Comic Review: Batman: White Knight

Published: October 9th, 2018
Written by: Sean Murphy
Art by: Sean Murphy

DC Comics, 224 Pages

Review:

Spoiler alert: this gets a perfect score.

The reason why this gets a perfect score is that you just don’t read comic book stories this great anymore. It almost feels as if we don’t deserve something this good in this day and age. And, I guess, one could say that maybe its greatness is magnified by an industry that is struggling to put out exceptional work but I don’t think that it is. I think that White Knight, regardless of what era it came out in, is a true masterpiece of the comic book medium.

Sure, time will tell how this holds up over the years but I don’t need time to tell me that this most certainly will be held in the same regard as Batman classics The Long HalloweenThe Dark Knight Returns and Year One. In fact, I would say that this beats two out of those three.

Sean Murphy weaved a tale that exists in its own continuity but at the same time, he wrote a Batman story that was respectful to the franchise and all the characters within it. I love when someone can find a way to utilize all the major villains and Murphy did just that, without having this become a convoluted mess. His idea in how to include them all here was actually kind of genius.

This also does a fine job in breaking down the dichotomy that is Batman and the Joker and asks the question, “Is there even a dichotomy?” Delving deeper than just that, this examines the Joker, Batman and Harley Quinn’s psyche in new ways that really make this book smarter than the average bear while making these old characters feel fresh. Basically, Murphy found a way to explore these well-known characters and brought something new and intriguing to the table.

Finishing the story, it’s hard to pinpoint who the big bad is here. Is it the reformed Joker? Is it Harley pulling strings? Is it the new villain: Neo Joker? Is it Batman? Is it the GCPD? Is it Gotham City itself? There is a lot to interpret here and there isn’t a clean answer any which way you could go.

Murphy also gives back a lot of fan service in including certain characters from other mediums and beloved Batmobiles of yesteryear, among other things. But it’s never fan service just to get brownie points, he created the right sort of situation where all of it just works really well.

I loved the idea of the GTO (Gotham Terrorist Oppression Unit) and how Nightwing and Batgirl were used. I loved how the story worked for the entire Bat-family, especially the stuff regarding Alfred. All the Mr. Freeze material was also wonderful. There is just so much to digest and dissect here but all of it is good.

Sean Murphy also did the art and I loved his work. All in all, this really is his creation and it’s a damn fine creation at that.

This limited comic series is pretty close to perfect. There’s nothing I would change or alter about it and frankly, I want to read it again.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the best of the best classic Batman stories: The Long HalloweenDark VictoryYear OneThe Dark Knight Returns, etc.

Comic Review: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 1

Published: July 25th, 2017
Written by: James Tynion IV
Art by: Freddie Williams II

IDW Publishing, DC Comics, 176 Pages

Review:

When this was first announced, I got pretty excited. But at the time, hunting down single issues of comics was hard for me, as my closest comic book shops are both 45 minutes in opposite directions. So I planned on waiting for it to be collected in a trade paperback format.

I mean, who doesn’t want to read a team up of Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? On top of that, who doesn’t want to see Batman fight Shredder? Yeah, because that’s just about all I could think about when I first heard that this crossover was happening.

You get more than that though. You also get to see Shredder team up with Ra’s al Ghul and several Batman villains get exposed to mutagen and thus, turn into TMNT styled animal villains. The Penguin obviously becomes a penguin but my favorite was Mr. Freeze as a polar bear. You also get to see Casey Jones show up about midway through the story arc.

Overall, this was a lot of fun. I heard that the follow up wasn’t as good but I’ll read that once it’s complete. I think there are still issues coming out for that sequel run.

This comic is really just fan service done really well. It’s not an exceptional story but it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to take these two franchises and smash them together and let everyone loose.

One of the highlights for me was seeing Alfred interact with Michelangelo. That shit was comedy gold.

I can’t call this a great book but if you love both franchises this is certainly worth your ten or fifteen bucks.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 2 and other recent TMNT crossovers.

Comic Review: Batman ’66, Vol. 5

Published: May 17th, 2016
Written by: Jeff Parker
Art by: Jonathan Case
Based on: Batman (’60s TV Series) by William Dozier, ABC

DC Comics, 184 Pages

Review:

This is it, the final collected volume in the Batman ’66 run of comics. It’s a sad, sad day. But, there are some crossover titles featuring Batman ’66 and other TV shows from that era, which I will have to read. But for now, let’s see if the final collection in the series was a worthy finale.

