Amateur Batfan: Volume 9 – Heart Of Hush

Hello and welcome to the ninth installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

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 Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them. I had a sort of snobbery to overcome. Its been overcome now though, and I’ve spent most of the last year buying and reading Batman comics, which I will now blog about for your reading pleasure and commenting-inspiration (seriously, I want to know what you think about these comics).

[First off, why not listen to this while reading this article:

, that’s probably the way to get the most out of the experience.]

At the minute, I’m happily making my way through reading No Man’s Land, and just like last time, since I’m not finished it yet, that won’t be the subject of this week’s entry. I’ve also received Batman: Demon in the mail. It may surprise you to know that its not about Ras Al Ghul like Son Of The Demon and Birth Of The Demon and all those other Demon books… its about that Etrigan The Demon guy, who I only know from one of Kevin Smith’s two Batman books. He rhymes a lot. Is that a permanent character point or just a Smith thing? I’ll find out soon enough…

Anyway; Last time on Amateur Batfan, I covered Hush Returns, which was a bad story featuring the villain Hush. Today, I read an interesting article about how the original Hush book was quite poor (Read it here). The thing is I really like Hush (the character). I like him to the point where I frequently think the sentence “if I was ever in charge of a Batman Comic/Movie/Videogame then I’d make Hush one of the main villains” (Along with Onemotapia and The Architect in case you were wondering).

When I first heard of Hush, I went into reading the original book with a negative eye, expecting to be disappointed, as my friend and Batman-advisor Paul had said that it wasn’t good (and after I read it and asked why, he said “because it treats the reader with absolutely no intelligence”), but I remember at the time really really enjoying Hush (damn its getting confusing having the book title and the villain both be called Hush, isn’t it?) partly due to Jim Lee’s beautiful artwork… (that’s how I want all comics to look, even if he could do with being less sexist. Also, everyone online ever also informs me that all his male characters have the same face and body). It was also partly due to the entertainment value. Its not a strong mystery at all, and the “insert thing into the past” line of story telling is one of my pet peeves (…and its actually doubly unnecessary here, because if Loeb wasn’t so attached to the name Tommy Elliot, he could have used the Bruce’s childhood friend character from Batman Gothic and then he’d just be expanding rather than shoe-horning) but I think the whole ride was pretty fun in a low level blockbuster sort of a way.

I also remember disliking the [Spoiler]Clayface/Jason Todd plot point a lot though. So… I guess you could say that I disliked THE POINT OF THE BOOK. But I enjoyed the ride. I really ought to re-read it and see where I stand; because of Paul (my friend, not Paul Dini), and a coincidental series of other people disliking it, I kind of assumed most people hated it. I was reading a lot of reviews about it today though, and it seems almost universally loved. I guess it’s the Metallica thing. Everyone loves Metallica, but you see a lot of criticism too. Is Lars a bad drummer? I can’t even tell anymore. Linkin Park are the same… if you’re actually in a University Halls Of Residence, you are never more than 10 feet away from at least 15 people who love Linkin Park, but go on Blabbermouth and you’d think they were the most reviled band on the planet.

Given that those two other Hush books aren’t very strong (or maybe Hush is… I’m still not sure), I’m not really certain why I enjoy Hush so much as a villain… but I do. I was even really pleased when he had a brief cameo in Gates Of Gotham, it really put a smile on my face! …Maybe its just because he looks cool. Maybe its just because I hadn’t heard of him before and I then when I saw him at the right time, I bonded to him, like how a zoo animal thinks the puppet that the Zoo Keeper uses to feed it is its mother. Maybe its because he shows up in Arkham City, and that game was great. Who knows? Anyway, this week, I’ve decided to cover a Hush story that isn’t poor. In fact, its one of my favourite Batman books so far. In fact, this story is almost like an apology or justification of the original Hush’s flaws.

As an example of those flaws, I’ve heard the motivation of Hush in the original Hush (confusing aint it?) described as “ludicrously juvenile.” Hush’s motivation is more understandable once he is more deeply characterized here though (heck, even his costume is). As an example of how Dini has retroactively rectified those flaws: While still having to work with what he’s been given (the car crash, wanting his parents inheritance, Wayne Sr. saving his mum plot), Dini manages to add depth and therefor quality by making the reader understand that Hush as a character is a ludicrously juvenile person, and that its not just bad writing. The guy is a total born prick, and he is also tortured emotionally by a belittling and draining upbringing. His parent’s inability to let him grow explains, in part, his ludicrous childishness, which only compounds his born wanker-ness. Its quite a clever workaround.

You know what else? I really hate shoe-horning in a previously unknown childhood best friend into any story (just like I hate a long-lost brother, or a secret lovechild), but when this is the third appearance, and its already established… its kind of dulled, or lessened. Its not a shoehorn anymore, it just “is.” Hush, by this stage, just is Bruce’s childhood best friend and we all know it, and its no-longer an insult on our sensibilities so we can now all just get on with it. Consequently, that particular turd isn’t gathering as many flies in this book. It left me softened up and more ready to just enjoy the story.

Speaking of softened up… as a sort of apology to what I’d said last week… I also had another thought when reading through several reviews and Wikipedia articles about all three of the Hush stories I’m talking about which softened me up a little to Hush Returns, which I had criticized for mis-characterizing Hush as a brawler when the original establishes him as a slow-strategist type (a callback to Bane’s wearing Batman down with villain after villain?). This softening-thought was that in Hush (the book) itself, it wasn’t Hush (the villain) who came up with the slow long-game plan, it was The Riddler. I’d forgotten about that by the time I’d read Hush Returns. So Hush wading in himself in Hush Returns isn’t so out of character after all. I can admit when I’m wrong.

Also, because I can’t completely divorce myself from writing about music, I just thought I’d inform you that at the time of writing, I’m currently listening to The Glorious Burden by Iced Earth, featuring Tim Ripper Owens, specifically the epic three-part, 30-minute long “Gettysburg.” If you haven’t heard it but like Heavy Metal in the vein of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, its an absolute gem. That’s my Heavy Metal recommendation for the day. You can all sleep easily now.

Batman

Batman Heart Of Hush:

– Writers: Paul Dini
– Art: Dustin Nguyen
– Colours: Derek Fridolps

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Very Late Career, Ties in with Batman R.I.P

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: Hush, Dr Aesop, Scarecrow, The Walrus, The Carpenter, The Joker, Mr. Freeze

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, Tim Drake as Robin, Dick Grayson as Nightwing, Barbara Gordon as Oracle, James Gordon (Police) Bullock (Police) Montoya (Police), Catwoman, Zatana,

-Bystanders: Detective Sam Emerson Bradley, Colin, Peyton Riley

– Mentioned: The Ventriloquist

– Cameos: Harley Quinn, Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Killer Croc, Thomas & Martha Wayne, Poison Ivy, Tweedledum & Tweedle Dee, Mid-Nite, Mr. Terrific

– Story: [Spoilers Ahoy:] The story takes place between the events of the books The Black Glove and Batman R.I.P, as the Black Glove Organization’s threat on Batman’s life drives Hush’s egotism into action. Hush is an asshole and he has to be the one to kill Batman. He sets up headquarters in the abandoned hospital that he mentioned in passing in Hush Returns, where now he has kidnapped and drugged-up a number people to use as almost zombie-like helpers. It might be a slight callback to The Cult… seeing as how Hush books love calling back to things. His plan involves attacking the people Batman cares about, including Alfred and Catwoman. The original Hush book saw Batman and Catwoman developing a romance, so after distracting Batman with decoy plans including an innocent little boy being given venom (…a callback to Batman Venom?), he goes as far as to actually surgically remove Catwoman’s heart. It is cryogenically frozen with help from Mr. Freeze to lure Batman into a trap.

There are multiple flashbacks to Hush’s childhood throughout the book, explaining the toxic relationship between him and his domineering mother (who’s bandaged face after the car accident from the previous Hush story adds an extra layer to the whole plastic surgeon and bandage themes from the previous book, rather than letting them be throw-away parts of a Two-Face subplot). Flashbacks also indicate that Hush’s councilor following the accident was Dr. Crane before he fully became Scarecrow. Hush teams up with Scarecrow as an adult, so that Hush has some help in his anti-Batman plan.

Batman infiltrates Hush’s Hospital but is drugged and wakes up strapped to an operating table. Hush uses his plastic surgery skills to make his own face an exact match for Bruce Wayne’s in a move that would have lasting impact outside this book. (Damien Wayne even spends time with Hush to feel like he is spending time with his dad later on in future Batman comics.) Hush, disguised as Bruce Wayne, infiltrates the batcave hoping to kill Alfred, Dick and Tim, and then mascaraed as Bruce to tell the Justice League that Batman is retiring and quit Wayne Enterprises. Batman escapes the hospital as you’d expect and tracks down Hush; there’s a fight between Hush and Batman in the Batcave, assisted by Nightwing and Drake-Robin, and when trying to escape, Hush’s bandages get caught in the rotar-blades of the gyro-copter that he is trying to commandeer, and he crashes into the water. His body isn’t located, meaning he escaped but isn’t an immediate threat.

