BatWatch Review: The Dark Knight #24 - Captive Audience

Captive Audience

The Dark Knight has consistently been the weakest of the Batman titles, and that's a shame since it's chosen field, the criminal denizens of Gotham, should make for a good source for story fodder, but somehow, each villainous issue seems to fall into the same pattern of retelling the origin of a villain which is always steeped in tragedy accompanied by a caper in modern days that is derivative of other better stories and eventually foiled by the Bat. It would be nice if this Clayface story could end this negative trend. 

Does The Dark Knight #24 shape up to greatness or is this soggy pile of much toppling towards disappointment? 

In this issue, Clayface bonds with another prison inmate and shares the story of his childhood.  

A Shape Worthy Spying

Though I was not crazy about this issue as a whole, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself impressed with Clayface's origin. Unlike most villains that have been explored in this series, Clayface was not horribly abused nor did he suffer some terrible tragedy. He chose to be the criminal he became, yet at the same time, I find the plight that led him to this path to be more compelling that the "child that had a horrible childhood" story we saw with Penguin, Scarecrow and the Hatter. What I like about this origin is that it does not make Clayface a victim. I felt for him as a kid, but I don't think he was forced into this life in any way. He chose to do wrong because he was selfish, and it's refreshing to see a story that does not give an excuse for the criminal.

There were definitely some things that annoyed me about the issue though. This is a reboot of the character's origin, and like many reboots, it is both unnecessary and arguably worse than the original. (Spoilers until Conclusion) Clayface now gets his power from a Native American cube of organic clay? Yeah, sure. That was a necessary change that makes the character much more relevant to the modern audience. I'm so thankful for that update! Speaking of continuity changes, Clayface now gained the ability to copy people on a genetic level before he started his crime spree. That was an addition to his power set added by Scott Snyder just six months ago. We can't stick to one script of continuity for six months? Are you even trying, DC? Clayface's choice to become a criminal didn't seem to take much of a push either. As best as I can tell, Penguin told him to start killing people, and he did so without a seconds thought...which makes it seem like we are missing a key scene.  

Finally, can we let a villain have a little happiness? There has been a big stir up recently about DC declaring that its heroes cannot be happy, but DC seems to have just as much a problem with letting villains have some relief. If Clayface got a friend out of this issue that he took with him on future crime sprees, would that be such a bad deal? Do we have to have him as a static, miserable character for the rest of his existence?

Conlcusion 7/10

To my surprise, I really liked most of Clayface's origin, but the unnecessary changes in the origin and return to status quo at the end frustrated me quite a bit.  

BatWatch Review: The Dark Knight #23.3 - Clayface

Not Just Another Pretty Face

Clayface is one of the biggest threats Batman has in his Rouges Gallery in terms of sheer power, yet it seems Clayface always gets defeated in the lamest of ways either falling prey to his own ineptitude or some random gadget of the Bat. I would like to see Clayface as something more compelling than just a threatening lump of clay.  

Does this issue change the face of Clayface for the better or the worse?  

In this issue, Clayface decides to take out a pocket of resistance in order to gain favor with The Secret Society.

Premise Promises Popped

In many ways, I like the premise of this issue. Clayface has a bunch of power, yet he can never make good with it. That kind of makes him a loser, and that's the angle this story takes. When Clayface sees a way to prove he's capable of the big show, he takes it.  

It's a cool idea. In a way, we're rooting for the underdog, and that's something most people can get behind even if the underdog is an evil lump of clay.  

The problem is that there is no real conflict in this entire issue.  

It seems like there will be both an internal and external conflict for Clayface, but neither one ever manifests. In the personal department, Clayface is presented as someone who knows he's down on a luck and is looking for a way out, but he seems to stupid to realize that he always screws himself. The way he starts off this issue, (Minor Spoilers) a loser with no prospects of being something better, is the way he ends the issue, a loser with not prospects of being something better. There is no character arc for this painfully simple villain. There is no growth. There is nothing other than some dead bodies that can be attributed to Clayface's actions, and that's really boring. Theoretically, we could at least see a cool physical battle as Clayface takes on the resistance, but he does not face anybody anywhere close to giving him a challenge, so it's just a slaughter fest with no point.

Conclusion 4/10

If you just want to see Clayface kill people, then this might be up your alley, but for anybody wanting more than that, you should probably skip this one.  

More Reviews

Batman 23.3 - The Penguin  

Detective Comics #23.3 - Scarecrow 

Batman and Robin #23.3 - Ra's Al Ghul 

The Dark Knight #23.3 - Clayface 

Teen Titans #23.2 - Deathstroke  

Batman '66 #12 - The Clock King Strikes 

Legends of the Dark Knight #66 - #68 - I...Robot

BatWatch Review: The Dark Knight #23.2 - Mr. Freeze

Unleashes

I am not expecting much from this. I don't like Mr. Freeze in the DCNU. Rather than being someone willing to kill to revive his wife, he's just a delusional guy with no grasp on reality who kills people because...I guess he feels they are keeping him from his loved one? Mr. Freeze fails to compel me these days. Also, I despise his haircut. Still, I've been pleasantly surprised before on the quality of an issue. Maybe Mr. Freeze will prove me wrong.

Does Mr. Freeze warm the hearts of fans or chill them to the core? 

In this issue, Mr. Freeze finds reason to believe he has a half brother, so when the gates of Arkham are ripped open, he check up on family.

Rebooting Quailty

I don't like the DCNU reboot just on sheer principle, but even ignoring my desire to see stories preserved, I never understood why the creators, when given liberty to change things up, decided to change things that were working well. If someone had a bad costume or a stupid origin, then it makes sense to change if the reboot must happen, but to take a character with a good motivation and change them on a fundamental level in the hopes that you will find something that will resonate even better with fans does not track with me. Why pass on a winning hand to gamble that you'll get something even better? Iconic comic characters are iconic because they are already resonating with comic nerds.  

Essentially, the reboot is what I feel fails in this issue.  

To be fair, this issue was not as bad as I feared. It did enough of a recap to help fans remember Mr. Freeze's new history, and I actually found myself enjoying the first half of the issue as Mr. Freeze delivers his own form of justice. It was not deep, but it seemed like the right approach for a Mr. Freeze who did not have to worry about Bat interference.

The last act is where things broke down. There is an eight page build up to a final page reveal that you will see coming from the first page in the scene. I spent the whole time hoping that Gray (former writer for Jonah Hex and Power Girl and current writer for Batwing, The Dark Knight and All-Star Western) and Palmiotti (former inker for Jonah Hex and writer for Power Girl and current writer for Batwing, The Dark Knight, All-Star Western and What If? AVX) had something more clever in mind, but when all is said and done, it was exactly what I expected to happen. If this had just been one bad note at the end of an okay song, then I might be more forgiving, but this sour note lasted nearly half the issue. 

Conclusion 5/10

This issue isn't worth buying even if you are a Mr. Freeze fan.  

More Reviews:

Batman #23.2 - The Riddler 

Detective Comics #23.2 - Harley Quinn 

Batman and Robin #23.2 - The Court of Owls 

The Dark Knight #23.2 - Mr. Freeze 

Teen Titans #23.2 - Trigon  

Batman '66 #10 - #11 - The Hatter Takes the Crown  

Li'l Gotham #14 - Labor Day

 

BatWatch Review: The Dark Knight #23.1 - The Ventriloquist

I'll be keeping this review short since I'm reviewing so many comics tonight.  

There Are Worse Things in the World

If you've been following BatWatch for awhile, you know that I used to do Tweets of the Weeks where I posted some tweets I found interesting from various comic creators. Then, stuff stepped up in my personal life, and I've just not had the time to keep up with it. Yesterday, I went to Gail Simone's (former writer of Birds of Prey and current writer of Batgirl, The Dark Knight and The Movement) Twitter page for the first time in a long time to pass on an article of mine, and I'd found she'd blocked me. I don't know why, but I have my suspicions. This is the kind of thing that kind of irks me because...well, I like to know the answer to things, and I'll probably never know what I did to tick her off now Also, Simone would be a nice contact to have. She tweeted articles of mine a few times, and I always received a huge influx of visitors when she did because she has a ridiculously loyal following. 

All that to say that when I read issues like this, I don't mind so much that she blocked me.  

This issue revisits Ventriloquist and Ferdie, and the characters show even less charm this time than they did the first time round. In their original arc, there was a little mystery about them. Was Ventriloquist really telekinetic or was Ferdie alive? What caused this girl to be so messed up? Just how demented is Belzer?  

