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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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Batman – Year Two (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.

Batman: Year Two is an… interesting read. It’s much-maligned by comic book fans, and there are a lot of reasons for that. Most obviously there’s the fact that it really doesn’t make a lot of sense, but there’s also the fact that it was published by DC as a way of capitalising on the success of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Year One is a classic comic book story, one of the greatest origins ever written, and one that endures to this day, where even Scott Snyder felt intimidated in writing over it more than two decades after it was published.

Batman: Year Two is not that sort of classic.

In fact, it’s not any sort of classic. However, divorced from context, it’s an interesting read. It feels like writer Mike W. Barr is consciously and gleefully subverting absolutely everything that worked so well in Miller’s Batman: Year One, rejecting the notion of a version of Batman anchored in something approaching the real world, and getting right down to the comic-book-y-ness of the character. Positioning it as a sequel to Batman: Year One feels odd. It would almost read better as a rebuke.

Welcome to the late eighties...

Welcome to the late eighties…

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Peter Milligan’s 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.

Peter Milligan’s run on Detective Comics was cut unfortunately short. After writing six issues of Detective Comics, the writer felt a little over-stretched, and so decided to concentrate on more personal projects. While that’s entirely understandable, it’s also a little unfortunate. Milligan’s work on Batman is rather underrated and often overlooked. Grant Morrison’s decision to build some of his extended Batman run off Milligan’s Dark Knight, Dark City helped bring some exposure to Milligan’s work on the character.

Despite the brevity of his run, Milligan is incredibly influential when it comes to the character of Batman. His work prefigures a great deal of the nineties. The way that Milligan seems to play Detective Comics as an existential horror story feels like it sets the stage for the extended collaboration between Doug Moench and Kelley Jones on the main Batman book during the mid-nineties. Although he didn’t stay to see the idea through, Milligan did play a (very) small part in the development of Knightfall.

Hanging on in there...

Hanging on in there…

Even outside of the general mood of Milligan’s work on the title, and demonstrating that a Batman comic could work as a horror story, even Milligan’s individual stories are influential. Dark Knight, Dark City is major influence on Grant Morrison’s work on the character. Perchance to Dream on Batman: The Animated Series seems to owe a debt to Milligan’s Identity Crisis, imagining a version of Bruce Wayne who is not Batman. (Something Morrison revisited during Final Crisis.)

However, perhaps Milligan is most influential in his portrayal of Gotham itself, offering us a damaged Batman protecting a haunted Gotham.

Knight clubbing...

Knight clubbing…

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Non-Review Review: The Dark Knight Returns, Part I

Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns might just be the most influential Batman comic ever written. It offers a glimpse an alternate future where Batman has retired as Gotham’s protector, and where a new wave of violence brings him back out of that retirement. It is also, and perhaps more notably, a study of the character’s psychology. It’s notable for suggesting that Bruce Wayne’s obsessions might be ultimately self-destructive and that there’s a primal conflict between the “Batman” part of his persona and Bruce Wayne. Like Watchmen, it’s generally recognised as one of the comics that represented a maturity in the medium.

Warner Brothers have produced an animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic, and I can’t help but admire it a great deal. While Alan Moore’s Watchmen was a novel that never really lent itself to film, Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns always had a cinematic quality that I think director Jay Oliva captures remarkably well.

A dark and stormy knight…

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The New Batman Adventures – Cold Comfort (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.

As wonderful as Heart of Ice was, offering a classic origin to a bad guy who would have otherwise been a footnote, there is a sense that the reimagining of Victor Fries hemmed the character in a bit. By giving him a moving origin story based around his wife, it meant that the character’s arc would be dictated by Nora. As such, it limits the story-telling opportunities, because there are really only so many stories you can tell. Fries can be seeking revenge (Heart of Ice) or striking a deal to preserve here (Deep Freeze) or responding to her loss (as here), but that’s pretty much it.

Cold Comfort is the first episode featuring the character without the direct involvement of writer Paul Dini. It certainly shows, as it feels like a fairly wasted chapter in the character’s arc.

Has Freeze flipped his lid?

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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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Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen’s Streets of Gotham – Hush Money, Leviathan, The House of Hush (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’m a big fan of Paul Dini. He was perhaps the finest writer on staff for the superb Batman: The Animated Series and he wrote a superb run on Detective Comics (culminating in the rehabilitation of a modern villain in Heart of Hush). He’s one of few writers out there who genuinely has a firm grip on the characters that inhabit the world of Gotham. I was quite looking forward Streets of Gotham, the Batman title that Dini would be writing in wake of Batman R.I.P., promising a unique perspective on Gotham and its guardians. Unfortunately, the end result feels relatively slight, with the series never truly finding a comfortable niche, and bouncing around somewhat inconsistantly.

Batman could handle this in his sleep…

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