Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 5/2/15

This is a great weekend for comics! Not only is Avengers: Age of Ultron tearing up the box office (expect my review tomorrow), but it’s also Free Comic Book Day! And my own comic, Gamer Girl & Vixen, is only two weeks away from launching on Kickstarter! What a time to be alive, I tell ya!

Due to my seeing Age of Ultron twice in as many days, my review pile is a little light this week. Well, light in terms of number of issues reviewed. For some reason, I went on a real nitpicky exploration of Batman #40. You might want to skip that one if you don’t want to hear me drone on endlessly about why I don’t care for Scott Snyder’s Joker.

And skip right down to Bitch Planet #4, the Comic Book of the Week! That series is starting to pick up steam!

And watch out when she gets going!

Over at Word of the Nerd, you can check out my review of Fantastic Four #645. It’s being hailed as the final Fantastic Four comic ever, but trust me, it’s not. The comic isn’t even written as a finale. The Fantastic Four will be back as soon as Marvel is done having a beef with FOX Studios.

Comic Reviews: Batman #40, Bitch Planet #4, Princess Leia #3 and Silk #3.

Batman #40

 Batman #40
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo

I apologize in advance for the length of the following essay. But considering I’m probably one of the only reviewers on the Internet who isn’t completely in love with Scott Snyder’s Batman, I felt I needed to explain myself as clearly as possible. So read on, if you dare!

I stopped reviewing Batman a few issues ago because I didn’t want to be unfair to Scott Snyder and the greater Batman audience. Snyder’s Batman is a very, very well-written comic, and overall, it’s probably one of my favorite Batman runs. But I don’t think Snyder writes a very good Joker, and the Joker is the star of the current End Game storyline. I didn’t want my general malaise towards Snyder’s Joker lead to low review scores.

The problem with Snyder’s Joker, in my opinion, is that he floats along almost entirely on the ‘Cult of the Joker’ that exists in comic fandom. The Joker is insanely popular, so all Snyder really does is have Joker do some evil things, and that’s good enough for most fans. But I don’t care about the Joker. I never have. So just the fact that the Joker is super evil is not enough to get me excited about a Joker comic.

Snyder’s Joker is practically omniscient. He knows everything, does anything, and can be anywhere he needs to in order for Snyder’s story to keep going. He’s always 10 steps ahead of Batman, except when he’s not, and it’s really only done to build up the myth that the Joker is amazing. But the Joker can be a character with depth. He can have flaws, he can have plans that require some real depth. He can have opinions and thoughts and emotions.

But Snyder’s Joker doesn’t really have any of that. Snyder’s Joker is just wildly evil in a ‘look at these awesome moments’ kind of way. Or a ‘look at what I’m having the Joker do now’ kind of way.

“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moon light?”

Take the current storyline: Joker has used a new type of Joker gas to turn the citizens of Gotham City into raving, zombie-like lunatics, tearing the city apart (and the gas is so amazing that Batman can’t create an antidote). At the same time, the Joker is doctoring historical records and spreading the rumor that he’s some kind of mythical, immortal Pale Man who has always lived in Gotham City since before the city was founded. He’s also trying to bring his fight with Batman to a permanent close and give Batman a happy ending.

But none of those things have anything to do with each other, nor do they even really matter to the story. They’re all just chaff so that Joker can make long, important-sounding speeches to Batman about their relationship. And  unfortunately, that’s exactly what this finale is all about: those speeches.

The Joker has turned the citizens of Gotham City into raving lunatics, and he’s started up a parade in the middle of downtown, because he’s the Joker. Batman teams up with both the Bat-Family and a handful of his Rogues Gallery in order to fight the Joker. Normally this might be a big deal, but no thought or depth is given to the idea of Batman teaming up with his Rogues. It’s just something that happens because it’s cool, and very little attention is paid to it at all in this issue. We just see everybody fighting their way through the raving crowds until Bane throws Batman over the masses and onto the Joker’s parade float for a final battle. That is the extent of the villains’ involvement in this storyline.

