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.

Advertisements

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

ffmystic

>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.

Batman_Legends_of_the_Dark_Knight_Vol_1_35

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.

Convergence_Batman_and_the_Outsiders_Vol_1_1

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.

Squad01

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. 

Force_of_July_0002

297548-79225-force-of-july

The Force of July: A Villain Team, Obviously!

DC Supers Shows – Just OK Enough To Not Be Terrible

I’ve started watching a handful of the DC superheroes shows, and while I’m not blown away by any of them, they do, for the most part, feel ‘adequate’. They are dumb, kinda cutesy, feel good dreck you can enjoy with the entire family. I just wish it went beyond that into something genuinely enjoyable.

I watched most of the first season of Supergirl, and yeah, it has a quirky charm to it. The biggest issue I have is with Jimmy Olsen; no, it’s not that they made Jimmy Olsen black, it’s that they’ve made Jimmy Olsen a heart-throb that all the women swoon over. There should be nothing cool about Jimmy Olsen other than that he’s Superman’s pal, otherwise it just feels wrong.

One of the best parts of Supergirl is that it fairly explicity exists in a verse where Clark and Kara are the only supers. This resolves the biggest problem that the DC Universe has that while there’s always some cataclysmic crisis on the horizon, there should theoretically be a glut of superheroes to take care of it.

I’ve started watching The Flash, as well; again it’s a kind of quirky, harmless, “oh, we’re a lovable bunch of goofs working to save the world” show. I wouldn’t say I like it more or less than Supergirl; it’s different. While the megaplot of Flash is more interesting than Supergirl’s, the day-to-day is more tiresome. It’s frustrating to watch Flash hopelessly moon over Iris who is a pretty garbage love interest.

Strangely, the setting premise of the Flash reminds me more of Static Shock than any Flash stuff I was particularly familiar with (which admittedly isn’t much).

While it’s certainly a different generation of show from the current crop, Smallville, which I’ve started on with my girlfriend, shows that things really haven’t changed that much. It’s clearly a template for what I’ve seen of the other series so far. I’m not sure how much of it I can take; everything I suspected about this show that I used to justify not watching it first run is pretty correct-BS teen highschool drama with supervillains thrown in. The only interesting hook is pinpointing when and why Lex Luthor becomes a villain – imagine how many lives could’ve been saved if Jonathan Kent weren’t just constantly a dick to him!

The supervillain of the week grind in these shows is frankly pretty boring. None of the villains are particularly developed or interesting, and the shows’ structure seems to exist in part to distract from how uninteresting the interactions between most of the characters are. It’s like, they want to come across as shows with heart, but they really don’t have any.

Somehow, Lois and Clark managed to pull of what these shows try with fewer special effects and next to no supervillains. Somehow the characters just felt more real and more warm than the current crop of DC shows. I can’t put my finger on it, and to just write it off as “well, Lois and Clark was a rom com with some action and the new ones are actually superhero shows” seems to not quite hit the nail on the head, even if it’s partial true.

Unless something changes, the current DC supers shows are never going to have good enough special effects for the superhero aspect to carry them, and I really feel like they don’t have good enough character actors and writers to bring the levels of charm necessary to come close to the old Lois and Clark’s tier of entertainment. Frankly, the main thing these shows have going for them are being recognizable superhero properties that people are hungry for and being family friendly enough that folks can watch them with the kids.

Of the current crop of DC shows, iZombie is far and away the best, and it’s not a supers show, and it’s barely a comic-book show, because the first thing they did was throw out nearly everything from the comic but the name. But it’s got good writers and better character actors than the other CW DC shows, and is just an all-around better watch. It’s really in a class of its own.

Misfit Super Teams: Runaways and Batman and the Outsiders

I’m mostly a DC fan, but I’ve got to admit, I have a soft spot for Runaways. It’s one of the Marvel titles I enjoy enough to consider trying to follow, or at least catch up on the various gaps in what I’ve read.

