CGM has teamed up with Warner Bros. Home Entertainment to give away some of the best movies in recent history.
This month we are giving away DCU Justice League vs Teen Titans.
After Robin’s volatile behaviour ruins a Justice league mission, he is sent to work with the Teen Titans. It is up to the Titans to defeat Trigon after he possesses the league and threatens to conquer the world!
Batman and Robin Eternal is DC’s second attempt at a weekly serial and while it has its moments of intrigue and suspense, nothing quite matches up to the scale or the thrill of its predecessor, Batman Eternal.
Written by the returning creative team of Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, Batman and Robin Eternal has an interesting plot of following two timelines throughout its run. The present, where Bruce Wayne has forgotten he ever donned the cowl, and seven years into the past where Batman and Robin are having their first ever encounter with Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow.
The two timelines collide when Dick Grayson returns to Gotham after working as Agent 37 for the covert operations agency known as Spyral. It’s during his encounter with returning character, Cassandra Cain, that the plot is set into motion. After a brief bout, she says the word “Mother” and hands Grayson a USB device originally belonging to Batman. The device has a recorded confession of Batman saying he’s sorry for what he did in the past and that whatever he did all those years ago might be the biggest sin that he’s ever committed. A list of names is also attached and it’s time for the leaderless Bat family to come together to figure out Batman’s secret and save the day from whatever evil may come.
Despite titling this as a Batman and Robin story, the dynamic duo are not the main characters of this story. With Bruce out of commission the plot is carried by his first three wards, Dick Grayson, Jason Todd (Red Hood), Tim Drake (Red Robin), along with newly added members Harper Row (Bluebird) and Cassandra.
Batman is the more prevalent character in the past timeline where he is dealing with an inexperienced Dick Grayson. After their encounter with the Scarecrow and Robin ingesting a health dose of fear toxin, the boy wonder begins to feel like he’s worthless and proves to be more of a liability to Batman. It’s during this time where Batman first meets Mother, who promises to give the Dark Knight an heir worthy of his ability if he does as she commands and kills the parents of an innocent family, leaving their child an orphan. The ending to this Batman side story will come as no surprise to its readers.
As the family splits up to tick off the names on Batman’s list, they repeatedly encounter a new villain known as Orphan. Donning a white assassins uniform, Orphan proves to be a formidable foe, having the strength and skill comparable to that of Batman. He works for Mother as her right-hand man and has a dark teacher-student relationship with Cassandra. When the two characters interact it’s clear that there was quite a history of tension and bad blood. Discovering the backstory of Orphan and what he dreams for his young protégé is one of the more interesting tales in the plot. The weakest part of Orphan, however, is that his conclusion throws out everything he stands for. It’s sad to see a villain with such an inflexible mindset, break down everything in a final moment of “redemption”.
Mother has the potential to be an incredible villain; she mirrors Batman by recruiting children to her cause and is quite skillful in manipulating anyone she encounters. Her backstory is dark and gives good reason for why she feels so attached to orphans. Unfortunately her ambitions as a villain leaves much to be desired. Mother is one of the weakest parts of the story because she turns out to be a mundane, run-of-the-mill, Batman villain who just wants to take over the world. She does this by controlling every child on the planet with the same strain of fear toxin that Robin suffered from in the past. It’s a shame that her inner circle, Orphan and the Sculptor, turn out to be more memorable than their leader. The story builds up this character to be such a strong force of power, but by the end, Mother’s only purpose is to serve as character development for Harper and Cassandra and act as a poor final boss.
Harper and Cassandra are the best part of this story, which doesn’t bode well for a tale where the Robins are meant to be our protagonists. The two quickly bond as friends and grow throughout the plot. Their relationship is constantly tested in the most extreme of ways and for the most part this was what kept me engaged enough to continue reading. Harper used to be a whiny, annoying-brat, sidekick to Red Robin in the original Eternal. With the help of Cassandra, however, I actually began to appreciate her as a character as she underwent a variety of trials and heroic moments.
The same could not be said for the Robins. The three wards settle into their clichés fairly early on and never get out of the pit for any real development. Grayson is your typical growing leader who shows the most heroic qualities. Todd is our comic relief as he deals with the madness around him. Drake is easily set up as the know-it-all nerd. I would’ve loved for these three to stand out and develop in new ways, but no risks are taken with their characters and their stories are played out very safe.
Batman and Robin Eternal is a story that suffers from a lack of risk and planning. I was excited for this serial because the work on its predecessor paid off so well but maybe the magic is gone and fresh blood needs to step in to create another story worthy of being Eternal in readers minds.
With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice finally out in theatres, audiences are split on the movie and critics, well… the critics almost universally hate it. There’s no denying that the film, which contains two of the world’s most iconic superheroes, is highly flawed. From the movie’s take on Lex Luthor to the jarring and sporadic editing, the scriptwriters and director have made some interesting and strange decisions. It’s not all doom and gloom though, as there is one aspect of the film that mostly everybody agrees is easily the best part: Ben Affleck’s portrayal of a more rugged and brutal Batman.
I’ve been pretty conflicted about Warner Brothers Animation’s recent string of Batman adventures. On the one hand, they’ve loosely adapted one of my all time favourite Batman runs: Grant Morrison’s epic 7-year Bat-journey that attempted to deconstruct and revive every era in the character’s history. As expected from Morrison, the sprawling narrative was complex and serpentine, not exactly the type of story that fit the direct-to-DVD action romps that Warner Brothers Animation favors for their DC properties. So, the powers that be essentially dropped all of the complex and deep cut strands of Morrison’s story to focus entirely on the Damian Wayne/Bat family arc. Fair enough, there’s some good stuff there. The trouble is that so far, these adaptations have been paper thin, essentially taking the simplest elements of Damian’s tale and little else. Batman: Bad Blood takes my favourite arc of Morrison’s grand Bat-Odyssey and transforms it into a 72-minute fight n’ cameo fest designed for electric guitar stings. It’s fun, but disposable. God-willing it’ll be the end of this era of DC animated Bat-features, because it hasn’t been the best.
Things kick off with a big ‘ol battle between Batman and a gang of D-level villains not even worth mentioning. Batwoman makes her debut in the fight, so cue some one-liners between the two bats. Then it all ends in an explosion that Batman doesn’t appear to escape from (oh no!). With Bruce Wayne out of the picture, Dick Grayson picks up the Batmantle and fights alongside a wise-crackin’ Damian Wayne who can’t believe Dick thinks he can replace Bruce. Faux Bats also starts chasing down Batwoman, so that we can learn her tragic origin story and why she enjoys using guns. From there, Damian is kidnapped and we learn that Talia Al Ghul was actually beyond all this wacky action, having kidnapped Bruce as part of her long term goal of making an army of Bat-clones (that’s what Damian was kiddies!). Plus she’s also involved in a mind-control plot with the Madhatter. Eventually that means that Bruce is briefly transformed into an Batman, requiring Nightwing, Robin, and Batwoman to form a Bat-family to stop it.Not sure what this means Luke Fox (Lucius Fox’s son) becomes Batwing to add an additional Batfamily member. Why? I don’t know. Cross-promotion, I guess.
