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Greatest Batman Stories: Beware The Gray Ghost

beware-the-gray-ghost-btasWhat happens when a foundational memory from Bruce Wayne’s past plays into one of his current investigations as Batman? The trail leads him an actor and television hero whose knowledge and support are the only way to crack the case in the classic Batman: The Animated Series episode The Gray Ghost.

When reviewing the series as a whole, the strongest episodes of Batman: The Animated Series typically focus on iconic villains (like Almost Got ‘Im) or do something really out of the ordinary with the plot (like Over the Edge). On the other hand, the weakest episodes most often focus on original villains that are fairly bland and forgettable, which is unfortunately a trend with the first season of the series (like The Underdwellers or Prophecy of Doom). However, Beware the Gray Ghost is one of the few episodes that completely bucks the trend, using one-off original characters to tell a touching and meaningful story that resonates through its real world connections.

At its core, Beware the Gray Ghost is a story about nostalgia and human connection, as well as their positive and negative effects on others. The episode opens with a flashback to young Bruce Wayne watching his favorite television show “The Gray Ghost,” a series about a pulp hero fighting crime, which clearly has parallels to modern Bruce’s adventures as Batman. However, a series of bombings in Gotham City by “The Mad Bomber” has distinct connections to a previous episode of “The Gray Ghost” that also followed The Mad Bomber and his ransom demands. Bruce’s search for the old television episode leads him to Simon Trent, the now-washed up and desperate actor who once played The Gray Ghost.

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Gotham City Will Eat You Alive – “Batman: The Black Mirror”

batman-the-black-mirror-comicThe ideas of Batman and Gotham City are forever intertwined. For Bruce Wayne, Gotham’s crime and corruption are what led to the murders of his parents, which forever drive his war as Batman. For Gotham, Batman is an icon of hope, battling those that would take advantage of the innocent and inspiring its people to embrace something better. While that cycle may be one of hope and heroism, there is a darker side to it as well. One of voracious darkness that consumes those that try and wage war against it.

It’s this abyss within Gotham that writer Scott Snyder and artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla dove into with their modern classic comic book storyline Batman: The Black Mirror, which was originally published in the pages of Detective Comics #871 through #881 in 2011. Its dark twists and unrelenting gothic nature make it one of the newest essential era stories for Batman fans of all kinds.

Set during a time in DC Comics when Dick Grayson (also known as Nightwing, the former Robin) has taken on the identity of Batman in Gotham City while Bruce Wayne operates as Batman elsewhere in the world, The Black Mirror focuses on the toll that Gotham City itself takes on Grayson, as well as on Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. Using a dueling narrative, The Black Mirror switches back and forth between the two men, as Grayson fights against several new criminal operations that redefine crime in Gotham while Gordon deals with the return of his son, James Gordon, Jr., a man in his early 20s whose sociopathic tendancies may or may not have led to murder. As their stories become more and more intertwined, they must reconcile themselves with the inability to ever completely understand Gotham and the almost living darkness that the city breeds within people.

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Batman Day 2016: My Top 7 Articles on Batman

September 17 is the third annual Batman Day, celebrating The Dark Knight and his many adventures in the more than 75 years since his debut in Detective Comics #27. While a fictional character who is known and loved around the world like Batman doesn’t need a dedicated day to be celebrated, it’s always fun to have another chance to show The Caped Crusader some love. And in the course of the more than three years that Crisis on Infinite Thoughts has been running, I’ve created numerous pieces on comic books, films, cartoons, and many pieces of lore surrounding Batman.

My love for Batman was sparked at an early age, with Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series beginning its run on television when I was very young. These early episodes hooked me into the world of Batman when I was still learning to love superheroes and the imprint that the show had on my formative years has informed much of both my love for the character and my broader personal tastes concerning heroes and media in general.

The following five articles are some of the pieces that I am most proud of from over the years. Check them out, learn something new about Batman, and have fun celebrated one of the most enduring and vibrant fictional characters of the modern age. Happy Batman Day!

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Greatest Batman Stories: “Over the Edge”

The final days of Batman have captured the imaginations of writers and audiences alike for decades, with comic books like The Dark Knight Returns and films like The Dark Knight Rises exploring the idea in a variety of ways. But one of its darkest and most grimly exhilarating interpretations was brought to life by Batman: The Animated Series in the 1998 episode “Over the Edge,” which follows a destructive war between Batman and Commissioner Gordon, former allies turned deadly enemies in the wake of Batgirl’s death.

