Amateur Batfan Vol. 18 – Zero Year

Batman – Zero Year

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 article will be about the recent Batman story Zero Year (and I’m condensing the two books into one single article here, because they don’t work separately – its a single story for sure, missing the start or the end would be a mess).

Having had a brilliantly sleepy day off work where I was too broken and tired to move much or leave the house at all, I decided it may be fun to write another one of these articles from the comfort of under my duvet – its absolutely freezing here at the moment so above it would be unrealistically, threateningly cold (shame I didn’t chose a Mr. Freeze related story, like ‘Snow.’) – and in order to do that I had to read some Batman, and I had been meaning to re-read this one because quite frankly I thought it majorly sucked when I first got it, and I was hoping I was wrong about it.

Long time readers may remember that when I first read the previous New 52 Batman by Snyder & Capullo story, A Death In The Family, I thought that it majorly sucked as well. I’ve since way mellowed on that story. Way mellowed to the point of thinking its actually pretty darn good. I like a lot about it and only the inconsequence of it after the hype was the main issue. Sure there are small faults, but there are small faults with every other Batman thing Snyder has done, like in the otherwise amazing Court Of Owls – the awful twist (luckily though that is one of those copout twists where you get to chose for yourself if its true or not, so at least you can half-live with its inclusion).

So yeah, usually I read a Snyder story, balk at some choice because I don’t like it, think the book is lame, then read it again knowing about the choice, and hey – it’s a good book!

Will this work for Zero Year?

Well… no not really. Because there is no such choice with this book. The choice is the book. The whole book. The pacing, the paneling, the tone. Everything.

No. Not everything. The artwork is first rate, phenomenal, exceptional – all the positive words you can think of. The book looks incredible and there are so many pages I love and want as a poster for the wall they’re that great. The red lightning? The colours when he’s making a Bat Symbol out of tied up villians? FUGGEDABOUTIT.

So yeah… the book, as a book for illiterate people is quite pleasant. But… the other aspects sink it.

This book is supposed to be a rollercoaster; an explosive action meets sci-fi adventure (it says so in the liner notes) with bold editing choices and all these sorts of things. How it works out in reality though is like Dillinger Escape Plan’s debut album as a comic book. Its jagged, abrasive, lacking in flow, removed from sensible structure and downright uncomfortable.

Sounds pretty cool doesn’t it? I mean… here’s a guy who likes Prog saying “thing defies convention” – that must be good right? – Well, kinda no. There is a lot of good to be said for Zero Year… but the transgressive thing… that aint it. It’s a large detractor. This book would’ve been way better if it was three issues longer so they could fill in the darn blanks between scenes.

In comic books, I’ve come to expect that between two panels there is a certain minimum and maximum distance that can be crossed, a certain minium and maximum time that can pass… I’ve never thought about or quantified it until right now… all I can tell is that Zero Year disobeys the rules. Rule breaking is probably cool… I mean there’s a reason this blog is called King Crimson Blog and not AC/DC blog, right? But… y’know… “You Shook Me All Night Long” is one heck of a tune too, is it not?

This may just be a failing on my part, but struggling to know which panel follows which is not conducive to flow, as the time wasted searching interrupts the story. Also, in order to fit the word balloons, sentences are frequently reworded and end up feeling damn unnatural (assuming Snyder didn’t just write terrible dialogue – it feels more like medium-related compromise than a hack… and I know he’s not a hack because he writ’ Gates Of Gotham and The Black Mirror which are superb).

Also, the swearing bubbles should match the intended swear words otherwise you waste time guessing the swear and again the story stops flowing naturally.

But yeah… wah wah wah… I’m just a big baby who wants to be spoonfed mediocrity and never to feel uncomfortable. Or am I? Maybe this is just a poorly designed experiment that didn’t pan out. I don’t know… there’s one scene where the too-big gap ends with a vengeful foot on the riddler’s smug face… and in that instance the rule breaking leap actually caused me to laugh out loud… so… there’s that!

