Comic Review: Batman: The War of Jokes and Riddles

Published: December 19th, 2017
Written by: Tom King
Art by: Mikel Janin

DC Comics, 200 Pages

Review:

I haven’t been too keen on modern comics from the big publishers: Marvel and DC. I’m not wholly opposed to reading them, as there are a few titles I still like. However, modern writers seem to be trying to reinvent and alter things too much. Then there is the whole SJW movement in comics that are forcing change in a bizarre and unnecessary way, as oppose to creating new characters that can stand on their own.

The Batman Rebirth stuff doesn’t seem to be full of SJW meddling but it does make some drastic moves and alters the narrative in ways that don’t feel organic.

My biggest issue with this story, is that the Riddler, one of the main characters, is pretty much a murderous, blood thirsty psycho that carves question marks into his flesh and plays more of a mob boss with a penchant for green suits than the classic villain we all know and love. Also, he has sideburns, looks attractive and wears his dress shirts wide open like some sort of douchebag.

The Joker seems pretty much normal, even if he is drier and more bland than what one is used to. But his story starts with him not finding anything funny anymore. Sort of like the kid that takes his ball and goes home because the bigger kid keeps tackling him to the ground. The Joker has no energy here but I guess that’s the point of the story and how it plays out. Still, in no situation whatsoever, can my mind even imagine this sort of version of the character.

Then there is the relationship between Batman and Catwoman, which sees Batman turning a blind eye to Catwoman’s crimes as long as she grinds on his junk once in a while. Besides, she’s not a “sick” criminal. Regardless, Batman’s code seems to be thrown out the window as long as he gets to play “hide the churro” every few dozen pages or so.

And speaking of Batman’s code, he tries to kill the Riddler in cold blood, unprovoked in the moment, with a machete to the face. No, seriously. This is something that happens in this tale.

The problem with this story arc is maybe the same problem I have with modern comics. The writers and the creators either don’t have respect for the source material and want to put their own spin on things or they just don’t understand or know the source material. I’ve been reading Batman comics for over thirty years and this is the most un-Batman story I have ever come across.

The writer doesn’t understand these characters, tries to throw way too many into the story and then doesn’t even weave a good or engaging enough plot to give this any sort of point. The entire plot revolves around the Joker feeling gloom. The big reveal at the end shows that this was all an elaborate ploy by the Riddler to solve the biggest riddle of all: why won’t the Joker laugh.

I’ll tell you why the Joker won’t laugh. It’s because he’s lived for nearly eight decades and never has he been in a story as dull and as dumb as this one.

I really wanted to like this because it has been a long time since I’ve cared about Batman. Yes, I still read older stuff on a regular basis but the series has just been lost to me ever since the end of the Grant Morrison era.

On the positive side of things, the art is pretty damn good. I don’t like some of the new character designs but the book still looks nice.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Probably other Batman stuff in the Rebirth line but I doubt I’ll read anything else from this era.

Comic Review: Batman ’66, Vol. 3

Published: April 28th, 2015
Written by: Jeff Parker
Art by: Jonathan Case
Based on: Batman (’60s TV Series) by William Dozier, ABC

DC Comics, 168 Pages

Review:

I’m really loving this series and it actually keeps improving with each collected volume.

This third collection starts by bringing in one of the established comic book villains to the Batman ’66 universe. A character that has never appeared in the ’60s Batman show. Her name is Harley Quinn. In fact, she was actually invented in the ’90s for Batman: The Animated Series and wasn’t even brought into the comics until the end of that decade. But seeing a popular Batman villain get ’66-ized is kind of cool.

The Harley origin story happens alongside a Joker and Catwoman team up that also features a lot of cameos from various villains locked within Arkham Asylum.