Well, one cool thing about this final volume, is that it introduces us to more classic Batman villains that weren’t originally a part of the Batman television show from the ’60s. In volume three we got Harley Quinn and in volume four we got Two-Face. Here we get even more: Solomon Grundy, Clayface, Poison Ivy, Bane, Scarecrow and Killer Croc.

The first story in this book is called The Short Halloween, which is a play on words of the famous story arc The Long Halloween. This tale is about two mean trick or treaters dressed as the Joker and the Penguin, who are going around robbing kids of their candy. A young boy and his little sister go out as Batman and Robin in an effort to stop the dastardly villains. It’s a very short but cute story where the real Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder make an appearance at the end.

Following that story, we see the origin of the Batman ’66 version of Solomon Grundy, who is resurrected from beyond the grave by Hilda, the witch grandmother of Marsha Queen of Diamonds. After that is a third short story that takes Batman ’66 villain False Face and establishes him as Basil Karlo a.k.a. Clayface, who is a big time comic book villain that hadn’t yet appeared in any Batman ’66 related stories.

We then get a story revolving around Carolyn Jones’ Marsha Queen of Diamonds but Hilda isn’t there, probably because she had just been in the Grundy story. Then we get our second Harley Quinn tale in the Batman ’66 universe, which also has a one panel Cesar Romero Joker cameo. Then we get to see the Joker, the Frank Gorshin Riddler, the Burgess Meredith Penguin and the Eartha Kitt Catwoman team up and hold an advertising agency hostage in a story that just features Batgirl as the hero and parodies the television show Mad Men.

The next story is one of my favorite in the Batman ’66 franchise, it is the debut and origin story of Poison Ivy. The story started with the “murder” of Milton Berle’s Louie the Lilac, who you find out, is actually just in a catatonic state due to a poisonous plant concoction. Batman and Robin investigate and fall into the clutches of Ivy. The Ivy character is well written here and she is handled in a way that really fits the Batman ’66 style.

Next up, we are introduced to the Batman ’66 version of Bane, who is in league with the Riddler and comes to Gotham City as a lucha libre star. He crushes his opponents and believes that he breaks Batman’s back ala the classic Knightfall story arc. Bane returns to his home country as its ruler but Batman, Robin and Batgirl show up to change his plans.

We then get two shorter stories, each introducing us to two other classic villains yet to appear in the Batman ’66 franchise: Scarecrow and Killer Croc. Both are pretty straightforward and quick tales but it would have been cool to see them get more fleshed out had this series continued on.

Then we get a tale that features the first comic book appearance of Shelley Winters’ Ma Parker. Alongside her are a team of villains comprised of Killer Croc, Solomon Grundy and Killer Moth, in his only Batman ’66 appearance. The Julie Newmar Catwoman enters the story in the second half.

Lastly, we come to the grand finale of the entire Batman ’66 series with a story called Main Title. This awesome and incredible final issue is a recreation of the opening credits to the Batman show. So we get an actual narrative and see all (or most) of the Batman villains make a cameo as they try to overtake Batman and Robin. This whole fight takes place in a movie studio in a green screen room, explaining the green background in the classic show’s opening credits sequence. This was a pretty creative send off for this series and brought things full circle.

Initially, I thought that I wouldn’t like this volume in the series as much as the others because it had such a high emphasis on wedging in as many new villains as it could. However, every story was well crafted and served a purpose. This actually ended up being my favorite of the five volumes. As a fan of the 1960s Batman televison show, this was as perfect as a comic book can get featuring this particular pocket of the Batman universe.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The rest of the Batman ’66 comic collections.

Film Review: Batman & Robin (1997)

Release Date: June 12th, 1997 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Akiva Goldsman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, John Glover, Elle Macpherson, Vivica A. Fox, Jesse Ventura, Nicky Katt

Warner Bros., 125 Minutes

Review:

“If revenge is a dish best served cold, then put on your Sunday finest. It’s time to feast!” – Mr. Freeze

When I recently reviewed Batman Forever, I was really harsh on it. I also said that it is a worse movie than this one, which is considered one of the worst movies ever made. Watching these two films, back to back, after all these years, I still feel that way. This is the superior film of the two dreadful Joel Schumacher Batman pictures.

