In this four part series Todd Gray takes on the daunting task of giving us a full rundown of writer Grant Morrison's run on Batman. Here is part 1,
part 2, and part 3.
Readers that followed Final Crisis were treated to a disconnected story that doesn't have much natural progression from one scene to the next, or even a story flow from one issue into the next.
There is an underlying structure, more than I thought there was on first read, but even in rereading, the story bounced around from scene to scene in such a jarring manner that it didn't serve to draw me into a narrative, but forced me to shift from place to place, character to character.
It reminded me at all times that I was reading a story instead of drawing me into an escapist fantasy like it should.
Even that mini-series wasn't the full story. Readers had to read the mini-series Superman Beyond 3D to get the full story. Final Crisis' ultimate villain Mandrakk is there, but doesn't show up until the final issue of the Final Crisis.
Batman is hardly even in the series he dies in. He is in the first issue and then doesn't pop back up until issue six when he shoots Darkseid as Darkseid with a fancy gun as Darkseid incinerates him with his Omega Sanction. Dum-dum-dum. But Batman actually was whisked back into the Cretaceous or Jurassic (I ain't a scientist).
Batman's life story was retold or shoehorned into Batman 682 and 683, which attempted to tie Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis together. Once again the artist of the story, Lee Garbett, was unqualified and incapable of telling this story. His art is so sloppy and rushed that is screams "fill-in artist." The two issues explained how Batman confronted Darkseid at the end of Final Crisis.
But it still felt disjointed, as though DC editorial once again forced Morrison to fix storyline gaps between R.I.P. and Final Crisis, when they were most likely the ones that caused the problems. I refuse to believe a writer of Morrison's caliber could have left so many holes and so much unresolved story to be told between so many different series.
Then again, I could be totally wrong. However, Batman 701 and 702 led me to believe I am not. After the self-contained and absolutely wonderful anniversary issue 700, we find ourselves at the "Missing Chapter of R.I.P." in 701 and 702. In re-reading, I was once again left with the feeling that the story should have already been revealed.
In the story, the tense Bruce uses in his notebooks indicates that it was written after the Return of Bruce Wayne mini-series. At one point the dialogue appears to reflects Grant Morrison's state of mind.
He writes "I hope I'm still making sense." and "There are holes in my awareness and they seem to be getting bigger." And finally "I have to explain this as quickly as I can."
That felt like Morrison talking directly to the readers by saying he felt those two issues were unnecessary. This could have been orchestrated by Morrison himself in the publishing schedule, but his writing is usually so tight with foreshadowing and thematic tones underlying the whole story structure. So I have a hard time believing his odd non-linear storytelling choice here was intentional.
This led to Morrison and Frank Quietly getting a new series, Batman and Robin, with Dick Grayson underneath the cowl of Batman and Damian Wayne as hot headed sidekick Robin. It was a new team with a new dynamic full of fresh ideas and a brand new rogue's gallery for the new Dynamic Duo.
This was my favorite period of time for Morrison's Batman, for awhile. As a fanboy I liked seeing Dick Grayson take up the mantle for a change, and for longer than the post-Zero Hour 1994 storyline, "The Prodigal." I liked how his relationship with Alfred was more of an uncle to his favorite nephew, as well as a to student, while at the same time Dick's relationship with Damian was a begrudging tolerance. It was an exciting dynamic I had not yet seen in the Bat-Family yet.
Then came Oberon Sexton, The Gravedigger, an English author whose face was scarred by the criminals who killed his wife. Sexton wore a black mask covering his face and a large top hat. He first appeared in Batman and Robin #4, and popped up periodically throughout Morrison’s run, which ended with issue 16.
Sexton is eventually revealed to be The Joker. It was a shocker worthy of Hitchcock, except Morrison did it a few years earlier in New X-Men when Xorn revealed he was really their greatest enemy, Magneto.
I’m not against an author going back to the well, but to reuse an idea he had literally used only a few years prior, one done so well that fans were devastated when their new favorite character was revealed to be a villain. It felt like DC’s resident idea/ reboot man ran out of ideas .
Then came the six issue series, The Return of Bruce Wayne. At the end of Final Crisis, Batman had been thrust into the prehistoric past and was now, in the mini-series, being flung through time. He became a caveman, a pilgrim, a pirate, a cowboy and a detective, before returning to the present in Batman: The Return.
But over at Marvel Captain America had just gone through his own storyline where he had died at the hands of an enemy only to hop around his own lifetime before returning to the present. The entire fifth season of TV's Lost had half the cast trapped on an island being flung back and forth throughout time. Call it creative synergy. But by the time this series came out, I had already seen it.
When I originally sat down and read this mini-series as it was released, I enjoyed each issue for the sheer fun of seeing Bruce Wayne thrust into odd situations, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of the plotline that linked each issue. It seemed like gibberish. I could see there was a plot, I could see that each issue was linked by Superman, Green Lantern, Booster Gold and Rip Hunter looking for Batman at the end of time, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was really going on.
Then the final issue of the mini-series was late. It did not ship until after the big finale Batman: Return and Bruce Wayne: The Road Home already arrived. In going back to re-read, I broke down and pored over annotations I found on the Internet.
Then came Morrison’s biggest stunt, perhaps the biggest stunt in Batman history, certainly the biggest stunt within the pages of a Batman comic book since his back was broken in Knightfall. In Batman and Robin 16, Bruce Wayne and the collected Bat-Family, stand before the world and announce that Wayne secretly funded Batman’s war on crime for years and he wants to fund a Batman in every country.
This fanboy's jaw hit the floor. I have so many reasons for why this might be the single dumbest idea Batman has had forced on him over the years, but I admit. enjoyed the Hell out of Batman Inc.
So here is what I learned from my grand experiment. I learned what I had always feared, that in reading it in one sitting, everything that I thought was going wrong in the book was really my own resistance to something new and different.
I was so opposed to seeing Morrison bring the radical change to my beloved Batman that he did to X-Men. While I was at first confused, I should have been more patient with Morrison’s long term goals. I should have been more willing to pore over previous issues to get a full idea of the picture Morrison was painting, and less resistant to the concept that Morrison’s Batman was its own beast and should be enjoyed as such.
I had grown complacent in having previous writers give me a short burst of Batman’s crime solving story arcs, usually three to six issues. Morrison’s radical long form writing forced me to become my own detective by investigating and digging for my own answers.
I was resentful of having to resort to reading annotations to get a full picture. I will also admit that once I did so, my understanding and enjoyment of his Bat-Tapestry grew as large as the Grinch’s heart at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Morrison, you magnificent genius bastard. I should have stopped complaining and let Morrison’s hairy-chested love-god do what he wanted with me.
Wait a minute.