If you somehow don't know what went down two weeks back in Batman, Incorporated #8, you should probably avoid this review because it'll spoil the hell out of it for you. On the other hand, if you don't know what happened there, you probably shouldn't be on the internet at all, so there is that.
When it comes to Bat-books, I have not been following Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Batman and Robin, but when I heard that issue #18 was completely without dialogue, I couldn't resist checking it out. Variety is the spice of life, and I can't resist when people try different ideas in their comic book storytelling. Having gone through the issue, I must say that I'm glad I took the risk here.
Batman and Robin #18 doesn't make clear at what exact point it takes place in Batman continuity, but that really isn't terribly important. All you need to know is that it occurs shortly after the death of Damian Wayne (probably within the first few days) and that Tomasis, Gleason, and Mick Gray really put Bruce and Alfred through the ringer. While there's no dialogue to guide the reader, the book's art is more than enough to illustrate what's going on - and some of those things are downright emotionally difficult to work through. Bruce and Alfred are important father figures to Damian - whether biological or no - and Damian's absence weighs hard on them.
While Tomasi's script hits the reader with plenty of emotional moments, it's Gleason's deft storytelling that allows this comic to succeed. The lack of dialogue forces the reader to focus on each page, and there's plenty to see. There are Damian's sketches, hard moments of remembrance, attempts to work through these feelings, and much more. Gleason sets up every panel to tell its own story, and taken together, they add up to tell a tale of true woe. It's a testament to Tomasi and Gleason that just as you feel that things can't get worse they turn the screws a little more to show you just how wrong you are. There is no sunshine here.
However, these silent moments aren't all completely successful, as there is a moment where Bruce destroys a lamp-post with the Batmobile that didn't quite click with me. The emotion is honestly felt, but it was clear that the lamp-post is supposed to hold a deeper symbolism that simply wasn't evident to me. With some brain wracking, I could offer a few theories as to why it's important, but the whole exercise took me out of the reading experience momentarily.
Fortunately, such moments are few and far between (that is the only one, frankly). For the most part, this issue is a huge success, especially when it comes to a handwritten note that Bruce discovers towards the end of the issue. It's a little heavy-handed, but it works in the context of the book as a whole, and ensures that this remains one of the most tragic comics you'll read.
Verdict - Buy It. Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's experiment pays off in a big way, as they provide a deceptively simple look at Bruce and Alfred's life in the immeidate aftermath of Damin's death. It's not perfect, but it's damn close.
When it's done well, comedy is one of the easiest things to appreciate, but the better it is, the harder it is to write about. Analyzing something that's funny too closely often risks ruining the joke that originally seemed so darned funny. However, Nate Cosby and Evan Shaner's Buddy Cops is too funny to ignore, so I'll do my best to explain why that's the case without killing off any of its entertainment value.
This one-shot is actually a collection of three eight-page shorts that originally appeared in Dark Horse Presents #14-16 plus two new pages to bookend them. But don't let the fact that this is a reprint fool you into thinking you don't need to read this, because Buddy Cops is objectively a laugh riot. Okay, objectively may be a little strong, especially considering that people do have different sense of humour, but Cosby and Shaner have a great chemistry between them that really translates to the comic book page in ways you wouldn't believe.
Uranus and T.A.Z.E.R., the titular Buddy Cops are a brilliant expression of the buddy cop genre. They have virtually nothing in common, and as the comic frequently reminds us, "they hate each other". Despite that (or more accurately, because of it) the two characters are perfect foils for each other. Uranus is loud, brash, and dumb as a rock, while T.A.Z.E.R. is bland, by the book, and mostly without emotion. Cosby and Shaner aren't necessarily reinventing the wheel here, but I've rarely seen the genre drive as smoothly as this.
