“The Ballad of Kite Man”, HEL…. Hmm…? Is it too early in this review to start dropping “Hell Yeahs”? Na, I don’t think so. “The Ballad of Kite Man”, HELL YEAH!!!!
If you’ve ever read any of my reviews, you know I’m a huge huge huge stickler for keeping the facts of the universe straight. Changing someone’s background, messing with someone’s look, or…you know…deciding it was a diamond ring instead of an emerald necklace. Things like that just get me hot under the collar. But for the first time in a long time, that weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Why you ask? Because, Kite Man was never given an origin story back in the day. So basically, King can do whatever he wants, and as long as it’s good, I’ll be praising it since my OCD won’t start kicking in to tell me something is amiss.
It’s also worth noting that Kite Man only appeared in two stories throughout the entire Golden, Silver, and Bronze Age. And beyond that, he’s only appeared in a handful of other stories. When it comes to Kite Man, King is quickly becoming the most prolific writer in the character’s entire history. And he isn’t just using him as cameo fodder. With this story, King is taking him front and center in the middle of a major arc in a major title. This is a big deal.
I’ve actually been rooting for King to do this for awhile now. Every writer wants to come in and make their mark. Write a story that they will forever be remembered for. A lot of people set their heights too high, deciding that they have a Joker story that will put all other Joker stories to shame. Or they have a Penguin story that will last throughout the ages. But the fact is, so many people have already written these characters dozens upon dozens of times. And in many instances, the benchmark for these characters already exists. When you go that route, you aren’t just trying to distinguish yourself from hundreds of other stories, but supplant the best. That’s a tall feat. But to come in and be the one that writes the definitive Kite Man story. To make Kite Man a character people yearn to read more about. That’s attainable. That’s an accomplishment. And it’s too soon to tell if that’s what King has done with this story, but I’m totally feeling that vibe in the air. HELL YEAH!
The funny thing is, I didn’t realize I was reading a Kite Man origin story till I got to the very end. I’m sure some of you knew because you read it online in a tweet or interview (or you’re just smarter than me), but I like going into my stories cold. So, yeah. I didn’t really feel there was anything that truly clued you in on that fact ahead of time. It takes place in the past, but all the other villains are already themselves, so I had no reason to think Kite Man wasn’t too. And sure, he wears civilian clothes, but that didn’t help much either. People like Joker and Killer Croc are always themselves because they have no choice, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen a known villain dressed in their civis. What I thought was going on was that he had already been Kite Man, just got out of prison, and was trying to make a descent go of things before being sucked back in. And until the last two pages, you can totally read it that way.
Figuring out what was actually going on did ruin one little perspective I had. During the course of the story, the villains are very dismissive of Kite Man. The way I was originally viewing it, they were dismissive of him because Kite Man isn’t anyone that deserved their recognition. But then I realized they were being dismissive of him because he really was no one to them yet. Losing that definitely eliminates the little extra twist of the knife I thought was going on.
Aside from that, there was only one other narrative element that I found a little jarring. Basically, all this is leading to a rendez-vous between Batman, The Riddler, and The Joker. And when the moment finally comes, it just explodes in your face. I literally thought I missed a page or something, it’s that abrupt. And while I get that this whole story is focusing on Kite Man, we get robbed of an interaction between Riddler and Joker. Personally, I would have liked to have seen these events unfold. The shock on Joker’s face. The smug look and taunting dialogue The Riddler might have delivered. And then seeing that smug look evaporate as Grundy burst through a wall. Or, was Batman in the room and everyone burst in to take him out. It’s not very clear.
BATMAN (The strong silent type)
Just like in the previous issues of “The War of Jokes and Riddles”, Batman takes a back seat to the villains. And while Batman isn’t central to this story, every time he shows up, it’s insanely good.
That shot of him illuminated by the light peaking through the blinds is simply the best.