Well, the desecration of several bodies and impaling of people's eyes showed how messed up Belzer is in the last arc, so there's no real mystery? Is Ferdie "real" or not? It's hard to say for certain, but we do know that Belzer is telekinetic, so it seems likely Ferdie is just a prop. What about Ventriloquist's motivations? That was revealed, and you'll never believe it!. Shauna Belzer turned evil because...she's just a victim! Can you believe it? Gail Simone, the lady who brings us nearly non-stop victimized villains in Batgirl, created another villain who is nothing more than a victim. Shocking!

Shauna was a victim of bullying, and she really wanted to be famous, so she's evil now because she...I don't know. She's just evil because I guess that will make her famous in her own mind. She killed the guy who owned Ferdie, and now you're up to speed.  

With that, almost all that made Belzer interesting has vanished, and all she has going for her now is the vague creepy factor that the original arc landed semi-often. This issue does kind of get a disturbing vibe, but it's more of a gross vibe than creepy. Ventriloquist's relationship with her dummy? Not really scarey or even creepy but pretty gross especially when you learn where Ferdie got his name. People getting their eyes gouged out? Not scarey at all but definitely gross. Shauna and Ferdie talking to dead people? Kind of creepy but also played out. The end of the issue tries to one up everything that has come prior, but Shauna pretty well convinced me of her complete evil before the final scene, so who cares?

Truth be told, I couldn't tell what Simone was going for in this issue. Was the story supposed to be a dark humor? Crime? Adventure? Tragedy? I'm not sure what it was trying to invoke, but it didn't fully produce anything other than mild revulsion in me. 

Conclusion 6/10

I was actually intrigued by the preview of this issue, so I'm disappointed to see it amount to little. I'm not sure it deserves this high of a rating, but I'm trying to err on the side of the positive since I was annoyed at her the other day. There is a Ventriloquist story here that makes sense, but I didn't find it to be a fun read. However if you are a Batgirl fan, you might want to give this one a try.

Recent Reviews

Forever Evil #1 - Nightfall

Batman Black and White #1 - Don't Know Where, Don't Know When

Batman #23.1 - Joker 

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Batman and Robin #23.1 - Two-Face 

The Dark Knight #23.1 - The Ventriloquist

 

 

BatWatch Review: The Dark Knight #23 - Rampant

Rampant

The Dark Knight has been a rocky road full of numerous valleys and much fewer hills. Currently, the action is focused on Clayface, and I have to say I found the first part of his story to be severely underwhelming last issue. He's such a cool character and it started off well with him taking the place of Commissioner Gordon, but then...well, not much happened. The Commissioner escaped and Clayface blended into the crowd. I honestly cannot remember a single other thing that happened in the last issue.

I know Hurwitz (former writer of Vengeance of the Moon Knight and Penguin: Pride and Prejudice and current writer of The Dark Knight) has some talent as a writer because he's written good issues. Even thought it was a rough start, I'm hoping he can come up with a nice chapter for this series today.  

Does The Dark Knight stay steeped in darkness or has a little glimpse of light found its way into this series? 

In this issue, Batman tries to pin down Clayface, but the Master Molder proves too slippery for Bats to catch.  

More of the Same

If you read the last issue, then you know what you are going to get in this issue. There are some cool moments mixed with a lot of moments that are simply typical for a Clayface story. We will watch Clayface shfits and squeeze into places. We will watch Batman use gadgets to try and catch him. We will watch as he forms weapons and tries to kill the Bat. I find the typical stuff to be rather boring, so let's focus on the two pieces that stood out from the rest.

I know he's been overplayed in the DCNU, but I liked that Penguin was pulling the strings on this one. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Penguin is the best Batman villain in many ways because he's the only one that routinely gets away with his crimes. How many major crimes has he pulled off in the past two years of comics without spending more than a dozen days in jail? He's the true criminal mastermind of Gotham.  

The way Batman thrww off Clayface was also really cool. I would like to have seen this particular scene play out some more since I would think Clayface's reaction would be worth watching once he figured out what was happening, but I suppose by then the plan would be blown. Still, it was a cool moment.  

Bat Droppings

1. I do not care for the colorist's work here. At first, I started to throw Alex Maleev (former artist for Daredevil and current artist of The Dark Knight and Age of Ultron and cover artist for Captain America and End of Days) under the bus for this one because everything is so dark and steeped in shadow even when it is in a well lit place, but then I realized its not pencils that give that impression as much as the colors by Dave McCaig (former colorer of Vertigo's Northlanders and current colorer of Batman, Batman, Incorporated, The Dark Knight, New Guardians, Supergirl and The Movement) The pencils are there in most cases providing adequate detail and a good style, but the colors are so pale and muted that it gives the whole issue a rather dead look. Nothing in this issue got by blood flowing because it just appears completely devoid of life. 

2. I'll give credit to Maleev that watching Clayface melt on page one was creepy just because I did not noticed it at first. However, the guy facing his direction really should have noticed. It's one thing not to notice while looking at panels in a comic and another not to recognize someone turning to goo four feet in front of you.

3. I know most disagree with me on this, but I really don't like Batman having imaginary tech devices on hand. The instant Clayface trapper bores me. At least Batman knew he was looking for Clayface and has a reason to be prepared this time. That's better than just having the perfect tool in his back pocket when he didn't know he would square off against Clayface as has occurred in other issues.

4. We saw how Batman was unable to capture Clayface but not how Clayface actually escaped.  

5. It was annoying that Hatter was portrayed as incoherent and delusional. He's never been delusional previously, has he? Why now? 

6. Batman switching out Penguin's umbrella was cute. Hurwitz often does little jokes like this that amuse me. I still chuckle when I think of when Batman made reference to using the Bat computer for "Batamining"  several issues ago.

(Spoilers) 

7. Batman really hits his friends a lot. Have you noticed that? Seriously, there has to be a better way to check if someone is Clayface. 

Conclusion 5/10

Maybe this is your thing, but to me, it's rather boring and just all too typical a Batman story. I don't like it when Batman relies on sci-fi gadgets to triumph over stronger foes, I don't like it when scenes that could be much shorter are stretched for extra pages, and I really don't like these colors which makes the mediocre story even more difficult to read.  

More Reviews:

Batman/Superman #3 - Split Screen 

Batman, Incorporated Special #1 

The Dark Knight #23 - Rampant 

Teen Titans #23 - Hello, I Must Be Going

Catwoman #23 - No Blood No Foul 

Talon #11 - True Strength

 

BatWatch Review: The Dark Knight #22

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Breaking Point

The Dark Knight is such a painful series to me. At first it was just crap, and that was kind of fun because it's easy and entertaining to make fun of crap, but then Gregg Hurwitz (former writer of Vengeance of the Moon Knight and Penguin: Pride and Prejudice and current writer of The Dark Knight) started writing the series, and he brought the pain. You see, Hurwitz has fooled me into buying into his arcs twice now, once with Scarecrow and once with Mad Hatter, but his stories are largely derivative and overly long, so by the time the final issue of any given arc is read, I'm completely fed up with it. 

You would think I would have learned me lesson by now, and I'm trying, yet I read the preview for this issue, and the very interesting scenario of Commissioner Gordon killing surrendered criminals has me intrigued. Most likely, Clayface will be directly responsible for the actions of "Commissioner Gordon," but the blood is already in the water, and there is no going back now. The sharks of my intrigue know there is a potential feast here, and though I know they are more likely to find naval mines than a  good meal, I can't seem to call them off. Maybe Hurwitz will deliver this time with an origin tale for Clayface. Maybe, but I'm hesitant.  

Does The Dark Knight #22 prove that Hurwitz can take this clay and mold it into a beautiful piece of art or is this a fragile and ugly monstrosity that should have been destroyed fresh off the potter's wheel? 

In this issue, Batman takes on Clayface.  

Harshing the Mellow

Full disclosure here, I'm intentionally being harsh in this review because when I give the benefit of a doubt to Hurwitz I usually regret it, so I'm looking to punch holes in this issue.  

This issue does have two great scenes going for it. First, the setup of Commissioner Gordon going evil was great. Using Jim's internal monologue to establish his mindset nearly sells the idea that the villainmight actually be Gordon gone mad. Second, Commissioner Gordon trying to escape was a nice touch. So often we see Bruce's allies acting like the perfect little victims. It was nice to see that Bruce's friends can stand on their own two feet.

Sadly, there as not much else truly good about this story. Again, I would like to be generous and give the story a benefit of a doubt, but Hurwitz has lot that privilege.

Things started to become predictable the second after the previewed paged ended. Batman hits Commissioner Gordon and it turns out that "Commissioner Gordon" was actually Clayface. Shocker! The fight between Clayface and Batman was lackluster. It ignored the fact that Clayface just had to touch Batman to win the day with his power upgrade courtesy of Snyder.  (former writer of Vertigo's American Vampire and current writer of Batman, Superman Unchained and Vertigo's the Wake and Long Road to Hell) Also,Clayface did not really even take the chance to attack though he did take time to taunt Batman with images of Natalya.

