Amateur Batfan: Volume 12 – The Long Halloween

Hello and welcome to the twelfth 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).

In previous entries, I mentioned how I’ll now try and cover some of the more famous Batman books like Year One, Arkham Asylum, Dark Knight Returns etc. and so this time I’ll be covering The Long Halloween, which is perpetually featured in list of best Batman books ever, which helped inspire parts of The Dark Knight movie and which is always mentioned as a brilliant book for beginners.

I had it in my mind that The Long Halloween was released either late 80s or very early nineties, as it is a sort of follow-up to Year One, and I assumed that it was the next Batman story after Year One, but apparently there was almost a full decade between them, and that this didn’t even start until 1996.

I also thought that the much discussed Hush, (created by Jeph Loeb, who made The Long Halloween), was made long, long after his other work. But this ran from 1996-1997 and its sequel Dark Victory ran from 1999-2000, so Hush running from 2002-2003 is completely normal. I had it in my mind that Hush was a sort of return of Loeb after ages away, in the way that The Dark Knight Returns coming out in 2003 was a return for Frank Miller after about 20 years. Yeah… my knowledge of this stuff is pretty blurry to say the least. I don’t really know where or why I got that “return” impression.

Either way, as a rule, I generally enjoy the whole idea of the Year One sort of period, where Batman isn’t fully developed yet, where all his inventions and vehicles aren’t invented, where the bat-family like Robin and Batgirl and all that lot aren’t in it yet, when some villains haven’t even showed up, or turned evil yet. When I was first introduced to comics again as an adult, I thought “Good. I don’t want any Robin or Superman or Magic or Aliens, all that stuff is stupid and diminishes what’s cool about Batman.”

Having said that, the more I’ve been reading Batman, the more I’ve grown to appreciate just the opposite of that. I’ve began to really love seeing Nightwing and Oracle show up, and after his smug-shite attitude in Batman And Son – I thought I’d hate Damian Wayne, but then as he developed as a character, I really began to like even him. Its therefore kind of an old-opinion of mine that the Year One stuff is what I care most about, now I want to learn about Huntress and Cassandra Cain and whatever else. Even with this new attitude though, it didn’t stop me re-reading and enjoying The Long Halloween…

Batman

Batman – The Long Halloween:

– Writers: Jeph Loeb
– Art: Tim Sale
– Colours: Gregory Wright

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Year One era

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: Holiday, Calendar Man, Joker, Two Face, Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, Solomon Grundy, Sal Maronie, Carmine Falcone, Vernon Fields, Carla Viti, Johnny Viti, Sophia Gigante,

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Harvey Dent (Pre-Two Face), Catwoman

– Bystanders: Gilda Dent, Barbara Gordon, James Gordon Jr., Richard Daniel (Gotham Bank)

– Story: [/Spoilers] Batman, Harvey Dent and Commissioner Gordon form a pact to bring down the crime empire of Carmine Falcone, a mafia boss. Catwoman seems to have something going on with Falcone. Somebody starts killing Carmine’s family and men over the course of the year on public holidays. The press dub them the Holiday Killer. Batman suspects Calendar Man as it fits his M.O. of Holiday-themed crime, Carmine suspects his mafia rival Sal Maroni. Everyone suspects eachother, maybe its Batman, maybe its Harvey Dent, maybe its Gordon, maybe its Catwoman, maybe its one of the many mafia characters in the story. The mafia want to deal with Gotham bank to launder money. Bruce Wayne’s vote on their board-of-directors meeting stops that deal from happening. The mafia have no choice but to just keep their money in a huge pile in a warehouse, and Batman along with Harvey sets it on fire.

