Merry Christmas!

Hi everyone,

I’m just writing to wish everyone a Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/whatever you celebrate.  I’m taking a little break from blogging to relax and rest up a bit, but I’ll be back in the new year with more posts about my comic exploits (you’re absolutely riveted, I’m sure.)

Hope everybody has a great holiday and a happy new year!

-Jess

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Batman: Prey

Batman: Prey is a rather complex trade.  It compiles two five-part miniseries, each with Hugo Strange as a central focus.  A summary of this collection would have to be extremely detailed in order to encapsulate everything that occurs.  There are key plot points involving Strange, Catwoman, Night Scourge, and even Scarecrow.  The central plot focuses on Strange’s obsession with the Batman as he toys with our hero’s head and attempts to push him to the brink of insanity.

Throughout this trade, I found the villains to be the most compelling to read about.  Specifically, Hugo Strange and later Jonathan Crane (aka Scarecrow).  Perhaps it’s my latent interest in psychology, but I found their depictions extremely fascinating.

Hugo Strange, a preeminent psychologist in Gotham, is perhaps one of the most complex villains ever to grace the pages of a Batman comic.  Obsessed with our hero, he spends countless nights trying to unravel Batman’s psyche while at the same time emulating him.

One of the oddest aspects of his behavior occurs when we see his (one-sided) conversation with a mannequin wearing Batman’s cowl:

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This is not your average, everyday sort of crazy.  Strange is completely off the deep end, making his role as well-respected city psychologist all the more disturbing.

Strange’s obsession with Batman was interesting to read about, but I must admit I found Batman’s depiction in this comic somewhat lacking.  While I could easily discern Strange’s mindset throughout the collection, Batman was more of an enigma.  In certain situations this characterization would add to the story, but not so in this case.  Batman’s psyche is at the forefront of the story, but I never really got the feeling that he was deeply affected by Strange’s psychological attacks.  He would vocalize concerns and distress over the situation, but it never really felt natural.  In this way I felt the comic was missing a key piece.

Strange himself was still enough to carry the story, at least as long as he was allowed.  In the second miniseries collected here, Strange (who was presumed dead after being shot and falling into the river) returns and travels to Arkham Asylum in disguise in order to treat one Jonathan Crane.

This second half of the trade was even more interesting than the first, with Strange using hypnosis as a form of mind control on the asylum guards as he works to change Crane’s mindset in order to do his bidding against the Batman:

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These scenes delved deeper into Crane’s emotional state than I thought they would, and it was certainly to the comic’s benefit.  Peering into the criminal’s psyche is always fascinating, and here it was done well enough that it added a new level to the story (one which is quite necessary for the story as a whole).

Strange eventually breaks Crane out of Arkham, but his brainwashing techniques are not what he had hoped (or perhaps Crane is just too strong), for Strange’s plans quickly unravel as Crane returns to his Scarecrow persona.  Enraged that Strange wanted to use him as a puppet, Scarecrow seeks retribution and sets a trap, into which Strange all-too-easily falls:

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Grotesquely impaled on the spike of a weathervane, Strange is out for the count as far as this trade is concerned.

Here the story shifts, with Scarecrow taking over as the primary villain Batman must battle.

This change in villains leads to a change in the overall tone of the comic.  Strange was fixated on Batman and Batman alone; Scarecrow wants to destroy Batman, but also wants to kill all those who were bullies to him in his past.

The culminating scene takes place in a veritable house of horrors, with Crane’s fear gas impacting everyone there, Batman included.  The story is, luckily, far richer than I’m making it out to be, with a sub-plot involving Catwoman being blackmailed into helping Crane.  As the story ends, Crane is in custody, Catwoman is on the loose, and Strange is presumably dead, although I tend to believe he’s alive, because come on. He already came back from the dead once in this comic.  No way he’s gone for good.

Overall I liked the story, but at the same time as I was reading I always felt there was something keeping me from being completely engulfed in the story.  The lack of acute characterization for Batman could have been part of it, but it felt like something else.

