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Batman: The Long Road Home

I’ve been having a grand old time, over the past six or so months, re-reading Grant Morrison’s years-long Batman epic, as well as many of the other Batman stories published around the same time, in the last few years of DC Comics’ pre-“New 52” continuity.

You can follow these links to read my previous reviews of the last several years of Batman stories: Part 1 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, part 2 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, Batman: The Animated series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne stories that culminated in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, the re-launch of the Bat-books under the Batman: Reborn bannerPart 3 of Grant Morrison’s run, the launch of the new Batman and Robin seriesPart 4 of Grant Morrison’s run, Time and the Batman, and Part 5 of Grant Morrison’s run, The Return of Bruce Wayne.

DC Comics killed off Batman in their 2008 company-wide crossover Final Crisis, but just a little over a year later Bruce Wayne returned in the six-issue mini-series creatively titled The Return of Bruce Wayne.  (Both those stories were written by Grant Morrison.)  This set the stage for the final act of Mr. Morrison’s Batman saga: Batman, Incorporated, which I will be writing about soon.  The return of Bruce Wayne set about another large re-shuffling of the other Batman books.  While Grant Morrison’s tale got a lot of attention, there were some great stories being told in the other books and, in a bizarre turn, by the time DC Comics re-launched their entire comics universe in “The New 52,” Mr. Morrison’s Batman story had been shifted to the sidelines.  (More on that when I write about Batman, Incorporated, soon.)

Bruce Wayne: The Long Road Home — Setting the stage for the post-Return of Bruce Wayne stories, DC released a series of one-shots, spotlighting different characters in the Batman universe.  I like the idea of giving some attention to the Bat-universe’s many supporting players, and certainly the hook of taking this opportunity to show how Bruce Wayne’s return affected these other characters, and updating the audience on their current status quos, was a good idea.  The execution left a little something to be desired, as the story that connected the one-shots, of Bruce donning a new costumed identity so as to spy on and evaluate all of these other characters, seemed a little dopey to me.  Bruce Wayne has ninja-like training, so he could certainly observe other characters without being seen if he wanted to.  The reasoning for him to create another identity and get involved in the goings-on seemed flimsy to me.  … [continued]

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Following the much-ballyhooed death of Bruce Wayne in Final Crisis, in 2009 DC Comics re-launched all of their Batman books, with former-Robin Dick Grayson assuming the mantle of Batman, while young Damian Wayne (Bruce Wayne’s son as seen in Son of the Demon from 1987, and brought into modern-day DCU continuity by writer Grant Morrison) became Robin.

You can follow these links to read my previous reviews of the last several years of Batman continuity: Part 1 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, part 2 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, Batman: The Animated series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, and the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne stories that culminated in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?.

Batman #687-691Batman #687 is a stand-alone issue, written by Judd Winick and illustrated by Ed Benes and Rob Hunter.  It covers pretty much exactly the same ground as the three-part Battle for the Cowl mini-series (and rather more effectively).  We see our characters’ grief over the death of Bruce Wayne (such as the powerful moment in which Alfred tells Superman and Wonder Woman that “my son has died”), and we see Nightwing’s resistance to stepping into the cape and cowl, and ultimately his acceptance of the role of Batman.  Long-time Marvel comics illustrator Mark Bagley (who had terrific, lengthy runs on The Amazing Spider-Man and then on Ultimate Spider-Man, one of the longest uninterrupted runs ever) joins Mr. Winick for Batman #688-691, in which we see Dick Grayson’s early days in the role of Batman.  We see the differences in style between Dick Grayson’s Batman and Bruce Wayne’s, and we see Dick’s attempts to forge a partnership with the difficult, stubborn Damian.  More interestingly, at least to me, is that we see the villains’ reactions to this new Batman — specifically Two-Face, who notices immediately that this new, more-smiley Batman must be a different man than the Batman he had known.  I love Two-Face’s plan for utilizing that knowledge, and I think Mr. Winick gave him a clever scheme for gaining access to the Bat-cave.  Mark Bagley’s art was solid, and I was sorry that he didn’t continue as regular artist on the book.

