Hello and welcome to the thirteenth installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

Long story short, I liked comics-related stuff but found the whole idea of being a comics fan too embarrassing, and some of the comics I did try were lacking-in-depth, so I didn’t like comics themselves until my friend Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them. I had a sort of snobbery to overcome. Its been overcome now though, and I’ve spent most of the last year buying and reading Batman comics, which I will now blog about for your reading pleasure and commenting-inspiration (seriously, I want to know what you think about these comics).

In previous recent entries, I mentioned how I’ll now try and cover some of the more famous Batman books like Dark Knight Returns, Arkham Asylum, The Long Halloween etc. and so this time I’ll be covering Year One, which is perpetually featured in list of best Batman books ever, which helped inspire parts of Nolan trilogy movie and which is always mentioned as a brilliant book for beginners. Other writers seem to always reference it, or work off of it, or find ways to link their story with it (flashbacks etc.). They even made a straight-up cartoon movie adaptation of it, with Bryan “Walter White” Cranston in it. (Which was actually really good!).

Apparently, this was a reboot. You know the way that there were was a Batman movie in the 60s with Adam West? Then in the 80s/90s there were four more films without Adam West, and the events in the Adam West movie didn’t “count” in the newer films? Yeah? …and then recently there’s been three even newer films directed by Christopher Nolan that ignored the events of the previous four (make that five) Batman movies? Yeah? Well, that’s like the comics industry (Read about it, by someone more qualified, here).

Here’s the quick version: There were stories before Year One. That’s apparently called “Pre-Crisis” nowadays (With “Crisis” referring to a landmark story called “Crisis on Infinite Earths” where they wrapped up their decades long storylines so they could started over). Also you’ll see the terms “Golden Age” and “Silver Age” for even more specific time periods.

Then all of the stuff from 1987-2011 was another thing. When I write “Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint” in the continuity sections in these articles, that’s what I mean. That’s where the biggest Bulk of Batman stories I care about take place. I think that’s what most people care about to be honest. When that first 80s Batman movie landed and got people interested in Batman, when that brilliant 90s Batman cartoon was going and got people interested in Batman, When the movie Batman Begins came out and got people interested in Batman again, when the first Arkam videogame came out… yeah, you get it. When all of those big jumping on points of the last 30 years happened, the “continuity” that was relevant was this one. And for that whole period, Year One was considered to be the definitive comics version origin story of Batman.

Then as of 2011 there’s been another reboot. That’s Post-Flashpoint. Or “The New 52.” There’s a story being put out at the moment called Zero Year which is the modern equivalent of a story set in the Year One era.

Yeah… Comic Books are annoying in that way. Can’t help that, since they’ve been going for 75 years. Just think of it like the movies. Every so often, they’ll start over again to keep things modern and fresh and get new people interested.

It got me interested. Now look what’s happened, I’ve been reading them for a year and now even write a bloody Blog about them. The idea of Reboots and retconts and stuff like that was one of the things that originally stopped me from reading comics in the first place. Weird isn’t it?

Anyway; Last week, I wrote about enjoying the “Year One” era, or setting, for Batman stories. This is the first year (or couple of years, depending on the writer) that Batman actually works as Batman, with no Robin or Batgirl or any of those guys in it yet… and he’s not yet become the world’s greatest detective, or perfected his fighting and stealth and acrobatic skills yet and is therefore more prone to mistakes and defeat.

Part of the reason for that may be the streamlined “Just let me see Batman and don’t worry about that other stuff” attitude. The biggest part of it though is probably because of the book Year One itself…

I’ll save you having to skim down to the conclusion… I love this book. This is an excellent book. One of the best. Possibly the best. Its not just important, its not just famous, its actually good too.

So… Game changer. Reboot for the line. Considered a classic. Actually good. (Oft imitated rarely bettered). I guess the musical equivalent might be The Black Album.

Batman

Batman – Year One:

- Writers: Frank Miller
- Art: David Mazzucchelli
- Colours: Richard Lewis

- Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

- Timeline Position: Year One era (Duh!)

- Batman is: Bruce Wayne

- Villains: Arnold Flass (Police), Branden (S.W.A.T), Commissioner Loeb (Police), Carmine Falcone, Carla Viti, Catwoman

- Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police),

- Bystanders: Harvey Dent, Sarah Essen, Barbara Gordon, James Gordon Jr.,

- Story: [/Spoilers] It starts with James Gordon moving to Gotham, meeting his new Police Co-Workers who are less than ethical. There’s also scenes of Bruce Wayne clearly training to fight crime, but not yet Batman. Gordon’s co-workers start to dislike Jim’s incorruptibility. Bruce goes out dressed as a crazy veteran looking for a fight, but his plan backfires – when he is fighting a Pimp; a Prostitue, despite being a victim themselves, defends the Pimp and stabs Bruce in the leg. Gordon’s colleagues don balaclava’s and beat up Gordon with baseball bats in a car park, threatening him to be more corrupt like the rest of them. Bruce makes it home, bloody and defeated, he knows if he doesn’t get medical help he’ll bleed out and die, he doesn’t want to live in such a horrible world, a world where a criminal could murder his parents (which we see in flashbacks), but then a bat crashes through his window, which gives him the idea for Batman. He then rings a little bell, signaling Alfred to come and give him medical attention. Jim Gordon follows a drink driving co-worker called Flass runs him off the road, and beats him up in the woods as payback for what happened in the parking lot and so they know not to mess with his family.

