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Batman: A Lonely Place Of Dying

by Marv Wolfman & George Perez

(Art by George Perez, Jim Aparo, Tom Grummett, Mike DeCarlo and Bob McLeod)

In the wake of the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd, Batman has become dangerously reckless.  A boy named Tim Drake, seeing the symbol of the Dark Knight at risk, seeks out Nightwing to try to pull Batman back from the brink of self-destruction.

I've always found that the most interesting Batman stories are ones in which he begins to spiral into the psychological darkness that has always hovered on the edge of his psyche and I've also always enjoyed ones in which the extended Bat-family prove themselves to be Batman's most essential invention.  This book does both of these things and does them both very well.  Here we see a Batman who's abandoned detective work in favour of busting down doors and beating up perps, but who is then reminded of his true self not only by Nightwing but by a young man who idolises the very idea of Batman and Robin.  I don't think it's a spoiler (after 30 years) to say that this very young man then goes on to become my favourite iteration of Robin (although I did have a soft spot for Stephanie Brown too...).

As well as all of the Batman-focused character stuff, there's also a nice exploration of one of Batman's oldest enemies.  I won't spoil who it is, but we get to see them struggling with the psychotic compulsion to commit crimes in a themed way; a nice blending of the style of the Golden and Silver Age comics and the deconstruction ethos of 1980s comic books.  It doesn't hurt that part of the psychosis featured also turns out to be triggered by another of Batman's old foes.

Overall this book surprised me with just how much I enjoyed it.

4 out of 5

 

Batman: Knightfall Part One - Broken Bat

by Doug Moench & Chuck Dixon

(Art by Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, Jim Balent, Scott Hanna, Tom Mandrake, Bob Wiacek, Joe Rubinstein and Dick Giordano)

The first part of what is probably the most important Batman storyline of the 1990s.  The killer known as Bane causes a mass-breakout from Arkham Asylum, unleashing chaos upon Gotham.  Batman, already not at his best, is then forced into a series of punishing encounters with some of his most dangerous enemies, weakening more and more with each battle. 

This book's best element is the way in which it really nicely conveys Batman's ever-increasing exhaustion, allowing the reader to feel not only his physical weakness, but also the mental fatigue that each villain inflicts on him.  There's also an important subplot in which Robin desperately tries to take up the slack as Batman's stamina begins to fail. 

Also in this book's favour is it's stunning climax which I won't spoil for you, but suffice to say that it contains one of the most shocking scenes of Batman's career.  If nothing else, you can't go wrong with a Bat-story whose antagonists include the likes of the Joker, the Riddler, Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy and the delightfully sinister Victor Zsasz.

4 out of 5

 

Batman: Officer Down

by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Chuck Dixon, Bronwyn Carlton, Devin Grayson & Nunzio DeFilippis

(Art by Rick Burchett, Jacob & Arnold Pander, R. Steven Harris, Mike Lilly, Mike Collins, Rodney Ramos, John Nyberg, Wayne Faucher, Jesse Delperdang and Steve Bird)

When Commissioner Gordon is shot and critically wounded, the GCPD and Gotham's masked vigilantes all set out to track down and punish the one responsible.  Batman, however, finds himself crippled by guilt and anger, pushing away even his closest friends in his grief.

What I liked about this Batman story is, perversely, that it is very light on the Batman.  Whilst the Dark Knight wallows in his own fear and misery over the shooting of one of his oldest friends, it falls upon the so-called Bat-family and the detectives who served under Jim Gordon to solve the crime.  It's a nice exploration of how Batman's apprentices, particularly Nightwing and Oracle, have largely outgrown their mentor, whilst simultaneously showing us that Gotham's police aren't incompetent and corrupt as they were before Gordon took over, when Batman was first starting out.  In many ways it shows us that perhaps Gotham no-longer needs Commissioner Gordon and Batman.

For all that I liked the territory and themes it explored, I have to say that the quality of the artwork on offer here is far from consistant.  Being made up of issues from half a dozen different ongoing series, it's a real mishmash of styles and some of it (the Pander brothers, in particular) is just not that good.

4 out of 5

 

Batman: War Crimes

by Andersen Gabrych, Devin Grayson, Bill Willingham, Bruce Jones & Will Pfeifer

(Art by Guiseppe Camuncoli, Pete Woods, Eddy Barrows, Ron Randall, Thomas Derenick, Bit, Sandra Hope, Jay Leisten and Ray Snyder)

A year on from the events of the War Games saga and new evidence comes to light suggesting that Stephanie Brown (AKA Spoiler and Robin) was deliberately allowed to die from her injuries. 

