New Avengers: Other Worlds

I’ll be honest. I procrastinated with this one. A lot. On purpose. Because reasons.

Part of what I realised I didn’t like after reading the first volume of Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers was that it was damn near impossible to feel emotionally invested in any of the protagonists. I compared the book to the distinctly anti-heroic-bordering-on-villainous take in Uncanny X-Men, but the more I think about it the more it becomes clear that New Avengers is far closer to the bad guy side of the coin.

That’s not a problem that shuts out anyone writing a book about villains. Some of the best works in contemporary fiction have villain protagonists who are engaging enough that we can get into the story (look at Breaking Bad, for instance). A story that follows an unequivocally “bad” guy isn’t something I’m not able to dig.

New Avengers is a little different. It’s clear we’re supposed to treat Iron Man, Mr Fantastic, Namor et al. as anti-heroes straying dangerously close to the border between Daredevil and Dr. Doom. They’re taking risks, engaging in morally grey activities but all for the betterment of the world. They’re badasses the same way Rust Cohle in True Detective was; they get the job done, but you wouldn’t exactly label them as affirmative action figures so much as tools accomplishing a task without thought for morality.

other worlds 1What I’m saying is it was difficult for me to get around to reading Other Worlds given how much that thought pervaded my mind after reading Everything Dies last year. New Avengers seemed to exist in this limbo between anti-hero and villain storytelling that, while it’s definitely a damn good read, was not the kind of title I felt like diving back into the same way I do whenever Saga or Scott Snyder’s Batman releases a new volume. Did I really want to go through more of that “neither sweet nor bitter” storytelling when there are far more family-friendly titles I could review, like the new Black Widow or MIND MGMT?

Well, the answer is “yes”, if not least of all because I love Jonathan Hickman and missing any piece of his Avengers and New Avengers puzzle would niggle at me like a loose tooth. Blame my collector genes.

Surprisingly, Other Worlds seems to ditch a lot of grey morality storytelling that composed its first two volumes and is instead more interested in, well, other worlds. A good half of the volume is literally a glimpse at similar universes to our one that get completely destroyed thanks to all that multiversal entropy business Everything Dies introduced. Variable versions of the Avengers, both New and vanilla, fight in vain against the Mapmakers while Iron Man, Mr Fantastic, Namor et al. sit back and fret over what’s going to happen to them once said Mapmakers are finished with their multiversal canon fodder. Then a universe with a thinly-veiled version of the Justice League shows up.


Let it never be said Hickman writes stories that feel samey; most of Other Worlds deals with astrophysics and complex multiversal theoretical shenanigans that almost any other comic not written by Grant Morrison would not ever attempt to serve to its audience. other worlds 3Wrapped around the “hard” science fiction (for though I don’t know myself, I’m pretty sure several multiverse theorists might take umbrage with some of the techno-babble Tony Stark spouts) is a bit of a character moment between Namor and Black Panther that kinda echoes a Londo-G’Kar relationship. Yes, I have been watching Babylon 5 lately, how did you guess?

Though it’s not at all a bad book, Other Worlds isn’t so much a story in itself as it is a twin gun plot purpose cannon. What I mean by that is it exists to serve two (possibly three) purposes within its pagecount: one is, by showing us all the universes collapsing as ours gets further up to being next on the list, to put a human face on those numbered, nameless worlds as they spiral towards destruction. I guess it helps avoid the disconnect audiences might get trying to visualise faceless casualties in a disaster movie when a character states that a million billion souls have bought farms by showing us who’s dying and why. It’s nothing near tragic, but it’s something I guess.

Two is to make it clear that this entropy and the Mapmakers accompanying it is not a threat to be other worlds 2trifled or simply beaten into submission. This is the part of Hickman’s New Avengers plot I both like and dislike the most; the former, because it avoids repetitious use of the good ol’ “punch it in the face” trope that solves most superhero narratives, and the latter, because it feels distinctly unlike a real Avengers plot in and of itself. It’s the kind of science fiction threat I’d expect to see in Star Trek or, again, Babylon 5, and while it’s not unwelcome for an Avengers book to be about something different than somebody wanting to take over Earth or just kill a bunch of heroes for giggles, it does feel just a bit incongruous.

Adding to the incongruity is the artwork, which I’m forced to split down the middle in my critique of it. One half, handled by Rags Morales of Action Comics fame, is great, gorgeous and engaging. The other, illustrated by Simone Bianchi, is somewhat messy, thick and throws me from the story the same way Fillipe Andrade did during his Captain Marvel work. I happen to think Bianchi’s a great artist, particularly loving his work on Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Box back in the day, but it doesn’t really work here. I guess since the narrative’s migrated a little from the grey morality that Steve Epting masterfully illustrated during his work on the first volume that we need something different, but I’m not sure Bianchi was the right fit here. Still, once again, I give points for something a bit different.

Dialogue’s hard to judge this time around. As I said it’s got a ton of techno-babble that adds to the Star Trek vibe I get, and while our core cast of characters seems consistent I don’t really take much from those in the other universes – including and especially the not-Justice League at the end. It doesn’t quite feel like standard Hickman wordiness the same way the layered and hinting dialogue other worlds 4in East of West and Infinity did, which does detract from what did make Everything Dies a bit more engaging. Also, I can’t remember, did Black Swan explain what all those “Yabbot” words meant earlier? Coz she struck me as being like someone who speaks fluent Japanese, knows that you do not, and chooses to converse and insult you with it regardless. Now that’s just rude.

Also, wasn’t Thanos stuck in amber somewhere here after the end of Infinity? They seem to have forgotten him, which you’d think would be difficult when it comes to an eight-foot-tall titan from the moon with a face like a cleft grape.

I feel like Other Worlds works better as part of the whole rather than on its own, which both helps and hinders it in a recommendation. If you’ve followed Hickman this far down the rabbit hole then it’s worth it to read all the pieces, but as a text on its own it does not stand up even without all the greyer disconnect that riddled Everything Dies. Maybe wait for the run to end so you can just marathon it. I’d say that’ll make it easier to keep all the techno-babble in check under one umbrella.

other worlds cover


STORY: 3/5




BEST QUOTE: “Many worlds implies many variables. Perhaps on one Earth, the Soviet Union never fell. On another, man never landed on the moon. This is pretty much the foundation of every piece of bad science fiction ever written.” – Beast

[75 YEARS OF BATMAN WEEK] Day 5 – The Dark Knight Returns

“This should be agony. I should be a mass of aching muscle — broken, spent, unable to move.

And, were I an older man, I surely would…

But I’m a man of 30 — of 20 again.

The rain on my chest is a baptism.

I’m born again.”


Batman, The Dark Knight Returns #1



This, too, must end.

Ask any Bat-fan worth their salt what the narrative with the biggest impact to the character’s overall presence is, and I’d bet good money the most prolific answer you’ll get is The Dark Knight Returns. I’m gonna generalise here and suggest it’s the most oft-cited Bat-story ever printed (besides his debut in Detective Comics #27, of course), and the evidence for that is in the sheer number of times it gets namechecked whenever an adaptation – visual, literary or critical – pays homage to Frank Miller’s landmark work. Christopher Nolan’s retired Batman in The Dark Knight Rises? The death of the Joker in Arkham City? The post-apocalyptic, criminally-infested version of Gotham we got in Grant Morrison’s Batman #666? Those surface-level threads link back to Miller and The Dark Knight Returns, and that’s just stuff I can think of off the top of my head.