The first time I read it too I hated the idea that they are just doing another No Man’s Land and Dark Knight Rises movie idea… Gotham cut off, bridges uncrossable, civilization collapses. Its been done. Then I remembered a good story is a good story no matter what. Its not THAT similar to those other Gotham being cut off stories… and with one being a film and the other being pre-New 52, in this particular comic series it is an innovator.
All the machine gun robots and stuff felt weird and stupid for a set-in-the-past story, but when I thought deep there was advanced technology in all of the New 52 Snyder stories… so, ok I guess. And real life has Amazon drones flying mail across the country….so…

Oh. You know what else though… maybe I’m just stupid… but all the riddles sucked. Just my personal opinion but I wasn’t a fan of a single riddle in this book. Which is a shame for a Riddler story.

Also… Dr. Death’s motivation makes no sense. But… I’ve let Hush off with that..so… hmmm. Oh.. and throwing the “Red Hood One is clearly the Joker, oh wait, maybe he’s not” thing in was cheap. Of course he was… move on. No need to put in some half-baked mystery.

The thing I just hate about the book the most is just that it is too big for itself. The Red Hood Gang story starts halfway through… is plagued by cutaways and then ends with no consequence apart from weakly being tied to the next Dr Death story with a few lines of dialogue – which then that itself is all just a set up for the No Mans Land style bit which follows… so the first 2/3 of the story where a set up for a short-ass 1/3 that isn’t even all of it because its full of cutaways and has to have a resolution.

And in all that time, you’d think the Bruce Wayne character development and the relationships with Gordon and Alfred would have time to mature but no… if anything they feel rushed and weird… there’s just huge blustering conflict and swift unsatisfying resolution. While paradoxically, the main things about Batman being the city’s heartbeat and Bruce wanting to be someone else (BATMAN) are kind of subtle and understated, which feels wrong in a strange way since everything else was so overstated and hammy. Batman says I’ve failed and feels shame for not anticipating a different bomb plot!

And does Gordon’s coat NEED a damn backstory? Come on… its a coat. People wear coats. That’s all anyone needs. Where there legions of fans for the past 75 years going “if they don’t explain the origin story of that coat soon, I’ll stop buying comics”?

I think there was some brilliant stuff here, but it should’ve been about twice as long, with more structure, more background detail, slower pacing and less silliness (Bruce would never give someone the finger, surely? and why would you censor the phrase goddamn but not bastards? – and what kind of a line is “Gothamites are tough bastards, go figure” anyway?). And – ah, never mind. It feels like somebody took a whole new 12 episode first season of a new TV series called “SciFi Batman in an alternative past” (Catchy title, I’d buy that!) and condensed everything into just three comic books. And you just feel like “Dude, all the good bits are missing, they cut this wrong.”

Or maybe its Pulp Fiction and that’s the whole point. Maybe creating moods and asking audiences to write their own background and make their own stories is the whole point and I’m just a lame duck who wants something this was never supposed to be.

The backups of “Bruce Wayne In” stories were cooler than the main book. I’d love to have a whole book of just that but with it all designed from start to finish and told in chronological order, with a few side plots and stuff to flesh it out.

Oh wait… they invented the TV Show Gotham, right? Hopefully that will do just that. (Except it probably wont since its called Gotham, not Bruce Wayne training around the world).

What… the first half of Batman Begins still exists? Ok. Good. Maybe I’ll just watch that then.

Comments?

***Abandoning my usual structure in favour of long diatribes and jumping off half-formed thoughts to unconnected ones – not an intentional parody of Zero Year, but a nice mirror nonetheless***

****UPDATE:*****
I went through the internet to get a sense of what other people were saying and if I was missing stuff. The professional reviewers certainly make it seem like a better story and act as if all the characther development was deep and important and not rushed and unsatisfying as I had called it.

The people however had often a few complaints, which were 1. It shouldn’t be so world-shattering for Batmans first adventure. Its his first outing and he has to overcome such a gigantic city destroying event?
2. It was too long.

