Batman has consistently been one of DC’s top books in terms of sales and quality. It doesn’t hurt that writer Tom King and artist extraordinaire David Finch have now teamed up to present the next story arc–I Am Bane.
In Batman #16, King writes a compelling first chapter to the story, picking up on unfinished threads from earlier issues while continuing to advance the tale. After previously kidnapping the Psycho-Pirate from Santa Prisca, team Batman must heal Gotham Girl while waiting for Bane’s inevitable counterattack. With knowledge of the Caped Crusader’s secret identity, when that counterattack comes, it is as brutal as it is personal.
Bane is Coming and No One is Safe
But it’s not a maudlin story–at least not yet. King takes every opportunity to imbue humor. There’s a hilarious visit to the fast-food restaurant Batburger, where patrons are encouraged to “Jokerize” their meals of Night-Wings, Robbin Nuggets and Bat-Mite Meals. Needless to say, Bruce Wayne is not amused.
As great as his words are, King knows when to let Finch’s artwork carry the story. The first four pages are nothing but compelling images that tell a story without words getting in the way. Finch is at home with these characters. Bruce as stoic as ever, while Damian Wayne exudes cockiness. And Dick Grayson is clearly his laid-back self. The sexual tension between Batman and Catwoman is palpable before you ever read their dialogue.
It’s great to see the creative team at the top of their game. It bodes well for the rest title and the rest of the arc–though Batman himself may end up paying the price.
Batman#4 opened with a gory scene showing 27 men lying dead at the hands of Gotham. The weight of responsibility for the safety of Gotham City and its residents is starting to weigh on the sincere rookie. He’s realizing it will take more than superpowers to be a hero. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that Gotham and Gotham Girl have had their emotions turned sideways by Psycho Pirate.
In Batman#5, Gotham decides that the city of Gotham needs to be destroyed because he can’t save it. He flies to the center of town and warns bystanders to run as his eyes begin to glow red. Batman’s on the way, but won’t make it in time, so he sends in a decoy to stall for a few minutes. Alfred arrives on the scene in the Batmobile, wearing a Batsuit. That image alone is worth the price of admission.
Batman himself is no match physically for Gotham, so he has called in some reinforcements. It quickly becomes evident that even The Justice League’s combined abilities won’t cut it unless they gain some understanding of Gotham’s unique powers. The only person who can provide said insight is Gotham Girl, who is currently in the Batcave with Duke, paralyzed with irrational fear courtesy of Psycho Pirate.
I am Gotham #5 is a brilliant finale to the arc. Tom King has deftly established Batman as the only hero who can bear the weight of Gotham City’s sins. Bruce Wayne is Gotham City, for better and worse. Batman #6 will serve as an epilogue to I am Gotham, and then we get to see King write Batman’s first crossover of the Rebirth era in Batman #7. The Monster Men are coming!
Tom King is a fan of callbacks. The flashback scene in Batman #3 that showed a young Gotham walking obliviously with his parents into a mugging, then being saved from that horror by Batman was a nod to Batman’s own origin story. While the results of the two incidents were vastly different, both boys were inspired to the same goal in adulthood, saving Gotham City from itself.
Batman #4 opens with another callback. This one is a double whammy. In a setup reminiscent of a well-known scene from All Star Superman where The Man of Steel gracefully lands behind a suicidal girl on a rooftop and reassures her that everything will be all right, Gotham finds himself stationed on a ledge behind an apparently suicidal man. He recites the same words to the jumper that Batman spoke to Gotham as a young boy on the night he was mugged with his parents.
“We just have to remember that everyone gets scared. But all that really means is everyone gets an opportunity to fight that fear. Everyone gets a chance to be brave.”
Unfortunately, the same words that inspired Gotham to become a vigilante crime fighter inspired this apparent bridge jumper to complete a different task, much darker than was assumed by the green hero. Gotham city is starting to take its toll on the idealistic young hero.
Tom King’s decision to largely leave Hugo Strange in the background of this opening salvo of issues is brilliant. We’ve seen the bad doctor a couple times, enough to know that he’s behind all these strange goings on in Gotham City, but we, as readers, are still as clueless as The World’s Greatest Detective as to what end.
The art team, led by David Finch, continues to impress. The dark and twisty narrative is matched by imagery equally. The implicit violence in some scenes is just as vividly portrayed as the explicit violence in other scenes. This title is carrying a “T” rating for a reason.
