Batman’s Junk

Batman: Damned #1
DC comics, $6.99, 48 pages
2018

Ok then. The arrival in DC’s new line of “mature” titles featuring their biggest characters starts with an expressionistic take on the dark, forbidden knowledge portion of the Batman mythos. Not that it’s a new idea, Bats has been something various writers have stretched as far as editorial will let them after what, 75(?) years of Batman stories. Where do you go from there? In it’s quest to reinvent itself for a new generation and relevance in today’s pop culture, DC has decided a more original, adult approach is supposedly an idea whose time has come.

After reading the story, which features a trio of DC mystical characters that cameo in Bats attempt to help with the books plot, facing an unknown part of his life, that provide the impetus here. Sadly, not much is really new or different. Lots of overly used metaphors abound, along with John Constantine’s new and annoying, mysterious
narrative dialogue that pretty much abandons his former accent and smart ass attitude.

Lee Bermejo’s art, while technically accomplished, seems odd in places, perhaps with a tad too much realism to get the viewer fully engaged, being more distracting than complimentary. The Elseworlds approach used to always display to the reader this was a different type of story, not necessarily bound to the established canon with the characters. This quite often was a successful approach, with an inner sense of logic that would satisfy, and got you from point a to b in a satisfying manner.

Not that there isn’t craft of some sort operating here. It’s just that it’s not particularly original or well serviced, with a slightly askew dc universe different from the others just because it can be. All the characters seem off, not really themselves, and by not knowing a purpose for this interpretation, keeps me at a distance to care. I’m not sure where the story aims after 48 pages, and other than an interesting take on Zatanna, I’ve still got nothing invested after reading it. Murky stories and hyper realistic art aren’t a substitute here for a story I can get enthusiastic about, or even keeping me curious enough to want to read the second issue.

Then there’s the “mature” part of the story, really the only “mature” part of it, and it doesn’t add to the proceedings at all. To give this new “Black Label” an edgy, adult look and feel, we’re forced to see Batman’s full frontal junk in three shots (that I can tell, anyway), that seem ridiculously gratuitous in their inclusion. I didn’t know Bruce walked around the Batcave naked, and not sure I needed to.

Why this even exists in a Batman story is totally beyond me. I’m not a puritan, and if you gave me a valid reason to see Batman’s John Thomas I’m sure I’d go along with it. Sadly, this isn’t it. The only reason I can guess is that it gives you a reason this week to buy the new Batman comic.

Adding fuel to the fire, the week the book came out, that’s really all folks could talk about, simply because it was the only thing that made this Batman comic different from the rest. Not better or even equal, just different. The cheesy mechanization that led to this editorial decision for attention and sales elude me, and it seems this just creates more questions and problems going forward.

This brings up imaginary scenarios of my former life as a comic book retailer, where more than once I’d be confronted by a parent whose child reads Batman and wonders why this comic wasn’t out on the racks for little Joey to peruse. Following would be me demonstrating the graphic content, with the inevitable hopeless defense of why they’d make Batman inaccessible to anyone under 21 in the first place.

After all, once you get to see Batman’s junk, what’s next? Selina’s stuff?

Pass, unless you’re investing in it for speculative purposes. Even then, sell quick, cause you know this won’t be the last time we’re going to see this new, mysterious, provocative portion of Batman’s life at 7 bucks a pop.

Advertisements

Batman: White Knight #8 (July 2018)

Batman: White Knight #8

White Knight is fine. Murphy finishes it fine. The art is great, there’s some really cool action–imagine if a Schumacher Batman movie vehicle setpiece were good–and the dialogue’s occasionally really strong.

It’s not great. The sequel setup stuff is weak and a copout as far as character work goes. There are other copouts on the character work; Barbara and Dick are accessories, so’s Gordon. There’s nothing to them.

Other than the art. And Murphy’s love of all things Batman.

After dawdling through multiple issues, Murphy runs out of time in this one. Not just the sequel setup nonsense, but also with the action sequence. Nightwing gets lost. And the action sequence develops to something Murphy could really go wild with and he doesn’t.

It’s too bad White Knight wasn’t great. The art’s great and there’s some really cool things about it, but it didn’t achieve that initial promise of a new great Batman comic. Murphy should have tempered his ambitions, as they all turned out to be empty anyway.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight #7 (June 2018)

Batman: White Knight #7

Murphy really likes deus ex machina plot devices. He uses three or five of them in White Knight #7.

