So you leave comics for a few years, come back and everything’s changed, and not necessarily for the better. I’ve been a fan of Spider-man since… well, since I was younger than he is now. In the good old days, Peter Parker bumbled through life, jobs, education, ulcers, women, other superheroes and a whole raft of unlikely villains who, truth told, should have cleaned his clock at every outing. Still, being possessed of weird powers derived from a creepy-crawly, a genius-level intellect (his own hard work, not a mutation or the after-effect of being bitten by a radioactive Stephen Hawking) was enough to dispatch enemies with fearsome names like The Rhino, the Scorpion, Doctor Octopus, and the somewhat less fearsome Tinkerer; there was even a super-villain called The Fly; things were never going to end well for that fella.
Yup, the good old days.
Fast forward a few years, after the wilderness period of high literature and arty hats, and I’m back reading comics, and Spider-man has changed beyond all recognition. Well, I say ‘all recognition’, but that’s not strictly true. I do recognise him: he looks a lot like Batman.
Okay, it’s not really a movie, but it’s based on a classic piece of comicdom, so in my book that means it’s worth a look.
If you’re even just an occasional reader of Batman comics, then the chances are you’ve heard of the Killing Joke. When it was released in 1988, comics stopped being comics; they became graphic novels. Up until then, Batman was a fairly nice guy; a bit like the fella in the sixties series staring Adam West. Hell, he even smiled. But the Killing Joke introduced a different caped crusader: obsessed, brutal and brooding, and this was a different kind of comi—sorry—graphic novel: gothic, violent and raw. It turns out that Batman is as much of a whack-job as the Joker, but I think we all kind of suspected that.
Fans loved it, and the new Batman stuck.
So of course, the Killing Joke needs to be a movie, or at the very least, a cartoon. The only thing I don’t get is why it took so long. It’s not as if Mark Hamill is that busy.
It’s no secret: I’m not a huge fan of DC Comics, what with their godlike superheroes, non-existent cities and poor run of films … I’ ve pretty much steered clear of their ouput for years. But I’m an impulse buyer, which is expensive, but occasionally nets a pleasant surprise. And this year’s surprise was Batman. I bought one while I was on holiday (can’t even think why I went for that when there was a whole stack of unread Guardians of the Galaxy in the app next door), and now I’m wondering if I’ve been missing something for all these years. I’m also wondering why if their comics can be this good, there films are so bad. It’s no surprise that when given the choice for a holiday impulse buy, I went for the comics featuring heroes with no powers at all: Batman (four issues) and Nightwing (Batman Junior, one issue). I’m still avoiding Superman and his family of immortal, unbeatable invulnerablesBut what about Batman. Right, I don’t mind a bit of darkness, but for me, Batman was always too dark, too introspective, too dull. Since the DC reset, things seem to have changed. Yes, he’s still dark, still introspective, but now we’re getting more Bruce Wayne and more of his relationship with Alfred, more of his life outside of the Batcave. We’ve got light (my God, the sun occasionally shines in Gotham), we’ve got humour (Alfred is delivering some very dry one-liners), we’ve got humanity. And there were a few moments that were genuinely heartbreaking. Here we have a superhero who is painfully aware that what he does will eventually kill him; no two ways about it.
We’ve got a much better comic, simply by remembering that people are not one thing all of the time.
I didn’t like Nightwing as much, but still, it was a lot better than I was expecting (it’s early days), and the artwork in both books is absolutely superb. I’m going to stick with both, and who knows, I may become a DC fan after all; I’m part way there already. I just hope that the improvements in the comics filter through to the screen.