In the grand tradition of all the Bat-reviews I’ve covered this week, I’ll open with a watered-down plot premise: Gotham’s in its death throes, overrun by crime in a futuristic dystopia where Batman’s retired and most of his family are either missing, in government employ or just dead. After one particularly bad night – hell, maybe he even had that nightmare I covered yesterday – Bruce Wayne decides to throw caution to the wind, haul his geriatric body up and get back to kicking ass as Batman. In a way that reminds me of what Nolan suggested about supervillains at the end of Batman Begins – being that the sheer presence of a guy in black rubber dressed as a member of the chiroptera family inevitably brings out the crazies – Bruce’s return to the crime scene sparks a greater conflict in Gotham that could quite literally see the city wiped off the map.

dark-knight-returnsIf I was confident that I could hold your attention for the 20,000 words thesis necessary to at least start scratching the surface of what makes The Dark Knight Returns work like gangbusters, I’d do it. Probably with interpretive dance and a Richard Burton impression just to make it a bit more engaging. The truth is – and this may sound, as much of what I post on this website, like something of a cop-out – I cannot do justice to this book in the mere space of a 1200-word review. There’s a plethora of aspects I could enter into: Bruce’s unwavering spirit that defies old age; the heteronormative masculine paradigms inherent to said spirit defying old age; duality overcome as Bruce becomes far less Bruce and almost entirely solely Batman with a singular identity; government forces of order through strength in moves that seemed to foreshadow elements of the War on Terror; the illegality of superheroes that was also covered in Watchmen

Like I said, if I had the confidence, I’d do the Burton dance.

There’s so much tightly packed into the page count of The Dark Knight Returns that people have literally written papers and entire books just on aspects of study related to it. As mentioned previously, it’s one of the trio of books that includes The Killing Joke and Watchmen that dared to paint a cynical, grounded and realistic portrait of a hero’s last days in a world far removed from the camp and colour of the Adam West 1960s series. It’s a deconstructive text miller_batmanbearing a lot of sympatico with Watchmen, though I’d argue there’s a bit more optimism here than in Alan Moore’s magnum opus. Then again they’re both hellishly depressing in their own ways, so maybe optimism’s a relative concept.

The more I think about it, The Dark Knight Returns really did set the tone for a lot of Batman’s representation in the decades following it. He might not be an old man in the comics, animated series, video games and motion-comic tea towels, but the brooding, grim, somewhat cynical and overwhelmingly indomitable persona permeates almost every representation since 1986 to a certain degree. If the rumblings surrounding that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Which Is Actually A Really Ridiculous Title film are accurate, then our rising Batffleck will take cowl and character from The Dark Knight Returns when he hits screens in 2016, a full thirty years since the book was released. So that should tell you a little something about TDKR‘s enduring nature right there.


Impact and Influence

Ironically, the tremendous impact of The Dark Knight Returns is a double-edged sword. It’s a great story, a different take, a deconstructionist work, and set the tone for Bats and a few of his contemporaries in the years to follow.

That tone-setting, though, is kind of a problem.


One of the biggest complaints leveled at last year’s Man of Steel film was its tendency to cling a bit too close to the dark and depressing tonality end of the spectrum, which in turn was inspired by Nolan’s Dark Knight movies clinging to it, which was in turn at least partly because the comics were clinging to it in Knightfall and No Man’s Land and being super-popular, which was in turn because of The Dark Knight Returns – and because that tone clearly works both critically and financially, why fix what ain’t broke?

The problem with continuously drawing from the well of inspiration The Dark Knight Returns provided is what once was invigorating becomes stagnant. Have a read of this piece by Abraham Rieseman on why constantly eschewing other takes in favour of the grimdark Batman we know, love and want to hug might not be the way to go. I recommend it even if only because he suggests films based both on Gotham Central and Scott Snyder’s current run, as well as a Japanese-language Bat-film based on that manga from the 60s; I would watch all three in a heartbeat.

An additional issue, also mentioned in Rieseman’s piece, is that TDKR tends to overshadow a lot of other works pre-1986. Just look at the reviews I’ve done for the past week – nothing before 1986. Most of DC’s marketing prominently features books published in the wake of TDKR. Hell, can you even name an arc off the top of your head that took place before Miller came aboard? (ok, whomever reads this and can name an arc from pre-1986 off the top of their head, please disregard)

dark_knight_returnsInstead, the titles we recall off the tops of our heads are all the darker takes that drew their genesis from The Dark Knight Returns. We don’t really consider the lighter, action-oriented schlock pieces of the 60s, or at least not any specific story. Instead we remember Batman’s back breaking in Knightfall. We remember Gotham City decaying in slow death during No Man’s Land. We think of Grant Morrison’s run, of Jason Todd’s demise in A Death in the Family, of psychotic brotherly sociopathy in The Black Mirror, and of clandestine governmental conspiracy in The Court of Owls.

And, of course, we most definitely remember how Batman began, how his nemesis was born, how he can never trust anybody, and how thin his line between hero and villain truly is.

Please don’t mistake my meaning here: I do not hate or dislike The Dark Knight Returns, or believe it’s an unworthy book to be held in high esteem. Nor do I believe any of the works I’ve described in the paragraphs above are bad because the darkness pervades them all. I’ll be the first to admit I much prefer to grittier, more grounded approach to Batman compared to the light and fluff of the Adam West days. I think if we hadn’t had that shift towards darker storytelling we might not be celebrating Batman’s birthday with as much verve as we have today. But at the same time, it’s something to keep in mind going forward. If we stuck to original templates of things without much reinvention or change of the initial premise, we’d never have abolished slavery or acid-wash jackets.

In the final analysis, The Dark Knight Returns deserves its place as a – but, in my mind, not the – definitive Batman book in 75 years of canon. It might be a bit like the Casablanca of Bat-books – in that it introduced several tropes and elements that other works have taken and developed further afterwards – but you owe it to yourself, especially as a student of Bat-history, to read it. If nothing else, the battle that closes the book between Batman and Superman is, to slip into the colloquial for a moment, totally goddamn sweet.




That’s the end of Batman Week, folks. Thanks so much for taking this impromptu journey with me through five of the Dark Knight’s greatest endeavours. Who knows, maybe some of you will return in a quarter-century when we celebrate 100 years with a new slew of five books (of which I’m certain at least one will be written by Scott Snyder because I LOVE HIM YOU GUYS).

Part of what makes Batman so enduring, recreateable and endurable is his constant regeneration within pop culture canon across decades. Much like his own self-stated purpose at the end of The Dark Knight, he is whatever we need him to be: a light-hearted comedic saviour, a gritty avenger of the night, a mouthpiece for those whose words cannot be heard, and a defence against those who prey on the fearful. He is an ultimate cultural icon that might never truly cease to exist or remain relevant, as long as minds whose imaginations are captured by his exploits are then spurred to continue his regenerative journey.

After we’re all gone, I think Batman will still be here. He doesn’t belong to any one of us (except maybe DC Comics, but that’s a much more literal thing and this is a metaphor). We just carry him along a little, keep that popularity burning bright and hand him off to the next generation to repurpose him as what they need.


“All I really need to know is this: Batman always comes back, bigger and better, shiny and new.

Batman never dies.

It never ends.

It probably never will.”


– Commissioner Gordon, Batman Incorporated: Gotham’s Most Wanted

 demon wanted 5

[75 YEARS OF BATMAN WEEK] Day 4 – Arkham Aslyum: A Serious House on Serious Earth

“Afraid? Batman’s not afraid of anything.

It’s me. I’m afraid.

I’m afraid that The Joker may be right about me.

Sometimes…I question the rationality of my actions.

And I’m afraid that when I walk through those asylum gates…

when I walk into Arkham and the doors close behind me…

it’ll be just like coming home.”


