Batman, Volume 4, The War of Jokes and Riddles by Tom King

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Batman, Volume 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles by Tom King is a bedtime story told by Bruce Wayne to Selina Kyle shortly after he asks her for her hand in marriage. Late one night, as they lay together in bed, Selina not yet answering Bruce’s marriage proposal; Bruce shares the story of the what happened in Gotham in the aftermath of Zero Year.

Zero Year was 12 months where Gotham was left without power and laws. 12 months in which the Riddler ruled the streets. But Batman fought back and took the streets back from the Riddler. What came next is what is called the War of Jokes and Riddles. It is of this time that Bruce speaks, this time that he shares, when the line between the hero and villain became blurred.

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Bruce Wayne: “…People think they understand me. Alfred, Gordon, the boys. All of Gotham, in its way. Even you. A man in pain, trying to save who he can. They think…but…they don’t understand… anything. They don’t know a damn thing about me. Because they don’t know, Cat. They have know idea. You have know idea. But you have to. Before. Before any of this. You have to know. What I did…What I had to do. During the War of Jokes and Riddles…”

The Riddler leaves prison, bodies in his wake and heads toward Gotham with a proposition for the Joker. That they team up and do together what they could not do on their own. Kill the Batman. But the Joker is not feeling himself these days and answers the Riddler with a gunshot to the stomach. The Joker is not fixated on the Batman right now but he does not want anyone else to kill him either. So he instead begins the War. Joker against the Riddler. What is wrong with the Joker? He cannot laugh. The Joker is missing the joke.

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Tom King is doing more than just telling great Batman stories. He is carefully dissecting the Dark Knight in the process. Not by some long involved and boring psychosis. But in bits and pieces as he carefully peels back layers of the cowl itself. This is a far more human Batman than we have ever seen. Even the villains seem to be more human and less the comic book characters they are. The inability of the Joker to get the joke and laugh. His violence that follows and he is in search of the only thing that makes him tick. The joke. The Riddler, who wages a war because the one thing he could not solve, is why the Joker could not laugh. And finally the Batman, a lone man in the midst of a war that is tearing his city apart, must choose one side over the other in hopes of finally ending the war. But more so, how far would he go to end the war once and for all.

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Tom King is writing timely and entertaining Batman books. No this is not Scott Snyder, it is its own voice and it demands to be heard.

Collects BATMAN #25-32.

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Monday’s Mutant is – House of M by Brian Michael Bendis

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House of M, by Brian Michael Bendis, is one of the most influential books in the Marvel Universe. Even though it has now been conceded, that this was simply a very creative way of trimming the excessive Mutant line of books in the Marvel world. Which, when you consider that the mutants were created as a way for the early creators of Marvel, Stan Lee and his gang, to make a social comment on the civil rights movement and the treatment of African Americans in the United States; the House of M books take a far more sinister curve.

Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlett Witch is losing touch with reality. Which unfortunately is a very dangerous thing when it comes to her. Because Wanda can create and re-create reality to whatever suits her desires. Her children. Twins born between a love between her and the Avenger known as the Vision. Her brother and father together, harmonious and not fighting. A world where she is happy. A world very different from the one she is in right now.

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Wanda is in hiding, having lost control of her powers and resulting in the death of several Avengers, including her own husband; the Vision, she is being hidden away by Professor X and her father Magneto. But that is only a temporary solution as she slips deeper and deeper into her delusions. The Avengers and the X-Men know they need to do something to stop her and what they come up with is a final solution. Wanda Maximoff must die.

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Realizing what is happening, Wanda is convinced to change the world where it is ruled by Magneto. A world where her family, including her children are the ruling class and the Avengers and the X-Men are not needed. To keep them from interfering, she gives them what they want. She gives them peace. But her reality does not work on everyone and some of Earth’s heroes begin to remember what they were and what the world is really suppose to be like. Now, the remaining few must do battle with the House of M.

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Besides the social implications of this book, the near eradication of a race or species, however you like to categorize your mutants. The House of M series is important in far more aspects for its character development and character destruction. Have we seen Magneto as broken as he appears here? Captain America turned into a non-factor? Wolverine torn between loyalties and the intense love between brother and sister that would end with the now infamous words, “…no more mutants…”.

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House of M is one of the major books in the mutant universe that any fan or avid reader should not ever miss.

A terrific read!

Atomic Blonde: The Coldest City by Antony Johnston

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Atomic Blonde: The Coldest City by Antony Johnston is the graphic novel that the movie is based on and though I have yet to watch the movie, I cannot believe that the movie is much like the book. There is no nudity and sex and gratuitous violence in this book. There is no…”let’s make a female Bond because the political correctness of our time demands it and we will make money on it!!!” Which by the way, the movie absolutely did not do.

Though I happen to think that Charlize Theron is one of the better actresses of our generation and her incredible hotness is only an asset to her obvious talents; she is not the choice for the character of Lorraine Broughton. No this should have been Olivia Munn or even an unknown British actress given the seriousness of the role of espionage and betrayal. This is not Bond, at least not the Bond that movies offer us. No this a British spy that is far more Le Carre than Fleming. Which is why the graphic novel would not make a good American movie. It is simply, too smart.

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It is November of 1989 and the world is changing. Berlin, at one time, the center of the cold war is now the symbol of freedom as the wall that divided communism from the rest of the world is coming down. But for M16, there is something happening in Berlin and the death of a M16 agent only complicates matters.

Into this fragile world M16 spy Lorraine Broughton is sent to investigate. But there are challenges to her entering this secretive and untrusting world. She is new to Berlin and she is not a true field agent and even more, she is a woman. But her handlers believe this may actually work in her favor. Lorraine is an unknown. She is not threatening and even more, she is easily expendable.

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What she finds is a world of betrayal and murder in the junction of the world where the English and the French and the Russian and even the Germans wage a cold and quiet war that no one outside of the world of spies ever knows.

Now, in the sterile dark rooms of M16, Lorraine must tell the story of what happened in Berlin that November of 1989. And hope she is believed.

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This is a terrific black and white graphic novel that could have been told just as well in a regular novel format. It is a well researched and plotted tale of spies and politics that fans of John Le Carre would devour is they knew about it.

A very good read with wonderful twists and turns.

Monday’s Mutant of the Day is Karma

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Monday’s Mutant of the Day is Karma aka Xi’an Coy Manh

 

Mutants are back and in fashion. With two new television shows, The Gifted and the New Mutants soon to come; the world of the X-Men now seems to once again be in vogue. So let’s take a look at the one of the original cast members of the first New Mutants to hit comicdom back in 1982.

 

Xi’an Coy Manh was born in Vietnam and fled the communist takeover during the Vietnam War. She and her remaining family were among the boat people who were able to flee the country. Due to the influence of the French during this period in Vietnam’s history, Xi’an speaks French and English with a French accent. Her mutant powers give her the ability to take control of another person’s mind as well as other psionic powers. She takes the name of Karma.

 

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As Karma, she if one of the five founding members of the New Mutants. She was the oldest of the group and soon became its leader, and also one of the first major lesbian characters in a mainstream comic book.

 

Karma was created by Chris Claremont and Frank Miler, with her first appearance being in Marvel Team-Up #100 in 1980. Though she has never become one of the major players in the X-Men universe, her impact should not be diminished. If Marvel was so high on diversity as it tries to make everyone believe, what was the point of making the Iceman gay? They already had a female, gay character that was actually a minority. They just had to dust her off and bring her out of the Marvel closet and into the mainstream of comics again.

 

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Karma still exists, after M-Day, she retains her powers and joins the rest of the X-Men on Utopia. She would leave Utopia to join the Jean Grey School and fights from time to time with the rest of the mutants.

