, not too good for the mini's ability to stand alone.

The Score: 8 out of 10

On the whole, this is an enjoyable story of the cosmic DCU going to war. I tend to find space based stories to be a polarizing subject matter for fans - some like them and some could easily go without ever reading any - but I felt this was strong on the whole. It feels grand and is well put together. I'd recommend it if you've an affinity for cosmic comics.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day of Vengeance (comics)

Writers: Bill Willingham, Judd Winick
Artists: Justiniano, Ian Churchill, Ron Wagner
Collects: Action Comics #826, Adventures of Superman #639, Superman #216, Day of Vengeance #1-6

Like most of the lead-ins to Infinite Crisis, the stakes are very high. All of them seem to encompass a different facet, or genre, of the DC Universe. Villains United, for example, focused largely on the villains. With Day of Vengeance, we focus on the magic sect of DC, witnessing the trials and tribulations they face as crisis looms large. Also like the other lead-ins, this mini is just as much a stage setter for a future ongoing; in this case, Day of Vengeance aptly sets up the future Shadowpact series.

Right from jump street, things are already very bad. The Spectre - Spirit of Vengeance - is without a human host, which means that he is without the tether of humanity that helps inform his judgment. As he slowly slips into madness and loses reason, Eclipso, the original Spirit of Vengeance, looses his silver tongue upon the Spectre. Convincing the confused entity that magic is the root of all evil, Eclipso manipulates the Spectre into a crusade to destroy magic.

Being as The Spectre is one of the single most powerful magic beings going, his crusade quickly turns into a slaughterhouse. The heavy hitters of the magic superheroes - Phantom Stranger, Madame Xanadu, Doctor Fate and so on - are caught by surprise and disabled. The rest of the magic based hero community, understandably panicked, holes up in the inter-dimensional Oblivion Bar. As things get ever bleaker, six of them team together to go on a suicide mission against the Spectre. Their only hope of succeeding lies in Captain Marvel and a young teenage girl named Black Alice.

Now, speaking based on personal preference, I've never found the magic based books terribly interesting. This goes for DC or Marvel. Too often, only the most powerful have a shot at an ongoing or story in general and some of them are little more than Deus Ex Machinas masquerading as a character, largely from a lack of definition to what they can and cannot do. This is one of those rare times I ended up buying a comic trade solely on the branding; I was at a comic convention, it was in a five dollar box of trades, had that "Countdown to Infinite Crisis" banner and I'd already gotten a couple of the other lead in mini's in trade. So I figured "what the hell" and nabbed it when I otherwise might not have.

I'm glad I did.

In magic based comics, it isn't always easy to get across suitable threats for the heroes. But Bill Willingham wisely set this mini up properly. The team that is central to the book are mostly mid list magic heroes that did not have a home anyway and the Spectre's misguided rampage provides a suitable threat, seeing as he's one of the most powerful characters in the DCU. The threat feels very real when he surprise attacks the heavy hitters of DC's magic scene and takes them down quickly. On top of which, Eclipso is in the mix. The Shadowpact - the name of their team - certainly have their hands full.

The writing is generally good. Bill Willingham is probably best known for his creator owned work - see Fables - and a lot of his superhero work leaves much to be desired. But here it's almost as if he's more at home. The "voices" of each character feels relatively distinct and spot on. There's also some strategy written in on the Shadowpact's part; they aren't always in the thick of the fight and they're horribly outmatched anyway, so they tend to support guys like Captain Marvel or lay traps. After all, taking the Spectre head on with their mid list power is, as they would put it, a suicide mission.

Also included is an arc from the Superman books by Judd Winick. This also feels like one of his better days in comic writing. It's mostly a Captain Marvel and Superman team-up against Eclipso that sets the stage for Day of Vengeance. It does a pretty decent job of it, as well, and reminds me that Judd can write a pretty decent Superman and Captain Marvel. It's enough to make a guy think that Judd should stick to writing the A listers, because it sometimes feels like that's where he does his best work.

Another point in this stories favor is that it feels more self contained. Whereas Villains United required a little prior knowledge, everything you need to know is included in here. Right down to the Superman prologue story. There are much fewer "wha" moments for anyone who might not be reading a lot of other Infinite Crisis era books as a result and this isn't something that should be understated. Obviously it's still an Infinite Crisis lead-in, but you don't feel like you actually need to read any other books to understand what's going on at a particular moment.

