BookBin2016: Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year One

I’ve been on a comics bender lately. It’s kind of a combination of reasons, really. I’m having technical difficulties with one aspect of reality at the moment. My response to such problems has always been to pull away, to sequester myself away from whatever it is that’s bringing me down, usually within the safety of one of my many geeky obsessions. Healthy? No, probably not. Enjoyable? More so than what’s bringing me down. Also, when I do finally reconnect myself to reality, I feel a little better and a little more clear-headed.

Other reasons? Well, I’m sure I’ll write about it later (read: in my next book review), but I’m totally crushing on a new geek obsession. Crushing hard, denizens. Like Star Trek-level crushing. Like “probably (definitely) driving people who know me in other realms on teh Interwebz crazy” crushing. And it’s connected me back to one of my earliest geek obsessions: comics. Believe it or not, I used to be quite the comics nerd (no, Loba, we could never imagine you being EVEN NERDIER THAN YOU ALREADY ARE!). Not like Comic Book Guy-level, but I started down a comics obsession path around the same time as my Star Trek obsession started. Turns out, though, that I only had enough focus for one critical-level obsession at a time. Star Trek won. Comics simmered on the back burner.

Until the past few years. I have several friends who are hard-core comics fans. Their knowledge drew me back out of curiosity. Reading what they were writing elsewhere about certain comics piqued my interest and showed me pathways that I hadn’t known existed previously. Pathways that greatly appealed to me. Plus, there have been some…interesting changes to some characters (coughcough Batwoman coughcough) that lured me deeper into the darkness.

Darkness has always drawn me in. But then there is Darkness.

Injustice: Gods Among Us? That’s some serious darkness, my friends. Surprisingly dark, to be honest, from what I expected to be a fun but empty introduction to a video game. That’s what this is: a graphic novel written as a companion piece to a similarly named video game. I don’t even remember how I ended up learning about it, but when I read the description, it sounded like something I would enjoy for its welcome escapism.

I did enjoy it, but for much deeper reasons than I ever anticipated. This is one of those alternate universe stories in which recognizable and (overly) familiar characters take paths that skew far afield from what we know them to take in “reality.” For this, the primary AU character is Superman. I’ve spoken at length about my feelings about where they’ve gone in recent years with Superman: making him emo and (IMHO) whingy about being all-powerful. Oh, and funky dark. I don’t like funky dark. However, for this novel, they take Superman down a dark and twisted path that…honestly? It works. It works shockingly, brutally well. You have no doubt that the catalyst they use would absolutely work the way it did to cause Superman’s…change. Which actually isn’t a change of personality but instead a change of approach.

As you can tell, though, I don’t want to give away a whole lot about the story. It’s full of enough surprises and twists that I would hate to ruin this for anyone. I will say that it was great to see so many DC Comics heroes used throughout this first volume. Some I know a lot about. Some I know a little about. Some? Some I’m getting to know better right now, so it’s interesting to see this take on them in comparison to who they are where I’m seeing them elsewhere.

The heart of Injustice is the DC Triumvirate: Superman, Batman, and (to a lesser degree) Wonder Woman. I have mixed feelings about Wonder Woman’s role in the story. I’m hoping that her role will shift with time. Batman, however, is surprisingly…sane. And while still intrinsically grave and untrusting, he’s also likeable (in his own way). Likeable, too, is the relationship built between Superman and Batman in this story. It’s far more complex than I was anticipating from this novel. Obviously, I greatly underestimated writer Tom Taylor. Also? The artwork is exquisite throughout. Jheremy Raapack and Mike S. Miller provided artwork that could rival Williams, Perez, Ross. Fantastic.

Final Verdict: Definitely keeping. Definitely checking out Year Two. Apparently, they’re all the way up to Year Five now? I don’t know if I will stick it out through the whole series, but this hooked me tightly enough that I’m antsy to see where it will go next. If you are a DC Comics fan, then I would highly recommend you give Injustice a proper go. I have a feeling you, too, will be pleasantly surprised.

BookBin2016: The Dark Knight Returns

tdkr

I’ve had a copy of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns on my shelf since, I think, Christmas 2009. While I knew that this was one of those “must reads” for anyone who even dabbles in comic fandom, as I do, my feelings toward Batman have dropped precipitously in recent years. I loathed Christian Bale as the Dark Knight and I loathed the influence that those movies had over other superhero reboots. Dark and dismal affairs, the whole lot of them.

