Trade Pile: Curse Of Dracula, Batman Contagion & Prelude To AoA

curse-of-draculaOver the past three or four years, I’ve really started digging into the horror side of comics, especially the ones published by Marvel. A few years ago we did a week-long run-up to Halloween showcasing certain scare books, then last year we did the same, but for the whole month of October.

One of the many jewels I’ve discovered in my time reading through these books mainly on the fantastic Marvel Unlimited service has been Tomb Of Dracula. That series is just fantastic and I hope to dig into the whole thing at some point. I’ve also come to realize just how amazing of an artist Gene Colan was. So, while searching his name on my local library service, I was excited to see his and Marv Wolfman’s The Curse Of Dracula which came out from Dark Horse in 1998.  Continue reading Trade Pile: Curse Of Dracula, Batman Contagion & Prelude To AoA

Knightfall Trade Post: Volumes 2 & 3

batman knightfall volume 2 knightquestBatman Knightfall Volume 2: KnightQuest (DC)
Written by Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Doug Moench & Jo Duffy, drawn by Graham Nolan, Vince Giarrano, Mike Manley, Barry Kitson, Jim Balent, Bret Blevins & Tom Grummett
Collects Detective Comics #667-675, Batman: Shadow Of The Bat #19-20, Batman #501-508, Catwoman #6-7 & Robin #7

Jeepers, I can’t believe I read and reviewed the first Knightfall trade all the way back in 2012. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but then again, my memories of that reading experience aren’t quite as strong as I would like (but that can be said regarding most of my faculties these days). Anyway, after Bane broke Bruce Wayne and Jean-Paul Valley took over in the previous volume, the second is all AzBats, all the time, specifically him meeting Batman’s allies as well as a mix of old and new villains. In the process, it becomes clear to everyone that JPV is out of his mind thanks to all of the programming his dad inputted into his brain in preparation for him to become the Azrael (assassin) of the Order of St. Dumas.

This humongous collection which clocks in at 655 pages includes a healthy dose of issues I hadn’t read before, specifically that crossover with Catwoman where the Cat-Bat dynamic gets flipped around and a Shadow Of The Bat arc that finds AzBats going up against a pair of deranged Clayfaces who happen to have found love in each others’ weird, muddy arms.

Much like the first volume, this was a great walk down memory line for me. I specifically remembered the Joker story that’s packed with movie references including two characters who are clearly Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. There’s also the Abattoir story which weaved in and out of the books more than I remembered. This is a serial killer who targets his own family members. He and AzBats tangled, but the villain got away only to come back into the spotlight further along into JPV’s descent into madness. The important aspect of this story is that JPV lets Abattoir fall to his death which is bad in and of itself, but also leads to the death of one of his family members who was hooked up to an elaborate death trap. At the end of this book, Robin can finally talk to Bruce — who is back in Gotham — and a plan begins to take shape that will get Bruce back in the cape and cowl.

batman knightfall volume 3 knightsend Batman Knightfall Volume 3: KnightsEnd (DC)
Written by Doug Moench, Alan Grant, Chuck Dixon, Jo Duffy & Denny O’Neil, drawn by Mike Manley, Bret Blevins, Graham Nolan, Ron Wagner, Tom Grummett, Jim Balent, Joe Rubinstein, Barry Kitson, Mike Vosburg, Mike Gustovich, Romeo Tanghal, Lee Weeks, Phil Jimenez, MD Bright & John Cleary
Collects Batman #509-510, 512-514, Batman: Shadow Of The Bat #29-30, Detective Comics #676-677, 679-681, Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight #62-63, Robin #8-9, 11-13 & Catwoman #12-13

This one’s all about Bruce Wayne taking over the mantle of the Bat. Well, mostly. Before actually going up against AzBats, Bruce trains with Lady Shiva, the deadliest woman on the planet who kills without thought (as long as she’s not fighting a major character in the DCU). Once he succeeds in that endeavor, Bruce almost immediately leaves and hands the costume over to Dick. This leads to some great moments between Dick and Tim as the former and current Robins as well as a nice story that deals with Dick’s past with Two-Face which has haunted him ever since his earliest adventures as a sidekick.

