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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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for Thursday, December 30, 2004

Commentary on Batman: War Games: Act Three

Batman 633

The war is over. Batman lost.

I had to catch myself up there. I almost wrote that the good guys lost. Which they did. Except that I can't think of Batman as the good guy right now.

WAR GAMES was a three-month-long story which ran through 24 issues of DETECTIVE COMICS, BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT, NIGHTWING, ROBIN, BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS, BATGIRL, CATWOMAN, and BATMAN. In the wake of a gangland massacre, a slaughter triggered because the Spoiler naively and imperfectly launched a "practice" scenario the Batman had dreamed up in his spare time, hundred of people, many of them innocent, were killed. Many hundreds more were injured. The property damage ran into the millions. And it was all the Batman's fault.

DC has finally convinced me that Batman is insane. He sits around dreaming up Machiavellian scenarios when he's not actively treating his allies monstrously, brutalizing criminals, endangering innocent civilians, and usurping the authority of Gotham's elected officials and police department. The Long Ranger would spit on him. Zorro would carve a "Z" on his butt. Superman should sign the commitment papers and get his friend the help he so desperately needs.

I exaggerate but slightly. At the end of these three long months, one of Batman's most vicious enemies is the unchallenged ganglord of Gotham. Two of his allies - and, of course, they are the black guy and the teenage girl - are dead. The police have orders to arrest costumed vigilantes and use deadly force if said vigilantes resist arrest. One of Batman's sidekicks gets shot and another loses her base of operations.

Gotham City is far worse off at the end of WAR GAMES than it was at the start of the spirit-crushing serial. Equally appalling, the story ends with Batman either deluding himself into thinking he's won some sort of victory or not realizing how badly he's blown it. I suppose that's the hook for the issues to come.

As I wrote in my previous "Tony's Tips" column [December 13], I had modest hopes for WAR GAMES. But the most shocking revelation of the story's opening act was one I had hoped was a feint. Batman was responsible for this new Gotham tragedy and the only surprises of the second and third acts were how long it took him to figure it out and how bad he let things get.

I don't deny there were good moments in the third act. Most of the covers were excellent, though I groaned at Jae Lee's trite "Pieta" riff for GOTHAM KNIGHTS #58. I was impressed by writers Andersen Gabrych (DETECTIVE), Bill Willingham (ROBIN, and, to less extent, BATMAN), and Ed Brubaker (CATWOMAN). The transformation of television reporter Arturo Rodriguez from Bat-booster to naysayer was convincing, as were the political and tactical situations which faced police commissioner Michael Akins. The scenes in which Tim Drake realizes what purpose his Robin role truly serves and takes a break with his father. The utter villainy of the new crime lord. Batman's too-fleeting moment of humanity when he visits a mortally injured ally. Visually, there was outstanding art by Pete Woods and Cam Smith (on DETECTIVE COMICS), Sean Phillips (NIGHTWING), Thomas Derenick and Robert Campanella (ROBIN), and Paul Gulacy and Jimmy Palmiotti (CATWOMAN).

Unfortunately, even the best writing and art couldn't overcome the core flaws of WAR GAMES. The writers and editors made Batman so thoroughly unlikeable in this series that, when he was trapped in a building with hundreds of gangsters, I didn't care whether he lived or died.

Costumed and metahuman villains entered the fray with little or no introduction. The stature of these villains was diminished because the stories called for them to be defeated in a matter of pages and sometimes panels. Why should we be concerned about them when they make their inevitable returns?

Then there's the question I posed in that previous column and to which I must now return: do we really need more comics about our favorite heroes behaving badly and causing disasters? My answer is the same as it was then. I don't.

Instead of rating these comic books individually, I'm lumping together all 25 issues - which includes the prologue in BATMAN: THE 12-CENT ADVENTURE #1 - into one cumulative score.

BATMAN: WAR GAMES gets a shameful two out of five Tonys. You readers can do so much better and the same can and must be said for DC in general and the Batman office in specific.

Tony Tony



There was a time when, if asked to name my favorite comic-book character, I would say it was Batman. Prior to that, I would have named Spider-Man, but, good as some of Stan Lee's successors were, their handling of the wall-crawler never engaged me the way Stan's (and Steve Ditko's and John Romita's) stories did.

Batman has certainly had his share of mediocre writers during his existence, but there was never a year in which I could not find several outstanding Batman adventures. That's part of what makes him such a classic comics character.

I started losing interest in the current Batman comics prior to the stories in which Gotham City was destroyed by an earthquake. I've read the various Bat-titles sporadically since then, but never in a sustained manner.

WAR GAMES has changed least temporarily. I read the eight involved titles for three months in a row and am catching up on those issues released since the event concluded. Along the way, I read BATMAN: BROKEN CITY [reviewed here on August 3], BATMAN: WAR DRUMS [October 12], and BATMAN: HUSH [look for the review sometime in January]. I'm not sure if/when I'll be reviewing these ongoing titles, but I want to see how long I can stay with them this time around. I honestly couldn't tell you why; it's not as if I think today's DC is likely to consistently deliver a Batman I would enjoy reading about, that is to say, one who isn't a dick. Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment.

Aside. You won't see reviews of Batman comics written by Judd Winick here. I recognize that readers could legitimately question my objectivity when it comes to Winick's work, so I've chosen not to review it. End of first aside.

Aside. There have been many excellent Spider-Man comic books not written by Stan Lee. They just don't give me the same zing I used to get from Stan's scripts. End of second aside.

Swinging back around to the start of this "Addendum" section, if you asked me today to name my favorite comics character, I would answer Jeff "Black Lightning" Pierce. Oddly enough, I didn't fully realize that until I started working on Jeff's second series in the 1990s. Pity that run and the chance for the character to reach his full potential was cut short. Perhaps one day I'll get the chance to pick up the pieces and try again.

I'm sure we'll be talking about Batman, Black Lightning, and Spider-Man in the new year, but that's it for now.

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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