Once again, the Bruce Jones Catwoman story is a lot more interesting than the Batman feature. But I’ll go in printing order and start with the Batman.
The art this issue is Gene Colan and Tony DeZuniga; so far, DeZuniga is the best inker for Colan on Batman, especially given the vampires. The whole issue has a disquieting tone to it. It looks great… even if the story is a little tepid.
Dick is under the influence of his vampire girlfriend and he sets up Batman to get bitten. Once again, Vicki Vale’s dilemma over whether to reveal Bruce as Batman is more interesting than the Batman stuff.
DeZuniga is the solo artist on the Catwoman backup too. Jones’s writing is great–he puts Selina in a very noir situation, perfecting adapting things to make the femme fatale the noir protagonist. The art wondrously matches the writing’s tone. Just fantastic.
Nightmare in Crimson; writers, Gerry Conway and Paul Levitz; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Tony DeZuniga; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda. Those Lips, Those Eyes; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, DeZuniga; colorist, Tom Ziuko; letterer, A. Kubert. Editor, Dick Giordano; publisher, DC Comics.
Beyond Who’s Who, I don’t think I’ve read much regular DC Human Target. This special only partially counts as it was a tie-in for the failed nineties television adaptation.
It’s decent, far better than I was expecting. The art from Burchett and Giordano is good and Verheiden’s writing is fine. There’s a lot of humor–Christopher Chance does his work because it’s fun–and Verheiden harps on endlessly with the anti-drug message, but it’s a rather violent book. It opens with someone shot in the head and Chance goes on to kill a bunch of bad guys.
Unfortunately, since Verheiden is mimicking the TV show and assuming the reader has some familiarity with the cast of characters, there’s not much for the supporting cast to do but tell jokes.
If the comic’s any indication, the show might have been decent, Rick Springfield or not.
The comic does go on too long though.
The Mack Attack Contract; writer, Mark Verheiden; penciller, Rick Burchett; inker, Dick Giordano; colorist, Julianna Ferriter; letterer, Albert DeGuzman; editor, Brian Augustyn; publisher, DC Comics.
The Batman feature is problematic to say the least. Batman infiltrates a school for criminals as “Matches” Malone (gag) and is quickly found out. He then has to dispatch of the criminals as Batman. Conway and Kupperberg–not sure why Conway needed an assist here, there’s no heavy lifting in this issue–never explain how the criminals figured out it was Batman.
An additional problem is with the ruse itself. Why didn’t Batman just shut the school down himself? Why bother auditing the classes?
It’s silly but not terrible. The Newton art is good and there’s enough going on with Alfred and Gordon to keep the issue moving. Oddly, all of Conway’s B plots seem to involve everyone but Batman.
The Batgirl backup is actually pretty neat. She’s unconscious for the majority of the story, which is lame, but the end is great–she’s turning into a giant serpent lady.
The Academy of Crime, Part Two: Final Exams!; writers, Gerry Conway and Paul Kupperberg; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Frank Chiaramonte; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda. Sleep While the Serpent Smiles!; writer, Cary Burkett; penciller, Jose Delbo; inker, Joe Giella; colorist, Tom Ziuko; letterer, Janice Chiang. Editor, Dick Giordano; publisher, DC Comics.
It’s Robin versus his vampire girlfriend while Alfred hires the Human Target to trick Vicki Vale and Jim Gordon decides to stop being a mope.
Batman barely makes an appearance–he shows up at the beginning to remind the reader he or she needs to pick up the month’s Detective Comics. It’s a weird few pages, because the art on Batman (just on him) is bad. And it’s Gene Colan and Alfredo Alcala so the weak art is a big surprise.
The art’s excellent on the rest of the issue. It’s an all action issue, except the Alfred and Gordon scenes. Conway and Colan doing seventies Marvel-type vampires, only at DC. It’s strange to see.
The Catwoman backup is unimpressively okay. Jones does these stories in two parts; he really needs three. He has to resolve the previous story’s cliffhanger, move things along and finish. There’s not enough time.
Blood Sport; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda. The Man, the Bullet, the Cat, Part Two; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Trevor von Eeden; inker, Larry Mahlstedt; colorist, Tom Ziuko; letterer, A. Kubert. Editor, Dick Giordano; publisher, DC Comics.
Dysart finishes the arc without giving the action payoff I was expecting (I was also expecting another issue of the arc).
It seems he’s saying goodbye to Paul too, after giving the kid a really rough lesson or two this issue in futility. Moses learns a similar lesson and ends the story in a far worse place than he started it.
