DC Metal’s Dark Knights Ranked

As promised, I am ranking the Dark Knights from DC’s Metal event.

First, I’d like to note a few things about the other cross-over/tie-in titles:

Gotham Resistance was the real gem of the event. It picks up with Damian right after Batman’s disappearance, and brings in the Teen Titans, Suicide Squad, Green Arrow, and Nightwing for an all-out-assault on a Gotham City that has been transformed into a series of Malebolges by the Batman Who Laughs and a number of Gotham Rogues he’s empowered with Nth Metal Joker cards. The story flowed well across all four titles and, despite the fact that they’re titles I’m not interested in, made me consider giving them a shot because they were ALL GOOD!

Bats Out of Hell was a disappointment. While the B-team heroes brought an A-game story, the A-team heroes’ writers brought their B-game. Despite a shot to have some really great fights between the Dark Knights and the Justice League, or some good character development to build on some of the stuff established in the one-shot tie-ins, Bats Out of Hell was largely wasted. The first two issues felt like a muddle mess of clips, failing to establish much of story in its own right. Part 3 had a decent idea of primarily featuring a Knight interacting with his counterpart, but gets an F for execution. Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 32 literally uses Dawnbreaker’s power as an excuse to not draw half the comic. “Oh, he has power over light AND darkness? Let’s make ever other panel solid black and not draw backgrounds!” This meeting was nothing but wasted potential, and I much rather would’ve seen a Wonder-Woman tie-in devoted entirely to her and Merciless.

Batman Lost was really good. It may not have been a work of genius, but it’s easy to mistake a competently done Batman story in this vein as being genius because they’re so easy to mess up. It reminds me a bit of those navel gazey and introspective Bat stories that Grant Morrison is prone to writing; you know, the ones that that are tie-ins to his Bat Saga but are so off the wall that they don’t get collected in context of the works that would allow them to make the remotest amount of sense? It was like that, only you could follow it and it was enjoyable enough. It didn’t feel like a complete waste of time as a Bat story, even if it was kind of filler.

Now, onto the rankings of the Knights!

7. The Drowned – The Drowned is by far my least favorite of the Dark Knights. The gulf between the 6 and 7 slots are tremendous. The art wasn’t bad, but other than the whole “Batman is a woman in this world—also she is Aquaman,” it didn’t really do much to look at the character in any sort of unique, insightful, or exciting way. It had a nice aesthetic, but it failed to do anything with it and just was not an interesting book.Batman-The-Drowned.jpg

6. Red Death – Okay, Red Death is down here in number 6, but not because it was bad, just the others were better! Batman fuses with the Flash to gain access to the Speed Force. It’s kind of Cronenbergesque. The reason why it’s ranked so low is Red Death book really just portrays one brief scene between the two. I liked the concept, but wanted something meatier.Batman-The-Red-Death.jpg

5. Dawnbreaker – Dawnbreaker gets a lot of hate because Dawnbreaker is dumb. The premise, that is. The Green Lantern ring went to Bruce Wayne, who used it for revenge against criminals and went insane with power (like that one time Green Lantern went insane, except worse, because he’s Batman and has Maximum Willpower + 200%). He ends up killing everyone and everything, plunging his world into total darkness. It’s dumb, yeah, but his book tells a complete story with beginning, middle, and end, and it features some really great artwork of Lantern-Ring horrors; which is what makes HJ&tGLC 32 that much more disappointing.Batman-The-Dawnbreaker.jpg

4. Batman Who Laughs – Batman Who Laughs falls in the middle because it met expectations. And meeting expectations was not easy to do, and this could’ve been a big let-down. As it is, though, we got a pretty gruesome Bat story that gives us a decent canonical reason for why, at the end of the day, Batman CAN’T kill the Joker. Imagine Return of the Joker, only with the real Batman being possessed and not schlubby middle-aged Tim Drake. Had a real “Oh, man… Oh, shit…” vibe to it; not for the faint of heart.

