Best Shots Reviews: BATMAN: LAST KNIGHT ON EARTH #1, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #22

"Amazing Spider-Man #22" covers 2019
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Batman: The Last Knight on Earth #1
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and FCO Plascencia
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are no strangers to Batman. The team first did a nearly 50-issue run that defined Batman for the New 52. And then they made Batman the center for the destruction of the Multiverse in DC’s Metal event. Now the creative team is back together again, this time with Jonathan Glapion, FCO Plascencia, and Tom Napolitano, to create their take on a time-honored Batman tradition — the last Batman story. Batman: Last Knight on Earth serves as the capper to Snyder and Capullo’s Batman tales, a story of the final days of the Dark Knight detective.

There’s a story buried somewhere in these pages, but it’s hard to find it, as Snyder and Capullo try to ease the reader’s transition into a futuristic, Mad Max-like world where Green Lantern rings rained down to Earth from a dead Mogo, while the Amazons stage a last stand with Poison Ivy and Vixen among their numbers. It takes a bit to get to these wilder locales, though, as the comic opens up in a very familiar Gotham City, with Batman trying to solve a puzzle of mysterious five-foot lines of chalk showing up daily all over Gotham. The mystery leads Batman to Crime Alley and a boy kneeling in the rain. Capullo, Glapion, and Plascencia draw a wonderfully moody sequence that provides a contemporary link to this team’s past Batman stories — this part of the story very well could have been the next issue on Batman that never happened in their run. And by setting it in Crime Alley, Capullo and company signal this stories’ connection to all other Batman stories before it, going back to Batman’s own origin story.

But it doesn’t take much more than a flash of light for Batman to suddenly find himself in Arkham Asylum — not as a vindicated crimefighter, but as a patient of the asylum, trapped in delusions since the night that his parents were killed. Here is the first step out of a world that we know, but still in a familiar setting. But Snyder and Capullo keeps us disoriented as Batman himself is. As Bruce grapples with his sense of identity and the world around him, we discover that Arkham is the final way station before our final destination — the end of the world, where Batman’s only companion is the Joker’s animated head, trapped in a lantern that recalls the original Red Hood’s helmet. In this wasteland, Batman’s familiar costume is replaced by a straightjacket, with a bat-like “W” marking him like a scarlet letter. Again, this story ties references back to the earliest Batman stories, creating subtle bridges between the past and the future.

If Snyder and Capullo’s “Zero Year” storyline in Batman marked this team’s reshaping of the Batman earliest days, this issue is the beginning of their Dark Knight Returns, taking their gigantic Batman story to its final days. In previous stories, we’ve seen Batman enact plans to ensure there will always be a Batman, going back to a short story with Snyder and Sean Gordon Murphy and revisited again in the last major Batman arc that Snyder and Capullo worked on. In this story, we’re seeing that plan carried out in a DC universe that’s moved well beyond the stage of superheroes. Snyder and Capullo systematically strip Batman of everything that we think makes him Batman and thrust him into a wasteland that breeds survivors more than heroes. Bruce’s familiar cape and cowl are replaced by the remnants of shock therapy sessions in Arkham, and maybe that says everything we need to know about this Batman.

This isn’t the calculating, controlling superhero that we’ve always known; this is a man who is as out-of-control as this new world is. Would a sane Batman set out into the world with the decapitated head of the Joker being his only link to who he was? Snyder and Capullo have always shown the Batman/Joker relationship that is something more than just merely adversarial, and they continue that exploration here in the most sublime way, with Batman basically carrying around the Joker’s head on a stick.

Capullo, Glapion, and Plascencia’s visual callbacks to their past stories, such as a buzzing fly circling a morbidly grinning doctor’s head, creates their own continuity of Batman stories. The art grounds the story in its own history but that’s almost all it does for a large majority of this issue. The art in the first third of the issue, which includes the Gotham and Arkham sequences, is moody, suspenseful and evocative. But once the story moves into the wasteland, the art becomes expository, working with the writing to explain everything that takes any excitement out of the storytelling. Following Snyder’s lead in building this world, Capullo’s artwork establishes order and rules over a sequence that would work better with a touch more chaos and untamed action. It’s shocking how tame this uncharted future feels after this issue’s more traditional but suspenseful opening worked to disorient its audience.

As a first issue, it is hard to see exactly what The Last Knight on Earth is setting up. There’s no mystery to solve, not criminal mastermind to overcome, no emotional trauma to deal with. It’s Batman versus a world that needs something more than a caped crusader. This vision of the DC universe offers a post-superhero perspective where a rich guy with gadgets doesn’t make a lot of sense. So this isn’t a story about Batman saving the day. It’s got to be something else. In the structure of this issue, as it moves from Gotham to Arkham to the wasteland, we can see that this will be a journey, a quest, but to what is the question remaining. There’s potential here, but the prize of this story remains hidden for now.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #22
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Edgar Delgado and Erick Arciniega
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

 

While comics are often praised for being a medium of endless possibilities, superhero comics can sometimes be the antithesis of that idea. Frequently these properties get stuck in nostalgia loops with new works saying little more than “wasn’t that old story cool?” and creators failing to do more than tip their caps to those that came before them. That’s unfortunately where Nick Spencer finds himself with the conclusion of “Hunted,” an arc that does little more than remind us that “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is a story that exists.

There was definitely some promise in Spencer’s initial setup for this art. Having Arcade and Kraven team-up for a Most Dangerous Game-style story that pits the Marvel Universe’s animal-themed heroes and villains against those who can afford to hunt them is a story with potential. And arguably, the space given to examine individual villains still holds up. But the main narrative was directionless and meandering, nowhere more so than in its conclusion that sees Spider-Man and Kraven go one-on-one.

Instead of a battle between the iconic pair, Spencer contextualizes Kraven’s obsession through the lens of J. Michael Straczynski’s divisive storyline “The Other,” and that’s certainly a choice. While events (like Spider-Verse) have gone to a similar place and the math adds up in terms of Kraven’s relationship to the animal kingdom, it’s hardly an exciting conclusion. We’re left with a buildup that felt three issues too long and a conclusion that felt two issues too short. Schmaltzy monologuing about what it means to be a hero is par for the course in a Spider-Man book, but it just doesn’t feel earned here especially when it seems to just solve the storyline so suddenly.

And with a dialogue-heavy issue, Spencer really fails to play to his art team’s strengths. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Humberto Ramos’ linework is some of the most energetic in comics, but it feels like he’s really laboring here. He doesn’t get as much consistency from his renderings of Spider-Man as we’re used to. The fight choreography feels like it’s capturing moments a second after the one that would have been the most explosive. His backgrounds are mostly nonexistent, and that leads to the colors taking on a sort of murky amorphous quality. It’s not the best look overall from the art team.

Nick Spencer’s run has been a mixed bag to this point. It will certainly be interesting to see where he goes from here given that this arc hasn’t been quite the event that it could have been. It’s surprising that he decided to riff so closely to an older story given that his initial arc at least attempted to do something a little but unexpected. As for this one, if nothing else, “Hunted” will remind you that “The Gauntlet” and “Kraven’s Last Hunt” are comics that are more than worth your time and money.

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