Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Joker's Hard Times | Batman '66 | vlog #72

Season 2, Episode 38. Originally aired January 12, 1967.
Written by Stephen Kandel and Stanford Sherman. Directed by Oscar Rudolph.
Joker continues his rapacious rip-offs with the famous Golden Scorpion from the jewelry shop, but Batman and Robin are back on the hunt. As Joker nets a priceless fish (Pisces) from an exhibition, he nets our heroes to clam them up again!

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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Legends of the Dark Knight: Issues 80-90

Idols (issues 80-82)

Written by James Vance. Penciled by Dougie Braithwaite. Inked by Sean Hardy.

It’s been a long time since I added an entry to my “best of” list of LOTDK. I think that speaks to how good I thought “Idols” was. This is almost (and a do mean almost) a perfect story for this series. It has what a great Batman story should: a serious mystery; actual detective work; Batman and Jim Gordon working together; subtle commentary on real world events; and an ambiguous ending. Also, the artwork is pretty good as well as the actual direction, editing and layouts.

I really enjoyed that this was the first LOTDK arc in a while that dealt with fairly realistic setting – no hokey surrealism or mind-bending fantasy. Though I will say it may stretch itself a bit too thin by introducing a few too many characters and a few too many sub-plots. In fact, “Idols” does get a bit confusing at times as the main villain – a serial killer known as “The Circuit Rider” – actually does not appear much in the story. The sub-plot involving a crazy mass murderer and a Batman merchandise shop upstages the main story quite often. 

There’s probably enough for two separate stories contained within this one, but since it was well-written and well-paced it never feels bloated or dragging. It does work well as a character study, though I can’t help but find the ending a bit anticlimactic. At least it leaves open the possibility of a sequel.

Score: 4/5

Infected (issues 83-84)

Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by John McCrea.

I’ve said more times than I can count that I don’t like Batman versus the supernatural. A mortal hero should fight a mortal enemy. With “Infected,” Warren Ellis has found a loophole in that logic and jumped right through it. Instead of Batman fighting a werewolf or ghost, he’s fighting mutant soldiers who look and act like monsters. 

The story starts out pretty well; Ellis has a tone similar to that of Frank Miller. In fact, he makes a point of using some of Miller’s characters from “Year One” (but doesn’t everyone, really? LOTDK is essentially a very long sequel to “Year One”). Oddly enough he decides to give the monsters their own coverage (internal monologues). I suppose it works in the surrealistic atmosphere that seems to be implied here. McCrea’s art is very stylish with a clean/cartoony look not unlike that of Ted McKeever’s on “Engines.” The glossy white paper probably helps accentuate it, too.

Overall, the story is fine, but a bit over-the-top with a lot of violence. Though the action does keep the story moving, it seems to sacrifice characterization and exposition for explosions and gore. Batman also figures out the whole secret behind the mutant soldiers amazingly fast and easily. This could’ve been condensed down to a single issue or stretched out to a 3, 4 or even 5-parter. What’s here is okay though.

Score: 2/5

Citadel (issue 85)

Written by James Robinson. Drawn by Tony Salmons.

I appreciate the standalone LOTDK story in moderation. The problem is, single-issue stories tend to be gimmicky or have a shtick. That’s the case with “Citadel” in which Batman must scale 85 stories to get to the head villain on the top floor. The entire skyscraper is one big James-Bond-Villain-Lair-of-Death. That would seem to be an interesting premise, but there’s no suspense. You know Batman is going to make it to the top, so seeing him fight wave after wave of goons and escaping all the booby traps is just par for the course. It ends on a bit of a twist and a dark note, though. I did not see that coming.

This reminds me of an episode of Batman: The Animated Series and it turns out that Tony Salmons actually worked on that show. His style is cartoony, though not especially clean. Also, his compositions and layouts are a bit muddled and confusing. Many panels I just couldn’t tell what I was looking at.

Not a bad comic at all, but probably could’ve been much better.

Score: 3/5

Conspiracy (issues 86-88)

Written Dough Moench. Penciled by J.H. Williams III. Inked by Mick Gray.

The problem with flat-out titling a story “Conspiracy” is that it allows the writer to go a little nuts on details. He can constantly twist and turn the plot and add new characters and multiple possibilities as to what the enemy’s endgame really is.

