Amateur Batfan Vol. 17 – The Killing Joke

Hello and welcome to the seventeenth 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-and-a-half buying and reading Batman comics to the point where I personally own over seventy of them now, which I will now blog about for your reading pleasure and commenting-inspiration (seriously, I want to know what you think about these comics).

On with the show.

This entry is going to focus on Alan Moore’s sole contribution to the world of Batman; his one-shot graphic novel, The Killing Joke. There’s a lot of interesting opinions about this one. Some people consider it one of the top-four Batman stories of all time alongside The Dark Knight Returns, Year One and Arkham Asylum A Serious House On Serious Earth. Some consider it to be overrated trash. Some people think it is bad for Alan Moore and not up to his usual standard. Some people think it’s the definitive Joker story, others think that its almost blasphemy to give the Joker an origin and also that Batman acts out of character here. Some people hate the way Barbara Gordon was treated and hate it for being too gratuitous.

Grant Morrison thinks it ends with either Batman killing the Joker or vice versa (my memory is foggy after doing too many twelve-hour night-shifts, and not having been to sleep since the last one).

The copy I own is the deluxe edition where its been recolored and printed on nice glossy paper. Some people hate that because it messes with a classic. Some people love it and think it helps it look modern.

Batman – The Killing Joke:
– Writers: Alan Moore
– Art: Brian Bollard
– Colours: (in this case, Brian Bollard)
– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint
– Timeline Position: Mid career, pre-Death In The Family, pre-Kinghtfall.
– Batman is: Bruce Wayne
– Villains: Joker, Some Freaks, Red Hood gang, Danny Weaver
– Cameos: Two Face, Penguin
– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Barbara Gordon,
– Bystanders: Jeannie Kerr

– Art: I think everything about this book looks excellent. Its definitely good for its time and held up well. In fact its good even for now.

– Tone: I love the tone here. Its very much like an episode of The Sopranos or any other guns-and-cops HBO show you could think of.

– My Thoughts: Let me address the above points one by one… I do think it deserves to be in that list. I personally don’t think its better than some stories like Long Halloween or Arkham Asylum, nor is it anywhere near as brilliant as Year One, but I think it feels like its supposed to be ‘up there’ and heck, I personally enjoy it more than The Dark Knight Returns.

I haven’t read any other Moore comics so I can’t comment on whether its poor for him, but let me say that if its poor for him, good for him must be astonishing.

I don’t think it ends with a death, not at all. Not subtly, not hinted at, not metaphorical. I think it just ends. It ends with Joker being about to be arrested once again and I reckon it’s a statement on the banality of the repetition of the endless arrest/crime Joker cycle rather than any secret murder.

I love how this book looks. I read the original coloured version too a about a year ago so its not that I haven’t seen both. I just like it. I like pretty glossy paper. I like big easy-to-read print and I like this colour palate a lot. It’s a bit more Arkham videogame series and a bit less Watchmen comic. I love The Watchmen’s story and art (oh wait, that was Moore wasn’t it? Damn… Yeah, this aint as good as that!) but not necessarily the colour scheme.

I also don’t mind the Barbara thing, and all the slightly sinister, uncomfortable rapey overtones that some people complain about. I think it works well and gives the story a lot of serious dramatic weight. Makes it feel a bit Mystic River.

It was good for a book to point out ‘hey, Batman is a bit of an insane idea’ and even though it started a thing that people can get sick of, it works well here in this book.

Basically, I think this is a nice, tight, enjoyable book, with a sensible length and good pacing. I enjoy it more than the bloated Knightfall, but wouldn’t call it a favourite.

Amateur Batfan: Vol.14 – Prey

Hello and welcome to the fourteenth 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).

About two weeks ago I bought Prey on a whim online, without much knowledge about it save for that Hugo Strange was the villain. Afterwards, I sent my friend a txt asking if it was any good. The answer was a negative. Woops.

Well, then I looked it up online afterwards and found out that it came packaged with an extra story too, a sequel called Terror. Well, at least it would be value for money. Year Two: Fear The Reaper came packaged with a sequel (Full Circle) and A Death In The Family came packaged with a sequel… or at least packaged with another story (A Lonely Place Of Dying), and it always feels good as a consumer to get the extra equal length, equal quality story as a bonus. If it was bad, at least I wasn’t ripped off.

