Monday, 18 June 2012

It's not a review. It's just my opinion! #3 - BATMAN

I read a lot of graphic novels, more so than floppies. So I have decided to tell you all what I am reading and what I thought about those particular books. I want to stress though that I am not looking to review these books in the style of a critic, or to give them a rating, only to express my opinions as a fan of what I personally thought of what I have read. Please do not let my opinion sway you in any way, as I have always lived by the credo that I will make my own mind up about something and so should you. Plus, they say that critics are people that can't actually create themselves and that aint me.
Finally, this is my actual reading pile. All the books I have bought myself for the purpose of my enjoyment and as I am not tieing myself down to any kind of formulated structure, you may notice that I read whatever takes my fancy, rather than switching characters or publishers etc...

Anyhoo... BATMAN!!!

In the entire medium, Batman is the arguably the best character for non readers to segue into comics from other forms of media like movies and cartoons. I remember my childhood Friday afternoons vividly, after finishing school I would go food shopping with my Mum and upon returning home would sit in front of the TV whilst she put the groceries away and watch episodes of the 60's Adam West Batman show. Batman Forever was one of only three films that I remember seeing with my Dad at the cinema and believe it or not, it was Batman & Robin that made me want to read comics. I will speak about this in more detail in a future post, but for now...

The Black Mirror - (w) Scott Snyder (a) Jock & Francesco Francavilla

The design of Batman is cool. He just looks cool. Draped in black, the ears like horns, a shadow in the night. That's just super cool. As a character he has been blessed with some incredible artists over the years and as a general rule, he always looks great on the page. The thing about Batman though is he is such a popular character that he always seems to have a multitude of titles on the shelf each month, which means that probably more than any other character in comics, Batman has a tonne of truly classic story arcs and graphic novels available. The flip side of this though is not all of those books can be truly great or written well, and once again because of his popularity, more than any other character in comics, everybody thinks that they can write a good Batman story without necessarily having the skills to back it up.
This Batman story deserves to be listed amongst the classics and yet the focus of this book is not so much on the caped crusader, but on his longtime ally, Commissioner Gordon.
I had stopped reading Batman at the point in which this book initially came out in floppies. I disliked the direction that Grant Morrison had taken the books in with cosmic bullets and time travel, so I stopped reading. People were telling me to pick up and read Detective Comics, the book that this story ran in, but by that time I had missed the first few issues and I just didn't bother. Then the hardcover collected edition was released with a tonne of hype behind it, so I finally picked up the book to see what the fuss was all about.
This story has everything that makes the Dark Knight great. A thrilling detective story with who-dunnit elements, gritty family drama and amazing characterisations.
At this point in the continuity, Dick Grayson, the original Robin, is the man under the cape and cowl and his nuances as the new Batman are explored subtly, yet to a degree that lends great depth to the role. The differences between him and Bruce Wayne are obvious, but so is his conviction in getting the job done.
The focus on the Gordon family and the relationships that interweave between the various members is like a gritty soap opera, filled with drama and grief. In a world of super heroes, where titans fly above us like Gods amongst men, sometimes it is easy to forget the relationships of the little people that these supermen are saving the world for. Scott Snyder deconstructs the Gordon family tree and magnifies the rot beneath the bark for us all to see. The trauma begins when James Gordon Jr returns to Gotham claiming that he is on new medication that is keeping his psychopathic tendencies at bay. Commissioner Gordon, torn between the love for his Son and the doubt in his heart, doesn't know whether to believe in him or not. Plus, as always, strange things are happening in Gotham and could James Jr be connected to it?
I don't want to give away too much of the plot as I really believe that most Batman fans will really enjoy this book, so no spoilers, but rest assured that Scott Snyder has really crafted a beautifully intricate tale that is thoroughly gripping and the art by Jock and Francesco Francavilla, who rotate art duties, make the Batman look cool!

