Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Building a Better Batman: Grant Morrison's First Year on Batman

Grant Morrison has been the writer on Batman for a little over a year now and, soon, the Bat-books will launch into a two-month crossover concerning the resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul. So, that begs the question, how was Morrison's first year (11 issues) on the book?

Batman & Son (#655-658)

Seven of the 11 issues so far have been drawn by Andy Kubert and all I've got to say is "meh." He's wildly inconsistent in that some panels look amazing and others look like something my friends and I churned out in the seventh grade. Besides specific criticisms/comments, that's all I really feel I need to mention about Kubert's art.

Actually, I should also add that it does fit the book. Normally, I would demand a higher class of artist for a Morrison book, but Morrison's approach here is much more traditional than his work elsewhere, so Kubert's art isn't entirely out of place. On my first read of these issues, I was much more put off than my reread these past couple of days, especially in this first arc.

It begins with a bang--quite literally, as Batman shoots in the Joker in the face. But, before that, Morrison gives the Joker a fantastic line: "I DID IT! / I FINALLY KILLED BATMAN! / IN FRONT OF A BUNCH OF VULNERABLE, DISABLED KIDS!!!!" While we don't know it quite yet, this is Morrison's last hurrah for the Joker we currently know and love.

We don't realise that this isn't really Batman lying beaten and bloody until he draws a gun and says "DIE." only to shoot the Joker with the real Batman a few seconds too late to stop it from happening. However, this fits with the larger arc of Batman here as he is ineffectual at times, often resulting in the (seeming) deaths of characters. Except the Joker isn't dead here (somehow). And, thus, Batman throws him in a dumpster.

This issue is devoted to Morrison bringing back the playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne as Alfred insists he relearn that role and Commissioner Gordan suggests he leave his "comfort zone" of Gotham. Meaning, let's head to London for some African charity thing. The charity event is interesting as it takes place at an art gallery where the exhibition is devoted to comic book pop art, which is used magnificantly in part two of the story where the pieces of art in the background often work with or comment on what's happening in the comic.

The first page of issue 656 has Jezebel Jet, a beautiful model approaching Bruce Wayne with the piece of art behind her depicting a wide-eyed person and a thought balloon that says "WOW!" When the ninja Man-Bats attack, Bruce looks up at them and a piece of art has a frightened person yelling "YIKES!" Batman enters the fray, jumping at a Man-Bat with a picture of a city much like Gotham behind him, symbolically leaving his home to fight here, almost like it were a teleporation window or something similarly comic booky. Batman punches a Man-Bat and the woman in the picture yells "OUCH!" He fires his grappling hook with a giant "BLAM!" right behind him. When more Man-Bats arrive from above, there's a picture of a man shouting "LOOK! UP IN THE SKY..." Right before the Man-Bats hit Batman, an army man yelling "INCOMING!" Batman's inner monologue says "FROM TWO STORIES BELOW ME COMES A SOUND LIKE A 21-GUN SALUTE." with a piece of art that just has RATATATRATATAT repeated.

I'm sure I missed a couple of references, but it adds a whole other dimension to the action and I'm not sure if that was Morrison or Kubert's idea. I'm inclined to give credit to Morrison just because he chose the location, but, either way, Kubert lays it out in such a manner as to accentuate these background pictures. As well, if there's one thing Kubert can do, it's action, which this entire issue is pretty much.

An interesting technique used by Morrison is the narration by Batman, which is something he had avoided in his previous work with the character (excluding some JLA moment) as Timothy Callahan points out in his book on Morrison when discussing Arkham Asylum and Gothic. (Callahan's book, by the way, is Grant Morrison: The Early Years. I got it last week and read all of it except for the Doom Patrol section as I want to get the rest of Morrison's run on that book before reading Callahan's thoughts on it. The book itself is a fantastic read and a thought-provoking, in-depth look at Morrison's five well-known early works Zenith, Arkham Asylum, Animal Man, Doom Patrol and Gothic. You should definitely get a copy and I'll probably wind up referencing Callahan a lot as a result of his discussion of Morrison's early Batman work, as well as the three columns he spent discussing issue 663-665 of this run over at Sequart.) The narration doesn't actually begin until the Man-Bats attack, signifying the shift from Bruce Wayne to Batman. Callahan argues that Morrison avoided the technique in the past as, at the time (late '80s), it was such a cliched and overused technique because of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns. However, its inclusion here relates to Morrison's current take on Batman, which is the inclusion of all past incarnations of the character. As Callahan points out by quoting Geoff Klock, Morrison doesn't use continuity in a traditional sense where writers often focus on making sure characters are portrayed in-line with recent depictions (such as post-Crisis), he utilises every depiction of the character, which is why nearly every story in his year on the book so far relies on or alludes to past, usually pre-Crisis or seemingly out-of-continuity stories. In a way, despite 52's creation of a new multiverse, Morrison's take on the character relates strongly to his concept of Hypertime where every story ever told actually happened--even stuff like the bleak '80s that Morrison seemed to dislike so much at the time, which means the Batmonologue is back.