Harvey’s wife Gilda finds a gun that makes it look like it was Dent doing the Holiday killings. Catwoman flirts with Batman a lot. Carmine hires a Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy and Riddler to deal with his problems – Fighting the Bat-freak with freaks of his own, much to the distaste of other mafia members. Riddler almost gets killed by the Holiday Killer and is distraught about it. Poison Ivy uses her mind control powers to trick Bruce Wayne into reversing the vote with the bank, then Catwoman breaks Ivy’s spell over Wayne. Joker on some ego trip wants to know who Holiday is, and breaks into the Dent’s house frightening Gilda and angering Harvey. Joker steals a plane and threatens to kill people until he finds out who Holiday is. Batman stops him. Harvery’s death is faked and this helps him arrest some criminals. Solomon Grundy is in the Gotham sewers, Batman is nice to him. During a court case against a mafia guy throws acid in Harvey’s face turning him into Two Face. Carmine’s undervalued son is revealed to be the Holiday killer. Two Face kills some mafia guys then hands himself in at the end, stating that the justice system will fail as usual. Batman and Catwoman flirt. All the super villains gang-up on the mafia boss. There’s an epilogue where Gilda is destroying evidence to protect her husband and reveals she killed some people too.

– Tone: Its in part, a very serious and realistic take on Batman. In some ways, it’s a colourful tour of the rogues gallery including magic tree women, madmen in dodgy costumes and a zombie. Its probably symbolic of the transformative effect Batman’s presence had on the criminal landscape that it starts off with Mafia guys and ends with supervillains, but I don’t feel like somebody’s desperate to give me a message like when Smith or Snyder do their Joker conversations at the end of their books. I just feel entertained. Its good to have a little more humanity and grey area to Harvey Dent, instead of him being super-perfect then instantly super-evil. This makes it more like its two sides of his personality. The mixture of realism and supernatural ideas reminds me of Dark Moon Rising.

– Art: I’ve read this twice. Once about a year ago, and once in the last two days. Right up until re-reading it, I had it in my mind that this was a really fugly book. I don’t know why I thought this. I’ve just read it again and some of the artwork is absolutely gorgeous, any of the moody film-noir looking shadowy scenes in Gordon’s office look incredible. The only things that really look bad are Joker and Poison Ivy. During the normal scenes with humans, or in people’s offices and houses, this is an excellent looking book with a lot of attention to detail and it feels really good on the page.

– My Thoughts: I really, really enjoy this book. I don’t accept the idea that this is poorly designed or only exists to show off some different villains, plagiarizes The Godfather too much, or has a bad mystery (see here). I do agree that some of the character designs are not the best (I don’t like scarecrow) and do concede some of the villains are slightly unnecessary (I don’t understand Joker’s motivation even now… if he is jealous of other freaks, why does he do the team-up at the end?).

Its good having the whole Gilda and Barbara thing, it adds extra depth. I like when there’s people in Gotham besides the Bat Family, The Cops and The Villains.

I was surprised to learn, while reading about this online afterwards, that Carmine Falcone was only introduced in Year One. I thought he’d be one of the earliest villains going. When I’ve seen historical bat-stories from the 50s they’ve usually involved gangsters, and you could easily imagine one being called Falcone or Maroni.

This isn’t so much about Long Halloween but rather all Batman in general – Do you know what I dislike? Mad Hatter. I am a) sick of him due to a coincidental over-exposure and b) I dislike him to begin with, he is just something I don’t get along with. I never liked Alice In Wonderland to begin with, and it seems to grate at me. I also think it’s a bad gimmick for a villain. As far as I’m aware Spiderman doesn’t fight a Gandalf-themed Lord Of The Rings-obsessed character, and Spawn probably doesn’t fight a Ron Weasley based villain.

I do like that Loeb teams him up with Scarecrow though, if he has to be included, this is better, he can’t sustain a whole story of his own in my opinion. Even in the Arkham games, the Mad Hatter psychedelic missions weren’t as good as the Scarecrow one, (probably just because Alice In Wonderland seems to annoy me for some reason admittedly). I think adding in Hatter adds a bit of value-for-money as the list of villains included is longer, but letting Scarecrow do the heavy lifting is just better for my individual personal tastes (heck, throw Cornelius Stirk in there too and have a team up of mind-bending villains.)

So yeah, Mad Hatter… tolerable in small doses or as a silent part of a team, but I’d hate a game, comic or movie where he was the main villain. I’d almost prefer The Carpenter or Tweedledum and Tweedledee… at least their voice isn’t annoying. I was going to start a list of villains that I prefer to Mad Hatter, starting with Mr. Freeze and going onwards, but I thought it would just be pointless, you get the point. I don’t like Ventriloquist or Mad Hatter all that much. Doesn’t matter, just personal opinion.

