Friday, July 31, 2015

Robin: Son of Batman by Patrick Gleason issue #2

Haunted by his atrocious misdeeds from Year of Blood and now willing to make up for them through Year of Atonement, Damian Wayne is one hero who never had it easy as the latest Robin and most especially as a former al Ghul. With the end of Peter J. Tomasi's Batman and Robin, former artist of said title, Patrick Gleason, takes up writing duties for Robin: Son of Batman, and based from two installments in, this series continues to impress and deliver unexpected thrills. Visually, it's superb and multi-layered. Writing-wise, it's edgy, daring and engrossing. This is the best Damian-centric literature for any hardcore fan who couldn't get enough of this magnetic youth. I know I can't so I continue to remain indebted to Gleason and co.

The issue opens with a flashback between mother and son, taking us back to the not-so-good old days when all that was promised to Damian, and what he has known his entire life, is an empire built on blood and death to which he is an heir. The ultimate test of his worthiness is the Year of Blood. At present, the very same boy has now chosen a different cause to fight for and is slowly yet surely making ammends for the crimes and injustice he brazenly committed back when all he thought he could ever be is a killer. Damian left Gotham City to travel certain spots in the world starting with South America, in a village where he had lain waste once and stole the townsfolk's most sacred treasure. As he restores it back to its rightful place, he awakens the dormant guardian that immediately attacks him. During this commotion, NoBody's daughter finally makes her appearance, aiding Damian not because she cared about him but rather because she'd rather not have innocents get hurt.

NoBody's daughter wishes to take vengeance on Damian who killed her father from the Born to Kill arc but seems to have nobler intentions outside that and I think that adds some dimension to her character. She also finds Damian's road to redemption laughable yet worth the entertainment so she struck a deal to accompany him, most probably with every wish to see him fail and revert back to his old self. This issue has done a great deal telling the story of Damian's fall and return from grace by seamlessly blending past and present in an explosion of colors, enchanted by John Kalisz. Gleason's art has never looked this alive and aggressive, giving everything a sense of urgency, as well as sharpening the dangers ahead. It's an overall superb sophomore issue that gives other Bat-titles a run for their money.

You have no idea how happy it makes me that this title has yet to disappoint me. The directions that it can go are limitless. Damian's characterization is consistent in his bullheadedness, spontaneity and resourcefulness, but he is also most definitely more mature and purposeful as a young man of eleven who had experienced enough anguish and death from the world to make hard choices and stand by them. So far, he's only been interacting with his pet griffin and NoBody's daughter. But I can't wait to see how it plays out when he realizes his mother is back in the future, and that she may have changed herself into something he may not readily recognize. This was simply a splendidly illustrated issue with a solid story to tell. If you're already a Damian Wayne fan yourself then it would feel only natural to fall into the rhythm of Gleason's narrative and visuals in no time. This is the title to pick up and learn more about this ever-strange and magnificent character's past, crises and the hopeful outcomes of his decisions.


Detective Comics by Manapul & Buccelatto issue #42

What is happening with the 42nd installments of the two major Bat-titles post-Convergence, eh? For some reason, none of this has been interesting and they had such promising openers at that. Both sophomore issues from this one and Snyder's Batman were less than impressive because everything has been a slow build-up to something readers don't even know yet and makes me wonder if the writers themselves have even figured out. Detective Comics's follow-up is dialogue-heavy with only a few notable conversations that were insightful to the story being told at hand.

Artist Fernando Blanco offers nothing exciting for the visuals which was a darn shame because I think it was mostly because of how expository this issue had been and I don't think Blanco had a dynamic style that could enliven the panels as two or three characters are just standing around in them, talking. Only two parallel action sequences at the beginning and end were featured here which I think were at least pretty cool to look at. As for the characters themselves, Bullock is consistently being portrayed in a positive light which I liked, and his varied relationships with his co-workers were also emphasized, particularly with Montoya and Gordon.

I do enjoy the fact that Bullock is learning to adjust his perspective about the new Batman since he knows who is operating the Robo-bat-bunny suit. I will never get used to typing that term properly, by the way. There is trust and camaraderie between Bullock and Gordon and this extends to every aspect of their interactions. Meanwhile, the villains for this issue are named La Muerte who have the misfortune of being associated with a villain whose initials are JD. That is no other than fucking Joker's Daughter. Therefore, I hate the La Muerte by instinct already. Dear gods of DC, why does it have to be that motherfucking waste of space? Why Joker's Daughter, of all vile things ever puked on a comic book page? I dread reading about her next time. I swear I might throw a hissy fit in my next review.

There's really nothing else noteworthy for me to expound on and discuss here. As talky as this issue was, there was little moving forward and I just don't get the sense like ManaBuc themselves have anything credible and engrossing to tell as a story but only for this particular issue alone. I hope that changes next time. Third time might be the charm. I need these freaking Bat-titles to stop slacking off way too much because I maintain that Gordon as Batman is an enticing premise. Now it just needs to deliver.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Batman by Scott Snyder issue #42

Was that really Jimbo? I did not recognize him with that new haircut and the canon-lack of kickass mustache. And the glasses too. I can't help but think about Ben McKenzie from Fox's GOTHAM while reading this issue which was weird considering he was written in a show that operates on a pre-Batman state of things while Snyder's Gordon for this arc is dealing with a post-Batman world. In fact, I can easily picture said actor himself playing out the scenes for this 42nd issue which personally for me is a good thing because I love McKenzie's youthful and often hot-headed take on the character for the show.

This version of Gordon as the deputized Batman in robo-suit is granted still a polarizing one but the arc Superheavy is laying down some more solid groundwork for this second installment. I remain trusting of Snyder even if his opening issue after Bruce Wayne's "death" and in some ways this follow-up delivered. In other ways, it left me just slightly unsatisfied and baffled mostly due to the fact that it's been such a slow burn and hopefully for now.

When I think about Scott Snyder writing Batman, I think about the man's amazing knack for treating Gotham not just as a setting or backdrop but rather as a character in itself. So far, I don't get this from him anymore. After all, both Batman and the Joker just had the face-off to end all face-offs and yet we never really got to see its impact on the city itself in the aftermath. Instead we had an issue concerning the search for a replacement, to have a law enforcement-sponsored Batman with a technology backed up by the still elusive Powers Industries. As much as I was on board with the idea of Jim Gordon putting on the cowl (a robobatbunny upgrade at that), I don't really see the purpose. In addition, there is a nagging question at the back of my head that needed to be addressed here before we go further in my reviews for the post-Convergence Bat-stories:

Does Gotham City still need Batman? Or a Batman?

I don't know. And, shockingly enough, I don't care. I am done with Gotham City. I only realized this now. Should I still give a shit if this crime-infested, hell-spawned and haunted city won't just tear itself apart into oblivion? Well, Gordon apparently still believes I should. We all should keep caring even citizens of Gotham which are incomprehensibly still sticking around for the bonfire and massacres. Because, reasons. You're only a Gothamite if you're a little bit insane and reckless yourself to stay in a place so rife with madness and discord. But is there really a point reading a Batman arc without Bruce Wayne as the Dark Knight? But, then again, Batman is an abstract, unkillable idea so should it matter who wears the cowl or the bat-bunny ears? As long as Gotham is a fucking mess, there will always be a Batman. That's all there is to it.

