Lately, I’ve been feeling like my writing has been… Well, a little too direct. In spite of how much I might talk about what events have or haven’t managed to take priority over Kim Jong-il’s death or what s/he may have said, there just isn’t as much bullshitting around as there used to be, and saddens me to my very core. As Lethal Weapon taught us, the holidays are no time to be sad. Sure, maybe your wife was killed and you blame yourself. Maybe you had a special hollow-point bullet made just to be sure you took off half of your goddamn head, should you feel overwhelmed to the point of putting a gun in your mouth. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But what’s a definite, clear-cut certainty is that shit is one of life’s catalyzing agents. Want that rhododendron to grow a little bit faster? Smear some shit around the base or something. I may not have the logistics worked out, but the science is sound.
Instead of launching into something where I can find easy parallels between Arnold Schwarzenegger’s commentary of Total Recall or maybe one of those classic family-oriented sitcoms from the early 90′s (The Nanny, Sister-Sister, Step By Step, Family Matters, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Full House, etc.), it’s time for us to talk about Batman.
After polishing off the last of the baddies in Batman: Arkham City, it felt like as good a time as any to explore the world of classic Batman comics. As a fan of the defunct Three Red Lights podcast, I felt confident that turning things over to Hilarie Goldstein on the recommendation front. Listening to him talk about Lost, Don Cherry, or otherwise stray from whatever Charles Onyett would eventually have on the agenda for years built that trust. Sure, one of the top five titles on his 25 Greatest Batman Graphic Novels piece kind of punched that trust in the dick and clawed at its eyes all Krav Maga-like, but we’re not there yet. This is a story about the good times. It’s a story about the stories pictured below (meta, I know).
Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman: Year One, and Batman: The Long Halloween were kind of like the opening shot of a really powerful gun that managed to shoot through three things at once. Like that one gun from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, only it went through stories, pretty art, and Batman mythos while retaining the information held within as opposed to causing a line of three Nazis to instantly go into shock and bleed out in the desert.
What did I think of Hilarie’s third, fifth, and first respective picks? They were each awesome, though The Killing Joke is a bit on the lean side. The quality over quantity rule is in play, though, so there’s no reason to complain about that. What you receive is easily the most beautifully illustrated out of the three, with a compelling Joker origin. The ending is intended to be cryptic, but for my money I really didn’t care when Brian Bolland, in his afterword, tries to build anticipation for the great reveal. Instead of an “aw, shucks!” moment or something that would lead to a knowing smirk, it felt like the magician at your littlest cousin’s birthday party egging you on to ask him where the scarves came from. You want to tell the dude you’re only there because it’s family, and even though the kid’s too young to remember you didn’t show, your aunt, uncle, mother, brother, and extended family of adults surely would. Instead, you just try to eat your cake and maybe eat the mushrooms you found growing in their backyard hoping they’re either psychedelic or poison. What I’m getting at is that asking the question isn’t anywhere on your agenda. It was left ambiguous likely to try to add extra pop to a scene that is otherwise Batman apprehending the Joker. Again.
So the art’s good, the story is depraved and engaging, the Joker gets some onion-y layers, but it’s not really a Batman story so much as one might think. It’s all about the ol’ nemesis. I was tempted to say “all Joker, all the time,” but that would drastically inflate the length of this trim volume.
Batman: Year One was awesome because it shows that Frank Miller used to be able to write coherently, and wasn’t always such an out of touch, angry, xenophobic old man. The story totally re-contextualizes the character of James Gordon, and features Bruce Wayne as far more of character than his alter ego. Which is cool for obvious reasons. The vintage art style also goes a long way in making this feel like an older volume meant to establish the character.
But like in The National Dog show, the Best in Show is announced last, and The Long Halloween is surely that winner according to this judge. Its gate is beautiful, it has great teeth, and it has an immaculate, golden coat. Which is to say that the drawings are pretty once you get used to Time Sale’s style, the story is pure Batman awesomeness, and it delivers a noir-ish, whodunnit that doesn’t rely on gimmicks to maintain the suspense. It’s also got a freaking ton of Batman’s rogues gallery all up in there. Solomon Grundy, Two-Face, the Scarecrow, the Joker, Poison Ivy, Calendar Man, the Mad Hatter, the Riddler, and Catwoman all play vital roles here. And it’s interesting to see Gotham’s troubles with the mafia segue into a more unusual brand of villainy. Crazy people in costumes replace Guidos in suits slowly but surely.
It was basically off the strength of the lattermost title that I decided to buy a few more from the list.
I also picked up Batman: Dark Victory, the follow-up to The Long Halloween, but it only just arrived. Of those pictures, only Batman: Hush remains in the unread stack. When you consider this along with my earlier statement about disappointment bordering upon outrage, you can guess that either Batman: A Death in the Family or Batman: Arkham Asylum really shit the bed, so to speak.
However, only the forthcoming exploration of these titles will reveal which! To anyone who cares, this is an ending of the “more coming soon” variety. How else would you know it was episodic if it wasn’t made explicitly clear? You just wouldn’t. Fact.