Best Shots Reviews: BATMAN - CREATURE OF THE NIGHT #1, SECRET WARRIORS #9, GREEN ARROW ANNUAL #1

Secret Warriors #9
Credit: Javier Garron (Marvel Comics)
Credit: John Paul Leon (DC Comics)

Batman: Creature of the Night #1
Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by John Paul Leon
Lettered by Todd Klein
Published by DC Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The concept of superheroes is inherently fantastical. Usually the intersection between them and realism sees the fictional worlds becoming grounded, as opposed to the real world being heightened. But that’s where Kurt Busiek comes in, whose bibliography has often sought to observe these fictional worlds from the ordinary civilian’s perspective. Following his grounded work on Superman: Secret Identity comes Batman: Creature of the Night, a multi-layered character study that showcases how the levels of fantasy and realism should ebb and flow when they’re matched to a particular main character and where they are in life.

With this series, Busiek acknowledges the connection established between comic characters and our world. In some cases, a child may not have even read any superhero books, but there’s still a good chance they’ve pretended to be the Caped Crusader, the Man of Steel, or whoever they feel most connected to. In the case of this first issue, the child feeling a bond with Batman is Bruce Wainwright. (So much so that he likes being called “Master Bruce.”) As with Secret Identity, the series opens with a splash, a page with Golden Age stylings, before zooming out to reveal Bruce reading a Batman comic book, then further zooming out to show more of the Wainwright’s house. Already, the barriers between our world, Bruce’s world and Batman’s world are starting to break down.

It’s near impossible to not think of Secret Identity with regards to this issue. The parallels are intentional, but there’s a large difference between the origins stories of Batman and Superman. So unfortunately, on Halloween night in 1968’s Boston, Bruce Wainwright loses his parents. While his world is upended, he doesn’t lose everything, as his uncle Alton Frederick is still alive, but Alton’s implied lifestyle is not condoned in this time period, so Bruce is sent to Cornerstone Academy instead. There’s far more to the story beyond this, however - Busiek’s handling of the narrative gives each event the time and weight it deserves, and John Paul Leon’s Boston is densely detailed. The second page, set partially in the kitchen of the Wainwright household and partially on the streets of Boston, is indicative of the issue’s overall intricacy. Within this kitchen, numerous appliances exist, and all manner of things are strewn about on top of surfaces. The kitchen is not merely a location, it’s lived in. This version of Boston in 1968 might skew closer to our world rather than an in-universe depiction, but Leon doesn’t see this as an opportunity to skimp on fleshing it out.

Neither does Busiek for that matter, as he opts to use this miniseries as a chance to delve further, psychologically speaking. Partway through the issue, it becomes clear this is a far more surrealist story than Secret Identity. One page in particular is directly focalized through Bruce’s mind and comes with its own visual language that seeps through into later ones. There’s a light crimson red to everything that isn’t masked with opaque shadows and captured in a scratchy area of vision. Then Busiek and Leon jolt Bruce back into the real world, showing the first moments of this new chapter of his life through his eyes. The rest of Leon’s work in the issue makes use of these qualities as well, the shadows loom over young Bruce. He’s able to evoke a sense of Gotham during scenes set at night without losing sight of the fact this is a Boston-set story. If there’s a true analogue to his work here, then it’s David Mazzucchelli’s Year One art, and it’ll be interesting to see if and who he looks to create parallels to in later issues.

Busiek also affords Alton the opportunity to narrate parts of the story, switching back and forth between him and Bruce. If there’s an issue with this issue, it’s that Alton’s narration is in cursive. While the decision is an appropriate one, it is trickier to instantly process, especially when compared to the rest of the lettering in the book. Bruce is shown to be an avid reader at the start of the story, but he’s still a child, so his narration boxes are more akin to a child writing in crayon. The letters are shaky and don’t sit on a straight line, but understandable regardless as Todd Klein avoids exaggerating these qualities.

Which is perhaps a summation of the issue. This world is markedly different from both Gotham and our own, but Busiek, Leon, and Klein don’t bend it to the point that it breaks in the process. Instead, they twist it just enough and offer multiple ways to approach Batman: Creature of the Night. They’ve put the work into ensuring this isn’t just a rehash or going through the motions. It’s a distinct story. Fresh without being alienating. Intently subjective, but through multiple perspectives, posing questions about objectivity, “truth” and reality in the process. As with Secret Identity, the creative team consider the real-world implications of superheroes while also looking at why we’re drawn to them as concepts, symbols and characters. Such as when Bruce heads inside a zoo’s bat exhibit and Leon initially composes the creatures as blocks of shadow - at a glance, they’re just shapes on a page, but give it a second and they can truly mean something.

Credit: Javier Garron (Marvel Comics)

Secret Warriors #9
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art by Javier Garron, Will Robson and Israel Silva
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Secret Warriors continues to bring the personality, but is losing its spark a bit going into its ninth issue. Divided by recent revelations, the team has turned their attention to returning the children kidnapped by Dark Beast and Mr. Sinister. Writer Matthew Rosenberg’s team of misfits still provide plenty of charm throughout the proceedings, but this newest arc has yet to really capture the same manic energy of the team’s first adventures. That said, the art team of Javier Garron, Will Robson, and Israel Silva are still very much bringing it thanks to their splashy and expressive pencils and colors, keeping the series’ look and feel consistent, a rare quality in monthly comics these days. Though Secret Warriors #9 doesn’t blow the doors off the joint, it is still a fun enough lark with some of Marvel’s coolest oddballs.

