Thursday, June 11, 2009

Trade Waiting - Batman: Ego and Other Tails

Darwyn Cooke is one of the more talented creators to enter the comics industry in the past decade. Although he had worked in the comics industry for a short while before, Batman: Ego marked his return and the start of his current success in the industry. Batman: Ego and Other Tails is a collection of various Batman related stories that Cooke has produced for DC, including the very first story he created for them. Hit the jump to find out what I though of some of Cooke's earlier works.

Written by Darwyn Cooke and Paul Grist
Art by Darwyn Cooke, Bill Wray, and Tim Sale
Collects Batman: Ego, Catwoman: Selina's Big Score plus material from Solo #1, Solo #5, Batman: Gotham Knights #23, and Batman: Gotham Knights #33

Batman: Ego and Other Tails has two longer stories, Batman: Ego and Selina's Big Score, plus a couple of shorter stories from various single issues. None of them are particular bad, but neither are any of them particularly brilliant or standout. They are all good stories of course, since Cooke is involved, but no New Frontier or other stunning works from Cooke.

Batman: Ego is one of those occasional stories in which a writer attempts to explain exactly why Batman hasn't killed the Joker yet. The story takes place after Batman stops yet another Joker robbery/killing spree and he is tying up the last loose ends of the case. Batman is tracking the last of the Joker's thugs, who is still on the loose, Buster Snibbs. Snibbs eventually kills himself right in front of Batman, who is partially to blame since the Joker knows that Snibbs ratted him out to Batman, who is, of course, shocked by all of this. After he retreats to the Batcave, Bruce has a breakdown and is confronted by his Batman persona.

In a discussion between the two, Batman goes over the reasons why Bruce decided to become the Dark Knight and eventually gets to the point that, in some ways, Bruce has lost his way and failed to live up to his promise to make Gotham better, which leads to why Bruce has failed to stop the Joker by killing him. Cooke comes really close to actually having it make sense, but, ultimately, he fails. There is some nice back and forth and nuance in his take on the subject, but I think there is never going to be a truly satisfactory explanation for it aside from the Neil Gaiman-esque, "there'd be no stories if you killed the villains", type of deal. What does work about it though is that it fits with the story Cooke is telling and, on that level, I do like it.

The strongest parts in Ego, for me, are the opening sequence where Cooke demonstrates a wonderful understanding and take on Batman, mostly through the narration. It has a nice early Frank Miller vibe but without the problems that would usually come with that. There is also a great flashback to when Bruce was a kid. I like it when writers try to incorporate specific events from his childhood into their stories since, when done right, it adds an extra layer of emotional impact to the story.

The other long tale, Catwoman: Selina's Big Score, is your basic heist story in a pretty literal sense. The story is very by the numbers which is not to say bad, just generic. The real highlight of the story is the characters, especially Selina. The story is divided up into four chapters with the first three each focusing on an individual character, which allows Cooke to both move the story forward and give the reader a pretty in-depth look into each of the characters highlighted, each of whom are compelling in their own right. Many of the characters are staples in heist stories and, much like with the story, none are especially groundbreaking, but Cooke just does wonderful work with them.

The story moves at a nice pace with its own twists and turns with an ending that is slightly surprising yet not totally shocking. It works well for the story that Cooke tells and focuses on the characters, specifically Selina. Overall, very enjoyable even if it is a somewhat cliched story.

All of the other shorter stories are enjoyable, but none of them are quite as good as Ego or Selina's Big Score. Here Be Monsters only has art by Cooke (he did not write the story) and is in black and white, which looked pretty amazing, as most of Cooke's art does. I would love to see some more stories by Cooke in black and white. It highlights his line work and details in way that his coloured art does not.

The other stand out story was Deja Vu, written and drawn by Cooke, which is based on a 1970s story by Steve Englehart where Batman chases down a group of robbers after they murder a young boy's parents in front of him. It's a short and well paced "Batman as force of nature" story, which Cooke brings to life with the wonderful tone and mood that he creates and accentuates with his art.

Verdict - Check It. Despite some strong points, this collection of stories covers familiar ground and does not manage to really stand out from the crowd. Cooke's writing and art are both solid, but there are better examples of both that can be found elsewhere. Worth a look for fans of either Batman or Cooke though any could enjoy the work found within.

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Bill said...

Cooke's my favorite artist, so I enjoyed this one. But I get what you mean. His best Catwoman work was with Brubaker, and, although there wasn't much of it, I thought his best Batman was in New Frontier ("it took a $50k rock to take out the Kryptonian..." or whatever the line was).

Jason said...

I think you do this collection of work a disservice by comparing it to New Frontier. I believe this was all produced before that, and it should be acknowledged as the evolutionary steps that lead to New Frontier's creation. It'd be like comparing Alex Ross's Terminator work to Kingdom Come.

Still, it's been awhile since I read the original stories collected here, and I don't necessarily disagree with your verdict.

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