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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Batman: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - guest review

by Brian Linnen
Last Wednesday I bought two excellent books, Matt Wagner's BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN and Andrew Helfer's BATMAN: JOURNEY INTO KNIGHT, both limited series and both dealing with the Caped Crusader's early adventures.

Once you get past the fact that the phrase "Journey into Knight" really doesn't mean anything (it just looks cool!), you'll find that this series is actually rather good. The few Andrew Helfer stories I have read before impressed me, which is why I bought this even though the artwork didn't. If you ever stumble across issues of Helfer's DC series THE SHADOW, pick them up. It's a sometimes disturbing, sometimes "laugh out loud funny" comic. I think you will really like it, even if you don't care about the Shadow.

Matt Wagner has been a force to reckon with ever since the publication of "Mage" many years ago. His art here is clean and deceptively simple, and his story is top-notch, although admittedly we're not too far into it at this point. Julie Madison, Dr. Hugo Strange, and Bruce doing the "bored playboy" act at a posh social affair - all stuff a Bat-Fan will love!

But the thing that made these two books shine the most was that they featured Batman - the REAL Batman - and not the Batman of current continuity whose anger, anti-social behavior, and general unfriendliness has pushed away everyone he once called a friend.

As a Batman fan, I have put up with way too much "bad stuff" in recent history:

1. Leslie Thompkins betraying both her Hippocratic Oath and Bruce by letting the Spoiler (then Robin) die. Why did she do this? To teach Bruce a lesson - a lesson he had already learned years ago when Jason Todd was murdered.

2. "War Games" in general - from Batman being too dumb to realize that it was his "master plan" tearing apart Gotham to his attempt to take over the police department to Barbara Gordon needlessly destroying her headquarters, this story was just an insult to our brains.

3. Commissioner Gordon being replaced by the bland Commissioner Akins. I can't believe they have let this replacement go on for so long. I miss the old guy - especially after seeing him on the big screen last summer.

4. David Lapham's 12-part story in "Detective Comics." It really seemed to have potential at first, but somewhere along the line it crumbled into a huge, boring mess - you know, the same boring mess that "Gotham Knights" has been since it's inception. GK's rumored cancellation would be a mercy-killing at this point.

5. Miller's "Batman in Sin City" storyline in "All-Star Batman": I wanted desperately to enjoy that book, but with dialogue like "What, are you retarded? I'm the #&*-!@&%$# Batman!" it's really hard to. The art looked fabulous, but it only ended up making me think back to when Frank knew how to write super-heroes. His "Sin City" books are great and I'll keep buying them, but from now on, anything he does with a cape in it gets an automatic pass from me.

Wow! This started out so positive, but look where it ended up - me whining and complaining. Oh well - I do this because I care. I have been reading Batman for almost 30 years now, and I have never considered him to be in worse hands. Well, except for when Larry Hama was writing the book. Anyway, all this makes me appreciate the good stuff when it comes out, and like I said "Monster Men" and "Journey into Knight" is good stuff. Check it out!


At 11/22/2005 1:14 PM, Blogger Bill at Comix Connection said...

Great commentary, Brian. It's bothered me for a long time that the "World's Greatest Detective" has been resorting to beating the crap out of some lowlife in a bar to get information, rather than actually doing "detective" work...

That's more like something a fascist Judge Dredd (judge, jury, executioner) would do, rather than a what I expect from a crime-fighting hero.

At 11/22/2005 1:33 PM, Blogger Linnen said...

Thanks for the compliment, Bill!

Actually, the "World's Greatest Detective" had fallen much further (farther?) than that!! For the past few years, his "detective work" consisted mainly of calling Oracle on the phone and having her do all his thinking.

I guess all the deductive work got in the way of the fighting and the yelling.

At 11/22/2005 2:59 PM, Blogger AlbertJohn3 said...

Great review. I got the Monster Men first issue on the strenght of Ned's recommendation and I really enjoyed it. I did not pick up Journey into the Knight, mainly because of the artist attached. I may have a second look when I get to the store this week.

On a side note, I have enjoyed the incontinuity stories of the Batman this year. I thought War Games was a bold concept for the "Batman Family" of books that shook up the status quo. I believe that this is a logical step for someone that is as paranoid as Batman. I am giving All-Star Batman a chance because it seems they are telling a big story here, and it needs time to develop. Plus Jim Lee's art is top notch. My two cents I guess.

At 11/22/2005 3:40 PM, Blogger Linnen said...

Thanks AJ3! I appreciate the kind words!

Glad you enjoyed "Monster Men" - I was pretty impressed with it, but I almost always like Wagner. I think maybe he let us down a little bit at the end of "Trinity" last year, but if that's the worst thing he ever pulls on me, I can't fault him.

The art in B:JIK is pretty strange. I don't think I would have ever seen that artist and said "You are a great match for Batman", but by the end of issue #2 I was so into the story, it didn't even bother me.

I was looking forward to "War Games" because I wanted to see them shake up the status quo like you said. Too much of the story hinged on things that didn't ring true to me....Batman not recognizing his own plan, the media instantly assuming that Batman killed that girl at the school, Barbara blowing up her building.... Parts of the story were entertaining, but aspects of it (to me) felt like they had been forced in there with a plot hammer.

I'm glad you are giving All-Star a chance because I really do like Frank Miller. I hated to drop the book, but I could barely make myself finish the second issue. And you are 100% correct about the artwork - it looks great!

At 11/22/2005 8:23 PM, Blogger Bill at Comix Connection said...

Interesting, isn't it, that INFINITE CRISIS will apparently be addressing this subject...

At 11/22/2005 9:25 PM, Blogger Linnen said...

Interesting, indeed! I sure hope that rumor is true!

At 11/22/2005 10:49 PM, Blogger stymieresh said...

Bravo! I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels the whole character of Batman has been turned into an angry sociopathic crancky old guy that I just don't like anymore!

At 11/23/2005 3:07 PM, Blogger Bill at Comix Connection said...

I think that Batman just needs some fwiends.


At 11/28/2005 1:01 PM, Blogger Bill at Comix Connection said...

What, I kill discussion by getting in touch with my gentler side?


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