Thursday, 8 May 2014

Eternal Batman Eternal #5: A World Without Hairdressers

When last we left our heroes, Batgirl proved to be a better detective than Batman himself, prompting him to sulk and tell her off. Stephanie Brown's mother dobbed her in to her dad, thus earning herself the honorary title of "Clue Mastress". Ben McKenzie gazed at the moustachioed mirror which is looking at James Gordon's face. Red Robin was still on that damned plane, as though he's trapped in an episode of 24 and can't show up until a set number of pages have been flicked through.

But he's finally arriving in Gotham this week, because it's time for


Things kick off with Red Robin, and they're damned well going to stick with him for the whole of this issue. He's built a ghost hospital in his "Red Robin Nest", which I suppose was always going to be the name he gave his secret hideouts. What do you think Catwoman calls her hideouts? The Cat Basket? I always thought it was odd that she never had herself carried around by topless manservants in a Kitty Litter.

That aside, Alfred has infiltrated the nest, making him The Cuckoo, and is listening as Tim explains just what happened to all those children Batman and Gordon abandoned way back in issue one. Even Robin is a better detective than you now, Batman! Time to hang up those Bat Booties. It turns out that all the children had been infected with weird stuff weeks before Professor Pyg started hurling drugs into their systems, suggesting that something far more complex is going on here. 

But before we get into the minutiae of why these children living in a Wayne Restoration Area - the Philip Kane (who's been appearing in Zero Year) memorial projects - let's just focus on Tim Drake's hyper-minimalist secret lair. This place is shiny and buffed neon blue, filled solely with projectors and hologram machines. He hasn't done a single thing to spiffy the place up, and he certainly hasn't taken any design advice. Last week I got upset because the minions weren't playing up to the gimmick of their respective villains - and dammit Red Robin, but you haven't got a single robin-related piece of furniture anywhere in your place. No beak-shaped chairs? Or an egg-shaped computer, perhaps? It's not even RED!

Over in the aforementioned Philip Jane projects, Harper Row and her brother Something Row are bickering because Harper wants to head outside on patrol. Whatshisname begs that she shouldn't, because the Narrows are a dangerous and low-rent area to live in - and judging from the state of his hair, there hasn't been running water for five years - and also he has flu. Being a responsible older sister, Harper ignores him entirely and heads off outside. It's then that we see two things: One, that her brother has some sort of computer virus thing in his eye, the same as the holographic Pyg Kids did on the first page. Two, that artist Andy Clark draws super super creepy-looking eyes. Ewwww.

At the Gotham Gazette, another new character walks into the story. Or, rather, stands near the story and complains about it. Vicki Vale is in the office, moaning about something or other. She thinks that there's no such thing as journalism anymore, as people are too busy writing "typo-ridden fluff pieces". In other words, it looks like the Gotham Gazette will be subbing in as an analogue for Bleeding Cool. Vicki is mean to a random member of her staff for no apparent reason, and her editor comes along and tells her off for it. It's a really weird scene, because Vicks is getting super-aggressive without any explanation.

Her editor - who must also be living in the narrows, because his hair looks AWFUL - is also pining for the good old days of journalism, when he didn't have to write about costumed super-maniacs blowing things up. But... it's then explained that he first became famous by breaking the news that The Joker existed. And that he misses the days when he got to write news stories about... a costumed super-maniac... who blows things up.

I am very confused by these people. He sends Vicki and the intern off to go handle some of this 'real' reporting by heading into the Narrows to find out about this gang war everybody's so worried about. 

Red Robin is already there, having tracked down one of the Pyg Kids. Creepily, Robin has broken into the kid's house, but the kid is lying catatonic, eyes open, in bed. He also has a SERIOUSLY weird poster on the wall just behind Robin, which suggests he was having some issues way before this whole "robot infection" stuff started happening. 

Batman enters and tries to find out what Red Robin's worked out. Tim refuses to give him anything, acting all prickly and hitting his former mentor with a jibe about Nightwing. Batman doesn't respond, because he is an emotionless monster. It turns out that this kid is infected with a swarm of nanobots, who were put there not by Pyg but by someone way more advanced. Batman's first suggestion is that it might be aliens, although if he were an objective detective then we all know Tim Drake would be the first suspect. Literally every thing Tim does this issue implicates him into this infection. Re-read the issue and tell me I'm wrong! 

Bats does seem to recognise the maker of the robots, in fairness, although he swoops off before telling Robin anything. Looks like SOMEONE knows how to take but doesn't know how to share! You're a terrible detective sometimes, Batman.

Speaking of people who are terrible at their jobs, Vicki has brought the intern along to the Narrows for some work experience. He's absolutely terrified at heading into the area at night, but she seems absolutely thrilled to be there. She flounces straight across to the first scary gang she can find, one of whom has a rose tattoo on his neck. She then - and she actually does this - says "what do you guys know about the Roman?" and offers them $50 if they'll tell.

Naturally, the gang respond to this act of lunacy by pulling a knife on her, at which point the intern says OUT LOUD that his camera is work $2000. This pair are the Laurel and Hardy of investigative journalism, right here. If at some point Vicky says "sorry Joey" then we're in business. Before they get stabbed up, though, somebody tazers the lead gang member, and clocks the others. They have barely enough time to sigh at their greasy hairstyles before they hit the ground. Harper announces herself to the others.

Brilliantly, she's started learning from Batman's lead, and has a belt on with various pouches. Pouches! The cornerstone of any budding vigilante's costuming process! She makes fun of them and then leads them off to her house, where they'll be safe. 

Red Robin hasn't left the catatonic kid yet, because he's trying to hack into the robots and see what he can do. Tim! CTRL + ALT + DELETE! That usually gets the task manager up, and you can fix things from there. Usually works for me. Instead of that, however, Tim activates a security system in the robots, and the kid sits up to reveal glowing eyes, floating blue robot dust, and a mullet. The first of these - sadly not the third - swarms at him and knocks him down.

