Joker/Mask (2001)

“Wait! Where’s the SWAT team? I don’t see the SWAT team! I don’t even rate the SWAT team anymore.”

Joker/Mask is the collection of a four issue series from DC and Dark Horse. The story was written by Henry Gilroy with art from Ramon F. Bachs and Howard M. Shum. I have not seen the work of any of these creators before but Gilroy is a co-writer on the Star Wars: Clone Wars TV series among other animation series credits. Bachs is a Spanish artist who has worked on a number of Star Wars comics as well as some titles for Marvel and DC.  Shum is a writer on a number of titles as well as an artist.

The Joker decides to go to a museum and blow up an exhibition featuring frowning clown masks. However his day does not go well as the head henchman has sent the other henchmen to the wrong location and Harley Quinn has removed the detonators from all the explosives. But the henchman discovers a mask that gives the wearer a manic energy and superhuman powers. Wearing the mask, the Joker is able to beat Batman severely enough that he is out of action feared dead and the Joker is left free to pursue his insane agenda across Gotham while monopolising the television airwaves. Harley fears for the Joker and enlists Poison Ivy’s help to remove the mask from the Joker before he blows up Gotham for real.

This story features the Joker on maximum overdrive and overkill. Even Harley Quinn finds it hard to continue to love her Mister J and the Joker/Mask has to keep coming up with wilder and more extreme exploits to stop himself becoming bored with how easy committing crime is with super powers. While there is some really good comic moments in this book, the manic intensity of the Joker/Mask combination is sometimes too much for the reader as it is for the characters in the story. With the Joker/Mask as the main character throughout the book, the pressure to come up with gag after gag relentlessly is a perhaps a drag on the writing.

I liked the art from Bachs and Shum. It is very cartoony in style but fit in well with cartoon qualities of the Mask and the manifestation of his powers. There are even some lovely renderings of Poison Ivy as well.

A quick and cheerful read that won’t change your life but is worth a look if you can find it.

Camelot 3000 (1988)

“But no need to stand on ceremony. You may call me King Arthur!”

This book is a collection of the first comic book maxi-series, as claimed in the introduction by Don and Maggie Thompson. The series was written by Mike W. Barr who is probably best known for his writing on various Batman titles such as Batman and the Outsiders, the Year Two story in Detective Comics and the Son of the Demon graphic novel. The art was by British artist Brian Bolland who is more often associated, these days, with fabulous cover art but also worked on early Judge Dredd stories for 2000AD and DC’s The Killing Joke.

It is the year 3000 and Britain is under attack by relentless aliens from the solar system’s tenth planet. In it’s hour of need, King Arthur, it’s greatest defender, is reborn. His first act is to restore Merlin to his side followed by the reincarnations of his knights of the Round Table. They discover that Morgan le Fay is behind the alien attacks and so old conflicts are renewed.

I bought this book because it is one of the few examples of a comic series illustrated by Bolland whose work I love. Unfortunately the story did not match my expectations. For a comic that was DC’s first for mature readers, it felt very immature – let’s mix Arthurian legend with the future and an alien invasion and it’ll be cool. It seemed very thin and being stretched over twelve issues did not help. This book has not aged as well as some of it’s contemporaries from the mid eighties. It doesn’t help that a number of later comics, such as Fables, deal with the updating of mythological or fantasy characters much better.

But I came for the art and the art was good but it didn’t blow me away in the same way that his covers can do. Partly this is because it does not have the same detail as his work in black and white does – Bryan Talbot is another good example of someone whose work I prefer in black and white because so much more goes into it. I was also expecting more due to the problems that I know plagued this book as regards to deadlines however I don’t feel that it necessarily shows in the finished page. So all in all a bit of a disappointment – maybe you had to be there to appreciate it.

The Joker’s Last Laugh #1-6 (2001)

“Didn’t figure you for the prayin’ type, boss.”

“Why? Because I kill people and do really rotten things to puppies and kittens?”

My first digital comics read on my new tablet is this six part series from DC. The series writers were Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty. There were numerous artists on the series: Pete Woods; Andrew Pepoy; Marcos Martin; Mark Farmer; Alvaro Lopez; Walter McDaniel; Andy Kuhn; Ron Randall; Rick Burchett; Mark Lipka; Dan Davis.

While incarcerated at the Slabside Penitentiary, the Joker is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. He reacts by inciting a riot and using the prison’s own defences to “jokerize” the other inmates – may of whom are super-villains. Having created his own super-army, the Joker escapes and lets them loose upon the world hoping that he will be killed by an old friend before he dies.

