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Tag Archive: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns


Review by C.J. Bunce

Probably the second best-known work writer Alan Moore is known for in the U.S. outside of his Watchmen series, Batman: The Killing Joke was both a retelling of the origin story of The Joker and the story of his using a physical assault on Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl to attempt to torture and ruin Gotham police commissioner Jim Gordon.  The book is one of the 1980s big four revolutionary comics (along with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, and Watchmen) that caused a shift in how superhero stories are told (and it was the only comic director Tim Burton had ever read, setting the tone for the dark 1989 Batman movie featuring Jack Nicholson’s version of The Joker that Burton would begin filming only weeks later).  It’s a controversial graphic novel–the sexual assault and gunshot that resulted in Barbara Gordon losing the use of her legs and resulting in her change of persona to the deskbound computer whiz called Oracle angered many readers, and the ending is ambiguous and perplexing–why is Batman laughing at the end of the story?  Following the lead of the Marvel Comics new library of novelized adaptations of comic books and graphic novels, Batman: The Killing Joke is now the first of at least three new hardcover novel adaptations of DC Comics stories (to be followed by Batman: The Court of Owls on November 13, 2018, and Harley Quinn: Mad Love on February 12, 2019) published by Titan Books (also the publisher of the Marvel paperback novels).  Written by Christa Faust (Peepland, Fringe, Supernatural) and Gary Phillips (Violent Spring, Peepshow), their adaptation is a straightforward, faithful take on the graphic novel with a few updates.

The impact of the graphic novel cannot be overstated.  A key draw was the prestige format and the fact the book was a one-shot story, not like the three big predecessor books mentioned above that were monthly single issues compiled into a trade comic.  At the time we didn’t think the story would be absorbed into the regular continuity of DC Comics, but it slowly became a reference point even beyond its impact on Batgirl stories for the next 30 years.  (The book was so popular we couldn’t wait a minute to read it–one of my oldest friends was reading his copy on his music stand during our high school band practice, prompting the band director to throw it across the room, to our horror).

So how is the new novel adaptation?

You can’t really come up with enough synonyms for vile and despicable to describe The Joker in the original story and in this adaptation.  Before this story–and only about nine months before DC Comics would use fans to allow The Joker to kill Batman’s sidekick Robin with a tire iron in the pages of the Batman monthly comic book–The Joker was a bit of a silly villain.  Sure, he was always dastardly and Batman’s age-old key foe, but readers never saw him in such “true crime” acts so explicitly.  This is commonplace in the Batman stories now, but before you wouldn’t find a character shot, stripped naked, and photographed and another one stripped naked and tortured, both as plot devices ultimately used by The Joker to get Batman to show-up for the battle.  Authors Faust and Phillips do the most justice to Commissioner Gordon’s character, whose focus during his torture in a revived old amusement park is only the thoughts of his daughter’s safety and survival.  By the end of the book readers have learned that they couldn’t blame Gordon were he to walk away from these events as a destroyed pool of a man.  On the flipside, Barbara Gordon’s attack is handled partially from her viewpoint trying to understand what happened to her in real time, and partially from the view of one of The Joker’s stooges.  Barbara plays a more active role here in saving her father (and surviving), and instead of seeing herself as the victim she uses the bystander stooge to help further her superhero self into a new persona in a smartly conceived update via a coda to the story.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Comparable in every way to the team-up with Green Lantern and Black Canary in the famed Dennis O’Neill and Neal Adams run on Green Lantern in the early 1970s beginning with Issue #76, Mike Grell would take over the artwork on the O’Neill/Adams run sporadically for the next ten issues and create more than 80 issues about the bow-wielding superhero for the next two decades.  A four-issue series featuring Green Arrow would prove relatively unnoticed in 1983 (without Grell onboard), but in 1987 everything in comic books would change as Grell returned to Green Arrow with his three-issue series The Longbow Hunters Hot on the heels of the previous year’s groundbreaking, prestige format series The Dark Knight Returns, The Longbow Hunters was the perfect dark and gritty follow-up story only this time it presented the superhero lead inside the ongoing narrative of the DC series at the time.  It was Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance, relocating from Star City to Seattle, and the DC Universe became more grounded in reality.  The success of The Longbow Hunters gave Grell the opportunity to take Oliver Queen (referred to in-story as Green Arrow only once in his stories) to the next level in the late 1980s, cementing the superhero as a title character in his own right.  DC Comics has reprinted The Longbow Hunters, and in recent years it has been peppering the market with reprints of Grell’s fantastic storytelling and sometimes artwork for 80 issues from 1988 to 1993.  DC Comics has now released the last of Grell’s incredible run on the Green Arrow monthly in its ninth collection from the series, Green Arrow: Old Tricks.

