Welcome back to my look at The New 52 and today we are going to look at the reboot’s shot at the Batman comics. Arguably the most popular and best superhero out there, Batman seems to be the one franchise out there that you can’t permanently screw up and even Joel Schumacher’s cracks at the series couldn’t keep Caped Crusader down for long. The Adam West series from the 60s is widely regarded as a campy classic, the Tim Burton films are considered to be among the founders of modern superhero films right alongside Superman: The Movie, the animated series from the 90s is widely considered to be one of the best ever made, and the recent films by Christopher Nolan are widely considered to be the greatest superhero films of all time, with The Dark Knight even being the highest grossing superhero film ever.
So with all of that in mind and the critical legacy they had to preserve you better believe that they had to bust ass to make any Batman series good. However, it seems like they may have overdone it. You literally have four different series that feature Bruce Wayne as the protagonist and five others that, (for the most part), take place in Gotham. That might be overdoing it guys. While I don’t think this really effects the stories, (for the most part), it does cause me to question just what time periods they take place in. Do they all take place at once? Do they take place in alternate time periods? Other versions of Earth? Explanation please!!! This is a lot more complex than it needs to be!
Anyway….So as you guessed, today I’m going to look at all the Batman related comics today, starting with Batman and ending with Red Hood and the Outlaws. This is The Illusive One’s Review of The New 52 Part 2: The Batman Comics.
As, I’ve mentioned before, the Batman series are probably the most confusing but the reasons I gave above aren’t the only ones. While the Superman comics more or less restarted the whole series, Batman seems to have the same setting as it did before the re-launch, with Bruce Wayne as Batman, Dick Grayson as Nightwing, Tim Drake as Red Robin and Damian Wayne as Robin, (link to anyone who doesn’t know who the latter is). In this setting, Bruce Wayne is trying to set up an urban renewal foundation to finally turn Gotham into something other than a haven for the worst psychopaths in all of America, (not much of an exaggeration). At the same time as Batman, he’s tracking down a seemingly indestructible hit man who is apparently working for a mysterious cult known as the Court of Owls, who has supposedly been controlling Gotham for centuries.
So is the first of the Batman lines any good? Why yes it is. In fact it’s not only good, it’s great! For starters the storyline is really, really good. The mystery involving The Court of Owls is fantastic. Whereas other comics keep you involved mainly with their action this one does by keeping the mystery alive and the reader in constant suspense of what will happen next. As the pieces unfold you find yourself more and more intrigued by it, quickly become invested in it and want to see it solved. The murders in these books are grizzly but nothing too over the top and really leave an impression, (in a good way though). While characterization isn’t a huge part of this story other than with Batman, the villain is surprisingly good because of this. He’s an incredibly threatening figure who is apparently indestructible and we know next to nothing about him or what his motivation is which really helps with the mystery.
The only real criticism I have with this series is the general art direction. Everything about the drawing and coloring I just find really unappealing and at times it looks flat out ugly. But that aside, this one is really good and is probably the best of the Batman stories. The mystery is great, the villain is great, and the way the story progresses keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Check it out if you get a chance.
Of all the Batman timelines this one seems to take place at the beginning, (although I can’t be entirely sure). The story follows Batman as tries to take down some nut job known as the Dollmaker as well as going after The Joker who has escaped Arkham for the gazillionth time, (when will the cops learn they need to just shoot his ass and throw him in the river!?!?). Beyond that there really isn’t a whole lot to say in terms of story so what’s good about it?
Well the first issue starts with a bang as Batman has an intense chase with The Joker and has quite the shocking ending. The mystery elements involving what happed to The Joker are also pretty good as is his hunt for The Dollmaker. He also has a love interest who, for a change, isn’t some kind of villain which I think is a good thing for the series. The drawing style is also A LOT more appealing than it was in Batman which I think is the biggest thing this comic has on it.
For some reason though, Issue Five annoyingly cuts off the Batman story halfway through the book to another involving Eli Strange. In it, he’s basically playing poker with mobsters and helping Catwoman recover some jewels that they stole from her, (ironically, this story was a lot better than the actual Catwoman line but more on that later). It was good story sure, but it was really annoying that they cut the Batman story off in order to tell it. Why not just add more pages to the book? Oh well, but that said it was still a good story.
