Art by Jock & Francesco Francavilla
While I praised Batgirl for its more positive portrayal of Gotham City, that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy the darker side that the city has to offer. The most recent run of Detective Comics is perhaps the best example of this, as the book has almost been hard to read at times due to how dark and depraved it is. And that is not a complaint. Snyder, Jock, and Francavilla have been setting the world on fire with their excellent work on the title, providing one of the bleakest interpretations of Gotham I've encountered, while also somehow managing to provide slivers of hope throughout their narrative. Although Snyder gets to keep playing with Batman come September, Jock and Francavilla are done with the Caped Crusader for the foreseeable future, so this is the team's swan song.
And what a song it is. These guys seem to really "get" each other, and their work benefits from their ability to work so well together. Fortunately, DC seems to have recognized this, giving the team thirty pages to finish up their run on the title. And they make excellent use of the space. Jock's artwork bookends the issue, setting up and paying off the mood of the title, while Francavilla fills up the pages in between with some truly terrifying art that I couldn't help but cringe at. Their styles are incredibly distinct and go a long way to emphasizing the differences of mood in their respective sections of the book.
The entire issue has an overriding sense of horror and dread. When Jock is on art duties, his beautiful, yet comparatively sparse, style gives the impression that those feelings are just below the surface, almost invisible yet ever-present. However, when Francavilla takes the reins, his dark and sinister style enables the nightmares to become real, impossible to avoid. It's a testament to each man's individual talents that they can accomplish these feats with such apparent ease. Together they are truly greater than their individual parts, making for a comic replete with intensely disturbing imagery. It's both terrifying and impressive.
Of course, Snyder does his fair share in bringing his horror A-game. The story that he composes here and the way he paces it is near perfect. There is a sense throughout the issue that no one is safe and that anyone could fail, and it makes for a great read. This book is hard to put down, although sometimes you really want to. Snyder writes some genuinely troubling scenes, yet manages to achieve this without the book feeling exploitative. What's more, just when you think that things can't get more intense, Snyder somehow finds a way to ratchet up the horror, bringing things to a new level. And he doesn't do it once or twice, he seems to do it again and again from beginning to end. I can't imagine how his mind works, but I'm glad it does, because this is a rock solid comic book and one of the best Batman stories I've had the pleasure of reading.
Another important reason for the book's success is Snyder's excellent character work. The reader worries for the character's safety because we care about who these people are and what happens to them. Snyder has been doing some skillful work throughout the series, and this issue is no exception. I continue to maintain that he is one of the few writers who can actually write Dick Grayson as Batman, and he proves that here. The way the situation with the Gordons, and with James in particular, has developed could only be done with Dick under the cowl. His approach to solving the problem and the fears he faces while doing so are very distinct from how Bruce would manage things, which is refreshing. Too often writers seem to just write Batman as if the person wearing the mask has not changed, which is frustrating to no one.
However, Dick isn't the only character that shines in this issue. The Gordons play an integral role, and while Jim and Barbara have some quality moments throughout, I would risk saying that James Jr. steals the show. His actions and reactions throughout the issue are the driving force of the story and provide most of the narrative's horror and creepiness. Snyder has done an excellent job revealing the character little by little and developing him into the sociopath that we so clearly see on display in these pages.
Verdict - Must Read. This is a great conclusion to a phenomenal run on Detective Comics. The creative team successfully manages to create a sense of terror that I didn't think was possible in comic books. My only complaint about this series is that it's done. While Snyder's continuing Batman work should be well-worth reading, I will miss having Jock and Francavilla along for the ride.
Art by Chris Houghton
Full disclosure: I love all-ages comics and honestly believe that the industry needs more of these types of books. I think it's a shame that so many seem to feel that comics are for adults nowadays. As far as I can see, there is no reason that comic books can't be enjoyed by readers of all ages, and I think that publishers should be making a bigger effort to create materials that can appeal to all demographics. Additionally, I often find that stories written with all audiences in mind are better all around stories, so I'm always happy to find titles of this kind.
I'm pleased to report that I believe Reed Gunther to be an excellent example of this. As I mentioned on Tuesday, this is a new series from Image that stars the eponymous cowboy, Reed Gunther, and his trusty steed and best friend, Sterling, who is a bear. Thus far the series has been about the wacky adventures the two have been getting up to, and with the two leads being a cowboy and a bear, you better believe that those adventures are pretty wacky.
