Picture books and comics

Batman Two Face by J. M. DeMatteis, Scott McDaniel, Pat Garrahy and Todd Klein

Two Face was a quick, easy read – like it probably took me twenty minutes  which made me think about the definition of “novel”. In my head “novel” implies at least two days worth of commitment. The novel reading experience includes the building of anticipation simply by being longer than you have time for in a day. If you’re reading a novel the pain of putting it down and going to do something else is required. So is wiggling your way out of whatever you got up to do and going back to the book. That’s what novels are for and, other than pictures and the font size, really the big difference between a novel and a picture book. It’s pretty hard to leave those half finished since they’re quite short.

Some of the Batman that I’ve read have been novel length in this sense. Putting down Hush was torment. Leaving Black Mirror was painful. But these ones are longer books.

Two Face read like a picture book. It was short and didn’t require a lot from me as far as time went. So I got thinking about why comics are different than picture books.

There are obvious differences – most picture books make a bit of an effort to be easy to read and follow for example. But I think the real difference is content. And that’s pretty much all.

Batman, Harvey Dent and Two Face spend pretty much the whole of this story exploring how Harvey could  have become a mass murderer and the answer they come to is that his father was abusive.

There are loads of picture books that deal with child abuse, but most of them go into the story with the intention of helping kids understand it, understand how to help themselves and resist, help them cope and deal with the trauma they or other people experience. This book didn’t bother with that. It did explore the devastating effects the violent actions of a parent can have on a child but it didn’t try to make sense of it, it didn’t try to order it and it didn’t white wash it. In fact, it went to considerable effort to cloud the issue as much as possible.

Comics are kind of like picture books, in the same way Family Guy is a cartoon. They require a little more grown upness than picture books and even though kids can flip through them, read them and enjoy them they’re probably not getting the same thing out of it.

Last movie I watched: Justice League New Frontier. What an amazing cast! Neil Patrick Harris, David Boreanaz and Lucy Lawless (Wonder Woman obviously because who else would Lucy Lawless voice?). It was okay. Not enough Batman.

Last TV episode I watched: A Batman Beyond. I’m kind of getting attached to Terry.

And then there are some Batman comics that help me understand why comics aren’t taken seriously

Batman: Bloodstorm by Doug Moench

All right, so I’m gathering based on what I’m seeing on the internet that I’m in the minority by not loving this one to death but I kind of didn’t. I mean, yes it was dark and gory and scary and had Batman struggling with his inner demons and fears that he’d become evil and everything he fought against I just kind of wish…. they hadn’t made him a vampire to do it.

It’s not that he’s a vampire. It’s not that this story isn’t cannon and takes places in essentially a crack!verse (apparently that’s a word if you right fan fiction – who knew?). It’s not that Selina is a werewolf/cat/thing, never wears clothes and has no nipples.

It’s just that I felt kind of like it lacked subtly somehow.

I know vampires tend to be metaphor for sexual deviation and outcast-ness and that makes sense with Batman (less the sexual deviation than the outcast-ness, although obviously most of his relationships seemed to involve women of questionable morals, masks, weapons and rooftops so it’s not a huge stretch). And seeing him as an addict had it’s moments. His heroic death was reasonably epic.

But I just want to explore things like the nature of violence and fear, inner demons and struggles, addictions, loyalty, sex and relationships without reducing all the character to blood sucking monsters. Batman is pretty far fetched as it is, but the good ones have really human elements. Bloodstorm kind of… made the human elements supernatural and that was way less interesting to me.

So, I didn’t love it. Didn’t hate it either, but didn’t love it.

Last movie I watched: Batman Sub Zero. Did love it. A lot.

Last TV episode I watched: The Batman Beyond episode where Mr. Fries comes back. Also loved it. A lot.

Yup, I might be in love with Dick Grayson

Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder, Jock and Francesco Francaville

Well, that was just awesome.

So this one is up there with Hush as one of the most awesome Batman books I’ve read so far. It was just … awesome. Did I mention awesome?

Hang on, I’m in a library. I need to grab a thesaurus.

Done and done.

Describing Black Mirror take two:

Well, that was just wondrous.

So this one is up there with Hush as one of the most stupefying Batman books I’ve read so far. It was just … mind-blowing. Did I mention awesome?