With Hush out of action temporarily; Batman saves Catwoman and the two start a brief romance. In revenge for what happened to her, Catwoman dedicates her time, resources and favours/debts all to ruining Hush, by siphoning his money away (although graciously using it to compensate the zombified hospital workers) and leaving him a big “fuck you” sort of message. The book ends with an injured Hush receiving the message and hobbling off into the night, broken.

– Tone: I really enjoy this book. It tries to balance the supposedly roller-coaster ride feel of the original with having an actual plot. It brings in extra characters but doesn’t drown you in them. The original suffered from being a mystery that wasn’t mysterious enough… here, with no intention of being a mystery, it can’t fail on that regard and so is free just to be pure entertainment, at which it most certainly succeeds. The tone is a mixture of dark at times and yet there’s that comic-book feel to it too. Its not all grim horror, but its not all aliens and magic and long-lost twins either. Its good. Its a good comic book. Its what comic books fans talk about when they talk about comic books even if non-fans think of the B.S. (Like how non-Metal fans think its all noise and screaming and satanism… and no quality musicianship or intelligent songwriting).

– Art: In my opinion, Nguyen’s art isn’t as good as Jim Lee’s. Its good though. Very good. It really reminds me of Gates Of Gotham actually, its kind of stylized in a way that feels like the comics-equivalent of cell-shaded videogame graphics. It reminds me of Zelda Windwaker for some reason. Its not just as stylized as Broken City though, which I include as another random reference point.

Just because Jim Lee’s is prettier though, this is by no means an ugly book… its very good looking indeed (and in fact, better than Lee on the non-sexist drawings and varied character models side of things). I like how this book looks a heck of a lot.

– My Thoughts: If this book is a flop, and I was to imagine what everyone was to criticize this book for I’d guess just comparisons to other stories, or the fact that Hush is in it at all and they didn’t like the original. I mean, sure it borrows ideas from Face Off, and even Batman The Cult, but it does them well. I also have already explained how this improves immensely on the Hush story, so I’d say this is a good book to read if you disliked Hush. Its like “Ok… but do it properly this time.”

I guess the whole Aristotle thing, and all the Heart metaphors may come across as a bit cheesy to some, but I feel the right balance has been struck. I think it works well. Its not like in the Scarface videogame where they take the one off line from the film about Ice-Cream and then decide that in the game, Tony should mention Ice-Cream every five-minutes.

I don’t think it was a flop though.

Also, compared to Hush Returns… it actually ends. It wasn’t abandoned halfway through. It doesn’t massively misread the characters (Joker isn’t pining for a lost wife here).

There’s something that’s difficult to articulate… and that’s the fact that, its just good. It just is! It’s a very good book. I advise you to read it and find out why. Its well written. It flows well. Its entertaining. There’s nothing that makes you think “well, that was really annoying.” Overall; I really enjoy this book and I’d like to spread the word. So consider the word spread. Heart Of Hush is a good Batman book and you should totally check it out. (That’s my Batman recommendation for the day… what else needs recommending?)

Amateur Batfan – Vol. 8: Hush Returns

Hello and welcome to the eigth installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

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 Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them.

At the moment I’m halfway through reading No Man’s Land, but since I’m not finished it yet that won’t be the subject of this week’s entry. Instead I’ll talk about a book that I only received in the mail today, but have already finished.

Today I’m in a good mood, although a little sleepy after having taken a long train journey listening to the music on my phone on shuffle, hearing things like Dream Theater, Protest The Hero, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. “Pretty Noose” by Soundgarden is fast becoming a favourite song of mine. Usually, this train journey feels like it lasts forever, but today it passed quite quickly because I’d taken a Batman comic with me to read. It was called Hush Returns. I find Hush to be quite an interesting villain and bought this purely for the word Hush, without reading reviews beforehand.

It kept me entertained on the train, but under any other circumstance I think I might have been better off not reading it at all…

Batman

Batman Hush Returns:

– Writers: A.J. Lieberman
– Art: Al Barrionuevo
– Colours: Javier Pina

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Ties into Infinite Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Very Late Career

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: Hush, The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin, Prometheus, Talia Al Ghul, Ken (Joker Goon), Oliver Hammet (Police)

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, Tim Drake as Robin, Barbara Gordon as Oracle, James Gordon (Police) Bullock (Police) Montoya (Police)

-Bystanders: Joker’s Dead Wife Jeanie From Killing Joke

– Mentioned: Vesper Fairchild, Huntress, Lex Luthor, Ras Al Ghul

– Cameos: Green Arrow, Posion Ivy,

– Story: [Spoilers Ahoy:]

The story starts in the middle with Riddler falling off a roof. Then it cuts to the actual beginning; with Hush, recently back from the dead, squatting in a remote swamp-side cabin and planning his revenge. People try to investigate the squatter in their friend’s house and Hush kills them, then torches the house.

Next; Bruce is at a socialite party, and Hush sends in a woman who he has made to look like the late Vesper Fairchild to distract Batman. She is almost killed in traffic but Batman saves her. Hush then plants a bomb in a hospital inside an MRI Machine.

Then Riddler, in Blackgate Prison, receives multiple death threats and so sends a note to the Joker saying he will exchange a name for his safety. Joker, who in intercutting scenes is seen to be pining for his late wife, reads the note and agrees, blackmailing the Prison Warden with a underage sextape, which results in having Riddler transferred. During this transfer, the prison vehicle is struck by missile fire, Batman tries to stop this and have Riddler returned to prison and uses Lex Luthor’s satellite to try and find the culprit (unsure if it really is a resurrected Hush).

Hush beats up The Riddler and throws him off a building, then confronts the Joker (who wants to defend the Riddler) but is quickly and ignobly defeated. Batman uncovers Hush’s MRI-Machine bomb-plot, and gets the GCPD Bomb Squad in to disarm it.

Batman and Robin investigate whether or not Hush is back from the dead, then dig up Hush’s grave and find the newspaper from the time of the car-crash from the previous Hush story inside the coffin instead of a body.

Robin visits an inventor, and Hush visits him shortly after. He is informed that he would do well to hire Prometheus as an assistant/ally, and goes to Star City to do so. Upon arival, Hush finds Prometheus fighting Green Arrow and being shot many times. Hush saves his life (short term) and escapes, causing a policeman to fall to his death in the process. Batman arrives too late and argues with Green Arrow, they fight, then make up. Batman leaves while Green Arrow comforts the dead policeman’s family. Elsewhere in a seedy motel; Hush uses his surgical skill to save Promethus’ life (long term). The police track them down to the motel (and Green Arrow assists by blowing up the door) but they all arrive too late and Hush and his new pal Promethus have already gone.

Batman returns to Gotham, awaiting Hush’s return, and confides in Robin that he feels afraid.

There are flashbacks throughout to the Joker backstory from The Killing Joke… you know, the red hood, and his pregant wife and all that? They then add a new bit where the mobsters Joker was working with hire a corrupt cop to murder his wife, and Riddler by chance witnessed it while planning an unrelated crime.

Joker and Riddler do a deal, the wife-killer’s name for Riddler’s safety. Hush reveals to Promethus that he has a secret headquarters in the abandoned Hospital where he trained as a surgeon.

Hush, now backed up by Promethus confronts the Joker while he’s transporting The Riddler to safety, and in a reversal of their previous encounter, Hush easily defeats Joker. Batman shows up and tries to reason with Hush, but then they start fighting.

The story ends with a defeated Joker slinking away through the sewers ruminating on his lowering station in life, stripping naked and arriving at the amusment park from The Killing Joke, while Riddler escapes and besseches Posion Ivy for help.

There’s an extra chapter set much later, where Hush and Promethus severe their ties, and then are confronted by Talia Al Ghul, there’s a flashback that shows Promethus has a magical key which he aquired from an alien, and Talia wants it.

– Tone: For the most part, the story has a fairly solid and natural tone, although it sort of changes throughout. There’s a bit with crazy insectoid aliens towards the end.

– Art: The art is rather good. Its not as good as the origional Hush’s art, but its fine in and of itself. When I read online reviews for this after reading it, a lot of reviewers who slated the book for its bad story, lack of conclusion and bad characterization, also mentioned the art as being rubbish in the sort of scroched-earth approach to reviewing a bad product. I think this is unfair, as there is absolutely nothing wrong with the art, and if it had have been on a good story I highly doubt anyone would have such negative things to say about it.

My Thoughts: Firstly, it isn’t anywhere near as good as Hush, or Heart Of Hush. Normally, I don’t find myself as one of the people who dislikes something just because its not the strongest one in the series. I still like Deep Purple’s Who Do We Think We Are album even though it follows up the much superior three albums In Rock, Fireball and Machine Head for example.

Its not enough that Hush Returns tries to be a sequel to Hush; it also tries to be a sequel to The Killing Joke. It might have seemed like a good idea to combine the two on paper but the execution isn’t effective.