Harper walks The Dynamic Duo back to her apartment, leading the intern to hug her, embarrassingly. He then announces "I can help!" with unironic joy when Harper asks her brother to put some coffee on. With the dopes out the way, she then turns to Vicki and rightfully demands that the reporter explain herself. I would also like for her to do this, Harper. In response, Vicki asks why it's safer for a girl with a hoodie and utility belt to hang around than for a woman with a red sports car to park near a gang and then try to bribe them. 

Defiant, Harper immediately goes self-defensive, saying that she has "tricked out" tazers - which is the point at which the gods of dramatic irony step in and break down the door of her flat - the gang have returned. Before they can do anything, though, Robin and the blue swarm of robot disease crash through the floor and the robots immediately rush over to... eat?... the gang. It's left vague. Everybody else watches as they do it, anyway.

The Intern attempts to flirt with Red Robin, ticking the box for "tumblr moment of the week". Robin is more interested in the robots, naturally, and he attempts to send them all to sleep. They crash to the ground, switched off. But so does little brother! The moment Robin activates the sleep function, Cullen unleashes his own swarm of blue robots and crashes to the ground himself. Uh-oh! Harper races across to her brother and says "you did this to him, Red Robin!", establishing herself to be a detective at least on-par with Batman. 

Robin says that he didn't, even though he literally just said the word "sleep" out loud and a moment later Harper's brother falls deeply unconscious. As I said before - every single thing Robin does in this issue implicates him further as the villain of this story. The Intern, showing an incredible misreading of the room, asks what they should do about the unconscious (not eaten!) gang members. Dude, there's an unconscious robotchild in the room, and you're worried about the gangsters?

Vicki decides to taser one and start questioning him, which hilariously then smash-cuts to a newspaper headline "GANG WAR ERUPTS IN GOTHAM CITY: Exclusive by Vicki Vale". Comics compression at its finest, right there. That's sensational.

The final few panels of the page - this is a seriously rushed last page, as you can see - heads to Tokyo, where we find out that the nanobots are the invention of... Sergei and Maxwell! 

What do you mean you haven't heard of Sergei and Maxwell before. Are you trying to say you didn't read a back-up story in issue #22 of Batman? You fools!!!! To be continued!

Issue #5 of Batman Eternal is by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Andy Clarke, Blond John Kalisz, Nick J. Napolitano, Katie Kubert and Mark Doyle. The other consulting writers for the series are Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley. Batman was created by Bill Finger, and I won't have another word said about it!

Was the colourist credited on the cover? No

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Future's End: The End is Nigh! Part #0

The Red Sky is Falling! And robots are coming!

Because yes, DC’s second weekly series, Future’s End, just launched. With a maniacally unexpected writing squadron of Brian Azzarello, Dan Jurgens, Keith Giffen and Jeff Lemire, this series will be running every week for the next year. So what’s it about? Well, DC launched the story off this last week with a free issue #0 for Free Comic Book Day. The story sees a number of cancelled characters all show up together for a new epic time-travel storyline, in which robots take over the future and characters come back to the present to try and stop them from ever being made.

It has a surprising set of writers, a decent rotating team of artists – Jesus Merino, Ethan Van Sciver, Patrick Zircher and more – and seems like it’s going to have a far more interesting and wider sweep of central characters than Batman Eternal… not that the two books are competing, of course

As Future’s End starts the clock, so Comics Vanguard will be with you every week to offer recaps of each issue. I’ll be following the story along page by page, taking some good-natured jabs at the comic (unless it proves to be really bad, in which case you’ll see me turn sour AND bitter AND angry AND possibly to drink), pointing out different theories about what’s going on, and making a lot of jokes at Grifter’s expense.

Let’s start with issue #0!

In thirty-five years time, robots wander loose around Central City, watched over by a giant eye which lives on The Moon. But fear not! Some random characters have all penned together inside a shipping container to hide from the robots. Now I’m not the best with spotting obscure DC references, so the only one of the three faces here means anything to me – Captain Cold is onboard. The other two are some bloke with an eyepatch who looks like Xander from Buffy, and Brian Azzarello. Seriously, I think that one of the last survivors of the apocalypse is meant to be Brian Azzarello.

These three are all debating whether to close the door of the shipping container, or to wait for their ally to arrive – an ally who turns out to be The Flash. Wait, doesn’t Flash have the ability to vibrate through walls? You guys could’ve left that door closed and it’d all be fine. When he does arrive, however, it turns out he’s aged by about sixty years or so (and so has Captain Cold, who looks like he’s been mainlining meth for decades) and has grown a big white beard. Is this going to be a thing? Are beards going to be a motif for this book, maybe?

Anyway it turns out that Flash has accidentally led all the robots to the shipping container, which I’m choosing to believe is the same one from Batman Eternal, where Batgirl is currently living. Wonder Woman bursts down the door, but she’s half-cyborg and yelling a load of stuff about Brother Eye. So I’ll be calling these robots ‘Eyeborgs’ from now on, then. She has the body of a robotic spider for some reason, and also a metal tiara welded to her head. Well, don’t mess with a classic costume design, I guess. Her body is mostly gone, apart from her boobs. It looks as though around 60% of her remaining human parts is boob.

Xander gets crushed under a door. Wondy immediately kills Brian Azzarello, and an army of tiny spider bots start swarming over everyone else in the room. Flash beats up one of the Eyeborgs, but Wondy slices off Captain Cold’s hands and he immediately starts turning binary. It looks like as soon as you take a cut from one of the Eyeborgs, you get infected with computer code. Flash goes absolutely ballistic at this, providing shipping fuel for Tumblrs nationwide, and promptly rips Wonder Woman apart too.

