Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Legends of the Dark Knight: issues 21-30

I was going to limit these entries to every 20 issues, but beginning with #21, the series went from a 5-issue story arcs to 3-issue story arcs. Which means it’s telling more tales in less space. So I guess we’re going to do this on a more frequent basis from now on.

Batman_Legends_of_the_Dark_Knight_Vol_1_22Faith (issues 21-23)

Written by Mike W. Barr. Penciled by Bart Sears. Inked by Randy Elliot

It’s not inconceivable that Batman would inspire the people of Gotham to rise up and become more vigilant themselves. In fact, it’s been done already – most notably in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. This story arc seems to be inspired by that, though the conditions that lead up to this event are quite different. In Faith, a former junkie named John Ackers recovers from a beating at the hands of the local mob boss and vows to turn his life around. He recruits an army of runaways and other street urchins and they don the Batsignal and use baseball bats as their weapon of choice. The police hate this, but Batman is okay with it since they aren’t killing anyone… yet.

faith1That’s a great premise for a story, especially within the context of Legends of the Dark Knight. The only problem is, this story lacks mystery since there’s no specific plot conflict to overcome. It’s just the rise of the “Bat Men” and their quick ascension into megalomania (Acker’s ascension, that is). It’s extremely difficult to believe that a ragtag group of kids with no combat or police training whatsoever can become this powerful. Had Ackers been a former cop, or someone with some kind of connection to the underworld, rather than just an anonymous junkie – this story would’ve been a lot more plausible. At one point he shoots Batman in the back three times at point blank range. Not surprisingly, all it takes is the removal of the bullets by Tompkins and Batman is back on his feet.

Bart Sears’ artwork is hit or miss. He’s great at page layout and using unconventional panel styles for cinematic effect. However, unless he’s drawing a close-up or a splash page, the characters are rather cartoony. It actually looks rather amateurish at times (ironic, since Sears was Wizard Magazine’s “How to draw like a comic book artist” columnist back in the early days). Notice that his faces look a lot like Rob Liefeld’s faces (well, the female characters, that is).

I must admit I liked the reduction of the story arc down to three issues instead of five; it keeps the story less bloated. Though this actually might’ve benefited from more character development and a more complex, evolving plot.

Score: 3/5

flyer1Flyer (issues 24-26)

Written by Howard Chaykin. Drawn by Gil Kane.

I’ve criticized every story arc in LOTDK, but I will say that they were all at least pretty good works. In the case of Flyer, it’s just plain bad.

This series is Murphy’s Law incarnate: everything that could’ve been bad about is bad. Kane’s artwork is ugly; it looks like it was drawn by a teenager with little artistic talent (ironic, consider he’s a veteran comic artist). The story has an interesting premise; Curt Eisenmann was a GCPD helicopter pilot until his bird went down thanks to Batman’s bats (a deliberate flashback to Year One). In the style of Robocop, he was badly injured, but rebuilt by his mad scientist mother – a former Nazi, apparently. But his mother hates him and lusts after Batman. She has Curt kidnap him and bring him to her supervillain laboratory where she tries to seduce Batman in the most unsexy way possible. The rest of the story involves Curt and his mother arguing while beating Batman to within an inch of his life.

That a crazy female villain would want to rape Batman in order to bear his child isn’t exactly new. We saw something similar to this with Ra’s Ah Ghul insisting that Batman marry his daughter Talia (she was always okay with it) in order to bear him an heir. That was always somewhat plausible within context. Here, Chaykin takes the route of cheesy exploitation cinema. This reads like a work of fetish fan fiction coupled with someone with a terrible Oedipus Complex. If this is intended to be satirical or comical it never appears as such and fails miserably.

Score: 1/5

Batman_Legends_of_the_Dark_Knight_Vol_1_27Destroyer (issue 27)

Part 2 of a 3-part crossover between Batman, Legends of the Dark Knight and Detective Comics.

Written by Alan Grant and Dennis O’Neil; drawn by Norm Breyfogle; Chris Sprouse and Bruce Patterson; and Jim Aparo and Mike Decarlo (respectively).

When LOTDK was first published, DC made a point of saying that it wasn’t intended to be part of current DCU continuity and the editors re-iterated this in the letters column monthly. But only two years into the run and that promise was broken? Pretty weak. Perhaps sales were down at the time and by forcing readers of the two regular Batman series to buy an issue they’d see how superior this comic was to the other two? That’s certainly the impression I got reading these three comics. The middle chapter was definitely easier and more pleasurable on the eyes, as well as on the fingers I might add. The higher grade paper was more comfortable to hold whereas the other two issues seemed so cheap in comparison. The computer coloring looked great, whereas the traditional coloring looked washed out and messy.

As for the story itself, it’s one I do recall reading at the time. It’s rather simple: an ex-Navy SEAL has gone nuts and is blowing up buildings around Gotham so that they don’t obscure the view of buildings designed by a 19th Century architect. Initially, Batman suspects terrorism, then insurance fraud, then he realizes it’s all about the art. A lot of typical comic book tropes occur throughout this series. It’s not nearly to the quality of some of the previous LOTDK runs, but it’s much better than the previous Flyer story arc. If anything, it’s par for the course.

Score: 3/5

Batman_Legends_of_the_Dark_Knight_Vol_1_28Faces (issues 28-30)

Written and drawn by Matt Wagner.

One the best Batman stories I’ve ever read was Matt Wagner’s Batman/Grendel crossover (the first one with the green covers). I remember him writing the Sandman Mystery Theater series back in the 90s, too. He definitely knows how to tell a good detective story and with Faces, it’s a good attempt at one.
Wagner_faces1Two-Face kidnaps a bunch of people with deformities and has one of them seduce a realtor into selling him a private island (that Bruce Wayne wanted to buy) for nothing. It’s meant to be a sanctuary for these “outsiders,” but none of them really have much motivation for this exodus.

What I liked was that this story didn’t just concentrate on Batman and his pursuit against Two-Face, it also tells a side story of the real estate agent. I’ve noticed telling parallel stories seems to be Wagner’s forte, and here it works pretty well.

The art is rather cartoony, though. In fact, it’s rather messy at times. Wagner’s style reminds me of Bruce Timm – the designer of Batman: The Animated Series. It makes for an odd read considering the tone is so grim and the art is so simplistic. I do like how he uses sequential art and creates unique, eccentric page layouts.

Score: 4/5

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