ďBatman & Son, Part 1: Building a Better BatmobileĒ
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Andy Kubert
Publisher: DC Comics
Kevin T. Brown
Grant Morrison & Andy Kubert on Batman. Instant gold. The end.
Um, hold on a sec there, buckarooÖ Itís not quite that simple. While Morrison & Kubert doing Batman is most definitely going to make DC lots of gold, er, money, that doesnít mean itís automatically the greatest comic of all time. On the contrary, I found the story to be extremely average and confusing in some spots. The only saving grace is the artwork by Kubert.
Iím really not quite sure how to take this story. The opening sequence is confusing as hell and reeks of ďimaginary taleĒ or dream. This whole story feels a littleÖ off. Plus I really donít see DC killing off one of its main villains in such a throwaway moment. Literally. It just makes no sense whatsoever. Though I suspect the key to it all is said by Commissioner Gordon: Everybody needs to lighten up.
While there are some nice bits, especially concerning Alfred, Morrison just seemed to go to the extreme in making Bruce Wayne unlike Batman, except for the voice. Making Wayne appear to be addle minded at times and just not aware of his surroundings. Again, something is just off there. Including the continuity where Talia is concerned.
Talia, as currently represented in the DCU, is a smart, savvy businesswoman who is one of the leaders of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Never was there a mention of her having a son. Least of all a son conceived by Batman. (Before anyone mentions it, yes I know of the great graphic novel Son of the Demon by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham. Itís always been strictly out of continuity. Until now apparently?) The confusion just increases.
Quite possibly the best part of the book, and the one that makes the most sense in terms of how the characters are acting/reacting, is when Bruce Wayne crosses paths with Kirk Langstrom in London. Those few pages got me back into the story and have me curious as to whatís to come. I especially like Wayneís reaction and comment to Langstrom rushing off.
One thing I have zero complaints about is the artwork by Andy Kubert. He just draws a damn good book. His Batman is physically imposing, while not looking absurd. While his Bruce Wayne is not like Batman at all, trim and yet not thereís a ďsoftnessĒ to him. His Batman is also always shrouded in darkness, even in the sunlight. His Alfred looks sufficiently proper, while maintaining that knowing twinkle in his eye. And his Joker looks maniacal and downright scary, while paying a slight homage to Marshall Rogersí rendition. Every page by Kubert has something incredible to offer, from the back alleys of Gotham City to the Batcave to a hotel lobby London; theyíre filled with lots of detail and depth.
Overall, I really have no idea where this story is going. If I didnít know Morrison was writing it, Iíd wonder who hacked it out. The thing is, Morrison always has a plan and Iím willing to play along with the ďwait and seeĒ attitude, plus there are numerous ďEaster eggsĒ for the fans to figure out along the way (i.e. the graffiti in the alley). For now, Iíll just enjoy the high quality artwork and hope the story catches up soon.
Ninja Man-Bats. Thatís what this issue boils down to. If that intrigues you, then buddy, I have the book for you. If it sounds like the corniest thing since Superman picking up a continent of Kryptonite then at least try this book for the continuations of the best Raís al Ghul story ever, Son of the Demon. Other than that fascinating development, the only other things to happen in this issue are the Joker being shot in the face by a cop dressed as Batman (after Joker had crippled him with a crowbar no less!), Gordon being poisoned by the Joker, Alfredís worrying that Bruce has forgotten how to be Bruce, Bruceís traveling to London and bumping into Kirk Langstrom which brings us right back to....Ninja Man-Bats.
So if it isnít obvious by now, Iím not psyched about the direction this series is taking right off the bat (no pun intended). I was really hoping that ďBatman and SonĒ would actually be about Batman and his son. Not Batman going on yet another vacation, with a little Joker thrown in because every artist in the world loves drawing the Joker. Seriously, the whole first half of the issue is mindless filler and unnecessary exposition. Alright, Batmanís made the city pretty clean again, woohoo, can something interesting happen now? No, now we have to go to the Batcave and talk with Alfred and Tim. Be still my beating heart. I did like the little scene with Gordon in the hospital, though it seems like a DVD deleted scene that serves no purpose besides being slightly amusing. Remind me again, what are your priorities here? Telling a good tight story or just letting it all hang out? After that however, the plot does start rolling towards something when Bruce leaves for London to rediscover himself, despite the fact he just spent a whole year doing that, or did we already forget? When Bruce quite literally runs into Langstrom, you can tell somethingís up. And not because Batmanís the world's greatest detective, because the scene has the subtlety of Hawkmanís mace being repeatedly bashed into Green Arrowís skull. Itís just an example of how totally uninspired this comic is. If the concept wasnít so good (though it isnít even an origional idea), this would be at most a comic, depending on how moody I am at the time.
