Bookwyrm’s 10-Word Comic Reviews & Recs: Batman, Extremity, Colossi and More

No fancy introductions this week for Bookwyrm’s comic segment, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve got a whopper of a headache, I’m going on the absolute bare minimum of required sleep, and I’m pretty sure trained assassins might be watching me through the window of my study/writing room/spare room/broom closet. If you feel so inclined, please send thoughts, prayers, and an Irish coffee or three.

This week, Batman hears voices while fighting a ‘roider; girl meets beast in a heartwarming, bloody story; someone saw Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and said, “Yeah, I can parallel universe that;” someone close to Miles Morales is shocked, shocked to learn that he is Spider-Man; and DC is finally remembering that Superman can actually be a pretty cool character.

Here are this week’s issues that #RocktheRack:

BATMAN #20
Publisher: DC
Story: Tom King
Art: David Finch

What The Trades Say:
“I Am Bane” finale! In this epic climax, there is no going back. No more tricks, no more allies. Just Batman. And Bane. When the final blood spills, nothing will ever be the same for the Dark Knight.

What Bookwyrm Says:
This was, in a word, brutal. But so, so good. Tom King’s epic “I Am Bane” story arc wraps up in this issue, and many Bat-fans (and critics alike) who have been showering this series with nothing but praise are sure to be happy with how the issue and storyline resolves. And here’s the thing: on the surface, this issue really shouldn’t work. Yes, it’s an issue-long fight with everyone’s favorite DC roid-rage monster, but it’s plotted along so that it never becomes gratuitous or repetitive. Yes, it’s interspersed with flashbacks to earlier moments in the series, but it doesn’t come across as a meaningless attempt to fill empty spaces. Yes, it is narrated almost entirely by a dead woman, but — as hokey as it sounds — it actually works. This issue shouldn’t work. But, damn, does it work.

Bane has been threatening to end Batman ever since he first showed up back in 1993. He was a big deal then; Knightfall was one of the most famous Batman arcs of the 90’s. During that story, he broke the Bat — both figuratively and, later, quite literally. He worked out Batman’s secret identity — something only handful of other people in Gotham have been able to do — and he crafted a plan to break Batman mentally before breaking him physically. In his introductory arc, he managed to do what so many villains had longed to do for years, and that was just the beginning of his plan. Sure, he’s a musclebound freak with tubes coming out of his body, but he has a brain too, despite what Joel Schumacher and Akiva Goldsman would want you to think.

He’s had his ups and downs since the 90’s, but I mostly feel that DC writers didn’t really know how to use him after such an epic introduction. He’s had interesting storylines here and there, including one where he finally got to confront the father who abandoned him and his mother in a prison in Santa Prisca, but nothing ever really caught on with the character. It’s possible that he was seen as too perfect of a foil for Batman — the villain version of a Mary Sue. He’s a match both physically and mentally, which makes for less interesting confrontations. As viewers of CW’s The Flash are quickly finding out, when your main villain has the exact same powers as your hero, things start to get a little boring.

Thankfully, it seems that Tom King is aware of that. His Bane, while still tactical AF, is also a bit more unhinged than versions we’ve seen in the past, and it shows during this issue’s climactic battle. This is what it’s all been building toward for him. It’s in the palm of his hand. And now that it’s here, it’s not going quite the way he expected. You can hear it in his dialogue and, thanks to Finch’s unbelievable pencil work, you can see it on the page.

I’ve enjoyed this arc, and I enjoyed its conclusion. Had it focused solely on the Batman vs Bane fight, it still would have been worth reading, but the inclusion of flashbacks to earlier points in the series just really makes the fight that much more, shall we say, hard-hitting.

Twitter-Ready 10-Word Review:
King delivers a satisfying conclusion to an excellent story arc.

EXTREMITY #2
Publisher: Image
Story & Art: Daniel Warren Johnson

What The Trades Say:
Thea has taken her first step toward vengeance against the Paznina warlords who ruined her family. But this world offers more than vengeance as she discovers a new ally in the wreckage of the Rising Plains.

What Bookwyrm Says:
I reviewed EXTREMITY #1 a few weeks ago when it came out, and yes, I’m putting it back on the Rec List. When something blows you away, it blows you away, fairness to other issues be damned.

This was pretty much the perfect second issue. It picked up where the introductory issue left off, while also taking a second or two to fill in a little background on our characters. No exposition dumps, no awkward story pauses for more information — we’re just getting trickles of what happened before so we can better understand what’s happening now. We also learn a little more about the world itself, including new regions and a bit of background on the different groups/tribes of people inhabiting it. Plus, and maybe this is just me, we get a map of this world, and it tickles the sci-fi fantasy lover in me. Floating islands! Mysterious ancient ruins! I’ve grown to used to picking these books up in trade paperback form; I don’t want to wait another month for the next issue. Damn binge-watching mentality.

In this issue, in addition to a little bit of mythology about this world, we’re introduced to a few new characters, all of whom promise to be major players in the coming issues. First, we have an ancient robot soldier that awakens after years of being stuck in an ancient junk pile. Second, we are introduced to a few more family members on the antagonists’ side, plus a little bit on their motivations. Third, we spend a bit more time with Thea’s family — enough that it would be hard to consider her the main character of this particular issue. And last, we get a good look at some the creatures awaiting those who tread into the land Johnson has named “The Ancient Dark.”

Folks, this is next-level storytelling here. Don’t miss it.

Twitter-Ready 10-Word Review:
No sophomore slumps here. Extremity continues its streak of excellence.

COLOSSI #1
Publisher: Vault
Story: Ricardo Mo
Art: Alberto Muriel

What The Trades Say:
When Trans Atmos Shuttle 34 disappears into a wormhole, its pilot and passengers are launched into an adventure of gigantic proportions. Lost in an oversized parallel universe, the group must put aside their differences and unite to survive a hostile environment. But the biggest threat they’ll face is the one that hitched a ride on Shuttle 34.

What Bookwyrm Says:
Another week, another number one. I love discovering stories at their actual beginning instead of finding something interesting and having to play catch-up later on.

With COLOSSI, we’re venturing into somewhat familiar territory. A bus full of people ends up on a parallel Earth where they end up being six inches tall. Or maybe they’re the same height and the world around them is so much larger that they end up proportionally the size of action figures. (That particular comparison ends up being worth noting, by the way. Keep it in mind if you pick this issue up.)

What I loved about this issue is that it played with the genre a little. Since you’re seeing everything from the perspective of the newly miniature people, you see it differently than you normally would. They venture out from the bus, and one of them is instantly grabbed by the pincer of what looks like a huge scorpion-like monster and dragged away from the bus screaming. It’s enough to put you on edge. At no point when I was reading those panels did it enter my mind that the scorpion was normal-sized and it was the bus and people who had shrunk. It’s a testament to the rapid-fire progression of the story and the lack of build-up that actually serves the beginning of this story well.

As with most number ones, I feel like the best thing a creative team can do is build interest and suspense and save the world-building for later issues. That’s what is happening here. We see the struggle of the survivors simply trying to find food and water in this new, gigantic world, but we really don’t know much about the world they came from or the world they’ve entered. As it should be, the focus is on the characters at the heart of the story. Sure, we haven’t learned much about them yet, but we’re getting the foundations. We’re also getting foundations for some cultural rifts in our world of origin; I sensed a hint of Alien-type android issues here.

Twitter-Ready 10-Word Review:
A fun and promising take on an old genre staple.

SPIDER-MAN #15
Publisher: Marvel
Story: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Szymon Kudranski

What The Trades Say:
Coming out of the crossover with SPIDER-GWEN, Miles’ life is turned upside down. Rio Morales, Miles’s mother, is faced with a world she doesn’t know or understand. WHAT WILL SHE DO NOW?!

What Bookwyrm Says:
Yep… another Bendis issue, another metric ton of word balloons. But in the comic world of “let’s talk with our fists,” it’s kind of nice to spend some time with people in costumes and hear what they actually have to say. You know, using words.

And, like I said the last time I reviewed a Bendis work, I love how well the man does conversations. We open with a conversation between Miles and his father, chatting about the things fathers and sons chat about. Except, you know, slightly more superhero-related. But it comes across so naturally that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading a book or browsing a comic. It honestly feels like you’re eavesdropping on a father-son discussion at a bus stop somewhere. The things that were being said made sense. And when you’ve been reading comics and watching TV and going to movies and playing video games for as long as I have, that matters. Sensible dialogue matters. If there’s anything that can pull me out of a story faster than crappy writing, I haven’t found it yet.

