Review: Sandman Overture #4

Sandman-OvertureI’ll admit. I read issue 4 and was confused. There has been a long wait between issues, even on top of the gaps for the Sandman Overture Special Editions. (Which I’m not reading – I don’t really watch the extras on DVDs either.) The artwork by J. H. Williams III has been lush. Big double-page acid-sheet spreads, dripping with trippy. Some reviewers have called it a bit over the top. No such issue with me. It was visually reading more like a Promethea story than a Sandman story, but you’d expect that from the Promethea illustrator.

This series was making me angry largely because I felt that it was missing something essentially Sandman about it. There were some very Neil Gaiman-esque touches through the story, and some familiar themes were being re-visited (dreams of cats, Morpheus being a callous bastard and having to deal with the fallout, rules that are meant to be followed, stories within stories), but it felt like it had been written by a Neil Gaiman plot generator. All of the elements were present, but there was something genuine missing.

Or maybe I had just not been paying enough attention. So I re-read the 4 issues out to date in one sitting, to see if it was me, or if, indeed, Neil had lost the plot (so to speak).

It turns out, it’s a bit of both, I reckon.

The story makes more sense now. But I reckon I’ve put my finger on why I’m annoyed with this series, given I’m such a fan of Sandman in particular, and Neil Gaiman generally.

I don’t care about what’s happening in this series. Or why.

Sandman Overture seems to be explaining to us the events behind and the reasons why Morpheus was weakened enough to allow himself to be captured at the beginning of the Sandman series. It’s a prequel. The trouble is, I’d never really given it a thought as to why Morpheus was weakened enough to be imprisoned in the first place. I never felt that it needed explaining. So I’m not jumping around with excitement with having this particular revelation tacked onto the Sandman universe. And the revelation that The Endless have a Mother and Father (the Father we meet in issue #4) just doesn’t resonate.

So what’s good about issue #4? Well, the artwork is a real trip. Which you’d hope would be up to it, given that Morpheus, and a Cat version of himself, and some annoying blue child called “Hope” (facepalm) are visiting a City of Stars.

And there was one moment of genuine Gaiman when Morpheus referred to a star both by its present scientific name (Formalhaut), and (presumably) a title, Eye of the Lonely‘. This had me thinking. How many names do stars have? A Scientific Name? A title? Does that depend on their position within a constellation? Would that change if seen from another planet, another constellation by alien races? Would a star have a million names for each group of alien races making stories about them? Could a star tell a lot about you, depending on what name you call it by? This is the Gaiman I remember, who could explode in my head with just a provocative phrase. He’s been a bit heavy on the ‘explanation’ and a bit light on the ‘evocation’ in this series.

It’s revealed that the insane star whose madness has already killed one aspect of Dream, and is threatening the universe with its insanity, was caused by Morpheus and his delayed action over killing an alien child ages ago who was ‘a vortex, an anomaly. An Annulet’ (whatever that is), Her madness has spread and infected her whole planet, and it was Morpheus’ responsibility to kill her, and her infected world. But he couldn’t bring himself to kill the sun of the world and now it’s insane. Cosmic, to be sure, but it all feels a bit ungrounded, and convenient. And it’s starting to sound a bit like a plot from ‘Shade the Changing Man’ a la Pete Milligan (I’m so glad that is finally being reprinted!).

So maybe that’s it then. Sandman Overture is a Shade the Changing Man story dressed up as a Promethea story masquerading as a Sandman story. I knew there was something fishy about this limited series. I know Vertigo is struggling, but this pastiche? Joking aside, for all that, it’s still worth picking up, if only to see what the hell Neil Gaiman is up to with his beloved Sandman multiverse. Fingers crossed he ties it all up.

Has Neil Gaiman ‘lost the plot’? Do you care whether The Endless have parents or not? Are you a bit sick of a ‘vortex’ being the cause of every cosmic problem in the universe?

Batman # 38 Review – Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

batman38Since I started writing for The Comics Herald I’ve learned a lot about comics, both in the way the proverbial sausage is made and how I tackle reviewing them. I’d like to think that I have grown into my own voice, and have moved away from simply stating the story beats, and actually delving into what they actually mean.

Writing anything is always a work in progress, and writing for comics – admittedly an area which I have only truly begun to embrace in my formative years of being an adult – has taught me a lot about what I should and shouldn’t do. This week I discovered I have a tendency to make definitive statements that veer too much into the dramatic – see my final line of my Batman #13 review. Or the way I structured my review of the “Death of a Family” arc, and how I claimed that it was the greatest event ever to grace our shelves in modern comics (and that no one could tell me other wise goddammit!). I’ve learned to pare back such statements. I can’t tell you if this or that comic is a classic – it’s too soon after the fact to make bold remarks.

