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Review: The Batman’s Grave #1

The Batman's Grave #1

The Batman’s Grave #1 is a wonderfully minimalist, detective procedural story from Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, Kevin Nowlan, and Alex Sinclair, but it’s also a saga of man who is obsessed with death, both his parents’, those of the cases he takes, and his own. So, it’s fitting that Ellis and Hitch open the comic on a panel of the Waynes’ graves as Alfred dutifully trims the area around Thomas and Martha Wayne’s final resting spots and Bruce’s future one before going into the action/murder mystery bits. It gives the comic a somber, thoughtful tone, but Hitch and Nowlan are always there with the big splash page, kick in the teeth, or superhero action scene while Ellis is quick with a quip like a Gotham family thinking that a copyright friendly version of It is family fare. (Maybe, it is in a city where the Joker tries to poison the water supply on a weekly basis.)

My personal favorite part of The Batman’s Grave other than Nowlan’s inking giving Hitch a more explosive, cartoon-y art style than, say, his work on Ultimates is how Warren Ellis writes Alfred. He is world weary, worldly, deeply caring, and also deeply concerned about how Batman is spending his life. Ellis gives him the voice of a million socially conscious Batman fans when he says that buying Gotham City would be better than him going around to poor neighborhoods and beating up criminals like he does in the first action scene of the comic.

But Bruce Wayne: Philanthropist would make a pretty boring comic, and Ellis knows this as he lets Hitch, Nowlan, and Sinclair loose with a cape trailing, Gotham skyline-featuring double page spread very early on and then treats us to some close-ups of Batman fighting goons, who threaten a police officer’s kid. It’s more unique than your usual superhero fight scene with Nowlan adding cool details like showing the grooves on Batman’s boot when he kicks. The extra detail doesn’t take anything away from the motion and the fact that the fight scene shows that Batman beats the shit out of people to get a small measure of catharsis in his life even if it won’t heal his neverending sadness.

However, The Batman‘s Grave is more of a psychological detective comic than an action book, and Alex Sinclair’s colors add a precision to Batman’s virtual lab where he gets into the mind of a murder victim. His investigation acts as a bit of a character study too, and Ellis, Hitch, and Nowlan give us a fairly detailed story of a man, who became overwhelmed with his job in the Gotham D.A’s office and turned to Batman as a metaphor of stability and justice. These extra character details kept me connected to the case instead of nodding like it was a Law and Order SVU rerun and also expertly set up the final page cliffhanger with Hitch and Nowlan indulging their horror side just a little bit.

The Batman’s Grave #1 is a fantastic Batman detective story and character study for both super fans and those who have only kept up with the Caped Crusader via other media or the occasional trade paperback. Bryan Hitch, Kevin Nowlan, and Alex Sinclair’s are the right blend of epic and psychologically searing while Warren Ellis’ script is sharp and momentum filled. I love the humanity that he brings to Alfred and the murder victim, Vince and kind of pity Batman after reading this one. His car is still cool though.

Story: Warren Ellis Pencils: Bryan Hitch 
Inks: Kevin Nowlan Colors: Alex Sinclair Letters: Richard Starkings
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.2 Overall: 8.9 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Jack Bannon to Star as Alfred Pennyworth in EPIX’s Pennyworth

Jack Bannon has been cast in the lead role of Alfred Pennyworth in the upcoming EPIX drama series Pennyworth, from Warner Horizon Scripted Television and based on the characters from DC Comics.

The 10-episode, one-hour drama series is based on DC characters created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger. It follows Bruce Wayne’s legendary butler, Alfred Pennyworth, a former British SAS soldier in his 20s, who forms a security company and goes to work with a young billionaire Thomas Wayne, who’s not yet Bruce’s father, in 1960s London.

Alfred Pennyworth is a boyishly handsome, cheerful, charming, clever young man from London. Honest, open-faced and witty; you’d never take him for an SAS killer. Alfred doesn’t know how to reconcile the kind-hearted boy he used to be with the cold, calculated killer he was forced to become. He’s a man on the make, who doesn’t know what to make of himself yet.

Production on the series will begin Monday, October 22, 2018, at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden in the UK.

Bannon previously appeared in The Imitation Game and Ripper Street.

Pennyworth is from executive producer/writer Bruno Heller and executive producer/director Danny Cannon.