See, I grew up with the 1960s Adam West television show. My Batman was benevolent and odd. A quirky rich man who liked to dress in a onesie and fight cartoonish villains with his young ward. Plus, there was Eartha Kitt. And Julie Newmar. And Yvonne Craig.

My Batman was fun.

Then Tim Burton came along, and while his Dark Knight was decidedly darker than those campy capers of the Caped Crusaders, there was still a level of hilarity and silliness, mingling with the darkness. Because Burton.

Apparently, though, Gotham needed to lose all that because modern audiences are far more sophisticated and serious. We need the Dark Knight to be DARK. Even in the New 52, he’s moody and volatile, almost to the point of some kind of mental instability. I suppose that this take on Batman wouldn’t be that far off if you really considered the origin of the character. Seeing your parents murdered is bound to leave you with some serious issues. Why Alfred didn’t just get the boy into therapy is beyond me. Instead, he let him faff about with bats, feeding some kind of hero delusion until, older and reveling in the kind of privilege that stinking rich provides, he begins to build the ultimate cosplay fantasy world for himself.

Yeah, if you think about it, Batman should be bat-shit crazy. But that doesn’t mean he needs to be moody and boring, too.

What the hell was I talking about? Oh yeah, Frank Miller’s graphic novel. It’s not bad. It’s dark, but I kind of like his take on what would happen if Batman retired and tried to live a normal life. It was kind of prescient. It’s like when Michael Phelps retired but then was all like, “Hey, I kinda miss all those medals.” So he came back with a vengeance.

So did Batman. But not for medals. Just criminals. Which I guess are kind of like superhero medals.

I have no idea what I’m writing anymore. Clearly, I have forgotten how to blog.

Final Verdict: I liked the graphic novel. I’m keeping it. I’m also going to try to get back in the blogging game.

BookBin2016: DC Bombshells Volume 1: Enlisted

dcb_vol1

Not only am I on a bit of a graphic novel kick at the moment, but I’m also still focused on my own books rather than ones from the library. This one is the latest graphic novel I procured from Amazon: the first volume of collected comics for the DC Bombshells story line.

I love the “organic” way that this series came about (I use organic in quotes because I’m pretty sure that this was ultimately DC’s plan right from the start. Because jaded.). What began as a series of one-off variant comic covers depicting DC heroines and villainesses as WWII-era “bombshell” pinups has spun into this special edition series of stories detailing how these characters played a role in the global fight against the Nazis.

I suppose that one could state that this feels a little flippant. It trivializes the bravery of real people. However, when you keep in mind that several comic heroes rose from the turmoil of this particular piece of history, including Wonder Woman (who should remain linked with World War II…but I’ll have more to say about that later), it brings things into better context. Horrific events sometimes require a different lens through which to process truths that we oftentimes do not wish to contemplate. An even better example of a graphic novel that deals with this devastating stain upon humanity would be Art Spiegelman’s Maus. If you haven’t read that one yet, then I highly recommend it.

Does this series deal with WWII with the same level of success as something like Maus? Oh, no. But that’s why Maus is a Pulitzer prize-winning effort and this is…not. It’s just different. It’s sometimes serious but mostly with this first volume, it’s more about introducing us to the various Bombshell variants chosen for this series. I love the characters chosen so far. Of course, my favorite is Kate Kane. I’m still mourning the demise of her solo run at the hands of DC Comics ineptitude (and possible homophobia). Seeing her in this series made that disappointment a little less tender. Also, I love how writer Marguerite Bennett pretty much erased Batman from this particular timeline thanks to Batwoman. Given my increasing apathy toward the Dark Knight (more on that to come as well), I really enjoyed this particular timeline shift. Also, I’m not really giving away any spoilers since this happens on the first page of the graphic novel.

Interestingly, my last encounter with Bennett’s writing style left me feeling a strong sense of meh-laise (yes, I have created a new word; you’re welcome). She wrote some of the final Gail Simone run for Batgirl. This time around, Bennett was much stronger in storytelling. Her words also garnered accompaniment from some beautiful time period-inspired artwork. Heavy line work, appropriate palette, and gorgeous renderings of our lovely ladies of DC in the styles of the times made a great visual impact upon a solid opener to this series.

