Wednesday, October 30, 2013

X-FACTOR #65 - April 1991


Endgame Part 1: Malign Influences
Credits:  Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio (plot), Chris Claremont (script), Whilce Portacio (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Steve Buccellato (colors), Michael Heisler (letters)

Summary:  Hard-Drive, a member of the Riders of the Storm, uses his powers to hack into Ship’s network.  The Riders of the Storm spy on X-Factor’s training sequence, preparing for battle.  Later, Iceman and Archangel visit their respective girlfriends, as Beast watches footage of Trish Tilby.  Suddenly, Ship is attacked by the Riders.  Psynapse invades Marvel Girl’s mind, forcing her to relive the death of her childhood friend.  When Iceman and Archangel return, the battle goes in X-Factor’s favor, until Apocalypse appears.

Continuity Notes:  
  • The next issue identifies Apocalypse’s servants as the Riders of the Storm, who will later go by the simplified title of “Dark Riders.”  As of this issue, however, they don’t even have a collective name yet.
  • Following the ending of Uncanny X-Men #273, Guido has informed Cyclops that Lila Cheney teleported the X-Men away to save Professor Xavier.  Cyclops is holding the training session to be ready in case the X-Men need their help.
  • Psynapse’s invasion of Marvel Girl’s mind enables her telepathy to return.  The creators drop hints this issue, but this isn’t confirmed until later.

Production Note:  The “Apocalypse Files” listed on the cover is a text piece of Apocalypse narrating profiles of three X-Factor members, written by Fabian Nicieza.  The back-up feature is actually called the “Apocalypse Manifesto” inside the issue.

I Love the '90s:  Trish Tilby is filing a report from the Persian Gulf regarding the possibility of super-powered beings entering Operation: Desert Storm.  Beast’s VHS copy of the broadcast is labeled 1/24/91.

Miscellaneous Note:  The Statement of Ownership has average sales at 268,307 copies, with the most recent issue selling 228,800.

Review:  Chris Claremont has said that he agreed to script X-Factor for a few issues in order to get a feel for Whilce Portacio’s art before Portacio moved over to Uncanny X-Men.  He need not have bothered, as it turns out, but as a reader at the time, having Claremont lend his name to X-Factor felt like a mini-event.  Claremont’s famous for reinventing Marvel Girl as Phoenix, and Cyclops was a steady presence for the early years of his run, but there is no definitive Claremont interpretation of the three other founding members of the X-Men.  For various reasons, Iceman, Angel, and Beast rarely if ever played a role during Claremont’s extensive Uncanny X-Men stint (even when Angel joined the team at John Byrne’s prompting, Claremont wrote him out as soon as possible), so it’s fun to see what how he handles mutants not normally associated with his writing style.  

Of course, the actual plot is being handled by Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio, a plotting duo that will be responsible for some truly terrible Uncanny X-Men issues in just a few months.  This issue shows some hints of the incoherence to come, but for the most part, it’s an effective opening chapter.  The Dark Riders have absolutely bizarre designs, but that’s probably why I have some affection for them.  The villains are each given an opportunity to show off their powers, as insane as some of those powers are, and there is some effort to work in some personal life scenes.  Those “check in on the girlfriend” scenes aren’t particularly imaginative and arguably slow down the story’s momentum, but I’m glad these romantic subplots are even acknowledged.  Those are the only slow scenes during this brief stint, as the book is about to enter a multi-issue fight scene involving the Dark Riders, the Inhumans, and Apocalypse.  I’m sure the fights thrilled the target audience at the time, but in retrospect, it’s a shame that this will be the last issue for several months, maybe years, to acknowledge the three long-running romances developed by Louise Simonson during her stint.

