Mister Freeze. Poison Ivy. Mad Hatter—three of Batman’s villains who hold a particular place in the Caped Crusader’s Rogues Gallery. Now, these criminals are not the Dark Knight’s top tier of villains in the rare air held by the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman or the Riddler. However, they are baddies that have entertained readers for decades. In All Star Batman: Ends of the Earth, writer Scott Snyder offers a story that showcases these terrific villains.
All Star Batman: Ends of the Earth begins in Alaska, some 300 miles from the Arctic Circle. There, Batman boots his way into Mister Freeze’s refinery. Batman has uncovered ancient bacteria that Freeze wishes to unleash on the world. Doing so will be a disaster beyond imagination. While the Caped Crusader punches his way through Freeze’s ruby-eyed minions, he can’t stop this horrible plan. Batman must travel across America and pull out all the stops to end this threat. This desperate travel takes him into combat with Poison Ivy, Mad Hatter and a certain A-list villain who is the mastermind behind the whole catastrophic event—but you’ll have to read the mini-series to find out.
All Star Batman: Ends of the Earth is a four-issue story arc (#6-9). Writer Scott Snyder again does a terrific job bringing his immense dialogue and explanations to a well-crafted story. Ends of the Earth is both entertaining and thought provoking—as is most of Snyder’s work. One of the best parts of Ends of the Earth is that the mini-series offers four different tales. While they all converge into one story by the end, each tale has a specific tone, feel, and villain. Perhaps the most fun and bizarre tale comes in issue #8 starring the Caped Crusader and the Mad Matter. Batman must fight off serious mind control from Mad Matter; some pretty potent stuff that takes him on a hallucinating wild ride underneath his cowl.
All Star Batman: Ends of the Earth is illustrated by Jock, Tula Lotay, and Giuseppi Camuncoli. Generally, this reviewer enjoys one artist’s work running through all issues in a series. Yet, with each story being mostly self-contained, it works to the benefit of the tale to have a distinct look to each issue. And bookending the first and last issue with Jock’s artwork is a nice touch. The artists bring a different tone to the story’s they are telling and all do a solid job.
There is an additional tale told in All Star Batman: Ends of the Earth, the conclusion to The Cursed Wheel written by Snyder and illustrated by Francesco Francavilla. The Cursed Wheel involves Batman, Duke, and the Riddler. Each tale is a short and mostly entertaining vignette, giving readers an extra story to work through. While the storyline has Batman in it, it’s essentially Duke’s arc. Which is decent, but never holds a candle to the main event: Ends of the Earth.
When horror comic specialist Scott Snyder and former Spawn artist Greg Capullo took over Batman in issue 1 of the New 52 relaunch, there was understandably a little concern amongst fans as to how the team would handle the caped crusader. After their brilliant introductory Court Of Owls arc, it was clear the icon was in good hands. As a follow-up, the duo took on The Joker and in Death Of The Family they delivered a horror movie take on the Joker/Batman relationship that was an instant classic in the annals of the endless battle between the dark knight and the clown prince of crime. Now, the duo have delivered their second Joker tale and it’s one designed to be a final battle between the most fascinating hero/villain pair in comics. Endgame is an ambitious epic of a graphic novel that feels like a worthy concluding chapter to the Joker’s endless game with Bats. Even though it doesn’t quite match Death Of The Family, and will inevitably not actually be the final Batman/Joker showdown, it’s a hell of a tale that any Bat-fan needs to experience.
Snyder conceived this second Joker tale as a direct follow-up to his first. Death Of The Family was his Joker’s sick n’ twisted love letter to Batman, an attempt by the maniacal clown to improve his beloved advisory by removing the perceived weakness of a fractured crime fighting family. In Endgame, the Joker returns with love replaced by hate. This time, the clown concedes that their relationship can never be what he wants, so he’s decided to finally launch his endgame that will destroy Batman once and for all. If he can’t have Batman, no one can, so the nihilist, anarchist, psychopath lives up to all of those titles. It’s just as wild, grandiose, and nightmarish of a plot as you’d hope from The Joker, especially when penned by the twisted genius of Snyder.
The tale kicks off with The Joker poisoning Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Superman and sic’ing them on Batman, forcing a massive superhero battle royale in Gotham with Batman in a big ol’ Justice-League-busting battlesuit (obviously that guy had a plan to deal with the League on just such an occasion). In any other Batman tale, that might be The Joker’s entire plan, but in this one, it’s only the celebratory kick-off. From there, The Joker unleashes a new and incurable Joker toxin on Gotham that transforms the entire city into a psychotic mob of smiling clowns determined to destroy Batman and the clown even chops of dear old Alfred’s right hand for good measure. The symbolism of those devastating attacks isn’t lost on Bats or the readers.
From there, Batman and his few surviving buddies frantically attempt to find a cure to the new toxin, but discover only evidence that the Joker might in fact be an immortal figure of evil who has haunted Gotham from the very beginning. Or maybe it’s all planted evidence to increase Batman’s nightmare. It’s unclear. What is clear is that The Joker is going for broke, blowing up the entire world he shares with Bats as a fond farewell that can only end one way and shockingly does. As a final Batman/Joker story, it’s a pretty brilliant one. Snyder has proven from the beginning of his Batman tenure that he loves this world and these characters thoroughly. He understands the implications and burden of crafting a grand finale for these icons and doesn’t buckle under the pressure. His tale is loaded with symbolic and dramatic importance. It’s terrifying and on-point in its fatalism and finality. The scope is grand and the content worthy.
Admittedly, Endgame’s script sags slightly in the middle as Snyder struggles to explain a potential supernatural Joker origin that’s likely just a red herring anyway. Still, a couple stumbles in this book are forgivable given the ultimate achievement. Endgame reads like an R-rated blockbuster Batman/Joker finale that could never exist outside of a comic book page. It’s loaded with such sick images, twists, and ideas to make any Batman die-hard foam at the mouth. The fact that DC allowed Snyder to end the story the way that he did is impressive. It’s a shame that the nature of the comic book industry won’t allow this ending to stick because it would have been a hell of a send-off. In fact, it would have been a good note for Snyder to end his Batman tenure on, and it’s surprising that he didn’t take that opportunity (even though selfishly, I’m glad he’s sticking around).
