- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2008

This chronic feature lets me review what´s recently passed my bloodshot pupils. So pull up a chair, break out the sarcasm filter and welcome to Mr. Zad’s Batman comic critique.

All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, hardcover (DC Comics, $24.99)-A truly all-star creative team helps re-imagine the early days of the Dark Knight and the relationship with his first young ward. This hardcover edition compiles the first nine issues of the ongoing series.

What’s the story: After 12-year-old superstar acrobat Dick Grayson sees his parents fatally shot, Batman swoops in to kidnap the youth and transform him into a masked vigilante nearly as ferocious as he is.

Within the story, Gotham is portrayed as the vilest of cities, and all of its residents, heroes and villains are in the foulest of moods. In fact, the nastiness is an infection that even spreads to Jimmy Olsen, Wonder Woman and even the Joker are a treat, but most of their personalities are twisted. (Batman wants his new protege to eat rats, and that pretty much sets the twisted tone.)

Writing strength: Industry legend Frank Miller got it right with “Batman: Year One” and “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns,” but his portrayal of the Caped Crusader in this book is just too hard to digest. It’s so over the top, the hero is more like a sadistic thug from Sin City than a compassionate crime fighter. Just in a sampling of pages, readers will find Batman abusing his new ward, cackling as he tortures criminals and aggressively making out with Black Canary.

Artist’s style: Industry legend Jim Lee’s art style is the salvation to Mr. Miller’s unbelievably grim look at Batman. At many points, his work overtakes the story and turns issues into an homage to his talents, especially in highlighting the female form.

Pop-art moments: Male fans will drool over Mr. Lee’s versions of Vicki Vale, Wonder Woman, Catwoman and the Black Canary as easily as they giggle at his deranged representations of Batman and the Joker. Mr. Lee is rewarded for his painstaking work with multiple splash pages culminating in a six-page foldout spread of the Batcave. Holy self-indulgent delivery, Batman.

Read it or leave it? Despite Mr. Lee’s illustrative breath of fresh air, readers will be smothered by the ever-accumulating mean-spirited and morose moments. Batman purists - such as myself - might read this like a celebrity tabloid just to find out how ridiculous Mr. Miller’s Batman can get. Readers new to the mythos might suffer a heart attack at its treatment of a beloved hero.

Batman vs. Two-Face, trade paperback (DC Comics, $19.99) - This collection offers 12 stories examining the tragic story of Gotham’s legendary District Attorney Harvey Dent, who becomes habitual killer Two-Face. Readers get tales covering more than 60 years of appearances by one of Batman’s greatest archenemies.

What’s the story: For a guy who spends more time getting plastic surgery and acid face peels than Joan Rivers, it’s amazing he has the time to challenge the Caped Crusader.

Older readers will love reading Two-Face’s first appearance in Detective Comics No. 68. (He originally was known as Harvey Kent.) Those with a sense of high irony will appreciate his dilemma in “Two of a Kind,” originally presented in Batman Black and White No. 1 (1996). Finally, admirers of the macabre will gravitate toward the two-part “Face Schism/Schismed Faces” reprinted from Batman Nos. 527 and 528 (1996).

Writing strength: It’s an all-star lineup (where have I heard that before?) as the likes of Bruce Timm try to explain the unbelievably bad luck of comics’ greatest split personality.

Artists’ style: Greats such as Bob Kane, Dick Sprang, Mr. Timm, Neal Adams do too good a job of illustrating the horror of Harvey’s world.

Pop-art moments: The team of Neal Adams and Don Kramer’s sequence (“Face the Ecaf” from Batman No. 653), showing Harvey using nitric acid to return to his former twisted state, is a worthy of goose bumps.

Read it or leave it? No need to flip a coin here (like Two-Face always does to determine his moral choices). It’s a solid collection of stories featuring the best of the best in the history of the industry.

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