Sadly, Natalya's poor use and pathetically predictable execution make any reference to her merely another angle of annoyance for me. I guess I can give Hurwitz a kudos for not immediately forgetting he killed off Bruce's love, but Clayface using Natalya brings up a rather obvious flaw in the Natalya subplot. If everybody knows that Natalya and Batman were connected romantically because Mad Hatter is running his mouth, (and why wouldn't he?) then why wouldn't someone put together the fact that Bruce Wayne was dating Natalya and Batman was also dating Natalya. It's about as simple a way to discover Batman's identity as ever there was.

The issue also takes time to show us various people from crowds in this book many of them being different disguises for Clayface. It is kind of a creepy thought, but we already know who Clayface is and what he can do. This establishment of the obvious would be like taking a page to point out that Joker is a clown. Yeah, we know.   

Bat Droppings

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1. I do like Alex Maleev's (former artist for Daredevil and current artist of The Dark Knight, Age of Ultron and Icon's Scarlet and cover artist for End of Days and Captain America) work on this issue, so I will chalk that up as one more good point, but his style may not be to everybody's liking in that it is quite gritty and crime noirish for lack of a better artistic vocabulary. Also, there were a few errors. For instance, Clayface slips out a drain pipe in a jewelry store supposedly taking the jewels with him, yet in the panel right after he leaves you can plainly see that the jewelry is still in the cases. In the next scene, it has vanished. If I had not seen Clayface with the jewels later in the issue, I would say that police's internal affairs department should take a look at the cops on the scene. "Yeah, all the jewelry was totally missing. Must have been Clayface."

2. The Commissioner's opening monologue is really well done.

3. Another artistic mistake is that the thug standing behind Commissioner Gordon did not notice that he had two guns taped to his back.  

14.PNG

4. Beyond the two good scenes I mentioned, the rest of the issue felt like filler. What was added by seeing Clayface's shrine to himself or him changing into multiple people? How likely is it that the Natalya plot line will actually go anywhere? (Spoilers) Did we need three pages for a Batman rescue without any sense of conflict?  

Conclusion 5/10

I'm being very cynical, but it already feels like Hurwitz is spending half the issue filling up space rather than giving a condensed satisfying story. He seems to have some good ideas, but dude does he ever need to edit down his scripts. I might be convinced by the next issue, but for the moment, I'm going to be judging this series harshly until I see some high quality work.  

Recent Reviews:

Batman/Superman #2 

The Dark Knight #22 

Teen Titans #22  

Red Hood and the Outlaws #22 

Batwoman #22

Birds of Prey #22

BatWatch Review: The Dark Knight #21

Batman_The_Dark_Knight_Vol_2_21_Textless.jpg

Mad

The Dark Knight has consistently been the worst of the Bat series in the DCNU. The beginning of this arc made me believe things might be changing with an origin story for the Mad Hatter that actually caught my attention and some sharp art by Ethan Van Sciver. (former artist of Impulse, cover artist for The Fury of Firestorm, and penciler for Superman/Batman and current artist for The Dark Knight) Then in the last issue, all went to heck as the Jervis Tetch killed Batman's girlfriend and the origin aspect of the story was ignored while my eyes were abused by the eccentric art of Szymon Kudranski. (former artist for Detective Comics, Pain and Prejudice, Streets of Gotham and Image's Spawn) All I really wanted for this arc was to see how  Jervis became Mad Hatter in the past and to see the Hatter get his just deserts in the present, but now, I'm left with only part of the origin and the knowledge that yet another writer has made the most obvious of plays for readers' emotional involvement by killing off a shallowly developed love interest.

Screw all that! At this point, I just want to see a cool fight scene that will make me forget and forgive, at least partially, the crappy plot line involving Batman's latest squeeze. Sciver is back on board, and the preview made it appears as if we will be treated to some nice art even if the plot sucks, so I'm hoping for a moderately satisfying conclusion to this story.

Will Sciver manage to save the day or is this arc beyond any redemption?

In this issue, Alfred tries to calm Batman before the Bat faces Mad Hatter in Tetch's own personal version of Wonder Land.

Redeemed?

To make a long story short, The Dark Knight #21 has some good moments especially in the art, but the good moments do not balance out the pain of the last issue, and several new mistakes are added to the tally of this arc's list of sins.

On the positive front, Van Sciver's art looks excellent apart from a few minor hiccups, and there is one scene I'll point out in more detail later which is really cool and serves as one of the best scenes in the entire arc. Also, there are a few really nice lines of dialogue, and Hurwitz plays to a strong, if all to familiar, theme with the Bat mythos with the idea that Batman just uses all his personal loss to fuel his resolve to the cause of justice.

Screenshot from 2013-06-28 17:29:43.png

On the negative side, it's hard to forgive the destruction of Natalya as yet another throw away girlfriend. The only way to make her death even more insulting would be if Hatter and company stuffed her into a refrigerator before pushing her off the roof. The way Bruce appears completely torn up and on the verge of tears one second and then completely ready to kick butt the next is a bit hard to swallow, and though part of that is Hurwitz's (former writer of Vengeance of the Moon Knight and Penguin: Pride and Prejudice and current writer of The Dark Knight) fault for scripting the quick turn around, I also think Sciver feels a little bit of the blame on this one because Bats makes one single sad face before he immediately goes furious for the rest of the issue, and there had to have been a better way to make the transition.

There are also at least as many standout bad lines in the comic as standout good lines. A random police officer and Commissioner Gordon referring to Batman as a stealth bomber and Pterodactyl respectively kind of made me emotionally wince.

There are also lots of little nitpicks later in the issue. The Mad Hatter purposely avoided Bats earlier in the arc presumably knowing he could not win, but when Batman demands that Hatter let him into the abandoned military base, Tetch immediately complies. Why not just sneak out another door?

Batman struggles with a crowd of mind controlled baddies which is a bit hard to believe since he could just knock off their hats. Instead, Bats finds the computer controlling them and disables it by hitting a monitor with a batarang. It amazes me that people in this day and age still don't realize that a monitor just displays information and has nothing to do with the operations of the computer.

Stripping away all the mistakes, we are still left with an overly simple story. Add a bunch of little annoying mistakes, and the final picture is not flattering.

Bat Droppings

1. The title for this issue is somewhat hidden on the title page. Perhaps I am dense, but I actually had to look for about a minute before I found it. It's a very nice image, and I appreciate the more subtle touch.

(Spoilers until Conclusion)

Screenshot from 2013-06-28 17:32:23.png

2. By far the best part of the issue is when Batman is exposed to some of Hatter's tea which appears to have similar effects to LSD. The images Sciver uses to convey Batman's trip are excellent and much better than what we often get with Scarecrow's use of similar toxins due to the less overtly horrific nature of parts of the vision and the changing art style. I especially loved how the image shifted and clarified as Batman fought his way back to reality even if having Bruce overcome the effects of a drug actively in his system is a bit of a cop out narratively speaking. The one problem I do have with this scene is when Bats comes back to reality and hits one of the Tweedle brothers. First, what was this guy doing while Batman was out of it? Why not kill Bats when he had the chance. Second, Bruce hits him on the right side of his face and yet the teeth on his left side are knocked out. That's a little whoopsie on the art.

3. Finally, it was annoying that Hatter did not put up a better fight. Presumably, he took all his tea blends giving himself tacit superpowers with which he already bested Batman, yet he can't even land a single blow on a second encounter? Hatter failed not because it made sense but because it was time for the story to end.

Conclusion 6/10

My feelings on this issue pretty well go for the entire arc. There were good moments, but there were also a lot of mistakes. A lot of what is good in this issue has been done a thousand times in previous Batman issues. If you are a big fan of Mad Hatter or you've already collected the other issues in this arc, then you may as well pick this one up, but otherwise, I can't really recommend this issue.

More Recent Reviews:

Batman/Superman #1

The Dark Knight #21

Catwoman #21

Teen Titans #21

Talon #9

BatWatch Review: The Dark Knight Annual #1

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Once Upon a Midnight Dreary

I have unequivocally harsh on this series as a whole. The original arc was laughably bad and the next several were not much better. The only time I've really felt the series was doing well was in the first several issues on the current Mad Hatter story, but now that Jervis Tetch's origin has been forgotten and Hurwitz decided to punctuate the Hatter's evil by having Natalie, Bruce's “one true love,” die at Hatter's hands, I've soured on the current arc as well. Is there no hope for this series?

The Dark Knight Annual is here to challenge the notion that the series is doomed. Hurwitz is once again pulling out a trope we've all seen many times, a super villain team up, but the preview to this story succeeded in capturing my imagination. We know Penguin, Scarecrow, and Mad Hatter are all being brought together in a tangled web, but who is weaving this pattern? The mystery has me eager to find out.