I don’t get the whole “it was too long” thing.

I felt that it was about three or four issues too short and that there was too much missing information. It made you “assume what happened” between and before panels too much and never actually showed you, and while yes we’re all intelligent people and hooray for intelligence, it might’ve been nice to just have a complete story with more flow.

Zero Year to me felt like Snyder had written a really good entire tv show season and then only showed the highlights.

It ironically almost needs a prequel of its own.

Also, those backups of Bruce’s pre-Batman globetrotting training were a cool idea… how about someone writes a complete story of all that training from start to finish with a satisfying sense of development and the transitioning of Bruce from angry orphan to Batman. I’d buy that.

I also totally agree with the point that as a prequel it feels like the wrong story to tell. What… Gotham is that badly devastated right at the start? With no lasting impact? No Man’s Land lasted way longer and had a longer lasting impact and it was only the Government stopping people coming or going… not a resourceful supervillian controlling the weather and electronics for the whole city.

And how did they get rid of all the overgrown plants… agent orange? Its not as if the only thing that happened to Gotham was Riddler turned off electricity and turning it back on fixes things… he flooded it, used Poisen Ivy’s science to turn it feral and he knocked over multiple buildings with a bulldozer-crane. That shit aint fixed by turning on the power. (Sure Bruce says in a speach that there’s work to do… but essentially, y’know… New Orleans isn’t fixed six years later… so how is Gotham not still pretty screwed in Owls and DOTF?). I know I know, suspension of disbelief.

Oh… and another thing; was the Riddler really doing it all to find a solution to climate change, overpopulation and world hunger? I don’t buy that, doesn’t feel right. I like the Arkham videogames version of the Riddler as some twisted Saw style serial killer so utterly obsessed with proving his worth that it causes him to become violent. Maybe the climate change line was BS… like the way Bane told the people he was freeing them in the third Nolan movie… it was just something he said in public but wasn’t his actual motivation or plan. Maybe its that?

Actually… a climate change focused enemy might be cool. Maybe it should’ve been Poison Ivy instead?

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: Volume 13 – Year One

Hello and welcome to the thirteenth 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 recent entries, I mentioned how I’ll now try and cover some of the more famous Batman books like Dark Knight Returns, Arkham Asylum, The Long Halloween etc. and so this time I’ll be covering Year One, which is perpetually featured in list of best Batman books ever, which helped inspire parts of Nolan trilogy movie and which is always mentioned as a brilliant book for beginners. Other writers seem to always reference it, or work off of it, or find ways to link their story with it (flashbacks etc.). They even made a straight-up cartoon movie adaptation of it, with Bryan “Walter White” Cranston in it. (Which was actually really good!).

Apparently, this was a reboot. You know the way that there were was a Batman movie in the 60s with Adam West? Then in the 80s/90s there were four more films without Adam West, and the events in the Adam West movie didn’t “count” in the newer films? Yeah? …and then recently there’s been three even newer films directed by Christopher Nolan that ignored the events of the previous four (make that five) Batman movies? Yeah? Well, that’s like the comics industry (Read about it, by someone more qualified, here).

Here’s the quick version: There were stories before Year One. That’s apparently called “Pre-Crisis” nowadays (With “Crisis” referring to a landmark story called “Crisis on Infinite Earths” where they wrapped up their decades long storylines so they could started over). Also you’ll see the terms “Golden Age” and “Silver Age” for even more specific time periods.

Then all of the stuff from 1987-2011 was another thing. When I write “Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint” in the continuity sections in these articles, that’s what I mean. That’s where the biggest Bulk of Batman stories I care about take place. I think that’s what most people care about to be honest. When that first 80s Batman movie landed and got people interested in Batman, when that brilliant 90s Batman cartoon was going and got people interested in Batman, When the movie Batman Begins came out and got people interested in Batman again, when the first Arkam videogame came out… yeah, you get it. When all of those big jumping on points of the last 30 years happened, the “continuity” that was relevant was this one. And for that whole period, Year One was considered to be the definitive comics version origin story of Batman.