That’s almost reason enough for most people to give this book a miss. Its a lot worse than even just failing to live up to its’ series though, its actively poor as a story. The story is an arc-less collection of happenings, which do not particularly intertwine well or amount to much. There isn’t a clear beginning, middle and end and the consequnce of most scenes is questionable. The whole back from the dead thing isn’t even all that directly adressed. There’s not spoonfeeding the audience and then there’s not writing normally. The Vesper Fairchild thing, what was the point? Then once Joker arrives at his Amusment Park, what next? That’s clearly a half-way point, not an ending. Why does Robin go to the inventor guy?

Not only are there a lot of unexplained or unresolved plot points. The book completely misunderstands characters.

Green Arrow tries to murder Prometheus, tells Batman as much and Batman doesn’t bat (no pun intended) an eyelid. When have you ever known Batman to turn a blind eye to attempted murder?

Hush is normally a long-game, slow-plan, mystery man, who manipulates things from a distance and gets other people to do his deeds. In this story he’s just a bruiser, wading in and cracking skulls first-hand. No cunning, no strategy, no significant threat. He spends most of the story just wanting to punish the Riddler, and seemingly not interested in Batman. Maybe that means he is playing a long-game, but the story isn’t clear about that and abruptly ends before clarifying. You know what else though, Hush is quite determined and perfectionist. Why does he just take some guy’s word that he should hire Prometheus? Why when he sees firsthand Prometheus being easily defeated, does he even bother with him at all?

Next up, Joker. Joker is pining for his dead wife. He doesn’t once act like The Joker. He doesn’t Joke. Doesn’t laugh. He just acts like a gangster boss. He is really concerned with his territory and his prestige as Gotham’s owner. He is in no way insane. He is a man who lost his wife and turned to crime. Compared to Batman R.I.P or Death Of The Family’s Joker, he really just seems like a random prideful gangster.

I’ve also read later online, that Prometheus was meant to be pretty unstoppable and here he gets defeated too easily, so that might be a further disappointment if you know Prometheus already. Speaking of Prometheus; for me, I never want any sort of magic in my stories, so the whole magic-key thing feels out of place.

Also, after all that admitting fear business, it turns out Batman needn’t have been afraid really, because he only even sees Hush once more and all that happens is that he has to duck from gunfire. There’s no masterful scheme to destroy Batman or anything like that, just a poorly handled shooting.

Overall; If you consider that a lot of things happen for seemingly no reason, that there’s no satisfactory conclusion, and that the characters just don’t “feel right” at all, then the book just feels like a bad Batman release. Individual scenes can be quite interesting and the artwork is good, but for me the cons far, far outweigh the pros. I wouldn’t recommend that you buy or read this book. In fact, just the opposite, I think you should give it a miss. Buy Hush, buy Heart Of Hush, but don’t buy this.

Maybe you could even buy Down On The Upside by Soundgarden. Its not considered to be as good as the three albums which preceded it, but it flows a lot better than Hush Returns does; plus it has “Pretty Noose” on it!

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 7 – Batman Year Two Fear The Reaper

Hello and welcome to the seventh installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

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 Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them.

Today I’m in a good mood, listening to Killswitch Engage’s stupidly good (and secretly good – its so much better than you remember, even when you remember that its awesome) new album Disarm The Descent, and I’ve finished reading the lengthy Knightfall storyline at last. When I was reading that, several things reminded me of this entry’s book and put me in mind to write about it for this blog series, such as the presence of the character Dr. Leslie Thompkins.

When I was reading Knightfall, apart from the excellent prequel and follow-up stories packaged in with my edition, I felt like it was really old, and from an era before comics were marketed towards adults as much. I thought back to things like Batman Gothic and Batman Venom and Year One, and I thought to myself, Knightfall must be before all of those stories. Even the artwork for them most part wasn’t a patch on them.

Much to my surprise, Knightfall was actually newer than all of them, and newer than this book, which it often reminded me of, Year Two Follow The Reaper (A two part collection from 1987 and 1991 respectively, but that works nicely as a single book).

Its about a villain called The Reaper who looks interesting and, like Knightfall’s Azbats is a vigilante just like Bruce Wayne’s Batman but without the mercy. (If you haven’t read Knightfall, its about Bruce Wayne getting his back broken by Bane and then letting Azreal become Batman, but Azreal-Batman [“Azbats” for the purpose of convenience and distinguishing him from the real Batman] proves to be a crazy, violent and dangerous Batman). The Reaper carries around big scythe-blades and likes to be much more violent and permanent in his dealing with criminals than Batman does, slicing people up etc.

Personally; I liked this guy better than Azbats (well, in the first story; its two different people in the two different stories). I don’t know why I feel so compelled to compare the two stories though, maybe because they were both printed on similar type of paper, instead of the nice thick glossy paper that all my other Batman books are. Or maybe its just because of Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who knows?

Anyway; much like the character, I like the book too. It might have no big revelations or character deaths/injuries that echo for years to come, but I found it a rather good read; better certainly than the amazon reviews would suggest. I mean; it might be a bit heretical to say, but I thought this was a more solid and well written story than The Dark Knight Returns… I just didn’t fall in love with that book the way popular opinion suggests I should have.

I think if I ever wrote a Batman story I’d like to include the Reaper or at least reference him tastefully.

Batman

Batman Year Two Fear The Reaper:

– Writers: Mike W Barr
– Art: Todd McFarlane, Alfredo Alcala,
– Colours: Steve Oliff, Gloria Vasquez, Olyoptics

– Writers Full Circle: Mike W. Barr
– Art Full Circle: Alan Davis, Mark Farmer
– Colours Full Circle: Tom Ziuko

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint
– Continuity Full Circle: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Year One
– Timeline Full Circle: Early, but Post-Robin

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne
– Batman is Full Circle: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: The Reaper (Judson Caspain), Joe Chill, Mr. Morritz,
– Villains Full Circle: The Reaper (Joseph Chill Jr.), Marcia Duncan,

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, Dick Grayson as Robin, Dr. Leslie Thomkins, James Gordon (Police)
– Allies Full Circle: Dick Grayson as Robin, Alfred Pennyworth, Dr. Leslie Thomkins, James Gordon (Police)

-Bystanders: Rachel Caspian, Greta (Caspain’s Butler), Blinky Sutton, Moran Jones, Jonathan Heymer, Martin (Heymer’s Bodguard), William Golonka, Bukowski (Police), McGinley (Police)

– Bystanders Full Circle: Joan Lincoln (Reporter), Joey Chill III., Rachel Caspian, McSurely, Moose, Morgan Jones, Miranda (Hooker), Rhonda (Hooker),

Cameos: N/A
Cameos Full Circle: The Joker, The Penguin, Two Face

– Story: [Spoilers Ahoy:]

In the first story, James Gordon is promoted to Commissioner. The story begins with him on a television talk show denouncing Batman but defending him against comparisons to a more violent vigilante from Gotham’ past called The Reaper.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is involved in the construction of a new Wayne Foundation building, and dating a woman called Rachel Caspain, who’s mother was murdered before the story begins.

Rachel’s father, Judson Caspain is then revealed to be The Reaper, and the story follows some of his violent reprisals on criminals, motivated by the loss of his wife to crime.

Gordon, who has warmed to Batman since the events in Year One, signals Batman to meet him and tasks him with stopping The Reaper. Batman locates him trying to kill prostitutes (who are still criminals in his eyes) and they fight, Batman is outmatched and returns home injured. Dr. Leslie Thompkins patches him up, but he awakes he reaches for a gun, suggesting it might be the only way to fight crime successfully.

Later The Reaper kills a criminal in the middle of a Police Swat Team stand-off situation ramping up the stakes for Gordon. Batman meanwhile is learning to be a better marksman at a shooting range, much to Alfred and Dr. Leslie’s distaste.

During the next battle between the Reaper and Batman (now carrying a gun), Gordon mistakes Batman to be just as bad as all the other criminals and looses faith in him. Batman then makes a deal to team up with gangsters in order to catch The Reaper, as it would be mutually beneficial to them, and the gangsters make Joe Chill (the man who murdered Batman’s parents) Batman’s partner for the duration of their plan. There are plenty of flashbacks and Batman finds this whole thing incredibly distasteful but goes along with it initially. Chill and Batman confront The Reaper but Batman finds it difficult to use a gun.

Later Batman has to foil some Police plans to preserve his own agenda and this further strains the relationship between him and Gordon. Furthermore his Reaper hunting limits the time he can spend with Rachel, straining that relationship too.

Bruce then lures Joe Chill to Crime Ally to murder him where Chill murdered Bruce’s parents, but before he is able to pull the trigger, The Reaper shows up and kills Chill. The two fight it out, stumbling into a construction sit and up a building, Reaper is exposed as Judson Caspain while about to fall to his death, Bruce attempts to save him, but Caspain chooses to fall instead. Bruce then buries the gun in the foundations of the still-under-construction Wayne Foundation building forsaking guns forever.

