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Cover date: December 2008
"A Nightwing and a Prayer!"
Writer: Kevin VanHook
Penciller: Tom Mandrake
Inker: Tom Mandrake
Reviewed by: Ralph Silver
Elsewhere, a mother and her young son are returning home from attending her dance class and buying groceries. To the mother's horror, the boy gets snatched and carried off by a vampire; who is thirsty for blood, and eager to feast on the young boy. This looks like it will end very badly; but disaster is averted this time thanks to the timely arrival of the Batman. Batman, realizing that this is a dangerous foe, does not hold back. He puts on a display of superior martial arts techniques and aggressive street-fighting skills. He starts with a vicious side-thrust kick to the jaw; and after a volley of blows, ends it by forcefully driving his opponent's head into a nearby brick wall, rendering the beast unconscious. The boy and his mom are safe.
Back in the Batcave, Batman is examining the vampire that he has brought home and put in restraints. Nightwing shows up with the werewolf that he has defeated in battle and subdued. Batman and Nightwing compare notes. All clues indicate that these really are bona-fide vampires and werewolves; as unbelievable as that is. When Wonder Woman checks in later with details of her encounter with a vampire (as seen last issue), this just confirms Batman's suspicions.
With Bruce and Dick watching, the werewolf reverts to his human form, and explains that he and others were kidnapped by Doctor Combs. The implication is that Combs has done something to transform these innocent humans into the dangerous creatures that our heroes have been battling.
Batman heads to the lab of Doctor Combs, to confront the doctor. What he sees there is almost beyond belief. Dr. Combs is in a prone position and obviously in agony. A large, hideous monster that is unlike any of the beasts we have seen so far and is rather indescribable, emerges from the open mouth of the doctor! Batman and the giant monster begin a protracted battle. Batman fights with determination and skill; but he clearly has his hands full. Marius Dimeter arrives and apparently utters some kind of spell or incantation, which causes a momentary vulnerability in the beast. Dimeter implores Batman to "Hit it hard - Now!!"); and Batman obliges. He kicks it so hard, that his foot actually goes right through the beast! He then attacks with a vicious karate chop to the throat that ends the fight!
When Batman goes back to check on Combs' female assistant, he gets his next ghoulish surprise! This time, he sees an even bigger, even more hideous monster with deadly jaws and tentacles. And he sees Superman arriving at great speed and shouting, with urgency in his voice, "Stay back! Don't get near it!!"
Story - 4: There is a cinematic quality to VanHook's storytelling that I find appealing. Like a good movie, the story unfolds one scene at a time. VanHook likes to vary the scenes, so that each one has its own setting and cast of characters. Each scene is interesting on its own; and yet the scenes work together to contribute to the larger storyline and the mystery that is unfolding slowly. VanHook likes to take the time to set the stage for each scene. He then springs the ghoulish surprise somewhere in the middle of that scene. This approach is effective because it gives each scene its own sense of drama.
I like that VanHook is bringing in other characters from the DC universe. Last month we had an appearance by Wonder Woman; and this time we have Nightwing. Having various heroes battle the creatures helps to emphasize that the problem is pervasive and urgent.
As an avid Superman fan, I am a little bit disappointed that Superman has been mostly absent so far. We are now one third of the way through this 6-part series, and we have only seen the arrival of the Man of Steel on the very last panel in book #2. But clearly he is now on the scene; and will be an integral part of the next installment.
And my disappointment is muted by the fact that Batman has been handled so well. VanHook clearly enjoys writing this character. I like that VanHook is emphasizing both Batman's role as a great detective; and also his prowess as a martial artist and street-fighter. There was a lot of pugilistic action in this installment; all well-choreographed. Batman shows grit and determination throughout.
Just like last issue, there is a dark and sinister tone to this book that makes for compelling reading.
Art - 5: I continue to be impressed with Tom Mandrake's artwork. There are certain things that he does extremely well. Mandrake is very meticulous in drawing detailed backgrounds. Look at the opening splash on page 1. When reading a comic book; I often like to slow down after reading each page; and go back and scrutinize and enjoy the artwork on that page. Nice backgrounds can be overlooked if you are in a rush; but they add a sense of quality to the book if you slow down and take notice.
Another thing that Mandrake does well is convey emotion. Look at the panel with the mom when she discovers that her son has been swiped by the vampire. Also look at the boy's expression on the same page, when he first lays eyes on the vampire. Also, on the next page, look at the vampire as he hungrily holds the boy and contemplates his impending feast. These three panels show so much emotion, the characters seem to come alive and jump right off the page!
Mandrake is also very good at making his creatures of the night look very scary. Look at the scene where Nightwing first encounters the werewolf. That is a pretty intimidating-looking werewolf. Nightwing stays cool, and nonchalantly says "Easy there, big fella..." If I were there, I would probably be saying something more like "Yaaaaaaaaahh!!"
Cover Art - 4: Batman is struggling with the tentacled monster. Other ghouls and a werewolf hover nearby. Superman is arriving to help his friend and teammate out.
This cover has its own sense of drama; and is very effective. I would have given it a 5; but I deducted one point for the "and a Tentacled Creature from Beyond" headline under the logo. For me this headline has kind of a "Tales from the Crypt" vibe; which detracts from the overall impact of an otherwise fine cover.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2008.