To “celebrate” the conclusion of Warner Premiere’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns adaptation, Matt (of Cinemachine and my co-host at An Alan Smithee Podcast) and I thought it’d appropriate to do a special podcast talking about the original comic and the animated adaptation.
We say a number of nice things about the comic book (most of it, anyway) and a few nice things about the animated adaptation. Ten years ago, I doubt anyone would have imagined a Dark Knight adaptation, something we talk about a little during the podcast.
You can download the episode directly–or just subscribe to “An Alan Smithee Podcast” in iTunes (where the episode will be available as a special).
Miller probably could have spread this issue out over two. There’s the follow-up to the Joker’s death, there’s a bit with Superman fighting the Russians, there’s Gotham as a disaster zone. Miller gets confused.
His comic’s working at cross purposes. Clark sees a connection with Bruce and Bruce doesn’t, so there’s the epic fight scene only Clark comes off more sympathetic. Bruce is working towards an end without any self-awareness. Clark has nothing but self-awareness.
There’s also the series’s first third person narration. Miller uses it for Alfred at the end; it’s a mistake. It treats Alfred as disposable, which is no good.
Gordon’s back for a bit too, with Miller using him to show the human side of a disaster contrasted with Batman’s perception of it.
The issue’s not ambitious enough for everything Miller wants to do. He never finds a rhythm, just forces a finish.
The Dark Knight Falls; writer and penciller, Frank Miller; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Lynn Varley; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Dick Giordano and Denny O’Neil; publisher, DC Comics.
I guess Miller liked having interior monologues so much, he gave them to everyone. Batman, Superman, Robin, the Joker, the new police commissioner. I don’t think anyone else. But there’s a lot of interior monologue. More than the media coverage.
Superman’s is actually the most revelatory. Miller writes him as scared, which is sort of funny considering he’s Superman. The best monologue, in terms of writing, is probably Robin’s. She only has it for a few pages, during an action scene, and Miller is terse. Terse works for it.
As for the Joker and Batman? Their monologues are about the other. Miller doesn’t actually have any great observations about the two of them. Their final battle isn’t even particularly iconic. Miller juxtaposes it against news commentators talking about Batman and killing. It works, but it’s obvious.
Miller opens with Superman; Bruce never really gets his comic back. Clark’s too big.
Hunt the Dark Knight; writer and penciller, Frank Miller; inkers, Klaus Janson and Miller; colorist, Lynn Varley; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Dick Giordano and Denny O’Neil; publisher, DC Comics.
This issue, Batman becomes less of a lead character in his own comic. Miller writes his some good interior monologues–occasionally really good. The standouts usually reveal something–like how Batman uses environment to beat the Mutant Leader or how, when delirious, he has one-sided conversations with the absent Dick Grayson.
But, for the most part, it’s not Batman’s comic. Some of it is the reaction to Batman returning; there’s a lot of media talking heads going on about him. To justify Batman’s vigilante behavior, Miller then shows a lot of innocent people in peril scenes and the public’s response. Their response being shallow, liberal affections, of course.
Miller introduces Robin this issue, which works well. He allows her to enjoy the derring do; Batman only gets to when it’s making him feel young.
Some great Jim Gordon stuff too.
It’s a busy, packed issue and almost entirely successful.
Dark Knight Triumphant; writer and penciller, Frank Miller; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Lynn Varley; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Dick Giordano and Denny O’Neil; publisher, DC Comics.
Miller establishes he’s telling The Dark Knight [Returns] in twelve panels a page, four columns, four rows. He quickly breaks this layout, but always for emphasis. I’d never realized how beautifully he designs the comic. It’s very cinematic, even if the actual content often isn’t visual.
He implies most of the action. Batman’s return is mostly implied, the issue’s fight scene finale is all implied. Miller even implies big plot developments instead of just showing them.
The result is being either inside Batman’s head–and Miller goes out of his way to show how psychologically disturbed he is from the first page–watching a newscast or, very briefly, being with the supporting cast. The supporting cast scenes Miller uses to setup a good Batman scene.
The issue’s about aging, forgetting, recovering and failing. It’s rather touching at times.
It’s fairly impressive, but Miller’s too dependent on his “future story” gimmick.
The Dark Knight Returns; writer and penciller, Frank Miller; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Lynn Varley; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Dick Giordano and Denny O’Neil; publisher, DC Comics.
It’s easy to feel sympathetic for The Riddler here. Chuck Dixon and Kieron Dwyer cover a little of his pre-costume days, but mostly they’re telling a semi-sequel to Batman: Year One. The only time Batman’s ever sympathetic–he seems a vicious bully otherwise–is when he and Jim Gordon banter a bit.
