Retro Comics are Awesome

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman Eternal volume 2 - It's a relief whenever Jason Fabok draws an issue or two, because he's by far the best artist involved with this series. All of the others range from okay, to passable, to occasionally poor. I know it was a weekly book and they had to turn these issues out in a hurry, but still... sloppy art hurts several chapters. This is the "Batman vs. Hush" volume of the overall Eternal storyline. Jason Bard has been revealed as being in on the plan to destroy Batman, so Batman has pressure from multiple angles.

I was wondering what the relevance of the Batwing plotline was, and it seems to exist mainly to cause the collapse of Arkham Asylum so the city can use eminent domain to take over Wayne Manor and house the inmates there. Hush detonates several weapons caches that Batman has hidden around the city, causing further problems for Batman, who at the end of the story has lost his company (the feds take over), his home and most of his money, and has to operate as Batman on whatever he has left. Alfred and Bane of all people fight zombies together during the escape from Arkham, which is a good scene. Julia Pennyworth spends most of the book acting as Batman's source of information and coordinator in Alfred's place, and her running commentary as an outsider newly inducted into Batman's circle of crimefighters is always fun to read. Catwoman decides to take her father's advice and leave the life of a thief behind to become a crime boss, filling the vacuum left by Falcone and the Penguin being gone.

This review is all over the place, you say? That's the case with this volume. There are so many storylines that are still ongoing that it takes a good while to go through them. I expect to start getting major revelations and resolutions in the third and final volume. The main resolutions here in volume 2 are Alfred returning home and the capture of Hush by Batman. I can see why they ended volume 1 where they did and why they ended this volume where they did. Storywise it makes sense.

So a number of big things happen near the end of the volume, meaning there is some sense of escalation and consequences for everything that's gone on. With consistently better art, this book would be much improved, though as it is it's still a pretty good attempt at a long-form Batman storyline. It's no "Knightfall", but the length and the sheer number of characters and villains reminded me of that story, even if the plot is very different.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Green Lantern #33
December 1964

Wizard of the Light-Wave Weapons!
Script - Gardner Fox Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

The cover proclaims that Dr. Light is back, but he hasn't appeared in Green Lantern before. Mike's Amazing World lists him in JLA #12 and the Atom #8, so this is his third overall appearance. The splash page notes that the last time Hal fought Dr. Light, he had the JLA with him, but now he's on his own. It might have been interesting if the story hadn't given away the villain on the cover and the splash page, because the story proper opens by setting up a couple of mysteries for the reader, with two Hal Jordans, and then an appearance by strange lights in Central City, caused by Dr. Light solely to get GL's attention. In other words, he's just here to pick a fight.

Dr. Light's initial attack is successful and an unconscious GL falls to the ground, but instead of impacting it and dying, the ring opens a passage and he keeps falling. Hal's last order had been for the ring not to let him hit the ground, but I guess rather than keep him in the air, the very literal power ring opened the ground instead. Fair enough! The two Hal Jordans are explained when Hal disguises Tom to look like him and accept an award, while GL goes after Doctor Light. He's once again outgunned and has to resort to a trick to defeat Dr. Light. He allows the power-element of his ring to come loose and when Dr. Light catches it, Hal controls it remotely via willpower, captures Dr. Light, and turns him over to the authorities.

Given that the hard light creations of Dr. Light in this story are at one point the same colors as the seven ring Corps that Geoff Johns created, I'm surprised Johns never found a reason to retcon this story at some point. I don't mind Hal winning via a trick, but it seems like it would take a lot more than Dr. Light is capable of to overcome a power ring created by the Guardians of the Universe, so the fact that Hal can't simply overpower him is a bit disappointing. Hal gets his butt kicked constantly in this story.

The Disarming of Green Lantern!
Script - Gardner Fox Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

The splash page paints this as a story where GL's ring charge is just about gone, with a bunch of gangsters waiting until he's powerless to take him on, so it looks like it's going to be another "can GL stop the crooks before his power runs out" story. However, as the story actually gets started, it turns out that some gangsters believe they have stolen Green Lantern's power battery, which they only know about because Tom ended up in the same hospital room next to gangster "Barks" Ownley (who smokes a cigar while in his hospital bed!!) and is awake when he should be asleep so that he can overhear Tom talking in his sleep about GL charging up his power ring. That's obviously not a secret Hal would like the Coast City criminal element to know about, and when Tom tells him what happened, they make plans to deal with any problems that might arise. The whole scenario is a trap that Hal sets for the gangsters. The way they learn of the power battery is a bit contrived, and they're really no threat to Hal at all, whose trap brings them out into the open, where he wipes the floor with them easily. Tom gets to punch Barks in the jaw and taken him down, which is always nice to see.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman Eternal volume 3 - collects issues #35-52 and a story from Batman #28.

