Batman: Lovers and Madmen
Now this is interesting. Michael Green writes a story that, for all intents and purposes, can’t be considered canon, since it contradicts The Man Who Laughs and The Killing Joke. Both of those are already considered the origin of the Joker. But here’s the thing; to me, this is a better tale. This story puts front and center the idea that Batman is responsible for the Joker, yet he’s only part to blame.
The character on stage is Jack, a skilled hitman who sees no point in life. He’s too good at what he does and keeps hoping a cop will get lucky and take him out. It’s when he sees Batman, all dressed up and out of this world, that Jack finds a reason to live. Batman is ridiculous and it’s nothing Jack has ever seen.
Over the course of the book, Batman has a few chances to stop the actions that are going to turn this guy into his worst enemy, but he doesn’t. Batman is still new to the game and even sets Jack up to get beat by some mobsters. The Joker is given life because Batman exists. Without him, the man called Jack might have just lived out his boring life and died on the job.
It’s well told and does such a better job at examining the Batman/Joker relationship, that I wish this was the official story, instead of the mediocre The Man Who Laughs or the overrated The Killing Joke.
Batman: Dead to Rights
Taking place after the events of The Man Who Laughs (or whatever is the first Joker appearance), Dead to Rights, written by Andrew Kreisberg, shows what happened the first time Batman dropped off one of his rogues at the police station. The Joker is on display here, as the first real super villain Gotham had and we get to witness how unprepared the cops are for this type of criminal. The book shows how handling these characters wasn’t always second nature to Gotham and how someone like the Joker, Riddler or Scarecrow can change the game forever. It’s a little goofy at times (because the Joker is full murder clown in this one) but the story is a smart one and worth looking at for an early history of the Bat-world.
Batman: Year Two
A direct sequel to Year One and it does not hold up. Mike W. Barr’s writing is not up to par but it is nice to see early Todd McFarlane art in the later issues. Due to that, however, even though this book was written in 1987, it reads and looks like a early nineties comic for all the wrong reasons. Bloody violence, overwrought religious undertones, giant capes taking over the page, it’s a trip.
I’ve heard people bring up the similarities between this comic and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm but I don’t know if I would have found the comparisons otherwise. Maybe because they’re early Batman, maybe because the villains are reaper-themed characters, but that’s were the likeness end. This Reaper is dull, killing just because it was cool to have a villain kill with a scythe, all while wearing one ugly costume. Throw in some terrible Joe Chill (Bruce’s parent’s killer) and Batman using a gun (for very little reason) and you have a comic that you’re not sad to see leave canon.
By the team of Dan Curtis Johnson, J.H. Williams III, Seth Fisher, this story is right at the end of Batman’s solo career. He tries to form a team out of misfits, who would act more like an anti-crime cell than masked heroes. While that’s going on, Batman also has his first encounter with Mr. Freeze, which is also his first fight against someone with ‘superpowers’.
Mr. Freeze’s roll is largely forgettable, borrowing from the animated episode “Heart of Ice” and not adding anything very interesting to it. The team building is more unique because it flies in the face of how Batman wants to work; alone. But he builds them unlike a team of heroes and more like operatives. When it all falls apart, Batman decides that working with other people isn’t the problem, he just needs to go about it in a different way. And so he happens to see the Flying Graysons are in town, so…
Next week, we read Batman: The Long Halloween!
Eric: Batman: The Man Who Laughs was written by Ed Brubaker with art by Doug Mahnke and released as a one shot graphic novel in 2005. It’s reads as a direct sequel to Year One, dealing with Batman’s first encounter with the Joker.
I’m trying to remember what I thought when I first read this book way back when. In all honesty, I don’t think it left too much of an impact, it was just another book I grabbed at the Comic Book Palace (Haverhill, Ma). Sure, it was a little longer, being a graphic novel, but it read like any other one shot. At the time, I might have been interested in the Joker’s origin, but time has tempered that desire.
Kendra: I really liked this one. However, I wasn’t prepared for how dark it was. I have been watching a lot of the Batman animated series with Eric and though the Joker is bad news, we know Batman’s got it under control. Here, however, he was definitely a force to be reckoned with. In Gotham’s defense, they had never dealt with The Joker before so they truly had no idea what to expect.
