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Batman – Vengeance of Bane #1 (Review/Retrospective)

This March sees the release of Batman vs. Superman. To celebrate, we’ll be looking at some iconic and modern Batman and Superman stories over the course of the month.

Bane is a fascinating creation, arguably the most important addition to Batman’s rogues gallery since Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams created Ra’s Al Ghul in the early seventies.

There have been important villains added since. Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee created Hush, a character who has subsequently been developed and expanded by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen; Hush has popped up with surprising frequency in various Batman media, even being incorporated into the weekly series Batman Eternal in a major way. It will be interesting to see how Lincoln March and the Court of Owls endure after Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo finish their run on Batman. Still, Bane towers above all of those.

"When Gotham is ashes..."

“When Gotham is ashes…”

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Batman: Sword of Azrael (Review)

This March sees the release of Batman vs. Superman. To celebrate, we’ll be looking at some iconic and modern Batman and Superman stories over the course of the month.

Given how messy Knightfall ended up, readers would be forgiven for assuming that the Batman editorial staff had been making it up on the fly.

To a certain extent, the editors and writers were effectively making it up as they went along. According to writer Greg Rucka, the big Batman events of the nineties were not so much mapped out as loosely plotted. The creative talent had some vague idea of where they wanted to go and what they wanted to accomplish, but not necessarily the particulars of how they would get there or how they would accomplish it. After all, Rucka’s novelised adaptation of No Man’s Land had a different ending to the comic book because the novel had to be finished ahead of time.

All fired up...

All fired up…

Reading Knightfall, it quickly becomes clear that the writers had no real idea about how they wanted the story to unfold. The event has a fairly solid first act, but its second act is cluttered and much of the resolution is messy and unsatisfying. At the same time, it is clear that the writers had some idea of what they were doing and where they were going; at least in the beginning. As much as the sprawling nineties even might bungle the pay-off, it benefits from a very careful and meticulous set-up.

A lot of the key elements of the Knightfall saga were set up and signposted ahead of time. The months leading up to the start of Knightfall in April 1993 were quite busy at the Batman offices. Shondra Kinsolving was introduced in November 1992. Bane was introduced in a special one-shot in January 1993, The Vengeance of Bane, that provided the back story of the new antagonist. Bridging these two milestones was the miniseries Batman: Sword of Azrael, introducing the character who would step into the vacancy left by the broken bat.

Medallion man.

Medallion man.

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Jessica Jones – AKA Sin Bin (Review)

Kilgrave lies.

To be fair, that much should be obvious. Kilgrave is a character whose power hinges upon his ability to manipulate people using words. Of course he lies. Even his name is a lie. He lied to Jessica about the effectiveness of his powers, revealing that his decision not to control Jessica against her will wasn’t really a decision. He lies to everyone about his past, painting his concerned parents as cliché monsters. He lies to himself about his motivations, genuinely believing he is a victim in all of this.

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He also lies to the audience about his character, as AKA Sin Bin reveals Kilgrave is not a tragic and sympathetic antagonist with an explanatory childhood trauma after all. He is not the archetypal sympathetic bad guy whose actions can be explained away as the result of the horrible things that happened to him when he was a child. He is not the version of Wilson Fisk presented in Shadows in the Glass, a man who might have been a hero under other circumstances. Kilgrave is an unrepentant self-serving sociopath.

One of the joys of Jessica Jones is that the revelation that Kilgrave is unquestioning evil does not in any way make him a less complicated or compelling character.

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Peter Milligan and Kieron Dwyer’s Run on Batman – Dark Knight, Dark City (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.

Peter Milligan and Kieron Dwyer’s Dark Knight, Dark City shot to prominence when writer Grant Morrison incorporated some of its elements into his expansive Batman epic. This three-issue 1990 Batman story arc garnered a lot of attention and even earned a reprint in 2011 as part of the DC Comics Presents line. That is certainly deserved, as Dark Knight, Dark City is a genuinely classic Batman story.

Milligan hits on a lot of the themes that he would develop over his subsequent Detective Comics run. There’s a sense that the writer is scripting a version of Batman that owes at least as much to the tradition of horror comics as it does to traditional superhero narratives. Indeed, Milligan could easily have reworked most of his Batman stories for Hellblazer with only a minimum amount of changes.

Suit up...

