Birds of Prey: The Battle Within

Birds of Prey: The Battle Within 

By Simone, & various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-352-1

Dyed-in-the-wool superhero fans and neophytes alike would be well advised to follow this series. It features a more-or-less rotating team of DC’s female crime-busters, led and co-ordinated by the mysterious ‘Oracle’ (wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon, formerly known as Batgirl), as they target the less flashy and more insidious threats to the DC universe.

This volume (collecting issues #76-85 of the monthly comic series) begins with the Birds living in a hi-tech jetliner, proactively seeking out villains and vigilantes across America. First call is Dayton, Ohio, where a traumatised high school girl discovers she can pay everyone back using her ability to steal the powers of any magical force in the DC universe. Then they hit Peo Ridge, Kansas to stop a ghostly serial killer called Harvest who can literally suck the life out of her victims, usually men who abuse women. Metropolis gets a visit next, and a guest shot from the Thorn, whose one woman war on crime brings her to the attention of Oracle, Black Canary, Huntress and Co. A major sub-plot throughout these tales is Oracle’s increasing fascination with the virtual technology of the Brainiac computer that previously took her over.

The remainder of the volume is taken up with an extended storyline featuring Wildcat, a World War II hero who latterly trained most of the female fighters in the DCU. In a sting operation lead by Black Canary, the team tries to dry up the drug trade in Gotham by “buying” all the merchandise from the big boss supplier in Singapore. Naturally things don’t go quite according to plan, with spectacular results for not just crime buffs but any fan of martial arts mayhem.

Gail Simone once shows her mastery of action adventure and capable women, aided and abetted by a fine selection of very talented artists such as Joe Bennett, Ed Benes, Tom Derenick, Joe Prado, Eddy Barrows, Jack Jackson, Bob Petrecca and Robin Riggs. These romps are hard to beat and impossible to put down.

© 2004, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Batman:Year One Deluxe Edition

Batman:Year One Deluxe Edition 

By Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-158-8

The latest repackaging of this classic tale is finally available as a paperback. Year One is a joy to read and its particular reinterpretation of the origin literally changed the way Batman was produced — much more so than the apocalyptic ‘Imaginary story’ The Dark Knight Returns. Its effects can still be seen echoing through the contemporary Bat titles.

This extras-added edition includes a wonderful four-page comic strip afterword by Mazzucchelli; lots of promotional art and a large selection of script pages, thumbnail sketches and layouts as a fascinating entrée into the artistic process.

Batman: Year One is a story every comic fan should own, and if you are and you don’t this is a pretty spiffy version to get, especially as its available now, Now, NOW!

© 1986, 1987, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Under the Hood, Vol 2

Batman: Under the Hood, Vol 2 

By Judd Winick & various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-277-0

The tale continues (as originally printed in Batman #645-650 and Batman Annual #25) and, no matter how I pitch it, forces me to contravene my self-imposed rule of not spoiling any surprise plot twists.

The Red Hood seems to be the adult version of Batman’s dead partner Jason Todd, who was the second Robin before being murdered by the Joker. What is his agenda? Is he just carrying as before his demise – albeit in a pretty harsh manner, or does he have a deeper game to play?

Despite the intrinsic silliness of the plot and the crushing, chronic comic book inability to let any character go, this still delivers plenty of angst-y action, melodrama and pathos. If you can suspend your narrative disbelief and just go with it, there’s guilty fun to be had here, especially if you think of this stuff as soap-opera, not literature. For that we’ve got Shakespeare and Stan Lee.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Batman: War Crimes

Batman: War Crimes

By various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-246-0

One last hurrah from the braided mega-event that occupied all the Batman titles during 2005, and as collected in War Drums and War Games: Outbreak, Tides and Endgame. As the dust settles Batman needs to find out how his own hypothetical training scenario led to the catastrophic gang war in Gotham and the death of two of his crime-fighting team. More moody and introspective, this dark tale of repercussions leads to the loss of yet another long-time Bat-ally.

Written by Andersen Gabrych, Devin Grayson, Bill Willingham, Bruce Jones and Will Pfeifer and no less than eleven artists, this slim volume reprints Batman #643-644, Batman Allies Secret Files & Origins 2005, Batman Villains Secret Files & Origins 2005, and Detective Comics #809-810.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman-Batman: Vengeance

By Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-4012-0921-1

Here’s another triumph of style over substance as our heroes are targeted by a strangely familiar – not to say almost dangerously copyright-infringing – team of super heroes from another reality – another? again? – bent on obtaining vengeance for the murder of a team-mate at the hands of – surely not? – Superman and Batman!

This further interdimensional foofaraw follows on from Superman-Batman: Absolute Power with a graphically astounding package of rollercoaster twaddle with lots of branded guest-stars but very little sense. Ooh, Shiny!

