After the mediocre "Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul" crossover issues, Batman finally gets back on track this month with an issue which begins to tie together some of the bizarre ideas that appeared in Morrison's earlier stories.
One of my favorite Batman issues so far under Morrison has been issue #666, which presented a nightmarish vision of the future of Gotham City that was terrorized by a mysterious demonic figure in a Batman costume. That character makes a reappearance here, but surprisingly, it's in the present-day Gotham - and his irate demands to speak with Commissioner Vane lead to a sequence of events that holds dire consequences for both Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne by the time the issue is over. Again, there's a sense of Batman's visitation by alternative versions of himself being akin to Dickens' A Christmas Carol, with the demonic Batman completing the trinity as Bruce Wayne's own ghost of the future. We don't learn much about the demonic Batman in this issue, but the fact that he is recognized by a policeman (strangely referred to as "The Third Man"), seems to know "Muller" (the Bane-esque Batman from several issues ago), and already seems to have links to an officer Farelli suggests that he may be the orchestrator of all three attacks on Batman by twisted analogues of the hero.
In addition to this core plot, Morrison revisits his characterization of Bruce Wayne as a larger-than-life playboy billionaire who is currently dating yet another high-profile supermodel. It's a welcome shift in focus after a series of issues in which we've barely seen Bruce in his civilian identity at all, and I was becoming convinced that it was an element of the book that was going to be neglected for good after seeming like a significant part of Morrison's first couple of issues. I'll be interested to see whether the potential love interest Jezebel Jet becomes a more permanent fixture, as she seems like a good match for Bruce - despite the slightly creepy twist that our hero seems to find himself even more attracted to her because her father was murdered, too. I can't shake the feeling that Batman's visitations by his three 'ghosts' could be symbolic of his need to change his behavior (just like Scrooge) and allow himself to have some fun, lest the grim 'n' gritty characterixation which has been popular since the ‘80s lead him to the logical conclusion that is presented by his futuristic enemy this issue. It would certainly fit with Morrison's stated views on the character.
The art team provides visuals which are crisp, clear, and well-suited to the story. My only criticism would be that penciller Tony Daniel sometimes feels like he's aping other artists rather than developing a distinctive style of his own. In places, he seems heavily influenced by Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, notably in the splash pages which see a chunky, squarely-drawn Batman swoop down in the light of the Bat-signal and a bat crash through a window. Again there are similarities in the scene during which Batman is shot in the chest, with his armored chestplate almost identical to that featured in DKR #1. This latter moment also mirrors the very first scene of Morrison's run, and throughout the issue Daniel manages to capture a very similar tone to that of Andy Kubert's work in the writer's initial issues of the book. This is important in giving Morrison's tenure a sense of cohesion in a way that isn't always possible when multiple artists are employed. You only need to look at his run on New X-Men to see how a constantly changing visual style can upset the flow of a story. Hopefully, Daniel will be able to stay on the book for a while to maintain this consistency, especially as all of the events of Morrison's tenure seem to be starting to come to a head.
Readers who have been hanging in with Morrison's run out of faith that the seemingly-diverse stories will all start to be tied together at some point will be delighted by this issue, as it offers more clues than ever as to how his various ideas are related. The theme of replacement or alternative Batmen seems to be the common element of Morrison's run - whether it's the three impostors dressed as Batman, the Club of Heroes Batman wannabes, or the Batman of the future - and I'm eager to see the writer delve further into the contents of Batman's "Black Casebook", which we know contains details of some of Batman's more fantastical encounters. The issue's cliffhanger bodes well for this, as we finally see an explicit reference to the "Zur En Arrh" motif that has been employed in the background of many of Morrison's issues, an allusion to Batman #113 ("Batman - The Superman of Planet-X" - another replacement Batman?). It's a perfectly-paced moment which also unexpectedly re-introduces the Bat-Mite - yet another alternative Batman - to current continuity, with a slightly modified new look which suggests that this might be a different take on the character to the ones we've seen before (although I'm personally more interested in finding out who owns the mysterious green eyes in the background of the final page).
How this story will progress is anyone's guess, but unlike some obscure mystery cliffhangers, there's enough of a compelling story here to make me genuinely intrigued as to how the more unusual and as-yet-unexplained elements of the book are going to play out. Morrison's Batman is finally starting to come together, and readers who have kept the faith that the ideas introduced in earlier issues would receive some payoff later down the line will be glad that they stuck with it.
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