About the Author:
Jeph Loeb is a screenwriter and producer and lives in Los Angeles, USA.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3.9 out of 5
Batman: Dark Victory
(Art by Tim Sale)
A sequel to 'The Long Halloween', this book sees Batman and Commissioner Gordon once more caught between Gotham's crime families and a mysterious serial killer. As they investigate the link between the killer and Harvey Dent, now the criminal Two-Face, Batman also undertakes the task of becoming a mentor to the recently orphaned Dick Grayson.
This story is very much in the same style as 'The Long Halloween', leaning into Batman's detective noir feel, with subplots, betrayals and red herrings aplenty. Loeb writes this style of story perfectly and Tim Sale's stylised artwork plays into too. Added to all this is a rare and unlikely team-up for Gotham's rogues gallery of supervillains and it makes for a very enjoyable story.
Unfortunately there is one big downside to this book, which is that it is too much like it predecessor in style, tone and plot. There are so many parallels and similarities that at times it can feel a bit like re-reading 'The Long Halloween'. There's even a whole new serial killer who only operates on holidays, for heaven's sake.
Basically, whilst this is still a very good book, you'd be better off just reading 'The Long Halloween' instead (if you haven't already).
4 out of 5
Batman: Haunted Knight
(Art by Tim Sale)
Three stories, each set on Hallowe'en, featuring some of Batman's most iconic villains, including Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, Penguin, Poison Ivy and the Joker.
The first of these stories has an exhausted Batman chasing the Scarecrow across Gotham whilst in his other life as Bruce Wayne he meets a woman who could persuade him to never answer the Bat-signal again. The second story sees young (pre-Batgirl) Barbara Gordon falling into the hands of the insane child-killer Mad Hatter after running away from her father. Finally, in a twist on Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', a sick and delirious Bruce Wayne is visited by spirits of Hallowe'en past, present and future.
I have to say that I loved this collection. The stories are all just long enough that they don't feel unnecessarily complex whilst still having enough time to develop their themes effectively. Tim Sale's artwork is brilliantly atmospheric too and at times the fact that it's near-monochrome really plays into the gothic sensibilities of the stories.
It certainly doesn't hurt that this book features some of the most famous members of Batman's rogues gallery, with the story focusing on the Mad Hatter being my personal favourite of the lot. The Hatter is one of the sillier Batman villains on paper (so to speak) but here his insanity and predeliction for preying on children makes him a truly chilling antagonist. We also get a nice reveal of how the Hatter, of all villains, actually provokes a particularly deep emotional response in Batman.
5 out of 5
(Art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams)
When several of Batman's enemies begin acting out of character and a close friend of Bruce Wayne is murdered, the Dark Knight begins to suspect that the events are all linked, with a mysterious mastermind who knows his secret identity. Complicating matters further is the fact that Batman becomes emotionally involved with Selina Kyle, the Catwoman.
Whereas Loeb's previous Batman stories had all been set early in the detective's career here we see the writer tackle Batman at the top of his game, with an updated rogues gallery and all the resources of the so-called Bat-family at his command. I was immensely pleased that Loeb still manages to capture the same overall feel as 'The Long Halloween' and 'Dark Victory', with Batman pursuing a mystery whilst emotionally and physically raw.
Also like those two previous volumes, here we get an exploration of an important relationship in Batman's life and crimefighting career. In 'The Long Halloween' it was his relationship with Harvey Dent and in 'Dark Victory' it was with Dick Grayson, but here we get a spotlight shined on Batman's long relationship with Catwoman. They've always been more antagonists rather than enemies and there's also always been a certain amount of chemistry between them. I'm a sucker for a well-earned romantic subplot, so I really enjoyed seeing the romance between these iconic characters begin to take shape. And I liked that neither of them falls head-over-heels too, realistically exploring the idea of how hard it is for these two people to trust anyone, let alone each other.
4 out of 5
Batman: The Long Halloween
(Art by Tim Sale)
Early in Batman's crimefighting career he forms an alliance with Police Captain Jim Gordon and D.A. Harvey Dent to bring down Carmine 'The Roman' Falcone's crime family. However, their crusade is complicated by the work of a serial killer, dubbed 'Holiday', who murders their way through Falcone's operation on special holidays across an entire year.
This is one of the most famous and influencial Batman stories, providing inspiration not just to later comics but also to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy of movies. I was genuinely intrigued to see if it lived up to its reputation in the ways that Frank Miller's 'Year One' and 'The Dark Knight Returns' certainly did. As it turns out, once again the hype was justified.
This is very much a noir detective story, a genre which perfectly plays into the nature of the Batman and the city in which he dwells. This is only enhanced by Sale's often-monochrome artwork. In fact, this is exactly the sort of Batman story which makes him my favourite comic book hero, showing him skirting the edges of the darkness whilst he tries to pull Gotham out of its depths. There's also a whole host of Batman's famous villains at play, but they are all woven around the core story rather than being its focus.