Capullo matches Snyder beat for beat in this Batman/Joker epic. His grotesquely detailed, yet beautiful artwork has never been better. Snyder gives Capullo a full gamut of DC and Batman icons and he delivers a definitive version of them all. Together they craft some genuinely horrifying set pieces from small scares involving Joker rising up unexpectedly and/or from the dead to the massive terrifying site of a Gotham City full of rampaging Joker zombies. It’s a stunningly drawn book culminating in a final fight between Batman and The Joker that might be the best to ever grace a comic book page (certainly the final image of the foes together is an absolute stunner). Particularly when compiled into this graphic novel collection, Endgame is a feast for the eyeballs and a pleasure to consume.
The publication itself lives up to the usual DC standards, featuring a hardbound cover with gorgeously glossy pages and a collection of cover art and sketches in the back for the fanboys (sadly the Joker B-story written by James Tynion that was published alongside Endgame in every issue is absent, which is a shame because it was excellent.) For Batman obsessives, there’s no denying that the book is a must own. Sure, it might not quite match the masterpiece status of Death Of The Family, but it comes damn close and admirably tackles this iconic hero/villain relationship in a different and fresh way. Snyder/Capullo clearly designed this book to be an event and not merely another story arc. They lived up to their goals and if you have even a passing fascination with the Batman/Joker relationship, Endgame combined with Death Of The Family are must reads. Snyder and Capullo have clearly made their mark on Batman and are now destined to be a part of the official Bat canon for as long as the character lives (and despite the team’s best intentions in these pages, good ol’ Bats will undoubtedly outlive us all).
If you’re a fan of comics, then you’ve got to love when an all-star writer/artist pairing comes together. In celebration of good ol’ Superman’s 75
anniversary, DC pulled one of these creator events together with Superman Unchained. Legendary artist Jim Lee and dark hearted superstar writer Scott Snyder decided to join forces for a big ol’ Superman epic. The resulting book was published slowly (as is the Jim Lee way) and featured more than a few fake outs (as is the Scott Snyder way), but eventually congealed into a Superman blockbuster. Consumed as a single story in trade format, this massive action n’ idea packed tale feels like the great dark Superman blockbuster that everyone was hyped up for Man Of Steel to be. It’s clever and wild and eye-popping and head-spinning and above all else deliriously entertaining. Is it the new definitive Superman tale? Nope, that honor still belongs to Grant Morrison’s beautiful All-Star Superman. But, Superman Unchained is still a wild ride that any comic book fan needs to take and probably the current highlight of Supes’ adventures in the New 52. And I say all that as someone who doesn’t even particularly love Superman.
The plot is complex in its misdirects and structure, but Superman is pretty simple character and the book never stretches beyond Supes’ limited parameters. It all starts with satellites plummeting to Earth with only Superman to stop them. Shockingly, he pulls off the feet in a few action packed Jim Lee frames. From there, he learns that a cyber terrorist group named Ascension was responsible and after a fast-talking n’ fact-checking chat with Lois Lane, also learns that while he stopped 8 satellites himself a 9
was stopped by a mysterious source. It turns out that source was a new villain known as Wraith. He looks like a cross between Doomsday and Darkseid (in a good way) and has a personal backstory for Superman. Turns out that Wraith is another alien who fell to earth and developed powers from our yellow sun. The only difference is that Wraith was brought up by the US government to whom he gave technological secrets and who helped him develop more and deeper powers than Superman. The pair form a reluctant alliance with Wraith teaching Superman alien fighting tips and Superman desperately attempting to teach his morality to Wraith. Eventually the whole Ascension thing turns out to be a ruse for an impending attack from Wraith long-lost alien race. An attack only a sacrificial Superman could stop. Plus Lex Luthor is involved in the whole thing with his new Superman-stomping plot. How could he not be?
As pure spectacle, the book is an absolute blast. As he’s proven time and time again in the pages of Batman, Snyder knows how to whip up a big set piece. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that it was a coincidence that Snyder dreamed up this story alongside his loopy Batman epic Zero Year and the ambitious surreal sci-fi/horror yarn The Wake. There was clearly a year when Snyder’s mind was in massive blockbuster mode, cranking out grandiose storylines that could only exist on a comic book page since Hollywood couldn’t dream of bringing them to reality within even a $300 million budget (well, for now anyways). That’s a good headspace to be in when crafting a Superman story and Jim Lee is a pretty ideal eye-candy collaborator. Lee’s idealized forms and fine attention to detail serves Snyder action scenes well. The glossy book is glorious to behold on a purely visceral level, with each issue assigned a massive explosion of Superman’s powers for Lee to fetishize with his beloved penmanship. There may have been delays getting all of these panels ready for publication, but it was all worth it. This is as grandiose as superhero yarns get and it’s impossible not to flip through the gorgeous images in the book without sporting a big goofy grin on your face.
Given that this will likely be Snyder’s only major crack at a Superman story, the writer takes advantage of the opportunity to play with all of his favorite toys in the Metropolis sandbox. Even though it’s not an “End Of Superman” story, Superman Unchained does offer a similar feel to Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow and Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman. In all three instances the book is the work of a star writer attempting to cram everything that he loves about the Superman mythos into a single shining epic. Snyder’s run isn’t quite up to the standards of those two tales, but given that they are arguably the greatest two Superman stories ever written that’s just fine. He does fill his pages with amusing takes on popular characters and thematic challenges to the nature of Superman. A Wraith-suggested fantasy about Superman seeing all of his friends age and die while he remains a perfected protector is quite poignant as is the entire mirror image of Supes that Snyder created in Wraith. The villain certainly has some limitations and isn’t nearly as fleshed out as you’d hope, but he works for this particular story. There are times when Snyder’s tendency to over complicate his plots and themes rears its ugly head (especially in the tiresome Ascension plot and the rushed climax). But thankfully whenever Snyder is on a roll in this limited series (like Batman’s extended cameo or pretty much every panel featuring Snyder’s delightfully twisted take on Lex Luthor), the result is a giddy rush of ideas and entertainment. As far as bubble gum blockbuster Superman stories go, this is a pretty darn great one.
