REVIEW: In Tom King's Batman #66, a major new artist rises

Batman #66 is due out 3/6/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — The ongoing Knightmares story arc—which picks up here after a two-issue interlude that doubles as a Heroes in Crisis tie-in and a crossover with The Flash—is a tough one to review, at least on a monthly basis. The main trouble is that it’s really hard to contextualize the literal nightmare torture state our hero is trapped within without knowing what the payoff will be. We’re even lacking some basic info here, like who’s doing this to him (we can maybe safely assume it’s his father from the Flashpoint timeline), how long he’s been trapped, and, perhaps most importantly, why?

This all makes it a bit tricky to gauge whether this story is working on a larger narrative level. With that in mind, I think it has to then be evaluated on the past merits of this run written by Tom King, as well as on whether it provides an entertaining individual reading experience. Let’s start with the latter: I think this issue most certainly does entertain.

This issue is entertaining for two main reasons, and we’ll start with the first one since I have a bit less to say about. This is the most we’ve seen writer Tom King portraying Catwoman since Batman #50 ended with her leaving Bruce at the altar/on a rooftop, worried as she was that a content Batman would be bad for the world and for Gotham. This issue sees the as-of-late underutilized Question interrogating her about the Bat-Cat relationship and, in a broader sense, her wedding decision.

If there’s one thing King has excelled at throughout this run it’s writing big Bat-Cat moments (with Batman Annual #2 standing out as the pinnacle of this run to date, with the possible exception of the Cold Days arc, which could be the best multi-part Batman story of the past decade). I for one have always found Catwoman the more interesting and less explored member of the pairing, and what this issue does (even if it’s not real real) is give us her more interesting perspective as she drags out a sultry cigarette like a character in a Golden Age Hollywood movie. It’s a great premise.

What makes this issue really pop, so to speak, is the artwork. Jorge Fornes is a superstar artist waiting to happen, and, more precisely, a perfect fit for illustrating noir stories within the extant DC world. He doesn’t quite fit with the publisher’s house style, but he’s squarely within the lineage of the sorts of cartoonist they like to tap when they deviate from the photorealistic, think Shawn Martinbrough’s Detective Comics run with Greg Rucka, or Phil Hester and Ande Parks work on Green Arrow with Kevin Smith and later Brad Meltzer.

It’s the type of Bruce Timm-esque cartooning that really accentuates the classic designs of the characters, we get so many glorious scenes of it here, bet it Catwoman tangling upside down in front of a diamond from a wire, or The Question leaning in with intensity splayed all over his (or her) expressionless facade. It’s truly special work, and if Fornes hasn’t already been tapped for more noir DC Universe cartooning, well that’s a missed opportunity.

The last point I want to make is that in the context of the longer run, this faux reality Knightmares run asks readers for a pretty sizeable leap of faith, and I think that’s just fine. It’s the kind of ask the writer and his collaborators have earned after 66 issues, all but three of which I’ve liked (The Gift) and most of which I’ve absolutely loved. It’s an experimental take on Batman, compared to traditional depictions, and this is nothing if not an experimental arc. I say let them tell the story, give them the benefit of the doubt, and let’s talk again in six months.

Overall: Jorge Fornes steals the show in this issue as Tom King’s experimental dream-state arc of one-shots resumes. In addition to Fornes drawing some of the best noir DC scenes in recent memory, we get King exploring the Bat-Cat relationship yet again. This story might not be actually happening, but the quality with which it’s being told is 100 percent real. 9.0/10
Batman #66
Writer:
Tom King
Artist: Jorge Fornes
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99

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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

Comic of the Week: Hot Lunch Special #5

Hot Lunch Special #5 is out 2/20/2019.

By d. emerson eddy — I can say unequivocally that Hot Lunch Special is not only one of the best crime comics of 2018/2019, it's also one of the best comics of the same time…period. I'd argue even further beyond that that it's quite possibly one of the best things that I've read this decade. All in a tidy little family crime drama from Eliot Rahal, Jorge Fornés, and Taylor Esposito.

