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.

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 2 – Batman And The Monster Men & Batman And The Mad Monk

Batman

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

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

Magnum is sort of like my comics fairy godmother, or y’know, something manlier sounding… mentor? Role model? Alfred? I don’t know. Anyway, he’s the go-to chap for explanations, clarifications, recommendations and anything else ending in “ations.” [Musturb… oh wait, never mind.] Not content even to have just started off the whole thing, he’s even gone sent me some Batman novels for Christmas, helping me to read more Batman without breaking my Get (Into) What You Paid For no-buying-things challenge. These included Year Two Fear The Reaper, Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman & Robin and The Ultimate Evil (the story of Batman versus the Peadophiles…no, seriously!).

Pretty great Christmas gift if you ask me, which you did by continuing to read this article up to this sentence. You can expect a blog post about each of those bat-gifts. I have spent the better part of this year reading a lot of Batman Graphic Novels and now I’m going to blog about each and every one of them. I’m going to tell you who made them, which characters are in them and what I think about them. I’ll chip in with an opinion about whether or not I’d recommend that you buy them too, why not? Maybe I can be of some financial help to you too while I’m at it.

The soundtrack for this writing session has been Anthrax. That’s sort of comics-related, right? What with “I Am The Law” existing and all that, right? Maybe not then. But it felt worth mentioning.

For this second installment of the series, I’ll be covering two books in one. This is more or less because my theme for the post was going to be “my favourite art in a Batman book yet” [Last time’s theme was “the first Batman book I ever bought for myself”]. When trying to chose which one I thought was the best, there was a bit of stiff competition. Anything by Jim Lee could have been in there for example, the man has a very impressive style. I could also have chosen The Black Mirror, which looks absolutely gorgeous, but I have to say, of all the Batman books that I’ve seen so far, nothing has been quite as striking or perfect as the art of Matt Wagner, who handled these two interlinked books. The guy is a spectacular artist. Y’know what else though, its not just that these two books are pretty, they’re also hands down two of my favourite Batman stories (or collectively a singular story, hence the double-article). I figured that since they’re both as good as eachother, and because you shouldn’t really get just one without the other, I’d count them as a single entry. Anyway, here we go:

Batman

Batman And The Monster Men & Batman And The Mad Monk:

– Writers: Matt Wagner
– Art: Matt Wagner
– Colours: Dave Stewart

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint
– Timeline Position: Year One

– Villains: The Monster Men, Hugo Strange, Sanjay, Carmine Falconi, Sal Maroni, The Mad Monk, Dala,

– Cameos: Edward Grogan,

– References: Vikki Vale (Reporter), Flass (Police), The Joker, The Flying Graysons, Barbara Gordon, James Gordon Jr.

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, Catwoman, James Gordon (Police), Harvey Dent (District Attorney), Muray Fineman (Coroner), Julie Madison, Norman Madison

– Story: The overarching plot revolves around Bruce becoming romantically involved with Julie Madison. Her father Norman gets in trouble with the mafia, Batman deals with the Mafia, and Norman mistakenly becomes incredibly paranoid about reprisals from the Batman.

In the first book, Hugo Strange and his sidekick Sanjay do some Breaking Bad-reminiscent chemistry experiments trying to create super soldier serum. They experiment on human subjects and create monsterous, hulking, animalistic henchmen. Its all a bit Resident Evil. They pay for these experiments with money borrowed from the mafia, and this leads to fighting between the two factions when debts begin mounting.

Batman stops Strange’s monsters from murdering all of the mafia men in a final confrontation, but strongarms the Mafia into leaving Norman alone while he’s at it.

Norman, now a complete paranoid wreck tries to pay off a mafia debt that Batman intimidated them into clearing. Norman spirals down into greater and greater paranoia, straining his relationship with his daughter, and eventually decides to try and murder Sal Maroni.