Gotham and Gotham Girl seemingly appeared out of thin air in I Am Gotham (Batman #1). Batman #3 starts to pull back the curtain on who these mystery vigilante crime fighters are and where they came from. The opening sequence is a flashback (with entirely too many “piss references”) where Batman saves a young boy and his folks from a brutal mugging. Back in storyline present, we learn the tale is being told to an incognito Bruce Wayne by Gotham & Gotham Girl’s parents. We’re following the story of the world’s greatest detective.
Of course he figured out their secret identities. Although exactly how the pair achieved their superhuman abilities is still unclear. We only know it was expensive and it took place somewhere overseas. There’s a rabbit hole I’m sure we’ll head down eventually.
“The Monster Men are… coming. Aren’t they…STRANGE…?”
If you haven’t guessed by now, with the oh-so-subtle dialogue clues like the one above and two cameo appearances by none other than Dr. Hugo Strange himself, Tom King is setting us up to revisit one of the oldest storylines in Batlore, Hugo Strange and the Monster Men. King isn’t messing around with the “back to our roots” DC Rebirth concept. This story has its roots all the way back in 1940’s Batman #1.
I am thoroughly enjoying Tom King’s take on Batman. We’re seeing more of Bruce Wayne’s sleuthing abilities and disguise expertise. The chapters haven’t been excessive in their use of action sequences, but the action is well planned and executed. The dialogue and setup is where King is really starting to shine. There are more than a couple times Mr. King effectively uses misdirection to poke at readers who have extensive knowledge of Batman and DC canon. Those are my favorite setups, where you aren’t sure you’ve been had until it becomes abundantly clear three panels (or three issues) later.
Batman #3, DC Comics, released July 20, 2016, written by Tom King, pencils by David Finch, inks by Danny Miki, colors by Jordie Bellaire, letters by John Workman, cover by David Finch, Matt Banning, and Jordie Bellaire, $2.69
In case you missed Batman #1, Batman was poised to rescue the city of Gotham and passengers on board a critically disabled jet by diverting the jet into a large body of water. In the process of saving countless lives, Batman was prepared to lose his own. At the very last second, the plane slowed by an unseen force. As the nose of the plane lifted up gently, Batman mistakenly credited the assist to Superman before realizing it was someone else entirely. Two masked strangers introduced themselves as Gotham and Gotham Girl.
Batman #2 opens with a fight between Gotham, Gotham Girl, and Solomon Grundy. This is the first good look we get at Gotham and Gotham Girl. By first appearance, the pair has Kryptonian abilities. They both levitate and fly in the manner of Clark Kent, and they also apparently have super strength. Later in the issue, we learn they also have enhanced vision and x-ray vision. The symbol they wear on their chests is even reminiscent of the Superman’s shield of The House of El.
The fight with Grundy showcases the pair’s abilities, but also exposes a huge weakness. They haven’t been doing this hero gig for very long, and they’re green as grass. Batman is uncharacteristically trusting of the new duo. He agrees to help train them, either to make them into credible crime fighters, or so that he can keep them close for observation. The pair is extremely eager to please, which begs to question why they are so intent on getting close to Batman in the first place.
I enjoyed the pacing of this issue better than the last. The last issue was all about establishing relationships and characters. This issue starts to move the Monster Men story arc forward, while still conveying a few important character developments. Tom King and David Finch have delivered another solid entry in the Rebirth mythos. I only hope that they are able to maintain this level of storytelling while pumping out two issues per month.
It’s safe to say that Tom King and David Finch have some very big shoes to fill. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo did such an excellent job with the New 52 Batman series that readers have been waiting with great anticipation to see exactly what the new team will bring to the table.
Batman #1 jumps right into the action and doesn’t let up until the final spread. In the opening pages, we see Batman and Commissioner Gordon in their familiar places on the rooftop, Bat-Signal illuminating the sky above their heads. Gordon is filling Batman in on the recent heist of three surface-to-air missiles, only two of which have been recovered.
Just as Gordon slyly suggests the Dark Knight should entrust him with his cell phone number so these rooftop meetings would no longer be necessary, the missing rocket is launched in the background, striking a passing plane. In classic Dark Knight fashion, Batman bails on Gordon mid sentence to prevent the critically damaged plane from dropping in the middle of Gotham. The real time elapsed from opening spread to final teaser is only six minutes, but those six minutes are some of the most tense, action packed, and emotional six minutes I’ve read.
