Film Review: Batman: Year One (2011)

Release Date: September 27th, 2011 (Spain)
Directed by: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
Written by: Tab Murphy
Based on: Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, Jon Polito, Alex Rocco, Katee Sackhoff, Grey DeLisle, Stephen Root

Warner Premiere, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation, 64 Minutes

Review:

“Twelve years. And the ache is still fresh. Like a raw angry nerve. But this isn’t about healing. I’m not looking for closure.” – Batman

This was a pretty short film, even for a DC Comics animated feature. Not counting the credits, this was exactly one hour and it played more like a pilot for an hour long Batman animated series for adult fans than it did a movie.

That’s certainly not a knock, as this was pretty solid, overall. It was a really good adaptation of the original Frank Miller story, even though these DC animated films take a lot of creative liberties.

It captures the gist of the story and the tone of the comic. Although, this does feel less gritty but I think that is due to it being very clean looking animation mixed with obvious CGI in parts. I wasn’t a fan of the CGI bits, as they stick out like a sore thumb and don’t blend well with the overall visual composition.

The plot and the script are very good though. But they are truly brought to life by a heck of a cast that boasts Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie (who went on to be the star of Gotham), Eliza Dushku, Katee Sackhoff, Alex Rocco, Jon Polito, Stephen Root and solid voice actress, Grey DeLisle. The voice acting was superb and it made this a better film than it would have been with a lesser cast.

I guess I actually would’ve liked this to be a bit longer. It rushes through the story, which isn’t too dissimilar from the comic it is based on, but I felt like some added context and more plot and character development could’ve put this at the level of the two-part The Dark Knight Returns animated picture.

Still, this is a good outing by Warner Bros. animation studio and it’s definitely in the upper echelon of animated Batman flicks.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other DC animated films, primarily those featuring Batman.

Comic Review: Red Hood/Arsenal, Vol. 1: Open for Business

Published: April 5th, 2016
Written by: Scott Lobdell
Art by: Denis Medri, Paolo Pantalena

DC Comics, 141 Pages

Review:

I was a fan of Scott Lobdell’s work on Red Hood and the Outlaws, so I figured I’d go backwards and read his short-lived Red Hood/Arsenal series that takes place just before the formation of Red Hood’s Outlaws team with Artemis and Bizarro.

Also, with the recent death of Arsenal and Red Hood having to deal with it and process it, I wanted to get more context to their friendship.

This was a good read, a pretty energetic story and it does do a lot to show you how special Red Hood and Arsenal’s relationship is. It also channels back to events that effected them before this story. And maybe I’ll have to go back further and read those too.

However, this wasn’t as good as the Red Hood and the Outlaws stuff that followed. While both are written by Lobdell, the more recent (and still ongoing) series has just a bit more depth to it.

This collection is the first of only two in this series and while this one serves to set things up, upon finishing it, it doesn’t feel like there is much to look forward to, as the series seems to present itself as something with more longevity than just one more arc. And maybe that longevity was intended to be the Outlaws series but I know that I’ll probably want more of Red Hood and Arsenal than just this small sample size. Especially, now knowing what Arsenal’s fate will be down the road.

If you like Red Hood stories though, this is probably worth your time. It’s hard to judge it though, as there is one more volume after it and maybe I should have just read both as one body of work.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Red Hood and the Outlaws.

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: Joker

Published: 2008
Written by: Brian Azzarello
Art by: Lee Bermejo

DC Comics, 130 Pages

Review:

When this came out in 2008, I thought it was pretty badass. It hasn’t aged well though.

But I guess my changed feelings on it now is because I’ve aged as a comic book reader and the character of the Joker just doesn’t feel right in this. Also, the plot is very thin and this mostly just follows a regular guy who finds himself pulled into the Joker’s orbit on the day that the criminal madman is released from Arkham Asylum.

I know that this came out at the same time as 2008’s The Dark Knight and that it was made to capitalize off of that highly anticipated movie. In fact, the actual look of the Joker here, is much more in tune with Heath Ledger’s Joker than the regular comic book Joker.

The story does not tie to the movies though and it exists within Brian Azzarello’s own version of the Batman universe. But in an era where comic book franchise constantly get rebooted, what the hell is canon anymore?

I do like the art style and the character design is good for most of the key characters. Although, the look of the Riddler is more cringe than the current Tom King Riddler, who I absolutely hate.

Reading this now, this just feels like some edgy boy shit that’s trying too hard to be hardcore and extreme but never actually has the balls to cross the line like DC Comics did at the height of its classic Vertigo titles.

I think that this story ties into Azzarello’s current Batman: Damned series but I’m not 100 percent sure on that, as I’m waiting to read that series once all the issues come out.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Brian Azzarello comics, especially the recent Batman: Damned series.

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 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.