SDCC 2016 ‘Batman The Killing Joke’: One. Bad. Day.

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

So DC and Warner Bros. have finally brought what is arguably the most infamous Batman and Joker story of all time to the screen, in cartoon movie format, no less. And San Diego Comic-Con, being the smart cookies they are, brought a showing of the film to this year’s Con and what is likely the most difficult audience to please, the fan-atics, so let’s get into this!

The Madness of Spoilers lies ahead!

Now, I know back-story has to be established from the outset and that’s more or less fine, but they sure portrayed Batgirl as whiny, at least for the entire first act. Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong) is Batgirl and has been trailing Batman for approximately three years or so when our story begins. Sure, she kicks plenty of butt on her own, but she’s still in need of approval from the Caped Crusader, especially when she finds herself involved with mobster Paris Franz (Maury Sterling). Somehow, this mesmerizing moron manages to completely bump Batgirl off her game, sending her off on scavenger hunts alone and causing rifts between her and Batman (Kevin Conroy) when she realizes, duh, she can’t take on a simple one-man mouthpiece because he’s managed to get inside her head. Forgive me, but, that just didn’t sound like any Batgirl I knew.

And it just gets odder, because it turns out the tension between Batgirl and Batman had very little to do with an idiotic gangster, or their working-behind-masks relationship issues. No, it’s sexual tension, and after a good old-fashioned scream-fight on a rooftop, Batgirl and Batman get naked and bump bat-uglies. (No, the movie doesn’t show it, but you can clearly tell when Batgirl is perched atop Batman and takes her top off, what they’re doing.)

Inevitably, soon after that, Paris Franz gets dealt with and Barbara decides to go back to being boring librarian Barbara and hang up her cowl for good. That is the entirety of the first act and mildly more than half the movie itself, and a rather unfair go at Batgirl in general, in my opinion. True, the extended Bat family always has growing pains (just look at pretty much all the Robins), but somehow, I thought better of Batgirl than that. Barbara Gordon is supposed to be stronger and, let’s face it, more mature than this representation being offered to us. I suppose the idea is to give background to the relationship between her and Bruce, and while the girlfriend troubles being discussed with the cutie-pie gay librarian friend are fun and all, this whole thing is barely touched on when we get to the better half of the movie.

And here we are! It’s later and, once again, Joker (Mark Hamil) has gleefully skipped Arkham and Bats is on the hunt for him. Joker importantly goes to take over this old amusement park, to prepare it for the upcoming massive performance, but hey, first he needs performers! This means a surprise visit to the Gordon household and next thing you know, Babs has taken a bullet to the gut and the Commissioner has been dad-napped for some good old-fashioned torture!

Meanwhile, while all this is going on, we get treated to, let’s all just admit it, what we’re really here for, the Joker background story. In sepia tones, a young, struggling, never-named comedian tries valiantly to make money to get his very-pregnant wife out of a very bad neighborhood. He worked at a boring chemical plant before trying to make it as a comedian and that isn’t working out too well, either, so our unnamed man decides to try for one big score with some mobsters. They want his help breaking into the old chemical plant so they can get into the card business next door, but hey, there’s a catch: They also want him to wear the notorious Red Hood while he does it.

The movie kind of fails to let the audience know that Bats has been chasing the Red Hood and his crime gang for awhile now, so our unnamed man never really stood a damned chance anyway. But even before he can think about donning a scarlet helmet, news comes back that his poor pregnant wife has met a very tragic end, and with nothing to lose, Nameless decides to do the mob job any-damn-way! Rather like the very first Tim Burton Batman film, you can guess what happened next.

Meanwhile, in the present, Joker as we know him has stripped Gordon naked, dog-collared the poor man, and forced him on a nightmare carnival ride of madness involving naked photographs of his beloved daughter, bleeding and dying from a gut-shot wound. Trying very hard to prove his point, Joker far-too-cheerfully spouts his peculiar brand of madness and explains that anyone could become him, anyone at all, with the now-infamous line, “All it takes to become me is one. Bad. Day.”

