Friday, February 01, 2008

Comics Out January 30, 2008

Batman 673. Morrison, in his continued war with Frank Miller (click the label for more), takes his Batman, after a Dark Knight Returns moment last issue, to Year One. He tries to make and end run around Miller by characterizing Miller's style as an affectation Batman uses when writing his cases down to entertain Alfred ("I practice that self-conscious, hard boiled style Alfred loves to read. Anything to keep it interesting). Morrison's Batman, you see, is the real thing, while Miller's is a merely a mannered pose, something Batman pretends to be. Morrison's version of Year One has Joe Chill and Eastern Mysticism. It's not badly written or badly drawn, but it feels like a lot of Batman comics I have already read. The Bat-Mite was to be Morrison's saving grace here, the thing Miller could never do, but he leaves the possibility that it is just a hallucination a la Ally McBeal (of all things -- we are a notch away from the dancing baby). It may save him yet if he has the guts to do something really interesting with it, but we will have to see on that point. "Make it work" as Tim Gunn always says.

Quick question: where are Morrison's editors? In this issue Batman writes his cases down in an "A4" spiral bound notebook, which is a Brit thing. I suppose they could be from Alfred, but you see my point -- even if a Brit gave you A4 paper you would not call it that so casually. I don't fault Morrison for these miniscule gaffs, but I often see editors at DC fail to americanize the scripts of their British writers. In Morrison's JLA somewhere The Flash, invited to something, says he will have to check his "diary" by which he means "calendar."

Notice also, Grant Morrison knocked out in Joe Chill's hideout. He has the purple glasses.

In comics news, Y the Last Man, which I have not read, ends, and the new Captain America uniform debuted -- go to the guest blog part of the tool bar on the right to see Erin's takedown of it when it previewed.


scott s said...

"I practice that self-conscious, hard boiled style Alfred loves to read. Anything to keep it interesting" is the stupidest thing I've ever read in a Batman comic. Grant Morrison's anxiety of Frank Miller influence has become so gimmicky and uninteresting, to the point where I think I'm ready for "Holy Terror, Batman!"

Anonymous said...

"I practice that self-conscious, hard boiled style Alfred loves to read. Anything to keep it interesting."

How different tastes are! I find this very funny.

This issue is probably my second favourite from Morrison's run. (The other one is #663, "The Clown At Midnight".)

And if the above is really the "stupidest thing" ever to grace a speech bubble in a Batman comic, then Morrison accomplished quite something - I surmise that there's steep competition in this regard!


Geoff Klock said...

FrF -- different tastes indeed. Clowns at midnight is the worst comic book I have ever read. By anyone.

Streebo said...

I picked up the last two Batman issues, Black Summer #5, the new Captain America (as I have followed this book almost religiously since 1985 - yet I could not find a copy of Cap #25 - :( grrr. . .), Badger #2, and filled in a few holes in my Simon Dark collection. Once I get the chance to read it all, I'll try to make comments on anything worth mentioning.

Anonymous said...

Timothy Callahan makes a well-argued case on behalf of "The Clown at Midnight". I am even more enthusiastic and I always joke that you only need to give me one page of Batman #663 and I'm immediately beginning to rub my hands with glee.


Streebo said...

I don't quite know what to think about these last two issues of Batman yet, but my initial impression is that they were fantastic. I have to say that I think Morrison is finally coming into his own with his version of Batman. I love how Morrison crushes Miller by reducing his style to a gimmick meant to entertain his butler. I love how Morrison has the artist use the Bob Kane version of Batman - not Adams or Miller. He goes all the way back to the source with his look for Batman. Geoff really summarized these issues quite nicely. I would recommend that everyone find a copy of the Greatest Batman Stories ever told in order to read issue #156 "Robin Dies At Dawn." Duncan Falconer spelled it out during the last Batman comments section:

“The sort of Inca mask thing in Batman is directly from Batman #156, 'Robin Dies at Dawn'; as is the issue title 'space medicine'. I think there is a little sort of personality surgery going on here too - space medicine is treatment for deep isolation, Bruce just needs to embrace his love of Robin of Damian, that sort of thing, instead of being so cold...”

I'll summarize that issue for anyone interested. Batman wakes up to find himself on an alien planet. Batman notices that he has none of his weapons or gadgets and comments that he feels incredibly lonely. He becomes entrapped by an alien tree with tentacles – forcing Batman to cry out “Robin, Robin, Help me!” After which, Robin appears and helps him escape from the tendrils. They see a purple stone giant that Batman immediately assumes must be an idol worshiped by the aliens. The pair flee from the idol – but Robin turns and attacks. Robin forces the giant off a cliff – but is crushed by a boulder as it falls. Batman buries Robin and wanders the alien landscape lost and alone. He encounters a giant slug like creature with large glowing eyes and instead of fighting, decides that he is responsible for Robin's death and surrenders to death. Instead of dying, Batman wakes up in an isolation chamber. He learns that it was all part of a hallucination caused by the experiment. Batman experiences side effects later on – reliving part of his hallucinations and seeing the aliens and tentacles in the streets. He and Robin foil an attempted robbery by a gang of thugs dressed as gorillas. Batman seems to be experiencing more doubt than usual in this story as he comments to Robin “Robin do you see what I see? Gorillas escaping with money from that loan company!” Robin replies that they're only “men wearing gorilla costumes.” I love how only Robin can discern the difference between real gorillas and men in gorilla suits. Eventually Batman overcomes his hallucinations by just fighting through them. Robin is captured by the Gorilla Gang and tied to a hot air balloon. They threaten to kill Robin at dawn by cutting the ropes holding the balloon down and letting him drift off into the sky. Batman infiltrates the gang by dressing in one of their own costumes – so this issue treats readers to the great image of Batman in a gorilla suit. Ace the Bathound helps Batman locate their lair. When the dog lunges at one of the gorillas, the thug drops the axe – which falls and severs the ropes – setting the balloon to flight. Batman rushes towards the balloon and it momentarily taken aback as he hallucinates the severed ropes as alien tentacles. He ignores the images and throws the axe, bursts the balloon and causes it to land. Robin is safe and one of the strangest Batman stories is over. Until Grant Morrison came along.