Does The Dark Knight Annual #1 prove that this series has potential or confirm that this is the worst Batman series on the market?

In this issue, Penguin, Scarecrow and Mad Hatter find themselves trapped in an abandoned house with Batman terrorizing them.

Breaking New Grounds Is Not Always Good

I will give Hurwitz props for one thing; he did not simply retell a preexisting story with a few altered details. Though he has been guilty of stealing basic plots from other stories with his Scarecrow arc and to a lesser degree his Mad Hatter arc, he actually breaks some fresh ground with this story. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like this, so kudos to Hurwitz (former writer of Vengeance of the Moon Knight and Penguin: Pride and Prejudice and current writer of The Dark Knight) for trying something new.

Of course, it didn't work very well which pretty much nullifies the props for the initiative.

When the three villains in this story realize that none of them set up the meet, they begin to panic and try to figure out Batman's game. This leads to some cool moments just by simple virtue of the fact that we rarely get to see super villains interact for more than a few pages, and when we do, it is usually through either through fights or power plays of a more political nature. This issue's scenario strips the villains of a lot of their power by putting them at the mercy of the Bat, and this forces them to interact with each other as more or less equals since nobody has an ace up their sleeve. Seeing this subculture of Gotham rub elbows is fun, and seeing them criticize Batman is down right hilarious. There are a couple pages where the villains riff on the Bat, and those were by far the highlights of the issue. Here, the villains were discussing Batman:

Penguin: “I hate the crashing through things.”

Hatter: “There's probably not an intact stain glass window in all of Gotham by now.”

Penguin: “Hey, that's what we should do...open a stained glass window repair business. We'd make a mint.”

Just as this character interaction begins to feel stiff and in need of a change, a change comes, but rather than an intelligent, thoughtful change, it is more akin to something you might see in a very dark episode of The Three Stooges. Also mixed in with Stooge action is flashbacks to Hurwitz' origin stories for these three villains. It's a little like watching a tragic highlight reel of his past three arcs, but unfortunately, these flashbacks take up about a quarter of the book, and they are not told with much vigor. If you already know the new origins, then this is a repeat. If you do not, then you will not get more than a very basic understanding.

All together, it's a good setup that was wasted by poor execution.

The Kudranski Conundrum

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I have not been a fan of Szymon Kudranski's (former artist for Detective Comics, Pain and Prejudice, Streets of Gotham and Image's Spawn and current artist for The Dark Knight) work on The Dark Knight. It almost as if he does not know how to convey anything unless it is extremely bright or extremely dark. Thankfully, his style works well here. The quality of the art is just plain better here than in previous issues in my opinion, and perhaps more importantly, the story actually lends itself to Kudranski's style of art. Since this story takes place at night in an old abandoned house, it only makes sense for things to be steeped in shadows, and this feels right as opposed to his work on the past two regular issues of The Dark Knight where everything from the Gotham City streets to the villains' hideout is obscured in shadow. Kudranski's style is perfectly suited to this story, and if you are a big fan of his work and these Batman rogues, this issue might be worth buying just to see his moody art.

Bat Droppings

1. I like it when each character has his own style of lettering for their name. Examples of this can be found on the cover of this issue where each of the villains have their own style. I don't like the text they picked out for Penguin or Scarecrow, but I think the text for The Mad Hatter is just right. The yellow lettering represents his veiled in brightness evil and the varying letter sizes indicates his instability. I know it's a small thing, but it worked well. Props random lettering guy!

2. Another very little thing, The Mad Hatter has only been seen working with Tweedledee and Tweedledum recently, but the person holding the door open for Jervis at the beginning of the issue was clearly neither one.

3. Jervis is very talented with forehead, blood drawings. I'm sure some art galleries would pay for that.

4. Yet another little thing, one of the villains kicks a statue which I presume is a music box that began playing the song, “Three Blind Mice.” The problem is that the music had vocals, and I'm pretty sure music boxes can not reproduce vocals. Of course, it could be some sort of digital recording, I suppose.

(Spoilers until Conclusion)

5. I liked the Batman Scarecrow. That looked pretty cool.

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6. It took me a long time to figure out that Penguin's umbrella shot a dart which ruptured Hatter's tea. That could have been conveyed more clearly.

7. Batman's role in all of this causes a major problem. If this were a Li'l Gotham story, then the idea of Batman getting three villains together and letting them terrify each other would be brilliant, but as a more serious story, it makes no sense. I can see Bruce enjoying the idea of the villains making each other miserable. It is appropriate that they should reap destruction from their own foolishness. The problem is that Scarecrow and Mad Hatter are wanted, murderous fugitives. Batman's been trying to track down Hatter for the past several months in The Dark Knight, yet Bruce knows their fax numbers and can get them to meet at a location and he doesn't try to bring them to justice? This doesn't work.

Conclusion 5/10

This isn't a terrible story, but it is a story unworthy of your money. The few fun and clever aspects do not balance out the stories many faults.

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BatWatch Review: The Dark Knight #20

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Down, Down, Down

I have been enjoying the origin tale of Jervis Tetch. Quite frankly, I don't care very much about the part of the story set in the present despite the high body count and “Bruce's first love” being put in mortal danger. All of that is okay, but I'm really much more interested in how Jervis Tetch went from normal kid to Mad Hatter. As Tetch loses more and more control over himself, we've seen him taking steps down a dark path, but we still have not seen his obsession with Alice in Wonderland fully form, his first murder, or his first attempt at professional crime. I'm hoping we get to see all of that before this arc is finished.

Is The Dark Knight #20 an insanely good time or is it just plain crazy?

In this issue, Batman gives up the cowl for Natalya not realizing that Natalya has already been kidnapped by The Mad Hatter.

Oh, Hurwtiz!

Come on, man! I had just begun to like your writing, and you pull this?

As I've said, the part of the story in the present is okay, but the really cool part is in the past where Jervis slowly becomes the Mad Hatter. There are plenty of moments in him turning into a criminal nut job which have yet to be explored, yet the origin story is apparently at an end, and all we get is the present in this issue which puts an early end to the best part of the arc.

As for the present, it's pretty bad unless you are brand new to comics. For anybody who has read many comic, especially Batman or Spider-Man, you've seen this story a million times and could probably predict it almost perfectly. From the Batman side, we have Bruce falling in love with a damsel who immediately becomes distressed as a super villain targets her, and from Spider-Man, we have the hopelessly tired, “I'm going to retire,” spill which lasts all of about thirty seconds until the hero gets back into the game.

I will give props to Hurwitz (former writer of Vengeance of the Moon Knight and Penguin: Pride and Prejudice and current writer of The Dark Knight) on this. At least Batman did not leave people to die as do many heroes. “Oh, there is a monster storming across NYC. Oh well. I' sad, so I quit. Sucks to be you poor innocents underfoot!” At least Batman planned to finish up his current projects, and in fact, he just said, I will not do this forever. He might have continued for years based on that statement. That seems a better way to do this story than the more whiny rage quit of most superheroes.

I also did like this line from Alfred about Batman's inability to live a happy life: “I fear sometimes, dear boy, that if you don't give this up, you'll have nothing. You can't have darkness and light at the same time, Master Bruce. One exterminates the other.”

Darkness and Light

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Speaking of just that, darkness and light is visually painful to my eyes in this issue. I thought Ethan Van Sciver (former artist of Impulse, cover artist for The Fury of Firestorm, and penciler for Superman/Batman and current cover artist for The Dark Knight and artist for Green Lantern) was coming back on art duties this issue, but perhaps that is next issue because issue features the same guy as last time, Szymon Kudranski, (former artist for Detective Comics, Pain and Prejudice streets of Gotham and Image's Spawn and current artist for The Dark Knight) and I don't really like his style. To be fair, it is not technically bad in any way, so this is just a criticism based on my own personal preference and nothing more, but from my own personal feelings, I strongly dislike it. Two-thirds of the characters in panel are not even seen and are instead mere silhouettes with the barest traces of distinguishing details. Background images do not fair much better with a minimalist approach at creating settings, and any object that dares transmit light such as a television is blindingly bright as if the lens on a camera is opened too wide while somehow making everything in the foreground still completely dark. I can respect it as an artistic technique, but as entertainment, it doesn't hold up.

Bat Droppings

1. The cover is pretty cool with Batman being pulled into the Bat Signal by the villains. The trippy colors also add a bit without becoming ridiculous such as with the cover of The Dark Knight 18.

(Spoilers until Conclusion)

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2. The way this entire story plays out in relation to Natalya is just so painfully formulaic that I am honestly dismayed Hurwitz write it. After the death of Robin and the Death of the Family, did we really need yet another blow to make Bruce bitter and whithered emotionally?