Nightwing has disappeared, Robin and Batgirl have moved to Bludhaven, Oracle has gone into hiding and Batman finds himself alone once more.  Worse, someone is framing him for Stephanie's murder and the media are having a field day.  Batman has to work through the plots of the Black Mask and deal with the return of the Joker in order to uncover the person truly responsible for his protege's death. 

Here we get to see Batman as his traditional detective self, but we also see him cutting loose.  Freed from the responsibility of looking after the Bat-clan, he truly takes the fight to the criminals once more.  Ultimately, the identity of Stephanie's killer adds a great deal of depth and subtlety to her already tragic story.

4 out of 5

 

Batman: War Drums

by Andersen Gabrych & Bill Willingham

(Art by Pete Woods, Damion Scott, Brad Walker, Cam Smith, Troy Nixey and Robert Campanella)

This book charts the slow but steady destabilisation of Gotham City in the build up to the epic 'War Games' event storyline.  Batman aids Orpheus and Onyx in their attempts to gain control of gangland Gotham, in order to bring some degree of order to the area known as the hill.  There's also plenty of action as Batman fights alongside characters such as Batgirl and the Tarantula. 

Ultimately, however, this book's best element is the selection and training of the fourth Robin, a girl named Stephanie Brown.  I really enjoyed the dynamic between her and Batman, as well as her amusing War Journal entries.  In fact, it's a shame that her career as Robin ends so quickly, because I liked her far more than I've ever liked the Boys Wonder (or should that be 'Boy Wonders'?). 

So, a good read that'll ease those who don't read much Batman (like me) into the 'War Games' plotline.

Followed by 'War Games Act One: Outbreak'.

4 out of 5

 

Batman: War Games Act One - Outbreak

by Ed Brubaker, Andersen Gabrych, Devin Grayson, Dylan Horrocks, A. J. Lieberman & Bill Willingham

(Art by Ramon Bachs, Al Barrionuevo, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Paul Gulacy, Kinsun, Mike Lilly, Sean Phillips, Brad Walker, Pete Woods, Raul Fernandez, Nathan Massengill, Troy Nixey, Andy Owens, Jimmy Palmiotti, Francis Portella, Rodney Ramos, Lorenzo Ruggiero and Aaron Sowd)

In an attempt to impress Batman, Stephanie Brown (AKA Spoiler and, for a time, Robin) puts one of the Dark Knight's war game scenarios, intended to bring organised crime to heel, into effect.  However, Spoiler's incomplete understanding sends the plan out of control and many of Gotham's criminal leaders are killed. 

As gang warfare errupts across the city Batman, Batgirl, Nightwing, Catwoman, Orpheus, Onyx and Tarantula desperately attempt to bring Gotham back from the edge of chaos.  This is probably the best 'epic storyline' that I've seen in comics, made all the better for the tragedy of Spoiler's mistake.  Gotham truly becomes a city of nightmares as all the simmering violence beneath it's surface breaks loose.  This first stage of the story ends with a shooting in a school for which Batman, finally exposed to the media, is blamed.

Followed by 'War Games Act Two: Tides'.

5 out of 5

 

Batman: War Games Act Three - Endgame

by Ed Brubaker, Andersen Gabrych, Devin Grayson, Dylan Horrocks, A. J. Lieberman & Bill Willingham

(Art by Al Barrionuevo, Thomas Derenick, Paul Gulacy, Mike Huddleston, Kinsun, Sean Phillips, Brad Walker, Pete Woods, Robert Campanella, Adam Dekraker, Jesse Delperdang, Troy Nixey, Jimmy Palmiotti, Francis Portella, Rodney Ramos, Cam Smith and Aaron Sowd)

With relations between Batman and the Gotham police strained, the Dark Knight attempts to complete the sequence of the wargame which he created and which sparked gang warfare across the city.  However, once more the plan goes horribly awry due to actions of Black Mask, disguised as Batman's agent Orpheus.  Soon Batman and his allies find themselves facing an army of criminals as well as the new shoot-on-sight policy of the police. 

Once more, it is the tragedy of Spoiler's story that provides the real emotional core to the book.  Here she finally comes to understand that crimefighting isn't a game and, being a Batman story, you can bet that it doesn't have a happy ending. 

A great book in every way, the icing on the cake is seeing Robin, Batgirl, Catwoman, Tarantula and Onyx team up to take on Scarecrow.

Followed by 'War Crimes'.

5 out of 5

 

Batman: War Games Act Two - Tides

by Ed Brubaker, Andersen Gabrych, Devin Grayson, Dylan Horrocks, A. J. Lieberman & Bill Willingham

(Art by Ramon Bachs, Al Barrionuevo, Paul Gulacy, Mike Huddleston, Kinsun, Mike Lilly, Jon Proctor, Brad Walker, Robert Campanella, Jesse Delperdang, Troy Nixey, Andy Owens, Jimmy Palmiotti, Francis Portella, Rodney Ramos, Aaron Sowd and Cam Smith)

Gotham is torn apart by gang warfare as the city's criminal elements seek revenge for the events of the previous book and carve out new territories.  Batman, Nightwing, Batgirl, Catwoman, Orpheus, Onyx and Tarantula all find themselves in the front lines of the battle to save the innocent bystanders. 

