As I mentioned in a previous blog posting, I’ve been using this holiday season to catch up on some Batman comics. In addition to the various Batman titles in DC’s New 52, there are also graphic novel collections I’ve wanted to read. They’ve really been hit or miss, outstanding to so-so reads. As I noted last week, I enjoyed Batman: Year 100, for the most part, but I was lukewarm on Batman: Noel (even with its outstanding art) and the older A Death in the Family storyline. Over the past few days, I’ve completed three more recent titles. The first, Batman: Eye of the Beholder, was pretty good. I like Tony S. Daniel’s work on the Caped Crusader, the writing in addition to his inks. In fact, the first narrative arc in the book, Eye of the Beholder, is the better of the two. I liked the second, Pieces, well enough, at least the storyline, but I wasn’t overly impressed with Steve Scott’s pencils. I particularly noticed that in the last half of that story, the art seemed to get more amateurish and less precise. For some reason, the way that Two Face and Gilda were drawn began to annoy me as I continued to read. Something else I wondered about in this collection: the long-haired “hip” look of the Riddler. Why represent him in this way? I know that he is trying to account for his memory gaps and has now returned to crime. But do we really need the greasy hair look to convince us that the true Riddler is back? To me, this seemed like a lame attempt to make him more palatable to a younger audience. Regardless, I did appreciate Batman: Eye of the Beholder overall.
Even more impressive was Batman: The Black Mirror. The book comprises several narrative arcs, reprinting Detective Comics #871-881, and all primarily interconnected through Commissioner Gordon’s disturbed son, James (although this is not initially apparent in the first and title story). This is a longer book that most other Batman graphic novels, or Batman/Detective Comics collections, and as a result, is more intricate and involved. One of my nephews, also a Batman fan, told me recently that he’s heard Batman: The Black Mirror referred to as another Long Halloween. Although I think that The Black Mirror is a strong work, it’s certainly not a Long Halloween. Still, I like what’s been going on with Batman since the return of Bruce Wayne, the whole Batman Incorporated thing and Dick Grayson becoming Gotham’s Batman. I also like the complex interplay between Dick and precocious (and irritating) Damian, although surprisingly, there’s not much of Damian in The Black Mirror. I’m not sure why that is, unless it’s to keep the focus on Dick and his ongoing efforts at being Batman. (Then again, wouldn’t part of these efforts involve putting up with Damian?) All in all, a strong collection. I like Scott Snyder’s writing–he does good work on American Vampire and the new Swamp Thing–and he handles the Batman property impressively.
Much less impressive is Batman: Arkham City, the graphic novel companion to the latest Batman game. And you can tell that this is a companion piece, something that wasn’t really meant to stand on its own. In fact, reading this comic, I couldn’t help but think that this was primarily a 168-page advertisement for the game. (The dust jacket even includes the notice, “The lead-in to the highly anticipated video game!” How more obvious can you be?) I usually like Paul Dini’s writing, but here I’m just not convinced it works. Complicating the issue even further is Carlos D’Anda’s art, which I find more cartoonish than anything. Perhaps I’m just used to the grittier, more noir-flavored art that tends to define contemporary Batman comics, but D’Anda’s work seems like it belongs more on DC Kids than it does in the proper Batman franchise. Maybe I’m being too harsh here, but it’s just that the art really distracted from my appreciation of the comic. On the other hand, maybe this is something that the folks at DC wanted, a book that was visually palatable to all ages, not too dark and moody, so that it would encourage more sales of the video game (where they will surely make most of their money). What’s more, the story of Arkham City is incomplete, leaving you hanging. So what…do I need to play the game to find out what happens? (We actually have the Arkham City game, giving it to my son for Christmas. I’ll play it, when I get the time.) That seems cheap. And another thing about Batman: Arkham City: many of the sketches in the back of the book are of characters who aren’t even in the story. In about every trade paperback or hardbound collection of a comic-book series, you’ll find sketches (extra added material) of characters, panels, or scenes that appear in the book. But here, you get sketches of Mister Freeze, Solomon Grundy, and Talia Al Ghul…characters who were no part of the Arkham City story arc. There’re sketches of Two Face, but he only appears in one panel in the book. One last gripe: what’s the deal with Robin? In the main part of the book–it’s divided into the parts that were published in comic-book form, the main Arkham City story, and the shorter, and much less interesting, parts that were only published online–Robin looks nothing like any Robin we’ve known. He seems to be some kind of weird Chris O’Donnell-inspired character from the Batman and Robin movie…and that film was awful. What was D’Anda thinking?