Detective Comics — Amidst the re-shuffling of the Batman: Reborn story-line (the banner given to all of the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne Batman books), Greg Rucka returned to Detective Comics (Mr. Rucka had written a memorable run on the book several years earlier), replacing Paul Dini.  But rather than telling new Batman stories, Detective Comics now focused on the new Batwoman character who had been introduced in DC’s weekly series, 52.  Lavishly illustrated by J.H. Williams III, this run of Detective Comics quickly became my favorite Bat-book, … [continued]

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Re-Reading Batman the Animated Series’ Paul Dini’s Run on Detective Comics!

I am digging deep into some old Batman continuity, friends!  After starting a project to re-read Grant Morrison’s years-long run on Batman (click here for part one, and click here for part two), I decided to also re-read some of the other Batman comics of that era.  Parallel to the beginning of Mr. Morrison’s run on Batman, Paul Dini, one of the major creative forces behind Batman: The Animated Series (still my favorite non-comic book depiction of Batman), took over Detective Comics.  Right now I am having a heck of a time re-reading Mr. Dini’s run on Detective!

While most comic books of the day favored lengthy, multi-issue stories (something that is still the case today, a style which I quite enjoy when done well), Mr. Dini took the opposite approach.  In a deliberately retro choice, Mr. Dini decided to tell a series of done-in-one single issue stories.  This is a surprisingly difficult task to do well.  To introduce a compelling mystery and/or character story-line, provide several twists and turns for the reader and complications for our hero, and then to resolve everything in a satisfying conclusion, all within the span of just twenty-two pages is fiendishly difficult.  Mr. Dini, thankfully, proves a master at this form of story-telling.  Each issue is a little gem all of its own, an entertaining Batman short-story.

I was particularly heartened to see how seriously Mr. Dini took the comic book’s title.  This isn’t Batman, this is Detective Comics.  Almost every one of Mr. Dini’s stories has a mystery aspect, in which the Dark Knight Detective must use his brains, far more often than his fists, to solve the mystery and foil the villain’s plot.  I love this more cerebral take on Batman.  There are super-villains galore in Mr. Dini’s run, and there are certainly some great fight scenes.  But the joy of each issue is in the slow unraveling of each new mystery, as the reader races with Batman to solve the caper.

Mr. Dini’s run gets off to a terrific start in Detective #821, illustrated by the great J.H. Williams III.  In my post about Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, I commented that the Black Hand three-parter (in Batman #667-670) was my first exposure to Mr. Williams’ amazing art, but I now see that I was wrong, as I definitely read Detective #821 first.  All of the characteristics of Mr. Williams’ spectacular work is on display: the brilliant way he shifts his art style to differentiate different characters and different situations, his dynamic page-layouts (including some particularly jaw-dropping double-page spreads), and a gorgeous, lushly painted depiction of Batman himself.  I wish Mr. Williams had illustrated more than … [continued]

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Last week I wrote about some of the great comics I’ve read lately.  That list was just scratching the surface!  Here’s some more fantastic stuff that I’ve been enjoying recently:

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt and BPRD: 1947 – The Hellboy saga continues in these two new wonderful mini-series.  In Hellboy: The Wild Hunt, things are coming to a head for the big red guy.  Cut off from his old friends and comrades in the BPRD, and hunted by the newly-resurrected Queen of Blood, things are looking grim for our hero!  Last month’s issue (#6) was jam-packed with astonishing revelations about Hellboy’s origin that I never saw coming, but that I thought worked absolutely PERFECTLY.  Meanwhile, BPRD: 1947 takes us through a rollicking tale of the second year of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense as Professor Bruttenholm struggles against vampires and a lot of other weirdness.  The Hellboy universe has really richened and deepened over these last few years, and I am really excited to see where things go from here.

