I woke up one morning and had a dream... Could I own every single issue of Detective Comics, Batman and all of the other subtitles in the Gotham universe?
Insane? Stupid? Inspired?
This can only end in obsession and financial chaos.

Friday, 30 December 2011

The EVIL of Pence Variants

So as promised, here is my Ebay story.

I received this in the post and I was a tad upset. Like furiously upset.

Advertised as a 'Fine' condition comic book and had a picture that was nothing like what you see here. Thing was I paid £20 for what was photographed as a Fine condition Daredevil #168 Cent Variant. I eagerly waited for over two weeks for this thing to arrive in a diabolically shoddy, second hand 'Play.com' envelope. Upon opening the envelope it slowly dawned on me that I had been screwed over... Condition wasn't that great, and something worse...

You see, I suffered the biggest problem us British American comic book collectors have to deal with: the Accursed Pence/Cent Variant Switcheroo.

I had decided pretty early on in collecting comics, that if I was going to collect comic books, and especially the proper Key books, then these comic books must be Cent variants. The reason, I justified, is that these are American comic books, and to feel truly genuine they need to have American currency values on the cover. Sad I know, but that's my rule and I have to stick to it. And I am not alone in the UK in upholding this rule.

I have discovered over the years that the Pence Variant is a dominant feature of the UK direct market certainly around 1981, I'm pretty sure that there are others eras earlier than this, but this is the one that is proving extremely problematic for me. And for those wondering, from what I can tell the ONLY difference between a Cent edition and a Pence edition is the actual price denomination (there are no British adverts to take the place of 'X-Rey Spex' adverts!). For me, it just looks wrong.

There's also a monetary value at play here also. Take Iron Man #129 'Demon In The Bottle' issue, you can pick up a high grade, pence variant copy of this book for a couple of quid (and it looks great in frame near your wine rack), but to buy this as a Cent variant in the same condition is treble that. And this is the apex of my rage at Daredevil 168, and the reason I think I got shafted by the seller, who (and this doesn't feel too harsh) either MISLED me into thinking what I was buying was what I was buying. Or upon discovering that his REAL DD#168 didn't make the price he thought it ought too, switched it to the lesser valued variant. And hoped I wouldn't notice.

How this relates to the Batman Quest is this: I'm going to have to bite the bullet and go directly Stateside to pick up a lot of early 1980's Batman. As this is the time where the problematic pence variants appear in the local, UK market. In short, I think it will be really hard to get hold of a cent copy of Detective Comics 505 in the UK than I thought it would originally be. Which kind of sucks in one way.

Or it means that a holiday is called for.

I properly threw my toys of the pram over my Daredevil #168. The seller had the gall to claim that as he was a 'comic dealer' (which his eBay feedback didn't support, although he has sold some Mint copies of 'Pirate' and 'Private' to a bloke in Germany) he would regularly use 'stock photo's', and that this was simply a mish-take, rather than a misdirection. Of course he disputed the condition, which is, as always, totally subjective but after nearly a month and daily emails, I got my money back.

Truthfully, I had to get my money back, by being a totally belligerent and gratuitous pain in the arse.

So beware people. If you have think something is too good to be true, it probably is.

Beware of the Evils of the Pence Variant.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Holy First Appearances!!!

With the new Dark Knight film causing many fanboys to froth their pants about Bane. I think that its time we had a new Holy First Appearance! And invoking my personal favourite comment about the latest Dark Knight Rises image on the web. Inspired genius Gotham Spoilers, inspired genius...

So Vengeance of Bane #1

Bane probably was created by (and this comes from the sometimes dodgy Wikipedia) by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench and the Graham Nolan. Bane was a character dreamt up to actually do something important.

Like Breaking The Bat important.

This was way before Batman became R.I.P, in 1993, the 'Knightfall' plans were afoot to break Batman's back. This would then cause Bruce Wayne to surrender the mantle to another new, unknown character, Jean-Paul Valley, Azrael.

For a while before 'Knightfall' the key Batman writers were slowly putting the foundations down in slow measured ways. The nasty drug Venom (imagine super-strength Anabolic Steroids combined with the addictiveness of Heroin) was introduced into the official canon in a 'Legends of the Dark Knight' story arc called, unsurprisingly, 'Venom'.

Elsewhere, Azrael was unleashed in a four parter by Denny O'Neill and Joe Quesada (that's some creative parentage isn't it?).

But obviously to complete a storyline that is this important you need a proper villain. One that isn't obsessed with riddles, bodycounts, fear or split personalities. A villain that plays the strings and comes into to do a job effectively and efficiently. And that job is simple, if you want to be the Kingpin of Gotham- to rule Gotham- you must break the Bat. And that is where the brilliance of Vengeance of Bane part I works, we get a fully developed character that in 64 pages.

As for Bane's début storyline introduction, this is his life story as to how Bane has become the man he has. A man raised in a Santa Priscan (a fictitious Latin American right wing dictatorship country) prison because he is to serve the sentence of the crimes of his father. Bane shows cunning and toughness. He gets respect through his brutality. He is then is experimented upon so that he becomes hooked on the drug of Venom.

Also there is a small in-joke at play. An Easter egg, if you will, Bane's henchmen are also introduced: Bird, Trogg, and Zombie. So what you do now, is go to Play.com or Amazon and put a search into their music department these names and experience the world of New York Punk (and here is you're opportunity to learn about the subtleties of the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols). Legend has it that these were the favourite bands of Grant, Moench and Dixon.

One defining characteristic of Bane is his Mexican wrestling mask. This mask serves less of the need to hide Banes true identity. Nope, it's an efficient way of taking Venom. This drug makes Bane stronger and nastier. Of course, this will become his undoing... but, that's another story. If I'm really reaching I'd argue that the appearance of pro wrestler, Van Vader in the old WCW had an influence in the way that a Mexican masked wrestler could be a giant, nasty rotter as opposed to the traditional lucha-libre high flyer. Coupled to that, I suppose you could argue that pro wrestling is also referenced in this story was released just as the Zahorian/WWF in which steroids and wrestling would be forever linked (and the tragic link between Jeep Swanson and Bane in 'Batman and Robin', could illustrate this point, sadly). However, I would state that the use of the Venom, was more of a statement by the creators about the illicit drug trade, and it's influence upon the criminal underworld at the time. You see, Bane is the inevitable outcome of a government backed narcostate. This is a common theme of Chuck Dixon's work throughout the early nineties whether it be in his Batman or Punisher work.

If I'm honest, it is the Vengeance of Bane Part 2 that pops up a few years after that truly really makes the character whole. Dixon makes Bane a reformed drug addict, but has the refined the way that he operates. Less use of muscle (because Venom, is no longer needed- thus quite a lot of Cold Turkey here), and more brains. Crucially, though he is still a man of haunted by his abusive upbringing, and he has a proper purposefulness to his life. Even then, you can't like him, he's still a bastard.

As a fan of Batman though these titanic events of 'Knightfall' are fascinating. The execution of this storyline is excellent. For me, though, it was the completion of the trilogy 'KnightsEnd', and the psychological breakdown of Az-Bats that hooked me as a fan. But hey-ho.

With the new film on the horizon, and Bane being a crucial component in it, it appears that the Moench/Dixon/Grant era of Batman is finally getting the mainstream recognition that I feel has been long overdue.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Monthly Haul: November

Batman Confidential: 22 to 40
Gotham Knights 29
Harley Quinn #1

Catwoman volume 2: 2+3, all but one issue of the 74-94 run
The Entire Battle for the Cowl sub-series (16 issues)
Batman: Blackgate- Isle of Men
Tec, 785-799, 809-815, 846, 878
Azrael Volume 2: 6-9
Batman Annual 24

Okay, I'll admit it... I've been incredibly slack this month.

Blame the economy...

No really. Due to the closure of American book sellers Borders a local chain of discount booksellers named Bargain Book Time, that seem to be based here in the North West of England, have bought its entire Marvel TPB stock. And I felt obliged to immerse myself with more Hardback books than I know to do with.

Seriously. Can you leave Garth Ennis' 'Welcome Back Frank' Punisher arc for less than a fiver? No, of course you cannot. And it would be criminal to leave a Hardback copy of Leifeld's run on X-Force for £1? Nope! And what about Warren Ellis' forgotten Thor arc? It was frickin cheap!!! And then there was a whole smegload of softcovers that I have always wanted to read but could never justify stumping up the full asking price.

So I veered away from the righteous Gotham City path. Heavily. And as a result, have nothing interesting to say about Batman.

Well that isn't entirely true. I'll have to wait for the Ebay refund to be go through in order to explain an interesting story...

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Goddamn Fixer...

Frank Miller's 'Holy Terror', as absolutely everybody who has even a passing interest in comics, was originally conceived to be a part of Miller's Batman.

Trouble was Miller's Goddamn Batman got a little bit too blood thirsty. Okay, murderous. And totally way too psychotic to be Batman. So 'The Fixer' was born... and 'Holy Terror' was able to be finished as Miller had intended.

