“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 2, Prologue: Brand Building (Batman Incorporated #0)

A rather short post to start off our last stretch of the run, I’m afraid. As you can see, with this being the New 52 that I mentioned before, we’re back to the start of Batman Incorporated as far as issue numbering goes, and I’ve also put this first hardcover, Demon Star, under the subtitle of Volume 2, the last book being Volume 3 when we get to it, just to avoid confusion. Since these New 52 books are collected in two separate volumes anyway, I would assume that my way of making the series a trilogy is what actually makes sense. The last book ended with a book reveal and I expect that this one will follow suit in its own dramatic way.

On the subject of New 52, there is something that I would quickly like to talk about before we begin. In whatever post it was that I talked about it, I believe I said that, though Morrison apparently ends the run with the opportunity for someone else to take over, no one has. This may not be true after all. You see, in comparison to this first hardcover, which collects seven issues, I noticed that the second is actually quite thicker. Curious, I took a lot at the copyright page and, sure enough, there’s an additional issue called Batman Incorporated Special #1. It’s hard to believe there’s just the one though because when I say that the book’s thicker, I mean it looks almost double the size, which is a little strange seeing as the second book should probably be of the same length if it also collects seven issues. Either way, I decided to do myself some detective work on the interwebz about this and it turns out that this special one-0ff isn’t written by Morrison at all, but in fact other writers and artists we’ve never seen taking stabs at the characters. For that reason, I’m probably not going to bother talking about it in any of these last posts, even if they’re closely tied and / or are actually pretty good. After I’m done with the run – and you can read my plans for the remainder of it at the end of this post – I may review it separately if I like what I see, but don’t hold your breath.

Alright, with that outta the way, we can begin, though probably end this post just as fast. This is a bit of an unusual issue and, if I’m being perfectly honest, not very good. That latter point is probably a shocker, so let me explain. See that zero in the title? Well, it actually makes a great deal of sense that it’s there. Kind of coinciding with this being a reboot-that’s-not-a-reboot of Batman Incorporated under the New 52 name, this issue seems to be targeted to new audiences that DC were trying to draw in, attempting to explain some of what’s come before. It doesn’t work, however – you can’t possibly jump on here and enjoy the remainder of what’s to come without having read anything else that’s before. Not, I will say, because it would be difficult to understand – instead, I feel like the point of the Oroboros symbology would be lost on you, as would the significance of Damian as a character. In addition to that, for the readers who were wanting to immediately see what follows the last volume’s cliffhanger reveal, I imagine that this was a bit frustrating to find instead; I know it was for me, anyway.

It’s a shame that even the artistry of Frazer Irving, a man who I’ve praised throughout his appearances in this run, can’t save it. Indeed, even his artwork isn’t up to par. For the record, and to be completely fair, I get the feeling that this may not have been a planned issue, and so both he and Morrison may have been rushed. It’s less noticeable with Morrison – after all, it isn’t exactly difficult to retell a little of what you’ve already written in other scenes of the run – but it certainly appears that Irving had to rush his artwork out of the door. His artwork does have a peculiar style to it admittedly – and I’d actually go as far as to say that’s the kind you instantly associate with him, making it quite unique – but it isn’t usually quite as filled with plain backgrounds like this is. He does make a good attempt at at least doing some interesting things with the colouring but the simple fact of the matter is that it’s lacking in detail, adding to what’s already a poor issue, hopefully the last we’ll see.

So, yes, the real beginning of the end actually starts next time, annoyingly enough, and I’ll get my thoughts on that first one at least tomorrow. If you’re wondering what my plan is for reviewing these last twelve issues, the answer is that I’ll be going through them one by one right enough, hopefully wrapping up my thoughts on the entire run in one more post following the final issue. The very last thing I’ll do is create a page – that I’ll probably add to the sidebar of the blog – listing all my entries on the whole thing, including the few posts in which I’d just sat down and talked about my thoughts in general once I’d gotten to certain points, so that no poor soul shall ever have to suffer their way through the archives of this blog to find anything specific. That should be a fairly handy thing to have but, after it’s put together, that’ll be me completely done, at which point I’ll probably make a post about what I might start doing next on the blog. God knows, I’ll most likely begin another series of comics seeing as I’m not exactly short of choices in that department, but there’s video games that I’ve been meaning to talk about as well, so who knows? Well, what I do know is that, whatever comic series I start next, it won’t be Batman or more Grant Morrison, lest I become completely obsessed with both.

Until next time.

 

“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 1, Epilogue: Leviathan Strikes! (Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! #1)

Hello yet again. Before we start, I thought I’d point out something rather cool which I just found out. Though I have all the books for this run, in the future I’ll probably update both Final Crisis and Batman and Robin to their Absolute editions, those great oversized books DC release for their most popular series’. Unfortunately those are the only two parts of Morrison’s run that have been given this treatment at the moment. However, at the end of the year – the 4th of December to be precise, though that date may well change – all of Batman Incorporated is being collected in its own Absolute edition too. Fantastic news in my opinion, and hopefully some of the other parts will be collected like these too. Yeah, yeah, I’m not sure I’d care to see Tony S. Daniel’s inconsistency in an oversized format, but if it meant that Andy Kubert and J.H. Williams III’s story arcs were also given the same treatment then I could certainly live with that. The only thing that’s been changed for this series’ upcoming edition that I know of so far is new art from Chris Burnham for the last two books – apparently there’s a few pages that had to be done by other artists to meet deadlines, but those will now be replaced with his version’s, which is quite nice.

Alright, so let’s get started. This special one-off issue is actually a fairly thick thing, collecting two unrelated stories together, only the first of which is Stephanie Brown / Batgirl’s infiltration of a girl’s finishing school, though Batman’s there to keep an eye on her in disguise. It’s a bit jarring when this story ends and you’re suddenly dropped into one that begins in medias res, but the artist changes from Cameron Stewart to Chris Burnham to at least make the transition more obvious. Still, I do wonder if the plan was to give both these stories their own issues but that couldn’t happen. That the first half of the issue specifically points out that it’s set before the New 52, which we’re just about to start, leads me to believe that that could well be the case, it interfering with Morrison’s original plans. But, two shorter stories combined or not, they’re typically very good.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about the first one, however. Something at the back of my mind is telling me that the whole idea of a finishing school being a training facility for assassins is a homage to some other work, but I really couldn’t tell you what I’m thinking of unfortunately, only that I’m sure Morrison’s paying tribute to some other piece of work. But, yeah, although Batman has already recruited Batgirl for natural reasons, his prescence at the school in disguise of a gardener suggests that he is there to be an observer, indeed only joining in the fray at the end for a brief moment before giving her permission, in a way, to finish off the rest by herself, implying that she’s passed. It’s kinda like Dredd in the film, uh, Dredd, saying to Anderson, “You look ready”, mirroring a much earlier scene and subtly showing how impressed he is. Incidentally, this is, to date I believe, Stephanie Brown’s last ever adventure as Batgirl, seeing as Gail Simone would come along to give Barbara they ability to walk again for the New 52. Seeing as this is all of I’ve seen of this incarnation of Batgirl, I can’t exactly tell you what I think’s better, but this whole issue is narrated by Stephanie, and it did seem pretty good stuff. It’s actually quite interesting narration too, seemingly addressed to Bruce when she says things like, “You’ll be glad to know I still remember Rule One”.

Oh, and did I mention there’s a Son of Pyg? Yep, seriously. Alas, his son does no dance routines – a bloody crime, I tell you! – but he’s not ham-fisted (nor is the shadowy presence of another character that I’ll talk about at the end of this post) in simply for comic relief if that’s what you’re thinking, though I’ll talk about that shortly. Whereas the dad’s obsessed with body image, the son seems to be a masochist, or at least that’s what I think he’s supposed to be. He endures the pain of driving a needle through his hand but I couldn’t tell if that was because he’s taught himself not to feel it, or if he’s taking something that stops him from feeling pain. Whatever the case, the guy’s caught and I doubt we’ll ever see him again. If he does show, I think he should dance for my amusement. Just sayin’.