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man — The relaunch of Brian Michael Bendis’ take on Spider-Man (three issues have been published as of this writing) continues just where the previous 133 issues (plus a handful of annuals and other specials) left off.  Young Peter Parker must juggle his, um, interesting love-life with a boring job at a fast-food joint (since he lost his job at the Daily Bugle following the devastation of NYC in the truly awful Ultimatum miniseries) with, oh yeah, his crime-fighting escapades as Spider-Man!  Mr. Bendis is well-known for his witty, true-to-teenaged-life dialogue, but I think his real strength is the depth of characterization he brings to Peter Parker and all the rest of the extraordinarily numerous cast of this comic.  Mary-Jane, Flash Thompson, Aunt May, “Kong,” Kitty Pryde from the X-Men, Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four (and it is almost embarrassing how much more interesting Kitty and Johnny are here than in their “home” comics) and many more characters are all brought to amazingly real life in these pages.  I’ve been following Bendis’ run on “Ultimate” Spider-Man and I’ll be with the series until he leaves.  Spider-Man has never been done better (in my comic-reading life-time, at least!).  My only small complaint: I’m not quite taken with the overly stylized work of new series artist David Lafuente.  Let’s see if it grows on me any more after a few more issues…

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower — I fell way behind on this series of mini-series, adapting and expanding upon the back story of Stephen King’s seven-book The Dark Tower opus, but I was finally able to catch up last month.  Breathtakingly gorgeous art by … [continued]

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Well, I hope you enjoyed my lists of the Top 10 TV Shows and the Top 10 Movies 0f 2008.

But, you know, EVERYONE writes those sorts of top 10 lists!  So today, I wanted to send some love in the direction of the best comic books that I read in 2008.  2008 was a PHENOMENAL year for comics, with a lot of great material out there.  Here’s what I felt was the best of the best.

15.  Top 10: Season 2 (issues #1-3 published in 2008) — One of Alan Moore (Watchmen, V For Vendetta)’s greatest works of the past decade was the first “season” of Top 10, published between 1999 and 2001.  It chronicled the efforts of a police force in a bizarre city that seemed to be a meeting point for all sorts of fantasy characters from comics, TV shows, and movies.  Although Mr. Moore has not returned for this second installment, talented writer Zander Cannon along with returning artist Gene Ha have crafted a story every bit as weird, complex, and compelling as Mr. Moore’s original.  Ha’s art remains staggeringly complex and detailed, filled with lots of fun surprises in the background for an attentive reader.

14.  Detective Comics #846-850, “Heart of Hush” — Although Grant Morrison’s “Batman: R.I.P.” storyline over in Batman got all the attention this year, it was writer Paul Dini (one of the guiding forces behind the amazing Batman: The Animated Series) who was behind my favorite Batman story of 2008.  Enigmatic villain Hush returns with a complex scheme to take down the Dark Kight, while in a series of flashbacks we learn how the friendship between young Bruce Wayne and Tommy Elliott went wrong.  Throw in Catwoman and gorgeous art by Dustin Nguyen, and you have a classic.  (Collected edition available here.)

13.  Ultimate Spider-Man (issues 116-128 published in 2008) — I cannot believe how much I continue to enjoy this Spider-Man book.  Guided by the incredible writing of Brian Michael Bendis, who has been writing this reinvention of Spider-Man since issue #1, this is everything a super-hero comic book should be.  It is filled with great action, terrific humor, and incredible continuity and character development.  I don’t know of any comic that is consistently more fun, and the fact that such a high standard of quality has been maintained for 128 issues and counting is amazing.  (The entire run of USM is available in collected editions.  Here is the latest.)

12.  Stephen King’s The Dark Tower (issues 1-5 of “The Long Road Home” and 1-4 of “Treachery” published in 2008) — A complex but coherent story and absolutely gorgeous art by Jae Lae and Richard … [continued]