It’s a Classic: ‘Batman: Year One’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“From this moment on…none of you are safe”

Batman Year One

An example of the amazing artwork for ‘Batman: Year One’ by David Mazzucchelli (image credit: DC Comics).

Year:  1987

Written by:  Frank Miller / art by:  David Mazzucchelli / colours by:  Richmond Lewis

What’s it about?

As Gotham City faces endless crime and corruption, billionaire Bruce Wayne decides to adopt the vigilante persona of ‘the Batman’ and soon learns he may have an ally in Gotham Police Lieutenant James Gordon…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Subsequent to the culture shattering success of The Dark Knight Returns, “Year One” is Frank Miller’s other – no less significant – seminal Batman work.  Originally published as a four-part story arc in Batman (volume 1) issues #404-407 and collected numerously over the past thirty years, Batman: Year One, as the title suggests, chronicles the Dark Knight’s first year of crime-fighting in Gotham City.  Written by Miller, with art by David Mazzucchelli (who also collaborated with Miller on the iconic Daredevil story “Born Again”) and colours by Richmond Lewis, Year One is a perfect companion piece to The Dark Knight Returns.  Although Year One is a more grounded and less politically charged affair than that former work (which takes place out of the regular continuity in an alternate 1980s), there is a clear sense that they share the same DNA.

A Batman tale infused with influences of detective noir and classic crime fiction, Year One (which itself would go on to influence director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins) sees the return of Bruce Wayne to his home after several years away, discovering that things have only gotten worse as criminal gangs – spearheaded by mob boss Carmine Falcone aka “The Roman” – and dishonest officials feed the societal decay afflicting the people of Gotham City.  Whilst Year One depicts the beginnings of Bruce Wayne’s rise as the Batman, it’s equally a story about future police commissioner James Gordon, newly transferred to the Gotham City Police Department who, faced with a corrupt police system and bent colleagues on the take, fights to preserve the values of the good and freely practice the true and trusted responsibilities of law enforcement.  Miller deftly builds and intertwines this dual narrative as destiny draws both Wayne and Gordon together – kindred souls on different sides of legality ultimately battling for the same cause.

Batman Year One (2)

More of David Mazzucchelli’s incredible art (image credit: DC Comics).

What is especially appealing about Year One is that Miller is not afraid to explore the frailties of the central heroes, which only makes the characters richer and more relatable.  Bruce continues to be haunted by the murder of his parents, his anger fuelling his war on crime and the actions he undertakes as he becomes a feared creature of the night.  He’s far less brutal than the elder and more grizzled man he is in The Dark Knight Returns (and in fact commits several heroic acts in the story, including saving the life of Gordon’s son) but the seeds are planted here.  Gordon himself is inherently a decent man working hard to protect all that he loves and values but despite being a devoted husband and father succumbs to an affair with his GCPD partner, Sarah.  Selina Kyle is less clear cut, a prostitute and thief who decides enough is enough and that those less fortunate need not fear the criminal gang hierarchy as she begins to adopt a certain feline-fatale vigilante persona of her own.

Year One is beautifully realised by David Mazzucchelli (whose Bruce Wayne bares a nifty resemblance to Hollywood legend Gregory Peck) with a clean, classic pulp style that’s moodily enhanced by the nuances of Richmond Lewis’s colour palette, giving the visuals an appropriate film-noir appearance.  It’d also be remiss not to mention the lettering by Tod Klein, which is especially effective in the monologues, adding to the poetic quality of Miller’s writing all making for one of the all-time greatest Batman stories.

Standout moment

Injured and forced into the basement of a dilapidated building, Batman faces capture as a SWAT team closes in on him…but they didn’t reckon on his ingenuity as he calls for ‘backup’.

Geek fact!

Ben Mackenzie, who portrayed James Gordon in Batman prequel series Gotham provided the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman in the 2011 animated adaptation of Year One.

If you like this then check out…

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns : considered by many as Frank Miller’s magnum opus that’s not just a phenomenal, operatic Batman story but also a landmark in comics and pop culture.

Batman: The Killing Joke : Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s iconic Joker story is a stark, shocking and dramatic affair and presents a possible origin for the homicidal and psychotic Clown Prince of Crime.

All images herein remain the property of the copyright owners and are used for illustrative purposes only.

