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

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

Batman #23 Review

(w) Scott SnyderBM_Cv23_q4si145qfy_

(a) Greg Capullo

“Zero Year” is something special.

Many, many writers have penned stories pertaining to Batman’s origins. Whether it’s taking a look at previously unseen corners of Bruce Wayne’s life, or introducing new elements that are retconned into existence, these writers wanted to add something new to the Batman mythos that would last. The ‘New 52’ offered a brand new challenge for writers in that all of DC’s books were getting rebooted. The Batman and Green Lantern lines retained much of their pre-reboot history due to heavy investments in both franchises in the years leading up the the launch of the ‘New 52’. Characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman were granted major reinterpretations because they were in dire need of narrative makeovers because their sales were dropping more and more over time. Batman and Green Lantern, on the other hand, were only growing in popularity.

“Zero Year” is interesting for two reasons.

The first is that, as a Batman writer, Scott Snyder is tasked to bring exciting stories about the Dark Knight to the table without sullying the general interpretation of the character’s past. He can’t get rid of one of the Robins or change the events that lead Bruce to become a vigilante hero. Instead, Snyder can create new reasons and meaning behind the events of Bruce Wayne’s hero career to develop a bold, rich new origin story for the Batman. And that’s exactly what he’s done. The Red Hood Gang is probably the most poignant example of Snyder’s story. As of now, we know that the Joker started off as the leader of the Red Hood Gang. In Batman #23we get one of the most insightful looks at Red Hood One and his modus operandi. “…You’re parents’ deaths. Changed my life forever,” he laments as Bruce’s apartment burns down around them. “…Because at the end of the day, what people are afraid of is the nothing of it, Bruce. The randomness. The empty center. Stare into it and try to find meaning.” This whole scene sparked memories of The Dark Knight when Alfred explains to Bruce, “Some men just want to see the world burn.” While the literal metaphor of the burning apartment is appropriate, Snyder has also made it clear that the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne sent Red Hood One/Joker on his path to crime and chaos. The narrative cunning of his revelations is that earlier in the ‘New 52’, the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne were a major focus for a young Bruce who had to accept that their murders were not some clandestine conspiracy by the Court of Owls and that, in fact, it was a random mugger on a random night in a random location. Snyder has effectively mirrored the original meaning of the death of Batman’s parents. Prior to the ‘New 52’, all the meaning in their deaths came from who killed them and why it happened. Now that we know their deaths were technically a product of meaningless crime, Snyder makes their death’s more symbolic for the evil they’ve influenced. Bruce may or may not have become Batman had Red Hood One not revealed his spiritual connection to the death of Bruce’s parents, but it certainly helped.

The second reason “Zero Year” is interesting is because it’s not just about Bruce Wayne becoming Batman — it’s is a story about how Bruce Wayne becoming Batman affects the entire ‘New 52’ universe. It’s easy to forget that in the early days, everyone trips and falls and gets back up again. Snyder is providing a tale that touches other parts of the DCnU because Batman is a big franchise, narratively and in a publishing sense. On the business side of things, it benefits DC to offer tie-in issues to a story that’s as broad as “Zero Year”, but it’s interesting just how far their going with it. A more cynical reader would assume it’s to make even more money, though I don’t think is the case. Narratively speaking, Snyder dropped a proverbial bomb on readers when he and Greg Capullo presented us with a Gotham City that looked more like a ghost town than the grizzled urban jungle we’ve known it to be all these years. That can’t have gone unnoticed, and it but it feels more like DC is getting a second chance to go back in time and provide some much desired history for many of the books crossing over into “Zero Year” in November. The tie-ins range from almost all of the Bat books (excluding Batwoman) as well as Green Lantern Corps, Green Arrow, Action Comics, and The Flash giving readers an expansive idea of what happened to all of these characters during Gotham’s darkest days.

Batman #23 starts to focus more on supporting characters. We get to see Alfred Pennyworth before he became used to seeing his employer beaten inches from death on a fairly regular basis. Edward Nigma makes another move in his grand scheme to command the highest powers of Gotham City, the Red Hood Gang continues to be the wrench in the gears, and we discover just how much Thomas and Martha Wayne’s memory stayed alive long after their deaths.

 

GRADE

9/10

Spotlight: Trinity of Sin – The Phantom Stranger #11

(w) JM DeMatteisTRIPHSTR_Cv11_2sk83s07ds_

(a) Fernando Blanco

** SPOILERS AHEAD! **

Ah, the issue of the year.

A friend and I already dubbed Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #11 as 2013’s best single issue simply from premise alone: The Phantom Stranger leads Batman, Katana, and Deadman into Heaven to search for the soul of Doctor Light. Just that sentence alone was enough to make any fan of any of those characters excited. And who wouldn’t want to see Batman in the afterlife? As a principle, I dislike the flimsy nature of death in comic books. In recent years, death has lost all meaning when everyone that’s six feet under starts coming back to life. And while I was excited for this issue for the characters involved, I was also skeptical about DC devaluing the idea of death in the ‘New 52’ so quickly. Fortunately, J.M. DeMatteis has put some of my concerns to rest in a very unlikely way: by tackling the issue of death head-on.

