Halloween Scene: Batman By Doug Moench & Kelley Jones Part 2

I’ve been having a great time watching connected films and a variety of horror books this season, but it’s very possible that re-visiting the Batman run by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones has been one of my favorite experiences so far. As I mentioned in the first part, these post-KnightFall books were bedrock-forming for my knowledge of not just the Dark Knight, but also the imagery of horror as put through Jones’ incredibly capable lens. As good as the Batman developments are in these issues as he regains his life after the Bane and Azrael incidents, it’s equally exciting to see these two creators work their magic on a variety of villains and co-stars.

Enter, if you dare…

Trade Post: Batman The Man Who Laughs

batman the man who laughs Batman: The Man Who Laughs (DC)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Doug Mahnke & Patrick Zircher
Collects Batman: The Man Who Laughs, Detective Comics #784-786

I’ve gone a little crazy requesting trades from my local library network. It’s been a lot of fun searching for all kinds of books I may have missed over the years or haven’t read in a while. Batman: The Man Who Laughs actually combines both of these because I somehow missed Ed Brubaker’s take on the Joker in the 2005 Man Who Laughs one-shot, but did read the three issue run on Detective Comics from 2003 also included in this collection.

I remember Man Who Laughs being a pretty big deal when I started working at Wizard in 2005. The prestige format book had come out before I got there and Brubaker’s star was definitely on the rise. A few of the guys on staff were huge fans of Gotham Central, which Bru co-wrote with Greg Rucka and so there was a lot of buzz about his then-new Captain America run and his other projects including the excellent Sleeper. Because of this, Man Who Laughs was a tough book to get your hands on in the Wizard library as people were constantly asking about it. Plus, one book like this can be very difficult to find in a huge, fairly unorganized library like that.

Basically, MWL is a story about the first meeting between Batman and the Joker. It acts as a nice sister story to Batman: Year One because, up to this point, the Dark Knight has only really faced off against mobsters, criminals and street thugs, but the appearance of the Joker takes things to a whole new psychotic level. In true Joker fashion, he comes on the scene like a bomb, presents rules for a game that he has no intention of following and eventually finds out exactly what kind of adversary he has in the form of Batman. Like I said when I wrote about the Lex Luthor-centric run of Action Comics recently, this is one of those stories that helps define a hero by the villains he attracts. Plus, as I’ve said in many a Books Of Oa post, Doug Mahnke is just the best and should draw everything ever.His Joker is waaaay creepy.

After that you’ve got a three issue arc from Detective Comics that teamed a pair of Gotham’s protectors up to solve a series of murders with roots back in the post-WWII era. Green Lantern Alan Scott tried to find a serial killer back in the day who carved “Made of Wood” into his victims. When a new killer with the same MO pops up in modern times, he joins forces with Batman to figure out what’s going on. This is a pretty straightforward whodunnit with a retired Jim Gordon working the case from a different angle. This is the kind of crime solving tale Bru became known for in Gotham Central, but with the added flare of seeing a par of superheroes working the case that makes stories like this set in a shared superhero universe fun.

I got pretty nostalgic reading these issues of Detective Comics because they came out when I was in college. I would come home for a break and my mom or dad would have my pull list waiting for me. I’d spend a good deal of time organizing everything and then putting them in a desired reading order before diving in. These comics reading experiences were much further and farther between than I was used to, but they were a lot more intense because it was such an immersive, deep-dive experience. When we get into a house one of the many things I’m looking forward to is getting my comic collection all in one place so I can go back, re-read books like this and see what’s worth keeping.

Lex Luthor Trade Post: The Black Ring Volumes 1 & 2

superman the black ring vol 1 Superman: The Black Ring Volume One
Written by Paul Cornell, drawn by Pete Woods
Collects Action Comics #890-895

When the New 52 was announced a few years back, there was a part of me that was glad because it offered such a clear and obvious place for me to cut off my relationship with monthly comics. For years I’d worked at Wizard where it was part of my job to stay on top of what was going on which was easy because we used to get a couple copies of every book each week. I got laid off a few years before the big switch over and kept up as well as I could, but fell way behind. Once the continuities shifted, I didn’t feel like there was a limitless number of future comics that I’d have to check out just to stay up to date. Sure there would be New 52 books I’d check out and probably love, but that could all be absorbed in trade form.