This is meant to tie in with the whole Batman and Joker being the light and dark sides of each other, and really, who is to say which is which on that one bad day? Batman gave a heartfelt plea to not do this thing, whatever it is Joker’s planning next, that will likely lead to the death of one or both of them, when he went to see false Joker in Arkham Asylum. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now when we have the final showdown between the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime. Or is it? Batman gives a final, entirely heartfelt plea to let him help Joker, once and for all; it truly doesn’t have to end this way. And, for once in his insane little world, Joker answers him deadpan serious: It’s too late for that. It all comes down to this, the final Killing Joke, where Joker cracks a bad funny and after a heartbeat Batman actually lets out a guffaw right along with him.

And that, dear fans and friends and odds and ends, is the end. Except, of course, the inevitable easter egg after some credits, that is.

The style of animation is Spartan and very similar to the old ’90s Batman cartoon show, where Hamil first began voicing the Joker, and that is in no way a bad thing. Joker being the obvious exception, the show took extra care with his facial expression and drawings because, hey, he needs it for this story especially. Famed DC contributor Bruce Timm, who produced The Killing Joke, stated there would be a 15-minute prologue that would further set up the story, as the one-shot original graphic novel from 1988 simply wasn’t long enough for an entire animated movie; so perhaps therein lies the explanation for the whole Batgirl scenario. It’s actually a fairly good sendoff for a very well-known Batman story, and love it or hate it, every single Batman fan out there will want to see it at least once.

Batman The Killing Joke was released digitally on July 26, 2016, and will enjoy a DVD and Blu-ray release on August 2, 2016!

https://youtu.be/DDj4zGFf4F8

The ABCs of Horror: G is for Neil Gaiman

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Neil Gaiman is a man of many talents, but he’s arguably most well-known for his writings, which have been made into many different forms of entertainment media – comic books, graphic novels, films, television shows, and even video games!

My personal favorites will always be Gaiman’s novels, so that is where will we start. In 1990, Gaiman partnered with the legendary and now-lost Terry Pratchett, to create the end of the world comedy story called Good Omens. I read the story and while it is quite good, for me that simply cannot compare to what came next from Gaiman, an amazing look at the hidden underground life of London, Neverwhere.

The story follows Richard Mayhew, a completely normal Londoner who finds himself embroiled in the underground world of faeries, vampires, monsters, and angels, after he saves a bleeding girl on the street. Neverwhere was incredibly popular and was even made into a BBC television miniseries, starring the astounding Peter Capaldi as the Angel Islington. One of my favorite things to do in October is still binge-watching the whole Neverwhere series, which is laid out nearly exactly like the book, down to the dialogue in some cases.

Next was Stardust, yet another novel that was later made into a large-budget film, again about the hidden world of the faeries, kingdoms of ghosts, witches and fallen stars, and plans to take over the world! The movie does star he would go on to become Daredevil in what is arguably Marvel’s best show to date, Charlie Cox as main character Tristan, plus Henry Cavill, Michelle Pfieffer, Claire Danes and even a cameo from Robert De Niro, but that’s for the films section.

Then, in 2001, Gaiman came out with what I still consider to be his magnum opus (as far as novels go), a far-reaching and thought-provoking story of an impending war between the Old Gods and the New, called American Gods. I absolutely loved American Gods, and have quoted, “You want to see Lucy’s tits?” to fellow readers and made instant fan-friends. In general, I’ve devoured that particular book like it was tree-and-ink crack. Nearly everyone who read American Gods agreed that while it would be an absolutely freaking amazing visual treat, but to get the casting right and getting across some of the more subtle events in the book would be near-impossible. Think this no more, American God-lings, for the Starz channel is shooting the television adaptation of the novel right now.

Soon after that followed Gaiman’s personal take on a children’s book, Coraline, which made any costume with black-button eyes instantly recognizable; Anansi Boys, the unofficial sequel of sorts to American Gods, starring Mr. Nancy’s (the incarnation of the African trickster god Anansi, who often takes the form of a spider) two sons, and what they do with their legacy; and The Graveyard Book, harkening back to Gaiman’s darker world of graveyards and spirits, when Nobody Owens is adopted by ghosts in the nearby graveyard after his parents are brutally murdered. Whew! Gaiman’s also written over a dozen made-for-children books, some with illustrations from his longtime working partner Dave McKean.