Considering how randomly I’ve been reading these, I’m pretty impressed with myself for accidentally getting them in reasonably chronological order. Black Mirror takes places after Bruce comes back from being missing, presumed dead but instead of slipping back into the ever fashionable Dark Knight costume he decides to incorporate Batman. Like Batman Inc. While he’s working on this problem he leaves Dick, Barbara, Tim and Jim to keep Gotham in one piece. More or less anyway.

Dick is still the Batman.

Things are going okay as he works on another confusing, challenging case involve some more fear toxin (man, they’ve seriously got to just inoculate the whole city against that stuff) with Oracle and Red Robin backing him up but things get way, way more complicated when Jim Gordan’s psychopathic son comes into town.

Now the (checking thesaurus) impressive things about this book are 1 )the relationships, 2) the way they handle James Gordan Jr and 3) Dick’s struggles with being Batman.

Also, the Joker was extra fabulous.

It is a pretty intense story, but the way it gets told really highlights the characters’ and their feelings for each other. Barbara and Dick feel like, even though they’re not in love anymore, they still love each other. Tim and Dick banter like the brothers they kind of are. The Gordans and the Waynes, they kind of tiptoe around the big issue neither of them can outright admit to but they know always that everyone is on the same page. Dick’s feelings for Bruce are genuine – love and respect for his father but also frustration that he’s being put in the position. Barbara and Jim both struggle when James comes back, to understand how or why someone they love could have turned out this way. The character’s feelings for each other are intense, and a driving force in the story. Possibly the driving force.

I was also impressed with the way they handled James’ psychopathy. I mean, I don’t know that much about it, other than no one can agree exactly what makes a psychopath and I’m not really that aware of trends in mental illness either but I do know that often the media trivializes or exaggerates them to the point of ridiculousness or fear mongering. There’s a lot of talk about how the Joker’s a psychopath and that’s why he never goes to real jail and why no one can kill him for all the horrific things he doesn’t because it’s not really his fault but at the same time… that’s not a very complex depiction of an incredibly complex issue. Also, he’s a clown.

But with James there’s a lot more discussion about his life and his choices. He does try to get treatment, he uses medication to manage his condition and it even works. But then he decides he likes himself more without it. Which is maybe scarier than the Joker in some ways.

Dick is pretty wonderful in this comic too – he’s not Bruce and no one really believes that he’s the Batman but he’s trying so hard to be everything Bruce was. It’s really kind hard not to love him (and forget all those annoying “old chum” green ankle boot wearing moments where he was being taken hostage).

Also, I  kind of loved him before I read this.

The last thing I thought was above average neat about this book was the way Gotham itself was characterized. As a thing with a personality not unlike James Gordan’s. And that was creepy. Also wonderful.

No new movies to report on

Last TV episode I watched: Justice League Unlimited. They got to the future and meet Terry. There are 3 BATMANS. How crazy is that?

“The lead-in to the highly anticipated video game” – it says so on the cover

Batman: Arkham City by Paul Dini and Carlos D’Anda

So this one kind of read like a lead-in to a highly anticipated video game.

Funny how that works.

Over all, Arkham City was a pretty good one I suppose. It had a lot of really important Batman-y elements – brooding, scary people, a supervillain who plays everyone like they’re puppets and screws with Batman because it’s funny while Batman runs around putting out fires and trying to determine who’s pulling the strings.

No reason on earth for it not too be average or better.

Only, they spend a lot of time setting up for the video game. Which I understand, that’s the point of the book. But it kind of makes the book unsatisfying for those of us who haven’t played it. It’s like laying the ground work for an awesome story and then never getting to it.

But it also kind of wasn’t – I’m not sure what the story is for the video game but I suspect it wouldn’t be that good from a purely narrative angle. The reason I feel this way is because the book sets up all the villains in Arkham City presumable so the Batman can take them all down over the course of the game. Probably real fun to play, probably real formulaic for the reading crowd.

New rule: someone has to make Poison Ivy an outfit that doesn’t look like a joke.

Also, Robin looked like an army escapee in this one – short blonde hair, big muscles. I didn’t mind, but it just isn’t usually how I picture Robins… even when they grow up. They should all have longish hair all the time. I mean, not as long as Nightwing’s mullet/ponytail thing can be but still at least ear length.

Last movie I watched: Sense and Sensibility. What a delightful film. I know Persuasion is my favourite and I know Pride and Prejudice is THE Jane Austin and pretty epic…. but I really like Sense and Sensibility. It might be my second favourite. Sorry Mr. Darcy.