In that time between Wizard and the New 52, though, there still were some really great stories that I missed, including Paul Cornell’s run on Action Comics that showcased Lex Luthor as he tried to discover the truth behind the Black Lantern rings he discovered during Blackest Night.

In this first volume Luthor finds himself dealing with a new brand of obsession thanks to his exposure to the Orange Lantern and Ring in the aforementioned crossover. That urging makes him want to find out what’s up with the Black Lantern rings even more than he would have otherwise. This quest puts him on a path that leads to opposition and interference from Mr. Mind (or a clone/copy of the one from 52), Deathstroke, Gorilla Grodd, Vandal Savage and even Death from Sandman, marking her first appearance in the DCU (or at least the first time in a long time). To help balance himself out, Lex has created a robot version of his one true love, Lois Lane, who also happens to break out the big guns whenever necessary.

I had more fun reading these six issues than I expected to and I thought I’d enjoy it. I’ve been reading Superman comics since 1992, so I’ve seen plenty of takes on Lex Luthor, some more successful than others. I thought Cornell did a fantastic job of setting this version up and carrying that out through a series of adventures that not only make sense in the general concept of the character (who always craves power in every version) while also having fun and presenting a somewhat roguish character that you kind of hate to love. Luthor’s as smarmy and conceited as you might expect, but he also earns it by being the smartest, most prepared guy in the room, even when said room includes interdimensional telepathic worms and ancient immortal barbarians. He’s basically jerky Batman with no costume and a mad-on for the world’s most beloved superhero. With Superman not actually appearing in this book — he was walking around the country in the yawn-inducing “Grounded” story over in Superman at the time — I personally found it easier to get on Luthor’s side.

And boy does Pete Woods draw the heck out of these issues. Every time I look at his pages I wonder how he can achieve such a smooth, shiny, detailed look. He’s Terry Dodson or Frank Cho-esque while keeping female proportions in a more realistic zone. And his facial expressions are up there with Kevin Maguire’s which is super important when working with a smarmy character like Luthor. This first volume really impressed me to the point where I was really glad I already had the second one on hand so I could jump right in and keep reading.

superman the black ring vol 2Superman: The Black Ring Volume Two
Written by Paul Cornell with Gail Simone, drawn by Pete Woods with Jesus Merino, Marco Rudy, Ed Benes, Marcos Marz, Luciana Delnegro, Dan Jurgens, Rags Morales, Ardian Syaf, Jamal Igle & Gary Frank
Collects Action Comics #896-900, Secret Six #29

I’m not usually a fan of one trade ending on a cliffhanger and leading into the next one, but since I had both volumes on hand, it didn’t bother me too much. Being the incredibly well prepared evil genius that he is, Luthor already had a plan at the ready in case Vandal Savage came at him, one that included the Secret Six, which is lead by his daughter Scandal. Secret Six is one of those books that people seem to either love or hate. I’m somewhere in the middle, loving much of it, but hating Ragdoll, so the inclusion of that issue, while appropriate for the story, did get on my nerves a little.

From there, we get a pair of flashback issues that find young Lex hanging out with Darkseid and Ra’s al Ghul before returning to the present where he gets back to his main mission which brings him into contact with Joker and Larfleze before reaching its epic conclusion which includes Luthor gaining the power of a god, but losing it because SPOILER he doesn’t like being told what to do or having rules.

One of the really interesting things about this book is that, by bringing Luthor into contact with some of the DCU’s most prominent villains, you not only get a better idea of what makes him tick, but why some of these people strive for their goals even after getting their butts handed to them time after time by the superhero community. Each of them has something that pushes them forward. And while those motivations aren’t the main focus of the book, they are there for the reader to mull over to their degree of interest.

Another great aspect of Cornell’s story as a whole is that, by defining Lex Luthor so damn well, it also helps to define Superman. We see how complex Lex Luthor is and why he hates Superman, but at the very end we see why Lex is the bad guy and Superman is the good guy which makes for an incredibly appropriate 900th issue celebration. For all his claims of wanting humanity to thrive without aliens lording power over humanity, this is just a guy who doesn’t like being told what to do sacrificing the potential to do great good for his own ego. He doesn’t care if the aliens are above humanity, he hates having an alien over HIM.

