Review: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (re-read)

Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

***NOTE: This was a re-reading in prep for reading DK2 (The Dark Knight Strikes Again)…I’ve already read it, and I’m going to stick with the 5 star rating, but more for what it means than if I just read it today and was born any time AFTER Michael Keaton’s Batman.***

1) There is no doubt in my mind, Frank Miller saved Batman. Between this and Year One, he’s got 2 of the Top 5, if not THE top 2 Batman books ever written, essential, and even essential for comics in general.

– Without Miller, there’s no Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman in 1989 (a movie, and event, which literally awed my 8-9yr old self in such a way that Batman will always be my #1, even more than 25 years later.)

– Without Miller, there’s no Christian Bale/Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy. (Year One)

Without Miller’s inspiration of Burton and later Nolan, does the Superhero Movie Franchise business take off like it does? I’m not sure, and if it does, is it the same? Does it carry the same gravitas? Or do these movies end up more like Superman? (No knock on the early Superman, but I can barely tell you a thing about Superman IV, which also came out when I was a kid, other than there was an Atomic Powered dude in a cape who looked like He-Man, and everyone else in the world thinks it might be the worst comic movie ever.

Without Miller, does Scott Snyder develop into the same writer he is? Maybe, still strong, but the same? No. Does he become one of the great Batman writers ever? No. Read Snyder’s current run on Batman (especially Zero Year) and tell me he’s not supremely indebted to Miller’s work (and this particular book).
I would then tell you that Miller plans to write DK3, which might be a great idea, or a horrible one, but then I’ll tell you that Scott Snyder is going to co-write it with him…and you’ll definitely check it out at some point.

http://www.bleedingcool.com/2014/12/0…

It’s hard for anyone under a certain age (and I think I just qualify as old enough, because I remember the Adam West Batman, and the comics being ho-hum until Jason Todd died and the Tim Burton movie) to realize just how useless Batman was before this. Miller also opened the door for everyone else to make him the DARK Knight, and to add their work to the canon.

That is huge, and for that alone, this book deserves 5 stars. When it came out, I think if I were old enough to have read it then, I would have given it 10 stars. So that’s that. It’s untouchable….in THAT way.

However…there is a lot of stuff about it that just doesn’t do it for me, and for others as well. I can see younger readers just thinking, who cares? Why bother, this isn’t original. I can see why too.

– The art…is 50% terrible…there’s some great stuff, but there’s also stuff so bad it wouldn’t be published today.

– It’s extremely verbose and wordy. If a comic is nothing but reading text and long winded internal monologues, at some point it becomes extremely tedious; Show me, don’t tell me! Otherwise I’d read a book. I want to see some wow splash pages too, not just words. Does that make me sound like a troglodyte? No I don’t think so. I understand some degree is allowed, and in many ways, at the time less speech bubbles was a new(ish) idea.

– The Politics of the Cold War and Reagan-era USA aren’t relevant to the readers of today…well…Russia does have a powerful military and single leader…and the US doesn’t like ’em much…but…no.
It can be dated at times, but that’s not a huge complaint for me (I like history and contextualizing oneself in the period) but I see why others won’t like/care/understand.

– TOO MANY TV screen talking heads. But again I think that’s just a commentary on the new-ish 24 hour news channels on cable that sprang up in the 80s (yes kids, there was a time when CNN and MSNBC weren’t a thing, and before the interwebs and cellular telluphones. We played with sticks and rocks and rode dinosaurs in black and white…). I think they’re meant to annoy the shit out of you.

What I do like, is that not only is Batman examined, but this gets into some of the stuff that would pop up later on in Marvel’s Civil War and other books: Superman is a government agent in exchange for freedom, Wonder Woman has left for home, Green Lantern is in space, and Green Arrow is some kinda survivalist nutjob (who hates the big blue boyscout). There’s examination of the legality/criminality of heroes within society and if they help fight evil, or encourage it’s growth. Even if Miller didn’t devote the whole book to the idea, the idea itself was latched onto by many readers who grew into the writers of today, and we see those concepts debated all over the Marvel and DC Universes.