Last TV episode I watched: One of the 1992 Batman. They’re super awesome. Robin’s kind of a dork but still… awesome.

I know it looks like I don’t do anything but read Batman… I swear I do though

Batman: The Widening Gyre by Kevin Smith, Walter Flanagan and Art Thibert


And then Onomatopoeia slit Bruce’s fiancee’s throat.

Got to admit, I really didn’t see that coming. I mean I assumed Baphomet had to be evil or I’d know who he was but man – out of no where!

Also, Bruce, sweetheart, I love you so much but you just told a hero murderer your real name. That makes me think that you’re an idiot. Greatest Detective my ass.

Okay, so this one obviously had a pretty devastating effect on me because it ended with the WORST CLIFF HANGER EVER. Now I have to go find the next one which is impossible since it hadn’t been published yet and it’s just so unfair.


Anyway, my feelings about this one are kind of complicated. There were some kind of… 1980s style bits that I could have done without (Nightwing’s costume in the part 4, for example), some “old chum” which was goofy, Dick’s silly Robin attitude (hence forth to be referred to as Robintude) and Batman’s apparently stupid streak (further proof that men can only think with one brain at a time. At least according to pop culture).

I didn’t mind that he was all romantic and lovey dovey with Silver St. Cloud, long lost love interested number… I don’t know 721 or something. I actually kind of liked the contrast between Batman’s life and Bruce’s and the moments they overlap, like when he get’s paranoid that things are just going too well and almost gets everybody dead were some of the greatest in the book.

There touches of Robin and Nightwing too, which were my absolute favourite parts (“the kid pulled a me” Batman muses with a smile when Nightwing disappears leaving him alone in a morgue)  and loads of scary villains (most of whom were cannibals – I’m very uncomfortable with cannibalism) and some mystery surrounding Baphomet all of which are nice, and absolutely important for a Batman comic. Bruce and Silver really made sense together, and she was only a little Mary Sue. The rest of the JLA was hilarious to have around although quite useless and it felt like a really great story.

Even at the ending. Which will now torture me for a very long time.

No new movie, no new TV show

It’s so confusing when Nightwing and Batman are the same person…

Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Philip Tan

Well that was AWESOME.

It’s good to get that out of the way.

So in this book, Bruce is missing, presumed dead (he’s not) and Dick has reluctantly grabbed the cape and cowl, climbed inside and is now pretending to be Batman. Damian, who is Bruce’s son with Talia al Ghul is the new Robin since Tim Drake is elsewhere (as I understand it he’s trying to figure out where the presumably dead Bruce is). And neither Dick nor Damian is adjusting all that well to life as the Dynamic Duo.

Dick regrets having to abandoning Nightwing and hates trying to fill Bruce’s shoes. He doesn’t feel like he’s fooling anyone (he’s not) and he doesn’t know how to relate to a violent, slightly crazy and intensely bitter twelve year old with scary fierce fighting skills. He’s even expected to take up Bruce’s position with Wayne Enterprises and evidently the poor guy can hardly count (I think he and I perfect for each other).

Damian is equally frustrated with his situation. He feels like Dick couldn’t possible replace his father, isn’t a mentor worth listening to and just wants to go out and hit stuff pretty much ever minute he’s awake.

So, you throw these two barely functional people together and then add tons of CRAZY to it and you get a really good story.

The villains in this book are freakin’ terrifying. I mean, that’s something I haven’t talked about that much but definitely noticed about these comics – the bad guys are the stuff of nightmares. Like actually. This one featured a dude who, while wearing a pig mask, cuts people’s faces off. Yeah, that’s not horrifying. The next one is a deadly assassin (who I thought was a terrible choice since they made him incredible gay and it really bothers me that as of yet, the only not straight character I’ve encountered in this universe is evil) and then later Red Hood. Who is probably my favourite villain.

Anyway, this one was kind of fantastic just to see the relationship between Dick and Damian develop. I also really like Dick, so it was nice to see a story that is more about him, that really makes him into a person with his own issues and frustrations and conflicting loyalties and all that good stuff. All in all, definitely a win.

Last movie I watched: The Librarian Return to King Solomon’s Mines. It had it’s moments.

