Charles Dickens… meet Batman!

One of the most beautiful graphic novels of the year has got to be Batman: Noel by Lee Bermejo.  What’s most intriguing about this title is that it loosely follows Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for its plotline.  In the same kind of time-hopping journey that Scrooge undertakes on Christmas Eve, Batman must deal with issues surrounding villains and compatriots past and present in his own journey to deal with his own ever-present foe – more pressing on Batman than death itself – the Joker.  What makes this book so truly special, as I mentioned at the outset, is Bermejo’s art.  For those of you who read The Joker (2008) by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Bermejo, you’ll know just how dynamic and memorable his work can be.  I’ve read this book twice, now, but I’ve looked at it five or six times.  Every page is filled with exquisite detail, shadowy impressions, and the lingering effects make you with more comics were of this quality.  Check it out.

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Arkham Reborn

Upon the disappearance of Bruce Wayne and the great Dark Knight, there was a giant upheaval in the force… no wait, wrong story arc.

During the interval of Bruce Wayne being lost in time and Dick Grayson taking over the mantle of the Bat, there was a miniseries called Battle For the Cowl, which dealt with the Bat-family and Gotham City as they made their way through the interval.  One of the most interesting stories in that period dealt with Arkham Asylum, the infamous stomping ground for Batman’s rogues gallery.  The asylum was recently destroyed, and this series focuses on Jeremiah Arkham’s attempt to rebuild it as less of a prison and more of a rehabilitation center.  Of course, the “patients” are still as unpredictable and insane as ever, but this time the motives of Arkham are brought into question, and create a real balance between the inmates and the physician.  There are some interesting new characters here, the artwork by Jeremy Haun is clean and creepy, and there’s always something nice about a Batman related tale that only features the big guy in a peripheral kind of way.  I like learning more about the world he inhabits, or the world that revolves around him.  Either way, it’s a cool story, and an interesting chapter in the history of Arkham.

The DC relaunch

I’ll be brief today, as this isn’t a post about a new title on our shelves, but a little plug/mention of something going on over at DC Comics that’s sure to shake things up a little bit.  If you haven’t already heard, DC is relaunching all of its current titles with an issue #1, while also adding some new series, or reviving a few favorites that haven’t been around for a while (here’s my personal plug for the new Swamp Thing which I hope will be awesome).  DC and Marvel have both tried a few gimmicks over the years to try and boost interest in their characters, and the relaunch is being touted as the perfect jumping on point for new readers, as these “new series” are going to not-so-much clear the decks and start anew, but simply provide new storylines that feature a more streamlined structure.  Many of the characters have had some tweaks to their costumes – most notably Superman’s red shorts are gone and Wonder Woman now has skin-tight pants instead of the bare legs and boots look – but superficial changes are easier to digest than the idea that Detective Comics won’t continue after #881 (having been published continually since 1937!), and will simply start fresh with a #1.  That is, admittedly for a certain type of comic-geek (myself most certainly included), a little unsettling.  The quality of the storytelling will decide whether this is a good move or not, and while I know that many of the titles being reintroduced probably won’t last more than a year or two, a life without Batman just doesn’t work for me.  So I’ll have to go along.  Seeing Barbara Gordon back as Batgirl with the full use of her legs for the first time since 1988’s The Killing Joke, on the other hand, will be a little hard to swallow.  Oracle is one of the fundamentally strongest characters in the DCU, and I’m sure more than a few of the characters in the DCU could have restored Barbara’s ability to walk at some point.  Why know?  We’ll just have to wait and see.  But I can guarantee I’ll be reading Batgirl #1.  As for #2…

The Batman Annuals… old school crusader!

I like the Dark Knight as much as the next guy (okay, probably more), but I LOVE the old school Batman in his earlier incarnations, especially the absolutely wacky days of the 1960’s and DC’s giant-sized annuals.  DC has recently begun to publish their ’60’s period material in beautiful hardcover editions called the DC Comics Classics Library, and two of the ones we own are the Batman Annuals, volumes 1 & 2.  I’m partial to the second collection, as it has an old-time favorite for me, Batman Annual #5, and “The Strange Lives of Batman & Robin.”  Here we have The Merman Batman, where Batman becomes a human fish and must walk around with a Mr. Freeze-like helmet on so he can breathe through the water in the tank!  And then there’s Zebra Batman and Rip Van Batman – basically a whole collection of really funny-because-they’re-so-earnest stories.  This is classic fun, full of giant props, loony villains, and a Batman that was still able to smile a lot of the time.  A whole other time, a whole other Batman, but a heck of a ride!