The annoying thing about this series is that it is not self contained. And for a series featuring the Joker there is not nearly enough scenes in which he appears. The chaos caused by the Joker ripples throughout the DC Universe and some of the action takes place in other comics. This would be fine if the main series told its own story consistently but instead there are scene and plot changes between issues that are just not explained and so the story has unsatisfying holes in it. This is the reason I tend to avoid crossover events, and don’t read too many modern Marvel books where there constantly seems to a crossover happening. I hate the presumption of publishers that either readers are reading all their books or that they will stump up the extra to follow the story beyond a central series.

As I have already stated, the story is less a story about the Joker than it is about the victims of his cruelty. Oracle and Nightwing are the ones to suffer most throughout the story. Their moral stance on the Joker and his continued existence testing them and their relationship to the limit. This could have been a great story in the vein of The Killing Joke or A Death in the Family if it had been allowed to develop within its own pages with a consistent art team but the disjointed nature of the series ruins its emotional impact for me.

As I said at the start, this is my experience of digital comics and using a tablet to read them. In general my experience has been positive. I bought a 10″ Samsung tablet and the size of the visible screen is only slightly smaller than a standard comic page – which is important as I don’t like the directed zoom way of reading comics that can divorce the words from the images. A big plus is the regular sales on Comixology and Dark Horse Digital and, as there is a lot of old stuff I have still to pick up, I can wait for issues to be bundled or sold for 99 cents an issue. For example, the collection for this series is out of print and  I picked it up for $5.94 rather than the $30 which is the cheapest second hand copy on Amazon UK or Abe Books (once shipping is included). The only downside is the price of new comics that tend to be same price as the print version which has never seemed right to me for any digital media.

Penguin: Pain and Prejudice (2012)

“Mr. Cobblepot, sir. I-I’m glad you brought me here so I could apologize again in person. Of course, I’d never think to be rude to someone of your … … stature.”

Cover to Pain and Prejudice collection

This book collects the five issue mini-series of the same name and a one-shot Penguin story from the first Joker’s Asylum series. The main story was written by Gregg Hurwitz with art by Szymon Kudranski. Both are new to me but Hurwitz is a thriller writer who has also done some comic book work including Batman, Moon Knight, The Punisher and Wolverine. Kudranski is currently the artist on Spawn from Image comics. The short story was by writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Pearson.

The main story sees the Penguin doting over his frail mother and showering her with expensive gifts that have been brutally stolen from their owners. After her death, Oswald fills the lack of love in his life with the friendship of a blind woman who can love him back without judging him on his appearance. His idyll is shattered when Batman comes to call investigating the theft of various pieces of jewellery.

These stories show some of the background to the character of the Penguin. The boy and man that loved and was loved by his mother but who was reviled by his father and teased and victimised by his brothers. Someone who just wants to be accepted for who he is despite his appearance. The main story has more detail given that it is longer but the story rambles without much logic or direction as far as I am concerned. Being shorter, Aaron’s story is much tighter and tells a similar tale of teasing and abuse creating a manipulative monster in adulthood. I liked the art by Kudranski without being blown away but some of his work on Spawn, as highlighted on his blog, is truly spectacular.

JLA: Tower of Babel (2001)

 

Quote:
“And as for the most persistent thorn in our side, the Detective … well … distracting him was so obvious a matter, I cannot believe I never thought of it before.”

 

This book collects JLA #42-46 and material from JLA Secret Files 3 and JLA 80-page Giant 1. The main story was by Mark Waid who has worked as a writer on most of the major characters from both DC and Marvel. The book also features a host of pencillers and inkers but the principle story was drawn by Howard Porter and Drew Geraci, in the main.

The main story has Batman investigating the disappearance of his parents after their graves were desecrated by Ra’s al Ghul who implements Batman’s contingency plan to incapacitate the other members of the Justice League. With the Justice League incapacitated or distracted Ra’s is free to pursue his agenda to escalate tensions in the Middle East.

The other stories in this book feature a gang trying to frame Superman for a murder in Gotham, Aquaman inadvertently revealing too much about his feelings for Wonder Woman on a rescue mission and the Atom discovering a bacterial civilisation manifesting as a tumour in a boy’s brain – a civilisation doomed to self-destruction that has a deep resonance for Superman.

The main story is an examination of the paranoia of Batman and the schemes he is prepared to consider, against his friends and colleagues, to ensure that each member of the JLA can be held accountable for their actions and brought to justice if necessary. When his schemes are turned into actions against the members of the Justice League, they must consider how far they can trust a man that does not have faith in them and whether they can continue to work with him knowing that he is constantly judging them. The only slight niggle I have with an otherwise great book is that there are a lot of artists used and even the main story has an interlude with guest artists as does the final chapter of the story – is it too much to hope that a creative team can see out a four or five page story without chopping and changing. A good story that would seem to have ripples that affect not only Batman’s relationship with the JLA but also those of his close companions within their respective teams.

