Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Books: Batman: The Black Glove


Batman: The Black Glove
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by J. H. Williams III and Tony Daniel

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

You see - the thing with libraries is - they're not always so great at having the copies of the books that you'd expect. Case in point: Batman: The Black Glove.

The second part in Grant Morrison's sprawling Batman epic the Black Glove is the point where - yes! - finally some decent artists start to step on board (namely Mr J. H. Williams III) and things stop feeling like a trawl and start to become - well - a bit more of a pleasure. There's a classic whodunnit murder mystery (stab! stab! stab!), lots of people dressed up in colourful costumes squabbling amongst themselves (fight! fight! fight!) and things exploding (BOOM!): but in a way that feels less like a kid scribbling down his homework the night before it's due and more like everything's in control: which I guess is ironic seeing how it's the beginning of where the Batman starts to lose his grip...

Islington used to have a normal copy of The Black Glove but (and this is something that always makes me sad) - library books don't always stay in libraries forever and sometimes people can borrow books from libraries and never return them and then - well - then there's a gap in the collection. Seeing how there's probably about (I dunno) a million books in stock across all the ten libraries in the borough that means that sometimes that gap stays there forever or (if we're lucky) the management will notice and order a replacement copy or someone will request the book [1]. Which is how we've ended up with Batman: The Black Glove - the Deluxe Edition!

The Deluxe Edition? I just thought that this meant that maybe there was going to be somekind of extravagantly written introduction from Grant Morrison or something: or maybe some wise words from J.H. Williams about just how he manages to make his artwork look so lovely and tasty. But actually: the main thing about this edition of the book is that it's actually The Black Glove and Batman and Son (which is the first part of Grant Morrison's Batman epic) collected in the same book (I don't know why they didn't just say this in the title? It's like if you had Alien and Aliens on the same DVD but just called the DVD "Aliens"). I mean - the good thing about this is that you can get a big fat hit of Grant Morrison Batman in one package without having to worry about getting both books at the same time (and Batman and Son is kinda disappointing if you just read it by itself anyway - so I'd say it's much better to read it in this format where you're pulled straight along into The Black Glove without even realising when the join is [2]) but the bad thing is that - well - it kinda messes up the tidy compartmentalisation of this blog and so instead of just starting by writing about what The Black Glove is about - I feel like I need to write down this big disclaimer so that any unexpecting library user who happens to come across The Black Glove knows what they hold in their hands (and who knows: maybe in the future - Islington will get a copy of non-Deluxe copy of The Black Glove that will this make all of this here superfluous? We can but live in hope).

But the book - let's ignore all that stuff and just talk about the book: - well the Black Glove is very much a game book of two halves: the first half (that's the bit with J. H. Williams III doing pretty much everything - including the covers) you could almost package as it's own thing: it's Batman and Robin doing their own thing  and hanging around with the International Club of Heroes and getting up to the usual superhero mischief [3]: and although it does get violent and nasty at points - the whole thing is constructed with such a light touch that you could easily image Adam West's face hidden behind the cowl (like maybe it could be a sequel to the 1966 Batman film or something? [4]). The second half is more business as usual and carries on with the "Who is the Third Man?" stuff that started on the pages of Batman and Son: this stuff isn't so appealing seeing how it no longer has J. H. Williams III behind the wheel and so it's a little like coming off the motorway and adjusting to going under 30mph again - but the trade-off comes from the fact that more of the puzzle pieces start to fall into place and the grand shape of Grant Morrison's plan starts to become - well - slightly more evident.

The only problem that I found with this second half is that - altho it's builds up to a pretty cool philosophical climax that runs the argument for the existence of God (only in reserve) - the continuity Easter eggs switch from being amusing to becoming actively annoying...

I mean: if you were going to name one of the main features of Morrison's run it would be all the hundreds of references he makes to all the other Batman books out there [5]. At first - it's kinda fun seeing how many you can spot (and I was no expert by any means - but I think that I may have spotted a few here and there [6]) but as the story goes in - it kinda becomes more problematic (at least for this reader - who's somewhere in the no man's land between the type of person that has the time, patience and inclination to read everything that everyone's has written about it so far - and the complete novice that just picks up the book because they thought that the cover looked kinda pretty (and they liked that Batman film that one time) - I mean - I have a rough idea of how it all fits together but I know that I'm probably missing some of the smaller print or whatever...). See - obviously - we all know (well - we all should know) that Grant Morrison isn't one for making your reading experience simple. In fact - if there's a way for him to twist your expectations in some unique and crazy way - well: he's probably going to take it: the least of which is that he's not much for putting his stories in chronological order - so when you're reading a book he's written (and especially this whole Batsaga (of which The Black Glove is only the second book)) you know that you're not getting all the necessary narrative information up front: and - ok - I'm cool with that and it's fine if you want to leave some important stuff until we get further in - well - I'm an adult and I can deal with that - that's cool.

