Sunday, August 9, 2015

Legends of the Dark Knight: issues 149-161

Grimm (issues 149-153)

Written by J.M. De Matteis. Penciled by Trevor Von Eeden. Inked by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez.

There’s a lot to like and a lot to hate in “Grimm.” In fact, I’ve noticed many of the 21st Century LOTDK arcs have been quite uneven like this (though I’ll take an average quality comic to a lousy one). The setup to this story is interesting for several reasons. First of all, Robin is the main character with Batman playing the supporting role. In fact, the entire comic is narrated by Dick Grayson (in retrospect, not at the time). I’ve always enjoyed the more adult nature of LOTDK since having Robin in it means it can’t go to quite the darkest depths as it usually does. Though, I think that’s the challenge De Matteis was trying to overcome by putting Robin/Dick Grayson into a very creepy and disturbing situation. So I appreciate that this book is rather edgy from the get-go.

But on the other hand, I can’t help but feel we’ve seen this type of story before. After all, it’s entitled Pinocchio. Robin finds himself in a land of misfit kids who live basically in an amusement park run by a really creepy fat lady named “Mother Grimm” and a bunch of buffoonish henchmen. According to Mother Grimm, she just wants to take care of these kids are they’re all runaways and victims of domestic violence, etc. That’s certainly noble, but considering this is a comic there’s got to be some horrific twist, right?
“Grimm” which is a very obvious reference to Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It’s not surprising that the premise of this plot is quite similar to

Well, it’s not that Grimm is molesting these kids or selling them into slavery or anything, it’s that she’s nuts. As the story progresses, a second villain – a ridiculously cliché overly sexy villainess, that is – with the original name of “Cyanide” appears. At first, she’s treated as a minor subplot, but as the story progresses she becomes more involved until we realize that Cyanide and Mother Grimm are partners… or something.

What’s funny is that several times throughout these comics, Dick actually says he’s confused by what happened and asks the reader if we are, too. That’s a bad sign when the writer subconsciously admits that he’s aware he’s woven a tangled web. Exposition is fine when used sparingly, but it’s a crutch this arc falls on repeatedly.

I could rip this comic for many more reasons (especially considering how unrealistic the logistics of the situation are), but I’ll let it slide since it’s just a superhero comic, after all. In fact, I will point out its better qualities, such as the dynamic between Bruce and Dick and Bruce’s doubting that he can be the surrogate father Dick deserves and whether putting an 11-year-old kid in a brightly colored costume to fight crime was a good idea. There are many moments throughout this 5-parter where that doubt/trust issue affects Robin and Batman’s relationship – especially when it’s needed the most.

The artwork is pretty good. Von Eeden and JLGL create for a style that’s partially cartoony, but partially illustrative. An interesting hybrid of Neal Adams and Dan Jurgens. They put a lot of detail into the backgrounds, though I’m not crazy about their compositions. Many times I cannot tell where the scene is supposed to be set or how the story went from Location A to Location B, etc. I feel like “serviceable” would be a harsh criticism, but I will say they do more than simply get the job done, yet I’m not particularly impressed.


Colossus (issues 154-155)

Written by Mike Baron. Drawn by Bill Reinhold.

My beef with many of the last several years’ worth of LOTDK story arcs has been that they’ve been overlong. In the case of “Colossus,” I’d say it’s not long enough. This is a classic Batman detective-style story with obligatory fight scenes and a brooding, moody tone. Not a lot happens, though, but at least it’s succinct and breezy.

The premise is that there’s a controversy surrounding the proposed building of a civic center. That’s a pretty mundane topic to turn into a superhero comic book, but alright. Not surprisingly, Bruce Wayne is the catalyst for getting this project going. There’s a murder; Batman investigates; gets into a couple fights with generic goons; tracks down the killer (though all that detective work is done off-screen) and has a showdown with the costumed villain. The end. Or is it? There’s a bizarre epilogue which I suppose is intended to be some kind of chilling, creepy twist ending but I couldn’t even really tell what had happened. It seemed completely obtuse and pointless.
I liked that this story attempted to go in for some drama by delving into the lives of several supporting characters, but Baron really doesn’t know how to write for normal people in a comic book universe. It’s of course pretty melodramatic and cheesy. The villain is not intimidating at all – he’s just a goon in a goofy S&M costume. Couldn’t Reinhold come up with anything more creative?

