The Killing Joke by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips: The Legendary Graphic Novel Gets the Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Treatment

The Killing JokeThe Killing Joke

by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips
Series: BatmanHardcover, 293 pg.
Titan Books, 2018

Read: May 14, 2019

Leland liked to think that she had a finely tuned bullshit detector. It went with the job and–much to the dismay of the men she dated–tended to spill over into her private life, as well. Something about the Joker, however, messed with her ability on the deepest level. Like a magnet throwing off a compass needle.

She’d dealt with more than her share of compulsive liars, narcissists, and psychotics so alienated from reality that they were unable to distinguish truth from fiction. But the Joker was different.

Her testimony in court had led to the judgment that he was not guilty by reason of insanity, and he had been remanded to her care at Arkham. Yet, in her darkest, most sleepless hours she wondered if maybe he wasn’t insane after all. Not in the clinical sense, at last. Perhaps it was all just an elaborate act. A complex joke with an unfathomable punchline they might never see coming. If it ever came at all.

I don’t think I got my hands on the original The Killing Joke in 1988, I think my friend and I waited until ’89 for financial reasons (in your early teens and unemployable, funds were tight), but maybe we were some of the early readers. The when is murky, but our reactions were not. This was a fantastic story with unbelievable art — it blew our young minds. In the years since, I’ve read it countless times, and while I still enjoy the core of the book, there are bits that make me wonder why. Bolland’s art still blows me away.

The animated movie version wasn’t bad, as I recall. I’ve only watched it once and my memory’s not crisp about it. My point is, that I know this story pretty well. When I heard that Titan books was going to be doing a series of new novels about Batman and they’d start with an adaptation of this story, I was skeptical, but at the same time — an extended version of this story? This could be really good — but how were they going to get that much material?

It turns out that the key to that is the same strategy that allowed Peter Jackson to make a smallish children’s novel into a very long movie trilogy — just make up a bunch of stuff and shove it in here and there. Obviously, any novel treatment of the graphic novel (or movie) is going to do that to some extent — but I’d be willing to wager that up to 65% of this book is new, and not even hinted at in the original. Which bothers me on one level, but intrigues me on others — also, I liked the new stuff.

Batman and Batgirl are independently (usually) looking into the appearance and distribution of a new drug on Gotham’s scene — Giggle Sniff. It’s based on the Joker’s venom and is selling like crazy. There’s a lot of bouncing around as the Caped Crusaders tear through the underworld, looking for the sources of the drug — and interfering as much as possible with the sales and distribution. Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock are also nosing around, and turning up the heat on the dealers. There are some great action sequences, some interesting characters introduced.

While that’s going on, the Joker’s breaking out of Arkham and setting the stage for what he wants to do next. Then we get the adaptation of the Killing joke in the last quarter or so of the novel. Here, there’s minimal changes form the source material — some expanding of ideas, but nothing major or objectionable. If you know the graphic novel, then you know exactly what happens at this point, and if you don’t, I’m not going to spill the beans. I even liked their take on Batman’s reaction to the dumb joke told at the end — I think they made that problematic moment work.

The characters are well done, the action moves well — it’s just the execution of the idea overall that gives me any pause. There’s a little bit about the birth of the Internet as we now know it that’s really nicely pulled off.

The bits of this book that were an adaptation of the Moore/Bolland graphic novel were really well done — and the way these authors filled in some of the details and gave a very contemporary backstory to part of it worked in ways I didn’t expect. Also, the Giggle Sniff part of the book was pretty good. And if either one of them had been the core of a novel, I’d very likely be more positive about those books. But shoving the two of these together? It didn’t work that well. I liked the novel, but I can’t recommend it too highly because the two parts of the novel are just too distinct from one another to see why the authors made these choices.

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3 Stars

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Rogue Superheroes by Matt Cowper: Unintended Consequences Wreak All Sorts of Havoc on the Heroes’ Lives

Rogue SuperheroesRogue Superheroes

by Matt Cowper
Series: The Elites, #2

Kindle Edition, 242pg.
2019

Read: March 7- 8, 2019

When we left Nightstriker at the end of The World Savers, he was trying to apply the new convictions he’d adopted after The Elites encounter with the Giftgiver and his followers. Yes, the primary task for heroes like himself was to take on super-human threats, but other sources of injustice should be in their sights as well. Starting with corrupt politicians and government officials. Nightstriker, who seems to accumulate intelligence on everyone he stands next to in line at Starbucks, had plenty of dirt on them all — and starts releasing some of this information to the Press. Suddenly, officials are forced to resign in droves — and the stresses on the fault-lines of society increase exponentially.