So, as you may have gathered by now that’s a hell of a lot of plot to cover in a 72-minute movie. Well, it’s made worse by the fact that there’s an action scene at least every 5-10 minutes. There’s even less time for exposition as a trim 70 minute feature would normally allow, making all of the storytelling clunky and uncomfortably rushed. Batwoman fares best, with the intriguingly dark Kate Kane origin story covered well in its brief appearance. Batwing could not feel more tacked on and is little more than a distraction whenever he pops up. Sadly the Dick-Batman/Damian Wayne relationship is nowhere near as entertaining as it was in Grant Morrison’s comics, which played like Adam West’s Batman on acid. There’s too little screen time to develop their unique dynamic and the DC Animation house style doesn’t allow for Morrison’s surreal digressions to play a role. I was pleased to see Tali Al Ghul’s twisted plot from Morrison’s arc make an appearance, but sadly it isn’t developed properly either and the filmmakers cop out and dodge the tragic ending that it should have been building towards.
Batman: Bad Blood is a muddled movie to say the least. The folks in charge of the DC Animated Universe clearly couldn’t decide on which story to tell, and trying to tell four or five didn’t provide satisfactory versions of any of them. Beyond a few token efforts at depth—like Dick Grayson painfully recalling what it was like to grow up in Bruce’s shadow—the movie avoids all psychological complexity in favour of cramming in as much Bat action as possible. Thankfully, the film is at least directed by Jay Oliva, who is a master of animated Bat action, so each and every one of the endless action scenes has style to spare. They are fun to watch, no doubt about it. Unfortunately, without much in the way of narrative or characterization to match all of the punch-punch, boom-boom these sequences don’t have the same impact as the incredible work Oliva delivered in The Dark Knight Returns that made him the go-to house director for these direct-to-DVD features. It’s all empty spectacle, but on the plus side it is a fun and amazingly animated empty spectacle. So that’s something.
Despite ending on a sequel-baiting character introduction, I hope this is the end to the current run of DC Animation Batman flicks. Ever since Son Of Batman there has been a visible struggle to define the tone and purpose of these animated features. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t cram in needless fan pandering like the Court Of Owls plot in the last movie (which was there only in an attempt to win back disappointed viewers after Son Of Batman, only to disappoint them further by not doing it properly). Nor is the movie as irritatingly adolescent in its Bat-brah writing as the last two features (although there are some awkward moments like Dick calling Alfred a “total badass”). Bad Blood is probably the best of the last few connected Batflicks, but only because the filmmakers recognized that the action sequences were the best part so they focused almost entirely on those. There’s no denying the fights are beautifully staged and the movie is worth watching just for them. It’s just a shame that it’s all the DC Animation team delivered this time, given the depth and potential of Batman’s Universe.
Batman: Bad Blood does at least look and sound fantastic on Blu-ray. The team cranking out these DC animated features are supremely talented and the production values are impressive. It’s nice to have 2D superhero animation done this well, even when the scripts disappoint. Amusingly, even the special features seem to grudgingly admit the movie is a one-trick pony. Usually these discs are filled with featurettes full of DC Comics luminaries discussing the history of Batman and how the film adds to the legacy. This time the biggest feature is a 30-minute documentary dedicated entirely to Jay Oliva’s action sequences. It’s interesting, but it’s amusing that it’s the only thing that the filmmakers have to say about this lackluster effort. Next up is a 13-minute doc about all the members of the Bat-family that covers the basics of their origins and appeal with little depth. Finally, we get a couple episodes of Batman: The Brave And The Bold that are fun, but so tonally different from the main feature that they feel somewhat out of place.
To outsiders, Frank Miller might seem like a pervert and a madman. To those with a sense of comic book history, he is an absolute legend. The work he did in the 80s as a writer and artist was revolutionary. So profound was his impact that a line can be drawn in the history of the medium separating before and after Miller. The single book with the biggest impact was of course The Dark Knight Returns, which along with the simultaneously published Watchmen created the graphic novel, brought self-consciousness and psychology to superheroes, and made the world finally consider comic books art. The continued resonance of that great work cannot be overstated. It’s arguable that every interpretation of Batman since 1986 is Frank Miller’s Batman. Not even a mildly disappointing (yet profoundly underrated) sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again could dilute the legacy. Somehow against all odds Miller has returned to his personal Batman universe this week. For comic nerds, it is the event of the year.
Sure, you might consider The Force Awakens to be the most important pop culture resurrection of 2015 and you’re probably right. But the hilariously titled DK III: The Master Race is just as monumental. Miller mentioned for years that he wasn’t yet finished with Batman. His incomplete (and kind of fun, in a bonkers way) All-Star Batman And Robin book may have suggested otherwise, yet there was always hope that he would return. After all, despite featuring some of the ugliest art that Miller ever committed to a page, The Dark Knight Strikes Again was an intriguing addition to Batman’s legacy. Expanding Miller’s apocalyptic reinvention of Batman to include the entire DC universe and filled with bizarre 9/11 allusions, the book was a noble continuation of the story. A reflection of the depressed vigilante’s complete disconnect with his other heroes and an apocalyptic vision of why such a vicious and uncompromising character needed to exist in a world of spandex leaders.
The first issue of The Master Race continues this saga years later and while many mysteries remain, an intriguing entry point is established. Once again Batman is presented as a vigilante to be feared and a forgotten icon re-emerging from the shadows. A truly surprising final twist brings into question Bruce Wayne’s involvement in the universe, while the revival of Miller’s bizarre Superman/Wonder Woman lovechild makes it clear that Clark’s no longer around to balance the scales. What Miller seems to be introducing is nothing short of a changing of the guard in the DC universe. This may well be a tale of Miller’s vision for the next generation of superheroes and it’s a clever concept to explore as the next chapter of his tale. Amusingly, Miller is continuing the story from The Dark Knight Strikes Again, so those who only know his 1986 masterwork will be lost. Oddly, The Atom once again appears to be a primary character. Though Batman remains at the centre of this story, it’s slowly transformed into an epic examination of the entire DC universe under the Dark Knight banner and it’s fascinating to see Miller fearlessly reinvent pop icons and obscure relics.
