Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdicts.
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Riccardo Federici
Colorist: Chris Sotomayer
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Cover: Ben Oliver
And thus, the finale of James Tynion’s Batman era begins, as we have reached the opening salvo of Fear State. I think the idea behind this event is a fantastic one, with Scarecrow actually getting the chance to really come into his own as a villain, and to do so without the need for fear gas, but instead just psychological manipulation is inspired.
One thing I am caught wondering though after reading Batman – Fear State Alpha, is just how much synergy there is between HBO Max and the DC Comics office right now, because while Tynion has made it clear that this arc has been in the works for a good while on his end, that lead time also matches up pretty nicely with season three of Titans, which is also featuring a Scarecrow driven plotline and also introduces a character named Molly into the world of Gotham City. Now, these could be coincidences, but I would love to hear that the two offices are working that closely in sync and not really expecting either to play reactionary.
I’ve started to liken the Tynion-driven Bat-office to the Hickman-driven X-office and as both are now stepping away from those roles, it feels that the comparison has just gotten more apt. It feels like both creators have set the lines up for continued success with or without them at the helm, and that’s a good feeling for two of the most important franchises in comics.
In that respect, Fear State really feels like it’s paying off multiple ongoing storylines through multiple titles, much like last year’s X of Swords did for the X-line. It’s tying things together from Batman and Detective, it’s playing with stories that got page time in Urban Legends, it’s advancing plots that started as backups in the main books. It’s bringing in all the ancillary titles in a way that feels more natural than most of the recent Bat-events.
One of the stories that is most intriguing doesn’t belong to Batman or Crane, but to the Batgirls. Oracle losing control of her system is something we’ve seen before of course, it was recently done in Batgirl after all, but this time feels smarter and more calculated. Using Oracle to sow even more fear is an ingenious idea and one that could be used to great advantage here.
The sheer number of storylines that are all coming together throughout this single event is actually incredible. It’s naturally bringing the Harley Quinn and Catwoman stories together for example, in a way that utilizes the main Batman plot as well. And clearly, it’s setting up I Am Batman extremely effectively.
I absolutely loved Chris Sotomayer’s colors throughout Batman – Fear State Alpha #1, especially when he bathes Simon Saint in warm reds and oranges, it is a stark contrast to the normal cool colors we associate with Gotham City, and thus makes him seem more diabolical and sinister in comparison. The colors really work in concert with Federici’s really tight pencils to really make this feel realistic and drive home some of the tension that is ramping up throughout Gotham City.
In the opening salvo to his last hurrah with the Dark Knight, James Tynion continues to deliver every step of the way.
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artists: Francesco Francavilla (story one) and Paul Pelletier (story two)
Inker: Mick Gray (story two)
Colorist: Hi-Fi (story two)
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Batman / Superman Annual 2021 #1 essentially serves as an epilogue for the recently-concluded run on this title by writer Gene Luen Yang, artist Ivan Reis, and the rest of their team. In that six issue arc, Batman and Superman live on two separate earths — much as they seemed to do during the Golden Age of comics. To further the homage to that time, the earth’s are a bit anachronistic, and each of the titular characters bear resemblances to the bygone characters they were during their first appearances.
The proper arc for the book served up an adventure where the two earths sort of collided, slamming the leads together and having them team up against a multiversal foe, an archivist named Auteur.io. It was all really well done, and now we get a coda with this annual, which is essentially two distinct comics with a single overlap point. In these separate comics, the two characters — you guessed it! — switch earths.
First and foremost, it’s really a credit to this book that it’s able to do that without feeling at all played out. Part of this, I think, is that that superhero story convention has become dated to the point that I can’t remember the last time a modern superhero book went to that well. When I picked up on the structure of this annual, it was almost like seeing an old friend, a superhero concept I was familiar with and also didn’t realize that somewhere deep down I missed.
The second reason this book transcends its setup is that aforementioned overlap point. It occupies I believe a pair of spreads in this comic, but it really serves to elevate the whole affair. See, DC Comics is currently going through some serious experimentation with its multiverse. The company’s long-time leadership recently underwent a serious pruning, with new faces coming in and some long-time talent that had been in mid-tier editorial roles being elevated. For readers, it has felt like that old regime took quite a bit of editorial restraint with it, enabling new use of the multiverse as well as the ability for creators to dive into and draw from past eras.
This book does all of that, and it does it exceedingly well, armed as it is with one of the best creators in all of comics — Yang — and a pair of capable artists, with Francavilla’s work on the first half Superman story standing out as exceptional. In the end, I’m fairly confident that any reader who enjoyed the full story arc of this book will also enjoy this little epilogue. But you know what? I think this one stands alone pretty darn well too, earning it my highest recommendation.
- Infinite Frontier #5 continues to play with the multiverse in an extremely fun and interesting way, better than any book really has since <em>Multiversity.</em> The idea that Darkseid has recruited his own dark reflection of the Justice Incarnate is clever and bringing the 90s version of Fate into is phenomenal. Never thought I’d see that guy again. –CM
- The other major release this week was the Aquaman 80th Anniversary Spectacular, the latest in what has now become a robust line of 80th birthday celebrations for DC Comics characters. The vast majority of these books have been strong, and this one is no exception, covering a pretty wide swatch of the character’s long mythos. The creators DC has brought on to celebrate Aquaman are an apt and interesting bunch, ranging from folks who will be taking over this character in the near future to established names who have previously had long Aquaman runs. What I especially appreciated about this volume was that it used the static pin-up artwork placed between chapters to give us some of the Aqua-family’s history, including real names and the dates/issues of first appearances. It’s a small touch, but it goes a long way toward really making this feel like a true celebration of this comic and these characters. Kudos! –ZQ
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