Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artists: Scott McDaniel, Rick Burchett, Scott Kolins
Collects: Batman #588-590, Detective Comics #787, Wonder Woman #160-161, Gotham City Secret Files and Origins #1
Brian K. Vaughan is known almost exclusively for his creator owned work, such as Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, so you could be forgiven for forgetting that he broke into the business the same way most do, through superhero comics.
Each of the four stories collected here are from early in his career and each one - whether intentional or not - carries a theme of identity. The main arc deals with the return of the real Matches Malone - thought dead - and what it does to Batmans psyche. The second is a Mad Hatter story. Third has a two issue Wonder Woman storyline where she fights Clayface. The last one is a short story introducing a new villain we'd sadly never see again.
None of the work collected here carries the polish that would come later - hey, everyone starts somewhere - but these stories make it clear that even then he had talent. While none of them will be regarded as all time classics, they're all perfectly serviceable, standard adventures that are enjoyable to read. It makes for a nice contrast to his later work and leaves me wondering how he would handle iconic superheroes today
Vaughan - in the introduction - worries that maybe he peaked early, but while he has nothing to fear there, we see some genuinely interesting ideas here. The best one occurs happens to be the overall plot of the Wonder Woman story. Her post Crisis origin was always that she was made from magical clay. I always found that origin to be, frankly, pretty stupid - thankfully discarded in the New 52 - but it's used as an excuse to pit Wonder Woman up against Clayface, who wants to absorb her in a bid to become stronger. Yet another of those ideas we're forced to question why we never thought of it first.
Unfortunately, not all of the artwork is of the highest quality. While Rick Burchetts art is great - evoking Darwyn Cookes style - and Marcos Martin does as well as you'd expect, the other two miss the mark. I've never been a big fan of Scott McDaniels art, so it's not like I suddenly expected to like it here. Scott Kolins, however, did surprise me. He seemed to miss the memo that said "Wonder Woman should look younger once Clayface absorbs a piece of her" because not a hair on her changes. Same face, same body type, same hair length, same everything. When the entire story - and a lot of dialogue - hinges on her supposed de-ageing and sudden resemblance to Donna Troy, that's a serious problem. The page where Donna is supposed to find Wonder Woman looking exactly like her loses all meaning, because she never looked noticeably different to begin with.
Quite the artistic flub and it leaves two thirds of the book filled with subpar art.
The Score: 6.5 out of 10
It's worth a look to see the formative years of Brian Vaughan, but it's not a volume you just got to have. Check it out from the library if you can.