Perhaps the wiser choice that Miller made this time, was to bring in a team of collaborators. The Dark Knight Strikes Again was essentially a one-man show and limited as a result. This time he’s scripting with DC dark horse Brian Azzarello, a perfect choice as it tones down the lunatic humour of The Dark Knight Strikes Again and ramps up the darkness. They are a strong team, with Azzarello dialled into Miller’s strengths yet devoid of his most frustrating excesses (troubling politics, rampant sexism, awkward humour, etc.). Together they’ve provided a Batman tale as dark as fans would hope. The art team of Andy Kubert and DKR inker Klaus Janson is also inspired, using Frank’s iconic designs yet fleshing them out in greater detail, colour, and clarity. While Miller’s angular and exaggerated art style may have once felt prestigious for being so off model in the 80s, it now looks awkwardly sketchy. Bringing in this team allows the book to stand out as one of the most beautiful on comic shop shelves and that’s a worthy change.
Miller’s fragmented visual storytelling remains, with dynamic framing and satiric news commentary flavouring the reader’s experience. Amusingly and surprisingly, he’s also introduced a wonderful new comic book storytelling technique by including a mini-comic within the main comic. The Atom’s subplot in this tale will clearly be vitally important, yet disconnected from the main arc. So to tell it, Miller will be writing a second mini-comic pasted in the middle of every issue. It’s also penciled by him to provide a blast of Miller artwork within the glossy main story. That’s a clever concept that works rather well, proving that the old man still has some comic book ingenuity up his sleeve. Plus let’s face it, the cost and work required to print this second mini-comic would be prohibitive in most DC publications. Because this is Dark Knight III, the publisher is willing to take wild and expensive risks. It’s exciting to see the old man pushing DC into fresh areas.
It’s impossible to judge any comic book from a single issue. Who knows where The Master Race will go or how it will turn out. However, There’s no denying that this thing is off to a fascinating start. It’s clear that Miller has a unique angle that will take his overall Dark Knight arc to new and unexpected realms. He’s already taken some big risks and delivered some big twists in only a handful of pages. It’s also wonderful to see that DC are treating the publication of each issue like an event, making beautiful and unconventional issues. Hopefully this thing will only get better from here. Certainly The Dark Knight Strikes Again improved with every issue (no matter how long the delays). It’s always nice when a massively hyped pop culture event doesn’t disappoint and this one was certainly as special and epic as advertised. Thank God Miller is back. Even with the wonderful work that Scott Snyder has provided Batman over the last few years, there really only is one Frank Miller (for better or worse). No one writes Batman like him and now that Miller himself is as old and cynical as the Batman he created in 1986, the tale should take on a deeper personal resonance. I can’t wait to read the inevitably insane journey that you’re taking me on, Frank. Welcome back.
At this point it’s difficult to remember what a pleasant surprise it was to play Batman: Arkham Asylum back in 2009. After years of disappointing and lazily tossed-off superhero games, here was one that didn’t just get the source material right, but was also a genuinely brilliant game in its own right. Arkham City satisfyingly expanded on the model, Arkham Origins was a thing, and now we have the grand, next-gen finale in Arkham Knight. It is quite simply the Batman game that anyone who obsesses over the caped crusader always dreamed would exist. The open-world Gotham City is absolutely beautiful, the story is compelling, the mythology is treated with reverence while also filled with risks, and the batmobile…god damn. For anyone who has a special place in their heart for the most psychologically damaged of all superheroes, it’s hard not to feel waves of respect and gratitude while rollicking through the game. Sure, there are flaws (mostly the same flaws shared by the rest of the series), but the developers got so much right that it’s hard to complain about anything that went wrong. So, the game takes place in the worst and longest night of Batman’s life (boy, that poor guy has a lot of those, doesn’t he?). Scarecrow has developed a new fear toxin that kills off a few city blocks through random acts of violence when he takes it for a test drive and then he announces plans to cover the entire city with it. Obviously, mass panic ensues and anyone in Gotham who is even kind of a nice person skips town. That means that the city is completely in the hands of the criminal element and as usual, only that Batman guy can set things right. This time, though, he’s got the Batmobile, which should help. Unfortunately, in addition to Two Face, The Penguin, The Riddler and the rest of the usual cast of colourful scumbags causing a ruckus in the commotion, a new villain appears known as The Arkham Knight, who seems to have all of old Batty’s skills and fashion sense, but lacks his interest in justice and disinterest in murder. So there’s another mystery Bats will have to solve, and to make matters worse, he also gets infected with a touch o’ the fear gas at the start of the night, meaning that hallucinations pop up on the regular and an old friend thought long-gone starts to natter in his ear about all sorts of insanity. Yep, it’s going to be a long night, so buckle up.
In general, Rocksteady have taken the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to this game. It feels pretty much exactly like the previous entries in this series only with an increased scale, a new narrative, and some other accoutrements. Gotham is finally playable in all of it’s glory and is absolutely astounding to simply glide or drive though. The rain soaked and bleak design feels very much like the non-period specific gothic lightshow of Tim Burton’s Batman universe and the city has been crafted down to minute details even if you’ll usually be flying past those tiny details on the prowl. The combat is just as comfortably thrilling as always, with Rocksteady increasing the speed and ease of the design to make it even more simple, addictive, and powerful. The design team really struck gold with their fight dynamics back in 2009 and haven’t done anything to muck it up, only adding to the fist-smashing joy with some great new additions like a team-up fight dynamic that brings Nightwing, Robin, and Catwoman into the fold for some satisfyingly ridiculous rounds of fisticuffs. The Batmobile is, of course, the biggest new addition and it doesn’t disappoint. When flying through the city at full speed, it climbs up walls and smashes through cement like a bat out of hell with silky smooth controls. In battle mode, it essentially transforms into a tank with machine guns and rocket launchers, which feels a bit weird at first, given Batman’s strict no-gun policy, yet is such a blast to play that it’s hard to complain. The Rocksteady folks clearly fell in love with the Batmobile as well and the biggest drag is that they perhaps use it a bit too much during the adventure, forcing players through a vast number of tank battles that border on tedious by the end. The writers dig into all of the usual big Batman themes like the weight of a Bruce’s responsibility, the parallels between the hero and his villains, the danger that inevitably befalls his friends and family, and the inescapably tragic ending that his story must have, given it’s tragic beginning. Sometimes the story beats can feel a little inelegant and obvious for longtime fans (in particular, it doesn’t take too much brainpower to solve the Arkham Knight’s identity once you realize that he’s another character with a new name), but Batman narratives are about perpetuating myths rather than reinventing them and the Rocksteady team have found some wonderful twists on old tropes to explore. In particular, tainting Batman with hallucinogenic fear gas early on was an inspired choice that allows the story to go anywhere, revive characters at-will, stage obscene shock moments never intended to be real, and openly delve into the hero’s twisted psyche in visually compelling ways. What makes the main storyline especially satisfying is that the designers use the hallucination dynamic to build a surreal finale driven by narrative sensation and perverted psychology over the usual ho-hum final boss battle that qualifies as one of the most unique climaxes to a game that I have ever experienced.
