Batman #12 (DC Comics)
by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Becky Cloonan & Andy Clarke
Writer Scott Snyder takes a much different tack with this self-contained issue of the relaunched Batman, and it’s a welcome change of pace. The focus shifts away from the Dark Knight and his war with a secret society in Gotham to a much more grounded character study. Harper Row is impossibly competent and confident. Her skills with Gotham’s electrical grid defy credibility, but it’s easy to overlook how Snyder builds her up. She stands out as an admirable figure, someone who’s far removed from the complexities of Gotham’s better known residents. She’s a rebel but a caregiver, a protector and a nurturer. She finds wonder in things the rest of us ignore or take for granted, and she’s a self-made woman. One can’t help but be drawn to her. Adding to her appeal is the personality artist Becky Cloonan instills in the new character. There’s no doubt about it — one of the main reasons this character study works so well is thanks to Cloonan’s artwork. She somehow imbues the character with credibility despite the more incredible elements I mentioned above. While Harper, as presented by Cloonan, boasts a certain cuteness at times, it’s the strength she exudes that defines her, a quality that’s apparent in how Cloonan has her move, how she carries her face. Though Harper clearly lives as an adult and has become a surrogate parent for her tormented younger brother, Cloonan also grants the character certain child-like qualities as well.
The strength and uniqueness of Cloonan’s artwork makes the shift to artist Andy Clarke’s more conventional, more detailed super-hero style all the more disappointing. It’s not Clarke’s fault. While his style here puts me in mind of Gary (Batman: Earth One) Frank and J.H. (Batwoman) Williams III, his artwork is so dramatically different, it intrudes on the story Snyder and Cloonan had been telling up until that point. Just as the shift in the artwork seems like a puzzling choice, I’m perplexed as to how and why James Tynion IV is credited as the co-writer for the final seven pages. He’s been the co-writer on the backup stories that appeared in recent months in the title, but there’s no backup story to be found here, only the ending of the main story. 7/10
Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1 (DC Comics)
by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo
Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo were strong, logical and even obvious choices to make up the creative team for this entry in DC’s Before Watchmen line of limited series. Azzarello has a proven track record when it comes to crime fiction and dark, unusual characters such as Rorschach, and the dark realism of Bermejo’s artwork seems like a good choice for a protagonist who mires himself in the worst humanity has to offer. Unfortunately, the tone of the narration — presented in Rorschach’s voice from his crime-fighting journal, as was often done in Watchmen — doesn’t seem quite right at times. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it just doesn’t seem as… far gone as it did when Alan Moore crafted it originally in the 1980s. Of course, that might be the point. Since this is set in 1977 rather than the mid ’80s, maybe Azzarello didn’t want Rorschach to seem as lost inside himself and his obsessions as he would years later. Nevertheless, the portrayal doesn’t come off quite as pitch perfect as I’d hoped. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the serial-killer concept Azzarello introduces here, setting it up as the title character’s main foil in the series. Furthermore, I appreciated how Rorschach is portrayed as quite fallible. It’s not what the reader would expect, and something unexpected adds to the drama.
Original Watchmen artist and co-creator Dave Gibbons boasts a clean style that really allowed the Rorschach mask to pop. Bermejo’s much more realistic approach doesn’t seem like a good fit for Rorschach’s “face.” Gibbons’s simpler take emphasized an inhuman quality, whereas the nuances and texture of Bermejo’s depiction here allows the vigilante’s true features to come through the mask. Still, the detail and darkness on display throughout the issue really brings the ugliness of everything Rorschach detests to life. The likenesses of the characters are nicely consistent with Gibbons’s depictions from the source material as well. 7/10
Daredevil Annual #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Alan Davis & Mark Farmer
I really need to pay closer attention to solicitations from comics publishers. Since the regular Daredevil series is on my pull list at my local comic shop, the manager there automatically ordered the annual for me as well. As someone who’s never read a Clan Destine comic before, I would’ve opted out had I realized ahead of time this annual was coming out. Well, reading an Alan Davis comic is nothing to lament about, I suppose. My biggest concern about picking up this comic book was the fact I wasn’t going to be getting the first and third parts of the story bookending this one (in Fantastic Four Annual #33 and Wolverine Annual #1). Fortunately, Davis has crafted a story here that stands on its own. Set in the Marvel Universe a few years ago, it nevertheless embraces the brighter taken on the title character that’s immersed in Marvel lore rather than isolated in a dark, gang-infested corner of New York. Davis connected the Clan Destine plot to an element from a Silver Age DD story, though not one I’m familiar with. I found I was eager to learn more about the Man Without Fear’s last encounter with a “Plastoid” rather than the ethical gray areas of the Destine family’s affairs. Davis really only gives those of us unfamiliar with his oddball, supernatural characters the barest hint of what they’re about. The story will definitely connect better with fans of Clan Destine — which is fine, as that’s its purpose. Nevertheless, it’s a rather inconsequential yarn that reads so quickly, I didn’t feel I’d really gotten my money’s worth from the $5 cover price.
Davis’s art is, of course, lovely. The fluidity of his linework works well with the more fun take on Daredevil. After seeing such inventive portrayals of the title character’s radar sense in the relaunched series itself, Davis’s reliance on the colors to convey the effect was a little disappointing, but I loved other visual elements. His take on a Silver Age robot menace was oddly campy and intimidating at the same time, and his designs for the two members of the Clan Destine clan are quite unusual. They seem to be rooted in real fashion rather than the skin-tight adventure outfits to which we’re accustomed in the super-hero genre. 6/10
Revival #2 (Image Comics)
by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton
Tim Seeley and Mike Norton’s unusual spin on the dead coming back to life to plague the living continues to impress with its second issue. One of the strongest hooks right now is the mystery surrounding the phenomenon. Seeley takes us to a point after which “revivers” started walking around after dying but not so far along that anyone understands why it’s happening or how it works. In traditional zombie/undead stories (including The Walking Dead), the “how/why” isn’t really pertinent, only the horror of the situation and how the protagonists deal with adversity. Learning the ins and outs of the development is part of the entertainment here. Of course, the strongest element in the writing is the characterization. Ultimately, this isn’t really a story about an impossible, supernatural development in a small Wisconsin town. Instead, it’s about one family and the dynamics between a father and his two daughters — the favorite and the disappointment. It’s an eminently relatable aspect of the script that thoroughly grounds the incredible aspect of the plot. The characters are flawed and broken, and the story will no doubt be about redemption and realizations in the face of something unnatural and unearthly. The introduction of the charlatan exorcist (depicted on the cover) struck me as an unusual and intriguing development. It’s the kind of rogue element that makes Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s superb The Sixth Gun such a fun read.
When I heard Mike Norton was associated with this story and its macabre leanings, I was a bit taken aback. I normally associate him with lighter, brighter fare, from Jason and the Argobots to Gravity. But he demonstrates his versatility as an artist here, as he seems quite at home with the darker tone of Revival. There were times when his work here reminded me a great deal of the style of Steve (Whiteout, Underground) Lieber. He really conveys the emotion and vulnerability of Officer Dana Cypress and the ferocity that lies within Martha and other revivers. I found I was momentarily confused at certain scene shifts, as it took me a moment to figure out which of the sisters was being featured, but it’s perfectly logical for those two characters to look alike. Overall, Revival is living up to its hype, and I’m pleased it’s a sought after title. 8/10
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