Best Shots Reviews: BATMAN #62, OUTER DARKNESS #3, BARBARELLA / DEJAH THORIS #1

"Batman #62" variant
"Batman #62" variant
Credit: Frank Miller (DC Comics)
Credit: Mitch Gerads (DC Comics)

Batman #62
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads
Lettering by Clayon Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

When you stop to think about the success of Batman as a character, sometimes you can’t help but appreciate the irony. Depending on who you ask, he’s at least one of the top three most recognizable superheroes in pop culture - yet how many people can relate to having their parents mugged in an alleyway, let alone transforming themselves into a devastatingly fit, freakishly well-trained kung fu gadget billionaire?

And yet, Tom King and Mitch Gerads place readers directly in the shoes of the Dark Knight Detective in Batman #62, a psychological mindtrip that, for the most part, could serve as a fitting primer to Batman for anyone interested in reading his exploits. Because while Professor Pyg has been marketed as the issue’s headliner, the real trick to this story is just how well King gets us inside Batman’s head. While the final swerve of the issue might turn off some readers - at least until King’s “Knightmares” storyline is concluded - the sheer artistry on display by King and Gerads makes this one of my favorite issues of Batman in quite some time.

“Open your eyes… Evaluate. Reassess. What do you see?” With a cold open of Batman hanging upside-down in Professor Pyg’s slaughterhouse, we’re immediately dropped into the thick of things. And honestly, it feels like a revelation - because we’ve been so wrapped up in Batman’s anguish following Catwoman’s departure, starting off with a no-frills look into Batman’s thought process is bracing. King writes the Dark Knight’s thoughts as economical as his combat skills, immediately breaking down his capture as a mystery to be solved. How did he wind up swinging from a rope in Pyg’s lair? What does Pyg have to do with Bane’s overarching plot? And how does he escape?

But it’s King’s usage of the second-person perspective immediately adds urgency to the mix. It’s not enough that Batman has a batarang taped to his chest in case of emergency - we, the readers, have to drive the point of it deep enough in our fingers to get the blade free. To that end, he also gets Gerads in the mix, by occasionally shifting perspective from Batman’s eyes - as King writes that we’re cutting the rope, we still are hanging upside-down, the view tilting slightly as Batman is about to free himself. The ever-shifting perspective keeps readers on the hook, encouraging us to try to crack the mystery before Batman himself.

And what can be said about Mitch Gerads’ work here? Readers might have gotten used to seeing him work in a nine-panel grid during Mister Miracle, but honestly, I might argue that Gerads has outdone himself here. Working almost exclusively with three-panel pages, Gerads is given so much more room to maneuver within, his red, orange, and green color palette providing a nightmarish glow to the proceedings. With the issue’s sole setting covered in blood with pig carcasses hanging from the ceiling, Gerads’ work will really stick with readers, particularly a panel of Batman hanging upside-down, screaming as blood trickles into his mouth. Meanwhile, Gerads’ take on Pyg stands toe-to-toe with anything we’ve seen of the character before - while there’s an added twist later, the look of beady-eyed hunger to the killer’s eyes is unsettling.

That said, the ending of this issue is likely what will make or break some readers. It is certainly ambiguous - is this all just a nightmare, as the title of the arc implies? Unfortunately, we likely won’t know the real answer, at least not until this arc is complete, and there’s a valid point for those who might think that the story progression is a cop-out. I’d argue, however, that that’s not the reason why you should be reading this issue - if anything, King and Gerads are giving readers an experience, an opportunity to be the Dark Knight in a way that I’d argue you can’t even replicate in video games or film. It’s a guided tour of Batman’s innermost thoughts - and while it might have more than a little in common with Pyg’s messy, chaotic slaughterhouse, it’s the kind of adventure that sticks with you long after you put the book down. Given the high bar that King and Gerads set for their collaborations with Mister Miracle, Batman #62 I think clears that lofty standard nicely.

Credit: Afu Chan (Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment)

Outer Darkness #3
Written by John Layman
Art by Afu Chan
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

They say space is the final frontier - but what about voyaging beyond the event horizon of death itself? That’s the high concept insanity at the heart of Outer Darkness #3, which lets writer John Layman and artist Afu Chan really flex their muscles after setting up their characters and their world during the past two installments. Part Star Trek, part otherworldly horror, this third chapter of Outer Darkness feels like both a promise and a threat - because if the very grasp of death can be thwarted, what worser perils do these creators have in store?