Even though Batman: The Man Who Laughs was written 18 years after Year One, it is still written in the same style. We get to hear the entire story by going back and forth between Batman and Gordon’s points of view. Also, it seems to take place not long after Year One. Gordon is captain but still not commissioner, and he fills us in on what Batman has been up to since showing up on the scene. It was cool to read them back to back so it seems like a continuous story.
Eric: The problem with being a sequel to Year One is that the book just isn’t as good. I don’t mean it should or could be at Year One’s level, but it’s not as good as a story for what it’s doing. It gets from point A to point B, but without any real pathos or style. Considering this is the first battle between two legendary characters, you would expect to see something memorable.
Joker kills some people. Batman thinks maybe the Joker was the Red Hood. Joker is going to poison Gotham’s water supply. Batman stops him. The end.
It’s not very compelling. Jim Gordon is in it, narrating like he did Year One. The problem is that Gordon doesn’t do anything besides serving as exposition. Where his story was just as important as Batman’s in Miller’s tale, here Gordon is used because Year One used him. He explains what’s happening, gives us some plot and reaction to the Joker’s crimes, but he’s basically useless.
Kendra: Like I said before, this is really dark which is not usually my style but it worked. Some of the pictures were hard to look at. While reading this I realized that I was seeing a side of the Joker I had not seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The Joker’s poisonous laughing gas seems to be an integral part of the character in the comics and animated series, but they left it completely out of the movie. I wish Nolan had used this in his film. I think maybe they didn’t use it because in Batman Begins, the Scarecrow tried to poison the water system. Still, Joker loses some of his personality when all he’s doing is planting bombs everywhere.
Eric: The parts that work for me in this book are small. Seeing the victims of Joker’s experiments as he tries to perfect his toxin is creepy, if not overly grotesque. Batman may feel responsible for the Joker and he’s willing to make some hard choices to stop the clown’s plans. If this is canon, I suppose it gives us the most solid look at the Joker’s origin, but we might have been better off not knowing.
Mahnke’s art is solid, but too sketchy for my taste. Realism is nice, but Year One had that and wasn’t ever ugly. His Bruce Wayne looks older than Gordon at times. The Joker gets the benefits here, as he does look like a scary clown, but it’s still done is a way that tries to remind us that this grounded. Depending on your taste for such things, your mileage might vary with Mahnke’s art style.
Kendra: The only other problem I had with it was there was no big fight at the end. Batman just blew up what Joker needed and that was it. He did it in the nick of time but it still seemed too easy. I liked seeing Batman’s struggle with whether or not to kill the Joker. I did like being reassured that Batman is truly out for justice and that he’s not a killer (How ‘bout that Man of Steel)! Overall I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. A must read for any true Batman fan. Just be prepared to see the Jokers most evil side.
Eric: Kendra’s review makes mine sound harsh. Batman: The Man Who Laughs is still a solid comic book, telling a story as well as it can. It was also a sequel written twenty years later from the first part. But it doesn’t do anything more, or say anything about the relationship between the Joker and Batman/Gordon/Gotham.
Next week is our first recap week. I’ll be flying solo as I look at other stories set between Batman: The Man Who Laughs and Batman: The Long Halloween. This won’t be a ‘reread’ because I’m just working off of memory, but some (all) of these tales are still worth checking out. If you want to check them out before then, here’s the list;
Batman: Year Two
Batman: Lovers and Madmen
Batman: Dead to Rights
Eric: Batman: Year One was written by Frank Miller and drawn by David Mazzucchelli. After Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams brought Batman back from camp into the darker realism of his original intent, Miller pushed it even further. While O’Neil’s Batman was a return to grounded form, it was still a superhero that could exist in a world with Superman and Wonder Woman. Miller’s take on the character in Year One is a character that works best away from all that. Gotham is gritty and shares more in common with New York City circa the 1970s. While Superman is mentioned, his kind has no place in this world.
What struck me first, while rereading this book, was that most of what I remembered from this was in the first issue alone. Jim Gordon beating down Flass, Bruce getting the crap kicked out of him his first night out and the iconic scene of the bat breaking through the glass, these all happen in part one of four. I don’t know why these specific moments have stuck with me so long. Maybe it’s the idea of Gordon showing the corrupt cops he’s not to be taken lightly that gave me respect for the character. Maybe when I first read this, I couldn’t believe Batman was ever green enough that he would get hurt against a pimp and a twelve year old. I was only seventeen or so when I got Year One for Christmas, so my experience with the character in comic form was still limited by three or four books.
