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Batman: A Death in the Family

I’ve never been a fan of the morose Batman, but I recently read the excellent Three Jokers which is built upon this book that killed off Jason Todd who was the second Robin, and the trauma that Batgirl endured at the hand of the Joker in The Killing Joke. This book collects the six-chapter A Death in the Family and the five-chapter A Lonely Place of Dying that introduced Tim Drake as the third Robin.

This 1988 book was groundbreaking in that it killed Jason, and he truly didn’t return as the anti-hero Red Hood until 2005. On top of that, it was up to readers to decide if Jason would live or die within a three-week period in which they could make a 50-cent call to a 900 number. Alas, his character wasn’t as popular as Dick Grayson who was now Nightwing, and his death was sealed by a slim margin.

A Death in the Family

This storyline occurred in the later years of the Bronze Age of Comics, so it still had the superhero look of past decades, but more mature themes were being explored. Jason Todd is shown pushing boundaries, by being petulant and too violent, and Batman and Alfred feel he hadn’t properly grieved his parents before becoming the new Robin. When told he needs to take a break from crime-fighting, he heads back to his old neighborhood and a former neighbor gives him a box of belongings from his parents. He discovers a birth certificate that shows he had a different mother than he thought, so going off a few clues heads to the Middle East to figure out which of three women she could be. But in an improbable twist, both Batman and Joker are there too. This part of the story has not stood the test of time, for the era of the 80s with Reaganomics is mentioned and the Iranian Allatoyah is shown in a very uncomfortable plot point in the story. The woman who was his mother (now retconned I believe, and no longer viewed as his mother in his bio) is perfectly awful and lets Joker attack Jason after they have been reunited. Spoiler alert- he is killed- but everyone knows that. The concluding chapters bring in Superman and yet another improbable plot twist with the Joker.

A Lonely Place of Dying

Can Batman be any more emo than usual? Of course, he can! He is now taking bigger risks as he feels guilty over Jason’s death. Nightwing who is now part of the New Titans comes to help his former partner deal with new threats from Two-Face. We are introduced to a brilliant and earnest teen, Tim Drake, who has pieced together clues and figured out Batman and Nightwing’s secret identities. He convinces them that Batman still needs a Robin, and who better than him?

An afterword by writer Marv Wolfman was interesting and gave context to the story. The art and layouts were good but rather standard for the time period. Joker’s face was so exaggerated that it was distracting for me and hard to take him seriously as a villain. While this book hasn’t changed my opinion of Batman, I’m still glad I picked it up for it is considered a classic and fills in some gaps in my DC knowledge.

Batman: Three Jokers

Three Jokers have emerged in Gotham- the Criminal, the Comedian and the Clown.

In this strong Batman story, author Geoff Johns has pulled together threads from A Death in the Family and The Killing Joke, that ties in Jason Todd aka Red Hood and Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl, the two from the Batman Family that have been most affected by The Joker.

When a crime spree occurs, with video evidence, showing The Joker in three different places simultaneously, Batman realizes there is more than one. Jason Todd, the second Robin who was thought dead by the hand of The Joker, has reappeared as Red Hood who is now an avenging hero. But his brand of justice goes against the code of most heroes, who do not kill. Bruce and Barbara risk outing their secret identities if they reveal Jason killed the Joker that had so brutalized him, and Bruce feels great guilt for not being there for his former partner. There are several nuanced conservations about where to draw the line on justice, for Barbara has an equally valid reason for hating the Joker that had put her in a wheelchair for awhile, but why can she control herself and Jason can’t? The entire storyline was very interesting for all three characters and really added some gravitas to how all three have evolved over the years.

And we need to touch on the possible romance between Jason and Barbara- I read it at two different times and had two different reactions. On my first scan through the graphic novel, I saw the note and thought it was so romantic, and I wanted the two of them to be together. But then I read the graphic novel thoroughly and realized a relationship between the two would be toxic and one-sided. Barbara can’t save Jason- he needs to do the work on himself. He is looking for connection so when Barabara offered him kindness he morphed it inappropriately into love. Once he has healed, perhaps they could try, if they both want to.

The art by Jason Fabok is fabulous. With white borders, the vivid coloring stood out, and every panel was drawn with precision. I think the faces were especially well-done, with an almost photo-realistic approach. My only criticism is the absolute skin-tight costume that Batgirl wears. While there were some typical 9-panel layouts, there was also a lot of variety on the pages with different panel placements. I love Fabok’s work, but this was the first I’ve seen of his art since he works mostly for DC which I don’t read a great deal of.

