“The war goes on” – Holy crap, check out “The Dark Knight Returns” animated trailer!

I know I said some negative things about Frank Miller’s influence on the Batman universe but I didn’t realize I’d be so excited to see the first trailer for the animated version of “The Dark Knight Returns.” I mean, holy god. In this first part of a pair of films, we’ve got the iconic battle between the Bat-tank and the mutants, the “operating table” scene and a loving homage to Batman’s battle with Two-Face. I mean, check out the link above, just watch it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Summer Classes: “The Producers”

The last thing you want to do over the summer is catchup on things you’ve put off but sometimes, you need a couple of extra hours. So this summer, we’re debuting a new feature “Summer Classes,” where I explore my massive pop culture blind spots and write about my trip experiencing them. Here, I take on Mel Brooks’ theatrical comedy, “The Producers.” 


While watching “The Producers,” all I could really think about was the ways that progressive, transgressive comedy becomes the cliché of tomorrow. I remember how fresh, controversial and thought-provoking the obscenity of “Mr. Show” felt in the late ’90s, the raw fusion of boundary pushing jokes with ’60s zaniness in “The Sarah Silverman Program” and the way that “Louie” has fused the urban jungle of New York City with the familiarly skewed headscape of the titular comedian. I was saddened thinking about the comedy that pushes borders now being looked back on as something hokey, repetitive or worst of all, unfunny.

Mel Brooks’ 1968 film is revered in theater circles mostly, I assume, for its slightly meta premise. It naturally led to a remake, albeit an unbearable musical one, in 2005 and has run in theaters forever. It totally makes sense why. Its a film that claims to be offensive and crass and in bad taste where really its a bold concept pushed into a slapdash slapstick caper comedy.

Part of the problem is how little there really is to the movie. This is really clearly a first movie script, with it barely lasting to 84 minutes and much of that running time is devoted to Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel engaging in really broad slap stick. Brooks excelled at writing genre parodies where he had less of a need to write characters and needed to just write jokes. The whole thing plods through every scene that doesn’t feature jokes about Hitler. I was consistently reminded of pop culture aficionado Nathan Rabin’s description of Robert Rodriguez’ “Planet Terror.” We’re waiting for them to bust out that machine gun leg and when they do, it is going to be glorious.

I’m personally sort of mystified by what comes after that. As the eponymous producers prepare to reap in the profits from their sure fire flop, the musical moves into its second act, in which L.S.D., played by Dick Shawn, plays Hitler as a bizarre combination of a mincing homosexual stereotype with an amalgam of hippy singer-songwriter traits. Hitler is all grooves and swinging hips and the crowd eats it up for no discernible reason. Its not clear if Brooks is making fun of musicals, their audiences or the ridiculousness of it all but it just doesn’t land.

Its abundantly clear that Trey Parker and Matt Stone learned a lot from the first song of “Springtime for Hitler.” Combining the most garish clichés of the classic musical with the ridiculous excess of fascism and a portrayal of Hitler as an overall just misunderstood guy is hysterical, if solely because of the combination of form and lyrics. The overall surreal stylings of the second act lessen the impact of the dissonance of form and function.

When “The Producers” clicks, its almost unbearably funny but everything else is stuck in a movie that feels like a relic. There are lisping gay theater stars, unnecessarily long static scenes, strange shifts of momentum and tone and a bit of a predictable cop-out ending but that’s not what I’m going to remember of the whole thing. Its a fun film in retrospect but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh a lot more at “Spaceballs” when i watched it minutes later.

Next Class: The Summer of Whedon is coming to a close so it looks like we’ll be exploring the least deserving spinoff show since “Joey,” the LA supernatural kung-fu noir of “Angel.”

The Year’s Finest

This month completes the first whole year of DC’s radical experiment, the New 52. To commemorate the occasion Breakfast With Spock will be highlighting the best and the worst of the last year of DC’s comics, celebrating great characters, better arcs, surprising success stories and much more. If you’ve got an idea for a category to be analyzed, a series or single issue that you’re passionate about or are just looking for a place to sound off about a comics event, consider this a great place to chat with other fans. We’ll be starting the festivities up this Wednesday as I examine Tony Daniels’ last sequential issue of Detective Comics.

