Back Issues [X-Men Month]: Giant-Size X-Men #1

To commemorate, the culmination of their long-running and successful X-Men movies, 20th Century Fox declared May 13th as “X-Men Day”, a day to celebrate all things Mutant and X-Men and celebrate Marvel’s iconic collection of superpowered beings who fight to protect a world that hates and fears them.

Story Titles: “Second Genesis!”, “…And When There Was One!”, “Assault Force!”, and “Krakoa…The Island That Walks Like a Man!”
Published: May 1975
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Dave Cockrum

The Background:
In 1963, after achieving success with characters like the Fantastic Four, Tony Stark/Iron Man, and, of course, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee and Jack Kirby dreamed up the concept of “Mutants”, ordinary people who developed extraordinary powers once they hit puberty. In contrast to lauded superhero teams like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, the X-Men were hated and feared by the general public and thus used to tackle variety of social issues, most notably racism. Unfortunately, the X-Men initially struggled to find an audience and the comic was cancelled by issue sixty-six in 1970. Five years later, under the direction of Chris Claremont, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum collaborated on a revival of the title, which saw an international team of Mutants join the team, breathed new life into the title, and the X-Men have been an enduring and popular team in comics ever since, influencing an entire generation with a much-lauded animated series in the nineties and, of course, a series of massively successful live-action movies.

The Review:
The story opens in Winzeldorf, Germany where a torch-carrying horde of bigots are chasing after Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler; despite his demonic appearance, Nightcrawler pities the braying crowd for their “mindless prejudices” and laments that they are so blinded by their hatred of him that they’re risking their own safety. Rather than teleport to safety, Nightcrawler opts to leap into the crowd and fight them off with the only language the bigots understand: violence. The numbers game is too much for the young Mutant, however, but he is saved from a fiery death by the timely intervention of Professor Charles Xavier/Professor X, who freezes the horde with his incredible mental powers and offers Kurt a place at his school in order to both shield him from such hatred and help him “find [his] true potential”, an offer that Nightcrawler gratefully accepts. The story then jumps over to Quebec, Canada where Xavier meets with another Mutant, Logan/Wolverine (also codenamed Weapon X by the Canadian government). Having been impressed with Wolverine’s recent fight against Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Xavier offers the abrasive Mutant a place on his team to help other Mutants in need. Wolverine jumps at the chance to be freed from the shackles Canadian government, resigning in typical Wolverine fashion and happily leaving alongside the wheelchair-bound professor.

Xavier is able to recruit his new team, despite some reservations from the would-be X-Men.

After Xavier quickly recruits former ally Sean Cassidy/Banshee over the course of three panels, the story jumps over to Kenya where a group of African tribesmen beg Ororo Monroe/Storm to use her powers of weather to end the drought that has ravaged their lands. Revered as a Goddess, Storm conjures winds and rain to help out the struggling natives and, after informing Storm of her Mutant status, Xavier appeals to her curiosity enough to recruit her to his cause as well. Siro Yoshida/Sunfire of Osaka, Japan is recruited even faster and easier than Banshee and then Xavier heads over to Siberia to draft Piotr “Peter” Rasputin/Colossus (despite his reservations about leaving his family), a muscle-bound patriot who is able to cover his skin in an organic metal that renders him strong and impenetrable enough to shield his sister from a runaway tractor. Finally, Xavier travels to Camp Verde, Arizona to recruit the last member of his new team of X-Men, John Proudstar/Thunderbird, a Mutant swift and strong enough to catch up to and bring down a charging bison. If Wolverine was a bit rough around the edges, Thunderbird is down-right rude as he offers Xavier little more than ridicule and boastful pride; Xavier is able to convince him to his cause, however, by questioning his courage.

The X-Men are attacked and captured, leaving Cyclops the sole survivor.

The team assembles at Xavier’s school in Westchester, New York, now garbed in uniforms made of “unstable molecules” that Xavier obtained from Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic. Sunfire demands answers and Xavier provides them by introducing them to Scott Summers/Cyclops, who informs them all that the X-Men have disappeared. Cyclops relates how the team were alerted to a new Mutant (who was “so powerful as to defy classification”) on the island of Krakoa by Xavier’s Mutant-detecting machine, Cerebro; Cyclops lead Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, Warren Worthington III/Angel, Bobby Drake/Iceman, Alexander Summers/Havoc, and Lorna Dane/Polaris to Krakoa but, shortly after landing, they were attacked by an unseen foe. Cyclops awoke disorientated, his costume in tatters, and without his visor and briefly unable to project his trademark optic blasts; he took the Strato-Jet back to Xavier’s mansion to alert the professor (finding his powers to have increased in the process) and assemble a new team to rescue the X-Men.

The new X-Men struggle to work as a cohesive unit thanks to their egos.

Although Sunfire initially refuses to go along with the mission, claiming to hate his fellow Mutants as much as humans, he intercepts the jet on the way to Krakoa to join the mission anyway. This, as noted by both Storm and Thunderbird, calls attention to the fragility of this new, untested team and they’re right to point this out as Xavier has effectively slapped together a team of egos, misfits, and strangers who have even less field training as a unit that the original X-Men. Regardless, the team soon arrives at Krakoa and Cyclops splits them into teams of two: Storm and Colossus head to the North, Banshee and Wolverine the East, Sunfire and Nightcrawler the South (much to Sunfire’s chagrin), and Thunderbird and Cyclops take the West. Upon landing, Cyclops and Thunderbird note that strange temples have suddenly erupted from the ground and, as they move to investigate, they are attacked by living vines. Over on the East side of the island, Banshee and Wolverine are similarly attacked by a giant crab but, thanks to Wolverine’s viciousness and Banshee’s scream, they make short work of the crustacean. Meanwhile, on the North side, Storm and Colossus manage to fight their way out of a seemingly sentiment landslide and, finally, Sunfire and Nightcrawler battle through a flock of raging birds on the South side all while Sunfire continually berates Nightcrawler with sarcasm and criticism.

By pooling their energies into Polaris, the X-Men are able to defeat Krakoa and blast it into space!

Regardless, the team all rendezvous at the temple, break their way in, and find the X-Men being held captive and, apparently, fed upon by vines. After the X-Men are rescued, their prison crumbles to pieces and Angel scolds Cyclops for coming back for them as the island comes to life around them. It turns out that Krakoa itself is the Mutant Xavier detected, having been brought to ravenous life by an atomic blast, and referring to itself as “we” as it details its plan to feed upon “Mutant energies”. Krakoa attacks the two teams of Mutants, who struggle to co-ordinate their strategies and to make a dent on the Mutant’s considerable hide. Thankfully, Xavier telepathically contacts Cyclops and informs him of Krakoa’s one weak point; while Xavier mentally battles the creature, Cyclops directs the team from the ground, channelling Storm’s ability to conjure lightning into Polaris and then adding his and Havoc’s energy blasts to the building magnetic force. The result is a surge of magnetic energy that disrupts Krakoa’s ability to retain its humanoid form and, as the island breaks apart around them, the team blast their way to safety on an ice float. As they watch, Krakoa is hurled off the planet’s surface and away from the planet and the Mutants survive the tumultuous seas thanks to Iceman’s ice-bubble and are left united and victorious.

The Summary:
Those who read my review of The X-Men #1 (Lee, et al, 1963) will remember that I wasn’t exactly impressed with the X-Men’s debut appearance. Setting aside the sexist attitudes and outdated dialogue at work in that comic, the story was a plodding, laborious read that ended right as it was about to get interesting. Additionally, you may recall that I’m not exactly the most well-read of X-Men fans; I find the lore to be somewhat impenetrable because there are so many characters and so many stories that even trying to read the most famous arcs can leave you scratching your head in bemusement at the density of the mythology. Giant-Size X-Men #1 is therefore far more accessible, in some ways, as it acts as a soft reboot for the comic that features some of the most iconic X-Men ever created.

Most of the new X-Men get a chance to shine with their colourful powers and abrasive personalities.

What makes Giant-Size X-Men #1 a better read than The X-Men #1, though, is that the characters are much more visually interesting and distinct in their personalities. Wolverine, Thunderbird, and Sunfire are all different levels of abrasive, with Sunfire openly clashing with Nightcrawler, Wolverine resorting to violence at the drop of a hat, and Thunderbird offering criticisms on the stability of the new team. Conversely, Storm, having lived a sheltered life where she was worshipped as a Goddess, is somewhat naïve and Nightcrawler just wants everyone, human and Mutant alike, to be accepted. Banshee, Cyclops, and Professor X are, of course, some familiar faces to long-time X-Men readers. Thankfully, both Professor X and Xavier are far less annoying than in their debut comic; Xavier is less of a stern, uncompromising teacher and more a worried father-figure desperate to rescue his students from their mysterious fate and Cyclops, rather than trying to force his authority over the new Mutants, is similarly concerned only with holding the fledging team together long enough to rescue his friends and loved ones.

Krakoa exists mainly to bring the X-Men together and it doesn’t take much to defeat it.

Similar to The X-Men #1, Giant-Size X-Men #1 is more concerned with introducing and assembling its team of Mutants rather than all-out action but, as I say, it does a far better job of doing this than its predecessor as the new team is introduced in interesting ways rather than just expositing their abilities in the Danger Room. Although little is made of Nightcrawler’s teleportation abilities or Wolverine’s heightened senses, each of the new characters get a bit of time to shine, although the final battle against Krakoa boils down more to Polaris channelling various energies into herself rather than a concentrated group effort besting the island-sized Mutant. Still, I much preferred the dialogue, characterisations, and presentation here than in the X-Men’s debut story, though I’ll admit that a lot of that has to do with me favouring these characters and the move away from redundant exposition and storytelling from the sixties.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts of Giant-Size X-Men #1? What did you think to the new X-Men and their introduction? Which of the new characters was your favourite? What did you think to Krakoa as the main threat and the way it was defeated? Which era of the X-Men is your favourite and who is your favourite ever team/character? How are you planning on celebrating X-Men Day this month? Whatever your thoughts, leave a comment below, and be sure to come back every Saturday for the rest of May for more X-Men content.

Back Issues [Multiverse Madness]: Strange Tales #110

In September 1961, DC Comics published “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen thanks to the concept of the multiverse, an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to co-exist and interact. Marvel Comics would also adopt this concept and, to celebrate the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Raimi, 2022) this month, I’ll be both celebrating the Master of the Mystic Arts and exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) equivalent of the multiverse every Sunday of May.

Story Title: “Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic!”
Published: 9 April 1963 (cover-dated July 1963)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: Steve Ditko

The Background:
Dr. Strange began life as the brainchild of legendary artist Steve Ditko, when he submitted a five-page pitch for a new type of character, one who dabbled in black magic, to the immortal Stan Lee. The character was so named as he was to debut in the pages of Strange Tales, a Marvel Comics anthology title that initially published horror tales, and it was Lee who infused the character with many of his more elaborate spells and quirks. Known for his surreal visuals and bizarre adventures, Dr. Strange has since become one of Marvel’s most pivotal figureheads. The Master of the Mystic Arts has been at the centre of many of Marvel’s most important stories and remains one of their most powerful characters, and has even successfully crossed over into the mainstream thanks to featuring in various videogames, cartoons, and the MCU.

The Review:
The story begins with a man being tormented by horrific nightmares as he sleeps; presumably having tried every solution to no avail (though there’s no actual in-comic evidence of that), he seeks out the help of the mysterious Dr. Strange, a man rumoured to practise the dark arts, in order to ease his torment. The next morning, he arrives “on a quiet street in New York’s colourful Greenwich Village” at the fantastic home of the aforementioned doctor, and begs for his help. The man tells of a haunted figure, bound in chains, who incessantly glares at him in his dreams, and Strange immediately pledges to visit him that evening and discover the answer by entering the man’s slumbering mind!

Dr. Strange agrees to help a man being tormented by horrific nightmares.

Before this, though, Dr. Strange indulges in a bit of meditation where he separates his soul (or “metaphysical spirit”) from his physical form and effortlessly travels through walls and across vast distances to “a hidden temple somewhere in the remote vastness of Asia” where his wizened master dwells. The old man warns Strange of a darkness that threatens him and urges him to be cautious as Strange is set to succeed the elderly wizard as the defender against the forces of evil. Dr. Strange heeds the warning, and promises to depend upon his magical amulet when under threat, and makes good on his promise to visit the man and enter his nightmare using his metaphysical spirit form.

In the dream dimension, Dr. Strange comes under threat from the mysterious Nightmare.

In the desolate void of the dream world, Strange encounters the figure tormenting the man and demands answers. The cloaked spirit claims to the symbol of the evil this man has done to a “Mr. Crang”, but their conversation is quickly interrupted by the arrival of a caped, shadowy figure on horseback, one far more menacing and known all-too-well to Dr. Strange. The entity is Nightmare, a being of darkness and chaos, who vows to make Strange pay for entering the hostile dream dimension once more. As Dr. Strange’s physical body is left helpless and in a trance, the sleeping man awakens and, keen to keep Strange from revealing what he knows about Mr. Chang, pulls out a gun and prepares to murder the sorcerer on Nightmare’s bidding!

Thanks to the intervention of his master, Strange is saved and the criminal is exposed.

