Archive for Heath Ledger

The Dark Knight Cram School: The Greatest Batbooks of All Time.

Posted in Batman, Comics, DC, Detective Comics, film, JLA, The Dark Knight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 14th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell

To celebrate the birth of Bat-Shark Repellent, I thought I’d lend my expertise to you all by recommending the Greatest Batbooks of All Time. I’ve made no secret of the fact that my comic book collection threatens to swallow my entire bedroom, so rest assured – I’ve read a lot of Batman. So if you’re looking for a good jumping-on point for the Caped Crusader, you’ve come to the right place. Here goes…


16. Batman: Venom

This story marks the second time Batman is broken, this time by addiction to a performance enhancing drug known as Venom. Venom has an almost surreal quality, but the story takes a very Bond-like turn when the Batman hunts down his tormentors. And yes, Bat-shark-repellent is involved!

15. Superman: Red Son

While not a Batbook per sé, Red Son features the coolest iteration of the Batman that you’ll ever see. It’s also one of the greatest Superman stories you’ll ever read. It’s an Elseworlds tale [i.e. outside of continuity] that poses the question: what if Kal-El landed in Russia instead of America? It further poses the question, how would a Russian Batman react to a superhuman Communist dictator?

14. Batman: The Man Who Laughs

A menacing Joker tale by veteran Ed Brubaker. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his interpretation of the villain informed Heath Ledger’s performance.

13. Batman & the Monster Men

A young and naive Batman faces off against the abominations of Dr Hugo Strange. Written and drawn by the legendary Grendel creator Matt Wagner.

12. Batman & the Mad Monk

Matt Wagner returns for a supernatural romp through Batman’s past. It’s pulp and spectacle with a modern touch.

11. Son of the Demon

Batman marries the daughter of his greatest foe, Ra’s Al Ghul. The Bat and the Demon must work together to stop a terrorist threat, for Talia’s sake and the world’s. A controversial tale that has recently come into play in a big way.

10. Batman: Black & White Volumes 1 & 2

A series of Batman vignettes by comic book greats and mainstays, all in black and white. It’s amazing how much story they can cram within a few pages. A great laugh and a great deconstruction of the character. Pick up Volume 3 if you’re keen, it’s just not quite as good as the first two volumes.

9. Batman: Blind Justice

A surprising amount of material has been mined from Blind Justice to bring you Batman Begins, and this is chiefly because it is the authority on Bruce Wayne. It’s funny considering the author is none other than Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm. Never has Batman’s alter-ego [or past] been shaped so definitively. Believe it or not, Henri Ducard and Ra’s Al Ghul are two separate people. It’s a pity about the kooky mind-control, though.

8. Batman: Gothic

It’s surprising just how well Batman goes with the supernatural. Trust Grant Morrison to pull it off [and he continues to do so now!]. Everything about this tale is gothic, especially the art of Klaus Janson.

7. Batman: Year 100

Year 100 takes place in a dystopian future Gotham, which is eerily similar to the old Gotham: a dark place full of crooked cops. Batman is once again a wanted outlaw, though the authorities prefer to deny his existence altogether. Paul Pope’s gritty and brutal future is believable, and reminiscent of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. A great read with no strings attached.

6. Batman: The Cult

One of the greatest bat-villains was a one-and-done character, Deacon Blackfire. Criminals are being brutally murdered, while the homeless disappear from the streets of Gotham. He defeats the Batman in the worst possible way: by breaking his spirit. Another supernatural Bat-story written to great effect by comics stalwart Jim Starlin. Jason Todd (the second Robin) has never been so likable than in this book, which is surprising.

5. Arkham Asylum

Once again Grant Morrison gives supernatural depth to the Batman mythos, this time to his rogues’ accidental lair: Arkham Asylum. Batman’s greatest foes have taken the house hostage, challenging him to a game of wits. The Batman accepts, but he soon finds that the building has a life of its own. Drenched in symbology, each page is hand-painted by the legendary Dave McKean.

4. The Killing Joke

The Greatest Joker Story Ever Told. If there was ever a book to read before seeing Dark Knight, this is it. Comics legend Alan Moore proposes a possible origin for Batman’s arch-nemesis. Short and sweet.

3. The Long Halloween/Dark Victory

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale team up for one of the greatest Bat-mysteries ever told. Batman must sift through his rogues gallery to solve the mystery of the Holiday killer. The fall of the Falcone crime family; the definitive Two-Face origin story; the origin of Robin – it’s all here and it’s all told beautifully in a true marriage of word and picture.

