Comic Review: Batman ’66, Vol. 3

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.

Comic Review: Batman ’66, Vol. 1

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).

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

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.

Comic Review: Penguin: Pain and Prejudice

The Penguin is a character that has been a major thorn in Batman’s side since he first appeared in Detective Comics #58, which was published in December of 1941. In that time, he has had some great moments and iconic stories.

Although, none of them really hit the nail on the head as well as this story does, at least in regards to who the Penguin is, underneath his sinister personality.

This examines the psychology and the origin of the character. It is dark but it is a necessary read for fans of the character that want something more intimate.

In fact, after reading this, it’s obvious that they borrowed some bits when developing the character of the Penguin for the television show Gotham. Specifically, the parts about his relationship with his mother. Granted, they replaced his abusive father with the kindhearted one, played by Paul Reubens, in the show.

Pain and Prejudice is well written and the art is superb. While Batman appears in the story, it is nice to see the Penguin as the main character. It follows his past family issues, mixes them with a current love story and weaves it all into a tale where he loses his shit and decides to attack the children of Gotham City. This, of course, brings Batman into the story in an attempt to foil the Penguin’s insane plot.

This trade paperback also includes a bonus, a one issue comic where the Joker tells his version of a Penguin origin story. The Joker tale is just a small part of this book and it isn’t a fleshed out origin like the Pain and Prejudice tale but ultimately, this collection is a real tribute to the Penguin character and just how human the inhuman villain is.

I read good things about the main story before buying this. The praise for it was justified, as this is one of the best Penguin stories I’ve ever come across in my long history of reading Batman comics.

Comic Review: Batman: The Long Halloween

This is considered to be one of the best Batman stories ever put to paper. It is certainly one of my favorites of all-time. It is followed up by Dark Victory and Haunted Knight and form a pretty cool trilogy as a whole, even if the third part is a collection of multiple stories and not a big epic like the first two parts. Also, Catwoman: When In Rome is made by the same team and takes place concurrently to these stories.

The Long Halloween is a good departure from the standard Batman stories. It is very heavy on the noir and less so on gadgetry and the more sci-fi elements. It reads like an old school classic Batman tale but is much more modern in its approach, in that it isn’t hokey and comes off really dark and serious.

The story focuses on a serial killer the press has labeled “Holiday”. The killer always strikes on a holiday and seems to be targeting high ranking family members in the Falcone crime family and their associates.

This is also an origin story for Two-Face. Even though it is a tale that has been told before, nothing really carries the weight that his origin does here.

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale combined and made one hell of a team. This was originally published over thirteen issues from 1996 to 1997 and was released as a graphic novel in 1998. The writing is great, the art is even better. This truly is a quintessential Batman story. It’s as perfect as a Batman story can get and it even sprinkles in some of the better known villains, even though they aren’t the primary focus of the story. Seeing Scarecrow and Mad Hatter team together is pretty fun.

The Long Halloween is something that true Batman fans should have already read and should certainly own. There are very few Batman stories this good. It puts a lot of emphasis on the crime families and it has since gone on to spawn a lot of other Batman related projects like the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy of films and the Fox television show Gotham.

TV Review: Gotham (2014- )

Original Run: September 22nd, 2014 – ????
Created by: Bruno Heller, Danny Cannon
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Zabryna Guevara, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart-Jones, John Doman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Morena Baccarin, BD Wong, James Frain, Jessica Lucas, Chris Chalk, Drew Powell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Michael Chiklis, Maggie Geha, Benedict Samuel, David Zayas, Cameron Monaghan

Primrose Hill Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, 66 Episodes (thus far), 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2015, near the end of season 1, plus additional updates written later.

I was going to wait until the end of the first season before reviewing this show, as I do with most new shows. I just can’t get that far and don’t think that waiting till the season ends will change my assessment. I’ve tried desperately to get this to work for me. I’ve tried a hell of a lot harder than most of my friends and Batman fans, who all gave up on this a long time ago. I saw some promise here and there but this show fails in just about every way. In short: it is pretty goddamned awful (*note: I no longer feel this way as revealed in the final update).

There are actually only a few things that this show has going for it but I’ll get to those shortly.

If you barely know anything about the Batman mythos and you find pleasure in watching mediocre cookie cutter detective shows, I can see where you might find this watchable. However, if you are a Batman fan and love and respect the franchise, this is a very painful experience.

On one hand, the producers are trying to spoon feed the audience with fan service in every episode but it is forced, poorly executed and unnecessary. In fact, it feels as if the producers read a couple Wikipedia articles about Batman and thought they had an intimate grasp. And the way they handle certain characters, goes to show that they don’t understand them at all.  At times it just feels like a cruel joke and it is Fox trolling the shit out of their audience.