The main narrative is so strong that all of the wonderfully designed side quests and online additions can’t help but feel like superfluous add-ons. Don’t’ get me wrong, pretty well everything in Arkham Knight is fun and it’s easy to kill hours living out all of your embedded Batman fantasies through this gorgeous Gotham sandbox. It’s just that the game has been designed to tell a great Batman story and that’s the undeniable highlight. It was a bold move in a franchise-driven medium for Rocksteady to design this title as a concluding chapter for their series, and even though they left room for the world to continue, I hope that they stick to their guns. Taken as a trilogy, the Arkham series isn’t just the greatest superhero video game series ever mounted, but one of the greatest interpretations of the Batman mythos in any medium. It’s clear that everyone involved with these games truly loved and respected this universe and delivered to fans something that will be tough to top. Arkham Knight is a more than worthy climactic chapter to a great Batman tale, one that delivers a satisfyingly epic finale to the Dark Knight’s story that even Christopher Nolan couldn’t quite nail. Well played.
Look for Phil’s extended review in the June 2015 issue of CGM.
With Zack Snyder’s Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice already getting a heavy push through the hype machine two years before release, DC Comics has unsurprisingly decided to reissue the first half of Jeph Loeb’s beloved Superman/Batman run that first hit shelves a full decade ago. It’s easy to see why. Loeb was a master at both characters having penned the Bat-masterpiece The Long Halloween (which Chris Nolan frequently named dropped as the primary influence on his Dark Knight trilogy) and the deeply moving Superman For All Seasons. While both of those books delved deep into the psychology and lasting appeal of their iconic characters, his Superman/Batman run was more of a glorious romp. Fair enough, superhero team-up books aren’t generally known for being the artistic peak of the comic medium. They’re more about pure balls out entertainment and lifelong comic fan Loeb knows a thing or two about delivering that (see Batman: Hush). This book collects the first 13 issues of the series, comprised of two major arcs and a one off issue, and it feels like a buttery comic book movie blockbuster ready to go before cameras. Sadly, the chances of Zack Snyder turning these stories into a glorious blockbuster are about as lightly as him not using a dark color palate or slow motion action in the movie, but at least the stories are now available in a definitive edition.
The first six-issue arc in the book is by far the best. Titled Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, it’s a glorious action fiesta that pits the two iconic heroes against most of the DC universe. The story takes place during that weird period of DC history when Lex Luthor was the president of the United States. Luthor and his crop of scientists spot a gigantic Kryptonite meteor (leftover from the explosion of Krypton, natch) hurtling towards earth. Since Luthor hates that Superman guy, he puts a massive bounty on Supes’ head for anyone willing to bring the hero to the White House for questioning. Luckily, Batman just happens to be with Superman at the time and decides to help his old buddy out of a jam. They decide to head to Washington to figure out what’s what and have to fight a series of DC villains and heroes along the way.
It’s a simple story that Loeb crafts as an action packed blockbuster. Few writers in the comic book medium write with the same intense narrative drive of Loeb when he’s on his game. Like his Bat-masterpiece Hush, the action for Public Enemies kicks off immediately and doesn’t let up until the final issue. Each panel drives the story forward dramatically and every issue ends with an insane cliffhanger that somehow tops the last. Sure, it’s a bit loopy (Luthor’s kryptonite/venom cocktail pretty silly), but it’s also undeniably an incredibly exciting bit of superhero daring-do filled with just enough characterization, tragedy, and drama to feel like more than empty calories. The best aspect of the run (and this comic book series as a whole) is the way that Loeb frames the story through the dual narration of Batman and Superman. The text boxes are colour-coded for each character, but honestly, you’d never question who is speaking without that visual aid. Loeb understands the fundamental differences and similarities between DC’s two flagship characters with a depth and clarity that few other writers possess. It’s endlessly entertaining and enlightening to read how Loeb relates the two drastically different heroes varying perspectives in every situation flung their way. For fans of the characters, it’s like comic book crack. There’s no high quite like a great Batman/Superman crossover and you can never get enough.
Public Enemies might be the masterpiece of this trade paperback, but the other seven issues are hardly a waste of time. The single issue narrative plopped in the middle of the collection follows an adventure with Robin and Superboy that offers a similar compare-and-contrast study of their personalities. Neither sidekick is as compelling as their boss, so it’s not as rich of story, but it’s only a single issue, so it gets the job done. The second half of the book might be told once again from Supes and Bats’ perspectives, but it’s actually a backdoor Supergirl origin story from Loeb that reintroduced the character into DC continuity following her death in Crisis On Infinite Earths. A naked Kryptonian falls from the sky following the events of Public Enemies and Superman quickly works out that she is his cousin. From there, Superman becomes an oddly protective father with Batman desperately whispering in his ear about the potential danger. Wonder Woman shows up demanding that the girl head to Themyscira in an amusing twist and it all wraps up in a nasty brawl with Darkseid. Batman takes the role of a conscience in this story, and Loeb uses it as a means to explore Superman’s endlessly optimistic and trusting nature as a weakness. He also manages to revive Supergirl without a whiff of silliness, which is not at all easy for that character. Overall, the second arc is a slight step down from Public Enemies, yet still pure fun from a master comics conductor.
Superman/Batman Vol 1 is as gorgeously printed as we’ve come to expect from a trade paperback and though there aren’t any extras in this repackaging, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Aside from some sketches or Loeb writing yet another essay about loving these characters, there’s not really that much to say. Though this book offers big heaping piles of entertainment, it’s not exactly a deep bit of work. This is bright colorful fun, a collection of masterfully constructed action storytelling written with compassion and understanding for the central iconic characters. Sure, Loeb sprinkles in a little commentary about the perils of government control, but for the most part it’s a crossover romp that offers the same pleasures of Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie. That’s ultimately the appeal of the Superman/Batman relationship, the grittiness of Batman’s world and the mythology of Superman’s world meet in the pulpy middle. A great crossover between the two characters like this or Bruce Timm’s World’s Finest plays as light as a feather even with high drama. It would be nice to live in a world where we could all count on the blockbuster movie that will finally unite the characters on the big screen following a similar path. Sadly, it’s safe to say that with Zack “murderous sad sack Superman” Snyder in charge, that won’t be happening. Let’s just hope that the inevitable reboot comes soon.
DC Comics has announced what will be happening to Dick Grayson after the events of Forever Evil. He’s going to become a super-spy.
The new title will be called Grayson and will have Dick working for the spy agency Spyral. Batman Incorporated fans will recognize Spyral as the organization of Dr. Dedalus, a master Nazi criminal. After his death his daughter Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman took over the organization and turned it into a spy agency.
The cover to Grayson #1. Art by Mikel Janin.
After the events of Forever Evil where his identity is revealed to the world, and the announcement of Nightwing’s cancelation in January, fans have been speculating that Dick Grayson will be killed.
The title will be written by Tim Seeley and Tom King who is a former CIA counterterrorism operations officer. The art will be done by Mikel Janin who is the original artist for Justice League Dark.
