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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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Superman: The Animated Series – The Way of All Flesh (Review)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Although it was quite clear from The Last Son of Krypton that Superman: The Animated Series was going to be quite a different beast than Batman: The Animated Series, there were times when the show borrowed a trick or two from its older sibling. Particularly early in the show’s run, there were a number of “villain origin” episodes which seemed to emulate the more successful villain-centric stories from Batman: The Animated Series.

Fun and Games, the origin episode for Toyman, could easily have been adapted for the other show with a minimum of fuss. It was probably too similar, and a demonstration that Timm’s approach to Batman couldn’t be expected to work perfectly for Superman. Feeding Time and The Way of All Flesh are two single episodes designed to introduce two of Superman’s second-tier bad guys, the Parasite and Metallo.

While they retain a stronger sense of serialised storytelling than many of the Batman stories, there’s a very clear attempt on the part of the writers to humanise and almost empathise with these villains. The Way of All Flesh is probably the most successful, in part because Metallo has a great hook for writer Stan Berkowitz to mine, in part because he’s an interesting villain is his own right, and in part because it does this without seeming too much like an attempt to copy Batman: The Animated Series.

The real man of steel...

The real man of steel…

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Batman: The Animated Series – Nothing to Fear (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.

In many respects, Nothing to Fear feels like more of a proper pilot and introduction to the world of Batman: The Animated Series than the first episode, On Leather Wings, actually did. It feels like something of a mission statement for the series, offering a very rough outline of what the show would learn to do very well, illustrating the approach that the series would take in handling the lead character and his world. While the finer details aren’t necessarily present, and there are more than a few missteps along the way, Nothing to Fear serves as a fitting welcome to this definitive animated Batman.

Bruce’s insecurity is cause for grave concern…

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Non-Review Review: Justice League – Doom

Batman has always had a bit of a curious relationship with the Justice League, as a concept. Justice League of America was introduced as a title featuring DC’s most popular characters, but it’s easy to spot the odd member out. While the team was composed of people who could move planets, forge objects out of willpower and move faster than the sound barrier, Batman was a more traditional pulp hero – a regular guy in a mask. His portrayal made him the odd man out – the paranoid loner fighting killer clowns and costumed nut-balls seemed a strange fit on a team of “science heroes.”

Dwayne McDuffie was one of the best writers of the team, making a massive contribution to the animated Justice League and Justice League Unlimited television shows, one of the best interpretations of the concept ever. As such, his exploration of Batman’s relationship with the group makes for fascinating viewing, despite the fact the movie occasionally veers a little too far towards the conventional.

A League of their own?

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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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Non-Review Review: Batman Begins

Batman Begins has been somewhat overshadowed by the success of The Dark Knight, but Christopher Nolan’s original reimagining of the Batman mythos is a compelling and clever examination of one of pop culture’s most enduring icons. I think there’s a case to be made that Batman Begins represents the best superhero origin story ever told in film – and quite possibly the definitive introduction to Batman and his world. The key isn’t collecting bits of trivia to explain the finer details, although the script from the Nolan brothers and David Goyer certainly does that. Instead, Nolan dares to examine the psychology of Batman. Richard Donner’s Superman famously boasted that you’d believe a man could fly. Nolan makes you believe that a man would dress up as a giant bat to fight crime.

Swooping ahead of the competition…

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