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By | Tuesday, December 14, 2010 | 11:45 pm | 10 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
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Includes Issues: Prestige
Issue Dates: January 1992
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This review contains light spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

Cowboy Batman.

Ok, it’s not the worst idea for an Elseworlds. Maybe.

It was the early 1990s and DC Comics was still riding high on Tim Burton’s recent Batman movie.

In 1989, the same year as the theatrical release, DC published a book containing a Victorian Batman called Gotham By Gaslight.

Gaslight was successful and later declared the first title in the Elseworlds imprint. Their tagline:

“In Elseworlds, heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places — some that have existed, and others that can’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t exist.”

“The result is stories that make characters who are as familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow.”

By 1992, DC had put out a few Elseworlds books, capitalizing on fan desires for as much Batman as possible (maybe not as much as we have now, actually) while being outside of continuity.

This is theoretically appealing to new readers, old fans who haven’t read a comic in a long time, and current obsessives amused by divergent takes on their favorite character.

The best of these books ask interesting questions, allowing the development of a familiar persona in an unfamiliar setting and deliver complex answers in artful fashions.

Some, however, are more mundane affairs, getting by mostly on the title premise and little real substance.

One might hope that Batman: The Blue, The Grey, and The Bat would somehow sidestep the inherent silliness of Batman on a Bathorse and tell an interesting story of intrigue set out west in the time of the Civil War.

The creators have a large amount of industry experience – it’s co-written by Elliot S. Maggin and Alan Lee Weiss, both working for DC since the early 1970s. Weiss also illustrates with inking.

But the long time DC employment of both these creators may not be purely a benefit to this book. In fact, it seems to have some of the worst pre-crisis mentality about it.

The character designs, for one, seem to be a combination of terrible 90s aesthetic with the silliness of the early 70s. Horse with a giant Bat medallion, really? A man in the middle of the desert in what seems to be a black leather jumpsuit?

A weirdly half Native American Robin in what seems to be the closest they could get to a sleeveless jean jacket? (Ok, it’s a union soldier’s jacket, but still.)

And did I mention that the horse’s name is Apocalypse?

So they went the ridiculously silly route. That could still work. If they were aware of it.

The book feels wooden, with few moments that are unique or unexpected. The odd surprising moments are out of character or forced (this isn’t including the main plot twist, which isn’t surprising at all.)

The supporting cast is mostly lame – Lincoln, of course, and Wild Bill Hikkok fills his role as expected recognizable cowboy. The presence of Sam Clemens is welcome, but underutilized – his character is boring and mostly plays the role of “in the way intellectual” when it comes to the action. The only interesting choice is Kit Carson, who a reoccurring DC Western character as well as a real life person – but he’s only got a one page cameo.

Likewise, the presence of “Dark Knights,” a troupe of freed slaves fighting alongside the union army, brings possibility beyond being a terrible pun. But the authors somehow manage to avoid giving any of these potentially heroic characters so much as a speaking line.

While they are referred to admirably in splash page captions, all the identifiable heroics fall to the white cast (or “Redbird”, but he’s barely squeaking by with his stereotypical “injun” grammar and constant utterance of the word “boss” at the end of his sentences.)

As for the villains, we’ve got a ridiculously two dimensional confederate criminal, some barely-there French soldiers out of Mexico, and a “surprise” that you could see coming with a blindfold on.

Everything clicks together, so it’s not a total failure as a story (there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end and some sort of flow). But it’s not particularly exciting either. It feels more like a quick imaginary tale out of the 70s than something that hoped to compete on the shelves alongside some of the intricate storytelling going on in the 90s.

There was a lot of crap in the 90s, too, but this feels like dated mediocrity, not bombastic Malibu style schlock. Perhaps the long time creators were just phoning it in – I’m not familiar enough with the specifics of their oeuvre to tell you if this is indicative of their general work.

Perhaps the worst of it is that it just doesn’t feel like a Batman story. Batman: The Blue, The Grey, and the Bat could have dropped “the Bat” entirely, replacing him with a more standard Western hero. He doesn’t do anything particularly Batman-like, doesn’t act at all like a stalker of the night, and his partner seems to be Robin-based just ’cause.

Batman’s use of guns is also strange here – makes sense for a Western hero, but it’s extremely odd to see him, Western Robin, and even Wild Bill Hikkok shooting guns out of hands in every close up scene. And then seemingly killing without much mention of it later in the book. He’s even proud, apparently, about Redbird exacting bloody revenge in one scene.

