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: GUT REACTION SPECIAL – Death Of The Family

Batman

***SPOILERS AHOY AND MEANINGLESS CONTENT IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT. ***

Ok. I’ve just finished reading Batman – Death Of The Family this morning. Instead of going through the usual format of these Amateur Batfan articles, I’m just going to launch straight into some gut reactions. Here goes:

I can’t actually articulate whether or not I enjoyed this book. I mean, I think each and every page was good, but somehow it seemed like a bad story.

For me, this was something where the whole was much less than the sum of its parts. It was like Resident Evil 5 for me; I had a lot of fun playing Resident Evil 5 and liked every single set-piece in it in isolation, but if I watched the actual plot as a movie, it wouldn’t live up to its own marketing hype.

I’ve read a few things online saying it was overly gory and horrific, but I didn’t actually notice that until afterwards, upon reflection. I think it had a great tone. I read some things saying that Joker’s face being cut off was too gross. I dunno, I just thought it was cool looking. It really is a striking image.

I didn’t even think that the plot or the dialogue were bad. Heck, the first few chapters really, really draw you in. Joker doesn’t like how Batman has evolved from a strong solo act into the leader of a big band (I, as a casual, barely-informed comics-outsider, fan felt like that too initially until I read Scott Synder’s Gates Of Gotham and Black Mirror… I liken it to Guns N’ Roses and their Use Your Illusions albums and tour. “Hey? Wasn’t this supposed to be a bad-ass rock band? What are all these trumpets and soul singers and country songs here for?”) and so wants to take away all the baggage and just leave it as Batman Vs. Crime. He also plays on the fact that Batman can barely keep up with him by recreating his old crimes but perverting them so Batman is playing catch-up instead of stopping him.

None of that is bad. In fact its all quite good. Yeah, Joker questioning the worth of the Bat-family and DC Comics proving why they are good is a great idea, and Batman struggling to predict Joker because Joker is the most difficult villain to predict is an entertaining read. It all sounds like the basis of a good, satisfying book.

Its this other thing that just got to me… this insistence on scale. This manufactured importance. They made ‘an important story.’ Not they made a story, and it was so good that people got on board and raised it to the level of important. They sat down and made an important story on purpose.

My question is, was it worth it? Wouldn’t it have been better to just have had a really good Joker-is-angry revenge story, than some thing that claims to be existential and revelatory, but then leaves you feeling a bit confused and sold-short.

Why does it have to be a ‘terrifying return,’ ‘a return of such importance’ or an ‘ultimate showdown.’ Why do writers have to bow down to the expectation that this has to be the most significant Joker story ever told? Why does everyone have to try one-up eachother by making the Joker more and more messed up? Why does everyone have to reveal some deeper truth to Batman and Joker’s relationship?

After a while its either just repetition or credibility-stretching ret-conting.

The thing about arms-race mentalities is that the artistic quality that comes from them is a bell curve. Sure, somebody does something, somebody else does it more gets us from Thin Lizzy to Iron Maiden, and from Iron Maiden to Metallica. It also gets us from Slayer to Sodom to Sarcofago to countless bland unlistenable bands that are such a wave of intensity that it loses all sense of meaning and significance.

Extremity is a dynamic. It only works in context. It only works by juxtaposition.

I get that Joker is a much-loved character. But like a comedian who’s audience loves him too much, the jokes are starting to suffer. What good is a character that has to have the best story ever?

That’s how Metallica ended up making Lulu.

You can’t just redefine a character every-single-time otherwise there is no character. Just an insert-character-here box, with a little quote on the bottom that says “best character ever, trust us!” I asked my friend about it, and he responded “Modern Writers are so in reverence of the Joker, they feel like they aren’t doing it properly if they don’t do it” …I think that’s a pretty good sum-up. Loving something too much can just get tiresome. I think that’s why I have such a problem liking Starwars.

Do you know what else though? This may seem a bit contradictory to my previous point, but where is the consequence? If this is the most important Joker story ever… why isn’t Alfred left blinded forever? Why aren’t the whole Bat-Family slaughtered and irreversibly killed forever? Either this is business as usual or it’s a world-shaking cataclysm that redefines everything. You can’t just say its world shaking but then let everyone get away unharmed. I guess you have the fact that the Bat-family didn’t come over to Bruce’s house at the end… but that’s hardly the same as Jason Todd’s actual murder or Barbara’s actual paralysis.

I could get behind the whole “this is Joker’s most gruesome assault ever” premise if it wasn’t so easily foiled, and devoid of any lasting impact. It would be cool to have Alfred just be blind from now on, and then struggle with being less helpful since he can’t read the computer screen any more. It could be like a disability-coming-to-terms story, or it could leave him as a bitter alcoholic… or something.

