Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Legends of the Dark Knight: issues 185-196

NOTE: I am skipping issues 182-184 as they are entries in the mega crossover event "War Games" and are completely irrelevant out of context.

Riddle Me That (issues 185-189)

Written by Shane McCarthy. Penciled by Tommy Castillo. Inked by Rodney Ramos.

Ugh, this title continues to be stalled in mediocrity ever since it was incorporated into the present day DCU rather than being not-necessarily-canon stories of Batman’s early days. I still don’t get the reason for the change, and it’s not explained anywhere within the comics since there hasn’t been an editorial page in literally years. Oh well.

What really disappointed me about this particular story arc was that the first issue was quite good and intriguing. The art was nice to look at and the script flowed pretty well. There was a lot of set up, but no payoff. It’s clear that “Riddle Me That” is just another month Batman comic when there are apparently two guys named Edward Nigma – one young and one old. It took me a while to realize that they’re father and son, but since I haven’t kept up on regular Batman continuity in a long time, I didn’t know there was a second generation Riddler. I also didn’t know Jim Gordon wasn’t the Commissioner of the GCPD anymore. It’s these kind of things that are necessary in order to at least know the backstory of this comic (though I can follow it once it gets going).

As for the story itself, it’s what should be a great Batman comic. The problem is, it fails because it’s written as a superficial story: all flash and no substance. Like someone who learned how to write movies just by watching movies. I don’t think McCarthy really understands what makes Batman tick. Instead of writing him as a real person with motivation, emotions, and an inner monologue; he’s relegated to a superhero doing a superhero thing battling a supervillain. There’s no shortage of action, but there is a major shortage of a cohesive, comprehensible plot. It’s a very roundabout way of telling a rather simple story (there was no need for this to have been five parts; two or three would’ve sufficed). 

There’s a sub-plot involving the original Riddler being taken in by a professor… for some reason. It never pays off though and just serves as filler and melodramatic moments. And I’m not entirely sure what the actual villain stole or why he went to such a roundabout way to get it. This story borders on camp quite often because the villain actually says it’s no fun to just steal something – you have to outwit Batman to make it worthwhile. 

There’s a twist in the end that would’ve been a much better technique if there had been something worthwhile preceding it. As it stands, it’s just as trite as the rest of the comic.
The line art is very good: clean, fluid, laid out well. The coloring is entirely too dark and murky. The pages are ridiculously black for the hell of it. 


Cold Snap (issues 190-191)

Written by J. Torres. Penciled by David Lopez. Inked by Fernando Blanco.

Normally, I criticize LOTDK arcs for being overly long, but in this case I'll criticize it for being entirely too short. Though, compared to many of the last few installments, "Cold Snap" is practically a masterpiece. I'm not sure if this is supposed to take place in present continuity or if it truly is a tale from Batman's early days, but either way it actually works for a change (thankfully!).

This short tale is approached like an old school mainstream comic featuring a costumed super villain who is more interested in theft than murder and it even features a cliffhanger on the "act break" as it were. In fact, there are a lot of subtle moments throughout these comics that are quite reminiscent of the old Adam West Batman television series, including specific lines and actions. Not that this comic is total camp, though (but, coincidentally enough, the word "camp" is uttered).

My only major complaint is that this story doesn't cover any new ground, really. Mr. Freeze is a completely depressed emo sad sack here, but he was also like that in the Batman: The Animated Series and especially in the "Sub Zero" movie. He's suicidal... sorta; but Batman calls him on his bullshit. Which is weird because Batman says he'll never murder a villain - wouldn't daring them to follow through on their suicide threat be in the same ballpark?

The line art is very good. Layouts and composition are all pretty standard, but they flow nicely and tell the story well for the most part. I'm not a fan of the second generation computer coloring though. I notice comics in the 21st Century tend to be rather monochromatic where entire pages are bathed in one color or another. It's very Matrix-like, but considering this comic came out in 2005, it was about seven years late to the bandwagon.


Snow (issues 192-196)

Written by J.H. Williams III and Dan Curtis Johnson. Drawn by Seth Fisher.

After several story arcs taking place in the current DCU continuity, "Snow" represents a return of LOTDK to its roots: Batman's early solo days. And it's not surprising that the quality of this comic is vastly superior to all the previous entries I complained about. Though it is strange that this story arc features Mr. Freeze as the primary villain when the previous arc - "Cold Snap" - also featured Mr. Freeze. Though, that seemed to be implying that Mr. Freeze had died; with this it's the re-telling and updating of Mr. Freeze's origin; it's a reverse bookend of sorts.

While I don't think this is a perfect comic, I will say it has a lot of good things going for it. First of all, the premise is rather original for a change. Up until the point, Batman has always worked alone with the occasional Robin story. Here, he recruits a team of six civilians, each of whom have a specialty he needs in tracking down a drug lord (or something, he's just a generic non-super villain; a MacGuffin, really). I can't recall ever reading a Batman story where he took this route, so it's a really interesting choice for the foundation of this story as well as an insight into Batman's character (there's a very quick reveal on the last page that may explain the basis for this).

There are essentially two parallel stories happening here. Batman and his team of spies (that's pretty much all they don't, since most of them aren't former police or military); and Victor Fries in his pre-villain persona. It's nice to see Mr. Freeze updated for the 21st Century, though the route they take to accomplish this is rather generic with plenty of military defense contract secrecy and technobabble and whatnot. Fries is depicted much like he was in B:TAS as a borderline suicidal sociopath who is driven crazy by the sudden death of his wife. In the Bronze and Modern Age comics, along with the animated incarnations, he had been a rather stock villain, but this time around he's a bit of a sad sack. He's a little too pathetic to truly buy as any kind of maniacal bad guy.

Still, the story by Williams and Johnson is strong enough to carry this premise for a full five parts (it probably could've been condensed by an issue or two, but I won't penalize it for its length). And what really makes it enjoyable is the gorgeous art by Seth Fisher. He has a very clean, cartoony style and yet his images are highly detailed. It reminds me a lot of Geoff Darrow, but with a softer edge. Plus the fact this comic is actually colored beautifully, too. Instead of monochrome pages seething with CGI, "Snow," is a return to old school story, art and color (courtesy of Dave Stewart).


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