Thursday, July 17, 2008
Word Balloon: Batman: The Killing Joke, the Dark Knight Returns, and Batman: The Long Halloween
With July's edition of the World Balloon! should arguably highlight a great Batman book, with The Dark Knight opening tomorrow in theaters. I thought long and hard about which Batman book to single out. Of all the heroes, Batman has some of the best stories. As opposed to Superman, who many find limited by his All American Boy Scout appeal, Batman is the person anyone can be if they wanted. Batman can do a detective story, a horror story, an adventure story, psychological or straight up super hero. He has the broad appeal. With so many great trades to pick from I couldn't pick one. This article will highlight 3 different creative teams and what i think are the three most important Batman stories.
Up first is the great Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland's Batman: The Killing Joke. Published by DC Comics in 1988, it's called the greatest Joker story ever told. It's the story of the Joker and his escape from Arkham Asylum and his quest to prove that even the most upstanding citizen can have one bad day. The book is inter cut with looks at the possible origin of the Joker, originally an engineer and struggling stand up comic who is coerced into helping two thieves rob his plant. In a disguise as the Red Hood (which the thieves make him dress as) he learns that his wife, pregnant with his child, has died in an accident, and that Batman is at the crime scene. In his attempt to escape from Batman, his falls into a vat of chemicals, which transform him into the insane Joker.
In the present setting of the book, Joker infiltrates Commissioner Gordon's house, shooting his daughter (unknowingly crippling Batgirl in the process) and kidnapping Gordon. Locking Gordon in a carnival freak show he torments him by showing him footage of his shot and crippled daughter in various states of undress. When Batman arrives and frees Gordon, Gordon wants him brought in by the book, and Batman must combat the maze of traps in his path before confronting the Joker.
Alan Moore and Bolland straight up write a perfect Joker story. Batman, the hero, is the incidental character and the true story is a look into how someone as insane as the Joker sees the world. It heavily influenced both Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, as well as The Dark Knight. I would also constitute it as my favorite Batman tale.
Up second is writer/artist Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Published by DC Comics in 1986, this four issue mini series re-introduced the world at large to the darkly psychological Batman we know today, finally breaking the camp stigma of the 1960's television series.
Set in a dsytopic "Reaganomics" future, Batman has retired from fighting after the death of the second Robin. Supervillians have long been culled, but Gotham is overrun by petty thugs and criminals. After a rehabilitated Harvey Dent resumes his criminal ways, Batman can no longer stay retired. With his re-emergence in the spotlight, he takes on a new Robin in 13 year old Carrie Kelley, a product of neglectful parents. Upon confronting Dent and the ruling band of thugs called The Mutants, the current police commissioner issues a warrant for Batman's arrest.
The Joker, who had been in a catatonic state for years inside Arkham, then escapes to confront Batman again. In their final showdown, Batman realizes that killing the Joker would have saved more lives ultimately, but he can't bring himself to do it. Instead he breaks the Joker's neck. After the Joker's expresses his disappointment in Batman, he effectively breaks his own neck framing Batman for the murder. With this information, Batman's old alley is drawn to the fray, and Superman must confront him and stop his reign over Gotham.
The final battle between these two is epic. Batman, assisted by a one armed Green Arrow goes toe to toe with Superman, now a shell of his former self and a government puppet, yet Superman still has all his powers. The climatic ending leaves both men changed forever, and shows just why Batman is the greatest super hero of them all.
Miller dealt with several themes in the book, bring back the dark brooding hulk of a Batman. A Batman, while operating within a code, it is a code with much murkier lines and really ushered in the bronze age of comics. It was one of the first comics that spoke to an adult audience, that told a story that showed that comics were a form of art, a medium that could transcend itself from four color funny pages. Many people consider this to be the greatest Batman story of all.
Finally is writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale's Batman: The Long Halloween. Published as a 13 issue mini series by DC in 1996 to 1997. Set during Batman's second year (Miller having re-established Batman's continuity during his seminal Year One during 1986 to 1987) it tells the story of a young Batman and his year long quest to find a criminal known as Holiday, a killer who commits crimes once a month, during that month's holiday. Staring on Halloween, the series ran for a year culminating with the reveal the following year's Halloween.
The story highlights both a new holiday each month, and spotlights a year one look at all of Batman's rogue's gallery. After a mass break out at Arkham Batman tracks each villain down in hopes of finding which is the Holiday killer. The Joker, Catwoman, Two-Face, The Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, the Riddler, The Penguin, even lesser known thugs like Solomon Grundy and the Calender Man. Sale visuals are perfect for Batman (you may know his work from the TV show Heroes, for which he did all the paintings. It's dark brooding and perfect for Batman. The best part is the twist ending, which gives you clues all throughout the year long series and allows you the reader to solve the crime along with Batman.
The series shows the development of Batman and Gordon's relationship and shows Harvey Dent's spiral into the villainous Two-Face. It takes a fresh approach to Batman's rogues, and gives us an old fashioned detective story, which is ultimately what Batman was first about.
These three books each give their own take on Batman, offering three unique views of the Caped Crusader. Alan Moore gives you a psychological insight into the mind of the villain. Frank Miller gives you a take no prisoner's approach to Batman with his view of an aging Batman, who can't quit what he has become, despite not being what he once was. Loeb and Sale offer up a great detective story with super hero elements that deconstruct Batman. They even have a very solid followup mini series called Batman: Dark Victory as well as several Long Halloween One shots if you liked this take.
All of these books are available in trade paperback currently at most major book stores. Check out the re-issue of Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (or grab the DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore which contains both the Killing Joke and his seminal Superman story Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, his take on the last Superman story). You can grab Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Batman" The Long Halloween at most any bookstore or online as well.
I'll post my take on The Dark Knight later this weekend. Keep Reading!
End of Line.