Tag Archives: Batman

Today’s Super Comic — Batman #329 (1980)

Batman: The Animated Series got many things right (pretty much everything, come to think of it), but the series’ most important strength was its characterization of Batman and his various foes. The Batman we saw in that cartoon most closely resembles the Batman of the 1970s and early 1980s, before some writers felt the need to justify his crimefighting lifestyle by making him seem borderline insane or just plain rude. Batman can be driven without being a jerk.

Batman #329 is a good example, in which we see Batman going above and beyond to not merely apprehend Two-Face, but also to try to save his soul. Batman remembers his friendship with Harvey Dent, and he believes there’s still a good man trapped beneath those scars, a good man who just needs help getting free.

Which brings us to another facet the animates series got right—some of Batman’s villains have villains of their own. Another person’s criminal actions push them off the deep end into villainy. Evil deeds beget evil deeds. This doesn’t let the villains off the hook for their crimes, but their own victimization creates sympathy and opens the door for possible rehabilitation down the line, if only they’d get out of their own way.

Two-Face falls into this category. As a crusading district attorney, he ended up a casualty in the war against crime, scarred both physically and mentally by one of the criminals he was trying to put behind bars.

That’s always added extra depth to the best Batman vs. Two-Face conflicts, and in #329 we see Batman allowing himself to be captured in a courtroom and held at the point of a gun so he can try to remind Two-Face of who he used to be. Dent’s ex-wife Gilda joins the effort, forcing Two-Face to choose between her and his coin—the sort of binary choice Two-Face would normally love, but one where his coin will be of no help.

This issue was not among those adapted by the animated series (as far as I recall), but it feels like it would have fit right in. It certainly captures the spirit of a heroic Batman who wants to save everyone, including his enemies.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Artists: Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin

Cover: Jim Aparo

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #3 (2004)

DC: The New Frontier puts the Martian Manhunter to excellent use—in my opinion, his best ever, which the book accomplishes by going back to the character’s core concept.

There’s a lot going on in issue #3, including perhaps too much exposition, and we check in with quite a few characters. The standout moments involve J’onn J’onzz as he continues adapting to his new life on a new world, among people he fears would fear him if they knew what he truly was.

A newsreel of the newly formed Challengers of the Unknown plants the seed of an idea—perhaps the good J’onn can do isn’t limited to his work as police detective John Jones. But then an encounter with a distrustful Batman, who knows his weakness, reminds him of everything he has to fear.

Though the Martian’s presence on Earth isn’t public knowledge, the U.S. government is aware that the alien is out there somewhere, prompting a mission to Mars to determine whether the planet is a threat. That mission, still in the works, has recruited Col. Rick Flagg of the so-called Suicide Squad and Hal Jordan—two men both psychologically scarred by previous wartime experiences.

And that’s the true brilliance of the story, which can appear rather episodic at first glance—it explores the balance between fear and courage, and paranoia and aspiration. The various threads all tie into that central theme somehow. The theme is perfect for the superhero genre, and it especially fits the characters of J’onn J’onzz and Hal Jordan—the former because of his “stranger in a strange land” status, and the latter because of his reputation for fearlessness that’s always begged the question of what’s motivating that bravery.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — DC: The New Frontier #2 (2004)

The second issue of DC: The New Frontier continues setting the mood in this 1950s reimagining of the DC Universe, and it’s an opportunity to admire Darwyn Cooke’s art as being among the greatest of his generation. His work synthesizes various classic elements into something that feels familiar but also new, fresh, and exciting.

Superman looks like he flew out of a 1940s Max Fleischer cartoon. Batman wears the original Bob Kane design, rendered by way of a Bruce Timm Batman: The Animated Series influence. Wonder Woman lacks a quintessential cartoon version, which allows Cooke to put more of his own stamp on her design. In an inspired touch, he makes her a true Amazon, taller than even Superman.

The Flash is a kinetic figure with a large head to denote his scientific intellect. J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, appears unsettling and creepy but without any malice in his native form, and his human form, Detective John Jones, is the archetypal movie detective.

