Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Every serious comics fan needs to have this collection

 

SAMURAI’S BLOOD VOLUME 1 TP  (Image Comics/Benaroya Publishing)  194 pages. $14.99. Release date : February 29, 2012.  Story: Owen Wiseman.  Art: Nam Kim.  Matthew Dalton & Jessica Kholinne.  Covers by Jo Chen.

There are two great reasons to celebrate the Leap Year day of February 29 in 2012.

1) It’s Superman’s official birthday.

2)  It’s the release day for SAMURAI’S BLOOD VOLUME 1 TP !!! - - - a book that belongs on the shelves of all serious comics collectors as well as anyone who wants to possess a damn fine reading experience.  This is a “keeper”, one of those books you are always glad to return to and read a second and third or more times. 

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Get ready for more accolades as I wholeheartedly endorse this book as one of the finest combinations of text and art working together in recent memory.  I won’t stick my neck out like this on behalf of just any book - - SAMURAI’S BLOOD is very special.  I strongly recommend it to everyone and I do so free of monetary compensation or obligation to say so.   I feel strongly about the merits of this book.  I’m passionate about it and I want to share the love with you. 

I’ve previously written about the individual issues of SAMURAI’S BLOOD each month it was published last year and I made it a PGHHEAD PICK for 2011 as FAVORITE ORIGINAL MINI-SERIES.  I also chose it as the PGHHEAD PICK for 2011 for FAVORITE SINGLE ISSUE STORY (SAMURAI’S BLOOD #3). 

SAMURAI’S BLOOD takes place in 17th century Japan and centers around  three teenage survivors as they work their plans for revenge against those who slaughtered all their family and Sanjo clan members in a bloody village attack.  This epic tale has a flow and rhythm to it that quickly engage the reader and immerse you in this historical world.  Writer Owen Wiseman is a student of Japanese history and culture and his impressions are seamlessly threaded throughout the story.  Little grains of Samurai philosophy and wisdom are highlighted in text boxes and scattered throughout the illustrations.   The art team gets everything right in every detail, from exquisitely depicted landscapes to fluid action and fight scenes to facial expressions. 

In a short video interview that can be accessed via www.samuraisblood.com Wiseman explains that SAMURAI’S BLOOD as a title has multiple meanings.  It refers to the blood that is spilled in many fierce battles throughout the book, as well as what it means to be a Samurai in the 17th century and have that blood running through your veins.  The amount of blood and carnage in this series makes me hesitate to recommend it to elementary or middle school libraries, but I feel the current high school student is mature enough to handle this.  It would make an excellent addition to a school’s graphic novel library.  It could also be used in the classroom  (philosophy, history, art, comics illustration, creative writing, etc).

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For anyone who needs further convincing, you can preview the first issue at that same website, as well as read some prose by Wiseman based on the world of SAMURAI’S BLOOD.  I was also happy to learn that there are six more stories planned, and hope that the art team remains intact for every one of them.

Beyond it’s primary tale of young Samurai revenge it further explores the master and retainer relationship prominent in Japan society of that time period.  It’s also a tale of personal growth, sacrifice, honor, values, internal and external conflicts, doubt, choices, suffering, compromise, love, betrayal, persistence, faith, revenge and redemption.

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You don’t have to look deep into SAMURAI’S BLOOD to find additional depth.  It’s always there in the caption boxes with the revealing insights, and then reinforced through Kim’s powerful illustrations that work in conjunction with the prose to make their points.   In that same interview Wiseman has high praise for Philadelphia-based Nam Kim.  He says he has the “perfect style”, and comments that after viewing the first two pages of script illustrated by Kim he knew “he could capture exactly what’s in my mind and make it even better” by turning a 2 panel draft into 1 panel or introducing a more dynamic angle to spotlight a particular scene.

