June 11, 2015

The Pull List: 10 June 2015, Part I

Batman #40 ended with Batman apparently dead, and half of Gotham City in ruins. Now, after a one-month break, Batman #41 introduces the new Batman. He's a massive robot suit packed with gadgets and piloted by 46 year-old ex-police commissioner and former marine Jim Gordon.

The first thing to say about this new status quo is that it's clearly just a story arc. Any reader who doesn't already know that Bruce Wayne is still alive, and that the original Batman will return in due course, clearly has never read a superhero comic. This book doesn't even pretend to keep that a secret. Even better: it's actively making Bruce's inevitable return part of the storyline.

The second thing to say is that any criticisms or dismissive complaints about this current direction are also already included in the book. There's no one - not characters, not real-life readers - who thinks this plan for a police-backed robot Batman is stupider than Jim Gordon does already.

The third thing to say, and this is probably the most important one, is that this issue is really good. It turns out that, while it's a silly, attention-grabbing stunt, it's a silly, attention-grabbing stunt that works. The issue uses a non-linear structure to bounce back and forth between the new Batman in the field with new police commissioner Maggie Sawyer persuading Gordon to take the job in the first place. Throw in an excellent final page cliffhanger, and you've got a genuinely fun story.

I do think the robot Batsuit looks ridiculous. So does Jim Gordon. That said, Greg Capullo and Danny Miki somehow manage to make it look good anyway. Their art continues to be a highlight on this comic.

Batman has been in publication for 75 years. After all that time, I'm never going to begrudge an attention to shake things up, and tell a fresh kind of story - particularly when it works as well as this does. (5/5)

Under the cut: how Detective Comics and Catwoman are reacting to the new Batman, as well as X-O Manowar's 25th anniversary issue and the latest Saga.

Catwoman #41
DC Comics. Written by Genevieve Valentine. Art by David Messina. Colours by Lee Loughridge.
In the six months leading up to the end of the New 52 Catwoman received a startling new lease of life, with a new writer (Genevieve Valentine) and artist (Garry Brown), and a whole fresh angle (Selina Kyle becomes the head of one of Gotham's largest crime syndicates). It returns for its second arc now, still with Valentine writing but with David Messina replacing Garry Brown as artist. I'm not so sold on Messina's artwork, but it does competently tell a story and may grow on me. Valentine's script remains top-notch: this is an intelligent Gotham City crime drama that's turned one of the most uninteresting books of the DC Universe into a must-read. New cover artist Kevin Wada is fabulous as well. As for the story, it's a great shift to see Selina move from uniting Gotham's crime families to dropping everything at a critical time to go hunting for the apparently-dead Batman. It strengthens the story, ties the book neatly into the other Batman books, and accurately reflects character. This is a DC title more people should be checking out. (4/5)

Detective Comics #41
DC Comics. Story by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato. Script by Brian Buccellato. Art by Fernando Blanco. Colours by Brian Buccellato.
A third Bat book this week, and a third angle on the new status quo. This issue continues the book's recent focus on Lt Harvey Bullock, as he hums and haws over joining the GCPD's new Batman project. This is an angle for Detective Comics that I can really get behind, taking the focus off Batman himself and giving more room to the various police detectives of Gotham. This direction gets even better mid-issue with the reintroduction of fan favourite Renee Montoya. The plot's a decent one, with good character work and a couple of unexpected developments. Sadly Fernando Blanco's artwork isn't anywhere near as accomplished, and he visibly struggles to depict the new robot Batsuit anywhere near as effectively as Capullo and Miki have. I hope co-writer Francis Manapul returns to drawing this book soon - hopefully he's hard at work on the next arc. (3/5)

Saga #29
Image. Written by Brian K. Vaughn. Art by Fiona Stapes.
The point in this comic where the reader is confronted by the vision of a giant alien dragon self-fellating is the point where I officially grew very tired of Saga's running attempts to shock and scandalise. It's an irritation now, whereas some time ago it was rather funny in an adolescent sort of way. What's worse is that the rest of the issue is so strong: high stakes, tense drama, and the now-expected growing bodycount. This fifth story arc has been a huge improvement over the fourth. Now all they need to do is start writing proper mature stories again, without the needless and childish bits getting in the way. (3/5)

X-O Manowar: Valiant 25th Anniversary Special #1
Valiant. Written by Robert Venditti. Art by Cafu. Colours by Brian Reber.
Valiant turns 25 - sort of, there were plenty of years when the characters lay fallow - and to celebrate they're publishing this special issue of X-O Manowar, which finally provides a full origin to his alien suit, Shanhara. It's beautifully illustrated, and I suppose some readers may get a lot of satisfaction in having a key piece of backstory fully revealed. I'm less impressed: I like a bit of mystery to these sorts of things, and have never been a huge fan of prequels. This is a competent, well-written comic book, but it basically isn't for me. (3/5)

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