Monday, December 17, 2007

Two Words: Ninja Man-Bats.

from volume 1, issue 2, early November 2007

#666-669; Annual #26
Written by Grant Morrison (Peter Milligan for the Annual)
Drawn by Andy Kubert, J.H. Williams and David Lopez

I want to preface this review by saying I don’t believe that Grant Morrison can do no wrong: the Seven Soldiers maxi-series was a confusing fever dream when read all together as one story, and I nearly had a seizure after reading the first volume of Invisibles. That said, when you tame that bucking bronco of a mind and get it to write continuity-bound superhero comics, the results are pretty astounding. So far in Morrison’s run, Batman has fought an army of ninja Man-Bats in London, discovered that Talia al Ghul bore him a son named Damian, and crossed paths with two other “Batmen” who seemed to be evil funhouse-mirror fragments of Batman himself.
Now, speaking of fever dreams—Batman #666 is the queen mother of ‘em all. Set ten years in a dystopian future Gotham where the world is really going to hell, Damian al Ghul, the new Batman, is fighting the third “ghost Batman”, who claims to have sold his soul to the Devil for the power to destroy Gotham. Unfortunately for him, Damian sold his soul to the Devil, too—in return for Gotham staying relatively safe in the midst of Hell on Earth. Violence ensues. It’s simple, fun, and kind of messed-up—I wouldn’t give this to a kid under thirteen, let’s say. But I kind of miss the days when one-shot stories were the norm, so this was a nice change.

Not to say the “Club of Heroes” three-parter was anything except completely beautiful. Morrison takes the old, insanely corny “Batmen of Many Nations” stories from the ‘60s—England’s “The Knight,” Italy’s “Centurion,” Argentina’s “el Gaucho,” and so on—and gives us a kind of “Where Are They Now?” reunion encased in a murder mystery.
I’ll say it again, I don’t know the first thing about art, but J.H. Williams’s work in these three issues is absolutely gorgeous. The panels that form bat-shapes and spirals, the shadows and reflections and flashbacks… I wish every story could be told this artfully. Since the Batmen are tracking the one who’s murdering their former financer and their fellow heroes, Williams’s work has a very Hitchcock feel, from what little I know of old Hitchcock films. I’d go so far as to say Williams takes a pretty-good script from Morrison and makes the mood and the tone so inescapable that it becomes a great script. I enjoyed every second of this story and the art, for once with me, made a huge difference.

And then there’s the Batman Annual. I kind of dislike annuals as a rule, because if they were truly necessary for a story, they’d be regular-numbered issues. Sometimes they introduce characters who’ll be important in the future, but by and large they’re fairly irrelevant. In this one, Peter Milligan (who wrote the wonderful X-Force/X-Statix series) tells the story of Ra’s al Ghul’s origin as a young Arabic doctor who sacrificed his true love for immortality. Milligan does an okay job of not making this a completely lame story, and there’s this whole plot to use Damian’s body to reincarnate Ra’s, but of course, nothing of any note really happens, except that Batman finds another Lazarus Pit in Australia which leads to an amusing side story where the Lazarus… er, substance, that green stuff, whatever it is, leeched into the ground and the fruits in that area allowed an old Australian hobo to live past two hundred. I regret buying this issue, but I guess it’s better that it got shoved into an annual and wasn’t made part of the main story. It would’ve just dragged the series down. So, annual aside, Morrison’s Batman is one of the surest bets out there right now.

Rating: Four Whiskey Sours.