Kendra: This is the first real Batman comic I’ve ever read. Before this all I knew of Batman was what I’d seen in the movies and animated shows and the few times he has popped up in Birds of Prey. I had seen the Batman: Year One animated movie so I knew basically what they story was about. It’s very interesting to see Gordon and Batman’s characters before they became what we know them as. It never even occurred to me that there was a time before Gordon became commissioner. It’s new to me seeing him as a flawed character. I’m so used to seeing him as the only non-crooked cop in Gotham so it was surprising to see him do something immoral (cheating on his wife). I hated it but I suppose they did it to give his character more depth.
Eric: The rest of the comic, beyond the first issue, is still great. Batman fending off the police, working with Harvey Dent, jumping off the bridge to save Gordon’s son, these are classic moments. When Batman Begins came out, I was knocked back by how much like Year One it was, down to specific scenes. When Christian Bale, dresses as Batman, summoned a swarm of bats to escape Gotham’s special unit, it was like the comic panels were made into motion. The idea that Batman must become a symbol of fear, rather than just a man, is presented here as not something that Bruce realized right away. He learns the hard way that he needs something extra to truly fight crime his way. It’s a testament to the comic and the movie that those concepts worked so well.
Kendra: I like how parallel the stories of Gordon and Batman are. They both are just starting their new roles in Gotham, they both fail miserably at their first attempts at justice, They both have to find ways to make people fear them, and they ultimately end up forging the friendship we are all used to seeing. Its great storytelling.
Eric: I’ve never picked up on the fact that Gordon needs to learn to use fear to fight his battle. It makes the comparisons even stronger. What I’ve always noticed though, even back when I first read it, is that Year One is Jim Gordon’s story. While Bruce/Batman still has the title and own the major scenes, it’s more about Gordon coming to Gotham and taking over the police force. Batman has the criminal chain, Gordon has the corrupt cops. But Batman doesn’t really have to contend with Gordon’s presence, where the latter must to the former. Batman becomes an element that Gordon must either confront or join, and that is just as important to his success in Gotham as taking out the dirty commissioner.
Kendra: After reading Year One, I thought “wow! Gordon should get his own movie or something!” Low and behold here comes the show Gotham. I hope it does a good job but you never know, we all thought Agents of SHIELD was going to be good and look what happened there. I have hopes though. Anyway I liked the focus on Gordon. I feel like it should have been called “Gotham Year One” or something because most of the focus was on Gordon.
Eric: It’s amazing to me how well this comic still holds up, almost thirty years later, and more than ten years since I first read it. Because of the tight writing and gorgeous art, nothing seems wasted. What needs to be told is told, with all the fat trimmed out. If there’s one element I don’t think works quiet as well as I once did, it’s the inclusion of Catwoman in the story. It’s still good, no question, but it does seem like an idea that you could cut and not lose anything from it. But it’s still gravy over the best turkey I’ve ever had, so I shouldn’t complain. I don’t even feel like I’m overstating the quality. It’s not for no reason that this was considered canon for Batman’s origin for three decades, no one wanted to even attempt this again after Miller hit it out of the park. I will say that I’m sad to see it go from continuity, as I am with most New 52 decisions. However, I’ve enjoyed most of Scott Snyder’s Batman work, so I’m excited to see what Zero Year brings to the game.
Next up, Batman: The Man Who Laughs!
I’ve been in a huge Batman mood lately. I’m rewatching Batman: The Animated Series (which hopefully will go all the way to Justice League Unlimited). I also started listening to Fatman on Batman with Kevin Smith and that’s been rekindling my whole love affair with the character. The thing about Batman, for me, is that my interest in him doesn’t stem from the comics. Where I feel in love with the X-Men and Daredevil through the old stories, Batman is a character who encompasses every form of media and I was introduced to through cartoons, movies and video games.
But when I did get into the comics, I got into them hard. I started with No Man’s Land, but then started into the classics, Year One, Dark Knight Returns and the Long Halloween. I haven’t stopped since either, and the amount of Batman comics I’ve read is second only to the X-Men.
But I want to read them again.
It’s been maybe a decade since I read my first Batman comics and I haven’t reread most of them since. Now it’s time to go back. So, I’m going to reread all the old classics, my favorites and the new stuff. Below, is my reading order from top to bottom.
The Man Who Laughs
Quick Looks Part One
The Long Halloween
The Killing Joke
Death in the Family
No Man’s Land
Under the Red Hood
Batman and Son
Heart of Hush
Whatever Happened to the Cape Crusader?
