“But that’s the thing about Batman” – Looking To The Future of Grant Morrison’s Batman Run

My last post didn’t end with any afterword about the final chapter of Batman R.I.P. It was, as I intended, a simple description of its shocking ending, but with none of my thoughts on it. A conclusion like that speaks for itself in my book. You don’t need me to tell you why it’s as powerful as it is. What you perhaps can’t fully tell from an analysis of Morrison’s run until now is exactly what my thoughts are overall in light of R.I.P.’s longer story arc.

Before I bought any of these books, I did the usual thing I do when I buy anything I’m unfamiliar with: I looked up a lot of reviews to gather thoughts on this book and that, all to to decide whether or not they were something I’d enjoy. Someone more sensible would probably just have bought Batman and Son first, read it, and decided whether or not to continue reading the series from there. Not me – I bought them all, pretty much one after the other; and that was last year, I having only started reading these back in January. But it’s paid off, as I suspected it might, and I’m quite certain it’s not buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome speaking. The interesting thing is that I already own quite a lot of Batman graphic novels, most of which were my dad’s until I read and reviewed a bunch before starting this run of Mr. Morrison’s. Although those have also been great, it’s hard to say that one’s better than the other and whatnot, as all have different qualities to them that make them special. So I’m not going to say that these first three books in Morrison’s Batman run are the best I’ve ever read. But I am going to say that, if he keeps this level of quality up, then the whole run will be, as far as I’m concerned, the ultimate Batman story.

What fascinates me about saying that is that so many people hate this run and, in particular, the last book. People fucking hate the shit out of Batman R.I.P. and I cannot for the life of me understand why. Perhaps it’s just me – perhaps I just came across a lot of reviews written by some really dumb people – but I see a lot of the same complaints in the negative reviews for that book and, by the looks of things, the series all together. “It’s too difficult to understand”; “It doesn’t make any sense”; “Why is Morrison bringing back these Silver Age characters?”; “Batman looks stupid as the Batman of Zur En Arrh”; “Where’s Batman’s other usual villains?”; et cetera. Now, to be fair, I read The Black Casebook before actually starting this series, so I do have a bit of an advantage when it comes to the return of all the bizarre characters. But, you know, if I had done what I imagine a lot of people were doing at the time of this run, using Google to find out who the hell this Club of Heroes were for example, I think I’d still love it.

It was not silly of Morrison to bring these characters back – they are not, as I see said in so many negative reviews, “better left forgotten”. In fact, I’d call it very innovative to go back to a lot of these old stories and bring them into continuity. No one ever thinks to ask what kind of life Batman led between, say, Year One and Batman: Hush that I read just before the start of this run. Which is interesting because there are some accepted “facts” of the Batman universe – that a bat really did crash through his window, inspiring Bruce to become Batman; that he did have a protege in the form of a young Dick Grayson before that boy grew out of playing as Robin; that the boy who replaced him, Jason Todd, was brutally murdered by the Joker; etc. But that Silver Age? Forget it! The funny is, it’s not as if Morrison brought back the cheesy, comics-are-for-boys-only style of writing prevalent in those old stories with him – he’s still very much the man in charge – and he doesn’t even bring them back as concrete fact, at least as we saw them back then. Going from R.I.P.’s ending, for example, it turns out that the phrase, Zur en Arrh, used earlier by Doctor Hurt as a trigger phrase to “deactivate him”, was a repressed memory of Bruce’s father telling him that someone like Zorro would be thrown in Arkham Asylum that he re-discovered in his time during the Thogal ritual, after which he decided to create the Batman of Zur en Arrh as a “back up human operating system” in the event that someone like Hurt really did attack his mind. What a coincidence that the crazy colours this Batman wears are inspired by Robin, the young boy who always keeps him grounded. It’s not only amazing, but really quite beautiful and, perhaps most importantly, honest in intent.

