Thursday, February 28, 2013

Arrow Reviews: Season 1, Episode 16 - Dead To Rights

For a summary of the episode guide layout & categories, click here.  


After The Hood kills the assassin the Starling City Triad had brought in to fulfill Moira Queen's contract on Malcolm Merlyn, China White approaches an expert assassin believed to be dead by most of the world and certainly by The Hood - Floyd Lawton a.k.a. Deadshot.  Backed by The Triad and armed with a new eye-piece that replaces his damaged eye while enhancing his vision, Deadshot intends to make his move during a ceremony declaring Malcolm Merlyn Humanitarian of The Year - an award which has led Malcolm to attempt to reconcile, once again, with a taciturn Tommy.  At the same time, Ollie continues to pursue McKenna Hall (who is now one of the two detectives on the SCPD team to bring down The Hood) and Laurel begins to receive phone calls from her own long-absent parent - Dinah Lance.

On the island, Ollie tries to repair Slade's broken radio so they can contact help.  He fails to get the transmitter to work but does fix the receiver to where the two men can monitor Fyers' radio transmissions.  It's then that they learn about a new superweapon that's come to the island... something called Scylla.


Green Arrow: Year One (The Island sequences), Giligan's Island (Slade hangs a lampshade on the obvious solution of building a raft to escape the island), The Odyssey (Fyers' new weapon is called Scylla, in reference to a monster from that story), Spider-Man: The Animated Series (The main hero unknowingly saves the life of the criminal responsible for most of his hardships) and a general theme of children and parents reconciling.


Honestly, the whole cast does an amazing job and it's hard to single anyone out this time around.  But if I had to choose just one of them for a Best Of Show award, it would have to be Colin Donnell as Tommy Merlyn.  The man does some incredibly nuanced non-verbal acting in several scenes and he meets the challenge of some very difficult material given the wide range of emotions he's required to display in a short period.  Most impressive.


Geoff Johns wrote the script for this episode and it shows.  Thematically, it's very strong with the theme of reconciliation and family ties coming up multiple times and there's a lot of little scenes of just two characters talking and playing off one another.  I think perhaps the best of these are the three scenes between Ollie and Tommy - first when they're having lunch and Ollie talks about the importance of appreciating your dad while you have him.  The second comes later, as Ollie (as The Hood) pleads with Tommy to let him help save his father's life.  The third and final one occurs in the hallway at the hospital, as Ollie is pressed to answer one question out of all the many questions he guessed Tommy would have.

The opening fight scene with The Hood matching skills against a knife-fighting assassin is very well choreographed as is the fight between Stephen Amell and Kelly Hu.

There is one sequence, totally without words, which moves between Oliver, Diggle, Felicity, Tommy & Moira.  The cinematography, music and performances are all perfectly blended together.

It's a subtle thing, but the shot of Diggle walking off to be alone at the revelation that Deadshot is still alive is a powerful one. 


Guillermo Barrera is the real name of the knife-wielding assassin Brutale.  Brutale is a master of bladed weapons, both stabbing and throwing. Created by writer Chuck Dixon, he first appeared in Nightwing and is pretty much like the character we see Ollie fighting, save that Brutale in the comics wears an armored costume that covers his entire body.

Another nod to Laurel's eventual destiny - her sister Sara owned a black canary.

Floyd Lawton is staying at a place called The Bludhaven Apartments.  Bludhaven is a city in DC Comics located just up the river from Gotham City and it was the adopted home of Nightwing for several years.

For a time in the comics, Floyd Lawton did live in Star City - Green Arrow's home town.

Floyd Lawton says that he didn't care if China White killed him or not.  In the comics, Floyd Lawton is famous for his death wish and ambivalence toward people trying to kill him.  Reference is also made to Floyd Lawton drinking and smoking his life away.  In the comics, Deadshot is famed for his love of cigars and booze.

Malcolm mentions the city of Nanda Parbat, where he says he met a man who helped him make sense of things after his wife died.   Nanda Parbat is familiar to DC Comics fans as a Shangri-La of sorts, hidden in the mountains of Tibet.  Many of DC Comics martial arts characters have trained with the monks there.

It may also be worth mentioning that Nanda Parbat also has connections to Ra's Al Ghul - founder of the League of Assassins, which Merlyn is a member of in the comics.  It may also be worth mentioning that Ra's standard MO - killing many common folk in order to save a chosen few - would fit in well with Malcolm Merlyn's "undertaking" from what little we know of the details.


"Scylla" is a Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missile launcher.  It can track 100 targets at once while engaging one dozen.  According to Slade, it could be used to bring down a commercial airliner or start a war.

Dialogue Triumphs 

The Hood: You have failed this city!
Guillermo Barrera:  You've build quite the reputation.
The Hood: And you should have stayed overseas!
Guillermo Barrera: I thought about it.  But then I remembered... I've got a reputation too.

(Ollie returns from his fight with Guillermo Barrera)
Diggle: How'd it go?
Ollie: Badly for him.
Felicity: Who him?
Ollie: An assassin for hire with an affinity for knifes.  His name was Guillermo Barrera.
Felicity (nervously) Was?
Diggle: So we can't ask him about his intended target?
Ollie ... no. 

Diggle: It may not be a good idea to fall for the cop that is hunting you down.
Ollie: Well, it's slim pickings for us vigilantes.

(After Tommy refuses his invitation to the Humanitarian Of The Year award ceremony and access to his money)
Malcolm: I'd still like you to come to the event.  It would mean a lot to me.
Tommy: You know what, Dad?  Sometimes the people you want there the most... aren't.  You taught me that.  Multiple times.

The whole sequence between China White and Deadshot.  It's a treat and a half for fans of John Ostrander's Suicide Squad.

The whole sequence between Ollie and Tommy talking about their fathers.

Tommy: Why should I trust you?!
Ollie: (turning off his voice modulator and pulling his hood down) Because you always have.

Detective Lance: Is this guy (The Hood) a friend of yours, Merlyn?
Tommy: (beat) I don't know who the hell he is.

Dialogue Disasters

(As Laurel announces that the knock at the door is probably the food she ordered and leaves the room)
Ollie: Well, thank god she didn't cook.
Tommy: Amen.


