100-Page Giants! Swamp Thing: Halloween Horror and Batman Review!

Hi kids!

 

Today I’m going to be taking a break from playing with toys to check in on the hubbub that is the Walmart exclusive series of 100-Page Giant issues. Each month starting 3 months ago, DC has released a Batman, Teen Titans, Justice League, and Superman 100 pager that has at least one all new story from top creators like Tom King, Brain Bendis, Brian Azzarello, Greg Capullo, etc. along with reprints

featuring big names like Jim Lee, Neal Adams, Geoff Johns, and Berni Wrightson.

At the core, I’m a little bit torn on these guys.  On one hand, getting more comics in front of more people is to be commended, so I applaud DC in their efforts to put comics where kids could see them.  Growing up, comics were available in multiple places, including but not limited to pharmacies, grocery stores, book stores, and comic shops. My parents rarely had to make a special trip to a comic shop for me to get my fix. When they did, it was a special occasion. Instead, most of my comics were acquired while Mom was grocery shopping or picking out clothes with my sister at the mall. I would simply post up at the comic rack and hang out there until Mom was ready to take me (and ususally a book or two) home. It was nice and convenient. Definitely a win-win for both me and mom. Today, the comics landscape is different. There aren’t as many book stores and they focus primarily on the trade paperback market at this point.

 

Newstands are near nonexistent and even the old subscription model seems to have dried up. Today, if you want a comic, you have to find your way to a comic shop. When this Walmart program first started, the buzz around a few local stops was not positive to the ‘sclusie news.  Comic shop guys the world over were not and still aren’t happy about it. From the comic shop perspective, I can see where these Walmart exclusives could be seen as threatening. Their customers are missing out on stories from top creators, for one. That won’t engender good will in their customer base. For me, it also cuts out the conveniences of the local shop out, too. Walmart won’t hold my next issue for me behind the counter in a mylar bag with a board behind it. If I miss an issue, I miss that issue.  That’s … unsettling. The Walmart distribution can be inconsistent, as is the likelyhood of me actually going to a Walmart. So it’s kind of a double whammy–will I remember to go and even if I do, will the issue I want be there?

 

Also, as I’ve said on multiple occasions, I love my local comic shops. While ultimately I think more eyes on comics are a good thing, I don’t want to see my shops hurt in the long run. By making these exclusive to a giant nationwide chain store, that cuts your local shop out of the equation. If DC doesn’t redirect kids to get their Batman fix and the audience never finds a shop, then this exercise is all for naught. Likewise, they could at least collect the new material from these stories in the end so that shops don’t feel left out in the cold.

 

This month, I bit the bullet and picked up the Swamp Thing: Halloween Horror Edition because I thought that would be a fun one-shot with no long-term investment, and I picked up Batman #3 because it was there too and I can’t help myself. There are some common features between the two: Each issue has a $4.99 cover price. Each issue contains slightly lower quality paper stock than the standard comic, which I actually kind of like. I miss the days of newsprint quality comics. I’m weird. The paper stock can more the adequately handle the modern style of coloring. I guess that’s good. I miss the flatter old school colors. Each issue contains one brand new 12 page story followed by a number of reprints from a variety of places. The Swamp Thing special pulls from previous Halloween Specials, House of Secrets, Batman, and Brave and the Bold comics. Batman pulls additional material from Nightwing, Harley Quinn, and the Batman series proper.

Let’s start with Swamp Thing: Halloween Horror. There are a few house ads in each issue, otherwise, they are ad free.

The opening 12 pager is by Brain Azzarello (of Batwang fame at this point) and Greg Capullo (long running stints on Spawn and Snyder’s Batman).
Capullo can draw monsters!

The opening salvo is a story about Swamp Thing being a “good monster” vs “bad monsters” from the other side that are attacking children. The Swamp Thing by Capullo is brilliant. He has the ideal art style for monsters, kinetic and filled with aggressive lines, yet still clean enough to be understood.  He does a solid job setting the dark tone for this story that makes reference to a “Barren” character or force I feel like I should know, but I don’t.  Still, this was a satisfying story. Grade: A

Up next is an Enchantress and Blue Devil tale by Dan Didio and Ian Rapmund. Unlike the Capullo art that fit the story perfectly, I feel like the Ian Rapmund art is out of place here. This “Pumpkin Sinister” story is meant to be a send up of a grown up Charlie Brown and Linus. The story thinks it’s more clever than it is, and the art doesn’t fit what the story is meant to parody.

