Sunday, February 28, 2016

Batman #560

Back to Batman, and we're on the Road to No Man's Land.

Title: Batman
Issue: 560
Date: December, 1998

Publisher: 
DC Comics

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: Jim Aparo, David Roach
Colorist: Lee Loughridge

Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O'Neil
Cover: Rodolfo Damaggio, Patrick Martin


With Aftershock finshed, this issue is part of the transition into the next giant crossover, No Man's Land.

Bruce Wayne heads to Washington DC amid a growing political movement aimed at cutting off relief funds for Gotham. He's up against better lobbying, a media feeding frenzy, and overwhelming poll numbers.

At the center of the movement to cut Gotham off is political shock jock and TV personality Nick Scratch. He's a fun new villain, with a private army of masked thugs, but also a raving fanbase at his disposal.

In light of current politics, Nick Scratch and the Road to No Man's Land felt less like poltical satire and more like political reality.

Bruce Wayne getting set to do battle in the political arena was a nice change of pace, and an interesting set of new challenges.

Dennis O'Neil's editorial in this issue also gives a nice behind-the-scenes look at the genesis of No Man's Land.

Rating: 7/10



Saturday, February 27, 2016

Scott Pilgrim Volume 2: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

The school where I work has a relatively small library, but it's got a surprisingly good selection of graphic novels. I bought the first volume a couple of years ago (review here), and had been meaning to continue this series.

Title: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Issue: Volume 2
Publisher: Oni Press
Date: 2005
Writer: Bryan Lee O'Malley
Artist: Bryan Lee O'Malley
Editor: James Lucas Jones


Musician and slacker Scott Pilgrim is dating two girls, and he needs to make a choice.

And furthermore, if that choice is to keep dating Ramona Flowers, he must still defeat the remaining six members of the League of Ramona's Evil Ex-Boyfriends. And next up on that list is Lucas Lee (not to be confused with Luke Wilson, apparently), a former pro skateboarder turned bigtime Hollywood star.

Meanwhile, Ramona meets Scott's friends, and becomes friends with Scott's sister. She also gets to meet Scott's other girlfriend, Knives Chau, and, well, Scott is not the only one with a fight scene in this volume.

There is also useful tourist information for Toronto-area sightseeing spots, and a recipe for vegan shepherd's pie. Plus a flashback to Scott's high school days.

Scott is grating at times, but that is part of the point. The story is frenetically paced and endlessly quirky, with great interplay between a diverse supporting cast, and a nice sprinkling of video game references.

Rating: 7.5/10

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

NASCAR Heroes: Free Comic Book Day 2008

Another break from that Batman run to dip into the random unread comics. This is from FCBD 2008.

Title: NASCAR Heroes: Free Comic Book Day
Publisher: NASCAR Library Collection / Starbridge Media Group
Date: 2008
Writer: Jeremy Diamond
Artist: Peter Habjan, Rich Duhaney
Colorist: Peter Habjan, Rich Duhaney, Susan Menzies
Letterer: Thom Zahler
Editor: Jonas Diamond, John Gallagher

This was a random Free Comic Book Day pickup, and proved to not be at all what I was expecting. I was expecting a biographical book on NASCAR drivers. Instead, this is an all-ages superhero story set in NASCAR.

NASCAR driver Jimmy Dash is a former janitor who, along with his pit crew, gained superpowers from an explosion of a mysterious secret fuel formula. So now they do super-heroic deeds between races.

The origin of Jimmy Dash is the backup story in this book. The main story is a rather clearly Scooby Doo influenced tale of a movie set haunted by a headless ghost. After the third lead actor in a row quits the set of a racing film, Jimmy Dash is recruited to play the part, and he soon encounters the headless ghost.

There are some vehicular action scenes, but the ghost plotline fizzles out without any satisfying resolution, and we don't really get to see much of Jimmy or his teammates using their powers.

This story didn't seem to know how serious to take itself. The action was goofy enough that it wasn't very entertaining as a serious action story, but it also wasn't funny enough to be, well, funny.

I also felt like the story could have gotten better use out of its NASCAR connection. There was never any action that took place in an actual NASCAR race.

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Batman #559

Down to the last few of this run of Batman I brought from my unread comics box in the US.

Title: Batman
Issue: 559
Date: October, 1998

Publisher: 
DC Comics

Writer: Doug Moench
Penciller: Bob Hall

Inker: Sal Buscema
Colorist: Gregory Wright

Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O'Neil
Cover: Rodolfo Damaggio, Patrick Martin


This is the last "Aftershock" issue in the Batman title, but not the conclusion of the crossover. And besides, Aftershock was really just a chapter in the bigger saga that will be No Man's Land, starting next issue.

With a mass exodus of refugees underway, the GCPD is hard pressed to maintain any kind of order. Bullock and Montoya find themselves defending Mercy Hospital from a siege by desperate gang members seeking drugs. Batman and Robin come to their aid, but the city continues to crumble.

Bullock totally steals the show here, even getting a (awesome) romantic subplot! There are some great characters introduced for this issue as well, and even the generic thug villain gets enough personality to make him, well, slightly less generic.

