This Week in Comics: Azrael rises!

We’re back for another water cooler conversation to discuss this week’s releases! You might notice that Brian is absent. Fear not, he is just taking a much-needed vacation, so you’ll get the two Texans (Jay and Josh) and the European (Casper) for this week’s conversation… But (and this is a big but!), we will have new contributors joining us soon! If you remember, we recently held an open call for people to join the Batman-News Comic Review team! We’re currently in the final stage of selecting new members, and should land a decision this week or next! I hope you’re excited because I know I am!

Batman: Curse of the White Knight #1

In this explosive sequel to the critically acclaimed blockbuster BATMAN: WHITE KNIGHT from writer/artist Sean Murphy, The Joker recruits Azrael to help him expose a shocking secret from the Wayne family’s legacy—and to run Gotham City into the ground! As Batman rushes to protect the city and his loved ones from danger, the mystery of his ancestry unravels, dealing a devastating blow to the Dark Knight. Exciting new villains and unexpected allies will clash in this unforgettable chapter of the White Knight saga—and the truth about the blood they shed will shake Gotham to its core!

Josh: I thought this was quite good!

Jay: Weirdly enough, it’s the history of Laffy and those historical characters that I found most intriguing.  The modern-day story felt a little dull.

Casper: That’s exactly what I was thinking, Jay. But I have to say, I still haven’t gotten around to reading the first White Knight series. 

Josh: What!?!? I’d forgotten this! 

Jay: It’s worth reading, especially to keep up with this.  I wasn’t ever in love with it like a lot of others, though.  Interesting story that never rose above “pretty good,” but never sank below “it’s okay.”

Josh: I was one of those that loved it. The ending fumbles a little, but there are so many good elements that it’s worth your time. And it’s definitely a love letter from Sean to the greater Batman universe. He pulls a lot from a lot of different mediums (comics, Batman the Animated Series, films). 

Casper: I mean to read it all in one sitting in trade. But I went ahead and checked out this issue anyway, and I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to follow the story just fine without actually having read the first series. 

Josh: You know, Sean Murphy actually tweeted about this. He mentioned that he went back and forth on how much he should recap as well as how he should recap the first story. I thought he found a  perfect balance that not only refreshes readers, but also sets up new readers quite well without forcing them to read the original Batman: White Knight.

Casper: As far as this issue in particular goes, I’m definitely curious about how Azrael’s arc will unfold. What did you guys think about Azrael?

Jay: Eh.  I’m hardly a purist, though I do like Azrael.  I still found myself thinking “that’s Azrael?” at the end.

Josh: I thought Azrael was great. For me, Jean Paul Valley has more identity and presence here than he has had in Batman & Robin Eternal, Detective Comics, or Justice League Odyssey. But more importantly, much in the way that I thought Sean made Duke work in White Knight, this characterization feels like a natural depiction that not only lets Jean fit within all of these Bat characters, but also keeps him distinct and different. The Jean Paul we’ve received in current continuity essentially feels like a shell, and I’m happy to see early signs of something worthwhile here. 

Jay: In main continuity, Jean-Paul is a victim of the same things that plague a lot of other characters in this more… fluid timeline.  He debuted in a very specific time and place, both of which may or may not have ever happened, but he’s still palling around with Batman.  He’s missing meaningful context.

Josh: Completely agree! There’s a pattern we’re seeing with a number of characters to simply “involve” them, and that’s not good for readers or the character. 

That being said, I really like that Sean went ahead and included Michael Lane into the story. It’s a throw-away inclusion, so if you’re not familiar with the character, then you’ll miss it. But for those of you that don’t know, Michael Lane was the second Azrael who started operating around the same time as Battle for the Cowl. 

Jay: Oh man, I know who Lane is and I didn’t even catch that.  I need to go back and re-read.

Josh: Ok, I just double-checked. It’s a character named Michael, but there’s no “Lane.” I’m assuming it’s him, but perhaps it could just be a random Michael. Anyway, it’s the guy that helps naked JPV at the church… And now I’m wondering if Murphy added naked JPV just to try and compete with King’s naked Bane. Is this going to be a thing? Are they going to try and one-up each other with awkward nakedness? I hope not.  

Casper: Soon all the villains will be running around in their birthday suits!

Josh: Oh God… What has King started? Haha! 

Changing the subject! I want to talk about Joker. I’m a fan of Sean’s characterization of Joker. Once again, I feel as though he manages to find a good balance between camp and terror, but also blends them perfectly. 

