Love is in the air in the DC Universe but those looking for a bit of romance in their superhero comics may want to look for other options than Crimes of Passion #1. Without any frame story, this years’ Valentine’s Day themed anthology lives and dies on the overall strength of its ten stories. While there are some very solid hits, particularly from Steve Orlando and Greg Smallwood, the majority ranges from bad to immensely forgettable. The highs are high, but the lows are very low.

“More than Maybe” by Orlando and Smallwood sets things off right with a wonderfully paced tale of love and self-doubt that calls into question Batman’s mission. It’s nothing new for someone to call out Batman’s privilege and how he can use his wealth to help people rather than beat up street thugs. The voice of reason this time is Linda Page, who unknowingly dates the man she’s criticizing. Bruce loves Linda, but finds himself conflicted since he could never tell her he’s Batman due to her intense criticism of his mission. Orlando’s dialogue is economic, but never anemic, and makes Linda’s distaste of Batman more than just an obstacle to overcome. She’s a fully-fledged character and Smallwood’s art evokes her kindness and ensures she’s never denigrated as just “not getting” Batman’s methods. Smallwood’s work makes the entire story feel like it’s ripped out of an old romance comic, with its 50s aesthetic and simple page layouts. However, he knows to punch up the drama when things get heated with a great sense of dimension when guns and punches are involved. Despite Linda’s objections, Orlando ends the story not with a condemnation of Batman, but with a great sense of understanding and empathy of him. The ending is delicate with neither Linda nor Bruce being framed as the bad guy – a perfect start to the anthology. 10/10

Things lighten up with Stephanie Phillips’ and Riley Rossmo’s “Pulling Punches”, another throwback story starring Ted Grant, aka Wildcat, as he finds himself caught up in a fixed boxing match and hostage scenario. Rossmo’s art is the standout here and while his style may not be for everyone, the sense of energy and effective storytelling in his pencils is hard to argue against. Yes, his faces are…unique, but it’s never unclear as to what their emotions are. Rossmo’s action here tends to be more snapshots than truly sequential, but due to his dynamic figure work there is still a good sense of movement to the choreography. Jordie Bellaire’s colors also give the story a unique look, as if the pages have been aged, but sometimes the lack of contrast lets the backgrounds swallow the characters. Phillips’ script shines the most with Ted’s narration as he ruminates on the unpredictable nature of love, but the dialogue gets the job done especially when old-timey gangsters ham it up. The script never lets the story stagnate and keeps it moving as Ted discovers his boxing match was fixed and that he now needs to track down the mobsters who rigged it. It’s a fun and simple tale of love’s battle against rationality. 8/10

Sam Johns and James Tynion IV’s “Secret Admirer” unfortunately drives the anthology’s quality down quick with a lackluster Pied Piper story. Gleb Melnikov’s pencils do their best to keep things lively in this overwritten and convoluted tale of a man who’s become obsessed with his encounter with Pied Piper. There’s an overarching theme of control and those who enjoy giving themselves over to a lack of it. While the story never fully tilts into uncomfortable territory, Pied Piper’s interaction with an obsessive collector of authentic superhero gear feels uneasy. The collector begs Pied Piper to take control of him like he had once before during a bank robbery that forever changed his life. I’m not entirely sure what the message is here and unlike the previous stories, things end ambiguously but with not much to chew on. Simply put, the complex theme here does not have enough time to develop, even with an overabundance of dialogue that makes reading it a chore. Melnikov comes out largely unscathed though; with his pencils showing off impressive detail even though some of his figure work verges on stiff. 4/10

Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Paul Fry’s “The Crimson Bomber” gets things mostly back on track with a simplistic, yet satisfying Green Arrow and Black Canary tale. Fry’s pencils are good here, though his anatomy, particularly with Black Canary, can be a tad wonky. Despite this, he’s got a good handle on a sense of weight and movement. His poses are evocative and his facial work nuanced. If anything suffers, is that Fry’s sense of geography isn’t totally clear at times due to obscure background work. When things heat up, the action becomes a tad muddled. The beats are clear, but the overall sense of place grows weary. Johnson’s story hits the sweet spot though as Green Arrow and Black Canary take on a wayward teen who fancies himself a super villain. Johnson captures Ollie and Dinah’s relationship well, though largely in broad strokes, and while the end result is predictable, the sweet ending works, particularly coming off the queasy Pied Piper story. 6/10

Sina Grace and Mike Norton’s “The Prettiest Thing” is very similar to the previous Ollie/Dinah story in that it focuses more on superhero antics rather than romantic love. Like any good Plastic Man story, Norton manages to get in some good visual gags. The best among them is a great panel where Plastic Man literally swallows his “pride”, the word forming in his throat as he drinks some water. What hurts this story, as well as many others in this anthology, is an overabundance on plot where character and theme should take the reins. Eight pages isn’t a lot of space and Grace uses most of it on exposition to set up his rather mundane story. Some pages are dominated by dialogue and narration, making the reader work far too much for the story delivered. Norton’s pencils are the real showcase here and while Grace’s dialogue is well written, the reader is one step ahead of his ultimately simplistic theme. 5/10

