Sunday, June 15, 2008

My Batman Phase

Because Morrison's Batman has me digging back through Batman and Detective back issues and reading as much Batman stuff as I can, I guess you could say I'm in a Batman phase right now.

I'm a guy who has never followed characters--I'll drop a title if I don't like the creators (although I'll always give them a couple of issues to win me over), and I don't really ever think in terms of favorite characters. I've said before that choosing a comic because you like the characters is like choosing a book because you like the nouns. I look to the writers first--characters are only as interesting as their writers make them.

With that said, I did go through an obsessive Legion of Super-Heroes phase in 2006-2007, to prepare for the Teenagers from the Future project (available soon--there's been another delay with the publisher, but don't worry--it's still coming!), and now I guess Batman's on my mind. I picked up every hardcover Batman collection at my local comic shop and I've been digging through my longboxes, reading Batman stuff I haven't read in years. I even reread "Broken City," which I really didn't like at the time, but now I find fascinating. I think the ending is still terrible, and it's really just Sin City Batman, but Risso's art is gorgeous and Azzarello's terse narrative creates a unique vision of Gotham City. The plot is a mess, but the mood is terrific.

And, as I mentioned in a recent Splash Page installment, I've been reading every Neal Adams Batman story, immersing myself in the confident and virile Batman of the Bronze Age.

So, here's the question of the day: Not including anything by Frank Miller (it's too easy to cite DKR or Year One), what is your favorite Batman issue, arc, trade paperback, episode, whatever? What's the Batman you're into and why?


randyhate said...

i really loved matt wagner's faces story.

after year one it is my favorite batman story of all time. i really enjoyed the 1st 3 years or so of the legends of the dark night storylines in general though.

Marc Caputo said...

You see, that's what I don't like about ASBARTBW - it's Batman in Sin City. And to me, Sin City is Gotham without the hope that Batman gives.

And I may get my ass handed to me for this, but when I first came back 4-5 years ago, "Hush" was just finishing. I really enjoyed it. Also, I liked the Loeb run of Superman/Batman.

Yes, Tim, it is me writing this...

Essentially, I like Superman MUCH more than Batman. But I really liked the "High Society" vibe of "Hush" and Loeb really got the dynamic between the two down really well. The Supergirl arc was weak and the last arc was...WHOA...but I enjoyed the ride

Marc Caputo said...

Oh, Tim, I keep forgetting to ask.

Do you and your son watch the BBC version of Robin Hood? If not, you may want to test drive an episode for yourself. But I think it's very well done and tailor made for a young audience, especially boys.

andy khouri said...

When anyone asks me this question, the first thing I think of is actually a scene out of "Superman: The Odyssey" by Graham Nolan and Chuck Dixon. The one-shot follows Clark Kent as he sort of walks the Earth for a time in his early adulthood, prior to becoming SUPERMAN.

At one point, Clark is walking going some stairs, up a mountain to a hidden temple where he wants to learn about some spiritual Asian stuff. On the way up these miles-long stairs, Clarks walks past a dark-haired man who says absolutely nothing, they just make eye-contact, and Clark says the guy gave him a shiver up his spine.

When Clark reaches the temple, there are dead ninjas littered EVERYWHERE, and a monk tells Clark that he just missed their last American visitor, a man calling himself "Mr. Smith."


Kris Krause said...

Batman 416 by Jim Starlin has always been a favorite issue of mine. It's a done in one story about Nightwing's first confrontation with Batman over Batman taking on a new Robin and his firing of Dick Grayson, which I believe was just recently retconned into continuity from the original story of Dick voluntarily giving up the role of Robin.

The issue captures the perfect balance between a withdrawn Batman but not the complete a-hole he would become over the next decade. Here Bruce is reluctant to admit he "fired" Dick out of concern, but ultimately overreacted, and took on Jason out of regret for hastily pushing Dick away. There is a lot of change that happens in the story internally for Bruce, Dick, and Jason so it's quite literary in terms of the dynamic treatment of the three main characters.

