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Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Run on Batman – Endgame (Review)

This March sees the release of Batman vs. Superman. To celebrate, we’ll be looking at some iconic and modern Batman and Superman stories over the course of the month.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman has been lodged in a constant state of apocalypse.

The duo have framed Batman as a blockbuster comic book, to the point that it seems like Batman stares down the end of all things more often than the rest of the superheroes in Geoff Johns’ Justice League. All of Snyder and Capullo major stories have placed Gotham City on the edge of the abyss, teetering (and even falling) into darkness. It is a sharp contrast to the lower key threats of Snyder’s work on The Black Mirror, very consciously a stylish affectation to reflect the fact that Batman is very much one of the comic book industry’s blockbuster title.

Bringing back the laughs...

Bringing back the laughs…

In The Court of Owls, Gotham finds itself subjected to a long night of terror by an army of undead assassins. In Death of the Family, the Joker carves his way across the city. In Zero Year, the origin of Batman is tied to a disaster on the scale of No Man’s Land. Even outside of his work on the main title, Snyder’s role as “executive producer” of Batman Eternal saw yet another apocalypse visited upon Gotham in a relatively short space of time. It becomes exhausting after a while.

To be fair, it is reasonable to ask whether this is just part of a larger cultural context. Pop culture has always been fascinated with the end of the world, but it seems increasingly fixated on the concept in recent years. The popularity of the zombie genre is just one example, but any list of critically and commercially successful art in the twenty-first century will confront the reader with multiple ends of all things. The Walking Dead, The Road, Mad Max: Fury Road, Jericho, Revolution, Book of Eli, and so on and so forth.

"Hm. Maybe we should consider counselling...?"

“Hm. Maybe we should consider counselling…?”

However, popular culture is not just fascinated with post-apocalyptic horror. Increasingly, media engages with the question of what the end of the world will look like, rather than the question of how we might survive it. Fear the Walking Dead depicts the end of the world that led to its sister series. Chris Carter revived The X-Files so that the final episode could depict the end of the world as foreshadowed across the original nine-season run. With advances in CGI, blockbusters like The Avengers and Man of Steel can render destruction on an impossible scale.

As such, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s recurring fascination with the end of all things exists as part of a broader cultural context. Still, the writer and artist seem to position Endgame as the ultimate apocalypse for its two central characters.

Burning down the house...

Burning down the house…

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Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s Superman Unchained (Review)

This March sees the release of Batman vs. Superman. To celebrate, we’ll be looking at some iconic and modern Batman and Superman stories over the course of the month.

Superman Unchained is a big deal.

It arrives in the character’s seventy-fifth anniversary year. It is designed to tie into the release of Man of Steel, launching two months after Zack Snyder’s cinematic adaptation. It is also the flagship Superman title, launching three months after Grant Morrison finished up on Action Comics and existing free of the line-wide crossovers haunting the Superman line. It slots comfortably into the niche between the end of Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run in May 2013 and the new direction for Superman dictated by the “DC You” re-branding in June 2015.

Let's get ready to rumble...

Let’s get ready to rumble…

Superman Unchained is also the work of an a-list creative team, written by superstar writer Scott Snyder and illustrated by DC co-publisher Jim Lee. The only higher profile team that DC comics could have assembled would have been to team Jim Lee with Geoff Johns, as they did launching Justice League back in September 2011. In fact, Geoff Johns would do his part to help revitalise the Superman line when he teamed up with John Romita Jr. on the Superman title, marking the artist’s first work non-crossover work at DC.

So Superman Unchained is very much a big deal for the character, and represents a conscious effort by DC to bring Superman to the fore. However, what is most striking about Superman Unchained is how old-fashioned and narratively conservative it seems, particularly when juxtaposed with Grant Morrison and Greg Pak’s work on Action Comics. In a way, this fits with the anniversary branding and the mass market push; this is very much your grandfather’s Superman.

Up in the sky!

Up in the sky!

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Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Run on Batman – Zero Year: Secret City & Dark City (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

It takes considerable bravery to craft an origin story for Batman in the wake of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Year One.

Superhero origins are constantly being tweaked and re-written and re-worked. Superman has had a half-dozen comic book origins (in- and out-of-continuity) since Crisis on Infinite Earths rebooted the DC universe. There’s John Byrne’s Man of Steel, Kurt Busiek’s Secret Identity, Mark Waid’s Birthright, Geoff Johns’ Secret Origin, J. Michael Straczynski’s Superman: Earth One and even Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run.

It's only a pale moon...

It’s only a pale moon…

In contrast, Batman has been relatively undisturbed, with only Geoff Johns’ Batman: Earth One positing an alternate origin story for the Caped Crusader. A large part of that is down to how sacred Year One is. Written by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, Year One is considered to be one of the best Batman comics ever published. It recently topped Comic Book Resources’ high-profile fan poll for the character’s seventy-fifth anniversary.