It also gets to the core of Batman himself. Bruce Wayne is the disguise, Batman is the reality. Even if he deluded himself otherwise in retirement for a decade, the hunger, the drive, the spirit of the bat, it is inside of him, and finally comes out, just pushing everything and everyone else to the side. I love the way Miller gets that across, that he cannot escape it; he knows it in his soul, because the Bat IS his soul. The very essence of what Batman is is what keeps Bruce Wayne alive, and without it, there’s no point. The 55 year old man is able to do things a man 20 years younger would have trouble with, and it’s all thanks to, and because of the Bat. Bruce Wayne is irrelevant, Batman and the power of what he represents is key. And surprisingly, what Miller thinks Batman represents, or at least how I see it, is that Batman, for everything that he is, represents HOPE. If not hope, Batman is Gotham. The 2 are tied together, one cannot rise without the other, and both suffer in the absence of the other.

OK now it feels like I’m writing an English essay on a book report…That’s another thing, Miller’s work here was a huge help to the entire industry of comics, and graphic novels. There’s no Sin City without TDKR; I don’t think DC and Marvel become powerhouses, I think the comic industry takes an even bigger hit; Comicon, does that still thrive? I honestly don’t know, but interestingly enough, much like Gotham without Batman, Batman without Miller and this book, could not/would not have thrived or even survived. It would have been a shell of itself.

So there’s my 200 cents on the matter.

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Review: Batman – Zero Year: Dark City (Vol. 5) by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Batman, Vol. 5: Zero Year - Dark CityBatman, Vol. 5: Zero Year – Dark City by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, so time to actually review this…

A lot of my Shallow Reader friends have already covered most of what I would say about this, but I’ll briefly expand on what I thought…

1)Like Anne I loved seeing the giant penny do something! I also agree that Snyder’s 25yr old Bruce Wayne has more in common with Dick Grayson than the Bruce Wayne we’re used to. Good point as well that Batman has years to grow bitter and into the badass who has every angle covered that we’ll ever know.

2)This Batman is not perfect…he gets beat by Riddler, and people suffer for it. This is just like Anne says above, a perfect explanation for how the paranoia of over-preparation came to Bruce/Bats…by this early defeat and un-preparedness.

3)Much like Sam, I loved that Snyder made Edward Nigma/Riddler back into a force to be reckoned with. The exellent Arkham series of video games has done a magnificent job showing just how proficient, ruthless, deadly and prepared Riddler can be (much like his Dark Knight counterpart…) In many ways, Bruce learned as much about preparation from Riddler himself, as he did from his being defeated by Nigma. Just like we learn how Red Hood shaped Batman, we also see here that Riddler is no slouch, and even more dangerous than anyone else. Bruce learns a lot from his matchup with Riddler, and without it, wouldn’t be the same Batman we know and worship.

Hurrah for the Rejuvenational Rehabilitation of the Riddler!

4)I entirely agree with, and love that Sesana points to the aspects of Bruce and Alfred. Alfred’s little coda at the end with Julie Madison (kudos again to Snyder for being that aware of the history of Batman to throw her in here, in a small, but pivotal scene) shows just how deep the Gentleman’s Gentleman feels responsible for ‘Master Bruce’ and what sort of hope he holds out. In many ways, I don’t think Batman would be nearly the force he is without Alfred. Father figure, wise sage, battlefield surgeon (who I just realize now, might have picked things up from the Army as well as being Butler to Doctor Thomas Wayne…) and more patriarch of the Wayne’s than any actual Wayne since Thomas.

This is like getting to go back in time and see just how gut-wrenching it must be for Alfred day in and day out for years, decades, to see what young little Bruce turns into. The heartfelt moments between Bruce and Alfred really get to me, because it’s something we always know is there, but luckily, hasn’t been overdone by writers yet.

As for my own thoughts, I love the Riddler being relevant, I love the nods to Batman past, and I love that this just feels fresh, even though I’m sure most of us have read similar things in Batman many times before. I also liked the Gordon/Bats relationship development, even if it did feel a little convenient at points (Gordon/Bats relationship develops just like it did in Year One, with mistrust at first giving way to cautious trust.). Also nice to see Lucius Fox get some screen time (as well as a bit of explanation about his son, who some might know became Batwing #2). There’s just not a wasted note, everything seems to be planned out well, just like Batman would, years in advance so that every detail has been thought of.