The Triad is bringing in assassins to fulfill the contracted placed by Moira Queen in 115.  Diggle has begun training Felicity in basic self-defense.  Robert Queen was a pilot and used to do his own maintenance.  Ollie watched him and got pretty good at doing the same repair work.  McKenna and Laurel already knew each other from around the courthouse.  Sara Lance once kept a black canary as a pet.  Apparently Laurel is a bad cook.  Ollie speaks Chinese with a perfect accent.  Felicity can't speak Spanish.  Diggle can speak Arabic but not Spanish.  Malcolm Merlyn keeps his Dark Archer gear (or, at least, a set of it) in a hidden room in his private office.  Oliver knows how to arrange a makeshift blood transfusion.  Ollie figures out, based on the unique bullets (103) used on Malcolm Merlyn, that Deadshot is still alive.  Moira is put in charge of finding the traitor in the organization.  Ollie admits that he never intended to tell Tommy the truth about his secret identity.  Dinah Lance shows up on Laurel's doorstep and tells her that she thinks Sara Lance may be alive.             

Untelevised Adventures
 Malcolm mentions traveling to the city of Nanda Parbat after his wife died

The Fridge Factor

While the scenes with Laurel and her mom are played well by Katie Cassidy and Alex Kingston, they also take up the least amount of screen time relative to all the other subplots getting covered in this episode.

The Bottom Line

The only problem with this episode is that there isn't enough of it.  A lot of the supporting cast don't get as much time as they deserve given some of the revelations that come out of this episode (Laurel and Diggle are particularly short-shrifted) but everyone does the best they can with what limited screen time they have.  The script by Geoff Johns offers us quality over quantity, however and this script may be the best written episode of the series so far. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Arrow #21 (Web Comic) - A Review

Detour is the name of our story this week.  The plot focuses upon Oliver Queen and John Diggle being car-jacked by an attractive young lady, who posed as a damsel in distress with a broken car. It turns out that young damsel IS in distressed and that her carjacking was born of desperation as she tries to escape from her car-thief boyfriend.

Reason #237 Ollie Is Cool - Flirts With Women Who Could Kill Him. 
The script by Mary Iacono is fast-paced and thrilling, but not quite fast-paced enough to escape some rather glaring plot holes.  I can forgive some rather questionable gaps in logic, such as the young lady being afraid of her boyfriend and his gang despite the fact that she owns a gun.  Many abuse victims become illogical when faced with their abusers and she may have been in a rush when she came up with the "car-jack somebody to escape" plan.  Yet I can't help but wonder exactly why the car thieves leave Ollie and Diggle behind after stealing their car and taking the girl only THEN to say "go back and kill those guys who can identify us."  I also have no explanation for how Ollie and Diggle were able to track down their car later.  Maybe Diggle left his phone in the car and Ollie was able to track it using a "lost phone" app?

While I may quibble with the plotting, I have nothing bad to say about the artwork.  The car chase that takes up the larger part of the comic is very well illustrated.  Artist Xermanico also perfectly captures the likenesses of our regular cast members and has a grasp of shadow-usage that rivals Mike Grell's. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Supergirl #17 - A Review

The focal point of Supergirl #17 is a battle between Supergirl and Wonder Woman.  Settle down, folks - this ain't no cat fight!  This is the real thing.  Mike Johnson makes this moment every bit as epic as last month's battle between Supergirl and The Flash.  Though one can guess the outcome of this battle a little more easily, the battle is still a gripping one with a few surprises.

Sadly, the larger plot of H'el On Earth finally catches up with the characters in this issue.  As I feared, there's no way for Mike Johnson to mitigate the damage of Scott Lobdell's larger storyline which requires Kara to be a trusting bimbo except for when she's being suspicious of all of her cousin's friends.  While Johnson did a good job in the previous issues of presenting the story from Kara's point of view and making H'el's plan seem reasonable, the final moments of this issue serve to make Kara look like an idiot for not having asked the details of just how H'el's plan to go back in time would work. 

Mahmud Asrar's usually excellent artwork seems sloppy and rushed this month.  I can't account for why this is so but there's many panels where characters in the middle distance are oddly proportioned.  Just look at Wonder Woman in the first panel on the page above and Supergirl in the last panel.  Odd, no?

Thankfully, this is the last I'll have to worry about H'El On Earth and the Superman family dragging this book down for a while.  Another few issues like this and I'd seriously consider dropping this title.  Hopefully next month will bring back the quality we've come to expect from this book.

Justice League #17 - A Review

There's little I can say about Justice League #17 that I haven't said already about the other issues in the Throne of Atlantis mini-series.  There is much I fear to say for the sake of spoiling a story that did manage an honest twist or two in the tale.  However, I think I can safely say that this final chapter does rock the status quo of both the Aquaman title as well as Justice League.  Big changes are afoot - that much is certain!

The plot is as good as one would expect from Geoff Johns.  The drama between Aquaman and his brother Orm is cranked up to 11 as the two do battle with words as well as with magical artifacts.  Johns has given Orm far greater depth than I think he's ever had in any other story and I thank him for it.  Indeed, Orm has become so sympathetic a figure, I find myself sympathizing with him more than I do Aquaman.

The excellent artwork of  Paul Pelleiter and  Ivan Reis brings this series to bed.  There's some amazing, poster-worthy pages here, my favorite being a spread of The League charging into battle.  And yet it's the little details - such as The Atom escaping from the inside of an Atlantean doomsday device - that make Reis' art so interesting.   

Monday, February 25, 2013

Green Lantern Corps #17 - A Review

Green Lantern Corps #17 is a good comic.  I would like to say that right here at the start because some of what I'm about to say may give the impression that I didn't like this book.  I loved this book but it is not without flaw.  And yet those flaws lie at the heart of why I found this book so enjoyable.  For while this book does stand well on its' own terms, I find it stands ill at ease with the Wrath Of The First Lantern storyline that it is part of.  But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I'd also like to say, before I dig myself in too deep, that I still think Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna are perhaps the most underrated artistic team working in comics today.  I can't think of a single off-issue that they've had in their time on this series.  And the opening double-splash page depicting Guy Gardner in his various guises and personas while various events from his life play out in the background struck me immediately with its' complex beauty.

It is this opening splash - and indeed much of what we see in the story of this issue - that brings me to my conundrum.  I think the DC Multiverse as we knew it still exists in some form.  I think this New 52 Universe - and the new Earth 2 - are but two Earths out of the many undefined worlds we saw in recent times.  Why else would we see Guy Gardner with a yellow Sinestro ring or Guy Gardner: Warrior - two incarnations that could not have existed in the New 52 reality, given what we know of the Green Lantern history?  Why else would we see scenes of Guy with Ice, who I don't think he ever became romantically serious with in this reality?

