Four stories, each with its own personality in both narrative and art. Let’s dive right in!
These guys are also fun, if featured only briefly in the 1st story
“The Beautiful Ugly”
By Derek Fridolfs & Kenneth Elliott Jones; art & cover by Jason Shawn Alexander
Featuring Two-Face/Harvey Dent and the Penguin
This story takes a little while to get going, treading old territory about the nature of Gotham’s appetites. Those of you who remember Gotham Nights (1998) might feel a bit nostalgic at first, but once we get locked in the room with Two-Face and his victims, it’s just fun to watch Harvey spin his signature style of depraved justice. The best part is when he pulls back the curtains to reveal the fate of his prey: a key to escape if found not-guilty, or a wall of terrors otherwise. Chilling stuff. The story also features a fun (though formulaic) scene with good old Oswald Cobblepot in which Batman asks that age-old question about whether Penguins can fly. The story is not terribly original and its resolution might feel like a non-event to some readers, but the aggressive energy of Jason Shawn Alexander’s art and the familiarity of Batman taking on two of his oldest foes just feels like a nice cold drink of water on a hot, hot day.
There are lots of clues if you pay close attention
“Break the Mold”
By Shane Davis & Brandon Montclare; art by Shane Davis, Sandra Hope, & Michelle Delecki; cover by Davis, Hope, & Barbara Ciardo
Featuring Clayface, Commissioner Gordon, Joker, Poison Ivy
Readers are either going to love this one or hate it, I expect. Clayface has had a lot of facetime in the Batverse lately and here we have another tale of Batman trying to suss out the elusive blob in a city in which he can be anybody. Networking through the usual (Gordon) and the unusual (Joker, Ivy) channels, this mostly feels like an excuse to throw a lot of fan favorite rogues into the book, but frankly I’m okay with that–especially because maybe some of them aren’t just Clayface under cover (I ain’t saying!). Your mileage may also vary as to the “surprise” ending. The book is especially cruel for a little narrative box that reads “the end” before the story has actually concluded (it made me do a double-take). And to be honest, at first I was a little put off by the reveal, but after a short think, I appreciate that Davis succeeded in doing something totally unexpected. No spoilers: you gotta read the comic! As a bonus, this story has a “cover” that is particularly awesome (I’d hang it on my wall if it didn’t mean ripping it out of the book).
Aw yeah, classic Batman & Robin just doing their thing!
“Elements of Crime”
By Mike W. Barr; art by Tom Lyle; cover by Tom Lyle and Thomas Mason
Featuring Tim Drake Robin and original villain The Element King
This is the most humorous of the four stories (I actually laughed out loud at a joke on the word “potassium”). At first the writing and the art don’t seem to go together but the mystery of elemental obsession is so genuinely entertaining that settling into it is easy. Astute readers will recognize the stamp of Batman ‘66 all over it, however, with its D-list-style villain (the Element King), Robin’s daffy quips, and Batman narrating his sleuthing out loud. It’s campy to the point of the absurd deathtrap and I was 100% with it for at least the first two-thirds, but unfortunately the story went too long. Clocking in at 30 pages, it ties with “The Beautiful Ugly” in length but frankly could have used some trimming. And though wonderfully served by clean art from Lyle, it was also occasionally hard to tell exactly what was going on (particularly with the aforementioned deathtrap). I found myself staring at an action sequence in which a giant plate of glass is breached and never could quite figure out how it is supposed to have happened.Twice. Three times if you count the cover, which is just as perplexing. To call this the weakest story in the book doesn’t seem fair though–it’s a fun romp in spite of its shortcomings.
If you’re looking a little cock-eyed at that red cape, you’re not alone….
“The Echo of Pearls”
By Jim Kreuger; art by Tom Raney
Featuring the Bat Cave!
Not another Batman origin story! And yet it somehow obviously never gets old since DC has been retelling it for 75 years. Give this one a chance. Although it’s maybe a couple of pages long (even for being the shortest in the book), it’s fun to see Bruce become the Bat through the eyes of a wholly unique perspective. If I overthink it, there are a couple dozen things that might have been done differently to strengthen the Batcave as a “womb” and “mother” to Bruce, but I give Kreuger major props for just trying something different (who doesn’t love a story told from the perspective of a typically inanimate geographical feature?). Nothing earth-shattering in the artwork here, though it’s always fun to see different takes on the arrangement of the Batcave. For a story by the cave and about the cave, however, it could have actually, you know, featured the cave a little more spectacularly (it’s never given a big splashy reveal and a panel of Batman’s endlessly evolving wardrobe also falls a bit flat). Still, despite low expectations for yet another origin take, this was fresh and interesting.
The million-dollar question with these 100-page super spectaculars is whether they’re worth the considerable $9.99 price tag. You get four stories, three of which are at least regular comic-book length, and for me personally there is always added value in storylines outside the current (sometimes convoluted) continuity. It’s all one-and-done, so there’s no angst about waiting for another issue, having to buy a crossover, or any of that; just a satisfying read in which you can enjoy spending an hour with the Caped Crusader. Considering the cost of a movie ticket these days is comparable as far as entertainment goes, this isn’t a huge blowout bargain, but it’s a decent value. It’s got consistently strong artwork throughout and fun (albeit mostly garden-variety) scripts.
The standout awesome painterly cover by Jason Shawn Alexander wins extra points: something that makes you happy just to look at it, is always a huge plus.
Almost all of these stories feel a bit overwritten. I always want more Batman, but here more isn’t necessarily better. Only “The Elements of Crime” feels like it actually suffers from pacing issues, however and that’s overall a minor hiccough.
I can’t say there’s anything truly ugly here, but for heaven’s sake, if DC is going to advertise a “100-page Super Spectacular” they should actually make sure it’s 100 pages long (this clocks in at 94, plus two relatively innocuous ads). It’s a quibble, I know, but anything that devalues the book even slightly might make people shy from the price tag, if just out of spite. And points off for anyone who excuses it by saying the covers count as the remaining 4 pages.
- Fun Batman filler stories are definitely your thing.
- You like to see a bunch of different A-list rogues all in one book, even if some of them only appear briefly (and a James Gordon who looks suspiciously like a famous actor who might have played him once in a movie) .
- A little throwback Batman with a Tim Drake Robin makes you smile.
- You’d like to see Batman’s origin story (yet again), but told from a unique perspective.
Is it super-spectacular? Very few books are going to live up to that hyperbole, but Legends is always the perfect book for rainy-day Batfans who don’t want to get involved in long story arcs. Despite a few weaknesses, it’s cover-to-cover fun: no bad aftertaste and plenty of warm fuzzies in terms of both cameos and a variety of art that will linger fondly for a while. It manages a good balance between the gritty and the campy, and for sheer entertainment, you can’t ask for much more. I’m always hard-pressed to part with my shekels, but I’m glad I bought this.