 

“The Spin Zone” – 12 lazy, petty, vindictive, lying pop culture media members with a motive

There’s a reason the media rarely is portrayed in popular culture. Where the government, the military, the police and criminals can all be portrayed as proactive forces, the media is very reactive. As such, they can be portrayed as easily manipulable, lazy, elitist, pretentions or just plain bothersome to those who actually have good honest work to do. This leads to the media taking a lot of flack in popular culture but, interestingly, most negative portrayals of the media end up saying far more about the creators and editors than the reporters they skewer.

1. Battlestar Galactica – “Final Cut”

“Battlestar Galactica” was a great show with a mess of storytelling problems, namely some of its more fascist tendencies. The show never had much tolerance for the pacifistic, meddling media but nowhere is this clearer than in the second season’s “Final Cut.” There, the Galactica excepts a well known journalist to make a newscast about the men and women who keep the battleship running. Of course, the reporter, Diana, turns out to be a Cylon, solely interested in collecting intel about the surviving humans. Its barely a twist and its a cruel one if you want to consider it that.

2. “Spider-Man”

J. Jonah Jameson doesn’t speak too much of anything but necessity. There was a desperate need for Peter Parker to have a villain that was able to hold a candle to the villains that Spider-Man routinely faced and the biased editor of The Daily Bugle served just that role. Jameson’s campaign against Spider-Man put Peter in a quandary and provided a solid enemy that was both untouchable and necessary.

3. NewsRadio – “The Real Deal”

NewsRadio had a lot too say about the vain, narcissistic, self-mythologizing and just plain mean men and women that made the news but it was always in service of humor. In one memorable episode, on-air columnist Bill McNeal, played by the late great Phil Hartman, has to nab a great interview to keep his show on the air. Naturally, his narcissism and inability to, y’know, talk to people, gets in the way of his interview with Jerry Seinfeld, so he gets creative in delivering his story.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Earshot”

By season three, Joss Whedon had ironed most of the problems out of his supernatural teen soap opera but the flaws are apparent in “Earshot.” Delayed because of the Columbine Massacre, Buffy becomes aware of someone planning a killing spree at Sunnydale High. The episode’s great red herring is the slightly goth school newspaper editor, a guy who’s writen nothing but negative, extremely pessimistic about the people and institutions of the school. Even when its revealed that he’s not behind the plot, there’s still an bitter taste left in the mouth.

5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Adam Jensen’s been dealing with the very worst of global corporations and espionage by the time he heads to Montreal to find some answers. There, he’s attacked by mercenaries and left to try to find newscaster Eliza Cassan who’s been manipulating satellites to hide several people Jensen thought dead.  In the world of “Deus Ex,” its not that the media is innately evil, more that they can be bought and sold by anyone with the credits or enough strength to take what they want.

6. Mr. Show with Bob and David – Scams and Flams

Bob Odenkirk and David Cross had done their fair share of parodies of the emptiness and shallow reporting that characterized the daily news. One of their best was the “Scams and Flams” sketch, focusing on a gullible local features reporter sent to investigate businesses that might be scams. He’s, however, bought off by a man running a wishing well/ice cream parlor. Mixing a parody of local news with one of gotcha journalism, its a dark and witty satire.

7. Blitz

Jason Statham vehicle, “Blitz” has a lot of incoherent things to say about police brutality, serial killers and stardom but its main message is one focused on serial killers wanting the fame that accompanies their killings. Its a popular belief, one that many conservatives have bought into as a way to assign a motive to shooters and the film makes the media complicit in the killer’s crimes, feeding his actions.

8.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

J.K. Rowling’s consistent portrayal of the Daily Prophet as a near faceless antagonist is one of the most troublesome aspects of her series. Where she turns writers such as Rita Skeeter into reporters more interested in an entertaining piece than a truthful one, she focuses most of his ire on the paper to their view on Voldemort. By “Order of the Phoenix,” the Prophet has been reduced to a mouthpiece for the Ministry of Magic. The only possible explanation for her choice was laziness. With an inability to clearly show the government’s denial of the dark lord’s return, she blamed much of the propaganda on the Prophet, even reducing them to cartoonish villains willing to run a smear campaign.