Then as of 2011 there’s been another reboot. That’s Post-Flashpoint. Or “The New 52.” There’s a story being put out at the moment called Zero Year which is the modern equivalent of a story set in the Year One era.

Yeah… Comic Books are annoying in that way. Can’t help that, since they’ve been going for 75 years. Just think of it like the movies. Every so often, they’ll start over again to keep things modern and fresh and get new people interested.

It got me interested. Now look what’s happened, I’ve been reading them for a year and now even write a bloody Blog about them. The idea of Reboots and retconts and stuff like that was one of the things that originally stopped me from reading comics in the first place. Weird isn’t it?

Anyway; Last week, I wrote about enjoying the “Year One” era, or setting, for Batman stories. This is the first year (or couple of years, depending on the writer) that Batman actually works as Batman, with no Robin or Batgirl or any of those guys in it yet… and he’s not yet become the world’s greatest detective, or perfected his fighting and stealth and acrobatic skills yet and is therefore more prone to mistakes and defeat.

Part of the reason for that may be the streamlined “Just let me see Batman and don’t worry about that other stuff” attitude. The biggest part of it though is probably because of the book Year One itself…

I’ll save you having to skim down to the conclusion… I love this book. This is an excellent book. One of the best. Possibly the best. Its not just important, its not just famous, its actually good too.

So… Game changer. Reboot for the line. Considered a classic. Actually good. (Oft imitated rarely bettered). I guess the musical equivalent might be The Black Album.

Batman

Batman – Year One:

– Writers: Frank Miller
– Art: David Mazzucchelli
– Colours: Richard Lewis

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Year One era (Duh!)

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: Arnold Flass (Police), Branden (S.W.A.T), Commissioner Loeb (Police), Carmine Falcone, Carla Viti, Catwoman

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

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

– Story: [/Spoilers] It starts with James Gordon moving to Gotham, meeting his new Police Co-Workers who are less than ethical. There’s also scenes of Bruce Wayne clearly training to fight crime, but not yet Batman. Gordon’s co-workers start to dislike Jim’s incorruptibility. Bruce goes out dressed as a crazy veteran looking for a fight, but his plan backfires – when he is fighting a Pimp; a Prostitue, despite being a victim themselves, defends the Pimp and stabs Bruce in the leg. Gordon’s colleagues don balaclava’s and beat up Gordon with baseball bats in a car park, threatening him to be more corrupt like the rest of them. Bruce makes it home, bloody and defeated, he knows if he doesn’t get medical help he’ll bleed out and die, he doesn’t want to live in such a horrible world, a world where a criminal could murder his parents (which we see in flashbacks), but then a bat crashes through his window, which gives him the idea for Batman. He then rings a little bell, signaling Alfred to come and give him medical attention. Jim Gordon follows a drink driving co-worker called Flass runs him off the road, and beats him up in the woods as payback for what happened in the parking lot and so they know not to mess with his family.

A mentally ill man creates a hostage situation and Jim solves it with people skills. Batman makes his first outing, he tries to beat up some teenage thugs but its really clumsy. A Batman myth starts brewing. Flass was beat up by Batman while he was taking bribes off criminals. Flass acts as if Batman is a monster not a man, and becomes a laughing stock. A new cop called Sarah Essen is appointed to the anti-Batman case. Jim starts cheating on his wife with her. Batman leaves mafia boss Carmine Falcone handcuffed naked in bed.

Batman gets trapped in an abandoned building by a swat team and is shot. He escapes using a sci-fi style device which summons bats, but not before saving a cat’s life. Catwoman gets inspired to dress like a cat. Also during his escape he breaks into a clothes shop, but actually leaves money for the clothes he disguises himself with.

