Monday, April 8, 2013

Quick Comic Reviews: Batman/Deathblow: After the Fire

Spoilers! There is barely any Batman in  this book!

I've made it quite clear that I am NOT a fan of most characters spawned from the dark age of comics known only as...the NINTIES! Odds are if your character is an over-muscled, gun-toting mercenary who grits his teeth a lot, and has the word "Death" in his name, then congratulations, you have officially killed any possibility of me having any interest in the character. However, the subject of this review also stars one of my favorite superheroes, and is a mini-series written and drawn back in 2003 by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo respectively, both of which have great track-records. After finishing the book, I think its safe to say that this collaboration was nowhere near as good as their future work... in fact I wouldn't use "good" to describe this book.

Plot Summary
We open on a flashback (a trope that already annoys me in how overdone it is) with Michael Cray, AKA Deathblow and a small team staking out a building. We then move 10 years later to a fancy restaurant in which Bruce Wayne is having dinner with two friends, before stepping out to investigate a gruesome scene in which a severed hand was placed in a toll basket. Meanwhile, Bruce's companion from the restaurant, Scott is fatally burned and manages to give Bruce the name Deathblow before flat-lining. Going on the name alone, Bruce begins to investigate the mystery behind a mysterious terrorist known as the Falcon who eluded capture by Deathblow 10 years prior.

If my synopsis feels confusing and short, its only because thats exactly how the book feels. This three issue mini-series is a nasty combination of slow-moving and confusing. Without getting into spoiler territory it is safe to say that this narrative is incredibly baffling in the wrong way. The plot is disgustingly convoluted and, when actually thought about, makes no sense at all; but even worse is the ending, which (once again avoiding spoilers) ultimately shows that this entire story was completely pointless, which is especially maddening considering just how SLOOOOWWWW this book moves despite only being a 3 issue mini-series.

The story is presented as a combination of flashbacks and current day events, the pacing of which is handled in a rather amateurish fashion since the time transitions are completely jarring and often come out of nowhere with little context, instead of in logical moments when Bruce uncovers certain information or when a character with actual knowledge of the flashback's contents would have a flashback. We also have several characters whom we don't get to learn much about, and serve purely as plot devices through either giving information before dying, or being double/triple crossers with head-scratching motivations.

Also, like most ninties characters, Deathblow is not a particularly interesting or compelling character; he is mostly just another muscle-bound, tough-guy mercenary like your average Punisher knock-off; and yet somehow he ends up with more panel time than Batman. Speaking of the caped crusader, if you bought this book expecting to see Batman bust some skulls, and make the bad guys wet themselves in terror, then prepare for epic disappointment since Bruce spends most of this book out of costume, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when you have a book bearing the title Batman/Deathblow, you'd expect to get a bit of Batman action as well.

Art Direction
I will give the book some credit however, Lee Bermejo's artwork is FANTASTIC! His characters are well detailed and proportioned, but are also incredibly stylized with heavy black outlines and angular feature. His backgrounds are also well drawn, but can be a little repetitive since, in what I can only assume was a creative choice, the different time periods have different tones since the flashbacks are presented in a dull, gray coloring and the present day events are a murky sepia tone. Panel placement however is another story, the panels are often arranged in a very confusing manner, mostly (once again) when there are transitions between the two time periods that this book takes place in.

Given the creative team behind this book, and the excellent books they've made, including Joker, and Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, I had particularly high hopes for this book, and was sadly let down. The plot in ultimately too confusing and non-sensical, and there are not many interesting things to do with this horrible ninties mercenary character that should have perished along with that despicable decade. Check out the other great works that this creative team has produced, but give this one a pass.

Grade- D
Lee Bermejo's artwork is great, but artwork can only get you so far in a comic without a good, follow-able story to compliment it.

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