For those who don’t know, the premise of Runaways is the kids of a group of Supervillains discover that their parents are evil and (TITLE!) run away. They (I think, I missed that volume) kill their parents and take over their secret base, trying to cope with the power vacuum of villainy that the removal of their parents created.

I particularly like the older run, as it presents an ongoing relatively non-episodic story that more adheres to the narrative structure that got me into comics in the first place (graphic novels & manga).  I still have a hard time with strictly episodic superhero stories, though I’ve warmed up to mainstream comics in general a bit in the form of short arcs within a continuity. I’ll admit that one thing that kept me away from Runaways for some time despite loving the first volume was the assumption on my part that, like all other ongoing western comics, there would be no satisfying resolution and eventually the story would go off in radically divergent directions away from the establishing narrative, the characters would get replaced or Flanderized, and it would turn into a hugely disappointing unending mess. Well, I’m starting to try to just enjoy the ride, and once the road gets too bumpy, I’ll get off.

But back on topic, I think the reason why Runaways is the only Marvel title I really enjoy is that the characters perceive the rest of the Marvel Universe kind of in the way that I perceive it. Wolverine thinks he’s bad but he’s really just kind of a jerkass, Spiderman thinks he’s cool and hip and funny but actually he’s a giant tool, the X-Men are lame-os trying to be edgy, the Avengers are cool until you meet them. I actually relate to these Marvel characters because of their utter disdain for their fellow (and far more iconic) Marvel heroes, and it’s a strange feeling. They’re kind of a bizarro Teen Titans; without the guidance of A-tier heroes, they make a lot of mistakes and bad choices, but because of their interactions with the rest of the Marvel heroes, you still get the gooey angst similar to that which the Titans have for being in the shadow of their “parent” figure heroes, but since none of them are the children or side-kicks of Marvel staples, there’s not the understanding that they’ll patch things up with and eventually take up the mantle of a Jerkass Justice Leaguer Avenger or X-man. And as much as I love Raven, Nico is, if not a better character, a more interesting take on the dark magic girl insofar as how her powers work.

What I read of Volume 3 (in magazine terms, not collection terms) confirmed some of my fears about the devolution into villain of the weekisms, but the other collections I read have convinced me that I definitely need to go back and finish the stuff from Volumes 1 & 2.

And speaking of Superhero teams, in my quest to find the optimal insertion point into Batman nearly 80 year history, I grabbed a DC Showcase collection of Batman and the Outsiders from the library.

Why do I say I’m looking for an optimal insertion point? I know this probably makes me a terrible Batman fan, but my favorite Batman is early to mid-90s; I read the Dark Knight Archives that had the first 4 issues of Batman, and found it painfully dull; I read the DC Showcase Brave and the Bold Team Ups collection because I loved the Brave & the Bold cartoon show and wasn’t sure what was worse, the awful D-list villains, the overly long and boring stories, or the bad silver age 1-liners; for my money, Azbats aside, the Knightfall era is some of the best Batman I’ve read outside of some one-offs.

Why did I pick Batman and the Outsiders? Well, I liked the (wildly reimagined) Outsiders’ cameos in the Brave and the Bold cartoon and the publication dates of the Batman and the Outsiders are far closer to the era of Batman I know that like than the era of Batman I know that I don’t like.

It’s getting there. There are still some traces of bad 4th-wall breaking Silver Age cheese, though it’s generally only the occasional panel and it never goes into the full on “blah blah blah, good readers!” hyperbolic nonsense which made the Silver Age team-ups unreadable to me. The setup and introduction is a bit awkward (‘I’m quitting the JLA because you won’t invest cosmic conflict level resources into intervening in a civil war in a country smaller than Luxembourg to help me save Lucius Fox!’ ‘You guys who showed up out of nowhere and almost botched this for me: let me set you up in Bruce Wayne’s assorted safe houses. You’re my new team, because that little shit Robin is with the Teen Titans now!’), but the book finds its rhythm quickly. The interplay between the characters, particularly Halo/Katana and Halo/Geo-Force, is the strongest aspect of the title and helps to compensate for where the title lacks in good episodic stories. I’m generally not interested in whatever bottom tier villain they’re fighting, but I’m interested enough in finding out how the team members’ relationships evolve that I’m more than willing to keep reading.

