Monday, July 14, 2008

Batman #678 Review

Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciler: Tony Daniel

I have mixed feelings about Grant Morrison's writing. By and large, I really enjoy his work. He is always having a lot of fun with his material, and usually has a lot to say. His stories are often very insightful, mysterious and rewarding. They take a lot of effort to read, something that I really appreciate in the age of extremely accessible books that can be explained in a single premise.

On the other hand, Morrison sometimes seems incapable of even the most basic narrative focus. He fails to establish at times even who is present in a given scene, or when one scene shifts into another. Moreover, while I appreciate that his work requires more work than other authors, his work often requires surfing message boards in order to even follow the plot and characters. His failure to identify Anthro and Kamandi in Final Crisis #1 is a good example of this, and this book suffers from some of the same problems.

Tony Daniel's art doesn't help matters any. It is difficult in this book to even tell which white, dark haired man is who in many of his scenes. There are hints: Tim Drake has a red motorcycle, and Bruce Wayne has stubble, but when a reader is trouble figuring out even who is who in a scene, that's not an interesting mystery, but just poor storytelling.

Despite these problems, Batman R.I.P. is one of the most interesting Batman stories in years. Morrison is delving deep into Batman lore, referencing Batman's experiences on the planet Zur En Arrh in Batman #123, Bat-Mite and "The First Batman" in which Thomas Wayne was the first Batman in the late '50s. Many people find this frustrating, but it can be a lot of fun to research these references. Strangely, I actually knew who Bat-Mite was and had read "The First Batman", so I felt somewhat rewarded by those parts.

The story hints extremely strongly that Doctor Hurt, the head of the Black Glove, is in fact Thomas Wayne. This is almost certainly a red herring, as it would be as disastrous to Batman lore as having Ben Parker being revealed as the Green Goblin would be to Spider-Man lore. However, it is a fun ruse, and trying to figure out what is really going on is a part of the game. Something is definitely iffy about Alfred, but this fits nicely with Batman lore. Alfred was temporarily a villain known as the Outsider in the early '60s, and Morrison seems to be enjoying these elements.

The story asks some interesting questions about human nature: could Batman be insane? He does, after all, dress up like a giant bat and scare people. If one takes seriously his Silver Age adventures, he has had some quite absurd experiences that sound like hallucinations. Since Morrison takes all of those stories as a part of Batman's continuity (though strictly-speaking, all of them before 1964 were supposed to have happened to the Batman of Earth-2), he is having fun with the possibility that Batman may be just a little batty.

In the end, Batman has to be sane, or his stories lose their strength, as a great deal of them are about a sane man trying to deal with a literally insane and Gothic world. However, to toy with the concept is a worthwhile endeavour, and Morrison is certainly the best person for the task.

I've always considered Morrison's comic books to be meta-comics. That is not simply because Animal Man talked to his creator, but because his comics are almost always about the themes in the comics, and not necessarily about the characters themselves. This may seem like a subtle distinction, but Morrison often doesn't seem interested in telling a Batman story, but rather a story about Batman stories.

Putting someone with a meta-interest in comics on a title is dangerous, and Morrison has promised that R.I.P. represents the end of Bruce Wayne as Batman. I seriously doubt that such a thing can stick. However, in the meantime, assuming he doesn't do too much damage, his stories are interesting simply by virtue of saying something very interesting about Batman and giving us the chance to really think about the character and what he means.

B+

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