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Batman: Gotham Knights #40
writer: Scott Beatty
artists: Roger Robinson and John Floyd

The latest chess game between Dark Knight and Checkmate draws to a close. Both sides think they've won, and it's cost them. Along the way, The Huntress transitions into a uniform that's hotter for artists like Jim Lee and Ed Benes to draw.

Unfortunately, it feels like the "A" plot existed just to bring us to that point. Playing underneath it, though, is Alfred's terrible illness, which may or may not have lasting repercussions. At the very least, it lays the groundwork for Batman to reflect further on his choices in life: first Lucius Fox, allegedly a good friend, suffers a stroke, and now Alfred collapses.

Will Beatty follow up on this? It's hard to say. So far, he's proven himself a solid plotter, but not particularly able to deliver on emotional undercurrents.

My only problem with this plot development is how sudden it seems to have come on. Beatty dramatizes it well enough, but when the story switches to Alfred's viewpoint, it's unclear whether the venerable manservant is hallucinating an attack on the cave while a real one is underway.

He seems to be communicating with Batman, but every time the perspective switches, Bruce appears unaware of Alfred's presence. All the better for a devastating ending, I suppose.

Robert Rodi and John Proctor deliver a tight little paranoid tale in the "Black and White" slot. It's a change of pace from the campy fun Rodi has made his name doing, and it's about time he proved himself more than a one-trick pony.


Beware The Creeper #1
writer: Jason Hall
artist: Cliff Chiang

One of the side effects of all the rebooting and retconning of the last twenty years is that creators keep trying to make odd or convoluted characters make sense. Many flounder, but the real successes come when a creator manages to find just what makes a character work for them, instead of tacking on explanation after explanation. Ultimately, this is what Geoff Johns and James Robinson did with Hawkman.

And now, Vertigo dips a toe into The Creeper, without a doubt one of the oddest characters DC ever published. The last time the character had a series, the creators tried the layering on approach, giving a level of ancient mysticism and insanity to a guy that's pretty much just nuts and wearing the most ridiculous costume in comics' history.

Artist Cliff Chiang keeps a form of the costume, but for Beware The Creeper, writer Jason Hall has thrown out just about everything else. You can choose to believe this is an earlier incarnation of the character, as hinted at in the previous series, but would do a disservice to the pretty cool creation we have here.

This book is as much about atmosphere, at least in this first issue, as it is its lead. Set in post-WWI Paris, Beware The Creeper has as its ostensible leads The Benoir Twins, Judith and Maddy. Like Patty Duke, one is sensible and uptight while the other leads her life with wild abandon.

Yes, Maddy has given herself over to the new art movement known as surrealism. While her sister has recurring dreams of their tragic past, Maddy receives visits from a satanic figure spitting out a vaguely familiar green and yellow creature.

By day, the two struggle as artists, though Judith does seamstress work to make ends meet. But by night, they party in the mad whirlwind of Paris nightlife, rubbing elbows with Masters of DaDa and the obligatory Ernest Hemingway appearance.

There's a dark side to it all, too. A scene involving prostitution hints that women in general are second class citizens, while introducing the love interest, a charming and honest detective. Though on the surface this would appear to be standard comic book fare, we have to remember that something that calls itself The Creeper will be involved, and there's no way that will let anything be standard.

Hall writes believable characters all around. Though a few do seem straight from central casting, he does what he can to make them more than that. And Chiang's art has a strong storytelling sense that lifts the characters even further.

For the first time, this Creeper leaves the ghost of Steve Ditko behind without it seeming an insult. Beware The Creeper, as promised, is its own special creature, and one I'm looking forward to seeing through.


The Flash #197
writer: Geoff Johns
artists: Scott Kolins and Doug Hazlewood

Every superhero has his defining arch-nemesis. Sometimes it's his opposite number, and sometimes it's just someone who fills a void in his character. Superman and Lex Luthor. Batman and The Joker. Green Lantern and Sinestro.

The Flash has his, too, though many memorable villains have tried to challenge the slot. Mark Waid even offered up two: Savitar and Black Flash. But in the end, only one has really proven formidably deadly time and time again. We mean, of course, The Turtle.