Batman: Gates of Gotham (2012)

[ Listening to Spiritualized Currently: Listening to Spiritualized ]

Quote:
I have to admit – I’m not impressed.

 

This book collects the five issue Gates of Gotham mini-series. It has a number of creators involved. The story was by Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins with the dialogue by Kyle Higgins with Ryan Parrott on the last three issues. The art was mainly by Trevor McCarthy except for issue 4 where the art was by Dustin Nguyen and Derec Donovan.

Batman has to deal with a bombing campaign in Gotham targeted at landmarks associated with the founding families of the city – the Waynes, Elliots and Cobblepots. With Robin, Red Robin and Black Bat all helping, Batman discovers a vendetta that stretches back to the end of the 19th century when the expansion of the city was at its height. He must stop the bomber before half the city is destroyed by floods.

This story is set before the DC universe reboot and is set after Batman: RIP and after Bruce Wayne’s return and the set up of world wide Batman franchises. So it features Dick Grayson as Batman with Bruce’s son Damien as Robin. And this is one of the problems of this book for me. Yes Bruce Wayne was always going to be a tough act to follow as Batman but you would think that if anyone could pull it off it would be his one time protege, Dick Grayson. Not only did he train under Batman in his time as Robin but he moved on and became a hero in his own right. However, in this story he is almost crippled by self-doubt and would be lost without Tim Drake to help him crack the case – of course he is not helped by the bitter Robin criticising him at every turn. Also the story, despite having four writers working on it, is just not very inspiring – the plot is pedestrian and the new villain boring and formulaic. All in all a bit of a disappointment. The only real bright spot was the art by Trevor McCarthy, whose work I have not seen before but enjoyed looking at here – though why they took an issue away from him is beyond me.

Batman: Through the Looking Glass (2011)

 

Quote:
“Now here’s a rare beauty! Divinely Holmesian! Don’t you agree, detective?”

“If I were stalking deer.”

 

This is an original graphic novel featuring Batman and (surprise, surprise) the Mad Hatter. It was written by Bruce Jones whose only other work I have read was a Deadman series for Vertigo though he has written other things for DC and Marvel – probably most notably on The Incredible Hulk. The art was by Sam Kieth the creator of the Maxx and Zero Girl but who I first came across on the Epicurus the Sage books and most lately on the Arkham Asylum: Madness graphic novel.

The story is set in the days when Dick Grayson was Robin and seems to feature the first meeting of Batman with the Mad Hatter. When Batman starts seeing visions of white rabbits and a long dead childhood friend, Alfred becomes concerned but when Batman then chases after them into the sewers below Wayne Manor both Alfred and Robin must hunt him down and prevent him hurting himself or others. Meanwhile Batman is living through visions of Wonderland populated by people he was dining with just the night before. How does the hallucination and reality coincide and how does it relate to the murder of a fellow dinner guest from the previous evening.

Like all these kinds of books based on other works, there is some shoe horning going on to make the two universes fit. In this case it is noticeable in the character names: e.g. Claude Lapin Blanc who is assistant to Judge Rosalyn Hart; murder victim Dunphrey Tweedle and his twin brother Denham (“Please call me Dee”); minder Jimmie Cheshire; council members Dennis Carpenter and Dave Russwall. The concept would have been fine as a five part mini-series – as it looks like it might have been first conceived from the pin-ups in the back of the book that look like covers – but is over-valued as an original hardback book.

The story is fairly standard fare concerning political corruption to ensure a new building project goes ahead. The introduction of the Mad Hatter as the villain, running interference by introducing a hallucinogen, allows the introduction of the Wonderland motif but it is not enough to raise the story beyond its uninspired plotting. The art is a big disappointment for me in this book. Kieth has done some great art on Batman and related books in the past and I was looking forward to more here. However there was too much cartoony art and it really looked like not much effort had been put into it – Robin is particularly badly drawn in this book and I can’t imagine many shots of him making their way into his fan blog.

 

Quote:
I consider it a brave failure …

 

The above quote is from Kieth in the afterward to Arkham Asylum: Madness and though I liked the art in that book – there are some great portrayals of the Joker – Kieth’s seeming dismissal of his own work left a rather sour taste at the end of it. So this is the second time that I have felt cheated by Kieth’s work. If you are going to produce an original hardback comic book and charge $20, or more in the case of this book, for it then I think as a fan you are entitled to expect something a bit special. Unfortunately, as far as I am concerned, this book falls way short of special in both the art and the writing. I will think long and hard about any future purchases of Kieth’s books.