No, Dan Didio. You shut up. And quit trying to ruin Dick Grayson.

Grade: D. This one’s an easy pass. I would have sooner they cut this story and included the cover art for the other stories in this issue more prominently.

Next we have a Zatanna story by Paul Dini (Batman: TAS) and Dustin Nguyen (Lil’ Gotham). I’m a sucker for both of these creators, and this story doesn’t let me down. Nguyen’s art and page layouts are a beauty to behold, and Dini is as consistent as they come story-wise. It is pretty intense though, with some drugged out scarecrow-wannabees using hypodermic needles to poison Halloween candy. Zatanna gets revenge, but this story was more than a little unsettling, what with how close it hits to potential real world craziness.

Zatana yb iniD dna neyugyN?! Yes, please.

Grade: A. Horror is supposed to be unsettling, right?

As a pallate cleanser, we get a Superman story by Steve Niles and Dean Ormston, names I don’t immediately recognize, but names I’ll keep on my radar. I’m going to spoil the stuffing out of this one, because it’s basically a one note tale. Superman encounters Zombies, puts ’em in a box, and he flies them to the moon. The end.
Thanks for all the moon zombies, Superman.

Grade: B+ It’s only 6 pages, and they are pretty.

The next story, “The Ballad of Jonathan Crane” puts the ole’ Scarecrow smack dab into the Sleepy Hollow story in place of dear Ichabod. It’s a fun romp by Mikey Way and Mateus, especially if you’re familiar with the story. I’ve never been so excited to see Brom Bones before! Then as contractually required, Batman makes his one page appearance as the Headless Batman.
Here’s the shot all the kids wanna see.
Grade: A- I’m probably grading this 8 pager higher just because I liked all the references. It’s ok; they’re my grades. I had fun with this one.
The plot of the following tale “Night Gods” is very similar to the opener as it’s the good guys and monsters keeping out the bad guy monsters from the other side. Still, this full-sized story from J.M. Straczynski and Jesus Saiz from Brave and the Bold is a satisfying tale featuring Aquaman and Etrigen the Demon. The Etrigen rhymes are a bit shoddy, but Jesus Saiz almost wins the day with his full page picture of Aquaman being bad@$$ and summoning all his fishy pals.
Aquaman doesn’t need to be Jason Mamoa to be cool, just a lot of fishy friends.

Grade: A

Notice I said Saiz almost wins the day, because even with his beautiful art, he can not compete with the mastery of Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, and Denny O’Neil’s “Night of the Reaper” Batman story.

First, this is a 70’s era Batman and Robin story, one of my favorite eras. Next, it involves the Rutland Halloween Parade, which used to be an excuse for unofficial mini-crossovers between Marvel and DC. Finally, Neal Adams is just so. Damned. Good.

There aren’t many better in this business before or since Neal Adams.

Grade: A+

Finally, the issue wraps up with the Swamp Thing origin story from House of Secrets by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson. This 8 pager has been retconned from here to Sunday, but it’s still a solid monster story of a man betrayed by his best friend and a wife he can never go back to. It’s a pretty good callback to the days of solid 8 page stories. Yet another hypodermic needle in this one. This makes me worry for the DC offices.

Don’t do drugs, DC. Stay in school.

Grade: A

All in all, the Swamp Thing: Halloween Horror special is definitely something I recommend. The highs are pretty high and the lows aren’t all that low if you ignore that Dan Didio story. For a buck more than the cost of a regular new comic, this is a great deal for newcomers or grizzled vets looking to take a spooky trip down memory lane.

Overall Grade: A. If you see it, get it. Give it to someone else instead of Halloween candy once you’re done so they can enjoy it, too.

Next, let’s dip our toes into the water of Batman 100-Page Giant #3.
Been there, saw this cover pic years ago! Embiggen the new stuff!

My heart was a little sad they chose to push the Jim Lee Batman and Catwoman Smoochin’ cover from the Hush storyline instead of the cover for the Nick Derington tale, but I guess that Jim Lee guy is kind of a big deal still. My heart was happy that there are only four stories in this one: the new one from Bendis/Derington, part 3 of the Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee Hush storyline that I read when it came out, a rando issue of Nightwing by Kyle Higgens, Eddy Barrows, and Eduardeo Pansica, and a Harley Quinn story by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiottti with Chad Hardin on art duties.