Conclusion 6/10

I can't recommend this to anybody but those dedicated on finishing the arc and those who have only been reading comics for a couple years.

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BatWatch Review: The Dark Knight #19

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Pool of Tears

The Dark Knight has been impressing me recently with some good quality Batman stories. Last issue revealed that the Mad Hatter's psychosis was started as a side affect from an experimental testosterone replacement, and we saw the grisly end of his Tetch's crush, Alice, but though we know Alice's final end, I'm very curious on seeing what other events from the past made Mad Hatter the lunatic he is today. In the present aspect of the plot, Batman revealed his identity to Natalya, and sadly, it appears as if Hurwitz (former writer of Vengeance of the Moon Knight and Penguin: Pain and Prejudice and current writer of The Dark Knight) is going to pull the typical, “Let's kill or otherwise get rid of the new girlfriend,” routine, and this bores me, but perhaps I will be surprised.

Does The Dark Knight #19 succeed in making The Mad Hatter a significant villain in the Batman universe or is this issue flailing to wrap up a story with more promise than substance?

In this issue, things grow worse for the young Jervis Tetch and Batman spends more time with Natalya.

Ow! My Eyes!

What the crap is going on with the art in this issue?

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Ethan Van Sciver (former artist of Impulse, cover artist for The Fury of Firestorm, and penciler for Superman/Batman and current cover artist for The Dark Knight) has taken a couple issues off, and he has been replaced with Szymon Kudranskia (former artist for Detective Comics, Pain and Prejudice, Streets of Gotham, and Spawn and current artist for The Dark Knight and Green Lantern) who is not without his own skill in the art department, but his visuals literally hurt my eyes in many panels. It's not that they did not look good when I could see them, but he, presumably in coordination with colorist Hi-Fi, (former colorer of Birds of Prey and Booster Gold and current colorer for The Dark Knight, Worlds' Finest, Green Arrow, Threshold, Firestorm, Stormwatch, Sword of Sorcery, and Legion of Super-Heroes) created a sort of glare effect which made the otherwise nice art all but impossible to see in many scenes. In the present, darkness is the norm, and you would be hard pressed to find anything visible on a panel other than the things in the foreground. All else, and even much of that which is in the foreground, is obscured in shadows. The past, on the other hand, is painfully bright to the point that viewing it is like trying to stare at a light bulb after waking up in the middle of the night. The bright light occasionally obscures the images either by a distortion effect or by casting long, ever changing shadows over the characters. It's a headache, and I'm not sure why these talented writers wanted to cover up their own work. If the entire arc had been drawn this way, it would be less annoying, but since this is not the style used in the previous issues, this really stands out.

To give the art team props, the art is sometimes given a layer of psychedelic colors to show the altered mental state of Tetch. Also, the final panel of the issue is both beautiful and chilling.

The Origin of the Mad Hatter

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Something about the origin of the Mad Hatter has really connected with me. I've always had an appreciation for the fear that your body could betray you and cause you to lose control of yourself, and that fear has been heightened in the last couple years when I've had various health difficulties and discovered just how much a tiny things like a prescription drugs, side affects, and hormonal imbalances can effect you. Coupling this fear with a typical story of being a misunderstood child makes for a chilling origin story in my book, but given my personal investment in some elements of this origin, it may not move others as much as it does me.

Mad Hatter's schemes in the present are a mixed bag. We finally discover what Mad Hatter has been building in this issue, and it is both beautiful and creepy. Beyond that however, he seems pretty generically villainous.

Bat Droppings

1. I'm not sure a tall hat would have been my first choice if I were losing my hair, but I guess this could easily be explained as part of Tetch's obsessive tendencies.

2. Part of the preview for this issue made the art appear completely incomprehensible. I'm glad to see that it does actually make sense. What was confusing was that it was a two page spread that was presented as two separate pages, and read as two separate pages, it makes no sense.

Conclusion 7/10

The present story is pretty typical and a tad trite, but the origin story continues to impress. I only wish that the art were better in this issue.

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Review: The Dark Knight #18

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Devil's Bargain

It's time to see what The Dark Knight has cooked up for us this week. I was pleasantly surprised with last week's issue. Whereas I generally find Gregg Hurwitz (former writer of Vengeance of the Moon Knight and Penguin: Pride and Prejudice and current writer of The Dark Knight) stories to be lacking, I actually enjoyed the cat and mouse game between our fearless hero and his short stack villain last time around, and though I know some horrible tragedy is doubtless on its way in the tale of Jervis Tetch's past, I found myself investing in his origin. Ethan Van Sciver's (former artist of Impulse, cover artist for The Fury of Firestorm, and penciler for Superman/Batman and current penciler for The Dark Knight) artwork has also grown on me, and Sciver keeps saying in interviews that something is coming in this arc which is really crazy and that DC almost did not let them do, so that's piqued my interest.

Does The Dark Knight #18 prove that I am mad as a hatter for expecting great things, or does it prove to be an amazing adventure though a dark Wonderland?

In this issue, Batman continues to follow The Mad Hatter down the rabbit hole.

Playing with Expectations

Last issue caught me off guard from the beginning with two moments that played off typical Batman tropes. The first came when Commissioner Gordon turned away from Bats assuming he would disappear only to turn back around to see Bruce still standing there saying, “What?” The second moment came when Bruce referred to his data-mining software as bata-mining only to receive mockery from Alfred on the name. S IHurwitz is pulling our legs regarding the disappearing Batman and the call everything a Bat-object? Alright, I'm game. Batman needs to have his world pulled apart every once and awhile. This sort of meta analysis is a nice little wink to fans who have seen these moves pulled over and over again, and maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but it seems like a little bit of a hint to other writers to move on.

This issue also started with two such moments that kind of poked at the seams of the Bat verse. The first was kind of a two in one as Tweedledee calls Bats on his grand entrance and more or less says, “Oooh, so impressive.” The other part came immediately thereafter as Tweedledee points out that all these amazing take downs Batman does on villains frequently have more drastic effects than what the comic art conveys. The second scene was when Bruce said he was going to approach things stealthily only to take the fight right down the villains throats which I think is meant to dismantle the idea that Bruce is always careful and thought out in his actions.

If these types of scenes become too common, it might become snarky or undermine the seriousness of the story, but at the moment, I think this level of picking apart Batman's typical moves is a heck of a lot of fun.

Shoo, Cat! Go!

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Why is Catwoman in this issue? At first, her appearance seemed to serve absolutely no purpose to the larger story, but I eventually realized that there is a purpose at work here even though it is an unnecessary one. (Spoilers) Later in the issue, Batman gets back together with the pianist chick, Natalya, he dumped in the last arc, and I think Selina's appearance was just meant to show that Bruce was now over Catwoman and had given his heart to Natalya. The main problem with this is that Bruce and Selina never really had a relationship. They hooked up once, and they've barely seen each other since. It's not like they were dating.

For clarity here, I'm not trying to encourage random hookups. Casual sexual encounters have actually been proven to detrimental to women, and I suspect it can cause some issue for guys as well though that's just a hunch. However, it does not change the fact that these sorts of things happen often, and I do not think it is a prerequisite to have an encounter with your one time hookup before dating someone new.

Also, Selina comes off as rather nuts in this issue. Stealing Batman's hubcaps could be seen as playful, but considering she hits him upside the head with it, I think her actions lean more towards psycho. Also, the licking is a bit creepy. Uninvited licking is not sexy.

A Tale of a Tetch

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The Mad Hatter's origin is visited once more, and I do not want to give anything away, but I will say that I approve. I know Tetch has had past origin stories, but quite frankly, they suck. This one does not suck, and in fact, I would go so far as to say that it's actually pretty cool. Tetch in the present is growing on me as well. I still do not like his tendency to randomly kill people because its simply so cliché, but the way he handled his house call towards the end was cool. He's a man who has constructed a mental world for himself, a vision of who he wants to be, and he will not be satisfied until that vision has been reached.

Bat Droppings

1. I do not care for the cover. The colors in the background remind me of nausea, and it is reminiscent of the last trippy cover. As far as the foreground goes, it's kind of gross with The Mad Hatter apparently cutting himself out of Bruce's chest, and I cannot say that it makes any kind of metaphorical sense to me, so...

2. It just occurred to me while reading this issue that Bruce should probably have some security with him at all times. Can people that famous really just walk on a street alone? Maybe. I am trying to think of a real life equivalent. Would Bill Gates walk down the street alone?

3. I would have to go back and compare, but I believe Van Sciver's pencils are making Batman's cape progressively more bat like as this series continues. It is nearly two separate wings now rather than a cape.

4. You can actually see Bruce take Tweedledee's phone if you look carefully at the scene. I like it when artists include this stuff rather than have it happen off panel. I missed it the first time.