This chapter nicely re-establishes the classic relationships we expect from previous series and introduces the new dynamic between Batman and his ally Duke Thomas. I’m calling him an ally for now, because we still don’t know exactly what Duke’s new role is in the family. We’ve been told in Batman Rebirth #1 that he isn’t going to be a new Robin and that Batman is trying something new with Duke. We also caught a glimpse of a yellow and black suit hanging in the Bat Cave.
So far, all of the Rebirth titles have delivered, and Batman #1 is no exception. King and Finch appear to be very comfortable in their new roles. This offering is fresh enough to warrant the Rebirth branding, but remains familiar enough to keep fans of the Snyder/Capullo run interested.
Q: When did you get interested in comics, and what’s the first comic book series you remember really liking?
I was very young. Maybe 5 or 6 years old. The kids in our little neighborhood would trade stuff – toys and comics. I traded something I had for several coverless comics. In fact, these comics also were missing the first sheet or two, so the first 2 or 4 pages of story and the final 2 or 4 were also missing. I enjoyed reading them – I had to imagine the beginnings and endings of the stories because those parts were missing. And every time I read those stories, I would imagine different beginnings and endings. It was good exercise for the imagination.
It took me many years to figure out that I was reading a couple issues of Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories.
A year or two later I traded for two issues of Spider-Man. These comics really caught my imagination. I loved the quirky art by that Steve Ditko guy. And since the stories were continued, I kept reading them in different order in an attempt to get the story to connect and make sense. Again, my imagination was put to good use connecting the plot points! It was a few years later that some kid explained to me that the numbers on the covers were all about what order to read them. I then learned that I was reading two issues that were quite a few numbers apart. So they really did not connect. But that never stopped me making up my own stories to fill in the blanks. I guess I’m still doing that!
Q: First published work?
My first commercial published work was some poster designs that my school system commissioned me to do while I was still in high school. But I had been publishing my own fanzine about comics and science fiction for a few years at that point. The zine was called NUCLEUS and that’s where I first connected with John Workman, Bob Smith, Howard Chaykin, Marc Hempel and a few other guys who also went on to make professional comics.
Q: What other artists influenced and continue to influence you and your style?
I’m influenced by anything that is good and even a good deal that is bad! My personal favorite artists are many. In comics, the list includes Steve Ditko, Roy Crane, Winsor McKay, Will Eisner, and really – the list just goes on and on. I think my visual style is informed a bit by N. C. Wyeth, Nick Cardy, Alex Toth and Alex Nino. But I collect old magazines and books for the classic illustrators who worked from the late 1890s through about 1965. And all of this material exerts an influence on my approach to any of my projects. I know that I aim for a different look on each new project that gets a bit closer to the heart of the subject and mood. I don’t know if that comes through in the final work – it might all look the same to my readers.
I will also say that there are a growing number of amazing artists working today who impress me with their drawing and imagination. I stand willing to learn from anyone!
Q: Do you use computers, tablets and software, or are you old-school with pens and a scanner?
I use all of that, and more. But my typical work flow is to draw on the computer in Photoshop, using my Cintiq. At times, I’ll print out that drawing and then pencil and/or ink a version or portions of the image that can then be scanned and brought back into the computer for digital painting. And I even will paint some real media strokes and details that will get scanned and combined with the digital painting. I’ll do whatever I think will give me the look and result I’m aiming for – all within the limits of my deadlines. The hard truth is that there are times when I would like to do the real media elements and instead I have to pull out all the digital chops and get the work done in an hour or two, because digital is faster and allows for easier changes. And since I’ve been doing a great deal of work for TV in the past decade, and TV people ask for many, many, many, many changes, digital is a life and deadline saver!
Q: What are you reading nowadays?
I live in a house full of books. I have read about two thirds of them. And I read constantly. But I never get past the two thirds mark because I keep getting more books to read!
Right now I am reading a history of magazine publishing, THE MAGAZINE IN AMERICA 1741-1990. I am also reading THE ANNOTATED MARX BROTHERS: A FILMGOER’S GUIDE TO IN-JOKES, OBSCURE REFERENCES AND SLY DETAILS by Matthew Coniam, and HAROLD VON SCHMIDT by Walt Reed, I usually am reading a novel, but the long hours I’ve had to work these past few months on a new TV pilot for ABC has interrupted that. Next I’m looking forward to reading THE DRAWING OF THE DARK by Tim Powers. As for comics, I’ve been reading the John Severin edited issues of TWO FISTED TALES. I also am reading all sorts of magazine articles from the old magazine issues I collect. I enjoy reading about the then current events. It gives an illuminating view of history to read about it while it was happening. Very instructional for seeing how modern events are portrayed in our media and how they might be remembered years from now. Also, it tends to make it very obvious how much of our society is playing out a loop of recurring events for the past 150 years or so.