From here, we progress, naturally, to comic books and graphic novels, and oh, what a treat for the eyes that has been. Known in particular for the Sandman, and the Death mini-series comic books, Gaiman combines his affinity for mesmerizing and long-reaching storylines with the art of Dave McKean to create a unique style that is incredibly hard to copy, much less describe. Full of the darkling world across the whole expanse of the stars, things that transcend the concept of time and space and life and death, Gaiman gives us in comic book format entire universes we love. I still own and treasure my copies of the The Kindly Ones, that featured the death of Sandman; and The Wake series, where all of the Endless came to attend Morpheus’ funeral; Death: The High Cost of Living, where Death lived a mortal life for one day as Didi, the pretty goth chick in happy love with the life all around her; Death: The Time of Your Life, wherein Death comes to make a deal to stave off impending death and beautifully approaches the idea that Death herself cares about you; even Death: At Death’s Door, a freaking manga-style comic featuring many of the Sandman world, all having a party hosted by Delirium at, you guessed it, Death’s door. These characters and their long-reaching storylines are almost biblical in their scope and yet done in a dreamlike state that is so uniquely Gaiman.

Also for the DC Vertigo brand, Gaiman has done Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, Black Orchid, Midnight Days, and The Books of Magic. Other titles include Miracleman, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, Spawn, some Marvel titles, some Dark Horse too, work for Alan Moore and Frank Frazetta too; he’s just been practically everywhere.

It is worth mentioning that two of Gaiman’s novels, Neverwhere, and his collaboration with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, have been made into radio plays, which were broadcast on BBC Radio Four. No small achievement, the 2013 adaptation of Neverwhere had the likes of Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, and James McAvoy for voice talent.

Onward we march right into Gaiman’s movies and television episodes he directed. First is the amazing films: MirrorMask, which is, effectively, one of his and McKean’s comic book collaborations brought to very vivid surreal life; and we’ve already touched on the film adaptation of Stardust, which is always a fun romp. Gaiman wrote the original screenplay for the most recent attempt at Beowulf, you know, the one that starred Angelina Jolie as a naga-queen; he adapted the script for the English version of Princess Mononoke, and let us not forget the Claymation treatment of Coraline, which is a lot like watching a cautionary tale starring the characters of Nightmare Before Christmas.

I’ve seen all of these films, and some I enjoyed more than others, but Gaiman’s underlying excellence at script-writing, at writing in any form, is ever-present. Gaiman’s writings and style is so unique, as a matter of fact, he holds the distinction of being the only guest writer of — count them — three modern Doctor Who episodes. He also wrote the screenplay for Neverwhere, was a guest writer for an episode of Babylon 5, and even guest-starred as himself on an episode of The Simpsons.

Neil Gaiman has numerous well-deserved accolades for his writings: Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the Newbery and Carnegie medals, both for the same work, The Graveyard Book. Gaiman has three children with his previous wife Mary McGrath, and married the singer and performer Amanda Palmer in 2011, who gave birth to his son in September 2015.

Neil Gaiman’s writings reached me at a rather young age, and have layered their dark fantastical worlds upon life in the most enchanting manner possible. Dive with me into the darkling life of Neil Gaiman and his enduring fantastical writings that earn him a place among the titans of dark fantasy and horror!

XXX

SLCC 2015: Photo Gallery – TV, Movie, and Video Game Themed

Photos from Salt Lake Comic Con 2015 by Sheralyn Pratt and Laura Davis. This gallery contains photos of cosplay, displays, and everything else related to themes and characters from TV, movies, and video games. Enjoy!

Additional SLCC 2015 Photo Galleries:

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Agent Captain Logan’s Comic Directive #11: ‘Justice League of America’ #1

by Agent Captain Logan (a.k.a. Agent Captain Logan)

Justice League of America #1

Story and Art: Bryan Hitch

Publisher: DC Comics

DC has been hyping this new Justice League series like crazy, as its big new flagship title post-Convergence. If I’m to believe the marketing lately, the world is going to crumble and die if I don’t read this book. This six dollar behemoth of a first issue launched with a gazillion variant covers and a whopping 29 extra pages. This is a big, freaking, important deal. It reminds me a little of how much of an event they made Geoff Johns’ Justice League when New 52 started, but of course, that was our very first glimpse into the strange and rocky new rebooted DC Universe and set the tone for the whole reboot. This is just another Justice League title.