That's a good question isn't it?  And it's one that this issue completely ignores, focusing as it is upon The First Lantern tormenting Guy Gardner with visions of other universes where his already miserable past was even worse.  The reality where his siblings were put in danger and he was unable to save them.  The reality where his failing to kill a suicide bomber led to the deaths of thousands instead of a dozen.  All of these scenes and more are played out to Guy's increasing discomfort as The First Lantern... well, we don't actually know why he's doing this, save that he seems to feed off the emotional responses of others.  That's another good mystery to keep us reading.

The only problem with all of this is that good as Peter Tomasi is at playing with this kind of drama, this issue does seem somewhat derivative of all the other recent stories which focused upon Guy Gardner suffering.  This issue also doesn't have any connection whatsoever to Green Lantern #17 and the events of that book.  That might be considered a blessing instead of a weakness and indeed I liked how the recent Death of the Family mini-series did not require one to read every single Batman book. The same thing seems to be occurring here, save that there's even less connection between the various Green Lantern family titles than there was during Rise Of The First Army.  One can't help but feel that's a bad thing in a crossover.  Despite this, I still loved this issue and would recommend it to anyone who has yet to give Green Lantern Corps a shot.

Green Lantern #17 - A Review

Green Lantern #17 is the first part of another four-month long, four-comic spanning mini-series.  So for those of you who were feeling burned out after Rise Of The Third Army, I'm afraid I have some bad news.  We're only halfway done.

The good news is that this first part of Wrath of The First Lantern is far faster in cutting to the chase than it's predecessor.  The bad news is that we don't get nearly enough exposition into who The First Lantern was and how he gained the power that even The Guardians seem to fear.  Thankfully, we do learn something of his motivations, how he first came into contact with The Guardians and why he's now working against them.  And the other plotline - involving newbie Green Lantern Simon Baz having his first encounter with the villain Black Hand - is interesting enough, though seemingly unconnected to the main storyline.

While the storyline may be drawn out, at least the artwork is as gorgeous as ever.  Doug Mahnke and his team of inkers deliver the same quality work we've come to expect on this title.  Guest artists Dan Jurgens and Phil Jimenez also deliver an exciting prologue, which evokes images from classic DC Comics as we see just how The First Lantern and The Guardians originally met.

I'd like to say this is a good entry point into the Green Lantern title.  Certainly, Geoff Johns has written it to be a beginning.  Sadly, there's too much leading into this story one must be broadly familiar with to fully appreciate it, so on those grounds I cannot recommend this issue save to those already reading Green Lantern.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Conan The Barbarian #13 - A Review

Conan The Barbarian #13 marks the first issue to feature Serbian artist Mirko Colak on the penciling and inking duties.  To call his work here phenomenal would be an understatement.  Simply spoken, it's been a long time since a Conan book has looked this good.  Just look upon this final splash page and tell me this isn't a poster-worthy piece of work.

I wish I could heap as much praise on the writing but Brain Wood's take on the world's most famous barbarian leaves me conflicted. Now, I can appreciate anyone attempting to add depth and unexplored dimensions to a character who has frequently been reduced to a grunting savage by poor writing in the past.  That being said, I can't see Conan vomiting at the revelation that he just orphaned two baby deer after mistaking a doe for a stag.  For that matter, young and inexperienced as he is, I can't see an experienced woodsman like Conan mistaking a doe for a stag.

Thankfully, there are other character building scenes that are more effective.  The best of these features N'yaga (the shaman on Belit's ship) and N'Gora (Conan's closest friend among the crew), discussing their plight as they are left stranded on the coast in a hostile land, with Belit having disappeared to pay a visit to the city of her birth and Conan wandering after her.  And all of these complications come before Conan is forcibly conscripted into the army laying siege to the city...

If you've never read Conan before, this issue is a fine one to start with.  The artwork is amazing.  The script is far more action-packed than my selected scans would indicate and there's many fine character moments.  I disagree about how true some of them are to the core concept of who Conan is but there's nothing so jarring here as to offend my sensibilities completely. 

Knights Of The Dinner Table #195 - A Review

As I noted before in my review of last month's Knights of the Dinner Table, I don't usually write reviews for this book.  And yet, here I am - reviewing it again one month later.  Why?  Did I suddenly have some change of heart regarding this book being inaccessible to non-gamers?  Well, yes and no.

I still think that a large part of the humor of this book - enjoyable as it is to me - would fly over the heads of new readers.  However, in the wake of KODT #195, I think the greater problem is the rich continuity between the characters rather than this book's focus upon a minority within a niche group - comic fans who roleplay.  Truth be told there's very little direct gamer humor in the book now and most of the comedy is born of the conflicting personalities and the interplay between them rather than three idiots thinking a gazebo is some kind of monster. 

More than that, KODT now contains enough drama to match the comedy.  A fine example of this comes in one scene between Sara (the book's main female protagonist) and local game shop owner Pete, during a gamer gathering at the local biker bar.  It's been a running gag since the beginning how many of the men in the local gaming community have a crush on Sara - a fact that mystifies her.  Pete suggests to her that it isn't that she's a woman who games - it's the fact that she's a genuinely nice person and that most of the men she knows aren't used to anyone being nice to them.  

It's a brief moment and it's immediately off-set by the running gag about Pete bad-mouthing his ex when he's drunk but it's still there.  And it's far deeper than one would expect given that Pete is usually portrayed as a miserly skin-flint who would sell his own mother for a deal.  This scene also hit me because I know a few women like Sara who have the same problem with being hit on because of the assumption that "being nice equals "digs me" and not knowing why their being a decent person seems to bring unwanted advances. 

This is also shown in the comedic highlight of the issue, where the rest of the titular Knights are indulging in one of the gathering games - creating characters based on some of the people in attendance.  There's a lot of funny stuff in here, mainly stemming from the unwitting misogyny as our boys wind up turning their friends, ex-girlfriends and current love interests into action heroines worthy of a Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez/Frank Miller film festival.  B.A's reaction to the absurdity of all of this is priceless and the descriptions and ideas are hilarious but a bit of the humor is lost if you don't know all the characters being described, such as Moe and Bridgette. who do not appear in this issue. 

