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Punk Rock Jesus #4 (DC/Vertigo): I just love Sean Murphy’s sketchy hyper-detailed emotive lines. This issue, the whole series for that matter, is that balancing act between slick art and a killer story, faith vs. logic, destiny vs. choice, church vs. state, creation vs. evolution, and on down the line. Plot-wise, we see what happens after Gwen’s bout of divine intervention and it’s a fucking heartbreaker that toys with the two timelines being presented, making you think everything might be fine when it most certainly is not. Nearly all of the scene possess shocking levels of unapologetic action and violence, as Thomas is finally forced out of the J2 compound, though a network of insiders is still covertly helping Chris. Murphy also adds in an IRA history lesson that immediately brought back memories of the old Queen & Country arc that Antony Johnston wrote. In the process, we see the full extent of Thomas’ origin and I kept thinking what a far more compelling origin this is than Marvel’s Punisher property. When I hear lines about vintage Webley revolvers and the thought put into the lower Manhattan flood zones, I know Murphy must have done the work too, there’s no cheats or shortcuts, the story is the real deal. I also enjoyed the power of music infiltrating things, from The Dead Kennedys, to Fugazi, Black Flag, and “The Flak Jackets.” This issue feels incredibly dense, but is never plodding, challenging ideologically, but never dry or academic, building to a killer live TV reveal that leaves me wondering just where Murphy is going to take this and how the hell he’s going to wrap it up in just two issues. This doesn’t get the “+” grade only because I’m a greedy bastard and I think it’d be breathtaking in color. Grade A.
Batman #13 (DC): So I walked into my LCS and even over the din of the fanboys scrambling to get their 96-dollar 1-in-100 Uncanny Avengers #1 Deadpool Variant Sketch Cover or whatever, the owner says something that sounds like “OMG YOU HAVE TO READ BATMAN IT’S FRICKING TERRIFIC LIKE IN THE TOP 3 BATMAN STORIES OF ALL TIME ALONG WITH THE KILLING JOKE AND DARK KNIGHT RETURNS WHAT'S UP DO YOU WANT A DONUT.” To which I replied, “duuude, but did you see my contribution to the backmatter in The Massive #5? Huh? Huh?! How about it!?” A few things flew through my brain. One, I was enjoying Snyder and Capullo’s Batman when I gave up Marvel and DC stuff in favor of focusing on creator-owned, but have been kinda’ keeping up between online reviews and speed-reads at the LCS. Two, I generally agree with the guy; I mean, if I had to pick some of the “best” Batman stories, The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, and maybe Paul Pope’s Batman: Year 100 would certainly be on the list. So, he has some credibility with me even though I don’t know the guy that well and I’m also trying to factor in that Batman is totes his fave and he’s a big DC guy. I’m skeptical, but what the hell, comps copies is comps copies, so I’ll check it out in order to verify his claim, if nothing else. Yeah, there’s a lot to like! Snyder really nails a horror vibe, with talk of ominous umm, omens, and a story of creepy foreshadowing and all the cinematic technique that Capullo brings to his very accomplished and clean style. What Snyder really gets right in the script, and Capullo brings to life so well, is the psychological horror that the Joker is capable of inflicting, not just a high-IQ insane violent dude. The pitch black scenes in the police station are visceral, you can imagine it as a movie that makes your heart pound with anxiety, and there are seamless callbacks all over the place to the Nolan movies, to The Killing Joke, and many others, including the Death In The Family storyline, which this story is obviously riffing on - “baby bird smashed with a crowbar” and whatnot. It’s interesting to see Joker attempting some type of rebirth in THE NEW 52 by reenacting his first work in Gotham. I did find some small things off. I don’t like the way that Harley just exposited and telegraphed the Joker’s intentions for this entire story arc. Sure, she was desperate and you can make the argument it was an in-character moment, but hey, exposition is exposition. The coloring in spots also felt wrong, such as the blue cop shirts looking a weird opaque sort of aquamarine green. So, there’s that. What I like the most about Snyder’s writing though, is that he’s able to weave together all sorts of things that propel the story at a quick pace, it’s history, facts, nods to the canon, strong characterization, and old fashioned mystery and investigation that have a sense of urgency and intensity to them. It’s outfox the Joker before he guts you. It's no wonder that this and Batwoman (when JH3 is on art anyway) are the best things Mainline DCU is capable of producing at the moment. As for the back up story, oh, poor Harley. Seeing adoring women traumatized and tortured in exchange for their love, even if misguided, isn’t very pleasant. The true test will be if that love is unconditional, or if she’ll finally reach a breaking point and Snyder has something up his sleeve, namely making Harley some kind of addition to the Bat Family. For now, what she’s just endured certainly sucks away any lingering fun her character had from what I recall in the old animated series; she sort of gets put in the proverbial pit while Wild Bill makes her put lotion on. Creeps me the fuck out. Grade A.