4 out of 5
After the (purposeful…?) sensory overload of Grant’s opening set of Batman issues, he stealthily continues on his deconstruction of the Bat’s history, but does so while maintaining a more twisty-turny-confusingy Morrison style that I think we readers were hoping for / expecting. It worked: these were the issues that made me continue to read his run (as I didn’t know what to make of what had preceded them at the time), but they’re also smartly inserted to more clearly introduce the main villain(s) and themes, wrapped up in J.H. Williams III’s undeniably gobsmackingly impressive art.
The Club of Heroes – a group of Batman influenced C-tier costumes – are meeting on an island at the request of their big money man leader from back in the day, John Mayhew. Setting us back comfortably in “regular” Batman territory, Bruce and non-Damian Robin are having a chipper back-and-forth chat while batplaning to the meeting, discussing the possible reasons behind Mayhew calling them all together. We get hints of past troubles that caused the Club to disband, and Bats brushes off a comment that suggests that he couldn’t be bothered to attend any of their meetings except the first one, with golden age-styled flashbacks (newspaper print coloring, simplified figures) showing us how darker problems may have seeped in to what the original comics would have us view as a campy gathering of goofballs – Morrison now very directly smashing past and present moods together.
Soon enough, Bats and the modern versions of the club – many now out of shape, or kid sidekicks now grown to have their own reluctant kid sidekicks – are wrapped up in a mystery of the seeming murder of Mayhew, with other attacks intended to pick them off one at a time seemingly inflicted by their opposing ‘Club of Villains.’ Grant stuffs in plenty of fun impossible escapes and whiz-bang golden age death traps and whatnot, paralleled by Williams’ very noir, very moody style, tied together by the artist’s experimental use of framing, which breaks free of tight panels to splash over the page in the shape of bat wings and gloves and etcetera. Within context of the three issues, the final “reveal” is a minor note – this story could, theoretically, be read as a standalone clash – but holds up in sequence of Grant’s run; this is where his story “properly” could be said to start, with what came before sort of busting loose of the confines of our expectations to first loosen up definitions of what a Batman comic could be before getting down to the business of more directly rewriting and streamlining the character’s history.
While I’ve praised J.H. Williams III’s art, I do have to say that his noteworthy layouts do occasionally sacrifice reading order and clarity; it’s one of those things where the pages still “feel” right, but when I’m trying to track a scene move by move and from panel to panel, some things feel like they get lost. It’s such a cool looking effect that I really don’t recall it bothering me the first time through, but on a more patient reread, I noticed it.