When I reached the final page of the trade, I realized what was keeping me from loving this collection:

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It’s the over-stylized nature of the panels.  The above image looks more like a movie poster than an immersive scene in a panel.  I always felt like I was observing the comic, rather than feeling completely drawn into it.  The characters themselves felt over-stylized as well, with Batman and Catwoman being depicted as muscular-beyond-belief, and don’t even get me started on the waaaaay overly-sexualized appearance of Catwoman.

(Okay too late, I’m started.  I could live with Catwoman being sexualized the way she is, in so much as it could be attributed to the costume and her secret identity.  There are scenes of her out of costume though which are unnecessarily sexual, such as a single panel in which Selina Kyle is doing aerobics and is shown sitting on the floor facing the reader, completely spread eagle wearing a skimpy leotard.  This added absolutely nothing to the story and felt completely gratuitous.  Such scenes were distracting and unnecessary.)

This stylistic choice may appeal to certain readers, but it just didn’t fit with the story for me.  I would have preferred such a psychologically-based collection to focus more on overall mood, using subtle changes in the scene to hint at the character’s current mental state.  As it is, the story itself was certainly enjoyable; I just think it could have been even better with a few tweaks.

-Jess

Batman: Four of a Kind

It’s been quite a while since I haven’t liked a collection on “the shelf”.  I may like them in varying degrees, but for the most part everything I’ve read recently has been enjoyable.

Perhaps my expectations are just too high based on the recent comics I’ve been reading.  Perhaps I enjoy the full-world comics, tying everything together, to enjoy one-off stories with no clear place in the continuity.

Whatever it is, I found this particular trade lacking.  It collects four “Annuals”, each pertaining to one of four Batman villains: Poison Ivy, The Riddler, Scarecrow, and Man-Bat.  I understand the point of these issues: they serve to fill in the gaps and introduce each of these characters into the new continuity.  As stories themselves though, I just wasn’t drawn in.  Each issue felt incomplete, and the characters didn’t feel fully developed, for the following reasons:

  1. Poison Ivy

This was the first time I came across Poison Ivy on “the shelf”, and I had high hopes for the character. I’ve read about her in one or two contemporary issues and I liked how she was portrayed.  She’s always seemed strong, driven, and just twisted enough to make for a great villain.

Her story here felt pedestrian at best, and didn’t make enough use of her trademark “plant” abilities.  There were a few minor references to them, and one scene in which the plants play an ancillary role, but it almost felt as though the story could have occurred with another villain in her place with hardly any changes.

Also, as an introduction to the character, I found this severely lackluster.  Her entire “backstory” is shown in two panels, with virtually no detail (I will concede, the brief reference to her gaining her powers after Swamp Thing’s Dr. Woodrue experiments on her had me geeking out quite a bit).  This felt more akin to early Batman comics in which the backstory is treated as unimportant.  I had hoped we would learn more about her character and origin before diving into her criminal activity.

I could have forgiven the lack of backstory if her character was more developed.  Sometimes a story works better if the backstory is revealed slowly, after we’ve seen the character a number of times.  I don’t think that’s the case here.  Her character felt so one-dimensional that I almost felt bored reading her tale.

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This panel is essentially all Poison Ivy is: a man-hating “typical” woman.  There’s no strength, no passion behind her actions: she wants pretty jewels and hates all men for apparently no reason.  These stereotypical tropes hardly make for a compelling villain, and certainly don’t do justice to someone as intriguing as Ivy.

2) The Riddler

If Poison Ivy was one-sided, Riddler is hardly any better.  Here we’re given a very detailed backstory with no contemporary action, seeing his origin as he narrates it from an undisclosed location.

I can see where the writers were trying to go with his backstory: they attempted to show how he was essentially bullied into his current role, how unfair treatment and an already-unhinged personality could lead to this life of crime.  I suppose in a way they succeeded.

The effect left something to be desired though.  I found Riddler to be a whiny, self-centered character.  Now I understand this could very well be the writer’s intent, but it was to such a degree that I didn’t want to keep reading about him.  He was hardly interesting and really didn’t seem like much of a challenge for Batman.