As far as bad things go there were surprisingly few. The gore often came off as a bit over the top, (although I’m not entirely convinced that’s a bad thing), and while the mystery was good it was easily inferior to Batman and kind of came off as it’s less talented brother. But when you take that last factor out of the equation it is a good read and another that I would recommend.
This story takes place during/after the events in the series Batman Inc., (one that they are bringing back to the rejoicing of fans everywhere from what I gathered). To those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, it was a series where Bruce Wayne decides to take his fight against crime to a global level and starts recruiting people from different cites all across the globe to become part of, (for a lack of better words), the Bat family. This story happens to revolve around David Zavimbe, known as Batwing as he fights against a villain known as Massacre in The Congo as he kills old superheroes of the country for reasons unknown as David battles his own personal demons.
Now I’m not going to lie. The whole premise behind Batman Inc. is not one that I care for at all. I admit I haven’t read a single Batman Inc. comic but just the idea of it rubs me the wrong way. This book, however, really delivered. For starters we have a really good protagonist in David who has a really good backstory that puts a lot of the other superhero backstories to shame. While it does ultimately amount to a redemption type story you quickly find that David does have a lot to repent for and is very sympathetic and despicable at once for what he’s done.
While I initially thought that a Batman in Africa was kind of stupid, (call me racist if you want but it seemed weird to me as did Batman Inc.), the concept grew on me very fast. The more I thought about it the more I realized that this was a great place for a Batman to be as there is a lot to fix. People think Gotham is bad with its crime and corruption? They should spend a bit of time in this place. I bet they’ll never bitch about their cops, taxes or The Joker ever again. The supporting characters are also really good and each contributes something to the story’s whole.
Then we have our main villain, Massacre and I have to admit, I have mixed thoughts on him. On one hand, we know next to nothing about him or his motivations and he’s totally badass, able to slaughter an entire precinct full of cops single handedly with just machetes. On the other hand, he’s a little over the top in terms of his strength. I mean seriously, what kind of juice was this guy on to pull this crap off? So with this guy, I suggest you get your own opinion.
The only bad things I have to say about these books are that, like Batman, the action is a tad underwhelming and the general art style is a little weird at times. The first issue was also fragmented and felt really choppy and forced together and to my knowledge there was a plot point that they never quite followed up on at the start of the first issue which really bugs me.
Minor gripes aside, this one was really good. The main character was great as was the drama surrounding his past and desperation to stop Massacre. Even though he seemed a tad over the top, Massacre did provide Batwing with a suitable antagonist that lead to a great conflict and a mystery involving the country’s past. It’s definitely one of the best ones of the Batman lines so I highly encourage you to give it a read.
Batman: The Dark Knight
The third line to have Bruce Wayne as the protagonist, The Dark Knight again centers on Batman solving crimes in Gotham. Only this time, someone is infecting people with what seems like a combination of Bane’s venom and a reverse Scarecrow fear toxin. This results in many of the criminals running around Gotham like an army of Hulks destroying anything they can as Batman tries to find out just who is behind all of this.
Good things started happening to this series after Issue 1. The drawing style radically improved and the actual plot turned out to be really interesting. It also features a lot of crossovers with a lot of the other Batman related characters like Batgirl and The Birds of Prey as well as others like The Flash, Wonder Woman and Superman. The only bad thing I really have to say about it is that the first issue was terrible, with bad art work, (Gotham looked like a blue Minis Tirith at one point) and a story that really didn’t make any sense what so ever but it has improved over the past few months.
This is probably the story I have the least opinion on because by this point it just seemed like another Batman comic line with other superheroes making an occasional cameo. It’s not a bad comic by any means and I do like it but it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table and a lot of what is in here probably could have been featured in Batman, Detective Comics, or Batman and Robin. This one just seemed like overkill to me. It’s not bad, so I won’t say burn but approach it with caution and only after you’ve read all the other Batman lines.
Batman and Robin
After The Dark Knight comics it seemed like the series had run itself dry, but nope. It still had one last story to tell and one that involves the relationship of a father and son. And that is a lot more literal then you would think. The storyline focus on Bruce Wayne and his relationship with his son Damian, (am I the only one who thinks that’s an unnerving name for Batman’s son?), the current Robin as they try to bond and Bruce attempts to keep Damian’s homicidal tendencies in check. For those of you who were too lazy to look at my link above, Damian is the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul who is living with Batman now, for some reason, (I honestly have no idea why). At the same time, a man named Morgan Ducard tries to convince both Batman and Robin to join him and his more lethal style of justice. And even though it’s the fourth storyline with Batman as the protagonist, it’s surprisingly good.