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5. I don't much care for the big two page spreads' colors. All the villains are in orange for no apparent reason. Honestly, this looks like the colorer, Hi-Fi, (former colorer of Birds of Prey and Booster Gold and current colorer for The Dark Knight, Batman, Incorporated, Green Arrow, The Human Bomb, Team 7, Threshold, Superboy, Sword of Sorcery, and Legion of Super-Heroes [this is assuming ComicVine is feeding me correct information. They just remodeled so things are a little messy]) was just in a hurry.

6. I'm not sure what I think of Tetch's superpower bestowing teas. The jury is still out on that one.

7. Tetch is evil because he has low testosterone. I have low testosterone too! I guess I'll have to start planning my first crime spree.

8. I tried to look at how long testosterone supplements have been around, but I could not find any easy answers. If they existed thirty years ago or so, then that's a moderate hole in this origin story.

(Spoilers until Conclusion)

9. The way Tetch managed to get time alone with Alice without killing someone was great. That is much more entertaining that The Mad Hatter leaving behind a trail of bodies.

10. The flashback to Bruce's past was wonderful, but it led to Bruce revealing his identity to Natalya which is stupid. We know nothing about this character, so it is really hard to even care about this plot line. Also, everybody has a freaking camera these days, you moron. You are in the middle of the city with a freaking Bat Plane between two buildings. Everybody will be taking pictures. You've just made Natalya a giant target, and there is no way you will be unrecognized. Dope.

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11. Jervis Tetch, once again, just piles up bodies at the end. Boring. I get killing the original Alice because she was not perfect, and he was saving her, but killing off random others is just excessive.

Conclusion 8/10

There is a lot to love in this issue. I think Tetch's origin story is really cool, and I'm enjoying it immensely. It is certainly better than any other origin story I have heard for the character. The art is nice as a whole, and there are some great scenes and neat concepts explored. On the other hand, Catwoman broke the flow of the story, Bruce telling Natalya his secret is a fairly stupid move we have seen countless times before with more interesting girls, and Tetch's general psychopathy is at times annoying in its typicality. Overall, it's a good issue worth picking up if you are a big fan of Batman or The Mad Hatter, but know that the issue has a few little problems.

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Review: The Dark Knight #17

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Sweet Obsession

Yeah, so...here we are again. The Dark Knight may be an awesome movie, but it's a horrible comic. I don't hate this series, but I'm really disappointed in it pretty much every week. Gregg Hurwitz (former writer of Vengeance of the Moon Knight and Penguin: Pride and Prejudice and current writer of The Dark Knight) has failed, as the cheerleaders say, to bring it, and David Finch (former artist for Top Cow's Ascension and The Dark Knight and current artist for Justice League of America and cover artist for Vibe and Katana) has now left the series which means it pretty much has no redeeming factors in my book. I know most people like Ethan Van Sciver, (former artist of Impulse and Superman/Batman and current artist for The Dark Knight) but I don't for some reason, and I have never managed to pinpoint what about his art bugs me. I won't say its bad; it just does not work for me. On the plot front, we have a take on the Mad Hatter which makes him pretty much a sociopathic loon. Jervis Tetch has never been a particularly stimulating villain in my book, and in the last issue, he was portrayed fairly typically except he has a nastier than usual temper what with the gouging out of someone's eyes. He does look wicked creepy for whatever that is worth. I cannot say the cover inspires much confidence. It looks like what I suspect LSD would do to your perceptions of the world. I bet if you took LSD, you could stare at this cover for hours and be entertained.

Images will be added soon.

Well, that's enough stalling. It's time to bite the bullet. Does this issue surprise me with its profound take on The Mad Hatter, or is it just more of the same with a tad more gore?

In this issue, The Mad Hatter moves forwards his plan while remembering his past, and Batman and Commissioner Gordon try to capture the villain.

That Was Not Bad

I'm not ready to give the issue any awards or even my endorsement for the arc as a whole, but this issue was quite enjoyable. It started off really weird making me laugh several times in just the first few pages. I could explain the humorous moments, but that would ruin their poignancy. Let's just say that there were a couple little stabs at established Batman tropes which I enjoyed. Oh, and the actions of the Mad Hatter on page one were absolutely hilarious.

As far as the plot itself, Hatter seems to be building a production, and thought the obvious idea is that he is recreating a scene from Wonderland, I think that perhaps he is actually recreating a scene from his childhood. We get several glimpses of The Mad Hatter's childhood via flashback, and I kept waiting for it to become trite or predictable, but it never did. Granted, there is a big reveal coming which has not yet fully manifested, and that might fit neatly into the trite or predictable box, but just delaying the mystery a little longer was actually nice. We see touching moments from Tetch's childhood, and that is much nicer than cutting straight to the tragedy.

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The setting for the later scene, which I will not divulge, was also pretty cool, and it rather obviously played into The Mad Hatter's theme, but it made for some neat visuals, and I found that I did not dislike Van Sciver's art in this issue. I was not completely in love with it, but it looked nice, and whatever rubbed me the wrong way before seems to have passed. Perhaps I just needed some time to adjust from Finch's amazing visuals.

Typical

Every time I saw The Mad Hatter kill somebody, I mentally rolled my eyes. The whole, “I can't stand to be questioned. I'm crazy and I will kill anyone who stands in my way,” vibe is so stereotypically villainous that I simply cannot take it seriously anymore. There are better ways to show a character is evil than finding inventive ways to kill people. Similarly, the scene at the table was unnecessary. We get it;Hatter is crazy and evil. None of these scenes did anything but hurt the flow of the story in my view.

Also, Tweedledee and Tweedledum have not always been dumb characters, but they seem to be getting stupider with time. Personally, I would like to see them as people with average level intelligences, but here, they are so stupid as to talk like morons and drool on themselves. Do we really need that?

Finally, The Mad Hatter escaped Batman's grasp by having a secret, but this seems like a secret that Batman should know or be able to uncover pretty quickly, so this struck me as a tad off.

The Rescue Scene

This is towards the end of the story, so Spoilers on This Section.

Batman shows up and rescues the unnamed boy from Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and at first I did not understand the specific movements that accompanied the rescue, but I think I figured it out, and I thought I would mention it in case others missed it because it was actually a pretty sweet move. When I first read it, I just gathered that Batman grabs the kid, takes him somewhere else, leaves him, battles the brothers, and then takes the kid to safety in the Bat Plane. What I missed at first is that Bats parks the plane above the kid, swoops down on a line, grabs the kid, and then returns to the plane before swooping down to deal with the brothers. I think it is the portal of light that shines on the kid right before he disappears is the light from the Bat Plane's bottom hatch. Maybe everybody else got that on the first read through and I was being dense, but I thought it deserved a mention.

Conclusion 8/10

This is not a deep issue, but if you are looking for a decent standalone Batman comic with a fun vibe, or you are a big Mad Hatter fan, this issue is a safe purchase. I'm not sure if the rest of the arc will hold up, but this one was a good time which can be enjoyed independently.

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Review: The Dark Knight #16

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Touch of Crazy

I've been a harsh on Gregg Hurwitz recently, the writer of The Dark Knight. He just concluded his previous arch on the Scarecrow, and though it wasn't awful, it also wasn't good. Apparently, many others share my dislike for the series since not one of twenty people thought he was the best current Batman writer on the BatWatch poll. Still, he has a chance to redeem himself now with his current arch. However, its going to be an uphill battle as he uses the Mad Hatter as the prime villain of the piece, a character some say has never had a good story. Does Hurwitz manage to prove his writing chops by making the Mad Hatter an A-list villain, or is this arch, much like Hatter, difficult to take seriously?

In this issue, Batman attempts to intervene with a rash of kidnappings.

I Don't Even Care

Maybe it is just because I am on testosterone withdraw, (I stopped producing testosterone a year or so ago. Nobody has any idea why, and now I've run out of testosterone supplements for a couple of days. It's a whole thing. Very weird. I'll stop oversharing now) but I just can't make myself give a crap about writing an in depth review of this one. However, I suspect it has less to do with the lack of testosterone and more to do with the lack of issue substance. Truly horrible issues are fun to mock while great issues usually have a lot to unpack, but this is just “meh” through and though.

The basic plot of the arch appears to be that Mad Hatter is kidnapping people who he will no doubt use for some twisted purpose relating to Wonder Land. As with the Scarecrow story, this seems like like a reimagining or expansion of the character than simply a rehash of past stories. The Mad Hatter only has two gimmicks; he can control minds with hats and he is obsessed with Wonderland. This story seems to be relying on those two tropes and nothing else.