2. Batman: Year One

Frank Miller redefines the Batman for a new era. Make no mistake, the Batman of Year One is the Batman we know and love today. The definitive Batman origin story, Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham to wage his personal war on crime. Gritty, dark, and grounded, Batfilm enthusiasts have this book to thank for its rich source material.

1. The Dark Knight Returns

Before Miller wrote his beginning, he wrote [and drew] the Batman’s end. A retired Bruce Wayne must don the cape and cowl once more to reclaim the streets of Gotham from Violence and Unreason. Without a doubt the Greatest Batman Story Ever Told, and one of the greatest graphic novels ever written.

Honourable Mentions
This is a list of other Batbooks that are still worth a read for Batfans, but have not been included in ‘The List’ for reasons I will state below:

Batman: Knightfall Part One – Broken Bat
Knightfall is like the Rocky movies: a great overall story arc, but the execution leaves a little to be desired. The chapters written by Chuck Dixon are pretty good (especially the moving finale), but most of the fill-in stories are abhorrent. Nonetheless, an important chapter of Batman’s life, though it suffers from the trappings of 90s event books and B-list villains. Bane puts the Batman through his paces, letting his entire rogues gallery loose upon Gotham. He breaks his spirit and then his back.

Batman: Nine Lives
A cinema-style noir murder mystery and a damn fine Elseworlds tale. It just feels a little dry, and the Batman takes a while to surface.

Batman: Thrillkiller
Again, this is a great Elseworlds tale, starring Batgirl and Robin, this time in the early 60s. Each panel is painted beautifully, but Batman’s glaring absence is once again noted for most of this tale.

JLA: Tower of Babel
A pretty good Justice League story with one tiny problem: Mark Waid’s Batman is a prick. This was the era of the know-it-all Batman – the House M.D. of comics, if you will – never explaining the methods behind his madness until the very end. Ra’s Al Ghul [you’ll hear his name a lot] procures Batman’s secret files to use them against his allies.

Tales of the Demon
If you can get past the West-ian campiness you’ll enjoy some of the greatest Ra’s Al Ghul stories ever written.

Strange Apparitions
Such an apt title for such a strange book. Following the death of Dr Hugo Strange, this story proves once again that the Bat mixes well with the supernatural. But if you can’t handle a little West-ness, you might want to steer clear.

A Death in the Family
An extremely imporant chapter in Batman’s life, but pretty poorly executed. The fact that the ending was voted for only cheapens the emotional impact.

Gotham by Gaslight
Another Elseworlds tale that suffers from not enough Batman. Batman must hunt down Jack the Ripper before it’s too late, but when Bruce Wayne is suspected, things go arye. The identity of the infamous serial killer is a little disappointing, especially when you compare the mystery as a whole to Alan Moore’s From Hell.

Hush
Hush amounts to nothing more than a gorgeous fangasm, really. Still a good read, up until the ‘big reveal’ at least. It’s still a pretty fun ride through Batman’s gallery of rogues and allies.

Batman & Dracula: Red Rain
The Batman must become a bat-man to protect Gotham from its bloodthirsty tormentor. It’s a pretty decent Elseworlds tale with a great idea behind it, Moench just doesn’t get as much mileage out of it as I had hoped.

Batman: Child Of Dreams
A Japanese take on the Batman, author Kia Asamiya actually deconstructs Japanese culture better than the character himself. This is essentially Batman for a new audience (the Japanese), so it’s understandable that many of the ideas presented are well-worn. It’s still well-executed and an intriguing read, nonetheless.

Death and the Maidens
Greg Rucka cooks up a storm within the Al Ghul family, building up a new heir and Bat-villain in Nyssa Al Ghul. But to kill a man who has resurrected himself time and again with such apparent finality – it’s a little hard to swallow – and with Ra’s’ recent resurrection last year, it all feels a little ineffectual. It is Greg Rucka and Klaus Janson, though, and you can’t blame them for trying.

So that does it for me – if want to dive headfirst into the Batman mythos, check out the books I’ve recommended above. If you want to go further, give the others a try – I’ve been a little harsh on them – they’re not the greatest, but they’re still enjoyable reads. I also highly recommend Grant Morrison’s current run on Batman, but be warned – it’s extremely zany, and requires a lot of background knowledge to follow.

What about you? Do you fancy yourself a fellow Bat-fan? Have I left out your favourite Batbook? If so, gimme some hell!

Advertisements

The Darkest Knight Ever: A Dark Knight Review.

