Joker

Batman #1 (2011)

Batman 1

Batman #1 (2011)

The first month of the “New DC 52” is over. These are the titles that I subscribed to and read:

  • Action Comics
  • Batman
  • Batman & Robin
  • Blue Beetle
  • Detective Comics
  • Green Lantern
  • Green Lantern Corps
  • Justice League
  • Mr Terrific
  • Nightwing
  • OMAC
  • Red Lanterns
  • Superman
  • Wonder Woman

There were no “wretched” issues, thankfully.  Some issues were not as good as others, some were surprisingly good, and some were excellent.  In particular, I really liked Red Lanterns and OMAC.  Overall, the most exciting issue (that, yes, I feel did live up to the hype) was Justice League.  However, as far as the best issue (especially in terms of storyline) that came out, that I read, – I must say it was Batman #1.  It was written by Scott Snyder and pencilled by Greg Capullo.

The cover does not appeal to me very much. It’s not a terrible cover, I guess, but I think I wanted something better for the new number one issue of Batman. I wanted something absolutely outstanding.  This cover is not what I wanted to see for this title. And because I was somewhat unimpressed by the cover, I read the issue the last of all the issues I got that week.  I sure did judge it by its cover!

However, the writing is excellent. I cannot understand how Grant Morrison’s Action Comics and Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics stole the praise away from this issue.  That’s not to say that those issues were bad – they weren’t. This issue of Batman was awesome.  The issue begins with scenes from a dark and dismal Gotham City while Batman muses in dialogue boxes.  We learn that every Saturday in the newspaper, there is a small section wherein citizens are asked to complete the sentence: “Gotham is…..”   This is really fun because from the very first page, I was thinking about this in the back of my head; how would I respond to the question?  Gotham is…. dark. Gothic. Scary. Overrun. Crawling. Insipid. Ominous. Relentless. Decrepit. I loved thinking about how I would finish the phrase.

As Batman ponders the phrase, he’s also punching and kicking his way through bad guys at Arkham.  Until he gets to a room with the Joker and the unthinkable happens… they team up! Joker even says “Aw, always so serious!”  I must say that the Capullo drew the hell out of the Joker in these frames. So, at this point, I’m invested in the story – what’s going on?!  After the battle, Batman meets up with Commissioner Gordon and explains (in his evasive manner) what happened that evening.  Then we are in for a treat – a full spread bird’s-eye view of the Batcave.  I spent several minutes absorbing this shot – its really exciting and fun. I admit it, I am envious of Bruce’s cave. Anyway, surprise! Turns out Dick was actually posing as the Joker! I have no idea if I was relieved or thrilled about this. It was really cool, though, and I enjoyed being fooled. Apparently, Dick was posing as the Joker in Arkham.

Upstairs in the Manor, Bruce meets Dick, Damian, and Tim – all wearing black tie formal wear and looking like a real Bat-family.  Bruce has a party going on whereat he gives a long speech in an endeavor to get investors to join him in creating a newer, better Gotham City.  The point of his speech (and perhaps the Batman title) is that the investors should move beyond what Gotham was and is and focus on what Gotham will be. While this may seem somewhat “uninteresting” to readers who simply want action scenes, I think this section has great potential for the title.

Bruce has to duck out of the party, though, because the police have found a gruesome crime scene.  A John Doe has been killed by someone who used professional, antique throwing knives. However, the victim seemed to know he was going to die because he left a message behind:  “Bruce Wayne will die tomorrow.”  Batman scans the DNA beneath the dead guy’s nails and the last page of the issue confirms that the DNA is a match with none other than Dick Grayson – the fellow who had been helping Batman by posing as the Joker!  The last dialogue box of the issue has Batman finishing the newspaper phrase: “Because above everything, Gotham is… a mystery.

I love the balance between Batman and Bruce Wayne. I love the surprises and supporting role of Dick Grayson. I like the technology and detective skills of Batman. I like that this issue has a deep “Gotham” feel to it – like getting back to Batman’s roots in a solid, classic but also fun way.  This is amazing writing and the surprise mystery ending really makes the reader pine for the next issue.  This issue was certainly the strongest writing of the month and I am really looking forward to see how this storyline develops. I think, at the end of the day, I have to agree with Scott Snyder and Batman….. Gotham is a mysterious mystery.

Finally, one of the debates raised about many of the “new 52” issues was whether they were truly “jumping-on” points for new readers. Were these new number 1’s truly accessible or were they just repackagings?  I have to say that this number one is perfect for new readers who are expecting a great story with classic Batman content.

5 stars

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Batman #663

Batman #663

Batman #663

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.

2 stars