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Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham’s Run on Batman Incorporated – Demon Star & Gotham’s Most Wanted (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

Between September 2006 and July 2013, Grant Morrison crafted his epic Batman saga from the ashes of Infinite Crisis. Over the course of seven years, the Scottish author re-worked and re-imagined the Caped Crusader, boldly trying to condense the character’s convoluted and sprawling history into a single narrative. Morrison pulled elements from across the character’s continuity – including stories believed wiped out by continuity reboots and existing as alternatives or “what-ifs.”

To describe Grant Morrison’s Batman epic as ambitious doesn’t begin to do it justice. It is a story that pushed the character out of what had been his comfort zone since the eighties and nineties. He made Bruce Wayne a father; he killed Bruce Wayne off; he banished Batman to the dawn of time and forced him to fight his way back to the present; he made Dick Grayson into Batman; he turned Batman into a franchise so that it might fight twenty-first century crime.

Beware the Batman...

Beware the Batman…

These are all seismic shifts to the status quo, and don’t necessarily conform to what people think about when they imagine a typical Batman story. The character of Bruce Wayne and his world changed dramatically. The very first issue of Morrison’s Batman run featured Batman capturing the last of his classic villains, allowing the Caped Crusader a change to face larger and more existential threats.

It is quite telling that Morrison’s storytelling became the driving force of Batman continuity, with DC spinning books and stories off from his central premise. Scott Snyder’s first Batman epic was The Black Mirror, a story featuring Dick Grayson as Batman, as part of Morrison’s status quo. When the company relaunched Batman & Robin as part of the “new 52”, it featured Damian Wayne as Robin, another innovation introduced by Morrison.

It's all connected...

It’s all connected…

Despite this sense that everything was changing, it seemed inevitable that everything would inevitably be reset. You can only change an iconic character like Batman so much, after all. If you bend Batman too far out of shape, he must inevitably snap back into his classic mould. It’s not inherently a bad thing – “Batman and Robin will never die!” to quote Batman R.I.P., and the characters endure because they revert to archetypes – but it does lend a sense of tragedy to everything.

Coming in the wake of the “new 52” reboot that represented an attempt to reset DC continuity back to its most archetypal configuration, it makes sense that Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham would write the second volume of Batman Incorporated as a tragedy. Morrison would announce his intention to step away from mainstream brand-name superhero stories in the wake of Batman Incorporated, and you can sense some of that fatigue in this story about how everything eventually gets set back to zero.

Everything falls apart...

Everything falls apart…

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Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason’s Run on Batman & Robin – Pearl & Death of the Family (Review)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

Peter Tomasi is one of the best supporting writers in comics. Writing a supporting title in a shared superhero universe is a very daunting task. It requires a unique ability to weave into (and out of) events and storylines dictated by more high-profile writers on more popular books. Due to the structuring of superhero publishing, the direction for an entirely line is typically dictated by one (or maybe two) books, with the rest of the line alternating between supporting those books and trying not to make waves.

Tomasi is very good at this. His Green Lantern Corps book provided a suitably solid support for Geoff Johns’ more high-profile Green Lantern comic. He was the logical choice to take over Batman & Robin after Grant Morrison departed, even if the book did cycle through a variety of creators including Paul Cornell and Judd Winick. Tomasi is a writer with a lot of experience as an editor, and – as such – has a knack for picking up on themes and core values of particular writers.

He shall become a bat...

He shall become a bat…

Following the “new 52” relaunch, Batman & Robin was very much a satellite book in DC’s Batman line. It was a holding pattern, a book designed to feature Damian Wayne while Grant Morrison prepared to launch into Batman Incorporated. It was part of a line that was largely being driven by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s work on Batman. There was no sense writer Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason would be doing anything particularly bold or daunting with the book at this moment in time.

Dutifully, following an eight-issue introductory arc, Born to Kill, Batman & Robin found itself bouncing around between various high-profile crossovers in the Batman line and in the wider context of DC’s publishing schedule. In the spate of issues between Born to Kill and the end of Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated run, Tomasi and Gleason find themselves navigating a veritable minefield of DC continuity and crossovers.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

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Peter Milligan’s Run on Detective Comics (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

Peter Milligan’s run on Detective Comics was cut unfortunately short. After writing six issues of Detective Comics, the writer felt a little over-stretched, and so decided to concentrate on more personal projects. While that’s entirely understandable, it’s also a little unfortunate. Milligan’s work on Batman is rather underrated and often overlooked. Grant Morrison’s decision to build some of his extended Batman run off Milligan’s Dark Knight, Dark City helped bring some exposure to Milligan’s work on the character.