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3. Murder Machine – Murder Machine was kind of bizarre and surreal, but oh my gosh it had some amazing art! In MM’s universe, Bane killed Alfred instead of breaking Batman’s back, and an AI Alfred program goes crazy, Batman along with it. This is one I need to reread so it’ll make more sense in context of the rest of the Event, but it was good enough that I decided to pick up all of Metal even though the Outsiders were a bait-and-switch in The Casting.Batman_The_Murder_Machine_Vol_1_1.jpg

2. Devastator – This one was a real surprise; I expected Devastator to be in the middle, but whoa. Here we have a Batman who had to deal with a Superman who went crazy, so he injected himself with the Doomsday virus. I was not expecting that what sent this Batman off the deep end was seeing Superman kill Lois. Devastator’s interactions with Lois were some of the most powerful in the whole event (the “I’m doing this for you, Lois…”), in part because, unlike with some of the Knights, we don’t really have an “evil” Batman so much as a Batman who is broken by his worst fear—Superman going full murdergod and no force on earth able to stop him—coming true.batman devastator.jpg

1. Merciless –Another big surprise and the best of the bunch. I’m a DCAU Wonder Woman x Batman OTP guy, so this one really tugged at the heart strings. Bats and Wonder have been leading the force of good in an extensive war with Ares. Wondy dies, and it breaks the Bat. Bats takes up Ares’ Helm of War, and goes all death knight crusader. And it’s awesome. Merciless is one of the only ones of the bunch who I could see having worked as a standalone villain. In fact, a Batman corrupted by Ares would make a pretty good recurring Wonder Woman villain, especially given the weakness of her own rogue gallery. The biggest letdown of Metal so far has been that Merciless and WW haven’t gotten much page time together, and the couple panels they got Bats Out of Hell were bland and even kinda spoiled some of Merciless’ depth. But still! Of the whole bunch, this is the one I want to see more of after Metal is over.

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Addenda: Mom-Jeans Lois is smokin’ hot.

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Resurrecting Hitler: Generally the Worst Idea

The first big Outsiders arc after Looker’s origin is a second invasion of Markovia. Baron Bedlam’s back with a cadre of Soviet soldiers, he’s kidnapped the royal family and the kingdom is on the verge of falling before the Red Army and the Master of Disaster. Also, he has a harebrained scheme to resurrect Hitler. Bedlam died after the first war in Markovia, but a chubby German mad scientist lady was able to bring him back to life via cloning, memories intact. Bedlam’s great idea was to get her to do the same for Hitler. It worked out as poorly as you’d expect from this kind of thing, only with the twist that, given a Jewish maid-servant who was supposed trigger cloned-Hitler’s Jew-hate, clone-Hitler is driven mad by his memories when they start to return and he kills himself again.

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It got me thinking, though, about the cloning/resurrecting Hitler trope that comes up so often in comics. Of all the Nazis to resurrect, unless you were a Hitler-cultist (which admittedly some neo-Nazis are), Hitler seems like probably the least beneficial one to whatever evil super villain cause you might have. Unless your plan relied entirely on the charisma and oratorical skills of a man that three generations around the world have been taught to hate like the devil himself, with Hitler, you’re really getting all of the worst elements of the Reich with none of the benefits.

Best case scenario (aside from the clone killing itself), Hitler is going to unseat you from your evil plans Serpentor-style and proceed to undermine any strategic and/or tactical advantages you might have (cuz that’s what he does).

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You thought you were in charge here?

“Let’s not listen to the generals regarding realistic strategic operational objectives,” “Give the Paratroopers trucks, use them as regular infantry,” “Let’s attack Russia.” You’d really get more bang for your villain buck resurrecting/cloning Rommel, Guderian, Student, or (if you were really evil and needed a super evil underling) Peiper. There’s actually a lot of really good, nuanced comic fodder for any of those beyond what we normally see from Hitler clone stories.

Anyway, I mentioned that I thought Looker’s origin story was probably one of the best mini-arcs from Batman and the Outsiders; in the letters column, Mike Barr confirmed that it was inspired largely by Lester Dent and playing with the notion of Batman as Doc Savage and the Outsiders as his Fab Five.

Later this week, I may tease out my (admittedly ham-fisted) idea for a Force of July one-off. It will be tacky and jingoistic as suits them.

Plowing through Batman Trades

Spent a lot of the weekend reading a backlog of comics I’d gotten across various Christmases and birthdays and made a lot of headway.

I’ve got to say, I’ve actually really been enjoying the Final Crisis era Batman stories, particularly the Dick/Damien pairing (shades of Prodigal?), but I’ve got to say, the continuity of it is damnably confounding.