Film Review: ‘The Death of Superman’

Warner Bros Animation makes another attempt at adapting an iconic Superman story…

Death of Superman

The Man of Steel prepares to meet his doom in Warner Bros Animation’s ‘The Death of Superman’ (image credit: Warner Bros, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring (voices):  Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Matt Lanter, Shemar Moore, Jason O’Mara

Directed by:  Jake Castorena and Sam Liu / Written by: Peter Tomasi / 80 minutes

What’s it about?

Superman faces his greatest challenge when a mysterious and brutal creature arrives on Earth and begins tearing its way through Metropolis…

In review

After the lacklustre Superman: Doomsday (released in 2007), Warner Bros Animation takes another stab at adapting the iconic 1990’s DC Comics storyline – elements of which were also incorporated into Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman.  This time WB is taking the same approach as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by splitting the story into two parts, beginning with The Death of Superman and to be concluded in Reign of the Superman, which is due for release next year.

More satisfying than the aforementioned Doomsday, The Death of Superman is an enjoyable, albeit not totally perfect, entry in Warner Bros’ DC animated universe.  Written by comic book scribe Peter Tomasi (writer of the acclaimed DC Rebirth Superman series), the screenplay does a commendable job of streamlining– and in a few areas improve – the original comics storyline which had the luxury of several issues to expand into numerous sub-plots.  The result is a loose reinterpretation that focuses on the relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane, providing a solid emotional core that pays off when the Man of Steel is faced against Doomsday – the powerful and unstoppable destructive force that smashes its way through Metropolis.

It’s a little slow and uneventful to begin with but once Doomsday arrives and the tension begins to build it picks up the pace and becomes more engaging, the final third largely a prolonged (and quite bloody, this isn’t one for younger viewers) battle between Superman and his titanic foe.  That was the only real highlight of Superman: Doomsday and directors Jake Castorena and Sam Liu deliver some exciting and impactful action scenes that rival the 2007 film.

One key improvement made by Tomasi’s script (which drops in some neat references to Superman: The Movie and the 1966 Batman television series) is an increased and more integral role for the Justice League and whilst this is still Superman’s story, there’s some fun and insightful interaction between the various team members, with wisecracking exchanges between Green Lantern and the Flash adding a dash of humour whilst Superman and Wonder Woman open up as they contemplate their past relationship.  The team’s failure to halt Doomsday’s rampage raises the stakes and adds to the sense of impending doom making the final showdown all the more intense.

The voice cast is very good, Jerry O’Connell is a strong and reassuring Superman with a more grounded and vulnerable approach to Clark Kent, Rebecca Romijn (Mystique in Fox’s original X-Men trilogy) brings a warmth and determination to Lois Lane and The Office and Star Trek: Discovery star Rainn Wilson delivers a spirited performance as Lex Luthor, infusing him with the right measure of arrogance and menace, although Clancy Brown is still arguably the definitive choice.  Justice League voice artists including Jason O’Mara, Rosario Dawson and Nathan Fillion (Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, respectively) reprise their roles as the various DC heroes whilst Black Lightning’s Cress Williams is a welcome addition as John Henry Irons – a character that as fans know plays a big part in the “Reign of the Supermen” arc.

Visually, The Death of Superman is decent if a bit unremarkable – character designs are generally strong (adopting the same anime-esque style of previous releases such as Justice League: War and Justice League: Throne of Atlantis) but environments are pretty sparse and lack detail.

The Death of Superman doesn’t evoke that more immersive and cinematic feel of The Dark Knight Returns and that stops it from fully living up to its potential.  Perhaps this might have been achieved by having it be a standalone project (with a slightly bigger budget) rather than incorporating it into the continuity of the main DC animated films (established in 2014’s Justice League: War), or maybe it’s because the source material is just not as strong or as nuanced as Frank Miller’s seminal Batman tale – that’s all a matter of perspective and open up for debate but as is, The Death of Superman is a worthwhile watch if only at least to erase disappointing memories of Doomsday.

The bottom line:  The Death of Superman is a more successful version of the classic Superman story that although falling short of greatness is non-the-less an enjoyable watch and superior to WB Animation’s previous attempt.

The Death of Superman is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download now.  Reign of the Superman will be released in 2019.

