Grant Morrison’s Batman: An Introduction and 52

30 03 2010

Grant Morrison‘s run on Batman has spanned well over 30 thirty issues and in it he has taken Batman into a completely new and different direction after several years of grounded detective stories. He’s played up the ‘superhero’ aspect of the character by incorporating elements that haven’t been associated with Batman for over decades, from Silver and Golden Age zaniness reimagined and reincorporated for the Modern Era, to space gods, and the devil himself, Morrison has taken Batman and his cast of characters out of their comfort zones and into the bizarre and grand. What I love about it the most is that it reads like an older comic book from a simpler time where you could honestly believe that anything could happen to the hero, a quality that very few comic books have nowadays.

His run, while not only being a fun romp through the Batman universe, has been layered with details and references to older stories from the very beginning. Which makes the task of rereading it very rewarding as every single thing he has brought up has come up time and time again in later issues. Which brings me to this post. I’ve decided to reread his run from the very beginning and discuss and point out details that will hopefully come into play later. Think of this as a retrospective look with several annotations here and there.

Now many consider Batman #655 to be the start of his run on Batman but I’d say it officially began during Week #30 of DC’s weekly series, 52.

The REAL Battle for the Cowl.

That's a pretty blunt spear you got there, Bruce.

The story, entitled ‘Dark Knight Down‘, plants the first seeds of his Batman epic and makes changes to the Dark Knight’s modern continuity. One of these changes was the revision to include the Joker’s ‘prankster’ period as part of modern continuity.

I like how he keeps a flag for situations like this.

At this point I’d like to mention that Morrison’s current philosophy with the Batman franchise is that every single story happened in some way or another. Every story removed by the streamlining of events in Crisis on Infinite Earths has been brought back.

A bit of a primer for the uninitiated,  the DC Universe’s continuity was very messy due to the multiverse. Nobody was quite sure who, or what was in continuity. So they decided to streamline it with Crisis on Infinite Earths where all the realities were rolled into a single Earth. Batman’s history, before the streamlining, included his Adam West inspired adventures from the 60’s and various sci-fi and alien escapades, contradicting the dark avenger that he was in the 70’s and 80’s. After the Crisis, the Adam West inspired adventures were removed and became non-canon. Morrison, however, has reincorporated them albeit with changes to make them more palatable for modern tastes.

This has been somewhat important in his run as he makes note of it in this interview from ComicBookResources.com:

From CBR‘s All-Star Morrison interview:

And the approach with ‘Batman’ was to explore every single event that has happened to him, so I kind of took the same approach on both of them. In my own head, I imagine all the adventures happen to these guys and if you sat down and interviewed them, they’d be able to tell you about them. Batman would talk about when he fought the Monk, and when he fought Hush and it would all have happened in the same life. ” [emphasis mine]

So, basically – every story in the past 70 years of Batman’s continuous publication history is relevant.  Everything.

Dark Knight Down’ takes place during the one year ‘lost’ after Infinite Crisis because the DC Universe jumped ‘One Year Later’ and used that as a publishing initiative to create brand new and revitalized concepts for their line of books. 52, also co-written by Morrison, was created to fill in that year long gap. Bruce Wayne had left Gotham City with his wards in order to retrace the journey he took when he first became Batman because he had lost his way.

You know that the Batman's lost it when he actually points a GUN at you.

While there’s not much to discuss, there’s a bit of foreshadowing here and there from the Batman-centric parts of the issue. My favorite bit is where Tim Drake, the current Robin, explains to Dick Grayson, former Robin and now Nightwing, that the reason why Bruce brought them along his trip around the world was to train them to become the new Batman and Robin. Oh, if only Tim knew.

Give him credit - he was half right.

Another thing I found quite interesting was the use of the word self-destruct. It appears here in Dick Grayson‘s narration boxes:

And once again in Batman #677 as said by Dr. Hurt:

The story also features the reimagining of the Ten-Eyed Man, an old 70’s Batman villain whose gimmick was that, well, he had optical nerves attached to each of his fingertips. He wasn’t much of a villain, really more of a nuisance if you ask me.

Seriously?

