Comic Review: Year of the Villain: Black Mask – One-Shot

Published: August 21st, 2019
Written by: Tom Taylor
Art by: Cully Hamner, Dave Stewart, Mitch Gerads (cover)

DC Comics, 37 Pages

Review:

I’m not really into this Year of the Villain megaevent that DC is doing right now but I am a fan of Black Mask, so I figured I’d pick up this one-shot and see if it peaked my interest in the larger event itself.

It didn’t.

And this was mostly a mediocre read.

I guess I needed more backstory to the event itself to grasp some of what was going on but that’s not a great approach, creatively, if you’re trying to get people invested into the thing.

Black Mask is doing typical Black Mask things but then Lex Luthor shows up and tries to convince him to think bigger and to become a more prominent criminal, as opposed to some third tier Batman baddie.

That’s really the gist of the story.

So in the end, I still don’t give a shit about Year of the Villain but at least the art in this one-shot was good.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Year of the Villain tie-ins.

Comic Review: Deathstroke/Teen Titans: The Terminus Agenda

Published: March 6th, 2019 – May 15th, 2019
Written by: Christopher Priest, Adam Glass
Art by: various

DC Comics, 160 Pages

Review:

I really enjoyed the Batman Vs. Deathstroke story arc from last year, which was really a plot that tied Damian Wayne a.k.a. the current Robin together with Deathstroke, as there was the question as to who was Damian’s real father: Batman or Deathstroke.

This story builds off of Damian and Deathstroke’s relationship and issues from that previous plot but it also pulls in the rest of Damian’s Teen Titans teammates in a way that vilifies Damian in their eyes.

Here, Deathstroke gets captured by Damian but you soon learn that it’s all part of Deathstroke’s plan, as it exposes Damian’s fascist nature and his secret prison that he is keeping to hold other supervillains. The other Teen Titans don’t know about it but this blows the door wide open, making them distrust Damian and splintering the team.

What’s best about the story is that this isn’t resolved and Deathstroke succeeds in his plan.

Additionally, people may remember the recent Civil War II event by Marvel where the young Ms. Marvel was unconstitutionally imprisoning people and how there was backlash because her tyranny was never properly examined and certainly didn’t come at a cost to her.

This storyline is similar but it looks at the truth of the matter and there are actual repercussions here. I’m not sure if this was done intentionally to screw with Marvel or not but Christopher Priest and Adam Glass penned a much better story than Civil War II and it also shows that DC cares about their characters… or at least these two writers do. But having read Priest’s entire run on Deathstroke, I’m already convinced that he is, by far, one of the best comic book writers in the business today.

I dug the hell out of this story. It actually even made me interested in the Teen Titans title, which I haven’t read in years. But then this is followed up with a Lobo story and I’m not too keen on Lobo.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other recent Deathstroke and Teen Titans arcs, especially Deathstroke Vs. Batman.

Comic Review: Red Hood and the Outlaws, Vol. 1: Dark Trinity

Published: May 2nd, 2017
Written by: Scott Lobdell
Art by: Dexter Soy

DC Comics, 150 Pages

Review:

Man, I really dig this series. Unfortunately, I came into it a bit late. But now that I’ve read this first story arc, it’s added a lot more context to the three main characters and how they are actually very similar to DC’s “Trinity” of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.

Here, you have Red Hood: a former Robin under Batman, Artemis: an Amazonian warrior like Wonder Woman and Bizarro: a clone of Superman. While they aren’t together at the beginning of the story, this arc shows you how they came to be a unit.

The story also focuses on Red Hood trying to take down Black Mask. He infiltrates his gang, wins over his trust and must wait for the perfect moment to bring the crime boss down. He also has to do all of this without breaking Batman’s rules or else he will have to answer for it.

Scott Lobdell really penned a good script and the art of Dexter Soy is fantastic and gives this fine story a lot of life. It’s vibrant and colorful yet it is still as gritty as a story about Gotham’s criminal underworld needs to be.

Red Hood and the Outlaws has been a favorite series of mine over the last few years. I came into it just after this arc but I am now going to revisit all of it.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Red Hood and the Outlaws collections post-Rebirth. Also, the recent Bat-family titles: NightwingBatgirl and also the current runs on Suicide Squad and Deathstroke.

Film Review: Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

Release Date: July 27th, 2010
Directed by: Brandon Vietti
Written by: Judd Winick
Based on: Batman: Under the Red Hood by Judd Winick, Doug Mahnke
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs, Wade Williams, Kelly Hu

Warner Premiere, DC Comics, The Answer Studio, Warner Bros., 75 Minutes

Review:

“I’m being forced into negotiating with a psychotic.” – Black Mask

This is one of the best DC Comics animated features that I have seen. But I was also a massive fan of this story in the comics and this film benefits from being written by Judd Winick, who also wrote that comic story.

I love that these feature length animated films by DC are not made for kids, they are made for those of us who grew up reading comics in the ’80s and ’90s and who are probably the same age as the people working on these films. It’s like some of us grew up, got jobs at DC and decided to high five the rest of us by making adult animated comic book films.

I liked the art in this, the tone was perfect and the story was well structured. Plus, I always like stories that feature Nightwing and Black Mask. I friggin’ love Black Mask and think he’s underutilized. So seeing him come to life in a feature length story was a lot of fun and just f’n cool.