Comics Review: ‘Batman’ #50

The Bat and the Cat are ready to make their vows… 

Batman #50.jpg

Mikel Janin’s cover art for the milestone ‘Batman’ #50 (image belongs: DC, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Written by:  Tom King / art by:  Mikel Janin (plus guest contributors) / colours by:  June Chung

What’s it about?

“The Wedding” : the day has arrived and the venue is set as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle prepare to tie the knot…

In review

Batman #50 is significant for more reasons than one, not only is it the fiftieth issue of the current volume of Batman it also marks the half-way point of Tom King’s proposed 100-issue run on the book and the culmination of a storyline the writer has been building for some time, but it’s also a celebration of two iconic characters whose lives have been intertwined for what seems like forever.

Any issue of Batman by Tom King is never less than interesting and more often than not inventive and gripping, so whilst this extra-sized anniversary issue may not completely live up to the set-up of the lead in of #’s 48 & 49 (the superb two-parter “The Best Man”) or hit the emotional heights of Batman Annual #2, it’s still a skilfully constructed and deftly executed comic.  In a similar vein to his earlier “Superfriends” arc, King splits the majority of the narrative between Batman and Catwoman as they both go about their respective ‘tasks’ with the ever-excellent Mikel Janin pencilling these main sequences, we see Selina hook-up with old friend Holly Robinson (who first appeared in Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: Year One) and Bruce enlist the support of Alfred as the Bride and Groom make final preparations.

What’s interesting is that between those regular pages are single page spreads by a number of past and present Batman artists including Tony S. Daniel, Frank Miller, Jason Fabok, Neal Adams, Clay Mann, Tim Sale and Andy Kubert (to name just a few) that are almost like snapshots that highlight the history of the Bat and the Cat’s relationship.  King laces these pages with some deep and poetic dialogue in the form of letters the couple have written to one another which ponders the big questions – can Catwoman be truly good?  Will this marriage make Bruce happy?  Can Bruce’s mission as the Batman continue?  These are things that readers have not doubt been asking themselves and King delves deeply into these themes.

Aside from the roster of guest artists, King pays tribute to some of the many great Batman writers by weaving their names into Gotham itself – from Kane Plaza and Finger Tower to O’Neil Ave and the Englehart and Conway Bedrooms of Wayne Manor, it’s a pleasing complement to the rich creative history of a titanic figure of pop culture.

As for the conclusion of the story, despite the release of spoilers prior to the issue’s publication, this review will not delve into the specifics and readers should check it out for themselves.  Needless to say, if you haven’t been reading Tom King’s run on Batman you’re definitely missing out on some great comics.

The bottom line:  A fitting culmination of one of Tom King’s biggest Batman stories, Batman #50 is a satisfying celebration of two iconic comic book characters and their legacy.

Batman #50 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now

Film Review: ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’

Starring (voices):  Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Ray Wise

Directed by:  Sam Liu / Written by:  Brian Azzarrello / 76 minutes

What’s it about?

Hunting for an escaped Joker, Batman finds himself in a race against time to rescue Commissioner Gordon form the clutches of the deranged Clown Prince of Crime…

In review

Having already adapted Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: Year One and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, it was always inevitable that Warner Brothers Animation would turn to tackling that other celebrated DC Comics work of the 1980s, writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke.  A dark and psychologically complex tale that’s equally unnerving, The Killing Joke adapted as an adult-rated animated feature would surely be a ready-made success?  Though enjoyable in many areas, Batman: The Killing Joke also proves flawed and never manages to hit the heights of the two-part adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns (which in all fairness is an entirely different story and set on a much larger scale).  The main issue lies with the source material, though Moore and Bolland’s graphic novel is an undisputed and flawless classic, it’s relatively short length would have resulted in too brief a running time had it been adapted ‘as is’.  As a result screenwriter (and fan favourite DC Comics scribe) Brian Azzarello has produced a wholly original 30-minute opening act focusing on Barbara Gordon/Batgirl that ultimately offers less to the overall story than it would hope to add.