Gordon arrests a druglord named Skeevers, who flips on the corrupt Flass and Loeb. The police think Batman might be Bruce Wayne. Jim goes to visit Wayne but his wife Barbara Gordon tags along too. Bruce acts like a chauvinist pig. It fools Barbara but not Jim, but at that moment, Jim admits to his wife that he’s cheating on her. Essen moves away. Barbara (who was pregnant this whole time) has a baby.

Catwoman goes out on a few crimes. She steals from Mafia guys. She and Batman fight and flirt, they haven’t quite figured eachother out yet. The media think she’s Batman’s assistant and that upsets her sensibilities. The mafia are plotting to target Gordon’s family.

Bruce figures out about the mafia plan and goes to Gordon’s building (out of costume), just as Gordon is dragged out to work by a phonecall. When Gordon sees Bruce speeding to his house on a motorbike he figures something’s not right and turns around. Back at his building, mafia men are trying to kidnap his wife and son. Gordon saves his wife but not son, and knocks Bruce off his motorcycle in order to chase after the escaping kidnappers. Bruce follows by stealing a bicycle. Gordon confronts the kidnappers on a bridge but his son falls over the side, Bruce saves him in the nick of time. Gordon thanks him, saying he can’t see who it is without his glasses.

There’s an epilogue that sort of shows what’s going on in Gotham after all this shake-up, which sets up The Man Who Laughs and The Long Halloween.

– Tone: The level of realism is higher than any other Batman book I own. Aside from Catwoman’s athletic skills and costume, there’s nothing in this story that’s all that implausible for The Wire. Apart from one scene with a cloud of Bats attracted by a Sci-Fi device. But that’s it. Its otherwise pretty much a cop show. Its more realistic than The Long Halloween, and much more realistic than Dark Moon Rising.

To be fair, this tone is very impressive and I love it. However people trying to copy this tone usually fail to capture it, and usually the stories aren’t as good.

A turning point for me, as a new reader of comic books was when I came to feel that there’s nothing wrong with being a riot of fun (Note – that’s not a riot of violence, but a riot of FUN!) like Morrison’s three Batman & Robin books. There’s nothing wring with being colourful and interesting if you do it right. Sometimes realism is very good, like here, if its done well, but just being in love with Frank Miller and stealing his ideas isn’t always as successful. Much like learning to ignore all the rebooting nonsense and terrible, terrible lack of curatorship the medium seems to have, learning that I can like multiple types of Batman and not just Nolan-esque stuff was interesting. I guess the musical equivalent is going from hating clean singing to enjoying it.

– Art: The art is superb. The colours make it feel kind of old-fashioned, but I hear that they made a recoloured version and people didn’t like that. Anyway, the actual drawing and shading are excellent. Character design too. It looks better than Long Halloween, Knightfall and Death In The Family which are the three nearest comparisons I have read. (Oh yeah, and than Fear The Reaper). Obviously it doesn’t match up to modern, glossy, super impressive stuff but it is brilliant. Its kind of like Megadeth’s Rust In Peace or Countdown To Extinction albums in that even though you can tell they weren’t released recently, they sound faultless. Age is apparent due to comparison with newer releases, but age is not a detriment. Its one of my favourite looking books ever, even if its not technically the absolute best (I am shallow and love Jim Lee and Greg Capullo).

– My Thoughts: I really, really enjoy this book. Its interesting, its succinct, and the Jim Gordon infidelity plus bad co-workers story is more interesting than even the Batman story. Its more interesting than most Batman book side plots. I care more about this than Jason Todd’s search for his biological mother, or Tim Drake’s Dad being kidnapped. They’re equally interesting human stories on paper… but this one just has a lot more depth and heart.

I also like that there was a memorial named after Bill Finger. It could have been the Kane memorial, but no. Nice touch.

One interesting point, which I didn’t know until this week when reading about this book online. When I read this book, its quite clear that Catwoman is a prostitute. It is so obvious I would never question it. I’ve saw people fighting about it online though “She’s not a prostitute, it in no way says that” etc. Then a second bunch of people who are like “She is a prostitute, but I wish she wasn’t” and an even more mysterious third party “She’s not a prostitute, she’s a dominatrix – learn the difference!”

