THIS WEEK: The DC Round-Up team — Cori McCreery, Joe Grunenwald, and Zack Quaintance — convenes for a roundtable discussion about Batman – City of Madness #1 and Wesley Dodds: The Sandman #1.

Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bolded recommendations without our discussion for our final verdicts.

Batman - City of Madness #1Batman City of Madness #1

Writer/Artist: Christian Ward
Letterer: Hassan Ostmane-Elhaou

ZACK: Hello everyone, and welcome to this month’s DC Round-Up Roundtable! Proving yet again we still haven’t found a better name for these that doesn’t use ‘round’ twice. Anyway, let’s get right to it. What did you all think of Batman – City of Madness #1 by Christian Ward, with letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou?

CORI: Well first of all, goddamn this is a fucking gorgeous book. I knew it would be with Ward, but I was absolutely blown away by the level of beauty in it. 

JOE: Yeah, there’s no doubt that the visuals on this book are the star of the show. Ward’s writing is solid, and I’m particularly interested in the direction he’s taking Two-Face, historically one of my favorite Bat-villains.

Batman - City of Madness

ZACK: Making Two-Face have a (potential) third personality is one of those Batman ideas that’s so good and simple, you almost can’t believe it hasn’t been done before.

CORI: I love that, and especially how he portrayed that potential third personality as being split a different way from the normal Two-Face look. Top-half/bottom-half is a cool iteration instead of right/left. Also just the way that Ward drew the scarred side of the face, just really worked for me.

JOE: It does make me wonder how he was scarred to have such a perfect horizontal split between scarred and not-scarred. Was he wearing a mask when it happened? Is he secretly Batman as well? So many questions raised in this issue.

CORI: Maybe it was just cold outside Joe, why you gotta interrogate the guy?

ZACK: Yes, well. Anyway. I was also impressed with the use of Court of Owls in this issue. I don’t know about you all, but I think there’s been a tendency to sort of over-use the court since they were introduced a little more than a decade ago now, but it really made a lot of sense in this story, I thought.

JOE: Agreed, Zack. I sort of groaned to myself when they first showed up, but their introduction is so interesting. I’ve also sort of never really felt like they had a purpose before, so having them as the guardians of some terrible evil beneath Gotham is a great addition to the lore.

ZACK: Right, it’s like give an organization with a long history another ancient thing. Works really well, in my opinion. 

JOE: Speaking of adding to the lore of existing things, I love this iteration of a villain group I’ve always thought was really stupid, the Terrible Trio. Making them a group of corrupt cops who just toss these masks on when they want to do even more horrible things is such an entertaining twist on those characters.

ZACK: I know we talked about this to open things, but I’m just paging through now and I don’t think it can be overstated — this book just looks amazing. There’s so many great splashes and page layouts. I especially like the circular layout that has the reveal of the new villain the center, and the Talon kind of operating and cowering around the edges. Absolutely fantastic stuff.

CORI: Yeah, the art on this book is just done so intentionally and with such great care, one of the best looking books I’ve seen this year. Especially Ward’s use of color throughout, something he’s really become known for. 

JOE: I was also really impressed by Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering here. Sometimes I feel like he does things to be flashy for flashy’s sake, which can distract from the reading experience for me. But everything here is just clicking perfectly visually.

ZACK: Yeah. I’m not sure whose call this was, but in the police shooting scene, there’s a newspaper headline lettered behind the action that both looks great and really makes clearer what’s happening. That was a very effective choice.

CORI: Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m with Joe. Otsmane-Elhaou often turns me off with his choices, drawing too much attention to the letters, but here he works quite well. 

Batman - City of Madness #1

ZACK: What did you all think of the new villain here? I almost hesitate to call them a villain…

JOE: Yeah, I think it’s still pretty unclear what their whole deal is (Unless you read the blurb on the back cover, which reveals more plot-wise than the entire issue does). Visually I think ‘Batman with a cthulhu face’ is a great choice, though.

CORI: It’s very clearly a Mind-Flayer Joe, jeez, it’s like you don’t even play D&D. 

JOE: I mean, you got me. I do not play D&D. Is Batman part of that?

ZACK: If you want Batman to be part of it, he can be. That’s the beauty of the game you refuse to try.

JOE: I don’t refuse. I just politely decline.

