Monday, July 12, 2010

Batman vs. Predator

Batman vs. Predator (4/5)

The trend in versus comics, much like variant covers, 3D holograms, moving images, sub Mickey Spillane superheroes and titanium embossed pressings, reached its apex in the 1990s, a time when the big comic book publishers were more interested in figuring out how to get people to buy multiple issues of the exact same comic book than they were about telling an exciting story. My guess is that the publishers figured, if they included two popular characters in one comic, then fans of both of those characters would purchase an issue (hopefully one of each different cover) and, assuming there’s little overlap, they could double sales. The creators of Batman vs. Predator, however, must not have received the memo telling them that this was a cynical attempt at boosting sales because they went ahead and created a story that can reasonably be considered both a great Batman and a great Predator story.

Batman vs. Predator is modeled more closely after Predator 2 than the original film. But instead of giving off a whiff of ideas leftover from the movies, BvP manages to improve on the formula of the Predator sequel. Once again, part of the appeal is seeing the predator juxtaposed against an urban skyline, and, once again, the predator first takes aim at the city’s criminal elements. However, instead of goofy voodoo gangs, the predator preys on Gotham’s organized crime. Unlike the cartoonish gangs of Predator 2 (who arguably belong more in comic books than in films), the two opposing gangsters, Alex Yeager and Leo Brodin, are written with the difficult combination of economy and depth. The crime lords have achieved an uneasy truce, and this peace has allowed Yeager to transform himself into a legitimate businessman. Brodin, however, is still mired in his illegal dealings. He is also aided heavily by his overbearing mother who bears more than a slight resemblance to Angela Landsbury’s character in The Manchurian Candidate. These are real characters, not the usual cardboard cutouts horror films prop up in front of the monster to be torn apart.

But what really matters in these sorts of mash ups is whether the title characters work in the same story. The science fiction elements might, at first, seem out of place in a Batman comic. Sure, Batman has teamed up with other, more science fiction oriented superheroes, most notably Superman, but he is almost always at his best as a character when he’s mixing it up with the freaks and weirdoes in the gutters of Gotham. And yet the predator works as a villain. The first film, after all, meshed the man on a mission film with a science fiction story, so the predator creature is no stranger to finding himself comfortable in what should be unfamiliar territory. The writers smartly play up Batman’s detective skills as he attempts to determine what he’s up against, an element that proceeds nicely from the first two films.

Dave Gibbons, of Watchmen fame, wrote the story, and he has managed to make a tense action oriented comic that deftly combines elements from both films. His writing is aided by some masterful artwork by Andy Kubert. Kubert drenches each scene in a blue toned palette, but unlike some color tinting in films that cause a muddled look, here each shade of blue provides so much depth and vibrancy you could have sworn the artist harvested the hues of dusk. The result is a comic book that, strangely enough, is a worthier successor to the original film than some of the more recent “sequels.”

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