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.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Scarecrow

Published: February 9th, 2016
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 280 Pages

Review:

This is the latest edition of the Batman Arkham series that I have read. I’ve become a fan of these big collections because each one gives us stories focused on a specific iconic villain, from their earliest tale to some of their more recent ones.

While Scarecrow has become a pretty solid and formidable villain for Batman and his allies over the last few decades, his earlier tales are pretty mundane. He doesn’t have a great origin and his real identity isn’t that interesting. However, the character evolved really well over time, which is very apparent when reading this collection of stories.

Unfortunately, with the earlier stories being boring and a lot less fun than say early Joker or Riddler tales, it drags the book down in the first half. Once you get into the 1970s though, things get better. The ’80s and ’90s Scarecrow stories are really well done and that was my favorite era for the character, as he truly became a “master of fear”.

The second half of this book is much better than the first for the reasons I already mentioned but one big thing that makes Scarecrow work is his “Fear Gas”. Without it, he’s just a lanky dude dressed like a country hobo with straw spilling out of his shirt. With the Fear Gas, he is a serious threat that often times pushes Batman to the limit. The Fear Gas was a good invention for the character and made him what he is.

If you are a fan of Batman and especially the villains, this is a great anthology to have. I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told but then again, that’s probably my favorite comic book anthology of all-time. This ranks well alongside the other Batman Arkham anthology collections.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other villain anthologies under the Batman – Arkham banner.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Two-Face

Published: November 10th, 2015
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 296 Pages

Review:

I’m really happy that DC Comics is putting out these Batman: Arkham trade paperbacks. They cover the long history of specific villains in the same way that the much beloved The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told anthology did. Many Batman villains have been around for almost as long as the Caped Crusader. It’s about time that those with a long history in the comics get a collection that covers their tales from all eras.

This Two-Face one really goes all the way back to the beginning and shows us how District Attorney Harvey Dent became the famous villain. I mean, we all know the story but have we all seen the original version of how it went down? Plus, back in the oldest days of his existence, he was known as Harvey Kent… not Dent.

While I read the Batman: Arkham on the Riddler first and loved it, this one eclipses that volume a bit. I prefer the Riddler slightly as a character but this anthology for Two-Face is so solid and perfect that I really can’t recommend anything else on the guy’s history. Although, there was this ’90s story where Two-Face reconnects with his wife after saving her but that was excluded and shouldn’t have been. However, that tale was collected in a 1995 anthology titled Batman: Featuring Two-Face and the Riddler, which came out in 1995 to coincide with the release of the film Batman Forever. You should also check that one out if you are a Two-Face fan but a few story selections are repeated in that trade paperback and this one.

In the Riddler volume, I wasn’t as keen on some of the more modern stuff but in this Arkham collection, the modern Two-Face stories that were selected are pretty damn good. The final story, which sees him in league with Scarecrow and the Court of Owls is pretty interesting and it shows an incredibly sinister version of the Two-Face character.

Real Batman fans out there should probably pick all of these Arkham books up. They do not disappoint and I actually plan on working my way through all of them. At the moment, there is eight volumes, all focused exclusively on a particular villain. There are also at least three more that are being released over the next year.

I just got the volumes on Mr. Freeze and Scarecrow in the mail, so those will be the next I read.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other villain anthologies under the Batman – Arkham banner.

Comic Review: Batman: The Long Halloween

Published: 1996-1997
Written by: Jeph Loeb
Art by: Tim Sale

DC Comics, 384 Pages

Review:

This is considered to be one of the best Batman stories ever put to paper. It is certainly one of my favorites of all-time. It is followed up by Dark Victory and Haunted Knight and form a pretty cool trilogy as a whole, even if the third part is a collection of multiple stories and not a big epic like the first two parts. Also, Catwoman: When In Rome is made by the same team and takes place concurrently to these stories.

The Long Halloween is a good departure from the standard Batman stories. It is very heavy on the noir and less so on gadgetry and the more sci-fi elements. It reads like an old school classic Batman tale but is much more modern in its approach, in that it isn’t hokey and comes off really dark and serious.

The story focuses on a serial killer the press has labeled “Holiday”. The killer always strikes on a holiday and seems to be targeting high ranking family members in the Falcone crime family and their associates.

This is also an origin story for Two-Face. Even though it is a tale that has been told before, nothing really carries the weight that his origin does here.