Jordan Clark and Kieran McKeown’s “Out of the Past” struggles to breathe much life into the flagging anthology with a frustrating Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer tale. Clark does well to keep the plot simple and focus on his characters. However, the constant push and pull between Maggie and Kate grows tiresome even with only eight pages to read. Clark’s theme of love being worth holding onto, especially for those with jobs where each day can be their last, is solid. However, the plot, which puts the pair up against Nocturna doesn’t tie into that theme all that well. It becomes clear Clark’s pacing is off when his last page has way too much dialogue to wrap everything up. McKeown’s art fares much better. His compositions are a little flat, but the detail in his facial work carries its weight in the dialogue heavy scenes. Adriano Lucas’ colors also do overtime here and create a palpable sense of mood in the story’s darker scenes. I like Maggie and Kate, but nothing new is learned about their relationship here, ending their push and pull with a shrug and a promise of something more later. 4/10

Mat Groom and Anthony Spay’s “One Last Dance” is a victim of placement in the anthology since it is very similar to the Plastic Man story. In its favor though, is that it’s overall stronger in every way. Spay’s pencils are very detailed, and he gets to show off with a really great splash page with the story’s lead, Slam Bradley, dancing with his target/love interest, Coleen Cavill. What also helps is that Groom’s dialogue is efficient, yet character building, and allows Spay to show off his skills. Spay’s backgrounds are extremely good and create a highly detailed sense of place and his facial “acting” allows Groom’s script to keep it simple. Jason Paz’s inks and Arif Prianto’s colors are also perfect and greatly enhance the story’s atmosphere. It’s an easy read, if somewhat slight and redundant of the Plastic Man story as it follows very similar beats. Slam Bradley seems destined forever to fall for unattainable women, and while we don’t learn much new about his character, the action delivers and it’s easy on the eyes. 6/10

I really don’t have much nice to say about Jay Baruchel and Andie Tong’s “Knightfalls in Bludhaven”. Nothing about this story feels…correct. Baruchel’s Dick is way off the mark and even if viewed through an “elseworlds” lens, it’s hard to connect with this take on the character. His pining for Barbara is tinged with far too much angst and anger, and him slapping a defenseless criminal for being a jerk feels way out of character. Baruchel does set the stage well for an intense action climax however, but Tong’s page layouts leave much to be desired. Nothing feels well thought out visually as Tong slaps together small panels haphazardly, leaving a lot of empty space and not creating a sense of visual flow. Nonetheless, Nightwing’s characterization here leaves much to be desired and knee-caps the story from the start, even with an optimistic ending doing its best to leave the reader feeling upbeat. 4/10

In a romance anthology that features Slam Bradley, it’s surprising that the book’s Catwoman story doesn’t feature him. “Can’t Buy Me Love” written by Liz Erickson and with art by Abel, otherwise has what you expect in a Catwoman story. There’s nothing overtly lacking in this short, but there are a few moments that expose a lack of craft. Abel’s facial work is questionable with a few misshapen faces, and the colors by John Kalisz are washed out at times and lack vibrancy. Erickson’s script also bites off more than it can chew and would have benefited from less locations and a streamlining of its narrative. The core premise is funny as Selina finds herself caught in the middle of a feuding, gangster couple. However, the eight page story takes place in four different days which doesn’t let the narrative breathe as it hops around from setting to setting. There’s potential from all involved here, but knowing the limits of an eight-page story would create a stronger narrative. 5/10

From the first page, Ram V and John Paul Leon’s “Reflections of the Heart” screams quality. I love the Question as a character and Leon’s rendition is one of my favorites. Each page is an absolute joy to look at, with deep inky shadows and a stark palette that matches the harsh reality the story takes place in. V’s script allows Leon to shine as the Question follows a copycat who has been taking out members of the Mikhailov brotherhood. V’s narration is rich in character and angst and near poetic in its rhythm. This is the type of storytelling that works best in short stories. Allow the artist to show of their chops with a simple story, and hit the reader hard with short, but effective narration and dialogue. Things don’t end well for any character here and I always find it odd when anthologies end on a bummer. Nonetheless, V and Leon turn in a story only challenged by Orlando and Smallwood’s as the front-runner. The only thing that keeps this from the top for me is the ending that eschews clarity in favor for poetic ambiguity. 9/10

Recommended if…

  • You think a $10 anthology is worth buying for a few top notch stories.
  • Greg Smallwood and John Paul Leon are two of your favorite artists.
  • Some of your favorite characters appear in this book.

Overall

Despite a couple truly great short stories, Crimes of Passion #1 lacks consistency to fully recommend. Most of the stories lack any true suspense or high quality art to overcome being generic. Additionally, there is a distinct lack of happy, romantic endings here with even the better stories being somber, which damages its appeal as a holiday treat. With a ten dollar price tag, I only think two of the stories are really worth the money, but for fans of the characters who make appearances, there might be just enough for a purchase.

Score: 5.5/10


Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.