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Sunday Slugfest - Batman #658

Posted: Sunday, November 12, 2006
By: Keith Dallas

“Batman and Son: Absent Fathers: Part 4”

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Andy Kubert (p), Jesse Delperdang (i), Guy Major (colors)

Publisher: DC Comics

Average Rating:

Kelvin Green:
Luke Handley:
Shawn Hill:
Bruce Logan:
Chris Murman:
Caryn A. Tate:
Dave Wallace:
Thom Young:

Kelvin Green

Hmmm, no, this isn’t quite clicking. There are elements here of Morrison’s “international man of mystery” type approach, as Batman and his son head off to Gibraltar in a sub-orbital Bat-rocket to battle ninja man-bats on a submarine and rescue the British Prime Minister’s wife; but a plot like that should crackle, and this comic merely ambles its way through the motions. Part of the problem is the Marvelesque pacing, as we get two (maybe three at a push) issues’ worth of story stretched out into four chapters, culminating in an ending which is supposed to be frantic, edge-of-the-seat stuff, but instead comes across as rushed and truncated. A much larger problem is the limp and listless feel to proceedings; the basic elements of a pure, fun superhero tale are all here, and even a lesser talent could fashion something entertaining from them, so Morrison’s inability to do so is just baffling.

Andy Kubert may be partly to blame for the tired feel, as while he’s a solid artist and storyteller (Robin's massively exaggerated arm on the title page notwithstanding), he doesn’t produce the most exciting of imagery; his work seems characterised more by poses than movement, and as a result, dynamic storytelling is rarely seen. That said, Kubert does draw Gibraltar as the promontory it is, rather than the island the script claims it to be, so that’s a plus.

I’ve given this creative team four issues to live up to their reputation and potential, and aside from a couple of glimpses, such as the sharp script, that hasn’t happened. Add to that the promise of forthcoming fill-in stories, and I’m left wondering when exactly this comic is going to start being the riotously impressive rejuvenation of Batman it’s supposed to be.

Luke Handley:

Well, that was interesting. Honestly, it was. This is a decent Batman story with a twist, and is an above average rating after all. It’s just not as spectacular as I was hoping it would be. The reason I picked up this arc was because I decided to give the Batman titles a go with the “One Year Later” jump. I enjoyed James Robinson’s “Face the Face,” so I decided to stick around. I didn’t pick it up exclusively for Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert, but that was an obvious bonus!

This concluding chapter of “Batman and Son” is, for the most part, pretty good. Things pick up at a quick pace as Batman deals with family issues at home, figures out Talia’s plan, thinks of a way to stop her and then goes and kicks some Ninja Man-Bat arse. It’s all good fun action and an entertaining read. But…

After the first three issues of this story, I really wasn’t thrilled by Damian. He just felt like a shoe-horned in plot device with no personality and just a one-line “but that’s what they teach us in the Assassins League, yardy-yar…” Here, however, he actually becomes interesting, a boy who never knew his father but was told how great he was and he feels like he’s got a lot to prove to the old man. Seeing him fighting alongside Bruce against his mother was good stuff as was his belief that they could all be one big happy family. But then, the issue ends, and he “disappears.” Obviously he’ll be back, but why shake up the Bat family dynamics by throwing a son in there only to whisk him away again? I really thought Damian was going to stick around for a bit and was looking forward to all the chaos that would ensue.

A couple of other things didn’t thrill me about this issue. Okay, Talia holds the British Prime Minister’s wife hostage but for him to surrender Gibraltar without a fight? Come on, honestly, do you think they’d just stand down? I know the politics in the DC Universe don’t follow real world politics as closely as in the Marvel Universe but still, negotiation with terrorists? And maybe you could get away with it if it was just a hand-over but as soon as those Man-Bats start lopping off heads, surely there’d be some reaction. Also Talia’s actions themselves can only be called naïve. Yeah, she went to all this trouble to quite cleverly place Damian at Bruce’s side and tries to convince him to let her fight crime with him and help reform her. But then she goes and says that they’ll help their son become master of the Earth! Damn it woman, you know the guy by now, do you really think saying that kind of thing is going to win him over? Then she just stands around waiting to be torpedoed. I don’t think anyone believes that either Damian or her are gone for good, but still, if this was her grand scheme, it was a pretty crap one.