In the show House, when he gets locked up in a Mental Institution, it seemed like the ballsiest move ever. This show had been about a doctor on the brink and now he’s fallen over the edge. It would’ve been so cool to see the status quo shattered and the artistically bold move of just having him locked up, but they ditched that idea real fast and missed that opportunity. In Dexter there was a similar missed opportunity to have some genuine brave shake-up but it was wasted too.

This story feels like that. It screams ‘huge deal’ and then actually delivers the usual deal.

I’ve read some stuff online that people complained about, such as the acid that burned Batman’s mask didn’t injure his face, and the police not having Joker’s DNA being incredulous. I’ve also read some defense of the book saying it reveals alot of big deal things about the characthers, and the fact that everyone is huffing with Batman at the end is a big consequence and not just a little tiff to be brushed off.

In repsonse to those points, I wonder:

“I’m sorry if I’m being stupid… but what is this reason why Batman never kills the Joker?
I don’t see what it is.”

Otherwise, yeah, the DNA thing is fine because he wasn’t a criminal before being the Joker so shouldn’t be in a database anyway, the Joker Venom cure and acid-face thing I just file away under “reasonable suspension of disbelief within the context of the medium.”

The story feels a bit pointless to me, unless of course, from now on everybody does hate Bruce and no one associates with him anymore for years and years. Then yeah, the story will have some impact. Seems like a bit of a crap reason to huff with Batman though, he’s always giving out limited information. Its his thing. He’s that kind of guy. He’s never been a blabbermouth.

Furthermore, as to the character-defining stuff; As an audience, we’ve also known for years that Batman and Joker have a “special relationship” and “need each other” and all that, so it didn’t need retold as if it was new information. We’ve know for years Joker prefers trying to kill Batman than really killing him, so its not a big deal. We’ve known for years he doesn’t care who’s under the mask. So… again no big deal.

Oh Yeah. Another thing that has been touched on online is I that the New 52 continuity doesn’t make sense. With that one, I totally agree. If Batgirl isn’t Oracle then why/how did the Killing Joke story still happen? Maybe its explained somewhere, but its not explained enough in this book, where it needed explaining. Barbara and Jim can’t be so traumatized by the Killing Joke story but for it not to have happened (Which is what it feels like without that missing info).

So. There. A vent of all the annoyances of that first read. Blleeeeeurgh.

Ok. I’m done.

As I say though, every page was good. I don’t know how to feel. I just see a picture of Joker with his face hanging off and think “that is so cool looking,” and I read a chapter and am completely entertained until I’m finished reading. Its only afterwards, when you get a moment to think about it that you start wondering what’s went wrong.

Do I like this book or not? I can’t even tell.

Arkham Origins did the same old “lets go deeper on the Bat-Joker relationship” thing too, but I didn’t mind too much there, because at least it was a mechanically brilliant game. Is Death Of The Family a mechanically brilliant book?

Well, some of the set pieces are great and the art is superb, and it is entertaining and a page-turner, so sort’ve… but still, that salty aftertaste.

Maybe it’s a grower. I’ll get back to you on that.

If possible, I advocate healthy discussion in the comments, I want to know what y’all think…

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 4 – The Black Mirror

Hello and welcome to the fourth 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.

In between revising for exams, I’ve spent a lot of today playing Arkham Origins and really, really enjoying it. I haven’t even been playing the story, just running around collecting Riddler packages, scanning Anarchy symbols and architect plaques and enjoying the freeflow combat. Just Batmaning about the place. All that Batmaning put me in the mood to write another one of these blogs.

The soundtrack for this writing session has been Ozzy Osbourne’s Scream album. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with comics. I just haven’t listened to it enough and I want to get my money’s worth. I bought it at the same time as Black Rain and never really listened to either one enough. I heard a song off of Black Rain earlier this week and it reminded me to check them out again. I would say based on the first two songs (I’ve only gotten that far in so far) that this is a much more interesting album than the new Black Sabbath one. Make of that what you will.

Black Rain. Black Sabbath. My theme for this entry is Black.

For the fourth installment of the series, I’ll be covering The Black Mirror. I wanted to write “a modern classic.” To be honest I don’t know for certain if that’s true, but regardless of whether or not its definitively true, it deserves to be true, and its true in my mind.

This book is just straight up excellent. Its everything I want from a comic book. Its intriguing, visceral, adult, great to look at. If you asked me “I want to start reading comic books, recommend one to me” then this is the one I’d give you. (Well, this or ‘Owls). Last time, I said that the book on discussion (Batman Gothic) was good, but that I wouldn’t rhapsodize about it. That is not the case this time. I’d very much like to scream my affection for this book from the rooftops. I full on recommend you swap money for a copy of this book whether you were already planning to or not.