Also, Nightwing was voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, which was kind of cool too.

My only real complaint was that Kevin Conroy wasn’t Batman and Mark Hamill wasn’t the Joker. I think this was made when they retired from the roles for fifteen minutes. Because they did eventually come back to do other animated features for DC, as well as the Arkham series of video games.

I still thought that Bruce Greenwood was good as Batman but I can’t not hear Kevin Conroy in my head whenever I read a Batman comic, so when it’s not Conroy’s voice in an animated feature, it throws me off. He just is the voice of Batman to me, as Hamill is the Joker.

Apart from that, there isn’t much to shake a stick at. This was well crafted and came off feeling just right.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other DC Comics animated films of the last decade.

Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Knight (PlayStation 4)

*I played the PlayStation 4 version. The game is also available on Xbox One and Windows.

Playing this was long overdue.

This is one of my favorite video game series of the last ten years and it is the best video game series to star a comic book hero. Also, it stars the coolest hero.

Out of all the Arkham games this is probably the best one overall. I think I liked Arkham City a bit more but this one had so much content and new elements added to it that it really takes the cake from a narrative and technical standpoint.

I guess the biggest addition to this chapter in the series is that it is the first game where you can drive the Batmobile. And you don’t just get to drive it, you get to do battle with it. There are a lot of parts in the game where you have to go into vehicular combat and there are different styles, as well. There are side missions that play out like straight up car chases and then there are other missions where you go into “battle mode” and you are essentially a tank in a firefight with other tanks and aerial drones. It’s actually pretty incredible stuff and this element never got old.

The only Batmobile stuff I didn’t like was the racetrack sequences, which are worked into the Riddler side missions. I don’t play Batman games to race cars, I play them to save Gotham City from scum and villainy. They also work the Batmobile into the equation where you have to solve some of the Riddler’s puzzles. I love the Riddler, I just liked his side missions the least because of these bits.

I liked the new Arkham Knight character, even though it became fairly obvious who he was and that he wasn’t actually a new character but just a new twist on a known character. I also like that changes to his character were instrumental in Deathstroke coming into the game. But sadly, you don’t get to exchange fisticuffs with him. But that leads me to one other minor problem with the game.

There are no real boss battles. Well, there are big boss battle feeling moments like when you take on the Arkham Knight’s tank or when you reach the big crescendo in the Mr. Freeze side missions but you never actually fight any of the major villains with your fists except for Killer Croc.

Still, I do like how the big battles go down in the game. I just wish that I got to have more intimate physical encounters.

And man, there are a ton of villains. And even though the Joker is dead, he is very much a big presence in the game but I don’t want to reveal how, as that will spoil the story. But Mark Hamill, as the Joker, probably has as much dialogue in the game as Batman.

I liked that Scarecrow was the biggest villain in the game, as he’s a character that gets shafted in favor of the better known villains in Batman lore. Plus, the version of Scarecrow used in this game series is my favorite version of the character to date.

Ultimately, this is the best game in the series overall and thus, I’d say it is the best superhero video game that I have ever played. It brings the story full circle and is a nice conclusion to Rocksteady’s Batman franchise.

But really, I hope that this isn’t the actual end. I’d love to see a Nightwing, Red Hood or Batgirl game spun off from this series.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: The three previous Batman: Arkham games.

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

Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham City (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.

It has been a while since I have played the first installment of this series, Arkham Asylum. In fact, I played it when it first came out in 2009. It was an amazing game and I wanted a sequel. Unfortunately, it took me this long to get around to it. In fact, the 4th game is coming out in the near future. That’s actually what motivated me to get into this one, as I realized I was falling behind in video games in general. Life is busy and shit.

Arkham City is a much larger game in scope. Instead of being trapped within the walls of Gotham City’s iconic mental institution, you are now free to roam a section of the city that has been retrofitted as an urban prison for psychos and hard criminals.

Gameplay is virtually the same as the previous installment, the graphics are amazing, the plot is pretty solid and there are enough villains and other characters in this game to make it a who’s who of Batman lore. The main villains who drive the plot are the Joker, Hugo Strange, Ra’s al Ghul, Mr. Freeze and the Penguin. There are side quests and other minor missions that bring in Harley Quinn, the Riddler, Two-Face, the Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, Bane, Solomon Grundy, Hush, Deadshot, Victor Zsasz, Calendar Man, Black Mask, Killer Croc and Clayface. Batman’s allies throughout the story include Catwoman, Talia al Ghul, Alfred Pennyworth, Oracle, Robin, Commissioner Gordon and after some disagreements, Mr. Freeze. Nightwing also appears as a playable character in bonus content.

There is a lot of meat and potatoes in this game. It is truly a total package of pure awesomeness in that it is a near perfect game play-wise, it does a magnificent job expanding on a fictional universe that has existed for over 75 years and it keeps this world fresh, new and exciting. If you are a Batman fan, this game is an essential experience and must be played – that really goes for this whole series.

I had more fun playing this than most games over the last few years. It is actually hard to try and find any flaws within it. I cannot recommend Arkham City enough. I guess I better go out and pick up Arkham Origins (the third game and prequel to the series).

Rating: 9.25/10