Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne

VII. Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne
As the name might suggest The Return of Bruce Wayne sees Bruce making his way back to his own time. Superman says that Batman is a survivor and that is exactly what Bruce does here as he is thrust through time; over six issues he travels to six distinct, if a bit clich├ęd time periods. Amongst other things Bruce experience life as a native American, cowboy and gangster. Travelling through time is tough and  for most of it Bruce isn't Batman he is just a survivor. We also see members of the Justice League, including Superman and Booster Gold, attempting to follow Bruce through time and stop him as if he does come back to his own time it will mean the end of the world.

You can be excused for mistaking the Return of Bruce Wayne for an episode of Doctor who, as it is feels as though it was heavily influenced by the British classic and has a plot steeped in science fiction. If you replaced Batman with the Doctor you would have an equally good story. I understood what happened at the end of The Return of Bruce Wayne, but I still had to read through it a second time to confirm that I had understood it and to pick up on a few of the references that I had missed in my first read-through. The Return of Bruce Wayne relates back a lot to the last arc of Batman and Robin and sets up the next one perfectly.
Witch hunter, Dark Knight, pirate and Indian Bruce.
I think that my main problem with The Return of Bruce Wayne is the same problem that I had with The Dark Knight Rises, there is not enough of Batman being awesome in this trade; for the most part the character you follow doesn't even feel like Batman at all, like I said before, this story could easily feature in an episode of Doctor Who. Bruce evolves over the course of the trade becoming more and more like his previous self, but he never felt like Batman to me, and I was disappointed that it doesn't add much to the whole series; it sort of feels like an excuse to get Batman out of the way so that Dick and Damian can be Batman and Robin for a while.

The Return of Bruce Wayne reveals a lot about the past of the Wayne family and reveals the true identity of Dr. Hurt, who has been probably the most prevalent antagonist throughout Morrison's run on Batman. Helping to punctuate Bruce's travel through different times is the artwork of six different artists, most of whom have worked around the series in previous issues. The Return of Bruce Wayne makes an interesting trade, but as it comes nestled between two amazing chapters of Batman and Robin I don't think it shines as bright as it could. Next up is the conclusion to Morrison's run on Batman and Robin, which heavily ties into the ending of this.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Batman and Robin: Batman vs. Robin

VI. Batman and Robin: Batman vs. Robin
When I approached Batman and Robin I thought it was going to be a camp affair, with Dick Grayson as Batman, a ten year old as Robin and it's deceptively bright covers; this is not at all what you get. Batman and Robin explores some pretty dark themes, has a mature tone, and great characterisation. The Batman vs. Robin trade is made up of six issues, split up into two arcs; Blackest Knight and Batman vs. Robin. Blackest Knight is only loosely tied into the Blackest Night Green Lantern series, as they share a similar theme and were published at about the same time, but don't contain any cross over characters.

Blackest Knight follows on from Red Hood asking Dick why he hasn't done everything in his power to bring back Bruce; they know about the existance of Lazarus pits, why haven't they used one? Dick travels to England to attempt to ressurect Bruce, Knight and Squire feature heavily in this arc as Damian is out of action after the events in Batman Reborn. Blackest Knight is probably the darkest Batman and Robin gets and also my favourite arc of the series. In the behind the scenes section of this trade Morrison says that he has an imaginary Knight and Squire series growing in his head and it shows.
Batman vs. Robin is a bit of a misleading title.
I love Morrison's depiction of the United Kingdom with it's villains steeped in tradition, its North/ South crime divide and the way everyone speaks with a thick, almost incomprehensible, accent. However, if you aren't British you might not appreciate all of the references and probably won't know how to read a Jordie accent. Morrison, being Scottish, clearly had a lot of fun writing this as, although the tone is quite dark, there is a lot of humour here; Britain probably would have the silliest villains, like the Morris Men, and clearly the equivalent to Arkham Asylum would be the Queen's jail.

Batman vs Robin is important in a number of ways; it sets up the finale of Morrison's Batman and Robin and further develops Damian as a character. In my opinion the relationship between Dick and Damian is great as it turns the usual Batman and Robin partnership on its head, with a light hearted Batman and a scowling Robin, whilst maintaining Batman as the patriarchal figure; it's clear Dick doesn't always know how to behave with Damian, like a brother or father? Batman vs. Robin is quite slow paced to begin with but picks up speed in the second issue and ends on a big reveal; this arc answers no questions, but certainly raises a lot. 

Friday, 17 August 2012

Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn

V. Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn
Quite frankly Grant Morrison's Batman run has been a mess, with issues all over the place, but from here on it gets a lot more obvious where to go next. Batman is gone and Dick Grayson, after initially resisting in Battle for the Cowl, has finally taken up the mantel of Batman, with Damian as Robin at his side. Grant Morrison wrote the first sixteen issues of Batman and Robin and these are split into three trades, the first of which is Batman Reborn. Dick and Damian have a great dynamic, they have to save Gotham but they barely have time to work out where they are as a team. Batman Reborn is exactly that, the beginning of a new chapter of Batman, this time, for the first time, without Bruce Wayne. This trade is split into two arcs, made up of three issues each.

