Monday, December 29, 2008

Pseudo-Live-Blogging: Grant Morrison's Batman Run - Batman & Son

As you may know (or care) my job leaves me with a fair bit of empty time in the middle of the night. How do I fill the empty hours, you ask? Instead of pondering exisential crises, I've been reading a lot of comics. Having recently read through Batman #681, I've been playing with the idea of re-reading Morrison's run over the course of a few nights of work. There are definitely a few issues in there that aren't very straightforward on their first read. I figured I'd like to see if they made more sense as a bigger part of a coherent whole. So I grabbed a handful of issues before I came in tonight, and I'm going to write my impressions as I re-read them.

The only issues I plan on skipping are the Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul issues. I'll probably even post my comments as I torture myself by re-reading the Grotesk story arc that popped up early in Morrison's run. Hey, my torture is your enertainment. I get that.

Now, because I do have to ge up and occasionally do bits of work, I'm just going to save drafts, and push the 'Publish Post' button once at the end of the night. (Hence, pseudo-live-blogging.)

So let's get started with Batman #655, the start of Morrison's run.

  • Wow, talk about starting off with a bang. The commisioner's been gassed! The Joker's beaten Batman with a crowbar. I can't help but wonder if it's the same one he beat Jason Todd with.

  • Okay, just noticed that. Graffitioed all over the wall on the page with the title/credits is "Zur En Arrh". Seriously, it's ALL OVER the wall. That's really something Morrison was playing from the beginning.

  • I don't know what amuses me more... that Alfred actually feeds the Bats in the cave, that Bruce has never noticed, or that the bats apparently have a favorite meal. Those are some spoiled rodents.

  • I like the scene where Alfred is coaching Bruce on the finer points of being Bruce. It's a nice commentary on the Batman books.

  • Damian gets a nice intro in this issue. It's subtle, but you can pick up on the fact that he's a bright kid. He's good enough to pick out the father he's never met in a crowded room. Of course, that may be in part due to the fact that Bruce is so used to being Batman.

This issue's a nice entry point. It throws a fair bit of Batman at the reader, with Jim Gordon, Alfred, Robin, The Joker and Kirk Langstrom... but it never quite manages to seem overwhelming. It also punctuates the 'grim and gritty' with a few surprising bits of humor.

  • Grant... you had me at Ninja Man Bats.

  • I love the interplay between Batman vs Ninja-Man-Bat action, and the comic-book art panels on display in the museum. Really neat way to work in sound effects, etc.

  • I like the way Batman goes through plans A through D in a matter of seconds, as he waches the situation escalate.

  • It might be a tip that Jesebel knows that Bruce is Batman. As Alfred helps her out of the museum, she comments that Bruce Wayne is still inside with the Prime Minister's wife.

This one's another solid issue, but where the last issue was largely setup, this one consists mostly of action. But it's never hard to follow and it's never dull. There are also nice touches to help explain Batman's almost superhuman tactical skill. He comments (via inner monologue in a caption box) that the cowl's mic is so sensitive it can pick up the Man-Bat's navigational shrieks.

  • Wow... Talia just tells Bruce that he's Damian's father and he's already showing him around the cave?

  • The confrontation between Damian and Robin seems a little sudden. I don't know, maybe it's just that Tim has been around long enough as Robin that I don't expect him to immediately feel threatened by Damian.

  • I like that Batman is making wry comments on Damian's spoiled behavior. It's good to remind us that Bruce does have a sense of humor.

  • I like the idea that the police try to infiltrate the gangs of Gotham's costumed criminals. Nice touch. But in the first issue, didn't they say that Batman had coralled pretty much all of the costumed crooks in the city? Was the Spook too small a fish to count?

  • The notion of Damian as a rival for Tim is a really neat idea. I wonder why they never let him into the Robin title? That would have made for some great reading. The more I read about Damian, the more I like him. He's absolutely brilliant, but criminally misguided.

