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Batman: The Return #1

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by David Finch, Batt, Ryan Winn and Peter Steigerwald

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

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What's the best way to fight a war on crime? Build yourself an army.

That's the main thrust of Batman: The Return, which, if this issue is any indication, looks like it will herald a bold new era for Bruce Wayne and his circle of caped crusaders. Bringing in much of the immediate Bat-family -- which seems like it will be growing exponentially in the months to come -- this is a less of an opening issue as it is a declaration of purpose, a completely different chapter from the psycho-conspiracies of Batman R.I.P. and its sequel chapters. Crime knows no borders, and with The Return, neither does the Bat.

What's so interesting about this book is, tonally, it feels like a new Grant Morrison, even if he's had nose to the grindstone wrapping up The Return of Bruce Wayne. Those were some big ideas he was lugging around then, and so it's refreshing to see a little bit simpler, a little bit more tactile mission statement for Batman. "Starting today, we fight ideas with better ideas," Bruce says, underlining the spine of this new status quo. "The idea of crime with the idea of Batman." And you have to give Morrison some serious credit for ambition -- four years later, he's still building a better Batmobile, with Bruce's plans sure to invigorate the thrust of Robin, Batgirl, Oracle and a whole lot more. Everything moves fast, and while there's a bit of an episodic structure to the narrative, it's a great way for almost everyone to get their moment in the sun.


And there are little things here, as well, that really help change the flavor of the Batman book, outside of the obvious shift in subject matter. You get a bit of a hint of The Dark Knight film in the mix here, with Lucius Fox's all-too-accepting nature of Bruce's Bat-demands, and the focus on technology and gadgetry is something we haven't really seen in awhile. There will be those, of course, who will get upset by some of the enemies Batman faces in this book -- there is a bit of a superheroic tinge still there, with a deranged lazer-shooting creature feeling a little out of place. But at the same time, Morrison's shooting for an international vibe, and designer superhumans definitely sounds like a world-class mystery.

The real X-factor for this book, however, is David Finch, who draws his first set of full interiors for DC since Batman #700. One look at the double-page spread shows that Finch is a beast with his pencils, giving Batman a larger-than-life sense of power that threatens to swallow the page. "Planet Gotham," indeed. The other thing that really surprised me about Finch's work in this issue was the fact that he was able to pack in a lot into his pages -- there's eight-panel layouts that don't lose much in their density, particularly a panel where Batman vanishes into a cloud of smoke. There's the occasional weirdness with the anatomy -- although it's hard to notice when you're looking at a hulking spread of the Batcave -- but there's this dirtiness to Finch's lines that makes him a great fit for the street-fighting-gone-global that Batman Incorporated promises.

Honestly, there's so much going on in this 30-page story, it hits like a freight train. That's not to say that there won't be people who aren't disappointed that Batman isn't immediately hitting the streets, and there are those who will hold a grudge against Morrison for some of his previous excesses with continuity. But this feels like continuity with a purpose, as Morrison seeks to build upon the idea of Batman's potential, and turn it into a real force for the DC Universe as a whole. The war on crime never changes -- but it does escalate. So get in on the ground floor for Batman Incorporated with Batman: The Return -- because it looks like this book's stock is ready to go sky-high.


Return of the Dapper Men

Written by Jim McCann

Art by Janet K. Lee

Lettering by Dave Lanphear

Published by Archaia

Review by George Marston

Return of the Dapper Men is the latest in a recent string of modern day fairy tales written and published by those in the comics industry.  Presented as a storybook, with the layout, design, and storytelling of a traditional comic, Return of the Dapper Man does it's best to appeal to both children and adults with a high concept morality play set in a fantastic world of clockwork automatons and eternally young children.  It is clear that writer Jim McCann had a very clear concept of both his world and the themes he wanted to present when crafting this story; unfortunately it isn't always clear what's going on in the world, or what the themes are.

Return of the Dapper Men starts strong enough, introducing the idea of a world where people build machines to do their work, and children are left to play the day away without a care.  When time stops, however, things get a bit muddled up, and before long, the children are toiling away below ground, and the machines, built for labor, have freewheeling run of the surface world.  The two groups stand staunchly apart, rarely interacting, until a boy named Ayden begins an unlikely, and often unspoken, friendship with a clockwork girl named Zoe.  The city itself is named "Anorev," which, when flipped, is "Verona," the location of Shakespeare's immortal satire "Romeo & Juliet."  Clearly a nod to the unlikely pairing of Ayden and Zoe, whose respective peers do not approve of their friendship, this is, in a way, where the trouble begins.  The themes begin to get a little muddled as the story unfolds.  Is Return of the Dapper Men a story about true love and friendship transcending its apparent boundaries?  Is it a story about the line between true creativity, inspiration, and mimicry?  Is it a cautionary tale about mankind's reliance on machinery stunting our growth as a culture?  The fact is, it attempts to be all of these things, and winds up losing sight of all of them. 

