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The ’80s Revisited: The Untold Legend of the Batman #2

untold_legend_of_the_batman_0002"With Friends Like These…"

Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Jim Aparo
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Cover by: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Editor: Paul Levitz
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: August 1980
Cover Price: 40 cents

This is the "middle chapter" of the mini-series…"only" 3 issues. I knew the first issue from having read a copy that Grandpa had; and the third issue (as I’ll get to soon) is one of the single most familiar-to-me-comics ever.

This issue opens with a furious Batman seeking answers in a bar from the lowlifes that might have some knowledge–any knowledge–of anyone brazen enough to break into his sanctuary and steal–and destroy–one of the most precious items he owned. The situation deteriorates as Batman loses himself in a rage rarely seen (at least until post-Death in the Family). He’s snapped out of it by the arrival of Robin (Dick Grayson), and the two head back to the Batcave. Meanwhile, Dick reminisces about his own past with Batman, and how Batman’s affected his life. Once back in the Cave, the two interact with Alfred, who muses on his own background and coming to be butler to the Caped Crusaders; as Batman pores over files of suspects, we get a glimpse at the extended rogues’ gallery, and a bit about the origins of the Joker and Two-Face. Robin suggests they try police headquarters–and a conference with Jim Gordon–but as he readies to leave, a beeping is heard…and our heroes barely have time to seek cover before the Batmobile explodes. Batman declares war on the as-yet-unrevealed villain.

Of the three issues, I’m least familiar with this one. This was actually the "gap" for me in the story, that I first read (I believe) in a paperback reprint of the story–one of those mass-market paperback-size black and white things. I feel like the "focal" origins here are Robin and Alfred, and once again realized how much this version of both has stuck with me and formed the foundation of my understanding of the characters. We also get another reference to a warehouse explosion that I’ve always considered to be a contrivance or such–but I actually wonder (though have yet to actually opt to do the research) if this ties the story to anything in the ongoing Batman or Detective Comics titles, like if the explosion happened in an issue of either title and then this mini takes place as a "side trip" exploring the ramifications.

Visually, I had a definite sense of deja vu, thanks to Aparo‘s art, and I’m amazed to consider that this was published in early 1980, and that Aparo was still (or again?) a key Bat-artist up to stuff I read in my earliest then-modern explorations of Batman stuff in 1989 and the earliest part of the 1990s. I’m also somewhat amazed at the reminder of this being published in a much different time, where the issues (while part of a singular mini-series, a singular story) don’t flow nearly as smoothly one-into-the-next as they do now. Nowadays, it seems like in many collected volumes, one almost has to GUESS at where the issue-breaks are (accounting for mid-issue high moments and such) where this obviously picks up after the events of the first issue, but it’s a sort of "cold start" that does not REQUIRE one to have read the previous issue to follow along with THIS issue.

Chances are, especially these days, if you’re considering reading this issue, you’ve got #s 1 & 3 as well; and cheesey/hokey/flimsy as the STORY-story is (it’s a loose plot to give us the excuse to see a bunch of characters reflect on their origins, and by these better know "the rest of the story" as readers), it’s worth reading. This firmly embodies late-70s/early-80s pre-Crisis Batman, and is a product of its time. I don’t care for the cover proclamation of this being "an instant collector’s item"–if it SAYS it’s a collector’s item, it’s probably NOT. Then again, there’s the original comic edition; there’s a comic-on-cassette reprint edition; there’s a reprint edition that came in boxes of cereal; and there’s the MMPB collection…so DC got plenty of mileage out of this one 3-issue arc; and certainly formed my basis of understanding for these characters!

