Pow! To the People 08.15.08

batman-header.jpgFresh from seeing The Dark Knight, Art Brut frontman Eddie Argos turns his eye to Batman with a look at three very different takes on Gotham’s caped crusader.

 

Like everybody else in the world, I went to watch The Dark Knight the other week and thought it was truly amazing. It made me want to go and read a lot of Batman comics, but unfortunately two weeks ago in this column I accused my L.A. comic shop owners of being geeky boy men that play with action figures. Although I’m 100 percent certain they have never heard of my band and wouldn’t recognise me, I’m not so certain that they are not the sort of people who would Google their own comic shop on a quiet afternoon; then it wouldn’t be too hard for them to put two and two together—with me being the only Brit wandering in buying Booster Gold and Angel comics from them—to work out that I had been the culprit taking the piss out of them. I don’t know what I thought they were going to do to me though; their World of Warcraft weapons don’t work in the real world, but once again, due to me being a paranoid weirdo I had to wait till I’d crossed the Atlantic to get my comic fix.

Of course, half of me writing about how I am a paranoid weirdo not going into certain comic shops is because I’m lazy and I’m trying to convince my girlfriend and flatmates to go for me, even though my girlfriend has a hard enough time with me dragging her into comic shops everywhere we go anyway, and my flatmate Keith buys all of his comics online. In fact, they were his Batman trade paperbacks I read when I got home.

The cover to False Faces by Scott McDaniel and Ande Parks. Click for a larger image.Batman was my first comic when I was growing up, and I used to get it delivered every fortnight. In Britain, Batman comics were always a collection of the stories being read in America. They were always a bit behind and not necessarily in the correct order, which could have become frustrating if Batman wasn’t such an inconsistent character. A good example of this is that in one of the books I read when I got home, False Faces by Brian K. Vaughan, Batman could speak hundreds of different languages and read most of them backwards (with the exception of Sanskrit), but in another, Batman: Gothic by Grant Morrison, he had trouble speaking German. I know this seems a daft thing to get upset about, especially as Batman: Gothic is set much earlier in the life of Batman. Although, to be fair, it is hard to work out exactly how long Batman has been Batman, but it’s not just that. Batman’s personality also differs wildly depending on who is writing him. When I told Chris, Art Brut’s sound engineer, that I was writing about Batman comics, he said "Aww, there’s just too many of them and he’s always different," which I think describes the situation perfectly. I’ve completely given up trying to follow Batman comics as the chronology goes along and now just read them as stand-alone graphic novels.

The Batman books I read were very hit and miss. I read Batman: The Joker’s Last Laugh, although it’s a bit cheeky for them to call it a Batman book since he’s barely in it. It’s more a Birds of Prey/Nightwing book. The Joker finds out he’s got cancer and takes revenge on the world, not caring what happens to him. It sounds brilliant as a premise, but it was a bit too full of laser guns and spaceships for my tastes. I prefer the Joker to be a bit scarier, too. It’s pretty funny in places, though, I really liked reading the Joker’s bucket list: "Call Gordon, ask for Sarah, repeat" and "Feed Cat (crossed out),Buy Cat." Joker’s ultimate plan to get Batman to kill him is pretty good too, although it ends up being played on Nightwing instead (what, with it being his book really). I didn’t think I’d enjoyed this book very much at the time, but now I’m writing about it perhaps I did a little — but it’s definitely not really a Batman book.

The cover to the new edition of Batman Gothic by Klaus Janson. Click for a larger image.Batman: Gothic, unlike Batman: The Joker’s Last Laugh, does exactly what is says on the tin: it stars Batman, and it’s very gothic. It’s full of sinister monks, unusual dreams, deals with the devil and British-style boarding schools. Unfortunately, it also contains the hackneyed writing of tying Batman to a Heath Robinson-style device and explaining the plot to him before letting him escape. I didn’t really like it.

 Batman: False Faces, on the other hand, was brilliant. I’m terrible with remembering names, so I picked it up because I confused Brian K. Vaughan (who wrote it) with Bill Willingham (who didn’t). Bill Willingham writes the Fables comics, which I love, whereas Brian K. Vaughn has written a lot of things I haven’t read but definitely will now. My favourite sort of Batman stories are the ones where he’s actually being a detective, skulking ’round Gotham in a bad mood solving crime. There is plenty of that in this book, as well as showing rarely used characters and questioning how much of Bruce Wayne is actually left in Batman, both of which I also love. The stories in this book are brilliant and gripping, and even though they contain mind-wiping hats, ventriloquist gangsters and half-man/half-bats, the characters living the experiences still feel real enough for it to be genuinely touching in places.

I know it’s a pretty stupid thing to criticise a comic that’s been going since the end of the thirties and had thousands of writers for being inconsistent. I just wish there was some sort of code that you could put on the books to avoid the bad ones.

I’ve also been reading Invincible as trade paperbacks. I won’t go on too much about it, as I must be the last person in the world to discover it, but it’s fantastic. Especially reading it from the very beginning—it’s so full of twists that you can’t see coming, even after the initial massive defining one. I was speaking to someone the other day who said he had read the first three or four issues and then given up, and I was like, "Oooh, you just missed it!" The first twist does totally change the comic, I was so impressed when I finished reading the first book I started phoning everybody I knew to ask if they’d read it. The constant twists, turns and comic reference jokes make it perfect and highly addictive. I can’t wait till I’ve caught up so I can start reading it regularly.

Actually what I could do is give the books I’ve been reading to my girlfriend, get her addicted and then get her to pick up my comics too when she goes looking for her Invincible fix. | Eddie Argos

The cover to The Joker's Last Laugh by Brian Bolland. Click for a larger image.In this edition:

Batman: False Faces (DC Comics; 2008)

160 pgs. full color; $19.99

(W: Brian K. Vaughan; A: Scott McDaniel, Rick Burchett, Scott Kolins, and others)

Batman: Gothic (DC Comics; originally published 1990, new edition 2007)

128 pgs. full color; $14.99

(W: Grant Morrison; A: Klaus Janson)

Batman: The Joker’s Last Laugh (DC Comics; 2001)

192 pgs. full color; $17.99

(W: Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty; A: Ron Randall, Marcos Martin, Walter McDaniel, and others)

More info: http://www.dccomics.com/

Invincible (Image Comics; 2003 to present)

Published monthly, 32 pgs. full color; $2.99

(W: Robert Kirkman; A: Ryan Ottley)

More info: http://www.kirkmania.com/

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