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See what I mean? Whiny little brat.

I’ll admit maybe I’m a bit biased because my biggest exposure to Riddler came from the Jim Carrey portrayal.  There just seemed to be a bit more development to that version.  I’m hoping as he makes future appearances in the comics that he’ll be less frustrating and more engaging.

3) Scarecrow

Scarecrow falls into much the same boat as Riddler when it comes to characterization.  We learn a lot of his backstory, but it just feels overdone.  How many times can the “he was picked on as a kid so that’s why he became a villain’ shtick be used?  I’m not saying it’s not realistic, but for such unique characters it just starts to feel repetitive.

Scarecrow’s story shares many similarities with Riddler’s, with the exception that we see him committing crimes in between flashbacks to his earlier years, while Batman’s hot on his trail.

The story itself was more engaging that the others in this trade, I’ll admit that.  There was potential here for a really good Scarecrow issue, but it just fell flat.  Jonathan Crane’s overt analyses throughout the entire trade felt less like psychological diagnosis and more like the stilted dialogue used in earlier issues to help propel the story.

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I wanted to like the Scarecrow story, I really did.  It just wasn’t developed enough to keep me interested.

4) Man-Bat

By this point in the trade I had little hope for the final issue, but I held out, figuring Man-Bat’s story must at least be halfway decent.  I loved the original Man-Bat issues and found his character to be extremely complex, so I figured these couldn’t be too bad.

I wish I could say I was right.

This particular Man-Bat story had a number of inherent problems.  First, Kirk Langstrom, originally a decent, hardworking individual is portrayed here as a preoccupied, neglectful person, often snapping at his fiance and treating her poorly.  I didn’t sympathize with his character the way I did in the original story.

Secondly, his transformation was swift and ended up feeling less organic to the story, with Langstrom injecting himself with the Man-Bat serum in a fit of desperation, rather than as a calculated test.

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The actual artwork for Man-Bat was well done, but I still vastly prefer Neal Adams’s rendering of the character.  There was just more emotion in his face which made him seem human even as his transformation progresses.

Lastly, the Man-Bat’s characterization felt much less compelling.  Langstrom loses all thinking capacity as the transformation progresses, and culminates in a battle between him and Batman that felt like any other fight for the caped crusader.  Whereas earlier stories slowly progress Kirk’s spiral into a life of crime, showing his uncertainty in his actions, this is more of a cut and dry case.  By the end of the comic Man-Bat is cured, with Langstrom having no recollection of what he did in his bat form.  This is a far cry from the multi-issue arc we saw previously, in which the character is fleshed out and allowed time to develop before he is ultimately cured.

Overall I just wasn’t impressed with this particular collection.  Again, I concede that this may just be due to the fact that I’ve recently been reading such richly detailed stories that all tie into one another.  These stories lack that cohesiveness that I’ve come to enjoy and expect from such comics.  Perhaps as I continue reading these characters will be further developed, and I’ll come to appreciate these initial appearances.  As it stands though, I’m glad to be moving on from this trade and look forward to more compelling stories to come.

-Jess

Green Arrow: Year One

It wasn’t until after I finished this trade that I realized it was the first Green Arrow solo comic I had read.  The closest I had come up until this point was the Green Lantern/Green Arrow crossover a few months back.  Having realized that, I recognized that Green Arrow’s origin story was a noticeable gap in my comics knowledge.

I have no basis for comparison since I never read his original origin story, but based on this trade alone I’d say Green Arrow is pretty freaking epic.

Sometimes I’m not too fond of origin stories.  Don’t get me wrong, I love learning a character’s backstory and what drove them to their life choices, but sometimes in comics these details are glossed over.  Especially in the Golden/Silver Age comics, a backstory is one, maybe two pages, with a basic outline of what drives the character without any real substance behind it.

With this Green Arrow trade, I feel like I have an acute understanding of the transformation Oliver Queen made to become Green Arrow.

