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: Batman: Year Two

Published: 1987
Written by: Mike W. Barr
Art by: Alfredo Alcala, Alan Davis, Todd McFarlane, Paul Neary

DC Comics, 169 Pages

Review:

I’ve heard great things about Batman: Year Two. Surprisingly, I’ve never read it even though it came out in the time when I was just starting out reading superhero comics, specifically Batman titles.

Plus, seeing that this was written by Mike W. Barr is pretty exciting, as I read Camelot 3000 a few months back and loved it.

This story starts off with a bang. However, it gets away from itself after the first issue or so.

It explores Batman’s motivations and what he is willing to do in the name of justice. The story actually sees him team up with Joe Chill, the guy who murdered his parents, and Batman does brandish a gun in this. Eventually, he becomes the Batman we all know and love but his journey here was weird and it seemed kind of forced and shocking just to be shocking.

I guess this is a sort of sequel to Frank Miller’s Year One but it doesn’t seem to fit well with it.

I liked the Reaper character and his weird way of passing the torch to Gotham’s new hero but honestly, this was kind of a mess and Batman, despite this being early in his career, didn’t feel true to the character. I guess that’s kind of the point but it didn’t gel for me.

That being said, this is still worth a read and it has resonated with a lot of people. Also, it’s really cool seeing early art from Todd McFarlane, before his epic Spider-Man run.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Batman: Year One and other late ’80s Batman tales.

Comic Review: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II

Published: August 14th, 2018
Written by: James Tynion IV
Art by: Freddie Williams II

IDW Publishing, DC Comics, 151 Pages

Review:

With the huge success that was the Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover, you knew a sequel was imminent. In fact, there’s a third series, currently being published, and an animated film has also been released.

I think that this story was a bit better than the first one. I’ve really liked James Tynion’s work on Detective Comics over the last few years, as well as Justice League Dark, and he was the natural choice for merging the Bat and Turtle franchises.

It’s very apparent that Tynion has a passion for these characters and they all just sort of mesh really well together unlike other crossovers that seem forced or are penned by someone who may have a passion for one franchise but not both.

I also like that Freddie Williams II returned to do the art again. I think it really fits the tone of the book.

The plot here is better than the first corssover. It focuses on Bane taking over the Turtles version of New York City. Batman, Robin, Batgirl and Nightwing all show up to lend a helping hand. Eventually, the heroes have to free Shredder from prison and use him to give them an edge over Bane, who now controls the Foot Clan, along with Bebop and Rocksteady.

In the end, I can’t call these classics but they are pretty fun reads. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first one but this arc is better paced, feels more organic and Tynion has found his footing better than the initial outing.

I can’t wait to read the third one, once it’s been collected.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 1 and 3, as well as other recent TMNT crossovers.

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: Aquaman, Vol. 4: Underworld

Published: November 20th, 2018
Written by: Dan Abnett
Art by: Stjepan Sejic

DC Comics, 156 Pages

Review:

I’ve been a fan of Dan Abnett’s run on Aquaman. But this story didn’t hit the mark for me like the first few arcs did. Strangely, a lot of people told me that this story was a real highpoint.

This just seemed like an episode of Game of Thrones, a show that I’m not much of a fan of. What I mean by that is this features a lot of talking and plotting and conspiracies about thrones and whatnot. There isn’t enough action and the antagonists just seem like throwaway generic Aqua-villains who will never be seen again, at least not in a meaningful way that gives weight to their characters.

I respect that Abnett tried to add to the mythology with his own creations and by bringing in long forgotten characters like Dolphin, as well as the rarely used former Aqualad, Tempest.

However, it gets too far away from the great work that Abnett was doing with the three volumes before this one. This series started off with a hell of a bang and this chapter in the saga pretty much lulled me to sleep.

The final issue in this arc gave us some action but by that point, I was just ready to wrap this thing up.

It’s not that this is a bad comic story or that it isn’t necessary, it just felt like an arc that could have been whittled down to one or two filler issues. It really disrupted the energetic pace of the series and while sometimes a breather is needed, if done too soon, it can bring things to a halt.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: anything from Dan Abnett’s glorious run on Aquaman, as well as the Drowned Earth crossover event.

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.