This thread is a part of our Grant Morrison Reading Project.
Though I read most of Grant Morrison's run on Batman, I wasn't paying too close of attention so I will re-read them, starting with # 655-658 (S'-D' 06), "Batman and Son".
Great opening. The Joker with his now signature crowbar. An imposter Batman beaten to death but not before shooting the Joker.
People imitating Batman was a staple in the Bat-canon since no one had to mimic any super-powers. That this poser was an ex-cop reminds me of the Secret Star, a 50s story where Gordon trains five officiers to replace Batman when the time comes.
The Joker's outrage at being shot by (a) Batman is like LOST's Ben Linus' when his daughter is killed. THEY changed the rules!
Wow! That "Zur En Arrh" graphitti sure stands out now!
Nice bits with Alfred and Tim. And that the Bat-suit is not just cloth and spandex.
Going to London is nice, especially with the line about the Earl of Wordenshire.
Kirk Langstrom is a wreck here, he's usually a lot more pro-active but he is SCARED!
The last page reveal of Talia, her son and Men-Bats was very effective!
More to follow!
In a Gotham City version of The View, they are discussing Bruce and Jezebel Jade's relationship. On the panel is Vicki Vale, not happy that she's been ignored for twenty years.
Batman #671 The Resurrection of Ras Al Ghul part 4. - 'He Who Is Master'
I thought I'd give this one a quick look before we continued on with the reading project. Morrison's final contribution to this storyline looks like a fairly innocuous chapter of Resurrection, 3 from the end, but he manages to push forward the themes and concerns of his own mega-epic as well as contribute to the plot mechanics of RoRAG. I get the feeling that RoRAG is mainly Dini's baby as he went on to use Ra's in his very next Detective Comics storyline, and he couldn’t do that without bringing Ra’s back in the first place, which is the whole raison d'etre of this crossover.
I’ve ranted elsewhere against creators ‘overwriting’ what those before them have done, and resetting the status quo of characters and concepts in a way which disregards the growth and change the previous adventures would have entailed. Here, Dini is overwriting Rucka’s introduction of a second ‘daughter’ for Ra’s Al Ghul into the mythos. Like the changes Waid overwrote from previous Adam Strange stories, I can’t say I loved what Rucka had done in establishing Nyssa as Ra’s most bad-ass daughter, but again, I don’t like that this series just completely ignores Rucka’s work with the Al Ghul family. It’s not good handling of continuity.
In this chapter Batman brings Ra's to Nanda Parbat where there is a fountain of youth to save the decaying Ra's. So Batman gets to remind us that he was here very recently to carry out the Thorgal ritual, which hasn't really been mentioned since that issue of 52. Thematically the Thorgal ritual is very important to Batman RIP and beyond, so it's good foreshadowing, and a reminder to readers that Morrison may be taking Batman on a huge sweeping arc rather than simply a series of barely connected adventures. Then we get loads of 'Fathers and Sons', another important theme of Grant's run as a whole. We learn that Sensei, the main villain of the piece, is Ra’s’ father, so this chapter actually contains 4 generations of one family, as Batman is then the father of Al Ghul’s grandson Damien. All of the father-son relationships in this continuum are deeply problematic, with Batman’s relationship to Damien looking most like a normal healthy one (which is saying something!)
Regarding the Al Ghul family, it is Morrison, who tends to respect previous continuity, whether it made for great stories or not, who mentions Al Ghul’s daughters, plural, in the dialogue in this chapter. It is probably the only reference in this entire crossover to Nyssa, the central character of Rucka’s series, even though the whole point of the crossover at hand is to reverse what Rucka did in Death and the Maidens.
Morrison depicts Batman as being totally outmatched by the sprightly Sensei, and it is only by using the properties of the ‘fountain of youth’ to his advantage – it will kill the impure of heart – that allows Batman to beat Sensei. The waters also heal the Batman’s fatal wound from being impaled with Sensei’s staff. Batman certainly goes through the mill in Morrison's hands...
