I read comics. Then I write about them. You’re welcome.
Batman #15, by Scott Snyder, art by Greg Capullo: The short answer is, you need to be reading this and if you aren’t you should rectify this as quickly as possible.
“Death of the Family” is Snyder’s big Joker story, and the theme of this issue is love. Terrifying, terrifying love. This is a focused Joker bringing his A-game to truly rain hell down upon Batman and everyone who he cares about, and it is frightening. Capullo continues to be the standout artist in DC’s stable right now.
The one quibble I have is that it feels like Batman is underestimating the Joker, or at least could be, and so soon after a similar mistake dealing with the Court of the Owls, it feels like some of the same ground is being covered. The actual incident is clever and ties well into Batman history, so it’s not a total letdown, but I do wish we weren’t back to this quite so quickly.
Batgirl #15, by Gail Simone, art by Daniel Sampere: There’s a cloud hanging over this issue, and that’s Simone’s firing by DC. The good news is that the issue stands well enough on its own to let you forget about it for now, but it’s hard to talk about the issue without mentioning it.
Batgirl has been the one Bat-family title that has had tie-ins to “Death of the Family” that haven’t been a total waste of everyone’s time, and that continues here. Simone’s take on the Joker is chilling and threatening, and as if that’s not enough James Gordon Jr. is lingering around and being his regular creepy self as well. There’s a flashback to the Joker in Arkham that feels a bit forced, but this is a solid issue nonetheless.
Batman and Robin #15, by Peter J. Tomasi, art by Patrick Gleason: The die-cut covers on Batman titles signifying a “Death of the Family” tie-in have so often signaled disappointment, but Batman and Robin does a great job of telling a story that ties directly into Snyder’s Joker tale while still telling a compelling story. The Joker is attacking the Bat-family one by one, and now it’s Damian Wayne’s turn.
Gleason is the standout here, delivering the best interpretation of the new-look Joker outside of Capullo himself. It’s beautifully creepy and faithful to Capullo’s original conception (unlike some titles I could name).
The Amazing Spider-Man #699.1, by Joe Keatinge and Dan Slott, art by Valentine Delandro and Marco Checchetoo: This is not actually a Spider-Man comic. This is a zero issue for the upcoming Morbius The Living Vampire series. Roughly four pages cover actually new content (most of which was already covered in Amazing Spider-Man #699). The rest of which feels like a pointless regurgitation of Morbius’ Wiki biography. If you can’t tell, I wasn’t thrilled with this issue. One flashback panel looks like a lost Ditko-era Spider-Man drawing (the only appearance of Spider-Man in the issue), which is great except the rest of the issue looks nothing like that so it sticks out like a sore thumb. That, that was the highlight. Everything else did absolutely nothing for me.
Avengers Arena #1, by Dennis Hopeless, art by Kev Walker: This is the Marvel comic that’s a shameless “Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale” knockoff. The cover is a remarkable “Battle Royale” homage, and the issue isn’t even trying to pretend that it’s not a “Hunger Games” cash-in, the villain straight-up says that he got the idea “from a couple kids’ books I read in the pen.” So that’s nice.
For someone who’s new to most of these characters (with the exception of X-23, Wolverine’s teenage girl “daughter”), the issue does a good job of introducing us to some of the cast without getting bogged down in exploring every character right away. This is a spiritual successor to Avengers Academy, which I haven’t read and so I can’t judge it on those grounds.
The question lingering over this series is where they’re going with it. It seems unlikely that “murder all the young Marvel heroes who aren’t in ‘Wolverine And The X-Men’” is the long-term plan here. (In the second-best meta gag in this book, the villain admits that those characters are left out because “Wolverine’s school [has] a better security system” — I’ll just bet it does, namely Marvel’s editors.) The issue starts off with an interesting (albeit deeply unoriginal) premise and executes it well, with some funny moments, some touching moments and great art all-around. But to justify the existence of the series, at some point it’s going to have to innovate on the premise it’s adopted from other works. A first issue is too early to expect it to start on that, though, and I’m going to give it a shot to do that.
Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-Man #9, by Chris Eliopoulos and Karl Kesel, art by Nuno Plati and Ty Temleton: This isn’t the Miles Morales title, but the tie-in to the Disney XD TV show. I just want to note for the record that Nuno Plati’s art bugs the crap out of me. Templeton’s art also bugs me in this issue, and I’m starting to think that “suck” is the house style for this series now. Templeton’s art has been better elsewhere, so I’m starting to think that either they want this book to look this way or they’re just setting deadlines such that artists have to half-ass the thing just to get the issues out. I know this is an all-ages book but the Marvel Adventures series was actually fun and I really miss it. (I will shut up about this at some point.)