While Bruce Wayne as a foppish union captain is kind of fun – especially the mustache – Batman doesn’t even seem overly concerned at keeping his identity secret. In fact, there’s some weirdness where it seems that he tells some characters, or changes right in front of them, an then later they act like they didn’t know in order to deliver some extremely cliche lines. It doesn’t even make sense.

As for the art, it’s serviceable work by Alan Lee Weiss. At its best it reminds one of the Batman comics of the late 70s, often created by Neal Adams. But much of the zest just isn’t there, with stiff arms and action looking more like people strangely standing around in punching positions versus actually throwing forceful blows.

Some battle scenes are well done, with the horses rendered with admirable attention (understandable, considering Weiss’ second comic was an issue of All-Star Western.)

While some of the closeups can be repetitive (Clemens in particular has a great, slightly sad, sidelong glance, which is unfortunately used in three nearly identical closeups), the faces are rarely distorted and the proportions are always correct.

Yet something about the art just felt off.

Maybe it’s the early digital coloring, which is very saturated and heavy on the gradients. Along with the sometimes heavy inking and awkwardly placed panels, the pages feel very weighed down.

Sometimes the colors are extremely badly chosen, leading to a very tan Bruce Wayne, or a Batsuit with odd green highlights.

It’s a shame, because you can tell a lot of time went into the book, especially with computers at the level they were in 1992.

In a lot of ways, Batman: The Blue, The Grey, and the Bat is a class production.

The cover is printed on really nice linen stock with embossed art. The font and design work is excellent.

It’s just unfortunate that the interior is so mediocre.

2 out of 5 stars. Pick it up only if you really want to see Batman as a cowboy.

But it’s mainly a strangely designed costume and tenuous links to an uninteresting Robin-like character that mark him as such – it’s really a mediocre Western comic. Hardly a Batman story at all.

Luckily, it can be found on ebay for about two bucks, putting it in that ideal price range for a gag gift.

Essential Continuity:
Not in any way. Once in a while, these Elseworlds iterations show up in mainstream books (like Red Son or the Kingdom Come Supermen), but I doubt anyone has much love for this Wayne.

Read first:
You don’t really have to read anything before this book, but if you’ve somehow never heard of the Batman, Year One or Batman: Chronicles are good places to start.

Read next:
If you’re looking for an actually good Elseworlds title, I quite like Batman: Holy Terror or The Golden Age, which might be most enjoyable with a little more knowledge of DC history.

And of course, there’s Superman: Red Son, which Marc recently reviewed.

If you’re looking for an out of continuity book that’s so amazingly bad that it’s somehow good again, you can’t go wrong with Batman: Digital Justice.

Finally, if you somehow stumbled upon this in a search for some good western comics, DC has published a fair few. Check out the DC Western list, only a couple books on there are really bad and we’ve recently reviewed almost all of them.

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By | Tuesday, December 14, 2010 | 3:57 pm | 0 Comments | Blog > News

I just got an email letting me know that Lincoln Butterfield Animation is having a little giveaway for a copy of Rip, M.D.

It’s an all ages graphic novel by Angry Beavers creator Mitch Schauer along with artist Mike Vosburg.

I haven’t had a chance to read it myself, but you can flip through the first few pages on Amazon.

To enter the contest, you need to go to Lincoln Butterfield’s facebook page and come up with a caption for this image.

The contest ends on December 19th.

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By | Monday, December 13, 2010 | 10:35 pm | 29 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
Amazon (Softcover) (Softcover)
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Ebay (ISBN/Softcover)
View our database entry
Includes Issues: Batgirl: Year One 1-9
Issue Dates: February – October 2003
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This review is spoiler free! Skip To The Verdict? »

Batgirl will always have red hair.

Sure, there’s been at least four Batgirls, three of which have held their own books under the name. And only one of those is redheaded Barbara Gordon, the daring daughter of long time Bat-ally Jim Gordon.

But while she’s passed the mantel on, Babs will always be Batgirl to those of us raised on Batman: The Animated Series.

And lucky us, we get to see the ample firebrand in cape and cowl from time to time, be it in comics taking place in the animated continuity, or even better – stories like this one, retelling her early career.

Batgirl: Year One is one of many origin stories DC Comics has produced under the “Year One” moniker, coined by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli‘s Batman epic of the same name.

Previously we’ve acknowledged the challenge inherent in creating Year One books in our reviews for Teen Titans: Year One and Green Arrow: Year One.

The creative team (authors Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon, along with penciler Marcos Martin, inker Alvaro Lopez, and colors by Heroic Age and ) must work towards current continuity, introduce new readers to the character, give a modern take that fits in the old timeline, and most importantly, craft a story worth reading.