Catwoman: When in Rome (2005)

 

Quote:
You can keep asking questions. As long as you understand you may not like the answers.

 

This book collects the six issue mini-series of the same name and tells the story of the investigations of Catwoman when she disappeared from Gotham as mentioned in The Long Halloween. The book is by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale the creative team behind DC’s The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, Superman for all Seasons and Marvel’s colour series: Daredevil: Yellow, Spider-man: Blue, Hulk: Gray and a book that sadly looks like it won’t be coming out now Captain America: White.

The story finds Catwoman in Rome looking for evidence to prove whether or not her father is Gotham crime boss Carmine Falcone. Accompanied by Edward Nigma and a mafia hitman minder, Christopher “The Blond” Castillo, she soon finds herself having to steal the Mafia equivalent of the one ring from the Vatican. In her travels echoes of Gotham travel with her as a mafia boss is murdered with the Joker’s poison; she finds herself under attack from Mr Freeze’s gun and the villainess Cheetah who seems to have followed her from Gotham. And what is the meaning of the strange dreams she has of Batman that haunt her throughout the trip.

The partnership of Loeb and Sale has produced some great series, as listed above. This one is a reasonable effort but I think it suffers from being an afterthought to a subplot in The Long Halloween. If I had re-read The Long Halloween before reading this one then I might have felt differently but I don’t think there is enough plot of substance here for a casual reader, or even a fan of Catwoman herself, who had not read the previous series. If you are a fan of Sale’s art then it is worth having a look for that reason – there are some very nice examples including the wonderful covers (based on the work of René Gruau) to the original mini-series.

Batman: Under the Hood Volume 2 (2006)

 

Quote:
One son returns from the grave as another enters it. What a fitting ending this has become.

 

This book collects Batman 645 to 650 and Batman Annual 25 and was again written by Judd Winick continuing the story he started in volume 1. The art duties were carried out by a number of pencillers (3) and inkers (5).

Batman has come to accept that Jason Todd has returned from the dead – if he even was dead as the coffin appears unused. The trouble is that the Red Hood continues to spoil the Black Mask’s crime operations with little regard for the lives of the criminals involved. Batman must choose whether or not to help Jason when members of the Society are sent after him. Meanwhile, Jason is holding the Joker hostage as a pawn in a game where he confronts Batman about his moral code.

I loved the bulk of this book, the issues taken from the main series, and the continuing story of Jason Todd’s quest for answers as to why Batman has allowed the Joker to continue to live. I am slightly conflicted in the bringing back of characters from the dead. I was collecting the Bat-books back when the Death in the Family story line was running and there is a part of me that does not want the emotional investment that was made at that time discarded for a cheap thrill now. The portion of the story taken from the Batman Annual that explains how Jason is still alive is the weakest part of the book – there is a big Deus ex Machina involved and I never like that. I feel they could have come up with something better and, as they had to use a resurrection pit anyway, maybe Talia and Ra’s Al Ghul could have hatched some scheme that would have had the same result. Anyway I did enjoy the two books enormously – I just wish that the companies could commit to killing off characters permanently.

Batman: Under the Hood (2005)

 

Quote:
I think about when he was younger. When I was younger. It was a different time. Simpler. And … I miss it. I miss those days. For that … It’s hard to be around him.

 

This book collects Batman 635 to 641 and was written by Judd Winick who wrote the enjoyable Blood + Water for Vertigo. The pencillers were Doug Mahnke and Paul Lee with inks by Tom Nguyen and Paul Smith.

With the Black Mask settling down to rule Gotham’s underworld, a new player in the form of the Red Hood comes to town to disrupt his operations. Batman encounters the Red Hood and despite himself is impressed with his training while thinking that it looks all too familiar. His thoughts on recently deceased partners and colleagues cause him to seek out heroes that have returned from the dead in search of answers that he cannot accept.

Another great story from Winick featuring cameos from Nightwing, Green Arrow, Zatanna and Superman. It also has some cameos from the villains, Mr Freeze, the Joker and Amazo. If you don’t know who the Red Hood is before reading this book then you should know before the reveal as it is telegraphed pretty heavily throughout the book – with the themes of regret over lost colleagues and heroes returning from the dead. But despite that it is a fun story and well worth a read. The art is good too and reminds me at times of Frank Quitely and other times of Steve Dillon with a touch of Paul Gulacy thrown into the mix too.