For starters, the characterization is really good. It’s actually really interesting to see how Batman deals with being a father and how he tries to raise him. It’s interesting to see just how Damian deals with his personal darkness, be it through catching and crushing bats with his bare hands or drawing disturbing pictures, (seriously though, the kid has issues) and this makes it all the more challenging for Batman to bring Damian to his way of thinking. Ducard is a really good villain and presents quandaries for both Batman and Robin, concerning their ideal of justice and Batman “franchising” his war against crime. It also deals with Bruce’s past while he trained with Ducard and why he feels his method is so wrong, (but it hasn’t quite gone into details yet).
The only real downsides to this line is that it moves a little slow, and Damian sometimes comes off as being a little emo. All around, though, this one was really good. While it can come off as “another Batman comic” it more than made up for it with an approach that I felt was really good. The characters were really good, the conflicts they go through are compelling, and it brings something new to the table. While I’m not sure it’s as good as Batman, it certainly is the runner up.
With our sixth Batman related comic, I have to admit, I’m running out of ideas for opening paragraphs and STILL HAVE FIVE MORE TO GO AFTER THIS!!! I think I may have bitten off a bit more then I can chew. Anyway, this story revolves around Barbra Gordon who has resumed her role as Batgirl and first fights against a murder known as The Mirror, and later another known as Gretel. And I’m just going so say it. I don’t like this one at all.
For starters, it’s a very wordy comic line with dialog, (or inner monologs), that aren’t very good and come off as being really hammy. That and this book seemed really, REALLY, underwhelming when compared to the books mentioned above and I was really bored by them. I didn’t find the storylines that interesting and something about the way they progressed just failed to keep me in suspense. Finally, I don’t think Barbra is that compelling of a protagonist. I’m not sure what it is but she just fails to keep my attention and something about her PTSD doesn’t seem right to me, although I don’t know why.
The only things that I could find in these comics that were somewhat interesting are the villains. The Mirror is one of those tragic villains that we love to see in Batman comics with motivations that are interesting. The new villain Gretel is interesting as well but more time will have to pass before I can pass judgment on her.
Sadly, however, this isn’t enough to save this comic. The protagonist isn’t that interesting and the way the story progresses keeps me from really getting sucked into the story and to me that really qualifies as a bad book. Maybe it will get better as time goes on but for now it’s one of my least favorites and not one that I would recommend in the least bit.
When I heard that they were doing a Batwoman comic as part of The New 52 I thought, “Oh you godda be fucking kidding me!!!” And up until the fifth issue my feelings on this remained the same. The story revolves around Kate Kane, the Batwoman, (thank God were on our last Bat!) and her fights against crime in Gotham as well as dealing with personal issues in her life. And I have to say, like Batgirl, there isn’t much good to be found here either.
For starters Kate Kane isn’t that compelling of a protagonist. She just comes off as being a cold bitch rather than badass protagonist. And yea, I know she’s been through a lot in her life but there is nothing likeable about this woman whatsoever. Not only that but a lot of the other characters aren’t that interesting either. The next problem is the first villain they used who is known as The Weeping Woman and it brought a single question to mind. Why? Just, why? I’m not entirely sure how to describe her other than to say she seems like something that belongs in Justice League: Dark or Demon Knights or something. She just doesn’t fit here. Finally, I can’t help but dislike the general art work. I can’t identify exactly what it is but there’s just something about it that I don’t like. And this may be a nitpick but there are way too many two page spreads in this book and they annoy the crap out of me.
However, unlike Batgirl, there is something that keeps it from the burn and that’s the story arc involving the organizations of Medusa and the D.E.O. which does look promising. Hell, their director is a living skeleton who smokes a cigar. I don’t care how stupid that sounds to you but that is frikkin awesome! In fact they offer her a chance to join the D.E.O. to help track down Medusa which will in turn, put her at odds with Batman Inc. This alone, it the only thing that I really like about this comic and is what saves it from burn pile. My final piece of advice is to give it a read and a chance for future books but keep your flamethrowers ready.
