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  1. #61
    Run Runner shaxper's Avatar
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    Detective Comics 518

    "The Millionaire Contract"
    writer: Gerry Conway and Paul Levitz
    art: Don Newton and Bruce Patterson

    Grade: C


    Jim, I'm re-rethinking my policy on Detective. This issue was not essential reading for following the Batman title, and it was of Conway's signature ho-hum quality. After giving us one and a half more pages of wrap up for the previous vampire story (which helped a little), the story shifts to the problem that's been developing as of late with Vicki Vale, Rupert Thorne, and Deadshot all knowing Bruce Wayne is Batman. Sure enough, this is the issue where Deadshot goes after Wayne while The Human Target is posing as him. Really, it all goes exactly as you'd expect. No unique twists of any kind. By the end, all interested parties casually assume that they made a mistake in assuming Wayne was Batman because they couldn't possibly have been in the same place at the same time. Conway spent a whole lot of issues building this story up for absolutely nothing. What a waste.

    Gordan and Bard also get their butts kicked by some crooked cops (now that Gordan is no longer police commissioner).


    "He With Secrets Fears the Sound"
    writer: Barbara J. Randall
    art: Trevor Von Eeden

    Grade: C-

    Batgirlrandomly stumbles upon another upstart female villain (come on, she can't handle a man or an established villain??) who intends to blackmail businesses by using an ingenious new computer program to access and steal info from their mainframes. Granted, I'm a sucker for early '80s techno paranoia stories, but this is no War Games. There's really nothing particularly interesting about the story's premise, writing, nor characterizations.

  2. #62
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    Batman 352

    "The Killer Sky!"
    plot: Gerry Conway
    script: Paul Kupperberg
    art: Don Newton

    grade: C


    Gene Colan seems to be gone from the Bat titles nearly as quickly as he arrived. In his place, Don Newton does a mostly adequate and occasionally stylish job, but there are at least three pivotal moments in the story where his vague art fails to clearly depict what is happening. This becomes very frustrating.

    The plot involves "Captain Blimp" and his men piloting a strange zeppelin out from under the water, kidnapping a submarine with an intense magnet (I have at least two physics-based problems with this), and then parading it over Gotham City for no apparent reason. Batman shows up, of course, but makes some truly stupid moves and gets thrashed and ditched.

    Kupperberg, scripting for Conway in this issue, does a very nice job of capturing a powerful dramatic moment between Bruce and Vicki Vale in which she confesses that she thought he was the Batman and was going to expose him, as well as the fact that she just saw her boss kill himself (oh, that happened this issue after his attempt to impress Rupert Thorne with Batman's identity backfired).

    Unfortunately, Kupperberg is less successful in portraying the playful banter between Batman and Robin in the Batmobile while pursuing the villains. It feels forced and downright awkward, especially when Robin facetiously idealizes moving to the country and wearing a loin cloth.

    All in all, while the B plots were done nicely in this story (I didn't even mention the bit about the new commissioner threatening Gordan's life while he's in the hospital from his last beating), the A plot was very poorly done and doesn't seem all that interesting overall.

    This is one of those stories that continues into Detective which I will not be following...
    Last edited by shaxper; 09-23-2010 at 01:24 PM.

  3. #63
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    (Len Wein begins as editor)


    Batman 353

    "Last Laugh"
    writer: Gerry Conway
    art: Jose Garcia Lopez

    Grade: C-

    Ever since Julie Schwartz's office took Batman in a more modern, gritty direction way back in Batman #217, there has been a very conscious effort to use the Joker sparingly, carefully, and (above all else) tastefully. This was abundantly true of his last appearance in Batman #321 which, at the time, was the best work we'd seen come out of the Wein/Levitz writer/editor team.

    Unfortunately, this time around, Conway truly appears to be winging it (no intended Batman pun there). The Joker rallies up his old henchmen (who, for some reason, have been waiting around in an abandoned hotel for him while he's been in Arkham), has taken the time to master both the crossbow and deadly snake handling (yet fails to deliver ANY gags while using either of them), and manages to deliver almost no jokes while maintaining a largely serious look on his face as he works to carve his face into a rock cliff with stolen explosives. It's really the Joker in appearance only.

