These four annual issue tie into Year One of Batman, and they are also one-shots. I have mixed feelings about this collection as three are origin stories and one isn’t. Poison Ivy’s issue isn’t all that interesting. It’s full of cheesy 90s comic dialog and is just a single conflict between her and Batman. It’s strange that her origin story isn’t in here, but Scarecrow and Riddler’s are. We also get the origin story of Man-Bat from the Legend of the Dark Knight series.
As I stated before, Poison Ivy’s issue is pretty forgettable. She needs more money and pulls off a heist using her charm and looks. We do get some interesting info on her poisons and toxins, but the first half of the issue is a drab dialog and mostly uninteresting. I also didn’t care for the art here. It’s typical 90s comic art, and not the good kind either.
The second story is much more interesting. We get Riddler’s origin story of how he was ignored for not being the genius he is and wanted to be the center of attention. I found the art here much better and the entire comic has an overarching twist at the end that I found really interesting. There’s very little Batman in this issue, but that’s okay as with any origin story we want to know about the character at hand.
The third issue is about Scarecrow’s origin story. Like Riddler, he was bullied and ignored in his teen years, but instead of being a genius he just wanted to be noticed. His origin reference as Ichabod Crane makes a lot of sense and his actual Scarecrow costume is quite funny. The Halloween costume beginnings of Scarecrow are before he had money and could fund better toxins and tech to disperse his gas. We discover how and why he chose fear gas and I really loved this one. It’s probably my favorite of the four. The art style is great and I love Crane’s over-exaggerated height and lankiness.
The last issue is about the origin of Man-Bat. A science experiment went wrong, but there’s quite a bit of detail here. He sacrifices something to do this and in the end, it turns out it wasn’t a good idea. There are some awesome shots of Batman in the shadows and a great full-spread shot of him fighting Man-Bat. The art here is great and much improved over Ivy’s and even Riddler’s issue. This origin story comes to a full circle beginning and conclusion in about 50 pages and I was really entertained. My guess as to why this is recommended to be read so close to Year One is how Batman is still not fully integrated into his role and is still trying to find tech to use to increase his fear among enemies.
My saga goes ever onward to catch up on Batman starting from Year One. The Man Who Laughs is a one-shit that’s a direct sequel to Year One which shows us Batman’s first run-in with The Joker. Not just Batman but Gotham and Gordan as a whole as well. We also get mentions of Red Hood again. Batman is a little bit more skilled in this comic and doesn’t get hurt quite as often. The introduction to The Joker is perfect. It shows how much he just loves chaos and no one understands his motive.
The art direction in this one is fantastic. With every shot of Joker looking perfectly twisted and insane. Joker’s goal is to poison all of Gotham and turn them into Joker’s and create an army. Batman’s trying to work with Gordon to figure out what Joker’s goal is. He originally just threatens Bruce Wayne and another rich guy, but it’s all distractions of course and he never keeps his word. The comic is ultimate chaos. It really just shows us that Batman will have his hands full with this one and is the first real threat to him and Gotham on a large scale. Joker murders without remorse and so do his goons.
There aren’t any direct references to Year One outside of continuity with the introduction to the first major villain for Batman. We do get a surprise at the end that shows us the first time something very iconic was introduced to the storyline. I don’t want to spoil what it is. The pace of the comic itself is great with storytelling being told during action or event sequences. Batman’s inner dialog, and Gordon’s, explain a lot while things are happening which keeps things going. There aren’t any strange plot twists with this being a one-shot, but it’s done very well and it’s a great part of Joker’s comic timeline that’s a must-read.
Overall, The Man Who Laughs is iconic and is a must-read for any Batman fan. Even if you are a fan of just the movies and want to learn about how Batman first came across The Joker then this is it. Now, don’t go into this expecting Joker’s origin story. That’s not what this is at all. This is just the moment when the two meet for the first time and how that all goes down.
Continuing the Year One saga, Mad Monk is the sequel to Monster Men. Batman is still a noob, Gordon is still struggling between accepting Batman and giving in to GCPD’s want of arresting him on charges, Julie Madison is still struggling to tame Bruce and discover his secret, and a new villain is introduced. Dala and the Mad Monk. We also get a glimpse and mention of Red Hood too!