  • Does anything ever surprise Alfred? Beaten up by Bruce's son and locked in a closet, and he's right back to business as usual? I suggest testing him for metagene activity.
  • Damian's a surprising character at every turn. He's brilliant, and dangerous with a criminally skewed view of the world. But seeing him desperate for Batman's approval? I'm suspicious. But this first four issue arc has me wishing we'd spent more time with him.
  • Batman has a rocket? I can see boats, cars and jets... but I tend to have a little trouble with the non-traditional vehicles.
  • Why does Batman refuse Talia? If he joins her, she'll help him fight crime. I'd have liked a little more explanation for saying no. Granted, kidnapping the wife of the British Prime Minister seems a bit of a complex task for making the offer, but it did get Bruce to spend some time with Damian.

I think I'm going to draw this post to a close here. Maybe I'll stick with generating a post for each story/story arc.

What did we get out of this issue? "Zur En Arrh" all over Gotham City. Jezebel Jet was introduced to Bruce's life, and we know she plays a big role later on. Damian was introduced, and he also comes back into play... both for the Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul and in Batman R.I.P.

It's also a good, fun Batman story. If you haven't read it, I'd recommend picking it up. Aside from the buildup towards Batman R.I.P. this one's an entertaining story all on it's own. Grant Morrison is showing his love not just for Batman, but for Bruce Wayne. He's referencing some of the earlier, crazier Batman stories with elements like space ships and Zur En Arrh... that's a trend that definitely continues later into the run, and is key to Batman R.I.P. It's good stuff.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Strangers in Paradise


A rather generous soul where I work has loaned me, in bits and pieces, the entirety of Strangers in Paradise. I finally finished reading it tonight, and I'm sortof processing the entire experience.

The book is, by no means, perfect. The story has several spots that don't fit right. There are either inconsistencies in the story based on something we've previously been told, or events as they unfold don't jive with flashes of the future we received in earlier issues. So to be evenhanded, there are definitely inconsistencies. What made this a stand-out book in my mind, is that it involved me so much in the characters lives... it caused me to emotionally invest in them enough that the inconsistencies didn't bother me.

There's a specific point fairly early in the ongoing series where the book flashes ten years or so into the future, and shows where the characters are now. And while the ongoing series hits several of the beats predicted by that segment, we never catch up and move forward from that point. And while that gives the book a disjointed feel if you dwell on it, I'm enchanted enough by the characters not to care.

The series is largely an emotional soap opera surrounding three characters... Katchoo, Francine and David. The primary dynamic of the story is a non-traditional love triangle. David loves Katchoo, Katchoo loves Francine, Francine doesn't know WHO she loves. She's had a string of bad relationships with men, but isn't ready to move to a same-sex relationship with her High School friend and current roommate, Katchoo. Katchoo has no interest in men, but David knows that somewhere down the road, she's going to need him and he's determined to be there for her when that day comes. The events that separate these characters and bring them back together probably aren't that far removed from the fare of daytime soap operas, but after a point I was so drawn to the characters that I didn't care. I just had to know how it ended, even knowing that prospects were dim for one of the three.

The series also has plenty of comic relief from not only the main characters, but from a wonderful supporting cast. And by the end, even Francine's sleazy ex-boyfriend is shown to have a decent side to him.

But I don't know if I could have stood reading this on a month-to-month basis. The need to know what comes next is strong. And when I could easily reach for the next issue, that was manageable. That said, it's gotten me to pay more attention to Terry Moore as a writer and artist. As of my most recent order with DCBS, I've picked up Runaways from Marvel, which he is currently writing, and I'm going to start ordering his new independent series Echo.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Battle for the Cowl?

So the identity of Batman is going to be up for grabs amongst all of Batman's associates past and present? Who's going to be Batman? Dick Grayson? Jason Todd? Tim Drake? Bruce Wayne? It'll never happen, but here's my pick for the new Batman...

Who is it?


Jean-Paul Valley!

This would be the greatest sucker-punch in the world. Who has the largest amount of experience as Batman, short of Bruce Wayne? Yeah, sure... maybe he let a murderer die, possibly condemning his last victim to a slow and horrible death. Okay, he's got moments where he goes just bat-sh!t crazy. But I think I would applaud the sheer cojones a move like this would require.