In fact, I can’t even tell how this book fits into the current status quo; we’ve got regular Bruce Wayne-Batman and a Superman who’s not dressed like he’s in a Gap jeans commercial. It reads like it’s squarely in that New 52 world, but like it somehow skipped over recent developments just after Convergence. And, upon first read, it’s made even more confusing by the ethereal voice out of nowhere on page one telling Superman, “IT’S TOO LATE,” without word balloons, and in the same ominous font used when Telos spoke to all the bottled cities from different dimensions throughout that event. Until I finished the issue, I thought it was tied directly to Convergence somehow, but as far as I can tell, now that I know who was talking (which I won’t spoil), it doesn’t seem to have anything at all to do with that or anything else that’s going on right now. Besides not knowing right away what knowledge of previous continuity I should allow to inform these events and what I should ignore, consistency with the greater universe a story takes place in is never paramount for me, when the story stands alone. What I care most about is whether or not the story in front of me makes sense on its own, if I’m invested in its characters, and if I find myself wanting to read on.

The verdict here is a mixed bag, as Bryan Hitch, as a storyteller, has always been for me. The man can draw — oh God, can he draw — but his writing tends to be unfocused, and his dialogue clunky. His characters use far more words than they need to get an idea across, and it’s not because they have their own unique voices and vernaculars. People repeat themselves a lot and I’m never sure if that’s for emphasis, like this end-of-the-world scenario is so dire, the stakes so high, that the scientists telling Superman about it are stressing that this is a really big deal, or if Hitch is worried the situation is too complicated for the reader and he’s overcompensating in case I’m not following.

For a story that’s so action-heavy and doesn’t rely at all on internal monologue — just pictures and dialogue — it feels unnecessarily wordy. There’s a lot of awkward phrasing and strange word choice: People often sound more like a writer gave them a script to read, than people delivering lines their own heads came up with. In one scene, in which a couple of mysterious scientists tell Superman that he has to hide himself away and make sure he doesn’t die or his death with result in the end of reality as we know it, Superman uses the word “clever” over and over again when describing their efforts to bring him there. It’s one of those moments where I think I know what was intended, but it’s not quite playing right. I think it’s supposed to be an escalation: “This is clever, this is clever, and THIS is clever, but you forgot this one little detail.” Instead, it reads like Superman needs to invest in a thesaurus. I don’t mean to nitpick; that’s just one example of some of the awkward writing that takes me out of the story.

Hitch has come a long way in structuring a narrative; the groundwork he’s laying here is attention-grabbing and there are some clever bits of foreshadowing I didn’t pick up on until a second read. I like how he manages to make nearly every member of the Justice League integral to the story right away, both thematically and by making them feel vital to the mission in the moment. I think Hitch has, overall, improved a lot since his Dark Knight days, but he still sometimes reads like an amateur struggling to get his ideas across. I think this story would be better served by a more experienced writer working from Hitch’s outline.

Hitch clearly has a story to tell here (or at least an idea to explore). This is a story about perceived gods and what they themselves believe in. While the focus is primarily on Superman, Hitch deftly spotlights the mythologies of each of the Justice League, reminding us that these are larger-than-life characters with epic, unbelievable backgrounds behind them, but that they live in a world where each of those incredible legends is really true and that they’re all just people who have to somehow live up to the expectations of the masses who see them as gods. The scientists (who are, themselves, not exactly as they seem) are collecting dead Superman bodies that keep popping out of a time portal and seem to point to the end of everything. One of the scientists, imploring Superman to “put himself first for once,” is outraged when Superman refuses to stop helping people in order to save himself. He thinks Superman has to put his own safety first in order to save the world, but Superman doesn’t have enough information to know what will really happen if he just pulls a Kingdom Come and stays on a farm forever — but more than that, he’s Superman. He has a set of values he can’t break, regardless of the outcome. But the question is, is he doing what’s best for everyone, or is he acting to appease his own conscience? Is the higher road Superman represents about “the needs of the many” (it’s a little on-the-nose: The scientist actually quotes Spock from The Wrath of Khan), or is it about doing the right thing in the moment? What does someone who’s perceived like a god do when the issue is his own mortality?