For instance, Edward Nygma doesn’t need to speak in riddles every scene, Harvey Dent doesn’t need to display a split personality every other appearance, you don’t need to have constant Joker teases across multiple unrelated scenarios, you don’t need to show a little ginger girl playing with plants every time she’s on screen and Selina Kyle doesn’t need to parkour off of every object whenever she makes an entrance. I also don’t need to be reminded every five minutes about how Jim Gordon is a good cop and every other cop on the force is tainted by something. It is fucking overkill.

The acting is questionable, the writing is more often than not atrocious and despite the over abundance of horribly executed fan service, the show is just plain stupid on its own. It is an obvious attempt at being a cash cow and a ratings grabber and somehow it has worked in that regard, as it is coming back for a second season.

The whole premise of the show makes it a failure from the get-go.

To start, the worst part about most live-action superhero adaptations is the origin. The audience usually finds themselves roughing it through the early bits in an effort to get to the comic book action. Also, how many times has Batman’s origin been told? Now we are given a show that is an overly extended version of the lamest part of Batman’s tale. Who knows how long this could stretch: ten seasons, maybe? Hell, one has been enough.

The other main part of the show, is Jim Gordon trying to “save the city” and destroy corruption. Well, he’s doomed to fail because if he were to succeed, why would Gotham City need the Batman?

As far as characters, Bruce Wayne is okay and I like him being a little shit challenging authority and taking on the evil adults of his world but it isn’t enough to anchor a need for him on this show. Selina Kyle is awful and pretty much a caricature that just happens to look like a young Michelle Pfeiffer. The Poison Ivy character is unimportant and so far useless. All the villains who show up are poorly done and easily defeated. Barbara Kean is the worst character on television. Where did Renee Montoya go? Fish Mooney is sometimes great but mostly terrible. However, I don’t blame these actors, I blame the atrocious writing.

When it comes to positives, Robin Lord Taylor is amazing as the Penguin. In fact, at first, I hated that he was way too skinny to be the Penguin but he’s so good in the role that I don’t care. He is by far, the most interesting part of the show. Almost as good as Taylor is Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. Then again, when isn’t Logue anything short of great? Ben McKenzie does a solid job as Jim Gordon and I do like Cory Michael Smith as Nygma, the man who will become the Riddler – even though the writers force riddles into every situation he finds himself in. Lastly, Sean Pertwee makes a fine Alfred Pennyworth and is my favorite live action incarnation of the character. Pertwee also looks a lot like his father in his older age and seeing him in action reminds me of the Third Doctor from the classic Doctor Who series.

The show is often times too distracted by its own mess and diverts away from characters with potential to focus on too many small parts in a machine that is too large for its own good. When the show is at its strongest is when the Penguin is on screen, Alfred is kicking ass or when it focuses more heavily on the crime families of Gotham City. The episodes pitting Sal Maroni against Carmine Falcone with a little Fish Mooney and the Penguin mixed in are the best that this series has offered up so far.

I still watch this show because I want to buy into it, I just can’t. The good parts keep me engaged but they are too far and few between. I don’t believe that the show will get better but there is enough good stuff to expand on and save it from being the generally uninteresting mess it is currently. But I probably won’t watch the second season on a weekly basis, as I do now. I’ll wait a year for it to be over with and then binge watch it over a weekend. If it picks up steam and corrects itself, consider me reinvested. If not, I’ll find better ways to spend my time.

Update:

Season 2 of Gotham has been infinitely better than the first. The shows is finding its footing and it now knows what it is trying to be. I like that it is creating its own world and veering away from being trapped by the expectations from an already established Batman mythos. The show is doing its own thing and honestly, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce Wayne is killed off before even becoming Batman.

Update 2:

At the end of Season 3, the show has corrected a lot of its early mistakes.

Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jerome Valeska, who may or may not be the Joker but is probably the Joker, is the best version of Batman’s greatest villain I have ever seen in a live-action story. The kid is magnificent and really captures the magic of the comic book version of the legendary character better than anyone I have ever seen. Yes, he’s better than Heath Ledger and he has the same spirit as Mark Hamill who has voiced the character for decades.

Additionally, the show just becomes more interesting as it rolls on, even though it has some dumb plot threads. But when you don’t take this show seriously and just embrace its insanity, it works.

Most of the villains have evolved solidly, especially the Penguin and the Riddler. I also really liked the Mad Hatter story, as well as the plots that focus on Hugo Strange.

Gotham is far from a perfect show but it bounced back, in my opinion. It also works if you just take it for what it is and don’t try to force it into the box that is the already established comic book mythos. I see it now as an Elseworlds Tale, which is a title DC Comics gives to their stories that take place in different realities.

I’m glad I stuck with it as long as I did. For others who have, their dedication has paid off.