He kneels down, absolutely knackered, and finds himself surrounded. Just as the Eyebots are about to assimilate him, Frankenstein pops up. Oh yeah! Frankenstein! I just read a Justice League Dark story where these two have a great time teaming up! Flash said some kind racist things but eventually learned the error of his prejudiced ways through the medium of punching. This is not such a friendly meeting, however, as Frankenstein is working for Brother Eye. He takes his shirt off to reveal that, ew, he’s ripped off Black Canary’s face and sewn it onto his chest. She seems to still be alive, too, because she screams at this moment and vaporises Flash.

So this is going to be one of THOSE sorts of stories, then.

We get a look around the world, to see that Eyeborgs have taken over everywhere. Aquaman is stood on his own in Atlantis, having either killed everyone or bored them all into leaving. The Amazons are alive, it seems, which feels like a big spoiler for Wonder Woman, and have killed Deathstroke and a Green Lantern. Brilliantly, in Gotham Batgirl has merged INTO the Bat-Signal, which now beams a big eye across the city.

In Metropolis, we find Blue Beetle and John Stewart are still alive, and preparing for one last suicide run against the Eyeborgs. As they jump out a manhole cover and advance on Eyeborg Boost Gold, John says “I wish we were more than a diversionary tactic”. OH WHAT? So you’re saying the survivors picked the two people of colour to be their diversionary tactic? Boy, if we find out that the other team of survivors are a bunch of Aryans, I’m going to be miffed.

Booster immediately takes out Blue Beetle with “eye-seeds”, which sounds totally dirty. John thinks he can use the ring to save him somehow – I guess that’s why they say he’s got such a strong will – but in the process turns his back on… Superman! Eyeborg Superman. Looks like they got to Clark, then. Clark also has robot legs, which means fans won’t have to fret about whether he’s wearing jeans or whatever. Superman blasts John right in the groin, and we get to see a giant flaming tower in the background. It looks as though they’ve bottled Firestorm?

Anyway, Superman continues to blast John with various lasers, until he eventually shoots RIGHT at the green lantern ring. The ring immediately shifts into a Brother Eye logo, and John starts turning into an Eyeborg. That was the shortest diversionary tactic ever.

Team 2 are made up of Aryan characters Amethyst and Grifter. Godammit! But, y’know – good on Grifter for surviving this long. That’s damned impressive. Their mission is to unplug Firestorm, but as soon as Amethyst opens her portal to Earth both characters get blasted with green energy from Eyeborg John Stewart. They get a reaction shot where it looks like both their faces are melting, before John fires a second shot and wipes them both out. You lasted even less time than the diversionary tactic! Who’s leading this operation?

….Oh, of course. It’s Bruce Wayne. With Terry, the Batman Beyond. They’re in the Batcave, which is still underneath Wayne Manor. You don’t have a second base you could use, Bruce? This seems like a fairly obvious place for you to be hide. This is emphasised by the fact that the manor itself has been destroyed, and Eyeborgs are currently working on drilling down into the cave.

It turns out that Bruce is working on building a device which will let him time travel into the past and prevent any of this from ever happening. Terry explains it all to Bruce, who looks bored out of his mind at having to hear all this exposition again. Leave him be, Terry! He just wants to build his time travel device in peace, so he can go blow up a giant Eye-robot. Terry tells him that “you and Mr Terrific should never have had it built”, which is a little unfair and obvious at this point, as well as being poor grammar. If you insist on taking in all these street urchins without offering them an education, Bruce…

At this point Eyeborgs of Batman, Inc all burst into the cave, including Knight and Squire, as well as all the other characters I never bothered to learn the names of. They have a minute to kill the Batmen before Bruce travels into the past, which Bruce keeps reminding us of by shouting down the timer. Sadly he yells “forty-five seconds” rather than “forty-five Bat-Seconds”. I really would’ve thought Bruce Wayne would’ve invented a new way to measure time by now, but apparently not.

Batman Beyond punches straight through Eyeborg Knight’s head, Judge Dredd-style, whilst Bruce uses the flaming Batarangs from the recent downloadable content for Arkham Origins to explode Eyeborg Batwing. But then he gets shot in the back by someone and lands on Batwing’s outstretched robo-blade, cutting off… well, yes, cutting off his arm. Classic DC! Terry kills off all the other Eyeborgs and tells him to “hold on!”, to which Bruce replies “with what?”, hilariously. It only took him thirty years, but he finally developed a sense of humour.

Bruce gives the time travel device to Terry, telling him to go the past instead. He then makes note of the fact that if Terry should try and contact the past version of Bruce Wayne… Bruce will try and stop him. Nice. Batman Beyond jumps through the portal just as Bruce shoots an Eyeborg Huntress – who falls through with him. His job done, Batman gets in time for a quick brood just before he dies.

Terry lands down on his back, pretty inelegantly, with the broken Eyebot Huntress landing next to him. I wonder if she’ll be important later? He stands up and asks A.L.F.R.E.D., his computer system, where he is. And… it turns out he’s landed thirty years in the past, rather than thirty-five. Blast and damn! He looks up around Times Square, and sees a number of easter eggs in front of him. To be continued!

(But! Before we continue on, let’s just note the easter eggs here. Lois lane has a TV show called “The Fast Lane”, Mr Terrific is on a billboard. Project Cadmus is namechecked, as well as STAR labs. LexCorp have a sign, and there’s also a poster reminding people to keep their “Earth Card” on them at all times. It looks like there’s some kind of registration act in place! You can sense Mark Millar readying the lawyers already. Finally, there’s a concert poster taking place, a fundraiser for “the survivors of Earth 2”. Oh boy....)

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Eternal Batman Eternal #4: Gordon in the Dock

When last we left our heroes, Stephanie Brown had a bit of trouble with her pop whilst Gotham Police put out a hit on Batman. Catwoman vanished, Falcone plotted, and Maggie Sawyer wore her bulletproof vest. Batman wandered around in a strop, like Morrissey but without the gladioli. Oh, and James Gordon? He's in jail. You blow up ONE set of trains and suddenly years of being punctual and filing all your papers on-time count for nothing!