9. That Mitchell and Webb Look – What do you reckon?

As newspapers and network news gasp against user created media and online news, they’ve attempted to integrate community feedback, often to insane levels. A fantastic sketch from across the pond, Robert Mitchell and David Webb set up a news team that wants to hear whatever the viewer “reckons” about nearly anything and they’ll read it on the air just because they feel like they have to. As the sketch escalates, their boredom makes everything funnier, showing the ridiculousness of losing the professional line of separation.

10. Parks and Recreation – “The Reporter”

In the underrated first season of “Parks,” Leslie’s enthusiastic attempts to do something with the pit is thrown up against a never ending line of red tape. In “The Reporter” she faces the media as well as problems within her own team as Mark tells a reporter after sex that the pit will never be fixed. The episode affixes plenty of blame on the reporter for her unscrupulous reporting techniques and the Parks’ departments mistrust of the newspaper continues well past the episode. I mean, they still really hate the library, but they’re not in love with The Pawnee Sun.

11. Dr. Who – “The Long Game”

The problem with “The Long Game” is that the targeting of the media doesn’t quite go far enough. After Rose and the Ninth Doctor jump far into the future, they come across a media outlet that’s broadcasting programming for Earth in an attempt to keep the people of the planet complacent. Its kind of a weak plot, with a monster that isn’t intimidating enough or make enough sense making it another not quite cooked relic of the Eccleston era.

12. 24 – “9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.”

After the first season of FOX’s groundbreaking action series, viewers were left to deal with the international drama inherent in Palmer becoming president. The writers show their view of snooty, truth seeking reporters early when, after failing to bribe him, President Palmer imprisons correspondent Ron Wieland in a government facility. In the world of “24,” you either let the brave, strong, patriotic men do their work or you’re going to jail.

“The world can be one happy family” – How Geoff Johns still struggles to court new readers

When Geoff Johns became the premier writer for DC, I don’t think anyone was prepared for what they were getting into. Johns has always had a unique vision for the universe, one focused on larger than life threats, updating the silver age threats to become dangerous for the heroes of today and focusing on some of the more forgotten heroes of the universe. In his exceptional history of super heroes and his role in defining them, Supergods,  Grant Morrison describes Johns as the ultimate writer for the fanboys, one that’s interested in exploring really cool shit bumping up against each other with obscure references that can make his work feel like a history text-book.

Pre-New 52, Johns was a writer that I respected but didn’t necessarily find his work that appealing to me. If you haven’t been able to tell, I’ve always been a big fan of the more realistic heroes of the DC universe and his focus on characters such as the Flash, the Green Lanterns and Aquaman wasn’t something that appealed to me, even as he attempted over and over again to redefine these icons, making them appealing and interesting again for an audience that might not have an encyclopedic knowledge of the DCU.

Johns has had plenty of experience with the biggest titles of the DC universe and he’s been able to condense decades of mythology into flashy memorable moments. The first issue of Infinite Crisis allows for one of the best moments of Superman and Batman’s relationship when Bruce tersely criticizes the Clark saying, “The last time you inspired anyone was when you were dead.” Johns ability to fuse these tense character moments with great nods to the past, namely the return of Superboy-Prime and his battle with the Teen Titans, made the crossover one of the most readable and exciting of the Crisis trilogy.

Mostly on the strength of “Infinite Crisis,” Johns was given control of much of the future of DC, giving him the go ahead for “Blackest Night,” “Brightest Day” and “Flashpoint.” While each of them has their own merits and lack thereof, Johns increasingly focused on the characters he was most familiar with. Both “Blackest Night” and “Brightest Day” depend heavily on the actions of Aquaman and the Green Lanterns and “Flashpoint” is almost exclusively a Flash storyline. Its not that this is a bad thing but it did vastly focus the DC universe. Where earlier crossover stories drew much of the universe together into massive catastrophes, rarely letting a single hero drive the story.