 

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The Oz Effect – so far

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Action Comics #987, part one of The Oz Effect, gained media attention for a set of panels where Superman saves a group of immigrants from being killed by an angry white male American. The would be killer was of course working class, lacking a college education, middle aged factory worker who finds himself out of a job because the company he once worked for hired cheaper, non English speaking workers who would do what he did for much less without complaint. Of course this gained lots of mainstream media attention in the current political climate. But for comic book readers, this panel was just a piece of a much bigger picture. A piece of what may be one of the better Superman story arcs to be written for sometime.

Action Comics begins the arc of The Oz Effect. This tale asks the question, the big question, what if? What if a Kryptonian landed on Earth and was not raised by the Kents? What if, instead, the Kryptonian was instead subjected to and witness to the horrors of mankind. What if this Krytonian lived among the oppressed and tortured villagers of a war ravaged third world country. And it answers the very question, who is Oz?

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I waited until Action Comics #988, part two of the Oz Effect was out before I wrote this review because I didn’t want to spoil the awesome and freaking cool reveal in #987.

Oz is Jor-El, Superman’s father! He survived the destruction of Krypton, was spirited away by an unknown entity and sent to Earth. But he was also shown all the evil that is humanity. The cruelty and tortures and then subjected to witnessing them done to the very people who tried to care for him. Jor-El is convinced that Earth is doomed and unworthy of the gift he has given them of his son. He believes that Superman must leave Earth forever.

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This is the story I have been waiting for ever since Dan Jurgens took over the helm of Action Comics. I will even forgive the gimmicky covers, even that will not deter me from enjoying the story inside. For the record, I find gimmicky, or multiple variant covers like the ones that Marvel is vomiting out right now for all its titles, annoying. If the story is worth it, I will follow the book. Walk into any comic book shop and you will see the clients, “the regulars”, talking about this story arc or that story arc. I have never heard one say, did you see how the cover changes when you are looking at it different angles? Damn we need to pick that book up now!

Story. Story. Story.

Something that DC knows how to do and do well.

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I have never been a big Superman comic book reader. I find the boy scout boring far too often. Unless he is Batman then there is a loss of dynamic. But with the Oz Effect Jurgens may change all that. In 2003, under their Elseworlds banner, DC released Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son. This three issue book (pick it up by the way!) asked the question: what if Superman had not landed in Smallville, Kansas; but in the Soviet Union. How would that have changed the world? In the Oz Effect, Jurgens raises the question; what if a super powered Kryptonian hand landed on Earth and was subjected and witness to all that is evil in man. How would that change his perspective of mankind?

Intentional or not, what Jurgens is really saying here is that traditional American values molded Superman into the hero he is today. Who Superman is has much more to do with Jonathan and Martha Kent and what they believed in than his super powers. Yes, conservative, church going, middle class Americans who believe in Truth, Justice and the American Way. Bet you couldn’t get that pass the crew at Marvel.

The Oz Effect is also about the anger and bitterness of a father pitted against the hope of a son. A hope that was taught to him by his foster parents.

Underlying this is also the comparison that has always been used between Superman and Jesus Christ. Jor-el sent his son to Earth to be hope and protector for the world and its inhabitants. God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son. The son who would be called the Savior. Christians speak of and wait for the second coming of Jesus that will take them to their salvation. What if…what if…what if….What if God said enough. Humanity is beyond saving and takes back his son. What if…

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Yes, The Oz Effect is much more than gimmicky covers and cheap politically correct panels of saving immigrants over US citizens.

The Oz Effect is about a son and a father and the abyss that lays between them.

Its about story and Jurgens may just have the best comic book story of the year right here in Action Comics. Can’t wait for #989!!

 

 

 

 

 

Batman: Detective Comics, Vol 3: League of Shadows by James Tynion IV

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Batman: Detective Comics, Vol. 3: League of Shadows by James Tynion IV is moving along very well and it is doing so by taking the biggest risk any Batman comic can do. It is making Batman into a supporting character. This series is about the team and the individual members more then it is about the Dark Knight himself. Which is one of the reasons I enjoyed this story arc so much. It is about the League of Shadows. It is about Lady Shiva. It is about Cassandra Cain, the once Batgirl; the Orphan.

