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REVIEW!! Year One: Batman / Ra’s Al Ghul

8 Oct
Writer: Devin K Grayson
Art: Paul Gulacy
Collects: Year One: Batman/Ra’s Al Ghul issues 1 and 2

After so long, we return to the caped crusader in a series of one shots titled as Year One which detail the first meetings of Batman and his cohorts with Gotham city psychopaths (Year One: Two Face, Year One: Scarecrow) or just detail their experiences with handling the hero job (Batgirl Year One, Robin Year One, Nightwing Year One, Metamorpho Year One). Nowadays, any title which connects to Batman’s early days or preliminary experiences with crime fighting is automatically considered to be a Year One story (Batman and the Monster Men, Batman and the Mad Monk, Batman: The Long Halloween), all brought about by the phenomenal success of the original, one and only one Batman: Year One with story by Frank Miller and art by David Mazzuchelli (see review here).

Well, this isn’t one of them.

The story begins when Batman receives a hand delivered letter addressing him as “Detective”. That and the obvious title should give away who this letter is from. But Ra’s is dead. In his letter from beyond the grave, Ra’s describes his views on nature, its balances, and his quest to save the Earth from humanity. We see glimpses of his quest for immortality, beautifully laced with threads of oriental legend and eastern mysticism. While Batman goes around his ‘normal’ job and Alfred reads out the letter to him, one thing becomes obvious – Gotham’s dead are rising from their graves! It initially begins with no one dying for a period of twenty six hours, and for a moment, Batman even considers being pleased, as this is what he has been actually fighting for. But then, the dead people refuse to stay dead, and the decomposing bodies are regenerating… and all of this is because Batman has destroyed the last existing Lazarus pit. Now, Batman is on a quest to uncover Ra’s secret formula to create a Lazarus pit. And he isn’t alone – Ubu seeks to do the same, to restore life to his master; while Gotham burns and the dead turn on the living.

Chronologically, the story takes place a year after Ra’s Al Ghul has died at the hands of his daughter Nyssa Raatko in Batman: Death and the Maidens (hence the Year One) the original story behind the publication of this book is even stranger but not impractical. Warner decided to use Ra’s Al Ghul as Batman’s “Big Bad” in the movie Batman Begins….but then the hotshots realized Ra’s has been dead for the better part of a year – so what killer move can we make to make sure that we raise comic book sales, jumping on the movie bandwagon? Answer – put out a new reprint of an existing collection or reprint classic work. Like Batman: Tales of The Demon, reprinting classic Ra’s tales by Dennis O’Neil (see review here) and Batman: Blind Justice by Samm Hamm & Denys Cowan where Henri Ducard makes a brief appearance, and they’re doing the same with a Batman Vs Bane book for The Dark Knight Rises. And also, a new series with the same villain. Enter Batman/Ra’s Al Ghul Year One.

But the story by Devin Grayson is actually good. She writes a wonderful Ra’s, every bit as compelling as Dennis O’Neil or Greg Rucka. The eastern mysticism track was refreshing, and was much needed once we get enough of the Batman fighting the dead in present day Gotham. Hency my reason for reviewing this now….sometimes a really good story gets lost in the shuffle, and falls through the cracks. The art by Paul Gulacy is excellent – he hasn’t lost his touch after his classic work on Master of Kung Fu over at Marvel and face it, nobody draws oriental like Paul. The actual story is short; so is the trade. And that’s one of its strong points.

Check this one out. Amidst the Year Ones dominating the shelf, this has a tendency to get lost – and you won’t want to miss this classic.

My rating: 9 on 10
Contains full covers, 9.99 US$

Shade, The Changing Man, Vol 3: Scream Time

19 Aug

Writer: Peter Milligan /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:””; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:”Calibri”,”sans-serif”; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

Artists: Chris Bachalo, Bryan Talbot, Mark Pennington

Collects: Shade, The Changing Man issues 14 -19

Published under VERTIGO

And now, we come to the third and final (at least till date) volume of Peter Milligan’s Shade, The Changing Man. The inevitable confrontation between Shade and The American Scream does occur here, and we learn a few secrets about Shade, Kathy, Wizor, the American Scream, the zone of madness and the Madness Vest.

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Shade the Changing Man Vol 2: Edge of Vision

13 Aug

Writer: Peter Milligan

Artist: Chris Bachalo

Collects: Shade, the Changing Man issues 7-13

Published under Vertigo

Welcome back to another long overdue edition of Deciphering DC. Continuing with the original series on Shade, The Changing Man, (read the review of Vol 1 here) who currently appears in Flashpoint: Secret Seven and is slated to appear in one of the DcnU 52 titles, Justice League Dark.