I think the Outsiders hit their stride with the Teen Titans crossover; revealing Terra as Geo-Force’s missing sister suddenly makes the Outsiders relevant (in my reader’s mind, at least) to the DC Universe and its overall story. Geo-Force is a good, if troubled dude, and knowing that his sister is evil, Batman knows his sister is evil, and that his sister is going die in the not too distant continuity future… there’s gonna be some Pathos, man!  Plus, getting to see some vintage Robin Resentment and a cameo of a pre-Robin Jason Todd provides some nice fuel for my continuity-nerd furnace.

As for actual continuity, though, it’s kind of a problem since Batman and the Outsiders is, comparatively speaking, immediately before Crisis, meaning that it could’ve been wiped out partially, completely, or not at all. The Real Batman Chronology Project indicates that post-Crisis flashbacks indicate that Batman did leave the JLA, did form the Outsiders, and the lineup of Teen Titans who show up in that early crossover does hold up in post-Crisis continuity, but just how much can be ascribed to the life Batman from Year One actually lived in the second decade of his career is up in the air, and since it was so close to Crisis, there was not a wholesale post-crisis reintroduction of Batman’s formation of the Outsiders.

Regardless of its standing within Modern Age continuity, my conclusions are:
Batman and the Outsiders is worth checking out.
While the writing is still a bit dodgy, Pre-Crisis Batman is back on my Radar.
If they aren’t stupid expensive, I might someday pick up some original issues of B&tO to get a better appreciation of them; the Showcases might be a “bargain” but coloring can be the difference between an okay and a great comic.
Geo-Force fighting Superman at Christmas because Superman & Batman wouldn’t let him murder a professor who had been sexually abusing the girl he was in love with and drove her to a suicide attempt was one hell of a crazy story!

#ChangeTheCover: So, the Artist Withdrew the Batgirl Variant Cover

Some people are saying that DC pulled the cover, but based on what I’ve seen, the artist himself, after the campaign against the cover, asked DC to withdraw the art and DC complied. It’s hard to not look at this as his being bullied into pulling down his art. Because that’s pretty much what happened.

I’m a huge Batman fan. While I’ve had some problems with what’s been done in certain Batman comics either stylistically or storywise (I hate how Catwoman is drawn when she’s in costume and I kind of hate all of the non DCAU portrayals of Harley, and I hate that one artist whose name I forget who makes all of the Robins look like they’re 40 year old Dustin Hoffmans trying to take a rock-hard dump). I have a lot of mixed feelings about the Killing Joke. What the Joker does is disgusting and the story leaves one feeling disgusted. But isn’t such a visceral reaction a sign of a powerful story?

Anyway, this variant cover was supposed to be an homage to the Killing Joke.batgirl-41-cover

The biggest complaint was that it portrayed Batgirl in a state of fearful helplessness and victimhood. Which is interesting, because the usual complaint about comics is when some character is showing off ginormo-tits in an anatomically impossible pose. Or ass in the air (I don’t care what anyone says that Spider-Woman cover was ugly and weird looking for more reasons than just ‘too-much-sexy’).

One thing that a lot of people forget (or just don’t know, because the people complaining don’t read comics) is that Batman is (at least Post-Crisis) a horror comic*. A lot of the stories look into the character’s deepest darkest fears. Serious House on Serious Earth is high-octane nightmare fuel. And that’s the sort of feeling this cover is meant to invoke. The other thing that these people are overlooking is that it is fairly typical of Batman covers to show some scene prior to the heroes’ big table-turn where they are powerless, helpless, about to be killed (often in a gruesome manner) by whichever rogue is featured in that issue. Needless to say, when people threw out the “You don’t see Batman being depowered and violated on HIS covers!”, the response was a flood of classic covers depicting the Dark Knight in all manner of predicament. Talk about Batman being depowered, what about that iconic cover of Bane snapping Batman’s back against his knee?