Given where the series goes, I’m not sure he really needed eight issues–this issue seems like the always intended, not drawn out, penultimate issue. There’s a lot going on, a lot of crowded rooms with exposition, a lot of rushed character moments, a handful of revelations. Murphy recenters White Knight on Batman this issue, which almost comes as a surprise. Whether or not it’s successful is going to depend on the finale–Batman makes some hard promises as he gets out of Arkham and teamed with Jack Napier. Murphy’s going to have to keep some of them.

He can’t just have it turn out Thomas Wayne was a secret agent fighting the Nazis. The series’s early success came from Murphy’s willingness to reveal red herrings to be real herrings.

There’s a lot of awesome art–including the “Batman” TV show Batmobile getting some action–but the panels are mostly tiny. Grizzled Batman gets way too many big panels while Murphy’s gorgeous design work gets relegated to little ones. It might be Batman’s comic again, but it doesn’t mean he’s the most interesting thing to see. I mean, Jake Napier’s Jokering out uncontrollably, which Murphy does like a hybrid homage to Bolland and Sienkiewicz. It’s awesome art.

So Batman: White Knight might make it. Not the heights it initially promised, but some significant ones.

It’ll probably make a good trade. It could be a great movie (but not one of those animated ones… and most certainly not a live action one with Ben Affleck and Jared Leto).

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight #6 (May 2018)

Batman: White Knight #6

The issue starts a humdrum cops chasing Batman, with lots of fast scenes of the cops (including Nightwing, Batgirl, and the Joker) coming up with ideas and then cuts to the Batmobile. It’s a little obvious, a little tedious. The action pacing isn’t right.

Then the Burton Batmobile shows up and nothing matters for a few pages except getting to see Sean Murphy draw a Batmobile sequence with the Burton Batmobile.

Sigh. It’s like if DC had validated the movie fans when I was eleven.

Then there’s a weak fight scene between the Joker and Batman. Batgirl goes to Mr. Freeze and finds out Papa Wayne was just a secret agent who brought Nazis to the States for science. He’s morally bankrupt but not a Nazi. Mr. Freeze, however, isn’t morally bankrupt–he hated his father, who–retcon alert–hated Freeze’s Jewish wife, Nora. It’s an okay scene though, even if dreadfully cheap. Murphy should just do a Batgirl series.

The end has what ought to be an amazing Joker sequence but flops. Brian Bolland’s safe for now. The problem? Murphy runs out of space. He’s been too busy with his action movie back-and-forth exposition dumping again.

Still. Burton Batmobile alone makes it worth it. For an exceptionally select number of readers.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight #5 (April 2018)

Batman: White Knight #5

Watching grizzled Batman bicker with White Knight Dick Grayson almost feels like a grimdark version of early eighties Batman but not exactly. Murphy has definitely made White Knight its own thing–down to Harley Quinn being the voice of reason–and there’s only so much to do with it.

Most of the issue has to do with Batman not wanting to join the Gotham Terrorist Oppression (GTO), which is the super-cop team setup by the Joker. The “good” Joker. There’s also Neo Joker, but she’s the replacement Harley Quinn gone rogue.

Then there’s the Neo Joker finding out the Wayne fortune is probably based on Nazi gold. Murphy even suggests there’s going to be some meat on that subplot.

White Knight has three issues left and Murphy could pretty much do anything in those three issues. But there’s no reason he needs eight. Whatever he’s doing he could’ve fit in six, because there’s nothing essential here. There’s some excellent art–with grimdark Batman being the most visually boring character (after Dick Grayson in his GTO uniform).

Murphy’s burnt through all the initial goodwill and is keeping White Knight moving. With issue #5 though, it’s clear it doesn’t really have anywhere interesting to move. Neo Joker might give the series some big set pieces and some drama, but she’s none of the big ideas Murphy promised to tackle at the start.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight #4 (March 2018)

Batman: White Knight #4

This issue of White Knight is pretty much what I was expecting from the book, best case. Murphy’s been excelling past this level and it’s a pretty significant drop.

Especially since I couldn’t tell the mayor from Bullock. They’re both obese white men. Murphy draws them the same.

There’s a lot of “politics” in this issue, but the politics are mostly how Black Gothamites feel like they’re getting the shaft from the rich white people. Murphy teases arguments between people over race, then immediately backs off. It’s kind of annoying. He’s implying edginess, nothing more.

He’s also gotten to the point he doesn’t want to have the Joker as protagonist, but subject. There’s some history with Harley Two, which intentionally makes light of her being suicidal for a sight gag.

On the other hand, there’s a Batman 1989 reference. The two things don’t balance out. Especially not since the Joker’s master plan is similar to Tony Stark’s Civil War plan.

