Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: The Joker, the Riddler, and a Murdered Film

January 22nd, 2019 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.


Batman: The War of Jokes and Riddles (Comics, Tom King & Mikel Janín, 2017) Batman recounts the story of the Joker-Riddler war in his Year Two. King takes a lot of good ideas from other writers and makes them his own in this story that manages to squeeze a proper epic into eight issues. Janín’s layouts are the secret weapon here, folding up and flying where needed. Kite Man! Hell yeah! –KH

Injection Vols. 1-3 (Comics, Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey, 2015-2017) Five archetypal heroes (Ellis’ 21st-century riffs on Quatermass, Carnacki, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and Doctor Who) injected a sentient AI into the internet to stave off global stagnation — and must now deal with the consequences when it awakens the Other World. This “hauntological Planetary” is Ellis’ home turf, and although not revolutionary, the book is cruelly and wondrously crafted. Ellis broke the story to be five volumes, but the 60% we have is good stuff. –KH

Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes (Nonfiction, James Palmer, 2012) Examines the interlocking narratives of  the cataclysms that rocked China in 1976: the Tangshan earthquake that killed upwards of 250,000, and the death of Mao, followed by the maneuverings that brought down the Gang of Four and elevated Deng Xiaoping. Teases a complex and deliberately obscured story into a rattling narrative with thriller-worthy pacing.—RDL

Love in a Cold Climate (Fiction, Nancy Mitford, 1949) Even-keeled young woman observes the conflict between her preternaturally beautiful cousin and her mother, a blue-blooded battle-axe determined to marry her off despite her strange indifference to all suitable suitors. Somehow I failed to receive the memo on just how hilarious this classic satire of the English upper crust is.—RDL

Shirkers (Film, US, Sandi Tan, 2018) Documentary recalls the time when the filmmaker and her friends, as college-bound teens in Singapore, made a hip indie road movie, only to have their skeevy mentor abscond with the negatives. Moody memoir of stolen potential and the mark left on multiple lives by a scammer whose one talent was creating the appearance of talent.—RDL


Aquaman (Film, US, James Wan, 2018) Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) must find the Trident of Atlan to claim the throne of Atlantis from his eco-warmongering half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson); fortunately, Princess Mera (Amber Heard) likes him enough to help out. This is a by-God big-screen Silver Age spectacular in every way, including a travelogue plot and dialogue straight out of a Jack Miller word balloon. Kudos to Wan and to editor Kirk Morri for building momentum throughout, so the slack water mostly stays in the first act. Recommended for fans of Lovecraft references, Amber Heard, and CGI dino-sharks. –KH

Batman (Rebirth) Vols. 1-3 (Comics, Tom King & divers artists, 2016-2017) When Bane breaks Batman’s new proteges, Batman breaks Bane back, and Bane seeks revenge. King’s high concepts for the book echo well, but his pacing is stop-and-start. The result: story beats that get spelled out in dialogue boxes and balloons rather than depicted in, well, sequential art. (The art, by the way, is uniformly very good.) When King does try to write more panels-per-page, the results are worth it, in the two one-off stories (of Swamp Thing and Ace the Bathound) that end Vol. 3. –KH

Battles Without Honor or Humanity: Police Tactics (Film, Japan, Kinji Fukasaku, 1974) As the Tokyo Olympics approaches, the deadlocks of Hiroshima yakuza politics break open into open warfare, forcing a police response. Satire creeps into the long-running crime docudrama series, as the death spiral of the post-war crime families exposes its top gangsters as a gaggle of fuckwits and weasels.—RDL

Blockers (Film, US, Kay Cannon, 2018) Discovering that their daughters plan to lose their virginity on prom night, three variously boundary-challenged parents (Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz) set out to stop them. Amiable comedy from the Apatow school follows its reliable juxtaposition of raunchy hijinks with grounded characterization.—RDL

The Devil’s Doorway (US, Film, Anthony Mann, 1950) Shoshone sergeant major (Robert Taylor) returns from fighting for the Union to his Wyoming ranch, to find a tubercular Eastern lawyer (Louis Calhern) scheming to give it away to sheep ranchers. Anyone remaking this today would cast a native actor in the lead and trim the more didactic flights of dialogue. Still, for 1950 it’s surprising to see a film that makes settlers the marauding antagonists and paints the would-be white savior as ineffectual. Mann’s direction, with its below the waist angles and chiaroscuro lighting, outperforms the script. —RDL

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