Amateur Batfan: GUT REACTION SPECIAL – Death Of The Family

Batman

***SPOILERS AHOY AND MEANINGLESS CONTENT IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT. ***

Ok. I’ve just finished reading Batman – Death Of The Family this morning. Instead of going through the usual format of these Amateur Batfan articles, I’m just going to launch straight into some gut reactions. Here goes:

I can’t actually articulate whether or not I enjoyed this book. I mean, I think each and every page was good, but somehow it seemed like a bad story.

For me, this was something where the whole was much less than the sum of its parts. It was like Resident Evil 5 for me; I had a lot of fun playing Resident Evil 5 and liked every single set-piece in it in isolation, but if I watched the actual plot as a movie, it wouldn’t live up to its own marketing hype.

I’ve read a few things online saying it was overly gory and horrific, but I didn’t actually notice that until afterwards, upon reflection. I think it had a great tone. I read some things saying that Joker’s face being cut off was too gross. I dunno, I just thought it was cool looking. It really is a striking image.

I didn’t even think that the plot or the dialogue were bad. Heck, the first few chapters really, really draw you in. Joker doesn’t like how Batman has evolved from a strong solo act into the leader of a big band (I, as a casual, barely-informed comics-outsider, fan felt like that too initially until I read Scott Synder’s Gates Of Gotham and Black Mirror… I liken it to Guns N’ Roses and their Use Your Illusions albums and tour. “Hey? Wasn’t this supposed to be a bad-ass rock band? What are all these trumpets and soul singers and country songs here for?”) and so wants to take away all the baggage and just leave it as Batman Vs. Crime. He also plays on the fact that Batman can barely keep up with him by recreating his old crimes but perverting them so Batman is playing catch-up instead of stopping him.

None of that is bad. In fact its all quite good. Yeah, Joker questioning the worth of the Bat-family and DC Comics proving why they are good is a great idea, and Batman struggling to predict Joker because Joker is the most difficult villain to predict is an entertaining read. It all sounds like the basis of a good, satisfying book.

Its this other thing that just got to me… this insistence on scale. This manufactured importance. They made ‘an important story.’ Not they made a story, and it was so good that people got on board and raised it to the level of important. They sat down and made an important story on purpose.

My question is, was it worth it? Wouldn’t it have been better to just have had a really good Joker-is-angry revenge story, than some thing that claims to be existential and revelatory, but then leaves you feeling a bit confused and sold-short.

Why does it have to be a ‘terrifying return,’ ‘a return of such importance’ or an ‘ultimate showdown.’ Why do writers have to bow down to the expectation that this has to be the most significant Joker story ever told? Why does everyone have to try one-up eachother by making the Joker more and more messed up? Why does everyone have to reveal some deeper truth to Batman and Joker’s relationship?

After a while its either just repetition or credibility-stretching ret-conting.

The thing about arms-race mentalities is that the artistic quality that comes from them is a bell curve. Sure, somebody does something, somebody else does it more gets us from Thin Lizzy to Iron Maiden, and from Iron Maiden to Metallica. It also gets us from Slayer to Sodom to Sarcofago to countless bland unlistenable bands that are such a wave of intensity that it loses all sense of meaning and significance.

Extremity is a dynamic. It only works in context. It only works by juxtaposition.

I get that Joker is a much-loved character. But like a comedian who’s audience loves him too much, the jokes are starting to suffer. What good is a character that has to have the best story ever?

That’s how Metallica ended up making Lulu.

You can’t just redefine a character every-single-time otherwise there is no character. Just an insert-character-here box, with a little quote on the bottom that says “best character ever, trust us!” I asked my friend about it, and he responded “Modern Writers are so in reverence of the Joker, they feel like they aren’t doing it properly if they don’t do it” …I think that’s a pretty good sum-up. Loving something too much can just get tiresome. I think that’s why I have such a problem liking Starwars.

Do you know what else though? This may seem a bit contradictory to my previous point, but where is the consequence? If this is the most important Joker story ever… why isn’t Alfred left blinded forever? Why aren’t the whole Bat-Family slaughtered and irreversibly killed forever? Either this is business as usual or it’s a world-shaking cataclysm that redefines everything. You can’t just say its world shaking but then let everyone get away unharmed. I guess you have the fact that the Bat-family didn’t come over to Bruce’s house at the end… but that’s hardly the same as Jason Todd’s actual murder or Barbara’s actual paralysis.

