Monday, March 26, 2012

Brightest Day vol. 2 (comics)

Writers: Geoff Johns, Peter Tomasi
Artists: Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf and several others
Collects: Brightest Day #8-16

Time for the second volume of Brightest Day; one half of DC's most recent weekly experiment. Is it as enjoyable as the first volume? Or does the book see a drop in quality?

First thing to note - since I complained about it at length last time - is the slight drop in unnecessary ultra-violence. This is not to say it isn't there - Martian Manhunters plot is sadly the go to when Geoff wants to show beheadings - but we're thankfully spared the slaughter of entire families and people being skinned. Not quite as much improvement as I'd like, but after last volume I'll take what I can get.

All five of our major plotlines continue along without a noticeable drop in quality. The best are still great, the decent are still pretty good and the Hawks still suck. All of it continues to be fairly accessible, even as the Firestorm plot has started to veer off into territory tying back to Blackest Night. It's easy enough to figure out though; Black Lanterns are back and want to extinguish life because they're dicks like that. Simple.

They're making a bit of a shift in structure though. A given plot will now be take up almost a full issue, with the character taking center stage next issue given a page or two at the end. While this occasionally means dealing with close to a full issue of Hawk related nonsense, it has the benefit of giving focus to the various plots; previously there were times when it felt like the stories moved at a snails pace.

Of the five plots, I'm a fan of four of them; pretty good ratio, if you ask me. I already liked the Martian Manhunter, but thus far this series has managed to make me care about Aquaman, Firestorm and even Deadman. That's pretty damn good considering I didn't give a crap about any of them prior to this. If the intent here was to make people invested in these characters, thus far it's been a success.

Except with Hawkman. On the surface, it sounds like their plot has the right ingredients, but the Hawks suck the life out of just about anything they come into contact with. They're plot vampires. Hell, they even look kind of dumb. At some point you'd think DC would have to just accept that the Hawks don't work and stop bothering. Of course, then you realize they tried reviving the Doom Patrol about five million times when that concept hasn't worked since Grant Morrison had it. For some reason, DC refuses to give up on anything.

The art is varied, of course. Each plotline has its own artist. Ivan Reis and Patrick Gleason are the standouts. Whoever does the Firestorm plot isn't. Still, no one puts in work I'd classify as outright bad. Overall, I'm pretty happy that Ivan Reis is going to be on board the New 52 Aquaman book with Geoff; the Aquaman plotline of Brightest Day has quickly become one of my favorites and the art is at least part of why.

The Score: 8 out of 10

Thus far, Brightest Day has been a strong read. I'm interested in seeing where everything goes, so I'll definitely be back for the third volume. So far this has been worth the pickup even if you didn't bother with Blackest Night. Time - and volume three - will tell if it's a resounding success. Even stories with the best buildup can end on a sour note.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

X-Men: With Great Power (comics)

Writer: Victor Gischler
Artists: Chris Bachalo, Al Barrionuevo
Collects: X-Men (vol. 3) #7-11

It's Round Two for Victor Gischler on X-Men. Does he come out or the corner swinging? Or are we in for another fair-yet-disappointing outing like last time?

Gishlers sophomore arc has a few select X-Men teaming with Spider-Man. Seems kids are going missing back in New York and Cyclops - who seems to be taking a break from being a massive dick this volume - decides he can't find anything just as good for the image of the X-Men close to home and sends them across the country. Things get a bit cold-blooded from there as it looks like The Lizard is the culprit.

The one off issue after the main arc has the X-Men throw a birthday party for Jubilee, whose teeth are a bit pointier after the events of last volume. Jubes, no longer one to pass up a good chance for some angst, blows the whole thing off to go brood, not realizing Batman has that market cornered. Sensing the danger of infringing on Batmans territory - or worried about her, whatever - Professor X goes to cheer her up with a tale from the days when he went on rad adventures prior to the eight or nine times he went through the process of being crippled and subsequently healed.

He's currently able to walk, by the way; much as I hope he stays that way this time, I have a nasty feeling it's a matter of time before some writer drops a rock on his legs or something.