Shade and Kathy continue their road trip through America in their quest to circumvent the madness stream and the American Scream. The issues here start having more of a surrealistic flavour than the preceding ones.

The first issue focuses on a very realist, down to earth topic – garbage. Probably the best issue of this series (yet) this one features a man in search for the identity of a homeless derelict he buried some time ago. In large cities, garbage abounds, but not all of us can see the small places it escapes to. When the madness stumbles onto a man who buried a man whose name he did not know, chaos results. All the garbage of the city comes out, and the writer succeeds in inducing a very claustrophobic feeling.

Next comes a two parter inspired by the hippie era of ‘totally rad’ communes. The madness stumbles upon a man whose goal is to unite the country with love. Of note is the absurd number of communes and their nature – a few I can remember fondly are the Pink Heaven commune, the soppy sleepyheads commune and the crack in the bathroom ceiling commune. Of note is a long running character, Lenny, who is introduced here. She’s a devil may care person who Kathy runs into, and travels with Shade and Kathy here onwards. While over the top and absurd, it all feels good.

The Madness stream takes our heroes to a town out of Norman Rockwell where to be different is analogous to being taken over by aliens. If a person takes coffee without milk, or writes with his left hand, he is taken to a ‘correction’ machine. With the flavour of a sci fi flick, this one works well as a one and done short.

Up next is the three part ‘Edge of Vision’ where Shade becomes involved in a murder mystery, with Stringer, who has been following them from the beginning. The identity of the murderer must remain a mystery, and he’s definitely someone who we have seen before. We also get a view of Shade’s scattered (shattered?) psyche, and all multiple personalities are out for everyone to see. Plus, Kathy makes love to Shade, but it’s not the Shade she (or we?) know.

Peter is traversing really weird territory here, and writes a very different comic. Chris Bachalo is doing some wonderful work here, especially on the Commune issues here.

Rating: 9.5 on 10. Peter Milligan’s knocking ‘em out of the stadium here. I feel this is Chris Bachalo’s career best work

Full covers, 19.99 US$

Next Week:


Batman: The Killing Joke Deluxe Edition Hardcover

30 Jul

Writer: Alan Moore, Brian Bolland (2nd story)
Artist: Brian Bolland
Collects: Batman: The Killing joke, with a short story by Brian Bolland from Batman: Black and White Vol 1

Apologies to all for axing my previously planned post concerning Shade, The Changing Man, Vol 2. The single issues of Shade are too hard to read….psychologically. They are almost one & done stories, but take too much effort, I’m halfway through the trade, and hopefully you will see a review next week. In the interim, I read through one of my recent buys this week, and it was a doozy!

Alan Moore made his DC debut long before this story, scripting the adventures of Swamp Thing. He did do fill in stuff from time to time, also doing pivotal stories like a Clayface story from Batman Annual 11 (1987) , and also scripted the last story of the Golden Age Superman in “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”. However, it was not until Watchmen that he earned the reputation of the thinking man’s writer. Soon after, he blew all socks on a prestige format book titled Batman: The Killing Joke, which shook up status quo a lot. In a recent interview, editor Dennis O’Neil, erstwhile writer on Batman, and responsible for the 70s version of the character, having created Ra’s Al Ghul, said after reading the script, to his editor, “Either we run it as it is, or we give him a kill fee.” In other words, we won’t edit the content; it either goes to print, or we pay the writer for his time. Dennis says that he thought the high price point would keep it out of the hands of children, but admittedly, he was wrong.

The Killing Joke begins with the Batman trying to work out his relation with the Joker, in a cell in Arkham; when he discovers that the clown has made his escape. Meanwhile, the Joker makes an exciting purchase – a carnival fairground. Soon, the Joker makes his way to Commissioner Gordon’s house, shoots his daughter Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), rapes her, and makes her father watch.

Batman visits Barbara in the hospital, while a kidnapped Commissioner Gordon is forced to watch the pictures, via a roller coaster ride on the said fairground, after which Batman intervenes.

In the final confrontation, Batman stops himself from killing the Joker, and still proposes a truce, to which the Joker, of all things tells him a joke at the end, and it all begins to make sense. Between panels, we see what appears to be the origin of the Joker.