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Batman: Gotham County Line

Batman:Gotham County Line

By Steve Niles & Scott Hampton, with Jose Villarrubia

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-401-3

Eerie and evocative thriller as Batman investigates a serial killing spree in the sleepy suburbs of the big, bad city that only really kicks into high gear after the death of the perpetrator. Batman is one of the few heroic icons who has always been equally at home with super-science and the supernatural and the Dark Knight’s arena is here extended to beyond the veil of tears and deep into nightmare territory.

Rife with zombies, ritual killers, early life revelations and the odd guest-star, this still manages to be a crime thriller and a detective mystery that Bat-fans will enjoy and cross-over readers – especially horror aficionados – will revel in.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman-Batman: Absolute Power

Superman-Batman: Absolute Power

By Jeph Loeb, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino

(DC Comics)

Hardcover ISBN 1-4012-0447-3 Paperback ISBN 1-84576-144-8

This most reductionist, iconic version of the World’s Finest team returns in a bewildering romp that is an aging fan-boy’s dream, as the time-travelling Legion of Super Villains co-opt history by raising Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne to be the conquerors of Earth, thus provoking universal doom and a plethora of DC guest stars from all histories and genres dying heroically before our consensus of reality is restored.

Although there is a vast amount of razzle-dazzle from Jeph Loeb and spectacular art from Pacheco and Merino, it still fails to really satisfy, and even the most desperate of continuity freaks know that everything’s going to come out right eventually.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Batman: Face the Face

Batman: Face the Face 

By James Robinson, Don Kramer & Leonard Kirk

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-377-7

After the never-ending calamity of DC’s Infinite Crisis event, the company re-set the time line of all their publications to begin one year later. This enabled them to refit their characters as they saw fit, provide a jumping on point for new converts and also give themselves some narrative wiggle-room.

In Face the Face Batman and Robin return to Gotham after a year’s absence. Why and where they went is unknown, but in their place as protector of the city they left arch criminal and literal head-case Two-Face. Although nobody’s safe choice for a hero, the ex-villain has done a sterling job of crime-crushing, so why has he seemingly returned to his old ways of murder and mayhem now?

As a number of small-fry super-criminals are killed in Two-Face’s signature style, Batman and Robin must either prove a frame up, or catch a man they thought they had reformed. Naturally there’s more to this than at first appears and new tragedy lurks around every corner. In Gotham City, nobody ever gets away clean.

Tightly plotted, and well illustrated, this nonetheless reads more like a private eye thriller than a tale of the towering and tormented Dark Knight that we’ve all come to know. Is that a portent in itself? Fans should, naturally, keep tuned…

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: City of Crime

Batman: City of Crime 

By David Lapham, Ramon Bachs & Nathan Massengill

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-336-X

David (Stray Bullets) Lapham makes his Batman debut in a monolithic tale of the dark underside of Gotham. This bleak and sordid story sees the Dark Knight tackle the horrors of dead and missing children, baby-breeding rings, corporate skullduggery, blue-collar brutality, and the sinister machinations of an inhuman monstrosity that can raise the dead and easily replace his most trusted companions and friends.

Calling on his facility with the modern crime genre Lapham examines the master of disguise Batman deep, deep, deep undercover in search of an abducted child, through the uncommon lens of true contemporary evil that would not be out of place in a Vertigo comic. In a style that owes much to such movies as Donnie Brasco or Serpico we see how taking on another identity can affect even the Batman, and through a seemingly unconnected stream of excursions and capers we perceive a vast plot forming. Street shtick and super hero staples combine in an electrifying high-octane finale that owes much to Assault on Precinct 13 and Dawn of the Dead, as well as any comic showdown you’ve ever seen before.

Grittily illustrated in a methodical, underplayed manner by Star Wars artist Ramon Bachs, this stark fantasy is Batman at his evil-busting best.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman & the Monster Men

Batman & the Monster Men
Batman & the Monster Men

By Matt Wagner

DC Comics ISBN 1-84576-346-7

Grendel and Mage creator Wagner returns to the Dark Knight to update one of the earliest adventures (from Batman #1 no less) as evil genius Hugo Strange uses the hyper-thyroidal failures of his genetic experimentation as a means of procuring funds for further research. Since he’s evil that means lots of robbery, mayhem and half-eaten citizenry and mobsters. Set during the early days of Batman’s career, we’re also introduced to his first long-time romantic interest, millionaire’s daughter Julie Madison, who will also feature strongly in Wagner’s proposed sequel, The Mad Monk.

Solid, stylish story-telling make this a real treat for old-timers and new fans alike, and the clean, captivating art and colour is irresistible.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.