Almost every story here this month is a continuation of previous chapters, so there’s not much to say here without getting into the reviews themselves. I could do another rant about having these long, multipart stories be what you put in an anthology is a misuse of the format, but I think I’ve chewed your ears off enough with that. It seems DC is very happy to use one flagship story to help sell some others that might not be able to hold their own, so let’s see what the end result looks like.
Batman: The Winning Card part 3
Each entry in this story makes it more and more clear the kind of horror King is making Joker’s first appearance out to be. From the ominous narration boxes in the form of silent film cards to the ghost-like appearance of Joker himself, there’s a constant sense of dread and terror whenever he’s near. Gerads’ art is the star here, with its watercolor scenes alternating between bone-chilling macabre and illusory comfort. It really leans into the scary movie tropes as well. The ironically innocent words that the villain says and the almost teleporting effect as they get closer are both hallmarks of the genre. It’s a really effective way to make Joker come off as a nightmare to the average person, and justifies his role at the top of Batman’s rogues.
The problem, however, is whether it actually goes too far. Despite the plot largely following the structure of the original Batman #1 from 1940 (though I’ll have more on that later), this Joker is a very distinct and specific interpretation of the character. The story leans so heavily into the horror tropes that Joker can come off as a slasher monster more than anything else. In previous issues that meant juggling his victim’s eyeballs, and here it’s climbing out of a porta-potty to stab someone while they’re using it. If writers aren’t careful, then Joker can easily become basically Victor Zsasz wearing clown makeup.
It’s important that there be some humor to Joker’s character. That’s why he’s such a great foil to the grim Batman. There’s not really much of that here, and King seems to actually acknowledge that fact. At one point Alfred and Bruce are discussing Joker’s patterns, and Bruce comes up with a convoluted way in which his killings constitute a “joke” by alternating between being announced and unexpected. In response, Alfred says “how is that funny?” It’s a question I find myself asking as well.
Another example is the toilet killing, which also sort of becomes humorously ironic because the constantly swearing (something that’s still very distracting and I wish would stop being so prevalent in this story) victim says “there’s death in here”, regarding the smell. Except, in addition to being a weird way to phrase that, that’s not something that Joker would have or could have known he’d say, and without that pun the whole joke is lost.
Batman himself is well written, if angrier than we’ve typically seen him at this stage in his career. His reactions to Joker’s victories border on the unhinged. He’s lashing out in rage, yelling at Alfred, and smashing grandfather clocks. It’s an understandable reaction to a mass murderer constantly getting away, and his helplessness creates drama as he’s forced to sit and watch. That being said, it doesn’t quite line up with the version many may be used to in other “year one” stories.
These very distinct character interpretations are in line with the story’s sudden departure from the comic it’s adapting. The first two chapters were both notable in how closely they followed the plot of Batman #1. You could easily go page by page and see where the adaptation’s story fit, if not its tone. This time around only one brief sequence is adapted, where Joker disguises himself as the Police Chief to get close to a victim, and everything else is original. King even draws attention to the fact, and presents the events of the original story as what’s “expected” and his own additions as Joker’s unpredictability. It’s noteworthy, then, that it’s these departures that create the most striking interpretations of the character. I’ll be very curious to see how the finale handles the issue of adaptation, as we’re entering the portion of the original where Robin played a major role.
Ultimately this is going to be a story that is very polarizing. King has created a very specific version of this narrative and its characters. If that interpretation is to your liking, then the execution of that vision is pulled off spectacularly. However, for some, the creative direction might be overly indulgent when it comes to the slasher aesthetic.
Stormwatch: Down with the Kings part 5
Stormwatch once again features a new covert mission, but this time structured differently. While in the past the format has typically been setup, infiltration, something goes wrong, and then a big action sequence, here the focus is almost entirely on the action. The story opens on the infiltration with no explanation as to what’s going on, and it creates a sense of intrigue as we try to figure it out. It’s only for a few pages that you think that this will all be some sort of highly coordinated plan before everything falls apart in spectacular fashion.
The story’s target, Apollo (the Greek god, not the Wildstorm character), is given an incredibly intimidating entrance. Jeff Spokes has done a great job with the character designs so far, and this is no exception. His ink black skin and hair, coupled with a business casual outfit does a lot to create an unsettling contrast between the mundane and the supernatural. What’s more, it highlights just how nonchalantly he’s taking the entire battle. What follows feels true to what you would expect from a group of mortals trying to take on a god. He seemingly takes them all on without even breaking a sweat, and you start questioning how they can possibly survive.