Here are some more highlights that can be found throughout the series:

  • There are enough details of early Japanese culture, social mores, philosophy and the honorable traditions of the Samurai to fill a notebook.  Much of this is described in captions which help flavor the main story rather than interrupt it.
  • From the gorgeous and telling cover to the story and art of Issue #3, which tells the sad tale of the breaking of Mayuko’s spirit – her forced tutoring in the art of the oiron girl – and the prospect of a life of compliance, servitude, and submission – you will understand why I picked this as the absolute best single issue comics story of 2011. The parts of the story that detail the 4 levels of suffering and then fully define each one through vivid illustration is worth the admission price alone.
  • Art that is breath-taking to view and is perfectly in sync with the story, always embellishing and enhancing the impact the writer intended.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:  If I want to show non-readers of comics a good current example of the majestic heights of grandeur that this wonderful art form (comics and graphic novels) is capable of  - - then the SAMURAI’S BLOOD VOLUME 1 TP is the absolute best of 2011 that I can refer them to.

Perhaps like I, you will find that SAMURAI’S BLOOD deserves its place at the head of the class of those other fantastic comics works featuring feudal Japanese literature such as Kazuo Koike’s LONE WOLF AND CUB;  SAMURAI: HEAVEN AND EARTH and THE PATH by Ron Marz;  and Chuck Dixon’s THE WAY OF THE DRAGON.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Books I Read: Irredeemable & Incorruptible

I started reading Irredeemable with issue #1 and liked it, but after a few issues decided to switch to trades. I dutifully bought many volumes of the series and its companion Incorruptible, but never got around to reading them until recently when I realized "Hey, there's about 50 issues of Mark Waid stuff piled up over there that I would probably enjoy." Now, Waid has announced that both series are ending. Still, it's an impressive body of work worth exploring.

Irredeemable is the story of the Plutonian, the world's greatest superhero who unfortunately is not emotionally equipped for the job. Yes, Waid starts by exploring some Superman tropes but the series quickly evolves beyond that. The tone is not Silver Age-y at all, proving that Waid is not limited to that bag of tricks. There are some surface similarities to Waid's Empire, but the Plutonian is more damaged and less rational than Empire's calculating supervillain.  Irredeemable's supporting cast especially are interesting on their own and not at all copies of Justice League members. My only complaint is that the Plutonian has warped their lives enough that even though they're in the right, they're sometimes hard to root for. Anyway, the Plutonian's enemies are more successful than you'd expect them to be early in the series and that sets things rolling in a different direction too. Art is by Peter Krause and later Diego Barreto, and is always exciting -- there's a lot of sci-fi stuff, especially in the later issues -- and spot-on emotionally.

I actually like Incorruptible a little better than the original book. Max Damage is easier to root for, because he's a street-level guy trying to rise above his past rather than get dragged down into it. Max starts as a really bad guy, even sleeping with his teenage sidekick Jailbait, until he's present at one of the Plutonian's major destructive acts and realizes the world has changed. He decides he needs to be the hero that the Plutonian isn't, but the only way he knows how to do that is to behave exactly the opposite of the way he used to. This black-and-white view of the world is surprisingly endearing, and even though Max's personality doesn't change much I found myself admiring his dogged determination. He dismisses his original sidekick, but attracts an equally damaged one (that he doesn't shtup), and after the first couple of volumes a major (but underused) supporting player from Irredeemable comes over and starts helping Max for her own reasons. The book goes through a couple of artists but settles on Marcio Takara, who is perfect for the job.

Until a recent crossover (not yet collected), the two titles were pretty much separate. Events in Irredeemable are sometimes reflected in Incorruptible, but it's a one-way connection and the books can be enjoyed separately. At this writing, there are 8 trade paperback volumes of Irredeemable and 6 of Incorruptible, plus an oversized & slipcased "Definitive Edition" of the first twelve issues of Irredeemable.

It's no secret that I'm a Mark Waid fan, and obviously his other fans will like this work too, but I honestly think it has a broader appeal like Kingdom Come did.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

DC New 52: S.H.A.D.E. s of mid-‘60’s comics greatness

 

FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E.  #1 – 6  (DC COMICS)  Jeff Lemire, writer. Jeff Lemire & Dan Didio, story #5.   Albert Ponticelli, artist.  Jose Villarrubia, colorist.  Pat Brosseau, letterer # 1-4.  Travis Lanham, letterer #5-6.  J.G. Jones, covers.

Great story and great art make for a winning combination.  Of all the NEW 52 titles I have read, this one provides the most pure entertainment.  I believe it may be the “sleeper” title of the new lot, the one that slips past the radar of most readers.  I hope to correct that by drawing more attention to FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E.  so that it is never threatened by cancellation. 

