You'll have to excuse me, I'm terrible with remembering names. I once spent four hours calling my ex only "Hey...you." until I remembered it. Of course, we'd only dated for about a year, so he's really lucky that I recognized him at all.
If you want me to remember you, you really have to make an impact. Strangle a hamster with its own intestines, show me The Green Lantern tattoo on your ass.
So far in this continuity we've been introduced to a variety of Batman's rogues: The Joker, Catwoman, The Monk, and, Hugo Strange. We've also seen a few cameos of future villains: Harvey Dent, Harley Quinn, and The Scarecrow. But, apart from The Joker, we haven't had a major supervillain crime spree yet. The Long Halloween is on the horizon, though, and that involves a bunch of supervillains, so it's time to get to know as many of them as possible.
In Batman: Four Of A Kind we witness Batman's first encounters with Poison Ivy, The Riddler, Scarecrow, and Man-Bat.
It's not an ideal way to introduce them. I'd love to list trades that fully flesh out their origins or first appearances, but this is a decent primer to characters who will shortly become very important to the Batman Universe. Also, although we don't see why or how, halfway through this trade Jim Gordon gets promoted from Lieutenant to Captain.
Alan Grant opens up the collection with the introduction of Poison Ivy who first poisons Bruce Wayne, and then poisons Batman, informing him that both he and Wayne will die that night because the only antidote to Poison Ivy's kiss is a second kiss. The art is very Vertigo 90s style, except for Batman's cowl which looks a bit like Matt Wagner's and a lot out of place with the rest of the art. But Brian Apthorp's one and two page spreads are gorgeous. And there are several very well drawn humorous facial expressions.
Story 4/5, Art 4/5
Chuck Dixon handles The Riddler story. He's one of my all-time favorite Bat scribes, but his Riddler story is your basic "my parents didn't love me, I felt invisible, so I turned to a life of crime" origin, which seems inadequate for someone as clever as The Riddler. There's a lot of silver-age craziness to this version of Edward Nigma that we don't really get in the modern age. The art by Kieron Dwyer is very noirish. His Riddler outfit seems lazy (just penciled question marks with no dimension, design, or color to them), but everything else works.
Story 3/5, Art 4/5
Doug Moench's Scarecrow tale is very telly. "Yeah -- You sure look like a scarecrow!" "He also looks like a different crane -- Ichabod Crane!" Eeeks, zero subtlety or trust in the reader's ability to notice Crane's physique or notice the Crane/throwing pumpkins connection. The writing made slogging through this chapter very difficult. The flashbacks, in particular, are absolutely terrible. But you do end getting the full origin story.
Story 1/5, Art 3/5
Chuck Dixon returns to wrap things up with the origin of Man-Bat. The meek Kirk Langstrom is getting ready to marry his beautiful fiance, but he's incredibly wrapped up with his genetic research. And when his research project is rejected, he takes drastic measures and turns himself into the Man-Bat. It's not a life changingly fantastic story, but after the mediocre Riddler tale and the awful Scarecrow, it seems fantastic. Quique Alcatena's artwork is very consistent with the style of the mid to late 90s Batman.
Story 4/5, Art 4/5
Overall Rating for Four Of A Kind: Story 2/5, Art 4/5
Collected Legends Of The Dark Knight has three stories of very different styles from the Legends Of The Dark Knight series from the early 90s. James Robinson and Tim Sale open the book with Blades, the story of Gotham's second vigilante, a swordsman, The Cavalier. The swashbuckling hero becomes a more public face than Batman, and the public adores him...until they discover that he's been leading a double life as a jewel thief. What Batman doesn't know (he's busy solving the murders of elderly Gothamites by a killer named Mr Lime.) is that The Cavelier is stealing jewels for Mr. Salt (apparently James Robinson likes tequila) to protect the love of his life from being outed as a murderess. Alas, his plans go awry when he decides he can't trust Mr. Salt anymore, and he kills him with his sword. Batman tracks him down almost immediately, and the two engage in a swordfight to the death, and The Cavelier wins!
But he's a good guy at heart, so instead of killing Batman, he draws a gun and walks outside where he is gunned down by the police.
This is one of my favorite lesser-known Bat stories. And, it alone is worth the price of this book.
Story 5/5, Art 5/5
Alan Grant and Kevin O'Neill show up to do the second story, The Legend Of The Dark Mite. And while I can't say for certain that either of these men have done hallucinogens, all signs point to a very colorful yes. This is the origin of Bat-Mite, and as it proclaims on the very fist page "This is NOT an imaginary story." It's the story of a drug addict who sees the error of his ways when confronted with a tiny Batman-like creature who shows him what his life would be like if he contnued his life of crime. We see this story as he tells it to Batman from his cell at Arkham. It also involes a neat two spage pread of assorted DC characters as mites.
