All Star Batman #1 by Scott Snyder and John Romita, Jr. – A (Comic) Book Review

I’m the first to admit that Scott Snyder is a gifted writer.  His take on Batman the last seven or so years has been innovative, captivating, and high-quality.  His talent doesn’t end there, however.  You need to read his seminal series, American Vampire, as well as his excellent short story collection, Voodoo Heart.

All Star Batman is a new series in which Snyder will team up with the most gifted of artists for each story arc.  The first couples Snyder with industry icon John Romita, Jr.  The inaugural issue introduces a new conflict with Two-Face, a character Snyder has never tackled before (to the best of my knowledge).

I’ll be honest — the $4.99 price tag turned me off almost immediately.  It’s a little longer than the average comic book, and the cover is a little thicker, but otherwise there is no discernible difference.  It struck me as a cash grab on the part of DC.  Trust me, I looked through all the variants to see if any were priced regularly — there weren’t.  I settled on the awesome Jock cover you see below.

The book is made up of two different story lines.  One features Batman forcing Two-Face on a “road trip” of sorts; the other focuses on Duke, his new partner, and the on-the-job training Duke must undergo.  Frankly, both are overwritten and needlessly muddled.  Snyder has always shown a penchant for putting too much on the page, but this issue set a new precedent.  I don’t mind lots of dialogue, numerous time shifts, or even differing narrative techniques, but only if it works to the benefit of the story.  Snyder did all of these things in All Star Batman #1, but it only served to distract and confuse me.  I’m sure by the arc’s end all will make sense, but I think writers need to also honor the fact that these titles are released monthly and a single issue needs to stand on its own to some degree.  A fantastic example of doing it well is this week’s Superwoman #1.

Also, if I’m being totally truthful, I’ve never been a huge fan of John Romita, Jr.  I find his figures squarish and I just don’t find it pleasing to the eye.  I understand he’s considered among the best of comic book artists, but I personally don’t find his angles or panel placement all that creative or his drawings pleasurable to perceive.

With the inflated cover price, convoluted story, and overwritten dialogue, I really can’t recommend this issue.  It would perhaps be a better idea to wait for the collected edition.  You’ll save both money and frustration in doing so.

Batman: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

Now fully into the DC’s “Rebirth” movement, you just knew I’d have to check out Batman: Rebirth #1.

I’ve been reading the collected editions of Scott Snyder’s masterful Batman run, so when I heard someone named Tom King was taking over the title, I honestly felt as though he probably would not live up to the superb precedent.  A friend told me Tom King was the real deal, though, so I felt compelled to pick it up when I went in for Superman: Rebirth #1.  (Yes, I can’t believe Superman got me into the comic book shop rather than Batman.  It’s nuts.  I admit it.)

I have to say, it was a good read.  I’ve always enjoyed Mikel Janin’s art, so everything looked fluid and dynamic as I would expect, and new writer Tom King quickly established his Batman as a man who knows he’s crazy for fighting against the evil sickness of the city but does it anyway.  His Batman is willing to take chances and has supreme confidence in doing the impossible.  Furthermore, his Batman is willing to try new things, too, as proven by his offer to Duke Thomas.  It’s Thomas’ new role that has me most excited about this book, frankly, and I think that was absolutely King’s point.

I’m still a little confused by the plot involving the Calendar Man, but I enjoyed the funky take on the classic villain.  I’ve never seen him depicted in such a way, which King readily acknowledged within the context of the story.

Of course, other than Duke’s new development, this is a Batman we know and expect, and that’s okay.  The dialogue proved crisp, the story unfolded naturally with urgent pacing, and he even experimented a little with the narrative style.  Snyder got a co-writing credit with this issue, but I have faith that King will maintain the excellence we’ve come to expect from the Batman title.

And while I know it debuted a while ago, I have to say that I like the slight changes made to Batman’s costume.  The purple inside the cape along with the yellow border around the emblem adds some much needed color to the character.  It’s a little weird, but I like that and I think it suits the character well.

Wytches by Snyder and Jock – A Book Review

The hype for this book may have set it up to disappoint.  After all, MTV News called it, “The most terrifying comic you’ve ever read” and USA Today said, “Dark and brutal, Wytches are like nothing horror fans have ever seen.”

I’m a Scott Snyder fan.  I enjoy his work on Batman, love American Vampire, and hold his short story collection, Voodoo Heart, in the highest regard (seriously – read it).  But, to be frank, the blurbs on the Wytches back cover exercised such hyperbole that it created impossible expectations.

Is this a good book?  Yeah, it’s okay.  To be honest, it’s not great, nor is it the scariest thing I’ve ever read.  Personally, I didn’t even find it all that original.  For me, the best part were Snyder’s notes at the end explaining the idea’s origination.

The idea is that Wytches are a primal force of nature, inexplicably advanced horrors that wear no clothes and incessantly click their teeth.  They live underground, eat people, and come out through trees.  People can sacrifice other people to gain power from these monsters, though it’s never remotely explained how or by what means this “advanced” technology unfolds.  In the end, this story is about a troubled teenager hunted by these creatures and her troubled father’s attempts to save her.

I generally love Jock’s artwork.  Though his angles and layouts are not groundbreaking, they are always pleasing to the eye, dynamic, and they progress the story well from panel to panel, page to page.

Matt Hollingsworth’s colors were a controversial aspect of the book for me.  On the one hand, I’ve never seen coloring like his.  At the core of each panel, you have traditional coloring.  However, each panel or complete page is overlaid with splotches of colors.  I can only describe it as sort of a “trippy” lens flare.  I love the concept, the daring, and the originality of this method, but I can’t say I love its practical application.  It proved really distracting from the overall tone and story.

