Twenty-two pages fills up fast. There’s no denying that. Action sequences often eat up huge chunks of a book, and you can only fit so much dialogue on the page before it becomes cluttered, not to mention how much of the probably excellent art you’ll be covering up by doing so. So, understandably, most writers will have their stories run in arcs, often using well over 100 pages to let it unfold. It’s not hard to see why, but the tendency to keep expanding the story is part of what makes it so rewarding when you come across a single issue that manages to not only exemplify what it is you so love about that particular book, or even comics in general, but that manages to do so with an impressive economy of storytelling. One Shot is meant to take a close look at why those issues work as well as they do, the way they do.
When I first heard of this mini, I was a smidge dismissive. Comics with ‘vs’ in the title have a habit of being a bit one-note, and I’d heard it posited as a sequel to to the Kobra one-shot from back in the Faces of Evil series. When I got to the shop, however, I saw Eric Trautmann’s name on the cover. Trautmann collaborated with Rucka on Checkmate a couple years back, when Checkmate was one of the best titles on the shelves, and the book appeared to follow Mr. Terrific from the fallout of Checkmate and then later Rucka/Trautmann collaboration Final Crisis: Resist.
True enough, JSA vs. Kobra is a follow up to both books, as well as to the Kobra one-shot, but Trautmann makes sure that those many, many readers who didn’t follow either title aren’t lost. After an attack on Mr. Terrific outside of JSA Headquarters, he gets ready to take the matter to Checkmate. However, Power Girl and the rest of the team feel like this was an attack on the whole team, and convince Terrific that they should handle it. The meat of the issue is split between two plots – Mr. Terrific and the JSA using Checkmate’s resources to hunt down Kobra operatives, and the Kobra leader setting up a major strike.
Trautmann manages to maintain a steady pacing on the frequent, brief action beats without losing hold of the espionage sections. The art by Don Kramer is mostly solid, though little about it stands out as particularly praiseworthy, and a few panels are a little off-putting at first.
That said, though, and despite the fact that a lot happened in the issue, it doesn’t feel like we’re much farther than we were when we began. In fact, the entire issue feels a bit like a prologue. This isn’t particularly surprising – Checkmate also had seemingly slow single issues that came together wonderfully. With hope, Trautmann and Kramer will follow suit make JSA vs. Kobra: Engines of Faith a worthy epilogue to an excellent series. This issue certainly offers a promising, if slow, start.
Detective Comics #827 (***)
Hey a new Ventriloquist! Does anybody care? Well I will give props to Dini for creating a new character. And if you were one of the five people who loved the old Ventriloquist, you’ll probably love this. The character has finally been updated! No more “Gatman”! This is a sexier female version that is even scarred herself. There’s nothing more to say about this ish. This is the weakest issue so far, but it’s still decent.
Detective Comics #828 (***1/2)
More murder mystery hooray! Actually, that part was just ok, but at least Dini’s Riddler is back. Remember he’s a good guy who gets to pal around with Batman now? Again I have to say that I enjoy this version of Riddler. It’s nice to see him team up with Bats and of course we get some humor. Oh and I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that Dini isn’t really writing Batman, he’s writing Bruce Wayne. This is all about Wayne’s life. Sure Batman is a big part of it, but we also get to see Bruce’s friends and his love life and so on. It’s another element that keeps this run fresh.
Detective Comics #831 (****)
Dini writes Harley Quinn! How can you not feel the love? Yes we get some Harley action here and guess what? She isn’t very villainous. That’s one of Dini’s themes remember? Harley is trying to go good but someone breaks her out of jail. Is it the Joker? Nope, it’s that new Ventriloquist. She or they, however you want to think of it, need her for a job. Will Harley go evil? I won’t tell you, but I will say that if you loved the old Ventriloquist you need to check this out. This is one of Wesker’s finest moments. So Dini wrote about Harley Quinn and it was good. No surprises there.
Detective Comics #833 (*****)
Oh no this isn’t a done-in-one! Who cares it’s great! Remember that issue with Zatanna and Loxias? Well they both return here, but that Loxias guy looks a little different. I wonder why? I won’t spoil it but I was surprised. Also, Dini writes Zatanna really well. Again, Dini’s run is about Bruce Wayne. Zatanna is a childhood friend. She may have even been the first girl Bruce has a crush on, maybe even kissed I don’t know. And then Zatanna betrayed Bruce in a horrible way. Dini writes these characters so realistically. Damn this issue was good.