Something fun!

A lot of that is done with every superhero book, at least the good ones. In a way, it’s a challenge of the medium.

But it’s easier to introduce a character who doesn’t have an existing fanbase. And it’s easier to work within continuity when your story doesn’t take place in the past.

Perhaps luckily, DC has a pretty interesting idea of “the past.”

Batgirl was originally introduced in the 60s, but this retelling is very modern.

Barbara Gordon is an independent lady, zestfully pursuing her own career and goals, not even seeking to mimic that Batman, except as a way to annoy her father.

She wants to be a cop, but he forbids it – not that his role of a father would keep her from entering the force, except that he also happens to be on the way to Commissioner.

So while her Batwoman costume was originally designed to irk Jim Gordon at a Halloween party, this is Gotham City and dastardly deeds are oft afoot.

Before she even realizes it, Babs is foiling crime and even has her own nemesis (the mostly bumbling Killer Moth.)

Of course, she’s caught the attention of the dynamic duo now, and has to prove that she’s an asset to the streets, not a danger to the public and herself.

Beatty and Dixon, both experienced Batfamily writers, take the basic plot and wraps it up in a non-stop tangle of wry jokes, action both slapstick and breathtaking, a few genuinely dark moments, and some very touching character development – both for the Bat family and the Gordon family.

This is all laid lovingly on top of DC continuity, with appearances by appropriate heroes and baddies.

There are a few hiccups, but they mainly have to do with the logistical challenges in placing this book in such a complex world as the DC Universe. And they’re mostly pedantic – a new reader would never notice Green Arrow’s beard and post 70s characterization, obstinately occurring while he was still clean shaven.

On the other hand, the new reader would also miss all the subtle references to latter stories, cleverly placed to evoke emotion at key moments. The authors do this amazingly well, in fact, because what could be foreshadowing seems to work just fine in the direct context, without any existing fan knowledge. It’s an impressive balancing act and I think old and new fans will be quite pleased.

Likewise, it’s hard not to delight in the art.

I’m amazed that Marcos Martin, a Spanish artist who has worked on the uncollected Breach and Doctor Strange: The Oath, isn’t more proliferous.

Considering the grim and gritty nature of Gotham City, Martin’s work here is ambrosial, leaving me giddy after scenes of preposterous the top action and last minute triumph.

It seems that comparisons to Mazzucchelli are unavoidable at this blog (see last review of The Winter Men), but here I believe some similarity is intentional. It’s a Year One title in the Batman family, so Gordon, for example, is drawn familiarly.

But while it feels like the same Gotham, this book is from the perspective of a very different person.

The art reflects Barbara’s more whimsical approach to life, figures with a hint (or giant dollop) of humor and  swaths of lovely color filling out the backgrounds. Perhaps from polluted city sunsets.

Martin’s style is vaguely reminiscent of so many things – Eisner’s femme fatales, but less curvy and with more energy; the ladies of art nouveau advertisements, with their keen noses and slight smirks; a healthy serving of Batman: The Animated Series.

Above all, an understanding of comics, really great comics. That required mix of subtle expression with bombastic motion, the rhythm that keeps the story flowing.

A special mention is deserved for the colors by Heroic Age and . The whole team works well together, but the colors top it all off. The aforementioned backgrounds, or even those pink sneakers on the crook above.

Back to Martin’s pencils – the character’s faces are defined with the perfect amount of lines, Batgirl especially. Martin understands the use of minimalism in allowing us to project onto the characters (in such a situation, I can’t resist thinking of myself as Dick Grayson and Beth, my ginger fiance, as quite a bit like Ms. Gordon.)

But he avoids letting them be too simplified.

Every person has expressions uniquely their own, twists of features to go with a villain’s deranged obsession, Robin’s youthful smirks, Gordon’s alternating near understanding and total befuddlement (the perspective of Barbara isn’t particularly kind to our head cop, who I believe to be much smarter than portrayed in the average Bat-book, but it’s fitting for a father-daughter relationship, which can be confusing even without the tights and crime.)

All this and a bewitching array of grins, grimaces, looks of grim determination and the odd agog from our heroine.

She’s fully alive, a far cry from lesser portrayals of female crime-stoppers, where the focus is most often on trying to get the butt and breasts into the same panel – Barbara Gordon is an enticing leading lady, carrying the book in her own right.

This series was actually my own introduction to Batgirl in the world of comics.

Picking it up again for this review was just as enjoyable, perhaps more, than the last time I cracked the book.

In fact, I kept catching myself reading it as I flipped through for reference. It’s a terribly hard book to put down.

