My big bad Batman page

I’ve read a bunch of Batman comics recently, might as well review them all on the same page. Comic collections are now turning up at the local library, which is helpful and saves me money (and storage). Sometimes comic sets are conclusive, meaning that they include an entire run of a certain limited series (Batman Year One), while others re-package related issues from here and there (Batman Versus Bane, Birth Of The Demon, etc).

BYO

Batman Year One – Stunning storytelling, with great stylized art to go along with it. Fresh bande desinee-style sketches that are warm, even when they’re violent, and the story strums along, picking up with Bruce Wayne coming back into town after 18 years away training on the top of a mountain, with a young Jim Gordon coming into town with a pregnant wife, up against a corrupt commissioner and his creepy henchman Flass. Great story about Gordon’s encounter with corrupt cops who don’t want him causing trouble, and then his revenge on them; at the same time, Bruce Wayne’s on a mission in the corrupt East End, where he tries to take down a pimp while in disguise – not the scary avenger garb of the Batman, but some leather duds and some face paint (a fake scar) to throw people off the scent. It’s a failure. But Wayne learns. He also comes across Selina Kyle, the Catwoman. Nice. There’s the first appearance of the psychopath Branden and his SWAT team, a hostage taker that Gordon takes out single-handedly, paralleled with a near-failure from Bruce Wayne as the caped crusader. Gordon meets Sarah Essen, the Batman takes on the crime bosses, he gets trapped in an abandoned building with the cops chasing him, he makes fools of all of them. It would make a great movie!

The book builds and cooks, seemingly not very real in its depictions, but of so real in its situations and emotions. There is nothing truly clumsy about the story developments, and it’s very mature throughout.

The bonus materials at the end of the book are also very good, showing artist David Mazzucchelli’s submission samples to DC from 1981 and 1983, as well as a cute little thing that he drew when he was six yeas old in 1966.


Batman Versus Bane – Adventures that both precede and follow the “Bane broke Batman’s back” episode. The first tale tells the unimaginably cruel tale of the birth of Bane, in a prison, for the crimes of his father (who, we later find out, is known to Ra’s Al Ghul). It also introduces his gang – Zombie, Trogg and Birdy Colossimo (the dude with the blonde mullet). Then there’s his first encounter with the Batman, which takes place after he wipes out two mob families (one of them includes three stooges that look like Larry, Moe and Curly). The cops bust in on the scene before these guys can confront each other, so it’s really no big deal.

The next episode follows Bane on his return to Santa Prisca, first to kill the monk that once showed him kindness as he seeks the identity of his father, and then when he narrows his search down to one of four possible men based on the fact that three of them are dead, off we go on another wild goose chase (his ego won’t allow him to consider that his real father might be among the three dead men). Great. Lots of scenes of Bane single-handedly taking on armies of armed goons… and killing them all. Nice. And so, he discovers a satanic sect of creeps linked to one of his possible fathers, and the trail leads him to… Singapore (it’s amusing to consider the irony of how DC tends to create cities like Metropolis for New York and Gotham City for Chicago, while Marvel tends to go for real city names – except for Singapore, which Marvel calls “Mandripoor”). It’s here that Bane intersects with Thalia and Ra’s Al Ghul’s people. He enters into bizarre deals with them, at one point bedding Thalia before she turns on him and gets all snooty, “you amused me, now you sicken me” (funny to see him get all soft and gentle. It also turns out that they can’t speak Middle Eastern languages in front of Bane because, well, he’s taught himself how to speak Farsi and Urdu and Dhari and… whatever. And Thalia, like a little princess, orders men to their deaths with great regularity. Bane is unmasked throughout this second tale. Ra’s comes along and does his whole macho “any man would die for less than this” sort of medieval thing. Hard to tell why Bane and Ra’s are allied in the first place, other than both are psychopaths. By the end of the book it seems like Batman is about to come into the picture. Very good. Too little too late, though, I’m afraid…

ASBARTBW

ASBARTBW

All Star Batman And Robin The Boy Wonder – If Batman Year One was the birth of the bat in Frank Miller’s Dark Night universe, where Batman is an antisocial grouch who looks down on his fellow crime fighters, then this is the introduction of Robin. The book is full of gorgeous artwork from Jim Lee, who manages to take all of the best elements of John Byrne without being overly sentimental, also incorporating fantastic cityscapes and skylines, only rarely indulging in an ÃœBER-muscular Hulk-like Batman.

The tale starts off with Dick Grayson, whose parents are assassinated by a thug working for the Joker (yes, this deviates from the regular story). Bruce is, of course, in attendance with Vicky Vale, and as the Batman he saves Dick from corrupt cops in a wild chase that gets splashed across the headlines. The tale follows with episodes from the life of Batman, but also a few random non-Batman episodes – Vicky Vale on the case, the Black Canary in a barroom brawl, a heavily-tattooed Joker murdering a lawyer, Barbara Gordon dressing up as a bling-laden Batgirl, an encounter between the Justice League of America where they sing “how do we solve a problem like the Batman…”. Wonder Woman is, of course, a total bitch.

And there are a lot of problems with the Batman. He’s a prick to 12-year-old Robin, who’s just seen his parents murdered, he uses the Batmobile to into his own Rolls Royce, killing Vicky Vale and injuring Alfred (?!?!). He hardly tries to come up with an alibi for Robin not being Dick Grayson, after it became headline news that he’d kidnapped Dick following the death of his parents, and he lets Robin nearly kill the Green Lantern (rendered powerless in an all-yellow room – how lame is that?). He deals with his Vicky Vale problem (she’s dying because of him) by bullying Superman into retrieving heart surgeon “Ekhart” from Paris, which he does by picking up the poor guys limo and running across the Atlantic with it like some Kryptonian errand boy. Yes, weak story telling at its weakest. Jim Gordon doesn’t show up at all, except talking on the phone with his ex-girlfriend Sarah Engel while his long-suffering wife loads up on whiskey (what a creep, man…).