Victor Gischler continues to have problems writing certain characters, unfortunately. While his Wolverine doesn't say anything quite as dumb as "come get some" this time, he still sounds off. Same for his Gambit. He does an okay Spidey, though, having the character as a wisecracker who constantly verges on annoying. The plot is otherwise standard fare; it's nothing to write home about, but Gischler gives his artistic partner interesting things to draw - like the heroes turned to lizard men - often enough to make it worthwhile.

Speaking of the art, Chris Bachalo's on tap here. He is, as usual, completely awesome. I know some folks don't care for his work much, but the more I see of Bachalo the more I'm convinced they should be arrested for being so horribly wrong. I love the way he draws everyone, especially Spidey. His Spideys white eyes are huge round saucers, which has the effect of making Spider-Man look adorable and/or constantly amazed at everything he sees. I love it. Also, more awesome layouts.

If Bachalo could handle a monthly schedule on a well written book, I'd be one happy dude; as it is, his work makes a story that is merely alright completely worth the read.

The one off is a bit clunky as far as the writing goes, but it's enjoyable enough. It features Professor X as a bald hunter in Africa way back when, which I'm totally on board with. Unfortunately, it also features more angsty Jubilee, which I'm not quite as down with. Someone needs to inform every living writer that Twilight selling about a bajillion copies does not mean that stories of vampires angsting all the time is suddenly anything other than a pile of shit. It's still shit; middle aged women just inexplicably gained a fetish for bodily waste. The only thing related to shit that vampires should be in contact with is the asses they kick.

Art duties go to some other dude for this one. It's decent, but occasionally off, mostly in the present day pages; for the most part the flashback stuff is perfectly fine work. I'm going to cut the guy some slack because next to Chris Bachalos work just about anything is going to suffer in comparison.

The Score: 7 out of 10

I have concluded that I need more Chris Bachalo art in my life. Oh, and this volumes not too bad, I guess. It makes a hell of a lot more sense than last time did, anyways. Give it a look if you appreciate Chris Bachalo art, otherwise drop the score half to a full point.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Batman: Life After Death (comics)

Writer: Tony Daniel
Artist: Tony Daniel, Guillem March
Collects: Batman #692-699

Of the stories that came about while Dick Grayson played stand-in for Batman - as Bruce was missing in action at the time, presumed dead - this one was probably the biggest that didn't involve the name Grant Morrison. It had a few tie-ins, happened to be referenced by other books and so on. Unfortunately for Tony Daniel, he has the unenviable task of following Morrison on the book after Grant moved on to Batman & Robin.

Gotham is caught in a gang war. The new Black Mask has made a play for the city at the same time the mob has returned to town. In the middle of this struggle is Dick - still new to his role as Gothams protector - who has to find a way to stop it. Of course, with old foes like Professor Strange helping the Black Mask, it won't be easy.

The two issue story that follows it puts the focus on the Riddler and an old partner from his past who'd really like to stick a knife between Eddies ribs.

First off, I've got to give Tony Daniel credit for ambition. He wastes absolutely no time in bringing back elements from the first three years of Batmans career. It requires stones to bring back the mob - famously dismantled after the events of Year One, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory wiped out most of the controlling family - even if it isn't for them to take center stage. There's also the return of Dr. Death and Professor Strange, neither of whom I can recall seeing in a long time. The Reaper even turns up. The friggin Reaper! From Year Two of all stories!

But ambition alone doesn't make for a good story. To his credit Daniel manages to put together an interesting plot; it's far from great but it's fairly engaging. I also have to give him praise for at least making an attempt to have everyone sound different. It's nowhere near perfect - I hate his "voice" for Bullock - but it's worth noting, as you'll find a few creators out there who seem to forget to give everyone a different personality.

He comes with his weaknesses, though. While the plot holds your attention fine, it doesn't have a lot of direction. By the end it's still unclear exactly what it was Black Mask was hoping to accomplish, much less why he needed some of the villains he recruited. I'm okay with leaving things open to be tackled in future stories, but for a six issue arc we end with far too many questions and little idea why the events occurred in the first place.