– Batman, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth



This is where it gets complex, my lovelies…

You’d be hard-pressed to find another superhero comics scribe as abstract, dense, avant garde and completely effing out there as Grant Morrison. Jumping forward in time a little, the man was responsible for an epic Batman journey that saw the Dark Knight gain a son, lose his life, kill a god, return from the end of time and set up a global crimefighting franchise. Oh, he also saved the world and ended up losing that son, so y’know, easy come easy go.

But before all that, Morrison crafted a neat little nightmare of a story where Batman has one particularly bad evening. Enter Arkham Asylum.


I’m going to do major disservice to the thematic and subtextual goldmine that is this book by overly simplifying the plot – the Joker takes over Arkham Asylum and baits Batman to come get him. Upon entering, the latter discovers that Joker and all his supervillainous inmate buddies would just much rather that Batman stay and live with them to have all of Gotham’s freaks under one roof. It’s kind of a nice, psychotically-welcoming idea when you think about it. Like someone invites you to live with them in their basement full of butchered cadavers and Justin Bieber albums; the gesture’s nice, even if the location’s a bit off.

tumblr_mowhe4cGMO1rur0aro1_r1_500Arkham Asylum is a slightly longer one-shot that confronts Batman, Joker, Two-Face and several other villains with a distinctly psychological angle of attack. Darkness, duality and true monstrosity under Batman’s crimefighting persona are all touched on, offering the position established in this review’s opening quote: is Batman becoming, or is he already, as crazy as those he’s locking up in the asylum time and again? Are they truly the closest thing to family he’s got? Will such a realisation lead to awkward Thanksgivings where Joker cuts the turkey with an electrified chainsaw while the Riddler obliquely hints at where he’s hidden the applesauce?

As with The Killing Joke there’s a ton that can be said about the brevitous page count, not least of which is the open question of the story’s relationship to reality or, as Morrison postulates on Kevin Smith’s podcast, its actuality as a really bad dream Batman once had. (I can’t remember which episode he said that in, but you should just google ‘Grant Morrison Fatman on Batman’ and listen to them all anyway) The word I use time and again, both in this review and in describing the book to friends, is ‘nightmare’: it’s a surreal, Gothic, haunting narrative that is less concerned with plot, though obviously there is one, and more with character. I’m probably sounding pretentious as balls right now, but keep in mind I’m doing a PhD. It kinda goes with the territory.


The book also feels a bit more concerned with the setting and the visuals than with a strict story per se. After Batman enters the titular Asylum we get a couple of small digressions involving villains like Two-Face and Killer Croc, and a longer one involving the Asylum’s obliquely-referred-to history and its founder Amadeus Arkham. I guess being deliciously mired within a setting this weird works on its own merits; TV shows like Mad Men show us we don’t necessarily need a fully straightforward narrative when the setting can do a lot of the engrossing work entertainment’s meant to undertake. That said, unlike some parts of the ’60s Mad Men portrays, you do not want to actually exist in the Asylum. You may feel as if you’re mainlining LSD in one arm and crystal meth in the other.

Yes, I know you don’t mainline crystal meth. I’ve watched Breaking Bad, too.

Though fantastic and engrossing, thanks in no small part to the story deftly and nightmarishly illustrated by surrealist artist and frequent Neil Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean, Arkham Asylum does have its drawbacks. If you’re after something coherent, easy to understand but still thematically engaging, go read The Long Halloween instead; Arkham is a frenetic, not entirely straight A-to-B plot narrative that uses structurally daring panel layouts and judicious use of crazy artwork to tell a completely mental story. If mental characters and a story illustrated like Batman’s tripping on bad acid ain’t yo thang, there might only be so much you can take away from this before seeking a cup of tea to calm you down.

I’d also highly recommend reading it at night, with a lamp and a small glass of your preferred alcoholic beverage. Trust me, it adds to the atmosphere.


Impact and Importance

Arkham Asylum’s biggest influence over current Bat-canon, apart from giving Morrison license to gloriously mess with continuity when he came back to start his run in 2006, is through indirectly creating those Arkham vidya garms all the kids seem to like these days. Indeed, Arkham Asylum the game draws a lot of inspiration from Morrison’s story. While it’s not a complete adaptation of the source material as is, it’s still pretty close. Though now I think of it, those fear gas-induced Scarecrow sections of the game do seem a little Dave McKean-y in layout and execution…


Its second-biggest influence – and one I’m completely pulling from supposition and thin air – was acting as a proof-of-concept that Morrison could write Batman, and he could write Batman well. He did scribe a shorter run simply titled Gothic the year after Asylum was released (though I’ve yet to read it), but since Asylum‘s the book most often namechecked in regards to the respect Morrison’s given by comic readers then I’d say that had the more lasting impact. The decision to let him do (almost) whatever the hell he wanted resulted in one of the best Batman runs ever – a distinction I don’t use lightly. Go look at the links in the first paragraph for an idea of what I’m on about, though do try to ignore the fanboy gushy parts.

While it’s something esoteric and not the kind of book I’d recommend to fans who don’t like depth in their cape stories, Arkham Asylum still stands as one of the most popular, if not most talked about, Bat-comics published in the last few decades. Even if it is a nightmare Batman’s having on a really bad night, it’s the kind of thrilling nightmare you’ll be glad you experienced.

Batman Week concludes tomorrow.



[75 YEARS OF BATMAN WEEK] Day 3 – The Long Halloween

“I made a promise to my parents,

that I would rid the city of the evil that took their lives.

No matter what that evil looks like or becomes.

I believe someday I will make good on that promise.

I have to.

I believe in BATMAN.”


– Batman, The Long Halloween, Chapter 13



Did you like The Dark Knight?

God knows I did. It’s literally the film that gave me impetus to read comic books, made Batman my favourite comic book character and added further salt into the tragic wound of Heath Ledger’s passing. If it weren’t for me sitting in an overcrowded theatre in Western Sydney all the way back in 2008, on a date that wouldn’t end anywhere near as well as the film did, I might not be the intelligent comic book enthusiast I pretend to be on weekends. (actually, it was 3 dates with 3 different women over the course of a month and a half, all with about the same level of strike-outed-ness)

Part of what gave The Dark Knight such a fantastic story was its grounding in a story of deuteragonists. Batman and Harvey Dent – and, to a lesser extent, Commissioner Gordon – offered parallel extremes of the same goal, respectively lawless and lawful agents of the status quo in Gotham with an unending desire to see their city freed of the crime that only seemed to grow more rampant and infectious during Batman Begins. That story, and keeping both characters at centre focus in their campaign to rid Gotham of the Joker, is one of The Dark Knight’s greatest strengths.

That story drew inspiration from a little comic called The Long Halloween.

long halloween 3

Still a fairly neophyte crimefighter, Batman faces a problem when two prominent crime families – the Falcones and the Maronis – trigger an escalating war that threatens to destabilise Gotham. Things are made worse when a serial killer, nicknamed “Holiday” for their apparent preference for homicide on days of celebration, appears and exacerbates the situation. Faced with this kinda huge problem he’s not quite good enough to deal with on his own, Batman forms an alliance with Commissioner Gordon and ace attorney Harvey Dent in a bid to “bend the rules, but not break them” for the sake of protecting Gotham as a united trio. Unfortunately, as time goes on, those rules start to crack apart almost as much as their alliance does, as paranoia and circumstance take root and bring Gotham to the brink of destruction.