Final Verdict: Keeping this volume and patiently awaiting the release of the next one this June.

See You in the Funnies

Okay, denizens, you can relax. I’ve made my decision. I’m not going to write individual reviews of all the books that I finished last year while I struggled to rebuild my lair (I know, many of you were probably up for many nights,  pondering what my decision would be). I have 15 books from that time frame (not counting the books that I have finished already in 2015). With what I wrote last time about not wanting this to just be a book review blog, I think it makes more sense to condense my reviews rather than posting 25 book reviews (yes, I’ve already finished 10 books so far this year; those I might actually review individually).

This post, therefore, will be for the graphic novels that I finished at the end of 2014. What’s going to make this an even quicker post is the embarrassing truth that I don’t really remember a whole lot about what I wanted to say about some of these novels. Old age, my friends. It’s coming.

Let us begin…

parker1

I admit right away that I knew nothing of Richard Stark or his character Parker when I saw these three graphic novels at the library. All I knew was that they were new to the graphic novel section and there were three of them. For some reason, I’m always more inclined to pick up new graphic novels if they’re a series and more than one is available right away. Weird, right?

After reading all three of these novels, I did a little investigating and stumbled across the Web site The Violent World of Parker, which actually provides quite the appropriate blurb on Parker:

You’ve heard of the hero and the anti-hero…how about the non-hero? That’s how Parker, the main character in a series of novels by Richard Stark (AKA Donald E. Westlake) has been described. Parker is a thief, but he’s no charming cat burglar who playfully eludes the silly authorities. He’s a ruthless thug who does whatever it takes to get what he wants (usually money), and he doesn’t care about a living soul other than himself. Some of the things he does will be repellent (I hope) to readers.

Thug? Yes. Non-hero? Yes. Repellent? Yes. I don’t envision myself reading any more of these graphic novels or ever reading the original books on which they were based. However, I have to say that Darwyn Cooke did a fantastic job of translating Parker and his world into a neo-noir, almost Sin City-esque monochromatic nightmare world in which there aren’t really good guys. Just degradations of bad. Where does Parker fall on this spectrum of gray? Well, I’ve confirmed that he’s a non-heroic thug who does repellent things. You’re smart. You can suss this out.

Final Verdict: Beautiful, succinct artwork does very little to diminish the inherent ugliness of Parker’s world. As crime novels go, I suspect that true fans might adore Parker. I did not, but I give credit where it is due. Cooke has taken existing stories and given them a compelling visual spin.


batman1

This will be an even quicker review. Again, I picked up the first two graphic novels for the New 52 reboot of Batman because they appeared as a pair. A mediocre, rather banal pair. I actually found the storylines tedious. Then again, I haven’t really found Batman to be anything less than that description for quite some time. Over-saturation is never a good thing for me.

I willingly admit that I should not have picked up these novels, even if they did arrive as a pair at the library. I’m not interested in Batman’s world right now. Also, the pressing present need to make everything dark and grave and bleak is no longer appealing to me, even with the Caped Crusader and his filthy Gotham. Plus, Batman keeps spiraling ever-downward into a fugue state of vigilante insanity that I fail to find appealing. I grew up watching Adam West as Batman. This new guy? He really needs to lighten up.

And is it just me, or is Bruce Wayne an overindulged narcissist? This was the image that really hit this truth home to me (not the text; just the image itself):

vaingloriousbruce

“Why, of course I’ll help you, orphan…but only if you’re a young White male who looks exactly like I did when I was orphaned. I can’t be helping riff-raff who won’t look as good in a tux as I do.”

Bruce Wayne is a jerk. Discuss.

Final Verdict: I promise, I won’t check out any further adventures of Narcissisto Whackadoodle and his band of merry clones as long as I’m in my current state of mind regarding superheroes.


ldoai

I actually deeply enjoyed Fabien Vehlmann’s Last Days of an Immortal. Simple, desaturated, slightly impressionistic art masking the futuristic complexities of a sci-fi mystery. What’s not to love about that? The text deals with numerous concepts that many a sci-fi nerd has wrestled with, I’m sure, including the allure of immortality—as well as the inevitable tarnishing of said allure when what is wished for is finally obtained.