The first issue of Grayson will be released July 2nd, and the final issue of Nightwing will be out later this month.
After seven years of brilliantly mind-bending work on the caped crusader, this fall marked the end of Grant Morrison’s Batman run. It was a stunning, trippy journey that I’ve written about in detail on this site before. However, the final piece of the DC’s Batman/Grant Morrison legacy was just released in this last Batman Incorporated trade paperback, collecting the final seven issues of Morrison’s run along with a two non-Morrison issues wrapping up the series (well, it’ll be the end until DC releases the inevitable back breaking Grant Morrison Batman Omnibus anyways). It’s a curious trade to read in isolation as it thrusts viewers into the middle of a climax 7 years in the making and would be damn near impossible for any first time reader to pick up and read with any reaction beyond intense confusion. But let’s face it, this release is for fans, and it was one hell of a satisfying finale to one of the strangest and most epic Batman stories ever told.
Summarizing the plot of everything that came before this finale would be pointless. So, I’m not even going to try, and a full-on SPOILER WARNING (all caps) is in effect. Our story kicks off at the inevitable low point before Batman’s final triumphant victory. Talia Al Ghul has finally revealed herself to be the head of Leviathan and has effectively defeated Batman and his international team of Batmen in one swift attack. All that’s left is the final push. First with the harsh, yet inevitable death of the loathed and loved Damien Wayne, then with Batman’s triumphant manbat juice enhanced final assault and Morrison’s final statement on the character. It’s an emotionally intense and action packed ride weaved together as only Morrison can. All the threads dangling in his epic narrative come to a conclusion, and in the end Morrison happily hands the legendary superhero off to Scott Snyder and others to use as they wish.
Some folks were let down by this ending to Morrison’s Bat-epic, and it’s easy to see why. Morrison has never been an author fond of spoon-feeding his audience, nor does he tend to conform to current comic book trends. Though the tale is as dark and shadowy as any Gotham City adventure should be, it’s also an acid trip fantasy that reclaims the strangest forgotten aspects of Batman’s career. The goal of Morrison’s run was to incorporate everything from Batman’s long comic book history into a single story. Over the course of seven years, Morrison created a tale that presented a Batman who could have started in Frank Miller’s Year One, but also engaged in all the weirdo science fiction stories of the 50s and the giant prop pop art adventures of the Adam West era. The guy even found a psychologically compelling use of Bat-Mite for Gods sakes! By the time Batman Incorporated came along, the title had a double meaning. Not only did it refer to the name of Batman’s international crime-fighting campaign, but also the nature of the character who was at this point in the story a compilation of every Batman ever created.
So, this narrative is dark and twisted, but also surreal and goofy. Humor, adventure, dread, and despair mix to form a unique Bat-cocktail of Morrison’s making. Aided immeasurably by the exaggerated yet gritty art style of Chris Burnham, it’s a Bat-book that looks like no other. Had Morrison delivered this style of story at the start of his Bat-tenure, it would have felt bizarre and out of place. Coming at the end, it feels somewhat perfect and a fond farewell. The death of Damien is of course a stunning and disturbing moment that echoes the death of Jason Todd’s death in the same way that Morrison echoed countless events in Batman’s past throughout his run. It’s the emotional peak of this collection, followed by an action-centric assault on Talia that wraps up all the narrative loose ends and a glorious final issue that offers Morrison’s final statement on everyone’s favorite rodent-loving vigilante. In the end, comics scholar Grant Morrison didn’t deliver a grandiose statement on the nature of Batman like no one had seen before, but instead dedicated his final issue to the ephemeral and legendary nature of the character. His final statement was essentially that there is no final statement to be made. Batman is bigger than any single writer. He is a cultural icon that will continue as long as comic books exist and is all the more powerful for it. Some readers found this ending disappointing and I can see why. However, it’s ultimately the only possible ending for Morrison’s ultimate Batman tale. His point from the start was to incorporate all of Batman’s history into a single story, and so it’s only fitting that he end it all with a passing of the torch (including a couple direct references to Scott Snyder’s current Zero Year run) so that his tale can include all future iterations of Batman as well. It’s simple, yet complex and all Morrison.
The trade also includes two additional Batman Incorporated issues. One about the Japanese Batman written by artist Chris Burnham to give him more time to draw the final issues, and the Batman Incorporated annual featuring short stories dedicated to all the Batman-style side characters Morrison created (yes, including Bat-Cow… and it’s the best story of the bunch). Ultimately, these stories are afterthoughts that prove there’s no need for the characters’ adventures to continue without the guiding hand of Morrison. The author created all the international Batmen as thought experiments to explore aspects of Batman as part of his overall examination of the superhero. The characters were never meant to stand on their own, and while there is certainly fun to be had in these side stories, they ultimately prove that DC made the right decision to cancel the series after Morrison’s departure. It’s nice that these issues were included for the sake comic book completists (of which there are many). However, you’ll buy this book to wrap up Morrison’s overall Batman narrative, not out of Batman Inc fandom. It’s certainly a must-own for any true Bat- aficionado, but only those who have read and/or collected Morrison’s complete run up to this point. If you haven’t sampled Morrison’s Batman run yet, I can’t recommend it enough, and I’m deeply jealous that you get to experience it for the first time. For me, the journey is officially over. Sniff, Sniff… it’s tough. Morrison, we’ll miss you in the Batcave, but look forward to whatever mind-bending comic book adventures you plan to take us on next.
Ever since he took over Batman at the start of the New 52, Scott Snyder has been putting on a Batman master class. He didn’t come out of nowhere for the run, having previously delivered the finest non-Grant Morrison-Dick Grayson-Batman story in Black Mirror (not to mention his brilliant and award-winning American Vampire series for Vertigo). However, his modern classic Batman launch series Court Of Owls announced, in no uncertain terms, that there was a new master in the batcave and that our beloved caped crusader was in good hands for the New 52. When it was revealed that Snyder would be delivering his take on the Joker after finishing his Owls run, fans were drooling in anticipation. After all, Joker had been missing from Bat-books for a year at that point, and the character was also missing his face. Thankfully, Snyder delivered. The Death Of The Family cross-franchise event might have been hit-and-miss in a way that diluted its overall impact (see last week’s review of the Joker: Death Of The Family collection for more), but now, in an isolated trade paperback, it’s clear that Snyder’s arc is one of the finest Joker stories ever conceived. I know that sounds a bit ridiculous given that it’s not even a year old, but honestly Snyder’s vicious little story is just that good.