“Babysitter” might not be in the job description of a superhero, but Daisy Johnson and her team are still playing the part in the aftermath of last issue’s cliffhanger. After discovering the Dark Beast’s experiments, the team has taken it upon themselves to return the stolen children to their homes in order to give them some semblance of a normal life. Any time superheroes have to interact with children (especially ones like Magik) is always comedy gold, but while Rosenberg’s knack for naturally funny dialogue is still very much on display, the overall plotting of the issue leaves something to be desired.

From the splintering of the team to a generic fight between Dark Beast and his benefactor, Mr. Sinister, Rosenberg looks to be leaning into more traditional comic book storytelling for this current arc, and while that might be good for a jumping-on point, I can’t help but be disappointed that the political fire that sustained the earlier issues seems to be dying out. Don’t get me wrong, Rosenberg is still dealing with some heady stuff during this issue, in particular Karnak’s new morally gray corporate position and Moon Girl’s increasing frustration with the direction the team is going, but I just wish this issue had more of a thematic point as of now. Rosenberg has the ability to do so, as we have seen in early issues, but one hopes that that spark doesn’t fully go out before this arc is finished.

But helping to keep that spark alive is the art team of Javier Garron, Will Robson, and Israel Silva, thanks to their truly adorable and expressive character renderings. Garron, working closely with guest artist Will Robson, continues to lean into the over-dramatic expressions of the teenage and twenty-something cast, providing the issue some of its funniest moments that barely have anything to do with the dialogue at all. For example, before teleporting away after dropping off their latest quarry, Kamala yells, much to Daisy and Magik’s dismay that they “didn’t kidnap him.” The expressions that Garron, Robson, and Silva put on the faces of all three characters are just absolutely priceless with Illyana barely holding in her annoyance, Kamala being all smiles, and Daisy just holding her hands out in a classic “what the actual hell?” shrug. Secret Warriors has been a book that has traded on its expressive characters from the get go and it is nice to see that not only has it kept a consistent look throughout its tenure, but it still hasn’t lost its color, heart, or knack for visual comedy just yet.

While losing a bit of the steam provided by the highly politicized narrative flames Secret Empire provided, Secret Warriors #9 still does right by its cast, but at the expense of its usually sharp plotting. Though it is still early in this new arc and still has plenty of time to pivot, I can’t help but be a little let down that post-“Stevil,” this title has started to play it safe. All that said, I still enjoy this cast, and I hope Rosenberg and company might find more to say about the state of the Marvel Universe and the world outside our windows in future issues.

Credit: Jamal Campbell (DC Comics)

Green Arrow Annual #1
Written by Benjamin Percy
Art by Eleonora Carlini and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
?'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Ollie is dreaming of a green Christmas in the first Green Arrow Annual since the "Rebirth" relaunch. Benjamin Percy’s title for the issue, “Ghosts in the Machine,” would suggest a play on the Charles Dickens classic, especially given Percy’s penchant for literary allusions. There’s certainly an element of looking to the past in this oversized issue, but one that acts as a standalone holiday special as well.

Taking place before the events of Green Arrow #24 (this issue was originally solicited to come out months earlier), this annual Ollie, Roy, Emiko, and Dinah each experience a Yuletide memory that turns sinister. A young Oliver Queen, for example, spends time with his moth before Diggle enacts his vengeance. Emiko’s fantasy crush on Nightwing gives way to a bloody rampage at the hands of Shado. It’s a pattern that repeats several times before the literally hard-headed Canary fights through the noise to discover that Count Vertigo is behind the discombobulation.

So rather than being a spin on A Christmas Carol, Percy instead puts Arrow and Canary’s most classic foe at the heart of a Pied Piper setup. Even in this elongated special, the narrative whips along at a cracking pace. It’s perhaps a little darker in parts than you’d expect for a Christmas special, and Percy has removed much of the "social justice" (save for a few lines here and there) that has permeated his Green Arrow work to date.

Eleanora Carlini and Hi-Fi’s artwork is in keeping with the groundwork laid down by the likes of Otto Schmidt and Juan Ferreyra over the course of the main title. Seamlessly transitioning from merry and misty mornings to harrowing horror in a heartbeat. Emiko’s aforementioned Nightwing sequence borders on being cartoonish with anime highlights before crashing back into the ‘reality’ of her worst nightmares. Hi-Fi’s color scheme not only helps this transition, but draws a stylistic line between the four main character sections of the issue.

All’s well that ends well in what amounts to a fairly goofy conclusion, where even the bad guy gets a happy ending at Christmas. The ending is all a bit convenient, of course, but that’s the nature of the Christmas genre. After a difficult year in Seattle/Star City, filled with multi-part sagas and crossovers, it’s nice to have a standalone story line this to round out 2017. As a nice Christmas cracker for long-time fans, the issue is reminiscent of the early Gerry Conway/Trevor Von Eeden backup stories that filled World’s Finest Comics back in the day. So really, there’s a little Gift Arrow under the tree for everyone here.

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