Story 4/5, Art 4/5
John Francis Moore and P Craig Russell close out the book with Hothouse, the story of Batman's second run in with Poison Ivy. The story uses the familiar Batman trope of rehabilitated Bat-rogue turns out to be not so rehabilitated, as Poison Ivy gets involved with a drug ring that makes hallucinogenics from plant pheromones.
Story 4/5, Art 5/5
Overall Review For Collected legends Of The Dark Knight: Story 4/5, Art 5/5
Did you ever see that episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer where Buffy believes she's actually in a mental hospital, and that her entire slayer life has been a series of psychotic episodes? Well, it's possible that Joss Whedon read Bryan Talbot (who does double duty as writer and artist here)'s Mask, the first story in Dark Legends. After stopping a crime Batman wakes up in a hospital where he's addressed as Bruce Wayne. Terrified that he's been found out, he soon realizes that he's not a billionaire playboy, but a drunken homeless person with delusions of a superhero life.
Story 4/5, Art 4/5
Dennis O'Neil and Bret Blevins come up next with Images, yet another "first encounter with The Joker" story. It is very similar to The Man Who Laughs, in that it retells the Joker's origin. Joker chemicals, Batman blames himself for turning The Red Hood into The Joker, rich people die, Alfred tells Bruce to stop blaming himself. If you've not read any of the other Joker origin stories, it's okay, but it does not hold up against many of the other versions of the tale. The art is ok, but Batman's physique shifts a little from page to page.
Story 3/5, Art 3/5
Batman goes to Chinatown for Tao by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson. It's an interesting change of pace from the usual Gotham supervillains and mobsters, but it really reads like a white Western guy writing about Eastern culture. And the art is very much a product of its era, having a very early nineties almost Vertigo style.
Story 2/5, Art 3/5
The gem of this collection is the Dan Raspler and Mike Mignola scribed story: Sactuary. If you've ever wondered what Hellboy would look like if it starred Batman, you'll find the answer here. The story's locale alternates between a graveyard and a gothic afterlife, so it's perfect for Mignola's art.
Story 4/5. Art 5/5
Overall Review for Dark Legends: Story 3/5, Art 4/5
One of my friends majored in Media Studies. His homework included watching as much popular television as he could find time for and study how it worked its way into the lexicon. He already had experience with a lot of the shows that make up today's established pop culture: Lost, 24, Battlestar Galactica, Futurama, The Office, Scrubs, American Gladiators 2007. But, surprisingly, he had no experience with Buffy/Angel or Doctor Who.
That's not entirely true, he'd seen parts of a few Buffy episodes when we were roommates. He'd scoffed at scenes that he had no context for, and after a few months, he treated walking into the room while I was watching Buffy with the horror most people would reserve for walking in on their grandmother naked with a jar of banana marmalade and an underage squirrel monkey.
Two years later, he would call me to discuss the finer points of season six, and how much he appreciated Jonathan's story arc.
When he realized it was time to tackle Doctor Who, he didn't just pick up with Christopher Eccleston, he went all the way back to the pilot episode and watched the entire series. When discussing the Russel T Davies era Dr. Who, he talked about how, whenever there was an event, Mr. Davies "throws a lot of Daleks at the plot until it cowers in fear at the corner of the episode".
A lot of lesser comic writers, when they are asked to helm an event "throw a lot of Daleks at the plot." Super-villain team ups are generally a nifty idea that doesn't pan out. Villains don't work well together, they're villains. And often their schemes cross purposes.
In The Long Halloween, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale manage to include a majority of the major villains in the Batman pantheon without making them feel superfluous.
It helps that the costumed villains aren't the focus of the book, rather this is a return to the crime families from Frank Miller's Year One. The story opens at a wedding ceremony for one of the members of the Falcone family. Bruce Wayne has been invited, in hopes that he will help them in their quest to be financially supported by Gotham City Bank, which Bruce is a trustee for.
Meanwhile nosey district attorney, Harvey Dent, is in the event's parking garage taking down license plate numbers. He gets jumped by Falcone's men.
Later on in the evening Batman interrupts Catwoman breaking into Falcone's safe while Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon discuss their differing methods in gathering evidence.
A lot of what makes The Long Halloween work as a story is that it's one of the few modern era Batman stories that's actually a self-contained mystery. In 2010, Grant Morrison has been writing Batman and Detective as a long running mystery but it, if not requires, is greatly assisted by knowing all seventy years of Batman continuity. The Long Halloween requires only that you read The Long Halloween. Tim Sale litters the book with clues that you can piece together to solve the core mystery: Who is Holiday?
At the end of the first chapter, two members of The Falcone family are killed by an unseen assassin. Harvey Dent is also targeted, and he and his wife are believed dead.
