June 30, 2011

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What I'd Do with a DC Reboot (A Review of Batman King Tut's Tomb)

Written by Nunzio DeFilippis, J. M. DeMatteis, and Gerry Conway
Illustrated by Jose Garcia-Lopez and others
DC

I admit that I have been extremely disappointed at the news coming out of the DC kinda-sorta reboot. Most notably, I'm bothered by the fact that the stories aren't even going to be significantly altered, except in places where the story is so broken as to need repair.

While some titles might be user-friendly, such as the new JLA title, most seem to be lost in strange quasi-status quo where Tim Drake was always associated with Batman but now he's not. Is a new reader going to care? It seems more complex than it needs to be.

Anyway, it got me thinking about what I might do if I were telling stories in the new DC Universe, or at least asking for stories from my writers. And the answer is, what I would do looks an awful lot like this set of three issues from Batman Confidential.

We start with a newbie-friendly plot: Someone is using an Egyptian theme to carry out their crimes and those crimes come with riddles attached. Who uses riddles as their MO? The Riddler, of course! Is he behind this new crime wave? Or will Batman need to team up with a member of his rogue's gallery to catch a new killer on the loose? Which is better, the devil you know or the devil you don't? The answer might just kill the Caped Crusader!

What does it take to be able to enjoy this story? Not a lot. You need to know Batman. You need to know the Riddler likes riddles, but if you don't know that, it's in the story for you. Might help to understand the basics of Arkham Asylum and Batman's relationship with the police, but again, it's not crucial. This is an entry level story that gives a casual fan exactly what they need. I can hand this one to my mother and she'll be right on board. I could give it to a friend who wants to see what a superhero comic is, and they'll be able to see it in action, with no baggage.

That doesn't mean the story is bad or simplistic, either. The plot takes several twists and turns and leads Batman on a merry chase, where even his detective skills are found to be lacking. Bats must fight and think his way through the story and make choices he'd rather avoid in order to bring the killer to justice. This is a very good Batman story, if you like your Batman as a thinker and a brawler, not just the latter. We rarely see that these days, and it was nice to have a modern story showing Batman is not just a great fighter, he's also the Dark Knight Detective.

Also, while this story was about as all-ages as a Batman tale gets these days outside of the Brave and the Bold, there's no shortage of death or violence, including a person getting their eyes gouged out. The big difference here is that it's tastefully done, makes sense within the context of the story, and does not leave the reader questioning whether the parties involved in the making of the comic should be evaluated for anti-social tendencies.

This latter attribute is due in no small part to the presence of legendary artist Jose Garcia-Lopez, who draws the hell out of this comic. Garcia-Lopez puts on a clinic here, from page layouts to little details, like the look on Riddler's face as he has what is arguably the adventure of a lifetime or Batman's puzzlement at being alive by the end of the story. It's these small details that so many modern superhero artists are lacking these days, in among the splash pages and explosions and desire to shock with piles and piles of gore.

Of course, this is exactly the type of comic Dan Didio and Geoff Johns don't like to write, as they prefer to play with toys with long, complicated continuity. That's fine for people who have a stake in these old ideas, but it's not the way to grow an audience. This comic collection is, because it even throws in some old Garcia-Lopez one-shot stories that show off his art chops.

So yeah, if I were running DC post-reboot, I'd be asking for at least half of the many, many Batman comics to look like this one, while still doing some heavy-continuity stories for those who like that sort of thing. There's room for both, but I don't see how messing with continuity while keeping it there makes either casual fans or hard-core comic collectors happy.

But hey, I don't get the big bucks, so what do I know? I know that this collection is pretty cool, and I highly recommend it for fans of Batman, Riddler, Garcia-Lopez, and good storytelling. This is the best Batman story I've read in a good, long time. It's a shame it looks like we won't be seeing anything like this anytime soon from DC.