DC Comics has been teasing Gotham City Villains Anniversary Giant for a few months now, but it’s finally here this week. It’s an anthology that features eight stories that cover some of Batman’s greatest villains like Poison Ivy, Penguin, Scarecrow, and even Killer Moth. Plus, Danny DeVito writes a story with Dan Mora. Nuff said?
Pretty much, actually, as this anthology is stellar. There really isn’t a bad story here with art that’s exceptional and intriguing, taking on a variety of the villains. A common through-line for the anthology is how each creative team humanizes its villain. There are stories that have wish fulfillment for its villain, well-written perspective that’s demented but understandable, the cruelty of thugs being expendable, and even parenting. It’s a good variety and they didn’t even need the Joker to make this book sing.
The book opens with a story by Danny DeVito and Dan Mora which reveals a kind of fever dream of a tale using Penguin and Catwoman. They’re working together, similar to their antics in Batman Returns, only this time their affection is mutual. The story weaves in some rather ambitious antics as well as a vaccine plot that’s actually a bit heartwarming. Given the disgusting nature of Penguin in Tim Burton’s movie, it’s quite a turn. Mora’s art gives the book a sharp look and there are some exceptional images of joy between the characters.
Following this is Wes Craig writing and drawing a Scarecrow story that adds dimensions to Scarecrow I didn’t know existed. It’s a story about why fear is necessary and how Batman’s agenda doesn’t work with Scarecrow’s. It’s also a bit twisted with a particularly unnerving use of darkness to scare. You might also notice characters from Dark Knight Returns pop in, giving it an intriguing angle. There’s a preachy quality to the story, which reveals how Scarecrow’s message could reach many.
Next is a Poison Ivy story by G. Willow Wilson and Emma Rios. It opens with a rather disturbing twist reminding us Poison Ivy is here for the plants and not the mammals. Directly after this moment, we see she has cause to be angry as the industrial complex is destroying the Earth. The story has a nice surprise to it when Poison Ivy’s plan takes a turn. It’s a reminder Poison Ivy has quite a heart and loves all kinds of life.
Red Hood is the next story by Stephanie Phillips and Max Fiumara, and it’s a nice ode to the henchmen. There are some good flashbacks that tie into Red Hood, but the story is actually about the legacy of Red Hood and what it means to the many henchmen. Or, based on the conclusion, how little it means at the moment.
Dan Watters and Skylar Patridge tell a Mad Hatter story that ties into Arkham City and reveals Hatter’s ambitious plans. It’s quite an angle and the story uses Damian Wayne well. There’s something to the teeth of these characters that Patridge captures that gives Mad Hatter a disturbing and gritty look.
Ariela Kristantina and Mairghread Scott tell a tale involving Killer Moth that is quite clever involving Killer Moth. The premise makes a lot of sense and shows how a smart villain can make cash without even technically breaking a law. The art makes you feel the downtrodden nature of Killer Moth, making his struggle more realized.
Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Riccardo Federici tell a sophisticated tale involving Ra’s al Ghul and Batman playing chess. Federici’s painterly art is gorgeous and amps up the story, working well off the sophisticated dialogue. It’s interesting to see how Batman’s white eyes, when rendered in a realistic way, are quite unnerving and inhuman. It juxtaposes well with Ghul’s more casual humanized look.
Wrapping up the book is a story by Nadia Shammas, Josh Williamson, and Max Raynor involving Talia al Ghul and her father Ra’s. This story ties into Deathstroke Inc. and Batman/Robin, giving it more purpose. It’s a shorter story, but it gives us quite a moment between Ra’s and his daughter that feels honest and true to the characters while building up what makes Talia who she is when she grows up.
Gotham City Villains Anniversary Giant is a great anthology that celebrates the good, the bad, and the evil of some of Batman’s greatest villains. This read feels important thanks to the ties to current stories along with icon Danny DeVito supplying one story. This is a reminder Batman’s villains are exhilarating, real, and inventive in the right hands.
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