Friday, July 13, 2012

Bat-Quest Part Eight: "The Return of Bruce Wayne"

The Return of Bruce Wayne is about exactly what its title says it's about: Bruce Wayne coming back from the distant past to defeat an ancient evil. I suppose I enjoyed this well enough. The parts where Bruce was in the past were actually genuinely entertaining, and finally showed what really happened to the Wayne Family over all those years. My favorite segments were the parts set in prehistory and on the frontier, because they seemed to make more sense than the others. The others were good, but each had their own flaws.

The puritan times one was filled with too much Lovecraftian blather, the pirate one was okay, but its art wasn't the best, and the modern day Gotham city one was too filled with Black Glove-style freak-outs. The plot really got away from Morrison when he tried to throw in  a swing-for-the-fences cosmic adventure in at the end. It got way too caught up in Seven Soldiers of Victory-esque discourses on the Omega Effect. By the way, Morrison should stick to writing Batman and Superman, because he can't write convincing Wonder Woman dialogue to save his life. She acted too aloof, too realpolitik, and too holier-than-thou to be true to the character, and her various mis-characterizations were my least favorite parts of the book.

The art kept changing every time Bruce hopped to  a different time, but my favorite artwork was probably the weird, almost 3-D art of Frazer Irving in the Puritan section (he must have a knack for drawing Puritans because he also did the art for the Puritan-heavy Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witch-Boy).  Overall, though, if you want to scratch your head in confusion more often, but still want a rewarding reading experience, pick up Return of Bruce Wayne.

Grade: B-

Bat-Quest Part Seven: "Batman vs. Robin"

This volume of the Bat-Quest is decidedly lighter in tone than its predecessor. The first story in it involves British super-mobsters, Lazarus Pits, a zombie Bruce Wayne replica, and Batwoman, and the other is a mystery involving Dr. Hurt from R.I.P., Wayne family history, and a mind controlled Damian. Both are entertaining romps,  and you can  see that Morrison is having a blast writing these stories. I did think that it was amusing that the main McGuffin the plot revolved around was the domino game "Mexican Train", which I've actually played. Some standout parts in  this are seeing mind-controlled Damian desperately trying to shake off his mind control, which is funny and tense at the same time, and the British gangsters, including the absurdly named "Old King Coal".

The art is dark, but not gruesome, and the covers are still wonderfully weird, courtesy of Frank Quitely. The plot started to lose its coherency nearing the end, and some of the parts with Talia weren't believable, but other than that, Batman vs. Robin was a rip-roaring adventure.

Grade: A

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bat-Quest Part Six: "Batman Reborn"

Jeez louise Grant Morrison. I knew your Batman and Robin series was supposed to be darker than usual, but did it have to be this downright scary? This installment chronicles the first adventures of Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne as Batman and Robin,  but also shows the devastating effect modern drug cartels have on cities. This book is not for reading at night. From gruesome scenes of peoples' faces getting eaten, to frightening monologues given by insane villains, there are a lot of scenes in this book that will give more scare-prone readers the willies.

Not that that's always a bad thing, but when I started reading this book, I expected a rousing adventure, not a story about face eating, cartels, and hard drugs. It was entertaining, though, and the Damian/Dick dynamic was funny, the two of them trading one liners (Damian: "It's Robin and Batman from now on". Dick: "That'll catch on".), but besides its scariness, my only real issue with the the book is the return of that human diatribe machine, Jason Todd. He continues shouting long winded tirades, and Batman actually calls him on it, but since he has a sidekick in this story, there is two times the Manichean invective. Other than that, Frank Quitely's weird, puffy, creepy art is used for the first plot, while Phillip Tan's is used for the rest of it, and both are good. This isn't for the faint of heart, though.

Grade: A-

Bat-Quest Part Five: "Battle for the Cowl"

In this installment of the Bat-Quest series, I'll be reviewing Tony Daniel's Battle  for the Cowl  miniseries that chronicles (SPOILER ALERT) Dick Grayson taking over as Batman. It also chronicles the return of organized crime, and crime in general to Gotham City after Batman's "death" in Final Crisis. I suppose I enjoyed this series. The art was once again good, by Tony Daniel, and the story was as well. It developed Damian's character, and the more I read stuff he's featured in, the less I hate him.

