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Batman and Robin #15

Written by Peter Tomasi

Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

This is what the Dynamic Duo is all about — while has slowed down for exposition in the "Death of the Family" storyline, its sister title Batman and Robin has stepped right up and gone straight for the jugular. With Alfred held hostage by the Joker, it's up to Damian Wayne to try to track the Clown Prince of Crime, in a story that very much suits the strengths of this creative team.

To sum up this issue in one word, it would be this: gross. Not in a bad way, mind you, but there's a real visceral quality to this mystery that even the main book hasn't quite hit yet. That's all Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, who have long indulged a gleeful goriness to their work. But with the new-and-improved Joker, well, it feels like they've found their niche — while Greg Capullo's Joker looks scratchy and deformed, Gleason's is off-the-wall disturbing, with the Joker's flesh-mask taking on a whole new level of filthy choreography. (There's a great line about Robin turning the Joker's frown upside down. Hurl.) Even the environments have their own distinct creepiness to them, with blood spatters on the walls of Wayne Manor or the grime coating the bars of the Joker's cages.

What's most distressing about Gleason's Joker isn't so much his constantly shifting, puffed up face, but what's underneath — there is a haunting, serial killer shadow lurking underneath the Joker's eyes, and not knowing where he's looking or what he's thinking is far scarier than the bugs and maggots infesting his lair. And to add to that sickening antagonist is the clean, cartoony Robin, whose eyes tell so much to the reader, even when hidden behind opaque lenses. As Damian hatches a plan with his dog Titus or scours the scene where Alfred was last seen, there's a real soulfulness to this pint-sized killer, as you see that, beneath all his problems, he too just wants to bring his family back together.

Beneath all this visual characterization, Tomasi shines, as well. There's a bit of a formula to these "Death of the Family" stories — sidekick meets Joker, Joker torments sidekick, Joker serves a twist featuring their worst fear — but Tomasi really makes the execution his own. The Joker's dialogue, for example, really reads a lot like Heath Ledger's Joker from "The Dark Knight": "I once spend five hours watching Robins gorge themselves on fermented pryacantha berries in Gotham Park," he remarks. "Their intoxicating behavior was mesmerizing, flying into each other. I wanted to laugh, but in a strange way it was so sad." Tomasi makes the Joker a menace, even more than Snyder, arguably. Snyder's Joker has to have a plan. Tomasi's just revels in the filth.

It's that atmosphere that makes Batman and Robin #15 such a treat, as it goes even further than its flagship book dares. It looks and feels disgusting, disturbing, creepy — all the qualities the faceless Joker has been designed to cultivate. With Damian Wayne getting more and more likable as he becomes more protective over his father figures, this is a great exercise in watching two fun characters clash and strike some sparks.

 

Amazing Spider-Man #699.1

Written by Joe Keatinge and Dan Slott

Art by Valentine Delandro, Marco Checchetto and Antonio Fabela

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Do we need a Morbius?

That's the question you should probably ask yourself before you buy Amazing Spider-Man #699.1, a book in which the title character appears in exactly one panel. This book is instead all primer for Morbius the Living Vampire, but winds up being a bloodless entree for the character's new series.

The problem with this book is that while this character study is comprehensive, Joe Keatinge doesn't really add anything to Morbius's history that would make us care for him, or would spin his story off into a new and interesting direction. Morbius has a debilitating illness? Okay. He's working with his best friend to try to find a cure? Sure. But to be honest, we got all that in his very first issue, way back in Amazing Spider-Man #101.

What Keatinge does add here feels like it's two steps away from really affecting the reader. Morbius's overprotective mother doesn't really add much of an impact to his temperament, and his wife Francine pops in and out of this story so abruptly you'll wonder why Keatinge even bothered to waste the page count. There's no metaphor behind Morbius, no new insight, which makes this comic feel about as fulfilling as paying to read Morbius's Wikipedia article.

The artwork is the book's one bright spot, but it's ultimately relative, just window dressing for a paucity of story. Valentine Delandro reminds me a lot of those sketchy artists like Paul Acazeta or Chris Samnee, with chunkier inking that adds a lot of weight and shadow to the mix. Yet Delandro still has room to grow, particularly with Morbius's shriveled frame being less dynamic or imposing and more just gnarled and rough on the eyes. There's a fine line between making a character look sick and still making them interesting to look at, but Delandro doesn't really bring in much in the way of choreography to really sell this book home.

The initial bait-and-switch aside — because honestly, this should have been covered in , not in Amazing Spider-Man, particularly not on the cliffhanger we're on now — the overall aim of this comic feels thwarted here. Are we supposed to care about Michael Morbius? Is Marvel trying to take a new spin on him? There is a ton of potential for new story angles and new artistic takes on the Living Vampire, but if this preview is any indication, this comic is no bark and even less bite.

 

Batman #15

Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV

Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Jock, Dave Baron, and FCO Plascencia

Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt and Taylor Esposito

Published by DC Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Batman and the Joker are certainly in the running for "weirdest relationship in comics." Batman #15 ups the ante and drives home why Batman has to keep reminding himself that the Joker is just a man, when at times, he's more of a force of nature. Unrelenting, chaotic, and five steps ahead of Batman in their seemingly never-ending game. This time, writer Scott Snyder has incorporated members of the Bat-family and a mist of uncertainty is starting to take form about Batman's ability taking on Joker this time around.