What makes this stand well above Batman Forever, for me, is the thing that most people like to trash about this picture: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. Sorry, I just love puns and Mr. Freeze’s awful and cheesy puns still make me smile. Sure, I’d prefer a more serious Batman film than this festival of hokey camp but if Schumacher insists on destroying something I love, I can at least appreciate Schwarzenegger’s performance for what it is, a beacon of utter hilarity in a sea of horribleness. And really, Schwarzenegger’s Freeze is the best of the Schumacher Batman villains. The Riddler and Two-Face were just more insane versions of the Joker, Poison Ivy was terrible and Bane just made me want to cry.

Speaking of Ivy and Bane, this film’s other villains, one would have to be somewhat excited at the prospect of Uma Thurman playing Ivy. However, she gets completely Schumachered up and is a shell of the great character she should be. In fact, she’s not Poison Ivy at all, she’s a wacko scientist reborn as a plant that emulates over the top starlets of a bygone Hollywood era.

Now Bane, he’s even less Bane than Ivy is Ivy. In the comics, Bane is an intelligent and strong foil for Batman, a true equal with more strength and the advantage of not being bogged down by good guy morals. Here, he is a dumb hulking brute that spends more time dressed like Dick Tracy in a lucha libre mask than actually doing anything useful. Fuck Bane. Fuck Schumacher.

The film is also full of the Bat-nipples, Bat-butt and Bat-crotch shots made famous in Batman Forever but since they introduced Batgirl here, we also get a gratuitous Bat-boobies shot when she first throws on her costume. Schumacher likes his sexy Bat-bits being front and center in these more “family friendly” films.

We also get more of Elliot Goldenthal’s awful Batman theme except it is even louder and more unrelenting in this picture than it was in Batman Forever. It literally never stops. Sure, it may have the volume dropped a bit here and there but it is just two hours of violent horns blowing right up your ass. By the time you get to the final shot of the movie where Batman, Robin and Batgirl run towards the screen with the theme blaring louder than ever, you want to scream, “Oh my god! Fucking enough already!!!”

This film isn’t as ugly as Batman Forever but make no mistake, it is still really friggin’ ugly. It’s like some random person walked up to Joel Schumacher and asked, “How are your Batman films going to look?” And he realized he hadn’t thought about it yet but since he was buying black light posters for his niece at Spencer Gifts, he pointed to the poster rack and hissed, “Just like thiiiiiissssss!”

Other than Schwarzenegger trying his damnedest to be fun here, there is nothing in this film that is worthwhile. I could get into the lousy script, how George Clooney was like a fish out of water, the horrendous wire work in the action sequences and about 900 dozen other things but this movie is a massive failure. Still… not as bad as Batman Forever, which wasn’t even mildly fun or entertaining. Schwarzenegger saved this movie from itself, even if it still turned out worse than a sawdust enema.

So it should go without saying that this needs to be put through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 5 Stool: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”

Rating: 3.75/10

Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Origins (PlayStation 3)

*Written in 2014.

*I played the PlayStation 3 version. The game is also available on Xbox 360, Wii U, Windows and OS X.

Having beaten Batman: Arkham City last week, I immediately wanted to jump into the next game in the series, Arkham Origins. This game is a prequel to the Arkham series of Batman video games and the third title, with the fourth to be released next year.

This game is incredibly consistent with the previous entries in the series and that consistency is why these games are so great. The first game worked so well, that they haven’t deviated from it too much and only tweak a few things here and there. When playing these games one after the other, the transition is seamless and it all meshes perfectly together like they are all just big beefy chapters of one big interlocked tale. In essence, that is what they are.

The thing that sets this game apart is the fact that it puts a lot of emphasis on some of the lesser known villains in the Batman mythos. Black Mask and Anarky are two villains that are a major part of the story. The Riddler is simply known as E. Nygma, which was a nice touch. Deathstroke, Deadshot, Firefly, Shiva and a bunch of other characters show up that aren’t as recognizable as some of the more famous villains. To whet the palate of the less initiated Batman fan, there are appearances by the Penguin, Bane and the Joker. Mr. Freeze also shows up in bonus content and the Mad Hatter takes Batman on a psychedelic Wonderland adventure.

Additionally, half of the massive Gotham City map is the same as the map in Arkham City. In fact, all the landmarks are still there except being that this is a prequel, they are pristine and nice and not completely overrun by henchmen and street trash.