I’m not sure the chronology, but I’m guessing this came out before Forever Evil…? If so, I’m not sure if I should just call out Papa Johns on the blatant ripoff of the ‘electronic item wired to heart of said Gotham superhero’ we see here, and the same one we see wired up to Dick Grayson in Forever Evil…but it’s the end of the year, and I’m almost out of negativity, so here’s what I’ll be charitable and do instead…Johns, as the cheese at DC, knew this was happening early in Batman’s career, so fast forward to Dick Grayson having his heart wired up to a device the same way Bruce had his wired up, and boom…Bruce realizes the Alfred role, and all of a sudden, has the humanity to realize that if he cannot value Dick as much as Alfred valued him, then he’s not prepared for that life. This would be a great explanation as to why Batman doesn’t just go practical here…sorry, it’s a bit off topic, but I wanted to address it, and I would love to know if anyone else noticed that before I mentioned it…

I just re-read The Dark Knight Returns (I took out The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and I wanted to be on the same page before I got into that), and it seems in many ways Snyder’s work ties in closely to Miller’s. That being said, I prefer Snyder’s, and Capullo is a WAY better artist than Lynn Varley. However, it’s interesting to see that this young Batman here (and in Secret City) could very easily have become the Dark Knight of Miller’s work (the comparisons between Year One and Secret City abound, and for good reason). I particularly enjoyed the page that was a clear shout out of respect and acknowledgement of Miller’s monumental work, leaving no doubt to anyone reading that Snyder and Capullo know and respect the history.

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Pretty Damn Cool.


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Review: DC: The New Frontier, Vol. 2 by Darwyn Cooke

DC: The New Frontier, Vol. 2DC: The New Frontier, Vol. 2 by Darwyn Cooke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you get a chance to read both of these volumes at once, I think it might make for a better reading experience.
DC: The New Frontier, Vol. 1 doesn’t really go anywhere story-wise, and a lot of the characters are forgettable to most comic book readers.
Fans of the Silver Age would probably be the exception…or so Joseph tells me.
But even without an amazing plot, the art is just…lovely.

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Ok, in Volume 2 you see how everything is sort of pulling together into a cohesive storyline. Is it an incredible story?
No.
A rather generic monster from the center of the planet is hell-bent on destroying Earth. There’s not a lot of reasoning behind the Why of it, other than it wants to go out into space and visit other planets.
I think.
Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. The point is that it takes a threat of that sort of magnitude to bring all of the heroes (super or not) together to fight this thing.
Some of them (the ones nobody knows or cares about) won’t make it back.
It’s the defining moment for all of them, though.

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Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman are all heavily overshadowed by the Marian Manhunter, Flash, and Green Lantern.
Whether or not that’s a bad thing will vary from person to person.
I was ok with it, but I doubt that everyone is going to get excited as I do over Hal Jordan.
Whatever…haters.

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It’s a slow story, but with the beautiful art it’s worth taking a look at.

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Review: The Boys: Vol. 8 – Highland Laddie; by Garth Ennis.

The Boys, Volume 8: Highland LaddieThe Boys, Volume 8: Highland Laddie by Garth Ennis
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

To quote Wee Hughie: “I Ken sez tis shite”.

This is a diversion from the Boys into a Hughie backstory/sidestory.

It could have been interesting; instead it was a meandering, boring, impossible to understand (literally, the dialogue is stupid, and I grew up with a Scottish Great Gran and neighbours, but I could barely figure some things out).

Throw in 5 issues of Hughie whining about EVERYTHING and I just wanted to bitch slap him like the boring piece of shit he acts like in this.

He visits friends and complains about them, he complains about his parents, he complains about his EX, who then shows up and of course, in a long rambling conversation, manages to get back into his good graces.

It also involves a subplot of Hughie and his mates being the Fucking Hardy Boys or some shit. (yawn) and talking to an older fellow like a free psychiatrist and taking his food for free.

By the end of the book, Hughie is a weeping baby of a pathetic sack. I have no problem emoting, and cry at Christmas commercials, but this volume did nothing but make me skim. I may just be at saturation for Ennis, or maybe it just jumped the shark, but I nearly just walked away from this book, and I’m not sure I want to rush into the rest of the series…

It makes it clear to me, that Hughie is supposed to be our entry point to relating to this, but he’s too boring. This book just highlighted it and did everything in Ennis’ power to undo the last 7 volumes of good work.

I couldn’t suggest any stronger an option to anyone but to skip this and go right to Vol. 9 from 7.

Ugh. Terrible Shite.

Fat jokes, tranny jokes, sex jokes, dumb violence. Either Ennis slipped, or this is just what he’s become and he can’t hide it anymore…I was NOT impressed.