Jay: I do like that Joker is trying to keep the personalities separate.  He blames Napier for the “good works” of his crusade, and doesn’t want to take credit.  Narratively and thematically speaking, the whole thing would probably fall apart if Joker was more welcoming of the other half of this persona.

Josh: Agreed. It’s quite clear that this is Joker’s way of getting revenge on Napier by getting revenge on the city. It’s twisted and weird, but really interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes. 

Did anyone have a single moment that really stood out for them? For me, it was when Batman got more information out of the warden! I got a good laugh out of that. It was a good use of intimidation without making Batman a complete jerk. 

Jay: Haha, yeah, that was great.  Like I mentioned earlier, I liked the opening flashback.  Is it because it reminds me of the movie they’re making in The Rocketeer?  Yes.  Does The Rocketeer rule?  Brother, you shouldn’t even need to ask that movie shreds.

Casper: Dude, The Rocketeer is amazing. As for the bit with the warden, I especially love the way Murphy drew the scene. The closeup on Batman as he screams in the warden’s face is really powerful and scary. I don’t always actually feel intimidated by rendition of the character in recent comics, but this right here was great. I know if Batman was real and would be screaming at me like that, I’d piss my pants.

Josh: Yeah… That’d be two of us. Definitely an awesome moment though!

Would you recommend buying this for 4.99?
Yes: Josh, Jay, Casper
No: Nobody

Check out Brian’s full review of Batman: Curse of the White Knight #1


Detective Comics #1008

The Joker returns to Gotham City! The Joker is through working with the Legion of Doom, and he wants to get back to his roots: giving Batman absolute hell! The Clown Prince of Crime comes back with a bang—and he’s not about to take prisoners! 

 As if that weren’t enough, Lex Luthor delivers the cure for Mr. Freeze’s beloved wife, Nora, freeing her from cryo-stasis at last! But something else is very, very wrong with Nora…

Jay: We need more comics like this: a nice, tight little one-and-done that feels like a full meal, rather than an extended appetizer.

Josh: Yes!

Casper: Yeah dude! This was a lot of fun. I love how Batman outsmarted the Joker, and I’m really digging the Golden Age/Silver Age vibes here.

Josh: Again, YES! I mean, really though… From the tone, to Batman’s patience, to Joker’s camp… I loved every page of this comic!

Casper: I also thought of Adam West more than once reading this issue. All that campy goodness blends into this fantastic cocktail.

Jay: Kind of like the Spectre arc, this issue had a timeless quality to it.  If I came to it blind and you told me that it was sandwiched in between some Len Wein and Steve Englehart issues from the Seventies I would believe you.

Josh: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s just good storytelling. 

I talked about this a lot in my Batman #75 review, but I think DC is trying so hard to do so many things… except for the one thing they should be trying to do: tell good stories. There’s such a strong focus on pushing the limits, subverting expectations, gimmicks, being different, pushing an agenda, or even just trying to make a story fit into a six-issue trade, that they often fail to simply tell quality stories. I’m happy to see that Tomasi isn’t falling victim to this. He’s pushing story and character above all else, and it shows.

Jay: Exactly.  This is just good old-fashioned comics storytelling.  It’s like Tomasi is approaching it with the mentality of “I want to write good Batman stories” rather than “I have a grand plan for Batman,” and I much prefer that approach.

Josh: That makes total sense. 

Casper: Yeah, what I like especially about this is that Tomasi isn’t even trying to prove himself or put his stamp on the character or get to an arbitrary issue number, or whatever. The stories speak for themselves, and I feel like anyone that’s interested in comics, superheroes, Batman or all of those can pick up this issue and enjoy it. Tomasi doesn’t seem to be writing this so he can achieve certain artistic feats (such as telling the biggest Bat story possible, or the longest, or the most shocking); this one’s simply written for the fans. Short, sweet and entertaining — and sometimes that’s all you need.

Josh: Right now, I think it’s especially what we need. 

I want to touch on the offer for a second. This is the first issue I’ve read where Lex’s offer actually intrigued me. Ideally, I’d like to leave Nora alone, but if there were ever a story where you would find a way to do something with her, this would be it. I just hope she goes back to her cryogenic state after this.

Casper: It’s one of the few offer pages that I actually read. I’m kind of intrigued by this one as well. I just hope that Tomasi can weave this offer stuff into the story that he wants to tell organically, but we’ll see. For now, this is definitely my favorite Batman title and I love this issue in particular! And by the way, I’m really glad that Joker isn’t a completely deranged homicidal monster from hell in this, but that, for the most part, he was actually funny for a change! Sure, he’s still a scary dude, but my favorite Joker has always been the one that makes me laugh because I like his jokes, balanced out with a healthy dose of evil. I feel like, lately, writers are more focusing on what makes Joker scary and somewhat neglecting to show us that the character can also, in fact, be funny.