This game gives the player a unique backstory on the Arkham series and establishes how Batman met the Joker and how the Riddler started out. It also gives one a sense of how things were when Batman was still a newbie and the bigger villains hadn’t shown up in Gotham City yet. It is a very mob driven town, a little less crazy than what it becomes but the introduction to the Joker brings a serious tonal shift to the game and pulls the player back into just how insane this ride would become for Batman.

I don’t know which game in this series I like most. They are all like really stellar seasons to a really amazing television show. They are different yet they are the same. Each is almost devoid of weakness and they all have their own unique strong bits that set them apart but make them all equally spectacular.

Rating: 9/10

TV Review: Gotham (2014- )

Original Run: September 22nd, 2014 – current
Created by: Bruno Heller, Danny Cannon
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Zabryna Guevara, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart-Jones, John Doman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Morena Baccarin, BD Wong, James Frain, Jessica Lucas, Chris Chalk, Drew Powell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Michael Chiklis, Maggie Geha, Benedict Samuel, David Zayas, Cameron Monaghan, Richard Kind, Natalie Alyn Lind

Primrose Hill Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, 66 Episodes (thus far), 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2015, near the end of season 1, plus additional updates written later.

I was going to wait until the end of the first season before reviewing this show, as I do with most new shows. I just can’t get that far and don’t think that waiting till the season ends will change my assessment. I’ve tried desperately to get this to work for me. I’ve tried a hell of a lot harder than most of my friends and Batman fans, who all gave up on this a long time ago. I saw some promise here and there but this show fails in just about every way. In short: it is pretty goddamned awful (*note: I no longer feel this way as revealed in the final update).

There are actually only a few things that this show has going for it but I’ll get to those shortly.

If you barely know anything about the Batman mythos and you find pleasure in watching mediocre cookie cutter detective shows, I can see where you might find this watchable. However, if you are a Batman fan and love and respect the franchise, this is a very painful experience.

On one hand, the producers are trying to spoon feed the audience with fan service in every episode but it is forced, poorly executed and unnecessary. In fact, it feels as if the producers read a couple Wikipedia articles about Batman and thought they had an intimate grasp. And the way they handle certain characters, goes to show that they don’t understand them at all.  At times it just feels like a cruel joke and it is Fox trolling the shit out of their audience.

For instance, Edward Nygma doesn’t need to speak in riddles every scene, Harvey Dent doesn’t need to display a split personality every other appearance, you don’t need to have constant Joker teases across multiple unrelated scenarios, you don’t need to show a little ginger girl playing with plants every time she’s on screen and Selina Kyle doesn’t need to parkour off of every object whenever she makes an entrance. I also don’t need to be reminded every five minutes about how Jim Gordon is a good cop and every other cop on the force is tainted by something. It is fucking overkill.

The acting is questionable, the writing is more often than not atrocious and despite the over abundance of horribly executed fan service, the show is just plain stupid on its own. It is an obvious attempt at being a cash cow and a ratings grabber and somehow it has worked in that regard, as it is coming back for a second season.

The whole premise of the show makes it a failure from the get-go.

To start, the worst part about most live-action superhero adaptations is the origin. The audience usually finds themselves roughing it through the early bits in an effort to get to the comic book action. Also, how many times has Batman’s origin been told? Now we are given a show that is an overly extended version of the lamest part of Batman’s tale. Who knows how long this could stretch: ten seasons, maybe? Hell, one has been enough.

The other main part of the show, is Jim Gordon trying to “save the city” and destroy corruption. Well, he’s doomed to fail because if he were to succeed, why would Gotham City need the Batman?

As far as characters, Bruce Wayne is okay and I like him being a little shit challenging authority and taking on the evil adults of his world but it isn’t enough to anchor a need for him on this show. Selina Kyle is awful and pretty much a caricature that just happens to look like a young Michelle Pfeiffer. The Poison Ivy character is unimportant and so far useless. All the villains who show up are poorly done and easily defeated. Barbara Kean is the worst character on television. Where did Renee Montoya go? Fish Mooney is sometimes great but mostly terrible. However, I don’t blame these actors, I blame the atrocious writing.

When it comes to positives, Robin Lord Taylor is amazing as the Penguin. In fact, at first, I hated that he was way too skinny to be the Penguin but he’s so good in the role that I don’t care. He is by far, the most interesting part of the show. Almost as good as Taylor is Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. Then again, when isn’t Logue anything short of great? Ben McKenzie does a solid job as Jim Gordon and I do like Cory Michael Smith as Nygma, the man who will become the Riddler – even though the writers force riddles into every situation he finds himself in. Lastly, Sean Pertwee makes a fine Alfred Pennyworth and is my favorite live action incarnation of the character. Pertwee also looks a lot like his father in his older age and seeing him in action reminds me of the Third Doctor from the classic Doctor Who series.

