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Blackest Night: Batman #1

Posted in Batman, Blackest Night, Comics, DC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 20th August, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Gotham comes to life.

Gotham comes to life.

“Who Burns Who: Part One”
Author: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Adrian Syaf
Inkers: John Dell & Vicente Cifuentes
Colorist: Nei Ruffino
Letterer: John J. Hill
Cover Artists: Andy Kubert & Alex Sinclair
Alternate Cover Artist: Bill Sienkiewicz
Editors: Adam Schlagman & Eddie Berganza

I’ve never heard of Adrian Syaf before, but damn he draws a fine Batman and a fine horror story.  Blackest Night: Batman is positively dripping with atmosphere.  This first issue opens with Batman and Robin at Gotham Cemetery, bearing witness to the upheaval caused firstly by Black Hand’s exhumation of Bruce Wayne, and secondly by Hal and Barry’s recent tussle with the resurrected Martian Manhunter.

Bruce’s skull is missing, and his parents unearthed, leading to a very emotional exchange between Dick (Batman) and Damian (Robin).  “It’s different when it’s one of your own,” Dick remarks.  Bruce was a father figure to both of them, so it’s a difficult moment for both as well.  Damian comments on the added weirdness of his situation: “I’m sure a lotta kids get to greet their grandparents this way.”  Peter Tomasi’s script is pitch perfect, hitting all the right emotional notes.

Deadman also features quite prominently, and rightly so.  As the name suggests, he’s already dead, placing him in the unique situation of having to wrestle with his own corpse.  But it’s his previous life as a circus performer (Boston Brand) which makes him the perfect partner to Dick Grayson.  His own murder mirrors that of Dick’s parents, and I can only imagine that they will need to pit their acrobatic skills against the Black Lantern Flying Graysons next issue.

But it’s not Deadman’s acrobatics that impress in this issue, rather his internal monologues.  Tomasi’s captions are short and suspenseful.  We catch many glimpses into the horrors that shaped our heroes’ lives, and the violent deaths that now stir the living dead of Gotham Cemetery.  This book is full of small moments made big by their emotional resonance and fan appeal.  Long-time Batman fans will find much to get excited about; there’s little doubt that the entire Bat-family will be put through the ringer by this story’s end.

Gotham’s seen a lot of death in its time, and I for one can’t think of a better venue for the dead to rise.  It’s as if all the planets in the DC Universe have aligned: Deadman’s seen a resurgence in popularity with appearances in both Wednesday Comics and the Blackest Night series proper; and Tomasi’s scripts have once again been lifted to their rightful place with some appropriately eerie visuals.  If you’ve ever wondered where the Tomasi who wrote Black Adam went, look no further than Blackest Night: Batman.

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Green Lantern #44

Posted in Blackest Night, Comics, DC, Green Lantern with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 29th July, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Martian Manhunter is back, and he's mighty pissed off about it.

Martian Manhunter is back, and he's mighty pissed about it.

“Only the Good Die Young”
Author: Geoff Johns
Artist: Doug Mahnke
Inkers: Christian Alamy & Doug Mahnke
Colorist: Randy Mayor
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover Artists: Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy & Sinc
Variant Cover Artists: Philip Tan, Jonathan Glapion & Nei Ruffino
Associate Editor: Adam Schlagman
Editor: Eddie Berganza

Having read more than a few interviews with Geoff Johns and the folks over at DC editorial, I was surprised to learn that unlike the highly successful Sinestro Corps War, Blackest Night would become a DC-wide event in its own book, and that Green Lantern – the book that started it all – would be relegated to second fiddle.

(Now, I have no illusions that this was ever Geoff Johns’ intention in the first place – though I do believe that the Sinestro Corps War was Johns’ successful bid for more creative licence from DC, as well as a reader recruitment drive for Green Lantern – but I do believe this was always intended to be his magnum opus.  The only difference is that this unexpected popularity among the comic book readership and almost unprecedented support from DC editorial has allowed him to evolve this into something with even bigger scope than he had previously imagined.)

Well, I’m happy to report that not only is Blackest Night more tightly conceived and consistent quality-wise than Sinestro Corps War was (if that’s even possible) thus far, Green Lantern #44, like Green Lantern #43 feels like a bonafide continuation of the Blackest Night story, albeit told in a more Green Lantern-centric manner.  I don’t know about you, but I kind of expected the events of Blackest Night to be confined to Blackest Night, and that Green Lantern would focus on the War of Light in outer space.  That this issue defied those expectations is not at all a bad thing, though I fail to see how anyone could read Blackest Night exclusively and glean even half of what the regular Green Lantern reader will.  Take my advice, newcomers: you need to be reading both.  You probably don’t even need to be told; chances are, if you’ve had a taste of Blackest Night, you’ll be hungry for more; so let me assure you right now, that you’ll get plenty more in Green Lantern #44.  It seems fairly obvious to me that Johns rolled with this editorial structure simply so he could tell more story in a shorter span of time.  Twenty-five issues of Blackest Night might be “wearing out its welcome”, but an issue of Blackest Night and Green Lantern each month for twelve months doesn’t seem as much of a stretch.

From the opening page, it’s clear that Johns and Mahnke are having heaps of fun with this story.  Johns knows these characters better than anyone, with plenty tips-of-the-hat for longtime DC fans.  Even the humble Choco cookie – Martian Manhunter’s favourite imitation Oreo snack – is imbued with rich symbolism.  It takes some serious skill to take one of the kookier elements of DC’s repertoire and turn it into something genuinely chilling.  As the cover art suggests, Martian Manhunter rises from his tomb as the first Black Lantern (well, sorta), and boy, is it cool!  Doug Mahnke was born to draw this kind of stuff.