That ‘Hatter observation aside, I only really have positive things to say about this story. It is long, weighty, has a good tone, keeps you reading till the end it also looks good for the most part (Jim’s office particularly). I also like how they hint at duality instead of ramming it down your throat every five minutes. What more could you want?

[Oooh look. A whole Batfan article where I didn’t bring up Heavy Metal. What’s going on? Ummm…. “listen to Megadeth.” Phew, close call!]

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.

Get (Into) What You Paid For: Vol. 3. Day 52 – The Memory Remains

Its day 52 of my third Get (Into) What You Paid For challenge. There’s ten days left. Even though it got extended to be an extra month long, I’ve been adhering to the challenge and haven’t broken it yet thanks to the Christmas gifts I discussed last time, which have taken the urge to buy myself stuff away for a while. I’ve been working through it. I’ve watched Sound City, I’ve read Joey Shithead’s autobiography, I’ve been heavily listening to Porcupine Tree’s Deadwing and Tesseract’s new album. I’ve been playing Arkham Origins. The entertainment part of my life is pretty well serviced.

I’ve also finished the comics that I got for Christmas from my friend Magnum, and am in the mood for more. Which leads us to the part of the article where I discuss what I would buy if I wasn’t on the challenge not to buy things:


I remember when I first planned to buy comics, I wanted to read three stories. Year One, Knightfall and No Man’s Land. This was due to reading the Wikipedia page for The Dark Knight Rises movie.

I got given a lend of Year One by my friend Magnum straight away. I have never gotten around to reading the other two. After having played the three Arkham games, and just recently finishing the campaign mode of Arkham Origins, I really want to get around to reading them now.

There’s two problems with that though… first off, postage and packaging. Second off, Knightfall is three books and No Man’s Land is five books. So; in order to read these two stories, I need to buy eight books, and eight sets of postage and packaging. You add them to your basket and then think…oooh that’s a bit too much for me right now, and then the postage comes on top and it’s like…hmmm, definitely not now.


The same thing happens in a value for money way. I have a weird notion that I want to buy the first three Poison albums, but for under £1 each. Which is possible on amazon at times, but then the postage for three albums is about six quid, and then suddenly its not worth it anymore. I worry that it’ll be completely terrible but I’m kind of fascinated. I think that people will feel the same way about Limp Bizkit in a few years (Nu Metal is very much the Hair Metal of my generation and Emo is the Nu Metal of the next generation after me, and I’m sure there’ll be some Dubstep-infused-Post Hardcore movement starting to take off soon that will be the one for today’s twelve year olds).


Y’know what else I’d like. More Son’s Of Anarchy. I watched the first four seasons which are available on Netflix over the Christmas break and now I want to see the next three seasons. At first I wasn’t actually keen on the show, but I really got into it and now I really want to see more. I can’t decide if I should buy a boxset or wait until its all finished and buy a complete set or wait until more goes up on Netflix. I don’t know if that’s a thing that happens. Is it? Tell me in the comments if that’s likely to occur.

But I’m trying not to buy those things; so instead, I’ll use the things I already have. Money for comics and campy Hair Metal songs would be much better spend on rent, electricity, food and other essentials, right?

With that in mind, here is the section where I discuss the things I listened to that I already owned:

So onto the aforementioned listening-for-distraction stakes; I’ve put on Fair To Midland’s proper debut album (or third album if you count independent releases), the lengthily titled Fables From A Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True.

I got their follow-up to this, Arrows & Anchors because the internet buzz was that if you liked Rishloo or Coheed & Cambria, then you should check out Fair To Midland. I do like Rishloo and Coheed & Cambria. I like them a lot. So… I checked out Arrows & Anchors and really enjoyed it. It took me a while to get around to picking up this one.

Its less instant than Arrows & Anchors. Its less driving, less powerful. It takes a lot more time to soak in. Its an album you have to give a lot more time to, in order to get the same sort of return back from it. But the return is definitely there to be had.

It feels a lot longer than it is though, at forty-eight minutes it feels like its about an hour and a half in duration. Not because its bad or anything. I guess, in a way, its kind of dense. Not Neurosis dense. But still… there’s a lot to it.

