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Robin: Year One (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.

Chuck Dixon is one of the definitive Batman writers, particularly in the context of the nineties. Dixon enjoyed a long and well-regarded run on Detective Comics in the nineties, serving as one of the three writers driving the Batman franchise – along with Doug Moench and Kelley Jones on Batman and Alan Grant on Shadow of the Bat. Dixon even got to stay involved with the Bat titles for a little while after No Man’s Land in 1999, when the entire line had a massive turnover in talent.

However, while Dixon is an incredibly influential writer on Batman, he had as much of an influence on Dick Grayson. Dixon was the writer who handled Dick Grayson’s first on-going Nightwing series, building off a miniseries written by Denny O’Neil. Dixon worked on Nightwing for seventy issues between 1996 and 2002. He even returned to the title with collaborator Scotty Beatty after its one hundredth issue to write Nightwing: Year One, an origin story covering the former Robin’s transition into his new superhero persona.

Swinging into action...

Swinging into action…

As such, it makes a great deal of sense for Dixon to collaborate with writer Scott Beatty on Robin: Year One, a prestigious miniseries spanning four extended issues and featuring wonderful artwork from Javier Pulido. Pulido’s distinctive artwork lends itself to vibrant colours and dynamic expression, as demonstrated during his wonderful stint as part of the rotating art team on The Amazing Spider-Man. If ever a comic book lent itself to Pulido’s style, Robin: Year One is it.

Dixon does some nice work trying to explain the dynamic between Batman and Robin, and even to argue why Robin is an essential part of the mythos. Most interestingly, he, Beatty and Pulido try to integrate the arrival of Robin with the atmosphere and mood established by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli in Batman: Year One.

Suit up!

Suit up!

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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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Legends of the Dark Knight: Shaman (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.

Given the success of the Batman line in general and Year One in particular, a comic book like Legends of the Dark Knight made a great deal of sense. First published in 1989, the original objective was to tell stand-alone stories that could be positioned at any point in the life of Batman. As such, the book was not tied on any status quo at the publisher or any demands of the on-going Batman or Detective Comics books.

These were continuity-light stories that would allow writers to tell any story they wanted, unhindered by the larger editorial direction of the Batman line. Legends of the Dark Knight filled a pretty great niche in the Batman line. In a superficial way, it allowed the comics to reconnect with the success of Frank Miller’s Year One, giving the company the option of publishing more comics set in the rough early days of the Caped Crusader.

A dark night...

A dark night…

However, the continuity-hopping nature of the title meant that Legends of the Dark Knight could welcome all sorts of creative teams for short runs without tying them down. Batman and Detective Comics were traditionally books where creative teams would enjoy “runs”, with the occasional fill-in. In contrast, Legends of the Dark Knight could rotate through creators, allowing for different flavours at different times.

More than that, free from the burden of having to tie into a larger context of Batman, many of these Legends of the Dark Knight stories were friendly to casual readers who did not care about the on-going titles. Eventually Legends of the Dark Knight found itself tying into events like Knightfall and No Man’s Land, but the bulk of the run was accessible on its own terms. Featuring a varied assortment of creators free to tell the stories that they wanted to tell, Legends of the Dark Knight was a great idea.

I am the lord, your Bat-god!

I am the lord, your Bat-god!

As a whole, the two-hundred-and-fourteen issue run of Legends of the Dark Knight holds up remarkably well. The run contains a number of genuinely classic Batman stories like Gothic or Prey or Faces or Blades or Hothouse or Going Sane. The first twenty issues of the title are remarkably strong, and there is a very series argument to be made that the anthology nature of Legends of the Dark Knight made it the best Batman comic book of the nineties.

However, when it came to launching Legends of the Dark Knight, it made sense for Batman veteran Denny O’Neil to write the first story. O’Neil had been an essential part of the Batman line since the seventies. He was a prolific creator who had contributed an incredible amount of material to the wider universe of Batman. During a short run on Batman with artist Neal Adams, O’Neil had helped to restore some of the character’s darkness and mystery following the bright and colourful sixties.

The mask comes off...

The mask comes off…

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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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Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleeson’s Run on Batman & Robin – Born to Kill (Review)

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.

DC’s “new 52” was a fairly massive success. Hoping to re-energise their line, the company launched a massive retooling following their crossover Flashpoint. Some characters had their history radically reworked and altered – Morrison’s work on Action Comics standing as perhaps the most obvious example. However, some characters transitioned through the change with relative ease. Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern pretty much continued from where War of the Green Lanterns left off, and the entire Batman line was pretty much business as usual, save for the return of Bruce Wayne to the centre of the stage and Dick Grayson’s return to the role of Nightwing.

Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason took over as the regular creative team on Batman & Robin, a book that had been launched by Grant Morrison only two or three years earlier. The book originally focused on the dynamic between Dick Grayson as Batman and Damian Wayne as Robin, so there’s a fairly fundamental shift in the tone of the book as Bruce Wayne is teamed up with his own son. While the set-up might seem to take a while to find its feet, there’s certainly no shortage of intriguing ideas here.

A Boy Wonder…

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Batman: Dark Victory

This post is part of the DCAU fortnight, a series of articles looking at the Warner Brothers animations featuring DC’s iconic selection of characters. I’ll be looking at movies and episodes and even some of the related comic books. We’re winding down now, having worked our way through the nine animated features, so I’m just going to look at a few odds-and-ends, some of the more interesting or important episodes that the DC animated universe has produced. Earlier today we looked at the Emmy-winning Robin’s Reckoning, so I thought we might take a look at the comic book origin of Robin that it inspired.

“And while the Maronis and the Falcones have often been bitter rivals, they all now share a common enemy,” Batman narrates at one point in the sequel to The Long Halloween“Extinction.” Dark Victory is the story of the death of “the gangster element of Gotham City” as the organised crime families attempt one last struggle against the emerging freaks. It closes the book on the story threads that Frank Miller introduced in his revision of Batman’s origin in Year One, which continued through Loeb and Sale’s The Long Halloween (which itself provided the basis of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight). The book serves as an origin story for Dick Grayson, and thus offers a nice bookend for the early years of Bruce’s crimefighting career.

Face the facts...

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Batman: Year One

This is probably on a shortlist for the best Batman story of all time, alongside Frank Miller’s other definitive work on the character, The Dark Knight Returns. Whereas Millar focused on the eventual end of the character’s crusade against crime, here he focuses on the origin of the character. Expanding from the one-page origin which accompanied Batman #1, Miller brings his keen eye to Batman’s psychology, but also the world in which Batman functions. This isn’t the gothic construction of Tim Burton, but a grimy urban cesspool like Christopher Nolan’s. In the world that Miller carves out for the hero, he greatest opponents aren’t the disfigured freaks who would become his adversaries, but the architecture of greed and corruption that defines Gotham.

Imagine if it had been a seagull that crashed through his window that fateful night...

Imagine if it had been a seagull that crashed through his window that fateful night...

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