Review: Batman and Son hardcover collection (DC Comics)

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Monday, December 31, 2007

From the moment you take off the dust jacket of Batman and Son (if you're into that kind of thing), it's obvious DC Comics means business with this collection. DC has embossed an Andy Kubert Batman image in black on the hardcover; obviously, with Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert's names on the front, this is supposed to be a flagship DC Comics Batman volume.

It is, in a word, great, though not perhaps the volume I would give a first-time Batman reader (save that for Batman: Detective). Morrison is steeped here in Batman coolness, and there's much to savor--from the straight-up superhero action of the main storyline, the short Joker prose story, the more esoteric "Black Casebook" two-parter, and the final Elseworlds epilogue--but the variety of writing styles might jar a casual reader.

Letting alone, Morrison's writing is at times as super-heroic as it is metaphoric. There's an extended sequence with Batman, Commisioner Gordon, and the Joker in the first few pages which serve more thematically than anything else (where Gordon, in true Morrison style, speaks to the reader), and it's hard to miss the meta-interpretive background when Batman fights ninja Man-Bats in a museum full of pop art.

I was most taken in this volume not by the "Batman and Son" storyline, which has classic elements in its own right, but more by "The Clown at Midnight" and "The Black Casebook." "Casebook"--apparently part of Morrison's larger Batman arc--begins with a match between Batman and a Bane-like figure; Morrison's take on a Knightfall-haunted Bruce Wayne is remarkably compelling. Even moreso is Morrison's new Joker novella, with images by John Van Fleet, which is unquestionable supposed to put one in mind of Morrison's Arkham Asylum. The end to "Clown" comes a little quick, but there's more than enough scary bits along the way.

Morrison has famously referred to his take on Batman as the "hairy-chested Neal Adams love god"; think, perhaps, Bruce Wayne crossed with James Bond, a reference Morrison makes in the story (only, Wayne remarks, "much cooler"). Indeed, the Bruce Wayne here, in relationships both with Talia and new character Jezebel Jet, is lustful--if not loving--and also a bit naive--he can't quite believe Talia would risk the life of her own child.

More importantly, in our post-Infinite Crisis world, we see a Bruce Wayne concerned with things like whether Robin knows that Bruce is proud of him. Whereas previously we had the sense that Batman's partners were a means to an end in his war on crime, we now get the sense that his partners are his end--that is, his war on crime is for the purpose of keeping Alfred, Tim, Selina, and the rest safe. This is a Bruce Wayne, as in the Batman movies, who has a soft spot for people who do good and seems eager to find the good in everyone, and he's far more readable than Batmen past.

I want to comment a little more on Morrison and Paul Dini's Batman, in examining the implications of the "New Earth" Batman. Look for that column shortly.

[Contains full covers.]

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7 comments:

  1. I'm with you. I wouldn't recommend Batman and Son HC to a new reader although I enjoyed it a lot.

    Have a happy New Year, too!

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  2. I'm torn, I really want to read Morrison's take on Batman, but I hate paying for a hardcover because DC wants to milk it for all it's worth before releasing the trade.

    Cheers,
    Bob

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  3. I really dug this book. At first, I wasn't sure what to make of it, besides it being intriguing overall, especially with "The Clown at Midnight" being quite good, though I wonder if it a Marvel-style move to "update" the Joker's look for the upcoming movie. That story started off a little unncessarily thick, but got better as it went along. Have recent books stuck with what happened to his face?

    The crazy continuity appeals are what I loved. Although I was wondering specifically what they were referring to, I have some theories, with regards to the Black Casebook. I'm pretty sure the alternate Batmans refer to old Legends of the Dark Knight stories - the Bane-esque Batman likely refers to the "Venom" storyline, and I'd bet the demonic future villain is inspired by Morrison's own story, "Gothic" (coincidentally, recently reprinted). I'm not sure about the gun-toting Batman, but it immediately made me recall Batman: Year Two (still in-continuity? interesting image to start the book off with...)

    I found it odd the whole "Batman & Son" storyline itself was cut so short, but I'm sure it continues out in further volumes. It was almost shocking to see such a story play out in "only" 4 issues. All in all, definitely interesting to consider, as you said, the "New Earth" Dini/Morrison Batman.

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  4. Actually I just realized that Mike Barr wrote both Bride/Son of the Demon and Year Two/Full Circle, so it is pretty likely that they're both nods to his work. Since the whole Joe Chill capture is back in continuity, I guess are the Reaper stories are semi-out?

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  5. I'm a big fan of Barr's Year Two/Reaper stories, and I was sorry to see those go out of continuity. As I mentioned, I thought "Casebook" was even more interesting than "Batman and Son," in terms of where Morrison is going and what he's doing. It looks like the next trade, of the Ra's crossover, skips a couple Morrison issues, but hopefully they'll add them in to the trade after that.

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  6. I can´t understand why do you like Year Two/Reaper stories. Barr absolutely has no idea who Batman is and Son Of The Demon and it´s sequel show how much Barr ignores Batman´s character.

    Morrison´s work here is what I call delicious!

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  7. In my opinion, not only is the art wonderfully, frightfully dark throughout the Year Two stories, but Barr writes a great self-contained Batman story that shows Batman's heroism and guilt, tragic romances, and ties in to his origin. Admittedly I haven't re-read them in a while, but I remember them fondly. Your results may vary.

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