Amateur Batfan: Volume 16 – The Widening Gyre

Hello and welcome to the sixteenth 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).

Following my previous discussion of Kevin Smith’s Batman debut Cacophony; I will spend today writing about the second part of his Batman work, The Widening Gyre.

Cacophony was 3 issues long. ‘Gyre was double that length at six. With more space to play with, it is a lot wilder and more adventurous. Its a lot less enclosed and more sprawling. Its picked up on the most bombastic elements of its predecessor and used that as the default. Its also added a whole romance and couples-having-fun-and-being-silly-together angle, as well as taken a shining to highlighting the less realistic side of Batman comics.

The linear notes credit Walt Flannegan’s requests to draw numerous favourite characters as a reason for this as much as Smith’s initial story vision, and the fusing of these two goals creates something pretty memorable. If you are kind its a colourful (arguably gaudy), less-psychedelic and metaphore-filled version of what Grant Morrison was doing. If you are unkind, its an anachronistic mess and self-indulgent wish-fulfillment session by a duo with no taste.

Where do I sit, kind or unkind?

Batman

Batman – The Widening Gyre:

– Writers: Kevin Smith
– Art: Walt Flanagan
– Colours: Art Lyon

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Late Career, but Pre-Morrison’s story.

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: Baron Blitzkrieg, Atomic Skull, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Joker, Deadshot, Calendar Man, Crazy Quilt, Polka Dot Man, Cornelius Stirk, Black Manta, Funland, Mr Freeze,

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Baphomet, Dick Grayson as Robin & Nightwing, Tim Drake as Robin, Catwoman, Superman, Aquaman,

– Bystanders: Silver Saint Cloud, Gavin Adam, Mulligan, Arvin Flemming, May, June, Dirty Dan Yellpoon, Barry “Stiff” Saunders, The Spade of Clubs, Dr. Wolper,

– References: Barbara Gordon, Jason Todd, Mad Hatter, Onomotepeia, Riddler, Clayface, Connor Hawke as Green Arrow, Etrigan the Demon, Tweedledum, Two-Face, Evan Gregory, Toyman, Aqualad, Cyborg, Changeling, Kid Flash, Raven, Starfire , Wonder Girl, Black Spider , Doctor Phosphorus; Harley Quinn, Ocean Master, Planet Master; Captain Stingaree, Cavalier, Killer Moth, Kite-Man , Black Lightning, Geo-Force, Halo, Katana, Metamorpho, Baron Bedlam, Coldsnap, Heatstroke, New Wave, Shakedown, Windfall, Swamp Thing

– Story: [/Spoilers] Nightwing calls Batman to Bludhaven to view an old villain’s costume in a fit of sentimentality, as well as to inform him of a murder by Poison Ivy. Batman goes to meet Ivy in Arkham, where he finds out she is trying to hide from Etrigan the daemon. Etrigan turns on Batman, and Batman is overpowered, but saved at the last minute by new superhero Baphomet. Fearing Tim Drake will one day leave him just like Dick Grayson did, Batman starts toying with the idea of partnering-up with Baphomet, who is nervous and over-familiar, but likeable nonetheless. Bruce respects Baphomet’s lack of publicity-seeking or media interest, and Baphomet catches a villain that Bruce lets escape in order to save a hostage, making the two seem like a good team.

Multiple flashbacks to various periods in Bruce’s past go on through the story to underscore points. Scenes are saw of Batman with a young Robin, with a teenage Robin, with Robin becoming Nightwing, with Batman joining The Outsiders.

The other part of the plot is that Batman’s former lover Silver St Cloud returns and the two start a relationship that builds and builds until Batman eventually proposes to her, and the two get engaged. Silver allows Bruce to feel less obsessed with crime-fighting than usual and he starts to question his future.

Batman spends more time with Silver and leaves Gotham to Tim Drake and Baphomet. He is mistrustful of the new people in his life but after investigating them both all fears are removed. Life is good. Bruce is becoming a little too happy… maybe he’ll give up the Batman career in a few years.

