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Peter Milligan and Kieron Dwyer’s Run on Batman – Dark Knight, Dark City (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 and Kieron Dwyer’s Dark Knight, Dark City shot to prominence when writer Grant Morrison incorporated some of its elements into his expansive Batman epic. This three-issue 1990 Batman story arc garnered a lot of attention and even earned a reprint in 2011 as part of the DC Comics Presents line. That is certainly deserved, as Dark Knight, Dark City is a genuinely classic Batman story.

Milligan hits on a lot of the themes that he would develop over his subsequent Detective Comics run. There’s a sense that the writer is scripting a version of Batman that owes at least as much to the tradition of horror comics as it does to traditional superhero narratives. Indeed, Milligan could easily have reworked most of his Batman stories for Hellblazer with only a minimum amount of changes.

Suit up...

Suit up…

Portraying Batman as a strange and surreal character inhabiting a strange and surreal world, Milligan paved the way for a lot of occult weirdness that would become a fixture of the Batman line into the nineties and beyond. It is very difficult to imagine Grant Morrison’s extended run without Milligan’s influence. It could also be argued that Milligan paved the way for the distinctive and stylised portrayal of the Dark Knight in Doug Moench and Kelley Jones’ mid-nineties run.

Haunting, thoughtful and influential, Dark Knight, Dark City is an underrated masterpiece.

Who is afraid of the big, bad bat...

Who is afraid of the big, bad bat…?

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Jason Aaron’s Run on Wolverine & The X-Men – #1-8, 17 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Superhero comic books have had a somewhat rocky relationship with the concept of “growing up” since the mid-eighties. Books like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen proved that it was possible to craft mature tales with incredible depth using these icons. However, it seemed like the industry learnt all the wrong lessons from the success of Frank Miller and Alan Moore. For the past couple of decades, it seems like the ideal for superhero comics is grim and nihilistic nonsense, that “maturity” is measured in blood and bodycount.

There was a sense that the comic book industry was afraid of being seen as childish or unsophisticated, which created an ironic situation where the industry’s immaturity was on show in its fixation with adult material. “When I was ten,” C.S. Lewis once mused, “I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men feels like it subscribes to this philosophy. It’s an incredibly silly and  goofy piece of work, revelling in the clichés of the superhero genre, but it’s also a surprisingly sincere and intelligent one.

It's a bit of a gamble...

It’s a bit of a gamble…

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Jason Aaron’s Run on Wolverine & The X-Men – Avengers vs. X-Men (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Wolverine and the X-Men is one of the best comics that is being published by Marvel at present. Along with Waid’s Daredevil and Fraction’s Hawkeye, it’s a celebration of the strange and surreal side of comics. Jason Aaron doesn’t get enough credit for his character work, but his handle on the wonderfully wacky side of the X-Men mythos makes Wolverine and the X-Men a joy to read for anybody with an open mind and a willingness to try something a bit different.

Although the Avengers vs. X-Men tie-in issues are hardly the best place to witness Aaron’s artful approach to the franchise, often feeling a little disjointed and more all-over-the-map than usual, they still contain a lot of what makes Aaron’s work with the characters so appealing.

Burn, baby, burn...

Burn, baby, burn…

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Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch, Vol. 1 (Hardcover) (Review)

Warren Ellis in free flow is a truly beautiful thing to watch. In the right frame of mind, working on the right idea, Ellis has a unique ability to throw out radical ideas, fascinating constructs and subversive notions, all without ever losing his step or his flow. With Bryan Hitch, Ellis’ acclaimed and respected run on The Authority firmly altered the trajectory of mainstream comic books. Part of it was definitely the style that Ellis and Hitch brought to the book, promising “widescreen” dynamic action. However, it was the ideas that gave the book a significant amount of weight. Ellis demonstrated that you could take realpolitick and graft it into a superhero book, lending the adventures a bit more depth, potency and relevance than any publisher would have dared attempt before. These ideas are all present in Ellis’ original run on Stormwatch, the series that led into that iconic game-changing comic book.

I blame it on the Weatherman…

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J. Michael Straczynski’s (and John Romita Jr.’s) Run on the Amazing Spider-Man – The Best of Spider-Man, Vol. 1-2 (Review/Retrospective)

It’s easy to forget just how iconoclastic that early parts of the new millennium were at Marvel. The comic company was in the midst of recovering from its bankrupcy, and was going throw a massive creative shake-up. Many would argue that the late nineties represented the company’s creative nadir, and there was a very definite sense of change in the air. Some of that change involved a radical restructuring of core concepts, placing them in the hands of more radical creators.

The early part of the last decade gave us Peter Milligan on X-Force, Grant Morrison on New X-Men and Garth Ennis on Marvel Knights: Punisher. It also saw a number of big-name creators working on these characters. Kevin Smith wrote the introductory arc of the new Daredevil book. While J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man has a controversial and divisive legacy, it was a product of those times. While it was flawed even in its early days, it’s still a bold re-working of an iconic comic book mythos.

King of the swingers…

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X-Men: X-Cutioner’s Song (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

In a way X-Cutioner’s Song marks a fairly significant turning point in the history of the X-Men franchise. The X-Men books were in a state of turmoil. They had lost their long-term writer Chris Claremont only recently, and Jim Lee had departed to work on other projects. The central theme of the books – exploring prejudice and racism – looked to be losing steam slightly as South Africa’s apartheid regime collapsed and the country developed into a truly democratic state. It seemed like the books were struggling to cope with all these changes occurring so rapidly, and X-Cutioner’s Song reads like an attempt to assert control on the franchise – as if to assure readers that everything was okay and it was business as usual.

They're playing our song!

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X-Statix Omnibus by Peter Milligan & Mike Allred (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

There’s been a lot written about how fiendishly clever Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Statix was when it was published by Marvel in the early part of the last decade. Spanning two titles (beginning in X-Force and then spinning into its own title in X-Statix), it offered a forty-issue re-examination of the core X-Men thesis. Published at approximately the same time, it actually serves as something of a spiritual companion to Grant Morrison’s equally controversial, challenging and provocative New X-Men run. Both series dared to consider that Chris Claremont’s once revolutionary idea, casting mutants as a feared minority because they were inherently “different” might need revision in the early years of the twenty-first century. Both series have been attacked by critics for not conforming to the model that Claremont designed for the franchise three decades earlier. However, I’m going to be controversial, and I’m going to state that both Morrison and Milligan were more faithful spiritual successors to Claremont than any X-Men writers since the nineties.

Nobody’s Doop…

Note: You can read my review of Milligan and Allred’s initial X-Force run, collected in the hardcover “Famous, Mutant & Mortal” here. This is a review of the recently-published omnibus, which collects all their work on the characters, so I won’t go into too much depth on that initial run.

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