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. 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 (1989)

Release Date: June 19th, 1989 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman, Prince
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Tracey Walter

Guber-Peters Company, Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” – The Joker

Sure, there are several movies that had a major impact on me, as a young kid. However, none of them, except maybe Star Wars, quite hit me like 1989’s Batman. This was the cinematic event of my childhood that probably shaped my life for quite some time and is responsible for me still being a massive Batman fan today.

After seeing this, I got into comic books a lot more, started drawing my own and even had a comic publishing company in middle school with some friends. And to this day, Batman is still my favorite hero and he also has the coolest villains, hands down.

I was so excited to see this, being that I was ten years-old. I bought the novelization when it went on sale and read it in a day. Then I read it a few more times before the film actually came out. Was I worried about spoilers? Nope. Seeing it come to life in the flesh was all I really cared about, even if I knew the story, inside and out.

All these years later, this is still my favorite Batman film and Michael Keaton is still my favorite Batman. Adam West is a very close second though, as I discovered him and the ’60s show alongside this film.

As a ten year-old, I had never seen anything as perfect as this. When it came out on VHS, my cousins and I watched it three or four times in a row, until we passed out from exhaustion. The next day, we probably watched it another half dozen times. This was the cherry on top of the summer of 1989, which is still one of the best summer movie seasons of all-time.

Watching it in 2018, I still absolutely love this film. Sure, I see some of the minor flaws it has, like a sometimes nonsensical plot and weird developments that don’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. But this is a comic book come to life and for the time, it was some top quality stuff and it has aged really well.

The film sort of has a film-noir and a German Expressionist style. Gotham City looks timeless because of the film’s style and that style helps to keep this grounded in its own reality. While some things are over the top, it feels much more plausible than most of the comic book films today. Batman and the Joker could both exist in some way because no one here has super powers. This is really a crime thriller where the hero of the story just has a lot of money for cool gadgets and a sweet jet.

Over the years, some people have complained that Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker is corny or just a retread of the ’60s Cesar Romero incarnation. I think Nicholson was fantastic and it is one of my favorite roles he has ever played, right alongside Jack Torrance (The Shiningand Jake Gittes (Chinatown and The Two Jakes). Maybe Nicholson didn’t look like the perfect comic book version of the character but he made up for it in his madness and his ability to come off as convincing, scary and cool.

Michael Keaton is my Batman simply because he was my first and well, he is the perfect balance of Batman and Bruce Wayne. His Wayne wasn’t the best but it was acceptable while his Batman was exceptional. In later years, we got Val Kilmer, who I thought was too dry, and George Clooney, who did a great Wayne but a not so good Batman. Christian Bale was grunty and just sort of there and Ben Affleck hasn’t really wowed me, although he hasn’t disappointed either.

1989’s Batman is still a perfect storm, as far as I’m concerned. Within the context of what it is, a living comic book, there isn’t a whole lot that one could nitpick about. Then again, some writers and critics over the years have tried to call the film out for not being as good as it is remembered. But some people on the Internet survive by posting clickbait articles and whining. Some people just think they need to show how cool they are by trashing something they will never be as cool as.

While I would also go on to love the direct sequel to this, Batman Returns, this chapter in the Tim Burton Batman duology is the best. While I am a fan of directors being able to convey their vision and Burton had more control with the sequel, I like how this one turned out compared to its followup. It’s more of a studio movie, sure, but it has just enough of that Burton touch to make it fairly unique. Plus, the score by Danny Elfman mixed with the sweet tunes of Prince created one of the most iconic soundtracks of all-time.

Batman has a few problems but they pale in comparison to a lot of the blockbusters today. The film didn’t try to be too big, which is what every contemporary blockbuster does. It also has a dark edge to it, coming out of a decade where Reaganomics and new wave music had most people acting cheery and cheesy. This was a precursor to the edgier ’90s where darker indie films and grunge music became the pop culture of the time.