A mentally ill man creates a hostage situation and Jim solves it with people skills. Batman makes his first outing, he tries to beat up some teenage thugs but its really clumsy. A Batman myth starts brewing. Flass was beat up by Batman while he was taking bribes off criminals. Flass acts as if Batman is a monster not a man, and becomes a laughing stock. A new cop called Sarah Essen is appointed to the anti-Batman case. Jim starts cheating on his wife with her. Batman leaves mafia boss Carmine Falcone handcuffed naked in bed.

Batman gets trapped in an abandoned building by a swat team and is shot. He escapes using a sci-fi style device which summons bats, but not before saving a cat’s life. Catwoman gets inspired to dress like a cat. Also during his escape he breaks into a clothes shop, but actually leaves money for the clothes he disguises himself with.

Gordon arrests a druglord named Skeevers, who flips on the corrupt Flass and Loeb. The police think Batman might be Bruce Wayne. Jim goes to visit Wayne but his wife Barbara Gordon tags along too. Bruce acts like a chauvinist pig. It fools Barbara but not Jim, but at that moment, Jim admits to his wife that he’s cheating on her. Essen moves away. Barbara (who was pregnant this whole time) has a baby.

Catwoman goes out on a few crimes. She steals from Mafia guys. She and Batman fight and flirt, they haven’t quite figured eachother out yet. The media think she’s Batman’s assistant and that upsets her sensibilities. The mafia are plotting to target Gordon’s family.

Bruce figures out about the mafia plan and goes to Gordon’s building (out of costume), just as Gordon is dragged out to work by a phonecall. When Gordon sees Bruce speeding to his house on a motorbike he figures something’s not right and turns around. Back at his building, mafia men are trying to kidnap his wife and son. Gordon saves his wife but not son, and knocks Bruce off his motorcycle in order to chase after the escaping kidnappers. Bruce follows by stealing a bicycle. Gordon confronts the kidnappers on a bridge but his son falls over the side, Bruce saves him in the nick of time. Gordon thanks him, saying he can’t see who it is without his glasses.

There’s an epilogue that sort of shows what’s going on in Gotham after all this shake-up, which sets up The Man Who Laughs and The Long Halloween.

- Tone: The level of realism is higher than any other Batman book I own. Aside from Catwoman’s athletic skills and costume, there’s nothing in this story that’s all that implausible for The Wire. Apart from one scene with a cloud of Bats attracted by a Sci-Fi device. But that’s it. Its otherwise pretty much a cop show. Its more realistic than The Long Halloween, and much more realistic than Dark Moon Rising.

To be fair, this tone is very impressive and I love it. However people trying to copy this tone usually fail to capture it, and usually the stories aren’t as good.

A turning point for me, as a new reader of comic books was when I came to feel that there’s nothing wrong with being a riot of fun (Note – that’s not a riot of violence, but a riot of FUN!) like Morrison’s three Batman & Robin books. There’s nothing wring with being colourful and interesting if you do it right. Sometimes realism is very good, like here, if its done well, but just being in love with Frank Miller and stealing his ideas isn’t always as successful. Much like learning to ignore all the rebooting nonsense and terrible, terrible lack of curatorship the medium seems to have, learning that I can like multiple types of Batman and not just Nolan-esque stuff was interesting. I guess the musical equivalent is going from hating clean singing to enjoying it.

- Art: The art is superb. The colours make it feel kind of old-fashioned, but I hear that they made a recoloured version and people didn’t like that. Anyway, the actual drawing and shading are excellent. Character design too. It looks better than Long Halloween, Knightfall and Death In The Family which are the three nearest comparisons I have read. (Oh yeah, and than Fear The Reaper). Obviously it doesn’t match up to modern, glossy, super impressive stuff but it is brilliant. Its kind of like Megadeth’s Rust In Peace or Countdown To Extinction albums in that even though you can tell they weren’t released recently, they sound faultless. Age is apparent due to comparison with newer releases, but age is not a detriment. Its one of my favourite looking books ever, even if its not technically the absolute best (I am shallow and love Jim Lee and Greg Capullo).

- My Thoughts: I really, really enjoy this book. Its interesting, its succinct, and the Jim Gordon infidelity plus bad co-workers story is more interesting than even the Batman story. Its more interesting than most Batman book side plots. I care more about this than Jason Todd’s search for his biological mother, or Tim Drake’s Dad being kidnapped. They’re equally interesting human stories on paper… but this one just has a lot more depth and heart.

I also like that there was a memorial named after Bill Finger. It could have been the Kane memorial, but no. Nice touch.

One interesting point, which I didn’t know until this week when reading about this book online. When I read this book, its quite clear that Catwoman is a prostitute. It is so obvious I would never question it. I’ve saw people fighting about it online though “She’s not a prostitute, it in no way says that” etc. Then a second bunch of people who are like “She is a prostitute, but I wish she wasn’t” and an even more mysterious third party “She’s not a prostitute, she’s a dominatrix – learn the difference!”

Now I don’t think that if she was a child prostitute’s roommate that she’d just be dressed as a dominatrix for fun, so I’m not even going to give that one the benefit of the doubt. But come on; in what way is she not a prostitute? Does it have to have a drawing of her performing a sex act with a fist full of cash and a speech bubble saying “I’m only doing this for the money” ?

