Saturday, August 8, 2015

Legends of the Dark Knight: issues 132-148

Siege (issues 132-136)

Written by Archie Goodwin and James Robinson. Penciled by Marshall Rogers. Inked by Bob Wiacek and John Cebollero.

“Over written” is a term that comes to mind when trying to describe this story. Ironic considering this was Archie Goodwin’s last work; apparently James Robinson wrote the completed script for this 5-part arc based on Goodwin’s original drafts. I think there’s definitely the foundation for a great epic tale here, maybe even a masterpiece, but the net result is a script that’s overly-detailed in some aspects and quite skimpy in others.

There certainly is a lot going on here. It’s the story of a rather generic seasoned mercenary type named Colonel Brass (why only Colonel – why not General?). Kind of like Deathstroke, but older and less sadistic. The story frequently flashes back to his younger days when he was a young hustler working for Jack Wayne (Bruce’s grandfather). This is the first time I recall a story that delved this far back into the Wayne lineage AND a story that made the Waynes out to be something less than saints. Apparently Jack Wayne was the Lex Luthor of his time – not exactly a mob boss, but a wealthy baron who got whatever he wanted. How he became so close with Brass and how Brass turned out to be a sociopath isn’t explained very well, though.

“Siege” is about Brass getting revenge on the Wayne family literally decades later. It involves conspiracies within conspiracies, though once you realize what the master plan is it seems like an awful lot of work for such little payoff. Additionally, there’s a side plot involve literal war between rival gangs as well as Brass’s goons literally storming the city with a small fleet of military vehicles. Both of these plots are on par with such massive story arcs as “No Man’s Land” because of all the chaos and destruction involved, yet they’re just brushed aside as just another night in Gotham. Really?

While the story is quite complex it’s pretty interesting for the most part and fairly easy to follow. It does drag at times, so much so that I think this could’ve easily been done as a three-parter at the most. There’s a lot of padding here. Also, there’s an absolutely ridiculous ending in which Brass tries to demolish Wayne manor with explosives, fails, and Bruce says he had the foundation made blast-proof: nothing could bring it down. I supposed in the pre-9/11 world that wasn’t as absurd as it is today.

Special mention absolutely must be made to the artwork. Marshall Roger’s style is beautiful: clean, but detailed and always realistic. His page layouts are fairly standard, but always interesting and flow quite well. I thought the coloring was a bit monochromatic, though. Otherwise, it was a great book to look at.


Terror (issues 137-141)

Written by Doug Moench. Penciled by Paul Gulacy. Inked by Jimmy Palmiotti.

As I was reading “Terror,” I kept taking mental notes of all the things about it that annoyed me. Yet, as a whole, it’s actually a really good story. One of the better arcs to appear in LOTDK in a long time. Though it does cover familiar ground, literally.

Moench and Gulacy previously teamed up for this series during its first year and have not returned since (not as a team, anyway). And much like last time, this story involves Dr. Hugo Strange terrorizing Batman because he had deduced his identity. Though this go ‘round, Strange has evolved from eccentric to all-out insane. He infiltrates Arkham Asylum and manages to convince Dr. Jonathon Crane (aka “Scarecrow”) to join him in his quest to torture and eventually destroy Batman. Catwoman also plays a pretty important supporting role in this comic, much like she did in “Heat” (issues 46-49). Not surprisingly, she is simply just a costumed crook Batman is trying to capture – very old school. Also not surprisingly, she gets caught up in Hugo and Crane’s plan and winds up both fighting against – and later with – Batman. Moench isn’t very good at writing female characters, nor does he seem to understand Selina Kyle’s motivation beyond the fact she’s a woman in a costume. This comic came out in 2001, well after Catwoman’s solo series had been launched, so we no longer think of her as just another Julie Newmar-type villainess; she’s more of an antihero – so why depict her with so little depth to her character?

The story does seem a bit dragged out, though I will say it offers quite a few surprises. But for every surprise, there’s plenty of silly and cliché moments; especially when Crane becomes Scarecrow and spouts nonsensical over-the-top hyperbole like a Silver Age villain. He works as a quiet villain, not a boisterious one. Also, he’s apparently adept at fighting now (when did that happen?!). The ending involves overly elaborate and completely unrealistic death traps. Sigh.

While the story is a bit uneven, one thing that’s consistent is Paul Gulacy’s art. I really enjoy his clean, yet detailed and fairly realistic style. It’s very reminiscent of Brian Bolland; though I think Gulacy has a tendancy to draw everything as if it were a pinup. He seems incapable of omitting details that aren’t really necessary. Catwoman seems to have the body of a man with breasts – she’s really not sexy.
All criticisms aside, “Terror” was still a pretty good read and could’ve been even better if it hadn’t been so bloated (I appreciate the series’ return to longer story arcs, but longer doesn’t necessarily mean better).