The chapter ends with Batman, having vanquished his ‘grandfather’ Sensei, now turning with a snarl to deal with his ‘father’ Ra’s al Ghul. This is just the kind of primal and philosophically interesting ‘Meet your parents, kill your parents’ moment that Morrison has often used in his work before, and such a confrontation will be a climax of sorts to both the Final Crisis section and the time-travelling epilogue of his whole groundbreaking Batman mega-story.
I was actually surprised, looking at this chapter in isolation, how satisfyingly it fits into Morrison’s long-term plan for Bruce.
Looking through the entire Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul again though, I’d have to contend that it’s not that good, even apart from Dini’s attitude to the Rucka story which immediately preceded his. The final resolution involves a son of Ra’s coming out of the woodwork that Ra’s knew about all along, even though a key plot point and plot driver of the series was that Ra’s was desperate to continue living by taking over the body of his ‘only remaining male blood relative’ Damien.
Good work picking over Resurrection chaps, it seems to have been totally ignored by almost everybody else writing about Morrison's Batman run. I think your right that its mainly driven by Dini's desire to reverse whatever Rucka did in Death and the Maidens that so irked him, but Morrison gets some good thematically resonant mileage out of it none the less.
Not sure if you guys are reading this in trades or if you bought the issues as they came out but 672, Joe Chill in Hell, had an energy and excitement to the floppy that I haven't felt reading a comic in years. As it races toward the conclusion intercutting between the Joe Chill story and the fight with the Third Ghost on the roof of the police station, those Zen Urr Arrh panels just had me totally gripped, with the creepy Bat Mite final page just the icing on the cake. From this issue to the end of RIP I rushed to the comic shop first thing in the morning on the day the next issue came out, really couldn't get enough of it.
Interestingle, the Joe Chill chapter is pretty much the only element of the first run (655-683) that hasn't paid off further down the line yet. With the issue being dedicated to Bill Finger, part of me wonders if Chill's downfall isnt some sort of meta-commentary on Bob Kane, whose reputation is basically in tatters these days - no-one really gives him any credit at all even though its his name in the 'Created by' box, kind of karmic retribution for ignoring Finger's contributions all these years. Chill created Batman but is inadvertantly destroyed by him, similarly Kane never really got past Batman and now, thanks to his cultural all-pervasiveness, anyone who knows anything about Batman thinks of Kane as a huckster and Finger the real brains behind the operation. It all seems a trifle mean-spirited for Morrison though so maybe I'm just whistling in the dark...
I think this issue is also the point where the larger story really starts to loop back on itself with the Zen Urr Arrh stuff. Up until now tons of new stuff and dangling plot threads have been introduced (Damian, the Joker, the Three Ghosts, the Black Glove, the future of 666) without much to tie it together, With this issue, pretty much all the major elements are in place and, with Zen Ur Arrh at the end of his issue tying up with the graffiti at the start of 655, its like the end of the first act and the beginning of everything starting to pull together. Maybe the purpose of the Joe Chill story is a sort of farewell to the Golden Age as we move toward the New Look of Dick/Damian and R.I.P.'s "Batman and Robin Will Never Die!"
Great posts guys. Sorry for the delays here. I’ve had a helluva month. Anyway, before the gap since my last post widens to a full year...
Batman #672 – Space Medicine
I bought all my Batbooks up to the end of RIP in collected form. I’m always careful to avoid spoilers when I’m tradewaiting, but it was very frustrating seeing that everyone at the comics sites I enjoy reading were having such fun with the series. I could avoid the specific discussions about the comics themselves, but the ideas in this run were leaking into their other discussions with all sorts of references popping up willy nilly. The Black Hand and the better Batmobile!
I can’t say I’ve seen anything that has quite lit up that section of the Blogosphere since. The collections for this run were especially slow in appearing and nessecitated buying some of them in hardback, which is generally a thing unheard of for me.
Like a lot of Morrison’s most fun works, these issues probably work best in monthly installments, where the usual suspects have time to sift and analyse everything thoroughly before the next chapter arrives. Morrison came up writing for the monthly format, as a quick look at my Animal Man thread will confirm. The first 9 issues of that series were never thought of as comprising a single trade, beyond the opening arc. Similarly even his recent Batman comics work best when viewed as single issues, or short arcs.
