Comic Review: Batman: War Games: Book Two

Published: 2004-2005
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 628 Pages

Review:

While this does read better than the first volume in this two part epic series, it is still kind of a mess in that it jumps all over the place and doesn’t seem to follow any sort of logical narrative path. In short, it’s hard to follow and it’s not all that exciting to begin with.

I’m not sure why some people have made a big deal about the War Games epic. Sure, most of the art is solid and I mostly like the parts written by Ed Brubaker but this is such a mixed bag as a total package that the low points and drastically different art styles just pull you right out of the story.

This is overloaded with characters, which typically isn’t a bad thing for a large Batman story. However, this reads more like a massive DC mega event in that it’s so overloaded that there isn’t anything that one can fully connect to. Even if you’re interested in a certain plot thread, sometimes you get distracted for a really long period of time before coming back to it.

This was pretty poorly organized and executed.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Batman stories of the late ’90s and early ’00s.

Comic Review: The Death of Captain America, Vol. 1: The Death of the Dream

Published: June 11th, 2008
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Steve Epting, Mike Perkins

Marvel Comics, 161 Pages

Review:

I was excited to read this after having recently read Ed Brubaker’s first three volumes in his Captain America run, as well as revisiting the Civil War event.

This story takes place immediately after Civil War and in the first issue of this collection, we see Cap arrive at the courthouse to stand trial only for him to be assassinated on the steps before entering.

What follows is a political thriller with a lot of twists, turns and curveballs. This story is also used to setup Bucky Barnes a.k.a. Winter Solider as the new gun-toting Captain America. While he doesn’t become the new Cap yet, this is the start of that interesting journey and intriguing era for the character.

The death of Cap happens so quick and once you get past that, this deals with the fallout from it and how it effects certain characters while also slowly revealing that something is very complicated with one of them. I don’t want to say too much for risk of spoiling a major plot twist.

I thought that this was pretty good but it doesn’t have a definitive ending. It’s left open ended, as this is the first of several parts collecting the larger saga around Cap’s death and Bucky’s evolution into the role of Cap’s replacement.

Brubaker once again wrote a compelling and interesting story with superb art by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run.

Comic Review: Captain America: Red Menace

Published: June 15th, 2011
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Steve Epting, Marcos Martin, Mike Perkins, Javier Pulido

Marvel Comics, 211 Pages

Review:

Ed Brubaker’s Winter Soldier story was damn solid. This immediate followup to it was even better. But sadly, this is all leading to the following story, the famous and divisive Death of Captain America.

In recent years, I’ve really liked the character of Sin, who is Red Skull’s daughter. This serves as her origin story and shows how her father viewed her, treated her and eventually, how Crossbones came along and broke her, bringing her closer to her destiny as Red Skull’s heir.

This also builds off of the Winter Soldier story, as we see Captain America still trying to reach out to his best friend and bring him back over to the light, fully.

Additionally, we get to see a strange version of Red Skull, who is emerging in a fairly intriguing way, setting up future stories.

This also teams Cap up with Union Jack and Spitfire, calling back to the Invaders, Cap’s team from World War II.

Overall, this is a great comic that is more political thriller than what superhero comics tend to be. It actually reminds me a lot of the tone of the Captain America: Winter Soldier film from 2014.

Ed Brubaker is a fantastic writer, as can be seen from my reviews of a lot of his work. He was stupendous in his handling of the Captain America title and this collection is no different. In fact, I consider it a high point and I look forward to continuing on beyond this, as I remember liking the series even after Cap died.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run.

Vids I Dig 190: Comic Tropes: ‘Criminal’: How Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips Tackle Noir

From Comic Tropes’ YouTube description: Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips formed one of my personal favorite creative teams in comics. Since 2006, they’ve been releasing crime stories in their series Criminal. This video looks at their partnership and the noir tropes they utilize to make their comics.

Comic Review: Gotham Central – Book One: In the Line of Duty

Published: March 15th, 2011
Written by: Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka
Art by: Michael Lark

DC Comics, 241 Pages

Review:

Gotham Central is a comic book series that I have heard nothing but praise for since it started back in 2002. I never read it but I have now read a lot of Ed Brubaker’s crime comics, as well as Greg Rucka’s Stumptown, which has a similar tone and style.

