Batman by Scott Snyder Vol. 3: Death of the Family

Volume 3: Death of the Family
issues 13-17 of the 2011 series
by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Jock and more

In a nod to the Dennis O'Neil story, "Death in the Family," where the Joker murdered then-Robin Jason Todd, Snyder and co. pen their own take on it..."Death of the Family." It's named after Joker's main objective here, after a year-long hiatus: He thinks that all of the allies that Batman has surrounded himself with has made him weak. Last storyline, for example, he needed the help of his bat-family to save Gotham City from the Court of Owls. So the Joker has laid out a carnival of horrors across Gotham City, each an allusion to previous "dates" that he's had with the Batman, to convince him that he's better off without the bat-fam.

It's kind of clever how they included all these nods to previous storylines. None of them rang a bell for me, but of course, I haven't been reading Batman for 50+ years! It's even in the title itself...this story stands on the shoulders of its ancestors. At the time, there were still lots of questions about how the New 52 fit into the continuity of the DC Universe, and for them to make these references cemented its legitimacy as bonafide "canon" stories.

The final death trap sees the Batman having to choose between saving his teammates or pursuing Joker, but in a small twist, the Batman's faith in his team allows him to prevail.

The plot itself is pretty basic, although the details are very well-written. When the Joker leads Batman to Arkham, he's got to fight through a mob of inmates, who've stolen riot gear. Here's my favorite action sequence from that scene (4 pgs).

The Joker gets way too heavy on exposition for my taste. It got wordy and annoying, when sometimes the Joker doesn't need to have so many words to be menacing. It's worth noting, the full crossover event between all of the bat-family titles was collected in a 400-pg book called "Joker: Death of the Family." Apparently, Joker is worth billing more than Batman here!

A solid entry in the story, and a solid re-entry for the Joker back into the comics.


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Avengers: Vision and the Scarlet Witch: A Day in the Life

Collects the 1985 limited series and West Coast Avengers (1985) #2

In this twelve-issue limited series, Vision and the Scarlet hand in their A-cards and lead a suburban life in Leonia, New Jersey. But they can't leave their superhero lives behind! Sound familiar? Some storylines from here inspired the Disney+ series, WandaVision, but it's not a straight interpretation of the series, so the comic serves as inspiration-only. As for the comic itself, you're getting superhero soap opera at its finest. Thanksgiving family drama! Adultery! Coma! Pregnancy! All against the backdrop of humans with extraordinary abilities.

As a publisher, Marvel has always excelled at pushing the status quo. This time, Steve Englehart uses the couple of Vision and Scarlet Witch to push just what exactly a super-comic can look like! There's the typical bad guy-good guy fight in pretty much every issue. But they tackle problems unique to the two of these Avengers. There's a storyline where they face bigotry in their neighbors, ones who aren't okay with living next door to a gypsy and an android. There's another storyline where they face retribution from the Grim Reaper, disgusted that the brainwaves of his brother were used to give the Vision life. Though it doesn't stem his own bigotry, you learn that Vision really is human, despite his differences.

I'm not gonna lie, this reads like a Marvel comic from the 80s'. It's dense, and it took me a long time to read through it. The first half especially has so much backstory to explain, you have to read all this background just to read the story. But by the halfway mark, the series finds its stride, devoting each issue to some annual holiday. The episodic nature of the story makes it feel like a sitcom, sometimes. No matter what happens to them, the emotional core remains the relationship and love between Vision and Wanda. In the Mardi Gras issue, for example, Wanda questions whether Vision feels as strongly for her as he used to, now that she's gained pregnancy weight. The Enchantress seduces him to steal a jewel, but by the time all's said and done, their relationship is stronger than ever.

If you take nothing else from the story, it's that, in a world of synthetic androids that can change their density at will and mutant witches that can alter the probability of the world with spells, a romance, love and even a marriage between the two isn't so impossible either. When Wanda is put under a knockout spell, she fights it by asserting herself. Not as Wanda Maximoff, not as Wanda Magnus, but as Wanda period. She is her husband's wife first; she's taken his last name, and nothing can change that.

If you have the patience for the dense backstory that's a part of nearly every issue, you'll be rewarded with a unique super-comic that's not afraid to push the boundaries, move forward and change the status quo of decades' worth of stories for these two characters. Something that Marvel does exeedingly well.

