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: Red Hood/Arsenal, Vol. 1: Open for Business

Published: April 5th, 2016
Written by: Scott Lobdell
Art by: Denis Medri, Paolo Pantalena

DC Comics, 141 Pages

Review:

I was a fan of Scott Lobdell’s work on Red Hood and the Outlaws, so I figured I’d go backwards and read his short-lived Red Hood/Arsenal series that takes place just before the formation of Red Hood’s Outlaws team with Artemis and Bizarro.

Also, with the recent death of Arsenal and Red Hood having to deal with it and process it, I wanted to get more context to their friendship.

This was a good read, a pretty energetic story and it does do a lot to show you how special Red Hood and Arsenal’s relationship is. It also channels back to events that effected them before this story. And maybe I’ll have to go back further and read those too.

However, this wasn’t as good as the Red Hood and the Outlaws stuff that followed. While both are written by Lobdell, the more recent (and still ongoing) series has just a bit more depth to it.

This collection is the first of only two in this series and while this one serves to set things up, upon finishing it, it doesn’t feel like there is much to look forward to, as the series seems to present itself as something with more longevity than just one more arc. And maybe that longevity was intended to be the Outlaws series but I know that I’ll probably want more of Red Hood and Arsenal than just this small sample size. Especially, now knowing what Arsenal’s fate will be down the road.

If you like Red Hood stories though, this is probably worth your time. It’s hard to judge it though, as there is one more volume after it and maybe I should have just read both as one body of work.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Red Hood and the Outlaws.

Comic Review: Batman: The Dark Prince Charming

Published: 2017
Written by: Enrico Marini
Art by: Enrico Marini

DC Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

While not specifically labeled an Elseworlds tale, that’s what this is, as it is Enrico Marini’s take on Batman and the Joker with its own twists that don’t exist within the normal DC Comics continuity.

In this world, Batman apparently fathered a little girl after a one night stand. The Joker kidnaps the girl, thinking that he can blackmail Bruce Wayne into bidding on a fancy gem that Harley Quinn wants. Man, the story sounds really stupid now that I’m typing it out.

Overall, the plot is lame, not all that engaging and this seems to fit so far outside of the box of who these characters are that I couldn’t wrap my brain around it.

Hell, Jim Gordon is even seen vaping in this.

There is also a lot of humor thrown in but most of it isn’t funny and the jokes fall flat, immediately.

I’m not sure what the tone of the book is supposed to be as it feels all over the place.

However, I did enjoy the art. Marini has a cool style, even if he took some liberties with the looks of the characters.

I’m all for new creatives taking on the Batman mythos and doing their own version of it. It worked incredibly well when Sean Gordon Murphy did it with White Knight. However, here, it just feels like some edgy boi bullshit.

The art saves this from being a complete waste though.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Elseworld tales featuring Batman.

Comic Review: Batgirl: Stephanie Brown, Vol. 1

Published: August 22nd, 2017
Written by: Bryan Q. Miller
Art by: Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, John Trevor Scott

DC Comics, 296 Pages

Review:

I wasn’t sure what to think going into this series. I mean, I always liked Stephanie Brown as Spoiler since she first popped up in the ’90s but I’m not too keen on anyone other than Barbara Gordon being Batgirl.

However, I’m really happy to say that this book impressed me and was a heck of an exciting read.

Stephanie Brown is just a fun character and in many ways she reminds me of Barbara Gordon before she became Oracle. She has a lot of energy and her personality is infectious and definitely comes right off of the page.

That being said, this is very well written. Bryan Q. Miller was hitting homers right out of the park with just about every issue of the twelve that are collected in this big volume.

Reading this now is also interesting because it all takes place in the era where Dick Grayson a.k.a. Nightwing was filling in for Batman. It creates an interesting dynamic between the characters and what they all think Bruce Wayne wanted for his legacy.

Barbara Gordon is in this as Oracle and she is essentially the new Batgirl’s Alfred. It’s a nice passing of the torch to Stephanie Brown and it sort of legitimizes her. As a reader and fan of Barbara, her acceptance of Stephanie translates to the reader who may have reservations about a new Batgirl.

All the story arcs within this served a purpose and it was neat seeing Stephanie grow in this role. The final arc, a four parter called Flood is the highlight of the book. It’s a story that features The Calculator as the villain and it calls back to one of the more important Oracle stories.

This book was cool. I dug the hell out of it and I can’t wait to read the second volume.

And man, the covers are beautiful.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the volume that follows this one.

Comic Review: Batman: Knightfall, Book III

Published: 1993-1994
Written by: Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant
Art by: various

DC Comics, 645 Pages

Review:

Well, I should start this by saying that Knightfall, Book III was much better than Book II but it still wasn’t on the level of the vastly superior Book I.

Azrael is still Batman at the start of the story but Bruce Wayne comes back to claim the title and eventually outwits Azrael, exposing him as a total wackadoo. This surprisingly happens in the first third of this thick collection of issues. But I was fine with that, as Azrael’s horribly designed ’90s extreme cliche of a costume was hurting my eyes and my logical brain.

The second third of this book follows the aftermath of the massive Knightfall storyline while the last third of the book is a storyline called Prodigal.