After that epic tale, we get to see the return of TV only villain, Marsha Queen of Diamonds, originally played by Carolyn Jones of The Addams Family. That is followed by a short tale featuring Van Johnson’s The Minstrel. We then get a False Face story, followed by a bigger team up adventure that puts the Joker with the Riddler and has cameos by the Clock King and the first comic book appearances of Art Carney’s the Archer and Milton Berle’s Louie the Lilac, one of my all-time favorite Batman ’66 villains. Following that is another team up, this time featuring Tallulah Bankhead’s Black Widow and the Penguin. The last story gives us Egghead and comes with small cameos by the Otto Preminger version of Mr. Freeze and the Riddler.

This volume was heavy on the team ups and cameos but I like that it showcases a lot of the villains and think the stories work really well this way, as Batman ’66 was a short lived series and the show had a lot of villains to cover, many of which were exclusive to just the show.

Ultimately, this is just another great collection of the series that I had hoped would go on forever.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The rest of the Batman ’66 comic collections.

Comic Review: Batman ’66, Vol. 2

Published: October 21st, 2014
Written by: Jeff Parker
Art by: Jonathan Case
Based on: Batman (’60s TV Series) by William Dozier, ABC

DC Comics, 176 Pages

Review:

In the second collected volume of Batman ’66, the series really finds its groove. It felt even more like the ’60s Batman show than the first collection, which did a good job of kicking off the series.

I think, by this point, the creative team was more comfortable and really locked in to what made the ’60s Batman so special. We also get to see more of the classic villains from the show, who were show creations and not taken from the comics. And frankly, I adore a lot of the TV villains, especially Roddy McDowall’s Bookworm and Victor Buono’s King Tut, both of whom get resurrected here.

This volume actually kicks off with a Bookworm story. I loved this because the Bookworm story from the television series was one of my favorites and unfortunately, Roddy McDowall only played the character once. This was a good expansion on the character and fleshed him out more than the show did.

We then get to see the return of Anne Baxter’s Olga, Queen of Cossacks in a fun tale. There is also the return of Malachi Throne’s False Face in a chapter that also has a cameo by Frank Gorshin’s Riddler. Then the Cesar Romero Joker has a funny little chapter about cost cutting in regards to labor. After that, we get the return of King Tut and the Caped Crusaders get sucked away to ancient Egypt.

Following the Tut adventure, we get a short chapter about Egbert Pennyworth, Alfred’s evil identical cousin. We then see the return of Anne Baxter’s other villain, Zelda the Great, Cliff Robertson’s Shame, an Otto Preminger Mr. Freeze story and then have the book capped off by the new villain Cleopatra, who was once an accomplice of King Tut.

I liked the stories here a lot and I don’t know how the series can improve upon the great work done in this collected volume but I have three more to go. Needless to say, this is one of the best and most refreshing newer comic series that I have read in quite a while.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The rest of the Batman ’66 comic collections.

Comic Review: Batman ’66, Vol. 1

Published: April 8th, 2014
Written by: Jeff Parker
Art by: Jonathan Case
Based on: Batman (’60s TV Series) by William Dozier, ABC

DC Comics, 176 Pages

Review:

Around the time that 1989’s Batman came out, The Family Channel started showing episodes of the long dead Batman TV show from the 1960s. My generation was able to see the Batman that our parents grew up with and even though it was cheesy and ridiculous, it was damn cool. I instantly fell in love with the show and watched it every single night that I could but it was on pretty late and when the summer of ’89 was over, I had to go back to bed at a normal time because of that annoying school place I had to go to.

A few years ago, DC Comics resurrected the Batman ’66 mythos in comic book form. They have also done two animated movies with the voice actors being many from the original television show. These comics however, have been on my Amazon Wish List for quite some time. I was waiting for the series to wrap up before getting all the collected editions. This is the first of five.