Cleverly, though, Miller knows that you that. And almost rubs your nose in it. Female jewel thieves that like to dress up as cats, who'd have thought?! And when he's got that out of the way. He then does the comic equivalent of taking a sawn-off shotgun and firing it at 120 pages of paper.

The Batman Quest really loves this book. Which was a surprise. As I had convinced myself I probably wouldn't. And debated long and hard whether I should hit the 'BUY' button on Amazon. Why did I decide to buy this book. I reasoned, in the end... Frank Miller, The Batman story that isn't. Oh why not?

It's angry. Really Angry. It's response is to be nasty. Really Nasty.

Politics, and not Miller's politics, are all over the book. For me, this is a classic 'What If...' storyline that takes a real world issue and then places it into the world of the 1990's anti-hero (a genre Miller is partly responsible for creating). My interpretation of this book is that Miller looks at what happened in ten years of political action/reaction in America since 9-11, and then compresses it into 120 pages of quality comics. In short, we have here is a superheroes political commentary on the War On Terror.

You may not like what is being said within, the finger pointing at Saudi Arabia, at Islam. At the Palestinian/Israeli situation. Or even the link between an Irishman being involved with Al Queda. Miller also throws in American Imperialism into this piece ('Empire City', with it's welcoming 'Blind Justice' symbolic statue looking out at the world, c'mon!). By taking a scattergun approach to a massive subject, is trying to cause Us, the reader, to react. And by using the different captions, different cameos, different colours, different images, different set-pieces, he ought to succeed (and by looking at the reviews throughout the internet, he does succeed). This is socio-political thinking, by one of the greatest comic book creators, who is able to say and express whatever he wants to say and does it by not saying anything overtly.

For those who're are more frustrated by the sparse artwork over the pages, and the way that book's captions read (sometimes top down, sometimes from left to right). Guys, I think Miller has designed the book for you to be frustrated with it!

This is the same reason as to why he doesn't hide the 'The Goddamn Bat'. Miller wants you frustrated and engaging with the work (indeed, comparing it to Frank Miller's Batman), before the terrorist attack. Then he knows that you'll be still reading it, right to the end.

The genius is that 'Holy Terror' is supposed to be, and designed to be, divisive. It's designed to provoke debate. Because that's exactly what any major, shattering event (whether it be economic, man-made, or natural) does to an educated populations politics. It makes you think. And helps create your own opinion. It helps shape your own politics.

And to be truthful here, if Batman had been 'The Fixer', I think my interpretation of the book would have been lost. This story, and 'The Fixers' actions would have been very much against those practiced by what my understanding as to how Batman operates. Also, I feel if this was a true 'Goddamn Batman' book, I feel that Miller's central message would have been diluted.

On top of all of this, the book looks really cool sat next to a copy of '300'. Which let's face it looks so out of place with the rest of trades...

'Holy Terror' is awesome. It's simply recommended by me. Buy It. And then get Angry.

Friday, 4 November 2011

When Batman had to fight... Captain America!

In my home town there is a place where I can buy some back issues. It's totally a sideline, and is blatantly an opportunity to off-load a large amount of ex-Diamond stock. Or, it's the excess of a collection that the proprietor, has acquired. It's very late nineties, and there is a lot of what I consider to be... Throne Reading.

You know what I mean, comics that occupy that personal 5 minutes behind a locked door. Comics that you don;t feel too guilty about reading in such a situation...

There's an awful lot of nineties Marvel for sale here which is fine. Occasionally, I'll come across a gem or a complete miniseries, which will convince me to continue to pop my head in and wade through the old stuff that I have flicked through a million times before. And such an occasion happened yesterday when I picked up a NM collection of the 1993 release 'DC versus Marvel'.

Now I have a (hatred is a bit strong) dis-like for the use of the Batman to be used in DC Universe. It's not that I don't think that Batman, as an icon, shouldn't be utilised as a pivotal figure in a massive promotional crossover. Nor is it that I give a scooby that the reality of a normal bloke dressed up as a giant Bat fighting alongside and against Gods, Monsters, Aliens and Time Machines being particularly far fetched. Nope, it's because I'm lazy.

I'm lazy because I couldn't give a monkeys about the JLA relationship that Batman has. I don't care about his interaction with other DC superheroes. I don't want to involve my life knowing about the history of, say, The Green Arrow. And what the history is between Batman and the Martian Manhunter. Add to that, there's usually a character whom I don't know and couldn't care less in finding more about them. I look and see a Plastic Man in these books: and I think, balls to it!

Maybe it's the writing and the interpretation. Occasionally, these team books get it really spot on (Morrison's interpretation in JLA was pretty clever). Sadly though, usually Batman stands around looking pointless (like in an issue of Alan Moore's 'Swamp Thing'). Or worst still is when Batman is more filled out and the writer handling it gets it spectacularly wrong. For example the cameo of the Batman in the earlier issues of James Robinson's 'Starman', where the Bat broods, and only exists in the storyline in order for Robinson to lecture about his ushering a new breed of superhero. In short, these books aren't ABOUT Batman, he's just in them.

Seriously, I take most books that utilise Batman as a supporting character badly and I avoid them like the plague. Which is why I don't consider these books as being necessary to complete the Quest. And I'm not the only one, according to Grant Morrison in his 'SuperGods' book, Denny O'Neill felt pretty much the same as me. Batman works best in Gotham City. Usually. Why did I buy this miniseries, you may ask? Because it was very, very cheap.

DC versus Marvel is a strange one. I have no idea why either company did it. Oh, I suppose Ca$h had a lot to do with it. Guaranteed Sales; funny books is a serious industry that works on bottom lines. Even the writers that wrote this thing, even admit that their poor plot device is incredibly ropey, and it's best that the reader not to think too hard here! That this plot device exists primarily to ensure that the big guys fight each other very quickly and efficiently.

While there is a few cool setpieces involving our Caped Crusader (especially with Bullseye) the fight with Captain America is so bad as to not be funny. An entire four issue miniseries between this fight is reduced to a hand full of pages. For those who don't know the fight takes place in the sewers.

Perfect throne reading, then?

As Stan Lee might say, 'nuff said'.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Monthly Haul: 'Quiet' October.

A quiet month? It was, until an auction was finishing and I had a glass of red wine in my hand...

374, 434, 435, 708, 709, 710, 711,

Detective Comics:
753-761, 764+765, 767+768, 774 to 781, 783, 840 to 842

Batman & Robin 17+19. Thus completing this series! I wonder how many other comic buyers stopped picking this title up, like me, immediately when Grant Morrison finished his run on the title?

Assorted 'Batgirls', 'Nightwings' and other auxiliary titles. That are too all over the place to really bore you with.

I know that spending a lot of money on funny books based around a man that jumps around, beats people up and wears a cowl isn't (what's the word?)... cool. But I have to admit that I am slowly getting past a lull in the Batman Quest. Yes, I haven't blogged enough. But I work on the impression that if I've not got much to say, then it ain't worth wasting your time.

I was trying to have a quiet month this month. And that went out the window when I got the opportunity to fill out a lot of the collections holes with cheap and helpful deals. Of course, with a glass of cheapo Pinot Noir in my hand the need to expand my Batman stuff was intensified. For example all the Batgirl issues were on a 5 for £1 gig- which was incredibly attractive (at the time)! Then, I got a sniff that I was able to finish the Batman (1940) run from Year One, I thought to hell with that too... Couple of days later, I was filing the run all together, in order, and it made me think that all of this Quest nonsense was really starting to make me a happier person.

Hell, it even inspired me...

So then I was able to scratch off the Batman & Robin books off of the Quest. Then went for the missing Detective Comic titles (from the Grant/Wagner run to the finish) like a starved polar bear. And I'm pretty sure that before the dawning of the apocalyptic (according the Mayan calender) 2012, I ought to nail a few of the other large numbered titles. By my mid-November break, I ought to get the opportunity to actually read these things.

The other thing that dawned on me, that when I start taking out the later titles (and bear in mind that ever since 1989, the Batman family of titles have proliferated to a ridiculous number and I'm at a point that I think they are do-able), the real fun part of hardcore collecting can take place. And that means that I have to learn all about the pitfalls of Silver Age and, even, Golden Age comics. Which means that at some point, my rudimentary levels of grading are going to have to get honed, that and my knowledge base will have to improve. In short, I go from being merely an 'avid collector' to 'slightly obsessed'.

So, if there is a moral to this blog: Kids, don't go through the internet with your wishlist when you have access to a credit card and are slightly pissed. At The Batman Quest, I'd like to promote a sober approach to comic collecting. No really, I do.

Oh and it looks like the 'Animal Man' run is also in the bag...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Fun Times

A great thing happened this week. I completed the first major goal in The Batman Quest. A full run that starts at Miller's 'Year One' Reboot and finishes with the titles termination at #713.

Yessir, I have got a humongous three hundred plus, un-interrupted run of Batman (1940). And to say I'm quite pleased with myself is an under-statement. For those who didn't know, this was what the collection was supposed to be when I looked at my 2011 comic collecting resolutions (true, it got out of control once I started thinking about it a bit more). To collect this run before the end of October, is a moment where I must allow myself to be a bit smug.