I won’t spoil the ending because it is really, really strong.

– Art: Much less inconsistent than Cacophony in terms of quality, but fittingly inconsistent in style to reflect all the different eras of Batman. Its well done. There are hidden View Askew references (Buy Me Toys, Nails Cigarettes etc). There is a lot of detail, a lot of effort is clearly vissible. I don’t really like the style myself on a personal-taste level, but a lot of effort has gone into it, and it is functionally good as well as a huge improvement over the previous installment.

– My Thoughts: This is a real multiplication of the first one. Everything that was wrong with the first one (inappropriate language and swearing, jokes that don’t fit, dialogue Bruce would never say by any other writer’s choice, open discussions of sex, rude jokes etc) are here, way less subtly, way more often. If you don’t like the sound of that, you won’t like this book.

If you think it’s a bad idea for Catwoman to say “Wait, I’m not wearing any panties” then you won’t like this book at all. Because she does indeed say that in this book. Poison Ivy also tries to get Batman high on cannabis. Its Batman as written by Kevin Smith… so if you don’t think Smith’s personal taste fits in with the tone you want from Batman, then avoid, avoid, avoid!

Even I had huge problems with some parts, and found it difficult to continue reading at points. (And there’s a lot of Jewish jokes that seem a bit dodgy to me).

Once you get past the taste issue, the story is a big, colourful, bombastic tour of Batman’s history, as I’ve stated its very much like Grant Morrison’s “it all happened” style with a lot of references to the past and obscure characters and things like Batman’s work in teams (Justice League/Outsiders) with Superhumans. If you only want Batman to be realistic and only deal with humans… this isn’t the book for you…

Then there’s the love story. The Bruce can retire because he found love story. The Bruce lightens up a bit story. Depending on your taste this can be interesting or really lame.

As for the controversial “Batman wet himself” thing that people obsess over in this book… it is really not a big deal, or sacrilegious or anything like that. That issue is blown way out of proportion, and out of all the non-Batman things in the book, that is probably actually the least important. Its arguably handled rather well in the book actually.

On the plus side, some of the comedy is good (Calendar Man’s attitude to being sick was funny), some of the story is interesting, some of the references are neat (a young Dr. Wolper in particular). Baphomet is a good character and really likeable. The ending is superb. The ending is worth reading the book for alone. I won’t discuss it further to avoid spoilers or hype-disappointment-syndrome.

Overall; a very hit and miss book. It really depends on your mood and your sensibilities. It is intended to be colourful and fun and show off the bits of the Batman universe that aren’t over-done all the time in the grim and gritty era. Just like everyone praises Grant Morrison for. Smith definitely has a unique voice too. The ending is great, the amount of effort is great and the new guy is great.

However… there is so much just, un-Batman stuff in there that even with the biggest leniency and fandom for Smith, and a “this is his take on it, not mainline continuity” attitude, all the dirty jokes and drugs-talk and madcap ideas work way better on a podcast as a hypothetical than in the actual comic. Its kind of Smith-has-gone-too-far almost.

Its hard to get over that, and recommend it for being the very good book that it is, because I know fine rightly how awful it might seem if you aren’t forgiving of the sheer un-Batmanness. Smiling-Batman-of-the-70s as a fun book yes! Recall that spirit, good idea. A Bruce Wayne that isn’t psychologically tortured or borderline insane, yes! Refreshing, good idea.

Calling people “bitches” “turds” “emo-boys” “goths” and being overtly sexual… not for me thanks. That aspect, while again, it would be great to hear on a podcast with excitement in Smith’s voice and his co-host laughing, just doesn’t sit right with me in a comic.

So; In answer to the question, “where do I sit?” I’m afraid my answer is “On The Fence.”

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: Volume 9 – Heart Of Hush

Hello and welcome to the ninth 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).

[First off, why not listen to this while reading this article:

, that’s probably the way to get the most out of the experience.]