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What I especially appreciate about this book is that it recalls the type of books I read during my formative comics years in the mid-to-late 1960’s =  THE AVENGERS;  NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.IE.L.D.;  LOST IN SPACE;  CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN;  MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER; BLACKHAWKS  - - - all books that were highly entertaining and fired a young imagination.  If there was ever any symbolism, political or social commentary, cynicism or editorializing in those books it went right over my innocent and na├»ve adolescent head.  I was reading those books solely because they fueled my inner fire for astonishing tales featuring monsters and scientific gadgets, etc.   That’s what I get the most out of FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E.  There may be some inner meaning or symbolism in the book, but on the surface it’s a classic tale of adventure and fantasy. 

In short, if you are search of plain old-fashioned entertainment and just want to have fun with a continuing book - - then FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. is your ticket to ride.  You will enjoy the story, marvel at the art, and also recall those fabulous days at Marvel when giant monsters dominated their books with eye candy artwork from Kirby and Ditko. 

For more information on the beginnings of this title (Issue #1)  and it’s predecessor limited series (FLASHPOINT: FRANKENSTEIN AND THE CREATURES OF THE UNKNOWN) go to the BC Archives for 2011 and read my article from September 26 = “DC NEW 52: FRANKENSTEIN - - before and after.”  At that time I commented that I preferred the FLASHPOINT Frankenstein series to the NEW 52 version.  I have changed my mind -  - I now give my thumbs up acknowledgement to FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E.    It’s not as dark as the former series.  There is less moralizing and philosophizing from Frankenstein and a lot more light-hearted fun in spite of the dire situations that occur.  (S.H.A.D.E. equals Super Human Advanced Defense Executive.)

The menacing threat of a small town overtaken by monsters that surfaced in Issue #1 continues to its final resolution in Issue #4.   Frankenstein and his new team  (a merwoman, werewolf, vampire, mummy and later his four-armed green ex-wife) learn that the invasion of Bone Lake, Washington has its roots off-planet in another dimension.  Some of the team are honored to work beside Frankenstein, and others have less respect.  He shows his soft spot for the proper care of young children as well as his apparent lack of a sense of humor in the way he handles the discipline of a misguided matronly caretaker.  During the evacuation of the children, a joke from Griffith (the wolfman) doesn’t amuse him.   Turns out there is a wormhole under the lake which serves as a portal to a dark pocket dimension.   This “monster planet”  may not be a willing host to the hordes of creatures that inhabit and abuse it.  (I don’t want to spoil it for you beyond that).   We are  also treated to a brand new origin for Nina Mazurksy (the merwoman), one that is more interesting than her FLASHPOINT beginnings and also more disturbing.  She is a most interesting secondary character, and later seems to be developing a deep affection for Frankenstein.  Before things wrap up  S.H.A.D.E. central command has to unleash something from their “toy box” - - a refurbished gigantic “war wheel”  which highly resembles the same device from one of my favorite BLACKHAWKS stories from the early ‘60’s.

In addition to an engaging opening story with lots of interesting subplots and hints of things to come, we are favored with some outstanding art in these four issues.  There are tons of amazing panels depicting the monstrous S.H.A.D.E. in desperate battle with even bigger and deadlier monsters by the hundreds.  Artist Ponticello does a fantastic job of jamming as many monsters into each panel as possible.  The coloring in this series is some of the best of the NEW 52- - - very bright, very vivid, lots of colors in use that just want to pop off the page. 

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I normally don’t like cross-over stories that begin by suggesting that I pick up an issue of another title before reading the story in front of me, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the tale in Issue #5 where Frankenstein goes up against O.M.A.C.  (looking more like a certain space gladiator from an X-book).  I ignored the Page One disclaimer for O.M.A.C. #5 and it didn’t matter a bit.  In fact, if you wanted to explore the FRANKENSTEIN title but only want to grab a single issue, this would be a good choice.  You get a good idea of the Frankenstein character  (hey, it’s not smart to use him without his knowledge) and the supporting cast at S.H.AD.E. HQ  as well as some insight into the NEW 52 version of O.M.A.C., Brother Eye, etc.  (which doesn’t matter, since that book has been canceled). 