There is a positive point to the opening act of The Killing Joke in that it provides Barbara Gordon with a larger role and resultantly a richer character arc in the story as Azzarello draws a complex and controversial relationship between Batman and Batgirl, set against her obsessive quest to bring down gangster Paris Franz (Maury Sterling).  It certainly helps the viewer to establish a deeper connection with Barbara adding some emotional weight to events later on yet it’s the almost jarring transition from this new material to the familiar where things falter, as nothing from the Franz sub-plot and very little from the Batman/Batgirl dynamic carries over into the rest of the film.  It’s appreciated that this would cause further deviation from Moore and Bolland’s original story and thus might have resulted in a messier final product but it’s a shame that even a small attempt to tie the two elements together couldn’t have been made.

The opening Batgirl story aside, the actual adaptation of The Killing Joke works relatively well.  It’s pleasingly faithful, the adult rating ensuring that director Sam Liu is able to depict every gut twisting moment uncensored, with some beautiful animation work utilising a style that sits somewhere between the realistic look of the Batman: Year One (also helmed by Liu) adaptation and the slightly more caricature visuals of The Dark Knight Returns.  Wisely, some of Brian Bolland’s most memorable and evocative panels are replicated perfectly at several key moments in the film which will give many a reason to pull out their copies of the graphic novel.

Of course, one of the greatest joys of The Killing Joke is that it features the return of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in their respective and much loved Batman: The Animated Series roles as Bruce Wayne/Batman and the Joker.  They’re as great as they’ve ever been, Hamill in particular as he deftly straddles a fine line between serious and outright manic, his evermore gravelly tones delivering a reliably unsettling yet still silly Joker (aided by an odd but nifty musical number).  Tara Strong also reprises her Batgirl role from The New Batman Adventures and makes a decent job of conveying the more layered approach to the character featured here, whereas Robocop’s Ray Wise is a little flat as Commissioner Gordon which is slightly disappointing given what happens to him in the story.

Sweetening the deal are a number of nice little easter eggs for fans to lap up including visual references to Jokers from Tim Burton’s Batman and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (both of which were heavily influenced by The Killing Joke) and a twist on that iconic cover image from Detective Comics #27.

Despite some positive points, there’s an overriding sense that the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke comes off feeling a little slight and at times lacking the impact of the graphic novel (especially in the often dissected and endlessly debated finale) and the additional material would have arguably been better served expanded into its own feature.  Still, with Conroy and Hamill on hand and some striking visuals and a respectful adherence to the work by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland there’s still enough reason for fans to check out this latest DC Comics venture from Warner Brothers Animation.

The bottom line:  Though flawed, the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke still makes for an enjoyable watch that will ultimately lead fans yearning to revisit Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s original graphic novel.

Batman: The Killing Joke is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download now.

Batman (Kevin Conroy) and the Joker (Mark Hamill) face off in the Warner Brothers Animation adaptation of seminal DC Comics graphic novel 'Batman: The Killing Joke'.

Batman (Kevin Conroy) and the Joker (Mark Hamill) face off in the Warner Brothers Animation adaptation of seminal DC Comics graphic novel ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’.

Film Review: ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (spoiler-free)

Please Note:  this review is deemed ‘spoiler-free’ on the basis that readers have seen the previously released full length trailers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

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Starring:  Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons

Directed by:  Zack Snyder / Written by:  Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer / 151 minutes

What’s it about?

Believing that the consequences of Superman’s actions may present a threat to humanity, Bruce Wayne shifts the focus of his war on crime as the Batman to facing off against the Man of Steel…

In review

The “grudge match of the century” is finally here as Warner Brothers’ DC Comics superhero sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice comes thundering onto cinema screens.  Both continuing the story which began in Zack Snyder’s 2013 Superman reboot, Man of Steel and setting the stage for the larger canvas of the big screen DC Comics Extended Universe, BvS happily succeeds more often than it might fail.

With Snyder returning to the director’s seat and a screenplay written by Chris Terrio (Argo) and David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, Man of Steel), BvS picks up during the cataclysmic events at the climax of Man of Steel, the decimation of the city of Metropolis wrought by General Zod and Superman’s desperate efforts to stop him resulting in personal tragedy for Wayne Enterprises CEO Bruce Wayne.  Flash forward eighteen months and Wayne still grieves for the loss of his employees and becomes increasingly angered by the presence of an incredibly powerful being given liberty to act freely with no check in place.  Most see Superman as a heroic figure or a messiah but Wayne feels it’s time to reassess the Kryptonian Man of Steel’s place in the world and can only present a challenge as the Dark Knight of Gotham City.

