Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 12/15/12

Where are all the Christmas specials at? I would have expected more Christmas-themed comics this week, but perhaps everything is being saved for next week, when every comic under the sun is going to come out. Seriously, there are going to be almost a dozen comics for me next week! Which is so weird, considering there are only four this week. What’s up with that? But at least they’re four good comics, including some truly exciting chapters in the ‘Death of the Family’ story in Batman. The Joker is at the top of his villainous game, and he hits the Bat-books with a wicked one-two punch this week. And that’s not including the books I don’t read, like Batgirl, which this week announced the unceremonious firing of writer extraordinaire Gaily Simone. How DC could fire that woman is beyond me, especially firing her by e-mail. I’m definitely not going to pick up Batgirl anytime soon with Simone kicked off the book. Bad move, DC Comics.

Funny AND grossly disturbing!

But no matter, the rest of the Bat-books are doing splendidly. And out of the two I read this week, Batman and Robin inches ahead to win Comic Book of the Week!

Comic Reviews: Batman #15, Batman and Robin #15, Cable and X-Force #1, Winter Soldier #13.

Batman #15

Batman #15
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist Greg Capullo

I am not bothered in the least by superhero secret identities. The idea that Commissioner Gordon can’t figure out that Batman is Bruce Wayne, or that nobody can see Superman through Clark Kent’s glasses, is just a suspension of disbelief that one has to accept for comics. I don’t mind at all. I accept what is presented as the truth, and it works. Likewise, I have no problem with the idea that the Joker has never figured out that Batman is Bruce Wayne. In fact, I would prefer that these characters don’t find out his secret, because then what’s the point? I mention all of this because the big scare factor of ‘Death of the Family’ is that Joker has revealed that he (might) know everyone’s secret identity. Batman isn’t convinced, and this issue is spent revealing a flashback of how, maybe, the Joker might know. We also get a cool scene of Batman and his Bat-family gathered and talking strategy.

The issue picks up where the last one left off, with Batman trapped on a bridge confronting the Joker. The cops show up, but the Joker reveals he has henchmen hidden in the trees with rocket launchers. Batman manages to get free in the chaos and attacks the Joker, only to be defeated by the villain’s toxin. Batman escapes into the river and Joker just escapes. Batman wakes up later in the Batcave, surrounded by Nightwing, Robin, Red Robin, Batgirl and Red Hood, who want to know if Joker really does know their secret identities. Batman says it’s impossible, and recounts for them a story from one of Batman’s earliest fights against the Clown Prince of Crime. Batman lost the Joker in the river and returned to the Batcave and went to bed. In the morning, he went down to the Cave and found one of the Joker’s playing cards floating in the water near the Batboat. Could Joker have been in the Cave and Mansion all night? Batman thinks it’s physically impossible considering the amount of security he has. But the Joker is a wily coot, and not everybody is convinced.

Batman then launches an investigation to find Alfred, tracking the Joker’s henchmen down to an Arkham Asylum guard. Under interrogation at his kitchen table, the guard reveals that the Joker has been hiding in the Asylum, forcing the guards over the past few months to turn the building into some kind of insane funhouse. The issue then ends with Batman arriving at the Asylum and heading inside.

There’s also a back-up feature where Joker invites the Riddler to join his celebration. I really like how Snyder wrote the Riddler, as a whip-smart genius whose intellect even the Joker admires. Did anyone else get the feeling that it would be awesome if the Riddler somehow played a part in stopping the Joker? I know I did.

Comic rating: 4/5: Good!

While another strong chapter in Snyder’s story, the issue fell a little short because it was mostly exposition, chatting and some silly contrivances. Once again, nobody bothers to just shoot the Joker. Rather than have a sniper take him out, Harvey Dent gets on the bullhorn to have a chat when the cops show up. Batman’s flashback is kind of spooky, but in the end it’s just a retcon, it never happened until just now. It was disappointing to see most of the sidekicks distrust Batman (other than Red Hood, whose distrust was entertaining), but I definitely have to side with Batman on this one. If the Joker really did survive and get past all the security features to sneak into the cave that one time, that’s more of an example of the Joker being this omnipotent, unstoppable god, and I hate that version of the Joker. The Joker is not infallible and he is not magic. And it doesn’t make him more menacing, at least not in my book, to turn him into a god. Likewise, how did he spend several months transforming the Asylum into his own personal funhouse? Nobody noticed? And nobody stopped him? Why don’t the guards at Arkham just kill the Joker already?

Ah well, I’m just doing a lot of griping, all of it to do with my disliking the Joker. I imagine that Joker fans are loving this story, because it is sufficiently awesome in terms of scope and atmosphere. Snyder and Capullo are masters of the comic book craft with this story.

Though how the hell is anyone supposed to tell any future Joker stories after this one? They will all pale in comparison.

