Friday, December 17, 2010

Trade Waiting - Batman: False Faces

You might be forgiven for having missed this trade before, or even the single issues it collects. This isn’t really a Batman arc collected so much as it is some of the formative work of Brian K Vaughan at DC from early on last decade. There’s Batman and Wonder Woman on show here and some interesting ideas but mostly it’s just interesting to see Vaughan cut his teeth in continuity. Hit the jump to see why this trade is interesting.

Batman: False Faces

Written by Brian K Vaughan
Art by Scott McDaniel, Karl Story, Rich Burchett, John Lowe, Scott Kolins, Dan Panosian, Drew Geraci, Marcos Martin, Mark Pennington
Colours by Roberta Tewes, Jason Wright, Pam Rambo, Tom McCraw

The first part of this trade is a three issue tale Vaughan wrote for the Batman title. Close Before Striking gives us a look at Bruce Wayne as he works undercover to get criminal leads that his cowled alter-ego can chase up. Wayne masquerades as Matches Malone, a gaudy gangster who annoys the ears and the eyes of those around him. It’s an interesting premise because it is something Wayne should be doing to always gain new information, and get such news from the inside. He doesn’t need a source because he is his own source.

The hook, though, drops when the first issue concludes with Matches Malone getting shot, and Bruce being told all about it.

It seems that Bruce stole someone else’s identity and didn’t think that person was still around. When he returns, and everyone thinks he’s the stool pigeon that is actually Bruce, he gets lit up by The Ventriloquist and Scarface on his hand. Bruce obviously feels guilty but it’s a good race to get into the head of the real Matches and see the connection he has to the Bat.
Matches was a criminal, an arsonist, and one who had killed in his game, so it feels odd that Bruce would take his shooting so personally. I don’t quite buy that he would want to avenge this man so strongly, to the point that Bruce starts to lose his mind a little and act within his character. It’s just not completely sold on me. Bruce even promises Matches that he’ll kill the person responsible for his shooting – a line and resolution that you can see coming a mile away if you stop for half a second and work it out.

This is a fun tale, and it races along with Vaughan still managing to sneak one or two cultural references in. It’s certainly not a bad tale but it’s nothing classic. It turns out this was Vaughan’s audition to be the ongoing scribe to the Batman title, a job he ultimately lost to Ed Brubaker. Which makes me wonder, what would have happened if Vaughan got the Batman gig? Would that have changed his future publications? It’s interesting food for thought but I am definitely glad things worked out the way they did.

The next tale, a one-shot titled ‘Mimsy Were The Borogoves’, is a cool little story that has Batman living out a parallel to The Jabberwocky, kind of. Here the writing feels more convoluted and twisted in a good BKV way. There’s literary references and word play and it’s a smart tale, even if it does deal in The Mad Hatter using some serum to turn a poor doctor into a hybrid between Man-Bat, Killer Croc, and Solomon Grundy.

It’s a strange tale but it works, especially on its own. Each character is well written and the action has a motion to it, even though it is quickly resolved. It’s the sort of one-shot that fills a month quickly and sensibly.

The final two issues here have Wonder Woman fighting against Clayface. Because Wonder Woman herself was forged from clay (a fact Vaughan seeds within the first few pages), Clayface decides he wants to defeat her and absorb her magical clay qualities. It’s the sort of quirky idea that would have played perfectly in the Silver Age. Clayface manages to do this, to some degree, and takes some of Wonder Woman’s powers as well.

The resolution is satisfying as Wonder Woman and Donna Troy work with each other effectively. There’s a great moment where Wonder Woman makes a mystical centrifuge with her lasso and a train carriage. It’s a great “Comics!” moment. Ultimately, though, this tale seems to be more about the dual qualities of Diana and Donna. It’s well handled but not delved into too deeply.

One thing I realised from all these issues was that the old Vaughan loved to end his issues on sappy little lines of heroism and bonding. It feels anachronistic, even for comics nearly a decade old. It’s not necessarily bad but it’s something that doesn’t seem to happen too much anymore and I'm certainly not complaining.

The final very short story is about a new Batman rogue called The Skeleton. In fact, it’s actually more important that this guy is a nemesis for Bruce Wayne as that is who he is interested in going after. The Skeleton uses his time masquerading as other villains while actually setting up his own plan. It’s a decent little story and works as set up but it hasn’t actually set anything up. Vaughan started this mystery but never got the chance to capitalise on it. And neither did anyone else. We may never find out the true identity of the Skeleton, which is a little sad. He was a cool concept, if a short one and he looked far too much like a nu-age Skeletor. I wonder if anyone will ever pick up on this thread? I’d certainly be happy to ride on Vaughan’s name by writing the villain he created.

Verdict – Check It. This trade is full of a few interesting things, that’s for sure, but there’s nothing absolutely definitive or classic at play here. The Jabberwocky issue is pretty good but the rest is simply passable. If you’re a massive BKV fan, as I am, then you must read this, but probably only once. Then you’ll at least know, so I appreciate DC putting this out simply for this fact.

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Ivan said...

I usually love Scott McDaniel's art, but that Wonder Woman face on the cover is going to give me nightmares.

Anonymous said...

Hey that sound really interesting Ryan, could you please tell us the respective issues collected in the trade? just for curosity hehe


Anonymous said...

It was Kurt Busiek's idea to collect this trade. He suggested it at a comic con a few years back.

Fenris said...

Being a huge BKV fan, I bought this. But after reading it, I realized that Vaughan is right about preferring to write his own characters. Compared to his three masterworks, this collection is very generic – a jarring experience considering what a gifted writer he is (like when Alan Moore wrote Spawn/Wildcats). I will stick to his creator-owned material henceforth.

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