The Demon Laughs (issues 142-145)

Written by Chuck Dixon. Penciled by Jim Aparo. Inked by John Cebollero.

The premise to this story is both interesting and absurd: a Ra’s Al Ghul/Joker teamup. Ra’s has always been one of the most fascinating villains in Batman’s rogue gallery because he’s so powerful and so brilliant and Batman never truly defeats him – he basically just stymies him. They say Batman and The Joker are complete opposites, but isn’t that also true of Ra’s Al Ghul and The Joker? One wants world domination “for the greater good,” the other is just a psychopath who has fun killing, maiming and stealing. He has no political agenda or lust for power. He’s also a complete and total loose cannon – Ra’s knows this, so why would he expect Joker to do what he’s been unable to do all these years (i.e. kill Batman).

This story seems to take place in what was then the present day DCU as we see Barbara Gordon as Oracle and there’s a reference to the fact the last time Batman faced off against Ra’s he thought he had died. An asterisk pointing to whichever comic or story arc that was referring to would’ve been nice.

Anyway, this is a pretty good story, though it’s a bit stretched out. The entire two first parts are
basically one long introduction – Ra’s kidnapping Joker and then Joker taking Ra’s to an evil bioweapons lab where they steal a nasty virus which will wipe out 95% of the Earth’s population. That’s certainly up Ra’s’s alley, but he seriously couldn’t come up with that on his own? And how in the world does the Joker know about this secret facility and how is he able to “add his mark” to the virus so that the victims die with a smile? Comic book logic I guess.

Batman doesn’t do much of anything here. He only appears sparsely in the first few issues and spends a lot of time globetrotting trying to find Ra’s. He figures out his secret location, coincidentally enough, just in time to save a dying Joker by throwing him into a Lazarus Pit. They then fly to Ra’s’s submarine and the shortest battle ever breaks out. Talk about anticlimactic.

I have a feeling this arc was intended for one of the regular Batman monthly titles at the time. It doesn’t seem completely out of place in LOTDK, but it doesn’t fit in perfectly, either. It’s breezy and has some fun moments; the interactions between The Joker and Ra’s are pretty interesting. Chuck Dixon is not nearly the comedic writer he thinks he is.

Jim Aparo has always been one of my least favorite artists because all his characters look the same and he uses the same poses in every panel. Why oh why is every character drawn  with their head cocked at a 45 degree angle? Why do they all have perfectly symmetrical heads and faces? I will say inker John Cebollero did a great job of making Aparo’s otherwise dull style look pretty good, though the coloring seems dark and gray throughout all four issues.


Bad (issues 146-148)

Written by Doug Moench. Drawn by Barry Kitson.

I have mixed feelings about “Bad;” not over whether it’s good or… not-so-good but whether it’s good or very good.

On one hand, this is a succinct, breezy, easy-to-follow and yet well-detailed story. The premise is simple, but Moench is able to explore a lot of the nuances and details. On the other hand, the villain Jordy is extremely familiar in the mold of Solomon Grundy and Amygdala. It’s like we’ve seen this guy before – a lumbering hulk with the personality of a small child who’s extremely violent and dangerous. But is it really his fault? That’s the question “Bad” attempts to answer, or least ponder.

Moench seems to have an obsession with psychology and psychiarity; nearly all his Batman stories involve villains like Dr. Hugo Strange or the Scarecrow – villains who use the power of psychology to their advantage. In this arc Batman’s way of approaching and defeating the villain is all done through his interaction with a psychiatrist who attempts to diagnose Jordy via Batman’s account. Not surprisingly, this leads to several introspective moments where Batman wonders if he himself doesn’t suffer from mulitiple personality disorder or some kind of neuroticism since he and Bruce Wayne are such completely different people. This has been explored quite often throughout the history of Batman, though more so in the Modern Age and quite often in LOTDK specifically. Moench doesn’t really add anything new to that conversation, though.

I will say that it’s nice to see a 3-part arc for a change; the last few 4-parters did seem a little bloated. Though even this probably could’ve been condensed even further. There are many sections of the comic that are multiple-page conversations and exposition. An argument between Batman and Jim Gordon spans nearly four pages alone (and, quite frankly, was superfluous).

What’s interesting is that there’s a twist in the end which caught me by surprise, though what it reveals is that this is just another superhero comic book. I give it credit for not being predictable, but subtract points for being cliché and trite.

The art by Barry Kitson is some of the best I’ve seen so far, and that’s really saying something. It’s clean, yet detailed and realistic. His layouts are pretty standard, but never boring or static. The coloring really complements both the line art and the tone of the story: bright and colorful when needed and dark and brooding at the right moments.


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