The action packed plot is filled with blink and you'll miss it cameos of various Bat-heroes and villains, and makes for a fun game of "Spot the Side Character". Commissioner Gordon is stoically heroic as usual, and keeps the plot grounded, while the psychotic turn from Jason Todd is predictable. He speaks in catchphrases, and spends too much time soliloquizing on crime-fighting techniques to be more than just a sanctimonious windbag. He's a little like Polonius, in that he refuses to even abbreviate his pompous jeremiads.

There's a second story in here too, called "Gotham Gazette" that looks at Gotham sans-Batman from the perspective of several tertiary Bat-allies. Each character's story has a different penciller, so the artwork ranges from good to bad, Dustin Nguyen being a standout. Overall, a good appetizer that had me pumped for Morrison's Batman and Robin.

Grade: B

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bat-Quest Interlude: "Final Crisis"

Whew. Grant Morrison's Final Crisis, for all its flaws, was one of the most ambitious, creative and joyously life-affirming comics I have ever read. A very short, Cliff's Notes summary of the plot, is basically that ancient evil cosmic being Darkseid has finally succeeded in his quest to take over the universe, but in the process ripped open  a hole in the fabric of the multiverse that let loose an even greater evil. This is part of the Bat-Quest because in it, Batman has an awesome "Final Confrontation" of sorts that sets up future installments in the series, but is too short a part to make this book  an official "Bat-Quest" entry. This book was literally insane.

Superheroes and villains alike spout out long-winded expositions on god, space, time, and life, while cosmic superhero action rages in a super-crazy battle for the fate of not one, but 52 universes. I mean, there were so many little details that DC comics fanboys like me will lap up, and enough philosophical monologues to keep you thinking, but also enough guns blazing, take no prisoners action and suspense to enthrall casual readers. You just kind of have to surrender yourself to the craziness of everything. It's as if someone at DC headquarters just said "Grant, go all out on this one". And although there are many flaws with this book, including a lack of coherence, occasionally hokey dialogue and a slightly confusing ending, the sheer creativity of Final Crisis bowled me over.

J.G. Jones and Doug Mahnke's' art is impressively clear and well done, and adds even more epic awesomeness to this one of a kind book. If you give in to its cosmic insanity, you'll have a reading experience like no other.

Grade: A-

Bat-Quest Supplemental: "Heart of Hush"

This book wasn't written by Grant Morrison (it was actually written by Paul Dini) and was actually a prequel  to R.I.P., but I needed a little break from Morrison after the madness that was Batman R.I.P., and considering the next book I have to read, Final Crisis was even more confusing than R.I.P when I first read it, I needed this break. This book was about an old foe of Batman's, Hush, coming back after his critically acclaimed first appearance in Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee's Hush saga. This book was strange, because a majority of it is from Hush's perspective, and considering Hush's perspective is filled with classist invective against people Batman allies himself with, it isn't a very happy one. Paul Dini always is able to write a good Catwoman/Batman story line, and this one does a good job deepening those two's relationship. It shows a more vulnerable Batman, and a kookier Hush, who, in between berating Catwoman, also details his twisted relationship with his mother.

Dini does a good job writing Scarecrow, who does more frightening things than his usual fear-gas-to-the-face routine. I didn't like how Batman acted occasionally cold blooded, but maybe that was just me. The art by Dustin Nguyen is very avant garde, and emphasizes the moody tones of the story. Take it from me, though. Read this BEFORE R.I.P., because it's chronologically supposed to be read in that order.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bat-Quest Part Four: "Batman R.I.P." (SPOILERS WITHIN!)

This one was a doozy. This book is basically about an insane mastermind who knows everything about Batman using elements from very old and obscure Bat-cases as weapons against the Caped Crusader. This book, the first time I read it, made the littlest amount of sense, and during a majority of the time I was reading the book, I felt about as confused as Batman himself during this story. In short, I had no idea what was going on, and felt very defeated and befuddled, like Grant Morrison was telling me "It's not supposed to make sense". The second  time I read it, in order, and after having researched what in Siddhartha Gautama's name "Thogal" was, I found it to be still a scary, disorienting, psychedelic trip, but one that made more sense.   