Tony Daniel also falls into something that I suspect will be a pattern among DickBats stories; that you could take him out and put Bruce in without losing much at all. For all of the crowing from some creators - and fans - about how Dick in the cowl afforded new opportunities, we see little of it. Dick sounds and acts a lot like his mentor in this book and there's little here to mark it as something you could only do with Grayson under the cowl.

Then there's also my annoyance with the Riddler story. It exists for no other reason than to revert Riddler back to full on villainy. Look, Riddler's an iconic rogue, but lets face facts; it's very, very rare that the character is the center of a classic story. On the scant occasion he is it's usually in the Arkham games or the cartoons. His role as a reformed private detective offered a lot more potential and here it's just thrown away. I'm not sure why Tony Daniel thought this was a good idea, but it irritates me.

I've always known Tony Daniel best from his artwork. I've been a fan of his since as far back as his stint on Geoff Johns Teen Titans. He was far from perfect, but he could pump out some pretty visuals and it seemed like he was constantly trying to progress as an artist.

Here, his work comes with good and bad. His storytelling is still off at times; some panel transitions are choppy, making it difficult to understand what's happening. Then there are the panels you simply cannot make heads or tails of; the worst is a panel where Reaper destroyed a still-moving vehicle, but his pose, body language and position leave you wondering how the hell he managed it. TD still has a long way to go.

Oh, and Catgirl; that costume is just... yuck.

But man, sometimes he can just put out pages that simply pop. One of my favorites is in the fourth issue of the main arc. In the background, the Falcone mansion engulfed in roaring flame. To Batmans right, the gasoline can he discarded. We see his cape and cowl; within the cape, his body is completely covered in shadow with only the chest emblem visible. He looks like a specter. It's a striking page for sure.

The coloring is the star of the Riddler story. It's pretty varied, with deep to bright colors and occasional neon used for certain scenes. The colorist for that story really ought to get more work. As for the artwork itself, it's by Guillem March; if you're familiar with his style you already know if you'll love or hate it.

My Opinion: Try It

This book is best described as a middle of the road Batman adventure. I expected a total wash, but there's enough good here to be worth a look. Given time, perhaps Tony Daniel can improve his craft and become one of the better writer/artists in the business. In the meantime, Life After Death is worth a checkout if the local library has a copy, but it isn't something you'll want to add to your bookshelf.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Justice Society of America: The Next Age (comics)

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Dale Eaglesham
Collects: Justice Society of America (vol. 3) #1-4

I've long had a habit of overlooking the Justice Society. It's been penned by Geoff Johns since the turn of the millennium, yet I've never cared enough to check it out. I suppose the concept just never hooked me, so I never bothered until this volume, collecting the first few issues of the relaunch in the wake of Infinite Crisis.

After having given it a fair shot, I don't think I'm likely to continue.

Don't get me wrong, it's not as though the book is terrible. It's fairly decent. I just don't think I'm going to get much out of it.

The book begins with what I assume is it's new mission statement; to turn the group into a true "society" while being something of a training ground for young superheroes. One of the new legacy heroes they invited turns up dead and from there it becomes a question of who did it and why. Amidst the investigation, families tied to legacy heroes are targeted for extermination. Naturally, the Justice Society needs to put a stop to it.

The B plot is that Wildcat discovers that he has a son. This son is a metahuman, able to turn into an actual wildcat in one of the biggest coincidences in fiction. This despite the fact that Wildcat himself is just a regular joe in a cat suit and neither he nor the mother have powers. It's kind of dumb; I guess Johns was struck with a sudden case of "why the hell not".

On the bright side, the new Starman is pretty hilarious. I think he's new anyways. I've certainly never seen him before.

The writing is fine, aside from the occasional stupid moment. It just didn't really click. Part of the problem could be with me; this book relies a bit on the whole "legacy" concept DC had a love affair with at the time, a concept I don't care for at all. I don't think that's it entirely, though.