I’d known that Batman “died” in Final Crisis and that he would eventually pop back up and launch Batman, Inc., but when the story is being told across several titles, including special series and new titles, and collected in trades that don’t give any indication of reading order, it’s been a hassle figuring out which books to read. Sometimes Bruce’s dead, sometimes he’s back, sometimes he’s back but not really back… Early on, it also took me a bit in some of the books to go “Oh, okay, this is Dick”, because for some reason Dick Grayson gets drawn a lot like Bruce Wayne did in the 90s (sickly Dustin Hoffman from Midnight Cowboy).

The Batman & Robin series that picks up after Battle for the Cowl was really good. Trade-mark dark Grant Morrison, sure, but it’s the “good” Grant Morrison. While he’s probably my second favorite Bat writer after Dixon, the pendulum swings wide: when he’s on, he’s on, but there’s always the chance that he’ll churn out some absolutely muddled non-sense that’s damn near impossible to figure out what’s going on. And he’s on for Batman & Robin. Last Rites and Time and the Batman are a damn mess, but that’s probably because they’re respectively tacked on to a trade out of continuity or isolated from the story that would give it the context needed for them to make sense as anything but a fever dream of random Batman panels.

I also enjoy some of the arcs in the mainline titles featuring the Dick/Damian team, like the story of Vicki Vale trying to piece together the connections for her big expose on the Bat Family and the Road Home event that ties into those. Except the thing that bugs me is that they have so many overlapping and intersecting storylines that only some of them make sense.

Everything is building up to Bruce’s dramatic return from TimeTM. The main Batman books do a slow-burn story, working in some of the major threads but with the missing Bruce as a haunting spectre. The Batman & Robin book works on those same threads but in a much more serial manner, with Bruce’s absence becoming ever more pressing as the Black Glove and Joker are both fighting over Wayne’s legacy in their own ways until Batman 1.0 showing up at the last minute is a matter of life and death. Which doesn’t exactly jibe with a Bruce Wayne who has time to dick around subtly and not-so-subtly testing members of the Bat Family around the world while Dr. Hurt is in Gotham pretending to be Thomas Wayne, slandering Bruce as a deviant lunatic, and trying to murder everybody with cultists.

The storylines are good on their own, and I’m interested to see where the Vicki Vale one goes (if it goes anywhere), but when taken as a whole, they are a damn mess as far as any sort of continuity is concerned. I think I’m a few arcs away from covering everything I’m interested in from this period, and will be glad to be going back to the Pre-Knightfall stuff, mostly out of Legends of the Dark Knight.

Just Another Comics Post

I’ve been binging a bit on comics lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, whenever I can help it, I’ll go for the single-issues over trade paperbacks.

On one hand, it’s an economic issue. Oddly enough, buying a full run of individual issues is generally cheaper than trades—you can get a six issue run of something for about $6, while unless you can score a really good deal on it, a trade of the same run will go for around $10-$20.

The real reason, though, is I love seeing the ads and reading the letters columns, getting a glimpse back at pop-culture and fandom from yesteryear (probably something I’ve picked up on from going through my stack of pulps).

>Really bad advertisements for Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest

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>Some really creepy fanboying for Tim Drake Robin in the letters sections

>Really bad, ham-fisted AIDS PSA

>Some people really excited to buy almost half a dozen variants of the same issue

>Some people really mad about obvious and cynical short term cashing in via half a dozen variants of the same issue

>Editor of DC admitting as early as 92 that with the millions of copies being printed, the collectors’ market was a house of cards, nothing would be worth anything.

Chuck Dixon’s Robin stories are good enough to make me real fan of the character, seeing Gotham through the eyes of some characters close to, but not, Batman. Not enough to make me a squeeing Robin Fanboi, but enough to keep an eye out for any of the Robin mini-series.

Still loving the Legends of the Dark Knight stuff. Destiny makes me hope that there are more stories about Old Norse “Bat Man” (who is basically a deeply introspective version of Dark Wolf from Fire & Ice). There probably aren’t, though.

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As recent as 2015, with the Convergence event, there was a Batman & the Outsiders 2-parter, with Katana in her old costume and Halo with long hair. This makes me optimistic for DC.

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Unfortunately, Suicide Squad looks like the Harley Quinn show and Katana still has her garbage New 52 redesign. I’d like to see her on another team away from the Harley Quinn trashfire.

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Seriously, I’ll be convinced that Suicide Squad is a trash title so long as Harley’s a part of the team.

I know I’d sworn off DC with the New 52, but I may get back in if I find the right title. Until then, though, so long as this #comicsgate mess is going on, I’ll be supporting my local comic shop by buying back issues of 20 and 30 year old stories I’ve missed out on.