However, Dr. Strange isn’t left entirely helpless; he calls out to his master for aid and, from half a world away, the elderly wizard manipulates the mysterious golden amulet around Strange’s neck. The trinket glows brighter and brighter, revealing “a fantastic metal eye […] such as no mortal has ever beheld” and, upon seeing this strange eye, the would-be gunman freezes on the spot and is left immobile. This is all the distraction Strange needs to easily dart past Nightmare and return to his body, though his shadowy foe vows to have his revenge one day. Upon returning to the physical world, Strange compels the man to speak the truth and he finally reveals that his nightmares were caused by all the robberies he committed against other businessmen. The story ends with Dr. Strange urging the man to confess to his crimes as it’s the only way he’ll be able to sleep and thus ends the…less than thrilling first appearance of the Master of the Mystic Arts.

The Summary:
“Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic!” is very clearly a back-up tale in a comic book featuring a bunch of different short stories and, as a result, is a brisk little episode simply designed to introduce this quirky new character to Marvel’s readers. We really don’t learn a whole hell of a lot about anything going on here; we don’t even learn the name of the man being haunted by Nightmare let along any background on Dr. Strange, his origin, or his motivations. Even Dr. Strange’s powers are vague, at best, with the focus of this first story being solely on his ability to astral project and enter dreams to help others. His magical amulet isn’t named or explained beyond being this mystical artefact and a lot of the familiar trappings either aren’t really here or are ill-defined compared to what you might expect from the character.

While the story’s not that great, Dr. Strange stands out as an enigmatic highlight.

The story itself is incredibly simplistic, which is most likely due to how few panels and pages were allotted to tell the tale, and there’s definitely a lot of questions left hanging in the air for subsequent stories to fill us in on, which is a refreshing change from other superhero debuts that bombard the reader with nothing but exposition. “Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic!” is arguably too vague, though, but it’s definitely very intriguing; Dr. Strange isn’t really positioned as a superhero in the traditional sense and is, instead, more of an enigmatic consultant for ailments and supernatural occurrences. The real standout here is the art, particularly regarding Dr. Strange’s character design; while the backgrounds and locations aren’t that interesting (the dream dimension is basically an empty void), Dr. Strange is colourful and eye-catching and I enjoy how he gives off a wise, almost condescending authority that would become so synonymous with the character going forward. The hooded figure and Nightmare are intriguing malicious forces representing guilt, sin, and chaos but they’re very vaguely defined, so it’s pretty easy for Dr. Strange to steal the show. It’s just a shame that he basically spends the entire story either standing around or sitting down in a trance rather than doing something more interesting, like casting spells or spewing out nonsense incantations.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you read “Doctor Strange, Master of Black Magic!”? Do you own a copy of Strange Tales #110? What did you think to the story and the mystery surrounding Dr. Strange? Do you think that the tale needed a few more pages to tell a bit more of his story or did you enjoy the intrigue surrounding Dr. Strange and Nightmare? What are some of your favourite Dr. Strange stories and who is your favourite villain of his? Do you enjoy multiverse shenanigans in comics or do you find them to be overly complicated? Whatever your thoughts on Dr. Strange, sign up to drop a comment down below or let me know on my social media and check back next Sunday for more Multiverse Madness from the Sorcerer Supreme.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: Aliens vs. Predator

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ve been looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’ve dubbed “Crossover Crisis”.

Story Title: “Aliens vs Predator”
Published: November 1989 to February 1990
Writer: Randy Stradley
Artist: Phill Norwood

The Background:
Founded in 1980 by Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Comics separated itself from the heavy-hitters like DC Comics and Marvel Comics by primarily publishing creator-owned titles. In 1988, the company achieved greater mainstream success by publishing licensed stories and adaptations of horror and science-fiction films and franchises, the most prominent of these being the merging of the Alien franchise (Various, 1977 to present) and the Predator films (Various, 1987 to present). About a year before a Xenomorph skull appeared as a trophy in Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990), the two alien species clashed in this three-issue short story that was the brainchild of writer Chris Warner. This story served as the basis for a five-issue follow-up that greatly expanded upon the premise, which soon exploded into a slew of additional publications, action figures, videogames, and (eventually) live-action movies that pitted the two creatures against each other.

The Review:
Our story begins “some time in the future” where the commercial transport vessel Lecter is making its way to the ranching outpost of Prosperity Wells on the planet Ryishi. Pilots Scott and Tom provide the entirety of the story’s narration, and are deeply engaged in a debate about the ethics and morals of mining other worlds for their resources, especially after humanity used up Earth’s in such a short space of time. Tom believes that it’s irresponsible to strip other worlds of their resources as it could stunt or even prevent the evolution of entire species, while Scott believes that it’s absolutely necessary to ensure the long-term survival of the human race.

Against the backdrop of a philosophical debate, Predators forcibly harvest Xenomorph eggs.

Their debate is briefly interrupted by what they assume is a meteor but is actually a Predator spacecraft darting through the cosmos. Scott and Tom’s discussion about the morals of harvesting unintelligent species for food and such are paralleled by the Predator’s harvesting on Xenomorph eggs aboard their ship; as Scott delivers a lecture about survival of the fittest and the strong overpowering the weak, the eggs and their Facehugger contents are scanned and processed and placed into pods to be seeded on other worlds. The eggs are all being forcibly harvested from a captive Xenomorph Queen, here an allegory for the “bitch” that is Mother Nature, who has no choice but to pump out egg after egg and watch as they are summarily processed and shot into space in a clean and efficient system.

Broken Tusk fends off a challenge by the upstart Top-Knot.

As Scott and Tom move their philosophical debate on to the merits of technology versus man’s primal nature, the story introduces us to a Predator warrior known colloquially as “Broken Tusk”. As Broken Tusk arms himself with all the standard Predator weaponry we’ve come to know and love over the years, Scott and Tom endlessly comment on the difference between passive leaders and active combatants. Broken Tusk observes a bout of ritual combat between other Predators and we catch a glimpse of just how many worlds have been seeded with Xenomorphs by the creatures in order to give them something worthwhile to hunt. When upstart Predator “Top-Knot” wins the bout, he’s not content with just choosing which hunting ground he gets to visit and challenges Broken Tusk’s position, which results in the rookie being bested by his superior.

The Predators engage in a successful hunt and gain their ritual markings.

One of the Predator’s seeding pods touches down on a marsh-like alien world; the automated, tank-like vehicle drives around the environment dropping off Xenomorph eggs in its wake before finally exploding, ensuring that many of the native creatures become impregnated by the Facehuggers. As Scott and Tom move their discussion to safari hunts and the like, Top-Knot and his hunting party make landing to begin their hunt, quickly and efficiently moving through the foliage and tracking their Xenomorph prey by following the exploded dead bodies. Soon, the Predators are attacked by the full-grown Xenomorphs; despite the Aliens’ greater numbers, the Predators have the benefit of their advanced weapons and their absolute devotion to the thrill of the hunt. They emerge victorious, having suffered only one casualty, and Top-Knot brands one of his subordinates with the Xenomorph’s acid blood for successfully executing his first kill.

The Summary:
The original, three-issue run of Aliens vs. Predator is basically just a prelude to greater things to come in the subsequent Aliens vs. Predator (Stradley, et al, 1990) comics series. Consequently, it’s quite the brief and tantalising glimpse into this shared universe of the two popular, sci-fi/horror franchises, but establishes a lot of the themes for how these franchises would crossover going forward. Rather than being set in the present day or on Earth, like the Predator films tend to be, Aliens vs. Predator takes place in the future like the Aliens films; it also heavily borrows from the aesthetics of Alien (Scott, 1977), especially in the depiction of the Lecter, which is essentially the same kind of vessel as the Nostromo. Similarly, the Predator’s spaceship and appearances are heavily inspired by what we see in the first two films, but the comic greatly expands upon their society and depiction even while utilising a philosophical debate between two humans for the entirety of its dialogue.

The story provides a glimpse into the Predator’s society and lore.

Aliens vs. Predator took the idea of the Xenomorphs being this biomechanical infestation, a swarm of vicious insect-like creatures, and really ran with it; because they lack the higher levels of intelligence seen in the Predators, they are reduced to being forcibly bred specifically for young Predators to test their mettle. The visual of the Xenomorph Queen being strung up and held captive is a powerful one, and one that subsequent comics, and movie and videogame adaptations would heavily borrow from, and is a humbling visual considering how formidable the Alien Queen was depicted in Aliens (Cameron, 1986). The implication is clear: The Predators, with their greater intelligence and superior technology and weapons, were easily able to overpower and capture a Xenomorph Queen and make a regular routine of harvesting her eggs for their own ends. They’re so efficient at it that the entire process is completely automated, with the eggs being forcibly removed, processed, and seeded without any manual intervention on the Predators’ part. Predator society is expanded upon greatly here; we see the hierarchy and feudal nature of the species, with ritual combat being the norm and the younger, less experienced hunters having to fight against their peers for recognition and the chance to hunt. Like lions and other members of the animal kingdom, it’s common for the young upstarts to challenge their betters in an attempt to claim the top position. While this doesn’t go well for Top-Knot, as he’s easily bested by Broken Tusk, he’s still dispatched to lead a hunting party, so it seems as though making the challenge isn’t necessarily a sign of disrespect. During the hunt, even the inexperienced Predators are formidable and capable warriors; while we don’t get to see much of their traditional strategies (there’s no cloaking, no need to modulate their prey’s voices, and very little use of the plasma cannon), we do get to see them working in a co-ordinated effort to eradicate their prey. Although the Aliens are fast and strong and have the numbers advantage, the Predators are keen hunters and superior warriors, meaning they are victorious with minimal effort, and the honour that comes from killing a Xenomorph is of high standing in their society (which, again, would be a crucial plot point in later stories).

A decent story, but clearly just a taste of greater things to come for this crossover.

However, it has to be said that the concept of bringing together the Aliens and Predator franchises probably sounded better on paper than it worked in execution. I have read the subsequent comic series, and it’s definitely a lot better and more in-depth, but I didn’t want to get into that without first tackling the three-issue arc that kick-started this entire sub-franchise and Aliens vs. Predator, while a novelty, is really just an appetiser for the main course. Dark Horse Comics teased readers by framed the first two stories as Aliens and Predator tales, so the actual Aliens on Predator action doesn’t kick in until right at the end, and it’s very brief when it does happen. I applaud the creative use of Scott and Tom’s philosophical debate as a parallel to the events of the story, but I found myself tuning the text boxes out and focusing more on the visuals. While the art does tell us a lot about what the Predators and even the Xenomorph Queen are thinking and feeling, I am not a massive fan of the art on show here. It’s both messy and yet simple, oddly coloured (I get that we hadn’t seen much of the Predator society or their ships but there’s a lot of odd purples and yellows and blues here), and it’s not that easy to tell the Predators apart. Obviously, this is in keeping with the aliens as depicted in the movies, which had very subtle differences, but I think for a comic you need a little more than just a barely distinguishable broken tusk or hair being styled differently. It’s also a little disappointing that we don’t get more variations of the Xenomorphs; considering they were all born from alien lifeforms, it’s a little odd that they are just carbon copies of the drones seen in Aliens, but again I can understand why this decision was made as it makes sense to focus on the familiar visual of a Predator we recognise from the movies fighting Aliens as they appear in the films. Overall, it’s a fun little novelty that’s worth checking out as long as you read it as a prelude to the longer, far more exciting and visually interesting follow-up.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever read the original, three-issue Aliens vs. Predator story? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comics or did you pick up the collected edition as I did? Were you also disappointed by the brevity of the story and the artwork or did it get you excited to see subsequent clashes between the two aliens? Which of the two creatures, and franchises, was/is your preference? Which of the Aliens vs. Predator stories or adaptations was your favourite? Would you like to see the two battle again in some form or another? Whatever your thoughts on Aliens vs. Predator, and comic book crossovers of this kind, sign up to drop a comment down below or share your thoughts on my social media.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.

Story Title: “Apokolips… Now!”
Published: January 1982
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Walt Simonson

The Background:
As I’ve mentioned on a couple of occasions, DC Comics and Marvel Comics have had a surprisingly collaborative and amicable relationship over the years that has led to some inter-company friendships, homages, and co-publications between the two comic book giants. By 1982, both Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men and DC’s Teen Titans were seeing a resurgence in popularity thanks to both teams featuring an exciting new creative and character line-up. Over in Marvel Comics, writer Chris Claremont had revitalised Marvel’s Mutant team by introducing a group of diverse and multi-cultural new characters while the New Teen Titans, under the pen of Marv Wolfman, had been aged up and also included some of the title’s most synonymous characters. With so many similarities between the two teams, and considering the success of the two titles were selling at the time, a crossover between the two was a smart business move for both parties.

The Review:
“Apokolips… Now!” begins at the Source Wall, an impossibly large stone wall that represents the edge of the known universe and which is comprised of the legendary Promethean Giants, who were turned to stone for trying to breach the boundaries of the cosmos. There, we find Metron, the generally impartial intellectual of the New Gods, conversing with all-mighty Darkseid, who gifts him with the “Omega-Phase Helmet”, a highly advanced crown that allows Metron’s Mobius Chair to achieve the impossible and penetrate the great stone wall in order for them both to achieve their heart’s desire (Metron for knowledge and Darkseid for power).

A normal day at the X-Mansion is interrupted by a vision of Jean.

