Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Batman: Year 1 by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli (DC Comics)

Perhaps the reason I'm so fascinated by Batman is that there are so many different 'takes' on the character that attempt to revive what it must've felt like to encounter Bob Kane and Bill Finger's character for the first time.

Back in the mid 80s, DC wanted to update their catalogue of superhero titles which had descended into stale samey stories with seemingly no direction or vision. Most writers tasked with re-inventing DC's other mainstays like Superman and Wonder Woman took cues from movies and TV but Frank Miller drew on something entirely different. The seething criminal underbelly of the US at the time, and the complete departure from Batman's fairly campy trademark shenanigans towards something entirely dark and malevolent.

"The Dark Knight Returns" (a huge favourite of mine) dealt with Batman's later years, as he struggles to maintain law and order in a city that has no moral boundaries, is ruled by gangs and has no sense of honour or respect amongst the various villains who cross the Dark Knight's path. Here though in "Batman: Year One" we return to Batman's well-trodden origin story to show Batman's evolution from vigilante to the ultimate symbol of justice.

We also get to learn Jim Gordon's origins (and if you're currently watching "Gotham" on Netflix, you'll definitely see seeds of Miller and Mazzuchelli's work dotted throughout that fine series) - and explore more of Batman's world as we begin to see Gotham as a city where the rot sets in from two directions, up from the streets and down from the GCPD and the justice system which is corrupt and powerless to stop various factions carving up Gotham like a christmas turkey.

Batman does take a bit of a back seat as "Year One" gets up to speed, and though it lacks the immediacy and some might say the 'completeness' of The Dark Knight Returns, it definitely instigated a huge revival of interest in the character before Tim Burton's movies came along and underpinned the comic's dark tones with cinematic gothic tones of its own.

Now it's almost impossible to imagine Batman being anything other than grim and gritty. "Year 1" is an absolutely essential part of your Bat-collection though.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

"The Martian" by Andy Weir (Del Rey Publishing)

Though you could be mistaken for thinking that this book was about a space-suited George Michael at the height of his fame thanks to the cover, inside is a work of intricate genius centred around one man's mission to stay alive in the most inhospitable climate imaginable - the harsh surface of the red planet, Mars.

Astronaut Mark Watney is the victim of a horrific accident during a manned mission to Mars. Left for dead by his crew, Watney actually survives ending up with a flagpole through his chest (!) and thus begins his fight for survival. With meagre resources but a ton of ingenuity and inventiveness, Watney becomes Mars' first farmer and realises that even on a desolate barren and unpopulated planet, Mankind's previous visits may well save him yet.

Told mostly from Mark's perspective, "The Martian" is obviously well researched, is hugely tense and exciting and eschews the random pratfall Mr-Magoo-esque exploits of the movie "Gravity" for a thorough and fascinating investigation into what it would be like to be in Mark's place. Would you have the will to carry on when it feels like the whole planet wants to kill you in a variety of new and interesting ways?

Dark humour laces the story as Mark struggles to stay mentally healthy as well as physically. Andy Weird has a talent for perfectly describing the sheer danger involved in space travel and exploration and the myriad of things that could go horribly wrong.

It's wholly engrossing, one of those books you have to force yourself to put down once you've started in on it and now there's a movie on the table, get into the book first (just in case Ridley Scott does a "Prometheus" on this and turns it into a horrible mess!)

"The Martian" by Andy Weir is out now in paperback from Del Rey Publishing.

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (DC Comics)

To be entirely truthful, I'm fed up with losing this book and this will be the 5th and very last time I replace it (and it definitely won't be 'loaned out' to anyone ever again, never!). Clad in a new hard cover with Brian Bolland taking on colouring duties for this 20th Anniversary edition of (arguably) The Joker's darkest outing ever, it's not difficult to see why so many people stole my copy (yes stole, because I'd never willingly give anything this good away to anyone).

Origin stories are always tough to get right. Die-hard comic fans will always grumble and moan if someone comes in and interferes with an established character's genesis and it's always puzzled me why any new 'Superhero' movie or reboot feels the need to shove origin stories down your throat time and time again (please, spare us from ever seeing Peter Parker's uncle murdered, or Bruce Wayne's parents buying the farm in a dark alley).

But the Joker's origins? That's something that's been lightly touched on in movies (not difficult to see how Tim Burton used a few ideas from "The Killing Joke" in his first Batman flick) but never with a note that makes you feel sympathetic to the gibbering lunatic's plight.

Starting out with Batman visiting the Joker in Arkham, and finding out that someone's pulled a switch and the Joker has escaped, we're soon spiralling on a rollercoaster ride of madness and violence courtesy of the clown prince of crime.

