The title of this post is a lie as this is not in fact the single trade paperback of this story at all, neither the old version or new one. As I’ve said in previous posts, it’s actually part of the collection entitled The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, to which there are companion volumes (the only one mentioned in Dick Giordano’s introduction at the time is of a collection of the Joker’s “greatest” tales, though I’m to understand there’s a second Batman volume), buuut that would make for a longer title. So sue me. The bulk of the book is made up of stories similar to what we read in The Black Casebook, only some of them are really terrible, perhaps because the stories date back as far as the 1930’s, whereas The Black Casebook only collected tales from the 1950’s and early ’60’s. As I have no idea of knowing whether or not any of these fit in to Morrison’s retconning, I won’t be going through them one by one, and we’ll instead just focus on Son of the Demon, the graphic novel collected here, which was my dad’s main reason for buying this particular book.
In my introduction to Grant Morrison’s run I already explained why this story is important, but I’ll briefly do so again since it’s quite simple. Basically: Talia al Ghul + Bruce Wayne + no condom, the naughty buggers = a child! The twist is that Talia pretends to have had a miscarriage, keeping the child, whom she’ll name Damian (though not in this story), a secret from Bruce for some inexplicable reason. Then at the end we see she’s given him up for adoption. Huh. Though this makes no sense whatsoever, it’s relevant to Morrison’s run because he brings the child, now grown up, back into continuity. Personally, I expect the way he’s introduced is as a possible means of Talia killing Bruce through him, but I could be totally wrong, since he apparently takes Tim Drake’s position as Robin. Perhaps he develops from being evil like his mother into being inspired by his father’s ways. Or maybe something else happens – fuck if I know. But, anyway, that’s the gist of the tale’s relevance right there.
Want to know something hilarious before we get this book out the way though? Contrary to what I just said, Morrison wasn’t really bringing this story into continuity when he created Damian, not technically speaking, because he hasn’t even read it. And as you might expect as a result of that, apparently some of the details are muddled up during Batman and Son, Talia having drugged Bruce in order to seduce him it would seem, something which isn’t the case here at all. Likewise, the story doesn’t exist according to DC. Indeed, it’s considered what they call an “Elseworlds” tale, one of many stories that have never been considered canon. All of which begs the question: why bother reading this at all? Well, whether he confuses parts of the story or not, it’s still the origin of where Morrison’s Damian Wayne came from. But even if it that weren’t the case, it’s probably best we read it anyway. It would appear that Talia plays a big role in Morrison’s run, you see, and Ra’s has another revival at some point. Trouble is, besides Batman: Hush, which I reviewed recently, this is the only story I own featuring the father and daughter as significant characters, so it’s a good chance to get acquainted with them, even if this Talia seems very different from Morrison’s date raping version of her. On top of that, as I said above, there was a new edition of this story released during Morrison’s run to provide fans on some background as to how Damian was conceived, pretty much cementing it as his birth tale, minor differences aside or not.
Unfortunately, though, I don’t consider it that great a story, despite the fact that it’s considered quite a classic. Something about it always rubbed me the wrong way, probably the whole romanticism of it all, by which I don’t just mean Bruce and Talia’s relationship. No, what I’m really referring to is the writing of Mike Barr. As a disclaimer, I will admit that this is his only story that I’ve read, so I do not know if this is typical of his writing. But if I didn’t know this isn’t actually the case through a quick Google search, I would honestly think this was one of his first pieces of writing. You see, there’s traps new writers tend to fall into and I think that one of the biggest is this tendency to consider yourself some kind of messiah of literature – a young Shakespeare in the making, if you will – when you begin your first book, and I believe that if you’re caught by this it’s a difficult thing to free yourself of. As proof of this trap’s existence, a comic I’ve repeatedly pointed out as being a favourite of mine, 2000AD, has very specific guidelines for new writers who are submitting their stories, one which is quite cleverly designed to make people who submit their first stories there avoid such a pitfall into literary suicide. You have to write a Future Shock for them, a one-off five page tale in which you must introduce your characters, create a dilemma for them to face, but then end the story with a clever plot twist. What you can’t do is start your writing career for them by submitting your mega epic Judge Dredd tale because – let’s face it – you’re not that good enough yet.
Here before us, though, is Mike Barr, writing this story with such unrelenting seriousness that you suspect it must be a tale of the utmost importance. That it is most certainly not because although it is romantic in the sense of feeling like a writer in love with himself, the world of the books is romantic…um, romantic too, as in Batman, for instance, acts like a hero from a romance novel instead of the grim guardian of Gotham that we know him to be. It’s bloody strange that he’s like this though because he spends the first several pages fighting from the shadows, the reader only catching glimpses of him as he takes out some bad guys. All very Batman, you think, until Barr takes us with him into a downward spiral. It all changes on the sixth page – I kid you not – when Batman emerges from the darkness to stand before a man threatening to kill a pregnant woman, and stares this guy down, apparently expecting him to drop his gun. Which is fucking dumb and, indeed, the guy obviously shoots him and it’s by the chance of acid barrels being behind him that the chap’s face melts and Batman lives another day. Why is Batman so naive? Hell if I know because straight after this guy’s shot him, who departs from life with the dying words “God damn you”, Batman replies, “Looks like he got you first”, as if he just did something incredible. Had it been his plan to get himself shot or does this Batman, like the writer who has created him, truly consider himself a badass? As this isn’t the only example I could make, I think it’s the latter, and I picture Mr. Barr being quite proud with himself as he wrote this nonsense.