The story then jumps to Westchester, New York where Professor Xavier’s X-Men are engaging in a training session within the Danger Room, an exercise that grates on Logan/Wolverine’s patience despite his respect for the professor. After impressing Xavier with their teamwork, the Mutants retire for dinner and the story takes the opportunity to catch us up not only with the current X-Men roster and their powers (the aforementioned Wolverine, Scott Summers/Cyclops, Ororo Munroe/Storm, Piotr “Peter” Rasputin/Colossus, Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat) but also the tragic rise and downfall of Jean Grey, who attained incredible cosmic powers as the Phoenix that eventually corrupted and consumed her. The X-Men’s memories of Jean are extracted by Darkseid and the Phoenix briefly assumes a corporeal form where she begs for help from Cyclops much like Barry Allen/The Flash did in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Raven and Starfire are spooked by Phoenix while Robin is jumped by Deathstroke!

Meanwhile, over at Titans Tower (yes, in this story, the Marvel and DC universes again exist in a shared world rather than being separate, parallel worlds), Rachel Roth/Raven of the New Teen Titans finds her dreams interrupted by a prophetic nightmare of a woman, taking the shape of a flaming bird, destroying their world. When Garfield Logan/Changeling assumes the form of a similar bird, Koriand’r/Starfire randomly loses control of herself and attacks him; well aware of the threat that the Phoenix poses, Starfire summons the remaining members of the team (Wally West/Kid Flash, Donna Troy/Wonder Girl, and Victor Stone/Cyborg) away from their procrastinations, personal lives, and crimefighting antics to bring them up to speed on the Phoenix’s destructive power. Dick Grayson/Robin, however, is kept from joining his team mates when he butts heads with one of Darkseid’s Parademons only to be attacked by Slade Wilson/Deathstroke the Terminator, who not only reveals that he’s in cahoots with Darkseid but is easily able to knock Robin unconscious thanks to his superior physical and mental abilities. The X-Men discover that Jean’s parents and other areas across the world have also witnessed visions of Jean and mysterious incidents all linked to Jean’s past. After locating Robin, Starfire relates Phoenix’s legend as the “chaos-bringer” and a cataclysmic force; although Robin points out that cosmic threats are a little out of their league, and the more pressing issue of Deathstroke’s current plot, he promises Starfire that they’ll do everything they can to track down and stop Phoenix. The story then introduces us to Ravok the Ravager, another of Darkseid’s henchmen who he recruits as part of his plot to siphon the Phoenix’s vast cosmic powers.

Both the X-Men and Teen Titans are captured with a ridiculous amount of ease.

Weary from pushing himself too far, Xavier enters a deep sleep and barely has enough time to defend himself when Starfire bursts into the X-Mansion and attacks him in a rage. Xavier’s unparalleled psychic powers are subdued by a combination of Cyborg’s ultrasonic blasts and Raven’s dark “Soul-Self”, however Robin is disturbed and irritated at his team’s recklessness in breaking into the mansion and attacking Xavier without provocation. His reprimanding is interrupted by the arrival of Ravok and his Shock Commandos, who storm the mansion looking for the X-Men but quickly adapt to defeat and kidnap all of the Teen Titans but Changeling, who follows along undetected. While investigating New Mexico, the X-Men comes across Deathstroke and one of Darkseid’s “Psi-phons”; although they easily destroy the Psi-phon and are able to fend off the Parademons, Deathstroke quickly recovers from Wolverine’s initial attack to take each of the Mutants out with a “fear ray” that grounds Storm, a “toxi-grenade” that renders Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and even Wolverine unconscious while a Parademon blasts Cyclops, and overpowers even Colossus’ hulking metallic form. Deathstroke and Ravok bring their captives to all-mighty Darkseid, who waits at the Source Wall and immediately sees through Changeling’s deception to subdue him, and then kills Ravok for his ineptitude with his destructive “Omega Beams”.

Darkseid summons Dark Phoenix but the heroes quickly join forces to confront the New God.

Darkseid secures his captives to a gigantic machine, the “Psychon-Wave”, which painfully and forcefully draws upon their superhuman powers and the Mutants’ memories of Jean, concentrating them on the breach in the Source Wall to bring Dark Phoenix back to life. He then regales the inquisitive Changeling with the reason for this plot (basically, he wants to use the Phoenix to transform the Earth into a new Apokolips that will allow him to conquer first New Genesis and then the length and breadth of reality itself). Hungry for destruction, Phoenix willingly accompanies Darkseid through a Boom Tube to begin this plot but, quite ludicrously, the heroes’ restraints disappear when Darkseid departs! Freed from captivity, the Teen Titans and the X-Men immediately agree to work together to stop Darkseid and Phoenix despite Wolverine not being happy about working with kids. While Shadowcat tries to flirt with Changeling and Kid Flash comments on the diversity of the X-Men, Cyborg, Xavier, Starfire, and Cyclops locate and acquire the Mobius Chair, which Shadowcat and Changeling accidentally activate to provide them with a means of escape. Tensions are stirred when Colossus sees Shadowcat flirting with Changeling and when Starfire kisses Colossus in order to learn Russian, but the team are soon carried back to New York in order to fulfil Cyclops’ solemn vow to make Darkseid pay for violating Jean’s memory and peace. They follow Phoenix’s unique psychic trail to a series of underground tunnels beneath the city where they are attacked by Deathstroke’s Parademons once more. Rather than waste time in a pointless battle, Robin and Cyclops give the order to collapse the tunnel and blast an escape route for their two teams, which conveniently brings them out right at Darkseid’s main base.

Dark Phoenix threatens the Earth’s safety so is subjected to a psychic attack.

Impressed at the tenacity of his foes, Darkseid dispatches Deathstroke and Dark Phoenix to hold the two groups off while he complete his work; although Starfire attacks Dark Phoenix in a fury, her starbolts succeed only in further empowering the corrupted Jean, who vehemently resists Nightcrawler’s attempts to reason with her and equally overwhelms even Raven’s Soul-Self. Dark Phoenix then powers up Darkseid’s “Hellpit” and Darkseid boasts about how this will transform Earth into Apokolips within mere minutes. Interestingly, he actually offers the X-Men and the Teen Titans the opportunity to yield and join his cause, which isn’t something I’ve ever seen Darkseid do before, but Shadowcat and Changeling opt instead to use their powers to try and disrupt and destroy the technology powering the Hellpit. For their insubordination, Darkseid commands Dark Phoenix to destroy them but they are saved at the last second by the combined power of Raven, Xavier, and the Mobius Chair. After Cyclops subdues Deathstroke and Robin spirits Shadowcat and Changeling out of danger, Dark Phoenix is bombarded by a psychic assault that simultaneously drains her rage and hatred and overwhelms her with love and affection.

Darkseid is defeated when the Phoenix Force is unleashed against him.

Drained, and close to unravelling, Dark Phoenix is easily goaded into reabsorbing the blast she fired at the Earth to sustain herself. When Darkseid moves to intervene, he is assaulted first by Kid Flash and then the combined forces of Cyborg, Wonder Girl, Colossus, and Starfire, who force his Omega Beams back into his eyes and therefore keep him from stopping Dark Phoenix from empowering herself and thus sparing the Earth. However, still at risk from being consumed by her raging power, Phoenix heeds Darkseid’s advice to focus her energies through a physical form and bonds herself to Cyclops. This, however, proves to be her undoing as Cyclops channels her powers with his undying devotion to his lost love and then turns the full Phoenix Force against Darkseid. The chaotic, flaming energy blasts itself, and Darkseid, across the vast cosmos of the universe to return to the Source Wall and thus imprison the New God within the Wall alongside the doomed giants of yore. Victorious, the two teams revel in how close they came to being destroyed and how fantastic their triumph was, while Scott finds some solace in Storm’s suggestion that Jean’s good soul ultimately saved them in the end. Finally, Metron returns to his chair and bids farewell to the imprisoned Darkseid, commenting that everything has returned as it once was as is to be expected.

The Summary:
“Apokolips…Now!” is quite the chaotic story; considering how many characters it has to juggle, it’s honestly surprising how coherent the story ends up being. If there’s one thing that always puts me off about team-based comics, especially X-Men and the Teen Titans, it’s the sheer abundance of characters and lore a single issue has to deal with so to mash the two together is no mean feat. The result is that no one single character from either team really gets any focus; indeed, many of the characters have next to nothing to do and the focus is, instead, on the meeting of the two teams rather than a bunch of separate interactions between them.

There are a lot of characters who don’t always get time to shine and whose interactions are a bit limited.

This is best seen in the fact that neither Robin or Cyclops get much of a chance to act as a field leader; Nightcrawler is basically a non-factor, and Wonder Girl may as well not be there. Sure, most of the characters are assumed to be busy in fisticuffs with the Parademons and the Shock Commandos but we don’t really get to see much of this. Indeed, we’re even denied a proper fight involving Deathstroke; he takes out Robin with a ridiculous amount of ease, subdues all of the X-Men largely single-handedly, and his fight with Wolverine all takes place off-panel! These days, I like to believe that you’d never see that happen given how prominent Deathstroke and Wolverine are but, in this, Deathstroke is little more than one of Darkseid’s minions who gets taken out pretty quickly to continue the focus on Dark Phoenix. Indeed, Jean’s presence gets more play here than a lot of the other characters; her death was still relatively new at the time and hadn’t been driven into the ground yet so her reappearance is a particularly emotional moment for the X-Men, particularly Cyclops. However, while it’s pretty cool to see Dark Phoenix enamoured with Darkseid and willing to commit global destruction on his behalf, it’s not really enough to elevate this story for me.

While the art is great, the story is just okay and wastes a lot of potential.

I’m not entirely sure where Metron went or what happened to him when he breached the Source Wall and Darkseid’s plot basically boils down to every other plan he has (he’s either seeking out the Anti-Life Equation or trying to conquer the universe, it seems) and, again, he really doesn’t do all that much. This isn’t entirely out of character for Darkseid, who typically allows his underlings to do his work for him, but it’s kind of weird to see him team up with Deathstroke. Like…did Darkseid pay Slade off? I can’t help but feel Trigon might have been a more suitable villain for the New God to ally with. Overall, it’s a pretty decent tale; we don’t get to see the X-Men and the Teen Titans facing off against each other (the closest we get to that is when the Teen Titans attack a weakened Xavier), which is a shame, but it’s fun seeing the teams co-operate. There’s a little tension in the brief Colossus/Shadowcat/Changeling “love triangle” but that’s about all the dissention we get; I would have liked to see how Robin and Cyclop’s leadership styles differ and more interactions from Kid Flash, Wolverine, Wonder Girl, and Storm. Instead, the comic is all about the spectacle of seeing these different comic publisher’s heroes and villains interact in as unspectacular a way as possible. A fun adventure, to be sure, but maybe a little too “safe” and it could very easily be any one of a hundred other X-Men or Teen Titan stories with a few tweaks…but at least the artwork is good.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever read The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you disappointed that the two teams didn’t come to blows or were you happy to see them just working together with no issues? Would you have preferred to see different characters in each team’s line-ups? What did you think to Darkseid’s plan and the return of Dark Phoenix? Would you like to see the X-Men interact with Marvel heroes again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Wednesday for the final instalment of Crossover Crisis.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.

Story Title: “The Monster and the Madman”
Published: September 1981
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: José Luis García-López

The Background:
Although the two companies both publish stories of colourful, superpowered heroes in a cut-throat industry, the relationship between DC Comics and Marvel Comics has been surprisingly collaborative and amicable over the years (especially compared to many of the toxic fans” who argue on social media every day…) Sure, there’s been lawsuits and underhanded tactics from both companies, but not only were the legendary Stan Lee and the disreputable sham Bob Kane actually good friends but both companies borrowed from and inspired each other and they’ve even collaborated on many joint publications in the past.

DC Comics and Marvel Comics had a number of crossovers and joint ventures over the years.

Having already pitted Clark Kent/Superman against Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century (Conway, et al, 1976), DC and Marvel brought these two characters together again in 1981. That same year, the two companies also produced a sixty-four-page “Treasury Edition” comic book that pitted Bruce Wayne/Batman against Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk. At the time, graphic novels were nowhere near as commonplace as they are today and both characters were experienced a way of renewed mainstream interest off the back of a popular television series and moving away from the camp aesthetic of the 1960s, respectively. Like many of these early DC/Marvel crossovers, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk can fetch a pretty high price these days, and it also wouldn’t be the last time that their paths crossed in one form or another.

The Review:
One of the most reliable constants of many comic books, especially back in the 1960s through to the mid-1990s, was that many stories derail or pad out their narrative with a recap of their character’s origins and background. This seems to mostly happen to Spider-Man, who often interrupts whatever problem he’s having in the issue to recap his iconic origin and, don’t get me wrong, I get why this happens (you can’t expect every reader to be familiar with your characters, after all) but I much prefer it when comics simply have a bit of text before the story to catch readers up. Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk opts for this latter option and is all the better for it; before the story starts, we get a one page, two-column spread the recaps how Bruce Wayne saw his parents shot and trained his body and mind to become Batman and how Dr. Banner was bombarded with Gamma radiation and subsequently transforms into the rampaging Hulk whenever stressed or angry.

Banner raises the alarm when the Joker storms into a Wayne facility.

Like Superman vs. Spider-Man, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk begins with a prologue that establishes the villains of the story; the first is more of an abstract introduction as people all over Gotham City suffer from horrific and disturbing nightmares while the second is far more tangible as is shows that the Joker is back in town and has joined forces with a disembodied voice for nefarious reasons. The story then shifts to find Banner, under the pseudonym of “David Banks”, working a menial job for Wayne Research in order to get close to their “experimental Gamma-Gun”, and who is the only person to act fast enough to slip into a radiation suit and avoid the Joker’s debilitating laughing gas when the Harlequin of Hate and his goons show up to steal that same device!

