‘Sup readers? Welcome back to On The Shelf, a column written expressly to help you decide which book is good enough to shine on your shelf, and which book just isn’t worth paying full price for. Initially, this week’s pick was Follow Me Down by Sherri Smith— and then I received a package in the mail that I forgot I’d even bought: a pre-order of Brian K. Vaughan’s work on Batman, collected in a glossy trade paperback (apparently, this will officially be released next week. I guess I just got mine early).
Okay, confession time: I have not read a word of Brian K. Vaughan. Despite having the first volume of Y: The Last Man staring at me from my bookshelf, and hearing people gush endlessly about his epic space opera, Saga, I have yet to drink the Kool-Aid. Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to completely drowning in the Kool-Aid, so I, too, can preach the virtues of Vaughan, but the size of my ever-expanding TBR keeps directing me to other titles. I’ll get to them one day, and hey, at the very least, Vaughan’s run on Batman has encouraged me to try his other work.
But I do have to be honest about this collection’s biggest drawback. It’s a republication of the False Faces trade that first made the rounds in 2008. I’m not entirely sure if there are any differences between False Faces and Batman by Brian K. Vaughan, but both seem to include the exact same stories in the exact same line-up. Batman seems to be a newer, shinier edition with a different ISBN number. I have to think there’s some sort of positive improvement with the 2017 edition, but that might just be wishful thinking. Here is the cover for the False Faces trade:
Here is the cover of the book I received (sans mycomicshop logo):
But let’s get into the trade itself, rather than its technicalities. The book starts off with a charming (if self-effacing) introduction from Brian K. Vaughan himself, who essentially tells us he is immeasurably grateful for his time with DC comics, and that in the pages he wrote, he experienced “growing up in public as a writer.” It’s a raw look back at the person he used to be, and a tribute to all of the people who believed in him— in fact, it’s a very nice touch, and apparently, we can all thank comic book veteran Kurt Busiek (Superman: Secret Identity) for Vaughan’s work being collected and distributed years after the initial release.
The volume contains two short stories (“Close Before Striking,” and “A Piece Of You”) and two one-shots (“Mimsy Were The Borogoves,” and “Skullduggery”). I wasn’t a huge fan of “Close Before Striking” (surprise, surprise, that seems to be most people’s favourite from this collection). I found it to be startlingly simple for a Batman story (maybe I’m just not getting the psychologically thrilling angle? I will fully accept the fact that I could be dense). The other three were a lot of fun, particularly “Mimsy Were The Borogoves.” “A Piece Of You,” is actually a Wonder Woman story, in which Vaughan creatively pits Diana against Clayface. There are a couple of brief Batfamily cameos, but Batman doesn’t appear in it at all. It would have been cool to see him team-up with Wonder Woman, especially since they’re both posed so heroically on the cover, but I can definitely appreciate a story that gets handled the Amazonian way, without The Bat stepping in to save the day. I actually think it would have been cool to see Vaughan tackle a longer Wonder Woman storyline, because even though, in his introduction, he writes, “it’s probably the least developed,” story in the trade, it was really entertaining. Naturally, he’s onto greener pastures, but the “what ifs” of his non-existent run on Wonder Woman are fun to contemplate.
“Skullduggery,” was hands-down my favourite, which is unfortunate, because the identity of the Skeleton, a villain who knows Bruce Wayne on a creepily personal frequency, has never actually been revealed. It was an audition of sorts to see whether or not Vaughan would be Batman’s regular writer, an honour which ended up going to Ed Brubaker (Gotham Central).
The verdict? As a writer, it was heartening for me to see the progress of a modern-day comic book legend, and I’ve just taken Y: The Last Man off my shelf to give it a proper read. Additionally, the stories in this trade could be prime episode material for when the next Batman cartoon inevitably arises— just clean up the few instances of blood, and boom. I want to recommend this, because the stories were quick and “Skullduggery,” will be stuck in my brain for the next little while— but if I’m being honest, there are other, better Batman stories that tread the same ground as the stuff in this trade. Subjectively, I’m keeping this instead of passing it on, because to me, the content was worth the money (the art is A+. While some of the stories were rudimentary or just plain weird if you think about them for more than two minutes, they also kept me occupied/not wishing I was reading something else instead). Objectively, I can’t say I’d recommend this to a Batfan without first exhausting the options of Morrison, Brubaker, Snyder, or Loeb. Batman by Brian K. Vaughan will have a place on my shelf, but due to a combination of waffling and sentimentality, I can’t accurately suggest it for yours. You can buy it here.