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26 September 2012

Some random 90s Batman comics I got from the library.

(Image stolen from Midnight Rant.)

2012 has been a very Batman year for me.  I am a human being on the planet Earth and therefor I am aware of and like Batman.  But I've never been a big reader of Batman comics.  I grew up team Marvel.  I only really got into DC comics in the 90s through Vertigo.  I followed Grant Morrison from his Vertigo stuff to JLA and that was probably the first comic featuring Batman that I read on a regular basis.  I've never read much of the Batman family of comics on any sort of regular basis though.

I got the big thick DC Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 1 book for Christmas at the end of 2011 and spent the first few months of 2012 plowing through all that silver age goodness.  That book is a joy people.  I highly recommend it.  It hooked me.  It made me need more Batman.  Luckily, the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo Batman comic titled bATMan is very very good.  What?  It's called bATMan.  The logo reads bATMan.  Just look at it.

But one good monthly Batman comic is just not enough.  Now the logical thing for me to do would be to buy Vol. 2 of the Batman Showcase books.  But comics are very expensive.  Thank God for the library.

Over the past five years since I moved back to rural Virginia I have visited my local library quite often but mainly for my kids.  Every time I went I would see the same two Batman trade paper backs.  Contagion and Knightfall.  This summer saw the release of The Dark Knight Rises  movie featuring Bane.  I don't really know anything about Bane at all so I was curious.  And so were some other people because when I finally came up with the genius plan of going and getting Knightfall from the library for the first time in five years someone else checked it out.  So, I put in a reserve request for Knightfall and checked out Contagion.  This was probably a bad idea.
Batman: Contagion
Trade paperback by Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Dennis O'Neil, Doug Moench, Christopher Priest, Kelley Jones, Graham Nolan, Vince Giarrano, Dick Giordano, Frank Fosco, Barry Kitson, Mike Wieringo, Matt Haley, Jim Balent, Tommy Lee Edwards and possibly a few hundred other people.  
Published by DC Comics in 1996.

Contagion takes place after Knightfall so I read this stuff all out of order.  I don't think it would have mattered though.  The book is mostly awful.  The idea of the thing is that some horrible made-for-TV-movie-medical-thriller virus is introduced into a hoity toity elite area of Gotham City and Batman and his family of cats, birds, wings and Catholics have to get the cure and save the city.  But wait, the rich people hire all of Batman's villains to go after the cure so it's a Bat-family versus baddies race for the fate of the city. That is a perfectly good idea for a comic book and/or video game but the execution in this thing is lacking.  This book collects comics from Batman: Shadow of the Bat, Detective Comics, Robin, Catwoman, Azrael, Batman and The Batman Chronicles and it reads like a collection of seven different series put together in some random order.

Each comic is just whichever character had their name on the front of the book looking for the cure.  Except for Batman.  He really does not do a lot.  In much of this book Batman is drawn like Todd McFarlane's Spawn and he just hangs around on the borders of panels looking gloomy.  I guess it was the 90s so it is post The Dark Knight Returns and post Image comics so yeah, Batman has to look like Spawn.  When he does do anything it is just bitch and moan about how tired he is and about how incompetent his partners are.

This Batman hates his partners so very much.  This Batman does not trust Robin or Azrael to check the mail.  Two thirds of the way through this thing Batman just flat out gives up and says oh well Gotham, sorry about your luck.  I'm not kidding.  Batman has no participation in the saving of the day.  The way they wrap this sucker up is that (16 year old SPOILER) Azrael is sitting around in his street clothes watching some TV with his roommates when he remembers that he knew the cure all along.  43 years of Scooby Doo cartoons would like to inform DC Editorial that that is not how you end a mystery.

The only elements of this book I enjoyed at all were the Catwoman comics.  She is the only character in this thing with any positive qualities other than Alfred and Commissioner Gordon.  And honestly, this may sound crazy, but I'll take the Jim Balent drawn Catwoman over the horror movie Spawn Batman.

Batman: Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat
Trade paperback by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Jim Balent, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Scott Hanna, Joe Rubinstein, Bob Wiacek, Dick Giordano and several other people.  Published by DC Comics 1993.

 This comic is the Batman version of The Death of Superman except where Superman had the decency to die quickly, Batman is going to refuse to die and he is going to do that over 272 pages.  In the 80s, DC rebooted all their most beloved characters.  In the 90s they killed them or broke their backs.  Doh!  Nineteen year old SPOILER: Batman is going to get his back broken in this thing.  But don't feel bad if you are a young getting into Batman and reading some 90s Batman comics.  Being spoiled is part of the magic.  See, everyone on earth knew that Batman was going to get his back broken and be replaced months before these comics came out.  And not form teh intronets that Al Gore was still building in his garage but from freaking press releases where DC straight up told everyone they were breaking Batman's back and replacing Bruce Wayne.  Which, is why I never read these comics in the 90s. It seemed tedious and pointless.  I was right.
This comic starts off with Batman sick tired and grumpy.  Like, Contagion, this Batman totally hates his partners and does not trust them to do anything despite him being all tired and stuff.  The story is that this Bane guy, who we know almost nothing about,  breaks all the bad guys out of Arkham Asylum and then Batman has to fight them video game style for 272 pages until he gets to fight the big boss Bane at the end.

