Captain Comics: Batman vs. your pandemic boredom

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Nothing stops the Dark Knight, not even a pandemic. Here are some Bat and Bat-adjacent graphic novels, all from DC Comics, all $29.99 (for the hardbacks), all available from bookstores and online retailers:

— “Batman: White Knight” is actually a 2017 miniseries that was collected in trade, hardback and “deluxe” in 2018 and 2019. The reason it’s on this list is A) “Batman: Curse of the White Knight,”a sequel, wrapped in March and should be available in collected form soon, and B) I just finished reading it.

That second point is not to suggest “White Knight” isn’t good — it’s actually very good. It’s written and drawn by Sean Murphy, who has done a lot of terrific material I’ve truly enjoyed, including “American Vampire” (with Scott Snyder), “Joe the Barbarian” (with Grant Morrison) “Punk Rock Jesus” (solo). “White Knight” is certainly up there in quality.

But I was put off at first because the premise is that Batman is more dangerous to Gotham City than a lot of supervillains, and that The Joker isn’t as bad as he seems — in fact, the Gotham City PD has very little evidence of him doing anything wrong. This comes to light when a drug overdose returns the Clown Prince of Crime to sanity, and Jack Napier sues the GCPD and runs for political office.

I really, really don’t care for the “Bat-psycho” trend in Bat-stories, ones which launch from the premise that Batman is just plain crazy, and is responsible for the creation of most of Gotham’s supervillains. I do not like it, Sam I am. I do not like it in “Detective,” I find the Elseworlds quite defective.

So I was put off by the premise when I bought the book a couple of years ago and read the first few pages. Returning to it now (due to the sequel), I am a bit mollified. Because this Batman (and Joker and Gotham City) isn’t “our” Batman (and Joker and Gotham City). “White Knight” takes place in a world where Jason Todd, the second Robin, was the first. And where there are two Harley Quinns, the original, quite sane Harleen Quinzel, and a doppelganger, the demented Marian Drews. (It’s a clever bit that uses as its basis the shift in our world from Harley’s original jester outfit to the current Suicide Squad ensemble.)

Once I got over my prejudice — hey, this world’s Batman might be a little unhinged, but it leaves our Batman alone — I got into the story. Especially since not everything is as cut and dried as the premise lays out. Murphy throws some truly ingenious and entertaining plot twists into the mix.

Meanwhile, speaking of the Motley Maid:

— “Harleen” is the story of how Dr. Harleen Quinzel became Harley Quinn — which, for my money, is a story already told perfectly years ago in “Batman Adventures: Mad Love,” by Harley’s co-creators, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. But if I have to have another version of this origin, it’s a good thing it’s by Stjepan Šejic, whose work (“Witchblade,” “Broken Trinity,” “Sunstone”) I really like.

If you’re a Harley fan, you already know the basic beats. But Šejic ‘s beautiful art and pacing really sells them. Plus, he sprinkles in a few surprises, like where the “Mistah J” nickname comes from, and the exact moment of Harley’s psychotic break (with plenty of terrific set-up and foreshadowing).

I’m still a “Mad Love” fan, but I can make room in my heart for “Harleen.”

— I made a couple of bad assumptions about “Event Leviathan” that makes it hard to give it an objective review.

For one thing, I thought it would primarily be a Batman story, since the premise is that the world’s greatest detectives come together to figure out who and what Leviathan is, a bad guy and bad-guy organization currently running rampant in the Superman books. I also thought I’d get a whole story.

Neither assumption applies.

On the first, this is mainly a Lois Lane story, which makes sense, as “Event Leviathan” arises from Superman comics. And I appreciate that, because I’ve always wanted Lois to be pretty special, and not the joke she was in the ‘60s. Now she’s running with The Batman and other great detectives, and they all regard her as rather dangerous. Good.

Secondly, I’m the perfect candidate to judge whether this story, arising as it does from concurrent events in “Superman” and “Action Comics,” is sufficiently standalone, since I ‘m behind on those books.

Answer: It’s not.

There are several important revelations, climactic scenes and plot progressions that happen elsewhere, which are referred to here (if they are referred to at all) in the past tense. I had to make a number of intuitive leaps to (barely) follow the story, which I think is a pretty serious knock against a $30 book.

Especially since the Leviathan tale is not over: It continues in the Super-books, only now with the bad guy’s identity revealed. (And if you’re not a longtime DC Comics reader, that surprise reveal won’t mean a thing to you.)

— “Batman: Last Knight on Earth” ($29.99) is by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo, who created 50 issues of “Batman” from 2011 to 2016, including the famous “Court of Owls” story. This is their swan song on the character, whose adventures are now in other hands.

It’s a pretty definitive end, too! It takes place in a near future after a catastrophe has swept the Earth. Initially “Bruce Wayne” wakes up in an insane asylum, where everyone tries to convince him his life as Batman was part of a decades-long psychosis, brought on by killing his own parents at the age of 8 in Crime Alley.

Of course that’s not true. But when our hero discovers the truth, it’s actually, somehow, worse! For one thing, he’s not the original Batman. Also, most of the world’s population is dead.

The story follows our protagonist as he explores this dystopia with, strangely, The Joker’s animate head in a jar. That alone should tell you that you’re in for a strange ride. Meanwhile, we find out what happened to some of our other Super Friends, and it’s not pretty. It’s stories like this that remind the reader that Snyder got his start writing horror fiction.

But once again this isn’t “our” Batman, so the fanboy in me will allow all these bizarre and often terrible outcomes. (See “White Knight” above.) It’s a Bat-tale from another Earth, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing for the “real” Batman.

So the only question is: Is it a good story? Well, Snyder and Capullo were beautiful on “Batman,” and the work here is just as beautiful. Beautiful pictures, beautiful storytelling. But be warned: It’s not a story for the faint of heart.

Speaking of which:

— “DCeased” is a zombie apocalypse story. Oh, it’s gussied up in superhero camouflage, but that’s what it is.

As I mentioned in a previous column, Darkseid (the really bad “New God” who runs the planet Apokolips) combines the Anti-Life Equation (which makes people slaves) with a sliver of Death (which makes people dead) and begets an infection that spreads by Internet and TV transmission. That infection turns anybody who looks at almost any screen a slavering, meat-craving monster who can pass on the infection with a bite.

You know, zombies.

The problem here, which you won’t find in “The Walking Dead,” is super-powered zombies. How do you stop a crazed Flash? A flesh-hungry Aquaman? In fact, it feels like writer Tom Tyler is gung ho on transforming all of DC’s A-list heroes into zombies, and pitting them against younger versions of the heroes and/or former sidekicks.

Spoiler: This isn’t really a Batman story either. But he is involved, and his involvement is … interesting. (Even Green Arrow is surprised.) But I don’t want to spoil anything.

And I don’t have much more to say. I mean, after “super-powered zombies,” I assume some people are interested, and some people are not, with very few in between.


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