Weekend Reading and Watching

This afternoon, I finished up Batman: Dark Victory, the Jeph Loeb-scripted, Tim Sale-penciled sequel to their previous Batman miniseries, The Long Halloween. Once again, I was underwhelmed. There are some strong elements to the book — Sale’s shadowy artwork is pleasingly moody, and Loeb does a nice job of balancing organized criminals with costumed supervillains — but once again, the story doesn’t live up to its promise. Both books are structured like detective fiction; there are a series of murders, and the question of whodunnit is the primary plot driver. But the detective elements aren’t terribly convincing. Batman beats a few people up to get information, and he puzzles vaguely over crime-scene clues, but there’s precious little real detecting in the book. And, to make things worse, there’s almost no character arc to speak of: Batman deals briefly with his own propensity to work alone, but, as in The Long Halloween, the bulk the story seems designed to take readers on a tour of his deadliest superfoes — Harvey Dent, Joker, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and Solomon Grundy all make appearances, but with the exception of Dent (who plays a pivotal role), none manages to make much of an impact. They’re there as props, designed mostly to inflate the villain count and make the story seem as if it’s got an epic sweep. Sale gets Gotham’s mood just right, but Loeb essentially forgets that there’s more to Batman than a lineup of supervillains — while ignoring the focus on character and procedure that drives the best Batman stories.

Character and procedure, meanwhile, are at the heart of one of my all-time favorite heist movies: Joseph Sargent’s original 1974 adaption of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, which I watched again this evening (in part to show Megan, who’d never seen it). The details aren’t perfect, of course (Megan noticed that a few of the station interiors were wrong, for example), but one of the movie’s strengths is the clear delight it takes in exploring and explaining the inner-workings of the New York subway system — workings that are crucial to understanding both the villains’ plot and the city officials’ responses. The final act is somewhat uneven, mostly due to the unwieldy way it’s all wrapped up, but the movie’s comparatively careful devotion to small-scale procedural detail, coupled with its cast of droll, cranky 1970’s NYC archetypes and not-so-thinly veiled stand-ins (Lee Wallace’s unnamed Mayor is particularly effective as an Ed Koch mirror) make for thoroughly enjoyable, and surprisingly durable, genre entertainment.