In honour of the recent onslaught of Batman related movies and media (with the Lego Batman movie being the best out of all of them, nobody can convince me otherwise), here’s a short list of collected editions of Batman comics you can find at Waterstones, and which ones are worth checking out. Because we all need more Batman in our lives.
Batman Detective Comics: Volume 1 Faces of Death
The Good: As expected of a big and well-established company like DC, the art is polished and well done, with more varied colours than your standard Dark Knight fare which could tend to be a bit, well, dark and desaturated. They fight scenes are excellent as well, and the artist/writer seems to have a preference for close-ups during battle, which rather highlights characters’ expressions.
This first volume of the series acts as a solid introduction to the series. The first issue jumps straight into the action, setting the tone with some classic film noir-esque narration and the familiar scene of Batman hunting down the Joker yet again. Except this time the Joker allows himself to be apprehended, and ends the issue with a gruesome and extremely intriguing twist that would immediately catch a reader’s attention, which sets up the overarching narrative of the collection.
The Bad: …Or that’s how it seemed, at least. While generally sticking to the formula and throwing a few twists here and there can sometimes be enough to carry a big-name superhero comic, this volume overall follows the recipe a little too much. Though the smile of the Joker hangs over the rest of the issues collected here, there is no resolution; what we get instead is a couple of run-of-the-mill, quickly resolved conflicts between long-time Batman rogues Dollmaker and the Penguin. You know the drill: Batman gets wind of evil being done, goes looking for a fight, someone inevitably gets betrayed, there will be a spunky scantily-clad heroine who either gets kidnapped or batzoned by Bruce Wayne, etc.
There is also a random short story featuring Catwoman in the middle of the book that looks nice but doesn’t go anywhere. Which is an accurate assessment of this entire collection really.
Batgirl Volume 2: Family Business
The Good: The first thing I noticed about this series is its vibrant and cartoony art, which is a huge step away from Bat-comic tradition, but one that fits this type of story perfectly. The colours are bright and attractive, as are the main characters, Batgirl and her father Police Commissioner Gordon. The tone is very light-hearted, which allows for many cute character moments between father and daughter, and heroine and villainess. The writing is modern and progressive, from having a dramatis personae of mostly women and therefore passing the Bechdel test with flying colours, to Batgirl’s serious discussion with former lover Nightwing about their relationship, which they deal with like mature adults (this is rarer than one might think). It’s hard to top Batman’s classic rogues gallery, but the antagonists in this collection have very creative gimmicks that are refreshing to see, which, combined with the visually impressive art style, make them very memorable and enjoyable to read. Also, Batgirl fights a tiger.
The Bad: The art does sometimes work against itself, as the warm colours and consistently pretty art style means moments that are meant to be emotional don’t pack the same heart-wrenching punch as they usually do. Characters also look much younger than they are meant to be (e.g. Batgirl, who is somewhere in her mid-twenties looks no older than fifteen).
Grayson Volume 1: Agents of Spyral
(Q: How is this a Batman title?
A: The main character, Dick Grayson, was originally Batman’s sidekick until he was forced to go solo. Since Batman makes regular appearances in the series, it can be classified as a Bat-title, despite the lack of leathery flying mammals)
The Good: It is highly unlikely that I would ever stop gushing about the art of DC comics. Unlike the other two, this comic’s greatest strength art-wise is in its poses and faces, which are very consistent and dynamic, giving readers an accurate idea of what the fight scene would look like in real life, one backflip at a time. There is a style concept going on here that is not fully utilized, but for what it is (a ‘Jason Bourne meets Austin Powers’ kind of aesthetic), it adds a welcome bit of ‘jazziness’ to the comic.
Like Batgirl, the writer of Grayson also has a knack for writing inventive supervillains for our hero-turned-spy to deal with. A speedster who needs to consume human flesh if she wants to keep running! A sniper whose optic nerves are (somehow) connected to his guns! And the main villain of the series runs a prep school for girl assassins that doubles as a shadowy organ(harvesting)nization! Here is a comic that knows how to strike the perfect balance between ‘dumb’ and ‘highly entertaining’. Aside from showing a good fight, this comic also does a good job of depicting emotional moments. The dialogue gets a touch softer, with just enough sentimentality to be affective.
The Bad: Unfortunately, this collection is a bit slow getting into the swing of things. Many mysteriously named Chekov’s guns are scattered across the narrative in the beginning, but none of them are even explained, let alone used. There is also little insight into anybody’s motives, despite all the awkward exposition slung into many lines of dialogue. The sadly non-witty dialogue.
Spy story conventions are mixed in with innovative ideas, but none of it is used to its full potential in the 4 issues of the main story contained in this volume. It seems likely that this was only meant to set up the rest of the series, hence the massive amounts of unexplained plot points. But for what it’s worth, it’s a fun and engaging introduction to the series.
All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder
(or, ‘the worst Batman origin comic ever published’, but probably also the most entertaining)
The Bad: (Warning for ableist and sexist language)
The Good: Lines/panels like these:
. . . at least the art is nice. It’s very nice, actually, much too good for this. I hope the artist is doing well!