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale combined and made one hell of a team. This was originally published over thirteen issues from 1996 to 1997 and was released as a graphic novel in 1998. The writing is great, the art is even better. This truly is a quintessential Batman story. It’s as perfect as a Batman story can get and it even sprinkles in some of the better known villains, even though they aren’t the primary focus of the story. Seeing Scarecrow and Mad Hatter team together is pretty fun.

The Long Halloween is something that true Batman fans should have already read and should certainly own. There are very few Batman stories this good. It puts a lot of emphasis on the crime families and it has since gone on to spawn a lot of other Batman related projects like the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy of films and the Fox television show Gotham.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The other Loeb/Sale Batman collaborations: Dark VictoryHaunted Knight and Catwoman: When In Rome.

TV Review: Gotham (2014- )

Original Run: September 22nd, 2014 – current
Created by: Bruno Heller, Danny Cannon
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Zabryna Guevara, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart-Jones, John Doman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Morena Baccarin, BD Wong, James Frain, Jessica Lucas, Chris Chalk, Drew Powell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Michael Chiklis, Maggie Geha, Benedict Samuel, David Zayas, Cameron Monaghan, Richard Kind, Natalie Alyn Lind

Primrose Hill Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, 66 Episodes (thus far), 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2015, near the end of season 1, plus additional updates written later.

I was going to wait until the end of the first season before reviewing this show, as I do with most new shows. I just can’t get that far and don’t think that waiting till the season ends will change my assessment. I’ve tried desperately to get this to work for me. I’ve tried a hell of a lot harder than most of my friends and Batman fans, who all gave up on this a long time ago. I saw some promise here and there but this show fails in just about every way. In short: it is pretty goddamned awful (*note: I no longer feel this way as revealed in the final update).

There are actually only a few things that this show has going for it but I’ll get to those shortly.

If you barely know anything about the Batman mythos and you find pleasure in watching mediocre cookie cutter detective shows, I can see where you might find this watchable. However, if you are a Batman fan and love and respect the franchise, this is a very painful experience.

On one hand, the producers are trying to spoon feed the audience with fan service in every episode but it is forced, poorly executed and unnecessary. In fact, it feels as if the producers read a couple Wikipedia articles about Batman and thought they had an intimate grasp. And the way they handle certain characters, goes to show that they don’t understand them at all.  At times it just feels like a cruel joke and it is Fox trolling the shit out of their audience.

For instance, Edward Nygma doesn’t need to speak in riddles every scene, Harvey Dent doesn’t need to display a split personality every other appearance, you don’t need to have constant Joker teases across multiple unrelated scenarios, you don’t need to show a little ginger girl playing with plants every time she’s on screen and Selina Kyle doesn’t need to parkour off of every object whenever she makes an entrance. I also don’t need to be reminded every five minutes about how Jim Gordon is a good cop and every other cop on the force is tainted by something. It is fucking overkill.

The acting is questionable, the writing is more often than not atrocious and despite the over abundance of horribly executed fan service, the show is just plain stupid on its own. It is an obvious attempt at being a cash cow and a ratings grabber and somehow it has worked in that regard, as it is coming back for a second season.

The whole premise of the show makes it a failure from the get-go.

To start, the worst part about most live-action superhero adaptations is the origin. The audience usually finds themselves roughing it through the early bits in an effort to get to the comic book action. Also, how many times has Batman’s origin been told? Now we are given a show that is an overly extended version of the lamest part of Batman’s tale. Who knows how long this could stretch: ten seasons, maybe? Hell, one has been enough.

The other main part of the show, is Jim Gordon trying to “save the city” and destroy corruption. Well, he’s doomed to fail because if he were to succeed, why would Gotham City need the Batman?

As far as characters, Bruce Wayne is okay and I like him being a little shit challenging authority and taking on the evil adults of his world but it isn’t enough to anchor a need for him on this show. Selina Kyle is awful and pretty much a caricature that just happens to look like a young Michelle Pfeiffer. The Poison Ivy character is unimportant and so far useless. All the villains who show up are poorly done and easily defeated. Barbara Kean is the worst character on television. Where did Renee Montoya go? Fish Mooney is sometimes great but mostly terrible. However, I don’t blame these actors, I blame the atrocious writing.