The first three issues introduce Professor Pyg as a villain and paves the way for the rest of the series ahead. Professor Pyg was a throwaway villain shown briefly in Batman and Son as an enemy of a future Batman, Damian, and is fleshed out into a full blown psycho here. It is amazing how well Morrison manages to incorporate throwaway characters later into his stories, there are a whole bunch in this trade, and shows how well he think's out even the most minor characters. Pyg's plan is to ransom Gotham for the antidote to an addictive drug that can be caught like the flu, Pyg also uses mind control to create a group of hideously disfigured people called Dollotrons to do his bidding. Pyg is certainly a creepy villain, but I think he is scariest when sane and still doing all this terrible stuff; rather than when he on drugs and talking meaningless gibberish, which he is most of the time. Whilst Pyg's plans aren't fully realised here, this arc lays the groundwork for much of what occur in the later issues.  
Batman and Robin has a much lighter art style than anything we have seen so far, but still contains quite dark content.
The second arc features the return of Red Hood with a new sidekick, Scarlet, who was introduced in the first three issues as someone who Pyg failed to completely turn into a Dollotron and who Damian failed to save. Red Hood wants tries to usurp Dick once more with a harder line on crime; his motto is let the punishment fit the crime, and he isn't afraid to murder and intimidate to do so. This harder take on crime fighting backfires as the Russian Cartel unleash their assassin, Flamingo, on Gotham city, to go after Red Hood and Scarlet. Morrison sure knows how to create creepy villains. By the time Flamingo, who is based on the artist currently know as Prince, has landed in Gotham he has already skinned and eaten the faces of four girls, and this is just his introduction. At the end of arc issue Red Hood asks a very important question of Dick that he has no answer to; I won't ruin it here, but it is very formative on the events of the next arc in Batman vs. Robin.

A great addition to all the trades of Batman and Robin is a section at the end called Batman Redrawn where Grant Morrison and the artists, this time Frank Quietly and Philip Tan, give a guided tour through the creation  of the issues. Grant Morrison talks extensively here about the issues, covers and characters and the influences behind each; it's a fascinating insight into his mind and show just how invested into this series he is and how diverse his inspirations are, from 1960s Batman to Prince album covers. Batman Reborn is a great start to a series that only gets better, if you have not read these before you are in for a treat.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Battle for the Cowl

Interlude Two:  Battle for the Cowl
Battle for the Cowl asks the question, what happens to Gotham when Batman is gone? Who can fill the void left by his absence? And who will try to? Whilst Battle for the Cowl is quite central to the story; establishing the new Batman and Robin team, re-introducing Red Hood as a villain and featuring members of the Club of Heroes, I don't include it as a fully fledged member of this list as it was not written by Grant Morrison. Battle  for the Cowl was written by Tony S. Daniel, who contributed a lot of the artwork for Grant Morrison's run, so is very familiar with all the characters. My only problem with Tony S. Daniels writing was his depiction of Damian in the first comic, though it does get better. Daniels doesn't get Damians arrogance quite right; Damian thinks he can take anyone and doesn't doubt his abilities for one second.
Battle for the Cowl brings together a myriad of heroes to save a crumbling Gotham.
The trade of Battle for the Cowl also includes the two issues of Gotham Gazette, which is the beginning of a story involving Vicki Vale as she works out the true identities of Batman and his extended family of former and current Robins. Of the twelve individual comics that make up this arc Grant Morrison only wrote two, so is not vital to the story, but provides some background reading for The Return of Bruce Wayne. I suggest that if you read Battle for the Cowl you leave the two issues of Gotham Gazette until later and read them with Batman #703, in Time and the Batman, and Batman: The Road Home as Interlude 3. Overall I really enjoyed Battle for the Cowl as it offers a good insight into the formation of the new Batman and Robin pair and thoroughly recommend it for anybody interested in extending Grant Morrison's run.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Time and the Batman

IV. Time and the Batman
So this is where things gets tricky. After the events of Final Crisis, which I am not suggesting you read as it is not necessary for understanding Grant Morrison's run, the story splits in two; in Time and the Batman we see why. Time and the Batman is actually an extra long one-shot that Grant Morrison wrote, which is not connected with the rest of his series, and also the name of a trade that collects together Batman #700-#703. The Trade of Time and the Batman contains Time and the Batman, the two parts of R.I.P. - The Missing Chapters and another one-shot called The Great escape; it's tricky because Batman #701-702 (The Missing Chapters) are chronologically relevant here, whilst the others aren't. I suggest people read Batman #700-#702 here and leave Batman #703 until it becomes relevant later.
Time and the Batman isn't a vital read, but it is interesting non the less.
Time and the Batman is the story of one crime that spans the lives of three different Batmans; whilst the crime is solved by the second Batman the whole story isn't finished until the third. From Batman and Son we know that Damian Wayne becomes Batman in the future, but I don't want to ruin who the second Batman is for readers who do not already know. This extra long one-shot was meant to celebrate the seven hundredth issue of Batman and only it's characters and writer tie it into the rest of the series, it can easily be skipped or left until later. Something that does make this an interesting book is that, even though it was published as a one-shot, it contains art by five different artists.

R.I.P. - The Missing Chapters explains how Batman got into the predicament that he is in in Last Rites, from the ending of R.I.P., and briefly explains all you need to know of Batman's involvement in Final Crisis. I think that reading through The Missing Chapters means that you can avoid reading Final Crisis, unless of course you want to, and go onto the next step of Morrison's run. The first part of The Missing Chapters is pretty good but the second part, for those that have not read Final Crisis like myself, is a bit of a struggle; I think the second chapter is meant to refresh your memory rather than for those that missed Final Crisis completely. These, too, are probably skip-able for people with a limited budget, but it might make the leap to Batman and Robin unfathomable.