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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.

Heroes in Crisis

Tagline: “How does a superhero handle PTSD?”

Superheros have been dealing with the repercussions of death and destruction for years and who better than author Tom King, a former CIA operative, to know that this would start to wear on these DC heroes. Thus Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman band together to build a secret mental health clinic in rural Nebraska called Sanctuary where heroes can go for anonymous assistance. It is staffed by androids and offers virtual reality reenactment and counseling to help them with their issues.

Event books seem to be my kryptonite with DC. While I rarely read about individual superheroes, except for Aquaman lately, I am a sucker for these stories that bring everyone together in sometimes implausible ways. So the story begins with Harley Quinn and Blue Beetle duking it out, as each accuses the other of being a murderer- and we soon find out that there was a slaughter at the Sanctuary with several heroes dead. While most of them are heroes of little note, Wally West who is the original Kid Flash, is one of the casualties. The Big Three are called to investigate, and they are dumbfounded, as they had put in place many safeguards to protect their traumatized brethren.

This story was filled with tons of lower-level tier heroes (or those who are “good” for now). Besides Catwoman and Jade (GL), I was unfamiliar with the other characters here. But the comment that Red Tornado makes is a sly joke about The Vision (who he looks like) from the Marvel Universe- that King wrote an amazing two-part series about.

The story had some incredible highs and lows. While I applaud the idea that superheroes would need counseling to process their grief and the insight that King brought to the large cast of characters, the ending was very convoluted. I had to poke around in The New 52 and DC Rebirth to understand why the culprit did what they did, and it still didn’t make a lot of sense. But no matter, this character will be yet again retconned and their crimes will not matter in the future. In addition, the release of private confessionals to the public and Lois Lane’s decision to go to print with the story rubbed me the wrong way. In real life, there are “outings” of people’s private lives all the time for sensationalistic effect, all in the name of the “public’s right to know”.

Yet, the book worked in smaller moments. There were some interesting pairings- towards the end Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold band together to solve the mystery of what happened. As I don’t read a lot of DC, I was unaware that Harley and Poison Ivy were a couple, but the two of them have a brand new mini-series that takes place directly after this event, aptly named Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. I enjoyed seeing Batgirl prevent Harley from spiraling out of control, and the bromance between BB and BG. I looked up several of the heroes I was unfamiliar with, and the insecurities that the four Robins showed (see below) was pitch-perfect. Tom King is now known as someone who writes about deeper psychological issues, and that is readily shown in this story.

The artwork by Clay Mann, Travis Moore, Mitch Gerads, Jorge Fornes and Lee Weeks was absolutely outstanding. For so many artists, the style stayed remarkably consistent. The two-page splash pages that opened each issue were visually stunning, with distinct drawings of both small settings and large outdoor expanses. The nine-panel pages were my favorite, as each character was drawn with precision, with facial expressions showing their personalities and conveying the distress that they each of them was working through. Rich colouring and lettering also added to the top-notch illustrations.

All in all, a thought-provoking story that may trigger some difficult feelings for some readers, as mental health is a loaded topic for some, but is worth discussing and bringing out into the open. I was glad to read an online preview from NetGalley before it was published and will plan or ordering this graphic novel for my library.

-Nancy

I LOVED these panels about past and present Robins. All of them are insecure about their reputation, except for arrogant Damian.

 

DC Bombshells (Vol. 4): Queens

I present… my shame. It’s been way too long since I last talked about Bombshells on this blog… please take this two-in-one comic and haul update as penance for my failure X,D

Deep in the jungles of Zambesi, Africa, Batwoman, Catwoman, and The Question are led by Vixen and her Hawkgirl to a dig site. What they’ve unearthed could change the tide of the war – for good or evil, depending on the hands the objects fall into. Strange mechanical beasts rise from the earth at the site: gods from an old forgotten civilization. The Bombshells, however, are not alone in their discovery. Barbara Ann Minerva, the Cheetah, is tracking these old gods as well, for her mistress Baroness Paula Van Gunther, and for the Reich. Old and forgotten these gods may be, but they will do anything to be remembered and worshipped once more. Who are the Bombshells, mere humans, to stand up to gods?