Lisle:
Siempre Viva! Live Forever!

Ernest:
Then what?

Lisle:
What?

Ernest:
Then what happens?

Lisle:
What?

Ernest:
I don’t want to live forever. I mean, it sounds good, but what am I gonna do? What if I get bored?

Lisle:
What?

Ernest:
And what if I get lonely? Who am I gonna hang around with, Madeleine and Helen?

Yes, I just quoted Death Becomes Her.  You’re welcome.

Final Verdict: I definitely want to revisit this novel.


edtwof

I thought I would never finish this book. I used to read Alison Bechdel’s strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” when I was in college. I didn’t read it with regularity, but I read enough of it to keep up with the general flow. However, when I discovered this massive beast of a collection at the library, I couldn’t resist revisiting those Essential Dykes.

I think that Bechdel’s efforts with this strip were, pardon the pun, essential at the time she actively drew them. She challenged misconceptions and represented the lesbian community at a time when representation was critical. It wasn’t all positive representation, mind you, but that’s life. The expectation that gays must be flawless beyond reproach—eunuchs of purest, guileless intent—to be tolerated (not accepted…tolerated), is, as my father would be most likely to say, “rubbish” (thank you, BBC America, for confirming his continued standing as an Anglophile).

However, that was where the mindset was evolving at the time when Bechdel’s Sapphic squad was in its prime. People are people, flaws and all. We’re messy, we humans. All of us. The beauty of Bechdel’s strip was that it wasn’t all beautiful. But it was fairly real. Bechdel wasn’t into the Will & Grace approach. She didn’t want her characters to be one-dimensional, static, bland. She made them damaged, well-intentioned, raw, emotional, ravenous, intellectual, sumptuous, eclectic.

She made them people. Imagine that.

Final Verdict: As essential as I agree Bechdel’s strip was, I’m not kidding. I seriously felt as though I would never finish this collection. It was like the friggin’ Energizer Bunny. I suspect that it’s best consumed in bits and bobs, which one might be able to do if one owned this. However, I was under a time limit, thank you, library. OVERLOAD. I suspect I might change my mind later and perhaps want to revisit this book, but not yet. Still, I heartily acknowledge the value and importance of Bechdel’s contribution to gay literature.


revolverI’m not really sure why I picked up Matt Kindt’s Revolver, but I did find elements of it to be quite enticing. The crux is that we are witnessing the main character, Sam, as he revolves between two parallel existences—one in which he is a run-of-the-mill office worker, slinking through a life that leaves him almost completely disengaged and disinterested in everything; and the other in which he finds himself struggling to survive a post-disaster nightmare that finally reaches him and forces him to take control and take and active role in creating his own path. In one, he just survives and in the other he is just barely surviving. One leaves him a husk and the other finally lights a fire within him and makes him want to do whatever it takes to keep going and keep doing what he thinks needs to be done. In one universe, he finds a purpose that he had completely abandoned even considering in the other. Though violent and destroyed and uncertain at best, the post-apocalyptic universe seems to be where it’s at for young Sam. Who knew?

I don’t remember being terribly blown away by the artwork, but I did enjoy the story and I found a couple of things to be quite creative. For instance, the bottom of every page, where the page numbers appear, had a news ticker into which the page numbers were somehow embedded as part of whatever news item was being reported, whether in the bland universe or the catastrophic one. Well-played there, Mr. Kindt.

Final Verdict: Good read but not one I marked as wanting for my own collection.


I grabbed Matt Howarth’s quick graphic novella The Downsized downsizedfrom the shelf as sort of an afterthought. I recognized it as being new and figured that it would take me no more than the better part of an hour to read it. What’s the harm in that?

It was definitely a very quick read. The Amazon review describes it at one point as “Think Big Chill for the new millennium.” I can kind of see that. Just without the music. Or the depth.

Not to say that this isn’t a well-considered story. It’s a slice-of-life contemplation on the status of the lives of several friends (and former lovers) who have gone through a series of tumultuous professional and personal experiences.

It’s called life.

Of course, there are a couple of unexpected twists to the story, which I suppose also fall soundly and correctly within the descriptive boundaries of “life” as well. I don’t really have much else to say about this one. Also, I’d hate for this review to go any further. It might end up being longer than the actual story.