The story ends with a distraught Rachel becoming a nun.

In the second story The Reaper returns, only it turns out to be Joe Chills son, out for revenge against Batman, and teamed up with the equally dangerous Marcia Duncan.

Rachel learning of the Reaper’s return is hounded by press, and moves in with Leslie to lay low. Reaper steals the gun buried in the Wayne Foundation building and plans to kill Batman with it. Leslie is beaten up and Rachel is kidnapped to lure Batman.

Batman confronts and defeats Reaper only to be shot in the back by Marcia, and wake up in a death trap bombarded with reminders of his parents murder, designed to make him kill himself. Marcia and Reaper fall out when it is revealed she doesn’t care about revenge but making money from a bounty on Batman.

Robin comes to save Batman, ineffectively, but the threat to Robin’s safety motivates Batman enough to man up, escape the trap and stop Chill Jr.

Chill Jr.’s own son Chill III has been following them throughout the whole story and observed all of this. Finally he falls from his hiding spot and lands by the defeated Reaper. Batman uses Chill III as emotional leverage to convince Chill Jr. to stop being the Reaper, disposes of the gun once more (along with the Reaper’s mask) and Rachel goes back to her life as a nun.

– Tone: I have no problems to report with the tone. It isn’t too silly, it isn’t too dark. Its kind of somewhere in the region of the other two Wagner Batman books I discussed. This is what I’d like to call the standard Batman tone. It has a similar tone to the aforementioned Batman Venom and if you discount the supernatural elements, kind of similar to Batman Gothic. As I mentioned above; I’ve recently finished Knightfall which included The Revenge Of Bane and Batman Prodigal packaged in with it; Both those bonus stories share a kind of similar tone to this as well. Its not 100% gritty realism, but its not aimed exclusively at children either. The only problem I have is that they try to establish Robin as being fun, but sometimes its clumsy, as with the line ‘Surfs Up Dude.’

– Art: The art is rather good. Its better looking than the aforementioned Gothic and sort of similar to Venom, Prodigal and The Revenge Of Bane. It’s a lot better than most of Knightfall, better than Gotham By Gaslight but not as good as the modern stuff by Jim Lee or Greg Capullo. Not that you would expect it to be. For its time I think it looks pretty good. I think if you printed it up on glossy paper it would look pretty solid.

Overall: I got given this title by Paul as a much appreciated Christmas present; we had discussed it before when I mentioned I might buy it due to its at the time low price and low and behold now I have a copy! He didn’t rate it all that highly, but I am fairly impressed.

I guess at the time it was released, it might have felt like a bit of a disappointing sequel to Year One, but for me, now, with my tastes and particular set of Batman readings thus far, I found it to be wholly worthwhile.

For me; Fear The Reaper is a pretty damn enjoyable book, with a nice linear and easy-to-follow (but still entertaining) story, adding a bit of depth to the characters. It looks good, it’s a decent length and it has a villain that hasn’t been used to death already.

You know what, too? The Reaper just looks and acts cool. I know that’s a very adolescent way to look at things but it can’t be helped. I really like Spawn for the same reason… because he’s just cool. Maybe its all the Metal music I listen to, but a mixture of Black, Red, Skulls and Blades/Chains is usually pretty cool looking to me. Fun fact – Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, was an artist on this book (in case you skipped the credits above).

Reading it through; it felt like two good episodes of an hour-long HBO TV Show. The Reaper being Bruce’s love interests dad is a cheesy idea on paper, but it actually worked well in context, the team-up with Joe Chill seems like a bad idea on paper, but when its actually going, the mixed feelings it creates are actually entertaining.

The only two major flaws with it I can find are that The Reaper uses his catch-phrase way, way, way too often (seriously, a drinking game based on it might make you quite ill quite quickly) and that the whole Batman might use a gun thing is a bit of a cheap story to tell.

Batman doesn’t use guns. Everyone knows that. Its one of the most Batman things about Batman. If Batman uses a gun, you automatically go “that’s not Batman” in your head. I know this is an early-days look into the character and trying to establish the fact that Batman doesn’t use guns for a new generation (at the time) but at the same time, it seems like a bit of cheap drama to even suggest he might use one. He won’t. Everyone knows he won’t. Unless this is the very first bit of Batman you ever read, the suggestion that he might just will never ring true.

With those exceptions (and y’know, “Surfs Up Dude”) being expected, I think this is a pretty solid read, and I would recommend it.

[Ps. In case you were wondering; here’s my current Batman collection at the time of writing. It doesn’t include what I’ve been lent, like Killing Joke or Man Who Laughs or Year One or Dark Knight Returns, but its everything I own myself at present (with the exception of No Man’s Land, which I didn’t photograph due to having not received volume-3 in the mail yet]

My Batman

My Batman 2

My Batman 3

My Batman 4

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 6 – Batman Faces

Hello and welcome to the sixth installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

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 Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them.

When I first decided to get into Batman, it was with a view to read Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, Knightfall and No Man’s Land. I had read about those on Wikipedia and they were my real “to do list.” Well, those and The Court Of The Owls thanks to Paul’s recommendation.

I borrowed and read Year One, The Dark Knight Returns & The Killing Joke fairly quickly, and then made my first purchase in the form of The Court Of The Owls. Yeah, that made me more comfortable reading comics for sure. Afterwards I moved in a few different directions. I discovered a few different things, like Kevin Smith’s Batman run, the Judge Dredd Crossovers, The Grant Morrison run, and books I heard about on the Fatman On Batman podcast like Madlove and The Black Mirror.

So its taken almost a year, but I’ve finally got around to buying No Man’s Land and Knightfall. At the minute I’m deeply entrenched in Knightfall, at about the halfway point of the second of three big, thick books. Its too early to really talk about that though, but right before I started Knightfall I also found another Batman book I really wanted to read. That’s what I’m going to be discussing today.

Back when I started branching off in different directions from my original plan, I found Matt Wagner’s Batman And The Monster Men & Batman And The Mad Monk, which I absolutely loved. I loved the art style, the depth of the story and the mixture of realism and fantasy. All in all they really nailed exactly what I want from a Batman book.

Turns out Matt Wagner had made more Batman books, including crossovers with other comics (Trinity – with Superman and Wonder Woman, and then another one with Grendel). He seems like a notable guy in the field. I also found and have now bought and read another Batman-only trade paperback he made, called Batman Faces, which is about Two Face.

Up until buying Knightfall I haven’t really read any stories with Two Face in them as a major character (except when I got a lend of stories, such as in The Dark Knight Returns, and in the excellent The Long Halloween). I think on the first page of ‘Owls he’s there in a Cameo in the scene where Batman just brawls with almost all his main villains, there was a Two Face in there, but its not part of the story or anything, just a quick cameo.

I feel like I’ve read more stories with Calendar Man, Mad Hatter and Maxie Zeuss than I have with Two Face in them.

In my current collection, there is a surprisingly big representation of The Ventriloquist for some reason. I own more stories with him in it than I’d ever plan or expect to. I remember the first time I played Arkham Asylum, I scanned the Scarface doll and learned of the existence of The Ventriloquist and thought to myself “that’s a bit too silly for me” – now I’m inundated with Ventriloquist stories! There’s also a decent amount of The Joker, Hush, Catwoman and Poison Ivy in the books within my current collection; but for the most part, excluding The Joker, my collection seems to be mostly featuring books about one-off, less famous villains like The Court Of Owls, The Architect, Onemotapia, James Gordon Jr., The Reaper etc. whereas villains that I always thought of as Batman’s “main villains” like Penguin, Mr. Freeze, The Riddler, Scarecrow and Two Face are surprisingly underrepresented.

So, Matt Wagner plus Two Face, that seems like a recipe for success right?

Batman

Batman Faces:

– Writers: Matt Wagner
– Art: Matt Wagner
– Colours: Steve Oliff

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint
– Timeline Position: Ambiguous (Post Year One, possibly Pre-Robin)
– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: Two Face, Manon, Romulus & Remus (Two Face’s Goons), Snake Eyes (Two Face’s Goon), Nelson Wren

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police)

– Bystanders: Paul Durberville, Donald Tremaine, Everette Baker, Charles Anerson, Violette Fournier, Anton Ecole, Joseph Auger, Frances Devere, Antonio Patrillo, Alain Rachins, Renee Machon, Rudolph Petruchka, Herve Pierre, Dora Lang, Booshka Granger, Etienne Frazier, Charles Berger, Paulette Bernhard, Mario Lopez

– Story: [Spoilers Ahoy:] Bruce Wayne wants to buy an Island property from Mr Paul Durberville. Two Face escapes Arkham at exactly 2:22, and goes on a series of duality based crimes such as stealing Zebras and a giant Ying/Yang sculpture, and organizes the murder of a number of plastic surgeons.

Two Face also kidnaps/recruits a circus freakshow to become his Nation Of Freaks, and reveals he has been killing plastic surgeons so that freaks cannot be “fixed,” and wants the Island as a physical location for his freak nation.

