Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Legends of the Dark Knight: series summation

Back in February I set forth on a mission to not only read my entire comic book collection, but to document it along the way. I started with what I thought would be a fun and easy series to chronicle: Legends of the Dark Knight. It debuted in the summer of 1989 hot on the heels of the first Michael Keaton Batman movie and ran until early 2007 after having published 214 monthly issues, six annuals, three Halloween specials, and one oddly tied-in miniseries.

This title was generally regarded as being higher in quality than the usual monthly Batman comics. The premise was it would tell tales of Batman’s “early days” – the years before he brought on Dick Grayson as Robin and Jim Gordon was still a lowly Captain (or sometimes just a Lieutenant). It was also sold as having story arcs that would be of graphic novel quality, fairly lengthy, self-contained (outside of the current DCU continuity at the time), and the creative teams would not repeat.

It did not always work out that way, though. By issue #27, LOTDK featured its first crossover with Batman and Detective Comics. It would also crossover with the rest of the extended family of Batman titles during the epic arcs of “Knight Fall” in 1994, “No Man’s Land” in 1999, and “War Games” in 2004. Also, writers took plenty of creative liberties with this format and would often insert both subtle and game-changing retcons into Batman’s past (the DC editorial staff would pick and choose which ones really “counted” and which were just “imaginary”).

Batman_Legends_of_the_Dark_Knight_Vol_1_114


I didn’t buy this title when it originally launched. In fact, I had little interest in at the time because I saw that each arc was a four of five-parter, so I figured they’d be reprinted in TPB format eventually (even back in the early 1990s I was waiting for the trade). Then, one day I was at a (now closed) comic book store in Troy in the shopping plaza across the street from Hudson Valley Community College. They were having a sale and I found the entire run (at the time) of LOTDK in a discount bin. I of course grabbed them all up and began subscribing to the title immediately. Most of those comics have been sitting in my longboxes for literally years until I decided to give them another look earlier this year.
Upon re-reading them, my first observation was that this series was indeed good, but none of individual arcs were truly great. Few – if any – were as good as I had remembered; in fact, quite a few were downright terrible.
So when I set about reviewing each arc for my blog, I devised this rating system:
1 = terrible
2 = lame
3 = okay/average
4 = good/very good
5 = excellent/outstanding
Here’s my report card for LOTDK:

4:
  1. Shaman (issues 1-5) Written by Dennis O’Neil. Penciled by Ed Hannigan. Inked by John Beatty
  2. Gothic (issues 6-10) Written by Grant Morrison. Drawn by Klaus Janson
  3. Faces (issues 28-30) Written and drawn by Matt Wagner.
  4. Blades (issues 32-34) Written by James Robinson. Drawn by Tim Sale
  5. Mask (issues 39-40) Written and drawn by Bryan Talbot
  6. Hot House (issues 42-43) Written by John Francis Moore. Drawn by P. Craig Russell.
  7. Heat (issues 46-49) Written by Dough Moench. Drawn by Russ Heath.
  8. Criminals (issues 69-70) Written by Steven Grant. Drawn by Mike Zeck.
  9. Idols (issues 80-82) Written by James Vance. Penciled by Dougie Braithwaite. Inked by Sean Hardy.
  10. Conspiracy (issues 86-88) Written Dough Moench. Penciled by J.H. Williams III. Inked by Mick Gray.
  11. Dirty Tricks (issues 95-97) Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Penciled by Anthony Williams. Inked by Andy Lanning.
  12. Steps (issues 98-99) Written by Paul Jenkins. Drawn by Sean Phillips.
  13. Arrow and The Bat (issues 127-131) Written by Denny O’Neil. Penciled by Sergio Cariello. Inked by Matt Ryan.
  14. Bad (issues 146-148) Written by Doug Moench. Drawn by Barry Kitson.
  15. Blink (issues 156-158) Written by Dwayne McDuffie. Penciled by Val Semeiks. Inked by Dan Green.
  16. Loyalties (issues 159-161) Written by John Ostrander. Penciled by David Lopez. Inked by Dan Green.
  17. Auteurism (issues 162-163) Written by John Arcudi. Drawn by Roger Angridge
  18. Don’t Blink (issues (164-167) Written by Dwayne McDuffie. Penciled by Val Semeiks. Inked by Dan Green.
  19. Irresistible (issues 169-171) Written by Tom Peyer. Drawn by Tony Harris. Inks by Wade Von Grawbadger and Wayne Faucher.
  20. Testament (issues 172-176) Written by John Wagner. Drawn by Chris Brunner.
  21. Snow (issues 192-196) Written by J.H. Williams III and Dan Curtis Johnson. Drawn by Seth Fisher.
  22. Blaze of Glory (issues 197-199) Written by Will Pfeiffer. Drawn by Chris Weston.
  23. Cold Case (issues 201-203) Written by Christos N. Gage. Penciled by Ron Wagner. Inked by Bill Reinhold.
  24. Darker Than Death (issues 207-211) Written by Bruce Jones. Art by Ariel Olivetti.
  25. Superstitous and Cowardly (issue 214) Written by Christos N. Gage. Drawn by Phil Winslade.
  26. Annual #2 (1992) Written by Dennis O’Neil. Penciled by Mike Netzer. Inked by Luke McDonnell.
  27. Madness (1994 Halloween special) Written by Jeph Loeb. Drawn by Tim Sale.
3:
  1. Prey (issues 11-15) Written by Doug Moench. Penciled by Paul Gulacy. Inked by Terry Austin.
  2. Venom (issues 16-20) Written by Dennis O’Neil; drawn by Trevor von Eden, Russell Braun, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
  3. Faith (issues 21-23) Written by Mike W. Barr. Penciled by Bart Sears. Inked by Randy Elliot
  4. Destroyer (issue 27) Written by Dennis O’Neil; drawn by Chris Sprouse and Bruce Patterson
  5. Mercy (issue 37) Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; drawn by Colin MacNeil
  6. Images (issue 50) Written by Dennis O’Neil. Drawn by Bret Blevins.
  7. Snitch (issue 51) Written by Robert Loren Fleming. Drawn by David G. Kein.
  8. Tao (issues 52-53) Written by Alan Grant. Drawn by Arthur Ranson.
  9. Watchtower (issues 55-57) Written by Chuck Dixon. Drawn my Mike McMahon.
  10. Storm (issue 58) Written by Andrew Donkin and Graham Brand. Drawn by John Higgins.
  11. Quarry (issues 59-61) Written by Dennis O’Neill. Drawn by Ron Wagner and Ron McCain (issue 59) and Eduardo Barreto (issues 60-61).
  12. Climax (issue 63) Written by Dennis O’Neil. Drawn by Barry Kitson and Scott Hanna.
  13. Werewolf (issues 71-73) Written by James Robinson. Drawn by John Watkiss.
  14. Favorite Things (issue 79) Written by Mark Millar. Pencilled by Steve Yeowell, inked by Dick Giordano.
  15. Citadel (issue 85) Written by James Robinson. Drawn by Tony Salmons.
  16. Clay (issues 89-90) Written by Alan Grant. Drawn by Quique Alcatena
  17. Freakout (issues 91-93) Written by Garth Ennis. Drawn by Will Simpson.
  18. Stories (issue 94) Written, drawn and colored by Michael T. Gilbert.
  19. Issue 100 Written by Dennis O’Neill. Drawn by Dave Taylor. Written by James Robinson. Drawn by Lee Weeks.
  20. Stalking (issues 107-108) Written by Lee Marrs. Drawn by Eddy Newell.
  21. The Primal Riddle (issues 109-111) Written by Steve Englehart. Penciled by Dusty Abell. Inked by Drew Geraci.
  22. Siege (issues 132-136) Written by Archie Goodwin and James Robinson. Penciled by Marshall Rogers. Inked by Bob Wiacek and John Cebollero.
  23. Terror (issues 137-141) Written by Doug Moench. Penciled by Paul Gulacy. Inked by Jimmy Palmiotti.
  24. The Demon Laughs (issues 142-145) Written by Chuck Dixon. Penciled by Jim Aparo. Inked by John Cebollero.
  25. Grimm (issues 149-153) Written by J.M. De Matteis. Penciled by Trevor Von Eeden. Inked by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez.
  26. Colossus (issues 154-155) Written by Mike Baron. Drawn by Bill Reinhold.
  27. Urban Legend (issue 168) Written by Bill Willingham. Drawn by Tom Fowler.
  28. Cold Snap (issues 190-191) Written by J. Torres. Penciled by David Lopez. Inked by Fernando Blanco.