The events are fairly episodic at this point, but they tie together thematically, all pointing toward changing times. The Martian Manhunter, ripped away from Mars, is trying to fit into a new world. Superman and Wonder Woman verbally spar over newfound ideological differences, not unlike how they did in Kingdom Come. Batman begins to realize that his appearance is frightening to more than just criminals. The Flash is still adjusting to his new powers and new super-heroic lifestyle.

And Hal Jordan, our ostensible protagonist, has difficulty readjusting to civilian life after the Korean War, and his guilt over killing an enemy soldier drives him to take the sort of fearless risks that will soon get him noticed by a certain intergalactic police corps, one with an affinity for emerald jewelry.

If you’re a DC fan, this series is a love letter to all your favorite characters (including many I haven’t mentioned here), and the early Cold War setting grounds it with substance.

Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comics — JLA #43-46 (2000)

In which it’s confirmed that the Justice League’s most dangerous member is…Batman.

Mark Waid took over the writing on JLA with #43, and he kicked off with a superb four-part storyline that pitted the team against Ra’s al Ghul at his smartest. Ra’s, with his focus on reducing the global population in order to “save” the planet, is a great choice for a JLA foe, and his scheme here is a clever one—broadcasting a signal that interferes with the brain’s ability to comprehend the written word and, later, the spoken word. Rid humanity of language, and the resulting disasters will thin out the population in no time.

He knows beforehand the JLA will oppose him, and he’s not overly familiar with most of the members, except for Batman. And he’s well aware of Batman’s weaknesses.

The plot gets going right away when Bruce Wayne discovers his parents’ coffins have been stolen, which is a perfect way to keep Batman distracted for a while. Then Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter Talia and his men proceed to enact Batman’s emergency protocols against each member of the JLA, one at a time. Turns out Batman has maintained files on how to non-lethally incapacitate his teammates, such as dosing Aquaman with a fear toxin to make him terrified of water and making the Martian Manhunter flammable. Secretive soul that he is, Batman has neglected to ever mention this project to any of his teammates who have placed their trust in him.

That’s the true brilliance of Waid’s story—the main obstacle to thwarting a global threat is a protagonist’s own fatal flaw. It’s a great way to keep character at the center of the story without interfering with the stars’ respective solo series.

And didn’t I just recently say that Batman was a jerk during this time? See?

Writer: Mark Waid

Pencilers: Howard Porter and Steve Scott

Inkers: Drew Geraci and Mark Propst

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Detective Comics #745 (2000)

The various Batman titles found renewed focus and creativity after the lengthy “No Man’s Land” arc (and during it, as I covered a few days ago). The different series had basically melded into a weekly book during that saga, but each one reclaimed a distinct identity afterward.

Detective Comics, naturally, focused on Batman as a master detective—an important facet of the character that’s much harder to pull off than the standard super-heroic action/adventure, and therefore much more rewarding when it’s pulled off well. And writer Greg Rucka pulled it off brilliantly, aided by excellent artist Shawn Martinbrough and an interesting coloring scheme.

During this period, the creators opted to forgo the full range of colors and cast the book in black, white, shades of gray, shades of red, and various flesh tones. It was a clever decision that gave the book a unique visual identity, and it served the somewhat noir-ish tone (Bat-noir?). The reds pop off the page, making every appearance of blood all the more striking and every scarlet sky just eerie enough.

The story is solid and well thought out. Issue #745 is in the middle of the first storyline, and Gotham City has recently reopened for business—including criminal business, of course. We meet a new villain, Whisper A’Daire, who’s making moves among the city’s most and least respectable residents. She’s somehow associated with Ra’s al Ghul, and for some reason part of her skin has scales. And she’s already arranged to have people killed. So basically, the world’s greatest detective has work to do.

Writing and art joined forces to create a memorable era for Batman and Detective Comics, one that struck a mature tone while keeping everything PG-13.

Writer: Greg Rucka

Pencilers: Shawn Martinbrough and John Watkiss

Inker: Steve Mitchell

Cover: Dave Johnson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #125 (2000)

The Batman books attempted an ambitious storyline that wrecked the status quo and crossed over every Bat-title for a year. On the whole, the result was successful.