I also like Aquaman’s dilemma: He’s the king of his own country and speaks for his people, who don’t want to be involved in foreign affairs and send him to reject an agreement that would allow the United States access to Atlantis’ military technology. At the same time, Arthur works with the Justice League and helps citizens of the United States and the rest of the world all the time. Like Thor, he feels a duty to mortal men and his more advanced, god-like family of origin, as well, and sometimes those two duties are in conflict. At the end of the day, these are all just men and women with power, struggling to do the right thing with it, not immortal beings who always have all the answers.

I had never thought to compare the lore of the speed force to the likes of the mythologies of Olympus or Atlantis, but it’s a similar idea; both involve almost unfathomably powerful beings who would look like gods wielding magic to lowly, ignorant mortals looking in, and if the speed force were known as early as the Greeks were worshipping the gods responsible for Wonder Woman’s origin, a Flash would be as much of a god as Zeus or Hera. Same thing with Green Lantern.

Even Batman, who is a mortal himself, creates a perception that makes people, including the Justice League, see him as something more elemental and powerful. I’m interested to see if Hitch finds some way to rope Cyborg and his advanced technology into this idea; at the moment, he seems like the odd man out. Examining the idea of godhood from the perspective of “gods” themselves has been a popular theme of deconstruction in superhero fiction lately. The twist, which I’m fascinated by, is what happens when a god, faced with his own mortality, suddenly meets his own god? The same idea with business seems to apply to godhood: the manager of a restaurant looks all-powerful to a bus boy, but his regional manager has as much authority over him as he does the bus boy. It’s all a matter of perspective.

The middle of the issue is mostly a fight between the Justice League and Parasite, who craves their power and tries to make it his own, furthering this notion that these heroes are gods in perception only. Power is a fickle and temporary thing, and raw, physical power is only one part of the god equation. I like what Parasite represents thematically and I like the mystery surrounding him — he’s a diversion, but for what? — but it’s much longer than it needs to be, and the issue, as seems to be a standard money-making trick for DC right now, is padded out in general. In a six dollar, fifty page comic book, I’d expect a couple issues’ worth of story, but I feel like Hitch gets us to about the same place he might have if he only had twenty pages to work with. It’s mostly drawn-out setup: exciting and intriguing setup, but setup none-the-less. It’s a big gamble to start a series with such an overblown first outing and a higher-than-usual price tag, because a lot of readers are already skeptical going in, unsure if the investment is going to be worth it. It’s hard not to see this as anything but grabbing a couple more bucks from all the saps that just collect numbers ones and probably won’t continue put this series on their pull-lists anyway. When I get more pages and more story, and when there are splash pages, I feel like the epic scope is warranted, I don’t mind a bigger comic and a higher price, but after this and the first couple issues of Convergence, I’m questioning what quickly seems to be coming a standard publication strategy.

Having said that, I’m too curious not to keep going with this series. There’s a potentially fascinating story here about perceived gods and what they themselves believe in, and a neat opportunity to further the individual mythologies of all of the Justice League. It’s not brilliantly written, but it’s pretty to look at, and there are real sparks of narrative craftiness that make me more than willing to try another issue despite the blatant padding.

XXX

Agent Captain Logan’s Comic Directive #7: ‘Batman Arkham’ Riddler Collection

by Agent Captain Logan (a.k.a. Agent Captain Logan)

The Riddler has always been one of my favorite Batman villains, but not because he’s featured in a lot of brilliant comic book stories. I grew up watching the Adam West series and was always enamored with its version, the various flashy, green costumes, Frank Gorshin’s manic energy, his obsession with outwitting Batman. I was already in the middle of a massive Jim Carey phase when Batman Forever was released in the mid-’90s. I have to admit that a lot of why I love the character is that loud, attention-grabbing costume with the question marks all over it, and those often blanked-out, sinister eyes behind a domino mask that doesn’t conceal an identity because everybody knows he’s Edward Nygma. And if you’ve ever heard his name and you can’t put it together, don’t bother trying to answer one of his riddles. If I had to give an answer based on something less superficial, something about the guy’s actual character and personality, I’d say I love the Riddler because he strikes at the heart of Batman’s primary and greatest skill since his inception in a comic of the same name: he’s a detective. Riddler wants to prove he can stump the modern-day Sherlock Holmes. It’s a battle of wits between them, and Riddler’s obsession with leaving clues to his crimes is as extreme as Batman’s obsession with  stopping them.