What’s interesting, though, is that Moench pretty much reveals the endgame on the first few pages. It’s a fairly typical political assassination plot, but in order for that to pay off, Batman must go on a cross-country tour tracking down certain individuals that lead him to other, much more heinous players in a fairly vast conspiracy. He starts with the pawns and works his way up to the king.
My only problem with this arc is that it seems to contradict itself at the end. The Manchurian Candidate-like killer doesn’t actually try to assassinate the politician that was at the center of the plot. In fact, it’s just a throwaway line that a shot was fired and he survived. Gordon also has a throwaway line to the extent that that was essentially his bad, but luckily the guy made it. WTF? It’s like they left out an entire chapter.

That being said, I thought “Conspiracy” was definitely one of the better LOTDK runs and was a refreshing change of pace after so many clunkers lately. The artwork was fantastic, too. Williams and Gray have a dark, noirish look similar to Mike Mignola, but a little cleaner. I also like Williams’ atypical page layouts. The composition is very eye-catching. He makes great use of both white and black space.

Score: 4/5

Clay (issues 89-90)

Written by Alan Grant. Drawn by Quique Alcatena.

It’s weird seeing any of the usual rogues in LOTDK (including Joker). I’m not sure what the point was of doing a story featuring the cartoonish villain Clayface in this series and especially setting it “just a few weeks” into Batman’s debut. 

“Clay” reads like an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, or any of the regular Batman comics… from the Bronze Age. It’s not exactly a serious or bleak story the way most LOTDK arcs seem to be. There’s not much in the way of mystery or detective work, either. And since Clayface is pretty much an unstoppable monster, there’s no point in even pitting Batman against him in an action-oriented premise. 

The artwork is a bit strange – it reminds of R. Crumb. It heavily contributes to the silly atmosphere. Not to say that it’s ugly; just really odd. 

Score: 3/5

The Zodiac Crimes | Batman '66 | vlog #71

Season 2, Episode 37. Originally aired January 11, 1967.
Written by Stephen Kandel and Stanford Sherman. Directed by Oscar Rudolph.
Joke and Penguin team up for a wave of crimes based on the signs of the Zodiac. Trying to stay one step ahead of the thievery, Penguin gets caged, but the Dynamic Duo is about to be crushed by the museum's giant meteorite.

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Friday, May 29, 2015

The Mad Hatter Runs Afoul | Batman '66 | vlog #70

Season 2, Episode 36. Originally aired January 5, 1967.
Written by Charles Hoffman. Directed by Oscar Rudolph.
Ina a clever swap, Mad Hatter thinks his plan is succeeding. Unaware Batman's cowl can be traced, the hapless Hatter and his thugs try hiding in the water tower, ready to get soaked.
RATING: 3/5 

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Contaminated Cowl | Batman '66 | vlog #69

Season 2, Episode 35. Originally aired January 4, 1967.
Written by Charles Hoffman. Directed by Oscar Rudolph.
The shyster of chapeaus is on the loose again and ready to increase his mammoth collection. He aims to carry off Batman's cowl, leaving the Dynamic Duo to be nuked by deadly X-Rays.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Catwoman Goeth | Batman '66 | vlog #68

Season 2, Episode 34. Originally aired December 29, 1966.
Written by Ellis St. Joseph and Charles Hoffman. Directed by George Waggner.
With Robin now trapped in the labyrinthine Catmaze, and Batman knowing a deceitful double-cross is brewing, it's time to put a "stop payment" on Sandman's ruse and deposit him in prison.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Sandman Cometh | Batman '66 | vlog #67

Season 2, Episode 33. Originally aired December 28, 1966.
Written by Ellis St. Joseph and Charles Hoffman. Directed by George Waggner.
Sandman (Michael Rennie) and Catwoman form a devious duo bent on abscoding with the noodle fortune of J. Pauline Spaghetti, who hasn't slept in seven years. In pursuit, our Caped Crusaders are cuffed by henchmen and about to be needled.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Legends of the Dark Knight: Issues 71-79

Werewolf (issues 71-73)

Written by James Robinson. Drawn by John Watkiss.

One of my pet peeves when it comes to Batman is having him go up against the supernatural. He’s a mortal man so his best villains are also mortal men. Though Werewolf is something of a misnomer since the titular villain is not even really the main villain – just an apparition that appears from time to time. The real villain is a man; actually, a few different men. In fact, it turns out there’s a pretty big conspiracy afoot in this story and it’s one of the few arcs in the LOTDK run that reads like an actual detective or mystery story.