I was about a year old when the issue came out, but found it when I was about nine in a back issue bin and grabbed it right away when I saw Nightwing on the cover. Nightwing, as I've made pretty clear in earlier comments, is my favorite character. So I'll use this as an opportunity to segue into your discussion of readers who follow characters.

I'm working on a paper that explores the fluidity of comic book continuity for modern readers, which I think is just the contemporary example of a similar trend that can be applied to many great canons throughout history such as Greek Mythology, The Bible, and Shakespeare. The big difference with comics though is that it's contemporary. There isn't a history of criticism or a group of elites who have bound together or consistently favored certain stories over others. There are the publishers who try to dictate what is and isn't canon, but their power is fleeting as it is often overturned some years later anyway. But an individual fan's personal continuity can never be overturned by a change in editors or a Crisis on Infinite Finalities if the reader chooses to reject those newer stories.

I personally believe that long after comics have ended publication, a canon of its biggest characters like Batman and Superman, will come together. It may be somewhat contradictory, but future generations will not have the liberty of creating their own continuity based off of knowledge of almost all of the existing stories that is sewn together by nothing more than the individual reader's personal taste. In fact, I'm sure many stories will be lost over time, as well as many minor characters.

Given that the modern comics reader has so much control and so many options, following a particular character can be a bit of an adventure and a much more interesting way to interact with the texts than other mediums allow the reader. It can also be far more frustrating when the company publishes years worth of material that contradict a reader's personal canon, but that comes with the territory.

Now in recent years I've found myself adopting the creator-based approach to comics for the most part. I read Green Lantern not because I've ever cared about Hal Jordan, but because Geoff Johns makes me care about Hal Jordan. But the fluidity of comic continuity makes character-based comic buying more interesting from an analytical perspective and more rewarding/frustrating from a fan's perspective so I couldn't resist responding to that aspect of your post.

But yeah, go read Batman 416 if you haven't. I think it holds up quite well despite being over 20 years old.

Richard said...

I miss the Seventies Batman of my youth. Not merely because it was the one from my youth, but also because we had folks like Archie Goodwin, Frank Robbins, and later Steve Englehart writing a supremely competent Darknight Detective who was troubled but not a complete whiny basket case.

Yes, the era I like best is always referred to as "the Neal Adams Batman" but it includes mainly stories not drawn by Adams. He deserves a lot of credit...but he really does suck up all the air in the room and no one else ever gets a share of that credit, which is more than a little unfair.

Chad Nevett said...

...I just realised that I've never really followed any Bat-book or really been into Batman at all. I read some of Greg Rucka's run on Detective Comics and it was decent. I've got Frank Miller stuff and Broken City... but besides Morrison's current run, I think that's it. Can't really say I have a favourite Batman story, I guess. Huh. Weird.

malpractice said...

The Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle run on Detective Comics is my favorite run on the Bat-books (and some of my favorite comics in general).

'Blind Justice' by Sam Hamm is one of my favorite Batman stories, and one i find quite underrated.

There is stuff i love from every era though. I love the stories from the 40's (especially the early Joker appearences), The Silver Age madness of Broome/Fox/Infantino era, The redefining of the Dark Knight in the O'neil/Adams era, Mike W. Barr's retro throwback run and his 'Son Of The Demon' GN, Frank Miller's stuff, etc.

While i mainly follow writers, Batman is really that one character that you can get me to pretty much read or buy anything related to it. The only era that really turned me off was the late 90's up until a year or so ago which i dub the 'Asshole Batman' era. I love what Morrison, Dini, and Miller are doing on the Bat-books now though.

Timothy Callahan said...

nadir: I like "Faces" as well--and I think that point in Matt Wagner's career was his pinnacle. His work on Batman over the past couple of years (starting with his Trinity and up through his two early years miniseries) has not been nearly as strong, art-wise or story-wise.

Marc: I have no problem with Loeb. I'll go on record as saying that. I think he's a terrible plotter, and I think "Hush" is a bad story, but he's good at fun moments and I liked his Batman/Superman as much as you. He knows how to write for his artists, that's for sure.