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Batman: Knightfall Vol. 1

Collects Batman #491-500, Detective Comics #659-666, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #16-18, Stories from Showcase '93 #7-8, and Vengeance of Bane

There's a couple different collections out there for the "Knightfall" storyline. So you don't get confused, I recommend the 3-volume set: "Knightfall Vol. 1," "Vol. 2: Knightquest" and "Vol. 3: Knightsend" though there are other collections that were part of the Batman mega-event. Today I finished the first volume, having read the second volume in singles, several years ago.

Knightfall: Volume 1 is a beast of a paperback but it's printed on pulp so the weight isn't a problem at all. My library copy feels nice and there wasn't an issue with it. I also borrowed it digitally so I could grab screenshots, but comparing the two, you'd be better off with a physical copy, if you have a choice. Even with the pages yellowing, the colors pop and complement the art in person, much better than on a screen.

In so many words, this is the volume where Bane "breaks the Bat," and a new man must take the mantle of the Dark Knight. The collection is really broken into two halves...the first half being Batman's takedown of a slew of Arkham Asylum inmates, including Poison Ivy, Firefly, the Mad Hatter and more. Surprisingly, Firefly gets a 3-issue storyarc where Poison Ivy gets maybe one issue. It's standard superhero fare, with the foreboding over-story of Bane being behind it all.

Some of the panels really sing, especially with Scott Hanna's inks. Clean lines and dynamic panels make this tome a fun read.

The second half is the aftermath of a broken bat. What it means to be Batman, the responsibility it holds to Gotham City as well as to Bruce Wayne. Jean-Paul Valley, the french assassin that was rescued originally by Batman and Robin, accepts Robin's request to fill in for Bruce while he's incapacitated. Jean Paul has been in the background for a while, and presumably prior issues had detailed his original encounter with Batman and Robin. The way they depict him, it feels like he's earned the chance to hold the cape and cowl, though he won't hold it the same way.

After he defeats Bane in the final issue of this collection, it's kind of ambiguous what's going to happen. Bruce Wayne has taken a trip down to South America with Alfred, to investigate Bane's origin. The new Batman defeats Bane, and chose not to kill him, when he could have. So there's hope that Jean Paul really can be the new Batman. Will he? That's the crux of the follow-up collection, Knightfall Vol. 2: Knightquest.

There are some things that date the story. There's an underground sewer scene where Batman goes nuts after being reminded of the death of Jason Todd. As far as I know, Jason Todd is alive now in the DC universe so I wouldn't expect that scene to...hold much water. Otherwise this is a Batman classic for a reason. Batman does what he does best until he can't, and it's then that you know: even the Batman has a breaking point. I don't think it needed the 3 Scarecrow issues depicted in Showcase '93, but I guess it's fine. And other than the origin issue Vengeance of Bane, there really isn't an emotional core to the story. It's more an action comic that depicts what happens, when the good guys lose.

Obligatory panels:

Batman survives a sea of flames to take down Firefly. You can tell it's going to be a problem, when even Firefly is putting Batman to his knees.

After issues of sleepless nights chasing after the escapees of Arkham, Bane ambushes Batman in his home, and breaks him.

Read more about Knightfall:
Knightfall Volume 2: Knightquest (pt 1, pt 2)

The Flash: A Celebration of 75 Years

Collects Flash Comics (1940) #1 and 104, All-Flash (1941) #31, Showcase (1956) #4, Flash (1959) #110, 123, 125, 174, 215, 233, and 275, Superman (1939) #199, Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985) #8, Flash (1987) #0-1 and 225, Secret Origins (1986) Annual #2, Flash: Fastest Man Alive (2006) #1, Flash Rebirth (2009) #1, Flashpoint (2011) #5, and Flash (2011) #9

Whew!

Sometime in the 2010s, DC kicked off their 75-year anniversary, and the anniversaries for several of their characters. Part of that was the "A Celebration of 75 Years" line, luxurious hardcovers meant to encompass story highlights from 75 years' worth of storytelling. Being a Flash fan myself, I couldn't wait to snap the hardcover up. What classic Flash stories have I missed? What are the must-reads from the silver age?

This book is divided into 5 parts, each from different "eras" of Flash stories. There are forewords for each section, much appreciated and very helpful for explaining the context that these stories took place in.

Part I: The Fastest Man Alive

These stories introduce you to the original Flash of the Golden Age, Jay Garrick. He gained his super-speed powers due to an inhalation of a "hard water" gas mixture, giving him the ability to run at super-speed and match the speed of even a speeding bullet. It's this ability that allows him to save a fellow college schoolmate Joan from an assassin, and how these two eventually fall in love.

