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. 5

Published: May 17th, 2016
Written by: Jeff Parker
Art by: Jonathan Case
Based on: Batman (’60s TV Series) by William Dozier, ABC

DC Comics, 184 Pages

Review:

This is it, the final collected volume in the Batman ’66 run of comics. It’s a sad, sad day. But, there are some crossover titles featuring Batman ’66 and other TV shows from that era, which I will have to read. But for now, let’s see if the final collection in the series was a worthy finale.

Well, one cool thing about this final volume, is that it introduces us to more classic Batman villains that weren’t originally a part of the Batman television show from the ’60s. In volume three we got Harley Quinn and in volume four we got Two-Face. Here we get even more: Solomon Grundy, Clayface, Poison Ivy, Bane, Scarecrow and Killer Croc.

The first story in this book is called The Short Halloween, which is a play on words of the famous story arc The Long Halloween. This tale is about two mean trick or treaters dressed as the Joker and the Penguin, who are going around robbing kids of their candy. A young boy and his little sister go out as Batman and Robin in an effort to stop the dastardly villains. It’s a very short but cute story where the real Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder make an appearance at the end.

Following that story, we see the origin of the Batman ’66 version of Solomon Grundy, who is resurrected from beyond the grave by Hilda, the witch grandmother of Marsha Queen of Diamonds. After that is a third short story that takes Batman ’66 villain False Face and establishes him as Basil Karlo a.k.a. Clayface, who is a big time comic book villain that hadn’t yet appeared in any Batman ’66 related stories.

We then get a story revolving around Carolyn Jones’ Marsha Queen of Diamonds but Hilda isn’t there, probably because she had just been in the Grundy story. Then we get our second Harley Quinn tale in the Batman ’66 universe, which also has a one panel Cesar Romero Joker cameo. Then we get to see the Joker, the Frank Gorshin Riddler, the Burgess Meredith Penguin and the Eartha Kitt Catwoman team up and hold an advertising agency hostage in a story that just features Batgirl as the hero and parodies the television show Mad Men.

The next story is one of my favorite in the Batman ’66 franchise, it is the debut and origin story of Poison Ivy. The story started with the “murder” of Milton Berle’s Louie the Lilac, who you find out, is actually just in a catatonic state due to a poisonous plant concoction. Batman and Robin investigate and fall into the clutches of Ivy. The Ivy character is well written here and she is handled in a way that really fits the Batman ’66 style.

Next up, we are introduced to the Batman ’66 version of Bane, who is in league with the Riddler and comes to Gotham City as a lucha libre star. He crushes his opponents and believes that he breaks Batman’s back ala the classic Knightfall story arc. Bane returns to his home country as its ruler but Batman, Robin and Batgirl show up to change his plans.

We then get two shorter stories, each introducing us to two other classic villains yet to appear in the Batman ’66 franchise: Scarecrow and Killer Croc. Both are pretty straightforward and quick tales but it would have been cool to see them get more fleshed out had this series continued on.

Then we get a tale that features the first comic book appearance of Shelley Winters’ Ma Parker. Alongside her are a team of villains comprised of Killer Croc, Solomon Grundy and Killer Moth, in his only Batman ’66 appearance. The Julie Newmar Catwoman enters the story in the second half.

Lastly, we come to the grand finale of the entire Batman ’66 series with a story called Main Title. This awesome and incredible final issue is a recreation of the opening credits to the Batman show. So we get an actual narrative and see all (or most) of the Batman villains make a cameo as they try to overtake Batman and Robin. This whole fight takes place in a movie studio in a green screen room, explaining the green background in the classic show’s opening credits sequence. This was a pretty creative send off for this series and brought things full circle.

Initially, I thought that I wouldn’t like this volume in the series as much as the others because it had such a high emphasis on wedging in as many new villains as it could. However, every story was well crafted and served a purpose. This actually ended up being my favorite of the five volumes. As a fan of the 1960s Batman televison show, this was as perfect as a comic book can get featuring this particular pocket of the Batman universe.

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

Comic Review: Batman ’66, Vol. 4

Published: December 8th, 2015
Written by: Jeff Parker
Art by: Richard Case
Based on: Batman (’60s TV Series) by William Dozier, ABC

DC Comics, 176 Pages

Review:

Well, I’m up to the fourth of the five collected volumes of this series, so that means I’m sadly, closer to the end than the beginning. This has been a fun ride, as I am a big fan of the 1960s Batman television series. It’s true to the source material and just feels right.

So how does this volume fare in regards to the first three, which I have already read and reviewed?

Well, it has multiple stories that feature Roddy McDowall’s Bookworm, so that’s a huge plus, as he was my favorite one-off villain that was invented for the show.

Other than that, the book is a lot of fun.

This volume starts with a King Tut story that has a small cameo by Bookworm. We then get a story featuring Art Carney’s The Archer, which is followed by a story where Bookworm is the main villain. After that, we get the first comic book appearance of the television show villains, Professor Marmaduke Ffogg and Lady Penelope Peasoup.

The next story is my favorite one, thus far into the Batman ’66 comic series. It stars Cesar Romero’s Joker in a plot where he is a superhero with his own sidekick and a purple Batmobile. It’s a fun story that just feels right for the Romero Joker. Plus, it has small cameos from Vincent Price’s Egghead, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin and Julie Newmar’s Catwoman.