The tale opens on one of those ominously dark n’ rainy nights where only bad things can happen. Commissioner Gordon even comments on that cliché in the opening monologue… and then all his worst fears come true. The Joker suddenly arrives at the Gotham Central, tells a few bad jokes, kills a few good cops, and leaves with his discarded face. Now sporting a clown-flavored Leatherface ensemble, Joker then starts reenacting some of his earliest crimes. Harley pops up at Ace Chemical wearing the old red hood costume claiming that her puddin’ has changed. The Gotham reservoir once again seems in danger. Then things get personal. Alfred is kidnapped. In pursuit, Batman suddenly runs into Joker on a bridge where he claims that he’s tired of the old games and has something a little more personal planned for Batman this time. He announces on a police radio that the whole Bat-family can hear that he knows every single masked avenger’s true identity, and he plans to come after them all. He does it and saves the best for last and for Batman. Reenacting another Bat-classic, he invites Batman to join him for a private party in Arkham Asylum. You see, the Joker has turned the place into a psychotic theme park dedicated to the relationship between himself and the Caped Crusader. He wants to show Batman how much he loves him and how the Joker and the rest of the rogues gallery of Bat-villains are the Bat’s real family. They make Batman stronger while Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl and the rest just make him weak. The plot is the Joker’s love letter to Batman and his punchline? Well, it’s in the title.
Batman and The Joker are of course the greatest and most popular hero/villain team in comics. Their relationship and duality has been explored so many times and in so many ways by so many great writers, artists, and filmmakers, that it can feel like there’s no more marrow to be sucked from those bones. At least, that’s how it feels until a book like Death Of The Family comes along. The Joker was booted out of the comics for a year not because the fans stopped loving him, but because it was difficult to find things to do with the character, particularly after Heath Ledger’s searing performance in The Dark Knight finally introduced the Joker known only to comic book fans to the masses. With Death Of The Family, DC and Snyder delivered a Joker story that could never be on film, if only because it would be rated a hard R. Snyder came into superhero comics after making a name for himself in horror comics. While plenty of other Bat-tales of the past have taken advantage of the franchise’s gothic potential, Snyder was one of the first writers to bring out the horror elements of Gotham City to their full potential.
He did it first in Court Of Owls and really does it to the Joker here. The central facemask image is nauseatingly terrifying, instantly replacing any of the character’s camp with full frontal monster movie psychosis. Backed by former Spawn artist Greg Capullo’s stunning visuals, Death Of The Family and its Joker are absolutely terrifying. The rotting facemask is sickening from the start (the way Capullo gradually charts the facemask’s fly-attracting decomposition over the run is gag inducing). Panels are laid out in classic film editing suspense structures that deliver big jolts. Then there’s the Joker’s plot, which involves a live flaming horse, the worst family dinner since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and a living portrait of Batman/Joker adventures painted onto a canvas of prisoners connected by their smiles, limbs, and innards like a human centipede. This is the type of material that could never be in a Batman movie or TV series. This is a story only the comics could tell and Snyder/Capullo revel in that freedom to create a Joker story straight out of Bruce Wayne’s nightmares. On a purely visceral level, it’s a presentation of the Joker that even makes The Killing Joke seem tame, and in an age when the most dominant image of the character in pop culture is the Heath Ledger/Chris Nolan version, it’s exactly what Batman comics needed to remain ahead of the curve.
Beyond the gore and stunning atmosphere, Snyder also crafted a viscous little tale that presents a new side of the Batman/Joker relationship. The story sees the Joker come to Batman out of love. That’s obviously a theme that’s been played in comics since Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, but Snyder has a unique take involving the Bat family. In his story, Joker claims that the sidekicks make Batman weak, but the villains make him strong. He goes so far as to even suggest that Batman always lets his villains live, not because of a moral code, but because he couldn’t live without them. At the same time, Batman is always willing to let his sidekicks face mortal danger because he secretly doesn’t love them. That’s a pretty twisted take on Batman that somehow no writer had ever touched on before and that Snyder was not only smart enough to acknowledge it, but steeped enough in Batlore to know that the Joker was the only character who would come up with the idea in Gotham. That theme gives Death Of The Family something that adds to the Bat-mythos and makes it more than simply a stunning crafted bit of horror Bat-fiction.
After Death Of The Family, it feels like the Joker has undergone yet another transformation that will flavor the character for years to come. Obviously, there’s the whole “missing face” thing that will play into continuity for at least one more storyline, but more than that, the Joker has now gone to a new level of perversion, psychosis, obsession, and love that writers have to build on from here. The story, art, and ideas hit as hard as any classic Joker yarn, and I’m confident that within a few years it won’t be possible to compile a list of The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told without including Snyder’s effort. It’s also arguably the tightest and most successful Batman story that Snyder has written to date. Court Of Owls petered out a bit towards they end thanks to an overambitious tie-in climax and a questionable plot twist. Black Mirror was great but as a Dick Grayson/Batman story, it’ll always be a second-run arc. Death Of The Family is exciting to read issue-by-issue, fascinating to examine as a collected work, and features some of the finest and most unsettling art Gregg Capullo has ever created.
Death Of The Family is a little Batman masterpiece, and it only makes sense that Snyder’s finest Batman story would be a Joker tale. After all, a hero is only as strong as his villain, and there’s a case to be made that the Joker is the most fascinating and iconic villain in pop culture. Thank God Snyder will be on Batman for the foreseeable future because he only seems to be getting better at writing this universe and diving deeper in his examination of the mythology with every arc. He’s even promised one more Joker storyline before he leaves Gotham behind. He’s said that Death Of The Family was his Joker story rooted in a love for Batman. The follow up will see the Joker driven by hate. Given how terrifying the love story was, I’m almost scared to read the next one. Obviously, I will though. As good at Snyder is at writing Batman, he’s even better at feeding the Joker’s madness.
Notes on the trade: The brass at DC are clearly as gushy about Death Of The Family as I am and delivered a gorgeous hardcover collection. Capullo’s art has never looked better than on these glossy pages, filled with nightmarish details a monthly printing just can’t provide. The cover is also wonderful. A clear plastic slip over has the Joker’s skin mask as was featured on the first issue of every Death Of The Family arc. However, when you pull the face back on the trade you won’t see a Bat family member underneath, but the Joker’s skinless, scarred face stuck in a rictus grin. It’s a pretty grisly drawing from Capullo and one hell of a cover. It should also be noted that Snyder has actually changed some dialogue from the original printings for the trade. It’s only a few scenes and mostly in the final issue, but hard to miss if you’re looking for it. Essentially, Snyder rewrote some dialogue to make the Joker’s message and the theme of the book more obvious. The new material does clear up some ambiguities, and it reads better as a standalone story as a result. Yet a few pointed exchanges between Bats and the clown are missing from the original printing that I wish were included here somewhere (particularly when Batman maliciously calls his foe “darling”). However, it is an overall improvement and Snyder was right to do it. It just means that completists might want to hang on to their original issues rather than selling them off for the trade.