So how does Scott Snyder and co. approach this? Taking all the time in the world which isn't a bad thing. Everything about this arc is still finding its footing. Jimbo is struggling. Julia is supportive. Their interactions are agreeable enough and she definitely takes after her dad as she tries to appease and reassure Jim that he doesn't need to emulate his predecessor; he needs to be the Batman of his own choosing regardless of whatever outside politics involved. Visually, Capullo, Miki and Plascencia are superb together, enlivening the panels with the right mixtures of colors particularly on that action sequence between roboBats and some gangster who can turn himself into a granite-particled, dust-sucking monster thing.

I don't have any definitive thoughts for Snyder's arc post-Convergence and Wayne's death so far. I love Jim Gordon to pieces but it also feels like I'm getting to know him again and for that alone I will keep reading this title. To be honest, I'm losing a bit of steam for DC stories in general, even Batman. But that's just crazy talk…or, post-fever talk. I just got back from a three-day crippling illness which was why I got delayed writing reviews. I have Detective Comics and Gleason's Robin titles to review next.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

[Batman: The Animated Series] Episodes 11-15 Review

My Batreading list for July were four graphic novels (plus New 52's The Dark Knight volume 2) that were highly recommended by online lists but I was really only able to fully enjoy three of them (TDK, Gates of Gotham and Death in the Family). The other two which were written by Jeph Loeb were said to be classics. I'm referring of course to The Long Halloween and Dark Victory which did not resonate with me in any way at all and it baffles me why these two stories continue to be rated high in a lot of Top 10 to 20 Best of Batman. This was why I found it incredibly redemptive that I'm also watching and reviewing Batman: The Animated Series alongside my readings because the cartoons' take on the origin story of Harvey Dent was "streets ahead" of the convoluted and needlessly complicated one provided by Loeb in his two works. Hell, Peter J. Tomasi's own take of this origin in his five-issued Batman and Two Face title was more unique and compelling than Loeb's. I bring this up here in my review of the show because, aside from sore disappointment and some lingering biter aftertaste, it turns out that the Two Face storyline in BTAS happened to be a two-parter (and quite inevitably so). The seventh episode tackles what happened next after Harvey Dent's transformation to Two Face, and it was a concise and moving twenty-two-minute episode about a man torn apart by two separate identities--one light and one dark--and the one which becomes victorious is the one he feeds. So let's get right to it.

Two Face Part II throws the viewers into the middle of the action. From what we can tell from the first scene, it seems that Two Face has been busy hitting up banks and other establishments that serve us fronts for mob boss Rupert Thorne's illegal activities for his criminal enterprise. Driven by vendetta, Two Face hired two thugs to work for him. All these preparations happened off-screen which was acceptable enough; the show has done well in the past when it came to burying its lead and not wasting too much time on laying every minuscule detail. This installment was absolutely enjoyable. The great moments of character build-up and conflict are earnestly well-made. Like I said, I cared little about Jeph Loeb's own characterization for Dent/Two Face while the BTAS writers have done a more than competent service in delivering a believable character arc for the titular "villain" for this episode. Bruce's friendship with Harvey Dent, though we only managed to see in two episodes, was still present and consistent in the way he interacts with Two Face; there is recognition there as well as guilt and this was further illustrated with that short dream sequence where Bruce fails to save Harvey as he falls from the bridge right after his face was disfigured. And then it cuts to a shot of Bruce's late parents asking him why he couldn't they save them. This small yet significant scene illuminated Bruce's own fear and insecurity about losing his friend; it once again called back to his childhood trauma where he feels the most powerless. So, as Batman, he tries really hard to make sure that Dent can recover from his dissociative disorder, the malevolent personality known as Two Face who makes all his decisions based on luck through flipping a coin. I'm also glad that the episode highlighted Two Face's obsession with the number two, or rather, the duality of everything. This further reflects the moral dilemma of his psyche; being unable to free himself from the crippling dichotomy of things. In his mind, there are only two sides of a single coin and he is doomed to always choose one option of the other instead of opening himself up from a world with multiple options, such as the reality humans are presented. Because of his refusal to come to terms with this, Dent's personality as Two Face only worsens. His vendetta against Rupert Thorne is based on the fact that his evil impulses were awakened because of this man, and Dent is determined to destroy Thorne. The episode ended with an optimistic note, though: Dent's fiancée Grace was able to reach out and sustain a connection with the part of Dent that remains very much human and intact. Thanks to that, he allows himself to be taken to a psychiatric ward and hopefully to get better. Bruce certainly hopes so himself. Personally, I like this version better than Loeb's because it's more earnest and consistent and there are potential scenarios in the future seasons of BTAS where Dent's ongoing battle with his schizophrenia can be utilized to tell more compelling stories. 

The next episode marked the first time the show has actually followed a continuity since the Two Face two-parter. This time, we focus on another mob-centered story tied to Rupert Thorne and his counterpart, Arnold Stromwell, head of a prominent drug trafficking operation. I find it curious that the show didn't just use the known mobsters in the comics (Carmine Falcone and Salvatore Maroni) but I think this decision worked to their advantage. Initially, I didn't care much about Rupert Thorne although his role in the previous two episodes was important enough. Here we see him make yet another appearance, this time concerning his rivalry with Stromwell. The latter is actually the real focus of this episode which is a ballsy move for the writers, considering he's a bad guy and viewers automatically wouldn't respond to bad guys being the main highlight of a story especially if he's not rogues gallery material like the Joker or Scarecrow. Still, this episode's writing was concise and straightforward enough to hold my attention. Stromwell is a crook through and through but there might still be hope for reform and that is exactly what happened in the last scene of this episode. It's a message about positive change and I think this is one of those stories that remind adult viewers like me that though BTAS can deliver complex and intelligent hits, it's still primarily kid-friendly. This redemption story is simplistic to the point of being slightly cheesy. Though the tone of the narrative is more hopeful than cynical, for someone of my age and experience the resolution at the end was a bit contrived and silly. I can't actually believe that a long-time career criminal like Stromwell can change even if he's genuine about it. But then again, this is still a child's program so I think it's more important for the young viewers of this show to see an episode where goodwill triumphs that even a bad person can be saved if he just decided he wants to be good from now on. I can understand why we should promote this message in a kids' show.