You know, Hugo Strange wasn’t a villain I’d ever heard of before playing Arkham City. I think I had to look him up on Wikipedia when I played that game to see if he was real or made up for the game. (Real as in “existed in the comics” and not real as in real in the real world). I watched The Animated Series as a kid, and I had Batman Cartoon Maker, but I don’t recall Hugo Strange being in either (he probably was, but I might have not noticed, seeing as how children’s minds are weirdly blurry, like a drunk adult’s).

Since getting into comics properly, I’ve only come across one, maximum two stories with Hugo in it. Those are Batman & The Monster Men and then possibly Knightfall (I don’t remember, he could’ve been one of the ones in the Arkham breakout). Monster Men is one of my favourite Batman books so far, but to be fair it wasn’t really because of Strange himself. I don’t really know how to feel about him as a villain. Certainly he’s not on my “I don’t like them” list, like The Mad Hatter, but neither is he on my “I have a special interest in them” list, like Hush and Mr. Freeze.

Batman

Batman – Prey:

– Writers: Doug Moench
– Art: Paul Gulacy
– Colours: Terry Austin (Prey), Jimmy Palmiotti (Terror)

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Year One era (Prey), Early Career (Terror)

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains (Prey): Hugo Strange, Night-Scourge
– Villains (Terror): Hugo Strange, Scarecrow

– Allies (Prey): Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Catwoman
– Allies (Terror): Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Catwoman

– Cameos (Terror): The Joker

– Bystanders (Prey): Harvey Dent, Sarah Essen, Barbara Gordon, James Gordon Jr.,

– Bystanders (Terror): Brad, Charleene

– Tone: In some ways its fairly wacky, in some ways its trying to be realistic. There’s plenty of street thuggery, but there’s also outlandish ideas in the mix as well. I feels cold. I’m not sure if that is because of the graffiti and the night-time stuff. (Hmmm… isn’t all Batman full of night-time and graffiti?).

– Art: I really like the art style here. After being given Year One and Man Who Laughs early one, this is sort of the general sort of style I expect from old Batman. Its sort of similar to Venom and the Vengeance Of Bane backstory that was packaged in with my edition of Knightfall. I guess that is sort of the baseline for late-80s to early-90s Batman. I like it.

One fairly major flaw with Prey is that some of the text-boxes are pretty illegible. Its really difficult to read what they say at times.

Terror is interesting, because in some, nay most, of the pages it looks even better than Prey… but then pictures of Dr. Crane and The Scarecrow look very silly and cartoony, and his dancing looks really odd and it throws the whole thing off. I could see people saying it was bad looking because of it.

This whole book is also printed on that old newspaper paper and not the modern glossy stuff. I’m not sure if I’m beginning to like it. Finding it charming. Like when as a Nu Metal fan, it took me a while to get used to the production on Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin albums. I think I’m beginning to like the non-glossy look now.

– My Thoughts: Hugo Strange is quite different in this story than in Monster Men.
Not so much the mad psychiatrist as a straight up cartoon-madman who talks to a mannequin dressed in lingerie. Becuase Mad. I’m not sure which version I prefer. This or Monster Men?… I mean Mad Scientists are cliched too I guess. I think I may prefer the version in Arkham City, but maybe that’s just because it was what I seen first. Or maybe it is better. I don’t know. Maybe I should talk it over with a psychiatrist?

The little touches here and there are rather good, like the disgruntled lawyer, adding a little of that Year One style TV Cop-show depth.

The Night Scourge storyline reminds me quite a lot of The Reaper … y’know… more violent vigilante comes along, Batman disapproves, public look down on vigilante violence including Batman. I guess its also not unlike The Red Hood many years later too. Its a reasonable plot I guess. I really like it when ‘Todd is doing it, so why not here?

I like Jim Gordon in these stories. But then, when do you ever not like Jim Gordon. No Man’s Land is the only example I can ever think of. Heck; Even when he cheats on his wife in Year One he’s likeable.

Another thing that reminds me of the Reaper story is the fact that in Terror, Scarecrow says the word “bullies” way, way too often. Just like how Reaper says “Fear The Reaper” every other sentence.

In a lot of the reviews I’ve read, people who enjoyed Prey didn’t seem to like Terror. I liked both. Both are flawed, neither are awful. I found them both to be pretty entertaining in all honesty, although I’m not sure how much I’d recommend them either. I think a solid 6/10 score would be warranted in a review. It’s the kind of thing you don’t regret buying, but wouldn’t rave about.

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: 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.