The Court of Owls
Death of the Family
The Dark Knight Returns
I’m reading them in story-chronological, not publication order. This lets me end with the Dark Knight Returns, which seems to make sense for the whole plan. Also, there are some key stories that I don’t feel like rereading because I didn’t like them (Knightfall) or they don’t seem as important (The Cult), but I’m still going to comment on them when they would come up chronologically. This way, I don’t have to get through Grant Morrison’s crap again.
As a note, if you haven’t read them, don’t expect a full summary of the stories. One thing I can’t stand about most rereads/rewatches is that they spend 85% of the text explaining the episode, and then add a quip comment or two.
Also, my lovely wife will be (hopefully) reading them too and commenting. It’s going to be her first time through each of them, so we get another perspective on how the books have aged and other neat bits. So, most likely, this will be a regular (weekly) production on the blog. Feel free to read along and comment as I work through this list.
I’ve been planning to do this for a while and since I finally sat down and watched Justice League: War, I figured now is as good of time as any to review all the DC Universe Animated Original movies. There have been a lot of good and not-so good moments in this line, so let’s see how they all stand up.
Considering how jarring this was to watch at when it came out, it being the first DC animated project outside of the DC Animated Universe, I was surprised by how much I liked the movie. Once I got past the different (but still miscast) voices, I found this an enjoyable, action packed Superman story. It has four villains and never feels crowded (a skill these movies actually share), strong animation and condenses the long, complicated Death of Superman story into a short seventy minute movie.
Filed Under: Good
Justice League: The New Frontier
This movie wants to work but the elements never quite come together. I love the concept and the setting, the designs of the characters and even the voice acting. But the plot and final act seem to collapse on themselves. When the main villain shows up, the movie loses all momentum, which is too bad since that’s when the big fight happens and the action kicks into gear. I suppose it would be hard to make an evil, living island compelling, so I’ll give the producers some slack. If the movie had the same nostalgic, retro feel throughout, it would be better. But in reality, it is not to be.
Filed Under: Meh
Batman: Gotham Knight
The first Batman movie in this series and the first bad one as well. I was excited for this before it was released, but it doesn’t work at all. You have six, unconnected stories, set in the Dark Knight movie universe, all with different anime styles and every one seems to be as boring as the next. Many of the stories have the “been there, done that” feel damaging them, especially with the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini show still in memory. It might be that western attempts at mimicking eastern animation result in boring material, it might be that Christopher Nolan’s universe doesn’t translate to animation, it might be a lot of factors. But this movie was a let down and one I’ve yet to rewatch.
Filed Under: Bad
This is one of the best DC Animated movies. Focusing on Diana’s origin and first encounter with Man’s World, the story is a tightly plotted action movie with more humor than the previous installments. Wonder Woman’s warrior skills are on full display here as she kicks mythological butt and battles Ares, who is perfectly cast as Alfred Molina. Actually, the whole movie is the first of these films to feel like it nailed the voice acting. unfortunately, the DVD sales were slow at first, so Warner Brothers canceled any chances of a sequel. In hindsight, I wonder if they realize how stupid that move was since it’s gone on to be one of its highest selling movies, above all their Justice League offerings.
Filled Under: Good
Green Lantern: First Flight
This, along with the live action movie, really hampered my getting into the comics. While this DVD doesn’t suffer from repeated stories like Gotham Knights, it is bland. There’s nothing really interesting about this story, which is too bad given its Training Day comparisons. The characters never pop, the actions never sizzles, and the only moment that really works is when Sinestro turns at the beginning of the last act. This is disappointing, since Lantern really needs as much positive exposure as he can get after Ryan Reynolds.
Filed Under: Meh
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies: After five movies of having to adjust to new voice actors, they finally threw a bone to long time fans and brought back Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy. It really did add a lot to this movie, which is great on its own. The animation style is hard to take seriously, and Power Girl is the stupidest character to use, especially in a world with Supergirl. But without those quibbles, the rest is a fun, action powerhouse with great back and forth between the heroes and a perfect Clancy Brown chewing the scenery as Lex Luthor. I watch this when ever I need a pick me up because it just puts a smile on my face.