One of the other continuing characters that I didn’t like so much - - Father Time - - doesn’t grate on the nerves so much now that the story is progressing.  This ancient scientist and leader of S.H.A.D.E. who currently inhabits the form of a raccoon-masked, pig-tailed little girl, as been more fully defined and acts much less obnoxious than in the first issue.

One of the other intriguing concepts in FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. is their headquarters - - - a giant complex dubbed the “ant farm”, as it has been reduced in size to inhabit a small 3-inch globe, utilizing “a hybrid of shrink teleportation and shrink technology” .  This was designed by scientist Ray Palmer (the Atom), an expert on shrink tech.  (Curiously, the  latest version of Marvel’s SECRET AVENGERS features a new HQ for that team which is very similar in size and also employs a mix of teleportation and shrink technology designed by Dr. Henry Pym, another expert on size change. )

Issue #6 begins a new story arc which opens with a nice flashback sequence featuring Frankenstein’s days in the Vietnam conflict.  This monster has been around his share of conflicts!  We also get some new information related to the Humanid manufacturing and re-processing center which most likely will serve as a major plot element in issues to come.  The Humanids are the short-lived, recyclable artificial drones that do all the grunt work in the ant farm.  Issue #6 also re-introduces the original Creature Commandos.  Once again, the story is fun and stimulating while the art is monstrously fantastic.  Get this book and join the excitement !

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NOTE:  I’ve just learned that Issues #1 – 7 of FRANKENSTEIN: AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. will be included  in the Volume #1 trade paperback that will be released in June 2012. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Exploring the DC NEW 52: FLASH back

 

THE FLASH #2 – 5  (DC COMICS)  Story by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato.   Art by Francis Manapul.   Colors by Brian Buccellato.  Letters by Sal Cipriano. 

THE FLASH was not one of the initial NEW 52 books that I decided to give a three-issue trial.  I picked it up on a whim and was pleasantly surprised by both story and art - - enough that I decided to follow it for a few more issues.  I’m still reading this title.  You can find my review of Issue #1 in the BC Archives for October 3, 2011. I was happy to learn that Barry Allen would be the main character / The Flash.  Issue #1 opened up with an artistic rendering of The Flash’s powers that was both inventive and clever and set up a situation that could weigh heavy on Allen’s conscience as he considers the consequences of his quick thinking and acting. Read on for more observations . . . . . . .

Issue #2 continues the entertaining visualizations of The Flash’s speedy powers by Manapul in a 3-page, wide-screen-paneled opening confrontation with Mob Rule in which Barry takes down 21 of the gang members before they can even finish responding to his spoken challenge.  New friend Dr. Elias completes his study of The Flash (on a treadmill), confirms that Barry is tapping into the”Speed Force” but also reveals that his mind is only using a fraction of the available energy.  New concept by Manapul and Buccellato here  - -  Barry isn’t “thinking fast enough.”   Double kudos to Manapul and Buccellato for tying this concept into the current neuro-science of “augmented condition.”  (Extra kudos to BC blogger Jeff M for writing about this subject in 2011 and citing  some comics utilizing augmentation in their storylines.)

What follows this are seven pages of exquisitely-detailed examples of Barry puttiimageHandlerng his quicker processing power to the test as he barely hears what Patty and then Iris are telling him while he visualizes multiple images of events yet to occur (accidents, crimes, etc.), “weighs every possible outcome”, then “make the right choice” and “do something about it” . . “before anyone even notices.”   He seems to miss hearing the equally important news from Patty that it was a clone of his friend Lago that expired. Yet we learn later in a conversation with Iris West (now an investigative reporter) that he absorbed this data as well,  as he tells her that The Flash didn’t kill anyone.  Buccellato’s colors are right-on for these images, as he mutes the background with washed out mauve tones and accentuates the smaller, tight panel overlays that depict all the images in Barry’s mind in vivid colors that pop off the page.  Yeah, that’s the way I like it!  These same muted colors are also utilized later in the story for flashback scenes between Barry and Lago.   There is a connection between Manuel Lago’s past CIA experiences and his connection to Mob Rule - - the gang that resembles 1,000 versions of Lago.  I’m trying hard not to tell the whole story here and spoil it - - but this involves several over-lapping events in the past and present that involve “genetic recoding” – “clones” – “regeneration” and “unexplained deaths.”  Oh yeah, and “pigs” as well.   Damn straight I’m going to pick up the next issue!