The League of Shadows, under the leadership of Lady Shiva invade Gotham. What they are after is unsure but the rampage they are on is muderous. Batman and his team must face off against the League but they are terribly outclassed and still reeling from the loss of Tim Drake, Red Robin, who sacrificed himself to save the city.

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Batman must even align himself with his most deadly enemies to fight the League and Lady Shiva. But what they do not understand is what Shiva is truly up to. What she has come to Gotham for. She has come to claim what is hers. Her child. Her daughter. Cassandra Cain.

Cassandra Cain is one of the most unique characters in the Batman universe. She is a killer, trained by her father to be the foremost assassin in the world. She has battled her own father and mother and even Batman himself. What Cassandra wants most though, is to belong. To be part of a family. She had it once when she was Batgirl and now, as the Orphan, she is trying to find a way back.

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The moments of Cassandra watching the ballerina dancer and mimicky her moves is a brilliant stroke by Tynion. It speaks to the deep well of loneliness in her. The loss of childhood, of just being a little girl. There was no horrible tragedy that took this from her as it did to Bruce Wayne. No, for Cassandra it was a calculated move on her father’s part. The people who should have loved her the most, are the ones who hurt her the most.

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And now her mother has come for her. Will Cassandra survive?

A terrific arc in the Batman universe. This one collects Detetive Comics 950-956.

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Batman: The Dark Knight III: The Master Race

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Batman: The Dark Knight III: The Master Race by Frank Miller is one of the better books out there that stands on its own. Its take on JLA characters and with the dark and twisted view of Miller make it one of the more enjoyable reads to be found.

Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight is a classic in comic book lore. Unfortunately, it has made every sequel look like a sad sack sister in comparison. That is too bad because read on its own, The Master Race is an incredibly well developed and thought out piece of comic book writing. It sheds the wrappings of a Batman book and embraces the characters that surround the Batman Universe. Mainly Superman and Wonder Woman and their love child.

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It has been years since anyone has seen the Batman alive. Years since he faced down Lex Luthor and saved the world. But now an army of Krptonians has been unleashed, aided by Wonder Woman’s and Superman’s daughter, and they want to take over the Earth. To cleanse it of humanity and become the Master Race. Now an old and broken Bruce must suit up for one final fight. But he needs his old friends by his side. A forgotten Superman and Wonder Woman who must deal with her rebellious and super daughter.

It has occurred to me that an older, angrier and bitter Batman is such freaking awesome addition to the Batman world that any comic with him in it would be praised. But the great success of the first Dark Knight book has cast a heavily critical lens on the rest of the books. That is too bad because The Master Race is a very good book. Think about it, what if a race of super beings came to Earth and were not enamored with humanity. What if they didn’t want to save us but instead, saw us so far down the food chain that our only value was in enslavement or annihilation. Consider this if you will, what if Superman had not landed in Smallville, Kansas but landed in Los Angeles or New York. Could we survive with a Superhero raised by such narcissism and lack of good old American values?

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Or worse, a country where human life has no value and only the darkest and most evil of humanity survive. What if a Kryptonian was raised there? This is something that is currently being explored in Action Comics and the Oz Effect which I will talk about at a later blog. Add to that, that it is not one being but an entire city of beings that have been kept hostage in a glass container for decades. When finally released, yeah, they would be a little pissed.

I will admit that my favorite character in this book is not Bats but Wonder Woman and not because of her current run of fame. No, fans of the Wonder Woman movie will not recognize her here. She is an Amazon, intent on protecting her people and her children. Teaching them strength and their heritage and dealing with a rebellious and super strong teenage daughter. All that and fighting monsters with her baby son strapped to her back in a papoose. You do not mess with this single mother. Yeah, she is that kickass.

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The Master Race is an awesome Batman book that could have only been told by Frank Miller. It is that simple. A terrific read!

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