It’s probably been too long since I’ve read the last one, but this one moved into much more pulp territory than I remember – in a good way. With the introduction of Hawkgirl and Renee Montoya as The Question, plus grappling with Nazis over archaeological sites… this volume screams Indiana Jones, much as Athena Voltaire does. Indy could only hope to be so badass and good-looking as Athena and our DC heroines 😉

(There’s even an Indiana Jones joke in the book!)

That said, there were some odd skips in the writing in this volume. I found myself having to backtrack frequently to make sense of what I was reading. The art and layouts, while dynamic as ever, were a bit too overdone here, and it was hard to follow along in some passages. I think the story is also getting a bit too unwieldy, with trying to cram so much into one run. Overall a solid installment, and looking forward to the next, but wondering how it’ll all tie together in the end.

As promised, here is my latest haul! I bought Lois Lane back in November, just over a year after Killer Frost (linked above). I must admit getting engaged and trying to save for my wedding really pumped my collector’s brakes. There are some figurines that are now sold out online, and will be difficult to find later. The thrill of the hunt is part of the fun, though!

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“Hear ye, hear ye!”

(That is what I tell myself to console myself for not buying Supergirl instead of Lois. Though she is adorable, I really wanted Supergirl more. Brb beating myself up again)

This haul is a big one. I got promoted at my university job, and my fiancé and I went a little nuts. I wasn’t missing out on Harley Quinn again, so I got the Deluxe Edition and all the magnets, and he got Batman/Catwoman and shipped it to me. Teamwork makes the dreamwork =P

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I do love me some magnets and car decals!

I continue to be amazed by the quality of these figurines. I admit I regret buying Lois over Supergirl, but Lois is probably the sturdiest figure of the bunch. Only her front foot is pegged into the base, but her dynamic pose is balanced perfectly so she has an even weight distribution. I wouldn’t worry at all about putting her on a higher shelf.

I’m not even a Harley Quinn fan, and am seriously annoyed at the overabundance of all the Bombshells Harley stuff I have to buy, but the deluxe figure is gorgeous. The original sculpt is honestly kind of boring, and not really Harley at all. This sculpt is much more befitting of Harley’s personality. I’m only disappointed they didn’t set the cloud on top of the regular steel base – when I eventually display all of these together, this one will look out of place.

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Deluxe Harley, Gotham City bound.

But Batman and Catwoman. Let me give you a little bit of background. I hate this ship. I want off it every time it comes up. I understand they have comic history, but no. Just no. The only woman Batman belongs with is Wonder Woman. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when we were finally getting Bombshells Batman! … Only to see he was with Catwoman. I heaved a HUGE, WORLD-WEARY SIGH and resigned myself to a completionist buy.

But guys. I opened the box, and gasped in total awe. IT IS STUNNING. I know I say this every time, but I think this is my favorite figurine yet. Getting them out of the box and into the base was a little nerve-wracking (they are in one big piece, and the ends of Batman’s cape can easily snap off), but it was SO WORTH IT. The colors of each hero’s costumes compliment the other’s without being overtly “couple-y”. Both Batman’s feet are pegged into the base, to give Catwoman a sturdy leg up as she lifts the Batmobile’s keys from his belt. Is she kissing him to distract him from her stealing it, or thanking him for letting her borrow it? We can only guess 😉

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Bat/Cat – what started out as a completionist buy totally floored me.

I’m now thinking Funko Pop Bombshells as centerpieces for my wedding… what do you guys think? ;D

– Kathleen

Bennett, Marguerite, Laura Braga, Mirka Adolfo, and Marguerite Sauvage. DC Bombshells (Vol. 4): Queens. 2017.

Best Reads of 2018

It’s that time of year again! Here we’ve compiled our list of the ten best books we’ve read in 2018, and their consequent reviews, in no particular order. Enjoy!

Continue reading “Best Reads of 2018”

Batman: White Knight

Been a while since we’ve done a Batman title, eh? I knew I had to read this as soon as it popped on my radar.

Once again, Batman confronts the Joker. Once again, Batman puts the Joker in Arkham. But this time… Joker is cured? Batman force-fed the Joker an unknown medication that seems to have driven him sane. The newly reformed Jack Napier, along with Harleen Quinzel, are now on a crusade to save Gotham from Batman. Not too many people take him seriously at first – come on, it’s gotta be another of Joker’s schemes, right? – but as time goes on, and Jack doesn’t let up, it becomes very clear that he is serious, and that he won’t stop until Gotham is delivered from her Dark Knight and corrupt police force. Will the public’s opinion of Jack change? Will Batman be revealed as the villain after all, or will the Joker come back out of the woodwork?