Detective Comics #834 (****)
So the longest story in Dini’s run so far has been two issues? How cool is that? This conclusion isn’t quite as satisfying as I’d hoped, but it’s still pretty good. Damn it! I didn’t want to spoil this but I have to because I want to ask a question.
SPOILER! What’s up with Joker and the Watchmen? He has the symbol on his shirt here and he also had it in that JSA annual that came out recently. Is there a reason for this? First the Marx Brothers and now this. END SPOILERS!
Anyway, this was another solid issue from the Dini machine. Remember in last issue’s review I talked about Bruce being human? Well check out this quote.
Zatanna: “We’re only human Bruce. Batman: Thanks for reminding me.”
Final Thoughts: I haven’t mentioned Don Kramer’s art yet have I? That’s probably because it’s not very important. Dini’s writing is definitely the star of the show. Still, Kramer consistently performed well. His art isn’t anything to write home about but it got the job done. He even created some new characters like the female Ventriloquist. Farewell dear Kramer!
So I just caught up on Dini’s run and I thought I’d put my feelings up on here. It’s amazing that both Batman books have been so great lately. For the record, Morrison’s run is better. Way better! But Dini’s run is definitely more accessible and crowd pleasing. So I’m going to give you four parts of Dini magic. I’ll try to get one out every Sunday in December. Just think of it as my holiday gift to all of you. Man I love giving gifts that don’t cost anything. Oh and before we begin, I want to mention a few things that I would probably have to mention every issue. I don’t want to repeat myself! First, I love done-in-ones! Most of Dini’s run was written this way and so I have to give Dini big props for that. Even if you don’t like the story, it will end in just one issue. That’s cool, right? Second, I really dig those Simone Bianchi covers. I’m glad he got a “monthly” gig on Astonishing, but I will miss those Detective covers. Oh and lastly, I’m not reviewing these in trades. I thought about it, but almost all the trades contain those terrible fill-ins as well. So I’ll review Dini’s run by issue. Ok, are we done here? Let’s get reviewing!
Detective Comics #821 (*****)
Dini’s run opens with a bang! This first issue was possibly the best of his done-in-ones. Of course that may be because the pages were graced by J.H. Williams III. This book looks fantastic. Williams is a brilliant storyteller and I love his fight scenes because you can see the hits. It’s a fascinating technique that was later used by David Aja in Immortal Iron Fist. In hindsight, this issue was more of a tie-in to Morrison’s run than the “RIP” story, Heart of Hush. There’s a large amount of red and black and this story even revolves around the rich. Those are both strong themes in Morrison’s run. This is an entertaining yarn with great art and even a new villain. A good start.
Detective Comics #822 (***1/2)
Yes! This issue features Roxy Rocket! Anyone remember her from the cartoon? No? Redhead who got off on danger, nothing? Ok, well this issue is mostly about the reformed Riddler. This is a great fit for the character. To heck with Riddler the villain, he isn’t menacing! But as a goofy detective that makes Batman look way better, it works. This was a lot of fun. The mystery was ok and the ending felt rushed but that’s alright. If that’s the price for a done-in-one story I’ll pay it.
Detective Comics #823 (***1/2)
Man I dig that Benitez art! Who is Joe Benitez? He draws a really beautiful female form and his Batman and Robin are super exaggerated. It’s very cartoony and fun! This story feels like a bit of a repeat of the old cartoon. Wasn’t there an episode where Ivy was afraid of plants at the end? And the creepiness kind of reminds me of that episode with the plant babies. Again, entertainment is the name of the game in Dini’s run. This was a hell of a creepy good time!
Detective Comics #824 (****)
Ah the Penguin issue, the class, the opulence, the Paris Hilton reference? Um, ok! I guess this continues another theme of Dini’s run where the villains aren’t very villainous. I think it’s one of the elements that keep the stories fresh even if they aren’t very original. We also get some Lois Lane action. Am I the only one who likes to see Bruce and Lois together? We have some more first appearances in Dini’s run including Zatanna and the mysterious Loxias (Big plans for him I bet. Hindsight rules). Throw in an interesting thug like Mr. ZZZ and we have a winner!
Detective Comics #826 (*****)
To hell with Batman! Bring on Robin! So what does Christmas make you think of? The Joker of course! Dini gives us the clown prince of crime much like the cartoon. He’s funny AND creepy. What’s up with Joker and the Marx Brothers? I believe Joker mentioned them in Batman: Cacophony too. It’s interesting right? Oh and if you don’t know who the Marx Brothers are then shame on you! Go rent Duck Soup or something! Anyway, this was a fantastic Joker issue and Robin is pretty cool too. It’s nice to see those two together without the Bat.