Catwoman dies… or wishes she did

In my personal world of comic and graphic novel collecting, my main focus is, and has always been, Batman.  I’ve filtered out into the Bat-Universe every so often, but it usually comes back to the big guy.  The one Gotham-related series I have always adored, however, is Catwoman.  Writers like Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke and, more recently, Will Pfeifer have done marvelous work with the great Selina Kyle, and I would recommend all of it.

The Brubaker stories held more to her cat-burgling past, with tinges of crime noir, while the more recent Pfeifer stories brought her closer to her super-villain connections, battling such crazies as Hammer & Sickle and Black Mask.  If you could, I’d start with the reboot from 2002 Catwoman: The Dark End of the Street, mainly so you could build your way up to the 7th volume in that series, Catwoman Dies.  I’m a serious sucker for emotional scenes in books or films – hey, I cry at Campbell’s soup commercials – so the conclusion of Catwoman Dies is one of my favorite resolutions in all of comics, probably because I cared so much about the character.

If you love comics, and the fun and crazy rides they can take us on, pick up the Catwoman cycle and take the ride, yourself!

Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond!

Back in 1999, a really interesting development happened in the Batman Universe.  An animated television show debuted that took place in the future as a long retired Bruce Wayne began – unwillingly at first – to mentor a young man named Terry McGinnis as the new Batman.  Batman Beyond ran for about three years, but the storyline also had a life in comic form, and a great new version has just hit the shelves with Batman Beyond: Beyond Hush.

This is a 6-issue arc that finds Terry and Bruce battling one of Batman’s greatest foes, Hush (if you’ve never read the original Hush miniseries by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, run don’t walk…).  I’m not going to spoil anything by relating the plot, but what I love about this arc is that the original Beyond stemmed from an animated show aimed at kids – Terry McGinnis is the first teenage incarnation of Batman, after all – so the art and the storylines were a little more kid-friendly, for lack of a better phrase.  Beyond was always a little darker than the other animated versions, since Bruce Wayne was older, a little bitter, and there seemed to be a darker more emotional tone to some of the stories, but it was still essentially for kids.  This new incarnation by Adam Beechen shows the characters in a darker, more standard Batman-mythos style, and I love it for that.  There are lots of cameos or major appearances by all your favorite Bat-family characters, and it’s just a great overall read.

If you’re a Batman fan and have never read the animated spin-off titles – like Batman Adventures or Beyond – this is a great place to start.  Batman Beyond is now an ongoing series, so there should be a lot more things to look forward to in the future.

The return of Bruce Wayne

The long, dark tea-time of the soul is finally over for Gotham City’s dark knight, and Bruce Wayne has finally returned from his time-hopping adventures.

One of the greatest attributes of Batman has always been – in my opinion – his humanity.  He’s not an alien or a god (like Superman or Wonder Woman), and he wasn’t mutated by some strange accident to give him his powers; Bruce Wayne chose to become Batman, and his humanity and mortality are present in everything he does.  Unless of course Grant Morrison – the famous and/or infamous writer of this series – sends him back to the days of the Neanderthal and forces him to bounce around through time and history to come back to the Gotham City of 2011.  The artwork of the 6-issues in this series is wonderful, as a different artist worked on each issue, giving each time frame its own unique look.  The story is essential reading for any fan of the Bat-mythos, though I must admit I’m looking forward to the day Grant Morrison puts Gotham in his rear-view and Bruce Wayne and the Bat-family are allowed to step out of the sci-fi/mystical arcs Morrison has put them through and get back to the streets.  A few upcoming series, like Batman, Inc. promises to do just that, but we’ll have to bide our time.

For now, Bruce, welcome back.  It’s about time!

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