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Batman – Arkham Asylum: Living Hell (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

There is something absolutely compelling about witnessing the surreal and the impossible through the eyes of ordinary people. In the middle of the first decade of the twentieth century, DC seemed to take a novel approach to the larger Batman mythos. Acknowledging the absurdity of the world inhabited by the Caped Crusader, comic book fans were asked to look at that strange world from the perspective of the ordinary people inhabiting it.

Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark all collaborated on Gotham Central, the wonderful police procedural that offered a new way of examining the streets of Gotham. As observed by the members of the Gotham Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit, Gotham’s population of heroes and villains seemed particularly unsettling and ethereal. It is one thing to imagine the weird and wonderful world inhabited by the Batman and the Joker and the Mad Hatter. It is another to imagine sharing that world.

He knows how to make an entrance...

He knows how to make an entrance…

Launched a few months after the first issue of Gotham Central, Dan Slott and Ryan Sook’s wonderful Arkham Asylum: Living Hell is a six-issue miniseries that invites the reader inside the eponymous institution. As glimpsed through the eyes of white-collar criminal Warren White, Arkham Asylum is a place that defies explanation – a macabre and horrific environment that is home to all sorts of depravity and brutality.

Batman himself barely appears in Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, existing at the fringes of the book as he does with Gotham Central. However, despite these limited appearances, it remains clear that Warren White has found his way to the other side of the looking glass.

We all face our demons...

We all face our demons…

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Dan Slott, Ty Templeton and Rick Burchett’s Run on The Batman Adventures (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

More than two decades after its original broadcast, Batman: The Animated Series remains one of the most insightful and most elegant distillations of the Batman mythos. While the show was on the air, DC published a variety of tie-in comic books featuring a variety of talent. Some of these count among the best Batman stories of the nineties, and it is a shame that DC has not done more work to keep these in print.

Indeed, it is a surprise that DC has never thought to produce a suitably deluxe or high-profile collected edition of the work that Mark Miller did on the tie-in to Superman: The Animated Series. However, it is worth noting that DC did make a nice gesture by offering the first issue of The Batman Adventures as their free comic book day issue in 2003. It is much more appealing free comic book day than a collection of promotions or previews.

Batman. In a nutshell.

Batman. In a nutshell.

The Batman Adventures was a tie-in comic published within the animated continuity while the animated Justice League was still on the air. However, it was written after the end of The New Batman Adventures. As a result, it had a lot more freedom than the comic books that had been published in tandem with the animated series. The Batman Adventures was no longer a supplement to a television show set in Gotham, it was the only continuing glimpse at this version of Gotham.

The Batman Adventures was a wonderful inclusive comic book – it was appropriate for children, it was accessible to people with only a casual familiarity with the world of Batman. In many respects, it was the perfect “free comic book day” comic. A light, fun read with a clever take on Batman and his world. The Batman Adventures is a fantastic little book that ended far too soon – a demonstration that comics don’t need to be “adult” or “mature” in order to be smart or fun.

Deadshot is dead to the world...

Deadshot is dead to the world…

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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: Mysterio – Mysterioso (Review)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

And so The Gauntlet circles around to writer Dan Slott and artist Marcos Martín. It really is impressive the talent that Marvel was able to draw to The Amazing Spider-Man as part of their Brand New Day. The comic was publishing several times a month, requiring rotating writers and artists to keep everything moving, with a strong editorial hand to guide the comic. Whatever one might say about the motivations and consequences of Brand New Day, it affirmed the idea that The Amazing Spider-Man was one of Marvel’s premier titles, featuring some incredible creative talent.

The Gauntlet is focused on the idea of re-working and re-engineering various classic Spider-Man bad guys. Both Power to the People and Keemia’s Castle stressed the idea that Spider-Man’s bad guys are really tragic figures – that there is something to pity in figures like Max Dillon or Flint Marko. With Mysterioso, Dan Slott and Marcos Martin focus on Mysterio, perhaps the least sympathetic bad guy featured as part of The Gauntlet. (The only real competition comes from either the new Rhino or the Lizard, if you separate him from Curt Connors.)