I appreciate Image Comics because the publisher is willing to try out titles like Wytches, and I hope they continue to do so.  And, had I not read the overzealous blurbs before reading the book, I could have formulated a different opinion.  As it stands, though, Wytches is an entertaining read that, for me, did not live up to its hype.

Voodoo Heart by Scott Snyder – A Book Review

I picked up Voodoo Heart because I admire Snyder’s work on American Vampire.  I was interested to see Snyder’s prose stand alone without a team of artists’ aid.  For the most part, I found myself quite pleased.

Each and every one of Snyder’s stories in this collection is original and very well written.  They all utilize well-rounded characters that instantly attach to the psyche and schema.  My only complaint, however, is that nearly half of them ended with no real sense of resolution.  I don’t necessarily mind vague endings, but several of the works – specifically “Blue Yodel,” “Happy Fish, Plus Coin,” and “About Face” – simply stopped.  I got no real sense of finality and I certainly felt no satisfaction, especially because each of those stories in particular was amazingly engaging.  I wanted so much more because I cared about those characters’ plights in these tales, and I felt cheated without a stronger sense of culmination.

With that being said, as much dissatisfaction as I suffered from the previous stories mentioned, other stories like “Wreck” and “Dumpster Tuesday” left me almost giddy they were so well constructed and resolved.  And, for me, “The Star Attraction of 1919” was undoubtedly one of the most entertaining stories I’ve read in quite some time.  These specific three stories truly blew me away they were so good.  In fact, I keep thinking about them even though I finished the collection several days ago.

I realize that others’ opinions about these stories may vary distinctly from mine.  That’s the wonderful thing about literature, isn’t it?  Rest assured, if you read this short story collection, you will experience prose written at its finest and plots that will rivet you.

My New Addictions

I’m a comic book guy.  Have been all my life.  Yes, my tastes have changed as I’ve gotten (much) older, but I still love the medium, the craft, and the sheer artistry involved.  When words and pictures come together to sequentially deliver a story – it’s stunning.

The problem is, I’m a little picky about what I buy.  Yes, I’ll pick up just about anything from the library, but, as would be expected, I’m a bit at the library’s mercy in terms of what’s available and when.

I’m more than willing to pay for those titles I truly love, but they’ve got to be awfully good to make it to my shelves.  Before my daughter was born, when my wife and I were DINKS (double-income, no kids), I’d buy a title on a lark.  Those days are over, though.  I’ve gotten much tighter with our money.

Consequently, for several years, I was elated with the titles I bought on a regular basis.  They were Y: The Last Man, 100 Bullets, Ex Machina, Promethea, and Sandman.  Unfortunately, those titles have all come to an end.  Before long, I was left with only DMZ and Fables.  Both excellent titles, but for a comic book addict like me, their trades did not come out often enough to keep me satisfied.

I took a few chances here and there.  The Unwritten utterly disappointed me, Greek Street didn’t hold my interest, and The Losers just wasn’t my thing.  Even Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century turned me off.

Oh, yes, I ran across several amazing graphic novels like Daytripper, Asterios Polyp, Blankets, Pride of Baghdad, and Mother, Come Home, but they were all one shots – not something I could collect month after month.

And then, after much searching, I finally came across three new titles (to me) for which I’m ready to commit both my time and my wallet.

The first is called American Vampire.  It’s a Vertigo title that features Skinner Sweet and Pearl.  Skinner is America’s first vampire, a breed apart from any others.  Though he is turned into a vampire in the 1800s, it’s in the 1920s that he creates another vampire from his blood, a young woman named Pearl.  What I love about the series is that its vampires are truly frightening, and that because these characters are immortal, their stories tend to jump around in time quite a bit.  Pearl and Skinner sometimes cross paths, and at other times are living out their own adventures.  Skinner seems to be a truly evil character, whereas Pearl fights against the darkness within her.  I’m not really a vampire guy, but this series quickly won me over after the first volume.  Smartly written by Scott Snyder with plenty of plot (and gore), it’s definitely worth following.

The second title is called Locke & Key.  It follows the story of the Lockes, three siblings (high school aged and younger) and their mother.  They move to the Locke family mansion after their father is murdered.  This is the house their father grew up in, and it is full of mystery, horror, and paranormal keys that impart special abilities, as they soon discover.  The artwork is beautiful, and the author, Joe Hill, layers plot upon plot, thus making each volume a rewarding read.  These are likable characters with a fascinating premise, and so I can’t wait to see this one through to the end.  Be warned, though, even though the artwork has a cartoonish flair to it, it gets pretty violent at times.  Definitely not for the faint of heart.

Finally, I’m collecting a title called Chew.  By far the strangest of my three new titles, this one is also the most enjoyable.  It is the story of Tony Chew, a detective who is largely successful because of a special ability he has.  Tony receives a psychic impression of anything he eats (except for beets, which is why he mostly only eats beets).  He relives anything’s last moments that he eats, which can prove pretty useful—and disgusting—when investigating a murder.  But this is not a one-note story.  I was amazed by all the interesting storylines that John Layman, the author, introduces, and can’t wait to see where he’s going.  Though there’s plenty of action, Chew is actually very funny and unlike anything I’ve ever read.  I love the offbeat, “anything is possible” vibe that it carries.

So there you have it.  After months and months of (literally) checking out differing titles these are the three (along with Fables and DMZ) that I’ve settled on.  I hope you’ll give them a look and enjoy them, too!