I could get behind the whole “this is Joker’s most gruesome assault ever” premise if it wasn’t so easily foiled, and devoid of any lasting impact. It would be cool to have Alfred just be blind from now on, and then struggle with being less helpful since he can’t read the computer screen any more. It could be like a disability-coming-to-terms story, or it could leave him as a bitter alcoholic… or something.

In the show House, when he gets locked up in a Mental Institution, it seemed like the ballsiest move ever. This show had been about a doctor on the brink and now he’s fallen over the edge. It would’ve been so cool to see the status quo shattered and the artistically bold move of just having him locked up, but they ditched that idea real fast and missed that opportunity. In Dexter there was a similar missed opportunity to have some genuine brave shake-up but it was wasted too.

This story feels like that. It screams ‘huge deal’ and then actually delivers the usual deal.

I’ve read some stuff online that people complained about, such as the acid that burned Batman’s mask didn’t injure his face, and the police not having Joker’s DNA being incredulous. I’ve also read some defense of the book saying it reveals alot of big deal things about the characthers, and the fact that everyone is huffing with Batman at the end is a big consequence and not just a little tiff to be brushed off.

In repsonse to those points, I wonder:

“I’m sorry if I’m being stupid… but what is this reason why Batman never kills the Joker?
I don’t see what it is.”

Otherwise, yeah, the DNA thing is fine because he wasn’t a criminal before being the Joker so shouldn’t be in a database anyway, the Joker Venom cure and acid-face thing I just file away under “reasonable suspension of disbelief within the context of the medium.”

The story feels a bit pointless to me, unless of course, from now on everybody does hate Bruce and no one associates with him anymore for years and years. Then yeah, the story will have some impact. Seems like a bit of a crap reason to huff with Batman though, he’s always giving out limited information. Its his thing. He’s that kind of guy. He’s never been a blabbermouth.

Furthermore, as to the character-defining stuff; As an audience, we’ve also known for years that Batman and Joker have a “special relationship” and “need each other” and all that, so it didn’t need retold as if it was new information. We’ve know for years Joker prefers trying to kill Batman than really killing him, so its not a big deal. We’ve known for years he doesn’t care who’s under the mask. So… again no big deal.

Oh Yeah. Another thing that has been touched on online is I that the New 52 continuity doesn’t make sense. With that one, I totally agree. If Batgirl isn’t Oracle then why/how did the Killing Joke story still happen? Maybe its explained somewhere, but its not explained enough in this book, where it needed explaining. Barbara and Jim can’t be so traumatized by the Killing Joke story but for it not to have happened (Which is what it feels like without that missing info).

So. There. A vent of all the annoyances of that first read. Blleeeeeurgh.

Ok. I’m done.

As I say though, every page was good. I don’t know how to feel. I just see a picture of Joker with his face hanging off and think “that is so cool looking,” and I read a chapter and am completely entertained until I’m finished reading. Its only afterwards, when you get a moment to think about it that you start wondering what’s went wrong.

Do I like this book or not? I can’t even tell.

Arkham Origins did the same old “lets go deeper on the Bat-Joker relationship” thing too, but I didn’t mind too much there, because at least it was a mechanically brilliant game. Is Death Of The Family a mechanically brilliant book?

Well, some of the set pieces are great and the art is superb, and it is entertaining and a page-turner, so sort’ve… but still, that salty aftertaste.

Maybe it’s a grower. I’ll get back to you on that.

If possible, I advocate healthy discussion in the comments, I want to know what y’all think…

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 4 – The Black Mirror

Hello and welcome to the fourth 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 Magnum opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them.

In between revising for exams, I’ve spent a lot of today playing Arkham Origins and really, really enjoying it. I haven’t even been playing the story, just running around collecting Riddler packages, scanning Anarchy symbols and architect plaques and enjoying the freeflow combat. Just Batmaning about the place. All that Batmaning put me in the mood to write another one of these blogs.

The soundtrack for this writing session has been Ozzy Osbourne’s Scream album. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with comics. I just haven’t listened to it enough and I want to get my money’s worth. I bought it at the same time as Black Rain and never really listened to either one enough. I heard a song off of Black Rain earlier this week and it reminded me to check them out again. I would say based on the first two songs (I’ve only gotten that far in so far) that this is a much more interesting album than the new Black Sabbath one. Make of that what you will.

Black Rain. Black Sabbath. My theme for this entry is Black.