Monday, October 28, 2013

NEW MUTANTS #100 - April 1991

The End of the Beginning
Credits:  Rob Liefeld (plot, pencils, inks), Fabian Nicieza (script), Brad Vancata (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary:  The team tries to stop Shatterstar from destroying the practice robots in the Danger Room, leading to a fight.  Eventually, Cable knocks him out.  Later, Shatterstar explains that he’s traveled from a future Mojoverse in search of the X-Men.  Boom-Boom goes to the kitchen to find food for Shatterstar, and discovers Feral.  Feral explains that she needs the team’s help against Masque.  Simultaneously, Mojo V’s soldiers materialize inside the complex.  The team defeats them, but while they’re distracted, Masque makes his move.  Cable quickly kills his lackey Brute, intimidating Masque into leaving.  Cable explains that the complex is no longer safe and that the team must begin the next phase of its mission.  Later, Strfye summons the MLF for an assignment.  He takes off his helmet in private, revealing he has Cable’s face.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Shatterstar explains that he’s a rebel from Mojoverse, one hundred years in the future.  He claims Mojoverse is ruled by Mojo V and his executioner, Spiral.
  • I believe this issue marks the first time Cable kills someone (on-panel).
  • Cannonball comments that Cable’s remade the team into an “X-Force,” which of course sets up the new series.
  • This issue is the first time Stryfe is unmasked.  Not only does he have Cable’s face, but he also repeats a line of dialogue uttered by Cable in a previous issue.  At one point, Liefeld considered revealing that Cable and Stryfe were the same person from different points in the timestream, and it’s obvious the creators want you to think that Cable has been Stryfe all along as the big cliffhanger.

I Love the '90s:  Proudstar is wearing a belt literally made out of pouches.

We Get Letters:  This issue prints the first letter from a fan irrationally obsessed with Deadpool.

Review:  New Mutants draws to an end, as Cable officially recruits James Proudstar, Feral, and Shatterstar to join his mysterious friend Domino in X-Force.  (Okay, Cannonball and Boom-Boom can come, too.)  And if you’re expecting any heartfelt tributes to the long-running series in its one hundredth and final issue, ha, yeah right… Anyone intimately familiar with the history of this series was surely seeing red, but as a kid who always dismissed this book as dull, I was excited to see the start of something new.  That “something new” turned out to be quite a mess, but at this moment, X-Force looks like it has promise.  A team that’s willing to “fight for the dream,” new characters, new mysteries, and more of Cable and his violent shenanigans, which is what every twelve-year-old wants.  

As for this specific issue, I have the same predictable complaints about the art (and I have to point out this is the issue with the infamous double-page swipe from Ronin), but the story does a credible job of inducting the new members into the team and setting up the new direction.  Nicieza’s dialogue helps a lot, as Cable is still amusingly deadpan and not a generic Clint Eastwood clone, and the rest of the cast show at least some semblance of a personality.  And that cliffhanger had to freak out any one of the impressionable kids reading at the time (except for me, as I had no idea who Stryfe was supposed to be.)  Now, as I said earlier, all of this leads into a book that’s genuinely awful for over a year after its release, and it turns out that Cable’s promises to help Proudstar, Shatterstar, and Feral are just as empty as his original pledge to rescue Rusty and Skids.  Knowing that the stories and art are only going to get worse from here probably does lessen my opinion of the issue, but I can’t deny that the story made me genuinely curious, at the time, to find out what happens next.  On that level, it’s a fair set-up for a new beginning.

Friday, October 25, 2013

UNCANNY X-MEN #277 - June 1991

Free Charley
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Jim Lee (penciler), Scott Williams (inker), Joe Rosas (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters)

Summary:  Gambit ambushes the Skrull-Starjammers while the X-Men attack their ship from the outside.  Meanwhile, Lila Cheney responds to the telepathic prompting in Deathbird’s head and teleports them to the Skrull’s secret location.  Deathbird is captured as the Skrull impersonating Xavier steals the telepathic powers of Xavier, Psylocke, and Oracle.  Lila teleports, then returns with the X-Men.  The Skrulls are defeated and Deathbird willingly gives up her crown to Lilandra.  Banshee informs Xavier of events on Earth, and after Xavier reads Storm’s memories, he realizes the Shadow King has returned.  Lila teleports the X-Men back to Earth.  Meanwhile, a Shadow King-possessed Colossus targets Stevie Hunter.

Continuity Notes:  
  • The special breed of Skrulls impersonating the X-Men and Starjammers are called “War-Skrulls” for the first time.  They discorporate after being defeated, leaving no answers as to their mysterious origins.
  • Xavier reveals that he’s been subconsciously influencing Deathbird since being captured, which explains how she knew to contact Lila Cheney, and then the X-Men, in the first place.
  • However briefly, this issue marks the first time Xavier meets Forge, Jubilee, Psylocke, and Gambit.
  • Another “sinister” Gambit hint:  He tells the Skrull-Starjammers that they can’t kill Banshee because he hasn’t learned Banshee's secrets yet.