That is what this trade is about, after all.  A transformation.

With the opening pages, we learn that Oliver Queen is essentially an entitled, spoiled, dangerously reckless rich kid, with no concern for anyone but himself.   He doesn’t care about anyone or anything, and has absolutely no drive in his life.

Due to an unfortunate sequence of events, Oliver ends up on a boat with his trusted friend and employee, Hackett, who has betrayed him in order to steal money.  Hackett’s true feelings about Queen are revealed as he pulls a gun on his former employer:

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Although Hackett’s actions are despicable, his words ring true; Oliver is spoiled, selfish, and the epitome of wealthy ignorance.  Does he deserve what’s happening to him? Absolutely not.  It can’t be denied, though, that he’s a very unlikable character at this point in the story.

Through a momentary spurt of humanity, Hackett can’t bring himself to shoot Queen point blank, and so throws his unconscious body into the ocean.

Oliver miraculously survives and washes ashore a seemingly abandoned island.  Here we see the beginning of his transformation.  Starved and desperate for water, Oliver pulls from some deeply-buried survival instincts to fashion a makeshift bow and arrows.  Likewise he creates a covering for his head to protect him from the sun, creating the first stage of his Green Arrow look:

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This version of Oliver is wild and untamed, but driven by an urge to survive (something he does exceedingly well).

Trapped on this island for months, he grows quite skilled with his bow, hunting to survive and finally feeling at peace.

This peace is broken when, after being attacked by a circling plane, he realizes he’s not alone on the island.

Here the story truly takes off, detailing an elaborate opium ring run by a ruthless leader who uses the local islanders as slave labor.  Outraged, Oliver decides to take action, transforming once again, this time into a skilled, determined hunter with a set mission:

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His overall plan may be short-sighted, but it’s clear and decisive.

A fairly epic battle ensues afterwards, one which writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock depict flawlessly.  The entire comic is so well drawn and narrated, filling even the fairly basic “stranded on a desert island” scenes with action and self-reflection.

Queen wins his battle against the drug cartel and is rescued from the island.  We don’t learn much of his future plans, but the closing image gives the reader a pretty good idea of where his mind’s at:

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Oliver’s path in life seems clear as he completes his transformation from apathetic billionaire to bonafide superhero.  His next move is unknown, but the comic leaves the reader certain it will involve fighting the forces of injustice, however big or small.

I thought this trade was brilliantly done.  Instead of one page or even one issue, we get an entire collection spanning a single character’s origin.  We’re able to peer into his psyche to learn just what changed in his mindset to so completely alter his personality.  This is a very important foundation, especially for such long-running comics.  When the reader can understand the character’s motives and way of thinking, it makes their actions so much more believable and realistic.  Now if Oliver Queen ever responds strongly to slave labor (perhaps more vehemently and angrily opposing it than others) I’ll know why.  I’ll know what exactly happened in his past to drive this intense feeling.  That seems to be a key element to a good comic – allowing you reader into the hero’s head so that they can fully understand all of their motives and opinions.

I still can’t quite believe that this is my first Green Arrow trade.  Still, it’s one hell of a trade to start off with.  Here’s hoping Oliver Queen’s future appearances on “the shelf” are just as acutely written and sharply drawn as this one.

-Jess

Batman: The Man Who Laughs

Can I just say, I was really excited to see how the Joker would be portrayed post-Crisis.  With Batman taking on a much darker tone and with all the characters being intensely developed, I had very high hopes for the reimagined Joker.

Needless to say, after this short trade I’m more than pleased with the new developments to the character.

I’ve come to expect a prevalence of violence and gruesome images in these recent collections, but this Joker trade took the brutality to a new level.

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These twisted, grotesque smiling corpses are so characteristically Joker that anyone remotely familiar with him would instantly recognize his handiwork.  This panel helped set the scene for the entire trade, bringing crime in Gotham to a new, horrifying level.

