Batman in Barcelona: Dragon’s Knight (DC Comics)
by Mark Waid & Diego Olmos
Fans of 1970s and ’80s Batman stories will no doubt enjoy this one-shot in that Mark Waid’s plot pitting the title character against Killer Croc yet again is thoroughly generic and inconsequential in tone. However, it’s not the plot that’s the attraction here. Instead, the strengths stem from two sources: some interesting, moody artwork from a newcomer, and the cultural elements that almost steal the spotlight from the characters. Waid’s script brings the Spanish backdrop to life in a way that reminds me of Tom Beland’s work on his recent Fantastic Four and Spidey/Torch one-shots set in Puerto Rico. The plot touches upon Spanish history and myth, and the script embraces cultural preservation and celebration. The edgier elements that serve as the story’s catalyst — two other villains’ chemical transformation of Croc into a seeming serial killer — were intriguing as well and helped to set the plot apart from previous Batman fare, if only a bit.
Artist Diego Olmos is a real find. He demonstrates a lot of talent here, capturing the Batman’s dark, violent world nicely. His style strikes me as something of a cross between the styles of the legendary Alex Toth and one-time reigning Batman artist Norm Breyfogle. One of his most important contributions to this comic book is how he brings Barcelona to life. Mind you, the realism of the backdrop seems a bit at odds with the extreme nature of the protagonist and antagonist, who don’t really merit a realistic portrayal. Still, I enjoyed his efforts here a great deal, and I hope we’ll see more work from him soon. 7/10
Dark Avengers #5 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato
I’m not wild about the “Dark Reign” brand/storyline, and I thought the first story arc for this series — featuring a group of villains posing as heroes coming to the rescue of the biggest Marvel villain of them — was a poor choice of direction, at least to begin the series. But I have to admit that this issue’s focus on the media spin of the concept was interesting. The connection between politics and media relations is fascinating to me, and Bendis manages to capture a fairly genuine tone here. Norman Osborn’s “candid” interview does seem like the kind of thing that would arise in the circumstances of Marvel’s America in “Dark Reign” mode. Bendis offers a biting comment on the media and on the culture of corruption that can so easily arise in the establishment. I don’t necessarily agree that the American people would buy the “I was sick, but I’m well now” routine we see here; I think Bendis is giving the populace too much credit in that respect. But it’s a tack I can see a public figure taking.
Given the dark and mature tone of the plotting and dialogue, Deodato’s style works quite well. The various members of this twisted incarnation of the Avengers are all majestic but mad and malevolent figures, and Deodato certainly captures their larger-than-life qualities. I also think Bendis’s new take on the Sentry — as a terrifying time bomb with a psychological fuse of indeterminate length — is the best one we’ve seen thus far. The Sentry has always been portrayed as unbalanced and dangerous, but Bendis is now portraying him as scary. And it works. 7/10
Toy Story: Mysterious Stranger #1 (Boom! Studios/Boom Kids imprint)
by Dan Jolley & Chris Moreno
While I’ve not seen the sequel, I’m a fan of the original Toy Story, the movie that turned Pixar into an entertainment-industry powerhouse. Now it’s the latest Pixar property that Boom’s trying to translate into comics. Visually, it works well. Artist Chris Moreno wisely doesn’t try to emulate the crisp detail of the computer animation that originally brought these characters to life. Instead, he takes a loose, even simpler approach to these playthings. He fails to capture the kind of detail that made the original movie so mesmerizing at times; the backdrops are sparse. Still, he conveys the characters’ personalities adeptly.
Unfortunately, the plot here is not only disappointing, it’s a bit disconcerting. We’ve see similar elements in the source material, but Dan Jolley’s seeming civil war among the toys in Andy’s room is unsettling. Seeing the adorable Rex and friends trying to doom an unknown toy to exile or even destruction didn’t make for an entertaining read. In fact, the overall tone of the plot was rather harsh. Maybe younger readers won’t notice it, but their parents might. I did enjoy the reveal of the new toy’s true nature at the end, and Jolley also deserves credit for capturing these well-known characters’ voices nicely. 5/10
Ultimate Spider-Man #133 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen & Wade von Grawbadger
Others have complained that this final issue of the series flies in the face of every episode that came before it, that it ignores the spirit of what Bendis and his artistic collaborators have tried to accomplish. I have to agree. Now, the fact that this series has crossed over with Ultimatum never bothered me that much. Before this issue, Bendis still managed to say something new about the characters from this title even as they contended with the over-the-top events of the event book. J. Jonah Jameson’s epiphany in particular struck me as some compelling storytelling and some of the best characterization we’ve ever seen when it comes to the grouchy ol’ newspaperman. Linking the title character’s fate, perhaps his final fate, to the mystic mayhem of Dr. Strange’s world (which hasn’t even been prominent in the context of the Ultimate Universe) seems like a complete misstep. Furthermore, the completely silent approach to this final issue is annoying. In part that’s due to the fact that what’s being said or done isn’t entirely clear (when it should be). But really, one of the defining characteristics of this series — and one of its most fun aspects — has been Bendis’s dialogue. The snappy patter, touching confessions and convincing reactions are erased as the dialogue is left behind. Fortunately, the art is just as kinetic and energetic as ever.
Bendis has defended this final issue by pointing out that there are two more to come, in the form of a two-part Ultimatum: Spider-Man Requiem series. I don’t agree. The title of that spinoff series itself seems to indicate it’ll be a farewell of sorts; at the very least, it purports to be about tying up loose ends from Ultimatum. Perhaps it’ll be satisfying, but those of us who’ve been along for the ride for nine years would have preferred this apex/milestone/endpoint in Peter Parker’s life to have unfolded in his series. 3/10