Thursday, February 1, 2007

Comic musings for 1/31

The Research Triangle finds itself confronted with winter weather. Not so much snow and ice as in past storms, but enough that my afternoon plans all got cancelled, so I finished this week's books a little earlier. Just one comic this week, but it's a doozy.

Spoilers ho!

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 214 -- The story begins with Batman convincing a hood to testify against yet another crime boss in Gotham. Batman's method of interrogation, dangling someone at the end of a batrope and seeing how close the victim can get to the ground without touching it, appears to work just fine to summon a sense of civic responsibility. And all goes well until another costumed character threatens the mook, and Batman realizes that the underworld may be more afraid of Deadshot than of him.

Writer Christos Gage performs a fascinating study of Deadshot in this single-issue story, setting up a thorough comparison between the antagonist and protagonist. It turns out that people fear Deadshot because of his professionalism--once he takes a job, he does not quit it until it is performed, no matter the personal cost. As a result, anyone he is paid to kill dies. Always. Batman's reputation is that of a freak or maybe vampire, an avenger who doesn't take life but just scares his victims. Floyd Lawton does far more than that and so may be far more effective at his job than Batman.

What follows is a series of attempts by Batman to dissuade Deadshot from completing this task. He tries or considers threatening Deadshot, bribing him and even blackmailing him. Throughout their interaction, the high points of their relationship are played back, including Lawton's inability to just kill Batman; Batman even offers to tell Lawton what that reason is, but Lawton will not be thwarted. Nothing works until Batman finds a way to turn Deadshot's own professionalism against him.

The writing is crisp and thoughtful, not relying on outrageous plot twists or dramatic reveals to propel the story. It is simply two men at the top of their game pursuing goals at odds with one another.

The fine writing is capped by more terrific art by Phil Winslade. I imagine the writer realized his content wouldn't quite fill two issues without padding, so Winslade must take a dense story and fit it into a single issue. On the one hand, his layouts are phenomenal--each page is dense with art, feeling sometimes like Perez when he is at the top of his game and at others like Adams. On the other hand, the art itself is wonderful and evocative, no extraneous lines and realistic and lush portraits of human figures in a gothic cityscape. It must have been a challenge for colorist Mike Atiyeh, but he comes through beautifully.

When Legends of the Dark Knight started, it was meant to be a showcase of strong writing and solid art in the service of DC's favorite hero. All too often in the many years of the series, the art and/or story just falls flat. This issue represents what was originally advertised, writer and artist hitting their stride together. This story would easily be included in the old "Year's Best" digests from DC if they still existed, and is worthy of consideration for other comic awards. This is what a Batman story should be like.

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