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: Dark Nights: Metal

Published: June 12th, 2018
Written by: Scott Snyder
Art by: Greg Capullo

DC Comics, 204 Pages

Review:

I didn’t read this as it came out. I also was much more frugal about how much I spent on comics at the time. I’m less frugal now, as I’m spending more time reviewing them. And to be honest, while this is $30 for the collected edition at my local comic shop, I found this on a brief Comixology sale for $5.99. So at that price, I figured I’d give it a go. If I ended up really liking it, I would’ve gone back to buy the single issues. But I didn’t really like it all that much. I’ll explain.

To start, I typically like Scott Snyder’s writing, especially in regards to anything with Batman in it. As far as Greg Capullo goes, he is one of my favorite artists of the last few decades. So seeing them reunite for this was definitely a selling point, even if what I knew about the project’s story didn’t peak my interest.

The biggest problem with Metal is the same problem with most mega events in comics, it is chock full of so many characters that the plot loses fluidity and the story seems to placate more to wedging in as many cameos as possible, as opposed to keeping the train on the rails.

This wasn’t a bad idea for a story but it should have been kept fairly simple. People just kept showing up on nearly every page, though, and it becomes distracting. New twists and turns are thrown in as often as characters and this just loses its focus. It also introduces a whole horde of villains, most of whom will just be one-offs in this story anyway. But this reads more like a sketchbook than a coherent story. What I mean by that, is that this feels like Capullo trying to fit in every cool design that he wasn’t able to wedge into Spawn throughout his run on the book in the ’90s.

Another thing I didn’t like was how wordy this was. While there are good action scenes, sometimes these characters felt like they weren’t surrounded by villains but instead, were surrounded by word balloons, trying to wedge their way into the panels and asphyxiate the characters. The word balloons were the real villains of the story. At least, that should be a twist whenever this gets a sequel.

I did like how the ending looked into the future as a way to tell you what stories would be coming out from DC Comics over the following year. But, at the same time, this was disappointing to some degree, as a main reason why I picked this up was to see the introduction of DC’s “New Age of Heroes”. I always see mentions that this is where they debuted but their appearance here is limited to one panel where we see into the future.

Anyway, this at least kept my attention over the six issues, even if they felt like twelve due to the dialogue and having so much detail to drink in. I wouldn’t say that this is a waste of time and I can see where this will be a lot of people’s cup of tea. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, really. But I also don’t regret reading it simply because I liked seeing Capullo have fun and get really creative with the art and character design.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Any other DC Comics mega event of the last decade or so.

Comic Review: Batman: Night of the Monster Men

Published: February 28th, 2017
Written by: Tom King, Steve Orlando, Tim Seeley, James Tynion IV
Art by: Riley Rossmo

DC Comics, 144 Pages

Review:

I haven’t been too keen on the Rebirth stuff by DC Comics. I also didn’t like the big Batman story that I read by Tom King, The War of Jokes and Riddles. However, a friend told me that there was a story that King did that pitted Batman and his team against kaiju that were wrecking Gotham City. Kaiju are big monsters like Godzilla or King Kong for those who aren’t familiar with the term.

I’m a big kaiju fan, so it was hard for me to not check out a story where Batman must confront giant beasts. Plus, I should give King another shot and Tim Seeley also contributed to the story and I’ve always liked his work, especially his Hack/Slash and G.I. Joe stuff.

I did enjoy this more than The War of Jokes and Riddles but it still didn’t leave me with much faith in this Rebirth era of DC Comics.

The story brings in Hugo Strange as the big baddie. He does some experiments that turn patients into kaiju that are unleashed on Gotham in an effort to draw out and destroy Batman. Strange tries his best to outwit the Caped Crusader and stays one step ahead until Batman once again finds a way to use the mad professor’s overconfidence against him.

The book is action heavy, which was great. Also, the monster designs were pretty cool and unique. However, the story wasn’t that interesting. In fact, it was kind of dull. Also, there are all these new people that are part of Batman’s team that I just don’t care about. I’m a bigger fan of Batman working alone or in a very small group. This felt like it was trying to be like the Arrow TV show with all these random copycat heroes.

However, Clayface is now on Team Batman, which I actually quite enjoyed even if it caught me completely off guard at first. There is this really cool scene where Batman wears Clayface like extra armor, which was just neat to see.

Night of the Monster Men had some good moments but not enough to make me happy that I spent money on it or that will probably make me want to ever pick it up again.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: For superheroes versus giant kaiju monsters, check out Marvel’s run on Godzilla. Also, other Batman arcs under the Rebirth brand.

Comic Review: Batman: The War of Jokes and Riddles

Published: December 19th, 2017
Written by: Tom King
Art by: Mikel Janin

DC Comics, 200 Pages

Review:

I haven’t been too keen on modern comics from the big publishers: Marvel and DC. I’m not wholly opposed to reading them, as there are a few titles I still like. However, modern writers seem to be trying to reinvent and alter things too much. Then there is the whole SJW movement in comics that are forcing change in a bizarre and unnecessary way, as oppose to creating new characters that can stand on their own.

The Batman Rebirth stuff doesn’t seem to be full of SJW meddling but it does make some drastic moves and alters the narrative in ways that don’t feel organic.

My biggest issue with this story, is that the Riddler, one of the main characters, is pretty much a murderous, blood thirsty psycho that carves question marks into his flesh and plays more of a mob boss with a penchant for green suits than the classic villain we all know and love. Also, he has sideburns, looks attractive and wears his dress shirts wide open like some sort of douchebag.

The Joker seems pretty much normal, even if he is drier and more bland than what one is used to. But his story starts with him not finding anything funny anymore. Sort of like the kid that takes his ball and goes home because the bigger kid keeps tackling him to the ground. The Joker has no energy here but I guess that’s the point of the story and how it plays out. Still, in no situation whatsoever, can my mind even imagine this sort of version of the character.

Then there is the relationship between Batman and Catwoman, which sees Batman turning a blind eye to Catwoman’s crimes as long as she grinds on his junk once in a while. Besides, she’s not a “sick” criminal. Regardless, Batman’s code seems to be thrown out the window as long as he gets to play “hide the churro” every few dozen pages or so.

And speaking of Batman’s code, he tries to kill the Riddler in cold blood, unprovoked in the moment, with a machete to the face. No, seriously. This is something that happens in this tale.

The problem with this story arc is maybe the same problem I have with modern comics. The writers and the creators either don’t have respect for the source material and want to put their own spin on things or they just don’t understand or know the source material. I’ve been reading Batman comics for over thirty years and this is the most un-Batman story I have ever come across.

The writer doesn’t understand these characters, tries to throw way too many into the story and then doesn’t even weave a good or engaging enough plot to give this any sort of point. The entire plot revolves around the Joker feeling gloom. The big reveal at the end shows that this was all an elaborate ploy by the Riddler to solve the biggest riddle of all: why won’t the Joker laugh.

I’ll tell you why the Joker won’t laugh. It’s because he’s lived for nearly eight decades and never has he been in a story as dull and as dumb as this one.

I really wanted to like this because it has been a long time since I’ve cared about Batman. Yes, I still read older stuff on a regular basis but the series has just been lost to me ever since the end of the Grant Morrison era.

On the positive side of things, the art is pretty damn good. I don’t like some of the new character designs but the book still looks nice.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Probably other Batman stuff in the Rebirth line but I doubt I’ll read anything else from this era.

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.

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

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.