On the art front, Andy Kubert turns in another solid issue. I loved his work on Origins and 1602. This is not quite up to the same standard, but he still draws quite a mean Batman, if a slightly bulky one. There are, however, one or two things that niggled at me. When Bruce finally loses his temper with his son, the dialogue and font of the letters suggest he’s one pissed off dad, but the art seems to show him as only mildly annoyed. I mean the little creep has managed to nearly kill your adopted son and given the person who’s cared for you since you were a boy a beating, and all you do is frown at him? Also, and this is the colourist’s fault, what’s going on with Talia’s top? Is she supposed to be showing her cleavage or not? I’d say the art suggests yes, but whatever choice you make you should stick to it and not change it several times throughout the issue.

Wow, looking at what I’ve just written. I seem to be complaining a lot. I guess I am, but as I said, I still enjoyed this enough to want to know what comes next and am actually looking forward to Damian’s eventual return. There’s also a lot to like here: I love the way Morrison writes Alfred, the “Bat-Rocket” was worth a smile, I still like the whole army of Ninja Man-Bats gimmick. This is a good Batman story, no doubt setting the scene for things to come during Morrison’s run and definitely worth reading if you’re a fan of the character. Otherwise, it’s not that outstanding.

Shawn Hill

Plot: Batman is disgusted with the confused and facile immorality of his son, which means he takes him along to confront Talia for his own and everyone else’s protection.

Comments: Bruce brings out Morrison’s James Bond side. And he brings out Kubert’s Neal Adams side too, apparently, as that opening scene of Batman stumbling upon the wounded Robin (we need little else to recognize his worst nightmare) is beautifully done.

I don’t explore the Batman caverns very often. I especially don’t do it when he’s all-costume, all-the-time. I like to see Bruce flirting with the ladies now and then, not being treated to one horror after another, all of which only augment (rather than aid or prevent or ameliorate) his mental dysfunction.

Morrison’s Batman gets to be a boy’s own dream: he’s got cool toys. Deadly femme fatales succumb to his charms. He’s got mad skillz and no evident fear in any situation. He’s a badass. Damian can’t help but be impressed, but then Damian isn’t really the best judge of character. I feel sorry for the boy’s skewed value system, for all that talent and intelligence and “genetic perfection” going so astray as it will in his den of thieves.

And whenever I think of Batman, I think of loneliness. All those toys, but built by himself, funded by himself. One loyal manservant and one loyal sidekick do not a community make. Maybe that’s why I like Bruce best smiling, when he’s on the JLA satellite (or wherever), getting exasperated with Guy, palling around with Clark, figuring out a plan of attack with Diana, getting ribbed by Ollie. He’s better off in small doses, for me, as part of an ensemble.

But Morrison does find the joy in the character, and this tale feels like a worthy sequel to those classic Talia and Ra’s tales from the past, the ones that were so definitive in realizing a James Bond cool for Bruce back then, too.

So we get cinematic excess this issue: torpedoes at sea, rocket ships and parachutes, a sky full of flapping man-bat wings. It’s all very dramatic, it’s got a familiar but effective rhythm, and it’s over before you know it. Talia makes a passionate plea in the midst of that, an offer to Bruce of something he’s never had and can’t accept now, because her mad dreams of domination don’t jibe with his goals of protection. But she had to try, and then the stage is cleared for the oldest foe, abruptly, just like the end of a movie.

Bruce Logan:

As it goes, I usually end up liking pretty much everything I read by Grant Morrison. Be it his stint on JLA, Animal Man, X-Men, WildCATs, All-Star Superman or even Vampirella, I have more often than not enjoyed his writing style and its eccentricities. So it should be a given that I’d like his take on of my top two favorite comic characters. After all, I liked the way he wrote Wolverine in X-Men (sort of). It should be a cakewalk and all that jazz.

Well, it should, but it isn’t. I was already a bit wary after reading his interviews about what he had planned for the Dark Knight, and now reading these last four issues (#655-8) has only gotten me counting the issues to when Morrison gets Grant-ed off the Bat.

This is not the Batman depicted in ‘Tec, or the one from the new JLA series, or even the one in LotDK or Robin or just about any other ongoing or mini he has recently appeared in. In fact, this is not even the Batman; this is just a bored billionaire playing dress up, shagging around and showing off one or the other of his toys. Not only is he unable to discipline or even keep in control a prepubescent brat, he also seems more interested in standing around looking all high and mighty and doing nothing.