This is a longbox full of Batman (1940). And it is MY generations interpretation and rebooting of Batman. So it really matters to, well, me.

So in the words of Red Dwarf android Kryten 2X4B-523P:


And with that these are were the issues I considered to be a problem. If for different reasons;

The John Byrne 'Many Deaths of Batman' issues- I thought I had them, marked them off the list and everything. And then after physically checking the collection, it dawned on me. Oh Crap, how did I miss that? Think I might have to check out how many other gaffes there are in my system!

Issue 672. I couldn't find this anywhere. Until I discovered it in the world famous Ian's Comics And Books (it's in Portsmouth, and if you don't know that, then you ain't a player!)

The last two were #710 and #711. Which was found on the 'Bay. Did I overpay? You bet I over payed. And there'll be a seller out there that should be chuffed to think that his second hand comics might actually appreciate in value. Except they haven't. It's just that I'm incredibly obsessed/anal and incredibly driven/sad to complete this run.

And that's the point of this blog. That I'm bragging to anyone who reads this...

Bragging and Smug.

Yeah. Bring on the Quest!!

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Quest ... in Swindon!

My relationship with Swindon is like Carlos Tevez's with Manchester. Yes, I made a living there, but at the end of the day I always thought it was a shithole. A place that heaped misery and misfortune on me in equal measure. In short, I wouldn't go back there unless I was forced too.

And I was forced to, so I decided to pop into Swindon's only redeeming feature: Swin City.
Swin City sits behind the main shopping area, opposite a huge car park in the New Town's shopping area. And you can't really miss it. How many shops will have a giant, green Hulk painted on the side of the building (probably the only thing of cultural value in New Town)? Believe me, in the UK this sort of blatant marketing behaviour is frowned upon. Especially if you are a sole trader.

Swin City is a small shop that is split over two floor. The main entrance and ground floor, which features new comics, trades and a whole manner of figures. They also sell American candy, if you're interested by that kind of thing. Which I have only tried once (this stuff instantly caused cavities and several fillings).

Upstairs is where the back issues sit, not many for sure. However there is a reasonable number of reasonably priced 'name' books of which Batman is a reasonable percentage. Swin City is also the UK's proudest pusher of 10p comics books. Hell, they work on the philosophy that if it ain't shifting after a year or so, reduce it so it will be sold. And over the years they have done this and I have always left the shop knowing that I have got a few cheapo bargains. If there is one downside to this area is that their prime, key comic books that are hanging on the wall are beginning to become very sun-bleached (and if I was in charge of this place that would be a major issue I would rectify). Occasionally, you can pick up a bargain: I picked up a few early Miracleman issues for a song years ago. As a result there are very good reasons to make rare, repeated visits (should you get past the ridiculous Magic Roundabout, that Swindon is 'famous' for), as you never too sure what new stock might turn up.

The staff are pretty pleasant. You get the impression that these are guys that like a good night out as much as they like their comics. Mind you, being inebriated and inducing any other form of escapism must be a necessity if you have to live and work in this awful town.

Swin City is a shop that is proudly growing (as coverage in the local press attests), and good luck to them. I know that the owner is obviously a shrewd entrepreneur as he managed to acquire another shop in the affluent, student city of Bath (used to be American Dream Comics, never been there but I feel I ought to). The entrepreneurial spirit is also best shown by the importation of American candy, so be mindful of sugar-crazed kids on Swindon's High Streets.

As for my haul, got a couple of Batman back issues. But I mainly picked up a load of 10p back issues that make the trip worthwhile.

And the Hulk on the back of the building? That is really the only decent thing to look at in Swindon.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Holy First Appearances!!!

If you're going to introduce a new villain into a canon, where there is a load of classic villains you'd better go all out. You'd better say something a bit different... and you'd better be arrogant to make the characters first appearance a background story, to make Batman readers sit up and think: okay, bring it. Thank Darkseid that it was Doug Moench and Tom Mandrake who not only brought it, but kicked ass and took names doing it.

Doug Moench makes the Black Mask alter ego Roman Sionis as pretty messed up geezer to start with, made worse by a serious of unfortunate incidents. This is a villain that has decided that his true face is best to be hidden. There is no duality at play with this Batman villain. Duality has been rejected, by permanently affixing a mask onto his face he personifies Black Mask consigning to history Roman Sionis. This is a glorified rejection of all that is good, normal and nice. Also, he has a serious personal grudge against Bruce Wayne (which is a nice change to the villain having a grudge against the Batman) thus therefore bringing interaction to the Dark Knight.

After the 'Crisis' re-set button was pushed in 1986, Black Mask dropped from view and developed from what Moench had originally created into something that the Batman universe was crying out for: a crime lord. Black Mask evolved, or more accurately changed, from an unstable, hammy horror villain into the archetypal gangster that Gotham City probably ought to have almost overnight. Still a bit loony, this new Black Mask-gangster incarnation would expects his followers to also wear masks, to ensure their loyalty and respect. By the 2000's it's fair to say that the Black Mask has been fully developed into a dangerous, manipulative gangster by Batman's key writers, if you need a benchmark storyline I'd suggest the War Games saga, where he is an integral player and a proper bastard.

As a result, Black Mask is very much a top line villain, and deserves it's place on this list. Sadly, somewhere along the way he was killed off, and a Black Mask II was developed. This second incarnation was clumsily introduced after 'RIP', and will probably be thrown into the fireplace of The New 52.

When I read Batman #386 the first time (about a year ago) it became clear to me that this character's origin was too good to be totally ret-conned and forgotten about. The deviantly perverse thought of fixing masks to victims was to be latterly mined by Grant Morrison, of all people. Want proof? Read this issue and the read Professor Pyg's introduction in Batman & Robin #1. There is a genuine nastiness of gluing a mask to a persons face, and this was obviously recognised by Morrison.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Mini Series: Year 100

What's not to like? Paul Pope is becoming comics answer to Stanley Kubrick. I've never gone out of my way to find his Manga stuff (which if I'm honest I ought to), but whenever I see Paul Pope on a cover of a comic book my interest peaks. For me, it's like a trademark of a very individual style and substance. For me, he's the new Frank Miller, a guy who's stuff is always interesting and worth checking out. Thing is, that he isn't as productive as my appetite demands (which is no bad thing!). Like Miller his work on the Bat is quite limited, but always very interesting. Sadly this book never gets the wide appeal I have always felt it deserves. So, if you're not sure when you see it: buy it, and experience something marvellous!

The beauty of this book is the sheer inventiveness of it all. No concept is half baked, everything is thought through, designed to make sense. We get vampire teeth, psychic investigators, a totally different approach to introducing a Robin, a different take on the batmobile. The roughness of Pope's artwork actually is perfect to the grubby dystopian world he has created. Yes, Pope scratchy lines may look messy, but so is the Gotham City that he created around the stories key protagonists. All the while, the core 'Batman' support team is de-constructed in a way which allows a totally new, fresh team all the while retaining the same characteristics of the support team that exists in modern age, continuity Batman. These characteristics are familiar, but aren't necessarily where you would expect to find them. Paul Pope is a clever geezer.

Also, Pope fully utilises the full history of the Batman lore. There are constant references to 1939. Indeed, the Batman costume owes more to the original Bob Kane look, that any recent 'looks'. There are nods to Batman Year One, DKR amongst others. There is also an assumption by Pope (and he's right) that the regular Batman reader will readily accept other men under the Batman cowl (Jean-Paul Valley and Dick Grayson, for example) and that the reader will just get on with it. Truthfully, this book really feels like a logical continuation from the Year One rebirth, and is clever enough to accept the history to incorporate it into its own as cloudy, mythical history.

The pace of the first few pages is a testament to a true master of storytelling in comics, we are immediately engaged in the chase, and before we even wonder what the hell is going on, we are dumped with information. Hell, you could even argue that Pope knew what that the reader and the 'evil government watchers' are thinking the exact same thing. When the 'evil government' see the 'Bat-Man of Gotham' footage, it is the first time, they're world has seen him, and know as little about this character than we do!

The storytelling is also brilliant. Pope expects you, an intelligent reader, is clever enough to understand the intricacies of a thoroughly engrossing plot- which makes Pope's Batman less of a caped crusader and more dark knight detective... And the plot twist is brilliantly executed. And like all great works of fiction, leaves you with questioning what happens next. This is what I like to call Clever Comics!

The genius of this series has seems to have slipped under the radar by the fanboys. What is even stranger here is that this story won the Eisner for best series in the year of it release, this is an important point as the only other Batman story to appear as a winner is DKR. However, you can regularly see a complete NM set of this story on eBay slip through at a bargainous rates. Even more interestingly, you rarely hear anyone rave about it on forum boards.