The show is often times too distracted by its own mess and diverts away from characters with potential to focus on too many small parts in a machine that is too large for its own good. When the show is at its strongest is when the Penguin is on screen, Alfred is kicking ass or when it focuses more heavily on the crime families of Gotham City. The episodes pitting Sal Maroni against Carmine Falcone with a little Fish Mooney and the Penguin mixed in are the best that this series has offered up so far.

I still watch this show because I want to buy into it, I just can’t. The good parts keep me engaged but they are too far and few between. I don’t believe that the show will get better but there is enough good stuff to expand on and save it from being the generally uninteresting mess it is currently. But I probably won’t watch the second season on a weekly basis, as I do now. I’ll wait a year for it to be over with and then binge watch it over a weekend. If it picks up steam and corrects itself, consider me reinvested. If not, I’ll find better ways to spend my time.

Update:

Season 2 of Gotham has been infinitely better than the first. The shows is finding its footing and it now knows what it is trying to be. I like that it is creating its own world and veering away from being trapped by the expectations from an already established Batman mythos. The show is doing its own thing and honestly, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce Wayne is killed off before even becoming Batman.

Update 2:

At the end of Season 3, the show has corrected a lot of its early mistakes.

Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jerome Valeska, who may or may not be the Joker but is probably the Joker, is the best version of Batman’s greatest villain I have ever seen in a live-action story. The kid is magnificent and really captures the magic of the comic book version of the legendary character better than anyone I have ever seen. Yes, he’s better than Heath Ledger and he has the same spirit as Mark Hamill who has voiced the character for decades.

Additionally, the show just becomes more interesting as it rolls on, even though it has some dumb plot threads. But when you don’t take this show seriously and just embrace its insanity, it works.

Most of the villains have evolved solidly, especially the Penguin and the Riddler. I also really liked the Mad Hatter story, as well as the plots that focus on Hugo Strange.

Gotham is far from a perfect show but it bounced back, in my opinion. It also works if you just take it for what it is and don’t try to force it into the box that is the already established comic book mythos. I see it now as an Elseworlds Tale, which is a title DC Comics gives to their stories that take place in different realities.

I’m glad I stuck with it as long as I did. For others who have, their dedication has paid off.

Comic Review: Batman: No Man’s Land – The Complete Saga (Volumes 1-5)

Published on: September 1st, 1999 (Volume 1)
Written by: Bob Gale, Devin Grayson, Greg Rucka, Ian Edgington
Art by: Alex Maleev, Dale Eaglesham, various others

DC Comics, 1040 Pages (total over all 5 volumes)

Review:

There have been a lot of huge stories in the Batman mythos over the last 75 plus years. This story may have been the biggest.

Following the events of Contagion and Cataclysm, No Man’s Land tells the long and epic tale of life within Gotham City after a massive earthquake.

In a nutshell, everything was nearly destroyed and the United States government condemned the city and requested that everyone leave, as it was christened “No Man’s Land”. Nothing comes in and nothing comes out of Gotham City in this world. It is essentially like the world in Escape From New York. Except this is Gotham City and this world is full of Batman, his allies and his enemies.

This event took place across every Batman related title throughout 1999. It encompassed the entire Batman world and involved just about every living character that existed in the flesh, at the time.

This is a great series to pick up, as it sort of reinvents and reestablishes the Batman landscape. With Gotham being wiped out everything literally has to be rebuilt from the ground up. Batman reestablishes his connections with his allies and makes some new ones in the process. This series also invloves just about every major Batman villain, so each chapter in this series is literally a Who’s Who of Batman’s rogues gallery.

This series is also notable for being the first time that Harley Quinn and Mercy Graves appeared in comic book form, as part of official DC Comics canon. Both characters started out in the DC Animated Universe but became so popular that they were officially adopted by DC.

The art and the writing in this series is well beyond top notch. There are a lot of things that make this one of my favorite Batman sagas, if not my absolute favorite.

If you’ve ever wanted to see how Batman would live in a post-apocalyptic scenario, here’s your chance.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The big Batman events leading up to this: Knightfall and Cataclysm.