Little of this comic stuck with me; I struggled to recall the events of the book and had to go back to it for this review. Not a great sign; even the worst books have scenes you remember after it's over. I mean, it's been five or six months since I read Batman: The Widening Gyre and I can still remember a fair amount of that one; even if the parts that stick out the most are the unfortunate "pee in his trunks, manhandles his girlfriend because he thought she was a robot" scenes that I kind of wish I never saw.

Oh, and fifteen dollars suggested retail price for a four issue trade is completely retarded; I expect crap like that more from Marvel.

The Score: 6.5 out of 10

It's perfectly serviceable, but ultimately forgettable. Starmans pretty cool though and Dale Eagleshams art is great as always. Still, it failed to suck me in. If you're a JSA fan this will probably be up your alley, but if you're a JSA agnostic this trade won't do much to convince you.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Batman: Arkham City (comics)

Writer: Paul Dini
Artist: Carlos D'Anda
Collects: Batman: Arkham City #1-5, five digital chapters

Comic prequels can be a tricky act to balance. If they show important events, there's a tendency for the game developers to forget storytelling rules and assume you read the comic, making it mandatory instead of supplemental. Ask Halo fans about that one. But this is written by Paul Dini, who is a pretty safe bet as far as comics go.

As expected, Dini delivers a good read, even if an instance or two of the above manages to sneak in.

Being a prequel, the main event exists in service to something else; it's there to set up the events of the game. That's not necessarily a bad thing in this case, as the comic fills in some details the game didn't bother with. When the game starts, Arkham City has already been constructed and the game is rolling immediately. Specifics of how we got to that point aren't what the game focuses on.

As a bridge between the games, this comic holds up well. Many of the elements present in the game are set up here, such as the factions vying for control in Arkham City as well as the armed Tyger task force. It's not necessary material, but it fleshes things out a bit more. The book even bothers explaining a thing or two the game neglected.

Except, that last bit is my one real issue with the book; actually, not just the book, it was one of my few quibbles with the game too. As you may know, Quincy Sharp appears all of once in the game itself, with no mention of his possession by Amadeus Arkham among other things. Odd, considering it was a fairly major subplot of Arkham Asylum. We receive some answers here, but it feels more like clearing the deck; it reveals Sharp has a disorder that leaves him extremely prone to suggestion, making him little more than a cipher. The possession was never on the up and up; worse still, it's not even explained in Arkham City itself.

Granted, that plot point was wrapped up in a side quest, but it seemed to be a clear setup for the sequel; instead, it's a footnote brushed aside in a tie-in.

If I have any other nits to pick, it boils down to my general feeling that structuring this book as a direct prequel might have been a bit detrimental. I think the book would have been better served by fleshing out the Arkhamverse more through adventures in the intervening year between the events of Asylum and City, with the elements leading up to the games opening as a subplot. I think an approach like that would have helped the book stand alone better while still accomplishing the goal of building up to the game.

The short stories - originally digital exclusives - are also included, by the way. They're cute but hardly important, though one does give a better look at the Robin of the Arkhamverse. His jokes are even worse than Burt Wards. That's a sentence I never thought I would type up.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

A solid tie-in; to be expected, given Paul Dinis involvement. Pick it up if you want a bit more background detail on the game. If that's not a big deal to you, it's safe to skip it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer (comics)

Writer: Van Jensen
Artist: Dusty Higgins
Original Graphic Novel

This book is just too cool. After vampires kill Gepetto, Pinocchio takes up vampire hunting. It's one of those genius high concepts that draws me right in. From the sound of it, the concept spawned from a joke; doesn't it seem like some of the best ideas come from personal jokes?

Disney has no influence on this one. This book is set up as kind of a direct sequel to the original story. Keep in mind that such is a story where Pinocchio kind of squished the cricket as soon as he met him. It really is amazing just how much Disney managed to clean up stories for their films; Peter Pan's another striking example.

For the first graphic novel of his career, Van Jensen writes the hell out of this book. There's plenty of humor, from subtle to loud, silly to grim. Everything works. The book has action, horror, suspense and humor. We also see Pinocchio staking vampires with his nose. What more could you ask for?