The series starts off with a bang, giving us a good story pitting our heroes against the Frank Gorshin version of the Riddler. The first story also includes the Julie Newmar incarnation of Catwoman. After that, we get a villain team up story with Burgess Meredith’s Penguin and the Otto Preminger version of Mr. Freeze. Then we get tales with Cesar Romero’s Joker, Liberace’s Chandell, Joan Collins’ Siren, Vincent Price’s Egghead, The Sandman, a Batgirl versus Eartha Kitt Catowman story and a really cool London adventure that features the Mad Hatter and the Clock King and shows that they are closer allies than we ever realized.

The best thing about Batman ’66 is that it truly understands its source material. It is written in a way that makes it consistent with the show. All the characters feel authentic and there was great care in recreating this version of the Batman universe. I love seeing all these villains return, especially ones that were just in one-off episodes or not as well remembered as the big four: the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin and Catwoman.

Batman ’66, Vol. 1 is a fantastic start to what should be a great series. I’m pretty enthusiastic about reading the next four volumes. I’ll probably also eventually pickup the crossovers that they have with Batman ’66 and Wonder Woman ’77The Green HornetThe Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the ’60s television series version of The Avengers (not the Marvel ones).

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The rest of the Batman ’66 comic collections.

Film Review: Batman & Robin (1997)

Release Date: June 12th, 1997 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Akiva Goldsman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, John Glover, Elle Macpherson, Vivica A. Fox, Jesse Ventura, Nicky Katt

Warner Bros., 125 Minutes

Review:

“If revenge is a dish best served cold, then put on your Sunday finest. It’s time to feast!” – Mr. Freeze

When I recently reviewed Batman Forever, I was really harsh on it. I also said that it is a worse movie than this one, which is considered one of the worst movies ever made. Watching these two films, back to back, after all these years, I still feel that way. This is the superior film of the two dreadful Joel Schumacher Batman pictures.

What makes this stand well above Batman Forever, for me, is the thing that most people like to trash about this picture: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. Sorry, I just love puns and Mr. Freeze’s awful and cheesy puns still make me smile. Sure, I’d prefer a more serious Batman film than this festival of hokey camp but if Schumacher insists on destroying something I love, I can at least appreciate Schwarzenegger’s performance for what it is, a beacon of utter hilarity in a sea of horribleness. And really, Schwarzenegger’s Freeze is the best of the Schumacher Batman villains. The Riddler and Two-Face were just more insane versions of the Joker, Poison Ivy was terrible and Bane just made me want to cry.

Speaking of Ivy and Bane, this film’s other villains, one would have to be somewhat excited at the prospect of Uma Thurman playing Ivy. However, she gets completely Schumachered up and is a shell of the great character she should be. In fact, she’s not Poison Ivy at all, she’s a wacko scientist reborn as a plant that emulates over the top starlets of a bygone Hollywood era.

Now Bane, he’s even less Bane than Ivy is Ivy. In the comics, Bane is an intelligent and strong foil for Batman, a true equal with more strength and the advantage of not being bogged down by good guy morals. Here, he is a dumb hulking brute that spends more time dressed like Dick Tracy in a lucha libre mask than actually doing anything useful. Fuck Bane. Fuck Schumacher.

The film is also full of the Bat-nipples, Bat-butt and Bat-crotch shots made famous in Batman Forever but since they introduced Batgirl here, we also get a gratuitous Bat-boobies shot when she first throws on her costume. Schumacher likes his sexy Bat-bits being front and center in these more “family friendly” films.

We also get more of Elliot Goldenthal’s awful Batman theme except it is even louder and more unrelenting in this picture than it was in Batman Forever. It literally never stops. Sure, it may have the volume dropped a bit here and there but it is just two hours of violent horns blowing right up your ass. By the time you get to the final shot of the movie where Batman, Robin and Batgirl run towards the screen with the theme blaring louder than ever, you want to scream, “Oh my god! Fucking enough already!!!”

This film isn’t as ugly as Batman Forever but make no mistake, it is still really friggin’ ugly. It’s like some random person walked up to Joel Schumacher and asked, “How are your Batman films going to look?” And he realized he hadn’t thought about it yet but since he was buying black light posters for his niece at Spencer Gifts, he pointed to the poster rack and hissed, “Just like thiiiiiissssss!”