Like I said, after this, everything goes wrong. The writing quality’s consistently poor and the story is filled with clichés, and some things that just don’t feel right in a Batman story. Seriously, whoever this Batman may be, I don’t consider him the same as any other in my collection. This guy’s in a corner on his own, doing his own thing, only it’s not a good thing. This Batman, after getting shot, is stupid enough to take a swim in the Gotham River, which he chastises himself for before getting light headed and passing out; Talia has somehow randomly been following him and comes to his rescue in an alleyway; Batman is suspicious of her motives, but goes along with her anyway to a secret base, where he finds that Ra’s has resurrected again; after dinner with the two he agrees to help Ra’s and, in addition, to marry Talia, who he then later sleeps with and gets pregnant; when he finds out about this, he refuses to help Ra’s any further; only when Talia has apparently lost the child during some fighting does he then change his mind, and joins Ra’s in a quest of revenge and saving the world…but mainly the former and apparently this Batman doesn’t care about not getting people killed. Did I mention that the lead villain is the biggest cliché of all? The guy is impossibly strong for no good reason; survives several massive explosions, only to later die by electrocution; and, of course, is a double crosser of an army he’s taken advantage of. All because he’s dying and the world must die with him. There is your plot for this book, once you add the fact that Talia asks Batman to return to Gotham and we see the child for some reason being given to an orphanage. What a load of shite.
On that harsh note, you may again wonder to yourself why I’ve read this. Well, there’s a few additional reasons. First of all, Morrison’s run will be the longest running series of books I’ll probably ever read through on this blog, in terms of being the one long story that develops over time, and I do therefore wonder if he, at any point, begins to take his work too seriously like our ever-so-dearest Mike Barr. The thing with comics is that they’re a visual medium first and foremost – writers working on them constantly point out that it doesn’t matter how good their script is if the artist they’re given is rubbish – and certain tropes of novels become unnecessary because of this. In fact, comics are often compared to film, and for good reason when the writer and artist can do interesting things with various shots, the equivalent of camera angles, and panel compositions. For example of the former, in Son of the Demon, Barr consistently writes about a storm that’s coming through third person speech bubbles…set against images where we can see – with our own eyes, would you believe? – this storm in the background. There is no need to talk about that kind of crap in a comic, or indeed a film, or have characters explain parts of what’s going on either. Put it this way: comics are a perfect way to “show, don’t tell”, a line many of us will have heard in our high school English classes. But if Arkham Asylum, and Gothic too, are any indication of what Morrison’s writing is typically like, then I’m not too worried about this because in both of those tales he throws in a lot of visual imagery and what can’t be visually place – like the Alice in Wonderland comparison throughout the former story – is at least subtle, and not shoved in your face a la Barr basically saying, “Look, reader, there’s a storm here to represent the approaching battle! Aren’t I clever?” Still, with a run spent so long on the one character, or groups of them, whether Morrison falters or not is something I’ll be keeping an eye out for.
My other reason is more of a hope in Morrison to explore one particular theme. Though he hasn’t read this, it’s actually the biggest theme in here: parenthood. It only seems logical that, if he’s bringing back this young babe, he should explore the relationship between Damian and Bruce and, if the former is as evil as I suspect he might be, at least at first, then this would be all the more fascinating. Two things give me the expectation that Morrison will indeed explore this theme, one that is indeed the only somewhat good thing about this book. First, one of the stories we read in The Black Casebook suggested the idea that Bruce was inspired to become Batman by his father dressing up in a costume of one when he was young. Although Morrison bluntly states that it’s this masquerade outfit that that will make a return during his return, I think that if that must come back, it’s only natural that Thomas Wayne is recalled as well, quite conveniently at a time when Bruce is perhaps struggling with his duty as a father, more so than other parents if the young boy is nothing at all like him. Secondly, Morrison has explored parenthood before. It’s been too long since I’ve read Gothic, but I’m sure Thomas Wayne was an important part of understanding Mr. Whisper’s background.
What I do recall, though, is the notion that Batman is obsessed with his parent’s deaths, as we see in Arkham Asylum. It’s no coincidence that one inmate is watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in that book, a film in which the murderer turns out to be the iconic Norman Bates instead of his mother, the latter of whom has been dead for a long time but her obsessed son having dressed up as her when carrying out the killings. No coincidence that Amadeus Arkham, the man who founded the asylum in his old home, shared it with his mother for a long time. No coincidence either then that Amadeus is wearing his mother’s wedding dress after finding his family brutally murdered. No coincidence when, dressed like this, he carries out a ritual to bind a supernatural bat that he believes is the cause of his cursed life. No coincidence that the man who’s released the inmates at the start of this story, believing himself to be Amadeus reborn, calls Batman a “mommy’s boy” as he attempts to strangle him to death. Which brings us full circle, as it’s no coincidence that the first time we see Batman go cuckoo in this tale is when he drives a shard of glass through his wrist, recalling the night his parents were killed the whole time, and whimpering “Mommy!” before we cut to the scene with Psycho playing. Surely, then, Morrison has plans for something just as amazing in this run. And I hope he takes advantage of the fact that he has Damian as an additional perspective on Batman, not simply focusing on Bruce as a father. Come on, Morrison, impress me.
Ah, but we shall find out very soon if he does or not. With this book finished, for the sake of talking about some of the above and getting to know the characters of Talia and Ra’s a bit more, Batman and Son awaits. There will be one short post before that about some things I should have talked about in my prelude to all this but I’m going to get that out the way today, meaning the time is nigh to truly begin. Until then.