As before, I can't really recommend this comic to neophytes.  I can and do strongly suggest that anyone who thinks they might like this sort of thing check out the collection of freebie strips on Kenzerco's website and then consider in investing in the earlier Bundle of Trouble collections of the earlier issues. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Action Comics #17 - A Review

With Action Comics #17, the phrase "never-ending battle" has taken on another meaning.  It seems like Grant Morrison's final storyline for this series has been going on forever and the novelty of Morrison's conceit for this story - an assassination attempt executed through multiple points in space, time and probability - has begun to wear thin.  This entire issue feels like filler up until the final pages, where Superman finds himself with a most unlikely ally in his darkest moment leading into next issue's conclusion.

The back-up story by Sholly Fisch is far more enjoyable.  Indeed, I'd recommend this issue just for this story alone.  Stories about Clark and Pa Kent having a good father/son chat are hardly new but Fisch's story here - centering on a time-displaced Superman being given a chance to talk to the dad who never got the chance to see what he did with his life - seems both brand-new and touching.  It reminded me of a similar story that J. Michael Straczynski penned for Amazing Spider-Man #500 yet it still comes off as it's own unique tale.

This book continues to be blessed with top-notch artists across the board.  Brad Walker?  Rags Morales?  Chris Sprouse?  You'd be lucky to have one of these artist's illustrating a story, never mind all three of the working in concert!  While I may grow annoyed with Morrison dragging his feet, I cannot complain about how this book looks even as it seems we are treading water in terms of the plot.

Captain Marvel #10 - A Review

Much of what I have to say about Captain Marvel #10 I already said in my review of Captain Marvel #9.  Kelly Sue DeConnick (assisted, this month, by Christopher Sabela) still writes great, action-packed scripts that give us new insights into the character of Carol Danvers every issue.  The artwork, by Filipe Andrade, is still aesthetically displeasing to my eye and I still think it resembles a poor attempt to ape the style of Aeon Flux

Thankfully, there is still much to admire about this comic and some things I can speak about that I did not note last month.  For instance, I love how Captain Marvel - unlike so many comics of late - uses its' title page as a reference guide for those fans who may have missed an issue, new readers picking the book up for the first time or absent-minded critics who sometimes forget the story after reading 50 other comics in the past month.  Naturally, given the usual tone of this book, this recap page is as insightful in terms of characterization as the rest of the script.

Speaking of the script, Deconnick's plot in this issue has become "real".  Suffering from some strange symptoms, Carol's doctor has advised her that she needs to stop flying as the strain on her body seems to be slowly killing her.  Naturally Carol isn't taking the news well, as being a pilot AND a superhero with the power of flight... well, NOT flying is not an option to her.  The drama here is played out well but I hope the hints that this is a temporary, orchestrated condition ring true as I fear it will seem far too derivative to have this lead into a serious medical storyline ala The Death of Captain Marvel.

I must also note that while I'm not a fan of Filipe Andrade's art, upon reflection I don't think it's quite so bad as I said it was last month.  His action scenes are atrocious but his stylized characters with their elongated limbs and angular features are not quite so off-putting in the slower scenes that just feature characters talking.  Faint praise I know but it is praise none the less, which is far more than I was willing to give Andrade's last month when his art came close to driving me off this book.

I'm still here though.  And I'll be here for one more month, at least. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Injustice: Gods Among Us #6 - A Review

The Ancient Greeks believed that by killing a man's wife and children you killed the man, for it was through the family that a man's immortality was assured.  While this idea is not spoken in Injustice #6, it still lies at the heart of this book.  For all intents and purposes, Clark Kent died along with Lois Lane and their unborn child.  All that remains now is the Super, without the Man.

Artist Mike S. Miller perfectly captures the anguish of Superman in this one panel.  Head bowed, the blood of The Joker still on his hands, all the while surrounded by the reminders of what he's done and his failures - both in protecting his city and living up to his code.  It's a powerful image, matched by a powerful script, which gives us a speech that echos Superman's addressing the United Nations in other classic Superman stories without seeming derivative.    

Far too often, deconstructions of Superman are accomplished through proxy characters in other series like Astro City or Irredeemable.  Here, Tom Taylor lays bare the Man of Steel as he explores what happens when the heart of gold is overridden by the iron fist.  You can't help but sympathize with Superman and see the reasoning behind his actions in this issue, even as you consider the horror that his more liberty-minded colleagues like Green Arrow would feel in seeing a Superman who has decided to provide Security at the cost of Freedom.

Not bad for a tie-in comic to a video game about superheroes punching each other, eh?  It's deep stuff and it is brilliant.  Definitely worth a 99 cent download.

Demon Knights #17 - A Review

Demon Knights #17 pits our team of heroes against one of their own for the sake of another.  A vampire lord named Cain (who may or may not be THAT Cain) seeks the Amazon homeland so he can create an invincible army of woman warriors.  This has caused some of our heroes to reunite after 30 years apart.  Even now they seek the rest of their party, particularly Jason Blood, feeling they may need the power of Hell on their side in the form of The Demon Etrigan, whose power is tied to Jason Blood's soul.  But their former comrade Vandal Savage - for reasons that have not yet been explained past "Because he wanted to" -  has taken Jason Blood hostage and torments him even now in his private fortress. 

Robert Venditti spins a vivid tale but some of his takes on the cast seem inauthentic compared to Paul Cornell.  His Vandal Savage, for instance, lacks the barbaric charm of Cornell's take on the character and his "gigantic mirth" seems oddly forced.  It's also somewhat jarring to see much of the mystery taken out of The Horsewoman as this issue lays her powers and abilities bare.  

Bernard Chang's artwork still inspires, looking like painted woodcuts from the time this book depicts.  One could easily see these illustrations in the margins of some monk's book from the Middle Ages.  It's good stuff - good enough to make me continue to recommend this book, despite my misgivings over some of the character portrayals.  It's been only two issues, after all, and thirty years have passed.  Perhaps some of this can be written of as people changing over time?  I don't know but I'm willing to stick around to find out. 

Red Sonja #73 - A Review

It's a good thing Eric Trautmann has followed the Stan Lee rule about treating every comic you write as if it were going to be someone's first.  After a one-month delay in this issue's release, I must confess I'd forgotten where the last issue of Red Sonja left off.  Given that, the opening page which recounts the recent events - and indeed the whole of Trautmann's run - is quite welcome.  

