Saturday, 25 June 2011

Books: Batman: Batman and Son


Batman: Batman and Son
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Andy Kubert, John Van Fleet and Jesse Delperdan


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So: this entry used to be kinda different. I mean: this blog used to more of a - I guess you could say - "micro-blog" - rather than the much more (rambling)  monstrosity it's become. Way back when I was more concerned about fitting things into as small a space as I could manage so I grouped together Batman and Son with The Black Glove and Batman: R.I.P. forming them into a sorta unofficial trilogy [1] because - hey - it seemed neater that way and that way I didn't have to try and write about all three of them separately (because - man - it used to be that writing stuff about comic books sure was hard) [2]. 

Now tho - I'm much more inclined to give each book it's proper due. And so I thought it'd be good to come back and strip away The Black Glove and Batman: R.I.P. and just take on Batman and Son on it's ownsome. Does that sound alright to you ?

Ok then - let's begin some with preamble: In 1939 the artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger created Batman - one of the most famous superheroes - no, wait - make that - one of the most famous characters - of all time. And since that point - The Caped Crusader has gone through many changes, styles and looks (hell - just look at the film versions - from Adam West - via Micheal Keaton and George Clooney - all the way to Christian Bale) - most of which have been disguarded and left forgotten along the way - most people don't like to think about those stories in the 1950s and 60s where Batman went to alien worlds, fought extra-dimensonal imps or met the the Batmen of All Nations (etc). But then: in 2006 when the madcap comic magnus Grant Morrison took over the writing duties of DC comics flagship title he knew that he needed to put a unique spin on what so many other hundreds of writers had done before. "Grim and gritty" had by that point been done to death: and the shadow of Frannk Miller's Dark Knight Returns hung over all Batman books like a bad smell - so he figured - it was time for something new. His big, fresh idea? Treat every Batman incarnation and every Batman story as being all equally 'real': then mix them up all into the same person. I mean - sure it sounds crazy (schizophrenic Batman anyone?) - but it's so crazy that it works.

Well: mostly works.

Batman and Son is where this grand experiment in Batmetaphysics takes it's first tentative steps and the results are - well - mixed at best. As you can probably intuit from the title Batman and Son introduces the world to the Bruce Wayne's kid in a fashion that's only slightly more convincing that the Superman Returns film (kinda feels like driving very fast over rocky terrain: lots of bumps and wild swings in the wrong direction). I mean - come on - the idea of giving Batman a son (and the suggestion that Batman would play along at pretending to be a dad - rather than - say - dropped him off at the nearest orphanage and then speeding away as fast as the Batmobile could carry him) just leans a little bit too close to the goofy for me to take seriously (and if you're reading your Batman comics - god knows you want to be able to take it seriously - am I right?). But - once you get over that and learn to kinda just roll with the punches - it's kinda good fun.

What's interesting is that throughout the whole book Morrison kinda ticks off all the different things that Batman does so well: I mean - the legend of the Dark Knight is basically built around the idea that he's Alpha Male Plus - cooler than James Bond (does James Bond have a cave that he can go to? No he does not) and with Sherlock Holmes style detective skills that occasionally almost trip into the realms of self-parody (actual quote from the book: ""The blindfold you were wearing had a light adhesive coating. It picked up traces of a unique pollen from an island called Las Montonas in the African Ocean..."): with more gadgets, toys and machines that every Apple store combined. It's almost like - instead of doing that Alan Moore Swamp Thing Anatomy Lesson thing (tearing a character apart to work out what makes him tick) Morrison more wants to reaffirm everything that makes Batman great before he starts to rip it all apart.... Which I guess is why Batman and Son feels a little like (if you're feeling kind) like a greatest hits collection or (if you're not feeling so generous) just another empty rehash of all the Batman stuff you've already seen a thousand times before.

The other great driving force throughout the book is - well - change. And even tho Batman (and by extension the whole Batman universe) is resistant to such an idea (at one point the Dark Knight even states outright: "This doesn't change anything." and there's lots of examples scattered throughout of how Batman is always just running through the same old routines again and again and again - my favourite being a line in the prose piece halfway through [3]: ""You're going nowhere," Batman says. It's the sort of all-purpose semi-hypnotic phrase he often uses to draw fetish-compulsive criminals like the Joker into familiar patterns of interaction, to elicit familiar chains of response. It's not working this time...") it's really the only thing that keep a story moving and - well - interesting and fun to read and it's exactly what Grant Morrison intends to do

Ok - yeah: the artwork is a bit of a mess and all slightly sloppy around the edges and all just a bit too loose or something (I dunno - maybe I'm just too refined?): but then that doesn't make it any different from all of the other mass-produced mainstream superhero comics out there - but it's a bit of a let-down seeing how this is supposed to be (no?) some kinda higher-level Batman book (and if it's too much for you - then don't worry: J. H. Williams III does the artwork on the next book (The Black Glove) and Batman and Robin has
Frank Quitely and (for me at least) - those guys always makes everything better).

[1] Which kinda made more sense of the time. Seeing how - I guess - everyone just kinda assumed that it was all about building up to the death of Batman in R.I.P. when it turns out that was only a stepping stone to larger and much more grandiose plans... 

[2] I would like to point out that I'm not the only person to have done this (see also: The M0vie Blog's Grant Morrison’s Run on Batman – Batman & Son, The Black Glove & Batman RIP (Review/Retrospective), this Graphic Content Article: Building a Better Batman: Grant Morrison's First Year on Batman (oh) and this Buried On Indian Ground review).

[3] I don't think that there's any shame in admitting that the first time around I saw The Clown at Middnight (an "interlude")  I skipped straight over it. I mean - you don't pick up a Batman book and expect to be greeted by a whole bunch of text and stuff like "Chapter One" do you? (No you don't [4]). Plus: the first line just makes it sound so ponderous and kinda like six-formy "Rain goes clickety-clack-tack through the sticks and branches of bare bony elms, the kind that stands if ashamed like strippers past their best..." that I thought it was for the best that I passed over it. But - well - altho it does veer into some pretty shocking purple prose (the worst offender being: "Gotham City, where the greasy electromagnets of human need, hope and fear radiate into a new January night so rank you can taste it like tinfoil on your fillings.") if you give it a chance it's still pretty entertaining: with the Joker going through some Bizarro-version of Doctor Who regeneration (which I'd like to note is very much in keeping in line with the image of the character Morrison wrote in his Arkham Asylum book) and such delightful moments as the Joker (again) running through the list of all the things that make him laugh.

[4] Like the guy at Freak Comics says: "DC is trying their darndest to make me hate them again. For those of you who didn’t have the extreme displeasure of reading Batman #663, don’t bother. It is not a comic book, it is a novella, and a badly written one at that. Yep, that’s right I said it: Grant Morrison wrote a terrible short story and it got shoved in to the pages of Batman #663 with some horrible art by John Van Fleet (it looks like badly done CG). Please take note of this DC: I buy books to read books. I buy comic books to read comic books. I don’t buy comic book based novels, and I certainly don’t want to buy novellas disguised as comic books."

Links: Death To The Universe Batman and Son Analysis.

Followed by: Batman: The Black Glove, Batman: R.I.P., Final Crisis, Batman: Batman and Robin, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, Batman: Time and the BatmanBatman: Batman Incorporated..

Further reading: Batman: The Black Casebook, Batman: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore, Batwoman: Elegy, Superman: All Star Superman.

Profiles: Grant Morrison.

All comments welcome.

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