The Deluxe Edition release from DC is quite a nice little pick up for fans. The art is well served by the glossy pages and the hardback binding is strong. As an added treat, all of the unique covers used in the series are included in a hefty full page gallery after the main story. Pretty well all of DC’s heavyweight artists contributed alternative covers for the series, with each issue getting an alternate cover for every era of Superman (this was a 75
anniversary celebrating series after all). Everything from Bruce Timm’s take on Golden Age Supes to some hilarious renditions of the alternative Supermen from the infamous 90s Death Of Superman story arc can be found here and the gorgeous art varies in tone from austerely loving homage to outright parody. The cover gallery is a beautiful little love letter to Superman and a welcome addition to this pretty collection (along with a handful of other extras like pencil drafts and script pages). The only unfortunate misstep was failing to include the multi-page fold out poster that Lee designed for the first issue of Superman Unchained, but that was likely skipped to increase the collectable value of issue 1. DC does love to stoke the fires of the collector’s market, so I suppose that was an inevitable omission. Overall, it’s a damn fine collection for a damn fine Superman story from a damn fine artist/writer team. It’s hard to complain about that. In fact, if you’re a Superman fan you may as well just celebrate this sweet trade’s existence and pick it immediately.
Ever since Scott Snyder started working with Batman, he’s been a fan favorite instantly enshrined to the short list of the greatest writers to ever tackle the character. It started with his Black Mirror story when Dick Grayson was still Batman, which felt like a David Fincher film set in Gotham. He then took over for the New 52 and introduced The Court Of Owls, who were a welcome addition to Batty’s rogues gallery from the first issue. Next came his Joker yarn Death Of The Family, which might be the most horrific appearance of the clown prince of crime to date. Only then, after firmly establishing himself as one of the great minds behind the caped crusader, did he attempt ZeroYear, an ambitious retelling of Batman’s origin for the New 52.
I previously reviewed the first half of this massive story and while I certainly liked that section, there was no denying that a certain air of familiarity dogged down my appreciation. Even though Snyder whipped up some new twists on how Batman came to be, brilliantly rewrote the history of The Red Hood Gang and introduced a new and delightfully more psychotic Riddler, he simply couldn’t overcome the fact that he was treading ground that many had traveled before. Now the second half of his early Batman adventure is here and those problems have all but disappeared. Zero Year – Secret City was all set up for Dark City and the pay off was easily worth the wait.
This new collection kicks off immediately after the events of Secret City. Batman is now established as Gotham’s own private crime-fighter. He’s got a troubled-at-best relationship with the local police and his debut arrived just in time for the appearance of the city’s first two supervillains and one hell of a dastardly plot. Having foiled The Red Hood Gang, Batman discovers it was all a distraction for Edward Nigma to debut as the Riddler and take over Gotham. It starts with a power outage, manufactured storms, and the emergence of Doctor Death. That’s the name of the first reoccurring villain in Batman history dating back to Detective Comics #40. Back then he was nothing more than a generic mad scientist with Fu Manchu facial hair. For Snyder and his regular artist Greg Capullo, Doctor Death is so much more.
As undeniably fun as the first half of Zero Year was, there was a mild disappointment to be found in the fact that Snyder/Capullo had toned down their horrific approach to the Batman mythos. Doctor Death easily makes up for that. He’s a scientist working on a bone growth medication that goes out of control. When he uses it as a weapon, the victims’ bones grow into tree trunks, distorting their bodies and leaving faces permanently locked in expressions of pure agony. He also used the potion on himself, transforming into a blade-toothed grim reapers whose bones will transform and strengthen when broken. It’s a disturbing new twist on Batman’s first villain that Snyder writes with a classic monster movie influence and Capullo goes to town on in the artwork. It’s a terrifying creation of jagged bones and inhuman contortions that Capullo crafts with his knack for the grotesque that got him noticed in Spawn many moons ago. It’s here that Snyder and Capullo have reinvented Batman’s first adventure with a supervillain in their patented horrific manner that should please fans of their previous collaborations in how it locks their aesthetic into the very foundation of the New 52 Batman. The villain proves to be little more a pawn in The Riddler’s grand game however. The Riddler is the true antagonist of the entire Zero Year storyline and just like how including Doctor Death was a clever nod to the comic book origins of Batman, I can’t help but think using The Riddler as Batman’s first regular rogue in Zero Year is a sly reference to the fact that the character was the star of the pilot episode of the fabled Adam West TV series.
Of course, Snyder’s version of The Riddler is about as far removed from Frank Gorshin as you could possibly imagine. Established as a troubled genius at Wayne Enterprises in Secret City, Riddler finally emerges in full force about halfway through Dark City. It’s clear that every dark deed in Gotham leading up to this moment was part of Riddler’s carefully conceived plan. The pay off? The Riddler essentially turns Gotham into a post apocalyptic wasteland. He pulls power from the city, floods it, fills it with fast-attacking plant overgrowth (nicked from Doctor Death’s assistant Pamela Isley in an amusing little cameo), and holds Gotham hostage with automated killing machine robots as well as balloons filled with deady chemicals hanging over the entire city that will burst if anyone dares to enter. His goal is not just to inspire terror in the masses, but to attempt to make the city smarter. How? I’m glad you asked. Every day he offers any citizen a chance to set the city free by posing a riddle that he can’t solve. Obviously, The Riddler is pretty good at riddles, so that’s a challenge no one can overcome. Batman must take back Gotham himself and in the process he forges lasting relationships with a young Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox.
So, after the first half of Dark City reverted to the gothic horror of Snyder/Capullo’s Batman, the second half returns to grand adventure that offers one hell of a climax. The story plays out like a massive movie blockbuster filled with impossible tasks and stunning set pieces (ever wanted to see Batman fight a lion? Your prayers have been answered). Capullo’s art in this section is bright and colorful to the point of feeling psychedelic and it suits the story perfectly. The highlight is, of course, Snyder’s Riddler, whose unique mixture of intellect, arrogance, and psychosis makes him a formidable and frightening foe for Batman in a way the character has never quite been before. Snyder managed to reinvent a character that was starting to feel like a relic to Bats’ campy past into a worthy villain who would be a welcome addition to any Bat-book from here on. While this half of Zero Year is lighter on origin material, Snyder does use clever flashbacks and wrap around stories in each issue that expand on the psychological scarring and motivations that led to Bruce forming his dark alter ego. Everything builds towards a deeply moving final few pages that wrap up the entire arc absolutely perfectly. Readers may not have been demanding a new Batman origin story in any way, shape, or form, but Snyder proved that there was still more material to be mined from Bruce’s early days in this brilliant year-long comics arc.
