Monday, January 20, 2014

Batman- The Grant Morrison Odyssey: New 52 Style V5

What Came Before:

Part 1: Batman & Son
Part 2: Club of Heroes/Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul
Part 2.1: Devil-Bats & The Bridge to RIP
Part 3: RIP
Part 4: The Missing Chapter/Last Rites/Final Crisis
Part 5: Batman Reborn
Part 6:Blackest Knight/Batman vs. Robin
Part 7: Batman & Robin Must Die!!!
Part 8: Return of Bruce Wayne Part 1
Part 9: Return of Bruce Wayne Part 2
Part 10: Batman Inc. Part 1
Part 11: Batman Inc. Part 2

New 52 Part 1
New 52 Part 2
New 52 Part 3
New 52 Part 4

We left Batman being tossed a window towards the Gotham pavement below and we return with a cover for issue #7 that is possibly more terrifying than anything that could be contained within.  Children, psychotic Leviathan brainwashed children with the masks of Batman, Man of Bats, Wingman, El Gaucho, and the rest of Batman Inc. on's like the scene in Natural Born Killers or Game of Thrones minus the gore:

Open the pages and we pick up immediately where the previous left off as Batman plummets to his potential demise only to be saved by one of Talia's Ninja Man-Bat soldiers right before the very eyes of three of his four "children". In this case his adopted ones: Red Robin, Nightwing, and Wingman.

The Man-Bat severs the head off a Robo-Bat as he departs and the trio of Boy Wonders are totally helpless on the ground below.  Jason Todd's "circus boy" comment towards Dick Grayson I think encapsulates the relationship between these individuals pretty nicely just as Tim Drake staying  on point ("I'm tracking the signal from Batman's belt") captures his essence as well.

Now even though I summed up the page quite sufficiently above, I felt it necessary to include so as to address one of the major points of contention I had with Jim Gordon's revisions for the New 52, one in particular.  As a long-time reader I experienced, via back issues I must admit, the story of Commissioner Gordon nearly dying back in #459 as a direct result of his smoking and who can forget these house ads:

So when the reboot/relaunch/reset went down and Gordon was a smoker once again, suffice it to say that I wasn't the happiest camper.  It was a long journey in the Old DCU that led to Gordon quitting smoking so it is my hope that perhaps this is a tale that will play out once again.

Off the tiny soapbox and back to the story itself....

That final panel of the page with Smokin' Jim also depicts Halo and Freight Train being loaded into ambulances while a third gurney, likely Looker, is close behind.  Cute how Train is on two different gurneys; he's a big guy after all.

Alongside Traktir and Spydra we revisit the location from Batman: The Return where we, and Damian, first met The Heretic/Fatherless as well as Traktir & Spydra.  It was there her larynx was crushed during the Super Collective's fight with Heretic and the decaying carcass was the whale from which he was apparently "born".  Damian confirms as much from the images Traktir passes to Batwing which he sends to the Batcave: "Damage to the whale's pelvic region is exactly what we'd expect. Mother made a monster."

Talia's troops hit the Yemen factory to take out Traktir, Spydra, and to remove all evidence of what happened there. Batwing verbally confirms the death of The Knight to Commissioner Gordon as Squire breaks down in Nightwing's arms and an all-too familiar image of death is presented:

Familiar right?

I doubt the similarities are accidental, whether it be due to Morrison's script or Burnham's own artistic choice, and it is far from the last echo we will see throughout the close of Morrison's Bat-Opus.

Also on the page that features the image of Knight's death we get an idea of how overworked Gordon is ("My shift ended three hours ago, Nightwing") as well as how high the stakes are getting ("The hostages are dead. Your people are dead...and Batman..").  In addition, in a nod to the Leviathan-affiliated cop who was established a few issues ago, Gordon orders the new guy to call in back-up.