The story here, like the last one, is all good, but there are three elements which I really enjoyed.  The first is Tim Drake's agonising decision to disobey his father's wishes and return to crimefighting as Robin.  The second is Spoiler's desperate attempts to salvage the mess she caused, but which ultimately leads her into captivity and torture by the Black Mask.  Thirdly, and most interestingly, is Batman's decision to attempt a takeover of the Gotham Police Department, believing (somewhat delusionally) that he alone can save the city. 

I've not been into comics (other than Star Wars ones, of course) for a long time, but I made an excellent decision in picking up the five books of this story arc.

Followed by 'War Games Act Three: Endgame'

5 out of 5

 

Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgement On Gotham

by Alan Grant & John Wagner

(Art by Simon Bisley)

Whilst Judge Death is set loose in Gotham and forms an unholy alliance with the Scarecrow, Batman finds himself transported to Mega-City One, where he runs afoul of Judge Dredd.  (NOTE: This story is also part of the collection 'The Batman/Judge Dredd Files', reviewed here).

Batman and Dredd are two of my all-time favourite comic book characters and their respective narrative tones compliment each other very well.  That said, thanks to 2000AD legends Grant and Wagner, the overriding tone here is that of Dredd's world.  There's a grimness to the violence and horror, whilst also maintaining a certain dark humour too.  In fact, my favourite scene in the whole book is a perfect example; wherein Judge Death murders Scarecrow's henchman but is then subjected to fear gas which reveals his darkest fear to be cuddly, Disney-esque cartoon animals.

Don't get me wrong, this book is very short (you'd definitely be better off finding the collection mentioned above) but what there is of it is great fun to read.  On top of that, Simon Bisley's artwork is always an absolute feast for the eyes.

4 out of 5

 

Belgarath The Sorcerer

by David & Leigh Eddings

One of the finest fantasy books I've ever read (and I have Berry Bloomberg, the oaf, to thank for recommending it!).  The story is the sort of epic historical sweep that you see in books like Tolkien's 'The Silmarillion' but with the emotional hook of an immortal character who witnesses the history like Anne Rice's vampires. 

Fans of The Belgariad and The Mallorean, as well as first-time readers will enjoy the tale, which leads from Belgarath's training under the god Aldur, through the first war against Torak, into the quest for the Orb and the founding of the Alorn kingdoms and onwards through the wars of Arendia and the beginnings of the storyline featured in The Belgariad. 

Amongst this epic historical sweep there are several stories told in-depth to keep the narative thrilling, my favourites being Belgarath and the Alorn's reclaiming the Orb from Torak and the Battle of Vo Mimbre.  The supporting characters are excellent, everyone from the Alorns to the Arendish nobles, with the other disciples of Aldur being worth a special mention for the unique relationships they each have with Belgarath. 

And that brings me to the man himself; Belgarath is what truly makes this book great.  He is an instantly likeable character with a dry sense of humour, a quick mind and the sort of vices (boozing and debauchery) that make him incredibly human despite his immortality and powers.  The tension between him and Polgara also adds another level to his character as he struggles to be a parent to a girl who cannot stand him. 

Brilliant in every way, I'd recommend this book even to people have never before nor will again read any Eddings.

5 out of 5

 

Bored Of The Rings

by Henry N. Beard & Douglas C. Kenney

Tolkien purists beware!  This book makes a mockery of LotR's most serious themes and scenes, as well as ridiculing many of Tolkien's conceits. 

For the most part, the humour is of the toilet variety and, therefore, neither big nor clever.  Then there are the irritating changes of Tolkien's place/character names into American product names like Frito and Spam.  Generally speaking, this book is rather purile and unfunny. 

However!  Do not despair, because here there are also some insightful moments of comic genius that will undoubtably have you laughing out loud.  Moments like when the Ringwraiths are stopped not by a flooding elven river, but instead by an expensive elven toll bridge!  Also, some of the reworkings of LotR's characters are very funny, such as Arrowroot (Aragorn) being a complete coward and Goodgulf (Gandalf, obviously) who proves his great power by pulling rabbits out of his big blue hat and answers any insightful question about the quest with a heartfelt "Alas!". 

If you want a deeply witty and satirical experience from beginning to end, look elsewhere.  If you want a childish but periodically hilarious bit of light reading then, by all means, take a trip to the Zazu pits of Fordor!

4 out of 5