If I have any beefs with this title, it would be the mostly uninspiring covers that do little to hint at the amazing contents inside.  That is made up for with some great concepts for the covers of Issue #3 and 4 (shown here).  Issue 5’s cover is back to uninspiring, although it does a better job of indicating what goes on inside the pages. 

Events occur in Issue #3 that are going to seriously ramp up the workload for The Flash in coming issues.  Iris gets to the root of the recent city-wide blackout as she interviews a dangerous criminal at Iron Heights prison.  Meanwhile Dr Elias pinpoints the recent power outage in the twin cities to an electro-magnetic pulse. Unfortunately, he wanders right into the enemy camp.  Barry finds his friend Lago but has a headache of his own to overcome.

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The art team excels once again in Issue #4 with several double-page spreads detailing the origin of Manuel Lago and his special abilities - - plus the beginnings of Mob Rule.  (Quite a concept. Won’t spoil it for ya.  You should read it.)  There is some great symbolism as the flashback ends and we see the various panels being bordered by the stark black outline of the Tree Of Life.  I’m really enjoying the cool and clever little touches like this throughout this title.  We also learn of another brand-new ability that can save Barry in the clutch. And, like all good writers Manapul takes a decent stab at explaining the science of why it works.

Issue #5 is the wrap-up issue that concludes the Mob Rule story - - and it’s explosive !!   In many wide-screen panels that overlap the centerfolds The Flash takes on Mob Rule and whittles them down.  We learn yet even more complications and consequences of the Speed Force power, with such implications that Dr. Elias implores Flash to consider “destroying the Speed Force” !  Up next - - Captain Cold and The Rogues.  Damn straight I’m going to pick up the next issue !

Saturday, February 4, 2012

DC New 52: Equal time for BATWOMAN

 

BATWOMAN #1 – 4  (DC Comics)  J. H. WILLIAMS III, co-writer & artist;  W. HADEN BLACKMAN, co-writer; DAVE STEWART, colors; TODD KLEIN, letters. 

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It’s great to see Kate Kane/ Batwoman back in a monthly title again, especially with J.H. Williams III  still involved in the highly creative art (with a capital A).  The only thing that could make this even better would be the return of scripter Greg Rucka.  However,  J. H. Williams III and co-writer W. Haden Blackman have done a commendable job with the story so far.  This is also one of the few DC NEW 52 titles that doesn’t appear to have undergone any continuity or character changes and is continuing forward from the points established pre-New 52.  In fact, all of the Bat-titles I’m reading seem to have made the transition intact and without any make-overs.

It may seem a little odd to some that I’m writing about BATWOMAN #1-4 when the first story arc ends with Issue #5, which was published in January.  I’m trying to write about this book without going into any major plot details in order to avoid spoiling it for someone who hasn’t picked it up yet.  So that makes it unnecessary to include any more issues.  Also,  I’ve got a huge stack of books awaiting my attention  (not just BATWOMAN #5)  and I’m trying to catch up on my DC reviews before I get buried too deep. 

BATWOMAN is one of the books that have that magic combination of great story and great art that keeps me coming back for more.  I can’t think of another artist who puts forward the same effort as J. H. Williams III to embellish each issue with as many artistic flourishes as possible.  Let me list just some of the ways:  contrasting colors and shades for scenes with Batwoman versus scenes with Kate Kane;  dark and drab colors plus shades of gray and blue for supernatural scenes versus country colors and earth tones when the action returns to the real world; various two-page spreads where the art and story sometimes revolve outward from a strong center;  slanted panels; accented panels; skinny, tall and vertical panels and long and narrow wide panels; overlapping panels; thick, undulating letters on credit pages; overlapping images, etc.  Each issue is an aspiring comic art student’s dream handbook.  This is a beautiful book to view and admire.

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The covers have been magnificent, heavy on symbolism but never cheating the readers.  Every cover has images that relate directly to the story inside the pages.  Each one is a masterpiece and extremely eye-catching.  I’m guessing that BATWOMAN may be the best impulse purchase in the lot of NEW 52 books.  I can’t imagine someone seeing that cover on a comic shop display for the first time, picking it up and scanning through the pages, and then putting it back in lieu of something else.  This is a book for comic art lovers everywhere.

