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Tag Archive: Batman: Year One


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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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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Gotham series banner

The 75th anniversary of the creation of Batman is approaching.  Continuing the theme of superhero television series revolving around crusaders defending their city, DC Comics and Fox released the first trailer for their new series Gotham.  Shifting from Arrow’s Starling City to the more famous Gotham City, DC Comics also is continuing its focus on a cast of supervillains, this time as a prequel starring Ben McKenzie (Southland, The OC), who previously was the voice of Batman and Bruce Wayne in the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.

But if the new series is able to latch onto some of the success seen by CW Network’s Arrow, it may be because of supporting cast, like the always great Donal Logue (Vikings, Life, The X-Files, Ghost Rider, Sneakers).  Gotham is also taking a cue from AMC’s Bates Motel, revealing the creepy pasts of Catwoman (Camren Bicondova), Poison Ivy (Clare Foley), the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), and the Penguin (Robin Taylor) in their early days in Gotham City.  On the downside, DC Comics is now taking a cue from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by leaving the key superhero–Batman– out of the story, other than the Bruce Wayne origin story from Miller’s Batman: Year One.

Gotham cast

Check out this first preview for Gotham:

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Shadow Year One Alex Ross cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

Ever since the success of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, everyone has climbed aboard to use the Year One tag to sell copies.  Many times the Year One is not an origin story but a random early story that fails to satisfy readers’ expectations.  A successful twist on the Year One was Andy Diggle and Jock’s Green Arrow: Year One, but there’s also been Teen Titans: Year One, Batgirl: Year One and Huntress: Year One, Nightwing: Year One and Robin: Year One, and even Batman: Two-Face/Scarecrow Year One.  It’s not only DC Comics who has cornered the market on Year One titles.  We reviewed Howard Chaykin’s well done Die Hard: Year One here last year, and if you look around you’ll even find a Judge Dredd Year One and a Punisher: Year One.  This week Matt Wagner, writer of Dynamite Comics’s Green Hornet: Year One , takes on the 1920s-1930s masked crimefighter The Shadow in The Shadow: Year One.  The first issue of Wagner’s Year One creation kicks off the better side of Year One stories.

Wagner and artist Wilfredo Torres begin their Year One with a mysterious force referred to as the “Shadow of Doom” in 1929 Cambodia, where we first meet The Shadow’s alter ego Lamont Cranston.  He is in pursuit of a criminal called the White Tiger and this pursuit returns him to New York City, a city brewing with criminals for The Shadow to bring to justice.

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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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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the climax of Batman Volume 1: The Court of Owls, a battered Batman looks up and utters “…I am sick… to death… of owls!”  Me, too, I thought, after seven chapters of the first released hardcover of the New 52, written by Scott Snyder with pencils by Greg Capullo.  Hardly a page of the first seven issues of the rebooted Batman series does not include an owl, worked into the background or architecture or elsewhere.   There’s not a lot of subtlety to be found here.

Although I’d put David Peterson’s owl renderings in Mouse Guard up against Capullo’s any day, Capullo does a nice job of working owls into the story.  In fact his art and the overall look of this hardcover puts it in the camp of prior trade compilations like Batman: The Cult.  It certainly surpasses Grant Morrison and David McKean’s equally dark Arkham Asylum in both story and art.  That said, it fails to achieve the excitement, fun, and energy of Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush or Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke, or the mythology of Batman found in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.  If you like your Batman not only dark but flawed, making as many bad decisions as good, and you’re tired of the recycled pantheon of Bat-villains, this book may be for you.  Unfortunately, the twists and excellent execution of story found in Issue #1 of this Batman series didn’t hold out, the owl-villainy doesn’t match the classic bat-villains, and so the series became monotonous and tired by Issue #7 for this reader.

I haven’t seen a lot of continuity of story presentation across the New 52 titles.  But of all the titles I’d hoped for more origin of Batman than is peppered in flashback through the first seven chapters of this compilation.  Had The Court of Owls been a story arc in a normal year of Batman stories, I may have actually appreciated it more.  But as part of a launch that was to allow new readers to enter and understand the series, I think this series doesn’t make any headway.  That said, what’s there really to understand?  It’s just Batman, right?  As the leading title of DC Comics, I think despite its great sales, the story doesn’t have broad appeal.  Why is everyone reading it then?  With all the Bat-titles in the reboot, this series started out as the best and is probably considered the best, but we’re all not just waiting for another good Batman story, we want another great Batman story and we’re willing to keep coming back until we get it.

