Amateur Batfan: Vol.14 – Prey

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

Long story short, I liked comics-related stuff but found the whole idea of being a comics fan too embarrassing, and some of the comics I did try were lacking-in-depth, so I didn’t like comics themselves until my friend Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them. I had a sort of snobbery to overcome. Its been overcome now though, and I’ve spent most of the last year buying and reading Batman comics, which I will now blog about for your reading pleasure and commenting-inspiration (seriously, I want to know what you think about these comics).

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

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

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

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

Batman

Batman – Prey:

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

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

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

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

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

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

– Cameos (Terror): The Joker

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

– Bystanders (Terror): Brad, Charleene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 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