A cowardly, weasely-type character called Norman Wren in convinced with the promise of sex by Manon, an attractive fem-fatalle type, to spoil Wayne’s business deal. When Manon disappears, Wren tracks her down and confronts her, but is kidnapped in the process. It turns out Durbeville was Kidnapped too and is being blackmailed because he too is a “freak” due to a deformity of having extra hands on his stomach (he lives in snooty social circles and wouldn’t want anyone to think of him as a freak), and so Wren’s help is nolonger needed for Two Face to get his Island. Manon is revealed to be a bearded lady, and Norman Wren feels disgusted.

Wayne’s deal is spoiled, and Batman investigates. He finds Two Face’s whereabouts in a Zeppelin hangar, where Two Face is trying to launch a maiden voyage of a Zeppelin to take his Freaks to his Island. Batman is briefly captures but promptly escapes. He finds the imprisoned Wren and Durbeville, fights off Two Face’s goons but is knocked out and tied up by the Freaks. Two Face flips a coin to decide if he’ll murder Batman or Wren. Wren looses the toss and is thrown from the Blimp to his death. Batman infiltrates the blimp and before being shot, the freaks realize that Two Face’s plans and attitude are not what they want or believe and in the distraction of their disagreement, the Blimp crashes into a circus, where Two Face tries to flea, but is talked down by a freak called The Man With Two Faces, who calls Two Face a disgrace. Batman is able to apprehend Two Face and he is sent back to Arkham. Back in Wayne Manor, Bruce and Alfred reflect on the events and discuss Justice and Fate.

– Tone: I have no problems to report with the tone. It isn’t too silly, it isn’t too dark. Its kind of somewhere in the region of the other two Wagner Batman books I discussed.

– Art: The previous two Matt Wagner books that I had read were absolutely excellent looking. This book isn’t really very good looking at all. Its quite rushed looking, low on detail, a bit “cramped” looking. There are several great looking images, but for the most part its nowhere near as good as the other Wagner books I’ve read. I definitely wouldn’t say “you have to see this just for the art alone.” When comparing it to the other Wagner books, its kind of like what Soul Of A New Machine is to Demanufacture (the universal analogy for a dramatic difference in quality between an artist’s work).

– Overall: Batman Faces is a difficult book to recommend. Not because its bad, but just because its really lite and unsubstantial. There’s nothing as interesting as the Norman Madison emotional breakdown in there. It is kind of cool when the Freaks disagree with Two Face to be fair, but that’s one page. There’s some nice hints of Batman doing detective work and failing, but briefly. The two main thrusts of the book are Two Face’s bad attitude and Wren’s lusty backstabbing. “Weasley character is manipulated by sex” isn’t really anything special. Nor is “Two Face mentions Fate and Duality” unless they’re handled in a new or special way, which they aren’t especially (again, I’m not trying to be rude or anything, its just, not particularly good).

It’s a very short story, its not particularly visually impressive and it just kind of comes and goes without doing or saying anything massively noteworthy. Its not awful by any stretch of the imagination, but in a world where there are far better Batman books out there, I’d be tempted to advise that this one be given a miss if time or money are limited for you. Try out those other two Wagner books I mentioned instead, they’re much more satisfying.

Amateur Batfan: GUT REACTION SPECIAL – Death Of The Family

Batman

***SPOILERS AHOY AND MEANINGLESS CONTENT IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT. ***

Ok. I’ve just finished reading Batman – Death Of The Family this morning. Instead of going through the usual format of these Amateur Batfan articles, I’m just going to launch straight into some gut reactions. Here goes:

I can’t actually articulate whether or not I enjoyed this book. I mean, I think each and every page was good, but somehow it seemed like a bad story.

For me, this was something where the whole was much less than the sum of its parts. It was like Resident Evil 5 for me; I had a lot of fun playing Resident Evil 5 and liked every single set-piece in it in isolation, but if I watched the actual plot as a movie, it wouldn’t live up to its own marketing hype.

I’ve read a few things online saying it was overly gory and horrific, but I didn’t actually notice that until afterwards, upon reflection. I think it had a great tone. I read some things saying that Joker’s face being cut off was too gross. I dunno, I just thought it was cool looking. It really is a striking image.

I didn’t even think that the plot or the dialogue were bad. Heck, the first few chapters really, really draw you in. Joker doesn’t like how Batman has evolved from a strong solo act into the leader of a big band (I, as a casual, barely-informed comics-outsider, fan felt like that too initially until I read Scott Synder’s Gates Of Gotham and Black Mirror… I liken it to Guns N’ Roses and their Use Your Illusions albums and tour. “Hey? Wasn’t this supposed to be a bad-ass rock band? What are all these trumpets and soul singers and country songs here for?”) and so wants to take away all the baggage and just leave it as Batman Vs. Crime. He also plays on the fact that Batman can barely keep up with him by recreating his old crimes but perverting them so Batman is playing catch-up instead of stopping him.

None of that is bad. In fact its all quite good. Yeah, Joker questioning the worth of the Bat-family and DC Comics proving why they are good is a great idea, and Batman struggling to predict Joker because Joker is the most difficult villain to predict is an entertaining read. It all sounds like the basis of a good, satisfying book.

Its this other thing that just got to me… this insistence on scale. This manufactured importance. They made ‘an important story.’ Not they made a story, and it was so good that people got on board and raised it to the level of important. They sat down and made an important story on purpose.

My question is, was it worth it? Wouldn’t it have been better to just have had a really good Joker-is-angry revenge story, than some thing that claims to be existential and revelatory, but then leaves you feeling a bit confused and sold-short.

Why does it have to be a ‘terrifying return,’ ‘a return of such importance’ or an ‘ultimate showdown.’ Why do writers have to bow down to the expectation that this has to be the most significant Joker story ever told? Why does everyone have to try one-up eachother by making the Joker more and more messed up? Why does everyone have to reveal some deeper truth to Batman and Joker’s relationship?

After a while its either just repetition or credibility-stretching ret-conting.

The thing about arms-race mentalities is that the artistic quality that comes from them is a bell curve. Sure, somebody does something, somebody else does it more gets us from Thin Lizzy to Iron Maiden, and from Iron Maiden to Metallica. It also gets us from Slayer to Sodom to Sarcofago to countless bland unlistenable bands that are such a wave of intensity that it loses all sense of meaning and significance.

Extremity is a dynamic. It only works in context. It only works by juxtaposition.

I get that Joker is a much-loved character. But like a comedian who’s audience loves him too much, the jokes are starting to suffer. What good is a character that has to have the best story ever?

That’s how Metallica ended up making Lulu.

You can’t just redefine a character every-single-time otherwise there is no character. Just an insert-character-here box, with a little quote on the bottom that says “best character ever, trust us!” I asked my friend about it, and he responded “Modern Writers are so in reverence of the Joker, they feel like they aren’t doing it properly if they don’t do it” …I think that’s a pretty good sum-up. Loving something too much can just get tiresome. I think that’s why I have such a problem liking Starwars.

Do you know what else though? This may seem a bit contradictory to my previous point, but where is the consequence? If this is the most important Joker story ever… why isn’t Alfred left blinded forever? Why aren’t the whole Bat-Family slaughtered and irreversibly killed forever? Either this is business as usual or it’s a world-shaking cataclysm that redefines everything. You can’t just say its world shaking but then let everyone get away unharmed. I guess you have the fact that the Bat-family didn’t come over to Bruce’s house at the end… but that’s hardly the same as Jason Todd’s actual murder or Barbara’s actual paralysis.

I could get behind the whole “this is Joker’s most gruesome assault ever” premise if it wasn’t so easily foiled, and devoid of any lasting impact. It would be cool to have Alfred just be blind from now on, and then struggle with being less helpful since he can’t read the computer screen any more. It could be like a disability-coming-to-terms story, or it could leave him as a bitter alcoholic… or something.

In the show House, when he gets locked up in a Mental Institution, it seemed like the ballsiest move ever. This show had been about a doctor on the brink and now he’s fallen over the edge. It would’ve been so cool to see the status quo shattered and the artistically bold move of just having him locked up, but they ditched that idea real fast and missed that opportunity. In Dexter there was a similar missed opportunity to have some genuine brave shake-up but it was wasted too.

This story feels like that. It screams ‘huge deal’ and then actually delivers the usual deal.

I’ve read some stuff online that people complained about, such as the acid that burned Batman’s mask didn’t injure his face, and the police not having Joker’s DNA being incredulous. I’ve also read some defense of the book saying it reveals alot of big deal things about the characthers, and the fact that everyone is huffing with Batman at the end is a big consequence and not just a little tiff to be brushed off.

In repsonse to those points, I wonder:

“I’m sorry if I’m being stupid… but what is this reason why Batman never kills the Joker?
I don’t see what it is.”