Who says nothing good happened in the 90's?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Secret Invasion - A Dear John Letter

Secret Invasion,

I don't know how to tell you this, but our relationship has just changed too much. You're not the comics event that I fell in love with anymore.

In the beginning, it was like everything was a game. You teased me with clues, allegations and innuendo. You lead me on, and I willingly followed the promise of your mystery. "You don't really know what's going on in the Marvel Universe" you told me, and despite having been burned once or twice before, I believed you. I followed you through New Avengers, and Mighty Avengers. Our courtship culminated when your premier issue was finally delivered into my rough hands and it was wonderful.

But something happened after that day. I don't know if it was you, or if it was me... but the mystery had ended. You tried... you tried so hard, as you revealed some of your mysteries to me through New Avengers and Mighty Avengers... but the magic between us had vanished. Maybe we lingered too long in the Savage Land? But the games, and guessing disappeared, and everything was straightforward. I tried to adjust. I held out hope that you were playing a deeper game, preparing to surprise me with your conclusion.

But you didn't. You became just another action comic spectacular, along with the token death in the final act for shock value. For all that, I might have still loved you... but your conclusion broke my heart. I don't know what you see in Dark Reign. The two of you don't seem to have anything in common. I can't even imagine how you met, much less what you talk about. But the growing closeness between you two leaves no room for me. I'm leaving.

I'm not leaving the Marvel Universe... nothing that extreme. But, I don't know if I'll be seeing you around for awhile. It's awkward though, since I know I'll be seeing Dark Reign all over the place for a few months. It saddens me, because I really thought we had the potential to make it.



Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Greatest Batman Story Ever!

We've had stories where Bruce Wayne was put on trial for a crime that only revealing himself to be Batman could possibly clear him of. We've had stories that put Bruce Wayne in a wheelchair. We've had plenty of stories where someone close to Bruce has learned that he's secretly Batman.

Blind Justice, running from Detective Comics has them all! That's right, Bruce Wayne on trial over a decade before Bruce Wayne: Murderer! A wheelchair-bound Batman four years before Knightfall! What? You haven't read this epic by Sam Hamm? Told in two oversized issues sandwiching a single issue middle chapter, it's got more story than three normal Batman story arcs!

While investigating a strange series of crimes, Batman learns of a secret government cabal performing research within Waynetech. Disposable villain, Dr. Kenneth Harbinger has been experimenting on implanting chips into people in order to control them remotely. When Bruce threatens to shut them down, they come right back saying that they know his secret. If he moves against them, they'll go public. Unwilling to be bullied, Bruce Wayne prepares to file charges only to find himself arrested and charged as a communist spy! Apparently the cold-war era US government didn't smile on billionaire playboys in charge of multinational corporations who spent a lot of time in Communist China at impressionably young ages. Who knew?

Of course, Bruce could explain that he was training with martial arts masters so that he could become a dark avenger of the night... but yeah, talk like that would put him in Arkham sharing a cell with the Penguin. So instead, he prepares a legal defense. Or he would, except that Dr. Kenneth Harbinger, having permanently shifted his mind into another body to break free of the secret government cabal, tries to gun Wayne down. Failing to kill him, it does leave Bruce paralyzed. Gee, without Batman to do the legwork to exonerate Bruce Wayne, things look bleak don't they?

Enter Plot Device #3, disposable supporting cast. Early in the story, Bruce helped reunite Jeannie Bowen with her long-lost brother Roy Kane, who was one of the innocents the cabal experimented on. Accidentally discovering that Bruce Wayne is Batman, Roy offers to let Bruce pilot his body by remote, allowing Batman to return to duty! Repelled by the notion, Bruce reluctantly agrees. Of course, by learning Bruce's secret we can already guess something about Roy... and as one would expect, he's not getting out alive. While he's able to recover the information he needs to prove that Bruce Wayne was framed, 'Batman' is killed. It seems Roy wasn't quite the athlete that Bruce is. So we also get another level of stuff for Bruce to torture himself over as he torches every last bit of the technology that allowed him to endanger Roy's life.

If you haven't ever seen this masterpiece for yourself, check out Detective Comics #598-600.