Since I am a fan of both writers’ crime stuff, as well as a Batman fan, I figured that giving this a read was long overdue.

What’s cool about Gotham Central is that it primarily focuses on the police officers on the Gotham City Police Department with very little involvement from Batman. Hell, this first collection doesn’t even feature Commissioner Gordon. I’m not sure if he comes back to the fold by the end of this series but so far, no Gordon in the GCPD.

While Brubaker and Rucka get this series started with a bang, Brubaker stepped away after the first arc, giving Rucka control of the series’ narrative.

There are two big tales in this. The first being about the GCPD trying to take down Mr. Freeze without the aid of Batman, the second being about Renee Montoya’s being forced out of the closet and into a murder frame up plot by Two-Face.

I actually didn’t realize that this was the series where Montoya was first depicted as a lesbian. I actually thought it was before this but having never read that story, it was handled pretty well and I liked the way it played out, why she was outed to her colleagues and family and then how it all came to a head in a surprising and twisted way.

This was pretty good top to bottom. I don’t know if I’m as enthused about it as many others were but I at least want to read the second volume to see how this series plays out over a larger sample size.

While it deals with some heavy shit for a standard DC comic book, I wouldn’t say that it gets as dark and messed up as Brubaker’s other crime stories. I’d say this is actually closer in tone to Rucka’s Stumptown series.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other three books in the Gotham Central series, as well as Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s own crime comics.

Comic Review: Criminal, Vol. 1: Coward

Published: January 28th, 2015
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Val Staples

Marvel Comics, Image Comics (reprint), 143 Pages

Review:

I’ve read a lot of Ed Brubaker’s crime comics up to this point but I still hadn’t picked up an issue or trade paperback of Criminal. So what better place to start than the first collected volume?

The story pretty much starts off with a bang and gives a lot of insight into the main character, his background and his personal motivations. It doesn’t take long before he is roped into a heist, which brings in a bunch of unsavory characters.

Like most crime stories with a noir flavor, there are twists and swerves.

Up until the heist, I wasn’t sold on this story. It started out okay but it doesn’t really come alive until the heist pops off and turns into an absolute clusterfuck full of rules being broken and double crosses.

It’s the heist itself and everything that happens after that makes this story so great. The first act was merely used for setup but once you get to the end of that act, everything goes high octane and then the characters develop quite beautifully.

The second and third acts are superb, mainly because the story veers into a direction you don’t expect and because Brubaker did such a stupendous job at making you care about the two main people in the story.

The danger feels real and the stakes are incredibly high and if this is how Criminal starts, I can’t wait to read the other stories in this neo-noir, crime anthology.

I loved this book and a lot of the credit also has to go to the fabulous art of Sean Phillips, who is always the perfect creative partner for Brubaker’s crime tales.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other volumes in the Criminal anthology series, as well as other crime comics by Ed Brubaker.

Comic Review: Scene of the Crime

Published: 1999
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Michael Lark, Sean Phillips

Vertigo Comics, Image Comics (reprint), 132 Pages

Review:

I’ve been catching up on a lot of Ed Burbaker’s crime comics because I missed a lot of the old ones and because it is the month of Noirvember.

Scene of the Crime was the comic that put him on the map. It led to him working on Gotham Central and also paved the way for his future crime comics like Criminal, Kill Or Be Killed, The Fade Out and Fatale, just to name a few.

This one was highly regarded at the time that it came out and while it is pretty good, it isn’t my favorite of the Brubaker lot.

I can see how he developed his style here and it is a good, solid and competent story but it didn’t capture my attention like The Fade Out or Kill Or Be Killed did.

At its core, this is a noir tale set in contemporary times that sees a young private detective try to locate a girl that’s gone missing. However, he finds her fairly quickly, she’s then killed and we’re then treated to a pretty grandiose mystery story with lots of layers and twists.

This is a really dark tale but fans of Brubaker’s crime work shouldn’t expect anything different. I can’t go into more detail without feeling like I’d spoil too much but this is a pretty decent read with solid art by Brubaker’s top collaborators Michael Lark and Sean Phillips.

Despite this not being my favorite, it is still a good comic miniseries and a solid tale in the crime and noir genres.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Ed Brubaker’s other crime comics.