Prior to “No Man’s Land,” an earthquake had practically destroyed Gotham City, and the U.S. government decided to condemn the city and isolate it from the rest of the country. People had a window of time to evacuate, and those who stayed behind would be stuck in a lawless land.

You have to suspend quite a bit of disbelief for the premise, but once you get past that, it’s a great set-up for a year of Batman stories unlike any other. The villains carve out their respective territories to lord over, while the remnants of the Gotham City Police Department, no longer with any legal authority, try to impose order and protect the innocents left behind, with Jim Gordon serving more in a general role than a police commissioner role. And Batman is initially AWOL for reasons known only to him.

Throughout the long arc, resentment and tensions build between Batman and Gordon, and they come to a head in Legends of the Dark Knight #125, which is basically just a conversation between the two.

It’s an excellent conversation, one that was years in the making, with Gordon finally calling Batman out for acting like a jerk—treating him like a subordinate, leaving him in the dark about major events, and frequently walking out on him in mid-sentence. It was long overdue, and Batman’s response is meaningful…as is Gordon’s response to that response.

Batman may be the title character, but for this storyline, Gordon provides the emotional core and serves as the most compelling protagonist. A good man who has dedicated his life to upholding the law finds himself in a lawless situation and must make difficult, ethically murky choices along the way. That’s great stuff right there.

And yeah, Batman really was a jerk at this point in his history.

By the way, the “No Man’s Land” novelization by Greg Rucka is also excellent. There’s more than enough going on here to fill a novel.

Writer: Greg Rucka

Penciler: Rick Burchett

Inker: James Hodgkins

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman: No Man’s Land vol. 4 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Detective Comics #934-940 (2016)

Hey, look—the original numbering is back. Welcome back, triple-digit numbers.

The numbering is old, but the direction is new. Detective Comics becomes a team book beginning with issue #934, with Batman and Batwoman as co-leads. They gather the next generation of Gotham-based crimefighters, seeking to train them to face an oncoming threat.

The recruits are all familiar faces (though I’m more familiar with their pre–New 52 versions): Tim Drake, here as Red Robin instead of just Robin (not sure what the distinction is, other than the very first Robin of olde-timey continuity grew up into Red Robin, but in-story, the “Red” seems a random addition); Cassandra Cain, Orphan (she was the second Batgirl in previous continuity); Stephanie Brown, Spoiler (the third Batgirl in previous continuity); and, quite randomly, a reformed Clayface (it feels like that old Sesame Street game—one of these things just doesn’t belong here; but I like the idea of Batman wanting to help an old foe turn his life around).

It’s a good team, and they face a compelling antagonist. The U.S. military (or at least one rogue contingent within) has decided to duplicate Batman’s techniques, methods, and equipment to create an army of Batmen. If one Batman can accomplish so much good in Gotham, how much good could many Batmen accomplish in military situations across the globe?

I don’t usually care for casting the military as villains, but this turns out to be an exception. There aren’t any mustache-twirling villains here. They have legitimate concerns about national security, and trying to learn from Batman is certainly not a bad idea, but they go way too far, to the point of endangering the innocents they want to protect. To make things more interesting, the colonel in charge of this operation is Batwoman’s father and Batman’s uncle, adding personal dimensions to the conflict.

The team nature of the book humanizes Batman a bit, giving him more opportunities than usual to display genuine emotion—especially after what happens in #940. I’ll be back for the second volume.

This might be the strongest DC Rebirth trade I’ve read yet, and they’ve all been good (so far, though I probably just jinxed it…sorry about that).

Writer: James Tynion IV

Artists: Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Batman: Detective Comics vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Nightwing #8 (2016)

Bruce Wayne plays the damsel in distress in Nightwing #8, in which we learn some backstory about Dick Grayson’s family as Nightwing confronts his own personal Severus Snape.

It makes perfect sense to mine the Grayson family history for story possibilities. After all, they were nomadic circus performers. There’s bound to be some interesting backstory there. In hindsight, I’m surprised more writers haven’t exploited it.