As the story progresses, Ayden and Zoe find themselves caught in the middle of other children, who do not approve of Zoe's presence in their midst, and a tyrannical clockwork voyeur who covets a mysterious angelic automaton that stands out in the harbor, and in turn, covets Zoe for her resemblance to the angel.  The sudden return of the titular "Dapper Men," apparently the creators and architects of this world, throws everything into disarray, as they set about trying to set things right with their creation.  One Dapper Man in particular takes a shine to Ayden, the world's last creative child, and decides to help him and Zoe realize their true potential. 

Often, through the course of this book, ideas pop up that could probably turn into their own stories.  Sadly, every time a new concept makes its way to the page, the broth gets a little thinner, and everyone gets a little less meat in their soup.  Janet Lee's artwork has been a much touted element of this book.  Her process in creating the work is, in itself, revolutionary.  Because of that, the book is gorgeous.  Her character designs are full of charm, and expression, and her carefully crafted collage work, particularly in the introductory scenes, is truly breathtaking.  It's her weakness as a storyteller that is the art's undoing, however, as important plot elements are often discussed before being seen, such as when Ayden and Zoe discuss the enigmatic clockwork angel that sits in Anorev's harbor.  Where is the angel that they're looking at?  You'll have to wait several more pages to see it.  This type of disconnect in the visual storytelling and the text pops up often enough that it hurts the book almost as much as Lee's lovely character work helps it.  It's simply that too often, we're meant to understand things that aren't conveyed by the dialogue or text, and in turn, aren't apparent through the visual page.

Ayden and his Dapper Man companion often have exchanges where the Dapper Man will say something enigmatic, and Ayden will say, "I understand now!" or where some enigmatic event prompts a caption explaining that, "Ayden finally understood."  It's almost frustrating, since these conversations and events rarely convey what it is that must be understood, or what higher truth must be realized.  Did Ayden come to learn that everything has its right place, and that everyone has a destiny?  Did he learn that people stopped growing, not because time stopped, but because they stopped caring?  There are myriad themes at play, and none of them receive a satisfactory moral in the end.  While it was beautiful, and it honestly did invoke many of the ideas that I think McCann was going for, the contradictory density of theme and almost gossamer level penetration into those themes made it a little bit tough to grasp.  I can't imagine what the average child would get from the book, other than some lovely illustrations and a slightly jumbled fairy tale.

In the end, Return of the Dapper Men will be remembered as a classic, mostly for its concept, and its revolutionary artwork.  If the level of praise and buzz surrounding the release are any indication, I am one of the few who couldn't get far enough past the flaws to fully immerse myself in the world of Anorev, and I won't begrudge anyone their enjoyment of this book.  It was well put together, and well conceived, but poorly realized as a cohesive story, and that's what put me off.


The Sixth Gun #6

Written by Cullen Bunn

Art by Brian Hurtt and Bill Crabtree

Lettered by Brian Hurtt

Published by Oni Press

Reviewed by Scott Cederlund

Every good western needs a big gun fight so it makes sense that every good supernatural western needs a big supernatural gun fight.  In The Sixth Gun #6, Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt don’t let a single page of this issue constrain them as they let panels from their story spill out over consecutive pages.  It’s a welcome and subtle change but changes the scope of this issue, creating a huge, cinematic battle without falling into the stagnant traps of most “wide-screen” action comics.

Each page becomes a large two-page spread, made up of three tiers of panels.  Bunn and Hurtt have one of the panels cross over the center of the page, covering at least parts of both pages.  It’s huge and expansive but doesn’t feel out of place or gimmicky in this story.  Even as they have departed a bit from the way they usually tell their story, the events in this book as Drake Sinclair and General Hume face off with their forces, both dead and alive, behind them almost demands a grander scale of storytelling.  Hurtt even has a Jeff Smith-like feel to his artwork here, capturing the character’s essences in their faces, telling the story through a glance or a glare.  There is a simplicity in this faces that quickly and efficiently tells you everything you need to know about these characters and what they are fighting for.

Bunn pulls off the neat trick of delivering a strong finale in this story without too strongly closing the door on the characters and their struggles.  Visually, this final battle is very apocalyptic, with fantastic forces locked in battle.  Through this, Bunn shows us the best and worst in his characters.  He shows us the bravery of Becky, the girl pulled into this supernatural world, the loyalty of Billjohn, the sidekick, and the resolve of Drake Sinclair, the reluctant hero.  He shows us the madness of General Hume and the greed of his wife.  Even during the large battle, Bunn keeps it focused on the characters, building on their stories during an issue that heavily focuses on fighting.

The Sixth Gun #6 wraps up Bunn and Hurtt’s first story in this series.  Like their previous endeavor The Damned, The Sixth Gun is a strong synthesis of genres, blending the western setting with supernatural elements.  There’s a sinister playfulness in that kind that kind of genre mashing that carries over to how Bunn and Hurtt tell their story.  Whether it’s the expressive cartooning or the attempts at creating a larger story within the book’s regular format, The Sixth Gun #6 shows the near unlimited potential that Bunn and Hurtt have created in this book. 

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