B:TAS is a nearly never-ending source for fantastic Batman stories, ranging from thrilling one-of-a-kind adventures to character-redefining origins. In “Over the Edge,” written by Paul Dini, who is responsible for many of the greatest B:TAS episodes, audiences are given a glimpse into what the ultimate end of The Dark Knight could be, should a life of crime fighting take its darkest turn. While some “what if” tales of Batman’s end find the hero sacrificing it all to stop a legion of villains and others detail an aged Dark Knight finding peace after a life of crime fighting, “Over the Edge” is all about sudden and terrible tragedy abruptly destroying the life of Batman and his allies in their prime. It’s far different from the type of story that has been revisited again and again in various mediums and is all the better for it.

Kickstarting in media res with Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Bob Hastings) and a legion of officers inside the Batcave and in pursuit of Batman (Kevin Conroy), who he knows to be Bruce Wayne, viewers are thrown into a chaotic and vastly changed world from the outset. Brilliantly, this delirious beginning throws first-time viewers for a loop, making them question what is happening and solidifying the high stakes endgame nature of the story. At first, viewers feel like this couldn’t be possible, but “Over the Edge” stays committed to the story, which forces viewers to buy into what is happening.

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Greatest Batman Stories: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

superman-batman-public-enemies-posterLex Luthor has just been elected President of the United States of America. His first act as leader of the free world? Eliminate his two biggest threats: Superman and Batman. Can things get any worse? Somehow, they do. And it’s a lot fun.

Released direct to video in 2009 and directed by Sam Liu, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is based on the 2003 comic book written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Ed McGuinness. When corrupt businessman and known criminal Lex Luthor is elected president, he quickly sets to work on framing Superman for the murder of the villain known as Metallo in order to get rid of his morally upright rival. But the timely intervention of Batman quickly complicates his plans and sets The Dark Knight in the President’s sights as well. But with the heroes declared public enemies, legions of both heroes and villains set out to bring the misunderstood heroes in, forcing Batman and Superman to do everything they can to survive and take down Luthor, all while a giant Kryptonite asteroid hurtles toward Earth.

Like the Jeph Loeb comic book that it is based on, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is a fast, action-packed popcorn movie. While political and societal commentary initiates the narrative (the idea of corrupt businessman Lex Luthor becoming President of the United States seems to be a more relevant than ever), this animated film is far more about big action set pieces and a fun little mystery. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Not every comic book film needs to plumb the depths of its characters to be worthwhile.

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“Batman/Superman: World’s Finest” – The Greatest Dark Knight & Man of Steel Team Up

the-batman-superman-movie-worlds-finestThe Batman/Superman friendship/rivalry has been a dynamic that has enthralled comic book fans for decades and, as evidenced by Warner Bros.’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it’s a relationship that is only captivating audiences worldwide more and more. But while BvS has both enthralled and appalled fans with the first ever live action meetup between these two iconic superheroes, it isn’t the first time they’ve met on screen.

That honor, and the distinction of being the best team up between the two, goes to the animated film Batman/Superman: World’s Finest.

Let’s travel back to 1997 and the second season of Bruce Timm’s Superman: The Animated Series, the follow-up cartoon to the beloved Batman: The Animated Series, for the debut of World’s Finest. Comprised of an epic three-episode story arc and also edited into one giant animated film, World’s Finest is the showdown between The Dark Knight and The Man of Steel that fans deserve. Featuring some of the greatest characterizations of both the heroes and their greatest villains, fans left disappointed by the latest DC Comics blockbuster should look to this animated adventure for a truly fantastic story.

Just as BvS’s title is evocative of the narrative within that film, Batman/Superman: World’s Finest says everything you need to know about this story. Written by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, and Rich Fogel, the story here is just as much about the conflict between its two heroes as it is about their eventual partnership. Indeed, the focus is not on who is greater, but rather on how these two titanic superheroes are both amazing in individual ways, leading to an even greater team. Continue reading ““Batman/Superman: World’s Finest” – The Greatest Dark Knight & Man of Steel Team Up”

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Every Easter Egg and Comic Book Reference in “Batman v Superman”

DC Comics and Warner Bros.’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is loaded with all sorts of Easter Eggs and comic book references. And with numerous films springboarding from the climactic battle between The Man of Steel and The Dark Knight, these subtle hints may be more crucial to understanding the new DC Cinematic Universe than anything else.

