DC Comics' Villain's Month
Batman's Rogues Round-Up
This month, DC Comics is doing a line-wide event, called “Villain’s Month” in which various rogues step up and become the star of a title for an issue. Though we here at the Review To Be Named Comics section look on the event with a mixture of shoulder shrugs and hair tugs (“Which villain is…oh, who cares?” and “They’re interrupting what ongoing arc I care about for a stupid tie in by a fill-in writer?!?!?!?”), and will likely be doing our best to ignore it for the most part, I have a problem. Though I am new to writing reviews of monthly books for the site, anyone who has read my comics writing, listened to the Review To Be Named Podcast , or even met me on the street knows I have a weakness for Batman. So, to kick off Villains Month by at least recognizing it exists, here are my capsule reviews of all of the Villians Month issues of every Batman book currently on the stands, all of which were released today.

Batman: The Dark Knight #23.1
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Derlis Santacruz
Colorist: Brett Smith
Letterer: Dave Sharpe

The Ventriloquist #1: A Rising Star of Red

There’s something deeply unsettling about ventriloquists, who channel ribald alter egos through creepy wooden guys they keep on their laps for tepid, schticky puns. In the pages of Batman, The Ventriloquist has always been a potent metaphor for the mask Batman wears. Sure, The Ventriloquist is a kind of on-the-nose riff on multiple personality disorder and a fun villain to play with the dichotomies we all contain within ourselves, but the best use of Batman villains is usually as a dark mirror for the hero himself. And the way Arnold Wexler, the original Ventriloquist, worked as a slight tweak on the way Batman uses his mask to justify revealing his true self was often excellent.

But this is The New 52, and Arnold Wexler is The Ventriloquist no more (or her never was? It’s not particularly clear, because this is DC continuity we’re talking about). Instead, we have Shauna Belzer, who debuted as an antagonist in the pages of Batgirl. The gender flip makes her an apparent foil for Barbara Gordon (though technically, she is the second female Ventriloquist, after Paul Dini’s Peyton Riley), but the metaphor is skewed by the fact that her dummy is seemingly actually alive, or at least capable of independent movement based on Shauna’s superhuman capabilities. It’s not really clear, but it does make the character slightly less potent.

“A Rising Star of Red” is, despite its terrible title, a pretty fun horror one-off, focused on Shauna as she tells her story to a journalist she’s killed while preparing to go on stage in front of an audience she’s lured into the theater by promising food and light to a starving, powerless Gotham. Though the dummy being independently mobile isn’t my favorite decision, the story is a spooky good time. It’s mostly just an excuse to tell Shauna’s origin story, but there’s enough fun around the edges here to keep things interesting. The art is suitably grim, with a stark fluidity and use of shadow that fits the tale’s dark setting. This isn’t an issue that will change your life, but it does take the mandate of the initiative and have some fun while fulfilling it.

Grade: B+

Detective Comics #23.1
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Derek Fridolfs
Artist: Javier Pina
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Taylor Esposito

Poison Ivy #1: The Green Kingdom

Poison Ivy represents life, while Batman is shrouded in death. She represents freedom while her foe is restrained by rules of his own creation. Poison Ivy is a vibrant woman in absolute control of her sexuality, while Batman is, well, let’s just say he’s probably a little repressed (and also got a thing for leather we can talk about some other time). In “The Green Kingdom,” we’re treated to a Poison Ivy origin story that’s a little bit too pat, and a story set in the present-day, Batman-less Gotham that has a beginning and goes nowhere from it.

The art shows Javier Pina’s range, with the flashbacks rendered in softer tones and the present day feeling harsh and dangerous by comparison. The story is a basic riff on how Pamela Isley became Poison Ivy, and the few new details it adds detract more than they add. The modern portion shows us Ivy wreaking havoc in the Gotham that lacks its Caped Crusader, but the story has no real event, no stakes, and an anti-climax that left me expecting a “To Be Continued in…” tag. Though the book Ivy took over has been one of the better titles in DC’s stable of late, this issue by a fill-in team is fertilizer.

Grade: C-

Batman and Robin #23.1
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Guillem March
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Dezi Sienty

Two Face #1: A Tale of Two Faces

Peter J. Tomasi has been doing great work on Batman and Robin in the years since Grant Morrison handed the title off to him, showing us the various relationships between Damian Wayne and the rest of the Bat Family, and in recent months showing us how Batman has dealt with the death of his son in a run of issues that have been incredibly moving. He is the only writer in this batch of issues who is actually writing his own book this month, and while “A Tale of Two Faces” feels a little tossed off, it’s still an entertaining read, if an obvious one.

Two Face is one of Batman’s most prominent rogues because he had a relationship with Bruce Wayne before his fall from justice. But beyond serving as a constant reminder of a man Batman couldn’t save and a promise for Gotham he let be squandered, Two-Face also represents the dichotomy at the heart of the bat, and mirrors his obsessive-compulsive approach to the world.

“A Tale of Two Faces” finds Harvey Dent playing Gotham’s defender after a coin flip tells him to save the city from chaos. Besides well-written voice over and a reasonably affecting flash-back sequence (that doesn’t, fortunately, belabor Two Face’s origin), the rest of the issue is largely a bloodbath, as Two Face plays judge, jury, and executioner to a variety of low lifes causing trouble in Gotham. It mostly hints at the greater Two Face story Tomasi could have told, but it could be a lot worse as well.

Grade: B-

Batman #23.1
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Andy Kubert
Artist: Andy Clarke
Colorist: Blond
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher

Joker #1: Time To Monkey Shine

I’ve never been a huge fan of Joker origin stories. I’ve always thought the villain is far more chilling when he’s a question mark, a chaotic trickster with no past and no rules. Though I love Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke as much as the next right-thinking American, the portion of the story given over to retelling the Joker’s origin always leaves me feeling flat. Somehow, giving the Joker a past reduces him. Making the monster into a man drains him of some of the otherworldly terror I love about the character.

Fortunately, “Time To Monkey Shine” only hints at the Joker’s past. In the moments where it shows the Clown Prince of Crime lost in thought and memories, it falls completely flat for me. The whole reason the Joker became the Joker is so he could completely erase his past and laugh in the face of a cruel, uncaring universe. As he says in Moore’s story, “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice.” The rest of the issue is given over to a vision of the Joker as a gleefully insane prankster playing out a fantasy of being a parent. The Joker sees a baby gorilla being mistreated at the zoo and decides to give it the childhood he never had. Soon he and his “son,” who he christens Jackanapes, are wreaking havoc throughout Gotham and launching an attack on a City Councilwoman who wants to close the zoo.

The whole thing is like a more violent version of a story that wouldn’t feel out of place on Batman: The Animated Series. There’s a little poignancy in the Joker’s desire to raise his son in his own image, but this is mostly played for laughs, even by the clown himself. Andy Clarke’s art is beautifully expressive, with a chaotic verve that fits the tone of the story and its central character well. This isn’t my favorite version of the character (I prefer the Joker as a remorseless psycho, the chaotic evil to Batman’s ordered good), but the best thing about the Joker is how endlessly adaptable he can be. One minute, he’s a harmless prankster, and the next, he’d tearing out your throat as a punchline. In “Time To Monkey Shine,” he’s doing more of the former, but the latter always lurks just outside the frame.

Grade: B

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