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: Red Hood and the Outlaws, Vol. 3: Bizarro Reborn

Published: April 24th, 2018
Written by: Scott Lobdell
Art by: Joe Bennett, Tyler Kirkham, Dextor Soy

DC Comics, 188 Pages

Review:

Out of all the volumes of the Red Hood comic that focus on the trio of Red Hood, Artemis and Bizarro, this is my favorite.

Man, this story was solid as hell and it was also a pretty emotional due to how we see Bizarro die, come back to life as a super-genius and then find out that he is still going to devolve into a dumb brute again.

For long-time fans of Jason Todd, this is especially emotional, as we see him finally find a sense of family that has eluded him for so long. He’s no longer alone, he’s with people he loves but you get the sense that it’s all going to be taken away from him in the near future. Re-reading these issues now, it certainly adds more context to his more recent stories.

Scott Lobdell has done such a fantastic job with this series and even though my pull list from my local comic shop keeps shrinking, this is a series I just don’t want to give up. It’s much better than the industry standard in modern times and it is awesome that there is top tier talent working on a book that mainly features B or C level characters.

This volume actually collects three short story arcs, which see cameos from a lot of cool characters like the modern Suicide Squad, Nightwing, the modern Bat-family, Lex Luthor and others.

I’m also now a big fan of Dexter Soy’s art style. I didn’t know much about him before this series but the issues he works on just look fantastic.

Red Hood and the Outlaws is one of the best DC Comics titles of the last few years. I wish more people would read it, even if the most recent stuff is a bit different due to Jason Todd being alone, once again. But I feel as if that’s leading to him reuniting with his Outlaw family.

With DC cancelling a bunch of titles in the very near future, I really hope that this isn’t one of them.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Red Hood and the Outlaws collections post-Rebirth. Also, the recent Bat-family titles: NightwingBatgirl and also the current runs on Suicide Squad and Deathstroke.

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.

TV Review: Gotham (2014-2019)

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, Peyton List, Crystal Reed

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.