ZACK: Let’s move to verdicts for Batman – City of Madness #1…I’m a strong BUY for this book, which might be the best Batman comic I’ve read all year.

JOE: There are a lot of Batman books out there, but across the board they’ve never looked better than they do now, and the story here is compelling to boot. This is an easy BUY for me as well.

CORI: I’m a big fan of cosmic horror, and when it looks as good as it does here, who am I to buck the BUY trend?

Wesley Dodds: The Sandman #1

Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Riley Rossmo
Colorist: Ivan Plascencia
Letterer: Tom Napolitano

ZACK: Just great stuff. Let’s move on to our second book of the evening! What did we think of Wesley Dodds: The Sandman #1?

JOE: I think Robert Venditti is a severely underrated writer. His work on Superman ‘78 proved he can do classic superheroes, and here his prose captures the noir ‘40s vibe of the Sandman wonderfully. Zack, if I recall correctly you’re a Sandman Mystery Theatre fan, right?

ZACK: Oh yeah, absolutely. Those Vertigo comics are some of my all-time favorites, with just the smartest stories and incredible period ambiance. And to be honest, I thought there was no way this would capture that — it’s a very different era of comics, and those runs were long and patient — but I think this book generally does a great job of maintaining at least the spirit.

CORI: I liked Venditti’s writing here, but Sandman never has been one of my favorite JSA members. Then again, I never read Mystery Theatre so that might be part of why. I will say, that of the two books we’re talking about today, the change in art style from one to the next was more than a little jarring. I’m on record of not being the biggest fan of Riley Rossmo, and this wasn’t his worst work, but it’s still not my favorite style for superhero comics.

JOE: I was skeptical about Rossmo on this book, too, especially after disliking his Tim Drake: Robin work, but I feel like it works well here for Sandman. He’s such a weird superhero – just a guy in a trenchcoat and a gas mask – and Rossmo’s visuals aren’t quite as extreme here as they were on Robin or even Harley Quinn, so it’s a nice match, especially when you add in Ivan Plascencia’s colors.

ZACK: I definitely think it’s a good match here (though generally I’m much higher on Rossmo, I think), and it’s especially a good fit for the nightmare and dream sequences, of which I think we can expect many. My only real qualm is I’m not quite sure where this fits in with the character’s continuity, but once I just stopped trying to sort that, it wasn’t an issue.

JOE: This book also feels very new-reader-friendly, which probably accounts for the lack of continuity specificity. I could see that being the mandate post-Wes’s role in Knight Terrors, and I was a little surprised there was no mention of the Sandman case that played such a big role in that event, though pleasantly so.

CORI: I did like the harsh reality that arms dealers aren’t in it to do anything other than sell death. That was a good kick to the nuts I thought. 

ZACK: DC, if you’re reading, feel free to use “a good kick to the nuts” as a pull quote on the trade.

JOE: That whole scene with the colonel was so uncomfortable and so good. 

ZACK: Yeah, I thought it was great. Hey, do we know if there’s going to be any interconnectivity with this and these other new JSA hero starring books? That was another thing I wondered about here.

JOE: I mean, we do get another JSAer here in Rex “Hourman” Tyler. I don’t know about either of the other two books, though I think the Jay Garrick series is set in the present day so probably not with that one.

ZACK: Ah, okay, just curious. Anything else anyone wants to add before we move to verdicts?

JOE: I think I’m good. I’m way more in on this book than I expected to be. It’s a great mix of Golden Age and classic ‘90s Vertigo vibes, and I’m interested to see where it goes. This is another BUY for me.

CORI: I’m not as into the Golden Age as Joe, and I’m getting my answer in before Zack so I’m not a combo breaker, but it’s a BROWSE for me.

ZACK: Heh. I’m a BUY on this one, but certainly not as strong as on Batman: City of Madness. I’ll also add that if you haven’t checked out Sandman: Mystery Theatre, do yourself a favor and catch up with it! It’s so good.

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  1. Rossmo is an artist whose work is bad enough to make me wonder if the whole genre of comics is worth it if it produces garbage like that.

    I gave up in the middle of the Batman book. I have no idea what DC is doing anymore.

  2. So happy to see Rossmo on Sandman… his work is perfect for the characters and the era! And Vendetti captures Wes and Dian’s voices so well!

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