It's time again for

Eternal Batman Eternal 
Issue #4

This week we start with Batgirl, who is busy cry-fighting her way through a pack of random goons. She's taking a bit of a hit over the whole "your dad destroyed the subway" thing, and so now she's giving that hit back in kind to anybody who gets in her way. In this case, it's a group of Professor Pyg's minions, who sadly also don't make squealing noises when they get punched in the face. Stick to the gimmick, you guys! I can't think of anything which disappoints me more than minions who don't get in-character.

One of the minions, it should be noted, appears to be a human salamander. Batgirl appears to be wiping her shoe on his face. She's annoyed because, we find out, today marked the first court hearing of her dad, James Gordon. We see him stood up in the dock, emotionless, as the Judge tells him off and says this was all his fault. Which is, uh, I suppose one way of starting a trial, I guess? Seems a little unfair to Gordon to start off by telling everybody that he's definitely guilty, but still.

One hundred and sixty-two people died in the train crash, it turns out, causing billions of dollars-worth of damage. Also, this was "a major disruption to the lives of every citizen in Gotham". Oh yeah, you just KNOW that this judge was meant to be heading to his daughter's school recital but missed it because the trains were delayed, right? You can tell she got so annoyed that she drew a picture of daddy on fire and slipped it under his bedroom door later that night. She's going to carry that mental scar with her for the next forty years. Good going, Gordon.

Whilst the Judge is getting out all his repressed anger, there's someone stood in the doorway of the courtroom, in shadow, just chilling, and I like to imagine it's Two-Face. God, wouldn't it have been amazing if Gordon had hired Two-Face to be his lawyer? Missed opportunities. If this were Marvel, YOU BET that the lawyer would be Matt Murdock or Jennifer Walters.

Anyway, the Judge denies Gordon bail and calls him a flight risk due to his tendency to work with vigilantes. Fair enough. Whilst they wait for trial, he is to be held in Blackgate Prison. Uh-oh.

Batgirl stands up and starts yelling about how "he didn't do it", causing the judge to say that she's close to contempt of court. Oh, please, judge! You're just jealous that your daughter doesn't love you like she loves hers. I bet you've got a whole drawer filled with crayon drawings of "daddy on fire", right? Don't you blame your poor timekeeping on Gordon. For his part, though, Gordon seems to have fully accepted the fact that he is to blame for all of this, and he asks her to sit down and leave him to his public corrupted court hearing.

She refuses to accept this, hence the minion-beating she's been delivering. Batman arrives on the scene just as she bashes in the last of the henchmen, and tells her to stop this. He says that she "can't do this", although I'd argue the semantics of that one. She tries to walk off but he grabs her shoulder, so she spins round and smacks him round the head. Twice! On the third attempt, he catches her. She composes herself somewhat.

Batman starts to tell her that she's using excessive force, but she catches that softball and throws it straight back at him. Pot kettle black, Batman. You didn't exactly train her to defeat villains using the power of verbal reasoning. Batgirl calls this "justice", not least for the fashion industry. Seriously, guys, you're working for a man called Professor Pyg. Put on a BIT more of an effort than just a pig mask yeah?

Batgirl recounts the hearing, and how pleased Major Forbes was by all of this. Sorry - that's Commissioner Forbes now. She thinks that Gordon's starting to question his own sanity, and is starting to snap - hey, then send him over to Arkham Asylum! It's not like they don't have whole wings devoted to people who've gone a little wonky. There's great room for career advancement too, cos I'm pretty sure half the inpatients eventually rise up the career ladder to become warden.

We leave the Batman/Batgirl scene - making this the second issue in a row to have a lying cover - and back to Stephanie, who's got on the phone to her mum. She's panicking about how her dad, y'know, is a villain and just tried to kill her. We cut across to her mother, whose house has the MOST distracting lamp I've ever seen. She's got paintings of the wall which are just of black squares, there's a table which lies on the floor and seems to be maybe three inches tall....

I'm calling it now. Any woman with such horrible taste in furnishings is 100% going to be a part of this supervillain conspiracy too.

She asks Stephanie where she is, and Stephanie says she's at a pay phone - she's already decided not to use her mobile phone, as her dad might be able to track her. She doesn't trust the police as they're a part of this, she's turned her phone off, and she's about to start fashioning a tin foil hat she can wear so nobody can beam psychic messages into her head.

Actually, given what happened to Gordon, that might be a smart idea. She puts the phone down, at which point she immediately calls up Cluemaster and gives Stephanie's location up. TOLD YOU

Back at the GCPD, where Forbes is checking in on how Bard is doing. It's a mega-boring scene, where the characters just go on repeating all the stuff we already know. Bard asks again if he can please go stop some crimes, but his request is denied - he's on Batman-catching duty first and foremost.

And of course that leads to a scene of Batman crashing through a window - Falcone's penthouse windown - and knocking out all the guards there. You know, I wonder what Batman would do if somebody built an apartment which didn't have a huge window he could jump through. Do you think he'd just let that villain do whatever they wanted? If I were in Gotham, you bet I'd live in a bungalow. The lack of dramatic entrances would do more to stop Batman than a thousand deathtraps.

One of the sound effects in this scene, it should be pointed out, comes as Batman kicks someone in the nads. WHAPOW! Amazing.

Falcone interrupts and fires a few shots into the ceiling. Well Batman already wrecked the window, so may as well start firing bullets into it too. He's finally changed out of that awful rose shirt and popped on a bow tie and suit. THAT'S MORE LIKE IT FALCONE. Spiffy stuff.  He starts chatting with Batman, mostly about the uselessness of hirelings in Gotham nowadays. Right, Falcone? It's like these guys aren't even trying anymore. Time used to be that Penguins's henchmen had to pretend they were actual penguins, but nowadays they barely even take the time to carry umbrella guns. It's a damned shame.

