Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pseudo-Live-Blogging: Grant Morrison's Batman Run - batman in bethlehem and The Club of Heroes

Well, after a lengthy break, I've semi-digested Final Crisis and read a box full of new comics. now, it's back to Morrison's Batman. Lined up tonight, I've got Batman #666, which serves as a kind of endcap to the Black Casebook story, and the truly awesome Club of Heroes story that officially introduced the Black Glove to readers of Batman.

Batman #666 - batman in bethlehem

What we get here is a story of Bruce's son Damian as Batman, defending Gotham against the third 'evil' Batman from the Black Casebook - the one who sold his soul to the Devil, and destroyed Gotham.

The book opens with a two-page recap of Damian's origin, which is pretty old-school. But of course, this origin takes us beyond the story we know, as Damian takes the role of Batman following his father's death. I also like the visual look of Damian as Batman. The trenchcoat look is distinct from Bruce's costume, but in action it's still reminiscent.

Damian-as-Batman seems to be a little rougher on his opponents. There's a bit of blood flowing.

Commissioner Barbara Gordon... I really wish that we had more time to explore that dynamic. I mean, it's one thing for Jim Gordon to perhaps suspect that Bruce Wayne is Batman, but it's something else entirely for Barbara Gordon to have been Batgirl/Oracle, and as Commissioner to have her know that Damian is Batman.

There's a lot of biblical and occult imagery here. The mysterious 'third Batman' is claiming to be the antichrist. Professor Pyg has been crucified upside down in a church, and the murders of Gotham's other crime bosses form an inverse pentacle on the face of Gotham. All this, and the Yeats quotation:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

There's a lot of blood, again. It's not entirely clear if Damian kills any of the Madmen of Gotham, but he's pretty clearly injured them badly.

"The victory is in the preparation" - I think that phrase sums up Morrison's Batman. He wins because he's always prepared. It's his greatest strength. And while Damian may be different than his father, that much is the same. By booby-trapping all of Gotham, Damian's taken that adage to an extreme. I think the thing I really like here, is that he acknowledges that he'll never be as good as Bruce or Dick, so he went outside the box.

More biblical language, as the Third-Batman refers to the Devil as the Dragon, with wings and black skin. More reference to Revelations.

"The Apocalypse is cancelled... until I say so". Great line. The notion of a Batman who's sold his soul to safeguard Gotham is interesting. Damian also states that his father died at age 14. Do we know how old he is at the time of Final Crisis?

On the whole, I'd kindof like to see a little more of this Batman, but only if written by Morrison.

Batman #667 - The Island of Mr. Mayhew

Wow... right here on the first page, there's a lot more to take in, now that I've got a better idea of what to look for. An unseen figure wearing a black glove addresses a captive. One thing tha is telling, is that the Black Glove speaks in the plural. This can be ambiguous, using the 'royal we', but in hindsight I know that the Black Glove is an association, not an individual. There's also the black and red of the rhoulette wheel.

Something else I hadn't thought of until now... Batman's costume is primarily black, while Robin's current outfit is primarily red.

A room full of has-been Batman wannabes. What a series of images. Especially the Legionary, as he sits and eats. And then we've got Wingman, the closest Batman analogue in the room, and the one who's most vocal about being better than, or earlier than Batman.

And here's the classic setup. It's the locked-house murder. A number of detectives are invited to a secluded estate for a mysterious purpose. They're locked in and challenged to solve a murder. It's been an archetype of enough mysteries that it's been parodied well. It's a great image though, this two page spread of the Black Glove closing over the exploding vehicles of the Club of Heroes. Beautifully styled.

The closing pages of this issue are amazing. The spread covering the death of The Legionary is great, but the last page, with the image of Batman surrounded by flames along the silhouette of the Black Glove's arm is stunning.

Batman #668 - Now We Are Dead!

I love the old-school look of this opening flashback.

These guys all have major baggage. None of the Club of Heroes seem to be able to get along.

Ahh... The Legionary let his city fall into the hands of Charlie Caligula, who later shows up in R.I.P.

Bruce asks Tim what was wrong with the library, where the video of Mayhew's killer was filmed. That's a nice touch, showing that Batman's still testing and teaching Robin.

These page layouts are stunning. A two-page spread on black. The panels make up the shape of Batman's emblem. Overlapping, a panel in the shape of the Black Glove's arm. I'm not normally as big a fan of art as I am of writing, but this is really striking.

And now the Musketeer mentions his own enemy, Pierrot Lunaire who also appears as part of the Club of Villains in R.I.P. I sense a trend. Especially since El Gaucho just mentioned El Sombrero.

This really is a top-notch issue. Absolutely superb in both art and story.

Batman #669 - The Dark Knight Must Die!

The pace of the action's really picking up in the last third of the story. I'm a good way in and it's light on clues, but heavy on activity.

And as the issue draws to a close El Sombrero, revealed to be John Mayhew, reveals the nature of the Black Glove. "People like me live lives beyond the law, beyond morality. The Black Glove is closing around you, Batman".

I think that the three issues that make up the Club of Heroes story are the best issues of Grant Morrison's run on the book. The pacing starts slow, and builds to a frenzy by #669. It reminds us that Batman wins because he's prepared and observant. And it lays a lot of groundwork for the appearance of the Club of Villains in Batman: R.I.P.

Following this, we have two issues of The Resurrection of R'as al Ghul. I think I'll be skipping those, because I don't want to re-read the whole crossover. Next post, I plan to start on the arc that began with Space Medicine. This is where the book started to feel extremely trippy and harder to follow to me, so I'm looking forward to seeing what a re-read is like.

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