Review: Spider-Man, Batman and Sandman (oh my!)

Inspired by the release of The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man, I’ve been inspired to go back to the original comic books and read some stories with each of the characters.

Once upon a time, Batman was my favorite super hero. I have an early memory of watching an episode of the Adam West classic with Batman and Robin frozen in some type of machine. I can still see the image of the two trapped in my mind and remember the sense of horror at thinking this could be the end for our heroes.  Unfortunately, I don’t recall if I tuned in for the next episode to see how they got out of the trap and I can’t recall enough of the details from the episode to figure out which one it is and view it again in syndication.

But it was thanks to the Electric Company that I found Spider-Man and the rest is history.  I still like Batman, but I’m more a Spider-Man fan.  I watched a lot of the various cartoon incarnations growing up, read a lot of comics and embarrassed my family no end by running around, shooting webs at complete strangers.  (Wait…did I just admit that in public?!?)

So when I found a couple of collections of various issues featuring these heroes, I decided to give them a whirl.  That was all leading up to my finally getting ready to attempt and cross-off a major gaping hole in my TBR pile–Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.

Spider-Man: Origin of the HobgoblinSpider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin

It’s difficult for me to be objective about this collection of Spider-Man stories from the 80′s simply because I remember reading some of them as a young collector. It was in the days before comic book stores and direct sales when I’d beg my parents to take me into any 7/11, drugstore, grocery store or book store that might have a comic book rack filled with the latest issues of Spider-Man. Not knowing the release dates for various issues, my collection was more of less hit or miss, but those few I collected I read over and over again.

I actually had a couple of issues in this collection, detailing the rise of the original Hobgoblin in the Spider-Man universe. And I’m sure had I kept them in pristine condition, I could make a reasonable chunk of change selling them on E-Bay today. But I didn’t keep them in great condition nor do I still have them today.

Which is why this collection was a nice trip down nostalgia lane. After multiple attempts to bring back the Green Goblin, Roger Stern decided it was time for Spidey to face a new Goblin. The result was the Hobgoblin, a villain whose identity was kept secret for a long time during the 80′s, even if we had a multitude of potential subjects. Unlike the recent collection of Venom stories I read, I never felt like any of these issues was treading the same ground time and again. Yes, Hobby makes use of an alternate Hobgoblin to study Spider-Man, but the reader is made aware of this fact by the end of the issue and there’s not really a story that says this is Spidey and the Hobgoblin’s final battle–no really, we’re not kidding this time.

And while it’d be easy to chalk up my good will toward these stories as nostalgia, I still think there’s some solid storytelling being done here. Coupled with some consistent artwork and you’ve got a nice collection about one of Spidey’s more influential villains from the 80′s.

Batman: CacophonyBatman: Cacophony

Give Kevin Smith a lot of credit–he’s a heck of a saleman.

Listening to his newest podcast Fat Man on Batman and hearing Smith reference his work on two Batman mini-series intrigued me enough to seek out the books and give them a try. Thankfully, my local library has a copy of both collections saving me time and frustration in tracking them down.

First up is “Cacophony,” a three-part story about a gang war that erupts when Maxie Zues begins mixing the Joker’s lethal smile inducing compound in low levels with various street drugs. The new mixture is the hottest thing for getting high in Gotham and the Joker isn’t happy about his compound being used for this without his knowledge. In the middle of this is the Smith created villain, Onomatopoeia.

As Smith says in his introduction, the dialogue in the first issue is a bit of a question mark but it improved thanks to feedback and Smith’s desire to revise it. Smith goes on to say that this is the second best Batman story he and collaborator Walt Flannigan could dream up and that it set the stage for a much longer, more substantial story to come. Maybe this revelation should have been kept for an afterward since it immediately puts you in the mind-set of looking for flaws in the story and finding the ones that Smith points out.

The examination of the long dance of the Batman and the Joker and their twisted co-dependent relationship isn’t necessarily anything new or groundbreaking, but it is interesting under Smith’s writing. Whatever else you can say about Smith, the man has an ear for dialogue and the debate between the two in issue three is very compelling.

Batman: The Widening GyreBatman: The Widening Gyre

Kevin Smith and Walt Flannigan team up again for their second Batman mini-series, the longer and more complex “The Widening Gyre.”

As Bruce Wayne contemplates if and how he could hand on the Batman mantle to someone else, a new figure arrives in Gotham. Saving Batman’s bacon a couple of times, Bruce begins to wonder if might not finally have found his successor. Meanwhile, Silvia St. Cloud returns to Bruce’s life and the two rekindle their romance, leading to an eventual proposal by Bruce.

In a lot of ways, this feels like Smith’s attempt to tell an end of Batman story. The story allows Bruce to be happy for a while, but as we all know in comics and soap operas, happiness is extremely short lived. This volume ends on a heck of a cliffhanger, though based on what I’ve seen on-line, it’s unlikely we’ll get any resolution in the near future.

I have a feeling that reading this all in one collection removed a lot of the frustrations that a month to month reader experienced. For a lot of the story, it’s focused on Bruce and his happiness rather than his role as the Dark Knight. I have a feeling that in the second half, we’d see Batman become more prominent and Bruce Wayne fade into the background a bit.

We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.

As a Batman novice, I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely familiar with a lot of the backstory referenced here. But Smith gives us enough details to have things make sense and I’m sure long time readers caught a lot more of the Easter Eggs and references. You don’t have to be steeped in Batman lore to enjoy the story, but I expect an extra layer could be added if you know your Bat-history.

Preludes and Nocturnes (The Sandman, #1)Preludes and Nocturnes 

I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and yet, I’ve never read the entire run of Sandman.

I’ve made several runs at over the years, but each time I come up short.
I’m very good at checking out the first volume from my local library with the best of intentions to read it, but somewhere between the library and home I feel daunted by the fact that there are so many issues I’m behind on.

Thankfully, the series is complete (though Gaiman has said he’ll return next year with a prequel) and each volume isn’t a behemoth of pages like some of the epic fantasy series I’m behind on but tempted to pick up.

So it is that I finally picked up the first volume and cracked the cover, determined this time to at least read the first two volumes in this highly influential series.

After reading and enjoying the first, I wonder why I waited so long.

The first eight issues aren’t perfect–as others have said the story is little more than a quest saga–but they’re enjoyable, entertaining and a fascinating look at early Gaiman. Reading the stories, you can see Gaiman become more assured in his writing and storytelling prowess. By the end of the volume, all the pieces are in place for the rest of the run and I find myself no longer daunted by not having read the entire series but worried I’ll consume them all too quickly. I plan to read them fairly close together, but I think this is a series that I should savor and enjoy.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Review: Spider-Man, Batman and Sandman (oh my!)

  1. I love the Sandman series..it’s one of those series where the conclusion is actually very satisfying and ties up all the themes explored! I sat for 6 + hours to get his autograph!

  2. Lynn Williams

    I was recently commenting to somebody else that I haven’t read the Sandman series. There’s such a lot going on it seems almost daunting. But I’m definitely going to make a start!
    Thanks
    Lynn :D

  3. stazimel

    Good luck on Sandman. It really is fabulous and so incredibly layered. I love it….maybe it’s time for a reread!

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