Batman Trade Post: Venom & Vengeance Of Bane

batman venom Batman: Venom (DC)
Written by Dennis O’Neil, drawn by Trevor Von Eeden & Russell Braun
Collects Legends Of The Dark Knight #16-20

As I mentioned when I reviewed the first Knightfall omnibus volume followed by the last two, that was a seminal comic crossover that brought me into the world of Batman full force. But, much like when I started reading Superman comics, there were all kinds of elements in play that I was learning about as I went.

When I started reading comics, I loved the fact that these stories had been going on for years before I came onboard. That meant I got to play detective while reading along, picking up clues and figuring things out as best I could. Sometimes I was wrong, sometimes I was right and sometimes retcons rendered my investigation moot, but it was fun trying to piece the puzzle together. At the time I figured there was a Platonic version of continuity out there that I could eventually understand. Oh, how naive I once was.

One of the many elements at play in KnightFall — the story that saw Bane breaking Batman and Jean-Paul Valley taking over — was a steroid type drug called Venom that Bane injected into himself. At some point, it was either hinted at or outright stated that Batman had a history with the stuff itself. That story was recently collected in a trade simply titled Batman: Venom that acts as a companion piece to the KnightFall books.

The story kicks off with Batman failing to save a girl trapped in a room with rising water. He’s not strong enough to save her and she dies. He then goes to her dad’s house where he’s working on Venom and doesn’t seem concerned about his kid whatsoever. After a series of failures and further injuries, Batman winds up taking the drug and gets hooked. After going a little crazy, getting strung along by the scientist and introduced to an evil general with his own schemes, Batman finally kicks Venom and goes after the bad guys who are building supersoldiers on the island of Santa Prisca (which O’Neill created in The Question and also designated as Bane’s home).

I think this is a really interesting story because, at the heart of it, it’s about Batman wanting to be the best he is at what he does and failing. He’s so torn up by this girl’s death that he does something you’d never expect him to: turn to drugs. It’s a dark time in his life, but being the kind of person he is, he stops taking them and has Alfred lock him in the Batcave for a month (the coolest idea in the whole book). He then goes on to stop the bad guys who have an army of nearly unbeatable soldiers at their beck and call.

But, the actual story doesn’t feel very dramatic and I think that’s because you know how it’s going to end. Even if you had no familiarity with the Bane story or were reading it when these issues came out, you know that Batman isn’t going to stay addicted to Venom. It doesn’t take too long for Batman to kick the habit and it’s sad to see him do the things he does while under the influence, but there’s still this surrounding idea that he’s obviously going to get better. Obviously, this is something that all Corporate Comics have to deal with. The key is to dress the story up with enough elements and characters that distract you from the fact that nothing is REALLY going to change, especially with a character as huge as Batman. Unfortunately, aside from Batman and Alfred, this book doesn’t have much of that distracting window dress. The scientist is emotionless from doing his own drugs. The general is the same basic evil military guy you’ve seen in everything. There’s an attempt to bring more emotion into it with the scientist’s son who gets tragically transformed into one of these mindless soldiers, but even that felt pretty been-there-done-that.

Still, this book has a nice little adventure that includes Batman fighting a shark on the cover that also fills in a big part of the KnightFall/Bane mythology that you might have missed. Plus, the artwork by Trevor Von Eeden and Russell Braun is very classic Batman, so it’s got that going on.

batman versus bane Batman Versus Bane (DC)
Written by Chuck Dixon, drawn by Graham Nolan
Collects Batman: Vengeance Of Bane, Batman: Bane Of The Demon #1-4 and portions of Countdown #4, 7 & 52 #46

Batman Versus Bane is another trade that ties in to the KnightFall trades which in turn were most likely produced to grab some interest based on the villain’s appearance in The Dark Knight Rises. This one reprints Bane’s origin as seen in the Vengeance Of Bane one-shot as well as the post-KnightFall miniseries Bane Of The Demon.

I mentioned the one-shot in my review of the first KnightFall book, which it is also collected in. It would have been nice if they threw in the three or four issues that Bane and his crew appeared in between the one-shot and the KQ story proper, but oh well.

This time around I noticed that Bane’s origin is gilded with some really silly elements. When he’s a kid, living in the prison, he sees a vision of himself warning against a kind of bat demon. Later he decides he wants to go to Gotham because it connects to his dream. If you’ve already got a survivor who built up his body and mind while trapped in prison, do you really need to add on this silly element of the dream? Just make him a competitive guy who wants to test himself against another high quality physical specimen and skip all that other nonsense.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the Bane Of The Demon miniseries which I’d never read before. I didn’t realize it going in, but this leads directly into a moment that blew my mind in Detective Comics #700 when it’s revealed that Bane is Ra’s al Ghul’s new Ubu. I’m glad I didn’t read this series at the time because that moment would not have had as much impact, but going back and checking it out now is a nice look at what was going on behind the scenes.

