Review: Batman: Time and the Batman hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Time is pliable," writer Grant Morrison reminds us again and again in the aptly-named Time and the Batman. To that end, what you thought was your life, even the people you make mad along the way, could all be one big revenge scheme set by someone in the future just to mess with you. It's an idea Geoff Johns floated by way of Barry Allen in Flash: Rebirth, and it's what Morrison suggested for Batman in The Return of Bruce Wayne, and crystallizes here.

And yet, it's hard to put my finger on just why Time and the Batman was necessary at all. If not the second of a three-part trilogy (which it might be, between Return and Batman & Robin: Batman Must Die, though it certainly doesn't advertise itself as the middle volume of such), then Time and the Batman seems an effort in over-explaining. Maybe that's necessary; maybe the market's had so much complicated Morrison material of late that a little hand-holding is in order ("Understand that much," Morrison's Batman repeats at one point, and "You're learning ... You're all learning," at another).

Or maybe this is another exercise in time being pliable -- it's hard to know what the original connection was meant to be between Morrison's Final Crisis and Batman RIP, if at all, and Time and the Batman's bridging of these two books may be as much about explanation as it is patching "the hole in things," Time and the Batman's phrase for the secrets and coincidences in life that just don't, or weren't ever meant to, fit.

[Contains spoilers]

The middle part of Time and the Batman presents two "missing chapters" from Batman RIP that take Batman from the end of RIP to the beginning of Final Crisis. There was much fan uproar at the time of RIP's conclusion in that it seemed to present the death of Batman, but there again was the hero whole and hearty at the beginning of Final Crisis; a throwaway line in another story confirmed that Batman did make it home alive between the books. The missing chapters build on that; yes, Batman did get home after RIP, and even went so far as to give formal thanks to his partners for their help, but all the while he avoided putting on the cape and cowl, knowing instinctively that Black Glove Simon Hurt's curse -- that the next time Batman wore his cowl would be the last -- was true. Then, Final Crisis comes, Batman is called into service, he puts on the cowl, and next thing you know, he's Darkseid-chow.

Frankly, a lot of this I got from The Return of Bruce Wayne. We already know that Simon Hurt nee Bruce's ancestor Thomas Wayne is a minion of Darkseid, so the idea that Hurt's cowl prophecy in RIP played out in Final Crisis stands to reason -- if one re-reads RIP after Return, they pretty much get it. We know that Batman's past is prologue -- that Darkseid has corrupted Batman's ancestors in the past, before Batman and Darkseid ever meet, so as to destroy Batman in the future. And we know that Superman searches for Batman in time because Batman left a recording from the Stone Age -- this also we get from Return (though I very much enjoyed the tone Morrison creates for what's potentially Batman's last letter to Superman -- friendly, needling, awe-struck). The missing chapters take us through the steps, they build Batman's sense of dread between RIP and Final Crisis, but I'm not sure they reveal much that's new.

At least one explanation I can offer is that Time and the Batman speaks to what I consider to be Morrison's modus operandi when it comes to Batman stories. As in Batman RIP, and also as in some of Morrison's JLA stories, Time and the Batman shows us that Batman was never in as much danger as we thought he was; whereas we might have thought Darkseid had the jump on Batman in Final Crisis, it turns out Batman to an extent already knew Darkseid was coming for him, and even knew the bullet to use and that he might end up lost in time. This is not, as I've mentioned before, my favorite aspect of Morrison's Batman -- should Batman always be smarter than his enemies? Sure. Do we constantly need to be reminded of it? No. -- but it's one way Time and the Batman redefines Batman's last moments in Final Crisis, if unnecessarily.

What I did like about this whole sequence was that Morrison takes the reoccurring bullets/holes/Darkseid-is-the-"hole-in-things" theme just a little farther, and suggests that Darkseid wasn't just responsible for corrupting Simon Hurt and inspiring the Barbatos cult, but also for the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The radion bullet with which Darkseid shot his son Orion, Morrison has Batman explain, is the proto-bullet, the mythical bullet, essentially every bullet that's ever been shot and the template for all bullets to follow, the bullet responsible for any number of tragic murders throughout history, and also the one that killed Thomas and Martha Wayne. And if the radion bullet is that bullet, then Darkseid himself is the wound; through a series of jumbled images, Morrison suggests that when Darkseid falls through time at the end of Final Crisis, he makes a hole through existence, a hole of tragedy and loss, including the wounds in Thomas and Martha Wayne.

