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: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 1

Published: July 25th, 2017
Written by: James Tynion IV
Art by: Freddie Williams II

IDW Publishing, DC Comics, 176 Pages

Review:

When this was first announced, I got pretty excited. But at the time, hunting down single issues of comics was hard for me, as my closest comic book shops are both 45 minutes in opposite directions. So I planned on waiting for it to be collected in a trade paperback format.

I mean, who doesn’t want to read a team up of Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? On top of that, who doesn’t want to see Batman fight Shredder? Yeah, because that’s just about all I could think about when I first heard that this crossover was happening.

You get more than that though. You also get to see Shredder team up with Ra’s al Ghul and several Batman villains get exposed to mutagen and thus, turn into TMNT styled animal villains. The Penguin obviously becomes a penguin but my favorite was Mr. Freeze as a polar bear. You also get to see Casey Jones show up about midway through the story arc.

Overall, this was a lot of fun. I heard that the follow up wasn’t as good but I’ll read that once it’s complete. I think there are still issues coming out for that sequel run.

This comic is really just fan service done really well. It’s not an exceptional story but it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to take these two franchises and smash them together and let everyone loose.

One of the highlights for me was seeing Alfred interact with Michelangelo. That shit was comedy gold.

I can’t call this a great book but if you love both franchises this is certainly worth your ten or fifteen bucks.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 2 and other recent TMNT crossovers.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Poison Ivy

Published: September 13th, 2016
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 312 Pages

Review:

I love these Batman Arkham collections and I’ve read four of them before this one but had to take a break to read some other comics for awhile. So far, there are about ten of these collections: all at around 300 pages.

This collection featuring Poison Ivy was the next one on my list, as I have read plenty of her stuff since the late ’80s but never really got to indulge in her earliest stories before she became really popular in the early ’90s due to how great she was on Batman: The Animated Series.

This starts with her earliest stories and works its way up to more recent ones and is organized chronologically by the publish date.

The early stuff for her isn’t as old as some of Batman’s better known villains. Her first appearance was actually in 1966 around the same time as the Adam West Batman television show. This is probably why she was never included on the show alongside Batman’s most famous rogues.

Her origin tale is pretty good but she isn’t quite the character that she would become. In fact, her origin is rehashed in a few of the different stories collected in this big volume of tales. I do like the older Ivy stories and really enjoyed the one that saw her face off with Wonder Woman, as opposed to Batman, but it’s the later stuff that really made this book for me.

Once we get into the mid-’80s, we see a darker and more serious take on the character. Her story where she comes off as a reformed victim, only to be laying traps for those that wronged her is damn good. It’s also a two-parter and takes up sixty pages or so of this collection.

Everything beyond that is also pretty solid. The editor did a nice job selecting key stories out of the large collection of Poison Ivy tales that have been told over the years.

This is a good collection and frankly, I love that DC is finally releasing books like this for the Batman rogues that have a long enough history to fill up 300 pages.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Batman Arkham collections.

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.

Film Review: Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)

Release Date: January 12th, 2018 (Newseum premiere)
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Jim Krieg
Based on: Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn, Mike Mignola
Music by: Frederik Wiedmann
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Carpenter, Anthony Head, Tara Strong, Bruce Timm, Kari Wuhrer

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 78 Minutes

Review:

“[faces the Ripper] Well, I won’t beg. And I won’t get hysterical. I won’t give you the satisfaction. Know this: I forgive you.” – Sister Leslie

I was a big fan of the old Gotham by Gaslight story, which came out when I was just really getting into Batman circa 1989. It was also the first Elseworlds Tale, which has become a big imprint under the DC Comics banner. Strangely, although this shares the title, the time frame and the villain, it is it’s own story and not an animated adaptation of the famous comic.

At first, I was caught off guard by the alterations and didn’t think I’d like the film but by the time it got to the end, I was digging it.

Reinventions aren’t necessarily a bad thing, sometimes they work quite well and with this film version of Gotham by Gaslight, it was cool going into familiar but really under explored territory in the DC mythos and seeing someone else give their own take on it. Had that take been bad, I’m sure I wouldn’t feel the same but the end result and the story were really good.