Suddenly, the nation seems on the verge of civil war, and Nightstriker comes clean to the team about what he’s done. Before they can even decide how to react, their HQ is attacked and the President identifies Nightstriker (and because of him the rest of the Elites) as the source of the leaks and exposé stories. As they try to get out of the rubble that was their HQ, a new, government-controlled, team of heroes comes to arrest them. Before the Elites can really wrap their minds around what’s going on they’re on the run, hiding and licking their wounds.

So the Elites have to clean up their image, defeat the new team, and try to help fix the mess that Nightstriker inadvertently created by not thinking things through as he should have. It’s a good thing they’re super-heroes, or this could be very daunting.

That’s not the whole book — like before, a significant portion of the book is devoted to Sam (Blaze’s) continued maturing and the growth of his powers. There are heavy prices for him to pay along those likes I have to say, but especially for the reader — it’s all worth it. The rest of the team have strong storylines — and a good number of people from the previous book make appearances (some pretty significant). It’s easy (and right) to focus on his “Big Three” and what’s going on with them, but without the rest of these characters, the book wouldn’t work.

In the midst of a story where the stakes are so high — Cowper throws in a lot of smaller stories, a good number of scenes that aren’t involved in the overall story, but develop the characters well. It’s a well-balanced story, just enough of things that aren’t the overarching stories to round out things so you can take in all the details of the rest.

I cannot tell you how many times Cowper did things with these characters I didn’t see coming. Things happened to people (powered or not) and then the heroes reacted in ways that were shocking. Despite the fact that this is only the second book in a series, Cowper is clearly playing for keeps and won’t be satisfied with simply injuring some characters. More than once, I had to go back and read a couple of paragraphs again just to make sure that Cowper had the chutzpah to do what I thought he did. “I couldn’t have read that right, because that’s just . . . nope, he did do that.” It wasn’t deconstruction and shocking moves for the sake of it, there was a reason for it all and it served the story, but wow.

But that’s not to say that everything is dark and grim — yes, Cowper’s Super-Hero stories are more like a movie directed by Zack Snyder than one directed by Patty Jenkins or Jon Favreau, but there are moments of joy, of small victories, even a little romance. The moments with Blaze and Metal Girl continue to be enjoyable and are a great break from the Nightstriker drama (even when the moments with the two aren’t happy times). The character Anna, introduced late in The World Savers proved to be another source of relief from the tensions — which is odd, because things don’t really go that well for her for most of the book.

Slab and Buckshot continue (in my opinion) to be under-served, but they both had opportunities to shine here, and we saw more aspects of their character. I do understand why they don’t get the time devoted to them that Metal Girl, Blaze and Nightstriker get — I really do. Also, I’ll probably complain about Slab’s use until Cowper gives him POV chapters that make up at least a third of a novel. Still, Cowper uses the characters well and I like them a lot — he’s probably right to give them the “screen time” that he does. It’s better to leave readers wanting more, anyway, right? Rather than a “I don’t know why we spent so much time with Buckshot, when we could’ve got some more awkward flirtation from Blaze” situation.

A quick note — I thought the original cover for The World Savers was just fine. But the new cover, that matches the look of this cover, is just outstanding (as is this one). It’s a small thing, but the covers are great.

I had a blast with The World Savers, but Rogue Superheroes surpassed it on every front, and I was excited to read it. I’m not sure how Cowper continues the story from where it is — The Elites and the world around them were pushed to such extremes in these pages that topping this book might prove too much to try — but if instead of trying to climb that mountain, he goes around it just right, it could be very satisfying. I am really looking forward to seeing how he proceeds (and how wrong he proves me).

For solid super-hero action, a dash of intrigue and some jaw-dropping outcomes, Rogue Superheroes will satisfy any reader, and I encourage you to go grab it.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion about it.

