BookBin2014: Batwoman Volume 4: This Blood Is Thick

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I’m quite sad that I am here to give a rather lackluster review to my latest adventure with Kate Kane. Perhaps it’s because the last collection was, by far, the best of the best since Batwoman’s “New 52” relaunch. After all, it’s kind of hard to top Batwoman partnering with Wonder Woman. Also, Williams was back as the artist, which you all know delights me to no end. And both Williams and Blackman were fiercely on-point when it came to that collection’s story arc. Simply put, the third collection was perfection, IMHO.

The fourth volume, This Blood Is Thick, isn’t awful (that’s such backhanded praise, no?). Something about it, however, didn’t set well with me. Perhaps it had more to do with my knowledge of the behind-the-scenes issues. As fans know, this was Williams and Blackman’s last run as Batwoman’s authors. She’s now in another’s hands, with Williams and Blackman not even concluding the cliffhanger on which this collection ends. It’s a good cliffhanger, to be sure…but that just makes it all the worse. Dance with the one who brought you, DC. They brought the Lady Kane to this precipice. They should have been the ones allowed to lead her over the edge.

But I digress.

Perhaps it also was because Batwoman actually doesn’t get all that much air time in this collection. Surprisingly, for being the titular character, she’s almost relegated to supporting cast a lot of the time. That’s not necessarily terrible, since many of the supporting characters in Batwoman’s world are pretty ace…but I still would like my fair share of time with the star of the show. Also, I didn’t really like the injection of Batman villains into Batwoman’s storyline. I get why they’re there, but I have always enjoyed that Batwoman kind of exists in her own…what? Parallel universe to Batman and the rest of the Bat family? They don’t really intersect all that often (although Batgirl got a full-on taste of Batwoman’s mad skills a while back). I like that. But this time, seeing Batwoman going up against Batman foes like Mr. Freeze and Bane? I don’t know anything about these characters…and I don’t care to. They aren’t Batwoman characters. So GTFO.

Says the one who went crazy over Wonder Woman’s appearance in the last collection.

Finally, though, it really is the ending that really pissed me off with this collection. Again, Williams and Blackman were cut off at the knees here. They’d already written Issue 25 (the continuation of where this collection ended) and were beginning to plan out Issue 26, which would have ended the arc of this particular Batwoman run. They knew where all the characters were going to end up, they knew how they were going to conclude the story…and now? Now we’re never going to get their ending. And that sucks. Seriously, I reached the last page and felt oh so frustrated and not the least bit furious. Really? That’s it? That’s how you wanna roll with this, DC Comics? Lame.

Final Verdict: All that being said, I’m keeping this in my collection. I don’t think that it was so terrible that I don’t want to own it anymore. I am, however, very disheartened by the truncated whimper on which Williams and Blackman have gone out with Batwoman. This is the last batch of their comics, and the next collection will mark the arrival of the new Weaver of Tales for the Lady Kane, Marc Andreyko. I’m not sure what to expect with the next collection, but I love the character enough that I’m willing to give it a proper chance to impress me. All I have to say is don’t blow this, Andreyko. I don’t take kindly to people fumbling my fandoms.

BookBin2013: Batman R.I.P.

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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…

BookBin2013: Batwoman Volume 2: To Drown the World and Volume 3: World’s Finest

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I told you I’d be speaking of the Lady Kane very soon. I bought all three of these graphic novels at the same time, and while I enjoyed Batgirl’s collection immensely, it was really all about Batwoman for me. These two graphic novels, To Drown the World and World’s Finest, barely made it into the house before I was flipping through them, devouring the visuals, squeeing at the snippets that my brain was able to process on a first-blush review, and then champing at the bit in anticipation of the story that awaited me.

Admittedly, I might have enjoyed the second Batgirl collection a bit more if I wasn’t so looking forward to these two novels. Sorry, Batgirl.

Truthfully, though, I was a little bit…not necessarily disappointed by the second Batwoman collection…but definitely not as enamored of it as I was of her first go in the New 52 universe. One of the primary reasons is a pretty obvious one. J.H. Williams III didn’t do most of the artwork for this collection. He and W.H. Blackman were busy writing the story, so a lot of the interior art was done by Amy Reeder, Trevor McCarthy, and Pere Perez, with Guy Major doing the coloring. Not that this made the artwork terrible…but Williams is such a masterful artist that not seeing his work makes you painfully aware of how unlike Williams most other artists are.