So Batman faces off against the Joker on the float, but the Joker, of course, has thought of everything. First he activates a sonic laughter attack, which doesn’t effect Joker, but has all of the heroes and villains writhing in pain. The sonic attack also shatters their gas masks, so Joker unleashes yet another kind of toxic gas into the air to kill them all.

Ear plugs, maybe?

With Batman dying at his feet, the Joker reaches down to pull off his mask, to taunt Bruce Wayne further. The Joker knows his secret identity, but that too is just background noise in this storyline. It doesn’t matter that Joker knows that Batman is Bruce Wayne. Except the Batman on the float is really Dick Grayson in disguise!

That was actually a really good twist. Kudos on that one.

The real Batman is actually deep underground, searching for the secret of Joker’s toxic gas. He checks on the caves where he last saw the Joker in an earlier storyline and he finds a Lazarus Pit, which is what the Joker used to heal himself and give himself healing powers. Batman takes a sample and sends it up to his partner, Julia Pennyworth, so that she can make an antidote to cure the citizens of Gotham. Before Batman can leave, however, the Joker shows up and attacks him.

So the Joker somehow got from his parade to these caves deep below Gotham in record time.

The two fight and deliver big speeches to one another about the nature of their relationship, until they’re both so wounded that they’re bleeding out. Joker tries to crawl towards the Pit to heal, but Batman grabs him and starts taunting the Joker. If he really is this immortal Pale Man, then he won’t need the pit and can just keep Batman company until he dies. But if the Joker’s lying, then they’re both going to die. Joker panics and admits the truth, but it doesn’t help either of them, since a giant rock crashes into the Pit.

Batman and Joker then die together in the dark caves under Gotham.

In the aftermath, it’s revealed that Batman knew the Joker would get through the gas masks, so all his friends had antidotes on them. They’re fine. And Alfred is saddened by Batman’s death, but he tells his daughter that Bruce always knew he would die someday, that the story of Batman was always going to be a tragedy.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

I liked the twist with Dick Gryason, because I love it when Bruce and Dick work together. And the knife fight between Batman and Joker was pretty epic. Capullo’s work on this series is legendary. I also liked how Snyder tied his last Joker story and this one together, that when Joker was lost in the cave system, he stumbled upon the Lazarus Pit and concocted a new plan based around that. This is a well-constructed comic. But unless you’re already a member of the Cult of the Joker, it’s just not that great of a story.

Though I will admit this part is pretty cool

The citizens of Gotham turned into raving lunatics, the Bat-Family teaming up with the classic villains, the fact that Joker knows Batman’s secret identity; all of this is just background noise that doesn’t really have anything to do with anything. The Joker’s plan appears to just be him doing wacky, evil stuff and getting Batman to react to it. And the Joker can do whatever he wants. He can just know Bruce’s identity now. He can easily break into the Batcave and ransack it for whatever he wants. He can start a parade down the center of Gotham. He can be immune to his own sonic weapon and various gases. The Joker just saunters through everything without a care in the world…until Snyder needs to pull a twist or two, like putting Dick in the Batsuit. The Joker didn’t see that coming solely because it fits the story that he didn’t.

Best line of the whole darn thing!

I prefer Joker to have some depth, to have some real thought behind his plans. Snyder’s Joker is just a sinister looking guy who does crazy, momentous things, and those things always get the better of Batman until it’s time in the story for Batman to triumph. For example, this new toxin that Joker developed is just so perfect, so amazing that not even Batman can make an antidote until a certain part of the story.

Are the two of them really dead? Of course not. They’ll be back someday. They’re probably ‘dead’ for the foreseeable future, and that’s fine. This is the story Snyder is telling, and I’m sure he’s already got ideas for Batman’s epic return. Everything will be fine.

I really enjoy Scott Snyder’s Batman as a series. He’s a great creator, Capullo is an amazing artist, and they both do a great job of creating a world and an atmosphere for Batman stories. But Snyder’s Joker is all style and no substance, and it brings the whole comic down. But maybe it’s just me.