—–

4 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

The World Savers by Matt Cowper: A Bang-Up Start to a new Super-Hero Series

The World SaversThe World Savers

by Matt Cowper
Series: The Elites, #1

Kindle Edition, 257 pg.
2018
Read: December 11 – 12, 2018

There are going to be a lot of comparisons in this to Marvel/DC characters. This isn’t saying Cowper’s being derivative — nor is he ripping any character off. These are well-known and established types — he’s not doing anything that Ben Edlund didn’t do in The Tick, or Bendis in Powers, or Kirkman in Invincible — etc. I’m just going to say something like “Slab is a Thing-like character” so I don’t have to write three sentences to describe the Thing.

Beverly Gillespie (an Amanda Waller-esque character), the Secretary for Superhuman Affairs, is re-assembling the legendary team, The Elites. Enough time has gone by since they disbanded (for very good reasons) that the government wants to start them up again — under new leadership. Nightstriker — a very Batman/CW’s Arrow -type of guy. He’s driven, he’s obsessive, he’s seemingly incorruptible, and doesn’t play well with others and is pretty paranoid. Which is what attracts Waller — she wants someone who’ll go out of his way to keep the team’s integrity.

It takes some doing, but Nightstriker relents and selects a few people to join the new group — none of them are the crème de la crème, Nightstriker considers them misfits, actually. But misfits that he thinks can work well together and be a strong Gestalt-y greater than the sum of its parts entity. No sooner have they assembled, than their home base, Z City, is under attack. I’ll leave this vague, but essentially these opponents are Occupy Wall Street with a cult-like flavor, following a would-be world conqueror, with everyone within the group possessing some sort of metahuman abilities. So The Elites have to stop this group from destroying the city (or at least the financial and governmental structures), while learning to function as a team.

The book is told through the points of view of Nightstriker and a member of his Elites, Blaze. Nightstriker’s a strong take on the type — you know him pretty well almost instantly.You get his motivation, his way of doing things and can understand his paranoia about reforming this team. He sees himself as not just Team Leader, but Mentor/Coach to his team — but he has a lot to learn about being a Team Player as well as a Leader.

Blaze is a high schooler struggling with Biology tests while he goes around fighting crime in a Human Torch-ish way (with shades of Firestorm, too). He’s eager, he’s naive, he’s a little reckless, he has a sense of fun that’s outweighed by a sense of responsibility. He’s so wet behind the ears that it threatens to put out his fire. But he’s smart (probably smarter than he realizes) and has nothing but potential. Nightstriker sees all of that (and probably more), and sees similar qualities in the other recruits. I really enjoyed his chapters — the Nightstriker point of view is what the DC movies are (at their best), Blaze’s are Marvel movies. The two together make a powerful combination.

Metal Girl doesn’t have point-of-view chapters, but we learn a lot about her — her origin story, what makes her tick, etc. She’s sort of a Vision/Red Tornado/Metamorpho cocktail. That description can only work once you’ve read the book — it’ll click when you do. I really dug her as a character and can’t wait to see what Cowper has in store for her development.

There are two members of The Elites that are under-served — which isn’t too much of a complaint, there’s a lot of plates spinning in these pages and to try to fit in more of these two probably would be counter-productive. First is Buckshot — think the Green Arrow or Hawkeye, but with guns (it’s been too long since I’ve read anything with him in it, but maybe that makes him Arsenal-like) with a Western-motif about him and a talk-radio conservative world-view — I like him, but think Cowper overplayed some of his characteristics (just a little bit). The other one is Slab — he’s a Thing-type character, who really isn’t that much like Ben Grimm — although they’re similar. There’s something about this guy — as much as I enjoyed the rest of the cast, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Slab becomes the heart and soul of the team — and maybe the guy who really comes through at the very end to land the coup de grâce in the finale. Maybe it’s just me, but I like Slab enough that if you told me that Cowper was releasing a novella starring him today, you’d be reading my review about it tomorrow.

There’s plenty of solid super-hero action with a much larger cast of characters than you expect going in — much larger than I’ve told you about, too. The best thing about the opponents of The Elites (I hesitate to call them villains — although it’s appropriate for at least some of them) is that there’s some merit to their cause, enough that at least some of the super-heroes fighting them have to consider their actions. The world seems awfully black-and-white at the beginning, but by the end there’s a lot of gray.

This takes place in the same world as Cowper’s Johnny Wagner, Godlike PI books, but it feels rather different. And it should — one’s a PI novel with super-hero overtones, the other’s a straight-forward super-hero book. I enjoyed the first of those books (and really should’ve read the second by now), but Double Lives took awhile to win me over. The World Savers had me by the end of the first chapter. Don’t ask me what the difference was, I couldn’t tell you. But it’s there.