Plus, there are a lot more “male gaze/crotch/butt/boob” illustrations of Batwoman in this novel than previously, which I found very distracting. These particular poses die down after a while, but the fact that they’re in there at all really annoys me. Batwoman isn’t here to titillate you with pendulous breasts and a latex-clad badonka-donk. She’s here either to save or kick your ass, depending on which side of the law you choose. Also, if you’re turning to comic books for that kind of titillation? Here’s a little bit of advice: Women, even the comic book variety, are on this planet for more than your ogling. Also? Batwoman is not interested in you.

Williams and colorist Dave Stewart return to the drawing table for the comics that make up the third volume, giving even more credence to the collection’s title, World’s Finest. Not to mention the fact that the third volume’s writing is that much stronger…and there’s the fact that another DC Comics heroine makes a guest appearance throughout this collection, making it that much more amazing.

But first, the second volume. Just as I stated in my review of Batgirl’s Knightfall Descends, I feel like this second collection is a bridge collection, with story arcs designed to get us from the amazing work in Hydrology to World’s Finest. It’s still a solid offering (probably more so that Knightfall Descends) and carries the plot forward in strong ways.

The payoff, however, is the third volume, which is brilliant from start to finish. Plus? Wonder Woman. Yeah, that’s right. Wonder Woman plays a major part in this collection as she agrees to team with Batwoman to help defeat the latest menace to threaten the residents of Gotham City.

[Loba Tangent: Why are there even still people who live in Gotham City? I’m sorry, but not even knowing that Batwoman had my back would make me want to…okay, never mind. I would totally stay in Gotham if Batwoman was there to protect me. Carry on.]

Seriously, denizens, the third volume of the Batwoman story is ace all the way. Williams and Blackman are so on-point throughout, and Williams’s artwork shines as always. He makes the graphic novel experience such an immense joy, even when depicting some of the darkest, most gruesome moments. And believe me when I say that Batwoman’s world is incredibly dark and incredibly gruesome.

To be honest, this third volume made me believe that Batwoman could totally convey to a movie experience. This is definitely in part to Williams being such a masterful artist…his vision of Batwoman’s world is absolutely cinematic. Plus, the fantastical villains and epic battles would look amazing on a big screen. It definitely helps that the writing is so great as well. I know I said before that I didn’t think Williams was as strong a writer as he is an artist, but I do believe that the combo team of Williams and Blackman nail this story in such amazing ways. They both have hit such a stride, not only with the large-scale story arcs but also with the smaller, more intimate character developments. They also do a fantastic job on inner monologues, something that Gail Simone does with equal (and at times greater) mastery with her Batgirl writing. Plus, using this particular storyline would also bring Wonder Woman to the big screen, which is something that I fear might never actually happen unless she rides in on someone else’s coattails…or cape. All the better if she came in, lariat blazing, with another bad-ass comic heroine!

Of course, my high praise and adoration for the third Batwoman graphic novel makes the recent shakedown at DC Comics all the more disappointing and upsetting. Williams and Blackman have walked away from Batwoman because of DC Comics brass interfering in story lines that they had already greenlit. Story lines that should be allowed to be completed. I was willing to be a little less decisive about this until I read these latest offerings, but now that I have? I so very much would love to see the continuation of this story that Williams and Blackman wanted to tell. There’s a fourth collection that will contain what I think are the last of Williams and Blackman’s contributions to Batwoman…so at least there’s that. Still, I can’t even begin to express my disappointment that they have left…and have taken an amazing story with them.

Final Verdict: Not only am I keeping these (der), I’m also going to finally pick up Wonder Woman’s New 52 novels. Her story is currently being told by Brian Azzarello. I’m not that fond of his writing style, as I previously indicated in my review of his Joker graphic novel. Also, Cliff Chiang is in charge of the artwork. I’m not really all that crazy about his style either. Unless, of course, he’s drawing Wonder Woman as Joan Jett. Otherwise, meh.

Obviously, not really liking the writer or the artist are two major reasons to stay away from Wonder Woman. However, I kind of feel a bit schmucky that I’m not supporting Wonder Woman. I’ll at least give the first novel a go. We’ll see where it goes from there…

BookBin2013: Batgirl Volume 2: Knightfall Descends

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Finally back to my own collection…although, admittedly, this is a recent purchase and not one of those myriad books languishing in the literary limbo of my own devising. Still, this collection and the other two that I recently purchased are stories that I have been waiting to continue for quite a while now. I simply can’t wait to read these.