In reality, it's Professor Zoom, also known as Reverse-Flash. (Which name is better? Neither one really quite has the ring of coolness to it.) Unfortunately for writers tackling The Flash, the man called Eobard Thawne was also killed by Barry Allen. Even though he came from the future, death poses some problems.

Waid found a way around it by bringing a younger, hero-worshipping Thawne back in time, to explore the origin of his hatred of The Flash. And now Geoff Johns throws a new twist into it. Carefully notice the wording on the cover: this is not Wally West's uncle's Professor Zoom. Instead, stuck in the here and now, we have Zoom.

Re-creating the villain for a new generation wasn't a bad idea. And there's something kind of post-modern about making him aware of himself as such. This new Zoom knows that his clashes with The Flash will help define the hero.

In Zoom's process of discovering himself, we ourselves learn a tragic secret behind one of the series' long-running (sorry) supporting characters. Johns has been building to this revelation for quite some time, even if we didn't see all the pieces falling into place.

And yet, it's hard to shake the feeling that the character who becomes Zoom does so arbitrarily. It doesn't feel like the bold new take on the mythos that we're obviously meant to think it is. In some ways, it feels like the old Superboy/Lex Luthor rivalry, only with more overt violence.

Still, we've followed Johns this far, and he's always delivered. As has Kolins, drawing his swansong on the book with this arc. Something terrible may be coming, and I'll be there for it; I just wish this issue had grabbed me more.

UPDATE: DC Comics just announced this morning that Flash #197 has sold out, with no current plans for reprinting. (HA! They call that a "trade paperback...")

So anyway, what do I know?


Green Lantern #162
writer: Judd Winick
artist: Charlie Adlard

For a guy who went nuts and killed most of them, Hal Jordan sure made a lot of dedicated friends. Case in point: Green Arrow. Despite once believing that he himself killed Hal as Parallax, Oliver Queen has great animosity toward the kid now wearing the Green Lantern Ring. Why? Because he'll never be Hal.

It may feel a little forced, but then that's long been a hallmark of Oliver's personality. He picks the damnedest times to be a jerk. Especially now, when it's clear that alien mobsters are moving in on his city, and he could use a little help from a hero better suited to fighting extraterrestrials.

We've got a six-part crossover going on here, bouncing between Green Lantern and Green Arrow. Historically, let's mark it as the turning point when the revived Green Arrow became just another DC title, instead of a special event. But if it's going to be just another title, at least it will still be good.

Though this part takes place in the Lantern's book, it's really all about writer Judd Winick getting the feel of Ollie, so that he can jump ship to the newer book when it's over. So far, he's doing it right. Even though Green Arrow isn't as old as he once was (really - that makes sense in continuity), he's still one of the more muleheaded heroes in the DC Universe, a trait Winick writes well.

Unfortunately, in clashing with Kyle, this stubbornness brings out the whinier side of the young ringbearer. It's not pleasant to see, but it has the ring of truth to it. Green Arrow makes Green Lantern feel like a pretender, even though Kyle held and rejected the powers of a god.

The plot involving bleach smuggling, though clever (of course aliens get high from something we don't), is still pretty much a big maguffin. Instead, this arc is about contrasting approaches to heroism. You have two Green Arrows - Oliver and his son Connor, who is much calmer and more centered than the old man. There are also two Green Lanterns - Kyle, easily set off by Ollie's goading, and Jenny, daughter of the first, who provides the voice of reason.

Ben Raab will no doubt handle this book competently. But if the loss of Winick will be felt, it will be in the characterization of Jenny. She still understands that sometimes you've got to be willing to kick butt, but tries to seek the least violent solution first. It may seem a stereotypical "women's view," but Winick makes it happen without the preachy tendencies that often make Wonder Woman seem hypocritical. Like a lot of real women, Jenny-Lynn Hayden knows she's superior to her boyfriend, but keeps it to herself.

Handling the whole arc so far has been Charlie Adlard, an artist who admittedly dropped off my personal radar a while back. If, as I've heard, he'll be relieving Phil Hester of art chores on Green Arrow, he's doing a bang-up job of proving his case. A little on the static side, Adlard has a good sense of layout, with a style that looks halfway between what we're used to seeing regularly in both books.

I'd dropped Green Lantern a couple of issues back, but I'm happy to have been drawn back in so soon.


Derek McCaw


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