At the minute, I’m happily making my way through reading No Man’s Land, and just like last time, since I’m not finished it yet, that won’t be the subject of this week’s entry. I’ve also received Batman: Demon in the mail. It may surprise you to know that its not about Ras Al Ghul like Son Of The Demon and Birth Of The Demon and all those other Demon books… its about that Etrigan The Demon guy, who I only know from one of Kevin Smith’s two Batman books. He rhymes a lot. Is that a permanent character point or just a Smith thing? I’ll find out soon enough…

Anyway; Last time on Amateur Batfan, I covered Hush Returns, which was a bad story featuring the villain Hush. Today, I read an interesting article about how the original Hush book was quite poor (Read it here). The thing is I really like Hush (the character). I like him to the point where I frequently think the sentence “if I was ever in charge of a Batman Comic/Movie/Videogame then I’d make Hush one of the main villains” (Along with Onemotapia and The Architect in case you were wondering).

When I first heard of Hush, I went into reading the original book with a negative eye, expecting to be disappointed, as my friend and Batman-advisor Paul had said that it wasn’t good (and after I read it and asked why, he said “because it treats the reader with absolutely no intelligence”), but I remember at the time really really enjoying Hush (damn its getting confusing having the book title and the villain both be called Hush, isn’t it?) partly due to Jim Lee’s beautiful artwork… (that’s how I want all comics to look, even if he could do with being less sexist. Also, everyone online ever also informs me that all his male characters have the same face and body). It was also partly due to the entertainment value. Its not a strong mystery at all, and the “insert thing into the past” line of story telling is one of my pet peeves (…and its actually doubly unnecessary here, because if Loeb wasn’t so attached to the name Tommy Elliot, he could have used the Bruce’s childhood friend character from Batman Gothic and then he’d just be expanding rather than shoe-horning) but I think the whole ride was pretty fun in a low level blockbuster sort of a way.

I also remember disliking the [Spoiler]Clayface/Jason Todd plot point a lot though. So… I guess you could say that I disliked THE POINT OF THE BOOK. But I enjoyed the ride. I really ought to re-read it and see where I stand; because of Paul (my friend, not Paul Dini), and a coincidental series of other people disliking it, I kind of assumed most people hated it. I was reading a lot of reviews about it today though, and it seems almost universally loved. I guess it’s the Metallica thing. Everyone loves Metallica, but you see a lot of criticism too. Is Lars a bad drummer? I can’t even tell anymore. Linkin Park are the same… if you’re actually in a University Halls Of Residence, you are never more than 10 feet away from at least 15 people who love Linkin Park, but go on Blabbermouth and you’d think they were the most reviled band on the planet.

Given that those two other Hush books aren’t very strong (or maybe Hush is… I’m still not sure), I’m not really certain why I enjoy Hush so much as a villain… but I do. I was even really pleased when he had a brief cameo in Gates Of Gotham, it really put a smile on my face! …Maybe its just because he looks cool. Maybe its just because I hadn’t heard of him before and I then when I saw him at the right time, I bonded to him, like how a zoo animal thinks the puppet that the Zoo Keeper uses to feed it is its mother. Maybe its because he shows up in Arkham City, and that game was great. Who knows? Anyway, this week, I’ve decided to cover a Hush story that isn’t poor. In fact, its one of my favourite Batman books so far. In fact, this story is almost like an apology or justification of the original Hush’s flaws.

As an example of those flaws, I’ve heard the motivation of Hush in the original Hush (confusing aint it?) described as “ludicrously juvenile.” Hush’s motivation is more understandable once he is more deeply characterized here though (heck, even his costume is). As an example of how Dini has retroactively rectified those flaws: While still having to work with what he’s been given (the car crash, wanting his parents inheritance, Wayne Sr. saving his mum plot), Dini manages to add depth and therefor quality by making the reader understand that Hush as a character is a ludicrously juvenile person, and that its not just bad writing. The guy is a total born prick, and he is also tortured emotionally by a belittling and draining upbringing. His parent’s inability to let him grow explains, in part, his ludicrous childishness, which only compounds his born wanker-ness. Its quite a clever workaround.

