Thursday, July 16, 2009

But Eventually They'd Better Do That 18-part Ace The Bat-Hound Miniseries I've Been Craving.

So Batman.

I fell in love with the character pretty late in life--my teens, to be exact. And it wasn't the comics that did it. It was Tim Burton's dementedly delightful movie Batman Returns, which bears a superficial resemblance to his imaginative but somewhat hollow first movie but is about a million times more witty and creative on a story level. It's also the movie that started (it seems to me) the tide of fanboy grumbling about how Batman wasn't being done "right". Ironically, it was shortly followed by Batman: The Animated Series, which quickly consumed me with its dazzling production design and near-perfect distillation of all the best Batman tropes. My love for both of these two versions of Batman, which popped up in such rapid succession, caused me to realize quickly that there was no single version of Batman, or indeed any comic book character who's been around that long. He's a great icon to be constantly reinvented, as the comics themselves have been arguing lately.

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's Batman and Robin is a thing of beauty. People have been carping about Morrison's run on Batman for a while now, with the exception of the J. H. Williams-drawn "League of Heroes" storyline, largely because of the artists. The standard line is "Morrison's only as good as his artist", which isn't really true--"Morrison needs a great artist to be really great" is closer to the mark. And the art in the "Son of the Bat" storyline was pretty determinedly mediocre. But I liked where the story was going and the fun Morrison was having with the form. I know nothing about Bat-continuity, but ideas like Bruce Wayne having a son from a previous liason with Talia, or the entirety of his insane 50s-era adventures having been part of a psychological experiment to create a backup personality in case of psychological attack, were pretty nifty as far as I was concerned. It did feel a bit like editorial mandate had swerved things away from the more purely fun and creative work Morrison wanted to do for the sake of "Final Crisis" and who knows what else, but I did like the end result when all is said and done. At the time, the ultra-skanky Joker bothered me a bit (and again, I think he was inserted partly because of the popularity of the movie The Dark Knight--left to his own devices, Morrison might have left the Joker out completely, or at least sidelined him more) but the way he collided with Morrison's utterly, gleefully demented revamp of Batman's Silver Age continuity, culminating in that David Lynch-style final battle that seemed to be taking place deep within Batman's psyche, proved electrifying. At any rate, Morrison seems to have finally cleared the decks for the Batman story he *really* wants to write, something in the mode of All-Star Superman, but featuring a total reinvention rather than a distillation of the Bat-mythos. With Quitely on art, the whole thing is now rocketing forward like the new flying Batmobile. I'll do another review in a few more issues' time, but I can't imagine this continuing to be anything less than great.

And speaking of Batman and J. H. Williams, the new Detective Comics featuring Batwoman by Williams and written by Greg Rucka is pretty awesome too. Here the thrill comes from the art more than the writing, though the latter is perfectly servicable if not solid. I think Rucka's gotten a little bit of an unfair shake from the art-comics types who are far more excited by Williams; the Crime Bible stuff is a pretty cool idea, honestly, and the new villain, Alice, has possibilities. Besides, any writer who can provide a solid, non-flashy underpinning for a comic where the artist is the superstar deserves major credit in my book. Not showing off is its own skill, you know?

But anyway, Williams is clearly the big draw here; one of those clever people at The Savage Critics or The Mindless Ones (both great comics-review journals; the latter is where Lester Bangs would be contributing if he were A) a comics writer and B) still alive) described this work as the modern day equivalent of Steranko, which hit the nail on the head. I do sometimes worry that Williams' style will overwhelm the story, which is, again, why he's such a good fit with this script: it's as straightforward as can be, so he's free to zazz it up. The best part is his reversion to straightforward ligne claire style during the bits where Batwoman, aka Katey Kane, is in her civilian identity, contrasted with the lush and vibrant painterly style and snazzy, stained-glass-window layouts when she's in Batwoman mode. Like Morrison's run, this is an attempt to reinject fun and psychedelic weirdness back into a superhero comic that's been a little too heavy on the dour and dreary of late.

Which is exactly why the main Judd Winnick Batman title doesn't appeal--based on his first issue, the only one I plan to read, it's not technically terrible, it's just plodding and dull. And redundant. (Seriously, why couldn't Morrison's run just be the main Batman title?)

Still, it's exciting that so many people are trying to inject life back into the Bat-Universe, and it's certainly a hoot that so many are doing it in the absence of Bruce Wayne. Of course, Final Crisis teased us with Bruce's inevitable a caveman.

I'll be buying that, too.

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