Scott Snyder - Bringing Batman Back

After having read Batman comics for the last 25 years, I have to say that up until now, Scott Snyder is the most consistent comic writer I’ve read. In the past, the great Batman writers (Loeb, Miller, Moench, Wagner) have made fleeting appearances in graphic novels, one-shots and have had limited runs in the comics themselves. Now however, we finally have a writer who is at least as good as the aforementioned luminaries as the chief writer of Batman: The New 52. According to the man himself, he’s here to stay and that’s the best news any Batman fan could ask for as the balance of his Batman stories have so far been perfect, with equal helpings of the Dark Knight as a detective and Batman the brawler, not to mention Bruce Wayne as a believable businessman and patriarch.

My first glimpse of Snyder was in an interview on Batman: Year One Animated where he said that he saw Batman’s rogues gallery as individual elements of Batman’s psyche. Each villain represents a personal demon, one in which Bruce knows he must overcome, thus explaining his drive and doggedness when it comes to defeating his nemeses; he must constantly prove to himself that he’s not like them, that he’s better – he can keep the madness the he’s so familiar with at bay. Comics legend Denny O’Neill was visibly surprised and interested in that comment as was I. It showed that the young Snyder had an intriguingly fresh take on the character that demanded attention.

The Black Mirror: Here Snyder deftly shows us how Grayson’s Batman differs from Bruce.

His initial run in Detective Comics #871-#881 was the closing chapter before The New 52 reboot and it gave all of us a taste of the kind of hero we would be encountering in the future. In these 10 comics we experienced Snyder’s writing style and his love for the Batman universe. I was particularly impressed at ow he took the mantle from Christopher Nolan and carried his investigation of Gotham City as a living, breathing entity, with its own personality into new territories.

The Black Mirror starts with Grayson wondering if he still knew Gotham, whether the city had changed, whther there was a darkness that he didn’t know any more. There are many incidences of these kinds of questions in all of the opening issues but Dick, like Bruce, still believes that Gotham can house goodness as well as evil; thus further defining the role of Batman, just as in Nolan’s trilogy. This not only gives the universe more depth but it also adds another layer to Batman’s role within the universe: that of the healer, the believer.

A scene from Scott’s Gordon story: Skeleton Cases – pencils by Francesco Francavilla

What was even more pleasing, in fact probably the most pleasing thing I’ve read in Batman since Miller’s incredible Batman: Year One, was the amount of attention shown to Jim Gordon. In Skeleton Cases and Skeleton Key we learn about Gordon’s estranged and seemingly psychotic child, James. In issue #874 we don’t even Batman once and the issue is all the more stronger for it – Gordon takes centre stage. It was a brave move by both Snyder and DC but one that was a master stroke. Frank Miller’s landmark Year One planted Gordon firmly in our hearts and Snyder being of our generation (he’s a year younger than me), obviously wanted to show his appreciation and did so by creating an emotional Gordon-family thriller that keeps you guessing throughout.

As we discussed in our Court of Owls review, Snyder creates his own piece of Gotham history and adds an interesting element to Dick Grayson’s back-story. Here Snyder creates a new villain, brings back Alfred’s past, adds to Grayson’s and makes Batman synonymous with the city – an amazing undertaking. In Snyder’s new universe Batman is no longer Gotham’s son, he is Gotham City. We could say that this narrative shift perhaps now makes Gotham a part of his rogues gallery, part of him: he must rid the city of it’s darkness in order to heal himself.

One thing that stuck out whilst reading The Court of Owls crossovers was the considerable rise on quality when the timeline demanded I picked Snyder-penned Batman comic, rather than a Red Robin or a Nightwing. All due respect to the other writers, but the difference was dramatic.

So now we have Death of the Family, the return of the Joker. The title alone is Snyder yet again showing he understands and appreciates the history of the character and is recalling the dark images surrounding Jason Todd’s brutal death (cleverly reminisced in The Black Mirror it has to be said).

Greg Capullo’s enticing and poised picture is gracing the cover of Batman #17.