Filed Under: Good
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
The second Justice League offering and it’s not a winner. CoTE comes complete with uninspired voice casting, bland animation, one heck of a boring story and completely unforgettable action. The one redeeming quality that keeps this from going into the ‘bad’ listing is James Woods as Owlman. His nihilism caused by the knowledge of the multiverse is perfectly translated through the actor and his moments against Batman work well. Maybe if this had been used as a bridge between Justice League and Justice League Unlimited like planned, it would have been better.
Filed Under: Meh
Batman: Under the Red Hood
I did not expect to like this movie. It’s based on a comic I don’t love, the last Batman animated movie was terrible and they Bender Bending Rodriguez doing the voice for the Joker. So, color me surprised when I finally watched the movie and found that it was great. It improves upon the original comic by changing the most problematic elements, it has multiple villains with enough room to breathe, terrific action and the final act is just boiling over from all the pressure. The first animated Batman movie to show that there’s life after Bruce Timm.
Filed Under: Good
Considering how much I enjoy(ed) the first Superman/Batman movie, I had high hopes for this one. unfortunately, those expectations were not to be matched and this film falls under apart quickly. They somehow made Supergirl a boring character, made Doomsday a non-threat and spent WAY too long on Apokolips (that’s just a ridiculous spelling). I don’t know why they bothered calling this a Superman/Batman story as the Bat is barely in the movie and Superman isn’t much better off. The last fight that is Superman and Supergirl vs. Darkseid is overlong and pointless and is only there to satisfy action junkies. Too bad, considering the first film.
Filed Under: Bad
I’m willing to except that this movie isn’t for everyone. It’s weird and it draws from Superman’s entire history, as well as focusing on his most bizarre scifi elements. But I love this movie. To be fair, I loved the comic as well but this movie did a great job at adapting the story. All the little moments in the film are great; from the date between Supes and Lois to the tour of the Fortress of Solitude. This Lex Luthor is great as he goes on an evil, superpowered journey to finally kill Superman. This isn’t an action packed take on the character but a thoughtful look at one of pop culture’s greatest icons. Not to be missed, even if you disagree with me on the greatness of the movie.
Filed Under: Good
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights
It may have taken a horrible live action movie to make this, but it’s almost worth it. Emerald Knights is the first good Green Lantern movie (and maybe the last). With a slightly anime style and a frame setup, we get a look at all the different aspects of being a Lantern. This movie proves that the Green Lantern Corps could be on equal footing with Star Wars if it was ever handled right. Laira’s story is probably the best of the bunch and it’s a shame she isn’t a prominent character in the comics. A lot of these stories have an epic feel to them and the action feels like a full blockbuster. It’s fun and huge in scope and should win over those who aren’t so sure about Green Lantern.
Filed Under: Good
Batman: Year One
This was a strange choice to me, though I understand wanting to cover the landmark comic. But, in almost every way, Batman Begins is an adaption of this story and Mask of the Phantasm showed a lot of this as well. I would think, post-2005, we’d move past Batman’s origins. But Bruce Timm loves Miller’s work and it’s not a bad story if you’re going to revisit it. The results are faithful, though redundant, hourish movie. Everything is decent in the film, from the animation to the voice acting, but nothing ever jumps out as incredible and I’m not sure how many people would be interested in this anymore.
Filed Under: Meh
Justice League: Doom
I was actually excited for this movie. It had the old animated series crew coming back for voices and it was based on the Tower of Babel story from the Justice League comics. But then they recast Ra’s al Ghul with the bland Vandal Savage, took out Aquaman for Cyborg (a tactic that would come up again) and made the movie more like a version of the Superfriends. All of Batman’s plans for taking out the League pale in comparison to his comic book contingencies. The rest is boring, with Savage having neither motive (they League might be a problem, someday, maybe) or method (oh no, a rocket). It really is a shame, because the source material was ripe for an adaptation but the end product wasn’t up to the task. Another wasted Justice League attempt.
Filed Under: Meh
Superman vs The Elite
You know, from the previews and the awkward character designs, I was sure this movie was another dud. And for the first act or so, the movie doesn’t do much. The Elite are a bunch of losers with powers and Superman seems to be the butt of a joke. But then the Elite go too far and the movie becomes an intelligent character study as well as a discussion on Superman’s place in modern comics. Should all superheroes be written as seriously as the Ultimates, Authority and Watchman? Is there any room left for heroes who don’t believe in killing? In a world like ours, with movies like Man of Steel, this animated movie makes strong cases for old school, super ethics and shows what a Superman with no rules really looks like and why we don’t really want heroes like the Elite. Unless you loved Man of Steel. Then I have no help to give your poor, lost soul.