Speaking of children: this episode is definitely catered to them. This was a cutesy standalone installment about a group of kids getting to interact with Batman. Sherman is a ten-year old boy who wants to become a detective. Aided by his friend Roberta, they found themselves finding a trail of clues leading to a compound where the Penguin and his goons were planning their next scheme. This is the Penguin's very first debut but he wasn't at all the star of this episode but rather Sherman himself and his friends. It's like the Scooby-Doo gang tagged along with the Dark Knight and was actually useful. Some scenes in this episode were downright ridiculous like that opening scene with Batman apprehending thieves and getting attacked by a giant South American vulture. A goddamn vulture! It was just like in the sixth episode The Under Dwellers where Batman had to wrestle motherfucking crocodiles. I think scenes like this is when BTAS allows itself to get campy and it's just enough of it that adult viewers can accept every now and then so it still works fine. Overall, this episode was plain fun; nothing deep or insightful, just written to entertain th children in the audience since it put Batman in a situation where he had to interact with kids in the first place. The kids themselves were engaging enough. Sherman is clever and even got to drive the Batmobile and embarrass Penguin and his goons in one fell swoop. I liked it enough. I think this may be considered a filler episode and that's fine, considering the story that follows after it which is inarguably one of the classics of BTAS. Written by Paul Dini, it's easily one of its finest installments in the entire series.

Heart of Ice was a singularly well-crafted and marvelous tale about Mr. Freeze whose only interpretation of the character I immediately go to is the pitiful one from Joel Schumacher's epic-fail Batman and Robin. I don't know much about Mr. Freeze in the comics either unless you count Snyder's Batman Annual issue #1 which I think contradicted what Paul Dini wrote for this episode. I liked Heart of Ice for its humanizing characterization of Victor Fries. I believe it was Dini himself who defined the character's backstory, retelling his origin altogether and making it officially canon (that was until New 52). In Heart of Ice, we learn about Victor Fries, a scientist who suffered an industrial accident while attempting to cure his terminally ill wife Nora via cryogenically freezing her. The accident turned his body extremely cold which mean that he can only live in subzero temperature at all times, hence his special suit. One can say that it also rendered him truly a cold-blooded monster, no pun intended, if it weren't for the fact that his heart may not be completely made of ice since he grieves and pines for his wife. This motivated him to hunt down the greedy businessman who was his former boss and was the reason of his accident in the first place. Batman apprehended him and he was placed in Arkham Asylum. That last shot of him still reminiscing his wife was poignant. There is something to be said about the way Mr. Freeze was introduced in this show in comparison with the earlier rogues gallery contenders. The Joker was just dropped in without rhyme or reason, like the chaotic representation he embodies; the Man-Bat and the Scarecrow were both manically enthusiastic scientists who took the experiments to the extreme; and Two Face was a personality disorder that eventually took over. In the case of Mr. Freeze, this was simply a man who lost too much and could not cope and was driven to commit crimes just to feel a semblance of warmth and wholeness again. There are layers to the episode's writing that I quite liked. Fundamentally speaking, Fries' motivation was about love; or at least the salvaging of a lost one. With this villain, Dini fleshed him out as someone so tragic and easy to sympathize with, almost at par with Harvey Dent when he became Two Face a few episodes ago. No pompous ego, anger issues or deranged impulses for Mr. Freeze--this was just a suffering man who wanted to feel he was human again. This was one of the most outstanding episodes of the first season and must have set an example for future installments. I can only hope that it did.

The last one for this review's batch is the first part of another two-parter. The Cat and the Claw was the very first time we see the Bat and the Cat interact with each other. Personally, I've always loved this relationship and their dynamics in a lot of the comics and adaptations. The first five-minute sequence of this episode showed a pretty fun chase between Batman and Catwoman on the rooftops, each one just as relentless and in top form; seeing Batman in-pursuit and Catwoman on-the-run magnificently captures just what it was that draws this two together almost as naturally as gravity and breathing. It occurred to me that perhaps Batman finally had someone who can keep up with him, who shared his penchant for the nocturnal dangers even if hers is more of committing crimes and he's the one who has to stop her. The attraction was inevitable. As a shipper, watching this episode was already a pleasant experience. I remember being just as enticed back when I was just a kid and I watched Batman Returns with Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer for the roles. The vibe shared between Bruce and Selina once they were out of their costumes was very reminiscent of that. Selina Kyle is an environmentalist socialite passionate on defending the mountain lion reserve in Gotham while Bruce was completely infatuated with her at first sight and the more he saw the fire in her commitment. Seeing him acting like a nervous boy with a crush was great. However, this episode is a twofold story, one with the Catwoman and the terrorist leader of infamy known only as the Red Claw--who turns out to be a woman. I could commend these episodes for giving more active roles for females and doing them so in the most riveting way possible. The last scene was amazing! Catwoman kisses Batman and he actually kissed back in spite of himself. The dialogue exchange between them too was shippage-inducing for me: "You can't deny there's something between us"; to which Batman responds, "You're right. And I'm afraid it's the law."  Overall, this had been a fantastic opener. There were enough of great character details for the players, the establishment of the key elements of the plot, as well as the tension and action that dominated the entire episode had been strong. I very much look forward to the next installment and the continuation of this story soon. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

[Best of Batman] Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb

So, okay then. This is the sequel to The Long Halloween which I was not the biggest fan of to begin with. Still, on the enjoyment scale, this one was better. That was until I got to the last two issues. Ironically enough, while The Long Halloween had a rough start but a nonetheless merciful albeit incomplete resolution, Dark Victory managed to get a stronger and more concise beginning but a more frustrating and pointless ending. I don't understand this travesty. The Knightfall series is honestly more better written. Well, Loeb's stories should be fundamentally incomparable to Knightfall since the latter after all was written by multiple writers across different Bat-titles. The sole reason I compare them is becauase I was also quite lukewarm towards Knightfall but I would pick the omnibus series over either of Loeb's work any day.

I don't want to get into details about Dark Victory. Ultimately it's a Batman story that brought no joy or appreciation for me. I thought I could like any kind of Bat-story out there (I eventually did warm up to Greg Hurwitz in his writing for New 52 The Dark Knight run) but Jeph Loeb had officially made me question that reality. I can state from here on out that I don't enjoy the way he writes Batman. There were a few areas that have potentials, most notably for Dark Victory. The central murder mystery story had a better foundation; a series of cop kilings with the murderer pinning notes on the corpses depicting the child's game Hangman as secret messages. At least the victims were sympathetic people and not criminals who are a tad more irredeemable. But the holiday-themed murders were needlessly overplayed like the torture horror of the SAW franchise.

Next, both Batman and Commissioner Gordon show remorse and guilt over the loss of Harvey Dent. Batman spent most of the time blaming himself in his inner monologues about Dent's transformation to Two Face. This would have been acceptable except that I never really saw a friendship developed in the prequel among these three to make the drama and internal conflict believable enough for me to care about. And then there's the women. The female characterizations were easily  appalling and cheap as far as stereotypes and pigeonholing goes. Every woman is given the roles among grieving spouses, easily manipulated girlfriends and whimsical seductresses--and with little to no clarification for motivation or pay-off to their arcs whatsoever.  I love Bruce and Selina's relationship in general but Loeb had accomplished the impossible feat: he made me hate them together. I couldn't stand their stupid dance of coquettish nonsense, especially so in Dark Victory. Aside from the badly drawn costume, Catwoman had a weak arc for both Loeb stories and therefore her usual morally ambiguous actions were not as promising or as riveting to see unfold. The only two women who are at least trying to break the mold were gangster Sofia Falcone and possible sociopath Gilda Dent who have interesting characterizations from the start but were sadly overlooked and underdeveloped midway through both stories.