And no, we don't watch the BBC Robin Hood. I gave it about 15 minutes to win me over, and it seemed to be too much soap opera for me.

Andy: You know what they call a pile of dead ninjas? A good start.

Kris: I have read that issue--I started getting the Batman comics regularly with issue #403 (good timing, since Year One started in the very next issue), but I always felt Starlin's run was overly restrained and too street-level. I'll have to go back and check out that issue, though.

RAB: Yeah, but that's because everyone else was trying to do their Neal Adams riff. It's pretty obvious that he changed the look of those comics and represents that era. And the Batman from that time is my favorite Batman too, even though I didn't read it until much later--and I've still only read selected stories--not like 100 issues in a row. But, for me, that era did Batman right, and nobody else has been able to balance all of the aspects of his character nearly as well since.

Chad: So I guess the Morrison run would be your favorite, eh?

Mal: I recently went back and reread the Grant/Breyfogle Detective issues (last fall) and while they were better than I remembered, I completely hit a wall when I got to the Sam Hamm three-issue arc. I'm a big Denys Cowan fan, and I still couldn't get through those three issues, even though I remember them as being quite good. I ended up skipping the last two just to get back to Grant/Breyfogle.

Unknown said...

I'm a huge Batman fan, and have been reading the comics on and off for the past 14 years. Blind Justice is definitely in the top 10, an amazing story.

Batman's had so many different interpretations, but they all hold up.

City of Crime and Broken City were among my more favorites in recent years. Imagine Bill sienkiewicz had actually drawn City of Crime! (He was supposed to have originally drawn it).

The best versions of Batman tend to be the dark, obsessive, and withdrawn one. Legends of the Dark Knight 1-50 perfectly capture all elements of Batman. That's a great primer on making good batman stories (also Grant Morrison's Gothic!).

But my personal favorite would have to be KnightFall. Denny O'neill is an extremely underrated writer, and GOT it. The novel is also quite excellent. It's that storyline that got me into comics.

randyhate said...

this quote from the original post has been bugging me all day:

"I don't really ever think in terms of favorite characters. I've said before that choosing a comic because you like the characters is like choosing a book because you like the nouns."

i can partially see the logic in the 1st statement. there is much more than just the iconography and/or the impulse behind a character in a comic going on. but do you have characters you hate? characters that no matter who wrote them you would not read because they are who they are? i for one, really have enjoyed everything i have read bu jason aaron, but i will never in a million years read his ghost rider, as that character is so flawed in my mind that i wish it would fall down the memory hole as quickly as possible.

but even if you start to rate characters as good bad, then you are performing a simplistic hierarchy that naturally leads to a favorite(s).

thus, my real problem is with the flippancy of comparing favorite characters with nouns.

1st this is insulting to the creators of the character(s) in question and writers in general. that all they do is move nouns around on a page is a dirty implication that does not sit well with me.

as a writer yourself i am surprised that you would be so derisive to a craft you enjoy and that benefits you so.

Timothy Callahan said...

It's not flippancy, it's just that nouns have no power on their own (okay, maybe some nouns are slightly more evocative than others)--it's up to the writer to use those nouns to create stories. It's how they're used that gives them power.

Same with characters.

And no, I don't have a least favorite character, because it's not about the character--the character is a construct of the writer. Jason Aaron's Ghost Rider is five thousand times superior to Daniel Way's Ghost Rider, and it has nothing to do with the character and everything to do with how the character is written.

What's so inherently flawed about the character that would keep you from ever reading about him? (Whatever it is, it's the work of previous writers, not the character itself.)

marcwrz said...

Azzarello and Risso's "Broken City" arc.

its far more recent but I liked it a lot when I read it and going back old school 80s batman, some of the first issues I ever read was a two-parter (I think) of Batman hunting a sadistic misogynist and no costumes, just very, very street level and vicious.

I was around eight at the time while reading this and its still burned into my mind. the bad guy was named Karl and was basically a human version of Marvel's sabertooth in a way. Hmmm now I'll need to dig up those issues somehow...