With DC relaunching the universe with the New 52, there was a conscious decision to make many of the titles more accessible to new readers. However, noticeably, the Green Lantern universe was not reset in anyway. The labyrinthine storylines, massive cast and constantly shifting alliances were all left for new readers to jump into without a safety harness. No attempt was made to have new readers get into the 4 different series, an especially critical mistake after the failure of the Green Lantern film.

That being said, I have picked up Johns’ most recent Green Lantern title and it is certainly his most accessible work. The first five issues were a taut, suspenseful and violent secret agent/buddy cop story between the hot-headed Lantern reject Hal Jordan and his archnemesis, the delusional and narcissistic Sinestro. The characters’ intense relationship, combined with the lack of trust and intergalactic intrigue made for an exciting, inventive and very fun series.

Yes, there were still problems. Much of the hostile dynamic between the book’s two leads were based on events from Johns’ “War of the Green Lanterns” arc which led to Sinestro gaining control of Jordan’s ring and the book made no attempt to explain how this had happened but it was all readable and interesting.

The problem came when the series expanded past the fifth issue. After the initial run had helped to establish what the series was about, Johns immediately went back to his interests: galaxy spanning epics drawing off decades of continuity. Suddenly, we’re dealing with the Indigo Tribe, a suicidal Starstorm, the return of Black Hand, Sinestro’s dead wife and the constant betrayals of the Guardians. I’m pretty well versed in the DC universe, even in the books I don’t read, but the last 2 issues of Green Lantern had me searching the net to have any idea what the hell was going on.

I think Johns has a real talent for giving readers what they want. His books are consistently exciting, packed with twists, turns and intense action sequences. Somehow, he’s able to make moments such as Hal losing his ability to fly into an awesome and incredibly fun sequence of the Lantern creating motorcycles and ramps to traverse a hostile environment. Black Hand’s attempted suicide goes from a pathetic character moment into a great reminder of the most fun aspects of “Blackest Night.” Knowing the power of his characters lets Johns effortlessly show off these moments but I just worry that his landmark titles could collapse without innovating or even attempting to grab a hold of new readers.

“Almost one year ago, I died” – DC gives readers a great horror one-shot

Perhaps the biggest surprise of DC’s New 52 is their return to horror comics. Seemingly regulated to Vertigo and Image, DC has embraced the darker side of superhero comics and has managed to really make tense and scary books.

Jeff Lemire has really been pushing this more so than any of the other writers. His work on Animal Man has been one of the biggest success stories of the relaunch and understandably so. Lemire has always been a disciple of Alan Moore and Jamie Delano, the great British pioneers in American horror comics and Lemire is clearly going back to these early Bronze Age roots with the release this week’s one-shot of National Comics Eternity.

Lemire’s been given the chance to revamp Kid Eternity’s origin story as a result of Flashpoint and he plays it safe, simplifying the 20-something’s powers into something that can be easily digested and introducing plenty of opportunities for further adventures. In a neat twist, Christopher Freeman doesn’t really want to be or consider himself a superhero. He’s just a guy with a crush on a girl, insomnia and a desire to feel like he’s not a failure.

The real fun to be had here is in the procedural. Freeman’s ability to resurrect the dead helps him to solve murder mysteries and he’s a fast talking occult detective in the John Constantine mold. Its something that I will always get behind and the amount of earnest care that Freeman shows as he figures out the who dun’ it and tries to protect a maybe-innocent victim is a lot of fun to behold.

Penciller Cully Hamner turns in some great work here too. His version of an alternate dimension filled with the dead is dark and unique, avoiding the zombie cliches that have infected comics lately and the level of detail from bright police offices to bustling punk rock clubs to empty coronners’ offices to overloaded antique stores all have an admirable lived-in feel. He clearly separates the world of the dead with the one of the living, heightening the dark and distinct differences between the two.

I really forgot how much I missed reading a genuine mystery in mainstream comics and Lemire does it here admirably, even setting up a great future case should the series continue. He’s admirably fused a golden age character with all the gory charm of modern comics and I would love to get more of this twisted tale.