You know what else? I really hate shoe-horning in a previously unknown childhood best friend into any story (just like I hate a long-lost brother, or a secret lovechild), but when this is the third appearance, and its already established… its kind of dulled, or lessened. Its not a shoehorn anymore, it just “is.” Hush, by this stage, just is Bruce’s childhood best friend and we all know it, and its no-longer an insult on our sensibilities so we can now all just get on with it. Consequently, that particular turd isn’t gathering as many flies in this book. It left me softened up and more ready to just enjoy the story.

Speaking of softened up… as a sort of apology to what I’d said last week… I also had another thought when reading through several reviews and Wikipedia articles about all three of the Hush stories I’m talking about which softened me up a little to Hush Returns, which I had criticized for mis-characterizing Hush as a brawler when the original establishes him as a slow-strategist type (a callback to Bane’s wearing Batman down with villain after villain?). This softening-thought was that in Hush (the book) itself, it wasn’t Hush (the villain) who came up with the slow long-game plan, it was The Riddler. I’d forgotten about that by the time I’d read Hush Returns. So Hush wading in himself in Hush Returns isn’t so out of character after all. I can admit when I’m wrong.

Also, because I can’t completely divorce myself from writing about music, I just thought I’d inform you that at the time of writing, I’m currently listening to The Glorious Burden by Iced Earth, featuring Tim Ripper Owens, specifically the epic three-part, 30-minute long “Gettysburg.” If you haven’t heard it but like Heavy Metal in the vein of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, its an absolute gem. That’s my Heavy Metal recommendation for the day. You can all sleep easily now.

Batman

Batman Heart Of Hush:

– Writers: Paul Dini
– Art: Dustin Nguyen
– Colours: Derek Fridolps

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Very Late Career, Ties in with Batman R.I.P

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: Hush, Dr Aesop, Scarecrow, The Walrus, The Carpenter, The Joker, Mr. Freeze

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, Tim Drake as Robin, Dick Grayson as Nightwing, Barbara Gordon as Oracle, James Gordon (Police) Bullock (Police) Montoya (Police), Catwoman, Zatana,

-Bystanders: Detective Sam Emerson Bradley, Colin, Peyton Riley

– Mentioned: The Ventriloquist

– Cameos: Harley Quinn, Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Killer Croc, Thomas & Martha Wayne, Poison Ivy, Tweedledum & Tweedle Dee, Mid-Nite, Mr. Terrific

– Story: [Spoilers Ahoy:] The story takes place between the events of the books The Black Glove and Batman R.I.P, as the Black Glove Organization’s threat on Batman’s life drives Hush’s egotism into action. Hush is an asshole and he has to be the one to kill Batman. He sets up headquarters in the abandoned hospital that he mentioned in passing in Hush Returns, where now he has kidnapped and drugged-up a number people to use as almost zombie-like helpers. It might be a slight callback to The Cult… seeing as how Hush books love calling back to things. His plan involves attacking the people Batman cares about, including Alfred and Catwoman. The original Hush book saw Batman and Catwoman developing a romance, so after distracting Batman with decoy plans including an innocent little boy being given venom (…a callback to Batman Venom?), he goes as far as to actually surgically remove Catwoman’s heart. It is cryogenically frozen with help from Mr. Freeze to lure Batman into a trap.

There are multiple flashbacks to Hush’s childhood throughout the book, explaining the toxic relationship between him and his domineering mother (who’s bandaged face after the car accident from the previous Hush story adds an extra layer to the whole plastic surgeon and bandage themes from the previous book, rather than letting them be throw-away parts of a Two-Face subplot). Flashbacks also indicate that Hush’s councilor following the accident was Dr. Crane before he fully became Scarecrow. Hush teams up with Scarecrow as an adult, so that Hush has some help in his anti-Batman plan.

