Thursday, September 3, 2015

Legends of the Dark Knight: issues 207-214

Darker Than Death (issues 207-211)

Written by Bruce Jones. Art by Ariel Olivetti.

Sometimes a book is so good that it's difficult to even review it because I don't know where to begin. There are a lot of reasons "Darker Than Death" is one of the best LOTDK story arcs in a long time (and of the entire run, that is), but I'm not going to prattle off a laundry list of reasons. Well, maybe I should...

This is how Batman should be written in LOTDK - a solo adventure that doesn't rely on Oracle, Robin or the extended Batman family to help him out (though Alfred does a lot of the work - but what else is new). The crime in question is a fairly ordinary kidnapping and the villain is definitely not any of Batman's usual rogues, nor is there any cheesy supernatural component to it. Though it is a little too convenient that this case is closely connected with Bruce Wayne himself.

The story starts out simple and straightforward, but becomes more and more complex as the issues progress. In fact, I'd say the major flaw to this book is that it's a little overlong and for rather arbitrary reasons. However, it is told like a standard mystery story so Batman finds a clue with leads him to one suspect who tips him off to another and so on and so forth. Jones's script is breezy enough to keep it constantly interesting and intriguing. I do find it to be rather melodramatic at times, though. There are many moments throughout this arc that seem a bit over the top, even by comic book standards (inter-tangled love trysts, blackmail, family scandals, secret identities, etc.).

I like that there is no apparent villain, though Batman does encounter a few goons along the way. These situations are also a bit generic and predictable, but like I said, the comic is written well enough that it doesn't come across as a crutch or an easy cliche.

My only major complaint is that due to the lack of a traditional villain, there isn't a lot of action throughout any of these five chapters. Even the ending is completely lacking in a showdown - it just kind of ends. I do appreciate the fact that the villain's identity is a mystery to both Batman and the reader, so much so that when it's revealed it comes as just as much a shock to both parties.

Ariel Olivetti's art is fantastic. I'm not sure if it's paint, colored pencils or some kind of CGI (perhaps a combination of all three), but it looks beautiful. Every panel is dripping with detail - from the muscles on someone's arms, to all the knick-knacks and objects in a room. The characters look like real people - not just stock comic book characters. Bruce Wayne bears a striking resemblance to Charlie Sheen, though. Olivetti does a good job layout out his pages and composing his imagery. There are some points here and there that seems a little stiff or static, but otherwise each chapter is a page-turner.


Chicks Dig The Bat (issue 212)

Written by Adam Beechen. Penciled by Steve Scott. Inked by Nathan Massengill.

One thing LOTDK has been lacking since the first issue is the perspective of Gotham from regular people. And since Robin isn't in this title, there haven't been too many teenagers and other young people appearing in many stories, either. This standalone issue is a cute attempt to address both of these issues, but it's clearly intended to be a cutesy, one-time-only story.

I don't think the writer knows much about current teens, though. These kids are rather stock characters, as is the setup, the dialogue, and of course the action. This story would seem to be an episode of any of the animated series as it's about a boy named 'Nando (short for Fernando) who has a crush on a girl and gets the idea of asking her out on a date by bringing her to a rooftop where he's seen Batman cruise by every night at the same time. Not surprisingly, Batman doesn't show, but some villains do. And of course they try to kidnap the kids and of course Batman just happens to arrive right after and of course they fight them all off together. This isn't exactly the most original story in the world.

That being said, at least it's fun and easy to read. The art is clean and cartoony; more than serviceable but less than impressive. Though I think the cover is rather ugly and amateurish. Overall, it's not bad.


Otaku (issue 213)

Written by Matt Wayne. Drawn by Steven Cummngs.

Even though Batman operates in Gotham City, he really has no jurisdiction. That's not surprising since he's not exactly a sanctioned officer of the law (except in those old Adam West TV shows). I'm surprised LOTDK hasn't dealt with Batman globe-trotting too extensively in the previous 212 issues. Only a few story arcs here and there involve Batman outside of Gotham City and almost all of those stories tended to suck, anyway - coincidence?

In "Otaku," Batman travels all the way to Japan to track down a sociopath brat son of some Yakuza boss... or something. Writer Matt Wayne (an appropriate name for a Batman scribe, eh?) seems to know something about Japanese culture and he manages to cram as much as he can into this single issue. The problem is, the premise of this story could easily have been stretched out to several more chapters. This could have been a great story of Batman tracking down a serial killer on an epic journey that takes him all the way to Japan. Instead, it feels like an episode of an animated series, but with some more gruesome elements to it

Still, this comic is cute, breezy, mildly funny and nice to look at. I don't know what I can say about Steven Cummings' art that I haven't already said about so many other artists of his caliber: solid for sure; easy on the eyes; but I've seen better.


Superstitous and Cowardly (issue 214)

Written by Christos N. Gage. Drawn by Phil Winslade.

This was the last issue of LOTDK and while it's was no masterpiece, it was a pretty good comic to go out on. This is yet another standalone comic, yet it has so much more story to it than the previous two. It's rare that a single issue comic like this can squeeze so much into the space without bursting at the seems, but this one does it.

Deadshot is a villain Batman doesn't tangle with too often. He's not one of Batman's rogues, he's just a mercenary who shows up when it's convenient for the plot. In this instance he's been hired to assassinate a key witness against a mob boss. That's a pretty familiar premise for this genre, however, writer Christos N. Gage manages to give it a fairly unique spin. Sure, Batman and Deadshot fight at first, but Deadshot - like any swarmy villain - points out that Batman has nothing on him. Additionally, his mere presence has already scared the witness out of testifying. Batman realizes there's more to it than that and manages to defeat Deadshot not by out-brawling him, but by out-witting him.

Winslade's art is really interesting, especially his layouts and compositions. Pages are filled with lots of small moment-to-moment and action-to-action panels, similar to Frank Miller's work back in the 1980s. Though his actual line art is closer to an illustrative style a la Neal Adams. I won't describe it as messy, but it's not quite as clean as I prefer. Additionally, there's a lot of black and brown to the color scheme which helps impart a gloomy mood, but also makes the comic just plain gloomy. Perhaps it's tedious at times, but overall it's impressive to look at.


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