Despite the brevity of his run, Milligan is incredibly influential when it comes to the character of Batman. His work prefigures a great deal of the nineties. The way that Milligan seems to play Detective Comics as an existential horror story feels like it sets the stage for the extended collaboration between Doug Moench and Kelley Jones on the main Batman book during the mid-nineties. Although he didn’t stay to see the idea through, Milligan did play a (very) small part in the development of Knightfall.

Hanging on in there...

Hanging on in there…

Even outside of the general mood of Milligan’s work on the title, and demonstrating that a Batman comic could work as a horror story, even Milligan’s individual stories are influential. Dark Knight, Dark City is major influence on Grant Morrison’s work on the character. Perchance to Dream on Batman: The Animated Series seems to owe a debt to Milligan’s Identity Crisis, imagining a version of Bruce Wayne who is not Batman. (Something Morrison revisited during Final Crisis.)

However, perhaps Milligan is most influential in his portrayal of Gotham itself, offering us a damaged Batman protecting a haunted Gotham.

Knight clubbing...

Knight clubbing…

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Non-Review Review: The Dark Knight Returns, Part I

Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns might just be the most influential Batman comic ever written. It offers a glimpse an alternate future where Batman has retired as Gotham’s protector, and where a new wave of violence brings him back out of that retirement. It is also, and perhaps more notably, a study of the character’s psychology. It’s notable for suggesting that Bruce Wayne’s obsessions might be ultimately self-destructive and that there’s a primal conflict between the “Batman” part of his persona and Bruce Wayne. Like Watchmen, it’s generally recognised as one of the comics that represented a maturity in the medium.

Warner Brothers have produced an animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic, and I can’t help but admire it a great deal. While Alan Moore’s Watchmen was a novel that never really lent itself to film, Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns always had a cinematic quality that I think director Jay Oliva captures remarkably well.

A dark and stormy knight…

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Non-Review Review: Batman Beyond – Return of the Joker

The Joker holds a special place among Batman’s iconic selection of villains. Appearing as early as Batman #1 all those years ago, the clown prince of crime has managed to hold on to his position as the prime Batman bad guy for pretty much all of Batman’s publication history. It was the Joker who put Barbara Gordon in a wheelchair in The Killing Joke, and it was the Joker who killed Jason Todd in A Death in the Family. As such, it’s no real surprise that the character should eventually make his way to the futuristic setting of Batman Beyond, to give Bruce one last challenge.

Guess who’s back…

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Justice League Unlimited – Epilogue (Review)

At the time Epilogue was written, the creators didn’t know that Justice League Unlimited would get another season. The show ultimately got another year on television, but Dwayne McDuffie and Bruce Timm constructed Epilogue so that it would serve as something of a coda to the entire animated DC universe, stemming as far back as On Leather Wings. It actually works almost perfectly, bringing everything a full circle. Justice League and Justice League Unlimited consciously pushed Batman to the periphery, which made a bit of sense. After all, the character had anchored two shows already. However, Epilogue moves Batman back to the centre, re-establishing Bruce as the core of the animated DC universe and giving him a (mostly) happy ending a few years before The Dark Knight Rises would do the same thing.

One final spotlight on Batman…

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Batman Beyond – Rebirth (Parts I & II) (Review)

This September marks the twentieth anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series, and the birth of the shared DC animated universe that would eventually expand to present one of the most comprehensive and thorough explorations of a comic book mythology in any medium. To celebrate, we’re going back into the past and looking at some classic episodes.

Batman is one of the very few of DC’s major superheroes who faces his own mortality. Superman knows that he inspires the Legion of Superheroes, and his alien physiology could allow him to live forever. Wonder Woman is an immortal. Green Lantern comes from an entire deep space police force. Even Hawkman and Hawkgirl live through a perpetual cycle of reincarnation. Bruce Wayne is just a man, and – as such – he will eventually die. Due to this simple fact, a lot of people have wondered what might happen if Bruce Wayne were confronted with his own mortality.

Batman Beyond explores that potential future.

A flying start?

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