Outmatched against the Hulk’s sheer power, Batman out-thinks the brute to take him down.

When Banner moves to raise the alarm, he is tackled and beaten by Joker’s thugs which, of course, causes him to transform into the Hulk! Quickly realising that their firepower is absolutely useless against the creature, the Joker orders his men to grab the Gamma-Gun and flee but their escape is impeded by the sudden arrival of the Batman! Unfortunately for Batman, the Joker immediately takes advantage of the Hulk’s child-like demeanour to convince the Green Goliath that Batman is his enemy and thus the two engage in fist fight! Batman initially holds back from confusing and potentially further antagonising the Hulk but finds his attempts to paralyse his foe by striking his nerve centres fruitless. Unable to harm the Hulk, Batman tries to keep his distance and out-think the creature and almost gets his spine snapped as a result! Batman is finally able to subdue the Hulk, however, by forcing him to breathe in a big lungful of his special Bat-gas but, though the Hulk is finally toppled, the Joker escapes with the Gamma-Gun. Batman returns to the facility as Bruce Wayne and immediately enlists the services of the grief-stricken Banner in the construction of a replacement Gamma-Gun.

The Joker and the Shaper conspire to capture the help using fake soldiers.

Back at the docks, the Joker activates the Gamma-Gun and allows his newfound friend, the Shaper of Worlds, to partially manifest in the real world and give us all a run-down on his origin as a parasite who feeds upon the dreams of others and bring them to life. He’s struck a bargain with the Joker (whose insane mind makes him “unique in all the universe”) to help restore the Shaper’s failing abilities, though exactly what the Joker is getting out of this deal is left unclear (and it is heavily implied that the Shaper scares even the Joker!) While Batman hits up Gotham’s underworld in search of the Joker, Banner finds the stress of his assignment putting him on edge. Although he’s briefly calmed down by a cup of Alfred Pennyworth’s tea, he continues to push himself without food or proper rest. Thus, when the Joker’s men arrive disguised as military officials charged with arresting Banner, it isn’t long before he turns green once again. When a specially-designed taser-rifle fails to have the desired effect on the Hulk, a massive blob-like creature enters the fray. Despite the Hulk’s increasing rage and best attempts, the creature is effectively able to absorb and contain the Hulk and spirit him away and Batman arrives in time only to hear Commissioner Jim Gordon receiving confirmation from General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross that the soldiers were fakes.

When the Hulk escapes from them, Joker enlists Batman’s aid in tracking the Jade Giant down.

Back at the Joker’s warehouse, the Hulk goes on a rampage when he hears the Clown Prince of Crime’s plan to revert him to Banner in order to make adjustments to the Gamma-Gun; despite the Shaper’s best efforts to quell the beast’s rage, both he and the Hulk are tormented by disturbing nightmares that leave the two physically and emotionally drained. Bored by the conflict, the Hulk flees but the Shaper comes to the conclusion that the crippling pain and madness his condition brings him can be cured not by the Gamma-Gun…but by the Hulk himself thanks to his unique Gamma properties and orders the Joker to recapture the beast. To facilitate this, the Joker explains the bind he’s in to Batman and enlists his aid, which soon leads to a second confrontation between the two characters. Bored of Batman and being constantly hounded by “puny humans”, the Hulk chooses to flee but a fight soon inevitably breaks out.

Following another fight, Batman is finally able to get the Hulk on side.

Once again, Batman chooses to fight smarter rather than harder, rolling with and doing everything he can to avoid or survive the Hulk’s attacks while trying to talk sense into the increasingly-enraged Hulk. Batman’s tricks result in the Hulk demolishing the building the two were fighting in and once again fleeing in order to be left in peace. Batman is finally able to get through to the Hulk by posing as a harmless old blind man and offering the creature his friendship, which calms the Hulk enough to the point where he willingly goes along with the Joker to confront the Shaper. However, angered that the Joker is willing to let the Hulk face this foe alone, Batman slaps his archenemy down and finally joins forces with the Jade Giant to battle a legion of their enemies brought to life by the Shaper’s powers. Finally on the same page, the two are easily able to overcome the living nightmares and fight their way to the Shaper, who holds them at bay with an impenetrable barrier. Angered at the idea of anything being stronger than he is, the Hulk charges ahead at full speed and exhausts his Gamma energy, reverting to Banner and curing the Shaper.

Despite his vast cosmic powers, Batman is able to trick the Joker into leaving himself vulnerable.

Despite Batman’s pleas, the Shaper honours the bargain he made with the Joker and, having been cured, bestows the Joker with “limitless, infinite power”. Effectively acting as a genie for the Joker, the Shaper makes all of the Joker’s wishes come true, transforming him into a God-like jester who unleashes chaos and madness throughout Gotham City and uses his reality-warping powers to shape the city, its people, and even Batman however he sees fit. When the Shaper refuses to renege on his word, Banner transforms back into the Hulk and finds himself transported to the Joker’s increasingly mental world. Batman goads the Joker into pushing his powers to the limit by criticising his creativity and lack of imagination; although this results in things becoming even more warped and abstract, it also has the intended side effect of overwhelming the Joker, leaving him wide open for a knockout punch. In the aftermath, the Shaper takes his leave, the Joker is confined to Arkham Asylum once again, and Batman allows Banner to slip away in order to find the peace he so desperately desires.

The Summary:
Given that I grew up mainly reading DC and Marvel Comics and annuals published in the seventies and eighties, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk’s presentation is immediately recognisable to me and these are the quintessential representations of these characters at that time, in my opinon. Batman is much more of a stoic tactician and a fair-minded vigilante than a grim, overly paranoid avenger of the night and the Hulk speaks with a child-like demeanour and, while he just wants to be left alone, is more than ready to throw hands when provoked.

Batman and Hulk tangle more than once in a brain vs. brawn bouts.

Thanks to the Hulk’s unpredictable and explosive demeanour, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk features a couple of fights between the two characters that are instantly believable. It’s not the first time that someone/a villain has manipulated the Hulk into trusting them or going nuts on a specific target and Batman is smart enough to not try and match the Hulk blow for blow. Instead, their fights are more about Batman trying to outmanoeuvre his foe, trying to reason with him, and using his physical skills and gadgets to stay out of the Hulk’s reach and to subdue him. It’s definitely a battle of brains versus brawn, which isn’t unusual when characters fight the Hulk but it’s definitely a spectacle seeing Batman trying to take on such an overwhelming foe. Superman versus the Hulk obviously makes more sense on paper but I don’t think it would have resulted in as interesting a story and probably would have descended into a slugfest instead.

Joker plays a vital role as an opportunistic and manipulative villain.

I’m not familiar with the Shaper of Worlds but the story does a pretty good job of establishing his powers and what he wants; desperate to cure the crippling pain and madness caused by his fading abilities, he enters into a partnership with the Joker to use Gamma radiation to stabilise him. It’s unusual to see the Joker acting out of fear or subordinate to another but his characterisation remains completely on point and he never seems to be a diminished threat. Instead, he remains in control and a tangible menace throughout; he’s smart enough to manipulate the Hulk and even convince Batman to help him, and then obtains God-like power and goes berserk bending and twisting reality, forcing Batman to think of ways to outsmart him, which is always fun to see.

The story avoids being an all-out slugfest for some interesting character interactions.

Overall, it was quite a decent crossover between the two. The Hulk typically doesn’t have one set location so setting the entire story in Gotham City was a good idea; seeing Banner and Wayne (and Alfred) interact was a nice little inclusion and something missing from Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man. While neither character’s supporting cast have very much to do, it was nice to see Gordon show up (and to have him communicate with Ross) and having the Shaper conjure up nightmarish visions of both character’s foes was pretty awesome, especially when the Hulk reacted to Batman’s enemies with disinterested rage. There could have been more interactions between Batman and the Hulk; entire pages and chapters go past without the two interacting at all, either in or out of costume/form, which is in contrast to Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man but I think this was done to keep the story from descending into a series of one-sided fights. After all, there’s only so many ways you can show Batman avoiding being pummeled by the Hulk before it gets repetitive, and we do get to see interesting character combinations and interactions (and a pretty decent Batman story featuring the Hulk) as a result.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you surprised that Batman was pitted against the Hulk? Do you think he should have met a different Marvel character instead? What did you think to the team-up between the Joker and the Shaper and the Joker’s acquisition of phenomenal cosmic powers? Would you like to see DC and Marvel collaborate again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Wednesday as Crossover Crisis continues!

Back Issues [Robin Month]: Batman: A Death in the Family

In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate every Sunday of April to celebrating the character?

Story Title: “A Death in the Family”
Published: September 1988 to November 1988
Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: Jim Aparo

The Background:
Having been a regular part of Batman’s adventures since his debut, Dick Grayson eventually grew from a “Boy Wonder” and into a “Teen Wonder” as part of the Teen Titans; to continue the Batman and Robin dynamic, writer Gerry Conway and artist Bob Newton created Jason Todd to, quite literally, fill Grayson’s boots as the new Robin. Originally having a background and personality that was almost an exact copy of Grayson’s, Jason’s backstory and demeanour were dramatically altered by writer Jim Starlin following the Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985 to 1986). Now a rebellious, impulsive brat from the streets with a volatile temper, readers came to dislike the new Robin and it was writer Jim Starlin who first proposed the idea of killing the character off. Dennis O’Neil decided to run a telephone campaign where the fans themselves would decide whether Jason lived or died following a brutal encounter with the Joker. Starlin and artist Jim Aparo crafted the story and produced two potential outcomes, one where Jason lived and one where he died but, despite some controversy, the results were heavily in favour of the young Robin’s demise. Jason’s death was a pivotal moment in Batman’s career; he kept a monument in the Batcave as a constant reminder of his greatest failure, mentally and physically struggled with the boy’s death even after Tim Drake took on the Robin mantle, and for fifteen years Jason was one of only a handful of comic cook characters whose death actually stuck.

The Review:
A Death in the Family begins by immediately emphasising that the dynamic between Batman and Robin has gotten a bit out of whack lately thanks to Jason’s reckless and impulsive attitude. After spending three weeks tracking down a kiddie-porn ring and cutting Commissioner Jim Gordon and the Gotham City police department in on the bust, Jason decides to go off script and attack the thugs head-on. Once they have subduing the pornographers, Batman chews Jason out since not only did his actions mean that Gordon missed out on the bust but they also lead to him (as in Jason) almost being shot in the back.

Jaosn’s reckless ways lead to him being grounded right when the Joker escapes from Arkham!

Although enraged at the time, Batman is left stunned at Jason’s cavalier attitude towards their job and, once back at Wayne Manor, confides in his butler and long-time confidante, Alfred Pennyworth, about Jason’s recent chaotic actions. Alfred suggests that Jason is still struggling to come to terms with the deaths of his parents and that being Robin is probably not the most productive way to work through his grief, a suggestion that Bruce begrudgingly agrees with. Jason, however, is angered at them talking about him behind his back and even more outraged when Bruce grounds him from being Robin and tries to get him to talk about his parents. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Batman is called out to Arkham Asylum (during the day, no less), where Gordon informs him that the Joker was able to get into the janitor’s storage room, mix up a version of his lethal laughing gas, kill a bunch of guards, and escape. Both Batman and Gordon are determined to use every resource available to track Joker down after he crippled Gordon’s niece, Barbara, in Batman: The Killing Joke (Moore, et al, 1988). Joker, however, is fully aware of the heat hanging over him and has a big plan to dismantle a cruise missile he has stored away in a warehouse and sell it off to terrorists and buy his way into politics.

Jason’s solo venture to find his real mother coincides with Batman’s search for the Joker.

Still fuming, Jason wanders around Gotham City and ends up at his old home near Crime Alley. This provides the story with the perfect opportunity to recap how Jason’s mother, Catherine, died of a “disease” when he was young and his father, two-bit criminal Willis Todd, ended up being murdered by his boss, Harvey Dent/Two-Face, leaving Jason in the care of an orphanage. Quite coincidentally, Mrs. Walker, a friend of Catherine’s, recognises Jason and provides him with a box of his personal effects, much to his stunned amazement. However, when looking through these documents, he discovers that Catherine wasn’t his real mother; thanks to the Batcave, Jason narrows down his mother’s true identity to one of three people and, believing that neither Bruce or Alfred would approve or support his endeavour, steals Bruce’s credit cards and heads out to track his true mother down. Although obviously wishing to chase after Jason, Batman is forced to continue tracking down the Joker after discovering the madman’s plot; this leads him to Lebanon, but he is constantly one step behind the Harlequin of Hate. Thankfully, though, Batman’s investigation and Jason’s search for his mother align when they come across each other in Beirut. Despite being angered at the boy’s impulsive actions, Batman is pleased to be working alongside his young partner once more and, together, the two are able to disrupt the Joker’s sale of his missile, something made all the easier when the missile explodes on its launcher and takes the Joker’s money with it. On the downside, the Joker escapes and Sharmin Rosen, an Israeli agent who helps the Dynamic Duo, turns out to not have ever sired a child, though Batman vows to help Jason track down the other two names on his list.

Shiva turns out to be a dead end and Sheila, Jason’s true mother, is in league with the Joker!