Which is why I love this run so much, so far. As far as I can tell from the level of effort but into the writing from him so far, this wasn’t him thinking to himself, “Let’s shake up Batman’s world with all this old shite, um, just because!” In his introduction to The Black Casebook I thought it was pretty clear that he was a big Batman fan, and had been for a long time. You’d think that’s just plain obvious – you can’t be a good writer of a character like Batman, not owned by one author, if you’re not a fan yourself – but some of the negative criticism I’ve read might lead you to believe otherwise. Seriously, this run seems to be the bane of some people’s existence, apparently the worst Batman they’ve ever read. In fact, I’ve seen some comments from people wondering things like, “Who does Grant Morrison believe he was writing this run for?”, followed by a rant about how it clearly wasn’t for Batman fans. Which is perhaps the most nonsensical thing of all to me because, when I’m sitting with these books in my hand, all I see is the love for Batman that this man has and, indeed, future story arcs like The Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman Incorporated only go to prove this, the former appearing to take place across different time periods where there’s a Batman (I’m guessing Bruce somehow), and the latter seemingly making the very idea of Batman a global-wide thing to be shared. It’s the most Batman Batman story I think I’ve ever read and I’ve only finished the third book!

But that, sadly, is the thing about Batman. Some people hate Jeph Loeb’s more human portrayal of Batman, and others love Frank Miller’s frightening old man, and vice versa. What I bet will be some meta textual irony in Batman Incorporated, when I presume we see the initial intent of the Club of Heroes taken to new heights, is the simple fact that Batman means different things to different people. Yet not only is Morrison clearly interested in taking the character to fascinating places, but he shares this very same opinion, which is why, for example, that we’ve already seen the Damian of the future, actually very similar to Frank Miller’s character; and it wouldn’t surprise me if young Dick Grayson finds being Batman a lot more difficult and stressful than Bruce, almost like Jeph Loeb’s character. Although I’ve read my share of interviews with Morrison, some about this very run, and others about comics in general, it appears to me in them all, even one I read where he ranted at length about something Alan Moore said about him, that the guy just fucking loves comics.

This is why the run is just so damn good to me – it’s honest, and honest art is the best art. It does slightly bother me then that I’ve read reviews speaking of what’s to come, suggesting that some of the new villains which will be introduced in Batman and Robin should have been replaced by the likes of Two Face, seemingly for the sake of sticking to tradition. When I read a book, play a game, whatever, the thought never crosses my mind that the writer or developer should have replaced this with that unless they’ve done something meaningless. Although it’s clearly too soon to say because I’ve yet to read Batman and Robin, I do highly doubt that any new villains have no point to them. Take the Black Glove. They’re no one – just a bunch of rich people, yet the very point being made, much like what Bat-Mite says about Bruce as the Batman of Zur En Arrh, is that it’s how Bruce could have ended up had he not been raised so well and had, sad as it may sound, his parents not have died. So, too soon to say or not, I’m going to place a bet that any new villains are going to be amazing – nay, the rest of the run shall be.

But what really kills all the criticism for me is the notion that what Morrison’s doing is all very pretentious. Here’s a fact about me: I fucking hate that goddamn word being thrown around like it is. Since writing dissertations and whatnot in high school, I’ve always taken a certain pride in being creative enough myself to see what this writer, games designer, artist or film maker is doing, and I enjoy talking about that kind of stuff because I find it incredibly imaginative. So when I see someone call something that really is quite bloody good – you know, if you can put your knee jerk anger aside for a moment and really look at it – pretentious, I swear, if I thought so highly of myself, I would feel like they were purposefully rattling my cage. The reason this run hasn’t been pretentious of Morrison thus far, and probably never will be, is because the man can do things like end a book with a massive revelation like that of Zur en Arrh actually being the repressed words of Bruce’s father on the night he was killed, but also have the same character say hilarious things like, “I’m much cooler than [James Bond]”, or have him chuckle at his own situation like he does in the opening of R.I.P.’s final chapter.

What Morrison is doing with this run is not only taking an honest to god shot at creating the best Batman story that he possibly can, but having fun while he’s doing it, and that I can get behind and really admire. It is – yes, I’m saying it again – purely honest. The man is reaching for the stars in terms of scope but, contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t mean he thinks himself superior to anyone – there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious so long as you remain in control, and I for one have faith in these books. We’re about to read a crossover event that I may not even understand, being as unfamiliar with many of DC’s characters as I am, and when we’re back on to track, we’ll actually be following Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne for three whole books before we even return to Bruce, yet I am really looking forward to it all. Beyond that, it looks like there’s a time travelling Bruce and then the guy will go and make Batman an actual corporation, and I’m betting that all of it will be very fun indeed.

