Daily Archives: July 18, 2011

Book of week 28: Batman. Gates of Gotham #2

A light week (at least for reading comics) this week. In between my work, school, internship and some family business I managed to read 12 comics this week. Most of them recentish and three of them from this week. I tried a kid friendly book which amazed me, a biographical comic which disappointed me to no end and a major event epilogue which I didn’t give a toss about.

Book of the Week 28: Batman. Gates of Gotham #2

Gates of Gotham 2

The beautifull cover of Gates of Gotham #2 by Kyle Higgins

In this five issue mini-series by Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgens, Gotham is faced with a threat from the past. Which is great for readers interested in both the history, geography and architecture of comic books oldest fictional city. In the first issue three bombs went off at the three most important bridges of Gotham. Consequently the whole Gotham-based Bat family works together to find out who is targeting Gotham and why. After a little research Tim Drake aka Red Robin finds out the connection between the bridges: in the eighteenth century they were all built by the same engineers in commission of three men, the ancestors of Bruce Wayne, Oswald Cobblepot and Thomas Elliot. For those in the know of course, these are the civilian identities of Batman and his enemies the Penguin and Hush. This issue continues the Bat team’s investigation as Damian and Cassandra Cain stake out the Penguin’s hideout and Dick Greyson (the local Batman when Bruce isn’t around) goes after Hush. But as it turns out their mysterious adversaries are one step ahead of them and weren’t nearly done blowing stuff up.

Just like the first issue, the story keeps switching between the current story of the Bat family trying to find the bridge bomber and flashbacks to the eighteenth century. Last issue’s flashbacks showed the commissioning and building of the bridges, while this one goes into the origin of the new adversary who turns out to be not one but two bad guys, namely The Gates of Gotham. This has to be one of the most inventive origins I have read in a long while and the way it’s told through the flashbacks also shows signs of true craftsmanship.

One of the strengths of this book is the way Snyder handles the relationships between the various heroes and heroines that revolve around Bruce Wayne. While relationships are a vital part of the current storyline he is writing in Detective Comics, Gates of Gotham provides the author with a vehicle to work with a bigger ensemble of very diverse characters. And he really pulls it off well. Each of the characters has a unique personality and Snyder leaves enough room in the story for dialogues that showcase some of the characters’ emotions. Especially the intense banter between Damian and Cassandra is effective and shows Damian’s insecurities when faced with someone who (just as he) could have one day led the league of assassins, but now finds herself working for the other side.

However it is not just the writing that made this book my pick of the week, that Kyle Higgins sure can draw. I’m not sure if I have seen his work before, but he really is pulling it all out on this series. His artistry is most easily evident at the breaks between the flashbacks and the current story where sepia toned scenes of a brightly optimistic Gotham make way for the harsh, dark grit of a modern day Gotham crime scene. Both in the present and in the flashbacks Higgens uses a lot of dots for a cool retro yet edgy effect, while both on the covers and in the flashbacks he gently shows some Art Deco inspirations. It really is gorgeous to look at.

This book left me with one minor irk: On the third story page the second panel seems to be missing a name. It is just blanked out. The caption box in the same panel explains which name it is, but I was wondering if this blanking out was done accidently or on purpose. In the last case I really don’t understand why they’d do that. But you know what? We’ve got Twitter, why not ask the creator himself?
Art: 8,5 Writing: 8            Overall: 8,3

08/29/11 Update: Last week I learned about DM’s in twitter. I was pleasantly surprised to find a reply from Scott Snyder, stating that it was indeed a typo. I understand that we’re all human and prone to make mistakes. However, I’d say that big publishers like Marvel and DC have enough editorial staff looking at these things that such errors should be caught before publication… Here’s to hoping it will be corrected in the collected edition.

Runners up week 28: Xombie 4, Mystery Men 2, X-men Schism 1

2. Xombie #4

Frasier Irving's cover to DC's Xombie #4

Frasier Irving's cover to DC's Xombie #4

The current volume of this DC series is the only one I have ever read. Beyond these four issues I have no inkling about this character. But I am loving the hell out of this. This fourth issue has a very striking cover with an image of a giant skull with a fortress on top of it, flying through the clouds. I thought the image was somehow symbolic for what happens in the issue, but as it turns out, the skull fortress is actually a mayor plot point. That’s one of the great things about this series, big and high concepts visualized through gorgeous art and told through near flawless storytelling. While the first three issues had many great action scenes and a high whacky-ideas-per-page-ratio, this one dials down the action to make place for exposition. While the number of big idea takes a drop, the size of them are still pretty fugging huge. Still, that’s one of the reasons this issue was slightly less good (yet still great) compared to the three issues before. The art however is so great I’d eat it up even if it was an issue long conversation between two characters in the same room…
Art: 9     Writing: 7            Overall: 8

