B

Batman: Featuring Two-Face And The Riddler

featuring Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Neil Gaiman, Alan Grant, Andrew Helfer and Mark Verheiden

(Art by Pat Broderick, Joe Giella, Dick Giordano, Sid Greene, Mike Hoffman, Bob Kane, Sam Keith, Bernie Mireault, Steve Mitchell, Kevin Nowlan, Charles Paris, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Howard Sherman, Dick Sprang, Frank Springer, Chris Sprouse and Matt Wagner)

Originally published in conjunction with the cinema release of Batman Forever (in which Two-Face and the Ridder are the main villains, in case you've not seen it), this book collects a range of stories featuring the titular villains ranging from their original appearances in the 1940s up to the darker stories of the 1980s.

Although they are very kitsch and crammed with awfully cheesy exposition dialogue, I was actually surprised to find myself enjoying the 1940s stories.  I think what made them so enjoyable was seeing the true origins of these two iconic villains and how they match up to legend that 70-odd years of comics has built for them.  I was, for instance, surprised to find that Two-Face predates the Riddler by a full seven years, debuting in 1941.  In that Two-Face story, brought to us by Batman's legendary co-creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane, we see that the villain was originally Harvey Kent (not Dent) and he failed to get reconstructive surgery because the only doctor who could have done it visited Europe and was interred in a Nazi concentration camp.

We then get a couple of Riddler stories from the 1960s, in which the villain struggles to overcome his psychological compulsion to give Batman clues to his crimes, before the anthology jumps ahead to 1989. 

It was in the 80s that Batman comics began to develop the dark tone that they're known for today and here we get a much darker look at the origins of not only the two main villains of this book, but also the Penguin.  These linked stories, written masterfully by Gaiman, Grant and Verheiden, explore the psychology of the villains by following a documentary film crew's attempts to film the otherwise unseen side of them.  I think my favourite story of the whole book was 'When Is A Door: The Secret Origin of The Riddler', written by Neil Gaiman.  Here The Riddler is a somewhat tragic figure, whom the filmmakers don't even recognise as a real supervillain and who is struggling to come to terms with the darker world he's living in.  Gaimain brilliantly gives us exposition of how a character in-universe is coping with the way in which Batman stories began delving to darker and more violent depths, with The Riddler getting a fantastic monologue in which he remembers the days when the supervillain life was fun ("No one ever hurt anybody.  Not really.") and laments the change in the world ("The Joker's killing people, for God's sake!  Did I miss something?").

Two-Face, whose 1941 appearance kicked off this book, rounds out the stories with one from 1990 in which we flashback to the days when he was D.A. Harvey Dent and we learn that his split-personality psychosis had begun to manifest far before the courtroom acid attack left him scarred.

Overall, this book is a great bit of exploration of the title villains, showing us how they developed over time both in-universe and out.  It is, in fact, far more entertaining than 'Batman Forever' was.  And it has an introduction written by Mark 'The Joker' Hamill too.

4 out of 5

 

Batman: The Arkham Saga Omnibus

featuring Adam Beechen, Doug Wagner, Frank Hannah, Tim Seeley, Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Derek Fridolfs, Marly Halpern-Graser, Paul Crocker, Sefton Hill, Karen Traviss and Peter J. Tomasi

(Art by Christian Duce, Vincente Cifuentes, Federico Dallocchio, Tom Derenick, Victor Drujiniu, Omar Francia, Richard Ortiz, Matthew Clark, Wade von Grawbadger, Carlos D'Anda, Sean Parsons, Derek Fridolfs, Dustin Nguyen, Ben Herrera, Ted Naifeh, Roger Robinson, Adam Archer, Al Barrionuevo, Michel Lacombe, Jimbo Salago, Jeffrey Huet, Jason Shawn Alexander, Mike S. Miller, Brian Ching, Livesay, Simon Coleby, Bruno Redondo, Cliff Rathburn, Santi Casas, Pete Woods, Juan Jose Ryp, Jorge Jimenez, Darick Robertson, Richard P. Clarke, Peter Nguyen, Craig Yeung, David Lopez, Mico Suayan, Jheremy Raapack, Eric Nguyen, Davide Fabbri, Roccardo Burchielli, Tony Shasteen, Beni Lobel, Viktor Bogdanovic, Art Thibert, Ig Guara, Julio Ferreira, Robson Rocha, Guillermo Ortego, Richard Friend, Daniel Henriques, Stephen Segovia, Alisson Borges and Dexter Soy)

An absolutely immense omnibus collecting all of the comics and graphic novels set in the world of the Arkham series of computer games.  Beginning with a prelude to 'Arkham Origins' which sees an inexperienced Batman still finding his crimefighting feet, continuing on through the events of 'Arkham Asylum' and 'Arkham City', before culminating in stories that lead directly into the plot of 'Arkham Knight'.

I'm a big fan of the so-called Arkhamverse, which gives us a gritty and realistic take on the Batman mythos, whilst still managing honour all of the character's real-world history, not matter how silly (Calendar Man makes an appearance, for instance).  So, I was very keen to read more stories set in this particular take on Gotham, as well as getting some background to the games I love (I've not played 'Arkham Knight' yet, so I can't comment on the negative reviews it got).

As you can imagine from a collection of dozens of stories from twelve different writers, this is a real mixed bag in terms of quality.  There are some stories that almost seem like vanity pieces on the parts of the writers but there are some, mainly by Paul Dini (who also wrote for awesome 'Batman: The Animated Series' in the 90s), which genuinely feel like they inform the main stories of the actual games.  There are also a few, such as one of Karen Traviss' contributions, which work as self-contained stories within themselves.  However, there's also a great deal of pointless or unremarkable stories too, the worst of which is the 'Arkham Origins' prelude, which attempts to be a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story.  I'd never encountered a CYOA graphic novel before and seeing how unwieldy and unsatisfying it is to read here, I can understand why.

The varied quality of the stories aside, there are two big problems with this omnibus that are inherently linked to one another.  The first and biggest problem is that this book doesn't include actual adaptions of the games.  So the main plotlines that threat the Arkhamverse together are absent, meaning we get lead-ins and tie-ins to stories that are told elsewhere, leaving this book feeling like it's got great big holes in it.  The second problem is that not all of the stories here have been presented in chronological order, so any sense of narrative flow, already disrupted by the lack of the games' stories, is spoiled by random jumps in timeframe.  It really wouldn't have killed anyone just to edit the stories into order.

Overall this is an enjoyable expansion of the lore of the Arkham games but is spoiled a great deal by the big gaps and jumps in its narrative.

3 out of 5