Best Shots Comic Reviews: BATMAN #24 (Zero Year), INFINITY #4, More

Batman #24
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Batman #24
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, and FCO Pascencia
Letters by Nick Napolitano Published by DC Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Where to begin? I have to think this was a question on the minds of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo as they set out to tackle territory previously discovered by the late Bill Finger and Bob Kane, and later claim-staked by Frank Miller. How then does a creative team tell a story that continues to captivate the imaginations of comic book readers, television audiences, and movie going fans for nearly seventy-five years? If you can't top Bill Finger's story, and you shouldn't even try to mimic Miller's retelling, then you pick up Batman #24. It may not upend the legends of old, but it certainly provides an invigorating take for contemporary readers and fans.

My first impression of just how rich and exciting this issue was going to be was in the way Snyder, Capullo, and Plascencia come together in the opening page to create sequence that is very reminiscent of the critically acclaimed retelling of Superman's origins in All-Star Superman. From its horizontally stacked panel layout to the warm colors and bright lights depicting a great source of fire that fuels each hero's powers, there is a feeling that something great is about to happen. And this isn't the only time allusions to moments of comic myth appear throughout this issue. I don't want to spoil any of the fun for readers, so you'll have to find them on your own. But it's important to note that these different nods to the past are more than just a game of "hide and seek." Capullo and Snyder come across as showing respect to those writers, artists, and directors of the past who paved the way for their vision of how the comic book Batman of the 21st Century came to be through such acknowledgements – a concern both creators addressed when first embarking upon this massive story arc.

Credit: DC Comics

The artistic team of Greg Capullo and FCO Plascencia are performing at their absolute peak. Plascencia deftly moves from cool, dark tones to impassioned reds, oranges, and yellows as the setting shifts in a similar way to a musical score helps move a listener along to the pace of the story. In some cases, his work brings the reader to a startling halt. I had shivers when looking down upon Plascencia's depiction of the Gotham cityscape as Bruce is captured by the Red Hood gang. It's an iconic moment splashed across the page that will leave a lasting impression.

Of course, Greg Capullo continues to make a resounding argument for his place on the roster of modern masters when it comes to Batman. My eyes never once were bored when taking in his work. From packing in little details (i.e., pictures of the young Kate and Beth Kane) to smart panel composition (check out the page with Batman's face in the background while his eyes are replaced by panels mimicking the night-vision goggles' lens in the foreground), the issue does not disappoint. Now, there were a few images in the comic where Capullo deviates from what might be more realistic depictions of the action and Batman's corporal body seems to be lost in the shadows, such as one scene with Batman leaping out onto the Red Hood gang from the shadows. What the readers seen, then, is a black, iconic image of the Bat with its piercing white eyes striking out against the criminals of Gotham. Considering the context of this issue is all about building up the iconic myth of the bat behind the man, however, it ends up being extremely effective.

Narratively speaking, I honestly don't know many writers who can get away with large chunks of exposition and dialogue like Scott Snyder can. This is due in large part to Snyder's ability to strike a balance between these lengthier passages followed by textually sparse pages as this issue demonstrates. One point in particular is Bruce's compelling speech about what Gotham means to its people. When I think about what Snyder previously had to say about the city in his "Black Mirror" story arc from Detective Comics and this scene from "Zero Year," we get a really sharp contrast between the two different ends of the spectrum on how Gotham affects its people.

Snyder seek to provide readers with a plausible answer to the question so many fans and writers before have asked: "Why do these people continue to live in a crime-infested city populated by psychopathic criminals and madmen?!" The way Bruce addresses the cameras, and the people at home respond becomes an out-of-text discussion between the characters in the text and the author and audience outside of the pages. We love Gotham, just as the Waynes and its citizens do, because it encourages us to face and then overcome our own challenges. Call me a romantic, but this issue does more than simply retread sacred ground in the Bat canon. It attempts to capture much of the spirit of why Gotham provides such a compelling setting for its inhabitants, Snyder absolutely nails it.