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The ’80s Revisited: The Untold Legend of the Batman #1

untold_legend_of_the_batman_0001In the Beginning

Writer: Len Wein
Artists: John Byrne & Jim Aparo
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Letterer: John Costanza
Cover by: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Editor: Paul Levitz
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: July 1980
Cover Price: 40 cents

This is a comic that I clearly recall coming across in Grandpa’s collection all those years ago–after he’d loaned me a stack to read, and we visited and I found it in his comics cupboard. It stood out to me immediately for the cover being taken up itself by a giant book, with three very recognizable villains (Joker, Penguin, Riddler) apparently teamed up, utilizing the book to learn more about the Batman. The Joker proclaiming "This book will tell us everything we need to know to defeat the Batman!" To this day, this particular issue is rather "iconic" to me, one of the more "singular" stand-out covers IN comics (though a bit behind the third issue of this very series, which I’ll touch on when I get to that issue).

Presently in 2017 (some 37 years after this issue originally saw print!) the issue is definitely a bit "dated" in that it’s clearly from its time…but for me, it’s rather timeless. And it’s easy to see as I read just how much this very issue originally (and still) informs my FOUNDATION with the Batman character and mythos–from Thomas Wayne’s costume, to Leslie Thompkins and Joe Chill and Lew Moxon, the notion of Bruce as the first Robin, and so on.

The issue opens with Batman having a pleasant moment with Alfred, going through mail…only to discover a package with the shredded remains of the most valuable item in the Batcave–the costume once worn by Bruce’s father, which inspired his own look as Batman! This kicks off some nostalgia/reminiscing between Bruce and Alfred, which gives us as readers the background on the costume, the "base" origin with the death of the Waynes and Bruce’s childhood vow and self-training, to some specifics of the training and such, the origin of both his costume and the Robin outfit, and a glimpse in montage of many of the villains faced over the years. We also get the "expanded" origin details of young Bruce having been taken in by his Uncle Philip, and being "raised" by the man’s housekeeper, Mrs. Chilton (unknowingly mother of the man who murdered the Waynes), as well as Batman and Robin’s discovery of Joe Chill and eventually Lew Moxon, and how the Wayne murder case was finally, completely closed. Despite 18+ pages of additional story (the issue has 21), there’s no resolution regarding the destruction of Thomas Wayne’s costume nor the perpetrator.

What we ultimately have here is basically a framing device to give thin "reason" to characters reminiscing in that classic comics way–think all that hard on it, and it’s like–what? These characters have known each other too long, been through too much, to have this sort of stuff in this sort of detail coming up. There’s also the issue of the thought balloons seeming–by 2017 standards to me–being very in-your-face and blatantly stating stuff that would be left to be hinted at or given only as a subtlety.

While I’ve probably known this issue’s art was John Byrne and Jim Aparo, I feel like it’s "consciously" new information to me in the sense that it feels so revelatory. This series being one of THE early introductions for me to Batman, and the character’s background and generally a compact, definitive source on all things Batman…it would seem to clearly explain why I particularly dig Aparo‘s Batman, and any Batman that looks close to how he appears here!

I also wasn’t aware–until rather recently (a couple years or so back)–that this was written by Len Wein. This series is one that, as a kid, simply WAS Batman. I didn’t know the artists, I didn’t know the writer, I just knew that this was Batman, this was his origin and the showing of everything that made up the character and associated characters, and that was that.

So framing device or not, ludicrously blatant detailing of stuff or not…this was a very key comic for me in my youth, and I love it to this day for what it was, and remains, to me, though this is a much different Batman than the one I’ve known for most of the time I’ve been into "current comics," and could functionally be a whole different character (and in a sense, is–this is from a half-decade PRIOR TO Crisis on Infinite Earths!).

I have a definite soft spot for this mini-series, which is also why it hardly phased me to buy a new-to-me copy of all three issues just for the convenience of re-reading the single issues AND seeing the original ads and such, rather than simply grabbing my Tales of the Batman: Len Wein volume off the shelf to re-read it or such.

I’m certainly biased on the issue, but I think if you’re a fan like me and enjoy the different "eras" of Batman, this is an issue well worth reading in some form.