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Review: Injustice: Gods Among Us Volume 2 by Tom Taylor

Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 2Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 2 by Tom Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Introduction:

So I just got through with reading the first volume of Tom Taylor’s take on “Injustice: Gods Among Us” and I must admit that reading that volume had gotten me pumped up for the second volume of this series! So, I went to the library to pick up the second volume of “Injustice: Gods Among Us” and man, was it just as interesting as the first volume!


What is this story about?

Continuing off from the first volume, Superman along with the Justice League continues to promote peace in the world, with the help from a truly unlikely source, Lex Luthor! Meanwhile, Batman continues to thwart Superman’s plans for world peace by instigating a spy into the Justice League and once this spy is revealed to the team, Superman starts making everything personal between him and Batman as he plans to reveal Batman’s true identity to the world!


What I loved about this story:

Tom Taylor’s writing: Tom Taylor has once again created a fascinating and intense story about how the rivalry between Superman and Batman continues to escalate as both heroes are trying to figure out ways to protect the world from each other. I really liked the fact that Tom Taylor explored the tough choices that the heroes have to make in order to have a more peaceful world as you have some of the heroes siding with Superman on maintaining world peace while you have the other heroes siding with Batman to prevent Superman from going off the deep end. I enjoyed the scenes where the heroes from both sides of the rivalry were questioning both Batman and Superman’s motives for their plans as it made the characters really believable to me and it also had me thinking about whether or not Superman and Batman really had everyone’s best interests in their minds. Another great aspect of this series was the bantering between Harley Quinn, Green Arrow and Black Canary as I think that they were the funniest characters in this entire series so far and I loved the way that they all bring humor to this story, even though the majority of this story is pretty dark.

Jheremy Raapack, Tom Derenick, Bruno Redondo and Mike S. Miller’s artwork: Just like the previous volume, the collaboration between Jheremy Raapack, Tom Derenick, Bruno Redondo and Mike S. Miller on the artwork had lent itself greatly to the characters and the events happening in this volume! I loved the way that all the artists in this book made the action sequences so amazing to look at, especially with the images of the explosions whenever a city is being blown up!


What made me feel uncomfortable about this story:

The reason why I gave this book a four star rating is because I still have hang ups about the whole “heroes vs. heroes” story lines that have been plaguing both DC and Marvel for years now. Even though I will admit that I am enjoying this story, especially since we get to see Superman’s more aggressive side, it still feels like another “Batman vs. Superman” story that I have read so many times over and I wished that something different would be done about that rivalry (I guess we will see in the next few volumes)!


Final Thoughts:

Overall, “Injustice: Gods Among Us Volume Two” is another great volume that details Superman’s growing aggressiveness with his plans for world peace and I definitely cannot wait to see how this battle between Superman and the world will play out in later volumes!

My Rating?
4 pows

Review: Justice League Vol. 5 – Forever Heroes by Papa Johns.

Justice League, Vol. 5: Forever HeroesJustice League, Vol. 5: Forever Heroes by Geoff Johns
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

MUCH better than Trinity War…which is like saying a stomachache is better than diarrhea…they both stink.

So apparently Vol 5 does NOT follow Vol 4…I have to read Forever Evil first I suppose? To see how the Crime Syndicate defeated the JL.

Fun parts: Black Adam’s throwdown with Ultraman (too bad it only got a few pages, the art was stunning.) I would have liked to continue that.

Owlman’s backstory

The Doom Patrol’s cameo in New 52

The Metal Men

Cyborg becoming more of a stealth fighter jet than a B52 Bomber

Bad parts: Most of the good parts were stolen from Grant Morrison (C.S. to some degree, and Doom Patrol as well.)

Every Crime Syndicater other than Owl’s backstory.

Bad-Alfred looking like the Joker (pale skin and purple-y suit)

It’s called Justice League, yet it only features Cyborg. I’m surprised this didn’t run off into a Cyborg Title…has he ever had one?

So you gets your ups and your downs. I think I put it right on 3…it’s better than 2.5, so it’s just above average. That and it was a marked improvement from Trinity bullshit.


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Review: Mars Attacks – by John Layman, art by John McCrea

Mars Attacks, Volume 1: Attack from SpaceMars Attacks, Volume 1: Attack from Space by John Layman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

John Layman? Yes.
Mars Attacks? Usually good for a laugh.
Art by John McCrea? Superlative.

