Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Volume 2 Review (Christos Gage, Jeff Parker)

Legends of the Dark Knight was originally conceived as a series of short stories set in Batman’s early days with a revolving door of creative teams doing each story and, though the short story format has been kept, the early Batman angle’s been dropped so they’re now just Batman shorts set whenever. And like most short story collections, this one is a mixed bag.

It’s also a surprising collection as this book features stories from both Jeff “Batman ’66” Parker and Christos Gage and I ended up loving Gage’s comic and felt nothing towards Parker’s!

Gage’s story has Batman being dosed with a new strain of Scarecrow’s fear toxin, throwing him into a harsh parallel world where his exploits as Batman have left him crippled and delusionary – or is that the real world and his “reality” the delusion? Gage plays up the parallel world so convincingly that you end up thinking that crazy, wheelchair-ridden Bruce is the reality as it starts to make more sense. Jheremy Raapack contributes the best art of the book with his work on this story and I loved his Batman and Scarecrow designs – very cool, I’d love to see more of this artist’s work on Batman and other DC properties.

Parker’s story on the other hand is the dictionary definition of forgettable Batman – some thieves rob a jewellery store and get taken down by Batman. That’s it. Granted it’s fast paced and a fairly good version of that scenario, but it’s so unremarkable and drab that it’s hard to believe that this is the same guy who gave us the colourfully creative Batman ’66 series.

The other standouts were basically horror stories starring Batman. Ricardo Sanchez and Sergio Sandoval’s wonderfully gothic story, Unnatural Selection, features weird crypto-taxidermy creatures that’ve somehow come to life and are running amok in Gotham, while Rob Williams and Juan Jose Ryp’s spooky story of a really, really white dude and his terrifying van was awesome. They never show what’s in the back of the van either, so it’s up to the reader to fill in the blank, a neat trick borrowed from Edwardian horror maestro, MR James.

Paul Tobin’s story was so dull I instantly forgot it after reading it (Bandette is seeming to be more and more of a one off hit for him) but I enjoyed Tradd Moore’s art, which is always fantastic. Michael Avon Oeming’s art is also great in his story but don’t think Oeming’s quite there yet as a writer.

There are other stories here but those are the notable ones. The only other one to mention is David Tischman and Chris Sprouse’s story, Abbatoir, which is a total ripoff of the Image series, Chew: Batman’s on the hunt for a guy who eats people and experiences their memories. It’s played totally straight so of course the guy comes off as a total creep akin to Buffalo Bill or Hannibal Lector but the way it’s handled turns it into a pretty bland serial killer story that’s nowhere near as fun or brilliant as John Layman and Rob Guillory’s series.

The good stories to bad ratio is more even in this second volume than it was in the first but it’s still a decent collection featuring a plethora of top comics talent with something for every Batman fan – the standout stories alone make it worth picking up.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Volume 2

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