I have a golden rule that I don’t read an arc until its finished and I now rue that rule. I really want to start reading but I know I’ll be left hanging and the wait will be too much. The hype surrounding the series has been enormous, the comics are selling for three times the price of their original value. The premise is wickedly simple: The Joker thinks that Batman is more fun when he’s on his own, and perhaps has become weaker by relying on his cronies, so he plans to kill them all so it’s just him and Batman again; the good old days. Big promises have been made as to the fate of certain characters while the question of whether The Joker knows Bruce is Bats lingers.

After years of wandering through the wilderness, Snyder has put Batman back on track. The days of Batmite and time travel are hopefully buried forever. Scott Snyder’s considered and respectful renaissance of the greatest super hero of all time has been laden with fresh twists but remains firmly rooted in the elements that made, and continue to make, the character enigmatic.

In 2012, Scott Snyder has won various Stan Lee Awards and the Eagle Award for Best Writer, these complement his Eisner and Harvey Awards for American Vampire. As a reader of of Batman comics for all of my adult life, I hope Snyder continues to maintain the superb quality of writing beyond the current Joker run. His passion for his craft resonates from the pages and if you haven’t read one of his Batman stories yet, hopefully this article has convinced you to give them a try. You wont regret i

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100 Bullets

Having recently read Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets I could help but be compelled to write about them. However, exactly what angle, what approach, I should take has until now stopped me putting finger to key. Should I perhaps try and mirror the superb narrative style and the dark, gritty atmosphere? I could do a noir-esque review riddled with simile, wise-cracks and the smoking of too many god damn cigarettes. Or should I try and reflect the complexity of the plot by flitting in and out of explanation points, mixing straight narrative with metaphor and then introducing a new line of argument from left field leaving my reader a little confused, but also perhaps impressed as they may never have seen such a bold attempt at a review before?

Unfortunately, these ruminations reek of someone trying who is trying to write, rather than just writing; a forced narrative that doesn’t quite know what it wants to say or where it’s going. One however, that if written well enough will be enough to satiate the readership. It would be the work of an extremely skilled artisan who somehow, somewhere got lost. So although the lines and curves of the piece would be straight enough, the paper on which they are drawn would at times be crumpled and dog-eared, looking like something that was found beside the waste paper basket, flattened out and tossed in at some random juncture that you’d make sure you made sense of later.

However, should we berate the writer for this? Surely such an undertaking deserves praise. Perhaps the writer set his sights a little too high; used more ink than he had pen. Shouldn’t we all be grateful for the effort? Surely a bar has been raised here? Ok, so it can read forced at times, like a student a couple of thousand characters short of their word limit, but it’s original nonetheless and sends a message out that work such as this deserves a place on your shelf, in your life, regardless of any and all valid criticism.

You still with me?

Gabe

This for me is how Azzarello wrote 100 Bullets. This is how it comes across. It’s amazing. Literally. Both interpretations of the word included. ( 1. To affect with great wonder; astonish.2. To bewilder; perplex.) Both definitions work perfectly.

The initial premise is what grabs you: the idea of a man who knows everything about your life and exactly what when wrong and where. On top of that, he knows who’s responsible. More importantly, he gives you the opportunity to do something about it: 100 untraceable Bullets, the gun with which to fire them and the evidence leading you to the ‘perp’. You’re not asked to do anything about it, the choice is yours. You have the freedom. A fantastic political pastiche of America – the freedom to choose, with a gun in your hand. Will you act with righteous vengeance, or will you do nothing? It’s the kind of beauty that arises from lying in dirty sheets for too long.

The ultimate femme fatale

It’s a premise that bares fruit to some incredibly sexy, moving, exciting superbly written vignettes that stay with the reader long after the pages are turned. Risso’s thick lines weave theords into violently pretty images than hold the eye. When it comes together, there is no finer comic I’ve read. The story of Gabe caught me with a surprise left, jaw left hurtin’, eyes wide open, whilst Megan’s luscious yet conniving curves stroked my right, blowing softly in my ear.