The only other thing worth pointing out is the imagery of circles, that will become even more obvious in the following half of the issue, starts here, I having first noticed it when Stephanie’s fighting off some of the other girls in the middle of a football field, a painted white circle of course at the centre. It becomes more apparent that this is a thing in the Son of Pyg’s introductory scene where he gives Stephanie and her friend one of the wafers containing the chemical agent being used to control people. The religious imagery here would of course be interesting enough, but it’s more than that as he explains, “The wafer symbolises your death and rebirth”, tying it more closely to the image of Oroboros, the snake eating its own tail that represents cyclicality, which in turn goes back to my theory that Morrison is using this very same metaphor as an explanation for the constant cycles of life that Batman goes through under other writer’s pens. That suggestion feels a lot more possible now, seeing as this is clearly coming up at a point where we only have two books to go and, as I say, we see circular images a lot more in the second half. Boy, do we. There’s not really a point in detailing each of these because you can hardly miss them, a circle being present on almost every page.

It may not surprise you to learn that, with this being the first issue for a while that we see Doctor Dedalus again, it’s confusing as hell. If you couldn’t tell from my rather lengthy post on his three chapters of the run, I was very bloody confused as to what was going on in some scenes; how, for example, a doctor with him seemingly died but was with him again only a few panels later. Well, I have two good pieces of news. First of all, the guy’s dead which means that, even if Morrison didn’t explain what his tricks were, we’ll never have to be put through the brain grinder by him again. So, yet again, do consider finding yourselves some annotations. You should be able to work out what was going on by re-reading this half of the chapter once or twice more, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to have a look at some annotations anyway. In fact, you should maybe work it out in your own head first and then check out some notes to see if there was anything you got confused; that’s what I did, anyway. Thankfully, though, we do learn what Netz’s secrets are and…well, they’re anti-climatic, though certainly prove how dangerous a foe the guy is for someone so old.

It all comes down to a simple gas in the air, what he calls a “mind eroding agent”. More interesting is where he got it: from Professor Pyg who we, sure enough, saw trying to unleash a different chemical he made into Gotham City. Even more interesting than that little fact is that it was this agent of Netz’s that caused the man to go insane, to actually become Pyg in the first place. And who could blame him? How the mind eroding works, as we saw earlier in this series, is similar to Alzheimer’s, your mind breaking apart such that you end up repeating things that you don’t realise you’ve already said and whatnot. For instance, as Batman first meets the real Dedalus face to face we see three unconscious men near him. On the very next page he’s fighting these men and asks the Doctor, “Why?”, to which he in turn says, “Again “why?””, implying that Batman had just asked this seconds ago. Indeed, like how I can only imagine Alzheimer’s feels, this is a very disorienting part of the run to say the least, perhaps most of all when I think about it. One thing I did notice, being a nerd, is that the chair Dedalus is sitting in is very reminiscent of Number Two’s in The Prisoner, that cult British show which was very bloody confusing. It makes a lot of sense for Morrison to throw this in – that’s if it’s not coincidence – because that show did very little to stick to chronology, the release date’s of the episode not actually coinciding with the actual order in which they happen.

Absolute madness or not – we see other scenes too, by the way: Batwing discovering that Jezebel Jet isn’t the head of Leviathan, and then being chased by other “bat wings”, the man-bats; The Hood, apparently having been working for Spyral but as an agent of Batman Incorporated, is seemingly killed after discovering that Leviathan, a huge vessel out at sea, is a trap that everyone’s rushed to; we cut back to Dick, Damian and Tim fighting what appear to be Leviathan agents, but are actually the Batman Inc. recruits who responded to this trap; etc. – we eventually join Batman as he finds the real Netz and the best part is that he almost fails to stop him. Like I said, this guy is really powerful. It doesn’t help that he apparently has El Gaucho on his side for a moment but, by the time that guy instead applies the antidote to Dedalus’ gas on Batman, it appears already too late, Batman too weakened and El Gaucho being almost killed.

But it’s funny what Morrison is doing here when putting Batman through the wringer. All he has to do to save everyone is push a button and he almost fails in that task,it being Damian’s intervention in killing Netz that saves the day.  What’s really cool about that is that it’s the first time that I believe Damian’s killed since way back in Batman and Son, so the look on his face is all fearful that his father may be disappointed in him. D’aww. Anyway, back on his feet again, Batman realies that this is all a distraction and that the real mastermind, Leviathan, was elsewhere, still believing it to be Jezebel. But we’re told that, as well as finding out that Jezebel wasn’t the leader in Mtamba, Batwing also discovered that villainess’ body, missing only thing…her head, as we discover, sitting next to a red phone in a glass box, like ye Batman phone of olde. Then we get the big reveal we’ve all been waiting for: Talia, of course, is Leviathan.

This is a short but great scene. You really ought to see the look on Batman’s face as he picks up the phone and realises who will be on the other side. This ending also supports my belief that Damian’s going to be killed, with her actually placing a massive bounty on her son. Whatever happens in these next two books, it’s not going to end with sunshine and a rainbow, that’s for sure. But we’re not actually done here as I have a few queries that I expect we must see answered, so let’s go through these quickly to wrap things up.

First of all, I mentioned a “shadowy presence” in the first half of the story, that being the mysterious headmistress of the school Batgirl sneaks into. One moment she’s there and the next she’s gone again, Batman seemingly believing that she was Jezebel Jet. Well, at the end of this issue we actually see a woman relaxing in the sun talking to a “matron”, seemingly about Bruce, and this looks an awful lot like Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman. No, she does not appear to be dead after all and certainly isn’t that skull-faced person we saw with Dedalus in a few scenes – that was actually Talia hiding her identity for some reason. But what her purpose is, I don’t honestly know. It’s just hard to believe that, unlike El Gaucho, she’s a true baddie, the head of Spyral. No, I just don’t buy it. Brainwashed perhaps, but what grudge could she possibly hold against Bruce that’s made her another evil woman that Bruce fell in love with?

Next, we find at Talia’s side the mysterious guy who spoke to Damian in Batman: The Return, which I think also supports my idea that he may be an age accelerated clone of the boy. We’ll just have to wait and see if that’s the case or not but, like I said, it would seem oddly poetic if he, in a sense, were to be killed by himself. Up in Leviathan’s satellite, which we’d previously seen Netz and Talia use, some heroes also discover Lord Death Man as I suspected might be brought back, but we never see what happens there before this issue ends. The last thing we really need to know, connecting to this, is which of our heroes have died in this issue, if any at all. One thing Dedalus keeps saying is that a member of Batman Inc. will die every five minutes, but it’s hard to tell if we’re only seeing him say this several times because of his mind eroding gas screwing with Batman, or if he’s really serious. But we do certainly see several characters in peril. The Hood is apparently shot; Batwing is attacked by Talia’s man-bats; although Batman says that Dedalus’ knife missed El Gaucho’s carotid artery, that guy did look pretty dead with all that blood; and the five characters up in the satellite accidentally released Lord Death Man. So many questions!

The very, very last thing I want to mention is Chris Burnham’s art in this second half of the issue. Wow. Thank god these books are getting their Absolute edition because his artwork here seriously rocks. There was a splash page several issues ago at the end of Nyktomorph that I really should have mentioned, but that’s only two pages out of all the amazing things this guy does. In this issue there’s not only a lot of surrealistic imagery, but the artwork’s finely lined for most of it until Batman confusingly enters a decayed room covered in cobwebs, at which point the linework becomes more sketchy looking to reflect this change, which is pretty incredible stuff. Credit to Nathan Fairburn too, who changes the colours at this point to be a mixture of browns. These two will be all we have for the next two books – except, as I mentioned at the start of this post, the scenes which Burnham apparently didn’t have time to complete; and some stories not actually written by Morrison that are apparently included in the second book (which I’ll probably not review, that being the case) – and I for one am looking forward to it.

We’ll get started on that tomorrow and, seeing as it’s the beginning of the end, with twelve issues to go, I may do twelve separate posts for each to finish us off. Until then.