It’s been since January of this year that I paid a visit to Gotham City to see what’s new with two of my favorite members of the Order Chiroptera. I’ll be talking more about my visit with the Lady Kane soon enough, but this is about the Knightfall Descending upon the lovely Barbara Gordon.

Writer Gail Simone continues to spin quite a yarn for Gordon as she re-acclimates herself with her role as Batgirl. There’s a nice bit of back story in the beginning, a bit of “top of the world for a moment or two” as we see her fighting alongside Batman and Robin, followed by a decision to leave the darkness of fighting the criminal world to live a normal life…only to realize that, as the first issue of this collection points out on its last page, “Sometimes, the darkness finds you.

That darkness is, of course, what Gordon continues to struggle with as she tries once more to regain the full prowess of her role as Batgirl. There is other darkness as well throughout this novel, both within the fortress of Gordon’s personal life as well as throughout the expanses of her home turf. Quite a bit, actually. Gotham’s sinister underside spills into the lives of its heroes, painting every corner with blood and menace, revenge and desperation all the shades of the grimmest spectrum.

Overall, the stories within this novel were interesting enough to keep me reading. I also believe that they are putting into place some elements that will set the stage for even more interesting storytelling to come with Batgirl’s upcoming third collection, Death of the Family.

[Loba Tangent: I have already pre-ordered this collection, which apparently ties in with several other Gotham-related graphic novels that all share the same title, and am counting down the days until its October 29 release. The cover art alone makes me want to get my hands on this one!]

Speaking of art, Ardian Syaf is still doing the bulk of the penciling for Batgirl, and is still doing an admirable job. I’m not really all that fond of the cover of this particular collection (done by artist Stanley Lau). I feel like that cover is all about one thing: “Hey, look, it’s Batgirl’s crotch!” However, Syaf’s still treating Batgirl as if she’s more than crotch shots, butt shots, and boobs. I wish they drew Batwoman a little more like Syaf draws Batgirl.

Speaking of Batwoman (which I like to do quite often, thank you), she makes a crossover appearance toward the end of this collection! And answers that most important question: Who would win in a fight between Batwoman and Batgirl? (Guess you’ll just have to read the novel to learn the answer.) Even though I still think that Batwoman artist J.H. Williams III is the stronger artist, I really liked Syaf’s treatment of Batwoman. He made her a little sportier looking as well, while still giving her the rather…generous proportions that Williams bestows upon her in her own comics. Syaf might be a good choice to take over Batwoman’s world as well, now that…

…but that’s a conversation for another post.

Final Verdict: I liked this collection. I found some of the revelations to be interesting and titillating enough (especially the ones involving Gordon’s family members). I do feel that this was a bit of a “bridge” collection…stories that are not necessarily the greatest, but that are setting us up for something that might transcend greatness in the telling. For that reason alone, I’m glad I picked back up with Barbara Gordon and her Batgirl journeys.

BookBin2013: Batwoman Volume 1: Hydrology / Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection

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Please don’t think that because I have paired these two books into one review I don’t think they are worthy of their own individual posts. I can assure you, denizens, this is not the case. However, it just so happens that I purchased both of these “New 52” collections at the same time (along with my very own copy of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, which I have already reviewed but mention because it will play a part in the following review). I also happened to read these two collections successively, which sparked a bit of “compare-and-contrast” within my swirly brain.

First, a bit of exposition: Both are collections of the first comics for each heroine under the recent DC Comics “reboot.” I use reboot loosely, however, because it kind of was a reboot…but not really. In my mind, a reboot would have meant total tabula rasa for all the characters involved. This wasn’t exactly the case, at least for Kate Kane and Barbara Gordon.

For example, Barbara Gordon is, indeed, once more Batgirl. However, she is still the same Barbara Gordon who was shot at point-blank range by the Joker in The Killing Joke. Part of her history is still those years she spent in a wheelchair and the time she spent known as Oracle, the brains behind the Birds of Prey.

Kate Kane is still the wealthy “playgirl” of Gotham with a military history that was curtailed by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She also still carries with her the baggage of dark truths revealed in the anthology Elegy.

So not necessarily a complete reboot in the truest sense of the word. However, it was enough of a reboot to get Gordon back into that Batgirl costume, which I definitely appreciate. Even more, it was enough to get Gail Simone in to take over telling Batgirl’s second chance at bat.