That paragraph kinda sounds almost like an overblown movie trailer, doesn’t it? Perhaps I should switch careers.

long halloween 1

The Long Halloween came about in 1996 at a time when company crossovers and multiple-title stories were in abundance, meaning anyone wanting to get in on Batman’s comic activities – especially in the wake of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever film in 1995 – had to purchase sixteen different ongoing books just to get at one narrative. Seedless to nay, a straight-talking 13 issue story that only required books with the same title to be purchased monthly was just what people who were after a cohesive and coherent story needed.

While it’s not as genre-defying or groundbreaking the same way The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns were, The Long long halloween 4Halloween still holds a respectable spot on readers’ lists as not only a great story but a proper fleshing out of Harvey Dent’s backstory. The poor man’s journey from single-minded White Knight of Gotham to psychotically-twisted bipolar victim Two-Face is tragic, benefiting from the darker tone of the 90’s comic scene and the straight arrow of the narrative. Before this, the character of Harvey was never fully explored, or at least to the degree writer Jeph Loeb accomplished in this book, so seeing the pre-disfigured side of Gotham’s one-time prodigal son added a unique dimension to the general “Batman pursues a crim” story The Long Halloween employs as its spine.

Speaking of Loeb, this is easily tied for first as his best ever comics work, with the other recipient being his awesome Hush run (which, yes, has problems on a second readthrough, but I personally love the hell out of it). The introspection can get a little stilted at times, but overall the dialogue is solid and appropriate to each character. I feel Loeb gets a great handle on Batman’s thought process that’s neither overly verbose nor over-the-top hypermasculine, something he also brought across in Hush, and it’s really nice to read a book where that process feels somewhat more relatable. Also, at times there’s something of a wry black comedic tone going through things, with the highlight for me being a one-page series of panels where Batman spends Thanksgiving with someone…special.

long halloween 2

The art is…well, the art is by Tim Sale. Depending on your capacity for exaggerated forms and visual structure outside “regular” comic illustrations, you’ll either really love it or not care for it too much. I personally think Sale’s art is excellent, even if at times the darker palette can get a little off-putting and, at least in my older copy of the book, somewhat indistinct between background and character movement. If you loved the really tall and pointy ears on the Batsuit in the Arkham videogames, you’ll probably love Sale’s art.


Impact and Importance

The Long Halloween provided the blueprint for much of The Dark Knight, and as mentioned came around at a time when readers seemed to be getting a bit sick of multiple-title narratives when all they want is a straightforward book they can buy month-to-month. It’s possible Two-Face would be far more on the straight-villainous side of the spectrum rather than the tragic antagonist if it weren’t for his story; granted, he’s a nutcracker however you slice it, but at least The Long Halloween told us why, showed us how and really made the point that he was, if not a little unhinged, at least on the verge of it even before he copped an acid facial. It’s a real story on how devotion to an ideal and backwards-bending belief in justice can turn even the best of us into the worst. As with The Killing Joke, Batman faces a parallel here with Harvey Dent that implies what one of The Dark Knight‘s most famous quotes articulated – you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

long halloween 5

Just how far is too far? When does it stop? Where do you find the boundary in a man who has no boundaries?

Batman Week continues tomorrow.

long halloween cover



[75 YEARS OF BATMAN WEEK] Day 2 – The Killing Joke

“Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another…

If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”


The Joker, Batman: The Killing Joke



Batman might be turning 75 this year, but he ain’t the only one. Ladies and gentlemen, our other birthday boy – the Joker.

the killing joke 6

If Bats is the iconic comic book anti-hero, I’d argue the Joker’s the iconic supervillain. Whether Romero, Hamill, Nicholson or Ledger springs to mind when that moniker enters your ear, the Joker’s enduring presence not just in Batman’s ‘verse but in the popular cultural canon speaks volumes to just how effective and remakeable the character is. I mean, where would we be in life without a psychotic, mass-murdering sociopath to remind us how hilarious violence and clown-themed crime can be?

So if Year One is how the Batman got his drabcolour dreamcoat, The Killing Joke is the tale of the man who would be Joker. It’s also one of three books – the other two being Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns – that began the Dark Age of comic books.

the killing joke 5

The Joker escapes Arkham Asylum, kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and shoots his daughter Barbara through the spine, leading Batman on a chase to an abandoned circus ground in Gotham. The showdown between the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime (which I still find an iffy moniker – I mean, when was he a prince? Is he secretly the heir to Westeros and nobody noticed? Well, they don’t call that fan theory R+L=J for nothing) is interspersed with moments from a man’s life as he deals with a pregnant wife, a dissatisfactory job as an engineer and a burgeoning, if stolid, comedy career that he could fully commit to if he didn’t have all the above to deal with. Who knows, if this guy didn’t have so many issues in his life, he could take up comedy as an occupation, and become a full-time Joker.

Yeah, that was painful.

the killing joke 1The Killing Joke is written by Alan Moore, beautifully rendered and illustrated by Brian Bolland, and remains the go-to story if you want something Joker-centric. The shorter prestige one-shot format the book uses, instead of a longer arc-based run in the main comic the way Year One was told, means vast tracks of story and subtext need to be conveyed in a brevitous amount of page real estate. It’s the kind of dense, thematically-imbued story that only a master storyteller like Moore, in the days before he swore off superheroes and condemned the lot of us as a bunch of subnormal idiots, could pull off with the page count given to him.

I don’t mean to gush so much, honestly. I know there’s no such thing as a perfect novel, and it’s true that even though the one-shot format gives us a tighter, more focused story it still feels like there are areas of the engineer’s backstory that could’ve been fleshed out a bit (despite what Joker might claim about having a multiple-choice past). I know some of the colours during the more nightmarish sequences at the circus can get a little messy, at once aided and hampered by limited-colour palettes whenever Joker decides to get his torturer on. I know a lot of people, despite overall praise, take issue with the ending being so ambiguous. But seriously, I love this not just because it’s a classic but because there is so much you can take from it, and the best part is there’s no real right or wrong way of interpreting the Joker’s most seminal narrative.

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The Killing Joke‘s themes and subtextual elements, not to mention Bolland’s excellent artwork and panel layout that evokes a lot of the hidden structural gems Dave Gibbons utilised for Watchmen, have led to countless theories and interpretations regarding The Killing Joke‘s meaning. Hell, Grant Morrison even thinks Batman actually killed the Joker at the end of the book, and some other goon took up the latter’s mantle afterwards to go running around terrorising the Bat-clan.

It’s that kind of mining for meaning that elevates The Killing Joke above a lot of other Batman, and indeed Joker-centric, stories published over the last few decades. Is it just another day in the life of Batman battling his archnemesis, or does he instead capture the Joker and, after one tragedy too many, reaches the end of his rope to finish the job? Or is so much of this in Batman’s mind, exaggerating psychological traumas in much the same manner Morrison’s own Arkham Asylum did?

Hell if I know. I just write and pretend to sound smart.


Impact and Importance

As I mentioned, The Killing Joke is part of a trio of books that kickstarted the Dark Age of superhero comics. The Joker’s always been portrayed as a nutter, usually to the same comedic effect with which Cesar Romero portrayed him in the Adam the killing joke 2West Batman! TV series of the 1960s. Moore took this a step further, turning him from being simply Batman’s foil with a circus motif to being a nightmare in clownish getup and an instant reason for coulrophobics to experience insomnia afterwards.

The psychotic, horror-fuelled Joker became a staple the same way Batman’s brooding, gritty characterisation began following Tim Burton’s 1989 film and was cemented by Christopher Nolan in the Dark Knight Trilogy. Heath Ledger took that take and the book itself onboard when portraying him in The Dark Knight, and dammit if he didn’t make Moore’s Joker leap off the page with more style and dark panache than almost any other actor could’ve managed.

