Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tales From the Long Box: Grant Morrison's Batman Retrospective #2

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 Two: The Black Glove

If we consider Batman & Son to be the story arc concerning Bruce meeting Damian for the first time then Black Glove would merely be the three issue story wherein Bruce and Tim arrive on the island of a wealthy, former movie director where they intend to laze about with a shoddy collection of heroes similar to Batman but are instead hunted by a mysterious killer under the direction of something called the Black Glove. However, that would leave me in a weird place because one thing Grant Morrison loves to do is go off on little rabbit trails and tell the occasional side story. There are at least five side stories here.

I'm not going to waste time on plot synopsis for each story but I want to give special mention to issue #666. If you have the Batman & Son trade paperback then I believe this is actually contained in that book, and, really it provides a nice bookend to that story. I hadn't read this issue in ages and was shocked at how good it is. Kubert's art is lively, Morrison is firing on all cylinders and it's filled to the brim with great little one-off moments. Basically it's the story of Damian after Bruce has passed and how he steps up to claim the mantle of the Bat. And what a brutal, masochistic little Bat he is. Again, I can't say enough about this issue. It's probably the best stand-alone Bat story that Morrison has done.

As for the Black Glove story itself, it's a Morrison we've never seen before. This is Grant channeling Vincent Price mixed with a tinge of that 60's wack-a-doo Batman we all grew up watching on Nick at Night reruns. Batman and Robin are summoned to the private island of a multi-millionaire film director by the name of Mayhew. Also invited to appear are a gathering of former and current street-level heroes similar to Batman. At one time they were all members of something called the "Club of Heroes" which was funded by Mayhew. Some of these characters go on to appear in Batman Inc and some of them meet a grisly end on the island at the hands of a killer who's true identity isn't really revealed until RIP ends. It features art by J.H. Williams who does his best to over-ride the whole affair with his insanely detailed page layouts...

What is so wonderful about this story is that it's an area I don't believe Morrison has ever played before. The haunted house/mystery genre. This is Murder on the Orient Express or Ten Little Indians with superheroes and Morrison manages to pull it off. While I do love the plot of this arc what makes it truly unique and fun are the side characters. Knight and Squire we've already met before but characters like El Sombrero and Raven Red really jump out as unique, interesting plays on the typical Bat universe characters. I especially love the idea that at one time a millionaire attempted to start his own team of Batmen. It's apparent that most of the ideas behind Batman Inc started here and once you see how much fun Morrison is having playing around with these concepts it's obvious why he pressed forward with his globalized-Batman-cabal.

While I typically enjoy the work of J.H. Williams I do think he went overboard on this book. His page and panel layouts become so convoluted at times as to be distracting; a problem he usually manages to avoid. There are pages here that, while beautiful, are far too convoluted when being read within the context of the story. Still, his artwork is gorgeous and, as in Batwoman, he plays around with his style, changing it to suit the flashbacks that Morrison tells to flesh out the characters and back story. It's beautiful stuff but if he'd reigned it in a little bit I feel it could have greatly benefited the story.

When the Black Glove story ends there are still a few issues before hitting RIP. They center around the other Batmen we meet over the course of the opening arcs and set up the fact that everything that has been unfolding through out Morrison's run is all the work of The Black Glove. While we do see Tony Daniel come onboard for one of these issues we also witness some of the worst art of Morrison's run toward the lead-up to RIP. Still, Black Glove as a whole stands out from the rest of Morrison's work. This is where he first played with the three issue story arc structure that he would bring to the early part of his seminal Batman & Robin run and it's also where he hits upon the idea of corporateizing the Batman brand. We get to witness Grant really having fun with the concept of Batman and he also manages to prove a point that I've heard him make constantly... Batman is a character that fits comfortably into nearly any story genre. Here is, essentially, a haunted house story starring Batman, and it totally works.

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