Thursday, July 31, 2008

Books: Bargain Batman comics

"The Dark Knight" is kicking butt at the box office (and deservedly so), but I've always thought comic book characters were more at home in panels and pages than on the silver screen. While browsing the 50% off rack at my local comics shop, I picked up a few new Batman stories, some I enjoyed, some I didn't. Check them out:

Year One - Batman/Scarecrow

Not to be confused with Frank Miller's "Batman: Year One," this is a two-parter written by Bruce Jones and drawn by Sean Murphy that puts the spotlight on Batman's first encounter with the Scarecrow. The artwork and writing have the same glib, witty tone as the Batman animated series, and it's a fun comic to read. The comic provides the best origin for the Scarecrow that I've ever seen; it makes Jonathan Crane more sympathetic and more cold-blooded simultaneously.

Batman: The Order of Beasts

Eddie Campbell is best known for "From Hell," but he takes a stab at at 1939-era Batman in this entry in the "Elseworlds" alternate continuity series. A rookie Batman is on holiday in London when a series of bizarre murders tests his sleuthing skills. The plot isn't terribly interesting, but I enjoy Campbell's low-key version of the Dark Knight. In this story, Batman is less of a face-puncher and more of a detective, and the artwork charmingly reinforces this more genteel version.

Batman: Harvest Breed

"Harvest Breed" is a story that's not particularly Batman, and thus not particularly successful. A grisly series of murders has occult underpinnings, and it's up to the Caped Crusader to stop all hell from breaking loose. The whole thing feels like a mishmash of Max Payne-style comic ultranoir (replacing Norse mythology with macumba), and none of Batman's enormous rogues' gallery makes an appearance. The artwork, though stylish at times, obscures the action, and the focus here is on atmosphere and mystery.

Batman: Crimson Mist

This last one I only include to highlight what I think of as iffy writing, especially for a Batman collection. "Crimson Mist" is the third part of another "Elseworlds" series that imagines what would happen if Batman ran into another creature of the night with a famous cape - Dracula. In this portion of the trilogy, Batman (now a vampire) is seemingly out of control, and has begun killing his opponents. There are lots of feeding scenes here that show Batman mucnhing on Poison Ivy, the Penguin, etc. (sorta akin to Marvel Zombies), but the hammy dialogue spoils it. If you didn't like "30 Days of Night," you won't like Batman's internal vampiric thoughts- I can only read about the thirst for blood and the long weight of centuries for so long before I want to read something else.


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