Heartbreak, Sunnyside Up is a work of art and the detective short, The Counterfifth Detective goes a few rounds with Raymond Chandler – I cannot praise it highly enough.

The downside to all this is that unfortunately Azzarello deemed the superb mystery that entwines all the early fragments needed an explanation. We should be told why and how Agent Graves does what he does, attaché case to attaché case. What gave the windows steel bars was the fact that we looked through the gaps into people’s lives not know where the bars came from and why, we just had to live with them and sometimes strain our necks. We were left to wonder what the full picture looked like, free from obscurity. That was the redeeming feature.

Milo. Sounds a lot like Marlowe. Reads like it too. (That’s a huge complement, btw).

It also has to be said that at times it simply reads like both artist and author had no idea what was going at times; confusing angles and a loose narrative to point of incoherency. Still, as stated earlier, such criticisms – and they are very valid criticisms – should not hold you back from reading every page of all 100 comics. No matter how messy it gets, when Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso clean house do they clean house. “Any and all valid criticism” can go to hell.

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III

Read parts I and II.

The phone rang. Nothing about it stood out; it was simply the typical electronic bleating of a modern-day cordless. There was nothing different about the way I sprang from my seat as I always do when the phone rings either. I can never say no to a ringing phone. Who can? The unanswered ringing phone is the greatest mystery of them all.

I looked at it. My eyes ran up and the length of the cheap, shiny plastic. I felt like getting it, I really did. My gaze fell upon the sound of the bleat, the way it cut through the silence and was in stark contrast to the thick smog smoking too many cigs with no windows open can muster.

It bleated and bleated. Although I was fixed on it I couldn’t make out the number on the orange, back-lit display. It bleated and bleated.

It was a game. I slowly stubbed out my cigarette, nonchalantly blew the smoke out of the side of my mouth, letting my opponent know I wouldn’t be bullied. I smiled a wry smile. It bleated and bleated.

The sunlight shone through a crack of the wooden blinds. I could see the smoke twirling through the sun’s rays that illuminated the cigarette-stained light-blue shag. I titled my head and squinted at the hole in the dam. The day was relentless. I checked my mobile. It was 09:54. It bleated and bleated.

My my now broadened and I showed my teeth in some attempt to show whoever it was I wasn’t giving up so easily. I checked Twitter – no RTs, follows, PMs or DMs. I stared blankly at the scroll of 140 characters giving me snippets of and ideas about what’s going on in the world. I never click the links though. Never read the articles. Headlines. As easily digestible and completely misleading like a TV dinner. You also throw up after eating too many of those. I switched off my mobile screen and slipped it back into the pocket of my jeans. I looked at the outline the phone had made into the cloth of the trouser pocket so that it looked like I had a phone in my pocket whether I actually had or not. The sun glared at my through blinds. The smoke twirled. My back ached. It bleated and bleated.

Ok, you win. I twisted my body so that my right arm could reach behind the sofa to the window and thus wooden rod that opened and shut the blinds. Light heaved into the room reminding me of just how much I’d let go recently. Christ. This had to change. Something had to happen to make it change. I had to happen. I pushed my behind into the back of my seat, straightened my back and the rested my elbows on my knees, leaning slightly forward. I ran my fingers through my hair and scratched. It was greasy but wearable. The half-empty scotch bottle on the glass coffee table greeted my as I looked up toward the noise in the corner. I killed my cigarette in the standard-issue, glass, rounded over-filled ashtray that accompany such fucking cliches as a goddam half-empty fucking scotch bottle on a greasy, dirty glass coffee table. Christ. It bleated and bleated.