Gotham by Gaslight - (w) Brian Augustyn (a) Mike Mignola

Originally published in 1989, mere months before the release of Tim Burton's first Batman movie, Gotham by Gaslight was the first Elseworlds book to be released by DC Comics. The Elseworlds comics were a series of original stories that took the characters out of the confines of the DCU continuity and placed them in unique and different situations. Sometimes, very much like Marvel's 'What If?' series, the story would change one element of continuity and show the fallout that followed. A good example of this would be Alan Davis' and Mark Farmer's 'The Nail', in which the question is posed; What if Ma and Pa Kent got a flat tire on the day of baby Kal-El's arrival to Earth? Other times though, as is the case with Gotham by Gaslight, the key character is placed in a completely unique surrounding and we are given an insight in what their lives would be like outside of their comfort zone.
Set in 1889, Gotham by Gaslight tells the story of Bruce Wayne returning home to Gotham city from his ten year stint in Europe, studying detective skills in London and psychology from Sigmund Freud in Austria. His training has been to prepare himself to take up the mantle of the Batman and, as in regular continuity, seek out justice after the slaying of his Mother and Father.
At the same time, Jack the Ripper, escaping from the ever growing reach of the long arm of the law, decides to leave London and to continue his mission of murder in America and of course picks Gotham.
So, as the Batman begins stalking the night, thwarting crime and striking fear into the hearts of thugs with his grim visage, Jack the Ripper slashes his way through Gotham's street walkers, leaving the people of the city convinced that there is a connection between the two. Maybe Batman can catch the Ripper in time, but Bruce Wayne is framed for the murders and now has to race for an answer before the day of his hanging.
This story is a tense thriller with incredible artwork that compliments the story magnificently. Looking at some of Mignola's panels, it seems pretty obvious of his influence to artist Eduardo Risso as some of the scenes look as if they have been plucked from a page in 100 Bullets. The way he uses shapes and lines coming out of the blackness makes this an incredibly atmospheric volume. The story is fun and easy to read, but my only two gripes would be that the ending is a little obvious and the book is a bit short. The idea of this story is so good, that in my opinion it deserved a mini-series and a full sized graphic novel than just the 52 pages that it is. Still, great read though, if only a quick one.

Tales of the Multiverse: Batman - Vampire (w) Doug Moench (a) Kelley Jones

The second Elseworlds book in this column, this volume is a collection of three graphic novels that focus on what would happen if Batman was turned into a vampire. In the first volume of the book; Batman & Dracula - Red Rain, Dracula comes to Gotham, sucking blood and transforming people into creatures of the night like himself. Of course, Batman attempts to save the day, but in the melee is bitten and infected only to rise as a vampire himself. Aided by a Tanya, a vampire herself on a mission to kill Dracula, Batman learns that not all vamps are evil and that he can sate his thirst by drinking a synthetic blood formula.
The rest of the story over the remaining volumes is the story of Batman gradually sinking into darkness until he himself becomes a monster, hell bent on draining the blood from the criminal element of Gotham.
In volume 2; Bloodstorm, The Joker takes command over Dracula's straggling forces and attempts to intertwine them into the criminal underworld. Batman is joined by Selina Kyle, who is changed into a Were-Cat and is seeking vengeance on the creature that turned her.
In volume 3; Crimson Mist, Batman has sunk so deep into the monstrous depths of madness that his two trusted cohorts, Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, have no choice but to ally themselves with Two Face and Killer Croc in an attempt to thwart him for good.
I really enjoyed the underlying theme of Batman's gradual decent into evil, but other than that this story lacked originality. Sure, it's most definitely a fun read, but there was a lack of suspense building and the plots were extremely derivative of cliché laden vampire movies. That is not to say that the script isn't well written though, as Batman's inner monologues really capture a sense of a man being torn apart by his downfall.
Kelley Jones artwork is wonderfully Gothic at times, as we are taken down the streets of Gotham that at times look more like a European town than an American city. Yet at other times the book screams of splatter horror or Video Nasty gore, as a hellish looking caped crusader tears the throats out of Gotham's evil doers. The colour pallet used in the first two volumes is also incredible and sets an eerie mood. This sadly isn't the case in volume three though.
When I was young and used to frequent the local library often, I remember seeing these books in the graphic novel section, right next to the three Knightfall trades. For some bizarre reason, even though I was a massive horror fan, I never picked them up for a read until now, and I am glad that I did. It isn't the most original of Batman stories, but it is most certainly a fun book to read.