Therefore, the only reason I can muster is this: that the title itself is 'Batman: Year 100'. In an industry were 'Spiderman 2099', 'Detective Comics One Million' and other future incarnations of classic, contemporary comic book heroes tend to dilute an already cool concept (regardless how well they're done), I think that most readers were deeply suspicious of the book. In comics books there are way too many alternate takes on any big name superhero, and I have read Batman used as an old man, as a vampire, and as a robot. It's true: it is possible to be jaded by too much variation. Especially, when a lot of it was full of half-baked concepts and poorly executed world views. In short Numbers in a comic book title are usually a Bad thing.

Shame, as I think that this is a book doesn't deserve a reputation just as a critically lauded Batman that punters won't risk stumping up their hard earned cash like they would if it were DKR or Watchmen. For those people, I'll categorically state that it really is up there with DKR, Arkham Asylum and Killing Joke! Maybe this fact can be quickly changed.

So spread the word, Batman Year 100 is that Brilliant. If I was in charge of DC, I'd wine, dine, threaten, beg, and bribe Paul Pope to give me a sequel.

Friday, 30 September 2011

The Batman Quest: The Haul September 2011

This month the buying got out of control. Basically, I went to the Manchester Con, with one tactic: Burn as much cash as I could afford. There was also a lot of really good deals on the Bay that needed to picked up. Definitely over a hundred comics have been picked up this month, and I truly don't want to know the exact amount for fear that I might actually invoke a bit of buying guilt.

Also, I managed to get myself sidetracked, in a classic bit of impulsiveness, I decided that my collection actually ought to be enhanced with another completed series (I reasoned and justified, that it takes a really special kind of guy to try and pick up all the Animal Man books). So I went on a bit of a rampage trying to pick them up as well. Stupid, and a total waste of cash. But hey, life is to short not to try these things.

Impulsiveness. A dangerous villain to this Batman Quest.

There's definitely more than this, but these are the highlights:

Batman: 591-599, 607, 642, 654, 683, 684, 688-690, 712
Detective Comics: 510, 512, 513, 519, 538, 540, 541, 573, 802-805
Gotham Knights: 40-46, 56-58, 60-71
Batman & Robin: 18, 20-26
Azrael: 32-34, 49, 65
A shedload of Catwoman volume 2 and Robin.

Next month will be a bit more reserved and then I'm planning for another binge in November.

Well, that's the plan!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Gotham Event Reading Order: The Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul'

This crossover is 'The Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul'. Published in 2007, a time when Carlos Tevez was only hated by one half of Manchester (ahem).

Haven't read this yet, and up to the point where I picked up the Grant Morrison written Part 4, I wasn't even aware that Ra's had been killed. Oh well, I'm sure it will become all very clear when I get (and read) Every damn Batman comic ever published.

Prelude- Batman #670- prelude
Part 1- Robin #168- part 1
Part 2- Nightwing #138
Part 3- Detective Comics #838
Part 4- Batman #671
Part 5- Robin #169
Part 6- Nightwing #139
Part 7- Detective Comics #840
Epilogue- Detective Comics #841

Buying Comics on the Internet Part 2

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Incognito Comics (click here to feel the awesomeness)... happily turning nerds into geeks since 1989.

I discovered these guys by chance, and thought I'd do a trial run at the start of the year buying a few Miracleman books. And was very impressed.

Then I noticed them again at the London Market Place Comic Mart a few months later. The lady running the stand was so lovely and patient (because of too much hardcore thrash metal, I was struggling to hear- long story!) that I was able to get a bit of a deal on a serious key book. This was just after she politely, and expertly, dealt with a rather odd, slightly disturbed social misfit (At a comic mart. Who would have thought?) who was complaining about something extremely trivial. So, these guys went from being just an impressive internet operation to being one of my favourite traders in the UK.

To give you another example how cool the guys are at Incognito, I can give you the example of the Manchester Comic Con. On the website, you will notice that they adveryise as to what events they plan to be selling their wares. You will also note that their inventory is astoundingly humongous, and it isn't cricket to assume that they will carry everything they stock to any advertised event. However, I was cheeky enough to ask them to bring an order with them to Manchester, so that I would pay for it upon collection. What was cool, was that they happily agreed, therefore avoiding the p+p costs (or shipping in Americanish). A final touch was also made, that warmed my inner retailer, they warned me as to what type of stock they planned to take to the event (which was manga), so if I wanted any more to give them a Heads Up.

I'm fully aware of the 'add-sell' at play in this interaction. But they were so pleasant at it, that I feel not a shard of bitterness. And if I was feeling wealthier, they would have had me hook line and sinker. If I felt wealthier now, I'd go mental with a credit card on the site right this second.

In short, these guys are a joy to deal with. I'd love to visit the shop.

- They have a truly wonderful website. And it works
- Grading is at play. As it should be with some of the stock they carry.
- Bruce Campbell works there ("It's a trick. Get an axe")
- Great range of stock, especially old stuff.
- The Packaging that they use is impervious to all types of man-made disaster.
- All guys working here seem to be professional and polite.

- Uh, none. Except they use polystyrene loose fill in big boxes of expensive comics. Which is totally understandable. However, when you're not expecting them in the box, and then they burst free all over the carpet, sofa and the cat you will curse (C'mon that really isn't a justifiable complaint, is it?).

There you are. As good as it gets, as far as I'm concerned.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Buying Comics on the Internet Part 1

Okay, So I'm currently restricted to a handful of places where I am able to buy comic books. This is totally due to the remote geographical position I now live in. My new comic book dealer is based in Lancaster (and this is directly aimed at the new students about to hit Lancaster University: Buy Comics From First Age Comics at the Assembly Rooms Market!) and he's really excellent. And then I have a few other options, but these are based on total luck, whether they have anything that tickles my fancy.

The other option is the internet. Now eBay is the usually the best outlet for all UK back issue collectors. And by and large it is wholly gratifying experience. Although there are a few other dealers that specialise selling back issues online.

The first one I want to deal with is BackIssueComics.co.uk (click here).

When you look and play around the BackIssueComics website you are destined to think that a lifeform lower than a amoeba has designed the site. Also that same lifeform obviously couldn't be bothered to alocate enough cash towards any bandwidth. It's fair to say that if you happened upon this website, and didn't know any better, you'd think that when you handed over you credit card details you'd be getting a phone call from your bank. The conversation would probably be along the lines of...

"Sir, can I take a few details...

"Is something wrong?"

"Sir, are you currently buying Cristal?"

"Crystal, what glasses?"

"Cristal CHAMPAGNE. At £150 a bottle. Like the entire British allocation..."

"No. That's ridiculous!"

"We thought so, but some Nigerian fellow is trying to do so- all over London. With your credit card."

Yes, it's fair to say that invoking trust is the website's core foundation.

Fortunately, before I get sued for defamation, this is a genuine site that I have used a number of times over the years. And believe me, this incarnation of the website is a vast improvement on the old one.

And who are the guys behind this site: one of the biggest players in UK Comic Book retail, Forbidden Planet International. Obviously they belive the internet is a fad...

First the positives.
- The stock is pretty new
- It's very reasonably priced, indeed there are some bargains should you trawl through the site enough.
- And when they turn up are well packaged, and won't cost the earth either.

- Sheer amateaurism. I once got a telephone call saying they actually LOST my credit card details, that went through their secure server. And then actually asked me if I would mind just giving them again to someone random, over the phone! (Yes, I still have the angry email exchange!).
- No guarentee that they are 'Mint' as they won't grade their books. Although that really never bothered me, it might other customers.
- Can be Very Slow. I usually expect three weeks for them turn up.

So there you are. Worth a look, you might get that random comic you've been after.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Holy First Appearances!!!

Batman #635- The first appearance of one of my favourite villains in Batman, that has appeared in the last few years, The Red Hood.

Of course the term 'Red Hood' has a history in Batman. For example the most famous use of the identity, according to Alan Moore's 'Killing Joke', was that under the scarlet helmet was the man who became the Joker. I'm sure that there will be other 'Red Hood' identities throughout the Batman titles, it's just I haven't seem them yet. It's just that this Red Hood looked permanent.

It was the unveiling of this 'Red Hood' which was brilliantly done. After a lot of teasing, and tweening, the man under the mask turned out to be a re-incarnated Jason Todd! I was truly surprised when I read this bombshell in the collected Trade Paperback two years ago. Seems that you can be blown up and return from the Dead. Only in comics...

There are many reasons why I liked the presentation of the new Red Hood. And the main one was that this was a fully developed, well thought through characterisation of Jason Todd. Here is a character that has a highly skilled method behind his madness, as all good villains must have. Crucially, though, it is the foundations of Jason Todd's rebellious, careless (Jim Starlin's work on Todd in the 1980's was particularly strong) Robin that are fully built upon. There is a logical purpose, that Jason Todd, as The Red Hood, now lives by.

Here is a villain that Batman cannot like. The Red Hood is a crazed homicidal maniac in The Punisher mould (and The Red Hood is not even presented as a full-on villain, until later story arcs). However, because of the personal history between the characters there is a sense of responsibility that shines through their subsequent meetings, which adds a complexity to the straight-forward-Batman-gets-the-badguy story.