Darkseid, essentially, kills Batman's parents for the purpose of creating Batman so as to torture Batman. These kinds of metaphysical knots are what Morrison has become known for lately, and I like this particular knot a lot (though readers may understandably still find it easier just to chalk the whole thing up to Joe Chill).

The question remains, however, whether Batman RIP was originally meant to tie in to Final Crisis, or if this became an item of necessity late in DC's Final Crisis plans. If the latter, it explains in part the necessity of these so-called "missing chapters," giving some cohesiveness to the RIP and Final Crisis stories that could otherwise be read on their own. With the missing chapters now in publication, a part of me wishes DC might have withheld the "Last Rites" stories, #682-683, and maybe replaced them with the still uncollected #684 and Detective #851 )even as I would have been up in arms clamoring for those issues) so as to put them here with the missing chapters. In that way, RIP wouldn't contain a whiff of Final Crisis and would truly stand as its own story, and the twain only would meet in Time and the Batman, perhaps justifying the purpose of this trade a little farther.

The first chapter of Time and the Batman, the anniversary Batman #700 issue, sat better with me. It is also removed from most of the current goings-on in Batman & Robin and such, though it does tie in to Return, spotlighting the time travel scientist Carter Nichols (and pre-Crisis figure) that Bruce Wayne meets in the past. As befits an anniversary issue, and in line with similar sentiments in RIP, Return, the "missing chapters" and so on, this is an issue about Batman and heroism; "No matter when, no matter where" the issue intones at the end, at the Bat-signal cinematically lights in front of the reader, Batman (be it Bruce, Dick Grayson, Terry McGinnis, or another) will always be there.

In an unusual but nice turn, it's Batman's example that inspires Nichols to overcome his depression after a traumatic attack by the Joker (Q: "What can you beat but never defeat?" A: Time and [or, "but also"] the Batman; that is, a hero). We don't often hear about Batman inspiring the public to better themselves, as opposed to Superman, but Batman does it twice in this book, both with Nichols and with Ellie, the girl from Batman and Son whom he inspired to give up prostitution. That "Batman will never die" has been an uplifting theme of Morrison's long Batman run, and it's summed up nicely here on the precipice between the end of the "Batman Reborn" storyline and the beginning of the Batman Inc. phase.

The final story in Time and the Batman is a satisfactory tale of three Robins -- Dick, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne -- by Fabian Nicieza; it might in another volume have rated higher, except the ending is rather predictable and the story lacks the headiness of Morrison's outings. As well, Nicieza's story references (somewhat confusingly) events taking place in his Red Robin: Hit List book, the collection of which won't be in stores until the end of June. It all ties in to the ongoing "Batman Reborn" Vicki Vale plot; this is not Nicieza's fault, but I've had the toughest time following that story between collections (She's in Batman! No wait, Streets of Gotham! No wait, Red Robin!), and so tacking Nicieza's story at the end of this volume (padding what might otherwise have been a rather short book) is just a reminder of that confusion.

I haven't read Batman & Robin: Batman Must Die yet, but I have a good sense that of this strange trilogy, Time and the Batman may be the weakest part (if brilliantly imagined and beautifully drawn by Andy Kubert, Tony Daniel, and Frank Quitely notwithstanding). If bullets shot backward in time make your head spin, I'm not sure this volume will necessarily make things clearer, but I think that's what was intended. I wasn't dazzled, but there's heady stuff here, to be sure, and for that Grant Morrison has my appreciation.

[Contains full and variant covers, pin-up section and computer-rendered tour of the Batcave. Printed on glossy paper]

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20 comments:

  1. I quite liked it. It may not have been necessary, strictly speaking, but I think there's enough to like here in terms of execution. And I agree, this is probably to help those who are reading Morrison's Batman but never read Final Crisis. Poor Fabian Nicieza, though.

    Tony Daniel's art improved tremendously, I thought, compared to his RIP days. Only thing I'd quibble is how he drew Bruce Wayne; obviously this is to distinguish between him and Dick Grayson, but in a couple of panels Bruce just looks like a 'roided up giant.

    Fun fact: I bought Batman #700 digitally when it was 99 cents, and there's a small but significant art change. In the Damien story, Andy Kubert mistakenly drew Old Nichols with the laser wound Quitely had drawn earlier, which made no sense. That's been fixed in the trade.