We Get Letters:  The letters page announces the ongoing X-Men series for the first time.  The plan is for Chris Claremont to write both monthly titles.

Review:  This is Jim Lee’s final Uncanny X-Men issue, even though he’ll of course go on to do another year of X-Men issues.  It’s also the last Uncanny X-Men issue to feature Chris Claremont telling stories at his own pace without an inordinate amount of editorial influence.  The next issue begins the “Muir Island Saga,” which began life as a truncated version of a story arc Claremont intended to run until Uncanny X-Men #300.  Claremont probably wasn’t thrilled to see his long-term plans rushed to fit into a three-month crossover, or the idea of a more traditional X-Men with Xavier at the helm, but he seemed willing to stick around at the time.  He’s gone before “Muir Island Saga” is even finished, though, reportedly because he resented the idea that he could only script and not plot stories in the future.

Where does that leave this issue?  There don’t seem to be any obvious cracks beneath the surface, unless you count Xavier’s abrupt decision to return to Earth and take care of Shadow King.  As a reader, however, that scene’s kind of a welcome relief.  Rather than dragging the mystery out for even more months, Xavier’s given an opportunity to discover something’s wrong and then immediately declares he’s going to take action about it.  Remember how rarely we ever saw the X-Men aggressively deal with Mr. Sinister, the Marauders, Genosha, the Reavers, etc.  The X-Men aren’t really big on tying up loose ends, so it’s hard to complain about the team actually showing some gumption.  And the conclusion to the Skrull arc is also a lot of fun.  This issue has one of my favorite moments of this era, Gambit giving Gladiator “the whole deck” right into the gut (and notice that it's not "de whole deck"), so it’s hard for me not to get caught up in a little nostalgia.  Claremont also manages to give most of the characters something to do in the plot, and throw in little bits of dialogue that show he’s given some thought to everyone’s point of view (such as Xavier commenting that he doesn’t recognize most of these “X-Men”).  Lee and Williams’ art is also as dynamic as usual, and the colors still hold up fairly well, even if the book’s printed on terrible paper.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

NEW MUTANTS #99 - March 1991

The Beginning of the End - Part Two
Credits:  Rob Liefeld (plot, pencils, inks), Fabian Nicieza (script), Brad Vancata (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary:  Inside the Morlock Tunnels, Masque targets Feral, who refuses to join his anti-human crusade.  Feral discovers a hatch connected to the Xavier’s school’s underground complex and escapes.  Meanwhile, Cable tries to recruit James Proudstar to the team, but he refuses.  When he returns home to Camp Verde, Proudstar discovers the entire reservation has been massacred.  Elsewhere, Boom-Boom finds the note Rictor’s left behind, explaining that he’s left to rescue Wolfsbane in Genosha.  After meeting with Gideon, Sunspot informs Cable that he’s leaving the team in order to oversee his late father’s business.  Shortly after Sunspot says goodbye, Proudstar arrives and agrees to join.  Simultaneously, Shatterstar materializes in the Danger Room.

Continuity Notes:  
  • This issue marks Feral’s first appearance, along with Shatterstar’s first cameo appearance.  (One panel appearances used to only count as “cameos.”)
  • Proudstar finds the remnants of a Hellfire Club soldier’s mask at Camp Verde, leading him to assume the White Queen ordered the attack as retaliation after he left the Hellions.  Years later, after Marvel decides to reform the White Queen, she’s acquitted of the crime.  Eventually, Stryfe is revealed as the murderer.
  • After Cable makes a reference to the bleak future of mutants, Proudstar jokes that he must have a crystal ball. This is another early clue that Cable might be a time traveler, although the hint is so vague it’s easy to dismiss as this point.  The "crystal ball" reference shows up again next issue as a red herring, hinting Cable and Stryfe are the same person.
  • More vague talk from Cable:  He remarks that he lost his father at an early age, and boasts to Cannonball that he’s seen thousands of people die on the battlefield.
  • Gideon is spying on Cable as he has dinner with Proudstar.  His dialogue implies that he’s in a race with Cable to recruit young mutants, which broadly fits with later revelations that Gideon singled out Sunspot because he assumed Sunspot was the “High Lord.”
  • Gideon’s dialogue with Sunspot implies they grew up together.  I’m assuming Gideon’s status as an immortal hadn’t been decided yet, because it’s hard to imagine Sunspot having an adult friend as a child, one who never seemed to get older.  Gideon also mentions that he was thrown out of Harvard, in case anyone’s curious.  
  • The dates marking time throughout the issue don’t add up.  I’m assuming there’s a lettering mistake that has the story go from December 14th to December 7th in the final scene.