Bats don't bend that way!

Bats don’t bend that way!

On one hand, when Barbara was paralyzed, she didn’t come back as Batgirl, while Bruce came back as Batman. On the other hand, when Barbara came back as Oracle, she had become a more interesting and dynamic character. When Bruce finally came back, he was still just Batman, just poorly drawn and with 2 foot long bat ears (seriously, Troika had some crap art and was a pretty big let down as far as a comeback arc, especially after how well written Prodigal was).

Anyway, here are just a few examples of Batman in peril at the hands of some rogue.

I don't know what's scarier: what's about to happen to Batman or those goddamn 2 foot ears!

I don’t know what’s scarier: what’s about to happen to Batman or those goddamn 2 foot ears!

batman_189

See? Even the cover says he’s gripped by fear!

Batman, helpless at the hands of the Joker!

Batman, helpless at the hands of the Joker!

I can't think of anything more disempowering than being flying-kicked by three dudes at the same time.  Except for maybe being flying kicked by more than three dudes at the same time.  Or in combination.

I can’t think of anything more disempowering than being flying-kicked by three dudes at the same time. Except for maybe being flying kicked by more than three dudes at the same time. Or in combination.

 

Batman is totally about to be cut in two in that one cover!

Batman is totally about to be cut in two in that one cover!

*:This tends to be played with a lot more in the one-off graphic novels and some of the side titles, such as Legends of the Dark Knight and Shadow of the Bat (especially Shadow of the Bat).

Minor Update:
If this guy is representative of the rest of the creative team on Batgirl, it’s probably a shit book that doesn’t deserve a good cover anyway.
Cameron Stewart

 

Arkham City

Over the Christmas holiday, I ‘finished’ Arkham City. And by Finished, I mean I got through the basic story mode which gave me 51% completion. Haven’t finished the Catwoman stuff and haven’t started they Harley stuff.

Arkham City left me with a lot of strange mixed feelings. I’ll go ahead right off and say that I enjoyed it a lot. There were some things I was a bit ‘eh’ about, a few things I was all ‘huh?’ about, but plenty I was ‘yeah!’ about.

-Interspersing the Catwoman content with the main game would’ve been more effective if it weren’t so stacked toward the backend. I realize that this is important for story purposes, but it was strange to start the game as Catwoman for one fight, play as Batman through the prologue, do a Catwoman mission, then play almost the entire rest of the story as Batman before doing another Catwoman mission. According to the game stats, after the main story ends and you start playing as Catwoman again, her story is only about 20% complete. So, we’ll see.

-Mixed feelings about the Riddler stuff. I didn’t mind the Riddler stuff in Arkham Asylum, and eventually even got 100% completion, though it did feel like a tacked on element. The Riddler is much better integrated into Arkham City, and he legitimately feels like the most powerful and dangerous Batman villain because of his shear ability to have crap everywhere; he has the rest of the inmates pretty terrified, too. I like, to an extent, that getting Riddler trophies is a bit more of a challenge than simply waiting until you had the right bit of equipment, but at the same time, you’re still waiting until you have that right bit of equipment, AND you’re looking for more trophies in a MUCH larger and less open area. And some of the traps really ARE so mind-boggling that you’re left thinking “I must not have the right item yet”, put it off, and the next thing you know, the game is over. Riddler’s puzzles, while more rewarding are also much more daunting, and hunting them all down feels like the wearying chore that Riddler intends them to be.

-The augmented reality missions probably need to be done much earlier than I tried to do them. Preferably before everyone and their dog has a gun. I didn’t finish these, and they were pretty annoying. Very Superman 64.

