I’ll get out my one major complaint right up front so we can dispense with it and move on to all the wonderful things that make this book a joy to read.
In a word: editing.
DC’s Beach Blanket Bad Guys Summer Special is a compilation of 10 tales of DC universe villains: everyone from the expected big names (like the Joker), to the almost borderline obscure (like Giganta). The tone of the stories goes from light to very dark and some middle ground in between. It’s a good mix with a good variety of outcomes, but I think the editorial arrangement leaves much to be desired.
This might be a matter of personal taste, but I think the book ends on too steep a downer, leaving a sort of bleh taste in the mouth on conclusion, and would have preferred to conclude the collection with something a little more upbeat. I also think that kicking off the book with the Joker & Bizarro story is a bit of misfire, but more of that in a moment.
I’m only going to focus on the four Bat-related stories for the purpose of this review, but will also provide some brief summaries of the others at the end.
One last note before we launch: you’ll find no Harley Quinn within the pages of this book, if that’s any consolation to you. She does appear on the cover, but that’s all. Interestingly, I figured it was because she’s lately been considered more of an anti-hero, and yet the book doesn’t shy away from Deathstroke (in what’s one of the best stories of the lot). Either way, it’s good to get a rest from her, and let some other baddies have a chance to shine.
by Lee Bermejo, Francesco Mattina, and Tom Napolitano
The book opens with this gorgeously rendered vignette of the Joker tormenting Bizarro. It’s glorious, Mattina outdoes himself on the art, and the Joker, masquerading as Batman to get Bizarro worked up in to a lather, is delightfully unhinged. Poor Bizarro blunders after him through a carnival landscape that just adds to the absurdity of it all.
Unfortunately, it’s not much of a “story” per se, and it ends so abruptly, you’ll likely be turning back the page to try to figure out where it went or what you missed. A huge opportunity is what’s missed, unfortunately. It’s got the premise of something really great and it’s wonderful to look at it, but might leave you feeling a bit like you got your cotton candy, but was short-changed a hot dog.
by Paul Dini, John Paul Leon, and Deron Bennett
Paul Dini cannot fail to please in this story about Mr. Freeze in the midst of an entrepreneurial altercation between ice cream trucks scrapping over hot summer territory. Oh, and a giant Mr. Freeze mecha is involved, but in the best imaginable way. This story is fun and even kind of sweet (we know Dini has a soft spot for Mr. Freeze, so expect to smile during this one, even in spite of yourself).
Leon’s art is extremely well-suited to the tale: a high-contrast poster-paint look that really makes Freeze pop out in every panel. This is especially aided by Bennett’s outstanding cool palette, and his use of strategic bright splashes of color, just when needed. This story made me want to run out and get a shaved Italian ice: watermelon, please!
by Daniel Kibblesmith, Laura Braga, Arif Prianto, and Dave Sharpe
What would a beach read be without muscle-bound bullies kicking sand in the face of hapless pasty string beans? Is this a trope modern audiences even recognize anymore? Where is Charles Atlas when you need him? In this case, it’s a young Oswald Cobblepot who’s mooning after the un-gettable girl on the beach. And then a helpful former classmate comes along.
This story takes a really dark turn (of course it would), but Braga’s clean lines and Prianto’s cheery colors keep you from realizing just how dark until it’s too late. While I don’t think it plays out in any particularly unexpected way, the questions it raises about negotiating the tricky waters of summertime crushes certainly gives this one more power that just a tale of boys squabbling over turf.
by Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, Tomeu Morey, and Clayton Cowles
I’ll just be frank you with. I’m no fan of the Crime Syndicate to begin with, so I was already predisposed to dislike this story. Add onto that its necessarily nihilistic misadventure between hateful variations on our superheroes and it’s a poisonous mix of kicking you when you’re already down. I mentioned already that ending the book on this story (in which Superwoman squares off with pretty much everyone), feels like a huge downer (can we go back to the ice cream?).
Camuncoli’s art is good–even great. I love the layouts and there’s a wonderful focus on the action that gives you all the clues you need to solve this ahead of Thomas Wayne if you’re paying close enough attention. If this story had been somewhere in the middle of the book, I would have found it more palatable. Where it sits, though, I could have done without it. Doesn’t mean it isn’t good–I just didn’t like it.
And All the Rest
The six remaining stories are as follows:
- “Help” by Jeff Loveness, David Williams, Steve Buccellato, and Carlos M. Mangual
- Lex Luthor get a flat and more than he bargained for when he’s schooled by a young good samaritan who idolizes Superman. Honestly, this may be the best story of the book–and if you’re a big Superman fan, this you will love this.
- “False Idols” by Vita Ayala, Amancay Nahuelpan, June Chung, Clayton Cowles
- An angry, wounded woman seeks out Cheetah in the jungle, determined to become her apprentice. Cheetah has other plans. It’s an interesting bit of a reversal, excellent action from Wonder Woman (one of the few superheroes to appear in the book) and it’s just overall cool to see this character being represented here.
- “Icy Embrace” by Gabriel Hardman, Corinna Bechko, Matthew Wilson, and Deron Bennett
- Black Manta appears to be helping an icy expedition, but when they encounter deep sea danger, he makes an unexpected choice. Love the ambiguity of this one and the bittersweet ending. Also thought Hardman’s art really nailed the hostile environs.
- “Giganta Strong” by Michael Moreci, Max Raynor, Paul Mounts, and Dave Sharpe
- While the story is kind of your predictable “bullies get their comeuppance”, it’s rendered beautifully and I love how Giganta’s early mercy gets subverted. You really root for her in this one, but in the end you know she’s still a villain though and though.
- “Cruel Summer” by Tim Seeley, Minkyu Jung, John Kalisz, and Tom Napolitano
- This one is definitely on the heavier end of the spectrum, with Gorilla Grodd and the Flash sorting through questions of survival and empathy. Seeley does a good job unveiling the character points of view, and some of the art from Jung is heartbreaking.
- “Dog Days of Summer” by Shea Fontana, Carlos D’Anda, Luis Guerrero, and Carlos M. Mangual
- Deathstroke steals the show by being behind the curve in this wicked tale of a little girl, a bag of money, and a man who needs shooting. This was my third favorite story in the book, both for its dark comedic tone, but also the genuine surprise of the reveal.
- They aren’t all quite beach-themed, but they make for a great beach read!
- You’ve always wanted Mr. Freeze-themed ice-cream or snow cones!
- You’d like to spend a little quality time on the villain side of the spectrum.
If you’ve got a vacation coming up and will be doing some traveling, this book might be the best companion for you: by plane or train, this collection of summertime stories provides a nice range of emotional highs and lows, an excellent array of art, and no true stinkers out of ten very different stories. Four of the stories are centered on Bat-related characters, but you’re just as likely to find some true gems far afield from Gotham. Either way, this is 80 pages of quality content and sure to keep you entertained.