There is a very entertaining concept for a set piece chase where Batman takes the Batplane on the streets of Gotham City, and I give Hurwitz big props for that imaginative concept, but I immediately deduct those props for the poor execution as Batman somehow rips the door off of the fan without any apparent action,(Batman is telekinetic now perhaps) explodes part of the fan in a way that would probably kill everybody inside, leaps through the van to rescue a victim, and then plows the Batplane into a building along with the van of bad guys who do not know how to use a break. Presumably, Batman's actions would have killed dozens between the bad guys and the destruction of the building.

(Spoiler) It also appears that the girl rescued by Batman was also being hypnotically controlled based on the hair matching the rescued girl containing a hidden chip. What could possibly be the motivation for faking a kidnapping? That plot element could actually develop into something, or maybe I am misunderstanding the scene.

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Ethan Van Sciver

Ethan Van Sciver (former artist for Impulse) takes over the art for this issue, and I have to say, his style is not working for me. I hate to say that because I cannot identify what I dislike; it just rubs me the wrong way somehow. The only specific problem I can point out is that I dislike Batman's cape which, as drawn by Sciver, is much wider and bat like than usual. It does not look right to me, and it would drag on the ground, but that is just a nitpick. It is something about his work in general I do not like, but he definitely has skill, so this is just some odd hangup with me. Most readers might enjoy it.

Sciver did do a really cool layout during a conversation between Bruce and Natalya based off of a piano. Sciver also managed to make The Mad Hatter look truly menacing, so major props for that. The Mad Hatter is not a dude I would want to mess with in this issue.

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Say Something Nice

There were some good things in this issue. The dialogue was strong. There was a cute scene featuring a grade schooler that was amusing despite the fact it was ripped off from The Dark Knight movie. The scene between Bruce and Natalya was interesting and could serve as either a conclusion to the relationship between the two or a springboard for something more.

Sadly though, I think that is about all I have to say on the positive side.

Conclusion 6/10

There is nothing major wrong with this issue, but it is just so generic. I can't really recommend buying it unless you have some major attachment to The Mad Hatter or some member of the creative team, but you might enjoy reading it in stores.

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Review: The Dark Knight #15

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Cross to Bear

Images will be added soon.

Over the past several months, The Dark Knight has devolved from a fairly entertaining Scarecrow story to a festering pile of crap. The entire plot is too long, sloppily constructed in parts, and derivative of other better Scarecrow stories. Our hero did manage to escape bondage last issue, but sadly, things just got worse. The last glimpse we see of Scarecrow if of him ripping off his origin tale from Batman: The Animated Series by piloting a blimp filled with fear toxin over Gotham. Does this issue float high like 99 red balloons, or does go up in flames like the Hindenburg?

In this issue, Batman tries to contains the panic on the streets but soon realizes he is fighting a losing battle. Knowing he has no other option, Batman sheds his own blood to save the city.

Well...Crap

Here I got myself all worked up to write a scathing review of Dark Knight 15, and the creative team goes and ruins my buzz by pumping out a great issue. Those jerks.

Seriously though, this is a massive improvement on every issue of this series since Zero. Whereas all the previous issues were mostly derivative, this issue had a lot of fresh ideas I had never really seen play out in a Scarecrow story.

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The conflict was also resolved in a unique way. Thematically, it was quite classic messiah imagery which was echoed by the title of this issue, Cross to Bear, but unlike Matrix Revelations where the symbol of the cross was literally seared into viewers retinas, I felt this issue benefited from the concept mostly because of the deal this forced between Robin and Batman. That being said, I suspect the science of Batman's actions might not pan out so well, but if you want the scientific analysis of this issue, you will have to wait for a Batman reviewer with a Bachelors in Science rather than English.

Not All That Glitters Is Gold

This issue still had some problems though they were only minor detractors from the story. First, Scarecrow was still shown to be bleeding from the mouth at the end of this issue. I know Scarecrow does not have any superpowers, but doesn't he have any regular human powers like the ability to clot? Bruce's injuries also caused some eye rolling. Last issue, Batman impaled himself in the center of the chest with Scarecrow's scythe. This issue, his wound is shown to be on his shoulder. Furthermore, Bruce's solution to the super toxin, though cool, should have killed him, and I think it is really poor form for every one of Batman's titles to have him beaten within an inch of his life every issue. Can't he win without major injury sometimes? Finally, the issue ends with a scene with Natalya who is apparently Bruce's girlfriend even though I do not remember her in the slightest from any previous issues. I did miss The Dark Knight ten and eleven so possibly she was featured there. (Spoiler) Another odd things was that she is shown to stop playing in the midst of a concert, yet no clear explanation is made for this.

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The main difference between this issue and every other Scarecrow story ever told is that we actually get to see Scarecrow win, at least for a time. Normally, Scarecrow only manages to affect a few people with his fear toxin before escaping or being put down. Occasionally, he might release it in a public space and infect a whole room full of people, but that still pales in comparison to what he pulled off in this issue as he successfully causes panic among five city blocks of Gotham. We saw a little bit of that in Batman Begins, but it was soon off screen and forgotten. This issue puts the ensuing chaos on full display, and Batman's frantic efforts, Alfred and Damian's powerlessness, and the constant updates via news broadcasts actually made this seem like a very dangerous and frightening situation.

Bat Droppings

Shortly after opening this issue, I found myself stunned at the beauty of the art work. I know David Finch is good, but somehow, I keep managing to forget just how good he is between every issue. Great stuff.

The cover deserves praise. The image of Batman and Scarecrow playing Chess with Gotham City is pretty cool even if similar images have already been done. I do question Scarecrow drooling though. Is he rabid?

Conclusion 9/10

This issue is quite good by itself, but I find myself scratching my head as to the quality of this entire arch since it varies wildly from issue to issue. I guess if someone put a gun to my head and made me assign a grade, I would give it a 7/10. If you like as many decent Batman stories as you can handle or you are willing to shell out money just for David Finch's art, then this is worth your money, bu

t if you only want to spend money on the best, there are better Batman comics on the market.

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Review: The Dark Knight #14

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The Twilight Kingdom

The last few months of the Dark Knight, except for the Zero Issue, have been a rather mediocre affair featuring the Scarecrow. Gregg Hurwitz spent an entire two issues doing the classic (and by classic, I mean tired) trick of Scarecrow capturing Batman and then using fear toxin to bring to light Batman's darkest fears. At the end of the last issue, we finally saw Batman freed and ready to kick some burlap butt. Does the Dark Knight finally bring this story to a good conclusion, or do the painful cliches linger?

In this issue, Scarecrow gets beaten up and rescues his own victim, and Batman is rescued by Robin.

Scared Stupid

The last few issues of The Dark Knight have been less than stellar, but this issue is downright bad. It does not make it to Catwoman #14's level of incompetence, but it makes a valiant effort. It is on par with the rather abysmal opening DCNU story arc for the series, Knight Terrors.

The stupidity of this issue is difficult to quantify. Batman's first move with the Scarecrow is to throw himself on Crane's scythe impaling himself in the chest. Batman then uses his grappling tool to shoot through Scarecrow's head. That's right, Batman shot a ten inch batarang through Crane's jaw, out the bottom of his mouth, through his teeth, and into the ceiling thereby causing Crane to hang from his mouth. How the ten inch batarang fit through Scarecrow's jaw defies reason, and even if he were shooting a tinier grapple, the shot would still be extremely difficult. If Bats had the wherewithal to make that shot, perhaps he should not have jumped on Scarecrow's scythe.

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Batman then crawls away, and it seems a little out of character for him to leave a victim trapped in the house, but I will let it go since he was bleeding out. After managing to break free, Scarecrow decides he is not a heartless murderer and saves his own victim/guinea pig even though Scarecrow's life is in danger because the house is about to explode from a gas leak. (tangent: the gas makes a "Zap" sound when being ignited. ???) Anyway, Scarecrow saves the girl for no apparent reason and staggers around the rest of the issue bleeding copious amounts of blood from his head which by my guesstimate would have killed him from blood loss in about ten minutes.

It's all very poorly scripted.

Beautiful Chaos

Despite the bizarre and boring nature of the plot, it all looks quite nice. Scarecrow and Batman's injuries were appropriately cringe worthy, the fight scenes were dynamic, and the backgrounds are very rich in detail. Some of the faces look awkward when out of costumes, but beyond that, it is quite a visual treat.

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To Be Continued

Unfortunately, this issue was not the end of this story arc. This entire run is becoming extremely tired, and the next issue is not promising to be any better. Scarecrow lives to scare another day, and though I will not give away his next move, it is really rather tired combining things we have seen from both Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Begins.

Conclusion 4/10

The first half of this issue contains a ton of stupid moments, and the back half just feels like it is going through the motions. The art saves the issue from being complete crap, but I feel like I am being pretty generous even in giving it a four out of ten.