The best thing about the edition, though, is the amazing six-panel pullout of the Batcave, which apparently “just doesn’t end”. Nice reference to the dinosaur robot later on too… Also, great splashes of Batman stalking and jumping. Nice. The episodes where he takes out a gang of would-be rapists is good, as are the strange panels showing a very buff Alfred Pennyworth in the gym. The lettering is also inventive – colour-coded according to the author (Batman, Alfred, Dick, the Joker), with appropriate font as well (Alfred’s is crisp and bold, the Joker’s is Joker-ish). Lots of “goddamn Batman” in the text; apparently this has become a joke/internet meme. Nice. Nice horny shots of Batman and the Black Canary making out (and one of Supes and Wonder Woman making out – despite him kind of being a dick and her being a bitch). The Catwoman, sadly, is only seen in two panels. There’s also a funny spot where Robin contemplates calling himself the Hood, after Robin Hood (with a costume that includes a hood too – clever!) that Batman mocks by tugging fiecely on the hood. “Lost the hood. You’re Robin.” So much for picking your own identity.

BOTD

BOTD

Birth Of The Demon – There are some comics that are thematic reprints of other stories, this one collects two tales of Ra’s Al Ghul. The first one is a Batman adventure, and in it Batman allies with Ra’s to fight a common enemy, a former lieutenant of Ra’s who eventually went by the name Qayne, after Cain, the original murderer. He’s helping a central Asian dictator to hijack American technology to control the weather. The story is a bit disjointed and silly, and in the end we learn that Thalia is to marry Batman. She carries his child. But she lies to him that it is lost. In the final panel we see an orphan abandoned on a doorstep. Corny.

The second tale is much better, it is a tale of medieval cruelty and the evil prince and king who created Ra’s Al Ghul, or at least the ones who set him on the mission to destroy a corrupt humanity. Nice.

B:ADITF

B:ADITF

Batman, A Death In The Family - Chronicling the 1988, 1989 and 2006 adventures of Batman and Robin, all three versions of him. Principally concerning itself in the first half with the fate of Robin Mark II, the book follows Batman’s crisis as he broods with his cape a-blazing, across the deserts of Lebanon, Jordan and Ethiopia, as Jason Todd searches for his real mother, focusing on three possibilities, each one more horrible than the last. Todd dies in an explosion (readers phoned in to vote on his fate, agreeing in the end to send him on his way). The Joker comes into the picture, even posing for a moment as the ambassador from Iraq to the UN (he tries to kill them all, unsuccessfully – not like Mars Attacks, where the House Of Representatives is wiped out by grinning ambassadors making speeches), before he’s chased out of the building into a sure death (which is never what it seems).

In a later episode, they have some fun with a newscaster talking about a spelling champion. “Nine-year old Moon Caplan returns from her meeting with George Bush. Asked what she thought of the President, the adolescent abecedarian said ‘read my lips,’ and spelled something not suitable for family listening.” There’s some stuff about Dick Grayson returning to the circus he was raised in, to the Batcave, to another partnership with Batman as they confronted Two-Face (no adolescent quips any more – why not?!?!? Nice upside-down room, and a mystery really no-one saw coming. Too bad Two-Face, after all this trouble, was dispatched so quickly. Comics really aren’t worth the time of day…

H

H

Hush – Not a flop, but also not really a great book; of course, the art by Jim Lee is stunning (the sculpted drawings simply call out to be touched and fondled; the influence of artists like Todd McFarlane, John Byrne and John Romita Jr is clear). Writer Jeph Loeb is clearly intent to produce a masterpiece, so he calls up every single major Batman foe and gets them into the picture. Batman confronts the Killer Croc, Two Face (handsome after an extensive bout of plastic surgery). Poison Ivy, a bewitched Superman (yes – like The Dark Knight Returns, Batman gets to beat the snot out of Superdude), the Riddler, the Joker, Scarecrow, Lady Siva, Clayface, Harley Quinn and maybe a few more – oh yeah, Ra’s Al Ghul too. But, meanwhile, there’s a hidden plotter manipulating everybody, and Batman gets to figure out who it is… sort of. And, of course, there are plenty of ghostly flashback scenes to make everything in the past very alive and relevant. Nicy kryptonite ring. Interestingly, all of the Robins also make an appearance – Dick Grayson (as Nightwing), the undead Jason Todd, and the mini Tim Drake). And, of course, there are also three guys wrapped up in Hush bandages. Outrageous!

In one of the sillier scenes, he hijacks Thalia’s private jet mid-air in order to provoke her estranged father out of hiding (did I mention that she now runs Lexcorp, which Lex Luthor has had put in trust while he serves his term as President of the United states. Ooooo-kay!! Did I mention that he’s now in love with Catwoman?

The most infuriating element is the resurgence of Thomas Eliot, a childhood friend we’ve never heard about before, who uses the word “hush” in an early scene… c’mon, how can he not be the character Hush?!?!?!? Loeb nearly throws us off the trail once, but eventually it all comes together – and how many times does he need to talk about it being a game before we clue in to the flashback scenes of Bruce and Tommy playing chess. Oh yeah… let’s not just observe a detective in action, but maybe we can also be a bit of a detective ourselves. The writing is very show-offy and grandstand-ish, and in the end, even with the story concluded, Loeb still can’t resist giving it another layer, so… the Riddler did it. Wow… my mind is blown.

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