Following this great tale, we get a story that starts with the Penguin but leads into meeting the Caped Crusaders’ first Japanese villain, and exclusive to this comic series, Lord Death Man. He wears a cool skeleton costume and controls a horde of ninjas. This adventure also sees Batman go to Japan with Batgirl, as Robin is on the shelf due to vertigo from his encounter with the Penguin.

We then get a solid Penguin story and although he seems like he is monopolizing this volume in the Batman ’66 series, this is the first story featuring him as the primary antagonist.

Following all that great stuff, we get to the final chapter in this collection which features a famous comic book villain making his Batman ’66 debut, as he was never featured on the television show: Two Face.

Two-Face was originally supposed to appear in the Batman TV show back in the ’60s but he was considered too gruesome for network television. So finally getting to see him appear alongside the Adam West Batman and the Burt Ward Robin was pretty cool. And the story was a nice read, as it felt true to the Two-Face character without altering the Batman ’66 tone.

This volume in the series may be my favorite. It has the debut of Two-Face, my favorite Joker story and two appearances by the Bookworm. Not to mention a lot of Penguin and an Egghead cameo. The only real low point was the Ffogg and Peasoup story, as I wasn’t a fan of them on the show to begin with.

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

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. 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 Returns (1992)

Release Date: June 16th, 1992 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Daniel Waters, Sam Hamm
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy, Vincent Schiavelli, Andrew Bryniarski, Cristi Conaway, Paul Reubens

Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“My dear penguins, we stand on a great threshold! It’s okay to be scared; many of you won’t be coming back. Thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish all God’s children! First, second, third and fourth born! Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones blown sky high! Forward march! The liberation of Gotham has begun!” – The Penguin

When I was a kid, other than Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Back to the Future, Part II, this was my most anticipated sequel. This was also the second and final time that Michael Keaton would play Batman, as well as being Tim Burton’s last Batman picture.

While I don’t quite love this chapter in the film series as much as the original, it is still really damn good and certainly better than the two Joel Schumacher films that followed.

We lose Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl and Jack Palance but we gain Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, as well as small parts by Vincent Schiavelli and Paul Reubens. Plus, Michael Gough and Pat Hingle return to accompany Keaton.

The two top billed villains in this story are the Penguin and Catwoman, although when you really analyze the picture, Walken’s Max Shrek is the true villain and his name was an obvious homage to Nosferatu actor Max Schreck. By story’s end, Catwoman is more of an antihero like she would become in the comics.

Danny DeVito was probably a perfect choice for the Penguin back in 1992. He had star power, charisma and definitely a similar body type. However, in this adaptation of the Batman mythos, he is reinvented to be more grotesque and much larger in girth. While he comes from wealth and opulence, this version of the character was rejected as an infant and went to live out his life in the Gotham City sewers where his only friends were sewer penguins and eventually the circus themed gang that he controls.

Catwoman also has a different origin. Here, she is a pushover secretary who gets in over her head and is shoved out of a high rise window, presumably to her death. There is a sort of mystical moment where alley cats swarm her body and she is magically reborn with cat-like reflexes and confidence. It’s pretty silly but Tim Burton made this film more like a dark fairy tale than his previous Batman movie.

Even though Gotham City is a massive place, the sets and design of this film make it feel pretty confined, even when we are in what are assumed to be wide open spaces. Maybe it was designed this way, intentionally. But the film feels smaller than the previous Batman movie, even though it cost a lot more to make: $80 million, as opposed to the $35 million budget of the first chapter.

Still, the cinematography is pretty good and the world looks much more like a Tim Burton world than the first film, which had tighter controls on it from the studio. It was the Burton elements though that I feel bogged this picture down a bit. Plus, the film was considered less family friendly and caused the studio to make drastic changes to the franchise after Burton was booted before the next picture. Granted, the followup movies were pretty horrendous.

This is a pretty good Batman picture, even if it does take some tremendous liberties in altering the source material. The right kind of spirit was there and this really just sort of exists in its own Tim Burton universe. That’s not a bad thing and if it wasn’t for the Burton Batman movies, we would have never gotten the near perfect masterpiece that was Batman: The Animated Series.

Comic Review: Batman: Featuring Two-Face and the Riddler

Published: August 1st, 1995
Written by: Neil Gaiman, Mark Waid, various
Art by: Bernie Mireault, Joe Matt, Matt Wagner, various

DC Comics, 192 Pages

Review:

Ever since reading one of my favorite collected editions of all-time The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told, when I got it back in 1989, I’ve wanted other big collections of Batman’s best villains. In recent years, DC Comics released some villain collections under the Arkham title. But before getting into those, I picked up this, which was a special release around the time that Batman Forever came out in theaters in 1995.

By the title and the cover, this obviously focuses on Two-Face and Riddler stories. It does also feature one Penguin tale too, as one of the tales collected here was the Original Sin sin story written by Neil Gaiman, which appeared in the Secret Origins Special #1 in 1989.

Like The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told, this trade paperback covers Two-Face and Riddler stories as far back as 1941 up through the early 1990s, just before this was released.

It gives the origin stories of both supervillains. In the case of Two-Face, we actually get to see three different variations of his origin. While names and details may conflict, it fleshes out who he is really well.

The only real negative is that this is pretty short at less than 200 pages. Therefore, there is more emphasis on origin stuff and not much in regards to just regular stories and run-ins with Batman.

The Arkham series of trade paperbacks will rectify that for me, as each one is much bigger than this book and focused solely on one villain per volume.

Still, if you are a fan of Two-Face or the Riddler, this is something you should add to your collection, as it gives you their first stories and shows how they have evolved over the decades.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The villain anthologies under the Batman – Arkham banner.