It’s amazing, then, that it’s also out of print. It’s not amazingly rare, perhaps, but a copy in good condition is still a bit over the original cover price of 17.95. (Mine is an ex library copy and I don’t really mind.)

With a new Batgirl running strong in her own ongoing and the release of Barbara Gordon’s first trade in some time (The Greatest Batgirl Stories Ever Told), it seems like there’s more need for this book than ever.

Time for a new print run, DC!

5 out of 5. I was originally going to rate it a 4 in an attempt to keep the 5s for legendary works, but every time I accidentally read half the book again the rating went up.

I don’t like weird decimals, so lets just call this an extremely enjoyable comic. It’s one of my favorite books to recommend to readers new to superhero comics, especially gals.

It’s sad that I have to make a distinction at all, but it helps to have some really solid titles to point towards among all the cheesecake nonsense out there.

Essential Continuity:
A thousand times yes! Barbara Gordon may not keep the cowl forever, but she is an extremely important DC Universe character, involved in many of the most interesting and entertaining plotlines published in the last few decades.

And this is my favorite telling of how it all started.

Read first:
I recommend this book as an introduction to Batgirl, and it’s fine to read as your first comic even, but it also works really well to read Batman: Year One and Robin: Year One right in a row before this one.

That’s an enjoyable evening for even the oldest fan.

Read next:
The Barbara Gordon Batgirl shows up in Huntress: Year One next on our reading order.

Following are other stories taking place early in her career, the 90s Batman: Batgirl prestige and a Batman Confidential collection, The Cat and The Bat.

Original Silver Age Batgirl stories are collected in Showcase Presents: Batgirl, which I’ve placed a bit after her origin. You could choose to read this first, but I think the Year One book is the most satisfying introduction.

Then there’s the right about to be released Babs-starring Batgirl: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, which looks like it includes a good mix and has me very excited.

After that, there’s a book with the most pivitol event in her life, Batman: The Killing Joke. If you’ve avoided having this spoiled for you thus far, turn off your internet and rush out to read these books.

Finally, if you enjoyed all this you should head to the Birds of Prey series.

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By | Monday, December 13, 2010 | 8:26 pm | 0 Comments | Blog > Database Updates

I just finished a batch of book updates!

There’s this random Sgt. Rock one that I was practicing on, but most of them are from the Batgirl list, which is up to date now for the main books as far as I can tell.

Ian added some header text and links to the list, and says it’s good timing cause the Batgirl: Greatest Stories Ever Told trade is about to come out.

These books all have covers and publication info now!

Showcase Presents: Sgt. Rock Vol. 1

Batgirl: Year One

Huntress: Year One

Batman: Batgirl

Batman: The Cat and the Bat

Showcase Presents: Batgirl

Batgirl: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

Ghost/Batgirl The Resurrection Machine

Batgirl: A Knight Alone

Batgirl Death Wish

Robin/Batgirl Fresh Blood

Batgirl: Kicking Assassins

Batgirl: Destruction’s Daughter

Batgirl: Redemption

Batgirl Vol 1 Batgirl Rising

Expect more Batgirl later tonight!

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By | Sunday, December 12, 2010 | 5:55 pm | 4 Comments | Blog > News

Congratulations to Mack from Pullman, WA (TRO user mwmani) who is our winner for the Flash: Blood Will Run giveaway.

Mack’s book will go out early this week. The new giveaway is already up – for JLI: The Secret Gospel of Maxwell Lord.

Also, I feel a little celebratory – the last review was the 50th one posted on this site!

A huge thanks for Marc for adding his work to our archive. He’ll eventually be sharing some more reviews reworked from his blog at With Great Power, and may even be writing some original content for us. I’ll be adding scanned images of course, and it all goes towards making that goal of reviewing every DC universe trade paperback seem more and more possible.

It could take ten years or something, but ideally we’ll be able to get caught up in five. We’ll see!

Anyway, my copy of Jonah Hex: Counting Corpses is still in the mail, so I’ll be waiting for that one before I move on to No Way Back and finish up the DC Western reviews.

The next book on the timeline (that I have access to) is Showcase Presents: Enemy Ace. I’ve started reading it, but it will probably take me a couple days to get through it unless I really rush it. I don’t want to ruin any enjoyment of it by forcing it all into one sitting (it’s a big book of pre-crisis comics!) so I’ll probably fill in a couple days with some other stuff.

Once I really get deep into the Archive and Showcase books, I’ll probably have to alternate or space those out alongside books later in the timeline, like Elseworlds, or starting a parallel line of reviews at the modern age. Or maybe marvel books. I’ll play it by ear.

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