I don’t know why you’d wish she wasn’t either. Personal taste I guess, I can accept that. Just has a bit of a whiff of victim blaming about it… but then, I dunno, maybe you just wish she was an actual cat too (like those cat dudes in Skyrim who’s name escapes me right no…”Kajiit?”) and it has nothing to do with anti prostitute sentiment and I’m just making assumptions. What do you think?

I guess the musical equivalent is… um. No. I don’t have one for this section. You?

Image  —  Posted: April 17, 2014 by kingcrimsonprog in Uncategorized

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 74: Europe – The Final Countdown

Posted: April 16, 2014 by kingcrimsonprog in Uncategorized

 FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 74: Europe – The Final Countdown

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 74: Europe – The Final Countdown

Hello, and welcome to my Blog. Why is it called KingcrimsonBlog, the official Blog of Kingcrimsonprog?. Good question; It is called that, because I am called Kingcrimsonprog (or Gentlegiantprog). Well, I’m not. I’m called Jimmy. But, I’m called either Kingcrimsonprog or Gentlegiantprog on most websites and forums. (You know, in the way you have to choose a name or “net-handle” when you register?).

Back when this Blog was first devised, it was sort of a hub “digest” of all my various internet output, under one easy “roof.” So people could then tell that my things were not stolen from elsewhere on the internet, I kept my net-handle in the title. The name of my net-handle was simply chosen because I enjoy the Prog band King Crimson (and Gentle Giant) and is not in fact my real name. Forget about the name. Imagine its called “Music Nerd Blog” instead. You’ll get the idea.

I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.

I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of James Bond or Vintage Clothing, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated historian and their knowledge of French Military Tactics. Everyone has a thing they get nerdy about, whether or not they realize or admit that it is similar to the more famous nerdy things like Star Wars. I don’t particularly like Football or Reality TV or French Military Tactics. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s my one thing. That’s what this Blog is all about.

Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.

I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).

According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.

If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.

So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article:

Today, I’ll be listening to 1986’s The Final Countdown, the breakthrough smash hit for the band Europe. Well, with all that Quiet Riot and Dokken and W.A.S.P what did you expect?

You know, I actually bought this album over a month and a half ago now but because I wanted to write an article about it, I’ve gone this long without listening to it.

I’ve more than had my hands tied with Dream Theater though. I finally did it, I finally got into Metropolis 2 Scenes From A Memory! – I don’t know what it is, but it sounds like a completely different record than it did when I first heard it. I hear so much more heavy parts, fun riffs and tasteful music than I did before. Maybe I should go digging into Opeth’s catalouge again with this new brain-space.

Anyway, Europe. I’ve always, always enjoyed the title track. Even before I even knew what Heavy Metal was. The title track is just one of those things that sticks in your head forever.
That is however, the absolute peak of my Europe knowledge. All I know is that they’re a Hair Metal/Pop Metal/80s Hard Rock band, possibly European and that’s their most famous song.

After some online research I learn that they’re Swedish, this is their third album. I see their singer is called Joey Tempest and I suddenly have vague memories on his name being mentioned on The Metal Hammer Podcast, which I used to listen to religiously when it was on (and have probably re-listened to every episode about four times each).

Back in about 2009, when I first started listening to it, I would always hear presenter James Gill going on about Hair Metal and 80s rock bands and never really know what to think. In my mind I couldn’t picture how anybody could enjoy that stuff. Now look at me. I wish more Metal fans would have a similar experience with Nu Metal. Its good to try new things.

[Play]

After some brief sci-fi sounds, the main synth-hook comes in. Its automatic smiling for me then. I notice a countdown I never noticed before. Then the band kick in. Its actually quite a Maiden-esque little gallop, for a minute. There’s a very European, almost Stratovarius style feel to the quiet part of the song. Then there’s that huge chorus. I don’t care if it reminds me of sofa advertisements.

I never realized this song was sci-fi themed. Heading for Venus? So many lightyears to go?

Huh. Live and learn.

There’s a nice neoclassical sounding guitar solo that sometimes feels a little like Brain May and sometimes feels a bit like David Gilmour for the briefest moments.

The production really makes it sound like 80s TV. Joey’s voice is excellent, I could really imagine him singing Stratovarius material.

‘Rock The Night’ comes next. It’s the first non-Final Countdown song by them I’ve ever heard. Its quite a ballsy Hard Rock song, but with extra melody. The chorus is damn catchy. Joey’s vocals and the drum fills are really fun.

Sometimes I pick up tiny hints of Freddie Mercury in the vocals. There’s one of those great breakdowns where the crowd would clap along if it was live, then a very nice guitar solo indeed. I’m such a sucker for guitar solos. If you’ve ever read even a quarter of one of these articles you’ll know that already.

Is it weird that even though they’re singing rock the night, that this song makes me picture sunshine. Sunshine and surfboards.

‘Carrie’ comes next. It sounds like it might be a ballad. Yeah, its definitely a ballad. It actually reminds me a little of Dream Theater so far. Oooop, no. not anymore. Wow, this really sounds like a scene in either a prom or a football game in an 80s movie. I wonder if you were around in the 80s would you have heard this a lot too. Like how I’d hear ‘Boiler’ by Limp Bizkit a lot as well as just ‘Rollin’ but probably kids born now will only hear ‘Rollin’ when they start listening to music. I don’t know what to say about it really. It has a nice solo (awards for an original sentence there, me!). It reminds me of weddings. You could have the music video for this be similar to ‘November Rain’ and it would fit.