"Mister Spider-Man, I've been expecting you..."

“Mister Spider-Man, I’ve been expecting you…”

Far from a tragic figure trapped by circumstance, Slott positions Mysterio as a arch-criminal-as-artisté – a character who not only revels in the crime that he causes, but also the psychological damage he inflicts. He is a super villain who considers the entire world to be his set, staging elaborate set-pieces for nothing beyond his own amusement. There’s no fractured psyche here, no familial love, no excuse. Mysterio is a character who simply enjoys what he does. It doesn’t add much depth to the character, even if it is great fun.

And yet, despite this, Slott manages to make Mysterioso something of an encapsulation of the themes of The Gauntlet. This is the first time in the epic that Spider-Man’s “no kill rule” is discussed and stressed, and a story that emphasises that Spider-Man’s unique brand of heroism is about enduring the impossible without being corrupted by it. As such, it feels like Slott is really codifying some of the rules of this epic. Mysterioso skilfully closes out the first third of The Gauntlet, confirming what lies ahead.

All bets are off...

All bets are off…

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Dan Slott’s Run on The Amazing Spider-Man – Ends of the Earth (Review)

While Ends of the Earth might not work quite as well as Dan Slott’s other epic from his Amazing Spider-Man run, Spider-Island, it does succeed in playing to the writer’s strengths with the character. It seems like Slott is fascinated with how Spider-Man interacts with the world – both in terms of the other fictional constructs of the shared Marvel Universe, but also in how the character tries to make his world a better place through more than beating up bad guys. Apocryphally, Stan Lee once argued that comic book fans don’t want change, but “the illusion of change”, and Slott manages to do something which almost seems impossible. He offers a take on the web-crawling wonder that is by turns classic and yet boldly new.

The last sand…

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Dan Slott’s Spider-Man – The Amazing Spider-Man & Human Torch (Review/Retrospective)

The Amazing Spider-Man and Human Torch is a sweet little book, if just a little bit too nostalgic for my tastes. A five-issue miniseries, it allows Dan Slott to show us five vignettes exploring the relationship between Marvel’s iconic webhead and the youngest member of the Fantastic Four. Slott leans a little bit too heavily on continuity in places, trying too keenly to fit the story inside an established mythology, but The Amazing Spider-Man and Human Torch reads like an affectionate homage to the relative innocence of the Silver Age. I don’t doubt that Slott’s solid character work here helped secure the writer his current position as author of The Amazing Spider-Man, and the story is a fun (if light) look back on the hokey adventures of yesteryear.

At liberty to discuss it…

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Dan Slott’s Run on The Amazing Spider-Man – Spider-Island (Review/Retrospective)

Dan Sott’s Amazing Spider-Man run has been pretty well received by fans. Credited with giving the title a sense of fun after the continuity-tangling mess of One More Day, Slott has managed to inject some fun back into the franchise. Or so I’ve heard. Despite being a fan of Slott’s Mighty Avengers, I remain somewhat disappointed that there’s been no effort made to collect his Amazing Spider-Man run into either an omnibus or an oversized hardcover collection. Still, I recently had the pleasure of devouring Slott’s Spider-Island plotline in a nice oversized hardcover, and I have to admit that I was more than a little impressed with Slott’s epic “event” comic book.

New York, New York, it's a hell of a town!

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Kurt Busiek’s Avengers – Avengers Assemble! Vol. 4 (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

Read our review of The Avengers here.

I don’t envy the fourth collection of Avengers Assemble! On one side of this collection, you have three volumes of work featuring the collaboration between writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez. On the other side, you have the epic conclusion to Busiek’s run, The Kang Dynasty. Between the two, you have this collection – which features only six actual issues of The Avengers, the rest padded out with annuals or specials or miniseries. It’s something of a transitional time. A lot of the story is about the impact of what has happened so far, while foreshadowing what’s to come.

One 4 all?

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