My legs hurt as I stood up. Blood smashed it ways down to my toes for the first time in hours. I gazed out the window. Cars slowly driving by, women, children, shops, young men with, caps, tatoos and socks tucked into their trousers. Old people. A convenience store. Two well-built Turkish guys driving past in their top-down ‘bimmer’, loud chart-music playing looking a little too long at the women going past. Not that many seemed to mind. The sun glinted off their windshield and also they had driven past I could see their reflection on the dirt-lined bus stop where there stood the kind of woman that would keep you up all night in a good way and up all day wondering who she was with, what time and when. My jaw relaxed ever-so-slightly I moved beyond her chestal area to her face. She was looking up at the window holding a mobile phone up to her ear, looking fantastically impatient. I turned and looked at the phone. I looked back, there she was, her tight thighs almost killing me as I stood. It bleated and bleated.

I strode across the room arm outstretched.

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GOTHAM’S HISTORY TELLS ITS OWN STORY – THE COURT OF OWLS REVIEW

If I had to sum up Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Court of Owls in just one word then I would choose ‘history’. However, if I was allowed one more word I think I’d add the prefix ‘(unnecessary)’, brackets included. While Court of Owls is by far and away the best new Batman story I have read in years, Snyder’s desire to give the proceedings an added weight through certain intertwining historical events is questionable tactic that both has merit and yet somehow has a shoehorned feel to it.

The history behind the Court’s existence is both well-thought-out and masterfully told. There’s so much to love about this story: Bruce finally returning to his Detective roots after having to endure the effects and PTSD of Grant Morrison’s literally awful, over-convoluted and quite frankly pathetic Batman R.I.P., art work that brings back memories of The Dark Knight Returns yet with its own unique edge, Bruce punching Grayson in the face, Jim Gordon Year One levels of importance and sincerity, Bruce punching Dick Grayson in the face – it’s got everything. Given that we like our Batman stories as real as possible we did become slightly aggrieved at the Talons’ regenerative ‘powers’ and Mr. Freeze’s involvement – although Batman Annual #1 story tie-in was quite simply amazing.

The Court of Owls also raises the continual question of to how big a role Batman’s buddies should play a role in his life and the DC Universe. One that in many is answered within the confines of this arc and perhaps the forthcoming Death of the Family [which we hope will be taken literally - Ed.]

One of the finest moments in DC comic history

So the need for the Haly’s circus angle is beyond me. Why does everything has to fit together? It’s as though there was a concerted effort to tie everyone and thing in a neat, bat-sized bow. It felt contrived. Dick doesn’t need any more back story. He’ll always remain a periphery character, and although the attempts to his past a more murky bent, he’ll always be a two-dimensional hot-head in great need of a hair cut and a punch in the face (thanks, Scott).

Jarvis Pennyworth! Why bring him back again? The need to tell a story seems to outweigh the relevance of one. Why do it? He’s a loyal servant to Bruce – a surrogate father, if you will – and that’s it. Oh, and he’s from England. Speaks with an English accent. Probably wouldn’t if he’d spent his whole life in Gotham surrounded by Americans, though. See? His character is now disjointed due to some strange attempt at a universal Gotham mythos that has somehow always housed, and in many ways created, these characters. Not necessary. His simpler, post-Crisis persona would have sufficed: employed by Thomas Wayne from the British Royal family as hired help. Easy, let’s move on. Why does Alfred need a story? It’s almost as though history = depth. It doesn’t. Only if history and persona fit together does it have a place in narrative, not story for the sake of story: storytelling 101.

I could go on about the various tie-ins, and how they once again underline the fact that Batman ‘needs’ his buddies in order to rule the roost, and how that irks me. Batman doesn’t need Dick, Jason, Tim, Barbara, Selina or anyone – they all just serve to weaken the character. Strange that every writer, and DC themselves, harp on about Frank Miller and Christopher Nolan’s Batman, but all of them feel Batman needs Grayson and the other also-rans in order to keep the peace. I know it’s an attempt to make Bruce appear less of a borderline-psycho and more human, but I like Batman because he’s borderline-psycho, I like Batman when he takes pleasure in the pain he dishes out. Damien or Dick ‘saving him’ or seeing him finally open up to Grayson in Owls was a disappointment. Grayson should have stayed down when floored in The Cave.