Welcome back Jason Todd, the Batman universe is a better place for you being back in it.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Big Event: Death in the Family

When Denny O'Neill took editorial control on the Batman books, he would become responsible for some of the most important story lines that have ever affected the Batman character. The bravest moment, of probably two that he made, was asking the Batman readership whether Jason Todd, the second Robin, should be killed off.

Yes, it was a publicity gimmick, described by O'Neill as 'The Great Robin Experiment', and it really, really worked. I'm old enough to remember it getting a segment on 'John Craven's Newsround' (a kid's news show on the advert-free BBC, for those who don't know), which meant that this event went mainstream all over the world. The 'experiment' was decided by a phone poll, and the results were 5271 to 5434. The result: a paltry 72 votes decided that a teenage boy (true, a brilliantly written fictional one) should be beaten to death and then blown up. The only people that treated this event as a wake, were the Batman editorial team, who ordered food so they could await the final result in the DC offices.

So, the main event of this Starlin/Aporo storyline (which had showed Batman and Robin fighting the evils of child pornography, atomic terrorism, African famine, crazed Islamic dictators and corrupt charities) was that Jason Todd had to Die.

It's the consequences of Jason Todd's death that are more interesting for me. It was how this death would be used as a narrative device for the next twenty years. As O'Neill noted in 'From The Den', part of the success of Batman was because there was also a Robin. And this formula had successfully worked for over fifty years. By pulling apart the Batman and Robin team it would allow writers to explore a 'back to basics', lone Dark Knight but by doing this it might alienate a section of the readership. Recognising this the many writers were clever enough to make Jason Todd's death as an additional emotional factor for Bruce Wayne journey into the dark night. So that Batman was now haunted by another ghost to avenge on the mean streets of Gotham City. In short, new emotions, new stories, new possibilities! Great decision!

However, decision doesn't reflect in the actual monetary value of the comic book. While I am quickly closing in on the completion of the Denny O'Neill era of Batman, this is one of a handful of books that I felt I had to pay a little more for (which, at this point in the Quest, is very rare). Fortunately, I picked it up for a paltry fee at a comic mart. This was surprising, as it proved to me that the market value of this story has not responded to this massive event in Batman folklore. Yet, I do think that in future years, as these books will become rarer to find on the open market in NM condition, I predict they will rise in value as the market corrects itself. Regardless, of the telephone gimmick, I truly believe that this storyline is still very, very important. So if you're a collector of Batman (like me) then snap this storyline up as soon as you can.

Don't worry though, Jason Todd may have died, he did recover. In the science of comic books it is possible to recover from being bludgeoned with a crowbar, and then blown to smithereens. It just takes a few decades to do it.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Holy First Appearances!!!

Batman #417, the first appearance of the KGBeast.

Published way back in 1988, while the 'Evil Empire' of the Soviet Union was starting to implode into several states, the writers of Batman decided to ignore this historic event. They had a better idea: Create a villain that is a die-hard communist villain that is hell-bent on killing the President of the USA! Such a nasty piece of work has now become a key book in the Batman folklore. Comrades, I give you the KGBeast!

The presentation of this hardcore character, is still a bit baffling for me as you will note from the cover from a few issues later. While The KGBeast is definitely a formidable, super hard bastard (he cuts his own hand off at one point to get away from the Bat!) and very well trained, it is the politics that makes for the interesting subtext in his 'Ten Nights of the Beast' debut (which I'll probably come revisit at a later date).

However, there is a little bit of (what're the words, ahem) sexually deviant involved with the costume that doesn't quite fit well with the doctrine of Marx and Engels.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Quest Attacks Carlisle

Carlisle is a strange, small city. And I mean this in a good way. An English town where the accents are sometimes slightly Scottish, slightly Geordie, and sometimes, old-school Cumberland. When you drive around the city it dawns on you that this is somehow a wealthy place to live. When Cumbria was constructed in the seventies, Carlisle was made the administrative centre which was odd as it is really about as remote as it is possible to be.

Why am I boring you with this nonsense? Well, Carlisle is home to a comic shop, Imagination Station. Yes, I know if you Google this information, you'll be as suspicious as I was. With no internet footprint whatsoever, or even a listed telephone number, I had decided that an investigative road trip was in order.

Imagination Station, Carlisle's Comic Centre, is upstairs above a charity shop and seems to pride itself on it's anonyminity, and this is a truly, brave thing. As a business, it seems to be doing very well- thank you very much, and that's not to be sniffed at in the UK retail market. I'm serious, you could walk past the front door over a thousand times, and ignore the cardboard sign, that sits above the doors advertising what lies inside. No sandwich board outside, no sign next to the door, no green hulk painted on the side of the building, take a look at the Streetmap picture (CA3 8HJ, for you SatNavers). Squint, a bit and you'll see what I'm talking about.

As you enter the front door, you are heralded by a large sign of where you are on the left hand side. Then you go through another door, that approaches a staircase (here, is where you're more than likely to break your ankle as the base of the stairs is a below the flooring level) and as you go up the stairs you trigger a doorbell, just after you head past a 'don't run on the stairs' (which you can't as you're probably suffering the effects of a broken ankle) sign, and then you start noticing wonderful Jim Lee posters!

Limping inside the shop there are three main rooms, of which only the main one was actually for customers, and these are where all the new releases sit. The first thing that strikes you is that you can tell that this is a long running shop that has adapted to it's dominant DC clientèle (according to the owner nearly 90% of his standing orders are DC). Green Lantern, Superman and 'DC52' posters are everywhere. The two side rooms, however, caught me attention because there are loads of alluring longboxes, and these were sitting in 'Staff Only' areas.

There's a host of wonderful signs to customers. 'CASH ONLY' the most blunt, and another blaming the rise in oil prices as to why Bags, Boards and Boxes, have risen in price. I got the impression throughout the visit that the regulars were like feral beasts that would regularly besiege the owner on random occasions (I could fit in a joke here about the Scottish, but that would be a cheap shot). So it was either these signs, or waving around a big pointy stick at them, I wondered?

To be honest, I had no idea what to expect going to Carlisle, so I gambled by bringing my wish-list, and I got lucky. I told the owner straight out that I was after back issues, noted that he had loads, and asked what his protocol was (hell, you never want to piss-off a comic shop owner by just piling in- manners, may help you get a deal!) in getting at them. So he takes my list, and I tell him which ones I have prioritised upon, and less than ten minutes I'm standing at the counter chuffed that I had just filled a number of annoying holes in the collection. As back issue prices go, they were an average of £2 a pop (London, is still the cheapest place I've found to pick up back issues...), but I didn't care, I was happy. Then for the next twenty minutes we talked shop. And especially about the mayhem of the DC52. That the inevitable result of Diamond sell-outs is that it will annoy all of the fanboys who originally claimed to boycott the DC52, only to change their mind a week before the event (so watch for the venomous, putrid bile, by the unwashed geek minority to hit the internet over the next couple of weeks, focusing on DC52 availability).

So to conclude, Carlisle is still in middle of nowhere, and yes: Imagination Station does exist. And it's pretty good, just watch your ankle, as you go up the stairs.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Batman #713- The End?

That's the last of the Batman Volume 1. First published way back in 1940, with a history of important key issues, cool stories and brilliant entertainment. And now without dispute, the most prominant title in my collection. I suppose life goes on, and all of that.
I thought I'd pick it up 'fresh' as these last issues tend to go up in value (although, I really never understand why), fortunately I fell in love with the awesome cover when I saw it on CBR, and just knew that I had to pick it up.

Cool, huh?

As a collector, I am selfishly thankful for DC unintentionally putting in a conclusion for my near four thousand comic buying frenzy (no more to get after the DC52!). Although I am sure going to miss this 1940 incarnation of the 'Batman' title, I genuinely hope that by pressing the reset button on every single title, they actually inspire (and corrupt) a new generation of comic collecting hobbyists.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The August Haul

Results are as follows...

Batman 577 to 581, 584 to 590, 602, 713
Detective Comics 728, 747 to 752,
Gotham Knights: 50 to 55,
Batman Incorporated 8
Gotham City Secret Files & Origins #1
Huntress volume 2: 1, 3,

What with the other things that I have been up to this month, his has been a really quiet month. Around 30 comics get added to The Batman Quest. There has been a focus on bridging gaps in the B(1940) and 'Tec, which are coming on nicely...

Sure, there are a few other things that are finding their way to me via eBay, but they won't get counted as being as part of this months tally, but that seems to be the way of least resistance right now!

I think that there will be some caped crusader vengeance next month...

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Waiting Game Starts

What with the DC52 about to land in the stores (and I think we should hold a moment of respect for the poor DHL guys who'll be delivering the Diamond boxes to the poor CBGs!), one thing hit me, it might be a while until Grant Morrison Batman storyline is finished. Like, a long, long, while...

Morrison has got a few ambitious things lined after this relaunch, like the Action Comics run and the Multiversity thing that has been long talked about. And I really fear that this will have a knock on effect when I'm able to finish the Batman Incorporated storyline as a collector. Although the new issues are solicited for in early 2012, the cynic in me just gets a little bit doubtful.