“I won’t bury another Wayne” – a goodbye to Nolan’s Batman trilogy

I will always be fascinated by the attempts that “nerdy” subject material will make in order to be perceived as art. Memorably, video game fans attempted to rake Roger Ebert over the coals when he claimed (rightfully) that video games will never be art. I never questioned the logic of either side, as interesting points were often presented, but I was more intrigued by why these fans were obsessed with having one of their favorite mediums be recognized as something more than mindless entertainment.

There have been untold of thoughtless news stories focusing on the ways in which comic books have grown up, with many recent ones focusing on the financial success of darker comic book films such as 2008’s “Watchmen” adaptation and Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy. That being said, I have the same view about this as I did about the aforementioned video game discussion. Did we ever really need these movies to justify comics? Did Nolan’s movies accomplish anything in the culture at large that actually needed to be done?

For me the answer will always be a definitive no. Don’t get me wrong, I vastly enjoyed all of Nolan’s films, particularly “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight Rises” but everyone seems to be focusing on how Nolan’s work somehow legitimized something that had been missing. I just don’t think that was the case. Nolan’s films did a great job giving people exactly what they didn’t realize they wanted: a darker, excessively mature comic book movie that made non-comics fans feel like they understood comic books.

Because I’m an extremely petty and narcissistic person, I was deeply upset when people started saying that they liked Batman after the release of “The Dark Knight.” They didn’t understand the intricacies of the conflict between the Joker and Batman like I did. They didn’t understand the complex moral and ethical chess match for the soul of Harvey Dent like I did. To me, if you didn’t understand what made the film work so well under the hood, you didn’t really have the right to enjoy it like I did.

Nolan succeeded by making the labyrinthine power structures of Gotham City into something that the layman could understand. He didn’t dumb anything down, rather he introduced easily digestible nuggets of world-building that enabled anyone to understand the motivations of all the characters that made “The Dark Knight” work. People didn’t leave loving the film for what it was. They left thinking they had seen a movie that let them feel like they had it all figured out. “The Dark Knight” let viewers feel like they had just passed a test they didn’t study for.

In hindsight, I’m glad that people ended up liking Batman from “The Dark Knight.” I still think it may be the least satisfying and necessary film in the trilogy but it accomplished a very necessary end. Nolan was able to make a superhero film that used neither the structure nor the formulas of other films and was able to do something unique. It was an admirable work and an innovative one and it paved the way for the ambition of “The Dark Knight Rises” (which I will not be reviewing as to avoid spoilers).

Nolan excelled at making a trilogy of films that made its nerdy viewers feel like researchers and neophytes feel like experts. All the while, he was able to craft a brooding series focused on fear that never was bogged down into misery or undo complications. Its an admirable effort, one DC needed to learn. That being said, I still have concerns for his next work “The Man of Steel” which appears as if it could be attempting the same self-serious tone that the Batman films effortlessly attained. Hopefully, Nolan will be able to help director Zach Snyder make something that dodges the problems their other films have had. And hopefully, not feature too many slow motion bone crunches.

“A rope stretched between bat and Batman” – 11 uncharacteristically adult episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series”

“Batman: The Animated Series” may be one of the most technically accomplished, innovative and well written animated series of all time, able to appeal to both adults and children alike. The show would occasionally handle this balance masterfully with classics such as “Heart of Ice,” “The Man Who Killed Batman,” “Trial” and “POV” but other times, they didn’t quite hit the mark. That, however, is when we really get into the head of the dark knight, exposing children to the mind-set of an aging billionaire who dresses up in leather to punch out psychopaths. For whatever reason, whether it be the aforementioned psychological content, sexual themes, long spanning Bat-style or plain old uber-violence, these are the episodes that should have gotten a second look before plopping the kids in front of the TV and might just have been more entertaining and well-rounded for their parents.

1. “Dreams in Darkness”

Clearly inspired by Grant Morrison’s “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth,” this episode finds Batman being checked into Arkham and having to confront the futility of his quest for justice as well as his own psychosis. Although there’s the copout of having Scarecrow being behind his enemy’s incarceration, the dream sequence in which Batman watches an amorphous blob morph into his enemies in disgusting ways is a standout sequence in the entire series.