Filed Under: Good
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
The last Bruce Timm effort in these original animated movies and he goes out with a bang. Adapting one the most classic Batman movies and going all out for it, DKR is a massive story. Originally, the movie was split into two parts, but patient people like me waiting for the release of a supercut combining the films. It’s now as long as a live action piece and as meaty as the comic, though without the narration. With an excellent, 80’s score and appropriate voice casting, the movie looks and sounds like something from both the past and the future. This might not be for everyone but it’s one of the most ambitious projects out of these movies and a fitting end for Bruce Timm’s involvement.
Filed Under: Good
Oh boy. This was is DULL. I don’t know how they did it, but this movie failed to entertain completely. I don’t understand how Superman is unbound in this either. Brainiac has never been less interesting, Supergirl underused and Superman’s voice actor forgettable. This is one of those movies you have to think really hard about afterwards just to remember it exists, like something out of The Graveyard Book. There is far superior interactions between Superman and Brainiac elsewhere so skip this if you’re someone who can skip these kinds of things. People like me? We get stuck enduring crap because of some personal defect.
Filed Under: Bad
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.
And so, the New 52 breaks into film, joining DC’s comic book continuation and leaving the old world and reality behind. But, where Flashpoint was an unimpressive comic borrowing too much from Age of Apocalypse, this movie feels bigger and far more interesting. The action scenes are huge and full of characters not seen since the JLU ages. It’s also nice to see the first Flash centered movie, even if he has to get paired with Batman to do so. It’s sometimes too gruesome for its own good, as if it’s trying to prove something but the action is impressive. I wish Barry’s mother was a bigger part of the story rather than just the reason, but the emotion isn’t completely lost between the characters and the climax is exciting. Too bad it brought about the New 52.
Filed Under: Good
Justice League: War
And now we come to the first New 52 adaptation. It doesn’t look like classic stories that have stood the test of time are up for movies anymore but instead we get to watch animated version of mediocre comics that haven’t even stood the test of this time. The first Justice League story in the New 52 was shaky and lacking, focusing on big action scenes and characters that are more jerks than heroes. The movie is about the same, with lots of repetitive fighting, character being mean to one another for no reason, and a completely wasted Darkseid who goes from would-be conqueror to JL punching bag. There are moments when the movie is funny and I almost wish they had gone for complete comedy over what we got. I’m sure there’s plenty that liked this, but it’s not for me; weak voice acting, animation that can’t make up its cultural mind (just pick a coast) and characters who are just too cool and mature to be taken seriously.
Filed Under: Bad
So, there you have it, a complete rundown of all the DC Animated Original movies, and my own personal commentary on all of them. I’m sure plenty will disagree with me as taste will vary. I found half of them to be good, six to be dull and uninspiring and four to be downright bad. I don’t know what the future holds, but if Justice League: War is any indication, I’m not too thrilled to find out. Batman and Son does not look like something I want to watch since I hate Damian Wayne. And the idea of more Justice League movies does not do it for me anymore. I don’t know if they’ll ever go back to non-New 52 stories like The Long Halloween and Sinestro Corps War, so I guess I’ll keep checking their next release plans with hope in my heart.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Batman: Under the Red Hood
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights
I think the New 52 is failure.
Maybe not commercially, it’s gotten plenty of publicity and I’ve read far more titles in the line than I would have before hand. According to my Goodreads, I’ve read 26 different trade paperbacks. But, if the objective is to bring new readers and to get them interested in new titles, the New 52 is not doing well.
Here’s an example. I’m not a new reader to comic books, but I’m not as into DC as Marvel. So, I tend to feel like an outsider when picking up a DC comic. The New 52 has given me the chance to read titles that I wouldn’t normally because they all started at a first issue. No matter what comic I picked, I should be on the same playing field as everyone else, right?
Or, maybe not. Because to understand Superman, I need to read Action Comics. To understand Teen Titans, I need to read Superboy. And it goes on with books like Nightwing and any Justice League title. Since the goal was to make the DC universe accessible, you would think that I could read one of the books without having read anything else, but it doesn’t work out that way. I was reading Justice League of America and I had to stop after the fourth issue because the next two were part of a crossover with two other Justice League series, of which I haven’t read and weren’t included. And, part of the reason I haven’t read the main series, Justice League, is because it crosses over with Aquaman.