Suit up…

Portraying Batman as a strange and surreal character inhabiting a strange and surreal world, Milligan paved the way for a lot of occult weirdness that would become a fixture of the Batman line into the nineties and beyond. It is very difficult to imagine Grant Morrison’s extended run without Milligan’s influence. It could also be argued that Milligan paved the way for the distinctive and stylised portrayal of the Dark Knight in Doug Moench and Kelley Jones’ mid-nineties run.

Haunting, thoughtful and influential, Dark Knight, Dark City is an underrated masterpiece.

Who is afraid of the big, bad bat...

Who is afraid of the big, bad bat…?

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Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis’ Run on Detective Comics (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.

When DC comics published Crisis on Infinite Earths, it was a brave new world. Everything was new again. Nothing could be taken for granted. The company had the opportunity to start again with its characters and properties, offering a new beginning to iconic heroes that would hopefully welcome new readers while learning from prior successes and past failures. It was an exciting time in the industry, one bristling with potential.

In many respects, the defining Batman story in the immediate aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths was Batman: Year One. Even today, Year One remains a foundational text for Batman, one of the best (and most influential) stories ever told using the character. It defined Batman for the eighties and nineties, and beyond. Frank Miller offered readers a new and updated origin for the Caped Crusader that teased a new way of looking at Gotham City and its inhabitants.

"It's a trap!"

“It’s a trap!”

Meanwhile, a more quiet revolution was in progress over on Detective Comics. Writer Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis began their run on Detective Comics in the immediate aftermath of the now-all-but-forgotten Legends crossover. Although the duo were lucky enough to work on the book over the fiftieth anniversary of Detective Comics, their work was somewhat overshadowed by the publication of Year One in their sister publication – to the point that their run culminates in Year Two, a sequel to Year One.

Still, while it never got the attention that it deserved, Barr and Davis did a lot to offer an alternative to Miller’s gritty and grounded reimagining. Featuring death traps and puns and brainwashing and dodgy jokes, Barr and Davis seem almost subversive. It is as if the duo are working hard to import all the stuff that might otherwise be washed away by Crisis on Infinite Earths, reminding readers that with world of Batman has always been absurd, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Talk about making an entrance...

Talk about making an entrance…

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My 12 for ’13: Gravity & Good Old-Fashioned Simplicity

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 4…

One of the more interesting aspects of blockbuster cinema over the past decade or so has been the way that bigger movies tend to have become more complicated and ambitious in their storytelling. This isn’t a bad thing, by any measure. The Dark Knight is a plot-driven blockbuster with no shortage of plot complications, reversals and reveals. However, not every blockbuster is as deftly constructed.

There’s been a surge in overly complicated and excessively convoluted blockbusters over the past few years. It’s not enough to have good guys and bad guys and spectacle. There’s a sense that there needs to be more crammed on in there. Double-crosses and triple-crosses, betrayal and redemption, shock reveals and game-changing twists. Bad guys no longer plan to simply destroy the world or kill the good guy, everybody has competing agendas, and big epic blockbusters often struggle to smooth those into a cohesive narrative.

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From this year, for example, Star Trek Into Darkness – while still an exceptionally enjoyable film – suffered from an over-complicated plot and a surplus of villainous motivation. The Wolverine featured a fiercely convoluted middle act where it seemed like half-a-dozen bad guys were all trying to kill our hero for different reasons. G.I. Joe: Retaliation featured an evil plot that was not only brilliantly stupid, it was also unnecessarily convoluted.

Gravity serves to buck the trend, offering something of a sharp contrast to this convoluted storytelling. Gravity is a celebration of old-school visual spectacle, guided through a decidedly old-fashioned plot.

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Non-Review Review: The Wolverine

The Wolverine is pretty far from a perfect film. In the era following The Dark Knight, we’ve come to expect more ambition from our superhero blockbusters; tighter plots; well-drawn character arcs and motivations for more than just our heroes. In a summer where some have fallen just short of working within this new paradigm (Man of Steel) and others have succeeded (Iron Man 3), The Wolverine feels like a conscious throwback. It’s a nineties action movie masquerading as a superhero blockbuster. Had it been released in 2007, it would have been well-received.

And yet, there’s something quite fascinating and compelling about The Wolverine, despite the noticeable problems with the script’s third act. Director James Mangold struggles to keep things under control for as long as possible, Hugh Jackman still has a wonderful charm in the eponymous role, and The Wolverine has a fascinating thematic through-line and an approach to inter-movie continuity which is intriguing and strangely satisfying.

The Wolverine falls short of greatness, but it’s still a fun and enjoyable ride.

"You lookin' at me, bub?"

“You lookin’ at me, bub?”

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