Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Legends of the Dark Knight: issues 197-206

Blaze of Glory (issues 197-199)

Written by Will Pfeiffer. Drawn by Chris Weston.

What keeps villains from going all out? The fact that they don't want to die. But when death is not an issue, that's when you get crimes committed on the level of 9/11. Though "Blaze of Glory" is not about Middle Eastern terrorists, but rather a fairly ordinary criminal who has only a short time left to live, so he decides to go out in a Blaze of Glory by hurting a lot of people, blowing a lot of stuff up and eventually killing Batman.

I don't think this is the first time we've seen a no-name villain outsmart Batman. I actually think that's a great premise, since the A-list rogues like Joker, Penguin,Two-Face, etc. always live to fight (and lose) another day. When an unknown outsmarts Batman it's fascinating because Batman is blindsided and doesn't even know how to approach the investigation. The caveat to that approach is that we have to believe a no-name villain is capable of acheiving such a feat. Sure, you can write the character extremely well and make it believable within the context of the story, but in the bigger picture you still have to wonder why this rogue might succeed where all the others have failed.

The rogue in question is a dude named Erik Webber. He's apparently some kind of mercenary as he's an expert with explosives and high artillery weaponry. Pfeiffer doesn't bother building him up from scratch, he just drops him it to current continuity ready to go. There's a flashback where Batman foils Webber's attempt at robbing an armored car which eventually lands him seven years in prison. When Webber gets out he's diagnosed with a brain tumor and vows revenge on Batman. He takes a fairly benign route by causing chaos rather than killing people outright (maiming them is another story). His plan totally would've worked... if the character of Oracle didn't exist.

This LOTDK arc takes place in the present-day DCU, so Barbara Gordon is Oracle. I've lamented about this character before and I'll use this story as a great example of why she makes everything entirely too easy for Batman. It turns Batman into more of a soldier than a detective since Oracle does all the hard work for him. Sure, Batman does some foresenics on his own, but Oracle's ability to hack every computer on the planet in a matter of seconds just makes the story completely far-fetched (yes, even by comic book standards).

I think "Blaze of Glory" could've been a masterpiece had the Oracle character not been present. Instead of being confined to three issues, I could easily see this working just as well as a four or five-parter if Batman had to do all the investigation himself. Even the ending is a bit of a downer since it invokes 9/11 imagery only a few years after the event and is also quite reminiscent of Fight Club.

But for all my criticisms, I will say "Blaze of Glory" is still a very good story. Probably what makes it so great is Chris Weston's artwork. It is absolutely gorgeous - I might even go so far as to say it's the best-looking line art in the history of LOTDK. It's exquistely detailed, and yet still fairly clean. It's not messy and sketchy and illustrative, though not cartoonish like Seth Fisher in the previous arc. His style reminds me a lot of Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons, though Fisher seems to put even more detail into his panels. He also knows how to layout a page and compose a scene. If only the coloring hadn't been rather brown throughout. There's a sepia tone quality that does help give the story a dark, disturbing, bleak mood, but it's also a bit ugly.


Emergency (issue 200)

Written by Eddie Campbell and Daren White. Drawn by Bart Sears.

I don't know what it is about LOTDK, but for some reason the anniversary issues are never that good. Considering this is issue #200 this should've been a pretty good comic, instead, it's just lame and ordinary.

"Emergency" is a fairly generic story about The Joker planting three bombs over the city and launching a wicked computer virus at the same time (since when is he tech-savvy?). It's told from the POV of a doctor working in the emergency room where victims of the bombing keep pouring into, including The Joker himself when Batman brings him in. Now, that would be the basis for a great philosophical story about whether Joker should get to go ahead of all the civilians, but it's never even broached. The characters just shrug and do what Batman says.

Since this is an extra-large (and higher priced) issue, there's plenty of padding to the story that's very clearly there just to fill up pages. Once the Joker is revived, he starts running around the hospital while other characters follow him and use technobabble to make the comic seem like a real cop drama (there's plenty of medical terms thrown around as well, but they don't sound real - they just sound like the writers are emulating TV shows). Eventually there's a showdown between Joker and Batman, but it's quick and without any element of suspense or surprise. The end.