The main thrust of this opening arc is the reintroduction of Batman and Talia's son, Damian, who Batman is given at the end of issue 656. The couple's child originally appeared in a seemingly out-of-continuity graphic novel where the two had sex and the child was put up for adoption. Ever since, DC has denied it as being part of the character's official history. But, as I just said, everything is in play as far as Morrison is concerned. And, as we find out here and in issue 666, Morrison alters Damian's past to make it so he was grown in an artificial womb and then trained by the League of Assassins. So, while everything is in play, Morrison still recognises the need to make sure it all works together as a cohesive whole.

With issue 657, Morrison begins to play with an old theme of his while writing Batman: fatherhood. In Arkham Asylum, he was concerned primarily with mothers, but fathers played a role there as when Batman does a word association, his reponse to "father" is "death." In Gothic, fathers are referenced much more as Thomas Wayne actually speaks to him in a recording, which helps him. Or, even in JLA: Earth 2, the relationship between Owlman and the Thomas Wayne of the alternate Earth is contrasted when Batman and the rest of the JLA cross over. Here, Morrison pushes that theme further and does something new by still using fatherhood as a major theme, but with Batman/Bruce Wayne in the father role. Actually, it first pops in #655 with some small interplay between Bruce and Tim, who he adopted as his own son in the previous arc under James Robinson, I believe.

In 657, the question of what kind of father Batman is becomes more prevelent with the inclusion of Damian at the mansion. Damian and Tim immediately becomes rivals as Damian sees Tim as a threat for his father's legacy and, most likely, love. Tim also feels threatened as he questions Batman about their relationship, which Batman says won't change, but Tim rushes off in a huff nonetheless.

The first test of his fatherhood ends with Batman at his most frightening and angry, which is the also the first time we see Damian not insolent and challenging. However, we soon learn that Damian escaped from his room and beheaded a mediocre supervillain only to return to the Batcave to challenge Tim. Initially, Tim makes an effort with Damian, reflecting the way Batman wants him to act, while Damian is aggressive and attacks Tim. The defing moment of why Tim is obviously the true heir to the Batman mantle comes when he saves Damian from being eaten by the giant dinosaur in the Batcave only to have Damian knock him off the dinosaur and send him crashing down to the bottom of the cave. The issue ends with Damian in a Robin costume with the addition of a white ninja hood and Tim in a broken heap on the floor of the Batcave, in between glass display cases of costumes. While the cases at the end of the issue don't depict it, the panel where Tim falls has the top of the case containing Jason Todd's costume (I assume--as we can only see the domino mask), which would have made for a much stronger final image, alluding to the fate of Tim's predecessor and the idea that Damian may, in fact, replace Tim as Robin--semingly by killing him.

While this is the first time Morrison has played with the idea of Batman as a father figure, it isn't the first time Batman has been as such, obviously. Of particular interest, though, is the relationship between Tim and his other "brother," Dick Grayson. I'm not familiar with their entire relationship, but, from what I know, his relationship with Damian here is quite different. Namely, Tim plays the role of the older brother, most likely acting in a similar manner to Dick. While he expresses signs of jealousy to Batman in private, when dealing with Damian directly, he is nothing but friendly and encouraging, trying to make Damian feel at home as much as possible. But, unlike the way Tim no doubt responded to Dick, Damian reacts with violence and sees Tim as a threat rather than a big brother. Tim is the adopted son, while Damian is the biological and was raised on the stories of his father and his greatness. The adopted/biological difference is also a big one as when Dick and Tim first met, Tim still had a father and Dick is not Bruce's biological son, so both were in much more similar positions than Tim and Damian here. Or something like that.