However, when they track down Shiva Woosan, they find that she has been kidnapped by Shite terrorists. Thankfully, Batman and Robin are able to infiltrate the Shite camp, where Shiva is revealed to be the deadly assassin and martial artist Lady Shiva and responsible for training the terrorists. A brutal fist-fight ensues between the Dark Knight and Shiva but Batman get the upper hand thanks to Jason choosing to help his mentor in subduing her. After destroying the camp, though, Jason is once again left disheartened when (after being subjected to sodium pentothal), Shiva reveals that has also never had a baby. This leaves Sheila Haywood, the last name on Jason’s list, who turns out to actually be Jason’s birth mother. While Jason is overjoyed to be reunited with his mother, he’s horrified when it turns out that she’s being blackmailed into helping the Joker get his hands on some medical supplies to help with his financial woes. This time, Jason does go to Bruce for help and Batman explicitly orders Jason to stay behind while he intercepts the supply trucks tainted by the Joker’s laughing gas. True to form, Jason doesn’t listen; he reveals his duel identity to his mother and she immediately sells him out to the Joker.

Superman is sent to keep Batman from avenging his partner’s death at the Joker’s hands.

While Batman disrupts the Joker’s plot, he’s left relying on one of the supply trucks to get him back to Jason since he loses his little Bat-mini-copter. As a result, Jason is left entirely at the Joker’s mercy and subjected to a brutal beating; he smacks Jason with his pistol, kicks him in the face, has henchmen put a beating on him, and then beats him to a bloody pulp with a crowbar! Note that the Joker does not beat Jason to death with the crowbar; he “merely” bludgeons him into a broken, bloody mess. Indeed, Jason is still cognizant enough to free his mother when the Joker betrays her but the two are caught in a massive explosion when the bomb the Joker left in the warehouse with them explodes. Batman arrives just in time to witness the explosion and, despite hoping against hope and knowing better, is devastated to find that not only has Sheila perished in the blast but so has Jason. Again, while it is a bit unbelievable that Jason’s body isn’t strewn over the wreckage in bloody chunks, it is the bomb that killed Jason; not the crowbar! Anyway, Bruce immediately sets about coming up with a suitable cover story for how and why Sheila and Jason were there and laying him to rest. However, Bruce refuses Alfred’s offer to contact Dick Grayson to help track down the Joker but Batman’s desire to bring the Joker to justice for his actions are complicated by the arrival of Clark Kent/Superman. Although sympathetic to Bruce’s plight, Superman reveals that he has been explicitly asked by the State Department to stop Batman’s vendetta since the Joker has been made he new Iranian ambassador and has thus been granted diplomatic immunity from all prior crimes!

Batman goes out looking for blood and remains unsatisfied with the Joker’s apparent end.

Unimpressed, Bruce ignores Superman’s warnings, and those of the United States government, and prepares for a final showdown. He (as Batman) makes one final attempt to appeal to the Joker’s decency and sanity but that obviously fails, and he spends a great deal of his inner monologue postulating on the mysterious connection between him and his enemy. Here, we learn that Bruce regrets not killing the Joker years ago, lamenting that he let Joker’s clear insanity stay his hand, but he can no longer justify allowing him to live any longer. Equal parts driven by rage and a moral obligation to spare the world (and other children) the Joker’s wrath, Bruce sets aside his usually strict moral code and commits himself to killing the Joker…or dying in the attempt. When Batman’s suspicions about the Joker’s true intentions at being a United Nations ambassador come to fruition, Superman is luckily on hand to put a stop to his attempt to gas everyone but, thanks to panic caused by his explosive back-up plan, the Clown Prince of Crime is able to escape to his helicopter on the roof. Batman, fuelled by a desire for revenge, pursues his enemy and, in the fracas, both are shot by one of the Joker’s henchman. Though Batman is only wounded, the Joker takes a slug in the chest and, with the helicopter in a death spiral, Batman bids his archenemy adieu and dives to safety. However, he remains unsatisfied when the helicopter crashes since he knows that no-one, not even Superman, will be able to recover a body to confirm the kill.

The Summary:
A Death in the Family is the quintessential Batman for me. Never mind your Frank Miller’s and Scott Snyder’s; I grew up with the likes of Jim Starlin and the simple, agile elegance of Jim Aparo. Although I’ve never been a fan of Batman’s blue-and-grey suit with yellow oval, it is still an iconic and timeless look for the character and Starlin’s characterisation of the Dark Knight is pretty much spot-on. Under his pen, he’s not just some grim, stoic avenger of the night; he’s a trusted ally of Jim Gordon’s, a respectable partner of the G.C.P.D., a stern (yet, crucially, fair) mentor, and a master detective. Indeed, as adept and skilled as Batman’s physical prowess was during this time (and in this story), it’s his intellect that is often given just as much time to shine, which really help to redefine the character as a more intellectual superhero.

As formidable as Batman is, he is still human and vulnerable.

Still, that’s not to say that Batman doesn’t get his fair share of action in this story. Both he and Robin get more than enough chances to shine; Starlin is sure to characterise the two as being a well-oiled unit even when Jason’s explosive temperament causes him to go off the rails. Batman is depicted as being cool, calm, and collected even when facing multiple armed foes and having to account for Jason’s volatile nature. While the everyday, run of the mill goons Batman fights don’t pose that much of a challenge to him, the story still goes to lengths to emphasise the physical skill, co-ordination, and special awareness Batman has to do what he does and it thus makes even more of an impact when Lady Shiva is able to match him blow-for-blow and deal some decent damage to Batman. Indeed, while Batman is characterised as being a master at what he does, he is by no means infallible; not only does his rage drive him into a wholly justified murderous vendetta by the story’s end but he also suffers a few significant physical injuries, including a bullet wound to his arm.

Jason’s reckless nature eventually leads to his brutal death.

Of course, a focal point to this story is Jason. While far from the insolent little prick he’s often characterised as being in flashbacks these days, Jason is still an emotionally-charged liability. He’s an angst-ridden teenager, one struggling to deal with the worst tragedy of his life and given free reign to unload his anger and resentment on Gotham’s underworld. While Dick was a daredevil and a risk-taker due to his background in the circus, Jason is just reckless and leaps into battle without a plan or a care for his own safety or the intricacies of Batman’s operation. Enraged at being shut out from his responsibilities as Robin, Jason finds renewed purpose in his search for his true mother; this helps mend the fences between him and Bruce, who of course sympathises with his young partner’s plight and genuinely wishes to help him in any way he can. Bruce agonises over having to pursue the Joker instead of Jason and this only adds to the grief and guilt he feels weighing upon him when he arrives all too late to save his headstrong partner from a gruesome fate.

Strapped for cash, the Joker goes to extreme measures to re-establish himself.

This is an interesting story for the Joker; like Batman, Joker went through a period of time where he was either absent from DC Comics or significantly altered but his threat really ramped up after Dennis O’Neil came onto the main Batman book. Now a calculating, vindictive, and incredibly intelligent villain, the Joker’s usual madcap nature is supplanted by a desperate need to quickly build up his finances and assume a position of real power through a political career. This backfires on him when he is arrogant enough to think he can assemble and reassemble a cruise missile, costing him his cash in the process, but also drives him to spiking medical supplies and trying to gas the United Nations while being protected from reprisals by diplomatic immunity. It’s a story very much driven by the Joker’s psychopathic and callous ways but not necessarily overwhelmed by him; it remains a dramatic tale of Batman struggling to help his unpredictable partner that culminates in a showdown with the Joker rather than him becoming the sole focus of the story like in a lot of later Batman/Joker stories.

Jason is beaten to a pulp with a crowbar and dies in a desperate attempt to save his mother.

Of course, you can’t really talk about A Death in the Family without mentioning the brutal and sadistic torture and death of Jason Todd. One of the things I like about the story is that, as much of a little ass as Jason is, you can totally see where he’s coming from; he’s young, hurting, and lashing out in blind anger. His demeanour shifts from being reckless with his safety to trying to find his birth mother once he finds out that she’s still alive and there’s a definite sense that he just wants to have that gaping hole in his heart filled, which is again obviously something Batman can very much relate to. This is emphasised to the fullest when Jason, beaten and clearly dying, uses the last of his strength to try and save his mother from the blast that kills them despite the fact that she betrayed him to the Joker. In the end, he died every bit the hero Batman raised him to be and is fully deserving of Bruce’s adulation in death. Indeed, while Jason was talented and gifted, he wasn’t quite the all-rounder that Dick was and nowhere near the suitable protégé Tim Drake would prove to be and yet, in making the ultimate sacrifice, he gave himself to Bruce’s cause in a way beyond his other partners and it was fascinating seeing Bruce slowly self-destruct in subsequent stories because of his guilt over Jason’s death, and seeing the incident being brought up every so often to remind him of his greatest failure.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you ever read A Death in the Family? What did you think to DC’s decision to kill Jason off? Were you a fan of the character back then or did you think he was an annoying little brat who deserved what he got? What did you think to the characterisation of Batman during this time? Were you a fan of the Joker’s inclusion in this story, and did you like the wrinkle of Superman being brought in to keep Batman in check? Did you realise that Jason died by a bomb and not the crowbar? Whatever your thoughts on A Death in the Family, and Jason Todd, leave a comment below and stick around for more Robin content this month.

Back Issues: The Amazing Spider-Man #102

Story Title: “Vampire at Large!” (also includes “–The Way it Began” and “The Curse and the Cure!”)
Published: November 1971
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Gil Kane

The Background:
After achieving incredible success with the Fantastic Four, Marvel editor and head writer Stan Lee created Peter Parker/Spider-Man, a teenage superhero who unexpectedly became one of Marvel’s best selling titles. Spider-Man’s popularity was such that he featured in a number of spin-offs, including Marvel Team-Up, which partnered him with other, less mainstream superheroes, and he quickly amassed one of the most colourful and memorable rogues galleries in all of comicdom. Doctor Michael Morbius was just one of these; the creation of writer Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, and billed as a “Living Vampire”, Morbius came into being thanks to the Comics Code Authority finally relaxing its ban on vampires and other supernatural beings in comic books, but was actually the product of science rather than magic. Morbius would go on to feature in a number of Marvel crossovers and stories, generally those involving supernatural characters such as Eric Brooks/Blade and the various Ghost Riders, but the only time I’ve ever encountered him is in his neutered depiction in the 1990’s Spider-Man cartoon. After years of stop/start efforts to make it onto the silver screen, Morbius inexplicably made his live-action debut recently, so I figured now is as good a time as any to revisit the Living Vampire’s debut and see if he’s really worth his own solo movie.

The Review:
Before tackling “Vampire at Large!”, it’s probably best to also give a bit more background on Morbius and the events surrounding his introduction. The character actually appeared in “A Monster Called…Morbius!” (Thomas, et al, 1971), a story which opened with Spider-Man startled to find that his attempt to cure himself has resulted in him growing four additional arms! Struggling with the despair and horror of his newfound predicament, Peter makes a desperate call to Doctor Curt Connors/The Lizard and is invited to stay at the Connor’s Long Island beach house until he can find a solution. However, after working tirelessly for two days straight, Spider-Man is frustrated by failure, but has little time to dwell on his misery as he is attacked by a grotesque, pale figure garbed in an elaborate cape ensemble.

While trying to rid himself of his for extra arms, Spidey is attacked by first Morbius…and then the Lizard!

This previous story also details how this vampiric man known as Morbius was found adrift in the ocean and slaughtered the crew of a vessel under the darkness of night. Washing ashore, Morbius flees to Connor’s summerhouse to sleep in the belfry and avoid the draining influence of the daytime sun, but awakens to find the six-armed Spider-Man awaiting him. The Living Vampire isn’t one for villainous monologues; he simply attacks, surprising the wall-crawler with his deathly visage, his superhuman strength, and his sharp fangs. Fatigued after working without a break for two days, Spider-Man is in little condition to fight and is knocked unconscious following a massive blow. Morbius’s meal is interrupted, however, by the unexpected arrival of Dr. Connors; stunned by the vampire’s horrific appearance, Connors transforms into the Lizard and “Vampire at Large!” begins with Spider-Man being caught between a brutal throwdown between the two tortured monstrosities.

Dr. Connors struggles to maintain his humanity and help Spider-Man whip up a cure.

With Morbius desiring to feed on Spider-Man’s blood and the Lizard fixated on killing the wall-crawler, the two monsters are almost evenly matched in strength and ferocity; however, Morbius gains the upper hand by sending the Lizard flying into an electrical gizmo, which renders the reptilian unconscious and easy prey for the Living Vampire. Unable to see anyone, least of all a tragic soul like Dr. Connors, fall victim to such a fate, Spider-Man intervenes and tries to get answers from Morbius, but the enigmatic vampire chooses to fly out into the night, unaware that Spidey has tagged him with one of this spider tracers, and leaving him with the weakened Lizard. Although Connors briefly returns to a reptilian version of his human form, he finds himself trapped as the Lizard but retaining some semblance of his humanity thanks to the effects of Morbius’s bite. Spider-Man and the Lizard resolve to combine their resources and intelligence to help cure both of their conditions; the Lizard theorises that Morbius’s vampiric bite must have infected him with an enzyme, but time is against them as the Lizard grows wilder and more animalistic with every passing minute.

In trying to cure his mysterious fatal disease, Morbius becomes a Living Vampire craving human blood!