“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 1, Chapters 7 & 8: Medicine Soldiers and Nightmares In Numberland (Batman Incorporated #7 & 8)

Alright, welcome back. We’re combining these two stories into the one post, even though they stand alone and I had said I would give them individual posts, simply because there it turns out that there’s very little to say about the first and I’m not wanting to bother going all in depth about the second. Besides, there’s only the one big revelation in both. In the first issue, for example, the lone new thing we learn is that this the whole mind controlling of Leviathan can be used as an untraceable chemical agent. In this case, it was in wafers, appropriately tying into the whole Batman as a god thing that’s been going on lately. On the contrary to what I suggested as appearing to be the case in my last post, we also see that this mind control agent affects adults as well as children right enough, so it’s not only the kids being used as involuntary soldiers. But that’s literally all we learn, believe it or not.

It’s a bit of an unusual issue, Medicine Soldiers, focusing almost entirely on the relationship between Man-of-Bats and Red Raven. Hell, Batman isn’t even there to recruit them unlike a lot of the last issues, telling Raven that their refusal to join and insistence that he and his father can handle things themselves is what he “hoped to hear”. See, one of the interesting things we learn from this issue is that the area they’re located in is stricken with poverty and some of the United States’ crappiest statistics for everything you can imagine, the duo starting the issue by visiting people’s homes to check in on them, as well as hand them free medicine and food to get by. Indeed, as Raven says at the end of the issue, if Batman were to supply them with anything, “[his father’s] gonna give back to the people”. So the other cool thing about these two is that they’re a reflection of Bruce’s own philanthropist side, the difference being that helping other people in this way is what really matters to them. It even turns out that when he’s not out as Man-of-Bats, Bill’s a doctor at his town’s only hospital, very much like Thomas Wayne was.

Though it may seem like a fairly simple chapter then, it’s actually quite a nice one too in a happy sort of way. We’ve seen the Knight and Beryl rear their heads most of all out of the Club of Heroes, so it’s nice to give these guys the spotlight for a whole issue because it turns out that they’re like a shining light in all the terrible stuff that’s been happening lately. That isn’t to say it’s an issue not without a dark side – after all, there’s global domination using kids going on here. But what might surprise you is that it’s one of the most violent issues in the whole run, though I think this is due in part to how well Chris Burnham depicts it. If the page of Raven giving his father blood was overleaf instead of opposite the one where the former character had been shot in the back, and the latter was rapidly bleeding out, I honestly would have thought that Morrison was going to brutally kill them off to drive home how powerful Leviathan is, especially since the detail with which Burnham drew Man-of-Bats getting stabbed is so good that it actually looks painful, all happening on a piece of paper or not. But in a twist that I didn’t expect, the two characters are rescued by the residents we’ve seen them helping, which I think sums up how optimistically this chapter stands amongst the rest in regards to the future of the world. A very uplifting and fun issue, this.

If that issue were a little strange, however, then Nightmares in Numberland is even more unusual, if only because of the art style used. It’s all by a guy called Scott Clark, and it’s completely digital, but the same CGI kind we last saw used all the way back in The clown at Midnight. That was more like a short story with some drawings, however, whereas this is all comic and I bet there were a lot of people who hated the look of this. As you might expect from the title and art style, this is a story set inside Internet 3.0, where a virtual reality meeting between Bruce and his investors is attacked by a virus, meaning the avatar of Oracle, operating elsewhere, must fight back. That Bruce has a Batman avatar help out seemed a little unnecessary, and I think it would’ve been better if Barbara were just given the spotlight, but at least it’s funny to see Bruce constantly die and respawn as he also tries to control the avatar of himself at the meeting.

The surprise of this story comes at the end. The investor who had caused the virus, attempting to steal the board member’s money, was passing his own money through a little place called Mtamba in Africa, the root of Leviathan and – wouldn’t you know? – Jezebel Jet. This issue also sets up the next at one point. In my next post we’ll be looking at the final story of this book, the special issue, Leviathan Strikes!, in which we’ll see Batgirl infiltrate a school. It’s funny to think that that didn’t make a whole lot of sense back in Batman: The Return, but the assumption is now that the school’s being used to train Leviathan operatives. Going from the title, though, and the possibility of Jezebel Jet’s involvement, however much I doubt it (yep, I’m still sticking with Talia being the mastermind of all this), I’m sure we’ll be seeing a reveal as to who’s running Leviathan as well, meaning I suppose that Bruce will be heading back to Africa to confront who he probably believes to be Jet. That’s a post I should be able to fit in today, and then we’re done with this book.

I know I’ve said very little about this last issue, but it might surprise you to learn that it does have a ridiculous amount of depth to it, which I think is a bit of shame if people did, as I suspect, frown at the art style, quickly read it and move on. But I’m not going to bother talking about all that stuff, I’m afraid, as none of it’s particularly relevant to the future as far as I can see, and I would rather just move on than spend quite a while writing up an analysis of this whole thing. That said, if you are curious, I did find this rather amazing post that just goes to show you how much detail writers like Morrison put into even the apparently least significant of issues. You’ll no doubt have noticed some of the things listed in that post as you read the story, but I’d be surprised if you saw it all. Certainly not me anyway, who probably didn’t notice even half of the little things. Anyway, our next and final post for this part of Batman Incorporated should be a little longer, so see you then.

“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 1, Chapter 6: Nyktomorph (Batman Incorporated #6)

Hello again. A bit of a straightforward issue this one, as is the next and the one following that, both of which will get their individual posts. Thank fuck, I say, as that last post, although as in depth as felt necessary, took quite a while to write and is rather lengthy, probably too long in fact and not very good. A lesson for the future, I suppose. Though I think this corner of the internet of mine has had some great posts, I know I’m fairly inconsistent in quality, so I guess that all there is to do when you make a mistake is learn from it and keep going. This will all get better in time, I’m sure. Introductions aside, let’s get started, shall we?

As always, though I say it’s a forward enough issue in the run to only need a short post, I’d stress that that doesn’t make it not worth talking about. In fact, this is quite an interesting little one as we find Bruce gathering his forces en masse, killing a lot of birds with one stone as it were. Of course, this does mean that we have quite a number of characters in this one issue so, like last time, I would recommend finding some annotations if you’re curious about who is new to the Batman universe and who isn’t, though you can certainly read this chapter with no help too if you like. However, it being so simple, I’m not really going to talk quite as in depth about every facet of the plot as it chronologically happens. Instead, I’ll just talk about the specific things that interested me this time.

Starting with Bruce’s little interview with the press that opens this chapter, I suppose. As funny as his proof of safety to the concerned journalists is, with Alfred of all people tasering one guy, and tripping up the other behind Bruce, it’s the line Bruce says as his armoured Batmen – who I’m not certain are actually people in costumes; they could be the robots we saw Lucius prototyping in Batman: The Return – surround him which is really intriguing: “Batman is everywhere. And if he didn’t exist, well…I guess we’d just have to invent him”. This is a line that Morrison also used to apply to Superman instead in All Star Superman, a paraphrase of a very famous quote by the philosopher Voltaire which he said about the existence of god. That the poor guy who’s surrounded by Bruce and his Batmen actually says, “Oh god”, just goes to confirm that the idea here is that, in coming from the past and creating a myth around himself, he is like a god as far as symbolism at least goes, though Dedalus suggests it more literally at the end of the issue when speaking with Leviathan, and Bruce himself tries to pass it off as a rumour to the Average’s that he’s hiding in plain sight amongst to, you could say, put the fear of god in them.

The next thing worth pointing out relates to my notion of Batman as a myth and inspiration for Batman Incorporated. It’s something I’m especially curious about seeing as we get no answers by the end of the issue, Morrison apparently holding out: that Bruce actually learnt about Leviathan and apparently even saw the future at the end of The Return of Bruce Wayne. As I admitted in that book’s review, it confused the shit out me, so this is probably something that was right there at the end of the book that I simply missed. Though it still means that the concept of Batman is an old myth of Gotham’s that he technically created, as is revealed in an online forum that we see Bruce browsing, we’re also told that Bruce started building this army of his because of what he’s seen instead of what he went through in his time travelling adventure. The question remains if it’s something he would have done anyway, without seeing what was to come, but it would appear that he, and now his most trusted allies, know something about what may or may not happen that we, the reader, don’t. This can be an annoying facet of fiction, but if the pay off in this case is, as I’ve been suspecting, the death of Damian, then I think it may very well be worth keeping us at arm’s bay.