Review: Batman #50 is a Beautiful, Tragic Romance

If you thought that Batman and Catwoman were going to have a happy wedding with the usual supervillain attack to keep things interesting, then you’re pretty naive. On that confrontational, Batman #50 is a climactic moment in Tom King’s run on Batman, and Mikel Janin and June Chung are onboard as well to show all the romance, heartbreak, and kicking Kite-Man on the face. But the real highlight of this issue is the unleashing of some of the best living Batman and Catwoman artists to tell the love story of Bat and Cat all framed in love letters to each other. Beginning with the great Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez showing them swaddled together in a loving embrace and concluding in a pure negative space, movie poster style page from upcoming Batman artist Lee weeks, this is a wonderful encapsulation of Batman and Catwoman’s relationship done in Tom King’s signature tone poem way.

The letters that Batman and Catwoman write to each other in Batman #50 are a form of psychological probing, which makes sense because Batman is the World’s Greatest Detective and Catwoman is a skilled thief and con woman. They read people basically for a living, but are vulnerable and have huge blind spots. Especially Batman. King writes some beautiful lines where Batman and Catwoman both say that each other’s eyes is what led to their initial attraction. Batman was struck by how complex Catwoman’s eyes were, and that she could be more than a one-off animal themed villain while Catwoman realized how simple and childlike Batman’s were: pure blue. These thoughts come during Tim Sale and Paul Pope’s pages showing Catwoman in her 1990s purple costume pursuing and aggressively flirting with Batman like he’s an innocent boy and not a skilled crime fighter drawn in heroic, stealthy poses by Neal Adams and Lee Bermejo. He’s lost control and maybe has a chance to find happiness like the totally adorable page drawn by Amanda Conner of Catwoman and Batman enjoying a date at the zoo, or this issue’s sexiest moment where Mister Miracle’s Mitch Gerads shows them under a cape blanket with all the accoutrements of crime and crime fighting strewn about. Batman and Catwoman have serious chemistry, which has been boosted by King, Gerads, and Janin’s work on the current series, but are they really marriage material?

One person who shares the idea that getting married would make Batman less miserable and lose his edge is Holly Robinson, Catwoman’s long time friend, who she springs out of Arkham for one night to be her maid of honor/witness. This is a bit of a crazy plot point because the last time she appeared, Holly was fleeing the country as Batman was trying to apprehend her for 237 murders that Catwoman tried to take the fall for. The inclusion of Holly in Batman #50 makes the story a little more twist-filled than a simple case of cold feet (Eat your heart out, X-Men Gold #30), especially the final page that puts a new spin on a famous 1990s Batman storyline. As Selina’s friend, who she saved from child prostitution, Holly has been around Batman since Year One when she stabbed a less than intimidating, fake scar sporting Bruce Wayne partially leading him to choose a costume to strike fear in the heart of criminals. (As a sidenote, it’s pretty epic to see Frank Miller’s lumbering Batman on the page when Catwoman talks about how angry and graceful he was during his early crime fighting days.) But is she a pawn or a mastermind in a larger scheme?

Batman #50 seems to be an inciting incident in a larger Tom King story centered around the breaking of Batman’s heart and not his body. Batman is always surrounded by Gothic elements, like secret passages, large empty mansions, and gargoyles, so adding a doomed romance to the mix makes sense. King and Mikel Janin are working in a larger tradition of Batman getting in the way of Bruce’s happiness, and a couple of DOA romances from other mediums come to my mind. (Vicki Vale from 1989’s Batman, Andrea Beaumont in Mask of the Phantasm, Rachel Dawes in the Nolan trilogy) However, this relationship is different because King has consistently written Batman and Catwoman as equal crime fighting partners and shows this through the symmetry in the composition of their letters (Clayton Cowles’ word bubble placement is impeccable. and even similar poses in the final pinups from Greg Capullo and Weeks. Those two crazy kids had some great, but unfortunately it didn’t work out.

Batman #50 definitely will be a fanbase breaking comic book, and the spoiler-y New York Times article didn’t help matters. However, throughout his run and in homage to Batman and Catwoman’s relationship, Tom King has seeded doubts that the Bat and Cat could settle into a quiet marriage. Bruce is as comfortable with as he is in the tuxedo that Alfred said reminds him of his father. Speaking of Alfred, Mikel Janin crushes a silent sequence where Bruce asks him to be his witness, and all dialogue and narration stops for a four panel hug that segues into aforementioned dreamy page from Mitch Gerads. King and Janin pinpoint these little emotional stingers into the narrative, like Holly complimenting Catwoman’s dress or a symmetrical double page spread where Bat and Cat embrace and kiss one, unfortunately last time. The use of symmetry and formalism in the way Batman #50 is constructed hint at a couple that’s on the same page, but that’s sadly not the reality.

