Tuesday, September 30, 2014

BATMAN AND SON plus BONUS CONTENT: How to read Grant Morrison's entire Batman run!

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Andy Kubert, JH Williams III, Tony S. Daniel
$19.99, DC Comics, 384 pgs.
ISBN 978-1401244026

In 2006, Scottish comics scribe Grant Morrison launched the most ambitious run in Batman's 75-year history, one ultimately hailed as among the best Batman tales ever told. That storied run begins here, as Gotham's Dark Knight discovers he has fathered a son with Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra's al Ghul, master of assassins. Will young Damian Wayne take up the mantle of the bat, fighting crime by his father's side? Or will his upbringing by the League of Assassins turn him into Batman's deadliest foe? And who are the three Batman impersonators leaving a trail of bodies across Gotham?

From the very beginning, Morrison's run on Batman is stuffed to bursting with outlandish ideas and strange, magnificent plot twists. The Damian storyline—vital to later Batman continuity—accounts for only the first few chapters of this book. The better part of this volume is devoted to the emergence of the Black Glove, a world-spanning criminal enterprise which factors heavily into the next phase of Morrison's run, Batman R.I.P. However, while this book was clearly written to lay the groundwork for the epic storyline Morrison would tell over the next 7 years (!), BATMAN AND SON is perfectly enjoyable in its own right. Effortlessly blending the action and mystery elements of Batman's world with the absurd convolutions that world acquired in decades past, BATMAN AND SON is a wild ride.

For crying out loud, it has Batman fighting giant, mutated bat-ninjas. Don't even try to tell me that doesn't sound awesome.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: You might be wondering why I'm reviewing this book. This is a new printing, sure, but the book isn't really "new." Well, three reasons. One, Batman: People will be discovering this run for years to come. Two, Morrison: He is writing DC's Multiversity event right now, and has a great deal of buzz built up around him. And three, there's a new Batman-related TV series called Gotham airing on Fox, and if the trailer for the first season is any indication, the series will draw on Morrison's abundance of ideas, thus driving readers to the source comics. In addition, this book is a bargain, as graphic novels go; it costs twenty bucks, yet contains literally twice the quantity of comics that price normally gets you. Between the interest level and the price point, you can be certain BATMAN AND SON is worth your collection development dollar.

READERS' ADVISORY NOTES: Bat-fans will definitely appreciate this title, as will fans of Morrison's other comics work. Though Morrison draws heavily on obscure Batman continuity for inspiration, knowledge of that continuity isn't required to enjoy this book; it serves as a satisfying beginning point. Morrison's Bat-run had a few horror elements in it, too (which makes sense, given that Batman's rogues gallery includes a nigh-endless parade of theme-obsessed psychotic killers), so horror buffs are likely to find something to enjoy here as well.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Superhero action/violence, some horror violence, suggestive content. If BATMAN AND SON were a film, it would carry a PG-13 rating.

BONUS: The rest of the story...

Reading Morrison's entire Batman run is a little tricky, since there's no over-arching numbering to walk you through the whole thing. If you want to read and/or purchase the whole globe-spanning epic (and why wouldn't you?), here's the reading order from beginning to end. (Note: Morrison wrote some Batman appearances in other titles, including the crossover event Final Crisis, but those appearances aren't required reading. The run itself is contained in these volumes, and events that take place outside the run are summarized in these pages.)

BATMAN AND SON (ISBN 978-1401244026)

BATMAN R.I.P. (ISBN 978-1401225766)

Strictly speaking, Time and the Batman isn't mandatory for understanding Morrison's run, as it's possible to go from the ending of Batman R.I.P. directly into Batman & Robin Vol. 1. That said, it greatly enhances the reading experience and makes the transition much more satisfying on a narrative level.

BATMAN & ROBIN Vol. 1: BATMAN REBORN (ISBN 978-1401229870)
Be careful not to confuse this series with the New 52 series Batman and Robin. Note that one uses the word "and" in the title, the other, the "&" sign; note also that the individual volumes have different titles and that Morrison is credited on one series and not the other.

BATMAN & ROBIN Vol. 2: BATMAN VS. ROBIN (ISBN 978-1401232719)

The events of this book actually take place parallel to the first three or four chapters of Batman & Robin Vol. 3. It's a time travel story, though, so make of that what you will. A word of warning: this volume is tied into DC's pre-New 52 continuity in a myriad of ways, which might make it tough to follow if you're not a longtime DC reader. That said, this story explains a number of plot points key to the second phase of Morrison's run, so it's worth the confusion.

BATMAN & ROBIN Vol. 3: BATMAN & ROBIN MUST DIE (ISBN 978-1401235086)

This volume collects the first comics released under the Batman, Incorporated title; the next two on the list collect the second series to bear that title. Both series are vital to understanding the run, as this is where the whole thing builds to its conclusion.