Miscellaneous Notes:   
  • The Statement of Ownership lists the average sales for the year at 182,499 copies with the most recent issue selling 194,300. 
  • The cover to this issue is an homage to Uncanny X-Men #138.   There have been numerous take-offs on this cover over the years, but this is possibly the very first one.

Review:  I rarely, and I mean rarely, purchased New Mutants as a kid, but I did pick up the final two issues of the series.  I don’t think I knew specifically about X-Force, but I did somehow know that the book was coming to an end at issue #100 and that seeds were being planted for an entirely new direction.  Even this tidbit of information seemed strange to me; books at that time just ended, as far as I knew.  I had never heard of a book that was purposefully winding down in order to make way for an entirely new series.  Intrigued by what was coming next, I picked up the final issues of New Mutants just to see how the book, which was almost my age, would be drawing to a close.  

And, honestly, I thought it was a very engaging finale.  People are leaving left and right, obscure mutants are getting recruited into the team, strange villains are watching from the shadows, plus new characters are getting introduced and I actually get to read their first appearances for a change.  Remember the days when having a first appearance was like owning a precious artifact? 

Does the issue hold up today?  As an early plotting assignment for Rob Liefeld, it is remarkably coherent.  He doesn’t waste a page of the story, plowing through the events that need to happen in order to get where he wants to go, but never really crossing the line and making the plot machinations obvious.  It’s entirely conceivable that Sunspot would leave the team after his father’s death (and using this event as way to introduce Gideon also makes sense), and numbskull Rictor would likely leave the team in the middle of the night to rescue Wolfsbane.  After losing two other members in the “X-Tinction Agenda” crossover, that leaves the team with four fewer mutants.  As a kid, I thought it was fun to see how Cable would go about reforming the team, and that element of this issue holds up.  Cable can just as easily charm Proudstar, in his own way, as he can casually dismiss Sunspot when he learns he wants to go.  This portrayal of Cable isn’t easy to reconcile with the Louise Simonson issues, but it’s entertaining to watch him turn into a military general, sizing up who wants to be there and who doesn’t as he arrogantly forges ahead into this vague “war” that’s coming.

Not surprisingly, if anything holds the issue down, it’s the art.  Rob Liefeld should not have been inking his own pencils at this stage.  There actually is a unique texture to his inks that I kind of enjoyed as a kid and can still see the appeal of, but overall, Rob Liefeld inking Rob Liefeld means even shakier anatomy, disappearing pupils, floating noses, uneven eyes, and more inconsistent backgrounds than ever before.  You might be willing to forgive things like characters hovering on their tippy toes, but the unpredictable facial expressions hinder almost every conversation scene in the book (and this is an issue that’s about 90% conversation).  When the cast doesn’t have a stoned, distant expression on their faces, they’re squinting for no reason, or spontaneously breaking out into evil smiles.  Cable grinning like a madman as he details the horrors of war is just egregiously out of place.  Who on earth would follow a lunatic who’s smiling like that while discussing the thousands of bodies he’s seen on the ground?  That defeats the entire point of the story. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

UNCANNY X-MEN #276 - May 1991

Double Death
Credits:  Chris Claremont (writer), Jim Lee (penciler), Scott Williams (inker), Joe Rosas (colors), Patrick Brosseau (letters)

Summary:  Gambit and Jubilee stop Xavier from executing Deathbird, which attracts the attention of the remaining X-Men.  Xavier’s guards have already placed Gambit and Jubilee in custody before the X-Men arrive, but Wolverine discerns something’s wrong when he finds Jubilee’s earring on the ground.  He strikes and kills Xavier.  Psylocke incapacities Wolverine, while Lila Cheney teleports Deathbird and the rest of the X-Men away.  Lila takes them to the decimated planet of the P!ndyr, which Deathbird claims is just one of Xavier’s victims.  Soon, the team is attacked by the Starjammers.  Deathbird and Lila abruptly teleport away.  Meanwhile, Jubilee and Wolverine discover the real Xavier and Psylocke are the Skrulls’ captives.  A Skrull named Prime adopts Xavier’s identity and telepathically brings Lilandra under his control.  