Other than Schwarzenegger trying his damnedest to be fun here, there is nothing in this film that is worthwhile. I could get into the lousy script, how George Clooney was like a fish out of water, the horrendous wire work in the action sequences and about 900 dozen other things but this movie is a massive failure. Still… not as bad as Batman Forever, which wasn’t even mildly fun or entertaining. Schwarzenegger saved this movie from itself, even if it still turned out worse than a sawdust enema.

So it should go without saying that this needs to be put through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 5 Stool: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”

Comic Review: Batman Arkham – Mr. Freeze

Published: May 16th, 2017
Written by: various
Art by: various

DC Comics, 228 Pages

Review:

I’ve been reading these Batman Arkham trade paperbacks, as they are collections of tales featuring famous Batman villains that cover their earliest stories up to their most modern. This volume on Mr. Freeze was pretty enjoyable, even if he was a fairly weak character until he was reinvented in the ’90s for Batman: The Animated Series.

Reading these collections that span decades also shows you how a real hokey character can actually become quite compelling. Plus, it’s cool to see how different generations have rewritten Freeze’s origin. Granted, I will always see his origin as the one that was established in Batman: The Animated Series, which was adapted into the comics shortly after. The newer twist to his origin isn’t nearly as good, where Nora wasn’t his wife but was his long dead mother.

Most of the stories here are pretty entertaining. I like reading the really old school classic stuff and it is cool seeing where the character came from and how he originally burst onto the scene. Mr. Freeze was originally called Mr. Zero but that was changed after his first appearance.

The best Freeze stories are the ’90s ones, though. The story in here that was done by Paul Dini, who also worked on Batman: The Animated Series, was by far the best tale in this collection.

Mr. Freeze is an interesting villain that has changed a lot over the years. While he isn’t as iconic as the Joker or the Riddler, he is still one of Batman’s toughest foes and a collection of his top stories was long overdue.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The other villain anthologies under the Batman – Arkham banner.

Comic Review: Batman: No Man’s Land – The Complete Saga (Volumes 1-5)

Published on: September 1st, 1999 (Volume 1)
Written by: Bob Gale, Devin Grayson, Greg Rucka, Ian Edgington
Art by: Alex Maleev, Dale Eaglesham, various others

DC Comics, 1040 Pages (total over all 5 volumes)

Review:

There have been a lot of huge stories in the Batman mythos over the last 75 plus years. This story may have been the biggest.

Following the events of Contagion and Cataclysm, No Man’s Land tells the long and epic tale of life within Gotham City after a massive earthquake.

In a nutshell, everything was nearly destroyed and the United States government condemned the city and requested that everyone leave, as it was christened “No Man’s Land”. Nothing comes in and nothing comes out of Gotham City in this world. It is essentially like the world in Escape From New York. Except this is Gotham City and this world is full of Batman, his allies and his enemies.

This event took place across every Batman related title throughout 1999. It encompassed the entire Batman world and involved just about every living character that existed in the flesh, at the time.

This is a great series to pick up, as it sort of reinvents and reestablishes the Batman landscape. With Gotham being wiped out everything literally has to be rebuilt from the ground up. Batman reestablishes his connections with his allies and makes some new ones in the process. This series also invloves just about every major Batman villain, so each chapter in this series is literally a Who’s Who of Batman’s rogues gallery.

This series is also notable for being the first time that Harley Quinn and Mercy Graves appeared in comic book form, as part of official DC Comics canon. Both characters started out in the DC Animated Universe but became so popular that they were officially adopted by DC.

The art and the writing in this series is well beyond top notch. There are a lot of things that make this one of my favorite Batman sagas, if not my absolute favorite.

If you’ve ever wanted to see how Batman would live in a post-apocalyptic scenario, here’s your chance.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The big Batman events leading up to this: Knightfall and Cataclysm.