Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 12/6/14

I think this is a first for my Hench-Sized Reviews: I have only DC Comics on my slate! I’ve always been a Marvel guy, but I try to give DC their due, but this week is an aberration!The only Marvel comic that I really picked up was Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1, and you can check out my review of that comic over at Word of the Nerd. That just leaves four DC Comics, including greats like Grayson and Gotham Academy.

Though I suppose the biggest news this week is the return of Secret Six! The best comic DC has put out in the past 20+ years is finally back…and it’s not good! Ouch! They once had the very best comic book on the stands, but they squandered it with the New 52 reboot. Is it too little too late to bring it back now? I say no, but they need to do a better job than this.

Comic Book of the Week goes to Grayson #5 for the continuing excellence of Dick Grayson in the New 52. The character has rarely been stronger.

One punch!

The comic is just pure Grayson bliss!

Comic Reviews: Batman Eternal #, Gotham Academy #3, Grayson #5 and Secret Six #1.

Batman Eternal #35

Batman Eternal #35
Writers: James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder
Artist: Fernando Blanco

I have mentally checked out of Batman Eternal. I get nothing from this series anymore. I read it and review it solely because of tradition now, out of some misplaced sense of duty that I actually get through this entire year. But it’s OK, because based on this issue, I think the creative team has checked out as well.

Two weeks after Wayne Enterprises was shut down, Lucius Fox tells Bruce that he’s lost everything, and that Jason Bard has seized control of not only all leftover Batman Incorporated technology, but Lucius has also gone to work for him. So the next time Batman drives the Batmobile into the city intending to confront Bard, the Commissioner, Lucius and a bunch of cops are ready for him, using Lucius’ knowhow to take control of the Batmobile. Bard then sends Batman careening off the highways and smashing through the old Wayne Enterprises building.

Meanwhile, Vicky Vale goes to Detroit to track down Bard’s past and discovers that he lost everything in some incident involving a masked vigilante. Also, Batman is keeping Hush imprisoned in a glass cell in the Batcave so that he can watch/hear everything that’s happening to Batman as Julia tries to regain control of the Batmobile.

Comic Rating: 3/10 – Bad.

In order to enjoy this issue, you have to accept, without question, that Batman is a giant idiot. You also have to accept that Commissioner Gordon was also a giant idiot. Harvey Bullock too. Basically, everybody’s an idiot.

Let’s start with the obvious: Are we supposed to believe that Batman doesn’t have a contingency plan in case something happened to Wayne Enterprises? Two weeks have passed since the company was seized by the government, and Lucius Fox has to be the one to tell Bruce that all of his money was connected to the company, and that Jason Bard was able to seize all of his Batman Inc. gear? Really? Batman allowed that to happen? Batman didn’t know it was happening? He had to have Lucius Fox tell him?! This is Batman we’re talking about, not Spider-Man. Batman has his shit together! Batman is 10 steps ahead of a guy like Jason Bard!

Oh no, wait, Batman might, but this is Batman Eternal. This Batman is an idiot. This Batman doesn’t have money put away and has to be told to diversify his funds. This Batman sits idly by while Jason Bard raids his secret stash of weapons, a stash that allows Bard to hijack the freakin’ Batmobile while Batman is behind the wheel. This is a Batman who just drives into Gotham like it’s no big deal, confronting Bard through the direct approach. And since when did Lucius Fox build all of Batman’s gear? Are the comics adding touches of the Dark Knight trilogy? If that’s the case, why the hell is Lucius willing to go cooperate with Jason Bard over Bruce and Batman?

Speaking of cooperation, why the hell do Harvey Bullock and Maggie Sawyer stand by and let Bard endanger innocent lives?

Harvey Bullock is an ‘ask questions first’ kind of guy

Of course, these were the same Sawyer and Bullock who stood by and let the obviously corrupt McCrookedcop from the start of the series get away with all of his evil, so I don’t know what I’m expecting.

Maybe I’d expect Commissioner Gordon to have some sense. He’s the one who hired Bard, right? Well Vicki Vale spends one evening in Detroit investigating Bard and she immediately finds out that he has a personal vendetta against costumed vigilantes. Did that not come up in the job interview, Jimbo? Did you do any research into Bard at all before hiring him on as your new golden boy? Or did you want somebody with a vendetta against Batman?

Speaking of Commissioner Gordon…WHATEVER HAPPENED TO COMMISSIONER GORDON?! Isn’t he still in freakin’ prison? Wasn’t that a BIG DEAL?! Nope, not anymore. This is Batman Eternal, and it is idiotic.

I think the big problem with Batman Eternal is that the creative team is more focused on their big, labyrinthian plot than they are on Batman. They’ve concocted this multi-tiered plan to tear down Batman and all of Gotham, and Batman himself is secondary to this criminal plan. They use Batman like a dull hammer to hit the next nail in their plan. But because they had to fill 52 issues, this plan is a scattershot mess spread out over so many weeks and so many different writers. It’s just a big, unyielding story that only makes sense in their heads, and Batman has been stripped away of all his intrigue in order to make the plan work.