‘Danger On The Track’ comes next. Wow, it really really sounds like Dio. No the vocals, but the track. This sounds bang on like Sacred Heart and Last In Line era Dio music. The chorus is just a tiny bit too melodic even for Ronnie, but the verses are really reminiscent of his solo albums.

Also its good. Its very enjoyable. A strange mix of heavy and bright and clean. Literal pop metal. There’s a very Genesis-esque little key fill. Then an awesome Deep Purple-esque key solo! Then a guitar solo. Wow. Are they doing a checklist of things I like? Throw in double kicks for the final chorus and you’ve got yourself stars in my iTunes. Ah no, you missed out. But damn close!

Next up ‘Ninja!’ – I like how there’s an exclamation mark. Its not just Ninja, its Ninja! The song is a curious mix. Its faster than the rest in places, with an almost Kill Em All style Thrash riff hidden in there during the verses, under the glorious melodic vocals, but the pre-chorus is sort of MeatLoafy and then the chorus is weird. There’s a neat breakdown before the solo that remind me of Children of Bodom due to the keyboard tones. Then a great solo that’s more shreddy than the previous melodic ones, and the riff under it goes to the same pattern as the vocal pattern to Testament’s “Alone In The Dark.” Will Ninja’s come to claim my mind?

‘Cherokee’s intro sounds like triumph at American Football. The verses are that neat rhythm section driven. Ok, make that the chorus sounds like victory. “Trail Of Tears” you say? Man. What is it about Trails of tears? So many bands have a song called that; Nuclear Assault, Dream Theater, Testament… am I missing something here? Is that an expression or famous film or something?
Nice solo. Very clean and Queeny. Then a lovely synth solo that you’d expect from Genesis.

‘Time Has Come’ follows. Its starts like a 90s hip hop/pop cross over. I expect Tu-Pac’s ‘Changes.’ Then it turns into a normal ballad. Then some big hard rock parts come in. Hmmm. Its more like a Boston song now. Then it takes on a weird shape, sort of like one of Jethro Tull’s Crest Of A Knave era semi-ballads. I needn’t even bother mentioning the guitar solo, need I? Well, that kinda was a mention. But yeah. I recognize.. y’know that I’m getting at.

‘Heart Of Stone’ has a very Sunset Strip sounding riff. It has a nice chunky verse too. The chorus is so super catchy and clean that it sounds really unrealistic, if that makes any sense. Its not actually as strong a chorus as the rest of them on the record so far actually to be fair. It feels like a pre-chorus. I like the background riff to the solo.

‘On The Loose’ opens up with the most Metallic moment on the album so far. Its got one of those Judas Priest style riffs that W.A.S.P and Twisted Sister do, y’know like Motely Crue’s ‘Live Wire’? This is what it would sound like if Maiden did a children’s TV theme. In fact, it feels a bit like ‘Locked In’ off of Judas Priest’s Turbo album. I enjoy it a lot. This sounds like speeding headlights in the rain. The solo is really reminiscent of car chases in movies for some reason. For my money, this is the best song on the album so far, excluding the title track.

‘Love Chaser’ opens up with a synth line that feels like it might be the title track again, but then…it isn’t. It kind of feels very much like the title track. Its very, very similar. Almost as if the record company heard it and said…that’s awesome…try make two of them. Do you know what’s weird though, if you actually pay attention to the verse, its pure Heavy Metal. It sounds like Hammerfall could play it, its absolute Castles and Wizards Heavy Metal. I can totally imagine lyrics about the goblin king or whatever over the top of it.

Ok. Now the album is over. Well, it certainly sounded different from ‘Vomit The Soul’ and ‘Strike Of The Beast’ which are the songs I listened to before and after The Final Countdown. (I’m listening to ‘Strike Of The Beast’ now, you understand).

It was one of the most polished, slick, clean rock albums I’ve ever heard. The production makes everything so separate and spacey that it almost feels clinical and sterile. There was a lot of sounds I like from Power Metal though, the melodies and solos are mostly gorgeous, only the odd one here and there that is too poppy. It was quite good. Not great, but certainly a lot of fun, and it has the potential to be something that could grow on me. I didn’t outright hate it or anything.

It wouldn’t win my hypothetical best of 1986 award though, there’s some damn fierce completion for that thanks to the world of Thrash. I wonder what Europe did in 1988?

…and sorry to go off topic, but damn “Another Lesson In Violence’ is fun right now! I was never keen on this track before, but damn, its really doing it for me right now. Is this Paul Baloff’s time traveling way of killing the posers? Maybe.

Hello and welcome to the twelfth installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

Long story short, I liked comics-related stuff but found the whole idea of being a comics fan too embarrassing, and some of the comics I did try were lacking-in-depth, so I didn’t like comics themselves until my friend Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them. I had a sort of snobbery to overcome. Its been overcome now though, and I’ve spent most of the last year buying and reading Batman comics, which I will now blog about for your reading pleasure and commenting-inspiration (seriously, I want to know what you think about these comics).

In previous entries, I mentioned how I’ll now try and cover some of the more famous Batman books like Year One, Arkham Asylum, Dark Knight Returns etc. and so this time I’ll be covering The Long Halloween, which is perpetually featured in list of best Batman books ever, which helped inspire parts of The Dark Knight movie and which is always mentioned as a brilliant book for beginners.