It all harkens back to a great scene in the post-One Year Later Superman story collected in Up, Up And Away. Superman lost his powers for a year which left Lex free to supposedly pursue all those altruistic motives he supposedly had for killing Superman, but instead he wasted it to which Superman responds with a line like “You could have been curing cancer while I was gone!” That all sums this character up perfectly. If you believe he wants to help humanity, you’re buying into one of his many lies, but then again, I can’t really fault you for that because he’s pretty damn good at it.

It’s probably pretty obvious by this point, but I love this run. I read these volumes thanks to copies acquired from my local library system, but I think I’ll keep an eye out to add them to my collection. It’s rare to find such a well plotted out story that moves along surprisingly well for so many issues and also does such a great job of defining a character.

Casting Internets

Well, between traveling for Christmas to New Hampshire, getting a flat tire ten minutes from home and surviving the Snowpocalypse of last night (we got 18-24 inches), I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging. Anyway, I did read a few things here and there and wanted to pass the goodness along. Sure it’s a little late now, but Scott C posted a Showdown from Elf and I just had to link to it. That’s one of my all time favorite Christmas movies and possibly Will Ferrell’s best performance.

Tim Bruckner’s DC Dynamics Joker statue looks amazing, check out some of the shots over on Pop Sculpture.

I don’t think I knew that George Romero and Marvel were working on a project together. Thanks Comic Books Legends Revealed!

Hugh Hefner got engaged again? Wonder if Bridget or Holly are pissed. The missus and I were big fans of Girls Next Door.  (via Esquire)

I really enjoyed Jonathan Hickman’s early issues of Fantastic Four, but fell off the wagon along with a lot of other books a while back. I’ve heard good things about it still, but this whole “killing off a member of the FF and putting it in a polybag” reeks of 90s moneygrubbing. Reed’s already “died” once, right? Ah well, I’m sure I’ll catch up on the trade eventually. (via Robot 6)

Finally, Archie Comics released this mysterious teaser that lots of places, including Robot 6, think might be a way of announcing a new Mega Man comic. Depending on how they handle this book, it could be either a really good kids comic or an interesting look at a character with a deep, deep mythos just waiting to be explored by a great comic book writer. I’m available for either, even though I’m not technically a comic book writer. Just wanted to throw that out into the internet ether.

Ad It Up: Legends of the Dark Knight Action Figures

This is one of those every-other-page ads. You get the top one first on the right hand, then turn it and BLAMMO, you’ve got these crazy-detailed figures of Joker, Penguin and Man-Bat staring back at you. I was a huge fan of the Legends of the Dark Knight line from Kenner in the late 90s along with this line’s predecessor which was an Elseworlds-inspired line called Legends of Batman and featured pirate Batman and even Az-Bats. What I liked about LOTDK was that the figures were bigger and they were a lot more detailed. I have Scarecrow and Bane in my collection, which aren’t pictured in the ad, and I remember being really excited about them. That’s still my favorite Scarecrow figure of all time. I almost picked up the Joker one too. I believe he looks so buff because his suit actually explodes off of his body. These ads were scanned out of 1998’s Major Bummer #12.

Halloween Scene: Batman Haunted Gotham (2000)

Welcome to October folks! I’m just barely making it in under the wire here, but my goal is to have a Halloween Scene (or at least one) up every day of October so here we go. Today’s installment is on a trade I picked up called Batman: Haunted Gotham. Originally printed as four 48 page issues, this Doug Moench-written and Kelley Jones-drawn mini-series takes a look at an alternate reality in which Gotham is literally haunted. It’s kind of like Bette Noire from Fallen Angel.

Anyway, in this version of the Batman story, Bruce looses his parents, who happen to be part of a group trying to keep the dark forces at bay, as an adult after they’ve trained him his whole life to take up the mantle of the bat as Gotham’s protector. What I really like about this story–essentially an Elseworlds, but I’m not sure if it was every officially labeled as such–is that not every relationship from regular Batman continuity is the same regardless of the universe. Yes Batman is aided by Alfred and Gordon and there’s a Catwoman-type character, but there’s enough differences and new characters that things don’t feel rote.