The plot is fast-paced and thrilling, focusing upon Sonja and her band of companions trying to pass through hostile lands unnoticed.   Naturally, it is not so simple and numerous enemies - both old and new - are hunting Sonja and her companions for one reason or another.  There's also some good character moments regarding Sonja and her recently rescued companion, the Pict Wurkest.  Howard purists may balk at the idea of a Pict who left his home to go adventuring but such things - while rare - are perhaps not any rarer than a Cimmerian leaving his homeland to see the world.  

Marcio Abreu's artwork continues to be less offensive than it once was, though that doesn't mean it's actually good.  Odd bends of the spine and the sudden disappearance of Sonja's neck are frequent problems.  At least the odd up-skirt shots are a thing of the past but this may be due to Sonja's current costume involving actual pants.  At least, until the fighting breaks out, when Sonja takes the time to change into a black leather number that Xena would consider immodest. 

Can I recommend Red Sonja #73?  Only with some caveats regarding the quality of the artwork or lack thereof.  The script is good stuff but your ability to enjoy this issue may come down to how well you can tolerate mediocre artwork for the sake of a good sword and sorcery story.  Make of that what you will.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Justice League of America #1 - A Review

Expectations were high going into this book, written as it was by veteran writer Geoff Johns with art by popular artist David Finch.  Thankfully, those expectations were met.  And then they were exceeded. 

Johns' script does a grand job of explaining the status quo of the DCU at the moment and giving the reader a rundown of all the players, for those of you who might not have been reading Justice League or any of the other titles whose characters this issue involves.  No previous experience with Stormfront, Hawkman, Catwoman, Green Arrow or Birds of Prey is needed.  It may help you appreciate some of the past events that are referred to but you don't have to have been reading six or seven different books to understand this one.

Here's the story so far.  Iit's been five years since the Justice League was formed.  In the wake of several disasters, The United States government has grown nervous about the League's independence and what might happen should they begin to actively work against the USA's interests.  To that end, they've fired Steve Trevor from his position as the government's liaison to the Justice League, having decided that maybe having Wonder Woman's ex-boyfriend acting as their go-between might be diplomatically questionable. 

In his place is Suicide Squad director Amanda Waller, who is tasked with putting together a team that can match the Justice League 1 to 1 should it be necessary.  Her first recruit?  Steve Trevor, who has proven himself a capable field commander and the one man who knows the Justice League better than anyone.    The rest of her picks are selected based purely on their potential to match the other team in terms of power - a motley assortment of mysterious vigilantes, wanted criminals and promising newcomers.

It is the newcomers - Vibe and Stargirl - who Johns spends the most time developing. There's no surprise there as, being new characters, they require the most development.  There's also the little matter of Johns being the writer on Vibe's new solo-title and Stargirl being Johns' original creation, dating back to the classic Stars and STRIPE series.  Yet this version of Courtey Whitmore is greatly changed from Johns' original concept, apparently suffering from night terrors regarding the death of the hero who wielded her Cosmic Staff before.  And Johns' take on Vibe, in just two pages, receives far more respect and development than the original character ever did. 

I've found that you either hate David Finch's art or you love it.  Personally?  I love it.  His famous eye for detail is as strong as ever but I think he's lightened up his usual shadowy inks somewhat.  There's still a hint of darkness in every corner, fitting considering the conspiracy-minded tone of the book so far.  Yet all of the high-action superhero moments are big and bright, with the inks enhancing the pencils rather than obscuring them.

Rejoice, comics fans!  This is the Justice League book we've been waiting for.

Arrow Reviews: Season 1, Episode 15 - Dodger

For a summary of the episode guide layout & categories, click here.  


The Dodger - A British jewel thief with a penchant for turning other people into his accomplices with explosive collars - comes to Starling City, presenting Ollie and Digg with a chance to prove to an increasingly resistant Felicity Smoak that they are doing more to help the city than just working against the people on Ollie's list.  At the same time, the two decide, after some prompting from Felicity, that it's time to bring some romance into their lives - Diggle by asking out his brother's widow and Ollie by asking out his former fling, Detective McKenna Hall.

At the same time, Laurel's lesson to Thea about how the other half live is cut short after Thea's purse is snatched.  Thankfully, Thea is no mean detective and eventually tracks down the crook in question - a young man named Roy Harper.  And in the shadows, Moira Queen attempts to win her family free of Malcolm Merlyn's "undertaking", eventually calling a meeting with China White to discuss an assassination.

On the island, Slade's wounded arm becomes infected, sending Ollie on a search for the miracle herbs that Yao Fei used to heal him.  A chance encounter with a bound and bleeding exchange student (or someone claiming to be that) will leave Ollie searching his soul as he considers his options in helping the stranger or saving Slade.


Green Arrow: Year One (the island sequences), Green Arrow/Black Canary (the character of Dodger), the New 52 Green Arrow title (Roy Harper with a criminal background) and Oliver Twist (the original concept of The Artful Dodger).


I don't consider this a goof because I honestly believe Felicity IS that stupid but given how fearful she is about... everything in the earlier part of the episode, it seems wildly out of character for her to try and confront Dodger on her own without Ollie or Diggle.


Most of the supporting cast is firing on all cylinders here, which is amazing considering how little we get of our mainstays.  Quentin Lance and Laurel Lance appear briefly, but don't get to say much.  David Ramsey gets some good moments dealing with his new love interest.  It's been a few episodes since Willa Holland had much to do but her scene at the end is well-played.  Really, the only off note in the whole episode is Emily Bett Rickards and I'm willing to write that off as the writing more than her performance. 

Susanna Thompson doesn't get much screen time as Moira but she nails the Mama Bear attitude with every second she gets.  You honestly believe her encounter with The Hood has shaken her and made her desperate enough for a way out of her situation to look into directly hiring an assassin to take out Malcolm Merlyn. 

Colton Haynes makes an intriguing Roy Harper.  We don't know much about Roy's motivations or if he really is as dishonest and hard as he claims to be in the warning Thea that she shouldn't believe every sob story she hears.  All I know is I'd love it if his story about the drug addict mom turned out to be true.  Or perhaps he's stealing to take care of an infant daughter abandoned by her mom?   Or would that be too much to hope for? 


Ollie's pursuit of The Dodger on a motorcycle is a well-shot sequence.


The Sherwood Ruby is obviously named for Sherwood Forrest - the most popular home of Robin Hood, in the folklore of that legendary outlaw, whom Oliver Queen is NOT.  

