Long story short, I liked comics-related stuff but found the whole idea of being a comics fan too embarrassing, and some of the comics I did try were lacking-in-depth, so I didn’t like comics themselves until my friend Magnum opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them.
Magnum is sort of like my comics fairy godmother, or y’know, something manlier sounding… mentor? Role model? Alfred? I don’t know. Anyway, he’s the go-to chap for explanations, clarifications, recommendations and anything else ending in “ations.” [Musturb… oh wait, never mind.] Not content even to have just started off the whole thing, he’s even gone sent me some Batman novels for Christmas, helping me to read more Batman without breaking my Get (Into) What You Paid For no-buying-things challenge. These included Year Two Fear The Reaper, Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman & Robin and The Ultimate Evil (the story of Batman versus the Peadophiles…no, seriously!).
Pretty great Christmas gift if you ask me, which you did by continuing to read this article up to this sentence. You can expect a blog post about each of those bat-gifts. I have spent the better part of this year reading a lot of Batman Graphic Novels and now I’m going to blog about each and every one of them. I’m going to tell you who made them, which characters are in them and what I think about them. I’ll chip in with an opinion about whether or not I’d recommend that you buy them too, why not? Maybe I can be of some financial help to you too while I’m at it.
The soundtrack for this writing session has been Anthrax. That’s sort of comics-related, right? What with “I Am The Law” existing and all that, right? Maybe not then. But it felt worth mentioning.
For this second installment of the series, I’ll be covering two books in one. This is more or less because my theme for the post was going to be “my favourite art in a Batman book yet” [Last time’s theme was “the first Batman book I ever bought for myself”]. When trying to chose which one I thought was the best, there was a bit of stiff competition. Anything by Jim Lee could have been in there for example, the man has a very impressive style. I could also have chosen The Black Mirror, which looks absolutely gorgeous, but I have to say, of all the Batman books that I’ve seen so far, nothing has been quite as striking or perfect as the art of Matt Wagner, who handled these two interlinked books. The guy is a spectacular artist. Y’know what else though, its not just that these two books are pretty, they’re also hands down two of my favourite Batman stories (or collectively a singular story, hence the double-article). I figured that since they’re both as good as eachother, and because you shouldn’t really get just one without the other, I’d count them as a single entry. Anyway, here we go:
Batman And The Monster Men & Batman And The Mad Monk:
– Writers: Matt Wagner
– Art: Matt Wagner
– Colours: Dave Stewart
– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint
– Timeline Position: Year One
– Villains: The Monster Men, Hugo Strange, Sanjay, Carmine Falconi, Sal Maroni, The Mad Monk, Dala,
– Cameos: Edward Grogan,
– References: Vikki Vale (Reporter), Flass (Police), The Joker, The Flying Graysons, Barbara Gordon, James Gordon Jr.
– Batman is: Bruce Wayne
– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, Catwoman, James Gordon (Police), Harvey Dent (District Attorney), Muray Fineman (Coroner), Julie Madison, Norman Madison
– Story: The overarching plot revolves around Bruce becoming romantically involved with Julie Madison. Her father Norman gets in trouble with the mafia, Batman deals with the Mafia, and Norman mistakenly becomes incredibly paranoid about reprisals from the Batman.
In the first book, Hugo Strange and his sidekick Sanjay do some Breaking Bad-reminiscent chemistry experiments trying to create super soldier serum. They experiment on human subjects and create monsterous, hulking, animalistic henchmen. Its all a bit Resident Evil. They pay for these experiments with money borrowed from the mafia, and this leads to fighting between the two factions when debts begin mounting.
Batman stops Strange’s monsters from murdering all of the mafia men in a final confrontation, but strongarms the Mafia into leaving Norman alone while he’s at it.
Norman, now a complete paranoid wreck tries to pay off a mafia debt that Batman intimidated them into clearing. Norman spirals down into greater and greater paranoia, straining his relationship with his daughter, and eventually decides to try and murder Sal Maroni.