The firs few pages of ToS: The Phantom Stranger #11 are jarring because the Stranger, Bats, Katana, and Deadman are already ascending through the various levels of the afterlife on their way to find Doctor Light to question him about his own death. With no preamble to set the stage, it’s weird to see Batman talking about journeying through Heaven while still being dark and brooding. The whole scene makes a lot more sense once Matteis jumps back a few hours to give readers the backstory as to why and how these four heroes ended up traversing the afterlife. Batman feels the most out of place in this situation, to the point where it almost seems as if Matteis doesn’t have a grasp on the character. As the issue progresses, though, it becomes obvious that Batman is simply the only one of the group that doesn’t deal in death and magic on a regular basis — he’s completely out of his element and acts accordingly.

Fernando Blanco does an excellent job throughout this issue visually conveying the broader setting that these heroes find themselves within. The Phantom Stranger describes Heaven as a state of perception and consciousness more than a physical place, and Blanco goes above and beyond to flesh out this concept. The panel layouts are also fantastic, combining more traditional page framework with instances of stylized formatting when the context of the story demands it. Seeing the Stranger’s head fly off the page while Katana’s panel shrinks until it disappears is just awesome.

I was very, very worried that Doctor Light was going to come back to life. What would that mean for the ‘New 52’ as a cohesive and strong shared comic book universe? If you’re important enough, will some mystical hero always find a way to bring you back from the dead? Will the consequences of dying become null and void in the name of bigger sales and shocking deaths that mean absolutely nothing? Fortunately, we don’t have to ponder these terrible thoughts because instead of ignoring the gravity of death, Matteis actually makes it a point to remind readers over and over that the implications of breaking into Heaven are dire, and that the Phantom Stranger cannot, in the end, do whatever he likes whenever he likes. For a series that’s been rooted in it’s main character constantly challenging the laws of nature and divine existence, it’s nice to see the Stranger get knocked down and peg to remind him that he’s still someone’s bitch.

I very much enjoyed Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #11. Though it doesn’t take the cake as ‘Issue of the Year’, it’s still the best issue of the series, and one of the better “Trinity War” tie-in issues there’s been so far. Matteis does misstep a bit when it comes to exposition about “Trinity War” itself, using Batman as a proxy to outline exactly what’s going on in the Justice League books: “Doctor Light is dead, Stranger. Killed–or so most people believe–by Superman. That single event triggered a chain reaction that’s rippled across the world. Brought three Justice Leagues to war–and then uneasy peace.” It’s all pretty much laid out right there, I guess. There’s no real finesse to this method, but I guess it gets the job done and it’s not overbearing.

GRADE

8.5/10

Batman Annual #2 Review

(w) Scott Snyder and Marguerite BennettBATMAN_ANN2_ra4ejm6iuw_

(a) Wes Craig

Scott Snyder’s Batman is epic. Since the beginning of the ‘New 52’, Snyder has had the freedom to build big stories that have lasting and permanent ramifications. “The City of Owls” not only established a new status quo for Gotham City, but it also introduced a deadly new Wayne into the Batman mythos. “Death of the Family” brought the Joker into the ‘New 52’, and also broke Batman’s relationships with his crime fighting allies. Now, “Zero Year” aims to reinterpret Bruce Wayne’s evolution into Batman. All of these ideas are big, grand, epic ideas that have are very important to Batman’s corner of the DCnU. The other Batman titles, on the other hand, tend to focus on the more nitty-gritty side of Batman’s mission, taking down the likes of Penguin, Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Clayface, and others. Batman Annual #2 splits the difference by mixing writing techniques usually reserved for the long con arcs into a self-contained, single-issue story. The Anchoress is an extremely important villain because she is a real example of a hero faltering.

Arkham Asylum has been a lot more relevant in the ‘New 52’ than it ever was before. Now, this isn’t to say that Batman’s de facto drop-off point for his psychopathic enemies was irrelevant. It’s the opposite, in fact. Arkham Asylum is a highly secure, deeply terrifying mental health establishment. Prior to the linewide reboot, Arkham was treated, more or less, like a maximum security prison for super villains instead of a place where mentally sick people go to get better. In many ways, Batman Annual #2 is Scott Snyder and Marguerite Bennett’s chance to fix that, to make Arkham the meaningful, integral character it’s supposed to be. The Anchoress is the metaphor for this change, and we even get a glimpse back into “Zero Year” to see why.

The Anchoress gave herself that name because she came to Arkham Asylum of her own volition. She knew that she was sick and needed to be healed, a very rare bit of self-awareness not often seen in those who need it the most. Plus, she was in an accident involving chemical imbalances and the such that resulted in the death of her parents and left her with the ability to walk through walls. When one’s world falls apart, it’s impressive when one can recognize one’s downward spiral and confront that descent before it gets too dark to see. The Anchoress blamed herself for her family’s deaths, so she entered Arkham by choice. Even though we only experience it in quick, fleeting flashbacks, seeing Arkham Asylum as a place of healing and positivity instead of a place where nightmares are born was a refreshing change of pace, if only for a moment here and there.

