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Batman Special #1 (1984) – The Player on the Other Side (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.

Mike W. Barr is one of the great Bronze Age Batman writers, a writer with a clear vision of what he expects Batman to be and with a body of work that seems build around that principle.

One of the interesting aspects of Batman is the character’s flexibility and ubiquity. Batman can be virtually anything that a writer needs him to be, and it does little to dilute the brand because there are so many other writers working on the character – often at the same instant. Even when a particular writer is working on the character, they cannot claim exclusivity. Grant Morrison’s version of the Dark Knight is distinct from Scott Snyder’s take on the Caped Crusader, for example.

Long Dark Knight of the soul...

Long Dark Knight of the soul…

Perhaps, as a result of this, there is more freedom for writers to craft their own unique take on Batman. Mike Barr wrote Batman across a variety of different titles over a considerable stretch of time. Barr had written random stories in Detective Comics dating back to the seventies, and had provided occasional scripts to Batman since the start of the eighties. He would continue to work sporadically on the character into the nineties and the new millennium, contributing scripts to stories like In Darkest Knight into the nineties and beyond.

However, Barr’s longest sustained work on the character came in the eighties. He wrote Batman as the headline character of Batman and the Outsiders for the first thirty-two issues of the title, collaborating with artists Jim Aparo and Alan Davis. He enjoyed a sustained run on Detective Comics with artist Alan Davis that overlapped with Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s iconic Batman: Year One run. The run culminated in Batman: Year Two. He and Davis also collaborated on Full Circle. He wrote Son of the Demon and Bride of the Demon.

"Face my Wrath!"

“Face my Wrath!”

Barr had considerable influence on the evolution of the character Batman. Grant Morrison’s creation of Damian Wayne, for example, was heavily influenced by Barr’s work on Son of the Demon. In a larger sense, Barr’s willingness to reintroduce classic Silver Age concepts into continuity following Crisis on Infinite Earths paved the way for more flexible interpretations of the Dark Knight. Barr is frequently overlooked in discussions of the character’s history, which is entirely understandable given that his most high-profile work overlapped with one of the greatest Batman stories ever told.

Still, as influential as Barr was on future depictions of the Dark Knight, it is clear that the writer had an internally consistent vision of the Caped Crusader, with a number of themes and ideas that he would visit time and time again in his work featuring the Dark Knight. Although The Player on the Other Side comes before Barr’s most extended and high-profile solo work on the character, those themes are most definitely present.

Batman Special I: The Wrath of Wraith.

Batman Special I: The Wrath of Wrath.

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Star Trek (DC Comics, 1984) #9-16 – New Frontiers (aka The Mirror Universe Saga) (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Eight issues is a long time in the world of comic books, even by the standards of modern storytelling. Committing to the same story arc for two-thirds of a calendar year is a big decision, even moreso in December 1984. Nevertheless, DC comics committed to an eight-issue Star Trek story arc in the wake of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, on throwing Kirk and the crew into a truly epic adventure with the fate of the Federation hanging on the line. It is no wonder that The Mirror Universe Saga remains the gold standard for Star Trek comic books, reprinted and repackaged repeatedly over the years.

The Mirror Universe Saga is an epic in just about every sense of the word, spanning two universes and eight issues. Not only do writer Mike Barr and artist Tom Sutton find themselves handling the fallout from the last feature film, but they also dabble in an iconic piece of Star Trek history. The Mirror Universe Saga takes full advantage of its format to offer a spectacular and impressive adventure that would have been impossible to realise on film in 1984 – indeed, it is hard to imagine television or cinema doing justice to the scale of the adventure now.

Meeting of minds...

Meeting of minds…

However, The Mirror Universe Saga succeeds on more than simply epic scale and meticulous attention to detail – although Barr and Sutton provide those with gusto. Despite everything going on around it, The Mirror Universe Saga largely works because it never loses track of the characters at the heart of the story. While the Terran Empire might be plotting an invasion in the midst of an internal revolution, the more powerful moments of The Mirror Universe Saga come from throwing the characters into contact with their alternate selves.

In 1984, it seems like The Mirror Universe Saga had figured out what would be the core ingredients for the most successful follow-ups to Mirror, Mirror. It deduced that the mirror universe could not just be playground where everything is gloriously and campily evil; it had to retain some level of emotional reality or connection. What good is a mirror if it is not reflecting anything?