Ken Williams shares a name with two baseball players and a computer game company CEO.

The Dodger is loosely based on a DC Comics villain created by Judd Winick in Green Arrow/Black Canary #7.  About the only thing that character has in common with The Dodger we see here is that both of them are British thieves who specialize in high-end merchandise and both use a taser-like weapon.  The Dodger from the comics was a neutral fellow with a Cockney accent whereas the Arrow Dodger is a more high-class fellow.  Curiously, he appears to have lower-class sympathies, as he tries to persuade Ollie to let him go at the end by noting that he only steals from the rich.  The Dodger from the comics - who was more of a mercenary than a thief - also briefly hooked up with Mia "Speedy" Dearden, who dumped him after he cheated on her.

Arrow's version of The Dodger we see here has much more in common with The Artful Dodger from Charles Dickens' story Oliver Twist than Judd Winick's Dodger.  The Artful Dodger was a pickpocket who trained other boys as thieves and then left them to take the rap, similar to how Dodger in Arrow recruits other people to commit his crimes for him. 

Roy William Harper, Jr.was the real name of Green Arrow's first sidekick in the original DC Comics.  Adopted by Oliver Queen, Roy was the first teenager to fight crime alongside Green Arrow as Speedy.  His history is far too detailed to go into here (I highly recommend The DC Comics Wiki) but suffice it to say he has a long, rich and very complicated back story.  In the New 52 universe, little has been said about his background save that he has a criminal record.  His full story is meant to be told in the upcoming Green Arrow Annual #1.

Roy wears a red hooded sweatshirt when he snatches Thea's purse.  Most of his costumes have used red as their main color and - like Ollie - he has worn hooded costumes in the past. 

While chasing The Dodger, Felicity tells Ollie that he just passed Adams and O'Neil.  These two streets are clearly named for Neal Adams and Dennis O'Neil - the artist and writer responsible for redefining Oliver Queen's costume and personality in the early 1970s in Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

Dialogue Triumphs

Slade: You're not going to last an hour out there.
Ollie: Well, I guess you'd better hope I get back in 45 minutes, then.

Diggle: What if her next attack of conscience leads her right to the police?
Ollie: No, she won't say anything.  I know it.  I had to make the same calculation when you found out about me. 
Diggle: Mmm-hmm.  And what would you have done if you were wrong?  And I decided to make a call to Detective Lance?
Ollie: (beat) I would have put an arrow in you.
Diggle Ha!  (beat)  Oliver?  Really?  You really would have done that?  Really?

(After Felicity suggests bugging McKenna Hall's phone)
Ollie: It's not how I typically get my information.
Felicity: How do you typically do it?
Ollie: I find the person. And then I put the fear of God into them until they talk.  But we can try your way.    

Dialogue Disasters

Ollie: You're not the only one who knows how to reboot my system. 


Ollie makes use of the same healing herbs Yao Fei used to heal him, which we first saw in 103.  Moira Queen has a meeting with triad assassin China White (first seen in 102), to discuss killing Malcolm Merlyn.

The Fridge Factor

Felicity Smoak.  Genius computer hacker.  Scared senseless of becoming accessory to a murder.  Has trouble talking to friendly people.  Suddenly decides to confront a vicious jewel thief known for trying to blow people up and forcing them to wear bomb collars.  Winds up becoming girl hostage because of the one time she is confident in approaching someone and - oh yes - doesn't think of getting the trained security professional or her vigilante boss first!  Also, Felicity - when she isn't doing techie things - is pushing Ollie and Diggle to ask their respective crushes out.  Because while the Manic Pixie Geek girl cannot ever date anyone herself or have any interests outside of her work, she must help her male companions find love!

Averted with Thea, who proved to be a far better detective in this episode than anybody working in the Starling City Police Department.  Come to think of it, given that she figured out something was up with her mom and Malcolm Merlyn (though she was entirely wrong about the details), I think we can safely say Thea IS the best detective on the show.  Sorry, Quentin. 

The Winick Factor

Ollie knocks a man unconscious and steals his motorcycle while wearing one of his best suits after having been highly visible for the better part of an evening at a nearby charity event.  Granting that "A billionaire playboy stole my bike" is unlikely to be taken seriously as a story, it's still not like Ollie (well, not like Ollie lately) to take that kind of chance.  You never know what Detective Lance might overhear and decide to make a big deal out of.

The Bottom Line

Another one of those Arrow episodes where the subplots for the supporting cast are far more interesting than the main plot.  The writing team takes a mostly forgettable DC Comics villain and - while making him far truer to the literary inspiration than the comics villain ever was - still can't manage to make him more interesting than Ollie and Diggle's dating lives, Thea's confrontation with the man who stole her purse and Moira's starting to plot against Malcolm Merlyn and The Undertaking. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Off Target: Arrow #20 (Web Comic)

It's no secret to anyone who has been reading my Arrow Episode Guide that I dislike the character of Felicity Smoak.  It's all due to the way the character (or lack thereof) is written.  Felicity is a variant on the one-note, delightfully-quirky stock character that film critic Nathan Rabin dubbed the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.  There's several variants of this - like the Manic Pixie Prostitute (see Pretty Woman) and Felicity's particular variant, The Manic Pixie Geek Girl. 

Whatever the variant, their purpose in any story is roughly the same - to act in delightfully unconventional ways while helping the male protagonists in whatever they're doing.  Never mind what their own dreams and aspirations are or what personality traits they might have besides "charmingly awkward" or "cute if she'd take those glasses off".  They have no reason for existing beyond inspiring the hero to change his life (if they're a love interest) or helping the hero in their goals.

I'm here to appeal to the geeks who are still pissed we haven't seen a boxing glove arrow yet!

That's what annoys me about Felicity in a nutshell.  She's supposed to be this brilliant character but she's nothing more than a walking plot device, who is only as smart as the script requires her to be this week.  Felicity has no background or personal drive - she's just there to answer whatever questions the plot requires this week.  Noted science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."  That's quickly becoming the case on Arrow, where that cute blonde with the glasses in the IT department of Queen Consolidated has become a scientific super-genius capable of not only rebuilding a bullet-riddled hard drive but also analyzing a drug and determining what part of town it was made in due to the water content.  Because....she has glasses and is good with computers?

Arrow #20 is a good example of everything I dislike about Felicity and what her presence does to the show.  But the hackery in this story goes far beyond even Felicity's existence as a one-note plot device.  Indeed, this comic transcends hackery to become something sublimely amusing.