And while I’ll get into it more for the third issue, it should definitely be noted here: there is an audio-drama of sorts out there for this issue…this entire mini-series was made into a "comics on tape" thing with a voice cast, music, and so on, and packaged with reprint editions of each issue.

Continue reading

From the Archives: Superman #650

superman0650Up, Up, and Away! (part 1)

Writers: Kurt Busiek & Geoff Johns
Artist: Pete Woods
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Associate Editor: Nachie Castro
Editor: Matt Idelson
Cover Artists: Terry & Rachel Dodson
Cover Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

It’s been a year since Superman apparently disappeared, and the fine folks of Metropolis have moved on, though many take an evening to revisit the past, watching a retrospective on the life and times of their favorite son. Among the spectators are Lois Lane and Clark Kent, who discuss the authenticity of the retrospective with a couple different viewpoints. Shortly after, other familiar elements of the Superman story are reintroduced–Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, Perry White. A familiar "villain" is introduced here as well–one that may be familiar to older readers, but I’m not sure this character has appeared in the Superman comics since the mid-80s reboot. As this villain is attended to, we as readers are clued into at least part of why Superman has been absent for a year.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this issue. I’ve been concerned at the idea of "my" Superman–that is, the character (re)introduced in Byrne‘s Man of Steel mini-series–being shuffled off to the side in favor of yet another/different reimagining of the character. While this is only the first of an 8-parter that re-establishes the character post-Infinite Crisis, the writing team of Busiek & Johns has assuaged some of my concerns as several aspects that have defined the character and supporting cast for the last 18+ years are re-established here. However, there seem to be a number of minor or subtle shifts that distance things from the past, settling the characters very much in a sort of "timeless" present.

Busiek wrote my favorite Superman story in 2004’s Superman: Secret Identity. Johns on the other hand has written some other very compelling stories that I have really enjoyed over the past several years (including pulling me into following The Flash for 30 issues after never previously caring for the character). That said, both writers have a lot to live up to in my eyes, and for the moment, I’ll cautiously advance the idea that yes, they have lived up to those high standards.

The writing here is clear and definitely gets across the idea first of the broad strokes of Superman’s history that just about anyone will be vaguely familiar with (whether you know the character solely from last month’s issues, the Christopher Reeve films, Smallville, Lois & Clark, a parent/grand-parent’s stack of older comics, or just picking up on elements from years of the character’s suffusion of popular culture. If this is the first-ever comic starring Superman that you’ve read, you’ve got yourself a good starting point. If you’ve been following these comics for 20 years, you’ve got a good read that revalidates the character for the present, showing that both the old and newer elements can come together in a single well-written manner that gives us a story of Superman.

Offhand, I am unfamiliar with Pete Woods‘ art, but this issue makes for a good introduction. Everything seems nice and clear/clean–reading along with the story, the art shows exactly what is going on and pretty much just does it’s job of enhancing the written word to contribute to the overall look and feel of the issue. The art’s not perfect–but very little is. The main quibble I have is the depiction of the S-shield; it comes across a bit too "shiney" or metallic for my own tastes.

However–whether in Woods‘ art itself or the coloring (or both)–this issue somehow has a "brighter" feel to it than a lot of recent DC issues–by design or not, this lends itself to this being an upbeat, bright start to a new "generation" of Superman.
I very much recommend this issue, whether you are a new, old, or an on-the-fence reader.

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From the Archives: Batman/The Spirit #1

batman_the_spirit_0001Crime Convention

Storytellers: Jeph Loeb & Darwyn Cooke
Inks: J. Bone
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Comicraft
Assoc. Editor: Tom Palmer, Jr.
Editor: Mark Chiarello
The Batman created by: Bob Kane
The Spirit created by: Will Eisner
Special thanks to: Denis Kitchen
Cover Art: Darwyn Cooke
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

I don’t know where this story takes place in continuity exactly (or even whether or not it IS in-continuity). But thankfully, that doesn’t really seem to matter.