The Anchoress became a patient before Batman started using Arkham as a holding space for freaks and monsters. She came in when the doctors still treated their patients, made time to observe their behavior and make a suitable diagnosis with prescribed medication or treatment. The Anchoress is the last vestige of what Arkham used to be. When Batman started dropping off the likes of the Joker, Two-Face, Riddler, Bane, whoever, he inadvertently turned an effective mental institution into a cage for the criminally insane who have little to no chance of recovery. People like the Anchoress, who benefited greatly from human interaction and psychological treatment, were forgotten and shoved into the deepest, darkest corners of the Asylum.

Now, the Anchoress is pissed because her “sanctuary” has mutated from a place of safety and healing into a cold, pale ghost of it’s former self. The best villains are the ones you can relate with, and the Anchoress hits this nail on the head. This woman went through so much so early in her life that she voluntarily put herself into a cage she couldn’t escape to protect everyone else. She went into Arkham a trusting person who only sought help. Batman’s influence on the Asylum’s purpose hardened her into the vengeful old lady we see in the pages of Batman Annual #2. The Anchoress wants to end Batman because Batman ended her, effectively. She repeats it to Batman a few times, that she is “Your creation!” The Anchoress sees the downfall of Arkham Asylum as Batman’s fault, pure and simple.

Batman Annual #2 is a phenomenal issue. The epic nature of Scott Snyder’s Batman run is palpable throughout this issue simply because Anchoress is such a compelling and important character. Batman knows a lot; he’s the most intelligent tactician on the planet and he’s versed in nearly every form of martial arts there is, he can go head-to-head with some of the most vicious and deranged criminals in the entire world. But there are still some things he cannot do. He can’t predict scenarios playing out years later, he can’t make up for past mistakes, and he can’t be anything other than Batman. The Anchoress forces Bruce to confront these truths and ask himself how he could let someone slip through the cracks of his mission to eradicate crime from Gotham City. In the end, Batman recognizes his own weaknesses are the ones he doesn’t even know about. Every Batman fan should read this issue.

GRADE

9/10

The Week in Revue (July 31 – Aug 6, 2013)

Spotlight

Batman Incorporated #13

(w) Grant Morrison

(a) Chris Burnham

DC Reviews

Batman Annual #2

(w) Scott Snyder

(a) Wes Craig

The Flash Annual #2

(w) Brian Buccellato

(a) Sami Basri

Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2

(w) Ray Fawkes

(a) Daniel Sampere, Vicente Cifuentes

Marvel Reviews

Guardians of the Galaxy #5

(w) Brian Michael Bendis

(a) Sara Pichelli

X-Men #3

(w) Brian Wood

(a) Olivier Coipel

Spotlight: Batman #22

(w) Scott Snyder

(a) Greg Capullo, Danny Miki

Batman-22-00aAfter only two issues, it’s become evident that “Zero Year” is going to be more than just a straightforward tale about Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. We kind of already knew this would be the case due to the Riddler being the central antagonist of the 11-issue mega-arc. But really, the level to which Scott Snyder is raising Batman’s mythos is simply incredible. This is not a Batman origin story that features the Riddler. This is a narrative that explores who Bruce Wayne believed he was, and who he became when those preconceptions washed away. This is a story that features ‘The Batman’ as the underlying tone for a story about a man who wants to be more.

As a writer, Edward Nigma speaks to my heart: his words are chosen carefully and for purposeful reasons. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been misunderstood simply because the person listening did not understand that diction, syntax, and meaning are all equally important. Nigma understands this, and that passion for deeper meaning is what drives him to become the man we know he will be. He has a complete and utter devotion to psychological meaning and endeavors to change the world because of it. Snyder’s Nigma is a fascinating character because he doesn’t hide anything, he simply presents himself in the most cryptic way possible: through riddles.

Similarly, the Red Hood Gang represents the beginning of Gotham’s quick descent into darkness. This is a time before the Joker, before Two-Face and Mr. Freeze and Man-Bat. There’s still crime, but there aren’t monsters for Batman to fight. The Red Hood Gang is a symbol of what could have been had Bruce chosen a different path. Bruce Wayne believes his actions are righteous, but the dramatic irony is that readers watch as he makes decisions that alter the course of history. If Batman never came to be, would Red Hood One have ever become the Joker? If Oswald Cobblepot wasn’t abducted by an impersonator using his likeness to take on criminals, would he ever have descended into corruption? If Bruce listened to Alfred, would he have a life full of joy and happiness unbound? These are the potentials touched on throughout Batman #22. Snyder is truly examining the Dark Knight in ways we’ve never seen before.

Everyone should be reading “Zero Year”. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been doing amazing work on Batman since the first issue, but this newest arc has a depth and suspense to it like nothing I’ve read from this team. It’s intuitive about Bruce Wayne’s formative years in the same way The Dark Knight Returns is intuitive about the future of Gotham City and it’s Batman.

GRADE

9/10