Continuity Notes:  
  • Gambit implies to Jubilee that he’s dressed as a hero so he feels obligated to play the part.  Another hint that he might not be as altruistic as he seems.  The Skrull-Xavier comments that Gambit's thoughts are “like quicksilver” and are difficult to pin down.
  • This issue confirms that Xavier (or at least his Skrull impersonator) is the “Warlord” that Lila Cheney was running from months earlier.
  • Gambit isn’t shown with Jubilee at the end, but his presence is hinted at earlier, as we see a mystery hand playing Solitaire onboard the Starjammer’s ship.
  • Skrulls traditionally cannot take on the powers of the superhumans they impersonate.  The creators get around this by having the aliens use a giant macguffin device that allows them to absorb mutant powers into a matrix and imprint them on a special breed of Skrull (later identified as “War-Skrulls”).

Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Both Wolverine and Jubilee are (tastefully) nude when they’re thrown into the Skrull’s matrix.

Review:  As you would expect from a Chris Claremont comic from this era, it’s a densely packed story filled with a few dozen characters, the team is split apart, there’s a little bit of mind control, and villains are masquerading as heroes.  It’s not a quick read, but the story absolutely maintained my interest as a child, and as an adult I’m able to appreciate it on a different level and pick up on little bits I never noticed before (like that mystery hand playing Solitaire, for instance.)  For a young reader not familiar with all of the cheats that a comic writer can employ, reading the opening half of this issue was a bizarre experience.  I had a strong suspicion that Xavier wouldn’t turn out to truly be a villain, but seeing Wolverine kill him, and then Psylocke turn on Wolverine and the X-Men team up with Deathbird just made this story feel like a very big deal indeed.  

All of the little character bits also helped to draw me into the world.  Maybe Gambit’s jokes are covering his true motives?  Is Jubilee right; has Psylocke been waiting to double-cross Wolverine all along?  Forge even gives a poetic soliloquy about the veneer of civilization and the horrors of war.  Like I’ve said before, I loved this stuff as a kid because I didn’t feel as if I was being spoken down to, and even if this chapter is largely devoted to getting the characters in place for the climax, it still feels like actual care was placed in crafting the story.  And even assuming that all of those words bored some kids, Jim Lee’s art had to get some kind of reaction out of them.  Not only are all of the characters beautifully rendered (to the point that every single female character vaguely resembles early ‘90s Cindy Crawford), but the spacecrafts, guns, and alien technology are very ambitious for a mainstream comic of the era.  Since the bulk of the audience had no idea Lee was drawing much of his inspiration from anime, that had to make this material even more impressive.

Friday, October 18, 2013

ROBIN #7 - June 1994

Turning Point
Credits:  Chuck Dixon (writer), Tom Grummett (penciler), Ray Kryssing (inker), Albert DeGuzman (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)

Summary:  Tim Drake prepares for the return of his father, and reunites with Bruce Wayne.  After they take his father home, Tim shows Bruce the current condition of Wayne Manor.  When Bruce learns that Jean-Paul, as Batman, killed Abattoir, he’s adamant that Jean-Paul give up the cowl.  They break into the sealed-off Batcave and soon confront Jean-Paul.  He slams Bruce against the wall and leaves.  As Robin, Tim tries to chase him in his Redbird car, but can’t keep up.  Later, Bruce reveals to Tim his plan to retrain his body.

Irrelevant Continuity:  Bruce Wayne is walking again, although none of the stories in this collection explains how that happened.  Tim also mentions that Bruce “brought back my father,” which is another reference to events that are not reprinted.