Batman infiltrates Hush’s Hospital but is drugged and wakes up strapped to an operating table. Hush uses his plastic surgery skills to make his own face an exact match for Bruce Wayne’s in a move that would have lasting impact outside this book. (Damien Wayne even spends time with Hush to feel like he is spending time with his dad later on in future Batman comics.) Hush, disguised as Bruce Wayne, infiltrates the batcave hoping to kill Alfred, Dick and Tim, and then mascaraed as Bruce to tell the Justice League that Batman is retiring and quit Wayne Enterprises. Batman escapes the hospital as you’d expect and tracks down Hush; there’s a fight between Hush and Batman in the Batcave, assisted by Nightwing and Drake-Robin, and when trying to escape, Hush’s bandages get caught in the rotar-blades of the gyro-copter that he is trying to commandeer, and he crashes into the water. His body isn’t located, meaning he escaped but isn’t an immediate threat.

With Hush out of action temporarily; Batman saves Catwoman and the two start a brief romance. In revenge for what happened to her, Catwoman dedicates her time, resources and favours/debts all to ruining Hush, by siphoning his money away (although graciously using it to compensate the zombified hospital workers) and leaving him a big “fuck you” sort of message. The book ends with an injured Hush receiving the message and hobbling off into the night, broken.

– Tone: I really enjoy this book. It tries to balance the supposedly roller-coaster ride feel of the original with having an actual plot. It brings in extra characters but doesn’t drown you in them. The original suffered from being a mystery that wasn’t mysterious enough… here, with no intention of being a mystery, it can’t fail on that regard and so is free just to be pure entertainment, at which it most certainly succeeds. The tone is a mixture of dark at times and yet there’s that comic-book feel to it too. Its not all grim horror, but its not all aliens and magic and long-lost twins either. Its good. Its a good comic book. Its what comic books fans talk about when they talk about comic books even if non-fans think of the B.S. (Like how non-Metal fans think its all noise and screaming and satanism… and no quality musicianship or intelligent songwriting).

– Art: In my opinion, Nguyen’s art isn’t as good as Jim Lee’s. Its good though. Very good. It really reminds me of Gates Of Gotham actually, its kind of stylized in a way that feels like the comics-equivalent of cell-shaded videogame graphics. It reminds me of Zelda Windwaker for some reason. Its not just as stylized as Broken City though, which I include as another random reference point.

Just because Jim Lee’s is prettier though, this is by no means an ugly book… its very good looking indeed (and in fact, better than Lee on the non-sexist drawings and varied character models side of things). I like how this book looks a heck of a lot.

– My Thoughts: If this book is a flop, and I was to imagine what everyone was to criticize this book for I’d guess just comparisons to other stories, or the fact that Hush is in it at all and they didn’t like the original. I mean, sure it borrows ideas from Face Off, and even Batman The Cult, but it does them well. I also have already explained how this improves immensely on the Hush story, so I’d say this is a good book to read if you disliked Hush. Its like “Ok… but do it properly this time.”

I guess the whole Aristotle thing, and all the Heart metaphors may come across as a bit cheesy to some, but I feel the right balance has been struck. I think it works well. Its not like in the Scarface videogame where they take the one off line from the film about Ice-Cream and then decide that in the game, Tony should mention Ice-Cream every five-minutes.

I don’t think it was a flop though.

Also, compared to Hush Returns… it actually ends. It wasn’t abandoned halfway through. It doesn’t massively misread the characters (Joker isn’t pining for a lost wife here).

There’s something that’s difficult to articulate… and that’s the fact that, its just good. It just is! It’s a very good book. I advise you to read it and find out why. Its well written. It flows well. Its entertaining. There’s nothing that makes you think “well, that was really annoying.” Overall; I really enjoy this book and I’d like to spread the word. So consider the word spread. Heart Of Hush is a good Batman book and you should totally check it out. (That’s my Batman recommendation for the day… what else needs recommending?)

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…