August 18th Double-Barrelled Review

So I’m a few weeks late, that’s a fact that will likely become the rule and not the exception. However I only have things to say that are worth saying, so play on!

Batman Beyond: Enter Grayson!
When the ‘Batman Beyond’ cartoon was announced, I instantly dismissed it on the prejudiced grounds of “shows based on legacy characters are bad concepts that don’t improve on execution”. I’ve obviously not been made privy to british crime show Taggart, but I digress. My problem was that without Bruce Wayne, the character, the means and the drive wouldn’t be there to make this ‘Beyond’ a true Batman story. Well, someone must’ve been thinking this, or decided to one-up my cynicism. Batman Beyond has a Bruce Wayne, and aged or not, he’s still the Batman we all know and love.

So for me the show ended up working. It’s a high-tech future Gotham with a high-tech future bat-suit, and a brilliantly cranky ex-vigilante, now senior citizen. Having Wayne so involved as the new Batman’s mentor is what makes this work, and keeps it a viable part of the bat-mythology.

The current mini-series is treading the tried path of “someone from the past makes a terrifying return”, and apart from being homicidal and knowing the Batman’s foes inside out, we are yet to get a solid clue of their identity. Dressed in a way that suggests “Hush”, the alter-ego of Wayne’s once-friend surgeon Tommy Elliot, this answer feels too easy, and given the aging involved, I have dismissed it on the grounds of “too easy”, “too reckless and frenzied” and most importantly, “too sprightly”. At each murder he leaves another villain-themed clue, this time it’s playing cards…

One question that was never answered by the tv show was the fate of Richard Grayson, aka Nightwing. Along the way we learnt about Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) and Tim Drake (Robin), we even saw a few classic villains (the Bane reveal was superb), but the first Boy Wonder was conspicuously missing – after a single reference to his code name, the comics are now answering the question, and so next month I’ll be able to regale you with just how he fits into this stark future, which feels more and more like the Gotham of old.

Ex Machina #50: Farewell, old friend
A rarity amongst my collection, Ex Machina was a dark horse recommended to me back at issue 1. Following NYC Mayor Mitchell Hundred through his years in office, Ex Machina tells of his previous short-lived career as the hero “The Great Machine”. An interesting blend of remembered heroics and political dealings has filled the 50 issues, rolling from terrorist attacks, to gay rights, to potential scandal caused by the mayor’s ability to talk to machines.

For a long time the comic didn’t touch on the topic or backstory of how Hundred’s powers were received or worked. We knew that he was at the centre of an almost supernatural explosion, and then he was powered, but that was it. This never felt like a matter of ignoring the pink elephant, but rather the story of the now was rivetting enough that the green tracery on his face was not a nagging question that required immediate answering. I like this, it gave a level of maturity and

For a long time the comic didn’t touch on the topic or backstory of how Hundred’s powers were received or worked. We knew that he was at the centre of an almost supernatural explosion, and then he was powered, but that was it. This never felt like a matter of ignoring the pink elephant, but rather the story of the now was rivetting enough that the green tracery on his face was not a nagging question that required immediate answering. I like this, it gave a level of maturity and to the book that a big “secret origins” reveal would have degraded.

The final issue leaves just as many threads open as it ties off. Hundred’s career goes in a direction long-hinted at, and his time at Gracie Manor comes to a terrible conclusion. An oft-recurring theme of Hundred finding himself in a “man vs Great Machine” dilemma as to how to save the day creates a surprising climax that was neither expected, or something I thought Vaughn would put us through, especially given the roller-coaster of excitement that the last arc has been.

I cannot recommend this book more highly. It’s old enough now that trades exist to allow a new reader to quickly gather up the required reading materials, and enjoy it. For a book that initially sounded more like an urban spin-off of the West Wing, Ex Machina stood head and shoulders above most all other books, if not for it’s tactile handling of current issues, but for the way it cast super-heroics into such a real light.

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~ by nick on September 8, 2010.

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