There’s not a lot else to say about this issue. We find, following our prologue at the end of the last issue, that also helping Batwing and Batman in Africa was Traktir and Spidra, the two mutant-like characters I mentioned in Batman: The Return, though that appears to have been a misinterpretation that I saw in David Finch’s art as they simply look like two humans that have been modified, Traktir with cybernetics covering his torso and Spidra with an extra two arms. On this same page we see Batman suspiciously letting a new Wingman join the ranks of Batman Incorporated. You may recall that the last we saw of that character was back in The Island of Mister Mayhew where it at one point seemed he had been killed when, in fact, he had killed the original Dark Ranger (whose replacement also joins Batman Inc. this issue, oath and all) and swapped costumes with his corpse. It can’t possibly be this same man because that guy was shot in the head at the conclusion of that story, so the question is: who?

Seeing as Batman tells this mysterious character that becoming the new Wingman is his “opportunity to salvage a reputation”, and that this guy calls him by name, my money is on Jason Todd, especially since Bruce emphasises that this person’s identity must be kept secret, implying that it’s someone that no one must know is on his team. Makes a lot of sense to me and, in my opinion, it would be kind of cool to see Jason change his ways from Red Hood seeing as his short time sidekick, Scarlet, managed to redeem herself at the end of their story together, whereas he just continued down a very sad path indeed. Besides which, he was obsessed with brands and marketing last we saw him, so it’d be kind of fitting that he’d join Batman Inc., the new face of Batman, seeing as his intentions were actually the same as Bruce’s – just with much more violent methods.

Lastly, in a scene with Dedalus and Leviathan to close this chapter, a few more things of interest are revealed. First of all, where we saw him at the end of last issue was in a satellite, which makes a lot of damn sense for their plan of global domination. Plus, though they don’t mention him, there is the possibility that they could find and pick up Lord Death Man, which I desperately want seeing as that guy was part hilarious, part weird, and part fucked up. Finally, Dedalus refers to what is controlling the children – something I only just picked up on being that they’re the ones who are brainwashed, every adult we’ve seen apparently being voluntary members of Leviathan’s scheme – as “the virus”. This got me a little curious so I’ve looked up annotations, contrary to what I said at the beginning of the post, and these, from Comics Alliance again right enough, tie this reference back to Morrison’s Seven Soldiers (the more this keeps coming up, the more I keep thinking I should buy it for when I inevitably return to this run someday) that took place before this run, that I said in the last post had most of its connections to Final Crisis. In this case it could well be the OMAC virus, which also makes a lot of sense seeing as it was that that was turning people into brainless killers in Final Crisis (some of them anyway, though most were under Darkseid’s Anti-Life Equation’s control obviously). This could also tie in to Talia’s role in Final Crisis. We see her once at Libra’s gathering of DC’s super villains but she doesn’t appear again during Morrison’s writing of that story, though I can’t speak for the side stories. So did she maybe get a hold of this? We’ll just have to wait awhile and see, I guess.

It doesn’t look like I’ll have the time tonight to write and upload a post for the next issue, so that and the following one will have to be left for tomorrow and, depending on how busy I am, I might even get the last issues into their own post as well to finish this first book, where we’ll hopefully find some answers by the end. Until then.

 

“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 1, Chapters 3 – 5: Scorpion Tango, The Kane Affair and Master Spy (Batman Incorporated #3 – 5)

Alright, welcome back. This will be a long one, so let’s just get started immediately.

First things first: you may want annotations again when reading these issues. Not only is there some untranslated dialogue that you might want to understand, but there’s some scenes that can be quite confusing. For instance, we start the third issue of this series in the Falklands where we meet a bunch of heroes called The Victory V’s who trap a new villain called Doctor Dedalus and, yes, this is apparently during the war itself. Non-British readers may not get the references of the heroes we meet here, the female member of the group being named The Iron Lady for example, a nod to the late Margaret Thatcher, so that’s one thing. Hell, she even yells “BY BLOOPETA!” at one point, and I wonder how many heads that went over as actually meaning, “By Blue Peter!”, the children’s television show, sounding as Morrison writes it because of her accent. But my own confusion stemmed from the fact that there’s a character called the Knight here who doesn’t look like the one we keep running into with Beryl. Indeed, it’s been quite a while since The Black Glove’s first story, The Island of Mister Mayhew, in which we saw flashbacks to what happened to make the Club of Heroes break up, but this Knight is actually the original, which of course makes a lot of sense.

You might also want annotations for the mythology references that begin here. The villain we meet in this first scene is very obviously a reference to the Daedalus of Greek mythology, father to Icarus (his story may also come up at some point in the run). It’s particularly appropriate that he’s somehow trapped on an island in the Falklands – I guess with some powers holding him in place – because in the Greek myth the character actually created a labyrinth so complicated that the man who solved it had to use a thread to find his way back out, so the tables are turned in a sense. Probably what will sound familiar to everyone is that trapped at the centre of this maze was the Minotaur, which the hero whose name I forget was tasked with killing, so this too reflects the dark nature of the Doctor that had to be contained by The Victory V’s at the cost, no less, of several of their member’s lives. The point of the story is that you should supposedly be very mindful of your creations, lest they become so complicated that they cause more harm than good, possibly referring to Bruce creating Batman Incorporated. So there’s that.

Though not outright mentioned here but first hinted at instead, and not so much a myth as it is an idea, Oroboros may not be familiar to everyone either, and it comes up a lot during these chapters as the apparent name of the boss behind Leviathan. It’s the image of a snake eating its own tail that you may have seen, representing the idea of cyclicality, of something constantly repeating itself. Though in the context of the secretive Leviathan it merely represents the “ring” they’ve formed around the world through their apparent mind control, I feel like it’s very clearly one of the more important pieces of symbology that Morrison’s adding to the mixer for the grand finale, so I’ll talk about it some more at the end of this post and what I think it could mean. Incidentally, Leviathan itself is a biblical reference, usually associated with the image of a great, tentacled sea monster. Quite appropriate, now I think about it, that Lord Death Man had a giant octopus attack Jiro’s girlfriend and Catwoman in the first story arc of this series. Yeah, yeah, Catwoman seemingly makes a joke about Japanese hentai porn, but the tentacled creature must also be a reference to the evil group of this part of the run, and how they’ve in a sense wrapped their numerous arms around the entire world.

So, yeah, that’s all stuff you can pick up on as early as the first three pages of Scorpion Tango, our first issue, but becomes more obvious as things go on. Some good annotations I found are over at Comics Alliance if you’d like to check them out, and I recommend you do, not only for the above reasons, but because there’s references to Morrison’s JLA and Seven Soldiers that, although having taken place before this run, do have some ties even at this point, though most were back in Final Crisis. This goes for all three issues and I’m sure if you look, Comics Alliance will probably have annotations for the others. With all of that said and done, I suppose we should probably talk about what’s actually going on within these three issues, eh?

Well, after that three page introduction, we join Batman as he fights alongside El Gaucho in Argentina. Note that this location is a great place to move the story to following the Falklands scene because that war, if ye didnae know, took place between Britain and Argentina themselves. The following issue does a lot of flashbacks of its own and we’ll see in that too how Morrison keeps the momentum moving at a great and logical pace, flowing from panel to panel. As you might expect, the reason Batman’s here is to make El Gaucho his next recruit, though the guy stubbornly refuses during their fight against a familiar face from ye olde Batman, and they return to his home base.