Posted in Batman, Comics, DC, Detective Comics, film, The Dark Knight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 11th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell

The Gotham underworld is in ruins as it struggles to rebuild itself. Criminals stray from the shadows, and hide in the daylight, for the shadow is the Batman’s domain. Clawing desperately like rodents from flame, the mafia turns to a man they do not understand. An agent of Chaos, they call him the Joker.

The shadow of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight looms large over every Bat-film, nay, every superhero film before it. By the film’s conclusion, it struck me just how apt the title was: its darkness surpasses even Burton’s Gothic interpretation of the franchise. Nolan’s real-world Gotham makes the presence of a Joker all the more frightening. I’ve never thought about the Joker as a terrorist or even an anarchist before, but Nolan and Ledger gave me a real sense of, this is what the world would be like with the Joker in it, and this is what he’d do. It all seems so obvious now, but the truth is, there’s never been a Joker quite like this before. As Nolan has stated in various interviews, Heath Ledger’s Joker truly is a force of nature. He’s a hurricane that sweeps through each scene, stealing it and then destroying it for no other reason than that’s what he is. There is a tangible tension in the air; a siren sound builds in the background (courtesy of Zimmer and Howard), and neither the audience nor the Batman knows how to deal with him, because we honestly don’t know what he’ll do next.

Ledger's iconic Joker. There's no telling what he might do.

Ledger's iconic Joker. There's no telling what he might do.

It’s this unpredictability that propels the entire film for two and a half hours – no mean feat if you’ve ever seen Lord of the Rings. There are plot twists a-plenty here, and each one of them is a bold move on the part of Goyer and the brothers Nolan.

Like all good comic books, The Dark Knight is first and foremost a character drama. Christian Bale plays a brooding Batman, and a conflicted Bruce Wayne once again. But it’s clear this time that Wayne has moved beyond revenge, and is far more concerned with the repercussions of Batman’s actions, not only for his loved ones, but for Gotham City as a whole. One of the film’s major themes is sacrifice, and you’ll see plenty of moments where all of Wayne’s friends and allies pay high prices for the love of their city. I could really feel Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent’s love for both Gotham and Rachel, and Jim Gordon’s love for his family as well. It is Harvey Dent’s inextricable importance to Gotham and all of its major players that makes his destiny all the more tragic. That Aaron Eckhart’s Dent won me (and Batman) over within the first few minutes only amplified the tragedy. Again, I knew what to expect, but I was continually surprised by the journey.

Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon is a comic fan’s dream come true. His resemblance to the character in the classic Year One is uncanny, both in personality and visage. Maggie Gyllenhaal was the perfect choice to replace Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes – not only does she look similar; she plays a stronger character with more substance than a pretty face. Take this from someone whose pet hate is changing casts between sequels – that the first four Bat-films featured the same Alfred Pennyworth, yet three different Bruce Waynes irked me to no end! Speaking of Alfred, Michael Caine shines through as Bruce’s mentor and friend. I was initially wary of his casting in Begins, mostly due to his rustic speech, but he has captured the essence of a butler who oversteps his role, and cuts straight to the heart of the matter. Morgan Freeman reprises his role as Lucius Fox, Batman’s ‘Q’ and now-CEO of Wayne Enterprises.

The movie’s other major theme is Chaos. Chaos is the Joker’s modus operandi, and he sees himself as the necessary Yin to Batman’s Yang. Bale underscores this notion in playing the thinking-man’s Batman. While there is little emphasis on Batman as the World’s Greatest Detective, he is certainly portrayed as an inventive and rational force. Joker, on the other hand, is all kinds of insane. He simply doesn’t care what happens, as long as something happens; his life an amoral dance of cause and effect. It’s almost refreshing to see the Joker’s sheer abandonment and wanton destruction, as it represents a way of life so different from our own.

Nolan and company cottoned on to the character’s greatest strength: his mysterious origin. Nolan makes no attempt to explain the Joker’s origins definitively; a wise choice that not only saves valuable screen-time, but enriches the character as well. A wry smile crept across my face every time Ledger licked his lips to recount a different origin story to his victims. Indeed, there is a certain black comedy that permeates his dialogue and the film at large. Heath Ledger’s mannerisms are clever and understated, simultaneously manic and aloof. His performance chilled me to the bone, and yet I couldn’t wait to see him return for the next scene. It represents a fitting swan song to his career, and I would love nothing more than to see him win that posthumous Oscar.

The Dark Knight definitely comes off as a self-contained film, and no expense was spared to give it all the dramatic weight possible, with almost complete disregard for sequel potential. As lofty as they are, comparisons with the likes of The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather: Part II are apt. With such a take-no-prisoners approach, where do we go from here? Disheartening, though it may be, it’s a beautiful problem to have.

