Jun 02 2013

Graphic Bits Review: Amala’s Blade #2, Batman: The Dark Knight Annual #1, JLA #4 and Red Hood and the Outlaws Annual #1

Batman: The Dark Knight Annual #1 (DC Comics) - Artist: Szymon Kudranski

Don’t have time for full reviews of comics? Then check out Graphic Bits: bite sized chunks of comic book goodness designed to get behind the panels and into your hearts.

This week (27 May 2013) is a little quieter! We’ve got the second (or is it third?) chapter of Steve Horton and Michael Dialynas’s mini-series Amala’s Blade #2 (Dark Horse), DC Annuals for Batman: The Dark Knight (DC Comics) and Red Hood and the Outlaws, and the latest issue of Justice League of America #4 (DC Comics). This is Graphic Bits.

Other reviews…Don’t forget, each week we also feature other outstanding or high-profile issues in their own reviews. Check out full reviews for Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s magnificent The Wake #1 (DC/Vertigo) and Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel all-female reboot of X-Men #1 (Marvel).

Amala’s Blade #2 (of 4) – Dark Horse, Steve Horton (writer), Michael Dialynas (artist). Rating½

Amala's Blade #2 (Dark Horse)If the pace slows a little in the second issue of this mini-series, it’s only noticeable because the first two outings were dialled up to 11. Horton still wastes very little time throwing assassin Amala into the fray with would-be collectors on her bounty, and gives us a couple of wonderfully orchestrated action sequences in the process. Horton uses this issue to explore not only Amala’s past in brief, along with her relationship to the ghosts and her blade, but also to give us a idea of the greater world that she inhabits. The political intrigue and twisty moments between the Purifier and Modifier camps is intriguing, and we get a picture of who is pulling the strings behind the scene. Dialynas’s art is sublime, a distinctive mix of cartoonish expressionism and fantasy realism. In addition to the action sequences, Dialynas gets to cut loose on two parallel splash-pages that introduce us to the Purifier and Modifier capital cities as well. Both Horton and Dialynas manage to imbue even the smallest characters with an intangible charm, from the tough as nails innkeeper to the cartoon monkey that follows Amala everywhere. Horton is laying enough groundwork for an entire ongoing series here, but readers are lucky to get all the Amala they can handle in this concentrated fun-sized series.

Batman: The Dark Knight Annual #1DC Comics, Greg Hurwitz (writer), Szymon Kudranski (artist). Rating½

Batman: The Dark Knight Annual #1 (DC Comics)With the sublime excellence of Scott Snyder’s Batman, the major events of Batman Incorporated and the growing importance of Batman and Robin, it has been difficult to give our full attention to Batman: The Dark Knight. Yet this annual might just change out mind on that, giving us the kind of clever tale that would normally emerge on shelves around Halloween. “Once Upon a Midnight Dreary” sees Penguin, Scarecrow and Mad Hatter summoned to the now derelict Arkham Detention Facility for Youth, each believing the others have sent the invite. They soon discover that the place is filled with its own demons, sending each of the villains into a spiral of terror. This wonderful one-shot is a Batman book notable for its almost complete absence of the Bat or Bruce Wayne (save for a few panels), but is filled to the brim with his Batty spirit. Indeed, that is the point of the tale: even the elite crooks of Gotham have fears, and they all fear Batman on some deeper level.Yet it isn’t just this novelty that makes this a terrific issue, peppered with sharp dialogue and a fundamental understanding of the delicate ecosystem within Gotham. One scene sees the trio exchanging amusing anecdotes about Batman’s motifs, suggesting they should open a stained glass repair shop to cash in on every time he heroically smashes through them.  Humour aside, it’s also a genuinely creepy and atmospheric issue, and Kudranski has a lot to do with this. The creative team that has brought us the current arc of the Batman: The Dark Knight book almost give us Gotham by Gaslight here, but also surprising with a double-page spread showcasing the madness of the Hatter. It’s a great example of the sometimes lost art of single-issue storytelling.

Justice League of America #4 – DC ComicsGeoff JohnsMatt Kindt (wtiters), Brett Booth, Andres Guinaldo (artists). Rating: ½

Justice League of America #4For a while it looked as though Justice League of America, replacing the cancelled Justice League International, would quickly follow the fate of its predecessor. Yet it is also becoming an integral part of the modern DCU. Now free of the boardrooms and discussions that dominated the first issue, the fieldwork proves to be intriguing. Green Arrow joins the team in the absence/capture of Catwoman, but he isn’t the only character that is getting a showcase this issue. Dr. Light, Shaggy Man and Professor Ivo are integrated into JLA world, as DC slowly expands its Newish Somewhere-Close-to-50 to the levels it was at before they took it all away. It’s not all smooth sailing, as the ensemble is yet come together. New character Vibe is purely perfunctory, barely raising a mention as a camera-wobbling plot device. The “shock” ending to the primary story will surely get some tongues wagging, although to believe that it is anything more than a cliffhanger would be bold by even DC’s universe destroying standards. Brett Booth takes over from David Finch for art on this issue, and has a strong superhero style. Once again, the back-up story by Matt Kindt on Martian Manhunter’s expands on the fiery past of the once proud alien, allowing Andres Guinaldo some magnificent moments to explore the formerly glorious red planet. As we build towards the Trinity War in a few months, when Jeff Lemire joins the title for a few issues, it might be worth checking this out as a important piece of that potentially line-altering saga.

Red Hood and the Outlaws Annual #1DC Comics, James Tynion IV (writer), Al Barrionuevo (artists). Rating: ½

Red Hood and the Outlaws Annual #1 cover - Artist:  Ken Lashley DC Annuals have all promised to be great places to jump on for new readers, otherwise what’s the point of telling a tale that could be told in continuity? The selling point of the Red Hood and the Outlaws Annual was finding out what it was that split pre-Flashpoint BFFs Green Arrow and Arsenal/Roy Harper up. Was it Yoko Ono, or something  even more sinister? It turns out that this issue mostly sees Red Hood/Jason Todd curious about his own past, and discovering that he is known to have killed 83 (83!) people in his career as a criminal. None too happy with the fact, it causes something of a tiff between the trio of Jason, Roy and Starfire. Meanwhile, as Green Arrow tries to reconnect with his former neglectorino, he only manages to push him further away. Nothing is resolved by the end of this special, nor would you expect it to be in an ongoing series. This is an annual that only properly works if you are already invested in the title. As such, it’s not a bad issue, just realistically Red Hood and the Outlaws #20.1, with little more revealed than Green Arrow and Roy knew each other once, and they disagreed over some things. It has piqued interest enough to see where this series goes now, and perhaps on that level it has succeeded. Al Barrionuevo fills in on art duties for this special, managing to keep it light and simple. His Green Arrow, for example, is consistent with the early issues of his own title, but now somewhat out of step with the marvellous job Andrea Sorrentino is doing on the current run. Instead, it will be Cheshire’s New 52 redesign that will be the focus of attention, and it is a showstopper. Similarly, a nice glimpse into the Newish Almost 50’s Speedy, complete with yellow baseball cap, is a wink at long time fans of the character. It’s actually a bit of fun when all is said and done, fleshing out most of the characters, so we’ll turn our gaze back to the main title later this month and see how it pays off.

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