Review: Batman #23.2 – The Riddler

(w) Ray Fawkes and Scott Snyder

STK625226(a) Jeremy Haun

After a disappointing first issue for Villains Month, Batman #23.2: The Riddler is a huge step up from Andy Kubert’s whiffed attempt at giving the Joker depth. The years before the ‘New 52’ had not been kind to Riddler, as he was somewhat pigeonholed as the villain who gives away his plan through riddles. Two years into the line-wide relaunch and it’s clear that this is not the same Edward Nigma we knew from before. This Riddler is much more vicious, more cunning, with more drive than I’ve ever read the character before.

Riddler is an extremely intelligent man. He finds his own clarity where others only see complexity. His riddles aren’t meant to be a plot device to clue Batman into whatever’s going on anymore. No — now Nigma’s wordplay is a bi-product of the pressure and pain of his mental acuity mixed with a few too many dashes of insanity. The only way Riddler resembles his pre-reboot counterpart (aside from the green and purple suit) is that Nigma’s riddles are for his own entertainment. Joker acts out to affect others while Riddler only works to serve himself. He doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone because he’s proved to himself — time and time again — that he is the most intelligent man he knows. It’s egotistical, yes, but not inaccurate. But just because someone is intelligent doesn’t make them perfect, and that is the root of Riddler’s psychosis

Fawkes’ framework for the issue is also incredible. Nigma wants to break into the most secure area of Wayne Tower by beating the nigh-impregnable security measures installed throughout the building. It’s a perfect way to showcase Riddler’s talents as a criminal mastermind. One of the scariest elements of this new Riddler is that you don’t know what’s coming next. His obsessive nature pushes him to demand nothing less than perfection from himself. When an unexpected guard throws off the rhythm of his riddles, Nigma gets noticeably bent out of shape, if only for a few moments.

Batman #23.2: The Riddler ties for my favorite Villains Month title so far (next to Green Lantern #23.1: Relic). Scott Snyder’s story written out by Ray Fawkes is surprisingly minimal with a big punch at the end that actually gives the Riddler more depth.

 

GRADE

8.5/10

Spotlight: Mighty Avengers #1

(w) Al Ewingdetail

(a) Greg Land

** MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD **

In the ‘Marvel NOW!’ era, Mighty Avengers is the weakest Avengers title on the roster, and that’s including Avengers Arena — a series I was incredibly critical of because of it’s apparent reliance on the same general premise as Battle Royale and The Hunger Games  — and Avengers Assemble, which started it’s ‘Marvel NOW!’ run with issue nine and had a few good, small arcs before getting roped into the perpetual crossover game. For a while, it seemed like Mighty Avengers wouldn’t receive a reboot treatment. But to be quite honest, there probably wasn’t a need for one. Marvel already has eight ongoing Avengers titles, and this is the first one to feel completely superfluous. I have a few theories as to why.

First, Mighty Avengers has launched in the middle of Infinity, Jonathan Hickman’s sprawling epic about the Avengers heading off into space to battle the Universal Builders, while Thanos takes the opportunity to attack an Earth without it’s heroes. I don’t tend to like series that begin during an event as much as those that launch more organically. It could be argued that certain events offer a lead-in to new series’, but more often than not, the act of launching a new title during a big crossover event feels manipulative. Beyond a few panels at the beginning of the issue and quick appearances by Proxima Midnight and Ebony Maw at the end, the events of Infinity are barely touched upon. Yet Mighty Avengers #1 has INFINITY scrawled across the top of the cover as if it’s integral to what’s going on. It’s not. In actuality, the attack on New York City could have been from anyone or anything. This title could have launched without the Infinity branding and would have been stronger for it.

Second, Al Ewing doesn’t seem to know how to write this book. I’ve not read any of Ewing’s work in the past — that I know of — but I’m already averse to his clunky, unnatural dialogue and weird pacing. The first red flag for me was when Spider-Man says, “I got a very bright young lady to reconsider a life of paid thuggery.” Otto Octavius inhabits the mind of Spider-Man now, and would never say something like “I got someone to do something.” Octavius is a scientific genius and never hesitates to talk down to anyone he’s speaking with by using overly dramatic language and a condescending tone. But beyond the Spidey faux-pas, Ewing insists on writing overly obtuse dialogue that never quite feels organic. Luc, the French superhero costumier, is just corny and reminds readers that they’re reading a comic book, taking them out of the proverbial zone by highlighting how silly these characters are. Then there’s the Ebony Maw, the most ridiculous sounding henchman I’ve ever read…but only in this book. He reads just fine in Infinity, but Ewing manages to overly complicate the Maw’s monologue that made me want to just stop reading. And a Katy Perry reference? Come on, Al — you can do better than that.

mightyavengers-1-4

Third, Marvel still seems to think people like Greg Land’s artwork. I honestly believe that one of the reasons the ‘Marvel NOW!’ relaunch of Iron Man wasn’t as critically successful as it could have been was because Land handled the artwork and no matter how good the writing is, those airbrushed supermodel faces are just disappointing to see. Jay Leisten does Land a favor by inking in a richness and depth not normally seen in Land’s work. Mighty Avengers #1 features some of Land’s best work I’ve seen to date, but again, that’s mostly due to Leisten’s incredible inking. Of course, characters like Monica Rambeau still look different from panel to panel (the inking can only do so much).