Perhaps the best element of this book is how Holiday's identity is handled. Throughout the story all the various characters, on both sides of the law, find themselves wondering at the killer's identity and Loeb is very careful not to give us any obvious clues. This culminates in us, the readers, joining both Batman and Jim Gordon in wondering if Dent is going too far in his quest to end Falcone's hold on the city. This uncertainty is beautifully woven into the, now famous, story of how Dent becomes Two-Face but, just when it seems like we've got all the answers, the book throws a spanner in the works and leads us to totally reevaluate what we thought we had figured out. Masterfully done.
5 out of 5
(Art by Rob Liefeld)
Celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Onslaught/Heroes Reborn storyline, this book sees the titular villain being reconstituted as an unexpected side-effect of the Scarlet Witch used her powers to rob the majority of mutants of their powers (in Brian Michael Bendis' 'House of M'). Onslaught then seeks to destroy his key enemy Franklin Richards, but the boy uses his powers to recreate and escape into the Heroes Reborn alternate universe.
Back in the day I loved the Onslaught event but was far less impressed with the Heroes Reborn line (perhaps my first experience of disliking reboots) which, if you didn't know, was sort of a messy first-attempt at what would later be redone as the Ultimate Universe line. On the surface level, this book has all too much of what made Heroes Reborn bad and not enough of what made Onslaught great.
However, despite being occasionally a bit nonsensical, you do come to understand that this version of the Reborn universe is one that Franklin has specifically populated with those he'll need to help him and I genuinely liked the twist about the new version of Hawkeye; calling back to a similar element in 'House of M' itself.
The elephant in the room, however, has to be Rob Liefeld's artwork. He's something of a running joke among comics fans and, it has to be said, most of his worst art characteristics are on display here; with his weird take on human anatomy being most prominent (Thor's face is about four faces wide, for example). I also want to draw attention to just how horrible the Reborn design of Iron Man is. Just awful. All that said, it's not all bad though and I think Liefeld's habit of too many spikes and oversized anatomy actually worked really well in his depiction of Onslaught himself.
Overall, this isn't terrible but it is fairly pointless.
3 out of 5
(Art by Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund)
Over the years there have been several incarnations of Supergirl, making the character's backstory very complicated. Eventually, however, DC have reintroduced the character in the way she was originally intended; as another survivor of Krypton and Superman's cousin. However, this new Supergirl is incredibly powerful (perhaps more so than Superman) and has a very dark side to her.
In this graphic novel Supergirl tries to find her place on Earth by spending time with various super-teams, whilst trying to escape the stifling protection of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Among the others she encounters, and trades blows with in most cases, are the Justice Society, the Teen Titans, the Outsiders and the Justice League. However, it is an encounter with her cousin's arch nemesis, Lex Luthor, that leads to her dark emotions being released as an autonomous 'evil twin'.
I have to admit, I didn't go looking for this book as I don't like Superman much, let alone his girly cousin. I was pleasantly surprised, however, that this is basically the story of a teenage girl who, like most teenagers, is desperately trying to figure out who she is. The darkness which is revealed in Supergirl's character is great, particularly the scene where she turns her frustrated rage against Wonder Girl (she's got the glowing red eyes and all). Heroes battling evil copies of themselves isn't a new concept but it's done very well here as the fighting is brutal and emotional and Supergirl is gripped by the fear that the evil twin may be her true self.
One thing I liked about the art in this book is that Supergirl's breasts are relatively small. Now, that might seem like an odd thing to make a note of, but I thought it was quite telling that, rather than making her the usual big-chested heroine who is sold on sex appeal, it seems that the focus with Supergirl is going to be on her character, which is a strong contrast with her big-breasted cleavage-flashing doppelganger Power Girl.
So be it snogging Nightwing (and Poison Ivy, for that matter), dislocating Superboy's jaw or getting beaten half to death by Lex Luthor, I was suprised to find that I really enjoyed the adventures of this new Supergirl.
4 out of 5
Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates - Thor Reborn
(Art by Frank Cho)
The first book of the New Ultimates series set in the aftermath of 'Ultimatum'. Despite a certain amount of disillusionment among its members, Tony Stark reforms the Ultimates and they soon have to go into action against a group of wannabe heroes calling themselves the Defenders. However, a far greater threat emerges when Loki and Enchantress unleash an army of trolls in New York.
This book has a lot of colourful superheroes and supervillains battling across New York and also features Thor's return from Valhalla to confront his trickster brother. Strangely, despite all of that, I found the whole thing pretty boring. There's really nothing particularly new or interesting here and even the various characters involved all feel flat and muted.
I can't place exactly why this book failed to grab my interest (perhaps it's that the Ultimate Universe is inherently less interesting to me) but I can't help but feel that a book involving heroes making love, heroes dying and one of Marvel's greatest heroes making a dramatic return should have engaged me more than this did.
All that said, seeing Ka-Zar, Black Panther and two sabretooth tigers fight the troll army was pretty cool.
2 out of 5