28 February 2011

Legends of the Dark Knight: "Gothic" and "Venom"

The night before last, I read "Gothic" and last night--in between fretting over whether or not a tornado was, in fact, headed our way at 4:30 in the morning--I read "Venom."  I figured a joint review was perfectly fine for a pair of 20 year old stories.

Um, Bats? Bad place to get comfy.
Gothic: A Romance in Five Volumes
By Grant Morrison and Klaus Janson
Colored by Steve Buccelato
Lettered by John Costanza
Andrew Helfer, Editor
Kevin Dooley, Assistant Editor
Originally published in Legends of the Dark Knight #6-10 (April-August 1990)

In movie terms, "Gothic" starts off as M and becomes Ghostbusters 2.  Someone has begun killing prominent Gotham gangsters.  As we find out, this is a guy those gangsters killed twenty years ago...and who has a connection to Bruce Wayne's childhood.  I'm generally not a big fan of supernatural stories--especially those with a religious slant--but "Gothic" works surprisingly well.  This is a perfect example of the kind of story that Legends of the Dark Knight presented best: those off-beat, more daring stories that really would have been out of place in either Batman or Detective Comics.

That's more like it!
Story: Denny O'Neil
Layouts: Trevor Von Eeden
Pencils: Russell Braun
Inks: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Willie Schubert: Letters
Steve Oliff: Colors
Dooley & Helfer: Editors
Originally published in Legends of the Dark Knight #16-20 (March-July 1991)

"Venom" emerged as significant in Bat-lore a few years later when the character Bane was invented and revealed to be a Venom user.  The premise here is that, despondent after failing to rescue a child, Batman begins taking a performance enhancing designer drug created by the child's scientist father.  Before long, Batman has become little more than another steroid junkie with 'roid rage to boot.  He is also now a pawn in a scheme concocted by his drug dealing master and a former army general.  O'Neil tests the limits of Bruce Wayne's determination--obsession, some would say--and it's the psychological aspect that makes "Venom" so fascinating.  There are some standard superhero story elements here that feel somewhat contrived (including Alfred being kidnapped).  "Venom" was only the fourth story arc of Legends of the Dark Knight and one wonders how O'Neil might have crafted it later, once the series had really established itself as a forum for more mature and daring storytelling.

Both stories were later published in collected editions.  I'd waited a very long time to read "Venom."  I missed it when it was initially published and for one reason or another never remembered to buy the back issues.  Then, when Bane became a key character and DC published the "KnightFall" storyline, "Venom" issues became in higher demand and fetched $5-10 apiece, which wasn't terrible but still outside my comfort zone for issues.  Why I never bought the trade paperback, I can't say.  In any event, I'm thrilled to have found these ten issues on the cheap at Half Price Books recently.  It's been a blast reading 21 year old issues, including their letters columns and the ads; two key elements of any comic book reading experience that are omitted from collected editions.