I love Burnham's portrayal of the Bat-Cave as well as the image of Damian's pet family over on the far right in the first panel.  On top of that, this entire page perfectly nails Damian's character for me.  From the words Morrison has pouring out of his mouth regarding Alfred and Jason Todd to the face Burnham draws as the vegetarian Damian feeds Alfred the Cat chicken, it nails the essence of the youngest member of the Bat-Family.  The change in Damian since his introduction is just so evident between this page and the next, particularly this image:

He says it only took him a few hours to tame Alfred but in reality, what we are watching, it really is the taming of Damian Wayne.  Perhaps taming isn't the proper word though in this case, perhaps GROWTH is a more accurate choice of verbiage.  It also shows a particular kind of growth as Damian address Bruce's fears about his son's future in a very straight-forward fashion before detailing for all of us the origin of The Heretic.  It's one amazing page of Burnham work with nods to earlier work in the Morrison Bat-Opus...

Remember last blog when I said something about seeking out Burnham for a sketch at NYCC? I essentially told him to draw anything Batman-related that he wanted and it seems appropriate, given the subject matter of the above image, to include that thing right here:

A  thing of beauty isn't it?

Jason Todd has arrived at Batcave East (which Wikipedia tells me is an abandoned oil refinery owned by Wayne Enterprises) and communicates back to Alfred & Damian at Central (Wiki says this is located under Robinson Park but that does not seem to be the case in the New 52, Central seems to be under Wayne Manor). Damian, rather logically, questions the loyalties of Jason given his prior connection to Talia Al Ghul (she is essentially the reason he didn't die at the Joker's hands) to which Alfred expresses his belief in second chances.  Damian's own distrust of JT stems from two things I'd say, the first being how Jason is responsible for Damian being temporarily paralyzed which led to his mother using spare parts to fix him up which led to Talia using Deathstroke to hijack Damian's body which led to Damian nearly killing Dick (an all too brief summary of Batman & Robin Vol. 1).  The second would be how much Jason's own story reflects that of Damian...

Unfortunately for Jason we next see The Hood expose his true colors as an agent of Spyral, the spy organization ran by the late Otto Netz that also included Kathy Kane and El Guacho/Agent 33.  Netz is also the genius who created the Oroboro and who wreaked hell on our Bat-Family in the Leviathan Strikes! one-shot.  Talia reminds us of the essential function of the box, "One touch activates a ring of death, a choke chain around the world", and tells Heretic (left eye still bloodied from Squire's slingshot and utility belt in tow) to bring the empty safe for some nefarious purpose.  Also we again see the Kali/Shiva images that have become part of Talia's motif throughout Batman Incorporated.

Red Robin finds the belt inside the building, and led like a lamb to slaughter, it explodes just as he makes the leap out the window. We see Nightwing and Gordon with a bus full of kids beginning to unload behind them while Tim pleads for everyone to head to Wayne Tower.  The kids pour off the bus with weapons in tow, chanting "Leviathan", as Gordon realizes how boxed in they truly are...

As we saw in Volume 1 of Inc when Batman and Nightrunner fought together in France, this is far from the first-time Leviathan has used kids:

The scene cuts to Wayne Tower where we are reintroduced to a woman named Ellie who we first saw way back in #664:

Again in #701:

And once more in Vol. 1 #6:

She seems to be a favorite of Grant's doesn't she?  Then again she ends up trapped under gunfire as Talia and The Heretic take over the building, which has the same decorative appeal of the Batcave, and leave her hiding behind a desk.  How much of a favorite would that make you feel like?

We also learn just why Talia wanted Heretic to bring the safe:

It is an element that feels pulled straight out of some much older Batman tale, or perhaps the Adam West show, with Bats locked in a safe and tossed in the water while the enemy details their plan, but in Morrison's hands it feels...greater.  Maybe because with this page Burnham pulls the red/black motif of The Black Glove back into the picture and we see just how much Talia has planned this out.  The gauntlet from last issue was designed to monitor every aspect of Bruce's conditioning while he was drugged with just enough to keep him under until now.  She wants Bruce to know how much effort has gone into this, Talia wants him to look at her as his greatest villain (perhaps since she can't be his great love)! Or,  perhaps, she is simply mocking Bruce, Batman, and all of the tropes of the superhero life, "...know that I've beaten you at your own stupid, childish games of clues and traps, masks and toys".  Even her parting question, "If I'm especially evil, will I be your number one arch-enemy?" seems just as much a taunt to me as a genuine question.  That's the beauty of the printed word sometimes, the context is pretty much left in the reader's mind.