Q: Favorite comic book -> movie adaptation and TV show?
I was very happy with the first Sam Rami SPIDER-MAN movie. I also thought the first IRON MAN movie was exceptional. I don’t know about TV. Although the 1960s BATMAN TV show is what started me drawing my own comic books. I got all charged up by the BATMAN craze and drew stories that featured a duck version of BATMAN. Probably the best adaptation of anything to TV that I’ve ever seen is THE EXPANSE on SyFy. But that’s from the science fiction novels by James S. A. Corey.
Q: Share some of your work: A first pencil sketch to a finished panel. Do you do all your own inking, coloring, and lettering?
Above is the sequence for The 12th Doctor Adventures, Year Two, Issue #8, left to right, starting with my graphite sketch of Peter Capaldi. It was very simple, but I was mainly going for the likeness that would work with just half the face. Then I scanned the sketch and painted it in Photoshop. Finally, the finished cover from Titan.
Q: What’s next for your career?
Right now I am working on a lavishly illustrated YA novel with steampunk master G. D. Falksen. We are two years into the work and should be announcing it in the next few months. I’m also working on the new edition of BREATHTAKER that I did with Marc Hempel. We have fully remastered it and are working on an additional new story together. There will be some major public events tied into the new edition, including a major touring show of the original art to a number of museums. And I just completed work on the SQUARE ROOTS pilot for ABC TV. We will know in May if it will go to series. I’m also continuing to paint covers for DOCTOR WHO at Titan, STARGATE ATLANTIS at American Mythology and THE THREE STOOGES at American Mythology.
Did I mention FLUFFYPUSS: DOOMSDAY CAT? It’s a Sunday Comic I’m launching from Golden Bell Studios and I do it all, from story to art.
And there are even a few more things I’m not yet allowed to announce!
Q: What’s one title you think is a good example of your art / writing here at TFAW?
My current comics work is mostly covers, that I already mentioned. I think my story, “NIGHTMARE” that I did for the Dark Horse JUNGLE TALES OF TARZAN this past year was nice. But my favorite works are EZ STREET from ComicMix/IDW and BREATHTAKER soon to be out from Titan.
Q: Where were you born, what did you study in college, what are the names of your pets, if you have any, and where do you live now?
I hail from Virginia, where I attended Virginia Commonwealth University. The school trained me to be an art director. And I worked as an AD for three years before I got into comics. I have two beautiful, young kitty cats – Amber & Autumn and they and my lovely wife, Carol live with me here in the wilderness of rural Maryland in our house full of old books.
Q: Do you have any personal appearances coming up?
Over the last few weeks, we highlighted some of the best selling, most talked about series of the year for our Best Comics of 2015 posts. During a week-long voting period, fans got to weigh in and choose their favorite and help us crown the Best Comic of 2015!
Archie vs. Predator Wins as Best Comic of 2015
Congratulations to Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski, Jason Millet, John Workman and the rest of the team who put in long hours to bring us such a fun series to read.
Thank you to everyone who voted, we couldn’t have crowned the winner without you!
If you haven’t picked up your copy of the Archie Vs. Predator HC yet, or picked up the individual issues and are looking for a really great collection to add to your book shelf, we’ve got you covered!
As we look forward to the new year, we want to stop and remember the great books that were released in 2015. What follows is the first in a series of five “Best Comics of 2015” posts we’ll be posting through January 6. Starting January 7, you’ll have the opportunity to weigh in and help us crown the Best Comic of 2015!
Known for publishing licensed books such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Conan, Predator, and Tomb Raider, Dark Horse Comics also has a strong commitment to creator-owned series. Series like Colder, Usagi Yojimbo, Hellboy, ElfQuest hit the shelves month in and month out. If you see the horse on the cover, you’re going to get a great comic!
The Best of Dark Horse (in no particular order):
Fight Club 2 By: Chuck Palahniuk, Cameron Stewart, Dave Stewart, Nate Piekos, David Mack
I know that I’m about to break the first rule of Fight Club, but I think the sequel warrants a little leeway, don’t you? In the 10 years that we’ve waited for Chuck Palahniuk to invite us to Fight Club again, we’ve been hoping that Marla and the novel’s protagonist were free of Durden and were left to settle in to normal lives. It seems as if others–even Marla herself–have other plans.