Batman’s Brady Bunch – less of them, please. Go Joker! (Death of the Family)

However, it’s easier to criticise something than to lavish praise, and I realise that my gripes are more aimed at DC themselves than SCott Snyder. He has his remit and has done a fantastic job with tools available to him. It’s very rare both artist and writer match each other in terms of movement, action and atmosphere but this pairing is a master-stroke. Capullo’s pen-strokes capture the gritty undertones in Snyder’s sentences as the battered Bruce fumbles his way through the grime of Gotham City. Putting the history to one side, this as a good a Batman story as it gets, and provides the perfect platform for Batman in The New 52. However, doubts still linger over the periphery characters in the universe and their subsequent future roles.

I think he’s had enough.

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ANIMATED SERIES: TWO FACE AND BATMAN TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN

After having purchased The Dark Knight Returns I watched the two episodes of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s much-loved animated series that come on the disk: Two Face Parts I & II. Simply put, these are the best two episodes I’ve ever seen. They work both as stand-alone stories and as a unit. Harvey Dent is as vulnerable as Batman fragile. The symbiosis between the two characters is worthy of canon and this is a story that deserves to be made into a prestige format.

The story starts with Dent losing his rag after being baited by a criminal by which Batman helped catch. He growls and snarls whilst the cameras are rolling and Jim Gordon needs to step in and calm him down.

Dent feels great remorse for his actions but isn’t able to control them. We see that time and time again he does a ‘Nicholas Cage’ publicly, and this is hurting his re-election campaign. He is seeing a psychiatrist who hypnotises ‘Big Bad Harv’ to the forefront who subsequently smashes her office whilst a female member of the largest organized crime ring in Gotham listens smirking to herself just outside the door. The gang finally has some leverage and subsequently steals Harvey’s psych records and threaten to go public if Gotham’s Mr. Righteous doesn’t play ball. They meet, Harvey loses his rag, Batman steps in, bullets fly and electric cables end up causing an explosion that brings about the Two Face that we know and love.

The rest of the story focuses on Bruce’s struggle to accept that he cannot save Dent, Grace, Harvey’s wife, and her attempts to use her love as a way of talking Two Face round and finally Two Face’s own internal struggle when faced with the life he left behind; can it work again? Can he keep a lid on his pathological behaviour?

The story is laden with catharsis and emotion and we see a more vulnerable side to all the characters involved. Batman is not only hesitant but seems to be slightly weakened when faced with the usual henchmen cannon-fooder. His mind is clearly elsewhere and you get a sense that his focus is so intensively on Dent, that it makes him slower, and off-pace as a result.

Bruce’s friendship with Dent and Batman’s struggle with Two Face is the perfect foil for Batman’s own private struggle between the disguise and the debonair. It’s as though Dini is painting the picture of what might have happened to Bruce if he didn’t find a channel for his anger. He can’t save Harvey, he couldn’t save his parents, can he save himself?

The direction is superb with Two Face’s mood and internal struggle perfectly encapsulated by the framing of his face, in fact there are so many little touches in this I’ll let you discover, or re-discover them for yourself.

Harevy Dent

It’s not very often that a cartoon can stir emotion, but I found myself getting more and more involved in Harvey’s heroism and felt a sadness as the story drew to it’s inevitable close. A tragedy in every sense of the word.

I made my feelings about BTAS perfectly clear in my Mad Love review. However, this is one of those episodes that should appeal to just about every fan of the animated medium.

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Mad Love - humanising The Joker for better or for worse?

High praise indeed!

I first found out about Dini and Timm’s Mad Love from listening to cult, Jay-and-Silent-Bob director, Kevin Smith’s FATMAN ON BATMAN podcast. Any of the character should check it out. Anyway, I’m not here to plug Fat Kev’s stuff, but given his love for Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS) is what spurred his show, I thought it worth mentioning as I happen not to go all giddy over it as I know some of you do. A lot of the episodes range from average to poor with only a handful stand-out episodes worthy of praise beyond the confines of ‘it’s a Batman cartoon’. Yeah, I know, shoot me.