  29. The Madmen of Gotham (issues 204-206) Written by Justin Gray. Drawn by Steven Cummings.
  30. Chicks Dig The Bat (issue 212) Written by Adam Beechen. Penciled by Steve Scott. Inked by Nathan Massengill.
  31. Otaku (issue 213) Written by Matt Wayne. Drawn by Steven Cummngs.
  32. Annual #4 (1994) Written by Brian Augustyn and Mark Waid. Penciled by Joe Staton. Inked by Horacio Ottolini.
  33. Fears (1993 Halloween special) Written by Jeph Loeb. Drawn by Tim Sale.
  34. Ghosts (1995 Halloween special) Written by Jeph Loeb. Drawn by Tim Sale.
2:
  1. Family (issue 31) Written by James D. Hudnall. Drawn by Brent Anderson
  2. Destiny (issues 35-36) Written by Bo Hampton and Mark Kneece; drawn by Bo Hampton
  3. Legend of the Dark Mite (issue 38) Written by Alan Grant, drawn by Kevin O’Neill
  4. Turf (issues 44-45) Written by Steven Grant. Drawn by Shawn McManus.
  5. Sanctum (issue 54) Written by Dan Raspler and Mike Mignola. Drawn by Mike Mignola.
  6. Devils (issue 62) Written by Chuck Dixon. Drawn by Ron Wagner and Ron McCain.
  7. Terminus (issue 64) Written by Jaimie Delano. Drawn by Chris Bachalo and Mark Pennington.
  8. Going Sane (issues 65-68) Written by J.M. De Matteis. Drawn by Joe Staton and Steve Mitchell.
  9. The Sleeping (issues 76-78) Written and drawn by Scott Hampton.
  10. Infected (issues 83-84) Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by John McCrea.
  11. Jazz (mini series) Written by Gerard Jones. Drawn by Mark Badger.
  12. Spook (issues 102-104) Written by James Robinson. Drawn by Paul Johnson.
  13. Duty (issues 105-106) Written by C.J. Henderson. Penciled by Trevor von Eeden. Inked by Joe Rubinstein.
  14. Playground (issue 114) Written by James Robinson. Penciled by Dan Brereton. Inked by Bradstreet.
  15. Lost Cargo (issues 177-178) Written by Devin Grayson. Penciled by Jean-Jacques Dzialowski. Inked by George Rodriguez.
  16. Full Circle (issue 179) Written by A.J. Lieberman. Drawn by Greg Scott.
  17. The Secret City (issues 180-181) Written by Dylan Horrocks. Penciled by Ramon F. Bachs. Inked by Jon Holdredge.
  18. Riddle Me That (issues 185-189) Written by Shane McCarthy. Penciled by Tommy Castillo. Inked by Rodney Ramos.
  19. Emergency (issue 200) Written by Eddie Campbell and Daren White. Drawn by Bart Sears.
  20. Annual #1 (1991) Written by Dennis O’Neil. Illustrated by 10 artists.
  21. Annual #5 (1995) Written by Chuck Dixon. Drawn by Quique Alcatena.
  22. Annual #7 (1997) Written by James Robinson. Drawn by Steve Yeowell and Russ Heath.
1:
  1. Flyer (issues 24-26) Written by Howard Chaykin. Drawn by Gil Kane.
  2. Sunset (issue 41) Written by Tom Joyner and Keith S. Wilson. Drawn by Jim Fern.
  3. Viewpoint (issue 0) No writer credited (it was Archie Goodwin). Too many artists credited to list.
  4. Engines (issues 74-75) Written and drawn by Ted McKeever.
  5. The Incredible Adventures of Batman (issue 101) Written by John Wagner. Drawn by Carlos Ezquerra.
  6. Shipwreck (issues 112-113) Written by Dan Vado. Penciled by Norman Felchle. Inked by Norman Felchle and Frank Cirocco.
  7. The Darkness (issue 115) Written by Darren Vincenzo. Illustrated by Luke McDonnell.
  8. Annual #3 (1993) Written by Dennis O’Neil. Drawn by Mike Manley, Luke McDonnell, Gray Morrow, Ricardo Villagran
  9. Annual #6 (1996) Written by Alan Grant and Barry Kitson. Drawn by Vince Giarrano.
Batman_Legends_of_the_Dark_Knight_Vol_1_190NOTE: I skipped issues 116-126 and 182-184 because they were part of the “No Man’s Land” and “War Games” crossovers. They would have been impossible to fairly review without having read the rest of the comics in those epic stories, so I just skipped them. In retrospect, I should’ve skipped the issues that were part of “Knight Fall” and “Destroyer” too.

The first thing you’ll notice is that no comic or arc received a full 5 out of 5. That rating is reserved for masterpieces like Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Maus, etc. There were a few arcs I was tempted to score a 5, but upon closer inspection I realized they had flaws, or they simply just weren’t good enough to merit a grade of that caliber. That’s okay, because a 4 out of 5 is a very commendable, reputable grade in my opinion.

I handed out a total of 92 ratings.
Here’s how the scores break down:
4: 29%
3: 37%
2: 24%
1: 10%

lotdk3Two thirds of all the LOTDK comics received a score of average or above, so there were definitely more good arcs than bad arcs. For a series of this length and caliber, it’s actually pretty impressive that only a third of its run stunk (some of those 1’s and 2’s were truly ghastly).

If you look at my report card closely, you’ll notice certain writers appear in both the best and worst columns. Denny O’Neil and James Robinson are probably the two most notable examples of this, which is a bit surprising since they are comic book veterans and both have reputations as being great writers. Still, even the greats swing and miss sometimes, and this is true of all mediums.

Next week I’ll be posting my Top 10 Best and Worst LOTDK stories. Be sure to check that out!

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