Impishly titled “Away Team,” this issue takes a dark turn on some of the classic tropes of science fiction. It’s been a long-standing joke amongst Trekkies that redshirts are just another word for having a target on your back - but with the USS Charon’s latest ill-fated expedition, Layman doesn’t let his crew off quite that easily. Because even as we watch members of the crew get slaughtered on a dead and unforgiving planet, death isn’t the end of the story - instead, Layman leans deep into this mish-mash of science and black magic that he’s been cooking up with this series, and gives us a really clever workaround that doesn’t quite thwart the cold sting of the great beyond, but instead adds more possibilities (and complications) for Captain Rigg and his crew.

In a lot of ways, this sort of fake-out and reversal feels like classic Layman - we’ve seen similar twists in his work on Chew - but the tone is completely different, in a way that I think keeps readers even more on their toes. This is undoubtedly because of Afu Chan’s artwork - delivering pencils, inks and colors for the entire book, Outer Darkness looks like nothing else on the stands, perfectly mashing up the bright lights of a Star Trek with the foreboding greens and oranges of a demonic hellscape. There are so many great flourishes that Chan provides, from the metal-as-hell sequence where the Charon rescues disembodied souls from orbit, to a quiet moment where one crewmember has a particularly haunting reaction to the resurrection process. Also, letterer Pat Brosseau deserves a lot of credit here - he’s able to lend his own particular spin on the dialogue and the captions without being heavy-handed, but able to pull off grace notes like a deluge of sound effects as an alien horde is mowed down.

There’s a deep well of storytelling potential to Outer Darkness, as Layman and Chan are able to play the tropes of science fiction and horror against one another to create some unexpected new storytelling avenues. What’s more, now that the creative team has established their characters, they’re able to lean into this mash-up melange even further, while still playing up the stakes of death (and worse) for the Charon’s crew. If space isn’t forever and death is suddenly an optional state, where else can your story go? Perhaps that’s what the Outer Darkness really means - a totally unpredictable voyage that I can’t wait to see more of.

Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

Barbarella/Dejah Thoris #1
Written by Leah Williams
Art by German Garcia and Addison Duke
Lettering by Crank!
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Two of pulp’s greatest leading ladies team up in the clever and gorgeously rendered Barbarella/Dejah Thoris #1. Helmed by rising star Leah Williams and given a clean Paolo Rivera-esque look from artists German Garcia and Addison Duke, this new pulp sci-fi team-up from Dynamite Entertainment puts the two space-faring heroes on the trail of a murderer - that is, assuming they don’t kill each other first.

This story, like most, starts with a murder. Noted geneticist Dr. Gitu has just completed his life’s work, and is promptly murdered by an unseen culprit for his trouble. Enter groovy space explorer Barbarella, who has an appointment with Gitu and shows up only minutes too late. But strangely enough, this moment has apparently been prepared for by the murder victim himself, as Barbarella is quickly swept up in a scavenger hunt from beyond the grave. Meanwhile, ten thousand years ago on the red planet Barsoom, Dejah Thoris finds a mystery all her own buried underneath ancient sands -a door which leads both our heroines to our titular team-up. In terms of plot, Leah Williams isn’t really giving up much, but the dynamic between the two women and her handle on their personalities on their own beforehand really sparkles.

Though she makes sparingly tactful use of the sort of “cheesecake” reputation and energy of the two women, Williams leans more into the scientifically minded and exploration focused aspects of the two heroes, landing this script somewhere between Indiana Jones and Doctor Who. And enough really cannot be said for the dynamic Williams starts to develop between the two leads. We only get quick examples of it as they only come together in the issue’s last sequence, but already it is truly delightful with Dejah being “the serious one” and Barbarella occupying the role of “one who loves to mess with the Serious One.”

Not to mention the artwork! Lovingly laid out by German Garcia and given splashy, evocative colors throughout by Addison Duke, this issue doesn’t quite have the bombast of other Barsoom titles or the high concept action of the previous Barbarella run, but it more than makes up for it with quiet style. For example, the scene in which Barbarella hunts down Dr. Gitu’s notes. It is only one full page, but Duke and Garcia make it feel like much more as she silently flits about the lab and the surrounding exterior sets, the latter being detailed in a row of film-like panels, silently showing Barbarella moving from note to note. Like I said, it isn’t exactly a huge chase scene or anti-gravity gun fight, but it is still a clever enough sequence; one that makes a lot out of a little, but still has a real visual drive and energy.

I understand that team-ups are part and parcel of comics in general, but Barbarella/Dejah Thoris #1 looks as if it will rise above the novelty of the characters meeting and having a disposable adventure. Much of that stems from Leah Williams’ clear love and understanding of the characters and a desire to do something worthy of them. Toward that goal, Williams has tremendous partners in German Garcia and Addison Duke, who bring a cinematic, yet pulpy visuals to the title, breaking the women slightly from their established looks and casting them as the leading ladies they really should be. Fun, flirty, and armed with fantastic visuals, Barbarella/Dejah Thoris #1 is a far-out winner.

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