Essentially, we get a story opened by the meeting between Gordon and Dolan, and their discussion leads into us (as the readers) discovering the story of “How the Spirit met Batman…” The story itself doesn’t seem particularly deep, and actually evokes a classic Silver-age feel, when events were just taken at face-value, simplistic, silly, and new as they might be.

A bunch of Batman’s rogues and a bunch of the Spirit’s rogues get together; and it’s up to Batman and the Spirit to foil the baddies’ plans. While things are going on, the vigilantes’ confidantes are each ‘seduced,’ and play their own role in the story’s ending.

I know next to nothing about The Spirit as a character. I know that he was created by Will Eisner, and something about the creator adding the mask to please someone with a say over the character being published or not (someone correct me if I’m wrong). The character’s identity, supporting cast, rogues, adventures, and in-continuity history are a mystery to me. Batman, on the other hand, I do know.

One might expect that to detract from the story, but it doesn’t. I got the feeling that a lot of characters were almost analogues of one another, in the way that one could compare Green Arrow and Hawkeye, Aquaman and Namor, and so on. Given that, you need only really know one side or the other to “get” the most basic concept of characters, and have at least some idea of what they’re all about.
The art seems at points almost overly-simplistic at first glance, but that (like the story itself) lends beautifully to a “classic” feel. Additionally, upon slightly deeper examination, it reminds me of the “Animated DCU” visually, which lends further enjoyment and timelessness to this story.

Overall, the issue reads rather like an extra-length episode of Batman: The Animated Series…and for me, at least, that is far from a bad thing. Possibly the worst thing about this issue is the price. I looked past the price due to the novelty of these two characters being thrust together and wonder at how (or even if) this will have any play in the new The Spirit ongoing. Was it worth it? Yeah…I’d say so.

This is a fun read, not so completely hokey as to make one check the date in the indicia, but by no means as serious-toned as a lot of other recent stuff coming out of DC. I can’t speak to longtime/familiar fans of the Spirit, but just for knowing the Batman-side of things, this seems like quite the enjoyable, faithful sort of mushing together of two characters who’ve never (to my knowledge) met prior.

From the Archives: Batman – Streets of Gotham #1

batman_streets_of_gotham_0001Ignition!

Writer: Paul Dini
Penciller: Dustin Nguyen
Inker: Derek Fridolfs
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Steve Wands
Assoc. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Dustin Nguyen
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

This may be only the first issue of a new series…but it feels like something I’ve been reading for ages–and I mean that in a good way!
We open with Gotham’s police responding to an alarm to find Harley Quinn in civilian guise on the scene. Batman steps in, and we see Dick’s interaction with her (as well as an amusing bit from the new Robin, displaying his personality quite well). As the issue moves on, we’re introduced to Firefly and his latest scheme, as well as the interaction Batman has at present with Gordon and his police.

In some ways, this is a typical Batman comic. Then again, typical as it might be, there’s a whole lotta "new" under the top layer, as we have a new Batman, a new Robin, and with them whole new dynamics with existing characters (particularly Jim Gordon and the Gotham City police).

The writing is great stuff–Dini certainly knows his characters. I’ve enjoyed his issues of Detective Comics that I’ve read; and brought the expectation of that sort of enjoyment to this book. Thankfully, he delivers. Though not a focal point for the issue as a whole, the scene with Harley made the issue for me–I heard the character’s voice from the animated series in every word she spoke here, and it was a blast to read. She’s one of very few characters created for a tv show that I think works perfectly integrated into a comics universe afterward.

Nguyen on art is also a blast from the past–and still quite enjoyable. Some of the linework and shadows seem just a bit strange and over the top–but on the whole, a specific gritty, darker-but-not-too-dark tone is established that works really well for the book. The visuals are a bit stylized, and won’t appeal to everyone, though.

