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

13 July 2012

Batman: King Tut's Tomb

Collects: Brave and the Bold #164 and 171, Batman #353, and Batman Confidential #26-8 (1980, 1981, 1982, 2009)

Released: February 2010 (DC)

Format: 128 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781401225773

What is this?: King Tut — last seen on Batman ’66 — is unleashed upon Gotham, and three ‘80s issues drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez are also included.

The culprits: Writers Nunzio DeFelippis, Christina Weir, Gerry Conway, and J.M. DeMatteis and artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

The copy of Batman: King Tut’s Tomb that I have is an odd duck, and I’m not sure how it ended up in my hands.

What I have — and cannot find a record of anywhere online — is a hardback version of King Tut’s Tomb. Not only can I not find a record of the hardback, but I can’t find a reason for it to exist. King Tut’s Tomb reprints a three-issue storyline from Batman Confidential, a second-tier Bat-title from before the New 52 reboot that I was only vaguely aware existed. (In some places on the Web, King Tut’s Tomb is listed as Batman Confidential, v. 6.) Three issues is not enough to fill a hardback (or even a trade paperback), of course, so the book also contains two issues of Brave and the Bold and one issue of Batman from thirty years ago. One has a tenuous plot connection to the main Batman Confidential story; the other two have none. The real connection is that all six issues were penciled by Jose Luis Garcia-Lozpez.

Batman: King Tut’s Tomb coverIs Garcia-Lopez’s reputation strong enough to base an entire book off of? If so, I would expect his name in the title. On the other hand, this is part of the reprint series for Batman Confidential … but the words Batman Confidential show up only in tiny print in the indicia. The relatively obscure stories filling out the book make me think DC’s reprint editors were casting about desperately for something to bring up the page count, but if that’s the case, why reprint a secondary title in hardback when half the book is almost random? I mean — not that I’m complaining — Birds of Preycan’t get a hardcover, and that’s a title with an identity and a fan base.

Oh, well. It’s only slightly less strange if it’s a trade. A corporate decision, most likely, in both senses of the word.

What Birds of Prey did not have, however, was an artist as good as Garcia-Lopez. Thirty years is a long time in the life of an artist, and Garcia-Lopez’s style has definitely shifted. In the ‘80s stories, Garcia-Lopez’s art is very much in the style of Jim Aparo, whom he was filling in for on Brave and the Bold: a lithe but powerful Batman in a world of clear, solid lines. Even in Gotham and outer space, Batman’s world is bright and appealing. Though I have no nostalgia for that era, Garcia-Lopez’s art is comfortingly familiar.

In the Batman Confidential stories, Garcia-Lopez’s pencils are updated, modern — more Jim Lee than Jim Aparo. Batman is muscular and not as flexible, the backgrounds are busier, the cheesecake more plentiful. The panels are larger, with the occasional splash page. There is little to distinguish Garcia-Lopez’s modern style from a dozen others, except that his storytelling is superior. Present or past, there is little doubt what is supposed to be happening in the story. The older layouts, with more panels, are clear, but Garcia-Lopez knows how to tell a story even with the emphasis on flash. It explains why he has been getting work for 30 years.

It’s a shame the stories aren’t better, thought. The eponymous Batman Confidential stories have about two issues worth of interest dropped into three issues. Writers Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir finally bring King Tut, an Egyptological-centered villain, from the ‘60s Batman TV show to the comics, an event that someone was probably waiting for. (Maybe.) It's the standard tale of presumed reincarnation and insane, petty revenges, and it’s not that interesting. But King Tut uses riddles related to the Hymn of Aten (an ancient song dedicated to Aten, an Egyptian god), which leads to the Riddler’s involvement in the case. The interaction between Batman and the Riddler is fun to watch, despite my nagging concern of where this fits in the Riddler’s history, since he was a semi-legitimate PI the last I had seen of him. However, the total of their intelligences is less than the sum of its parts. Riddler blunders into death traps, Batman is forced to rely on Riddler for information the plot would usually require him to remember himself — that sort of thing.

The ‘80s issues are a mixed bag. The two Brave and the Bold stories are quite forgettable, and by next week I’ll probably deny ever having read them. Batman teams with Hawkman in #164 to protect King Tut’s treasures, but aliens steal the entire museum to get back a pair of their artifacts. It’s a wacky, cosmic mix-up with a “cosmic hole” and possessions by alien spirits, but of course writer J.M DeMatteis ends it satisfactorily and forgettably. Writer Gerry Conway uses Professor Carter Nichols and his time-traveling hypnotism to send Batman back to the Civil War in #171, in which he meets a famous Union nurse and Scalphunter. A few moments of visceral satisfaction — Batman reconstructing the jaws of a few Rebels — can’t compensate for how boring the story is, especially since I have no idea why I should care about Scalphunter. (The character is named that only on the cover; in the story, he’s Ke-Woh-No-Tay.)

Conway’s Batman #353 is probably the best single issue in the collection, with Garcia-Lopez’s long-chinned Joker stealing the show. Conway writes the Joker as murderous and egomaniacal, and he almost wins … what more can you ask for in a Joker story? There's a subplot about Boss Rupert Throne getting back into Gotham politics, which was probably very exciting back in 1982 but serves only as a distraction in this collection.

So I still don’t understand why my local library has this in hardback. (Special library edition? There’s no indication that one was published, but who knows.) On its own merits, this isn’t a bad collection, although given the shift in styles, Garcia-Lopez’s art is not strong enough to unify King Tut’s Tomb despite its quality. The stories are mostly mediocre if inoffensive. For all you Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez fans, you’re in luck; for all you fans of Batman Confidential, you kinda get shafted. For the rest of us, this book is a big shrug.

Rating: Batman symbol Batman symbol (2 of 5)

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