Asked about why he's returned to Gotham, Falcone strokes his claw-scars and says he has "unfinished business", and also isn't too keen on the fact that Gotham's been overrun with manic, silly villains, rather than dignified suit-wearing mobsters. On that note, he basically orders Batman to go and take out Penguin for him, which is the point at which I've started actively rooting for Falcone as the hero of this series. All it takes is one bow-tie and I'm anybodys.

Rather than follow that order through, though, Batman heads back to the batcave - where he finds Batgirl is using his computers. He asks why she's there, and why she's in uniform. Bruce, your whole thing is that you work too hard because you're upset about your parents, don't start getting jealous now somebody else is stealing your schtick. He tells her to go rest, apparently unaware of the fact that she lives in a skip.

She's actually been pretty productive, creating a hologram of the train incident and finding a suspicious-looking character who spent three hours stood at the station, prior to the crash. He's even got a past criminal record! Good work Bar--

Nope. Batman doesn't care. He tells her to give up on all of this. He says she's not thinking clearly and that she doesn't have enough evidence to support any of this, which at this point comes across as concern-trolling. This is far more evidence than Batman has ever collected before in his life, and yet he doesn't want her to go out and pursue the lead. Weird, weird move, Bats. She storms off, as she should.

For our last scene, Gordon wanders into Blackgate. There he meets the totally fantastic Agatha Zorbatos, who has been the acting warden of the place since the new 52 started. She has a grudge against him and couldn't be more delighted to find him in her custody. She sends him through to his cell, making sure he walks past the "people put in here by James Gordon" wing. Among the people who see him walk past is Ogilvy, who was put there during John Layman's 'Emperor Penguin' storyline. That's a nice touch.

There's also someone called the Wrath in there, as well as Amygdala. Wow, but that it an incredibly left-field pull for a character to use in a story like this. Amygdala is so called because he has a damaged amygdala, the part of the brain which controls decision-making and emotional state. I think he also has super-strength? Maybe. Gordon finally reaches his cell, and gets to meet his new cell-mate.

I was fully expecting this to be the cliffhanger of the issue, but actually no, the cellmate is some random dude called Leo. He looks a bit like Maxie Zeus, but fifty years older. The issue ends with Gordon watching on as his cell door is closed and he's locked in, and Leo tells him that he probably won't last the night. Ominous stuff, Jimmy! I hear the trick is to establish dominance early on, or join a group. That may not be so true for a former police commissioner, however. Bad luck, boss.

Issue #4 of Batman Eternal is by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, John Layman, Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs, John Kalisz, Rob Leigh, Katie Kubert and Mark Doyle. The other consulting writers for the series are Ray Fawkes and Tim Seeley. Batman was created by Bill Finger, and I won't have another word said about it!

Was the colourist credited on the cover? No

Saturday, 26 April 2014

James Stokoe is Writing, Drawing, and Colouring an Avengers One-Shot

It's true! It's announced! Today at C2E2 Marvel announced that they'll be releasing a series of 100th Anniversary one-shot stories featuring unexpected creative teams on writing and art. Wait, Marvel haven't been running for 100 years? True. The books will all be set in the far-flung future, showing a possible future for all the familiar Marvel teams and concepts.

As one of the five, Stokoe will be handling an Avengers one-shot, which seems to feature Beta Ray Bill, a new Sorcerer Supreme, and... maybe Rogue?

At any rate - JAMES STOKOE everybody:

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Eternal Batman Eternal #3: The Lady in Violet

When last we left our heroes, ghosts and hypnotists and gangsters had all arrived in Gotham to cause various damage. Batman was too busy hanging out with Catwoman at the train station, whilst Batgirl got on her bike. Gordon's in jail, the Mayor's in cahoots, and Tim Drake's in the waiting lounge at Delta Airlines. Good luck checking in all your robots, Timmy! Do they count as hand luggage?

We're heading, of course, into...

Eternal Batman Eternal
Issue #3

A gang war erupts in Gotham City, but the G.C.P.D. doesn’t plan to help Batman stop it. Plus: The return of a fan-favorite Batman supporting character: Stephanie Brown!

Stephanie Brown walks down the street, oblivious to the crowd of chanting, whooping fans who're lined up just off-panel, throwing confetti at her. Yes, Steph is back! And she's in her purple hoodie, walking down Bungay Street, making fun of her mother down the phone. Immediately she shows why she's such a fan favourite character by dismissing the biggest disaster in Gotham transportation history as "whatever" and being mean to her despairing mother.

She tells her mum that she's heading back to her dad's house for a quick second, because she left her Q-Pad there. Not an iPad! So what this means is that, in the DC Universe, Oliver Queen invented the iPad before Steve Jobs did. Do the people of Gotham also have Qpods, Qphones, and Qmacs? Because I'm super into that idea. It makes everything sound like it came from a James Bond film. HEY do you think Oliver has a section of his company which he called the Q-Branch? I know he's busy being on an island or whatever, but I hope he set up a Qbranch beforehand.

So anyway, Stephanie spends a few more panels being cruel to her mum down the phone, and then cuts off her off without saying goodbye. Just off panel, the crowd of fans turn to one another and raise quizzical, worried eyebrows. As she also forgot her key, she decides that her best tactic would be to BREAK IN to her dad's house, rather than knock on the door. Deciding that her dad will be delighted by her proactive nature, she wanders into the kitchen...

Where she finds her dad sat at a table, looking at a map of Gotham along with a group of super-villains. Firefly (you know, from Arkham Origins!) and Lock-Up are both there, as well as somebody called 'Signalman'. I have never heard of this guy before, but I hope his origin is that he was stood next to the Bat-signal when it got struck with radioactive lightning, or something.

It turns out Stephanie's dad is a supervillain called the Cluemaster, which makes him a bit like the Riddler except he, I dunno, drops a loads of clues at the scene of every crime he commits? We're in D-list territory here for sure. For her part, Stephanie is SHOCKED that her dad is a villain. Steph, he's got a ponytail. That's all the proof you need that your dad was not somebody you should've trusted. She starts to back away, but somebody coated in shadow clocks her round the head, and she blacks out.