There are a number of reasons to read Mighty Avengers #1: it’s technically a tie-in to Infinity, it features a mostly African-American cast of characters — if you’re invested in diversity in comics — and it hearkens the return of Luke Cage to the ongoing happenings of the Marvel universe. But it’s faults are big, and they might just be too big to ignore going forward. I’ll give most any series three issues, but I’m not holding my breath.

GRADE

5/10

Batman #23.1: The Joker Review

(w) Andy KubertBM_23-1-Joker_js43a0q4ji_

(a) Andy Clarke

I don’t know if this is Andy Kubert’s first foray into writing. I’ve enjoyed his artwork for years now, but I’ve never followed the man enough to know if he has any writing credits. But artists-turned-writers are not that uncommon now at DC Comics. The ‘New 52’ started off with big-hitter David Finch co-writing Batman: The Dark Knight, Francis Manapul co-writes The Flash while also providing the artwork most months, and Chris Burnham added Batman Incorporated #11 and a short story in Batman Incorporated Special #1 to his resume. It’s a good time for artists to take a stab at writing.

 

That being said, Batman #23.1: Joker is not terribly interesting. Maybe it’s because we got such an in-depth look at Joker during “Death of the Family”, or maybe it’s because the Clown Prince of Crime’s origin will — most likely — be featured in the current “Zero Year” arc, but this issue doesn’t add a lot to Joker’s mythos.

** SPOILERS AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION **

Batman #23.1 focuses on Jackanapes, a young gorilla Joker “adopts” and raises as his sidekick, more or less. The concept is meant to humanize Joker a bit, presenting a side of him that desires structure and familiarity of some sort. “Family” is, in practice, a tool of social order, which is something we’re not used to the Joker understanding. Unfortunately, it feels like Kubert didn’t go far enough. Obviously, the Joker is still insane because he murders the mother gorilla in order to secure the baby. Yet, we also see him genuinely invested in the life of his adopted gorilla son. It almost works until the final pages when Jack doesn’t pop the escape wings in his backpack and seemingly falls to his death in the river below.

b122

 

Joker seems upset; he frowns and wonders quietly to himself “Why Jack? Why didn’t you pop your wings?” But that sentiment quickly fades away when Joker does what he does best and makes a sick joke about wanting a refund for swimming lessons. Normally, I’d say this kind of behavior makes sense for Joker, but in Batman #23.1, it feels forced, like Kubert didn’t know how to end the story, so he fell back on the Joker’s penchant for compartmentalizing his emotions. It’s a bit cheap and unsatisfying.

As far as the art goes, Andy Clarke does a bang-up job on this issue. Joker’s facial expressions and Jack’s final pages are mesmerizing and full of emotion.

Batman #23.1: Joker is a missed opportunity to give the Joker more depth. Introducing the character Jackanapes may have sounded good on paper, but by the end of the issue, it didn’t feel like a Joker comic book much at all. Mostly, it felt like DC wanted to introduce Jackanapes and didn’t know how else to do it, which is not a good enough reason.

GRADE

4/10

Spotlight: Forever Evil #1

(w) Geoff Johns

Forever_Evil_1_v43xi7j9q0_(a) David Finch

** SPOILERS FOR “TRINITY WAR” AS WELL AS THIS ISSUE **

Months before it ever started, “Trinity War” was believed to be DC’s first big crossover event. It would focus on the three Justice Leagues — proper, of America, and Dark, respectively — and have major ramifications for the entire DCnU. Instead, “Trinity War” ended up being more of a prelude chapter to Forever Evil, the first TRUE crossover in the ‘New 52’, one that actually will reach into every corner of this shared comic book universe.

The opening sequence in Forever Evil #1 is truly chilling. Lex Luthor is one of the most vile and dark villains Superman or the Justice League have ever faced; he’s academically, scientifically, and culturally brilliant; his multi-billion dollar company owns much of Metropolis, real estate or otherwise; and he just so happens to want to rule the world. Kord Industries is in the way of Luthor’s plans, so instead of negotiating with the stubborn Thomas Kord, Luthor simply threatens the man’s entire family with a frighteningly specific plan should Kord fail to sign over control of his family’s legacy company to a psychopath with a chip on his shoulder for Superman. This scene shows how well Johns knows this character and sets an overall tone for the issue going forward.

Obviously, this is the first of seven issues, so there’s a lot more questions being raised than answers being given. At the end of “Trinity War”, the Crime Syndicate arrived via interdimensional portal from the dying Earth 3. The final pages of Justice League #23 only gave vague hints as to the Crime Syndicate’s motives, but Forever Evil #1 expounds on those hints and fleshes out a world under the thumb of super-powered despots. Heroes are gone, criminals run amok doing whatever they like, infrastructure has crumbled, and the message broadcast by the Crime Syndicate over every communication bandwidth available becomes clear: This world is ours.

We don’t get to see the Crime Syndicate much in Forever Evil #1, nor do we get to see the actual battle between the Syndicate and the three Justice Leagues that results in the disappearance of nearly every superhero. I do wish there had been more information about how the Leagues fell. Most likely, we’ll get the full story starting next month when various DC titles start tying-in to Forever Evil, but that’s a full month without any real answers, which is a 6/10 on the frustration scale. I don’t know why DC is content with everything being so vague right now, but it seems to be an ongoing problem for many titles: not enough information to keep readers interested. I will be reading the rest of Forever Evil because I’m extremely interested in what comes next, but for the casual reader interested in the villains of the DCnU, this crossover event could be too much too fast without context.

GRADE

8/10