When it comes to positives, Robin Lord Taylor is amazing as the Penguin. In fact, at first, I hated that he was way too skinny to be the Penguin but he’s so good in the role that I don’t care. He is by far, the most interesting part of the show. Almost as good as Taylor is Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. Then again, when isn’t Logue anything short of great? Ben McKenzie does a solid job as Jim Gordon and I do like Cory Michael Smith as Nygma, the man who will become the Riddler – even though the writers force riddles into every situation he finds himself in. Lastly, Sean Pertwee makes a fine Alfred Pennyworth and is my favorite live action incarnation of the character. Pertwee also looks a lot like his father in his older age and seeing him in action reminds me of the Third Doctor from the classic Doctor Who series.

The show is often times too distracted by its own mess and diverts away from characters with potential to focus on too many small parts in a machine that is too large for its own good. When the show is at its strongest is when the Penguin is on screen, Alfred is kicking ass or when it focuses more heavily on the crime families of Gotham City. The episodes pitting Sal Maroni against Carmine Falcone with a little Fish Mooney and the Penguin mixed in are the best that this series has offered up so far.

I still watch this show because I want to buy into it, I just can’t. The good parts keep me engaged but they are too far and few between. I don’t believe that the show will get better but there is enough good stuff to expand on and save it from being the generally uninteresting mess it is currently. But I probably won’t watch the second season on a weekly basis, as I do now. I’ll wait a year for it to be over with and then binge watch it over a weekend. If it picks up steam and corrects itself, consider me reinvested. If not, I’ll find better ways to spend my time.

Update:

Season 2 of Gotham has been infinitely better than the first. The shows is finding its footing and it now knows what it is trying to be. I like that it is creating its own world and veering away from being trapped by the expectations from an already established Batman mythos. The show is doing its own thing and honestly, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce Wayne is killed off before even becoming Batman.

Update 2:

At the end of Season 3, the show has corrected a lot of its early mistakes.

Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jerome Valeska, who may or may not be the Joker but is probably the Joker, is the best version of Batman’s greatest villain I have ever seen in a live-action story. The kid is magnificent and really captures the magic of the comic book version of the legendary character better than anyone I have ever seen. Yes, he’s better than Heath Ledger and he has the same spirit as Mark Hamill who has voiced the character for decades.

Additionally, the show just becomes more interesting as it rolls on, even though it has some dumb plot threads. But when you don’t take this show seriously and just embrace its insanity, it works.

Most of the villains have evolved solidly, especially the Penguin and the Riddler. I also really liked the Mad Hatter story, as well as the plots that focus on Hugo Strange.

Gotham is far from a perfect show but it bounced back, in my opinion. It also works if you just take it for what it is and don’t try to force it into the box that is the already established comic book mythos. I see it now as an Elseworlds Tale, which is a title DC Comics gives to their stories that take place in different realities.

I’m glad I stuck with it as long as I did. For others who have, their dedication has paid off.

Comic Review: Batman: No Man’s Land – The Complete Saga (Volumes 1-5)

Published on: September 1st, 1999 (Volume 1)
Written by: Bob Gale, Devin Grayson, Greg Rucka, Ian Edgington
Art by: Alex Maleev, Dale Eaglesham, various others

DC Comics, 1040 Pages (total over all 5 volumes)

Review:

There have been a lot of huge stories in the Batman mythos over the last 75 plus years. This story may have been the biggest.

Following the events of Contagion and Cataclysm, No Man’s Land tells the long and epic tale of life within Gotham City after a massive earthquake.

In a nutshell, everything was nearly destroyed and the United States government condemned the city and requested that everyone leave, as it was christened “No Man’s Land”. Nothing comes in and nothing comes out of Gotham City in this world. It is essentially like the world in Escape From New York. Except this is Gotham City and this world is full of Batman, his allies and his enemies.

This event took place across every Batman related title throughout 1999. It encompassed the entire Batman world and involved just about every living character that existed in the flesh, at the time.

This is a great series to pick up, as it sort of reinvents and reestablishes the Batman landscape. With Gotham being wiped out everything literally has to be rebuilt from the ground up. Batman reestablishes his connections with his allies and makes some new ones in the process. This series also invloves just about every major Batman villain, so each chapter in this series is literally a Who’s Who of Batman’s rogues gallery.

This series is also notable for being the first time that Harley Quinn and Mercy Graves appeared in comic book form, as part of official DC Comics canon. Both characters started out in the DC Animated Universe but became so popular that they were officially adopted by DC.

The art and the writing in this series is well beyond top notch. There are a lot of things that make this one of my favorite Batman sagas, if not my absolute favorite.

If you’ve ever wanted to see how Batman would live in a post-apocalyptic scenario, here’s your chance.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The big Batman events leading up to this: Knightfall and Cataclysm.