Who was the mysterious man behind her? Crazy Quilt? Calendar Man? Tim Drake? We'll have to wait and see.

Because the next page whisks us away to GCPD headquarters, where the main reception has a big map of the city with "GOTHAM CITY" written on it. Amazing. I suppose that's to help Harvey remember where he is when he goes on one of his periodical bourbon-cruises. Harv's looking at the map as we wander in, along with another officer who for no goddamn reason whatsoever isn't Renee Montoya. Dammit! But all upsets are put aside because Dreamy Major Forbes walks in at this point and pulls rank on Lieutenant Harv. He's delighted by Gordon going to jail, because now "we'll actually be able to go back to doing the work we're supposed to do in this godforsaken city". By this he means "take lots of bribes".

Captain Sawyer walks in at this point and tells him that he'll be "crapping out your teeth" if he doesn't stop talking, which is a pretty convoluted threat even for her. She's not wearing her patented bulletproof vest, which is disappointing. She walks off, Forbes walks off the other way, and Harv snaps out of his stupor long enough to remember that he's supposed to have Ben McKenzie for a partner. Where'd Ben go?

He's gone to the cells, is where's he's gone. He has a chat with Gordon in the cells, because apparently they still don't have any damn guards on duty at the precinct yet. Bard believes that Batman will come along to save the day any moment now, which seems lazy on his part. Go solve it yourself! Gordon, however, has already solved the crime, it seems, and believes that he SHOULD be in jail. This is a man so responsible that he's still got his tie completely fastened up, and hasn't loosened it ONE bit. What a legend. A deluded, gun-imagining legend.

Next we find ourselves at The Iceberg Casino! Awesome. We head straight to Penguin's office for this next scene, as he begins to mentally torture a woman whose brother's been cheating the tables. He's set her up with a nice meal and glass of wine - there is literally no way that meal WASN'T her brother - and, best of all, a teeny tiny hat. This hat is 100% the greatest thing to have been in a DC Comic in twenty years, and whoever thought of it deserves a massive raise.

Penguin tells her that he fed her cheating brother to an elephant seal - god I hope Batman has to fight that seal later on in the series - and is about to do something even worse when Batman storms in. The girl takes this opportunity to run for her damn life, while Batman slams Penguin through a table. He demands to know what Penguin knows about the return of Carmine Falcone.

Catwoman has vanished by this point. Presumably she's gone off to stare at old family photos or something, the poor girl.

For his part, Penguin's got no idea what happened to Falcone. He says that he threw Falcone out of Gotham five years ago, and took all his power from him. So the Long Halloween happened differently, it seems, in the New 52 Universe. Falcone survived the story but was run out the city by Penguin. Batman tells Ossie that Falcone is back, and Penguin brilliantly throws shade in the dark knight's face. I love this bitchy new version of The Penguin, guys! He's super-fierce.

Deciding that Penguin knows nothing, Batman storms back out, without being punched once by a giant seal. Ho-hum.

At Gotham City Hall, Dreamy Major Forbes has been asked to go meet the Mayor - who is flanked by Falcone, still wearing that sloppy suit-shirt combo. They ask Forbes a few questions about what he thinks of crime (all for it), bribes (all for them) and law enforcement (why bother), and seem pretty pleased with all the answers they're getting from him. Or maybe they're too busy swooning into his deep blue eyes. One of the two!

Batman, meanwhile, has made a zippy return to the Batcave, where Alfred tells him that they found nothing in Gordon's bloodstream to indicate delusions of gunplay. Batman grumbles a whole lot at this, and remains convinced that Falcone is behind all this somehow. The computers flick red with an alert of criminal action, and Bats heads off to go shut it down.

Returning to Stephanie's house, Steph is lying unconscious on the floor while the criminals discuss the rest of their plan. Seriously, this is what happens. They knock her out, leave her on the floor - untied and in the same room - and then discuss their entire plan in front of her. It's only once they've finished plotting that they go "oh, by the way, should we do something about the blonde girl we knocked out ten minutes ago?"

The shadowy fifth member of the team says that dad should kill Stephanie to "show how much you're willing to sacrifice", but dad seems all too willing to get his gun out and shoot his daughter in the head. Wow, dad, that's harsh. Don't you know this is the DC Universe, where every child eventually takes on the mantle of their parents? Leave her be and she could be Cluemaster II! Or the Cluestress. Or whatever.

He puts his mask on and calls her a "disappointment", dismayingly oblivious to her super-awesome 'breaking in to a house' skills, and levels his gun at her. Screaming, she's punches one of the gas canisters round his belt, which cracks, and then she makes a run for it. She dives over a table and leaves the house the same way she came in, before peeling off back down the street. Steph, wait, you forgot your Qpad!

We return to Batman, who takes out a group of Falcone's goons and ties them up. SEE, CLUEMASTER? THAT'S HOW YOU DO IT! Tie them up! This time Batman walks out of earshot before using the super-secret "Penny-One" codename for Alfred, telling him to send along the police to arrest these guys.

And back in the Iceberg Casino, Penguin's assembled a group of his second-in-commands. We've got, lessee.. Mr Mosaic and Mr Combustible, as well as Imperceptible Man and Hypnotic all present at the table. Penguin's bought a new hat just for the occasion, and he informs them all that Falcone is going to make his move any minute now. Brilliantly, the meeting is then interrupted by a guard who informs Penguin that... Falcone just made his move. Penguin tells all his men to go get their men - they're going to go to war.

A gang-war! And you know what this means? It means Maggie Sawyer's going to put her bulletproof vest back on! Fantastic! She strides into the bullpen and tells everybody to "suit up", which seems like strange advice for police officers to follow. The team all get ready to head out and try and stop the incoming gang-war, only to be stopped by an off-panel voice which tells them that they'll "be going nowhere". Oh dear.