I don't even want to acknowledge the wasteful space female District Attorney Porter took up for Dark Victory. What a pathetic and unbelievable character. And goddamn Dick Grayson who is featured in the Absolute Dark Victory cover prominently doesn't even have a major contribution to the storyline. All he did here was sulk and look morose. He isn't Jason Todd or Damian Wayne, dammit. Where's the sparkling personality I've always loved about the first Boy Wonder? Overall--yeah, fuck it. I don't have any parting words. But I will rate this one star higher than fucking Long Halloween just because.


Monday, July 20, 2015

[Batman: The Animated Series] Episodes 6-10 Review

I am just absolutely floored about this series and I'm only ten episodes in at that. Watching it back in high school, I don't think I was able to grasp how beautifully animated this series was since I can barely remember most of its details. But now that I'm more conscientious of the shows I consume and have decided to pick up this one again, I just realized that Batman: The Animated Series truly holds up as a work of art; it was a grand masterpiece that played up all the greatest elements and strengths of the entire Batman mythos and legacy and mixed them together to come up with this scintillating and endlessly compelling cartoon adaptation that can be watched and enjoyed by anyone regardless of age. The best feature of this show, personally, is the musical accompaniment set composed for each episode. All of the pieces were performed by an orchestra and each song evokes more powerful feelings that also served to enhance the scene it was incorporated into. This becomes even more notable in episodes 6-10 that I sometimes have to turn the speaker up and get the unmistakable sense that I was a part of the world of Gotham; running across its crime-infested streets with Batman by my side, unafraid of anything, eager to be daring and join in his heroic acts. I think the sound direction and musical scoring of this show will never stop to impress me and other people have agreed as well, seeing as they gave awards to the composers themselves, particularly Shirley Walker who contributed to a lot of its pieces.

While the first five episodes of this show showcased Bat-villains as an episode's focal point of the narrative such as the case with the Joker (who made an appearance twice), Man-Bat and Scarecrow, the next five episodes on the rundown (with the exception of the tenth episode featuring Harvey Dent as Two Face for the first time) tackled stories concerning the minor yet just as damaging crimes and exploits in Gotham City. The Under Dwellers, POV and The Forgotten were surprisingly riveting episodes that put Batman in situations where viewers can actually see him make a difference. Batman is not just all about confronting and kicking the asses of costumed freaks and psychopaths; he's also about helping the oppressed factions of his city. Be A Clown is the Joker's third appearance though it had a nice father-son sub-character arc as well. I had vague recollections of the Two Face episode, and I remember bits of it as I watched it. I think it may have  been the very first episode of the show that I have accidentally stumbled upon that fateful night after I got home from school and was flipping through the channels. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's break them all down, shall we?

In this episode, Batman discovers a very literal underground child labor circuit which was pretty horrible in itself so the details of such a nefarious crime left a bad taste in my mouth afterwards. The perpetrator of this crime is some lowlife scum who fancies himself as the caretaker of these orphans whom he may have abducted himself or they decided to go to him because nobody else would take them anyway. To top the heap of his douchebag moves, the unnamed villain for this episode had also commanded the children never to speak in his presence as he kept them in complete darkness since their quarters are in the sewers. If they disobey or did something to offend him, he puts them in a cell with bright lights since these children can no longer see that clearly so blinding them with light was pure evil torture. One of the children who escaped was named Frog and he was taken by Batman and was kept safely within Wayne Manor while Batman investigates. Frog's hilarious interactions with Alfred were a nice touch for the episode. However, I was completely laughing for a different reason because of the fact that the villain can control the crocodiles in the sewers. I theorized he may be using some equipment to get them to obey him but the episode offered no explanation and I was fine dismissing the logic of it because all I want is for the asshole to die a painful death. But he didn't. Oh, well. At least the orphans were rescued by the GCPD and now they can get back to the real world and experience the sun in a positive manner again. The episode ended with Frog uttering a word for the first time which was "the light!", exclaiming it in a victorious way which was a touching moment. I liked this episode because we get to see Batman handle other crimes in his city that don't involve the rogues gallery. The Batman vs. crocodiles action sequence was pretty funny and enjoyable to watch as well.

The first thing that got me excited about this episode's narrative approach and visual execution was the fact that it had a Rashomon vibe from the get-go. The story revolves around a police stakeout gone wrong among Detective Bullock and Officers Montoya and Wilkes as they responded to a sting concerning drug traffickers flocking to a warehouse, probably striking deals. When they were only able to secure one suspect in custody, an internal affairs investigation was held with the three of them giving conflicting stories as to how it all went down. Bullock was obviously lying to save face, considering he went in without a back-up, started a fire, and was promptly rescued by Batman from getting burned alive. I like that while he's in the middle of fabricating his tale, we see the scenes unfold in screen which contradict his official statement. Meanwhile, Officers Wilkes and Montoya's stories do fit well enough together as they each shared their experience and subsequent encounter with Batman while trying to apprehend the criminals. Since IA can't figure out the truth, the three had to be under suspension so they had to give up their badges. Officer Montoya, however, was not discouraged from trying to pursue a lead from the case she's not supposed to be working on. It was good thing she did, since Batman was captured by the thugs during the conflagration in the warehouse. She helped him fight off the fiends and successfully brought them to justice afterwards. It was great that the show introduced Officer Montoya who is one of the recurring GCPD characters from the Batman comics. I was happy that the role she played here was that of a competent law enforcer who had good instincts and was clever enough to aid Batman in catching the criminals. Bullock also had a humble moment and Commissioner Gordon defended his constituents from further IA prosecution.

Much like The Under Dwellers, this episode once again touched upon the transients and discarded members of the Gotham City such as the homeless and a few minimum-wage workers. A crime syndicate has been abducting them and forcing them into labor and Batman goes undercover, wearing a disguise. It was great to see him do detective work that involves this because it was certainly reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes who would also wear disguises and live among the criminal element to get information and observe the dynamics more closely. Unfortunately, during a confrontation with some thugs, Bruce got himself hit on the head, rendering him in a state of temporary memory loss. So, while he was taken to the labor camp, he had no recollection of who he is and what he should be doing. As the episode approached its climax, Bruce's mind rebels against the memory loss and pieces out the fragments of consciousness through dreams. The dream sequence itself was amazingly rendered, showing Bruce walking around mirrors and then ending up seeing a reflection of the Joker. But the real catalyst had to be when he heard one of his fellow workers talk about his family and the possibility he may never see them again. Bruce immediately recalls his own parents and the vow he took to become the city's Dark Knight, its avenging guardian. With Bruce fully aware of who he is, he managed to escape long enough to be found by Alfred who was flying his Bat-jet. He later comes back to the labor camp as Batman and finishes the job. This episode was commendable because it placed Bruce in a vulnerable position much like in the Scarecrow episode Nothing to Fear where he was injected with a fear toxin and started hallucinating his late father. Much like that one, this had enough impressive character moments for Bruce that makes you really root for him and not just as Batman. I should also mention that the musical scoring they used had a great folksy tune to it that really captured the setting where most of this episode happened (a sandy, hot desert).