The writing is really tight, with good attention to detail, and an excellent shock at the end.

Rating: 7.5/10

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Batman #558

Back to Batman and Aftershock!

Title: Batman
Issue: 558
Date: September, 1998

Publisher: 
DC Comics

Writer: Doug Moench
Penciller: Jim Aparo

Inker: Sal Buscema
Colorist: Gregory Wright

Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O'Neil
Cover: Rodolfo Damaggio, Patrick Martin


Continuing with the Aftershock storyline, this issue serves two purposes. It functions as a big infodump on the current state of affairs of Gotham City, by way of a radio address given by DJ (and current romantic interest of Bruce Wayne) Vesper Fairchild. It also shows an emotionally fragile side of Bruce Wayne as he grapples with despair at the sight of his city seemingly dying around him, and destruction of a scale that he is ill-prepared to handle.

Given those purposes, this issue handled them remarkably well. Vesper's narration added a human side to the department-by-department recap of all of the challenges facing Gotham. Alfred, along with some flashbacks to the funeral of Bruce Wayne's parents, provide the sounding board for Bruce Wayne's current emotional crisis.

That emotional crisis did feel a bit like it came out of the blue, given last issue's fairly standard team-up story with Ballistic (reviewed here), but I must remind myself that this crossover storyline does not progress in order of individual issues of any one series, so hopefully it was set up better in some of the other Bat-titles.

There's very little in the way of action here. The Batman takes on a couple of looters in a token fight scene. But I found the discussion of the aftermath of the Gotham Earthquake, and its effects on the city, to be quite engaging.

Rating: 7/10




Sunday, February 14, 2016

Red Sonja Volume 2 #2 (Larry's Comics Variant Cover)

Taking a break from all that Batman.

Last summer I attended MASSive Comic Con in Worcester MA, and met Agnes Garbowska, the cover artist for this variant-cover issue of Dynamite's Red Sonja.

Title: Red Sonja Volume 2
Issue: 2
Publisher: Dynamite
Date: 2013
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Walter Geovani
Colorist: Adriano Lucas
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Editor: Joseph Rybandt
Cover: Agnes Garbowska

This (adorable!) cover is a retailer variant for Larry's Comics in Lowell MA.

I've been hearing about Gail Simone's Red Sonja for a while now, and I haven't had much opportunity to check it out. I'll happily admit that the variant cover (purchased from the cover artist at MASSive Comic Con 2015) was what sold me on it, but I'm glad I did buy it.

A massive battle scene takes up almost the entire issue. Red Sonja is defending a plague-stricken city from a force determined to wipe the city out, sick and healthy alike, presumably as an anti-plague measure.

Opposing Sonja is Annisa, a warrior woman who was once a captive arena-fighting slave with Sonja. They considered themselves as close as sisters then. Annisa was willing to die rather than fight Sonja in what was to be the final bout of their tournament.

But that was then. And this is now. And Annisa is not feeling a whole lot of sisterly affection at this moment.

At the beginning, this felt overly busy and overly melodramatic. Sonja's caption-narration is a bit on the wordy side.

But it picks up momentum as it gets going and the ending is absolutely great, with a clever and intense ending to the conflict that sets up a ton of potential stories down the road.

Rating: 8.5/10


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Batman #557

Continuing to make my way through the Batman issues of Aftershock.

Title: Batman
Issue: 557
Date: August, 1998

Publisher: 
DC Comics

Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: Vince Giarrano, Sal Buscema
Colorist: Gregory Wright

Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O'Neil


Ballistic looks like he walked straight out of the pages of one of those 1990s Image Comics superhero team books. He's even got the wardrobe made entirely out of belts and pouches. So many pouches!

He's being hired to go retrieve an evidence bag buried in the ruins of Gotham. Except the guys who hired him haven't done their homework. Ballistic is former GCPD (before somehow obtaining a fairly generic package of superpowers: enhanced strength, endurance, senses, invulnerability, what have you). He may not look it, but he's a good guy, and he's going to take the job, but he's also going to make sure justice is served.

Which does not sit well with the mysterious suits who hired him. In a sudden case of buyer's remorse, they try shooting him, which works about as well as it usually does on invulnerable-types. Plan B, then, is to arrange for a bunch of generic thugs to ambush ballistic in Gotham, begging the question of if the bad guys had this many thugs already in Gotham, why not use them to retrieve the bag?

It does get better once the inevitable encounter between Ballistic and the Batman occurs. They actually manage to break a lot of the hero-meets-hero clich├ęs, and their interaction is made more interesting by the fact that Ballistic has encountered the Jean-Paul Valley version of Batman and is a bit thrown off by the reactions when, unknown to him, it's Bruce Wayne under the cowl.

The revelation of what was in the bag proves uninteresting, but I did find Ballistic's personality and his interaction with the Batman to be interesting.

Rating: 5.5/10
 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Batman #556

More from the 1990s Batman issues in the random unread comic pile.

