Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tales from the Long Box: Grant Morrison's Batman Retrospective #1

Every week Seth goes into his back issue bins, picks out a single issue, story arc, or creative run, pours through it and then writes about it. He calls it Tales from the Long Box. Though old and now either retconned out of existence or made irrelevant by the latest event, these books still share something in common... they're bagged, boarded, and a part of comics history.

Grant Morrison's Batman Retrospective

Issue one: Batman & Son

Let me start off by saying that over the last four or five years Grant Morrison has become my favorite superhero writer. He did this mostly through the strength of his work on the various Batman titles he's written. It could also be credited to the fact that I've taken in the bulk of his non-Batman superhero work in the last few years rather than spread out over the few decades that he's been writing comics. Basically I gorged myself on his entire back catalog of DC and Marvel fare. He has something to say and often he says it in the most intensely experimental way possible; other times it's surprisingly straight forward.

Morrison didn't appeal to me much in my early comics-reading days. I thought him pretentious, and obnoxiously esoteric. At times I felt like I was trying to decipher some insane, drug-addled riddle rather than reading a comic. I still feel that way when reading his work from time to time, but these days I've learned to appreciate it, for the the most part. See, the real reason Grant has become my favorite superhero writer is the very thing that once made me dislike his work. That obscurity, or obtuseness, or whatever you want to call it keeps me coming back for repeat reads. Sometimes after a second read I think the guy was writing down some fuzzed-out fever dream and it just didn't work. Usually though I love whatever it is and I find the various threads of his story that eventually come together in a lovely little knot.

I'm laying this all out at the beginning because, as most people have heard now, Grant Morrison is leaving the Batman universe (and superhero comics in general) for the foreseeable future. For someone like me this was sort of soul-crushing. However, in light of all of this I quickly decided I wanted to go back and revisit what it was that made me cling to his Batman work so hard to begin with. I'm going to start with his opening arc on Batman-proper, dubbed Batman & Son and review each subsequent "arc" to the best of my ability. It's a little difficult to break down Grant's Batman work into arcs because, really, he's been telling one long epic tale since he started on the title. Having said that...

Batman & Son

Okay so Batman & Son kind of eschews Morrison's typical penchant for experimental storytelling and pretty much just tells a straight ahead action/adventure tale. Basically Batman by way of James Bond. The really crazy, kooky stuff will come soon enough after this arc ends. For now we're introduced to our main players, Bruce, Alfred, Talia, Tim Drake, Damian Wayne, and Jezebel Jett. These characters all feature prominently throughout the overall story, though some to a lesser extent.

Basically this opening story revolves around Bruce discovering he has a son from of a former fling with Talia Al Ghul and how he sets about dealing with the fall out of this revelation. There's some stuff with the Joker getting shot in the head by a crazed, Bat-impersonator (the first of three), Talia trying to create an army of man-bats and take over the world, and constant brooding and whining on the part of Bruce's new son Damian and his adopted son Tim Drake. Though there's certainly a lot going on, Morrison really does tell a fairly straight-forward a-to-b-to-c story. This is all set-up and introduction.

It sets up that Bruce is a man who may very well be in over his head, and he's risking his body and possibly his sanity.  This will be paid off when RIP hits. It also sets up Jezebel Jett, her relationship with Bruce and hints at a darker force pulling the strings of everyone involved in this story.

It also introduces Damian Wayne and all that comes with him. The kid is a little turd in these early issues. Bruce, Alfred and Tim all find him barely tolerable to varying degrees, and it says a lot for Morrison's abilities as a writer that we didn't just give up on this character within the first few pages following his introduction. Sure he's a brat, but there is something sadly likable about him as well. He's so eager to impress his father and please his mother that it makes him identifiable in some way. I particularly adore a scene with him during the climax of Batman & Son where his mother is asking him to pick who he'll side with. Bruce or her. He responds with this sad look (beautifully drawn by Andy Kubert) and says that he "hoped that we would all be together". Right there Morrison takes a character who's a pain in the butt and makes him, at the least, sympathetic.

Morrison does a lot of fun things with this story. He brings in the Man-Bats (including their creator Kirk Langstrom), gives us a Bruce Wayne who is equal parts Dirty Harry and Roger Moore-era James Bond, and he's not afraid to write a blisteringly fast paced action scene. In the first six issues alone we're treated to shoot-outs, sword fights, car chases, and a beautifully drawn Batman versus a horde of Man-Bats fight scene with a pop-retro comic art exhibit as a backdrop. While this isn't particularly trippy compared to some of Morrison's other books, it isn't lazy. There are still plenty of cool, crazy, creepy concepts on display, from Bruce parachuting onto an ice-capped mountain to meet his date to a costume villain named The Spook who seems like a character out of Scooby-Doo. Grant isn't playing it safe here, he's just building to something. Slow and steady.

No comments:

Post a Comment