Up first is the beginning of the Bendis/Derington Batman story, where Batman goes up against a gang of Riddler impersonators to try and stop the Riddler himself. My initial reaction was one of anger. Dammit, Bendis! You already have me buying Superman; now I have to pick up this, too?!? How dare you write fun stories featuring villains I really like with an artist whose style I’m not super familiar with but I want to get to know! I’m not made of money!  Oh well, it’ll be canned ravioli for lunch an extra day a month instead of the usual caviar, but I’m gonna have to stick with this. B.M.B. really is having a creative resurgence at DC right now and I’m not going to miss out if I don’t have to.

Damn these pages. Now I’ve got to start stalking Walmarts! Look at all those Riddlers!!

Grade: A+ Did you see the picture? You can stop reading right now and go out and find the issue. I understand. Just save a copy of the next ones for me, eh? I don’t trust those Wallymarts.

Next is part 3 of the Hush storyline by Loeb and Lee. I initially thought this was story was going to be boring to revisit, especially picking it up midway through. I was wrong. I forgot how much of Hush was the Batman Greatest Hits album. Track 3 here features Killer Croc and Catwoman and the beginnings of Hush and Jim Lee flippity floppin’ between two different art styles: there’s a lot there. Even knowing the rest of the story, this was fun to pick up and read just a piece. I will have to fight the urge to go down to the longboxes and dig out the the rest, because apparently I’m in for the ride from here already.

Grade A: Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee both know what they’re doing. Even knowing what to expect, you can’t go wrong with the greatest hits. “Freeeeeeebirrrd!!! Wooo!!!”

Nightwing #3 is the next story. It ties into the death of Haly’s Circus’s namesake, who was killed keeping a secret about Dick Grayson. The story involves Dick tracking down old friends from the circus to help figure out who hired the assassin. It’s an ok tale. It doesn’t have nearly enough fun with the circus folk as it could. I used to really dig when Nightwing would go back to his circus roots. Here it’s just blah. The villain Feedback has an interesting powerset but is ultimately disposable. The Nightwing portion of this series may be skippable moving forward.

It’s Nightwing getting all worked up over nothing. Nothing worth reading, anyway.

Grade: D. Meh. Not terrible. Not great. Just meh. Not good enough to reprint.

Finally, we have Harely Quinn #3 from a run I’m interested to read. I remember hearing good things about the landlord Harley run, but not good enough to pick it up. Maybe this will change my mind.

One Valentine’s Day, a lonely Harley eats a berry from one of Poison Ivy’s plants. She then emits a scent that makes everyone, including a bus-full of prison inmates fall in love with her. This leads to being holed up in a hardware store and lots of violence involving household tools. The quality is there, and the story is fun, but there’s a bit too much wanton violence and murder for my tastes.  This is why I don’t read anti-hero books. They offend my delicate sensibilities with their shotgun shells to the face.

This would be the equivalent of having to read just the Nightwing portion of these specials.

Grade: C+ It was higher quality than Nightwing, but I like my good guys good and not weedwacking people in the face or blowing them up with an axe-propane tank combination.

Overall Grade: B. The downside to only having 4 stories is that when 2 are really good and 2 are so-so, it really drags down the ranking. I’ll still be picking up the next issue for the Bendis story. It’s that good that it’s worth the cover price alone. Hush redux is more fun than I expected but Harley just wasn’t my taste and Nightwing is too mediocre. I’ll be honest, though; if I knew for sure the new stuff would be collected later on I might skip these altogether. Unlike the Halloween book that went with a mix of recent and classic tales, all of Batman was from the last decade or so–a decade that’s had more misses from Detective Comics comics than hits.

Replace that Nightwing snoozer portion with some Marshall Rodgers Batman or more Neal Adams or some old school Batman Family stories. Even some of the older Sprang or Infantino stuff would be great and worthy of the reprint slot. Everybody will be better served. No need to belabor the point as I’ll be sending mixed signals with my cash next month if I remember to hit up a Wallyworld.

That’ll do it for this time. I hope you enjoyed the reviews!

Until next time, I’ll be occasionally telling my wife I need to make a late night Walmart run for milk when I really mean Batman!

OoooooOoOooooooOOOOOOoooOooOoh!

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