This new collection of Riddler stories is historically enlightening and digested cover-to-cover; it reads as a single, solid character study. The stories aren’t haphazardly chosen, but are all linked together by the theme of compulsion. There are certainly Riddler stories that are more about his trying to be the smartest man in the room than about the nature of his psychosis. But these issues, beginning with the Riddler’s first appearance in 1948, center on the Riddler’s obsession with leaving clues for Batman before every crime, and his inability to change his own nature, try as he might. As I read these together, I found myself feeling for Edward Nygma, who is a slave to his own bizarre psychology. He often looks for loopholes to break his vicious cycle; in one of the silver age issues, he tries to commit crimes without leaving clues and ultimately discovers he’s been leaving riddles for Batman subconsciously. I like that one because through most of the issue, it’s unclear whether Batman’s being led to the Riddler’s caper with real clues, or if he’s pulling a Captain Logan and over-analyzing everything. In another issue, Riddler tries to leave booby-trapped clues of the most cryptic crimes, so he can satisfy his compulsion, but still stop Batman before he ever gets close to finding him.

The Riddler has a long history of trying to go the straight and narrow (like so many Batman villains) and when he achieves it, it’s still within the boundaries of his insanity. There are two Paul Dini stories from Riddler’s private-eye days (2006-2007), in which he legitimately helps solve crimes, much to Batman’s dismay, but is still driven by the same greed and superiority complex he always has been. In one scene, he charges Bruce Wayne an obscene amount of money to make sure that what he’s being paid is more than what he could fence the object Wayne is trying to repossess for on the black market. He says, “I’m not that reformed.” And sometimes, he struggles with whether he’s really a better man or if he’s just found a slightly easier way to function in society, by working within the system rather than against it. In the Joker’s Asylum story from 2010, he falls in love and can’t see the challenge of wooing the woman of his dreams as anything but an attempt to solve a riddle. He can’t understand what would move a complex human being to be interested in him because he’s looking for the simple answer that will instantly solve the riddle. Eventually, he begins to realize that there’s no way to force a person to fall in love with him and that it’s he who has to change, and yet, at the end of the day, he’s just not capable of it. I won’t give away the end of that story but it’s gut-wrenchingly sad.

The Riddler, like a lot of comic book villains, began as a quirky, two-dimensional gimmick, and as the stories become a little more sophisticated over time, he becomes a tragic figure, a man who tries everything to be more than that initial gimmick but is too defined by it to really change. He becomes a commentary on B-list comic villains, created as a throwaway challenge for Batman, but brought back over and over because of the serialized, frozen-in-time nature of comics, and the eventual popularity of his motif. He’s trapped by a nature that is defined by the fictional medium that birthed him. Why is he so compelled to do something as counter-productive as helping the hero catch him? Well, he has a backstory, but it’s not very compelling or satisfying, at least the one from 1948 the anthology opens with. But it’s more because that’s the curse Bill Finger gave him. And amusingly, the explanation of “that’s the gimmick the writer wanted him to have” encroaches on the narrative way back then, as part of the explanation for why he becomes the Riddler is that his name, E. Nygma, is prophetic. Unlike a lot of characters who just happen to have names that reflect their villain theme, Nygma’s origin is that he cheated on a puzzle in class as a kid and thought it was amusing that his name fit with that, so he became a criminal. I have no idea how he goes from that to being homicidal, which he does very early, but I guess he just has some bad wiring. Let that be a lesson to you, parents: think long and hard before you name your kid a descriptive word that could define him later. E. Nygma is an enigma; the man makes no sense but it works because he knows it and can’t change it. He is, himself, the riddle he can never solve!