In the second book, a vampire-like new villain called The Mad Monk and his sidekick Dala show up, recruit young women for Blood Sacrifice rituals for their cult, The Brotherhood. Julie Madison becomes recruited while emotionally vulnerable over her issues with her dad, and Batman has to save her.

The story ends with a set up for The Man Who Laughs.

There’s a lot more to it than that, but I don’t want to throw out too many spoilers.

– Tone: The tone is really good. Its adult and entertaining. There’s plenty of action and that sort of thing, plenty of punches to the neck and daring escapes, but there’s also an interesting psychological aspect to it, and what’s more, there’s plenty of Batman’s intimidation, detective work and exploring. It has a real good balance between these and doesn’t rely too heavily on any one. The titular villains in each book are what you might call a little cartoony, which adds to the fun, but they are handled in a tasteful way, so it’s a nice segue between the more realistic and the more fantasy elements of Batman (think of it like how the Arkham games handled Killer Croc and Solomon Grundy).

In fact, in general, I think this has that sort of Arkham style to it. They don’t apologize for the fantasy, but they deliver it in a satisfying and tasteful way. Its something I can get behind. I have to admit that in general I’d rather stories have no magic, deamons or superpowers in them. For some reason I’m one of those people who want Batman to exist in the real world. Stuff like this, it’s a great gateway drug for the likes of me. Sure, there are Monster Men and Giant Wolves, but really it’s the story of proud Norman Madison’s principals being compromised and the damaging effects that dealing with criminals can have on just men. It’s the story of Julie Madison not being able to cope with her father’s declining mental health.

Its also the story of Batman punching a vampire in the fucking face!

Good balance. Vampires and Monsters on one hand, emotional conflict and Mafia usery on the other.

I always seem to enjoy stories that have the Mafia in them. Maroni and Falconi are good characters, or at least, are good tools for quality story writing. I don’t remember ever hearing about them when I was a kid. They just flew right over my head if they were in the Burton/Shumaker films or the cartoon. When I first saw Batman Begins I thought it was really weird that they used the Mafia in the story instead of a Batman villain like the Penguin (little did I know). Now; having read things like Year One and The Long Halloween, I think the Mafia characters are really entertaining. I’d like to read more with them in it. Its pretty cool seeing how Gotham was more or less realistic, before Batman showed up being all weird, and weird criminals started coming out in response.

– Art: I’ve said it before, but I think this is the best looking Batman story (if you think of the two books as one big story) that I’ve seen so far. It looks as if its been painted rather than drawn. It has a very distinct and enjoyable art style. Everything from character design, to the little background details, to the painting-look is top notch and it really is very enjoyable just to look at. It makes me want to pick up everything Matt Wagner has ever done (Trinity and Faces are very high on my wishlist as you can imagine! Hell, I even want to try his Grendel crossover and I’ve never even heard of Grendel the comic book character. All I know is the Marillion song with the brilliant guitar solo).

– Overall: I think this is one of the better, if not one of the best, Batman stories that I’ve gotten my hands on to date, and I’d highly recommend that you pick up a copy (get both, it really is worth it). If you like the sound of something that is set in Year One, that is intelligently and tastefully written – but that still feels like a comic book, that references other books but which works completely as a standalone tale, that looks great, is paced well and that tells a fresh story you haven’t read a million times already, this is absolutely worth checking out.

The bottom line is, its just plain interesting. Its an interesting story… and its good. Very, very good. There’s not one thing I could fault it on. Definitely one of my favourites.

Its so good, just writing this has made me want to sit down and read them both all over again, preferably in one sitting. I think I might do that if I have the time. A dangerous side-effect of having thought too much about these books again though, is now I’m really dying to pick up the other Wagner Batman titles and am now at risk of breaking my no-purchases challenge. Woops. Extra unwanted temptation. Oh well; I guess I’ll just have to take the edge off by finally starting into Arkham Origins now that I’ in a position to do so. That, and y’know, Blog s’more about Batman.

Until next time, old chum.