Perhaps I can see how Joe Chill in Hell might be more impressive in single issue form rather than as a middle issue of a short 4-issue sequence in my reading between RoRAG and RIP. It doesn’t quite flow from the previous issue, but rather disorientatingly switches POV completely to Batman’s, as his near death experience means he (nor we) can’t tell what has any truth and what is some kind of vision he’s having. It really threw me as a stop along the way, tradereading from issue #672 to #675. It also functions as a knowing meta-commentary on the struggle amongst the creators and the fans for Batman’s soul. Is he an avenging thug, or something more in tune with our better angels? Since this takes place before Batman is redeemed by his ‘death’ and long time-lost wandering in the wilderness, Batman’s Miller-esque excesses are winning out here.
Actually, Frank Miller’s shadow falls over this whole 4-issue sequence. The police precint the Third Man arrives at in the opening scenes of Space Medicine is peopled entirely by pimps, prostitutes, street hustlers and muggers, not to mention several cops we know aren’t quite as upright as they should be. Miller mainstays all. Then there are the blatant steals from Dark Knight Returns, like the giant bat busting through the window, the armour-plating under the chest-logo, Batman’s heart attack and as Philip put it so well the Bat-Signal "burning" away Bruce to reveal the Dark Knight!
We even see that the Third Man has released Miller’s namesake Mueller. (Having just read Supergods, I wonder if Mueller’s name isn’t also a sly dig at Morrison’s estranged friend Millar. Macho super-sexualised excesses aren’t entirely foreign to Mark Millar’s work either...)
I’ve been mulling over (milling over?) Mueller’s defeat in Batman and Son. That was a quite an elegant unbinding of the Gordian Knot, wasn’t it? Mueller presented the problem that Batman had to be more macho, more aggresive and even more lunkishly testosterone-fuelled than his Bane-like adversary. Batman was able to stand outside the terms of that problem and see that he could manipulate the situation by adjusting the pheromones that Mueller was being exposed to. If Mueller was going to reduce the problem to testosterone levels (as many of the Bat-writers had in the previous couple of decades) then Batman could use that against him. That is Morrison championing Bruce as a really evolved thinker, which places him on a much higher plane than Miller’s rage-fueled leg-breaker.
Still, in this stage of his journey, Bruce is finding that everything comes back to him in cycles, and even with Mueller defeated, here he is again dealing with Miller’s tropes. It will take the major trauma that only Darkseid can induce to break him out of these eternal cycles.
The issue ends with the arrival of the ultimate nightmare of Miller’s Batman, and of fans of Miller’s Batman: Bat-mite!
Batman #673 Joe Chill in Hell
Interestingly, the Joe Chill chapter is pretty much the only element of the first run (655-683) that hasn't paid off further down the line yet. With the issue being dedicated to Bill Finger, part of me wonders if Chill's downfall isnt some sort of meta-commentary on Bob Kane, whose reputation is basically in tatters these days - no-one really gives him any credit at all even though its his name in the 'Created by' box, kind of karmic retribution for ignoring Finger's contributions all these years. Chill created Batman but is inadvertantly destroyed by him, similarly Kane never really got past Batman and now, thanks to his cultural all-pervasiveness, anyone who knows anything about Batman thinks of Kane as a huckster and Finger the real brains behind the operation. It all seems a trifle mean-spirited for Morrison though so maybe I'm just whistling in the dark...
I dunno, I like that reading. It does look like Morrison is making some kind of a point, doesn't it? There were many issues before now where he could have done his tribute to Bill Finger. And I don't think there has been one to Bob Kane yet. This issue is all about Batman's beginnings, and the wrongs done there. Some of the writing here is very poetic. "A grudge can last forever", as Joe Chill says.
My hardback collection doesn't reprint any tribute from Morrison at all, so we have to wonder why it is missing? Corporate conspiracy theories? Where was the tribute in the comic? Would they have had to make an effort to get rid of it?