Drawing heavily from Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, BvS carries a lot of narrative weight via it’s psychological examinations and philosophical debate and is arguably all the better for it.  Just as Frank Miller explored (and satirised) the political and social landscape of the 1980s, this film equally poses the questions that would present themselves in today’s climate of anti-terrorism and accountability.  There’s no doubt that Superman’s intentions are true but we see that there are consequences to his actions that affect others.  Likewise, Bruce Wayne’s methods as the dark vigilante known as Batman are also questionable as we’re left to ponder about how far is too far.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of BvS will equate to how you felt about Man of Steel, Zack Snyder as a filmmaker and dark, brooding – yet cerebral – superhero stories.  This is certainly a dark film, even in its few lighter moments and amongst the requisite and effects laden comic book action.  Similarly this is very much a Zack Snyder film in that BvS is not as intricately conceived and as masterfully executed as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight but is non-the-less a well-constructed and visually impressive film.  There will be flaws should you look too deep yet with this in mind then in more instances than not it’s likely that your geek voice will prevail over any critical mumblings.  With some time taken to sow the seeds for next year’s DC heroes round-up in Justice League Part One there is a fair heft of mythology and a number of WTF?! moments (one sequence in particular) that, to a degree, become jumbled in the mix and might leave the more casual viewer (or at least those who are not as well versed in DC Comics lore) bewildered.  Similarly there are some narrative elements that feel they warrant further exploration or elaboration – hence the announcement that Warner’s home video release plans include an extended cut of the film.

Whilst there is some great depth to the story and themes of BvS, this is also a comic book film and Snyder bombards the senses with nerve jangling and explosive action sequences that some may find a little heavy and energetic, albeit not as overbearing as, say, Transformers: Age of Extinction.  The inevitable face-off between Batman and Superman is as exciting and cool as would be hoped for and although the climactic battle with the Doomsday creature might come off as a little ‘videogame-y’ it’s part and parcel of today’s blockbusters and facilitates sizeable stakes and a powerful threat to unite the central heroes.

Snyder and Warner Brothers assemble an enviable troupe of actors here.  Firstly, Henry Cavill slips comfortably back into the role of Clark Kent/Superman and together with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane pick up where they left off in Man of Steel, Jesse Eisenberg surprises as an enjoyably eccentric and psychotic Lex Luthor and Gal Gadot delights as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (her triumphant entrance as the latter leaving no doubt that next summer’s solo outing is going to be a treat).  Yet their biggest casting coup, greeted with such controversy and trepidation, is Ben Affleck.  Affleck quickly allays any fears or doubts and proves to be the perfect choice for this iteration of Bruce Wayne/Batman.  As Wayne, Affleck exudes the right measure of assuredness and arrogance of his Playboy bachelor persona whilst effectively conveying the torture and continuing trauma of his parents’ murders and a dynamic range of humanity as he unloads both his fears and determination to his one true confidant and sounding board, Alfred (a reliably well-mannered Jeremy Irons).  Weary, cynical and tired of twenty years of fighting crime in Gotham City, Affleck proves to be adept in cranking up the intensity to present us with a Batman torn straight from the panels of The Dark Knight Returns, a shadowy, almost demonic figure striking fear into the hearts of criminals, often pushing himself to the edge to deliver a more brutal solution to the failings of ‘true’ justice.

When all is said and done, BvS unites the DC Comics ‘Trinity’ (and founding Justice League members) of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman and provides a satisfying, epic and often thought provoking slice of comic book action that stands as a solid follow up to Man of Steel and a vital stepping stone in the burgeoning DC Comics film series.

The bottom line:  Dark and cerebral, epic and bombastic, please everyone it might not but for fans of comic book superheroes, Batman v Superman presents a solid next step in the DC Comics Extended Universe.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is in cinemas now.

The Dark Knight faces the Man of Steel in Warner Brothers'/DC Comics' 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'.

The Dark Knight faces the Man of Steel in Warner Brothers’/DC Comics’ ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’.

Comic Review: ‘Daredevil’ #1

The devil fights again…

Written by:  Charles Soule / pencils by:  Ron Garney / colours by:  Matt Milla

What’s it about?