Batman and Robin #15

Batman and Robin #15
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Patrick Gleason

Much like this month’s issue of Batman, this issue of Batman and Robin is mostly a lot of standing around and talking. But whereas Batman was just Batman talking to his allies, this issue is the Joker psychotically ranting to Robin. So that alone makes this issue just that much better. And considering the fact that Tomasi somehow manages to tap into that same, disturbing insanity of Snyder’s Joker, this is quite the achievement. I’m actually surprised that Tomasi is being allowed to write such a big Joker scene, considering how much control Snyder seems to have over his story. But such is the fun of a crossover, and I’m pleased to say that Tomasi handles the villain just fine. Though I think he gives away what will probably happen in the next issue of Batman. And once again I’m a little annoyed at how the Joker can seemingly be everyone at once and do everything he needs to do, no matter the size or scope of his evil plan.

Taking place after Batman #15, this issue finds Damian left alone in the Batcave while everyone else is out investigating. But Damian isn’t the sort to just sit idly by, even if Batman told him to stay. So he investigates the scene where Alfred was beaten and discovers traces of hyena urine. This sends Robin to the zoo, where the Joker has set a trap for him, because the Joker is everywhere at once and can read everyone’s mind. The Joker strings up Robin and launches into a wicked, sinister speech about how Robins are always keeping Batman down and are spoiling the Batman/Joker relationship. Damian doesn’t frighten, and even gets in a good headbutt. Joker then pulls a rope and unloads a massive flood of insects and other creepy crawlers down onto Damien. Literally tons of bugs just fall down onto Robin, causing him to gasp and choke as he struggles to stay up. Then Joker reveals that he has Batman trapped, and a clearly mind-controlled Batman rises up out of the mound of bugs to face Robin.

Comic rating: 4/5: Good!

So yeah, somehow Joker found the time to collect all of those still-living bugs and set them up for a trap. Whatever. I’ve griped about that enough. Looking past that horror, the Joker is actually fairly sinister and evil in this issue. And Gleason does an even better job than Capullo in illustrating the Joker’s weird new face. At one point, the Joker is even wearing his face upside down! Gruesome stuff. Joker’s ranting is also pretty good, though nothing that gave me chills, and Damian was hardly perturbed. That bug thing was vicious though. Quite gruesome. It’s too bad this issue seems to spoil the next Batman issue, otherwise how does Batman go from arriving at Arkham Asylum to being the Joker’s prisoner at the zoo?

I liked this issue more than Batman #15 mostly because it’s Joker vs. Robin, even if that Robin is Damian. I still don’t completely buy into Damian as the Boy Wonder. He still feels like he’s just wearing the costume instead of actually being Robin, which I don’t like. Damian these days is a far more important character as an individual than the mantle of Robin, and I just feel (as a huge Robin fan) that this robs Robin of really mattering. This comic is more ‘Batman and Son’ than it is ‘Batman and Robin’. Still, considering this is all the Robin we get these days, I’ll take it!

Cable and X-Force #1

Cable and X-Force #1
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Artist: Salvador Larroca

I wasn’t sure what to make of this book when it was first announced, and I’m still not. The previews and the premise intrigued me enough to pick up this first issue, and I’m definitely going to buy the next one. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed with what this inaugural issue had to offer. There are close to a dozen different X-Men books these days, and two different X-Force books. So as far as I was concerned, this series had to wow me or at least provide an interesting hook or gimmick to keep me reading, and it definitely failed in those regards. There is nothing to make this book stand out from every other X-book on the stands, unless you count the unique cast. Cable, Colossus, Forge and the rest don’t appear in any other comic. But at the same time, Hopeless doesn’t do anything special with them, and I think he really, really should have found some way to make this comic unique or interesting right from the start. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Granted, the same descriptions could be given to X-Factor, and that’s one of my favorite comics. X-Factor abandoned its ‘noir detective’ premise a long time ago, and now it’s just another X-team fighting super-villains. But it stars Multiple Man, so there!

The book opens with Cable’s team already standing over a room full of dead bodies. They’re confronted immediately by Havok and the Uncanny Avengers, who ask what the hell is going on. Havok tells Captain America to stand down as he confronts his nephew and asks for an explanation, but Cable doesn’t give one and he teleports everyone out of the room. We cut to a few days before hand, and see that Hope doesn’t like the normal life she’s trying to lead with a foster family and school. She’s not gonna stay. Cable, meanwhile, is spying on her from the shadows, and nowadays he’s suffering from some truly rotten headaches. He’s also cured of the techno-organic virus that so defined his character for awhile. Cable has already got Forge on his team, though he won’t tell Forge what he’s planning. He soon recruits Dr. Nemesis to help him with his headaches, and Hope finds Domino and convinces Domino to take her to see Cable. In their reunion, Hope touches Cable and absorbs his telepathy, which causes some kind of backlash. He passes out and she gets a vision of some kind of attack.

Cable wakes up a short time later, while simultaneously, everyone sees on the news that Miami Beach is under attack by the same thing that Hope saw in her vision. It’s a boat crashing into the beach, and it appears to be covered in the Phalanx.

