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By now, DC characters have become a kind of repertory company. The trick, for comics creators, is to find roles for them that both exploit their trustworthy familiarity and give them surprising things to do. Loeb (Batman: The Long Halloween) does his bit by supplying a rapidly unfolding plot in which caped crime fighter Batman battles Killer Croc and Poison Ivy. Simultaneously, he's pursuing and lusting after the lusciously amoral Catwoman, whom he teams with in a rousing (though improbably evenly matched) brawl with Superman. Other familiar characters make cameo appearances throughout. But Batman is actually following someone else's script; a mysterious, bandage-swathed observer is toying with him and the others. Readers can guess who this master manipulator is, but the real puzzle is what kind of game he's playing. Loeb is especially talented at underwriting, not crowding the page full of long explanations and snappy patter; after all, readers have known these characters for years. Penciler Lee and inker Williams also know not to overwhelm the action with fussy details: their large panels give plenty of room to let angular, sweeping lines collide in striking designs. It's beautiful stuff. Catwoman has rarely looked so seductive, nor has Batman's heroic but fearsome image often been used so well. This volume-a collection of the first five installments of a 12-part serial-doesn't achieve much emotional closure. Nor does it transform the characters, but that would be unlikely anyway. What it does do is make readers look at Batman and his colleagues with a fresh, enthusiastic eye.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Late last year, DC revitalized one of its major franchises when it assigned Batman to Jim Lee, one of the hottest comics artists, and Jeph Loeb, an equally popular scripter. The pair's first five issues, collected here, pit the crimefighter against two classic foes, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy, and later bring in DC's other big gun when Batman follows Ivy's trail to Metropolis, where he confronts Superman. Lee's dynamic, detailed, often overwrought art provides the excitement and drama superhero fans demand, and Loeb's combination of fast-paced action and deft characterization is equally crowd-pleasing. Despite the hype and the huge sales the Loeb-Lee series has enjoyed, it is essentially a just-above-average superhero saga that lacks the thoughtfulness of Loeb's reimaginings of Superman's and Daredevil's early years. Moreover, Lee's art lacks the innovation of such previous Batman limners as, most notably, Frank Miller in the Dark Knight series. Nonetheless, this is solid genre work, whose popularity in its original monthly installments guarantees an eager audience for this hardcover roundup. Gordon Flagg
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