While we get a direct connection to Year One with Monster Men, Mad Monk is less so. While Superman and The Flash are mentioned as “the superhero uprising” that’s starting, Batman still isn’t very good at his job. He doesn’t have a Lucius Fox yet, his tech is primitive, and he gets hurt a lot in this one. Julie Madison and Norman Madison are still struggling with their battles. Norman’s mental health declines through the series and Dala is trying to recruit people for the Mad Monk’s ritual. This series is much better than Monster Men. The action is mixed up more, a lot more is happening, and it seems to move at a faster pace. We already know who all of these new characters are so the series is focused on moving forward with them.
I can’t stress enough how well the struggle with Batman’s internal resolve is here. He wants to be Batman, but he still doesn’t know if it’s doing any good or more harm. We get to see his Batmobile, which looks a lot like Tim Burton’s 1989 Batmobile, and some of his tech has been upgraded. We get to see his explosive gel, Batarangs, grappling hook, and his continued reliance on the gas grenades. It’s cool to see Batman in this early form before he had everything ironed out. There still aren’t any plot twists here, but the conclusion is very satisfying and the peace steps on the gas hard during the 4th issue. I felt like we got a great ending to Madison’s timeline and we’re set up with Batman being more bitter and angry than ever before.
While the rest of the Dark Moon Rising story arc doesn’t really continue the Year One story, I am going to go ahead and move on. I do have to say that I don’t particularly care for the art in this series. It feels very 90s mixed with early 2000s comic art. Like it couldn’t pick a lane. Most of the character’s close-ups are pretty bad and outside of stylistic scenes in darkness, the panels just look really plain and boring. I loved the panels where Batman was fighting or trapped, or anything else, but those talking scenes in bars, on the street, and in rooms, are just plain not great. Thankfully there are fewer of those there than in Monster Men, and we even get the iconic Batman face covering shot again from Year One!
I continue my journey of reading every Batman comic from Year One and up next is Matt Wagner’s Dark Moon Rising arc. This and Mad Monk are to be read back to back, and it also follows directly from Year One.
I have to say that this series starts out way too slow. There’s so much pre-amble and plot development of just panel after panel of people talking. There’s little action in the first few issues here. I did appreciate the connections to Year One such as Gordon’s “World’s Greatest Dad” mug and his internal battle with trying to accept Batman and referencing Batman saving his baby in Year One. I also like how vulnerable Batman is here. He’s essentially a superhero noob.
While the dialog is a bit dry and dull at times, and there are some weird anatomical shots that look off, the overall art direction continues off of Year One with a dark and dirty Gotham that is unforgiving. Batman’s shots in the shadows are just cool here. Continuity wise we only have two main villains here. The Roman and Dr. Hugo Strange who is reintroduced for the Year One timeline. We also get to see Bruce’s first true love, Julie Madison, and her father Norman Madison who is in deep with The Roman financially.
The battle between Bruce being Batman and balancing out his personal life really shows here. Despite how much Julie cares for him it’s not enough to pull him away from being Batman and we start seeing the internal struggle early on. People question his motives, and whether or not his existence is making crime worse in Gotham and encouraging these insane people to come out of the woodwork. I really like this a lot as it adds realism to the series.
As the series goes on we do get to finally see the Monster Men who are awesome looking, but there are no surprise plot twists here. This is mostly world-building which I really don’t mind and it helps continue the insanity of Year One and helps continue the thought process of Batman’s moral existence. I would have liked to see more action in this series during the first three issues, and just have it more balanced out, but what’s here is good and well worth a read. While the connections to Year One are subtle and sparse the overall world-building and continuity are great.
I’m currently on my journey to finish a chronological Batman story, and where best to start than Year One? Issue #404 changed the entertainment world forever and helped pushed comic books into more serious adult territory. The days of the campy Adam West “Kapows!” and “Whams!” are gone. Comics needed to grow up and mature, and I for one don’t like comics from the Golden/Silver Age, and I can barely stand any from the Bronze Age. Frank Miller took it upon himself to change the world forever.
Frank Miller and team were taking the three most iconic DC characters at the time, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, and tried transforming their backstories and consolidating everything into a reboot for the new age. Batman’s was one of the only ones that stayed the same. Year One perfectly tells Batman’s origins in just four issues. Think about that for a second. You understand why Bruce wants to protect Gotham, why Detective Gordan is a good soul that becomes hardened from the City and brings in the first two villains into this new world. Dr. Hugo Strange and The Roman.