Gotham Academy #3

Gotham Academy #3
Writers: Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher
Artist: Karl Kerschel

Gotham Academy is doing an adorable job setting itself up as a must-read comic. There are a few  wrinkles here and there, and a cast that’s getting a little too big too quickly, but overall, this comic is still a delight.

Oliver Silverlock spent a week in detention for starting that fire in Millie Jane Cobblepot’s secret tomb last issue, and when she gets out, all of the ghost sightings start up again. Pomeline blames Olive for the ghost being free, because her secret Society of the Bat was trying to perform a spell to banish the ghost (a ghost that Pom summoned in the first place). Olive and Maps set up a stakeout to watch for the ghost and they see something hidden in the North Hall. So Olive, Maps, and Pomeline team up with Colton, the academy’s resident bad boy, to break into the North Hall, which has been boarded up ever since the fire over the summer.

Once inside, Olive gets the creepy feeling that she’s been in the building before. Then the group discovers a big hole in the floor, and Pom accidentally drops her phone down into the hole. Olive reaches down to pull it out, but then a giant monster hand grabs her!!

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

I think Gotham Academy has a character problem. I’ve got a solid handle on Olive and Maps, both of whom are great, but there are so many mysterious boys on campus that I’m starting to lose track. There’s Olive’s maybe-ex, there’s this Colton kid, there’s a ghostly kid that maybe only Olive can see; suffice to say, there’s a real jumble of characters, and the way this book quickly bounces around scenes, there’s a little bobble involved. But it’s not too bad, seriously. I’m nit-picking.

Because, otherwise, the comic is doing great! The characters are all fun and enjoyable, and the growing mystery remains strong. There’s definitely more than one mystery going on, but they’re all fun to read. I want to get to know more about these characters and I want to see them do well. And I love the little team of Olive, Maps, Pom and Colton in this issue. This is how you build a cast, by throwing unexpected characters together. Gotham Academy could stand to be ironed out a little, but otherwise, it’s still a lot of fun!

Grayson #5

Grayson #5
Writers: Tom King and Tim Seeley
Artist: Mikel Janin

Grayson has surprised me. At first, I thought this was going to be a silly divergent title to keep Dick Grayson busy for awhile before DC does something new with him. He’ll become Nightwing again eventually, right? But Grayson is damn good comics starring a character I didn’t know I loved this much! Seeley and King have been freed from any crossovers or weak attempts to reboot Nightwing by moving him to Chicago. Grayson is just awesome, character-based comics.

Somehow, Grayson, Helena and Midnighter all ended up on a plane together flying over the desert in Saudi Arabia with a pregnant woman in labor. The plane crashes and only our three heroes and the baby survive. The baby, by the way, has some kind of super-powered heart, which both Midnighter and Spyral want for themselves.

With no way to call for help, they’re forced to walk across the desert in the hopes of finding civilization. Days pass in the terrible heat, but still they march on. Midnighter tries to goad Grayson into a fight so that he can take the heart and use it to save them, but still they march on. Helena succumbs to her wounds and passes out, but still they march on. Midnighter falls to exhaustion, but still Dick Grayson marches on, the baby in his arms. It’s a story about the indomitable will and courage of Dick Grayson!

Eventually, on the 10th day, Dick and the baby are found by an Arabian couple driving through the desert. The wife thinks this is a sign from God, since they’ve always wanted a baby. Sure enough, Dick sees that Helena and Midnighter are saved, and he tells his boss that the baby was killed in the plane crash.

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

Sometimes the most simple story is the best. Not all superhero comics need big action scenes or fights to be interesting. If you’ve got a strong enough character, if you’ve been telling a strong enough story, then you can deliver an issue like Grayson #5. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know how Dick, Helena and Midnighter ended up in that plane. It doesn’t matter that this issue has nothing to do with the previous issue. All that matters is Dick Grayson, and Seeley and King have a total understanding of this great character and how to make him greater.

This issue is all about how Dick Grayson is awesome, and since I agree, I loved this issue! Dick has all of the power and inner strength of Batman, but is much more charismatic. Dick is such a wonderful success story in comics. He started out a long, long time ago as the original Robin, all plucky puns. But over the course of many different comics, under many different writers, he has grown in ways that few characters can. And Grayson #5 is just a great exploration of that character. He doesn’t give up, he doesn’t give in, and not once does he waiver in his compassion. These are the kind of stories you can get when you’re not forcing crossovers on the character.

Secret Six #1

Secret Six #1
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Ken Lashley

You have no idea how much I wanted to like Gail Simone’s new Secret Six. The original, her pre-reboot baby, was brilliant comics. It made me rethink how I looked at comics. It showed me just how damn good comics could be. So when Secret Six was cancelled and the cast dismantled in the New 52, my heart sank.

