Comic Review: Batgirl: Stephanie Brown, Vol. 2

Published: March 20th, 2018
Written by: Bryan Q. Miller
Art by: Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, Ramon F. Bachs, Dustin Nguyen

DC Comics, 327 Pages

Review:

This has been a really cool series and although I’m a massive fan of the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl, Stephanie Brown is a really lovable character that has earned her way to wearing the cowl made famous by the original Batgirl.

Now this volume wasn’t as good as the first and sadly, it’s the last volume in the series, as it fell victim to DC Comics rebooting everything, which they think is necessary every few years now.

Anyway, I still enjoyed this collection of issues, which were mostly a string of 2-3 issue arcs but I think that the first one was more appealing and a better read because it focused on the new Batgirl proving herself and her value.

At the start of this one, she’s accomplished that and even has the real Batman rooting for her. The thing is, that takes away some of the tension in the plot and the drive within the character. It’s that old adage about how the journey is better than the destination.

Now the destination is fine and it is cool seeing Stephanie Brown becoming more confident and stronger but the thing I liked about her was her defiance against those trying to keep her down. Now she’s pretty much loved by those same people and even though the story needed to evolve towards that, it’s just missing it’s edge.

But truthfully, this could have very well picked up into something exceptional and this volume feels like that’s on the verge of happening but the series was cut off with the end of this book.

Stephanie Brown deserves to be Batgirl, she really earned it and it was fun experiencing her journey but DC wanted Barbara Gordon back and Stephanie got downgraded back to Spoiler, which seems like a real slap in the face by her intellectual property owners.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the volume before this one.

Comic Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Published: 1989
Written by: Grant Morrison
Art by: Dave McKean

DC Comics, 220 Pages (25th Anniversary version)

Review:

I bought Arkham Asylum in 1989. I was ten years-old but the first Tim Burton Batman movie had just come out and I was buying Batman comics like they were fresh hotcakes and I had a serious case of the munchies. By the way, no one batted an eye at a ten year-old buying a comic like this in 1989.

Anyway, at ten years-old, this shit was totally over my head. As a forty year-old, this shit is still totally over my head. I’m not saying that it’s tough to absorb, it’s just batshit crazy (pun intended) and reads more like Grant Morrison’s nightmares than a coherent or worthwhile Batman comic book.

While I really am in awe of Dave McKean’s art, it just doesn’t resonate with me in the way that I feel it should. I’m not keen on his character design, even if I like the overall style. But this book looks like Batman and his villains trapped within the pages of a Nine Inch Nails CD booklet from 1994. My teenage self probably saw that as cool but my older self thinks it is a weird mashup that doesn’t really fit no matter how dark you try to make Batman appear.

Getting back to the story, it is a mess. Morrison is a good writer when he’s focused and has more real estate to tell a story. For instance, his run on Doom Patrol was strange as hell but over the course of that lengthy run, there is a glue that binds it all together in a neat way. Maybe if Arkham Asylum was an intro to a larger story, it could have spread its wings and flew. But honestly, the story feels stifled and confined like the inmates in the Asylum itself.

Also, Batman does not feel like Batman here. But then neither does the Joker or Two-Face. As far as these characters go, Morrison misses the mark. But he was young when he wrote this and maybe he sacrificed character continuity for trying to be a hip edgy boi. I hate to say it but this feels like edgy boi bullshit.

This isn’t a total waste though. It certainly is a work of art and it helped steer Morrison’s career in the direction it needed to go. Plus, his Batman stories a decade and a half later were damn good.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Grant Morrison’s runs on Batman and Doom Patrol.

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: The Flash: Flashpoint

Published: October 8th, 2013
Written by: Geoff Johns
Art by: Andy Kubert

DC Comics, 166 Pages

Review:

This is the best Flash event that I’ve ever read. Granted, I’m not a hug Flash fan in the comics and I haven’t read a lot of his big events but this wasn’t bogged down by too much Speed Force bullshit, which is typically a bone of contention with me, as it’s used to explain every random ass weird thing that happens in modern Flash stories. It’s also why I lost interest in the TV show, which started out pretty damn good.

The Speed Force does play a factor here but it doesn’t make this a mental clusterfuck like the plot of The Flash: Rebirth.

And while The Flash does fight another speedster, this isn’t just about a guy with speed fighting another guy with speed because that shit also gets tiresome and is another reason why I stopped watching the show.