The hook of the owl as a creature of night who eats bats as a visual or storytelling concept would have worked for me for an issue or two.  Today DC Comics have The Court of Owls – Night of the Owls story permeating throughout the DC New 52 titles as a crossover event.  What is the Court of Owls?  It’s a bit like an evil version of the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, mixed with the Masons as revealed in the National Treasure series, and a chemical reaction that allows humans to be immortal.  Despite all the years of Bruce Wayne exploring and building out a batcave, and his long understanding of Gotham City as his city, suddenly we readers are introduced to a concept never before even hinted at, and a mention that… oh, yeah, Bruce Wayne tried to hunt down the Court of Owls as a kid and ultimately came to the realization they did not exist.  The problem is, unlike the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword’s noble cause, we are given no motivation for the Court’s evil doings.  They’re just bad guys.  If you had this much power, would you live like these masked ghouls under Gotham or would you live the high life?

That said, there is a lot to like in this series.  Snyder’s use of modern technology to assist Batman is well placed. Dick Grayson’s Nightwing has hardly been better as Batman’s sidekick, including a brilliant turn as Joker to fool the inmates of Arkham Asylum.  The entire supporting cast, although hardly used, have nice moments, including Tim Drake, Commissioner Gordon and even Alfred.   Capullo’s art is as good as any of Jim Lee’s best Batman work.  Capullo and Snyder both are obviously passionate about creating a complex Bat-tale, and for that, the book is worth a second read.  With that second read, more plotted foreshadowing can be found.  The Court of Owls was clearly not an easy tale to construct, both from a story concept or visually.  And as a starting point, Issue #1 is one of the best issues of Batman you’ll ever read.  If you like Batman in a chamber of horrors, Snyder and Capullo’s vision has the feel of the crazy masked club of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide ShutUnfortunately I just didn’t find the arc compelling enough to keep me hooked for all seven issues.

Batman: The Court of Owlsseems to borrow a bit from Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson’s Batman: The Cult in story and look.  Capullo’s depictions of a tortured Batman are equal to the horror and drama depicted in Bernie Wrightson’s panels in The Cult.  That’s high praise for Capullo as Wrightson’s work on The Cult was nicely done.  But I was never fond of Batman being duped and sucked into the villain’s world, or portrayed as less than genius, and even allowed to be beaten to a pulp.  All that happened in both Batman: The Cult and Batman: The Court of Owls This is why I found myself on the side of Nightwing in the sparring between the two–and I am not typically a fan of Nightwing.  I prefer my Bat-story to show Batman in the shadows more, as the detective who doesn’t become emotional or fall for the villains’ traps like the Batman of the camp 1960s TV series.  Finally, I was distracted by how much the Court’s henchman Talon looked like Watchmen’s cool hero Nite Owl.

Nite Owl from Watchmen.

A big plus of this hardcover edition can be found at the back of the book.  Snyder’s script for issues #1 and Capullo’s pencil roughs that accompany that story reveal some of their creative process, which I always love to see.  And along with Greg Capullo’s superb cover art (it’s great when a publisher allows the interior penciller to also create the cover art!), the appendix also includes full page color images of the alternate, incentive covers.

If you want to give Batman: The Court of Owls a try, it is now available at local comic book stores and online.  Editors Note:  Check out my review of the hardcover of Night of the Owls–all the crossover issues compiled–at this link.

By C.J. Bunce

Eclipsing the highly anticipated live action summer release The Dark Knight Rises, The Dark Knight Returns is up next.  An animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s 1986 seminal dystopian look at Batman is being produced by Warner Premiere/DC Comics Premiere Movies.

The news is somewhat bittersweet for diehard The Dark Knight Returns fans.  On the one hand, any well-done video adaptation would be a welcome sight.  That said, until we see a live action version of this major graphic novel, anything else is just something less than the potential that this property could realize in both viewers and revenues for DC.  Until we see Warner and DC Comics put this work on the big screen, we can’t get too excited here.

Providing the voice for the grim and hardened Batman is Peter Weller, who has been in several TV shows and movies, such as guest roles on House, M.D., Psych, Dexter, Fringe, Monk, 24, Star Trek: Enterprise, and key roles in the films Screamers, Leviathan, Buckaroo Bonzai, and of course, Robocop. It’s too bad this isn’t live action, as Weller’s great Robocop jaw could pull off the look of a 50-something Bruce Wayne.

This should be a good year for Weller, who also has an as yet-undisclosed role in the new Star Trek movie. And a resurgence of Robocop in light of a new big screen remake announced here previously should also shine a light on the original borg police officer.

