Once again we have a cover with Joker on it, yet no Joker to be found in any of the stories. Someone in the comments mentioned that it might be an instance of King’s big Joker story getting pushed back without the covers being adjusted. There might be some truth to that, but King’s story only has 3 parts and all of the first five covers feature Joker. I don’t think this is a huge deal or anything, but it’s certainly misleading to anyone who might not know what’s on the inside.
If not Joker, then what is present in this month’s issue? Well,
Enter the Abyss
“Enter the Abyss” is a supernatural horror story seemingly designed to play into Kelley Jones’ strengths as an artist. He has a long history of drawing stories that focus on the bizarre, including the Batman & Dracula trilogy he did with Doug Moench. That’s why I wasn’t surprised in the slightest when right away it jumped into a story about vampires. Jones’ artwork just oozes style, and his exaggerated depictions of Batman and the monstrous horrors he faces go a long way in engrossing you in the ghastly story. The purple prose that would normally feel excessive is right at home among contorted faces and billowing capes.
As for the story itself, things get a bit messy. There doesn’t seem to be much set up at all before you’re thrown into the deep end and Batman is saying that he’s going after vampires. It’s almost like there’s an opening sequence missing. After only one page he runs into the suspect and she immediately starts going into her life story. You get the impression that Batman’s presence is merely a vehicle to write a comic about this woman and her relationship with the monster beneath Gotham. in fact, Batman never really does anything an is primarily an observer to her actions.
The story is interesting enough, but the pacing overall feels off. It comes across as an introduction more than a complete narrative. Well the reason behind this is revealed at the very end: it’s all meant to be a lead-in to the ongoing Batman Beyond: Neo-Gothic. I really wish anthology series would stop doing this. The appeal of the format is to have a large collection of different stories, and when you use one of them as an advertisement for something else, it sours the experience.
Stormwatch: Down with the Kings part 4
If there’s anything worse than using an anthology story as a promotion for a different series, it’s using one as a tie-in for some big event. In addition to being a misuse of the anthology format, unlike normal ongoings that can just put everything on pause for two weeks while they do their tie-ins, “Stormwatch: Down with the Kings” has a very limited space to tell its story.
Not only does the event feel intrusive, it actively works against the story being told. The vast majority of people reading this comic have never read a Stormwatch story in their life. It’s a perfect opportunity for Ed Brisson to introduce the characters to a new audience. However, it requires that you go in with the assumption of ignorance. Knight Terrors as a concept explicitly relies on diving deep into the characters’ psyche and history. This series has barely had any time to establish any of that.
What results is a collection of noble attempts at a daunting task. Right away the time must be split between the various team members, so no one is able to have sufficient time to fully develop their fears. The nightmares are over soon after they began. Flint gets the lion’s share of the drama, with a significant amount of the pages dealing with her reconciling what she does with how her friends and family would disapprove. Fans of the character from 20 years ago might really appreciate this moment, but for anyone still unfamiliar with her, the emotional moment loses much of its impact. Of course the alternative is to remain so superficial that you hardly need to know anything, like Shado’s fear being that she can’t use her bow and arrow anymore because she uses a bow and arrow.
Despite the wrench in the narrative cogs that is Knight Terrors, the visuals still make it an enjoyable read. Unfortunately Jeff Spokes is off of pencils this month, but Pasquale Qualano still does a good job keeping everything together. Like many of the previous chapters, the big action sequence feels like a highlight. Everything is excitingly choreographed so that you never feel lost among the dynamic motion. That, plus Ivan Plascencia’s colors keep the action bright an vibrant, making sure that the page never feels dull.
Harcourt: Second Life part 1
This review is tough because there’s almost nothing to talk about. These first 10 pages of “Harcourt: Second Life” just barely establish the premise of the larger story before it’s over. It’s not necessarily a bad start to the comic, but it’s yet to establish any real characterization or plot, which makes my job particularly difficult. We learn that Suicide Squad agent Emilia Harcourt was at some point killed and brought back to life by Amanda Waller via a Lazarus Pit which gave her powers. All of this information is delivered overtop a fight scene interspersed with flashbacks to keeps things lively. The pencils are decent, and the neon colors keep the whole sequence vibrant. Other than that, there’s not much to say except that with this pacing, it might not have been best split into such small segments.
Batman’s relationship with his various sidekicks and allies is something that’s been explored a lot in his comics. It’s an ever evolving aspect of his mythos as character are introduced, die, and get brought back to life. Scenes such as Dick Grayson first jumping through the hoop on the cover of Detective Comics #38 or Batman cradling Jason’s dead body in Batman #428 are some of the most iconic images in all of comics. It only makes sense that Meghan Fitzmartin would want to tackle what his family means to Batman. Unfortunately, the execution falls far short of the premise.
It gets off to a bad start with a framework that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Fitzmartin needs the whole batfamily to be on their last legs for a symbolic last stand in Crime Alley for the symbolism, and the way she accomplishes that is by having Bane and Hush team up. The way this supposedly works is that Bane “broke his body” while Hush “broke his mind”. Ignoring the fact that Bane also broke Batman’s mind, (it was sort of a big part of the plot of Knightfall) having the person who “broke his mind” doesn’t mean much in what appears to be a street brawl that somehow “destroyed Gotham”. Belén Ortega’s pencils make it a good fight regardless, but I’m not sure they blend well with the black and white format. Instead of doing something interesting with the lack of color, it just feels like it’s uncolored.
The story is largely an internal monolog as Batman lays dying on the ground, reflecting on his found family. There is some worthwhile commentary comparing the loss of his original parents to the bonds he’s formed with his pseudo-children. It’s not a very original or revelatory observation, but it’s at least accurate. The theme essentially boils down to the same thing you’d hear any parent say: “I remember when they were young and now they’re grown”. It would be nice if this were an opportunity taken to explore the diverse and complex relationships Bruce has with those around him, but as it is it’s largely just generic sentiment that could be applied to anyone.
- You’re a fan of tie-ins
- Kelley Jones’ distinct art is enough to make you want to buy a comic
- You love stories about the bat family
Batman: The Brave and the Bold #4 is a rougher entry than the first three. A combination of obligatory tie-ins and questionably paced beginnings leaves little to highlight. Nothing is so notably bad that you won’t be able to enjoy at least some of it, but still an overall forgettable entry in this anthology series.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purposes of this review.