October is upon us and we all know what that means… Halloween! To celebrate, (a little early) DC is putting out this thick anthology one-shot filled with a lot of new creatives. That means we should have a lot of variety here, not only stylistically but quality-wise as well. Most of the Batman-News team is working together on this review so you’ll also be treated to our varying perspectives to match. Let’s take a look!
The Question: “A Look to Die For”
William: Renee Montoya is one of my favorite DC characters and seeing her make a return as the question is pretty exciting. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t quite live up to that promise. It isn’t bad but it’s also unremarkable. For one, it feels like both the artist and the writer are trying too hard to make this story feel gritty, which apparently isn’t their strength. Tyler Crook can’t fully pull away from a cartoony look that seems to be his natural style and the writing doesn’t feel like it knows what it wants to be. Sometimes it’s campy and reminds me of a comic from the 60s and other times it evokes a grim detective story. Paired with a very by-the-numbers plot and some cliché, uninspired dialogue, this short is unlikely to be sticking with anyone.
Besides it’s stylistic confusion the art is solid though. It flows sequentially and makes use of some interesting textures. The colors in particular, also done by Crook, are beautiful. If someone told me he started out as a colorist, I’d believe them. Unfortunately, outside the colors, I really can’t make a strong case for recommending this story.
Green Lantern: “The Shadow Over Coast City”
Casper: In “The Shadow Over Coast City,” Green Lantern’s hometown is taken over by demons, and GL and Etrigan have to team up to save the day. On the opening page, Porter gives us some exposition to lead us into the story, and after that, it’s a straight-forward fight comic. The team-up doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, as it seems random and there’s not much chemistry between the two main characters. They argue a little bit about whether Etrigan should or shouldn’t kill, and toward the end, they suddenly come up with a way to defeat a huge demonic entity to save the day. However, it’s rather uninspired, as they simply recite the Green Lantern oath and some kind of magical spell, and that’s pretty much it as the story ends abruptly. As for Rossmo’s art, while it’s very dynamic and there’s a strong sense of momentum throughout, the art style also makes the story a bit harder to read for me. There’s often so much happening at once that I feel a bit overwhelmed at times. It’s like the creative team is trying to throw everything and the kitchen sink into an otherwise straight-forward 8-pager. All things considered, if you’re a fan of these characters, Rossmo’s art style, or just want to read a quick one-and-done action adventure involving Green Lantern and demons, this could work for you. That said, this isn’t a particularly memorable story, and I don’t think it’s something that you should go out of your way for, either.
Animal Man: “This Day, Anything Goes”
Jackson: If you’ve never heard of Maxine Baker, daughter of Animal Man, then this story should get you up to speed on who she is. Of course, it expects you to already be pretty familiar with Animal Man himself. That means there’s a narrow Venn diagram of people that this is aimed at; you need to be a fan of Animal Man, but not too much of a fan. Got it? Good.
Beyond introductions, there’s not really much to say. The premise is that Maxine is getting bullied at school for being different (specifically surrounding her animal powers), and then that’s followed up by a sequence where she goes trick-or-treating. During her outing, she scares off some bullies who are picking on another kid. It’s your typical “coming of age” story for a legacy hero. The outcast who still tries to help others isn’t a bad premise for a young hero, but it needs to be the starting point. Not all that’s there. The highlight is definitely Animal Man’s dorky father routine as he follows her around trying to keep her safe.
The artwork is very rough. The linework comes off as haphazard, with scratchy outlines and proportions that aren’t quite right. It’s a style that could work very well when done deliberately to create a sense of delirium, but when applied to everything it loses that appeal. Even the therapist’s handwriting is messy enough that it’s difficult to read. Points for accuracy to every doctor I’ve ever met, but when the reader needs to actually read it, then there’s a problem.
Nightwing: “The Dark Bite”
William: First, let me just say, I love Dexter Soy’s art. His run on both Red Hood &The Outlaws and Batman & The Outsiders solidified him as one of my favorite artists of all time. Now, I have to admit, I don’t think the art in this story is his best work but even looking a little rushed it’s still pretty great. His heavy inking style and moody atmospheres also make a great choice for a Halloween-themed comic.
The story doesn’t quite live up to Soy’s art but it is still fairly strong. We get to see Nightwing and Red Hood work together here and they are portrayed as having some level of brotherly camaraderie which is nice. This version of Red Hood’s characterization is much more in line with his Outlaw days than what has been happening recently. (He even dresses in his old costume.) In my book, that’s A-OK. He’s been floundering for quite some time and this story is a brief reminder of the days when it was enjoyable to read about Jason. Unfortunately, I could say the same about Dick and the Bat-family in general. So, despite some clunky dialogue here and there, the solid portrayal of the characters and great art easily makes this story one I can recommend checking out.
Superman: “The Spoils”
Jackson: Everyone loves a good ghost story, and this should be the perfect anthology to tell that story. The problem is that it also needs to be a Superman story. Superman’s role in “The Spoils” is one that is largely passive and moved along via coincidence. He goes to a prison because Lois happens to contact him on his Bluetooth earpiece (by the way, I don’t think that’s how Bluetooth works) and asks him to fill in for her. Clark’s role would be more active if he was the one investigating for his own story, though this does give an excuse for them to talk and give the scene some dialog, even if that dialog itself feels flat.
