52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.  Paul Dini is in the spotlight this week, with today taking a glimpse at the work he has done with Bruce Timm.

Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories

Batman Mad Love And Other StoriesBatman: Mad Love and Other Stories is a collection of stories written by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm as well as illustrated by Timm and a handful of other artists.  The stories all are set in the world of Batman: The Animated Series and tell a multitude of different tales.  Mad Love follows Harley Quinn’s attempts to win the affection of the Joker by finally killing the Batman.  The other stories follow Batman in his adventures as well as provide glimpses at several members of his rogues gallery

The first story in this collection, The Batman Adventures: Mad Love, is easily the most important one.  Written by Dini and Timm with Timm also doing the illustrations, this story gives the most personal look you’ll ever see of Harley Quinn, establishing the origin story of the character introduced in the Animated Series.  Harleen Quinzel is a psychiatrist who begins working at Arkham Asylum in hopes of writing one of those tell all books that go on to sell millions of copies.  Quinn’s eyes catch the ever enigmatic Joker and she tries to crack into why he is the way he is.  The two crazies form a bond during their many sessions, resulting in Harleen falling madly in love with the Joker.  The rest, as they say, is history as Harley gives up her job as a psychiatrist to take up a life of crime with the Joker.

Although this story is a comedy, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm manage to tell a fascinating tale about how dangerous love can be.  As Dini describes it in the introduction, everyone has experienced that one person they fall head over heels in love for that is just awfully wrong for them.  You put up with the abuse of being in a relationship that is harmful to you because of how strongly you may feel while the other person might lack those feelings.  It can be dangerous and even crippling in some instances.  It’s this exact idea that inspired the character of Harley Quinn, making her peculiar for loving Joker but taking it to a state of tragedy because of the fact that she was his therapist as well.

Batman Mad Love And Other Stories interior 1I found the entire relationship between Joker and Harley to be punctuated by a single line in the story, that comes after a moment that is chilling and defines the type of character that the Joker really is.  After Harley frustrates the Joker, she is shoved out of a window by him and falls into the streets below.  When the police find an injured Harley laying in the street she replies “My fault…I didn’t…get the joke…”, which is a terrifying display of how people do actually begin to feel when they are in an abusive relationship they can’t escape.  Dini and Timm angle a serious subject like spousal abuse and adapt it into a comic that is meant for fans of a cartoon.  It’s fascinating, brilliant and disturbing how delicately Dini balances out this subject while keeping the comic in a light tone.

The Mad Love story is hands down the reason you should buy this trade as it’s just an all around solid glimpse into the character of Harley Quinn but also functions well as a tale of how dangerous love can be.  Mad Love may be worth the price of admission, but the extra stories that come with this collection just sweeten the pot.  No, not all of these stories are anything to write home about and they don’t even necessarily have any connectivity beyond the fact that Dini wrote most of them but they’re still fun stories set in the Animated Series universe. Whether it’s the tales of Ra’s Al Ghul going up against the demon, Etrigan, or Barbara Gordon having a run in with a particularly elusive Bat-villain, everything here is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

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Collects:  The Batman Adventures: Mad Love,  The Batman Adventures #3, The Batman Adventures: Annuals #1-2, Dangerous Dames and Demons, Holiday Special, Batman Black and White #1, Batgirl Adventures #1, Batman Gotham Adventures #10, Adventures In The DC Universe #3

Best Character:  Harley Quinn.

Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption:  “aw c’mon puddin’…don’t ya wanna to rev up your Harley?” – Harley Quinn.

Best Scene/Moment:  Batman gets inside of Harley’s head – The Batman Adventures: Mad Love.

Best Issue:  The Batman Adventures: Mad Love.  After everything I’ve said in this article it should be no surprise that I’d consider the titular comic the best of the collection.  You get a fun origin story, some serious subject matter handled tastefully, and plenty of Batman: The Animated Series related fun.  It’s a challenge to sit and read that issue without hearing Mark Hamill’s voice as the Joker creeping into every speech bubble that The Joker says.  That in and of itself is a testament to how well Dini has characterized this entire cast.