Now, this scene is quite interesting because it turns out that El Gaucho hides under his own secret identity as a fairly rich man, not unlike Bruce himself. It even appears that the villainess, Scorpiana, is the equivalent of Catwoman, albeit murderous whereas Bruce’s on and off fling is just a thief. But she and Bruce tango for two pages. Alas, it’s not nearly as entertaining as Professor Pyg’s glorious dance routines, but you should note the attention to detail after you read the scene following it. Whilst she and Bruce were dancing, the latter stole a ring off her finger – shaped like a snake eating its tail with Oroboros clearly engraved into it – that he explains contained poison which she was trying to use against him. So if you go back to the short dance – the “tango of death” apparently – pay close attention to the hands and you’ll notice how Bruce must have taken the ring off her left hand as early as the first panel of the dance since it’s missing in subsequent panels where we see it. Gotta love the little details.

Anyway, El Gaucho would be the other character besides Catwoman to know Bruce Wayne’s identity as Batman if he weren’t so dumb, appearing to believe that it’s the other way around in this scene – that Batman is “masquerading as Bruce Wayne”, and so he goes along with this, referring to himself as another person, his financier, just like he announced at the end of Batman and Robin. It’s a bit weird that he gets away with it like this and, besides, the Bat-family knows who he is, so I’m not sure why he’s bothering to keep the identity secret from the people he’s recruiting for Batman Incorporated. Oh well.  Anyway, the two are led into a trap staged by Scorpiana as you might expect, but unexpectedly El Sombrero too. We last saw this guy in Batman R.I.P. and he looked pretty dead at the time, the Joker delivering him as a gate crasher into the Black Glove’s betting game bloodied and hanged. But he’s quite alive, though stuck in a wheelchair with something seemingly helping his speech, seeing as the font used is like that of a computer and there’s short delays of silence breaking up whole sentences constantly.

We don’t immediately follow through with this cliffhanger in the next issue, however. As the title implies, The Kane Affair means that Batwoman’s back, though we also explore the past of the first Batwoman through flashbacks. Confusingly, she was called Kathy Kane and the current one is, um, Kate Kane, but there’s no family relation at all. Since Doctor Dedalus is a creation of Morrison’s, these flashbacks actually change a great deal of Kathy’s history as readers familiar with the character know it from the so-called Golden Age. What does it have in connection to the ongoing story from last issue? Well, it turns out that she was roped into working for Dedalus’ organisation, Spyral, being hired by an Agent-33 (there’s actually a lot of three’s in these issues, by the way – three kidnapped children; three killed marines that the current Batwoman’s investigating the murders of; three countries that will apparently be going to war as part of Leviathan’s plan; and we frequently hear O.R.B. come up, obviously short for Oroboros, which we see revealed next issue), actually El Gaucho before he became a crimefighter, whom El Sombrero accuses of playing a role in her death. Though it still appears that he is a good guy in the next issue, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was on the ball about one of Batman’s recruits breaking their oath, and it being him who does so.

Anyway, these flashbacks? Fucking amazing. Not only are they illustrated by Chris Burnham in a style very similar to that which J.H. Williams III used in his flashback sequences during The Island of Mister Mayhew; but in my opinion they’re even better, thanks to the colouring from one Nathan Fairburn, who employs a palette of brighter colours than the present day scenes and does a lot of contrasting. The writing in these scenes is fantastic too, either outright hilarious – the scene where the young Dick Grayson as Robin complains about Batgirl’s advances on him, reflecting his immature nature as a young boy that doesn’t “like” girls – or fitting the era. Though our Batman is very much the same, for example, still doing his little “Hh”, that isn’t used as an ironic grunt like it usually is in the present, but a genuine chuckle instead. The guy just appears a lot happier in these scenes, all smiles with Robin at his side, and affectionate towards Kathy. The latter’s particularly funny too, Batman’s eyes widening when Kathy kisses him, and Dick catching the two making out in the Batmobile, Bruce with a shit-eating grin on his face. Of course, this all comes across very well thanks to the wonderful art of Chris Burnham. If I were to compare him to anyone, it would probably be Frank Quietly, sharing a very expressionistic style with him that is wonderful to behold. It’s as finely detailed as his too. Notice that as Kathy and Batgirl share the former’s motorbike during a team up with Batman and Robin, who share the Batmobile, you can see that Robin has his face turned in Batgirl’s direction, suggesting a boyhood crush. We’ll be seeing more of Chris in the next story of this book, and then he appears to be the only artist for the last two books. So far I’m fine with that because he’s bloody awesome.

Okay, so I got a little sidetracked there from the relevance of the plot just there in my love for the whole flashback parts. Alright, well, the big revelation is that Kathy was the daughter of Dedalus – incidentally, her real second name before being married was Webb, which connects back to the old Doctor whose symbol is an eye in a spider web – who is also at this point to be revealed as a Nazi war criminal, now super, called Netz, another reference to the spider motif. Learning this is what really causes Kathy to break up with Bruce in a rather beautiful panel that I simply must mention. Kathy’s off to the left hand side of this panel, telling Bruce it’s all over, and as we scan our eyes over to Bruce on the right, the city and rooftop in the background of this panel fade until we find Bruce alone in the white space of the page, which is really quite lovely looking. We finish the issue shortly after this, Batman finding a way around El Sombrero’s plan, whom he and El Gaucho confront, whilst Batwoman is on the trail of other clues with the help of her father, who is investigating what O.R.B. could be.

So, the first thing I want to talk about for the third issue here, Master Spy, is pages two and three where we learn of Dedalus’ backstory as a Nazi who then became a turncoat whilst seeking what he calls Oroboro, “a fifth form of matter”. There’s a really confusing sequence on the third page where he seems to poison someone on the island with him, who he’s telling his story to, and we seemingly witness the guy dying…but then on panels four and five, he’s back on his feet again, showing a greater interest in what Netz is saying, but not seemingly aware of anything having just happened. If you look closely at Netz’s dialogue, however, you might notice that he tells the doctor in panel four that, “You promised to stop me if I ever began to repeat myself like some crazy old fool” just after we saw emphasis placed on the words “too late”, possibly hinting at a manipulation of time that he controls or our perception. The latter would probably make more sense as his cape dissolves into smoke whenever we see it and however he killed The Victory V’s in Scorpion Tango involved some kind of control of darkness. What the purpose of it is in this case, however, I don’t honestly know. It’s a confusing scene to say the least.

But whateva. No doubt we’ll get our answers eventually. We’ll certainly need them after the next sequence. Our entourage of heroes – Batman (who comes out of nowhere, surprising Kate’s dad enough that he spills his coffee in a funny little panel), El Gaucho, Batwoman and The Hood, a character created by Alan Grant – converge on Dedalus’ little island, though find themselves faced with Scorpiana to slow them down. The fight scene between her and Batwoman is really quite wonderful, and I love how the latter takes charge of The Hood and El Gaucho whilst Batman heads to the island alone. Once there and the others catch up, however, they find that the doctors with Netz are being controlled by Leviathan, or are voluntary agents for them; and that the Netz on the island is a fake, the real one not being there. Which we see through his word balloons changing to resemble a recording of his voice, a very confusing change seeing as every other time he’s been seen talking, including just before Batman leaves him in pursuit of one of the doctors, his word balloons have been normal, suggesting that was him. So either he somehow vanished, leaving a replacement behind, as Batman went to the top of the lighthouse, or he was never there at all. Questions!

We do, at least, see that the real Doctor is somewhere else entirely with someone he actually calls Leviathan by name, though I doubt this is the real leader. Whoever it is, for one, looks rather walking corpse-like, and besides, my money’s still on Talia being the real mastermind. But as he earlier said that he had a message he wanted to send to his daughter, that we now see here again, in the company of this person, there is the freaky possibility that it’s a reanimated Kathy Kane, I suppose, as fucked up as that is. We’ll hopefully find out how she really died fairly soon. Anyhow, in a twist like one of the Joker’s schemes, The Hood – who is working for someone called T.H.E.M. to infiltrate Batman Incorporated for some reason – deduces that the Netz they find has Alzheimer’s , thus meaning that his trapping, his labyrinth is his own mind. The implication seems to be that this is the cost of being the real Netz’s enemy, so he’s certainly looking like a particularly big foe, this guy, having rigged a bomb at the top of the island and now challenging Batman. The interesting thing is that he lists the countries that he and Leviathan have control over, which are the exact same where Batman now has allies. It’s beginning to sound like all out war, with both sides building their forces, isn’t it? And as Talia declared war on Bruce way back in Batman and Son during their only face to face encounter so far, I feel like we’re building up to her reveal if I’m as right as I think I am.