Thoughts on Looker and the End of Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1

I’m nearing the end of Batman and the Outsiders, and though overall I’ve loved it, I have enough future issues to be somewhat wary of the direction that it may go in Outsiders Vol.1.*

The tail-end of Batman and the Outsiders introduces the new character, Looker, and several of the Outsiders solo covers on early issues promise some really hammy villains (the Duke of Oil, the Nuclear Family, and the godawful Force of July**).

 

Even though Looker’s 4 issue origin arc was one of the best runs since Katana’s yakuza arc, there are dark clouds appearing on the horizon.

First of all, the redesign of Halo. It first showed up in Outsiders #1 the previous month, but it shows up for the first time in continuity here. Frankly, she looks awful with a pompadour.IMG_5412

Beyond looking awful, this feels somewhat questionable because it’s coinciding with the introduction of Looker. I guess they couldn’t have two pretty women with long hair on the Outsiders, so they gave Halo this awful do to help differentiate between them?

Outsiders31Emily Briggs’ introduction and the foreshadowing of the character hint at her being a much more interesting character than I’m almost certain she’ll end up being. I don’t want to prejudge too much, but it looks like they’re going to play her up as being a sex-pot despite giving her some potential for real nuance. She’s a plain-jane bank-teller who wishes her husband would notice her more, and the comic sets her up for a friendship with Tatsu, but I spoiled it for myself and find out that once she gets her powers and joins the Outsiders, she ends up being something like the “bad-mom” to Katana’s “good-mom” where Halo’s concerned.

And it’s weird that I can tell I’m going to hate this character despite the fact that she had a perfect origin story. Really, it’s because she has such a perfect origin that I feel so certain I’m going to hate her, because I know that she won’t live up to its potential.

So, Looker’s deal is that she’s a descendant of a god-blooded race of kings from the inner earth; the Abyssian royal family had been growing more and more powerful and warlike until one of them decided to throw on the brakes and preach peace–he’s exiled and stewards rule in the family’s place while searching for a descendant to put upon the throne as a puppet. Briggs turns out to be the granddaughter of the exiled king, and the warring brother and sister pretenders are fighting over her. They unlock her god-blood powers (and beauty), and each magically brainwashes her. Before Halley’s comet can destroy the earth (wait, isn’t that the sort of thing Superman is for?), Looker shakes off the conflicting magical controls and ends the bloody civil war once and for all, naming a couple mooks rulers and ushering in an egalitarian society. While Batman’s more cynical as to how Looker overcame the conflicting brainwashing, Tatsu is certain it was Briggs’ love for her husband that broke the spell (she snapped out of it and wrecked the pretender king after he broke her wedding band and demanded she be his queen). Briggs’ husband realizes he’s been taking her for granted and how much he appreciates and loves her–he spent most of the arc devastated and praying that Batman can rescue his wife (and as a mirror to Sapphire Stagg, whom Metamorpho had just married and is in the same straits); at the end of the adventure, Briggs surprises her husband as Looker happy that she can treat her husband as ‘a woman as beautiful as she thinks he deserves’.

Based on how she’s set up, Looker seems like she could go down a number of interesting paths. She could keep up her friendship with Tatsu and help her dealing with her grief over her husband and child. She could play around a lot with the ‘true beauty is on the inside’ trope, with Looker being Briggs’ “inner self brought out”, as just a really good and loving person trying her hardest. Lots of stuff. But no, she ends up being self-centered and narcissistic and even has an affair with Geo-Force (which is really not a direction I like to see him going as the team’s “Righteous Dude”).

Eventually she becomes a vampire thot or something. :/New_52_Looker

Anyway, of the issues I’m missing out B&tO, it would have to be the two immediately preceding the consecutive run of nearly 20 other issues I own, so it may be a minute before I find out just how wrong or how right I turn out to be.

*:The first several issues of Outsiders vol.1 ran concurrently with Batman and the Outsiders and the post-Batman “Adventures of the Outsiders”, the solo series takes place a year after the events of the original and still ongoing (though wrapping up) title. So, yay for confusing continuity.

**:For what it’s worth, I think that in the right hands, Force of July could be a great property. If they were given their own book in which they were presented unironically as good and earnest patriots who loved and fought for America instead of just being used a cheap punching-bag to attack Reagan Republicans, they would have a ton of potential for great stories as a kind of D or C list Justice League. I love their designs, particularly Mayflower’s. 