Heh. Get it? Bat. Never mind.

Simone’s name on the cover of The Darkest Reflection is ultimately what lured me into Batgirl’s story. I spoke about my thoughts on Simone’s prowess as a comic writer in my review of Wonder Woman: The Circle. She did wonders (I’m sorry; I’ll stop doing that, I swear) for Diana of Themyscira. She was also responsible for telling Gordon’s tale as Oracle for many issues as head writer for Birds of Prey, so I knew she already had a connection with and understanding of Gordon that most writers wouldn’t already have.

Similarly, it was seeing J.H. Williams, III’s name on Hydrology that lured me once more back into Batwoman’s storyline. Williams was the artistic brilliance behind Elegy, so I knew the art once again would be exemplary. However, this time, Williams was also the writer, taking over the Batwoman mythology from Greg Rucka. I honestly think this was the collection’s biggest weakness. Not only was Rucka a more captivating and comprehensive writer, I think taking on both roles caused Williams’s art to suffer a bit. But only a bit, mind you. Between the two collections, I would choose Williams as the more stunning and unconventional artist. Still, I think that writing and drawing were too taxing for Williams. His artwork was nowhere near as astonishing as it was for Elegy.

Sticking for a moment with commentary on the artwork, I will say this in favor of Ardian Syaf, the artist behind Batgirl’s return: I much preferred his rendering of Gordon as Batgirl to Williams’s rendering of Kane as Batwoman. Batgirl came across as fit, athletic, limber, and lithe. She has a sporty physique and her Batgirl costume is modestly rendered. She looks like she’s ready to do battle with villains.

Batwoman, on the other hand, at times looks like she’s ready to take a spin or two around a pole in Gotham’s redlight district. Pendulous breasts and a generous derriere, covered in latex in a way that leaves little to the imagination, Batwoman is also drawn in a far more provocative manner than Batgirl. Translation: There are lots more stereotypical comic renderings of Batwoman from utterly ridiculous but obviously “male gaze” angles than there are of Batgirl.

Syaf’s take on Batgirl is celebratory of the female form, while Williams’s take on Batwoman comes across many times as exploitative. It’s a shame, really. I want to like Batwoman more than Batgirl, but I find comics that depict women so wantonly to be insulting and, truthfully, kind of sad.

I can’t help but wonder if the moderation of Syaf’s artwork was due to Simone’s presence. Did Simone let Syaf know that she didn’t want Batgirl coming across as one step above a Playboy Playmate? Or did Syaf perhaps refrain from the more lascivious artwork out of deference to Simone? Or maybe it has less to do with Simone and more to do with the one primary difference between the two characters names: Gordon is a Bat girl, while Kane is a Bat woman. Perhaps the “girl” nom de guerre grants her a reprieve from the more pornographic postures?

Of course, this isn’t to say that Syaf didn’t ever present Batgirl in some of those predictably provocative male gaze positions. There are a couple of doozies in this collection, actually. Williams, however, is the guilty party between the two artists when it comes to objectifying artwork.

As for the storytelling itself, I’m going to have to also give my vote to Batgirl. Just as I mentioned in my review of Simone’s writing for Wonder Woman, here she again presents her primary character in a wonderfully and holistically developed fashion. Barbara Gordon is believable, replete with damage, fear, guilty, wonder, and joy. Williams simply fails to provide Kate Kane with the same level of dimensionality, presence, or realism. He gives it the old college try, but, in the end, he lacks the inherent connection with and understanding of Kate Kane that a female writer—particularly one of Simone’s caliber—could bring to her. This doesn’t mean that I think only a woman could properly write for Kate Kane. I thought Rucka did an outstanding job as her storyteller. I just don’t think Williams is the correct guy for this mission.

Still, Williams is able to keep my interest in Batwoman piqued enough that I wouldn’t be averse to continuing to read more. However, should Simone tire of hanging out with Batgirl, I would be more than on-board with her moving on to the other redhead in the Bat pantheon.

Final Verdict: Um. I’m going to say keep, Bob. Plus, I have already added their respective second volumes to my wishlist. Here’s hoping that Barnes & Noble has another awesome ComiCon-inspired graphic novel sale, so I can snag reasonably priced copies of the next stories the same way I snagged these and The Killing Joke.

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.