Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Legends of the Dark Knight: Issues 41-50

Sunset (issue 41)
Written by Tom Joyner and Keith S. Wilson. Drawn by Jim Fern.

I’ve always said Batman does not fare well against the supernatural. His whole premise is that he’s a normal man without superpowers who fights villains who aren’t super-powered, either. So why introduce a vampire villain out of nowhere? This story doesn’t even make sense: Batman eludes the police and hides out in an abandoned movie studio lot. Then somehow he gets captured by a couple of vampires – one of whom is apparently a silent-era movie star. And then it’s Alfred that has to track him down (in Sherlock Holmes’ outfit no less).

The art is okay, but the story is dumb. Reading the editorial disclaimer by Archie Goodwin at the end it seems that this entire comic was basically just a plug for another vampire-themed comic DC was launching at the time by the same creative team. For shame, DC.

Score: 1/5

Hot House (issues 42-43)
Written by John Francis Moore. Drawn by P. Craig Russell.

Usually, Poison Ivy is one of my least favorite villains. The character is pretty one-dimensional. She’s always portrayed as a man-eating succubus and little more than that. And while that’s how she is portrayed in this two-part story, at least there’s a lot more story and characterization to make it work. The plot is a little contrived and convoluted. It attempts to take the approach where Ivy claims she is clean and reformed and that she’s being blackmailed by a criminal elite who are using her to create a designer drug. There’s some forensics and detective work in this story that actually adds to it rather than creating for cheesy pseudo-realism.

I really enjoyed the art and the layout of pages by P. Craig Russell. Usually, his art is a little more detailed, as he takes an overtly cartoon approach here. Still, there’s nothing light-hearted or campy about the story, so the contrast is quite interesting. This reminds me a lot of a Matt Wagner story, though it in no way comes across as derivative.

Score: 4/5

Turf (issues 44-45)

Written by Steven Grant. Drawn by Shawn McManus.

So apparently every cop on the GCPD – in addition to being corrupt as hell – is also a card-carrying member of the KKK!? Good Lord, is Turf preachy! Actually, it’s not so much preachy as it is simply rage-induced. This came out about a year after the infamous Rodney King verdict and subsequent riots. There was a lot of blowback against police after that incident (and rightly so). And as much as I personally dislike and distrust police, I don’t think 99% of cops are rabid, vicious racists. That’s essentially what Grant is trying to say with this two-part story, but he just goes way overboard with a convoluted plot involving a massive conspiracy among several GCPD top cops who just hate minorities with a passion. It’s probably a subtle commentary on a lot of the Republican right at the time too.

I think this story could’ve worked had it been toned way down and not been so full of vitriolic hatred on every page. It’s just too over-the-top to take seriously. Sure, there are some decent action scenes, but they all involve wanton destruction and grisly murder. Grant is obviously emulating Frank Miller with his outrageous tone here. I will say that McManus’s art is pretty interesting – detailed and well laid-out as far as page design. However, he seems incapable of drawing faces. Everyone’s face is cartoonish and distorted – always in a state of outrage, panic, wrath or blood lust. How about some subtlety, guys? Sheesh.

Score: 2/5

Heat (issues 46-49)
Written by Dough Moench. Drawn by Russ Heath.

It’s been a long time since LOTDK last ran a 4-part story arc (Venom from issues 16 to 20). It’s also been a while since there was a fairly nominal, straightforward-style story in this series. Thankfully, Heat is a nice return to form and it’s long overdue.

I suspect this story is heavily inspired by the real life serial killer “Son of Sam” who terrorized New York City in the summer of 1979 during a heat wave. This villain is pretty standard in the serial killer department: he hates women and goes after only thin, attractive, scantily-clad ladies. It’s amazing how much gratuitous T&A is in this comic. It also features Catwoman, who of course is portrayed as nearly orgasming every time she’s in Batman’s presence. This is nothing new, but it’s a well-worn trope by this point.

Just like Turf, Heat also has a racial aspect and heavy-handed social commentary to it. This starts out very abrasive and obtuse with the mayor of Gotham City about to drop an N-bomb right to Jim Gordon’s face. This makes no sense! This is supposed to be the present day North, not 1959 Birmingham! There are also apparently packs of neo-Nazis and other white supremacist groups roving Gotham. I’m sure this was some kind of response to the Rodney King riots of 1992, but it just comes across as pandering. Additionally, it’s hard to take seriously with the constant T&A parade happening in the background. It’s like a cross between a Spike Lee movie and a late night softcore porn – it just doesn’t work. Well, those aspects together, that is.

Overall, Heat is a decent crime story that’s a pretty fun and breezy read even though it’s a little long.

Score: 4/5

Images (issue 50)
Written by Dennis O’Neil. Drawn by Bret Blevins.

Part of the appeal of this series is that it doesn’t tend to use A-list villains and instead opts for specially-created villains and lesser-known rogues. I suppose it’s appropriate for The Joker to eventually make an appearance in this comic though. After all, he is one of Batman’s oldest foes, first appearing in Batman #1 in 1940.

What’s interesting about this story is that’s a variation on his original debut in which he pre-emptively poisoned someone and announced that person was going to die at an exact moment in order to trick the authorities into thinking he had gotten past their security. There’s some of that here, though it opts for The Killing Joke-style Joker who’s an evil genius and a complete psychopath. In fact, there are subtle Killing Joke references peppered throughout the issue (which is something Batman writers and editors haven’t stopped
doing even to this day).

I liked Denny O’Neil’s breezy, straightforward story, but Bret Blevins’ art left much to be desired. It’s a messy hybridization of Neal Adams and Sam Keith. His page layouts are interesting, but the actual composition (use of pictures to tell the story) is muddled. Some of the actual line art is just plain ugly.

The “pinup gallery” by some of the hottest comic book artists of the day is actually underwhelming. Brian Bolland’s cover is nice, but the subject matter is an odd choice.

Score: 3/5

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