In Batman #50, Tom King, Mikel Janin, June Chung, and a talent group of guest artists craft the ultimate, tragic Batman love story and show the chemistry between Bat and Cat while also showing how their marriage ultimately wouldn’t work out. This definitely isn’t a big, guest star heavy special, but an intimate story of a man, who decides to work out his pain and sorrow dressed as a bat instead of finding love and peace with an enigmatic woman, who dresses like a cat.

Story: Tom King Art: Mikel Janín
Guest  Art: David Finch, Joëlle Jones, Mitch Gerads, Rafael Albuquerque, Neal Adams, Andy Kubert, Becky Cloonan, Ty Templeton, José Luis Garcia-Lopez, Frank Miller, Lee Bermejo, Trish Mulvihill, Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson, Alex Sinclair, Hi-Fi, Tony S. Daniel, Tomeu Morey, Amanda Conner, Paul Mounts, Tim Sale, José Villarrubia, Paul Pope, Clay Mann, Jordie Bellaire, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Greg Capullo, FCO Plascencia, Lee Weeks
Colors: June Chung Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 8.0 Art: 10 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Batman Annual #1

batman-annual-1A month before Christmas, Batman Annual #1 taps into the Caped Crusader’s lighter and more whimsical side with heartwarming stories from comics greats like Tom King, Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes, Paul Dini, David Finch, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, and Neal Adams, who colors his own pencils in a super fun Harley Quinn/Batman team-up story that pokes funs at her overwhelming popularity. Then, the comic takes a turn for the freaky with a couple of unsettling stories from Steve Orlando, Riley Rossmo, and Ivan Plascencia and Scott Bryan Wilson, Bilquis Evely, and Mat Lopes. This is where the comic takes a downturn in quality with Wilson, Evely, and Lopes’ story relying on verbose Batman narration instead of the thrills and chills of villain, who kills with her victim’s DNA.

The current Batman creative team, Tom King and David Finch with colorist Gabe Eltaeb, lead off the annual with a funny story about Batman adopting a dog. The fact that Finch and Eltaeb draw and color it in a slick, yet traditional superhero makes it even more hilarious as Alfred tries to house train Ace (who of course becomes the Bathound) while Batman is off taking calls on the Bat-computer and ignoring this adorable pooch, who was trained by the Joker to be an attack dog. As in most Tom King comics, there is a lot more under the surface as the story illustrates the fact that while fighting the big picture of crime in Gotham, Batman sometimes forgets to connect with individual people… and animals. And Alfred reminds him of this fact in a panel that will make long time Batman readers smile as he places a little mask on Ace, and the first story of Batman Annual, like many of the DC Rebirth comics, expertly blends the traditional and forward thinking.

The visually strongest of all the Batman Annual stories is the second one where Batman enjoys a silent night in Gotham courtesy of Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire. Like most of Snyder’s Bat-stories, the setting of Gotham plays a major role as Batman now has a special Bat-signal that cycles through all the emergency calls and helps him jump into action quicker , but Snyder and Fawkes don’t go the criticizing Batman’s problematic and illegal surveillance route.

bm_annual_1_4Instead, they rest on the lean minimalism of Shalvey’s pencils and inks and the even keel color palette of Bellaire, who doesn’t go primary color bright or full black and gray dark to show what a crime-less moment in Gotham feels like for Batman. There are repeated panels of computer code that stop lighting up as two acrobats perform for Gothamites as Champions Square, a kind of Switzerland for both criminals and ordinary citizens. Batman investigates the acrobats, but literally, nothing wrong is happening. Snyder returns to the theme of Alfred and Batman as father and son for a short moment when Alfred shares some British special forces wisdom telling him to rest for the moment because “the bombardment will surely resume.” And it does with Shalvey and Bellaire crafting a full-page splash of the hero in action with a billowing cape in tow.