Review:  After around sixty comics or so, the Knightfall trades finally get around to reprinting an issue of Robin, which I think leaves Legends of the Dark Knight as the only Bat-title not represented so far.  I have a random collection of Dixon’s Robin issues from the ‘90s, and the overwhelming majority of them are quite good.  He took the initial concept of Tim Drake as the more “intellectual” Robin and ran with it, essentially turning him into Peter Parker as Batman’s sidekick.  We see a few elements of this during the issue as Robin is placed in awkward secret identity situations, and deals with the guilt of abandoning his feeble father in order to play superhero.  The only action in the issue comes during a chase scene, which doesn’t do much to advance the ongoing storyline, but reminds anyone who’s missed the past year of stories that Jean-Paul is too reckless to be Batman.  (Seeing him drive against oncoming traffic while escaping Robin actually is kind of cool.)  

This is the last issue reprinted in the second Knightfall trade, which gives me another invitation to complain about what isn’t in the book.  More specifically, I’d like to gripe about what is included instead.  The Joker and Catwoman storylines do nothing to advance the major plotline, but I suppose they’re significant as the new Batman’s first meeting with the iconic characters.  While it’s hard to cut anything from the Joker arc, surely we didn’t need all four chapters of that Catwoman crossover.  At the very least, the first chapter in Catwoman could’ve been easily skipped.  Any issue of Shadow of the Bat could be dropped without disrupting the continuity, except for the debut of Jean-Paul’s new costume.  Dropping Bunny and Gunhawk wouldn’t hurt the flow, either.  And that Abattoir arc…yeesh.  Just spare us and reprint the first and last chapters.  Now, wouldn’t this leave plenty of room to explain why Bruce Wayne can walk again?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

DETECTIVE COMICS #675 - June 1994


Midnight Duel
Credits:  Chuck Dixon (writer), Graham Nolan (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), John Costanza (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)

Summary:  Gunhawk holds a hospital hostage, demanding his girlfriend Bunny be treated for her gunshot wound.  He responds violently to any efforts by the police to intervene, leading Batman to directly confront him.  After an intense firefight, Batman tackles Gunhawk down a staircase and knocks him unconscious.

Irrelevant Continuity:  The new weapon created at the end of Shadow of the Bat #28 was apparently a shuriken shooter that works like a machine gun; or perhaps the new creation was intended to be the flamethrower Batman debuts this issue.

Gimmicks:  An foil-embossed cover of the issue was also shipped.
Review:  Inserting the resolution to the Abattoir arc in-between the two chapters of this story does it no favors, although Dixon tries his best to make it work.  My favorite example is a nurse asking Gunhawk why he’s waited two days to take Bunny to the hospital.  “We were kind of on the run, y’know?”  Meanwhile, the death of Abattoir has apparently freed Jean-Paul from whatever inhibitions he previously held, as his narration now seems even more Punisher-esque.  Once again, the shift towards standard vigilante and away from crazed loon brainwashed by an ancient religious order makes Jean-Paul a more tolerable protagonist.  While Gunhawk remains a one-note villain, Dixon is able to get some material out of the obsession with weaponry he shares with Jean-Paul, and the scenes focusing on how the police deal with a hostage situation at a hospital are pretty interesting.  This is also one of Nolan’s strongest issues, as he excels at drawing relentless action scenes and the somewhat plausible, but still comic booky, weapons used during the fight.  I’m still not convinced this arc needed to be reprinted at the expense of more “significant” issues, but it’s entertaining on a very basic level.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

SHADOW OF THE BAT #28 - June 1994

The Long Dark Night
Credits:  Alan Grant (writer), Bret Blevins (pencils), Bob Smith (inks), Todd Klein (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)

Summary:  The Gotham police implicate Batman in the Abattoir’s death, and eventually locate the body of Graham Etchison.  A disheartened Commissioner Gordon decides to confront Batman.  When Batman responds to the Batsignal, Gordon accuses him of being a different person.  Batman defends his actions and boasts that he will continue to protect the city as he sees fit.  He leaves and quickly takes down a street gang led by a punk named Vermin.  Later, he designs a new weapon in the Batcave.

Irrelevant Continuity:  I’m not sure if Alan Grant knew the exact details of the previous chapter while writing this issue.  He doesn’t seem to know Batman was physically incapacitated while the Abattoir fell to his death, and instead writes the scene as if Batman consciously decided to leave Abattoir to his fate.

Review:  At least the covers are starting to get pretty good.