Sadly however, I have been waiting for this story for years and years and years. And while not used.....well, at all really in this issue, Talia and young Ibn are intriguing, and itís because they are used so little that they are interesting, even though I havenít liked what DC had done with Talia since ďHush.Ē I am hungry for anything relating to Raís al Ghul and his empire (though not when it includes randomly killing off his heir in some attention ploy that failed to attract any attention), so I hope this part of the story is given more emphasis than the.....you guessed it, Ninja Man-Bats.
There are some real shining parts though. I really like the art. For a second I thought I was looking at some of Jim Leeís work, then I realized not everyone had a square jaw. Alas. Itís fantastic stuff, and I hope the quality is continuously good throughout the series. But other than that, the storyís a letdown so far, and only my rampant desire to see more of the Son of the Batman will have me coming back.....not the Ninja Man Bats. What a sorry, sorry idea for a plot point.
Itís always tempting, when an A-list creator like Grant Morrison takes over an A-list character like Batman, to get carried away with oneís enthusiasm and overlook the resulting comicís flaws. Fortunately, thereís little danger of that occurring in this case, as the writing at least is remarkably strong.
This is as good an example of a first issue as you could ask for, kicking off in medias res with an immediately compelling sequence that forcefully grabs the readerís attention before segueing neatly into some fine character work and finishing up with a double cliffhanger (because just one apparently isnít enough for Morrison), as an interesting character is dragged out of continuity limbo, and a horrific threat is unleashed upon Batman. Itís all good, expertly crafted stuff, and if there is a flaw, then itís the way that the issueís plot is driven by Batmanís need to take a holiday, mere weeks after DC made such a big deal of him doing so in the immediate aftermath of Infinite Crisis. As a result, thereís a slightly clumsy and artificial feel to the plot, made no better by the bits of dialogue that directly address the issue, which just come across like editorial tinkering rather than the elegant scripting Morrison is known for. That said, even though Iíve banged on about it for far too long, itís really not a major problem.
Andy Kubert turns in art of a high standard in terms of composition, characterisation and the like, but nonetheless the comic has a distinct lack of visual energy. This is very nearly a great-looking comic, with some sequences which should be stunning, but it has a soulless and bland look, almost as if it were constructed by a computer programme rather than a human artist. All that said, colourist Dave Stewart saves the day somewhat with some spectacular work that does much to liven up proceedings, particularly in the opening sequence.
This is a suitably impressive debut from the new creative team, but things havenít quite clicked yet. There is a slightly static and artificial feel to things in this first issue, but if thatís the only problem, itís not a bad start at all.
Iím very, very conflicted about this one.
Letís start with the good stuff: when Grant Morrison wrote Batman during his run on JLA, the character was practically omniscient, almost to the point where he - the quintessential human (read: non-powered) hero - could be considered superhuman. Now, sure, itís badass and all to see Batman come up with an extensive family history of a villain based on his underwear brand, but if you know everything, there isnít much to challenge you.
This version of Batman is much more toned-down, and consequently, much more human. Itís mostly the little touches, like expressing pride towards Robin, or being re-educated by Alfred on how to be Bruce Wayne. Subtle, but I think thatís exactly what Batman needed after the Crisis. If you read between the lines, you can see the agenda here is to achieve some kind of recovery, to pull the character away from the almost-cartoonish extremes of the last few years (All-Star Batman and Robin? I know of no such book. La la la).
Morrison also takes a stab at breaking two of the biggest unwritten rules in the superhero genre: you canít have kids, and your primary antagonist never really dies. Of course, I doubt what happens in this issue will stick for very long (who knows, it might all be misdirection to begin with). Still, it creates a good first impression, the idea that maybe he really is going to crack Batman out of the static conventions heís been stuck in for decades.