There are the obvious comparisons to Fargo (or really any Coen Brothers movie) in its offbeat approach to storytelling and crime, taking an angle through the food service industry as a front for the illicit business. Yet the crime procedural aspect wasn't really at the forefront, it was more about the family, the Khourys, trying to get revenge for the murder of their youngest in an intimidation attempt gone wrong. It was about the family trying to deal with the loss of someone they held dear as they try to put the pieces back together of a fractured, strained relationship between the siblings and their father.

This final issue launches the ultimate plan for the Khourys revenge on Big Jim Moran for killing Ben. And it's pretty simple, but that simplicity is part of what makes it work. A simple plan, a simple plot, but from it it allows Eliot Rahal to focus still on the characters, making them interesting and unique, even new ones like Pat, all while building them up through dialogue. Then prime the detonator.

That detonator being a part of the plot, but also coming through Jorge Fornés, whose artwork for this series has been incendiary. Fornés has a style that's not dissimilar to David Mazzucchelli with a hint of Steve Lieber, wonderful use of shadow amid a simple thin lined approach, and it works incredibly well for crime comics. Add to that some inventive use of page layouts and panel compositions in ways that can really only be done in comics and it results in a story that also celebrates what you can do in the medium.

Since dialogue is often a very important part of crime drama and family drama, there is a lot of it in this story. It never feels forced or wordy, but it does mean that Taylor Esposito has a gargantuan task ahead of him to make it flow and not feel cramped or overly imposing on each page with his lettering. Working well with Fornés to ensure that the words and pictures aren't competing.

Overall, this has been a wonderful series. It's been an entertaining, offbeat story with some interesting characters and a family that you want to see succeed, even with their shortcomings and hang-ups. Rahal, Fornés, and Esposito wove a good yarn here and I hope that the hint of something more at the end of this story comes true.

Hot Lunch Special #5
Writer:
Eliot Rahal
Artist: Jorge Fornés
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Price: $3.99

Check out more of d. emerson eddy’s Comic of the Week feature on our Lists Page.

d. emerson eddy is a student and writer of things. He fell in love with comics during Moore, Bissette, & Totleben's run on Swamp Thing and it has been a torrid affair ever since. His madness typically manifests itself on Twitter @93418.

REVIEW: Hot Lunch Special #5, a conclusion promises more

Hot Lunch Special #5  is out 2/20/2019.

Hot Lunch Special #5 is out 2/20/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Hot Lunch Special, which launched from AfterShock Comics in August, is a unique series, a crime story that feels like Fargo steeped in intense family drama as well as the dry intricacies of the food distribution business. It’s done what (in my opinion) many of the most interesting crime dramas do, which is kill off characters one presumes to be safe or integral to its plot, doing so at a pace closer to Game of Thrones than to a nice Midwestern comic book like this one. This week’s Hot Lunch Special #5, the series finale (at least for now…), is no exception.

And I don’t think it’s a spoiler to note that in this issue death has come to the folks at Khoury Foods, as well as to their Chicago-based, mildly Irish mob-connected Moran family rivals. The entire series (which has been bloody throughout) has clearly been building to this climax, which is essentially a full-issue standoff in which revenge, prosperity, and the continued safety of certain family members (who have all been through a lot) is at stake. An action-heavy and consequential ending has been promised, maybe going as far back as issue #1 or #2, and an action-heavy and consequential ending is what Hot Lunch Special #5 delivers.

Eliot Rahal continues to write the hell out of this comic with reckless abandon, incorporating plot twists that I presume are difficult for him as a creator. Rahal is literally killing his darlings left and right throughout this book, doing so in ways that feel organic rather than contrived for long-term or poignant plotting purposes. He also revels in the esoteric nature of the food business he’s set out to portray here. It isn’t played for laughs, and it really hasn’t been at any point through this series. It’s depicted as what it is: a day’s work, a way for generations of a family (and for those they service) to literally eat. There’s so much respect in that, even if he surrounds it all with madcap bloody violence (because, hey, this is still comics…).