Review copyright©C. Michael Hall, 2014.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Artist: Roc Upchurch
$9.99, Image Comics, 128 pgs.
ISBN 978-1607069454

Imagine the stalwart band of heroic adventurers headlining your traditional sword and sorcery tale: the kind of troupe you'd encounter in, say, The Lord of the Rings, or your average game of Dungeons & Dragons. Now, re-imagine that group as a team of wise-cracking, booze-swilling women equipped with weapons, magic, and attitude to spare, and you've got RAT QUEENS. Series creators Wiebe and Upchurch have taken a collection of classic fantasy tropes and stood them on their ear, simply by viewing the material from a female perspective as opposed to the male paradigm that typically dominates heroic fantasy. And the result is an absolute blast.

Our heroines are but one band of mercenaries inhabiting their world, a place where parties of adventurers compete to score choice adventure opportunities (modern freelancers, regardless of the field, will almost certainly empathize). Of course, in the Rat Queens' line of work, disgruntled associates don't just sabotage your career...they cast dark magic in your direction and dispatch monsters to devour you whole. Unfortunately for the Rat Queens—but great for the reader!—our heroines have no shortage of enemies and rivals.

A fresh take on a genre that relies too often on business as usual, RAT QUEENS is snarky, funny, exciting, and violently over-the-top, yet strangely poignant: the book never forgets its characters are people. Frankly, if more role-playing games and fantasy books were executed like this comic, I'd be a much bigger fan of the genre.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: It's yet another $9.99 volume one from Image Comics! This pricing strategy is perfect for libraries and for the publisher: you get a cheap graphic novel for your shelves, they create a bunch of new readers. Everyone wins!There's a RAT QUEENS TV series in the making, so get this book on your shelves before the media hype machine kicks into gear.

READERS' ADVISORY NOTES: Suggest this one to fantasy readers, fans of role-playing games (odds are, you've got a group playing in your library!), and those who prefer their comics female-driven. The series' humor and violence will appeal to those who like their comics a little bit on the subversive side, too.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Adult language/themes, fantasy violence and blood

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Writer: Alan Moore (credited as "The Original Writer")
Artists: Gary Leach, Alan Davis
$29.99, Marvel Comics, 176 pgs.
ISBN 978-0785154624

One of the most legendary runs in comic book history is back in print at long last!

Freelance reporter Michael Moran dreams of wondrous and terrible things: of soaring through the clouds, of doing battle, of seeing dear friends die in flames. Mike's dreams turn out to be more than mere fantasy, however, when he rediscovers the long-forgotten magic word that transforms him into Miracleman, a being of mythic stature and godlike power who vanished from human consciousness decades ago. Mike and his wife Liz see their life wholly transformed as Miracleman's reappearance propels them toward a strange new future...provided, of course, the remnants of his past don't destroy them first.

It doesn't sound like anything especially remarkable when described so simply, but that's because the real magic to MIRACLEMAN is not in the concepta classic "hero rediscovered" myth narrativebut in the execution. This series proved so influential in the 1980s that it virtually redefined superhero comic books and established its writer, Alan Moore, as one of the most important comic book writers of his generation. Moore's deconstructionist approach to the archetypal superhero changed the way pop culture thinks about this kind of character. Not bad for a series that was essentially an attempt to restore to commercial viability a decades-old knock-off of Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel...but that's another story, one big enough to warrant its own book...specifically, my pal George Khoury's Kimota! The Miracelman Companion (ISBN 978-1893905115).

Now that Marvel Comics has spent a fortune untangling the complex legal issues surrounding ownership of the character, readers can at last enjoy this famous story in a high-quality (i.e. "not bootlegged") format, with all-new digital coloring and digital lettering. The end product's not without flaw; Moore was still developing his authorial voice when he wrote this first volume, much of which is over-written and mired in comic book tradition (right down to the thought balloons). But, by the time it was over, Moore's run on MIRACLEMAN was a watershed, a quantum leap forward in comics craftsmanship, and the brilliance begins here.

Top marks, warts and all.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: For its length, this book is pricey. Of course, it took about a bajillion lawsuits and handshake deals with various creators to get this series back into print. Those costs have been passed on to the consumer, I suppose. Still, it's a series you will circulate, both to fans of comics history and just plain good comics, so it's worth your collection development dollar. Oh, and the second volume hits shelves in October!

READER'S ADVISORY NOTES: Fans of "mature" comics will gravitate to this one, as will both fans and detractors of writer Alan Moore. If you've got patrons who've enjoyed deconstructionist/revisionist works such as Marvel's The Ultimates, DC/Wildstorm's The Authority, DC's Watchmen, and even Mark Millar's Kick-Ass, steer them toward this one. This is where the deconstructionist movement started, after all.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Graphic superhero violence, adult language, nudity

Review©2014. C. Michael Hall