Last year I read something that shocked me to the core. DC comics were planning on killing BATMAN. I was outraged! YOU CAN’T KILL BATMAN! I thought the editors at DC had lost their minds. The Dark Knight was still several months away and I couldn’t believe that Warner Brothers (the studio behind the Batman film franchise and coincidentally the owners of DC Comics) would let them kill their most popular character when a major film starring him was about to come out.
But they did.
The man responsible was Scottish comic writer and crazy person, Grant Morrison. Morrison made his name in comics by taking the icons of the industry from the X-men to Superman and reinventing them in weird and wonderful ways. Taking them places no one had before or exploring sides of them that no one else had thought to. The best recent example of this was his amazing All Star Superman. This is a wonderful love letter to Superman that embraces all the wackiness that the character has been known for over the years. I can’t recommend it enough for anyone that has ever been a fan of Supes.
So when Morrison expressed an interest writing Batman he was given free reign. I can only imagine what the meeting must have been like when he explained that he wanted to kill Batman. It shows the faith that DC have in him that they said yes.
Morrison’s run on Batman was weird to say the least. He decided to try and fit all 60 years of the character’s publication history into the life of one man. Including all the crazy concepts from the 1960’s when Batman was nothing more than a comedy book. In those days he spent most of his time fighting ghosts and aliens and had an entire Bat-Family including Bat-Woman, Bat-Girl and Ace the Bat-hound! Most writers won’t reference anything that happened more than 5 years ago let alone 50. He then tried to tie it all together with a big conspiracy involving a shadowy organisation called the Black Glove with a vendetta against Batman.
Morrison’s run ended with Batman RIP which saw Batman being driven insane by the Black Glove. This released his back up personality (he’s Batman – he thinks of everything). He beat the baddies but vanished under an exploding helicopter never to be seen again. This left Dick Grayson (former Robin now the far cooler Nightwing) holding his cape and cowl. Grant would go on to reveal Batman’s final fate in his huge DC comics crossover Final Crisis. Batman sacrificed himself to defeat the big bad guy Darkseid and appeared to be killed.
However the final page of the comic revealed that Batman had not been killed just sent back in time to prehistoric times (don’t ask – even I didn’t understand that bit).
Grant’s run was controversial to say the least. Some people hated what he did to the character. Some people loved it. Most people didn’t quite understand all of it but thought it was interesting (like me). This is often the case with Grant Morrison books. He’ll get carried away by his own big ideas but ultimately lose something in the translation.
Regardless of the controversy Grant Morrison’s Batman run re-invigorated a moribund franchise and made it a top selling comic once again.
Grant left the book after Batman RIP which some saw as either him abandoning the book or being fired for being too weird. It was neither, as he was merely taking a break before starting work on the next chapter of his Batman epic, giving DC a chance to write some interesting stories in his absence. The last 6 months of Batman comics have been about Gotham and the heroes left behind, trying to deal with Batman’s apparent death. I’ve covered some of these comics in the past. (read my review of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER).
Morrison had left instructions about where he wanted the characters to be when he came back, i.e. who would be Batman, Robin, etc., but decided to let someone else write the book. The result was Battle For the Cowl. This 3 issue mini series saw the 3 former Robins (Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake) all vying for the cape and pointy ears. Battle for the Cowl was a straight up action adventure book, which after the weirdness of Grant’s run a welcome relief. The book ended with few surprises as there really was only one man who could take up the Mantle of the Bat, SPOILER ALERT….
…Dick Grayson. Battle for the Cowl ended with Dick finally embracing his destiny and becoming Batman.
Dick, for those that don’t know, was the first Robin and the third superhero ever created (after Superman and Batman). Over the years they let him grow from a circus acrobat in a brightly coloured costume and small pants into a hero in his own right with his own team (The Teen Titans). He eventually left the Batcave and went out on his own. He also left the Robin persona behind and became Nightwing. While he had a much cooler name and costume, writers struggled to give him a proper direction and as a character he floundered. He was eventually given his own comic but writers still struggled to find a purpose for him. He flitted from Gotham to New York, becoming a police officer, a mob enforcer and even a museum curator(?). Like a kid who leaves home with no goals, Dick struggled to make his way in life. DC almost put him out of his misery a few years ago but fan outrage and a petition convinced them that he was still a worthy character.
The problem was that Dick is Bruce’s heir. He was raised to replace Bruce as Batman and as long as Bruce was Batman, Dick could not fulfill his destiny. He seemed to be stuck waiting in the wings – the perpetual understudy. Even Nightwing was seen by many as nothing more than ‘Batman-Lite’. Other teen sidekicks have grown to replace the originals as DC likes the idea of legacy characters. The Flash is the biggest example of this as there have been 4 of them. Dick, though, looked like he’d never get his his chance. He’d been a fill-in Batman before but that had only been temporary. Batman was considered to be irreplaceable. Bruce is Batman and Batman is Bruce, so the idea of replacing him seemed impossible.
Re-enter Grant Morrison, who is all ready to explore this concept. As he’s said in interviews, he wants to delve into what it takes to be Batman. Can anyone, even Dick actually do it. Even Dick himself isn’t sure he can or even really wants to.
Last week saw Morrison’s return and the release of the highly anticipated BATMAN AND ROBIN. While it’s too soon to judge Batman and Robin the series, it was a great first issue. It showcased Dick as Batman and his new Robin, Damian Wayne. Damian is Bruce’s son and was introduced at the beginning of Morrison’s run on Batman, BATMAN AND SON. Batman and Robin is much more of an action adventure comic and looks like it going to be a lot of fun.
Dick makes for a very different Batman and it’s a welcome change. For starters he isn’t a psycho. Here’s a guy that lost his parents as a kid, same as Bruce. But instead of becoming obsessed with avenging their death, he enjoyed the fact that he got to go live with a billionaire and beat up bad guys every night. He lived the ultimate boys fantasy, hanging out with Batman. Dick’s Batman is a lot lighter, funny even. While that may sound bad on paper it actually works well. What’s the point of replacing Batman if his replacement is going to be exactly the same.
While Batman has lightened up, Robin has gotten darker. Damian Wayne is the son of Bruce and Talia al Ghul and was raised by assassins. He’s dark and brooding and a trained killer (even though he’s only about 10). Whenever Dick expresses doubts about has ability to be Batman, Damian likes to point out that he could do a better job.
The best Batman stories have always been the ones that take place at the beginning of his career (Batman Year One) or the end (The Dark Knight Returns). The problem with the current books has always been that they’re stuck in the perpetual middle act. Bruce isn’t the struggling hero because he’s been doing it for years and there is no end game because the comics never end. What Grant Morrison and DC comics have done in the last year though is give us the final act of Batman and a new first act. We got to see the end of Bruce’s Batman adventures (temporary though it may be) and now we’re getting to see the beginning of Dick’s. It’s not often you get to see both so close together. As weird as it may get (and lets face it, it’s Grant Morrison) I’m going to stick along for the ride.
So I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I’ve enjoyed the last 6 months of Batman stories so much, I hope Bruce stays dead for a while. His books are much more interesting without him.