In the second book, a vampire-like new villain called The Mad Monk and his sidekick Dala show up, recruit young women for Blood Sacrifice rituals for their cult, The Brotherhood. Julie Madison becomes recruited while emotionally vulnerable over her issues with her dad, and Batman has to save her.
The story ends with a set up for The Man Who Laughs.
There’s a lot more to it than that, but I don’t want to throw out too many spoilers.
– Tone: The tone is really good. Its adult and entertaining. There’s plenty of action and that sort of thing, plenty of punches to the neck and daring escapes, but there’s also an interesting psychological aspect to it, and what’s more, there’s plenty of Batman’s intimidation, detective work and exploring. It has a real good balance between these and doesn’t rely too heavily on any one. The titular villains in each book are what you might call a little cartoony, which adds to the fun, but they are handled in a tasteful way, so it’s a nice segue between the more realistic and the more fantasy elements of Batman (think of it like how the Arkham games handled Killer Croc and Solomon Grundy).
In fact, in general, I think this has that sort of Arkham style to it. They don’t apologize for the fantasy, but they deliver it in a satisfying and tasteful way. Its something I can get behind. I have to admit that in general I’d rather stories have no magic, deamons or superpowers in them. For some reason I’m one of those people who want Batman to exist in the real world. Stuff like this, it’s a great gateway drug for the likes of me. Sure, there are Monster Men and Giant Wolves, but really it’s the story of proud Norman Madison’s principals being compromised and the damaging effects that dealing with criminals can have on just men. It’s the story of Julie Madison not being able to cope with her father’s declining mental health.
Its also the story of Batman punching a vampire in the fucking face!
Good balance. Vampires and Monsters on one hand, emotional conflict and Mafia usery on the other.
I always seem to enjoy stories that have the Mafia in them. Maroni and Falconi are good characters, or at least, are good tools for quality story writing. I don’t remember ever hearing about them when I was a kid. They just flew right over my head if they were in the Burton/Shumaker films or the cartoon. When I first saw Batman Begins I thought it was really weird that they used the Mafia in the story instead of a Batman villain like the Penguin (little did I know). Now; having read things like Year One and The Long Halloween, I think the Mafia characters are really entertaining. I’d like to read more with them in it. Its pretty cool seeing how Gotham was more or less realistic, before Batman showed up being all weird, and weird criminals started coming out in response.
– Art: I’ve said it before, but I think this is the best looking Batman story (if you think of the two books as one big story) that I’ve seen so far. It looks as if its been painted rather than drawn. It has a very distinct and enjoyable art style. Everything from character design, to the little background details, to the painting-look is top notch and it really is very enjoyable just to look at. It makes me want to pick up everything Matt Wagner has ever done (Trinity and Faces are very high on my wishlist as you can imagine! Hell, I even want to try his Grendel crossover and I’ve never even heard of Grendel the comic book character. All I know is the Marillion song with the brilliant guitar solo).
– Overall: I think this is one of the better, if not one of the best, Batman stories that I’ve gotten my hands on to date, and I’d highly recommend that you pick up a copy (get both, it really is worth it). If you like the sound of something that is set in Year One, that is intelligently and tastefully written – but that still feels like a comic book, that references other books but which works completely as a standalone tale, that looks great, is paced well and that tells a fresh story you haven’t read a million times already, this is absolutely worth checking out.
The bottom line is, its just plain interesting. Its an interesting story… and its good. Very, very good. There’s not one thing I could fault it on. Definitely one of my favourites.
Its so good, just writing this has made me want to sit down and read them both all over again, preferably in one sitting. I think I might do that if I have the time. A dangerous side-effect of having thought too much about these books again though, is now I’m really dying to pick up the other Wagner Batman titles and am now at risk of breaking my no-purchases challenge. Woops. Extra unwanted temptation. Oh well; I guess I’ll just have to take the edge off by finally starting into Arkham Origins now that I’ in a position to do so. That, and y’know, Blog s’more about Batman.
Until next time, old chum.