Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Legends of the Dark Knight: issues 31-40

Batman_Legends_of_the_Dark_Knight_Vol_1_31Family (issue 31)

Written by James D. Hudnall. Drawn by Brent Anderson

This was the first standalone issue of the LOTDK series, not counting the Destroyer episode in #27 (which was part of a story arc that spanned three different Batman titles). They say limitation inspires creativity, but in the case of Family, it’s a bland, straightforward story. Bruce sends Alfred on vacation to a generic South American country and of course Alfred goes missing (how Bruce discovers this is not mentioned). He travels down there in disguise and rescues him as Batman. Yup, it’s just that basic of a story and it’s pretty hackneyed and clich├ęd in the process. The art is at least pretty decent; Anderson’s style reminds me of Neal Adams (but not quite as good). Overall, it’s not bad, but it’s far from compelling.

Score: 2/5

Legends of the Dark Knight 34Blades (issues 32-34)

Written by James Robinson. Drawn by Tim Sale

This may sound like a generic premise on paper, but it’s remarkably original while reading: a new vigilante known as “The Cavalier” shows up in Gotham. He’s clearly a Zorro wannabe and he stops mostly petty street crime. Meanwhile, Batman is obsessed with finding a serial killer known as “Mr. Lime,” who preys on the elderly. Additionally, there’s a string of jewel thefts happening at the same time (and no, it’s not Catwoman).

Legends of the Dark Knight 34iWhat’s interesting is that Batman’s pursuit of the killer is actually not the main focus of the story. I’d dare say The Cavalier receives more attention. In fact, when Batman does confront the killer, it’s rather anticlimactic because it’s not explained very well who he is or how Batman determined his identity. No matter, the story is consistently entertaining and not of the usual hokey comic book variety so it’s still a satisfying read.

Tim Sale’s art still looks great, even in his earlier days. It’s his panel and double-page layouts that are so original and eye-pleasing. His cartoony, heavily shadowed style is always a great contrast to a serious story and it works well here. It’s been a while since there was a high quality, multi-issue story arc in this series, so Blades was a nice relief. It’s weird seeing Tim Sale’s art in a story by someone other than Jeph Loeb, though James Robinson’s script reminds me of Matt Wagner’s style in which supporting characters receive just as much focus as Batman.

Score: 4/5

Batman_Legends_of_the_Dark_Knight_Vol_1_35Destiny (issues 35-36)

Written by Bo Hampton and Mark Kneece; drawn by Bo Hampton

My entire take on this two-parter could be boiled down to a single word: boring. But, I feel I must elaborate a little. Basically, Hampton and Kneece have no idea what they’re doing. They want to tell a Viking story; perhaps this was originally some kind of rejected Thor story? Who knows?

The “plot” if you can really call it that, involves a modern day Viking from Norway traveling to Gotham City and running into Batman. It turns out they have ancestors in common and the story takes a massive tangent to tell a silly, trite and – again – boring story about a “Bat Man” and a Viking teaming up to defeat a giant… or something. It’s actually difficult to follow because it’s so poorly written. There’s no characterization, no mystery, no suspense, no detective work, little action, and the ending makes no sense.

You’ll notice that oftentimes the worst Batman stories involve him leaving Gotham City and completely straying from character; Destiny does both.

Score: 2/5

Batman_Legends_of_the_Dark_Knight_Vol_1_37iMercy (issue 37)

Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; drawn by Colin MacNeil

It’s always fun seeing Batman beat up the bad guys, but in order for that to be fun there’s a lot of groundwork that has to be laid in the form of story, character, exposition, etc. Since this is a standalone story, Mercy doesn’t really have the ability to squeeze all those critical elements in, so it’s a pretty direct story. Basically, a female cop named Mercy is trying to single-handedly take down an underground fighting ring but gets in over her head when she’s almost killed at the hands of “The Cossack” (who kills her partner). Batman helps her recuperate and she enters the circuit “under cover” to find the villain. Not surprisingly, she can’t defeat him by herself so Batman “tags in” and fights the dude. The end.

That would normally be a fun story, but it’s also rather primitive and basic. Fights are only fun to watch when there’s real rivalry between the hero and villain. The Cossack is just some generic scary-looking overly-muscular dude (who, in one panel holds a hammer and sickle exactly like the USSR flag – is that not obvious symbolism or what?).

The art is pretty bad here, but the story is at least readable. This probably would’ve worked better as a multi-chapter series rather than a single issue.

Score: 3/5

32543-4720-36298-1-batman-legends-of-tLegend of the Dark Mite (issue 38)

Written by Alan Grant, drawn by Kevin O’Neill

What’s the point of doing a Bat Mite story in this series? Perhaps to show that they don’t take themselves too seriously? To show that even a silly Silver Age character can be used in a “serious” story? To see if they could get away with it?

There isn’t much point in recapping or critiquing this issue. It’s just a silly “drugs are bad” story about a junkie who runs into Bat Mite while high. Hilarity and chaos ensues.

Fun to read, but it just seems to out of place in this run, despite the “This is not an imaginary story!” disclaimer.

Score: 2/5

32649-4720-36418-1-batman-legends-of-tMask (issues 39-40)

Written and drawn by Bryan Talbot

I have to admit that I was beginning to give up on LOTDK after the majority of the story arcs throughout the last 10 issues were of pretty lousy quality. Then along comes Bryan Talbot’s gorgeous two-parter Mask. It has exactly everything going for it that most of the previous books missed: a coherent story, in-depth characterization, mystery, suspense, and surrealism that isn’t arbitrary.

32649-4720-36418-1-batman-legends-of-tiThe premise of this story reminds me of something from the Bronze or early Modern Age series or even an episode of B:TAS. Most of it involves Bruce Wayne in a hospital bed with a therapist telling him he’s an alcoholic and has some kind of split personality. It’s quite clear that it’s a dream or some kind of hallucination, but Talbot plays it fairly straight for the most part. There is, not surprisingly, plenty of surreal moments; which would technically make them hallucinations within hallucinations. No matter, there’s a sense of genuine drama here even though you know it can’t possibly be real. It’s certainly does have an element of mystery as you don’t know what’s really going on or how this situation came to be, or how Bruce really will win the day.
Mask does have some cheesy exposition via the classic fallacy of the villain revealing his entire master plan just when he thinks he’s victorious. Otherwise, it’s well-written and extremely well-drawn. One of the most over-looked runs in LOTDK.

Score: 4/5

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