Posted tagged ‘Batman’

Review: Showcase Presents Batman Vol.2

September 8, 2009

The second Showcase Presents collection of Batman stories captures an interesting period in the character’s history.  Namely these are the comics published during the height of the Adam West show.  

It’s pretty clear that TV’s influence was starting to affect the comic.  The sound effects are plentiful, the puns from Robin are attrocious, and the number of costumed villains is begining to skyrocket.  

Now it’s that last bit that actually starts to make these comics feel like the Batman people have come to know.  Prior to this time many members of Batman’s rogues gallery were present, but more often than not he was just running up against fairly standard bank robbers and gangsters.  But in this collection that changes with the introductions of Poison Ivy (whose meerly a femme fatale in an Eve costume at this point), Blockbuster, the Cluemaster, the Outsider, and a bunch of forgettable gimick villains that don’t make the cut.  The book also brings back the Riddler, the Joker and brings Batman into contact with the rest of the DC universe thanks to appearances by Elongated Man and the Weather Wizard.

These are hardly great comics by any means, but they are a lot of fun and a key part in the character’s development.

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Review: Final Crisis

June 20, 2009

Final Crisis is kind of a frustrating book, epitomizing both the best and worst of Grant Morrison.  There are big ideas on display on every page and the scale of the story is overwhelming.  This is a tribute to the legacy of Jack Kirby, its a meditation on the role of superheroes in pop culture, and its the summation of Morrison’s entire career at DC.  Thus while it is often great, it’s more often prohibitively dense.

You really have to wrestle with this story in order to grok it, and while normally that’s a very rewarding experience with a Grant Morrison book, it doesn’t really work when the comic in question is supposed to be a widescreen tent-pole event.  Huge events happen in this book, the silver age Flash returns from the dead, while both Batman & the Martian Manhunter meet their ends, and yet these moments get lost in the somewhat experimental narrative.  

This is soooo close to being a great book, but somehow it just doesn’t quite work.

Review: Batman Chronicles Vol.4

June 10, 2009

It’s a very odd experience reading the stories within the Batman Chronicles.  I find it’s impossible to enjoy it in its own right and can only really read it as a historical artifact.  This volume collects every Batman appearance between May and October 1941.

 They don’t really read right, no one had really worked out how to write a comic yet.  There are too many captions, there’s almost no attempt at composition beyond the individual panels, and the writing keeps overwhelming the art (which is really a shame as it’s really good).

Now what’s most notable about the collection is the inclusion of World’s Finest #3, the first appearance of the Scarecrow.  He doesn’t have any fear gas yet, or other gimmick’s besides the costume, but the character’s pretty much fully formed here.  If you’re a Batman fan this issue is pretty much worth the cost of the book.  But besides that there’s not much here that you won’t see in the earlier volumes.

Review: Joker

November 19, 2008

The Joker is Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s follow up to Lex Luthor: the Man of Steel, and taken together the two books form a very interesting contrast.  Luthor was all about getting into the mind of a villain, the Joker on the other hand is all about showing how impossible a task that is.  

The story focuses on a low level thug named Jonny Frost who decides to work for the Joker in an attempt to build his rep.  He swiftly becomes the Joker’s pupil, and learns to regret that decission very quickly.  But while Jonny may be the story’s protagonist, the title character is of course the focus of this story, and in this book he is written better than I’ve seen since Alan Moore penned the Killing Joke.  

The portrayal here is fairly close to the one from the Dark Knight (including Bermejo’s character design), although DC has insisted that the movie was not an influence on this book.  The Joker here is terrifying, there’s no gimmicks and no jokes, just a brilliant and insane monster out to bring down the world around him.  The one awkward thing in the story is it’s role just outside of Batman’s cannon.  This version of the Joker could be made to fit, but some of Batman’s other rogues are also on exhibit here in forms that have no resemblance to their other appearances.  This does work to ground the story in some sense of reality (for example Killer Croc is a thug instead of a man-eating lizard-man), but it is a little jaring if you’re coming to this after reading the latest issue of Detective Comics.

As for the art side, this is a beautiful book and it just makes me hate even more how little interior work Lee Bermejo does.  He’s an incredible artist, and he’s perfectly in synch with Azzarello here.  As I said earlier, the Joker is supposed to be completely alien here, but the times when the reader gets a slight glimpse of what is going through his head it’s almost entirely due to seeing the character’s eyes (which incidentally are masked on the book’s cover, given a hint of what to expect within).

Azzarello and Bermejo have formed an amazing creative partnership, which has reached maturity in this, their third collaboration.  I dearly hope it will not be their last.

Keeping Current with Comics

August 30, 2008

Yesterday I tried to remove whatever collection development credentials people thought I had.  But I did say that the one area of particular expertise I might actually possess is in comics.  So I figured I’d take a shot and do a batch of brief write ups on current comics libraries should be aware of.

