Return of Bruce Wayne #2 (of 6)
by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving
Having leapt into the water in caveman days last issue, Batman surfaces in pilgrim times! And he’s not alone! There’s some kind of Lovecraftian beast right behind him! A beast he, naturally enough, fights with a freaking sword he picks up off the river bank! Never say that Grant Morrison doesn’t know how to deliver a fantastic opening. Also never say that he doesn’t know how to play to his artist’s strengths. Because Frazer Irving is genius at drawing both pilgrims AND Lovecraftian beasts, something he gets to do throughout the story.
And that story works pretty well, too. Taken in by a woman he meets at the river, the amnesiac Bruce Wayne swiftly starts operating as Brother Mordecai, a witch hunter sent to Gotham Town from Boston to help them deal with some kind of demon that’s haunting the countryside. We’re treated to a nice early American mystery story, with multiple twists and turns along the way, a rematch with the monster, and… (SPOILER!) a curse laid upon the Wayne family “until the end of time.”
Which is an interesting choice of words, because that’s exactly where Booster Gold and Rip Hunter take Superman and Green Lantern to get better into about where in time Bruce Wayne might turn up next. (SPOILER!) Wayne also turns up there and steals their time sphere, apparently leaving his friends to die in the breakdown of space-time due to happen in about two minutes. But before he goes… Superman reveals something very important: Batman was booby-trapped by Darkseid, and turned into a doomsday weapon aimed directly at the 21st Century! Which explains why he’s skipping forward through time.
Meanwhile… (SPOILER!) Morrison does something really interesting, tying Gotham witchcraft into the religion passed down by the “bat people” (the cavemen we saw last issue, who took up worship of the bat after their encounter with Our Hero). We see a strange religious symbol made up of the Superman and Wonder Woman logos that Batman and Old Man painted on the cave wall. And in that same cave… Wayne faces off against the demon and winds up plunging back into the water, surfacing this time in the sea, where he’s picked up by a ship. A ship owned by… BLACKBEARD!! So next time out, it’s Pirate Batman! Whoo-hoo! Can’t wait.
Secret Avengers #1
by Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato
Continuing my “curiosity killed the cat” look at the new Avengers books, I picked up Ed Brubaker’s Secret Avengers. This team is an undercover squad lead directly by Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter. His recruits? Black Widow, the Beast, Moon Knight, War Machine, Ant Man, Nova, and (my personal favorite) Valkyrie. That’s one hell of a line-up, composed of former Avengers and great characters that have never quite been used to their best potential. I’m especially excited to see if Brubaker can salvage the mess they’ve made of Moon Knight since the original Doug Moench series ended. I also think it’s kind of funny that Rogers has recruited stand-ins for Thor and Iron Man in Valkyrie and War Machine. Makes me wonder if Brubaker thought he’d have those guys initially, but had to make a quick change. Whatever the case, the presence of Moon Knight, Nova, and Valkyrie (not to mention the Beast) gives this team a huuuuuggge 70s vibe that cracks me up.
The story picks up on the same kind of things Brubaker’s been exploring in his Captain America run for years. It’s a mix of topical elements mixed with great pulp insanity. So the bad guys here are the Roxxon oil company (another 70s concept), who’ve gotten their hands on what Cap and company think is the Serpent Crown! In addition, we find out that Roxxon bought mineral rights to Mars from “the previous administration.” Cap thinks this is the height of hubris, but the case points to the red planet, and so by the end Our Heroes are off to Mars!
It’s great stuff, equal measures anti-corporate craziness and goofy-ass pulp awesomeness. Unfortunately, Mike Deodato doesn’t seem to get it. I’m not a big fan of Deodato in general, but the moody, heavily-shadowed stuff he’s turning in here seems in stark contrast to the tone. It gives the whole proceeding a brooding tone that’s just not there. It undercuts the fun of it all, and left me feeling like I’d just read a much more serious story than I had. It was only in looking the comic back over, in fact, that I realized it was really 100% insanity. Which is kind of too bad.
The ultimate decision, of course, is whether I’ll keep buying it. Well, at four dollars a pop… Of course not. But I’ll damn sure be picking up the trade when it comes out. Because this shit was crazy!
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini
An ugly, ugly issue. Many writers in the history of this series have played around with the idea that Constantine is a bastard. He uses people and gets them killed. He’s bad news for anybody who gets close to him. But here… Holy crap. Milligan gives us a drunken John Constantine who beats the hell out of his female sidekick. And not just a little. He leaves her bruised and swollen, and with a lip split all the way up to the nose. Now, there’s something (or someone) messing with John’s head. In the aftermath of the beating, he imagines his world literally disappearing around him, and he winds up institutionalized because of it. He was obviously not in his right mind. But, still. Jesus.
This is the first part of a story featuring the return of Shade the Changing Man, the character that made Milligan’s name in America. Shade doesn’t pop up til the end, but it’s nice to see him anyway. Looking forward to the next issue, if only to see how far down Milligan can take Our John and maintain him as the hero.
Secret Warriors #16
by Jonathan Hickman and Gianluca Gugliotta
After the personal pyrotechnics Hickman’s given us in the last couple of issues (if you can count the murder of the Viper as “personal”), this issue he opens up with some actual pyrotechnics as Leviathan and Hydra go to war! We also get a curious bit of background whose significance is unclear at the moment: Hydra leader Kraken was replaced by a different man two years ago. Hmm. We also discover something that twists yet another layer of deceit into the series’ mix: JT James, who Secret Warriors leader Daisy Johnson hooked up with last issue, has sold out to Baron Strucker.
The art this issue, though kinda nice, isn’t quite up to the series’ recent standards. Gugliotta, for some reason, draws Baron Strucker with a ruined face and weird pointed ears, like some sort of horribly-scarred elf. It’s weird, and I had to wonder for just a minute if we were seeing an entirely different character.
by Eric Powell
The second issue of Eric Powell’s black and white circus freak farce brings Chimichanga to the masses, as the only truly amazing performer in what has to be the worst circus in the history of circuses. Among the performers we meet this issue are Gene the Indifferent Clown, Sasha the Girl Who Can Rollerskate Slowly, and (my favorite) Ezmerelda and Her Amazing Two-Eyed Goat. It’s fun stuff, with some nice grotesque cartooning from Powell.