I had it in my mind that The Long Halloween was released either late 80s or very early nineties, as it is a sort of follow-up to Year One, and I assumed that it was the next Batman story after Year One, but apparently there was almost a full decade between them, and that this didn’t even start until 1996.

I also thought that the much discussed Hush, (created by Jeph Loeb, who made The Long Halloween), was made long, long after his other work. But this ran from 1996-1997 and its sequel Dark Victory ran from 1999-2000, so Hush running from 2002-2003 is completely normal. I had it in my mind that Hush was a sort of return of Loeb after ages away, in the way that The Dark Knight Returns coming out in 2003 was a return for Frank Miller after about 20 years. Yeah… my knowledge of this stuff is pretty blurry to say the least. I don’t really know where or why I got that “return” impression.

Either way, as a rule, I generally enjoy the whole idea of the Year One sort of period, where Batman isn’t fully developed yet, where all his inventions and vehicles aren’t invented, where the bat-family like Robin and Batgirl and all that lot aren’t in it yet, when some villains haven’t even showed up, or turned evil yet. When I was first introduced to comics again as an adult, I thought “Good. I don’t want any Robin or Superman or Magic or Aliens, all that stuff is stupid and diminishes what’s cool about Batman.”

Having said that, the more I’ve been reading Batman, the more I’ve grown to appreciate just the opposite of that. I’ve began to really love seeing Nightwing and Oracle show up, and after his smug-shite attitude in Batman And Son – I thought I’d hate Damian Wayne, but then as he developed as a character, I really began to like even him. Its therefore kind of an old-opinion of mine that the Year One stuff is what I care most about, now I want to learn about Huntress and Cassandra Cain and whatever else. Even with this new attitude though, it didn’t stop me re-reading and enjoying The Long Halloween…

Batman

Batman – The Long Halloween:

- Writers: Jeph Loeb
- Art: Tim Sale
- Colours: Gregory Wright

- Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

- Timeline Position: Year One era

- Batman is: Bruce Wayne

- Villains: Holiday, Calendar Man, Joker, Two Face, Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, Solomon Grundy, Sal Maronie, Carmine Falcone, Vernon Fields, Carla Viti, Johnny Viti, Sophia Gigante,

- Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Harvey Dent (Pre-Two Face), Catwoman

- Bystanders: Gilda Dent, Barbara Gordon, James Gordon Jr., Richard Daniel (Gotham Bank)

- Story: [/Spoilers] Batman, Harvey Dent and Commissioner Gordon form a pact to bring down the crime empire of Carmine Falcone, a mafia boss. Catwoman seems to have something going on with Falcone. Somebody starts killing Carmine’s family and men over the course of the year on public holidays. The press dub them the Holiday Killer. Batman suspects Calendar Man as it fits his M.O. of Holiday-themed crime, Carmine suspects his mafia rival Sal Maroni. Everyone suspects eachother, maybe its Batman, maybe its Harvey Dent, maybe its Gordon, maybe its Catwoman, maybe its one of the many mafia characters in the story. The mafia want to deal with Gotham bank to launder money. Bruce Wayne’s vote on their board-of-directors meeting stops that deal from happening. The mafia have no choice but to just keep their money in a huge pile in a warehouse, and Batman along with Harvey sets it on fire.

Harvey’s wife Gilda finds a gun that makes it look like it was Dent doing the Holiday killings. Catwoman flirts with Batman a lot. Carmine hires a Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy and Riddler to deal with his problems – Fighting the Bat-freak with freaks of his own, much to the distaste of other mafia members. Riddler almost gets killed by the Holiday Killer and is distraught about it. Poison Ivy uses her mind control powers to trick Bruce Wayne into reversing the vote with the bank, then Catwoman breaks Ivy’s spell over Wayne. Joker on some ego trip wants to know who Holiday is, and breaks into the Dent’s house frightening Gilda and angering Harvey. Joker steals a plane and threatens to kill people until he finds out who Holiday is. Batman stops him. Harvery’s death is faked and this helps him arrest some criminals. Solomon Grundy is in the Gotham sewers, Batman is nice to him. During a court case against a mafia guy throws acid in Harvey’s face turning him into Two Face. Carmine’s undervalued son is revealed to be the Holiday killer. Two Face kills some mafia guys then hands himself in at the end, stating that the justice system will fail as usual. Batman and Catwoman flirt. All the super villains gang-up on the mafia boss. There’s an epilogue where Gilda is destroying evidence to protect her husband and reveals she killed some people too.

- Tone: Its in part, a very serious and realistic take on Batman. In some ways, it’s a colourful tour of the rogues gallery including magic tree women, madmen in dodgy costumes and a zombie. Its probably symbolic of the transformative effect Batman’s presence had on the criminal landscape that it starts off with Mafia guys and ends with supervillains, but I don’t feel like somebody’s desperate to give me a message like when Smith or Snyder do their Joker conversations at the end of their books. I just feel entertained. Its good to have a little more humanity and grey area to Harvey Dent, instead of him being super-perfect then instantly super-evil. This makes it more like its two sides of his personality. The mixture of realism and supernatural ideas reminds me of Dark Moon Rising.

- Art: I’ve read this twice. Once about a year ago, and once in the last two days. Right up until re-reading it, I had it in my mind that this was a really fugly book. I don’t know why I thought this. I’ve just read it again and some of the artwork is absolutely gorgeous, any of the moody film-noir looking shadowy scenes in Gordon’s office look incredible. The only things that really look bad are Joker and Poison Ivy. During the normal scenes with humans, or in people’s offices and houses, this is an excellent looking book with a lot of attention to detail and it feels really good on the page.

