Over on the Twitter, we're posting reviews of new issues. The idea is that the review has to fit into one screenshot of our phones and that screenshot is the review that gets posted. It's a fun way to approach single-issue reviews. You can follow us on Twitter (@FromCovToCov) to see them when they're posted and we'll be posting them here as well!
Here's what we have this week:
- Batman #125
- Hellboy and the BPRD: Old Man Whittier
Click on the header link of each review to see more preview art from the book.
A: When the cover proclaims, ”A New Era Begins!”
Batman #125 ends up feeling less like that promised new beginning and more like business as usual as Chip Zdarsky and Jorge Jimenez set up another puzzle box for Batman to solve. This time it’s his own innocence after a nurse walks into a hospital room to witness Batman allegedly killing the Penguin. It’s hard to even define what this “era” is in this new issue other than just another issue of a monthly Batman comic. And there’s nothing wrong with that. After 80+ years, you need those kinds of things but it would be nice if Zdarsky and Jimenez at least went through the motions of having something to say about Batman, Bruce Wayne, or even Gotham City other than Gotham will easily believe that their hero can resort to murder. It’s not that this issue is bad or anything; it’s just that it’s wholly generic and lacks any inventiveness in its goals or stakes.
There is one extremely clever moment in the book that does signify the potential for more to come in this run when Bruce Wayne has time only to take off his expensive suit jacket and don his mask and utility belt. It’s easy to imagine that the outfit that Batman is fighting the Penguin in is mostly Gucci. More of that, please.
The backup story, drawn by Belén Ortega, almost makes up for the main story’s dulled efforts. It follows up the main story’s “Batman Wanted for Murder” by questioning what happens to a super-criminals evil empire after they’re dead? And the answer is charmingly common in that it becomes part of that super-criminal’s estate. Maybe it’s the lessened pressure of the backup but Zdarsky feels more playful and loose here, actually wanting to explore a unique question within Batman comics. The cleverness of the backup story just puts a spotlight on the generic and rote aspects of the main story.
Old Man Whittier is the kind of Hellboy story that the late and great Richard Corben would have drawn. Mignola gave him stories that were attuned to Corben’s depictions of form and physicality. So for this story, set in an old farmhouse in Massachusetts, it’s easy to imagine a version of it drawn by Corben. Instead, we get Gabriel Hernández Walta stepping into the artistic role, working with colorist Dave Stewart, to tell a moody and atmospheric tale.
Walta’s artwork blends the physicality of Corben with the moodiness of Mignola in this short story. The story’s visual tone buzzes with an underlying dread as Hellboy accompanies a woman returning to the childhood home that she had been told burned down years ago. Walta and Stewart shade this story with an effective graininess and grit. It’s dusty, old, and musty. You can practically smell the old dampness in the walls of the old Whittier house. Walta and Stewart set the scene for Mignola’s story, putting us in that old house and wondering what its history really is.
Mignola is great at setting Hellboy in this kind of American horror folklore setting. The story of a house that burned down decades ago but still stands in its original spot today is the kind of urban folklore story that gets handed down from generation to generation, the kind of ghost story that’s both frightening and thrilling. You almost want to go out and see if you can find that house in the woods but Mignola shows that sometimes those kinds of stories have a danger behind them. By placing this in Hellboy’s world, Mignola sets this against a world where we know that stories are more than just tales that kids tell to scare other kids.
Mignola and Walta set up a mystery about the Whittier family. Questions are asked but not necessarily answered. But based on this issue, hopefully, this creative team will get together again to explore more of this family.