Ever wanted to read a comic but didn't know where to start? Interested in superheroes, manga, romance, webcomics and more? Look no further! We have all the recommendations you'll ever need.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Seen the movie? Now read the book - Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

The last of Christopher Nolan's Batman films came out a few weeks ago and, man, it was good.  It had everything in it that I wanted, and more.  It was more comic-y than the previous two films, which might be why I got so much out of it - but then my non comic reading friends who I went with also loved it.

So of course I now need to give you recommendations for books to read, based on the film.  I'll put everything below the cut because I really don't want to spoil the film for anyone. In short - go see it, it's fabulous.  Then come back here and find out which books you need to read to discover more!

Spoilers from here on in!

OK, so where can I start?  The film was a mash up of a couple of different, well known, Batman comic stories.

We'll start with Bane.  Bane is the only person ever to have broken Batman.  He did this in the Knightfall storyline, breaking his back as shown in the film.  While Batman was recovering another fellow, named Jean Paul, took on the Batman mantle and protected Gotham.  This didn't work out so well and when Bruce was healed Jean Paul went back to his old Azrael persona.  This story arc is told over three books: Knightfall, Knightquest and Knightsend.  If you want to read about Bane's origin then get Batman Versus Bane.  Unlike in the movie, where it was revealed that the child in the prison was Talia, not Bane, in comics land Bane was born and raised in the prison.  Bane also turns up in later volumes of the Secret Six books (the first one is reviewed here).  He first turns up in Unhinged.

So, after we've seen Bane break Batman we're into the second half of the film where Gotham is separated from the rest of America and turns into a No Man's Land.  Why the capitals? Well, because No Man's Land is the title of another brilliant Batman story, and the film was quite clearly based around this.  Now, because I love this series so much I'm just going to turn this into a proper review for it.  Onwards!

Writer: Various, includes Greg Rucka, Chuck Dixon, Dennis O'Neil, Devin Grayson, Scott Beatty, Kelly Puckett, John Ostrander
Pencils: Various, includes D'israeli,  Damion Scott, Dan Jurgens, Michael Zulli
Inks: Various, includes Bill Sienkiewicz
No colouring or lettering credits given
Publisher: DC

What's it about?
In the comics, Gotham suffers a massive earthquake.  The city is pretty much destroyed and thousands of people are killed.  The American government decide to close Gotham off from the rest of the States, and declare it a No Man's Land.  People are given a short amount of time to get out but, after that, it's no one in and no one out.  The folks that are left are those determined not to give up on their homes, or the bullying government.  Or they are sick and can't leave in time.  Or they have responsibilities that won't allow them to leave.  Or they see the newly decimated city as an opportunity to assert power and dominance over others.
(Note - this issue isn't in the collected volumes, as it covers events just prior to the city being closed off, but it's a good image that illustrates the situation).

Pretty soon Gotham is ruled by gangs, headed up by thugs, criminals or the police  Fresh water gets scarce.  Food supplies dwindle.  Money and jewellery become worthless; shoes and blankets and shelter and batteries become prized possessions.  A barter system develops, with The Penguin running the main market.  People starve or get sick, and there's no medicine unless you have something to trade for it,

Batman stays, of course, and is slowly joined by his compatriots - Batgirl, Oracle, Robin, Huntress, Nightwing etc.  Together, they work with the police and law abiding citizens to keep the gangs under control and ensure the survival of those trapped in the city.
What's good about it?
Oh boy... this is an epic story.  Originally told over 80 issues, spanning several different Batman series, DC first collected only 40 of the issues into trade.  Now they've just released a new edition, which collects every single issue that was first published.  I heartily recommend you get these new editions.  They are worth it because you get fully immersed in the catastrophe and get really attached to the characters.  These collections feature pretty much every notable Batman character, sidekick and villain.  It's an excellent way to acquaint yourself with Batman's world.

Given the huge number of issues included in this storyline, there are a huge variety of artists and writers producing the individual comics.  Some issues are sublimely brilliant and others are a bit rubbish, but when taken together the overall effect is a positive one.  This is a heart wrenching story of people surviving through disaster.  Voices are given to many different characters - it's not all told through Bruce Wayne's experiences.  The heroes and the villains narrate some issues, as do the ordinary people.

A lot of the stories tell us about the importance of compassion, of individual accountability, and of the strength of the human spirit.  OK, there's some posturing, some issues seem to be an excuse for drawing violence, but taken as a whole it's much better and bigger than that.  The series features a lot of key moments for the characters, that have defined who they are for years afterwards.  It's the big stuff - life, death, self sacrifice, crippling injury, personal revelations etc etc.  The scan to the left here is from the underground railroad storyline, one of the most memorable in the story, and is notable for making a black man the hero, and putting him in the traditional Batman pose at the end of the story.

What's bad about it?
As mentioned, there are a lot of different artists and writers on these books.  Some issues are pretty bad, others just average.  The Catwoman issues in the first couple of volumes are particularly cringeworthy or sometimes just downright offensive.
For example, women's boobs are not naturally inflatable..  Yet in other panels it's less noticeable: for example I think the second scan here is pretty cute.
Other than the art, the timeline can be a bit confusing.  With several different subplots running at once, the first volume in particular jumps around quite a bit.  You might be reading a couple of subplots that go through the first 2 months after the earthquake, then jump back to a couple of people's experiences directly after the quake.

What's the art like?
There are so many different art teams on this book that you are bound to find some pieces you love and some you loathe.  The scan above is all dark drama, whereas this next scan is much softer, and has a romantic feel to the colouring:
The art, while varied, is representative of the times and will give you an insight into the possibilities of the medium, if that's what you are interested in. I'm afraid it's a bit difficult to say anything specific, because of the variance of the art.  I've littered this review with examples, many of them favourites of mine, and you can also go see more in the No Man's Land posts I did on my other blog here, but beware of spoilers.  If you do see something you like, rest assured there will be at least 22 pages of that artist's work in the volumes.

Other information
Volume 1 ISBN: 0857688405
Volume 1 Price: £22.99 or £12.64 on Amazon cheap price at the moment

Volume 2 ISBN: 1781160864
Volume 2 Price: £22.99 or £12.64 on Amazon cheap price at the moment

Volume 3 ISBN: 178116388X
Volume 3 Price: £25.99 or £17.90 on Amazon cheap price at the moment

Yes, they are expensive.  Yes, they are worth it.  One last thing to say is that although some issues in this collection were aimed at teenagers, a lot of it is pretty mature.  So I wouldn't buy this for a young 'un.
If you're looking for diversity this is a pretty good place to start.  Oracle, the former Batgirl who is now a wheelchair user, features heavily and, for once, a comic does not have an all white cast.  OK, the characters are mostly white, but a lot who have been used aren't, and that's a cause for celebration.

I expect volumes 4 and 5 to be out later this year.  Check out our labels for more books featuring the Batman characters.

No comments:

Post a Comment