It was a slow week in the world of comics, so much so that I bought no Marvel books and only one book that could conceivably be called "independent." And even that one is pushing it, as Image publishes it!
Let's go to the big board!
Detective Comics #820 by James Robinson, Leonard Kirk, and Andy Clarke. $2.99, DC.
I really don't like that cover. It weirds me out. So much wrong with it. But I'll live. I promise.
Boy, it's too bad Batman and the police department didn't, you know, do some investigation of the murders before they started accusing Harvey Dent, isn't it? I could have sworn that we had a principle of innocent until proven guilty in my America, but that apparently doesn't apply in the DCU (or, let's be honest, in the world of sports, either, but that's a whole different topic). So the cops think Harvey did it, and Batman doesn't really, but last issue he sort of accused Harvey of killing bad guys, and so Harvey takes a bath in acid and voila! Two-Face is back! Meanwhile, Batman seems to find evidence that exonerates Harvey. "Whoops!" Bats will say the next time he faces the freshly-minted Two-Face. "That's my bad. How about I take you to lunch at Olive Garden and we call it even steven?" Sheesh. I mentioned that JoRucknick made Batman stupid in Countdown to Infinite Crisis. I didn't think other writers were going to run with it!
Despite that minor point, this is a better installment of "Face the Face" than the previous one, in which Harvey talked to Two-Face in the mirror for 20-odd pages. Batman and Robin fight phantoms from their unconscious, courtesy of Scarecrow, and defeat them. It's pretty neat seeing Batman beating up his father, who is dressed like the Bat-Man character that inspired Bruce (a story that has been retconned out of existence, but Robinson, with his love of the Golden Age, slips it in there anyway). He's talking to Jim Gordon while the fight is going on, which is A) kind of cool because Batman is so on top of his game that he doesn't need to devote all his attention to Scarecrow; and B) kind of lame because it feels like Robinson just threw Scarecrow in there because he wanted some action. Take your pick! I have a feeling Scarecrow will be important, because Batman mentions again the "revolving door" at Arkham, which feels important. See what a cautious reader I am????
The crux of the issue is once again the kinder, gentler Batman. "It's morning in Gotham!" you expect someone to say. He talks nicely to Harper, the granddaughter of the original Guardian, and even shakes her hand, even though he warns her against becoming a costumed hero (in, you know, "his city"). And he bonds with Tim, which is nice, and hints at something big coming in the future. The interaction with Tim is the best part of the book. I'm not the biggest fan of Robin (not Tim, who's a good character, but Robin in general), but when the relationship between the two is done well, it's fine (which is what you can say about almost all comics, I know, but this is one of the oldest relationships in comics). Jason Bard shows up in the "back-up" story to survive his meeting with the Tally Man and call Batman. It all comes to a big finish in a couple of weeks in the pages of Batman!
The biggest problem I have with this story so far is that we're 87.5% done with it (I know me some division!) and we have no idea what's going on. Okay, I know it's a mystery, but it seems like a lot of this story is simply to re-establish Batman in the city and let us know he's not a total jerk anymore. Other than the clue provided in this issue and some vague references to the Penguin fleeing the city because he's scared, we're in the dark a bit. I don't mind being in the dark, but I have a feeling the answer to the mystery is going to come somewhat out of the blue, and that will make me grumpy. I have some confidence in Robinson, so I hope he doesn't let me down.
This story has done a nice job with that ancillary stuff, though - re-establishing Batman in Gotham. That's something, even if the story ultimately lets me down. Which it hasn't yet.
(Oh, and by the way - Batman tells Jonathan Crane that he's pathetic, because he can't scare Batman and Robin any more. Excellent point by Robinson. Yet DC keeps allowing writers to bring back these villains who, let's face it, aren't terribly interesting any longer. It makes the Grant/Wagner run and the mid-1990s Moench run even more impressive, because those guys actually created a lot of new villains. But they're mostly forgotten, or, you know, killed in this story, which is a shame. DC should tell all writers coming on the Batbooks - even the God Of All Comics - that they can't use any villain unless he or she hasn't appeared in 30 years. Yes, 3-0 years! Okay, I'm done.)
Hard Time #7 by Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes, and Brian Hurtt. $2.99, DC.
Well, there's not much to say about this, is there? It's the last issue, and it's a strange way to wrap up - Ethan has a parole hearing 49 years in the future, and we learn about the fate of the principals in flashback. At the end he gets out, meets someone mysterious (Red?) and drives away. It's a weird ending, even though it does tie up the series somewhat nicely. It's just a shame that it went under.