This installment marks the third appearance of the Joker though the story was less about him and more of the relationship between a politician and his neglected son, Jordan. Busy with running a campaign, his father was relentlessly more focused on his career than his son who is celebrating his birthday. The Joker takes advantage of this and arrives at the party disguised as another clown named Jecko. He captures Jordan's attention instantly since he was already interested in magic tricks himself. As the Joker leaves the party (but not without placing a dynamite on top of the birthday cake), Jordan hides in his truck since he could see that the only way he can find some sort of happiness is from running away and "joining the circus". Distraught over the loss, the father pleads to the GCPD to find his son and vows to himself that if he gets Jordan back, he will do things differently and not take his boy for granted. Meanwhile, the Joker was not pleased to have a child in his secret lair but he adjusts to the situation and treats it as a social experiment. He turns the boy into his assistant as he lures Batman and ensnares him into a trap. Jordan was a good kid though and does not possesses the Joker's sadism in any form so he tries to help Batman, only to be kidnapped by the Joker and led to ride a roller coaster. After a short while, Batman was able to apprehend the Joker and get Jordan safely back home who jumped into his father's welcoming arms. This episode was definitely pleasant for the way it resolved this small family conflict. I also enjoyed the Joker's scenes with Jordan and how he naturally gravitated in turning the boy into his own pet but failed miserably since Jordan is inherently a good and upstanding little boy. Don't worry, Joker. You'll get another chance to corrupt a more susceptible and damaged mind later in the series. And it'd be worth it for everyone.

I just finished reading and reviewing Jeph Loeb's The Long Halloween last week and I wasn't that into it. I didn't care much about Harvey Dent's transformation into Two Face in that story so I was more than pleased to watch this show's version of it which was much more believable and substantial. In this episode, Harvey Dent is running for his third term in the District Attorney's office and he was focused on bringing down the illegal operations of the crook Rupert Thorne. This gangster, however wants to play it smart and so he hired one of his goons to uncover Dent's skeletons in the closet. What he found was Dent's psychological evaluation. It turns out that Dent has a split personality his therapist dubbed as "Big Bad Harv". This personality arose from Dent's longtime repression of his anger and guilt. By not owning up to his negative feelings, his psyche created another personality that expresses such strong emotions quite recklessly. We witnessed this other Harvey taking over every time Dent loses his temper and this other side of him gets crazy and extreme. Thorne tries to use this information to blackmail him but only succeeds in awakening the Big Bad Harv. I like the fact that the show has established a friendship between Dent and Bruce Wayne himself which was why this was very personal for Batman too. Unfortunately he can't do anything to help his friend since the conflict is internal and only Dent himself can fix it. The episode ends with Dent making an escape from the hospital after looking at his new face for the first time since the accident with Thorne where a chemical tank got blown up while he was chasing the crook, and he suffered facial injuries from it. His twisted features now reflect his split personality but eventually the Big Bad Harv might take over for good and this is something I eant to see happen in this show. Dent's conflict with Thorne is unfinished as well and I got the feeling he's coming back for him soon enough. I would also like to see how Batman handles Dent as Two Face.

These had been a great batch of episodes. There is depth and excitement in every installment, ranging from the most action-packed to the most poignant of narratives. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

[Best of Batman] The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb

I won't lie. I had high hopes for this story. After all, it has been consistently placed in the Best Batman Stories lists, either as part of the Top 10 or Top 5 graphic novels you have to read. Comprised of thirteen issues, Jeph Loeb's The Long Halloween had great promise. It had all the right ingredients. We got Bruce Wayne just starting out his early years as Batman, and his partnerships with Commissioner Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent. We got the Falcone and Maroni crime families in the spotlight, and a serial killer hunting the mobsters down using holidays as the common theme of this string of murders (hence earning him the name of the Holiday Killer). As a bonus, we also get appearances of the rogues gallery like the Joker, Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy and Catwoman.

However, that great promise I mentioned dwindled to unrealized potentials the closer I get to the supposed climax. Also, its commendable traits from the beginning such as the Batman-Gordon-Dent triad, mob involvement, serial killer murder mystery and rogues' gallery participation, look good in theory but REALISTICALLY SPEAKING the actual execution of all these elements together fell short. Being served by so many samplings in one sitting could cause indigestion, no matter how potentially good each serving should be.

And that's mainly my problem with The Long Halloween. Much like Jeph Loeb's later work HUSH (which, granted, was more enjoyable in its approach than this one), this story suffers with putting so much material in its scope that it was pretty much inevitable for some of its parts to collapse under the pressure of the multiple baggage it struggles to carry along. I don't necessarily think this was a bad story, period. I believe that if you take each individual parts and separate them from the convoluted mess of its sum then what we get are compelling subplots that might have deserved their own separate arc altogether. But instead we get them all squeezed into one dragged-out arc that was unable to flesh out its main characters particularly Harvey Dent whom I did not connect with in any way, let alone be emotionally invested enough on his moral struggle and dissociation that his transformation as Two Face became meaningful to mourn about. Seeing this story having high ratings in Goodreads and scintillating reviews from common friends (save a noticeably one-star review from the mix) is a real head-scratcher for me at first especially when I was stuck in the seventh issue and found myself getting increasingly annoyed withe everything already. But after finishing it and thinking about what to write for twenty minutes or so, I realized that The Long Halloween is still a work that I suppose deserves its place in the top Batman stories because of the fact that it gave us Two Face's origin story, and that we were able to get the organized crime aspect of Gotham City explored and its enforcers like Carmine Falcone which Batman is also supposed to butt heads with, and not just duke it out with the likes of the Joker, etc. But those merits alone for me are really not enough to encourage newbie Bat-fans to pick this up at least not as a must-read. Maybe only as a passing suggestion. And that's a weak 'maybe'.

The trouble is that, because of so many elements put together, everything is half-baked. The mob families are goddamn one-dimensional. I did not care if they get killed at all which defeats the purpose of whatever the vendetta the serial killer has in disposing , and why readers should look forward to solving these crimes. Batman feels the same, apparently, since it took the Holiday killer so close to completing his holiday-themed killing spree for either Batman and Gordon to solve it. Only it doesn't get solved, not really. In the most baffling twist, it turns out that there are THREE KILLERS with each one's motive more unbelievable than the next. The more I examine each thread of this story, the more nonsensical it gets. And not laughably so, like HUSH, which I actually had fun reading even if most of the reason is because it's so dumb at times.

This was one, however, is just disappointing. The appearance of the rogues gallery could honestly just get cut and it won't affect anything. They were completely unnecessary and interrupted the flow of the narrative (if there even is one, sorta up to debate for me). I wished they focused more on the serial killer story because the holiday-themed covers were amazing to look at and that key feature to the killings was pretty impressive. Sadly, since there are three killers, the chilling aspect and the mind-fuckery of the method were diluted. As for the visuals themselves…Tim Sale has a surreal style but his illustrations have made certain scenes so incomprehensible that I have to stare at some panels over and over just to make sense of what I am looking at. Much like Loeb was with the writing of this story, the art could have been realized better.