I like this album a lot, but its more of an whole-album-in-one-sitting affair than the other one, it’s the kind of thing where you have to put on the whole record and pay attention to it, rather than knowing the song titles and having a favourite song. Its just as good, but its less fun, if that makes any sense.

I’ve also been re-listening to Kreator’s Pleasure To Kill album a lot recently. Its one of those albums that you always read is absolutely brilliant, but which I’ve sometimes had a bit of a grudge against.

I know that Kreator’s next three albums are brilliant, well-written catchy Thrash records with many parts that sound like Forbidden, Anthrax and Megadeth and not just grim, heavier versions of ‘Chemical Warfare’ by Slayer on repeat. For some reason though, that’s exactly how I find myself thinking about Pleasure To Kill. I think its just a constants stream of d-beats over one buzzy riff and some ’80s death-vocals, with no variety.

I think this may be because the kind of people who told me Sodom’s Obsessed By Cruelty or Sepultura’s Morbid Visions were good, were the same people who recommend this. (Two albums which I find incredibly dull, repetitive and not to my tastes, by the way). Naturally, I’m suspicious of it. It also doesn’t help that the first song (excluding the intro) is the sort of high tempo, frantic pounding sort of thing that confirms this suspicion. Also, its just one of those things were you made your mind up about it once, years ago, and it never occurred to you to challenge the notion until just now.

Recently though, I’ve been listening to it over and over, and noticing parts that don’t sound like Obsessed By Cruelty. Lots and lots of parts. Over half the damn record. It’s a really good, creative Thrash album with lots of tempo changes, breakdowns, Anthraxy parts and all that good stuff that the next three Kreator albums that I don’t write-off all have.

Woops.

Oh well; at least I know now. I paid for it, it’s a good job it turned out to be good. Even if I was late to realize it.

Maybe I’ll go back and listen to Obsessed By Cruelty and find out its just as fresh and fun as Among The Living and that this whole relentless pounding thing was all a bad dream.

You know what else I did? I listened to Dark Side Of The Moon again. It seems like an obvious thing to do, but I can’t actually remember the last time I listened to it. When I first got into Pink Floyd I listened to them so, so, so much, and watched their DVDs so, so much, that it kind of feels like, I don’t need to listen to them again sometimes. Like, I’ve listened to them so much its just imprinted in my brain forever and its redundant to listen to them any more.
Its kind of such an obvious thing to do, that I don’t even think of it anymore. Should I listen to Pink Floyd? – Well, are you alive? – Yes, I am alive – Then of course you should listen to Pink Floyd. In fact, you are probably already listening to Pink Floyd, just pay more attention.

Maybe all the Porcupine Tree and Riverside had been filling my Floydism receptors in my brain and I didn’t realize I was missing any. Anyway; I remembered to listen to them again.

What a good album. You don’t need me to tell you that. Nobody ever has to say it again. Yes; this and Led Zeppelin 4 are good albums. We know.

I enjoyed myself. I must remember to listen to Pink Floyd again. Sure, it may be for the thousandth time, but its always going to be good.

You know everything I just said about Pink Floyd? Well yeah, that again… only for Pantera. This album is so good, so fundamental to what I like about music, has so many of my favourite songs on it, that I absolutely forget to listen to it.

I’m not sure whether this, Master Of Puppets or Reign In Blood would be considered the Dark Side’ of Metal by the public, but for me, its definitely up there. I was going to start listing the things I like about this record, but it ended up being every single one of the things about this record. The only thing at all wrong with this is that ‘By Demons Be Driven’ has one chorus too many. Otherwise this is a flawless, perfect album. Every riff, every solo, every vocal line. The charming production. The performances. The variety. Its all exactly what I want out of music.

How good is the And Justice For All-sounding clean bit at the start of Hollow? How good is the heavy bit of Hollow? How good are Phil’s clean vocals on This Love? How good are Phil’s grunts, growls and screams on Fucking Hostile and Regular People? How good are the drum fills? The guitar solos?

I guess the take home message is, remember to listen to your favourite albums. They are your favourite albums, remember?