And it’s not just that he looks cool, his presence just seeps off the page. There is this great scene where he enters a bar to question Kite Man. As it is drawn sequentially, you see Batman get closer and closer to Kite Man with every panel; meanwhile, Kite Man is unaware that Batman has even entered the bar. Your focus is clearly on Batman drawing nearer, and Kite Man talking (since he is the only one speaking in the scene). But the great part is what happens in the rest of the bar. As the scene unfolds, and Batman crosses, the bar essentially clears out. All the patrons are like, “Hell no”, and just leave. Not only is it a great example of telling a story through visuals alone, but it simultaneously informs on us the level of uncontested power that Batman has. The top right picture is from the scene I just described. I feel a great deal of tension and anticipation just from looking at it. Now that’s impressive. This single scene speaks volumes. Not only does it give us a background of sorts on Kite Man, but it also informs upon the reader the kind of influence Batman currently holds in this time frame. It’s always great when a scene can deliver on multiple fronts. When page counts are limited, you really need scenes to serve multiple functions the way this one does.
There are plenty of other great Bat-moments in this issue. You have the ever classic, “hang him off a building while interrogating him” scene. You have a P.O.V. scene from Batman’s perspective as you watch someone squirm under the suffocating grip of his gauntleted hands. And even when he isn’t on the page, people are still talking about him, so his presence is ever felt. Of everything Batman in this issue, I think this is the only thing I didn’t like:
Look how friggin big Batman is in this shot! I mean, I’m ok with him being taller. But look at the size of his hands compared to Kite Man’s. Look at the size of his arm!?! I feel like there’s a little too much “The Dark Knight Returns” going on in this shot. In that book, Batman was strangely huge, but it was a consistent stylistic choice. Here, this is the only shot where he looks this massive. To be fair, all the other panels I shared of Batman were done by Clay Mann, and this one is from Danny Miki and John Livesay. (Incidentally, the transition between this scene and the previous one is also a little sudden.)
At this point, it’s probably worth mentioning that multiple artists contributed to this issue (the ones I just mentioned above). The majority of the issue is handled by Mann, who is decidedly better, but I still think Miki and Livesay did a fairly decent job of blending their work into Mann’s. The exception would probably be the massive Batman shot I just shared above and maybe this one other scene where Joker is sitting on a couch. Other than that, it wasn’t all that distracting.
- The Riddler kills Kite Man’s son! That’s some messed up stuff right there. And some pretty solid motivation as to why Kite Man suited up and joined The Joker’s team. But now I have a question. If Kite Man became Kite Man for revenge, why is he doing anything other than seeking revenge as Kite Man? You know, like how he has been shown perpetrating robberies. Maybe that will be explained later. But for the moment, I’m having trouble piecing together the series of events that would take one from vengeance seeker to common thief.
Odds and Ends:
- Nope. Not since they stopped publishing Calvin and Hobbes.
- The Jokermobile. Aw, hell yeah! If King puts the Jokermobile in a future issue, I’m straight up giving whatever issue it appears in an extra half point.
- I’d love to give you a bunch of interesting facts about Kite Man, but the truth is, what Tom King is doing with him right now is truly the most interesting stuff in Kite Man’s minimal history. Nonetheless, if you want to read some Kite Man stuff, you can look to my review of Batman #6. Incidentally, King makes the same joke about Kite Man in this comic that I made in my review for #6. Not claiming credit for it or anything. It’s a pretty obvious joke that I think anyone would be inclined to make.
- You are a fan of Kite Man.
- You’re not a fan of Kite Man. Hopefully after this you either will be, or at least understand why there are some who are.
- …Hell Yeah!
Hell yeah, HELL YEAH, HELL YEAH!!! What? It’s a Kite Man review. That catchphrase is practically mandatory at this point. In any case, as King manages to make one really care about and root for the character, he ends up fulfilling my dream for the perfect Kite Man story. So that’s definitely a thumbs up in my book. When I first opened the book and wasn’t greeted by Janin’s familiar pencils, I was slightly disappointed. But that disappointment quickly turned to joy when I laid my eyes on Mann’s Batman. Clay Mann delivers some really beautiful images, but none more so than his shots of Batman. While I was impressed with both the art and writing on this story, I did think a few of the jump cuts were far too abrupt. And it might just be me, but it took me a few reads to really work out the specifics of what was going on. But putting those minor complaints aside, this was a really great issue, and I absolutely look forward to seeing what King has in store for us in the follow up issue.
SCORE: 9 / 10