In 2009, Chris Claremont began the odd alternate timeline series in the Marvel Universe called X-Men Forever. The series picks up from Claremont's 1991 X-Men run, and presents the timeline as he would have written it, had he not jumped ship to Image comics. While it's completely ridiculous, it's a focused examination of the X-Men by one of the series's premiere writers. Batman Confidential is a DC series that focuses on stories from early on in Batman's career. It's written by several long-time DC writers like Peter Milligan, Sam Kieth, and Royal McGraw. I included one of the story arcs, Lovers and Madmen in a previous entry, but Rules Of Engagement helped clinch my decision to not include any more of the Batman Confidential series as part of this project. If something contradicts the chronology it needs to be at least fun, and this series seems more an exercise in frustration.
Rules Of Engagement is about Bruce Wayne/Batman's first encounter with Superman's nemesis, Lex Luthor. The plot outline: Lex Luthor sets up WayneTech to look dangerously inept in front of a group of defense contractors, all in the name of world domination! The evil, hand rubbing, mwa-ha-ha-ing bald guy attempts to take over the world because he doesn't like superheroes. Batman, of course, takes him down in the end. While the story is fun, the dialog is...questionable, and Whilce Portacio 's art is trapped forever in 1991. This was the first book that I had to struggle to finish.
Story: 2/5, Art: 2/5
If Nancy Reagan was as devout a Batman reader as Barack Obama is a Spider-Man fan, her favorite collection would probably be Venom. It's the first time in continuity that we encounter the designer drug, Venom, a pill (and later inoculant) that shows up repeatedly in Gotham.
After failing to save a little girl from drowning in the sewer (a girl who's father happens to be the creator of Venom), and then tearing a deltoid muscle during a workout, Batman gives into temptation and begins taking Venom to bulk himself.
It's not long before the now super-strong Batman has his senses dulled and starts making dubious decisions. He goes so far as to drive Alfred away, and is then asked to kill Jim Gordon. The conversation around taking Gordon down has one of my favorite continuity nerd jokes when Batman refers to Gordon as "Lieutenant or Captain or whatever he is".
Spoiler alert : Batman doesn't kill Gordon. But every character introduced in this story dies by the end. The curious omission in this story is that it feels like it should be the origin of Bane. Venom is the drug that enables this future villain to bulk up and battle Batman. And the island that the villains retreat to is Santa Priscia, which is where Bane grows up.
This is a well-told introduction to Batman's relationship with drugs.
Story: 4/5, Art 4/5
J H Williams III is one of my favorite Batman Universe artists of all time. His work on Detective Comics is one of the most beautifully rendered pieces of art I've seen in comics. But before he ever laid a pencil to page in Detective, he wrote a story arc for Legends Of The Dark Knight along with Dan Curtis Johnson that's collected as Batman: Snow. The story focuses on two important events: Batman's first foray into working with sidekicks, and the origin of Mr. Freeze. Much like the much maligned movie, Batman and Robin, the author chooses to borrow Freeze's origin from The Animated Series (the episode, Heart Of Ice, won one of the series's two Emmys).
The Freeze origin is the most tragic of the villain origins in Batman's rogues gallery. But this story intersects with the fascinating story of Batman assembling a team of experts to help him fight crime. After Jim Gordon declines to assist Batman on an investigation, he recruits an awkward technology expert, an unsatisfied FBI investigator, a journalist famous for profiling criminals, and two rehabilitated criminals to serve as the brawn.
His strategy to get the team to bond is to turn them against him, which is a terrible strategy utilized by angry middled aged losers guilted into coaching Little League Teams, and antagonistic old men. It is sort of working when Mr. Freeze (sans terrible puns about the cold) gets involved. By the end of the issue the team has decided to disassociate with Batman (but hint that they may continue on their own), and Batman tells Alfred he is thinking of trying another strategy. On his kitchen table is a newspaper mentioning a circus featuring The Flying Graysons. The Robin is coming soon teaser is used in several different books, including Year One, and The Long Halloween. The way I choose to fit it into chronology is that he misses the circus when it comes to town during Year One, but that this story, as well as Rules Of Engagement and Venom, coincides with The Long Halloween. There are several references in each of the stories about working with Harvey Dent (who doesn't actually get any face time, just gets his name dropped), who is a major player in The Long Halloween, after which, well, he doesn't work with Batman anymore.
Story: 4/5, Art 5/5