Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Penguin

Published: September 4th, 2018
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 241 Pages

Review:

As I’ve stated just about every time that I’ve reviewed one of these Batman Arkham “best of” collections, I love these damn things. Each one focuses on a specific villain from Batman lore and, for the most part, collect the best stories from all eras of Batman comic book history.

Now while I did enjoy most of this volume, I can’t honestly say that these are the Penguin’s greatest hits. Some of the stories here were kind of drab and just from memory I came up with about a half dozen that were better than the ones collected here.

However, I think part of the problem is that they want to cover all the eras and most of the great Penguin stories I’m thinking of are from the ’70s and ’80s.

This still does a good job at showcasing the character and giving fans a peak into how he’s evolved over the years as times change and new writers have come and gone, most of them leaving their imprint on the character.

In the end, this is worth adding to your collection if you’ve also been buying every volume. However, I wish that DC would come up with a better and beefier collection to honor the longevity and greatness of this 79 year-old character.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Batman Arkham collections.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Hugo Strange

Published: April 24th, 2018
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 240 Pages

Review:

There really aren’t a lot of Hugo Strange stories. Well, at least when compared to the amount of Joker, Riddler, Two-Face, Penguin or Catwoman stories. But there were still enough to fill up an installment in the Batman Arkham Collections, which has been a trade paperback “best of” series for many of Batman’s top villains.

Granted, we might be scraping the bottom of the barrel now that they’ve done one for Joker’s Daughter and they have an upcoming one for Victor Zsasz but I digress.

I like most of these villain-centric collections and this one is no different, as it is nice to have the key Hugo Strange stories in one book. However, this also goes to show that the guy has been underutilized and underappreciated by Batman writers over the years.

This is over 200 pages but some of the stories are multi-part arcs. There’s maybe a half dozen different tales here but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough when compared to Batman Arkham Collections of the past.

Most of them were enjoyable but this makes me question as to whether they should have made this one.

It also made me wish that a good writer would come along and use Hugo Strange more or at least come up with something really great for him to do. He was utilized greatly in the Arkham Asylum games, as well as the Gotham TV show.

But maybe he’s just too much of a generic mad scientist type and with that, overloaded with tropes that most writers just aren’t interested in writing about. But the character debuted in 1940. So in 80 years, there really hasn’t been one great Hugo Strange story? C’mon, DC.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other Batman Arkham collections.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Joker’s Daughter

Published: December 26th, 2017
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 219 Pages

Review:

Out of all the Batman Arkham collections, this was the one I was least enthused about reading and I was kind of confused as to why Joker’s Daughter even got a greatest hits trade paperback when there were other more deserving Bat-villains worthy of a collection first. Hell, this came out before the Penguin one!

Anyway, she’s never been a major villain and I wouldn’t even rank her as a C-list character. She had an interesting run in the ’70s, disappeared, then reappeared more recently because… well, I don’t know. She’s just not that interesting.

While I feel like she could be made interesting, she just hasn’t been given anything worthwhile to do since her ’70s run where she had the schtick of playing the daughter of all the main Bat-villains. She’s also not actually the Joker’s daughter, she’s Duela Dent, the daughter of Two-Face.

This collection features just about every story with the character, as there aren’t that many to begin with. The only thing from memory that this was missing was her appearances in the Red Hood/Arsenal series.

It was kind of cool, however, seeing her earliest stories because it was very much a product of its time. None of this was great or all that good but if you have a thing for really obscure characters, it’s worth checking out, I guess. But there are so many other volumes in this collection that really make this one seem unnecessary.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Batman Arkham collections.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Killer Croc

Published: June 28th, 2016
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 291 Pages

Review:

Killer Croc is a Batman villain that I have dug since I first read a story with him in it in the late ’80s. I’m glad that he has had staying power and is now pretty close to being an B+ level villain in the Batman and larger DC mythos.

This collection, like the other Batman Arkham villain compilations features a dozen or so stories focused on this specific character, all from different eras with a slew of different writers and artists.

But in the case of this book, that kind of hurts the overall compilation.

Now most of the writing is good with stories by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Gerry Conway, Tim Seeley and others. It’s the big style variance in art that damages the overall presentation.

The problem is that most of the stories featured here are from the ’90s. At the time, DC Comics had a lot of artists that experimented with a lot of different art styles. Most of the stuff here looks like ’90s indie stuff that is trying way too hard to be edgy and extreme. A lot of it comes off like massive eye sores and the strong contrast in style from chapter to chapter is kind of jarring. But this is a compilation and these things happen when you’re wedging a dozen or so stories into the same book.

However, this collection also brings to light one of my biggest gripes about the Killer Croc character and that’s that everyone draws him differently. Sometimes he’s just a jacked dude with scaly skin and other times he’s the size of the Hulk with an actual crocodile looking head, snout and all. I’ve never been a fan of his inconsistent look and some of these artists go too wild with it.