2. “Mad Love”

“Mad Love” is a bit of an adult episode for an entirely different reason. While it does succinctly explain the origin of Harley Quinn and her obsession with the Joker, it is most remembered for a sequence in which Harley petitions the clown for sex, asking him if he’d like to “rev up his Harley” and then making the above shown motorcycle motion. There’s a difference between the innuendos that the show trafficked in early in the run and this one that makes the character’s relationship a bit too explicit.

3. “Two Face Part 1”

In what might be my favorite episode of the animated series and in my opinion, one of the most important moments in DC’s TV future, “Two Face Part 1” shows Dini’s genius by fundamentally changing Harvey Dent to make him an even more tragically flawed character. Here, Dent has been fighting a losing battle with schizophrenia, trying to hold back an angry and violent alter-ego. Dini is able to balance the idea that Dent may have always been damned to become a villain with the fact that he’s another character, much like Batman and the Joker, who just had a single terrible day.

4. “Sideshow”

Batman’s goal is to stop crime and his sole tools have always been fear and brute force. “Sideshow” is the first episode of the series to posit the idea that a villain could voluntarily leave crime behind. After a train escape, Killer Croc is on the run and he teams up with a rogue group of sideshow freaks. The entire episode focuses on his turmoil over whether he’ll be able to find a new life in a community that accepts him or if he craves anarchy.

5. “Harley’s Holiday”

Dini always adored writing Harley Quinn and it was rarely done as well as it was here. When Harley tries to go straight after being discharged from Arkham, she struggles to change the way she reacts to people, leaving beside her psychotic violence and cruel treatment of other people. The episode concludes with an incredible action sequence that sees all of Gotham turning against Harley but that’s nothing to the way Batman associates with and feels sorry for a girl who he sees much of himself in.

6. “Perchance to Dream”

One of the theories that fans love to debate is whether Batman is the alter ego of Bruce Wayne or the other way around. “Perchance to Dream” doesn’t try to answer the question definitively but it does show the way that Bruce Wayne needs to be Batman. The dark knight is Bruce’s purpose and as the episode advances, audiences see the lengths he’ll go to wear the cowl once again.

7. “Second Chance”

The relationship between Harvey and Bruce is one of the friendships that define the early episodes of the show and makes Harvey’s fate even more tragic. “Second Chance” takes another look at their relationship with Batman having to challenge the dichotomy between Two Face and Harvey and it leads to one of the most tense and heart-rending finales of  the series.

8. “House and Garden”

Its a shame that the animated series was so rarely able to really take advantage of everything that makes Poison Ivy such an effective character. Rather than use her femme fatale charms, here, she’s claiming to go legit, be a mother and totally give up all the killing and robbing. Instead, Ivy reveals how twisted her vision of the domestic life and the actual psychosis of the men and women who terrorize Gotham.

9. “Babydoll”

I’m always amazed when presumably children’s shows do episodes about the ennui of fame and the hollowness of public admiration. “Babydoll” pulls it off admirably, focusing less on the ways in which Babydoll’s life is empty and more on the tragedy of finding out how figuratively small you are. “Babydoll” ends up being one of the best combinations of literal and symbolic storytelling that the show could pull off. Rather than have a character who became a villain because of a tragedy, here, we’re exposed to a villain who is and will always be a tragedy.

10. “Deep Freeze”

“Heart of Ice” is the better and more memorable episode but “Deep Freeze” is a considerably more adult tale, with viewers not only having to deal with Mr. Freeze’s lost loves but also the loneliness he faces as an immortal that will never be able to feel. Freeze’s work with a blatant Walt Disney parody who wishes to be made immortal is cruelly ironic and the final image of him sinking into the sea, gazing at the frozen Nora is haunting.

11. “Legends of the Dark Knight”

One of the pleasures of being a long time reader of any comic series is seeing the ways that a book or a character changes in big and small ways. “Legends of the Dark Knight” shows a pair of vastly different versions of Batman, one based off of the art of 1940’s penciller Dick Sprang, with the other being a direct homage to “The Dark Knight Returns.” Its a fun episode and by the end, there’s an approachable look at the way that all the visions of Batman make for a character that people enjoy for a variety of reasons.