Final Verdict: Nah, I’ll pass.

BookBin2013: Batman R.I.P.

batmanrip

Yes, that’s right…one more BookBin review for the late, great 2013. I didn’t completely finish this one last year, but I finished the bulk of it…so it counts, dammit.

To be honest, I felt mostly lost the entire time that I was reading Batman R.I.P., written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Tony S. Daniel (with cover art by the impeccable Alex Ross…who likes Batman’s eyes to be brown while the book artist makes them blue). I don’t really follow Batman in the comics. I know enough about him through comic book osmosis, the 1960s show, and the Tim Burton movies (well, at least the first one was awesome). The only thing the Christopher Nolan movies taught me was that I could really hate Batman under the right circumstances.

Nolan’s movies also taught me that I really don’t like The Joker being played as totally psychopathic and cruel. He needs to have some kind of softening humor to him. Some kind of Cesar Romero or Jack Nicholson joie de vivre. Without that whimsy, he’s just…like any other psychotic killer. Even Alan Moore’s Joker was more interesting than the way the character comes across now. And having him split his tongue with a straight razor (SPOILERZ) so that it looked like a serpent’s tongue? That was around the point when I kind of shut down on that character. I can’t help it. I grew up with Romero’s kooky, loveable Joker and “This town needs an enema!” Nicholson Joker. Besides, why does everything have to be so sick and twisted and dark anymore? Tongue-splitting Joker. Neck-breaking Superman. Spoilerz. What happened to having fun with these stories?

I get that Batman’s had a rough life. As rough as a life can be for a multimillionaire who never has to work an honest day in his entire life. I guess we should be thankful that he wants to do good and fight evil rather than jet off to Bora Bora every weekend with his latest fling. Still, lighten up, Brucie. Dark Knight is Dark. And mopey. Then again, this is called “Batman R.I.P.” Moping is allowed, I suppose, when everyone is always trying to kill you.

All in all, it was an entertaining read with some really fine artwork, even if: A) I felt like I was missing key information while reading parts of it; and B) It does go a bit off the rails here and there (although maybe those moments would have made more sense if I’d had all the pieces to the puzzle). Also, no one is ever going to believe that any of these characters is ever going to really die. People who don’t really die: Star Trek characters and comic book heroes. Whether they come back as half-Romulan hybrids or they’re rebooted back into existence, they’re always going to be around. Not even having a bridge dropped on him could stop Captain Kirk, in the books at least. SpoilerZ. So at no point did I ever believe that Batman was really going to die. Also, I have the pleasure of being in the now and knowing that Batman does, indeed, still live.

I also don’t really get the back story for all the different Robins. Yeah, I know that one of them is now Nightwing. And I think one of them is dead (okay, so some characters do die…but only the replaceable ones). Not that I really care all that much. Still…it feels like there’s something questionable going on in Gotham that they keep remanding all these boys over to Bruce Wayne’s care but not investigating when they “go missing.” Maybe that’s just me. I had to laugh at the appearance of original Batwoman, in her yellow onesie and her Bat lust for Bruce Wayne. Oh, Katy Kane. You so cray.

And now excuse me while I wash my brain out with peroxide for actually using the word “cray.”

Final Verdict: Even though I found the novel enjoyable enough to finish it, I guess it’s safe to say that I’m not much of a Batman comic fan. I still love the original series and I still love the Tim Burton movie. I also like the concept of the character, for the most part. However, I think I find others from the Bat Family more interesting than the Dark Knight. Still, I’ve got a “classic” Batman graphic novel in my collection that I need to finally read. I’ll let you know how that goes…

BookBin2012: All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder, Volume 1

Well, there’s a mouthful of a title, right?

Seems that I went on a bit of a binge the last time I hit the local library, especially when it came to graphic novels. This time, I was surprised to find a couple of selections from Frank Miller’s catalog. I’ve been looking for Miller’s work to show up for a while now; mostly, I’ve been waiting for his Batman work as well as 300. I got part of my wish with this selection.

Even though it wasn’t The Dark Knight Returns, which is what I was hoping would show up, I was more than willing to give All-Star Batman & Robin a go. With this series, we get Miller’s take on how Dick Grayson found himself under the protection and training of Batman after events left them sharing a defining moment involving their respective parents (how’s that for vague?).

