onsdag 15 februari 2012

DC Comics Presents: Batman – "Blaze of Glory" and "Urban Legends"

I really like the DC Comics Presents series; at $8, it's a relatively cheap way of getting 100 pages of comics that may not warrant being republished in trade paperback format. (And, reading these two editions, I have to say that they don't, in fact, quite warrant being republished in trade paperback format.)

Blaze of Glory collects a three-issue story arc from Legends of the Dark Knight #197-199 by writer Will Pfeifer and artist Chris Weston about a criminal bearing a grudge against the Batman after having been arrested despite having had a "perfect" plan, and then developing brain cancer. He goes on a vandalization spree connected with the bat symbol, and Batman immediately sees this as a biiiiig problem and starts tracking him down. When Batman finally catches up with the guy, however, it turns out he's got a plan to create some extra-special death and mayhem when he's caught.

This is an OK read but not a great one. Batman obsessing about the bad guy's initial act of vandalism – burning a big bat symbol into a "Welcome to Gotham" highway sign seems a bit odd and egocentric, to tell the truth, and his solution to the crook's final gambit is a bit obvious. Still, I give Pfeifer props for having Batman actually solve this case through his detective skills instead of through "just showing up at the right time because he's obviously deduced everything" as some Batman writers seem to prefer. Weston's art looks good – he is very good when it comes to textures – but has occasional problems with anatomy/proportions and action, and his Bruce Wayne looks too much like a Cuban drug lord out of Miami Vice. Anything else – clothes, buildings, ordinary people etc – looks real nice, though.

Rounding out this issue is a story from LotDK #212, "Chicks Dig the Bat", about a nerd getting one of the school's aloof hotties with him up on a rooftop on the promise that Batman passes by it every night. Unfortunately for them, so do a squad of ruthless criminals... Batman shows up to save them, but the nerd gets to play a part when one of the crooks takes the girl hostage, and this leads to her getting the hots for him all of a sudden. A kind of cute story, but I get a bit tired of the use of the girl as nothing but an object for the young male's affections/sex urges; she doesn't even get her own personality – if she had, I don't think I'd have reacted as negatively as I did.

There are three stories in Urban Legends. The first, from LotDK #168, has a Batman who's fallen from a great height and lost his memory. He just knows that he has to help people and fight crime, and he does get the support of several people along the way, but he's also in a bad shape after his fall, and, well, he has amnesia. Fortunately for him, his reputation is enough to scare off many bad guys, but you have to wonder... Is this really Batman? And if not, who is it? Whoever he is, he still displays a lot of courage and integrity, even if he doesn't seem to have the skills and physique to deliver...

I like this story; it comes at the Batman mythos from a fresh angle, and this Batman (or "Batman"?) is quite a bit more vulnerable than usual, making the outcome of the story more uncertain than is the norm for Batman stories. Kudos to the team of Bill Willingham and Tom Fowler for creating it.

There are two more stories in this issue, "Lost Cargo" from LotDK #177-178 and "Full Circle2 from #179. The first is about Catwoman and Batman's alter ego Matches Malone in an uneasy, sometimes even adversary, partnership trying to find a bunch of Filipino trafficking victims abandoned in a truck with air running out. The story isn't bad, I like that we get to see one of Batman's classic disguises take center stage for a change, but I'm not a fan of the art, which is a bit too much on the scratchy and sketchy side for my tastes. I prefer strong, elegant lines, which is definitely not what we're getting here. Similar with the art for the final story, which is about taking violent revenge for abuse at an orphanage – and apart from not being all that keen on the "the only way to deal with that is to murder the perpetrator" message, I don't think what is really a non-Batman story (he only shows up on the last page) has a place in a Batman comic unless it's a very strong story. And this one isn't IMO; just because a story incorporates the theme of child abuse doesn't automatically make it a powerful one.

I can't really recommend either of these books, but I will recommend the "Urban Legend" story because it definitely is a good one, and well worth a read.

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