Green Arrow: Old Tricks is an even greater DC release because it also bundles in Grell’s last work of the era on Green Arrow in the 1993 four-part mini-series Green Arrow: The Wonder Year.  Unlike the past few years of the monthly series, which was illustrated primarily by Rick Hoberg and inker John Nyberg, Grell both wrote and illustrated the official Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths origin story in this mini-series along with inker Gray Morrow.  Along with the origin story that would stand until writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock’s mini-series Green Arrow: Year One in 2007, we see a flashback of Oliver Queen in the heyday of his 1970s “man of the people” political activism.  As for the story at the end of Grell’s run on the monthly comic and the mini-series, Grell went out with a bang.  The stories both hone in on the women in Queen’s life, primarily Dinah, but also Shado and a fling with a local woman half his age, all while Queen is out battling bad guys inside and outside of the city.   Grell’s story is great and the artwork by Hoberg and Grell equally vivid and compelling.

In the section of Green Arrow: Old Tricks reprinting the monthly ongoing series are four stories: the two-part “Trigger,” the single-issue “Auld Acquaintance,” the three-part “Killing Camp,” and the two-part “New Dogs Old Tricks.”  The most memorable to readers of the series will be the New Year’s Eve story “Auld Acquaintance.”  After 80+ issues of Oliver Queen messing up his romance with Dinah Lance, she finally says “goodbye” for good in the series pretty 75th anniversary issue.  Oliver then gets away from it all thanks to a story that calls back to Grell’s own real-life intelligence work, as Queen teams up with Eddie Fyres in a good ol’ James Bond-inspired adventure.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Old Man Logan is a 2017 theatrical release we previewed here at borg.com earlier this Fall.  Bryan Singer treated us to a sneak peek at this version of Logan aka Wolverine in this year’s hit superhero flick X-Men: Apocalypse.  If all you know about Logan is the nine films in which Hugh Jackman portrayed the on again/off again X-Men leader, then now is a great time to get caught up on the monthly comic book title that inspired the movie.

Old Man Logan is the second series to follow the exploits of Logan in a post-apocalypse setting–the first was written in the eight-issue Wolverine: Old Man Logan story arc collected here, and the second was published in 2015, collected here.  The current series, now on Issue #14, is available in three trade editions, with Issue #15 due out in comic book stores by year end.

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Old Man Logan may be the best work yet from well-known writer Jeff Lemire, artist Andrea Sorrentino, and color artist Marcelo Maiolo.  Lemire is known for his work on books from Animal Man to Green Arrow, and currently he also pens All-New Hawkeye, Extraordinary X-Men, and Moon Knight.  Lemire tells a tale of a distant future, one overrun by villains and a world without Wolverine to protect it, Logan is a farmer with a wife and kids, whose life is destroyed when the Hulk Gang kills his family.  But the twist is Logan finds himself back in future’s past, able to change the timeline and destroy all of those who one day will ruin his life.  This Logan is an Old West wanderer and drifter, who makes Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name pale in comparisonThis is Marvel’s answer to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns at last, a series gritty and dark and full of the kind of what-ifs readers are clamoring for.

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Killing Joke animated film clip

If you’re talking about animated adaptations of classic DC Comics Batman comic books, three book series and movies should come to mind.  First there was the well-made adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, which we reviewed here at borg.com back in 2012.  Then there was the faithful, two-part adaptation of Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, with Part 1 reviewed here in 2012 and Part 2 released in 2013 reviewed here.  The animated Batman adaptations will soon be complete with the third key classic Batman book of the modern era coming to animated video.

This year Warner Bros. is releasing an adaptation of the 1988 controversial story Batman: The Killing Joke.  Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, and John Higgins teamed up to create the definitive origin story of the sadistic villain The Joker in a shiny and colorful prestige format never before seen by comic readers.  The cover sold the book, but inside the darkest story of Gotham ever told was born in only a way Alan Moore could concoct.  As with his original story that became Watchmen, Moore took beloved characters, specifically Commissioner Gordon and daughter Barbara aka Batgirl, and made them victims.  The origin of Oracle was born here, and Moore for the following decades has defended his handling of the story and treatment of Barbara.

original Killing Joke cover

Most appropriately, the animated movie will receive an R rating–a must if the film is loyal at all to the original source material.  Then there’s the solid cast list.

