Best Shots Reviews: BATMAN #75, DAREDEVIL #8, THE SEQUELS

Daredevil #8
Credit: Chip Zdarsky (Marvel Comics)
Credit: DC

Batman #75
Written by Tom King
Art by Tony S. Daniel, Mitch Gerads, and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“City of Bane” kicks off with a poetic slice of worldbuilding in Batman #75. Pieced together by another dip by Tom King into Aesop’s fables, Batman #75 picks up an indeterminate amount of time after last month’s Bat-breaking cliffhanger. Bane has won and Gotham has now enjoys a sort of ruthless peace, held together by the Flashpoint Batman, Gotham Girl, and a new 'police force' of brainwashed villains.

While this is happening Bruce Wayne is trekking through the Himalayas, narrated by the parable of the “Farmer and the Neighbors.” He seeks the “memory of the mountain,” presumably a way to combat Bane. These scenes clearly show that King is still up to his prosaic and theatrical ways, but overall the “new world order” he creates with City of Bane is a really fun one. Backed by longtime collaborators Tony S. Daniel and Mitch Gerads, Batman #75 might be just the shot in the arm that King’s labyrinthine Batman run has sorely needed.

Opening with an ominous “Later” caption amid a page of rain, the creative team drop us right in the thick of the City of Bane - a city where the Joker and Riddler are two top detectives working for GCPD Commissioner Hugo Strange. To make matters worse, any other villain who doesn’t keep the party line is rounded up by the Flashpoint Batman and Gotham Girl and subjected to a “therapy session” with the Psycho-Pirate.

Obviously Tom King is still playing some cards close to his chest. It is very telling he hasn't revealed the whereabouts of the Bat-family just yet or the rest of the “rebel” villains. Meanwhile, his high-minded scripting keep the audience at a bit of a distance for the opening issue. But all that said, “City of Bane” really introduces a ton of fun story hooks, any one of which could sustain a whole arc. They could be better served with some more context, but the idea of a villain-led police state in Gotham is way too fun to just dismiss outright.

And Batman #75 also has the added bonus of looking tremendous. Armed with the cinematic and richly colored one-two punch of Tony S. Daniel and Mitch Gerads, Batman #75 immerses us visually in the “City of Bane”, arguably a little better than the script itself. From that sparse, rain-soaked opening, Daniel and colorist Tomeu Morey give us a sort of street-level POV of the new Gotham, one where the Joker and Riddler work a murder of C-list rogues Dr. Double X. And if this is a gag or a puzzle, Daniel and Morey play it deadly straight, containing the two forces of chaos in tightly contained panel grids, leaning into an oddly realistic tone.

From there, they jump to the rooftops and a kinetic action sequence starring the Flashpoint Batman and Gotham Girl against Two-Face and his new muscle. It is here Daniel’s slickness and way with action blocking comes into focus, as Thomas Wayne and Gotham Girl completely dismantle Two-Face’s defenses in loud, bombastic pages ending with a grimly funny final beat. King’s frequent collaborator Mitch Gerads then brings it all home with a nigh-apocalyptic final sequence.

Bane is, for lack of a better term, negotiating with an unseen pillar of the DC baddie community for the future of Gotham. The dialogue crackles in the odd, somewhat overwritten way that King’s dialogue can, but Gerads is running away with the scene detailing just what this future is. A future where Professor Pyg can kill the destitute at will along with the rest of Bane’s psychotic new “police force.” As the dialogue goes on Gerads delivers cameo after cameo of Batman’s worst enemies, now deputized and walking the streets freely while their warlord leader discusses walling it off as his own little fiefdom. It is striking stuff for a final cliffhanger, but Mitch Gerads absolutely sells it with sketchy, garishly colored final pages to show that this event isn’t just going to be big, it’s going to be pretty weird as well.

And honestly? I think Tom King’s run is always better when it gets weirder and bigger. That’s Batman #75 in spades. Armed with big deal stakes, dynamite visuals, and a portentous voice, Batman #75 is a thrilling jumping-on point for those who may have moved on from Gotham.

Credit: Chip Zdarsky (Marvel Comics)

Daredevil #8
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Lalit Kumar Sharma, Jay Leisten and Java Tartaglia
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

How many Daredevil runs have we had that circled back to a confrontation between our horned hero and the Kingpin? That after how many issues of trying to press forward, one always manages to drag the other back? The difference with where Charles Soule went with his run, and how Chip Zdarsky has followed on from that, is that this time, both characters are making an attempt to move past who they’ve been for so long. In turn, a fascinating dichotomy has been created for the book, one where Hell’s Kitchen itself seems to be rejecting their attempts to escape what it is, and who they are.

As a result of this thematic exploration, the most exhilarating part of the issue is not the beat of action that comes at a tension-driven highpoint, but instead the context for that moment; a conversation around the dinner table about morality, power and what’s good in this godforsaken world. But before we get to that situation, we should talk about Mayor Fisk. For so much of his publication history, Fisk has managed to operate outside the limits of the law. He’d built a criminal enterprise with numerous lieutenants working under him, and if he wanted something, he’d get it.