The final issue of "Batman & Son" is entitled "Absent Fathers," referring to Batman not being in Damian's life until recently, the fact that Ra's Al Ghul is dead which prompts Talia's actions at the end of the issue, Bruce's dead father (who is mentioned) and even Tim's dead father who Batman now replaces albeit not in this issue as he leaves Tim at the mansion to recover while going off to fight Talia with Damian in tow, symbolically chosing Damian as his son over Tim in this instance.

The plot is basically, Talia has kidnapped the wife of the British PM in an effort to extort him into turning over Gibraltar to her, and Batman must stop her. The issue begins with Batman and Alfred tending to Tim as Damian does his best to ingratiate himself with his father by pleading to help, revealing Talia's plan.

Batman and Damian arrive, beat up a bunch of ninja Man-Bats and Talia tells Batman that what she really wants is the three of them to be a family. She will give up her legacy as the daughter of Ra's Al Ghul and devote all of her resources to helping Batman's war on crime. He refuses and she blows up the submarine they are on. The issue ends with Batman on the shore and holding the ninja cowl Damian was wearing, which washed up on the shore.

This introductary arc does a couple of things:

1) It introduces the idea that everything we've ever known about Batman is now in-play no matter when it happened.

2) It sets the tone of Morrison's run as much more traditional and action-oriented than one would expect. His work here is more in line with Gothic than Arkham Asylum, which is interesting as the latter is much more known than the former.

That is, until the next issue...

The Clown at Midnight (#663)

First off, here is Tim Callahan's analysis of this issue. I'm trying my best not to steal any of my ideas from him, so forgive me if things get repeated.

When I first read this issue, I wasn't that impressed. I thought it was decent, but nothing special. Like most of the run, this second reading turned things around.

"The Clown at Midnight" is a complete left turn from the sort of stories contained in the first arc and seems a conscious attempt on Morrison's part to recognise Arkhama Asylum and, at the same time, move past it. The issue is told entirely in prose with odd drawings by John Van Fleet that are partially computer generated, specifically the people. It is reminiscent of Dave McKean's art, but also distinct because of the obvious computer elements.

Morrison's choice of prose is interesting. As Callahan points out, it allows him to tell this story in a single issue instead of over several, which I think is purposeful in the allusion to Arkham as it was also a single book. But, also, it seems a response to the current state of comics and suggesting that things just move too damn slow. Let's be honest, all Morrison does here is reinvent the Joker, which seems like a one-issue idea, but the plot points to get there would require more.

The prose itself is very stylised, which was one of the reasons I didn't like this issue on initial reading. This time, it worked for me. Maybe it was the contrast to the morning paper, which I read before it. Maybe it was the bright lights of my office. Maybe I just didn't appreciate it the first time around.

However, I do think the prose is a weakness in one regard: I'm still unconvinced we are given a clear idea of who this new Joker identity is. Yes, there is some interesting stuff on the relationship between Batman and the Joker; yes, he is willing to sacrifice Harley Quinn, thus sacrificing his former lighthearted mirth; yes, he seems more evil almost--but how is this DIFFERENT REALLY? That's still the gaping flaw of this issue: I don't know what makes this Joker different from previous incarnations really. Especially as I'm fairly certain the character has shown up elsewhere since this issue and I'm willing to bet the writers there ignored this issue completely.

Of course, is this issue supposed to matter, or is it an effort for Morrison to further integrate as much of Batman's past as possible? Callahan points out that this issue alludes to another Batman prose story from the '70s; as well, the little psycho midgets from The Killing Joke show up; lists of nicknames for the Joker at various stages are given; Harley Quinn representing a specific era.

Hmm, I wonder--is the idea to kill Harley Quinn a jab at fellow Bat-writer Paul Dini, the creator of the character? Is Morrison drawing a line in the sand that says this is where he is and that's where Dini is? And to what purpose? Harley is left alive and unscarred--although, she is willing to let the Joker cut her face up like his. But, that doesn't happen. Is Morrison attempting to set up a duality between the Joker and Harley? The fact that Harley is the one that takes the Joker down at the end by shooting him suggests that she ultimately makes the break. She recognises that he was progressed, that he's changed and she leaves him, in a sense.

I do like the idea that Batman is the one person that the Joker won't kill. It makes sense in a twisted way. In his mind, there is only the two of them, everyone else is not real. Morrison harkens back to the relationship between Professor Xavier and Cassandra Nova, but here, the two are siblings in a more twisted, psychological sense. Two sides of the same coin as it were.