Comic rating: 3/5: Alright.

Like I said up above, this issue fails because it just doesn’t have anything that really captures the reader. There’s nothing to make this issue stand out as something new and different in the X-Men family. I like that idea that Cable and his team are fugitives, but all we get of that is the short prologue at the beginning, which then doesn’t connect to anything later in the book. The rest of it is just everybody kind of coming together around Cable, and then a tease of the Phalanx. Yawn. This book just doesn’t have anything going for it. The team members look like a good group, and I dig their color scheme, and I’m very slightly interested to see where it goes from here. But Hopeless should have given us a lot more than he did. The threat of the Phalanx or any other super-villain is not enough of a hook. Every single superhero comic deals with the threat of some sort of villain. What makes Cable and X-Force different from every other book? Absolutely nothing.

Winter Soldier #13

Winter Soldier #13
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Butch Guice

I was a huge fan of Bucky taking over as Captain America for that brief period a few years ago. I came into Ed Brubaker’s Captain America series late, but got caught up quickly with trade paperbacks, and was completely on board when Bucky took up the shield. So I have gladly continued reading as Brubaker spun Bucky off into his own series, Winter Soldier. The comic is solid spy/superhero action, with a cool protagonist and a good supporting cast. Unfortunately, I don’t think this series has been able to recapture the magic and fun of Brubaker’s earlier Bucky stories, and this tale in particular is stretching a bit too far. Perhaps it’s just that the rest of the Marvel Universe has moved on. And we already know that Brubaker is leaving the title.

Bucky is trying to catch rogue Russian operative Leo Novokov, who has brainwashed the Black Widow to serve his nefarious schemes. Bucky thinks the only way he can get Widow back is if he plays by Novokov’s rules, and Novokov wanted Bucky to undergo Russian mental re-programming to turn back into his Winter Soldier personality of old, and carry out a mission designed by Novokov – which is to kill the superhero Daredevil. So Bucky goes through with it – against his friends’ wishes – and hunts down DD in Manhattan. There’s a big fight, but eventually Bucky is defeated by the combined might of Daredevil, Captain America, Wolverine and Hawkeye. Everyone is pretty pissed that Bucky would go through with the programming, but Cap points out that Novokov has given them a lead to follow. Meanwhile, Novokov appears to be planning some kind of attack on Washington DC, specifically the graves of some former Captain Americas.

Comic rating: 3/5: Alright.

I’ve enjoyed the Winter Soldier series for the most part, but in the midst of all this Marvel NOW! excitement, it’s losing a lot of steam quickly. We don’t seem to be any closer to ending this Novokov story, and the fight with Daredevil didn’t go anywhere. Daredevil didn’t even join the group at the end to go rescue Black Widow. He just helps out in the fight and everybody gives him the brush off. So that whole plotline of Bucky allowing himself to be mentally re-programmed went nowhere. The big lead that Captain America mentions in the end is a bit of a stretch, in that he thinks by targeting Daredevil (Black Widow’s ex-boyfriend), that means Novokov is willing to let the Widow go eventually. That’s…not really a lead at all. So while the Daredevil cameo was neat, it went nowhere, and this story can’t really afford any tangents to nowhere if it hopes to hold our interest for too much longer.

The comics I review in my Hench-Sized reviews are just the usual comics I pick up from my local shop any given week, along with a few impulse buys I might try on a whim. So if there are any comics or series you’d like me to review each week, let me know in the comments!

About Sean Ian Mills

Hello, this is Sean, the Henchman-4-Hire! By day I am a mild-mannered newspaper reporter in Central New York, and by the rest of the day I'm a pretty big geek when it comes to video games, comic books, movies, cartoons and more.

Posted on December 15, 2012, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, Robin and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Wait, didn’t Joker know who Batman was during Batman RIP? I swear he calls him “Bruce” at one point. Because he was working with the Black Hand and they all called him Bruce while Joker was around. And Joker was Oberon Sexton and was hanging out at Wayne Manor too.

  2. Well, I haven’t bought DC in quite awhile,… years actually. All, (or mostly at least) due to the fact that they regulated Tim Drake to a second level player. So, if they ever bring ol’ Timmy back to the lime light let me know. Oh yeah, another issue I had was killing off Bart Allen. But honestly, the real reason I’m posting here is to start a brain storm for this Wednesdsay on how I can afford the 20 Marvel comics I buy that are all coming out in two days. Have you noticed that they are hitting the shelves with basically everything so that two weeks from now they can put out an 8 dollar Amazing Spider Man 700 (can’t wait for that by the way, although they better not ruin Spidey or I may go insane). Anyway, just wondering if anyone else was going to feel the pinch from their GF’s or in my case wife on how much they spend on comics this week.

    • Oh jeez, I’m right there with you, friend! And I do this weekly comic book review blog on my own dime and on my own time. I have a whole mountain of Marvel comics to buy this week, then read and write up these reviews by Saturday if I hope to stick to my schedule. It’s going to be one hell of a week.

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