Josh: Well, your kind of touching on something that’s critical that I don’t think many writers realize. Joker can be that evil, sadistic, anarchist killer that many writers are opting to portray him as. The problem with this is that when this is all he becomes, then he becomes predictable. And that’s the one thing the Joker shouldn’t be. Predictable. If you really want to tap into the crazy, you need to pepper these moments in. This forces Batman to be patient. He never knows what he’s going to be dealing with. Is this a Joker that’s actively searching for destruction, or is it the Joker that’s just getting off on the chase? There’s so much risk and calculation. That, to me, is interesting. 

Would you recommend buying this for $3.99?
Yes: Josh, Jay. Casper
No: Nobody

Check out Jay’s full review of Detective Comics #1008.


Batgirl #37

Eager to prove himself as a guardian for the criminals of Gotham City, Killer Moth has set his sights on taking out one of Gotham’s finest heroes…Batgirl! Does this insect menace really stand a chance against Batman’s smartest ally? Meanwhile, after their daring escape, the Terrible Trio is on the hunt for new ways to cause trouble for Batgirl. Little do they know, Lex Luthor has already beat them to it and is about to bring Batgirl’s worst possible nightmare to life! Oracle is back online. And she’s angry.

Josh: I’m really curious to hear your take on this. My review is out there. I’ve read other reviews since posting mine, and my assessment is the least favorable I’ve seen, so… yeah. 

Jay: Goofy techno-jargon aside, I didn’t hate this.  It’s not as good as anything Scott did in her run, but it was passably entertaining.  Not a bad endorsement, considering I was kind of thinking of dropping the title.

Casper: Eh, I didn’t enjoy this as much. I liked how it started, and I liked the start of the Batgirl versus Killer Moth fight, but I don’t really care about the Jason Bard stuff. Seeing as the Bard stuff is likely to play a larger role in the upcoming issues, I’m suddenly a lot less interested. I’m all for some romance, but Bard is such an uninteresting character to me. So, about halfway through I got bored with this and kind of skimmed the rest. The fight, though dynamic and visually interesting, also took a little bit too long for me.

Josh: I think Bard is an interesting character, but not this take on him. 

Jay: Bard sucks.  Check, please.

Josh: Haha! I wanted Bard to stick around, but it’s because I want to see his redemption and atonement. Note: redemption, not romance. I don’t think Bard can ever make up for what he’s done, but if he spends his life trying to do and be better because of what he’s done, that can be heroic in its own respect. However, if Barbara gets romantic with him, it’s going to paint a very damaging picture for Barbara. She’s smarter and better than that, and DC needs to wise up and not ship this considering the history these two characters have at the moment. 

Jay: That’s an excellent point.  Ignoring my feelings regarding #DickAndBabs4Eva, Barbara should be able to have relationships with men that aren’t romantic.  And for a guy like Bard, having him earn redemption is much more interesting than just having him be an (undeserving) love interest.

Josh: Plus, after all Bard did to the Gordons… It would just send the wrong message. Babs would be falling for a guy who abused her and her family… And turned the city to crap (Batman Eternal)… And bombing a political rally (just a few issues ago). It would be bad. And it would come from the writer who just wrote a book that pushed the idea of the #MeToo movement and sexual abuse. Talk about conflicting ideologies. Anyway, I don’t want to get political, so I’ll move on. 

Casper: One more thing about Bard … I’m not even sure if I want to see the character’s redemption. I’m going to have a hard time reading this series if this character sticks around. But if he sticks around, I’d rather see him turn into a full-on villain that gets his ass handed to him by Batgirl, than see him turn into some kind of pseudo good guy. And, I guess, that’s really all I want: Batgirl kicking Bard’s ass once and for all.

Josh: I mean, I’m fine with Batgirl kicking Bard’s ass…. But I’d still like to see him work to redeem himself. That doesn’t mean he needs to be accepted for those attempts though. 

To keep this conversation going… The dialogue in this issue. Did anyone else find it grating, juvenile, or heavy-handed? It did not click with me at all. And in addition to that, there were times that I felt the art was disconnected from the script and dialogue. 

Jay: Nope, I agree.  And while I enjoyed the issue more than I thought I was going to, I still wouldn’t say I actually liked it.  It was readable, but unremarkable.