While last issue’s “cliffhanger” ending was not that cliffy, its follow-up is just about as clichéd. Arriving at the cave, Batman finds the unconscious and bleeding Robin and the beaten-up-but-still-walking Alfred. A couple of pages of getting the two settled and a couple more arguing with Dam-whatisname-ien and it’s off to the Gibraltar after Talia and her Man-Bats. Once there, it’s time for a fight scene, one that is so tired that reading it even got me yawning. Not only does Morrison seem to be operating on automatic pilot (i.e. phoning in his stories), he even seems to have Bats doing the same.

What follows next is a remixed replay of one of countless Batman-Ra’s Al Ghul “Really Detective” confrontations, only this time instead of the enigmatic Ra’s, it is his ditzy-gone-bad daughter Talia. Talia has gone from being a half-brained daddy’s girl to a quarter-brained villainess (or as close to that as she can get). Not only she is back to the “beloved” talk, she is also back to making the same offer that Ol’ Daddy Al Ghul had made many a time to The Detective.

As for the kid? His presence here though appreciable (i.e. from the first page to the last) is just about as counting as that of Nightwing (who does not even appear in the issue).

Conclusion: The Son of the Demon was an Elseworlds/AU story that should have been left where it was. What exactly did this arc accomplish other than canonizing one of the worst Bat-stories that I ever read is beyond me? One can safely say that this isn’t the last we see of Talia, so unless he is dead and gone, Damien’s future is slated to be one of being an Anti-Robin to Talia’s Anti-Bat.

Chris Murman:

I’m giving this one , just for the ridiculous ending to a strange arc.

I really have only two points to make regarding this story. Neither of them have anything really to do with the story because if Morrison can’t stay on topic, neither should I. Forget the fact that the world’s greatest detective couldn’t see what Talia was doing until right before the sub blew (Why don’t I just say it, the ending blew hard core). Forget the fact that the coolest character in this story was Alfred (now if Morry would have had Alfred spank Damian’s bottom and put a diaper on him at the end, we’re talking on this one.) And forget the fact that Talia has so much love and respect for our Dear Dark Knight that she would never declare all out war on Bruce. But, I digress.

As I said, I have two main points.

1. Morrison didn’t know the back story. I read an article in this month’s Wizard where Morrison intimated that he has never read Son of the Demon. The one piece of literature that would give the writer something to work from for his story about Batman having a son with Ra’s daughter that might, just maybe, be relevant.

I mean, if he just made this story up after a ton of drinks and then Tomasi caught it later…fine. We don’t fault you for that, dude. Your stories sell well enough you can write a book about a turd that Bats took once that became a crime-fighter, it would sell 100,000 copies. But don’t admit to your fan base that you have no idea how this Demon-seed could have come about. Just lie to us. Again, we’re fanboys, man. Cut us some slack.

2. Which drug is Morrison on? Notice I didn’t as if he had taken anything prior to cooking this one up. I asked which one he was on. Now, I’m not selling myself as saying Morry is a hack who shouldn’t write comics. In fact, I buy most of his stuff because it always is entertaining. I just think this would be a great addition to his story arcs. Maybe the issue’s credits can hyphenate his name with the paraphernalia he used for it.

Oh come on Mr. Eye Roller, over there. Like you would be perusing the store, go to the Morrison section (Hey, it’s my dream, don’t knock it) and pick up a book and say something like, “Dude, I gotta get this new’s a mushrooms story. I didn’t like the whippets arc he wrote last, but he always delivers on the ‘shroom arcs.” Tell me you wouldn’t be interested in that in the least. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

There were some pretty cool moments in this series. Bruce telling Damian that he dishonors his sensei was right on the money. The makeshift Robin outfit with the cape was a nice touch. The halo jump out of the Bat-rocket that made Damian proud to be his father’s son kind of gave it a Mission Impossible moment. Batman even being tricked at the end was an interesting twist (unbelievable, yes, but as I’ve said, Morry is always interesting). I just think the book shouldn’t have been three issues of back story, and then cram all the action into the last one. And don’t even get me started on the ninja Man-bats. I still can’t wait to see what comes next, however. I’m looking forward to reading the next ish, where we find out what happened to Joker after being shot in the face. That arc would have been a much better read than this one.