For the fourth installment of the series, I’ll be covering The Black Mirror. I wanted to write “a modern classic.” To be honest I don’t know for certain if that’s true, but regardless of whether or not its definitively true, it deserves to be true, and its true in my mind.

This book is just straight up excellent. Its everything I want from a comic book. Its intriguing, visceral, adult, great to look at. If you asked me “I want to start reading comic books, recommend one to me” then this is the one I’d give you. (Well, this or ‘Owls). Last time, I said that the book on discussion (Batman Gothic) was good, but that I wouldn’t rhapsodize about it. That is not the case this time. I’d very much like to scream my affection for this book from the rooftops. I full on recommend you swap money for a copy of this book whether you were already planning to or not.

Batman

Batman: The Black Mirror:

– Writers: Scott Snyder

– Art: Jock & Francesco Francavilla

– Colours: Jared K. Fletcher & Sal Cipriano

– Continuity: Post Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Late Career, Post R.I.P,

– Batman is: Dick Grayson

– Villains: James Gordon Jr., Mr. Guiborg, Sonia Branch, Roadrunner, Tiger Shark, The Joker,
– Allies: Tim Drake as Red Robin, Barbara Gordon as Oracle, Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Barbara Gordon Sr, Harvey Bullock (Police),

– References: Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Jason Todd, Dr. Langstrom, The Flying Graysons,

– Story: [Spoilers as fuck!] The overarching plot revolves around Dick Grayson, who is now Batman since the death of Bruce Wayne, investigating a series of murders in Gotham. The murders are taking place using old versions of Gotham Villain’s signature tricks (eg. prototype Joker Venom, old Fear Gas etc.). He tracks down a crime-loving secret society of asshole socialites, infiltrates one of their auctions (in which they auction off memorabilia from famous crimes) whereupon he is discovered and has to fight them off. Eventually it turns out that Commissioner Gordon’s son James Jr was messed up after the events in Year One, and is a creepy-ass serial killer. This is told through flashbacks and Batman and Red Robin discover it through investigations and adventures that see them fight Roadrunner, Tigershark and The Joker. Commissioner Gordon doesn’t want to believe his son is such a sick fuck, and is convinced that James Jr. can handle his mental health problems with a new experimental medicine, but Barbara knows what James Jr. really is.

James Jr.’s medicine is revealed to have actually been causing psychopathy rather than curing it, and he reveals that it has been mass produced and introduced into the Gotham baby-food supply. He believes that psychopathy and a lack of human empathy is the liberating next stage in human evolution and wants the next generation of Gothamites to be as sick as he is.

James Jr. later tries to kill Barbara (after already poisoning Barbara Sr. and framing the Joker for it to lure Batman into a trap) but fails. Commissioner Gordon finally turns on his son after the attempt on his daughter and ex-wife’s lives, and shoots James Jr. in the leg, knocking him of a bridge in a scene mirroring [Black Mirror, innit] Year One, but the Commissioner saves his life. It is his son after all. Arkham bound, is that sick creepy prick. [Its a sign of great writing when a writer can make you feel genuine contempt for a villain]

In the epilogue Dick and Commissioner Gordon discuss their “long haul” future in the endless fight against crime while looking out the window, and there is a close up of a baby on the street looking a bit disturbed, indicating James Jr’s plan succeeded. Maybe Batman will have to fight that baby when it grows up to be a serial killer.

It’s a lot, lot, lot better than I’ve just made it sound though.

– Tone: The tone of this story is fantastic. Its dark as hell. Its flat out creepy at points, its got a Seven/Zodiac feel a lot of the time, and a Resident Evil 4 feel at other times. Its one of the darkest, most evocative and interesting Batman stories I’ve read to date and it really, really draws you in. It’s the sort of thing that you’ll have to read in one sitting because you just can’t put it down. There’s this great sense of dread and impending doom, as you just know that creepy little prick is evil and is going to start causing havock and break his old man’s heart, and you just sit there waiting for the axe to fall the whole time.

Its absolutely bleak and uncompromising. People have limbs amputated, jaws cut off, its just downright grim.

– Art: The art is absolutely top notch. Its very stylized, but its absolutely fantastic and suits the dark-ass tone of the story so well. It adds to the storytelling in a really powerful way. Its not just good as a storytelling device though, its excellent in and of itself. So many of the covers and individual panels would makes excellent posters. Its definitely in my top-five favourites that I’ve ever seen so far.

