Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Batman- The Grant Morrison Odyssey: The End

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
New 52 Part 5
New 52 Part 6
New 52 Part 7
New 52 Part 8
New 52 Part 9

12/30/11...That was the day I first started this journey through the Opus that is Grant Morrison's Batman saga and here we are over the course of the 20 blogs preceding this one, looking at the end.  It's been 838 days, or 2 years, 3 months, 17 days in all since the beginning...yes there was an extended break from April 2012 until September 2013 but I had to wait until Batman Inc Vol. 2 had completed before wrapping up the journey. From Batman and Son through Gotham's Most Wanted as the final hardcover was dubbed, we have witnessed the Dark Knight go through hell and back multiple times over and be reborn in many fashions.  Now he stands on the verge one of the most important, and personal, battles of his career as Talia Al Ghul, the mother of his murdered son Damian, enters the Batcave for one last dance of death.

All by its lonesome, this recursive cover tells the never-ending tale of our protagonist.  Every Bat-symbol contains another Batman and another and another, ad infinitum; to me it is a commentary (whether intentional or not, and that's the beauty of artistic mediums isn't it? Lots of room for interpretation) on the nature of comics themselves.  No matter how Morrison and Burnham end their story, the story of Batman will go on and on and on...

The image on the left is from issue #1 of this volume of Batman Inc while the image on the right is the first page of issue #13...the story coming full circle with one small visual difference. The Bruce in ish #1 is spotless while the Bruce we see in #13 shows the bruises from the battles of the previous issues with Talia and her Leviathan forces.  Also in issue #1 we had no idea whose graves Bruce was standing in front of but now, come unlucky #13, we know that one of those graves belongs to now deceased Robin, Damian Wayne.

The fact that it is Jim Gordon questioning Bruce is extremely appropriate as the Commissioner points out.  Even if it's not necessarily considered continuity in the New 52, think back to Frank Miller's Year One where Gordon questions Bruce in his search to figure out Batman's identity.  Even running under the assumption that Gordon is clueless to Bruce's alter-ego, just think of all of the times Batman has been there for Jim in that pre-New 52 world.  For Sarah Essen-Gordon's murder, for Barbara's paralysis, for the Officer Down arc, when Jim nearly died from his smoking addiction, when Bruce revealed himself during No Man's Land...there has long been a bond between the two characters and I, for one, prefer to think Gordon is willfully ignorant to the Bruce/Batman connection.

There is something I truly love about the pages Burnham rendered during Bruce's interrogation; from the decimated face of the billionaire playboy to the little details of that last panel as Gordon puts his glass back on, it's a beautiful piece of work.  The dimples on Jim's nose, the mustache, the stitching and bruising on Wayne's face, and for some reason that one open eye of Bruce's staring down at the floor, it all just speaks to me so strongly.

Bruce referring to Talia as "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" sent me off to Wiki-land looking to see if this was a reference to something or just Bruce calling her by a cute name.  Turns out that La Belle Dame sans Merci is a John Keats poem circa 1819; once again you can thank comics for educating you and me about things we may not have otherwise ever discovered.

Gordon's unasked question brings us back slightly to where last issue left us hanging, with Talia descending into the Batcave, adorned in her own super-villainess disguise that is very reminiscent of Bat-attire all her own, particularly in a mask that reminds me of Dr. Hurt's attire.  It's all show though, theatrics, as she discards first the cape and then the mask as she descends the stairs to meet her beloved/enemy in combat.

Talia's undressing of costume is an undressing of the entire Batman mythos in this sequence and is essentially one of the entire superhero genre with its "...childish game of masks, Halloween costumes, and clues".  Talia is verbally shredding Batman's purpose down to its very core while simultaneously discarding any shred of feeling she may have had for her own son AND laying the blame for his death on Bruce's lap. 

The interesting thing about this page is that, unlike any previous COMIC BOOK version of the origin story, Morrison & Burnham's flashback to the night the Wayne's were murdered firmly entrenches James Gordon in the picture.  As far as a I can think, outside of the Nolan movies, this is the first time Gordon has been made a part of the origin story pre-Year One.

When Bruce says he tried to fight something he barely understood, my take is that he is referring to the obsession disguised as love that Talia brought to the table.  Bruce understands fighting, he understands armies and killers and crazy people, he does not grasp some of the most basic of emotions.

The kiss we are seeing is not a memory but rather taking place in the Batcave as evidenced by their attire and the sword while the imagery we see on the above page and the subsequent ones if what is going on in the world around this doomed couple.  The various members of the now decimated-Batman Incorporated are still attempting to save Gotham from the "empty" onslaught of Leviathan while Bruce & Talia engage in the only battle that truly means anything in this war.

We see Gordon & Harvey Bullock fighting off mutants and crazy children as well as Red Robin, Nightwing, Knight, Hood, Wingman, and every one in-between fighting for their lives.  We see El Gaucho battling for the Oroboro device, we see Red Raven & Man O' Bats, Nightrunner, Batwing, and Jiro all fighting around the world to save it from Leviathan but NONE of that truly matters.  It's all about Talia and Bruce Wayne, an Al Ghul versus THE Batman, and the nod to the digitalis is cute as it is something that has popped up before in the interaction of these two individuals.

What I love about this image is it pulls in two of the central themes of Morrison's run. First it has the red and black color scheme that was majorly prevalent during R.I.P in particular and is accentuated by the clothing of Batman and Talia.  Second it uses the Oroboro/snake eating its own tail theme that was such a major part of both volumes of Inc and it also representative of that same recursive theme the cover of this issue showcased.  It just goes on and on and on, spiraling forever...