Blind lawyer Matt Murdock has returned to the streets of New York to fight the criminal underworld as masked vigilante Daredevil…

In review

Daredevil #1 is the latest addition to Marvel Comics’ All-New, All-Different initiative and a relaunch for another of their long established characters.  Taking over the reins from Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, writer Charles Soule and artist Ron Garney reset the world of Matt Murdock post-Secret Wars and return him to New York after relocating to San Francisco during the latter part of the Waid/Samnee run.  Fans of Mark Waid’s (generally) lighter, happy-go-lucky take on the character may find this relaunch a little jarring at first as Soule and Garney bring back the grit and darkness of the days of writers Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker (perhaps partly instigated by the success of the Netflix series launched earlier this year?) and as refreshing and fun as Waid’s approach was, it’s a welcome return to form for the Man Without Fear.

Given his experiences as a lawyer, Charles Soule is an ideal fit for Daredevil and seems to have a good handle on the established character of Murdock whilst deftly weaving new elements into the status quo.  Whilst Murdock is now acting as prosecutor for the state, as Daredevil he must contend with the lurking threat of new villain ‘Tenfingers’ but it looks like he won’t have to face this alone as Soule introduces us to Blindspot, DD’s new crime-fighting partner/vigilante-in-training.  Early on, Soule rightly relinquishes much of the narrative focus to this new partnership as Murdock (donning his new, darker Daredevil suit that’s befitting of the title’s overall tone) trains his ‘sidekick’ as they conduct a brutal face off with a street gang that has links to Tenfingers.  With reference to Murdock’s own training by Stick, there’s a pleasing sense that the pupil has now become the teacher with Murdock’s Daredevil playing irascible sensei to Blindspot’s misguided protégé.

Ron Garney’s rough and inkless pencils matches Soule’s writing perfectly and complemented nicely by Matt Manilla’s subdued colour palette that (the odd effective highlight aside) allows only hints of washed-out crimson and cool blues to seep through, bringing the violent, grimy and decaying underbelly of New York to life.  A far cry from the clean lines and vivid colours of Waid/Samnee’s tenure to be sure and a welcome visual refresh that’s more reminiscent of Alex Maleev and Michael Lark whilst establishing a look that’s still of its own.

As with the rest of Marvel’s All-New, All-Different relaunch, a leap of faith is required by the reader as we know nothing of what has transpired in the eight month gap following the conclusion of events in Secret Wars (which still has two issues left to go) but no doubt that in good time the missing details will be fleshed out.

The bottom line:  Marvel’s ‘Man Without Fear’ makes a welcome return to darker and grittier times that only serves for greater dramatic and artistic potential, courtesy of a promising new creative team.

Daredevil #1 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Cover art for Marvel Comics' 'Daredevil' #1 by Ron Garney.

Cover art for Marvel Comics’ ‘Daredevil’ #1 by Ron Garney.

Comic Review: ‘The Dark Knight III: The Master Race” #1

In Darkest Knight…

Written by:  Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello / pencilled by:  Andy Kubert / inks by:  Klaus Janson

What’s it about?

The Dark Knight has returned once again and his mysterious and brutal attacks on the Gotham City Police set him on a collision course with Commissioner Yindel…

In review

The long awaited continuation of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight saga is finally here as The Master Race is unleashed upon the DC Comics readership who have anticipated this title with both excitement and trepidation.  The sequel to Miller’s seminal masterpiece The Dark Knight Returns and the not-so-well received and downright bizarre The Dark Knight Strikes Again, The Master Race sees Miller team up with celebrated comics writer Brian Azzarello – known for having penned numerous standout DC Comics stories including Batman: “Broken City”, Superman: “For Tomorrow”, Joker and Lex Luthor (as well as a highly regarded run on Wonder Woman for DC’s New 52).

Whilst Miller’s contribution to comics cannot be understated and both Year One and The Dark Knight Returns are definitive Batman stories, his later work was found to be less so and it’s clear that Azzarello has worked with Miller to refine and filter his ideas to deliver something more cohesive and classic that both harkens back to those aforementioned masterworks and simultaneously brings the world of The Dark Knight up to date.  In terms of story, very little actually happens in this opening chapter of The Master Race but this simply follows the slow-burn approach that was a key part of the structure of The Dark Knight Returns.  Instead, readers are reintroduced to Miller’s world and his chosen cast of characters including the likes of Commissioner Yindel, Wonder Woman, Lara and a frozen (undoubtedly soon to be thawed out) Superman.  As with previous Dark Knight instalments there are a wealth of newscast talking heads delivering much of the exposition (as well as conveying commentary on the social and political lanscape) and the Batman’s appearances are kept largely in the shadows before pulling the rug from underneath the reader with a killer final page that will leave many reeling – and counting the days – until the next issue is published.