This is obviously kind of a short review - maybe my shortest - but that's partly because there's little discussion necessary. This book is just great, from the writing to the art. If I went on for too long this review would just boil down to a couple hundred different ways to say "go buy this book". So I'll just cut to the chase and tell you to just buy this book.

I have no idea if there are any immediate plans for a sequel, but I sure as hell hope so.

The Score: 8.5 out of 10

If you don't pick this book up, I have no choice but to conclude that you hate fun.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Justice League: Rise and Fall (comics)

Writer: JT Krul
Artists: Diogenes Neves, Mike Mayhew and numerous others
Collects: Justice League: Rise and Fall #1, Green Arrow vol. 4 #31-32, Rise of Arsenal #1-4*

Don't let the title fool you. No one "rises" in this book and the Justice League has nothing to do with it. The only thing to be witnessed here are a couple downward spirals.

After the events of "Cry for Justice" - the most hated miniseries of the past five years - the Arrow family is in a bad place. Roy's lost both his arm and his daughter. Green Arrow has killed the man responsible and knows he's likely to lose everything. The elevator only goes down from here.

I actually have some sympathy for JT Krul and I'm willing to give him a bit of a pass for this. While the prospect of writing Green Arrow must have been enticing, he had to clean up a mess or two first. This entire volume hinges on the events of Cry for Justice, a story that essentially carpet bombed everything that had been done with Green Arrow in recent years. Krul was being handed the keys to a broken kingdom.

The Green Arrow half of the book finishes off whatever Cry for Justice didn't. There's a real feeling of "putting the toys back in the box" here. Connor Hawke reverts to resenting Ollie, his "family" of characters is splintering, his secret identity is blown, the Robin Hood motifs seem to be coming back into play and he's an outlaw in his own city. Oh, and Black Canary visits him in prison to leave her ring behind, telling him their marriage is over**. Yeah.

It's less a story and more of an epilogue to Cry for Justice. Obviously, the final act of that miniseries required some measure of follow-up, but I'm not sure this happened to be the most entertaining way to go about it. If they couldn't come up with anything, they could have just gone the Batman & Robin route with the new GA series; jump right in and give a few lines explaining how we got there.

Mixed is the best way I can describe my feelings. I got the impression this was DC's way of taking Green Arrow back to the old Mike Grell status quo. While that's not exactly a bad thing, I don't think all of this was necessary to get there.

The other half is "Rise of Arsenal". I don't even know what to think about this one. There's some merit to the concept, especially the relapse; it's pretty much fact that most recovering addicts will relapse at least once. It's a lifelong struggle; in Roys case the trauma he'd just gone through doesn't exactly help.

On the other hand, it isn't handled well; I can buy into his sorrows and nightmares over his daughter, but the book completely lost me with the hallucinations, which actually start way before he's back on anything. His worst one actually happens after he decides it would be a great idea to go chasing the dragon; I'm not particularly knowledgeable about drugs, but I'm pretty sure heroin is not supposed to cause a hardcore fight-your-best-friend-to-the-death hallucination. Not unless it's cut with something else, which doesn't seem very likely.

Some unintentionally hilarious moments abound, though. During the biggest hallucination, we find out that Roy nearly killed three guys protecting a dead cat he thought was his daughter. Better still, I'm this close to absolving this storyline of all it's sins for giving me the phrase "whoring through space with Kyle Rayner". It was directed at Donna Troy, but I can't help imagining the male version of it would be Captain Kirk and Kyle tag teaming any and all alien women across the galaxy.

That a comic of this does not exist is a crime; DC needs to call up IDW this instant and get a Green Lantern/Star Trek crossover going.

That said, little of this works if you don't care about Roy or his daughter. If you feel bad for him, you probably knew these characters beforehand; Roys actions over the course of the story veer further and further from the path of a hero. It's easy to grasp his sorrow and memories of his daughter, but without prior context there isn't enough here to tell you why you should care about him or feel bad.

Oh, yeah, then there's the fact that it all revolves around a dead kid, one that was cute as a button. All to give Roy a heel turn that went nowhere. I get that they felt the need to shake the character up, but come on.

