Batman Flounders, Richard Dragon Amuses, and Spider-Man 2 Gets Some Snarky Comments

Just a couple quick reviews and a little something “special” at the end this week.

Batman #629
DC Comics – Judd Winick (w); Dustin Nguyen (p); Richard Friend (i)

Gotham City’s criminal underworld is currently experiencing a period of upheaval the likes of which it hasn’t seen in some time, if ever. All boroughs of the city seem to be up for grabs and a large portion of Batman’s rogues gallery (in addition to some new players) seem to be making a move for at least some portion of them. The Penguin, as ruling kingpin and in an effort to further solidify his position amongst the criminal elite, hires the Scarecrow to invent a new fear formula for him. The diminutive don’s plan is simple: he’ll send his strongmen out to ostensibly collect protection money from the business under his thumb, while surreptitiously dosing those being shaken down with the new fear dust. Like he’s an Imperial Moff on the first Death Star, the Penguin feels that fear will keep the local businesses in line (good Lord…a detailed Star Wars reference in a review of a Batman comic book; how I manage to do all right with women completely escapes me some days…). However, things go awry when the Scarecrow’s assistant, a disgraced former MD, herself infatuated with the mad Dr. Crane (no, not Frasier; the Scarecrow), apparently prematurely releases another experimental fear project: the Scarebeast, a life-form comprised of the Scarecrow’s infamous chemical concoctions.

Attacking the Penguin’s summit with his captains, seemingly for revenge over the Penguin’s lack of respect for the Scarecrow, the Scarebeast goes on a rampage, killing everything in sight and moving to finish the job when Batman arrives. Taking the monstrous creation in hand-to-hand combat, Batman receives a dose of the ‘Beast’s fear gas. Discretion being the better part of valor, the Dark Knight retreats to the Batmobile, set on autopilot to return him to Wayne Manor for treatment. En route, a delirious Batman battles his own personal demons during what undoubtedly seems like the longest car ride of his life.

Not too bad of a set-up, huh?

The problem is that when the hallucinatory (and obligatory) Joker, Two-Face and Jason Todd arrive to taunt Batman for his past misdeeds, it becomes painfully obvious that Winick doesn’t have anything new to add here. Batman’s guilt over the death of the second Robin and maiming of his friend, Harvey Dent, is well-worn territory. To make matters worse, the Joker’s dialogue reads like nothing so much as the Cliff’s Notes version of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.

In a grander sense, it’s become very apparent that the entire Batman family of books is just marking time until “War Games” (this summer’s Batman crossover) starts and that’s obviously no good. It’s as if DC felt that the crossover absolutely could not start before August and went looking for filler arcs to kill time until then. Which means that this utterly insubstantial (and inconsequential) issue is just padding in a filler arc. I hate to sound biased in favor of DC (even though, honestly, I kind of am), but this is the sort of crap that I expect from Marvel, not DC.

Mark this one down, because this might be the only time I’ll ever advocate skipping a Batman book, but this is one for collectors (like me) only. Everyone else’s $2.25 could be better spent elsewhere this week. Suggestions include tossing in another $.70 and buying the new issue of Sleeper or buying that Walking Dead, Invincible, or Goon trade that you should have bought weeks ago.


Richard Dragon #2
DC Comics – Chuck Dixon (w); Scott McDaniel (p); Andy Owens (i)

OK, first thing’s first: there is just no way in hell that this book is going to last. To be fair, I feel that way about damned near everything that doesn’t feature a major franchise character these days. The comics market is just saturated with new books and until recently, Marvel had been the sole perpetrator of such from the Big Two (17 Marvel #1s in the new Previews, anyone?). However, DC seems to recently be hell-bent on playing catch-up with Marvel and has launched or is in the process of launching a whole slew of new titles. And it’s just a hard fact of the comics business that when that happens, good books with second-tier characters are going to get lost in the shuffle and cancelled before their time has come.

So just imagine what’s going to happen to a new book whose protagonist doesn’t even count as second-tier. ‘Cause that’s what’s going on with Richard Dragon.

Richard Dragon, master of more martial arts than I can count, has returned to the United States to put his expertise to good use combating a criminal alliance of his former students, the newly-dubbed Circle of Six. Previously making a living by winning illegal pit fights in East Asia, Dragon is pulled back to the side of angels by his former sensei, the Bronze Tiger. The pair arrives in the States through Bludhaven and there begin their search for the Circle’s members, tracking them by the mysterious deaths of an apparent hit squad (all the assassins were beaten or stabbed to death; despite being going heavily armed and firing indiscriminately, they apparently hit no one). In classic kung fu flick fashion, it doesn’t take long before a fight breaks out.

The first issue left me a little cold, being as it wasn’t much of an origin story (which you’d think Dixon would want to get on right away, with Dragon being a pretty damned obscure DC character), just a fight between Dragon and Bronze Tiger to decide whether or not the former student would help his old master. This issue, however, spends a bit more time fleshing out the primary player’s backstory, though not at the expense of the action that serves as the book’s main attraction. Dixon’s struck the proper balance between exposition and ass-whippings this time around and it works pretty well.

On the art side of things, this is the type of book that Scott McDaniel was born to draw. His strength has always been hyper-kinetic action sequences, busting at the seams with fluid acrobatics from the characters on the page, something that he excelled at on Nightwing (with Dixon, no less) and wasn’t ever really allowed to explore during his ill-fated and much-maligned tenure on Superman. Richard Dragon, on the other hand, is a book that practically demands McDaniel’s style of art and I’m glad someone at DC editorial recognized it (though I would suspect it was mostly Dixon’s suggestion that landed him the job).

Richard Dragon is never going to be called a “deep” or “thoughtful” book. Hell, I’m not even certain it qualifies as “good.” But what I do know is that it’s a fun title starring obscure characters in well-illustrated martial arts action. It’s short on story and high on action, but sometimes, that’s all it takes to sell me. Not everything has to be Watchmen, y’know.


“Special” Feature:
Snarky Comments About Spider-Man 2 (be forewarned: spoilers ahead)

Where the hell was that train supposed to be going in the first place? Did someone just say, “Well, we need to end this track somewhere… Hey, how’s about a hundred feet above a big stretch of open water?”

So… Peter’s powers only work when he FEELS like it? And only when he subconsciously feels like it at that?

If stopping Doc Ock was as simple as talking him out of being a supervillain, why didn’t Peter try that in the first place instead of hitting him?

Why the fuck is Peter so worried that a villain is going to attack Mary Jane because of him? The first time was a complete accident and evidently no one has targeted her in the two years that have passed between movies. Yet there he sits, wringing his hands over her safety.

Apparently Spider-Man is basically just a super-powered firefighter. 2 for 2, Spidey!

Glad to see Doc Ock hit Magneto’s garage sale when he went looking for a fusion reactor…

Doc Ock is apparently either a master detective or an utter fuck-up. Harry sends him to convince Peter to give up Spider-Man’s identity. How does Octopus get Peter’s attention? By throwing a car at him when his back’s turned. So either Octopus knows that Peter is Spider-Man (and hence, his Spider Sense will save him) or he’s trying to kill him. And neither choice makes any damned sense at all.

Was there anyone in that movie that Peter DIDN’T take his mask off for?

Like lifting scenes (and sets) from the first movie for the second wasn’t bad enough, it looks like the third flick is setting up to be a straight remake. If you didn’t know it was a Marvel production beforehand, you sure as hell do now.

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