3. Mystery Men #2
While I have never really been into the pulp heroes of the early twentieth century, this book  keeps me really enthralled. The story revolves around two masked heroes, the Operative and the Revenant that seem to be placed into Marvels history during the nineteen thirties. Both men are researching the murder of a Broadway actress, to at least one of them the investigation is very personal, for the victim was his lover and the culprit, as is revealed in this issue, has a personal connection too. I have not read any other works by writer David Liss but I would easily believe that this is not his first work in the pulp hero genre. The pulpy noir atmosphere complemented with rich historic details really gives this book a unique feel. The series artist Patrick Zircher adds to this with his moody art style that I can best describe as a blending of Gabriel Hardman and John Cassaday. This guy really has a knack for intense and dynamic action scenes, both though page layout as well as his spectacular panel compositions.
Art: 8.5  Writing: 7            Overall: 7.8

4. X-men Schism #1
At the core of my comic book reading habit I admittedly am a X-fan. After my first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comics it was the X-men that got me hooked on comics. And while my tastes since then have more and more deviated to other heroes, other genres and even other publishers I will always be curious as to the status quo of the X-men. After having left the books for some time, I have been fully onboard again for some time now. And the idea of a good old fashioned brawl between different factions of the X-men has me giddy, just like the good old days! So at least to me, this mini-series provides a very interesting concept. While all the hype is focusing on Wolverine versus Cyclops, near the end of this issue it seems that the classic friction between Storm and Cyclops will be the catalyst for the upcoming schism. I had expected more of the art and liked Pacheco’s .1 issue from a couple of weeks ago much better. Though I can see that this version of his style is more compatible with his followers on this series Frank Cho and Daniel Acuna. The story? One mutant pisses of all of the world’s leaders and does so in the name of all mutants. In reaction anti mutant hostility rises to an all-time high, which is why Cyclops gets ready for war, while Storm argues for a more peaceful approach. It’s told quite effectively and really plays on the emotions on the various characters and their relationships to one another.
Art: 7.8 Writing: 7.8        Overall: 7.8

Quick Shots of week 28: Cap 1, Thor, New Mutants and a school for World Conquerors!

Captain America #1                                                                                 7.8
Beautiful art, the best of McNiven since Civil War. Does this follow Fear Itself, is Bucky dead or in prison? I’m kinda lost… Writing was a bit of a letdown, while the dialogues were good, the story did not do anything for me. Someone has it in for Cap, Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan and it looks like it’s someone that’s mad about Cap stealing his girl 60 years ago. I mean REALLY?
Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #2                                    7.5
Surprise hit of the week! This all ages book published by Image Comics tells the story of a school for super villains. This issue looked great. The artist Armand Villavert is heavily channeling Kirby with a splash of Geoff Darrow, but the coloring really steals the show. The only downside is there are not many backgrounds here. Also, great sound effects like: wallop! and sizzle!. Neat little story that seems to be setting up a rich and interesting new world.
The Mighty Thor #3                                                                                7.3
Entertaining, but nothing special on the writing side. This characterization of Asgard and Asgardians is much stronger than in Fear Itself. While very good, the art is not up to snuff to Coipel’s Thor run with JMS. Maybe it’s the inks or the colors, but it might just be Coipel himself, since I think JMS really wrote to his strengths (wide, big, cinematic shots with lots of room to let the art breath). The many two pages wide panels on the top and bottom of the pages were a visual treat. Also, some Silver Surfer Kirby crackling speech balloons and a very naked Sif!
Detective Comics #879                                                                               7
This issue we follow commissioner Gordon as he continues the investigation of his son. Francevilla’s art was not as good as his last arc, much grace is saved however by his colors. This one sadly contains some clunky dialogues between Jim and Barbara.
New Mutants #27                                                                                         7
It suddenly hit me that this is art by Leonardo Fernandez, the great artist of Northlanders and Queen and Country fame. I love his art, but in this book it sticks out like a sore thumb… This issue contains some great, great panels, but the art really doesn’t fit the book. The story though is just fine.
New Mutants #26                                                                                     6.9
Solid story. Candy Man is a stupid villain but I am a child of the nineties, having survived the Age of Apocalypse he creeps me out! While the artwork really doesn’t work here, this story about the New Mutants trying to save Nate Grey aka X-man from Sugar Man really is pandering to the X-geeks (like me).
Brightest Day: Search for Swampthing #1                                            6
Is this how Constantine always sounds? Boy does that grow old fast… Art like Lionel Yu but worse… Some great panels mostly meh ones…
Vincent Price. His life story biography                                              4.2
I had hoped to learn something new about a classic horror movie actor, reading one of publisher Blue Water´s biography comics. While I did learn a little, I regretted my purchase almost instantly. Really inconsistent art and a boring read. Best part was the McDonalds PETA add in the back. Great cover though…

Thusly ends my third week as a comic book reviewer. Twelve books graded on average 7,1. Boy, do I like my own taste! Next week, Cosmic Odyssey! I´m reading it for the first time and wonder if it will be just as exciting as when I read the Infinity Gauntlet for the first time…