Although this book came out in late 2020, it is still going strong and I’m so glad I purchased it for my library and read it myself. This is a Batman story not to be missed!

Batman: The Long Halloween (2021 Animated Film)

Did you read The Long Halloween and wished there was a movie adaptation of it other than the Dark Knight trilogy taking inspiration from it? You’re in luck! Earlier this year, a two-part adaptation of this critically acclaimed graphic novel was released.

I went into the plot pretty well in-depth in my 2019 post linked above, so here’s a quick recap:

Johnny Viti, nephew to Gotham mob boss Carmine Falcone, is murdered on Halloween night. A Jack-o-Lantern is placed next to his body. He had been ready to testify against Falcone in court and provide evidence of his wrongdoings, so in Commissioner James Gordon’s mind, this can’t be a coincidence. He, District Attorney Harvey Dent, and vigilante Batman make a pact to take down the mob by whatever means necessary – within the law. However, as the year (“The Long Halloween” as it’s called by Gothamites) goes on, and the murderer they dub “Holiday” kills more and more people inside the case on each major holiday, the three men begin to suspect one another. Can they keep the promise they made to each other a year ago – if they’re even the same men anymore?

The movie did well by being split into two parts. The pacing wouldn’t have felt right if it had been condensed into one. This is a slow-simmering noir story and it only benefited from the extra run time.

This also allowed extra story elements to be incorporated. For example, there is more background to Harvey and Gilda’s relationship, a bit more insight into Jim’s home life, and more significantly, more screen time devoted to Batman and Catwoman. Some of these extra elements are more successful than others. What was supposed to be Catwoman’s motivation and then big character development moment was not well-executed and didn’t go anywhere, it was just… dropped. Perhaps this was supposed to add to her mystery, but it could have been omitted from the movie and it wouldn’t have been missed. We would have accepted at face value that she was acting in her own self-interest as is usual.

The voice acting was well-done. Jensen Ackles as Batman is a treat, as he previously voiced Jason Todd in 2010’s Batman: Under the Red Hood. Josh Duhamel’s Harvey Dent/Two-Face was by turns vulnerable, brash, and intimidating. Billy Burke as a tired dad Commissioner Gordon was a great choice as well. Troy Baker as Joker almost had Husband and I fooled thinking it was Mark Hamill! The late Naya Rivera’s Catwoman was smooth and sultry. There truly was not a bad performance to be heard.

This movie sees a welcome departure from what’s become the standard DC animated movie style. It looked and felt as if the creators and animators made an effort to match the illustration style of the graphic novel. This is most obvious in the title cards, which were beautiful! The backgrounds literally look like they were painted on watercolor paper; the texture is distinctive. The characters are modeled after their comic counterparts, and therefore are less sharp and angular than most DC animated movies. The coloring is darker and less stylish than in the book, however, and the stark shading that made the book work so well is also missing (to the animator’s credit, this may have been hard to pull off). While it doesn’t totally get away from the “standard” DC animated style, it does veer off in another, more stylistic direction, to pay homage to the source material. I hope future animated features do this, too!

If you’re looking for something to watch this Halloween weekend, look no further! Both parts are available to stream on HBO Max and to buy on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Kathleen

Palmer, Chris (director). Batman: The Long Halloween. 2021.

Harleen

The adage, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is proved in this excellent origin story of Harley Quinn, formally Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, who meant to reform Joker and instead became his lover.

We are introduced to Harleen as a new psychologist who has the theory that sociopathic behavior could be modified if scientists could understand the stages of losing one’s empathy in this downward spiral. She believes by studying the stages of deteriorating empathy, one could then identify sociopaths in the making. Her lecture leads to her funding by Bruce Wayne, so she heads to Arkham Aslyum to begin interviewing the prisoners there for her research. But before she begins, she is witnesses a battle in the Gotham streets between Joker and Batman. At one point the Joker holds up a gun to her, but he chooses not to shoot her. The incident shakes her and she begins to fixate on him, losing her impartiality. 