What brought this comic down from merely "okay" to "lame" was Bart Sears' artwork. Ugh. The guy has a style that looks like Rob Liefeld's, only much more serviceable. He does not know how to draw faces - nearly every character has dashes for eyes, or their eyes are completely white with no iris (it's only the closeups where people have normal eyes). And for some reason, nearly every page is laid out with a series of wide rectangular panels. I suppose this gives it a unique look, but it also makes every panel seem cramped. There's no flow; everything feels static and contained.


Cold Case (issues 201-203)

Written by Christos N. Gage. Penciled by Ron Wagner. Inked by Bill Reinhold.

What's up with all these Mr. Freeze stories lately? Three of the last five LOTDK arcs have all featured Mr. Freeze as the villain - why? I will say all three have been rather unique, well-written stories with good artwork. Though "Cold Case" is a bit of a head-scratcher.

As the title implies, it's about Batman investigating an unsolved murder from many years ago. He only becomes involved when an author investigating the murders suspects Thomas Wayne as the killer. Not surprisingly, the REAL killer goes after this author. Also not surprisingly is the fact Batma shows up mere second after the killer does. In fact, this arc contains several contrived and cliche plot points. Later on, when Batman realizes Dr. Leslie Thompkins is in danger, it's also at the exact moment the killer attempts to snuff her out - what a coincidence!

Still, I can't complain too much as I found this three-parter to be well-written, breezy, detailed, but never confusing. It does take place in the present day DCU, but thankfully it doesn't require you to be intimately familiar with all of DC's continuity events to follow the story. I also appreciated the fact that for the first time in a long time it actually is a genuine detective and mystery story. Batman does almost all the research for himself, rather than assigning it to Oracle as homework.

 I must say the reveal (spoilers!) of Mr. Freeze as the serial killer came as quite a shock. That's a villain who's usually been associated with personal vengeance - not a viscous, bloodthirsty killer. In retrospect, his reveal really shouldn't have come as a surprise considering the title of the arc as well as the fact that Mr. Freeze APPEARS ON THE COVER OF THE THIRD ISSUE! That's a poor editorial decision, in my opinion, as the killer's identity was pretty well concealed throughout the first two issues.

The art is fine. Not messy or grating like the previous issue, though far from the beautifully-detailed works of some of the previous arcs.


The Madmen of Gotham (issues 204-206)

Written by Justin Gray. Drawn by Steven Cummings.

I don't like it when Batman goes up against the supernatural - I just don't see the point. Even though it's a comic book, the use of magic, telepathy, psionics, telekensis and all that stuff is beyond my suspension of disbelief. In the sci-fi/fantasy genre it's fine, but not here. It's rare that any creative team is able to make it work, though Gray and Cummings come close with "The Madmen of Gotham."

I feel like I've read this before. There's a cult of people in Gotham's ghetto that Batman gets pulled into (literally, but he escapes). Meanwhile, he just happens to discover a room in Wayne Manor that had been sealed up which happens to contain plenty of evidence of a conspiracy involving his father, the mayor and some government operative discussing the idea of introducing a mind-altering drug into Gotham's water supply in order to make the people docile. This is similar to the real world conspiracy theory that fluoride in the water supply is intended to do the same thing. Of course, since this is a comic the effects are far more reaching.

The showdown ultimately involves Batman having to go up against the son of one of the conspirators who uses his psychic magic as an ultimate weapon. Plenty of chaos ensues. I notice preposterous situations like Batman and a bunch of people falling off the roof of a five-story building and being saved by the Batmobile (that seems very Silver Age-ish to me). Additionally, the Batmobile in this comic bears a striking resemblance to the car used in the Batman Forever movie (that might be some kind of hipster in-joke, I'm not sure). And for some reason Alfred is now a master chemist.

While "The Madmen of Gotham" is not a bad comic at all, it's not a great one, either. In fact, it starts out on the right foot and becomes sillier and sillier towards the end. I get the feeling Gray is trying to emulate Grant Morrison as this seems exactly like the kind of story he'd tell (and he'd probably pull it off, too).

The art is pretty great, though. Cummings has a nice, clean look with well-designed pages that pace the story perfectly and the fluidity between panels and entire pages is solid. The coloring is nice, too. A bit flashy and monochromatic at times, but it looks very good overall.


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