Last TV show I watched: Batman. He gets Green Lantern’s ring. No offense to Green Lantern, I’m sure he’s an awesome superhero and all, but what kind of superpower is jewelry wearing anyway?

Comics are awesome!

A Death in the Family/A Lonely Place of Dying by Jim Starlin, Mary Wolfman, Jim Aparo and George Perez (and some other people too  I think)

So A Death in the Family came out at the end of 1988 and it was kind of a huge deal. Fans were less impressed with the new Robin, Jason Todd, then they had been with Dick Grayson who had, at that point in the story, gone off to become Nightwing and hang out with the Teen Titans (although that didn’t last long). Because 1) Dick is awesome and 2) Jason Todd had a bit of a Harry Potter in the Order of the Phoenix vibe (uper whiny and yelly all the time) DC put it to a vote. Readers could call one phone number if they wanted Jason Todd to live, and one if they wanted him to die.

Yeah, so that didn’t really go so well for Jason.

And from the perspective of the story, it was a great choice. To have Batman loose this young person who he loved was just awesome for character development and driving the plot forward into places it hadn’t really gone before. I mean, Batman had been dark and grumpy but … this was just fantastic. This is why writers are kind of jerks – they put their characters through unthinkable hell just so they’ll “grow” and “develop” and be “interesting.”

For me, who didn’t have a lot of time to get to know and be annoyed by Jason it as super sad seeing this over emotional but reasonably likable teenager have like… the worst week of his life, ending in him finding his long lost mother only to have her betray him and then get beaten to death with a crow bar. And it was equally heartbreaking to see Batman struggle to choose between this boy he loves and saving lives. He knows that everything could be okay if Jason just listened to him but he also knows that Jason rarely does.It’s just so heart breaking watching his heartbreak that even though it was so good for the narrative I kind of wish more people had called to save Jason. I would have. If I hadn’t been about a year old at the time.

Lonely in a Place of Dying was published the next year. I’m not sure if they back to back or there was a bit of a lull there, but either way it was equally wonderful. We see Batman hurting over Jason’s death and handling it in the only way possible for Batman – getting the snot beaten out of him regularly by super-villains. Alfred is getting sick of saving Bruce’s life, Gordan knows something is up and a random, very brilliant child called Tim Drake decides to take matters into his own hands.

Tim Drake had worked out, all by himself that Bruce Wayne is the Batman, Dick Grayson was Robin and is now Nightwing (who wears the dumbest custom EVER in the 1980s – I cannot fathom what was wrong with that decade if they thought a giant blue collar that comes up to your ears and a deep v-neck spandex onesy would ever make a super hero look sexy) and that Jason Todd had been Robin #2. Tim tracks down Dick, who’s got issues of his own and begs him to come back, be Robin and help Batman. Dick does two of those things – the one he can’t do is be Robin again.

Luckily though Tim Drake is there to slip into the little green ankle boots and charge off to save Batman and Nightwing and by the end it’s pretty clear there will always be a Robin.

This story is just so full of manly bonding and emotional compromises and all these other awesome things that I love so much that I can’t even explain how much I giggled.

The one big downside to this comic was the Technicolor-ness of it. Again, this brings me back to the 80s and why they thought that every frame, even the ones at night had to be blindingly bright. But I got over that pretty fast ’cause the story was worth it. Given the goofy look of it, I was kind of surprised by the depth and darkness of the events. I thought that a blindingly yellow cape and ankle books might have taken away from that but it really didn’t. Not at all.

Last movie I watched: Religilous. Kind of scared me – thanks Bill Maher. But he does make a depressingly compelling argument for how religious people are going to end the world.

Last TV episode I watched: Batman. Joined by Robin. Also Flash. They win!

We’re getting there

Batman and the Monster Men by Matt Wagner (and some other people too but the copy I have is in rough shape and someone at the library covered their names with magical book tape so I can’t read them anymore)

This Batman falls pretty squarely between Death Mask and Hush as far as the level of awesomeness. Chronologically it’s set shortly after Year One and introduces the Batmobile for the first time (in this Batman story anyway) as well as builds on the relationship between Batman and Gordan who still has some pretty big concerns about helping a crazy person dressed up like a flying rodent.