I don't know have anything else to say now other than I have nothing more eloquent to offer in my piece. Just rehashing the entire story of The Long Halloween here has gotten me a little bit depressed because I thought I was going to like this story but after unloading all of these complaints I realized I wish I could just forget what I read. Not even the two volumes of Knightfall made me this sorely disappointed. But I still have Dark Victory to finish which is a sequel to this fucking thing. I will keep an open mind and give it the benefit of the doubt. Originally, I was going to review The Long Halloween tomorrow but it occurred to me that I want to get it over with as quickly as possible so I forced myself to come up with this and I hope it was sufficient enough.

KINDDA RECOMMENDED but feel free to skip: 6/ 10

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

[New 52] The Dark Knight by Greg Hurwitz

Out of all the New 52 Batman titles, The Dark Knight is the only one I never really got into as much as the others. The first volume collected entitled Knight Terrors was written and illustrated by Paul Jenkins but these issues were subpar and lacklustre and their artwork was mainly the most exciting part about the ordeal. When Greg Hurwitz took over the writing duties and Jenkins stayed as the artist, the second volume Cycle of Violence finally had more substance than its predecessor though their is uneveness in the characterization and the overall plot presentation.

Nevertheless, I was impressed that Hurwitz placed enough effort to tell us a gripping tale concerning the Scarecrow and his descent to madness which started with ab awful childhood. On the other hand, Bruce Wayne's love life was also touched upon when he started getting serious with the Ukranian pianist Natalya who seriously gave me Silver St. Cloud vibes. I remember enjoying a few parts in Cycle of Violence and as few as they are, I enjoyed them immensely and they have to be the character-centric moments in the volume.

Now, this third volume called Mad concerns the Mad Hatter himself, a villain in rogues' gallery I honestly did not care about as much. Much like with the Scarecrow, the same formula was applied. Readers get to witness firsthand the struggle and descent to madness that Mad Hatter experienced which somehow gave us insight as to why he is committing crimes the way he had been doing during the present. Basically, he is trying to recreate his happiest memory with his childhood crush Alice and Gotham has to suffer the unbelievable ways he inflicts his unique vision of horror on its citizen just to accomplish this. It really was the same thing as with the Scarecrow narrative in the previous volume about the child abductions although Mad had a much more satisfying pay-off and conclusion. If it wasn't for that vital difference, the two story arcs are easily interchangeable. 

That would have been an unfair generalization though because I believe I much cared about Hatter's experiences which were bittersweet. And I enjoyed the Alice in Wonderland symbolism since I've always been an Alice fan myself. Artist Ethan Van Sciver delivered just as strongly as Jenkins did in the first volume. His body of work in this one was absolutely chilling in spite of the colorful panels depicting Hatter's ugly version of Wonderland. And the Hatter himself looks positively deranged. I wasn't into the Scarecrow sewing his lips shut in the last volume, personally and I like that the Hatter was drawn less conspicuously insane except for the close-ups of those weirdly spaced eyes. Those eyes completely creeped me the fuck out.

Bruce's relationship with Natalya has also reached its expected tragic and disastrous death. Natalya was after all the ghost of Silver St. Cloud right to her demise which actually made me feel bad because those precious small moments of Bruce finally telling her that he is Batman were just so adorable and it sucks hairy donkey balls that the moment he has let another person in is what cost her life. It was a nice change of scenery that was almost nostalgic; to see Bruce Wayne actually try to live his life outside of his vigilante calling. It broke my heart just a little bit to see him hopeful and only to have that hope bashed in its head. Hurwitz made it believable enough for me so when he flipped the fuck out by the last issue, I bought it.

As a standlone title, The Dark Knight can pull of stuff like this without affecting continuity in other titles so don't expect Scott Snyder to talk about Natalya in his own Bat-run because she only existed in TDK, much like the nefarious and city-wide crimes committed by Scarecrow and Mad Hatter in their respective volumes are exclusive to TDK. There's a bonus story in here called Once Upon a Halloweenabout a night with Penguin, Scarecrow and Mad Hatter which was rather interesting to say the least. I was baffled by it but I nonetheless thought it was quirky and fun to see these villains painted in such a light. So, overall, The Dark Knight volume 3: MAD was a great improvement from the last two volumes combined. I certainly hope Hurwitz would continue this upward projectile in his next collected volume which I will get around to reading and reviewing next.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

[Best of Batman] Gates of Gotham

"How can you hope to deal with Gotham's future when you know so little about its past?"

Current Batman series writer Scott Snyder used to write for Detective Comics back when Dick Grayson took the mantle of Bruce Wayne as Batman. Final Crisis complications and whatnot demanded such a change in heroes; much like for today's post-Convergence event whete Bruce Wayne is once more a goner. You just have to be there to understand. In any case, this is the second major story arc collected in as a graphic novel that I've read from Snyder's Detective Comics run with Grayson as the Dark Knight. The first one is The Black Mirror which you better believe is worth the trouble. I cannot stress how much I recommend the bejesus out of it. 

In contrast Gates of Gotham is a thinner compilation with a story that ran only for six issues. The two stories are fundamentally different but just as enjoyable for the same reason which would be Synder's uncanny skill to weave together compelling murder mysteries/conspiracy tales. After all, this story does come straight out of the Detective Comics line so that's something that should be a given. While The Black Mirror is more of a psychological thriller, Gates of Gotham is an action-suspense pseudo-steampunk narrative concerning a forgotten pillar of Gotham and his deranged journey to destroy the city--or at least that's what he fancies himself to be: a revolutionist who felt deprived and abused by Gotham, particularly by its elite and felt the need to get even.

And by its elite I mean the Kanes, Cobblepots, Elliots and the Waynes. These are the four founding families who have respective skeletons in their closets and demons to contend with. Grayson is Batman now while Bruce is busy with this global vigilante organization (Batman Incorporated) so he had to do this alone but not without the support and assistance of Tim Drake (Red Robin), Hong Kong operative Black Bat and the arrogant Damian Wayne who is still a prickly and insecure pre-teen who is always disagreeable just for the sake of it. I say this with all the love and affection I have for his Peter J. Tomasi counterpart in the recent comics. 
"Like it or not, Gotham has royalty and they stretch back to the origins of the city. She protects her own but if you don't belong here, she'll never keep you."

I really loved reading Gates of Gotham because it was briskly-paced and wasted no time with the finer details; it packed and threw some serious punches. Each installment propelled you to keel reading, to look forward to the resolution and pay-off of the mystery surrounding the villain known as the Architect. Once again, Snyder, together with co-writer Kyle Higgins, employed Gotham city not just as a setting piece but as a participatory character itself. This was established through the flashback sequences concerning the city during its humble beginnings that also tied back to the villain's own arc and whatever motivated his nefarious actions in the present. The transition between past and present was seamless and suspenseful, and I could definitely see readers waiting in anticipation back then when Gates of Gotham was only released as a monthly issue during its run.