Yes, I know comic books get delayed every now and again. Whether it be because of creator illness, work schedule, legal troubles, hard drive explosions, bad sales or poor lunar alignment. But I think I'm getting good at spotting trouble, a mile off...

And to prove my supernatural ability to sense pick these possible delayed titles, I feel you need to experience a few of the legendary waits that have already affected me as a collector: Throughout the comic universe, and not just in Batman.

All Star Batman and Robin #11

Issue 10 came out in Summer 2008, roughly around the same time as the Beijing Olympics. And seeing as the next Olympics are next years, that means that's a long time ago. Frank Miller had apparently written the follow up arc 'Dark Knight; Boy Wonder', but was just waiting for Jim Lee to finish his workload, and then it ought to have been seen earlier this year. Of course, Jim Lee is now a 'DC publisher' and to, be fair, is probably the busiest man in comics right now so that deadline was never going to be made.

This book has previous, continually being late since it's 2005 début. During the three years I lived in and around Bristol, I received exactly one instalment: #10. Oh well, at least I got one of the infamous Bad Language issues, by some act of divine justice!

I think that there is more chance of northern England sliding into some sort of Mad Max post-apocalyptic world controlled by super-enhanced kangaroos, than this title ever being finished.

Miracleman #25

As far as I am concerned this is the ultimate in waiting because I never expect to ever see this being released. So complex a legal minefield, that no publisher seems able to even publish these books even as reprints, therefore making the back issues quite collectible. Especially the legendary, notorious and iconic #15.

However it is the less legendary #24 (released in the summer of 1993, and picked up by me in Cardiff), which had an even lower print runs than #15, that is the tipping point (so, bear that in mind when you enter a full-on bidding war on eBay over these issues!): Eighteen years! Miracleman #25 had been pencilled, and can be obtained by file sharing, should you want to do that sort of thing. Lately, some hope arose when Marvel acquired some parts of the Miracleman intellectual property and Neil Gaiman expressed some interest in finishing his storyline. I truly doubt this would happen, and it appears I'm, so far, right.

Daredevil: Target #2

The ultimate outrage, Issue #1 came out to coincide with the 2003 Daredevil film. I was a true idiot here, I had a few quid to burn in a comic shop in Wrexham and loved the creators other stuff (Kevin Smith for the Clerks comic books and Glenn Fabry for his old 2000AD stuff), and I bought it, I wish I walked away... Even today, the book winds me up, sitting there all smug!

Kevin Smith discussed on the Daredevil DVD extras as to why it took forever for him to even write #2, even having the temerity to get peeved that Bendis started to use Bullseye in Daredevil proper, therefore breaking a gentleman's agreement over his exclusivity of the Bullseye character. Issue 2, was apparently written, although Fabry had walked away from the project (and who could blame him?) and if you look around on the net you might come across bits of it. However, with no chance of this ever being finished you shouldn't bother bother wasting your time looking for it, and then reading it. Life is too short.

Make me wonder that if Arsenal FC are refunding their fans after the 8-2 away day mullering, maybe Marvel could do something similar for this book.

Although there is times when the wait is justified, and the pay-off is all okay...


Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon went into a project trying to replace the dark spectre of a rather dominant vision of the title made by former writer Garth Ennis, and this was quite a tall ask. To their credit, they were well on the way to achieving this until Issue 9, when it simply disappeared. This one sneaked up on me, I remember filing a few old Punisher War Zone's into the appropriate longbox, and then it struck me that it had been a while since I last saw a new MAX.

Seven months later, and explained away by Aaron that Dillon had firstly not been well and was then committed to a higher profile project (I think, Ultimate Avengers 3- he probably was better paid for this book so fair play to him), it returned with #10 as if a beat had not been missed. Regular as clockwork at the moment, and one of my favourite comic books.


Intermittently released by creator owners Mike Oeming and Brian Bendis. So I picked up the last issue of Volume3 in November 2008, fell in love with it, bought all the back issues and then... nothing. I knew I was in for the wait when the two upcoming covers (#31 + #32) suddenly disappeared from Bendis' website

Volume 3 appeared in late 2009, and seven issues later I'm into a seven month wait for #8. To be fair, Oeming does a lot of other cool things while Bendis writes roughly seven million individual titles for Marvel, so I'm not really surprised this takes it's time. When it appears it really is good value. Although, I can't help thinking that with a TV adaptation on the horizon, that these guys might cost themselves a lot of money in sales if they don't release a lot of 'Powers' around the same time.

I hope I'm wrong. That this time next year, I can be actually blogging about how Batman Incorporated is coming along nicely. But I genuinely think, that that blog will start with the words: Told, So, You. Just not in that order.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Gotham Event Reading Order: 'Officer Down'

So here is the first Event Storyline that I ought to try to complete before continuing upon my reading order of the world of Batman.

This is the reading order of the 2001 event: 'Officer Down'.

Part 1- Batman #587
Part 2- Robin #86
Part 3- Birds of Prey #27
Part 4- Catwoman #90
Part 5- Nightwing #53
Part 6- Detective Comics #754
Part 7- Gotham Knights #13

Hitting a Narrative Wall

As part of my ongoing attempt to get as much value out of buying Batman online as possible, I was able to pick up a run of B(1940) and 'Tec. These were issues that when combined with issues that I already had, created a run. This run started straight after 'No Man's Land', it meant that I was able to read over a years worth of stuff, and have something fresh to blog about. Then I hit a roadblock. Suddenly, I picked up Batman #587 and noticed it was Part 1 of 'Officer Down', a proper, main-event Gotham storyline arc.

These kind of event story arcs occur roughly every eighteen months. The editorial pitch to the Batman readership for the usual event story arc is that this storyline is so massive, and so important to the Gotham City world, that it cannot be contained in merely just one title, nor two. Nope, this story has to feature in ALL the Batman family of titles. So to get the full picture, DC editors ask, you have to buy them all... And like a sucker, I do, even after ten years since they were published. I'll then have to prioritise this Batman Quest in order to get these freaking books, so I can read this wondrous event.

I know. This is not the act of a sane man.

While on the whole, I don't mind this kind of event storytelling (especially as I am buying all the back issues anyway, at a greatly reduced price; just for sheer hell of it, I might add.) and am appreciative of how sometimes the flow of the story often feels wholly dis-jointed (for example, as the second part of the story is seen through another characters eyes, it always reflects a different creative teams voice therefore changing the central narrative voice) in different titles. I do, however, admire the ambition and editing skills of the guys at DC in order to make this kind of story coherent and, usually an, enjoyable read. Of course, these fellows have had a lot of practice doing this sort of story, as the editors have been churning them out for fairly regularly for nearly two decades.

My main feelings about the Gotham Event Storyline as a Batman reading experience is that it often presents me with a collecting problem. This is the completest in me, bubbling to the surface. Finishing the event storyline soon becomes a mini-quest in it's own right, and by God, I will collect them all!

I'm sure I'm not the only reader of Batman that holds these feelings. So I'm starting a kind of Reader's Guide feature. So when I, or anyone else reading this blog, comes up against these multi-parted, multi-titled Gotham Event story arcs, then at least they'll/I'll have a reference point as to what Part of the story belongs in what Title. So you, and I, don't just blunder half way through and think what the hell is going on.

I'm pretty certain that my Reading Guide to 'No Man's Land' will be something to behold...

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Same Bat Blog, Different Bat Domain

You know when something starts to take over your life when you feel obliged to change the Domain Name of your Blog, all because people need to know the level of my stupidity.

After what seemed like a ludicrous amuount of time throwing outrageous tantrums (because the Blogger and Godaddy guides to sort this thing are a little out of date) to sort out this Domain change, I'm now even more determined than ever to finish this bastard quest.

So if you haven't been here before, and thinking what the hell is this guy prattling on about. This is www.thebatmanquest.com.

This is my attempt to collect every issue of every Batman title. And while enjoying every single carefully crafted page of the iconic Caped Crusader, I will continue to bitch about how I should be doing something better with my life.

And I've even gotten round to sorting out a bespoke email, should you want to contact the site:


So welcome to my world!

Favourites: Anarky

There is no doubt that Alan Grant's most favourite Gotham City creation during his time as Batman writer was Anarky (I know Norm 'My Favourite Batman Artist' Breyfogle is equally important, and his art in this miniseries is top drawer, but this one is all about Alan Grant!). What we have got here is a Batman story as used as a vehicle for political discourse and subversion. And, as you probably guessed, I like that!

Anarky first appeared in Detective Comics #608 (September 1989. Visually, Anarky is a heady mixture of an Emperor's Royal Guard out of Star Wars and 'V' out of Alan Moore's iconic 'V for Vendetta'. As an aside, I recall reading somewhere that 'V' is an acknowledged inspiration for Anarky. In this comic the masked alter ego of Lonnie Machin is a fifteen year old, multi-millionaire who has utilised 'self discipline and rigorous application of rational thought so that the right and left hemispheres of his brain have become fused'. In short, he's a bright, wealthy young rebel with a revolutionary cause. Grant has always made this character's moral compass a Grey area to the reader- he is neither a hero, nor a true villain. While Anarky has a long history of criminal activity, these have tended to be against corporations and other's that the character perceives as being against the spirit of his political activism. In fact, I struggle to remember any incident where Anarky actually commits murder (and if you look at the body counts of other Batman villains, then this point is pretty astounding).