Harleen is shown as a woman with few friends and no family. She had some missteps in college when she had an affair with a professor, and it is held against her years later by her peers. But she truly does have the right intentions, and wants to redeem her reputation, but gets sucked into the Joker’s orbit. While she does interview other inmates and shows compassion to Poison Ivy, her mind returns to the Joker and he begins to manipulate her. Her lapses of judgment are jaw-dropping (compounded with sleep deprivation and too much alcohol), and eventually, she succumbs to his toxic charms. A plot of corruption within the police department ties in at the end with how Harleen turns a corner with her morality and joins the Joker in his escape. 

While you know the entire time that this story is set in Gotham, Batman’s cameos are almost surprising, because you are so immersed in Harleen and Joker’s universe. Truth be told, I’ve never been a fan of the brooding Batman, and in some small way, you might even start to root for Harley and Joker, as you want the familiar trope of a good woman who saves a bad man with her love to actually work. The ending is a bit ambiguous because we all know in the DC universe Harley isn’t all evil and will at times help Batman. 

Stjepan Šejić is both the author and illustrator and he does an amazing job with crafting the story and illustrating it. In fact, I am shocked this is the first book I have read by him. His art is detailed and precise and is a treat after recently reading a few too many graphic novels with minimalist art. He is truly talented and I loved how realistic the people looked and then the details he would add into the panels, such as the bank building’s interior (see picture below). His splash pages were fantastic and there was a nice variety of panel placements. His coloring was subdued but had pops of red with Harleen’s clothing that would foreshadow her Harlequin costume. The only tiny misstep was too many panels of Harleen biting her lip and looking sideways- I get it, she’s conflicted! 

Harleen is an outstanding self-contained story about her downfall, and fans of this anti-hero will love it.

-Nancy

Batman vs. Two-Face

A few weekends ago, our state moved into Phase 3 of their COVID-19 reopening plan. This enabled non-essential retailers to open with recommendations for mask-wearing, disinfecting, and social distancing for staff and customers.

What did this mean for Fiancé and I? A trip to our favorite used media store.

I didn’t buy anything. I was just happy to be there and browse: doing something somewhat normal. While Fiancé was looking for something specific, he couldn’t find it. He did find this movie and bought it for us. We already own the first season of the ’60s TV show, which we enjoy, and he wanted this film for his collection.

Batman and Robin, along with their friend District Attorney Harvey Dent, attend a secret demonstration of a new machine built by Dr. Hugo Strange. He calls it an “Evil Extractor,” and it’s designed to suck out evil in a person. At first, it works! The evil in the villains Strange selects to demonstrate the machine is extracted and deposited in a vat. Things go awry when the villains start to laugh, overloading the machine and causing the containment vat to explode. Harvey is splashed with the pure evil extract and transforms into Two-Face, despite Batman’s attempts to save him.

After six months of Two-Face’s villainy, Harvey Dent has had reconstructive surgery and is fully rehabilitated. Eccentric millionaire Bruce Wayne is ecstatic to have his friend back, but his ward Dick Grayson isn’t so sure. Batman and Robin have had to deal with multiple stings by different villains, all of which leave behind clues of duality, or the number two. Surely this points to Two-Face being behind everything? When the Dynamic Duo come face-to-face with the Cleft Criminal, they are forced to admit that Two-Face is back – with a vengeance!

As mentioned above, this animated feature is done in the style of the 1960’s Batman TV show. And boy, did they knock it out of the park! There are action stunts, sound effect speech bubbles, and visual gags and Easter eggs galore. Character designs stay true to their source material. One change I really liked was that the eyebrows on Batman’s cowl were animated: they didn’t change shape much, but moved up and down to indicate emotion or tone. This was a nice touch that’s been done in other animated iterations of Batman (BTAS comes to mind). It may have been difficult to determine emotion from voice alone, without any other body language cues we get from Adam West while watching the live action show.

Speaking of Adam West, this was the last project he worked on before his death in 2017. All his lines were already recorded before he passed. There is a lovely tribute to him at the end of the film. Burt Ward and Julie Newmar reprised their roles as Robin and Catwoman, respectively. William Shatner was brilliant as Two-Face. It was clear that everyone had fun lending their voices for the film, whether they were an original cast member or a newcomer.

I felt the story was a little too convenient and predictable. I also thought the visuals could have been better served by animating more in the style of the times, not the ultra-clean, modern imitation of traditional animation we get today. In spite of this, there were a whole lot of laughs to be had through written or visual jokes, over-the-top camp, excessive but impressive alliteration, and so on. This is where the real joy of the movie comes in: perfectly capturing the spirit of the beloved classic in a new, modern package.