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The Force of July: A Villain Team, Obviously!

Lego Batman

This is just a quick review of the Lego Batman movie.

If you’re a fan of Batman, watch it.

Its story is just coherent enough that it manages to keep rolling along while delivering nonstop Batman fanservice.

Like the first Lego movie, it is painfully self-aware, and I really don’t think it’s going to stay a fresh and enjoyable approach into the Ninjago movie they had a trailer for, but if you got a kick out of narcissistic asshole Batman there, this manages to keep the funny coming.

Batman here is a grotesque, all of his worst qualities (particularly those from the 80s & 90s comic incarnations) are exaggerated and played for laughs but also to give a bit insight into just why Batman is so messed up. It ends up looking at a lot of the same themes as Dark Victory, just taking an incredibly gonzo approach to get there.

I don’t know how well it would work as an actual kids movie; there’s plenty of action and explosions and slapstick humor, but much of the comedy and entertainment value revolves around either Batman being a terrible person or Batman obscura in film, cartoons and comics. If you’re a Batman fan, it’s definitely worth a couple of bucks to see.

(Did anybody else think it was weird that they used Carrie Kelley’s character design for a Robin that was supposed to be Dick Grayson?!)

Readin’ Some Batman!

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and game-playing with little mind to how I could blog about it.

While it has been liberating, it certainly hasn’t been good for blogging.

I’ve actually taken a bit of a break from old Sci-Fi and even the Pulps (though I’m managing to stay on top of my column for Castalia House) to plow through the massive stacks of Batman I’ve acquired over the last couple of years.

At one point, I found a list that put a ton of the Batman trades in Chronological order (Year One/Post-Crisis Batman) and entered them into my Amazon wishlist.  Because I entered them in order, that meant that a bunch of the latter day Batman books were at the top of the list, so, when people bought stuff off my wishlist, I tended to get those books close to the ‘end’ of pre-Flashpoint universe. Meanwhile, when I buy single issue runs, I go for early Legends of the Dark Knight stuff when I can, and I also bought someone’s graphic novel collection which includes bookends of the Cataclysm/No Man’s Land arc which I’m currently filling out.

So, where I’m at now, I’ve been reading the post-whichever-Crisis Dick Grayson Batman and 90s Batman, and eventually I will end up in a place where they will meet. Someday. There’s still a lot of Batman in between.

90s Chuck Dixon/Alan Grant Batman is some of my favorite, with some really great story-telling and creepy villains. The 90s stuff really strikes that great balance of crime, horror, and superhero stuff that tonally sets Batman apart from rest of the DC world he’s in.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Bruce Wayne as Batman – he is THE Batman, but I also really enjoyed the Prodigal arc epilogue of Knightfall, during which a Grayson/Drake dynamic duo fill in while Batman gets his head right (and returns with 3-foot ears and terrible artwork in time for Troika). It was a different dynamic with different psychological baggage to unpack. I don’t really care one way or the other for Grayson’s Robin, nor have I ever gotten into Nightwing, but I really enjoy seeing Grayson as Batman and his struggles to fill the enormous shoes of his mentor. I liked it in Prodigal, and I still like it in post-Battle for the Cowl Batman arcs I’ve read.

It does seem like Tim Drake gets a bit hung out to dry, though. In a lot of ways, Tim Drake is the definitive Robin of my generation – he was the Robin in the comics, he was the Robin in the last season of BtAS, he was probably Robin in Teen Titans, while Dick was the “old Robin” and those of us who weren’t as up on the comics had no idea who Jason Todd was. While I enjoyed the relationship between Bruce and Damien, a Batman struggling to figure out what to do with an ACTUAL son, I think I preferred the Grayson/Drake pairing to Grayson/Wayne. BUT, I can understand why Tim has to be shuffled out of the mix – by the time the mantle has been passed on, Drake and Grayson are too close to the same age, so it’s a different relationship (Drake doesn’t need the mentoring anymore the way Damien does).

It’s still kind of sad seeing the exchange during the earthquake arc where Bruce tells Tim that hopes that one day he will take up the mantle, knowing that it is not meant to be. Jean Paul Valley was a disaster, and Bruce himself says that Dick Grayson was the wrong person. Bruce may have changed his mind on that during the intervening years, but Dick probably knew Bruce felt that way at least at one point, and has that, along with all of his other doubts, hanging over him.