May 6, 2016

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 437: Batman #655, September 2006

(I'll blog this properly tomorrow. We're going to start a read through Grant Morrison's Batman opus.)

It's tomorrow now. I'm laid up on the couch with some pretty bad back pain, though the Robaxacet is helping. I think it's somewhat fitting, though, as I imagine that this is the sort of pain Batman deals with on a daily basis. I was recalling a conversation with a friend earlier today. We're the same age, and would occasionally, when we were feeling old, talk about the pains that follow us through life. I'll admit, I did not take care of my body when I was younger, nor do I now, though I'm beginning to see the advantage of doing so, or having done so. 42 is far too young to have these kind of body problems. On the other hand, I've always maintained that, when death comes a'knockin', I'll slide into home plate in a battered and weary vessel.

Many of Morrison's major works get held up as examples of how one can craft an intelligent, moving, exciting, and rewarding superhero tale. His run on JLA reinvigorated a flagging DCU after the 90s. All-Star Superman is hailed as one of the great mythic pieces on that character (more often than not by yours truly). His Seven Soldiers and Multiversity are shining examples of magical thought, interrogating our relationships with our fictions. But I don't often hear too much about his Batman series. I think there's a couple of reasons for this. First, Morrison takes on Batman at a time when DC Comics was floundering again - the completion of his run in Batman Incorporated straddles the introduction of the New 52, which unfortunately undermined much of what he'd set up in the previous six years. Second, Batman is almost too popular a character to be a Morrison story. In JLA, he's one of many, so the weirdness of a Morrison story is spread out over a number of characters. But as a solo hero, Batman is revered to broadly for there to be the same kind of wide-spread acceptance of Morrison's treatment of the character. And it's very important, right here at the beginning of what's likely going to be a months-long project, to note that Morrison's Batman is a strange, strange comic. What we're seeing is the application of the kind of aesthetic that drove his brilliant runs on Animal Man and The Doom Patrol to a character who is very likely the most popular superhero on the planet. I can imagine how jarring such a thing must have been for a lot of readers.

But on to this initial issue. If we were going to do a full, proper read-through of Morrison's work on the Bat, we'd have to start with JLA, I think, but rather than draw this read-through out any longer than it has to be, we'll start with his taking over Batman's eponymous title. The main thing to note about this issue is that it is about Batman, rather than about Bruce, but it's about Batman learning to be Bruce again. We like to talk about how the hero and the secret identity, in a perfect situation, are one and the same, but at this point in the character's history, it seems that Batman has become the primary personality, supplanting the aspects that are Bruce Wayne. Alfred's commentary is a lovely little metatext about the evolution of the character over the years preceding Morrison's story. How does the Bat re-incorporate the man again? If we consider that Morrison's story starts in Batman, and ends in Batman Incorporated (think of the numerous meanings of that second word), the thrust of the story is obvious. But, before we get to that re-incorporation, there are numerous twists and turns to navigate.


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