I think the structure of this series is what bothers me. It should have been written in such a way as to break it up into distinct story arcs rather than having so many subplots that carry on for a long, long time. There are very few places in this series for the reader to stop and catch his breath. There are a ton of characters, which is fine, but sometimes a character will drop out of the narrative for 10-15 issues and when they reappear, I had forgotten all about them. I'm not sure Jason Todd or Luke Fox really contribute all that much to the overall plot, as nice as it is to have them included.

To simplify the plot as much as possible, Batman continues to lose ground and lose equipment as he investigates every lead to figure out who the ultimate source of all his problems has been. And he hits a dead end every time. The final villain turns out to be ... Cluemaster. And if you're thinking that a C-lister like him could never pull off such a grand plan to take down Batman, that's the actually fairly clever idea behind the series: that Batman would be so busy looking at his major foes and would never consider some of the "lower tier" costumed crooks he's gone up against. Cluemaster's whole plan was built around the idea that Batman did not take him seriously, so he could operate under the radar. I like it, that's a nice idea. I don't know that it sustains 52 issues worth of story, but it's a good idea.

But the writers can't quite resist just one more plot twist. Cluemaster has Batman on the ropes, he's unmasked him and learned that he's Bruce Wayne... and then Lincoln March kills Cluemaster. Of course I knew the moment he learned Batman's identity that he was a dead man. The story reveals that Cluemaster had tracked down the Court of Owls and encountered Lincoln March there, and March had the money to fund Cluemaster's plan. So both men are supposed to have been involved all along, but Cluemaster has been in and out of the story since the early issues, while Lincoln March comes out of nowhere and feels like a last minute "Surprise!" to the reader. I guess it works, but it feels like one reveal too many. In any case, Batman's allies help him save lives as Gotham burns and riots, and then they help Batman stop Lincoln March, who ends up captured and put into cold storage by the Court of Owls, who know full well he betrayed many of their number back during the original Court of Owls storyline and stole both their resurrection formula and their money.

The verdict overall: A very long story with a few standout scenes, mostly at the beginning and the end, with one or two partway through. Some of the art is very strong, some of it is just passable. A lot of it feels repetitive and/or like it's spinning its wheels, and I'm not sure the whole thing really has enough substance to sustain itself for 52 issues. It probably would have worked better at half the issues, though I applaud the writers for attempting a story of this length. I said at one point this feels like a variation on Knightfall, and they may have done better to mimic the structure of that story a bit closer by breaking Batman Eternal up into clearer segments and tying off more subplots before starting up a new batch of them. For what I paid for it, the story was worth it, but I doubt I'd feel like I had gotten my money's worth if I'd read the weekly series. The frustration of wanting some plots to simply get resolved probably would have gotten to me. A solid effort, maybe a C+/B- overall.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Time to take a break from modern Batman and go back to the Golden Age omnibus.

Batman #80
December 1953-January 1954

The Joker's Movie Crimes!
Writer: Bill Finger Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

This story reminded me of the Joker's play at being a movie director during Knightquest, when he went up against Jean-Paul Valley's Batman, though the plot is quite different in the details. But that was a fun Joker story, just like this is. If nothing else it shows the 50s and the 90s Joker still had some similarities, the Joker hadn't become just an insane killer from a horror movie at that point. He could still pull off entertaining themed crimes (and kill Siskel and Ebert lookalikes at the same time.) Here he's making "how to" films for fellow criminals, but when Batman foils one of his scenes, he decides to make a "how to make Batman look foolish" movie. And he does quite well making Batman the butt of a number of jokes, catching it all on film. I honestly felt some of it went a bit too far in making Batman look foolish, even though the story ends as I suspected, justifying it all. Batman was playing the Joker, letting him think he was winning until he could get the names and locations of all the crooks that the Joker was sending his movie to.