-Kathleen

Morales, Rick. Batman vs. Two-Face. 2017.

Batman: Nightwalker (The Graphic Novel)

Orphan Bruce Wayne is freshly 18 and freshly come into the trust fund he inherited from his parents. He gets in trouble his first night by trying to chase down a member of the notorious Nightwalkers gang. They’ve been targeting rich citizens of Gotham and stealing their money to give to the poor. His brief moment of vigilantism lands Bruce in big trouble: a period of probation working as a janitor in Arkham Asylum. Madeline Wallace, a girl who’s been arrested and committed for being in the Nightwalkers, draws Bruce’s attention. They begin a cautious and barbed relationship as Bruce tries to figure out who exactly they are and how to stop them. Madeline may be his only lead, but she’s reluctant to talk. Who is she, really? Whose side is she really on?

This is another adaptation of a “DC Icons” YA novel, this time originally by Marie Lu. Unlike with Wonder Woman, it feels like we hardly get to see Bruce Wayne before he became Batman, so this felt like a nice change of pace. We see the same determination, smarts, and inquisitiveness that led him to become the World’s Greatest Detective, but he’s not there yet. It shows readers that all heroes, even those without special powers, start somewhere!

However, I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief because even as an 18-year-old, Bruce still seemed overpowered. He was performing acrobatic stunts that I would assume Batman could do, but not Bruce at 18. He kept a relatively cool head in high-charged situations, which as we all know is hard for teenagers to do. I wonder if Bruce had maybe started training to become a vigilante before the events of this novel. If there was mention of Bruce training at martial arts and detective work in the original novel, it was lost in translation.

As is ever my nitpick with YA novels, there is another (to me) forced romance in this one. It didn’t even seem like a romance to me, but other characters insisted it was – what? There was very little introspective inner dialogue from Bruce that wasn’t directly related to the Nightwalkers mystery. I felt blindsided and confused by it and don’t feel it served the story at all. Maybe it was fleshed out more in the original novel, but if this was all they were going to do with it in the graphic novel, it would have been better to cut it out altogether.

To make up for the somewhat unbelievable story, the art was superb. Classic Batman colors are used to maximum effect: blue-gray overall with bright yellow highlights. It would have been very easy to overdo the yellow, but it was used carefully and sparsely, to ensure maximum emotional or action-packed impact. The backgrounds and landscapes are rendered somewhat realistically, while the figures have overly sharp and angular features to suggest the hardness Gotham has beaten into them.

While I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief for a few aspects of this story, this is still a good old-fashioned Batman mystery set before Bruce Wayne as Batman exists. The sharp art elevates this graphic novel adaptation.

– Kathleen

Lu, Marie, Stuart Moore, and Chris Wildgoose. Batman: Nightwalker (The Graphic Novel). 2019.

Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood

After the events of No Man’s Land, after Huntress thought herself proven worthy of Batman’s trust… he still doesn’t trust her. In fact, the only one in the Batfamily who seems to care for her at all is Nightwing. Huntress tells herself doesn’t particularly care, nor is she looking for approval from any of them – there’s a price on her head. Someone is setting her up to look like she’s killing members of the mob – who also happen to be members of her extended family. But Helena has already caught and exacted justice on the assassin who killed her parents and brother, and the man who ordered the hit. But one question still burns, after all these years… why was Helena spared, when the rest of the Bertinellis died? Clearing her name now may be tied to that old question somehow. None other than The Question is willing to help her out – if she’ll let him.

This one made more sense to me upon my second skim-through before writing this review. I would have very much appreciated a family tree or cast of characters page at the beginning of the book. Many characters from the mob appear in the book, of course, and Helena does explain who’s who and how they’re related – but one page of reference to go back to whenever you inevitably confuse people would have been welcome. It may have also gave the big plot twist a bit more weight, because by the time you get to who is really involved, you’ve forgotten who they are.

That said, with so many characters, there are also multiple layers of intrigue. It reads as if you, the reader, and Helena are figuring out who’s framing her together, bit by bit, eliminating suspect after suspect. Though Nightwing offers his help, Helena distrusts the Batfamily as much as they do her. Her drive to take care of this family matter herself is palpable in every page, and it really comes through in the art. The entire book has a grey tint to it; there are no bright jewel tones. Memories and backstory are colored in a cool sepia. Though there are lighter moments in the book, and they are appropriately written and colored, the overall tone is serious and somber.