Mainly, I was drawn in (ha) by the fact that Jim Lee was the artist for this collection. Lee was an integral force behind the artwork of the X-Men back in the late 80s and 90s. He pretty much helped establish the appearance of that merry band of mutants to which I was first introduced through the Saturday morning cartoon that I still love. Not only that, he helped Chris Claremont create the character of Gambit, who was always one of my favorites on the cartoon. Also? Anyone who gets a vote of confidence from Chris Claremont definitely gets my vote, too.

Obviously, at some point Lee shifted his talents from Marvel to DC, which led to his teaming up with Miller on this retelling of the Boy Wonder’s arrival in the Bat Cave.

Taken in its entirety, this is an amazing collection. Miller’s dark sensibilities work well in conjunction with the world of the Dark Knight. This is not the glowing realm of Metropolis, protected by their alien immortal in bright patriotic splashes of blue and red. This is seedy, gray Gotham, full of characters composed of gritty complexity. There are rarely clear delineations between good and evil, as intent and integrity blur into the deep shadows that Lee so eloquently elicits through his artwork. Kudos should also be given to Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair, who were responsible for inking and coloring, respectively.

Where the weakness of this collection shows is where the weakness of most comics appear: the depiction of female characters. Miller’s women are vapid, vituperative, and vindictive, not to mention extremely objectified through language and artistic renderings. We meet Vicki Vale in her very skimpy lingerie. Later, we see her preening in anticipation of getting close to Bruce Wayne and his huge bank account. The Black Canary is a busty, bawdy barmaid with indecent curves and impossible heels. Wonder Woman…she was the greatest disappointment of all. Apparently, in Miller’s Gotham, a woman of strength and independence by default must be an angry, violent man hater secretly harboring crippling lustful urges toward the primary target of her man-hating ways.

Right.

Miller’s depiction of all the women in this collection was infuriating, but no take was more insulting or offensive than his on the Amazon goddess.

Plus, there’s the added insult of the comic-standard ass angle in which we see nothing but the…butt of whatever woman happens to be in frame at the present moment. What a dull, tedious angle, lacking in any artistic integrity or imagination.

That being said, I did find certain other choices by Miller to be intriguing. I liked that his Batman was just the least bit, shall we say, unhinged. Sure, he’s the Dark Knight. Yes, he’s a crime-fighter. But he’s not a “hero.” He’s surly, unpredictable, uncooperative and just a tad bit…cracked. He refers to himself as “the goddamn Batman,” which made me think of the awesome Twitter feed of the same name every time I read it. I’m assuming this comic is also from where the idea for Christian Bale’s gravelly, growly Batman voice came? Interesting. Works better in print form.

Final Verdict: I’m not really sure I want to add this to my library. As much as I love Lee’s artwork as well as many aspects of Miller’s re-imagining of Gotham and its Dark Knight, I didn’t feel any particular desire to revisit. This might change. If it does, I’ll let you know.

BookBin2011: Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

I’m in the process of reading another book, but I also picked up a small stack of graphic novels during my last trip to the library (I can’t not get books when I’m in a library, denizens…I’m just too weak), and they’ve been taunting me with their colorful goodness ever since.

Especially this particular collection. Anyone who has been following my reading exploits here at the lair knows that I do loves me some Neil Gaiman. Even when I’m less than impressed by one of his offerings, I still find something enjoyable to his skills as a writer.

So finding out that he had penned a two-part comic for Batman in the vein of Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Steel? was quite a delightful discovery. Even though I was less than enamored of Moore’s take on Superman’s fate, I liked the concept of giving an “end” to an unending character.

[Loba Tangent: Does that make sense? If you’re a comic book fan, I suppose it does. Because comic nerds and Trekkies both know: No one ever really dies in these universes. They just come back as blonde Romulans.]

Gaiman, however, has written an amazing two-part tale for the Caped Crusader, a beautiful take on the eternal recurrence of the Batman mythos. It’s so perfectly penned, this fever-induced dream scape in which Batman’s demise is retold in myriad ways from myriad sources, each one subjective and surprisingly sentimental. Alfred’s story is particularly poignant and gives a view of the Caped Crusader that is heart-rending and bittersweet. And the ending? Pitch perfect, IMHO.

