Aug 2, 2012

Andrew Reads Batman: Pt1 -My entire collection.

So I was watching the Dark Knight Rises surrounded by a bunch of other comic geeks and I realised -- I really haven't read much Batman. In fact what I realised while watching DKR was that I've actually seen more Batman movies than I've read Batman comic books.

A quick check of my collection reveals that I own a grand total of 3 Batman comics, and I've only read 1 of them. I have a couple of trades, but not enough to 'get' a lot of the references the other comic geeks were raving about when they saw DKR. This made me sad, because I think it was my favourite Batman movie ever. (That's not saying much, I only really like the original Burton movie otherwise.)

My impression of who Batman is, it seems, is mostly shaped by the handful of  major stories I've read -- Batman: Cult, The Killing Joke, and The Dark Knight Returns -- and of course by his guest appearances or secondary-starring roles in other things I've read like the JLA or Kingdom Come. If I'm totally honest my main impression of Batman is from my Batman in the Fifties TPB that I bought almost a decade ago.

Great trade, by the way.

So this is my confession -- I might have seen some Batman cartoons (even then, mostly Superfriends, Mask of the Phantasm and Batman: Brave and the Bold), and I might have seen a bunch of Batman movies, but dammit I just haven't read enough Batman.

My collection of Batman totals the following books (not including random guest-appearances of Batman in other books, especially since in all of those he's a complete jerkhole).

I own more issues of Moon Knight that feature guest appearances
by the Fantastic Four than I own Batman comics.

Almost every single one of these was bought for a not-Batman related reason; I like UK annuals; I like old newspaper strips; I sometimes pick up random comics from second hand stores; I like Christmas; Alan Moore; Frank Miller -- I think Batman in the 1950s was the only thing I bought for Batman.

So let's correct this! Starting now I'm going to... uhh... start a journey through some classic Batman eras and storylines and share my impressions with you. My impressions of Batman, if you will. If you won't it doesn't matter, I'm going to post them up anyway.

Besides, we probably need more DC content around here since, y'know, we're named after a DC comic concept. Whoops.

So how about we review the stuff I do own, just very quickly. Let's start with the obvious one.

I think Batman copied his eye slits from
the Phantom. That thief.

The Dark Knight Returns... It's a good book, and well worth a read. The problem with it is that really it's... well... it's way too long. Once Batman has his second fight with the mutant leader the whole thing is kinda over... the third and fourth chapters... well... I've just never been able to reread that far through the whole thing. I have no idea why anyone thought this thing needed a sequel and I can tell you I won't be reading Dark Knight Strikes Back.

When I re-read this for this article I was struck by how much of it was used for Dark Knight Rises. Commissioner Gordon's character arc here is used quite closely in Rises; Batman's long retirement is in Rises; heck, he even uses similar body braces in Rises. Thinking about how this comic related to Dark Knight Rises did make one scene rather more unsettling, because of recent events. Here;

I don't know that 'too soon' is appropriate
but it's the only thing I can think of to say...

Yeaaaah... I don't think I want to say anything more about that, on to happier things.

My entire Batman standard-format comics collection! Woo!
Legends of the Dark Knight #41 is a Batman vs. Vampires story. It's okay. The weird thing about it is that it's kind of a backdoor pilot. It's by the creative team of a comic named Scarlett that was about to come out (by DC) and was meant to get people enticed to read vampire hunting stories. The plotline is one of those, "old movie star goes crazy" plots, but in this case she's a vampire. It's worth reading, but it didn't really entice me to pick up Scarlett.

Batman #599 has been in my collection for ages, but y'know what? I've never actually read it before! It's part seven of a huge crossover called,  "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" Is it any good? It's okay. Despite being just a piece of a story it's still written fairly accessibly. The issue is about Bruce Wayne being locked in jail, accused of murder. As the other prisoners torment him his "mask" begins to slip and finally the Batman comes out and he beats the crap out of his tormentors.

The problem with the issue is a visual storytelling problem. There's just no sense of catharsis when Bruce Wayne finally gives up and uses his Batman skills, because, well... there's no obvious change in him. Here he is before:

Bruce Wayne!
Here he is after he lets himself go:

Yeah... I'm really not getting the feel for this. Because there's no change in the way he acts throughout the issue the tension of him slowly becoming Batman, almost against his will, really doesn't work as well as it should. Other than that it's an okay issue. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I'd read the other parts of the story.

I also haven't read issue #79 of Legends of the Dark Knight, but I'm saving that one for Christmas time, so it'll have to wait.

Brian Bolland's cover
is definitely a classic.

The Killing Joke! Wow, it's about as worthwhile trying to talk about this as it is to try and say something new about Dark Knight Returns. Killing Joke, especially it's theme of the Joker trying to make a normal man go insane, was definitely an influence for that Nolan movie The Dark Knight -- though it's striking that in Alan Moore's conclusion that the Joker CAN'T just make a good man go insane... but in the movie he CAN. Dunno which idea I prefer (I'm siding with The Killing Joke... I really didn't like The Dark Knight, it was a boring-arse movie).

Alan Moore is always worth reading, so if you haven't read this you probably should at some point. If you want. My copy's the recoloured deluxe edition -- from what I've seen the original has much more vibrant colours so see if you can get that instead.

My favourite Batman!

I love this trade. Basically to me this IS Batman. Batman's a goofy, hilarious character who is also a complete arsehole who thinks that his morality is better than everyone else's. So basically he's a stock-standard 1950s DC hero. One of the best things about this book is the editorials, that really put everything into context. Definitely recommend reading it -- especially if the only experience you have with Batman is his darker and more dreary stuff.

My least favourite Batman!
Annnd... wow. This thing is awful. Ignore the cover, Batman and Robin are barely in this comic at all. Instead they do almost all their investigating in their Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson identities. This is pretty much a really really crappy rip-off of Dick Tracy. I'd recommend just reading Dick Tracy instead.

And finally we have...

Something for Kate.
 Yeah, there's not much to say about this. This is a 1974 UK Annual (which means a hardcover book-format rather than a standard US annual), it used to be owned by Kate, and It's another thing in my collection I'd just never bothered to read before. Yup, half my Batman stuff I'd never even read before.

The Annual consists of reprints of US Superman and Batman stories, plus text stories that were probably written in the UK. The text stories are dross, but also kind crazy. The comics I couldn't tell you where they're from, but they were okay. The most striking thing in the entire annual was Batman's Challenge, an activity page. I spent far, far too long photoshopping out all of Kate's answers and connecting the dots so that you could enjoy the page in its original pristine glory.

Yup, this is where the header image
 of this article came from.

Anyway that's it for now! I will be tackling more and more Batman stuff as the weeks wear on. It'll be especially good since I work at a comic shop now; I don't actually have to BUY any Batman stuff to read it. Yay!

--Andrew S.
(Oh, and about The Cult the reason that's not here? I never actually owned it, I borrowed that one from Hobart, so I wasn't actually able to re-read it for this article. I remember it being an okay story, I guess.)

1 comment:

  1. I'll mention again that I think the "Sunday Classics" reprints of the Batman newspaper strip are worth reading. More of them are written by Bill Finger (who is way above his league in terms of Golden Age comic book writers), and the art tends to be a smidge better, as, uh, it isn't by Bob Kane. Less of a knockoff Dick Tracy vibe. Not to say there aren't some bad eggs in it, but I remember the Two-Face story being quite powerful.

    There's also a ton of background info thrown in about the production of the strip, which the related Superman newspaper strip reprints naturally don't contain, what with the creators of Superman never having been on good terms with DC like Bob Kane was.