Once inside the prison, it becomes the resident ghoul’s story more than anyone else’s. Lois conveniently steps away as soon as Superman steps inside, removing her as a narrative element. After that Superman doesn’t do much aside from not getting hurt when struck. It’s the ghoul who has a motivation, it’s the ghoul who makes him discover the secret lair, and it’s the ghoul who has a story to tell.
What makes this story stand out to me is the art. Javier Rodriquez does a great job evoking the pulp horror aesthetic of older comics. The way he draws Superman especially is reminiscent of Curt Swan’s style from the Silver Age. The coloring is appropriately moody while still sticking to a simple, matte palette.
Robotman: “Not Fade Away”
Aaron: For ten years, the townsfolk of Codsville, Maine get together and celebrate the heroic sacrifice of the Doom Patrol. Apparently, the four original members of Doom Patrol rescue the lives of fourteen fishermen, but die in the process. Despite returning to life, the town renames itself “Four Heroes” and traditionally hosts a costume party in their honor. However, the understandably traumatic holiday puts Robotman on edge.
Although Robotman and his teammates are fine now, Cliff has survivor’s guilt for the others who weren’t so lucky. Yet, after encouragement from Dr. Magnus and his Metal Men, Cliff attempts to have a fun night out with Mento and Beast Boy. Before long, his depression takes over and his social battery runs out. No pun intended. As a result, most of the story surrounds his attempts to get ahold of his mental health and anxiety by calling his various friends for support.
However, things take a turn for the worse when his guilt manifests in the ghostly forms of all the people he let down. This leads to some unique and artistic panels, including a fascinating time-lapse diagram of the apparitions following Cliff around his apartment desperately calling for help. There is even an imposing image of Robotman cowering under a nine panel grid wall to wall with editor’s notes on who they are and how they died. Overall, the ghost problem is really a metaphor for guilt and depression. Alex Galler presents a very relatable struggle with mental health and PTSD through Robotman’s battle to exorcize his demons. The ending with Constantine showing up as a friend of a friend strongly brings the point home. Personally, Fabio Veras’ Bronze Age style and crate-digging cameos really make this a neat treat to read. If anything, there are an overwhelming amount of word bubbles cluttering the page. Regardless, it is a strong recommendation if you know about the Doom Patrol or not!
Crush & Lobo: “Happy Hal(Lobo)ween”
Theresa: Crush can’t get ahold of her girlfriend, Katie. She soon discovers it’s because her Dad, Lobo, tied Katie up with explosives and will kill her unless Crush plays along with his game of dress-up for Halloween. This is all played for completely light-hearted comedy with these two dirty characters though. Honestly, I really didn’t find this funny. Most of it is based on the characters referencing how Lobo looks like “that one movie character Hugh Jackman plays” that they can’t actually name because of “copyright issues.” There is a meta-joke about Lobo looking like Aquaman too. This is a reference to the fact that Jason Momoa may play him in the future. I just didn’t find the dialogue and delivery behind any of these jokes funny though. Part of that is also due to the artwork which, despite having to portray two very animated characters, doesn’t portray a very wide range of expressions, particularly for Crush.
Man-Bat: “Out of the Shadows”
Jeremy: This story by John Arcudi was framed around the unexpected excitement of a teacher trailing behind Batman only to find herself providing mutual aid to Man-Bat. She might not be disappointed by the sudden switch but boy did I find this story disappointing. The external narration pointed out a lot of the obvious instead of letting the art speak or truly dive deeper making for an irritating reading feeling. Especially during the rising action and climax which I won’t spoil. The wasted potential of the story is what really gets to me. This could be a wholesome story and the art by Shawn McManus gives a very child-friendly version of a horror story. Almost like a teacher is telling this to her students. But it drops the bag with all the unnecessary narration and some downright dubious lines like how Batman made an impact because kids want to dress up like heroes instead of monsters??? A line like that at least gives some characterization to the teacher as we picture her desperate to cling onto this weird notion of good in the kids that she probably teaches but really it falls apart due to not being explored enough. What are the kids doing under their Batman costumes maybe? How does the costume reflect the costumes that heroes wear? What is the actual point beyond the statement being made? It’s so shallow and is quite reflective of the narration in general. Shoutout to the brick backgrounds by McManus who makes this hyper-condensed story never feel lost in space as well as the lettering by Carlos M Mangual accentuating the foreshadowing by having the wolf’s howls consistent from the beginning, almost buried under the barks of regular dogs.
- You’re a sucker for spooky stories
- Your favorite characters are getting featured
- Taking a look at some of the new creators who will undoubtedly be spreading across the DCU shortly sounds interesting
With an average score of just 5.6, this anthology isn’t the most promising but there are a few gems hidden away and in general, nothing is unreadable. If you have some spare cash floating around, maybe you could justify giving it a go but for my part, I don’t feel like this anthology as a whole deserves a recommendation.
Average Score: 5.6/10
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.