But there is a problem when something so good rolls around. The monthly release schedule means that often I completely forget what happened in previous issues, and sometimes the weekly releases feel like a chore more than anything. But not Batman. I have never forgotten what has happened between issues, nor have I looked at the release once and gone “Maybe I can skip it this time.” Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have constructed such a fantastic story, time and time again, that it is very hard not making big claims. And “Endgame”? You bet I’m going to burst a blood vessel trying not to.

“Endgame” is dealing with something that hasn’t really been dealt with in recent memory – what would happen if the Joker stopped playing around? No longer seen as some kind of twisted friendship, Batman has finally become something that the Joker can no longer stand – someone he finally hates. This arc becomes somewhat of a second act to “Death of the Family”, where the Joker was acting out of some form of love by removing the things he viewed as making Batman weak. He is now plainly trying to remove Batman out of the equation forever. This Joker has become truly terrifying.

Snyder and Capulo have capitalised on the fear people have for the Joker before, but not like this. This issue highlights how this arc has become a city wide horror story, where a legion of Joker zombies are hunting down Batman thanks to an airborne version of the Joker gas. The scenes echo classic zombie movie tropes and it is always fun to see Batman move through a story that feels more at home in the horror genre.

Enough about mood and themes, lets talk about the two big developments this issue. Firstly, Batman’s investigation into the Joker suggests that he may belong to the same kind of villainy that Vandal Savage and Ra’s Al Ghul inhabit, and there may be historical evidence to back it up. This is a fascinating development, as it ties in brilliantly with the Joker over the years who should have died, but keeps bouncing back. The best part of this revelation is that in true Joker fashion, there really isn’t any definitive answer to that allegation – at least not yet. It echoes the multi-choice origin from the Killing Joke, and I think it would certainly add layers to the character if it was never substantiated.

Secondly, and this is the big one, Batman turns to the Court of Owls for help in an incredible cliffhanger. This is brilliant as it ties together their run on Batman nicely. Too many comics seem to have an amnesia for whatever small events that preceded it, so it is refreshing for Snyder and Capullo to really make this story seem like it was built from the beginning. “Court of the Owls” was a fantastic visual showcase for Capullo, and I look forward to seeing what else he brings to the table in the remaining issues of “Endgame”.

Like I said, I’m having a hard time trying not to gush over these turn of events. Really, all I can say is that I cannot wait for what happens next. February 25th cannot come soon enough.

Batman Eternal #21 – James Tynion IV and Jason Fabok

batman-eternalThis review contains spoilers for the issue

Batman Eternal has been a series that has been ticking along nicely in one corner of the DC universe. The weekly format lends itself more towards a television show, rather than the standard monthly fare, as the fast release schedule has allowed for a series that has been happily dropping major cliffhangers left  and right. The Bat universe suits this format easily, as the large ensemble cast ensures that not one character is going to hog the spotlight for too long – well aside from the titular Batman of course. The team of writers and artists, led by the always excellent Scott Snyder, have manged to find a suitably epic groove in which to explore the Bat family, and issue #21, while beginning a little slowly, manages to solidify this series place as some of the best Batman stories to come from the New 52 – and with the current lineup, that’s saying something.

James Tynion IV picks up the scripting reins of issue 21 and he maintains a steady hold of the events barreling out of issue 20. Batman believes he has got Jim Gordon out of prison after evidence comes to light regarding the train crash back in issue one, and the newly appointed Commissioner Bard isn’t quite who he seems. But the real star of the show is Alfred this week, finally being able to show off his skills that his daughter has consistently bemoaned him for apparently losing in previous issues. Bad-ass Alfred is always a treat when he pops up, and his speech when he lets the intruder know that while Bruce may have an aversion to guns, he certainly doesn’t, makes me hope that Alfred’s back story gets it’s own series.

But enough about the awesome Alfred sequence – lets talk about the reveals. Firstly, Hush makes his big entrance into the New 52, and it seems his original back-story is going to remain intact. Hush is an interesting choice, as he is inevitably going to draw parallels to Lincoln March who was brought up in Court of the Owls, both men vying for the position that Bruce Wayne holds. It will be interesting to see how differently this story will develop moving forward, as the especially muddy events surrounding anything pre-New 52 may alter how much Batman has come to blows with this villain.

The next large development this week is Bard being revealed as one of the big bads for the series. Now this I like – Bard in previous issues had read as a slightly more pessimistic Jim Gordon, willing to do some of the “tough choices” eschewed by the larger superhero community. This is fine, as this can create some pretty decent morality issues – especially due Batman’s work ethic – but this had been done to death. Having Bard taking on a more sinister role is a welcomed approach, and it seems to come out of nowhere.