Okay, so, I’m confused but it’s nothing a little bit of Wiki research can’t fix. But, how’s the quality?
Well, looking at my Goodreads, out of the 26 titles I’ve read, I’ve given eight of the series four stars, twelve have three stars, four have two stars and two have a one star rating. So, I’ve found a little more than a fourth of the titles to be great and another fourth to be terrible. That means half of the New 52 is mediocre and that’s not good for a line that’s supposed to be all about bringing in new readers. You know why nobody remembers the Fantastic Four movies? Because they were mediocre. That’s half of the New 52 (or at least, half of the half I’ve read).
How about diversity?
Well, out of the titles I’ve read; two are Superman with two Superman tie-ins, four are Batman titles with three spinoffs, four Green Lantern comics and three Justice League books. That means about a fourth of what I read stands alone from other series. Now, this is more of a critique of my own taste, but it does bring up the question as to why DC is using a line that’s supposed to feel fresh when I can find eighteen books that I’m used to instead of trying something new. Why does Batman need four titles?
Here’s the biggest problem I see, however. It’s not about diversity, it’s not even the amount of four star material. The biggest problem I see is how poorly DC reset the universe. For this, I’m going to be comparing the New 52 to Marvel’s Ultimate line.
When Marvel wanted to update their characters with modern origins and new takes on old troupes, they created the Ultimate line. They had four main titles; Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four and The Ultimates. Crossovers were done in miniseries separate from their main series and were few and far between. So, as a new reader, I could read all about the Ultimate universe with only four titles and if I chose to not read a book, I wouldn’t be lost reading the ones I liked (which is good considering how off the shipping schedule was for some of those titles).
With the New 52, there are fifty-two books to read. Fifty-two! I’ve read half and I still feel lost most of the time. Every title has had some weird crossover, some series take place five years in the past while others take place in the present. I can’t read just one Justice League book, I have to read all of them. I went from enjoying two Green Lantern to having to read four and one I wouldn’t unless I didn’t want to be lost. Even with fifty-two titles, they still decide to cancel titles that show promise because of low sales. I don’t think they understand the concept of spreading themselves too thin.
When the Ultimate line was setup, Marvel didn’t cancel their other titles. So, if you didn’t like the Ultimate version of Spider-Man, it was okay because the regular Spider-Man still existed. You didn’t have to deal with the Ultimate universe if you didn’t want to, it was your choice.
With the New 52, if I don’t like this new version of Wonder Woman or Harley Quinn or Martian Manhunter, it’s too bad because that’s my only choice with these characters.
That leads to a huge problem. With the New 52, a lot of titles read like What If? takes of the characters. Justice League of America is really just the New 52 answer to The Authority or The Ultimates, except those titles weren’t the main canon of a line. A lot of the DC universe feels like material that could have been a miniseries or one-shot take, but it’s the real (fake) universe. Before, when DC had multiple realities, they could have just had a few of these weird titles over at Earth Insert Number Here, but they decided to streamline the universe into one. They did this to keep confusion to a minimum but I’ve already mentioned how that went.
Again, maybe this is all about taste. I don’t want my Justice League comics to feel like Watchmen or Supreme Power, I don’t want Wonder Woman to feel like a Vertigo title unless I have an alternative take. I don’t want Harley Quinn or Starfire or Catwoman to exemplify everything that’s wrong with most female superheroes.
There’s something to be said here about acting bold and doing new things, but there’s something else to be said about throwing away everything, including things that worked. It’s almost like DC was ashamed of everything that came before but overly proud and confident over their new ideas. Marvel is always ‘soft rebooting’ their characters, giving them new takes while keeping their history intact (or retconning it without removing everything along the way).
I guess you could say DC doesn’t doing anything small or subtle, and it’s up to you to decide if that’s a good or bad thing.
spoilers to follow
When it comes to comic books, there are some characters I feel like an authority on. When talking to others about the X-Men or Batman, I simply assume I’m the bigger fan and work from there. There’s only one other character I feel like I know as well as those two.