Otherwise, yeah, the DNA thing is fine because he wasn’t a criminal before being the Joker so shouldn’t be in a database anyway, the Joker Venom cure and acid-face thing I just file away under “reasonable suspension of disbelief within the context of the medium.”

The story feels a bit pointless to me, unless of course, from now on everybody does hate Bruce and no one associates with him anymore for years and years. Then yeah, the story will have some impact. Seems like a bit of a crap reason to huff with Batman though, he’s always giving out limited information. Its his thing. He’s that kind of guy. He’s never been a blabbermouth.

Furthermore, as to the character-defining stuff; As an audience, we’ve also known for years that Batman and Joker have a “special relationship” and “need each other” and all that, so it didn’t need retold as if it was new information. We’ve know for years Joker prefers trying to kill Batman than really killing him, so its not a big deal. We’ve known for years he doesn’t care who’s under the mask. So… again no big deal.

Oh Yeah. Another thing that has been touched on online is I that the New 52 continuity doesn’t make sense. With that one, I totally agree. If Batgirl isn’t Oracle then why/how did the Killing Joke story still happen? Maybe its explained somewhere, but its not explained enough in this book, where it needed explaining. Barbara and Jim can’t be so traumatized by the Killing Joke story but for it not to have happened (Which is what it feels like without that missing info).

So. There. A vent of all the annoyances of that first read. Blleeeeeurgh.

Ok. I’m done.

As I say though, every page was good. I don’t know how to feel. I just see a picture of Joker with his face hanging off and think “that is so cool looking,” and I read a chapter and am completely entertained until I’m finished reading. Its only afterwards, when you get a moment to think about it that you start wondering what’s went wrong.

Do I like this book or not? I can’t even tell.

Arkham Origins did the same old “lets go deeper on the Bat-Joker relationship” thing too, but I didn’t mind too much there, because at least it was a mechanically brilliant game. Is Death Of The Family a mechanically brilliant book?

Well, some of the set pieces are great and the art is superb, and it is entertaining and a page-turner, so sort’ve… but still, that salty aftertaste.

Maybe it’s a grower. I’ll get back to you on that.

If possible, I advocate healthy discussion in the comments, I want to know what y’all think…

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 5 – Batman: Venom

Batman

Hello and welcome to Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. (At the minute that means Batman comics, but who knows what the future holds?). I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

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 that 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 bat-chat. Hopefully, he’ll just start writing a companion series to this, only with, you know, actually informed opinions.

This is the fifth edition of the series. I finally got around to getting myself a copy of Death Of The Family, the at-the-time-of-writing newest main-series Batman title, and that’s put me in the mood to write another one of these articles. Right now I’m listening to Dream Theater’s Awake album and leafing through my trade paperback of Batman – Venom. So I’m going to write about it. I could have picked any of these book off the shelf really. I guess I chose this one to write about this time because I’ve been playing Arkham Origins recently and some of the enemies are using venom. Venom always reminds me of the version of Bane in the 90s movie; a slavering mindless goon with comically large musculature and bright green ooze pumped around him in see-through tubes. Hey, Bane and the venom baddies in Arkham Origins do have the green tubes too. In fact the comically big thing even happens later, because of Titan. (Which you may remember from Arkham Asylum.)

You can therefor kind of understand, that when I picked up Batman Venom, I expected it to be about Bane, and I expected to see green tubes. This was not actually a feature of the book Batman Venom.

Its actually a rather interesting story about how the invention of a drug destroys two-three human relationships. That and a bit of a sea-crossing adventure story. Its like injecting Batman into Uncharted Drakes Fortune with a focus on addiction instead of vampires. Or maybe its more like Gone Baby Gone meets Lost, on a small scale. OR… I guess its more like, Batman meets venom, on a graphic novel scale.

Batman – Venom:

– Writers: Dennis O’Neil
– Art: Trevor Von Eeden, Russel Braun, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Willie Schubert
– Colours: Steve Oliff

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint
– Timeline Position: Year One-ish
– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: Dr. Porter, General Tim Slaycroft

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police),

– Bystanders: Sissy Porter, Tim Slaycroft Jr.

– Story: [Spoilers, This is the entire plot:] The story begins with Batman failing to rescue a drowning child because he is physically unable to move the rubble obstructing his path to her. She drowns and Batman is haunted by her death, and moreso his failure. He starts obsessing over the issue of strength and when he is injured lifting weights and beaten up by a physically superior goon, he decides to start taking the Venom pills offered to him by the dead girl’s father, Doctor Porter, who is suspiciously emotionless about the death of his daughter.

At first the pills have steroid-like effects, allowing him to lift more weights and build more muscle, but eventually they start affecting his personality and judgement, turning him into a violent, aggressive, reckless goon, who beats the absolute crap out’ve people with less ethical consideration than he would without the drugs. They are also highly addictive and turn him into a stereotype junkie, desperate for another fix.

Doctor Porter is working alongside General Timmothy Slaycroft, a corrupt military official who wants to use Batman as a mindless henchman. He also has a son who seems to be a good person. Eventually Slaycroft and Porter ask Junkie-Batman to murder James Gordon in exchange for a fix, and this is enough to break the influence that the two have over him, and it causes him to go into seclusion and isolation until he has detoxed from the drug and beaten his addiction.

Slaycroft and Porter move to Cuba, taking Slaycroft’s son with them. Slaycroft’s son, Tim Jr., befriends a Cuban girl and seems to be developing a romantic relationship with her. Slaycroft then decides to use Venom on his son and turn him into a violent, mindless goon. It affects his relationship with the girl, who he eventually beats to death, despite previously having been a good person. Slaycroft then develops a whole squad of such monsters, and trains them in the South American jungle conditions, murdering peasants.

Porter himself is revealed to be using drugs similar to Venom, that enhance his mind instead of body, and has gone evil. He’s been evil since the book began basically, becuase the drugs stripped him of empathy (Remind you of James Gordon Jr’s empathy-stripping drugs plan?). Slaycroft and Porter have arguments. A power struggle ensues.

Batman, with the help of Gordon, tracks them down and flies to their headquarters and then heads there with Alfred to stop them. Their plane is shot down and Batman is separated from Alfred.

Slaycroft has captured Alfred and drags him around the island dangling from a helicopter to lure Batman out of hiding. Slaycroft and his posse of goons, along with Porter, tie Alfred to two stakes in the shark infested waters. Batman saves Alfred, fighting a shark in the process.

He is met on shore by Porter who offers him Venom pills, but when Batman refuses, Tim Jr. defeats Batman and Porter puts Batman in a trap that can only be escaped using the additional strength that Venom would provide, which Batman then escapes using his wits instead of the drug.

Meanwhile, while waiting for Batman to start using venom again, Porter and Slaycroft become enemies and try to kill each other, and Alfred escapes and radios Gordon for help. Batman bursts into Slaycroft and Porter’s conflict and despite trying to help save everyone’s life, Slaycroft gets killed at the hands of his own son. Batman takes Porter back to Gotham to be arrested by Gordon and reflects on the victims of the situation.

– Tone: The tone is completely serious (apart from Alfred’s traditional sarcasm) and balances realism with entertainment rather well. It’s the exact kind of tone I like the best. Bruce going out and cracking skulls without the Batman suit is a great way to display just how unhinged he has become.

– Art: Its kind of the highest quality of Art that you can get without being noteworthy as amazing art. Its very good looking compared to say, The Dark Knight Returns, although not as amazing as modern stuff like All Star Batman And Robin (art courtesy of Jim Lee).

The colouring makes it a bit dated looking I guess, as in, you can kind of tell when it was made just by looking at it, but not in a bad way. Think of it like Van Halen’s production jobs on the first three albums. You can tell when they were made, but they sound fantastic and timeless. The drawings themselves are detailed and interesting, there’s extra mise-en-scene that you mightn’t get in other books from the same sort of time.

Basically, a very good looking book. Better than Batman Gothic, better than Gotham By Gaslight, almost as good as Mad Monk or at least within reaching distance.

– Overall: I really, really like this book. Sure, the title makes the modern fan expect to see Bane, who is not featured here, and sure, Batman does fight a shark (which sounds close to jump a shark), but other than that, it is a very down-to-earth story with some nice psychological aspects and you can be made to feel some real emotions. Its top-quality stuff.

Plus Doctor Porter is an interesting character. Not massively interesting, but interesting enough. I wonder if he gets used again?

I’d recommend picking it up if you already read Batman books. It deserves a place in the collection of anyone who has a collection.

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 4 – The Black Mirror

Hello and welcome to the fourth installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

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.

In between revising for exams, I’ve spent a lot of today playing Arkham Origins and really, really enjoying it. I haven’t even been playing the story, just running around collecting Riddler packages, scanning Anarchy symbols and architect plaques and enjoying the freeflow combat. Just Batmaning about the place. All that Batmaning put me in the mood to write another one of these blogs.