I love the crossed swords framing of this page and Talia taunting Batman the whole time is a nice touch as well.

The interrogation of Bruce continues on as Gordon questions the two graves at which he found Bruce earlier but Wayne dodges the question and goes into another story involving the number two; the two bullets that killed his father.  It doesn't stop there though as Bruce tells Jim about the third bullet, the one that tore a hole in his mother and left a hole in Bruce as well, "a hole in everything" he says which brings back one of the earlier motifs of Grant's run as well.  The hole in everything was used to refer to Dr. Hurt, it was somewhat represented during Return of Bruce Wayne by the eclipse, and here it pops up again in reference to what Bruce experienced at his parents death.  This hole, this inability to love, this is one of the driving forces of the Batman and it too, unfortunately, is likely the root cause of all of this chaos Talia unleashed on Gotham.

A poisoned blade sends Bruce towards his dying breath with a top panel that I absolutely love; between that dragon, the melting world, and Batman face down with his cape sprawled around him like a sheet covering a dead body, it's a beautiful thing.

The fact that it is Jason Todd who comes screeching into the rescue is an important one because he owes his very resurrection to Talia Al Ghul AND his status as the black sheep of the Wayne Family also makes him the most believable to betray the cause to save Bruce.

Fortunately for all, JT is merely playing with that image as he hands over a useless Oroboro box to Talia while Bruce drinks the antidote to her poison.  Talia, resolute, tells them that she will own Wayne Industries and that Bruce will never rise above his battles with "grotesque mental patients" but, just as she accused Bruce of being a "posturing, patronizing bastard", it is Talia's own posturing that prevents her from seeing the threat before he that Bruce and Jason see.

The return of Kathy Kane! The original Batwoman, long thought dead, but who has in truth been dancing behind the scenes for quite some time as the Headmistress of Spyral.  She was there at the Girl's School in Leviathan Strikes! where the uniform of the assassins was essentially a variation on her Batwoman costume...

Just as quickly as Kathy reappears in Bruce's life, she disappears once again and leaves him alone in the cave with Alfred the Cat and Bat-Cow as his only companions.  Her influence though is felt once again as Bruce is released from Gordon's custody courtesy of the government and a mystery woman clearing his bail.  What's interesting about Bruce's comments to Gordon though are his insistence that Batman is dead...something stated by Talia during their duel that Bruce rebutted, and a statement that also made me think of this from earlier in Morrison's Opus:

Well that statement (made by Dick Grayson we would later find out) was half-right, at least for now...

The interesting thing about this page is that I'm pretty sure it also marks the first time in the New 52 that Morrison has elected to acknowledge the events going on around him in the DCU.  In this case it is Gordon's mention of Zero Year which was, at the time, an upcoming story by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo in the Batman book that has essentially been an origin tale for the New 52 version of the Caped Crusader.

I think Gordon's nod to the Batman Incorporate pin to Bruce, when added to his thoughts on the page below, add credence to my belief that James Gordon is willfully ignorant to Bruce's secret. In-between that page above and the one below though we learn that the two graves (presumably that of Talia and Damian, although it isn't specifically stated so it could very well be his parents' graves) have been robbed.  This causes Bruce to toss aside his decision to "kill" Batman and we get the enraged hero that was depicted in other Batman books (particularly Batman & Robin) following Damian's death.

 But, because it is comics and the drama must never ever end, we revisit an earlier story point of Talia's only this time from the perspective of her father Ra's Al Ghul and under new light with his daughter and grandson now dead.  We know because of The Heretic's existence that Damian was cloned, and we have seen in earlier parts of Morrison's story how Talia had a spare Damian laying around the house...

...but know, with Ra's in charge, we can see the truly horrifying scope of those experiments first-hand:

And that is how we end: the snake eating it's own tail, full circle, from Son of Batman to sons of Batman.  Some writers, like Brian Michael Bendis when he left Avengers, put all their toys back in the box and essentially reset the status quo when their tenure ends.

Morrison left a Bat-landscape that was forever altered as he both introduced a son for Bruce Wayne and then murdered him (a storyline that Peter Tomasi continues to follow through with expertly in B&R), killed off one of the longest running female figures in Batman's mythos in Talia Al Ghul, introduced an entire alternate future with Damian as Batman, decimated the Wayne name multiple times over, reintegrated the disparate portions of Batman's publishing history into continuity, to say nothing of the monumental task of telling an extremely long-form story.  He introduced the concepts of The Black Glove, Leviathan, Dr. Hurt, and reintroduced The Club of Heroes to the world.  He played with the very foundation of Batman and left any future writers with numerous toys they could play with if they so choose.

I know there is the Batman Incorporated Special that showcased some of the other members of the group but I don't feel it was anything more than a fun way for various creators to play with Grant's toys and as such was not integral to the larger story of Batman/Talia/Damian that Morrison had been telling since he took over the title.

So now I bid farewell to the world of Batman as through the eyes of Grant Morrison and brought to life by the likes of Chris Burnham, Tony Daniel, Frank Quitely, Andy Kubert, Cameron Stuart, JH Williams, John Van Fleet, and numerous other pencilers, inkers, letterers, colorists, editors, and other creative types.

After devoting so much of my blogspace to this subject, I know must figure out is next for me.  Obviously there are endless amounts of material to choose from thanks to the fabulous world of comics.  I just have to choose...

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