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Comic Review: Batman: The Dark Knight #14

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Batman: The Dark Knight #14 comic review Scarecrow Jonathan Crane

After a claustrophobic issue #13 that spent most of its time in Scarecrow’s basement, Writer Gregg Hurwitz and artist David Finch give us a glimpse of the light – both in Gotham City and in Scarecrow.

There’s a lot of blood in this issue. Batman and Scarecrow temporarily part ways, and both are badly wounded in the parting. Batman’s been on the business end of Scarecrow’s scythe a few too many times, while Scarecrow has suffered some jaw-dropping physical damage that drips across every page. Both go to their respective corners to regroup and heal up for the last round of this showdown.

It’s a relief to see Finch take The Dark Knight away from the black, grey, brown, and yellow colour palette that this comic has been drenched in since the Scarecrow’s introduction. In fact, we get more brightness than Batman can apparently handle. Early on we see Batman limping down the street in broad daylight, only to be attacked by some street thugs who can’t believe their luck. Later, Scarecrow’s little girl victim spots Batman standing awkwardly in the corner of the room, and for once, it doesn’t look like Batman meant to be seen.

That in itself is what makes the art so interesting. Scarecrow has got Batman off his game. The shadows aren’t so safe or inviting, and he’s vulnerable in the light.

Next issue will tell whether Hurwitz and Finch continue with this concept, or whether they build him back up to normal right away. An off-kilter Batman would be hard-pressed in a fight with the terrifying Scarecrow.

On the writing side, Hurwitz lets up on Jonathan Crane’s childhood torture flashbacks and instead shows us a Scarecrow who has a limit. He’s tortured the little girl in his basement for a few issues now, but when her life is on the line, he cares about sparing her. It’s a quick but fascinating glimpse of the person behind the burlap mask. Hopefully it has an impact before this story is over.

The dialogue hits most of the right notes, but there are exceptions. When the thugs decide to jump Batman, one makes a cringe-worthy attempt at street slang when he asks, “Homie… That the Batman?” Conversely, the Penguin’s brief appearance is excellent. Hurwitz writes a callous professional with a nonchalant touch that is refreshing amid all the glowering and introspection we get out of tight-lipped Batman and not so tight-lipped Scarecrow.

Next issue promises to be a Christmas special of sorts, and the second to last story in this Scarecrow arc. Scarecrow’s got a city-wide nightmare before Christmas planned. If anything, it’ll be worth it for all the ghoulish Santas and reindeer.

7 out of 10.

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Phoenix Coyotes will still have a snowball’s chance in Arizona after sale

November 24, 2012 Leave a comment
Phoenix Coyotes National Hockey League NHL Shane Doan

Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan.

As the National Hockey League’s season teeters on the brink of cancellation for the second time in less than a decade, there’s one burning issue that will not be solved by these negotiations, and that’s the ownerless financial abyss known as the Phoenix Coyotes.

Every professional sports league has its poor cousin franchises, those teams that just can’t keep up financially with the likes of the New York Yankees, Toronto Maple Leafs or New England Patriots. But the Phoenix Coyotes have become more than just the NHL’s poor cousin. Phoenix is the poor cousin who moves into your basement, eats your food, sleeps all day and swears he’s looking for a job, but he’s holding out for a management position, thank you very much.

The Coyotes have been for sale since 2005 when then-owner Jerry Moyes declared bankruptcy and attempted to sell the team to Canadian BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie, whose stated goal was to move the team to Hamilton. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was enraged by Balsillie trying to enter the league by the back door, and he eventually beat the Research in Motion CEO in court. The win allowed the NHL to buy the team with the goal of flipping it to an approved owner at a later date.

Fast forward to the end of 2012 and the league still owns the Coyotes. The Coyotes remain a horrible draw in Arizona thanks to a poorly-placed arena and, more significantly, an inability to win over a sun-drenched marketplace. Even after two consecutive playoff appearances, the Coyotes have been unable to turn anything close to a profit. In fact, the opposite is true: their hometown of Glendale has been footing $25 million a year for the last two years to cover the team’s losses and keep it as the anchor tenant at Jobing.com Arena. They’ve been throwing good money after bad to keep that arena operational while the NHL has strung the city along with almost-owner after almost-owner.

The Phoenix ownership saga may come to an end this year, but it’s also very likely this latest scheme will fall flat. Former San Jose Sharks president and CEO Greg Jamison declared he would buy the team this summer, but he’s been checking under the couch cushions for cash ever since, and the sale has not been made. It was close to happening in September but was delayed while Jamison sought more funding. Now he has the dough and Glendale will hold a vote on the lease deal on Tuesday.

Gary Bettman and Greg Jamison NHL Phoenix Coyotes ownership Glendale

Prospective Phoenix Coyotes owner Greg Jamison (left) with Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Jamison’s purchase price is expected to be in the $160 million range, but the NHL often inflates their announced sale numbers. Regardless, the finances between Glendale and Jamison are where the numbers get interesting.

Jamison is locked in for a 20-year term. He will pay the city $286 million in rent to use the arena, but will receive $320 million to manage it. Nevermind that his management skills are apparently less valuable than Hulsizer’s ($39.4 million per year offered to Hulsizer, compared to $15 million for Jamison), but the city remains in debt to whoever buys the team. The Arizona Republic ran the numbers on the Jamison deal and concluded that even if the Coyotes reached the Stanley Cup Final every year for the next 20 years – an impossible proposition in itself – the city would still stand to lose about $9 million on the deal.

Jamison’s close, but he’s not the first to almost buy the team. Bettman has, at various times, had investor group Ice Edge Holdings and Chicago investors Jerry Reinsdorf and Matthew Hulsizer ready to buy the team, but each time the deal has fallen through, whether under the threat of lawsuits by the watchdog Goldwater Institute or because the numbers simply did not make sense.

Despite the unattractiveness of the team, Bettman has repeatedly told media outlets that he’s got multiple investors lined up to buy it. Each time all hope seems lost, Bettman does the management equivalent of drunk dialing an old girlfriend: he rings up Ice Edge, Reinsdorf, or another of his buddies to kick the tires and make the team look attractive. Jamison – a Bettman pal from his Sharks days – may be the one to close the deal, but it’s looked like this before. The closest suitor before Jamison has been Matthew Hulsizer, who showed up at some Coyote playoff games with the jersey and foam finger act before turning down a sweetheart deal from Glendale so he could buy the St. Louis Blues instead.

Glendale has been, in many ways, the culprit of its own demise. Mayor Elaine Scruggs and city councilors have been adamant that the arena must hold on to its anchor tenant in order to keep the surrounding strip mall alive and provide jobs in a state economy crippled by recession. To that effect, Glendale has twice covered the NHL’s operating costs of $25 million per year to keep the Coyotes in place. They dipped into emergency funds to finance the 2011-2012 season and were forced to cut city services to pay the NHL. Library, police, road repair and firefighter budgets took a hit to keep the hockey team in the desert.

Every deal for every prospective owner has incorporated some form of loss protection or exorbitant “arena management fee” to be paid by the city to the purchaser. Glendale tried to sell bonds to help Reinsdorf raise $165 million to buy the team, and when that deal fell through, they were ready to pay Hulsizer $197 million over five years to run the arena and parking facilities nearby.

The problem with Jobing.com Arena is that it’s what real estate developers call a green banana. It was built in the path of major real estate development, but that development is still years off. The arena currently serves as the anchor point for a cluster of bars, restaurants and retail stores surrounding it, but it remains a pain for people to get to. It’s a good arena with a good NHL team, but it’s in a bad location in a hot southern state where ice is normally only found in a glass. Add to that this NHL lockout, and whatever progress they’ve made with their recent winning ways will have slipped away during this period of inactivity.

The Glendale vote on Tuesday is expected to come down to a single swing vote, and even if it passes, the Goldwater Institute will likely sue on the grounds that the city is subsidizing a private business venture.

All sense suggests the NHL should pull up stakes and move to a more viable market like Quebec City or southern Ontario.

But this thing stopped making sense years ago.

Comic Review: Wonder Woman #14

November 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Wonder Woman #14 Princess Diana DC Comics New 52

Tony Akins does a marvelous job filling in for regular artist Cliff Chiang, and Brian Azarello continues to build up to the return of the New Gods in another fantastic Wonder Woman issue.

This is, front to back, a wonderful comic to read. Azarello’s Wonder Woman is endearing in her sincerity as she confronts yet another bastard child of Zeus who has fallen victim to jilted Hera’s wrath. Diana continues to fight her battles with her heart as much as with her muscle, putting her a cut above your typical brawling superhero. There’s plenty of fighting and plenty of strong dialog to be found here when she confronts Siracca, Zeus’s daughter with the power to control – and listen to – the wind.

There’s nothing from Diana’s growing cast of companions in this issue, but that’s okay. This issue is great for the strong character moment it offers for Diana. She’s just so damn loving, it’s impossible not to melt for her when she opens up to others.

Contrast that with the familial hatred and power-hungry alliances we see out of her godly extended family, and it’s hard to pity the fall that is so clearly coming for them. Zeus’s firstborn son continues to chill in the Arctic, big and naked and scarred and with only revenge in mind.

This comic is straight up Wonder Woman facing danger, and it’s totally worth the read. Azarello is building up to a great heavenly confrontation. The payoff certainly looks promising.

9 out of 10.

Comic Review: Captain America #1

November 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Captain America #1 Marvel Now Steve Rogers Cover Retro

Captain America visits Dimension Z and discovers the dangers of touching the rail on the subway in Rick Remender and John Romita Jr.’s first crack at the Star-spangled Avenger.

The writing offers up some fairly one-dimensional bad guys in Steve Rogers’ alcoholic Irish father, a hippie-inspired Green Skull and the old school, scenery-chewing Zola. Romita’s art is strong, save for one panel where Steve’s father – thusfar a raging, strong-jawed lout – suddenly stops in the middle of a rant and stares at his wife in shock. In this one moment, he suddenly looks more like the blue-eyed human version of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast.

The plot really zips along, offering the impression that Remender is trying to get Cap to Dimension Z as quickly and conveniently as possible. There’s clearly a story he wants to tell using Dimension Z, but Captain America #1 suffers under the burden of transitioning Steve Rogers to this new arena.

If you’re into the old school heart-of-gold Cap, there’s not too much of that here until the final page. This Captain America seems to simply be doing his job, and there’s not a lot of emotional engagement for him or for the reader. The opening flashback is something you’ve seen in a dozen movies, and it doesn’t offer any new insight into who Steve Rogers is.

Fans of Flash Gordon-type science fiction will find something to like here in all the giant needle genetics, teeth-gnashing baddies and alien landscapes this series appears to have in store. If you want some home-spun, World War II-esque plotlines, you won’t find them here.

6.5 out of 10.

Comic Review: Indestructible Hulk #1

November 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Indestructible Hulk #1 Marvel NOW Mark Waid Leinil Yu Comic Cover

Bruce Banner has come to a revelation in Indestructible Hulk #1: like cancer or MS, there are some things you just have to accept as a reality and learn to live with. Luckily for S.H.I.E.L.D. (and for Hulk fans), Bruce’s self-acceptance gives us a scientist with a sense of humour about himself, and a Hulk with some well-channeled anger therapy sessions.

Mark Waid serves notice early in this issue that Indestructible Hulk is not going to be a self-pity party. He’s brought Bruce Banner and the Hulk down to their essential elements – smartest man on earth and angriest monster on earth – and he’s going to allow them to simply be what they are. Bruce is tired of being the third most useful smart guy in the Marvel Universe, behind Tony Stark and Reed Richards, so he’s looking to make his mark during “Banner Time.” He also accepts that the Hulk has no trouble leaving his mark, and so he’s found a way to direct his unstoppable alter ego. He knows he can’t cure or control the Hulk, so he’s offered him up as a pitbull for the good guys. Thus, Indestructible Hulk: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

If you’re new to the comic version Hulk (as I am), this is a great read. It’s a nice, tight, self-contained story with down-to-earth storytelling, good ol’ fashioned Hulk-smashing and great humour throughout. It’s particularly enjoyable to watch Bruce Banner try to talk to S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill in a crowded diner full of klutzy patrons.

Artist Leinil Yu does a good job with the packed diner scene, but Hulk’s equally-packed action sequences get a bit dodgy. Still, it’s not enough to detract from an excellent first outing for Indestructible Hulk.

I was long a critic of the Hulk as a character; to me, he is a wrecking ball that, more often than not, gets pointed in the right direction, but nearly as often goes after his would-be allies. I thought that made it hard to call him a hero. Marvel’s The Avengers movie won me over, and this comic gets it, too: Bruce Banner is the hero for leashing and unleashing his gamma-fuelled alter ego.

This comic is a great take on the character for any hardcore Hulk fan, and a perfect jumping-on point for newcomers still green behind the ears.

8 out of 10.