But this leads me to the issueís main problem: the whole first scene starts in medias res, but Iíll be damned if I know which medias and where the res is supposed to be. Thereís another Batman, and the Joker dies, and Commissioner Gordon is poisoned and Kirk Langstromís running around like a refugee from From Hell, and it all comes off very awkwardly - almost like youíre reading it in fast-forward. Now, I can think of two ways to interpret this: one is that Morrison did this deliberately, a quick and chaotic dismissal of the status quo before things get ugly. Itís a legitimate tactic, I suppose, though it probably would have benefited from a bit more emphasis.
The other way is that Morrison has taken to throwing out developments that should matter, except he doesnít know how to fully use them in the context of the story. Obviously, that doesnít bode well for the arc as a whole because a lot depends on the gravity he attaches to these recent developments. And yes, I can see a post-modern perspective where the Jokerís death really isnít that big a deal, that itís as deserving of the iconoclastic treatment as Magneto was in New X-Men... but even then, there has to be something at the heart of the matter, some kind of reason we should react to it.
Clearly not a shining example of his best work, then. But Batman and Robin are characterized nicely, Junior creeps me out, and now that the initial hurdles are out of the way, itís certainly possible for Morrison to kick things up a notch. Iíve seen him do it before. For this issue specifically, though, Iím going to have to go with ďaverage, with potential.Ē
Caryn A. Tate:
Morrison has done it again!
This was the best issue of Batman that Iíve read in a very long time; Mr. Morrison understands the characterization of Batman better than most. His storytelling gets right to the heart of the character and gives us some reminiscent details that hearken back to the older, classic Batman comics that Iíve really missedóthe reappearance of Bruce Wayne, Batman cracking jokes occasionally, and Bruce and Alfred traveling abroad, to name a few. But more than that, itís the feel of this comic that is so refreshing. It feels lighter, fresh, injected with an energy that Batman as a character has been missing for too long. Almost every page of this issue contains another aspect of the true essence of Batmanís character, and his supporting charactersí personalities, that most fans of the hero will recognize and love.
At the beginning of the issue, Batman stops the Joker in the process of committing more of his heinous crimes, including poisoning Commissioner Gordon. Later, as he recuperates, Gordon tells Batman that he thinks he should get out of town more often, and we learn that Batman has recently cleaned up the majority of crime in Gotham. Alfred makes a similar suggestion to Bruce, that he needs to relearn how to beÖwell, himself again.
The first aspect of this story that leapt out at me was the concept that Gotham has been cleaned up by Batman. I would love to know what happened to this idea in the Batman comics of recent years. How can readers be reasonably expected to see Batman as a hero when Gotham remains crime-ridden, despite his vigorous crime-fighting efforts every single night? Batman is a major hero, and as such he should be making an obvious difference in his city. I was relieved to see this detail in Mr. Morrisonís first issue, and it greatly helped me feel even more excited about his run on this comic.
It could seem like a very small detail, but there was something very special for me personally in one panel around the middle of this issue. Mr. Morrison hit on yet another aspect of Batmanóor, in this case, Robinóthat has been missing for some time. Tim has dropped in to the Batcave to touch base with Batman on the nightís criminal activity (or lack thereof), before heading out on his vacation to the mountains. He was only briefly in the comic, but in a single panel we see why Batman has a Robin.
Being a fan of various interpretations of Batman, including the old TV show from the Ď60s, I was amused to see the Bat Poles being used in the Batcave in this issue. They were just another example of Mr. Morrisonís outstanding creativity; I can never imagine him running out of ideas and little details that make his writing so enjoyable.
The only aspect of the comic that I was the least bit apprehensive can be found at the end of the issue. It is something that does make sense, but I would rather not see it happen in the Batman comics. But, honestly, I didnít feel concerned about this detail for long; after finishing the issue, I think that facet will end up being something completely different than I expected, something welcome and worthwhile. And if Iím wrong, and this detail is just what it seems to be, I have no doubt that the rest of this creative teamís run will be more than worth that one negative aspect.
Mr. Kubertís art is brilliant here. His panels are so detailed and so clear that, combined with Mr. Morrisonís storytelling, create a truly engrossing comic. It feels real, and the characters feel the same way. In addition to the action scenes, which pop off the page, I really enjoyed Mr. Kubertís interpretation of Bruce Wayne. Mr. Stewartís colors are appropriate and rich, adding a lifelike quality to the pencils. This is a superb creative team, one that I wish could stay on the comic for a long, long time.
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