Comic Review: Batman, Issue #386 – First Appearance of Black Mask

Published: August 7th, 1985
Written by: Doug Moench
Art by: Tom Mandrake, Adrienne Roy

DC Comics, 24 Pages

Review:

While I’m a fan of Doug Moench’s writing, especially on Batman, as well as being a fan of the Black Mask character, I had never read his first appearance, which also serves as his origin story.

Recently, I bought the comic, graded and slabbed to add to my collection, but I wasn’t able to read it due to it being near mint and inaccessible in its sealed case. So I bought the issue digitally, so I could at least enjoy the story inside.

While I know the gist of Black Mask’s origin, I was glad to see it fleshed out. While his backstory is pretty unique, it’s also overly complex and it’s kind of strange.

This shows how he has ties to Bruce Wayne and in some ways, Black Mask’s childhood association reminded me of Hush’s even though this came out nearly two decades before Hush’s debut. And Black Mask also doesn’t know that Bruce Wayne is Batman.

The story here is a multi-part arc, which is continued in Detective Comics before bouncing back to the following issue of Batman.

I didn’t read the whole arc, as I mostly just wanted to read his debut issue. Plus, all of this will most likely be collected in Black Mask’s Batman Arkham collection, which is slated to be released in a few months. And since I plan to buy that and review it, I’ll read the whole story there.

In the meantime, this was a pretty impactful debut, enhanced by the art of Tom Mandrake and Adrienne Roy.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Batman stories by Doug Moench.

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: Moon Knight – Epic Collection, Vol. 1: Bad Moon Rising

Published: October 1st, 2014
Written by: Doug Moench, Steven Grant, David Anthony Kraft, Bill Mantlo
Art by: Bill Sienkiewicz, Mike Zeck, Keith Pollard, Don Perlin, Jim Mooney, Keith Giffen, Jim Craig, Gene Colan

Marvel Comics, 482 Pages

Review:

I’ve always liked Moon Knight but I’ve never read his earliest stories. Being that a Moon Knight television show was just announced, I figured I’d go back and give his first few appearances a read.

He first appeared in a small arc in Werewolf by Night. This collection starts with that story and while its enjoyable in a ’70s Marvel horror pulp kind of way, the Moon Knight character still feels undeveloped.

The rest of this collection does a better job of expanding on him, as well as his trusty sidekick Frenchie.

As this rolls on, it gets more interesting but it doesn’t really find it’s groove until you get to the few issues collected here that were the start of the first ongoing Moon Knight series.

A lot of this is really great to look at and admire, especially the portions where the art was done by Bill Sienkiewicz. Plus, you really see his style evolve just in this short sample size.

This collection is also full of a lot of Moon Knight’s earliest appearances in other titles. There are stories with the old Defenders team, Spider-Man and The Thing.

I’d say that this was a pretty fun comic and it’s neat seeing Moon Knight in his earliest stages but I wouldn’t say that this is a must read. Moon Knight really didn’t hit its stride until his own series was rolling for about a year. But I think I’ll jump into those stories next, as they’re collected in a volume that follows this one.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the Moon Knight – Epic Collection volumes that follow, as well as other late ’70s Marvel comics focused on street level crime.

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.