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.

Justice League Dark #1

 

Quote:
Old crooked witches’ teeth hurting Superman. That’s all wrong.

 

Some characters most recently (or not so recently in some cases) seen in the Vertigo line of comics now turn up in the newly rebooted DC universe. Shade, the Changing Man, Madame Xanadu and John Constantine all make appearances as do Zatanna and Deadman. All great characters but hard to see many of them working together as a team long term.

Some of the Justice League show up as well (Cyborg, Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman) just to prove that this is a DC book and not a Vertigo one and to show Superman being injured and being ineffectual against magic. The story is filled with mystery, madness and dark portents but is still in its early stages as only Madame Xanadu and Shade have hooked up and none of the team have come face to face with the adversary yet, the Enchantress.

This is only the second comic that I have read in the DC universe reboot (Swamp Thing was the other) and I have to say neither has knocked my socks off yet. This one was written by Peter Milligan (who wrote the nineties version of Shade, the Changing Man) and is no stranger to other Vertigo titles. I hope that he is let off the leash enough that he can bring some of that Vertigo sensibility to this book. The art by Spanish artist Mikel Janin is very good – clean and detailed.

I will give this book (and the Swamp Thing) a couple more months to see how the stories develop but I am slightly disappointed that they haven’t produced more of a bang for the launch of the new universe.

JLA: Riddle of the Beast (2001)

 

Quote:
And in the far north, Gotham Crags is a place of ghosts, lorded over by its insane ruler!

 

This is an original graphic novel written by the Scottish writer Alan Grant who has had a long career in comic books. He has co-written many times with John Wagner but probably most notably on Judge Dredd. he has had a long association with the British comic 2000AD also writing Strontium Dog and Judge Anderson amongst others. He had a great run writing Batman in the early 80s in Detective Comics and later Shadow of the Bat as well as the early Lobo mini-series. This book has a host of artists such as Carl Critchlow, Liam Sharp, Glenn Fabry, Gregg Staples and many more.

This book is an Elseworlds books – an occasional series of stories that place familiar DC heroes in unusual circumstances such as historical settings, being villains instead of heroes or with powers swapped with another hero. This book has a high fantasy setting. The World is at an uneasy peace after the defeat of the Beast but this peace is disturbed when the Riddler calls for Robin Drake and tells him of his visions of the return of the Beast and how he must reunite the peoples of the World to rise up against it. After the destruction of his village, Robin sets off on a quest, with the help of some others that he meets along the way such as Zatanna, the bird-like Hawkmen and a cat-faced Green Arrow, to visit the main regions of the World and try to convince them to put aside old enmities and accept that the Beast has returned.

This is a strange book. I wanted to like it as I usually like Alan Grant’s work but despite being a 100+ page long book the story felt rushed and lacked detail in places. The variety of artists meant that the book lacked cohesion and it was not clear why so it was felt that so many were needed to work on the book – although their work in the main was good and I like a lot of them in other works. A bit of an oddity but it might appeal if you are a fan of fantasy and are interested in this sort of mashup with familiar characters but it all lacked a certain spark of true originality for me, I’m afraid.

Batman: Private Casebook (2008)

 

Quote:
Next thing you know she’ll be trading in her top hat and fishnets for a cape and cowl. “Bat-anna”. It has a ring to it.

Batman: Private Casebook cover

 

 

This book collects Detective Comics 840 – 845 and a short tale from DC Infinite Halloween Special 1 that features Scarecrow and Zatanna. The book was written by Paul Dini (with one of the chapters written by Peter Milligan). The excellent art was by Dustin Nguyen with inks by Derek Fridolfs – both of whom have worked together on various Batman titles.

As the title would suggest, this is a collection of stories rather than a story arc itself. The stories feature some of Batman’s long time foes and colleagues such as Ra’s al Ghul, the Mad Hatter, Scarface (with a new ventriloquist), Zatanna and the Riddler. If the book has a theme then it probably one of manipulation and deceit – the Mad Hatter finds himself at the mercy of his own mind controlling technology; the new Ventriloquist is used by Scarface as a means of revenge against a small time criminal; Riddler’s eagerness to solve a series of crimes is used as a lure for the killer to exact revenge on him for past misdemeanours.

Although the individual stories were fine, I was slightly disappointed in this collection. The blurb on the back promises that “old secrets are revealed as the Dark Knight becomes haunted by his past” which would have been great but I got no sense of Batman feeling haunted or of any secrets being revealed. My favourite stories were probably the Riddler story and the two part Scarface story that also featured one of my favourite superheroines, Zatanna. I have not really been keeping up with all that has happened in the recent Batman continuity but one of the greatest surprises is the fact that the Riddler has given up a life of crime to become a private investigator – as also seen when I read the first volume of Gotham City Sirens recently. This story also reveals that Batman occasionally uses online crime forums to discuss cases and perhaps pick up new leads when he is feeling at a dead end.

Even though I enjoyed the stories I would probably recommend that this is a book to borrow from your library rather than buy. Unless they are complimentary to some other storyline within one of the Batman titles they don’t really hang together enough as a book for me.