- My Thoughts: I really, really enjoy this book. I don’t accept the idea that this is poorly designed or only exists to show off some different villains, plagiarizes The Godfather too much, or has a bad mystery (see here). I do agree that some of the character designs are not the best (I don’t like scarecrow) and do concede some of the villains are slightly unnecessary (I don’t understand Joker’s motivation even now… if he is jealous of other freaks, why does he do the team-up at the end?).

Its good having the whole Gilda and Barbara thing, it adds extra depth. I like when there’s people in Gotham besides the Bat Family, The Cops and The Villains.

I was surprised to learn, while reading about this online afterwards, that Carmine Falcone was only introduced in Year One. I thought he’d be one of the earliest villains going. When I’ve seen historical bat-stories from the 50s they’ve usually involved gangsters, and you could easily imagine one being called Falcone or Maroni.

This isn’t so much about Long Halloween but rather all Batman in general – Do you know what I dislike? Mad Hatter. I am a) sick of him due to a coincidental over-exposure and b) I dislike him to begin with, he is just something I don’t get along with. I never liked Alice In Wonderland to begin with, and it seems to grate at me. I also think it’s a bad gimmick for a villain. As far as I’m aware Spiderman doesn’t fight a Gandalf-themed Lord Of The Rings-obsessed character, and Spawn probably doesn’t fight a Ron Weasley based villain.

I do like that Loeb teams him up with Scarecrow though, if he has to be included, this is better, he can’t sustain a whole story of his own in my opinion. Even in the Arkham games, the Mad Hatter psychedelic missions weren’t as good as the Scarecrow one, (probably just because Alice In Wonderland seems to annoy me for some reason admittedly). I think adding in Hatter adds a bit of value-for-money as the list of villains included is longer, but letting Scarecrow do the heavy lifting is just better for my individual personal tastes (heck, throw Cornelius Stirk in there too and have a team up of mind-bending villains.)

So yeah, Mad Hatter… tolerable in small doses or as a silent part of a team, but I’d hate a game, comic or movie where he was the main villain. I’d almost prefer The Carpenter or Tweedledum and Tweedledee… at least their voice isn’t annoying. I was going to start a list of villains that I prefer to Mad Hatter, starting with Mr. Freeze and going onwards, but I thought it would just be pointless, you get the point. I don’t like Ventriloquist or Mad Hatter all that much. Doesn’t matter, just personal opinion.

That ‘Hatter observation aside, I only really have positive things to say about this story. It is long, weighty, has a good tone, keeps you reading till the end it also looks good for the most part (Jim’s office particularly). I also like how they hint at duality instead of ramming it down your throat every five minutes. What more could you want?

[Oooh look. A whole Batfan article where I didn't bring up Heavy Metal. What's going on? Ummm.... "listen to Megadeth." Phew, close call!]

Hello and welcome to the eleventh installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

Long story short, I liked comics-related stuff but found the whole idea of being a comics fan too embarrassing, and some of the comics I did try were lacking-in-depth, so I didn’t like comics themselves until my friend Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them. I had a sort of snobbery to overcome. Its been overcome now though, and I’ve spent most of the last year buying and reading Batman comics, which I will now blog about for your reading pleasure and commenting-inspiration (seriously, I want to know what you think about these comics).

Last time, I mentioned how I’ll try and cover some of the more famous Batman books like Year One, The Long Halloween, Dark Knight Returns etc. and so this time I’ll be covering Arkham Asylum A Serious House On Serious Earth, which is supposedly the best-selling Batman book ever, which is perpetually featured in lists of best Batman books ever, and which helped inspire the Batman Arkham Asylum videogame which I think is one of the finest and most interesting videogames ever made. I remember really loving finding Amadeus Arkham’s crazed spiral writings in there, and it was a cool to see them in this book.

I’ve read a few other books that focus on the Asylum before this. Arkham Reborn and Arkham Asylum Living Hell to be specific. They’ll get their own articles too. I’ve saw other asylum based comics (ie. Jokers Asylum) and been unsure whether or not to read them, and I’ve never been able to allow myself to read the comics based on the games despite only really reading comics in part due to those game. Sometimes I feel torn between admitting being brought into comics by the videogames and find myself trying to skim-over that fact. Its like liking Dragonforce… you sometimes feel the need to defend against hypothetical Guitar Hero comments, but sometimes you feel the need to just say “yes, well, that’s a way to have gotten into it…so what?”

Anyway, I’m not going to look to deeply into the psychology of that (pop psychology’s Morrison’s job, not mine) so instead I’ll just kill time with an amusing little anecdote; I was on the train this week, reading a Batman book, and a stranger with a mysterious accent- a thirty-five year old, smart-casual dressed, male adult approached me. Excitedly, he asked me if adults were allowed to read comics now. He liked the recent comic book movies a hell of a lot and was excited to find another adult (me) who had an interest in this area to ask… could he read comics? – In some ways I figure he may have been really asking if comics could be enjoyable to adults or whether they’d feel too childish – but the way it came out, it was more as if he asked could he please be given permission to read comics …as if without my say-so he might get arrested if he tried them. He also told me he loved the fact that the joker put someone’s eye out with a pencil in The Dark Knight movie (much to the shock and distaste of an elderly woman sat between us).