The new Ten-Eyed Man or rather Ten-Eyed Men are a nomadic tribe who inhabit the desert and they’re supposedly one of Bruce’s original mentors. They call themselves the Ten-Eyed Surgeons of the Empty Quarter. The Empty Quarter or the Rub’ al Khali is, according to Wikipedia at least, one of the largest sand deserts in the world. Nothing really important with the location, but it does tell us that the story takes place somewhere in Saudi Arabia.

Bruce goes to them because his ‘soul feels black’ and he has lost his resolve to continue his self-imposed war on crime.

Something to note in the next scene presented is the red and black color scheme that is in this scene, and only in this scene in the issue. Red and black is a reoccurring theme in his run and will be very important in the coming issues. This will be discussed in the posts covering Batman RIP.

Notice how that immediately after they cut out Bruce’s demons the colors return to normal in the scene below. My current guess is that Morrison uses the color scheme to highlight important events and flashbacks in his run. So perhaps there’s more to this scene than meets the eye.  Oh, and note the bat shaped cloud above him just before Robin gets to him.

And after that ordeal, Bruce declares that ‘It’s over. Batman is gone.


What I found most interesting with the sequence was how Bruce described his soul – black. Sure over the past few years, he might have been, like what he described, dark, fearful and paranoid, I don’t really think that constitutes a black soul. In fact, later in the series, Dr. Hurt describes Batman as a ‘noble human spirit.’ So why the black soul then?  Is this Bruce just beating himself up over past mistakes as he’s been known to do or perhaps could this be something far more than that?

As for the declaration at the end, it definitely wasn’t the literal end of Batman. I thought of it as Bruce finally letting go of his mistakes and finally burying the old Batman. No more fear, no more paranoia, no more weakness. This becomes a central theme to later in this story, specifically in Batman R.I.P. I’m not sure if Bruce and Tim make anymore appearances in 52 because this is all I recall of their involvement. I’m guessing that after this, Bruce undergoes the Buddhist ‘Thögal’ ritual which he uses to remove every trace of fear from him. That will be covered later in this series of posts.

So, that’s it for my very first blog post. Not a lot of discussion for this post because it just covered a single issue. We’ll see how much I’ll be able to write up when I tackle Grant’s first arc on the main Batman book, Batman and Son. Stay tuned.

Scans from:

52 #30, ‘ Dark Knight Down’ , written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid, art by Joe Benett and Ruy Jose.

Batman #677,  ‘ Batman in the Underworld’ , written by Grant Morrison, art by Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea

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4 responses

31 03 2010
Darren

Nice article. I can appreciate what Morrison is doing, but I’m not entirely convinced. I know a good bit about Batman’s history, but I can’t help but get the sense, reading the run, that I’m not invited to his “readers of every Batman story ever” party. Put simply, the run doesn’t read well on its own. That isn’t necessarily a criticism (the medium is one long continuous story after all), just an observation.

31 03 2010
thewednesdayreader

I understand what you mean. From what I can gather from the Internet, Morrison’s run has been pretty polarizing with the the fanbase – you either like it or you don’t. I do agree with your point – it is less satisfying to read his run if you aren’t really familiar with what Morrison is referencing or reincorporating into the modern Bat-mythos.

But don’t let that put you off his run. I started reading Batman with his run with only the knowledge from Wikipedia and years of cartoons to back me up and I was able to make it out just fine. In the end, all these little references are just, well, references only there to enrich the experience.

And if Morrison’s Batman still isn’t for you there’s a multitude of other great writers out there on Batman right now. I’m glad you gave it a chance which is more than what other people are willing to do right now.

Oh, and thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment – it was greatly appreciated. I’ll try to get the next part up tomorrow along with other things.

4 04 2010
Darren

I’ve read as far as Batman RIP (I’m a wait-for-trader-er – which, yes, does sound suspiciously like “traitor”) and I’m still reading, so he is doing something right (I’ll pick up Batman and Robin later this month). I guess I’m more of a Dini man myself (loved his Detective Comics run and picking up Streets of Gotham when that’s trade-ised), but the Animated Series was my induction into the Batman universe – every morning before school. Good times.

And great post, might I add.

4 04 2010
thewednesdayreader

I loved Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, I have the first trade of it and a couple of single issues here and there. Personally, my favorite so far was his Joker story, Slay Ride. And yes, the animated series and the comic spin-off was how I got into the character in the first place.

Anyway, I’ll see how long it takes before I get to RIP. At the rate I’m going, it might be awhile I’m afraid. We’ll see.

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