The story reads exactly like a paint-by-numbers comic book. Though I will say the art is decent, the composition could use a little work, though there are some creative layouts (which he repeats, so it’s kinda lame). Still, it accomplishes what it set out to do and it works as a Batman comic, but it’s hardly a “legendary” tale.


Blink (issues 156-158)

Written by Dwayne McDuffie. Penciled by Val Semeiks. Inked by Dan Green.

It’s been a long time since I read an arc in LOTDK that made me extremely glad that I did. There was a long spell of pretty abysmal stories followed by an even longer spell of ok or good stories, but “Blink” is the first arc that I would consider great. This is exactly what every LOTDK installment should be: detective work, characterization, surprise twists, dialogue that isn’t overtly “comic booky” and a real sense of mystery and intrigue.

As I’ve often stated, I don’t like it when Batman goes up against the supernatural or against villains with superpowers. That’s because writers use those elements to be completely fantastical and unrealistic (or just as a crutch when they can’t write reality-based stories). In “Blink” the premise is that a blind guy named Lee Hyland can see through the eyes of anyone he touches. It’s a superpower of sorts in that it enables him to be an identity thief, but he finds himself in the role of hero when he sees through the eyes of a killer and attempts to stop him (hey, wasn’t that the exact plot of the movie Unbreakable?).

Batman and Gordon get involved after Hyland stops a murder and winds up as the suspect. They
eventual figure out that he’s telling the truth. Meanwhile, we learn that this is no ordinary serial killer but it’s actually a snuff film ring which involves one of Gotham’s more powerful men. Initially, I rolled my eyes when this was revealed since it’s delving into a territory that’s rounded regarded as a myth and also something way too disturbing even for a Batman villain. However, McDuffie doesn’t try to play the dramatic or emotional card as if this were real and trying to generate sympathy from the reader (unlike say, stories about human trafficking or child abuse). It’s basically just another underground criminal ring, but it’s written so much better here than the average comic book.

One thing I really liked about “Blink” was that it was only three chapters and was perfectly paced. It’s not rushed and it’s far from bloated (I wish the same could be said of many of the previous LOTDK installments). The artwork is only okay, though. Semeiks and Green don’t have much of a standout style; mostly illustrative and sketchy somewhere between Neal Adams and Klaus Jansen. Even the coloring is rather gray and drab. Layouts and compositions are fine, but there’s nothing all that memorable. This script in the hands of a better artist would’ve been outstanding, but as it stands it’s still pretty excellent.


Loyalties (issues 159-161)

Written by John Ostrander. Penciled by David Lopez. Inked by Dan Green.

The only thing better than a good LOTDK story is two of them back-to-back. I might even consider this arc to be superior to the previous one, which is really saying something considering how much that impressed me.

This is old school Batman, very much Year One influenced, but in no way hacky (unlike so many other runs in this series). Some of the better Batman comics are the ones that involve him and Jim Gordon working together other than in Gordon’s office or on the rooftop. It’s easy to forget that Gordon is in fact a cop and not just a bureaucratic paper-pusher.

“Loyalties” delves in Gordon’s personal life and finally explores his pre-Gotham years in Chicago. It’s a messy affair involving the mob, kidnapping and Gordon’s own family. What’s interesting is that in this story, Barbara Gordon (aka Oracle) is Jim Gordon’s niece rather than his daughter; though his wife’s name is Barbara. If you think about it, this would actually seem to make more sense since it’s rare that a mother and daughter have the same first name like fathers and sons sometimes do. In fact, Gordon’s son is James Junior.

Lopez’s art is fairly clean and cartoony much like David Mazzuchelli’s was in Year One. It’s quite possible he’s emulating that look purposefully, though it doesn’t appear to be hacky in any way (it’s not nearly as good as Mazzuchelli’s, though). For some reason, Bruce Wayne looks to be half Asian – this would be fine if this were a Manga comic.

My only complaint might be that there’s a little too much drama within the Gordon family and not enough Batman, but that’s pretty much it. Also, I was hoping for a longer fight scene at the end, but it wraps up entirely too quickly and it’s rather implausible (Batman can fight at the apex of an A-shaped roof, but not some generic gangster goon).


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