I really liked the aftermath and Prodigal stuff, as even though Batman takes the mantle back, he then leaves and gives the reigns over to Dick Grayson, the original Robin and current Nightwing. Seeing Grayson as Batman with Tim Drake still as Robin was a neat experiment and was fun to read for fans of both of those characters.

There is a pretty large story involving Two-Face within the larger Prodigal crossover event and that was the highlight of this collection for me. But we also get good bits with Killer Croc, who hadn’t been seen since Bane broke both of his arms, and the Ventriloquist. I also enjoyed the Catwoman stuff.

Knightfall, Book III really salvages the gigantic epic after Book II kind of shit the bed. And in the end, I’m glad that I committed to reading the nearly 2000 pages of the Knightfall saga.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other books in the Knightfall saga, as well as pretty much any Batman story from the ’90s.

Comic Review: Batman: Knightfall, Book II

Published: 1993-1994
Written by: Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant
Art by: various

DC Comics, 643 Pages

Review:

I really loved the first book in this series. However, this one was a big drop off from the events of the first.

The main reason is due to Batman not being in this book until the very end. This was the ’90s and Azrael was Batman and he was a walking ’90s cliche in the worst way possible. For a fan of what Batman is and what the spirit of his comics are, this doesn’t fit that mold.

Now I get that this “breaking of the mold” schtick was intentional, it just doesn’t make for good reading outside of a decade where violent antiheroes were the norm. I understand why people are nostalgic for this huge mega event that spanned a year or so but I didn’t read this when it was current and I’m looking at it with fresh eyes.

The fault doesn’t necessarily fall on the writers as there are things I enjoy about the writing but Azrael is such an unlikable asshole, which he’s supposed to be, that I want to see him fail and I can’t cheer for him. But being that he is the star of this saga, at this point, really bogs the overall tale down.

Plus, I hate his costume, it’s hard on the eyes, completely nonsensical and where are the other heroes in the DC universe that wouldn’t let this guy operate like a maniac. Doesn’t Tim Drake have Superman’s phone number? Robin is just sitting around waiting for Bruce to come home? Why doesn’t he talk to Gordon about it and develop a plan to bring in the Justice League?

I think that this also suffers from a complete lack of Bane, who was defeated at the end of Book I. I guess I had always assumed that Bane as a threat stretched across all three giant books in this saga.

This installment is also mostly devoid of villains that we know and care about. It’s as if new villains were brought in to establish a new generation of rogues for Azrael to face but they all mostly fall flat and weren’t really seen again or in any significant way after this lengthy epic.

In the end, Bruce Wayne comes back to Gotham and is disgusted by how his legacy has been handled by his hand picked successor. So hopefully the third book gets things back to form. But at the same time, why in the holy hell did Bruce Wayne choose Azrael to be the next Batman? His track record before this was shit.

Anyway, I’m hoping that the third and final book rights the ship.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the other books in the Knightfall saga, as well as pretty much any Batman story from the ’90s.

Comic Review: Batman: Knightfall, Book I

Published: 1993-1994
Written by: Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant
Art by: various

DC Comics, 634 Pages

Review:

I’ve put off reading the Batman: Knightfall saga for so long because of two reasons. It’s spread out over three massive books and each of those books is pretty pricey. However, Comixology now has the first book available for free to Unlimited subscribers and they just had a big sale on the other two books. So I was able to get this whole thing for about $8.

So now that I have this series in my possession, I can start reading all 2000-plus pages of it. Yes, it’s a real monster – big enough to rival the mass of Bane on the cover.

Over the years, I’ve acquired a few of the issues within this massive saga but it started to come out as I was going into high school and I moved to a much smaller town where I couldn’t buy comics. So I never really got to read it, even though I’ve come to know the story fairly well.

The story, mostly penned by Doug Moench and Chuck Dixon, is quite good. There are a lot of layers to this massive story, as there should be due to how much material it has between its covers. However, some things do feel a bit rushed, as there isn’t much build worked in to the major plot developments.

For instance, Batman is broken pretty quickly in this saga. And then Azrael is given the mantle of Batman and immediately, he acts like a psycho in how he fights crime. He’s a dick to Robin, he almost lets a kid die to pursue the baddie and he retrofits the Bat-suit with claws and spiky, metal shit. I think it would have enriched the story to show Azrael slowly slip into this aggressive new Batman.

Still, that doesn’t hinder the book very much, as there are so many other characters and situations to track through this volume’s 634 pages.

I was surprised to see Azrael actually defeat Bane in this book, as it is only the first third of the saga. So I don’t really know what that means going forward and I was pretty sure that Bane’s fall would be at the end of this huge saga.

This is absolutely quintessential ’90s Batman though. And that’s really what’s so great about it. Bane is the perfect villain for this era and Azrael is a very ’90s twist on heroism. I even enjoy Azrael’s cringeworthy Bat-suit because despite its awfulness and nonsensical design, it fits the era.

Additionally, the art in every issue collected in this giant piece of work is damn good. I’ve always been a big Graham Nolan fan and his work here is some of his most memorable.

I’m glad that I finally read this. It exceeded any expectations I had for it, even if I thought the narrative was choppy in parts. But I also attribute some of that to this story being a big crossover with multiple writers.

If you haven’t read Knightfall, you probably should.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other books in the Knightfall saga, as well as pretty much any Batman story from the ’90s.