The soundtrack for this writing session has been Ozzy Osbourne’s Scream album. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with comics. I just haven’t listened to it enough and I want to get my money’s worth. I bought it at the same time as Black Rain and never really listened to either one enough. I heard a song off of Black Rain earlier this week and it reminded me to check them out again. I would say based on the first two songs (I’ve only gotten that far in so far) that this is a much more interesting album than the new Black Sabbath one. Make of that what you will.

Black Rain. Black Sabbath. My theme for this entry is Black.

For the fourth installment of the series, I’ll be covering The Black Mirror. I wanted to write “a modern classic.” To be honest I don’t know for certain if that’s true, but regardless of whether or not its definitively true, it deserves to be true, and its true in my mind.

This book is just straight up excellent. Its everything I want from a comic book. Its intriguing, visceral, adult, great to look at. If you asked me “I want to start reading comic books, recommend one to me” then this is the one I’d give you. (Well, this or ‘Owls). Last time, I said that the book on discussion (Batman Gothic) was good, but that I wouldn’t rhapsodize about it. That is not the case this time. I’d very much like to scream my affection for this book from the rooftops. I full on recommend you swap money for a copy of this book whether you were already planning to or not.

Batman

Batman: The Black Mirror:

– Writers: Scott Snyder

– Art: Jock & Francesco Francavilla

– Colours: Jared K. Fletcher & Sal Cipriano

– Continuity: Post Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Late Career, Post R.I.P,

– Batman is: Dick Grayson

– Villains: James Gordon Jr., Mr. Guiborg, Sonia Branch, Roadrunner, Tiger Shark, The Joker,
– Allies: Tim Drake as Red Robin, Barbara Gordon as Oracle, Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Barbara Gordon Sr, Harvey Bullock (Police),

– References: Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Jason Todd, Dr. Langstrom, The Flying Graysons,

– Story: [Spoilers as fuck!] The overarching plot revolves around Dick Grayson, who is now Batman since the death of Bruce Wayne, investigating a series of murders in Gotham. The murders are taking place using old versions of Gotham Villain’s signature tricks (eg. prototype Joker Venom, old Fear Gas etc.). He tracks down a crime-loving secret society of asshole socialites, infiltrates one of their auctions (in which they auction off memorabilia from famous crimes) whereupon he is discovered and has to fight them off. Eventually it turns out that Commissioner Gordon’s son James Jr was messed up after the events in Year One, and is a creepy-ass serial killer. This is told through flashbacks and Batman and Red Robin discover it through investigations and adventures that see them fight Roadrunner, Tigershark and The Joker. Commissioner Gordon doesn’t want to believe his son is such a sick fuck, and is convinced that James Jr. can handle his mental health problems with a new experimental medicine, but Barbara knows what James Jr. really is.

James Jr.’s medicine is revealed to have actually been causing psychopathy rather than curing it, and he reveals that it has been mass produced and introduced into the Gotham baby-food supply. He believes that psychopathy and a lack of human empathy is the liberating next stage in human evolution and wants the next generation of Gothamites to be as sick as he is.

James Jr. later tries to kill Barbara (after already poisoning Barbara Sr. and framing the Joker for it to lure Batman into a trap) but fails. Commissioner Gordon finally turns on his son after the attempt on his daughter and ex-wife’s lives, and shoots James Jr. in the leg, knocking him of a bridge in a scene mirroring [Black Mirror, innit] Year One, but the Commissioner saves his life. It is his son after all. Arkham bound, is that sick creepy prick. [Its a sign of great writing when a writer can make you feel genuine contempt for a villain]

In the epilogue Dick and Commissioner Gordon discuss their “long haul” future in the endless fight against crime while looking out the window, and there is a close up of a baby on the street looking a bit disturbed, indicating James Jr’s plan succeeded. Maybe Batman will have to fight that baby when it grows up to be a serial killer.

It’s a lot, lot, lot better than I’ve just made it sound though.

– Tone: The tone of this story is fantastic. Its dark as hell. Its flat out creepy at points, its got a Seven/Zodiac feel a lot of the time, and a Resident Evil 4 feel at other times. Its one of the darkest, most evocative and interesting Batman stories I’ve read to date and it really, really draws you in. It’s the sort of thing that you’ll have to read in one sitting because you just can’t put it down. There’s this great sense of dread and impending doom, as you just know that creepy little prick is evil and is going to start causing havock and break his old man’s heart, and you just sit there waiting for the axe to fall the whole time.

Its absolutely bleak and uncompromising. People have limbs amputated, jaws cut off, its just downright grim.

– Art: The art is absolutely top notch. Its very stylized, but its absolutely fantastic and suits the dark-ass tone of the story so well. It adds to the storytelling in a really powerful way. Its not just good as a storytelling device though, its excellent in and of itself. So many of the covers and individual panels would makes excellent posters. Its definitely in my top-five favourites that I’ve ever seen so far.

– Overall: I think this is hands down one of the best Batman books on the market. I said the art is in my top-five, but y’know what, the whole thing is. Its got a real mean, uncompromising tone, an intriguing and emotionally strong story, brilliant visuals, satisfying fights, no stupid or out of place dialogue, and a heck of a lot of strong scenes.

I said it before, if you want to start reading comic books and you ask me for suggestions, my number one choice is this. Pick it up. Get absorbed. It’s a brilliant serial-killer movie mixed with gadgets and outlandish locations (battle in a plane, in an underwater base etc.). I think this is a good book to check out if you like the Nolan movies. I think its an even better book if you liked the Sin City movie. I think it’s a good book period though. One of the best. Just read the damn thing already.

[Ps. Don’t I say on the market too much? As if I’m some sort of distribution house? I don’t know where I picked that phrase up from.]

‘Till next time!

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 3 – Batman Gothic

Hello and welcome to third installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

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.

This articles’ theme is “Pick one that Magnum has read,” because he hadn’t read Mad Monk or Monster Men and so couldn’t read my previous entry. That theme cuts out the possibility of writing about the two books that I most wanted to talk about though, Heart Of Hush and Gates Of Gotham. What to write about then? I was tempted to chose “Batman R.I.P” because the last two entries had been about books I really liked, and I wanted to chose one that I had an initially very negative reaction to, just so that all the Batfan articles don’t end up being more-or-less the same.

I was tempted to chose that, but in the end, I’ve decided that “the Morrison run” (of which Batman R.I.P is the third installment) should be handled in one, single, huge post, rather than in individual posts out of sequence.

This book seemed like a nice compromise. A story that Magnum has read, and that is even by Morrison, but that isn’t part of that giant run.

(Morrison’s run, if you don’t know, lasts so long that its sold in separate books, and buying them all would be pretty costly. Also, they are all linked together and don’t really work as stand alone releases. So, if you want to read it, it’s a big commitment.)

Batman

Batman Gothic:

– Writers: Grant Morrison
– Art: Klaus Janson

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint
– Timeline Position: Year One
– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: Mr. Whisper, The Mafia

– Cameos: Thomas Wayne (in a flashback)

– References: N/A

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth

– Story: The Mafia (although not Falconi or Maroni’s Mafia family from other stories, new characters instead. People like “Boss Ottavio” who as far as I’m aware, keeping in mind I’m new to this, don’t appear in any other stories) task Batman to catch a new villain called Mr. Whisper, who is committing beyond-the-grave revenge killings on the men who killed him twenty years ago. Its kind of similar to Fear The Reaper and Mask Of The Phantasm in a way… a “beyond-the grave revenge story against organized criminals in Gotham” kinda way.

– Tone: The tone is pretty interesting. Its kind of progressive or psychedelic in places with its use of dream sequences and supernatural goings-on. The general style of the book is a detective story, although at one point batman is captured in a manner really reminiscent to the 60s TV show too.

It is interesting to think that Grant Morrison wrote this story. It isn’t a part of his aforementioned huge run that began with Batman & Son and ended just recently, but interestingly it does contain certain elements that you would associate with what I’d describe as ‘Morrison’s Style.” In that run, Morrison uses a lot of the more imaginative and out-there story devices, enjoys incorporating the more fantasy and supernatural side of Batman into his work, tries to bring in stuff from all eras of Batman (including the fun 60s stuff), and invents new villains for himself. In that way it feels a bit like what The Corner is to The Wire. Or like Burn The Priest to Lamb Of God. Its not a part of it, but you could definitely tell the same people made it.

What I mean by that is that this story has the invention of a new Villain, a lot of trippy sections, and it mixes Year One’s grim crime drama tone with one or two cheeky 60s-style things like the inclusion of a bat-gyrocopter and batman being tied to a conveyer belt by the baddie.

I said last time that I’d rather read Batman stories with no magic, deamons or superpowers in them, and that I’m one of those people who want Batman to exist in the real world.

I sometimes find Red Hood and Ras Al Ghul and anything to do with Lazarus Pits to be a bit hard to swallow, even though a lot of good stories have included them. This story includes a semi-deamonic villain who sold his soul to the devil and has a sort of immortality (temporary immortality with a caveat). It also features a ghost ship. It even has a horcrux of sorts. So. Not a story that would be possible in the real-world then.