From the first ever live action appearances of beloved comic book characters to minor clues concerning both the history and future of this film world, BvS is filled to the brim with Easter Eggs. Not only that, but the story is heavily drawn from multiple comic book storylines, which can give further context for the events and provide all the information you need for better understanding this film and the many to follow.

Read on for an in-depth look at every Easter Egg and comic book reference, but be warned, the following includes heavy spoilers for Batman v Superman!

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“The Dark Knight Rises” Review

the-dark-knight-rises-final-posterIn the lead up to the debut of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I’m reviewing every single Batman film. Check out more Batman-related content in my Dark Knight Discussion column.

Throwing in multiple new characters, jamming in political commentary throughout, and hoping to bring The Dark Knight Trilogy to a satisfyingly yet bombastic close, director Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises simultaneously triumphs and stumbles hard all at once.

Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, TDKR finds Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) living in seclusion and having given up being Batman for nearly a decade. When cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) draws him out of retirement, Batman finds that the terrorist known only as Bane (Tom Hardy) has targeted Gotham City for destruction, forcing The Dark Knight into his final confrontation.

It’s clear that Nolan and company were under a massive amount of pressure to craft a worthy follow-up to the smash hit The Dark Knight, which practically achieved instant classic status upon its release. Rather than craft another entry into the never-ending saga of Batman, Nolan sought to bring his story to a close with a massive finale that tied back into the hero’s origins from Batman Begins. But so much of TDKR is designed to force Batman into his endgame that the film feels more like empty bombast and cheap shortcuts rather than organic narrative. Yes, this film hits some truly impactful emotional moments and manages to give Batman a thoughtful conclusion to his story in massive blockbuster fashion, but so much here falls apart when taken at anything greater than face value.

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“The Dark Knight” Review

dark-knight-movie-posterIn the lead up to the debut of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I’m reviewing every single Batman film. Check out more Batman-related content in my Dark Knight Discussion column.

If Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins was a breath of fresh air for comic book films when it debuted in 2005, its 2008 follow-up The Dark Knight blew the doors off the genre. Pushing the realism started in the series reboot, Nolan and writer brother Jonathan Nolan crafted a superhero sequel that used themes of escalation, terrorism, government surveillance, and ethical compromise for a film that is equally about thrills and moral dilemmas. While based in classic comic book characters, The Dark Knight is just as much a crime thriller with clear inspiration from Michael Mann’s Heat as it is a superhero blockbuster.

The Dark Knight’s story focuses on an alliance between Batman (Christian Bale), Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to crush Gotham City’s mob rule, only for the rise of the anarchist known only as The Joker (Heath Ledger) to present a far greater threat to everyone.

Returning as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Bale creates a tormented hero who is put to his greatest challenge yet, with the threat of The Joker forcing him to consider moral compromises in order to stop his foe. While he may not have as much to sink his teeth into here as in Batman Begins, Bale continues to breathe life into Batman as a rounded and relatable hero whose flawed humanity makes him far more compelling than the unflinching Batmen of old. His one (and far too often discussed) weakness here is the Bat-Voice – a vicious growl meant to intimidate when behind the cowl, but overblown to the point of cartoonish unintelligibleness. Otherwise, Bale provides the true stakes of the film, with his sacrifices and torment showcasing what must be done to preserve Gotham.

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“Batman Begins” Review

batman_begins_teaser-posterIn the lead up to the debut of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I’m reviewing every single Batman film. Check out more Batman-related content in my Dark Knight Discussion column.

Batman Begins debuted at a crucial time in the cinematic history of superhero films. By the movie’s release in 2005, the superhero genre had been revitalized by the success of the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises after the stale and sometimes terrible comic book adaptations that filled the ‘90s. But there was still much left to be desired in what comic book movies could bring to the table beside bright and fun (even if incredibly well done) blockbuster action movies.

That’s where director Christopher Nolan and writer David Goyer’s Batman Begins left its mark. After lying dormant for years and experiencing several botched revamps in the time since Batman & Robin, Nolan’s take brought a new sense of gravitas and prestige to the genre that would create waves in the years to come, especially when reinforced by the critical and commercial success of The Dark Knight Trilogy as a whole.

Told as an origin story (which had been strangely neglected in all previous iterations), Batman Begins traces the story of Bruce Wayne, orphan millionaire who seeks to avenge the death of his parents and save his city. Intricately laced with flashbacks and tons of mood, this is a Batman who is propelled by deep trauma, only to become a symbol of dark justice in a world gone wrong.

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