After disappearing for a year and leaving his tattered face on the wall of Arkham Asylum as a goodbye present, the Joker finally returned to Gotham in 2012. Since he’s not just the greatest villain of that franchise but of comic books as a whole, DC decided to make a whole event out of it. For a huge junk of last year, The Joker went after the entire Bat Family in a massive crossover event masterminded by current Bat-guru Scott Snyder. While Snyder’s story was a new masterpiece (see my review of the upcoming Batman: Death Of The Family trade next week for more), the crossover event was a bit of a mixed bag. It’s always nice to see the Joker step up to the forefront, but Snyder’s tale was fairly self-contained and the Joker’s attacks on Batman’s gallery of sidekicks felt incidental to the central narrative. The house writers of each bat book essentially got a chance to weave their own Joker story that loosely tied into Snyder’s. As you’d expect, the results were hit and miss. None of the spin offs lived up to the main story, and as a result the event was considered a minor letdown overall. However, looking at all the Death Of The Family tales again in DC’s gorgeous new trade paperback, it’s clear this event was far from a failure. There were a number of wonderful stories as well as the clunkers. The best approach is probably to look at them all separately since that’s how they were written.
Detective Comics 15-16 Rating: 73
Writer: John Layman
Artists: Jason Fabok and Andy Clark
With Snyder weaving a new classic Joker tale in the issues of Batman, it seemed pointless for John Layman and his Detective Comics team to do the same. So instead they came up with a clever side-story. Detective Comics 15 and 16 instead focused on the effects Joker’s return had on the criminals and citizens of Gotham. Taking a brief break from their ongoing storyline, these issues see gangs painting their faces like clowns to celebrate the Joker’s return as well as a look at how treating the Joker turned an Arkham doctor insane. It’s a clever little story and boasts some nice artwork. Ultimately, though, it adds nothing to the Death Of The Family narrative as a whole. You kind of have to take this story on its own terms, and it is certainly an interesting examination of the Joker’s relationship to Gotham. It just feels like a concept forced into the Detective issues to fill out the event, and it’s not particularly essential to the overall event.
Catwoman 13-14 Rating: 55
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artist: Rafa Sandoval
From there, the trade moves on to easily the worst arc in the entire event. In a move that feels more like Silver Age Joker silliness than the psychopath at the center of Death Of The Family, the Joker challenges Catwoman to a citywide game of chess. The story is just as silly as it sounds and was clearly created simply so that all Batman-connected titles featured the Joker. The weird thing is that in Snyder’s tale other Batman rogue villains were central and Catwoman easily could have been a part of it. Instead, Ann Nocenti eventually meanders to a finale in which Catwoman declares she has no real loyalty to Batman and is not part of his family. So… probably no need to even write this story in the first place then, right? You may as well skip over this chapter in the trade. There’s little of interest here.
Suicide Squad 14-15 Rating: 77
Writer: Adam Glass
Artist: Fernando Dagnino
Finally, three stories into this trade we get to a tale that actually connects to the Death Of The Family arc. Harley Quinn played a small role in Scott Snyder’s narrative and even got her own back-of-issue B-story (which is included as well). Adam Glass expands on that here with a vengeful Joker coming after Harley for her decision to fight for good as part of the Suicide Squad and to take up a new lover without a speckle of clown make-up on his face. The Harley/Joker relationship is of course one of the great twisted love stories in comics, so it’s always nice to see a new chapter. Glass even adds a few intriguing twists their relationship like the Joker’s claims that she is but one of a series of Harleys that he’s had throughout his life. Harley gets some wonderful moments here that continues her redefining arc as part of the Suicide Squad. It’s an interesting tale with some wonderful art from Fernando Danino. Sadly, the whole thing is dragged down by useless side-plots involving the rest of The Suicide Squad and an irritating twist ending, neither of which have much to do with the central Harley tale and seem to be there purely to try and coax new readers into continuing the series after picking up these issues as part of the Death Of The Family arc (a good decision for business, but a bad one for storytelling).
Batgirl 13-16 Rating: 92
Writer: Gale Simone
Artist: Ed Benes, Vincente Cifuentes
Gale Simone’s Batgirl Joker arc is so good, it justifies the entire crossover event as a whole. It makes sense too. After all, Simone helped transform Batgirl into one of the finest DC books currently on stands and the character has a bit of a history with the Joker thanks to that whole Killing Joke fiasco. The Joker’s return obviously shakes Barbara deeply, and that only worsens when the clown prince of crime makes kidnaps her mother. Why you ask? Well, the Joker is hoping that Barbara will marry him to set the mother free. It’s a sick and twisted little plot that could only come out of this iconic villain’s brain and Simone nails his psychotic voice perfectly. The way Barbara finds the courage to fight back is oddly moving, and the Joker’s plan is suitably sick, even bringing in a fan favorite Gordon family member who Snyder famously reworked in his first Batman arc. Simone’s Joker tale is so strong that it would have been a wonderful run on its own divorced of this series and features some of the more disgusting art of the Joker’s new skin mask in the entire trade paperback. The collection is worth picking up for this story alone (which is probably why it also got its own solo release)
Nightwing 15-16 Rating: 87
Writer: Kyle Higgins
Artist: Eddy Barrows
Kyle Higgins’ Death Of The Family story is just downright harsh. This is by far the most vicious of the tie-in tales and the one with the highest body count. Without getting into spoiler territory, major characters in Higgins’ Nightwing mythology die in the midst of a Joker plot so elaborate, it’s remarkable that even a master criminal like him could have pulled it off in addition to all the other crazy tales in this event. Higgins has a strong grasp of what makes the Joker so frightening, and his unapologetically nasty tale feels very much in line with Snyder’s version of the character. If all the Death Of The Family side stories had been this strong, the whole event would have been a major success. That didn’t happen, but at least there are a couple of great Joker stories in this trade. A deliciously dark tale well worth a read.
Red Hood and The Outlaws 15-16 and Teen Titans 15-16 Rating: 66
Writers: Scott Lobdel and Fabian Nicieza
Here’s a weird one: a crossover within a crossover. For whatever reason, the Teen Titans and Red Hood and The Outlaws teams decided to combine their Death Of The Family narratives together. The central premise isn’t bad: The Joker kidnaps the two former Robins together and forces them to fight each other. The execution, on the other hand, is muddled. With the Joker also having to deal with each former Robin’s new crimefighting team, there are just too many characters that the writers struggle to spin at once and in the end this mini-arc feels overstuffed and confusing. Combining the two former Robins and current team leaders was a clever idea, but it also sadly robs the Red Hood writers the chance to write a story drawing deeply on the Death In The Family series in the same way that Gale Simone echoed The Killing Joke in Batgirl. Still, the story has its moments and at least it’s not a complete waste of time like the Catwoman storyline. So that’s something.