Year One made such an impact for a reason. It inspired all of the movies and games that came after. The dark and grungy city of Gotham. Endlessly tall buildings, dirt, grime, filth, and constantly dark somehow with no sunshine. Prostitution, drugs, sex, and gore. It’s all here for the world to see in the late 80s. This wasn’t a comic book for the kiddies anymore. The only other character that’s introduced into this new reboot is Catwoman and we get to see how she started out as Catwoman as well. This is so well written and the pacing is perfect. By the end of Year One, you are set up for literally any arc to come and that takes real skill and talent to do.
My only grip on the comic is the poor use of the font. The cursive can be really hard to read sometimes and of course, the art itself has aged. This was all hand drawn before digital art was really a thing so it looks rough in some shots. There are some iconic panels with Batman seen with just his silhouette and white eyes. I loved every shot of Gotham itself and there was a good amount of action and talking scenes. There’s the constant switching between Gordan and Batman and the scenes change so much that you don’t get bored. This is a page-turner for sure.
In the end, if you want to start reading Batman comics this is the perfect place to start. It’s when Batman got serious and when the comic industry got serious with their iconic characters. Even if you think you know Batman’s origins you don’t know it in this kind of detail.
The Batman Arkham storyline is probably one of the most successful for the superhero in decades. Following the style, story, and drama from the hit video game series, Arkham Unhinged takes the reigns of becoming one of my favorite Batman story arcs of all time. However, it’s not Batman himself that is the main character but Gotham. Throughout the 20 issues, you slowly watch the entire city crumble into chaos and almost become apocalyptic. Batman has more on his shoulders than he can juggle, and everyone power in Gotham that can stop this madness is also falling into the hypnotic trance that is Arkham City. Batman actually feels powerless in this series which is a nice mix-up compared to most superhero comics.
There’s actually not as much action as you would like in a Batman comic here, but fans of the game series will love the constant back and forths between Arkham City, Gotham, and all the characters within. Honestly, this is one of my favorite comic series, and Batman and game fans alike will dig this.
Diablo is not really a game series you see making a good comic, but Sword of Justice is a pretty decent one compared to all the terrible or mediocre adaptations I have been reading lately. The story follows a boy named Jacob who is part of the Barbarian tribe guarding Mount Arreat. However, one day his father executes his mother in a fit of rage about justice and law. It turns out that there’s some sort of rage blood curse pouring out through the Barbarian tribes and this specific tribe has isolated itself from the others claiming they are better due to their righteous laws and justice.
Of course, this leads Jacob to travel the world trying to find a way to stop all this, and this is when he runs into a mage who helps him along the way. He picks up Tyreal’s sword of justice and tries to stop this blood curse. Without spoiling anything the 5 part series does a good job bringing out the characters and fleshing out an interesting story in just a measly 100 pages. The art is fantastic and dark and each character feels unique and likable in some way.
What I love about this series is that it takes a small part of the Diablo Timeline and shows you what these people are going through on a daily basis due to the demons from the Burning Hells. The onslaught is never-ending and what Jacob has to go through is something that would break most people.
With that said, if you can find it, Sword of Justice is a fantastic comic series and does Diablo justice.
Some video game comics are a bit iffy. The Fall is a whole new storyline set in Russia, and there’s no Desmond Miles this time around. Daniel Cross ends up losing his memory, he can also see visions of his ancestors from the late 1800s. Nikolai Orelov is tasked with killing the Tsar of Russia and getting the Golden Staff. In the present Daniel gets taken away to a secret Assassin camp and finds out his true identity.
Daniel himself is a raging drug addict and alcoholic. He has a court order to take psych meds but won’t do it. I loved how they introduced him, but he’s not a very memorable character. The comic series wasn’t long enough to allow this. During the first issue, you are just introduced to everyone and what their common goal is. During the second issue, Daniel finds out who he truly is and why he has these visions. It all comes to an end during the third issue when you find out the major plot twist and how shocking it is.