The Score: 5 out of 10

There's no reason to buy this unless you really need to see Roy protect a dead cat and huff heroin.

* I wish DC would go back to printing the contents somewhere in the volume, because I'm getting really sick of having to go look it up. Sure, it only takes an extra two minutes, but it's annoying.

** Canary doesn't come off well here, but to be fair to her, none of the main characters really do.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Justice League International vol. 1 (comics)

Writers: Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis
Artist: Kevin Maguire
Collects: Justice League International #1-7

Long a cult favorite, Justice League International is a book I'd heard plenty about but never got around to. Quite a few folks consider it "their" Justice League and much has been said about its comedic nature. Having now read this volume, I'm not exactly ready to say it's the best thing since the pyramids, but it's a very charming, solid team book that's occasionally pretty funny.

Just looking at the cover, you can tell this Justice League is a motley crew. Outside of Batman and the Martian Manhunter, the roster isn't exactly made of League stalwarts. It's certainly not as rag-tag as the Detroit lineup - a roster mostly made up of Z listers - but none of them would be your first pick. Apparently they weren't Giffens either. But part of the strength of the book is that it's a fun group to watch; they don't all get along, but they do achieve results and prove themselves.

It helps that they're likable in their own ways, from Captain Marvels "gee whiz" personality to Blue Beetles joke cracking to Guys... well, Guy is just a prick in this book, but he's the lovable sort of prick you like in fiction but would hate in real life.

If nothing else, the stories in this volume are nothing if not good, solid team fare. The plots are a bit standard, but the dialogue and scripting keep things interesting. The book isn't in the realm of full on humor I'd expected - seems that comes later - but you can see seeds of it in scenes like the infamous "one punch" and Boosters explanation of why he can hit a female villain. It's a great balance, one that I'm a bit worried about losing, since I know the book eventually descends into being more of a superhero sitcom, of sorts.

If I have any problem with the stories in this volume, it's that there are a few too many that resolve without much participation from the League. The plot of the group running around disposing of nukes sort of resolves itself, the rest of the League doesn't do much more than stand around while Dr. Fate disposes of the Gray Man and Mr. Miracle does a lot of the heavy lifting with the problem in space. I'm willing to chalk it up to the creative team getting into their groove - there's a plot or two where the League effectively handles a situation, so they know how to do it - but I hope to see less of this in future volumes.

Kevin Maguire does his usual great work. He's famous for his facial expressions; while we don't get as much of that here as we would later, there's still a fair bit of great storytelling through the characters reactions. I quite like his work, so I'm happy that his earlier work is showing signs of what made him famous.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

Good, solid Justice League stories. I can see why this was an instant hit when it came out; while the humor the run would become famous for hadn't kicked into high gear yet, it must have been a relief to have a consistently good Justice League book after the book had been stuck in Detroit for so long with D-to-Z list nobodies. There's plenty of room for the book to get better, but for a first volume still working out the kinks this is still very solid. Give it a look; just don't expect full on "Bwa-Ha-Ha" yet.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Batman: The Dark Knight - Golden Dawn (comics)

Writer: David Finch
Artists: David Finch, Jay Fabok
Collects: Batman: The Dark Knight #1-5, Batman: The Return, material from Superman/Batman #75

Man, was this comic ever the ongoing joke of 2011. The delays were verging on ridiculous; it was originally solicited to start in the fall of 2010. Over the next six months, give or take, it only managed to get out two issues. It took something close to a year to get the five issue story finished; not only did they have to rush it just to finish before the relaunch, but it required Jay Fabok to pinch hit on the art.

So, nothing approaching high hopes for this book from me. Having a fill-in on art just made it worse. The book was launched as a vehicle for David Finch to do whatever he wanted with Batman; without his art, what was the point?

Anyways, one of Bruce Waynes childhood friends - Dawn Golden - turned up missing. Apparently she was the one who made him reconsider the whole "girl" thing as a kid; turned out they were pretty rad. Batman, thoroughly pissed off, decides to smack Killer Croc with a sign or two in the midst of his search. Then the Penguin decides to waddle his way in and Etrigan throws fire around while mystical elements start cropping up and I guess Ragman was possessed by a demon and things just kind of got out of control.