Now, while Dark City might have been an improvement on Secret City, it’s still not without flaws. The final stage in Batman’s battle with the Riddler reverts to a classic game of “riddle me this” in a way that feels slightly anticlimactic after how radically different the character seemed before. Likewise, some of the hyped up action gets a little too absurd and cartoony for my tastes and can feel like too much of a departure from the brutal tone that Snyder/Capullo established in their previous storylines. Thankfully, these complaints are all pretty minor. There’s no denying that Zero Year more than lived up to the promises of a great Bat-epic that Snyder and Capullo made almost two years ago. They’ve delivered an amazing piece of long form superhero storytelling that should stand proudly on any Bat-fan’s shelf alongside such classics as Hush or No Man’s Land.
I might consider Zero Year to be the weakest arc that Snyder and Capullo have delivered so far, but that’s more a reflection of how masterful Court Of Owls and Death Of The Family were than anything specifically wrong with Zero Year. This writer/artist duo is the real deal. If they retired from the book tomorrow, they’d still go down in history as one of the greats Batman teams in the history of comics with three masterpieces to their name. Hopefully they won’t be leaving the series anytime soon though. If they can take a storyline as tediously familiar as Batman’s origin and transform it into vital reading for any self-respecting comic book fan, then they’ve clearly got a special connection with this world. Now it’s time for them to return to present day and show us things we’ve never seen before in a Batman book. After 75 years of crime-fighting it’s not easy to come up with original Batman stories, but Snyder and Capullo seem to toss them off with ease. May they never stop.
Hey everyone, another week has another batch of comics ready to be read. This week has alien trees, teenage assassins, a purple tyrant, someone who doesn’t shut up after learning about his past, and a jungle Batman.
By: Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
This week has the next chapter in Snyder and Capullo’s Zero Year story.
Last month we had a glimpse into what The Riddler had done to Gotham City, and now it’s time for Batman to take it back, but how will a younger and inexperienced Bruce do so with limited resources?
Zero Year was the origin story that most Batman fans didn’t know that they wanted. Snyder and Capullo have told a massive untold story of Bruce’s slow ascension into becoming the iconic Dark Knight that is paced incredibly well.
Deadly Class #5
By: Rick Remender and Wesley Craig
The next issue of one of the most underrated titles available comes out this week.
Deadly Class tells the story of Markus, an orphaned, homeless teenager who is offered a scholarship to an underground school that teaches teenagers to be assassins.
Last issue had Markus’ friends breaking him out of solitary confinement so they could go on a road trip to kill his friend’s father in Las Vegas. On the way, Markus takes too many hits of acid thinking they are duds and begins to freak out. He’ll have to get his head back soon as the killer who’s been tracking him for the last few issues is nearly at his door.
By: Brian Posehn,Gerry Dugan, and Scott Koblish
Original Sin has only just begun, but its effects are already affecting the Marvel Universe.
This week’s issue of Deadpool has everyone’s favourite Merc With a Mouth discovering his past. When he was taken for the Weapon X Project, the board members had his entire past erased. What will happen when Wade uncovers the mysteries of his past, and what was his Original Sin? Writer Gerry Dugan promises that both sins won’t be pretty. Then again, when are things ever pretty with Deadpool?
By: Warren Ellis and Jason Howard
A brand new title from the famous Warren Ellis releases today.
Trees is a sci-fi story about a race of aliens that came to earth ten years ago and acted as trees. Ten years have passed since we found out that there is intelligent life on other planets. Unfortunately, they do not see us as intelligent, or alive.
Thanos Annual #1
By: Jim Starlin and Ron Lim
Everyone’s favourite purple immortal goliath gets an annual this week.
Thanos fights huge Marvel forces such as Mephesto, The Avengers, a future version of himself and much more. This issue will show how one of his past defeats set in motion a chain of events that will soon affect the entire Marvel Universe.
This issue is also the beginning to a Thanos graphic novel that is coming soon.
Dark Horse Comics
Captain Midnight #11
Conan The Avenger #2
ElfQuest The Final Quest #3
Halo Escalation #6
King Conan The Conqueror #4
Mass Effect Foundation #11
Mind MGMT #22
Serenity Leaves On The Wind #5
Star Wars #8
Star Wars Legacy II #15
Star Wars Rebel Heist #2
Tomb Raider #4
Adventures Of Superman #13
All-Star Western #31
Batman Eternal #8
Dead Boy Detectives #6
He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe #13
Injustice Gods Among Us Year Two #5
Justice League Dark #31
New 52 Futures End #4
Red Lanterns #31
Secret Origins #2
Suicide Squad #30
City The Mind In The Machine #4
Godzilla Rulers Of Earth #12
Monster And Madman #1
My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic #19
Samurai Jack #8
Star Trek #33
Transformers Robots In Disguise #29
X-Files Season 10 #12
Chew Revival #1
Dead Body Road #6
Southern Bastards #1
Southern Bastards #2
Thief Of Thieves #21
Marvel Comics All-New Invaders #5
Dexter Down Under #4
Fantastic Four #5
Giant-Size Spider-Man #1
Guardians Of The Galaxy #15
Iron Man #26
Iron Patriot #3
Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy Prelude #2
Mighty Avengers #10
Ms. Marvel #4
Uncanny Avengers #20
Winter Soldier The Bitter March #4
Valiant Entertainment Harbinger #23
Shadowman End Times #2
This August sees the third anniversary of DC Comic’s New 52 reboot. It was used to “soft relaunch” on their titles for newer readers who found it too hard to catch up on current titles, while not completely getting rid of everything for long time readers.
The New 52 has had its share of good and bad titles, as well as numerous cancels and relaunches. Here are our Top 5 New 52 Titles that everyone should check out.
#5 Green Arrow
Green Arrow has had a rough time since the New 52 launched. The original teams that worked on the title provided dull action and dialogue that came off as cheesy at best, and just was boring at worst. Oliver just felt like a vanilla Tony Stark, only with a bow.