There is a special edition 4th issue that shows several years later where Daniel has cleaned up and finally meets the Mentor that he has searched for 2 years. There’s another shocking twist at the end, and without this final issue, the other three don’t seem so great. The art is really nice and the series is pretty gory and bloody. There’s a decent amount of fight scenes and the art holds true to the game. I just wish it were longer so we can get to know these characters more; there’s a lot that could have been done.
One thing that video game comics tend to have is a lack of intelligent dialogue. The Fall has great writing and there’s actually reading to be done rather than a sentence or two on each page. Fans will enjoy The Fall and the separate storyline is a welcome change. I just wish it were longer.
I went into this not expecting much. I was halfway through the first issue when it suddenly grabbed my attention. This series plays out — and could be translated to — a full-on game. The Gods (Hades, Ares, Hermes, Poseidon, Helios) are bored and make a wager. They find the strongest clans in the world and make something disastrous happen. The Barbarian King’s father is stricken with illness, a female clan suffers starvation, and Kratos’s newborn child with Lysandra, Calliope, is born with a deformity. The Spartan law is that an ugly baby is thrown out at sea. Lysandra’s midwife tells them a tale about the Ambrosia of Asclepius that can give eternal life and bring back the dead. They both beg the Spartan King to let Kratos bring back this Ambrosia for the King himself and a sip for his baby.
That’s one freaking awesome story. That is a premise to a whole new God of War game. As the series advances the Gods start cheating because Kratos is obviously winning. He slays large strange beasts, avoids natural disasters, and has the King’s army following him. The series does an excellent job of showing the hot-headedness of Kratos and his selfishness. The Spartan general gives him a lecture on this, and we also get some insight into the Spartan ways and how cruel they were. Several times Kratos almost becomes defeated, but we all know the ending here.
The art was a bit disappointing. It’s very murky and washed out with black. There’s some realism here, but it doesn’t exactly fit the game’s art style. Sometimes I liked it, sometimes I didn’t. There were a few mistakes like when he had a flashback to his childhood. Kratos is drawn with ashy skin and red markings, but he didn’t get that until after he slew his family. In Ghost of Sparta, Kratos is seen with normal skin as a kid, so there were some screw-ups with the lore here. This series was made towards the tale-end of WildStorm Comics’ life, issue 6 was done by DC Comics after they absorbed WildStorm. At least the comic is gory and there’s a lot of violence like in the game. While the art may be iffy, it does have an excellent atmosphere of darkness and constant betrayal.
It’s a short series but it does the game justice. If you love God of War these six issues should be in your comic collection. The story is so great that it can stand as a standalone game.
I didn’t really have high hopes for this comic series. Comics are a good avenue for video games because you get a new story along with visuals. The first mini-series wasn’t all that great. The art was good, but the story was very average and just felt like a piece of a level from the game. There were a couple of comics after that that focused on Jace which is a character I didn’t really like. These issues felt pointless and I feel sorry for anyone who wasted $4 on them. The second mini-series — Barren — was excellent with fantastic art and an awesome story. It also brought out a darker side to the franchise that wasn’t seen in the games. Using a run-down facility to capture and rape girls to create babies to keep humanity running. Delta Squad goes in and tries to save them, but there is a constant love/hate thing going on and it was very gripping.
After this, the series went into some one-offs with Jace again and I didn’t like them. The third and final mini-series was Dirty Little Secrets which led up to the ending of Gears of War 3. Karen Traviss wrote the comic this time around except the artwork was terrible. It was washed out and the character design was inconsistent with the whole series. There were some character tie-ins to the Gears novels, so anyone who’s read those will finally get to see what these characters look like such as Trescu, Mathieson, and a few other Garasnaya people. The story was pretty gripping and it got into the heads of Adam Fenix, Chairman Prescott, and Hoffman. Of course, by now everyone knows how Gears ends, but this is still a great insight.
Interestingly, WildStorm dropped the series shortly after the Barren mini-series and DC Comics picked it up. I don’t know if it wasn’t profitable anymore — I highly doubt the comic series sold very well. After the switch to DC, the artwork went down the wayside yet the stories were a little better. Seeing as the series only ran for 24 issues (2 years) I’m guessing after Gears of War 3 they didn’t expect it to sell. It went on for quite a while as most video game comics are only one mini-series long. If you are a hardcore Gears of War fan I recommend at least picking up the last two mini-series. The series went through some ups and downs, but it was solid for a franchise that mainly focused on shooting things.