Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thursday Review: Batman: Venom

It's my last review of Batman Knightfall-related stuff.  We've already done Knightfall, Knightsend, Vengeance of Bane, and Azrael, so now I'm going all the way back to what really got things in motion, the Venom miniseries from 1991.  You can buy a paperback reprint of this from Amazon or other booksellers.  But since it was just as much, I bought the five issues of Legends of the Dark Knight this was featured in online from the DC Comics site.  Though it was kind of annoying because unlike other series they don't have the Venom series categorized by a storyline so I only stumbled across them while I was goofing around.  That site is fun for looking at the old comics, though there are still a lot of gaps in the older series and some, like Azrael, that don't have much posted.  I'm sure they're working on that.

Anyway, so this is kind of a prequel series, which is apparent because Jim Gordon is only a captain (unlike the movies he didn't skip from Lieutenant to Commissioner) and Harvey Dent is not yet Two-Face and only an assistant DA.

When it starts, Batman is searching for a kidnapped girl named Sissy Porter.  (What a terrible name.)  He finds her in a water pipeline or something but there's a problem:  there's been a cave-in that is blocking Batman from reaching the girl and also causing the water to rise.  Batman struggles to remove some of the huge chunks of debris out of the way, but he's too weak to get one last piece to move.  Sissy ends up drowning while Batman can do nothing.  (It's a little contrived to me.  I mean usually Batman would have something in his utility belt to shatter the rock, right?)

Batman is a lot more bummed about the girl's death than her father, who is a chemist working on a super-steroid not yet known as Venom.  Batman breaks the bad news and then goes to track down the kidnappers to break them.  Except he's injured his shoulder from trying to lift the big rock and so ends up getting beat up instead.

That's when he decides to go back to Dr. Porter and get some of the steroids.  These give him the strength to beat up the kidnappers with ease.  Afterwards he feels so awesome he starts to laugh like a manaic--like the Joker.

From there Batman keeps taking the pills until he starts to look more like Superman.  He gets so cocky about his new strength that he starts going around without his costume, instead wearing only a trench coat and fedora when he beats up random bad guys for no real reason.  Later we start to see that the Venom has pretty much turned Bruce Wayne into a doltish thug.  He's also turned into a junkie, who has to visit Dr. Porter every few weeks or days for his next fix.

Porter and a retired general he's working with figure this is how they can control Batman to do their bidding.  Their first assignment is for him to eliminate Captain Gordon, who's been sniffing around their business.  In order to get his next fix, Batman agrees.

Except of course he doesn't go through with it.  Instead he warns Gordon and then goes to apprehend Porter and the general.  When he gets there, though, Porter uses some of the pills to distract Batman long enough to escape.

Having failed to apprehend the criminals, Batman decides it's time to get off the junk.  I felt kind of gypped because the description of part 3 says Batman will have to confront his worst nightmares and stuff.  Except we don't get to SEE anything.  He just locks himself in the Batcave and all we see is Alfred checking the intercom every so often.  What a ripoff!

Meanwhile, Porter, the general, and his goofy son Timmy have gone to Santa Prisca, which as you might know by now is where Bane was born and raised in a prison.  The junta there have agreed to help Porter with his work.  First Porter makes a new, more concentrated formula, this time an injection instead of a pill, so it's pretty much the same stuff Bane uses later on.  He uses the general's son as his guinea pig (with the general's permission), turning sweet goofy Timmy into a brute, which seemed like kind of a parody of Captain America's origin story.  I mean Timmy could have passed for a taller Steve Rogers before the Venom gets injected.

After spending a month in the Batcave (doing God only knows what) Batman finally emerges and begins getting back into shape so he can go hunt down Porter and the general.

Some time later, Batman and Alfred go down to Haiti and then rent a plane to fly them to Santa Prisca.  Meanwhile Dr. Porter and the general have made a squad of Venom-ed-up goons.  The general's plan is to take the goons to Africa to whomp on some bad guys to prove to the US government how great Venom is so then he can get his job back.  As for Dr. Porter, we learn the reason he didn't show much interest in his daughter dying is because he's hopped up on a different kind of pills, ones to help stimulate his brain while suppressing his emotions.

When Batman and Alfred get near the island, the general shoots down the plane with a missile--guess they won't get that security deposit back.  On the way down, Alfred and Batman are separated, landing on different parts of the island.  Batman manages to elude capture but Alfred is taken in.