The big baddie for this one, Dr. Strange showed way more intelligence and legitimate (if crazy) motivations, which is nice and kind of a staple of a good Batman villain – money is never the real goal for them. A semi-disgraced psychiatrist, his hobbies include making enormous fleshing eat monsters through genetic manipulation and talking care of his apparently Sikh henchman. And he does both reasonably well, until he gets them involved in a gang war after he is forced to borrow money from a loan shark. But he doesn’t get caught in the end, because he’s too smart for that, which I think is a step in the right direction.

The story has internal narration from four characters – Dr Strange, Norman Madison, Julie Madison and Bruce/Batman. Norman Madison is a respectable business man who also borrows from the same loan shark and is almost destroyed by the guilt and the fear that they will go after his daughter. The daughter, Julie is conveniently dating Bruce Wayne – like really dating him. He likes her. She spends most of the book trying to understand the man she’s in love with and getting frustrated that he’s always late for everything and is clearly lying about things like how he got two broken ribs and a concussion in the middle of the night. But she’s smart and apparently not evil so that makes her kind of novel for Bruce Wayne dates.

Bruce admits to Alfred that he is love with her, but at the end of the book the audience sees how Batman’s actions have already destroyed the relationship in a very indirect but devastating way. Having nothing to do with missing dinner or being preoccupied all the time. That was pretty neat.

Last movie I watched: None

Last TV episode I watched: The one where Joker infect Batman with a laughing toxin. He’s okay though, by the end.

Sometimes Batman is only kind of awesome

Batman: Death Mask by Yoshinori Natsume

And by kind of awesome I mean HE’S FREAKING BATMAN. Which always makes him awesome.

However, the story in Death Mask kind of wasn’t. I mean it was a good story, with all the elements of a good story – Batman has nightmares and an identity crisis, there’s a random chick who Bruce is into that he meets later as Batman and finds out she’s totally more kick ass then he thought, loads of flashbacks, a super creepy villain who uses human faces to make masks with excitingly weird drug things and an epic battle between the Batman and someone from Bruce’s past.

And nothing else.

No real twists or turns, no Batman using his epic detective skills, nothing really … well surprising about it. Which, as it turns out, is kind of disappointing. Comparing Death Mask to a story line like Hush, which had most of the same plot points (minus using people’s faces to get high) is like comparing the movie of Dead Like Me to the TV show – sure, it had some good moments but no Mandy Patinkin so really, what’s the point? Its hard not to be unfairly biased against Death Mask coming out of reading a few Batman stories that were just… so clearly… better.

Also disappointment to me was the absence of all the cool sidekick/Batfamily members. Alfred was on like two pages, there were zero Robins, zero Batgirls and zero Gordans. This is saddening to me, since Batman and his relationships with these people kind of make up a hugely important part of the character for me. Original Robin was kind of annoying. And whiny. And useless. But I totally understand why they introduced him – because Batman by himself is pretty badass but way less awesome.

Anyway, all in all, it didn’t suck. Batman was cool and punched face. Bruce Wayne was a jackass in an adorable way. The Bruce that’s somewhere in the middle was sufficiently tortured. It was just a Batman story though.

Last movie I watched: Still haven’t watched one.

Last TV episode I watched: The Butler Did It. Evil brainwashing master man makes Alfred steal shit! Don’t worry though – Batman fixes him.

The downside of too much build up

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli and Richmond Lewis

Well, I was really, really, really excited for this one. I’ve had it out of the library for like… 3 weeks but I was trying to get through everything else that was due back first. So those three weeks have been building the excitement. Batman Returns was so awesome. This lead me to the conclusion that Frank Miller and Batman together would be amazing.

And they totally were.

But I kind of knew pretty much how this one was going to go ’cause it’s Batman’s first year. That doesn’t mean I didn’t super enjoy watching Bruce Wayne working out his Batman plan, or Jim Gordan struggling to fit in in a police for that’s so corrupt it makes a South American American backed dictatorship look clean or Selina Kyle’s decision to work towards a better life for herself (and her cats). I totally did – it was awesome. Batman so rarely seems to screw up but he buggers up a lot in this book. Jim’s personal and professional struggles were great and the moment they start to work together is incredibly satisfying.

I just wished it’d brought something new to the story. I know it did at the time it was first published of course but since then the back story of Batman has been reworked so much that it just didn’t stand on its own as much as I would have liked it to. Still a good read though. Further proof that Frank Miller and Batman are pretty epic together.

Last movie I watched: Still Batman versus Dracula

Last TV episode I watched: JTV (an episode of Batman)