I was originally not very impressed with these 4 issues. They are collected with The Club of Heroes, so artwise they are a comedown after JH Williams wonderful pages. Having brought the book down from the shelf this time, I found I just had to re-read that 3-parter. Once again I just became totally immersed in it. The body language and acting of these economically sketched characters just makes them seem to come to life, and what they go through seems so real. Just by following that story, the four issues under discussion started off on the wrong foot for me.
And then sometimes, when creators go out of their way to satirise something by recreating its most obvious aspects, well, you end up with something that may come across as being just what it satirises. Perhaps there is an element of bad faith on Morrison’s part in these issues, in that he is trying to write in the Miller mode, but he obviously has extreme reservations about that mode.
Daniel’s artwork is ok, and he’s probably more at home in Millerland than Morrison – most modern Batman comics never left it, after all – but imagine if someone like Williams had drawn these issues? Actually, have a look at the Whip pages of Seven Soldiers #0 to see some top-drawer Miller pastiche.
Whatever about my original reading of these four issues, which I read almost straight through from Batman and Son in collected form, and without the old internet exegesis, they look amazing when set against the extremely long-form Batman tale Grant eventually completed. The quick scenes from Miller'sYear One and the emphasis on Miller’s lone avenger Batman gain huge significance when set against the eventual outcome of the whole epic.
Philip wonders if maybe Joe Chill might be real or not, but I guess the whole point is that Joe Chill is out of Batman’s reach now. The mission of vengeance is a hollow one if the subject of that mission has left the stage, and really is in hell! This looks forward to how Bruce reassesses his life’s mission at the end of the Return of Bruce Wayne.
So several aspects of these issues were working against my enjoyment of them the first few times I read them. Without knowing where Morrison was taking it, the Miller pastiche seemed like so much playing with the surface.
Even on this latest reading, I did start to see for myself where a certain critique was coming from about Morrison’s Batman. I’d read complaints before that Morrison’s Batman wasn’t focussed outward to the world or other areas of pop culture as the Invisibles was, or as personal like Seaguy or Flex Mentallo were. The accusation was that these are just comics about other comics.
This time through, I couldn’t help but admire how Morrison has wrestled the constituent parts of the Batman myth into something not just obviously personal to him, but quite universal. This little sequence really hit home with me on this readthrough:
That's about as personal, and as universal, as it gets...
But again, the meaning and depth of this sequence doesn’t really come into focus without an understanding of how things play out later.
So what aspect of ‘Joe Chill in Hell’ are you saying hasn’t been addressed yet, DST? Most of it seems to have been worked out. Do we find out who is actually writing Zur-En-Arrh here in glowing green letters?
And that brings us to the end of Philip’s reviews so far. Did you notice the demonic creature leering behind the impish form of Batmite, Philip? I didn’t notice it for a while. Creeepy!
Batman #674 (Ap'08): Batman Dies At Dawn!
The Secret Star, the Bat-Cops, Batman/Robin Dies At Dawn, the Moriarty implication. All refer to Batman's mortality and his fears of those dying around him. The whole replacing concept started with Damian but it is driven straight to his heart. He is weary, damaged, wounded and filled with doubt and desperation.
- Batman has his bat-emblem blown off, revealing body armor, not a "costume". Is that a way to diminish his persona? Too not deal with Batman but a man dressed like a bat?
That's valid. A reading along the same line, is that this whole saga is stripping Bruce of his Batman persona, bit by bit. In the end Batman is just a man, subject to pain and mortality like the rest of us.
- The title refers to the classic and infamous Batman #156 (Ju'63) "Robin Dies At Dawn!" where Morrison's sensory deprivation angle comes from and Batman's worst fears are brought to the light.
I really should have bought The Black Casebookwhen it came out a few years ago. I'd like to see how those old stories interact with this storyline. Were any of the old stories you see referenced here reprinted in the 100 page super-spectaculars etc?
Here, Bruce mentions meeting the 3 pseudo-Batmen once before, when they seemed to him to be ghosts of the future past and present. Did that happen earlier in this run? Or in other Batman comics?
- The scientist behind it is given a name: Doctor Simon Hurt. And who would trust a doctor named Hurt?
When I lived in Germany, I stopped going to my dentist when I realised her name 'Fleischer' meant 'butcher'...