The real story here is that Mama Morales just found out what her baby boy’s been doing in his free time. And to say she’s a little upset about it is an understatement. However, the way the confrontation is written is perfect. You see how Miles and his father were trying to do what was best for her and for their entire family. But you also see how the knowledge that she has been lied to for going on two years is devastating to her. It’s an impossible situation, and Bendis is a master dialogue crafter. But he’s not the only one who deserves the credit for that discussion.

Credit also goes to Kudranski and colorist Justin Ponsor for their excellent staging. The whole thing goes down inside the Morales home in the wee hours of the morning. It’s dark, and only bits and pieces of the scene are illuminated by lamps and the like. It creates a mood that immediately puts the reader — as well as Miles and his father — on edge. It’s the worst kind of Gotcha.

After what the recap described as a “dimension-hopping adventure with Spider-Gwen,” this is exactly the kind of issue this book needed. Something grounded. Something real. And it delivered on all fronts.

Twitter-Ready 10-Word Review:
Bendis once again finds the “real” moments in superhero comics.

SUPERMAN #20
Publisher: DC
Story: Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Art: Patrick Gleason

What The Trades Say:
“Black Dawn” Part One! A “Superman Reborn Aftermath” tie-in! As the smoke clears the Kents are faced with leaving Hamilton to go back to Metropolis, but someone or something doesn’t want them to leave! Batman and Robin discover something is mysteriously wrong with the son of Superman — he’s losing his powers!

What Bookwyrm Says:
We opened with Batman, and we’re closing with Superman. This review column is one “Save Martha!” away from a real stinker. Kidding. Sort of. (Yes, it’s been over a year, but we’re still not over the god-awfulness of that movie.)

For years now, I’ve felt like Superman always gets the short end of the stick when it comes to how popular he is among comic readers. He always gets compared to Batman, generally in a “who would win?”-type of scenario, and Batman always comes out on top. (If I hear one more person say, “Well, given adequate time to prepare….”) But Superman has always been one of my favorites, and it’s because of the other qualities he has to possess in order to be a hero. Whereas other heroes push themselves to the limits to save the world, Superman has to show restraint. He has the power of a god, but he chooses to serve mankind and protect it. He has ideals that put him at odds with people of political and industrial power in the world, but he refuses to use his power to bend them to his will. He has become one of the world’s most well-known Christ figures — which is still ironic to me, considering he was created by a couple of Jewish boys in Cleveland. But that’s it’s own topic.

For this issue, let’s start with the obvious: the artwork. Patrick Gleason and colorist John Kalisz have brought the light back to the DC universe with this book. The panels focusing on Superman and his family are appropriately bright, vivid, and full of bold reds, blues, and yellows. It’s beautiful. Then — spoiler alert — Batman shows up, and so do the shadows.

Once he and Robin enter the scene, an interesting dynamic occurs. With this new Superman family dynamic, Batman becomes the antagonist of the issue. He is leery of Jon Kent’s budding powers, as well as his slightly contradicting concern over why those powers haven’t fully manifested just yet. It’s enough to put Superman on the defensive and challenge Batman’s tendency to add a negative perspective to, well, pretty much everything.

This was a fantastic issue for Superman fans, as well as a great jumping-on point for new readers. Anyone who thinks Superman is an uninteresting, overpowered superhero should take a look here. Superman isn’t super because of his powers; it’s because of his heart.

Also? “Batman doesn’t eat pie.” Oh, Damian… I love you more and more.

Twitter-Ready 10-Word Review:
It’s light versus dark in both story and art. Compelling.

And with that, I’m off to guzzle a bit more cold medicine and enjoy my coma. Until next time, ladies and gentlemen… read mas.

You can also find Bookwyrm right here on Twitter as well as DFTG for more comic and gaming goodness.

Ryan Haddock10 Posts

An award-winning author, avid reader, occasional roleplayer, and father to three young geeks-in-training, Ryan loves a good story in any medium — from books and movies to comics and video games. In addition to the above, he is also a dedicated Whovian, a superhero enthusiast, and a Browncoat who just can't seem to let it go. You can find him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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