Which should perhaps be my final point. Unlike what seems like quite a lot of people, I don’t believe video games have to be fun experiences because they’re games just as I don’t believe that they have to be this level of complex or simple, have this kind of art style, and so on, and that goes for any medium of art. But the truth is, a lot of things are really funny when you think about them more widely, ridiculous even, and I feel like this can quite strongly apply to comic book characters such as Batman. But you know what? It’s not any worse for the wear when viewed in that light. God knows I fucking love Frank Miller’s darker interpretation of Batman as much as I love Jeph Loeb’s softie-at-heart. So when Morrison brought back Bat-Mite and then Tlano, I didn’t feel insulted because he’d put these two characters that people have always found utterly silly into canon – I actually felt kind of proud in a way.

These particular books are in a drawer – alas, I have such little room for all my books – and sharing that drawer is Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Scott Snyder’s Swamp Thing and Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man. On my actual shelf of sorts (okay, it’s a cupboard), the books that I can see sitting from where I type this include the likes of Hellboy, Season 8 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the Sandman series, the Scott Pilgrim series and a bunch of other stuff, including the porn book, Lost Girls. The point being that I love comics of all sorts, and the same goes for the books, films, TV shows, music and games I enjoy. When you’re doing something for whatever medium of art, I don’t think there’s anything more fun than truly embracing that art medium’s qualities. Likewise, I don’t think there’s anything more enjoyable than being on the receiving end of that work of art, particularly when it’s so complex and interesting to talk about. It’s sort of why I’m bothering to sit here and write all this, even though no one may actually read it. But Grant Morrison has me in that sort of mood anyway because the guy has gone out on a limb and embraced the forgotten past of Batman because he fucking loves comics, and it just so happens that I do too.

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Where Be Dem Posts?!?

The blog’s been a bit inactive for the past two weeks so I thought I’d at least post this short update. The Grant Morrison Batman run has not been abandoned. In fact, following my last post, I read R.I.P.’s very short prologue and was beginning the first part of my review when suddenly I was no longer reading the book or writing the review. Fret not for I shall return to it soon. But what have I been doing in the meantime? Well, besides unsuccessfully applying for jobs, I have been buying more books (obviously), but mostly playing video games. Quite a number of them actually. This should come as no surprise since I’ve suggested that I’d be talking about them at some point already seeing as they’re my other favourite hobby. Well, I’m not too far from doing so.

Possibly as a way to lead us back to Morrison’s run, but more likely running in tangent with it, expect to see reviews of the games I’ve been playing lately. Being two very different mediums, of course, these reviews will be a bit different than my comic reviews making up the bulk of this blog but, to be honest, I probably have more interesting things to say about video games than I do comics. Don’t get me wrong, I think I’ve done a fairly good job at noticing some of the finer points in many of the comics I’ve reviewed but games, for some reason, just click with me – I can differentiate between what makes a good and bad game, and can look at them from the perspective of the developers who made them.

That latter point will no doubt be a topic I’ll talk about at some point in the future. No, I’m not trying to sound like a smartass when I say that. There’s many posts I send to a group of friends over Facebook about games and it was they who first pointed out to me that I was noticing things about this game or that they didn’t when they played them, and I’ll maybe go through our posts to put some of them up here as examples. My father noticed this too and it was for these reasons that I studied Computer Games Development for two years at University. Alas, the course was utter shite for reasons I’ll get in to another time, but I can’t ignore the fact that my lower grades were for programming because fuck programming, yet I got straight A’s when it came to design.

My most fond memory was actually seeing that my design blog for a game two of my friends and I were designing was called something like the “perfect example” of what our lecturer was expecting. This would seem to be because my approach to the blog was very self critical, discussing what was good and bad about our game; the mistakes my team and I made; how my part of the work, which was the writing and art exclusively, with the actual game design being shared, was going; then finally ending the blog with an honest retrospective of how shite our team was. Indeed, we all got B’s for our presentation of the game and our design document, and both my team members either finished with that mark or a C. How I got an A was through my blog but, funnily enough, they would have pushed their marks to an A as well in the presentation and design document if they had actually listened to me about the things that both of those were missing.

