Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

20 June 2008

Batman: No Man's Land, v. 2 & 3

Collects: v. 2: Legends of the Dark Knight 117,119; Shadow of the Bat 85-7; Batman 565; Detective Comics 732-3 v. 3: Batman 566-9; Legends of the Dark Knight 120-1; Shadow of the Bat 88; Detective Comics 734-5 (1999)

Released: 2000 (DC)

Format: 200 pages / color / $14.95 / $12.95 / ISBN: ???

I was optimistic about the late ‘90s No Man’s Land crossover after I read Batman: No Man’s Land, v. 1. Volumes 2 and 3 show why that optimism should have been cautious.

All the hallmarks of the megacrossover are there: wildly varying art, inconsistent writing, characterization all over the place, and plot holes here and there. For instance, what is Two Face: devious gang leader or do-gooder who has almost shed his reliance on his coin? (Although it is Two-Face, so “both” is, I suppose, an acceptable answer.) Why does Superman get so easily discouraged from helping Gotham? Why did group editor Dennis O’Neil let Larry Hama write an issue?

Batman: No Man's Land, v. 2 coverIt’s not that bad, of course. The setup done, No Man’s Land becomes a story of wars over resources and turf. In v. 2, Batman steadily claims a large piece of Gotham with the help of the new Batgirl, who chafes under Batman’s strictures. The Blue Boys — remnants of the Gotham City Police Department — are also on the march, with the help of a mysterious and vicious benefactor.

V. 2 does what you would want — it forms a complete leg of the No Man’s Land journey, ending with an effective climax that changes the status quo for the next book. There are revelations, failures, and broken alliances. Overall, it’s satisfying.

There are nitpicks. The art styles vary wildly, and Phil Winslade’s big-eyed, cartoony style is horribly out of place in such a grim book, even if the story he draws is technically set before No Man’s Land. There is also the question of whether the two-part “Bread and Circuses” story that begins the volume is out of place — despite clashing with Batman in v. 1, Penguin acts as if it is the first time he has met Batman in No Man’s Land — or contains a whopping continuity error.

Batman: No Man's Land, v. 2 coverV. 3, on the other hand, starts weakly. Superman tries to restart Gotham but gives up in less than a day in “The Visitor” by Kelley Puckett and Jon Bogdanove. This is followed by “Power Play,” in which Hama writes Batman and Mr. Freeze as horribly overchatty. He also gives Mr. Freeze a working power plant (perhaps hijacked after “The Visitor”) and a giant ice castle.8 It’s not until the third story, “Mark of Cain,” that the story at the end of v. 2 is followed up on.

The Blue Boy’s benefactor hires Cain, an assassin, to kill Commissioner Gordon; Cassandra, the assassin’s daughter, is Oracle’s most trusted courier. Batman finally calls his allies to Gotham, and he boots out the new Batgirl — actually the Huntress — for her failure to protect his territory. Cassandra Cain becomes Batgirl and nearly succeeds in her first mission, making Batman proud. Batman and Robin deal with Clayface and Poison Ivy’s battle for the fruitful Robinson Park, in a story with some very nice art by Bill Sienkiewicz and Dan Jurgens. And the GCPD loses two prominent members.

Because of the slow start, v. 3 seemed weaker than the preceding two volumes. There also seemed less plot movement — despite the change in Batgirls, the volume begins with one Batgirl and ends with the same number — and “Huntress as Batgirl” doesn’t seem to make much sense. (No explanation was given for her temporary double ID.) Batman calls in his allies but doesn’t seem tot use them much. The GCPD has the most changes, and they’re barely in this volume; also, they’ve stopped being prominent dynamic forces and have retreated to being potential hostages.

The slide in quality seems ominous, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be corrected. V. 4 and 5 will tell the tale.

Ratings: v. 2: Batman symbol Batman symbol Batman symbol Half Batman symbol (3.5 of 5)

v. 3: Batman symbol Batman symbol Half Batman symbol (2.5 of 5)

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