Sera doesn’t make an appearance here, which confused me a little bit.
What’s most interesting about the story is the time Dysart took with it. In modern series, with their trade-ready arcs, there aren’t as many asides anymore–certainly not ones running enough issues for a trade of their own. Dysart basically took six issues to tell a story about what happens when Moses and Paul go to Paul’s old village.
It’s bold and artistically solid and great.
I can’t believe Vertigo let them make the trip.
Dry Season, Conclusion; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.
Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting that ending.
I think this arc runs five issues and Dysart is three in–and wrapping up some of the revelations–so I was wondering how he was going to keep it going. He’s keeping it going by turning the entire comic on its head.
Turning Moses into an unreliable narrator–who isn’t reliable to himself either–isn’t an unprecedented narrative move, but it’s completely unexpected. For sixteen issues, Moses has been utterly reliable.
This issue has a little of the return to action, but it also has a bunch more character stuff. Dysart’s bringing Sera–Moses’s wife–back into the comic as a seen presence, Paul’s making decisions contrary to Moses’s orders. I never think of the series as having a cast, but it does.
This story–especially after this issue–is shaping to be a lot more important than the first issue suggested.
Dry Season, Chapter Three; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.
It’s kind of a mystery story and kind of not. Moses is very active this issue, but not in his usual way. Instead, he’s back to being a doctor, back to letting his concern for people effect his actions. I know this arc isn’t the last one, but it feels like Dysart is trying to get the character to a new place.
So while there’s the mystery and the character development–not to mention the continuing question of what’s going to happen to Paul–Dysart is implying things aren’t going to go well. There’s the direct foreshadowing of Moses realizing he’s probably going to kill the local army commander and a dying man telling Moses his redemption ritual didn’t work… but there’s also the voice.
The voice in Moses’s head can’t be gone–even though it’s not present this issue–and so it must return sometime.
Again, the most traditional arc in the series.
Dry Season, Chapter Two; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.
I’d heard about this arc. I’d heard it’s gradual and deliberate.
Ponticelli changes his style a little. His lines are muted. Coupled with Moses’s narration, Unknown Soldier feels very far away, very dreamlike. Moses’s narration brings the reader up to speed (it’s possibly a letter to his wife) and, basically, he’s loitered around the village where he found Paul a home.
Bad things happen, big and small, without getting much reaction from Moses. He’s dejected. Dysart and Ponticelli soften the focus on the grim realities of Uganda this issue… it’s grimmer because it’s about Moses. He’s running out of energy–there’s not a single action sequence in the entire issue–his quest has reached a lull.
In some ways, it’s the most traditional issue of Unknown Soldier–anyone could be experiencing the same mindset. It left me depressed in a different way than usual. Even Jack’s new life outlook depresses.
Dry Season, Chapter One; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.
Ugh. “Matches” Malone is so goofy. Why hasn’t anyone modernized him….
Otherwise, it’s a decent issue. The Chiaramonte inks are the best so far. It’s not the best Newton, but it’s good.
Conway gets a lot of story going–Bruce is in LA investigating a school for criminals, Dick is stalking his ex-girlfriend (who seems to be in a cult) and Alfred is trying to convince Vicki Vale Bruce isn’t Batman. Only Gordon is missing, which Bruce comments on at one point.
The exposition–the only place where Conway ever goes overboard–is in check; he’s able to bring enough humanity to the characters, it overpowers any plot silliness.
Too bad he’s got Bruce romancing Vicki though. It’d have been more interesting if it’d been Alfred, especially after this issue’s events.
The Batgirl backup is awful. Batgirl fights with Lady Viper for the entire story. Nicely, the lame writing distracts from the art.
The Academy of Crime, Part One: College for Killers; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Frank Chiaramonte; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda. In the Coils of the Serpent!; writer, Cary Burkett; penciller, Jose Delbo; inker, Joe Giella; colorist, Tom Ziuko; letterer, Phil Felix. Editor, Dick Giordano; publisher, DC Comics.
After a lame Man-Bat two-parter, Conway does the story right with this issue. He’s got Colan and Janson on it–there’s a heartbreaking panel of Man-Bat holding his daughter here–and everything is just in perfect sync.
It’s so well-done, I can even excuse the part when Bruce changes to Batman to take Man-Bat’s daughter to look for him (Langstrom is so far gone he’ll need a mental shock to bring him back) but the kid gets to see Alfred and Dick hanging out with Batman. I guess they figure she’s too young to figure it out.