In a dream-like story, Paul Dini returns to his most famous creation, Harley Quinn, with legendary Bat-artist Neal Adams in tow. Adams’ work is superior to his recent work on Coming of the Supermen as he colors his own work, and you can still see much of his original linework like when Batman accidentally starts singing Christmas carols with Harley Quinn. The story fits into Harley’s more heroic, yet still, wacky alignment as a gang of basically her cosplayers keeps Gotham safe so Batman can have an uneventful holiday of listening to Harley wail Christmas carols. These look-alikes symbolize the omnipresence of Harley Quinn in 2016’s pop culture as Dini rejoices in her stardom, and Adams’ art is definitely up to the task of showing her unbridled energy as she still wants to go Christmas caroling at 4 AM after a long drive from Gotham to Coney Island.

In Steve Orlando, Riley Rossmo, and Ivan Plascencia’s story, the tone of Batman Annual #1 switches from broad comedy to horror. This is despite the comic opening with a campy riff on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance as Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin with a villain, who wants to start a new Ice Age. Plascencia’s colors for the aptly named Minister Blizzard are a rich blue, and you can feel the winter chill as you turn the page. And it brightens as Batman beats up Blizzard in front of a crowd of poor children, who get to be happy and watch their hero save the day in front of him. Rossmo also gives Gordon some humorous reaction panels as he watches Batman completely dismantle the bad guy. His features change to maybe feeling a little bit sorry for Blizzard as Batman’s punches draw blood.

But, in the final page, funny and heartwarming switches to horror as Rossmo brings out the gore and the shadows to go with Plascencia’s red and blacks. There is a twist ending as the kind Gotham philanthropist, Barry O’Neil, meets a grisly end, and Batman can’t do anything to stop a new villain called the Stag, who sports long, spindly fingers and a creepy mask. And they are supposed to return in 2017 so be prepared for more chills in various Batman or other DC comics to ring in the New Year.

Scott Bryan Wilson, Bilquis Evely, and Mat Lopes’ story in Batman Annual #1 is the most ambitious of the five and also the most disappointing. The comic has the clever setting of an Arkham Asylum Christmas party that the villain Haunter spreads a special mix of fear gas to give the inmates anxiety as she runs off to be with her friend, Scarecrow. She has the ability to kill using DNA, but Wilson talks about this ability more than cutting loose Evely and Lopes loose to show it. He also spends a lot of time having Batman narrate his plan to defeat Haunter instead of showing his cleverness the ending is pretty fantastic though with Batman leaving Haunter and Scarecrow giving them a choice to try to survive them in the cold. instead of just sending them back in Arkham even if the story seems overpacked for a six pager.

Batman Annual #1 shows a rare heartwarming side of Batman and his crusade to fight crime with the Christmas holidays as a backdrop and also acts as a showcase for comics talent, old and new.

Story: Tom King, Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes, Paul Dini, Steve Orlando, Scott Bryan Wilson Art: David Finch, Declan Shalvey, Neal Adams, Riley Rossmo, Bilquis Evely Colors: Gabe Eltaeb, Jordie Bellaire, Ivan Plascencia, Mat Lopes
Story: 8 Art: 9 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Mark Zuckerberg to Play Lex Luthor. Jesse Eisenberg Cast for the Role.

Jesse_Eisenberg_2009Guess all of that speculation and rumors were wrong. Warner Bros. has announced today that Jesse Eisenberg has been cast as Lex Luthor in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel.

Eisenberg who has starred in Now You See Me, The Social Network and Zombieland, will take on the iconic villain role of Luthor. In The Social Network Eisenberg played Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, so it’ll be interesting to see how that role might play into this version of Luthor.

Director Zack Snyder said about the casting and character:

Lex Luthor is often considered the most notorious of Superman’s rivals, his unsavory reputation preceding him since 1940. What’s great about Lex is that he exists beyond the confines of the stereotypical nefarious villain. He’s a complicated and sophisticated character whose intellect, wealth and prominence position him as one of the few mortals able to challenge the incredible might of Superman. Having Jesse in the role allows us to explore that Jeremy_Irons_-_Berlin_International_Film_Festival_(Berlinale)_-_2013interesting dynamic, and also take the character in some new and unexpected directions.

Jeremy Irons has also been cast as Alfred Pennyworth, continuing the recent legacy of casting Oscar winners in the role.

On Alfred, Snyder said:

As everyone knows, Alfred is Bruce Wayne’s most trusted friend, ally and mentor, a noble guardian and father figure. He is an absolutely critical element in the intricate infrastructure that allows Bruce Wayne to transform himself into Batman. It is an honor to have such an amazingly seasoned and gifted actor as Jeremy taking on the important role of the man who mentors and guides the guarded and nearly impervious façade that encapsulates Bruce Wayne.