Cry for Blood is a cornerstone Huntress story, but it’s also just a dang good read. This is a great example of how the writing and the art work together to set the overall mood of the book. I plan to read No Man’s Land next, for more context as to exactly why the Huntress and the Batfamily don’t trust each other… and because I seem to like reading backwards =P

-Kathleen

Rucka, Greg, Rick Burchett, and Terry Beatty. Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood. 2002.

Best Reads of 2019

It’s that post you look forward to all year: Graphic Novelty2‘s Best Reads post! Here we have each compiled the five most exemplary graphic novels we’ve read in 2019, in no particular order. Enjoy!

bone parish

Bone Parish

Nancy: Cullen Bunn has created a new dark and dangerous graphic novel series, and this necromantic horror story grabbed me on the first page and never let go. The Winters family of New Orleans has discovered how to manufacture the ashes of the dead into a powerful hallucinogenic drug that lets the person snorting the drug to experience everything the dead person lived through when they were alive. In charge of this operation are Grace and Andre, with their four adult children. There are a few twists and turns in the narrative, with a surprising revelation that will make you backtrack to look for clues. The story has the potential for a thought-provoking moral debate about drug culture and the sanctity of life and for the body after death. I loved Jonas Scharf’s art, and am eagerly awaiting the concluding volume later this month (V2 came out in September) and I will review both of them together at that time.

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I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation

Kathleen: This was a sort of accidental read, in that for some reason I thought it was fiction, but in fact was non-fiction. In the end, it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise! Comic artist Natalie Nourigat documents how she transitioned to the animation industry in this part autobiography, part how-to graphic novel. She shares not only her background as an artist, but all the hard work she did to get into animation: building a portfolio, interviewing, and moving somewhere totally new to her. Included are interviews with animator friends and coworkers. The art and layout are simple and clean, to allow the text with information shine; it’s worth saying that while this graphic novel is more text-heavy than others, there is never a point where the reader feels bogged down by text. By reading this, I learned a lot about something I previously had no knowledge of, and had fun doing it.

harrow county

Harrow County series

Nancy: This eight-book series is an eerie southern gothic fairy tale about a young woman Emmy who is trying desperately to understand the mysteries of her possible origin and the decades-long secrets that the townspeople have. This story is so much more than an atmospheric supernatural tale- it touches on friendship, destiny, good vs evil and the choices we make and how they define us. Authored by Cullen Bunn, I read this soon after Bone Parish, so Bunn has quickly become a favored author of mine. But with all graphic novels, it is often the art that truly sets a book apart, and in this case, Tyler Crook’s illustrations do that. His haint creatures were creative and varied, and I thought of his work and H.P. Lovecraft’s as being similarly inspired. His work came to define Harrow County for me with its townspeople, rural landscapes and sinister woods.

new-kid-by-jerry-craft-bookdragon

New Kid

Kathleen: This middle-grade graphic novel, written and illustrated by Jerry Craft, follows Jordan Banks, a seventh-grader who starts at a new school. Not just any school – the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School. Jordan is an excellent student, and he got in on a scholarship, but he would have much rather gone to art school. He feels this way more and more as the school year goes on, as he experiences alienation and micro-aggressions from his predominantly white classmates and teachers. Jordan is able to express himself through his drawing and comics, but all he wants more than anything is to fit in. Reading this book and realizing what Jordan was going through made me uncomfortable, but I welcomed the discomfort, because it meant I was learning. Jordan’s story and all the hard truths that came with it were presented in an easily digestible manner for it’s targeted younger audience. Ideally both children and parents are able to use this graphic novel as a tool to grapple social and racial biases.