Jason Fabok is as suited to a Batman story as he has ever been. His detailed and realistic pencils make for a fantastic full page spread with Hush and Alfred (even if it does look like Alfred is being stabbed more than he seems in later panels), and his character work is full of dark and foreboding frowns – always a plus for a Batman comic. Brad Anderson’s colours don’t do heaps to stand out, but it does lend a nice dark and bleak atmosphere to the proceedings.

Batman Eternal is a blast, and shouldn’t work as well as it does on a week-to-week basis. Faring much better than its DC counterpart Futures End, Snyder and Co. have crafted a beast of a story that continues to impress as it closes out its latest arc. But lets be honest – I’m just thankful to see a badass Alfred once again.

Ever Wonder Why Batman Doesn’t Smile?

It’s all makes so much sense now.

Coming via the brilliant Kerry Callen:


I have a whole new perception of The Dark Knight now, that I’m not sure I’m going to be able to shake!

Forever Evil #1 Review – Geoff Johns & David Finch

ForeverEvil_Teasers_2_NW_R1Finally, after wading through a prelude disguised as an event (known as Trinity War), we get the main course. Forever Evil promises big – the main heroes of the DC universe are missing, presumed dead, and the newly emerged Crime Syndicate have taken their place, turning Earth into a haven for villains. But (as the marketing material is keen to remind us) evil is relative, setting the stage for something truly special – villain on villain action. And I could not be more happier.

The series is told from Lex Luthor’s perspective, and while he may be the protagonist, he is definitely far from sympathetic. Geoff Johns toes the line here – making Luthor endearing without turning him into a hero is not a simple task but, again, speaking relatively, he may as well be a saint in this event, and Johns handles Luthor’s new position admirably.

The many other villains of the DCU make appearances throughout the issue, and while the Bat-family gets the most time to shine, we still manage to get time with others, foreshadowing character allegiances. Included is a twist you may recall was used in Marvel’s own event Civil War, but if done right can really mix things up for the DC universe hero community.

There’s something to be said about some good old fashioned villains being evil. Johns, at least initially, really nails the whole vibe of the Crime Syndicate – these guys are pure, kryptonite snorting evil. This is the rare case where over the top is the only thing that would work in this case, and based on the first issue alone, these guys ratchet it up to eleven. That being said, they seem to be pushed to the side this issue, not giving us a whole lot of time with this group, leaving their reasoning behind, and not addressing some of the major cliff-hangers from Trinity War that possibly should be answered, but these gripes are minor if this characterisation continues this way.

Following on from this, Finch’s design of the characters is truly memorable. Each of the Syndicate members has a Justice League parallel, giving the team a sense of familiarity, while deviating from the source enough to be suitably villainous. The standout here is Ultraman, Superman’s parallel, who Finch draws subtly enough that at first glace he looks like the Man of Steel, but upon closer inspection has just enough wrong with him to know somethings up.

Outside of the characters, this issue is filled with Finch’s usual rough art style, and it completely works. A world steeped in evil lends itself well to his art style, and he imbues an impressive amount of detail to each and every panel. This is Finch drawing at the top of his game.

Forever Evil #1 sets up something quite delicious, and while it remains to be seen whether this issue is an indication of where this series will go, right now it looks as if its heading in the right direction. We’ve been burned with events already this year, but Forever Evil may just restore these stories to their former glory.


The New 52 and DC Editorial Culture

The_DC_New_52_Timeline_of_Departures__Firings__and_Bridge-Burnings_—_Gutters_and_PanelsIf you’re a DC Comics fan, you’ll know that the past couple of years for the company have been big ones, with the New 52 launch and evolution the most notable event.

Over at Gutters and Panels, they have a great chronology of the comings and goings at DC and it makes for fascinating reading. Go have a look for yourself here.

[via NonCanonical]

Why Ben Affleck is Good for Batman (and Superman)


Silver Linings Superhero is a regular column from Sean Robinson, which tries to show the more positive aspects of current comic events, and remind you that things aren’t all that bad. If you would like to suggest something for a future column, drop us a line!

I think I am one of the few who actually quite enjoyed Man of Steel. No, it was not a good Superman film, and yes, the film certainly had its problems with script and directing, but I thought it was a stylistic and exciting science-fiction film. So when Batman/Superman (or whatever they decide to call it) was announced, I got interested. Maybe the gang over at Warner Brothers and DC could turn the ship from brooding, post Dark Knight Superman, by contrasting him with the only one who could conceivably be actually darker, Batman himself.

