Monday, January 25, 2010

Batman #695

In his first non-crossover arc with DC's primary Batman series, writer / artist Tony Daniel has introduced his more dedicated followers to a wide array of mysteries. Why's the Black Mask back in town, and what purpose does his bloody, unpredictable path of destruction serve in the big picture? How does the rest of the criminal underground feel about their involvement (or lack thereof) in his plans? Whose team is Kitrina Falcone playing for? Daniels gives the reader plenty to ruminate over in the pause between issues, and not all of it is explicitly spelled out in the captions and word balloons.

But even as recently as his work on Battle for the Cowl, I'd found Tony's artwork tough to appreciate. For all the potential he showed at times, his lack of restraint and focus proved too high a hurdle to clear and turned me off to him as a whole. Daniel was trying so hard to impress on the big stage that he lost sight of the fundamentals – his cast moved awkwardly, his pacing was jerky and his paneling was complicated, difficult to follow at even the best of times.

What a difference a few months' worth of experience can make. The work Daniel turns in this time is striking, a far cry from those previous efforts. He's still not above the occasional stumble, as evidenced by a chaotic early fight scene between Kitrina and Catwoman, but for the majority of this month's artwork is tight, disciplined and memorable. I loved his spread of Batman silhouetted against the bright flames of a burning house, and the caped crusader's casual rooftop interrogation of a generic crook proves equally impressive.

Daniel's writing, though, hasn't taken as substantial a step forward. While his plots are deep enough to hook casual readers, his execution still leaves a lot to be desired. Tony's heavy-handed dialog weighs down the page and slows the action, elaborating unnecessarily at every opportunity. Almost every conversation could have delivered its point and moved forward in half the time, but instead chooses to linger and ramble on. That space could have been better put to use as a bridge between scenes, establishing a new locale or focal point. Instead, we find ourselves overstaying our welcome and then suddenly snapping to the meat of a completely different scenario, sometimes in the middle of a thought.

Tony Daniel is an artist first and a writer second, so it should come as no surprise that his professional evolution focuses on improving the former before it does the latter. Though he still struggles with consistency on a few occasions, that journey is beginning to yield some serious results. This is, for the most part, a really nice looking issue and a testament to the creator's dedication. It isn't, however, all that well written. Daniel has a few good ideas bouncing around upstairs, but he hasn't developed the capacity to effectively translate them to the page. I can see the potential looming in the background of this series, but it's being restrained by a few glaring flaws. Worth flipping through, but Batman still has a ways to go before it reaches the promised land.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.5

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