Monday, September 04, 2006

Batman #655

Batman #655, September 2006, DC Comics
writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Andy Kubert
colorist: Dave Stewart
letterer: Nick J. Napolitano
associate editor: Michael Siglain
editor: Peter Tomasi

For the past ten years, the Batman titles have suffered from MTSAS: Multi-Title Story Arc Syndrome. From Knightfall to Zero Hour, from No Man’s Land to Bruce Wayne: Fugitive, to the latest Infinite Crisis, every few years or so the Dark Knight and his vigilant associates are distracted from their humble mission in Gotham to tend to personal or cosmic challenges. In the wake of each of these epics, a band of new creative teams take the reigns of the Bat-family’s tales and, supposedly, dare to steer them in bold new directions. I don’t envy the task, even when the teams are led by such capable writers as Grant Morrison and Paul Dini. Morrison and Dini already have noteworthy reputations with the Caped Crusader, but neither has been solely responsible for his solo, in-continuity adventures before. Needless to say, the next few months should be exciting one for Bat-fans.

Yes, if you can’t tell, I’m incorporating Detective #821, Dini’s first installment in his run, into this review of Batman #655, Morrison’s correspondingly inaugural issue. As far as I can tell, since the issues are so strikingly similar, this doesn’t break the A Comic A Day rules, nor does it eliminate ‘Tec as a future read, since Batman is the focal point of this review. (Heck, I wrote the ACAD rules, anyway. I can break ‘em if I want, so there.) Okay, enough housekeeping. Let’s get to work.

Batman #655 begins with a shocking sequence ripped right out of an Elseworlds tale, with a Joker-poisoned Commissioner Gordon plummeting from the rooftops, while the Clown Prince himself crotches over a bloodied, defeated Batman. While the Joker laughs over his triumph, Batman pulls a gun and shoots his arch nemesis in the face . . . just as the Batman swings overhead. Huh? Don’t worry. The gun-toting Batman is revealed as a manic ex-cop, the Commish and the Joker survive, and the kidnapped disabled kids (!) are saved, then, ironically, the real tale begins. Typical, knee-jerk storytelling from Morrison, whose deceptive sequence reminded me of: (1.) the first issue of Batman after Year One, another rainy rooftop encounter with the Joker that marked Dick Grayson’s post-crisis transition to Nightwing, and (2.) the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Over the Edge,” which was a half-hour red herring induced by the Scarecrow’s fear gas that warped the cornerstones of Batman’s world. Great company to keep, and a solid reference point to suck in a flip-flopping reader like me.

The ensuing story focused less on Batman and more on Bruce Wayne; Dini took a similar route in Detective. I don’t blame them. The mask has been seemingly glued to Bruce’s face lately, what with all of the crises going on. In Dini’s tale, Bruce uses his image as a party-hopping philanthropist to solve a string of high society murders, but in Morrison’s story, Bruce needs a crash course in Playboy 101 before hitting the scene. With a lull in crime, both Bruce and the Batman are idle, an interesting opportunity to explore the character’s relationships with others. Morrison takes the chance and handles it expertly. As a long-standing Bat-fan, some of my favorite issues were the stories that featured the Bat-family as a whole, with Batman, Robin, Alfred, Bathound, and Harold bumming around the Batcave, while Nightwing and Oracle checked in from the field. The ranks are significantly reduced of late, but Morrison conjured those old days. I’m grateful.

Of course, the most controversial aspect of Morrison’s run is his use of the old Son of the Demon story, which featured the underground birth of Batman and Talia’s son, who has only been seen again in the Elseworlds Kingdom Come mini-series. I think the existence of this child was presumably wiped out post-Crisis (sigh, the first Crisis), but I always liked that story, because Batman was exposed as a softy for family. I hope Morrison isn’t just using the boy, now around five or six years old I guess, as a sales gimmick, but that we actually see Bruce’s paternal side again. With Dick and Tim both in the family now, I’m curious to see how a legitimate heir to the Wayne fortune would shake things up.

Do I have to go on about Andy Kubert’s artwork, or J.H. Williams’, for that matter? Awesome. ‘Nuff said.

Unfortunately, as much as we can enjoy these stories, as this point in my reading career, I take them with a grain of salt. Hush promised to explore the torrid Batman/Catwoman romance, to no real avail. How can Morrison and DC in general expect us to accept any alteration to Batman’s canon as permanent? By the end of Morrison’s run, the kid could be living in Wayne Manor, his name on the will, and if the next writer wants to turn him into a Two-Face, Jr., so be it. Further, as much as I’ll enjoy Morrison’s and Dini’s respective runs, I don’t expect them to be around for more than a year. You want to talk about syndromes; I have abandonment syndrome. It’s only a matter of time before another crisis rears its ugly head. So, if you think the hypertime continuum is flimsy, compare that to my faithfulness to the Bat-books. It’s as consistent as they are.

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