But what makes things more difficult is when you start mixing those things up with references to other stories    (or to be specific - past Batman continuity stuff) because then what happens is that one (which is yeah basically me) starts getting pretty confused as to whether people are talking about things which will be explained later on or things which you should know about already (yeah?). So - Simon Hurt, the police Batman experiments, the Batman isolation chamber experiments, the stuff in Nanda Parbat, Commissioner Gordon as a patrol man etc etc - are those things that you're supposed to know about or what? I mean - you can piece together enough so that you have a bare understanding of what's going on - but the experience feels sorta shallow: like you're eating a meal but you're all experiencing half the flavours... (indeed: as strange as this may sound - it kinda reminded me of the feeling of reading Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book: and that unpleasant sensation that there's stuff that's flying over the top of your head - and if you want to grasp it: you need to check wikipedia or whatever... And it's no fun reading a comic with one hand while you're searching the net with the other - and even less fun when the stuff you're looking up in the hope of trying to work out is going on - ends up spoiling the story that you haven't even got to yet... It's kinda like Lost - where the ideal audience is the people who are watching it when it comes out so that they're able to read everything on the net and swap their favourite theories or whatever: while anyone who comes to the show late (or now that's over) completed - basically can't double-check anything online just in case it ends up spoilering them).

But apart from that: yeah - well - it's Batman. Being his usual badass self. And setting things up for Batman: R.I.P. - which (if I were you) I would have standing by for when you finish The Black Glove (there's not a cliffhanger so much - more a: well ok then - what's next?).

[1] And if there's a book that you would like to order for us then simply fill out this library reservation form (just check on amazon first to see if it's still in print).

[2] If you want to know tho: "Batman in Bethlehem" is the last story in Batman and Son and "The Island of Mister Mayhew" is the first story in The Black Glove. Or (to put it another way - and piling on as much hyperbole as possible) the point where the art goes from the crude to the sublime.

[3] Oh - and I know that I'm probably the only one who even cares about this - but it turns out that Damien Wayne's signature "Tt" - was actually first used here by Wingman. (Exciting!)

[4] Which - yeah - I guess is an impression that's strengthened (or comes about? I dunno) by the fact that International Club of Heroes were first featured in Batman all the way back in 1955 (of course - back then they were known as the Batmen of All Nations - which I guess doesn't have quite the same ring to it...)

[5] So much so in fact that there's a whole blog that's completely devoted to spotting all the allusions it makes to other works: Grant Morrison's Batman: Annotations And Remarks (subtitled: "I Came All The Way From Space B At The Fivefold Expansion Of Zrfff To Prepare These Annotations And Remarks.")

[6] There's a line in Batman and Son where Batman says: ""I've beaten up Superman" that made me wonder if that was a tip of the hat to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns (which - is still set in the future - right?). I couldn't find any mention of it on the Grant Morrison's Batman: Annotations And Remarks page - which should make you realise just how massively dense and thick with references these Batbooks are.

Links: Sean T Collins Review of Batman #664-669, 672-675.

Preceded by: Batman: Batman and Son.

Followed by: 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 CasebookBatman: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious EarthFinal CrisisBatman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsDC Universe: The Stories of Alan MooreBatwoman: ElegySuperman: All Star Superman.

Profiles: Grant MorrisonJ. H. Williams III.

All comments welcome.


Tam said...

Interesting point about endless references. As usual with modern comics, I think the problem is Alan Moore doing something pretty well and lesser writers trying to recycle his ideas. The first couple of League of Extraordinary Gentleman stories did all the reference stuff pretty well; you could enjoy and follow the stories even if you didn't get the references and it made me want to investigate some of the original sources.
The trouble with doing this sort of thing with batman comics is that, while it probably makes a better read for obsessive batman fans, it's not so interesting for people who don't care very much about reading the thousands of batman comics that preceded it.

Actually, on a related note I've been ploughing through the complete run of Fables. I largely agree with your review although there's just enough nice touches to keep me reading. But it struck me that a large part of its popularity is probably that it's like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for people who can't be bothered to read books or anything else. Everyone knows their fairy tales so any reader can catch all the 'clever allusions' and it reads much more smoothly than 'The Black Glove'

Islington Comic Forum said...

Fables? Wow. I haven't thought about Fables in aaaaages. But - yeah - good point about the reference thing (everyone knows fairy tales after all...). Have you got to the point yet where it turns out that the whole thing is just an elaborate analogy for the situation in Israel (wtf)?