In these two pages it is demonstrated just how much of a family affair this all is and how strongly it revolves first around Bruce's final rejection of Talia in Batman & Son then Damian's subsequent rejection of his mother during Batman & Robin V1.  This page also shows us just how much trust Alfred has in the youngest Wayne to do what needs to be done here.  Yes Damian pulls the the "you did it for Grayson" card but still, this just shows how far their relationship has come given that not so long ago Damian knocked Alfred out to get away from the Wayne Mansion. It demonstrates how capable this Robin is as well as shows his care for the animals that have come under his care in recent months (or days in the case of Alfred the Cat & Bat-Cow).

And while this is going on in the cave, that first panel on the right page shows just how bad things have gotten in Gotham, particularly if Gordon is shooting a hole through a fellow cop (safe to say this is the Leviathan Cop mentioned earlier).

What a final page huh? Nightwing falling under a mob of psychotic children as Jason Todd is laid out before the heels of some woman courtesy of The Hood.  Looking back over his earlier appearances, Hood made reference to a person known as "Matron" which is defined a couple of ways that fit into the Morrison Bat-Opus: 

- a woman in charge of domestic and medical arrangements at a boarding school or other establishment
- a married woman, esp. a dignified and sober middle-aged one

The first definition fits into the Stephanie Brown story included in Leviathan Strikes! while the second definition fits into the depiction of Kathy Kane in V1 of Batman Incorporated.  All I can say is that I predicted her involvement way back on April 3, 2012 so we shall see if it pans out.

On top of the fate of Nightwing and JT, let's not forget about Red Robin preparing to storm the Leviathan-controlled Wayne Tower while Damian Wayne comes to save the day!  It's a hell of a cliffhanger and next up is in one of the most important issues of Morrison's entire run with Batman and family!

To Be Continued....

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Batman- The Grant Morrison Odyssey: New 52 Style V4

What Came Before:

Part 1: Batman & Son
Part 2: Club of Heroes/Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul
Part 2.1: Devil-Bats & The Bridge to RIP
Part 3: RIP
Part 4: The Missing Chapter/Last Rites/Final Crisis
Part 5: Batman Reborn
Part 6:Blackest Knight/Batman vs. Robin
Part 7: Batman & Robin Must Die!!!
Part 8: Return of Bruce Wayne Part 1
Part 9: Return of Bruce Wayne Part 2
Part 10: Batman Inc. Part 1
Part 11: Batman Inc. Part 2
New 52 Part 1
New 52 Part 2
New 52 Part 3

When last we met, we were exploring the future of Damian Wayne in a world that spun out of the story depicted in Batman #666 as created by Morrison & Andy Kubert.  That same world, if you're interested in exploring it further, is...supposedly...the focus of the current Damian: Son of Batman mini-series Kubert himself is currently both writing and penciling.  To me it doesn't feel like the same world, but that's just my opinion...

With this issue we return to present day and to the original scene of the crime, quite literally in fact, as Talia Al Ghul and Leviathan have taken up residence across the street from the rebuilt Monarch Theater. Ya know, the spot where a young Bruce Wayne watched The Mark of Zorro with his parents and then..

A bad place indeed for Bruce Wayne...

The story actually kicks off with one of my favorite Chris Burnham panels, the very first one on this page:

Just something about that angry face and the fact that Batman is doing something as routinely normal as shaving while driving to work.  His occupation may entail something far more life-and-death than the average commute, but it is nonetheless a guy shaving in his car while driving to work.  In addition to the art, the "brunch" line adds a bit of levity to this extremely serious situation but also displays that confidence that is so integral to the Bat-God persona Morrison has created for Bruce Wayne. He has been built up by Grant as the man prepared for everything, hundreds of steps ahead of any opponent, and the confidence that brings is encapsulated in just one word.

Also, I like the sneaky Batman Incorporated communications pin that Commissioner Gordon has hidden under his lapel...marking him as an official member of the organization.