Set course... for eeeevil!

Set course… for eeeevil!

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Star Trek (Marvel Comics, 1980) #4-5 – The Haunting of Thallus!/The Haunting of the Enterprise! (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Marvel certainly had an unconventional approach to publishing Star Trek.

The company had licensed the comic book rights following the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. They had released a successful adaptation of the film as part of their Marvel Super Special line and had re-package the three-part adaptation as the first three issues of an on-going Star Trek comic book. Written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by Dave Cockrum, it was clear that Marvel had big plans for Star Trek. However, it also quickly became clear that they had no idea where they wanted to go with the comic.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

After all, they immediately followed up the big three-issue opening arc with a comic where the Enterprise discovered a haunted house floating in space. While it was certainly a catchy image, it wasn’t exactly a quintessential Star Trek premise. It seemed that Marvel had no idea what to do with the comic. Writer Marv Wolfman wrote the first of the two issues comprising the storyline, handing the second issue over to Mike W. Barr. He would only stick around for two issues before handing the comic over to Tom DeFalco. DeFalco wrote a single issue before moving on.

It is a rather disjointed comic book, one which lacks the strong narrative voices that DC would give to their late-eighties licensed Star Trek comics. Then again, it is probably easy enough to deduce all of this from the fact that the first original Star Trek storyline published by Marvel featured a haunted house floating in space.

In space, everyone can hear you scream...

In space, everyone can hear you scream…

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Mike W. Barr and Gordon Purcell’s Run on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Malibu Comics) (Review/Retrospective)

The September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

The nineties comic book market was an interesting place. It enjoyed a huge boost due to the rise of speculation and collectors. The industry was massively successful in the early years of the decade, fuelled by high-profile artists, hype, and events. The industry imploded in on itself in the middle and towards the end of the decade, but it looked surprisingly profitable in the early years. Against that backdrop, Malibu Comics emerged.

Malibu had become the publisher of record for Image Comics in 1992. Image had been founded by a number of popular artists who had departed Marvel to set up their own shop and found their own company. Malibu distributed their comics for about a year, which gave Malibu access to a larger distribution platform. Although Image soon grew strong enough to publish its own comics, there was a point where Malibu had surpassed industry veteran DC Comics in the market place.

"Think of it—five months ago no one had ever heard of Bajor or Deep Space Nine. Now all our hopes rest here."

“Think of it—five months ago no one had ever heard of Bajor or Deep Space Nine. Now all our hopes rest here.”

Against this backdrop, Malibu secured the rights to publish comic books based on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Up until this point, DC comics had been publishing comics based on the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount’s decision to award the Deep Space Nine license to Malibu effectively split the comic book license up. DC Comics continued to publish comics based around the first two Star Trek shows, while Malibu had exclusive rights to the characters and world of Deep Space Nine.

As such, the decision to recruit writer Mike W. Barr and artist Gordon Purcell to write the first six issues of the comic was a pretty big deal. Barr and Purcell were incredibly associated with Star Trek comic books. The duo had done popular work on the movie-era comics, and had demonstrated an obvious and abiding affection for the franchise. Assigning these two creators to work on Deep Space Nine was a very clear message. Malibu were taking this license very seriously, indeed.

Triptych...

Triptych…

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Batman – Full Circle (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.

In a way, Mike W. Barr and Alan Davies’ Full Circle feels a bit like Steve Englehart and Marshall Roger’s Dark Detective. It’s a cap to a run on the character, something of a forerunner to DC’s recent “Retroactive” initiative, reteaming classic creators on a particular character in an attempt to recapture past glories. Like Dark Detective, Full Circle doesn’t quite work. It’s a direct sequel to Barr’s Year Two – albeit with recurring gags and characters thrown in from the rest of his Detective Comics run – and it seems to exist solely to make sure the reader understood what Barr was doing with Year Two.

Given that Year Two was hardly the most subtle of comics, Full Circle occasionally runs the risk of bludgeoning the reader into submission.

It's a Boy Wonder he doesn't get killed...

It’s a Boy Wonder he doesn’t get killed…

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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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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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