Starting with issue #17, the team of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino took over and made Green Arrow one of the best current running titles DC currently has. Introducing a new villain that tested every skill Oliver has learned, as well as exploring his time stranded on the island made Green Arrow a more noteworthy title and added depth the originally boring character.
#4 Swamp Thing
One of the lesser-known characters in DC’s universe was one of the original New 52 titles, and quickly became one of the best monthly titles they have. Written by Scott Snyder (who may or may not appear later on this list) Swamp Thing has reverted back to his human form and only has vague memories of being the monster. He soon gets involved in a struggle between The Red, and The Rot, life forces that represent living things and death and decay. This forces him to become Swamp Thing again to become the avatar for The Green, the life force that represents plant life.
While not one of the most popular New 52 titles, Swamp Thing is still a great series that gives some much needed attention to other not well-known DC character such as Constantine and Animal Man.
#3 Wonder Woman
She may not be getting her own movie any time soon, But Wonder Woman’s New 52 series is definitely one of the best.
Wonder Woman’s series is based around Greek mythos, and has her protecting a pregnant woman who is carrying the Demigod child of Zeus that may have the power to overthrow other gods.
The series has Wonder Woman fighting many mythological creatures and gods. These action scenes are near perfectly paced and give a great reminder why Diana is one of the best and most capable fighters in the DC Universe.
The first arc of the series ended late last year with an interesting and greatly satisfying ending and never felt too drawn out. Diana is given plenty of time to be characterized and to be represented well and respectfully.
Wonder Woman is a gorgeous to look at and fun to read title that both pays respect to it’s source material while providing new twists to the long running character.
#2 Animal Man
While the New 52 was controversial as it ret-conned many DC characters, it also gave a chance for lesser known B and C-list ones to gain popularity and recognition. Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man was one of those titles.
Animal Man tells the story of Buddy baker, a hero who’s pretty much retired from the hero business to be closer to his family. Soon he becomes dragged into the struggle between The Red, The Green, and The Rot (mentioned earlier in this list) and has to go on the run with his family to save them, and the world.
The tone of Animal Man is incredibly dark. There is a large amount of blood and gore, as well as animals and nightmarish decaying creatures trying to kill Buddy and his family. At times, it feels like Buddy and his family is just delaying their inevitable deaths, as they can’t truly escape or defeat the true nature of death itself.
However, Lemire does a fantastic job of balancing all of the dark with light moments of Buddy interacting with his family. These moments feel incredibly human and make the reader care about the Bakers.
Unfortunately, the series ended earlier this year, but it still remains as one of the absolute best titles ever published in the New 52.
Only one of the twenty Batman titles that have been released during the New 52 has been consistently great, and that’s Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman.
Even from the first issue, the quality and respect they provide to the hugely popular hero is present.
The first arc that they created added not only additional character to Batman, and to a new evil organization, but to Gotham City itself in a way that makes sense in the Batman mythos.
The second arc of Snyder and Capullo’s run incorporated all of the other Batman titles at that time. These titles were a little lagging, but were all elevated in quality when brought into the story that Snyder created.
Currently the series is nearing the end of it’s year long “Zero Year” story, which reimagined Bruce Wayne’s past before he became Batman. Instead of just rehashing the same origin, Snyder brought new elements to it which gradually showed Bruce’s transformation into The Dark Knight.
Batman has been, and still is the best title under the New 52 reboot. There has not been a single issue that has ever been less than great and needs to be picked up by any and every Dark Knight fan.
After taking over Batman at the turn of the New 52 and turning it into the top selling comic on the market, writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo decided to get ambitious. Over the course of a year they have been teasing out a new origin tale for the caped crusader, one that’s deeply indebted to the character’s roots, yet very different and designed to fit their own unique take on the character. The epic story has stretched on so long that while Snyder and Capullo are still filling out the third chapter of their massive origin trilogy, this trade of the first arc is sliding into stores as a graphic novel. While it’s hard to fully judge a story still technically in development, this first arc does feel contained enough to be read on its own. Snyder knows all too well how often this origin has been told, so his version is full of misdirection and redirection. You’ll get all the same basic beats in a way that feels fresh and unexpected. To do that with one of the most widely repeated origins in comics is a minor miracle. You know, the type of Bat-miracle that Synder and Capullo seem to be delivering every month in what will eventually stand as one of the finest Batman runs in history.
In particular, the big gearshift for fans of Snyder’s take on Batman is the tone of Zero Year. While it’s undeniably the work of the new great Batman author, this book isn’t nearly as nightmarish as his work has been in the past (especially the deranged Death In The Family arc that proceeded it). Instead, this is a lighter, colorful, and more adventurous Bat-tale that almost feels like Grant Morrison masterful Batman & Robin arc or even Bruce Timm’s 90s animated series. The first thing that pops off the page as different is Capullo’s art. Bright yellows and primary colors fill the pages, with much of the tale even taking place during the day (not particularly common for this nocturnal hero). It’s almost jarring at first after the series of shadowy stories the duo have delivered to readers so far. But just like stepping out of a dank basement into the harsh realities of daylight, once your eyes adjust there’s a whole new beauty to be found.
The story is essentially a fresh spin on Year One. A cocky 20-something Bruce has returned to Gotham after years of training for his crime-fighting destiny. Against the wishes of a cranky Alfred (watching their relationship develop is one of the highlights of this chapter), Bruce shaves his head and prepares to do battle with a deeply corrupt Gotham City. The main villains of this arc are the Red Hood gang. Snyder cleverly takes the costume that we all know a future clown prince of crime once wore and uses it for the basis of a theatrical crime syndicate who have their fingers in all of Gotham’s pies. By making them Batman’s first villains, he’s essentially replaying Frank Miller’s gangser-battlin’ Batman in a far more stylized setting. We see Bruce develop his costume and eventually bring down the whole Red Hood gang, along with a nicely handled tease for the Joker.