As in her pre-New 52 stories, Batwoman seems to get involved with protecting her town from the criminal elements that border on the supernatural and the occult.  It’s never as simple as breaking up a gang of lawbreakers or subduing the latest super-villain.  Her adventures involve the dark and mysterious.  The conflicts are more complex and harder to resolve, and often contain deeper troubles beneath the surface.  Williams III and Blackman are doing a nice job of maintaining the tone that was established back in the short run of issues in DETECTIVE COMICS before the new title changes.

I worried that no other writers could tackle the lifestyles of a lesbian hero with the same maturity, empathy and sensitivity as Rucka demonstrated in those DETECTIVE issues, but so far the writing team is doing a good job and even exploring the romance with Detective Sawyer even further.

There are also subplots with the further development of heroine/sidekick Flamebird,  and the Department of Extranormal Operations (D.E.O) and its mysterious chairman who wants to connect Batwoman with a new terrorist organization  (Medusa).  The future relationship of Kate and her father/former mentor also seems in jeopardy, and there are major family matters with long histories that need reconciled. 

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I rate BATWOMAN a solid A for an unbeatable combination of story and art that rewards the reader and doesn’t take advantage of their investment in the book.   For those who want to jump in, it’s just been announced that a hardcover will be released in June 2012 containing the first story arc of Issues #0 – 5.  BATWOMAN: VOLUME 1 , HYDROLOGY is a little pricey at $22.99 but a hardcover collection on durable paper with 160 pages of this little gem sounds like a good investment. 

I’m also sorry to learn that J. H. Williams III will be turning the art over to Amy Reeder beginning with Issue #6, but I’m hoping that her work will be equally good.  Maybe Williams III needs more time to focus on the script and wants to keep the book on schedule.  I have seen previews of the cover art for BATWOMAN #6, 7 and 8  at the DC website and it looks encouraging.

DC NEW 52: Light Reading for Dark Knights

 

BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #1 – 5  (DC COMICS)  Paul Jenkins, writer/co-plotter; David Finch, penciller/co-plotter;  Richard Friend, inker;  Alex Sinclair, colors #1-2;  Jeremy Cox, colors #3-5; Sal Cipriano, letters. 

I’m currently reading 4 separate Batman-family titles from The New DC 52:  BATMAN;  BATMAN AND ROBIN;  BATMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT;  and BATWOMAN.  While I enjoy them all - -  the monthly wait for the next installment causes the most anxiety with BATMAN and the least amount of impatience with BATMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT.  I can handle the wait for a new issue of BATMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT the easiest of any book in the quartet. It ranks fourth and last in popularity with me - - but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.   I’m just not treating it as seriously as I do the other books.  While there are signs that writer Jenkins is building towards something (and perhaps holding back a bit until this first storyline concludes) as well as the introduction of some interesting new characters - - - I view BATMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT as more of a pure action book.  BATMAN has the darkest tone and explores at length the legacy and history of both Batman and Gotham City.  BATMAN AND ROBIN is a classic study of father-son dichotomy and conflicts in trust and respect.  BATWOMAN seems to have a supernatural tone, and also dwells in matters of personal development and character crisis and anguish.  All three of those books pack a lot of information and move forward at a quickened pace.   BATMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT just seems more straightforward as it slowly unravels its story. 

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     I’m a fan of a good story combined with good art.  If I have to sacrifice one of those, it normally is the art.  I will hang around much longer if the story is good.  But if the art is average and the story doesn’t rise above it, then I’m gone and moving onto something else to read.  What keeps me coming back to BATMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT is the fantastic art of David Finch.  While the story does contain some promising elements it concentrates more on the action aspects of the plot and leaves little time for much else.  The art dominates, so much so that every issue features some half-page, full-page and sometimes double page illustrations - -  none more so than in Issue #5.    The only thing that keeps me from dropping this from my reading list is the absolutely gorgeous work of Finch and the rest of the art team.   Even though there is less text to read in an issue of BATMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT - - I’m still spending 20-30 minutes or longer to finish an issue mainly because I’m taking more time to study and admire the art before I turn the page.  In that respect, I’m ranking this book much higher than the other book that I’m also buying mainly for the great art:  JUSTICE LEAGUE. 