The gist here is that Bane wants to know about his past so he returns to the island of Santa Prsica. There he discovers that one of four men could have been his father. His search for one of the candidates not only involves the Order Of St. Dumas, but also Ra’s and Talia al Ghul who he winds up palling around with for a while, but never completely letting his guard down around.

This story not only leads into the Legacy crossover that plagued the Bat-books (that’s a semi-clever pun if you’re familiar with the story), but also leads into a later Gotham Knights arc that posits that Bane and Bruce Wayne might be half brothers! That’s not explored or mentioned in this book at all, but there is a nice little set up for it.

I’ll be keeping both of these books in my collection, not necessarily because they’re mind-blowingly awesome comic book stories, but because they’re important pieces of a story that I love going back to my early days as a comic reader.

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: Gates Of Gotham & The City Of Owls

Batman The Gates Of Gotham Batman:  Gates Of Gotham (DC)
Written by Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins & Ryan Parrott, drawn by Trevor McCarthy, Graham Nolan, Dustin Nguyen & Derec Donovan
Collects Batman: Gates Of Gotham #1-5, Detective Comics Annual #12 & Batman Annual #28

One my favorite parts of going to any comic convention is digging through $5 trade boxes. I scored a number of Exiles Ultimate Collection volumes at this year’s NYCC, but was also incredibly excited to get my hands on a copy of Batman: Gates Of Gotham. I’d read a few of these issues here and there, but lost track of it. At the time, I didn’t know about Scott Snyder, but have since become a huge fan of his after reading Severed, American Vampire Volumes One and Two and the first book of his New 52 Batman stuff. He plotted this miniseries along with New 52 Nightwing writer Kyle Higgins who also teamed up with Ryan Parrott for dialog. Between that general appreciation and the fact that I also recently came into a copy of Batman Volume 2: City Of Owls, it seemed like a good time to go on a mini-Batman reading spree.

The miniseries bounces back and forth between the early days of Gotham as we know it, when the city was being built up by a pair of architect brothers known as the Gates of Gotham. They worked for the Waynes, Cobblepots, Elliots and Kanes, the four richest families in town at the time who funded many of the biggest construction efforts in the late 1800s. Meanwhile, in the present, Batman (Dick Grayson) is trying to figure out who is blowing up some of those older structures and what the two have to do with one another. Luckily for him, he’s got Robin (Damien Wayne), Red Robin (Tim Drake) and Black Bat (Cassandra Cain) to help him out.

Much like American Vampire, I dug how Snyder, Higgins and company were able to make this history lesson not only interesting, but intriguing. That story itself could have supported its own miniseries, but you’ve also got all the action in the present and the mystery of how the two are connected. Plus, there’s a great little twist at the end that was clever and fun.  This is a great, fun miniseries that I really enjoyed and will happily add to my collection, but I really do wish that they would have been able to stick with Trevor McCarthy for the whole series. I really dug his angular, animation-ish style and while the other guys aren’t bad, they do have different styles that can bring you out of the story because it’s so obvious that you’re dealing with a different person behind the pencil.

There was one interesting aspect of this book that actually had nothing to do with the writing, but more of the setting. This is, I believe, one of the last pre-New 52 Batman stories out there. I’ve been reading a TON of New 52 books lately and have a lot of mixed feelings, so it was fun to go back to “my” DCU and enjoy a newer story with characters I actually know and understand deeply. Plus, the only big continuity thing you need to know is that this story comes after Bruce returned from his post-Final Crisis journey through history in The Return Of Bruce Wayne and that he’s launched Batman Incorporated. That’s still kind of a lot to remember as time goes on (once again, a recap page would have been nice), but all-in-all, I think I’ll be able to handle it, especially after I get all of Grant Morrison’s run on my shelf.

batman volume 2 city of owls Batman Volume 2: The City Of Owls (DC)
Written by Scott Snyder with James Tynion IV, drawn by Greg Capullo with Jonathan Glapion, Rafael Albuquerque, Jason Fabok, Becky Cloonan, Andy Clarke & Sandu Florea
Collects Batman (New 52) #8-12, Annual #1

After all the craziness of the first volume, Snyder didn’t give Batman much of a breather. Battered and nearly broken, Bruce is in rough shape when all of the previously frozen Talons decide to kill him and several other prominent members of Gotham society all on the same night. Of course, they came at Bruce a lot harder than everyone else. Since he was pretty banged up already, Bats donned a pretty killer suit of armor to take them on. I love when characters put on armor, you guys. Love it.

