When I started this run I didn’t expect to enjoy it from the first book all the way to the last. In some of earliest posts I consistently spoke of my plans to take breaks at this point or that so I didn’t get so used to reading books by the one author that I’d get bored of him. In hindsight, I maybe should have taken these breaks, only because that when I look back now, I feel like readers can see where I was burnt out on writing up posts for each or several issues. There’s certainly quite a few posts that I’m proud of – in fact, I’m very surprised to find that I was on the ball so very often – but I do wish I took more time to write a few instead of blasting my way through them, mentally exhausted or not. Yet I never did tire of Grant Morrison’s writing.
Of course, what probably helped it from going stale at some subconscious level was the variety of artistic talent on display. Yes, so many artists being swapped for one another caused a few bumps along the road, but the only issue that looked completely terrible, inexcusably so, in my eyes was Ryan Benjamin’s at the end of The Black Glove. The only other stuff that came remotely close to being bad – though not, I should say, anywhere near as bad as whatever the fuck Ryan Benjamin was doing – was Philip Tan’s three issues in Batman and Robin, which was far too dark in my opinion, and Tony S. Daniel’s inconsistency before the amazing job he did in Time and Batman. Otherwise, I honestly believe that everyone else was doing somewhere between a good to outstanding job.
You could level some criticism at the artists who fell into the former category for “playing it safe”, I suppose, but what you have to keep in mind, I think, is that all of these people, good or amazing, had deadlines to meet and what I can only imagine are some demanding scripts to match, so I think it’s no small feat that you can look at the run as a whole and I either like what you see quite happily, or be completely blown away by it. Though J.H. Williams III, Frazer Irving, Frank Quietly and Andy Kubert were some of those who blew my mind, I think it’s Chris Burnham paired with Nathan Fairburn, the colourist, that made my jaw drop the most. It’s no wonder those guys are creating all new pages for the Absolute edition of Batman Incorporated because it’s a fucking miracle that they managed to keep up and draw every one of their issues together so damn well. But hell, let’s not play the favouritism game – at the end of the day, every one of these books has good art in it, and that is bloody amazing.
Still, whether the different artists can keep things looking fresh or not, you’d think that I’d get bored reading the words of man sooner or later. But I truthfully did not. The only other Batman books I have, most of which are my father’s, can be read alone, technically possible here but probably not a good idea. This is the only time I’ve read a particularly lengthy run by an author on a character who’s shared with others. In all the time I collected 2000AD there was never a point where one writer exclusively worked on Judge Dredd, you know? Yet Grant Morrison spent seven years writing this epic tale, longer if you take Seven Soldiers and 52 into consideration, so you might also think that, even if I never grew tired at all, he would, the brightness that it starts on fizzling out.
This is, in fact, a point of debate when it comes to the ending. Shortly after I wrote my post on that final issue, I decided to do some looking around for what other people’s thoughts were on the ending of the run and it didn’t surprise me to find that a lot of folk see the finale as too negative in contrast to how it all began. Personally I don’t see how else it could have ended but on its bittersweet note, and I think that the darker contrast itself is actually part of what makes the ending so powerful. Like the last line of my post on issue twelve suggested, I think that the hard thing is actually letting go after all this time and looking to the future. Maybe Morrison didn’t make that point clear enough, ending Gordon’s monologue as he does with the cynical sounding, “It never ends. It probably never will.” How he should have actually ended it, in my opinion, is with some other lines before this that I think mark off the greatest theme in this run. There’s been a lot of those, some subtle, like class warfare, simply adding depth to the world; and then there have been those like family, there from the start but having developed over time.
But there is one concept of the Batman mythos, indeed its very fiction, that has reigned supreme over all: the hole in things.
It wasn’t until the end of Batman R.I.P. that Doctor Hurt spoke that immortal line about himself, but the hole has actually been there from the very start of the run, a single gunshot leaving a hole in the middle of the Joker’s forehead. Even if we didn’t see that at the time Hurt made his speech by looking back, Morrison expanded the theme in a way that was obvious. First there was a hole in Bruce’s memory concerning the Thogal ritual and whatever Hurt had done to him. Shortly thereafter there were the holes Darkseid created in his manipulation of time. And eventually, when we found ourselves reading Batman Incorporated, the holes where everywhere we looked, staring back at us. It was Talia’s dark “Gorgon eye”; it was the absence of parental guidance that she and Bruce shared; it was the bloody wound left in Damian’s chest after being driven through by a sword; it was the rupture this left between the boy’s already feuding parents; it was the clean mark left in Talia’s head where Kathy’s bullet sped through; it was their empty graves that Bruce found himself looking into after being released by GCPD; and, of course, it was the unseeable centre of Oroboros. Only…
We could see it the whole time. It’s the most obvious one of all, really: the hole left in Bruce’s heart on the night his parents were killed. “Two shots killed my father”, he tells Gordon. “The third bullet left a smoking hole in my mother’s new fur coat. It left a hole in me. A hole in everything.” Indeed, it’s this very hole that Bruce has spent his entire life trying to fill. But he can’t and won’t, not only because it wouldn’t be fitting as a character, but because the moment he does so, there’s no more to tell – it would be at that point that Doctor Hurt would finally get his wish of seeing Batman retire, and we as readers would never have another Batman story to read ever again. It’s not what I would call a limitation of the character but an actual necessity instead. By killing Talia, Kathy Kane emphasises one of these herself: “Batman doesn’t kill”. It’s one of the things that defines him, seen here alongside the emptiness the death of his parents left in his soul: “The pain was so terrible”, he tells Gordon, “I decided I could never love anyone ever again”. That won’t be a thing that ever happens either.
Which is why, getting back to point, I feel like Morrison may have ended the run sourly with Gordon’s last piece of dialogue, that comes across as being quite bleak right enough, when he perhaps should have done so with a follow up to this idea of a hole being left in Bruce. Continuing off-panel but being read back to use, Bruce told Gordon, “I looked into that hole in things over and over again until it hurt, Jim…and you know what I found in there? Nothing…A space big enough to hold everything.”
How beautiful is that? Not only is it an astonishing thing to say about the character himself, but it also represents why we love him so damn much too. As I’ve said in the past, I don’t really embrace other super heroes in the way I do Batman. Though they might be symbols of something else, the thing that makes Batman so unique is that we can empathise with him somewhat. No, I don’t mean we all have parents who were shot dead in front of us or anything like that. But I do believe that many of us, perhaps most of us for all I know, are trying to do good by ourselves – to realise that we have our own holes in our lives, our own things that make us vulnerable in some way or make us unhappy, and spend our lives fighting against them.
Which is why I think Morrison’s right – this from the afterword – that, “long after all of us have come and gone, there will be Batman” because the fact of the matter is that he, and numerous other invented characters, will still be significant then, and they always will be. Life goes on, with or without us, and as long as we all live, the possibilities of the imagination are endless; forever. A snake eating its own tail.