And what of Batman's personality changes? While Morrison directly addresses the changes the Joker goes through, even arguing (once again) a concept of supersanity as the reason, Batman's various personas remain unaddressed, at least explicitly. But, more on that later with the "Club of Heroes" story.

Hopefully, Morrison will get a chance to do more with this Joker as I am curious to see how this one is different. In the past, the Joker has always been very slapsticky and outgoing, but I wonder if you could push him in the direction of other types of humour. I wonder if a more subtle, dark-humoured Joker could work as well. Really push him into some uncomfortable areas. Is that the Joker here?

And then we return to the Batman we know and love from "Batman & Son"...

"The Ghosts of Batman/The Black Casebook" #664-665

Again, Callahan's analyses of these issues are here and here.

With these issues, Morrison continues his work to reestablish Bruce Wayne as a playboy millionaire as well as integrate various loose threads from Batman's past into a cohesive whole.

Strangely, issue 664 picks up immediately following the end of "Batman & Son," suggesting that "The Clown at Midnight" exists in its own space. However, the beginning of this issue could also be a flashback. In the first half of thise issue, Bruce Wayne goes skiing with Jezebel Jet and establishes himself as cooler than James Bond. Not much is actually accomplished here beyond showing Bruce Wayne being cool and his budding relationship with Jezebel.

Then, almost aburptly, at the mention of the death of his parents and assurances that he got over it, we're in Gotham where prostitutes are being killed by some sort of monster that's protected by the cops. Morrison reintroduces the standard plot of a corrupt Gotham police force. While it never exactly went away, it hasn't been quite this explicit recently (I think--I could be wrong--of course, the Jim Corrigan character in Gotham Central was corrupt as hell, so it has been a plot point recently, but perhaps not to this extent). After Batman beats up the cops and some other thugs, he gets information from the pimp and tells one of the hookers to apply for a job at Wayne Enterprises as a receptionist. Then, he goes after the monster, who is apparently a cop.

Here, Morrison once again uses an inner monologue, but a different type than the one used in the second part of "Batman & Son." This one has large font and looks like computer font almost. As well, the style is more gritty and halting. Sentences are fragmented--and then we meet the monster, which is a man a hybred Batman/Bane costume. He's giant and takes Batman down easily.

Before this, Batman mentions the smell of testosterone, which plays an important role here. One of the major themes of superhero comics is the concept of masculinity and what it means to be a man. In these two issues, this idea is presented in various forms. First, there's Bruce Wayne who is the parachute onto skis and then take down a small helicopter with a ski pole before whisking the girl off to a fancy dinner sort of guy. Then there are the corrupt cops and the pimp, all exploiting women for their own gain. They equate being a man with dominance over women and the gain of money, which isn't exactly that far from the actions of Bruce Wayne. One of the reasons why he's so cool is that he's rich and saves the girl from a potential assassin (turns out to be paparazzo). And then thee's the monster who equates manliness with physical power and, again, dominance over women. We're told that the only thing that pacifies him are the prostitutes who he eventually kills. He does the venom drug and exudes testosterone, which Batman equates to the smell of board meetings, the stock exchange and executive washrooms. This Bat-Bane is pure alpha male and is able to beat Batman by using superior strength and intimidation.

Another key element mentioned here is the black casebook, which we find out in the next issue is where Batman writes down the details of events that don't fit with the presumed nature of reality. His encounters with aliens and the supernatural, etc. are all included there; the things that don't exactly fit with the grim-n-gritty Batman established in the '80s. Morrison reframes these events in terms of that reality and has Batman acknowledge that they don't fit with what he knows. This way, they still don't work within the context of what we think a Batman story necessarily is, but since Morrison and Batman both recognise this, it doesn't matter and, ultimately, works.

Issue 664 ends with Bat-Bane stomping on Batman's back, refencing Bane breaking his back in the early '90s. Morrison here integrates another element of Batman's past, one that is not remembered with fondness by current readers and brings it into the present. While those events aren't out of continuity, Infinite Crisis suggested (quite strongly) that those events were mistakes, a feeling often put forth by readers. The '90s are not looked upon favourably by most and Morrison brings back the key Batman '90s moment, almost saying that it wasn't so bad and that we're judging it harshly. Who are we to pick-and-choose what should count and what shouldn't? Everything is in play with Morrison--and everything has the potential to be cool. (I should add that I don't think the entire Bane/Azrael story is a low-point for Batman--in the same way that I still look upon the death and return of Superman with fondness--and even, to some extent, the Spider-Man clone saga.)