As you can probably tell by now, the trade contains a generous amount of comics, especially for a suggested retail price of thirteen dollars (yeah, I paid five for it, but roll with me here). There's a full three issue Superman story that acts as a prologue plus the six issue "Day of Vengeance" mini proper. That's nine comics for thirteen bucks; pretty meaty for the price, honestly. A good thing too, as I imagine it inspires some folks to pick up things they normally might not.

The art's not bad either. Ian Churchill does the Superman arc and I don't know if it's this general story inspiring better work or what, but he does pretty decent as well. He generally resists the urge to tart every female in the story up - though one character does not escape this - and his figure composition is better than usual. Granted, it still needs work - I do not know what is up with the chicken legs the doctor has in one panel late in that story - but I've seen worse from him.

Justiniano, on the other hand, is just damn good. I'm mostly familiar with him from his work with Geoff Johns on the Beast Boy mini - collected in the "Beast Boys and Girls" Teen Titans trade - so I already knew he does some great work. Not much has changed since then. If there's a mis-step in this department, it's with the lettering; there's occasionally a goof or two that sticks out. I think the one that was most noticeable was a word balloon with the backwards speak of Zatanna pointing at Black Alice with Doctor Fates powers instead of Black Alice with Zatannas. Doesn't happen often, but when it does it's a smidge distracting.

The Score: 8 out of 10

I'm not usually big on comics with magic central to it, but I suppose this makes the case that I jut haven't read the right ones. It's a good story that flows well and feels high stakes on it's own, even if it didn't have a crisis looming on the horizon. I'd recommend it, even if you're not big on magic or mystical based comics. You might find you enjoy it too.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Villains United (comics)

Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Dale Eaglesham, Val Semeiks
Collects: Villains United #1-6

Villain teams are interesting. Sometimes more-so than the heroes. While the white hats tend to work together, villain teams are rife with problems, betrayals and splits that always threaten to tear them apart. So it's not hard to see how they could make for some entertaining fiction. Unfortunately, it isn't too often that the villains get a comic or the spotlight.

Enter Gail Simone and her revamp of the Secret Six, which started here in the Infinite Crisis tie-in mini "Villains United".

As the drums of a crisis begin pounding, unflattering secrets of DC's heroes come to light in the universe at large. The main bone of contention is the Justice Leagues past of mind-wiping villains. Frightened, indignant and outraged, the villains of the DC Universe begin uniting under the Secret Society of Super Villains. But some do not. Under the orders of the mysterious Mockingbird, six villains take the fight to the Society. Not everyone will walk away from this fight.

While they're technically considered "villains", the Secret Six - the protagonists of this mini - tend to fall more under the gray than villainy. Several of them are deeply flawed, but also possess positive character traits. They're more akin to anti-heroes than anything else. They exist in the divide between the villain and the hero; disgusted by the Justice Leagues mind-wiping yet not interested in towing the line with the Society. Most of the characters end up being easy to connect to through the course of the mini and Gail Simone pulls the whole thing off well. There's also a touch of the Suicide Squad to the Secret Six as well, which I doubt is coincidence.

Unfortunately, there are issues. Chief among this being that - as the banner top the cover of the trade suggests - this mini is a tie-in to the buildup to Infinite Crisis, at the time DC's upcoming major event. As such, the mini is tied way too much to events that happened prior to it's release, such as Identity Crisis and the OMAC Project. Thankfully DC did a solid with the trade, collecting a rather generous amount of panels from comics across the line that showed the gathering of the Society. But still, it's something that bears note; the story can be enjoyed regardless, but there's a lot of Crisis-y things going on that might go over your head. The biggest offender is the revelation regarding Lex Luthor late in the book; if you're not even remotely acquainted with COIE, this one will fall a bit flat aside from a good "what the hell" reaction or two.

Also, this volume is pretty much a precursor to the Secret Six ongoing. It sets up a lot of the main dynamics and introduces many of the characters. So you could technically consider it "volume one", if you will.