Final Thoughts: So far Dini’s run is a lot of fun! Will that continue? Stay tuned!
So, my laptop died yesterday. I only mention this because for the immediate future, there will not be scans to accompany my reviews. You see, my scanner doesn’t work with XP 64 or Vista, and seeing as how I just spent 800 bucks on a new laptop (w/Vista), it may be a few weeks ‘til I can grab an affordably price compliant scanner. Oh, I also need a new printer, but that isn’t really relevant to you guys. Anyway, on with the scan-less reviews.
Batman #679 (****)
Finally! An issue of RIP I can understand! I’m so late on this, and everyone else has said everything worth saying, I’ll keep this short. The Batman of Zur-en-arrh is OUTSTANDING FUN! Dude, he cuts out his own tooth!?! Converses with imaginary gargoyles and Bat-Mites!?! Beats the living crap out of everybody!?! And next, The Joker!?! OMG!!! I approve.
Detective Comics #847 (****)
This issue, Dini continues with the telling (or is that re-telling?) of the “Origin of Hush”. So far, I like it. I like it better than the rushed garbage that was the introductory Jeph Loeb story (even if it was 12 issues of Jim Lee). But, I don’t like how civil Selina and Zatanna were. I was definitely looking forward to that fight. How do you guys feel about the Scarecrow retcon? Is this cool? I’m on the fence. I need more input. But, so far, like the rest of his run, I’m enjoying this arc.
Robin #176 (****)
Whoa, is this better than the first issue? Hell yes! My favorite stuff, and the RIP junk is nice but I really don’t care about it so much in a book starring Robin, anyway, the best stuff about Fabian’s run so far is that, unlike Dixon, he’s got Tim acting exactly as you’d expect a teenager to act in response to the return of a presumed dead girlfriend. RIGHT!?! He finally admits that he’s pissed at her. Screw Batman RIP, this is what I want from my Robin. Robin’s inability or refusal to act like a real person was one of my biggest complaints about the Dixon stuff, and I’m glad Batman editorial or Fabian or both have decided to do something about it. Well done, sirs.
Nightwing #147 (***)
Um, how does this tie-in to Batman RIP? And where the hell has Two-Face been since One Year Later? Please, explain. Aaaaand, I still hate the way Tomasi writes Dick, er, Richard. Whatever. Maybe Tomasi can only write villains? His black Adam was crazy scary as was his Mongul, and the villains in the “Manhunter Memorial” tie-in were spot on, but his Green Lanterns SUCK, his Justice League SUCKS and his Richard Grayson SUCKS. DC, give this man a villain book!
Final Crisis: Revelations #1 (****)
This was very nice. Spectre killing bad guys? FINALLY! Anyone else grossed out by the way Spectre deals with Effigy and Dr. Light? Oh, since they’re dead, does that mean they’ll both show up in Reign in Hell? That would be cool. What else was cool, how about more infos on Libra? SWEET! Who is this guy? Seriously! The revelation is gonna be sick, I tell you. Oh, is that what the title is referring to? Mayhaps. Question was in here as well, and that stuff was nice, but I’m still not sold on her character. It’s well written, but I just don’t care about Montoya. Since this is a tie-in mini that Grant specifically asked Rucka to write for him, I’m reasonably sure that by the end, we’ll come to view this series as fundamentally essential to the Final Crisis epic. It’s definitely been the best of the tie-ins so far, although I have yet to read Legion…
Final Crisis: Director’s Cut #1 (****1/2)
Why buy this? A number of reasons, actually. 1) The black and white J.G. Jones pencils are A-M-Z-I-N-G. Just, WOW. Without the color and the word balloons, his skill really shows through. And if you had any questions about what was going on, these uncluttered pages answer them. I would definitely buy a hardcover like this. Seriously. It’s like the Ultimate DVD Special Edition. 2) Full Morrison Script. And, um, CRAP this is hard to read. I feel sorry for Jones. Seriously, this stuff is insane with the heavy. The description of the “Orrery of Worlds” is migraine-inducing. 3) By far, the best reason to buy this is the interview with Morrison and Jones in the back. The comments are revealing to say the least. Morrison and Jones explain scene and dialogue choices, metaphors, motivations, as well as hints of things to come. Usually, these Director’s Cuts are a lame attempt to grab more cash, but in this case, if you’re trying to decipher the mystery that is Final Crisis, this is a must-buy. For real though, this is by no means necessary reading. BUT, if you are already enjoying this series, this is definitely worth checking out. Or, wait for the hardcover/omnibus/abosulte edition. I’m sure it’ll be reprinted in there.