There are so many more things I could say about The Dark Knight, but nothing that hasn’t already been said more eloquently by someone else. To give you a detailed account of every happening would only diminish its profound impact. Needless to say, it distills some of the greatest elements in Batman’s rich history and combines them to create a thrilling, multi-layered narrative. With Iron Man and now The Dark Knight, its refreshing to see the medium of the comic book movie treated with such maturity and respect for the source material. More than that, The Dark Knight actually transcends the genre of the superhero movie. It’s not for the faint of heart (or for children), but anyone can and probably will enjoy this movie on its own merits. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest video store and catch The Dark Knight.

Riddle Me This: Batman Three.

Posted in Batman, Batman Three, Comics, DC, Detective Comics, film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 9th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell

This one seems to have flown beneath the buzz radar. But I’m chomping at the bit at the prospect of having Johnny Depp take on The Riddler. Problem is, these early casting rumours rarely ever come to fruition. My other problem is: has the story treatment for Batman Three even been written yet? I don’t like the idea of The Riddler and Penguin being shoe-horned into a Batman story [though I surmise this is what happens with most comics, we’ve already established that ‘The Dark Knight’ has transcended its source material].

All misgivings aside, if anyone has a decent chance of one-upping Ledger’s Joker, it’s Depp. Not necessarily because he’s a better actor – and he is – but because he’s a great character actor, equally adept in Hollywood blockbusters as he is in obscure thrillers. That he’s worked with Tim Burton on more occasions than anyone else [with the possible exception of Danny Elfman?] damn-near infuses Mr. Depp with a biological connection to the Batman mythos. Whether or not you appreciate Burton’s Bat-films is entirely beside the point, one thing is clear: Burton has an innate sense of the Gothic, and the Comic.

Can the Joker be beaten?

Can the Joker be beaten?

I could care less that Philip Seymour Hoffman was approached to be the next Penguin. He looks like he could be a Penguin, but that’s merely an aesthetic consideration at this point. Without a doubt, he’s a fine actor, but a fine Penguin? Not so sure. I suppose that’s because conceptually, I hold Burton and DeVito’s Penguin on a pedestal nearly as tall as Ledger’s Joker [that and it marked the first and last occasion that DeVito played a character other than himself]. In a real-world context – that is, Nolan’s context – the Penguin simply bores me as nothing more than a mobster with a disfigurement. The Penguin of the comics has never been compelling. Ever. And I’ve read a lot of Batman comics.

But I can see The Riddler working, particularly in the hands of Depp. My story treatment goes something like this: Edward Nygma [surely they will need to change his name, who wouldn’t guess that this guy is secretly The Riddler?!] is the detective charged by the GCPD to track down the Batman and incarcerate him. When he clocks off, though, he becomes the terrorist known only as The Riddler, putting the Dark Knight through his paces with a series of life-or-death riddles, designed to trap and expose him. Here is a pragmatic force, determined to unravel the mystery of the Batman at all costs, even at the cost of civilian lives. This effectively fuses two of the most popular [and tenable] interpretations of the character: a villain obsessed with the mystery of Batman’s identity vs. a rival detective and GCPD informant, as he has appeared most recently within the pages of Paul Dini’s Detective Comics. It’s also a scenario that fits well with the Batman-as-Enemy-of-the-State theme alluded to in The Dark Knight’s final act.

So, The Riddler and the Penguin in Batman Three?  Certainly a possibility.

So, The Riddler and the Penguin to feature in Batman Three? Certainly a possibility.

“Superman, FINISH HIM!!”

Posted in Comics, DC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 7th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell

I’m sure many of you have experienced or seen the Most Ridiculous Crossover in Recent Years [I won’t say ‘Of All Time’ because you and I both know that won’t be true in a year’s time], Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Being the highly critical person that I am, I thought I’d take this blogging opportunity to pick their picks to pieces. I’ll address the Mortal Kombatants first, because I’m happy with their choices, by and large. EXCEPT

  1. Jax is quite possibly the most ill-conceived Mortal Kombat character ever devised. Not only does he reek of ‘token black guy’, his one and only claim to fame is a couple of bionic arms. As if one wasn’t enough. The man has no personality! Just put Wesley Snipes in and be done with it.
  2. Where’s Goro? Where’s Motaro? Any four-armed freak of a creature will do. Here’s a mathematical equation to illustrate: MK + 1 four-armed-felon = MK + 10 cools, therefore 1 four-armed-felon = 10 cools.


10 cools. It’s science.

