The key to a good Batman story, in my opinion, lies in the use of imagery. The notion that criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot is what originally motivated Bruce Wayne’s choice of attire; the idea that the sight of a man draped in black, emerging from the darkness as if the shadows themselves were part of his garb, could single-handedly strike fear into the hearts of those who would seek to harm innocents. By the same token, comic book fans are a sentimental and temperamental lot, so the image of Batman swooping down from a rooftop or crashing through a skylight often fills their hearts with the warm glow of nostalgia.
The point of that paragraph being that an understanding of how best to use Batman’s legendary figure, his iconic profile, is essential to anyone attempting to properly write the character. And if you can’t get that down, you shouldn’t even bother, really. Luckily, Asamiya doesn’t have any deficiencies in that department and he shouldn’t, considering his primary sources of inspiration regarding the character: Frank Miller’s Batman work, The Killing Joke and the original Tim Burton / Michael Keaton Batman film. And as a result, his book is filled with plenty of shots of Batman brooding over his city or lurking about the Cave, though they’re tastefully spread apart, so that the story is never overshadowed by the atmosphere.
And speaking of, the story itself is rather entertaining. Initially, the story deals with a crime wave of dramatic proportions, as a legion of impostors descends on Gotham City for the sole purpose of impersonating Batman’s greatest foes. As he brings them down, one by one, Batman worries to himself that even though the personalities of the knock-off rogues are second-rate, his upstart opponents’ physical abilities seem to be greatly increased in comparison to those of the residents of Arkham Asylum that they are mimicking. Throughout it all, he is shadowed at every turn by a visiting Japanese investigative reporting team, led by green reporter Yuko Yagi. However, an encounter with his own doppelganger convinces him that a deeper investigation of the matter is needed; an investigation which leads him to Japan, the nation of origin for what he believes is a designer drug with criminal applications, the ability to become any one person for a period (albeit fatally short) of time.
The story takes on a different tone after the halfway point, focusing less on Batman and fistfights and more on Bruce Wayne and his infatuation with Yuko. As Batman, however, Bruce uncovers a disturbing connection between the crime spree and the corporation owned by Yuko’s uncle, Tomioka Pharmaceuticals.
The pages leading up the climactic ending battle were very reminiscent, at least to me, of Alan Moore’s Superman story, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow,” wherein Superman disposes of all of his greatest foes once and for all. At the same time, however, all of Superman’s allies have a sense of impending doom, the idea that there is little left for him to do except die in battle. The latter half of Child of Dreams has that same feel, as if Batman has finally trumped the most dangerous versions of his arch-nemeses, leaving him with nothing left to fight for. Hence, he spends a good deal of time brooding over the nature and identity of his antagonist, wondering if he is good enough to survive the fight.
If I had any complaint with the book, it’s that the dialogue in the final battle is just a tad bit overdone. Simply put, the villain spends just a little too much time grandstanding for my taste. I’m not saying that I want a fight where the bad guy is entirely silent and doesn’t gloat at all; that would be almost antithetical to the whole superhero genre. At the same time though, there’s a point where it’s become redundant and I think Asamiya oversteps that point, though not enough to ruin the book or even the fight.
At the end of the day, it’s really rather interesting to see someone from outside of DC’s core demographic give their take on what is arguably the company’s most recognizable hero. And given the fact that much has been made of this project for quite some time, it’s nice to see it live up to expectations.
Once again, a long wait is met by a solid issue. However, last time I reviewed The Ultimates (two months ago, when #8 was released), I stated that I thought the book was basically always worth the wait, since it’s one of the most consistently entertaining superhero book on the market (which isn’t that big of an accomplishment, I suppose, when you only crank out an issue about every two months or so). This time around, I have to say that I’m not sure that the wait was necessarily justified.
When last The Ultimates shipped, the issue closed with the promise of the long-awaited throw-down between Giant Man and Captain America, a fight that came hot on the heels of Steve Rogers’ discovery of Hank Pym’s abuse of his wife. This month’s issue does deliver on that promise and it plays out like one would expect, with the pugilistically (if that can even be considered a word) inclined Captain America taking the fight straight to Dr. Pym, a man that no matter how big he can grow is still just a scientist. As a fight choreographer, Bryan Hitch has repeatedly proven himself to be more than capable and this battle is no exception.