There are a lot of characters and the fact that this takes place in an alternate reality where things are different enough to make the world interesting, makes this feel different than the standard Flash event.

Granted, I wish this featured more of the regular rogues that aren’t speedsters but when most of those villains have become jokes, that was probably for the best. At least we get small cameos from Captain Cold and the Pied Piper, even if they don’t have much to do with the story.

The thing that makes this so good, is that it just grabs you and holds on. It’s a quick read, as it takes place over just five issues but there is a lot to absorb. But in the end, this will hit you in the feels from a few different angles and frankly, that took me by surprise. But the final moments in this made this whole journey worth it.

Geoff Johns is one of my favorite writers of the last decade or so and this is the first Flash story that I felt was on the same level as his best Green Lantern work. Plus, Andy Kubert’s art was incredible and it wasn’t too far of a departure from the style I’ve come accustomed to seeing in Johns’ biggest stories, which were mostly drawn by Ethan Van Sciver.

Flashpoint is an action packed and legitimately emotional ride through two men’s tragic journeys. It was well executed and a visually stunning piece of work.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the Geoff Johns era of The Flash, as well as other major Flash events.

Comic Review: Red Hood and the Outlaws, Vol. 3: Bizarro Reborn

Published: April 24th, 2018
Written by: Scott Lobdell
Art by: Joe Bennett, Tyler Kirkham, Dextor Soy

DC Comics, 188 Pages

Review:

Out of all the volumes of the Red Hood comic that focus on the trio of Red Hood, Artemis and Bizarro, this is my favorite.

Man, this story was solid as hell and it was also a pretty emotional due to how we see Bizarro die, come back to life as a super-genius and then find out that he is still going to devolve into a dumb brute again.

For long-time fans of Jason Todd, this is especially emotional, as we see him finally find a sense of family that has eluded him for so long. He’s no longer alone, he’s with people he loves but you get the sense that it’s all going to be taken away from him in the near future. Re-reading these issues now, it certainly adds more context to his more recent stories.

Scott Lobdell has done such a fantastic job with this series and even though my pull list from my local comic shop keeps shrinking, this is a series I just don’t want to give up. It’s much better than the industry standard in modern times and it is awesome that there is top tier talent working on a book that mainly features B or C level characters.

This volume actually collects three short story arcs, which see cameos from a lot of cool characters like the modern Suicide Squad, Nightwing, the modern Bat-family, Lex Luthor and others.

I’m also now a big fan of Dexter Soy’s art style. I didn’t know much about him before this series but the issues he works on just look fantastic.

Red Hood and the Outlaws is one of the best DC Comics titles of the last few years. I wish more people would read it, even if the most recent stuff is a bit different due to Jason Todd being alone, once again. But I feel as if that’s leading to him reuniting with his Outlaw family.

With DC cancelling a bunch of titles in the very near future, I really hope that this isn’t one of them.

Rating: 8.75/10
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.

Comic Review: Detective Comics, Vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen

Published: February 7th, 2017
Written by: James Tynion IV
Art by: Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Alvaro Martinez

DC Comics, 158 Pages

Review:

Since I have been liking a lot of James Tynion IV’s work, as of late, I figured that I would go back to the beginning of his Detective Comics run and revisit it, as I was a fan of the things he did and the team he built.

If you are a fan of solo Batman stories, this isn’t the series for you.

Batman convinces Batwoman to join him in forming a team to protect Gotham City. As a larger group they can be more effective than working independently.

This new team consists of Batman, Batwoman, Red Robin, the Spoiler, Orphan and Clayface.

I was always attracted to the idea of Clayface working with Batman. He feels like the odd man out and sticks out like a sore thumb within this group of similar styled heroes but his story and his attempt at redeeming himself was well handled by Tynion. And that really starts here.

We find out that Batman has been replicated by the military on a large scale. If you are familiar with the Arkham Knight video game, the story is kind of similar. The military is building an army of Batmen similar to what the Arkham Knight was in that video game.

Batman and his new team must stop this immense threat while also dealing with the oncoming storm of the League of Shadows.

There are some solid twists and reveals within the plot that have major consequences for everyone involved, especially Batwoman and Red Robin. This is a pretty pivotal story if you care about those two characters.

The art is solid, the writing is damn good and while this doesn’t completely feel like a self contained story, it is a nice intro to this good run on Detective Comics.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other collections of James Tynion IV’s run on Detective Comics.

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.