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COMIC REVIEW/ANALYSIS: "BATMAN AND SON"

Author: Cary Ashby
Saturday, January 6, 2007

OVERALL SYNOPSIS: Writer Grant Morrison and artist Andy Kupert premiere as the new "Batman" creative team with #655. The same issue starts the four-part series "Batman & Son," finally addressing what happened to the love child of the Batman/Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul in the 1987 graphic novel SON OF THE DEMON.

The first two issues are well paced, but Morrison could have done more in introducing Damian to the Batman's world, especially Wayne Manor, in the third installment. By issue 658, the writer seemed to have put himself into corner and rushed to get the storyline wrapped up. Unlike many arcs that are way too long, "Batman & Son" needed just one more issue. Grade: B+

DETAILED REVIEW: When I heard Morrison was going to be the new BATMAN, I was less than excited. My previous experience with him had been ARKHAM ASYLUM, which despite all the hoopla at the time, left me cold, confused and unimpressed.

So I started wondering: Is Morrison the best writer suited to transform the Dark Knight and his alter ego from the "A-hole Batman" back to the more heroic, compassionate yet intimidating “Darknight Detective” of the 1970s through mid-1980s?

Having read "Batman & Son," I have to say yes indeed!

First of all, Morrison creates a unique foe for the Batman: an army of ninja Man-Bats, who answer to Talia. Best of all, Morrison grabs readers by the throat with a stunning opening scene in issue 655 in which Commissioner Gordon has been poisoned by The Joker, who seemingly has beaten the Batman to a pulp.

When "Batman" (actually a disgruntled Gotham cop) pulls a revolver on The Joker, I thought Morrison truly was bringing the hero back to his roots. The Dark Knight used a gun occasionally in his first several appearances, but later incarnations consistently portray him as someone who opposes the use of firearms.

Kubert makes Gordon look absolutely creepy as he recovers from The Joker's poison. The commissioner's right eye weeps while the other side of his face is pulled into a Joker-like demonic smile. We will learn more about The Joker's fate later.…

The more one reads issue 655, the more Morrison's dialogue absolutely sparkles, if not shines. Having Alfred continually remind Bruce Wayne not to use "that growl in your voice" in public is priceless. The butler's comments are a wink-wink, nudge-nudge nod to Christian Bale's performance in BATMAN BEGINS.

Another classic moment in the Batcave is Bruce chastising Robin for starting to check out the hidden Batmobile. "Don't peek. She's not done," Bruce says.

The issue's title, "Building a Better Batmobile," however, is a bit of a letdown since readers don't get to see the new Batmobile's premiere. Hopefully we'll see the Batman's new wheels in a "big reveal" later in Morrison's and Kubert's run.

Another disappointment throughout "Batman & Son" is Morrison's characterization of Kirk Langstrom. While he always has been concerned about his wife's safety, the idea of Langstrom being so fearful and befuddled doesn't ring true.

The scene between Alfred and Bruce (in issue 655) in the hotel is an instant classic. The idea of the billionaire's butler teaching Bruce Wayne how to be “Bruce Wayne” is a hoot. The scene also clearly shows Bruce wants to be the person he once was. Kubert draws the two characters perfectly (this is the way I always have pictured them) while Morrison again uses dialogue to show he knows his Bat-history.

Alfred obviously knows Bruce better than anyone -- even the man himself -- when he says things such as "you're an eligible young billionaire who spends all day in bed" and "your omission from the gossip columns is a sorry indictment, sir."

I was absolutely giddy to see Morrison thumb his nose at continuity nuts when Alfred mentions "glamor girls like Kathy Kane, Julie Madison, Vicki Vale (and) Silver St. Cloud." Then having Jezebel Jet (her appearance seemingly a nod to David Bowie's super model wife Iman) call herself a potential "Wayne girl" in the next issue is an extraordinary stroke of genius.

It's Kubert's time to, well, shine in BATMAN #656. He makes great use of irony and the art gallery setting during the fight scene. For instance, the Batman is in front of artwork with an "Ouch!" dialogue bubble when he hits one Man-Bat. It's obvious Morrison and Kubert coordinated the scene beforehand when the phrase "just a little closer" is near the Batman's hand as The Dark Knight hears "echo-location squeaks" through his cowl mikes. Brilliant!

While Kubert's Talia doesn't live up to previous artist's renditions of the sultry, sexy villainess, his artwork flows from panel to panel and his fight scenes are exciting to watch/read/experience.

The storyline really gets cranking in the third part, issue 657. The Batman introduces his grown natural son, Damian, to The Batcave, his newly adopted son, Robin III (Tim Drake), Alfred and Wayne Manor. That's a lot to do in 22 pages and I wish Morrison had used another half-issue to create even more tension.

In the matter of six pages, Damian slugs it out with The Batman, refuses to shake Robin's hand and demands to know why he can't have a laptop. By the end of the issue, he believes he has "proven himself" to his father by decapitating The Spook, has defeated Robin in hand-to-hand combat, and has usurped a variation of the Teen Wonder's costume.

Again, it all feels much too rushed (especially the scenes in Wayne Manor and the Damian-Robin battle), but the last issue is even more so. By the time you close issue 658, Batman grudingly uses Damian as a temporary partner, has snagged Langstrom's Man-Bat cure, defeated the entire ninja Man-Bat army and has saved the prime minister's wife. Slow down, dude!

There's simply no time to breath in the last issue. Morrison should have paced several scenes with lots of potential better: Batman taking on the ninja Man-Bats, Tim's recovery from being assaulted, The Dark Knight chastising Damian over killing The Spook, to name a few.

In fairness to Kubert and Morrison, there are some great moments in the last two issues. Damian seems overwhelmed as a passenger in one of the Batman's vehicles ("You have a rocket," he quietly says) and in the next panel, looks like he's about to puke. Having the Batman tell Robin that Damian's existence "doesn't change anything" shows Morrison's commitment in making The Caped Crusader more compassionate. I just wanted to see more there, especially given the recent murder of Tim's father.

One moment is purely laughable. Morrison channels earlier Talia appearances by addressing her struggle with her love for her father and her "Beloved." Unfortunately, her speech to the Batman comes off like a bad paraphrase of Darth Vader in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: "Reform me. And if you do, I'll combine my vast resources with yours to fight crime at your side…and together we can raise our son to be Master of the Earth."

This scene is the culmination of the entire storyline -- and Morrison and Kubert are finished in 18 panels. I wanted to see more drama, more tension; Kubert could have done more silent panels with the torpedoes approaching the submarine as Damian struggles with his own allegiances.

Overall, Morrison and Kubert complement each other very well. Morrison doesn't hit a grand slam in "Batman & Son" — it's more of a double with a chance to steal third. The arc shows the promise of what the writer can do in turning The Dark Knight's universe on its ear, while returning Bruce Wayne to his roots.

The new BATMAN creative team deserves to have a long run and should be one fans remember for years to come. I can't wait to see how Morrison handles The Joker's psyche after he undergoes reconstructive surgery after being shot at point-blank range (see issue 655) -- not to mention the inevitable return of Talia and Damian.

To paraphrase and combine an old tag line from DC's distinguished competition with a new one from Jett, make my Batman Morrison!

BOF contributor Cary Ashby is a "Cops & Courts" reporter and a comic book columnist for the Norwalk Reflector in Norwalk, Ohio. Email Cay via asby@goreflector.com.

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