Raptor, a vigilante who knew Mary Grayson before she was Mary Grayson, captures Bruce and puts him in a death trap for “ruining” Dick with his life of wealth and privilege, and Dick learns new details about his late mother while trying to save his second father. And, without getting into specifics, I appreciate that writer Tim Seeley opts to present Raptor more as a Snape figure than a Darth Vader figure, because the latter would have been far more clichéd and far less compelling at this point.

But as written, Raptor has strong, interesting motivation that makes him a welcome antagonist for Nightwing. He’s the sort of father figure Dick could have had if Batman hadn’t stepped in, and his present intrusion into their lives underscores how Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson have been saving each other’s souls as well as their lives since their partnership began all those years ago.

Another winner for DC Rebirth. It’s been one heck of a second wind for the company.

Writer: Tim Seeley

Artist: Javier Fernandez

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Nightwing vol. 1: Better Than Batman (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Solo #1 (2004)

Anthology series are a tough sell. It’s much easier to get invested in ongoing sagas than short stories (and comic book short stories are super-short). I’m plenty guilty of overlooking them, even knowing full well the gems that may be hidden within.

But I actually did pick up one anthology book when it was new—the first issue of DC Comics’ Solo. The series was designed to spotlight the talents of renowned comics artists, and each issue “starred” a single such artist. Tim Sale headlined issue #1, joined by writers Darwyn Cooke, Diana Schutz, Jeph Loeb, and Brian Azzarello (and Sale did some of the writing himself).

The issue’s stories span genres, from superhero to noir to ordinary slice-of-life, but they’re all love stories in their own way. Catwoman takes Batman on a “date” by having him chase her across Gotham, though she’s actually chasing him. Supergirl recalls her first love. Martha Kent narrates a story about Clark trying to be a good person on his prom night. A hitman remembers a dead lover and his current loneliness. And so on.

Throughout the book, Sale demonstrates the range of his talents, bringing kinetic energy to Catwoman and Batman’s “dance” across the city, innocence and sadness to Supergirl, quiet grandeur to a young Clark Kent, pervasive bleakness to a hitman, and more.

“Solo” may be a misnomer, given all the talent helping out. Name aside, though, it’s a solid anthology that allows you to appreciate not only the storytelling possibilities of the artist, but of the comic book medium in general.

Of course, foolish me, I never picked up another issue, and DC cancelled it after #12. (Clearly it’s all my fault…or DC’s for setting the price tag at $4.95. Probably the latter.)

Writers: Darwyn Cooke, Diana Schutz, Jeph Loeb, and Brian Azzarello

Artist: Tim Sale

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Solo: The Deluxe Edition (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Catwoman #1 (2002)

Here’s a time it actually made sense to start over with a new issue #1. When writer Ed Brubaker and artist Darwyn Cooke (both incredible talents) took over Catwoman, they injected a mature tone into the book and set Selina Kyle on a fresh course.

She’s been presumed dead for the past six months, so now it’s time to figure out what to do with her life. She laments how self-serving she had become, but she’s not quite sure what that makes her at present. As she observes Batman in action against the Riddler, she realizes how she doesn’t belong in his world of good against evil; her territory is “between right and wrong.”

Catwoman and Batman have a nice moment together on a rooftop, and the dialogue further sharpens their differences:

Batman: No matter what, I believe that deep down, you’re really a good person. Don’t you think so?

Catwoman: Sometimes…yeah, sometimes I do…but I think it’s just a lot more complicated than that.

(As a side note, it’s always nice when a Catwoman/Batman rooftop scene in a Catwoman #1 manages not to devolve into gratuitous sex to “shock” us or show off how “adult” it is. I try to stay positive here, but that poor decision in the New 52 series deserves the jab. So…sorry/not sorry. But as I said, Brubaker and Cooke bring a mature tone to this book.)

Catwoman, when handled properly, is a complex character. Her many shades of grey give her the potential to surpass Batman as a compelling protagonist. And this particular #1 kicks off the finest set of Catwoman comics I’ve ever read.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Inker: Mike Allred

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Catwoman vol. 1: Trail of the Catwoman (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up