Comic Book Review – Batman: Three Jokers

Batman: Three Jokers (2020)
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Jason Fabok

In 2015, in the pages of Justice League #50, Batman used the Mobius Chair, a device of great cosmic power, to ask who the Joker really is. He suddenly appears shocked at the answer. That same day, in the pages of DC Rebirth #1, we follow up and find Batman contemplating that he now knows the Joker is three different people. For five years, that plot beat remained unresolved. Promises were made that a mini-series was forthcoming that would address this shocking revelation, but it took until this year for readers to finally get access to Batman: Three Jokers. There was a lot of hype leading into this story arc and many questions about how much continuity would be changed by the answers revealed inside.

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Comic Book Review – Batman: White Knight

Batman: White Knight (2018)
Written & Illustrated by Sean Murphy

batman white knight 01

After years of constant battle through the streets of Gotham City, Batman has finally come to a terminal point with The Joker. In front of television cameras, the Gotham PD, and his own sidekicks the Dark Knight attempts to kill his archenemy. It fails, and due to overdosing on a strange psychotropic chemical The Joker is unmade, returning to his civilian identity of Jack Napier. This leads to his desire to make right by fighting for the underclass in Gotham. Batman doesn’t believe this reform for a second and sets out to prove the Joker has never changed. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon, Nightwing, Batgirl, and others are starting to listen and find Napier has a lot of value to say about what Batman has done to their city.

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Page to Screen: Batman – Under the Red Hood

In Page to Screen I look at comic books adapted to film.



Batman – Under the Red Hood (2010, dir. Brandon Vietti)
Adapted from Batman: A Death in the Family by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo, Batman: Under the Hood by Judd Winick and Doug Mahnke
Starring Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, John Dimaggio

I’m never one to be against resurrecting comic book characters. It does happen way too often now for the impact of it to amount to much, but if done well it can make for some brilliantly interesting development for the characters affected by the return. In 1988, through a rather callous and cynical phone-in vote, the fans voted for the second Robin aka Jason Todd to be killed off in the current story arc of Batman. Todd was a polarizing character, who started out simply as a blank slate replacement for Dick Grayson. As time went on, Todd was revamped into a counter to Grayson, a rebellious teen who didn’t listen to the advice of Batman. It was a much more interesting take on the Robin character than Grayson had ever been, frankly. But the fans at the time seemed to balk at this brazen rebellion towards the Dark Knight and got young Jason beaten to death by The Joker. Fifteen years later, a new criminal figure appeared in Gotham, calling himself The Red Hood, a blatant reference to the costumed identity the man who would become The Joker wore on the night of his transformation. As Batman investigated further, he would learn The Red Hood was tied to what he saw as his greatest failure.

This latest from DC Comics high end animated film department takes the very end of the Death in the Family story and merges it with a “greatest hits” compilation from Winick’s run on Batman. I was surprised that some more esoteric elements were included, particularly, Batman and Nightwing’s battle with the super android Amazo. In the original comics, that story was tied to both The Red Hood and plot development for Infinite Crisis, the big event at the time. Winick, who handles scripting duties here as well, reworks the moment as a part of the more condensed plot of the film. He also takes his epically long struggle between Red Hood and Black Mask and turns into a much more satisfying and shorter story. Despite the film’s length of 75 minutes, it feels like we got at least a treatment for what could be a longer live action film story.

This is the first true solo Batman comic story since the animated series ended. In a lot of ways, it could be shoehorned into The Animated Series continuity; in TAS we eventually got Tim Drake as Robin and Grayson as Nightwing. It could be said this story takes place in between the Fox version of TAS and the WB follow up, a sort of untold tale of the lost Robin. The voice acting is very well done and Bruce Greenwood sounds so much like Kevin Conroy (Batman in TAS) I thought for a second it was him. Neil Patrick Harris does an excellent job providing comic relief in the first half as Nightwing, but it was disappointing that the character sort of vanishes from the story. John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama) tackles The Joker and reminded me how strange it is to not hear Mark Hamill’s voice coming out of the animated villain. He’s good, its just a different style and laugh than I suspect myself and my peers are used to. Jensen Ackles rounds out the cast as Red Hood and does a decent job.