We then re-join Morbius in the throes of another soliloquy regarding the anguish he feels during the day time, the screams and accusations of his victims, and his need to sleep through the day to keep those nightmarish thoughts out and remain at full strength. As he sleeps, however, Morbius not only begs for forgiveness from his victims but dreams about how he came to be; it seems he was once Doctor Michael Morbius, a Nobel Prize winning scientist stricken by a facial deformity and ravaged by a rare disease that he hoped to cure by conducting research on vampire bats using experimental shock treatment. Desperate for a cure so that he can give his beloved Martine the life she deserves, Morbius has his friend and colleague Nikos help him by subjecting him to an untested dosage of electrical current while garbed in a special suit; however, Morbius emerges forever changed, transforming into a monstrous, man-made vampire during the night and he accidentally kills Nikos with his bare hands. Horrified by the monster he has become, Morbius attempts to lose himself in the ocean’s tumultuous waves, only for his survival instinct to kick in, forcing him to the surface…and to an undead life of feeding upon the blood of the living.

Although Spidey recovers the serum, Morbius is seemingly lost beneath the sea.

While Peter’s friends, family, and colleagues worry after him, Spider-Man and the unpredictable Lizard finally manage to track Morbius down and, conscious of time being against him, Spidey is able to finally render the Living Vampire unconscious so that the Lizard can extract the enzyme they need from Morbius’s blood. Without even waiting to test it, the Lizard injects the serum into himself and becomes Dr. Connors once more; however, Morbius suddenly awakens, catching Spidey off-guard and making off with the serum in order to drink it for himself. Dr. Connors finally recognises Morbius as Morbius (I mean…the clue’s in the name, right?) and Spider-Man is compelled to help him, sympathising and identifying with his horrific fate, but Morbius is so determined to escape and live free that he collides a bridge and appears to drown in the river. On the plus side, Spider-Man is able to snag the serum before Morbius disappears beneath the water and successfully rids himself of his additional limbs, but guilt over Morbius’s fate weighs heavily on the web-slinger’s mind.

The Summary:
“Vampire at Large!” is a very different, and yet very familiar, Spider-Man story; of course you’ve got all the usual tropes you’d expect from a swingin’ Spidey tale set in the late seventies, but Peter’s usual depression, bad luck, and lamentations are made all the worse by the presence of his additional arms. Although Peter is cured of his four extra arms by the conclusion of the story (and you can bet such a plot point would be dragged out for months or even years today), it’s an entertaining and visually interesting sight to see Spider-Man swinging around with these four extra arms sticking out of his side, but they don’t really factor into the story that much beyond giving Peter something new to despair over and driving him to tirelessly find a cure for his condition. What I mean to say is that he doesn’t really get to use the extra arms in an interesting way; they’re simply a plot point, something to make him feel like a freak and an outcast and thus relate to the plight of the Lizard and the debuting Morbius even more.

Morbius’s superhuman strength and unending hunger make him a formidable foe.

I have to say that I wasn’t expecting the Lizard to show up in this story, but it does make sense that Spider-Man would turn to the one man who has experience in trying to cure a limb problem (even though Dr. Connors has been…less than successful in his attempts) and it’s a good job that he does go to Dr. Connors for help or else he would have been another of Morbius’s very victims. Morbius himself is, of course, the big star of the story; mysterious and enigmatic, Morbius makes a visual impression with his chalk-white skin, gruesome bat-like visage, and elaborate outfit that is like a superhero reimagining of Count Dracula’s regal attire. Able to fly at will, sporting superhuman strength, and driven by an overwhelming need to drink human blood, Morbius is a conflicted individual; he sought to cure himself of his fatal ailment, and instead became a monstrous creature of the night that laments having to prey upon his fellow man, and his condition, and yet is also motivated by an irresistible desire to survive at any cost. Initially, Morbius attacks with a silent, driven fury and, thanks to Spidey’s fatigue, easily overwhelms the web-slinger but, as the story progresses, he becomes much more loquacious and prone to the same soliloquies and grandiose boasting so closely associated with comic book villains.

All three struggle with their monstrous afflictions but only Morbius gives into it completely, to his undoing.

And yet, Morbius remains a tragic figure. There’s a definite theme in “Vampire at Large!” regarding humanity as each character has a monstrous condition that leaves them a freak of nature and a threat to their loved ones and fellow man: Peter is distraught that his four arms could shock his beloved Aunt May to death and spell the end of his secret identity and the few relationships he has left, Dr. Connors is continuously battling for control of his mind and body and against the animalistic urges of his scaly other half, and Morbius has seemingly given in to his gruesome urges. Indeed, he actively shuns the daylight not just because it weakens his vampiric abilities but also because he sees only the faces of those he has killed and is haunted by the screams of his victims. Initially, he is so horrified by his condition that he seeks to end his existence, but chastises himself for his short-sightedness, his survival instinct overriding his anguish, and is seemingly destroyed by his obsession with maintaining his freedom by the finale. Personally, I’ve never really been that big a fan of Morbius; he’s okay, but hardly a character I would deem to be a game-changer but his debut here was well handled as it was tied so closely with Spider-Man’s bizarre appendage predicament. He definitely had a mystery and aura around him, though his origins were ill-defined and vague compared to later iterations, and he had a striking appearance that set him apart from Spidey’s abundance of green-and-purple-garbed villains, but he’s definitely more at home in Marvel’s more supernatural and horror-themed books and, for me, little more than a footnote in Spider-Man’s history.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What are your thoughts on Morbius’s debut? Are you a fan of the character and, if so, what are some of your favourite Morbius tales? Were you disappointed with how brief Peter’s struggles with his four extra limbs was or do you think it was a good idea to not drag the concept out too long? What did you think to Morbius’s depiction, origin, and powers? Do you think the Lizard was necessary to this story? Are you excited for Morbius’s live-action debut or, like me, do you consider it a waste of time and money? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Morbius below or comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in next Friday for my review of Morbius’s big-screen debut.

Back Issues [Mario Month]: Super Mario Adventures

So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties. To commemorate Mario Day this year, I have been celebrating everyone’s favourite Koopa-flattening plumber every Thursday of this month in a little event I call “Mario Month”.

Story Title: “Super Mario Bros. Adventures” and “Mario vs. Wario”
Published: 25 October 2016
Originally Published: 1 January 1992 to 31 January 1993
Writer: Kentaro Takekuma
Artist: Charlie Nozawa

The Background:
By the early 1990s, Nintendo’s mushroom-stomping mascot was well-established as an icon not just in the videogame industry but in mainstream pop culture as well; with over sixty videogames to his name, and with Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo EAD, 1993) proving a blockbuster release for Nintendo (and a pivotal title in the on-going “Console Wars” of the time), merchandising and licensing opportunities naturally began to increase as Nintendo sought to capitalise on the portly plumber’s popularity. In July/August of 1988, Nintendo of America began publishing a monthly review and strategy magazine, Nintendo Power (1988 to 2012), which soon included comic book and manga adaptations of its most popular videogame titles and, naturally, Super Mario was one such character who found his adventures chronicled in the magazine.

The Review:
Super Mario Adventures starts with a cute little musical introduction to the titular plumber duo, who operate as the Mushroom Kingdom’s “plumbers extraordinaire” and claim that “there’s no pipe [they] can’t repair!” The plumber brothers have been called to an emergency situation at Princess Toadstool’s castle: the pipes are a leaking, broken mess and need to be fixed for the Princess’s big party that night. Although Luigi (affectionately called “Weege” by Mario) is suffering from hunger pains, Mario enthusiastically takes to the job and encourages him to get stuck in and fix up the castle’s pipes.

Bowser attacks the kingdom, turning many to stone, and the Mario Bros. race to assist the princess.

However, his eagerness is cut short when a series of larger green pipes suddenly start sprouting up through the ground and a hoard of Koopas, Goombas, and other nasties pop out and attack the castle. Although Mario fights off the invaders, his efforts are brought to a halt when Bowser, the King of the Koopas himself, arrives in his Koopa Copter and alongside his Koopalings to lay claim to the entire kingdom through his superior forces and his proposal to marry the princess to make his takeover official. When the princess adamantly refuses his offer, Bowser uses his magic wand to turn her loyal Toads (and, amusingly, their distraught cries) to stone. Although Mario is also caught in the blast, leaving Luigi hysterical, the princess refuses to bow to Bowser’s demands and leads a group of Toads into battle against him. The Toads take the petrified Mario to the Minister of Massage, an aged oriental Toad who cures him of his ailment and, determined to get his revenge against Bowser and rescue the princess, Mario boldly charges after the two and he and Luigi end up being dropped right onto Dinosaur Island.

While Mario and Luigi make a new friend, Princess Toadstool manages to escape her cell.

There, they meet Yoshi, a friendly green dinosaur who helps them out when they’re attacked by a giant Wiggler and then speeds them off to Yoshi Village and they’re introduced to Friendly Floyd, a travelling salesman who randomly lives in the otherwise Yoshi-centric population. Floyd tells them that Bowser has been kidnapping Yoshis and punishing anyone who gets in his way and then scams them out of ten Coins by selling them a book to help them communicate with Yoshi that turns out to be basically useless. Mario’s anger at Floyd is quickly shifted back onto his main objective, though, when the princess’s Guard stumbles, bruised and hurt, into town and informs them that the princess was captured by an army of Bowser’s minions, the Lakitu. Back at Bowser’s Tower, Bowser reveals an additional motivation to his plot is to provide his rambunctious kids with a mother, and demands his chef make a cake that is one hundred times bigger than the humongous dessert he’s already made and orders the Koopalings to make sure that the princess doesn’t escape. However, when they go to check on her, the princess easily fools them by hiding up in the rafters and then escapes from her cell, locking them inside instead.

Luigi and the princess swap places, free Mario, and bring Bowser’s Tower crashing down.

While Mario and Luigi struggle to reach Bowser’s Tower thanks to the surrounding waters being full of piranhas, the princess proves capable enough to fight and threaten her way out of the tower by use of a “cape-achute”. Although the princess manages to get to safety and meet up with Luigi, Mario ends up crashing into the castle when he saves his brother from a Bullet Bill and winds up being chained up in his own cell. Bowser has his Mechakoopa’s deliver Luigi a threatening ultimatum to deliver him the princess or lose his brother forever and, rather than send the princess back into the jaws of danger, Luigi opts to have Floyd make him up into a decoy. While the princess resolves to go save the two, Luigi is able to successfully fool Bowser with his performance and delay Mario’s execution by ordering pizza for the Koopalings. The princess, who is dressed in Luigi’s clothing, bursts in holding a bomb and demands that Mario be set free; the Koopalings’ confusion soon turns to anger as Luigi swipes the keys from Roy Koopa and, thanks to a distraction from Yoshi, is able to free Mario just in time for the two of them to help fight off the Thwomps and Chucks who threaten to crush the princess, Yoshi, and Floyd to death. Unfortunately in the commotion, the fuse on the princess’ bomb catches fire and the tower collapses in a massive explosion!

Bowser recaptures the princess but Dr. Mario helps cure the Boos of their shyness.

Although blasted to safety and pleased with their victory, the group realises that they’re still stuck on Dinosaur Island so one of the princess’s Toads offers to fly back to the Mushroom Kingdom for help. When help arrives, though, it turns out to be a bunch of Bowser’s minions in disguise and Bowser himself shows up to capture the princess once again. After fighting off Koopa’s forces, Mario and Luigi are astounded to see Yoshi sprout wings from over-eating; however, in their haste to chase after the Koopa King, they end up getting lost and crash-landing before a spooky chalet in a fog-strewn forest. Luigi suggests that they rest in the house, not realising that it’s another of Bowser’s devious traps, and, despite Mario’s better judgement, the two are lured inside by the irrespirable smell of Provolone. Trapped inside and separated from Yoshi, the duo are attacked by Boos; although the little spirits blush uncontrollably when looked at, they charge at the plumbers when their backs are turned, eager to take a bite out of their behinds! Eventually, Mario and Luigi find themselves trapped between a gaggle of Boos and the mighty Big Boo but are finally able to escape by luring the Big Boo into a faux therapy session where Mario gets to the roots of the ghost’s debilitating fear of humans.

Mario, Luigi, and an army of Yoshis interrupt the wedding ceremony and defeat Bowser.

Having scammed their way out of the chalet, Mario and Luigi hop back onto Yoshi and race off to Marvy Mansion to keep the princess from marrying Bowser. Everyone in the Mushroom Kingdom is present for the wedding thanks to Bowser’s forces making up the majority of the guests and Magikoopa hypnotising the rest into compliance. With security type, and the hypnotised Yoshi’s willingly allowing themselves to be encased in eggs, Mario and Luigi sneak into the fortress using a pipe and end up being attacked by a Thwomp in a lava pit! While Bowser admires himself and his super sexy white suit, the princess throws a massive tantrum and continues to refuse to go through with the wedding, so Bowser has Magikoopa hypnotise the princess into falling in love with him. Thankfully, Mario crashes the party before the princess can say “I do” but, thanks to Magikoopa’s influence, ends up being beaten and tied up when the princess refuses to leave her beloved’s side. The ceremony is interrupted again, however, when Luigi and Yoshi free all other Yoshis from their eggs and the cuddly little dinosaurs quickly trample all over Bowser’s forces, including Magikoopa. After keeping Bowser from escaping in his little ‘copter, Mario fights his nemesis atop the gigantic wedding cake and merges victorious when the cake collapses, apparently taking Bowser with it, and thus saving the princess and the Mushroom Kingdom for another day.

Wario lures Mario into an ambush as payback for his childhood trauma.