Highlight: "The Planet of Sport" story told in All-Flash Comics #31. The Flash and gang are teleported to a planet to participate in gladiatorial style combat for sport. The Flash showcases just how versatile his single super-power is, and bests them all to save his friends.


Part II: The Human Thunderbolt

Barry Allen welcomes you to the Silver Age, an era of imagination, optimism and unchecked pseudoscience. It's here where they establish not only a character-defining trait, but a universe-defining trait of the DC Multiverse. Barry is the first to "discover" and meet the alternate universe of his hero Jay Garrick, whom he previously only heard of in his own comic books. Other highlights include his race with Superman in Superman #199, his out-of-this-world team up with Kid Flash in a "timequest" to save the past, in order to save the future, the origin of Kid Flash himself, and a battle against six of his rogues and an evil Flash from an alternate world.

Most of these stories are pencilled by the gorgeous Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella. The clean lines and expressions of these artists make for beautiful art and no doubt the visual highlight of the entire collection.

Every story in this part is worth the read in my opinion. It's here that you learn Barry Allen is the bridge to the multiverse, the connection between speedsters, and the reason he's the most popular Flash. Flash #174 caps this section, on an anniversary of Barry Allen and his wife Iris, where he reveals his alter ego to her:

Part III: The Scarlet Speedster

The Silver Age is followed by, what else, the Bronze Age. American consciousness in times of the Vietnam War along with the repeal of the Comics Code gave way to darker themes in The Flash, such as adultery and :choke: even murder, culminating in Barry Allen sacrificing his life to save the Multiverse in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8.

You were too good for this world, Barry.

Bonus highlight: Barry and Jay discover "Limbo" in this era, a world that protects the time stream...discovering the abilities of their speed powers to age themselves!

Part IV: Those Who Ride the Lightning

When Barry died to save the multiverse, publishers looked to other characters to fulfill his role. Wally was "de-powered" and disconnected from the Speed Force, previously having been able to run past the speed of light, but now, only just past the speed of sound. Most issues are "retrospective" issues, setting the table for Wally stories without really blazing any new trails. Now, his metabolism is accelerated and he has to eat an enormous amount of calories to maintain his powers, grounding him.

The Wally stories and Bart Story don't really go anywhere or explain to you where the character is at, and they're hardly a celebration of the character. You'd think that in all their years of publication, there would be better single-issue introductions to these characters' legacies as the Flash. This is partly due to the decompression of comics as you weren't going to get a full story in a single issue anymore, and the collection is worse off for it.

This part ends with the first issue of The Flash: Rebirth, another single issue that hardly tells its own story. At this point in the collection, there are just too many cliffhangers for you to be able to follow along appropriately, and it's more a potpourri of #1's to tempt you to read the actual collections, like the Flash by Mark Waid collections or the Impulse collections. This part could have been so much better and that's a shame.

Part V: Lightning Fast Action

The final part only has two issues, presumably because these are the comics that are coming right now and ones you ought to be reading already, eh? They're the final issue of Flashpoint, and the 9th issue of New 52 Flash, and they're gorgeous to behold. But again, they're only single issues of a larger story that you really need the Foreword to explain to you, and they are worse off for it.

To read the stories of the Flash, is to read the stories of the DC Universe itself. It was the Flash who discovered the multiverse, the Flash who died to save the multiverse, and finally the Flash to birth the New 52 universe to life. Overall, that's the narrative of this collection, and it's one of the cooler ones in my opinion. The Barry stories are clearly the winners here, but they really should have done a better job with the Wally and Bart stories. They could have; they just didn't.

One of the other detriments is the single-issue format, when comics as a genre shifted over to more decompressed storytelling, yet this collection only includes single issues. To be hanging on a cliff is one of the worst feelings as a reader, and you're left with that feeling multiple times in this collection.

For Silver Age Flash stories, go no further than the DC Comics Classics Library: The Flash of Two Worlds and then The Silver Age collections. For Wally stories, start with the Flash by Mark Waid and then by Geoff Johns collections. Just don't start with this one.

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The Vision: The Complete Series and Aliens: Dead Orbit

I snatched up this digital trade on an Amazon sale for a pretty penny priced at $2.60 and only just now got around to picking it up. It collects all 12 issues of the 2015 series by Tom King, Gabriel Walta and more. It was critically acclaimed, and after watching a few episodes of WandaVision, I got curious enough to pick it up. It's about the Vision who moves to a suburb in Washington, D.C. to be closer to his job as the Avengers liaison to the government. To learn what it means to be human, he manufactures a family for himself, Virginia his wife and his children Vivian and Vin. The creative team called it "Breaking Bad Vision," but in my opinion it's more Desperate Housewives meets Avengers. Somebody gets some skeletons in their closet, and I'll leave it at that -- read it for yourself. You won't regret it.