Mad Love was been mentioned alongside one of the all-time must-read Batman graphic novels and admittedly not having heard of it before listening to ‘Fat Kev’, I Googled, and yep, the internet seemed to agree; ‘bona fide classic’. And here’s me thinking I’d read them all. So after paying unfortunately well above the odds for a second printing on Ebay the book turns up and lo and behold, even Mr. Dark Knight Returns himself, Frank Miller, is quoted on the back as saying, “Mad Love is the story of the decade.” Praise indeed (if you, of course, factor in that he’s now a far-right psycho who can’t write comics any more and is living off the work he did 30 years ago).

From the very first page I felt uncomfortable. I know Bruce Timm drew BTAS but the style was too vibrant, rounded and cartoony when on a page as opposed to the square talky-box. It was too bright, too ‘comic’ in both senses of the word. Anyway, I soon adjusted I thought I’d just concentrate on the story-telling itself, which in fact, is nothing short of superb. Paul Dini has told a tale battered wife syndrome within the Batman universe and he’s told it convincingly. Harley Quinn (pictured)’s refusal to accept the man she loves values her no more than thousands of innocents he’s colourfully killed in his crazy life, and blames Batman by proxy is a well-thought-out, intelligent story remaining true to the characters…oh wait, no it doesn’t. There-in lies my problem: nothing about The Joker resembles humanity as we know it. According to the Joker I know and love Harley Quinn would be dead within seconds because it would be too boring not to murder her. He’s The Joker. Not only would he kill her, he’d do it brutally and without care. I realise this attitude is intimated in the book, but the playful nature of the colouring and the prites don’t cut to the bone as they should do. We are dealing with an incredibly serious, and tragic part of human life. Many women suffer. Many are mis-treated. Perhaps the story ending with her death would have hammered the point home more resoundingly? The indication of any great graphic novel is that the artwork actually matches the story in terms of tone (see my Kingdom Come review), here there is a complete mismatch.

I appreciate the book’s narratve qualities but I don’t think it fits the Batman universe. Comics need more stories like this to be told, but it needs to go all the way. I can’t take Harleen Quinzel seriously because her name is bloody Harleen Quinzel for a start. I’m puzzled every time I read E. Nigma for The Riddler, or get shivers when Victor DeFries’ name is mentioned. It’s jokey, hammy and not the Batman universe I fell in love with. Why do their real names somehow have to be a kind of nominative determinism? Instead of Victor DeFries (pronounced dee freese) being Mr. Freeze’s real name, why can’t it be just any other ordinary name? I’m not 12 years old. Fair enough if you want to keep it within the realms of the BTAS universe but unfortunately these characters have bled over to the comics and have gone some way to removing the ‘detective’ element from the books in favour of yet-another-twisted-genius super-villain with seemingly-super-powers-but-not-really. A wrong turn in my opinion.

Quinn covered in dog filth with slapstick animations and goofy features. It doesn’t just work.

I don’t want Harley Quinn in the comics, I don’t want her there because her character adds nothing and doesn’t fit in with the image of The Joker that’s been portrayed for the best part of 30 years. I don’t want her there because The Joker would never allow anyone to remain in his private sphere for any length of time. I don’t want her there because I start using human psychological terms like “personal sphere” when thinking about The Joker, when the whole essence of the character is that he isn’t human. He may have been, sure – if you class The Killing Joke as cannon – but he isn’t any more. “HA!” You cry, if you cut him, does he not bleed?” “Yes!” I answer, “but that’s as far as it goes.” As soon as The Joker is personified, he looses his edge and that’s why Hamill’s Joker never really resounded with me as it has with others. It’s simply too relatable; too human.

Nothing this hyped could ever live up to my expectations, I know that. I also factor in that BTAS, although the closest cartoon to the DC universe was never as lovingly lauded by me as with, well, just about everyone else. However, The Joker portrayed by Dini is not a choice I would have made and Mad Love fails on that level. The Joker must remain as exclusive as he is elusive; he has no gang, no sidekick, no shoulder-to-cry on (as with Brian Azzarello’s The Joker) and absolutely no place for Harley Quinn.