As with the last few trades I’ve read, this one drew upon some of the earliest Batman issues for inspiration.  This story references back to the Joker’s first appearance in Batman #1, using many of the same tropes to develop the character.

The most notable allusion to the original story occurs when the Joker first appears, making his trademark threats via a hijacked news crew and singling out an individual victim:

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In this incarnation though, Joker increases the brutality by murdering the news anchor before making his blatant threat.  I was happy to see this trademark method included (and also glad that they left out the somewhat hokey “The Joker has spoken!” line that was his common closing line in the earlier comics).

Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke further develop the entire world of Gotham, but there’s no question that the Joker is the star here.  His character has always been well-developed, with his maniacal, murderous behavior never faltering.  Here we get to see a deeper understanding of just how crazed he can be though.

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I found this panel particularly disturbing, and feel it helps characterize the Joker perfectly.  His complete disregard for human life, the bored way in which he kills innocent people, helps the reader to understand just how twisted this character is. Unlike earlier stories which might rely on narration to spoon feed a psychological diagnosis to the reader, here the Joker’s actions do the talking.  This is a much more effective way to shock the readers and show them that this is certainly a new, vicious kind of criminal.

As expected, the Joker has a much bigger plan in mind than simply murdering a few individual people.  Instead, he plans to poison the entire Gotham water supply to poison the whole population of the city.  In older issues, this would have been the beginning and end of the story.  Batman would discover the Joker’s plot, foil the plan, and throw Joker in jail.

This all certainly happens in this comic.  What sets this story apart from those earlier issues is the depth added.  On his quest to uncover the Joker’s plans, Batman comes to believe that Joker and Red Hood (a criminal from a prior comic whom I unfortunately didn’t get to read about) are one in the same.  Batman believes Red Hood, who fell into a vat of chemicals, has transformed into the Joker.

While I’m not familiar with that entire storyline, this comic gave enough of a summary that I didn’t feel lost.  It was jarring to read any sort of origin story about the Joker; he has always just been this mysterious figure who appeared out of nowhere.  True, there isn’t much of a backstory here; we know nothing about the Joker’s real name or what he did prior to his life of crime.  It still felt odd to read any reference to the Joker before he was Joker.

I was impressed that the Joker seemed to serve as an awakening for Batman, and a symbol for a change in the crime that has plagued Gotham.  Batman starts to believe that he’s responsible for this string of costumed criminals, having inspired them in some way.  Maybe he has; the comic leaves that open.  What is clear is that Gotham is facing an unprecedented type of crime, one it’s not entirely prepared to face.

As a result, Batman’s role as a wanted fugitive is reversed, with the police opening supporting him and even creating an all-too-familiar signal with which to call him:

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I liked that the Joker was the catalyst for this change in views around Gotham.  It’s unfortunate that it took such a massive threat to change the general opinion, but then I suppose that’s just how things go – sometimes it takes a major upheaval to help people realize who the real heroes are.

This Joker story was tauntingly short, but it feels like a seminal moment in his development.  The basic character tropes established in the 40’s comics remain; they’ve just been polished and sharpened a bit to truly hone in on the Joker’s maniacal, unhinged personality.  I can’t wait for future Joker stories to appear on “the shelf”.  Being Mistah J’s favorite character, I know there’s no shortage of those; I’m just excited to see what that crazed Joker will come up with next.

-Jess

Batman and the Mad Monk

After these last two trades, I’ll say this:

Matt Wagner certainly knows how to weave a story.

Batman and the Mad Monk is the second collection Wagner created to provide details into Batman’s early years as a crimefighter.  As with his last trade, Batman and the Monster Men, this collection borrows its premise from an early Batman comic from the 40’s.

In this story, Gotham is plagued by a series of murders, all the same: victims with strange puncture marks in their necks who have been drained of all their blood.  Batman tries to get to the bottom of this case, all the while desperately trying to avoid the most obvious possibility: vampires.

As Batman investigates, the reader learns that a cult of wannabe vampires is responsible for the killings, being led by the Mad Monk, aka Niccolai, who claims to be a true creature of the night.