I don't often comment on aspects of the art, but there are a couple of times that things break out of the panel in this story that caught me attention. Maybe they have in the past and I just didn't notice it. Gordon smoking his cigar at the bottom of page five is a nice profile shot that carries over into the next panel, and one of the hoods losing his hat over the top of the gutter halfway down page six also stands out. The Batmobile straddles the gutter between two panels at the bottom of that same page. Maybe Dick Spring had already been doing this and I'd just never noticed, or maybe he's started experimenting with his layouts here. Either way, I enjoy the way he plays with the page format in this story. There... I've said more than the usual "man, his art is great" comment.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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New 52 Batman vol. 6 - Graveyard Shift - This book collects the one or two issue stories in between Snyder's longer ones, so it's a random assortment: #0, 18-20, 28, 34 and a story from Batman Annual #2. I don't really want to go story by story in any depth, but I'll say that about half of it is Snyder and Capullo, and other portions are written by James Tynion IV and others with various artists. The story from Batman #0 doesn't have Batman in it, it's just Bruce Wayne vs. the Red Hood gang. The two-part Clayface storyline is probably my favorite, and has a nice variation on the "how will Bruce preserve his secret identity" plot. There's an Arkham Asylum story that's not bad. Bruce and Alfred both mourn Damien's death in one of the stories (which happened over in Batman incorporated? I haven't read it, so I can't say for sure), and a chapter from Batman Eternal featuring writer's pet, Harper Row, now costumed as "Bluebird". Still not a fan of this Mary Sue of a character. I'm not sure if I'm forgetting anything. Basically the volume is a grab bag from the New 52 Batman series of stories that couldn't be printed chronologically where they belonged, given that the other volumes almost all collect only single storylines. So they're all together in this book, which seems like a nice solution to me.

Looking at Snyder's Batman run, He basically has six major storylines that make up his run: The Court of Owls, Death of the Family, Zero Year, Endgame, Superheavy and Bloom. In between these are a some one and two-issue stories, but having so much made up of those longer storylines has the effect of making his time on the book feel very short, even with four years and most of 52 issues under his belt. But it's a quality run so far, so the approach works.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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New 52 Batman vol. 7 - Endgame - It's Scott Snyder's second big Joker storyline, and is a direct sequel to Death of the Family. The Joker has finally done it, he's learned Batman's identity and the identities of all his close allies. After Batman dropped him off a waterfall into some caves at the end of his last story, he's decided that he can't play with Batman any more, and he's just going to burn it all down and kill everyone. That, and he's found a pool of a substance deep beneath Gotham like the material Ras Al Ghul uses in his Lazarus Pits, only much more pure, so he's healed up his prior injuries and is now claiming to have been around for centuries, a claim Batman dismisses. Gordon shoots him in the chest and apparently kills him, but the material heals the Joker up and he's right back after Gordon again, like some horror movie killer, which is essentially what Snyder has turned him into.

Considering how badly Gotham was damaged multiple times over the past six years in Snyder's stories, I'm surprised anyone still lives there. After recovering from the major burning and riots in Batman Eternal, alluded to here, the city suffers from an attack of Joker toxin. Things are bad enough that most of Batman's enemies like Bane, the Penguin, etc. actually join him in trying to stop the Joker. The story opens with Batman taking on multiple members of the Justice League, poisoned by the Joker with custom mixed toxins. The whole thing is built up as the big, final confrontation between the two enemies, with Batman thinking about his death. And to all appearances, both Batman and the Joker actually die at the end of the story, though with what is essentially a better Lazarus Pit nearby, how they'll return isn't a mystery.

It's a good story, with a few good twists and turns along the way. The art is great. But if we count the four issues of Zero Year with the Red Hood gang, 15 issues out of his 52 issue run, or almost a third of his time on the book, feature the Joker as the big enemy. YMMV as to whether that's too much or not. I do think Synder makes good use of the character, and hints that the Joker is more than just a mortal serial killer, though it turns out that's all he is, which is a good thing. And when it comes right down to it, the Joker is afraid to die, while Batman isn't. There have been some interesting examinations of Bruce's psychology during this series, and why he does what he does. I like that he's back to being a more human and fallible Batman. While he does have many contingency plans (such as a suit designed specifically to combat the Justice League), he can't think of everything, and admits to Dick Grayson at one point during the story that he doesn't have a plan. He spends an issue or two trying to gather enough information to formulate one.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman #80 continued...

