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Justice League Unlimited – Question Authority (Review)

This September marks the twentieth anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series, and the birth of the shared DC animated universe that would eventually expand to present one of the most comprehensive and thorough explorations of a comic book mythology in any medium. To celebrate, we’re going back into the past and looking at some classic episodes.

If Paul Dini’s writing can be said to evoke the best of Batman: The Animated Series, Dwayne McDuffie’s work on Justice League Unlimited fills the same niche. Dini’s scripts tended to generate pathos and tragedy for the massive and varied supporting cast of Gotham City, offering insightful character studies about the broken denizens of Batman’s world. McDuffie’s Justice League work offers a thoughtful and modern examination of traditional characters, often finding moments of character amid epic storylines built around exploring the tapestry of this shared universe. While the late McDuffie was responsible for quite a few memorable episodes of the show, it’s fair to argue that the four-episode climax of Justice League Unlimited‘s “Cadmus” arc capture those strengths almost perfectly – playing to his skills as well as Heart of Ice played to Dini’s.

Luthor’s got a gun…

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Batman: The Animated Series – The Clock King (Review)

This September marks the twentieth anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series, and the birth of the shared DC animated universe that would eventually expand to present one of the most comprehensive and thorough explorations of a comic book mythology in any medium. To celebrate, we’re going back into the past and looking at some classic episodes.

One thing I really liked about Batman: The Animated Series was the way that it was constantly rehabilitating all these classic gimmicky villains, the type of stereotypical one-dimensional comic book baddies that would inevitably serve as event fodder to prove just how serious the current big threat was. Mister Freeze is the most obvious example, with Heart of Ice really setting the standard for a Z-list villain rehabilitation. Surprisingly, I find myself returning to those smaller episodes more than I’d watch the Joker-centric adventures or even some of the more popular instalments. While not quite as definitive as Heart of Ice, The Clock King does an excellent job introducing the eponymous bad guy.

Like clockwork…

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Batman: Earth One (Review)

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 think it’s fair to say that I approached Batman: Earth One with a reasonable amount of skepticism. After all, Batman already has two almost perfect origins. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins is really the perfect introduction to the character and his world, but Frank Miller’s Year One is also still a hugely iconic piece of work on the character. Miller’s Batman origin has, for example, withstood multiple re-examinations of Superman’s origin. (John Byrne’s Man of Steel, Mark Waid’s Birthright, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Superman: Secret Origin and Grant Morrison’s Action Comics among others.) So Batman: Earth One, a modernised “reimagining”of Batman’s origin story, does feel a tad unnecessary. However, despite the sense that it’s not really needed, it’s actually a fairly interesting take on the mythology judged on its own merits.

Yes, father… he shall become a bat…

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Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleeson’s Run on Batman & Robin – Born to Kill (Review)

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.

DC’s “new 52” was a fairly massive success. Hoping to re-energise their line, the company launched a massive retooling following their crossover Flashpoint. Some characters had their history radically reworked and altered – Morrison’s work on Action Comics standing as perhaps the most obvious example. However, some characters transitioned through the change with relative ease. Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern pretty much continued from where War of the Green Lanterns left off, and the entire Batman line was pretty much business as usual, save for the return of Bruce Wayne to the centre of the stage and Dick Grayson’s return to the role of Nightwing.

Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason took over as the regular creative team on Batman & Robin, a book that had been launched by Grant Morrison only two or three years earlier. The book originally focused on the dynamic between Dick Grayson as Batman and Damian Wayne as Robin, so there’s a fairly fundamental shift in the tone of the book as Bruce Wayne is teamed up with his own son. While the set-up might seem to take a while to find its feet, there’s certainly no shortage of intriguing ideas here.

A Boy Wonder…

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The Batman Archives, Vol. 1 (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.

This is where it all began. The Batman Archives collect the stories originally published in the Detective Comics anthology series that introduced the Caped Crusader to the world. It’s interesting to look back at these initial adventures featuring the character, as you see artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger really figuring out how the character and his world should work. Although there’s quite a lot of generic plotting, and some bizarre Golden Age craziness, it’s fun to watch the creators establish the elements that would define the character and the world he inhabits. From the sleazy corruption of Gotham City to the supervillains to the Boy Wonder himself, these stories provide an interesting template for the evolution of the Dark Knight.

Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na…

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Recommended Batman Comics 104: Adam West’s Batman!