The final story, published just last year and written by veteran Batman writer Charles Soule, wonderfully bookends the collection by illustrating that Riddler has never moved too far from who he was almost 70 years ago. He hatches an elaborate scheme to trick Batman into capturing Black Mask for him, because Black Mask wants Riddler dead, and when it’s all said and done, Batman tells Riddler that not everything must be about riddles. And Riddler, sadly, says that for him, that’s all there is. He loves the game but he’s also a slave to the game, and he’s in the exact same boat he was all those years ago. Some readers might be frustrated to see such little evolution with the character, but I think he’s made great strides. For one, he’s become a far more menacing and dangerous villain than he once was, especially under Scott Synder’s pen. The more writers demonstrate his inability to change through creative and unique situations, the more interesting his psychology becomes. That’s one of the reasons he’s such a great foil for Batman, a character who is all about refusing to change. One is constantly trying to move past his obsession and can’t, and the other is bombarded by obstacles that challenge him to move past his obsession, and he consciously resists it. Which of them is the more psychologically damaged?

I learned a lot here about the Riddler I didn’t know. I had no idea there was a full 17 years between the second and third Riddler stories; that’s how completely disposable he was at first. And if you read them back to back, the scripts read like they were done around the same time, though the artwork has certainly evolved. I’m surprised by how much continuity there is between these stories. Not only is the same origin brought up all the way through 1983 (just a couple years before Crisis On Infinite Earths) but each story remembers where Riddler was when last we saw him, no matter how many years may have passed in between. So few Riddler stories were written during those first couple decades that the first four stories collected are all consecutive. I also didn’t realize that the Riddler’s third appearance was in 1965, just one year before he was drafted as the first villain in the Adam West television series. What a fascinating twist of fate. It’s very likely that if the Riddler hadn’t just happened to be in a comic right as William Dozier was developing his TV show, the character may never have achieved his A-list villain status and extreme popularity. And Frank Gorshin would have either become a whole lot less or a whole lot more famous.

I’m not impressed with the entire offering. The anthology moves linearly through the history of the publishing of these stories, and it’s fun and enlightening to experience the evolution of comics storytelling in this microcosm, but that feeling of time travel is undercut somewhat because there isn’t a story from every decade. It skips from 1983 all the way to 2006, shafting my personal favorite decade of Batman comics all together. It may be that there aren’t many good, one-shot Riddler tales during that period that wouldn’t require too much story context surrounding it, for example, if one was set during the events of Knightfall or No Man’s Land, but if I find one on my own, I’m going to be sorely disappointed it wasn’t included. It does, for the most part, do an excellent job of selecting stories that can be read all by themselves and which, when put together, solely explore the Riddler’s character and don’t move too far off that path. However, one of the Paul Dini stories is more about Harley Quinn than it is about the Riddler, and he’s in the background through a good portion of that issue. I might have included the two-part Gotham City Sirens story with private-eye Riddler instead, just because I think it’s a better effort from Dini. On the other hand, some of the character baggage between the Sirens might creep too much into that story and create the same problem.

Unfortunately, Batman Arkham: The Riddler, while full of entertaining stories, doesn’t have a lot of great stories, demonstrating that the Riddler’s reputation for being difficult to write compellingly is somewhat well-earned. I think Snyder’s Zero Year will be held up as the definitive Riddler story for a long time. Of course, that’s twelve issues long and wouldn’t have been included here. It’s a missed opportunity that there was never an ongoing series about the Riddler as a private eye, and after the chilling dimension Snyder has injected in him without losing what the character has always been about, I think he’s a prime candidate for his own regular comic now. If the Riddler is a character you haven’t read much of and are curious about his roots, or if you like the character and want an excuse to sample some Batman stories from throughout the ages, I recommend this collection.

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Wondercon 2015: ‘Batman vs. Robin’ Flies in the Court of Owls

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Warning! All kinds of spoilerific horror abounds within!