We open a Starling City street, where Oliver Queen is taking Felicity Smoak out to "see the city you're helping".  Why?  Well, Ollie figures she's the type that doesn't get out much.  Because she's a girl who wears glasses and is good with computers!  Yeah... I love Ollie as a character but there are times when he can be kind of a privileged dick in spite of his good intentions.  This is one of them. 

So, at this point fans of the show are probably wondering three things...

1. Didn't Felicity say last week that she had no interest in helping Ollie with the vigilante stuff?

2. Wouldn't a famous playboy and local celebrity like Oliver Queen going out with some lowly IT girl attract a lot of the attention that Ollie's been trying to avoid?

3. Where the heck is Diggle, who is supposed to be Ollie's shadow whenever he's out in public?  Especially when he's out in public?

Well, there's all perfectly logical reasons for all of that.  You see - LOOK AT THE KITTIES!

So before this can turn into She's All That and Ollie can spirit Felicity away for a full makeover, dress shopping and a trip to get her contact lenses, the two of them notice that it is raining money.  Literally.  Greenbacks are raining from the sky and the good people of Starling City are going crazy.  Thankfully, all it takes is one trip back to the Arrow Cave for Felicity to get on-line and figure out what's going on.  How?  Well, she's good with computers!  And she has glasses!

Somehow, she figures out that the man responsible for this is named Randal Hode and that he's...

A) hacked the ultra-secure bank accounts of the wealthiest people in Starling City.
B) converted their collective savings into $100 bills and loaded them into a plane
C) taken the plane in the air and begun making like Robin Hood.

Now, I'm sure that another three questions have come to your minds...

1) Don't banks have all sorts of physical and electronic safeguards that prevent large quantities of cash from being withdrawn all at once?

2) Wouldn't it have taken a lot longer for one guy to load billions of dollars in cash onto a plane than the timeline of this story allows?

3) Randall Hode?  Seriously?  That's the name we're going with for this Robin Hood wannabe? 

 Well, there's a very good reason why this isn't stupid or impossible.  You see - LOOK AT THE KITTIES!

Now, normally Ollie could get behind the rich jerks who are apparently running Starling City into the ground getting their just deserts.  But  Hode's plan is causing mass hysteria, with old ladies attacking defenseless, fit young men roaming the streets.  I'm not even joking or making a gratuitous Monty Python reference - THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENS!

Sadly, this is not Madame Fatal.

Thankfully, getting onto a moving plane flying at 10,000 feet is a simple matter when you're a master archer with a Zip-Line Arrow.  Soon, Ollie is on-board Hode's plane.  Naturally, Hode is less than thrilled and opens up the bay doors of the plane completely, in an effort to flush Ollie out.  

Thankfully, Ollie has a mini-crossbow tucked into his sleeve and enough cable tied to the bolt to create a last-minute lifeline to stop him from plummeting to certain doom.  It's at this point that Felicity, who is back out in the street amongst the rioting civilians, calls to ramble at him in her uniquely endearing way about the local architecture.  Specifically, Hanover Tower. 

Can you guess why Felicity felt the need to call Ollie with this information right now?

1) She's leading into a tearful confession about how she loves Ollie, she has always loved Ollie and she doesn't care how impractical it is - she WILL wear the fishnets for him.

2) She just got a side-job with the Starling City Tourism Bureau and is being paid to call people and tell them about the finer points of the city skyline.

3) He's about to run into said building.


I don't know what's dumber.  The fact that Felicity felt she had to call Ollie about this when he's hanging on for dear life or the fact that Ollie actually DID fail to notice the rather large skyscraper bearing down on him.

Thankfully, Ollie's not so far down that he can't double-time climb up his cable, just barely missing the building.  He's further able to climb onto the plane and - somehow - moves around to the front to jump down on the front of the plane.  Now, I don't know planes but I do know from the view that we got of the front of it earlier that this particular plane has a rounded nose.  So I'll be darned if I can figure out how Ollie has enough space to kneel there,  even ignoring the fact that he's 10,000 feet up and traveling at a great enough speed for the plane to remain airborn!

Does the phrase "bug meet windshield" mean anything to you?

But that's okay!  I can go with this!  We'll just assume that the plane does have enough space for Ollie to kneel down and that he's got some kind of magnetic grips on his adventuring boots.  That still doesn't explain how Ollie is able to drive an arrow into the side of a plane with one hand and use that as a pivot to kick his way through an airplane window.

Screw you, physics!

Do I even need to begin to explain what's wrong with all of that?

Ollie pins Hode down, as Hode says he was directly inspired by Ollie and how he wanted to do something about the greedy people who are ruining the city.  But Ollie apparently has given up on the recruiting drive (given his track record with intentionally recruiting help in his war on corruption, who can blame him?) and despite the advantages a man who can hack every bank in Starling City has to offer, Hode isn't nearly as easy on the eyes as Helena Bertinelli was.  So Ollie skips past the "You can reform" speech he gave Huntress and Firefly and moves right on to threats of violence and death.

Ollie renders Hode unconscious which Felicity - newly relocated to a rooftop somewhere - points out is kind of stupid since Ollie has no idea how to fly a plane.  Well, Ollie says he used to watch his dad fly a plane all the time and has picked up enough to know how to glide it.  Felicity and her Windows 8 tablet come to the rescue as she's instantly able to hack in and take a look at the plane's controls. 

No.  Really.

This is why the FAA makes you turn your electronic devices off on the plane.
 They're afraid you'll find out ANYONE can do this.

In what marks the one realistic, logical thing in this comic, Felicity quickly figures out that flying a plane in real life is much more complicated than running a flight simulator on the Wii and that all of the SCIENCE! in the world won't allow her to pilot the plane with what little she knows.  Thankfully, she is able to play navigator for Ollie and finds an abandoned Queen Industries warehouse for him to glide the plane into safely.  And so our comic ends with our heroes back at the Arrow Cave and Felicity justifying her own cash-grab in the streets.

Seconds later, Ollie said "You have failed this city," and shot her.  She was not missed.  The End.

This comic stinks!  The artwork isn't bad, save that Ollie only seems to have a mustache in some panels instead of his beard but the story is full of continuity problems and just plain stupidity.  Normally Arrow is worth the download but this week it's not even worth downloading to laugh at.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin #2 - A Review

Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin #2 is a lackluster follow-up to a promising first issue.  It's not a bad comic but there's very little action and a lot of talking-heads moments.  I suspect this entire series will read better once collected as a single graphic novel rather than as a monthly comic.