Bitch Planet #4

Bitch Planet #4
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: Valentine De Landro

It’s been more than two months since the last issue of Bitch Planet, and the wait has not been so bad. I definitely haven’t forgotten about the book, and the story is still quite strong. In fact, this might be the best issue of the series so far, and not just because we finally get an explanation for the rules of Megaton, the brutal sport that carries this series. The delay was due to DeConnick and De Landro wanting to get a shower scene just right. They wanted to exploit prison shower scene cliches without being cheesecake, and I’d say they definitely pull it off.

Kamau Kogo has begun to put together her Megaton team, and gets a secret message to meet another inmate in the back of the showers, because the guards don’t go back that far and there are no cameras. Kogo meets Fanny, a redhead with a cybernetic eye, and Fanny’s assistant, who pass along the news that Kogo’s team is being put together specifically to be killed on the field, which will boost ratings. While sharing the news, the three women have to pretend to have sex, because there’s a peeping tom guard who watches them through a hole in the shower wall, and as long as he gets a show, he doesn’t snitch on Fanny’s secret meetings.

Later, Kogo holds tryouts for her Megaton team, which of course leads to an awesome scene of Penny kicking all sorts of butt. Megaton is similar to rugby in that you’ve got to get a ball into the end zone while being as rough and tumble as you want. The ball is filled with sand to prevent long throws, and grappling is allowed, as long as it’s 1-on-1. And there are judges on the side of the field who award points based on sportsmanship and showmanship.

After tryouts, the team heads back to the showers, excited at the chance to kick butt and get famous. Kogo sneaks away to the back of the showers and begins to put on a one-woman show for the peeping tom. As soon as she spots his eyeball in the hole, Kogo pulls off some badass ninja moves and breaks through the wall. She pins the guy down and gets his name, then threatens him with blackmail to get him to stop peeping. She also tells the guard to make sure he ends up on the Megaton team security detail, because she wants a ‘partner’ on the inside.

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

This was a very cool issue of Bitch Planet. Not only do we finally get some movement on the Megaton team side of things (and learning the rules definitely makes the whole thing feel real), but there’s also a lot of intrigue and badassery being built up around the team. We’ve got the mysterious Fanny and her insider knowledge, and we’ve got Kogo going the extra mile to get a mole inside the guards. These are just a few of the issue’s very cool developments, moving the whole thing forward at an exciting pace. I can’t wait for the Megaton games to start!

Also, major kudos to De Landro and the art team for pulling off the various shower scenes. There are a lot of naked women in this comic, but it never comes off as exploitive. The women in Bitch Planet come in every size, shape, color and personality, and while they could have gone for some easy cheesecake, the women look real and the showers look just as grimy and uncomfortable as prison showers probably would.

Princess Leia #3

Princess Leia #3
Writer: Mark Waid
Artists Terry and Rachel Dodson

It’s hard to choose which of Marvel’s Star Wars comics is my favorite. All three of them are quite excellent, and all three are telling different stories. Princess Leia gets points for being the most personal comic, and possibly the best written. Waid and the Dodsons really get us into the action with Leia and her mission.

Princess Leia is on a mission to rescue all of the survivors of Alderaan and keep them out of Empire hands. Her next stop is the planet Sullust, where an enclave of Alderaanians are holed up in a private compound beneath the surface. They are a paranoid bunch and don’t take kindly to Leia just showing up and making demands. And unbeknownst to Leia, the Empire has been tracking one of her passengers, and they follow her to Sullust. The enclave immediately suspects that Leia brought the Empire with her and they try to take her into custody, but Leia, Evaan and R2 escape into the tunnels below the enclave. Down in the tunnels, they encounter giant rockbender monsters, which they herd into a counterattack against the invading Stormtroopers.