The fun doesn’t end there, though, as the collected edition includes an additional tale that is basically an adaptation of Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (Nintendo R&D1, 1992). Unlike in the videogame, rather than Wario usurping Mario’s castle and forcing him to collect the titular six Golden Coins to retake his home, “Mario vs. Wario” shows Wario as the king of his own castle and inviting Mario to a reunion after twenty years of having not seen each other. In this story, Mario and Wario were childhood friends but their memories of those days differ wildly; while Mario recalls the two having fun playing in the garden, “[experimenting] with Coins”, and playing cowboys, Wario remembers Mario as a bully and a liar who got to get all the best vegetables while Wario got bitten by piranhas, how Mario got the Coins while Wario got flattened by a Thwomp, and (worst of all) how Wario was always forced to be the cattle rustler who was beaten by Mario’s sheriff. Mario has very quick run-ins with the bosses from the videogame, the majority of whom he has no idea are actually looking to cause him harm and whom he defeats (or kills, in one case) simply by being helpful or friendly. When he reaches Wario’s home, though, he is attacked by a big, mean incarnation of his old friend but Mario quickly takes the wind out of Wario’s sails, quite literally, by deflating his balloon-like form. Mario then makes amends with Wario but Wario’s grievances with his rival are rekindled when Mario busts out a cowboy hat and water pistol and casts himself as the sheriff once again!

The Summary:
Super Mario Adventures is a colourful, endlessly fun little adaptation of the Super Mario videogames, most prominently Super Mario World. Perfectly capturing the look and feel of the videogames, the manga-like presentation of the story is immediately appealing and the artwork is consistently vivid and amusing all the way through. Add to that the moments of humour, sight and physical gags, and little details like characters playing a Super Mario substitute (with either with Mario or Bowser as the hero) or Luigi and Princess Toadstool swapping outfits really add to the quirky nature of the story.

Mario and Luigi quickly transform from energetic plumbers into princess-saving heroes.

Mario is characterised as an energetic, brave do-gooder with a playful nature and a quick temper at times, especially when he’s scammed by Friendly Floyd. He is committed to helping the princess by any means necessary, whether it’s by fixing her pipes (oi-oi!) or rescuing her from Bowser and is constantly keeping his brother focused on the tasks at hand. While he’s not a complete coward or a stick-in-the-mud, Luigi has a running gag throughout the story where he’s constantly distracted by his hunger. At first, he seems to lack the courage to act without his brother by his side and would rather eat or slink away than work or fight Bowser’s minions but, when Mario is captured, he voluntarily switches places with the princess and uses his wiles to free his brother and he’s directly responsible for helping to stop the wedding and provide much-needed back-up when he helps free the Yoshis.

Yoshi proves a valuable ally though the princess’s fiery nature means she’s no pushover.

While Yoshi is merely just a cute, cuddly sidekick, his motivations are called into question when he’s introduced as the duo (especially Luigi) are initially worried that he must be intending to eat them, he proves essential to their quest thanks to his insatiable appetite and ability to sprout new abilities as he gobbles up Goombas and such. As for Princess Toadstool, she’s an absolute bad-ass in this story! Right away, she adamantly refuses to submit to Bowser and only ends up being captured in the first place because she chooses to bring the fight to the Koopa King rather than let him run roughshod over her kingdom. Indeed, while the duo try valiantly to rescue her from Bowser’s Tower, she actually escapes without their help and only ends up being recaptured because of them. In the end, her demeanour and rage are so fervent that Bowser is forced to resort to hypnotising her to force her to go through with the ceremony, which is something I’ve personally never seen him stoop to in any of the videogames or adaptations.

Bowser is little more than a blowhard with largely ineffectual minions.

As for Bowser, well…he’s a very loud, bombastic figure here and certainly commands a great deal of dangerous forces but he’s not actually very effectual as a villain. He’s more concerned with winning the princess over, the cut of his suit, and the size of the wedding cake than spitting fireballs at Mario and their final confrontation is pretty humiliating for the Koopa King. Indeed, Bowser spends more of his time delegating down to his Koopalings, who are young and easily distracted and fooled by the antics of Mario, Luigi, and the princess. Magikoopa is, without a doubt, Bowser’s most useful minion as, without the maniacal wizard, he would never have been able to subjugate the Yoshis and the rest of the kingdom and, when Magikoopa is taken out of the equation, it’s surely no coincidence that Bowser is buried beneath a pile of sweet frosting soon after.

Mario and Wario have wildly different memories of their childhood days.

And then there’s Wario, easily my favourite character in the entire franchise, who is reduced to a bitter, snivelling child thanks to a lifetime of resenting Mario. It’s interesting that “Mario vs. Wario” paints Mario in such a negative light; here, he’s extremely naïve and insensitive to the feelings and concerns of others and is focused only on having a good time playing with his friend without considering Wario’s perspective. Indeed, the ending seems to suggest that Wario’s version of their childhood is more accurate since Mario not only calls him a “wimp” for getting upset but goes right back to type by chasing after him as the “sheriff”. It’s a fun enough little epilogue to the main story but all-too-brief for an adaptation of Super Mario Land 2 and, while it provides an interesting twist on the Mario/Wario rivalry from the time, it ends up veering a bit too far away from Wario’s more popular portrayal as a greedy, disgusting, self-obsessed mirror of Nintendo’s portly mascot.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Have you ever read Super Mario Adventures? What did you think to it? Were you a fan of the manga’s quirky art style and humour? How do you think it worked as an adaptation of Super Mario World and the franchise’s gameplay mechanics? Did you read and collect Nintendo Power? If so, what were some of your favourite sections and inclusions in the magazine? Did you enjoy Mario’s other comic book adaptations as well and would you like to see another produced some time? Feel free to leave your thoughts on Super Mario Adventures, and Mario in general, down below and thanks for being a part of Mario Month.

Back Issues [Batman Month]: Batman: Year One

Although the twenty-seventh issue of Detective Comics was cover-dated May 1939, the issue was actually released in March 1939, meaning that it was in this month that readers were first introduced to perhaps DC Comics’ most popular character, the Batman. With Batman returning to cinema screens this month, March is the perfect time to celebrate the Caped Crusader so I’ve been spending every Saturday doing just that!

Story Titles: “Chapter One: Who I Am – How I Come to Be”, “Chapter Two: War Is Declared”, “Chapter Three: Black Dawn”, and “Chapter Four: Friend in Need”
Published: February 1987 to May 1987
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: David Mazzucchelli

The Background:
Capitalising on the success of Clark Kent/Superman’s debut, artist Bob Kane drew up a design for a new masked crimefighter, the “Bat-Man”. Thanks to the tireless and long-suppressed work of artist Bill Finger, the Bat-Man was transformed into the figure who would become a mainstream cultural icon. Over the many years since his debut, however, Batman underwent significant changes and alterations to his character and supporting cast; he gained a young kid sidekick to appear more appealing to younger readers and was transformed into a much softer, more fantastical character. Indeed, although writers like Dennis O’Neil helped to rectify this in the 1970s, it’s safe to say that Batman’s image had been tainted somewhat by the glorious camp (and incredibly popular) 1960s television show. After wiping their continuity mostly clean in the Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985 to 1986), DC Comics sought to retell the origins of many of their most popular characters, with Batman being chief among them. Following his mainstream success with his work on Daredevil, writer and artist Frank Miller signed a contract with DC Comics that led not only to his seminal Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Miller, et al, 1986) but also a revamped origin for the Dark Knight. Assured he would be given full creative control, Miller expanded upon Batman’s original story to craft one of the most lauded and well-regarded Batman stories that would go on to influence numerous Batman films, stories, and interpretations for years to come.

The Review:
Batman: Year One is as much a story about James “Jim” Gordon as it is about Bruce Wayne’s first appearance as the Batman. The story is split between the two men and their separate narratives, with each having their own distinct text boxes, perspectives, and experiences within Gotham City. This helps to show the parallels between the two and how they are both driven to extremes due to the city’s bleak, depressing, and corrupt nature and we see their differing perspectives right off the bat (no pun intended) with their respective arrivals in the city in January. Lieutenant Gordon, who has just transferred to Gotham and whose wife Barbara (not that Barbara) is currently pregnant with their first child, laments the state of the city, which he experiences first-hand by mistakenly arriving by train. Twenty-five-year-old Bruce, however, thinks the exact opposite; he wishes that he’d arrived by train to “see the enemy” rather than by air, where the city almost looks civilised. While Bruce is mobbed by reporters desperate for the story of his twelve year absence from Gotham, Gordon is met at the train station by the hulking Detective Arnold Flass, who assures him that “cops got it made in Gotham”.

Both Bruce and Gordon struggle with the harsh nature of Gotham City.

While Gordon grits his teeth through his first meeting with the detestable Commissioner Gillian Loeb, Bruce returns to his familial home, Wayne Manor, and his faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Bruce spends the next month or so mentally preparing himself for the task ahead of him; physically, he’s well-trained and highly capable, able to smash through bricks and topple a tree with a single kick, but he feels something is missing for his plans for Gotham. Gordon, however, is immediately introduced to the ugly side of Gotham’s police force as Flass randomly assaults a group of youths for no good reason at all. Gordon keeps his opinions to himself but takes care to study Flass’ movements and physical capabilities for later, but soon finds himself under suspicion as Flass disagrees with his morals. Having brought this to Loeb’s attention, Flass is given permission to put a beating on Gordon in an effort to teach him how important it is to “fit in” in Gotham. Although Gordon has a military background, it has, in his words, “been a while” and, while he puts up a good fight, he takes a bit of a beating from a few masked assailants wielding baseball bats. Riled up, Gordon heads over to Flass’ favourite bar and runs his drunk-ass off the road. Tossing his gun aside, Gordon offers Flass a baseball bat as a “handicap” and sets about taking the big man to school. Beaten and left naked and cuffed in the snow, Gordon feels confident that he has taught Flass not to mess with him again.

Bruce’s first night goes pretty bad, leading to him assuming a frightening persona.

Coincidentally enough, this occurs on the very first night that Bruce attempts to strike back at the city’s criminal underworld; disguising his identity with some make-up and a fake scar, he goes out looking for trouble in the Red Light District and ends up taking a beating of his own. Stabbed in the leg, mauled by a cat-like prostitute, and shot by some of Gotham’s finest, Bruce manages to escape police custody and, with his last ounce of strength, stumble back to Wayne Manor. Bleeding out, he contemplates his failures and begs his deceased father, Doctor Thomas Wayne, for guidance on how to do better and to strike fear into the hearts of criminals. Tormented at having witnessed the brutal and random deaths of his parents as a small boy, he resolves to let himself die unless he can find the answer and, at that moment, a gigantic bat crashes through the window of his study. Just like that, Bruce has his answer and vows to “become a bat”. By April, Gordon has built up something of a reputation as a soft touch, which brings him into direct opposition with Sergeant Branden of Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) and the support of the press (which makes reprimanding him extremely difficult for Loeb). Gordon’s mounting aggravation and depression at bringing his wife and pregnant child to such a cesspit is interrupted by reports of a “giant bat” in the city as, across town, the Batman makes his dramatic first appearance. Thanks to his fearsome appearance and an animalistic growl, Batman is able to frighten a group of thieves a little too well as one of them topples over the edge of the balcony they’re on. So determined is Batman to keep the perp from falling to his death that he puts himself at risk to save the guy’s life and only manages to come out of it relatively unscathed due to his adaptability, strength, sheer for of will, and (as he chastises himself) a great deal of luck.

Batman threatens the city’s mobsters but runs afoul of the trigger-happy police.

To ensure that the criminals and corrupt know that they are living on borrowed time, Batman makes a dramatic show of himself at a dinner function hosted by noted mob boss Carmine “The Roman” Falcone and attended by corrupt commission Loeb. News of the Batman, of course, reaches the Gotham police department; Flass is just one of the officers to have encountered the vigilante, who is widely regarded as a horrific, winged demon. Ordered by Loeb to bring Batman in, Gordon’s efforts are met with failure; staged muggings go without incident and Falcone is left humiliated in his own chambers, and not just because of Batman’s wily prowess as Assistant District Attorney Harvey Dent has entered into a secret alliance with the Dark Knight. Batman and Gordon’s paths finally cross when the two both risk their lives to save a homeless woman from being run down by a truck. Despite Batman’s heroic actions, Gordon orders his men to take the vigilante alive; however, Batman receives a bullet to the leg and is quickly left trapped and wounded thanks to Branden laying waste to the building he’s hiding in. The spreading fires destroy Batman’s utility belt and leave him with only his wits and ninja training to survive, which are more than enough to pick off the S.W.A.T. team one by one despite his leg wound. Cornered and running out of tricks, however, Batman is barely able to avoid another round of gunfire but manages to elude capture by attracting a flock of bats all the way from Wayne Manor that cover his escape, leave many of the cops and bystanders in hospital, and go a long way to adding to the Batman’s dramatic mystique.

Gordon’s efforts to uncover Batman’s identity lead him into a passionate affair.

Humiliated by this incident, Gordon increases his efforts in trying to decipher the Batman’s true identity. Initially suspicious of Dent, it is Detective Sarah Essen who nudges his attentions towards Bruce Wayne because of his wealth and traumatic childhood. Over the course of the last few months and pages, the two have grown extremely close since Gordon is spending more and more time at work and trying to shield Barbara from the atrocities in Gotham. This leads to a passionate affair between the two that Gordon immediately hates himself for; his guilt is matched only by his confusion regarding Batman, who is clearly taking the law into his own hands and yet may very well be the most righteous and incorruptible person in the city. Bruce, however, is able to throw Gordon’s suspicions off by playing up the role of a wealthy, bored socialite but, after Batman’s efforts see Flass incarcerated for taking part in a massive drug operation, Loeb threatens to expose the Lieutenant’s affair to his wife.