The book also resonates throughout contemporary manifestations of the evilest clown since Pennywise. Scott Snyder kept that dark surge of no-boundaries malevolence around when he wrote Death of the Family, and before him Grant Morrison gave him even more literal monstrosity with all that tongue-bifurcating business in Batman R.I.PI’d bet good money any Joker write worth their salt will, in some measure, use The Killing Joke as a foundation to characterisation if nothing else.

If you’ve ever read, watched, heard or played a Joker story and loved it to pieces, chances are it might owe just a little bit of its genetic makeup to The Killing Joke.

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Batman Week continues tomorrow.

the killing joke cover



[75 YEARS OF BATMAN WEEK] Day 1 – Batman: Year One

Our Batman, who art in Gotham,

Cowled be thy mane…

– Opening Prayer,

Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman podcast

The (arguably) most popular character ever to spawn from comic books is 75 this week. Suck on that, Doctor Who 50th. (no, I’m joking, I love you Doctor Who)

So this is kind of a big deal. Sure, his fellow contemporary Superman also became a big septuagenarian-and-a-half last year, but Batman is…well, Batman. The fact a character so malleable and translatable across decades is able to remain as popular, if not definitely more so, than he was at the time of inception is no mean feat. Whereas Supes has fallen out of favour here and there, Batman has remained fairly constant.


75 years. Wow.

Y’know what that means, right?




Over the course of the next five days, you’ll be subjected to on-the-fly reviews about five of the most influential Bat-books published within the last three-quarters of a century. Well, actually, most were published in the last half-century. Alright, the last third-century.

Point is, these are tomes whose meaning and importance to the Bat-mythos cannot be understated, and continue to resonate as the Dark Knight guns for that elusive centenary in twenty-five years time. Each review covers a book, its overall importance to Batman and its general impact and influence in contemporary Bat-canon.

I should stress that this is not a comprehensive list of every huge and major Bat-text out there, nor is it simply the only five that are actually really big and awesome and still referenced to this day. Fact is, there are more defining arcs of Batman’s narrative out there than there are grains of sand in Bondi Westfield, and if we were gonna outline every major turning point in the Caped Crusader’s life we’d be here all night for the next 75 years. Don’t fret if your personal pick isn’t on this list; it ain’t exhaustive, and I probably like that book you’d suggest too.

So without further ado, let’s look at Year One. Where it all began, 48 years after Batman started. Because continuity.



In actuality, Year One is the Batman origin story no-one really bothered to comprehensively tell until Frank Miller took a stab at it in 1987. Until then, the main defining points of Batman’s genesis were limited to early recaps of unseen narratives and short panels describing Bruce Wayne’s evolution into the caped and cowled avenger of the night. Even if I’m wrong there, it’s still telling that Year One remains *the* defining Batman origin story when it’s so readily pointed to as such today.

Gotham City is a cesspit of evil and decay, and only two men are able to save it: James Gordon, newly minted cop in the Gotham City Police Department, and a mysterious vigilante dressed up like a bat who only emerges at night to perform amateur dental surgery with his fists on Gotham’s criminal element. The two will have to learn to work together to save Gotham from a slow and lingering death at the hands of the scum and villainy that infests it, dealing with their own personal doubts and corruption at the very heart of the entity designed to safeguard the city.

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There’s not much I can say about Year One that you don’t already know to some degree, not least of which because the book itself isn’t terribly long. Batman’s origin is well-trod ground in animation, comic books, literary novels and motion pictures, and the bare bones of it here are interchangeable with almost any other origin take out there. Bruce’s parents die, he becomes Batman, he and Gordon become friends, they fight crime. The reason it’s interchangeable is that, even if he didn’t come up with specifics entirely himself, writer Frank Miller gave us a story that rolled it all into one narrative and presented it so starkly and memorably.

The importance of Year One to the ongoing Batman story cannot be oversold. It’s an origin story, a character study and a haunting batman year one 3portrayal of a grimy, decaying city in its death throes that only receives salvation at the hands of a figure almost as illicit and unsanctioned as the crime that crippled it in the first place. There’s so much one can say about Year One, so many subtextual and thematic elements that can be unearthed amongst the tapestry of the overall “Bruce Wayne becoming the Batman” story that I could keep you here for hours. Since I’m kind of a nice guy, I’ll just take another ten minutes from you.

Hey, it’s Batman’s birthday. He might not be able to wear your ears out with speeches, but I can do that for him.

Scriptwork is excellent, with Miller coining a lot of the darker tropes that would influence works further down the line in the dawning of the so-called “Dark Age” of comic books. I’d bet good batman year one 1money Christian Bale took most of the grizzled, private eye narrative method of introspection Batman uses here when he started out portraying the Dark Knight in film, and it’s a testament to Miller’s nuanced style (or, at least, nuanced in the days before he wrote All-Star Batman and Robin) that none of it feels overwrought. Similarly, David Mazzuchelli’s artwork sets the standard for Batman work, as gritty and grimy as the city it takes place in but never so despondent that it gets off-putting. While future artists like Francesco Francavilla, he of the superlative Black Mirror arc, tried to emulate Mazzuchelli’s style in homage or as inspirational, no-one does it quite like David.


Impact and Importance

As stated previously, Year One is still considered the landmark origin tale for Batman (at least, it will be until Scott Snyder’s Year Zero run wraps up later this year). Batman Begins, the Animated Series, Tim Burton’s eponymous Batman film and I-don’t-know-how-many-other-stories took the darker, grimmer origin Miller gave us as a base for their own narrative, and it’s no coincidence that at least the three narratives I mentioned there are all universally awesome. It’s a stark contrast to the flashier, poppier stories presented by Adam West’s Batman TV series and the slightly more optimistic and off-kilter stuff of the 60s and 70s, so while there’s not as much brevity in Year One as Batman used to possess, it’s still engaging in its own way.

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As the world continued recovering from grim World Wars and being in the midst of a Cold one when this book was released, it became clear that the rosier-cheeked, campy fun Batman of the past two decades wasn’t going to cut the mustard with readers who were acclimatising to a darker, scarier world. If other works beforehand hinted at the darkness, Miller solidified it in Year One (and that other kinda-big Bat-book he wrote, but we’ll get to that later) and helped shape it into one of the Dark Knight’s most enduring contemporary character traits.

So if you ever get annoyed at how depressing the Dark Knight Trilogy is, go yell at Frank Miller. It ain’t Nolan’s fault he took inspiration from the guy.

In the end, Batman: Year One is where a lot of today’s caped crusading began. It was also a signal that the darkness was here to stay.

Batman Week continues tomorrow.

batman year one coverPUBLISHER: DC COMICS

Sonic Universe: The Silver Saga

It’s imperative, to at least maintain a facade of balance, that a critic must experience things far outside their comfort zone. Reviewing the same or similar things each week just propagates repetition and mires critical responses in a paradigm with small boundaries. Going outside the box and checking out stuff you’re not necessarily into or wouldn’t consider at first glance can provide one of two things – either you discover something so incredibly awesome that you didn’t know you wanted to read until you read it, or you affirm the reason you stayed inside the box in the first place.

Sonic Universe: The Silver Saga is a reason for me to remain in the box and arm it with machine guns. And maybe also a lava moat.

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Let me back up a little: the central reason behind exploring a text I would never in a dozen centuries consider reading is owed almost entirely to my housemate, a massive Sonic the Hedgehog fan. He picked this up recently, and sarcastically asked if I’d review. I took it seriously, vowed that I would, made a cup of coffee and had the book completed before I even reached the dregs.