Dick Grayson's Nightmare!
Writer: ? Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

So that's your game! You purposely created a series of incidents designed to discredit me as a witness!

Bruce has to leave town to attend a murder trial in Chicago, and is having the house repainted while he's gone, so he arranges for Dick to stay at the cottage of mystery writer Freddy Hobbs nearby. The cottage is filled with creepy literature and items like a model noose and guillotine, presumably to inspire Hobbs when he's writing. It creeps Dick out, but he's stuck there for the time being. When a strange woman intercepts him on the way home from school the next day, and hands him an envelope with $10,000, and then someone throws a knife at him, Dick decides to go to the police. They accurately detail his story before he can and laugh at his imagination. When he investigates strange goings-on at the warehouse across the street and comes across bandits in strange costumes, they laugh at him and tell him to go ahead and tell the police. No one's going to believe his wild story.

Dick returns as Robin and takes on the crooks all at once, and they trap him in an old fur storage vault, after which they fill it with gas. He's got to escape this death trap without Batman's help, which of course he is able to do. He uses a variation on the crooks own plan to take them down one or two at a time. By using his brains, he does just that and turns them over to Gordon.

Pretty good solo Dick Grayson/Robin story, all things considered. If his own solo series hadn't ended over a year earlier, I'd have wondered if this was a leftover story that was never used. The character is as competent as the plot requires him to be, and he's written here as intelligent and resourceful. I like that we get another rare reminder that Gordon and Bruce Wayne are friends, and have been since all the way back in Detective Comics #27. I still don't care for the way Gordon is pretty much in charge of Robin, who grouses that Gordon won't let him help himself.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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New 52 Batman vol. 8 - Superheavy - I guess this is technically DCYou, when the New 52 branding was deemphasized and they took their characters in different directions after 40 issues. Aquaman had that terrible Cullen Bunn storyline, Hal Jordan got the gauntlet of Krona and went Renegade, etc. Here Batman is believed dead, but one of Gotham's corporations steps up to sponsor a new, officially deputized Batman in a mech suit, and it's Jim Gordon. The book follows him as he learns the ropes and fights various individuals with superpowers, including some crooks he's familiar with who should not have them, and it seems as if a "Mr. Bloom" is giving them these powers by means of radioactive "seeds" that are implanted in them.

Meanwhile the series doesn't take long at all to confirm that Bruce Wayne is still alive, or rather alive again. Alfred confirms that he did in fact die during his fight with the Joker, but the element that the Joker had used to heal himself was still present in enough quantities that it revived Bruce (and though the dialogue doesn't mention him, it clearly revived the Joker as well), but he's not the same Bruce that he was. Alfred describes him as "the only true Bruce Wayne that has ever lived", or in other words, Bruce as he would have been if his parents had not been killed. He's detached from his old life, it feels like something that happened to someone else, even though Bruce accepts the truth of what Alfred tells him. He's living in the city, working with underprivileged kids, because he feels like the personal, hands-on approach is him, and is what his mom would have done. And he's romantically involved with Julie Madison, a modern version of Bruce's fiance from the early Detective Comics issues. Like the Red Hood, Synder has taken some elements from the old comics and brought them back in a different form, and I enjoy seeing that. Clark Kent shows up and wants Batman back, but Alfred lists all the reasons why that can't and must not happen. His "son" is happy, and he says it's time for someone else to sacrifice for Gotham.

The book ends with the corporate head telling Gordon to resign, since he went off on his own to try and track down Bloom rather than leaving it to the police (and had to escape from a death trap, an old Batman trope), only for Mr. Bloom to show up at the ceremony and attack, leaving us with a cliffhanger ending to the book. I have to admit that I liked this volume quite a bit. It's nice to see some "what might have been" for Bruce, even though we all know it can't last, and it's nice to get away from all the traditional Batman villains and do something new for a while.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Finishing up Batman #80....

The Machines of Menace!
Writer: Bill Finger Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Charles Paris

Batman and Robin fight giant robots! The first one to appear attacks and robs a bank, tunneling up from beneath the pavement and returning the way it came. Other machines appear out at sea and flying in the air. When Batman and Robin follow one back to its island base, the men controlling the machines use their "electrical interruptor" to crash the Batplane. Batman and Robin are captured by machines but manage to escape and explore, only to be recaptured. They encounter Eric Golar, an inventor whose dream was to create automated labor to do essential work. It was going well until Nero Thompson and his thugs arrived on the island, took over, and used the machines to raid Gotham City. Batman is able to escape once again, and this time he and Robin take down the gang. Nero escapes via Sky Sled, with Batman along for the ride. With the power cut, Batman is able to glide to a landing in the sea. The gang is rounded up, the raids are stopped, and Batman fills in Commissioner Gordon on the adventure.