Why You Should Read It:  Come for the Harley origin, stay for the plenty of fun that comes after it.  Dini does a phenomenal job from one issue to the next in keeping the reader locked in with fun, high flying stories.  The characters are all so unique and highlighting the difference in everyone’s personalities is yet another area in which Dini excels.  Mad Love by itself is clever, brilliant and tragic all in one fell swoop.  It’s no surprise that Dini and Timm won an Eisner award for their work on that issue because of the reasons I stated above.  Mad Love is so good it’ll drive you mad.

Gotham City Sirens

Gotham City Sirens Book One coverPaul Dini stepped back into the Batman spotlight in 2006 to help compliment Grant Morrison’s run with the character.  In the midst of this run, Dini brought back the fan favourite Batman villain, Hush, and pitted him in a sinister way against Bruce Wayne and the Bat-family.  Dini used the reintroduction of Hush as a springboard for another series featuring three of Gotham’s baddest ladies.  Gotham City Sirens was born and cast Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy in a new light that won fans over immediately.

Gotham City Sirens follows Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy after some major shakeups in Gotham City.  Catwoman recently had he heart removed by Hush, Harley and the Joker are no longer an item and Poison Ivy has been spending plenty of time with a reformed Riddler.  When the three ladies cross paths in the new Gotham climate, they decide that there’s no better time than now for them to start living together.  With the three Gotham City sirens all under one roof, plenty of shenanigans start to unfold featuring a plethora of guests from Batman’s rogues gallery.

For a story that features Batman’s three biggest female villains (and sometimes allies), Gotham City Sirens is a far different story than what you’d expect it to be.  It’s more “Two Broke Girls” than it is something like “The Dark Knight Returns” (No I don’t watch Two Broke Girls, I just know the basic premise of that show…don’t judge me for knowing things!).  By that I mean the book is light and playful instead of taking itself overly serious, which is surprisingly refreshing and ultimately makes a ton of sense when you settle in to how the three main characters are portrayed.  It’s a series that I could actually see being made into something of a sitcom and with someone like Paul Dini writing it, a man who is famous for his work on Batman: The Animated Series, it makes sense that this comic could feel made for television.

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Talia Al-Ghul is just one of many characters from Batman’s rogues gallery who pops up.

Dini handles the distribution of story quite well throughout Gotham City Sirens, giving each woman her moment to shine but it is abundantly apparent from the opening moments that Catwoman is the “cat”alyst (sorry, I had to) for this story.  It’s the events that occur to her before Gotham City Sirens even begins that really dictate the direction of the story.  In Paul Dini’s Batman storyline “Heart Of Hush”, Hush surgically removes Catwoman’s heart to strike out against Batman.  It’s a great story that serves as a backdoor pilot to Gotham City Sirens.  Catwoman experiences a few minor health issues as a result of her heart being ripped out, grappling with that and ends up using Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy as an almost safety net.  Catwoman draws in the other two females by giving them a cut of the $30 million dollars she steals from Hush as a result of the “Heart Of Hush” story.  At the end of the day, it shows how heavily this story hinges on “Heart Of Hush” which is a little unfortunate.  With Gotham City Sirens being a fresh, new series, one would hope it would be a little less reliant on other stories but at the same time, if it wasn’t for certain developments in Batman’s world during this time fram, the book wouldn’t have even been possible in the first place.

As much as I point out how the heavy reliance on continuity is a little bit of a bad thing for the story, Paul Dini manages to still make it work brilliantly in other aspects.  When you get past having to take in that Hush is actually parading around as Bruce Wayne or that the Riddler is a good guy now, the story gets a bit easier to handle and actually compliments everything happening.  But to a further point, the best storyline in the first collection actually hinges on some little known history surrounding Batman and the Joker.  Dini pulls a great trick, fooling the reader into thinking one thing is happening when in reality it is something completely different that’s occurring.