The writing is all over the map. Artists that double up have worked magic in the past. Finch isn't one of the success stories. The plot is a mess that lacks general consistency, with elements just kind of popping in for what seems to be no other reason than that's what David Finch felt like drawing that day.

The first half of the plot is essentially a kidnapping caper, but the whole thing - along with Croc and Penguin - is essentially forgotten the second Dawn is rescued. Apparently, it's irrelevant to the real issue - which makes you wonder why we blew two and a half issues on it - which is that Dawn is targeted for sacrifice. I guess Batman figured a giant Croc-man roaming the city wasn't a pressing issue.

Loose threads that go nowhere are all over the place, like an asskissing rookie gunning for Gordons job, some kid stealing the Batmobile, the demon Blaze vanishing from the story without even being defeated and so much more. Other questions involve how Etrigan got his status as a Rhyming Demon back midway through the story and just what's up with Ragman after having his body hijacked. Then there's what I suspect is a dropped plot point; on a certain page, the amount of emphasis on the amulet and linking it with the rage* from prior pages seems a bit too much to be a coincidence, but if there was a plan for it, we never see it. On top of all that, the story seems to just stop, like Finch was running out of pages and needed to "conclude" things with all due haste. This story explains absolutely nothing; there's no guarantee of a follow-up either, because I haven't heard anything about these plot threads returning in the relaunch volume.

The whole thing kind of resembles what you might get if you gave a kid a bunch of DC action figures and told him to come up with a story; any number of random cool moments, but nothing resembling structure or even coherency.

To top it off there's the central figure of the story, Dawn Golden. We don't get a sense of why Bruce is obsessed with saving her. I mean, sure, she was obviously the first girl Bruce wanted to, err, have relations with before he even knew what went where, but other than that, we have little idea what their connection was. Worse still, it's unclear why we should care about her; while the plot essentially revolves around her, we spend little time actually with her. The one hint of character we see comes from the flashback scene; the only thing we get out of her after the rescue is an infodump on why demons are suddenly after her with no prior warning in the story.

Now, this wouldn't be such a huge deal if David Finch did all the art. As important as story is to comic books, some folks will buy a book even if it's lousy if their favorite artist is on it. But as I mentioned earlier, delays forced them to employ a fill-in artist just to get the books solicited issues out there before the relaunch. Not that Jay Fabok isn't talented - he is - but a lot of the draw of this book to start was David Finch drawing Batman. With the story being something of a mess, it's left to the art to carry the weight. In this case, managing two thirds of five issues just isn't going to cut it; especially considering the fact that they gave it the Deluxe Hardcover treatment.

What's there is pretty though, I'll give it that. Since Finch is not on writing duties for the relaunched book and it's been hitting on time, I may check it out. His work is nice to look at.

Since the story ended up wrapping in five issues, the trade department apparently figured it would have been a good idea to throw something else in. On tap is a two page short story from issue #75 of Superman/Batman and the "Return" one shot Finch drew that served as a bridge between Morrisons Batman & Robin and Batman Incorporated. The Return has the opposite problem of Golden Dawn; the script's pretty good and sets up Incorporated well, but the artwork is Lesser Finch.

It's clearly there for no other reason than to pad the book out, though; the issue was already collected in one of the volumes of the story it's relevant to, so it's not like this is the only place to see it.

The Score: 5 out of 10

It's not that great. Way too many problems and not enough depth to any of the important parts of the story. Might be worth a look if you're really into Finchs artwork, but be forewarned that he only managed two thirds of the main story. Otherwise, I'd recommend giving it a pass.

* Seriously, we're talking blinding rage. He breaks Penguins limbs even as Penguin cries for him to stop. It was a very uncomfortable scene to read; it came across as unnecessarily cruel and not at all like Batman. I know Penguin was trying to kill him just a few pages prior, but it was completely overboard to the point I was feeling sorry for the Penguin.