Being mostly a product of the ’90s we also get some over the top violence in one story in particular, which sees Killer Croc literally chomp a woman in half. While that stuff doesn’t bother me, it seemed out of place in the book and just reminded me of a time when DC Comics seemed like they were trying too hard to fit within what they thought were the times.

I did enjoy this collection, despite my gripes about it. They could only work with what they had in their library but I can’t believe that some of these are considered the best Killer Croc tales. Maybe someone needs to step up and do the character some justice, treat him with care and give us something with more meat.

I also found it odd that none of his Suicide Squad stuff was here, as some of those stories really build up the character in interesting ways.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other Batman Arkham collections.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Clayface

Published: August 15th, 2017
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 318 Pages

Review:

I’ve read a bunch of these Batman Arkham collections and I’m glad DC Comics is still putting one out a few times per year. If you remember those old collections like The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told or The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, these are similar and are always focused on one character: a Batman villain.

Now I say that these are focused on one villain but this installment is a bit different, as it features Clayface, which there have been multiple versions of over the years and all of them are pretty unique.

What I really loved about this is that it gives us the first appearances of every Clayface in regular Batman canon. Hell, it even gives us the story of the Mud Pack, which was a villain team comprised of multiple Clayfaces.

The Clayface that most people are familiar with is the original, Basil Karlo. He was the one featured in Batman: The Animated Series in the ’90s and has monopolized Clayface’s comic book appearances since.

However, I loved seeing all the different versions here. My favorite story and now my favorite Clayface is the third version a.k.a. Preston Payne. I knew of him but never got to read his debut until now. His look and armored suit were badass and his story was fantastic thanks to the great Len Wein. As much as I like Karlo, I’d love to see Payne make a real comeback.

Overall, this was a pretty cool collection. Most of these are stories I’ve never read but they also gave me better clarity on the bizarre history of the Clayface moniker.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other Batman Arkham collections, as well as Clayface-centric stories.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Man-Bat

Published: January 31st, 2017
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 296 Pages

Review:

Having read several of these Batman Arkham collections, I have been inspired to read and collect them all. I love historical anthologies that feature stories about a single character, spanning decades from creation to the most modern incarnation. Like all the other books in this series, this one featuring Man-Bat starts off with a bang. But then things went off the rails for me.

It has been a really long time since I’ve read them, but the earliest appearances of Man-Bat were incredible and those issues of Detective Comics where he first appears are some of the best Batman stories of the early ’70s.

Following that stuff, this book features the first two issues of the ’70s Man-Bat comic, which I have never read. Yes, Man-Bat had his own starring title, albeit short-lived.

We then get into the ’80s where we see a more modernized version of the character’s origin. But as is the problem with some of these collections, we see more variant origin stories than we do just cool tales featuring the character outside of rehashing their beginnings.

As we get into the ’90s stuff, we are treated to the good writing of Chuck Dixon, whose IDW G.I. Joe stuff I loved in the late ’00s and early ’10s. While his tales are engaging the blatantly ’90s art style is incredibly hard to look at and really ruins those stories. They are a visual mess and unpleasant to look at. The pencils and ink are done to the extreme with thick lines and too much detail. It’s like Man-Bat needs a billion creases all over his body and to be covered in nonsensical shadows that defy any real lighting source. And everything just looks overly grotesque to the comic’s supreme detriment.

When we get into the stories from this millennium, we are treated to another rehash of Man-Bat’s origin.

For the most part, I liked this collection because the high points are damn good. As the book rolls on, however, you’re taken on strange, ugly rides. Maybe there just isn’t enough Man-Bat material to make a collection work.

The first third of this collection is great. It’s just a lot less engaging by the time you reach the late ’80s stuff and onward. The final story, which was made very recently, was a step up from the ’90s stuff but it didn’t serve much of a purpose.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Batman Arkham collections.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Poison Ivy

Published: September 13th, 2016
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 312 Pages

Review:

I love these Batman Arkham collections and I’ve read four of them before this one but had to take a break to read some other comics for awhile. So far, there are about ten of these collections: all at around 300 pages.

This collection featuring Poison Ivy was the next one on my list, as I have read plenty of her stuff since the late ’80s but never really got to indulge in her earliest stories before she became really popular in the early ’90s due to how great she was on Batman: The Animated Series.

This starts with her earliest stories and works its way up to more recent ones and is organized chronologically by the publish date.

The early stuff for her isn’t as old as some of Batman’s better known villains. Her first appearance was actually in 1966 around the same time as the Adam West Batman television show. This is probably why she was never included on the show alongside Batman’s most famous rogues.

Her origin tale is pretty good but she isn’t quite the character that she would become. In fact, her origin is rehashed in a few of the different stories collected in this big volume of tales. I do like the older Ivy stories and really enjoyed the one that saw her face off with Wonder Woman, as opposed to Batman, but it’s the later stuff that really made this book for me.

Once we get into the mid-’80s, we see a darker and more serious take on the character. Her story where she comes off as a reformed victim, only to be laying traps for those that wronged her is damn good. It’s also a two-parter and takes up sixty pages or so of this collection.

