Batman: White Knight by Sean Murphy – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ve read a lot of Batman stories in my day, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like Batman: White Knight.

Published under the DC: Black Label imprint aimed at more mature audiences, Batman: White Knight is a stand-alone collection that exists outside of regular Batman continuity.  Because of this, anything can happen.  Even so, for a book that is disconnected to the monthly Batman stories, it is oddly beholden to them as well as to the cartoons, video games, and movies.  More on that in a moment …

White Knight embraces a simple premise — What if Joker became good and Batman turned evil?  Now, the story is not quite that simple, but that’s the central concept.  Sean Murphy dives deeply into that idea while also exploring familial bonds, corrupt politics, abusive relationships, and mental health.  Like I said, this book distinctively examines content in a way that is unrivaled.

However, even though the story kept me guessing, certain aspects struck me as obviously recognizable.  For example, White Knight pays homage to the classic animated series, all of the Batman movies, the old live-action TV show, the comic books, and even the various Batman video games.  It’s as though parts of all of that happened in this Batman’s past, but in a way that we can’t fully understand.

Make no mistake, however, Murphy’s depiction of Batman and Joker, as well as their supporting cast, is what makes this book so enticing.  This is a Batman even more unhinged than in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.  This is a Joker unusually sane.  This is a Harley Quinn gloriously empowered.  This is a Commissioner Gordon realistically compromised.  This is a Gotham City genuinely broken by its atypical combination of criminals and vigilantes.  And though the book is gritty, it’s also not afraid to be bombastic.  Murphy offers an ending that seems like something out of The Fast and the Furious — and I mean that as a compliment.

Finally, Murphy is the writer and artist on this title, so I wanted to address his line work.  His Batman is feral, intimidating, and a force of nature.  Murphy tweaked the costume just a bit, but it’s his use of shadows and shading that really makes his panels pop.  Speaking of costumes, I love the slight alterations Murphy made to everyone’s look in this book.  You’ll know who’s who, don’t worry about that.  The changes he made were simultaneously appropriate and dynamic.

If you’re a Batman fan but feel like you’ve seen it all, give White Knight a chance.  It will strike you as extraordinary.

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Help My Treatment Of The Batman Get Noticed … PLEASE!

Friends, I know this is crazy.  It’s crazy.  I get it.  But I’ve written a treatment for The Batman.  It’s good.  Seriously.

I know what you’re thinking.  “Scott, you teach high school English in Central Illinois.  You have no connections to the movie industry.  You’ve gone batty.”

Yes, but remember I have a few things going for me.  First and foremost, I’ve been reading Batman for over 37 years.  I literally know this character better than I know myself.  I know his history, his persona, his potential.  I also have a firm grasp on what’s come before, his position in the new shared DC cinematic universe, where this universe seems to want to go, and where the fans would like to see Batman himself go.  I’ve taken into account Ben Affleck’s desire to perhaps leave the franchise, and I’ve given him an out if he wants it.  I realize Joe Manganiello is getting positive response in potentially playing Deathstroke, and so the assassin is still Batman’s primary antagonist.

I’ve got a treatment that develops characters amidst nonstop action.  And though Batman and Deathstroke are the major players, I’ve got a story that logically utilizes virtually Batman’s entire mythology — both hero and villain.  Yes, I’m serious.

But here’s the problem: I’m an outsider.  I’ve tried reaching everyone associated with the film via email and Twitter to no avail.  I have no agent.  I have no Hollywood union.  I have no connections to that world at all.

Another problem?  I can’t share the actual treatment online.  If I posted the treatment to the Internet, the plot would be spoiled, and the studio would have no interest in making that movie.  I somehow need to capture Hollywood’s attention enough to make them want to get in touch with me and read the treatment.

That’s where you come in.  I need you — each and every one of you — to share this post.  My hope is that you’ll share it, you’ll say you believe in me, and it will build so much strength that Matt Reeves, Ben Affleck, Zack Snyder, and the rest of the film’s creators won’t be able to help but take notice.

All I want is a chance to share my treatment of The Batman.  If you know me at all, you know I’ve spent a lifetime preparing for this opportunity.  Please help me succeed in making it happen.

BatScott

Superman: Son Of Superman by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason – A Book Review

Oh, boy.  To understand Superman’s first volume under the Rebirth movement, you need to understand that the Superman in this book is the Superman we knew in the 80s, 90s, and early-2000s.  This is the Superman who married Lois Lane, the Superman who fought against Doomsday and died, the Superman who returned from the dead.