Throwing us right back into the ring, Palahniuk delivers Fight Club 2, a story that is equally compelling to fans of the book and the movie. Palahniuk teams with Eisner-award winner Cameron Stewart to take us for a full-on beat down, and I’ve loved every minute of it.
One thing that really stood out to me from the first issue was Chuck Palahniuk and Cameron Stewart’s panel design. From the first page you get this feeling that this isn’t Chuck’s first time writing for comics. Cameron Stewart flexes his artistic muscle, resulting in art that will forever take over when I re-read the novel. And I’m completely ok with that.
You wanted more Tyler? You got more Tyler! [Martin M.]
ei8ht By: Rafael Albuquerque, Mike Johnson, Nate Piekos
What happens to your keys or that matching sock when you lose them? The short answer is that they’re in The Meld. Here’s the long answer. Rafael Albuquerque and Mike Johnson’s five-issue miniseries, ei8ht takes us on a journey to a place that exists outside of time. Past, present, and future meet in a story that draws you in and keeps you hooked right up until the end.
The team expertly uses color to help the reader know when we are, with the past in green, present in purple, and future in blue. The resulting effect is that a seemingly disjointed story comes together in a way we haven’t seen before.
ei8ht is one of those books that’s a little off the beaten path, but sticks with you after you read it and I’m so glad I gave it a chance. The first arc was captivating and hinted at a much larger world for future (or past) stories, and I’m 100% on board for the next trip. [Josh C.]
Lady Killer By: Joëlle Jones, Jamie S. Rich, Laura Allred
Co-written by Jamie S. Rich and Joëlle Jones, Lady Killer is a tour de force unlike anything modern day comics has seen in a very long time.
Many people liken the series to Hannibal, Silence of the Lambs or Dexter, but really, Lady Killer is in a league all its own. The series takes the classic idea of the American housewife and turns it, rather violently, on its blood-soaked ear from the get go.
The strength of the story’s main character, Josie Schuller, hits on the struggle to take back what was once “yours.” To find a place that you can come to in your life where you have to work as hard as you possibly can to make a bad thing right. If there is any analogy that I can take away from this story, it’s that you can take control of your life. And Josie is a strong character that will take her life back, screaming, bloody and impaled, but at the end, her life will be hers.
The storytelling is flawless as is the characterization that Jamie and Joëlle bring to the table. The world they create is rich and filled with colorful and villainous characters that make you actually fear for Josie and her family. This fear for the main character within the comics world is indeed a rare and welcome commodity as it serves to create an emotional connection with Josie and her family, and makes this book a tense page-turner. [Ethan S.]
A book that will make your skin crawl, literally. Witten by the prolific Cullen Bunn (the busiest man in comics), Harrow County is a creepy little piece of Southern Gothic storytelling. The story centers on a young girl named Emmy, around her 18th birthday she begins to get visions and exhibit strange powers. Is she an instrument of good or evil is the question that forms the spine of this delightfully unsettling horror book.
Tyler Crook’s art is both gorgeous and at times disturbing. At its core this is a coming of age story about a young girl questioning her future and her path in life as the world she knows and people around are changed forever. Like the best horror stories, the scariest things are the seemingly familiar. [John C.]
Archie Vs. Predator By: Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski, Jason Millet, John Workman
Archie’s no stranger to being prey—after all, Betty and Veronica have been pursuing him for more than 70 years! But what happens when he’s up against the universe’s most terrifying hunters? Dark Horse and Archie Comics teamed up this year to bring us Archie vs. Predator by Alex de Campi (Grindhouse, No Mercy), Fernando Ruiz (Archie: The Married Life), and Rich Koslowski (Three Fingers), delivering equal measures of gore and humor, and making it one of my favorite miniseries of 2015!
Archie vs. Predator starts out like any ordinary tale from Riverdale: Jughead wins a luxury beach vacation and brings the whole gang out for spring break. A popularity contest and a confrontation between Betty and Veronica ensues. However, when things quickly escalate, a vengeful Betty accidentally attracts the attention of a Predator, who follows them home. Ridiculously violent hijinks ensue.
De Campi shines a thoughtful light on the age-old triangle of America’s favorite teenagers–and the back-and-forth between Betty and Veronica–and it’s endlessly fun to see such rampant gore in the classic Archie style. A must-read! [Elisabeth F.]