From page one, we get an even clearer idea of Snyder's direction of the Joker. He's somebody that even makes Batman fearful. The inner monologue that Batman gives on the splash page is one of the scariest things to come out of the New 52, and certainly defines the Joker for what he is this time around. Greg Capullo captures more of the Joker's essence of madness and evil in that one image than most artists have done in the past ten years. And much like the Joker himself, Capullo and inker Jonathan Glapion are unleashed and put out some of the best looking visuals in Batman yet.

Snyder's beats have kept a decent pace with each issue fitting strongly with the previous one. There's a strong start with a tantalizing end, but the middle creeps slowly along. The fact that the Bat-family (Nightwing, especially) would start to not believe Bruce in how the Joker operates is a bit weird. While in no way is Bruce a leader of sorts in the "family", when he tells you that Joker is manipulating and lying about what he knows about each member, I'd take it to heart. Yes, Joker is unpredictable and has done some incredibly heinous things, you know Batman is the go-to expert on him. The argument among the family and Batman is an interesting take, but just felt like it took the wind out of the sails for a minute. Right after that, we have an awesome interrogation scene between Batman and Arkham guard Dylan McDyre that definitely has an old-school Frank Miller vibe and something that no other Bat book could have had.

Capullo, Glapion, and FCO aren't alone on artistic duties as Jock and colorist Dave Baron give a taste of what Joker has planned. Snyder and protégé James Tynion IV again have an outstanding back up story that features Joker, a dead horse, and a cameo by the Riddler sans question mark mohawk, thank goodness. It's a glimmer of things to come with Riddler and Snyder and Tynion really have some fun, showing off his intelligent prowess and egotistical side. This Joker feels less like the one in the regular story, but still has an edge to him. Less "nightmare incarnate" and more "sociopathic jerk," but still gets the point across.

Batman #15 is a party in comic form. Even a minor drag here can't stop what's already in motion. Batman is walking barefoot into Hell and it's going to be an unpredictable ride for sure. If Snyder and company have given any inclination of what is to come, there are going to be some even greater moments in store that are sure to keep us as fans tuned in, and images that will stay with us for years to come.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #17

Written by Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz

Art by Ben Bates and Rhonda Pattison

Lettering by Shawn Lee

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Sometimes, simple is good. When IDW first launched its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic, the main hook was the stylish artwork by Dan Duncan — yet all that flash still couldn't cover up some flaws, including a weird rebooted origin to issues with composition and layout.

Not so today. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn't as wild or reckless as it once was, but in playing it safer it improves upon the fundamentals. Even if you haven't been keeping up with the Heroes in a Half-Shell lately, it's plenty easy to catch up with this sturdy opening issue.

In the hands of TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman and his co-writer Tom Waltz, the Turtles are in a rut. They've been beaten down emotionally as well as physically, and that's the perfect way to lay down exposition — as Master Splinter rallies the family, you catch a glimpse of the turmoil roiling beneath the sullen Michelangelo, the resolute Raphael, or the haunted Leonardo. That said, the individual characterization does take a back seat here, as Waltz and Eastman have plenty of other fish to fry — they balance an epic war story with the Neutrino army, a hint of corporate espionage with April O'Neil, and some intrigue with the Shredder and the Foot Clan. It's not the most dynamic telling in the world, but it's easy to follow and totally comprehensive. If you wanted to know what was going on with the Ninja Turtles, this is a good place to start.

The art, however, is where I think this book has a quiet victory. Don't get me wrong, I love Dan Duncan, his scratchy lines evoking a sort of graffiti feel to the Turtles. But Ben Bates knows the basics. His characters are a bit blockier, a bit cartoonier, almost reminding me of an all-ages book more than the original rebellious relaunch. That's not a bad thing, however — Bates' composition and panel-to-panel storytelling is really top-notch, giving the Turtles their own moments to shine and get introduced to the reader. Bates' action sequences look nice, too, particularly a dynamic shot of the Turtles and Casey Jones barreling towards an enemy — I love Mikey sticking his tongue out as he does a handstand, while Leonardo has both katanas crossed, ready to strike.

That said, while mastering the basics is essential, the book has lost some of its flash. Because Eastman and Waltz have to juggle no less than four different factions, the Turtles themselves don't always feel like the focus — yeah, they're in the center of it all, but the story doesn't feel distinctly their own yet, especially since the flashy moments are few and far between. Also, by virtue of having to give us the exposition, there's a lot more telling to this story than showing — seeing the Turtles vent through action was way more satisfying than Splinter's "preventative maintenance" pep talk, and I wish I could have seen more.

Sometimes, reinventing the wheel isn't all it's cracked up to be. In the case of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there is already a rich cast of characters to play with, so why waste time trying to put a new spin when you can dig into what we all love and enjoy? Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz spin a lot of plates here, and they deliver a solid reintroduction to the Fearsome Foursome. With Ben Bates giving this series a strong visual foundation, now is definitely the time to give the Turtles a shot.

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