Why is this confusing, you ask?  Well, this Superman is now living in an alternate reality, one that arrived around 2010.  DC calls it The New 52 universe.  In this softly rebooted universe, everything and everyone got a facelift, modernized, updated.  The Superman in this new universe wore a suit more like armor than tights, had a romance with Wonder Woman, and wasn’t much of a talker.  He died in battle, though, and so the pre-New 52 Superman, who had been hiding out on this alternate Earth with his wife Lois and their son Jon, decides to don the red and blue again because, yeah, Earth needs a Superman.

Batman and Wonder Woman don’t know this new Superman.  No one does.  They don’t know if they can trust him.  They honestly don’t know what to think of him.  This is a really interesting dynamic because this classic version of Superman was the beacon of hope in his old universe—he was the gold standard.  To suddenly be an alien twice over adds an interesting dimension to the character, one that the creators were sure to touch upon.  I can only hope they continue to use it to drive stories.

But the real heart and soul of this book is the arrival of Superman as a family man.  Let’s face it—our classic Superman has always been a dad.  He may not previously have actually had a child, but he basically epitomized the traits we hope for in every great father—brave, selfless, compassionate, assertive, reliable, strong, and even a little boring.

Now Superman acts like a dad for good reason—he is one!  Their son, Jon, is just beginning to develop powers, and watching Superman guide his son through these changes is charming in and of itself.

Jon, who I believe is around ten or so, is an incredibly likable character.  He’s not too naïve, not too sassy, not too polished, but not too rough, either.  They’ve hit a nice tone with him, one that I hope they can continue.

I do believe Lois is getting a bit lost in the mix in this first volume, though.  In my opinion, her inclusion in the action feels a bit forced, and, honestly, there’s a moment at the end of this book where I really questioned Superman’s judgment in allowing a very human Lois to be anywhere near the cataclysmic battle taking place.

As much as the creators have hit the right note with Jon, they are missing the mark just a bit with Lois.  They’ve all been hiding out on this new Earth in order to protect Jon, and so Lois must be content as an anonymous novelist, doing house chores, and sort of playing the role of house wife.  It never felt quite true to the character, but neither did the big action scene in which she participates.  Granted, like Superman himself, getting Lois just right can be tricky.  I trust Tomasi and Gleason will eventually find the right chord for her.

So, yes, much of Son of Superman worked very well.  Seeing Superman as a father is something I very much enjoy, especially because I am a father myself.  It’s fun to be able to relate to him even now as a forty year old man.  Seeing Superman through Jon’s eyes breathes fresh life into the hero, and watching Jon struggle to become a hero in his own right is going to prove fertile ground for future stories.

But speaking of story, Son of Superman faltered with its main conflict.  The Eradicator is back, but I think this is the New 52 version of the character—I was never clear on that, to be honest.  Anyway, as an ancient piece of Kryptonian technology, he’s taken it upon himself to destroy Jonathan Kent, whom he views to be an impure blight against Kryptonian genes due to his human heritage.  Plus, as it happens, he’s got a bunch of Kryptonian souls living inside of him.

Frankly, I found the whole Eradicator plot a bit of a stretch, even by comic book standards.  There are dozens of directions they could have taken in this first volume, why they chose yet another character with an “S” on his chest and very convoluted motive is something of a mystery.  And the dozens of Kryptonian souls trapped inside of the Eradicator really took me out of the story.  It seemed like such a significant event just to kind of throw in there as an aside … it felt forced and unnatural to the general cadence of the book.  In fact, everything with the Eradicator felt a little clunky to me.

Furthermore, along those same lines, the art in Son of Superman is flat-out superb.  Patrick Gleason draws a heroic Superman, a charismatic Jonathan, and a self-reliant Lois.  But his style tends to be a little cartoony—a bit exaggerated.  There are a few installments in the book, however, where both Jorge Jimenez and Dough Mahnke fill in on the pencils.  Both are superb—I’ve been a Mahnke fan for a long while now.  But, their style tends to be a little darker, a little more realistic, a little more chiseled.  Like the storyline itself, the shift in art could be abrupt and jarring.  All of the art is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but the flow is disruptive from installment to installment due to contrasting styles.

Son of Superman is not perfect, but it’s a bold, uplifting direction for Superman and I commend the creators for embarking upon such risk.  Taking one of your flagship characters and making him both a husband and a dad is unconventional to be sure, but I have no doubt this creative team in particular will provide captivating stories to come.  I think we’re all ready for Superman Dad … I know I am.

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All Star Batman #1 by Scott Snyder and John Romita, Jr. – A (Comic) Book Review

I’m the first to admit that Scott Snyder is a gifted writer.  His take on Batman the last seven or so years has been innovative, captivating, and high-quality.  His talent doesn’t end there, however.  You need to read his seminal series, American Vampire, as well as his excellent short story collection, Voodoo Heart.