Allow me to throw up a disclaimer here. I am not a Sonic fan. I have never really been a Sonic fan. I don’t dislike Sonic, I just never got into it. That means I read The Silver Saga devoid of context regarding past volumes, continuity and characters. So, take my following statements with massive handfuls of salt.

The Silver Saga is not a very good book.

silver saga 1Several hundred years in our future, Silver the Hedgehog – eponymous hero and possibly distant relative of everyone’s favourite blue ball of buzzing Hedgehogian energy – lives in a crapsack world with a tutor who kinda looks like an old Knuckles the Echidna and a master who’s an elephant. He travels back in time to save the world from Enerjak, a demigod with superpowers who’s captured or “de-cored” (read: done what the Dementors in Harry Potter do) all of Earth’s anthropomorphic animal heroes. Silver meets with a resistance group that aims to stop Enerjak once and for all.

That’s the entire first two-thirds of the story. Seriously.

This highlights Silver Saga‘s first problem, which is brevity. The arc is over way too quickly and spends far too much of its pagecount setting things up and introducing a slew of characters who are more one-note than this song. There’s nowhere near enough time to establish any of the cast beyond their colour and a single character trait (i.e. the French one, the sword-swinging one, the big guy, etc), and a lot of their history is reliant on little asides the book makes to previous volumes that I hadn’t read.

Which brings us to the second problem with Silver Saga: continuity. Though a few plot points are outlined here and there with context, the majority are left up to those aforementioned footnotes that direct us to purchase more volumes of the comic. Now, as asilver saga 2 reader of superhero texts increasingly reliant on prior volumes it feels a little hypocritical of me to condemn Silver Saga for that. Hell, there’s enough elucidation here to at least get a rudimentary understanding of events when compared to the almost complete non-existence of same in a Grant Morrison run that you haven’t read the previous volumes of. In terms of establishing a story that is accessible to new readers, Silver Saga doesn’t hit the mark but does just enough that it’s not a complete wash in terms of comprehension.

But comprehension leads us to the third problem with Silver Saga: the title. This is not a “saga” the way, well, Saga is. It’s more like the end of an Avengers movie but with none of the characters properly established, duking it out in a city that gets almost as wrecked as Metropolis once Superman’s done with it. As I said, the story’s over way too quickly once the actual plot gets set up, and it feels like nothing’s terribly achieved once all’s said and done. Maybe an extra few issues would’ve helped? Or possibly some story beats that didn’t rely on exposition from characters we don’t know telling us things we’re never shown?

On that note, the fourth problem is dialogue. It’s tepid. Actually, no, tepid is when someone like silver saga 4Cullen Bunn gets involved. This dialogue, written by scribe Ian Flynn, was boring. Tying into the “no characters are rounded” issue, the speechifying in Silver Saga either comes across as forced or overly-simple. Silver drops the occasional quip the same way Sonic apparently does in some of the latter-day 3D games, and that’s really his only character trait besides his ability to travel through time and look like a polar bear. The members of the resistance have jokes for their respective one-note sandwich boards (for instance, the French one counts in French – how funny is that, guys?!). Enerjak is a hammy, overly-talkative antagonist who doesn’t do much besides tell everyone how screwed they are. I’d say maybe it was intended for kids, but considering what little narrative there is visits some fairly dark places for a Sonic story, I can’t exactly back that claim up.

And finally, speaking of dark places, the fifth problem is artwork. Tracy Yardley has these big, cartoonish splash pages all over the place, and that works well for the kind of aesthetic Sonic stories traditionally utilise (going mostly by the games, here). In dialogue moments, that’s fine. In battle scenes, it becomes a miasma of colour. Things are hard to distinguish or interpret without characters overtly bleating about what’s going on in a way that makes Chris Claremont’s X-Men dialogue, which describes battles as they occur on-page in excruciating detail, seem conservative by comparison. Add to that a selection of villains clearly modelled off well-known Sonic characters but recoloured as having lived in the TRON universe, and you’ve got a whole lot of colour and not a whole lot of meaning or weight behind it. If nothing else it’s certainly eye-catching, but in the same way an upturned dinner dish on your carpet catches the eye.

Look, it’s clear Sonic stories are not really my bag, and Silver Saga did not ingratiate me towards the property. It’s quite possible everything I’ve just mentioned as negative above is exactly what Sonic readers are after, and that the charming simplicity peppered with colour and quippiness is just what they’re looking for when they purchase a volume. As I said at the start of this review, it’s important for critics to branch out from the familiar a little now and then, and while this wasn’t the kind of “Where have you been all my life?!” reaction that I got from checking out weird things like 20th Century Boys and Chew, it was still a worthwhile exercise. I mean, I used to think Captain America and Superman were terrible, and that turned out to be a gross oversimplification. Turns out they’re only bad some of the time.

I dunno. If you’ve got Sonic comics you think are the bomb that are great titles for newbies, let me know. Otherwise, something tells me I won’t be back for The Silver Saga 2: Silver Fights Hitler anytime soon.


silver saga cover


STORY: 2/5



OVERALL: 5.5/15

“BEST” QUOTE: “Are you going to explain yourself, or do I have to rock your world some more?” – Silver


Velvet: Before the Living End

You know the old adage, “When God closes a door, he opens a window”? I feel a similar one right now: when Ed Brubaker ends a Fatale, he starts up a Velvet.

I’d almost go so far as to say Brubaker’s work at Image far outstrips his impressive Marvel repertoire, which includes the definitive take on Captain America in the whole Winter Soldier/Death of Cap plotline that recently made a bajillion-and-one dollars at the box office as a kickass movie. That is one tough-ass act to follow, but it’s a feat Brubaker’s managed to undertake. That’s like George R.R. Martin finishing Game of Thrones and following it up with a series of kids’ books about a flying dinosaur, and having the latter make the former look poor in comparison. (and now I really want Martin to write a series of kids’ books about a flying dinosaur, because it would be awesome)

So as Fatale begins winding down, let’s look at something completely different with Velvet. It’s about a strong-willed black-haired woman with a dark and troubled past who’s something of a mankiller for almost every male she engages in a relationship with. Also her past is connected to some present-day shenanigans involving a dense, labyrinthine conspiracy and a whole lot of sex.

Ok, maybe not completely different to Fatale, then.

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Velvet Templeton, title character of the piece, is a milquetoast secretary at a secret agency that saves the world a lot. When one of her former conquests, a secret agent man who makes James Bond look like a boy scout, ends up dead, it starts a chain of events that blows the lid on Velvet’s hidden past as a secret agent who herself makes Black Widow look like a girl scout (sorry, I couldn’t think of a different reference point). Also there’s a lot of martial artistry, several dead bodies and multiple cigarettes; as in, multiple cigarettes appear in the story, not necessarily just with the dead bodies.

Before I get into the two things I didn’t like about Velvet, let me state unequivocally that it is definitely worth your time. It’s a tight, well-plotted, action-packed and gorgeously rendered story that has all the hallmarks of being another Brubaker classic in the vein of Incognito or Criminal, and I’m definitely keen to see where it goes next. What waters my enthusiasm at the outset is that, essentially, Velvet is a supernaturally-bereft retelling of Fatale.

velvet 2What do I mean by that? Just look at the third paragraph of this review; Velvet is, for all intents and purposes, as stolid, beautiful and lethal to unwary male folk as Josephine and her cavalcade of man-cadavers. She’s a woman in a setting where women aren’t generally respected, has a dark and troubled past that comes back to bite her despite several attempts to evade it, has hidden abilities we learn later are connected to said past, and is ambiguously an anti-hero at best. For extra points, she even has black hair, and no, the white streak she ripped off from Rogue of the X-Men doesn’t entirely help to distinguish her.