– Overall: I think this is hands down one of the best Batman books on the market. I said the art is in my top-five, but y’know what, the whole thing is. Its got a real mean, uncompromising tone, an intriguing and emotionally strong story, brilliant visuals, satisfying fights, no stupid or out of place dialogue, and a heck of a lot of strong scenes.

I said it before, if you want to start reading comic books and you ask me for suggestions, my number one choice is this. Pick it up. Get absorbed. It’s a brilliant serial-killer movie mixed with gadgets and outlandish locations (battle in a plane, in an underwater base etc.). I think this is a good book to check out if you like the Nolan movies. I think its an even better book if you liked the Sin City movie. I think it’s a good book period though. One of the best. Just read the damn thing already.

[Ps. Don’t I say on the market too much? As if I’m some sort of distribution house? I don’t know where I picked that phrase up from.]

‘Till next time!

Get (Into) What You Paid For: Vol. 3. Day 34 – More Little Thoughts

Its day 34 of my third Get (Into) What You Paid For challenge. I’ve been adhering to the challenge and haven’t broken the challenge yet. To be honest it hasn’t been too challenging. Challenge, Challenge, Challenge. So; Christmas has came and went, and the kind people in my life have provided me with a brilliant collection of very-well-thought-out gifts, which has definitely taken the urge to buy myself stuff away for a while.

I’ve been given numerous biographies on bands I like (including Sabbath, Megadeth, Slipknot, Jethro Tull); Power Metal albums from Iced Earth and Gamma Ray; Prog Metal albums from Porcupine Tree, Pain Of Salvation and Tesseract; Thrash from Testament. Even a bit of Grunge in the form of the new Pearl Jam album. My listening habits from the last year are all very well served by this.

I’ve been given a massive load of comics from my friend Magnum, and I’ve been given the new Batman videogame. My gaming and reading habits from last year are all pretty well served by this too.

Pretty much, I’ve just had a massive influx of things I like and so that quells the urge to buy more things I like.

Another reason I’ve been doing OK with not buying things is that I’m completely and drastically broke. Its easier to exert some restraint when there’s more reason to do so. Maybe I’m fianlly an adult, now that I can confidently say I’d rather be able to pay my rent than buy myself something entertaining. I’ve got so bloody much stuff already anyway that its becoming easier to shrug off the itch to get more, I’m beginning to learn some perspective and tone down my overspending.

Taking this financial situation into account, and the fact that I didn’t blog as frequently on the subject this December as I had in the previous two GIWYPF challenge months, I’ve decided to extend this one into a two-month epic. That’s right. I’ll try not to buy any books, comic books, DVDs, Blu Rays, Band T–Shirts, Books, Music or Videogames for another month, making it a stretch from December 1st to February 1st. I don’t think I’ve ever went that long without buying something of this nature since turning 18.

But if I was going to break the challenge, what would I break it on?

Riverside’s debut, Haken’s whole discography, the two Psychotic Waltz reissues, some of the more famous Fates Warning albums, and DreamTheater’s Awake all spring to mind. As does Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff and Angra’s Angel’s Cry.

I’d also like to get the two most recent Batman collections, the Death Of The Family main story and side-stories books. Everything I’ve read from Snyder so far has been good and I’d like to be a bit more “In The Loop” with things, if it wasn’t so costly.

Oh. And there’s one new Arctic Monkeys B-side that’s came out during the challenge. I like to always buy those B-Sides pretty much as soon as they are released, this is the longest I’ve gone without getting an Arctic Monkey’s B-Side since the release of their second album.

To be honest though, I don’t think there’s much risk of me breaking the challenge. Having a massive exam schedule that requires serious, dedicated revision for, having no money, and having been given those excellent Christmas gifts should keep me busy and thinking straight.

So; today, having done my revision for the day, I’ll take a little break and do a quick little series of mini-reviews/thoughts of what I’ve been listening to lately. As you might imagine, most of it will be the gifts I got for Christmas that I’ve described above. Here goes:

I got a copy of Tesseract’s new album Altered State for Christmas. I went and saw them live about a month ago and was completely blown away by them. They were supporting Karnivool who I’d imagine were less big than them, but who weren’t. They had an annoying loud fan who wouldn’t stop screaming for songs they didn’t play (“Dead Man”) and making a clown’s horn noise. I wish that fan had kept their big mouth shut, but the concert was awesome. Tesseract’s guitarist is very tall… Anyway; This album completely lives up to my expectations. Its absolutely fantastic. Such incredible musicianship and utterly spellbinding vocals. I can foresee this band becoming huge, if there’s any justice. Also, there’s a Saxaphone solo. Always a plus for a Floyd/Tull/Crimson fan!