W o w. This is definitely a Batman comic worth reading. It challenges a lot of things that Batman has previously gotten away with, and then some, revealing no clear answers in the process. It makes you question if Batman is really doing good, or if he’s just another criminal in a mask and cape. His design in this one – with a Dracula-esque collar, more angry scowl lines on his cowl, and hints of fangs – definitely hint that Batman is more of a villain than he lets on, and we see it in the art. Obsessively detailed and cinematic, with many Gothic elements in the architecture and character designs, the art is a constant reminder of the seedy city we’re in. This stellar start to the DC Black Label series is provocative, thought-provoking, and will have you mulling it over long after you’re finished.

– Kathleen

Murphy, Sean, and Matt Hollingsworth. Batman: White Knight. 2018.

Forever Evil

The Justice League is no more! Instead the Crime Syndicate from Earth-3 in the multiverse have managed to “kill” most of the heroes and round up all the villains, so as to take over the world. The Crime Syndicate consists of doppelgangers Ultraman (Superman), Super Woman (Wonder Woman), Owlman (Batman), Power Ring (Green Lantern), Deathstorm (Firestorm), Johnny Quick (The Flash) and Atomica (Atom) with their Sea King (Aquaman) not surviving the trip over.

After busting dozens of villains out of jail, this group of seven demand obedience from the motley group in front of them. They explain that the strongest should survive, and the way the former heroes have been protecting the weak of the planet was wrong. Ultraman declares “Aeternus Malum”, which roughly translates to forever evil, to his new army. Thrilled to be allowed to act on their base instincts, this new secret society go out and create deadly chaos all over the world.

But not all is well within the crime syndicate. The seven argue endlessly among themselves, and fear that the creature that destroyed their previous world will find them here. We discover Super Woman is pregnant and secretly telling both Ultraman and Owlman that they are the father, so we know she is planning on playing them off one another in the future.

In the midst of the lawlessness and disorder, Lex Luthor takes stock of the situation and takes action. He has a powerful secret weapon that he had been working on for years, and puts it into play. We also discover that not everyone from the Justice League is gone. A certain someone, who often fights dark impulses (you have to know who I’m referring to!), joins forces with Lex and some other surprising villains to take down the syndicate.  The conclusion reveals who the mole in the Justice League was to allow the syndicate to take over, and Super Woman has another surprising disclosure.

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This was an extremely dense story, one that took me time to go through. While I have been reading more DC graphic novels recently, I still had to look up many characters to find out their backgrounds and how they connect into one another. There were some inconsistencies and some holes in the story that were distracting, but I felt as a whole, it was a very strong story. It made me think- can someone who has been evil for a long time, change? Does his/her new good actions erase all the bad they have done in the past? On the flip side, can someone who has been good but then makes a horrible choice, does that negate their past good deeds?

The artwork was fantastic. It took real skill to illustrate the 100 or so characters in the story. There was an amazing four page spread of the syndicate with the villains surrounding them, that I wish had been a pull out, so we could see the whole cast of characters at once. Despite this four page spread, there were hardly any other two page spreads, but there were occasionally one page panels. With black borders, the rich coloring stood out, and every panel was drawn with precision.

This New 52 crossover event was definitely successful. Not only was it a fun read, but the ending leaves some open story lines that can be built upon in the future.  I’m definitely interested in knowing what awaits the villains that survived and how that will affect the Justice League in the future.

-Nancy

Johns, Geoff, Davis Finch & Richard Friend. Forever Evil. 2014.

Batman: Earth One (Vol. 2)

A lot of people believe the Batman is responsible for the death of Mayor Oswald Cobblepot. There are some, though, who believe he is not, and that he might be a force for good instead. There have been a number of murders since the death of Mayor Cobblepot, though. Someone has been killing random groups of people after they have failed to solve riddles. He leaves a calling card: a green question mark. To stop him, Batman needs help. Bruce is sure he can trust Commissioner Gordon, but Alfred warns against trusting any of the police. When Mayor Jessica Dent, twin sister to District Attorney Harvey Dent and former flame of Bruce’s, asks him to become a public beacon of hope for Gotham, Bruce is conflicted. How does he help Gotham? In the shadows, or the light?

