I haven’t reread a book in a long time.
Back when I was a kid, I would reread my favorites all the time. When it comes to the Animorphs, I gave each book multiple reads, picking different ones throughout the series or just reading the whole sage from the first book all over again.
After high school, when I got back to reading after a long break, I reread some of my favorites. Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, White Fang and Call of the Wild, to name a few. But as college rolled along, followed by adult life and a consistent job, I started having less time for everything, including reading.
Not only that, but my eyes began to open and I started seeing all the books I hadn’t read. The Hugo Awards, The Nebula Awards, long running series I had never heard of, new favorite authors who publish work every year, the sometimes informative New York Times Bestsellers list. All of these books taking up space in my schedule.
One of the biggest developments is my current job. Working as the Head of Youth Services, I have to try and read young adult books on a regular basis. Plus, the occasional book club for kids or adults. Even after being done with school, required reading is still a thing in my life.
So where does that leave my favorites? Gone are the days of being bored and picking up Jurassic Park for the tenth time. White Fang sits on my shelf as a memorial. It’s both sad and encouraging that I don’t have time to reread.
One one hand, I miss my favorites. They take me to their specific worlds and characters that I fell in love with in the first place. They also connect me to real time and places, reminding me of the first time I read each book. They’re time capsules equal to a great album, whose songs are forever etched in my mind with events.
But it’s also feels great to know that I’m reading so much new fiction that I don’t have time for what I’ve already read. I’m more well-read than I was when I was younger because I branched out. I let Jurassic Park lead me to Michael Crichton’s other books. And, I’ve found new favorites. Books like Salem’s Lot and A Canticle for Leibowitz are now right alongside I Am Legend.
But I still want to reread them again. I’d hate to think I’ve read World War Z for the last time. But how to I fit them all in to my life again? I reread The Outsiders for an 8th grade book club I ran, but that can only take me so far. Sometimes, I think I should just dedicate a month for my favorites. Reread April or November, or something like that.
Would that cause me to miss out on the new and possibly great books released those months? Is it worth it? Should I hope to read a great old age and reread then? Tomorrow is promised to no one so should I just start today until I have to read something new? It’s a dilemma and one that I’ve been thinking about for a while now. I don’t know how other people do it. With limited time in the day, with so much other things vying for my attention, it seems like a fool’s dream.
If someone was forcing me to reread my favorites right now, I’d probably pick Jurassic Park, World War Z, Dune and the White Fang/Call of the Wild combo. So, you know, please force me to do so. You’d be doing me a favor.
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.