Gates of Gotham was reminiscent of the tonality and approach of his Owls saga in New 52 particularly the concept of secrets from the past and the historical style of storytelling. Unlike Owls, however, this was a brief exploration about one madman's quest to avenge a perceived wrongdoing which actually helped it because it wasn't unnecessarily drawn out. The confrontation between Batman and the Architect was an impressive display of how perception especially a narrow-minded and hateful one can destroy oneself and his connections with the present which was what the Architect wholly represents.
"Gotham doesn't change you. She just reveals things, whether you like them or not. And today she showed me that I can be Batman." ~Dick Grayson

On the other side of the coin, Dick Grayson also gets some insight concerning his role as the new Batman and why he has more than lived up to the code of the Dark Knight while also not losing himself in the process. While The Black Mirror story arc has already tackled the tricky disadvantage of becoming the mask you wear, Gates of Gotham reveals what lurks under that mask and why we can only wear it for so long until it rots away our real face and erases who we are.

Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins' Gates of Gotham may only be less than 200 pages but it's a purchase you will never forget. I can easily see a well-adapted animation film for it. There are great action and narrative panels within its pages that are just begging to be realized on screen. The collection also has a bonus story about Bat-Inc's Muslim operative the Nightrunner as written by Kyle Higgins. Other supplements include the variant covers by Dustin Nguyen which werr as awesome as Trevor McCarthy's published ones. This is a highly-stylized action-adventure meant to be picked up by anyone and sooner rather than later.


Monday, July 13, 2015

[Batman: The Animated Series] Episodes 1-5 Review

I was fourteen years old. It was 2004 and my student life was mainly composed of academics and the occasional extra-curricular activity here and there, but I always get home by 5:30 to 6 PM everyday. The staple of shows that I watched was mostly a varied selection of Japanese anime. I was only a Sherlock Holmes fan for year back then and have acquired a growing interest in reading more classical literature particularly the works of Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas. Unlike most girls my age, I'm very attuned to male-based action-oriented adventures and crime mysteries, preferring these stories over the romance genre with fantastic elements (though I do indulge in female-centric magic anime like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura when I can help it). I couldn't remember what exact day or what episode it was, but all I knew was that I turned on the television one day, surfed the channels and then stopped abruptly when this animation sequence came up (NOTE: I have to choose this awesome HD remake. Check it):

Now I've known Batman as early as four years old because of my paternal grandfather who used to wear this white shirt with the Bat-symbol and who puts Batman stickers on my bedpost, ones that I would scratch out in the evening because maybe I was bored but then I'd find that he had replaced them with new ones the next morning. I was able to watch the first Tim Burton film with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson but I barely remembered it. So my very first official and long-lasting interaction and subsequent love affair was with Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's beautiful noir animation masterpiece, Batman: The Animated Series. I've been dying to re-watch the entire four seasons and talk about it here in the blog since it has such a big influence when it comes to my overall appreciation and fascination for the Batman mythos. So, for this month of July, I aim to watch and review at least the first fifteen episodes of season 1. I advise that you find copies of the episodes of yourself online so we can enjoy it together.

If this show is the very first time a child would be introduced to Batman then I say that child is one lucky little rascal. The pilot episode touches upon Dr. Kirk Langstorm and his origin as the Man-Bat. His character makes a most recent appearance during John Layman's Detective Comics run for New 52 (issue #18 and the Villains Month special). I should mention that although this is the very first episode of BTAS, Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski made a two-minute promotional pilot episode which was later condensed as the official opening sequence as I posted above. So back to On Leather Wings. In this very first installment, we waste no time getting Batman's personal backstory. Instead, we just jump right ahead into the action. From what we can gather, he's been on operation in Gotham for a while now as the caped crusader, having the occasional run-ins with the GCPD when it comes to apprehending criminals and solving cases, which annoys Detective Harvey Bullock while the Commissioner, Jim Gordon, seems rather fine with his vigilante presence. We see Bruce Wayne out of the costume as well, mostly to accomplish things outside his scope as Batman. This usually includes crime scene evaluation of certain objects. In this episode, they were hair samples which were vital clues to uncovering the mystery behind the burglary and terror that the perpetrator has committed. At first, everyone thought that the Bat-like creature attacking people is Batman himself. As it turns out, it was a human-chiroptera hybrid called Man-Bat. It was the formulaic man-becomes-monster archetype which also served to contrast who Batman is and what he represents as a man who purposefully chose the symbol of the bat as an alter-ego. Viewing this episode, the most noticeable thing for me was the sound editing. The music for this show is satisfyingly amazing! It conveys mood and atmosphere more than the visual shots themselves and even enhance the viewer's enjoyment of every sequence laid before him or her. This was a promising pilot that has enough thrills to whet the appetite.

The second episode is Joker-centric with an added yuletide theme just to make everything extra special, fun and creepy in some instances. Again, if we consider this as a kid's first experience of Batman, more specifically of the Joker, then this episode might be perceived as something that's both absurd and terrifying. I watched this entire episode while trying to figure out what a child's first impression would be when he or she meets the Joker for the first time. I don't have a phobia when it comes to clown and I'd like to think it's because of my fondness and attachment for the Clown Prince of Crime himself. I think encountering him in this cartoon show did not frighten me at all, but I was already thirteen after all. I remember laughing at him and enjoying his jokes. Voiced by Mark Hamill, the Joker of BTAS has a varied range of laughter which could tickle, haunt or chill you to the bone. It's excellent voice work and I can say the same for Kevin Conroy as Batman. His silky smooth and reassuring tone as Batman makes you trust him quite easily. He also has a different pitch when he's voicing Bruce Wayne and the contrast is seamless especially when you compare it to whatever gravely voice Christian Bale used in his films which got a little distracting during scenes. Anyway, I think Christmas with Joker is a bundle of joy like a newborn psychotic baby playing with dangerous toys, which the BTAS Joker embodies, mind you. The animation sequences for this episode were lush and superb. The detailed confrontations with Batman and Robin fighting the ridiculous props and deadly weapons that the Joker used for his several schemes throughout this tale are enthralling to see unfold. With just this episode alone, I think BTAS captured the Joker in all his wonderfully colorful and unsettling darker shades. He's a showman, a performance artist of crime and debauchery, and with Mark Hamill's perfectly matched voice acting, his Joker is an unbeatable and frightening presence that makes you cringe because he also has the unique ability to make you laugh even if he's most probably killing you too. 

It's by the third episode when I noticed that there's not much of a continuity going on among episodes as of yet. In the second episode, we see Dick Grayson as Robin but now in this installment he is nowhere to be found and Batman has to face the Scarecrow and his henchmen alone. This was okay and I started looking at each episode as a collection of short stories that don't have to be related to each other for now. I know this will eventually change as the seasons progress anyway. In Nothing to Fear, the Scarecrow is a former university professor named Dr. Jonathan Crane who was kicked out because of his extreme and unusual experiments concerning phobias. The story itself was pretty straightforward and not as ornate or elaborate as the Joker episode that preceeded it. Scarecrow stole from the university and infected its constituents with a fear toxin. Coincidentally, he also injected Batman earlier in the episode which had Bruce hallucinating his father Thomas calling him a failure and a disgrace to the Wayne name. This character exploration more than makes up for the simplistic plot about the Scarecrow. This is the first time in the show that we touch upon Bruce as the man under the cowl, and his personal issues in relation with his family life (or a saddening lack thereof). Paralyzed with the fear of believing he had failed to live up to his parents' legacy, Bruce struggled to do his job as Batman but eventually we see him succeed in overcoming the fear toxin's influence as he announced as proud as he could that he is not a failure and that the hallucination he is seeing is not his father. "I am vengeance. I am the night," he clamors. "I am BATMAN!" I heard myself squeal in glee as Conroy uttered that so convincingly, I shit you not.