Whew! That was an exhausting read, but worthwhile. It’s not the story per se, but the implications therein, which make it the definitive Joker story (open to debate). Consider this: Batman is making the Joker an offer in the beginning, of a truce, and even after all the events of the story, he still makes the offer. after raping his daughter, Commissioner Gordon still shouts to Batman, “We have to do this by the book. We have to show him that our way works.” Joker maintains that it took one bad day to make him what he is today, and tries to drive Batman, Commissioner Gordon and Barbara to the edge, subjecting them to events unimaginable. But he loses. Gordon & Batman decide to bring in the Joker, and Barbara metamorphoses into something the Joker could never have imagined. The Joke in the end is the kicker. And I’m not spoiling that….I would like to share one of the last images of the book though, the green one with the Batman, and Joker, that is embossed on the cover.

The Joker’s origin is a bit stereotyped, but works well – an ordinary guy needs money, enters a gang, is shattered by a family tragedy, still goes along with the plans, and turns into a freak. The second story, included only for Bolland’s art is standard. It features a guy who is otherwise simple, but just wants to kill the Batman. Meant more to showcase Bolland’s art than anything else.

Alan Moore’s writing is layered, and works here, while Bolland’s art is , as his covers are, spectacular. One thing to note though – this edition features a recolouring of the original work by Brian Bolland. The original colouring by Tom Higgins can be found in a version of this story included in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore. As good as the classic version is, I prefer this edition which features muted tones, rather than the garish colouring of the 80s.

This story was subject to angry fans when it released. then, Ostrander wrote Barbara Gordon as Oracle, and people are cool with that, to that extent that they hate the DCnU reboot purporting to bring back Barbara as Batgirl. Shows two things: 1- People hate change (also proven by the cancellation of the 25 paise coin in India) and 2 – You can’t win ’em all!

My rating: 9 on 10
17.99 US$

Shade, The Changing Man Vol 1: The American Scream

23 Jul

Writer: Peter Milligan /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:””; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:”Calibri”,”sans-serif”; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

Artist: Chris Bachalo

Collects: Shade, the Changing Man issues 1-6

Review by Aalok Joshi

Welcome back to another edition of Deciphering DC. Right now, we’re moving out to the fringes of the DC Universe. In the late 80s/early 90s, there were a lot of experimental titles, most of them treading new genres (remember, Vertigo as an imprint wasn’t around back then) like The Question, Suicide Squad, The Spectre, Green Arrow, Skreemer, Time Masters, Doc Savage, Sandman, Hellblazer, The Books of Magic among others.

Shade, as such wasn’t a new title – neither was Sandman. But like Neil Gaiman, up & coming writer Peter Milligan chucked the original character created by Steve Ditko out of the window, and created something…..else. He did keep the original character history in an……innovative way, but all of what he created didn’t depend on that in any way. However, Shade, while a very critically acclaimed title never got the sales it deserved, and fell below the radar for most of it’s run (70 issues, not very less than Sandman which was 75 issues plus Specials. This run, never before collected in paperback beyond the 1st six issues, suddenly becomes significant, as we see Shade appear in recent issues of Hellblazer, and is currently appearing in Secret Seven, slated to appear in Justice League Dark, all written by Peter Milligan.

The story opens with a mentally “disturbed” girl, Kathy entertaining thoughts of killing the man in her hotel room, but not without having a drink first. The man in her room appears to be her parents’, as well as her husband’s murderer. Troy Grenzer is as sick as they come. Brilliantly epitomised by the line “I’m not mad. I get mad, but I’m not mad.” This guy is a perpetually talking nutcase who is actually looking forward to the electric chair. Waiting outside the penitentiary, where he was supposed to be executed Kathy starts seeing weird things, like a walking electric chair with the hood actually smiling at her.

Meanwhile, through a disturbance in the fabric of reality, an entity possesses Troy’s body, making it levitate and find it’s way out to Kathy’s car, whereupon it urges her to drive away. Kathy wants her revenge on Troy, and so plays along. The entity claims to have possessed Grenzer’s body through the electric current, and is from the planet Meta, having come here through the power of something called the M-vest or Madness vest, or so he claims. The real Troy is gone…well, almost.

/* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:””; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:”Calibri”,”sans-serif”; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;} Shade claims he’s here to stop the madness from taking over the earth, which is spreading from the Zone of Madness, between Earth & Meta. After reconciliation with Kathy, wherein she kills the personification of Troy Grenzer, Shade and Kathy set out to stop the madness, wherever possible. Meanwhile, the madness is slowly making itself known, through the possession of affected individuals.

Further, Shade elaborates of his life on the planet Meta, establishing himself as a hopeless romantic, and we see as Shade is trained in astral projection to go to Earth to combat the madness by Wizor & the Changemasters (it’ll all make sense when you read it) who have devised how to keep an agent indefinitely (earlier they could do it only for 3 hours) on Earth.

