Sandwiched between Grant Morrison storyarcs, the Batman storyarc “Grotesk” is a relatively self-contained, quality story written by John Ostrander with art by Tom Mandrake. “Grotesk” ran from #659 – 662, which were the first issues of 2007. I suspect there was either a printing/publishing error at the time or Morrison’s arc wasn’t ready, so DC threw in this 4-issue story to bridge the gap.
I don’t think that “Grotesk” will ever be given as much acclaim as it should be simply because it falls in the middle of Morrison’s run. The four books previous to “Grotesk” were “Batman & Son,” which is the first storyarc with Grant Morrison as the regular writer on the Batman series. It deals with the revelation that Bruce Wayne had a son with Talia, the daughter of Ras-al-Ghul. Hello Damian Wayne. However Morrison’s famous run gets interrupted in January of 2007, and we get “Grotesk.”
There’s a lot that I want to say about all of this, and hopefully I can say it in a coherent manner. I am on the fence, as they say, regarding Morrison. I guess, I didn’t really know much about him or his work – but I only heard the noise that all the folks on his bandwagon were making. His name was uttered with hushed awe and reverence. One must praise Morrison. And after surfing online, watching some videos, and reading some interviews, frankly, Morrison seems like a really arrogant dude who needs to avail himself of a few more meat ‘n potatoes meals. So, my first impression of him is that he is insufferably arrogant. However, then I read the “Batman & Son” storyarc. I admit, it was good. Its factual: its a good arc. Is it the best arc that I have ever read? No. But can I see this stuff developing into a widespread rolling good time with the Batman? Yep. So, maybe all this racket I’ve been hearing about Morrison is justified.
But before I have to deal with Morrison, I get these 4 issues of “Grotesk.” First of all, I disliked the covers quite a bit. I kind of did not want to read the arc because the covers looked yucko. All four covers in this arc were done by Greg Lauren, who, for whatever reason, hasn’t done a whole lot in the industry. I’m not sure what to think of this. Has he not done much because he’s really not good? And if he’s not good, how did he ever land four covers of DC’s big bad Batman title?
However, I took a good hard look at the first issue there. Three colors: white, black, red. Batman kinda looks to me like a statue here…. cracking, poisoned, diseased… and he’s looking up. And actually after a good 15 minute staring contest, I decided that this is quite a good cover. I usually love color, but the “simple” cover here is very nice in its three colors. By “simple,” I mean that it’s not busy and wild. Horror, noir, unique. Yeah, I had to admit it’s a good cover. The next two covers are the weaker covers, I think. But the last cover? Just like the first in that it is very noir and very unique. They are a bit surreal and perfectly noir for the Dark Knight.
The story is quite deep for a quick 4-issue substitute arc. Grotesk is the name that has been given to the killer who is attacking people in Gotham City. The City is under a heavy winter storm when Grotesk strikes – bodies with skin on their faces removed – are lit on fire. (Cp. the third cover) Batman and the police struggle to find the connection between those being killed. Batman follows leads to Amina Franklin. Her brother died recently, but Batman suspects she is not telling the whole truth about her brother’s death.
Thugs keep pestering Amina, insisting that she owes them because her brother owes them. Batman saves her, but discovers some of the trouble can be traced back to a project that Amina’s brother, Wayne, was working on. Wayne was a surgeon who was developing the I-GORE. The I-GORE was a cybernetic-robotic interface that could be used to perform surgeries remotely. Unfortunately, Wayne Franklin ran into a number of problems – including the failure of the I-GORE to work as hoped for. Wayne Franklin ended up bartering and borrowing money from a number of individuals as well as having his technology copied by a rival medical group. Russian and Japanese mobsters all make attempts to get the technology, get payment, or exact punishment on Amina.
Batman soon establishes that the killer running around Gotham being referred to as Grotesk, is actually Wayne Franklin. Franklin faked his death and has now fashioned a mask for his mutilated face from the facial flesh of his fallen victims. Grotesk is seeking vengeance against those who hurt him and those who ruined his project. He is even willing to sacrifice his sister, Amina.
Grotesk ends up shooting Amina with a fatal dosage as he makes his escape from Gotham. Batman gives chase, and they end up fighting on a boat in the river. Grotesk is maddened and accuses Batman of being just like all his other enemies. Batman subdues Grotesk and they notice a large ship bearing down on them. Batman escapes – making an attempt to save Grotesk. However, Batman only grabs an artificial arm and Grotesk is crushed and submerged by the oncoming ship’s hull.
Okay, there are a lot of great things about this story. First of all, it is so noir, it should win a prize. It takes places in the winter, in Gotham City, mainly at night. It involves a surgeon who has lost his sanity and who has stitched other people’s flesh into a mask to wear. There are Russian and Yakuza mobsters in the story – shooting people up and threatening everyone. Both Amina and Wayne are dead at the end of the story.
Second of all, the story is self-contained. I did not need to read 100 issues before and after to really understand the inner workings of this arc. It was contained within 4 issues – however, it had all the depth, tension, and action that one would expect out of a really good Batman story.
Third, the covers represent the story inside. Sometimes (more and more frequently) covers on comics are just eye candy to get readers to buy an issue and the cover art has little or nothing to do with the interior story. Not so with this arc – these covers practically tell you the story themselves! And the more I look at them, the more I like them, particularly the first and last.
Fourth, I absolutely love the interior art. Every artist (and writer, for that matter) has their idea on how Batman should be drawn. Well, the interior artist, Tom Mandrake, nails it; as I read through issue #659 I was thinking to myself: “Yeah, this is how Batman should be drawn.” The Batman in these four issues is… correct. In fact, the story and the art is classic Batman. These are precisely the stories and depictions that I think of when I think of classic Batman stuff. And its good: it’s a good story and it’s good art.
It seems a lot of online folk rated these issues somewhat low: 6 / 10 or 2 / 5. I don’t understand that. I really don’t. I have a hard time wondering what they are looking for and expecting from Batman if this arc wasn’t it. I guess Grant Morrison is the answer. People want whatever he’s selling. And hey – maybe what he’s selling is good, right? I will find out soon enough. However, to act like this arc is somehow subpar or not quality is ridiculous! I do think it’s unfortunate that it interrupted Morrison’s larger arc, but these issues started 2007 – what a way to start a Bat-year! I only got to read them this week, but they were very much worth the cover price.
This is good stuff. Ostrander and Mandrake were an excellent team and did a fine job with “Grotesk.”