- But is the Bat-Mite an evil influence or a revealing one? Could he actually be giving Batman hope?
I think Batmite's role here is very important. Is he all the negative aspects of Batman's psyche combined into an entity that is trying to save him? He seems to be trying to make Batman wake up and see the light regarding how he has been duped and hypnotised, but why does he look like a little cartoon fella possessed by an insectoid demon?
Does Batman see him like that because he himself can't face the horrors that Bat-mite is trying to reveal to him? So Batman's psyche dresses up those horrors (represented by the demon) as his little imaginary homonculi?
Working with the demons and darkness rather than opposing it is often shown in Morrison's work to be the way forward. In the previous issue, Bat-mite had said "To tell the truth... , the dark aint so bad once you learn to make friends with it."
Perhaps that's it. Or prehaps Bat-mite is some aspect of Bruce's unconcious preparing his mind for his own death, that aspect of our existence that we find so hard to look at directly.
"These are the secrets of death we teach. We come all the way from space 8 and the fivefold expansion of Zrrfff to prepare your passage."
In terms of the continuity, Morrison has fun labelling Bat-mite as a fifth dimensional imp in that last statement, like Mr Mxyzptlk and how Johnny's Geni in the JSA was depicted in JLA.
- The glove trick seemed really out there to me and still takes away from the menace of the moment. Like where does Batman hide his arm??
This bothered me too. Morrison's Batman is uber-competant, but this trick is somehow super-powered. Maybe the light was bad, or Batman managed to mesmerise the Third Man into not paying attention to his arm. I think the artist should have done a better job of making the arm look ambigous rather than the full muscley one we see in this sequence.
- Batman trained himself to battle villains that don't exist yet and escape their not-created traps! That's forethought!
Perhaps by creating him in his mind, Batman created him for real? There's a possibility that this might be so when we find out Dr Hurt's origins. At the end of this story, the black glove Batman is left with was probably the one cut off Batman's own suit.
The idea of the foe that was better than Batman, more prepared and working behind the scenes without Batman's knowledge was a great one though. The readers by this stage are as in the dark as Batman, which increases the claustrophobia and mystery of the whole saga here.
- The Secret Star, the Bat-Cops, Batman/Robin Dies At Dawn, the Moriarty implication. All refer to Batman's mortality and his fears of those dying around him. The whole replacing concept started with Damian but it is driven straight to his heart.
That replacement = mortality is a central theme of this run. When people have trouble with their replacements, it's often their own impending doom they are raging against, but that is too heavy a topic to wrestle with directly.
Isn't it amazing how Grant's New X-Men, which we are looking at elsewhere on the board right now, centred around the same theme, but from a completely different angle and in a completely different style? A superhero soap opera, rather than a dark psychological mystery?
Some kid, Grant...
I have The Black Casebook but it seems to disappear a lot only to pop up unexpectedly. I'm not kidding!
Bat-Mite could be Bruce's way of coping with the more fantastic elements of his career. If he can accept a fifth-dimensional imp that dresses like him, everything else is a breeze!
Does Batman really want this arch-foe to exist? His ultimate test or his final task?
Unfortunately none of these tales appeared in the 100 Pagers but, for example, The Batmen of Many Nations and The Club of Heroes were reprinted in World's Finest #179-180 in 1968.
Funny thing about New X-Men, I went to the library to see if they had the TPBs. They didn't but they had the Joe the Barbarian HC!
Does Batman really want this arch-foe to exist? His ultimate test or his final task?
Perhaps. Some psychoanalysts say we have a death-drive as well as a will to live. Batman is getting very dragged down at this point. Maybe he wants to lay down the cowl.
You could do worse than read Joe.
Found The Black Casebook! And it was when I stopped looking for it!
The last three tales were published while Batman was part of the Justice League so he was having even more fantastic adventures at this stage: magical foes, alien menaces (and visits), parallel worlds and the like.
Strangely they do not include the Secret Star story or the Knight's debut!
All-in-all, this collection is a must have to understand Morrison's epic.
P.S. Figs, if you can, you really should get this with Morrison's introduction.