Warlords

Warlords of Appalachia

Nancy: Set in the near future, a corrupt dictator has been voted in as president, which plunges America into the Second Civil War. Afterward, Kentucky refuses to rejoin the nation, leaving them a demilitarized zone and caught in the cross-hairs of the fascist leader who will do anything to bring these rebels into line. In the midst of this, mechanic and former soldier Kade Mercer reluctantly becomes Kentucky’s de facto leader as he leads his townspeople into the woods to escape from a military attack. Mystery surrounds his silent young son, who is kidnapped and held as ransom by the army, and in regards to the “blueboys” who live hidden in the mountains.  Author Phillip Kennedy Johnson was new to me, but I found out that he is a musician in the Army. This explains his familiarity with the armed forces and their inner workings, plus the beautiful folk-like songs that begin each chapter.  Artist Jonas Scharf (mentioned in Bone Parish earlier) elevated this story further for he captures the look of Appalachia and it’s inhabitants, while also realistically rendering the military scenes.  Unfortunately, this graphic novel seemed to be a one-and-done, as I have not seen further stories from this duo.

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The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel

Kathleen: This graphic novel adaptation was my first experience of Margaret Atwood’s classic story. It follows the Handmaid Offred, a woman who lives in service to the Commander and his wife. Offred’s service is to bear their children, and nothing more. She is not allowed to read, write, or own anything, but she remembers a time before, when she was able to do these things and more. When she and the Commander begin to carry on a more-than-professional relationship, Offred realizes she might be playing for her freedom. The art of this graphic novel was, hands down, the best I’ve seen this year. Thin washes of watercolor and tiny, wobbly lines of ink give off a light and airy, yet foreboding and uncertain quality, as if (to quote from my original review) “you’re in a dream that could very quickly and easily turn into a nightmare.” The story was undeniably compelling, in a morbidly curious way, but Renée Nault’s spellbinding art is what sold this experience for me.

SGA cover

Snow, Glass, Apples

Nancy: Every Halloween I like to find a spooky read, and this year it was a twisted fairy tale from the esteemed Neil Gaiman whose dark and whimsical tales are sure to please. He once again tackles the Snow White story, but this story is told from Snow White’s stepmother’s perspective and she is far from a wicked witch. Instead, the twist is that young Snow White is the evil one, and is a vampire who manipulates others. Plus, there is quite the erotica element to this tale, so it is for mature audiences only. While Gaiman’s tale is excellent, it is the art by Colleen Doran that makes this book stand out. She draws in an Art Nouveau style and takes inspiration from famed artists Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley. Her art is reminiscent of stained glass windows with deep jewel blues and purples. She incorporates mandalas and nature into the backgrounds, so the illustrations are a feast for the eyes.

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Just Jaime

Kathleen: Lifelong friends Jaime and Maya have finally reached the last day of seventh grade! But they haven’t reached it together. Jaime feels that her and Maya don’t have the friendship they used to have, and wants to fix it on this special day. Maya has been pressured by the older and more popular Celia to end her friendship with Jaime, who she says has been bogging down the friend group. Will Jaime and Maya repair their relationship, or let it go along with the rest of seventh grade? Terri Libenson wrote and illustrated this middle-grade graphic novel, and perfectly captured a wealth of issues – friendship, maturity, reputation, drama – over the course of one day. We alternate chapters told from Jaime and Maya’s points of view, but their format differs too. The heavier introspective side of Jaime’s story is told in mostly prose with little illustrations. Maya’s story involves others, so we see her side in mostly graphic novel format, in order to witness firsthand what others are putting her through. Though alternating points of view is a common trope, never before had I seen different formats for the different characters; it was extremely effective here.

Wolverine S1

Wolverine podcast

Nancy: My wildcard is not a graphic novel, but the outstanding two-season Marvel podcast about Wolverine. The premise: Following a string of mysterious deaths in Burns, Alaska, Special Agents Sally Pierce and Tad Marshall arrive to investigate. They soon find there’s more going on than meets the eye. Season one proved to be more a murder mystery, while Logan was kept on the periphery of the narrative, but in season two he is front and center, with an adventure in New Orleans that includes Gambit and Weapon X. Each season consisted of ten episodes that were about 30-40 minutes in length, which made my 45-minute drive to work enjoyable. Check out the podcast online at Sticher, as the episodes are free to listen to.