It’s a shrug of a comic. I hope it’s not a trajectory change but the story’s pretty thin. Real Harley’s character development has entirely stopped. Though she and Mr. J do go clubbing a la Suicide Squad, just as yuppies not criminals. Yawn.

And the soft cliffhanger tying the Wayne family fortune to Nazis?

I’m now worried Murphy’s just doing DC’s version of Nazi Captain America.

Or maybe it’ll end with a Jim Gordon monologue about how “all lives matter.”

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight 3 (February 2018)

Batman: White Knight #3

White Knight is all right. Look, it rhymes. There’s less Batman brand reverence this issue, which is kind of too bad since Murphy does it so well (there’s a great panel with various Batmobiles), and there are some plot twists.

There’s a big one and a smaller one. The big one is too much a spoiler (though maybe not depending on where the story goes) and the latter is Dick Grayson being the second Robin. Jason Todd was the first. It’s an interesting detail, but Murphy doesn’t do anything with it. Not yet. It’s unclear if eight issues is going to be enough to get through all the stuff Murphy’s packed into the series.

Frankly, probably not. There’s just too much. Including Murphy going into the cost of Batman’s “War on Crime.”

Murphy’s still raising some interesting questions for a superhero book–especially one like Batman–and his art’s still phenomenal; White Knight is going to make it through its eight issues fairly well. It’s just (still) unclear what, if anything, Murphy’s is going to make with it.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight 2 (January 2018)

Batman: White Knight #2

Two big things happen this issue of White Knight. Sort of two steps back from Murphy. First, he gets into the Joker’s sanity and gives him a thoughtful reconciliation with Harley Quinn. It humanizes the character a lot. Maybe too much. Harley’s sympathetic. Joker’s not, because the comic is about waiting for the reveal. Joker’s really just as bad as Batman always thought he’s been. The return to the norm. How long can Murphy put it off?

Only maybe he doesn’t and he does more with White Knight. But the second thing he does is implying not. Bruce Wayne is finding out Batman’s war on crime has turned all of the rich Gothamites into real estate scumbags. Murphy explains it but it’s just more of the blah blah blah. White Knight has a lot of it, with Murphy apparently trying to do Dark Knight Rises and its “Occupy Wall Street” subplot over again.

Along, hopefully, with some of Batman & Robin. Though maybe not. But maybe. I mean, he calls Mr. Frost’s wife’s disease and Alfred’s MacGregors. That name is from Batman & Robin.

Whatever. Back to Bruce Wayne. He doesn’t like how it turns out all his rich friends are crap and racist too and he’s just never noticed it, not until the Joker took off his makeup and told Bruce (and the world) about it.

Great art. Nice twist at the end, not like the other two.

White Knight is kind of a crazy thing–it’s an event Batman book worth reading. Murphy’s story wouldn’t be worth it without his art, but also his earnestness and ambition. He’s not cynical about writing the comic, he’s thrilled to be writing it. And that enthusiasm makes it all very engaging.

At least, so long as there’s also the art.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight 1 (December 2017)

Batman: White Knight #1

Batman: White Night is ambitious. Writer-artist Sean Murphy, after years of drawing excellent Batman in middling Batman comics for high profile writers, is trying both hats. And he’s not going to do anything small. He’s going to do the Joker, because Murphy’s not going big and new, he’s going big and old. A deconstruction of the Joker and Batman’s rivalry. Complete with “Batman: The Animated Series”, Batman ’89, a Killing Joke reference, lots more. Maybe a Bat-Mite.

But it’s all modern with Murphy doing the TV talking heads arguing–a little a la Miller, but also just “cable news” and whatnot. He can’t write that scene. His fascist defender of Batman doesn’t have any arguments. So it’s not going to be perfect. Murphy’s hitting a lot of demographics, a lot of zeitgeist, and he’s got it pretty well balanced, but it’s extremely calculated.

And maybe there’s something to the concept–what if Batman’s actually just a fascist brute and the Joker gets cured and decides to save the world from him?

The art’s amazing. Murphy’s got a lot of Batman love on display, from Nightwing, Batgirl, Gordon, Bullock, whoever else. It’s going to be amusing for its details, beautiful for its art, and who knows what for Murphy’s big idea. I hope it stays afloat. The Joker’s whole backstory is already silly–he’s a Batman stan (stalker slash fan) who was a criminal to improve Bats’s crime-fighting.

Anyway.

Maybe it’ll pan out. Maybe it won’t. But it’ll have great art and fun references.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: