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: Vol. 7 – Batman Year Two Fear The Reaper

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

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

Today I’m in a good mood, listening to Killswitch Engage’s stupidly good (and secretly good – its so much better than you remember, even when you remember that its awesome) new album Disarm The Descent, and I’ve finished reading the lengthy Knightfall storyline at last. When I was reading that, several things reminded me of this entry’s book and put me in mind to write about it for this blog series, such as the presence of the character Dr. Leslie Thompkins.

When I was reading Knightfall, apart from the excellent prequel and follow-up stories packaged in with my edition, I felt like it was really old, and from an era before comics were marketed towards adults as much. I thought back to things like Batman Gothic and Batman Venom and Year One, and I thought to myself, Knightfall must be before all of those stories. Even the artwork for them most part wasn’t a patch on them.

Much to my surprise, Knightfall was actually newer than all of them, and newer than this book, which it often reminded me of, Year Two Follow The Reaper (A two part collection from 1987 and 1991 respectively, but that works nicely as a single book).

Its about a villain called The Reaper who looks interesting and, like Knightfall’s Azbats is a vigilante just like Bruce Wayne’s Batman but without the mercy. (If you haven’t read Knightfall, its about Bruce Wayne getting his back broken by Bane and then letting Azreal become Batman, but Azreal-Batman [“Azbats” for the purpose of convenience and distinguishing him from the real Batman] proves to be a crazy, violent and dangerous Batman). The Reaper carries around big scythe-blades and likes to be much more violent and permanent in his dealing with criminals than Batman does, slicing people up etc.

Personally; I liked this guy better than Azbats (well, in the first story; its two different people in the two different stories). I don’t know why I feel so compelled to compare the two stories though, maybe because they were both printed on similar type of paper, instead of the nice thick glossy paper that all my other Batman books are. Or maybe its just because of Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who knows?

Anyway; much like the character, I like the book too. It might have no big revelations or character deaths/injuries that echo for years to come, but I found it a rather good read; better certainly than the amazon reviews would suggest. I mean; it might be a bit heretical to say, but I thought this was a more solid and well written story than The Dark Knight Returns… I just didn’t fall in love with that book the way popular opinion suggests I should have.

I think if I ever wrote a Batman story I’d like to include the Reaper or at least reference him tastefully.

Batman

Batman Year Two Fear The Reaper:

– Writers: Mike W Barr
– Art: Todd McFarlane, Alfredo Alcala,
– Colours: Steve Oliff, Gloria Vasquez, Olyoptics

– Writers Full Circle: Mike W. Barr
– Art Full Circle: Alan Davis, Mark Farmer
– Colours Full Circle: Tom Ziuko

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint
– Continuity Full Circle: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Year One
– Timeline Full Circle: Early, but Post-Robin

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne
– Batman is Full Circle: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: The Reaper (Judson Caspain), Joe Chill, Mr. Morritz,
– Villains Full Circle: The Reaper (Joseph Chill Jr.), Marcia Duncan,

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, Dick Grayson as Robin, Dr. Leslie Thomkins, James Gordon (Police)
– Allies Full Circle: Dick Grayson as Robin, Alfred Pennyworth, Dr. Leslie Thomkins, James Gordon (Police)

-Bystanders: Rachel Caspian, Greta (Caspain’s Butler), Blinky Sutton, Moran Jones, Jonathan Heymer, Martin (Heymer’s Bodguard), William Golonka, Bukowski (Police), McGinley (Police)

– Bystanders Full Circle: Joan Lincoln (Reporter), Joey Chill III., Rachel Caspian, McSurely, Moose, Morgan Jones, Miranda (Hooker), Rhonda (Hooker),

Cameos: N/A
Cameos Full Circle: The Joker, The Penguin, Two Face

– Story: [Spoilers Ahoy:]

In the first story, James Gordon is promoted to Commissioner. The story begins with him on a television talk show denouncing Batman but defending him against comparisons to a more violent vigilante from Gotham’ past called The Reaper.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is involved in the construction of a new Wayne Foundation building, and dating a woman called Rachel Caspain, who’s mother was murdered before the story begins.

Rachel’s father, Judson Caspain is then revealed to be The Reaper, and the story follows some of his violent reprisals on criminals, motivated by the loss of his wife to crime.

Gordon, who has warmed to Batman since the events in Year One, signals Batman to meet him and tasks him with stopping The Reaper. Batman locates him trying to kill prostitutes (who are still criminals in his eyes) and they fight, Batman is outmatched and returns home injured. Dr. Leslie Thompkins patches him up, but he awakes he reaches for a gun, suggesting it might be the only way to fight crime successfully.

Later The Reaper kills a criminal in the middle of a Police Swat Team stand-off situation ramping up the stakes for Gordon. Batman meanwhile is learning to be a better marksman at a shooting range, much to Alfred and Dr. Leslie’s distaste.

During the next battle between the Reaper and Batman (now carrying a gun), Gordon mistakes Batman to be just as bad as all the other criminals and looses faith in him. Batman then makes a deal to team up with gangsters in order to catch The Reaper, as it would be mutually beneficial to them, and the gangsters make Joe Chill (the man who murdered Batman’s parents) Batman’s partner for the duration of their plan. There are plenty of flashbacks and Batman finds this whole thing incredibly distasteful but goes along with it initially. Chill and Batman confront The Reaper but Batman finds it difficult to use a gun.