The Robo-Bats make their return as Batman begins his one man assault on Talia's base whilst Gordon makes reference to "factions in the department blaming Bruce Wayne for encouraging this"; a statement that harkens back to the beginning of the first issue of this volume. The "Garland of Skulls" title given to this issue is an allusion to the Kali references that have been littered around this series in reference to Talia:

 Bruce and his Robots enter The Monarch, telling Gordon and his men to stay behind until he gives the all clear, "It's a family affair. Gotham got caught in the crossfire...I have to go talk to the mother of my son.".  This is the scope of Talia's wrath, destroying everything in sight as she said back in Batman & Son when the groundwork was laid for this tale, this is larger than anything with which the GCPD has dealt.

So Talia has turned this into yet another game, another quest for Batman, and, as she says, it is based on a Zen Parable of the Goatherd.  According to good old Wiki (a bull is the standard but given the presiding theme of goats thus far...):

  1. In Search of the Bull (aimless searching, only the sound of cicadas)
  2. Discovery of the Footprints (a path to follow)
  3. Perceiving the Bull (but only its rear, not its head)
  4. Catching the Bull (a great struggle, the bull repeatedly escapes, discipline required)
  5. Taming the Bull (less straying, less discipline, bull becomes gentle and obedient)
  6. Riding the Bull Home (great joy)
  7. The Bull Transcended (once home, the bull is forgotten, discipline's whip is idle; stillness)
  8. Both Bull and Self Transcended (all forgotten and empty)
  9. Reaching the Source (unconcerned with or without; the sound of cicadas)
  10. Return to Society (crowded marketplace; spreading enlightenment by mingling with humankind)
From a visual standpoint:

The idea of this game of Talia's, presumably setting the structure of Batman Inc. as we go forward, will line-up to some degree with this parable.  In light of this elaborate means to take care of Bruce, it is quite humorous...ironically so I suppose...for Bruce to comment "Can't we just have a conversation, like normal people".  In the world of Batman this, the worst break-up in the history of life, this IS the normal.

The first two steps of the parable are covered on the page pictured above before we cut to the roof of the St. Malphus building.  Remember the building blew up in issue #4 and the Outsiders/Dead Heroes Club were all up there? Well they are not in good shape as Freight Train has wood driven through his stomach and is leaking blood like a character in Burnham's Officer Downe book. Looker is down, Batwing is trying to resuscitate Halo it seems, and The Knight is clutching Squire's body yelling at Batman how she can't breath.

As Bruce looks at the third image in the sequence, he protests for Talia to leave them alone but her policy is that ANYONE associated with Batman Incorporated is a victim-in-waiting:

I wasn't planning on using this page but that last panel from Burnham basically screamed to me that it needed to be included.  It's a powerful image looking down on our hero as he does indeed get his conversation with the disembodied voice of his great love Talia. The fact that she discusses Bruce Wayne as a separate entity from Batman is intriguing for me because it represent one of two things: either she genuinely sees them as two separate people or she is purposefully continuing to conceal his identity since, I get the impression, her voice is being heard over speakers or something akin to that.

Also the notion that she has done more for the poor by arming them, by giving them "purpose", then Bruce Wayne has ever done is a very interesting way to look at things.  I wonder if that is how military organizations around the world feel recruiting less fortunate kids fresh out of high school? Or worse, turning children into soldiers (sidebar: check out these Unknown Soldier articles by Desmond White for a look at that travesty)?

Looking back over the pages of this series, especially the last two I've included, it's pretty easy to see why Chris Burnham was one of just two people that I sought out at New York Comic Con for sketches.  I'll put a picture of what he did for me up here when it's most appropriate...

Batman finds the next picture in the sequence after taking down all of Talia's soldiers and her voiceover on the action only further illustrates just how taken she is with Bruce in spite of everything. Words like magnificent don't fall easily out of an Al Ghul's mouth but her she is, in the midst of putting him through the wringer, calling Bruce Wayne just that.