After months of buildup, Gordon finally confronts Batman and accuses him of being an imposter.  And while Alan Grant does a nice job with Gordon’s first person narration throughout the story, the actual confrontation just feels anticlimactic.  Gordon and the new Batman probably should’ve had this face-to-face much earlier in the storyline, and it would also be nice if there were real ramifications to their falling out.  Maybe that’s where the story’s heading, but as of the end of the issue, Gordon’s just kind of bummed that the Batman he knew is gone.  I think setting up an antagonistic relationship between Batman and the GCPD earlier in the storyline, something akin to what Miller did in “Year One,” would’ve helped the overall event immensely.  And spending more time on Gordon’s reaction to the new Batman, and perhaps investigating what happened to the original, could’ve also helped to break up the monotony.

Regarding Jean-Paul, he actually gets some of his best scenes in this issue.  Grant thankfully downplays the mental illness angle and simply allows Jean-Paul to defend his point of view with a fairly reasonable argument.  It’s the old “why let a villain live who’s only going to escape and kill more people” defense, and while it’s hardly original, it makes Jean-Paul more sympathetic than he’s been so far.  I’m not sure why the creators emphasized the brainwashing angle over the cold logic that popular characters like the Punisher have been using for years.  I would much rather read about a driven man, straight out of the pulps, who has a moral code but is also absolutely intolerant of murderers replacing Bruce Wayne.  Jean-Paul’s personality usually begins and ends with “crazy.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

BATMAN #508 - June 1994


Mortal Remains
Credits:  Doug Moench (writer), Mike Manley (penciler), Joseph Rubenstein (inker), Ken Bruzenak (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)

Summary:  Batman races to a warehouse owned by the Etchison family, while Robin uses the Batcave computer to research Abattoir’s most likely hideout.  Robin arrives just in time to see Batman chasing the Abattoir into a foundry near the warehouse.  Inside the foundry, Batman leaves Abattoir dangling above a vat of liquid metal.  Batman has a vision of his father and St. Dumas arguing over Abattoir’s life.  Paralyzed by indecision, he doesn’t move as Abattoir falls to his death.  Robin watches below.  Later, Graham Etchison is killed by Abattoir’s torture device, while Batman weeps in the Batcave.

Review:  Batman’s inner monologue assures on the first page that “Gunhawk can wait.”  This week, he’s back to chasing the Abattoir.  Reading all of these issues in a row, it’s hard not to laugh at Batman’s sporadic interest in the Abattoir case.  Of course, he’s only veering back and forth because one of the titles isn’t participating at all in the story, while the other is only doing so halfheartedly, but it’s still a clumsy transition.  I don’t understand why this arc couldn’t have been contained to Batman while the other books pursued other stories, unless DC simply felt that tighter continuity between the titles would help to sell the overall event.  (And judging by the finished product, the continuity is far from “tight.”)

Moench opens the issue with yet another reminder that Jean-Paul is not qualified to be Batman, as he nearly runs over a prostitute while en route to the Abattoir’s hideout.  And, just a few pages later, Robin helpfully points out that Jean-Paul either doesn’t know or care that he’s leading more people into the Abattoir’s path by chasing him into the foundry.  But I guess the final nail in Jean-Paul’s career as Batman comes when he allows Abattoir to die during one of his schizophrenic freak outs.  When Robin finally rats Jean-Paul out, this is the offense that turns Bruce Wayne against him.  Perhaps this story has meandered so long in order to reach this point in this specific month, allowing Abattoir’s death to be fresh on the readers’ minds as Bruce Wayne returns in this month’s Robin.

As the breaking point in Jean-Paul’s career as Batman, it’s pretty weak.  We already know Jean-Paul is seeing visions, and we already know he’s cavalier towards human life, so this doesn’t seem like much of an escalation.  If anyone had to die due to Jean-Paul’s incompetence, thank God it was the Abattoir!  And it’s not as if Jean-Paul even decided to go Charles Bronson on the twisted serial killer; the guy died merely because Jean-Paul was having a psychotic episode, not out of willful malice.  I think Jean-Paul’s worse crime is not investigating the warehouse and finding Graham Etchison -- the person he’s been allegedly trying to rescue for the past three months.  And even if Jean-Paul’s too out of it to search the place, why didn’t Robin?  It seems to me that he has more to answer for than Jean-Paul in this case.

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