He’s one of my favorite superheroes. He’s street-level, stubborn and self-destructive. He has one the coolest costumes out there and can scare the pants of criminals. He’s a lawyer and a ninja. He’s not as heartless as Batman is often played up to be and he’s big into changing people’s lives, not just locking them away. He’s deals with Bullseye, the Kingpin, the Owl, Elektra, Typhoid Mary, the Hand and general crime on a nightly basis. He’s blind. He’s awesome. I discovered Matt Murdock when I was a teenager, just getting into comics. I started with the movie, pointed my interest towards Frank Miller’s run and went from there. I found the character relatable and inspiring. He was more interesting than all the other heroes out there.
So, when I don’t like a Daredevil comic, I tend to think my opinion is in the right.
Daredevil: End of Days is a bad comic book. But, on Goodreads, it has a four star average. People seem to like it. I read a five star review for the last issue. Either I’m wrong or the world is wrong. Well, like Murdock, I’m a bit stubborn. The world has no idea what it’s talking about.
I was excited to pick the trade up from the library. Brian Micheal Bendis was back and his run on Daredevil is incredible. Just thinking about the concept of this story, the last Daredevil story, caused my imagination to run wild. The art is gorgeous. It had things going for it before I even opened it up.
Then I opened it up. The warning signs were right there. The story begins with the last fight between Daredevil and Bullseye. Bullseye kills Daredevil, but not before Matt says his final word, Mapone. From this simple beginning, I already had two problems. The first being how Daredevil died. Bullseye jams a rod through his head. It’s bloody, it’s gruesome and it’s an example of the problems I’m having with modern comics. Superheroes used to die in heroic, operatic ways. They wouldn’t be simply stabbed or shot. They would be consumed by an alien energy, while holding it back to keep Earth safe. They used to close portals and sacrifice themselves doing it, they used to mean something. But today, when we know a hero will always come back from the dead, if a writer really wants to convince us the character is dead, he has to kill the hero in a realistic and unquestionable way. A hero can come back through a portal, but the can’t come back from a rod in their brain. And that’s how Bendis kills Daredevil; unheroically and saving no one in his sacrifice. And with that, Daredevil is written out of the next seven and half issues about his final days.
Which brings me to the second problem I have. Ben Urich discovers Daredevil’s final word, Mapone, and begins his search to what it might mean. With that, the Citizen Kane comparison is made and Bendis pats himself on the back for being so clever to borrow from such a famous movie. The problem is, is that there are no hints or answers given. The next seven issues are other characters from Daredevil’s life talking about life and themselves, not Matt or his death. They all think they know the meaning of ‘Mapone’ but wont tell us. It dawned on me that when the Punisher is the brightest and optimistic guest star in your story, you’re doing something wrong. Throughout the story, Bullseye kills himself because of the meaning of Mapone. In the seventh issue, Ben is kill by the Hand.
So, with one issue left, Bendis tries to seal the deal on how awesome his book is. The new Daredevil is Ben Urich’s son, who means very little to the rest of Daredevil’s lore. Then, we learn the true meaning of Mapone, the secret being it’s the name of Daredevil’s blind and skillful daughter. And the book ends.
Why would Bullseye kill himself? If, lets say, he knew the meaning of Mapone, we would be led to believe that he killed himself because he could never fully beat Daredevil, because of his legacy. Which wouldn’t make sense for Bullseye, because he would just go off and try to kill Mapone and the new Daredevil. Bullseye isn’t the Joker, he doesn’t require Daredevil to exist. If anything, he would see a new Daredevil as a new toy to kill. Bullseye’s suicide is an out of character misdirection with no fulfillment. So, now, not only is Daredevil’s death meaningless, but so is Bullseye’s.
A big problem with this story is that Bendis, who should know the character better than this, treats Daredevil like Batman. Batman would train new kids, he would cement his legacy, he would take pride in Batman never dying because he’s a symbol. That’s Batman. Daredevil is not a legacy hero and he’s never been much a symbol. He’s a much more personal character than that. His last story should be all about his last fight. It should be his last match, like his father, who played a bigger role in his life than this comic would have you believe. And I don’t care what future you’re in, people would go to his funeral.
Instead of something that would make for a good, final Daredevil story, Bendis gives us a mystery that has no real clues and a useless ending. He gives us a gritty vision of the character’s future that seems outdated. His lawyer career and his conflicting faith are never touched upon. End of Days tries to show us that Daredevil didn’t really matter, that Matt only made life worse for others and left a lot of bastard children around. It’s a shame.
But at least this means there’s room for a better end for Daredevil. Maybe Bendis will leave the character alone now, Maybe, after we were shown a darker, but pointless future, there’s room for a brighter present.