However,  in the past my fascination with titles with mostly great art begins to diminish after a certain number of issues - - and if the story doesn’t at least try to rise up to the same level of excellence as the art then I end up dropping it from my reading list.  I know that the beginning story arc of BATMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT ends at issue #6 (the perfect size for a trade paperback, of course)  even though it segues into a new story in Issue #7 that features one of the primary villains in the first storyline.  The preview for Issue #8 seems like a logical breaking point, and that’s where I just might stop.

SO, WHAT HAPPENS IN THIS TITLE?  Rather than summarize some of the plot elements and reveal what the main conflict is in the first five issues, I’m going to avoid spoiling by trying my best not to address that at all in this review.   I think I can still include enough information here to help someone decide whether or not they want to check out this title.

EVERYTHING REVOLVES AROUND THE ART, AND RIGHTLY SO:  There aren’t that many artists out there with the diverse set of skills that Finch possesses.  He is a true master of detail as well as a master of depth.  You can get dizzy looking at some of his cityscapes, overhead views, long shots, and close-ups viewed from on-your-back-and-gazing upwards.   He also draws a mean fight scene.

Here are some things from Issue #1 that caught my eye:  Batman drops from the Bat plane in a luscious two-page illustration viewed from ground level, with the rappel line snaking over Batman’s head and back to the open bay of the plane.  You can see every stitch on the duffel bag Batman is holding.  You need to turn the book 90 degrees to the right to get the correct perspective on this scene.  Amazing!  Likewise, you’ll need to turn the cover to Issue #1 at least 45 degrees to the right to fully appreciate how Finch has incorporated all the building dimensions in the background with the proper depth.  It’ a little disappointing that the covers to the succeeding issues fail to catch the attention to this same degree. An eye-popping cover never hurt books sales.   I also love the outbreak of crazed Arkham inmates that stretches across the top half of two pages. 

Issue #2 has visually stunning opening double-spread credits page that puts the viewer right in the middle of battle and almost on top of the two protagonists.  Issue #3 matches similar thrills with a double-pager that has curving credits almost pushed off the front of the page while a major villain seemingly rips apart in transformation.   Issue #4 has a mid-air battle during a heavy storm that drips action from page edge to page edge.   The capper is Issue #5 with two major DC characters engaged in a mega-punch-out lavishly depicted in big panels.  Whew!

SOME  THINGS THAT SHOW PROMISE FOR FUTURE STORYLINES are two new interesting characters and one that is an average villainess but drop dead gorgeous (White Rabbit). The new characters are: 

1)  Lieutenant J. Forbes from Gotham P.D. Internal Affairs who is determined to find evidence showing Bruce Wayne is illicitly funding the law-enforcement-defying vigilante Batman as well as connect Police Commissioner Gordon to these events.  He’s brash, arrogant and in-your-face.

2) Ms. Jaina Hudson, another looker with long legs (also long on innuendo when she flirts with Bruce Wayne) to provide a new romantic interest.  Her inclusion allows Jenkins to flash some of his writing skills.  He handles the flirtation between Jaina and Bruce in realistic fashion and utilizes their dialogue to establish some true magnetism between them.  Their conversational exchanges are more provocative and sexy than any bedroom scene depictions could ever convey.  Bravo for the mature handling of these stimulating scenes. 

THERE IS AN UNDERLYING THEME/CONCEPT that crops up in Issue #1 and returns in the other issues that is directly related to the main storyline but underneath it alludes to a critical component of Batman and tries to answer a question related to his psyche: what, if anything, is it that Batman truly fears?  Fear is defined or spoken of in various captions  that hint at who the narrator is but don’t get specific.  The speaker may also change from one set of captions to another.  I’m just really enjoying the clever way this is being threaded throughout the issues.  I’m guessing that this is part of the script that Jenkins is solely responsible for.  I remember a very creative examination of the Green Goblin written by him many years back and wonder if we’ll be treated to a similar psychological analysis here.  If so, I look forward to that.

So, there is enough going on here to keep me coming back every month for now.  My overall ranking for this title is a solid B+  - - and I do like it.