I think the main reason I love this graphic novel so much is because Batman takes a back seat. He's there briefly in scenes where he is merely a foil to the Joker's chaotic and directionless psychotic behaviour, gunning down Barbara Gordon (that scene is one of the most brutal I've ever seen in a comic but you'll probably argue I don't read the right comics) and kidnapping Commissioner Gordon for no better reason than to lure Batman to his doom.

In the present day this plotline is fairly cliched and throwaway (Oh look, the Joker's found yet another dismantled Amusement Park to turn into a criminal base!) but it's when the story digs right into the Joker's early life as a failed comedian turning to crime to support his pregnant wife, his emergence as "The Red Hood" and his eventual transformation into the Joker after falling into a chemical pit that lifts this story right up there into the higher echelons of Bat-legend.

After almost 20 years without a copy, it's been refreshing to see Bolland's work restored in this way, with all the original colouring by John (Watchmen) Higgins removed, linework subtly improved and new digital colours added by Brian himself. Flashback scenes feel vastly improved with highlights picked out in stark contrasting colours to compliment the fantastic character artwork (Bolland's Joker is by far the ideal image of the character, closely resembling the mania and pure evil of 1940s Joker from the old Batman comics). Though many will argue the backstory doesn't fit with whatever sprawling and disjointed universal arc the Batman mythology has crawled on its guts through, this really depicts why The Joker is the way he is, why he doesn't care, and why no holds are barred when it comes to his pure evil because he really doesn't have anything to lose and really couldn't care less what he gains.

The 20th Anniversary edition also contains a short story reuniting Bolland with Batman for an imagined would-be assassin's fantasy of killing Batman. "The Man with No Name" shows that Bolland could've carried on producing the definitive version of Batman ad infinitim (but then again you could say the same of anything he's ever been involved in, his work is that good and I sorely miss his superior versions of Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson / The Dark Judges).

Coming back to this has made me realise why I kept lending it out though, why I wanted to convince people it was worth reading and why it never came back. It's astonishingly good and if you've never read it you might as well give up comics and take up fly fishing instead.

"Batman: The Killing Joke" by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland is still in print and if you want the definitive version of this masterpiece, this is it.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Batman: Year 1 by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli (DC Comics)

No comments:
Perhaps the reason I'm so fascinated by Batman is that there are so many different 'takes' on the character that attempt to revive what it must've felt like to encounter Bob Kane and Bill Finger's character for the first time.

Back in the mid 80s, DC wanted to update their catalogue of superhero titles which had descended into stale samey stories with seemingly no direction or vision. Most writers tasked with re-inventing DC's other mainstays like Superman and Wonder Woman took cues from movies and TV but Frank Miller drew on something entirely different. The seething criminal underbelly of the US at the time, and the complete departure from Batman's fairly campy trademark shenanigans towards something entirely dark and malevolent.

"The Dark Knight Returns" (a huge favourite of mine) dealt with Batman's later years, as he struggles to maintain law and order in a city that has no moral boundaries, is ruled by gangs and has no sense of honour or respect amongst the various villains who cross the Dark Knight's path. Here though in "Batman: Year One" we return to Batman's well-trodden origin story to show Batman's evolution from vigilante to the ultimate symbol of justice.

We also get to learn Jim Gordon's origins (and if you're currently watching "Gotham" on Netflix, you'll definitely see seeds of Miller and Mazzuchelli's work dotted throughout that fine series) - and explore more of Batman's world as we begin to see Gotham as a city where the rot sets in from two directions, up from the streets and down from the GCPD and the justice system which is corrupt and powerless to stop various factions carving up Gotham like a christmas turkey.

Batman does take a bit of a back seat as "Year One" gets up to speed, and though it lacks the immediacy and some might say the 'completeness' of The Dark Knight Returns, it definitely instigated a huge revival of interest in the character before Tim Burton's movies came along and underpinned the comic's dark tones with cinematic gothic tones of its own.

Now it's almost impossible to imagine Batman being anything other than grim and gritty. "Year 1" is an absolutely essential part of your Bat-collection though.
Read More

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

"The Martian" by Andy Weir (Del Rey Publishing)

No comments:
Though you could be mistaken for thinking that this book was about a space-suited George Michael at the height of his fame thanks to the cover, inside is a work of intricate genius centred around one man's mission to stay alive in the most inhospitable climate imaginable - the harsh surface of the red planet, Mars.