Much is relinquished to the visuals in this first issue and Andy Kubert’s pencils are the star of the show, enriched by the inks of Miller’s long-time collaborator, Klaus Janson.  Kubert refrains from wholly mimicking Miller’s style in favour of simply peppering his own with subtle hints of Miller-isms.  This is unmistakably the world Miller depicted in The Dark Knight Returns with Kubert delivering panel upon panel of intricate detail that together with Janson’s inks and Brad Anderson’s appropriately muted colours presents an epic, cinematic and nourish visual feast.

The Master Race is obviously Frank Miller’s idea but it’s through his collaboration with co-writer Brian Azzarello and penciller Andy Kubert that this eight issue series is likely to succeed where The Dark Knight Strikes Again failed, time will tell but this feels like it has the potential to be the “next” classic Batman story.

The bottom line:  The Master Race has a lot going for it, despite little narrative progression in this first issue there are hints of big things to come and Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson’s art is nothing short of sublime.

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Cover art for DC Comics' 'The Dark Knight III: The Master Race'#1 by Andy Kubert.

Cover art for DC Comics’ ‘The Dark Knight III: The Master Race’#1 by Andy Kubert.

First Impressions: ‘Daredevil’ (Netflix Original Series)

Yesterday saw the long awaited worldwide release of the Netflix Daredevil series and having viewed the first two episodes, titled “Into the Ring” and “Cut Man” – both written by series creator and executive producer Drew Goddard (who exited as showrunner to pursue Sony’s now defunct Sinister Six feature film) – I can safely report that, so far at least, it’s yet another hit for Marvel.  Being a huge fan of the horned defender of Hell’s Kitchen there is a level of bias (there’s even a place for the maligned Ben Affleck film from 2003 in my books) yet beyond the series perfectly capturing the essence of the character and drawing heavily from the very best of the source material, viewers will find that Daredevil is well scripted, well cast and beautifully realised.

Drawing heavily on iconic and fan favourite comic book runs by writers Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker (working with legendary artists Klaus Janson, David Mazzucchelli, Alex Maleev and Michael Lark), Daredevil is exactly as it should be – dark, gritty and brutal yet not without heart and a smattering of humour (reminiscent of Mark Waid’s current tenure).  Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Cox looks, sounds and feels the part as blind attorney Matt Murdock  – a tortured soul whose tragic back story is presented through a series of flashbacks and is ably supported by law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), who provides ‘Murdock and Nelson’ with their first case.  “Cut Man” also introduces us to another citizen of Hell’s Kitchen – Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, the woman who will patch and dress the wounds Murdock sustains in his fight against the criminal underworld.

Murdock’s night time pursuits (beautifully shot by cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd) as the vigilante who will become known as ‘Daredevil’ fulfil the brutal element of the series.  Not being hindered by the constraints of television censorship, Daredevil is not family entertainment and handles the bone-cracking violence (and general adult themes) appropriately.  It’s certainly not gratuitous, but, appropriate.

I’m very much looking forward to the full reveal of Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk (aka ‘Kingpin’), who is teased during the premiere episode and the further development of the Murdock/Nelson/Page ensemble and the evolution of Murdock’s Daredevil persona – especially the costume that Murdock teases is “a work in progress”.

Daredevil is the first of five Marvel/Netflix Original Series with A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist due to follow, culminating in a crossover for Marvel’s street-level heroes in a Defenders limited series.  If the quality of Daredevil is anything to go by then these are exciting times to be a Marvel fan and indeed, a Netflix subscriber.

All thirteen episodes of Daredevil season one are available to stream now worldwide exclusively on Netflix.

Charlie Cox is perfectly cast as the defender of Hell's Kitchen in the gritty and brutal Netflix Original Series 'Daredevil'.

Charlie Cox is perfectly cast as Marvel Comics’ defender of Hell’s Kitchen in the gritty and brutal Netflix Original Series ‘Daredevil’.