Sunday, September 30, 2007

Batman #667 - #669

Batman #667 - #669

This three issue arc was exactly what I'd expected from Morrison since he first took the reins on this title. So why were all the issues prior to #666 so CRAPpy?

Rating the issues issue by issue, #667 was merely GOOD. Why only GOOD? Because the entire issue was predicated on the reader having been familiar with Detective Comics #215 from January of 1955 and World's Finest Comics #89 from July-August of 1957, which actually featured characters introduced in Batman #65 (1951) and Batman #86 (1954). If you hadn't read those issues, then you'd pretty much feel lost in this one. Add to that the additional requirement of reading Morrison's arc in JLA Classified #1-#3 (2005), which in and of itself was based on characters introduced in an arc from his JLA #24-#26 (from 1999), and you'll begin to realize that the first issue of this story is entirely mired in obscure references and Morrisonian continuity.

Little Raven growing up to be Red Raven is a very cute touch though, with a nod to Robin's adult persona in Kingdom Come.

The art in this book is absolutely fantastic. J.H. Williams III gives each and every member of the Club their own uniqely distinctive look, even if one of them seems to look exactly like "V" from V for Vendetta.
Perhaps it's a conscious homage. Perhaps not. Regardless, even the page and panel layouts are inspired and truly elevate this book to something special. Unfortunately, I had to do a lot of research to comprehend the issue and its characters, so it merely scores a GOOD.

Issue #668, however, was EXCELLENT. Decades old continuity is hardly referenced, except when Morrison's just making it up. And when he is making it up, he has Williams show it to us. Williams uses a pointillistic style for these sequences which is reminiscent of older comics and their archaic printing methods. This clarifies a problem that readers often have with Morrison's writing: since he tends not to specify when events shown are flashbacks (or flash forwards), this unique style tells us immediately that what we are reading occurred in the distant past.

The issue plays out similar to one of those classic Sleuth movies (formost among them being Sleuth), where a group of individuals are trapped in a mansion knowing that one of them, or some unseen foe, is out to do them in. A more recent version of this genre would be the movie Clue!. The plot also displays similar similarities to Agatha Christie's novel Ten Little Indians. So the chills and drama and terrors feel real, punctuated with a few eerily drawn full page images of Batman. It's some of the finest work I've ever seen, in fact.

Issue #669 features the conclusion to the mystery, which feels like a bit of a cheat. Although I had suspected who the killer was from the first, it was for two altogether different reasons, which were entirely stylistic rather than logic-based. The clues that Batman points to were never evident in the story, nor was the manner by which he arrived at his deduction made clear. Additionally, since Batman has been shown to be able to determine when someone is trying to modify their voice, and is gifted with a audiographic (Is that even a word? It is now!) memory when it comes to identifying voices, why was he unable to identify the killer before more members of the Club were murdered? Also, given the eventual identity of the killer, there's something in the first issue that makes no sense. I won't give it away, but suffice it to say it's a fairly major flaw.

The death trap is a cute touch though, as it employs drowning, pirhanas, and wasps. However, it remains unclear as to how the rescuing member of the Club escaped what appeared to be his certain demise earlier in the story.
This leads into my next point. The artwork is confusing. It's not clear where Robin and Squire actually are or what they are intended to be doing, nor how they got there. Also, since the resolution feels a bit rushed, and employs several bits of disembodied dialogue which even upon rereading remain obscure as to their source, the artwork doesn't portray the actual events very well, as it flips between scenes much too rapidly - compared to the pace of the rest of the issue - and does not provide us with enough detail to truly appreciate the outcome much beyond the included text. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the artwork in this issue is the very antithesis of what made the art from the first two issues so incredible. It begins to fail on the seventh page of this issue. Still, the illustrations from the first six pages are lovely.

At the end of the issue, I felt as if I had been cheated out of both a logical deductive process and out of a clear and comprehensible resolution, all the more important since so much of this storyline was shrouded in mystery. The first six pages of the story are very clear and well done. Unfortunately, the subsequent pages leave something to be desired and thus drag the entire issue down to a rating of OKAY.

When taking the arc together as a whole, it's easier to overlook the flaws. Sure, they're there. And you'll definitely notice them. However, the artwork makes up for most of it, and the strong second issue clears the palate of any sour taste left from the obscure references of the first issue, and carries its flavor over into the last issue as well. Plus, it's nice to finally see Grant Morrison doing a good story using Batman. As opposed to creating ill-advised retcons, introducing annoying characters, playing with metatext, or having us waste our money on a prose issue. Also, the replacement of Kubert with Williams does wonders for the ambience that a Batman tale truly requires. Kubert is a wonderful artist. But his mood isn't dark enough for Batman,
nor is his style inventive enough for Morrison. Thus, all in all, this arc was at the highest end of GOOD. I hope that the best aspects of this arc will be retained throughout the rest of Grant Morrison's run, but I doubt that he'll really be able to correct those aspects of the story which failed. It's just not his style.

Which is fine. I completely understand. But until Morrison stops taking the easy way out of his stories, pays closer attention to the rigid dictums of logic, and gives us the detail that we deserve, the stories will remain merely GOOD.

A less critical review of this story, although no less comprehensive, can be found here. However, be warned! Spoilers abound!

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