Title: Batman
Issue: 556
Date: July, 1998

Publisher: 
DC Comics

Writer: Doug Moench
Penciller: Norm Breyfogle
Inker: Joe Rubinstein

Colorist: Gregory Wright

Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O'Neil



On the surface, this is an issue in which not much happens. The repair plans continue at Wayne Manor. The Batman makes short work of some bank robbers who tried to loot a bank in the aftermath of the Gotham earthquake. He goes on to rescue a man who refused to leave his structurally-unsound apartment building.

But this issue is a nice pause to assess the implications of the earthquake plot, and there is a lot of good dialogue throughout, all setting up future plot developments. The final scene between Bruce Wayne and current girlfriend Vesper is particularly well done.

This is the type of issue that helps make a large ongoing story better by giving the story a bit of breathing space.

Rating: 6.5/10

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Batman #555

Continuing with the short run of 1990s Batman from my unread comics stack.

Title: Batman
Issue: 555
Date: June, 1998

Publisher: 
DC Comics

Writer: Doug Moench
Penciller: John Beatty
Inker: Sal Buscema

Colorist: Gregory Wright

Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O'Neil

Cover: Kelly Jones, Patrick Martin


We're now into "Aftershock", which continues so directly from "Cataclysm" that one wonders why it needed its own title at all. Gotham is in ruins from the earthquake, and Batman and Robin are attempting to rescue a group of commuters trapped in a subway car in a collapsed tunnel.

Enter... The Ratcatcher. Yeah, not exactly top-tier opposition. And unfortunately, because Ratcatcher is pretty third-string in the Rogues Gallery, the writer felt it necessary to reintroduce him to the reader by means of a clunky infodump in the form of a soliloquy given to an audience of (you guessed it) rats.

In fact, Ratcatcher talks a lot in this story, and he doesn't actually say all that much when he does.

What does work well here is that the story makes very good use of the dangers of the collapsed tunnel, with a bunch of clever threats and twists to complicate the rescue.

And it's nice to see the Batman finally get Ratcatcher to shut up.

Rating: 5/10




Batman #554

Continuing with the run of Batman that I brought here as part of my random stack of comics to read.

Title: Batman

Issue: 554
Date: May, 1998

Publisher: 
DC Comics

Writer: Doug Moench
Penciller: Klaus Janson
Inker: Sal Buscema

Colorist: Gregory Wright

Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O'Neil

Cover: Mark Buckingham, Kevin Nowlan, Patrick Martin


This directly follows issue #553, which I reviewed here, but it really doesn't because we are in full-on crossover mode. so this is Part 12 of Catacysm. This is inconvenient because I only have the Batman title to work with here, so I'm missing a lot of plot.

This issue introduces the Quakemaster, a mysterious villain who is claiming responsibility for the massive earthquake that hit Gotham, and threating to unleash more earthquakes if he is not paid one MILLION dollars! (Okay, actually, he asks for 100 million).

The Batman is trying to figure out if the Quakemaster's claim is for real, which seems unlikely until you remember that this IS the DC Comics Universe, and so things like people being able to cause earthquakes have a somewhat higher level of plausibility.

There is also the issue of a missing seismologist. Is she a victim of the Quakemaster or an accomplice?

This was a very detective-work oriented issue, with the action kept to a minimum. Bruce Wayne in detective mode is always fun, and there were some good contributions from Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya as well.

Not a really eventful issue, but effective at moving the story along.

Rating: 6.5/10





Monday, February 8, 2016

Batman #553

Among the stack of random comics I brought from my storage unit in the US was a small set of Batman from the Cataclysm/No Man's Land mega storyline of the 1990s. It's far from a complete set, but here is the earliest issue in storyline order that I have. It's part 3 of Cataclysm.

Title: Batman
Issue: 553
Date: April, 1998

Publisher: 
DC Comics

Writer: Doug Moench
Penciller: Klaus Janson
Inker: Sal Buscema

Colorist: Gregory Wright

Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O'Neil

Cover: Mark Buckingham, Kevin Nowlan, Patrick Martin


Cataclysm Part 3. Gotham City is hit with a 7.6 earthquake, and this issue begins at the moment the quake strikes.

We see Lucius Fox at the Waynecorp Building (conveniently constructed to withstand an 8.5... unlike pretty much every other building in Gotham), and then a clever bit where Commissioner Gordon is nearly killed by the bat-signal falling through the roof.

The story then shifts focus to two parallel plots: Bruce Wayne and Alfred trying to escape from what's left of the Batcave and (stately) Wayne Manor, and Barbara Gordon taking charge of disaster relieve coordination from GCPD HQ.

Putting aside for a moment the question of where she gets the authority to do that, Barbara is her usual awesome self here, and Sergeant Bullock also gets in some good scenes.

This epic took place at a time when the Batman supporting cast was really top-notch and it was great seeing plots that had huge long-term implications for Gotham and the Batman characters. Too often, editorial direction is timid about such changes. They really went all-out when it came to wrecking Gotham is a plot that went on to span several years.

This was a nice change from the usual Batman plots, and it makes great use of all of the familiar disaster movie tropes.

Rating: 8/10