I think I’m going to be dedicating a heck of a lot of listening time to this record in the near future.

Keeping with the Prog theme, Porcupine Tree’s Deadwing. I’ve been craving Deadwing for quite a while now. Ever since I got into the band, Deadwing has been my number one, most-wanted album of theirs, although I’ve managed to get everything around it first.

Interestingly, on just one listen, I was able to tell instantly that is their best record. I’ve had about five or six listens now and am still firmly of that opinion. The title track and ‘Arriving Somewhere But Not Here’ are absolute gold, and ‘Lazerus’ is a haunting, magical ghost-ballad. If this had the three best songs of Fear Of A Blank Planet on it too, it would be one of the best albums of all time.

I think I might make some sort of Porcupine Tree best-of, with ‘Sound Of Musack’ ‘Drawing The Line’ ‘Normal’ and then the majority of Blank Planet and Deadwing on it.

What else have I listened to? I recently talked extensively about listening to Pain Of Salvation’s The Perfect Element album so I won’t go into too much detail about it again here. Anyway, I listened to it again while I was weightlifting and although I had understandably reduced-concentration on it, I really am impressed by this album. If you like any sort of Prog Metal you should really pick up a copy. Its only about £3 on Amazon.

Tesseract, Porcupine Tree and Pain Of Salvation are three very different bands, and they all scratch very different parts of my brain, but any way you look at it, Prog Metal is pretty well served by that trio of absolutely phenomenal records. What about Power Metal then?

I also got given Horror Show and The Glorious Burden by Iced Earth for Christmas. I’ve listened to them both quite a few times now. I like Iced Earth, they play 40% Judas Priest, 40% Testament and 10% Warning era Queensryche. Pretty well suited to me then. Both albums are great, as was Something Wicked, which I got given for my previous Birthday. The three of them together feel like one big album. There’s sort of a continum between the three of them. Its hard to explain.

On The Glorious Burden, there’s a nifty bit where the lead guitars play the rhythm of “Johnny We Hardly Knew You.”

Interestingly as well; The Glorious Burden has Tim Paper Owens on it instead of Matt Barlow, who at the time had left the band to join the US Police force in the wake of 9/11. He’s a perfect replacement for Barlow. Both are brilliant at high screams, both sing with manly authority and both do a fine impression of Forbidden’s Russ Anderson. I don’t know if its actually the guitarist doing those bits. Could be. They’re so similar across the two records. I’ve also got given their live Blu-Ray for Christmas, so I’ll have a look when I get a chance to watch it, and see if I can crack this mystery. Is Schaeffer the phantom Russ Anderson impersonator? Or do both Barlow and Ripper both have that one particular style really well honed?

This record makes me want to try out the two Ripper-Era Priest albums that I avoided. Tim is certainly an incredibly talented guy. Replacing Halford can’t have been easy. Just look Blaze Bailey. The fans really didn’t go for him even though he’s very talented. Also – Maaaaaaaan hunt. Maaaan, Hunt. Manhuntmanhuntmanhuntmanhunt.

In addition to the serious, Thrashy, USPM… I’ve been listening to the fun, bright, melodic German Power Metal of Gama Ray. I’ve been hammering their 2007 album Land Of The Free II recently; its met with mixed reviews, but I really like it. Its such a fun, energetic, and pleasant record. The guitar solos are magnificent. Kai is one of my favourite guitarists of all time. I read a lot of people complaining about stealing that bass-bit from Maiden’s Rhime Of The Ancient Mariner. Gama Ray frequently steal bits from Priest. They’ve even stole bits from Deep Purple. Its just something you have to deal with. Its still a good song. I don’t know, maybe I should be harsher, but, I just can’t help but love everything Gamma Ray do. Its difficult to listen to Gamma Ray and not just be put into a good mood. I’d absolutely love to see them live. I wish I’d been a fan when they did that tour with Helloween recently. That must’ve been brilliant to behold.

Also, after having listened to Tesseract, I had another listen to Periphery. Periphery’s album is such a shapeshifter. Every time I’ve heard it I’ve listened to it in a completely different way. Sometimes I hear it as a radio-friendly Metalcore record, sometimes I hear it as a crushing desne Messugah-influenced affair, and sometimes I hear it as a rapid-fire, all-over-the-place, highly technical, Protest The Hero style modern prog mish mash.