Great action, great characters (with room to develop and signs that they will), a world teeming with possibilities, this is a strong intro to a series that could turn out to be great (it could also turn out to be simply really good — I’d be okay with that, too). This is a planned trilogy, and I’d pony up the cash for the next two installments right now if I could, I’m eager to see where Cowper takes these characters next (I have a small wish list, but I expect he has better plans).

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my post and my honest opinions.

Faith: California Scheming by Jody Houser, Pere Pérez, Marguerite Sauvage, Colleen Doran

Faith: Hollywood & VineFaith: Hollywood & Vine

by Jody Houser, Pere Pérez (Artist), Marguerite Sauvage (Artist), Colleen Doran (Artist)
Series: Faith Vol. 2

Paperback, 112 pg.
Valient Entertainment, 2016

Read: January 20, 2018


This picks up right after the stories in Volume 1 — Zephyr establishes herself more strongly as a presence in LA, her alter ego Summer makes some more friends, and Faith goes out on a date to a comic con.

I’ve already had to return this to the library, so I can’t remember character names — sorry. Faith’s a major fan (has had recurring romantic dreams about) this super-hero/action film star who’s some sort of amalgamation of Chris Evans/Chris Pine/Chris Hemsworth. I don’t know if Faith’s obsession with goes back before the limited series, but it’s well established. Faith does meet him in this collection, and . . . I was disappointed. That story felt too rushed, too hurried — at the same time, I’m not sure what else could’ve been done with it — and the brevity of the interaction between the two served the story. Still, I felt cheated after all the build-up.

That’s actually a recurring theme for me when it comes to this collection — I thought the story telling was a bit more shallow in this collection than the previous, but somehow I enjoyed these stories more. Unlike the limited run, there are a variety of stories being told — some about Faith, some about her super-heroing, some about her social life as Summer — so given the width and breadth of the scope, they couldn’t get down too deep. Still, I want more depth; I want richer, more developed characters — but I want them to be as fun as this collection.

Is that asking too much? Yeah, probably. Still this was fun. It made me like the characters more and want to spend more time with them — which sounds pretty good to me.

I don’t think I have anything to say about the art here that I didn’t already say about the previous collection — there’s some good stuff here.

Fun characters; shallow, but entertaining stories; spiffy and attractive art — this collection has everything you’d want. This is a series to get into.

—–

3 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Faith: Hollywood & Vine by Jody Houser, Francis Portela, Marguerite Sauvage

Faith: Hollywood & VineFaith: Hollywood & Vine

by Jody Houser, Francis Portela (Artist), Marguerite Sauvage (Artist)
Series: Faith Vol. 1

Paperback, 112 pg.
Valient Entertainment, 2016

Read: January 12 – 13, 2018


I knew practically nothing about Faith/Zephyr before picking this up. I knew that Valient had put out a comic starring a full-figured female super-hero — which seems as unlikely as Superman developing a tolerance for Kryptonite. So when I saw it this collection on the Library shelf, I had to grab it. I had a little bit of a learning curve about this hero/her powers/backstory — but Houser’s script made it easy to catch up (or at least feel caught up).

The characterization — of Faith as well as her coworkers, allies and foes alike — worked well. I dug her secret identity — which is not the same as her real name, which apparently everyone knows (as well as her super-hero identity, Zephyr). Yeah, the fangirl nature of Summer Smith is a bit shallow, but I like the intent and in time, I can see Summer being the kind of character I can really get into. This collection focuses on Faith getting used to her new life in LA and establishing Zephyr as the city’s hero. This brings her into contact with web journalism, a reality show, and SF TV show starring actual aliens (not that anyone knows that).

The only false note, for me, is that while Faith is a clearly overweight person, the book ignores it. As someone who shops for varieties of XL, I appreciate that — and her size makes no difference to her powers or ability to be a hero. But she lives in L.A., Faith is featured on a Pop Culture Listicle site, etc. I cannot believe that it doesn’t get more mention. The idea that in image-conscious LA a large woman can go about her business boldly without having to deal with that commentary is harder for me to swallow than the idea that a large woman can fly using the power of her mind while taking on extraterrestrials and other baddies.

I dug the art — it served the story, was attractive, and was very dynamic. The dream/fantasy sequences by Sauvage were great, too. Both Portela and Sauvage captured the feel of the story and characters well.