From there, we see how the presence of Batman led to the creation of the costumed supervillain in Gotham. However, going against convention, Snyder doesn’t bust out the Joker for his public enemy number one. Instead, he introduces Edward Nigma as a spurned Wayne Enterprises employee who decides to take over Gotham in an attempt to make the city smarter. This arc ends right as Nigma assumes his new identity as The Riddler and sets his devastating plan into action. The start of that story (as well as the foundation of the Batman/Jim Gordon relationship) is saved for the second chapter of Zero Year. So, by necessity this collection ends on a cliffhanger that makes it a less than satisfying read, but that was to be expected. This is but the first book of a three-book epic and it’s a good one.
There’s no denying that the sense of familiarity hanging over Batman’s first adventure in Zero Year makes it the weakest chapter of the trilogy. That was just an inevitable pitfall of giving the New 52 Batman a new origin. It was something that Snyder has admitted paralyzed him with fear when he started writing and it has to be said, that he managed to deliver the expected in the best and most exciting way possible. Throughout, Snyder cleverly plays with expectations and even drops in unexpected origins for eagled-eyed fans (get ready to spot the giant penny that will one day end up in the Batcave). The beauty of this story is all in the tone and ideas. Like Grant Morrison before him, Snyder strikes a perfect balance between old fashioned comic book whimsy and contemporary graphic novel grit.
Make no mistake, this is often a very violent and gritty story, just also one written and drawn as a grand pop adventure. The characterization of a cocky Batman in training finds just the right level of vulnerability in the fledging hero without tipping over into Batman coming off as annoyingly weak or arrogant. Snyder’s reinvented Red Hood gang is probably the highlight of this book with the writer and artist somehow creating a credibly frightening criminal syndicate that still suits their ridiculous costumes. And of course, even in just the early glimpses, it’s Snyder’s reinvented Riddler that is the secret star of Zero Year as a whole. He is ingenious, pompous, brilliant, obsessive, undeniably insane, and also frighteningly sociopathic. It’s a take on the character that’s both true to the Riddler’s roots and far darker than anything any writer has done before.
This gorgeous hardcover from DC is beautifully printed in the same house style as all of their New 52 collections. The mini-stories that featured at the end of every issue of this run are included at the end. Though all deliberately slight, each told an amusing origin for one of Batman’s distinct skills (how he became a daredevil driver, how he mastered the dark, etc.). It’s nice to see they made the trade because they were fun, it’s just a shame that the editors combined them all at the end of the book rather than paring them with each issue as printed because they all explained a specific skill young Bruce used in the main-story. It’s also a real shame that the editors left out the issue Batman #0, which was published months before Zero Year began and functions as a prologue for The Red Hood gang. I’m sure that’s being saved for an inevitable trade containing the entire Zero Year arc, but that’s still a little annoying. Regardless, any complaints about this book fall into the realm of nitpickery. This is ultimately the latest chapter in a masterful Batman run from the Snyder/Capullo team and the start of the biggest Bat experiment to date. It’s a must read for any fans of the character and while it will be nice to see what Snyder has in store for Bats when he returns from this 12 year flashback, he has still managed to create a year one Batman tale that feels like it will be dubbed as definitive by the time it’s complete. That just might be the most difficult trick that the brilliant writer has pulled off yet.
Hey everyone, we here at CG Magazine are going to be trying something a little different this week. We thought it would be fun to pick a couple of comics coming out today that we’re excited for and share them incase anyone else might be interested in picking them up. Hopefully it will help those of you who might be looking for something to pick up.
By: Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
The second arc of Zero Year has ended, but it isn’t over yet. Taking place a few months after Batman #29 sees the result of the shocking finale to The Riddler’s plan. As the Savage City arc starts it will provide a great jumping on point for new readers while moving forward to fans already onboard.
Superior Spider-Man #31
By: Dan Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli
Ever since Otto Dr. Octopus Octavious “killed” Peter Parker and replaced his consciousness with his own, he’s been trying to prove that he’s been the Superior Spider-Man and a better man than Peter Parker ever was. The Green Goblin has proved him wrong. Taking total control of New York and causing mass anarchy, he has brought down everything Otto has worked to achieve. After the shocking ending to Superior Spider-Man #30, see how the real Peter Parker will deal with Otto’s failure as Spider-Man, as well as Peter Parker. The series will return as The Amazing Spider-Man at the end of this month.
By: Mark Waid, Mark Bagely, and Jerome Opena
Taking place after last month’s Indestructible Hulk finale, this title picks up with Bruce Banner nearly dead. Now the Hulk is on a rampage to find out who tried to assassinate Bruce. Will Dr. Banner survive? With Mark Waid writing the series, anything can happen.
Deadpool vs Carnage #2
By: Cullen Bunn and Salvador Espin
It’s part two of Marvel’s two craziest red suited, murdering, psychopaths battling each other. After Carnage was narrowly saved by a friend from Deadpool in the last issue, the two finally start to battle it out in one of the craziest Marvel titles out available.
Ms. Marvel #3
By C. Willow Willowson, Adrian Alphona, and Jamie McKelvie
The critically acclaimed new Ms. Marvel series continues onto it’s third issue. After saving a woman from drowning ,gaining superpowers and getting grounded in the last issue, Kamala Kahn’s life is getting stranger by the day. What gave her the power to shapeshift? How will she use her powers? What will she do if she can’t hangout with her friends?
Hey Bat-fans. If you’ve followed any comic book writing that I’ve done for CGMthus far, you’ve probably gathered by now that I am a wee bit obsessed with the Caped Crusader. I’m hardly the first guy to say this (it was probably Bob Kane, for obvious reasons like ego), but Batman is, without a doubt, the most complex and interesting of all the spandex/leather /rubber clad superheroes. He’s the superhero with a little something for everyone. If you like your superheroes silly, then there’s the Adam West era to tickle your childish pleasure centers. If you like your comics gritty, then you’ve got Frank Miller’s iconic work that forever changed the character and made Batman the grittiest mainstream hero to worship for decades. And if you like your heroes somewhere in between, then there’s plenty of that to go around too, especially whenever Grant Morrison focuses his overactive brain on Gotham City. There’s really no iconic superhero quite as diverse and it’s not a coincidence that The Bat has also spawned the finest TV, movie, and videogame spin-offs of the entire comic book industry.