Before this issue ends, our last few pages are, funnily enough, the beginning of the next story. First panel’s caption and word balloon: “Prologue. Let’s go back to the beginning…” Hah! It’s not actually a flashback or anything, but Batman seemingly in Africa with another recruit. Actually had to search Google about this one, but the guy he’s working with is called Batwing, a fairly new character who got his own series in the New 52 reboot shortly after this. Not sure if he’ll have a bigger role to play – though I suppose that goes for all the characters – but I suppose we’ll find out soon enough. Not sure how I’ll be reviewing the next issues, and those after that, but hopefully I’ll read enough to get another post done today.

Before we go, I have one very last thing to talk about and that, as I promised, is my thoughts on the imagery of Oroboros that’s going on, but taken in the greater scheme of things. This run has had no shortage of themes and symbolism scattered throughout it, most recently of which was “the hole in things”, very possibly the most important to date. Taken literally it has meant the hole in Batman’s memory made by Hurt, and then recently the one left in time instead because of Darkseid. Metaphorically, however, we’ve seen that it represents the holes left in his parents when they were killed in front of him, and how this has left an empty space, one might say, in his soul, being the root of why he became Batman. Those holes were round, much like the image typically associated with the snake eating its own tail that is Oroboros, the one being used here. When I’m thinking about how Morrison may end this run, one such way that seems appropriate – especially if I’m correct that Damian will die, leaving another hole in Bruce’s heart – is to end with an acknowledgement of the cyclical nature of the character; how – because “that’s the thing about Batman” – another writer will come along and a new epic cycle of the man’s life will begin; how, like his very job as Batman that he mentions in Time and Batman, “it never ends”. Plausible? Well, I certainly think so. It’s certainly the only metaphorical meaning I can conjure up for Oroboros’ inclusion.

Phew. It’s been one of my longer posts, nearly three and a half thousand words, probably a little repetitive and with grammar mistakes, but we’re done, finally, though only halfway through this first book of Batman Incorporated. Hopefully the remainder of my posts for this book won’t be quite as long. In the extras section Morrison does state that he really liked the character of Netz / Dedalus enough to give him more than these three issues, so I get the feeling that he changed his original idea to create this rather complicated trilogy of issues. Either way, we’re getting closer to the end, and I’m sure that the closer we get, the shorter posts I’ll have to make. Or not – fuck knows when it comes to Morrison. Until whenever.

“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 1, Chapters 1 & 2: Mr. Unknown Is Dead and Resurrector! (Batman Incorporated #1 & 2)

Alright, we’ve a short review ahead of us, but I’ll make the post as a whole a little longer by explaining what the deal with “Volume 1” being in the title is, and why I’m reviewing the first two issues together. So, as far as I’m aware, there is no one book collecting all of Batman Incorporated together – there’s simply the first trade paperback, and then two hardcovers (though I believe the opposite editions are coming out for both sometime this year). What you should note is that the first book is simply called Batman Incorporated, yet the two hardcovers are called Volumes 1 and 2 of Batman Incorporated instead, and both are given their own subtitles, Demon Star and Gotham’s Most Wanted. This is because these two books were released as part of DC’s New 52, that whole reboot of everything they’ve done that’s apparently backfired for the most part. This means that when we finish this first book – which I’m referring to as Volume 1 – collecting issues 1 to 8 and a two-part special, we’ll be reading  issues 1 to 6 in the first hardcover using the exact same name.

Only mentioning this to prevent any confusion. The weirdest thing about it is that everything that’s happened in the run before New 52 still counts, so it’s not technically a reboot of anything at all and, though Morrison apparently ends the run with the opportunity for another writer to pick up the reins, no one has, so there wasn’t really a point of in the last two books being put under the New 52 name. Oh well, I guess. To be fair, that is somewhat of a blessing I suppose. No disrespect meant to any other writers employed under DC, but I can’t imagine anyone picking up an ending to a seven year long run and actually doing a good job in comparison to what readers of that run’s entirety have been used to. Also, like Morrison’s said in the run through an ambiguous line in Batman R.I.P.’s finale, and the title of a post I wrote following that story arc on the very subject: “But that’s the thing about Batman”. As I argued, like any other character who isn’t owned by the one writer and artist, Batman means different things to different people, so you’d have to find someone who interprets the character very similarly to Morrison if you were going to pick his seven year tenure off the ground. But, in my experience, there are very, very few writers or artists who think and write the same way, so perhaps it’s for the best that it ends as it does, under the name New 52 or not.

Anyhow, on to why I’m reviewing these first two issues together. From what I’ve read of the first book thus far, it looks like Morrison’s telling specific story arcs in issues of two or three, quite like he did in his Batman and Robin series that we’ve just read. These first two chapters, for example, are both set in Japan, focusing on a cast of characters relevant to that setting and what’s going on; whereas the next three that I’ll be reviewing together, although not all set in the one country, do follow the one storyline that connects the set of characters present there. No doubt the remainder of the book will be the same, though I can’t obviously speak for the two hardcovers. But I don’t expect they will, at least not in quite the same way as this, because what Morrison’s essentially doing so far is having Batman go on recruitment drives around the world for superheroes to join Batman Incorporated, and I expect that Leviathan Strikes!, the special two-part issue I mentioned that’s at the end of this book, will reveal the mastermind and the final stage of our run will begin. The stories here, in comparison, could be read out of order or not at all, not really being connected like I suspect the home run will be. So, yeah, I’ll be reviewing this book by grouping chapters together where they form the one story, but I don’t yet know what the deal will be when we get to the last two books.

One last thing worth mentioning before I write a short review of these two chapters. This is actually something that I should have discussed during Batman and Robin, and that’s the fact that Morrison has also begun a more “cinematic” approach to his storytelling. You might have noticed in those reviews that I frequently alluded to images of what would happen next time. That’s because at the end of each issue of that series there would be very small panels – I think always drawn by Frank Quietly, even when he was no longer the artist after the first story arc – hinting at what was to happen next time, very similar to the teasers that often follow a television show. Well, Morrison appears to have ramped that up for Batman Incorporated.

At the end of each issue that has a related one following it we’re now treated to dramatic exclamations or questions to ponder about the cliffhanger endings. For example, the first issue ends with a villain called Lord Death Man being shot and seemingly killed, leaving a young girl in a watery trap he’d planned, which only he apparently knows how to fix, Catwoman heedlessly joining the girl in an effort to save her; and we’re presented with these three lines: “Lord Death Man lives to take life, and he’s only just begun! Can Batman solve the reaper’s riddles? Or will curiosity kill the cat?” It’s a riff on ye comics of olde that would end with questions like that too, of course, but do also note that the title of each issue is always preceded by, “Batman Incorporated Presents”, kind of like how film or TV show titles are introduced by their production studio or broadcasters. Pretty interesting stuff, I must say. The guy’s been playing around with structure for so long in this run that I’ve neglected to talk about it as much as I used to in earlier reviews, so take that to be the last I’ll speak of it.

It’s a good thing that those five paragraphs make up quite a bit of length because I have very little to say about these first two chapters to be quite honest. Not to worry, however – they’re not bad or anything, actually being frantic fun with a lot of humour. Following on from the one shot story’s conclusion we find Batman in Japan with Catwoman as company. Here’s there to recruit a new hero of Morrison’s, created by him according to the extras section, called Mr. Unknown but, as you can see, he’s, um, killed in the first issue, actually at the very start. The guy he’s killed by is Lord Death Man, not created by Morrison but another character long forgotten from Batman’s past, so I guess I was wrong about no more old stories being brought into continuity. But, yes, that’s really that guy’s name. Quite amazing, is it not?