From there, Batman tracks down the Court of Owls only to find a much more prominent villain who thinks he has direct ties to the Wayne family that rounds out Bruce and his parents’ history in this new universe even more. This collection also contains the introduction of a new ally for Batman’s called Harper Row and a really great story that explains this new version of Mr. Freeze that plays off some of the known aspects of the character and goes in a few different directions. Also, for what it’s worth, this book does have a text opener letting readers know what happened in the previous volume. Kudos for that , DC!

I’ve listened to two different Fat Man On Batman podcasts with host Kevin Smith interviewing Snyder and I’ve got to say, this guy thinks about story on levels that I don’t hear about much and I talk to a fair amount of writers for my day job. He’s not just in Batman’s head, but he’s in every character’s head going back a few generations and, from what I hear of the current/upcoming stuff, into the future. I’ve become a huge fan of his writing and hope to score a few more of his books from my Amazon Wish List in the near future. Hinthinthint.

Trade Post: Batman Knightfall Volume 1

Batman Knightfall Volume 1 (DC)
Collects Batman #491-500, Detective #659-666, Showcase 93 #7-8, Shadow of the Bat #16-18 & Vengeance of Bane
Written by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon & Alan Grant, drawn by Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, Jim Balent, Bret Blevins, Klaus Janson & Mike Manley

You guys, I can’t tell you how excited I was when I saw that DC was re-collecting the Batman Knightfall story. If you’re unfamiliar with early 90s Batman comics, a weakened Batman went up against a new bad guy on the street named Bane who released all the villains in Arkham. After trying to stop and recapture all the bad guys, Batman finally goes up against Bane and — as you can see on the cover to the left here — Bane breaks Batman’s back. After this, a guy who has been hanging around for a little bit named Jean-Paul Valley, also known as Azrael, gets named the new Batman. JPV’s a little nutty to be nice about things and Robin realizes this is a problem, but Bruce is worried about finding Tim’s kidnapped dad and their shared doctor who Bruce wants to tell he’s Bats. There’s a lot going on, but what else can you expect from a 630 page book?

The reason I was so excited about this book — and the two that come after it — is because these were really my first Batman comics. I’d read one or two before and knew the character from the Adam West TV show, but these were the first ones I collected. The death of Superman got me into that book and the breaking of Batman got me into this one, I guess I was a little morbid as a kid. Anyway, while I have most of the issues collected therein, this is the very first time I’ve read them in order. I got many of the issues piecemeal, read them and then promptly placed them in bags and boards.

I was surprised by a lot of things reading through this book. First off, I was shocked that Kelly Jones didn’t do any interiors, only covers. This surprised me because what I remember about these stories is mainly his covers (as well as the gatefold foil Joe Quesada one for #500). I was also surprised at how quickly they got to breaking Bats. I assumed it would be towards the end of the book, but it actually takes place around the half way point.

My other surprises were more story based, so they deserve their own paragraph(s). I should note that, even if this book was a complete artistic embarrassment, I would love it because it’s so near and dear to me. While I didn’t think it was embarrassing at all, I was surprised at how flimsy Bane’s reasoning is presented in the book. We see his origins in the Bane one-shot, but his reasoning doesn’t make much sense. Why does he care about Gotham or Batman? Because some guy told him how great it was? I assume the intent is for Bane to compare himself to the highest physical specimen and win, but that falls apart when you release an army of madmen to bend him so you can come in and break him. Along similar lines, I have no idea why Bane hangs out with the trio of goofballs he does, Bird, Trogg and Zombie as they don’t do a whole lot for him.

Another problem I had which might have come from seeing how well this source material was handled in The Dark Knight Rises was that I didn’t get the impending sense of worry and doom with this story that I got in the film. Bane not only releases every crazy into Gotham and breaks Batman’s back IN FRONT OF PEOPLE, but also starts taking over all of the crime in the city, but the normal people we see don’t seem super upset or worried about it. The story lacks a sense of larger urgency that the film absolutely nailed. This is not helped by the inclusion of the Shadow of the Bat issues included in this collection which come right after JPV went out as Batman for the first time and give you three issues of Scarecrow trying to become a fear god, JPV being crazy Batman and Anarky trying to kill both of them. These don’t really help the series along and slow things WAY down, but I’m glad they’re in there. Maybe it would have been better to put them later in the book? But then they’d come after JPV made the AzBat armor…hmm

Okay, that was a good deal of complaining and critiquing, but I still really enjoyed reading this book and not just because of the wonderful trip down memory lane. Watching Batman getting so worn down facing also-rans like Firefly was actually pretty amazing. And, man, that scene where he fights Bane and gets broken? Still gives me chills. So intense. I also liked how JPV goes over the edge bit by bit. I mean, he’s clearly a terrible choice for Batman, but Bruce is not in his right mind, his brain’s as broken as his body, so it kind of makes sense. Plus, JPV was apparently hanging around before all this and was being trained by Batman and Robin. I’m pretty excited to break into the next book and see how his books hold up.