While all of this is transpiring, Batman is also dealing with his lady-love, Julie Madison, who just so happens to get mixed up with the Mad Monk.

It’s a lot going on for one story, but Wagner manages to seemlessly weave the tale so that it all fits together.

It’s not surprising that modern writers would draw on some of the earliest Batman issues for inspiration; it’s likely that few readers today would be familiar with the original stories, and it’s a nice way to pay homage to those who helped create the character.  It was no big surprise, then, to see the Mad Monk story reappear.  What was surprising was just how close to the original story Wagner remained.

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The use of wolves as Mad Monk’s demonic beasts is straight out of the original story, as is the ensuing battle Batman faces against them.

I enjoyed the fact that Wagner drew inspiration from one of the original Batman comics, but what I liked even more was that he did so with sincerity.  Given the nature of some past Batman issues, a modern writer could have easily taken a tongue-in-cheek approach to the story, asking the reader to laugh at the absurdity of it all.  This particular story certainly would have lent itself easily to that angle.  A vampire cult complete with a shrouded leader and wolf bodyguards?  That could easily be turned into a farce.

Matt Wagner instead treats the story with respect, taking it at face value and simply embellishing the details so as to provide a more complete scene.  For that, I respect him and his artistic choices.

The above blatant reference to the original story is not the only one of its kind here.  Direct parallels are seen later as well when Batman falls into a pit whose walls are quickly closing in, threatening to crush him:

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I don’t fault Wagner for drawing on these stories.  Indeed, they are classic moments in Batman lore that deserve to be brought to future generations.  I applaud him not just for using these stories, but for making them his own.

This story is so much more developed and thought out than the original.  Scenes which had once been a few panels are spread out over multiple pages, creating a real sense of tension and action for the reader.  It was so much more compelling watching Batman try to escape his crushing doom in the panel above than it was to see him effortlessly escape such a fate in the original comic, a scene that, if memory serves me correctly, spanned a mere three panels.

Therein lies part of the genius in these collections.  They build upon pre-established Batman lore but mold it into something much more evolved and interesting.

The other side of Wagner’s brilliance is seen in the way he so deftly ties everything together.  As mentioned above, there’s a lot going on in this trade.  There are a number of supporting characters, all with their own side-stories.  Wagner depicts them all in such a way that the reader is never confused, but instead leaves the comic with the feeling that she has been fully immersed in an alternate reality.  At times omniscient narration feels convoluted, but here it allows the story to flow while still keeping the reader up to speed on everything that’s happened.

Wagner takes a number of disjointed stories and characters and manages to fit them into a single, unified world.  Mad Monk may be the star of this particular story, but Catwoman and Harvey Dent still make their appearances, reminding us that they’re waiting in the wings for their own moment in the spotlight.

Wagner even teases future storylines, dropping a reference to the Joker…

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As well as a brief foreshadowing of Robin:

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These hints are subtle enough to keep new readers intrigued while being clever enough to cause untold excitement among old readers.

I suppose, at least in regards to the continuity, I fall into the latter category, because I was certainly freaking out when these references were made.  I can’t even say I know why.  I know these characters will be reappearing at some point, so it’s not surprise that they’re referenced here.  I suppose it’s just how well everything ties together.  Batman commenting on the Joker before he really knows what a massive enemy he will become, or sailing past an advertisement featuring an image of his future partner: it all gives the reader a bit of a thrill, knowing something about the future that the hero doesn’t.  That brief, sly smile crosses my face as if to say, “If you only knew…”.

I find that to be one of the most exciting aspects of reading all of these “new” backstories.  I have a general idea where things are going from here, but our hero is still in the dark.  It’s interesting to watch Batman slowly learn what I know to be the inevitable.  There’s a certain power in it, which as the reader is a nice change of pace.

I’m not sure if any of the other comics coming up draw upon classic Batman tales for inspiration.  My guess would be absolutely, but who knows?   Maybe writers will prefer to branch out and write their own original stories.  If they do decide to journey into the past though, I can only hope they handle the stories with the same reverence and respect Wagner did.