Differences between the two books are subtle, largely stemming from a distinct lack of the Lovecraft-inspired mythology that frames Fatale. In contrast, Velvet firmly roots itself in a Roger Moore-era James Bond feel with the darker, brutal execution of the Daniel Craig movies. Granted, both women also note the easiness with which sex can be used to corrupt and manipulate men, but through separate influences; Josephine seemed to be unwilling to, whilst Velvet has no scruples about screwing.

Since Velvet feels quite similar to Fatale, that also means I don’t really care about Velvet as a protagonist. I was always far more interested in Josephine’s lovers and those around her than Josephine herself, with the bulk of Fatale‘s appeal being the unaware victims caught in her influential net. Here I find myself less engaged with Velvet’s struggle to clear her name and root out the conspiracy about her than I am with her erstwhile partner Burke, or the European lady married to an asshat General, or even Velvet’s bosses as they plan her capture. Velvet herself is something of a cipher with flickers of personality; so far, all I’ve seen her do is kick a lot of ass and bemoan her current fate as Public Enemy #1. Also granted, her character receives a bit of life during the book’s closing chapter when a somewhat-significant twist is revealed, but even then it’s hard to feel as much impact as Brubaker clearly wants the reader to experience.

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I get that it’s hard to write anti-heroes with personality when those characters are tough, hardened badasses, and while it’s relatively easy to pull off those protagonists on screen (with examples like Breaking Bad and the aforementioned James Bond coming to mind) it’s a bit harder in a literary work that relies on directly getting into the character’s head and feeling some kind of empathy, if not sympathy. All I see in Velvet’s head is tactical application, thoughts on how to kill a man quickly, bemoanings of how annoying life has suddenly become now men with larger guns are trying to kill her. There’s not so much a character as there is a lens for the plot, and that’s something Velvet needs to address in future if it hopes to pull off ending twists again with any kind of lasting impact.

But despite all that, I did say the book is good. The plot itself is tightly written and moves at a swift pace, but not so fast that it gets disorienting. Artist Steve Epting, longtime collaborator with Brubaker on quite a bit of his Captain America run, is in exceptional velvet 4form, using a dark, grimy palette that fits the setting marvelously but is still pop-off-the-page engaging. I do think Velvet’s face occasionally takes on an overtly-masculine quality (especially on the front cover, where I did initially mistake her for a cross-dresser – come on, just look at that jaw!) but overall it looks fantastic.

Dialogue is Brubaker-standard, which is the same as Morrison-standard, Hickman-standard and Whedon-standard in that it’s exceptional for the author who’s writing it. It’s clipped in places for short, sharp conversations, with quips used brevitously and character being conveyed excellently. As I said above, I really like Velvet’s companion Burke; just give me all the gritty, grizzled, chain-smoking British killers in a story and that’ll make me happy, it seems.

While I can definitely recommend Velvet to discerning Image readers, it comes with the kind of asterisk I apply to works like Lazarus and East of West: the greater successes or failures will be determined by the way going forward. It’s not awful by any stretch, but it definitely has concerns it needs to address in subsequent volumes to get the desired reaction. While I am all for having strong, kickass female leads in my comics, it helps if I can see them as a person rather than a killer of men in a nice dress.


velvet cover


STORY: 3.5/5

ARTWORK: 4.5/5


OVERALL: 12/15

BEST QUOTE: “I came to a few seconds after the crash, and she was the first thing I saw… your Miss Templeton. And maybe it’s just my damaged ego talking…but it actually seemed like she was enjoying herself.” – Sgt. Roberts

Avengers Triple Play – “A.I.M.Pire”, “Ragnarok Now” and “The Forgeries of Jealousy”

The success of Joss Whedon’s Avengers film is something of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it single-handedly changed the face of modern cape-and-cowl filmmaking both from a nuts-and-bolts and marketing perspective, seemingly giving license to superhero films to go bigger, bolder and more badass. On the other, it’s made the titular comic book supergroup have something of an overexposure problem.

Well, perhaps ‘problem’ is too strong a word. Fact is, there are more Avengers comic books out on the market than there are CSI spin-offs, and it all kinda contributes to one giant, Avengers-flavoured overload. You can’t turn a corner round the shelves at Kinokuniya without stumbling across Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, Avengers A.I. or Avengers Re-enact the Battle of Gettysburg (though on reflection, I’d totally buy that last one).

uncanny ragnarok 2Obviously, a good chunk of the reason why Marvel’s premier team are everywhere at the moment is because of Whedon’s film. It’s unsurprising that Marvel would capitalise on the movie’s success and its incitement of audience members to go find the books afterwards. This is what I’ve kinda termed “the Batman Effect”; a breakout character or franchise proves so popular in one form or another, they dominate books and storylines to the point you almost forget the publisher releases anything that doesn’t feature a Bat-symbol somewhere in it. (a similar phenomenon is also termed by TvTropes as “Wolverine Publicity“)

Now, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Having a dozen books with Batman in them could be awesome if there’s variance between them. It could be a great opportunity to show a character in different scenarios with different sets of problems, or have him be part of a bigger ensemble where normally he’d not be a part at all. While books like Batman and Robin and Scott Snyder’s epic Batman core run are most definitely very different flavours of texts, the truth – and the most common complaint levelled at Bat-books these days – is that quite a few titles featuring Batman are just punching things and growling a lot, with the only real differences being who gets punched and growled at.

So consider for a moment what a compliment it is for me to say that the overflow of Avengers books produces enough variety that, until I started writing this review, I didn’t actually consider lumping them all together as “Avengers books” but rather as texts in avengers jealousies 1their own right. I mean, yeah, they’re still Avengers titles, but they’re not all the same chocolate with different wrappers. If there’s one thing Marvel’s editorial figures seem to have gotten right recently, it’s to make most of these books feel separate in tone but connected in universe. Considering how many ongoing books exist with the word Avengers in the title, that’s no mean feat.

Finally, at six overlong paragraphs into this review, I can tell you that the recent Avengers output is great. Or, rather, the output is great for a franchise intentionally driving its books, for better or worse, in markedly different directions.

Think of this as a polar opposite to the aforementioned Batman problem: rather than being samey, the Avengers books are different to the point that variety exists solely for the sake of variety rather than for creativity’s sake. Everything has to be separate, so much so that the shared creative DNA gets messed around with and births a product more mutant than most of the books’ cast members (see what I did there?)

avengers world 2Take Ragnarok Now, the third volume in Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers run. Perfectly serviceable and Avengers-y, except for the giant cosmic-level threat and Chris Claremont-inspired background narration included, for all intents and purposes to help keep it distinct from its contemporaries. It’s different compared to A.I.M.Pire, the debut volume of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer’s Avengers World series (taking its name from the first volume of Hickman’s vanilla run). Whilst Ragnarok features gods of evil and the world ending, A.I.M.Pire finds a bunch of B-list Avengers teammates getting indoctrinated by some new A.I.M. threat that crossed the Borg from Star Trek with the cabal of evil from Uncanny X-Force.