… Wow. Just wow. Volume 2 was so much better than Volume 1! Again, no one is quite who you think they are, so it keeps you on the edge of your seat trying to figure it out. My favorite part of this volume was actually Killer Croc. They really humanized him, and you feel sorry for him instead of fearing him. It’s also refreshing to see Batman asking for help instead of being an insufferable know-it-all. Again, the art is nothing to sneeze at, but you keep coming back for the story anyway. I am very much looking forward to Volume 3!

– Kathleen

Johns, Geoff, Gary Frank, Jon Sibal, and Brad Anderson. Batman: Earth One (Vol. 2). 2015.

Batwoman: The Many Arms of Death

Typically not a DC fan, and definitely not a Batman fan, I decided to give the rebooted Batwoman a try. Kathleen has recently enjoyed previous recent titles about her such as Hydrology and Elegy and had great things to say about both, so I gave it a go.

I went in totally unfamiliar with Batwoman, so I appreciated her origin story in the beginning to get know what shaped her into who she is now. As a child her twin sister and mother are killed in a failed kidnapping (although you just know her twin will reapppear again- if not in this volume, a future one). We then see Kate as a cadet at West Point and when her sexuality is discovered, she won’t deny it, thus she is kicked out. Next the heiress is seen partying it up, but it’s obviously a mask to hide her pain.

Then the timeline really starts to dart around. Kate has a “lost” year between leaving West Point and becoming Batwoman. She is stranded on the island of Coryana with a head injury and falls in love with her beautiful benefactor Safiyah, who is the leader of this lawless nation. Safiyah’s previous lover Tahani is pushed aside for Kate, which fills Tahani with rage. Years later Tahani is back for revenge and the storyline becomes James Bondish, with an actual Moneypenny character. Kate is very unlikable at this stage, and Tahani speaks some truth to her, which Kate just ignores. As soon as I finally was becoming comfortable in this one stage of her life, there is another timeline jump into the future.  No mater what timeline she is in, Kate jumps from one lover to another, and is condescending to all. I’ve never been a fan of “bad boys who need redemption” character types, so I wasn’t a fan even with the gender switch. No matter who you are, or love, be nice. I guess she’s similar to Batman- whose brooding nature I have never liked.

Three artists are listed, and as such sometimes the art style shifts from one issue to the next. All illustrate well, with a dark color palette and varied panel structure. It’s certainly not the art I have a problem with. What I don’t get is her supposed secret identity. Hello- her flaming red hair is a huge clue! Is everyone supposed to think that Batwoman can’t be Kate because Kate has short red hair while Batwoman has long? Its a wig people, attached to her cowl!  And does she she wear it under her clothes? There was one scene in which she is dressed as Kate and one second later she is in her costume. I actually looked to see if there was a page, or at least a panel, that would explain it.

I received this digital copy through NetGalley for a fair and unbiased review. I let the excitement of being approved for the volume to override my usual avoidance of Batman stories. Truth be told, Kathleen would have been a better reviewer for the story. I’m not sure if me not liking it had to do with my distaste for Kate or if the time jumping made it too choppy for me to enjoy. While I welcomed the needed LGTBQ superhero storyline, Kate wasn’t the right person to carry it off.

-Nancy

Bennett, Marguerite & James Tynion IV. Batwoman: The Many Arms of Death. 2017.

Batman: Earth One (Vol. 1)

During his mayoral campaign, Thomas and his wife Martha are murdered. Their young son, Bruce, is left with no one in the world – save his father’s friend Alfred. The ex-Marine has been granted sole guardianship of the boy, and he reluctantly accepts. Bruce grows up hell-bent on revenge, eventually donning a black cowl and cape to take down the animal who killed his parents. Trouble is, that animal is currently mayor of Gotham City… and he’s currently paid off just about everyone, especially the police. With no one to turn to, no one to trust, he strikes out on his crusade alone.

Kinda the same Batman you know, kinda a different one. Geoff Johns is a fantastic writer, and there are twists and turns abound. No one is who you’ll expect they’ll be in this arc, and half the fun is finding out who fits where. The villains are genuinely disturbing, and we get a hint or two that Bruce himself may be more than a little mad. The art is – typical Batman art, for lack of a better word: dark, a muted palette, and plenty of blood and gore. I look forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Johns, Geoff, and Gary Frank. Batman: Earth One (Vol. 1). 2012.

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