Batman

Batman: The Black Mirror:

– Writers: Scott Snyder

– Art: Jock & Francesco Francavilla

– Colours: Jared K. Fletcher & Sal Cipriano

– Continuity: Post Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Late Career, Post R.I.P,

– Batman is: Dick Grayson

– Villains: James Gordon Jr., Mr. Guiborg, Sonia Branch, Roadrunner, Tiger Shark, The Joker,
– Allies: Tim Drake as Red Robin, Barbara Gordon as Oracle, Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Barbara Gordon Sr, Harvey Bullock (Police),

– References: Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Jason Todd, Dr. Langstrom, The Flying Graysons,

– Story: [Spoilers as fuck!] The overarching plot revolves around Dick Grayson, who is now Batman since the death of Bruce Wayne, investigating a series of murders in Gotham. The murders are taking place using old versions of Gotham Villain’s signature tricks (eg. prototype Joker Venom, old Fear Gas etc.). He tracks down a crime-loving secret society of asshole socialites, infiltrates one of their auctions (in which they auction off memorabilia from famous crimes) whereupon he is discovered and has to fight them off. Eventually it turns out that Commissioner Gordon’s son James Jr was messed up after the events in Year One, and is a creepy-ass serial killer. This is told through flashbacks and Batman and Red Robin discover it through investigations and adventures that see them fight Roadrunner, Tigershark and The Joker. Commissioner Gordon doesn’t want to believe his son is such a sick fuck, and is convinced that James Jr. can handle his mental health problems with a new experimental medicine, but Barbara knows what James Jr. really is.

James Jr.’s medicine is revealed to have actually been causing psychopathy rather than curing it, and he reveals that it has been mass produced and introduced into the Gotham baby-food supply. He believes that psychopathy and a lack of human empathy is the liberating next stage in human evolution and wants the next generation of Gothamites to be as sick as he is.

James Jr. later tries to kill Barbara (after already poisoning Barbara Sr. and framing the Joker for it to lure Batman into a trap) but fails. Commissioner Gordon finally turns on his son after the attempt on his daughter and ex-wife’s lives, and shoots James Jr. in the leg, knocking him of a bridge in a scene mirroring [Black Mirror, innit] Year One, but the Commissioner saves his life. It is his son after all. Arkham bound, is that sick creepy prick. [Its a sign of great writing when a writer can make you feel genuine contempt for a villain]

In the epilogue Dick and Commissioner Gordon discuss their “long haul” future in the endless fight against crime while looking out the window, and there is a close up of a baby on the street looking a bit disturbed, indicating James Jr’s plan succeeded. Maybe Batman will have to fight that baby when it grows up to be a serial killer.

It’s a lot, lot, lot better than I’ve just made it sound though.

– Tone: The tone of this story is fantastic. Its dark as hell. Its flat out creepy at points, its got a Seven/Zodiac feel a lot of the time, and a Resident Evil 4 feel at other times. Its one of the darkest, most evocative and interesting Batman stories I’ve read to date and it really, really draws you in. It’s the sort of thing that you’ll have to read in one sitting because you just can’t put it down. There’s this great sense of dread and impending doom, as you just know that creepy little prick is evil and is going to start causing havock and break his old man’s heart, and you just sit there waiting for the axe to fall the whole time.

Its absolutely bleak and uncompromising. People have limbs amputated, jaws cut off, its just downright grim.

– Art: The art is absolutely top notch. Its very stylized, but its absolutely fantastic and suits the dark-ass tone of the story so well. It adds to the storytelling in a really powerful way. Its not just good as a storytelling device though, its excellent in and of itself. So many of the covers and individual panels would makes excellent posters. Its definitely in my top-five favourites that I’ve ever seen so far.

– Overall: I think this is hands down one of the best Batman books on the market. I said the art is in my top-five, but y’know what, the whole thing is. Its got a real mean, uncompromising tone, an intriguing and emotionally strong story, brilliant visuals, satisfying fights, no stupid or out of place dialogue, and a heck of a lot of strong scenes.

I said it before, if you want to start reading comic books and you ask me for suggestions, my number one choice is this. Pick it up. Get absorbed. It’s a brilliant serial-killer movie mixed with gadgets and outlandish locations (battle in a plane, in an underwater base etc.). I think this is a good book to check out if you like the Nolan movies. I think its an even better book if you liked the Sin City movie. I think it’s a good book period though. One of the best. Just read the damn thing already.

[Ps. Don’t I say on the market too much? As if I’m some sort of distribution house? I don’t know where I picked that phrase up from.]

‘Till next time!