This was published in 1997 (although available in TPB, should you want it and you should), Alan Grant was nearing the end of the his legendary Batman run, and somewhere along the line he decided to make his Anarky 4 issue spin off miniseries something quite ambitious. Something a bit special.

Essentially, the basis of the miniseries is that Anarky decides that to nullify the world's evil, whom Anarky identifies and personifies as 'Parasites' (after a series of interviews with Evil characters chief among them is Darkseid, he is able to make this conclusion, although one is led to believe that a lot of the questions are very rhetorical, indeed designed to reinforce his own conclusions). This evil, Anarky decides, can only be eradicated from society by 'De-Brainwashing Gotham'. To do this he builds, and plans to use, a mind-machine that allows the people of Gotham (and inevitably the people of the world!) to 'experience pure, uncorrupted consciousness.' Therefore creating an evil-free utopia. Of course, the Batman foils this subversive, dangerous threat to the people of Gotham.

This hokey plot disguises the true genius of the real subtext of the story. This is the discussion of Man's relationship with contemporary western society, and how a better world can be achieved by new thinking and ideology. That any man who proclaims himself as a saviour of the world (or indeed the creator of a change in this new world) is, simply, way too dangerous to be trusted. Here, Anarky has defined evil (by doing his own research), he has decided that he the good (in profound Shakespearean moments of proclamation), and that everyone should now follow him to his utopia. And that there is no need to discuss this change, no need to seek consensus, because any objections are not valid. Afterall, Anarky is certain he knows best. The path to this utopian plan is prophetically signposted by the end of #1, where we are shown Anarky's secret shrine to those that have fallen under failed political experiments (ie. '10 million dead in Stalin's Russia). It is that in this confusing moment that it becomes clear to the reader that although Anarky's plan is well meaning and noble, it is actually confused and full of contractions. Indeed, Batman's true purpose in this story is to blatantly point out the contradictions of Anarky's own political agenda and to how he wants to get there. Batman is truly presented as the hero, he is the only one that can prevent the dangers of politcial/utopian experiments.

Indeed, the contradictions of Anarky are everywhere. He uses Big Brother CCTV to protect his belongings from burglars. He essentially appeals to the greed of the 'common worker' to ensure that building work is fully undertaken. He wishes to eradicate Evil, yet to achieve this he enslaves and sacrifices a demon. He learns his lesson though, as he is haunted by a vision of the apocalypse he created. In short, Anarky has convinced himself the genius of his plan without thinking through the possibilities of Rumsfeld unknown unknowns. He needs to be taught a lesson.

This lesson is taught when Anarky suffers a vision caused by his own machine. It causes Anarky into 'reading the life' of a character that is deeply affected by his new De-Brainwash Gotham. This new life story is an account made by the candidate for the US Senate, Edward Lussky. He is deemed very quickly a ' parasite' because he failed Anarky's own written 'Parasite Test'. He is then imprisoned in a food-less and money free Ghetto (the comparisons to the Nazi's Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, are blatantly spelled out- No messing around here.). Lusskey's story ends in a profound statement; after renouncing violence (therefore, showing himself to be good after all, and making a mockery of the original test), he is gunned down and concludes that any new political direction will 'always ends with a bunch of maniacs trying to rule the world'. This vision remedies the arrogance of Anarky when he emerges from the vision, he grasps the dangers of his new world vision.

As a BScEcon graduate I love this stream of political thought, discussion and activism. I especially enjoyed the issues own political history lecture (to which are all featured throughout this Blog, for you to enjoy in their subversive glory), which pop up almost like one page adverts halfway through the issue (and are presented here so you too can be fully subverted!). Because these lectures are not needed for the plot, it is simple to suggest that these are Alan Grant's lectures to his readership about his interpretation of the real world. By getting Anarky to break through 'the Forth Wall' (as they say in the TV-land) and using a dog as another audience member (the dog is like the reader, you see, whom Anarky would perceive as also being led by the leash). Basically Alan Grant dares the reader to question his/her own knowledge, and in doing so wishes to then enlighten the reader. That is why there is 'suggested reading' after every issue. You know a writer is as serious as a heart-attack when he dishes out homework at the end of comic book! To get away with something this bold and preachy, yet make the whole work very easily enjoyable, is the proof that Alan Grant really is a truly great writer.

The age of the character is also very interesting, While Alan Moore's 'V' is a grown man, 'Anarky' is a teenager. Why is this important? The use of young characters has been important for publishers as it helped link a character with a key demographic audience. For example, the basic idea of Robin (and all the other superhero kid-sidekicks that came after), was that a young readership would relate to that character, and therefore bond on an emotional level with the title if they could see readers the same age involved in the adventure. Once this relationship is established, then a loyal, specifically targeted, readership will follow. The target audience of the 1990's Batman comic seems to have been male teenagers (for example, Robin #3: “the teen wonder”), it therefore follows that the audience ought to be reading about characters their own age, which Anarky clearly is. Anarky is also made more important, and dangerous, because he engages the full attention of Batman (and, therefore not reduced to merely being Robin canon fodder, as would be the logical use of the character), and that he is a fully switched-on political activist at only fifteen years old. And that says a lot of where what Alan Grant wanted to do with the character's creation. He had designed a teenage character that was saying to a teenage audience 'everything you think you know is a lie' and that there are other political solutions to governance than what you are originally, or indeed are being, taught... Trust me, if Alan Grant tried this in the 1950's or early sixties, I'm sure that the wiry Scot would be hounded out of the industry by politicians with pitchforks.

Now, I want to tell you why I love these books. I seriously do not believe that this comic would be published today (less than 15 years later). And I think the proof for this statement is to look at the uproar created in the US regarding Captain America #602 'Teabag the Tea Party' caption. If this story was published today in Batman I'm sure that FOX News, and those of a similar political persuasion would be demanding that this be pulped, on the grounds that this is way too subversive for teenage boys. I was a teenage boy when I first came across Anarky in Batman. And I can categorically say... It is.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Annual Issue 2: Batman Annual #11

Alan Moore, as far as I am aware, has only written a handful of Batman Stories. One of these is an almost forgotten tale that featured in Batman Annual #11, and was released in 1987.

Clayface falls in love with a mannequin he sees in a department store window. Because Clayface is a bit deranged to start with, he believes that her alluring gaze as a sign of affection and then decides to move in. While secretly living under a table during opening hours, his new relationship blossoms and sours. Of course, jealousy and murder is the only real outcome and the Batman has to come in and sort out this domestic arrangement.

To be fair, I'm not really doing the story justice. It's very dark, it has got a chilling underlying nastiness about the situation, that implies abuse. And any story involving a man involved in an intense, implied sexual relationship with a life-size doll is just, plain, wrong... This Moore tale is simply 23 pages of what a mentally sick Batman villain gets up to when he isn't trying to take over Gotham (and then the world).

What I love out of this story is that this is the Alan Moore that I enjoy the most; the humorous subversive Alan Moore. Sure, I love his serious work, but if you offer me a choice between Promethea or, say, Smax, then I'm going for Smax every time. And this story has that similar darkly comic, almost deviant quality. While funny and charming, it still retains a lot of the aforementioned menace and that's what makes it memorable. While the situation and storyline smells of farce, the captions ensure that behind the lunacy, Clayface really turns out to be a really nasty piece of work. Illustrating that this is the reason that Batman cannot, and should not, leave him alone in peace.

Further proof, that some some Annuals can actually be rather good. And for a whole in one experience they can be a thoroughly wondrous thing.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Easter Eggs all over Gotham City

Okay, Easter Egg time.

This is the map of Gotham City that appears in No Man's Land #1.

If you want to read the entire, fascinating story of how it was commissioned I recommend that you visit Eliot R. Brown's site, as he was the evil mastermind that drew it. And, frankly, his shots of the map are miles better than mine.

A couple of things to note here, the names of all the streets, the buildings. If you care about nods to Batman's writers, artists and editors then this is a big, fat, melting pile of chocolate Easter Egg!

I'm quite fond of maps, which I'll admit is a bit strange, so I love this. I certainly love the tributes to Alan Grant, Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench, especially as their tenure of being the key 1990's writing team in Gotham was just about ending.

One thing definitely appear to be missing: No Cauldron. This is the particularly nasty area of Gotham where, according to the 60 issue run of 'Hitman', was where all the Irish migrants moved to. Of course, it's omission begs the question: Has this map effectively ret-conned out Ennis & McRea's Tommy 'Hitman' Monaghan from Gotham City folklore?

Monday, 15 August 2011

Supergods: Read It. It's Rather Good.

After reading way too much Grant Morrison Batman earlier this summer, I needed a break. I was genuinely surprised that there was hundreds of themes and ideas in those books. I'm sure that after reading these books and the other series, I will find a lot more. From a long-time comic readers standpoint, Grant Morrison's Batman run is thoroughly entertaining. However it is fair to say that these are almost comics for the fanboy connoisseur. These are not books that can be read in the bath, slightly pissed Stella Artois 4%.