Now I don’t think that if she was a child prostitute’s roommate that she’d just be dressed as a dominatrix for fun, so I’m not even going to give that one the benefit of the doubt. But come on; in what way is she not a prostitute? Does it have to have a drawing of her performing a sex act with a fist full of cash and a speech bubble saying “I’m only doing this for the money” ?

I don’t know why you’d wish she wasn’t either. Personal taste I guess, I can accept that. Just has a bit of a whiff of victim blaming about it… but then, I dunno, maybe you just wish she was an actual cat too (like those cat dudes in Skyrim who’s name escapes me right no…”Kajiit?”) and it has nothing to do with anti prostitute sentiment and I’m just making assumptions. What do you think?

I guess the musical equivalent is… um. No. I don’t have one for this section. You?

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: Volume 10 – Batman: The Chalice

Hello and welcome to the tenth 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).

At the minute, I’ve just finished reading No Man’s Land (Sarah…No!) as well as re-reading The Black Glove Deluxe and Batman R.I.P for the first time since my initial reading and disliking of them last year, which I chose to do as a result of reading and enjoying Batman And Robin: Reborn, Batman Vs. Robin and Batman And Robin Must Die… and then (with excellent timing) receiving a copy of Batman Incorporated from Paul as part of a giant Bat-package (also featuring a new Sepultura album) that I’ll slowly be working through. I figure most readers would prefer these articles on something a bit more famous, like The Long Halloween or Arkham Asylum, so now’s your chance (stay tuned).

The previous two entries of Amateur Batfan have covered Hush Returns and Heart Of Hush and even though I’ve just recently bought and read House Of Hush (yet another book about Hush), I’ll take a break from just banging on about Hush all the time and try something a bit different.

So what should I write about then? The Grant Morrison Run, Knightfall (discussed in earlier entries) and No Man’s Land are too big to write about tonight with what time I have available, but they are on my to-do list (stay tuned for those too). Tonight I think I’m instead going to write about something else I got in that aforementioned big postal package and which I read today on the train in one sitting.

So; This entry will cover a book called The Chalice, which I hadn’t really heard of before receiving. Its Batman meets The Holy Grail. No Dark Knights of “Ni” though. After reading it, but before writing this, I had a quick look online to see what the general fan consensus about the book was… not a lot of positive reviews about it on my quick search. I’m not sure what most fans think about it, or if they’ve heard of it, but from my little one-off search, I didn’t see many people thinking it was a “great” like Killing Joke or Year One.

Have you heard of it? Comment below. Did you enjoy the art? The story? The religious content?

Batman

Batman – The Chalice:

– Writers: Chuck Dixon
– Art: John Van Fleet
– Colours: N/A

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Mid-Late Career, after Knightfall

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: Two Face, Penguin, Ras Al Ghul, Talia Al Ghul, Ubu, Shuram

– Allies: Jean Paul Valley as Azrael, Alfred Pennyworth, Barbara Gordon as Oracle, James Gordon (Police) Bullock (Police) Renee Montoya (Police), Hendricks (Police), Catwoman

-Bystanders: Peter DeWettering, Lord Winsleygate, Earl of Grambling,
– Mentioned: Tim Drake as Robin, Dick Grayson as Nightwing,

– Cameos: Superman, Gawain

– Story: [Spoilers Ahoy:] After a flashback, and a brief fight with Two Face, the story begins with Bruce Wayne, who receives a mysterious package addressed to his father. Upon Investigation, and a visit to a mysterious 200 year old man, it turns out that Bruce has become the inheritor of The Holy Grail. He tests out the Grail and it possesses the power to heal wounds (gunshot, in this case) and he offers it to Oracle but she turns it down. Different villains want the grail, including Penguin (who hires Catwoman to do the dirty work in exchange for £5-million) as well as Brotherhood of Merivingians and Ras Al Ghul… Ras has been seeking it for hundreds of years and destroyed whole cities in order to get it. People realize Bruce has the grail because his Buggatti car is seen leaving the last known residence of the grail.