Batman And Robin 15-16 Rating: 85
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Patrick Gleason
One of the most underrated runs in the New 52 Batman line has been Peter J. Tomasi’s excellent Batman And Robin series. So it should come as no surprise that he does his Death Of The Family tie-in justice. The story is fairly simple. Robin sets out to find Alfred and ends up kidnapped by the Joker in a zoo where the clown prince of crime enjoys doling out some physical torture and psychological torment. It’s a creepy little tale that feels like part of Snyder’s overall arc rather than a separate Joker story that the writer wanted to tell that got folded into the event like so many other stories in this collection. Patrick Gleason’s art also deserves special mention, it’s a nightmarishly dark vision that features some of the most terrifying images of the Joker in the entire event (particularly when he taunts Robin with his face on upside down and his tongue poking through the eye holes…. eck!). This is what the entire event should have felt like.
In addition to compiling all of the above storylines, DC included the final issue of Snyder’s Death Of The Family storyline and Batman And Robin 17 as an epilogue. It’s a bit weird that the entire Snyder storyline wasn’t included to make this a definitive collection, but I suppose less books would be sold that way. The final issue is the most appropriate to include since it pays off the cliffhanger at the end of all other Death Of The Family stories and ties together Joker’s ultimate plot involving the Bat Family. It’s weird that early scenes in Snyder’s run that brought the family together and set the story in motion weren’t included, but maybe the collection was getting too large already. Regardless, including this issue highlights the major problem of the event, which is that with few exceptions none of the Death Of The Family side stories had much to do with Snyder’s arc and made his final issue feel a bit anticlimactic because it was so specific to one story rather than the event as a whole. Regardless, Batman 17 was a great issue filled with disturbing revelations and eye-meltingly good art. The inclusion of Tomasi’ Batman And Robin 17 was a nice touch as well. It’s only very loosely connected to the event, but it’s a wonderful standalone issue showing what Batman, Robin, and Alfred dream about at night that should tickle fans and send readers of the collection out with a smile on their face (which is no easy task given all the Joker-flavored horror witnessed in the proceeding pages).
Overall, this is a big, pretty book that deserved to be released to honor DC’s big ol’ Joker event. The entire collection might have been brought down by some stinker storylines, but Joker fanatics will want to pick it up for the Batgirl, Nightwing, and Batman And Robin arcs alone. All of them were excellent Joker stories that probably would have been considered the best representations the character received in years, were it not for the fact that Scott Snyder was crafting one of the greatest Joker stories ever told at the same time (more on that next week). Joker: Death Of The Family is definitely worth picking up for fans of the character, but don’t judge the entire series on this collection alone. This is more of a companion piece to Snyder’s masterpiece and a nice collection of Joker tales for fans. It’s a shame the whole event couldn’t live up to the twistedly brilliant work being done at the center, but I suppose that was inevitable. Getting this many great Joker yarns at once and complaining that they aren’t all masterpieces may sound a bit greedy. But with the incredibly high standards that Snyder has set for Batman lately, that seems to be a problem that Bat fans are facing as they thumb through the new release rack every week.
Over a decade ago, while Chuck Dixon was writing the adventures of Dick Grayson as Nightwing, he went back to the beginning for the character, and penned a four-issue mini-series called Robin Year One with Scott Beatty, with each issue being 48 pages long.
Not long afterwards, Dixon and Beatty returned to roughly the same era, and told a slightly different origin story, with Batgirl Year One, telling the tale of Barbara’s first tentative adventures as Batgirl. Ever since DC Comics rebooted their continuity with the New 52, we’ve gotten some curious new trade paperbacks collecting pre-New 52 material, with this particular collection the latest addition to the back catalogue. On pure value alone, this volume is a fantastic deal, as you get the four-issue Robin Year One, which is like getting eight comics, as the issues are double-sized, plus you get the seven regular-sized issues of Batgirl Year One, for essentially 17 comics for just $28.99 CDN. It does make sense to combine these two mini-series into one volume, as they share the same writers, as well as the primary artist behind the books, as Marcos Martin handles the artwork with Javier Pulido on Robin, and then takes on the sole artistic chores for Batgirl. Both books have a similar sensibility, in large part because of Martin’s artwork, and take place in a time period that is very similar, so it’s a natural step on DC’s behalf to package these books together.
Although both mini-series had their respective strengths, it’s Batgirl which is far the more charming of the pair. Beatty/Dixon craft a timeless retelling of the origins of both Robin and Batgirl, although it should be said that in Robin’s case, we sidestep the actual origin of Robin, and instead are shown his partnership with Batman progressing, despite some rocky moments in the early goings on. My few issues with Robin’s mini-series include modifying his portrayal somewhat, so that at times it almost feels like we’re seeing elements of Jason Todd’s personality grafted onto Dick Grayson. That being said, I do like seeing Robin and Batman disagreeing and not quite gelling as a finely tuned team yet, and it does expose the natural difficulties the two individuals would encounter as they begin their partnership. In fact, at times when reading this mini-series I realized that there are some parallels with how Peter J. Tomasi wrote Damien Wayne in Batman & Robin, with both getting in over their heads with some particularly bad customers, during a temporary break in their partnership. The two mini-series also complement each other well, as through Robin, we see Batman first realizing the danger he’s put Robin into, before eventually making his peace with it when he realizes that Dick Grayson is a tough young man, and a fitting partner in the war on crime. This sentiment carries over to Batgirl, as Bruce is at first very reluctant to let Barbara operate as Batgirl, partially because of how he dealt with letting Robin in on the crime fighting game in the first place. Commissioner Gordon also plays important roles in both stories, as he questions the safety of a young boy joining Batman in his dangerous mission, and then does the same when a young woman similar to his daughter starts using the bat-symbol and takes the moniker Batgirl.
In case the stories weren’t as entertaining as they are, the artwork would be more than enough of a reason to pick up this collection. This is a young Marcos Martin at work, still developing and tweaking his style, and at times bearing similarities to Darwyn Cooke in all the right ways. Nowadays his artwork feels like it has descended from John Romita Sr. and Steve Ditko, but over a decade ago his style felt more like Darwyn Cooke, as he captures a certain timeless nature in his storytelling style. There’s a delightful innocence in the artwork, and it helps that he’s illustrating these young heroes in their formative adventures, back before the world of DC Comics became dark and cynical, long before Dick Grayson allowed Blockbuster to be murdered, without raising a finger to stop it from happening, and long before Barbara Gordon was shot, paralyzed and molested by the Joker. Before all of that stuff happened, to darken and make these characters more “realistic”, they were written with a sense of humour and fun, and it’s that era that these two mini-series makes you think of and remember fondly.
Both Batgirl and Robin Year One are heartfelt tales of innocence, of kinder, simpler days, when Robin and Batgirl tentatively took their first steps towards their long, colourful and adventurous careers in crime-fighting. Dixon, Beatty and Martin are at the top of their game in these stories, and by the end of Batgirl Year One, you’ll be ready to go back to the beginning and read these stories all over again, as they’re just that good. Highly Recommended!