Comic Review: Kill Or Be Killed

Published: 2016-2018
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Image Comics, 582 Pages

Review:

I have yet to steer myself wrong with Ed Brubaker’s crime comics. And like most of the others, this one has a very strong noir vibe to it.

This seems to have more in common with Fatale than The Fade Out, as it has some supernatural elements in it. Or what one initially presumes is supernatural. In the end, it’s not really clear but that’s kind of what’s cool about this twenty issue comic book series.

First of all, the series’ vigilante “hero” has some serious mental health issues. In fact, the demon he sees could very well be a figment of his imagination.

But there is a demon here and whether or not he’s real kind of doesn’t matter. The demon claims to have saved Dylan from a suicide attempt and in return, tells Dylan that he has to pay his debt by taking the life or a terrible person, once a month. Otherwise, he will become deathly ill and die.

Dylan is obviously resistant to this but ultimately, gets really damn good at it. So in a way, this is kind of like a combination of Death Note and The Punisher. But it still feels wholly original, even if it feels like it was strongly influenced by both of those things.

My only real issue with the series is that the conclusion felt kind of abrupt. As if this was supposed to go on beyond twenty issues but Brubaker decided to move on to other projects. And I can’t really call the ending a satisfying one.

But what really captivated me more than the story, was the creative team. Every time Brubaker works with Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser, we are guaranteed a comic series that works on every level.

While not my favorite comic from this team, it is still a damn good one and my eyes were glued to every page.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other crime comics by Ed Brubaker.

Comic Review: The Fade Out

Published: 2015
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Image Comics, 327 Pages

Review:

Several months back, I read the Fatale series by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser. I thought it was cool as hell and I loved the noir meets Lovecraftian vibe. So I wanted to give this a read, as it seemed to be more straight noir without the horror and supernatural elements.

And honestly, I love classic film-noir and wish there were more noir comics in modern times.

This was, hands down, one of the best modern comics I’ve ever read. I’d definitely call this a classic and it just hit all the right notes for me. In fact, overall, I liked it more than the stupendous Fatale.

Brubaker is a master of his craft, especially in regards to the crime genre. The Fade Out is no different but it has an extra layer of awesomeness in that it is a period piece, set in Hollywood in the era of classic film-noir.

This truly is noir but it’s also a dark showbiz story, which usually is a great mix. With Brubaker’s writing talent, he weaved a well structured, multi-layered mystery that just knocks it out of the park.

Additionally, Sean Phillips, Brubaker’s go-to guy crafted some stellar art for this book but his work is always a perfect compliment to Brubaker’s narrative style.

On top of that, Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colors give this even more life and after reading this and the Fatale series, I’d say that she is my favorite colorist that works with Phillips. Honestly, Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser are one of my favorite creative teams, hands down.

The Fade Out is damn near perfect. While it may not appeal to comic book readers who stick to primarily superhero and sci-fi stuff, it is a great example of how the comic book medium can be used outside of what it’s mostly known for by today’s audiences.

This really is a solid callback to the crime comics of yore but even then, it’s better than most of those ever were.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other noir-esque crime comics by Ed Brubaker.

Comic Review: Captain America: Winter Soldier, Vol. 2

Published: October 11th, 2006
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Steve Epting, Michael Lark, Mike Perkins

Marvel Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

This was a pretty good second half to the original Winter Soldier story. I liked the first half a bit more though. But I think that’s because reading this lacked tension, as I knew that Winter Soldier was actually Bucky and that he’d come around and start to see the light.

That lack of tension is my fault for taking so long to read this story. It’s certainly not Brubaker’s fault and I’m sure this was tense as hell for those that read it for the first time in 2006 without any knowledge of the Winter Soldier character.

I like that Brubaker does spend a good amount of time flashbacking to World War II and the Invaders era. The context was nice and the parallels between Cap and Bucky’s lives then and now was well done.

This story also adds in Falcon and Iron Man, which obviously influenced the MCU films that saw these two characters chime in on Cap’s relationship with Winter Soldier.

Like the previous volume, the art was really good and Brubaker truly benefits from having solid artists on his Captain America books, as they definitely enhance the atmosphere and tone of the plot in the right way.

For Cap fans who haven’t read the Brubaker run, you’re doing yourselves a disservice. Hell, for fans of just the movies, this is definitely worth checking out just to understand the depth of these characters’ bond.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run.