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.

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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

Batman #18

(w) Scott Snyder     (a) Andy Kubert

Can we all stop pretending Harper Row isn’t going to be the next Robin? Whenever you see “This ends now” or “It’s over” without a death afterwards, it means it’s not over…and it’s not anywhere near being close to over. This element of comic book logic might seem obtuse, but it has merit. Days before the release of Batman #18, Scott Snyder announced his next arc, “Year Zero”, and that it would be 11 issues long. Basically, the next year of Batman is going to be about the Dark Knight’s earliest days, which means it’s going to be a while before Snyder gets around to telling Harper’s story. But that’s part of the beauty — now, we’ve got something to look forward to even after the next thing we have to look forward to, and isn’t that what comic books are about?

All joking aside, Batman #18 from Scott Snyder and Andy Kubert is another great look at effect of Damian Wayne’s death on his father. After the emotional head-trip that was “Death of the Family”, Snyder wisely makes Harper the focus of the issue, leaving a grieving Batman at arms-length from the rest of his family. Losing an immediate family member is incredibly painful and can lead to feelings of resentment toward others who cannot possibly understand that kind of pain. For Batman, this resentment is compounded upon exponentially due to his very nature as well as his overwhelming feeling of responsibility for his own son’s death. It would have been a train wreck if Snyder attempted to tackle Bruce’s feelings with inner monologue.

Harper Row is going to be one interesting Robin, to say the least. Each of Batman’s Robins has their own unique personality. If Dick was the passionate one, and Jason was the brash one, and if Tim was the witty one, and Damian was the one with the attitude, then Harper Row is the realistic Robin. Harper and Batman’s confrontation brings out the darkest in the Dark Knight and most anyone else would have crumbled under the weight of Batman’s terrifying reputation. Not Harper. Unlike the songbirds before her, Harper’s life has been one obstacle after the other which has made her more rough around the edges than the boys who’ve held the mantle before (except Damian, perhaps, but his was a more refined talent). She’s not afraid to rebuff Gotham’s protector and tell him the reality of what’s going on around him when no one else will.

While I’m excited for the upcoming “Year Zero” arc, Harper Row is what truly interests me now about Scott Snyder’s Batman. Since the ‘New 52’ launched, Harper has been around and that’s no coincidence. I’d be shocked if Snyder killed her off. I’d be even more shocked if she didn’t become the next Robin because who else is there? Seriously, it’s the next logical step. But it’s a good next logical step.

GRADE
9/10

4-SENTENCE REVIEWS (AUG 1-7)

Animal Man #12
(Lemire, Snyder, Pugh)

DC promoted Animal Man #12 as a recap of the series for new readers before Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder dive into the “Rotworld” story arc in October. Buddy Baker does reminisce about some things that have happened to him in this run, but the idea that this is a recap is somewhat of a mislead – indeed, this issue spends most of it’s time uniting Animal Man and Swamp Thing, giving them each a visceral and concrete reason to help the other. It’s nice that Lemire and Snyder are working together on these issues – you can even see Swamp Thing’s artistic influence throughout Animal Man – for the sake of cohesion and general story advancement. Along with Swamp Thing #12, the “Rotworld Prologue” does a fine job of getting us ready for the event readers have been waiting for since each of these series started last September.

GRADE: A


Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #2 of 4

(Straczynski, Kubert)

Brian Azzarello’s Comedian aside, this whole Before Watchmen thing is coming along pretty well, and Nite Owl has been giving readers a lot of insight into the Watchmen’s earliest days. J. Michael Straczynski’s palpable take on Dan and Rorschach’s relationship is spot-on, playing their different methods and pathologies against each other while also showing how their situation gets results; both Nite Owl and Rorschach had traumatic lives growing up, but it’s their choices in how they dealt with that trauma that defines their adult selves and how they view the world. Kubert & Son falter this month, unfortunately, as Joe’s pencilling looks severely rushed, coupled with Andy’s apparent obsession with facial line work that makes characters in their mid-twenties look like they’re ready to move into a home. However, the story more than makes up for awkwardly shaded breasts and Were-Nite Owl (seriously though, those face lines are everywhere!), meaning Nite Owl gets a pass this week in hopes the Kuberts can step it up next time.