But three years later, the New 52 isn’t doing so hot, so why not bring back a surefire hit? Too bad the cast remains dismantled, and only the potential of Simone and Catman together again keeps this lackluster first issue afloat.

At a dive bar in New Mexico, a team of agents take Thomas Blake into custody (after a bit of a fight, of course). Blake then wakes up some time later in a strange room alongside five other super people: Black Alice, a new Ventriloquist, Strix (the Court of Owls Talon who was in Simone’s Batgirl), Porcelain (who can turn things brittle), and a P.I. named Damon Wells (with the power to grow big and strong). None of them know why they’re being held captive, but their captors threaten to kill one of them if they don’t answer the question: “What is the secret?”. The issue is spent on introductions and butting heads.

Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.

Basically, strip away everything that made the first series so much fun, and you’ve got this new Secret Six. Gone is the colorful cast of characters drawn from DC’s great history. Gone is the underdog status of both the team and Catman himself. Gone is the invasive camaraderie that should define this series (or maybe it’s just not yet in place). There’s potential, of course. There’s always potential when Simone is involved. And maybe by the end of the first 6 issues, we’ll love this new Secret Six as much as we loved the last one. But this first issue reads like Simone churning out just a basic concept and hoping to coast by on fan devotion.

Trust me, there is a lot of fan devotion for this series, but she failed to grab me with this first issue. None of the characters are all that interesting. They’re weird, sure, and Catman is pretty cool, but they all seem like they’re perfectly calibrated to fill their specific roles. And it doesn’t help that more than half of them are original characters. Part of the fun of the last Secret Six was seeing some DC classics teaming up and butting heads. Here Simone just drops a bunch of brand new characters in our laps and hopes to capture the same magic right away. It doesn’t work.

I know Deadshot is the star of Suicide Squad, but were Bane and Ragdoll really so busy in the New 52 that they couldn’t be used here? Was Simone not allowed to introduce Scandal to the New 52? The entire point of bringing back Simone’s Secret Six is to give the fans what they want, so why not give us what we want?

Nobodies like Big Shot, Porcelain and a new, creepy Ventriloquist are (so far) poor replacements.

Though Simone is clearly enjoying herself with some of them

The plot is also off to a bad start. So some mysterious organization has kidnapped these random six characters and thrown them into a room together, threatening death if they don’t answer the most unanswerable question ever. First of all, there are a MILLION mysterious organizations in the DC Universe, adding one more is as boring as humanly possible. Second, we don’t get any hints this issue that any of the characters know the answer to the question or that there’s any greater meaning behind this gathering. It’s just the six of them butting heads until Simone runs out of pages. There isn’t even a proper cliffhanger, just yet another page of the Ventriloquist being weird (unless introducing us to her dummy is supposed to be a bigger deal than I realize?).

The art is also kind of a major hindrance. It starts out OK, albeit a little too sketchy and over-saturated for my tastes.

Catman has always been very law-abiding

Lashley has a specific style, and it could work, but he falls apart before the end. His art loses almost all definition and style, just becoming kind of blobbish.

Same artist

It’s a shocking change, too. I turned the page and immediately wondered if a new artist had taken over. Lashley’s art falls to amateur levels just as the issue is hitting its climax, and that’s not how you want to end any first issue.

The first issue of the new Secret Six rests almost entirely on the laurels of the previous series. DC and Simone hope that our love of Catman and the name will be enough to support this new title, and they’ve got a point. If I wasn’t a huge fan of both, I would have given this a lower score and never picked up another issue. I have the utmost faith in Simone to pull this off, so I’m going to stick with it. But she can’t just skate by on goodwill. These characters have potential, this title will always have potential, she just needs to find a way to making lightning strike twice.

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 6, 2014, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, Robin and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I checked out of Batman Eternal early. I’m going to read it all at some point, but there’s nothing worse than a Batman story where Batman is an idiot. And the last people I expected to write a dumb Batman were Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV. I wonder what the hell happened with this book.

    • I think the problem is that it’s not really about Batman. He’s just along for the ride. The creative team came up with this huge, unyielding super-villain plot and had no idea how to stretch it successfully over 52 issues.

  2. Angela was good. But oddly, I liked Bennett’s pages more than Gillen’s. I’m used to a lot more humour from Gillen, so the relative lack of it threw me off. Bennett’s sub-story, on the other hand, had a really cool storytelling feel to it. Of course, those pages also had the ludicrously gorgeous art of Stephanie Hans. Phil Jimenez is great, and does an excellent job. Stephanie Hans is better. I love her art.

    Aside: You really should’ve mentioned in your review that there’s a sub-story by Marguerite Bennett and Stephanie Hans.

  3. Dude, thank you for continuing to remind me that I’m not the only person at a total loss to explain Bat-moron in “Batman Eternal?” Seriously, I just don’t know what to say or do anymore. I’m going need to start drinking to get through the next 17 issues.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: