Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Magrs Method of Book Reporting, Book #1 - Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu by Devin Grayson and Flint Dille

Can you encapsulate the book in one sentence?
A new criminal mastermind named Sin Tzu decides that Batman must be defeated and enlists three of the Dark Knight's toughest foes to create chaos in Gotham City.
When did  you buy it?
In December of last year.  It was on the bargain table at a comic book store for two dollars.
What year or edition?
The book is a mass-market paperback novelization of a video game that was released in 2003 and is a tie-in. It is also tied to the TV series Batman: The Animated Series, which had ceased production five years prior to the release of the game.
What's your verdict?
It's "good". I thought it was clearly following an outline and the authors tried to add originality by using a mixed-narrative, i.e., every chapter narrated in the first-person by a different member of the cast, while Sin Tzu narrates four chapters. It could have been better.
How so?
There are hints/intimations that Sin Tzu could be the omnipotent asian demigod he presents himself as...or, more interestingly, is a fraud. He chose to ally himself with three Batman villains dependant on chemical stimulants/toxins: The Scarecrow with his fear gas; Bane with his Venom steroid; Clayface's entire body consists of a toxic compound called "RenuYu" (Hydromethotrexamede)...could it be that Sin Tzu's visions & powers and communications with ancient dieties are just the ravings of a drug-addled lunatic whose hideout is in (surprise, surprise) Arkham Asylum?! This could've been a great denouement for a villain who'd been all talk and no action for over 280 pages, and a nice twist for novel that took a cerebral approach to what was, if I recall correctly,  an average "button mash" melee brawler game.
Another problem: the mixed first-person narratives probably required more skill and wit at executing than what was on display - each chapter begins and ends as a long-winded monologue/soliloquy/infodump in which each narrator spends 2/3 of it mulling over their backstory, with Sin Tzu being the worst offender. It kills any attempt at creating suspense and tension, and it makes the book feel more episodic than it should be.
What genre would you say it is?
I would put it in the "Fantasy" genre, or "Pulp Fantasy", since it could've easily been an adventure with The Shadow or Doc Savage or The Spirit - characters who are often name-dropped in that realm.
What surprises did it hold - if any?
Superstar comic book artist Jim Lee created the design for Sin Tzu,  so I'm surprised the character was never used again! Also, Batman's appearances feel slight until the final two chapters, of which, the last he narrates. He should have had more to do here.
Have you read anything else by this author?
I've read Devin Grayson's Batman comics and thought they were good, but her best work was writing Catwoman. She also wrote another novel featuring the DC Comics superheroes: Inheritance, featuring Batman, Aquaman & Green Arrow, who stole the show.  I believe Grayson should get a shot at writing Green Arrow - she had a lot of fun writing him.
What will you do with this copy now?
I'll hold onto it - it's not bad at all; the few Batman prose novels I've seen have never tried juggling as many characters as this book does - it's an impressive effort.
Is it available today?
It's out of print, but it could be purchased online used..or if your comic book store has an extensive selection of paperback novels that don't "move", if you know what I mean.
What scene will stay with you? What character will stay with you?
Of the chapters narrated by the villains,  I thought Clayface's tale was the best. With the heroes, Batman's was very good. With the supporting characters (and this answers the second question), it's the strange chapter narrated by a character named Gareth Baxter, a federal agent with a curious hobby of collecting Hummel figurines...he's being interrogated by Nightwing in his bedroom, and the dialogue/narration has a subtext that Devin Grayson seems to have gotten away with...with a wink.
Give a good quote from the book
My eyes begin to adjust more completely in the dark and I can just make out the lines of his figure crouching on my seven-drawer dresser . He doesn't wear a cape, as I was told the Batman does, but his eyes are covered by a small mask that mostly serves to call attention to the bare skin of his face as a contrast against his dark hair and the rest of his entirely covered body.  Gloves.  Boots. He's a young man in his early twenties and even in the dark I can make out the long lean muscles rippling under his skin tight costume as he moves. I watched him for 10 seconds without blinking and realize that he's in almost constant motion.
"Call me Nightwing he says, his tone almost conversational. "And hand over the Sin Tzu files."
Nightwing? I shake my head . I don't remember anything about a Nightwing from the files , but he must be one of the Batman's soldiers . We'd long suspected that the Batman has a support team operating under the acronym R.O.B.I.N (Reserve Officers of the Batman's Intelligence Network) most of them alarmingly young - kidnapped children possibly, or runaways. I've also heard of an operative called The Dark Knight but never Nightwing.
-  Chapter 12, Page 238-239
A good parry. His question surprises me. It shouldn't, because, after all, he is a detective. In moments of doubt, all men rush to things they know. They flee to the familiar.
- Chapter  13, Page 261-262
My existence is spent battling for the safety of this city. I don't honestly know if it's possible to live in complete safety, complete peace . But I do know that I'll do everything within my power to bring us as close to that point as I can even if I have to use violence to do it .
I abhor violence. It is a language of tyrants and thugs and one I have therefore become fluent in, but it is never my first choice when initiating discourse.
- Chapter  14, Page 276-277

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