So given that I’m always looking for a new reason to worship at the altar of Bruce Wayne, it’s safe to say that I was tickled to learn that the New 52 had finally reached Detective Comics issue 27 this month (for those of you not in the know, Batman made his first ever appearance the last time Detective Comics hit issue 27 back in 1939). Clearly, DC was even more tickled by this fact than I, because they decided to turn the issue into a good ol’ fashioned prestige format comic overflowing with mini-stories from some of the company’s finest writers to honor their most popular character. Though sadly initial plans to commission original stories from Bat-gods Frank Miller and Paul Dini fell through (single tear…), the gang that did participate delivered one hell of a tribute to the greatest and most human superhero of them all. So, I thought I’d take a little time to gushingly praise the book and encourage you all to run out to your friendly comic book dealer and pick up a copy. There are a handful of rare and rarer alternative covers to seek out for the collector whores, but even if you just get the standard Greg Capullo homage to the last shot of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, you should still drool all over the good stuff between the glossy cover pages.
Story 1: The Case Of The Chemical Syndicate (Writer: Brad Meltzer Artist: Bryan Hitch)
Things kick off in rather delightful fashion with a remake of the very first Batman story in Detective Comics27 from Brad Meltzer (Green Arrow, Buffy The Vampire Slayer). The story follows the same basic plot beats of the original. A bunch of chemical plant tycoons are being bumped off and it’s up to this mysterious new Batman character in Gotham City to solve the mystery. The original story was told from the perspective of Commissioner Gordon with a twist ending revealing that his bored billionaire friend Bruce Wayne was actually Batman. Obviously that twist ending wasn’t going to work this time out, so Meltzer instead told the story from Batman’s perspective, filled with self-doubting Year One-style internal monologue. It’s a clever replay through history that updates all of the cheesy 30s plot devices of the first ever Bat-tale so that it feels more contemporary. Meltzer’s attention to detail is impressive (even using the same panel count as the original) and he even tosses in a new twist ending to suggest Batman’s finest foe was formed in his first adventure. It’s probably not the greatest story in the collection, but it is certainly the most important to the Detective Comics 27 revival concept and a real treat for Bat geeks.
Story 2: Old School(Writer: Gregg Hurwitz Artist: NEAL ADAMS!!!!!)
Next up comes one of the most fun and geek-tastic tales in the collection courtesy of Batman: The Dark Knight writer Gregg Hurwitz and legendary Batman artist Neal Adams (who brought the character back into darkness in the 70s along with Denny O’Neil). It’s a clever little slice of metafiction that travels through all eras of Bat-history in a swift ten pages. Hurwitz’s story is a winking little lark, but the real gold of the chapter is Neal Adams’ art. The 73-year-old Adams apes a number of Batman art styles including the 60s pulp, his own iconic work, and even a touch of the 80s dark ages. Simply getting a chance to see Adams playfully pay homage to the history of Batman is a giggle-worthy joy for comic book art geeks. It is without a doubt one of the highlights of the book.
Story 3: Better Days (Writer: Peter J. Tomasi Artist: Ian Bertram)
Next up comes a delightful little joke from Batman And Robin scribe Peter J. Tomasi with a Dark Knight Returns inspired punchline. We see the whole Bat family gather for a retired Bruce Wayne’s 75th birthday (the age is not a coincidence if you’re capable of doing math). Then a police emergency comes through the radio and Bruce insists the gang go out to stop it so that he can secretly become Batman for one more night as he does on every birthday. It’s a loving lark for Bat-fans who hold Dark Knight Returns close to their heart from a writer who clearly shares the sentiment and backed up by some gorgeous wall-mount worthy artwork from Ian Bertram.
Story 4: Hero (Writer and Artist: Francesco Francavilla)
Francesco Francavilla’s four-page tale easily wins the WTF award in the collection. Don’t get me wrong, the layouts are gorgeous, and the brief narrative is a wonderful throwback for fans of Scott Snyder and Francavilla’s stunning Black Mirror storyline. However, the story is exclusively for fans of that book, so its inclusion feels off when compared to everything else in the collection. Perhaps it was included since Black Mirror was the last masterpiece to appear in Detective Comics before the new 52 and if so, that’s fair enough. However, this story will only appeal to fans of that arc, so prepare to be confused if you haven’t already fallen head over heels for Black Mirror.
Story 5: The Sacrifice (Writer: Mike Barr Artist: Guillem March)
Writer Mike Barr, whose name was all over Bat books in the 80s and 90s, makes a long awaited return to the fold with The Sacrifice, an intriguing It’s A Wonderful Life homage in which the ever-mysterious Phantom Stranger lets Bruce Wayne briefly see what life would have been like had his parents not been shot down in Crime Alley on that fateful night many Gotham moons ago. It’s the most moving story in the collection with some twisted Elseworld visions like Ra’s Al Ghul stomping through Europe as a dictator and a Gotham ruled by gangs led by Batman’s rogue’s gallery. It’s a story that easily could have filled an entire fascinating issue, yet still works brilliantly in a condensed form that slides into this collection as comfortably as a pounding pair of vigilante feet into a padded pair of Bat-slippers.
Story 6: Gothopia (Writer: John Layman Artist: Jason Fabok)
At this point in the collection, DC shoved in a standard issue length tale to kick off the Gothopia storyline that will be taking over Detective Comics for the next few months. Perhaps predictably, it’s the weakest story in the bunch, but thankfully far from a failure. Essentially, Layman and Fabok have set up a narrative in which the entire population of Gotham has been drugged via Poison Ivy and The Scarecrow to think that the darkest city in DC is actually a Metropolis-style utopia. It’s a clever concept, and I suppose that the alternative vision of Gotham fits into this collection of one-off Bat-fantasies, yet I can’t help but wish this issue had been released separately to allow for a few more celebratory shorts from classic Batman writers. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the initial plan, but this got shoved in when the Dini and Miller stories were cut from the collection. If so, that’s a shame, and even though Gothopia is the low point in the book, at least it shows that 75 years later current Detective Comics continuity is still cranking out intriguing Bat-yarns.