Everything beyond that is also pretty solid. The editor did a nice job selecting key stories out of the large collection of Poison Ivy tales that have been told over the years.

This is a good collection and frankly, I love that DC is finally releasing books like this for the Batman rogues that have a long enough history to fill up 300 pages.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Batman Arkham collections.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Scarecrow

Published: February 9th, 2016
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 280 Pages

Review:

This is the latest edition of the Batman Arkham series that I have read. I’ve become a fan of these big collections because each one gives us stories focused on a specific iconic villain, from their earliest tale to some of their more recent ones.

While Scarecrow has become a pretty solid and formidable villain for Batman and his allies over the last few decades, his earlier tales are pretty mundane. He doesn’t have a great origin and his real identity isn’t that interesting. However, the character evolved really well over time, which is very apparent when reading this collection of stories.

Unfortunately, with the earlier stories being boring and a lot less fun than say early Joker or Riddler tales, it drags the book down in the first half. Once you get into the 1970s though, things get better. The ’80s and ’90s Scarecrow stories are really well done and that was my favorite era for the character, as he truly became a “master of fear”.

The second half of this book is much better than the first for the reasons I already mentioned but one big thing that makes Scarecrow work is his “Fear Gas”. Without it, he’s just a lanky dude dressed like a country hobo with straw spilling out of his shirt. With the Fear Gas, he is a serious threat that often times pushes Batman to the limit. The Fear Gas was a good invention for the character and made him what he is.

If you are a fan of Batman and especially the villains, this is a great anthology to have. I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told but then again, that’s probably my favorite comic book anthology of all-time. This ranks well alongside the other Batman Arkham anthology collections.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other villain anthologies under the Batman – Arkham banner.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Mr. Freeze

Published: May 16th, 2017
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 228 Pages

Review:

I’ve been reading these Batman Arkham trade paperbacks, as they are collections of tales featuring famous Batman villains that cover their earliest stories up to their most modern. This volume on Mr. Freeze was pretty enjoyable, even if he was a fairly weak character until he was reinvented in the ’90s for Batman: The Animated Series.

Reading these collections that span decades also shows you how a real hokey character can actually become quite compelling. Plus, it’s cool to see how different generations have rewritten Freeze’s origin. Granted, I will always see his origin as the one that was established in Batman: The Animated Series, which was adapted into the comics shortly after. The newer twist to his origin isn’t nearly as good, where Nora wasn’t his wife but was his long dead mother.

Most of the stories here are pretty entertaining. I like reading the really old school classic stuff and it is cool seeing where the character came from and how he originally burst onto the scene. Mr. Freeze was originally called Mr. Zero but that was changed after his first appearance.

The best Freeze stories are the ’90s ones, though. The story in here that was done by Paul Dini, who also worked on Batman: The Animated Series, was by far the best tale in this collection.

Mr. Freeze is an interesting villain that has changed a lot over the years. While he isn’t as iconic as the Joker or the Riddler, he is still one of Batman’s toughest foes and a collection of his top stories was long overdue.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The other villain anthologies under the Batman – Arkham banner.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Two-Face

Published: November 10th, 2015
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 296 Pages

Review:

I’m really happy that DC Comics is putting out these Batman: Arkham trade paperbacks. They cover the long history of specific villains in the same way that the much beloved The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told anthology did. Many Batman villains have been around for almost as long as the Caped Crusader. It’s about time that those with a long history in the comics get a collection that covers their tales from all eras.

This Two-Face one really goes all the way back to the beginning and shows us how District Attorney Harvey Dent became the famous villain. I mean, we all know the story but have we all seen the original version of how it went down? Plus, back in the oldest days of his existence, he was known as Harvey Kent… not Dent.

While I read the Batman: Arkham on the Riddler first and loved it, this one eclipses that volume a bit. I prefer the Riddler slightly as a character but this anthology for Two-Face is so solid and perfect that I really can’t recommend anything else on the guy’s history. Although, there was this ’90s story where Two-Face reconnects with his wife after saving her but that was excluded and shouldn’t have been. However, that tale was collected in a 1995 anthology titled Batman: Featuring Two-Face and the Riddler, which came out in 1995 to coincide with the release of the film Batman Forever. You should also check that one out if you are a Two-Face fan but a few story selections are repeated in that trade paperback and this one.

In the Riddler volume, I wasn’t as keen on some of the more modern stuff but in this Arkham collection, the modern Two-Face stories that were selected are pretty damn good. The final story, which sees him in league with Scarecrow and the Court of Owls is pretty interesting and it shows an incredibly sinister version of the Two-Face character.

Real Batman fans out there should probably pick all of these Arkham books up. They do not disappoint and I actually plan on working my way through all of them. At the moment, there is eight volumes, all focused exclusively on a particular villain. There are also at least three more that are being released over the next year.

I just got the volumes on Mr. Freeze and Scarecrow in the mail, so those will be the next I read.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other villain anthologies under the Batman – Arkham banner.