This series seems set to focus more on Gotham City and the things going on in the city and her people moreso than on Batman and Robin. That the two are the primary protectors of the city necessitate their appearance, but it seems we’ll get more of the GCPD in here, with Batman and Robin serving more of a well-noticed supporting role. While it’s no Gotham Central, this issue ges off to a good start, and has me interested in seeing more of the character interactions–almost more than finding out what happens after the cliffhanger.

Manhunter

Story Title: Strange Bedfellows
Writer: Marc Andreyko
Penciller: Georges Jeanty
Inker: Karl Story
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Colors: Nick Filardi
Assistant Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts

Manhunter/Kate Spencer moves to Gotham to take a new job. While we see her interacting with her new surroundings, we get flashbacks showing us what brought her to this point, giving context to the new status quo for the character.
Overall, I’m unfamiliar with the character, but for whatI’ve seen of her, this segment does not seem out of place. I’m not sure if the story here sums up what happened in the end of the ongoing singular-titled series or not, or if this story is simply the bridge from that series to the new status quo we’ll get as the co-feature in this title. Either way, the story’s simple, to-the-point, and not bad.

The art’s good, too. It’s not spectacular, but it is solid stuff and gets the story across with no trouble.

Whether the character was moved to Gotham because of the move to a co-feature in a title such as this I don’t know–but it works for me. All the more because we’ll get to see even MORE of Gotham through this character and her corner of things. The primary drawback is that with just under half a standard issue’s page-count, there’s less room to really get into the story–just as it gets moving, the segement concludes.
It’ll definitely be interesting to see the writer play with pacing given the page-count and whether or not–or how–it affects the story.

Like Blue Beetle in Booster Gold, this is another co-feature that actually feels worthwhile to me–I’ll probably never be thrilled paying $3.99 for a comic, but for the main story and the co-feature…this is a combo I can definitely handle for now.

From the Archives: Batgirl (2008) #1

batgirl(2009)0001Batgirl Rising part one: Point of New Origin

Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Penciller: Lee Garbett
Inker: Trevor Scott
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: John J. Hill
Asst. Editor: Harvey Richards
Editor: Michael Siglain
Cover: Phil Noto
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

This issue opens on an action sequence. Cars take off for a race no one can win, in a scam that has drawn Batgirl to the scene. While she deals with the criminal element, we see that Batman and Robin are keeping an eye on things. Batgirl removes her mask, and we find out who she is. As she goes about her everyday life, we get a flashback sequence that shows how she came by the costume and what led to the previous Batgirl vacating it. Meanwhile, Barbara Gordon spends some time with her dad as they adjust to living near one another again (a plot point begun this past spring in the Oracle mini-series during Battle for the Cowl). As Batgirl is once again drawn into action, we see that she has a long way to go to measure up to her own ideals. The issue closes with her meeting someone who’ll be either mentor or foe.
The issue’s art doesn’t blow me away–it’s good, solid stuff, but that’s something I really expect from any comic I read. I like that all the characters I know are recognizable visually and not just contextually. While I’m sure there are subtleties I’m not picking up on, for a new reader such as myself, the style works just fine and does what a comic’s art should do.

My only real complaint with the art is the structure of the cover. We’re shown the title character from the waist to nose, with an emphasis on her…feminine curves (where the outline of a bat–her personal logo–is situated). I assume the intent is simply to emphasize the character’s chest-emblem since we’re not supposed to know who is actually in the costume. Unfortunately, the outline of a bat around the word "Batgirl" denoting the comic’s title takes away from that…and makes it seem there’s a bit of emphasis on Batgirl’s chest.

The story itself isn’t bad, though it doesn’t have me all that excited about what’s to come. I’m mainly interested in seeing what’s to come with Barbara Gordon and how she handles the new Batgirl than I am Batgirl herself. I expect I’ll give this at least a couple more issues to really draw me in. If I were to decide from this first issue alone, I do think I’d give the series a pass for now and see if anything develops, then play catch-up if interested in the developments.

