About a year ago, I reviewed probably the worst Batman book – nay, the worst DC book – to ever blemish my bookshelf. Worse than Cry for Justice, worse than the new Batgirl, and worse than the abortionate mess that is Countdown to Final Crisis. It was a terribly written, poorly plotted and sub-par illustrated piece of feckless garbage that did nothing but earn my ire for almost every review I did after it.
Yes, it’s Faces of Death. Anyone who’s been reading me for long enough knows that I hate, loathe, despise and detest this feculent atrocity that can only barely be termed as a graphic novel. It won the worst read of 2012 award from me last year for being truly abhorrent, and you’d think that the titanic level of vitriol I’ve levelled at it would mean I’d be hesitant to check out any kind of sequel it would spawn. If it were any other book you’d be entirely right, however there’s a slight problem with that supposition here.
You see, this guy called John Layman (responsible for the hilariously funny and exceptionally witty Chew) has come onboard the Detective Comics boat after the timely departure of Tony Daniel, one of my favourite authorial targets and the man responsible for the aforementioned crap-riddled mess. Layman’s upcoming arc is being touted as Volume 3 of Detective Comics, and if there’s one thing I hate it’s missing parts of a series on my shelf and only having volumes 1, 4, 5 and 23. So if, for the sake of completeness, I’m forced to have Faces of Death 2: Joker Boogaloo on my shelf, I might as well read the bloody thing.
Mercifully, the story gains points right off the bat by abandoning the terminably stupid plotline from the last book regarding Bruce Wayne and his hollow brunette love interest (who was so memorable that I completely forgot her name). Rather than being a semi-coherent journey into pointlessness like its predecessor, Scare Tactics has more of an anthology feel to it with several short stories that are largely unconnected. It’s also got a chapter from the recent crossover Night of the Owls, which makes little sense out of the context of the larger event and is probably just included for the sake of completeness.
As for the stories themselves, they’re middling. While we’ve gotten past such stupidity as Bruce’s aforementioned 2D (or should I say Double D?) girlfriend, we’re still dealing with a characterisation of the Batman that borders way too close to the macho, self-aggrandising weightlifter that he was in the last book. We’re still treated to plenty of internal dialogue that sounds like it was written by an All-Star–era Frank Miller, with Bats making copious reference to how strong and scary he is while mimicking an acne-riddled teen playing the heavy in a DnD game. There’s a rather misguided attempt to have the testosterone-poisoned Batman in this book engage in somewhat deeper narratives than before, including an quite weird storyline involving a sympathetic scientist, time travel, a rip-off of the Large Hadron Collider and a dude who calls himself Mr Toxic, creating a juxtaposition between cerebral storytelling and old-school 1960s schlock that doesn’t gel well together. There’s also a really strange plot involving Black Mask being psychotic and possibly possessed by something that may have been carried over from Faces of Death (I’d have to go back and read it again to be sure, which would be tantamount to undergoing the kind of finger-flensing that Theon Greyjoy partakes of) which ends on a direct lead-in to the next big Snyder-Batman crossover event, Death of the Family. All in all, kinda forgettable stuff in a book that is clearly not shooting for the stars.
That is, until you get to the back section of the book. Once we’re done with all the Miller-inspired Bat-child violence we’re treatedto two particularly lovely surprises. First, an early days origin tie-in for Bruce Wayne, courtesy of writer Gregg Hurwitz, that deals with his adventures in Tibet (I think) regarding a family who teach him a fighting style while he fawns after a cute local girl. Second, there’s a Two-Face tale about betrayal that is quite possibly the best written work Tony Daniel’s ever done – it’s almost enough to make me forget about the horribleness in Volume 1. Almost. While both stories aren’t exceptionally revolutionary or classic, they’re a welcome relief from the faux macho-ness of the rest of the book. I’d almost go so far as to say they’re worth the price of the book alone – provided you buy the paperback, of course. That’ll give you $16 that would’ve gone towards the hardcover that could be spent on something more worthwhile, like nail clippers or a subscription to Cosmopolitan.
Artwork is ok. Not good, not bad, but ok. There’s not a whole lot I can say about it without repeating what was said in my Faces of Death review, except that some of the visuals in fight scenes can get a bit confusing. Other than that, it’s serviceable.
Dialogue is still a problem. While the Bruce origin and Two-Face stories are fairly well-written, the bulk of the rest of the book remains mired in the same issues Daniel had when writing Faces of Death. Batman still sounds so far up his own ass he’s in danger of choking on his lungs, and the inner monologues give him a distinctly juvenile personality. There’s also an attempt to tug at our heartstrings with the plot regardingthe sympathetic scientist and his time travel shenanigans that comes and goes far too quickly to be substantial. Why should I care that the scientist dude is actually a supervillain in the future who may be a clone of himself? How is that going to inspire any emotion in me other than boredom at the uninspired garbage I’m reading?
The short version: Is Scare Tactics a good book? Not really. Is it better than Faces of Death? Markedly so. It’s still like saying you’d prefer to die by decapitation rather than immolation – it’s quicker and less painful, but you’re still dying anyway – but at least it’s a few steps in the right direction. As Tony Daniel’s swan song for the title it’s passable, and is at least mediocre enough to not make me consider using the book as kindling. If I’m sad about anything it’s that his removal means I can’t take shots at him for the series anymore (not that that wasn’t an old gag of mine to begin with) but at least we’ll always have the memories. Awful, ear-bleedingly bad memories.
PUBLISHER: DC COMICS
BEST QUOTE: “[while beating up a Batman impostor] You owe me some answers…after you wake up, of course.” – Batman