Bruce saves Gordon’s son and gains a valuable ally in the process.

Although he already ended the affair, Gordon decides to admit to his wrongdoings to his wife in order to begin repairing his marriage (something also aided by the birth of their son, James Junior) and to dispel any leverage the corrupt have over him. Batman’s world, however, becomes a little more complicated when the prostitute he countered on his first night, Selina Kyle, decides to craft a costumed identity of her own and begins targeting Falcone’s operation as Catwoman. After Catwoman scars his face, Falcone (who believes that the two are in cahoots) orders his men to kidnap James Jnr. Gordon arrives too late to save his son but is able to keep Barbara from harm; however, he also shoots and wounds Bruce (who is disguised in a motorcycle jacket and helmet) in the process. The two of them chase after Falcone’s goon and a fight breaks out on the bridge; overpowered by the thug, Gordon is helpless to keep his baby boy from falling to the cold, shallow water below. Luckily, Bruce dives after the boy and saves him, earning Gordon’s respect and gratitude. In the aftermath, Loeb is forced to resign after Flass spills the beans on all his dirty dealings and Sarah moves away to New York. As for Gordon, he and Barbara agree to attend marriage counselling, he is in line for a promotion to Captain, and he has found himself a friend to help tackle a manic named “The Joker” who has poisoned the city’s reservoir.

The Summary:
Of all the Batman stories crafted by Frank Miller, Batman: Year One is still my favourite. It’s a gritty, bleak, grounded reinterpretation of Batman’s origin and first year in Gotham City and paints him as a regular man (albeit one well trained and with more wealth than you or I) who isn’t yet the hyper-prepared, experienced vigilante with a network of allies and resources. The artwork is simple but gorgeous, with everything taking on a wash of waterpaint-like noir that emphasises deep shadows and harsh lights and has the majority of the story taking place in the dank, depressing darkness of night. One of the main reasons I dislike The Dark Knight Returns (and other Batman stories by Miller) is the dialogue (and the artwork). Miller has a very…shall we say “distinctive” way of having characters talk and likes to kind of just spit words and odd statements at the reader. For the most part, Year One is relatively light on these “Miller-isms” but they do still show up here and there (mostly when Batman is eluding or attacking people). Thankfully, Alfred’s trademark dry wit makes up for this and seeing Bruce act like an complete cad to throw off Gordon’s suspicions was absolutely fantastic.

Year One is focused much more on Gordon’s perspective of the city and its vigilante.

It’s interesting that Batman: Year One is such an effective Batman story considering it’s much more of a Jim Gordon story. We learn very little about Bruce, his background, or his training and, instead, focus more on Gordon and his struggles to adjust to and cope with life in the city. Everything we learn about Gotham and the state of its police force comes from Gordon, a flawed man who has made mistakes and is trying to hold onto his morals but struggles in the face of near-endless corruption and his own temptations towards Sarah. Bruce’s tragic origin is recounted very briefly and much of his training and motivation is delivered through exposition or his thought boxes, which take on a cursive slant that can be difficult to make out at times. Still, it provides a fascinating glimpse into Bruce’s early struggles to find the means by which to fight crime in the city and the preparation that goes into his various traps and assuming the guise of the Batman.

Batman and Gordon soon realise that they are the only allies they have in the corrupt city.

At its core, Batman: Year One is a story of struggle and trust; both Gordon and Bruce struggle to find their place in Gotham and figure out how to conduct themselves and their mission in a city that is constantly fighting back against them and both of them feel alone in this endeavour. It isn’t until their paths cross and they see how selfless the other is that they both begin to consider changing their position; while guys like Branden just want to shoot Batman dead no questions asked, Gordon would prefer to see him brought in alive to get to the root of his mystery and Bruce realises that he needs the good-natured  lieutenant onside if he is ever to be effective as Batman and avoid getting shot on a nightly basis. This comes to a head in the finale where, rather than Batman saving Gordon’s son, it is Bruce in a questionable disguise. Indeed, the artwork and dialogue makes it intentionally vague as to whether or not Gordon truly recognises his boy’s saviour or not and, in the end, he decides it doesn’t matter who the Batman is as he has learned to think of him as a friend in a lawless city.

As it’s Batman’s first year, he’s a far more inexperienced and flawed character than usual.

As a tale of Batman’s earliest days in action, it’s hard to get much better than Year One. Personally, I love Batman stories that show him to be vulnerable and flawed and we definitely see a lot of that here as he’s constantly being stabbed and shot and hurt and forced into tight corners. This is a Batman who is lacking many of the bells and whistles of his later career; there’s not really a Batcave, no Bat-Signal or Batmobile, and a limited array of Bat-themed gadgets, all of which means that Batman has to use his wits and adaptability a lot more than his fancy high-tech toys which, again, I also find incredibly appealing. The portrayal of Batman’s influence is equally great; most treat the idea of a giant bat-garbed vigilante as ridiculous until they come face-to-face with him and then they are scared witless and this goes a long way to painting the Batman as this urban myth amongst the just and unjust alike.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Have you ever read Batman: Year One? What did you think of Frank Miller’s reinvention of Batman? Are you a fan of Miller’s work, especially on Batman? What did you think to Year One’s focus on Jim Gordon and the depiction of a Batman without all his bells and whistles? What was your first experience of Batman and how are you celebrating his debut this month? Whatever your thoughts, sign up to drop them below or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to check in next Saturday for my review of Batman’s newest big-screen outing!

Back Issues [Batman Month]: Detective Comics #140

Although the twenty-seventh issue of Detective Comics was cover-dated May 1939, the issue was actually released in March 1939, meaning that it was in this month that readers were first introduced to perhaps DC Comics’ most popular character, the Batman. With Batman returning to cinema screens this month, March is the perfect time to celebrate the Caped Crusader so I’ll be spending every Saturday doing just that!

Story Title: “The Riddler”
Published: 23 August 1948 (cover-dated October 1948)
Writer: Bill Finger
Artist: Dick Sprang

The Background:
After Clark Kent/Superman proved to be a massive success in their Action Comics title, National Comics Publications wanted more superheroes under their banner and charged Bob Kane with creating a new masked crimefighter. Thanks to the long-suppressed influence of artist Bill Finger, Bob Kane’s concept of a “Bat-Man” not only became one of DC Comics’ most popular characters but also a mainstream cultural icon. Over the years, the Batman has matched wits against many colourful supervillains, with some of his most memorable challenging his reputation as the world’s greatest detective, and perhaps none have tested his intelligence more than Edward Nashton, a.k.a. Edward Nygma, a.k.a. The Riddler. Another creation of Bill Finger (alongside artist Dick Sprang), the Riddler has confounded Batman for over eighty years and has earned a reputation as one of the Dark Knight’s most devious and intelligent enemies. Brought to life with delicious relish by the late, great Frank Gorshin, the Riddler has played an integral role in Batman adaptations for years, overwhelming players with riddles and collectibles, seeking to suck the brain waves out of Gotham City, and being at the forefront of some of Batman’ s greatest stories. Since the Riddler made his cinematic return last week in The Batman (Reeves, 2022), this seems like the perfect time to look back at his debut appearance and see how it holds up today.

The Review:
Our story begins by giving us some backstory on Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin’s newest confounding criminal as we flash back to the youth of the Riddler, known here as Edward Nygma and shown to be a conniving little creep even as a schoolboy. When his teacher sets the class an assignment to complete a jigsaw puzzle to win a prize, Nygma cheats by taking a picture of the completed puzzle using his “flash camera” and continuously humiliates his class mates by challenging them to solve puzzles and using slight of hand and other underhanded tricks to showcase his supposed skill. As he grows into adulthood, Nygma becomes an accomplished con man, fooling and cheating the general public out of their money as “E. Nygma – The Puzzle King”, but grows bored of the lack of challenge his cheating ways bring him. He becomes so sure of his genius and talent with puzzles that he decides to test his abilities against not just the police, but the Batman himself, donning a garish question mark-themed costume and taking the name of the Riddler for the first time.

The Riddler bamboozles Batman and Robin with his deceitful riddles.

The Riddler’s first heinous act is to commandeer a massive advertising billboard that features a crossword theme and challenge Batman and Robin to learn a clue regarding his planned crime. Within two panels, Batman and Robin decipher the solution to the Riddler’s crossword and accordingly head to the Basin Street Banquet. However, when they blunder in hoping to apprehend the crook, they find the city’s upper class safe and sound and are stunned to learn that the Riddler tricked them with word play and actually flooded a nearby bank (“bank-wet”). The Riddler floods the bank’s underground vaults using a water main and robs the bank after easily figuring out the combination to the vault, and is safely washed away to safety using the sewers. Bamboozled by the Riddler, Batman is doubly determined to nail his newest adversary, who delivers a massive jigsaw puzzle to Police Commissioner Jim Gordon at police headquarters. Batman has the police transport the giant jigsaw to the football stadium and directs them, via loudspeaker and microphone, in solving it to determine that the Riddler plans to target the Eyrie nightclub atop a skyscraper. The Dynamic Duo head to the Eyrie later that night, and Batman sends Robin in alone, where the Boy Wonder is left to see Gotham’s socialites party away with no sign of the Riddler.

Batman comes up with an inspired solution to escape the Riddler’s death trap.

It turns out that the Riddler actually meant that he was planning to rob the home of Harrison Eagle, a millionaire collector, but this time Batman is smart enough to figure this out and interrupt the Riddler…though he is momentarily stunned by the Riddler’s gas bomb and the puzzle master is able to slip away as Batman is forced to break apart an elaborate steel rod trap before Harrison Eagle suffocates to death. Riding high on his momentum, the Riddler’s next conundrum is a little more direct and dangerous to the general public as he sends a truck careening through the streets carrying a massive corncob and a devious riddle: “Why is corn hard to escape from?” Luckily, Batman and Robin are on hand to halt the out of control vehicle with the Batmobile, and Batman deduces that the solution is “maize”; or, more specifically, the big glass “maze” at the Pleasure Pier amusement park. Despite arriving in time to spot the Riddler fleeing into the glass maze, having robbed the park, the Dynamic Duo find themselves trapped in the translucent labyrinth and left at the mercy of the Riddler, who has planted a bomb in the maze that is set to go off in half an hour! Although the glass is shatter-proof, Batman marks their route using the “diamonds on [his] badge” but, when they reach the exit, they find it closed up and the Riddler watching them as time ticks down. Batman comes up with the unlikely ingenious plan to pile up rolls of carpet against the glass panel and set it alight; the heat expands the glass just enough for Batman to force the pane open, but the Dynamic Duo are left with no time to apprehend the villain as they have to dive for cover to avoid perishing in the Riddler’s explosion. Trapped on the edge of the pier, the Riddler is flown into the sea, cursing his failure, and leaves behind only a question mark where he landed and the lingering riddle of whether he drowned or escaped to bewilder the Dark Knight another day.

The Summary:   
I was pleased to find that the Riddler’s conundrums weren’t as simple as they first appeared; Batman and even Robin easily decipher the Riddler’s clues, only to be fooled by the master of puzzles thanks to wordplay and deceit, as is his speciality. Thanks to his devious ways, the Riddler is able to make fools out of the Dynamic Duo and get away with bags full of loot, and his victories only spiral his superiority complex into overdrive. Crucially, however, it’s important to note that the Riddler eludes capture, and Batman, at every turn; even when Batman is upon him, Nygma slips away using a smoke bomb and endangering an innocent man’s life. The Riddler constantly stays one step ahead, and traps the Dynamic Duo within the glass maze, and is only undone because his hubris demands that he lord it over his adversaries. However, even in defeat, he remains ultimately victorious as he eludes capture, imprisonment, and consequences for his crimes, and is even afforded the luxury of being assumed dead so he can carry out more elaborate crimes at a later date.

A colourful tale, and villain, that is as ridiculous in its execution as you’d expect from the time.

“The Riddler” is certainly a colourful and whimsical debut for one of Batman’s most notorious and clever adversaries; Edward Nygma is presented as an arrogant and deceptive little creep who cheats and uses underhanded tactics to bamboozle others with his supposed genius when, in actuality, he’s just a liar and a con man. Having cheated his way to victory countless times over the years, his narcissism is exacerbated by an inflated sense of accomplishment to the point where he’s no longer satisfied with duping the general masses and wishes to pit his “skills” against the Gotham police and the ultimate challenge: The Batman. Ultimately, “The Riddler” is a wholly ridiculous but fun little tale from Batman’s Golden Era, one that is more about presenting a quick, colourful tale that taxes Batman in a new way with a bombastic new villain, but I can’t say it’s the most memorable or influential story of Batman’s early years. It’s fun seeing the absurd means that the Riddler delivers his puzzles, and to see him outwit Batman on technicalities and semantics, and the bizarre ways that Batman gets out of his predicaments during this time is always amusing, but there are definitely better Batman stories from this era – and Riddler tales – to find.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever read “The Riddler”? What did you think of the Riddler’s debut and the puzzles he threw Batman’s way? Did you correctly solve the Riddler’s conundrums or were you also outwitted by his deceptive ways? What are some of your favourite Riddler stories? Which interpretation of the Riddler, whether animated, pixelated, or live-action, is your favourite? Whatever you think about the Riddler, sign up to share your thoughts below or leave comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in next Saturday for more Batman content!