    Meanwhile, there's one nice B plot as Batman determines that it's Rupert Thorne backing Mayor Hill and gets a confession from his former competitor, Arthur Reeves. However, he does this by getting Reeves to confess with Gordan present IN THE BATCAVE. Why take such a risk? Neither Gordan nor the man who built his entire campaign on the menace of The Batman needs to be in a situation where they have even the slightest chance of learning who Batman is. A confession could have been given in an alleyway, or Jason Bard's office, or...anywhere, really.

    There's also a nice little segment where Vicki Vale appears to be coming completely apart after seeing her editor kill himself last issue.

    But, all in all, this was a waste of a story, especially of a Joker story.

    Editor-wise, it's worth noting that Len Wein takes over this issue. The letter column presents this as an unexpected, last minute switch due to Giordano feeling too overwhelmed with his work. I'm actually very excited about this transition. Less than four years ago, Wein began his writing stint on the title, attempting to build a new mythos for the Batman complete with a better supporting cast and a better rationale for who he is and how he does what he does. Unfortunately, his editor wanted colorful villains and seemed to have little respect for the groundwork Wein was trying to lay down. I'm curious to see how his influence will now work from the other side of the desk. Maybe he'll even be able to push Conway to produce some of the better work that we've seen him be capable of doing from time to time. Or, maybe Wein's will just be the next in a long line of plaques on the wall that don't really change much of anything.


    "Masters of the Universe Preview"
    writer: Paul Kupperberg
    art: Curt Swan and Dave Hunt

    grade: B+

    I grew up with the toys, I watched the cartoon, and even at the tender age of 4, it was hard to miss the huge disparities between the two. This wasn't an amazing story (and Curt Swan's style paired with relatively serious writing was a bit jarring at times) but this was a fascinating read that really gave a lot more thought to the basic premise of the series. As an example, when I played with my figures, I always imagined that the fact that He-Man and Skeletor had swords that could fit together played a key role -- the two could be joined to create a sword of power. Sure enough, that figures heavily into this storyline. Beyond that, the treatment of these characters, particularly Cringer/Battlekat, Teela, and Merman, were so much denser than the simple uni-dimensional roles they were given in the cartoon. Though I don't care enough about the premise to follow the series, I found this snapshot immensely enjoyable.


    "A Bad Case of Worms" (advertisement)
    Really, there was such a novelty toy. The cartoon ad is absolutely as tasteless as you'd expect. The sister's horrified face as her cruel brother dangles them in front of her was almost as extreme as something you'd see on a House of Mystery cover. Just felt the need to document it.


    "The Sting -- Batman Style"
    writer: Mike W. Barr
    Art: Don Newton and Dennis Jensen

    Grade: D-

    Robin gives an incredibly sad one man parade to support a fund that fights juvenile delinquency. After raising $50,000 for them, he discovers that the organization doesn't exist; he was working for con men. Batman has a plan to get it all back, but Robin decides to go his own way as Batman cautions him that he might be getting in over his head (against two low level con men??). Sure enough, Robin gets in over his head, making stupid mistake after stupid mistake (he slips across their floor when fire sprinklers go off. Seriously??). Finally, at the big climactic bust, Robin ends up disguised as Batman (delivering the corniest lines of all time) and Batman ends up disguised as Matches Malone. Robin almost gets himself killed, but Batman manages to save the day.

    All in all, I think this could have worked for a Robin solo story from the 1940s, but this is all downright insulting to the Teen Wonder who's been depicted in these back stories over the past two years and who's been leading The New Teen Titans as well.

    One nice touch was Batman asking Robin to take over his JLA satellite duty for the night. Very nice continuity link there, though Robin ends up ditching that responsibility in favor of pursuing the bad guys, and that never gets mentioned!
    Last edited by shaxper; 09-25-2010 at 06:51 AM.

  4. #64
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    Detective Comics #520

    "The Haunting of 'Boss' Thorne"
    writer: Gerry Conway
    art: Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala

    Grade: B+


    I don't know whether it's Len Wein's arrival, the near-culmination of a plot that's been in the works for quite a while now, or pure serendipity, but somehow both Conway and Newton really turned in something special this issue. Both the writing and art exude pure style in a way that, at moments, even surpasses what was done in the classic Monk storyline from a few issues back.

