Three fairly lengthy stories this go-round instead of the usual four, but still something to enjoy for everybody: a little bit of humor, a little bit of horror, and lots of emphasis on detective work throughout. No need for fancy introductions, let’s get straight to the point.
By Aaron Lopresti
Featuring Norman Carver, Jim Gordon, Joker, Killer Croc, Clayface
Lopresti does triple duty (story, art, and cover art) on this freakish tale of Norman Carver and his plan to build a better Batman. The cameos of Batman’s A-listers are just there to entertain us as Carver attempts to collect DNA samples from Batman who is wounded in each takedown. The result is a Frankenstein’s monster that shuffles around mindlessly in a Batman costume saying “I…Batman” to anyone who he (it?) encounters. The shambling patchwork thing is devoid of mind or soul and doesn’t even understand that it’s supposed to be a hero. When deployed, it succeeds in rescuing some imperiled people, but then just as quickly turns on the victims. Batman tracks it down rather easily (or it tracks him down; they are both looking for each other), and the monster manages to capture Batman–perhaps a bit easily. Returning to the mad scientist’s lair, the good Dr. Carver tells Batman all about his plans (at one point indicating that he wanted to be Batman as a child, which seriously has me questioning the timeline of all of this, but whatever, roll with it).
In a somewhat facile conclusion, Batman convinces Batmonster to turn against his “master” and escapes even as everyone else is destroyed. It’s an ending worthy of Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s earliest years with the series: Batman doesn’t outright kill anybody, but the villains all die anyway and that’s justice, right? The story wraps up with the next generation of wanna-be superheroes playing amidst the burned out crime scene, which is a nice bookend to an earlier scene that sets the stage for Carver’s obsession.
Lopresti doesn’t slouch in any of the work he does here. Nice, crisp storytelling, clean lines, and a touch of humor to keep things from turning into self-important melodrama–a good all-ages Dark Knight story that would have fit in well with Batman: the Animated Series.
No: I…Batman. I…!!!
“Ashes to Ashes”
By Doug Wagner; art by Matthew Dow Smith & cover by Francesco Francavilla
Featuring Alfred, Jim Gordon, Adam Fieser
A fairly straight-up detective story about an arsonist who is burning people who don’t appear at first to have any connection. Leave it to Batman to find one, of course. The mystery isn’t very deep, however: a horribly disfigured burn victim is looking for revenge for the death of his sister. Batman takes pity on him and tries to help him with pretty much the expected results.
There are some nice scenes between Alfred and Batman and a lot of old-fashioned sleuthing throughout. The art from Smith feels choppy and heavy-handed at times with too much black often dominating the pages and sometimes very little detail eked out. The decision to represent Adam Fieser’s burn scars as mere scribbles feels sloppy and ineffective; he doesn’t look burned, he just looks scribbled on. Batman is also drawn rather thin (sadly, for those of you who like a beefier Batman). Overall, however, the story mostly works. The darkness is a good contrast for a tale in which fire plays a big part. Couldn’t figure out the opening scene though: it shows some thugs setting a guy on fire, but this scene is never described as any of the crime scenes (not even the attempted murder of Fieser himself). Maybe just a continuity error.
Nothing special about the cover on this one. Overall it feels like a pretty ordinary unspectacular Batman story. Perhaps the best moment in the whole shebang is when the wife of one of the victims asks Batman to show her the face of her husband’s killers and his response is to hold a mirror in front of her. Well-played, Bats.
Classy rooftop shot of Gordon and Batman hanging out and solving some crime
By Marc Guggenheim; art & cover by Federico Dallocchio and Esther Sanz
Featuring Edward Nigma/Riddler, Dr. Chase Meridian, Amadeus Arkham
Dr. Meridian tries to diagnose Edward Nigma (here spelled with an “i”) and deduces that he’s playing at a long game, the objective of which has not been determined. She recommends that the Riddler be placed in Blackgate only to have the judge send him back to Arkham. Later, when he breaks out and kidnaps her as a part of a plot to uncover some vast treasure underneath the city, Batman comes the rescue. This turn of events convinces the judge that Riddler isn’t crazy, just calculating, and he is this time remanded to Blackgate.
The “game” between Batman and Riddler here isn’t very complex, but it’s a decent enough story with the added bonus of the opportunity to see Bruce Wayne interacting with Dr. Meridian (they are dating, no less!). Riddler feels out of character for me, but I think that’s the point of the story. Even the writer seems to not be reconciled as to whether Riddler can fight or whether he uses firearms, though, so expect some shakiness about the way the story plays out.
The art throughout is generally solid; there are some nice flashback images to the murder of the Waynes during a moment in the story in which Bruce and Dr. Meridian meet a similar situation walking home (Meridian is even wearing pearls). Is it a bit too much? I don’t know. I liked it. A couple of panels within the story seem to be actual riddles, but I didn’t try to solve them. I kept wondering if the erratic bolding and italicizing of the letters K and S in random speech balloons had any meaning. If not, it’s just bad lettering. But if there’s a hidden game I’m not playing here maybe someone else wants to figure it out.
Worth noting: the cover for this story is quite wonderful. But to be perfectly honest I have no idea what the title refers to.
Oh, and Riddler is a woman-beater now.
Just a nice set of late afternoon Bat-stories to while some time away. The inclusion of a new cover for the Riddler story was a happy bonus since the original Digital First featured different (and much less impressive) artwork on that score.
All of the stories are each longer than a regular full-length comic book, so it’s a good value for the price tag.
There’s not really a “bad” story in the bunch, but really only “I…Batman” stands out for me both in terms of the art and the writing. The execution of “Ashes to Ashes” is the weakest of the three, but not awful. Also, this book could have used more variation in style and content for better balance. The absence of Robin (any Robin) is particularly felt.
92 pages of comics. 4 pages of ads. 96 pages total. I still have no idea how they get away with calling this a “100-page Super Spectacular”, but I expect that horse is pretty dead by now, so I should probably stop beating it.
- You need some Batman for light reading on an upcoming trip.
- You just like some out-of-current-continuity Dark Knight dalliances once in a while.
- You’re a fan of the Riddler and want to solve whatever it is that’s going on in that story that I’m apparently too lazy to be bothered about.
I always feel like these collections do provide plenty of content for your ten bucks, and any time spent with Batman is a good time. These aren’t the strongest tales, but we’re getting to the end of the Legends series, so I guess this is what’s left. Still, they’re entertaining and if you missed the digital editions this is a good way to catch up. Fun, rainy day afternoon filler.