I enjoyed this story more than I expected. It's sci-fi, but in a pretty down to earth way. An inventor who has created tech that's ahead of it's time, only for someone else to come along and abuse it is a fairly standard story idea. Captain Nemo would understand this danger. It's interesting that the inventor does not destroy his machines at the story's close, as so often happens with abused creations in this type of story. Indeed, Batman seems sure these labor saving devices will be available soon enough. This is also a plot with action sequences that would easily translate to big screen superhero movies today, the sky sled scene in particular. I could easily picture one of the live-action Batmen in the scene.

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New 52 Batman Vol. 9 - Bloom - Picks up right where "Superheavy" left off, and indeed the story is still titled Superheavy. Bloom is active, and we find out what he is and what his plan is, sort of, and who Bloom was originally going to be. This is the most "out there" of Snyder's Batman stories, which essentially boils down to a giant flower-man trying to destroy Gotham City with a new miniature sun, with energy drawn from all the super-powered citizens of Gotham that have implanted his "seeds" into their bodies. It takes a few issues for the story to ramp up to that point, and in the meantime we see Bruce Wayne propose to Julie Madison with every indication that he's headed down the road for a normal life, until circumstances prompt him to choose to become Batman again. Since all the knowledge and experience of Batman is gone, this involves a backup of his mind that has to overwrite his existing personality (very Grant Morrison concept there) and very nearly kill him in doing so. Alfred can only bring himself to do so much, and in the end it's Julie who completes the process, even knowing that Bruce will forget their recent time together since Batman's memories end right before he set out to confront the Joker. We all knew it would happen, that he would become Batman again, and he rather easily handles almost all of Bloom's henchmen, though it's Gordon in his last acts as Batman who finishes Bloom off, before happily resigning and giving the gig back to the original. Batman had all his scars and physical damage from his years as Batman healed, so he's at peak physical condition for maybe the first time ever.

It's an interesting story, though as I've said before, I don't know how people living in Gotham stay there with so many crazy disasters and attacks by supervillains. This is the third mass attack on the city in a very short time after the riots of Batman Eternal, the Joker's attack, and now Mr. Bloom's artificial sun. People are crazy to stay here. That aside, it's a very larger than life comic book story that takes us to the inevitable (Bruce becomes Batman again) and does some interesting things along the way. It's nice to see an original villain rather than another Joker story (and the Joker appears to be a normal person again during a conversation with Bruce and at the end of the story, though he won't stay that way either), and Gordon's determined but clumsy efforts demonstrate just how good Bruce really is. It's good to see Bruce having a normal life temporarily with a purpose (helping disadvantaged children himself rather than just writing checks) and finding love. The nod towards his originally engaged status with Julie Madison in the GA stories is a nice touch, and Snyder gives her enough history and personality to make me want to see more of the character, though I doubt that will happen.

New 52 Batman Vol. 10 - Epilogue - like Graveyard Shift, this is a grab bag of one-shot stories from the end of the New 52: Batman #51-52, Annual #4, Batman: Future's End #1 and Batman: Rebirth #1. There's no single plot or through-line, it's just a wrap up that collects everything that's left. I think the only thing that got left out of this series of collected volumes are stories from earlier Annuals. "Gotham Is..." is probably the best of the bunch, with several stories set out of continuity, and Batman Rebirth being the usual Tom King gibberish that isn't really a plot so much as a series of loosely connected events and status quo resets. Bruce gets his money back, the Calendar Man does... something, no idea what, and Duke Thomas gets a non-Robin superhero identity as Batman "tries something different." I like Duke, and I wouldn't mind seeing more of the character in the books.

Overall, now that I've read the entire New 52 Batman series, it feels very short since so much of it is taken up by long "written for the trade" type stories. By and large they're pretty good, and for the price I paid for these volumes as overstock, well worth the money. I'd like to have seen more original villains and less Joker. I like his emphasis on Gotham and the geography and population, which is touched upon fairly regularly. He seems to have been trying to make it a concrete, tangible setting for the characters.

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