Review: Batman #701 and Batman and Robin #13

Batman #701 and Batman and Robin #13
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Tony Daniel (Batman), Frazier Irving (Batman and Robin)

For those of you not keeping up with Batman currently, here’s the score: Over a year ago, Batman was driven to madness by a group called The Black Glove, led by the mysterious Doctor Hurt. Hurt claimed to Batman’s believed dead father, and buzz swept through Gotham that Thomas Wayne never died and had paid the gunman to kill his wife. Batman regained his senses after being put through a psychological gauntlet and both he and Hurt plunged into the bay surrounding Gotham while onboard a helicopter. Batman emerged from the water and Hurt disappeared. Some time later, Bats got involved with Final Crisis, one of those big cross company events where all the heroes show up. He sacrificed himself to stop the mini-series’ villain and the first Robin, Dick Grayson is now wearing the mantle of the Bat. Batman #701 features the first of two parts of writer Grant Morrison filling in the gaps between Batman’s battle with Doctor Hurt and his death in Final Crisis. In Batman and Robin #13, Morrison is setting up the inevitable return of Bruce Wayne with Doctor Hurt attacking the new Batman.

Grant Morrison is my favorite comic book writer and also the one who frustrates me to no end on everything he writes. Morrison goes against the current trend in comics writing which is decompression (i.e. stretching out an event with endless scenes of the heroes gathered together discussing what they are going to and what has just happened). While tells multi-part stories, they feel jam packed with things happening. It may not be traditional action, but you will have a handful of concepts and ideas thrown at you in a single issue that keep you thinking for a whole month till the next handful. And, when I first heard he was signed to write the core Batman title back in 2006, I was a little worried. Morrison’s focus had always been on established heroes or original ideas that contained a hint of the cosmic, and Batman never really seemed to be one of those titles.

But he has pulled off in a spectacular way, referencing some of the reviled “science fiction” Batman stories from the 1950s and incorporating them into the modern interpretation beautifully. He’s also managed to tweak the Joker in a way that has really injected that character with life. What Morrison up to is a reinventing of the character, in the same way that Batman was reinvented in 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The 1970s brought us the Dark Knight concept which has remained the way most writers have tackled the character until Morrison. His story this in this month’s Batman is interesting and definitely written as a “fill in the gaps” type arc. Batman comes to the surface of the bay, makes his way back the manor, eventually returns to find Hurt’s body is now missing, then gets brought into the events of Final Crisis. All along the way, he’s fixated on Doctor Hurt’s last words, that the next time Batman wears the cape and cowl it will be his last. Throughout the issue he goes unmasked, with that prophecy looming in his mind. And this first part ends with him putting it on for what we the readers know is the case he dies on.

In Batman and Robin, we’re giving a series of enigmatic panels showing the murder of the Waynes, then a panel where Thomas stands over the bodies of Martha and Bruce. Then Doctor Hurt wearing a Bat costume that Thomas Wayne once wore for Halloween, and would inspire Bruce as an adult. This jumps to three days in the future, where Hurt has Batman (Dick Grayson) and Robin (Bruce’s illegitimate son Damien Wayne) being held captive. He tells Dick that this new Batman could never beat a Wayne and shoots him point blank in the back of the head. Then we jump back three days to where the core story is told. Batman and Robin are interrogating the Joker, who has turned up disguised as a famous British crime author to help bring the original Batman back from the dead. Batman is called away and core of the issue deals with Damien Wayne revealing his true brutal colors by sneaking a crowbar in to beat the Joker to death. Batman and Commissioner Gordon investigate crimes related to the original Batman’s death and it appears that Doctor Hurt is back from the dead.

Both issues set up some intriguing hooks, though Batman and Robin for me has been flawless its entire first year. Every issue builds on the next and its just one of those I have to read as soon as it comes out. Art wise, Batman and Robin is also the stronger of the two. Frazier Irving has come onboard as the new artist and he’s do something amazing things using shadows and has such a clean European style of drawing. Tony Daniel is much more from the Image Comics school of drawing, that early 90s Marvel influenced work that has never cut for me, even as a kid. Morrison’s work has been excellent on the Batman books and these are strong evidence that it is going to continue.

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