The Joker makes another second appearance in The Last Laugh which was less extravagant than the second episode but is nonetheless just as creepy and horrifying in some aspects. For some unexplained reason, the Joker is out and is making yet another merry mayhem by spreading his signature laughing gas around Gotham, rendering everyone in a fit of deadly and uncontrollable giggles. Why? Because it's April Fool's Day and so the date is basically begging for the Joker to add his special ingredient into the mix. He is the master practical joker after all. The highlights of this episode have to be when Alfred was infected and starts breaking things in Wayne Manor and the Joker and his goons robbing people while they have collapsed on the ground, laughing their asses off. Based on the two installments of the Joker so far, viewers can assert that though he's a psychotic criminal wreaking havoc anywhere he goes, he is also a fun and fabulous show-off who commits crimes with a sense of style and theatrical glee. This sharp-edged humor to his acts of violence adds to the horror of his presence. 

Pamela Isley is district attorney Harvey Dent's new squeeze and he looks like he's falling in love. Five episodes in and we finally get a formidable female villain in the show. It's interesting that the show didn't opt for Catwoman who is arguably the most memorable Bat-villainess of the canon. But they certainly delivered with Poison Ivy especially since they were also able to put her backstory and motivation for being what she is. She is fighting for a cause she is passionated about and seeks retribution from the people she holds responsible. Poison Ivy has always struck me as a representation of the more brutal side of mother nature and Pamela Isley is after all an environmental scientist who hoped to make a difference and when pacifist ways didn't cut it, she lashed out and became a deranged femme fatale who won't hesitate to use her sexuality. I love this character in the show a lot especially later on when she starts hanging out with Harley Quinn. This was a great appearance for an intriguing villainess overall.

So there you have it. I don't know about you but I am quitr eager to watch more episodes and talk about them here and hopefully more in length. Despite the lack of continuity among the first five episodes, this is a strong batch that can standon their own.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

[Best of Batman] A Death in the Family by Jim Starlin

I first knew about Jason Todd through the story Under the Hood written by Judd Winick which turned out to be his resurrection story. I watched the animation film with Supernatural's Jensen Ackles as Todd's voice actor and then I read the collected edition a few months after. 

To explain briefly, Jason Todd was the second Robin who succeeded Dick Grayson shortly after the latter quit and then joined the Teen Titans instead. Bruce Wayne first met Jason in the infamous Crime Alley when he was on patrol as Batman and he found the boy dismantling his batmobile to steal his gears which understandably annoyed Bruce but he nevertheless felt sorry for the boy when he realized that he was an orphan, living off the streets.

A part of him also connected strongly to the boy upon discovering that his father was brutally murdered. Determined to help the boy and because he needed a partner, Bruce then recruited Jason and started training him to become the new Robin. Jason was a fast learner but he was highly temperamental and definitely have anger and ego issues. He is impulsive when it comes to handling criminals, often driven by rage during fights. Still, Bruce thought it will pass. Later on, Bruce realized that it was the villain Two Face who murdered Jason's father. Upon confrontation, Jason opted not to kill Two Face which made Bruce proud but he would soon see that the boy is far damaged than he could ever anticipated.

In A Death in the Family, we explore the extent of Jason Todd's emotional issues and the strained relationship he has with Bruce. The idea of killing the second Robin sprang from the publication's marketing move where readers themselves were asked through survey as to whether or not they still want Jason around as Batman's partner. Surprisingly enough, the people voted for Jason's death so DC had writer Jim Starlin conceptualize and deliver the story. I suppose many readers are just not too fond of Jason and may also think he is not as likable as Dick Grayson whom Bruce had a better chemistry and rapport with.

The story itself was composed of issues Batman #426-429 and it was a compelling closer look at Jason Todd's final moments leading to his death in the hands of no other than the Joker. This was published in 1988 which was also around the time when the entire Batman line-up of stories for DC took on a grittier tone. The narrative for A Death in the Family was straightforward and serious enough as it explored the growing distance between Bruce and Jason as Bruce decided that Jason needs to take a sabbatical from crime-fighting as Robin. Bruce does not exactly have the parenting skills to make Jason understand his point of view and have the boy open up to him. Since Jason also refuses to talk about it, he became further withdrawn and completely shuts out Bruce from there on. One day, as he was walking around his old neighborhood reminiscing about the happy past with his parents, a friend of his mother called to him and gave him his old stuff from his previous home. This is where Jason found out a shocking truth: that the woman who raised him was just his stepmother and his biological mother is alive and still out there. 

Aided only by three names in his father's notebook of contacts, he researched the three possible women who could be his missing mother. Naturally, he didn't ask for Bruce's help as he boarded a plane to go to his destination. Meanwhile, the Joker is loose and is looking for a way to finance his criminal activities so he basically decided to get into international terrorism. Batman has to stop him and coincidentally, both the Joker and Jason are heading for the same place.

What follows is a series of more convenient coincidences where each of the three women have some thin connection to the Joker's schemes if not entirely related to it. It became unavoidable for Bruce and Jason to meet and Bruce had no other choice but to help Jason alongside trying to apprehend the Joker with his latest nefarious schemes. It has to be said that it's pretty grim and humorous at the same time that the candidates for Jason's biological mother are a spy, a mercenary and a volunteer doctor for a relief expedition (the last one is the only optimistic choice).

I liked this story. It was an important installment concerning a character who eventually becomes a fan-favorite once he grew out of his Robin costume and became his own brand of vigilante. I have an ongoing love-hate relationship with Jason Todd. I softened on him only quite recently. A Death in the Family was the first time we see a Robin die and where Bruce has to grieve over the loss his partner. I thought the story was enjoyable although everything felt like a set-up especially the coincidences where the Joker is tied with the search for Jason's missing mother so it easy for Bruce and Jason to still be Batman and Robin and fight him while having that personal side-mission on the side.

Jason's death, I think, was only upsetting because it was an abrupt dramatic irony. He wasn't well-liked by the readers that much and the circumstances leading to his death could have been avoided if only Bruce was perceptive enough to communicate and open himself up to Jason since the boy doesn't even know that Bruce himself had a similar childhood trauma. I think if he was honest from the very start then Jason would have trusted him and listened to him more. But alas, it's not meant to be and Bruce ended up carrying a badly wounded Jason in his arms which became an iconic image in itself.

A Death in the Family is a prelude to the more superior follow-up Under the Hood. I suggest you read these two stories back-to-back to really get the sense of the drama, action and conflict that encompasses the entire character arc of Jason Todd when he died as a Robin and was revived as the Red Hood.