I loved on the “KnightsEnd” story pretty hard. It’s not the most artfully told tale in the world, but seeing Bruce’s climb back to the top — which includes an encounter where he seemingly kills an opponent — followed by the equally epic battle with AzBats is a lot of fun. I didn’t actually realize that the “Prodigal” story featuring Dick as Batman was in this collection, so that was kind of a nice surprise. The problem with a portion of that story is that Two-Face apparently hacks Gotham’s computer system without any actual knowledge of how computers work aside from the basic idea of binary. I’m pretty far from tech savvy by today’s standards, but I furrowed my brow in confusion at parts of this story.

There is one large problem with this collection, even at 647 pages, it’s not really a full story. Bruce Wayne just comes back with very little explanation. That story was told as “The Quest” in various titles like Shadow Of The Bat, Legends Of The Dark Knight and even two issues of Justice League Task Force that have never been collected, but would make a nice little companion book. We also get no real explanation for why Bruce decides to take yet another break from being Batman or even where he goes during the “Prodigal” story. I understand that you can’t collect everything that pertains to this epic story, but some of the things left out make this feel overly devoid of context and reason. Now that I think of it, it probably would have made more sense to include “The Quest” issues in this book than the “Prodigal” one. Maybe I’ll make my own bound collection of “The Quest” issues and the missing Bane appearances before the “KinghtFall” story proper.

I’m far from the most impartial judge of these issues. I clearly had a few problems and even a few more that I didn’t mention but seem minor in retrospect. Still, having three huge volumes that collect so many of my first Batman comics, plus ones I never got around to thanks to the limitations of allowance, is a delight. Whenever I get more shelf space, these will be proudly displayed, possibly with a few action figures. I think I’ve got the one of Bruce in his Bat-themed ninja training gear somewhere in my collection.

Batman Trade Post: Sword of Azrael & Earth One

Batman: Sword of Azrael (DC)
Written by Dennis O’Neil, drawn by Joe Quesada
Collects Batman: Sword of Azrael #1-4

After reading and mostly enjoying enjoying the first new collection of the Knightfall material, I figured it would be a good time to re-read a trade I’ve had in my collection for as long as I’ve had a trade collection, Batman: The Sword of Azrael. As Bat-fans will know, this is the first appearance of Jean-Paul Valley and Azrael, the man who would go on to take over for Batman after he gets his back broken by Bane. He’s the guy inside the very 90s suit of Bat armor and who went on to have a pretty substantial ongoing series of his own.

It’s actually a bit odd having read the Knightfall stuff and seeing how nutty JPV was in those issues and how geeky and meek he is in this series by Dennis O’Neil and Joe Quesada with Kevin Nowlan inks. This series finds Azrael, the avenging angel for a side group of Knights Templar called the Order of St. Dumas, dying and passing the mantle on to his son JPV. He gets discovered pretty quickly by the Order and taken to a place to start his training, but Batman’s on the case. Unfortunately for Batman, a former member of the Order who has also gone nuts and dedicated himself to a demon, captures him, discovers his identity and wants to keep him prisoner.

It’s cool little story with some awesome art by Quesada. I’m more used to his bulky character art that you see on covers and whatnot these days, but in here he’s kind of cartoon-y, but in a really great, fun, stylized way that can be creepy when he wants to be. He’s like a more detailed Scott McDaniel? I have trouble talking about artists because I’m not super familiar with the mechanics, but I like when guys have a look all their own.

My only real problem with the story is that there isn’t much of an action-oriented lead. Batman gets captured, JPV doesn’t do a ton unless he’s Azrael, but then he’s basically someone else. It does give Alfred a cool spotlight, but it would have been nice to see Az or JPV have a little more agency. But, I don’t want to end on a negative note and want to point out a moment I really liked. Like I said, the crazy demon-loving guy has Bruce captured for a while and even though he can’t do anything physically, Batman starts messing with his mind. He really got in there too and made the bad guy doubt himself and his connection to the demon. It was a super cool moment that showed off an aspect of the character that doesn’t get used quite as much in my experience.

