Comic Review: Batman: War Games: Book Two

Published: 2004-2005
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 628 Pages

Review:

While this does read better than the first volume in this two part epic series, it is still kind of a mess in that it jumps all over the place and doesn’t seem to follow any sort of logical narrative path. In short, it’s hard to follow and it’s not all that exciting to begin with.

I’m not sure why some people have made a big deal about the War Games epic. Sure, most of the art is solid and I mostly like the parts written by Ed Brubaker but this is such a mixed bag as a total package that the low points and drastically different art styles just pull you right out of the story.

This is overloaded with characters, which typically isn’t a bad thing for a large Batman story. However, this reads more like a massive DC mega event in that it’s so overloaded that there isn’t anything that one can fully connect to. Even if you’re interested in a certain plot thread, sometimes you get distracted for a really long period of time before coming back to it.

This was pretty poorly organized and executed.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Batman stories of the late ’90s and early ’00s.

Comic Review: Batman: War Games: Book One

Published: 2004-2005
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 515 Pages

Review:

This is one of the giant Batman sagas I hadn’t yet read. So I was pretty stoked to pick it up but ultimately, I was left pretty disappointed, as it’s slow, dry and honestly, not that exciting.

Being that I am a fan of Stephanie Brown a.k.a. Spoiler, I did like her parts in this, as it is a major turning point for her character and because it helped to fill in some of the blanks I had with her character’s development. I really dug the hell out of her time as Batgirl before they took it away from her and gave the identity back to Barbara Gordon.

This collection doesn’t feel much like a large cohesive story. There are plot threads that stretch the duration of the book but it is mostly a few short arcs stuffed into a massive volume to collect the tales of the era.

I guess the main common thread is that this mostly focuses on combating Gotham City’s street level crime but this book sort of just sets the stage for what I assume will be a more action heavy second book.

For the most part, I liked the art but some of the stories felt like a waste of time. But I guess I’ll have to see how things play out in the second and final volume of this “saga” before being too harsh.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Batman stories of the late ’90s and early ’00s.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Penguin

Published: September 4th, 2018
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 241 Pages

Review:

As I’ve stated just about every time that I’ve reviewed one of these Batman Arkham “best of” collections, I love these damn things. Each one focuses on a specific villain from Batman lore and, for the most part, collect the best stories from all eras of Batman comic book history.

Now while I did enjoy most of this volume, I can’t honestly say that these are the Penguin’s greatest hits. Some of the stories here were kind of drab and just from memory I came up with about a half dozen that were better than the ones collected here.

However, I think part of the problem is that they want to cover all the eras and most of the great Penguin stories I’m thinking of are from the ’70s and ’80s.

This still does a good job at showcasing the character and giving fans a peak into how he’s evolved over the years as times change and new writers have come and gone, most of them leaving their imprint on the character.

In the end, this is worth adding to your collection if you’ve also been buying every volume. However, I wish that DC would come up with a better and beefier collection to honor the longevity and greatness of this 79 year-old character.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Batman Arkham collections.

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Killer Croc

Published: June 28th, 2016
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 291 Pages

Review:

Killer Croc is a Batman villain that I have dug since I first read a story with him in it in the late ’80s. I’m glad that he has had staying power and is now pretty close to being an B+ level villain in the Batman and larger DC mythos.

This collection, like the other Batman Arkham villain compilations features a dozen or so stories focused on this specific character, all from different eras with a slew of different writers and artists.

But in the case of this book, that kind of hurts the overall compilation.

Now most of the writing is good with stories by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Gerry Conway, Tim Seeley and others. It’s the big style variance in art that damages the overall presentation.

The problem is that most of the stories featured here are from the ’90s. At the time, DC Comics had a lot of artists that experimented with a lot of different art styles. Most of the stuff here looks like ’90s indie stuff that is trying way too hard to be edgy and extreme. A lot of it comes off like massive eye sores and the strong contrast in style from chapter to chapter is kind of jarring. But this is a compilation and these things happen when you’re wedging a dozen or so stories into the same book.

However, this collection also brings to light one of my biggest gripes about the Killer Croc character and that’s that everyone draws him differently. Sometimes he’s just a jacked dude with scaly skin and other times he’s the size of the Hulk with an actual crocodile looking head, snout and all. I’ve never been a fan of his inconsistent look and some of these artists go too wild with it.

Being mostly a product of the ’90s we also get some over the top violence in one story in particular, which sees Killer Croc literally chomp a woman in half. While that stuff doesn’t bother me, it seemed out of place in the book and just reminded me of a time when DC Comics seemed like they were trying too hard to fit within what they thought were the times.

I did enjoy this collection, despite my gripes about it. They could only work with what they had in their library but I can’t believe that some of these are considered the best Killer Croc tales. Maybe someone needs to step up and do the character some justice, treat him with care and give us something with more meat.

I also found it odd that none of his Suicide Squad stuff was here, as some of those stories really build up the character in interesting ways.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other Batman Arkham collections.

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: 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.

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: 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.