Batman IS going somewhere, though, in the Batmobile. He drives past a comic shop and a sign advertising "Tantic Live" - I have absolutely no idea what that might be, other than either a copyright-escaping production of Titanic; or Sting and Trudy Styler hanging out with a bunch of yoga enthusiasts. Batman can't believe that Falcone was so well-prepared and had everything planned so well. He says that he'll need the police to be ready to help out - which is when Alfred tells him the bad news.

Forbes has taken over the GCPD, it seems, at the appointment of Mayor Hady. He's been appointed Police Commissioner, which shocks Maggie and almost serves to drag Harv out of his drunk demi-coma. The police officers have a massive squabble between one another, which ends when Forbes says that the new policy is going to be letting the criminals kill each other. Interesting policy! It's meant to sound like a terrible idea, but actually that might just work in Gotham City.

Anyway, Forbes wipes everything off the whiteboard at the station (including things like "Icarus", the current villain in Detective Comics) and draws the new #1 target for Gotham's Police Force to take out.

You guessed it: it's Batman.

And while he's busy there, Steph has hidden herself down the narrows of Gotham. She calls her mum and asks her for help. Let's just hope her mum isn't a practitioner of "practical punishments", eh?

Issue #3 of Batman Eternal is by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson, Nick J. Napolitano, Katie Kubert and Mark Doyle. The other consulting writers for the series are Ray Fawkes, John Layman, and Tim Seeley. Batman was created by Bill Finger, and I won't have another word said about it!

Was the colourist credited on the cover? No

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Eternal Warrior to End with Issue #8

After an absence from the Valiant solicitations over the last few months, writer Greg Pak has confirmed on his Tumblr that Eternal Warrior ends with the next issue - issue #8.

This is interesting, in that Valiant have had to start dealing with the idea of cancelling their books now they've reached year three of their whole relaunch as a company. Bloodshot and Shadowman have already both concluded; and were replaced with respective miniseries which seems set to then head the character into relaunched #1 books further down the line. Harbinger has just been announced as doing the same.

Eternal Warrior is the first book, as far as I'm aware, to simply end. The character will still be used in the Unity series (as indeed will be Bloodshot), but the solo series is going to conclude without any further story currently announced for him.

Archer & Armstrong also seems like it'll be wrapping up the current run from Fred Van Lente soon. It'll be interesting to see how the company handle these transitions, and which books will relaunch/which books will conclude. 

Skinned #1: What You See is What You Get

In Skinned, the reader gets to see a world where every single person wears a specially designed contact lens which distorts their vision of reality. Whilst one person may choose to live in a Disney fairytale, their partner may be visualising everything around them as a cyberpunk dystopia. In a land ruled by the man who invented these lenses, nobody has any reason to feel depression - because they can change the way the world looks whenever they want. They can pick the world they want to live in.

It's an interesting concept for a story, and one which the creative team of Tim Daniel, Jeremy Holt, Joshua Gowdy and Matt Meylikhov manage to turn into an interesting, gently-paced drama. Establishing the idea through a well-conceived opening sequence which gently gives readers a look at the shifting perspectives as we hop from the eyes of one character to another, the first sequence establishes half the cast and hints at the duelling moralities at play in the rest of the story.

In it, we see the Queen giving birth to a daughter, as her family watch on. She shifts into an Arabic setting to comfort herself during this time, but when her older daughter walks in, Gowdy's artwork shifts around to angle behind her, and suddenly the costumes and backdrop resemble something from a Tank Girl comic. As the series continues, we find that the design of the world constantly shifts between panels, depending on the character we're following at any given time.

Which means the issue is visually interesting throughout, at least. The story hints at some interesting things at play early on, as we watch the newborn child immediately be fitted with the same contacts - this is not a choice anyone can make for themself. Instead, the King makes the overruling choice that means they'll then be able to make their own aesthetic choices moving forward. As we continue on, this idea falls to the wayside somewhat, as the second storyline is introduced and weaved into the first.

Gowdy's art hits a neat balance between the styles of Shaky Kane and Mike Allred in this issue, allowing the worlds he depicts to walk between surrealism and realism. The characters have big, expressive eyes (especially useful, considering the concept for the series) and faces which can twitch from expressionless vacancy to high emotion in the span of a panel. He can tell a story, and manages to decently handle the constant shifts in perspective throughout this first issue.

The colouring is perhaps where the artistic side of things suffers most. Despite the idea being that we switch from world-view to world-view constantly, the colouring uses the same palette for each of the different worlds we see. When the characters are in an Arabian Nights style setting, the colouring is the same as when they're in a punkish dystopia. At one point Aldair's bedroom changes from a wicked stepmother's castle to a beautiful Disney princesses' bedroom - complete with cartoon birds tweeting around - but the colouring barely changes to just a slightly paler variant on the previous colours.

If you look at the image above, you can see the scene change between the first and second panels - but the colouring doesn't seize on this, or emphasise it enough, for me. Rather than the colours grasping the concept of change and really striking the reader with how different each perspective is, everybody seems to be looking at essentially the same thing. Sometimes the transitions don't come across because of the generalised colour palette, which is a shame. The colours never have any vibrancy, even when the art is attempting to convey a futuristic neon backdrop.

This means that some of the potency of the concept is lost over the course of the first issue. By the time the two storylines overlap and come together, the visual interest in seeing how everybody views their own world has been exhausted. The moral complexities suggested at the start give way to the more predictable opening chords of a romance story, and the more interesting characters walk off-panel early on. We're left with the young boy and the young girl from different backgrounds who both want to buck the system, for better or worse.

Not that this is a bad first issue - the writing is on point and interesting, and the pencils are wonderfully well realised. The dynamism that you might expect is missing, however, making Skinned a diverting read rather than an immersive one. It'll be interesting to see where it leads to next, but towards the end of the issue it feels that the creative team are sidelining their main hook in order to tail into a slightly less interesting direction for the story. We'll have to see.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Harbinger Concludes with Issue #25, Featuring Ron Wimberley, Lucy Knisley, and Many More

Valiant have announced that Joshua Dysart's run on Harbinger will end with issue #25 later this year, to be followed by a relaunch of sorts for the series. Calling this the natural conclusion to the storyline, the final issue will be expanded to include backup stories from Ron Wimberley, Lucy Knisley, Riley Rossmo, Justin Jordan, Barry Kitson and several others.