Astronaut Mark Watney is the victim of a horrific accident during a manned mission to Mars. Left for dead by his crew, Watney actually survives ending up with a flagpole through his chest (!) and thus begins his fight for survival. With meagre resources but a ton of ingenuity and inventiveness, Watney becomes Mars' first farmer and realises that even on a desolate barren and unpopulated planet, Mankind's previous visits may well save him yet.

Told mostly from Mark's perspective, "The Martian" is obviously well researched, is hugely tense and exciting and eschews the random pratfall Mr-Magoo-esque exploits of the movie "Gravity" for a thorough and fascinating investigation into what it would be like to be in Mark's place. Would you have the will to carry on when it feels like the whole planet wants to kill you in a variety of new and interesting ways?

Dark humour laces the story as Mark struggles to stay mentally healthy as well as physically. Andy Weird has a talent for perfectly describing the sheer danger involved in space travel and exploration and the myriad of things that could go horribly wrong.

It's wholly engrossing, one of those books you have to force yourself to put down once you've started in on it and now there's a movie on the table, get into the book first (just in case Ridley Scott does a "Prometheus" on this and turns it into a horrible mess!)

"The Martian" by Andy Weir is out now in paperback from Del Rey Publishing.
Read More

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (DC Comics)

No comments:
To be entirely truthful, I'm fed up with losing this book and this will be the 5th and very last time I replace it (and it definitely won't be 'loaned out' to anyone ever again, never!). Clad in a new hard cover with Brian Bolland taking on colouring duties for this 20th Anniversary edition of (arguably) The Joker's darkest outing ever, it's not difficult to see why so many people stole my copy (yes stole, because I'd never willingly give anything this good away to anyone).

Origin stories are always tough to get right. Die-hard comic fans will always grumble and moan if someone comes in and interferes with an established character's genesis and it's always puzzled me why any new 'Superhero' movie or reboot feels the need to shove origin stories down your throat time and time again (please, spare us from ever seeing Peter Parker's uncle murdered, or Bruce Wayne's parents buying the farm in a dark alley).

But the Joker's origins? That's something that's been lightly touched on in movies (not difficult to see how Tim Burton used a few ideas from "The Killing Joke" in his first Batman flick) but never with a note that makes you feel sympathetic to the gibbering lunatic's plight.

Starting out with Batman visiting the Joker in Arkham, and finding out that someone's pulled a switch and the Joker has escaped, we're soon spiralling on a rollercoaster ride of madness and violence courtesy of the clown prince of crime.

I think the main reason I love this graphic novel so much is because Batman takes a back seat. He's there briefly in scenes where he is merely a foil to the Joker's chaotic and directionless psychotic behaviour, gunning down Barbara Gordon (that scene is one of the most brutal I've ever seen in a comic but you'll probably argue I don't read the right comics) and kidnapping Commissioner Gordon for no better reason than to lure Batman to his doom.

In the present day this plotline is fairly cliched and throwaway (Oh look, the Joker's found yet another dismantled Amusement Park to turn into a criminal base!) but it's when the story digs right into the Joker's early life as a failed comedian turning to crime to support his pregnant wife, his emergence as "The Red Hood" and his eventual transformation into the Joker after falling into a chemical pit that lifts this story right up there into the higher echelons of Bat-legend.

After almost 20 years without a copy, it's been refreshing to see Bolland's work restored in this way, with all the original colouring by John (Watchmen) Higgins removed, linework subtly improved and new digital colours added by Brian himself. Flashback scenes feel vastly improved with highlights picked out in stark contrasting colours to compliment the fantastic character artwork (Bolland's Joker is by far the ideal image of the character, closely resembling the mania and pure evil of 1940s Joker from the old Batman comics). Though many will argue the backstory doesn't fit with whatever sprawling and disjointed universal arc the Batman mythology has crawled on its guts through, this really depicts why The Joker is the way he is, why he doesn't care, and why no holds are barred when it comes to his pure evil because he really doesn't have anything to lose and really couldn't care less what he gains.

The 20th Anniversary edition also contains a short story reuniting Bolland with Batman for an imagined would-be assassin's fantasy of killing Batman. "The Man with No Name" shows that Bolland could've carried on producing the definitive version of Batman ad infinitim (but then again you could say the same of anything he's ever been involved in, his work is that good and I sorely miss his superior versions of Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson / The Dark Judges).

Coming back to this has made me realise why I kept lending it out though, why I wanted to convince people it was worth reading and why it never came back. It's astonishingly good and if you've never read it you might as well give up comics and take up fly fishing instead.

"Batman: The Killing Joke" by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland is still in print and if you want the definitive version of this masterpiece, this is it.
Read More