    Newton and Alcala make excellent use of perspective, shadows, and thoroughly expressive faces in this issue while Conway really plays with narrative flair, writing from the second person, and delivering fantastic lines like: "You know these nighted streets the way a master strategist knows a chessboard. The city has given up its secrets to you long ago. You are part of the night. Part of the city's soul. The dark part. The secret part. You are The Batman--and tonight, you have a rendezvous with friends." Unfortunately, Conway takes this flare a little too far, giving similar lines to every major character introduced throughout the story. It gets very tiresome by the time he begins describing Alfred, as he's introduced with one page left in the story: "You are a gentleman's gentleman, Alfred Pennyworth, and if that makes you a putterer--then, by George, so be it." It's not as if Alfred plays a key role in this issue, either. He's merely there, dusting, and telling Bruce to check out what's on the news.

    I should probably make some mention of the plot (in one overly long sentence): Boss Thorne is being haunted by Hugo Strange, so he seeks out Dr. Thirteen to help him, and Dr. Thirteen goes to Strange's old hospital only to be assaulted by his ghost all while Batman convenes with Gordon, Bard, and Vicki Vale to do some more planning against Thorne, ultimately resulting in Batman busting Deadshot out of jail and locking him in the Batcave.

    All in all, the writing and art are working (mostly) very well, and the plotting is competent. This is a high point in Conway's run so far simply because it's more than adequate. It's not as great as Batman can be, but it's as good as it's been in a long while.


    "The Cat and the Conover Caper!"
    writer: Bob Rozakis
    art: Gil Kane (according to the GCD)

    Grade: C+

    Selina Kyle (now bumped from the backside of Batman to the backside of Detective) randomly runs into Louie Conover, an old henchman of hers who she seems genuinely pleased to see. As they catch up, it becomes immediately apparent that Louie is still involved in crime and is concealing this from Selina. So she quickly changes into her Catwoman costume and begins to trail him.

    This is where both the story and the Selina back stories in general begin to fall apart for me. What are Selina's motivations here? Is she a woman trying to get on with her new life who jumps into costume in times of great need, or is she an arbitrary do-gooder who feels the compulsive need to seek out crime wherever she may seek it, even though she clearly isn't actively seeking it yet is actively going out of her way to send a good (and mostly harmless) old friend to jail? It just doesn't add up. Selina seems more like a generic protagonist than an actual character. Perhaps this explains why the feature gets replaced next issue with an ongoing Green Arrow back-up.

    Fortunately, Louie Conover ended up being a good guy, after all. After letting a rival programmer into the video game company building he works for (in order to steal a game program, which is apparently written on a large piece of parchment???), Louie activates and deactivates the silent alarm like an SOS. How on earth he knew that someone at Police HQ would notice that pattern is beyond me. I'd imagine a tired, overworked cop would just go, "Hey, break in! Nope, it's gone. Nope, it's back. Nope it's gone again...oh hell, let's just send someone over, already!"

    Incidentally, the GCD indicates that Gil Kane did the art on this one, but the credits simply state "Art:" followed by two large, wide character on top of one another. It almost looks Japanese. In hindsight, these appear to be a G on top of a K, but why did Kane have it credited like this? Was this a well recognized mark that fans should have understood?
    Last edited by shaxper; 11-24-2010 at 05:19 PM.

  5. #65
    Gotham Guardian Captain Jim's Avatar
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    IIRC, this is the beginning of an arc that I really liked at the time.
    Jim Zimmerman
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  6. #66
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    Quote Originally Posted by Captain Jim View Post
    IIRC, this is the beginning of an arc that I really liked at the time.
    Well, that gives me something to look forward to!