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Batman: The Long Halloween

Kathleen: Y’all didn’t think I was gonna go through 2019 without letting a DC title on this list, did you? Get outta here ;D One Halloween night in Gotham City, Johnny Viti, the nephew of mob boss Carmine Falcone, is murdered. Surrounding his body are dollar-store Halloween decorations. Thus begins the spree of the “Holiday” killer: picking off members of the Falcone family one by one on a holiday, and leaving that holiday’s trinkets near the body. Allies Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and ADA Harvey Dent wanted to take down the mob, but not like this. Soon the lies, double-crosses, and finger points begin to affect them to the point where they suspect each other. At the time of publication, this was a groundbreaking story that I believe changed the way Batman’s character and stories were told thereafter. All parties involved in the story are human, and therefore fallible. We see them each fall as they each believe they are doing the right thing. The art is stark, dark, and minimalist, with a great emphasis on light and shadow, which allows for greater movement of the story and greater focus on the characters and their intentions. If you’re a Batman fan, you need to read this comic. End of story.

There you have it: Nancy and Kathleen’s unequivocal Best Reads of 2019! Nancy read many excellent horror and creepy stories this year, while Kathleen found some phenomenal middle-grade novels. Most shocking is how only one superhero read and listen made the list apiece, from our die-hard DC and Marvel fans! The world just might be ending 😉

Thank you all for sticking around another year. We both hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

Nancy and Kathleen

Batman: The Long Halloween

What better graphic novel to review for Halloween week than this definitive Batman title? ;D I have read this one before, years ago, but came back to it for this week’s review.

This June wedding in Gotham City is an event to be remembered, on many fronts. The groom is Johnny Viti, the nephew of Carmine Falcone, one of the two biggest crime lords in Gotham City. Falcone himself tries to pressure Bruce Wayne and his company into laundering money, but Bruce refuses. Later that evening, on the rooftop of GCPD, Batman, police commissioner Jim Gordon, and ADA Harvey Dent make a pact to take down the Falcone family. They will bend the law if necessary, but never break it.

On Halloween night, Johnny Viti is murdered, and a Jack O’Lantern is left next to his body. This starts a string of murders in Gotham City: a member of, or someone close to, the Falcone family is murdered on a holiday, and the killer leaves trinkets relating to that holiday with the body. The killer becomes known as “Holiday.” Batman, Gordon, and Dent are thrust into the web of lies and double-crosses that’s standard territory in the mob. The men even begin to suspect each other. If they can’t trust or rely on one another… how can they work together to solve the case?

This story, originally published in 1996-1997, partly inspired the 2008 movie The Dark Knight (in the 2011 edition I read for this review, there is a conversation between director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer about how the graphic novel inflienced the movie). On a timeline level, this makes sense, as The Long Halloween chronologically takes places after the events of Batman: Year One (1987)… which partially inspired 2005’s Batman Begins 😉 This graphic novel, together with Year One and The Dark Knight Returns (1986), I believe made a big difference in the way that Batman was written and published thereafter. I believe these graphic novels marked the start of the shift from Batman’s historically campy, fun style, to the much more serious tone we see today.

With that in mind, for it’s time, the story was groundbreaking. Today, it is the perfect example of what a Batman story should be. We see three ordinary men who are trying their best to do the right thing, in a morally corrupt city. We see that they are not perfect, but fallible. We see the main villains as ordinary men, like our heroes, instead of the supervillains (though many members of Batman’s rogues’ gallery make an appearance). The mob characters serve as a foil to Batman, Gordon, and Dent: while they are also human, and therefore fallible, they are morally corrupt but believe they are doing the right thing. Many a comic was published before this one where the heroes always did good, and the villains were always, unequivocally, bad. It makes the events and climax that much more tragic.

The art is reminiscent of The Dark Knight Returns, and continues the style of Year One. The figures are rendered in a hard, blocky style, with little use of soft lines. The environments are rendered more simply, with buildings in the same blocky style, or with just one color, so that much of the reader’s focus is on the characters and their expressions. Usually there are only a few colors used in a single scene or panel, to set the tone and again allow greater focus on the characters and the story. Big blocks of black are used as the only method of shading, creating a stark and gloomy noir-like mood. This is used to phenomenal effect as we guess at Holiday’s identity and second-guess all the character’s intentions as we move through the story.

The Long Halloween is a must-read for every Batman fan, but especially for those who are also fans of The Dark Knight film trilogy. The story, in which you question the integrity of both the heroes and villains, is compelling and was one of the first of it’s kind at publication. The art is effective in it’s seeming simplicity. The Long Halloween is a landmark Batman story that has rightfully earned it’s place as an important and influential title in the hero’s history.

– Kathleen

Loeb, Jeph, and Tim Sale. Batman: The Long Halloween. 2011.

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