He’s a bit of an interesting villain when it comes to his design. On the one hand, there’s his physical appearance. Though it looks like his face has been stripped of all flesh, leaving only an empty skull, if you look closely when the skull’s mouth is open, you’ll see that his own moth is actually under it – he’s wearing a skull! the other thing about him is that for some reason he can’t be killed and, as Morrison explains in the extras area again, he threw him in here because he liked the idea of a literally unstoppable villain. It doesn’t even look like he feels any pain so he’d technically be an even bigger adversary than Doctor Hurt – who only seemed incapable of ageing – if he weren’t so ridiculous in his role as a bad guy or, as Morrison’s suggests, lives life with an obsession of getting the highest body count in his cool looking car, like a gamer playing the Grand Theft Auto series. But, like Hurt, he is stopped of course, though through even more creative means than a burial. Prepare yourself. Batman launches him into space with a rocket. Godamnit, I love this fucking run.

Anyway, though Batman was previously against the idea of recruiting this young man called Jiro into his newfound worldwide team for using a gun on Lord Death Man (apparently the first rule of Batman Incorporated is to never use one, obviously hearkening back to the death of Bruce’s parents), he in the end makes him his first recruit outside of the Bat-family for valiantly faking his death as Mr. Unknown  – the real Mr. Unknown that was killed was a fairly old man, and he’d been taking his place – in order to start anew. Interestingly enough, it appears that Batman’s making his recruits swear an oath, as we see Jiro with his left hand placed on Batman’s, their right hand’s raised like boy scouts speaking an oath. As the third issue ends with the question of betrayal, I wonder if that’s possibly a hint towards any of the recruits breaking their oath, if they even took it seriously in the first place.

The only other detail to note about these first two chapters is Selina’s involvement. According to some annotations I checked out, the weapon they’re stealing together belongs to one Dr. Sivana, who I recall was Lex Luthor’s ally in betraying Libra during Final Crisis. Not sure what the weapon they’re stealing is, nor if it will be important later in the run, so we’ll just have to wait and see what the plan is. It might have simply been an excuse to bring Selina along, honestly. No, she does not join Batman Incorporated, but neither is it obvious if she’ll have a further role to play during the remainder of the run. But I’d like to think so because the two characters are a blast together, and I especially like what’s going on here. For you see, surprisingly enough, the two know each other’s secret identities. Batman: Hush is as close as I’ve ever seen the two characters get and I suggested in my review of that book that it should be possible for them to know each other, working together like they do under their persona’s, and dating as themselves. Not sure why they know each other here, but I’d be quite interested to read whatever story it’s in that they reveal themselves for who they truly are. So, hopefully she’s back, though part of me kind of doubts it unless there’s some particularly important reason for her presence.

On that note, I’ve said all that I can think of. When I’ve finished the next story arc – which is three issues long, at least – I’ll be grouping all of its chapters together too, and hopefully that’ll be tomorrow. From what I’ve read so far, there is at least a bit more to talk about so it should be a much longer post. Until then.

Prog 1874 Review

Welcome to the start of an all new series of reviews in this here blog of mine. Before we dive on in, I suppose some background on my relationship with 2000AD would be good as well as what my plans for the future are in regards to it. This is a comic I collected for three and a half years as a teenager, and I would say they were three pretty good years for the comic. In regards to Dredd, I suppose the most noticeable story would be Origins, being one of the last “epics” to take place, but it’s the stories after that in which Wagner took the lead character and had him try to make changes to the way the mutants of the Cursed Earth were treated, even getting them into the city, that I thought were really good. Sadly, my subscription came to an end shortly before I could see that through into Mega City Justice. Even more sadly, I was absent from the strip when the Day of Chaos story took place, and afterwards as Trifecta, a genius crossover, blew everyone’s minds. But, as well as Judge Dredd, I’d like to say that I was collecting the comic when other great stuff was afoot.

Though I came into the middle of it, Nikolai Dante was being taken in very interesting directions, one particular scene with the Tsar at the end of Amerika sticking out in my mind. There was the end of Caballistics Inc. going on, though I sadly jumped ship before I could read Absalom. Though its second story wasn’t as good, particularly with the frequent changes of artist, I did enjoy The Ten Seconders. A story called Stickleback came out of nowhere to blow everyone away. Alas, I’ve missed the third long story in that series, and there’s no trade paperback for it, but hopefully I’ll be seeing him and the gang again soon. A guy called Bob Byrne came out with all these “twisted tales”, usually silent strips that could take multiple readings to decipher. Oh, Al Ewing released quite a few short stories. They were kind of like expanded Future Shocks and the one I most clearly remember is Dead Signal with art from P.J. Holden, in my opinion his best at the time.

Now that I think about it, there were also a lot of sneaky strips taking place, by which I mean the kind that looked to be a new story by a new writer when, suddenly, it turned out that it was a cover up for this or that. Probably most memorable for me was a story called Dead Eyes which ended with the revelation that it was actually Indigo Prime. This didn’t really mean anything to me, but the reason I do remember it quite well is that my dad collected the comic when he was younger and literally dropped the Prog when he read the final episode. Me, though? Well, Simon Spurrier introduced me to Lobster Random, but then pulled a fast one on us all when he turned out to be the author of what we thought was an amazing  new story – with beautiful art by D’Israeli, easily some of his best – called The Vort, actually Lobster Random in the guise of an amnesiac guy who just happens to be good at torturing folk. Oh, and Malone turned out to be Sinister Dexter, which was actually incredibly obvious in hindsight but really bloody good.

So, yeah, there was a lot of cool stuff going on when I was collecting this here comic. Having been stalking their site for some time, I noticed that this one would be featuring all new stories throughout, and with a new monthly subscription added to the site, I thus find myself collecting it again. Along with the Megazine though. DUN DUN DUUUUN. Though I only ever bought one terrible issue of that in the past, it seems to be doing pretty well for itself right now actually, so I’m jumping on board with that too, and you’ll be seeing reviews of it as well. But mostly this, for it is out every week whereas the Megazine is every four. If you’re curious at all as to how much I really love the comic, let me put it this way: it’s the only comic or magazine I’ve ever submitted a letter to (and gotten published in one Prog…somewhere), expressing thy love; I contributed to a website, now shut down, called 2000AD Reviews (I now follow a blog here on WordPress doing the same thing, and will probably send this their way), even though I was kinda terrible at writing at the time, just to talk about it; and I even helped out on Wikipedia’s various entries for the comic, such is how sad I am. On that note, let’s get started, and do note that they’ll probably be more traditional reviews in way of briefly mentioning the cover, then the writing and art of the various stories.

 

Cover by Edmund Bagwell

Pretty smashing stuff, I must say. Though all the characters look great, Bagwell’s Slaine in particular looks fantastic. This guy was the artist on a strip I missed, but bought in trade paperback, called Cradlegrave, indeed one of the very best stories I’ve read from the comic, so I really hope we’ll be seeing him as the artist on a future story, preferably one with dark subject matter so he can present us with horrible looking images.

 

Judge Dredd: Mega City Confidential (Part 1)

Gee, John Wagner and Colin MacNeil? It’s like someone knew that these two are a favourite combination of mine, Wagner being the writer when it comes to Dredd of course, and MacNeil having illustrated some of my favourite strips for the character. Maybe it’s been a while but his art work looks a lot darker here than I think it usually is. Perhaps that’s just me though, or is down to this being set up as a slow, unravelling mystery rather than a comedy, even a slightly dark one. Either way, it’s as amazing as ever and certainly matches the ominous mood of this opening chapter. Just look at how scary Dredd is when he’s up in Guff’s face.

The story itself does appear mighty mysterious in this opening chapter, but I can’t imagine that it’ll remain that way for very long. What the secret of Section 7 could be has me intrigued though, and I’m sure there’s a great story in store for us. It looks like we could be following it quite closely from the perspective of the girl, Erika, too, judging by the way that Wagner depicts Dredd in one of his more monstrous states, and the two citizens as the innocent couple with whom we sympathise. It’s always very interesting when that’s the case, and it’d be quite the treat for me if that were the story I returned to Dredd for. Oh, but one more thing. Though I haven’t collected the strip for years, I have kept up to date with the Dredd trade paperbacks, most recently the two Day of Chaos books. The first page of the Prog has been updated since I last collected the strip to point out that the city is still recovering from the events that took place in those books, so it’s pretty cool to see even small details like the cranes and rubble on the bottom of the second page to reflect this. Great stuff.