After having read this today, I’m almost sorry I didn’t recommend him this book. I think he’dve gotten a kick out of the pencil bit…

Batman

Batman – Arkham Asylum A Serious House On Serious Earth:

- Writers: Grant Morrison
- Art: Dave McKean
- Colours: N/A

- Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

- Timeline Position: Mid-Career

- Batman is: Bruce Wayne

- Villains: Joker, Two Face, Killer Croc, Maxie Zeuss, Mad Hatter, Clayface, Dr. Destiny

- Allies: James Gordon (Police)

-Bystanders: Cavendish (Asylum Staff), Adams (Asylum Staff), Pearl (Asylum Cook)

- Mentioned: Jason Todd as Robin, Professor Milo

- Historical Characthers: Amadeus Arkham, Constance Arkham, Harriet Arkham, Mad Dogg Martin Hawkins,

- Cameos: Black Mask, Scarecrow, Tweedledum and Tweedledee

- Story: [Spoilers Ahoy:] On April Fools Day, Batman is called to respond to a riot in Arkham Asylum, where the inmates have escaped and are requesting him personally to come inside. He agrees after Joker blinds a staff member with a pencil. Upon arrival, Batman is met by the Joker (who’s blinding scenario had been a bluff, an April Fools Joke, and he lets the victim go), as well as a psychiatric worker called Adams, who has been treating Two Face in an attempt to stop his obsession with duality. Adams has trained Two Face to make decisions using a pack of tarot cards rather than his famous coin, but this has reduced him to a dysfunctional wreck. Batman slowly travels through the asylum seeing different villains in succession, (fighting Killer Croc along the way and becoming injured) and gaining insights into his own psychology with each meeting. After meeting a disturbed Arkham Employee called Cavendish, Batman learns the tragic past of the Asylum’s founder who himself went insane after his difficult childhood looking after an ill mother, and the murder of his family on April Fools Day. Cavendish is revealed to have been behind the riot and believes Batman is a demonic death-bat “feeding” the “evil” Asylum more insane victims. After a fight, Adams saves Batman by slitting Cavendish’s throat. Batman regains his composure takes an axe and takes Two Face’s coin. He breaks down the asylum’s door declaring everyone free, then Joker asks if Batman should be put out of his misery. Batman says it should be Two Face’s decision and gives him back his famous coin, Two Face flips the coin and lets Batman go, although it is revealed to be opposite to what the coin decided indicating the therapy was helping him. Joker gives Batman some parting words suggesting the outside world is the real Asylum. Two Face then knocks down a house of cards he’d constructed out of the tarot cards.

- Tone: Its pretty horrific and dream like in tone. Its like the bit in a film when a character is drugged up or insane. Its jam-packed with distorted scales, odd perspectives and all sorts of different and possibly contradictory symbolism. I’m not going to pretend to be smart enough to have understood it all without reading Grant’s annotations, but it definitely made for an interesting read. As far as tones go, its fairly unique. Dream sequence and horror have both been done, but never like this. Its like Faith No More’s music. Similar things exist, but Faith No More are still massively unique. The two words I’d use to describe it are inventive and impressive. [Why not take this as a reason to listen to "The Mourning After"]

- Art: The art here is very stylized, very visually interesting. I said last time that The Chalice was very stylized, but this is on a whole other level. It’s more like a Metal band’s CD booklet at times. It kind of reminds me of Slipknot’s debut and all the “Come Play Dying” scratched text and Ouiji Board imagery and that sort of stuff. It doesn’t look like a normal comic book at all most of the time, its more like a weird artistic multi-media project. I saw in the linear notes of my 15th Anniversary Edition that it was made with a mixture of Drawing, Painting, Photography and Sculpture, all in the pre-computer age. It looks difficult enough to do in Photoshop. Must’ve been a nightmare to make back then. I liked it, I thought I wouldn’t but I did. When I first saw images from it online, I thought it might be a bit poncy and up-itself, but when you actually read it all in context, it isn’t like that at all.

- My Thoughts: You know, I think this might be one of the only Batman stories I own that doesn’t have Alfred in it. Maybe Arkham Reborn and the Judge Dredd crossover book didn’t have Alfred either, but I’m not even certain about that, I’d have to go back and check.

Its also interesting that the artist refused to draw Robin, and so Robin was removed from the story. If that hadn’t have happened, it would’ve meant that the best-selling Batman book of all time featured Jason Todd as Robin. Would’ve been interesting. Shame.

Its also interesting how many ideas from this come up again in the later Morrsion run. Death-Bat, Joker’s personality reinventions, Shamanistic Rituals and Black Magic, Death and Rebirth etc. All of those feature in the later work.
Its also interesting that this book was supposedly designed as a reaction to the serious movement in comics at the time, and his later run was a reaction to the legacy of that movement. He’s definitely got a distinct personality as an author, ey? [I'm tempted to go read Batman Gothic again and see if Morrison forshadowed any more of his run in that (apart from the Soul-Sold-To-The-Devil and Un-aging things I remembered just as I typed that)]

Also, as much as this book could feel like just a vehicle for symbolism and an inventive art style, it actually flows pretty well as an entertaining story. I know it is essentially just Batman walking past several villains and getting in two fights, but it was engaging and the Amadeus Arkham backstory was fairly riveting. I could see why or how someone might make a case against it (style-over-substance, “nothing much happens” and pretentious) but as a first-time reader, it really captivated me and I sat and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting and felt as though I’d gotten my money’s worth.

