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Batman – Knightfall (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.

Knightfall is one of the definitive Batman stories.

That is, to be clear, not the same as saying it is one of the best. Knightfall is far too chaotic and disorganised to rank among the best Batman stories ever told. This becomes particularly obvious when the story enters its second and third act, as everything falls to pieces and the saga sort of sputters out rather than coming to a clear end. Indeed, this problem can be seen even in the nineteen-issues-and-change introductory arc; the creative teams start with a strong focus and clear direction, but this quickly descends into anarchy as the story builds a forward momentum.

Batman just snapped...

Batman just snapped…

At the same time, there is something striking and ambitious about Knightfall. It is no surprise that Denny O’Neil considers it one of his crowning accomplishments as editor of the line. Asked to name his favourite Batman arc, O’Neil replies, “I guess it would be Knightfall because it involved me so deeply–I worked on it as a comic series, a novel, and a radio show. It was a very steep mountain to climb, but we climbed it and that was satisfying.” There is no denying the influence and success of the arc.

In some respects, Knightfall is an astonishingly cynical piece of work. It is quite blatantly designed as a crossover with a high-profile guest cast and killer high concept. Indeed, Knightfall could be seen as a headline-grabber in the style of The Death and Return of Superman, but with the added hook of Batman’s iconic rogues gallery. After all, it was the nineties, the era of sensationalist headline-grabbing sales stunts. It could be argued that comics (and mass culture) have always been stuck in this cycle, but it was particularly evident in nineties comic books.

All of Batman's greatest adversaries... ... and Maxie Zeus.

All of Batman’s greatest adversaries…
… and Moench.

However, Knightfall has two core virtues that go a long way towards excusing the confusion and excess at the heart of the story. The first is that there is a sense that the writers seemed to have a (very) rough idea where they would like to end up, even if the journey was not mapped in advance. While the plot resolves with a convenient and contrived twist, at least it does not hinge on Bruce magically waking up from a coma. More than that, though, there is a sense that Knightfall is actually trying to say something about its central character.

For all the noise and static along the way, Knightfall is essentially a story about Batman means in the context of the nineties.

Armoured and dangerous...

Armoured and dangerous…

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The X-Files (Wildstorm) #5-6 – Dante’s Muse (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

And Wildstorm’s X-Files comic dies a quiet death.

The seven-issue (six monthly issues and a special “zero” comic) miniseries is an oddity. These seven comics tell four self-contained mysteries that stand quite separate from another, even as they echo the show’s creative peak. These four self-contained stories are credited to three different writers; the first two stories are written by producer and writer of the classic show, while each of the final two stories is credited to an established industry veteran with a long history working at DC comics.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE

Still, the miniseries feels like something of a damn squib. Barring that X-Files/30 Days of Night crossover, these seven issues represent everything that Wildstorm chose to do with the license. It certainly pales in comparison to the more comprehensive and thorough exploitation of the property by previous owner Topps and future owner IDW. While part of that is likely down to the simple fact that Wildstorm was in its extended death throes, perhaps it also speaks to where The X-Files was at that point in time.

Perhaps there simply was not that big a market for The X-Files in late 2008 and into 2009. Perhaps the memory of the show’s final season lingered too strongly in the cultural memory, or perhaps the cultural remembrance of show had faded entirely. The spark of nostalgia that would resurrect the show half a decade later had yet to be kindled. For whatever reason, it seemed like The X-Files was not quite ready to return to the popular consciousness.

EVERYTHING DIES

EVERYTHING DIES

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Batman: Shadow of the Bat – The Last Arkham (Review)

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.

In 1992, DC comics launched Shadow of the Bat. It ran for eight years and ninety-two issues. Alan Grant wrote most of those issues, before his creative relationship with the publisher eventually broke down. (Grant is still upset about the manner of his dismissal.) As the driving force behind the book, Grant was able to give Shadow of the Bat its own unique flavour, focusing on the madness of Gotham, and the strangeness of its inhabitants.

The opening four-part story, The Last Arkham, remains perhaps the most definitive of Grant’s contributions to the Batman mythos, teaming up with artist Norm Breyfogle to offer a rather creepy and unnerving exploration of the city’s ever-slipping sanity.

Me thinks the Batman doth protest too much...

Me thinks the Batman doth protest too much…

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Batman: Vampire Trilogy – Red Rain, Bloodstorm & Crimson Mist (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.

I’m going to be entirely honest. I’m not completely sure what to make of Doug Moench and Kelley Jones’ Batman: Vampire trilogy. A collection of three Elseworlds stories, all following a Batman who confronted Dracula early in his career, they initially seem like grim and dark comics from the nihilistic nineties. There’s a lot of violence, a lot of cynicism, and a lot of gore. As with a lot of Batman written around that time (and arguably beyond), The Dark Knight Returns seems like a major influence, presenting a progressively darker and unhinged Dark Knight and an increasingly brutal war on Gotham’s crime. However, there were times, reading the trilogy, that I couldn’t help but read it as a sort of an implicit criticism of these sorts of excessively dark and edgy comics.

Streets run red…

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Batman: Prey (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.

I actually have  a bit of a soft spot for Doug Moench’s Batman work. That is, of course, before he and Kelley Jones got shunted off to work on whatever insane Elseworlds concept they could concoct, like Batman: Haunted Gotham or Dark Joker the Wild. (Although I think Batman: Vampire wasn’t half bad.) I would really like a nice collection of the work that Jones and Moench did during the nineties – similar to the collections we’ve been seeing for artists like Jim Aparo or Marshall Rogers. I think the pair did a good enough job that they deserve one. (Although I’d rather Breyfogle and Grant first, please.) Still, I think there’s an argument to be made that Prey is perhaps the best of Moench’s Batman work, a story arc the writer did for Legends of the Dark Knight set in the early days of Batman’s career. It’s fascinating, because it’s a wonderful criticism of Frank Miller’s style of Batman writing, long before that school of thought became popular.

Bloody murder…

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