-Jessy

 

Batman & The Monster Men

After a brief sojourn, I’m back in Batman-Land.

I’d say it feels good to be back, but honestly, there’s a whole lot of darkness in these comics.  Thank god I have my own little happy comics (I’m looking at you, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl) to help cope with all of the depressing realism.

This collection is a fairly recent release, published in 2007 but set in the 1980’s, during Batman’s early years after the Crisis event.

The dark, ominous tone of these comics is even more noticeable after my travels through Metropolis with the ever-colorful Superman.  Sometimes I wish Batman would stray from his signature black and break out a multi-colored cowl, just for a little variety.

I have a feeling I’m going to be waiting in vain for that one.

The story doesn’t delay in creating an unsettling tone.  Earlier Batman comics had somewhat scary elements at times.  Some of the images here aren’t just frightening, they’re downright gruesome.

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Yes, that is a disembodied arm, found in a sewer.  Matt Wagner, who both wrote and drew this comic, doesn’t shy away from such startling images.  Many of his panels are splattered with blood, and the above is not the only dismembered body part to grace the pages of this trade.

This tone is a far cry from the absurd and downright comical villainy of the 50’s comics.

Wagner creates a well-rounded story in this collection.  Bruce Wayne, fully committed to his role as Batman, has recently begun dating a young woman, Julie Madison (Yay, a name I know! Mistah J told me reading all those early comics would pay off, and he was right.)

Bruce attempts to juggle dating with his vigilante work, as he battles both Sal Maloni and Hugo Strange.  Maloni is your standard ruthless mobster, thriving on intimidation and causing others pain.

Strange, on the other hand, is completely unhinged, hell-bent on creating genetically modified individuals so that he may one day overcome his own physical inadequacies (a shrink would have a field-day with him).

He has not quite mastered his formulas though, and so his creations are grotesque, hulking figures, the “Monster Men” of the story.

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This story is taken right out of an early Batman issue (Yay, something else I know!), but Wagner’s version is so much more in-depth and involved.  The additional elements of Maloni and Wayne’s love interest add a whole new level to the story, allowing it to span multiple issues rather than the original one-off.

Chronologically this story takes place right after Batman: Year One, and it’s interesting to see how natural the story progression feels.  In Year One, Batman is a wanted criminal, with essentially all police officers viewing him as the enemy.  This comic naturally progresses that opinion, showing cracks in the mob mentality as Batman strives to prove that he’s one of the good guys.

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I like seeing the uncertainty among the general population, as there would undoubtedly be opposing viewpoints when dealing with a vigilante crime-fighter such as Batman.

Despite the widespread violence in this comic, I’m happy to see Wagner continued to use Alfred as comic relief.  One of my favorite moments in this trade involved Alfred snarkily commenting that Batman’s new car should have wings added:

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Nevermind the fact that we all know the Batmobile did have wings.  Alfred’s tongue-in-cheek remark is just one of the many reasons I love Batman.  Even with all the doom and gloom in Gotham, there’s still time for a small joke or two.

The comic closes with a rather open ending.  Batman defeats the Monster Men, but Hugo Strange escapes.  Batman rescues Julie Madison’s father (who had borrowed money from Maloni and almost repaid his debt with his life), but makes the mistake of addressing him by name, leaving Mr. Madison frantic and a tad psychotic, trying to figure out how and why Batman knew who he was.

I’ve looked ahead and know that this collection is the first in a two-part series Wagner wrote to fill in the early years of Batman’s career.  Luckily, the sequel happens to be the next on the shelf.

As I head into it, I’m left with a handful of questions: How will Bruce Wayne balance crime-fighting with a love life?  Will Julie Madison learn the secret identity of her beau?  Will Mr. Madison go off the deep end over his unanswered questions about Batman?  Will Hugo Strange make another appearance?

Hopefully the next trade answers these questions for me.  Given how well the first collection was put together, I have a feeling it will.

-Jess