Batman: Damned #1 (of 3)
DC Black Label
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Lee Bermejo
The most interesting thing going on with DC right now is arguably happening with its sub-labels; Vertigo (Dreaming et. al), Jinxworld (Pearl) and now the adult-oriented Black Label. Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo team up again, giving us a Batman not too far from the universe they explored with Joker. This time around, it’s the rug being pulled from underneath Gotham’s Knight, with the Joker off the board. With both Deadman and Constantine featuring heavily in this garden of unreliable narration, it’s only fair that some of Bruce Wayne’s idyllic childhood gets rendered a little unrecognizable with some help from demonic friends. Black Label is as advertised; raw, dark and exceedingly gritty. For the skeptical, there’s just a bit Bat-tastic full-frontal service.
For Batman, it’s also a return to form; these self-contained Elseworld tales generally allow for stronger and more deliberate pacing. While it’s pretty cool to see Batman face off against transdimensional alter-egos, it’s really great to see the World’s Greatest Detective back in the saddle as a proper detective. Azzarello’s sharp writing cuts to the bone when paired with Bermejo’s realistic take on the world of Batman’s Gothman. It’s as punchy as Paul Pope’s Batman: Year 100, but less frenetic. The costume details and the fragility of the Bruce/Batman dichotomy are front and center. Deadman, at least for now, functions as an as advertised “pest”, albeit an ominously portentous one, while Constantine is somehow deeper in the shadows than the godamn Batman. The Joker’s dead, this much is clear. For Batman to put the pieces together, he’ll have to wade further into the darkness than he ever has before.
Return of Wolverine #1
Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Steve McNiven
Wolverine is back, finally, and a little hungover. Wolverine’s relationship with his past has always been a big question mark, and Charles Soule’s Return wipes the slate clean. While Wolverine may not be wholly aware of all that’s going on, readers are treated to breadcrumb after breadcrumb, along with some scattered flashbacks. Soule’s Return looks to redefine the biography of Logan. As a result of experimentation by Soteira and Persephone, Wolverine’s psyche has been compartmentalized into a prison, holding friend and foe alike. Wolverine’s reputation as a hero precedes itself, and the interaction between the yellow and blue clad Wolverine of ages past and our confused protagonist of the now is pure gold.
This is a beautiful book, with bold, heavy lines and great close-shots. Steve McNiven does a great job of call-backs to the Wolverine of decades past, while lending some really striking new expressions into the lexicon. The confusion and chaos of a lab scene is a familiar trope for fans, but the Delta-Force sequence with the motorcycle is as fun as it sounds. The most interesting element of The Hunt for Wolverine was the revelations of Dead Ends and the appearance of Persephone, and readers are treated to their first un-masked glimpses of the primary antagonist. Her affection for Wolverine mirrors the fans on the other side of the fourth wall, but some of the best villains are motivated by seemingly pure emotions gone awry. Soule promises to take us under the hood for both Wolverine and Persephone, while traveling at unsafe speeds.
Soldier Supreme #1 (of 2)
Writer: Gerry Duggan
Artist: Adam Kubert
Crossover events are an all-or-nothing affair. They require a lot of attention from writers, artists, editors, and most of all, fans. Once a project has started rolling downhill, there’s not much that can be done to fix the course laid out. With some of the more regrettable moments in comics, these can eventually be guided back like teaching plants to vine in just the right places, with varying degrees of revision. The process can take a while, and often, whole events, even realities, are wiped out with the stroke of a pen. After Marvel’s last few major events, the general confidence of the readership might not have been where a business-oriented perspective would like it. Big events tend to draw a crowd, though, at least at the outset, and Infinity Wars has been pulling out all the stops, along with blurring the lines between its heroes and villains.
Gamorra, as mistress of the Gauntlet, or at least the Infinity Stones themselves, has employed a truly unique twist on her father’s murderous masterstroke. Gerry Duggan’s not only penning a massive struggle for the balance of the universe, but he’s also crafting an exploration of character fusion. Rather than go for the cheap shot of diametric opposites, Duggan has come up with some very articulate blends of Marvel stand-bys. Huge points for Doopool in Infinity Wars #3. The humility and patriotism of Captain America fused with the detachment and grandiosity of Doctor Strange gives us Soldier Supreme. Adam Kubert is more than up to the task of melding the sorcerous with the soldierly while peopling the compacted Gamorra-verse with representations of all the hazy comic-nerd what-if conversations from the last few decades. If the Infinity Warps arm of Infinity Wars is half of everything this issue (and the other characters teased thus far), even the stodgiest of critics will have to hold their breath to see where this is going.