3 out of 5
The cover to the edition of Grant Morrison’s Batman volume 1 that I have has a quote calling it “Terrifically exciting.” I would absolutely not disagree with that description. Excepting the text story of the Interlude – more on that later – the surrounding seven issues worth of material veritably flies by, initially reminding very much of the zippy zing of Grant’s old JLA work, with the last three issues stepping forward to introduce some of the darker, weirder elements that would be wended into the title later on.
But exciting though it may be, it’s also a mess. The kind of mess that you wish you could talk to the author about, and question his intentions. We know Grant likes to plot on the grand scale, whether scripting the wandering sprawl of The Invisibles, a multi-issue interconnected series like Seven Soldiers or Multiversity, or his appeal appeal pop culture work in the aforementioned JLA or New X-Men. And from those last two examples, we also know the author is plenty capable of both summarizing the Best Of beats and revitalizing characters at the same time; celebrating whichever title’s successes while also leaving a lasting authorial mark from his runs. And part of the ‘mess’ is certainly the expectation of that history: JLA, as a group, asks for something LOUD, so you don’t necessarily have to dig too deep on the characters, but a focus on the singular Batman – with the mixed-bag but notable Arkham Asylum in the rearview, not to mention Grant’s badass JLA iteration of the character and his celebrated take on another singular character in All-Star Superman – stirs up frenzied thoughts of what the writer could do with him, and how well he could represent this catch-all super awesome icon; my personal experience was wanting everything all at once: be Grant crazy, but give me something mature and award-winning, as well. Sure. That’s tough enough to deal with – and I can only assume other readers had similarly impossible expectations – but then you had the mess of how this book was sequenced as well. A four-issue intro arc, with a lot of GRANT MORRISON WRITES BATMAN ballyhoo leading up to it, that’s then put on hold for a four issue arc by an entirely different creative team (John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake; not collected here), which doesn’t tie in to what we just read. Okay, delays happen, schedules need to align, but then we returned after those months with a book that broke many of us – The Clown Laughs at Midnight, an overwritten slop of text with herky-jerky spot CGI illustrations that again doesn’t really tie directly into the main story arc, and then two preceding issues that are very much setup for what’s to come, meaning they don’t quite have the satisfying sense of being a complete story, and then a flash-forward issue that presents people are concepts that are intriguing, but not really of any relevance at this point.
It felt like the series was out to test our dedication.
Now, upon retrospect, a lot of this works a lot better than, for me, it did at the time. The opening arc rather underwhelmed me, with Man-Bats as the villain – not the world-changing showdown I guess I was expecting – and Alfred reminding Bruce to drop the gruff Batman act now and then leading to a one-liner-ish type of Batman with a playboy Bruce Wayne, wining and dining, i.e. not a deep dive into character history and / or a personality study. The text issue, as many have pointed out, is just weighed down with high school style purple prose, and I had no idea why Grant was dropping interesting concepts left and right in the following few issues without sticking with them. But, yeah, it makes more sense now, and it makes more sense reading it collected and not with weeks inbetween. As the series was eventually revealed to be Grant’s attempt at stuffing all of Batman’s history into one chronology, we can track the way Morrison plays with Golden and Silver and Dark Age concepts throughout, with Andy Kubert doing something similar on art, to a certain degree. (And I’m brought to wonder if the Man-Bat intro isn’t a slight nod to the Animated Series, as the first episode featured the same villain…) I do think the text issue was still a questionable gambit, but it admittedly acts like both a hard stop to the somewhat goofy antics that kicks things off, and also as a way to remind us of the themes of rebirth Grant had written of in Arkham Asylum. I do wish I could be more forgiving of the CGI art in the book; select shots are effective, but often the placement on pages is just disruptive, and the figurework is just way too glassy and stiff.
Batman and Son is kinda / sorta about what the title suggests: Batman kinds out he has a son, Damian, raised until now by the League of Assassins, and he takes Damian in and has him suit up as a Robin in training. The kid’s assassin-y, rebellious nature is an amusing counterpoint to the bombastic Man-Bat action, and Grant has fun comparing Bruce Wayne as a parent to Batman. But this is only a kickoff point for Grant to start doing exactly what I’d asked for: some grandiose analysis of what has made Batman tick, now and then, and so a lot of Batman and Son is setting the groundwork for that.
Of course, there’s no easy way in to that, and so Grant – whether purposefully or due to scheduling woes (as there was also a need to workaround an upcoming Ra’s Al Ghul crossover series) – sort of does it via an all-at-once method which, while exciting on the whole, was also… a mess.