All Star Batman is a new series in which Snyder will team up with the most gifted of artists for each story arc.  The first couples Snyder with industry icon John Romita, Jr.  The inaugural issue introduces a new conflict with Two-Face, a character Snyder has never tackled before (to the best of my knowledge).

I’ll be honest — the $4.99 price tag turned me off almost immediately.  It’s a little longer than the average comic book, and the cover is a little thicker, but otherwise there is no discernible difference.  It struck me as a cash grab on the part of DC.  Trust me, I looked through all the variants to see if any were priced regularly — there weren’t.  I settled on the awesome Jock cover you see below.

The book is made up of two different story lines.  One features Batman forcing Two-Face on a “road trip” of sorts; the other focuses on Duke, his new partner, and the on-the-job training Duke must undergo.  Frankly, both are overwritten and needlessly muddled.  Snyder has always shown a penchant for putting too much on the page, but this issue set a new precedent.  I don’t mind lots of dialogue, numerous time shifts, or even differing narrative techniques, but only if it works to the benefit of the story.  Snyder did all of these things in All Star Batman #1, but it only served to distract and confuse me.  I’m sure by the arc’s end all will make sense, but I think writers need to also honor the fact that these titles are released monthly and a single issue needs to stand on its own to some degree.  A fantastic example of doing it well is this week’s Superwoman #1.

Also, if I’m being totally truthful, I’ve never been a huge fan of John Romita, Jr.  I find his figures squarish and I just don’t find it pleasing to the eye.  I understand he’s considered among the best of comic book artists, but I personally don’t find his angles or panel placement all that creative or his drawings pleasurable to perceive.

With the inflated cover price, convoluted story, and overwritten dialogue, I really can’t recommend this issue.  It would perhaps be a better idea to wait for the collected edition.  You’ll save both money and frustration in doing so.

Superwoman Issue #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

I’ve been anxiously awaiting Superwoman #1 because of all the Rebirth titles, this one seemed the most creatively ambitious.  If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, Lois Lane now has the powers of Superman. How did this happen?  When did this happen?  Trust me, the book answers all of these questions.

In fact, Superwoman is probably among the best–if not THE best–of all the Rebirth titles thus far.  It is dense with story, yet Phil Jimenez executes the tale fluidly, organically, and creatively.  He actually plays with the narrative style quite a bit, but it works perfectly.  In truth, the technique he chooses enhances the overall quality of the book and makes it very engaging.

But Superwoman not only proved interesting to read, it was also fun!  With no less than two MAJOR revelations, Superwoman kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.  It’s one of the few Rebirth books that actually made me think to myself, “I can’t wait to find out what happens next!”  (And generally speaking, I’ve enjoyed most of the Rebirth titles.)

Of course, Jimenez’s art is always exquisite.  It’s so easy to take his talent for granted, but we need to really recognize not just his ability to draw very well, but also the masterful layouts he develops with each panel leading to the next to keep the story moving quickly.

It should also be noted that Superwoman is very well written.  The plot proved absolutely unpredictable and I’m already truly invested in #2, but he also displayed great characterization in not just what characters said, but how they said it.  We knew Lois Lane would be featured in the book, but Lana Lang also ended up having a very large role.  I won’t divulge any details, but I did not see Lois and Lana’s dynamic coming at all, and I loved it.  Honestly, I’ve been reading comic books for 35 years and this is the best depiction of Lana Lang I’ve personally ever read.

Superwoman #1 is fun, unpredictable, well written, expertly drawn, and everything I think a comic book should be.  After the issue’s cliffhanger, I can’t wait to see where Jimenez takes these characters next.

Wonder Woman: Earth One by Grant Morrison – A Book Review

Grant Morrison is a luminary in the comic book industry.  He has earned every bit of adulation he has acquired over the years.  He is incredibly imaginative and fearless.  Frankly, though, I’ve always found him to be better at big ideas than actual execution.  In past books I’ve read, the concept is always amazing, yet the dialogue and pacing tend to fizzle out near the midway point and lose focus for the remainder of the story.

Wonder Woman: Earth One struck me as odd, consequently, because it suffered from the exact opposite issue.

Before we begin, though, it may be helpful to note that Earth One is a dimension within the DC Multiverse that essentially takes place in the wold as we know it.  Thus far, only Superman, Batman, and the Teen Titans have appeared on Earth One.  It is generally a place where the plots are a little more gritty and the heroes a little more flawed.

So I assumed Morrison would go bonkers with all of Greek mythology at his disposal.  I figured he’d take an entirely new angle and regale us with a Wonder Woman never before seen.  He would blow our minds with Greek power cosmic and postmodernist Amazonian idealism.

