4 out of 5
How do we let Grant get away with writing major comics like these? I mean, I’m glad we do, but no matter how often I go through his Batman books, I’m still rather shocked by how unforgiving to the reader they are, whether due to the knee-jerk fashion in which the first few arcs are interrupted by other writers or crossovers, or, once things get “properly” going, how little Grant lets us in on what the actual direction is. Morrison was definitely experimenting with his setups at this point in his career, using his clout (I’d assume) to push payoffs past first, second, third issues and well into his runs; compare to his entrances on JLA or X-Men, and you see a guy who puts a lot of exclamation points up front before digging down into the weird – earning our interest and then running with it. In Batman, we learn about Damian, Bats’ son by Talia al Ghul; we’ve seen him getting cozy with a new gal, Jezebel Jet; we’ve heard mention of a black casebook with notes on cases of yore, black gloves, and a villainous ‘three batmen;’ but still: what’s the dang focus? Is it something to do with Joker? Is it something themed to all the black and red colorwork we’re seeing? What the heck is Zur En Arrh? Here’s Bat-mite, in case that helps.
For issues #672 through 675, this does start to take shape: attacked by one of the three Batmen, Bruce recalls an experiment run by one Doctor Hurt which would see three policemen trained to replace Batman, should he be killed in the line of duty. Something went wrong with that experiment, and it’s somehow mixed up with memories lost to the black casebook, or to various isolation training regiments and experiments Bruce has put himself through (and that I’m supposing Grant is referencing from the character’s past) over the years. Mental triggers are triggering; is there some greater evil pulling the strings? What’s awesome / hilarious / damning about the way these issues get to this, though, is that 672 and 673 are written like hallucinatory nightmares, with – to me – very little indication of where they’re going. Because of Grant’s clipped writing style on the book (when he’s not flip-flopping that for excessive prose…), it all flits by impressively, with a lot of action theatrics to make it seem like we know what’s going on. And to Tony Daniel’s credit, while I didn’t think much of his Neal Adams-y style at the time, his framing and layouts help this along immensely; the book has an amped up feel that propels us from page to page. So once Grant finally starts dropping lines that line things up, and we see Damian float back in to the picture, and Doctor Hurt is spoken of like our Big Bad, it all feels worth it and makes the path to get here terrifically exciting, and encouraging of rereads. But still, a decade or more after the fact, I can’t believe we let a writer get away with constructing a major league title like this.