This is the April 2007 release for DC Comics’ major title, Batman. It was written by Grant Morrison, penciled and inked by John Van Fleet, and the cover was done by Andy Kubert. I suspect from the period 2005 – 2010, this issue is one of the most read, discussed, and puzzled over issues in comics. If you are not familiar with this issue, you probably should rectify that.
Allow me to give a brief introduction to what this is all about: Grant Morrison is a Scottish writer who began writing the Batman title with issue #655. It has been said that his writing is known to portray nonlinear narratives and counter-cultural concepts. The first few issues of Morrison’s run on Batman begin a far-reaching storyline involving Batman’s son, Damian Wayne.
655. BUILDING A BETTER BATMOBILE (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG
656. MAN-BATS OF LONDON (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG
657. WONDER BOYS (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG
658. ABSENT FATHERS (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG
After a short interruption for the very good arc “Grotesk,” Morrison’s run continued with this issue #663. The most significant items of this issue are (1.) the issue is a prose short story, not quite utilizing the typical comic book criteria; (2.) the dark, violent, and heavy tone/style of the work. After the “Batman & Son” issues and then this issue here, readers sat up and took notices of Morrison, helping him to become one of the biggest names in comics. He’s won several Eisner and Harvey Awards.
The title of the issue is “The Clown at Midnight.” The story consists of ten “chapters” written in prose which are written among a smattering of art frames on each page. Hands down, without a doubt, I insist that the artist did a spectacular job. I believe it must have been exceedingly difficult to create the art for this story in this format. The artwork, if you take the time to look at each frame, is actually excellent. The format is, actually, interesting and somewhat exciting. However, there is a distinction between comic books and short stories – that Morrison tries to blur that distinction is interesting, but ultimately a fail. There are specific reasons people buy comic books and specific reasons readers by novels. While one could make the argument that traditional formats can become stale and hum-drum, there really is a necessity to remain within the accepted demands of the medium. Overall, I am not opposed to this relatively unique format (although it does bear some resemblance to the work of another English writer, Alan Moore), but I think it should remain a rarely used format and not make it into mainstream comics.
That being said, the problem I have with the issue is actually Morrison’s writing. If one wants to write prose, then one has to be judged in that category as well. And this puts Morrison’s efforts in the same category as science-fiction / fantasy / literature writers like Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Alfred Bester, Frank Herbert, et al. And compared to these writers, Morrison’s prose in this issue doesn’t measure up. The prose is metaphoric, adjectival, and descriptive. It does present the dark, mystical, psychological facets of Batman, Joker, and Harley Quinn, but it does so with a lack of true grace and panache. This sort of prose, a play-by-play narrative is difficult to write. Its not the past-tense with which the majority of prose is written. So I give Morrison credit for maintaining that style throughout the issue. The story is not my cup of tea, but I can judge stuff even if its not my style. The psychological horror tone used in this issue depicts the really dark and scary side of the characters; but writing qua writing, its not that good.
In other words, Morrison is (at the point of this issue) an interesting novelty, but there’s nothing that compels me to any adulation of Morrison as a creative writer. I much preferred the previous “Batman & Son” issues.