Chapter two throws Solomon Grundy (born on a Monday) into the mix, and a whole nother mess of Falcone men are slaughtered at a Thanksgiving dinner.
The third issue focuses on an insanely jealous Joker who feels that Holiday is stealing his spotlight, and he pursues Holiday's identity as vigorously as Batman, Gordon, and Dent (albeit with very different methods). And while Batman is foiling Joker's New Year's Eve Massacre plans, Falcone's own son is murdered by Holiday.
The fourth chapter opens with Gordon and Dent going after their prime suspect in the Holiday case: Bruce Wayne. There's an excellent scene where the two of them are turned away by a deftly devious Alfred who politely inquires as to whether they've remembered to get their wives Valentine's Day presents. Holiday wreaks absolute havok on Falcone's business while Poison Ivy gets thrown into the mix.
Ivy has had a tryst or two with Batman before, but this time she's targeting Bruce Wayne for the Falcones. Their plot is foiled when Catwoman comes to Bruce's rescue.
Catwoman's dubious relationship with Batman (mirrored by Selina Kyle's relationship with Bruce Wayne) is one of the intricacies that makes this story work. This isn't just a hodgepodge of villains gathered to take down Batman. Villains are working purely for their own selfish reasons, they just happen to occasionally overlap. The exchanges between The Scarecrow and The Mad Hatter that take place in chapters nine and ten, where The Scarecrow speaks only in nursery rhyme, and The Mad Hatter speaks only in Lewis Carrol verse are fantastic.
By the time we get to chapter eleven, Roman Holiday, we've seen The Riddler, The Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, and The Calendar Man join the fray. More Falcones keep dying, and both Batman and The Riddler are forced to throw out theory after theory as to who Hoilday is. After his own father is killed, Sal Maroni, Falcone's chief rival turns himself in to Harvey Dent under the ruse of bringing down Falcone. But when it comes to give his testimony he throws acid at Dent's face, and, voila, we have the origin of Two Face.
Two Face rounds up all the villains from the story (plus The Penguin) to confront, and ultimately kill Falcone, thereby ending the old school mob rule in Gotham, and bring forth an age of super villains.
In the end we have a couple of surprise reveals regarding Holiday. Both of them much cooler than the usual suspects (sorry Grant Morrison fans, it's not The Joker). Often when you get a last chapter reveal it's either glaringly obvious or else it contradicts an important aspect of a character. Both reveals regarding Holiday caught me by surprise the first time I read the book, despite one of them being telegraphed by both Loeb's dialog and several panel clues by Tim Sale.
The art in any Batman story is as important a character as any villain. Whether it's Miller's television paneled layouts in The Dark Knight Returns or Dave McKean's creepily shadowed Arkham Asylum. Gregory Wright's muted colors are a key player in The Long Halloween. Apart from some vibrant reds when The Joker is involved, the art is intentionally flat, and occasionally just grays. Whenever I see the art from this book I think of Boyz II Men videos. Their director always tweaked the colors, sometimes washing out their bright red suit jackets, other times shooting in black and white, and then coloring in blue jeans.
I doubt it's an intentional metaphor, but the lack of backgrounds throughout most of the panels really drew me into the action. Sometimes a busy background distracts me from the story as my eyes vacuum in all the extraneous details. Everything Sale has drawn into this story is purposeful. It provides the perfect pacing for Loeb's story.
There isn't really a flaw anywhere in this collection. The only drawback to it from the perspective of putting together this Bat-chronology, is that it's a year long story. Each chapter taking place on a holiday (Halloween bookending the year). A lot of the books that will follow take place during The Long Halloween. Were I attempting the absolutely insane project of trying to do the chronology by issues instead of trades, I would space this collection out amongst some of the other stories.
Story 5/5, Art 5/5
It's been teased at the end of several collections. Ads for The Flying Graysons in newspapers, Circus billboards, Bruce discussing taking dates to the circus. Finally, in Dark Victory, Dick Grayson debuts. But, uh, not just yet.
The volume opens with the new DA (who replaces Harvey "Don't Call Me Harvey Anymore I'm Two Face Now" Dent) catching us up with one of the villains from The Long Halloween (which was also created by Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, and Gregory Wright): Holiday. The crux of this story is the rise and fall of the next generation of Maronis and Falcones, Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni having been killed during The Long Halloween. Carmine's daughter, Sofia, who was paralyzed after plunging out of a building makes a deal with Sal's sons to go after Harvey Dent.
The plan is to cause chaos at Arkham Asylum by freeing assorted villains, including Solomon Grundy (born on a Monday), Calendar Man, and Poison Ivy. Holiday, Alberto Falcone, chooses to stay behind, earning him an early release with the help of the new DA. But during the madness, instead of killing Two Face, they allow him to escape.