Through The Riddler (who narrates), Dixon keeps reminding the reader it’s not a Batman story and it isn’t. It’s the story of an angry, unexceptional young man. Dixon’s characterization of Edward Nigma is compelling for just that reason. There’s nothing special about him whatsoever, except his self-awareness.
Dixon goes a little quick in parts–some more with the childhood scenes would have been nice, along with some more with his weird female sidekicks (who Batman uncomfortably wails on)–but it’s a fine origin rehash.
Dwyer’s artwork is simply fantastic. It’s frantic, emotive and always measured.
Questions Multiply the Mystery; writer, Chuck Dixon; artist, Kieron Dwyer; colorist, Richmond Lewis; letterer, Albert DeGuzman; editors, Darren Vincenzo and Scott Peterson; publisher, DC Comics.
One must assume Batman: Through the Looking Glass was a Legends of the Dark Knight story arc DC didn’t get around to publishing. It’s hard to imagine reading it in issues though, since Bruce Jones’s script is so geared for one sitting. It’s Batman guest starring in Alice in Wonderland, with wonderful art from Sam Keith. It shouldn’t work, yet it does.
A lot of the success is due to Keith. His style fits a Wonderland adaptation, especially this one–characters, depending on the panel, are either fully rendered as anamorphic or their human traits come through. And seeing a forcibly playful rendering of Batman’s habitat is a lot of fun.
Jones’s script has three things going on. First, Batman’s tripping his way through Wonderland. Second, there’s a mystery. Third, there’s Bruce’s damaged psyche. In order for Bruce to solve the mystery–or even recognize it–everything’s got to come together. But it’s a small story; there’s a large, complicated cast, but it’s really just Batman and his sidekick, an Alice stand-in. Splitting the story into issues instead of chapters in one volume would just make it more incomprehensible… and it’s fairly incomprehensible now.
While Jones barely gets personal with Batman–the tripping aside–he and Keith do come up with some interesting “revisions” to the Batman legend. Glass ostensibly tells of Batman’s first encounter with the Mad Hatter, but Robin not wearing a mask is far more interesting.
Glass is wildly creative, bewilderingly confusing and a moderate success.
Writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Sam Keith; colorist, David Baron; letterer, Steve Wands; editor, Mike Carlin; publisher, DC Comics.
Famously (or infamously), the Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes special burned off the remaining Inc. issues from before the “New 52.” It’s less a cohesive big issue than just two issues packaged as one, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Actually, the big reveal in the second story–Leviathan’s identity–isn’t a bad reveal. Morrison even jokes at the obviousness of it all; he just did a good job distracting with all his busy work. He keeps up that busy work for the second story and, though Burnham’s art is excellent, the payoff’s lackluster.
The first story, with Cameron Stewart art, which involves Stephanie Brown going undercover at a girl’s school of assassins is a lot of fun. Stewart’s art is slick and Morrison’s script is fun. He writes Stephanie better than anyone else in Inc., except maybe Selina.
Instead of writing the best story, Morrison’s too concentrated on seeming smart.
Chapter 1: The School of Night; writer, Grant Morrison; artist, Cameron Stewart. Chapter 2: Leviathan Strikes!; writer, Morrison; artist, Chris Burnham. Colorist, Nathan Fairbairn; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Katie Kubert, Rickey Purdin and Mike Marts; publisher, DC Comics.
Who knew Morrison was a fan of Batman: Digital Justice? Or is he just a fan of Tron?
Batman and Oracle team up to play a really cool VR game where they have to defeat a bad guy in the grid. Artist Scott Clark contributes the digital art, which at times sounds like it’s supposed to look cheap and retro, but Clark never changes up his style.
The result would be a disaster if it mattered. Morrison plays a lot with Batman, Inc. This time, the play leads to a crappy comic. The writing isn’t terrible–just dumb when it comes to technology–but Clark can’t integrate the text into the art. It’s ugly and confusing.
Morrison’s idea of the future of technology is a lot like the mid-nineties, only he drops modern tech buzzwords. Those moments particularly distract.
I’m failing to think of anything I liked.
Nightmares in Numberland; writer, Grant Morrison; artist, Scott Clark colorist, Dave Beaty; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Katie Kubert, Janelle Siegel and Mike Marts; publisher, DC Comics.
This issue might be Morrison’s best Inc. so far. He doesn’t try anything special, just tells a good story about a Batman and Robin pair on an American Indian reservation. When Batman shows up, he admires how the Batman–or Man-of-Bats–has done it low budget. The Man-of-Bats is a doctor too (and his identity’s public knowledge). It’s the most realistic Morrison’s been on the series and it’s to the comic’s benefit.