Caryn A. Tate:

The best part about this issue was that it felt distinctly like some of those fantastic 70s Batman comics where our hero would travel all over the world to stop Ra’s al Ghul from his mad schemes. That adventurous mood, the truly engaging storytelling, and the faithful characterization make their appearances in #658 too, and it’s like coming home for this title and this character.

Part 4 is the final installment of the “Batman & Son” storyline involving the alleged son, Damian, that Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul conceived some years ago. In the last issue, Batman mistakenly left Damian alone in the Batcave with Robin and Alfred; at the beginning of this book, we see that he attacked both of them and wounded Robin seriously. Batman returns and helps set everything right. Meanwhile, he decides to take Damian with him in pursuit of Talia, because he is too dangerous to be left alone. (As a side note, it does appear that Damian truly desires Batman’s acceptance, as he reveals Talia’s location and insists on trying to help.) We get to see an amazing new Bat-vehicle in Bats’ determination to reach an area before Talia, and everything reaches its climax in an impressive and fun manner.

Mr. Morrison really seems to understand just what Batman fans—and just fans of good storytelling—look for and respond to. Batman is human in this portrayal—he doesn’t pretend that he doesn’t have emotions, and he makes a few mistakes (like leaving Damian alone in the Batcave). But he’s still a highly trained, skilled martial artist and detective. This depiction of the character utilizes only the best, most classic aspects of Batman.

The pacing and the flow of this issue are practically flawless. Each piece of dialogue, each page, each panel, flow into the next with such ease that I felt totally engrossed as I was reading. It feels real, and more importantly, the writing makes Batman feel real.

Mr. Morrison’s choice for the ending of this storyline may not sit well with some readers: he uses a fairly standard trope to resolve the situation with Batman having a son. For me, this wasn’t a problem in the slightest. There are some things about the superhero genre that, as a comics reader, you just have to accept (like the ability to fly, costumes, capes, masks, etc.). The way that Mr. Morrison ends this issue is another example of that.

Mr. Kubert’s pencils are stunning. His work is an additional vehicle for the storytelling; in fact, it makes me wish that Mr. Morrison always collaborated with such great pencillers. Both creators possess a mastery of the craft, and having both of them working together is a treat.

Mr. Delperdang’s inks are well defined yet subtle enough that they don’t take anything away from the pencils. In fact, they lend additional impact to Mr. Kubert’s work. Mr. Major’s colors walk a fine line between an animated and a realistic effect, and they do it extremely well.

There’s only one last point to be made about this issue: I wish comics were always this fantastic.

Dave Wallace:

Grant Morrison’s run on Batman so far has been uneven and unsatisfying, but always strangely compelling despite its flaws. The four-issue “Batman & Son” arc never quite found its feet, and even though this final issue attempts to tie things up neatly, it can’t redeem a story which was superficially enjoyable in places, but never really captured my imagination as a solid Batman tale.

Thankfully, there are quite a few enjoyable elements in this issue, which certainly isn’t as disappointing as the last. Morrison’s stiff-upper-lip take on Alfred is again a high point (even if he does shrug off the strong implication from last issue that he’d been more seriously hurt by Damian's attack), and the Thunderbirds-esque reveal of another of Batman’s “wonderful toys” is about as shamelessly fun as the book has been under Morrison so far. Andy Kubert does a good job on the artwork too, with a great design for Batman’s flight suit and some wonderful sequentials showing the launch of his rocket in suitably grand style, even if he can’t quite escape the Jim-Lee-lite impression. Delperdang’s inks seem more refined throughout this issue too, after a couple of wobbles last time, and the improvement shows on every page.

That said, these pleasing details can’t overcome the more fundamental difficulties that stop the story as a whole from being anything more than an interesting failure. There’s the ever-changing characterisation of Damian, who seems to have switched from a selfish, ruthless, arrogant and violent spoilt brat to a whining, completely dependent kid for the majority of this issue. There’s the rather wacky and hastily-introduced storyline about Talia’s invasion of Gibraltar, which is apparently the reason why she kidnapped the British Prime Minister’s wife and sent the boy to distract Batman in the first place. In fact, all of the developments of the last few issues - the ninja Man-Bats, the attack on Robin, the kidnap, and Batman’s custody of Damian - wrap themselves up too quickly and simplistically to be truly satisfying, with an abrupt ending leaving questions of Damian’s parentage (and of his and Talia’s survival) unresolved and providing a derivative and cliché cop-out of a climax. If Morrison is planning on returning to these characters in future issues, he should have at least made us care about them in this story; frankly, I won’t lose any sleep over their possible demise.

