Friday, March 21, 2014

Batman Post-Final Crisis

I’ve been a Batman fan for a long time, but I never seemed to be a regular reader, always reading the classic stories without ever touching on what was coming out now.  I recently set out to change that.  There are a lot of places to start, especially with DC’s New 52 setting everything back to square one, but in typically obtuse fashion, I began my reading at the start of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman.  I may not have set myself up for the easiest start on the modern era of Batman, but it certainly was different.

Grant Morrison frequently leaves people in a love/hate situation.  For me, it really depends which work of his I am reading.  I loved We3, and thought that it was a nice balance of larger issues that Morrison wanted to address with his characteristic strange, visceral conflict.  His run on New X-Men, detested by many for the sweeping changes he made, I found to be very hit-or-miss, with highlights like “E is For Extinction” and less interesting moments like “Here Comes Tomorrow,” although the rejuvenation his run gave to a stagnating franchise is undeniable.  Even Supergods, his non-fiction look at superheroes and his relationship to the medium, was a brilliant exploration of the superhero trope from Superman to today that succeeded despite some really rocky patches, in particular Morrison’s transition from the history of Superheroes to his personal encounter with extraterrestrial beings, which was such a jarring shift from his previous discussion, without transition, that it almost threw me out of the book completely.

So it was with trepidation that I began his run.  The first collected volume, Batman and Son (the new edition of which includes all of the content from what were originally the first two volumes, Batman and Son and The Black Glove) showcases this very exact up and down nature, with tightly-plotted mysteries followed by obscure, trippy tales that can’t stand up on their own.

I kept plugging away, continuing with The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul, which succeeded until it stumbled at the end, and the very bizarre R.I.P., which left me feeling like much was missing.  The initial thrust of Morrison’s arc on Batman ends with Final Crisis, which features very little of Batman and *spoiler* has one of the most anti-climactic and meaningless death scenes in comics, which is undone the very next issue.*end spoiler*

So what comes next?  Running concurrently to R.I.P. was Heart of Hush in Detective Comics, featuring the work of Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen.  A follow up to Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Hush, this story had much of what was missing from the confusing R.I.P.  A continuation of this occurs after R.I.P., and did some other stories that drew my interest, so I delved into the brief space between Final Crisis and Reborn.
 Starting in Detective Comics #851 and concluding in Batman #684, “The Last Days of Gotham,” writing by Denny O’Neil with art from Guillem March, is a fitting follow up to the death of Batman, featuring Nightwing as he attempts to deal with his grief and protect Gotham in the absence of his mentor.  It is a very effective story, and handles the quiet moments as well as the action.

This story was followed by a coda to Heart of Hush.  Beginning in Detective Comics #852 with “Reconstruction” and concluding in Batman #685 with “Catspaw,” this story part story written by Paul Dini with art from Dustin Nguyen follows Hush and Catwoman in the wake of the events of Heart of Hush, as the deal with a significant amount of unfinished business.  Paul Dini is a deft writer, and he uses his time on the Batman comics well.  Showing the complexities of both characters, the story deals with a lot of emotional repercussion in a small space, and succeeds masterfully.
The concluding story, the two-part “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” written by Neil Gaiman with art from Andy Kubert, which began in Batman #686 and ended in Detective Comics #853, ended up being the least successful of the three stories.  Picking up on a lot of the metaphysical tendencies of Morrison’s saga, this story wraps nothing up, presents nothing new, and adds nothing new, not even succeeding as a successful wrap up to a significant era of Batman.

Overall, I would recommend them thus:

“The Last Days of Gotham” – A nice transition after Final Crisis, this story is for anyone who made it through Morison’s run and are excited for a fresh new future.

“Reconstruction”/”Catspaw” – Required reading for anyone who enjoyed Heart of Hush.

“Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” – Well worth skipping.  You won’t even notice you missed it.

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