Best Shots Reviews: DCEASED - UNKILLABLES #1, BATMAN #89

Batman #89
Credit: Francesco Mattina (DC)
Credit: DC

DCeased: Unkillables #1
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Karl Mostert, Trevor Scott, Neil Edwards, John Livesay and Rex Lokus
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The world of DCeased gets a new breed of hero in the violently cool DCeased: Unkillables. Focused on the opening days of the Anti-Life plague, writer Tom Taylor returns to this fallen Earth to show us how DC’s street-level bad guys are faring after the end of the world. Not only does this issue possess a cheeky, irreverent charm intercut with bloody action, it looks gorgeous as well, thanks to up-and-coming penciler Karl Mostert. Armed with an expressive, Frank Quitely-esque look and interesting points of view when it comes to scene construction, Mostert brings a real heart and energy to the visuals of this spinoff. Though oddly timed as a sister title given that the main series ended a while ago, DCeased: Unkillables #1 is a pleasantly dark surprise.

Even as the world ends, Deathstroke is on the job. Tasked with wiping out a particularly hateful group of church-bombing terrorists, Slade is grateful for what he thinks is going to be some easy money. But as he enters the compound, he finds that the job - and the world around him - has changed, for it is the first day of the Anti-Life plague. Though we have seen this kind of setup before from Taylor, he quickly reverses the punchline of the main series - though Slade is exposed to the tech-based plague, instead of succumbing to Darkseid’s infection, his healing factor manages to reverse it, making him an unlikely standard-bearer for the rest of the human race. Judging by the bloody swath the mercenary carves afterwards, whoever said the meek shall inherit the Earth clearly hasn’t passed the memo to Tom Taylor.

It’s with this comparatively smaller-scale approach that Taylor begins to build up Slade’s supporting cast, Engagingly time-stamped by letterer Saida Temofonte, Taylor and Mostert take us through the back alleys of the main DCeased miniseries, this time led by Slade and his daughter, Ravager. Their dynamic yields one the issue’s better jump scares in the form of Rose’s precognitive abilities, where she sees herself getting chomped by a horde of Anti-Life zombies the moment she leaves her apartment. Like his run on Suicide Squad, Taylor’s scenes have a real wit and grim charge to them, showing that no one is safe - even those who can survive of the infection of the Anti-Life plague.

But it isn’t just all dark humor and stunning displays of violence. Taylor also manages a great deal of heart in this opening issue. The issue’s B-plot concerns the fate of Jason Todd, who returns to the Batcave too late to save the characters killed in the main series. From there, Todd becomes the title’s co-leading man, reuniting with Ace the Bat-Hound, providing his family a proper burial in the Batcave, and setting out to save the last remaining Bat-Family members alive: Cassandra Cain and Jim Gordon. The contrast between these scenes and the villains gives the issue a fine dichotomy and continues Taylor’s streak of pathos amid an apocalypse. Like the initial scenes with Deathstroke and the surviving Rogues, I would have liked maybe a scene more beyond the team-building, but the potential for greatness is very much there.

Sweetening this post-apocalyptic pot is the art of Karl Mostert, Trevor Scott, Neil Edwards, John Livesay and Rex Lokus. Led by Mostert’s expressive and energetic pencils, the entire art team renders Taylor’s script well, bouncing nicely between tight interiors and well-blocked action. Mostert in particular displays a keen point of view during certain scenes, in particular when Red Hood addresses someone through the Batmobile’s window and when Mirror Master walks Deathstroke and Ravager through the mirror dimension. The former is a tight, key-hole of a page, making use of the negative space around the panel to only show us through the passenger side window, while the latter is a show-stopping splash page featuring gory windows into the fallen Earth. It might be a bit much for some readers for sure, but it is a stellar display of the art team’s work throughout this debut issue.

Though it’s release is oddly timed for a spin-off, that does nothing to lessen the power or fun DCeased: Unkillables. Graced with pathos and grit by Tom Taylor and rendered with stellar artwork from a confident art team, DCeased: Unkillables is a killer debut.

Credit: Tony S. Daniel (DC)

Batman #89
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Carlo Pagulayan, Guillem March, Danny Miki and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

There’s a part of me that really wants to love what James Tynion IV is doing with his Batman, but the trouble is, it’s hard to see it as anything more than the sum of its parts. As Batman and Catwoman’s investigations of the Designer finally collide, Tynion keeps hitting his marks in terms of progressing the story and making this feel like the kind of Batman book that we weren’t getting 80-plus issues before he began. But in that straightforwardness, there’s something cold about Tynion’s execution. It doesn’t help that the art has not maintained any sort of consistency during Tynion’s tenure. Artist Carlo Pagulayan and Guillem March’s work don’t feel like a conversation, and Danny Miki’s work feels like it’s getting lost, like he’s unable to put that indelible stamp on this issue like we’ve seen him do before. The result is a book that feels as though it’s not truly reaching its full potential.

When you look at James Tynion’s best work, you’ll find common threads of found families banding together against seemingly impossible odds and struggling to maintain their own unique identities while looking for acceptance. Unfortunately, those themes are absent in this Batman run, and Tynion’s already proven that they don’t have to be (just look at his recent work on Detective Comics). The longer that Tynion’s Batman run has remained insular, limited in scope and number of characters with emotional ties to Bruce Wayne, the more and more it feels like the writer is just going through the motions. A quick fight scene here. A couple of throwaway new villains there. An overarching threat that feels undefined and removed from the narrative. Yet another new piece of Bat-Tech. Tynion’s issues are starting to feel remarkably similar.

That said, Tynion’s work here isn’t bad as much as it’s lacking in innovation or imagination. The voices of his characters feel fairly on point. He skews Harley Quinn away from the full-on jokey meta interpretation favored by her solo series to give us a character that feels like she belongs in this world, even if she remains the silliest thing about it. Batman and Lucius Fox, meanwhile, have a great rapport that feels different from his one-sided banter with Alfred. But Tynion is somewhat betrayed by the art here. If the Designer already seemed like a hackneyed idea, Pagulayan’s design for him cements it. A blank mask with a stylized “D” on it, a military tunic (?) over camo pants and a cape with a big fur collar call to mind a kid playing dress up more than the imposing presence of this arc.

Pagulayan’s pages bear out a similar sort of haphazard inconsistency. He acquits himself well when the characters in question don’t have much emoting to do. His work with Batman and Mr. Teeth proves that he excels with an expression that requires a certain level of grimness or gritted teeth. But as March tags in for the scenes featuring Catwoman and Harley Quinn, he too frequently relegates his female characters to blank stares if the script isn’t calling for particularly big emotions. The action sequences work well enough throughout, however, even if some of the body language is a little off-putting or impossible. In a lot of ways, the effort that both artists put forth here feels like they’re just drawing two completely different books. Try as he might, inker Danny Miki isn’t able to bridge the gap between them and it makes the book a really inconsistent read that fails to deliver on even the meager emotional stakes presented.

There is no doubt that this is some fans’ ideal type of Batman book. It’s one with a mysterious villain, that features Batman getting ever closer to revealing their identity and doing all the Batman business of punching bad guys, using his detective skills and some new tech to do so. But it is a disappointment given the skill level of the creators involved. The hallmarks of a great James Tynion book just aren’t there, as the writer seems to be forcing himself to write an answer to fans’ expectation of what a Batman book should be, rather than deliver a title that feels uniquely his. It’s possible that this is an aberration, a necessary evil to build toward “Joker War” and allow Tynion to spread his wings a bit. But right now, Batman doesn’t feel like the essential reading that it usually is in the DCU.

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