  7. #67
    Senior Member MDG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shaxper View Post
    Detective Comics #520
    Incidentally, the GCD indicates that Gil Kane did the art on this one, but the credits simply state "Art:" followed by two large, wide character on top of one another. It almost looks Japanese. In hindsight, these appear to be a G on top of a K, but why did Kane have it credited like this? Was this a well recognized mark that fans should have understood?
    Do you mean this? It's a device Kane used frequently in the 80s.
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  8. #68
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    Quote Originally Posted by MDG View Post
    Do you mean this? It's a device Kane used frequently in the 80s.
    That's the one. Did he often do this in lieu of having his name credited?

  9. #69
    14 Time Rita's Champion SUPERECWFAN1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Tim Drake View Post
    On another note, I have yet to read a David V. Reed Batman story that impressed me. His stuff is serviceable and not positively bad, but not exciting at all.
    Didn't he do the story-arc from 290-294 where we got the Rogues "trial of the Batman" where each one claimed they killed Batman. And would give us a story of how they did it ?
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  10. #70
    Kicking the hornet's nest Jezebel Bond's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SUPERECWFAN1 View Post
    Didn't he do the story-arc from 290-294 where we got the Rogues "trial of the Batman" where each one claimed they killed Batman. And would give us a story of how they did it ?
    Did you mean #291-294? I'm still one (NM) issue short of the actual run in Batman but read the arc in The Strange Deaths of Batman TPB.
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  11. #71
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    Batman #354

    "Showdown"
    writer: Gerry Conway
    art: Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala

    Grade: A+

    Who would have thought it possible, but both the writing and art continue to improve in this installment, as Conway starts toning down the flare on his narration while keeping it abundantly rich, and Newton provides even better facial expressions, dramatic angles, and unique camera perspectives. Conway's best line yet (as a three way stand-off goes terribly wrong): "There is, in the mind of each man, a sudden unnatural clarity, as if time had somehow expanded, and reality shifted into high gear. In that instant, dreams and regrets, fears and hopes, cease to have meaning, in the double thunder of two guns firing...and for each, there is simultaneous realization that it's all over, all of it...over!"

    I'd go so far as to say that this may very well be the best Batman story I've yet read in this 50+ issue run that I've been following. Up until now, it was Wein's climactic Batman and Catwoman versus Catman storyline in Batman #323 and 324, but I think the tone, excitement, and over-all quality of this one takes the cake. I will at least give the story this much: this is, by far, the best "street level" Batman story I've ever read, pumping in as much drama and excitement as possible without the use of any costumed villains nor unbelievable feats of heroics. Even the revelation that a hologram has been used to make Boss Thorne believe he's seeing the ghost of Hugo Strange was explained in such a convincing way that it seems believable for someone to have actually done it. The technology is realistic and thoughtfully explained, not a plot convenience.

    The plot summary (which, for once, is too dense to reiterate in one ridiculously long sentence): Pauling, the new police commissioner working for Boss Thorne, has made Batman public enemy #1, which makes Mayor Hill (also working for Thorne) nervous that someone will see through them and question their motivations. Batman confronts them, hoping to make them nervous, clumsy, and stupid in their next move, but it only ends in Batman running from a fleet of cops, armed to the teeth with assault rifles, who are ordered to open fire on Batman. An incredibly well done disagreement takes place amongst the men, but, finally, one of the cops "on the take" opens fire and gets Batman square in the back. He barely escapes as we cut to Doctor Thirteen explaining to Thorne exactly how someone has been tricking him into believing he is losing his mind (incidentally, we FINALLY get an editor's note explaining where and when Thorne first killed Hugo Strange, leading up to all these later events [Detective #472]). Unfortunately, the damage is already done. Thorne is unbalanced and paranoid, immediately assuming that Pauling and Hill have turned on him and are behind this plot to drive him mad.

    We then cut to the Batcave, where Deadshot is still being held captive until Batman can get a confession out of him. He's wearing a blindfold, but nothing appears to be keeping him from taking it off, and Bruce is careless enough to address Alfred by name in front of him. Careless, careless, careless, especially since just a few issues back everyone was suspecting Batman and Bruce Wayne of being the same person (and Deadshot knows this). Deadshot still refuses to testify as Batman staggers in, severely injured. We then cut to (apparently) Selina Kyle, making a threatening phone call to Vicki Vale, instructing her to leave Bruce alone.