Trying to recap the plot would be difficult since it’s complex, vast
and overly complicated (even convoluted I’d say). Writer James Robinson, who is of British nationality, brings Batman to London and it gives him the opportunity to mix in some very British idioms, vernacular and other ethnic characterization. The city of London really doesn’t feature much as the story involves Batman running back and forth between various characters trying to figure out what really happened. The werewolf itself only appears once or twice and it turns out it wasn’t even real anyway (though I can’t say I’m surprised). Usually, most Batman stories have too much action but this one did not have enough.

The art is quite attractive, though. Semi-cartoony with a clean look, though dark. Well-arranged pages and breezy pacing. Though I think the script is much too wordy. Not the best entry in the franchise, but a pretty good one.

Score:  3/5

Engines (issues 74-75)

Written and drawn by Ted McKeever.

Something I’ve noticed about LOTDK, especially in the last 20 issues or so, is that creators keep mistaking it as a Vertigo comic. It is not. McKeever certainly does not understand this, as "Engines" is written and drawn as a complete and total mindbender. There really is nothing comprehensible about this story.

The premise could’ve been interesting: the viewpoint of a nutty serial killer (or should I say – a guy who just up and one day decides to become a serial killer). But there’s really no dialogue or any kind of exposition here – it’s 99% internal monologue and it’s all abstract, banal, vapid poetry. This is someone trying to make an artsy comic book and failing miserably. There was absolutely no reason to include this story in LOTDK (and that it was a two-parter really blows my mind).

The artwork is interesting to be sure, but abstract and surreal. It matches the absurd narration, but because the story is so bad it seems wasted to me. 

Not such much a “bad” comic as it is a dumb, pointless and confusing one.

Score: 1/5

The Sleeping (issues 76-78)
On the back of this comic was an ad for an "Aliens" video game!

Written and drawn by Scott Hampton.

LOTDK continues to fall down the proverbial rabbit hole into surrealism. This 3-part arc is basically a Batman story told by someone who’s clearly a big fan of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Call it a mindbender I suppose, but it’s much for cogent than the abstract and arbitrary "Engines" from the previous few issues.

The premise is ridiculous: Bruce Wayne gets into a nasty car accident and ends up in a coma. In true Sandman-style he awakens in a place for those in comas – a purgatory of some sort where an apparition tells him he has to find his opposite twin and then dive into the lake of fire and he’ll wake up from the coma (because, apparently that's how you get out of a coma - fighting monsters on another dimensional plane). Along the way he meets a sarcastic twit (who I swear is "Comic Book Guy" from The Simpsons) and a terrorist with a heart of gold (because what other types are there?). And of course they all have to fight off a lot of demons and monsters (including a swift kick to a monster’s nuts – REALLY!?!). To make it worse, the demons and monsters actually get their own sub-plot with dialogue and everything.

There are elements within this story that could’ve worked well in another context – Bruce finding out what his life would’ve been like had he not become Batman – but here it’s just too off-topic to appreciate. 

Though readable and fairly breezy, I found "The Sleeping" to be extremely frustrating because I really want to ask the creators and editorial staff WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK DOES ANY OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH BATMAN!? I READ BATMAN COMICS TO SEE HIM SOLVE CRIMES AND FIGHT CRIMINALS – NOT DEMONS AND MONSTERS!!

I demand an explanation, Scott Hampton!

Score: 2/5

Favorite Things (issue 79)

Written by Mark Millar. Pencilled by Steve Yeowell, inked by Dick Giordano.

It’s been a while since there’s been a standalone LOTDK story that was truly self-contained and wasn’t part of a larger DCU crossover. "Favorite Things" is a nice modern Batman story that probably could’ve been a regular Batman or Detective Comics issue. Despite the horrific imagery on the cover, there really is not jeopardy or peril that Batman encounters in this issue. Basically he just tracks down some thieves on Christmas and then lets one of them go when he delivers a sob story. It seems like one of Batman’s weaknesses is that he’s got a bleeding heart – he’ll let slide anyone that’s in a position remotely like his own when he was a child.

Aside from the ending, this was a pretty solid, well-written comic. Breezy and not nearly as bleak as most in this series. The artwork is clean, bright and colorful – although a lot of that might be due to the fact that beginning with this issue the comic now uses glossy white paper instead of matte black paper (which I preferred).

Score: 3/5

FUN FACT: Writer Mark Millar’s name is spelled correctly on the cover, but misspelled as “Miller” on Page 1.