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Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Run on Batman – Zero Year: Secret City & 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.

It takes considerable bravery to craft an origin story for Batman in the wake of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Year One.

Superhero origins are constantly being tweaked and re-written and re-worked. Superman has had a half-dozen comic book origins (in- and out-of-continuity) since Crisis on Infinite Earths rebooted the DC universe. There’s John Byrne’s Man of Steel, Kurt Busiek’s Secret Identity, Mark Waid’s Birthright, Geoff Johns’ Secret Origin, J. Michael Straczynski’s Superman: Earth One and even Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run.

It's only a pale moon...

It’s only a pale moon…

In contrast, Batman has been relatively undisturbed, with only Geoff Johns’ Batman: Earth One positing an alternate origin story for the Caped Crusader. A large part of that is down to how sacred Year One is. Written by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, Year One is considered to be one of the best Batman comics ever published. It recently topped Comic Book Resources’ high-profile fan poll for the character’s seventy-fifth anniversary.

In many cases, an “if it ain’t broke…” mentality applies. Having a universally-beloved comic book story that is easily accessible as the origin story for a particular character is not a bad thing at all. You can hand Year One to anybody and they can read and enjoy it. Although undoubtedly a product of the late eighties, the comic remains relevant and compelling to this day. Indeed, we have not moved so far from the eighties that it’s hard to reconcile a Batman origin grounded in that social context.

Talk about falling so far...

Talk about falling so far…

However, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are the creative team working on the Batman book for the character’s seventy-fifth anniversary. The duo have enjoyed a tremendous run – managing that rare intersection of critical and commercial success in mainstream comics. There are legitimate criticisms to be made, but Snyder and Capullo’s Batman work does hold up as some of the best Batman comics produced in quite some time, and one of true success stories of DC’s “new 52.”

So, if there was ever a time to go back to Batman’s origin, this was it. A well-loved creative team, a significant anniversary, a clear distance between this time and Year One. The risk associated with Zero Year is phenomenal. It is an incredible gambit. Even though the story is not in competition with Year One, comparisons are inevitable. The result is a very satisfying and exciting tribute to an iconic comic book character that doesn’t quite surpass Year One, but is clever enough to be clear that it isn’t trying to.

Getting into the swing of things...

Getting into the swing of things…

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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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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 Adventures of Batman & Robin – Riddler’s Reform (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.

Batman: The Animated Series always did a great job with villain origins. Heart of Ice gave us the best Mister Freeze story ever told, The Clock King made the eponymous third-stringer a credible threat and Mad as a Hatter reimagined the Mad Hatter as a deeply tragic figure. That said, I don’t think that the show got a proper handle on the Riddler until his third appearance in Riddler’s Reform. The green-suited trickster has long been one of my favourite Batman bad guys, and while I mostly blame Frank Gorshin’s manic portrayal from the sixties Batman! television show, Riddler’s Reform played a pretty significant part in that as well.

Knight caller…

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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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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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Catwoman: When in Rome (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.

Catwoman: When in Rome technically exists to fill in the gaps in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, particularly in accounting for Catwoman’s absence during the early part of Dark Victory. However, it also exists as something of a “bridge”, connecting Loeb’s earlier Batman trilogy with Sale and his later work on Hush with Jim Lee. It’s an interesting exploration of an early phase of Catwoman’s costumed career, building off her origin in Batman: Year One and seeing the character attempt to move out of Batman’s shadow. While it’s hardly going to be remembered for developing a truly independent version of the character, it does make for an interesting read, and a fascinating companion piece to the rest of Jeph Loeb’s Batman work.

Go fish…

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