And that's one of my favourite things about this book thus far - it is lighthearted and doesn't take itself too seriously. The most important thing for this comic seems to be having fun. At its most basic level, Reed Gunther is a story of high adventure, and most everything that happens serves that end goal. It is a comic with its fair share of action, suspense, and conflict (including a quality fight on top of a moving train in this issue), but it also has lots of humour, character development, and interesting ideas sprinkled throughout. There has been a definite paranormal bent within the book, and it's been used very creatively, with a lot of the monsters fitting perfectly into this type of Wild West setting.
Another important factor in this book's favour is that it is incredibly approachable. Although this is the third issue in the series, most everything the reader needs to know to understand what's going on is explained during the course of the story. Indeed, apart from the main plot that features Reed, Sterling, and their new companion Starla chasing the dastardly Mr. Picks and the monsters he has stolen, there are a number of related subplots going on at the same time, but these are presented just as clearly and are easy to follow. That being said, it's not always evident why things might be happening (there is withheld information for dramatic reasons and so forth), but everything feels like it is happening for a reason, and it makes for some good reading.
The art plays a big role in this, as the character designs are all extremely well-done. The monster that appears on the cover of this issue is perhaps the best example of this concept. The majority of the story takes place on a train travelling across the United States, and the monster appears to be composed entirely of the materials used to build the rail road (including metal spikes, wooden planks, nails, and so forth). It is a clever and well-executed idea that is incredibly appropriate considering the rest of the story. The book has a very cartoony style, meaning that character designs are exaggerated and are often representative in some way of individual character traits. For example, Reed is strong, but a bit of an oaf, so he is a burly figure who looks like a bit of a goof. The world is made up of larger-than-life characters, which perfectly compliments the lager-than-life story.
Verdict - Check It. If you, like me, enjoy quality storytelling, regardless of its intended audience, give this book a look. And if you know of any young children who like comics, you should get them a copy, because there simply aren't enough comics being written for younger audiences right now, and when something this good is coming out with them in mind, they deserve to get their hands on it.
Wow. I came into this issue knowing that Nick Spencer can write some good stories and that Emma Rios could draw some pretty pictures, but I had no idea that they would work so well together.
Before this issue dropped, despite the creative team, I was on the fence. What pushed me to deciding to check it out was reading somewhere (possibly Nick Spencer's Twitter?) that Cloak and Dagger was going to be a true "couple comic". Not knowing exactly what that meant, I had to give the book a look. Now that I've gone through it, I can tell you that is the prefect description for this comic. It really is about these two characters, who they are, and who they are to each other.
This is clear from the three-page opening sequence that provides the backstory to Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson. The sequence is expertly handled, with Rios providing three pages of interweaving images that say just as much, if not more, than the captions. The style she uses here is like what I've seen from her before, but it is also tailored to fit the characters. The images are all inter-connected, weaving there way across the page in a way that evokes the powers of our titular heroes. At the same time, Spencer provides strong voices to the two characters from the very beginning. Throughout Rios' images are dueling captions boxes (white for Tandy and black for Tyrone) that immediately show who the characters are and the strong relationship that they share. The written and artistic choices develop the characters more in these three pages than some comics manage in an entire issue.
Spencer's writing is strong throughout the book, giving us some interesting and realistic situations for Tandy and Tyrone to try to deal with. But for everything they do, the relationship between the two is really the emphasis of the narrative. Spencer manages to write a believable depiction of a young couple struggling with their own issues while also working to understand their partner's problems. The parallelism that he creates between the two is especially strong, showing both how close the two are and also how far apart they can sometimes be. The two-page spread where Tandy and Tyrone are contemplating how they've been doing lately as a couple is especially moving, providing some dramatic irony where the reader comes to understands perfectly what neither character can quite manage to wrap their heads around at this point.
Without selling Spencer short, I must say that Rios is the star of this book. Every page is stunning and unique, and everything on the page feels like it is there to serve the story. I'm not quite sure how to describe it, but her style is gorgeous. As strange as it might sound, I want to say that her style is both clear and indistinct, tight and loose. The detail she puts into every panel is astounding, something that is especially true for Tandy and Tyrone. I didn't realize what it was the first time I read through the issue, but Tandy is constantly surrounded by bright, star-like dots, which are representative of the power inside her. Of course, Tyrone has a similar set of darkness that follows him around. They're both small things, but their addition adds a lot to the final product. Rios draws in a way that few others do, and her style is perfectly fitted for this book.
Did you happen to catch any of these books? If so, what did you think of them? If not, are you planning on giving them a look? I'd love to hear your thoughts on these, and any other comics you read, below in the comments!