So, Batman vs. Robin takes up only a few months after where Son of Batman left off, with the devastating news that Damien is the son of Talia al Ghul and Bruce Wayne. This means that mad immortal bastard, Ra’s al Ghul, is Damien’s grandfather and his whole family tree is screwed beyond belief! When we catch up to Bats and the newly-mantled, next-generation Robin, Damien is of course already chafing under the restrictive yoke both Batman and Bruce Wayne are attempting to place upon him. Already trained under his admittedly sociopathic grandfather, Damien also resents the fact that Batman refuses to kill the criminals they catch, leading to yet more confrontations.

Even bringing in the original Robin, Dick Grayson, now a young man proudly busting criminals as Nightwing, doesn’t help, and sadly notches Damien’s resentment even further. When the mysterious representative of the secret underbelly society of Gotham known as the Court of Owls comes to offer Damien the vigilante freedom that is supposedly his birthright, what will the resentful son of the Dark Knight do now?

We were fortunate to be treated to a screening of Batman vs. Robin in the Arena section of the Anaheim convention center, and boy, was it worth the crowded seating. The fight scenes of the film, and there were many, were given incredible detail and could be easily thought of as real-life instead of cartoons. The struggle of Bruce Wayne trying to discipline a young man who is very much like him is approached with grace, even when it finally comes down to fisticuffs between Wayne and Wayne Jr., Damien’s own grapplings with the ideas of fate and blood-inheritance versus what he himself truly wants is something that, at its core, we can all appreciate.

After the movie was over and the cheering died down, creators James Tucker, Jay Oliva, J.M. Dematheis, Phil Bourassa and Andrea Romano came out to talk to the audience, along with cast members Sean Maher (Dick Grayson/Nightwing), Stuart Allen (Damien Wayne/Robin), and Jason O’Mara (Bruce Wayne/Batman).

The creators waxed poetic about their finally being able to introduce the beloved Court of Owls storyline into the Batman film universe. The film is based heavily on the Night of the Owls comic book storyline by Scott Snyder. Oliva mentioned that he specifically chose panels from the comics that Greg Capullo had illustrated, using a mythology that had already spanned several different comic books in the Batman world.

Bourassa happily agreed, “It was quite fun to delve into new characters that already had a long backstory that had, so far, not made it to the screen.” Bourassa went on to tell a brief story about how the Dollmaker, one of the villains of Batman vs. Robin, was based on a make-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-into-a-weapon character he had dreamed up when he was in the fourth grade.

The returning voice cast of BvR expressed their gratitude to be part of the Batman-verse again. This was Jason O’Mara’s fourth time as the voice of Bruce Wayne and Batman, yet he still manages to remain charmingly humble, saying when he was asked by a fan if he thinks Batman is his character now, “Batman is shared by many great actors.” O’Mara went on to say that for this latest Batman film, he felt he spent more time as Bruce Wayne instead of Batman, and getting to know the man under the mask was vital for this particular film.

As an Easter egg for fans who notice that sort of thing, it was pointed out that Kevin Conroy, who had previously voiced Batman in no less than 11 series and features, was the voice of Thomas Wayne for Batman vs. Robin flashbacks. O’Mara related a story of nervously meeting Conroy for the first time, where Conroy jokingly choked the other actor for taking his place as Batman’s voice! O’Mara said he wouldn’t dare attempt to do his version of Batman’s voice in Conroy’s presence, since Conroy’s Batman and O’Mara’s Batman are two entirely different takes on the same beloved character.

Young Stuart Allen, voice of Damien Wayne and next-gen Robin, seemed at ease and enjoying his newfound fame in the Batman-verse. He spoke of schoolkids teasing him with, “How you doin’, Son of Batman?” only in terms of geeky admiration, and grinned about it.

Sean Maher, the voice of Nightwing, formerly the first-generation Robin under Batman’s tutelage, talked about the messed up father-son relationships between most of the characters sprinkled throughout Batman vs. Robin, and how most societies can appreciate such a thing. From Alfred taking the mantle of father figure to young Bruce Wayne, to struck-dumb adult Bruce Wayne trying to love his wayward son into obedience, in the end, as Oliva closed, “Everyone just needs a hug!”

Batman vs. Robin is out on Digital HD April 7, 2015, and DVD/Bluray April 14, 2015!

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