Secret Invasion: For the past decade at least the Summer has been the time for large scale comics events and crossovers.  Actually for the past few years the events have all kind of blended together to the extent that some fans are complaining of event overload.  Secret Invasion is Marvel’s entry this year, and it concerns an alien invasion of shape shifters who have been posing undetected as some of Marvel’s most well known characters (in some cases for quite some time).  The book has received decent reviews overall and I’ve been enjoying it, but there are accessibility issues for those who haven’t been following the last few years worth of Marvel stories.  In the end it will probably prove more significant for the effect it has on the Marvel line to come than for the story itself.

Final Crisis: Final Crisis is DC’s answer to Secret Invasion.  It’s being marketed as the day evil won.  The writer on this one is Grant Morrison, a personal favorite but someone who’s more eccentric writing tendencies don’t always lead to clearly told stories.  Final Crisis has also suffered from poor editorial control (the story did not match up with many of the details from the books that led into it, including the death of a major character).  Again I fear it’s going to become essential reading because of its effects (notably the return of the Silver-Age Flash, Barry Allen) and not because of its own merits.

Final Crisis: the Legion of Three Worlds: The Legion of Three Worlds is a pseudo-spin-off of Final Crisis (because the worlds Final Crisis are in the title), and so far it’s shaping up to be far superior to its parent book.  The story, crafted by the workhorse Geoff Johns and drawn by George Perez at the top of his game, is an attempt to redefine the Legion of Superheroes, one of DC’s best loved but most muddled books.  Early reviews have uniformly praised the book and it is becoming a series I am greatly looking forward to the ending of.

Green Lantern: Another Geoff Johns book.  Johns relaunched Green Lantern a number of years ago now, bringing back classic ring bearer Hal Jordan and focusing on crafting a true mythology for the character.  Having succeeded at his initial goals he has worked to steadily up the ante on the action in the story.  Last year he gave us the Sinestro Corps War, in which a Universe wide battle broke out involving most of the villains from the biggest events in DC history.  Since that time he’s been steadily building to The Blackest Night, a story which probably has more buzz going for it than anything in comics at the moment (including the 2 current events).  Keep an eye out for it.

Batman: RIP: In a similar bit of character redefinition, Grant Morrison has been steadily working on a deconstructionist take on Batman for awhile now.  His run has met with mixed reviews so far, albeit with a few standouts to date (the League of Heroes collaboration with J.H. Williams was one of my favorite comics last year).  But the culmination of his approach to the character is in the current story arch, in which Bruce Wayne suffers a massive psychological break and all of the events that led to the creation of the Batman are thoroughly reexamined.  It’s been a riveting story and it seems pretty certain that the Batman coming out of it will be different than the one that went in to it.

The Punisher: Garth Ennis has just wrapped up what has been by far the best take on the Punisher in the character’s history.  Make no mistakes this is an adult comic, in which the Punisher is portrayed as a near mythical force of nature.  It it grim, it is tightly plotted, the art is gorgeous, and it left me never wanting to read another Punisher comic because everything else can’t help but come across as a disappointment after this.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8: Exactly what it sounds like.  Joss Whedon has reassembled a large portion of his writing staff from the classic show along with a number of comics writers with tv writing experience and has crafting a follow up season.  And it’s really good.  If you were a fan of the show or know someone who was make sure to pick up this book as it has lost none of what made the Buffy great to begin with.

The Umbrella Academy: Easily the most enjoyable comic last year.  My Chemical Romance’s front man Gerard Way has crafted an entirely original take on superhero comics (or is that dysfunctional family stories).  The art from Gabriel Ba is perfectly suited to the material (I don’t know of anyone else who could nail something like a robot zombie Gustave Eifle with such wild abandon).  The sequel launches next year.

Criminal: Criminal is a show case for Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips to tell the sort of crime stories they love.  Besides the story each issue (which have consistently been the most well crafted comic of each month) the comics contain a wealth of interviews, reviews, and letter columns concerning the history of the crime genre.  The book is nearly as good as a reference resource as it is for the stories.

Collections: The last few years have been a great time for collected editions.  Bookstores and libraries have opened up to nicely bound editions and the major publishers have been doing a great job of dusting off their back catalogs.  A few archival projects are of particular note.  DC has been republishing some great hardcover editions of James Robinson’s Starman, Grant Morrison’s JLA, and everything Jack Kirby did for them in the 70’s (The Fourth World Omnibus’ have a place of honor on my bookshelves).  Some other recent highlight are Image’s collections of Mike Allred’s Madman, Oni’s new editions of Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country, and another personal favorite, Marvel’s recently released omnibus edition of Howard the Duck (which really is an essential read, albeit a pricey one).