So, denied the opportunity to re-read Batman and Robin (or indeed the other GM Batman works, as they, indeed 95% of the comic collection, are in storage), I ordered and read 'Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero in three days last week. This, to me, was great stuff. There is the right mix of Comic Book (and more specifically Superhero) History and writers biography. Indeed, I was genuinely surprised to not remember him burying anybody. And the three page review of Joel Schumachers' 'Batman & Robin' made me laugh out load. So, if you haven't bought it yet, it is wholeheartedly recommended.

One thing, that came out of it that made me think: Whoa. And not in a good way.

This was Morrison's take on the outrage that 'Batman RIP' provoked. Now, I was only really starting to re-take an interest in Batman around this time, and I do remember there truly was a lot of mainstream publicity of Batman being killed off. I remember saying to a civilian friend when he asked me if I was going to buy the last ever Batman. I surprised him with my response: that there was no way in hell DC Comics would permanently kill off one of their biggest cash cows! I'm old enough to remember how Superman died, it took over a year, but he did eventually recover from being dead.

Most comic fans 'get this'. We're a cynical bunch, really. We get it that the publishers will use a lot of ruses to get us to put our hands in our pockets and pay a couple of quid for their books. We fall for the marketing campaigns hook, line and sinker. I'll even admit, that even after a proper rant about the DC Re-Thingy, that I'm excited to know what happens in Action Comics #1. But in short, I get it. It's just a comic.

Sadly, not everyone gets it. According to Grant Morrison he actually received Death Threats over RIP.

Death Threats? Just take a minute to let that one settle in...

Death Threats. Maybe this is not news to anyone, maybe I missed this original news thread about this. It is certainly news to me. What the Hell?

In the name of all that is holy, this is only a comic book character.

I enjoy Batman, I love the world creation of Gotham City. So much so, that the Batman Quest, if ever finished, will be quite an excellent thing. Yes, it will take years, and a lot of money. But I am not, nor will ever be, a zealot for this thing. And I sure as hell won't be threatening to kill anyone over the plight of this creation. I think that there is more important things to worry about on Planet Earth. And more pressing concerns that need to be, and can be, addressed on Plane Earth than Batman.

It is this context that I thoroughly understand Grant Morrison's views about leaving the internet fan community, so the lunatics can run their own asylum. And he's right, I see this lunacy all over comic book forums. Occasionally, a holier-than-thou attitude appears and anger erupts over the smallest statement or opinion. For example, I've lost count about how many times CBR have had to end a thread about Miller & Lee's 'All Star Batman and Robin', because it degenerates into outrageous insults and libellous slurs. This is an attitude I have no patience for, and do everything I can avoid to get involved with.

And over what? A fictional character.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Crossovers: Batman/Spawn: War Devil

In comics when a successful crossover occurs, there is always a sequel just begging to be released.

In the case of Batman and Spawn there was less a sequel and more of a return match.

The first Spawn/Batman was a regular comic superstar-slug-fest. Miller and McFarlane took two characters that were synonymous with their comic creating endeavours, whacked the volume up to eleven and probably bought new cars with this very Image-like outcome (and I mean that in a good way).

'War Devil' definitely is not an Image book, this is a DC comic and it involved the holy writing trinity of 1990's Batman: Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon and Alan Grant (art was by Klaus Janson, a note of interest as he was involved with Frank Miller's DKR project). I can only assume Moench got top billing because he did the majority of the writing on this book. Anyway, there were a few ways this book could have gone...

This is a book that healthily sums up all of the various ideas and themes throughout the Trinities work. Hokum, for sure, but this was the 1990's and this stuff was always interesting. So what themes and concepts have we got? Satanism, Conspiracy Theories, Tyrannical Moguls, Buildings as Symbols of Power. All the big budget tricks are here: Historical mysteries, Pentagrams carved into Gotham and Assassinations. We've got a walking army of skeletons, Transforming demons. Oh, and fire, a lot of hellfire.

Like the Miller/McFarlane prequel, this has been written as a simple, fun one shot that had no basis on continuity or achieves any bigger purpose (hell, they even totally ignore the other book). It's a horror tale, pure and simple. But what it does do is actually make Al 'Spawn' Simmons a more rounded character, and a man dealing with the mistakes, or decisions of his own past. Spawn, here is dealing with his demons, because he works for demons, and is indebted to demons, it is only natural that he hopes to overcome these demons.

There could be more blatant finger-wagging by Moench, Dixon and Grant at the Image-creation (or indeed the path Image Comics were taking the industry), but they don't do it. However, there is a feeling of one-upmanship here; at it's heart they've taken MacFarlane's creation, added a proper grown up story arc and added character development to Al Simmons that 'Spawn', as a comic title, always promised in the 1990's but never delivered upon. Indeed this story doesn't actually need Batman at all, and he only really is there to deliver this line at the end:

“Good and evil are not determined by the intercourse of people with one another, but entirely by a man's relationship with himself”. For me, it's like Moench et al are using Batman to say to Image you've got a cool character here that can really go places, don't mess it up!

The book ends with hope. Spawn can successfully achieve redemption by doing the right thing, and in (a comic book way) doing so become a proper superhero that is personified by Batman. As Batman jumps off into the Gotham night, it's almost as if Spawn is straining himself not to follow him. And that is significant in itself.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Visited Manchester Comic Con, Meh...

Maybe I'm getting old.

Maybe I'm not down with the kids anymore.

Maybe I was expecting something a bit more, what's the word, Awesomer.

So I went to Manchester Comic Con on the 30th July and was terribly underwhelmed.

It started well. The security/crowd control was totally first rate outside Manchester Central...

Then I got into the Con.

Look, I wasn't expecting San Diego to be thrown deep into north-west England. And I am not by any stretch of the imagination a veteran at these things (virginity broken, I think, in Cardiff about a billion years ago), I was just expecting something that wasn't this.

So, I'll try to take the positives out of the experience. Firstly, I'd pre-arranged with Incognito Comics (highly recommended for those looking for cool stuff online in the UK) to pick up a bag of goodies, and pay for it there. And then I got to meet John McCrea and he got this done for me! He did, though, subtly asked to leave him alone so he could finish it...

And then I struggled to spend any more money. So my Con experience lasted approximately three hours and this included the cup of coffee I had outside. And I was dragging it all out.

So, me being the kind of guy I am, these would be my recommendations to the organisers of this thing next year (and I promise that I won't take a consultancy fee);

1. More room at the venue. I thought it was small, I know I'm six foot of testosterone-filled muscle, but avoiding guys with capes and women with tails, with my natural poise and gracefulness becomes tiring after a while. The event space was laughably bad.

2. More exhibitions. They really struggled to get anyone in and it showed. There were the regular guys you'd expect to see at these things (Craig Charles, and the bloke who was in R2-D2 for example), some older footballer and some stalls. Diamond were exhibiting (Well I think they were exhibiting, it was like seeing a car showroom with no cars). Couldn't the organisers rustle up some help from other UK comic players? No 2000AD? no D.C. Thomson? no FP?

3. Manga dominated this event, which is fair enough. But, I was itching to burn some cash on American comic books, and walked away with two cheapo X-Men hardbacks. Maybe, it's just me: but aren't Comic Con's supposed to be about, y'know, comics. All comics. I could think of at least three comic retailers that would've loved to take up a few tables if they had been asked.

4. More and better creators. While I appreciate the British big players tend to do San Diego and other American Cons, it can't have taken a genius to look around and find some UK based talent. Meeting John McCrea was cool, but the other didn't exactly inspire me. I'd have loved to met any of the following: Pat Mills, John Wagner, Sean Phillips, Warren Ellis, Alan Grant, Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill or Simon Bisley. One of those must have been available?

5. C'mon guys! A television showing trailers is not an exhibition. That's just laziness.

I know that this sounds like a total bitching here. But the organisers really missed a true opportunity to make this Manchester show really awesome. And I think that I might not be the only one with a sour taste in my mouth. God knows what the guys who waited over an hour, in the boiling sun, to get in must have thought of the experience later that day.

It reminded me of a company that I used to work for. This company, based inside the
M25, somehow got it into it's head that there was no culture, no interest and no money outside of London. This meant that nothing cool in the range ever came to other parts of the country, parts of the country that were crying out for this stuff. Basically the company cost themselves an awful lot of money by not being ambitious enough, although they kept telling everybody (in their usual standard, uncaring way) that they were always testing the market (although blatantly ignoring their own staff about the said market).

And this is what this event felt like: just an experiment. The event organisers must have group-thunk themselves into thinking that people outside London had very little reading ability. That people in the north still walk around in flat-caps with their whippets. That we still use imperial money.

The trouble they have here is that I won't go next year, because this show was so really, really underwhelming. I was originally exited before the event, as were a few others in the Que, and this excitement was not fully rewarded.
Well, at least I got an original Hitman out of it!