Then Ben Affleck was announced, and I became more excited than I thought I could be. No, he’s not John Hamm or Karl Urban, two of the more inspired choices for the role.

He’s something better:


Let me begin by dealing with the elephant in the room. Affleck’s last superhero film, 2003’s Daredevil, was not good. In fact, it was bad. But that’s just it – it was ten years ago. The films being thrown around for the argument against the man are all from around the same point in time when Affleck was a gossip magazine hot-topic – and he has most definitely moved past that to become a decent actor and one hell of a director. It’d be the same if we judged Joss Whedon on his writing in Alien: Resurrection – it’s just not fair.

Now, I did use the word “decent” when I described Ben Affleck as an actor, because its an apt description of where he stands right now. To echo Matt Damon in regard to the role, it’s not some kind of Oscar-worthy performance – it’s Batman. Affleck has enough range that he can portray the billionaire-playboy Bruce Wayne, and also the dark and broken Batman, and he has done a similar role in Hollywoodland as Superman actor George Reeves. In that film he dances between depression and acting the complete opposite to an audience. Sounds like someone else we know, doesn’t it?

Returning to his directorial abilities, back around this time last year rumors circulated that Affleck was offered the Justice League film to direct – but he would only accept it if he could star in a main role. Fast forward a year, and we now we have Affleck cast as Batman, and no one set for the Justice League director’s chair. Could this mean that he has changed his mind? Is an Affleck directed Justice League around the corner? I sure hope so.

In regards to the Man of Steel universe, and this new darker and edgier version of Superman, we get an older Batman who “bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter”. We are already aware of Batman and his back-story – his last outing only finished last year – so the audiences don’t really need a retread of the story of Bruce Wayne. Does this mean that we see a Batman who has already mostly worked through the problems surrounding his parents’ deaths, and could in fact bring the levity back to what we want to see from Superman? If anyone could pull off a slightly lighter, and older Batman than we are used to, then it would be Affleck.

This could change up the relationship between the two – Batman is there to remind Superman about his humanity – Superman could be molded by Batman to the man he always wanted to be, but never could. It would be a fresh take on the mythos, without pulling too much away from what we already know, and it could act as damage control from the problems people had with Man of Steel’s script, returning us to the Superman we know and love.

I am not saying that Batman/Superman won’t have problems. David S. Goyer is back writing the script, and while he is a great writer,  he never quite grasped the character of Superman in Man of Steel. Snyder is also a point of worry for some people, with his eclectic directing style a polarizing aspect. But in regard to Affleck – give the man a chance. He may just surprise you.

Want to tell Sean he’s right or wrong? Flick him a tweet, or leave a comment! He loves talking about the things he likes.

Justice League #23 Review – Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis

JLALet me begin by saying that as an event, Trinity War has ultimately failed. Stories should have a definitive beginning, middle, and end. A universe-wide event like this one,  especially with the way it has been marketed, should be a stand-alone story.

However, Trinity War as part of a much larger story, lacks any semblance of an ending,  as it leads directly into Forever Evil #1, failing the basic idea of a story to begin with. What is left is a fun set up to something both exciting and interesting, but ultimately doesn’t deliver on what an event should be.

So, don’t expect a conclusion coming from Justice League #23. While it answers the question of what Pandora’s Box is – and what the overall goal of pitting the heroes against each other was – it leaves the issue with many large cliffhangers. They include the fate of an injured hero, and Shazam’s apparent transformation last issue, feeling like it belongs in the middle of an event rather than an epic finale it was poised to be. It appears that Trinity War, and Forever Evil were always intended to work together as one series, so why not market them as such? Instead it feels the series was more interested in what was to come, rather than the story it was meant to tell.

Speaking of marketing, hyping up the series as a story behind the Trinity of Sin, and how the heroes rally behind them, also proved to be the event’s downfall. With Phantom Stranger left behind much earlier in the story arc, the Question and Pandora also feel underused, getting little panel time between them. They both merely act as a guide, which could have easily been left to other characters like Madame Xanadu anyway. It seems less interested in the characters whose books feature “Trinity of Sin” in the title, than it does the actual war between the forced “trinity” of three Justice Leagues.

That said, what does happen in this issue is mighty fun. More hero on hero action is always a plus in my book, and this issue delivers by the bucket load. Ivan Reis is drawing at the top of his game, with his panels packed to the brim with brilliant fight scenes, and gorgeous detail. There does feel like there is a few too many splash pages, filling up a lot of space, but thanks to the 28 page issue – and of course the artwork – it doesn’t feel too cheap.

