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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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The Adventures of Batman & Robin – House and Garden (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.

It’s amazing how thoroughly Batman: The Animated Series was able to explore Batman’s iconic selection of bad guys, demonstrating how remarkably deep and varied his villains are. Paul Dini was perhaps the strongest writer when it came to drafting these psychological portraits of Arkham’s countless denizens, even inventing characters like Baby Doll and Harvey Quinn for the show. (With Harley now an established and iconic character in her own right.) While Poison Ivy had a strong debut episode, and a run of strong appearances, House & Garden stands as perhaps the most thorough exploration of the villain’s psyche, building a relatively complex portrayal of her psychology and pathology in under half an hour.

House call…

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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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Batman: Arkham Asylum – A Serious House on a Serious Earth

Batman’s not afraid of anything.

It’s me. I’m afraid.

I’m afraid that the Joker might be right about me. Sometimes… I question the rationality of my actions. I’m afraid that when I walk through those asylum gates… When I walk into Arkham and the doors close behind me…

It’ll be just like coming home.

– Batman explains his unease at going into Arkham Asylum to Jim Gordon

I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised to hear recently that Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum is a somewhat “divisive” book. It is, one hand, highly critically praised and the best-selling graphic-novel of all time, yet Morrison scholars are quick to describe it as “much maligned”. I’ll admit that I took my time getting around to reading it – partially due to the fact that DC refused to keep the hardcover in print – but I eventually buckled and got myself the softcover 15th Anniversary Edition. What I found was one of the most densely challenging, cleverly constructed and brilliantly gothic depictions of the Dark Knight I have ever encountered (indeed, it might even be “simply the most” rather than a safer “one of the most”). It’s beautiful, it’s dark and it’s tough – but it’s also immensely rewarding. Come with me into the Asylum.

Batman comes home…

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Batman: Haunted Knight

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. It’s a match made in nerdy comic book heaven. Of course, the duo made their name by working together on The Long Halloween and its direct follow-up Dark Victory and have both had a huge influence on the two Nolan Batman films, but before they completed that grand sweeping arc that tied together the early years of the Caped Crusader’s career, they first teamed up on three Halloween Specials through the mid-1990s. Why is it that Halloween Specials are so much better than Christmas Specials? Think about it, you have The Simpsons’ Halloween Special in one corner and the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special in the other. Still, that’s a discussion for another day.

Because you wouldn't read a Batman Christmas Special...

Because you wouldn't read a Batman Christmas Special...

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