All of the global conspiracies and shadow organizations have made Inc. distinctive but, combined with Morrison’s literary influences, they’ve also made it distant. This issue features real people with actual problems. Morrison usually deals in icons. It’s nice to see him expand.
Morrison’s pacing is particularly effective. He introduces a cast, a ground situation and has time to refocus the narrative on Man-of-Bats’s sidekick, his son.
It’s a fantastic comic all around.
Medicine Soldiers; writer, Grant Morrison; artist, Chris Burnham; colorist, Nathan Fairbairn; letterer, Pat Brosseau; editors, Katie Kubert, Janelle Siegel and Mike Marts; publisher, DC Comics.
Had I just slammed my head against a wall three times, I would have produced about as much confusion as this issue of Batman, Inc. Admittedly, I would have missed out on some funny dialogue and nice art from Chris Burnham. Not a fan of Burnham’s Bruce Wayne however. He draws him like a big, dumb oaf.
This issue is worldwide setup. Setup for what? Something mysterious and bad. It’s like Morrison wrote a bunch of single-page “countdown to Crisis on Infinite Earths” he’d usually put in regular monthlies and threw them all together.
The only time this comic has any actual personality is when Damian makes wisecracks or Jim Gordon pops up. Otherwise, it’s a mess.
It’s a funny, beautifully drawn mess, but a mess.
Morrison’s rattling the sabers–announcing how cool Inc. will eventually get to be. So what? It’s not there yet; he’s burning through goodwill.
Nyktomorph; writer, Grant Morrison; artist, Chris Burnham; colorist, Nathan Fairbairn; letterer, Pat Brosseau; editors, Katie Kubert, Janelle Siegel and Mike Marts; publisher, DC Comics.
Saying it’s all red herrings might be a little harsh, but it is accurate. Morrison went through a lot of creative trouble to introduce a new villain–and a new Batman, Incorporated franchise (while never exactly explaining what happens in Argentina). But the whole thing with Batwoman? Both Batwomen? Unresolved. The modern Batwoman is a very nice cameo though. Morrison writes her better than Batman here; Batman hasn’t had a personality in Inc. since Catwoman left.
Paquette is back on the art and he has the same problem he had last time. Everything is great except Batman. Paquette’s Batman is just wrong.
Morrison’s lack of ambition is frustrating. He’s a tease… All those labyrinths he promised? They’re not even real in a labyrinth sense. He doesn’t just fail to realize the comic’s potential, Morrison eschews the idea of it having any potential.
Still, it’s a breath of fresh bat-air.
Masterspy; writer, Grant Morrison; penciller, Yanick Paquette; inker, Michel Lacombe; colorist, Nathan Fairbairn; letterer, Pat Brosseau; editors, Katie Kubert, Janelle Siegel and Mike Marts; publisher, DC Comics.
Morrison should have titled the story, “Pay Attention.”
He juxtaposes Batman and El Gaucho dueling against Batwoman, but not just one Batwoman. He also goes into the history of the first Batwoman–the first Kathy Kane–and her relationship with Batman. Seeing Morrison try to marry the Golden Age Batman to the modern one is always a lot of fun and this issue is no different. But it remains to be seen if he’s going to pull off a deft narrative or just provide some amusement.
It helps he’s got Chris Burnham on the art. Burnham does a fantastic job with the modern Batwoman and also the flashback stuff. His Batman pages are questionable, but only because they’re barely present in the issue. He doesn’t have time to define himself.
Batman, Inc. remains a lot of fun and rather well-written, but it’s hard to say if it’s truly successful.
The Kane Affair; writer, Grant Morrison; artist, Chris Burnham; colorist, Nathan Fairbairn; letterer, Pat Brosseau; editor, Janelle Siegel and Mike Marts; publisher, DC Comics.
Sometimes being too ambitious–especially if well-read–can get a writer in trouble. In this case, Morrison tries marrying a Batman comic to a Borges labyrinth. It’s an interesting comic, but the pacing is all off and that pacing ruins the reading experience.
There’s just too much “regular” comic here. Morrison opens with a prologue set in World War II, he then has a Bond-like intro with Batman and an Argentinian crime fighter, then he finally gets the actual story going. Wait, I forgot… he has Bruce tango with a female assassin. Very Bond this issue.
He gets to the Borges part and it’s intriguing, but then it turns into a regular Batman comic again for the finish.
On one hand, maybe Morrison is introducing Borges to a new audience. On the other, he should be concentrating on producing the best comic, not doing a literacy campaign.
Scorpion Tango; writer, Grant Morrison; pencillers, Yanick Paquette and Pere Perez; inkers, Michel Lacombe and Perez; colorist, Nathan Fairbairn; letterer, Pat Brosseau; editor, Katie Kubert, Janelle Siegel and Mike Marts; publisher, DC Comics.