Undoubtedly, Grant Morrison is an intelligent writer whose work often contains more layers of meaning and subtext than may meet the eye on a first (or second, or third) read. However, I don’t believe that his stories deserve to be highly praised for these elements alone when they don’t work on a more straightforward level. This story simply hasn’t delivered, especially when you consider the pedigree of the creators involved, and this fairly flat conclusion to what has been a messy, uneven arc with jarring shifts in tone only reinforces the impression that Morrison is making this stuff up as he goes along. With only one more stand-alone issue to go until a fill-in arc replaces Morrison and Kubert to give them time to catch up, the much-trumpeted creative team is running out of last chances to convince me to return for more, as the middling and inconsequential story which has kicked off their run doesn’t exactly inspire me for the future. “Hh,” indeed.

Thom Young:

I get it that there is a “theme” running through Morrison’s four-issue “Batman and Son” arc. It has to do with the relationships between father’s and their children—Bruce Wayne and Tim Drake’s relationship, Bruce Wayne and Damian Al Ghul’s relationship, and even Ras Al Ghul and Talia’s relationship. However, with the last issue of the arc now published, I can firmly state that I did not find that this familial theme was explored in any meaningful way that gave insight to either the characters in particular or the human condition in general.

In fact, this last issue of the arc was disappointing and anticlimactic. Before you ask: “yes, it is possible to have an anticlimactic ending that is not disappointing.” However, this issue managed to be both.

Talia’s plot for kidnapping the Prime Minister’s wife is lame. If she wanted the British military installation on Gibraltar so badly, why not just send her army of Ninja Man-Bats to attack the base directly? And how was she going to defend the base from being re-taken if the British government had actually met her ransom demand? With her Ninja Man-Bats, of course.

I’m also disappointed that we didn’t see that the Man-Bat serum eventually failed to work on Talia’s ninjas. I would like to think that something unique in Kirk and Francine Langstrom’s physiologies allows them to become Man-Bats without developing cancer or dying from cellular damage or . . . something—but, no, the Ninja Man-Bats seem to be getting along just fine.

The issue was pretty uneventful. Batman unlocks Alfred from the pantry (or wherever it was Damian imprisoned him) so that he (Alfred) could tend to Robin’s injuries.

Batman then visits the Langstroms to get their help in some way. In what way? He told Kirk Langstrom to consult with the British army on anti-Man-Bat tactics, of course. And what are those tactics? Apparently, it involves blowing Talia’s submarine out of the water while she, Damian, and her Ninja Man-Bats are all on board. I guess the British army is as inept in the Batman universe as the US Army pilots are in the Battler Briton universe—so it’s a good thing that Kirk Langstrom was able to tell them to fire torpedoes at Talia’s submarine.

Batman then confronted Talia on the sub with Damian tagging along. In this engaging scene we learned that Talia’s ultimate plot beyond acquiring Gibraltar from the British government was . . . for Batman, Damian, and her to live together as a super-terrific, world-dominating family.

Yes, I know Ras had traditionally tried to recruit Batman into his organization as his successor (and son-in-law). However, in that same tradition, Talia used to be about defying her father’s criminal side and trying to achieve a relationship with Batman away from her father’s controlling influence. This plot of using Damian to lead Batman back to Talia so that she could ask him to join her as rulers of the world (or whatever) is just lame.

This issue seemed strung together with one trite scene after another—as if Morrison was either too busy or too bored to bother with creating an engaging ending to an arc that showed such promise with issue #656 and the metatextual commentary provided by the pop-art paintings that filled that issue.

After the first three issues of the arc, I was sure Morrison was going to come up with a dynamic conclusion. Instead, he seemed to phone it in with a clichéd by-the-numbers plot. Even Andy Kubert’s illustrations seemed to be lackluster in contrast to his work on the earlier issues of the arc. I think it’s time to re-read the Seven Soldiers series to cleanse my palate after his disappointing issue.

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