-While it’s not quite a “thrill is gone” kind of thing, the atmosphere is different; Arkham City is creepy but in a different, urban decay sort of way, while Arkham Asylum is creepy in the haunted mental hospital sort of way. As terrible as Arkham City appears on the surface, in a way, that’s kind of how I imagine most of Gotham looking. It’s still a stealth game; gameplay wise, aside from the rooftops thing, it plays like the same game as Arkham Asylum, but the difference is that Arkham Asylum felt like a horror game. I spent the first half of Arkham Asylum (especially the platform puzzle in the caverns) just wondering when Killer Croc was going to pop out of somewhere and eat me. I never felt that sort of anticipation in Arkham City. And the Mad Hatter side mission, while amusing, didn’t come close to that first encounter with Scarecrow in the morgue.

-Two-Face felt like a tease. Sure, he has a faction of thugs sandwiched between Penguin and Joker’s territory, but other than the prologue, he’s fairly irrelevant to the story, which is surprising considering all of the foreshadowing in Arkham Asylum that he might be a major player in a sequel.

-Screw Ra’s al Ghul’s flight challenges. I probably died on these more times than in that big brawl with Joker near the end.

-I feel bad for Penguin that his Iceberg Lounge and natural history museum happened to be in the part of Gotham that got converted into Arkham City. But it’s great for players. The Cobblepot Museum is by far one of my favorite parts of the game. Damn shame that the whole place has fallen into ruins, but Penguin’s really made the best of things with it. I do wonder where Jay, Raven and Lark were. (it got blown up in Gates of Gotham, which I got for Christmas, too!)

-The ruins of “Old Gotham” and Wonderland Park had kind of a silly feel to them and reminded me a bit of Bioshock. It was fun fighting the league of shadows there, though. My opinions on Ra’s and the League have softened over the years, in no small part due to Liam Niason; Arkham City makes this work.

-The concept behind Hugo Strange’s Arkham City makes sense. His big secret plan that he’s carrying out for the real big-bad makes less sense. Poor Warden Sharp. You just know that he was hoping that he could’ve been the villain this go round, but alas, it was not to be.

-Some fairly big name Rogues die ultra grisly deaths, which was kind of a surprise. Lazarus Pits, though, mean that death is certainly not the end.

-Like with Arkham Asylum, Batman’s character model reflects, over the course of the game, the beating he’s taken and the damage to the Bat-suit. By the end, Batman looks like hell, and everyone who sees him is all “Holy, crap, what happened?”

-The first few hours of the game almost trolled me into complaining “Where’s Oracle?”

-Combat continues to be ace.

-Changing up the boss-fights was a big improvement over the original Arkham. Plus, getting to go head to head against more of Batman’s Rogue Gallery was pretty rewarding (Two-Face letdown aside).

-Hooray for the gun disruptor!

-The inevitable-villain-betrayal syndrome is a bit comical, though really I’m pretty sure it’s played for laughs. I couldn’t help but chuckle at Bane’s “Oops, sowry, Baht-mahn!” when he catches you with a charge attack when you’re fighting the squad of Tyger elites together.

-Harley Quinn skanks it up less than the packaging art implies; this is not necessarily a bad thing.

-Something I would’ve liked to have seen more of was the conflict between the opposing gangs. Coding a dynamic gang-war in Arkham city probably would’ve been a nightmare, though. Still, it struck me as odd that when Two-Face & Penguin’s men are there side by side, they’ll call each other names but not really do anything. But when Batman shows up, everyone is all “It’s the Bat!” and with a startling amount of confidence which lacks any justification they all put aside their differences and try to jump you. You’d think that after awhile, “It’s the Bat!” should be a cue to drop what you’re doing and run like hell; this is never the case. While there are a lot of things the game recreates from Batman comics, chasing down scared thugs running for their lives is not one of them.

-Did I mention that the boss fights were better than in Arkham Asylum? Because, man, those were some awesome boss fights.

-M. Night Shyamalan would be jealous of the twist Joker cooked up.

-That was one hell of a powerful ending.

-Watching the credits all the way through should give you an achievement unlock.

-Mark Hamill, you are one hell of a creepy dude, and you are the definitive Joker.