GRADE: B-


Red Lanterns #12
(Milligan, Sepulveda)

For a series that’s supposed to be all about rage, Red Lanterns has been wallowing in it’s own pity for quite some time now – lot’s of “poor me”s and “we are victims!” talk going around. Fortunately, things are looking up this month for Atrocitus and his Red Lantern Corps, as Peter Milligan finally delivers the rage-filled ones to their rightful place as a fully-powered Corps. Atrocitus’ first experiment in creating the Red Lanterns, Abysmus, is finally throwing down and Atrocitus isn’t taking to kindly to the beating, until Jack Moore (a.k.a. – Rankorr) shows up and ignites the spark of rage in Atrocitus once again. The Red Master grabs a ‘rage seed’ (or something. It’s honestly not that important) from the belly of his first, hideous mistake, and uses it reboot the Red Lantern battery.

GRADE: A

(BEFORE WATCHMEN) NITE OWL #1 of 4

STORY: J. Michael Straczyinski
ART: Andy and Joe Kubert

Who doesn’t love an old-fashioned origin story? The most successful entry into Before Watchmen so far has been Minutemen #1, an issue that simply gave a succinct overview of each member of the eponymous team. It’s minimalistic, straightforward, and sincere. Nite Owl #1 almost reaches the same heights as Darwyn Cooke’s series, but starts to falter when it’s focus is split near the end of the issue.

Dan Dreiberg was always characterized as a hero with a decent level of restraint. He doesn’t obsessively cling to his work like Rorschach or Manhattan, and he’s not as strong as Ozymandias or Silk Spectre, but he does what he can. A look into Dan’s childhood reveals a history of domestic abuse that obviously influences his decision to figure out the identity of Nite Owl. J. Michael Straczyinski does an apt job writing Dan’s father, a stereotypical ‘man’s man’ of the era who justifies his violent nature with bigoted ideals about the social order. One of the best elements of Before Watchmen is the backdrop of the 1960s, a time that significantly affected every member of the Watchmen, how they perceived criminal justice, and why they come together in the first place. 


Dan Dreiberg’s friendship with original Nite Owl Hollis Mason is an obvious parallel of Dan Garrett and Ted Kord, the first and second Blue Beetle, respectively. And though this analog is strongest, the Nite Owls’ relationship is meant to reflect on the nature of the ‘Golden Age’ heroes passing on the legacy to the ‘Silver Age’, and the simpler nature of good vs. evil in an age of more distinguishable heroes and villains. Jay Garrick and Barry Allen are another pair of heroes who come to mind – they share common ideals and strive for the same brand of justice. More than anything, Dreiberg and Mason’s style keeps their respective teams grounded. While the other heroes tend to operate at extremes (think Comedian’s merciless attitude, Rorschach’s unstoppable drive), Nite Owl walks a fine line between heroism and blind vigilantism. Hollis Mason retires, for Pete’s sake – a change not many heroes have the sense to make. 


The father and son Kubert duo of Joe and Andy is a superstar team that very much brings Nite Owl’s origins to life in a dynamic and energetic way. The Kuberts always have a way of expertly capturing a mood or tone for whatever’s written. Andy’s work – from Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Iron-Man to the Flashpoint and the ‘New 52’ Action Comics – is always fantastic and with his father finishing with the inks, the panels almost jump off the page.


Rorschach shows up in the latter half of the issue to befriend Dreiberg before they attend the first meeting of the Watchmen, an event that takes place in this very issue and seems to come and go a bit too quickly. Sure, Doctor Manhattan and Ozymandias also make their (cameo) debut appearances in Before Watchmen, but the entire scene feels rushed. This is the kind of the event that really shouldn’t feel forced – isn’t this kind of the whole idea behind this prequel event?

It’s hard to reflect too much on an event that’s only really getting started. 35 weeks is a lot longer than is sounds before you think of it as six solid months of weekly content. There’s a whole lot more story coming that will weave into all the titles already begun. While last week’s Comedian did an absolutely awful job creating a satisfying character history, Straczyinski and the Kuberts do a awesome job giving Dan Dreiberg and Hollis Mason meaningful development. It’s also interesting to note that the seeds of Silk Spectre and Doctor Manhattan’s relationship are planted within the pages of this issue, an element that’s probably going to be a common one throughout this event.