The dry, deadpan narration underscores the drama and tension under the surface just like the fantastic world of superheroes meets the mundane life of suburbia. It's a uniquely grounded comic that makes Vision, a synthetic android of all things, the emotional core that you invest in.

There's 100's of pages of bonus content that's honestly kind of difficult to read on a desktop screen. I binged this all in a couple days, but this series would have been great to read in single issues as well. There's a 6-ish page visual storytelling analysis by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou that points out a lot of visual cues that you may have missed in individual issues. Things like how the framing of the comic panels evokes the prison of the home, narrowing the possibilities for the Vision's family. How the coloring changes depending on the mood, and what the seasons signify for them. It reminds you that the story isn't just a script...like Gabriel said in a bonus section, they're "writing with art." Highly recommended read or re-read if you've already done so.

Aliens: Dead Orbit
by James Stokoe

Fans of the Aliens movie franchise won't be disappointed with this 4-issue miniseries from Orc Stain's James Stokoe. It's about a Waystation in space who attempts to hail an anonymous ship in their same orbit. They board the ship after no response, find 3 passengers in cryofreeze, along with a couple of other passengers. If you've seen any of the movies, you know what happens next.

The comic itself focuses on the last survivor from the crew, and juxtaposes his current plight against what happened to the rest of his crew. There's a genius sequence where, in a moment of weakness he picks up a pack of cigarettes when he needs to escape his pod, and a xenomorph attacks him like they did his crew previously. It's the colors that separate the two attacks apart, even though the panels are meshed together.


Another sequence early on where the main character gets rick-rolled by a jumble of cables and tanks.

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Batman by Scott Snyder Volume 2: City of Owls

collects issues 8-12 and Annual #1 of the 2011 New 52 series
by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Rafael Albuquerque, Greg Capullo, Becky Cloonan

"City of Owls" is to "Court of Owls" as Aliens is to Alien. If you haven't seen those movies, well first of all, watch them! Second of all, the original Alien was a tense thriller that focused on surviving a single unstoppable killer. The sequel Aliens, well, turns out you're going to have to face a whole bunch of them. That's the case in the follow-up trade paperback in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's New 52 Batman, "City of Owls." Batman uses his full wits to protect himself, Alfred and a slew of Gotham City public officials from the hordes of Talon Assassins sent by the Court of Owls.

They discover the Batcave, connecting the dots to Bruce Wayne's alter-ego and allowing the Batcave some time to shine. It's great super-comics that juxtaposes the high-action world of Batman, with the corporate/political intrigue of Wayne industries.

If I remember correctly, eventually they re-priced Batman from the New 52 price of $2.99, to $3.99 but with a backup story in each issue. The backup story in this case focuses on Alfred's father, Jarvis, and his own experience with the Court of Owls. It's not necessary to the story at hand, but it does give more depth to the main story, and with gorgeous pencils and colors by Rafael Albuquerque. That man is gold.

Issue 12 caps off the trade with a done-in-one that introduces a couple of new characters. Harper Row, a city sewer electrician and her little brother, both of them high schoolers. They live in the "Narrows" neighborhood, a particularly seedy section of Gotham City, and she intersects with Batman twice: once when Batman saves her and her brother from a group of bullies, and again when she discovers the network of "bat-boxes" inserted into the Gotham City electrical network, designed to sustain the electrical system...hidden amplifiers that protect the city's electrical grid. Harper is uniquely qualified to help Batman as a city electrician, and "helps" him against Tiger Shark in a short-but-sweet boat altercation in the sewers. We probably haven't seen the last of Harper.

Included in this trade is the first Annual of New 52 Batman, something of a retcon of Mr. Freeze's origin. If you were like me, you thought that Nora truly was the wife of Mr. Fries and he was driven to revenge by his employer who cut off his research for not doing his job. You know, the "Heart of Ice" origin. Turns out, in the New 52-niverse, that employer was Bruce Wayne and Nora was never actually Fries' wife...she was cryogenically frozen decades ago in a then-experimental process and Mr. Fries knew her only through his scientific studies and grew a fetishistic affection towards her because of it. Not as tragic, but OK.

Special note: If you're going to read this I would suggest you read the "Court of Owls Saga" collection instead so you don't have to collect two separate volumes. Court of Owls directly segues into City of Owls so might as well just get them both in one swoop.

More Batman by Scott Snyder:

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