These are moments that I love, the moments that show the Bat-Family as just that...a family. Dysfunctional as all hell sure but a family all the same. Tim Drake (Red Robin) working on the computer, Dick Grayson (Nightwing) watching and recalling the events of Jason Todd's (Wingman) stint as the Red Hood in Morrison's Batman & Robin run, while Damian Wayne (Robin) rants against Jase (for some reason Dick calling him that is hilarious to me).  Plus we've got Alfred and the pets in Bat-Cow, Titus the Bat-Dog (thanks to Peter Tomasi and Batman & Robin), and introducing to present day, but previously seen in the #666 issue, Alfred the Bat-Cat! 

The family also includes Bruce and, in Damian's case, Talia and they join the party via intercom as the feed of her dialogue with Bruce begins to play out over the Batcave speakers.  Unfortunately for Damian it breaks in with a hard dose of reality as he hears Bruce's voice talk about how he was raised to be spare parts of Ra's Al Ghul; a sad reality illustrated in the Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul story arc.

This spread is rife with references, intentional or not, to other moments not just in Morrison's tenure with Batman but including other Talia stories he did not pen.  The spiders recall Otto Netz, SPYDER, and elements of Levithan Strikes! while the faces on the dummies (like Talia says) are those individuals who were disappeared by Leviathan in the early issues of this series.  The fifth circle is present on the wall behind a tea set-up that reminds me of this moment from R.I.P:

I suppose it is more intended as an allusion to origin of Talia issue depicted below and covered a couple blogs back:

The room goes boom as the clocks all exploded at 10:47 which you may note is the time of Thomas & Martha Wayne's death and the oft-used clock setting Bruce uses in Wayne Manor to enter the Batcave. Also as Batman jumps out the window, we see the sixth image of the sequence, "Riding The Bull Home", while the Bat-Bot army takes on Talia's Man-Bat army in aerial combat.

Bats reenters the building, fending off Talia's guards as he continues to make his way through the building as if he's progressing from level to level in some video game. When we finally see the room in which Talia has been hiding out and delivering her speech, we discover a video wall that first displays the 7th image in the parable's sequence and then images of Gotham City as it is being torn apart.  

We also see that this is not Talia, rather a robot or a dummy (more Netz-stuff), but the words are still being delivered by from her mouth. She is putting Batman in the position to chose whether he saves his son or his city and Damian has to hear the entire thing. He knows his mother does not want him, he knows this is the game she is playing. Also, in the 4th panel on the above page, we see the 8th image of the series...the empty circle.

The next page, back on the roof of St. Malpha's depicts The Knight trying to save Squire by shocking her back to life, but it seems a little out of place due to the giant fist knocking out Batwing.  

Why does that alone make it feel odd?  

Because the following page then shows the owner of that massive fist, The Heretic, standing in a stairwell holding a giant stone.  The stone is connected to chains which are attached to the necks of a dozen or so people and which he tosses down the center of a flight of stairs, presumably executing all of them as Batman sits helpless near the 9th image of the sequence.  Again Damian hears his mother say "Your City. Or Your Son." and given that these are periods instead of question marks, this is obviously not Talia asking Bruce a question...this is her telling him exactly how it is going to be.

Now we cut back up to the roof where Squire has successfully saved the life of Squire only to find himself in the clutches of the monstrous Heretic:

We spent the entire issue teased with the death of Squire but it is Knight who is the first victim, and a high profile one at that, of The Heretic. To her credit, Squire is the first to draw blood on Heretic with her slingshot (some David vs. Goliath stuff in there) just before Batman swoops in to attempt to stop the behemoth.

Talia makes reference to the 3rd Batman from earlier in Morrison's run, claiming to have made him, which can be construed as Heretic being that Batman.  In #666, which has come into play several times over, Damian-Bats kills the 3rd Man whereas here it seems as if Talia is alluding to Bruce's fear that it is Damian himself who ends up the Batman that ultimately brings ruin to Gotham City.

Either way this story comes to a close when we finally see the 10th image of the parable, the crowded marketplace/return to society image, as Heretic tosses Bruce through it and down to the crowded streets below as depicted here:

Shattered glass, kids with weapons storming the GCPD, and a Batman who looks to be plummeting to his death.  What a way to end this chapter!

To  Be Continued....

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