Batman: Venom - (w) Dennis O'Neil (a) Trevor Von Eeden, Russell Braun & José Luis García-López

This story is a precursor to the massive Knightfall story arc and is the origin of the Venom drug that gives Batman's nemesis Bane his incredible strength.
Written by Dennis O'Neil, it is no surprise that this story is a rich character dissection as well as an emotional rollercoaster. O'Neil, who also famously wrote the classic run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow as well as the emotionally charged Batman story; A Death in the Family, starts this book with the Dark Knight failing to rescue a kidnapped little girl who drowns and perishes in the sewers of Gotham. Bruce blames himself for not having the strength to save her and becomes obsessed with his failure. The girls father, Randolph Porter, a scientist who is experimenting with creating designer drugs with possible military applications, offers Batman his latest drug which will increase his strength exponentially. At first he resists, but eventually Batman gives in and starts on a course of the drugs. They work with frightening effect as Bruce becomes a veritable behemoth, hellbent on eliminating crime the old fashioned way. What he doesn't realise is that he has become an addict and is being played by Porter who is feeding Batman information on his rival drug dealers as well as the Venom capsules.
Eventually it all comes to a head when Batman is given the ultimatum of kill Jim Gordon or be cut off from his supply of Venom. Using all of his willpower to resist, Batman warns Gordon of the impending danger before locking himself in the Batcave for a month to go cold turkey. Emerging thirty one days later, The Caped Crusader sets out on a mission to stop Porter for good.
This book is a brilliant example of just how good a classic Batman tale can be. It soaked with emotional drama, but still has all of the detective work and action sequences of a good old super hero romp. I should also mention that this book is set in the early years of Batman's career, before Robin arrives on the scene, and effectively shows his inexperience and frustration with it. I love Dennis O'Neils writing and am glad that I bought this book. The artwork is lovely and captures the essence of how I picture the Batman in my mind.

Haunted Knight - (w) Jeph Loeb (a) Tim Sale

Often mistaken for the third part of a trilogy that includes The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, Haunted Knight is in fact a collection of three Legends of the Dark Knight one-shot Halloween specials that ran annually from 1993-1995 and just like the aforementioned Batman graphic novels, features the work of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale on creative duties.
The stories appear on first glance to be typical superhero adventures as our hero battles The Scarecrow, The Mad Hatter and The Penguin in each of the three tales, but these confrontations, however integral they may be to the make up of the Batman character, are just backdrops for the deeper stories that lay beneath the surface of the fable.
In the first chapter; Fears, whilst the Scarecrow stalks the streets of Gotham after breaking free from Arkham Asylum, Batman's alter ego; Bruce Wayne, has a supposed chance meeting with a beautiful woman by the name of Jillian Maxwell. A relationship begins to form between the two and Bruce starts to wonder whether or not he would find happiness with Jillian instead of as Batman. All the while Alfred suspects that something is troubling about this mysterious young lady and decides to do some digging. Set in the early years of his adventures (as was the way with the Legends of the Dark Knight title), this story does well to show the weakness of Bruce at the start of being the Bat as he struggles with his convictions.
The second chapter; Madness, is a look into the early relationship between Jim Gordon and his adopted daughter Barbara. Becoming a member of this Gothamite family unit as a teenager from Ohio, Barbara's adolescent naivete has her run away from home and smack bang into the clutches of The Mad Hatter, who is hosting a tea party for a few unwilling, underage guests. This story really shines a spotlight on the developing relationship of Jim and Babs, but also in a stroke of genius by Loeb, subtly mirrors the Alice in Wonderland tale as Barbara, in the role of Alice, runs away and falls into a hole of Madness. Not only is this my favourite chapter of this book, but also one of my favourite stand alone issues of any Batman comic.
The third and final chapter, entitled Ghosts, is a play on Charles Dickens classic tale 'A Christmas Carol', with Bruce in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge being waned by the three ghosts and his Father in the role of Jacob Marley to not become consumed by the mantle of the Bat. I wasn't overly enamoured by this story as it seemed a little rushed or just suffered by lack of page count. It, like it's predecessors, also has a nice piece of character development, this time between Bruce Wayne and Lucious Fox, but it isn't as fully formed as the other chapters. It is a nice quick and easy read and Tim Sale's artwork is glorious as always, but I could take it or leave it.
All in all though, a bloody good read and I most certainly recommend this book to all Bat-fans!



  1. I've been loving Scott Snyders run on Batman in the New 52, but did not read any of his work before that, so I'm very excited to go back and read Black Mirror. Thnks for encouraging me to go back and read it.

    1. No problem Amy. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did :)