(But Keep Your Flamethrowers Ready)
After so many damn Batman comics already, you would think that Nightwing would have been dead on arrival. But, surprise, surprise, this one turned out a decent line. The storyline revolves around Dick Grayson, (duh), as two major events happen in his life. First a hit man, known as Saikois, attacks Dick, not Nightwing, claiming that he is Gotham’s fiercest killer for reasons that have yet to be revealed. Then the owner of the circus he grew up with leaves him the deed to the circus in his will claiming the circus was more than it appeared, (and it’s still pretty vague as to what that means).
So what separates this one from the crowd? Well, unlike a lot of the other comics, the general art style is really good with everything looking the way it should. The characters are as well, and it’s really interesting to see just how Dick reacts to the fact that the circus has come back into his life in such a major way and it really gives the reader things to ponder on. Is it better to leave your past behind you or try reclaim some of the joy you got from it? It’s a question that just about everyone asks themselves in their lives and this one does a good job of incorporating it into the story. It also helps that the story progresses at a good rate, (for the most part), with a number of genuinely shocking twists and a great villain with a mystery behind him. It also helps that this one doesn’t take place in Gotham and gives it a sense of independence from the other Batman stories.
The only real negatives I have for this one is that in Issues Four and Five the main story kind of grinds to a halt for other subplots and build up for future events and it doesn’t show much signs of stopping this. Sometimes the action is also a little hard to follow with the way they depict the Nightwing’s acrobatics and it can be irritating.
All around though, this is a great line and one I would recommend. It has a good story, great characters and does a good job at distancing itself from the other Batman stories and I really like what they’ve done with it.
This is one that I’m not entirely sure what to make of. The story is basically about Catwoman pulling various jobs throughout Gotham and the various situations she gets into as a result.
On the positive side, the action panels are well done and keep the story from getting boring. The storylines aren’t great but they aren’t bad either, often involving Catwoman biting off more than she can chew and the various situations she has to deal with are well paced with most issues ending on a cliff hanger which draw the reader into what happens next.
But then we get into the aspect that draws a lot of controversy; the fan service. And there is a lot of it. They literally take every opportunity to show off her boobs. Why? I honestly don’t know but it’s just ridiculous and comes off as immature. Most of the characters are bland and uninteresting and Catwoman comes off as a slut, (no exaggeration). And I know this is a bit of a nitpick but I can’t get over the way she looks. I mean is it just me or does she kind of look like Nina Myers from 24? I know it’s a nitpick but I find it really distracting.
But my biggest issue comes from the end of the first issue where she actually has sex with Batman and implies that they screwed on several occasions. Not even joking. So why does that bother me so much? Well, you see I grew up with the animated series of the 90s and recently re-watched the whole thing and one of my favorite aspects of it was the cock tease relationship between the two. There was constant flirting back and forth and times where they almost got together and it legitimately kept me interested in how things would work out between the two. What they’ve done here just seems, (for a lack of better terms), anti-climactic and just annoyed me.
But personal gripes and fan service aside, I’m not entirely convinced the bad negates all the good. The things that are done well are done very well and help drive the story along and in that light the comics really aren’t that bad. On another note, some of the fan service actually had something to do with the plots, (though rarely) and it helped her get into places to pick up information and go to where her desired loot was. If you’re able to get past or don’t care about the things I mentioned above I say give it a chance.
Birds of Prey
So, Birds of Prey. A story about a group of all female superheroes who fight crime. And they’re based out of Gotham City. ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS!?!? THEY ALREADY HAVE BATMAN, NIGHTWING, BATGIRL, ROBIN, AND BATWOMAN PATROLLING THE STREETS AND THEY REALLY NEED ANOTHER TEAM TO HELP OUT?!?! HOW FUCKED UP IS THIS CITY?!?!
Well anyway, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, the story focuses on a team of female vigilantes put together by Black Canary to fight crime in Gotham. The members include Poison Ivy, (who has gone hero for some reason although I have no idea why), Katana, Starling, and occasionally Batgirl. Most of the actual storyline focuses on the team’s efforts to work together as well as take down a mysterious organization known as The Cleaners who we thus far know next to nothing about. And, despite this being the eighth comic to take place in Gotham City, it is surprisingly good.
For starters, the characterization is actually really good. Black Canary is a bit of a blank slate right now but works as the team leader. Starling is nuts but surprisingly enjoyable, Kitana is delightfully insane, Batgirl is surprisingly more interesting and less hammy here then she was in her own line, and it’s really interesting to see how they all deal with Poison Ivy, a former supervillain and convicted murder, being in their group and she is a surprisingly interesting character.