    We cut back to Thorne, clearly beginning to lose his mind, as Batman appears in his doorway, silent and refusing to speak. Thorne confesses everything and, in a moment of clumsy drunkenness, sets his mansion on fire. Batman loses track of him long enough for Thorne to show up at Pauling's office (with Hill there), accuse the two of them of setting him up, and pull a gun on them. The crooked police officer (also present) attempts to stop him, and it ends in chaos as Thorne shoots and kills Pauling, and the cop shoots and severely injures Thorne. Batman arrives too late, but he confronts Hill silently, as Hill loses his composure, clearly afraid, and promising to reinstate Batman's deputy status.

    Batman walks on to the roof and de-masks; it was Dick Grayson all along. He got Thorne's confession on recording for Bruce (who is recovering under Alfred's care), though he was unable to get anything on Mayor Hill. Things appear to be wrapped up as Boss Thorne is going away for a long while, Commissioner Pauling is dead, and Mayor Hill is now afraid of Batman and no longer under Thorne's control. However, just as things are wrapping up tidily, we see a limo parked outside of Thorne's mansion and finally discover who's been trying to turn Thorne mad with the ghost of Hugo Strange -- HUGO STRANGE!


    Wow. This one had it all. No wonder some posters here were steadfastly defending Conway in spite of all the utter garbage he'd written. Suddenly, the man's on fire. Of course, let's not neglect to recognize the influences of both Len Wein as editor and Newton's art that is even surpassing Colan's work on the title at this point.
    Last edited by shaxper; 11-24-2010 at 05:21 PM.

  12. #72
    Gotham Guardian Captain Jim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SUPERECWFAN1 View Post
    Didn't he do the story-arc from 290-294 where we got the Rogues "trial of the Batman" where each one claimed they killed Batman. And would give us a story of how they did it ?
    Yes, and in my mind, that was the best work Reed ever did on Batman.

    Quote Originally Posted by shaxper View Post
    Batman #354

    "Showdown"
    writer: Gerry Conway
    art: Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala

    Grade: A+
    See, didn't I tell you this arc was gold? I haven't read it in years and years, but it still stands out in my mind.
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  13. #73
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    Quote Originally Posted by Captain Jim View Post

    See, didn't I tell you this arc was gold? I haven't read it in years and years, but it still stands out in my mind.
    You most certainly did. So how does the quality fare beyond these two issues?

  14. #74
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    As I said, I haven't read it in years and years. I just have the general recollection of loving this arc as a whole.
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  15. #75
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    Detective Comics #521

    "Cat Tale"
    writer: Gerry Conway
    art: Irv Novick and Sal Trapani

    Grade: C


    After concluding the stunning "Boss" Thorne story arc, I'd imagine Conway felt like he could take on anything. And so, in a moment of impressive ambition, he dares to reintroduce Catwoman to the Bat titles, more than two years since she took her big exit after the conclusion of Wein's masterful Catwoman/Catman story arc.

    Now, bear in mind that, after reading more than 50 Batman issues in a row, the only storyline that I'd rank higher than that Catwoman/Catman story arc is the "Boss" Thorne arc that Conway just completed, so I can't fault his ambition. However, the execution is downright disappointing.

    When Wein was writing Catwoman, what made her characterization (and, indeed, that entire storyline) so compelling was how strong and confident Wein made her, able to stand by Batman's side as an equal without even seeming to try, even as she was facing imminent death. Hers was an incredibly strong and independent character; one who commanded respect without even thinking to ask for it. This was no uber-feminist byproduct of the 1970s, trying so desperately to gain equality that it inevitably shone as a sign of weakness. Instead, Selina Kyle was in a class all her own.

    Unfortunately, the Selina that Conway writes is exactly the opposite -- a bad feminine stereotype/contrivance who sleeps in the nude for the benefit of her male fans, wants nothing more than to threaten/kill her ex's new love interest, and is so hopelessly obsessed with her former lover that she calls him her "anchor" and appears to have her entire life crumbling around her because Bruce Wayne is in love with someone else. Whoever this character is, the real Selina Kyle would have kicked her ass to katmandu in a moment's notice.