That’s happened to me before, with Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes. I’ve heard it in completely different ways at different times. Makes you wonder what your ears and brain are up to.

Its also interesting just how different it is to Tesseract’s album. Its like the difference between Anthrax’s Spreading The Disease and Megadeth’s Peace Sells But Who’s Buying. Both are defining albums of Thrash, but both sound vastly different. Same goes here. Animals As Leaders’ Weightless album is as vastly different as those two are from eachother yet again. Perhaps that’s throwing Slayer’s Hell Awaits into the second albums by Thrash bands analogy. If all those Djent bands are Thrash, then what does that make Messugah? Judas Priest?

Oh. Y’know what. I can add three more things onto the “to-do-list” / risk-of-me-buying-these pile. Skyharbour, Monuments and Circle’s new albums.

Anyway, there are some seriously brilliant songs on this record. I particularly love ‘Erised’ and the single, ‘Scarlet.’ The whole album is fantastic though; the musicianship and vocals are incredible. There are parts that are so heavy, parts that are floaty electronic dreams and a lot of memorable clean choruses. Periphery – Love that shit.

I forgot just how good Tool’s Undertow album is. I usually think of the subsequent three albums when I think of Tool. There are some seriously fun, memorable, enjoyable riffs on this album. Some damn catchy vocal parts, some interesting lyrics, and it’s a lot more succinct and serious than I remember. I guess having gotten into all the Tool-influenced bands recently also helped. And the grunge; there’s a slight bit of grunge about Undertow that I may previously have been put-off by.

Speaking of being put-off; I think the thing about the carrots made me forget about all the completely awesome songs on the record. Tool usually have one or two little comedy moments or unusual additions, so I don’t know why that particular one took over. Well, at least I know better now. Songs like ‘Intolerance’ and ‘Bottom’ are absolute gems. I can see this working its way into a much more regular rotation from now on.

Ok; that’s enough for one installment. I’m going to have to keep it up all the way through January. Let’s hope I stick with the whole financial-discipline thing a while longer, ey?

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 1 – The Court Of Owls

Hello and welcome to Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. I bought about 6 issues of The Beano in about 1995, I bought 3 issues of Batman in about 2005, I read each one once, maximum twice, and then never really bothered. Something about comics just never connected with me. I loved watching Batman, Spiderman, Ironman and Fantastic Four cartoons on TV as a kid, I loved the Judge Dredd PS3 and Rougue Trooper PC games to bits when they were new, but when it came to comics I just didn’t get it.

It didn’t really help that I really didn’t like most superhero films made when I was a teenager. Batman & Robin was too cartoony. Spiderman 3 really put me off too. Seeing a bit of Fantastic Four where the over-endowed (chest-wise) blonde supermodel ends up in her underwear in the middle of the street for NO REASON insulted my intelligence.

I got given about 5 Spawn Graphic Novels in about 2009 by my comic’s enthusiast mate (and go-to source of knowledge and recommendations) Magnum and I enjoyed them. I liked how vivid and colourful they were. I was more impressed, but still a bit too skeptical to really commit

Then The Watchmen movie came out. I loved it. I still love it. I got given the book for my birthday. I loved it. It was a turning point for me when I realized comics could actually have genuine emotional depth and cultural significance. Then I bought about 10 Collections of the earliest Judge Dredd in stories in 2010 and they were so bad I felt like I had wasted the money so profoundly that it really soured me to comics. The Sin City movie occasionally made me reconsider, but not for long enough for anything to change.

Almost at the insistence of my good friend Magnum, I’ve decided to give the medium another chance recently, and get over some of my prejudices and preconceptions about it. How did he achieve this? Well; I began to warm to Batman a lot with the first Arkham game then again with second viewing of the first two Nolan movies, and started a conversation with Magnum reading the wikipedia on Batman after seeing the third Nolan movie. When I finally got the second Arkham game I was really sold on the whole idea of Batman and consequently Magnum, who surely must have a financial stake in this, used the opportunity to pounce on me when I was vulnerable (I jest) and sent me some Batman novels, including Year One and The Man Who Laughs. That pretty much did it for me.

I have spent the better part of this year reading a lot of Batman Graphic Novels and now I’m going to blog about each one. I’m going to tell you who made them, which characters are in them and what I think about them.