Anything other than just mildly entertaining? Yes, but not amazingly so. However, it was a nice change of pace from Tights and Capes.


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Ms. Marvel, vol. 1: No Normal

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No NormalMs. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ms. Marvel has gotten a lot of buzz. A lot. People are always going to talk when one of the two big publishers puts out a comic starring a character who is not the standard white man. In this case, we have Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, a teenage girl who is Muslim and the daughter of Pakistani immigrants. More than enough to get me interested. What got my hopes up was that this book has been selling way, way above expectations. Ms. Marvel #1 has gone through at least half a dozen printings (very, very unusual in comics) and is a top selling digital title. Obviously, people are liking it, and talking about it, and getting others to read it.

And guess what? It really is very, very good. In some ways, Kamala reminds me of a young Peter Parker, at least the Ultimate version that I loved so much. She’s a genuinely good person who wants to do the right thing (hence the superheroics once she gets powers) who is kind of dorky and very relateable. I love her. She’s funny and earnest she just sounds so much like a real teenager. Really, she had me from her stolen sniffs of “infidel meat”- bacon. And nobody who writes Avengers fanfic that funny can be bad.

And hey, great supporting cast. I’m especially fond of Kamala’s friend Nakia, and of Bruno, the neighborhood boy who has a transparently obvious (and really cute) crush on her. But I also liked her family. Her parents are strict, but also very loving, something that fictional teenagers don’t often get. Even the mean girl is almost delightfully awful. She’s backhanded mean, the kind that’s nice to your face while waiting for an opportunity to unleash.

Kamala being a Muslim is something that gets significant play, but I never felt like it was being beaten to death. She wants to fit in and be like the other kids she knows, which is not compatible with the way she was raised. Her parents are protective, but not insanely so (there’s nothing wrong with freaking out when you find out your teenage daughter has made a habit of sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night). Yes, both these things specifically come from having a Muslim family, but her family could have just as easily been Christian, or Hindu. Or hippies. And yes, Nakia does wear a hijab, by her own personal choice, but it’s literally brought up once and then pushed to the side, even as the art is consistent in showing her covered. (It may be relevant that Wilson is herself a Muslim woman who covers her hair.) What I’m saying is that, while Kamala’s religion does shape certain details of the book, it isn’t about that. It’s about a basically normal girl who just happens to be a Muslim, and a geek, and a superhero.

I’d been hoping for quite a lot from this book. Happily, I got a book that’s very well-written, with great characters and dialog and really good art. I’m more than happy to be jumping on the Ms. Marvel bandwagon.

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Review: Batman: Faces

Batman: FacesBatman: Faces by Matt Wagner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wagner’s freshman stab at the Dark Knight still held up pretty well for me after this reread. Hard to believe I bought this off the stands almost 25 years ago.

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Two-Face takes center stage in this encounter that is set early in Batman’s career. Wagner’s Dent certainly seems a little more unhinged than some future incarnations of the character. He really comes off as pretty fuckin nuts in this one. That worked for me. His anger at his recent disfigurement, bizarre motives, and obsession with the freaks he now collects and surrounds himself with in this tale produced an interesting take on Ole’Harvey.
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Review: Thor Epic Collection: The Mighty Thor – by Tom DeFalco

Thor Epic Collection: War of the PantheonsThor Epic Collection: War of the Pantheons by Tom DeFalco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a classic collection of Thor stories, coming just after the Epic Simonson run. (1987 era) Thor has his beard, new Armour Suit, and many things ahead of him. Finding that he’s recovered after the warriors three make him get a shave, he returns to his original appearance.
We get a lot of interesting stuff here:

The disbanded Avengers, upon Thor’s return.

The introduction of Eric Masterson.

The return of Odin after his battle with the Fire Demon Surtur.

Hardly any Loki, but near the end.

The Celtic Gods.

Oh, and one tiny little thing that doesn’t really matter too much…

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Only Steve Rogers lifting Mjolnir! Woot. (FYI That’s Steve as ‘The Captain’ while John Walker was Captain America, which is interesting, because his suit here looks a lot like the USAgent costume that Walker would take on permanently after Rogers returned to being Cap.)

We also have a future version of Thor lifting Mjolnir, but that’s not as awesome.

4 stars for the classic moment alone, and some cool stuff. De Falco is a bit too wordy, and Walt did a better job, but it’s not terrible.


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