This collection is rounded out with three other Gaiman-penned tales, including one that is a delightfully meta take on the comic book character existence being similar to that of actors on set filming scenes for a movie. The interaction between Batman and the Joker is delicious and the rather abstract artwork adds to the surrealism of the story. The final two tales focus on Poison Ivy and the Riddler and are relatively Batman-free minus flashback appearances. Both are yet more exceptional storytelling from Gaiman, presented from his rather unique perspective on the inhabitants of Batman’s beloved Gotham.

The artist for this collection was Andy Kubert, who has worked on major titles for both Marvel and DC, with inking by Scott Williams and coloring by Alex Sinclair. It’s difficult to truly judge Kubert’s artistic style here, because Gaiman asked him to base his drawings on the artistic styles of past Batman artists like Jerry Robinson, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, and Batman’s creator Bob Kane. As a mimic of these other styles, Kubert does an admirable job. However, I think that I was less than impressed by the overall impact because I am still reeling from the incomparable beauty of Blacksad.

I know, it’s not fair at all to compare these two graphic novels…but, seriously, denizens? Blacksad is GORGEOUS. Anything that follows it is going to be like being the kid who has to follow the honor roll student who built a working scale replica of the planets’ trajectories around the sun…and all you have is a papier-mâché volcano and some baking soda and vinegar.

Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

Final Verdict: Even with my unfair comparison of this collection’s artwork to Blacksad, it’s still a well drawn collection. And Gaiman’s writing carries this book over the end zone for a solid spike and a groovy touchdown dance. Yet another one for the ole wish list.

BookBin2010: The Killing Joke

I feel slightly guilty posting The Killing Joke as a BookBin entry, considering the fact that it’s just a single issue comic book…nothing long like some of Alan Moore’s other works that have found their way to the lair, like Watchmen or V for Vendetta. Then again, I did say at the end of my post about V for Vendetta that I wanted to read this one next. So, there you go.

This time around, though, I’m going to have to say that the main draw of this story wasn’t Moore’s writing. Instead, it is the hands-down amazing artwork of Brian Bolland. Right from the very first panel of this comic book, I was in love with Bolland’s dark artistic stylings. He offers clean lines, gorgeous details, and a wicked sense of how to make even the mundane sinister. If you are a fan of graphic media, you need to witness Bolland’s visual take on the great batty god of DC Comics and his vile, vituperative, villainous foe, the Joker.

One word of caution: Apparently, the recently released 20th anniversary edition of this comic is the one you should seek out, rather than the original 1988 release. From what I’ve read, that release has some funky coloring that Bolland corrected for the anniversary edition. I’ve read some complaints about the color change from comic book purists who preferred the original, old school colors, but I have to say, the coloring in the anniversary edition is beautiful and very complementary to the artwork and the story.

As for the story itself…meh. Maybe I had that reaction because I read the book while extremely tired, but I didn’t really feel any sort of wow factor from this possible origin story for the Joker. I liked the dark undercurrent of the story, always roiling right at the surface. I also liked this dark take on the Joker. As someone who grew up thinking of this character as only the buffoonish Cesar Romero portrayal from the awesome Adam West show, I liked seeing this character in a far more successfully sinister light (I say successfully here because I really didn’t think the Heath Ledger portrayal of Joker as psychotic villain was successful at all…sorry).

But there was something…I don’t know. Something missing? Something off? Maybe it was the Barbara Gordon portion of the plot that really turned me off to the story. Definitely gave me an unhappy WTF feeling, that’s for sure. But this has been my complaint about all of the Moore-written graphic novels that I’ve read so far; there’s something that always rubs me the wrong way and leaves me feeling…meh. Again, though, this Joker is just awesomely cracked, and I believe that’s primarily thanks to how Bolland depicts him throughout the book.

Final Verdict: I don’t know that I would want this book for the story itself, but Bolland’s line work made up for the places where the story let me down. I’m not going to rush out and buy The Killing Joke (although I have already added it to my wish list), but I think that at some point it will probably become a part of my collection. So, yeah, it’s a keeper. Perhaps next I’ll try to find Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns…that should keep me busy until the July 6 release of Batwoman: Elegy.