You know what though, even though it nominally includes things I profess to dislike, this is a really enjoyable, well made, solid, creative, self-contained mystery story. It shows Morrison’s quality as a writer without having to commit you to about £150 worth of books. (Morrison’s run, multiple books, remember?)

Its pretty interesting to read a book that has absolutely nothing to do with anything else at all. With the exception of Batman and Alfred, there are absolutely no characters from other Batman stories. Its just who is this killer?, stop this killer, resolution. In a good way. Its like an AC/DC song. Batman R.I.P by contrast is like one of the more challenging Mars Volta songs.

– Art: Of all the Batman books that I’ve read so far, this has probably got the least flashy, least glossy, least detailed art. Ok, Run Riddler Run had worse art, and I’d say its kind of tied with The Dark Knight Returns, but its not as good as Killing Joke. Its functional art. I wouldn’t ever say “don’t read this due to the poor art” or anything like that, but its not a gorgeous feast for the eyes like Hush or All Star Batman & Robin.

– Overall: Its not the prettiest looking book out there, but its got substance. On the upside this is a short, simple, enjoyable and creative story. Short and sweet. Not really much else you can say about it. Its pretty sparse in places, with multiple full pages containing less than five words of dialogue. Its not overcomplicated with extra characters and you don’t have to have read any other Batman story ever to “get it.”

On the downside it doesn’t “add anything” to the Batman mythology and it doesn’t really reveal anything new, except stuff that only relates to this one-off villain and those one-off mobsters. I guess it tells you that Bruce had a one-off childhood friend called Rob (who isn’t Hush; somebody should’ve tied the two together) and that Bruce got spanked in school and his dad complained about it. I guess that’s some characterization for his dad. Ok, so that’s not much of a downside. Its just a pretty interesting standalone story. If the idea of the Devil appearing in a Batman story puts you off, then I’d say avoid it, but if you can get past that, as I have had to, then its pretty flawless.

I wouldn’t say this is “essential reading” or tell you to rush out and buy it if you weren’t already going to (like I would with Gates Of Gotham). I would however, if asked, say it was really solid and worth getting, providing that you were already tempted. I’d confirm its value when relevant, but I wouldn’t actively publicize it day to day.

It’s a good book. Its definitely better than some of the Judge Dredd crossovers I’ve read. Its just, y’know, not a big point of discussion. Good job I chose to blog about then, ey?

Until next time readers,

Same bat time, Same bat blog.

[Side note: is bat time 10.47?]

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 2 – Batman And The Monster Men & Batman And The Mad Monk

Batman

Hello and welcome to the second installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

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

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.

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 1 – The Court Of Owls

Hello and welcome to Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. I bought about 6 issues of The Beano in about 1995, I bought 3 issues of Batman in about 2005, I read each one once, maximum twice, and then never really bothered. Something about comics just never connected with me. I loved watching Batman, Spiderman, Ironman and Fantastic Four cartoons on TV as a kid, I loved the Judge Dredd PS3 and Rougue Trooper PC games to bits when they were new, but when it came to comics I just didn’t get it.

It didn’t really help that I really didn’t like most superhero films made when I was a teenager. Batman & Robin was too cartoony. Spiderman 3 really put me off too. Seeing a bit of Fantastic Four where the over-endowed (chest-wise) blonde supermodel ends up in her underwear in the middle of the street for NO REASON insulted my intelligence.

I got given about 5 Spawn Graphic Novels in about 2009 by my comic’s enthusiast mate (and go-to source of knowledge and recommendations) Magnum and I enjoyed them. I liked how vivid and colourful they were. I was more impressed, but still a bit too skeptical to really commit

Then The Watchmen movie came out. I loved it. I still love it. I got given the book for my birthday. I loved it. It was a turning point for me when I realized comics could actually have genuine emotional depth and cultural significance. Then I bought about 10 Collections of the earliest Judge Dredd in stories in 2010 and they were so bad I felt like I had wasted the money so profoundly that it really soured me to comics. The Sin City movie occasionally made me reconsider, but not for long enough for anything to change.

Almost at the insistence of my good friend Magnum, I’ve decided to give the medium another chance recently, and get over some of my prejudices and preconceptions about it. How did he achieve this? Well; I began to warm to Batman a lot with the first Arkham game then again with second viewing of the first two Nolan movies, and started a conversation with Magnum reading the wikipedia on Batman after seeing the third Nolan movie. When I finally got the second Arkham game I was really sold on the whole idea of Batman and consequently Magnum, who surely must have a financial stake in this, used the opportunity to pounce on me when I was vulnerable (I jest) and sent me some Batman novels, including Year One and The Man Who Laughs. That pretty much did it for me.

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 one. I’m going to tell you who made them, which characters are in them and what I think about them.

First off, the first one that I ever paid for with my own money:

Batman

Batman Court Of The Owls TP

– Writers: Scott Snyder
– Art: Greg Capullo/Jonathan Glapion

– Continuity: New 52
– Timeline Position: Late Career but in New 52

– Villains: The Court Of Owls, Talons

– Cameos: The Joker, Two Face, Scarecrow, The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Ventriliquist, Mr. Zsaz, Clayface, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, Black Mask, James Gordon Jr, Professor Pyg, Big Top, Firefly

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Allies: Dick Grayson as Nightwing, Damien Wayne as Robin, Tim Drake as Red Robin, Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Harvey Bullock (Police), Vicky Vale (Reporter), Bill (Coroner), Harper Row (Bystander)

– Historical Character Cameos: Alan Wayne, William Cobb

– Look: Not cartoony, Not gritty and photorealistic either. As each issue that makes up the book comes, the art gets better and better. I think its a really high standard and I have to admit I like it when the art is good, maybe that’s shallow but its how I feel.

– Story: The plot revolves around a mayoral election, a series of grim executions and a possibly-fictional cult, an illuminati-type group that may be causing these murders but may just be a myth. It really concentrates on the city itself. The city is almost like the main character.

The tone is really good. Its adult and entertaining at the same time, you rarely catch a sentence and think “that sticks in my craw, that doesn’t belong in Batman.” Sometimes I read a Batman story and someone will write some sex-joke (mostly Kevin Smith) or some non-swearing insult that takes you out of the story (calling someone a “twit” during a fist fight?), but there’s none of that in this. Everything feels natural. I also like how it balances old and new fans.

When I first read it, I liked how it explained so much, and didn’t make you feel like an outsider for not knowing 80 years worth of Batman history, but when I read it for the second time, after having learned much more about that history over half-a-year’s worth of reading, I then came to appreciate all the references and nods built in for the existing fans. If you didn’t know, this story is the first story in the NEW 52 continuity. What that means is that essentially the characters and story has been going on too long, and the company said “that’s enough. Start again” and so you act as if this is the first Batman story.

I like that they started off with an all new story and an all new villain/set of villains rather than just showing you something you’d seen before in the movies. It would’ve been easy to throw out The Joker or Bane as the main villain, but instead they did something completely new, and best of all, the new thing was actually really good. I like the dark, horrible tone that creeps in at times making it feel like a David Fincher movie, but I especially like how they balance that with Uncharted style adventure and excitement.

I also like how it makes you genuinely fucking despise the villains. There was an old woman I swear I actually wanted to choke to death with my own bare hands. Its powerful writing when you dislike a character that much. I think that’s why Game Of Thrones is so good, because of how much it makes you want to harm the villains. I remember when I was a kid, wondering about the WWF Wrestling and why they even bothered with the bad guys like Triple-H, because I hated them so much, and having it explained to me why that was actually the point, and how it was an example of good writing.

My favourite part of this book is the psychedelic, proggy bit in the middle where you have to physically flip the book around in your hands to figure out what’s going on, mirroring the emotions in the story. I like the idea that the story is interesting enough that the reader can start to actually feel claustrophobic or paranoid. Sometimes, you actually get so sucked in that you can feel cold, or start to yawn when a character yawns. Its the comic equivalent of the crime-scene level in Heavy Rain. Its a long way from Adam West getting eaten by a giant clam.

I also like how, right from the off, they start exploring strained relationships between Batman and Dick Grayson, exploring the psychology of Bruce, and generally writing the characters with depth. You land straight into a fully developed and populated world, many years into Batman’s career. You think you aren’t going to like it because you don’t like magic and children (eg. Robin) and are skeptical of a non-Nolan take on Batman and then it hits you with such a well written, intelligent take on it, making all the things you were skeptical about fit in, that it really turns you around. I’ll admit wasn’t expecting comics to be able to handle such depth of character. I’m glad they do.

I like the introduction of the Harper Row character and her brother. Its would be good if they become recurring characters from now on. It would be good to see female and gay characters handled tastefully. Also, its just good to know that there are more people in Gotham besides the villains, the cops and Batman’s crew. Having some citizen’s point of view considered is refreshing.

Overall; I think its well thought out, well written, well drawn and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to read a Batman comic. I think this was what really made me see that the medium was worthwhile, and made me want to start a collection. Check it out if you like the sound of it.