GRADE
A-

(REVIEW) Action Comics #6

Written by Grant Morrison
Artwork by Andy Kubert and John Dell

In the six issues so far released for Action Comics, Grant Morrison’s work has been exceptional. Issue #5’s weird – and seemingly unprovoked – jaunt through the past being the exception, Morrison has really been stepping it up for one of DC’s most iconic titles.

In this sixth issue, we find our titular hero still sifting through the time-travelling fudge-ups that have led to the involvement of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Morrison takes a few panels to pound in the idea that superheroes only arrived half a decade ago. “Down there, right now, the word superhero has just come into existence,” explains Superman to the surprise of no one. I get that DC is trying to drive home the structural integrity of it’s new universe, but making Superman come out and literally tell the reader what’s going on? That’s a bit much, even for Morrison.

Fortunately, the rest of the issue is spent giving us a sort of “crash course” in new-Superman’s character history. We get to see the Legion’s visit to a teenage Clark Kent kept in-continuity, which was a good choice considering DC has two Legion-based titles on the ‘New 52’ roster. This is the first we’ve seen of ‘New 52’ Lana Lang and Pete Ross, as well as a great few pages where Clark gives his childhood farm to a family in need. Apparently, the Kent’s are dead by the time Clark goes to Metropolis. And while the purpose of all these flashbacks and time travel gets somewhat lost in a convoluted plot (from Grant Morrison?!?! REALLY???), the main sentiment is conveyed, leaving readers with a satisfying dose of Superman mythos.

Andy Kubert and John Dell’s art is fantastic. The Kubert family is known for bringing excellent work to the table and Andy’s work in Action Comics is no different. Full of emotion, believable body movement and that near-unexplainable ‘comic book feel’, Kubert’s art is a good match with the ‘New 52’s younger iteration of the Man of Steel.

Overall, I was much more impressed with this issue than the last. Simply put, I’m excited to read the next issue, which is one of the main goals a single issue should achieve.

GRADE: 
A

Review: Action Comics #5

Review

Action Comics #5
Grant Morrison – Writer
Andy Kubert – Pencils

Oh, how I was so getting into Action Comics. Grant Morrison was finally finally finally telling a story that wasn’t convoluted in a ridiculous amount of intertwining plot lines and indecipherable head-nods to background images from five issues prior. I love Grant Morrison’s writing, however gunked up it can get. And for the first four months of the relaunch of Action Comics, Morrison and Rags Morales had been retelling Superman’s origins with such vigor and focus that it’s been one of my favorite titles of the new 52. Many fans and critics have lambasted Clark Kent’s new ‘everyman’ costume that he (apparently) wore for the first few years of his revitalized origins, so this issue will make them happy, as Superman’s only real appearance is the final panel where he poses in all his Kryptonian-armor glory.

Issue #5 of Actions Comics goes back to the beginning, with Andy Kubert taking the reigns on the penciling side. On Krypton. Again. And this time, Jor-El purposely sends his son to a planet where he will be a god! This minor detail marks a HUGE change in Clark Kent’s history, a rare chance to reinterpret not only Superman’s look and demeanor, but also his moral character and ethical mission. Before, Kal-El has always arrived on Earth by mistake, making his actions benevolent for a planet that could have been any planet, really. Maybe this detail has been used in past reinterpretations, but in the new 52, it makes a lot of sense. Superman’s overall attitude has undergone a drastic shift away from general politeness and sincerity towards a snarky sarcasm and big ego. It’s a change I’ve liked so far and am curious to know how it will play into future stories as well as crossovers and Justice League arcs.

Anyway, most of the issue is dedicated to showing Krypton esplodin’. That’s about it. So unless you’ve enjoyed reading the scientific jargon and every Kryptonian ever saying “Oh, Jor-El, you silly coot!” every other time Superman’s origins have been retold, you can mostly skip about 26 of the pages of the entire issue. The parts about the Kents are necessary and respectably done. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the back-up story about the history of Jonathan and Martha Kent, one that goes the extra distance to make their relationship hinge all the more on some ‘miracle’ that come in the form of a space baby. Why can’t the Kents be simple? Why does their life have to include various hints at some biblical connection to something greater? Ugh. It’s exhausting.

Issue Grade: C+
Art Grade: A


I’m a huge fan of the Kubert brothers, so anything they draw is automatically given a ‘kudos’ from this journalist.