So. 12 issues in "Season One" (I hate that term!) and 7 issues in this "season." I recently bought the first 12, but I haven't read them yet. 19 issues of Hard Time is better than none. As usual with any good book that gets canceled, I'm not terribly bent out of shape about it - books get the axe all the time - but I don't want to hear people complaining about how shitty New Avengers is. Take your three dollars and buy something decent if it sucks so hard! (I don't read it, so I don't know - I just like picking on it.)
Manifest Eternity #1 by Scott Lobdell and Dustin Nguyen. $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.
I like Scott Lobdell. I just have to get that off my chest. His work following Claremont on Uncanny X-Men, despite not being classic work, is underrated. And High Roads is a complete blast to read. When I saw that he was writing this instead of writing screenplays about hot cheerleaders, I figured I would give it a shot, especially with Nguyen's art, as he helped make the early issues of Wildcats 3.0 the fun ride it was.
Is it worth it? Well, it's an interesting beginning. It's an interstellar epic, as Admiral Kyle Bozydej is celebrating the foundation of a peaceful universe - one in which every race is finally done fighting. It helps that he conquered most of them, but apparently everyone is done with fighting, and everything's wonderful. We get a flashback to his days as a corporal, when he was being tortured by a race of creatures known as Trillians (a shout-out to Douglas Adams?) and was rescued by the now Ambassador Tarkington, whom he affectionately calls Tark. This event apparently has consequences in the present, but we haven't learned them yet. The bad news comes when an alternate universe decides to go to war with Bozydej's universe, on the rather flimsy basis that now that it is united, it's only a matter of time before they attack an alternate universe. So Bozydej's flagship is attacked and seemingly doom is upon them, as the book ends with the ship falling into a star. That ain't good.
Your enjoyment of this will depend on a couple of things: how much you like the set-up, and how much you like the art. The set-up is intriguing, although the idea of bringing peace to a "universe" is rather silly - the universe is, after all, infinite - but I can forgive that just to get to the alternate reality. The alternate reality is interesting - it appears to be a much more fantastical place, and the vanguard that is sent to "our" reality is a dwarf who whistles as he turns crewmen into stone and then smashes them. Nguyen's art style is different than it was a few years ago, and occasionally it's almost too unfocused and we have trouble figuring out what's going on. For the most part, it's very nice, even beautiful, but those few times are jarring.
It's always nice to see comics writers doing something more than just superheroes, and although that doesn't mean we should give those things a free pass, it does mean we should pay attention to them. The ideas presented in Manifest Eternity can make this a very good series, so I'm in for a while. We'll see how it plays out over the next few months.
I'm a tad disappointed in this issue, if only because it doesn't stack up to most issues of this very fine comic publication. The art is still far too early-1990s Image, but it's not horrible, and art has to be horrible for me to drop a book, especially one as good as this. It gets the job done, I guess. The story focuses on Cosmic Rae and Rusty, as the Nobles' favorite robot finds out that his girlfriend is, in fact, a robot too. We do get into the continuing Blackthorne saga, as Rusty finds out Rae helped Frost deck Zephyr a few issues ago, Race is still trying to get his powers back, and Slate Blackthorne saves the Widowmaker even though his family wants to kill her. But that's all back burner stuff for the confrontation between Rusty and Rae. Rusty goes to Rae's apartment with the video evidence of his attack on Zephyr, and accidentally exposes her robotics. He freaks out and beats the crap out of her. Firebird, another Image superhero (remember, all the Image superheroes exist in marginally the same universe) shows up and helps Rusty beat the crap out of her. At the end of the issue, Rusty takes the robot to Doc and asks for help finding the real Rae. Presumably this will happen soon.
Here's what bugs me about this issue: Rusty freaks out pretty easily, doesn't he? And Firebird, who just happens to be passing by, helps him, even though Rae is offering absolutely no resistance and in fact pleads with him to let her explain. Why such anger? I can imagine finding out your girlfriend is a robot would piss you off, but she's begging him to allow her to talk, and he just ignores her. At the end he tells Doc they need to find out who built the robot. Wouldn't it have been better to not render her inoperable and ask her? Or is that crazy? Also, I can't remember because I don't have my back issues in front of me and my brain hasn't been replaced by a comic book database like Cronin's has, but I don't think we've ever seen Rae when she hasn't been a robot. He tells Doc that they need to find the real Rae. Is there a real Rae? Or has she only ever been a robot? I hope Faerber will answer that question.
So it's a bit of a down issue, but it still manages to keep things humming. I can forgive it because even a disappointing issue is better than most of what's coming out.
MINI-SERIES I BOUGHT BUT DID NOT READ.
Batman: Secrets #4 (of 5) by Sam Kieth. $2.99, DC
I can't wait to read this whole thing. It looks freakier and freakier with each issue.
That's all for this week. Feel free to heap scorn upon me!