That's a really unexpected line-up of creators, right? Fantastic array of talent, there.

Following the conclusion of the run with this 48-page issue, Dysart will then pen a three-issue miniseries called Harbinger: Omegas which will "close the door" on the current run, and lead the way into the next. Which means, it seems, Harbinger will relaunch towards the end of the year.

That seems a smart move - following on from the success Marvel seem to be finding in their "finish the run and then relaunch with a new team" strategy. Harbinger was the second book of the Valiant relaunch, and rumours have started floating that Archer and Armstrong will also soon be following in the same steps - ending the current series and relaunching with a new creative team.

Tula Lotay and Warren Ellis to Revamp Supreme for Image Comics

Image have announced a series for July, Supreme: Blue Rose, in which writer Warren Ellis and artist Tula Lotay will revamp the Alan Moore/Rob Liefeld character for a continuation of the superheroic story. This comes as a result of Ellis himself, it appears, who says that he woke up one morning with the idea - after a few emails with Image, he invited in artist Tula Lotay for the project, and here we are now.

Ellis and Lotay have worked together before, for a short story in the Thought Bubble Anthology of... two years ago, I believe? This seems to be marking a comics resurgence for Ellis, who has also just announced his first ever Dynamite work, and has recently been co-writing a few books at Marvel with people like Kelly Sue DeConnick.

For her part, Lotay is best known for being the organiser of the Thought Bubble Comics Festival, but has this year taken on several high-profile projects - working on Fables: The Fairest of Them All as well as the upcoming Si Spencer series 'Bodies' for Vertigo.

Supreme: Blue Rose is due in July. It appears as though this may well lead into something bigger for the Supreme characters later in the year.

The Eisner Awards Are Short-Changing Letterers

The announcement of the nominees for this year's Eisner Awards - which are considered to be the most important of any comic book awards - were met with generally positive reaction. Every year the awards diversify a little, start to expand out beyond their very limited focus, and reward a wider and more interesting base of people.

But every year, for me, it feels as though they've got no handle at all on one particular group of people: comic book letterers.

Aside from Stan Sakai's win in 1996, letterer Todd Klein won the award every single year between 1993 and 2008. Every single year! And then he won in 2010 as well. Out of the 21 years that the Eisners have recognised lettering, he's won 16 of them. On top of this, the subsequent awards have all been won not by full-time letterers, but instead by writer/artist/letterers like Chris Ware and David Mazzuccheli. These are creators who not only wrote the words they lettered - but also drew the images they're lettering over.

So one letterer has dominated the award since the start, and the only other people to have ever won weren't actually letterers, but all-round creators. Which is fair enough. I'm not maligning the ability of Chris Ware. But doesn't it seem strange how the biggest comic book awards have spent the last twenty years ignoring professional, full-time letterers?

Because the thing is, full-time letterers like Joe Caramagna, Chris Eliopoulos or Richard Starkings (who has NEVER won, despite being perhaps THE most important name in comic lettering of the last several decades) are working on a different level to the level that Ware has to. Ware is preparing a whole comic at once, so he can draw a panel with the dialogue required already in mind - allocating the words a space. If he can't fit the words into this space, he can always rewrite the dialogue to fit. He has complete creative control.

Letterers don't have that luxury. They're given a script they had no hand in, and art they can't dictate, and told to put the two together in a way which tells the story. It's an incredibly difficult, technical task to pull off, especially with the level of style that someone like Annie Parkhouse or Dustin Harbin can achieve.

So as far as I'm concerned? Simply put: the Eisners need to put in a stipulation of some kind here which allows letterers to actually be nominated in their own category. Whilst Chris Ware does good work - he's not achieving the same level of technical difficulty of someone like Clayton Cowles.

Here are this year's nominees - all of whom I've looked at, and all of whom did sterling work with lettering.

Darwyn Cooke, Richard Stark’s Parker: Slayground (IDW)
Carla Speed McNeil, Bad Houses; “Finder” in Dark Horse Presents (Dark Horse)
Terry Moore, Rachel Rising (Abstract Studio)
Ed Piskor, Hip Hop Family Tree (Fantagraphics)
Britt Wilson, Adventure Time with Fiona and Cake (kaBOOM!)

But of that list, Wilson is the only one of them who SOLELY worked on the lettering. Everybody else was either the writer or artist of their project.

What I'm saying is absolutely that the Eisners should stipulate a clause into the nomination process for letterers which blocks writers and artists from being eligible. The phrase "best lettering over someone else's work" would be appropriate, in this respect. Because by cutting letterers out of the last twenty years, the Eisners have been inadvertently - perhaps "advertently" - suggesting that their work isn't worth rewarding.

Because apparently it seems, letterers will be ignored otherwise.

It's a dodgy way of putting it, but I want to see lettering awards reward letterers - the people who work tirelessly, right at the end of the creative process, in making sure the stories make sense. Looking at this year's nominees, it seems ridiculous and - frankly - patronising that only one full-time working letterer has been nominated. This is in a year where people like Clayton Cowles and Ellie deVille and Joe Caramagna and so many other letterers have made their work a vital part of books like Young Avengers or Daredevil.

For me, it seems embarrassing that the Eisner Awards seem to have no idea how to judge, rate, or rank letterers. That they give up entirely and just nominate the people they've already nominated for art or writing feels cheap. I want to see, moving forward, an Eisner Awards committee which raises up the lettering community and points to them as professionals who should be afforded equal respect to every other creative in comics.

I want to see a shortlist in 2015 where every single person is a letterer. I wouldn't award a "best inker" nomination to somebody who inks their own work - why should we do the same for somebody who letters their own script over their own art?