Monday, 1 July 2013

Batman Year Two: Fear the Reaper, Superman, The Black Ring: Volume 2 reviews

Batman Year Two: Fear the Reaper

I realise I don't have the worst life in the world, that there's probably some poor sod in the third world eking out a single meal to feed his family today, and if the worst thing that happened to me today is that I read a bad Batman book, it's still streets ahead of what that guy's going through - but Batman Year Two: Fear the Reaper makes you feel worse than that guy while you're reading it. It's a book so bad you lose perspective on everything and start howling out your frustration at the injustices of the world far more effectively than any infomercial showing stick thin children with bugs crawling over their open eyes and swollen bellies could ever hope to accomplish.

This is going to painful to write because if I were less in control, that is if I still had this book to read, I might just record myself throwing up and post that as the review for Year Two - and it would get across my point far more clearly than this review would otherwise - but here goes nothing. And it's a big nothing - Year Two is about the world's crappiest villain called the Reaper. He's clothed in a red gimp outfit, a black cloak, and wears a silver skull mask, minus the jaw. His hands though are what kills me - giant question mark-sized scythes protrude from balled spikes in which house twin handguns. I had to go online immediately to see if Rob Liefeld had designed the Reaper, it was that outrageous - but no, this particularly insane creation was dreamt up by Mike Barr and Alan Davis.

The Reaper aka Judson Caspian (say that name out loud - Judson! Incredible) is also a geriatric. He's ancient! This old guy dresses up like Poe's Red Death but with ridiculously unwieldy blades for hands and heads out into the city's red light district to carve up prostitutes, Ripper-style baby! And he also thinks Batman, who, this being Year Two, is still green around the ears, is his protegé and will replace him when he's gone. He is a godawful villain. His 2 page origin is laughable, his appearance screams 90s chic, and every single aspect of him is cringeworthy.

Oh and he has the most hilarious catchphrase ever. Every single time he shows up he says some rubbish and then says "Have you learned yet to Fear..the Reaper?" That phrase "Fear... the Reaper" is done the same way every time with the ellipses following the word fear. Every. Single. Time.

Batman meanwhile has fallen in love with Judson's daughter in the most forced romance you'll ever read - I forget her name and everything about her because I kept being distracted by her mom hair. Seriously if you were a kid in the early 90s you'll recognise your mom or your schoolteacher or at least a couple of women who had the same look as Bruce's sweetheart in this book. Oh and Batman is also using guns in this book. Yeah. I can sort of forgive him because you could argue it's early in his career and he's not totally forsworn against guns - even though, duh, he should be! - but it's still a terrible choice by Barr and co.

While Batman fights the Reaper, there's a pitiful subplot about Joe Chill and Batman facing Joe for killing his parents, and then when Joe gets offed, we get his son and his grandson going after Batman and oh god make it stop!

I was having such a hard time getting through this crap that I had to look up what Mike Barr looked like so I could visualise my hatred of him. Then I dozed off for half an hour and during that nap I imagined Mike Barr with Year Two books for hands coming after me like the Reaper does after Batman, saying "Have you learned to Fear...My Crappy Book?". Oh yes. The one thing you will learn to fear when reading this is picking it up to keep reading.

It's not just that it's filled with bad characters, a contrived plot, stupid dialogue, crap writing/art and forgettable scenes - it has all of that but it's unlike other bad Batman books in the sense that those things aren't the reason why it's so bad. No, this book is crushingly BORING. It's so, so boring, that's what makes reading this such a chore. Every single thing that happens makes you shrug, "so... what.".

It's amazing how much of a polar opposite Year Two is compared to Year One. Year One is a masterpiece, Year Two is utter garbage. Seriously, if you see this on the shelf, flip it off and move on.

Batman: Year 2: Year Two - Fear the Reaper


Superman, The Black Ring Volume 2

This is the second and final part of Lex Luthor's mini-series, The Black Ring, where he hunts down the energy sources that power the Black Lantern's Black Rings (see Blackest Night - yup, Geoff Johns sure is imaginative in his naming of things). And he finds them of course, and finally Superman shows up too (he's been absent for this entire run). But is the mini-series worth reading? Meh. It's got its moments but its really overlong and kinda pointless, telling us what we already know about Lex and Superman's relationship.

There's a storyline where Vandal Savage is trying to do something with Lex regarding his happiness which didn't make much sense and was very tedious but then things got good when Darkseid showed up. I should mention that this isn't a very linear story, at least in this volume - the story kind of jumps around a lot before settling into the whole Black Ring plot, and one of those jumps lands us in the past where we find out Lex Luthor in his early 20s was Darkseid's apprentice in Apokolips! This sequence feels very much in keeping with Lex's character where his ego leads him to challenging Darkseid despite being basically just a human - super intelligent but still mortal - and Darkseid is a super-powerful god! But the two characters have some great exchanges that were fun to read.

Then we're on a who's who of villains in the DCU with Lex working with Ra's Al-Ghul and learning stuff from him before having a sit down with Joker in Arkham Asylum and a fight with Larfleeze, an Orange Lantern, and Brainiac. All of which is to say that despite it's rambling plot that it's never really boring even though I kind of have a hard time believing Lex outsmarted Brainiac (a cerebral version of "who's faster, Superman or the Flash?"). I suppose it had to be Lex because this is his story - but really?

The final part where Lex basically becomes God and Superman shows up felt a bit tacky. I like to believe Lex is a more multi-faceted character than someone who mindlessly wants to destroy Superman, even though that's been his character for so long. It just seems kinda lame, y'know? That's why this part felt a bit dull, a bit un-ambitious in terms of ideas, and more of a standard Lex/Superman scene despite Lex being in a unique position and perhaps doing something more interesting.

The Black Ring isn't a must-read mini-series even if you're a fan of Lex as it's mostly quite uneven, some parts being fun, some parts being boring, and Pete Woods' artwork isn't particularly special - but generally, it's a decent read with enough in it to keep it from being a total waste of time. Paul Cornell's mostly a good writer and he does DC spinoffs really well (check out Knight and Squire if you can, that book is a hoot!) but The Black Ring is one of his less impressive efforts.

Superman The Black Ring Volume 2

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