For instance, when I read it the first time, I thought the main "Big Bad" Dr. Hurt's name was "The Black Glove", but learned this time around, that that was the name of his organization. I also, having read "The Black Glove" finally realized what the purpose of those  Bat-impostors were, and what in the world  the "International Club of Villains" was. This time around, though, I had oriented myself enough to understand what I liked and didn't like. I really liked the way the Club of Villains was used, each member having their own goofy gimmick that made their sections entertaining. The way the Joker was used was excellent as well. Morrison made him so unpredictable that he actually turned coat on both the Black Glove, and Batman. 

Talia, Damian, Bat-mite and Alfred's cameos were memorable, and the plot actually moved faster than I thought it did the first time I read it. And no one can deny how awesome "the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh" was, and how amazingly daring Batman's defeat of Dr. Hurt was. Some issues I still have with it, though, is that the character of Dr. Hurt is so bombastically evil, that he seems like a smarmy game show host spitting out corny one liners like "He's in the GRIP of the Black GLOVE now" (get it?). I also have an issue with the conclusion of the story. This was called "Batman R.I.P." and was marketed for months as "the death of Batman", but at the end, Batman survives. I find this a bit of an cop out, but maybe that's just me. 

Also, the fact that  I had to keep summarizing the plot to myself to keep track of the story kind of lessened the experience, but other than that I much enjoyed this. Batman R.I.P.  had excellent art by Tony Daniel, filled with lots of shadows and darkness, which added a spooky, fog covered air to the story, and the covers are excellent as always portraying Batman as heroic, but not invulnerable.Overall, if you want to put in  a little extra work reading the other volumes (because their threads all come to a head in R.I.P.), and like your Batman with a heavy dose of mystery, darkness, and  the weird, read Batman R.I.P. If you take the time, you won't regret it.

Grade: B

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bat-Quest Part Three: "The Black Glove"

For this installment of the Bat-Quest series, I'll be looking at the hardcover collection The Black Glove, again by Grant Morrison, that sets up the main plot in a future volume. This volume introduces the villainous Black Glove organization, that is out to destroy Batman. It, like Batman and Son has two separate plots. The first one, "The Island of Mr. Mayhew" is about Batman and Robin visiting a secret island that the so-called "International Club of Heroes" is meeting at. Things go awry, and a mystery ensues. 

Morrison should perhaps think of taking up mystery writing as a side job, because the way he tightens the screws on this mystery is masterful. There's betrayal, murder, and mayhem, and Batman proves once and for all why he's "the World's Greatest Detective". The way Morrison revived almost forgotten DC heroes, and updated them  was entertainingly bizarre, and the way the different personalities of the Club members clash is fascinating to read. The next story is the conclusion to the "Three Ghosts of Batman" story arc set up in "Batman and Son".  Bruce Wayne is hunted by the third, Satanist Bat-impostor, who gives Bruce Wayne a heart attack, triggering old memories. 

The parts where Batman has his trippy cardiac arrest flashbacks is confusing at points, filled with references to old 50's and 60's Batman comics, and esoteric Buddhist meditation techniques, but Morrison tries his best to prevent the plot from getting out of control, and you kind of have to read this part if you want to understand future volumes. Other than that, the extraordinary, classic looking art of J.H Williams III adorns the "Island" section, and Williams' unadorned, illustrative style is a perfect complement to the mysterious goings on in the story. The other section is drawn by Tony Daniel, who's no slouch either. His art is more modern, though, and doesn't evince the same reaction from me as Williams' art.  This story provided a fast moving thriller, and a shape of things to come, so I guess I enjoyed it well  enough.