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 know that movies traditionally have a minimal impact on comic book sales, but to celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, I thought I’d make a list of accessible jumping-on points for fans of Batman in mass media. There are several wonderful things about Batman. There are two especially relevant to this article. First, Batman is an infinitely adaptable character. He can literally be anything to anybody. It is entirely possible for somebody to love one interpretation of Batman while loathing others. So I’ll be breaking down my recommendations by source, so you can look at your favourite interpretation of Batman and find the most thematically and tonally relevant jumping-on points:

The second factor is that Batman is one of the few characters blessed with a back catalogue of accessible runs and stories, so there’s quite a few recommendations for each. It’s as simple as finding one that works for you.

Finally, we’re going to take a bit of a leap backwards and dig into one of the first truly iconic representations of Batman outside of comics. No, I’m not talking about the film serial. I’m talking about the camp-tastic Adam West Batman! television show.

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Batman: Knight of Vengeance (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’ll freely concede that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s first collaboration on Batman, producing Broken City. While I could see what the pair were trying to do – to craft a genuinely dark and sinister noir tale within the framework of a traditional Batman narrative – it just seemed a little overwhelmingly stylistic. However, I am actually genuinely awed at their collaboration on Batman: Knight of Vengeance. A three-issue tie-in to the gigantic crossover Flashpoint, Knight of Vengeance is essentially an out-of-continuity alternate reality tale (similar to DC’s Elseworld brand), exploring a unique twist on the Batman mythos: what if Bruce had died in the mugging, and not his parents?

Darkest Knight…

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Non-Review Review: Batman! (1966)

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 have to confess, I think that Adam West’s Batman! gets a bit of an unfair time from comic book aficionados, movie fans and even casual pundits. In the years since the iconic movie and television show, fans have acted like camp and comedy are elements that have no place in the world of the Caped Crusader. There is – of course – a reason for that. Darker portrayals have since come dominate Batman’s characterisation, from Tim Burton’s Batman to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. However, I think one of the most endearing aspects of Batman as a pop culture icon is his ability to adapt. “I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be,” Batman tells Gordon at the climax of The Dark Knight. Sure, sometimes we need him to be a staunch and iconic hero triumphing against adversity. Other times we simply need him to whip out the Bat Shark Repellent.

Batman was “Urk-ed” by the Penguin’s plan…

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Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams’ Batman – Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams, Vol. 2 & 3 (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.

It’s really quite difficult to overstate just how influential the team of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams were in redefining Batman during the seventies. Editor Julius Schwartz had made some steps in the right direction with his “new look” relaunch in the sixties, but his attempt to revitalise Batman wouldn’t truly bear fruit until the seventies. While the other definitive Batman partnership of the decade – Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers – had a clear run of issues with an over-arching story, O’Neil and Adams worked together on a number of issues scattered across a period of time when the entire Batman line was showing signs of improvement. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that we wouldn’t have Batman today without O’Neil and Adams, but I would argue that he would look pretty different.

Sharp pencil work…

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Bob Haney & Neal Adams on The Brave & The Bold – Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams, Vol. 1 (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.

In his introduction to this volume, Adams suggests that Bob Haney is one of the most “overlooked” writers in comic book history. “Though they have not gotten the recognition they deserve,” Adams argues, “Bob Haney’s stories are classics of good old comic-book drama, and dense in plot, incident, and twists.” I actually really agree with that summary of Haney’s work, and I think it’s a shame that he’s not included among Denny O’Neil and Steve Englehart as one of the writers who shaped Batman as comics entered the Bronze Age. His stories were ridiculous, but they had a sense of pulpy energy and dynamism to them. Idle folly like reason and logic are subdued to rapid-fire high-concepts, a no-nonsense Batman and a sense that literally anything could happen.

So this collaboration should be epic. Bob Haney is – to me, at least – a definitive Batman writer; Neal Adams is – widely accepted, I hope – as a (if not the) definitive Batman artist. However, combining the two doesn’t work quite as fluidly as one might hope. The stories here are solid, highly entertaining and beautifully rendered, but they’re nowhere near as effective as either creator would be working with a later collaborator. Still, even if not quite at the peak of their powers, Haney and Adams make for a powerful creative team, and there’s a lot to enjoy on their collaboration on The Brave and the Bold.

Wall-to-wall excitement…

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