Credit: DC Comics

Of course, the writer doesn't let the artists get away with all of the Easter eggs in this issue. I'd recommend going back and rereading the last pages of Batman #17 after you finish this issue. It makes for an interesting pair of bookends. There's more I could say, but I don't want to spoil anything. What I will say is that Snyder's handling of the concern over other characters' origins is like that of his Batman origin – it is respectful both to the source material and the spirit of the character all the while pulling readers along for the ride as though it was the first time.

I can see how some readers may see the way Snyder wraps up the thread with Uncle Phil as something of a cliché; on the other hand, it could also be seen as providing a fitting end to the process that started Bruce on his path to becoming the Batman. Readers will need to decide for themselves whether the depiction of this trope is either an archetype fleshed out or a stereotypical plot element. What is certain is this story will generate strong opinions on both sides of the fence.

The issue ends with an extended backup (more than half of a regular issue) with James Tynion IV assisting with writing duties as he helps introduce the Riddler in his first appearance on the scene as a true villain whom Batman will need to face. While I did find myself wondering if this story didn't belong in an issue of its own, it seems clear the Bat-team is looking to make up for lost ground from DC's "Villains' Month" initiative, and this double-sized issue serves to get readers back on track with "Zero Year."

This backup lays the foundation for the destruction of Gotham readers saw in the first issue of "Zero Year," and establishes the next part of this yearlong storyline. Meanwhile Rafael Albuquerque steps in to pick up artistic responsibilities with Dave McCaig. Albuquerque's loose brushwork is a stark shift from the tightly controlled lines Capullo employs, and readers will no doubt pick up on the change – but that's not necessarily a bad thing. There was a scene with Bruce and Alfred in the Batcave however, did seem a little less polished in some points and caught me off-guard. In one panel, the colors did not completely fill the space that outlined Alfred's head, and in the same panel there is a shot of Bruce seated in costume that had something of a lack of detail and texture. Admittedly, it is still good artwork that Albuquerque and McCaig turn in; however, I think the shift in styles was so drastic that it made me much more aware of the subtle differences in the way the characters were approached from one artistic team to the next.

Overall, this was a phenomenal issue that delivers both immediate answers to questions raised in earlier issues of this series all the while challenging readers to really think about what Gotham – and Batman – really means to them.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Infinity #4
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Jerome Opena, Dustin Weaver and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

After three issues of epic space opera, Jonathan Hickman and company take a surprisingly smaller-scale, almost intimate turn with the fourth issue of Infinity - much to this series' benefit. While there are still some issues with the execution, Hickman's renewed focus on one of Earth's Mightiest Heroes gives this chapter some punch.

For much of Infinity, Hickman has gone all in with the various space nations of the Marvel Universe, bringing us the Kree, the Sh'iar, the world of Spartax - and the little planet that could, Earth. In many ways, it was like Annihilation, only this series couldn't quite commit to what it wanted to be - a book about Marvel's lesser-known alien races, or a book about the Avengers. Hickman steers a bit more towards the latter this issue, as the mighty Thor gets one of his best moments in recent memory, as he employs his unique... "negotiating" skills against the malevolent Builders.

For my money, that's the highlight of the book, because Hickman finally delivers on the promise of his Avengers run - namely, getting to show Marvel's biggest icons doing what they do best. But once you get past the initial rush of Thor being a total badass, you do notice some hiccups in Hickman's plotting. For example, he builds up Captain America as a great tactician, but at least as far as this issue goes... Cap's plan isn't particularly devious or smart, it's just window-dressing for a slick action beat. In addition, Hickman's subplot featuring Black Bolt and Thanos actually signals an enormous change in the Marvel Universe, but it winds up going by so quickly that the weight isn't fully realized. This is Hickman's "No More Mutants" moment, yet it goes by so fast and with so little fanfare you can almost miss it.

The artwork for this book, however, is unassailable. Jerome Opena in particular just draws the hell out of the Avengers, really playing up how powerful Thor is and just how grotesque the Builders truly are. Opena's composition is superb, and he really sells Hickman's big moments, especially when Thor finally gets to cut loose, stirring up a frenzy among the Kree Accusers. Dustin Weaver takes on the scenes with Black Bolt and Thanos, and while his work comes off a bit more cartoony than the realistic Opena, he does a great job at playing up the destruction wreaked when Attilan falls.