Issue 665 begins where 664 left off, Batman beaten and crawling on the ground. Morrison uses the narration in a fantastic way here, having Batman "say":

Face down in my own blood and vomit in the pouring rain. / Must / Must be / Must be a better way / to strike terror / into the hearts of criminals.

He plays with the convention of Batman's fragmented narration and his cliched catchphrases to poke fun at the seriousness of the character--especially as he is then recused by prostitutes.

Ultimately, he is patched up by Alfred, Tim goes off to fight Bat-Bane, he follows and they defeat the monster. In these scenes, though, we learn more about the black casebook and are introduced to the three Bat-Ghosts. At the end of the previous issue, Batman draws a connection between this Bat-Bane and the cop in issue 655 who shoots the Joker in the face. Both cops, both wearing Bat-costumes and both were figures in a vision he once had of three versions of himself that he took to be warnings of who he could become:

1. An unhinged, gun-toting vigilante.

2. A steroid freak devoted to being as strong as possible

3. And a third, shadowy figure we learn from Bruce sold hissoul to the devil and destroyed Gotham.

Alfred and Tim write this off an effect of the pain medication, but Batman has seen two of these figures in person now. Are the events in the black casebook as far-fetched as Alfred thinks? He actually says about those events, "I'D AZARD A GUESS THAT YOU AND MASTER DICK WERE OFTEN THE VICTIMS OF ONE TOO MANY EXPOSURES TO SCARECROW GAS OR JOKER TOXIN," but Batman dismisses Alfred's scepticism.

Here, Batman begins to towel himself in Bruce's dirty shirts to blanket himself in pheromones and testosterone in order to beat the Bat-Bane on his own terms. As Batman says, "WHAT'S THE ONE THING AN ALPHA MALE IS PROGRAMMED TO RESPECT? / ALPHA MALE PLUS." While the Bat-Bane creates a manly image of himself through drugs and artificial testosterone, Batman relies on his natural masculinity, specifically Bruce Wayne's. Morrison subtly raises Bruce Wayne up to be Batman's equal or, perhaps, superior here.

Tim's speedy exit once again plays with the father/son relationship of the two as he is still eager to prove himself in the wake of Damian's visit. Again, Batman assures him that there is nothing that Tim has to prove to him, of course failing to see that one of the reasons that he is Batman is because he feels he must prove himself to his dead father.

Batman saves Robin from being beaten and then attacks Bat-Bane in a scene that recalls the fight between Batman and the gang-leader in The Dark Knigh Returns. Once again, Batman is fighting a larger, stronger enemy and does so in a construction site not unlike the muddy pit of DKR. Except, before he can finish it, Batman is interrupted by dirty cops that cover for Bat-Bane and threaten to shoot Batman.

Commissioner Gordan tells Batman that something is wrong with the Gotham PD and maybe the corruption of old is back.

The issue ends with Talia and a lead-in to the upcoming Ra's Al Ghul storyline. She learns of Bruce's relationship with Jezebel-and the fact that the two have been seen twice together that week. In Venice, the two are together and Bruce explains his injuries away before kissing Jezebel. The inclusion of Jezebel is another old trope of Batman Morrison reuses. Back in issue 655, Alfred lists some of the women of his past like Kathy Kane, Vicki Vale and Silver St. Cloud. In recent years, the focus has been placed on Batman to such an extent that Catwoman is the only romantic interest I can recall, and that was a relationship with Batman, not Bruce Wayne. The films always follow a pattern where Bruce Wayne meets a girl and ends up revealing his indentity to her. Is Morrison using that same story here?

"Batman in Bethlehem" (#666)

Like "The Clown at Midnight," many have not known what to make of this issue as it stands outside the rest of the run in a very odd way. I was actually tempted to include it with the previous two issues as it concludes that little story, albeit in an odd manner. In this issue, Damian is Batman in the future and fights against the third Bat-Ghost, a Batman who is the anti-Christ. It is suggested that because the Bruce Wayne Batman wouldn't kill him, the apocalypse will come. Damian as Bruce's successor is a necessity as his methods differ enough that he able to defeat someone his father never could.