Here’s the rest, for those that are interested:

Scorpion
Sub-Zero
Sonya
Shang Tsung
Liu Kang
Raiden
Kitana
Kano
Baraka
Shao Kahn

Now, as a comic book nerd and DC fan, the solemn duty of criticising the crap out of the rest of the character selections has fallen to me. And what a heavy burden it is – but somebody’s gotta do it:

Batman
Batman suits well enough, aside from the ‘no killing clause’ that most DC superheroes subscribe to. From what I’ve seen, though, he looks too ‘blue’. It’s certainly the dominant depiction these days, but I think they should have opted for the ‘black’ Batman – you know, the one who is so damn shadowy you can only see his pointed shape with some eyeballs painted on…

Superman
I know he’s DC’s flagship character and everything, but there’s no justifying Big Blue’s involvement in a Mortal Kombat game. He’s just too squeaky clean for this kind of thing. Perhaps if Brainiac was in the game, or some other colossal cosmic threat, it might give his presence a bit of context [then again, preaching context to a developer that’s putting MK and DC characters in the same game is probably an exercise in futility].

Catwoman
Now, this one makes sense. I can’t help but feel that they slutted her up too much for this, though. How can you fight and do backflips when your boobs are falling out? I suppose nobody cares so long as they do fall out.


Speaks volumes.

Green Lantern
Green Lantern’s powers are a little too fantastic for a gritty, oatmeal-textured fighting game like Mortal Kombat. The ring constructs just aren’t hands-on enough for this type of thing, though we know the hot-headed Hal Jordan isn’t averse to throwing a punch or three when the situation calls for it. Again, without context, he runs the risk of Fish-out-of-water Syndrome.

The Joker
I’m starting to think that they should have done a Mortal Kombat vs. Batman game instead. Another great choice – I just hope they go with a Ledger/Grant Morrison-style interpretation of the character, smiling from ear to ear.

Shazam
Captain Marvel is even more out of place in a Mortal Kombat game than Superman. He’s a young boy that transforms into a magical superhero with a magic word for crying out loud! If Supes is squeaky clean, then Shazam is polished, buffed and lacquered.

[Having said that, I would’ve taken this if it meant the presence of Black Adam, but sadly it doesn’t.]


Say cheese!

The Flash
How does super-speed work in a fighting game? Handling Sonic in SSBB was hard enough – imagine controlling the Scarlet Speedster, who’s faster than the speed of light. Technically, he should be able to round up the entire cast in a few seconds, but that doesn’t make for good gaming now, does it? This may not be reality, but a comic or videogame needs to follow its own logic. Between the super-speed and the gaudy costume, the Flash just doesn’t fit here.


Wonder Woman: Warrior Princess.

Wonder Woman
Diana Prince, on the other hand, fits surprisingly well as the Amazonian Warrior Princess. If they emphasise her battle armour and weapon skills, Boon & Co. might just pull it off.


Deathstroke
I have to admit, I didn’t see this one coming at all. While Deathstroke is seemingly obscure compared to the likes of Lex and the Joker, his presence in a Mortal Kombat game makes a lot more sense. Deadly assassin? Check. Physical deformity? Check. Cool get-up? Check. A freakin’ samurai sword? Check, check and check.
Protip: Deathstroke once had his own series in 1991 called Deathstroke the Terminator. He was referred to exclusively as the Terminator for a good four years until Arnie hit the scene. Now he’s just called ‘Deathstroke’.

Lex Luthor
Love Lex as I do, I fail to see where he fits in the fighting game space. He’s essentially a bald scientist/tycoon in a suit, and while he’s not bad with the fisticuffs, he’s no match for the Scorpions, the Raidens, or even his most familiar foe in a fist-fight.

I suppose the purple-green Apokoliptian battle-suit will be making an appearance, then...

I suppose the purple-green Apokoliptian battle-suit will be making an appearance, then...

Darkseid
Well, one out of eight ain’t bad, is it? There’s not much I can say that I haven’t already said, but Darkseid currently stands as the most important villain in the DC Universe, and brings the necessary level of cosmic to give Supes and Hal some much-needed context…Brainiac would’ve been nice, though.

Compare that to some of my picks, and you have a chalk-and-cheese situation that dwarfs even the ridiculousness of Soulcalibur IV:

Darkseid
Manhunter
Copperhead
Mongul
Bane
Ra’s Al Ghul
Solomon Grundy
Black Adam

Notable (and disappointing) omissions include the likes of Mongul, Bane, Ra’s, Grundy, and especially Black Adam.

Hopefully DC Universe Online actually turns out to be a good game and balances out the universe.