All in all, a solid first issue as first issues go…and it’s very much to the writer’s–or DC’s–or WHOEVER’s–credit that the "mystery" over "Who IS Batgirl?" has been more for the solicitations on the series than some point within the series itself. That we have the identity of this Batgirl on page 6 of the first issue (the title page of the issue) allows me the interest I’m sure I would NOT have had if the identity was kept secret from the readers.

If you’re interested in Barbara Gordon, or the Gotham characters in general, or just this side of the "bat-family," this issue is worth picking up–at the least it gives you the debut of a new Batgirl, context for her and potentially where she’s going, and you get to see Babs’ story continue and where that may lead in the near future.

From the Archives: The Atom and Hawkman #46

atom_and_hawkman_0046Bye Bye Birdie!

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ryan Sook & Fernando Pasarin
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Color: Hi Fi
Editors: Adam Schlagman & Eddie Berganza
Cover: Ryan Sook
The Atom/Ray Palmer and Hawkman created by: Gardner Fox
Published by: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

I’ve never been a huge fan specifically of these two characters, though I’m familiar with them and have read a number of comics they’ve appeared in. They’ve just tended to be on the outer edges of the books I read, showing up for the occasional guest-starring role or cameo, or as part of a team in a team book. I’d read the Return of Hawkman arc in JSA a few years back, and a few issues of his own series heading into Infinite Crisis. The Atom I feel I’m most familiar with from Identity Crisis, and material I’ve read online about both Ray and the new Atom and their adventures post-Infinite Crisis.

That said…this issue was quite enjoyable, rather accessible, and yet seems to have plenty for fans with ties to the characters going much deeper and much further back than mine.

In the "tradition" of many of the Blackest Night tie-ins, we open with a recap sequence of sorts, focusing on the character’s life, leading up to their death. This time, though, it’s a recap of the character’s compassion, and why Ray Palmer–The Atom–was chosen by the Indigo ring for recruitment into the Indigo Tribe. The Black Lantern Hawks (as Hawkman and Hawkgirl were killed and raised into the Black Lantern Corps way back in Blackest Night #1) then attack, and there’s the usual discourse between Black Lantern and Hero, as Hawkman tries to get Atom riled up and his heart ripe for the taking. As the fight wraps up for the present, Indigo-1 tasks Atom with protecting her–keeping her alive–while she contacts other Indigos across the universe who can reach the other Lantern Corps (so they know to get to Earth, where all the Black Lanterns are headed). While protecting Indigo-1, Atom is forced to recall the events that lead off Identity Crisis, as he again faces the horror of what Jean did to attempt to win him back. As the issue closes out, Ray makes an important request–one that seems quite obvious, and is something I would love to see accomplished.

This is definitely one of the better Blackest Night tie-ins. It seems that this issue’s events are more important and meaningful to the overall story than most of the tie-ins. While we do get some Atom/Hawkman interaction, it hardly seems like enough to satisfy expectation. It is, however, appropriate enough to an issue of a two-character book, as it’s natural that one or the other character may take more of a leading role, depending on the given story. As what is essentially a one-shot, though, it’s a bit misleading.

The issue having an important tie to the overall story is something that I suspect comes from this being written by Johns, essentially the orchestrator of Blackest Night in the grand scheme of things. The story touches on a number of elements–Ray’s role with the Indigos, a demonstration of what he can do with the Indigo ring, a confrontation with the Hawks, some resolution to things with Ray and setting a new course for the character–which makes for a very strong read. The recap at the beginning did more to clue me in on the past of the Atom than anything else I’d yet read (and I’m pretty sure answered my unasked question as to the premise of Sword of the Atom).

Sook‘s art is high quality as well, and does a great job of getting across the visual aspect of the story. It just fits the story, and worked very well for me.
All in all, a very strong one-shot issue within the Blackest Night arc. Though it remains to be seen how much–or what part(s) of this issue get recapped in the main mini…this seems to be a tie-in very much worth getting if you’re following Blackest Night, even if you’re not generally snagging the tie-ins.

Definitely recommended.

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