Since they can't find Batman, the general and Porter dangle Alfred from a helicopter and send out a message saying if Batman wants his friend back, he'll have to rescue him from the ocean, at the point where sharks congregate.  So a bare-chested Batman goes into the water to save Alfred.  He has to fight off some sharks too, which he does by using a broken piece of wood that had been holding Alfred down and...wait for it...shark repellent!  Though I don't think the shark repellent came out of his utility belt like in the 1960s Batman "movie" starring Adam West where he was attacked by a plastic shark.  Still, talk about jumping the shark!

When they get to the shore, the general sics his son on Batman.  In a foreshadowing of Knightfall, Batman is too weakened to defeat the kid.  Then Dr. Porter makes the classic villain mistake of keeping Batman alive so he can try to get him hooked back on the Venom.

Of course it would be easy enough at that point to simply inject Batman with the stuff.  But it would be much more fun to make it needlessly complicated.  So they imprison Batman in a dungeon with a bag of pills.  The only way of escape is a door that weighs 800 pounds and soon water will be coming into the cell.

The only way out is to take the Venom, right?  Wrong!  Instead Batman dips into the "MacGuyver" bag of tricks.  Or maybe the "A-Team" whenever they would cobble together some Rube Goldberg stuff to defeat the bad guys.

Once he escapes, Batman finds that the general has turned on Porter.  (Another classic villain mistake.)  He has Porter tied up and using some special interrogation methods that would make waterboarding seem tame, he extracts the Venom formula from the good doctor so he can make the stuff for himself and keep all the profits.

Batman easily bests the general and manages to keep him from ordering his mindless son to intervene.  As revenge, though, Porter uses a tape recording of the general's voice to order the general's son to kill his father.  Eventually then Batman takes Porter to Puerto Rico, where Gordon is waiting to bring him in.  The End.

Obviously this is more non-essential reading.  Though it is interesting if you want to know where the Venom stuff came from that helped make Bane so awesome he could snap Batman like a twig.  The last couple of issues descended into traditional comic book plots, which made for a kind of unsatisfying ending.  I mean, shark repellent, really?  Then the classic villain tropes of keeping the hero alive when it would be much simpler to just kill him.  And while they don't come right out and say, "Just Say No" or anything, the anti-drug message is pretty obvious.  Drugs are bad, mmmkay?

And obviously I've read and reviewed all this stuff in about the most half-assed way possible, starting with essentially the middle then the end and then going back and back even further.  Well, too bad.

Next month I suppose I should lay off the Batman comics and move on to other stuff.  I've read a little bit of the New 52 Superman and Action Comics.  You know, start with the classics, right?  Other suggestions?

Labor Day I might have a guest post (the author hasn't gotten back to me yet) and Tuesday is another Two-Fer...

6 comments:

  1. I think you should finish your series on Batman with a self-pic in a Batman costume, spandex maybe, showing a big gut and cowl. That'd be awesome. You could Photoshop the words, "I'm Batman" onto it.

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  2. Great summary and review Pat. I had read an article somewhere outlining all the elements of Bane from previous comics. It's nice to get a feel of the first appearance of Venom. As a pill instead of a liquid no less.

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  3. Hey PT,
    What an impressive write up and I find your insight fascinating. My son really likes what you do here, along with my good self.
    Any comic stuff you choose will, no doubt, be a darned good read.
    Have a good one.
    Gary and co-starring, Penny...

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  4. I don't know if the story suggested this, but what may have gotten in Batman's way originally was complacency, believing he could simply do everything necessary, until he discovered a situation he hadn't considered before. So he panics and takes an easy way out (the drug Venom), only to realize what a horrible mistake it is, the exact opposite of what he's tried to do otherwise with his life. That's why he's then able to figure out how to get out of the trap without Venom, because he's starting to rely on his own ingenuity again.

    Or perhaps it's because, as you yourself pointed out, it's in the more formative development phase of becoming Batman, and most of this is just a huge mistake and learning moment.

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  5. Lol...I like Mike's idea.

    Interesting article. It looks like Batman had a case of roid rage for awhile...especially in that picture.

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  6. I like the synopsis's that you give for the batman runs. I have The Dark Knight Returns Graphic Novel on my bookshelf to read. I've never read that much Batman before, I've always been more of a Marvel guy, so that felt like a good one to start with. Of course, I've got 4 Green Lantern collections I've been 'borrowing' for more than a year that I need to read first. The movie kind of killed my enthusiasm for those though.

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