Ariel Winter (Modern Family) will voice Robin, with Wade Williams (Prison Break) as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and genre favorite Michael McKean (This is Spinal Tap, Homeland, Smallville, Sesame Street, The X-Files, Star Trek Voyager, Saturday Night Live, Coneheads, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Clue), expected to portray the doctor from Arkham Asylum, and David Selby, likely to portray one of the villains.  (We hear Mckean got hit by a car this week, so we all hope he recovers quickly).

What should be highly anticipated, and has not yet been released, are the voice actors who will portray the key guest appearances in Frank Miller’s novel: Alfred Pennyworth, the Joker, Superman, and Green Arrow.  I’d expect some key voice actors for the various newscasters, too, assuming this film follows the original’s focus on economic turmoil and 1980s excess.

Fans of the animated Batman: Year One, released last year, may appreciate this new animated feature the most.  The plan is for The Dark Knight Returns to be released on two parts, the first by year end and the second in early 2013.  Unfortunately it is also direct to video—so you won’t find this one at a theater unless Warner gives a preview at the San Diego Comic-Con this year as they did with Batman: Year One last year.  The first photos released yesterday really don’t seem to grab Frank Miller’s rugged style, so hopefully the actual release is able to attain some of that from the original sourcework.

Bob Goodman (Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Static Shock) is writing the script for the film.  Storyboard artist and animation director Jay Oliva is directing.

Review by C.J. Bunce

I am a big fan of Jim Lee’s Hush series, which appeared as Issues 608-619 of the Batman title.  Jeph Loeb’s story and Jim Lee’s pencils, along with Alex Sinclair’s use of color and Scott Williams’s inks made a for a classic and definitive Batman story.  Both Loeb and Lee’s artistic influence can be seen with the feel, tone, even the inner thought fonts and speech boxes, of the new Batman in DC’s new 52, in both Justice League #1 and last week’s release, Detective Comics #1.

Detective Comics, back to issue 27 in the early 1940s, has always focused on the Caped Crusader’s real superpower (actually the absence of any superpower, to be correct), that of sleuth–as a modern Sherlock Holmes.  The modern Batman since at least Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One has remained a modern twist on Holmes, without all the necessary quirkiness of Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective.  A brilliant series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (who is filming the role of Bilbo Baggins in next year’s The Hobbit from Peter Jackson), recently began airing from the BBC.  Titled Sherlock, that series, created by the great Stephen Moffat of the Doctor Who fifth series fame, will be reviewed here later.  Like the modern look at Moffat’s Holmes, you would expect similar treatment with a modern Batman in the new DC 52.

And writer/artist Tony Daniel and co-writer Ryan Winn do not fail to deliver on that expectation.  Not only is the new Batman in Detective Comics a smart, master detective fluent in modern sleuthing techniques, the villainy he must face is disturbingly real.  Back in the 1970s, true crime and real-life detective mags were everywhere, and they often had uncensored, shocking photos.  The new Detective Comics seems almost inspired by this old sub-genre.  Is the Joker more vile than ever, or no different from his past psychotic nature?  The art seems to be pushing the bounds here and the new Detective Comics is not for the squeamish.  If there are new DC Comics titles directed toward kids then this title definitely is drawn for the mature viewer.  In one panel, the Joker’s face has been surgically removed by a new villain, the Dollmaker, and the remains are left hanging on the wall.  The result is as grotesque and grisly as it sounds.  As the Joker’s characteristic insane laugh and killer jokes are how we’d expect to see the Joker, the treatment here hangs at the precipice of being over the top.

Beyond the pursuit of the crime element we get short shapshots of a classic Alfred Pennyworth, as true to his past form as ever.  Commissioner James Gordon is also the class-act we would hope him to be.  Readers can’t really have enough Commissioner Gordon, so hopefully we’ll see a lot more coordination between him and Batman.  Once we saw Gary Oldman provide such a definitive performance as the unflinching cop in The Dark Knight, fans just can’t get enough of this character.

As Bruce Wayne, our hero is consistent with past Batman and Detective Comics stories.  One thing is for certain, if DC Comics is changing the face of certain superheroes in its universe, Batman is the same as ever.  A very good thing for such a key figure in the new universe who is featured in nearly a dozen titles.  Will the Dark Knight continue in this title to be this dark, bleak and gritty?  We’ll check out the next issue to find out next month.   But if the story sticks to its current grisly path this may not be an ongoing ‘zine for this reader.

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