Story 7: Twenty-Seven (Writer: Scott Snyder Artist: Sean Murphy)
Finally, Batman scribe Scott Snyder pops in for a concluding short so fascinating that he proves in 12 short pages why he is the current Bat-master. In a fascinating little slice of thought-experiment sci-fi, Snyder imagines a cyclical endgame for Batman in which Bruce Wayne creates a legacy that leads to the creation of a new Batman every 27 years. It sounds confusing, but when told through the masterful prose of Snyder it’s all easy to swallow and incredibly nourishing. Given that Snyder likes to tease future plotlines (like when his Batman #0 set up the current Zero Year run a full year before it began properly), don’t be surprised if he returns to this concept a few years down the road. And if he does, God-willing, his current The Wake collaborator Sean Murphy will be on board as well because his imaginatively scratchy art style delivers some astounding sci-fi Batmen in a handful of panels here (including some anime and Mad Max-inspired designs that deserve their own spin offs).
Aside from a handful of splash page guest art between short stories, that’s it for this special edition Detective Comics 27 collection from the good folks at DC. Is the book perfect? Nope. Would it have been even better had they followed through on the promise of new Paul Dini and Frank Miller Bat-tales? Immeasurably. However, despite those disappointments, this collection is an absolutely wonderful bit of fan service from the good folks at DC that demands a spot on any self-respecting Bat-fan’s shelf. With the exception of Gothopia, every single story in the book is guaranteed to deliver a goofy grin for any Batman lover who flips through the pages. Normally when comic book companies deliver a stunt special issue like this, it’s more of a marketing tactic than anything else. However, Batman is clearly such a special character that all of the creators and editors worked hard to ensure that this prestige issue would be well worth the money that fans were guaranteed to fork over for it. Seek out Detective Comics 27 before hungry readers bag and board every issue on shelves, it’s well worth the time and investment. Batman’s 75-year appeal didn’t happen by accident, and it’s safe to say that the character will thrive for 75 more years until the next anniversary issue. As long as comic books exist, there will be Batman stories told and the medium will be better for it.
For any fan of DC Comics, it’s clear that the company has a deep love and affection for the bad guy. Their lineup of villains is deep and impressive, varying from thugs to gods and offering a stark contrast to their collection of super powered heroes. In September, the company even halted production on all of their regular titles for Villains month. One-off issues about everyone from the Riddler to Darkseid offered the bad boys (and girls) of DC a chance to shine without being filtered through the lens of the goody two-shoes guys n’ gals they fight. The month long celebration also launched Geoff Johns’ new all-villains alt universe series Forever Evil, and the company commissioned a documentary about their long history of villainy. Told through the deep, dulcet tones of legendary bad guy specialist Christopher Lee, Necessary Evil: Villains Of DC Comics is an intriguing little overview for fans, but also something that feels curiously insubstantial and out of place as a standalone release on Blu-ray.
The doc is essentially a guide to being bad in the DC universe, delving into the origins, back-stories, and main events surrounding DC villains on all media platforms the company exploits. It’s mostly a collection of talking head interviews, but those talking heads are all of the big boys at DC and a few famous fans. We’re talking a list that includes the likes of Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Paul Dini, Len Wein, Neal Adams, Scott Snyder, Dan Didio, Brian Azzarello, Tony S. Daniel, Peter J. Tomasi, Zack Snyder (shudder), and Guillermo Del Toro. With that many legendary faces for the comic book crowd, it’s clearly a geekgasm of sorts and certainly not one without interest.
The writers, artists, and famous fans dive into what makes all of the major villains so fascinating. The Joker’s sense of anarchy and peculiar love/hate relationship with Batman. The Riddler’s fixture as a figure who challenges the great detective’s intellect. The way that Lex Luthor and Brainiac offer the ultimate foils to both the earthly and alien sides of Superman. Green Lantern’s time as the Spectre and the duality therein. The dark shadow the godly Darkseid casts over the entire universe. All of the essentials are there in broad strokes and discussed with healthy dollops of insight by those who created the characters, wrote the key stories, or have loved the material from afar. For someone who only occasionally peaks into the world of comics, it’s a wonderful introduction and overview of the universe told in a tight, fast, and visually expressive manner involving clips and artwork from decades of DC lore.
Broad themes of how “heroes are only as strong as their villains” or how villains represent primal fears of their heroes and society at large are also touched upon. It’s all interesting, relevant, and entertaining material. Here’s the problem though; there’s really nothing here that any serious comic book fan isn’t entirely aware of and hasn’t considered on their own. That’s an issue because the market for this doc is entirely the comic book fans that will learn little from the hundred minute celebration of comic book evil. The film is certainly slickly made and entertaining, but ultimately you can’t help but wonder what the point of putting this thing out was beyond self-promotion. The doc was clearly tied directly to villains month and Forever Evil, operating as an advertisement for both blockbuster DC events. The film is also filled with clips from DCU animated features and DC videogames like Injustice and Arkham Asylum/City/Origins. So beyond being a celebration of DC, it’s also a big ad for DC that you have to plop down $20 to experience. If it weren’t for the fact that so much A-list talent was involved and contributing interesting insights, Necessary Evil might even feel like an insulting bit of DC shilling.
Thankfully, the doc is just interesting enough to avoid that ugly labeling. However, why it was released as a solo documentary is somewhat of a mystery. The DCU animated films have been coming with documentaries like this delving into comic book lore and methodology for years now. Those special features are just as strong and well produced as Necessary Evil and in the case of the excellent Frank Miller doc included on the recent Dark Knight Returns Blu-ray, even better. Necessary Evil should have been a special feature and feels like one (it would have been an ideal doc on a Killing Joke DCU Animation disc for example… hint, hint, DC). Why it got a solo release is a mystery. Perhaps it was just considered to be a necessary part of the Villains Month media onslaught. Perhaps the DC brass produced it as a special feature and then felt it was good enough to deserve a solo release instead. Who knows? Regardless, it’s an interesting little doc for fanboys that’s well worth a look, just not something that demands a Blu-ray purchase. Sure, the transfer is nice, but seeing every pore on Dan Didio’s face is not really worth the $20 investment. Definitely seek it out, but wait till it’s on a streaming service or packaged with another disc. Even if DC had included some episodes from their various animated series highlighting villains, this might have been worthy of investment. Instead, it’s merely a weird curiosity piece given a major release for reasons best known to the folks in the fabled DC offices. Ah well, at least Justice League:War is still on the way and chances are the Necessary Evil sales will be low enough that the thousands of unsold copies end up being packaged with the highly anticipated animated feature.
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.