Sometimes less is more. While Jonathan Hickman should be applauded for his sense of scale in Infinity, there's been a disconnect the past few issues that has come with all the space opera. So by focusing only on a few subplots, Hickman has really made this event story more accessible and more exciting, giving Infinity #4 a momentum that lets it skate past its shakier moments. While this issue isn't perfect by a long shot, this series is definitely on an upswing.

Credit: DHC

Colder Trade Paperback
Written by Paul Tobin
Art by Juan Ferreyra
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The chill up your spine when you read Colder is nothing compared to the deep freeze of Declain, set up to be tortured by a demon from another world named Nimble Jack. When Declan’s nurse Reece gets in the middle of the fight, the sanity of anyone in their path gets called into question. The fight for the mind heats up in this five issue horror series from Dark Horse.

Though he might be more recognizable for lighthearted projects like the Eisner-winning Bandette with Colleen Coover or his Marvel Adventures work, writer Paul Tobin really nails this psychological horror story, with the help of amazing artwork from Juan Ferreyra. This one wastes no time getting down to the action, opening at a mental institution being burned down by one of the patients. Ferreyra shows a woman smiling while she burns to death, happy that the flames have come to claim her. She looks like she’s ready for a family portrait while others show the agony of being consumed alive.

Ferreyra’s style reminds me quite a bit of Jill Thompson, though perhaps just a bit slicker with a touch more computer polishing. His characters, especially the main villain Nimble Jack, are fluid and lithe. They flow across the page, allowing Ferreyra to pose them as needed or show the major action going on in the story. This is especially important to the story, because when the world of reality and that which Nimble Jack inhabits start to blur, it feels natural, because both worlds live and breathe, albeit in different ways. We aren’t jarred when Reece is swallowed up by hands created from the roof of a taxi since Ferreyra’s shown us how slight the wall is between Nimble Jack’s reality and ours.

It’s a style that works extremely well with the story that Tobin puts together. The entire concept hinges around the idea of a creature who feeds on mental illness, all while bouncing across the pages of the story and getting some great lines of dialogue. Nimble Jack is instantly one of my favorite new horror creations, thanks to things like perching atop a cop car and saying, “I can see why cats like it here” or stating that “a connoisseur waits until the meats are tenderized” to explain why he pauses before attacking Declan. The dialogue in this series is amazing, ranging from pithy to panicked to even just a touch of a love story, here and there. It might be Tobin’s best work in that regard.

Snappy dialogue and cool art aren’t enough on their own, however - they have to have a solid plot to work with. Tobin provides that, hinting at the dynamic between Nimble Jack and Declan early on, then refining their relationship by providing clues across the course of the adventure. By the time the story reaches its climax, the resolution between these two antagonists makes perfect sense, even while it still throws the reader for a curve. (Saying more might spoil the fun for a new reader, but suffice it to say that toying with your prey isn’t always the best idea.)

In between the opening and closing are cool ideas that visualize the horror of the mind. Declan can shift between worlds by exploiting the mental illness of those around him, and so we get to see things like a man’s fear of dog magnified into horrific beasts. Ferreyra’s linework in these moments really shines, as he turns what I believe are pitbulls into six-legged monstrosities that hover against the windows of a narrow corridor, just waiting to attack. When Declan takes Reece into his past, the fiery institution returns, looking to claim a new victim. Nimble Jack kills at every opportunity. The action never slows yet at the same time we’re always returning to the main theme of Declan versus Jack, with Reece in the middle.

Putting together a terror of the mind story that plays out well visually isn’t easy, but Tobin and Ferreyra set the bar with this mini-series that provides closure yet is just open-ended enough to lead to further stories. This one would be recommended for the art alone, but has a solid story that keeps building at every turn of the page. Horror fans that missed this in single issues should transport themselves to the comic store (or their favorite digital device) to pick this one up, just in time for Halloween.

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