One question that has to be asked is whether or not this is a real story. And, does that matter? Obviously, it's a REAL story, but is this the future really? Does Bruce die with his son as Robin? Does Damian take up the mantle instead of Tim or Dick? Does Barbara become commissioner? Now, within the context of this run, the story is 100% real and accurate as every story is. However, I wonder if this is meant to be a real depiction of the future or something else entirely. The only problem with that is I'm not sure what else it could be except for an alternate future, but what would be the point of that? Usually, alternate futures are framed in a way that reflect upon the present, but this doesn't. The only pieces of the present we get are in the two-page spread "The Legend of the Batman / Who he is and how he came to be..." where we get Damian's origin--which is Morrison using the comic book staple of retelling origins, especially at the beginning of the issue.

This is Morrison's most inventive issue as little here is known. Damian faces an entirely new rogues gallery with guys like Candyman, Professor Pyg, the Weasel, Max Roboto and Jackanapes--and, of course, the anti-Christ Batman. The issue is devoted to the fight between the two Batmen with a glimpse into Damian's life as Batman. In one panel, he walks through his Batcave and we see two costume display cases. In one is Damian's Robin costume with two Batmen. Is this a suggestion that someone else took up the mantle before him? Is that what Tim did? Maybe Dick? The other display case houses the Joker's suit and his smile--what the hell?

At the Hotel Bethlehem, the two Batmen fight with Damian eventually winning as he also made a deal with the devil. He sold his soul at 14 to ensure Gotham's survival, suggesting that as the age when Bruce died--which can't be too far off from the current timeline, although I don't remember Damian's age being mentioned. Hard to say exactly how old he is now.

During the fight, the anti-Christ Batman says something interesting about the two Batmen sharing the same father, both sons of the Batman. Some have taken this to mean that the connection is through Ra's Al Ghul, but maybe this other Batman is the more traditional son of Bruce and Talia, the one named Ibn al Xu'ffasch? Given up for adoption, he learned his true parentage eventually and was jealous of Damian the same way Damian is jealous of Tim? Or maybe Jason Todd? Who else could it be? Maybe even Tim.

Damian says something interesting when discussing how he boobytrapped various buildings in Gotham: "I KNEW I'D NEVER BE AS GOOD AS MY DAD OR DICK GRAYSON." A subtle jab at Tim?

In the end, Damian kills this anti-Christ Batman and is shot by the police, only to stand up, unharmed, protected by the deal he made with the devil.

What does this story mean? Morrison plays with the obvious Satanic reference with Damian's name, but why tell this story? I think it's partly to provide a conclusion to the Bat-Ghosts story in that we see how the third ghost is eventually defeated. An untraditional method of concluding the story, but interesting. There's the fact that it is issue 666, another devil reference. Is it a true representation of what's going to happen?

It does further a few of Morrison's themes like fathers and sons, which also ties into concepts of masculinity. As well, one of Morrison's recent obsessions has been examining heroes through various doubles. As Jog has said of All-Star Superman, Morrison has the hero confront various versions of himself. Here, Bruce Wayne doesn't confront other versions of himself, but we're given two more to go with the others we've seen (the gun-toting Batman, Bat-Bane, the Joker--who, YES, is another version of Batman, at least the way Morrison depicts them--the ninja Man-Bats, and even the young Damian who recalls a young Bruce Wayne while also doubling Robin). This leads into the Club of Heroes story where Batman deals with numerous doubles.

"The International Club of Heroes" (#667-669)

Earlier, in the section on "The Clown at Midnight," I mentioned the issue of Batman's various personality changes and this arc introduces the issue in an implicit manner. The cover of issue 667 features a picture of Batman, Robin and the original International Club of Heroes in classic '50s or '60s style. The picture is repeated inside the issue and asks the question: does that Batman still exist in the history of the character. In the arc, it is said that Batman only attended one meeting of the group, suggesting that his current personality of a loner and asshole applies then when he was a much more cheerful and fun character. Now, I assume the group only appeared once originally in that typical Silver Age fashion where story ideas were used once and then ignored because the idea of continuity was applied to how a character acted, not the events of the story. Morrison explains that away by applying the post-Crisis Batman personality to a pre-Crisis event. Does that mean all of those old stories happened, but with the modern Batman character rather than the Silver Age one? Or has Batman also changed personality over time like the Joker has? Morrison raises an interesting tension there.