In many cases, an “if it ain’t broke…” mentality applies. Having a universally-beloved comic book story that is easily accessible as the origin story for a particular character is not a bad thing at all. You can hand Year One to anybody and they can read and enjoy it. Although undoubtedly a product of the late eighties, the comic remains relevant and compelling to this day. Indeed, we have not moved so far from the eighties that it’s hard to reconcile a Batman origin grounded in that social context.

Talk about falling so far...

Talk about falling so far…

However, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are the creative team working on the Batman book for the character’s seventy-fifth anniversary. The duo have enjoyed a tremendous run – managing that rare intersection of critical and commercial success in mainstream comics. There are legitimate criticisms to be made, but Snyder and Capullo’s Batman work does hold up as some of the best Batman comics produced in quite some time, and one of true success stories of DC’s “new 52.”

So, if there was ever a time to go back to Batman’s origin, this was it. A well-loved creative team, a significant anniversary, a clear distance between this time and Year One. The risk associated with Zero Year is phenomenal. It is an incredible gambit. Even though the story is not in competition with Year One, comparisons are inevitable. The result is a very satisfying and exciting tribute to an iconic comic book character that doesn’t quite surpass Year One, but is clever enough to be clear that it isn’t trying to.

Getting into the swing of things...

Getting into the swing of things…

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Batman – Year Two (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

Batman: Year Two is an… interesting read. It’s much-maligned by comic book fans, and there are a lot of reasons for that. Most obviously there’s the fact that it really doesn’t make a lot of sense, but there’s also the fact that it was published by DC as a way of capitalising on the success of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Year One is a classic comic book story, one of the greatest origins ever written, and one that endures to this day, where even Scott Snyder felt intimidated in writing over it more than two decades after it was published.

Batman: Year Two is not that sort of classic.

In fact, it’s not any sort of classic. However, divorced from context, it’s an interesting read. It feels like writer Mike W. Barr is consciously and gleefully subverting absolutely everything that worked so well in Miller’s Batman: Year One, rejecting the notion of a version of Batman anchored in something approaching the real world, and getting right down to the comic-book-y-ness of the character. Positioning it as a sequel to Batman: Year One feels odd. It would almost read better as a rebuke.

Welcome to the late eighties...

Welcome to the late eighties…

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Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason’s Run on Batman & Robin – Pearl & Death of the Family (Review)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

Peter Tomasi is one of the best supporting writers in comics. Writing a supporting title in a shared superhero universe is a very daunting task. It requires a unique ability to weave into (and out of) events and storylines dictated by more high-profile writers on more popular books. Due to the structuring of superhero publishing, the direction for an entirely line is typically dictated by one (or maybe two) books, with the rest of the line alternating between supporting those books and trying not to make waves.

Tomasi is very good at this. His Green Lantern Corps book provided a suitably solid support for Geoff Johns’ more high-profile Green Lantern comic. He was the logical choice to take over Batman & Robin after Grant Morrison departed, even if the book did cycle through a variety of creators including Paul Cornell and Judd Winick. Tomasi is a writer with a lot of experience as an editor, and – as such – has a knack for picking up on themes and core values of particular writers.

He shall become a bat...

He shall become a bat…

Following the “new 52” relaunch, Batman & Robin was very much a satellite book in DC’s Batman line. It was a holding pattern, a book designed to feature Damian Wayne while Grant Morrison prepared to launch into Batman Incorporated. It was part of a line that was largely being driven by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s work on Batman. There was no sense writer Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason would be doing anything particularly bold or daunting with the book at this moment in time.

Dutifully, following an eight-issue introductory arc, Born to Kill, Batman & Robin found itself bouncing around between various high-profile crossovers in the Batman line and in the wider context of DC’s publishing schedule. In the spate of issues between Born to Kill and the end of Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated run, Tomasi and Gleason find themselves navigating a veritable minefield of DC continuity and crossovers.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

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Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Run on Batman – Death of the Family (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

In many respects, despite the massive hype that it received and the gigantic crossover that it spawned, Death of the Family is structured as an anti-epic. The triumphant return of the Joker to the world of Batman over a year into the “new 52” instead turns into a deconstruction and criticism (and arguably a rejection) of the character. Sandwiched between Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s much larger and more ambitious epic Batman stories, Death of the Family is a story about how small the Joker really is.

In many respects, Death of the Family reads best as the story of a collapsing relationship, where one partner refuses to deal with the fact that the other has outgrown them.

Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 12 (Review/Retrospective)

The Spirit Archives, Vol. 12 marks Will Eisner’s return to the strip. To be fair, the writer and artist had returned for the last two entries in the previous volume, but this is the first book entirely composed of Eisner’s post-war Spirit stories. While I don’t think Eisner had quite found his groove yet – the best was still yet to come – it’s amazing how dynamic the comic feels after reading the non-Eisner material. It’s easy enough to point to the Eisner-esque tropes and tricks, the techniques and the plot devices and the philosophy that faded from the strip in has absence, but there’s also something much less tangible here. There’s certain energy, a je ne sais que, that had been absent for the previous couple of years, returning in force.

Eisner is back. And, in a way, so is The Spirit.

It’s like he was never gone…

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