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Dick Grayson is a great Batman who shares a bond with a Selina Kyle who is a little more heroic than villainous these days.

Each woman that forms up the Sirens gets a great chance to shine within every storyline.  Catwoman is a focal point of the entire series, dealing with her heart problems but also providing a home base to the ladies of the team.  Naturally she is cast into a leadership role, attributed to her wealth but in some ways also because of her character alignment.  Of the trio of Sirens, Catwoman is easily the one who falls closest to being considered “good willed”.  The feline loving female might be closer to a hero than any of the other women but that doesn’t mean she shies away from doing things that might not be considered good.  Harley Quinn is like the annoying younger sister of the bunch, still being slightly lovestruck as well as irresponsible.  She leads a fast and wild lifestyle with little regard for her actions or how they effect other people.  Harley seemingly goes through a very mild emotional roller coaster as she’s torn asunder by her loyalty to the ladies versus her loyalty to the love of her life, the Joker.  Poison Ivy seems like the most independent character of the bunch, with her stories never really needing much connectivity with the other women’s tales.  More often than not you’ll see Ivy off dealing with her own conflicts while Harley and Catwoman gallivant around Gotham.  Even still, Ivy’s inclusion in the story paves the way for the appearance of another important and unexpected member of the cast, The Riddler

One surprising aspect to his volume is the fact that Dini includes a reformed Riddler into the story on more than a few occasions.  With his initial appearance in the story, it’s easy for one to write off his appearance as meaningless but the further you get the more you realize that he has a bit more of a role to play.  Dini actually gives the character some great moments and even his own issue to tell a story in.  It defies a bit of the logic surrounding the title of the book having the word “Sirens” in it but it still works for telling some compelling tales.  The Riddler isn’t a character that many writers tackle due to the challenge it is to write him but Dini takes the challenge head on, utilizing the chance to write the character in a new light.

When it’s all said and done, the best part of Gotham City Sirens is the fact that these stories aren’t serious.  Yes, there can be some serious subject matter within some of these stories but Dini handles them with a tasteful manner that keeps the tone light instead of gruesome.  Ultimately, these stories were never going to change the lives of these women or Batman forever, and it shows in Dini’s approach.  He handles the characters seriously but the stories themselves are just fun.  When a writer doesn’t need to worry about making sure their stories are status quo shaking or internet exploding, they get a better feeling of freedom as they can write without the shackles of making sure everything is absolutely perfect.  With that said, Dini does strike perfection with how he writes every single character.  That alone is more than enough of a reason to pick up Gotham City Sirens and enjoy it for what it is; a fun collection of stories featuring a trio of Gotham’s lovely ladies.

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This scene taught me that love is essentially an evil clown face hurtling at you through a window at high speeds.

Collects:  Gotham City Sirens #1-13.

Best Character:  The Riddler.

Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption:  “And if I’ve learned nothing else from Bugs Bunny cartoons, it’s that there’s always SOMETHING I can say to get the bad guy to untie me.” – Harley Quinn.

Best Scene/Moment:  Harley Quinn and Bruce Wayne’s night out – Issue 4.

Best Issue:  Issue 5 -Out Of The Pest.  Issue Five stands out because of it’s dramatic opening and conclusion as well as the way Dini reaches into Batman history and uses a little known character from it.  The issue opens and closes with the Sirens in true peril of which they deal with in clever ways.  It’s an all around solid issue that is a high point to the most compelling arc inside the entire collection.

Why You Should Read It:  Read Gotham City Sirens because it’s fun.  Plain and simple.  Paul Dini nails the characterization of every single character in this volume, making every story rewarding even if they aren’t overly serious.  Dini throws conflict after conflict at these women and they just keep marching on to the beat of their own drum.  You’ll take plenty of laughs away from a collection of stories set in the Batman world during a particularly interesting time period.