Surprisingly, rereading this arc as a whole left me cold. I found the plot to be very weak, almost secondary to the furthering of Morrison's themes and motifs. The major idea here is Batman confronting all of these alternate versions of himself. The Knight (British Batman) is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic trying to make good by stepping into his father's shoes. The Legionary is a fallen hero, fat and corrupt. Man-of-Bats is also a second generation hero, stepping into his father's shoes. And so on. However, I'm not sure we gain a lot of insight into most of these characters.

The real doubles here are John Mayhew and Wingman. Mayhew is a double of Bruce Wayne, a rich man who instead of becoming a costumed vigilante, bought his own superhero team full of Batmen--except it fell apart partly because of Batman's lack of interest. Mayhew lived the life of the millionaire playboy that Morrison pushes Bruce Wayne into during his run, except without the Batman morality to hold him in check. We find out that he possibly killed his mistress and he is the mastermind of the murder plot here.

Wingman blames Batman for his unknown status, claiming that he thought of the Wingman idea a year before Batman showed up and that the Club of Heroes was his chance to be a famous superhero. Here, his costume has been updated from the odd red and yellow spandex outfit he originally wore to a bluish-black and grey armoured outfit that alludes to Azrael's Bat-costume, but also very clearly resembles Batman's regular costume. He has modelled himself after Batman despite claiming to be ahead of Batman. One of the interesting quirks Morrison adds is having Wingman say "TT" from tie to time, which is a characteristic of Batman that he started in JLA (along with "HH"). He also makes an interesting comment about sidekicks, mocking Batman for needing one--although, he is actually Mayhew's sidekick in a sense.

As well, Robin faces two doubles in the form of Beryl, the female Squire (sidekick to the Knight) and Raven Red (who insists he's not "Little Raven" as his father calls him). All three are not the first to wear their costumes/identities as both Man-of-Bats and the Knight were sidekicks to their fathers, so Beryl and Raven Red have stepped into those roles only when the former sidekicks became the heroes.

The sidekick elements also introduce Morrison's fatherhood themes, especially in a discussion between Man-of-Bats and the Knight where they talk about their fathers and how they seemed like such big heroes when the two were kids--but they were wrong. They weren't heroes, just men. Red Raven and Man-of-Bats also have a strained relationship as we get the sense that Red Raven wants to be respected for his own abilities while Man-of-Bats keeps seeing him as a little kid.

The Knight/Squire relationship is interesting and continues from Morrison's JLA Classified arc where the two were introduced. We get a sense that Beryl watches over Cyril rather than the other way around. Cyril is the dysfunctional father (although I should point out that the two are not father and daughter) that requires the child to grow up quickly and take on a parental role. In this way, Beryl often comes off as more mature than Tim. Tim goes through the story making jokes about the Club of Heroes, which Batman chastises him for.

While Wingman is a double of Batman, he also exists in a father/son relationship with him. Even though Wingman claims to have donned a costume before Batman, Batman tells us at one point that he spent a summer training Wingman. Wingman rebels against his superhero father, siding with his OTHER father, the one who believed in him and nurtured him, John Mayhew.

JH Williams III's art here is fantastic. He conveys a lot of information about the characters by depicting each in their own unique style. He says this was his idea, so it adds to the story, but doesn't necessarily further Morrison's themes. As for the plot, it's pretty standard and seems like it could have used more room to breathe. The ultimate solution to the mystery is partly a surprise, but also a disappointment in that I don't think the necessary clues were there, especially in the killing of the Legionary, which is shown to us.

However, Morrison does explore his major themes more here and further his goal of including every piece of Batman's history in continuity.

Almost at the end

Morrison's first year on Batman is notable for his inclusion of elements of Batman's past that we wouldn't normally think of as "in continuity," but that is because, to Morrison, every story is in play no matter how different it is. He brings back the child of Bruce and Talia, the Club of Heroes and introduces the black casebook as a means to explain the non-noir/gritty elements of Batman's past. He alludes to the '80s and '90s numerous times, suggesting that those "dark" times still have worthwhile elements. He progresses beyond his own Batman stories, pushing familar themes like fatherhood beyond Bruce as son to Bruce as father, as well as continually has Batman face different versions of himself, a subtle means of incorporating the concept of alternate realities and "Elseworlds" stories without explicitly doing so. I'm interested in seeing where Morrison takes the character in the rest of his run, as well as what he will do with his reinvented Joker.

And that does it. Who knows when I'll post again.