What I saw here was how two stories that are important to the canon, but have always felt poorly executed, can be retold in a way that shows its all about the craftsmen behind the scenes. I’ve been surprised by Judd Winick twice in the last week, first by the latest Justice League: Generation Lost issue and now this. I suspect when he is made to really collaborate with others we see the weaknesses in his storytelling diminish. Instead of these stories coming off a cynical and mean, which they do on paper, a lot of redemptive qualities are brought to the front in the animated film. Where Batman and the other characters are left at the end of the story is a very interesting place and serves as a reminder as to what separates Batman from the gun-toting vigilantes that followed in his footsteps. It’s also nice to see a Batman affected by mistakes, something we rarely get in any medium he shows up in. To see Batman as a vulnerable and human figure, a father wracked with guilt, provides an incredibly deeper picture of the character.

Comics 101: Robin I/Nightwing/Batman II

This is the Robin you know if you came of age in the 1960s, watching the Batman television series. He’s Dick Grayson, one third of The Flying Graysons, part of Haley’s Circus. The circus came to Gotham City, where gangster Tony Zucco pressured the ringmaster to hand over protection money. The ringmaster refused and during that night’s performance the trapeze was cut, causing Dick’s parents to fall to their deaths. Bruce Wayne is in the audience that night, and sees himself in the emotionally scarred boy. Over the next few weeks, Dick is adopted by Bruce Wayne and comes to live in Wayne Manor. Dick goes exploring the mansion one day, and discovers the Batcave. Bruce reveals his double life and tells Dick that, if he wishes to use his anger about his parents’ deaths for good, he will train him. Fashioning a costume based on his family’s circus outfits, Dick becomes Robin, a beacon of light to counterpoint the darkness of Batman. A superhero good cop/bad cop sort of.

After a couple years working exclusively with Batman in Gotham, Dick ended up fighting a villain with other teenaged sidekicks. The result of this meeting was the formation of the Teen Titans, a sort of junior Justice League. Dick began devoting more and more time to the Titans while also attending college outside of Gotham. He frequently returned to help Batman on various cases and team-up with love interest Batgirl. Things change when, during a battle with The Joker, Dick is shot and rushed to the E.R. Once out of critical condition, Batman tells him he can’t put his adopted son in danger anymore. Dick is furious and parts ways with Batman on bad terms. He devotes himself fully to running the Teen Titans and the team receives some new members around this time, in particular Starfire, an alien princess whom Dick develops a relationship with. He eventually takes a leave of absence from the crime fighting game, discarding the Robin identity and looking to discover himself.

Dick spends some time in Metropolis with his other childhood mentor, Superman. Superman tells him the story of an ancient Kryptonian cast out of his family and wanted to help the helpless. He adopted a masked identity called Nightwing. Dick is inspired by this story and returns to his friends in the Teen Titans. He finds his teammates have been captured by their enemy Deathstroke the Terminator, and Dick dons the Nightwing costume for the first time. Dick eventually meets his replacement, Jason Todd the second Robin. He is angry at Batman for picking a new Robin and, when Jason is murdered by The Joker, unloads on Batman claiming he is responsible for the boy’s death. Dick and Starfire’s relationship becomes very serious, they get engaged and are on the eve of their wedding when the demon Trigon attacks and ruins the occasion. Doubts about their feelings for each other arise, and Starfire leaves the Earth. Around this time, Batman has his back broken by the juiced up Bane and is replaced by the anti-hero Azreal. Dick and Azreal clash, and after the latter drops the Batman identity, Dick takes it up for a short while as Batman heals.

Free of the Teen Titans and his Gotham City ties, Dick moves to Bludhaven, a neighboring city to Gotham with an even worse crime rate. Dick works as a bartender and eventually a police officer in Bludhaven, while battling the local kingpin Blockbuster. He’s eventually reunited with his now grown adult Teen Titans teammates who form simply The Titans. Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl, also comes back into Dick’s life and their romance is rekindled. At one point, when the Justice League are lost in ancient Atlantis, Dick takes the reigns of leadership for the team in the present. This leads into his leadership role of The Outsiders, a team originally organized by Batman. Alongside former Titan teammate Arsenal, Dick becomes more and more like Batman, keeping an emotional distance between he and his teammates. Dick’s ongoing battle with Blockbuster comes to end when he lets vigilante Tarantula shoot the villain. During this time, the death of Donna Troy (formerly Wonder Girl) has shaken Dick up and he is making very poor judgment calls.

This chapter in Dick’s life comes to a close during a major global crisis. The Secret Society of Super-Villains drops the living chemical bomb Chemo on Bludhaven, effectively destroying the city and killing its entire population. Dick front and center when the villainous Alexander Luthor and Superboy-Prime (twisted alternate reality versions of their namesakes) seek to destroy and recreate the multiverse. In the wake of this battle, Dick travels the globe with Batman and then current Robin, Tim Drake, as they bond as father and sons. Once back in the States, Dick remains with the Outsiders for a short time, then devotes himself fully to the Titans. Everything changes with the death of Batman. Dick returns to Gotham and takes up his adoptive father’s mantle, taking his “brother” Damien Wayne under his wing as the new Robin. Now, Dick Grayson honors the name of his fallen father, defending Gotham City from evil as the all-new Batman!

