Hey this is Jordan here, and I am here to introduce this guest reviewer. He is a fan from the Spoony Experiment forums, and when I asked for guest reviewers he was one of the first to submit a review. This is it, and I enjoyed it greatly. It’s not often I enjoy other comic book reviewers this much, but I found this be a great review. He doesn’t have a website, but if this review goes well I will be sure to bring him back for another review. So sit back and enjoy The Uninitiated Comic Reader Issue #1:  Batman War Crimes written by Danius Kang.

I’ve always loved stories about superheroes. When I was young, my favorite television shows were the old X-Men cartoon, Batman the Animated Series, the Superman Animated series, Batman Beyond and the like. The more mature over-arching stories and the great action, as well as fantastic art styles really hooked me. As a result, I’ve always liked the stories and mythologies surrounding superheroes, and at that time I even read a few comics. Few being the imperative word.

I couldn’t really afford comics at the time, so eventually I drifted away from the medium. For years, I kept toying with the idea, occasionally picking up a comic or two but never got into it, and still didn’t really have the money. But now with libraries carrying more and more trade paperback collections, it seemed like as good a time as any to start trying to read (comics) again, especially with so much interesting-looking stuff out there.

So I went to my nearest library and found a lot more than I bargained for. Overwhelmed by choice, I decided to go with a hero I knew I could trust:  Batman. And I thought I would share my naive experiences, giving a different perspective on the comics than you might be used to (caution:  possible spoilers).

NOTE:  I did not and have still not Wikipediaed (how exactly do you turn that into a verb…Wikied I guess)or researched any of these comics or related stories, characters, etc. This is because I want to preserve the genuine first impressions that I had. As a result, I apologize in advance if I overlook something and look like an idiot.

So, let’s get on with it. The first book is:

Batman: War Crimes

Summary:  War Crimes is a hard-bound collection of technically 7 (?) comics (three mini stories that are tangentially related to the four main chapters) that seems to put a cap on the “War” story arc. Apparently, I jumped in at the wrong point here. Looking at the back, it showcases four books preceding it (War Drums, War Games: Outbreak, War Games: Tides, and War Games: Endgame). However, the book kindly uses the first page to fill me in on everything that has happened so far.

Apparently, Stephanie Brown, the Spoiler, wanted to be the new Robin, but Batman said no go, because she wasn’t disciplined enough. She goes on to prove him right by enacting one of his hypothetical “War Game” scenarios behind his back, in some attempt to prove herself worthy (this part was pretty esoteric, actually). All this does is allow Black Mask (a villain I wasn’t familiar with) to take control of all the gangs, killing Stephanie in the process. During this, Batman apparently made some unpopular decisions (none of which are discussed) causing most of his allies to abandon him.

In addition to this recap, the comic opens with a long scene of Black Mask explaining the current status of the villains of Gotham. I found some of what he says here interesting, but he was really vague about a lot of what he was explaining. So to me, this 18 page spanning conversation would seem really boring to people who are regular readers, and it was just kind of confusing to me. And really, the only important thing said here (at least that is relevant to this book) is that Black Mask had a guy make him a bunch of masks of villains and heroes, and the Joker is missing.

The comic really gets going about the time Batman is being accused of not only the horrors of the previous months, but also tricking children into joining his crusade, and that then turns into Batman being blamed for Stephanie’s death. This stems partly from the fact that someone is running around dressed as Batman, acting like a maniac. The Joker reappears with unclear motives (although he turns out to be completely inconsequential), and Batman learns the true identity of Stephanie Brown’s killer. I don’t want to spoil anymore because despite my complaints this was actually a good read (mostly).

Art: The art fluctuates between each chapter, ranging from mediocre to pretty good. The only real gripe is with the way the Joker is drawn. I’ve noticed this in a few of the other Batman comics I’ve read, but artists seem to be in a big disagreement as to how he should look. And he is the only character that seems to fluctuate, chapter by chapter, in this jarring manner. It doesn’t help that this is the first panel we see him in.

Wowza. Did the Joker have facial reconstructive surgery and then put on a few pounds? Apparently not, actually, as he looks totally different in the very next panel. I get that this was done to portray depth of field and perspective at a dramatic angle, but it definitely didn’t come off as it was intended.

Writing: As stated above, the story is well plotted and doesn’t jump around too much after the first quarter of the book. The dialogue is very well written, and is clever without being over the top (not to mention a really good final speech from Batman). But speaking of Batman, this seems to be where the writing has its real flaws, in the form of his characterization.

Now, this might be because I haven’t read the previous books and don’t know what he’s  been through (although throughout the comic they give a good idea of how dire the situation was). But Batman seems to be…enjoying his job a little too much? I know the Dark Knight has, well, moments of darkness, but I kinda thought the whole shtick was that as much as his parent’s death motivated him, his crusade isn’t about vengeance. But during most of the comic, he seems to relish breaking peoples bones. In fact, he internally monologues several times about how good it feels to beat up some thugs (in this case, however, he admits it shames him to feel that way), and then later he does it again during a fight, commenting how nicely his fist fits into his opponents’ guts.

This sort of attitude is also expressed during a fight with Black Mask in which he is incredibly arrogant and even gloats at one point. It just seemed really out of place for someone who is usually as reserved and focused as Batman.

Overall: I really enjoyed this book. It was the first comic I had read in a long while, and it involved one of my favorite heroes. The art got a bit wonky at times, as did Batman’s actions in certain situations, but it didn’t detract enough to drag the whole story down.

It terms of accessibility, I probably should have researched this a little bit. It wasn’t a great jumping on point. However, the inclusion of some tie-in material and the front page recap made it a lot easier on me, so props to DC on that one. Before I could recommend this to anyone, though, I’d have to read through the rest of the arc.

And next time I do this, I think I’ll just pick up a single issue and work from there.

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