Tesseract - Altered State

Tesseract – Altered State

Altered State is the second full-length studio album from the British Progressive Metal Band Tesseract. It was their first album to feature Ashe O’Harra on lead vocals, it was self-produced and was released in 2013.

Since getting this album, I’ve been listening to it constantly. It has such a high replay value, and just gets better with each repeat listen. It is such an immersive, cohesive, powerful record and I wouldn’t mind going so far as to call it a masterpiece.

The album is broken down into four sections: Of Matter, Of Mind, Of Reality and Of Energy, which are themselves broken down into separate tracks. The album as a whole flows like one giant song, each of the four sections flow like one continuous song, and each track works on its own. It really is a well-developed and brilliantly executed structure.

Highlights include the powerful “Resist,” the catchy “Nocturne” and the lengthy and interesting “Singularity.”

Musically, there are beautiful shimmering clean guitar sections and a wash of hypnotic electronics subtly mixing with powerful emotive clean vocals with a real haunting quality, there are brilliant rhythmically interesting and groovy drums mingling perfectly with clever bassline, and there’s the odd section of crushing Djenty heavy guitar at the appropriate moments to top it all off. It’s a lot more subtle, intense and driving than their debut, with an almost post-rock attitude to song building. The way things weave and change fluidly makes it a really enjoyable and entertaining listen. Its a real extension and perfection of everything the band have been working towards so far. They even keep things interesting with some well-placed and non-gimmicky use of saxophones.

Overall; This album is fantastic, it’s a real step-up for the band and a defining moment for the whole movement. If you like this sort of music you’ll absolutely love this record, and if you haven’t heard of this band or album yet, I’d strongly recommend you give it a try. This is one of those rare, perfect, gems of an album that can completely captivate you and capture your imagination time and time again.

Tesseract - One

Tesseract – One

Tesseract are a five-piece Progressive Metal band from England and 2011’s One is their debut full-length studio album. It was produced by Acle Kahney, Amos Williams, Francesco Cameli and released through Century Media.

The standard of musicianship here on this album is excellent, particularly drummer Jay Postones and bassist Amos Williams, who’s superb rhythm section forms the backbone of the record. The production job is flawless, and all instruments (and even individual bass strings, drums and cymbals) are clear and audible, amongst the textured guitar, vocal and electronic waves which float over the top.

There’s a nice balance of fast and slow, heavy and soft, straightforward and complex, and a cohesion and sense of purpose that makes the album feel like one, singular, well-considered piece of work.

Highlights include the catchy album closer “Eden,” as well as the lengthy multi-part “Concealing Fate” and the punchy “Sunrise.”

For fans of the band’s second album, Altered State its worth noting that Daniel Tompkins (of Skyharbor fame) provides lead vocals on this album, before their current singer Ashe O’Harra joined the band becoming the band’s fifth lead vocalist to date. Thompkin’s vocal style is in the same ball-park of lush, melodic and emotional clean singing, although different enough that you notice the change.

Musically, this album is noticeably heavier than its follow-up, and there aren’t any saxophones, but in general the band’s identity is more-or-less the same and if you enjoyed Altered State, you should easily enjoy One.

For newcomers to the band entirely, especially those skeptical of anything associated with the word “Djent” its worth noting that in the same way that Thrash Metal bands took the chugging of songs like Black Sabbath’s “Symptom Of The Universe” and spun-off on that idea developing entire songs and albums using that as a starting point from which to develop their own ideas; Here, you can hear the sort of guitar tones and complex rhythms that Meshuggah have been playing since the 90s used as a jumping off point.

Rather than the all-out punishing assault of Meshuggah and their progressive take on extreme Metal, Tesseract deliver that sort of rhythm mixed in with floaty melodic vocals in the vein of Tool and Rishloo, and subtle ambient electronics to create something else. It couldn’t have existed without Meshuggah, and it couldn’t have existed before Melodic Metalcore became a decade-long mainstay of the Metal world, but it isn’t one or the other.

If you are a fan of established bands like Dream Theater, Riverside, Opeth, Fates Warning, Tool or many other Progressive bands within the Metal spectrum, you will find little touches here and there that chime something with what you like already, be that in the use of dynamics or uncommon time-sigs, but updated and in a different shape. If you like bands like Sikth, Botch, Carbomb, Fellsilent, Dillinger Escape Plan, or anyone in the math-y end of the Metal spectrum you man find something you like, but updated and in a different shape, and well, the same goes for if you like Meshuggah. Its not impossible to like Meshuggah and Tesseract despite what a vocal minority may claim.

If you are a fan of bands like Periphery, Monuments, Circles, Animals As Leaders, Textures, Volumes, Structures, Intervals, Skyharbor, Vildhjarta, Miroist, Hacktivist, The Algorithm or The Safety Fire then you may recognize the shape already and enjoy another slightly different take on it.

Overall; Tesseract are a strong and interesting band and One is a strong and impressive debut that should keep fans of the band, fans of the subgenre and fans of the overarching genre happy. Don’t make the mistake of overlooking the band because of the movement they belong to, as you’ll miss out on some brilliant music if you do. This isn’t just a throw-away album from a flash in the pan trend, there’s a demonstrable artist weight to be found here.