And both of those are different to Forgeries of Jealousy, the final volume of the much-better-once-Bendis-left-it Avengers Assemble that has kind of a week-in-the-life look at the character of Spider-Girl. Oh, and there’s also tie-ins to current larger Marvel events like Inhumanity, just to keep that difference going.

avengers jealousies 2

The result is three books that are pretty good on their own merits, but as a whole larger than its parts’ sum they come across as different for difference’s sake. It feels like each creative team is, whether consciously or not, working their asses off to write stories with greater variety from other Avengers fare simply so they’ll be more recognisable, and not to forge something out of creative impetus. Ragnarok feels a little less like that, especially with a very arc-based, long game player like Remender writing it, but there’s still such a diametric tone to all else out there that it still follows my line of thought even just a bit.

uncanny ragnarok 1Artwork is distinct, in some cases being similar but predominantly individual. Ragnarok Now makes good use of Daniel Acuna, Steve McNiven and Salvador Larroca (though the latter draws really large lips for some reason) with a very dark, blood-soaked palette. A.I.M.Pire uses Stefano Caselli’s work for large vistas and bright colours, its range punching you in the face almost as potently as its characters could. Forgeries goes for a mid-range, alternate light and dark illustration by Matteo Buffagni with some slightly surreal sharper edges on characters and a surprising lack of eyeballs. Granted, most characters wear those white-eye facemasks, but it still feels at times like everyone’s gotten cataracts.

And finally, dialogue varies but not always for the best. As I mentioned, Ragnarok uses a lot of background narration in the over-explain-everything vein of Chris Claremont, alongside every heroic character speaking heroically and every villainous character sounding like a cross between Megatron and Loki. The few moments where A.I.M.Pire dwells on its cast members has them almost speaking with flat, two-dimensional quality when faced with an enemy threat. Granted, that does change in the moments where Bruce Banner drinks too much coffee (getting irritable and ready to turn green) and Starbrand remembers he’s a teenager, and thus proceeds to speak with the kind of faux-quippy wording I’d expect Jake Lloyd to have attempted behind the scenes on The Phantom Menace.

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So we’ve got three different books united by one franchise banner. Though I certainly understand Marvel’s wish to continue capitalising on its Whedon-flavoured successes, is engineering a bunch of books with variety for variety’s sake really the way to go? From what I hear it’s a similar game with books like the new Mighty Avengers and Avengers A.I., not to mention Jonathan Hickman’s twin guns of Avengers and New Avengers, the current new run of Secret Avengers, that sequel series to Avengers Arena called Avengers Undercover

And yeah, all those books are different too. Talk about spoiled for choice, right?

Actually, the active word there is ‘spoiled’. It’s one thing to give a bland spread of Bat-books with very similar but subtly different premises, but having so much Avengeriety (see, coz it’s “Avenger” and “variety” mashed together) kinda ruins some of the magic for me. I’d much rather a cornucopia than carbon copies, but maybe having a plethora of Avenger books for the sake of having them is a little disingenuous to the true seeds of story creativity that spawn some of those books.

All three books I’ve just kinda-sorta-but-really-not reviewed are great, and definitely worth reading – if I had to pick one, Forgeries wins by a country mile. But I feel they present something of a cautionary tale going forward, something most readers probably worked out a long time ago. Variety might be the spice of life, but spices have a way of messing up your taste buds if you ingest too much.


avengers world cover


STORY: 3/5



OVERALL: 10/15

BEST QUOTE: “I was gonna land, stand there looking all pretty, and just say ‘Assemble’ – then wait for the goosebumps.” – Iron Man


uncanny ragnarok cover


STORY: 3/5




BEST QUOTE: “I say thee — NAY!” – Thor


forgeries cover


STORY: 4/5



OVERALL: 13/15

BEST QUOTE: “Lady lucky. Hulk want sandwich now.” – Hulk

Batman/Superman: Cross World

Depending on how much you adhere to the concept of “self-canon” when it comes to DC’s New 52 (that is, you pick for yourself what still applies in the new universe and what gets left behind), the first volume of Batman/Superman may or may not feature the very first chronological interaction between Batman and Superman. At least, it’s chronological if you ignore the the nine other occasions they first met listed in this article (featuring Cross World as the tenth). Canon’s a tricky thing, innit?

At absolute least, Cross World negates the alleged first meeting setup in the New 52’s Justice League opener. So for the purposes of this review, just imagine it really is their first meeting and the reason they didn’t recognise each other in Origin is coz the DC Editorial team mind-wiped them between the former and latter books. That, or DC once again have a problem with fluid continuity (though many would argue that problem’s existed for a very long time now).

Ok, sorry. Review. Book. Things. To get back on topic, here’s a picture of Superman getting face-smashed against a rock.

batman superman 4


Despite its conflicting nature with the rest of the DC ‘verse, Cross World is a surprisingly enjoyable book. As has been painstakingly and repeatedly pointed out, it’s the first meeting of Bats and Supes; technically, it’s the meeting of the Bats and the Supes from both our ‘verse and that of Earth-2. Y’know, the same setting as that Earth 2 book currently running where both they and Wonder Woman met grisly deaths in the first issue. Fun, fun, fun!

batman superman 3Both sets of super-duos meet and cross dimensions due to some magical temporal shenanigans, causing havoc. There’s also an imp dude ripping off Puck from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and an issue tacked on at the end of the book dealing with what I assume is a reboot of Darkseid’s origin story.

Hrm. Right.

I did say Cross World is enjoyable, but not for the story per se. I’m writing this review a good month after reading it, and without the book close to hand I’m struggling to remember plot points. It’s not so much a coherent A-to-B story as it is a string of scenes stitched together with some connectivity but not much in the way of proper plot. Granted, getting the Prime universe superheroes back to their depressing reality is kind of a thing, but I’m pretty sure that gets easily resolved towards the middle or end. Or maybe it didn’t, and my gaps in memory are being filled by crossings with other books. I dunno.

If I have to pick one “first time” to keep in my head as the definitive introduction between Batman and Superman (at least, in terms of things released since the reboot), I’ll stick with Justice League‘s. The meeting here happens between Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, first, then slowly moves into cape-and-cowl territory as the borders between the two dimensions melt away. Then suddenly they’re kinda friendly because hey, the Earth-2 counterparts are way friendly! Seems like a cool way to be! Except the Prime heroes aren’t really friendly for too long, but then the end makes it seem like they will be…

Ugh. I give up. Canon conflicts do my head in.

As if the previous few paragraphs of ramshackle sentences masquerading as proper analysis didn’t clue you in, the story’s hard to judge. As I said it’s not so coherent as it should be, batman superman 2especially with an interesting premise like crossing to other dimensions. Taking the elements the book presents on their own, it’s pretty good. As a story it completely falls down, but that doesn’t make it bad; what scenes we have here that make sense are good. The Earth-2 versions of the heroes are pretty great. The Darkseid origin story is fantastic (and a great bonus on its own for anyone buying the book). Dialogue by Greg Pak is a little scratchy at times, but mostly functional. All pretty standard.

batman superman 1What elevates Cross World from “functional” to “entertaining” is the artwork. I’ve never seen Jae Lee’s work before, but dammit if it isn’t bloody gorgeous. It’s the sort of surreal, Lovecraft-meets-LSD take I love in books like Sandman but not so much Captain Marvel, and if nothing else the distinct visuals set Batman/Superman apart from any other Dark Knight or Man of Steel books on the market right now. It’s weird, striking, creepy, symbolic and evocative. My hat (if I wore on) is off to Lee for taking a fairly standard and disjointed story and making it look gorgeous.

That’s really all I can say about the new Batman/Superman. Bit shorter than normal, I guess-

Wait, what’s that? You read the pre-reboot Superman/Batman series that garnered acclaim and went for a long while? You wanna know how the new, name-reversed iteration stacks up against its predecessor?

Well, you’re lookin’ in the wrong place. I never read it, but from what I’ve heard others say it sounds like the new volume is pretty distinct from the old one. Apparently the latter had a comprehensible plot, if nothing else.


batman superman cover


STORY: 2.5/5



OVERALL: 10/15

BEST QUOTE: “Get hold of yourself, you idiot!” – Batman, after punching Superman in the face (hey, old habits die hard)