The one things that really stuck out for me was the animation. I wasn’t super keen on the character designs but when we got to those high octane action parts, this film really came alive. The big finale, which features a vacant World’s Fair setting and a massive burning Ferris wheel was spectacular. Also, the scenes where Batman was riding through the streets of Gotham on a steam powered motorcycle, looked fantastic.

Ultimately, this film didn’t blow my socks off but it was worth a watch. The animated DC stuff has been really good the last few years, especially the Batman movies. This one is a bit better than their recent average and it was a welcome change to just having another straight up, modern Batman adaptation.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other Batman animated films.

Film Review: Batman & Robin (1997)

Release Date: June 12th, 1997 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Akiva Goldsman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, John Glover, Elle Macpherson, Vivica A. Fox, Jesse Ventura, Nicky Katt

Warner Bros., 125 Minutes

Review:

“If revenge is a dish best served cold, then put on your Sunday finest. It’s time to feast!” – Mr. Freeze

When I recently reviewed Batman Forever, I was really harsh on it. I also said that it is a worse movie than this one, which is considered one of the worst movies ever made. Watching these two films, back to back, after all these years, I still feel that way. This is the superior film of the two dreadful Joel Schumacher Batman pictures.

What makes this stand well above Batman Forever, for me, is the thing that most people like to trash about this picture: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. Sorry, I just love puns and Mr. Freeze’s awful and cheesy puns still make me smile. Sure, I’d prefer a more serious Batman film than this festival of hokey camp but if Schumacher insists on destroying something I love, I can at least appreciate Schwarzenegger’s performance for what it is, a beacon of utter hilarity in a sea of horribleness. And really, Schwarzenegger’s Freeze is the best of the Schumacher Batman villains. The Riddler and Two-Face were just more insane versions of the Joker, Poison Ivy was terrible and Bane just made me want to cry.

Speaking of Ivy and Bane, this film’s other villains, one would have to be somewhat excited at the prospect of Uma Thurman playing Ivy. However, she gets completely Schumachered up and is a shell of the great character she should be. In fact, she’s not Poison Ivy at all, she’s a wacko scientist reborn as a plant that emulates over the top starlets of a bygone Hollywood era.

Now Bane, he’s even less Bane than Ivy is Ivy. In the comics, Bane is an intelligent and strong foil for Batman, a true equal with more strength and the advantage of not being bogged down by good guy morals. Here, he is a dumb hulking brute that spends more time dressed like Dick Tracy in a lucha libre mask than actually doing anything useful. Fuck Bane. Fuck Schumacher.

The film is also full of the Bat-nipples, Bat-butt and Bat-crotch shots made famous in Batman Forever but since they introduced Batgirl here, we also get a gratuitous Bat-boobies shot when she first throws on her costume. Schumacher likes his sexy Bat-bits being front and center in these more “family friendly” films.

We also get more of Elliot Goldenthal’s awful Batman theme except it is even louder and more unrelenting in this picture than it was in Batman Forever. It literally never stops. Sure, it may have the volume dropped a bit here and there but it is just two hours of violent horns blowing right up your ass. By the time you get to the final shot of the movie where Batman, Robin and Batgirl run towards the screen with the theme blaring louder than ever, you want to scream, “Oh my god! Fucking enough already!!!”

This film isn’t as ugly as Batman Forever but make no mistake, it is still really friggin’ ugly. It’s like some random person walked up to Joel Schumacher and asked, “How are your Batman films going to look?” And he realized he hadn’t thought about it yet but since he was buying black light posters for his niece at Spencer Gifts, he pointed to the poster rack and hissed, “Just like thiiiiiissssss!”

Other than Schwarzenegger trying his damnedest to be fun here, there is nothing in this film that is worthwhile. I could get into the lousy script, how George Clooney was like a fish out of water, the horrendous wire work in the action sequences and about 900 dozen other things but this movie is a massive failure. Still… not as bad as Batman Forever, which wasn’t even mildly fun or entertaining. Schwarzenegger saved this movie from itself, even if it still turned out worse than a sawdust enema.

So it should go without saying that this needs to be put through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 5 Stool: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”