The main theme of this book is improving reputations. Mario Falcone returns from Italy to try and clean up his family business, going as far as locking out Sofia when he learns of her criminal plans. Jim Gordon tries to get back together with his wife Barbara who left him and took custody of his children. Bruce Wayne tries to establish a solid romantic relationship with Selina Kyle. Catwoman tries to earn Batman's trust. And Two Face tries to clear his name when a new serial killer, The Hangman tries to improve The Gotham City Police Department's reputation by killing a corrupt cop on every major holiday.
Once again, Loeb and Sale throw in pretty much every major villain that's been introduced: the Joker, The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, The Mad Hatter, and The Scarecrow all end up in the mix. But, as in The Long Halloween, their individual motives flow logically into the story.
In the midst of the story, Bruce finally ends up at the much teased circus, and watches as The Flying Graysons plummet to their deaths when a Maroni underling named Anthony Zucco frays the wires for their trapeze act.
Bruce Wayne adopts Dick Grayson, but it's Batman who sees Grayson outside one night, prowling for clues. Batman and Grayson run into each other again when Grayson goes to the circus to research his parents' killer. The boy is badly beaten, and Batman takes him to the Batcave to care for him, and reveals that Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same person.
I don't want to ruin the end of this for you. Yes, you do get to see Grayson don the original, short pants Robin outfit. You also get a great wrap up of a storyline that began with Year One. but there are still some loose ends, including the fact that Two Face is still missing.
I can't stress enough that Sale's pencils and inks, and Wright's colors are an integral part of Loeb's script. The combination of visual narrative and dialog is what takes the Loeb/Sale/Wright trilogy from great Batman story to Classic Work Of Art.
Story 5/5, Art 5/5
Chuck Dixon picks up the dangling threads from Dark Victory for Robin: Year One. We get to see how Robin is perceived by a befuddled Jim Gordon, an ambivalent Batman, a loyal Alfred, and the angry criminals of Gotham. There's honor in being taken down by the Dark Knight, but a little kid in pixie boots, short pants, and a yellow cape? That's gotta hurt.
After busting some small time criminals, Robin finds himself entwined with The Mad Hatter's scheme to kidnap and brainwash some young girls (his usual M.O.) and sell them to a diplomat named The Generalissimo. In a startling development for a Batman story, it turns out Robin knows one of the victims from school (Jenny Noblesse), and she has a crush on him.
Robin ends up saving the day with some help from bumbling millionaire Bruce Wayne, who happens to be on The Generalissimo's yacht for a cruise.
The next villain up to be taken down by The Boy Wonder is The Killer Moth, whose story takes up a whopping seven pages before Robin takes him down. There's also a three page battle with Blockbuster (who will end up being one of Dick Grayson's major villains years later) before we get to the main villain in the story: Two Face, who's been on the run since the end of Dark Victory.
Two Face has decided that the easiest way to bring down Batman is to take out his new sidekick. He also decides to enact revenge on the judge who presided over his trial during The Long Halloween. While Batman and Robin are on the case, Jim Gordon expresses his concern that Batman has taken on such a young sidekick. And when Two-Face later tells Gordon that he's killed Robin (Spoiler alert: he hasn't. After taking a beating, Batman takes him to Leslie Thompkins's clinic to heal.), Gordon convinces Batman to retire him. Grayson isn't too keen on retiring from being Robin (poor kid got forty years in pre-Crisis continuity, and he's barely five comic issues into being Robin in modern continuity, and he's already being let go), and when Mr. Freeze steals the blood supply from the hospital where Grayson is being rehabilitated, he throws on his mask (but not the rest of the outfit) and goes out to take Mr. Freeze down.
Once Grayson foils the Freeze plot, he sees a TV report that Two Face has escaped from police custody, and debates how to handle it when he's jumped by a group of junior assassins run by one of Ra's Al Ghul's assassins, Shrike. Grayson decides to infiltrate the gang to get back on Batman's good sign, as well as learn new fighting techniques. After a successful mission to determine Robin's loyalty, the junior assassins are sent to kill Two Face. Given the opportunity, Robin opts to let Two Face live, and ends up battling Shrike, who falls on his sword and dies. During the battle, Two Face escapes.
One of the details Dixon works into this collection is the relationship between Alfred and Grayson. Alfred taking care of Bruce after his parents died was noble, but could be attributed to his loyalty to the Wayne family. There are a couple of occasions in Robin Year One, and will be many more in the future where Alfred puts Grayson's health and feelings over his loyalty to Bruce. Dixon will revisit the importance of this relationship several times in the Robin ongoing series, and even Nightwing.
Story 5/5, Art 4/5