Review: Batman #701 and Batman and Robin #13

Batman #701 and Batman and Robin #13
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Tony Daniel (Batman), Frazier Irving (Batman and Robin)

For those of you not keeping up with Batman currently, here’s the score: Over a year ago, Batman was driven to madness by a group called The Black Glove, led by the mysterious Doctor Hurt. Hurt claimed to Batman’s believed dead father, and buzz swept through Gotham that Thomas Wayne never died and had paid the gunman to kill his wife. Batman regained his senses after being put through a psychological gauntlet and both he and Hurt plunged into the bay surrounding Gotham while onboard a helicopter. Batman emerged from the water and Hurt disappeared. Some time later, Bats got involved with Final Crisis, one of those big cross company events where all the heroes show up. He sacrificed himself to stop the mini-series’ villain and the first Robin, Dick Grayson is now wearing the mantle of the Bat. Batman #701 features the first of two parts of writer Grant Morrison filling in the gaps between Batman’s battle with Doctor Hurt and his death in Final Crisis. In Batman and Robin #13, Morrison is setting up the inevitable return of Bruce Wayne with Doctor Hurt attacking the new Batman.

Grant Morrison is my favorite comic book writer and also the one who frustrates me to no end on everything he writes. Morrison goes against the current trend in comics writing which is decompression (i.e. stretching out an event with endless scenes of the heroes gathered together discussing what they are going to and what has just happened). While tells multi-part stories, they feel jam packed with things happening. It may not be traditional action, but you will have a handful of concepts and ideas thrown at you in a single issue that keep you thinking for a whole month till the next handful. And, when I first heard he was signed to write the core Batman title back in 2006, I was a little worried. Morrison’s focus had always been on established heroes or original ideas that contained a hint of the cosmic, and Batman never really seemed to be one of those titles.

But he has pulled off in a spectacular way, referencing some of the reviled “science fiction” Batman stories from the 1950s and incorporating them into the modern interpretation beautifully. He’s also managed to tweak the Joker in a way that has really injected that character with life. What Morrison up to is a reinventing of the character, in the same way that Batman was reinvented in 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The 1970s brought us the Dark Knight concept which has remained the way most writers have tackled the character until Morrison. His story this in this month’s Batman is interesting and definitely written as a “fill in the gaps” type arc. Batman comes to the surface of the bay, makes his way back the manor, eventually returns to find Hurt’s body is now missing, then gets brought into the events of Final Crisis. All along the way, he’s fixated on Doctor Hurt’s last words, that the next time Batman wears the cape and cowl it will be his last. Throughout the issue he goes unmasked, with that prophecy looming in his mind. And this first part ends with him putting it on for what we the readers know is the case he dies on.

In Batman and Robin, we’re giving a series of enigmatic panels showing the murder of the Waynes, then a panel where Thomas stands over the bodies of Martha and Bruce. Then Doctor Hurt wearing a Bat costume that Thomas Wayne once wore for Halloween, and would inspire Bruce as an adult. This jumps to three days in the future, where Hurt has Batman (Dick Grayson) and Robin (Bruce’s illegitimate son Damien Wayne) being held captive. He tells Dick that this new Batman could never beat a Wayne and shoots him point blank in the back of the head. Then we jump back three days to where the core story is told. Batman and Robin are interrogating the Joker, who has turned up disguised as a famous British crime author to help bring the original Batman back from the dead. Batman is called away and core of the issue deals with Damien Wayne revealing his true brutal colors by sneaking a crowbar in to beat the Joker to death. Batman and Commissioner Gordon investigate crimes related to the original Batman’s death and it appears that Doctor Hurt is back from the dead.

Both issues set up some intriguing hooks, though Batman and Robin for me has been flawless its entire first year. Every issue builds on the next and its just one of those I have to read as soon as it comes out. Art wise, Batman and Robin is also the stronger of the two. Frazier Irving has come onboard as the new artist and he’s do something amazing things using shadows and has such a clean European style of drawing. Tony Daniel is much more from the Image Comics school of drawing, that early 90s Marvel influenced work that has never cut for me, even as a kid. Morrison’s work has been excellent on the Batman books and these are strong evidence that it is going to continue.