Jorge Fornes, meanwhile, is a superstar in the making. In fact, the Hot Lunch Special co-creator and artist has already been tabbed by DC Comics as what looks to be its next big Batman artist, and I haven’t seen one of the Big 2 act this fast to find a perfect fit for a major new talent since Donny Cates got to wreck the future of the universe over at Marvel (and before that Tom King was drafted to write Batman and Mister Miracle). Fornes was made to draw the type of moody noir and action sequences as at home in Hot Lunch Special as they seem likely to be in forthcoming issues of Batman.

So yes, this issue was a satisfying climax that absolved some jams, made its characters pay high prices, and delivered on much of the foreshadowing and tension incorporated into earlier issues. If you’ve read all four of the proceeding chapters, you’ll read this one, and if you’ve been intrigued by what you’ve heard of Hot Lunch Special, you’ll be happy to know it has an end that won’t diminish anything that came before it once you read it all in trade. The last item of note here is that that ending also all but guarantees future issues. The stories in the first volume are essentially wrapped up in a way that creates urgent issues to be absolved moving forward. Exciting stuff.

Overall: Hot Lunch Special #5 is an action-packed and tragic conclusion that all but promises more story. If you’ve enjoyed the other issues of this book, you’re likely to love it’s ending, and if you’ve been intrigued by what you’ve heard, you’ll be happy to know it will all read quite well in trade. 8.5/10

Hot Lunch Special #5
Writer:
Eliot Rahal
Artist: Jorge Fornes
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

ADVANCED REVIEW: Hot Lunch Special #1 by Eliot Rahal, Jorge Fornes, & Taylor Esposito

There is a very personal feel to this story about mafia debts and severed appendages.

By Zack Quaintance — To join in on the food motif of Hot Lunch Special #1, let me start by saying this comic book feels like a main course of generational immigrant success story with a healthy side of Fargo-esque Midwestern crime noir, plus just a taste of a cautionary mafia power struggle. That’s a big meal (end of the food references, I swear), but it’s one that writer Eliot Rahal and artist Jorge Fornes serve up (damn it) expertly.

I liked Hot Lunch Special #1 quite a bit, and the main reason why is that there was a compelling level of realism here, one that at times made it feel almost like a memoir, although not quite because readers are never that far removed from a cops or crooks scene, or gasp a severed finger in a sandwich (that’s page 1, actually). Credit for this realism is, of course, due in large part to Rahal’s script, which I’m fairly certain was heavily informed by his familial history, but it’s also due to Fornes artwork, which strives for and achieves an immersive and intricate level of detail in even the book’s quietest moments—especially in the book’s quietest moments.

Fornes also does some great work with his colors, using them as so many masters have to make clear which scenes were set in the distant past for an older generation (one word: sepia) and which are in modern times.

There’s certainly a lot to pack into this debut, yet the book doesn’t fall victim to a frequent first issue pet peeve of mine: over exposition. No, there are no lengthy exchanges between two talking heads filling in how grandma met grandpa or how the family business first became entangled with organized crime (not a spoiler...all of that was in the solicit). Instead, Rahal and Fornes expertly careen this story through space and time, sparing us any over-inflation and keeping the narrative tight. It works so effectively that I halfway wondered if this was an oversized issued as I read. Put simply, a lot goes down.

But it’s all manageable and the hands of the creators go largely unnoticed. By the time the third act here came to its excellent cliffhanger of a conclusion, I felt like I knew who our main stakeholders were (especially the fantastic antagonist) and, more importantly, I felt like I had a reason to care about the story’s central family. I am—groan—ready for a second helping.  

Overall: Hot Lunch Special #1 takes a very personal generational story and mashes it up with  Fargo-esque Midwestern crime noir. It’s a quiet and grounded comic mostly, one that also feels taut and dangerous by its end. This first issue is promising, an excellent start for what may prove to be a unique book. 9.0/10

For more comic book and movie reviews, check out our review archives here.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.