All in all, this is a comic as charming as the protagonist — light, fun, and just what the doctor ordered.

—–

3 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Some Assembly Required by Kevin Smith, Phil Hester and Jonathan Lau

Some Assembly RequiredThe Bionic Man, Vol 1: Some Assembly Required

by Kevin Smith, Phil Hester and Jonathan Lau (Artist)

Trade Paperback, 248 pg.
Dynamite Comics, 2012

Read: February 16, 2016


I was a big fan of The Six Million Dollar Man as a kid, and when I got a little older I stumbled onto — and devoured (repeatedly) — Martin Caidin’s Cyborg. Throw in a strong appreciation for Smith’s work? And I’m clearly the target audience for this (so why did it take me 3+ years to read it? Good question).

The main story hasn’t changed: Steve Austin is a test-pilot, horrifically injured — almost killed — when a test flight goes wrong. A team of experts save his life, rebuild him with bionics, and set him loose fighting for truth, justice, and the American way and so on.

The story was nothing special — good, solid action/adventure story. There were a couple of nice twists on the TV show’s story/characters. Just enough to keep it updated and fresh. I’d have appreciated something closer to Cyborg, but I understand why they made the choices they made. Austin goes up against his bionic predecessor, who has gone rogue and now is running around attacking and raiding technology companies. The battle scenes may have been a bit too big and epic — but they fit in with the current cinema trends, so, I guess they worked.

I was sure I’d seen Jonathan Lau’s art somewhere before, but from what I can tell, I haven’t. Which is a shame — it’s great. I’m not going to say that it’s my favorite comic art — but it’s exactly what I want comic art to look like. Which seems like a contradiction, but let’s move on. Yeah, some of the gestures are over-done, and a couple of the men are just too huge. But otherwise, dynamic, easy to tell character-from-character, nice detail, overall very attractive. I’d be willing to give a book a second look just because of his art in the future.

There are some nice references — visual and verbal — to the TV series that are pretty seamlessly worked in. Which I appreciated — looks like the next volume will be less subtle about it (which is not necessarily bad). I’m not going to say this was a great comic that leaves me chomping at the bit for the next, but it was worth the time and entertaining. Not much more to ask for.

—–

3 Stars

The Batgirl of Burnside by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart & Babs Tarr

The Batgirl of BurnsideBatgirl Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside

by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart (Writers), Babs Tarr (Artist)

Hardcover, 176 pg.
DC Comics, 2015

Read: February 10, 2016


My dabbling into The New 52 continues . . .

Like everyone who has at least one social network account, I was deluged by images of the new Batgirl uniform back in 2015 — and I dug it. I liked the Cassandra Cain incarnation of the character — but had missed just about all of them post-Barbara Gordon, who didn’t do much for me (I was a big Oracle fan, in my defense). So I decided to give this a shot when I saw the collection. Oh, so glad that I did — the best of the New 52 comics I’ve read so far.

Barbara Gordon’s in some sort of tiff with Dinah Lance (I’m assuming it’s Lance, didn’t care enough to check), she’s moving out of her old digs into a very trendy, hipster part of Gotham (the part that Nolan or Burton never showed) with a roommate she met doing physical therapy while working on a Master’s/Doctorate with a predictive algorithm that will probably go on to turn Gotham into Minority Report or will be Oracle. Doesn’t take her long to need to do the Batgirl thing, so she slaps together a new costume (her old equipment was no longer available) — the purple leather coat and sneaker thing — and gets to action.

(you can really tell I’m into detailed research here in that paragraph, can’t you? Well, maybe not today)

There’s a new gaggle of friends, mostly university based, who help her tremendously. There’s a romantic interest or two, conflict with the cops, some good stuff with Dinah, a brush with celebrity culture, and a few laughs. It’s light-hearted when it can be, kick-butt when it has to be. Which pretty much sums up Barbara, too.

The art? Wow. I don’t know how to describe it, but it makes you think of an animated show, it’s fun, it’s dynamic — it absolutely wouldn’t work for a lot of titles, but this one has enough spirit, enough joie de vivre, that it works perfectly. It supports and doesn’t distract from the story, just what you want from comic art.

I really dug this, and hope that this version of her sticks around for a bit (as I write this, I’m fully aware that she’s likely morphed at least once into something more Christopher Nolan-esque) — I’ll be looking for more of this one for sure.

—–

3.5 Stars