Review: The Dark Knight #13

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The Undead Past

I have not yet formed a solid opinion of Batman: The Dark Knight. My initial impression has been positive but mixed. I did greatly enjoy the zero issue, but some have accused it of being predictable and implausible, and I would not fight anybody with much vigor on those points. Issue twelve featured a Scarecrow story which was somewhat interesting for delving into the psychology of Bruce and Crane, but cliché for its use of the “Scarecrow tortures Batman with fear toxin” gimmick. Will this continuation of the Scarecrow story find some originality, or is it yet another paint by numbers story?

In this issue, Scarecrow continues to play with Batman’s mind.

New Numbers, Same Story

I’m not sure I’ve ever been as torn about an issue as I was on this one. There are many elements I liked, but overall, I think this issue is significantly worse than the last.

Scarecrow implied in the last issue that he had something new in his fear toxin, and in this issue, we find out that the key difference is that this is a…supertoxin. Wow. Really? You just put the word super in front of toxin, and you act like it is some worthwhile innovation. Sad.

There are many more elements that failed in this issue. Scarecrow’s child victim showing a moment of tenderness to Crane is beyond unlikely. Crane’s entire back story is at times interesting and at times confusing. To be fair, his story might take more shape in the next issue, but at the moment, I find it more frustrating than fulfilling. Batman’s dream escape sequence was completely transparent. The line, “It’s Hell on Earth,” is strictly B movie material. (Spoiler) Finally, Batman’s supposedly real escape at the end of the issue makes no more sense than his escape dream sequence. Again, that might be explained in the next issue, but I am not holding my breath. (Spoiler)

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Batman Exposed!

The element of this issue I did greatly enjoy was Crane’s analysis of Batman. Throughout Scarecrow’s interrogation, he makes observations which are actually fascinating and demonstrate a good interpretation of Batman’s neuroses. I would rather have seen this element expanded and Scarecrow’s story abandoned.

(Spoiler) Spoiler Warning: For those who have read the issue, I do know that Batman is actually interrogating himself, but I did not want to ruin this genuine surprise for those who had not read the issue. (Spoiler)

Very Good Art

This is probably my favorite visual interpretation of the Scarecrow. I think his costume does a wonderful job of being plausible while remaining very creepy. I even love Crane’s deadly looking bone scythe. The two page panel of Crane’s father’s torture chamber was also quite good, and I spent a long time admiring it.

Conclusion 6/10

I hate that this issue with so much to love also had so much to hate. If you are a hardcore fan of Scarecrow of have already bought the previous issues of this series, then you might as well buy this one too, but it is not a great Batman story.

Review: The Dark Knight #0

Brand Building

Batman Incorporated is a very interesting idea, and it has been dreamt up and written by the creator that many comic fans consider the pinnacle of Batman writers. I do not share this view, but I do find Morrison’s writing be very good though perhaps a little bit more scatterbrained than ideal. As a whole, Batman Incorporated has been pretty well executed, but the last issue frustrated me by focusing almost purely on Batman to the detriment of his supporting cast. Does Batman Incorporated #0 continue this problem, or does Morrison remember to include the supporting cast this time?

In this issue, we see the events which shaped Batman Incorporated ranging from Batman: Year One to just before the DCNU began.

Out of the Frying Pan…

Morrison definitely demonstrates through this issue that Batman Incorporated is still a team book. On page one of this issue, we get more interaction with Batman operatives than we encountered in the last issue. It is clear that Morrison has a deep understanding of all the characters involved, and he manages to set up plenty of subplots and character developments in this issue. Each scene is like a little window into the world of Batman Incorporated, and through these windows, we catch glimpses of the characters’ individual pains, motivations, struggles, and accomplishments. If Batman Incorporated is to remain an ongoing series beyond the Leviathan arc, then this is exactly what the series needs.

…Into the Fire

That being said, Morrison addresses my concerns about Batman Incorporated’s failing to be a team book by going to the opposite extreme. Whereas the last issue held one solid narrative which included almost no Batman operatives, this issue has lots of one page interactions which featured lots of Batman operatives, yet these individual strands of story never come together to form a real narrative cord. There is a sort of story arc in this issue, but it is very, very loose, and at the end of the issue, you really feel that this served as nothing more than as a filler issue for all of the little interactions Morrison wanted to include in previous issues. Though it is a strange comparison, I am reminded of the little four-page inserts which came with the Watchmen trade paperbacks which give little tidbits of information which do not directly fit into the main narrative. This entire issue is supplemental and consequently a little underwhelming.

Morrison’s stories have always been a bit confusing in my opinion, and I have never been able to figure out exactly why that is. While reading the pre-DCNU run of Batman Incorporated, I often found myself confused to the timeline of events or the location of a scene. Often, Morrison changes from a literal depiction of Batman’s situation to a symbolic one without any particular indication, and the same goes with his scene changes. Perhaps this is just Morrison’s style, but in this issue, I found myself wondering if Morrison was being rushed in his writing. It almost seems as if Morrison has ideas which he would like to develop, but he has to rush through things to meet a deadline.

Irving Art

Frazer Irving does an interesting job on the artwork, but I have difficulty deciding just what to make of it. On one hand, there are some beautiful panels in this issue, and the colorists deserve an awful lot of credit too giving nearly every page its own individual tone both in terms of color and the mood created by that color. On the other hand, Irving makes people’s heads look odd at times, and I am unsure if this is done intentionally or if Irving simply has trouble drawing the large caps which top the human body.

Conclusion 9/10

I find this issue does a good job of exploring the idea of having an army of Batmen, but it does so at the expense of forming a good cohesive story, and that is no small misstep. If you are particularly interested in this issue, check it out, but it is certainly not a must buy for any but the most steadfast Batman Incorporated of Morrison fans.

The Dark Knight #12

Mirror, Mirror

This is my first issue of The Dark Knight to ever read. I was interested in seeing if this book would differentiate itself between the plethora of other Bat books, or if it would just be one more in the crowd. Sadly, it is just another Bat book, but it still tells a solid story.

The main arc of this issue focuses on Scarecrow torturing Batman by exploring elements of his past, yet at the same time, the issue explores the Scarecrow's background giving us new origin information for the character. Thematically, the issue explores the role that fear plays in the lives of both Batman and Scarecrow, and how fear has shaped the men they have become.

The Role of Fear

There are a lot of good things going on in the issue. As always, Scarecrow's fixation on fear leads to some truly menacing kinds of psychological terror. The art throughout the issue is solid, and I especially liked the Scarecrow's mask which had a type of crisscrossing string in front of the mouth giving Crane's teeth a jagged appearance. It was also refreshing to see Scarecrow actually experiment on civilians in order to further his research. Too often, Scarecrow's predatory and scientific nature has been overlooked in order to make him a mere thorn in the side of Batman.

Haven't We Been Here Before?

The problem with this issue is that all of this has been done many, many times before. It is laughable how often Scarecrow has managed to capture Batman and torture him with a new fear toxin cocktail. It is a still a good story, but though as a whole, this story stands, it stands on feeble legs which will collapse if this gimmick is tried again.

Spoilers and Speculation

One of the things that makes this a good story despite the fact that is plays off a well-used formula is that new information revealed about the pasts of both Crane and Batman. For Crane, it appears

that he has now grown up with an abusive father who experimented upon him. Crane's pre-Flashpoint origin said that he was raised by his grandmother, a harsh and manipulative woman, and it is unclear whether this new origin story is meant to mesh with the old or if it is a whole new story entirely.

In regards to Batman, we are left with even more interesting revelations. Through the flashbacks Crane induces, Batman recollects that it was his fear of the violence in The Mark of Zorro which caused his parents to leave early that fateful night. On the way out of the theater, Bruce's father told Bruce that he can't always be afraid of everything. Some time after the Waynes are murdered and buried, young Bruce enters the Bat Cave, startles the Bats, and says, "What if I were no longer human?"

The implication that Bruce's fear indirectly led to the death of his parents adds a new layer of depth to Batman's origin though I don't think it is necessarily a good layer. I like the idea that Bruce's childhood was clean and free of guilt until his parents died. Perhaps that is idealistic, but I think that is how Bruce views his childhood. With this new information, Bruce would have to look back at his youth with considerable guilt. Furthermore, the idea that a young child would want to stop being human to overcome fear is a sad sort of revelation which leads me to a sort of metaphysical horror. It is all very interesting, but I think it makes Bruce's origin darker than is needed.

Furthermore, Crane said that he added something special to this fear toxin cocktail which makes me suspect that he is perhaps implanting memories as well as recovering them. Time and future writing will tell.

Conclusion 8/10

It is not an awe inspiring story, but it is a good read which will perhaps grant a better understanding of Bruce Wayne and Jonathan Crane.