"The Island of Mr. Mayhew": A-
"Three Ghosts (Conclusion)": B-
 Overall: B

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bat-Quest Part Two: "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul"

Now, if one is familiar with the Batman mythos, the title "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" should be greeted with a yawn and a sarcastic "What else is new?" because perennial Bat-villain Ra's al Ghul's  main gimmick back in the day was that he would use a special pool he called a "Lazarus Pit" to bring himself back to life after being killed. He was killed a lot. But, during a storyline called "Death and the Maidens" in 2004, Ra's al Ghul died for real, after having run out of Lazarus Pits to use. He was finally brought back to life during an event called The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul which spanned several titles, and several writers along with Grant Morrison contributed. This book was a twisty adventure story, that featured Ra's al Ghul switching bodies with someone multiple times, Tim Drake almost going off the deep end, and the continuing adventures of Damian Wayne.

Damian, surprisingly is less irritating than he was in "Batman and Son", and is shown to be insecure and vulnerable beneath his cocky exterior. Dick Grayson as Nightwing livens things up, especially when they get too bogged down in Tim Drake's self pity, and even though Morrison contributes just two issues to the gestalt he does do his usual magic, and revives the wonderfully wacky character I Ching (from Dennis O'Neil's late 60's run on Wonder Woman), who drops pearls of Buddhist and Taoist wisdom while kicking people in the face. Former Batman:The Animated Series showrunner Paul Dini contributes, and adds a sense of humor, but I wish the entertainingly loony Talia al Ghul had more to do in the story than just look angry. The art changes a lot, sometimes in the middle of an issue, which is odd, but it is often refreshingly cartoonish. Overall, this story was a refreshing detour from the main story arc that the next few Batman graphic novels follow, and is great fun.

Grade: B+

Bat-Quest Part One: "Batman and Son" (SPOILERS WITHIN!)

For the first "real" installment in the "Bat-Quest" series, I'll be reviewing Grant Morrison's  "Batman and Son". This collection is odd, because it contains three main stories each around two issues long. The first one, "Batman and Son" is about an illegitimate son Batman sired after sleeping with his archenemy's daughter, and his sometimes flame Talia al Ghul. This kid, Damian Wayne, is an annoying little bugger, whose whining and entitled rants about how he "should" be Robin instead of the current Robin, Tim Drake grated on my nerves, but this story was actually one of the freshest and fastest moving Batman stories I've read in quite some time. The goofy, but sinister "Ninja Man-Bats", the irritating, but fascinating Damian Wayne, and Batman's unusually glib interior monologue make this first plot a fun, action packed, detail-oriented adventure story worth rereading.

I can say less for the next two plots. The second one, "The Clown at Midnight" is about the resurrection of the Joker, who was shot in the face by a Bat-impostor. It is genuinely unsettling. Morrison depicts the Joker as a demon, a personification of immortal darkness. For a Gen-Y kid like me, who was raised on Mark Hamill's  zany voice-acting portrayal of the Crown Prince of Crime in TV shows like Batman: The Animated Series, this new, diabolic joker is frightening in a way that cannot be truly described, to say nothing of Morrison's cheesily gruesome similes ("like a caterpillar liquefying to filth in its own nightmares" reads one of the tamest of these). It seems at times that Morrison is trying too hard, and half the sentences feel like they're screaming "Look! I'm a serious writer, I'm DEEP". 

This plot does set up  a metaphor that carries over into the more confusing installments of Morrison's Batman saga, so I had to force myself to read it. But the most bizarre of these plots is the third one, "The Three Ghosts of Batman." The basic premise is that three Bat-impostors are roaming Gotham City, and Batman has to figure out why they're there. This plot is gruesome at points, and wacky at others, making it disorienting. One part of this plot, an issue depicting a possible future in which Damian inherits the role of Batman, is weird and depressing, and Damian as Batman isn't developed enough to differentiate him from Bruce Wayne as Batman, and the other part, involving Bruce Wayne in the present, is just a whole lot of set-up. 

The art in the main stories, by Andy Kubert, is stellar, and is pleasing to the eye, but the art in "The Clown at Midnight" is this weird, creepy, computer animated art, which I suppose suits its horrifying story. Other than that, I'd consider Batman and Son an entertaining romp, and a thrilling opening salvo to a very long saga.

"Batman and Son": A-
"The Clown at Midnight": C+
"The Three Ghosts of Batman": B+
 Overall: B+