The mystery involving The Cleaners is really good and does a great job of keeping the reader in suspense and wondering just who the hell these people are and what they want and what their goals are and the way the Birds investigate and are foiled by them are pretty interesting and creative. The action panels are decent, if nothing mind-blowing and help progress the story along. Speaking of mind-blowing, unlike a lot of the other lines in The New 52, this one doesn’t flat out sexualize their characters and keeps fan service to a minimum. And considering Catwoman and some of the comics that are to come, that’s unusual. Good job to the writers and artist for keeping it classy here.
The only real problem I have with it is the general art style. I mean, it’s not the worst I’ve seen but there are a lot of moments where things just don’t look right and if you see it you’ll see what I mean. But all around, this one was surprisingly good. The characters were enjoyable, the mystery was good, and it had more than enough action, suspense and mind boggling moments to keep anyone interested and is one that I would recommend.
Red Hood and the Outlaws
And now, it’s time for our final review for the day, Red Hood and The Outlaws and THANK FUCKING GOD!!! I was beginning to lose my patience here. Why exactly D.C. grouped this with Batman, I’m not entirely sure, as it has next to nothing to do with the other Batman lines but I may as well review it here. Anyway, the story focuses on Red Hood, (Jason Todd and the second Robin), Arsenal, and Starfire who, as of right now, are trying to find out who killed The All-Caste, a group of warriors who mentored Red Hood after his resurrection, (just read that part on Wikipedia).
So what makes this story work? Well for starters, the general art style is really good and most of the stuff looks the way it should. The action panels are well depicted and keeps the story moving on at a fast pace. Another thing that may surprise some people is that Jason Todd is a surprisingly compelling protagonist. Yea I was surprised to. After all this is the douchie punk who was killed by The Joker because fans didn’t like him. But here he has a stake in the main storyline that we as readers can latch onto. It’s one that combines revenge with a serious conflict that could potentially get out of hand and it results in a really good main storyline. It involves a period in Jason’s past that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before and makes for an interesting read. Like most the other good storylines it’s also very well paced and had a good mystery that keeps you intrigued into what is going on.
But there are problems with this story that have generated a lot of controversy. For starters, (although less controversial), Arsenal isn’t a very interesting character. It seems like they’re going places with him and he has some interesting backstories but he’s ultimately kind of annoying. Maybe he’ll get better as time goes on but for now he’s just an annoyance. Then we have Starfire and, oh my God, she’s like Catwoman only a lot worse. She’s generated a good amount of controversy and it’s fully justified as they take the opportunity to sexualize her and show skin at every possible moment, even more so than Catwoman. While this isn’t anything new in the D.C. Universe, they just took it way too far in this line. Now, this wouldn’t bother me so much if the character herself was well written the way Harley Quinn is in Suicide Squad, (more on that in another post), or passably written like Catwoman. But here, she’s literally a blank slate with zero characterization. I can get past the fan service aspect but add that to the whole thing and you get something that deserves panning.
However, despite all of that, it’s still a really good comic line. Yea. It’s good. In spite of Arsenal’s annoying factor and Starfire being an intentional fanboy’s sexual fantasy the art style, action, story, protagonist, action and pacing are all just too good. These things do bring it down, but it’s never to the point of where the story is unreadable or unenjoyably and it’s one that I would recommend. Yea, crucify me feminists but I like the story too much to say this story is bad or even unlikeable.
And that’s it for the Batman comics and it’s obvious that D.C. was intent to squeeze every last penny out of anything Batman related. And for the most part, it worked. Batman, Detective Comics, Batwing, Batman and Robin, Nightwing, Birds of Prey, and Red Hood were all really good and ones that I recommend but don’t read them all back to back or you’ll probably go nuts. I say get your own opinions on Dark Knight and Catwoman but the former seemed like overkill, and it won’t take a whole lot for me to take a flamethrower to the latter. The same can be said for Batwoman which only saves itself from my pyromaniac wrath because it has potential it may exploit but I’m still keeping by torch lit. Batgirl was the only one I couldn’t find anything interesting about. It just bored me to tears and it’s not one that I would recommend and I’d ready your flamethrowers upon viewing them.
And that’s all I have to say about the Batman comics, and my God was this one long! For those of you who kept with me the whole time, I appreciate your patience and hope you found it informative. Next time I’ll be looking at The Green Lantern Comics and there are fewer of them so it will be a bit of break for us both. So until next time this is The Illusive One signing off.