Outside of the action, Johns manages to fill it up with a few surprises too. The reveal of the traitor, which initially felt a bit hammy, eventually makes sense in context of the big reveal of the new villains at the end of the issue, which opens with a surprisingly funny panel. It’s good that the heroes battling each other wasn’t played out Civil War style, and instead plays with reader expectations.

As a quick aside, It’s also nice to see that Constantine is getting more space to shine in the greater scheme of things, with a particularly amusing reason why he isn’t affected by Pandora’s box tying nicely into his character. I’m liking his inclusion into these team-ups and how he reacts to working with others. Maybe the scoundrel has a heart of gold after all?

While this event does fail in the execution, what it has set up has made me more excited than anything else that DC has done since the launch of the New 52. The new villains look incredible, and the Forever Evil series sounds like its going to shake things up in a big way. It’s just a shame that DC bungled the marketing of a story that would have been better suited as a prelude, rather than a main event.


Grant Morrison on The Killing Joke – “Batman kills The Joker”.

Yes. You read that title correctly. Grant Morrison – who has just wrapped up his many-year run on Batman with Batman Inc. – claimed over on Kevin Smith’s podcast Fat Man on Batman that during the final pages of Alan Moore and Brian Bollard’s The Killing Joke, Batman kills the Joker. You can hear his thoughts in the video below:

And for reference here is the image of the final panel:


Now I have seen this pop up and debated for days since Morrison first dropped this bombshell, but if this is as Morrison claims, it paints the entire comic in a completely new light – as Kevin Smith puts it “the last Batman story ever told”. It elevates, what I think is, one of the greatest Batman stories to something more. This is the Joker’s last joke – and victory.

Chances are that Alan Moore being who he is, we will never get an official word on this, but it still is brilliant when people are still discovering new things in material that is so many years old.

What do you guys think? Does Batman really kill the Joker? Or is this just people reading too much into the fiction? Let me know below!

Thanks toBleeding Cool for the story.

Review: Justice League Dark #22 – Jeff Lemire & Mikel Janin

Justice-league-darkAnother day, another large crossover. Actually, that’s a bit unfair, because DC’s latest event Trinity War, is shaping up to be something pretty darn cool. A three-way war between the three big superhero teams: Justice League, Justice League of America and Justice League Dark, with characters switching allegiances? Sign me up. The third part of this event, following from Justice League #22, then Justice League of America #6, focuses predominantly on the third team, and while it doesn’t seem clear what the overall point of pitching these teams against each other is right now, its a darn fun time.

This issue picks up right where JLA#6 left off. Superman, still reeling from his actions in the first part of the event, remains in captivity. Each character is finding themselves unsure of who to trust, and when Wonder Woman seeks the help from the begrudgingly named Justice League Dark, they find themselves part of a war they didn’t entirely want, as they seek (or prevent the others from finding) Pandora, and ultimately Pandora’s Box.

Why this is something important, I’m not entirely sure. It seems that each of the characters are running around trying to figure out what is the problem with the box, leaving it frustratingly unclear why we should care that the heroes don’t have it. There is some vague “it’ll spell the end of the world” spiels, but it never culminates into anything. While this isn’t necessarily the fault of this issue’s writer Jeff Lemire (the other issues were penned by Geoff Johns), it does leave it a bit open.

But you know what? Currently I’m okay with that. Superhero-on-superhero-on-superhero action is what we want, and while this issue seems like it’s trying to set something bigger up, even having one of the characters saying himself they are moving around like pieces on a chessboard. There is one cool face-off between Wonder Woman and Batman’s teams – it doesn’t end up being much, but they keep teasing a big showdown, and I really can’t wait.

Mikel Janin is arguably the best artist of the bunch in this arc. While Ivan Reis and Doug Mahnke are awesome in their own right, Janin’s clean pencils, and his lack of clutter suit the issue well. Amazingly, no panel feels too packed, despite having what appears to be the entire current roster of New52 heroes throughout the issue. Janin is an artist I love to see, and is one of the main reasons I return to this series month after month.

As a quick aside, since I haven’t had a chance to do so, I’d love to commend DC in their approach to their universe lately. It seems they are doing a massive push in the magic side of the universe, and it has produced some of the most interesting titles out there. I’m really happy that a title like Justice League Dark exists, and is such a large part of the greater DC universe.

All in all, Justice League Dark #22 does appear to be mostly filler, putting everyone in place for the next three issues, but the mere hint of something greater is tantalising. I just hope that whatever Pandora’s Box turns out to be, as well as the lead up to the Forever Evil event later in the year, makes this all worth it.