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Quick Avengers Assemble review

Cardboard cut-out villain: check. A group of remarkable individuals finally made to realise they need each other due to massive enemy threat: check. CGI to blow your mind: check. One-liners amidst the chaos: check. One angry black guy who just happens to be The Avengers’ equivalent of the Chief of Police thus mirroring every 70s stereotype cop movie made to date: check. Scarlett Johansson’s backside: check. Great fun regardless: check.

DC and Warner must be working hard to find a way to combine their heroes into a Justice League movie that will top this. For all its faults, Avengers Assemble gives ample screen time to each of its heroes and none of the roles feel superfluous.

If Nolan’s Dark Knight’s cerebral bent lavishingly licked your brain, then the Avengers slips its hands down your trousers. It knows what buttons to push (or caress), and it does its job well. In fact, the whole film is basically Iron Man and Hulk, their scene both as Banner and Stark and their superhero guises are the glue that holds the otherwise shallow and flimsy characters together. However, flying in the face of adversity, The Avengers Assemble manages to weave its way through all these criticisms levied.

If you haven’t seen it, see it. However, don’t expect anything more than a fun movie. No layers here. No character arc. No personal struggles. No matter.

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Detective Annual #1 Review: The Abyss sinks to new depths

Tony S. Daniel’s writing really does baffle me: in some comics it’s considered, excellently paced and feels right. This isn’t one of them. Some of the dialogue is simply embarrassing. Someone has just asked me via Twitter [@mistermorriss] if the comic had been re-texted by a 12-year-old. Not a good sign.

Not saying that Tony S. Daniel is a 12-year-old, I wouldn’t be so bold, the man clearly has talent whether it’s writing or penciling, but some of this stuff isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. It reads like he’s had far too much on his plate recently and simply phoned this one in. The story itself also feels completely forced.

Cheesy

The story is unsettlingly uninspired. Black Mask was never really a villain I could get into, and the whole ‘magic mask’ aspect of the Batman mythos is a far cry from the realistic template that Loeb, Miller and now Nolan have imprinted on the Universe. If he was just some nutcase who wore a skull mask and liked to hurt people I could take him more seriously.

Jervis Tetch’s appearance does nothing to evolve the character, but let’s be honest, Hatter is on the periphery of the rogue’s gallery and I can’t think of one arc revolving around him that has had any impact.

"Yeah, Batman, you're amazing!!

The artwork unfortunately doesn’t make up for the static writing, either. Pere Pérez Batman is too rounded and lacks detail. When the actions hots up he doesn’t really get the movement across make you roll with punches.

In the future I would ask DC to ask if when Snyder gets bored of writing Bats, if this will be the de-facto ‘bar.’ I sincerely hope that this was a one-off and that Daniel’s future Detective Comic run bears no resemblance to this trite and perfunctory effort.

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Kingdom Latecommer

It’s uncomfortable being so late to this particular party. Not only has everyone already drunk themselves into a coma on Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ imperious opus, they have already trashed the toilet, thrown up in the bed and made love in the garden (you get the picture). So as a stone-cold-sobre late-comer, sifting through the deluge of half-empty beer cans and overflown ashtrays in a desperate attempt to play catch-up, I can’t help but feel slightly alienated for the other party-goers; I’m somewhat off the pace.

“Hey everyone! I’ve finally made it! Who wants a drink?”

The more I think about it, however, the more I realise that I’m just going to be ‘that guy’ at the end of an all-nighter that simply won’t just stfu and go home.

Still, if I’m going to be that guy, I might as well go the whole hog and make myself unwelcomingly at home even if it’s just for the length of a warm beer and a few cigarettes before the silence is so uncomfortable that I, enwrapped in my own musings, finally get the message no-one cares.

Before that eventuality plays out, I’ll completely disregard the dissenting almost-out-of-earshot moans and groans emanating from the tired, impatient host as I take off my jacket and crack open a can.