In Morrison's story, several pieces of dialogue from issue #156 are used. In the sequence showing adolescent Bruce at the well the caption reads “I can feel eyes watching me. Eyes with human intelligence watching. Always watching.” Those are the exact words Batman thinks just before he and Robin encounter the giant purple stone idol in issue #156.

I can't quite spell it out yet, but it seems to me that Morrison could be using the Space Medicine experiment from issue #156 as some kind of initiation point with Batman encountering alien intelligences ala the Old Ones of Lovecraftian Mythos. The positioning of this monologue at this moment leads me to believe that Morrison is linking this alien intelligence to the darkness of this well that reaches down to the bat filled caves beneath. Batman recalls that he was five years old when he first sensed the presence of a “gaping void in the center of existence.” Bruce ponders the mortality of his parents (or is he having a premonition?) and IT touches the young boy BEFORE the bats fly up out of the shadows of the well. I don't know how close Batman will get to these concepts with Morrison, but the Elder Gods and Old Ones have popped up in Morrison's work before in Zenith as well as the Invisibles. Morrison has also used isolation and sensory deprivation as an attempt to achieve gnosis in the Doom Patrol with the origin of Mr. Nobody. I'm thinking that Morrison is trying to going to say Cthulhu (primal evil/fear/doubt?) is scarier than bats and that is what really inspired Bruce Wayne to become Batman.

I love how issue 673 shows initiation moments from Batman's life. Joe Chill. The bats in the well. His time in the isolation chamber. The initiation of the Thogal Ritual. I love how it all blends together.

SPOILERS I have no idea how the fantastic otherworldly Batmite ending from the last issue will meet up with the cold realistic Hostel inspired Batman-is-going-to-be-tortured ending of this issue.

James said...

See - argh - the problem is, I think these comics really are badly drawn. I left the title when J. H. Williams did, but the appearance of Bat-Mite was crazy enough to make me want to see what I'd been missing. And frustratingly, it seems like Morrison's Batman is really going places, but I just can't get past Tony Daniel's pencils. I didn't get this latest issue, but streebo's comments again make me wish someone better was drawing it.

rogerwhitson said...

I'm with both of the last comments. I found the last issue fascinating, but I just don't see why everyone thinks Tony Daniel is a great artist. I think his work from SPAWN in the 90s was better than this, and that's not saying much.

Streebo said...

I agree with your sentiments about Daniel's art. I really liked his recent version of the actual character of Batman in these last two issues - but his draftsmanship on everything else is just sloppy and ugly. I think he needs a better inker to clean some of it up.

Christian said...

Why is it that Morrison is always coupled with below-average artists the majority of the time? I won't mention names, but I can certainly think of a quite a couple of examples of this. Though I haven't seen Tony Daniel's art, so I can't that into consideration.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Man, this actually does seem really interesting. Like James, I left the series after the Club of Heroes arc, and now I'm wondering if I should have stuck around. If nothing else, Streebo's description of that old story and the current one has really piqued my curiosity. Maybe I'll read it in trade or something.

But I gotta say, the art is a MAJOR reason why I haven't been reading it. If they could have gotten somebody competent, I probably wouldn't have left. It wouldn't even have to be somebody well-known, just somebody that could tell a story instead of trying to be kewl like Jim Lee. Whenever I flip through an issue, it just looks ugly. So maybe I'm better just reading summaries like this one. Pay attention, DC! I'm not the only one who thinks like this! (I'm probably in the minority though)

Streebo said...

I've been trying to think of an artist that would have worked well with Morrison on this book - but I am drawing a blank. I would have been happy to see Kubert stay for the duration.

James said...

Yeah, I think weirdly Andy Kubert got penalised for Adam Kubert being behind on Action Comics. Obviously they were both late, but when Action was SO delayed, the big coup of getting the brothers from Marvel must've seemed tarnished and they were both yanked from their books. I'd like to see Mark Bagley on Batman; like Morrison, he's not an obvious choice for the character, and yet he did a fine job on that Spider-Man/Batman crossover years ago. He's also a famously quick artist, which is probably why DC are rumoured to be instead grinding the poor man into a paste, having him pencil all 52 issues of their next big weekly series.

Anonymous said...

Here's another defense of Morrison's "Clown At Midnight":

What does Grant Morrison have in common with J.D. Salinger? What does the Joker have in common with Animal Man? Marc Sobel takes a break from his Love & Rockets column to review the most intriguing and unusual comic of the year.

Batman #663 review by Marc Sobel

I haven't read it yet but I'm so excited that I'm nevertheless passing this link along :-)

And thanks to streebo for his long post about Batman #673 & #156!