However, the fight between the two heroes doesn’t even take up the first half of the issue. Rather, once the pair is back in the custody of Nick Fury and his men, Millar switches gears and spends the rest of the issue focusing on a conversation between Betty Ross and the still-confined Bruce Banner, which is really the highlight of the issue.
Given the fact that last issue showed us in no uncertain terms exactly what The Ultimates were doing to combat the alien conspiracy, to do so again this time around would have been more than redundant. So instead, Millar opts to describe to the reader what has transpired in the interim, via Ross relating current events to the imprisoned Banner. It’s a nice effect, using the characters’ dialogue as plot exposition, but without coming off at hackneyed or ham-fisted.
The problem, in my opinion, isn’t with the issue itself, so much as it is with the effect that the delays cause. If The Ultimates shipped every month, like it was supposed to, an issue like this would stand out as a nice, character-driven piece before a climactic battle (Bendis does this pretty frequently in Ultimate Spider-Man, for example, and Millar himself has done it on occasion in Ultimate X-Men). However, since the appearance of this book on the shelf has taken on the quality of a rare treat, something to be looked forward to and savored (since it’s the only taste of it that you’ll get for several months), it’s sort of a let-down to finally get another issue and basically have nothing substantial happen in it. Sure, there’s the fight between Cap and Giant Man, but it’s over almost before it’s begun and then we’re left with talking heads for the rest of the issue.
In the end, it’s still a good book and a solid issue. It’s just that I think I’d appreciate moments like these more if I wasn’t so eagerly anticipating each issue’s release.
I can’t say it enough times: this is exactly the sort of thing that I wish Marvel would spend more time publishing. They certainly should’ve devoted more time to promoting it, because I haven’t seen a more worthy project from them in quite a while.
Last time, Sturm’s re-imagining of Marvel’s first family focused on Sue Storm. Therein, the more idyllic, adventurous life that she’s been known to live in the Marvel Universe was contrasted sharply by the harsh reality of the 1950s, complete with sexual repression and societal oppression. It ended sadly, with the famous team’s matriarch feeling like more than a bit of a failure, particularly in regards to the job that she had done raising her brother, Johnny.
This month’s issue follows the next logical step, not only centering on the teen angst-ridden Johnny, but also dealing with the culture of rage and rebellion that manifested amongst the youth of that era. Specifically, the issue introduces the followers of the Beat Generation authors (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, et. al.) and Johnny’s reaction to their wild, uninhibited style of life.
And it completely works. I was just…well, enthralled, once again.
I find it increasingly hard to summarize plot details of this book, because frankly, there aren’t a lot of them. This issue, for example, doesn’t have a real cut-and-dry conflict; it’s all internal, mostly in Johnny himself, though it is filtered through the perspective of his worshipful best friend (whose obsession with Johnny borders on the homoerotic). The man that we know better as the Human Torch, a character who practically exudes self-confidence, is instead portrayed as a confused, directionless teenager, lashing out at his upbringing and place in the world.
If any complaint could be made about this book, it’s that the use of the superhero versions of the characters’ powers as metaphors for their personalities is a bit heavy-handed. Last issue, the fact that Sue Storm feels unnoticed was a bit too overt. Yes, I understand that she’s a different form of “Invisible Woman.” I got it on my own; I don’t need to be beaten over the head with it. This issue Johnny’s temperament is clearly the parallel to his Marvel Universe version. The problem is that Johnny Storm’s power was always used as a stand-in for his disposition and lack of restraint, so there’s really nothing new being brought to the table by showing that he’s a fiery-tempered teenager; that’s just typical for his age.
That having been said, I’m still eagerly awaiting the conclusion of the mini-series in a couple weeks. Given the fact that I bought this book based solely on loyalty to James Sturm and expected very little more than a poor man’s Elseworlds version of the FF, I would call it an unqualified success, as it’s turned out to be so much more than its solicitation led me to believe.