Buddy Cops is a true team effort (pardon the oblique pun), because Cosby's script goes hand-in-hand with Shaner's art. There are jokes being bandied about left, right, and centre, and Shaner's art not only helps them work but often improves them (especially when it comes to visual gags). This is true for the big, in-your-face jokes as well as the small asides. These pages are jam-packed with all manner of levity, and whether it's a simple facial expression or a small quip, they're all winners.
Shaner also deserves major props for making the world around these two wrecking balls come alive. Uranus and T.A.Z.E.R.'s actions are always crazy and over the top, but so too is the New York City they inhabit. It doesn't matter if it's the giant monsters the fight, the buildings they crash through, or the cars they park, it all looks and feels great. These small details allow the bigger parts of the story to shine. And shine they do.
Verdict - Buy It. It's abundantly clear that Nate Cosby and Evan Shaner had a ton of fun making this book, and as a result, they've made something that's a ton of fun to read. Buddy Cops won't necessarily change your worldview or challenge your beliefs (I mean, it could...), but it will make you laugh pretty danged hard, and that's important, too.
I know it's never a safe proposition to presume future success based on past performance, but if there's one creator in the comic book industry for which that may be a safe bet, I think it would have to be Mike Mignola. Virtually regardless of the project, if his name is attached, it usually ends up being pretty solid. This is, of course, great news when it comes to his Hellboy and B.P.R.D. output, which are books that are as reliable as the rising sun, but every now and again, it's nice to see him tackle something new. This has been true for both his Hellboy/B.P.R.D. spin-offs, such as Lobster Johnson and Sir Edward Grey that have many of the same ideas but taken from different angles, and his completely unique properties, such as the Lord Baltimore books that let him experiment a bit more.
While Sledgehammer 44 technically falls within the former category (as the suit comes from Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus), it reads more like the latter. Frankly, this feels like on of the biggest departures of late for Mignola, as the first issue reads like a straight World War Two tale infused with some serious science fiction. For a man who's made his name through fantasy stories, this issue is pretty grounded in reality. You know, beyond the robots.
Don't get me wrong, it still reads like a Mignola book, with John Arcudi and Mignola putting in all the poignant moments and pauses and quick dialogue that you would expect, but it isn't quite the same. While all the base materials are present, in constructing a science fiction story those elements have been arranged in a manner different from Mignola's norm. And I like what they've built. The story they have is simple, efficient, and most importantly, interesting. A big reason for that is Jason Latour's brilliant art.
I have not seen a lot of his work, but this comic alone is enough reason for me to fall in love with it. His rendering of character and setting is top notch, but his loose, expressive style also perfectly captures movement and emotion. There are some huge fight scenes in this book, and Latour's lines and details make them feel appropriately epic. His handwritten sound effects, which are all over the place, are excellent support for his art, adding that oomph to make every moment better.
Dave Stewart also deserves his fair share of accolades, because he, as always, makes the artist's work look that much better. Thanks to Stewart, the world of Sledgehammer 44 has a colour palette that always feels spot on. It's often in flux, but each page (and sometimes individual panels) has one hue that is used to colour the entire scene. For example, intense moments of battle take on an orangey-yellow, while quieter moments almost feel washed out at times. Sledgehammer also has access to some electrical powers that look absolutely gorgeous and every bit as devastating as they appear thanks to Stewart and Latour's collaboration.
Verdict - Buy It. At a time where it seems everyone and their dog has a World War Two story to tell, Sledgehammer 44 succeeds in spinning a yarn that feels both familiar and novel. It also has some of the prettiest pictures that I ever did see. Together, it's a potent combination, and one that I would heartily suggest checking out.
Quick Shot Reviews
BRAVEST WARRIORS #6 - Joey Comeau and Mike Holmes continue to right the Bravest Warriors ship as they eagerly stride into their second story arc. Things feels a lot more coherent and the gags are much stronger here than they've been of late. The nod to earlier events also makes previous issues feel more important and worthwhile, which is a nice touch. Bravest Warriors #6 isn't quite the book it was at issue #1, but it's moving back in the right direction. Verdict - Check It.
Verdict - Skip It.