I’ll start by highlighting that although I understand that Alex Ross’ breathtaking artwork isn’t to everyone’s taste, the fact that this is a story about real superheroes, the rich realism conveyed in every tile not only exquisitely encapsulates the actions of the characters as any great comic book artist can and should, but actually serves to underline the very premise of the tale, which bluntly put, as you all know too well, is: what would happen if these heroes were real? Where would the escalation (you know, what Gordon says to Batman at the end of Begins when the Joker card is played) finally lead us? In short, whether you’re a Ross fan or not, his paintings are relevant to the tale and support the narrative on every level.

*lights another cigarette to a muffled exasperation that he ignores*

From a Batman fan’s perspective, Bruce’s role in the story is simply perfect. The way he juggles both sides, has his own agenda, and is one step ahead of everyone else, friend and foe, is the writing of a man who not only obviously knows the characters back to front, but seems to have a certain special respect for Batman’s role within this meta-human-filled DC Universe. The emotional, cathartic end to his arc was a masterstroke.

I could talk about pacing, the delivery of the paneling on the page, how at times it simply guides you visually through the story at just right tempo without the need for narrative cues. Yada yada yada. Still, you know all this, right? I mean, only a few titles actually change your perception of a well-established universe and sometimes all-too-familiar characters. The Dark Knight Returns did it, Year One did, Red Son, too. Kingdom Come does it also. Comics of this quality break the mold in terms of genre definition. The phrase ‘comic’ is sadly as misrepresented and as misunderstood by the general public as “video game” i.e. a pastime that has its place but put alongside other, more intellectual pursuits it’s nothing more than a childish waste of time. However, this isn’t just intelligent, creative writing for a comic, it’s simply intelligent, creative writing period; a considered look into the morality and challenges that would face the world, had these people been real.

Seriously, if you, like me, haven’t gotten round to reading this, put everything down and go for it. Take your time. Savour it.

*leans back in rickety kitchen chair, stubs cigarette*

*FINALLY!*

But, but, when it comes to praise and recognition for this seminal work…

“Go the f**k home. There’ll be another party soon. Make sure you get here on time next time.”

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Batman: Holy Terror review

I was very excited to have picked this up on the great comicbook retail internet giant known as Ebay. Where would we collectors be without it, eh? Anyway, for those of you don't know, Batman: Holy Terror is the first DC one-shot with the Elseworlds logo on the cover. And for those of you unfamiliar with Elseworlds, just think Superheroes in alternate settings, universes, garb etc.

Batman: Holy Terror takes place in some Cromwellian dystopia where the Machiavellian elite rule with an iron fist. Bruce Wayne is a priest who is told by Gordon, who himself is an Inquisitor, (nobody, Spanish Inquisition, you know the drill) tells Bruce that the powers-that-be ordered the execution of his parents due to them helping vagrants and miscreants on the sly. Not good.

Bruce is soon upset enough to be Batman and starts an investigation into who precisely is responsible for his parents’ downfall. However, and here’s the however, on his travels he uncovers some kind of underground prison laboratory housing a couple of familiar names and faces that I won’t spoil here. In his attempts to free the inmates Batman comes across the man responsible for everything and to be honest, it is here where the story goes somewhat awry.

The initial premise into uncovered the presumably multi-layered political minefield that enveloped Gotham in this fantastically detailed universe was the beginning of, not only an interesting take on the city itself, but the makings of a damn good detective story. The decision to go all biologically fantastical on us and thus remove the reader from this vividly-imagined, distant-yet-highly-believable other world was, in my opinion, a mistake.

Although I’ve praised it indirectly, hats must go off to Alan Brennert for the historical imaginings, and my undying resect and gratitude goes to my favourite Batman artist of all time, Norm Breyfogle. The movement he conveys in fight scenes have always been unparalleled, and his use of black is menacing and simply down right cool.

For collectors it’s a must have (but then again isn’t everything?) and for the casual reader it’s worth picking up.

2.5/5

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