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: 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 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.

Comic Review: Deathstroke: Arkham

Published: October 3rd, 2018 – February 6th, 2019
Written by: Christopher Priest
Art by: various

DC Comics, 134 Pages

Review:

Christopher Priest’s run on Deathstroke has been legendary but I also feel that it doesn’t get enough credit and seems to barely get any fanfare. Priest just understands Slade Wilson, his dynamic with other characters in the DC Universe and really gives the character more depth and complexity.

Following the Deathstroke Vs. Batman storyline, this arc sees Deathstroke sent to Arkham Asylum. While there, a lot of strange things start happening. I don’t want to give away too much but this does feature a ton of classic Batman villains with a lot of time given to Two-Face and Dr. Hugo Strange.

This was a fun story arc that continues to build off of the work that Priest has given us on this title. While there are different artists working on the five issues that make up this plot, everything felt consistent and matches the tone of the series thus far.

There isn’t much else I can say that I haven’t already said in reviews of other installments of Priest’s Deathstroke run. This continues to be good; Priest hasn’t lost a step or slipped into a state of redundancy, which is common when a writer works on a comic book for more than a few years.

Deathstroke: Arkham continues the title character’s journey in such a rich and interesting way that fans of him should truly enjoy this series. It’s been my favorite lengthy run on the character since his original title Deathstroke, The Terminator. In fact, I want to go back and revisit that series to see how it compares to this one.

Sure, I have my own personal bias towards Deathstroke but this is one of the best comic books being written today. More people should be picking this up monthly.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other story arcs in the current Deathstroke title, as well as The Silencer and Suicide Squad.

Comic Review: Nightwing: Knight Terrors

Published: October 3rd, 2018 – January 9th, 2019
Written by: Benjamin Percy
Art by: Travis Moore, Christopher Mooneyham, Klaus Janson, Tamra Bonvillain, Nick Filardi

DC Comics, 184 Pages

Review:

So I was reading Nightwing like a good, long-time Dick Grayson fan, enjoying the story that wrapped up in issue 49 and then all of a sudden, I picked up issue 50 and felt completely lost. Somewhere between the issues, in another comic title that isn’t Nightwing, our title hero was shot in the head, lost his memory, quit being Nightwing and changed his name to Rick because the editors were sick of fans making Dick joke memes.

Color me lost.

Regardless, I said “fuck it” and kept Nightwing added to my pull list because I figured that I’d still give it a shot. I mean, I’ve been a fan of the character my whole life and sometimes a little change is good.

…and then sometimes it isn’t.

This hurt my head, probably even more than that bullet hurt Dick Rick Grayson’s head. Wait… it’s “Ric”? I guess DC’s gotta make him edgy and shit.

So this story is about Dick walking around feeling sorry for himself, treating those who love him like total shit and then being all smuggy and douchey about it like some Millennial communist that hates his rich ass parents because they embarrassed him by picking him up from an Occupy rally in the family Porsche.

Anyway, while Dick is busy sucking at life and starting a career of cab driving in the hood, some actual heroic people find his old stash of Nightwing suits and decide to put them on and take up the mantle. So this new but inexperienced team of four Nightwings end up in over their head, thanks to Scarecrow. The real Nightwing ends up having to step in and save them, even though he’s still just Dick being a dick.

This was a damn challenge to get through but I wanted to believe that this was going to build to something worthwhile. After this seven issue story arc, I’m done. Nightwing is off of my pull list, as one of the best DC Comics titles has been reduced to canary cage liner.

Well, at least I have twenty-plus years of back issues I can revisit where Dick isn’t an insufferable asshole and he does a lot more than just mope and bitch like a petulant toddler.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: some douchebag teen’s private diary about their fucked up suburban parents.

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

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.