Later Batman has to foil some Police plans to preserve his own agenda and this further strains the relationship between him and Gordon. Furthermore his Reaper hunting limits the time he can spend with Rachel, straining that relationship too.

Bruce then lures Joe Chill to Crime Ally to murder him where Chill murdered Bruce’s parents, but before he is able to pull the trigger, The Reaper shows up and kills Chill. The two fight it out, stumbling into a construction sit and up a building, Reaper is exposed as Judson Caspain while about to fall to his death, Bruce attempts to save him, but Caspain chooses to fall instead. Bruce then buries the gun in the foundations of the still-under-construction Wayne Foundation building forsaking guns forever.

The story ends with a distraught Rachel becoming a nun.

In the second story The Reaper returns, only it turns out to be Joe Chills son, out for revenge against Batman, and teamed up with the equally dangerous Marcia Duncan.

Rachel learning of the Reaper’s return is hounded by press, and moves in with Leslie to lay low. Reaper steals the gun buried in the Wayne Foundation building and plans to kill Batman with it. Leslie is beaten up and Rachel is kidnapped to lure Batman.

Batman confronts and defeats Reaper only to be shot in the back by Marcia, and wake up in a death trap bombarded with reminders of his parents murder, designed to make him kill himself. Marcia and Reaper fall out when it is revealed she doesn’t care about revenge but making money from a bounty on Batman.

Robin comes to save Batman, ineffectively, but the threat to Robin’s safety motivates Batman enough to man up, escape the trap and stop Chill Jr.

Chill Jr.’s own son Chill III has been following them throughout the whole story and observed all of this. Finally he falls from his hiding spot and lands by the defeated Reaper. Batman uses Chill III as emotional leverage to convince Chill Jr. to stop being the Reaper, disposes of the gun once more (along with the Reaper’s mask) and Rachel goes back to her life as a nun.

– Tone: I have no problems to report with the tone. It isn’t too silly, it isn’t too dark. Its kind of somewhere in the region of the other two Wagner Batman books I discussed. This is what I’d like to call the standard Batman tone. It has a similar tone to the aforementioned Batman Venom and if you discount the supernatural elements, kind of similar to Batman Gothic. As I mentioned above; I’ve recently finished Knightfall which included The Revenge Of Bane and Batman Prodigal packaged in with it; Both those bonus stories share a kind of similar tone to this as well. Its not 100% gritty realism, but its not aimed exclusively at children either. The only problem I have is that they try to establish Robin as being fun, but sometimes its clumsy, as with the line ‘Surfs Up Dude.’

– Art: The art is rather good. Its better looking than the aforementioned Gothic and sort of similar to Venom, Prodigal and The Revenge Of Bane. It’s a lot better than most of Knightfall, better than Gotham By Gaslight but not as good as the modern stuff by Jim Lee or Greg Capullo. Not that you would expect it to be. For its time I think it looks pretty good. I think if you printed it up on glossy paper it would look pretty solid.

Overall: I got given this title by Paul as a much appreciated Christmas present; we had discussed it before when I mentioned I might buy it due to its at the time low price and low and behold now I have a copy! He didn’t rate it all that highly, but I am fairly impressed.

I guess at the time it was released, it might have felt like a bit of a disappointing sequel to Year One, but for me, now, with my tastes and particular set of Batman readings thus far, I found it to be wholly worthwhile.

For me; Fear The Reaper is a pretty damn enjoyable book, with a nice linear and easy-to-follow (but still entertaining) story, adding a bit of depth to the characters. It looks good, it’s a decent length and it has a villain that hasn’t been used to death already.

You know what, too? The Reaper just looks and acts cool. I know that’s a very adolescent way to look at things but it can’t be helped. I really like Spawn for the same reason… because he’s just cool. Maybe its all the Metal music I listen to, but a mixture of Black, Red, Skulls and Blades/Chains is usually pretty cool looking to me. Fun fact – Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, was an artist on this book (in case you skipped the credits above).

Reading it through; it felt like two good episodes of an hour-long HBO TV Show. The Reaper being Bruce’s love interests dad is a cheesy idea on paper, but it actually worked well in context, the team-up with Joe Chill seems like a bad idea on paper, but when its actually going, the mixed feelings it creates are actually entertaining.

The only two major flaws with it I can find are that The Reaper uses his catch-phrase way, way, way too often (seriously, a drinking game based on it might make you quite ill quite quickly) and that the whole Batman might use a gun thing is a bit of a cheap story to tell.

Batman doesn’t use guns. Everyone knows that. Its one of the most Batman things about Batman. If Batman uses a gun, you automatically go “that’s not Batman” in your head. I know this is an early-days look into the character and trying to establish the fact that Batman doesn’t use guns for a new generation (at the time) but at the same time, it seems like a bit of cheap drama to even suggest he might use one. He won’t. Everyone knows he won’t. Unless this is the very first bit of Batman you ever read, the suggestion that he might just will never ring true.

With those exceptions (and y’know, “Surfs Up Dude”) being expected, I think this is a pretty solid read, and I would recommend it.

[Ps. In case you were wondering; here’s my current Batman collection at the time of writing. It doesn’t include what I’ve been lent, like Killing Joke or Man Who Laughs or Year One or Dark Knight Returns, but its everything I own myself at present (with the exception of No Man’s Land, which I didn’t photograph due to having not received volume-3 in the mail yet]

My Batman

My Batman 2

My Batman 3

My Batman 4

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: 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…