This issue picks up where Blackest Night #1 left off, in Gotham Cemetery with Hal Jordan and the Flash.  Unfortunately, Johns dusts off the annoying little recap caption, informing us *yet again* that Hal Jordan is the Green Lantern of Sector 2814!  I thought it was assumed that Green Lantern fans would be reading this, Geoff, and everyone else would be reading Blackest Night!  You didn’t need to tell us the last few times, why do you need to tell us now?

Nerd-rage aside, it’s great to see the Martian Manhunter back, albeit in an undead capacity.  Johns is a bigger DC fan than all of us, and you can tell he’s playing with his favourite toys.  Don’t get me wrong, though, Johns remains reverent to the source material; and it soon becomes clear that the Black Lanterns are not mindless zombies; rather, they retain their original personalities.  This provides the emotional backdrop for Johns’ storytelling; dead heroes are returning, and those closest to them are forced to confront their deaths, and their worst failures, all over again.  There’s a harsh truth to everything J’onn J’onzz says, and yet it is apparent he is possessed by dark forces beyond his control.

What follows is a piece of the most interesting superhero fisticuffs I’ve seen – and one of the best Martian Manhunter stories I’ve read – in quite a while.  I’ve always thought that Martian Manhunter would make a formidable foe, and Black Lantern Manhunter doesn’t disappoint here.  It makes me wonder how he ever could have died in the first place.  It seems to me that Johns’ chief goal here is to remind us just how much we loved these characters, and just how well they can be written; enough to make us pray for a real resurrection.

Meanwhile in the Oa Citadel, Scar reveals the dark purpose of the Black Lantern Corps, with strong hints towards future events affecting the coloured Corps.  I don’t want to give too much away, but next issue should finally see John Stewart’s turn in the lead Lantern role…

Can’t wait for the next one!

Black Lightning: Year One #6 (of 6)

Posted in Black Lightning, Comics, DC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 27th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
If only it was as straightforward as the cover.

If only the rest of it was as straightforward as the cover.

Author: Jen Van Meter
Artist: Cully Hamner
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Colorist: Laura Martin
Editors: Rachel Gluckstern & Joan Hilty

This is the sixth and final chapter of Black Lightning’s origin story, and while this issue and the story as a whole was *good*, I have a major gripe with it that has detracted from my enjoyment of it.  I admire Van Meter’s attempt at parallel storytelling, but damn those narrative caption boxes get annoying by the sixth time around.  If you read the collected volume, do yourself a favour – read the caption boxes first from start to finish, then devote your attention to the rest of the story.  Instead of hitting us up front with all of the exposition in one go, Van Meter has attempted to spread it evenly across each panel.  The problem is, no real thought has been put into their distribution, and it’s impossible to maintain the narrative in your head in between dialogue.  Van Meter expects the reader to keep one foot [brain] in the past and the other foot [brain] in the present during the first two-thirds of this issue.  It just can’t be done.  The backstory interrupts the story at hand and vice versa.  Every single issue of this mini-series has been written in this fashion, and after six hits of it, I still find it a jarring experience and a clunky read.

What I believe Van Meter should have done was either begin with three issues of backstory followed by three issues of story (or even alternating between issues), or come up with an inventive way of putting all the exposition in one place.  Hollis Mason’s “Under the Hood” biography in Watchmen springs to mind.

As soon as the exposition is done with and Black Lightning’s thinking about the events at hand, it’s smooth sailing.  I just wished it was like that all the way through, which is why I recommend readers read the captions exclusively, and ignore them altogether on the second read-through.

Putting these issues aside (and you’re going to have to to enjoy it), the story is, at its core, a good one.  In essence, this is the story of Jefferson Pierce the man returning to Suicide Slum to break the spirit of defeat and despair that has strangled his hometown.  As the school principal, Pierce shows his students that they don’t need to accept mediocrity; that they don’t need to accept defeat.  As Black Lightning, Pierce shows his fellow citizens that they do not need to accept injustice and corruption.  This particular issue sees Black Lightning lead his students and the citizens in a final struggle against the corruption of their local government in league with the criminal organisation known as The One Hundred.  More on that later.

Whether or not you’ll enjoy this story depends on a few things:

  1. Are you interested in social reform?
  2. Do you believe the world of comics needs [conceptually] stronger black superheroes?
  3. Are you a young black person in need of a wholesome role model?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then Black Lightning is the strongest black role model you’re likely to find in superhero comics, and this book (along with Final Crisis: Submit and Final Crisis: Resist) is the best book I’ve read starring the character.

Artistically, Black Lightning: Year One is stylistically confident and cohesive across all six issues.  Cully Hamner’s style is best described as classic American cartooning with a dab of gritty realism.  It’s very well-drawn, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  One could argue for more realism given the gritty subject matter, but I think this style helps incorporate the more supernatural elements of the story.

The final battle, I’d have to admit, is a little anti-climactic.  It felt as though Van Meter had run out of pages and needed to get it over with.  Had the mystery behind The One Hundred been preserved until this final issue, I think the impact could have been a lot stronger (although the revelation itself is strange and probably requires at least two issues to get used to).  That it all boiled down to superhero fisticuffs was also a little disappointing.

In case you couldn’t tell, I really did like this story deep down; there’s just a lot to look past in terms of execution.  If you’re a patient soul (or the next Malcolm X), and the positives I’ve mentioned appeal to your sensibilities, then certainly pick up issues 1 through 6 or the inevitable trade paperback.  If you’re a harsh bastard then save yourself the frustration and avoid.