The entity of the Zone of Madness, the American Scream, is the personification of the madness who claims that Wizor has betrayed Shade, his original body is dead in the zone of madness and there’s no way back to Meta. Slowly but surely, Shade settles himself to life on earth.

On the way, Shade and Kathy encounter the Kennedy Sphinx who threatens to eat all of America until it’s question, “Who killed J.F.K.?” is answered and a movie camera, which is possessed by the Madness. These stories are too weird and trippy to elaborate further. Suffice to say, they read very well on multiple readings.

Peter Milligan writes weird, maybe on the same level of Grant Morrison, but with Milligan I feel that it’s just not ‘weird for the sake of weird’ which unfortunately Grant falls prey to sometimes. Milligan is weaving a wonderful story around, which does make sense, and it’s all before the collected editions era,so it doesn’t read like it’s written for the trade, rather reads like single issues. Chris Bachalo’s artwork is wonderful, and though it isn’t his signature style (yet) Bachalo is well suited to drawing a lot of detail, as well as experimenting with different styles. The covers by Brendan McCarthy are just too good for words, which is why I include all the six covers (TPB cover is the original cover to issue 5), also the original cover to the 1st collection in this article. It’s printed on non glossy paper, which I just love and adore.

My Rating: 8.5 on 10. It’s a good story….too good, but it’s getting there. I feel the best is yet to come.

Full covers, 17.99 US$

Next Week:


A DCnU view – Deciphering DC

16 Jul

by Aalok Joshi

Hey, Welcome back to another edition of deciphering DC. Today, I try to make sense of the reboot and actually tell you why the DC reboot is good for you. Yes, you heard that right. And I also stress on the parts that might go awry, or just be bad.

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Suicide Squad, Vol 1: Trial by fire review

8 Jul

Writer: John Ostrander

Artists: Luke McDonnell, Bob Lewis, Karl Kesel, Dave Hunt

Collects: Secret Origins 14, Suicide Squad 1-8

I can confidently say this is “THE” series fans have been waiting the most to get collected. A SHOWCASE PRESENTS was solicited, but requests for a full colour publication were so overwhelming, the Showcase was cancelled. Chances are, this is probably the first you’re hearing of this title. If yes, let me tell you what the “hubbub” was all about; if no, a little patience,dear reader, we’ll soon get to the meat.

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Animal Man Vol 3: Deus Ex Machina

2 Jul

Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencillers: Chas Truog and Paris Cullins
Collects: Animal Man issues 18-26
Published under Vertigo

Review by Aalok Joshi

As promised, this is the review of the last of the three collections of Animal Man by Grant Morrison (you can catch previous reviews here and here) which is quite superior to the previous two volumes, in that much it presents a series of events without missing a beat. Most earlier stories seemed like collections of single issues (which worked pretty nicely, in fact) but here it’s nice to see Grant tackle a serial storyline, well until the last issue at least, but here we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

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Animal Man: Origin of the Species

25 Jun

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Chas Truog, Tom Grummett

Published under VERTIGO

Collects: ANIMAL MAN issues 10-17, origin story from SECRET ORIGINS

(SPOILERS continue, though no interior pages this time around! )

And I continue into Vol 2 of the unbridled harrowing rollercoaster ride that is Animal Man. I think the only problem I’m going to have in this series is I’m going to hate to see it end. But end it must, eventually.

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Animal Man by Grant Morrison

18 Jun


Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Chas Truog

Published under VERTIGO

Collects: ANIMAL MAN issues 1-9

Reviewed by Aalok Joshi

Colossally MAJOR SPOILERS ahead…if you have decided to go and buy this book and read it, STOP RIGHT HERE! If not, well, this post gives you umpteen reasons to, including select samplings.

With the slowly and steadily growing mess that is my life pushing my insides out, I find far and few books that are as satisfying a read; driving me towards the fringes, far from the relative comfort zones of the standard Superman , Batman or Flash story and into the morass where the more seedy characters lurk…not all of them are seedy, just…odd. Places inhabited by THE QUESTION , GREEN ARROW, SWAMP THING & ANIMAL MAN.

In particular, when I was reading Batman under his current scribe Grant Morrison (I know that other people do write Batman currently, but the one Grant is writing, whichever it is becomes THE Batman book, just like there are starters, appetizers, desserts but there is always THE main course) I figured that Morrison has always brought some sort of interconnection between his titles, so his titles, whatever they are would always benefit from an individual comprehensive read, and later point out to where they fit into his whole picture. His first work for DC Comics was a portrayal of a lesser known character ANIMAL MAN.

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