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Old Man Logan 2016 1

Now in its second issue, Old Man Logan, Marvel’s newest X-Men monthly, tells a familiar story told previously by Mark Millar and Brian Bendis.  But it’s a visually compelling jump-on point to a future world story of one of the Marvel universe’s most popular superheroes.  Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Wolverine: Old Man Logan first told the story of a disturbing dystopian Marvel future where the villains have won and Wolverine must take on the gang that is the last legacy of Bruce Banner’s Hulk.

Last year’s Secret Wars, written by Brian Bendis, re-introduced Logan aka Wolverine as an old man 50 years in the future.  On the heels of the success of the now Academy Award-nominated, big screen return of the similar post-apocalypse Mad Max: Fury Road, there’s little doubt the story will be appealing to modern readers.  Fans of Hugh Jackman’s take on Logan will also hear the same voice in this grizzeled and even more put-upon version of the character.

Old Man Logan 2 cover art 2016

In Old Man Logan Issues #1 and #2, we learn Logan’s past is the same past we’ve seen before–overrun by villains and a world without Wolverine to protect it, Logan is a farmer with a wife and kids, whose life is destroyed when the Hulk Gang kills his family.  But the twist is Logan finds himself back in future’s past, able to change the timeline and destroy all of those who one day will ruin his life.  This Logan is an Old West wanderer and drifter, an update to Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name and Unforgiven.

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Frank Miller The Master Race DK 3

Nostalgia is a powerful thing.  Comic book readers all remember first reading Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.  Most of the world would acknowledge it is one of the top 20 most influential graphic novels of all time and belongs on many a top 10 list for any kind of novel.  We all look ahead each week to the next good read, and can’t wait to read the next DKR.

We just don’t mean that literally.  We once thought that is exactly what we wanted, once upon a time.  Then Frank Miller delivered what we thought we wanted with his sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, or DK2.  It was pretty much unreadable, made worse because it was released on Miller’s trademark staggered “I’ll release it when I feel like it” schedule (remember All-Star Batman and Robin?).

So DC Entertainment just issued a press release late Friday announcing The Dark Knight III:  The Master Race.  Really?  The Master Race?  From the guy that wrote the offensive, bigotted Holy Terror?  What is DC Comics thinking?

DKR 2

The Dark Knight Strikes Again, DK2. Be careful what you wish for.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Thankfully for fans of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, the first modern and most celebrated graphic novel, DC Universe Animation’s new animated movie The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 delivers all that you would want.  It’s not the live action film we’ve all hoped for for years, but if you just listen to the film it will pull you in to thinking this is a live action movie with full special effects and a new and appropriately dark Batman soundtrack.  The visuals are faithful to the original, with key iconic splash pages and panels from the sourcework recreated on the screen.  The only piece missing is Bruce Wayne/Batman’s inner narration, which was not used in the film, a choice that some may like and some may not.  As a fan of voiceover narration, I would have included it.  That said, if you’re not thinking about it you won’t miss it, and the action sequences are well choreographed so it’s not a necessity to keeping this a great adaptation.

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In light of the release of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 on DVD and Blu-ray (review coming soon), I watched the 2011 release by Warner Brothers Animation, Batman: Year One.  Batman: Year One is an adaptation of a 1987 regular run Batman title (Issues 404-407), released in graphic novel form as Batman: Year One.  Written by Frank Miller with art by David Mazzucchelli, the graphic novel often floats at or near the #1 spot on lists of the best Batman stories ever told, as well as the top 100 graphic novels of all time.  I’ve found the graphic novel to be better than Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, in part because it tells a classic Batman origin story and I prefer Mazzucchelli’s Gothic meets-noir-artwork in Batman: Year One to Miller’s scrawling style in Dark Knight Returns.

The animated film does a lot right, but misses in some areas, too.

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This next animated Warner Brothers/DC Comics movie will be pretty hard to pass up and prompted me to check out Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One animated movie, which I plan to review here soon.  But what’s coming this month is the most talked about graphic novel of all time, Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 in its first adaptation, coming direct to video.  DC Comics must have done some research to indicate it wouldn’t make enough money for this movie to hit the theaters, which is unfortunate, because I think even the simple animation style used wouldn’t matter–DKR fans would go to the theater to see this.  The negative is that, like so many other movies these days, it is being broken into two parts, so maybe the length was the problem.

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