If you read the Knightfall post I linked to above or follow me on twitter, you’ll notice that I’ve been talking about a pre-Knightfall trade and I think I’ve nailed down what I’d like to see in it. Even though I have this trade, I think it would make sense to combine the Batman: Venom story (which just got a reprint this year and I need to get a copy of), Sword of Azrael, Batman #488-490 and Detective Comics #656-658. That would cover the introduction of Bane’s signature strength-enhancing drug, the man who would become Batman AND both characters’ pre-Knightfall appearances. I think I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for those issues and see if maybe they’re worth collecting myself.

Batman: Earth One (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Gary Frank

After reading Batman: Sword of Azrael, I looked on my shelf for the trade I used to have that collected the first six or so issues of Robin’s ongoing series which launched out of Knightfall because I figured it would make a good companion read. Then I remembered that I actually got rid of that book a while back because I have all those issues…back home. Wanting to read another Batman book, I figured I’d give the recently acquired Batman: Earth One a read. At the beginning of this year, I posted some pages in a Casting Internets, which got a comment from old pal Zach about “old farts” like us not needing another Batman origin story. Of course, he’s right, but I was excited to see what Geoff Johns would do with the character and I think Gary Frank is the best artist that doesn’t do enough stuff, so what’s not to like?

Last month I read my pal Sean T. Collins’ review of the book over at The Comics Journal and he raised a very important questions: why does this comic exist? I’m probably going to repeat some of his points (I didn’t read it again for this post because I didn’t want to taint it, but I do remember us having some of the same problems), but here goes. As Zach pointed out and I’m sure Sean did as well, there’s a huge mountain to climb if the point of this book is to tell Batman’s origin in a concise way that you can hand to non-comics fans and get them all twitterpated like they did with Superman: Earth One which supposedly took a Twilight-y approach to Superman.  I didn’t read that book and don’t know if I will, though I do love Shane Davis and his artwork, but that makes sense for me. Take a popular genre, throw in some superhero goodness and sell a butt-ton of copies.

The problem here is that the general public has a really good concept of what’s up with Batman. Superman’s been out of the spotlight for a while, so there’s wiggle room there, but Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies have made a LOT of money. People know the Batman origin, or at least the one set forth in the movie. So, what’s going to happen if they pick this book up? I’d imagine a fair amount of confusion. Alfred’s a what now? Penguin’s the mayor? Bullock’s thin? Bruce’s mom is an Arkham? Huh? No thanks, next!

If the idea is just to tell an interesting re-imagining of Batman, you’re running up another roadblock because there are a ridiculous number of these stories even if you’re not talking about Nolan’s flicks. Every cartoon version — we’ve got Batman The Animated Series which continued into Justice League and JLU, not to mention The Batman, Batman: Brave and the Bold and all the straight-to-DVD movies — has had a pretty solid origin, plus the movies, comics, storybooks, everything. People know Batman. Does this book bring any new light to the character? Not really.

I will say I liked some of the ideas. Birthday Boy was a creepy villain, there’s no way around that. I liked that The Penguin was the mayor and can even get behind the idea of Bruce’s mom being an Arkham, that’s an interesting aspect that could be played with. I also like that Alfred trained him, but not so much the fact that 1) Bruce hasn’t known him his whole life and 2) Bruce didn’t train well before becoming Batman. I need to re-read Year One to see how that compares, but it felt a little off for the character.

But, even the things I like can be turned into problems because how many more of these books are there going to be? Johns is a busy dude and I’d personally much rather have a favorite artist like Frank working on other projects, so will we see how the Arkham connection comes into play or the end lead in with the Riddler? Who knows. I’m not really chomping at the bit for it.

I do remember one of the positive/good reasons Sean said this book exists is because it gives Frank a chance to draw Batman and I’ve got to say that’s pretty much at the top of my list as well. I’ve been a fan of his going back to his run on Gen 13 (which was super weird and written by John Arcudi!) and loved everything I’ve read from Midnight Nation to his various Superman projects. I’m excited by anything he draws and his art has even drawn me into some things I might not have otherwise tried, but like I said, I’d rather see him working on something else.