Which, again like Contagion, is a perfectly good story for a comic book and luckily here the execution is a bit better.  It is a very 90s looking comic and the villains are grotesque but Batman mostly looks like Batman still.  You have some really nice Batman art from Jim Aparo in this thing and I'll read a Jim Aparo drawn Batman comic any day of the week.  (Preferably that comic would be Batman and The Outsiders though.)

Moench and Dixon do a decent job with the drama and building the tension but it just gets tedious.  Page after page of Batman at the breaking point but finding that last ounce of stamina to finish off the baddie.  Page after page of Batman telling his partners that they are not even good enough to watch him beat up the baddies.  It's just tedious people.  Have I said the word tedious?  Tedious.

But I do like most of the art, I really like Bruce Wayne's purple bathrobe worn over the Batman suit, I do like Bane's strategy, I do like the bits with the Joker, I do like the subplot with Gordon and the mayor and I really like Adrienne Roy's colors... I just wish it was about 200 pages shorter.

By the time Bane finally starts snapping Batman in two, I was very much ready for this grumpy tedious Batman to be broken.

Batman: Knightfall Part Two: Who Rules the Night
Trade paperback by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Jim Aparo, Graham Nolan, Bret Blevins, Kalus Janson, Mike Manley, Scott Hanna, Steve George, Terry Austin, Rich Burchett, Dick Giordano and several other people.  Published by DC comics 1993. 

Now this book, this book I really like.  Grumpy Batman is now born again Bruce Wayne in a wheel chair.  The new Grumpy Batman is Azrael but instead of the book's tension being about when will Batman finally be broken, it is about just how unhinged is Azrael and will he do what Batman could never do and kill the villains.  That is interesting to me.  Even though Azrael is an awful and boring character, that story is interesting to me. It is mostly the same story.  Azrael is still going to go through the bad guys like in a video game and meet the big boss Bane at the end but at least with this one, I for one did not know how it would play out.  I had never read a press  release for this one.

I think the book is created by most all of the same players as Part One.  It looks good. Solid work from Jim Aparo and Graham Nolan. Again, I really like Adrienne Roy's colors.  I love, love, love that now Bane is wearing the purple bathrobe.  I really super heart the Klaus Janson art in the pages he worked on.  And it is much better written.  I think Dixon, Moench and Grant brought at lot of energy to this chance to do something a little different with the Azrael Batman and for the most part it works.

If you hold this trade paperback up sideways and look at the pages you will see that the middle third of the book has black pages.  Those pages are one big long story about Scarecrow and weird 90s character Anarky.  Azrael Batman is just a guest star in those.  This part could really be its own trade paperback.  And it is pretty good.  It is super 90s.  I'm not sure who the artist is because those pages don't have titles on them but it must be Bret Blevins or Mike Manley.  It is super over the top and I like it a lot.  It is Spawn art but this time I mean that as a compliment.  This section of the book is a horror thriller and that super stylized art works perfectly.  And the writing is okay.  It's of that post Alan Moore style where all the villains have to quote Shakespeare but it's okay.  It's fun.  And when Azrael gets hit by the fear gas you get to see one of the craziest Batman faces you've ever seen.  The book is worth checking out for that alone.

I won't spoil how this one ends but Bane and Azrael meet up and there are lots of punchies and some speeches.  It's fine.  The book ends with Azrael still as Batman and with Bruce Wayne still in a wheel chair.  I see that there is a Part Three to this series of trade paperbacks but I checked my local library's online catalog and they do not have it.  So, I'm just going to have to assume that Azrael stays Batman forever and that Bruce Wayne never walks again.
Please don't spoil it for me if I'm wrong.
(Azrael was so popular he got his own video game.)

So yeah, I guess that was a glimpse of what Batman was in the 90s.  Batman in the shadow of The Dark Knight Returns and the Tim Burton movies.  Batman dealing with the changing look of comics post the Image phenomenon.  Batman writers and editors dealing with the question of just exactly what do you do with a then over 50 year old property to keep it relevant.  But still mostly about punching the bad guys very very hard.

Oh, and I still never saw The Dark Knight Rises so don't spoil that either.  Thanks!

Your best pal ever,

Shannon Smith

p.s. Say you want a leader but you can't seem to make up your mind. I think you'd better close it and let me guide you to my twitter feed.
p.p.s. Let's pretend we went to high school together on facebook.
p.p.p.s. Google + is another place you can read the same thing I posted here.
p.p.p.p.s. I'll tumblr for ya.
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