Review – DC’s Crimes of Passion: Love and Crime

Comic Books DC This Week
DC's Crimes of Passion
DC’s Crimes of Passion #1 cover, via DC Comics.

DC’s Crimes of Passion – Steve Orlando, Stephanie Phillips, Sam Johns, James Tynion IV, Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Sina Grace, Jordan Clark, Mat Groom, Jay Baruchel, Liz Erickson, Ram V, Writers; Greg Smallwood, Riley Rossmo, Gleb Melnikov, Mike Norton, Andie Tong, Abel, John Paul Leon, Artists; Paul Fry, Kieran McKeown, Anthony Spay, Pencillers; Mark Farmer, Dexter Vines, Jason Paz, Wade Von Grawbadger, Inkers; Jordie Bellaire, Luis Guerrero, Jeromy Cox, Hi-Fi, Adriano Lucas, Arif Prianto, Steve Oliff, John Kalisz, Colorists

Ratings:

Ray – 8/10

Ray: With DC’s Crimes of Passion, DC’s seasonal anthologies continue to be a treat, combining new and veteran talent in a series of short stories built around the season. This time it’s Valentine’s Day – but DC has a twist in DC’s Crimes of Passion. DC’s Crimes of Passion is formed around the classic noir romance mysteries, with stories focusing on pulp characters, vigilantes, and criminals as they deal with complex matters of the heart. Do the ten short stories inside live up to the recent pattern of success?

Read on for our thoughts.

Ray: First up is one of the stories featuring top talent, as Steve Orlando and Greg Smallwood team up for a Batman story. In a story that seems to be set in Batman’s early years, it focuses on his romance with a woman named Lynda Page who works at an old-folks’ home. She sees the kindness in Bruce but hates Batman because of his violent ways. When an obscure villain turns the residents of the rest home against each other with psychic powers, Batman is forced to put his identity at risk to cure the woman he cares for. Lynda reminds me a lot of Martha Wayne in characterization, something I’m sure wasn’t an accident. This concept is maybe a bit too involved for this eight-page story, but there’s a simple beauty to it that reminds me a bit of Mask of the Phantasm in places.

Corrina: It’s the art that sells the mood of the story, with its noir style, all shadows at the edges. Given that style, the ending did not surprise me. Unfortunately, while it’s well-written, and the atmosphere is perfect for the story, the end seemed a foregone conclusion. Hard to become invested enough in the relationship when that’s the case.

DC's Crimes of Passion
Orlando/Smallwood, page one. Via DC Comics.

Ray: Next up is a Wildcat story by up-and-coming comic writer Stephanie Phillips (of Dark Horse’s excellent The Butcher in Paris) and hot DC artist Riley Rossmo, set in the brutal world of boxing. When aging champ Ted Grant unexpectedly wins a fight against a young challenger who falls with a single punch, he soon finds out the truth is very different. Thus begins a costumed caper that involves a fixed fight, a kidnapped girlfriend, and some ruthless mafia goons. Wildcat isn’t the focus of the love story here, an interesting change of pace, but this story calls back to his origins as a pulp character. The action is top-notch and it’s a great focus for a character who hasn’t been used prominently in the eight years since the New 52 launched.

Corrina: Ted Grant stories are always welcome to me. Once again, the art is fantastic. I’d thought of Rossmo as more of a horror artist but his work on this noir-style tale feels like a throwback and I love the boxer’s physiques, especially the exagerrated foreheads. It’s a fine story, even providing a nice glimpse into Ted’s opponent.

Ray: Next up is a story by real-life couple James Tynion IV and Sam Johns, with art by Gleb Melnikov and focusing on reformed villain Pied Piper. Now in a long-term relationship with police captain David Singh and putting his criminal past far behind him, Harley is pulled into a meeting with a powerful and rich man with an interest in his old gear. The idea of a former victim of a supervillain who becomes obsessed with the villain – not because of revenge, but because of the temptation of evil and freedom – is an intriguing idea, but again this is one that feels a little too short for a great concept. The real strength of this story isn’t in the main plot, but in the quiet segments between Harley and David – and a strong cliffhanger with possible implications for the Flash.

Corrina: The Pied Piper’s been little used of late and this story provides him with a creepy stalker, in someone he inspired to commit crimes. It’s an interesting villain origin, one inspired to steal by witnessing a super-villain do it, but it’s perhaps not quite enough characterization to explain why the villain would let the Piper near his pipe. Surely, he’d know the tables could be turned.

And, yes, it does feel like a prelude to a possible Flash story.

Ray: Next up is a Green Arrow and Black Canary story by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Paul Fry, focusing on a heartbroken teenager who stages a terror attack at a high school at night. The main focus is on the couple starring in the story, of course, but I also think the segment has a point about how passion and young love and betrayal cause people to do ridiculous things. It’s clear – and Black Canary quickly figures out – that the kid isn’t actually trying to hurt anyone, and the story ends on a hopeful note. Again, packing all this story into eight pages is an inherent flaw of this volume, as I think the story would have been stronger if the “Crimson Bomber” had gotten to explain himself a little more, but the story has a powerful ending with a strong message.

Corrina: It’s a message story, for certain, as a forgotten child cries out in rage for someone to pay attention. It works well for this pair, who wear their compassion on their sleeve. Especially Black Canary, who is a former foster kid. Still, that the teenager planted bombs in the high school, that he tried to kill them, seems like a bridge too far for redemption, which makes the hopeful ending a bit jarring. Still, hope is better than tragedy.

Orlando/Smallwood, page two. Via DC Comics.

Ray: Next up are Sina Grace and Mike Norton with a Plastic Man story that calls back to his time as a criminal. When visiting one of his old haunts, Eel encounters a woman he used to know in his past life – he last saw her stealing his car. But now he’s a superhero and she’s a kept woman of a mob boss. When she asks him to help her escape, this begins a fast-paced and amusing caper that plays on all the tropes of noir stories but pulls in a lot of unique twists using Plastic Man’s powers. Sina Grace knows his way around a noir story, but the real star is Norton and his hilarious depictions of Plas’ transformations. This is one of the stories that packs a lot in but doesn’t feel even slightly rushed.

Corrina: The best parts of this story are the fun that Norton has with various Plastic Man forms, from the bouncy balloon dog to Plas’ entry into a painting, to the elongated head that Plas uses to yell at people. Given his background, Plas was a natural for this volume. And, interestingly, this story ends on a more hopeful note than I expected too.

Ray: Jordan Clark and Kieran McKeown take the helm on what’s sure to be the most talked-about story of the volume, focusing on Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer. This is the first time the characters have been together since the conclusion of the Mark Andreyko run on Batwoman’s title. That run was controversial for the way it broke the two up and the addition of the manipulative Nocturna to Kate’s backstory. This story ties up a lot of those loose ends, with Nocturna escaping from Arkham and Kate having to team up with her old flame. I was glad to see Kate’s decision to be blackmailed out of Maggie’s life finally resolved, but while the reunion is welcome, I wonder if it’ll be followed up on anywhere else. If not, it feels more like a tease.

Corrina: This is definitely a follow-up to the events in the last arc of Batwoman’s initial series. (Not the later series by Marguerite Bennett.) I never liked the inclusion of Nocturna, especially given her mental hold on Kate that made the relationship coercive and, well, rapey. However, having Kate and Maggie talk it out, finally, while taking down Nocturna at least puts that chapter of the story to rest, allowing a possible relationship in the future. (Though what DC will do with Batwoman right now is anyone’s guess. She’s been without a story home since Tynion’s run on Detective Comics.)

Ray: It’s Slam Bradley’s turn to take the lead in a story by Mat Groom and Anthony Spay next, as Batman comes calling for the old detective. A mysterious burglar named the Night Jar is back in town, and Batman gives Slam one last chance to bring them in before he steps in. It turns out the burglar is essentially Slam’s Catwoman – an aging thief who Slam has had a love-hate relationship with for decades. He visits her to bring her in, but this turns into a much more complex and violent operation than expected. The art is maybe a little bright for the tone, but this story captures the classic noir feel of the character’s world better than any so far. Hopefully this is the start of a lot more Slam Bradley stories.

Corrina: The world-weary detective/crime fighter is one of my favorite types of characters—see Wildcat—so a story bringing back Slam Bradley is welcome, especially because he’s a character that lives on Gotham’s fringes. This story probably has too many parallels to Bruce/Selina but the art, especially in the sequence as we “see” Slam and Night Jar dance through the decades, sells  this story wonderfully.

Ray: Probably the most unexpected creator in this book is popular actor Jay Baruchel, who teams up with artist Andie Tong to tell a Nightwing and Batgirl story set in Bludhaven. The two heroes are in a fight, and Dick takes his mind off it by investigating a local runaway named Richie. This leads to him getting mixed up in some sort of gladiator city led by a villain named Sane, and Batgirl coming to his rescue. There’s a LOT of story here, and the compression is more obvious in this story than any other. But the dialogue is surprisingly strong for a creator who doesn’t usually do comic books, and the best part of this story is getting to see classic Nightwing in action again. It’s really more Dick’s story than Babs’, though.

Corrina: Given how Dick hasn’t been himself in ages, seeing him asking for Batgirl’s help should be welcome. And it is, save Ray is right, there’s a great deal of story crammed into this short. I would have liked it longer because it’s hard to tell where this Dick and this Babs are in their relationship or what caused the current riff. But I enjoyed this tale enough that I wanted to see that part of it.

Batgirl’s entrance to save Nightwing is a terrific panel, and it’s nice to see attention paid to this long-running relationship.

Ray: This is a very Gotham-heavy issue, and Liz Erickson and Abel take the reins for a Catwoman story that starts with her trying to drown her sorrows with a heist. But when her heist of a ruby necklace places her in the middle of an elaborate Russian mob family feud, she winds up going from thief to marriage counselor. There’s very little romance or seduction in this story – it’s about a hateful couple that spends most of their time berating each other like the jailed couple in the drunk tank in “Fairy Tale of New York”. I’m not sure it matches the theme of the issue too much, but it works well as a Catwoman heist story. She’s always three steps ahead of her marks, and this story packs a ton of action and twists into eight pages.

Corrina: This harkens back to the Catwoman of the underrated Genevieve Valentine run, where she headed up a crime family in an effort to clean up Gotham in her own way. I can’t help interpreting the fact Selina uses “Valentine” as an alias as a nod to Valentine herself. Selina’s marks are horrible people, which makes it hard to care about how the story turns out but the art is atmospheric and fitting to this type of story.

Ray: Finally, it’s Ram V and legendary artist John Paul Leon with a Question story, easily the bleakest of the volume. Ram V is definitely leaning into the similarities to Rorschach, as the character muses about his deep connection to Hub City and threatens people on the regular. He gets entangled in a twisted romance between a Russian man and his lover, who has been on the run from an assassination attempt for over a decade. The art by Leon is brilliant, but the first half of the story is just Question talking to himself and by the time the plot gets going the story is almost over. It perfectly captures the noir tone of DC’s Crimes of Passion but is so bleak that it ends the volume on a haunting and sour note.

Corrina: Brilliant artwork, as the story almost breathes with every panel, and the depth suggested from the rooftops is almost dizzying. The story itself is slighter, including a closeted gay man willing to protect himself with violence, but this concept of the Question, as the one who is connected to the city reminded me of Rich Veitch’s short-lived Question series that had much to recommended it but has probably been forgotten by nearly everyone.

Ray: Overall, I’m not sure DC’s Crimes of Passion works particularly well as a Valentine’s Day special, unless you’ve been through a bad breakup. The happy endings are few and far between, with Slam Bradley and Wildcat probably having the best outings. But as a noir/crime collection, almost every story hits the mark and leaves you wishing a few of the stories had some more room to breather.

Corrina: No, it’s not exactly full of romance but it is definitely filled with crimes of passion, so it’s truth in advertising. It did provide some of what I’ve been craving from DC stories, in that these tales are complete, rather than being part of an ever-churning overreaching plotline. It’s a nice change to actually have conclusions to what I’m reading.

To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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