Once the Stormtroopers are dealt with, the enclave Alderaanians apologize for how they treated Leia and agree to go with her. Leia tells them that she’ll need their paranoia to help catch their mole.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

The dialogue is a highlight of Princess Leia. With Evaan as the straight woman, Waid gives Leia one smirking retort after another. They’re a hoot together. R2-D2 is little more than  an extra, but that’s fine. Leia and Evaan are more than enough to carry this series. And Waid is doing a fine job creating interesting and different pockets of Alderaan throughout the galaxy, pockets that need Leia’s action-packed style of rescuing. She strides forward with the power of a princess, then exchanges gunfire and herds wild animals with the power of an action hero.

Though if I’m being honest, I kind of wish Waid had time to reveal more about Alderaanian culture. All these various pockets of survivors are very different from one another, and I’m not sure if anything they do is native to Alderaan or is just how they act. But this is a minor gripe.

All of the Star Wars comics are full of action and great character moments, but there’s just something special about Princess Leia that is wholly her own. Maybe this one is my favorite…

Silk #3

Silk #3
Writer: Robbie Thompson
Artist: Stacey Lee

Silk isn’t trying to do anything too ambitious or re-invent the spider-lady comic book world, but it’s still a very entertaining read. Thompson has come a long way in creating a likable lead character, and Lee’s art remains a highlight for this young series. If Marvel can get enough fans behind this book, I’d say it has some staying power.

Silk is attacked by Dragonclaw, who has been given a costume upgrade by the Black Cat. They duke it out over the streets of New York, with Silk flashing back to a fist fight she once had with Ezekiel when he first told her she’d have to stay in his bunker for a long time. The memories lead to anger, and Silk whoops Dragonclaw. He begs her to spare him, taking off his mask and revealing that he’s plain, ordinary Harris Porter, a single dad who got into super-villainy to support his daughter. Silk takes him to a hospital to get patched up and suggests he try and get a job with Alchemax.

Later, after sending footage of the fight to her job at the Fact Channel, Silk is ambushed by the Black Cat. But her energy is tapped dry and she’s still all bruised, so Silk escapes rather than stay to fight. Silk heads home to crash, only to find Spider-Man waiting for her to give her a hand. Silk just wants him to leave, but Peter reveals that he brought friends: the Fantastic Four!

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

Thompson’s decision to sprinkle this comic with little pokemon references is adorable. Not only do we get a hidden pokemon in a young girl’s sketch, but there’s just something cute and fun about Cindy referencing pokemon when she teases Dragonclaw.

He seems fine

It helps that I’m a pokemon fan myself.

I’m slightly disappointed that so much of this issue is taken up by a rematch with Dragonclaw. Based on Thompson’s efforts to peer into his personal life, it’s clear that the writer has some plans for his supervillainous creation. But when the cover advertises a battle with Black Cat, and when Cindy Moon has so much going for her, I don’t really care to see Dragonclaw get all the focus. The fight is an exciting one thanks to Lee’s art, but there are a ton of different storylines Thompson should be following right now other than Dragonclaw. He could be building Cindy’s personal life, he could have spent more time in the fight against Black Cat, and we could have seen anything from the Fact Channel or Cindy’s search for her parents.

Dragonclaw’s personal life gets more attention in this issue than Silk’s.

Not that the Dragonclaw storyline isn’t interesting, but it’s not his name on the cover, and Thompson is in danger of focusing more on his pet character than on his main character. Cindy Moon is a fun and exciting superhero, and this issue is a fine example of why. Here’s hoping she gets more of the spotlight going forward…though a random Fantastic Four cameo is a bit much.

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 May 2, 2015, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, Spider-Man, Star Wars and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Bitch Planet is amazing. KSD and VDL managed to do a lesbian shower scene that wasn’t at all exploitative and male gaze-y (while also throwing in a little commentary on the nature of those scene by literally having a male gazing at them as a peeping tom). Penny continues to be awesome.

    Silk is really good. It’s a good fight, thanks to Lee’s style, which does motion really, really well. Better than just about any of the popular artists, frankly.

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