Little happens in terms of the plot this time around.  The most interesting bit comes at the end, when Harry has his first encounter with the titular ghoul.  Before that is more of what one might expect with this sort of story - Harry being ordered to get out of town by the corrupt/incompetent sheriff, Harry being rehired by the town mayor and a fair bit of political intrigue involving the cursed family Harry is investigating. 

I'll give Jim Butcher and Joseph Cooper credit for this much - at least there aren't any werewolves involved, which I fully expected after I realized the cursed family was named Talbot.  And there is plenty of the standard Dresden wit, which is the only thing that makes all the talky moments tolerable.  Of course there isn't enough of Bob The Skull for my tastes but there rarely is. 

The artwork by Mark Powers is still top notch, though.  The character designs are unique and memorable, with Dresden looking pretty much as I've always pictured him based on the descriptions in the books.  Heck, I've got a clear picture of what a ghoul looks like for the first time ever! 

Still, I think I'll wait for the trade to collect the rest of this series.  The pacing is a little slow for what I consider acceptable in a monthly comic.  It's well worth picking up if you're a Harry Dresden fan who can't wait for the finished tale but it's just not my cup of tea. 

Batgirl #17 - A Review

So here we are.  The first issue of Batgirl not written by Gail Simone since The New 52 revamp.  What was meant to be Ray Fawkes' first issue on the book.  At least, what was going to be his first issue before a fan uprising forced a reversal of whatever decision caused Gail Simone to be fired from this book in this first place and led to her rehiring and impending return with the upcoming Issue #19.

Did we dodge a bullet?  Yes and no.  While I'm a brazen Gail Simone fanboy and have loved her work on Batgirl, Fawkes' work here isn't bad.  The plot, detailing Barbara's efforts to bring her murderous brother to justice and clean up the other wreckage of her life following the events of Death of the Family. is a solid one.  More importantly, Barbara is still the brilliant genius she should always be portrayed as.  Indeed, Fawkes plays up an aspect of Barbara's character that is often under-utilized - her photographic memory - and shows her using it in a way to help the police that doesn't involve putting on a mask or vaulting along rooftops. 

So what's the problem?  Well, it's a minor point but a significant one.  Until now, all of Batgirl's stories have been told from Barbara's point-of-view.  This issue switches between two narrators and neither of them is Barbara.  The first is the typical unseen voiceless narrator common to comic books, who tells us what Barbara is thinking and doing rather than letting Babs tell us herself.  The second is James Gordon Jr, who narrates the action as he observes his sister in the second act.  The sudden shift in tense between narrators is awkwardly handled and there's no indication of the change in the text, the font or the coloration of the text boxes. 

Thankfully, the art is as strong as ever.  Daniel Sampere and Vicente Cifuentes lend this book a visual sense of continuity that helps ease the reader through any oddities in the script.  Simply said, this book is gorgeous and still benefits from some of the finest artwork you can find in any monthly comic title.

Is Batgirl #17 worth picking up?  I'd say so, even if you aren't inclined to keep your collection complete.  While the narration is a tad off-putting, it's not enough to distract from the good story and amazing artwork.  Hopefully Ray Fawkes will find his footing elsewhere because there is far more good in this script than bad and he deserves a chance at a monthly title elsewhere. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Red Sonja: Unchained #1 - A Review

I never had the chance to review Red Sonja: Blue, coming out as it did in the middle of a summer when I was short on cash for new comics and and short on time for writing.  However, I did eventually pick up a copy of it and was greatly amused by fantasy author Peter V. Brett's examination of the Red Sonja mythos and a charming tale that turned the traditional sword-and-sorcery story on its' head.  Red Sonja: Unchained picks up right where Red Sonja: Blue left off, neatly summarizing the story of that one-shot for those who missed it.

In brief, Sonja was hired by an innkeeper to save her virgin son from being sacrificed by an evil wizard.  Sonja won the day but her infamous armor was ripped in the process and she fashioned a new outfit for herself from the blue fur of the demon she slew.  She was ready to settle down for a long winter, guesting with her client while waiting for her armor to get repaired, when the adventure-minded stable boy she'd rescued challenged her to a duel while she was drunk.  His intent was to defeat Sonja in battle and win her heart, so that he could run away from his mom and go live a life of high adventure.

Sadly - for him - annoying Sonja when she's drunk is one of the most common forms of suicide in Hyboria, second only to stomping on snakes in Stygia.  As this story opens, Sonja is arranging for a fast exit from town and a decent burial for the village idiot.  Naturally Sonja doesn't stay at liberty for long, running across a scholar in search of treasure being harassed by bandits.  One fight scene later, Sonja is employed again and on her way to some cursed tomb full of lost lore and treasure.

Peter V. Brett's script is engaging, presenting Sonja as an interesting and conflicted heroine.  While Red Sonja: Blue explored the expectations of Sonja as both a woman and a warrior and set her against her own legend, Unchained offers us an introspective look at Sonja's soul.  Despite this more thoughtful tone, this issue still has action aplenty, ably illustrated by Jack Jadson.  

If you haven't given Red Sonja a shot before as a character, this would be a fine story to start with.  The artwork avoids the cheesecake that so frequently plagues Sonja's titles and the story is an interesting introduction to Sonja's character.  All in all, its a fine effort that leaves me anxiously awaiting the next issue.

Batman #17 - A Review

I downloaded the digital edition of Batman #17 the day of its' release, after being shocked into action following a rather horrific preview which suggested something rather unpleasant about the final fate of the abducted Alfred Pennyworth.  Since that time, I've struggled to find the precise words to summarize this book to someone who has not been reading the Death Of The Family saga so far.  There are no words.

What can I say to convey how splendidly Scott Snyder has captured the essence of The Joker, moving him beyond the static serial killer I feared he was stuck as and turning "Mistah J" into an unpredictable force of chaos? How can I encompass how he explores the duality of Bruce Wayne's nature and turned it on its' head using The Joker as a dark mirror?  How many more alliterative adjectives must I discover to describe the glorious Gothic grotesque grandeur of Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapions artwork?

Nothing.  There is nothing I can add at this point.  Either you will read Batman and enjoy it or you will remain woefully ignorant.  The rest is silence.