Oh, and there’s a funny opening with Dick and Bruce dropping the giant penny as they refurnish the original Batcave.
The only misstep is the melancholy Jim Gordon, who’s never really been a strong character in the Conway run.
The Catwoman backup has a rushed cliffhanger, but it’s otherwise fantastic. Jones’s opening scene is great.
Shadow Play; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Adrienne Roy. The Man, the Bullet, the Cat, Part One; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Trevor von Eeden; inker, Pablo Marcos; colorist, Tom Ziuko. Letterer, Ben Oda; editor, Dick Giordano; publisher, DC Comics.
In some ways, this issue is one of Unknown Soldier’s least depressing–Paul gets a good ending (at least for this issue) and Moses gets a chance at some relief. But it’s somehow even more depressing, because Dysart gives Moses this chance to reflect, to think about himself and what he has done and will do.
It’d actually make a great end to the series, because it’s so open. I know there’s another issue but even with that knowledge, the issue is still rough. Even with all the terrible things Dysart shows, the hardest parts of Unknown Soldier are when the reader gets to empathize with Moses, when the series becomes grounded in the reader’s reality.
This issue, in a few pages, is incredibly powerful. Without trying, Dysart and Masioni are pushing the limit of how affecting a comic book–which is comfortable in its artifice–can be.
The Way Home, Chapter Two; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Pat Masioni; colorist, Jose Villarrubia; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.
I think I was unprepared for Unknown Soldier after the lighter fare I’ve been reading lately.
Dysart’s doing a two-parter following up on the kid Moses brought to the school. Now, I’m assuming Dysart researched it, so when the school sets the kids loose on each other in a war game–which really messes some of them up–it’s real and terrifying. And then it’s tragic.
The art perfectly captures the lost childhoods; not just the child soldiers, but the child mothers. It makes the whole thing devastating, especially since Paul (the kid) has this girl he’s friends with and it’d be so easy to write them a happy ending in one’s mind.
But there’s no room for it.
Though Dysart makes a lot of room. The pacing in this issue is particularly strong–it follows Paul from school, to running, to finding Moses again.
It’s stunningly, horrifically brilliant.
The Way Home, Chapter One; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Pat Masioni; colorist, Jose Villarrubia; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.
I love this issue. It’s heavy-handed to some degree–it’s two would be criminals trying to decide if they want to commit a crime in Gotham City and talking about Batman–and Slifer’s attempts at showing the socioeconomic toils on a population are… pedestrian, but it’s a great Batman story.
There are two stories the guys tell about Batman. One is just an effectively spooky one with him capturing some escaped convicts, emphasizing Batman from the criminals’–the hunted’s–perspective.
But the second one is about a group of militant arsonists (who are careful to only burn abandoned buildings) trying to get attention to their situation. Again, Slifer’s sociological attempts are a little trite, but the Batman stuff is fantastic.
The von Eeden and Marcos art is good–less ambitious than I hoped after the Catwoman backups they did together.
The other backups–quick mysteries–are inoffensive page filler.
The Shadow of the Batman; writer, Roger Slifer; inker, Pablo Marcos. The Impossible Murder!; writer, Robin Snyder; inker, Larry Mahlstedt. Artifact; writer, Snyder; inker, Mahlstedt. The Nervous Nephew; writer, Snyder; inker, Mahlstedt. Penciller, Trevor von Eeden; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Dave Manak and Dick Giordano; publisher, DC Comics.
What a weak issue. I mean… it’s really weak. It’s competent in a way someone spending sixty cents might not complain, but it’s not good at all.
The feature is a Maxie Zeus story. Batman’s hunting him through a snow storm. There’s a scene where Dick and Alfred talk about worrying about him. It’s like they’re his wives waiting at home–which may or may not be a good take on the relationships, but Wein doesn’t explore it.
Instead, he introduces this hippie mountain man who loves all life. Maxie Zeus eventually kills him (after the mountain man loses it because Zeus kills a bird).
The art’s decent–Chiaramonte continues to be a bad inker for Newton–but the story’s just lame.
The Batgirl backup is terrible too. It’s Batgirl versus “the Queen of Serpents,” a circus performer who magically changes into a snake.
The issue’s just a complete misfire.
Haven!; writer, Len Wein; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Frank Chiaramonte; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza. Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth!; writer, Cary Burkett; penciller, Jose Delbo; inker, Joe Giella; colorist, Tom Ziuko; letterer, Phil Felix. Editors, Dave Manak and Dick Giordano; publisher, DC Comics.