Ah, I’ve got one more complaint or more positively, a suggestion. It would be nice if there was a trade collecting some of the stuff that leads into this book. Bane appeared in a few other comics that are referenced several times that I’d like to read, but it’d also be cool to get a little bit more of JPV’s back story. Sure, I’ve got the Sword of Azreal trade on my shelf (and plan to read it again soon), but that’s a pretty old and, I assume, out of print book that I’m sure other people would like to read. Similarly, I noticed from looking at the second Knightfall volume I have and the information out there for the third, there’s a lot of stuff that’s still not collected like the Justice League Task Force stuff and a few other tales of Bruce Wayne running around trying to save Tim’s dad and their doctor. It’s entirely possible that these trades will get made in the future, especially if the planned Knightfall ones do really well, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Maybe I’ll just make my own!

The Box: Detective Comics #662, Suicide Squad #35 & Magnus Robot Fighter #21

In a somewhat shocking revelation, I actually liked all three of the random comics I grabbed out of The Box for this week’s post. It helped that two of them were comics I purchased at a convention in the last few years, but hadn’t gotten around to reading, but it’s still nice to know that randomness can be a good thing.

First up, I checked out 1993’s Detective Comics #662 written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Graham Nolan. This issues happens to be the eight installment in the Knightfall storyline that would eventually see Batman with his back shattered. I’ve said before on this blog that Superman’s death is what got me hooked on comics, but once I was in, the breaking of Batman helped keep me there and broadened my reading habits. I don’t exactly remember where I came in on this story, but it was after this issue because I didn’t already have it. It got me thinking of how shocking the end of this story must have been to people reading the event as it happened. Sure, Batman had been in some tough spots before, but he always made it out okay, that would happen again this time, right?

Nope. Anyway, this particular issue finds an exhausted Batman fighting Firefly at the zoo while Robin stops one of Riddler’s plots. This particular issue doesn’t do a great job of explaining what all is happening though, that Bane released all these criminals and has set them loose on Gotham with Batman trying to bring them all back in. You get the gist here and there and at the end, but if this was a Valiant or Crossgen crossover I wasn’t familiar with, I’d have been lost. Reading this issue made me want to get those new Knightfall paperbacks that came out recently as I realized I’ve never read the whole story from beginning to end as I just jumped in whenever I started reading.

Up next I pulled out another DC Comics, this one Suicide Squad #35 from 1989 by the creative team of John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell. This was interesting time as I’d just finished reading the first arc of the series in trade paperback form a few weeks prior. As I mentioned in that post, I’d read a number of the issues when my pal Ben lent them to me, but can’t really remember how far I got. I’m not sure if I got up to this issue, but the adventure did seem a little familiar, so maybe I did.

Anyway, this one finds the Squad — a group of criminals who go on crazy missions to help alleviate their prison sentences — stranded on Darkseid’s planet Apokolips fighting the Female Furies and doing a much better job than they probably should have been able to do if you ask me.

The issue feels like the middle of a three parter as it’s pretty much one huge fight scene, but there’s still enough explained that I didn’t feel lost. Lashina had been abandoned on Earth in an earlier issue and basically joined the Squad, but still wanted her revenge for being left behind. The issue ended on a cliffhanger that made me wish even more that this whole series was collected in trade. I guess I’ll just have to keep collecting issues like this one and read them all together down the line.

Lastly, I pulled out another issue of Magnus Robot Fighter, this one 1993’s #21 by John Ostrander and John Bock. Huh, just realized that I pulled out two Ostrander comics back to back. After reading Magnus #25 last week, I wasn’t super excited about reading this comic, but I went through with it and it was alright. Much like last time, I still don’t really know why Magnus fights robots, but the issues does have a dream sequence that recaps a lot of Magnus’ recent adventures (and contains lots of robot fighting).

There’s some presumably big reveals to people who had been reading the series for 2o issues before this one. For them, they might have been like “Holy crap!!!!” but I was like “Oh, okay.” That’s just how these things work. You’re not going to surprise a newbie with a revelation in the 21st issue, but you can do your best to set it up for them so they at least understand what’s being revealed and why it’s important. Ostrander did that here and that’s all I can really ask for.

Oh, also, Bock’s art is still awesome in this issue.