Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Comic Book Wednesday – Batman: Noel & A Child Is Born & Deadpool MAX-MAS

I picked up a few Christmas comics at the ol’ comic shop because that’s the sort of thing I like to do.
The first is Batman: Noel, which is written and illustrated by Lee Bermejo. Bermejo was the artist on Brian Azarello’s Joker, which I have yet to read but really want to now. The second book is A Child Is Born, which is an adaptation of the birth of Christ by Billy Tucci. Finally, we’ve got Deadpool MAX-MAS, which is a whole other thing entirely.

Batman: Noel
I was excited to read this one when I saw it solicited. I wasn’t familiar with Bermejo at the time, but the art looked dynamic and interesting and the idea of Batman living A Christmas Carol sounded neat.
I didn’t know a thing about this one going in, but it didn’t take long to figure out that this is basically an Elseworlds book. The look of the characters and some of the situations prove that this is a Gotham City we have not previously explored. While I tend to love Elseworlds stuff, I think this might have been a bit of a mistake for this book because it takes away some of the emotional impact of A Christmas Carol once you know this is some weird, other Bruce Wayne that not only will we likely never interact with again, but also may have entirely different characteristics than the one we all know and love.
I hate to sound so cynical and critical of somebody with the artistic talents of Mr. Bermejo, but I really think the reality switch was done out of laziness. Rather than come up with scenarios and motivations that fit within the universe we know, I think he just decided to do this outside the norm to avoid having to make things fit. Elseworlds tales make sense because they depict events outside the norm of what we are familiar with. But with Noel, things just aren’t different enough to require a whole different reality. Then again, as far as I know the whole thing could take place within the continuity of the New 52. Who would even know?
Okay, sorry – I got off track. The story is narrated by somebody speaking in conversational hoodlum. I get what Bermejo was going for here – it’s a modern inner-city tale being narrated by a modern, inner-city guy. But I didn’t care for it. The voice of the narrator made the whole thing a bit of a burden to read. And the “surprise” payoff at the end that reveals the narrators identity is not strong enough to support the use of such an off-putting narrative device.
The characterizations are all fairly basic with a few small twists. This Bruce Wayne is more aggressive and grim due to the death of his Robin. Why this couldn’t have been worked in to be post-Jason Todd, I don’t know. Those that are friendly with Batman don’t really trust him anymore and those on the other side of the law are terrified of him (which I thought was the point). After taking ill and developing what could be a delusion-inducing fever, Bruce is paid a visit by three visitors while he is attempting to stop a plot by Joker.
I’m not going to describe the whole narrative here because this is a review and not a recap, but what a convoluted retelling of A Christmas Carol takes place with flashbacks of Batman’s life to what is basically Batman ’66, a time when he was happier and everybody likes him and whimsical things like Catwoman getting ready to have a tiger eat a restrained Robin’s face used to happen. Seriously – this was used as an example of “the fun we used to have”. So basically, if things had gone slightly differently the whimsical memory could be the source of this Batman’s pain.
I mentioned that the story was convoluted and it is. There were times where I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on or who was supposed to represent what. Heck, I didn’t even figure out that it was Batman that was supposed to be Scrooge until about ten pages in. But this book is also long. At 112 pages (including some bonus content at the back), it kind of seems to meander at points. I’m a pretty hardcore comic book reader and when I get into something it doesn’t matter how long it is if its good. I read the first fifty issues of Ultimate Spider-Man in twenty-four hours. But I had to put Batman: Noel down three times. It took me a few days to read it, and I only did so because I knew I wanted to do the review. If not for this, I would have just looked at the art.
And the art is absolutely amazing. The character redesigns are strong and interesting, seemingly inspired by the Arkham video games (as many things seem to be now) and presenting recognizable but different versions of the Gotham denizens we know. Bermejo’s talent definitely lies in his artistic storytelling. The panels and pages were mostly clean and easy to follow and the art itself is just a wonder to behold. The expressiveness of the characters, the details in the costumes, and the thoroughly rendered backgrounds will have you examining the art in the book for far longer than anything present in the story.
You really need to see the beautiful art in Batman: Noel, but you should just borrow it from a buddy.
2 out of 5

A Child is Born
I’ve never really followed Billy Tucci. I own a couple of Shi toys because Shi looks awesome, but for some reason I never checked the comic out. But I know the guy does solid work.
When I saw his adaptation of the story of the birth of Christ being offered in Previews I was interested. I’ll admit – if it had been released in July I probably wouldn’t have given it a second glance, but since it was being released right before Christmas I wanted to check it out.
And I’m glad I did. It’s a short, easy read at 32 pages and is a respectful and compressed telling of the birth. Some of the text is directly from the Bible and some is just sort of penned in, but it all works.
Starting with Mary’s encounter with the angel and ending with Joseph and Mary’s flight into Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herrod, A Child is Born is a simple and easy introduction. The art is wonderful to look at, almost like an upgrade from the old children’s illustrated Bibles they used to have in dentist’s offices and stuff. Tucci is very good with likenesses, as I had no trouble distinguishing all the bearded dudes from one another. The book was colored by Paul Mounts, who does a great job keeping everything very grounded and not-too-fantastic.
The only time the book gets even a little comic-booky is when Gabriel appears to the Wise Men to inform them of Jesus’ birth. And it’s not bad by any means, it just gave me a little chuckle.
I dug this one. It wasn’t mind-blowingly good, but it was a pleasant and respectful telling of the story. I’ll read it to Lil’ Troublemaker next year. I’m not quite ready to explain immaculate conception to a four-year-old.
3 out of 5

Deadpool MAX-mas

And then there’s this. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I absolutely love David Lapham and Kyle Baker’s Deadpool MAX. It’s vulgar and ridiculous and wonderful to look at and should have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas at all.
And yet we have this one-shot comic.
You can go into it cold, but it is helpful to know that Deadpool MAX is about an alternate universe Wade Wilson. Things are much more grounded in reality, but are all the more insane for that. The heroes and villains in the comic are all just delusional. They’re basically exactly like the characters you know, only crazy. Well, Deadpool was already crazy, but in this he’s sort of crazier, but with moments of self-awareness that ape the regular 616 Wade Wilson’s fourth-wall-breaking.
But anyway, Deadpool kills people for the government with the help of his handler, Bob. Bob is an idiot who has allowed himself to be framed for terrorism and mass murder and also sort of accidentally created HYDRA to get even with an old lover. Bob is in a world of shit. So his good buddy Wade decides to fake his death and show Bob what the world would be like if he didn’t exist, It’s A Wonderful Life style.
Like all DPMAX stories from Barker and Lapham this one is ridiculous and fast-paced. The art is solid as always, but I was a little disappointed that another artist did a section. The guy isn’t bad, but he’s no Kyle Baker. But either way, I think this is a worthy entry into your holiday comics collection.
4 out of 5

Until next time, stay creepy

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