Today’s Super Comic — Batman #17 (2013)

batman_vol_2_17Batman’s “Death of the Family” story arc is one of the most disturbing Joker stories I’ve read. It’s also one of the richest psychologically.

Writer Scott Snyder drills into the heads of Batman and the Joker, amazingly giving a fresh spin to an antagonistic relationship that’s been going on for over seventy years. On the surface, it’s creepy as hell and far too nightmarish for children to read, but lots of careful thought clearly went into the narrative. The payoff in issue #17 is brilliant. Once you get past the grotesqueries, you find an intelligent comic hiding within.

It really shows just how versatile these characters are. They fit a seemingly endless variety of stories.

But keep the kiddies away from this one!

Writer: Scott Snyder

Penciler: Greg Capullo

Inker: Jonathan Glapion

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman vol. 3: Death of the Family (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Detective Comics #826 (2007)

detective_comics_826This is a nice Christmas comic…kind of like how Die Hard is a nice Christmas movie. So maybe it’s not “nice” exactly, but the holiday season provides a backdrop to gripping tension and action.

During a moment of desperation, Robin (Tim Drake) makes the mistake of getting into a stranger’s car. Turns out, the Joker is at the wheel. (And that’s why you don’t get into strangers’ cars!)

Joker ties up the Boy Wonder in the passenger’s seat and makes him watch helplessly as he runs over random pedestrians. And whenever he gets bored killing innocents, the Joker will probably kill Robin, too. It’s a death trap with psychological torture thrown in.

This is one of those done-in-one short stories writer Paul Dini excels at, particularly when it comes to Batman’s world. The Joker is at his most terrifying, and Robin needs to be at his most resourceful…which will require him to maintain his calm in the face of horrific murders.

It probably won’t get you into the Christmas spirit, but it is a great comic.

Writer: Paul Dini

Penciler: Don Kramer

Inker: Wayne Faucher

Cover: Simone Bianchi

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman: Detective (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batman #40 (2015)

batman_vol_2_40Batman was easily the best series of DC’s New 52 relaunch, and that’s due to superb writing and art by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, respectively. Not content to simply rehash what’s come before, they built on the Batman mythos, contributing new details and injecting fresh energy into this septuagenarian franchise.

Even though issue #40 concludes yet another climactic Batman vs. Joker storyline, it never feels like “yet another” clash between the classic foes. It’s entirely its own thing, and it’s the natural progression of events from the previous 39 issues. (The story is too recent that I don’t want to spoil anything.)

I wouldn’t call it definitive—Batman is a versatile enough character to defy “definitive”—but it is distinctive. It’s a Batman story as only Snyder and Capullo can tell it. They take this iconic character who has appeared in countless stories in practically every medium over the course of decades, and they make him their own…for the moment. And we can only hope that the next writers and artists to get their “turns” with the Dark Knight will be just as talented as these guys.

Writer: Scott Snyder

Penciler: Greg Capullo

Inker: Danny Miki

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman vol. 7: Endgame (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batman: The Killing Joke (1988)

Batman Killing JokeWith the animated adaptation coming out, it seemed like a good time to revisit Batman: The Killing Joke. After rereading it, I find myself thinking, yes, it is possible for a book to be both brilliant and terrible.

Of course, this series of reviews focuses exclusively on good comic books, those that would rate a B+ or better. And yes, The Killing Joke is a great graphic novel. I’ll address the justifiably controversial part and move on.

What happens to Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) is terrible. Without getting into specifics, an excellent heroine is sacrificed to test a man’s strength of character (her father, Commissioner Gordon). The biggest problem with this is that it contributes to an unfortunate trend—hurting female characters to motivate male characters. If it just happened once in a while, and if the reverse also happened about as frequently, then it wouldn’t be as big a deal (though still a waste of Batgirl in this case). As part of a trend, though, it makes for an uncomfortable read. Plus, this is a pivotal, traumatic event in Batgirl’s life, and she’s barely a supporting character in the story. It reeks of sexism.

But as a Batman/Joker/Commissioner Gordon story, The Killing Joke is amazing, with a perfect premise—the Joker wants to prove that even a man as rational and normal as Jim Gordon is only one bad day away from going as insane as he is. Flashbacks to Joker’s own “one bad day” are carefully placed throughout, though the book is delightfully ambiguous about whether the Joker’s origin story is true or if it’s an invention of his crazy brain.

Alan Moore’s script is full of memorable, insightful dialogue and strong, well-earned moments, and Brian Bolland’s art is nothing short of fantastic, the drawings themselves as well as the structure of the page layouts. Even a simple nine-panel grid feels fluid and dynamic because of how Bolland stages the scene. These characters act, and it all feels so cinematic.

I can’t think of any other comic that makes me want to simultaneously throw it across the room and praise it as a work of art. But The Killing Joke achieves that distinction, which is twisted, really, like the Joker himself.

One more thing—KEEP YOUR KIDS AWAY FROM THIS BOOK. Not every Batman book is appropriate for kids, and this is one of the least appropriate Bat-books ever. There’s a reason the cartoon adaptation is rated R.

Writer: Alan Moore

Artist: Brian Bolland

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology


Today’s Super Comics: Detective Comics #475-476 (1978)

Detective475Writer Steve Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers had a superb and all-too-brief run of Batman stories in Detective Comics in the late 1970s, climaxing in this two-part Joker tale. It’s so good, Batman: The Animated Series adapted it pretty faithfully years later.

The Joker wants to copyright fish. He poisons them so that they all have permanently grinning faces, thus sharing his likeness. So he feels his copyright claim is a perfectly reasonable proposition, and until he gets his cut of every fish sale nationwide, he’ll kill one person at a time. Each execution is publicly announced, with plenty of forewarning for Batman and the police to take measures to protect the innocent…provided they can predict how their brilliantly insane nemesis will strike.

And then there’s the ongoing subplot of Bruce Wayne’s new love interest, Silver St. Cloud—an excellent match for him and someone too smart to be fooled by a mask.

There are a lot of great interpretations of Batman out there, in print and in film, but this is the type of Batman I prefer. He’s heroic, intelligent, strong, and not crazy. This Batman is capable of warmth and healthy relationships, while still being driven and utterly devoted to his mission.

The depiction of the Joker is also spot-on. He’s frightening in his unpredictability, but with an underlying method to his madness that can be fathomed only by himself.

There are no cheap shocks here, just strong storytelling skills, great characters, and an inventive story.

Writer: Steve Englehart

Penciler: Marshall Rogers

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: DC

How to Read Them: back issues; included in Batman: Strange Apparitions (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up