Now, Fisk finds himself having to work within these limits, doing the glad-handing that’s needed to sway approval in the political world. He’s gone out hunting with the governor of New York (who of course knows who Fisk was and how he used to operate) in order to discuss some potential legislature. Getting his way is no longer as straightforward as Fisk once knew — now he needs to build support for his position every time he decides to hold one. Even with this being the ostensible B-story to everything going on with Matt Murdock, Zdarsky manages to concisely convey the obstacles Fisk faces should he choose to stay on the level, as well as how old habits die hard.

This arc is delivered without the glossy sheen of Marco Checchetto and Sunny Gho’s work, the kind that gave the Kitchen’s streets in the first five issues a glistening quality. Lalit Kumar Sharma, Jay Leisten and Java Tartaglia have quieter, more conversation-based material to work with in this arc and so their power lies in the way that looks are held. There’s a panel of Fisk that’s akin to him staring directly into you, menacing even though his dialogue is about legislation.

Which brings us to Matt, who visits bookseller Mindy once again, gets invited to dinner and winds up in a situation that doesn’t require enhanced senses to be understood as dangerous. Of course, Matt doesn’t realize he’s stumbled into a lion’s den until it’s too late — the tension can be cut with a knife, not just for how Zdarsky teases out further danger after the penny’s already dropped, but also for how Sharma blocks the scene following that. Murdock is literally caught in the middle of a marriage before he’s done anything. Another strong look comes from the family matriarch asking Matt if he knows who they are. Sharma holds the moment across two panels before he answers, and the hesitation works even when Leisten’s inks make for thick glasses with impenetrable lenses.

The group’s positioning around the table is such that it allows someone’s interjection to pop into the panel or catch a reaction that says more than a reply could. His art isn’t as initially stunning as Checchetto’s cityscapes, but they’re doing a lot of smart storytelling in terms of how this conversation is laid out in order to keep it moving, something which Clayton Cowles certainly deserves credit for as well, considering how heady it threatens to get. The issue’s central conceit puts positions in direct challenge with one another, with ideals and beliefs being cross-examined and interrogated. The action is brief, yet noticeably weaker due to how it causes these spatial relations to collapse into frantic scurrying for safety.

From the strong sense of class politics that comes across to the sense of history that’s built up through a recollection of past events, Hell’s Kitchen and its way of doing things comes across as an ever-present force in the story being told even as it’s being told within the confines of domesticity. The neighborhood has established its own order that has become a way of life for so many. It’s presented as easier to go along with, as any attempt to escape will see the city find a way to pull you back in.

Daredevil is dead, long live Daredevil.

Credit: Fanbase Press

The Sequels
Written by Norm Harper
Art by Val Halvorson, Bobby Timony and Deanna Poppe
Lettering by Oceano Ransford
Published by Fanbase Press
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The Sequels is a delight, a precautionary tale about nostalgia more than a full-throated celebration of all the fun things we left behind in yesteryear. Created by Norm Harper, The Sequels is a four-issue miniseries collected this week in paperback that tells the story of four children of the ‘80s who, against all odds, experience the kinds of wild adventures the rest of us only would have seen on the silver screen. Avery meets a fantastically high-tech robot and, after helping him escape to Canada, grows up to write children’s books about it. Gwendolyn (Gwen, not Lynn) ran into aliens, Russ (“Scratch”) defeated Dracula in his high school gym, and Dakota journeyed into a fantastical realm to save the very idea of imagination.

Their experiences haunt them, to varying degrees, in large part because they’re so difficult to reconcile with the mundanity of everyday life. Avery laments people’s passion for smartphones — how cool is Alexa, after all, when you literally helped a self-aware AI escape the clutches of the US military-industrial complex with the power of your skateboard? Gwen remains plagued by a casualty of her adventures, always wondering if they’ll come back to haunt her, while Russ and Dakota are hiding secrets that threaten to upend the uniqueness of their adventures. The four are drawn together by a mystery man for a support group of ordinary people who have experienced extraordinary things, and, perhaps against their better judgement, choose to use a “wishing stone” Dakota kept from his adventures to check back in with the fantastical friends they made one last time.

Val Halvorson and Bobby Timony’s art sells the premise. Harper’s writing is snappy and fun, but Halvorson and Timony shift between a pop-art past (Timony) and unhappy present (Halverson) with stark shifts in style that embody the adventurer’s rosy-eyed perspective of their own pasts. The present seems washed out and glum for most of the book, in every world the gang encounters as they try to catch up to their pasts, but Halverson manages to keep panels from feeling oppressively dreary even when drenched with gloomy purples and inky black while Timony’s pop-art style sells the wide-eyed joy and wonder of not just the kids during their experiences, but the cheerful, glossy sheen we tend to reflect back on past eras of pop culture with. The Sequels is fun and thoughtful and adventurous in equal measure, mulling over what happens when four precocious kids find their lives sidetracked by their refusal to grow and move on.

The Sequels is Stranger Things after Stranger Things, with somehow more of a conspiratorial bent. What happens when the kids leave Hawkins, and someone’s gone to great lengths to make sure that word of what’s happened to them never gets around to anyone else? How do you live with what’s happened to you when there’s no one on earth who can really even help you process the impact it has on your day-to-day life? In an entertainment era plagued by endless references as nostalgia stand-ins, The Sequels invokes not just a genuine fondness for the atmosphere and tropes of ‘80s media, but a thoughtfulness about how to appreciate it and move forward — ideally, to create those inspiring and warm-hearted moments for new generations as you go.

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