    She even goes so far as to explain, "I gave up a life of crime as the Catwoman out of love for Bruce." Ummm, that's not what happened at all. In fact, the self-confident Kyle had already turned her life around when she came to the Wayne Foundation looking for a second chance, and (as I recall) she didn't take any crap from Bruce, either. It took a long while for their relationship to blossom. So how is Wein letting this ridiculously upsetting misconception get by as editor? HE WROTE THAT STORY!!!

    Even Conway's writing feels a bit cheaper in this issue--still polished, but take for example the opening of the story, in which a long narrative depicts Vicki Vale's inner thoughts as she walks the streets and thinks back on her past. Catwoman attacks...and it all turns out to be Catwoman's dream. You can't honestly tell me she dreamt that entire inner monologue that had absolutely nothing to do with her and filled in a tremendous amount of back story on a character she knows little about. Cheap.

    There's also the middle section of the story, in which Batman randomly takes on a group of thugs looking to make a name for themselves by trying to lure in The Batman. This five page storyline seems to serve absolutely no purpose other than to provide some action for an otherwise slow moving and uninteresting storyline. In these five pages, the thugs are written as absolutely generic scum, and the plot simply involves Batman rescuing an innocent girl as he makes more idle chatter, boasts, and quips than one would normally expect of the caped crusader. Oh, and don't expect any acknowledgment of the near fatal bullet he took on in the previous story.

    And, by the way, I should mention that Selina Kyle now knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman. When the heck did that happen???

    Naturally, Conway taking on Wein's greatest character led me to compare the two writers as I read this issue. I've already made it clear how differently Wein treated Selina, but I think that level of narrative sympathy extended a lot farther in his writing, as well. Wein never wrote simple bad guys; they all had a point of view and a compelling quality about them, even when they were wrong. Wein would have given the thugs in that middle plot a personality; he would have cared for who they were and why they were doing what they were doing. That, in itself, would have made for great storytelling, whereas Conway simply delivered some action.

    To be fair, though, Conway has his advantages too. His narration is nearly as strong as Wein's (though inconsistent) and, most importantly, comparing the two has led me to realize what a powerhouse of a plotter Conway has become. He's great at introducing B and C plot lines a few months ahead and then exploding them into the forefront of a story arc. Meanwhile, Wein was great at setting up B, C, D, E, and even F plots, but they rarely ever went anywhere. He'd left so much to languish when Wolfman arrived and wiped the slate nearly clean in order to introduce The Lazarus Affair.

    All in all, I do think Conway's doing a great job on these titles (far far better than when he began!), but I think he needs to take a few lessons from Wein on characterization, as well. With Wein as editor, I'd like to think we'd be seeing the best of both of them come out in these stories, but that just doesn't seem to be the case yet. How could he have let Conway take his best character so far astray?

    Oh, by the way, Irv Novick is back on art. Every frickin' time I think he's finally gone, he sneaks back in, delivering page after page of disappointing artwork.

    Incidentally, the plot in one ridiculously long sentence: Selina is obsessed with stalking/threatening Vicki Vale in order to stop her from dating Bruce, keeps dreaming she's turning into an actual cat-woman, and confronts Vale, leading her to tell Bruce that Selina is falling apart and needs his help, all randomly interrupted by an episode in which Batman fights a bunch of gang members. Nothing much to write home about.


    "High Tech Highwayman!"
    writer: Joey Cavalieri
    art: Trevor Von Eeden

    Grade: F-

    The first Green Arrow backup story, and I couldn't even finish it! I've read A LOT of crap when it comes to backup stories, and I absolutely could not get past page two. Ollie is writing a newspaper article about a computer hacker when the computer hacker crashes his computer, shows up on his screen (in a full and elaborate bad guy costume) and introduces himself while explaining that he "can't have you broadcasting my trade secrets all over Star City!" It's a terrible, terrible plot full of an absurd amount of suspension of disbelief. With a beginning this bad, it was clear the story wasn't going to go anywhere worth reading. I'm sure my summary doesn't do justice to just how awful those two pages were, so you'll just have to trust me.
    Last edited by shaxper; 10-13-2010 at 05:24 PM.

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