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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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Legends of the Dark Knight: Shaman (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.

Given the success of the Batman line in general and Year One in particular, a comic book like Legends of the Dark Knight made a great deal of sense. First published in 1989, the original objective was to tell stand-alone stories that could be positioned at any point in the life of Batman. As such, the book was not tied on any status quo at the publisher or any demands of the on-going Batman or Detective Comics books.

These were continuity-light stories that would allow writers to tell any story they wanted, unhindered by the larger editorial direction of the Batman line. Legends of the Dark Knight filled a pretty great niche in the Batman line. In a superficial way, it allowed the comics to reconnect with the success of Frank Miller’s Year One, giving the company the option of publishing more comics set in the rough early days of the Caped Crusader.

A dark night...

A dark night…

However, the continuity-hopping nature of the title meant that Legends of the Dark Knight could welcome all sorts of creative teams for short runs without tying them down. Batman and Detective Comics were traditionally books where creative teams would enjoy “runs”, with the occasional fill-in. In contrast, Legends of the Dark Knight could rotate through creators, allowing for different flavours at different times.

More than that, free from the burden of having to tie into a larger context of Batman, many of these Legends of the Dark Knight stories were friendly to casual readers who did not care about the on-going titles. Eventually Legends of the Dark Knight found itself tying into events like Knightfall and No Man’s Land, but the bulk of the run was accessible on its own terms. Featuring a varied assortment of creators free to tell the stories that they wanted to tell, Legends of the Dark Knight was a great idea.

I am the lord, your Bat-god!

I am the lord, your Bat-god!

As a whole, the two-hundred-and-fourteen issue run of Legends of the Dark Knight holds up remarkably well. The run contains a number of genuinely classic Batman stories like Gothic or Prey or Faces or Blades or Hothouse or Going Sane. The first twenty issues of the title are remarkably strong, and there is a very series argument to be made that the anthology nature of Legends of the Dark Knight made it the best Batman comic book of the nineties.

However, when it came to launching Legends of the Dark Knight, it made sense for Batman veteran Denny O’Neil to write the first story. O’Neil had been an essential part of the Batman line since the seventies. He was a prolific creator who had contributed an incredible amount of material to the wider universe of Batman. During a short run on Batman with artist Neal Adams, O’Neil had helped to restore some of the character’s darkness and mystery following the bright and colourful sixties.

The mask comes off...

The mask comes off…

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Roy Thomas & Neal Adams’ X-Men – X-Men Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Roy Thomas and Neal Adams (with the odd fill-in here and there) brought the first era of the X-Men to a close. At the end of their run, editor Martin Goodman would cancel the title due to low sales, only to bring it back as a reprint magazine a few months later. The title would continue as a reprint magazine until the publisher decided to resurrect it with Len Wein and Dave Cockrum’s Giant-Sized X-Men and Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum’s subsequent revival of the original magazine.

The last stretch of issues on this initial run is fascinating. While it lacks the raw energy and sense of direction of Claremont’s early work on the title, it’s easy to argue that Thomas and Adams helped to pave the way for their successors. Thomas and Adams’ X-Men lacks focus and vision, but it does have its own quirky style. The duo would introduce and tease all sorts of ideas that would remain with the X-Men after the cancellation and into the revival.

Suit up...

Suit up…

It may be too much to credit Thomas and Adams with saving or redeeming the franchise – although, apparently sales were increasing during their run- but their influence on the creators that followed is obvious. There are a number of clever ideas and premises that were effectively introduced by the duo, which would become almost expected from an X-Men comic book. Even if it seemed like Thomas and Adams were really just making it up on the fly, their work fits quite comfortably with what would follow.

It may not have been enough to save the mutants at that moment in time, but one could argue that it did provide Claremont with a solid base to build from.

They certainly do...

They certainly do…

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Batman: Birth of the Demon (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises this week, today we’ll be reviewing the complete “Demon” trilogy, exploring the relationship between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul.

Birth of the Demon is very much the odd one out of the Demon trilogy. Of the three stories, it is the only one not written by Mike W. Barr. It also is arguably the most reflective of the three stories in the series, focusing on the origin of Ra’s Al Ghul more than in any modern conflict with Bruce Wayne. Still, it all feels strangely appropriate that, more than a decade after his creation, Denny O’Neil should return to tell the back story of his most iconic addition to the Batman mythos.

Shadow of the bat…

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