While attempting to steal the Grail from Wayne Manor, Catwoman is accosted by Alfred, but then they are both accosted by the Brotherhood of Merivingians and team up to defeat them. The Catwoman escapes and Alfred agrees not to turn her into the cops. Then Ras Al Ghul and his minions target Batman directly since Ras knows Bruce is Batman, and Batman defeats the minions. Ras and Batman are about to fight themselves and Ras reveals he only wants the grail to make Talia immortal, but Talia shows up and says she doesn’t want to be immortal. Ras just stops then and there and gives up, but warns Batman that it isn’t safe to keep the grail. Batman consequently gives it to Superman for safe-keeping. The end.

– Tone: Its got a fairly cinematic tone. I just read a Justice League book on the Train right before this, and it felt like a comic book. This fells more like a film in tone. Its got stabbing and swearing, vague religious ideas that aren’t totally explored, a historical flashback and a deus (appropriate ey?) ex-machina (oh maybe not!) ending. It also has a quick mixing of a few different characters thrown in but not really characterized. It’s a bit like taking a random ten-minute section out of a movie. Its not really for children, but its not so adult that grandmothers would respect it… think of Constantine the movie as a reference, then deduct the action.

– Art: The art here is very stylized, very visually interesting. Its almost worth a library rental (or purchase if you can afford it) for a look at the art alone. Almost. I wouldn’t say it was brilliant so much as it is unique. Its interesting, it almost looked as if it was painted onto stone. I enjoyed it, even if sometimes the images are a little unclear. One notable thing is that Alfred has black hair and glasses instead of the more common white hair, no glasses look.

– My Thoughts: Ras just gives up? after hundreds of years. If he just thought of it there and then like The Penguin it would be ok, but if he wanted it before he had Talia, then Talia wouldn’t be his only reason for wanting it, so why give up just because Talia doesn’t want it?

He kind of hints that its some sort of supernatural, possibly sci-fi, item and that dangerous powers want it (I’m thinking Darkseid). So, does that mean it is or isn’t The Holy Grail? I’m unclear.

Then Batman gives it to Superman to keep it safe. That’s cool, if every other Batman book ever didn’t make Batman and Superman have that “I don’t need your help” relationship. I know that this book does contain a line about how Batman would usually be too proud to ask for help but that this problem is too important…but, I don’t know… it doesn’t feel right somehow.

Also… on that front… Catwoman just thinks its too much trouble and gives up? Kind of in-character and kind of not. What about the Penguin? Never mentioned again.

But anyway, even a slightly vague and unexplosive ending aside… was it good?
I’m not sure. It looked interesting, but it was kind of hollow. It was a bit empty. It didn’t really do or say anything, except link Bruce to a Sacred Bloodline that is a bit too religious to be in Batman (but then I guess I enjoy Spawn when I read it and its all full of religion, so mustn’t be too hypocritical I guess.)

I sort of reminds me of Faces in that it was a bit of brief entertainment that passed the time, but wasn’t really especially noteworthy. It was a thing. I read it. I wouldn’t overly recommend you read it yourself, but I wouldn’t say it was awful or anything. Maybe I should have written about Hush.

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

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

Long story short, I liked comics-related stuff but found the whole idea of being a comics fan too embarrassing, and some of the comics I did try were lacking-in-depth, so I didn’t like comics themselves until my friend Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batman

Batman Year Two Fear The Reaper:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Story: [Spoilers Ahoy:]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story ends with a distraught Rachel becoming a nun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Batman

My Batman 2

My Batman 3

My Batman 4

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 6 – Batman Faces

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

Long story short, I liked comics-related stuff but found the whole idea of being a comics fan too embarrassing, and some of the comics I did try were lacking-in-depth, so I didn’t like comics themselves until my friend Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batman

Batman Faces:

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

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

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

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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