 

Slaine: A Simple Killing (Part 1)

Hmm. I’m not, I must say, a particularly big Slaine fan and I know that I most certainly wasn’t when I collected the comic years ago, the only story that I can actually recall seeing of the character being Carnival which was…well, crap. The writing did very little for me and, though I loved Clint Langley’s artwork on the A.B.C .Warriors, I really didn’t like it on Slaine, I’m sad to say. But this? You know, I might actually enjoy this. No, the writing isn’t Mills at his most perfect but it’s certainly a lot better than I remember reading in both Carnival and the A.B.C. Warriors stories on which Langley did the art, but maybe that’s because the latter series, at the time, was filled with lines referencing this and that that I found to be pretty distracting. This seems like it could be pure fun – it’s got the silly dialogue that I can sometimes love about Mills, like “Kiss my axe!” and the quite literally eyebrow-raising final panel, surely aware of how overly dramatic its being – but I’ll be reserving any true verdict for future episodes. Perhaps Carnival has left too bitter a taste in my mouth, making me unfairly suspicious, especially since I haven’t read any Slaine since, but I do recall how that got off to a decent enough start before going down Cliche Alley. Hopefully this won’t do the same.

The definite positive here, however, is Simon Davis’ artwork. An interesting choice, but a very welcome one. Though I did like his art for the most part, it wasn’t always amazing in every strip I read, sometimes quite unsuitable for the story being told (Ampney Crucis is a story that I distinctly recall looking quite horrible). But this looks great, my own highlight of the art in this Prog, and I expect it will only get better in future episodes. I love the map before the start of the story; I love that Slaine actually looks old; I love the expressions of the characters; and I love that fifth page, with the darkness Slaine’s silhouetted against in the first panel being used as the shield he peeks out from in the next. Incidentally, I forgot that Davis does such interesting things with panel composition, so more of that, please.

 

Outlier (Part 1)

To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this one at all, both in terms of its plot and art. T.C. Eglington isn’t a name that rings any bells from when I collected the strip, though if he is a recent addition to Tharg’s writing droids then I did maybe see him do a Future Shock or two that I simply can’t remember. Whatever the case, depending on which direction the story heads, this may or may not be a terrifically great opener for a brand new series. My first impressions told me it would be a mystery thriller when I read the first four pages, but that Eglington shows the killer to belong to a race that’s bad news, seeking revenge on some old friends it seems, and fits in some backstory for the lead character, who knows? There is the titular ship, I would assume the centre of the crime and any following ones, but it’s hard to tell if Eglington’s intention is to wrap it up in some great mystery or if the plan is that this murder and any more could spark hostilities between the Alliance of this world and these aliens. We’ll just have to wait until next time, I suppose.

That sort of goes for the art too. The only strip in which I’ve seen Karl Richardson’s artwork before, that I can recall, was the first episode of the The 86er’s before P.J. Holden took over, so I’m certainly not someone who can fairly compare his work. It looks good in this opening part of the story, but nothing about it really wow-ed me, except maybe the attention to detail of Raol’s broken wrist when we first see him and the rest of the crime scene. It all flows from panel to panel very well too. It’s just that the character and interior design of the world in this first episode isn’t very exciting, quite surprising for a new sci-fi tale in the comic. But, like the story, we’ll wait and see what direction it heads in.

 

Sinister Dexter: Gun Shy (Part 1)

Oh, for fuck’s sake. When I was purchasing this Prog online, I honestly stared in disbelief to find that this would be part of the contents. Why is this still in the Prog, and how the hell are the titular characters still contending with Moses? There’s no nice way for me to say this, but thankfully I don’t care: I hate this bloody strip. The first 2000AD I bought was Prog 2006 and inside I met skeletal versions of these characters in a story that I believe was called Festive Spirits, only it wasn’t so festive, seemingly set in the afterlife, one of the characters having escaped Downlode at the end of the Prog before, their fate murky, and the other having been gunned down, seemingly killed. Reviews I read at the time, written by people who didn’t like the strip very much, all seemed to agree that it was a perfect ending for the story of two gunsharks. But Dan Abnett was not done. Then he seemed close to being done. Only he wasn’t. And it went on…and on…and on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll give this story its fair chance, because Abnett is absolutely not some utterly crap writer; far from it, in fact, Kingdom sticking out as a particularly memorable series (with a novel coming out that I may pick up). There have been Sinister Dexter stories I’ve enjoyed, yes. Though it varied in quality over the course of its different, separate titles, for example, the stories in which Ray was quadriplegic and Finny busted him out of prison and then tried to get him fixed had their moments. Of course, there was also Malone, easily the best that I read, though that could well be because it felt nothing like a Sinister Dexter story. The trouble I found with this series is that for every good story that Abnett produces for these characters, there’s about a dozen terrible ones that feel like generic “filler” material, paving the way for the next good storyline, or are simply not as funny as he thinks they are. For now, this seems like it could be the latter, but I’ll be fair and see what happens next week, even though this really did little to impress me.

The somewhat good news is that Smudge is on art duties. All I’ve saw of him is his work in Chiaruscuro, a story he illustrated for Simon Spurrier, and the little he’s done on Low Life by Rob Williams, but he’s fairly good. When he was doing Chiaruscuro, his art seemed more focused on looking particularly detailed and realistic (the main character gradually grew more stubble over the course of the story, which was a small but nice little touch), but I quite like this style too. The only thing it really needs is colour – something tells me it would look way better with Chris Blythe or Len O’Grady working their magic.

 

Jaegir: Strigoi (Part 1)

Speaking of, O’Grady acts as colourist for Simon Coleby here, doing a damn fine job indeed, as does Coleby himself. After Slaine, I’d say this was the best artwork of the week but, then again, I’m completely biased when it comes to Coleby, believing him to be a very consistent artist. And speaking of consistent, the writer of this new series is Gordon Rennie, a continuously terrific writer as it happens. This is probably the most interesting story in the Prog, a new series but one set in the familiar world of Rogue Trooper. Sadly, it’s been a very long time since I last read any Rogue Trooper, so my memory of the particular details about the war of the series are a little hazy. In fact, I think that in all the time I collected 2000AD, there was only the one actual story told from the titular character’s perspective, and it wasn’t very good. But it wasn’t very surprising that it’s the only one I ever saw – as far as my understanding goes, the strip has never been a hugely popular success, quite interesting for one told in a world raved by war that you’d think has the potential to be great. There was, however, a strip that I mentioned earlier in this review called The 86er’s, also written by Rennie. The interesting thing about that was that it was all set in space, almost a space opera in fact with the way that it focused on the conflicts between the characters and not necessarily the ongoing war. It didn’t receive overwhelming praise as far as I remember, but I enjoyed it quite a bit myself.

But this sounds even better, and should be fantastic if the quality of this opening can be maintained. It is a bit of a wordy start but I do like the direction that Rennie’s heading in. Hell, just the concept alone, of telling the story from the “bad guys” point of view had me sold when I read the contents page, particularly since our lead character is a woman who investigates the potential war crimes of her own people, which is of course very interesting because all we typically see them as is a bunch of murderous bastards. Highlight of the Prog? Yeah, I think so. Certainly the other strip besides Dredd that I have high hopes for.

 

Looking at the Prog overall, it’s interesting to note how I feel three of the five stories – SinDex, Outlier and Slaine – could go either way in terms of quality, which technically makes it a lacklustre start of sorts. But screw it – I’m excited to be subscribed again. It’s hard to believe that I forgot how good this comic is. There truly is always something for everyone, one of the things that make it special. Though I only hold two stories up to high expectations, there’s probably others who chuckled their way through Slaine’s silliness with no niggling doubts gnawing at them, and there were probably those who have a better grasp on where Outlier may head than I do. God forbid, there may even be Sinister Dexter fans out there, somewhere. See you next time.