Summer Classes: “Batman: Hush”

The last thing you want to do over the summer is catchup on things you’ve put off but sometimes, you need a couple of extra hours. So this summer, we’re debuting a new feature “Summer Classes,” where I explore my massive pop culture blind spots and write about my trip experiencing them. Here, I take on Jeph Loeb’s final Batman arc, “Hush.”

As I mentioned yesterday, the intensive pre “The Dark Knight Rises” Batman reading sessions have helped to change some of my opinions on some of the most well known classics of the hero’s comic book history. If anything, it has reminded me of how much I adore Jeph Loeb. “The Long Halloween” is undoubtedly one of the best Batman stories, “Dark Victory” is an under appreciated gem, “Haunted Knight” is an intriguing anthology and I’ve enjoyed much of his work at Marvel, particularly “Spiderman Blue” and “Daredevil Yellow.”

That being said, I hadn’t read “Batman: Hush,” Loeb’s last story of the Dark Knight and one of DC’s best selling arcs of the last 10 years. Naturally, I knew the big plot twist, many of the ramifications of the plot and that Jim Lee’s art work in it was incredible. I pretty much knew what I was getting into, I just needed to get into it.

In many ways, “Hush” is incredibly similar to “The Long Halloween” and “Dark Victory” in all ways but art. Loeb always loved cramming as many iconic heroes and villains into a single story as possible. I’ve criticized him for this before, usually for the fact that many of the villains don’t exactly get their due and it often doesn’t add much to the story and that vastly is the case here as well. Killer Croc shows up for a chapter just to kidnap a kid. Poison Ivy is in a pair of issues so she can pull the same stunt that she did in “The Long Halloween.” The Joker pulls a gun on Thomas Elliot when just about anyone could have been the trigger man. I know that people love seeing their favorite villains in Batman stories but Gotham is a big place and there’s lots of room for these guys to be doing vastly different things.

Where Loeb’s use of villains in “The Long Halloween” feels organic and useful to the plot, here it does nothing but distract. We’re led to believe that Hush and (spoiler for a 9 year old story) the Riddler are manipulating all of the most dangerous villains in Gotham to put Batman off balance. What’s worse, none of the motivations for the villains make sense until Batman explains why they did it at the very end of the book. Its a crappy way to end a fairly engaging mystery. I always want to feel as if I have a chance at figuring out who-dun-it and I can’t imagine anyone wants to feel like they’re being cheated at the end of a story.

“Hush” has been criticized since its release for several seemingly bizarre reasons. The most common one seems to be that by the conclusion of the series, two additional characters know the identity of Batman. Personally, I have no idea as to why this bothers people as much as it seems to. Bruce’s reveal to Catwoman of his secret identity is an emotional moment in the series and it makes sense for a character who sees a chance to maybe connect to another person. “Hush” offers a great take on the seductive nature of the complex relationship between Batman and Catwoman and Bruce and Selina and his reveal of his secret identity shows how much Bruce could learn to be a different person.

Much more of the criticism was leveled at both the revelation and the explanation of the Riddler’s knowledge of Batman’s secret identity. Admittedly, its one of the least successful moments of the series. The Riddler suddenly knows Batman is Bruce Wayne because of his diagnosis of cancer as well as a trip into Ras’ Lazarus Pit. It isn’t a particularly well established property of the pit or Nigma’s personality and it comes from nowhere. What makes it even worse, Loeb cheats Nigma right away, making it so the Riddler would never be able to reveal what he knows. This is one of my most hated cheats for characters learning secrets. If there’s a need to have someone know something hidden, why cheat them out of the use of the knowledge immediately. Its barely worth letting the Riddler be a part of the mystery if he ultimately gains nothing of it.

Like much of early 2000s Batman, “Hush” is just fine. Its a shame that much of the plot would be retconned, changed or otherwise made null by later stories. Ultimately, its another fine story from Loeb and a solid artistic work from Lee.

Next Class: Mel Brooks has made some undisputed comedy classics but I’ve always dodged one in particular. For this Summer Class, we leave the heat wave and enjoy some springtime and fascism with “The Producers.”