Unfortunately, it’s the way they’re able to defeat him that deflates some of that previously established tension. First, he’s alerted to their plan by Core asking out loud, right in front of Apollo, whether they’ve stolen his weapon yet. I suppose it’s a useful bit of exposition so the audience can figure out what’s been going on, but it seems crazy to completely abandon any guile you were going for. Once the final standoff is established, despite being framed as this unstoppable force, all it takes is a punch from Flint to stun him long enough to grab his secret weapon. Finally a nuclear blast from Core knocks him out (shouldn’t the god of the Sun be fine with nuclear power?) It’s all a bit underwhelming after how big of a threat Apollo is established as.
Back at base, we finally learn what all of these missions have been for. Stormwatch is planning on collecting these weapons to take on the Justice League. By itself this would be an interesting twist, but it’s the final reveal that fills me with dread: this has all been part of Amanda Waller’s plan. For those of you who wisely haven’t been keeping up with the plethora of DC crossover events, the overarching metanarrative has been that they’ve all been part of some grand plan by Waller to take down the Justice League (and as of the end of Knight Terrors, the Titans as well). What this all means is that this mini is shaping up to all be a lead in to the next big DC event. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I am, but we’ll just have to see what the implications are with next month’s finale.
Harcourt: Second Life part 2
When I review these anthologies, I try to keep each individual review relatively short because I have several to get through. The fact that by this point I’m already over 1,300 words shows that I’m not always great at that. The thing is that sometimes stories just have so much to talk about, and as a reviewer I want to do that. King’s writing especially always has a lot to unpack, whether you like it or not. All that being said, I hope you’ve enjoyed all the discussion you’ve gotten so far, because for the second month in a row Harcourt has almost nothing to talk about.
There are really only two scenes: A flashback to Harcourt joining some secretive organization designed to protect humanity, and the action scene that opens and closes the chapter. The former is exactly the same “we’ve heard you’re the best, you should join us” routine that you’ve seen in dozens of comics and movies. Nothing else happens there. Also, doesn’t this anthology already have a series about an organization meant to protect humanity by any means? They even work for the same people. Let’s get a little more variety, yeah?
The fight scene is mostly just a shootout involving Harcourt pointing her gun at people and yelling “tell me what you know!” We get a bit more vague allusions to her not knowing the whole truth, but again, nothing else of note happens. Maybe I’m expecting too much plot from 10 pages, but if you’re paced that you need more before anything happens, then you shouldn’t be breaking up your story into tiny chunks to fill out an anthology. The art during the fight is… fine. It’s not terrible and it gets the job done, but it certainly isn’t winning any awards. The flow from one panel to the next is often awkward, and it lacks a lot of much needed detail. This is especially noticeable with the faces, which at times look really off.
I’m hoping future installments will start giving me something interesting to actually talk about. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be something.
The Angel of Gotham
Sometimes you have all the pieces of a great comic, they just can’t come together in the right way. In the story “The Angel of Gotham”, Ed Brisson clearly demonstrates he understands what makes a good Batman story on a fundamental level. There’s detective work, following leads and suspects, and even highlights often overlooked elements of society. All of this in a tight, 10 page story should be golden.
The problem is that the script itself feels as though it needed a few more passes to make everything work. For example, the investigation has a lot of links in its chain connecting the clues. Normally this could be a positive in a gripping mystery, but here those links are often not fully thought out. When Batman finds a cache of hidden photographs inside the victim’s lamp, it’s never explained why she would have those there. “she was hiding those photos for a reason”, Batman tells us, but I sure would love to know what that reason was. Also, why was her murder only useful as a way to solve someone else’s murder? Why did Batman just ignore it until this apparently more important one showed up?
More importantly than the logic of the detective mystery is the issue of theme. Throughout the story we’re told of the “Angels” that act as reminders of the murders that happen in Gotham. It’s meant to be tragically ironic that you have these pure souls trying to remember the victims in a cruel city like Gotham, and one of them gets murdered. It leads you to believe that they’re going to be a major part of the story, but it doesn’t ever do anything with them. All we get is that the murder is a “senseless killing”, which doesn’t tie into anything else that’s established aside from a vague notion of “Gotham sucks”. The angels present a very striking and in-your-face sort of imagery that could make for some powerful messaging, but they don’t feel adequately explored as a concept.
I think there’s something here. You can see a diamond in the rough, but it lacks the polish needed to make is shine. I want to love it, but it’s not quite there.
- You’ve been following the various stories up until now
- Joker is best viewed as a horror villain
- You’re a big fan of characters working for covert government agencies
Batman: The Brave and the Bold #5 is ultimately a passable collection of stories. Most of them are fine, but there aren’t really any standouts like in previous issues. All but the black and white short story at the end are middle chapters of ongoing narratives, so unless you’re already invested in those there isn’t much here to recommend.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purposes of this review.