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: Vol. 5 – Batman: Venom

Batman

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

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

Magnum is sort of like my comics fairy godmother, or y’know, something manlier sounding… mentor? Role model? Alfred? I don’t know. Anyway, he’s the go-to chap for bat-chat. Hopefully, he’ll just start writing a companion series to this, only with, you know, actually informed opinions.

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

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

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

Batman – Venom:

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

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

– Villains: Dr. Porter, General Tim Slaycroft

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

– Bystanders: Sissy Porter, Tim Slaycroft Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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