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  2. Having read these stories in issue form, I thought that Time and the Batman served best as a prologue to Return of Bruce Wayne. It introduces Carter Nichols and his time travelling ways, it gives some background on this specific variant of the Omega Sanction (The death that is life!) and it ends right where ROBW picks up. I don't really understand the publication order DC chose with ROBW, Time and the Batman and Batman and Robin Must Die!

    I'd assumed that the publication of Batman 701 and 702 (RIP: The Lost Chapters) was more about a future Morrison/Batman Omnibus (really, Omnibii). Something like Batman 655-681, 701 and 702 (with 682-683 inserted appropriately) would comprise volume one, and Batman & Robin 1-16, Batman 700 and ROBW 1-6 would be in volume two (in some order). Alternatively, 655-681 would be 27 issues, followed by 27 more issues with 700-702, 682, 683, B&R 1-16, and ROBW 1-6. I could go on, but no one wants that.

    As a side note, the Vicky Vale story finally finds its place in the Road Home miniseries. The last issue of Time and the Batman is a quasi-prologue to that miniseries (if I remember correctly).

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  3. Good thing I hit the "preview" button before posting my comment, because I was going to point out the same things Bob just did.

    I think Batman #700-702 should have been included in the RoBW hardcover or the second B&R volume instead of getting a separate collection that doesn't even have the same trim size as the other recent Batman hardcovers by Morrison. Batman #703, on the other hand, would be right at home in the Bruce Wayne: The Road Home hardcover, which is only coming out in July.

    And nice catch, Jeffrey. Many people who analyze and annotate Morrison's Batman run noticed that mistake by Andy Kubert, and it's nice that the editors were careful enough to have it fixed for the hardcover. The same thing happened in the R.I.P. hardcover, when they erased the blood on the Joker's face at the end of the first chapter.

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  4. I forgot to say I believe CE would have had a better appreciation of this volume if he had read it before RoBW. As Bob said, these issues introduce elements that play a big role in that mini series, and DC released the two collections in the wrong order.

    About your idea of a Morrison Batman omnibus, Bob, you're forgetting that Batman #659-662 were a fill-in arc by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. Also, since people expect omnibi to be as comprehensive as possible, I think they'd have to include the entire Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul crossover, even though Morrison only wrote two chapters of that. Maybe there would be a clamor for Batman's appearances in 52, too, since Morrison wrote them.

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  5. Do others agree Time and the Batman ought be read before Return of Bruce Wayne? I grant the events of TATB take place before ROBW (before lots of things, really) -- but are the reveals of the Hyper-Adapter, for instance, better in TATB or ROBW? I'd venture they're better in ROBW, and that the confusion one has reading ROBW is part of the process (understanding the story by the end) -- whereas if one read TATB first, they'd understand ROBW better, but the reading experience wouldn't be as "genuine."

    What we really need to know is how Morrison intended the books to be read. Take Carter Nichols, for another example -- when he appears in ROBW and Bruce says, "Do I know you," that's creepy and weird and I liked that I didn't get it and that it'd be explained later; if you read TATB first, that moment in ROBW flattens out, whereas if you read TATB second, then you get the "Oh, now I understand!" moment.

    So I'm wondering, what order gives the most authentic reading experience?

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  6. @shagamu - I'd completely forgotten the Ostrander arc. Good call. The material from 52 would be an excellent addition if my hypothetical omnibus ever gets made. Really, the scenes from 52 do a nice job of forming a prologue for the events in Batman 675-681 (Thogal, the dudes with the eyes on their fingers, etc).

    I think the Resurrection of Ra's could probably be omitted unless Ra's makes a big appearance in Batman, Inc. Morrison has done a pretty good job of having Damian and Talia appear since that crossover without referencing it at all.

    @CE - the publication of the issues makes for an interesting point about an 'authentic reading order' - Batman 700 came out before ROBW #5, so non-trade-waiters knew who Nichols was when he appeared in ROBW. On the other hand, ROBW #2 came out before RIP: The Lost Chapters, so we had seen one instance of Bruce vs the Hyper-Adaptor (HA) before we knew what it was called or where it came from. We did know what the HA was by the time we'd read ROBW 5 and 6, though.

    When reading the ROBW in issue format (and with a variety of delays), it was fun trying to piece together, month to month, what was going on with Bruce and his trip through time without knowing about the HA . I'm not sure if the exact same feel comes out of reading the issues in one sitting, though.