In fact, none of that happened.  He shook up the status quo a bit by making Steve Trevor black.  This ultimately had no real bearing on the character.  He also unequivocally identified the Amazons as lesbians, which, if you think about it long enough, would seem to make total sense.  He assigned a new father to Wonder Woman as a driving force of the plot, but, frankly, it wasn’t quite as notable as what Brian Azzarello already did with Wonder Woman’s regular DC title.  In other words, it’s fairly bland by Morrison’s standards.  Structurally, it stands up well.  The beginning, middle, and end all work well together with no instances of rambling or wandering.

With all that being said, it’s not a bad story.  It’s just not as original, thought-provoking, or creative as I expected from Grant Morrison.

The bright spot of the book is certainly Yanick Paquette’s beautiful drawings.  His art is streamlined and graceful.  He delivers an Amazon society that is both classical and technologically innovative.  His Amazonian women are powerful and elegant.  Like Cliff Chang, Paquette’s Wonder Woman is a regal warrior brimming with intelligence, confidence, and compassion.  It’s all right there, on her face.

But the star, the single person who makes Wonder Woman: Earth One a true work of art, is Nathan Fairbairn.  I’ve often said that a bad colorist can ruin a well drawn book, and a good colorist can make a poorly rendered book look amazing.  Fairbairn takes a wonderfully drawn book and amplifies it by tenfold.  His colors are bold without being distracting.  They make the drawings pop off the page.  They are an absolute pleasure to perceive.  I won’t pretend to understand the technical aspects of coloring, but I know great colors when I see them.  Fairbairn executed his craft masterfully in this book.

If you’re a Wonder Woman fan, I think you’ll find things to appreciate in this book — certainly the art and colors are worth the price tag alone.  It’s not the most bombastic of Morrison’s work, but it is one of his most direct and concisely delivered.

 

Wonder Woman – Leaving the Boys Behind

So you heard me gush about the Justice League trailer yesterday, and then I saw something that appears even better – Wonder Woman.  If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, prepare to be impressed …

“Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder.” Doesn’t the tag line say it all?  We’ve waited a long time for a Wonder Woman movie, but if this trailer is any indication, it was worth it.  Here are a few reasons why Wonder Woman is now the movie I’m most excited to see …

One detail that people may not realize about Wonder Woman is that her origin and story is heavily infused with Greek mythology.  Her mother is literally Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.  Yes, those Amazons.  There are different iterations of Wonder Woman’s creation, but Zeus played a role in them all.  The fact that they name-drop Zeus in the trailer tells me that they are not shying away from this vital, and rich, aspect of Wonder Woman’s character.  And seriously, those magic lasso scenes?  Awesome.  They are going for it!

I am also shocked they are planting her firmly in the middle of World War I.  Batman v Superman certified she hasn’t been seen as Wonder Woman in 100 years, which, by my estimation, means the war scenes in this trailer must be the Great War.  Do you know the courage this takes?  First of all, a comic book movie featuring a female lead has not exactly proven a successful endeavor, but to also make it a period piece?  I love it.  The Wonder Woman team has no fear, and that’s exactly what you need to make a great Wonder Woman movie.

Speaking of no fear, Wonder Woman is one of the most powerful entities on the planet.  She’s a warrior-born, the best of a warrior race.  I love the battle scenes in this trailer because they put that on full display.  She takes on a battalion of enemy soldiers using mortars and machine guns with her sword and shield!  That moment of her climbing the ladder from the trenches … mesmerizing.  You don’t get much cooler than that.

Let’s face it – there’s a lot riding on this movie.  Not only does it need to make money to secure a sequel, to bolster the shared universe they’re trying to build, and to recoup their expenditures, but it also needs to fulfill an incredible void in the super hero cinematic world.  Little girls need more than just Black Widow (who is awesome, of course).  Wonder Woman is an icon on par with Batman and Superman, and little girls need her.  They need a hero with whom they can relate, who can inspire them, who can show them that they don’t need to stand behind or next to the boys — they can take the lead and leave the boys behind!  Compared to the male-dominated movies of the last fifteen years, this will be a breath of fresh air.  And let’s face it — boys could stand to see a tough, self-reliant, intelligent woman on screen who isn’t there merely to serve as a love interest or sex object.

Finally, the majesty.  The cinematography of this movie looks majestic.  Gal Gadot emits a regal aura.  Her costume absolutely looks like the garb of an Amazonian princess.  The colors are rich.  The scenes are epic.

Plainly stated, it looks beautiful and feels full of heart.  “Power.  Grace. Wisdom.  Wonder.”  Absolutely.