The art is fantastic... when Dale Eaglesham is doing it, that is. For whatever reason, the art in the third issue is not his, but Val Semeiks. The art in that issue is capable work, but not up to the levels Eaglesham reaches, as you might get. A bit of a blemish on an otherwise excellent looking comic.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

It relies a bit too much on it's place in the buildup to an event, but for the most part it's a good opening salvo by Gail Simone that sets the stage for further adventures with the Secret Six. Witty, well written and engaging, it's worth the read. Recommended with the caveat that a few things might not make sense to those that come into it cold.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Batman: Under the Hood Volume 2 (comics)

Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Doug Mahnke, Shane Davis, Eric Battle
Collects: Batman #645-650, Batman Annual #25

What would you do if you had a son that died? What if he returned? What if, upon his return, he denounced everything you held sacred, believed you had failed him and went down a dark path, turning his back on the beliefs you tried to instill in him? If he then became a murderer, inhabiting areas of gray and going to the places you wouldn't? Do you stop him? Try to save him? Does your guilt overpower you?

This is the dilemma faced by Batman; not a physical battle, but a battle of emotions and reopened wounds from what he considers his greatest failure.

The whole Under the Hood storyline does many different things, but if there's one theme that stands out, it's the theme of fathers and sons. Alfred and Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne and the young men he takes in and considers to be his sons. The very conflict at the root is a father versus a son; Jason Todd has returned to life* and taken on his fathers mission. Only he no longer believes - and maybe never truly believed - in his fathers most sacred rule. No killing.

It's a theme that would be used pretty consistently in the Batman comic for the next couple of years, but in this case it was used to put Batman through the ringer emotionally. Jason Todd is a physical manifestation of his failures; a son who honestly cannot understand why his father would not kill the man who murdered him. It's not an unrealistic question either; only in fiction could a father see his murdered son alive again and in front of him, giving his thoughts on the fathers actions. In real life you can only speculate; and in most cases the father would likely rather believe that his son would believe he'd made the right choice.

This is the dynamic that's "under the hood", if you will, and Judd uses it to great effect. He wrings what feels like genuine emotion out of a story that could only happen in fiction. The climax of the long story feels heartfelt; the three people at the heart of where the road all began in a showdown where Batman must choose between his son or his conviction. There really isn't much I'd change** and while I'm sure others may disagree, I think of this story as a great entry into the never ending saga of Batman.

The Annual that closes the volume, however, is somewhat unfortunate. We don't get the answers to how Jason Todd was brought back within the main storyline proper - honestly, it doesn't matter, because while Batman does wonder how, the circumstances are not what the story is about - so the answers end up coming here, almost as an afterthought. I wish they wouldn't have bothered; the details would best have been saved for another day when a better idea had come along.

Truthfully the annual really flubs it. The reason Jason returns is too heavily tied into the big event at the time. Said circumstances worked for continuity glitches, but it being used to resurrect a character honestly felt hackneyed. It doesn't exactly ruin the storyline or anything - I find the insistence by some that it does rather dumb and I suspect they missed the point entirely - but it's a bad decision that detracts from what is otherwise an okay tale of how the newly resurrected Jason got from point A to point B.

While the writing is, for the most part, very good, the art can be unfortunate at times. I'm not sure what was going on here - perhaps deadlines got a bit tight - but the work sometimes comes off sloppier than it should while other times being solid stuff. There's nothing that kills the story, but it would have been nice to have a hundred percent from the artists all the way through.

Speaking of art, the cover artist isn't the same for these issues as was the issues in the first volume. Instead of Matt Wagner, we have Jock as the cover artist. He does some nice covers, but I quite liked the style Wagner had with his covers. It's not even remotely a big deal - it's just covers, after all - but I suppose it bore mentioning considering I quite liked the ones last time.

The Score: 8 out of 10

In all, I think Under the Hood turned out a lot better than most people expected. Bringing back Jason Todd was risky - and I admit I had my doubts years ago - but Judd Winick managed to pull it off not by focusing on the why's but on the impact it has on the Dark Knight. It's good reading and I feel it's worth the loss of one of the "sacred deaths".

* Yeah, I know, that's technically a spoiler. But come on now. It's been five years since this story was serialized in the Batman comic proper. If you didn't know Jason Todd had come back to life by now, you've been living under a rock.

** While I said there wasn't much, there is one thing I would have added to the climax. I thought it was unfortunate that Batman did not bring up that he wanted to kill the Joker after Jasons murder and in his grief had every intention of doing so. He never got the opportunity (not to say he would or would not have if he had, I'm just musing).