    Ultimately, I really enjoy the reading order I mentioned above because it's the order of events as Bruce perceived them (except Batman 700 - you'd need to have read the first part of that issue before any of the other Morrison stories). Whenever reading/watching a time-travel story, I always track a character's personal timeline anyway.

    Another interesting occurrence of 'authentic reading order' will come up with regards to these trades and Batman and Robin Must Die! - I'll save my comments until that review gets posted.

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  7. Reading order based on original solicitations:

    B&R #12
    ROBW #1-2
    B&R #13
    BM #700
    ROBW #3
    B&R #14
    BM #701
    ROBW #4
    BM #702/ROBW #5
    B&R #15
    ROBW #6
    B&R #16

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  8. I generally see multiple editions of easily available books as superfluous, but here I root for a Grant Morrison's Batman Omnibus only to make SOME sort of sense of the damn canvas board jigsaw puzzle that Morrison has made. It's wonderful reading but you'll have to grant (morrison), it's a bit confusing.
    Including the Batman chapters of 52 is a good call, but for completion, I'd need the other issues of Resurrection. I could also do with including GOTHIC & ARKHAM ASYLUM, well if you're being completist elite with it, why not go all the way? I'd also suggest SON OF THE DEMON, but that'd be taking things too far.

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  9. An omnibus of the books that are specifically Morrison's -- Batman and Son, Black Glove, RIP, Batman & Robin and Return of Bruce Wayne -- wouldn't surprise me sometime down the pike.

    Any other interpretations of the Riddler and Nichols's riddle? Admittedly I got "a clock" and "a hero" before "Time and the Batman" clicked.

    My favorite moment from the book? In the second part of the "missing chapters," when despite Batman knows his cowl is cursed, Superman calls and Batman puts it on. Morrison achieves just the right tone of resignation and bemusement on Batman's part -- he knows what he's doing is life-threatening, and he knows he's going to do it anyway (his inner Alfred, if you will). Batman notes his fellow heroes forget he's not a god; sometimes, as in here, he forgets it, too.

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  10. With Morrison's fifth world and the coming of humans as the new, New gods, Batman IS a god. I think that's what ties the first three chapters of TATB. The first story is about Batman as a Platonic idea throughout time, like the proto-bullet. The 'missing chapter' echoes this in his confrontation with Darkseid, the new concept/god replacing the old.

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  11. I want them to collect more of the old Batman stories that has inspired Morrison. They did release the "Black Casebook" which inspired RIP. What about B&R and ROBW (and now even INC) you can see there are a lot more old Bat stories referenced.

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  12. This past weekend I finally took the time to read this book, followed by RoBW, and it worked pretty well for me.

    The one thing that irked me was that, while they fixed Carter Nichols' wound in Batman #700, they didn't fix Hal Jordan's inexplicable apperance in the JLA meeting room in RoBW #3. He was supposed to be trapped in Vanishing Point along with Superman, Booster Gold and Rip Hunter.

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  13. I thought about the possibility that the JLA meeting room scene was set before their trip to Vanishing Point, but the characters mention losing contact with Superman and the rest of the search party, which means they were already trapped in there.

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  14. ... Superboy-Prime punched a wall?

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  15. Yeah, that one works... for everything!

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  16. Regarding the reading order: Some of Morrison's issues were heavily delayed, so I don't think you can rely on the order those issues were originally published. I don't know of any interview Morrison did confirming either order, but the savest bet should be the order the issues were iriginally solicited. See hilker's post above.

    Carter Nichols appears in Batman #700 (scheduled to be published in June '10) and RoBW #5 (originally solicited for August '10) and I would go with that order.

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  17. @Glint, in regards to Batman as a "new god," a Plantonic idea through time, and the confrontation of Batman vs. Darkseid, new god vs. old, man staring down dragon, etc. all of this makes me all the more eager to read Morrison's forthcoming Supergods, which seems like a treatise on what he's been trying to say in Batman and Final Crisis.

    Everything they touch turns to myth, tallyho, and so on.

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  18. I agree with you on the "over-explained" aspect of it - I think that the fact that the bullet was "the essence of bullet" and "the archetypal bullet" was so obvious that it really didn't need to be said (for example). On the other hand, I think the introductory segment of #700 may feature the best Tony Daniel art I've ever seen.

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  19. @collectededitions I'm looking forward to Supergods too :) Although I'm not convinced it's necessary if you've the time and money to follow his Batman (and JLA) run, but I'm sure it will be great regardless.
    I wish the U.K. edition didn't have such a rubbish cover, however.

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