Another thing that helps keep these stories interesting is Jones’ awesome art. I’ve talked about liking him before when I wrote about Batman comics last October, and my opinions haven’t changed. No one draws a spooky Batman like Jones and Moench’s story offers him plenty of other horror themes to try his hand at: werewolf assassins, demons, ghosts, talking skeletons, an even more Gothic Gotham, and Jones just runs with it.

I will say that this is one of the few trades I’ve read and realized that it would have probably read better in single issues (or at least in fewer settings). The first two issues show as Bruce becoming Batman and facing off against a Frankenstein-like Joker (another interesting alteration of the mythos), then the second issue goes off on a tangent about a snake god and then with the last issue we’re back to the story elements from the first two issues. It’s a bit strange that a four issues series would have time to take a tangent like that, but I guess it’s better to expand the world than stretch the story for no creative reason.

All in all I dug this book. It’s not scary by any means, but it’s a fun read if you take your time.

The Joke’s on Them

3:51:10 pm

Sometimes books get a bad wrap. Joker’s Last Laugh is definitely one of those. Frankly, the mandatory tie-ins did become way to0 much, but I just finished reading the main mini-series for the first time and actually liked it. So here goes the review of

Batman: The Joker’s Last Laugh (2001)

Written by Chuck Dixon & Scott Beatty

Drawn by Pete Woods, Marcos Martin, Walter McDaniel, Andy Kuhn, Ron Randall & Rick Burchett

Starring The Joker, Nightwing, Batman, Oracle, Black Canary, a legion of Joker-ized super-villains and Shilo Norman, the dude who used to be and now is Mr. Miracle (kinda/maybe)

So, here’s the basic plot of the story: Joker finds out he’s dying, so he sets this elaborate plan in motion to poison a huge number of villains in the DCU with a gas that makes them go crazy Joker-style. There’s a lot of twists and turns along the way, including (SPOILER) the fact that the Joker’s not really dying (it was a prank pulled on him by a doctor in the Slab) and that Nightwing beats the Joker to death. Yup, it’s true. But someone else (Batman, Spoiler, Robin, Nightwing or Huntress, we’re not sure) actually brings him back. Crazy right?

What really interests me about this story is that it doesn’t really feel like a big crossover. It doesn’t star a big character, except for Joker himself I guess (Batman’s hardly in it). Nightwing, Oracle and Shilo Norman, who was in charge of security for The Slab at the time, and, obviously Joker, all take center stage at times. But Joker gets the most face time, making him the real star. And a villain as the star of a big crossover like this is really interesting.

As the star, Joker shines. Dixon and Beatty give him a great, crazy, ingenious voice and we really get to see how smart of a villain he is. Not only did he figure out the chemistry involved in turning the Slab’s nerve gas into Joker gas, but he continues to use the supervillains and their powers as tools to continue his assault on humanity. He even continually kills Multi-Man (who gets a new superpower every time he dies and comes back to life) until he gets the right power to bust them out of prison.

I’m also a fan of the art. Pete Woods and Marcos Martin especially bring their style to the wacky world of the Joker and it really fits well. Even though a different artist handles each issue and they each have fairly unique styles and inkers, the book still retains a fun, fluid continuity from issue to issue.

And really, I think that’s why I liked Joker’s Last Laugh, it’s fun. Which is weird to say about a story staring a lunatic facilitating untold murders (and even lighting enough fires on the earth that the JLA could see a sneering smiley face from the Watchtower). In the end, the DCU is pretty much the same as it was before the story started, but Nightwing and Oracle have definitely been changed and God only knows what’s going on in the Joker’s mind. Oh, the Slab also ended up in the South Pole due to some weird teleportation thanks to Black Mass. I do kind of hope that DC puts out a companion book, though, because it seems like there’s some fairly important plot points that took place in other issues (like Robin going up against Killer Croc which results in Nightwing thinking he’s dead), but for the most part, LL is a complete story that kept me entertained and reminded me about how different comics were even 7 years ago. Can you imagine this creative team doing a line-wide crossover now?