Perhaps I’m entering into smartass territory now, but I honestly believe that I saved our project when I forced them to see that our original storyline made no sense, and knew what I was doing all along when it came to that and our agreed design approach, whereas they seemed to want our game to appeal to the masses in a really unoriginal way. For example, we agreed early on that there would be moral choices, but I suggested we make them very subtle, which meant that we would never communicate to the player that they’d made a good or evil choice because that shit is really, really dumb. Yet, I kid you not, when it came to putting our design document together, one of my team members thought, “Fuck it!”, and threw in a karma system as part of the HUD, which for some reason acted as a health bar as well as your character’s alignment. Game design fail right there.¬†That kind of thing is why I’ve been so hesitant to start building a game of my own. Both team members, you see, are actually close friends of mine and I’d have thought we’d design a great game together, yet what I really took away from the experience was that it isn’t friends you need to work with you on something like that, but people who understand what makes good game design or can at least share the designer’s vision without doing anything illogical. That’s perhaps yet another thing to talk about more in depth another day.

What I’m really trying to say is that you ¬†shouldn’t only expect to see straightforward reviews for the games I play but a lot of analytical posts for many of them too, some of which I hope will make for good reading. Trust me. Not because I studied any of this stuff – but simply because I just know what I’m talking about. A lot of subjects have never sat well with me, such as maths and programming, but the more creative ones – English, art and design, video games – are things I just seem to be attuned to. Hell, I might as well say right now that you might even expect to see some analysis of songs here and there because that’s a thing that’s on my mind quite often too.

Anyway, to draw this longer than expected post to an end, I thought I’d list what games I’ve finished lately and my general thoughts on them, as a sort of preview until such a time that I can get down to reviewing them. Note that I’m not sure of the exact order I played Dishonored and Max Payne 3 in. See you next time.

  • Dishonored – On Facebook I harped on at my friends about this one. An excellent game with only some minor flaws. Haven’t yet completed the DLC but that has actually remedied a few problems I had with the base game, most noticeably with its far more interesting protagonist who’s much easier to role play as. The best thing about this game, as I’ll talk about more when I come to writing about it proper, is its world. The city of Dunwall is probably the most original game world I’ve stepped in to for quite a while. Besides a review, I’ll be doing a post about part of this game’s excellent design which I should hope will provide some insight. Might even make a post about how women are portrayed in the game as that’s actually quite interesting and I don’t think, as I’ve noticed a few others suggest, misogynist at all.
  • Max Payne 3 – To be honest, I wasn’t very confident that I’d enjoy this one. When screenshots and trailers were first released my voice joined the chorus of people complaining that the noir look of the first two games was gone and Rockstar were about to screw things up (the developer of the first two games was Remedy Entertainment who have recently saw success with the Alan Wake games). Whether the latter is true is your own opinion but I’ve seen people insist that the former flew the coop. This isn’t the case at all. Don’t let the sunny streets of San Paulo in the screenshots fool you – this was as dark a game as any in the series, perhaps the most until the redemptive ending. Might make an extra post or two about this as well as it’s quite an interesting game.
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl – Simply one of the best games ever. Fuck knows how many times I’ve played it overall. Oh, yes, there shall be plenty of posts about this one, and the subsequent games in the series as I finish them too, all right. Incidentally, I finished this with the Complete mod installed, so I may actually review that in a separate post of its own. It’s a great mod for the most part, especially when it comes to the gorgeous visuals, but it certainly has its flaws and I’ll probably be playing the game with a different mod or two installed in the future.
  • Metro 2033 – This is a game I’d also played before and, when I first did, I loved it. It’s a very immersive game for a number of reasons with some really cool features, and I remember actually freaking the fuck out when mutants attacked me, something the game shares with the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series (it’s no coincidence that some of the developers of that game worked on this too). However, on my recent playthrough, I realised something a little sad: it’s actually kind of boring. You probably won’t be seeing any additional posts for the game with that being the case, particularly as I ended up speeding my way through it because of said boredom, but I will treat it fairly as I do believe it’s a game worth playing at least once. So far, however, the sequel which I’m currently playing is a great improvement, albeit with its own flaws too.