First off, the first one that I ever paid for with my own money:

Batman

Batman Court Of The Owls TP

– Writers: Scott Snyder
– Art: Greg Capullo/Jonathan Glapion

– Continuity: New 52
– Timeline Position: Late Career but in New 52

– Villains: The Court Of Owls, Talons

– Cameos: The Joker, Two Face, Scarecrow, The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Ventriliquist, Mr. Zsaz, Clayface, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, Black Mask, James Gordon Jr, Professor Pyg, Big Top, Firefly

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Allies: Dick Grayson as Nightwing, Damien Wayne as Robin, Tim Drake as Red Robin, Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Harvey Bullock (Police), Vicky Vale (Reporter), Bill (Coroner), Harper Row (Bystander)

– Historical Character Cameos: Alan Wayne, William Cobb

– Look: Not cartoony, Not gritty and photorealistic either. As each issue that makes up the book comes, the art gets better and better. I think its a really high standard and I have to admit I like it when the art is good, maybe that’s shallow but its how I feel.

– Story: The plot revolves around a mayoral election, a series of grim executions and a possibly-fictional cult, an illuminati-type group that may be causing these murders but may just be a myth. It really concentrates on the city itself. The city is almost like the main character.

The tone is really good. Its adult and entertaining at the same time, you rarely catch a sentence and think “that sticks in my craw, that doesn’t belong in Batman.” Sometimes I read a Batman story and someone will write some sex-joke (mostly Kevin Smith) or some non-swearing insult that takes you out of the story (calling someone a “twit” during a fist fight?), but there’s none of that in this. Everything feels natural. I also like how it balances old and new fans.

When I first read it, I liked how it explained so much, and didn’t make you feel like an outsider for not knowing 80 years worth of Batman history, but when I read it for the second time, after having learned much more about that history over half-a-year’s worth of reading, I then came to appreciate all the references and nods built in for the existing fans. If you didn’t know, this story is the first story in the NEW 52 continuity. What that means is that essentially the characters and story has been going on too long, and the company said “that’s enough. Start again” and so you act as if this is the first Batman story.

I like that they started off with an all new story and an all new villain/set of villains rather than just showing you something you’d seen before in the movies. It would’ve been easy to throw out The Joker or Bane as the main villain, but instead they did something completely new, and best of all, the new thing was actually really good. I like the dark, horrible tone that creeps in at times making it feel like a David Fincher movie, but I especially like how they balance that with Uncharted style adventure and excitement.

I also like how it makes you genuinely fucking despise the villains. There was an old woman I swear I actually wanted to choke to death with my own bare hands. Its powerful writing when you dislike a character that much. I think that’s why Game Of Thrones is so good, because of how much it makes you want to harm the villains. I remember when I was a kid, wondering about the WWF Wrestling and why they even bothered with the bad guys like Triple-H, because I hated them so much, and having it explained to me why that was actually the point, and how it was an example of good writing.

My favourite part of this book is the psychedelic, proggy bit in the middle where you have to physically flip the book around in your hands to figure out what’s going on, mirroring the emotions in the story. I like the idea that the story is interesting enough that the reader can start to actually feel claustrophobic or paranoid. Sometimes, you actually get so sucked in that you can feel cold, or start to yawn when a character yawns. Its the comic equivalent of the crime-scene level in Heavy Rain. Its a long way from Adam West getting eaten by a giant clam.

I also like how, right from the off, they start exploring strained relationships between Batman and Dick Grayson, exploring the psychology of Bruce, and generally writing the characters with depth. You land straight into a fully developed and populated world, many years into Batman’s career. You think you aren’t going to like it because you don’t like magic and children (eg. Robin) and are skeptical of a non-Nolan take on Batman and then it hits you with such a well written, intelligent take on it, making all the things you were skeptical about fit in, that it really turns you around. I’ll admit wasn’t expecting comics to be able to handle such depth of character. I’m glad they do.

I like the introduction of the Harper Row character and her brother. Its would be good if they become recurring characters from now on. It would be good to see female and gay characters handled tastefully. Also, its just good to know that there are more people in Gotham besides the villains, the cops and Batman’s crew. Having some citizen’s point of view considered is refreshing.

Overall; I think its well thought out, well written, well drawn and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to read a Batman comic. I think this was what really made me see that the medium was worthwhile, and made me want to start a collection. Check it out if you like the sound of it.