Casper: The dialogue’s definitely pretty clunky. Especially the moment where Bard admits that he’s having feelings for Barbara made me cringe really hard. As for the dialogue as a whole: grating, juvenile and heavy-handed just about sums it up for me, Josh. This wasn’t great, and I can’t recommend this issue because of it.

Would you recommend buying this for $3.99?
Yes: Nobody
No: Josh, Jay, Casper

Check out Josh’s full review of Batgirl #37.


Justice League Dark #13

Their battle against Doctor Fate may have come to an end, but the Justice League Dark’s problems are just beginning when the helmet begins its search for a new host. 

 Meanwhile, what can Lex Luthor offer a magic user like Circe? For one thing, Lex knows a thing or two about monsters. And where Circe can find them.

Jay: Pretty much the opposite of what we had in ‘Tec this week: yet another chapter in an ongoing story where a lot is said, but not an awful lot actually happens.  I never hate this book, but it’s getting rarer and rarer that I love it.

Josh: See, I actually enjoyed this issue quite a bit. I’m a sucker for characterization and character development though, so slowing down to spend some time with these characters is welcome. We just came off of a huge, magic-shattering arc, so I’ll take a moment to let the story and characters breathe some. For me, these quieter, more “intimate” moments help build a stronger foundation as the story continues. 

Looking at this from a technical standpoint though, I think we need to remember to try and look at these stories as how they’re intended to be read. Yes, this is a comic book that is published in twenty-page increments because that is what the publisher is mandating. But that may not be how the authors intend for it to be read. The stories themselves are shaped and paced for arcs or collections. Reading them monthly can definitely drag a bit and feel like a slog, but collected, this will probably read very differently. I know this is a can of worms, so I don’t necessarily want to debate this – maybe we’ll revisit this idea for a separate discussion post at some point – I’m just saying it is something we should keep in mind.   

Uh, turning back to the story though, the only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the offer. I wish Lex would have made an offer to someone other than Circe.  I didn’t hate the idea, but it didn’t excite me either. I would’ve liked to have seen a character that hasn’t been featured yet get brought into the fold because of what’s happened with magic/ Lex’s offer. 

Casper: This is one of the comics where I skipped the offer page, so I can’t really comment on that. That said, both Buckingham and Sampere did great work! There are some nice spreads and some cool sequential passages in this issue that I’m really digging. For example, I loved the adventurous vibes during the opening sequence, and didn’t actually mind the exposition at the start of the issue. And one thing I really appreciated during the Constantine/Zatanna scene is Sampere’s moody art and the way he makes even a conversation in a bar visually interesting. However, though I enjoyed this for what it was, it doesn’t quite make me want to pick this up on a monthly basis yet. Maybe that will change in the future, though, because this is a great cast of characters and, from what I’ve seen, the art has been consistently good.

Would you recommend buying this for $3.99?
Yes: Josh, Casper
No: Jay


Batman Beyond #34

The strange goings-on in Neo-Gotham continue, and not even Batman is immune. The Dark Knight of Tomorrow needs to stop the Splitt’s high-tech heists once and for all, but his opening move will have everyone confused and bewildered. Will Batman save the day…or be the catalyst to lead his city into ruin?

Jay: You know, this whole False-Face story is kind of winning me over.  Despite using a fairly standard amnesia trope, Jurgens has managed to inject some life into this title.

Josh: So, I didn’t read this. I wasn’t even going to convince myself to try and check it out… But I did skim it for the sake of discussion. Now, here you are, Jay, saying this, and I feel like I potentially missed out on something. Maybe I’ll catch up? 

Casper: Well, I for one, started reading this … and then just stopped. The art really doesn’t work for me. There are some wonky faces here, and there is this one weird panel where Terry has saved this girl and for some reason he presses this girl against his own body with one hand while putting his nose and mouth against her cheek? Like, what am I even looking at? XD

Josh: You mean the panel where it looked like her boob as eating him? Yeah, not great. The art does nothing to help convince me this is worth picking up. 

Casper: I do appreciate the moments where Bruce is telling Terry that Batman always enters through the cave (and will never come flying into Wayne Manor through the window), and how Bruce immediately threatens to strip Terry of the mantle of the Bat if it turns out Terry actually killed someone. These things are slightly on-the-nose, but I kind of like the idea of an older Bruce Wayne being this grumpy, stern mentor.

But overall, I don’t really enjoy this issue.

Josh: Nope… And with Batman Beyond getting so much attention because of the Blu Ray release, you’d think DC would want to have a better product out there at the moment. 

Would you recommend buying this for $3.99?
Yes: Jay
No: Casper, Josh